Emile de Antonio’s 1983 film, In the King of Prussia, is about the trial of the Plowshares Eight. The judge is played by Martin Sheen and the defendants are played by themselves. It’s available for viewing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUph8GWFupE
Denver Black Lives
On September 17, six protest leaders, including four members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, were arrested in Denver, Colorado in a coordinated police action. Those arrested are now being threatened with a litany of bogus felony charges, including “kidnapping.” Four of the arrested individuals—Russel Ruch, Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero—are protest leaders who have denounced the crimes of the Colorado police, most notably the racist murder of Elijah McClain. The repression against these activists, and many others, is nothing short of police-state retribution. As a PSL statement noted,
“This attack on the Denver anti-racist movement and the PSL is part of a concerted national assault on the Black Lives Matter movement, an attack driven directly from the White House, from Governor’s mansions, and from local police chiefs and police departments around the country.”
It is clear from the manner of the arrests that the Denver area police are trying to punish and intimidate activists. Russel Ruch, for instance, was followed to Home Depot and arrested in the parking lot; Lillian House was surrounded by five police cars as she was driving; and a S.W.A.T. team was sent to Joel Northam’s home. According to the 30-page long arrest affidavits, the police used livestream footage, call transcripts, and social media posts to build a case against those arrested. These coordinated arrests, which utilized both surveillance and brute force, aim to instill fear in every Denver area activist. “Protest, and you could be next” is the message being sent. And the absurd list of felony charges, known as “charge stacking,” means the arrested activists could be facing years, if not decades, in prison.
The arrest of these protest leaders in Denver are part of a larger nationwide crack-down on the Black Lives Matter movement. Across the country, protesters have been snatched off the streets by the police or federal forces in unmarked vehicles. In New York City, the NYPD used facial-recognition software to find and harass a Black Lives Matter activist. And earlier this month, in Washington, federal marshals gunned down Portland activist Michael Reinoehl without warning as he walked to his car.
Left Voice denounces the attempts to repress or otherwise intimidate anti-racist, anti-police activists. It is unacceptable that the state, under direction from both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, targets and intimidates activists fighting for racial justice, while the murderers of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and many more walk free. The real threat to public safety can be found in every police precinct, every city hall, and every seat of political power.
Drop the charges against Denver PSL activists—Free all the arrested protesters!
To sign the PSL’s petition to have the charges dropped, click here:
To donate to the PSL’s legal defense, click here:
— Left Voice, September 18, 2020
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Johnson the Invisible Brat
Johnson the invisible brat,
Thinks he’s better than us all,
For he’s a posh prime minister,
Who defies international law,
No matter how many graves get filled,
Or the cupboards are running bare,
You bet you can rely on this,
Johnson won’t be there.
Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,
It doesn’t matter who,
Can keep a straight face on camera,
While reading the lies on the autocue.
Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,
But whenever there’s a crisis,
Johnson isn’t there
Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.
He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.
You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,
But when there’s a problem to deal with,
Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.
Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,
He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,
His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,
He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,
You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,
But when a job is needing done,
Boris Johnson is never there.
He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way
And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,
He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends
He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,
Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.
Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care
But when there is money to be made,
Johnson and mates will be there.
In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,
Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,
For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,
A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.
He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here,
But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,
You can be sure that,
Boris Johnson will reappear.
Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,
Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,
He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,
Fake news and lies again and again,
When things go wrong and account is called,
It is always someone else’s fault,
What ever the problem no matter where
He always can claim that he wasn’t there.
Covid 19’s, coming,
He says we’ll take it on the chin,
World beating, moonshot, track and trace,
Endless lies and spin
Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,
Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.
Children going hungry a national disgrace
We must take matters in our own hands,
To make things proper here,
Have confidence in our own powers,
Make Johnson and his kind
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
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Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
You are receiving this list because you have opted in on our website.
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this listWHISPeR Project at ExposeFacts 1627 Eye Street, NW Suite 600 Washington, DC 20006
Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven't seen this, you're missing something spectacular:
On Saturday May 30th filmmaker and photographer David Jones of David Jones Media felt compelled to go out and serve the community in some way. He decided to use his art to try and explain the events that were currently impacting our lives. On day two, Sunday the 31st, he activated his dear friend author Kimberly Jones to tag along and conduct interviews. During a moment of downtime he captured these powerful words from her and felt the world couldn’t wait for the full length documentary, they needed to hear them now.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.—BAUAW
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
I didn't do nothing serious man
please I can't breathe
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
I can't breathe sh*t
I can't move
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
some water or something
I can't breathe officer
don't kill me
they gon' kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon' kill me
they gon' kill me
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please I can't breathe"
Then his eyes shut and the pleas stop. George Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.
By ShakaboonaTrump Comic Satire—A Proposal
Write to Shakaboona:Smart Communications/PA DOCKerry Shakaboona Marshall #BE7826SCI RockviewP.O. Box 33028St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
Veterans Join Call for a Global Ceasefire
www.couragetoresist.org ~ 510.488.3559 ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist
Oakland, CA 94610-2730
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: email@example.comDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
A surge in worldwide demand by educators for low-cost laptops has created shipment delays and pitted desperate schools against one another. Districts with deep pockets often win out.
By Kellen Browning, Oct. 12, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/technology/laptops-schools-digital-divide.html
When the Guilford County Schools in North Carolina spent more than $27 million to buy 66,000 computers and tablets for students over the summer, the district ran into a problem: There was a shortage of cheap laptops, and the devices wouldn’t arrive until late October or November.
More than 4,000 students in the district had to start the school year without the computers they needed for remote learning.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Angie Henry, the district’s chief operations officer. “Kids are excited about school. They want to learn.”
Millions of children are encountering all sorts of inconveniences that come with digital instruction during the coronavirus pandemic. But many students are facing a more basic challenge: They don’t have computers and can’t attend classes held online.
A surge in worldwide demand by educators for low-cost laptops and Chromebooks — up to 41 percent higher than last year — has created monthslong shipment delays and pitted desperate schools against one another. Districts with deep pockets often win out, leaving poorer ones to give out printed assignments and wait until winter for new computers to arrive.
That has frustrated students around the country, especially in rural areas and communities of color, which also often lack high-speed internet access and are most likely to be on the losing end of the digital divide. In 2018, 10 million students didn’t have an adequate device at home, a study by education nonprofit Common Sense Media found. That gap, with much of the country still learning remotely, could now be crippling.
“The learning loss that’s taken place since March when they left, when schools closed, it’ll take years to catch up,” Ms. Henry said. “This could impact an entire generation of our students.”
Sellers are facing stunning demand from schools in countries from Germany to El Salvador, said Michael Boreham, an education technology analyst at the British company Futuresource Consulting. Japan alone is expected to order seven million devices.
Global computer shipments to schools were up 24 percent from 2019 in the second quarter, Mr. Boreham said, and were projected to hit that 41 percent jump in the third quarter, which just ended.
Chromebooks, web-based devices that run on software from Google and are made by an array of companies, are in particular demand because they cost less than regular laptops. That has put huge pressure on a supply chain that cobbles laptop parts from all over the world, usually assembling them in Asian factories, Mr. Boreham said.
While that supply chain has slowly geared up, the spike in demand is “so far over and above what has historically been the case,” said Stephen Baker, a consumer electronics analyst at the NPD Group. “The fact that we’ve been able to do that and there’s still more demand out there, it’s something you can’t plan for.”
Adding to the problem, many manufacturers are putting a priority on producing expensive electronics that net greater profits, like gaming hardware and higher-end computers for at-home employees, said Erez Pikar, the chief executive of Trox, a company that sells devices to school districts.
Before the year began, Trox predicted it would deliver 500,000 devices to school districts in the United States and Canada in 2020, Mr. Pikar said. Now, the total will be two million. But North American schools are still likely to end the year with a shortage of more than five million devices, he said. He added that he was not aware of any large-scale efforts to get refurbished or donated laptops to school districts.
Districts that placed orders early in the pandemic have come out ahead, industry analysts said, while schools that waited until summer — often because they were struggling to make ends meet — are at a disadvantage.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, spent $100 million on computers in March and said in September that it was unaffected by shortages. But Paterson Public Schools in New Jersey had to wait until it received federal coronavirus relief money in late May to order 14,000 Chromebooks, which were then delayed because of Commerce Department restrictions on a Chinese manufacturer, Hefei Bitland.
In July, the Commerce Department added Hefei Bitland, which worked with the computer giant Lenovo, to a list of companies accused of using Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in China for forced labor. That worsened laptop shortages just a month or two before schools were set to reopen.
“It took a bad situation and made it worse,” Mr. Pikar said. “It was quite dramatic — there were hundreds and hundreds of school districts that got caught.”
A spokesman for the Commerce Department said Lenovo should have known that “they are supplying computers to American schoolchildren that could have been produced from forced labor.” Lenovo did not respond to requests for comment.
Paterson was able to secure more laptops just nine days before school started, but other districts have not been as lucky.
Alabama schools are waiting for more than 160,000 devices, and Mississippi did not receive the first of the 320,000 computers the state had ordered until early October. Staples said it would receive 140,000 Chromebooks for schools in November and December, 40,000 of which are earmarked for California districts.
Daniel Santos, an eighth-grade teacher in Houston, logs into his virtual classroom from home each morning and starts the day’s American history lesson. Once he turns his students loose to work on assignments, the hard conversations begin.
If students stop turning in homework consistently, Mr. Santos asks them privately: Do you have access to a laptop? One boy said he and his brother were sharing one computer at home, making it difficult for both to attend class. Others were completing assignments on their cellphones.
“It breaks my heart,” said Mr. Santos, who hears the “demoralization” in students’ voices. “They want to do their work.”
Nearly all of the almost 700 students at the school, Navarro Middle School, are Hispanic or Black, and most are eligible for free lunches. Mr. Santos said Navarro had been underfunded for years. It does not even have a functioning library, he said.
The district said it had spent $51 million and obtained more than 100,000 devices since April. But a month into the school year, Houston teachers are still encountering children without laptops.
Mr. Santos’s students are intelligent, inquisitive and unaccustomed to struggling in school, he said. But since classes started in early September, about 10 of his 120 students have told him that they need a laptop. For the first time, some are falling behind, he said.
Guilford County Schools, with 73,000 students, is encountering the same problem in North Carolina. The district ordered laptops in August with help from the March coronavirus relief bill, Ms. Henry said.
Many children in the area live in poverty and lack personal computers or reliable internet service, she said. Those who cannot attend virtual classes are receiving printed assignments delivered to their houses. Some are watching recordings of classes when they can log onto a device, and a small number have been allowed into district buildings for occasional access to computers and Wi-Fi, Ms. Henry said.
The district is pushing to resume some in-person instruction in late October because of the growing divide between rich and poor.
For about a month, Samantha Moore’s four school-age children shared one iPad provided by the Guilford district and took turns going to class. Their grades have suffered as a result, she said.
“Not everybody is financially stable enough to buy laptops, and some families are big like mine,” said Ms. Moore, the manager at a sports bar. “I can’t just go out and buy four computers.” She said she received food stamps, and had lost out on a $6,000 work bonus because the pandemic temporarily closed the bar.
Eric Cole, who teaches Ms. Moore’s 13-year-old son, Raymond Heller, eventually secured more tablets for the family and other students through his church.
Being unable to attend class was “a little frustrating,” Raymond said. Now that he has his own device, “the work is easy — the live classes make everything easier.”
In eastern Idaho, the Bonneville Joint School District is holding in-person classes, but hundreds of students have had to quarantine after possible virus exposure — and the district said it did not have enough Chromebooks for them all. It didn’t place its $700,000 order for 4,000 devices until late September because of budget challenges, said Gordon Howard, Bonneville’s technology director.
While they wait for the order, students without computers are missing out on education.
“Those that are behind continue to get further behind, and it’s through no fault of the kids at all,” said Scott Miller, the principal of the Bonneville district’s Hillcrest High School in Ammon.
Many students at the Sante Fe Indian School, operated by New Mexico’s Pueblo tribes, live in tribal homes without Wi-Fi access, said Kimball Sekaquaptewa, the school’s technology director. The school ordered laptops with built-in SIM cards that do not require Wi-Fi to connect to the internet.
But the delivery date for the July order was pushed to October, forcing students to start the school year without remote classes. Instead, they were asked to find public Wi-Fi twice a week to download and upload assignments.
“There’s a lot of frustration,” Ms. Sekaquaptewa said. “We really wanted to hit the ground running, and now we’re in limbo.”
I’m not afraid of criticism, and “Protect Black women” should not be controversial.
By Megan Thee Stallion, entertainer, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Oct. 13, 2020
Megan Thee Stallion
In the weeks leading up to the election, Black women are expected once again to deliver victory for Democratic candidates. We have gone from being unable to vote legally to a highly courted voting bloc — all in little more than a century.
Despite this and despite the way so many have embraced messages about racial justice this year, Black women are still constantly disrespected and disregarded in so many areas of life.
I was recently the victim of an act of violence by a man. After a party, I was shot twice as I walked away from him. We were not in a relationship. Truthfully, I was shocked that I ended up in that place.
My initial silence about what happened was out of fear for myself and my friends. Even as a victim, I have been met with skepticism and judgment. The way people have publicly questioned and debated whether I played a role in my own violent assault proves that my fears about discussing what happened were, unfortunately, warranted.
After a lot of self-reflection on that incident, I’ve realized that violence against women is not always connected to being in a relationship. Instead, it happens because too many men treat all women as objects, which helps them to justify inflicting abuse against us when we choose to exercise our own free will.
From the moment we begin to navigate the intricacies of adolescence, we feel the weight of this threat, and the weight of contradictory expectations and misguided preconceptions. Many of us begin to put too much value to how we are seen by others. That’s if we are seen at all.
The issue is even more intense for Black women, who struggle against stereotypes and are seen as angry or threatening when we try to stand up for ourselves and our sisters. There’s not much room for passionate advocacy if you are a Black woman.
I recently used the stage at “Saturday Night Live” to harshly rebuke Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, for his appalling conduct in denying Breonna Taylor and her family justice. I anticipated some backlash: Anyone who follows the lead of Congressman John Lewis, the late civil rights giant, and makes “good trouble, necessary trouble,” runs the risk of being attacked by those comfortable with the status quo.
But you know what? I’m not afraid of criticism. We live in a country where we have the freedom to criticize elected officials. And it’s ridiculous that some people think the simple phrase “Protect Black women” is controversial. We deserve to be protected as human beings. And we are entitled to our anger about a laundry list of mistreatment and neglect that we suffer.
Maternal mortality rates for Black mothers are about three times higher than those for white mothers, an obvious sign of racial bias in health care. In 2019, an astronomical 91 percent of the transgender or gender-nonconforming people who were fatally shot were Black, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Beyond threats to our health and lives, we confront so much judgment and so many conflicting messages on a daily basis.
If we dress in fitted clothing, our curves become a topic of conversation not only on social media, but also in the workplace. The fact that Serena Williams, the greatest athlete in any sport ever, had to defend herself for wearing a bodysuit at the 2018 French Open is proof positive of how misguided the obsession with Black women’s bodies is.
I would know. I’ve received quite a bit of attention for appearance as well as my talent. I choose my own clothing. Let me repeat: I choose what I wear, not because I am trying to appeal to men, but because I am showing pride in my appearance, and a positive body image is central to who I am as a woman and a performer. I value compliments from women far more than from men. But the remarks about how I choose to present myself have often been judgmental and cruel, with many assuming that I’m dressing and performing for the male gaze. When women choose to capitalize on our sexuality, to reclaim our own power, like I have, we are vilified and disrespected.
In every industry, women are pitted against one another, but especially in hip-hop, where it seems as if the male-dominated ecosystem can handle only one female rapper at a time. Countless times, people have tried to pit me against Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, two incredible entertainers and strong women. I’m not “the new” anyone; we are all unique in our own ways.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Black girls weren’t inundated with negative, sexist comments about Black women? If they were told instead of the many important things that we’ve achieved? It took a major motion picture, “Hidden Figures,” to introduce the world to the NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson. I wish I’d learned in school about this story as well as more earthly achievements: that Alice H. Parker filed the patent for the first home furnace, or that Marie Van Brittan Brown created the first home security system. Or that Black women, too often in the shadows of such accomplishments, actually powered the civil rights movement. It’s important to note that six of the Little Rock Nine students whose bravery in 1957 led to school integration were Black girls. And that Rosa Parks showed incredible bravery when she refused to move to the “colored section.” I wish that every little Black girl was taught that Black Lives Matter was co-founded by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
Walking the path paved by such legends as Shirley Chisholm, Loretta Lynch, U.S. Representative Maxine Waters and the first Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, Carol Moseley Braun, my hope is that Kamala Harris’s candidacy for vice president will usher in an era where Black women in 2020 are no longer “making history” for achieving things that should have been accomplished decades ago.
But that will take time, and Black women are not naïve. We know that after the last ballot is cast and the vote is tallied, we are likely to go back to fighting for ourselves. Because at least for now, that’s all we have.
Congress was close to a solution before getting hit with millions of dollars of ads from private-equity firms. Then the pandemic struck.
By Sarah Kliff, Oct. 13, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/13/upshot/coronavirus-surprise-medical-bills.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
An intubated coronavirus patient was declining rapidly when doctors decided to airlift her to a hospital with better critical care resources.
“It’s life or death,” the family of the 60-year-old woman recalled being told when it happened in April. “We have to transfer her now.”
The patient was flown by helicopter from one Philadelphia hospital to another 20 miles away. She spent six weeks at the new hospital and survived. When she came home, a letter arrived: The air ambulance company said she owed $52,112 for the trip.
Last year, Congress abandoned its attempt to prevent surprise bills like this one, and coronavirus patients are now paying the price. Bills submitted to The New York Times show that patients often face surprise charges from out-of-network doctors, ambulances and medical laboratories they did not pick or even realize were involved in their care.
The plan to ban these kinds of bills was popular and bipartisan, and it was backed by the White House. It fell apart at the 11th hour after private-equity firms, which own many of the medical providers that deliver surprise bills, poured millions into advertisements opposing the plan. Committee chairs squabbled over jurisdictional issues and postponed the issue. Then the pandemic struck.
‘How am I going to pay this all off?’
The Pennsylvania patient had no way of knowing that her helicopter, which transported her between two in-network hospitals, did not have a contract with her health insurance plan. Nor could she have known that the air ambulance service, owned by a private-equity firm, faces multiple lawsuits over its billing tactics.
Her health plan, Independence Blue Cross, initially said it would pay $7,539 of the bill, according to billing documents reviewed by The Times, but then rescinded the money. The patient, housebound because of lingering coronavirus symptoms, was left with the full amount.
“She was intubated and on a ventilator when her providers felt it was necessary that she be transferred,” said Leslie Pierce, a division chief at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, who handled the complaint that the patient submitted to the agency. “She had no decision in the selection process.”
About 450,000 Americans have been hospitalized with coronavirus. Even for those covered by robust health insurance, hospitalization can generate significant medical bills. To understand the true cost of coronavirus hospitalizations, and the impact these medical bills have on patients, The Times has been inviting readers to share their bills, and you can do so here.
The resulting database, which now includes more than 350 reader submissions, shows coronavirus patients are encountering the same surprise medical bills that have plagued the health system for decades. While President Trump told the country “not to worry” about the disease after his three-day coronavirus hospitalization, other survivors say the cost of care causes tremendous anxiety at a moment when they want to focus on recovery.
Some patients report feeling overwhelmed by the pile of bills that greet them at home. One-third of coronavirus patients reported an altered mental state after contracting the disease, according to the largest randomized study to examine neurological symptoms. Many patients struggle to do basic tasks, such as cook or pay bills.
Alice Navarro, 40, spent 10 days in July receiving coronavirus treatment at an in-network hospital in Austin, Texas. Many doctors who saw her there were out-of-network, and her health plan has denied about $4,000 of their charges.
Ms. Navarro, 40, has been filing appeals with her insurance at the same time that she is suffering from short-term memory loss because of coronavirus.
“I think about the bills several times a day,” she said. “How am I going to pay this all off? My parents were like, ‘Don’t worry about this right now, focus on getting better,’ but that’s easier said than done.”
Surprise medical bills happen when patients receive care from an out-of-network provider they did not choose. These charges are common in certain corners of the health system like the emergency room, where 20 percent of patients are vulnerable to surprise medical bills.
The bills are especially pervasive after ambulance trips: One recent study found that as many as 71 percent of those rides could result in surprise, out-of-network bills.
“We were shocked to see that,” said Dr. Karan Chhabra, a surgical resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the lead author of the study.
Gaps in the pandemic protections
After failing to pass comprehensive billing reform, Congress tried in relief packages passed this spring to shield coronavirus patients from surprise charges. It set up a $175 billion provider relief fund to aid hospitals and doctors on the front lines of battling coronavirus. As a condition of accepting those funds, medical providers agreed not to send surprise medical bills to their patients.
Many health insurers have promised to cover plan members’ coronavirus hospital stays in full, another effort to hold patients harmless.
But these protections leave significant gaps, as patients are beginning to find. While many hospitals and doctors received provider relief funds, a number of medical laboratories and ambulance services did not. That leaves those providers free to bill however they’d like.
Insurers’ policies that cover coronavirus hospital stays, meanwhile, sometimes do not include the ambulance ride it took to get there — or follow-up care to treat long-term symptoms.
“The government is telling people if you have coronavirus, you cannot get surprise-billed,” Dr. Chhabra said. “It’s incredibly counterproductive if people cannot trust the policies meant to protect them when they’re getting care for this illness.”
Air ambulance bills are often the most costly type of surprise medical bills. Dr. Chhabra found a median charge of more than $38,000, leaving the typical patient responsible for more than $21,000 after the insurance payout. The prices are quickly increasing, too, rising about 15 percent each year since 2015.
In recent years, numerous states have enacted laws that restrict surprise out-of-network billing similar to the one Congress nearly passed. But states cannot regulate air ambulance fees. Courts have repeatedly interpreted the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act as protecting air ambulances from any state rate setting.
Only the federal government can intervene by amending the Airline Deregulation Act. The congressional package would have done that, even though the air ambulance industry has generally opposed this policy.
The Pennsylvania patient, who asked not to be identified because she was recovering, was transported by Conemaugh Medstar, an air ambulance serving southwest Pennsylvania. The private equity firm American Securities owns its parent company, Air Methods, which is among the largest air ambulance services in the United States. Air Methods currently faces six separate class-action lawsuits in federal court, where patients describe expensive charges and aggressive debt collection tactics.
In one case, the company sought to garnish $53,034 from a patient’s bank account.
Air Methods contends that those bills are six to eight years old, and that it has since reformed its debt collection practices.
Ground ambulances, another source of surprise bills for coronavirus patients, have also largely escaped billing regulations. California passed legislation in 2017 that barred most types of surprise medical bills, but it excluded ambulances. The congressional deal that nearly passed also did not include ambulances. Legislators may be reluctant to regulate ambulances because many are run by local and municipal governments, which rely on the charges for revenue.
Widowed, and facing a bill
Lynne Lerner, the patient in California, was surprised to receive two $1,471 medical bills for the Los Angeles Fire Department ambulances that took her and her husband to a hospital one mile from their house.
Ms. Lerner had called the ambulance for her husband, Larry, when his coronavirus symptoms worsened in late March. The paramedics suggested that Ms. Lerner, who also had coronavirus, seemed ill enough to require hospital care as well.
The two were put in separate ambulances. Mr. Lerner died after nine days in the hospital. When the first ambulance bill arrived, Ms. Lerner thought, “Please let this be for the both of us.”
“They took us around the corner,” she said. “I could have walked.”
She had expected her insurance to cover all costs related to coronavirus. Instead, it ended up paying 90 percent of the ambulance bills, leaving Ms. Lerner with $294 to pay.
The Los Angeles Fire Department did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.
Air Methods said the document received by the Pennsylvania patient, which stated the “amount due” above a box to write in a credit-card number, was not a bill but rather “an update on where things stood” with her insurance company. The company estimates it has transported 3,300 coronavirus patients over the course of the pandemic, and said that it had a “special process” for handling their billing.
“Our patient advocate teams work closely with our patients to ensure they have guidance through the reimbursement process,” said Doug Flanders, a spokesman for Air Methods.
The Pennsylvania patient ultimately filed a complaint with the state’s insurance commissioner, Jessica Altman. While Ms. Altman’s office has no authority to regulate air ambulance bills, her staff did make a phone call to the insurer. The situation then resolved quickly. Independence Blue Cross said in a statement that it had already begun reprocessing the claim by the time the regulator called.
The health insurer initially sent the patient documents stating, “You are responsible to pay the amount the provider may bill you.”
Shortly after the regulator’s inquiry, the patient learned the health plan would cover the bill completely.
Some low-income students have dropped out, and there are growing concerns about hunger and homelessness.
By Dan Levin, Published Oct. 12, 2020, Updated Oct. 13, 2020
Michelle Macario, a community college student in Los Angeles, watched a friend’s dog in exchange for a place to stay for a week. Credit...Christian Monterrosa for The New York Times
Michelle Macario was struggling to follow online classes through the tiny screen of her smartphone. She had no laptop and no Wi-Fi at home, and the library where she normally studied at her community college in Los Angeles was closed. So two weeks into the coronavirus shutdown in the spring, she dropped all of her courses to avoid failing.
Things are not much better this semester. Ms. Macario, 18, who is majoring in psychology at Santa Monica College, left the crowded apartment in Los Angeles that she shared with her immigrant family from Guatemala and has been crashing with her sister and friends. But the Wi-Fi is unreliable, she is living too far away from her hospital internship, and she toils to tap out exams and homework on her phone.
“Between the internet, Covid and couch surfing, I haven’t been able to do a good semester,” Ms. Macario said.
Trapped between the financial hardships of the pandemic and the technological hurdles of online learning, the millions of low-income college students across America face mounting obstacles in their quests for higher education. Some have simply dropped out, as Ms. Macario did previously, while others are left scrambling to find housing and internet access amid campus closures and job losses.
“Every part of this pandemic is hitting low-income students hardest, and they were already in bad shape to begin with,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, the founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, which studies the economic challenges facing college students.
Some colleges and universities have increased financial aid to students in need, but others, facing their own financial challenges, have said they cannot afford to offer more. A federal stimulus package passed in March that provided $7 billion for student expenses such as food, housing and health care has largely been depleted, and Republicans have balked at passing further relief proposed by Democrats. President Trump pulled out of and then tried to restart negotiations for additional aid last week.
The impact on struggling students can be seen most clearly at the nation’s roughly 1,400 community colleges, where nearly half of students start seeking degrees. Enrollment there declined by 8 percent this fall, compared with a 2.5 percent drop in undergraduate enrollment over all, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center in Herndon, Va., which tracks college enrollment data.
The decline amounts to about half a million fewer community college students, said Martha Parham, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, an advocacy group in Washington. Unlike in previous economic recessions, when community colleges saw a surge in enrollment, the pandemic has had the opposite effect.
Most community college students work, Ms. Parham said, and many are parents. Home internet access and computers are sometimes unaffordable for them.
“If they have lost their job because of the pandemic, now they’re faced with, ‘How do I pay rent, how do I feed my kids?’” Ms. Parham said, adding that for those students “classes are not a top priority right now.”
For students who do drop out, there is little chance they will return. Just 13 percent of college dropouts re-enroll in courses, according to a report released last year. “Once you stop going,” Ms. Parham said, “it’s much more difficult to start back up again.”
Black and Latino students have been hit particularly hard. EAB, an educational research firm based in Washington, found that students of color had submitted a free application for federal student aid at far lower rates in 2020 than in previous years. The firm’s researchers also found that far more low-income students, particularly students of color, had committed to colleges but not shown up compared with last year.
One of those students is Jared Sawyer, 23, who was planning to begin his senior year at Morehouse College in Atlanta this fall but could not afford tuition. The son of a truck driver and an elementary schoolteacher, Mr. Sawyer largely relied in past years on financial aid, which often arrived just before the semester started. “Now it’s like 10 times worse,” he said.
Mr. Sawyer said his aid request to the college was denied in August with only a day’s notice. “They were like, ‘You have to come up with $10,000 by the end of tomorrow, or you’re no longer going to be enrolled,’” he said.
Morehouse did not respond to requests for comment. But the pandemic has strained the already-tight resources of many historically Black colleges and universities, making it harder for them to offer their students financial aid. Nearly three in five attendees at H.B.C.U.s are low-income, first-generation students, and over 70 percent of their students have limited financial resources.
Mr. Sawyer, who wants to become a pastor, is using his time off to work for civil rights organizations and to fund-raise so that he can re-enroll in the spring and obtain a doctorate in theology. “It’s definitely a delay, but sometimes stumbling blocks come,” he said.
Many students like Mr. Sawyer have been looking for alternative ways to pay for their education. As the coronavirus was closing campuses this past spring, Rise, a student-led organization that advocates college affordability, created an online network to help students find emergency financial aid, apply for public benefits and locate food pantries.
Rise has continued to serve more than 1,000 students a month who have struggled to pay rent, keep jobs and secure internet access, said Max Lubin, the organization’s chief executive. “We’re overwhelmed by the need,” he said.
Stable housing and healthy food were already major concerns before the pandemic. A 2019 survey found that 17 percent of college students had experienced homelessness in the past year, and about half reported issues such as difficulty paying rent or utilities. Nearly 40 percent lacked reliable access to nutritious food.
The coronavirus crisis worsened many of these challenges, according to a June report by the Hope Center, which found that nearly three out of five students surveyed had trouble affording basic needs during the pandemic.
Financial aid in the United States had already been stretched thin by the rising costs of tuition, room and board. At their maximum, need-based federal Pell grants cover 28 percent of the total cost of attending a public college today, compared with more than half of that cost in the 1980s. State aid, while recovering somewhat since the Great Recession, still falls short of need, and state budgets have been further drained by the health crisis.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, provided about $14 billion for higher education, with about half earmarked for students. But there were limits on who could receive it, and college students were ineligible for the $1,200 stimulus check that went to taxpayers.
In a survey of some 300 college and university presidents conducted by the American Council on Education, a trade group, about 80 percent reported that they had provided more financial aid for the fall term. But few institutions have endowments large enough to cover significant increases, and many that do have traditionally been unwilling to cover living expenses.
“The whole system right now is built around the idea that the main cost is supposed to be the tuition, even though it’s not,” said Ms. Goldrick-Rab of the Hope Center.
Before the pandemic, Matt Bodo, 22, was homeless for two years while taking community college classes and working full-time as a waiter and a valet in Northern California. He was occasionally able to sleep on a friend’s sofa, but he mostly lived in his car, a rusted old Ford Mustang.
For internet access, he would spend as much time as possible on campus, where he could also shower.
Last year, Mr. Bodo transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is majoring in linguistics and psychology, and settled into a shared dorm room. But he could not afford the cost for housing after the pandemic hit and the school required students to pay more for single rooms.
His younger sister, a community college student in the Bay Area, lost her housing in early April, and he returned to help her. Few of his quarantining friends were willing to take them in, so soon they were both sleeping in their cars.
This term has been somewhat better; nonprofit groups have helped him afford a U.C.L.A. dorm. But even with financial assistance and three jobs, Mr. Bodo is struggling to pay for classes and to support his sister, who is still couch surfing and needs money for community college.
If he cannot make ends meet, Mr. Bodo said, he will become homeless again in order to cover her rent.
“She’s my little sister, and I hate to see her struggle,” he said. “In my heart, I put her before me, even if that means I’m living in my car.”
By Catrin Einhorn, Maria Magdalena Arréllaga, Blacki Migliozzi and Scott ReinhardOct. 13, 2020
This year, roughly a quarter of the vast Pantanal wetland in Brazil, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, has burned in wildfires worsened by climate change. What happens to a rich and unique biome when so much is destroyed?https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/13/climate/pantanal-brazil-fires.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=800843985&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=156027000&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
The unprecedented fires in the wetland have attracted less attention than blazes in Australia, the Western United States and the Amazon, its celebrity sibling to the north. But while the Pantanal is not a global household name, tourists in the know flock there because it is home to exceptionally high concentrations of breathtaking wildlife: Jaguars, tapirs, endangered giant otters and bright blue hyacinth macaws. Like a vast tub, the wetland swells with water during the rainy season and empties out during the dry months. Fittingly, this rhythm has a name that evokes a beating heart: the flood pulse.
The wetland, which is larger than Greece and stretches over parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, also offers unseen gifts to a vast swath of South America by regulating the water cycle upon which life depends. Its countless swamps, lagoons and tributaries purify water and help prevent floods and droughts. They also store untold amounts of carbon, helping to stabilize the climate.
For centuries, ranchers have used fire to clear fields and new land. But this year, drought worsened by climate change turned the wetlands into a tinderbox and the fires raged out of control.
“The extent of fires is staggering,” said Douglas C. Morton, who leads the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and studies fire and food production in South America. “When you wipe out a quarter of a biome, you create all kinds of unprecedented circumstances.”
His analysis showed that at least 22 percent of the Pantanal in Brazil has burned since January, with the worst fires, in August and September, blazing for two months straight.
Naturally occurring fire plays a role in the Pantanal, in addition to the burning by ranchers. The flames are usually contained by the landscape’s mosaic of water. But this year’s drought sucked these natural barriers dry. The fires raged out of control, far worse than any since satellite records began.
The fires are also worse than any in the memory of the Guató people, an Indigenous group whose ancestors have lived in the Pantanal for thousands of years.
Guató leaders in an Indigenous territory called Baía dos Guató said the fires spread from the ranches that surround their land, and satellite images confirm that the flames swept in from the outside. When fire started closing in on the home of Sandra Guató Silva, a community leader and healer, she fought to save it with the help of her son, grandson and a boat captain with a hose.
For many desperate hours, she said, they threw buckets of river water and sprayed the area around the house and its roof of thatched palm leaves. They succeeded in defending it, but at least 85 percent of her people’s territory burned, according to Instituto Centro de Vida, a nonprofit group that monitors land use in the area. Throughout the Pantanal, almost half of the Indigenous lands burned, an investigative journalism organization called Agência Pública found.
Now Ms. Guató Silva mourns the loss of nature itself. “It makes me sick,” she said. “The birds don’t sing anymore. I no longer hear the song of the Chaco chachalaca bird. Even the jaguar that once scared me is suffering. That hurts me. I suffer from depression because of this. Now there is a hollow silence. I feel as though our freedom has left us, has been taken from us with the nature that we have always protected.”
Now these people of the wetlands, some still coughing after weeks of smoke, are depending on donations of water and food. They fear that once the rains come in October, ash will run into the rivers and kill the fish they rely on for their food and livelihood.
“I couldn’t help but think, our Pantanal is dead,” said Eunice Morais de Amorim, another member of the community. “It is so terrible.”
Scientists are scrambling to determine an estimate of animals killed in the fires. While large mammals and birds have suffered casualties, many were able to run or fly away. It appears that reptiles, amphibians and small mammals have fared the worst. In places like California, small animals often take refuge underground during wildfires. But in the Pantanal, scientists say, fires burn underground too, fueled by dried-out wetland vegetation. One of the hard-hit places was a national park designated as a United Nations World Heritage site.
“I don’t want to be an alarmist,” said José Sabino, a biologist at the Anhanguera-Uniderp University in Brazil who studies the Pantanal, “but in a region where 25 percent has burned, there is a huge loss.”
As the worst flames raged in August and September, biologists, ecotourism guides and other volunteers turned into firefighters, sometimes working 24 hours at a time. Fernando Tortato, a conservation scientist with Panthera, a group that advocates for big cats, visited the Pantanal in early August to install cameras for his research monitoring jaguars and ocelots. But he found the camera sites burned.
“I said to my boss, I need to change my job,” Mr. Tortato said. “I need to be a firefighter.” Instead of returning home to his family, he spent much of the next two months digging fire breaks with a bulldozer in an urgent attempt to protect forested areas.
One day in September, working under an orange sky, he and his team finished a huge semicircular fire break, using a wide river along one side to protect more than 3,000 hectares, he said, a vital refuge for wildlife. But as the men stood there, pleased with their accomplishment, they watched as flaming debris suddenly jumped the river, igniting the area they thought was safe. They raced into boats and tried to douse the spread, but the flames quickly climbed too high.
“That’s the moment that we lost hope, almost,” Mr. Tortato said. “But the next day we woke up and started again.”
Mr. Tortato knows of three injured jaguars, one with third-degree burns on her paws. All were treated by veterinarians. Now, biologists are braced for the next wave of deaths from starvation; first the herbivores, left without vegetation, and then the carnivores, left without the herbivores.
“It’s a cascade effect,” Mr. Tortato said.
Animal rescue volunteers have flocked to the Pantanal, delivering injured animals to pop-up veterinary triage stations and leaving food and water for other animals to find. Larissa Prado Campos, a veterinary student, has helped treat wild boar, marsh deer, birds, primates and a raccoon-like creature called a coati.
“We are working in the middle of a crisis,” Ms. Prado Campos said. “I have woken up many times in the middle of the night to tend to animals here.”
Last week, the O Globo newspaper reported that firefighting specialists from Brazil's main environmental protection agency were stymied by bureaucratic procedures, delaying their deployment by four months.
Given the historic scope of the fires, their long-term consequences on the Pantanal are unclear. The ecosystem’s grasslands may recover quickly, followed by its shrublands and swamps over the next few years, said Wolfgang J. Junk, a scientist who specializes in the region. But the forests will require decades or centuries.
Even more critical than the impact of this year’s fires, scientists say, is what they tell us about the underlying health of the wetlands. Like a patient whose high fever signals a dangerous infection, the extent of the wildfires is a symptom of grave threats to the Pantanal, both from inside and out.
More than 90 percent of the Pantanal is privately owned. Ranchers have raised cattle there for hundreds of years, and ecologists emphasize that many do so sustainably. But new farmers are moving in, often with little understanding of how to use fire properly, said Cátia Nunes, a scientist from the Brazilian National Institute for Science and Technology in Wetlands. Moreover, cattle farming in the highlands has put pressure on local farmers to increase the size of their herds, using more land as they do so.
Eduardo Eubank Campos, a fifth-generation rancher, remembers his family using controlled burns to clear the land when he was a boy. He said they stopped after adding an ecotourism lodge to their 7,000 hectare property, which now includes reserves and fields on which they raise about 2,000 head of cattle and horses. This year, thanks to firebreaks, a water tank truck and workers quickly trained to fight fire, they were able to keep the flames at bay. The worst impact was on his ecotourism business, hit first by the coronavirus and then by the wildfires. It brings in three-quarters of his revenue.
Mr. Eubank Campos struggles to understand who would set fires when the land was so dry. “Pantaneiros know this is not the time to do burns,” Mr. Eubank Campos said, using a term for the locals that also conveys a culture built up over centuries ranching in the wetland. “They don’t want to destroy their own land.”
The Brazilian federal police are investigating the fires, some of which appear to have been illegally targeting forests.
Still, when asked about the biggest threat to the Pantanal, Mr. Eubank Campos’s answer highlights the region’s political and cultural fault lines. “I fear those organizations that come here wanting to exploit the issue and eventually ‘close’ the Pantanal, turn it into one big reserve and kick out the Pantaneiros,” he said.
Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a promise to weaken conservation regulations, is popular in the region.
But Mr. Eubank Campos agrees with ecologists on a major threat to the Pantanal that comes from its borders and beyond.
Because ecosystems are interconnected, the well-being of the wetland is at the mercy of the booming agriculture in the surrounding highlands. The huge fields of soy, other grains and cattle — commodities traded around the world — cause soil erosion that flows into the Pantanal, clogging its rivers so severely that some have become accidental dams, robbing the area downstream of water.
The rampant deforestation and related fires in the neighboring Amazon also create a domino effect, disrupting the rainforest’s “flying rivers” of precipitation that contribute to rainfall to the Pantanal. Damming for hydroelectric power deflects water away, scientists say, and a proposal to channelize the wetland’s main river would make it drain too quickly.
But perhaps the most ominous danger comes from even further afield: climate change. The effects that models have predicted, a much hotter Pantanal alternating between severe drought and extreme rainfall, are already being felt, scientists say. A study published this year found that climate change poses “a critical threat” to the ecosystem, damaging biodiversity and impairing its ability to help regulate water for the continent and carbon for the world. In less than 20 years, it found that the northern Pantanal may turn into a savanna or even an arid zone.
“We are digging our grave,” said Karl-Ludwig Schuchmann, an ecologist with Brazil’s National Institute of Science and Technology in Wetlands and one of the study’s authors.
To save the Pantanal, scientists offer solutions: Reduce climate change immediately. Practice sustainable agriculture in and around the wetland. Pay ranchers to preserve forests and other natural areas on their land. Increase ecotourism. Do not divert the Pantanal’s waters, because its flood pulse is its life.
“Everybody talks about, ‘we have to avoid this and that,’” Dr. Schuchmann said. “But little is done.”
The demonstrations highlighted a mass execution overseen by Abraham Lincoln and also targeted Theodore Roosevelt.
By Mike Baker, Oct. 12, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/us/portland-lincoln-statue-roosevelt.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
SEATTLE — Protesters in Portland, Ore., swept through the city on Sunday night, toppling statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and damaging the entrance to the Oregon Historical Society in a demonstration against colonization and the treatment of Native Americans.
Protests around the country this year have mainly targeted statues featuring slave owners and symbols of the Confederacy, but the demonstrators in Portland focused on the 1920s statues of the former presidents as part of a protest billed as an “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage.”
President Trump seized on the toppling of the statues on Monday morning, citing the destruction as a reason to vote for him next month. “The Radical Left fools in Portland don’t want any help from real Law Enforcement which we will provide instantaneously,” he wrote on Twitter. “Vote!”
Lincoln has long been celebrated as the president who brought an end to slavery in the United States, but the protesters sprayed the base of his statute in Portland with “Dakota 38” — a reference to the largest mass execution in U.S. history, in which 38 Dakota Indians were sent to the gallows in 1862, accused of killing settlers in raids.
Lincoln had signed the execution order. He had also expressed worry about the rapid speed and lack of evidence presented at military tribunals that led to the death sentences; he commuted the sentences of 265 others who had been tried.
Roosevelt has been scrutinized over his opinions about racial hierarchy and his role in the Spanish-American War. He endorsed eugenics proposals. He was quoted as saying it would be better if almost all Native Americans were dead.
Mayor Ted Wheeler was among those who criticized Sunday’s destruction. He was joined at a news conference by Tawna D. Sanchez, a Native American state legislator who lives in Portland. She said that those who want to change the city’s statues could do that through city processes.
“We don’t have to do it by tearing things down, because it’s not helping,” she said.
Statues have remained an area of focus around the country. In Santa Fe, N.M., on Monday, protesters toppled an obelisk that was inscribed to honor people who died battling “savage” Indians.
Protests in Portland have persisted in the months since Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd in May, sparking nationwide protests for racial justice and against police brutality. While much of the focus of demonstrations has been on how Black people have been harmed, the protests have at times highlighted other causes, including the need for societal reforms to address transgender rights, economic disparities and Native Americans.
On Sunday night, journalists in Portland reported that crowds had smashed windows and spray-painted graffiti at other locations, including the Oregon Historical Society and several businesses. The Portland police later declared the gathering a riot and dispersed the crowd, making three arrests.
One of the people arrested was driving a van suspected of helping pull down the Roosevelt statue, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said on Monday. Prosecutors said that person, Brandon Bartells, has been charged with damaging a historic statue.
Kerry Tymchuk, the executive director of the historical society, said the items inside the society’s building were left untouched, except for a quilt sewn by a group of Black women over the course of three years in the 1970s. The quilt was removed from the building by protesters and was later found several blocks away. It was “very wet” — probably as a result of the rain — but Mr. Tymchuk said he hoped it could be put on display again.
Mr. Trump, who is seeking to make a law-and-order case for re-election, has repeatedly highlighted unrest in Portland. On Monday, he sent a series of tweets about the Portland statues, calling the protesters “animals” and calling for the F.B.I. to help contain them.
“Portland, call in the Feds!” Mr. Trump tweeted.
The deployment of federal agents to crack down on Portland protesters this year drew thousands of demonstrators into the street for nightly clashes in front of the federal courthouse. That came after Mr. Trump directed federal agencies to deploy additional personnel to protect statues, monuments and federal property. After state and federal officials came to an agreement to pull back federal agents, the protests have waned in size.
Sunday’s gathering included about 200 people.
In America’s bizarre electoral system, some votes are more equal than others.
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, Oct. 14, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/14/opinion/california-voting.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
I spent about an hour over the weekend filling out my ballot for the 2020 general election. As an immigrant from a country where elections were not free until 1994, I understand the privilege of the franchise. Every two years, when it’s time to vote in national elections, I rip open my voting packet with a sense of sacred, nerdy seriousness. I’ll even study the positions of the candidates for school board. But that feeling never lasts; by the time I finish filling in all the bubbles, I am bitter and angry, weighed down by the pointlessness of the whole exercise.
Like more than 100 million other Americans, I live in one of the dozens of states that do not really matter in determining the makeup of our national government. Because I’m in California, the country’s most populous state and its biggest economy, my vote in The Most Important Presidential Election of Our Lifetime is hardly worth the paper it’s printed on.
The roots of my despair are well known. There is the Senate, which gives all states equal representation regardless of population, so voters in Wyoming, the least populous state, effectively enjoy almost 70 times more voting power than us chopped-liver Californians. And there is the winner-takes-all Electoral College, in which a tiny margin of victory pays off, with the whole pot of electoral votes going to the winner. This means that millions of presidential votes, from both Republicans and Democrats, are effectively wasted — all the votes cast for the loser in each state and all the excess ones cast for the winner.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in California by more than four million votes. But in our bizarre system, Clinton’s four million Californians were ignored, superseded by the 80,000 voters who gave Trump the narrow margin he needed to win in three other states, and he became president.
I am not here to argue over the merits of these rules. (For that, read my colleague Jesse Wegman’s recent book, which makes the definitive case against the Electoral College.) Fights over the Constitution’s anti-majoritarian provisions tend toward tedium; one side painstakingly explains how the rules are unfair, the other side insists that the unfairness is actually very wise and by design, and then they go back and forth until oblivion.
But I would like to speak up for all of us scorned voters, especially my 40 million fellow Californians, who are watching the 2020 election sail by like a derelict oil tanker passing under the Golden Gate. All we can do is hope it doesn’t blow up in our faces; otherwise, we have little say over the matter.
I have voted in every federal election since 2000, and not once do I remember a presidential candidate ever making an effort to get my vote. This year, I feel worse than ever. Though I am as stressed out as anyone about the outcome, the election often seems to be happening in some other country, where the voters live different lives from me, the candidates don’t care about the issues that matter to me and the only time a candidate reaches out is for my credit card number.
We have had a tough time lately in the Golden State. You might have heard. Beyond the pandemic — nearly a million Californians have been infected by the coronavirus, and more than 16,000 have died — millions of Californians have had to endure months of raging wildfires and extremely unhealthy air quality.
Climate change-related disasters have compounded our other entrenched problems of livability: housing costs that eat up paychecks, an epidemic of homelessness that seems to defy all attempts to fix it, one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and the growing sense that only the very wealthy can afford to live in many of our largest cities.
These issues are not California’s alone: There are similar problems in other states’ big cities, among them Seattle, Portland, New York and Chicago. You might even say that these urban issues constitute a kind of national problem. But neither Joe Biden nor Trump dwell much on them, because they aren’t the problems of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Florida.
Every two years, I think about how thoroughly I am being ignored, and each time I’m more infuriated than the last. Twice in my lifetime, the loser of the national popular vote has won the presidency. The same injustice might happen again this year. But even if it doesn’t, don’t conclude that all is well and good with the way we pick the president.
Consider last week’s debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. By my count, the candidates mentioned fracking — an issue of environmental and economic importance in southwestern Pennsylvania, one of the most prized battlegrounds — 10 times. First, Pence accused Biden of wanting to ban fracking, then Harris said Biden would never ban fracking, then Pence said he would, then Harris said he wouldn’t, the whole argument very much like the one my kids have over who gets to take a shower second.
By comparison, the wildfires that set ablaze the western United States last month received only glancing mention — and it was Susan Page, the moderator, rather than Harris, California’s junior senator, who brought them up. Page mightn’t have bothered. When Pence was asked about the fires and other climate disasters, he ended his answer by insisting that Biden would ban fracking.
It wasn’t just fracking over fires. In both the vice-presidential and the presidential debates, nobody mentioned housing or homelessness, a top policy issue for people in my state. There was barely a mention of building new roads, bridges or expanding public transportation — Harris raised the issue mainly to take a shot at how Trump has turned his plan for “infrastructure week” into a joke.
Then, of course, there is the Supreme Court nomination that Republicans are ramming through the Senate. Because Republicans derive much of their political strength from many small states, the Senate amplifies their power; as CNN’s Ronald Brownstein pointed out last month, the 47 Democratic senators represent nearly 169 million people, more than the 158 million people represented by the Senate’s 53 Republicans.
If Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is confirmed along partisan lines, the Supreme Court will cross “an undemocratic milestone,” as Adam Cole pointed out in Vox. For the first time, “a controlling majority of the court will have been put there by senators whom most voters didn’t choose.”
It boils my blood, all of it. Is it any wonder that the United States has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout among developed nations? The system is corrosive. We are told by everyone, everywhere, that voting is the path toward a better country, but in every election, we are shown that some votes matter much more than others, and that we should all just live with it, because smart people a long time ago decided it should be so.
I still vote. I do it out of a sense of civic duty and as a role model to my children, and to make sure I can get the NIMBYs off the City Council. But when it comes to the national government, I long ago gave up any hope of ever mattering.
"You ever been charged with a crime before?" the officer said to the boy. "Well, you’re fixing to be.”
By Trone Dowd, October 13, 2020
Newly released bodycam footage shows how a North Carolina school resource officer handcuffed a 7-year-old boy with autism and threatened him for nearly 40 minutes as staffers stood by.
Now the boy’s mother is suing the state, the school district, and the officer for negligence, emotional distress, and violating the Constitution.
The bodycam footage reveals the details of the September 2018 incident at the Pressly School in Statesville, North Carolina, prompted by the boy allegedly began spitting in his classroom after a period of bustling activity among the students. When the bodycam footage begins, Officer Michael Fattaleh arrives in a room where two unidentified staff members are seen restraining the boy by his arms. The officer quickly takes control of the situation, placing the boy, who stood just 4-foot-6 and weighed 80 pounds at the time, according to the Washington Post, in handcuffs face-down on the floor. He then spends the next 38 minutes asking the boy a series of questions typically reserved for an offending adult, restraining him until his mother arrives.
“He’s mine now,” he tells the two adults before turning his attention to the boy.
“Don’t move,” he says to the boy. “You spit on me, I’ll put a hood on you.”
At several points in the video, the officer makes certain concessions to ensure the boy’s safety and comfort, including putting a pillow under his head, having someone remove his glasses, and asking him if he can breathe properly. He then turns back to speaking about the boy’s offenses and holding him down when he begins to thrash against the handcuffs.
“I’m not playing that game. I don’t do the spitting. I don’t mind the walking. I don’t mind the occasional shove,” Fattahel says at one point in the video. “But you don’t spit here. He’s going to get charged. If you, my friend, are not acquainted with the juvenile justice system, you will be very shortly. You ever been charged with a crime before? Well, you’re fixing to be.”
The two other adults in the room do not intervene, even as the boy begins to cry. When his mother arrives asking whether handcuffing her son was necessary, Fattahel says the boy was being combative and will be charged with one count of assault.
“How can you charge a special needs kid with a count of assault?” she asks Fattahel.
This question is now at the center of her federal lawsuit, filed Friday, against the city of Statesville, officer Fattahel, and the Iredell-Statesville Board of Education. The mother, who has not shared her name with the public, told WSCO-TV 9 that she was infuriated to find her son handcuffed on the ground. She explained that he suffers from severe separation anxiety and the episode was likely triggered by that.
Fattahel’s lawyer Ashley Cannon told the Charlotte Observer that the state’s Bureau of Investigation conducted an independent review of the incident, concluding that Fattahel did nothing wrong. The officer has since resigned from his post. The boy’s mother removed her son from the school and quit her job in order to homeschool him.
Since the death of George Floyd in May and the wave of support for police reform that followed, police departments have begun to reckon with the need for unarmed behavioral professionals to handle situations with people who suffer from mental health issues. Several cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Albuquerque, have promised to look into transitioning cops out of responding to non-violent complaints about the homeless and the mentally ill. In many states, this restructuring of responsibility would prevent officers who work in schools like Fattahel from handling these situations in most cases.
Last month, bodycam footage showing the March arrest of Daniel Prude in Rochester once again sparked conversations over the role police should play in dealing with the mentally ill. Prude, who died in police custody after he was restrained on the sidewalk and had a spit hood placed on his head, was having a mental health episode at the time of the fatal arrest. Bodycam footage showing the shooting of 13-year-old Linden Cameron was also made available to the public last month. The teenager, who is also autistic, was shot 11 times. He survived the encounter with police.
New accounts from the scene raise questions about whether Michael Reinoehl, suspected of killing a far-right Trump supporter, pulled out a gun before officers fatally shot him.
By Evan Hill, Mike Baker, Derek Knowles and Stella Cooper, Oct. 13, 2020
Mr. Reinoehl during a protest in Portland, Ore., in July. Credit...Matthieu Lewis-Rolland, via Reuters
Michael Reinoehl was on the run.
A few days after a shooting left a far-right Trump supporter dead on the streets of Portland, Ore., Mr. Reinoehl, an antifa activist who had been named in the news media as a focus of the investigation, feared that vigilantes were after him, not to mention the police. Even some of his close friends did not know where he was.
But the authorities knew.
On Sept. 3, about 120 miles north of Portland, Mr. Reinoehl was getting into his Volkswagen station wagon when a pair of unmarked sport utility vehicles roared through the quiet streets, screeching to a halt just in front of his bumper. Members of a U.S. Marshals task force jumped out and unleashed a hail of bullets that shattered windows, whizzed past bystanders and left Mr. Reinoehl dead in the street.
Attorney General William P. Barr trumpeted the operation as a “significant accomplishment” that removed a “violent agitator.” The officers had opened fire, he said, when Mr. Reinoehl “attempted to escape arrest” and “produced a firearm” during the encounter. But a reconstruction of what happened that night, based on the accounts of people who witnessed the confrontation and the preliminary findings of investigators, produces a much different picture — one that raises questions about whether law enforcement officers made any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Reinoehl before killing him.
In interviews with 22 people who were near the scene, all but one said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire. In their official statements, not yet made public, the officers offered differing accounts of whether they saw Mr. Reinoehl with a weapon. One told investigators he thought he saw Mr. Reinoehl raise a gun inside the vehicle before the firing began, but two others said they did not.
Mr. Reinoehl did have a .380-caliber handgun on him when he was killed, according to the county sheriff’s team that is running a criminal homicide investigation into Mr. Reinoehl’s death. But the weapon was found in his pocket.
An AR-style rifle was found apparently untouched in a bag in his car.
Five eyewitnesses said in interviews that the gunfire began the instant the vehicles arrived. None of them saw Mr. Reinoehl holding a weapon. A single shell casing of the same caliber as the handgun he was carrying was found inside his car.
Garrett Louis, who watched the shooting begin while trying to get his 8-year-old son out of the line of fire, said the officers arrived with such speed and violence that he initially assumed they were drug dealers gunning down a foe — until he saw their law enforcement vests.
“I respect cops to the utmost, but things were definitely in no way, shape or form done properly,” Mr. Louis said.
The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment for this article, citing the pending investigation. The agency previously said that it had attempted to “peacefully arrest” Mr. Reinoehl and that he had threatened the lives of law enforcement officers.
President Trump, who has described the racial justice protests that have roiled the nation as the work of lawless criminals, praised the operation.
“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” the president told Fox News. “And I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”
‘That shot felt like the beginning of a war’
Mr. Reinoehl had joined protesters in Portland in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by the Minneapolis police in May, writing online that they were waging a necessary war with the potential to “fix everything.” He devoted himself to the Black Lives Matter movement and once touted himself as “100% ANTIFA all the way.”
Mr. Reinoehl, a 48-year-old contractor and professional snowboarder, had run into trouble with the law in June, when he was cited for driving under the influence of a controlled substance and having an unlicensed firearm in the car. Later, during the protests, the police arrested him and cited him for carrying a loaded firearm in a public place, but prosecutors dropped the charges.
When the protests against the police got underway in Portland, he carved a niche for himself providing security, watching for agitators. After a caravan of supporters of Mr. Trump arrived in Portland on Aug. 29 and began clashing with the protesters, a security camera showed Mr. Reinoehl keeping an eye on one of them — Aaron J. Danielson, a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer who was walking with a can of bear repellent and an expandable baton.
Seconds later, a separate livestream video captured Mr. Danielson being shot, and The Oregonian newspaper reported later that Mr. Reinoehl was under investigation in the case. In an interview while he was in hiding that Vice News broadcast on Sept. 3, Mr. Reinoehl said he had fired in self-defense. “That shot felt like the beginning of a war,” he said.
A quiet night and a sudden raid
On the day the interview aired, officers with the U.S. Marshals’ Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force met for an intelligence briefing.
The team, which included a mix of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, already knew that Mr. Reinoehl was staying in a brick complex of apartments in Lacey, Wash. The task force had information from an informant, passed on by the Portland police, about Mr. Reinoehl’s location and possession of firearms, said Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, who leads the team investigating Mr. Reinoehl’s death.
Though the Portland police had yet to issue a warrant for Mr. Reinoehl’s arrest, the task force prepared to move in.
That evening, outside the apartment complex where the police say Mr. Reinoehl had been staying, the neighborhood was quiet.
Mr. Louis, a carpenter and former U.S. Army medic, watched his son ride his bike with his younger brother and a neighborhood friend. Around the corner, Chad Smith and two friends, Chase Cutler and Jon Chastain, were wrapping up an afternoon spent working on cars.
Mr. Reinoehl left the apartment and walked toward his Volkswagen, parked along the street roughly 100 feet away. Two officers positively identified Mr. Reinoehl, who proceeded to get into the car, said Lieutenant Brady, who shared some of the initial findings of the investigation with The New York Times. They decided to make an immediate arrest, the officers told investigators, in part to avoid a high-speed chase.
Mr. Smith said he and his friends turned their heads to the sound of a vehicle accelerating rapidly, headed southbound toward the street where Mr. Reinoehl was walking. A second law enforcement S.U.V., which had been parked across from Mr. Smith’s house, moved in with such speed that the friends thought they were witnessing a road rage incident or a gang shooting.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Cutler ran after the unmarked S.U.V.s, watching as they turned onto Mr. Reinoehl’s street, one cutting the corner and speeding over the grass.
Nate Dinguss, who according to Lieutenant Brady lived in the apartment where Mr. Reinoehl was staying, said Mr. Reinoehl was chewing a gummy worm as he approached his station wagon, with a phone in one hand and a bag in the other.
Mr. Dinguss said in an interview that officers began jumping out of the vehicles before they had come to a complete stop, and that one of them opened fire immediately, before any commands had been given. Another man who was walking his dog nearby said that a burst of about 10 gunshots began almost immediately after the S.U.V.s came to a halt, and that he did not recall hearing any commands. Mr. Louis, who was on the other side of the scene, some 140 feet from Mr. Reinoehl, also said the police opened fire immediately, without giving any warnings — as did Mr. Smith and Mr. Cutler.
“There was no, ‘Get out of the car!’ There was no, ‘Stop!’ There was no nothing. They just got out of the car and started shooting,” Mr. Louis said.
Mr. Smith described it similarly: “There was no yelling. There was no screaming. There was no altercation. It was just straight to gunshots.”
Of the 22 people interviewed by The Times who said they were near the shooting when it occurred, only one man reported hearing any shouting before the gunshots began.
That man, Quentin Gruner, whose apartment is about 75 feet away, said he was letting his dog out when he heard shouting that he thought was neighbors having a fight, followed by a popping noise.
The four officers who were riding in the S.U.V.s said in their statements to Thurston County sheriff’s investigators that they shouted “Stop! Police!” before opening fire, Lieutenant Brady said.
But the officers gave conflicting stories about what led them to begin firing. One reported that he saw Mr. Reinoehl, inside the vehicle, raise “what they perceived to be a gun,” Lieutenant Brady said. Two other officers said they only saw Mr. Reinoehl make “furtive movements” toward the center console, he said.
Lieutenant Brady said the first shots appear to have struck Mr. Reinoehl inside the vehicle, and videos of the aftermath show bullet marks in the driver’s side of the windshield. Though apparently wounded, Mr. Reinoehl began moving away from the officers on foot.
Officers continued to fire, and as Mr. Reinoehl stepped into the street from behind a nearby truck, a final burst took him down, Lieutenant Brady said. He most likely died immediately, said the Thurston County coroner, Gary Warnock.
Officers also offered conflicting accounts of those final shots. One said that Mr. Reinoehl, while in the street, pointed a gun. Other officers said that he appeared to be trying to “retrieve” one from his pants pocket.
As they searched Mr. Reinoehl’s body, officers found the gun, Lieutenant Brady said. It was still in his pocket.
In all, four officers fired about 30 rounds from two rifles and two handguns, Lieutenant Brady said.
A visit to the scene by a reporter, as well as videos and photos from the aftermath, showed that at least eight of the officers’ bullets struck civilian property.
Angel Romero, who lives directly adjacent to the shooting, said at least five bullets hit a brick wall and a wooden fence at his home. One traveled through an exterior wall and passed above his dog kennels and through his dining room — narrowly missing his brother before lodging in a kitchen wall. Mr. Romero’s neighbor found a smashed bullet in his backyard grass.
“They literally found ricochet bullets where my kid was,” Mr. Louis said.
Lieutenant Brady said it would be several months before lab results determined whether the shell casing found in the Volkswagen matched the handgun found in Mr. Reinoehl’s pocket, and it may never be known whether it was fired that day. There is no evidence that Mr. Reinoehl touched the rifle found in the bag in his car, the chief investigator said.
None of the officers said they saw Mr. Reinoehl fire his handgun, and investigators have found no other evidence that suggests he did. Investigators found no .380 bullets or casings outside the vehicle.
In the aftermath, some news accounts quoted witnesses describing Mr. Reinoehl firing shots. One of them, Mr. Smith, said he was misquoted. Another woman also described Mr. Reinoehl firing shots, but in another account said that she was not present when the shooting began. Mr. Cutler said he heard a pistol that he thought might have been Mr. Reinoehl’s firing first, but Lieutenant Brady said the officers fired pistols as well as rifles.
Six minutes after the shooting started, Jashon Spencer, a resident of the apartment complex, began filming a live video from the scene. In it, roughly eight and a half minutes after Mr. Reinoehl was likely killed, an officer could be seen beginning chest compressions on Mr. Reinoehl’s motionless body. They were undertaken almost perfunctorily, from a standing position, and soon ended.
Prosecutors said Ms. Cooper called the police twice, first falsely reporting she had been threatened by a man in Central Park who had asked her to leash her dog, then later claiming he had assaulted her.
By Troy Closson, Oct. 14, 2020
Amy Cooper was publicly shamed and lost her job after an encounter in Central Park that reignited discussions about false accusations made against Black people to the police. Credit...Christian Cooper, via Associated Press
Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on a Black bird-watcher in Central Park, made a second, previously unreported call to 911 in which she falsely claimed that the man “tried to assault her,” a prosecutor said on Wednesday.
“The defendant twice reported that an African American man was putting her in danger, first by stating that he was threatening her and her dog, then making a second call indicating that he tried to assault her in the Ramble area of the park,” said Joan Illuzzi, a senior prosecutor, said.
Ms. Cooper, who appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court remotely to answer a misdemeanor charge that she had filed a false report, was negotiating a possible plea deal with prosecutors that would allow her to avoid jail, the prosecutor said.
Ms. Illuzzi said that Ms. Cooper had used the police in a way that was “both racially offensive and designed to intimidate” and her actions were “something that can’t be ignored.”
Still, Ms. Illuzzi told the court that the Manhattan district attorney’s office was exploring a resolution to the case that would require Ms. Cooper to publicly take responsibility for her actions in court and attend a program to educate her on how harmful they were.
“We hope this process will enlighten, heal and prevent similar harm to our community in the future,” Ms. Illuzzi said.
The case was adjourned until Nov. 17 to give Ms. Cooper’s lawyer, Robert Barnes, and prosecutors time to work out the details of an agreement.
The news of the second call was the latest development in the Memorial Day weekend encounter that had resonated across the country and reignited discussions about the potential danger of false accusations made to the police about Black people.
Ms. Cooper was filmed calling 911 from an isolated area in Central Park after a Black man asked her to leash her dog, as the rules required. During the first call, she said multiple times that an “African-American man” was threatening her, emphasizing his race to the operator as she raised her voice frantically.
Video of the encounter, shot by the man, Christian Cooper, on his phone, has been viewed more than 44 million times. Its timing, one day before protests erupted nationwide over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, only deepened its role in sparking outrage over what many viewed as an example of everyday racism. (Ms. Cooper is not related to Mr. Cooper.)
But in a second call to 911, which was not shown in the video of the confrontation, Ms. Cooper told a dispatcher that Mr. Cooper was putting her in danger and claimed that he tried to assault her, according to a criminal complaint filed by the district attorney’s office.
When the police arrived, however, Ms. Cooper told an officer that her reports were untrue, and that Mr. Cooper had not touched or assaulted her, the complaint says.
In July, the Manhattan district attorney charged Ms. Cooper with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. The criminal charge, which did not change despite the evidence of Ms. Cooper’s second 911 call, was among the first that a white person in the United States has faced for wrongfully making a complaint to the police about a Black person.
“We will hold people who make false and racist 911 calls accountable,” the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., said in a statement on Wednesday. “Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the police response to Ms. Cooper’s hoax.”
Her lawyer, Mr. Barnes, said in July that she would be found not guilty and criticized what he called a “cancel culture epidemic.”
“How many lives are we going to destroy over misunderstood 60-second videos on social media?” he asked. Mr. Barnes did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. Vance’s decision to charge Ms. Cooper drew mixed reactions from Black community leaders and proponents of overhauling the criminal justice system. He also did not have the support of Mr. Cooper, who has long been a prominent birder in the city and sits on the board of the New York City Audubon Society.
As the episode gained widespread attention among state lawmakers and activists across the country, Ms. Cooper, who had been a head of insurance portfolio management at Franklin Templeton, lost her job and was publicly shamed. She also surrendered her dog temporarily to the rescue group from which she had adopted him.
At the time, Mr. Cooper, a Harvard graduate who works in communications, said that the consequences and public backlash she had faced were already enough. He did not cooperate with the prosecution’s investigation and said in a statement in July that “bringing her more misery just seems like piling on.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Cooper declined to answer specific questions about the second 911 call or about Ms. Cooper’s potential plea deal. For him, the encounter in Central Park is “not about Amy Cooper,” but about a larger societal problem, he said.
“My response is very simple: we have to make sure we don’t get distracted,” Mr. Cooper said. “We have a very important goal — and we have to stay focused on it — which is reforming policing, getting systemic change to the structural racism in our society.”
Weeks after the confrontation, New York State lawmakers approved legislation entitling people to “a private right of action” if they believe someone called the police on them because of their race, gender, nationality or any other protected class. The move was a direct response to the Central Park run-in and other false reports to police about Black people.
The clash between Mr. Cooper and Ms. Cooper began as he biked to search for birds in a semi-wild section of the park known as the Ramble, where dogs must be leashed. He encountered Ms. Cooper, walking with an unleashed dog, and said in a Facebook post that she refused to put a leash on the dog when asked.
He wrote that he offered the dog treats in an effort to persuade Ms. Cooper to follow the area’s rules. Then, video captures her calling 911 and telling an operator, “I’m in the Ramble, there is a man, African-American. He has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog.”
One day after the incident, Ms. Cooper issued a public apology.
“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” Ms. Cooper said in the statement. “I am well aware of the pain that misassumptions and insensitive statements about race cause.”
Sarah Maslin Nir and Jan Ransom contributed reporting.
Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and attempting to pass the baby off as her own.
By Marie Fazio, Oct. 17, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/17/us/lisa-montgomery-execution.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
If Lisa Montgomery is executed, her death will be the first federal execution of a woman since 1953, when Bonnie Heady was killed in a gas chamber for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City, Mo. Credit...via Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery
A date has been set for the execution of a Kansas woman who was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and cutting the baby from her abdomen in what would be the first federal execution of a woman in nearly 70 years, officials said on Friday.
The inmate, Lisa Montgomery of Melvern, Kan., was convicted of kidnapping resulting in death by a jury in federal court in Missouri in 2008. Her death, by lethal injection, is scheduled for Dec. 8 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind.
Federal executions have not taken place in nearly 20 years, but Ms. Montgomery’s would be the ninth federal execution since they resumed in July.
In 2004, Ms. Montgomery told her friends and family that she was pregnant, despite having undergone a sterilization procedure years earlier, according to court documents.
In December of that year, she contacted Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was 23 and eight months pregnant, under the guise of wanting to buy a rat terrier puppy from a litter that Ms. Stinnett had advertised online, court records show.
Ms. Montgomery, who was 36 at the time, drove to Ms. Stinnett’s home in northwestern Missouri, where she strangled her to death and cut the baby girl from her abdomen. Ms. Montgomery then went home and attempted to pass the baby off as her own.
Ms. Montgomery, who confessed to the crime, lost all attempts to appeal her conviction and sentence, according to the Department of Justice.
Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender representing Ms. Montgomery, said in a statement on Friday that Ms. Montgomery has accepted responsibility for her crime, “but her severe mental illness and the devastating impacts of her childhood trauma make executing her a profound injustice.”
Ms. Henry said that abuses Ms. Montgomery endured as a child, including being sex-trafficked by her mother and gang-raped by adult men, “exacerbated a genetic predisposition to mental illness inherited from both sides of her family,” including complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Few human beings have lived through the kind of torture and trauma that was inflicted on Lisa Montgomery by her mentally ill, alcoholic mother,” Ms. Henry said.
If Ms. Montgomery is executed, her death will be the first federal execution of a woman since 1953, when Bonnie Heady was killed in a gas chamber for the kidnapping and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Kansas City, Mo.
Ms. Heady, with assistance from her accomplice Carl Hall, took the boy from school, held him for ransom and killed him. She was the first woman executed for kidnapping, according to reports at the time.
That same year, Ethel Rosenberg was sent to the electric chair after she was convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. Ms. Rosenberg and her husband Julius were found guilty of stealing secrets from the United States’s atomic bomb project to aid the Soviet Union.
Only around 2 percent of inmates on death row and 1 percent of those executed are women, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In April, there were more than 50 women on state and federal death rows, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Statistically, the violent crimes women commit are less likely to be considered for capital punishment than those committed by men, because of both the nature of the crimes and public perceptions of women, Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said on Saturday.
Most murders committed by women are domestic murders, which are often considered acts of passion and not eligible for the death penalty, Mr. Dunham said. Jurors, sometimes subconsciously, take into account stereotypical views of women, including that they are less violent and pose less of a future threat to society.
“The sense is that a woman is going to commit acts of violence only in extreme circumstances of extreme emotional stress or acting out of extreme mental illness,” Mr. Dunham said, noting that prosecutors who seek death penalties for women are often perceived as “bloodthirsty.”
In cases of women on trial for murder, prosecutors often attempt to portray women as “deviant” and not meeting traditional gender roles, and they tend to blame them for their own abuse or mental illness, he said.
Execution of women is rare: Since 1632, there have been 575 documented executions of women of the more than 15,000 confirmed executions in the United States, according to the Espy File, a database of executions in the United States and the earlier colonies.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972, arguing that it constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” then reversed its decision four years later, 16 women in death rows across the country have been executed.
Among them was Aileen Wuornos, a hitchhiking prostitute who killed six men along Florida highways. Ms. Wuornos initially claimed the killings were in self-defense after she was assaulted by clients but later told officials she did them intentionally. She was executed in Florida in 2002.
Last year, Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the Justice Department would resume executions of federal inmates sentenced to death, using a single drug, pentobarbital, after several botched executions by lethal injection renewed scrutiny of capital punishment.
The Department of Justice also on Friday scheduled the execution for Brandon Bernard, who was found guilty of the murders of two youth ministers in Texas in 1999.
Christopher Andre Vialva, another man convicted in the same killing, was executed last month.
Before 2017, a person in Louisiana could be sentenced to life in prison after receiving a fourth nonviolent conviction under the state’s habitual offender law.
By Allyson Waller, Oct. 17, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/17/us/louisiana-habitual-offender-parole.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
A Louisiana man whose life sentence for attempting to steal hedge clippers in 1997 drew a national spotlight to the state’s habitual offender law has been granted parole, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
The Louisiana Committee on Parole voted 3-0 on Thursday to release Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, who was convicted on a felony count of attempted simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in a storeroom at a home in Shreveport, La.
Under a state law that penalizes offenders with previous convictions, Mr. Bryant was sentenced to life in prison for the conviction.
Mr. Bryant already had four previous felony convictions: attempted armed robbery in 1979; possession of stolen store merchandise valued over $500 in 1987; attempted forgery of a check that was worth $150 in 1989; and a previous simple burglary of an inhabited dwelling in 1992. His only violent crime, as classified under Louisiana law, was the attempted armed robbery.
“Mr. Bryant was given a second chance today,” said Robert Lancaster, a lawyer who represented Mr. Bryant at his parole hearing. “His life sentence, a result of an oppressive habitual sentencing scheme, came after a series of minor pecuniary crimes to fuel an untreated drug addiction. He was sentenced to a life in prison instead of given the help he needed.”
This summer, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to review Mr. Bryant’s case. Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the sole dissenter of the seven-member panel, wrote that Mr. Bryant’s life sentence was “grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.”
Chief Justice Johnson compared the state’s habitual offender law to statutes enacted after Reconstruction, where “Southern states criminalized recently emancipated African-American citizens by introducing extreme sentences for petty theft associated with poverty.”
So-called three-strikes laws became a pillar of the criminal justice legislation in the 1990s at both the federal and state level. Louisiana’s version passed in 1994, but Mr. Lancaster said there are some habitual laws that date back to 1928.
The laws have received renewed scrutiny across the country over the years — and states such as Louisiana and California undergoing reforms — with a focus on how they have affected a disproportionate number of people of color.
Black people, who are about 32 percent of the state’s population, make up almost 80 percent of Louisiana’s habitual offenders, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana. A majority of the people in Louisiana’s prisons under the habitual offender statute are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, the organization said.
In 2017, the state enacted changes to the habitual offender law as part of a bipartisan criminal justice reform package. The legislation eliminated the life sentence penalty for offenders like Mr. Bryant who received a fourth nonviolent conviction, and it reduced mandatory minimum sentences for repeated offenses. In 2019, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed legislation that would eliminate sentence enhancements for certain nonviolent offenses from the habitual offender law.
Mr. Bryant’s case drew attention from news outlets such as The Washington Post and USA Today in August when the state’s Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
Mr. Bryant’s conditions for parole include community service, mandatory attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and a requirement to check in with his parole officer once a week for 60 days. He will be released to the Louisiana Parole Project, a nonprofit that helps people readjust to life after serving lengthy prison sentences.
After his stay with the organization, Mr. Bryant is set to live with his brother in Shreveport, said Andrew Hundley, executive director of the Parole Project.
Christina Morales contributed reporting.
By Peter Eisler, Linda So, Jason Szep, Grant Smith and Ned Parker, Reuters, October 18, 2020https://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/318-66/65733-death-sentence-why-4998-died-in-us-jails-without-getting-their-day-in-court
The U.S. government collects detailed data on who’s dying in which jails around the country – but won’t let anyone see it. So, Reuters conducted its own tally of fatalities in America’s biggest jails, pinpointing where suicide, botched healthcare and bad jailkeeping are claiming lives in a system with scant oversight.
Harvey Hill wouldn’t leave John Finnegan’s front yard. He stood in the pouring rain, laughing at the sky, alarming his former boss' wife. Finnegan dialed 911.
“He needs a mental evaluation,” the landscaper recalls telling the arriving officer. Instead, Hill was charged with trespassing and jailed on suspicion of a misdemeanor offense that could bring a $500 fine.
It was a death sentence.
The next day, May 6, 2018, Hill’s condition worsened. He flew into a rage at the Madison County Detention Center in Canton, Mississippi, throwing a checkerboard and striking a guard with a lunch tray.
Three guards tackled the 36-year-old, pepper sprayed him and kicked him repeatedly in the head. After handcuffing him, two guards slammed Hill into a concrete wall, previously unpublished jail surveillance video shows. They led him to a shower, away from the cameras, and beat him again, still handcuffed, a state investigation found. The guards said Hill was combative, exhibiting surprising strength that required force.
Video showed Hill writhing in pain in the infirmary, where he was assessed by a licensed practical nurse but not given medication. Mississippi law dictates that a doctor or higher credentialed nurse make decisions on medical interventions. But Hill was sent straight to an isolation cell, where a guard pinned him to the floor, removed his handcuffs, and left him lying on the cement. Hill crawled to the toilet. Then he stopped moving.
No one checked him for 46 minutes. When they did, he didn’t have a pulse. Within hours, he was dead. And he had a lot of company.
Hill’s is one of 7,571 inmate deaths Reuters documented in an unprecedented examination of mortality in more than 500 U.S. jails from 2008 to 2019. Death rates have soared in those lockups, rising 35% over the decade ending last year. Casualties like Hill are typical: held on minor charges and dying without ever getting their day in court. At least two-thirds of the dead inmates identified by Reuters, 4,998 people, were never convicted of the charges on which they were being held.
Unlike state and federal prisons, which hold people convicted of serious crimes, jails are locally run lockups meant to detain people awaiting arraignment or trial, or those serving short sentences. The toll of jail inmates who die without a case resolution subverts a fundamental tenet of the U.S. criminal justice system: innocent until proven guilty.
“A lot of people are dying and they've never been sentenced, and that's obviously a huge problem,” said Nils Melzer, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture and other inhuman punishment, after reviewing the Reuters findings. “You have to provide due process in all of these cases, you have to provide humane detention conditions in all of these cases and you have to provide medical care in all of these cases.”
The U.S. Constitution grants inmates core rights, but those provisions are hard to enforce. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees fair treatment to pre-trial detainees, but “fair” is open to interpretation by judges and juries. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel punishment forbids “deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners,” but proving deliberate negligence is difficult. The Sixth Amendment assures speedy trials, but does not define speedy.
The Reuters analysis revealed a confluence of factors that can turn short jail stays into death sentences. Many jails are not subject to any enforceable standards for their operation or the healthcare they provide. They typically get little if any oversight. And bail requirements trap poorer inmates in pre-trial detention for long periods. Meanwhile, inmate populations have grown sicker, more damaged by mental illness and plagued by addictions.
The 7,571 deaths identified by Reuters reflect those stresses. Most succumbed to illness, sometimes wanting for quality healthcare. More than 2,000 took their own lives amid mental breakdowns, including some 1,500 awaiting trial or indictment. A growing number – more than 1 in 10 last year – died from the acute effects of drugs and alcohol. Nearly 300 died after languishing behind bars, unconvicted, for a year or more.
As with much of the U.S. criminal justice system, the toll behind bars falls disproportionately on Black Americans, such as Hill. White inmates accounted for roughly half the fatalities. African Americans accounted for at least 28%, more than twice their share of the U.S. population, a disparity on par with the high incarceration rate of Blacks. Reuters was not able to identify the race of 9% of inmates who died.
Jail deaths typically draw attention locally but escape scrutiny from outside authorities, a gap in oversight that points to a national problem: America’s system for counting and monitoring jail deaths is broken.
A broken system of federal oversight
America’s 3,000-plus jails are typically run by county sheriffs or local police. They often are under-equipped and understaffed, starved for funds by local officials who see them as budgetary burdens. A rising share have contracted their healthcare to private companies.
Yet there are no enforceable national standards to ensure jails meet constitutional requirements for inmate health and safety. Only 28 states have adopted their own standards to fill the gap. And much of the oversight that does exist is limited by a curtain of secrecy.
The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics has collected inmate mortality data for two decades – but statistics for individual jails are withheld from the public, government officials and oversight agencies under a 1984 law limiting the release of BJS data. Agency officials say that discretion is critical because it encourages sheriffs and police to report their deaths data each year.
The secrecy has a cost: Local policy makers can’t learn if their jails’ death rates are higher than those in similar communities. Groups that advocate for inmates’ rights can’t get jail-by-jail mortality data to support court cases. The Justice Department’s own lawyers, charged with taking legal action when corrections facilities violate constitutional standards, can’t readily identify jails where high death counts warrant federal investigation.
“If there’s a high death rate, that means there’s a problem,” said Julie Abbate, former deputy chief of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, which enforces civil rights in jails. Publicizing those rates “would make it a lot harder to hide a bad jail.”
The Justice Department does issue broad statistical reports on statewide or national trends. But even those fatality numbers don’t always tell the full story.
Some jails fail to inform BJS of deaths. Some report them inaccurately, listing homicides or suicides as accidents or illnesses, Reuters found. Justice Department consultant Steve Martin, who has inspected more than 500 U.S. prisons and jails, said that in all the cases he's investigated, he recalls only one homicide being reported accurately. The others were categorized as “medical, respiratory failure, or whatever,” he said.
Other jails find other ways to keep deaths off the books, such as “releasing” inmates who have been hospitalized in grave condition, perhaps from a suicide attempt or a medical crisis, so they’re not on the jail’s roster when they die. Sheriffs sometimes characterize these as “compassionate releases” that allow inmates’ families a chance to spend their final hours together without law enforcement supervision.
In all, Reuters identified at least 59 cases across 39 jails in which inmate deaths were not reported to government agencies or included in tallies provided to the news organization.
The Justice Department has grown more secretive about the fatality data under the Trump administration. While BJS never has released jail-by-jail mortality figures, it traditionally has published aggregated statistics every two years or so. The 2016 report wasn't issued until this year.
And, a Justice spokesman said, there are “no plans” to issue any future reports containing even aggregated data on inmate deaths in jails or prisons.
The report delays are “an outrage,” said Representative Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who co-authored the original reporting law in 2000 with a Republican colleague. Scott said secrecy was never the goal. He co-authored a 2014 update, which restricts federal grant money when jails don’t report deaths and shifts data collection to a different Justice Department agency that would not be restricted from releasing jail-by-jail data. The updated law has yet to be implemented.
“The whole point,” Scott said, “is we suspect a lot of the deaths are preventable with certain protocols – better suicide protocols, better healthcare, better guard-to-prisoner ratios. You’ve got to have information at the jail level. You have no way of really targeting corrective action if you don’t.”
Because the government won’t release jail-by-jail death data, Reuters compiled its own. The news organization tracked jail deaths over the dozen years from 2008 to 2019 to create the largest such database outside of the Justice Department. Reporters filed more than 1,500 records requests to obtain information about deaths in 523 U.S. jails – every jail with an average population of 750 or more inmates, and the 10 largest jails or jail systems in nearly every state. Together, those jails hold an average of some 450,000 inmates a day, or about three out of every five nationwide.
Reuters is making the full data it gathered available to the public.
One finding: Since the last Justice Department report, for 2016, the death rate in big jails has continued to climb, leaving it up 8% in 2019, the highest point in the 12-year period of 2008-2019 examined by Reuters. In that time, the suicide rate declined as many facilities launched suicide awareness and response initiatives. But the death rate from drug and alcohol overdoses rose about 72% amid the opioid epidemic.
The data also reveals scores of big jails with high death tolls, including two dozen with death rates double the national average.
Such data “would have actually been very helpful for enforcement purposes,” said Jonathan Smith, who ran the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section from 2010 to 2015.
Rare scrutiny, reform
Detailed insight into jail deaths can save lives.
In 2016, the Justice Department began investigating the Hampton Roads Regional Jail in Portsmouth, Virginia, after state Attorney General Mark Herring and local civil rights groups called for a probe following several inmate deaths. Reuters found the jail, which serves five jurisdictions, averaged 3.5 deaths per thousand inmates over the years 2009 to 2019, more than double the national average of 1.5 deaths.
In December 2018, the Justice Department said the 900-bed jail violated inmates’ rights by failing to provide adequate medical and mental healthcare. The regional authority that manages the jail agreed to a “consent decree,” enforced by a federal judge, to ensure improved treatment of prisoners.
Inmate deaths dropped after the agreement, which required increased staffing, better training and enhanced medical services. The jail reported two fatalities in 2019 and one through this May, down from an average of five a year in the prior four years.
That was one of the Justice Department’s last jail investigations. From 2008 to 2018, the department opened 19 investigations into jails, three during President Trump’s tenure.
Yet since 2018, it hasn’t opened any. A memo circulated in November 2018 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions put hurdles in the way of entering consent decrees for overhauling jails. In a telephone interview, Sessions told Reuters the policy he set forth adhered to Supreme Court standards on when consent decrees could be entered, allowing them when “appropriate” and “justified.”
In the absence of federal oversight, states have a patchwork of guidelines.
Seventeen states have no rules or oversight mechanisms for local jails, according to Reuters research and a pending study by Michele Deitch, a corrections specialist at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. In five other low-population states, all detention facilities are run by state corrections agencies. The other 28 have some form of standards, such as assessing inmates’ health on arrival or checking on suicidal inmates at prescribed intervals. Yet those standards often are minimal, and in at least six of the states, the agencies that write them lack enforcement power or the authority to refer substandard jails for investigation.
Deitch said these gaps make comprehensive nationwide statistics all the more important. “You can’t have good policy without good data,” she said. “Data tells us what is going right and what’s going wrong.”
Without jail-by-jail mortality data, even jails with extraordinary death rates can escape official intervention for years, and local officials can remain blind to the seriousness of problems their facilities face. One example is the Marion County Jail in Indiana, a decrepit 65-year-old facility nicknamed “The Fossil” within the sheriff’s department.
Overfilled and understaffed, the Marion County jail had at least 45 deaths from 2009-2019. Yet local officials rejected pleas from two consecutive sheriffs for additional funding to bolster staffing and build a new facility.
Reuters found that the jail is among the two dozen with an average death rate, 3.5 deaths per 1,000 inmates, at least double the national average from 2009 to 2019. And its record was troubling on one of the most challenging problems plaguing jails: suicide, which accounted for more than a quarter of all U.S. jail deaths.
Thomas Shane Miles, a married father of two, struggled for years with mental illness and opioid addiction when he was arrested in 2016 on a misdemeanor drug possession warrant. On his second day in jail, he flung himself down a stairway and swallowed the contents of a chemical ice pack.
Put on suicide watch, Miles was given a “suicide smock” – a heavy hospital-style gown closed with Velcro – and placed in a monitored cell. The jail’s policies, as well as American Bar Association guidelines, dictate that suicidal inmates be monitored continuously.
On Day 6, Miles was given a jail uniform for a hearing and escorted down an underground hallway to a holding cell below the adjacent court building – a cell with no video monitor or clear sightlines for deputies. Left alone, he tore a strip of cloth from the collar, looped it over a door hinge and hung himself. He was found unconscious 30 minutes after entering the cell. An internal inquiry said the supervising officer logged his rounds after the fact, leaving it unclear when Miles was checked.
In a wrongful death suit that settled this September, Miles’ family argued that despite being identified as a suicide risk, he was given the means and opportunity to kill himself. The sheriff’s office denied misconduct and said it admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement; details were not disclosed.
Miles’ suicide was the jail's seventh in just under 15 months. The Fossil’s suicide rate ranked it among the top 20 jails in the Reuters study.
In 2016, the sheriff called the suicide problem an “epidemic,” but county officials denied requests for more funding. While the county knew it had a suicide problem, there was no way to know how it compared. Like all other officials, Marion County’s leaders had no access to the Justice Department figures.
The sheriff’s jail-management mission often “came in second” in a budget system that pits it against the Indianapolis police department’s law enforcement duties, said Frank Mascari, who sits on the City-County Council. “We knew there were some deaths” at the jail, he said, “but we didn’t have the statistics” to know the rates were extraordinary.
From 2015 to 2017, the sheriff’s budget grew just over 1% a year, audit figures show. The inmate population rose 12% in that time, due to a rise in arrests and to state legislation dictating that some low-level felons serve their sentences in county jails, not state prisons.
The sheriff launched suicide-prevention efforts, hired social workers and trained deputies in spotting suicide warnings. From 2017 to 2019, the number of suicides dropped to two a year, but staffing remained critically low as deputies routinely left for better paying jail jobs in nearby suburbs.
Jail deaths remained stubbornly high despite the decline in suicides, reaching six last year, the heaviest toll in more than a decade, driven in part by drug and alcohol overdoses. Still, there has been no state or federal intervention.
In July 2018, Kyra Warner, 30, went quiet about 90 minutes after arriving at the jail. As her limbs twitched, cellmates called for help, telling nurses and deputies that Warner said she had been using methamphetamine and anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
Jail video shows Warner unable to walk on her own as deputies moved her to a monitored isolation cell, where they left her on the floor, still twitching. She lay unresponsive as they checked her periodically over two hours – until medical staff found no pulse. She died of an accidental overdose.
“The officers that are watching aren’t medically trained,” said Rich Waples, a lawyer handling the family’s ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff and Wellpath, the company providing the jail’s healthcare. “If she’d gotten prompt care, they could have reversed the effects of those drugs.”
Jail officials denied wrongdoing and noted in their response to the suit that deputies checked on Warner numerous times, but added they are not medical professionals. Wellpath, also contesting the ongoing suit, denied any misconduct.
“We’re not built to be the largest mental health hospital in the state,” said Colonel James Martin, who oversees the jail. “We’re not built to be the largest detox facility in the state.” Yet the jail has “more detox beds than any single hospital in the state.”
The jail’s shortcomings have been documented, including a county-commissioned review in 2016 that found the Fossil “antiquated,” with inadequate staffing and design flaws that severely hamper inmate monitoring. In 2018, after another independent study highlighted the jail’s challenges, the county approved a new $580 million criminal justice complex, with dedicated facilities to treat mental illness and substance abuse. In 2022, the Fossil will be history.
Another flaw in the U.S. system for monitoring jail fatalities is misleading disclosure. The John E. Polk Correctional Facility in Florida's Seminole County reported one death to the Justice Department in 2019. But at least one other death at the jail was not reported in its official filings.
On June 2, 2019, Thomas Harry Brill, 56, was found hanging by a bed sheet in his cell. Staff tried but failed to resuscitate him, the jail said. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Kim Cannaday said he “was released out of our custody” before he died. “Therefore, it would not technically be considered an in-custody death.”
Brill’s sister, Tracy, was shocked to learn his death was excluded from the jail’s official count. “They’re trying to avoid responsibility,” she told Reuters. “They’re playing with the numbers. That’s just wrong.”
Brill graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a mathematics degree and lived on a sailboat for years, she said. He had been wrestling with mental illness when he flew from his home in San Diego to look at a boat in Florida. Out of money, he was found in a stolen car and arrested, but couldn’t afford bail. He died unconvicted of the charge. “He needed $500 to get out,” she said. “It was an awful, ridiculous waste that he died.”
A death in Mississippi
The Reuters death database also points to another benefit of collecting and publishing jail mortality rates: It can identify an unusual number of fatalities at jails that typically have few. One is Mississippi’s Madison County Detention Center, where Harvey Hill died after being beaten by guards.
The jail had occasional deaths, and in several years reported none. Yet in 2018, it had two deaths, including an inmate who died of complications from an ectopic pregnancy. Few other jails its size had multiple deaths that year.
Hill grew up in the poorest county in the poorest state in America. West, his town of 185 people, is intersected by a four-lane highway in Mississippi’s rural Holmes County. He did landscaping work an hour’s drive south in Canton, a city of 13,000 in the state’s wealthiest county, where 19th Century antebellum shophouses packed with antiques line a postcard-perfect downtown square.
When he was 18, Hill was arrested on charges of sexual battery and robbery. He pleaded guilty and served 14 years in prison. Friends and family say he began piecing together his life after his 2015 release, taking landscaping jobs with business owner Finnegan. “He was an incredible worker,” said Finnegan.
Through the winter of 2017 into the spring, Hill showed signs of mental illness, displayed flashes of paranoia and complained of insomnia, said Finnegan. After he let him go in 2018, Hill started showing up at his home, claiming his old boss owed him millions of dollars. “Harvey, if I had taken your millions, I wouldn’t be landscaping. I would be on an island,” Finnegan recounts telling him.
Hill kept returning. In May 2018, Finnegan called the Madison Police Department. If he wanted Hill removed, he had to press charges, Finnegan said he was told, so he did. “That’s not something I really wanted to do,” he said. “Harvey needed to be in a mental hospital.”
At the station, Finnegan told the officer he’d drop the charges and take Hill to a mental health facility if they could find a room. Instead Hill was booked into Madison County’s jail that Friday morning. “I’ll pick you up on Monday,” said Finnegan. “And we’ll get you some help.”
The Madison Police Department said there were “no remarkable or extraordinary events related to his arrest.” Mississippi has no standards or oversight for jails.
In their response to a family lawsuit, the guards said their actions were proper under jail policy. Michael Wolf, an attorney for one of the guards, James Ingram, told Reuters that Hill bit and then tried to head butt an officer, “and continued to resist and exhibited unusual strength. The control techniques were consistent with the County use of force continuum.” The other guard named in litigation, James Buford, declined to comment.
The family believes the force was unjustified. “Harvey Hill was in handcuffs and beaten to death,” said Derek Sells, a lawyer representing the family. “Someone needs to be held responsible.”
Hill’s death was one of four Reuters identified at the jail over the 12-year period. After he died, the jail filled out a form for the BJS with Hill’s name and details including his race, age and charges. The box for “homicide” was left unchecked. Two years later, no “cause of death” has been sent to the BJS, the jail said, citing an ongoing investigation by the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation. No one has been charged.
The family said the jail lied about his death. “They just told us that Harvey had passed and he had had a heart attack,” said Katrina Nettles, his younger sister. The jail did not respond to requests for comment. Its medical contractor, Quality Correctional Health Care, and the nurse who treated Hill denied wrongdoing in litigation.
An autopsy ruled Hill’s death a homicide, however. The report showed that abrasions speckled his head and chest. Severe internal bleeding swelled his neck. His liver had been lacerated.
The state medical examiner, citing a backlog, didn’t release the findings to the family until this June, 25 months after he died and 13 months after the statute of limitations had expired for litigation involving assault. The family filed its ongoing lawsuit last February, before receiving the autopsy.
Told by Reuters of the autopsy’s grim findings, Finnegan bent forward and choked back tears. “God Almighty,” he said, dragging a hand over his face. “Harvey was a friend.”
How Reuters tracked and analyzed deaths in America’s largest jails
The Reuters examination of deaths in U.S. local jails represents the largest collection and publication of inmate mortality data undertaken outside the federal government.
The news organization filed more than 1,500 public records requests to collect data on inmate populations and deaths from more than 500 local jails. That universe includes the 10 largest jails in each state, as well as any jail in the country with an average daily population of 750 or more inmates.
In all, the Reuters data captures about 60% of the total inmate population in the nation’s 3,000-plus jails. Similarly, Reuters data accounts for about 60% of all inmate deaths nationwide, based on the latest national data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. BJS issues national-level and state-level data on jail deaths, but no statistics for individual jails. The Reuters investigation is the first to provide individual jail death data on a national scale.
Reuters calculated annual death rates at more than 500 jails by dividing the total number of deaths in a given year by the average daily population in the same year – the same formula used by BJS and other experts in criminal justice statistics.
States and local law enforcement agencies have varying definitions for what constitutes a jail death. Reuters counted all deaths that occurred in a jail, as well as deaths of inmates who were hospitalized for injuries or conditions incurred at the jail. When inmates are in life-threatening condition, some jails release them and do not count their subsequent death as an inmate fatality. Reuters, like many jurisdictions across the country, included those cases in its tally of jail deaths.
Reuters received responses from more than 95% of the jurisdictions from which it sought public records. Not all jails were able to provide accurate data on inmate populations for every year covered by the analysis, particularly the earlier years. Data was not available on race for about 9% of inmates who died and for conviction status for about 17% of fatalities. In cases where data was available for adjacent years, Reuters used that information to estimate inmate populations for the years in which no data was provided – a statistical method also used by BJS.
Reuters also used court records and news accounts to identify deaths that were not documented in jails’ responses and, in many other cases, to augment information jails did provide. Several dozen unreported deaths were identified in this manner and added to the Reuters tally. Court records and other official records, such as autopsy reports, also were used when available to fill in data that some jails declined to provide, such as cause of death or age.
Reuters also collected information on how healthcare services are provided in each jail, identifying those that relied on private companies to manage and deliver that care. Reuters only considered jails to have privatized or contracted care if they relied on a company to manage and staff the facility’s entire healthcare operation. If a jail contracted with individual practitioners for discreet medical services or hired staffing agencies to provide clinicians, Reuters still considered that care to be publicly managed, just as it would if the jail was running its own healthcare operation or relying on a public health agency.
The data captures jails in 44 states plus the District of Columbia. It does not include six other states – five where all detention facilities are managed by unified state corrections agencies (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont), and Alaska, which uses a hybrid model that also relies largely on a network of state-run facilities.
The guest workers have been prevented from all but carefully controlled trips to avoid contracting or spreading Covid-19. ‘I never expected to lose my freedom,’ said one.
By Miriam Jordan, Oct. 19, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/us/coronavirus-tomato-migrant-farm-workers.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
CHERITON, Va. — Each spring, a thousand or more Mexican tomato pickers descend on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to toil in the fields of Lipman Family Farms, enduring long hours stooped over to pluck the plump fruit and then hoisting it on their shoulders onto a waiting truck. An adept worker will fill a 32-pound bucket every two and a half minutes, earning 65 cents for each one.
The region is considered the toughest on the tomato circuit: Heavy rain brings the harvest to a halt for days at a time and can cut into production, a source of anxiety for people eager to maximize their earnings in the United States. The muck ruins shoes and turns moist feet into hamburger.
This year, there is a new and even more difficult working condition: To keep the coronavirus from spreading and jeopardizing the harvest, Lipman has put its crews on lockdown. With few exceptions, they have been ordered to remain either in the camps, where they are housed, or the fields, where they toil.
The restrictions have allowed Lipman’s tomato operations to run smoothly, with a substantially lower caseload than many farms and processing facilities across the country that have wrestled to contain large outbreaks. But they have caused some workers to complain that their worksite has become like a prison.
In Virginia, gone are the weekly outings to Walmart to stock up on provisions; to El Ranchito, the Mexican convenience store, to buy shell-shaped concha pastries; and to the laundromat to machine wash heavily soiled garments.
“You put up with a lot already. I never expected to lose my freedom,” said Martinez, 39, who is in his third year working in the tomato fields along the East Coast. He said workers spent months on end without interacting with anyone at all outside the farms, though Lipman eventually relented and organized a carefully controlled trip for groceries each week.
“You’re practically a slave,” said another worker, Jesus, who like others interviewed for this article asked to use only a first or last name for fear of losing his job and, with it, his permission to work in the United States.
Lipman’s battle with its workers underscores one of the signature conundrums of the coronavirus pandemic. Locking down its employees — a drastic measure that would be intolerable to most American workers — appears to have kept both the employees and the community safe. But at what cost?
The large tomato enterprise has been able to impose the restrictions on its workers because they are beholden to the company for their visa, housing and wages. Invited to the United States under one of the country’s only remaining temporary worker programs, employees who refuse to comply could face the cancellation of their contracts and immediate expulsion from the country.
“If employers in any industry were to tell their American workers, ‘You cannot leave your worksite,’ there would be a societal outcry,” said Jason Yarashes, lead attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, who has met with concerned farmworkers. “But, for farmworkers, this level of control is deemed acceptable.”
By the time they arrived on the Eastern Shore, a spit of land dangling off the Delmarva Peninsula where tomato fields stretch all the way to the horizon, the workers were already demoralized by the restrictions they had endured earlier in the harvest at Lipman farms in Florida and South Carolina.
“In years past, when we didn’t work, we were free to go to the beach, visit friends,” said Oscar, 36, who worked in the United States to pay his ailing wife’s medical bills. “Now, they don’t let us go anywhere.”
Agriculture workers are especially vulnerable to infection. They are often housed in crammed trailers or barracks, sharing rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and are transported to the fields with up to 40 people on a bus.
Once the coronavirus infects a worker, it is almost impossible to prevent it from ripping through entire crews. Major outbreaks have been reported from vegetable and fruit farms in Florida and California to meat and produce packing plants in South Dakota and Washington.
Purdue University researchers estimate that more than 149,500 farmworkers had contracted Covid-19 as of Oct. 16. Jayson Lusk, the agricultural economist leading the study in collaboration with Microsoft, estimated that 3,750 have died.
Many farming operations rely on undocumented immigrants for a vast majority of their labor force; like American citizens, they generally live in the country year-round and go home at night to homes and families. Lipman, by contrast, has hired field workers under the H-2A agricultural visa program, one of the few temporary worker programs still in place after President Trump suspended the others this year to protect Americans from competition for jobs.
Under the program, laborers who travel across the Mexico border by the thousands ahead of the harvest each year are transported to pick strawberries in California, apples in Washington, tobacco in North Carolina — and tomatoes along the Eastern Seaboard.
Growers sponsored a record 258,000 workers for the temporary visas during the 2019 fiscal year. Lipman, which farms tens of thousands of acres across several states, received approval from the Labor Department for 2,658 of those positions.
The company would not disclose total coronavirus case numbers, but employees said they knew of no cases at the Virginia operation following about six infections that occurred before most of the seasonal workers arrived. Kent Shoemaker, Lipman’s chief executive, said the company was proud of its record protecting both its employees and the surrounding communities.
“As of today, we do not have any confirmed Covid-19 cases on our farms or in our packing facilities,” Mr. Shoemaker said in mid-October.
“And because of these practices over the last few months,” he said, referring to the lockdown measures, “our positive cases among farmworkers have remained substantially below the positivity rate in each of the communities within which we operate.”
Through the course of the pandemic, the federal government has yet to establish enforceable safety measures to contain the spread of the virus at agricultural operations.
Only 11 states stepped in to require growers to test workers, sanitize workplaces, enforce social distancing and provide protective gear. About 20 states issued unenforceable guidance, and the rest did nothing.
At Lipman, Mr. Shoemaker said, “we acted early to put measures in place that meet or exceed the latest public health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control,” which recommended isolation for people who had became infected and 14 days of quarantine for those who came in contact with them.
The Fair Food Program, a Florida-based initiative that promotes humane treatment of farmworkers, credits the grower with keeping the tomato pickers healthy by restricting them to the farms.
“By limiting workers’ potential contacts with the coronavirus, the decision significantly reduced the risk of contagion in Lipman’s camps and surely contributed to extremely low rates of infection,” said Laura Safer Espinoza, director of Fair Food’s standards council.
But Mr. Yarashes said Lipman could have offered workers protections short of locking them down, such as assigning fewer workers to a barrack, making more bus runs to the fields and allowing state health authorities to conduct widespread testing in the camps.
The Virginia Department of Health was rebuffed in early June when it contacted Lipman about performing large-scale testing of the workers who were expected in large numbers the next month.
“The response we got from Lipman was ‘No, we are not interested in testing all our workers’,” said Jonathan Richardson, chief operating officer for the Eastern Shore Health District.
Without health insurance or paid sick leave, many workers said they feared coming forward if they had symptoms and worried that positive tests could cost them earnings, Mr. Yarashes said. “They were worried about being quarantined for two weeks without pay.”
Lipman does not provide paid sick leave for the field workers and is not legally required to.
In interviews, five workers employed at Lipman’s tomato operation said they felt fortunate to have been selected for the H-2A program after being interviewed in Mexico by labor brokers representing Lipman. In the United States, they could make in a day what it took a week to earn at home. If they proved to be reliable and productive, they would be invited back year after year.
“You kill yourself on the job, but thank God I have this work,” said Oscar, who was in his fourth season working for the company.
The workers remain in the country for four to 10 months, on average. In March, “the situation got complicated because of the pandemic,” said Martinez, who arrived last year. “They told us we couldn’t go anywhere. If they caught us leaving the camp, we would not be able to re-enter.”
He and other workers said that several people had been terminated for violating the policy.
In previous years, a company bus would take them once a week to cash their checks, send money home and shop at Walmart. On Saturday or Sunday, it would take them to the laundromat.
When it introduced its “shelter in place” order, Lipman began to provide staples, including beans, rice, milk and eggs, free of charge. It arranged for mobile check-cashing outlets and money-transfer agents to visit the camps to enable workers to send money home. Small grocers in a van brought tortilla flour, canned tuna and other items to sell.
But the workers said the prices were inflated, $4.50 for a 4.4-pound bag of tortilla flour compared with $2.88 at Walmart. And, in addition to buying food, they wanted to go out to buy T-shirts, trousers and underwear. Washing by hand was not getting their filthy clothes clean, they said.
“It’s illogical. We wear masks and take the same precautions as everybody else,” a farmworker called Juan said.
The workers were no longer allowed to hitch rides to the beach or convince the “busero,” the crew’s bus driver, to make a pizza run.
“Every human being deserves a little diversion from the grind,” said a worker named Antonio, in his first year on the job.
Some workers developed rashes from rewearing garments caked with dirt, moisture and sweat until worker advocates dropped off Vaseline and diaper-rash cream.
Workers filed complaints about the lockdown, and the company in July began allowing organized shopping trips to local grocery stores and some visits to Walmart. The workers said they were taken by bus to Food Lion once a week but to Walmart only once a month, at the whim of their bosses. They were still prohibited from leaving the camp otherwise.
Several workers have quit before the end of their contract, forfeiting wages and an employer-paid flight back to Mexico. One of them, a field worker named Manuel, said he understood it was unlikely he would be asked back next year.
“Our rights are being violated,” he said. “I couldn’t stand it anymore.”
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