The six remaining Kings Bay Plowshares defendants have had their sentencing dates moved from September to October 15 and 16. They had requested a continuance because they want to appear in open court in Georgia and the virus situation there is still too out of control to safely allow it.
Steve Kelly has now served almost 29 months in county jails since the action in April, 2018 so has already met the guidelines for his likely sentence. The court may not want to grant him further extensions. (You can send a postcard to Steve to let him know you're thinking of him. Directions on writing here.)
The other defendants are not sure if they would prefer to seek more continuances or choose virtual appearances for sentencing in solidarity with Steve on those dates in October if it appears unsafe to travel to Georgia at that time. Check the website for updates.September 9 will be the 40thanniversary of the first plowshares action in King of Prussia, PA. Eight activists, known as the Plowshares Eight, entered the GE plant where nosecones for nuclear missile warheads were manufactured. They hammered on several and poured blood on the nosecones and documents.
Emile de Antonio’s 1983 film, In the King of Prussia, is about the trial of the Plowshares Eight. The judge is played by Martin Sheen and the defendants are played by themselves. It’s available for viewing on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUph8GWFupE
Denver Black Lives
On September 17, six protest leaders, including four members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, were arrested in Denver, Colorado in a coordinated police action. Those arrested are now being threatened with a litany of bogus felony charges, including “kidnapping.” Four of the arrested individuals—Russel Ruch, Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero—are protest leaders who have denounced the crimes of the Colorado police, most notably the racist murder of Elijah McClain. The repression against these activists, and many others, is nothing short of police-state retribution. As a PSL statement noted,
“This attack on the Denver anti-racist movement and the PSL is part of a concerted national assault on the Black Lives Matter movement, an attack driven directly from the White House, from Governor’s mansions, and from local police chiefs and police departments around the country.”
It is clear from the manner of the arrests that the Denver area police are trying to punish and intimidate activists. Russel Ruch, for instance, was followed to Home Depot and arrested in the parking lot; Lillian House was surrounded by five police cars as she was driving; and a S.W.A.T. team was sent to Joel Northam’s home. According to the 30-page long arrest affidavits, the police used livestream footage, call transcripts, and social media posts to build a case against those arrested. These coordinated arrests, which utilized both surveillance and brute force, aim to instill fear in every Denver area activist. “Protest, and you could be next” is the message being sent. And the absurd list of felony charges, known as “charge stacking,” means the arrested activists could be facing years, if not decades, in prison.
The arrest of these protest leaders in Denver are part of a larger nationwide crack-down on the Black Lives Matter movement. Across the country, protesters have been snatched off the streets by the police or federal forces in unmarked vehicles. In New York City, the NYPD used facial-recognition software to find and harass a Black Lives Matter activist. And earlier this month, in Washington, federal marshals gunned down Portland activist Michael Reinoehl without warning as he walked to his car.
Left Voice denounces the attempts to repress or otherwise intimidate anti-racist, anti-police activists. It is unacceptable that the state, under direction from both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, targets and intimidates activists fighting for racial justice, while the murderers of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and many more walk free. The real threat to public safety can be found in every police precinct, every city hall, and every seat of political power.
Drop the charges against Denver PSL activists—Free all the arrested protesters!
To sign the PSL’s petition to have the charges dropped, click here:
To donate to the PSL’s legal defense, click here:
— Left Voice, September 18, 2020
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Write to Kevin “Rashid” Johnson:
Kevin Johnson #264847
Wabash Valley Correctional Facility
6908 S. Old U.S. HWY 41, P.O. Box 500
Carlisle, IN 47838
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Johnson the Invisible Brat
Johnson the invisible brat,
Thinks he’s better than us all,
For he’s a posh prime minister,
Who defies international law,
No matter how many graves get filled,
Or the cupboards are running bare,
You bet you can rely on this,
Johnson won’t be there.
Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,
It doesn’t matter who,
Can keep a straight face on camera,
While reading the lies on the autocue.
Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,
But whenever there’s a crisis,
Johnson isn’t there
Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.
He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.
You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,
But when there’s a problem to deal with,
Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.
Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,
He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,
His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,
He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,
You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,
But when a job is needing done,
Boris Johnson is never there.
He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way
And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,
He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends
He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,
Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.
Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care
But when there is money to be made,
Johnson and mates will be there.
In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,
Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,
For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,
A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.
He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here,
But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,
You can be sure that,
Boris Johnson will reappear.
Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,
Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,
He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,
Fake news and lies again and again,
When things go wrong and account is called,
It is always someone else’s fault,
What ever the problem no matter where
He always can claim that he wasn’t there.
Covid 19’s, coming,
He says we’ll take it on the chin,
World beating, moonshot, track and trace,
Endless lies and spin
Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,
Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.
Children going hungry a national disgrace
We must take matters in our own hands,
To make things proper here,
Have confidence in our own powers,
Make Johnson and his kind
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
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Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
You are receiving this list because you have opted in on our website.
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You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this listWHISPeR Project at ExposeFacts 1627 Eye Street, NW Suite 600 Washington, DC 20006
Subject: Shut Down Fort Hood! Justice for Vanessa Guillén. Sign the petition!
SHUT DOWN FORT HOOD NOW!JUSTICE FOR
PFC. VANESSA GUILLÉN!
Sign the Petition
In late April, Pfc. Vanessa Guillén went missing from her base in Ft. Hood, Texas. It took her family and friends working night and day to appeal to the commanding officers to get any attention whatsoever about her whereabouts. Vanessa had told her family she had been sexually harassed by her supervisor.For more than three months, Vanessa’s higher-ups paid little attention to her family’s urgent pleas to investigate her disappearance. She was treated as being disposable.In late June, her body was found 25 miles from the base. Vanessa had been tragically murdered by her abuser who later killed himself upon capture.The unspeakable crimes against Vanessa Guillén have opened a floodgate of testimonies about sexual assault in the military. Many women and LGBTQ2S+ people are telling their heartbreaking stories with the hashtag #iamvanessaGuillén.Vanessa’s death is a result of sexual harassment in the military, which is deplorable. Fort Hood is the worst. According to the Pentagon’s own reports, it has the most sexual assaults of any Army post in the country. That is why it must be shut down now!In addition, Fort Hood, the single biggest military post in the U.S. armed forces, is named after a Confederate general. Its name glorifies racism and slavery.When Vanessa Guillén enlisted in the Army, she thought she’d be doing good and it would be helpful to her. Instead, it destroyed her. But how could it not when the military exists not to help people, but to defend Wall Street? It invaded and still occupies Iraq and Afghanistan, killing millions, just for oil profits.The case for Justice for Vanessa is very much linked to the movement for Black Lives. Young people of color must have other options than police violence or going to war for their future.WE DEMAND:•Investigate Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White and others for conspiracy to cover up Pfc. Vanessa Guillén’s murder. Why did it take a mass movement to find what happened?
•Shut down Ft. Hood! There is no other way to end the deplorable conditions soldiers face.
•Job training, education, COVID-19 relief, not war! If we shut down the Pentagon, the annual U.S. defense budget of $1 trillion could be used for people’s needs, not war.
•End misogyny and homophobia in the military. Justice for Vanessa and all survivors.
147 W 24th St.
New York City, NY 10011
This legacy belongs to all of us:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forest to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 1876. —Friedrich Engels
Marvin Gaye - What's Going On (Official Video 2019)
BlackRock loves to make a killing on killing: Over a thousand Americans have been killed by Tasers — 32 percent of them are Black Americans. Tasers are made by the colossal law enforcement supplier Axon Enterprise, based in Arizona.
One of their top shareholders happens to be Blackrock. Recently Blackrock has been trying to be sympathetic to the atrocities of murders waged on Black Americans and communities of color. If we ramp up massive pressure and blow the whistle on their deadly stocks, we can highlight that divesting from Tasers and the war in our streets will be a step in the right direction in building a fair and just society.
This issue is important to having peace in our streets. But this will only work if people participate. Send an email to Blackrock to divest from the Taser manufacturer Axon Enterprise which is responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans, and CODEPINK will pull out all the stops to make sure Blackrock execs hear our call:
Blackrock could do this. They recently announced that they were divesting from fossil fuels — signaling a shift in their policies. If CEO Larry Fink cares about “diversity, fairness, and justice” and building a “stronger, more equal, and safer society” — he should divest from Tasers.
Plus, compared to Blackrock’s other holdings, Taser stocks aren’t even that significant!
But if Blackrock does this, it could be the first domino we need to get other investment companies on board too. Send an email to BlackRock and share this widely!
If there’s one thing our community stands for, it’s peace and social justice. And one way we can help achieve that is by cutting off the flow of cash into the manufacturing of Tasers. So, let’s come together to make that happen, and help prevent more innocent Americans from being killed with these senseless tools.
Nancy, Carley, Jodie, Paki, Cody, Kelsey, and Yousef
To update your email subscription, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven't seen this, you're missing something spectacular:
On Saturday May 30th filmmaker and photographer David Jones of David Jones Media felt compelled to go out and serve the community in some way. He decided to use his art to try and explain the events that were currently impacting our lives. On day two, Sunday the 31st, he activated his dear friend author Kimberly Jones to tag along and conduct interviews. During a moment of downtime he captured these powerful words from her and felt the world couldn’t wait for the full length documentary, they needed to hear them now.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.—BAUAW
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
Ultimately, the majority of human suffering is caused by a system that places the value of material wealth over the value of
human life. To end the suffering, we must end the profit motive—the very foundation of capitalism itself.
(Bay Area United Against War Newsletter)
I didn't do nothing serious man
please I can't breathe
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
man can't breathe, my face
just get up
I can't breathe
I can't breathe sh*t
I can't move
my stomach hurt
my neck hurts
some water or something
I can't breathe officer
don't kill me
they gon' kill me man
come on man
I cannot breathe
I cannot breathe
they gon' kill me
they gon' kill me
I can't breathe
I can't breathe
please I can't breathe"
Then his eyes shut and the pleas stop. George Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after.
By ShakaboonaTrump Comic Satire—A Proposal
Write to Shakaboona:Smart Communications/PA DOCKerry Shakaboona Marshall #BE7826SCI RockviewP.O. Box 33028St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
Veterans Join Call for a Global Ceasefire
www.couragetoresist.org ~ 510.488.3559 ~ facebook.com/couragetoresist
Oakland, CA 94610-2730
"The biggest block from having society in harmony with the universe is the belief in a lie that says it’s not realistic or ￼humanly possible."
"If Obama taught me anything it’s that it don’t matter who you vote for in this system. There’s nothing a politician can do that the next one can’t undo. You can’t vote away the ills of society people have to put our differences aside ban together and fight for the greater good, not vote for the lesser evil."
—Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: email@example.comDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
The system erased her as if she never existed.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/opinion/breonna-taylor-black-trauma.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
I filed this column late. Very late. I couldn’t find the words — an unsettling experience for a writer. The words I did conjure failed, not because the message was difficult to convey, but rather because the conveyance is maddeningly depressive in repetition.
The killing of Breonna Taylor reveals yet again how easy it is for the state to take a Black life and how hard it is to hold the state accountable for its transgression. That is in part because the system is designed to make it nearly impossible for the state to transgress.
Taylor was an innocent woman, sleeping in her own home, breaking no law. The state broke down her door and shot her dead.
Most of what the state did in her home that night was in fact, outrageously, legal. According to the state attorney general, the two officers who shot her were justified in using lethal force because her boyfriend, believing that people were breaking into the house to harm him and Taylor, deigned to defend himself by shooting at the intruders.
That, according to the state, allowed the officers to then act in self-defense. But here’s the problem: The bullets went into Taylor, not her boyfriend. How can you justify killing me while defending yourself from something my friend did?
When the grand jury charges were announced, only a third officer, who was fired in June, was charged, and not with anything that had to do with the killing of Taylor. He was charged with wanton endangerment because he shot so randomly that some bullets entered adjacent apartments.
Put another way, the bullets that provided the material for the crime were the ones that did not enter Taylor’s body. In essence, a former officer was charged for the shots that missed her.
That grand jury, the system, the state, erased Taylor as if she had never existed. Her death was simply a “tragedy,” a regrettable mistake for which no punishment was merited or required.
For the state, her body fell like a tree in the forest. For us, it landed like a thunderclap and shook the earth. It was a horror. It could have been us. It could have been someone we knew and loved.
Taylor was just 26, the same age as my oldest son is now. Taylor was a certified E.M.T., and her mother said she planned a lifelong career in health care. My son is in medical school. She could have been my daughter. My son could have been her.
They are both adults, to be sure, but to us, their parents, they are our children, our babies. You can’t just cut down someone’s baby and say, “Oh well.” No amount of money can fill the hole that loss would leave.
It was so egregious, like so many of these police shootings, and for months we waited to see if justice would be served, hoping against hope, knowing that history had trained us in trauma, knowing that justice was unlikely.
And, in the end, the system performed precisely as expected: It disregarded the Black body and defended the state bodies.
When you are injured or killed by community violence, the law is on your side, or on the side of the loved ones who grieve you. Justice in those cases can be swift and brutal. But, when it is the state doing the hurting and killing, the law is on their side. They are the law.
That is why state violence is so insidious: because you are nearly helpless to protect yourself from it.
People have to chant “Black lives matter” — to assert it, to make it hang in the air so that both the person speaking these words and the person hearing them can remember it — because the system demonstrates continually that those lives don’t matter to it.
Taylor was killed by the disastrous war on drugs that is itself hopelessly racialized. She was killed by the judicial system that granted the warrant. She was killed by militarized hyper-policing that is too often dangerous and deadly. She was killed by public indifference that lets all this play out without demanding correction.
This is a woeful ritual. This is a perpetual parade of anger and astonishment, of loss and longing, of demanding justice and being denied it. It is weighing on the souls of Black America and all Americans of good conscience.
America has created an unsustainable condition, one that I fear will one day explode, and yet the country lacks the will or inclination to right its wrongs. America, sadly, will regret this.
Bully and ignore the experts, and send in the quacks.
By Paul Krugman, Opinion Columnist, Sept. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/opinion/trump-science-coronavirus.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Lately I’ve found myself thinking about Trofim Lysenko.
Who? Lysenko was a Soviet agronomist who decided that modern genetics was all wrong, indeed contrary to Marxist-Leninist principles. He even denied that genes existed, while insisting that long-discredited views about evolution were actually right. Real scientists marveled at his ignorance.
But Joseph Stalin liked him, so Lysenko’s views became official doctrine, and scientists who refused to endorse them were sent to labor camps or executed. Lysenkoism became the basis for much of the Soviet Union’s agricultural policy, eventually contributing to the disastrous famines of the 1930s.
Does all of this sound a bit familiar given recent events in America?
Those worried about a crisis of democracy in the United States — which means everyone paying attention — usually compare Donald Trump to strongmen like Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not Stalin. Indeed, if the G.O.P. has become an extremist, anti-democratic party — and it has — it’s an extremism of the right.
But while nobody would accuse Trump of being a leftist, his political style always reminds me of Stalinism. Like Stalin, he sees vast, implausible conspiracies everywhere — anarchists somehow in control of major cities, radical leftists somehow controlling Joe Biden, secret anti-Trump cabals throughout the federal government. It’s also notable that those who work for Trump, like Stalinist officials, consistently end up being cast out and vilified — although not sent to gulags, at least not yet.
And Trumpism, like Stalinism, seems to inspire special disdain for expertise and a fondness for quacks.
On Wednesday Trump said two things that both, if you ask me, deserved banner headlines. Most alarmingly, he refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election.
But he also indicated that he might reject new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration for approving a coronavirus vaccine, saying that the announcement of these guidelines “sounds like a political move.” What?
OK, we all understand what’s going on here. Many observers worry that the Trump team, in an effort to influence the election, will announce that we have a safe, effective vaccine against the coronavirus ready to go, even if we don’t (and we almost certainly won’t have one that soon). So the Food and Drug Administration was trying to reassure the public about the integrity of its approval process.
And we really need that reassurance, because the Trump administration has given us every reason to distrust statements coming from public health agencies.
Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to the effect that people exposed to the coronavirus but not having Covid-19 symptoms didn’t need to get tested — contrary to the recommendations of just about every independent epidemiologist. Subsequent reporting revealed that the new guidance was prepared by political appointees and skipped the scientific review process.
More recently, the C.D.C. warned about airborne transmission of the coronavirus — this time matching what experts are saying — only to suddenly pull the guidance from its website a few days later. We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s hard not to notice that the retracted guidance would have made it clear that recent Trump rallies, which involve large indoor crowds with few people wearing masks, create major public health risks.
So the F.D.A. was trying to assure us that it won’t be corrupted by politics the way the C.D.C. apparently has been. And Trump basically cut the agency off at the knees; his assertion that the new guidelines sound political actually meant that they weren’t political enough, that he wants to keep open the possibility of announcing a vaccine as a way to help retain power.
But if political hacks are calling the shots at the C.D.C., and the F.D.A. is being told to shut up and follow the party line, who’s advising Trump on pandemic policy? Send in the quacks.
Trump’s disastrous push, back in April, for early reopening was reportedly influenced by the writings of Richard Epstein, a law professor who somehow decided that he was an expert in epidemiology and that Covid-19 would kill no more than 500 people, a number he eventually increased to 5,000 — roughly the death toll we’re currently experiencing every week.
But the quack of the moment is Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no expertise in infectious diseases who nonetheless impressed Trump with his appearances on Fox News. Atlas’s opposition to mask requirements and advocacy of just letting the coronavirus spread until we’ve reached “herd immunity” are very much at odds with what actual epidemiologists are saying, but they’re what Trump wants to hear, and Atlas has apparently become a key adviser on pandemic policy.
That’s what had me thinking about Trofim Lysenko. Like Stalin, Trump denigrates and bullies experts and takes advice on what should be scientific issues from people who don’t know what they’re talking about but tell him what he wants to hear.
And you know what happens when a national leader does that? People die.
For many, the grand jury announcement in Breonna Taylor’s case was more of the same, underscoring the need for systemic change.
By Alisha Haridasani Gupta, Published Sept. 24, 2020, Updated Sept. 25, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/us/breonna-taylor-grand-jury-black-women.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Protesters marched in Louisville after Wednesday’s announcement. Credit...Xavier Burrell for The New York Times
“The system that killed Breonna Taylor is not set up to provide justice or reparations for the killing of Breonna Taylor.” — Andrea Ritchie, author of “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color”
After more than 100 days of protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, a grand jury’s decision on Wednesday to not bring charges related to her death against the police officers involved landed with a thud for those who had hoped for more, and stronger, charges.
On March 13, a little after midnight, three police officers punched down the door of Ms. Taylor’s apartment in Louisville, Ky. using a no-knock warrant in a late-night drug raid. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fearing an intruder, reached for his gun and let off one shot, wounding an officer. Another officer and the wounded officer returned fire, while a third began blindly shooting through Ms. Taylor’s window and patio door.
The two officers who shot Ms. Taylor six times face no charges, while a former police detective, Brett Hankison, was indicted on a charge of “wanton endangerment” for firing recklessly into a neighbor’s apartment.
“The decision before my office is not to decide if the loss of Breonna Taylor’s life was a tragedy — the answer to that question is unequivocally yes,” said Kentucky’s attorney general, Daniel Cameron, at a news conference in the state’s capital, Frankfort.
“Justice is not often easy and does not fit the mold of public opinion,” Mr. Cameron said, adding that not everyone would be satisfied with the charges and that, as a Black man, he understood the pain brought about by Ms. Taylor’s death.
As the decision was read aloud, a crowd that had gathered in downtown Louisville shrieked in despair. Shouts of “That’s it?” rose from the crowd. “They murdered her!” a woman yelled between sobs.
“This is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice I’ve seen in about 25 years,” said Linda Sarsour, a political activist who was among the crowd in Louisville when the announcement came down. “I’m remembering a quote by Malcolm X: ‘The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.’”
For many, the heartbreak was compounded by the fact that, despite mounting national attention and pressure, the outcome was, simply put, unsurprising. It had crushed cautious hopes that this case could have spurred change, particularly for Black women.
“Sometimes you wish, even outside of the knowledge that you have, that lightning strikes and something different will happen,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at U.C.L.A. and Columbia Law School and founder of the Say Her Name campaign. “You can attach that hope to some of the factual distinctions of this case: The police can’t even claim she was doing anything. But realism tells you that the likelihood of something different was pretty slim.”
Few police officers who cause deaths are charged or convicted. Since 2013, law enforcement officers across the country have killed about 1,000 people a year and Black people are about three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people, according to the crowdsourced database Mapping Police Violence.
Yet, since 2005, only 121 officers in total have been arrested on charges of murder or manslaughter in on-duty killings, according to data compiled by Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer himself and a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Of the 95 officers whose cases have concluded, 44 were convicted, but often of a lesser charge, like assault, he said.
While fewer women than men are killed by the police overall, the conviction rate is low in those cases, too, particularly for Black women. Since 2015, nearly 250 women in total have been killed by police officers, of which 48 — about a fifth — were Black, according to a Washington Post database.
Since the beginning of 2005, there have been eight cases in which officers were charged with manslaughter or murder of a Black woman. In the past five years, there has been one, Professor Stinson said. Almost all of the officers in those cases were acquitted.
And the numbers in Professor Stinson’s database, as well as in others, are most likely an underrepresentation, relying on news media reports and alerts, he explained, “because the government does a lousy job of collecting this sort of data.”
“Law enforcement agencies don’t like providing this data,” he said. “And we have 18,000 agencies across 50 states and the District of Columbia that define things differently. It’s just very complicated and decentralized.”
Andrea Ritchie, author of “Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color” and co-author, with Professor Crenshaw, of the Say Her Name report, which investigates police brutality against Black women, said the fact that the criminal justice system so rarely convicts police officers is a key reason activists should seek structural change.
“This is part of a larger pattern, and if we don’t interrupt the pattern, we’re going to be in this position again and again and again,” Ms. Ritchie said. “The system that killed Breonna Taylor is not set up to provide justice or reparations for the killing of Breonna Taylor.”
Activists on the ground are working to change that system.
The Black Lives Matter movement in Louisville has urged the city’s mayor, Greg Fischer, to fire the police officers who weren’t indicted, said Shawnte West, adjunct professor of social policy at the University of Louisville and a volunteer with the group. Professor West added that B.L.M. has also called on Mayor Fischer to investigate the gentrification policies that, she said, had “created the conditions that led up to the murder of Breonna Taylor,” and for increased investments in community services, like child welfare or homeless shelters.
Partly because of persistent pressure from the group, Mayor Fischer in June signed “Breonna’s Law,” which effectively outlawed the kind of no-knock warrants that enabled the three officers to burst into her apartment. And, this month, the mayor announced a $12 million settlement in the civil suit by the Taylor family that included police reform policies like a requirement that commanders approve all search warrants before they go to a judge and the use of mandatory body cameras.
“Now I’m hearing Black women talking about running for judge seats, for City Council positions, in statewide elections,” Professor West said. “We’re not just sitting around and being sullen. This is just the second day of the second phase of this.”
John Eligon contributed reporting from Louisville, Ky.
The nation’s divisive political scene has increasingly spilled from social media into public rallies. Portland is bracing for possible violent clashes between far-right and left-wing activists.
By Mike Baker and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
Published Sept. 25, 2020, Updated Sept. 26, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/25/us/portland-proud-boys-antifa-protests.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
PORTLAND, Ore. — Over the past few years, the streets of Portland have become an arena for polarized political conflict, with far-right groups from around the country bringing guns, flags, bulletproof vests and an eagerness to confront the city’s leftist activists.
After a series of escalating conflicts between opposing factions this summer that involved gunfire from both directions, the city is set to become a stage again on Saturday, when the Proud Boys, a far-right group notorious for engaging in brawls, descend once more on Portland, perhaps in numbers larger than ever before.
Authorities have expressed widespread alarm about the expected clash, as there is talk of further escalation by some members of the Proud Boys. Some members have touted their efforts to buy shields and tactical gear.
“The pattern of these particular groups is clear: to intimidate, instigate and inflame,” said Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, who on Friday declared a state of emergency that will bring more law enforcement agencies to the scene and allow authorities to use tear gas.
In the run-up to the presidential election, now less than 40 days away, the nation’s divisive political scene has increasingly spilled from social media into the streets.
In Louisville, Ky., the grand jury decision to not indict police officers for the killing of Breonna Taylor has reignited fury over the laws and systems that shield the police from accountability.
“Until those officers are fired from this department, I promise you we will continue to make these streets hot,” Tamika D. Mallory, an activist, said at a Friday news conference alongside Ms. Taylor’s mother, the family’s legal team and other supporters.
While Mayor Greg Fischer has imposed a curfew and the police have blocked off access to downtown, hundreds have continued to publicly protest the grand jury’s decision.
The developments in Louisville also prompted people nationwide to return to the streets in protest, echoing the message of the mass demonstrations that involved millions after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in May.
President Trump has stoked the tensions of race and policing while building a law-and-order message for his re-election bid. In Portland, where the president has sought to label the city’s antifascist activists as domestic terrorists, the Proud Boys have described their event on Saturday as a rally to “end domestic terrorism.”
Law enforcement agencies spent the week struggling to prepare for the gathering and counterprotests, which include an event organized by a local antifa collective and another event organized by Black activists. Under orders from the mayor, the Portland Police Bureau was prohibited from using tear gas, which led some agencies to resist sending support.
“You ask for O.S.P. crowd control units to police an element that is well known to have violent interactions — including the carrying, display and use of firearms,” the Oregon State Police superintendent, Travis Hampton, wrote in an email to leaders in the Portland Police Bureau that partially denied an aid request.
But on Friday, Ms. Brown used emergency powers to order that Superintendent Hampton and the local sheriff take control of public safety in the city for the weekend. That decision will restore the use of tear gas, even for Portland police officers, and Superintendent Hampton said the city would see a “massive influx” of state troopers.
The goal, authorities said, was to keep the groups separated from each other, which officers have struggled to do this summer, as opposing events have featured fistfights, paintball guns and clouds of mace.
In mid-August, authorities say, a right-wing demonstrator fired his gun twice from his vehicle but did not strike anybody. A week later, amid open clashes in the streets between opposing factions, a right-wing activist pointed his gun at the crowd across from him. The following week, a pro-Trump caravan that planned to drive around the outskirts of the city’s downtown instead went into the city center.
It was at that third event where authorities say Michael Forest Reinoehl, an antifa supporter who had provided security at the demonstrations, fatally shot Aaron J. Danielson, an activist with the far-right group Patriot Prayer. Mr. Reinoehl was later killed by authorities in Washington State.
Last month, as the two sides were openly fighting in the streets, the police stayed out of the fray, later explaining that they did not have enough personnel to get in the middle. Asked what is stopping an open firefight from developing, Chief Chuck Lovell of the Portland police said, “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
On Friday night, one of the Proud Boys involved in the melees, Alan Swinney, said he had been indicted and planned to turn himself in. Mr. Swinney, who had spent recent weeks raising funds to purchase body armor and shields, said he did not know why he had been charged.
The Proud Boys, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, are self-described “western chauvinists” who have espoused misogynistic and anti-Islam messages; they frequently engage in violent conflicts and celebrate footage of those scenes.
Enrique Tarrio, who leads the Proud Boys, said that he welcomed the expanded law enforcement presence and that he wanted to see that kind of effort for the protesters who have operated in the city. Mr. Tarrio said that between 200 and 300 Proud Boys were in the Portland area for the event on Saturday and that he expected many hundreds of other people to participate as well.
Mr. Tarrio has said publicly that anyone planning to commit violence should stay away from the event, but when pressed about whether the environment he was creating would attract people looking for violence, he acknowledged that it likely would.
“I’d be stupid to say that I don’t expect someone to come in with some type of nefarious motives,” he said. “The moment that we see it, we will say something. We will be pointing that out to the authorities.”
Mr. Tarrio had previously posted online that “Antifa is in for a bad time” if law enforcement officers or the National Guard were not present for the event.
In Louisville, right-wing groups have also returned to the streets, with militia members carrying rifles and standing outside downtown businesses. It was a scene that paralleled recent events in Kenosha, Wis., where 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged in the killing of two people after he arrived in the city with a rifle and vowed to protect businesses from demonstrators, who were protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
On Friday, family and lawyers of Ms. Taylor took aim at the Kentucky attorney general, demanding that he release further evidence of his role in a case that culminated this week when a grand jury indicted one officer for his role in the botched raid on Ms. Taylor’s home but declined to press charges against the two police officers who shot her.
“Release the transcripts!” the group shouted, standing in a square in downtown Louisville and wearing face masks featuring Ms. Taylor’s name.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the grand jury’s decision, Ms. Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, released a statement denouncing Daniel Cameron, a rising Republican star and the first Black attorney general in Kentucky history, for being on the “wrong side of the law.”
“He knew he had the power to do the right thing,” she said in a statement, which was read by Bianca Austin, Ms. Taylor’s aunt. “He had the power to start the healing of this city. He had the power to help mend over 400 years of oppression. What he helped me realize is it will always be us against them. We are never safe.”
Sarah Mervosh contributed reporting from New York, and John Eligon from Louisville, Ky.
Aarin Sarpee initially told investigators that he didn't hear police say who they were before ramming through Taylor's door. Two months later, he drastically changed his recollection.
By Roberto Ferdman, Belle Cushing, Ani Ucar, September 26, 2020
When Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron announced this week that no charges would be brought in direct connection with Breonna Taylor’s death, he underscored that the officers executing the search warrant that night did identify themselves at Taylor’s door, pointing to a witness who corroborated the officers’ version of events.
But, according to audio and documents obtained by VICE News, that same witness changed his story in the months following the deadly raid.
The witness is Aarin Sarpee, who was picking up his daughter from his brother’s apartment above Taylor’s at the time of the raid. According to officers’ interviews with investigators, Sarpee got into an argument with Detective Brett Hankison as the officers were banging on Taylor’s door.
The interviews were conducted by LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which investigates officer-involved shootings. According to the Public Integrity Unit’s investigative file, LMPD investigators spoke to Sarpee on the phone twice in the ensuing months. On March 21, a week after the shooting, Sgt. Jason Vance asked Sarpee directly if he heard anyone identify themselves as police. Sarpee responded, “No, nobody identified themselves.”
Another PIU investigator, Sgt. Amanda Seeyle, called Sarpee back two months later, on May 15, the file shows. At that point, Sarpee said he did hear police say, “This is the cops.”
This isn’t the only instance of the attorney general presenting a single narrative from conflicting evidence. As VICE News reported this week, the initial Kentucky State Police ballistics report could not conclude that the bullet that struck Sgt. Jon Mattingly in the leg came from the gun of Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker. The FBI later produced its own ballistics report, the findings of which have not been released. Yet at the press conference announcing charges, Attorney General Cameron stated as fact that Walker’s bullet hit Mattingly.
The summary of LMPD’s interactions with Sarpee also raises questions about the way in which those conversations were documented and presented as part of the department’s investigative file. At the end of the taped conversation on March 21, Sgt. Vance tells Sarpee they will call him the following day to conduct a formal interview, but no interaction is documented until April 1, when Sgt. Seelye writes in the file that she calls and texts him, but does not receive a response. Seelye later leaves a voicemail for Sarpee on May 14.
On May 15, Seeyle and Sarpee speak on the phone. During this conversation, Seeyle makes a reference to a previous conversation she says she had with Sarpee. But according to the investigative file reviewed by VICE News, there is no record of them speaking at any point prior to that phone conversation. Seelye proceeds to press Sarpee on two specific points: whether he knew they were police, and whether he heard the officers announce themselves.
During the May conversation, which spans almost 7 minutes, Sarpee shifts his account and says he heard police say “this is the cops,” corroborating the testimonies of the seven officers on scene.
“It’s been so long now,” Sarpee tells Seeyle on the call. “I recall some of it.”
Walker’s attorney, Steve Romines, who says he has reviewed the file and listened to Sarpee’s interviews, told VICE News he believes the shift makes Sarpee’s account unreliable.
“You cannot in good faith look at Sarpee’s interviews and try to rely on him to establish that police announced themselves,” Romines said. “He’s obviously confused over the course of his interviews.”
“It’s pretty clear to me that they’re [the police] trying to create the narrative that benefits them,” he added.
The drastic change in Sarpee’s account is notable given the attorney general’s sole reliance on Sarpee’s testimony to corroborate the involved officers’ claims that they announced themselves prior to ramming through Taylor’s front door. More than a dozen other neighbors, including two who live in the same unit, told VICE News that they never heard police say who they were.
LMPD and the Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When reached by VICE News, Sarpee declined to comment, saying he needed to speak to his lawyer first. Sarpee’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
The New York Times published a damning report that showed President Trump paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
By Associated Press, September 27, 2020https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-income-taxes-new-york-times-report_n_5f710b48c5b6cdc24c1ad415?guccounter=1
President Donald Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House, according to a report Sunday in The New York Times.
Trump, who has fiercely guarded his tax filings and is the only president in modern times not to make them public, paid no federal income taxes in 10 of the past 15 years.
The details of the tax filings complicate Trump’s description of himself as a shrewd and patriotic businessman, revealing instead a series of financial losses and income from abroad that could come into conflict with his responsibilities as president. The president’s financial disclosures indicated he earned at least $434.9 million in 2018, but the tax filings reported a $47.4 million loss.
The disclosure, which the Times said comes from tax return data it obtained extending over two decades, comes at a pivotal moment ahead of the first presidential debate Tuesday and weeks before a divisive election against Democrat Joe Biden.
Speaking at a news conference Sunday at the White House, Trump dismissed the report as “fake news” and said he has paid taxes, though he gave no specifics. He also vowed that information about his taxes “will all be revealed,” but he offered no timeline for the disclosure and made similar promises during the 2016 campaign on which he never followed through.
In fact, the president has fielded court challenges against those seeking access to his returns, including the U.S. House, which is suing for access to Trump’s tax returns as part of congressional oversight.
During his first two years as president, Trump received $73 million from foreign operations, which in addition to his golf properties in Scotland and Ireland included $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey. The president in 2017 paid $145,400 in taxes in India and $156,824 in the Philippines, compared to just $750 in U.S. income taxes.
Trump found multiple ways to reduce his tax bills. He has taken tax deductions on personal expenses such as housing, aircraft and $70,000 in haircare. Losses in the property businesses solely owned and managed by Trump appear to have offset income from his stake in the television show “The Apprentice” and other entities with multiple owners.
During the first two years of his presidency, Trump relied on business tax credits to reduce his tax obligations. The Times said $9.7 million worth of business investment credits that were submitted after Trump requested an extension to file his taxes allowed him to reduce his income and pay just $750 each in 2016 and 2017.
Trump, starting in 2010, claimed and received an income tax refund that totaled $72.9 million, which the Times said was at the core of an ongoing audit by the IRS. The president has declined to release his taxes because of the audit.
A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, and a spokesperson for the Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on the report.
Garten told the Times that “most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate.”
He said in a statement to the news organization that the president “has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015.”
The New York Times said it declined to provide Garten with the tax filings in order to protect its sources.
During his first general election debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Clinton said that perhaps Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he had paid nothing in federal taxes.
Trump interrupted her to say, “That makes me smart.”
Times reporters have obtained decades of tax information the president has hidden from public view. Here are some of the key findings.
By David Leonhardt, Sept. 27, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/27/us/trump-taxes-takeaways.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
Many of President Trump’s properties operate at a loss, but Trump Tower in Manhattan is an exception, regularly earning him more than $20 million a year. Credit...Haruka Sakaguchi for The New York Times
The New York Times has obtained tax-return data for President Trump and his companies that covers more than two decades. Mr. Trump has long refused to release this information, making him the first president in decades to hide basic details about his finances. His refusal has made his tax returns among the most sought-after documents in recent memory.
Among the key findings of The Times’s investigation:
· Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 of 18 years that The Times examined. In 2017, after he became president, his tax bill was only $750.
· He has reduced his tax bill with questionable measures, including a $72.9 million tax refund that is the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
· Many of his signature businesses, including his golf courses, report losing large amounts of money — losses that have helped him to lower his taxes.
· The financial pressure on him is increasing as hundreds of millions of dollars in loans he personally guaranteed are soon coming due.
· Even while declaring losses, he has managed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle by taking tax deductions on what most people would consider personal expenses, including residences, aircraft and $70,000 in hairstyling for television.
· Ivanka Trump, while working as an employee of the Trump Organization, appears to have received “consulting fees” that also helped reduce the family’s tax bill.
· As president, he has received more money from foreign sources and U.S. interest groups than previously known. The records do not reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.
It is important to remember that the returns are not an unvarnished look at Mr. Trump’s business activity. They are instead his own portrayal of his companies, compiled for the I.R.S. But they do offer the most detailed picture yet available.
Below is a deeper look at the takeaways. The main article based on the investigation contains much more information, as does a timeline of the president’s finances. Dean Baquet, the executive editor, has written a note explaining why The Times is publishing these findings.
The president’s tax avoidance
Mr. Trump has paid no federal income taxes for much of the past two decades.
In addition to the 11 years in which he paid no taxes during the 18 years examined by The Times, he paid only $750 in each of the two most recent years — 2016 and 2017.
He has managed to avoid taxes while enjoying the lifestyle of a billionaire — which he claims to be — while his companies cover the costs of what many would consider personal expenses.
This tax avoidance sets him apart from most other affluent Americans.
Taxes on wealthy Americans have declined sharply over the past few decades, and many use loopholes to reduce their taxes below the statutory rates. But most affluent people still pay a lot of federal income tax.
In 2017, the average federal income rate for the highest-earning .001 percent of tax filers — that is, the most affluent 1/100,000th slice of the population — was 24.1 percent, according to the I.R.S.
Over the past two decades, Mr. Trump has paid about $400 million less in combined federal income taxes than a very wealthy person who paid the average for that group each year.
His tax avoidance also sets him apart from past presidents.
Mr. Trump may be the wealthiest U.S. president in history. Yet he has often paid less in taxes than other recent presidents. Barack Obama and George W. Bush each regularly paid more than $100,000 a year — and sometimes much more — in federal income taxes while in office.
Mr. Trump, by contrast, is running a federal government to which he has contributed almost no income tax revenue in many years.
A large refund has been crucial to his tax avoidance.
Mr. Trump did face large tax bills after the initial success of “The Apprentice” television show, but he erased most of these tax payments through a refund. Combined, Mr. Trump initially paid almost $95 million in federal income taxes over the 18 years. He later managed to recoup most of that money, with interest, by applying for and receiving a $72.9 million tax refund, starting in 2010.
The refund reduced his total federal income tax bill between 2000 and 2017 to an annual average of $1.4 million. By comparison, the average American in the top .001 percent of earners paid about $25 million in federal income taxes each year over the same span.
The $72.9 million refund has since become the subject of a long-running battle with the I.R.S.
When applying for the refund, he cited a giant financial loss that may be related to the failure of his Atlantic City casinos. Publicly, he also claimed that he had fully surrendered his stake in the casinos.
But the real story may be different from the one he told. Federal law holds that investors can claim a total loss on an investment, as Mr. Trump did, only if they receive nothing in return. Mr. Trump did appear to receive something in return: 5 percent of the new casino company that formed when he renounced his stake.
In 2011, the I.R.S. began an audit reviewing the legitimacy of the refund. Almost a decade later, the case remains unresolved, for unknown reasons, and could ultimately end up in federal court, where it could become a matter of public record.
Business expenses and personal benefits
Mr. Trump classifies much of the spending on his personal lifestyle as the cost of business.
His residences are part of the family business, as are the golf courses where he spends so much time. He has classified the cost of his aircraft, used to shuttle him among his homes, as a business expense as well. Haircuts — including more than $70,000 to style his hair during “The Apprentice” — have fallen into the same category. So did almost $100,000 paid to a favorite hair and makeup artist of Ivanka Trump.
All of this helps to reduce Mr. Trump’s tax bill further, because companies can write off business expenses.
Seven Springs, his estate in Westchester County, N.Y., typifies his aggressive definition of business expenses.
Mr. Trump bought the estate, which stretches over more than 200 acres in Bedford, N.Y., in 1996. His sons Eric and Donald Jr. spent summers living there when they were younger. “This is really our compound,” Eric told Forbes in 2014. “Today,” the Trump Organization website continues to report, “Seven Springs is used as a retreat for the Trump family.”
Nonetheless, the elder Mr. Trump has classified the estate as an investment property, distinct from a personal residence. As a result, he has been able to write off $2.2 million in property taxes since 2014 — even as his 2017 tax law has limited individuals to writing off only $10,000 in property taxes a year.
The ‘consulting fees’
Across nearly all of his projects, Mr. Trump’s companies set aside about 20 percent of income for unexplained ‘consulting fees.’
These fees reduce taxes, because companies are able to write them off as a business expense, lowering the amount of final profit subject to tax.
Mr. Trump collected $5 million on a hotel deal in Azerbaijan, for example, and reported $1.1 million in consulting fees. In Dubai, there was a $630,000 fee on $3 million in income. Since 2010, Mr. Trump has written off some $26 million in such fees.
His daughter appears to have received some of these consulting fees, despite having been a top Trump Organization executive.
The Times investigation discovered a striking match: Mr. Trump’s private records show that his company once paid $747,622 in fees to an unnamed consultant for hotel projects in Hawaii and Vancouver, British Columbia. Ivanka Trump’s public disclosure forms — which she filed when joining the White House staff in 2017 — show that she had received an identical amount through a consulting company she co-owned.
Many of the highest-profile Trump businesses lose large amounts of money.
Since 2000, he has reported losing more than $315 million at the golf courses that he often describes as the heart of his empire. Much of this has been at Trump National Doral, a resort near Miami that he bought in 2012. And his Washington hotel, opened in 2016, has lost more than $55 million.
An exception: Trump Tower in New York, which reliably earns him more than $20 million in profits a year.
The most successful part of the Trump business has been his personal brand.
The Times calculates that between 2004 and 2018, Mr. Trump made a combined $427.4 million from selling his image — an image of unapologetic wealth through shrewd business management. The marketing of this image has been a huge success, even if the underlying management of many of the operating Trump companies has not been.
Other firms, especially in real estate, have paid for the right to use the Trump name. The brand made possible the “The Apprentice” — and the show then took the image to another level.
Of course, Mr. Trump’s brand also made possible his election as the first United States president with no prior government experience.
But his unprofitable companies still served a financial purpose: reducing his tax bill.
The Trump Organization — a collection of more than 500 entities, virtually all of them wholly owned by Mr. Trump — has used the losses to offset the rich profits from the licensing of the Trump brand and other profitable pieces of its business.
The reported losses from the operating businesses were so large that they often fully erased the licensing income, leaving the organization to claim that it earns no money and thus owes no taxes. This pattern is an old one for Mr. Trump. The collapse of major parts of his business in the early 1990s generated huge losses that he used to reduce his taxes for years afterward.
Large bills looming
With the cash from ‘The Apprentice,’ Mr. Trump went on his biggest buying spree since the 1980s.
“The Apprentice,” which debuted on NBC in 2004, was a huge hit. Mr. Trump received 50 percent of its profits, and he went on to buy more than 10 golf courses and multiple other properties. The losses at these properties reduced his tax bill.
But the strategy ran into trouble as the money from “The Apprentice” began to decline. By 2015, his financial condition was worsening.
His 2016 presidential campaign may have been partly an attempt to resuscitate his brand.
The financial records do not answer this question definitively. But the timing is consistent: Mr. Trump announced a campaign that seemed a long shot to win, but was almost certain to bring him newfound attention, at the same time that his businesses were in need of a new approach.
The presidency has helped his business.
Since he became a leading presidential candidate, he has received large amounts of money from lobbyists, politicians and foreign officials who pay to stay at his properties or join his clubs. The Times investigation puts precise numbers on this spending for the first time.
A surge of new members at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida gave him an additional $5 million a year from the business since 2015. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association paid at least $397,602 in 2017 to the Washington hotel, where it held at least one event during its World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians.
In his first two years in the White House, Mr. Trump received millions of dollars from projects in foreign countries, including $3 million from the Philippines, $2.3 million from India and $1 million from Turkey.
But the presidency has not resolved his core financial problem: Many of his businesses continue to lose money.
With “The Apprentice” revenue declining, Mr. Trump has absorbed the losses partly through one-time financial moves that may not be available to him again.
In 2012, he took out a $100 million mortgage on the commercial space in Trump Tower. He has also sold hundreds of millions worth of stock and bonds. But his financial records indicate that he may have as little as $873,000 left to sell.
He will soon face several major bills that could put further pressure on his finances.
He appears to have paid off none of the principal of the Trump Tower mortgage, and the full $100 million comes due in 2022. And if he loses his dispute with the I.R.S. over the 2010 refund, he could owe the government more than $100 million (including interest on the original amount).
He is personally on the hook for some of these bills.
In the 1990s, Mr. Trump nearly ruined himself by personally guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and he has since said that he regretted doing so. But he has taken the same step again, his tax records show. He appears to be responsible for loans totaling $421 million, most of which is coming due within four years.
Should he win re-election, his lenders could be placed in the unprecedented position of weighing whether to foreclose on a sitting president. Whether he wins or loses, he will probably need to find new ways to use his brand — and his popularity among tens of millions of Americans — to make money.
PFAS, industrial chemicals used to waterproof jackets and grease-proof fast-food containers, may disrupt pregnancy with lasting effects.
By Liza Gross, Sept. 23, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/parenting/pregnancy/pfas-toxins-chemicals.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=405355523&algo=identity&imp_id=595071259&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
This is the second article in a three-part series by investigative reporter Liza Gross, exploring the most dangerous toxins found in the average American home. The stories track fertility, pregnancy and early childhood development. The first, on phthalates, can be found here.
Nikki Aldrich can’t talk about what happened in their bucolic riverside village without crying. “She lets me do the talking,” said her mother, Loreen Hackett.
Hackett and her daughter’s family live in Hoosick Falls, New York, where residents learned in 2016 that for years — including while Aldrich was carrying her first two children — they’d been drinking water contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, a toxic chemical that a local factory once used to make Teflon products.
When Hackett and her daughter’s family had their PFOA blood levels checked by the state, they were shocked by the results. Blood levels for her grandson, then 6, and granddaughter, who was 4, were both more than 50 times the national average of roughly 2 parts per billion for kids and adults. They now both suffer from illnesses that studies have linked to PFOA or similar chemicals, Hackett said.
PFOA is one of the most widely studied members of a family of more than 4,700 chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. The chemicals are found in hundreds of consumer products, including stain- and water-resistant furniture, outdoor gear, cosmetics, dental floss and disposable food packaging.
Contaminated drinking water is a major source of exposure, along with carpets, tainted seafood, microwave popcorn and takeout foods served in grease-resistant containers.
Scientists think these widely used industrial chemicals may harm pregnant women and their developing babies by meddling with gene regulators and hormones that control two of the body’s most critical functions: metabolism and immunity.
More disturbing, PFAS can also alter levels of both mothers’ and babies’ thyroid hormones, which oversee brain development, growth and metabolism, and also play a role in immunity. Prenatal PFAS exposures that disrupt metabolism and immunity may cause immediate and lasting effects on both mother and child. Women exposed to PFAS during pregnancy have higher risks of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, a type of high blood pressure. Their babies are more likely to undergo abnormal growth in utero, leading to low birth weight, and later face increased risk of childhood obesity and infections.
A major producer of PFAS in the United States, 3M, dismisses these findings. “PFAS is a broad category, including thousands of substances with diverse physical and chemical properties, uses, and characteristics,” said Sean Lynch, a 3M spokesperson. “While the science behind PFAS is complex, the weight of scientific evidence does not show that PFOS or PFOA, two types of PFAS, cause harm in people at current or past levels.”
Epidemiologists generally can’t pinpoint the cause of a person’s gestational diabetes or obesity, said Philippe Grandjean, M.D., Ph.D., an environmental epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But on average, they can see that PFAS increases the risk of health problems such as metabolic disease and immune deficiency.
Manufacturers treat products from raincoats to pizza boxes with PFAS because they repel water, heat and grease, thanks to the unique properties of their superstrong fluorine-carbon bonds. These bonds make PFAS so resistant to degradation they’re called “forever chemicals” by some scientists.
And their widespread use has left nearly everyone exposed. As the chemicals linger, they concentrate in blood, breast milk and numerous tissues. Scientists are particularly concerned pregnant mothers might pass on the chemicals through the placenta, which manages the baby’s metabolic needs while guarding against infection.
Anecdotal reports from over a century ago showed that toxic substances like morphine and lead cross the placenta but it was long assumed that most chemicals did not. In 1981 DuPont scientists analyzed the umbilical cord blood of workers’ newborns and found that PFAS crossed the placenta, but they did not publish the finding.
Federal law requires companies to inform the Environmental Protection Agency immediately if they learn a chemical poses risks to human health or the environment. The EPA filed a complaint against DuPont in 2004 for failing to report its finding, after receiving internal documents obtained through a separate lawsuit.
“Scientific evidence confirms that the trace amount of PFOA found in this one data point would pose no risk to human health,” a lawyer for the company responded. “In the absence of substantial risk of harm, the information is simply not required to be reported.”
Only in the past few decades have scientists developed the analytical tools to systematically identify and measure these toxic intrusions during pregnancy. They now know that PFAS simply follow the same rules that nutrients do, said Dr. Grandjean. “And with PFAS, we can see they basically all pass through the placenta.”
That means newborns can get a double dose of PFAS, first in the womb and then when they nurse. The few studies that examined children under the age of 2 found PFAS levels increase during the first six months, likely from breastfeeding.
Most of what scientists know about risks associated with PFAS comes from people living in communities like Hoosick Falls or exposed on the job. Yet everyone is contaminated at some level, said Bruce Lanphear, M.D., professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
“And while we understandably focus on highly contaminated communities,” Dr. Lanphear said, “we can predict, based upon all the other evidence, that there’s unlikely to be any safe level.”
Scientists are most worried about how PFAS affect the rapidly developing bodies of children in the womb, and soon after birth. “Minuscule amounts of these exposures can have serious and lifelong consequences,” said Leonardo Trasande, M.D., a children’s environmental health expert at New York University.
Hackett’s grandson has bone problems linked to a very low birth weight. Her granddaughter had two severe staph infections that required massive doses of several different antibiotics to recover. Both conditions have been tied to PFAS exposure.
“There’s rising evidence that kids who are exposed to PFAS get more infections,” said Dr. Trasande. Children exposed to PFAS in the womb and early infancy also show reduced immune responses to vaccinations.
Such associations are merely “leads to explore” rather than evidence of causation, a 3M spokeswoman said in testimony before a U.S. House hearing on PFAS contamination and corporate accountability last year. “There’s no cause and effect for adverse human health effects at the levels that we are exposed to as a general population,” she said.
Not everyone agrees. When Hackett’s youngest grandchild was born, after they stopped drinking the water, she “absolutely forbade” her daughter to breastfeed. The baby was 5 weeks old when she started having seizures — the doctor later attributed the seizures to a thyroid disease that’s also linked to PFAS.
Hackett’s friend Emily Marpe, from nearby Petersburgh, never suspected her children had been exposed to PFAS until an official from the state health department called.
“The first thing he said was, ‘You guys need to stop brushing your teeth right now with tap water,’” Marpe said. Then he told her they found PFOA at 2.1 parts per billion in her water — more than five times the EPA’s voluntary guideline at the time. She fell to her knees and started dry heaving. “My well had just tested higher than the entire village of Hoosick Falls.”
Marpe, who lived near Taconic Plastics, which also made Teflon products, quickly became the town’s unofficial PFOA expert. She read about how a DuPont Teflon factory had contaminated the water around Parkersburg, West Virginia, from the 1950s until the early 2000s, and an independent panel of epidemiologists had found a “probable link” between PFOA and several health problems, including pregnancy-induced hypertension and thyroid disease.
New York listed the Taconic Plastics facility as a state Superfund site in 2016, and the company agreed to cover the costs of removing PFOA from private and public water supplies in Petersburgh.
When Marpe realized she was pregnant, she agonized over the thought of exposing another child to these chemicals. Her blood PFOA level had tested 160 times the national average and she seriously contemplated an abortion. “I still feel guilty for even thinking about it,” she said.
She went through with the pregnancy but every ultrasound appointment sent her into a panic, worrying about birth defects seen in a baby born to a Teflon worker. Eliana was born several pounds lighter than her two older children, but was otherwise healthy.
A review of international studies published in August found “particularly strong” evidence linking pregnant mothers’ PFAS exposures to increased risk of having low-birth-weight babies. The review also found strong evidence linking prenatal PFAS exposures with impaired glucose tolerance, or “pre-diabetes,” and gestational diabetes in mothers, as well as childhood obesity. Scientists think the chemicals’ ability to alter a mother’s glucose metabolism may contribute to these risks.
“PFAS appear to slow your metabolism,” said Dr. Trasande, who led the review. And he wouldn’t be surprised if they contributed to diabetes because they disrupt proteins that regulate sugar and fat metabolism.
Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes and those born below average weight both face an increased risk of obesity. That gives PFAS two paths to predispose a child to obesity: by upsetting the metabolism of the mother or of the developing baby.
Disrupting a mother’s metabolism may also change the placenta in a way that lets more PFAS through. Last year a study showed women with gestational diabetes may transfer higher PFAS levels to their babies. Youssef Oulhote, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts who led the study, suspects that PFAS may make the placenta more permeable. In other words, PFAS may cause a condition that allows even more of them to get to the baby.
Marpe didn’t have gestational diabetes, but her body passed plenty of PFAS to her baby. When she tested Eliana at 7 weeks old, two years since she’d stopped drinking the contaminated water, her baby’s PFOA blood level was 75.9 parts per billion, higher than most people in Hoosick Falls.
Marpe had breastfed both of her older children, and knew that babies ingest PFAS when they nurse. Her baby’s levels were already high, so she decided against breastfeeding the third. “That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said.
Regulating for future generations
Rebecca Fuoco, science communications officer for the nonprofit Green Science Policy Institute, took steps to limit her PFAS exposures before she even conceived. When she moved into her Los Angeles house two years ago, she replaced the carpet and did her best to make sure none of her furniture, clothing or other items contained PFAS.
But avoiding food-related exposures while pregnant proved harder. She had a deep knowledge of PFAS from her job and even tapped experts for advice, but she was also tired and nauseous and packaged food was easy. “Sometimes cooking from scratch felt impossible, like juggling on a tightrope,” she said.
Plus the chemicals aren’t typically disclosed on labels. “Even with all the advantages I had, it was impossible for me to completely eliminate my baby’s exposure because PFAS are ubiquitous and invisible.”
Eight chemical manufacturers agreed to stop making the so-called long-chain PFOA and PFOS in the United States by 2015 because of health and environmental concerns. But they’ve switched to short-chain varieties — with shorter carbon backbones — that also accumulate in people’s tissues and may prove just as toxic.
Regulations don’t require companies to determine whether a chemical crosses the placenta or passes through mother’s milk, said Dr. Grandjean. “What’s so frustrating is that we’ve been chasing a train that already left the station. We are decades too late.”
The European Food Safety Authority, in contrast, calculates the lowest PFAS dose that can harm an infant, and figured out how much a mother would have to ingest for her baby to exceed that amount. They arrived at a weekly intake of 0.008 parts per billion in food — a fraction of most women’s levels — though this is not yet enforced by law.
The United States EPA hasn’t implemented an enforceable PFAS water-quality standard, but New York is set to adopt standards seven times lower than the agency’s guidelines. And the state’s legislators passed a bill to ban PFAS from food packaging materials in July.
Loreen Hackett, who’s advocated for PFAS regulation since blood tests revealed her family’s sky-high PFOA levels, testified at every hearing. When she looks at her grandchildren, she can’t help but wonder if they’d still have health problems if they hadn’t grown up drinking Hoosick Falls’ contaminated water. That’s why the food packaging bill was so important to her. “With our levels,” she said, “we can’t afford another ounce of this stuff.”
The Kentucky attorney general’s office said it would release the panel’s recordings after a grand juror contended in a court filing that its discussions were inaccurately characterized.
By Rukmini Callimachi, Published Sept. 28, 2020, Updated Sept. 29, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/28/us/breonna-taylor-grand-jury.html
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A juror in the Breonna Taylor case contends that the Kentucky attorney general misrepresented the grand jury’s deliberations and failed to offer the panel the option of indicting the two officers who fatally shot the young woman, according to the juror’s lawyer.
The unnamed juror filed a court motion on Monday seeking the release of last week’s transcripts and permission from a judge to speak publicly to set the record straight. Hours later, the office of Attorney General Daniel Cameron granted both requests, saying that the juror is free to speak and that recordings of the session will be made public.
“This is something where the juror is not seeking any fame, any acclaim, any money,” said Kevin M. Glogower, the juror’s lawyer.
Mr. Glogower said the juror came to him last week in a state of turmoil after Mr. Cameron repeatedly said at a news conference that the law did not permit him to charge Sgt. Jon Mattingly and Detective Myles Cosgrove, the two white officers who shot Ms. Taylor, a Black woman, after one officer was shot by her boyfriend — and that the jury had agreed with him.
“While there are six possible homicide charges under Kentucky law, these charges are not applicable to the facts before us because our investigation showed — and the grand jury agreed — that Mattingly and Cosgrove were justified in the return of deadly fire after having been fired upon,” Mr. Cameron said, one of several moments in the news conference where he emphasized such a consensus.
According to Mr. Glogower, the juror was unsettled by the fact that the grand jury was not given an option of charging the two officers at a time when the community has been roiled by demonstrations seeking their indictment. The 12-member panel was presented only with possible charges for Detective Brett Hankison, who was fired in June.
Mr. Hankison was accused of behaving recklessly when he ran into the parking lot and began shooting through Ms. Taylor’s covered patio door, his bullets flying into a neighbor’s apartment. The grand jury concluded that he had no self-defense claim but that he could not be charged with murder because he did not strike Ms. Taylor; he was charged with three felony counts of wanton endangerment.
Before the charges were announced last week, the city enacted a state of emergency, expecting mass protests. Courthouses shut down and businesses recorded voice mail messages apologizing to patrons for the unexpected closure. More than 200 protesters upset with the decision and demanding justice have been arrested, with some smashing windows and setting fires. One protester fired a gun at least nine times and wounded two police officers.
But legal experts had warned that Kentucky’s vigorous self-defense laws made it unlikely that Sergeant Mattingly and Detective Cosgrove would be indicted on murder charges because Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, had fired first during the police raid on her apartment. He had mistaken the officers for an intruder when they breached the door.
“We have no concerns with grand jurors sharing their thoughts on our presentation because we are confident in the case we presented,” Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said in an email on Monday night, adding that her office would release the recordings of the deliberations by Wednesday.
Ms. Kuhn said no charges could be recommended for those two officers because the investigation had concluded that their use of force was justified.
“Our prosecutors presented all of the evidence, even though the evidence supported that Sergeant Mattingly and Detective Cosgrove were justified in their use of force after having been fired upon by Kenneth Walker,” she said in an email. “For that reason, the only charge recommended was wanton endangerment.”
One longtime criminal defense lawyer, Ramon McGee, said the question of which charges the attorney general presented to the panel was not problematic.
“That is an incorrect assumption on how the grand jury process works,” he said. “Prosecutors make the decision on what witnesses are called, which evidence is tendered and what charges to recommend,” he said.
But the transcripts should be released, Mr. McGee added, because how the attorney general portrayed the process in public was potentially an issue.
Advocates for Ms. Taylor point to the juror’s complaint as evidence of a broken process, which started with the raid and included the release of an incident report that claimed the dead woman had not been injured. Despite a $12 million settlement from the city of Louisville in a wrongful-death lawsuit, Ms. Taylor’s mother said that nothing short of indicting all three officers would amount to justice.
“This just compounds the trust issue,” said Christopher 2X, a community organizer who was with Tamika Palmer, Ms. Taylor’s mother, last week when the attorney general told her the officers would not be charged. She broke down crying, he said.
Immigrants detained at an ICE-contracted center in Georgia said they had invasive gynecology procedures that they later learned might have been unnecessary.
By Caitlin Dickerson, Seth Freed Wessler and Miriam Jordan, Sept. 29, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/us/ice-hysterectomies-surgeries-georgia.html
Wendy Dowe was startled awake early one morning in January 2019, when guards called her out of her cellblock in the Irwin County immigration detention center in rural Georgia, where she had been held for four months. She would be having surgery that day, they said.
Still groggy, the 48-year-old immigrant from Jamaica, who had been living without legal status in the United States for two decades before she was picked up by immigration authorities, felt a swell of dread come over her. An outside gynecologist who saw patients in immigration custody told her that the menstrual cramping she had was caused by large cysts and masses that needed to be removed, but she was skeptical. The doctor insisted, she said, and as a detainee — brought to the hospital in handcuffs and shackles — she felt pressured to consent.
It was only after she was deported to Jamaica and had her medical files reviewed by several other doctors that she knew she had been right to raise questions.
A radiologist’s report, based on images of her internal organs from her time at Irwin, described her uterus as being a healthy size, not swollen with enlarged masses and cysts, as the doctor had written in his notes. The cysts she had were small, and the kind that occur naturally and do not usually require surgical intervention.
“I didn’t have to do any of it,” Ms. Dowe said.
The Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., drew national attention this month after a nurse, Dawn Wooten, filed a whistle-blower complaint claiming that detainees had told her they had had their uteruses removed without their full understanding or consent.
Since then, both ICE and the hospital in Irwin County have released data that show that two full hysterectomies have been performed on women detained at Irwin in the past three years. But firsthand accounts are now emerging from detainees, including Ms. Dowe, who underwent other invasive gynecological procedures that they did not fully understand and, in some cases, may not have been medically necessary.
At least one lawyer brought the complaints about gynecological care to the attention of the center’s top officials in 2018, according to emails obtained by The New York Times, but the outside referrals continued.
The Times interviewed 16 women who were concerned about the gynecological care they received while at the center, and conducted a detailed review of the medical files of seven women who were able to obtain their records. All 16 were treated by Dr. Mahendra Amin, who practices gynecology in the nearby town of Douglas and has been described by ICE officials as the detention center’s “primary gynecologist.”
The cases were reviewed by five gynecologists — four of them board-certified and all with medical school affiliations — who found that Dr. Amin consistently overstated the size or risks associated with cysts or masses attached to his patients’ reproductive organs. Small or benign cysts do not typically call for surgical intervention, where large or otherwise troubling ones sometimes do, the experts said.
The doctors stressed that in some cases the medical files might not have been complete and that additional information could potentially shift their analyses. But they noted that Dr. Amin seemed to consistently recommend surgical intervention, even when it did not seem medically necessary at the time and nonsurgical treatment options were available.
In almost every woman’s chart, Dr. Amin listed symptoms such as heavy bleeding with clots and chronic pelvic pain, which could justify surgery. But some of the women said they never experienced or reported those symptoms to him.
Both the reviewing doctors and all of the women interviewed by The Times raised concerns about whether Dr. Amin had adequately explained the procedures he performed or provided his patients with less invasive alternatives. Spanish-speaking women said a nurse who spoke Spanish was only sporadically present during their exams.
The diagnoses and procedures are “poorly supported” and “not well documented,” said Dr. Sara Imershein, a clinical professor at George Washington University and the Washington, D.C., chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Even if the patients had reported the symptoms recorded by Dr. Amin, “there would have been many avenues to pursue before rushing to surgery,” she said. “Advil for one.”
“He is overly aggressive in his treatment and does not explore appropriate medical management before turning to procedures or surgical intervention,” said Dr. Deborah Ottenheimer, a forensic evaluator and instructor at the Weill Cornell Medical School Human Rights Clinic.
But the doctors who reviewed the cases noted that aggressive overtreatment is all too common among doctors — especially with patients who do not have the resources to seek a second opinion.
Dr. Ada Rivera, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said in a statement that the whistle-blower’s allegations “raise some very serious concerns that deserve to be investigated quickly and thoroughly.” She added, “If there is any truth to these allegations, it is my commitment to make the corrections necessary to ensure we continue to prioritize the health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees.”
Dr. Amin’s lawyer, Scott Grubman, said in a statement that the physician “strongly disputes any allegations that he treated any patient with anything other than the utmost care and respect.”
“Dr. Amin also strongly disputes that any patient was treated without full informed consent,” the statement continued. Mr. Grubman said that patient privacy laws prevented him from discussing any specific patient’s treatment, but in each case it “was medically necessary, performed within the standard of care, and done only after obtaining full informed consent.”
The statement added that Dr. Amin always uses an interpreter when treating patients who do not speak English and “always attempts to treat his patients with more conservative treatment, including medicine and less invasive procedures, before even recommending surgery,” which he views as a last resort.
Independent doctors that provide treatment for ICE detainees are paid for the procedures they perform with Department of Homeland Security funds. Procedures like the ones that Dr. Amin performed are normally billed at thousands of dollars each.
Dr. Amin’s billings had previously come to the attention of federal authorities. In 2013, the Justice Department named him in a civil case alleging that he and several other doctors had overbilled Medicare and Medicaid by, among other things, performing unnecessary procedures on terminal patients and leaving the emergency room staffed by nurses while billing for diagnoses and treatments as if they had been performed by doctors. The case was settled, and the defendants were collectively required to pay $520,000 while admitting no fault.
‘I could not ask any questions’
In many cases, Dr. Amin’s patients said they were confused about why they ended up being sent to his office in the first place — some after raising medical issues that had nothing to do with gynecology.
Yuridia, a 36-year-old immigrant from Mexico, sought out a nurse at the center soon after she arrived because she was having pain in her rib after a fight with her abusive ex-partner just before she was picked up by ICE. She asked to be identified by her first name because she feared for her safety.
She was sent for a medical exam at Dr. Amin’s office, where she said he began to prepare an ultrasound machine. “I was assuming they were going to check my rib,” she said. “The next thing I know, he’s doing a vaginal exam.”
Dr. Amin recorded in his notes that Yuridia had cysts in her ovaries and scheduled a surgery to remove them. He also wrote that she had complained of heavy menstruation and pelvic pain. She said that she never experienced or reported those conditions and that she had not asked to see a gynecologist.
Weeks later, she underwent surgery. Pathology reports show that she did not have dangerous cysts, but small ones of the kind that occur naturally in most women and do not call for surgical intervention.
Yuridia said she had expected only a minor procedure that would be performed vaginally, but she was surprised when she woke up to find three incisions on her abdomen and a piece of skin missing from her genital area.
“I woke up and I was alone, and I was in pain and everyone spoke English so I could not ask any questions,” Yuridia said. Three days later, still sore and recovering, she was deported.
Yuridia’s case bears striking similarities to others that the panel of doctors reviewed. Many of them led to two surgical procedures performed simultaneously: “dilation and curettage,” often referred to as a “D & C,” which involves inserting tools into a woman’s vagina and scraping tissue from the uterus, and laparoscopy, in which three incisions are made to insert a camera into the abdominal cavity to examine or perform procedures on the reproductive organs.
The cases suggest a pattern of “excessively aggressive surgical intervention without adequate trial of medical remedies,” Dr. Ottenheimer said.
A report reveals longstanding complaints
It was the Irwin County center’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that inspired Ms. Wooten, the nurse whose whistle-blower complaint was first reported by The Intercept, to come forward about another issue that troubled her: Dr. Amin’s surgeries. She said in an interview that she had for years noticed that an inordinate number of women were being referred to Dr. Amin. She said she would hear reports that they had undergone surgeries but that they had no idea why the surgeries were performed.
“After they get up from general anesthesia,” Ms. Wooten said, the women would ask, “Why’d I have this surgery?”
“And I don’t have an answer for why,” she said. “I am just as shocked as they are. Nobody explained it to them.”
Data from ICE inspection reports show that the center, which is operated by a private prison company, Lasalle Corrections, refers more than 1,000 detainees a year for outside medical care, far more than most other immigration detention centers of the same size. It is not clear how many of these referrals are for gynecological care. Lasalle Corrections did not respond to requests for comment.
Concerns from women detained at Irwin emerged long before Ms. Wooten came forward.
Ms. Dowe, after being told by Dr. Amin that she had a mass the size of a “cantaloupe” on her uterus, had reached out in early 2019 to Donald Anthonyson, an immigrant advocate she had met through a fellow detainee. She was asking for help, Mr. Anthonyson said.
“She expressed real concerns about going to that doctor,” he said. “She was concerned about what was happening to her and what she was hearing from other women.”
Unlike some of the women who had no gynecological complaints, Ms. Dowe was experiencing intense menstrual cramping, which the doctors who reviewed her case said could sometimes justify the procedure she underwent — but only if the patient understands the options and elects to move forward. Even then, the doctors raised questions about several seemingly healthy and naturally occurring cysts that Dr. Amin might have removed unnecessarily while he was operating on her.
After the procedure, Dr. Amin wrote in his notes that Ms. Dowe requested a second surgery — a full abdominal hysterectomy and removal of her ovaries.
But Ms. Dowe insists she never made any such request. A note in her medical records from the detention center appears to corroborate her denial. “Detainee is requesting a second opinion to have a hysterectomy,” it reads, “OB/GYN scheduled hysterectomy and patient refused.”
Complaints about Dr. Amin had also been raised with senior officials long before Ms. Dowe’s case.
In November 2018, a woman named Nancy Gonzalez Hidalgo was left shaken after several visits with the physician, during which she said he performed rough vaginal ultrasounds and ignored her when she cried out in pain. Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo’s lawyers sent an email to the warden of the center, David Paulk.
In the email, Erin Argueta, a lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained that Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo’s health was worsening because of complications she was experiencing from an earlier miscarriage.
“Nancy hesitated to seek medical attention because her last experience with Dr. Amin was so painful and traumatic that she did not want to be sent back to him,” Ms. Argueta wrote.
She referred in her email to several previous verbal complaints about Dr. Amin that lawyers had taken to the center’s inmates services director, Marteka George. “Ms. George stated that this was not the first time someone complained about Dr. Amin, and she said that she would look into whether Nancy could see a different provider,” the lawyer wrote.
The warden responded twice, stating on Nov. 30 that Ms. Gonzalez Hidalgo had been scheduled for an appointment with an outside provider “that is unassociated with Dr. Amin.” The other doctor, Warden Paulk said, was “reportedly well thought of by his patients.”
Warden Paulk did not respond to requests for comment.
Other women who questioned Dr. Amin’s care in the past said they had also faced challenges when they tried to seek answers.
On the morning of Aug. 14, Mileidy Cardentey Fernandez said, there was no interpreter present at the Irwin County Hospital when she was presented with consent forms in English to sign for a procedure she was undergoing that day.
She asked the technician, “Spanish, please? Little English.” The woman urged her to sign the forms — and so she did.
Afterward, she said, she filled out a form on numerous occasions at the detention center requesting her medical records but got no response.
“I wanted to know everything they had done,” she said. “I made requests for the biopsy, analyses, and they don’t want to give them to me. They said they don’t have the results. How can they not have the results?”
When she was released from detention on Sept. 21, she called her daughter in Virginia and then headed straight to Dr. Amin’s clinic with her lawyer to demand her records, which she received.
Some women said they had managed to avoid surgeries by Dr. Amin but not without facing resistance.
Enna Perez Santos said she objected when Dr. Amin suggested that she undergo a procedure similar to the ones that other women had complained about. Dr. Amin, she said, counseled her that it was a mistake to forgo the treatment and he wrote in his notes that she had asked to speak to a mental health care provider.
Back at the detention center on the same day, Ms. Perez Santos was given a psychiatric evaluation. “I am nervous about my upcoming procedure,” Ms. Perez Santos told the examiner, according to the practitioner’s notes. “I am worried because I saw someone else after they had surgery, and what I saw scared me.”
Ms. Perez Santos was brought three more times to Dr. Amin’s office over the next several months, she recalled. Each time, she said, Dr. Amin raised the prospect of a surgery. She felt “pressured” to agree, she said, but each time she told him she did not consent.
Three board certified gynecologists who reviewed Ms. Perez Santos’s medical files say that her instincts appear to have been correct. “Based on what I see here, Amin was inappropriately suggesting a D & C scope,” Dr. Ottenheimer said. “There is nothing at all there to support the procedure.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
By Parul Sehgal, Sept. 29, 2020
For a century, they languished in a museum attic. Fifteen wooden cases, palm-size and lined with velvet. Cocooned within are some of history’s cruelest, most contentious images — the first photographs, it is believed, of enslaved human beings.
Alfred, Fassena and Jem. Renty and his daughter Delia. Jack and his daughter Drana. They face us directly in one image and stand in profile in the next, bodies held fixed by an iron brace. The Zealy daguerreotypes, as the pictures are known, were taken in 1850 at the behest of the Harvard zoologist Louis Agassiz. A proponent of polygenesis — the idea that the races descended from different origins, a notion challenged in its own time and refuted by Darwin — he had the pictures taken to furnish proof of this theory.
Agassiz wanted images of barbarity, and he got them — implicating only himself. He had hand-selected his subjects in South Carolina, seeking types — “specimens,” as he put it — but each daguerreotype reveals an individual, deeply dignified and expressive. Their hurt, contempt, fatigue, utter refusal are unequivocal. The photographer, Joseph T. Zealy, who specialized in society portraits, did not alter his method for the shoot; he carried on as usual, using the same light, the same angles, giving the images their unsettling, formal perfection.
Agassiz showed the pictures only once. They were then tucked away at Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Rediscovered in 1976, they have been at the center of urgent debates about photography ever since.
Is there a correct way to regard these images? Should one view them, or any coerced image, at all? To whom do they belong? Do they quicken or numb the conscience? Does displaying them traumatize the living? Is it care or cowardice to keep them concealed? What do we owe the dead?
I am looking at the pictures now, in a handsome recently published volume; the deep crimson of its cover matches the plush interior of the portrait cases. “To Make Their Own Way in the World: The Enduring Legacy of the Zealy Daguerreotypes,” edited by Ilisa Barbash, Molly Rogers and Deborah Willis, convenes a group of scholars of slavery, American history, memory, photography and science. Their aim is to tell “more fully the complex story of the people in these iconic images.”
The specialists attend to their own sections, like the far corners of an immense puzzle. Slowly the era is pieced together in lavish detail, through histories of the daguerreotype and reconstructions of the daily lives of the subjects. The artist Carrie Mae Weems discusses her famous reinterpretation of the photographs. The novelist Harlan Greene delves into the racist history of South Carolina, where 165 years to the day after Zealy completed the series, a white teenager named Dylann Roof posted snippets of 19th-century racist pseudoscience on social media, and killed nine Black congregants of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Do these essays — so rich in context — assist us in seeing the photographs any better? Perhaps a better question is: Do they provide the necessary context? Do they resolve that tension I feel as I look at Drana and register both the appeal in her eyes and the absolute certainty (for she is proud — I feel it in the set of her chin) that she would hate being in this book, perhaps even hate being invoked in this essay — unclothed, stared at, opined upon? And yet the notion that she be forgotten, unseen, is also intolerable. It is the tension of “sitting in the room with history,” as the poet Dionne Brand has written.
It is the tension and the buried irony in the title “To Make Their Own Way in the World,” plucked from an essay by Frederick Douglass. Douglass, the most photographed American of the 19th century, is a recurrent character in this book. There’s no evidence that he knew of the daguerreotypes, but he spoke publicly against pseudoscience, and, like Sojourner Truth, cannily publicized his image as a counternarrative to racist portrayals. In “Lecture on Pictures,” he lauded the democratization of the daguerreotype. He wrote: “Pictures, like songs, should be left to make their own way in the world. All they can reasonably ask of us is that we place them on the wall, in the best light, and for the rest allow them to speak for themselves.”
At first glance, it’s an unimpeachable sentiment. The editors clearly want to give the viewer ample background information and then trust her and the photograph. Compare it to, say, the recent furor over four museums canceling a retrospective of the work of Philip Guston, worried that his depictions of the Ku Klux Klan lacked sufficient framing.
What’s curious about the title is that the story of the Zealy daguerreotypes is one of fraught and contested possession. Harvard, which owns the photographs, long zealously guarded the copyright, threatening to sue Weems, who duplicated the images in her 1995 series “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.” After deciding that she had a moral if not a legal case, Weems encouraged the lawsuit: “I think actually your suing me would be a really good thing,” she has remembered telling Harvard. “You should. And we should have this conversation in court. I think it would be really instructive for any number of reasons.” Harvard ended up acquiring the series.
In 2019, Tamara Lanier, a retired probation officer living in Connecticut, claimed to be a direct descendant of Renty. Her family had long passed down stories about “Papa Renty,” and Lanier devoted herself to finding him, combing census and death records and slave inventories, finally locating him in South Carolina.
Lanier’s findings have been verified by genealogists, including Toni Carrier, a contributor to the PBS series “African-American Lives,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr., who writes the introduction to this book. Lanier’s revelation arrives in the midst of decolonial movements around the world, calls for museums to repatriate stolen relics and universities examining their ties to slavery. She has found popular support. Forty-three descendants of Agassiz signed a letter to Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow asking the school to turn over the photographs. This month, the Harvard Undergraduate Council unanimously voted to pass a statement condemning the university’s ownership of the daguerreotypes, writing: “Imagine your great-grandparents were enslaved, exploited, forced to strip naked, photographed against their will, those photographs are publicly shared today … and there was nothing you could do about it.”
A few contributors to this book have expressed skepticism about Lanier’s lineage — although only Gates mentions her directly. Rogers, one of the editors and the author of a previous book about the images, “Delia’s Tears,” maintains that tracing heredity under slavery is complex. “It’s not necessarily by blood,” she has said of family records. “It could be people who take responsibility for each other.” In his introduction, Gates downplays Lanier’s connection to Renty. “In a larger sense, can any one person be the heir of these photographs, or does the responsibility for them fall to all of us to protect them as archival relics of history, to be studied, pondered and reckoned with?”
It’s an odd statement. Why would Lanier’s claim threaten the “pondering” and protection of the pictures? What does he imagine Lanier has in mind for them? Already some writers have taken to approaching her directly, to symbolically ask for her permission to use the images — Thomas A. Foster, for example, author of “Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men.” Lanier encouraged him, he has said, because “she believes that the story of the daguerreotypes and of exploitation under slavery, need to be told.” Lanier’s own lawyer has stated that one ideal use of the pictures could be a traveling exhibit.
But in one respect, Gates is absolutely correct. If Lanier has a claim, the photographs will no longer be known only as “archival relics.” Renty and Delia are not relics to Lanier — they are family. Renty is known not as an object of study but a source of comfort and pride, the star of the family bedtime stories, a man who secretly taught himself and others to read. In Lanier’s accounts, he was never invisible, never lost, never in need of “discovery.” What kind of scholarship, what kind of criticism will he prompt if seen this way — not as a figure in need of reclamation or object of fascination but as an ancestor deserving of protection, whose memory has been improbably preserved?
Daguerreotypes, as is often noted, are sensitive, mirrored surfaces. You need to find the precise angle that blocks out your own reflection. Everything you see depends on where you stand.
By John Schwartz, Oct. 1, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/10/01/climate/biodegradable-containers.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
You care about the planet, and would like to avoid bottles and other goods made of single-use plastic. But it’s complicated.
Choosing products with packaging that claims to be “biodegradable” or “compostable” might mean that they degrade only under special conditions, and could complicate recycling efforts, said Jason Locklin, the director of the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia. “It’s tremendously confusing, not just to the consumer, but even to many scientists,” he said.
Here are four examples of the kinds of products you might see on supermarket shelves or at the takeout counter. It’s not an exhaustive list, but one that can give you a sense of the issues that people face.
It doesn’t come from petroleum. But in a landfill, it might be just as bad.
Food service items made from polyactic acid, or PLA, include bottles, disposable cutlery, plastic films, some grocery bags and other products. They look like plastic made from petroleum, but PLA is usually made from corn, though it can come from other plants, including beets, cassava and sugar cane.
The labels on PLA products often describe them as compostable. But that doesn’t mean you can just throw the stuff into your backyard compost pile, if you have one. To properly degrade, they have to be sent to commercial compost facilities.
The process of industrial composting involves high heat and precisely controlled moisture, among other conditions, and it isn’t available in many parts of the country. Worse, PLA products look enough like regular recyclable plastic bottles, which are made from the most common plastic used in recyclable bottles, known as PET, that they can get mixed in at the recycling plant, and can contaminate the recycling stream.
And if your PLA trash ends up in a landfill, it will be there a very long time, because it’s unlikely to be exposed to conditions that would help it to break down.
Paper, kind of
It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Similar to the push from some restaurants to replace plastic straws with paper ones, paper bottles are seen as a possible option to replace plastic ones. Because they can be made of sustainable, renewable materials (from trees!), paper bottles are getting the attention of major companies. Coca-Cola, Carlsberg and the vodka maker Absolut are exploring the idea with the Paper Bottle Company.
Paper, of course, is recyclable — as long as it is just paper. However, paper-based bottles and containers tend to be made with several layers of materials other than paper, including plastic or foil, to form barriers. One paper bottle maker’s website calls 100 percent biodegradability a “goal.”
Hypothetically, you could strip away the layers and recycle the paper, but who’s actually going to do that?
Looks compostable, but may end up in the landfill anyway.
Some fast-casual restaurants use bowls designed and marketed to be compostable. They are made from bagasse, a fiber produced as a byproduct from sugar cane mills.
Sweetgreen, for instance, put the message in a longtime slogan: “Nothing from inside Sweetgreen goes to the landfill.” But getting to current levels of compostability has been a struggle for Sweetgreen and Chipotle, whose previous bowls turned out to contain PFAS, a family of chemicals linked to cancer that can remain in the environment even after the bowl has been composted.
They fixed that problem. But while your bowl may be compostable, if you don’t compost at home you have to throw it into a dedicated composting bin in the restaurant, or use a composting service.
Don’t put it in the recycling bin: Materials that come contaminated with food get rejected by recyclers. And throwing the bowl into a trash can at the office or at home means it’s likely to go to a landfill anyway.
Bacteria do the work
Next best thing?
PHA, or polyhydroxyalkanoate, has been the next big thing in biodegradability for years. This bioplastic, which can be produced by bacteria, has promising properties: Research suggests it can break down in conventional landfills. In ocean water, it will degrade within a few years, a fraction of the 450 years that it takes standard plastic.
Producing the material economically, however, has been a technical challenge.
Cove, a bottled water company, says it is about to bring out its product in containers made from PHA. The company that supplies the bioplastic to Cove, RWDC Industries, introduced drinking straws made from the material last year in Singapore, where the company is based.
There is certainly a market for environmentally friendly goods. A report by the market research firm Mintel Group found that 34 percent of consumers said they would pay more for water packaged in 100 percent biodegradable bottles.
“There is a place for biodegradable materials” as a way to cut down the sheer amount of mismanaged plastic waste the world is dealing with, said Jenna Jambeck, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia who has studied the accumulation of plastics in the world’s oceans and the ability of PHA to degrade. However, she worries about the consequences of developing products that are seemingly environmentally friendly without planning for disposal and recycling. “You have to think about end of life when you’re designing things,” she said.
Ultimately, Dr. Jambeck said, “the best thing you can do environmentally is not create any waste in the first place.”
Discipline disparities between Black and white boys have driven reform efforts for years. But Black girls are arguably the most at-risk student group in the United States.
By Erica L. Green, Mark Walker and Eliza Shapiro, Oct. 1, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/01/us/politics/black-girls-school-discipline.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Medium, June 6, 2020
I was a police officer for nearly ten years and I was a bastard. We all were.
This essay has been kicking around in my head for years now and I’ve never felt confident enough to write it. It’s a time in my life I’m ashamed of. It’s a time that I hurt people and, through inaction, allowed others to be hurt. It’s a time that I acted as a violent agent of capitalism and white supremacy. Under the guise of public safety, I personally ruined people’s lives but in so doing, made the public no safer…so did the family members and close friends of mine who also bore the badge alongside me.
But enough is enough.
The reforms aren’t working. Incrementalism isn’t happening. Unarmed Black, indigenous, and people of color are being killed by cops in the streets and the police are savagely attacking the people protesting these murders.
American policing is a thick blue tumor strangling the life from our communities and if you don’t believe it when the poor and the marginalized say it, if you don’t believe it when you see cops across the country shooting journalists with less-lethal bullets and caustic chemicals, maybe you’ll believe it when you hear it straight from the pig’s mouth.
Why am i writing this
As someone who went through the training, hiring, and socialization of a career in law enforcement, I wanted to give a first-hand account of why I believe police officers are the way they are. Not to excuse their behavior, but to explain it and to indict the structures that perpetuate it.
I believe that if everyone understood how we’re trained and brought up in the profession, it would inform the demands our communities should be making of a new way of community safety. If I tell you how we were made, I hope it will empower you to unmake us.
One of the other reasons I’ve struggled to write this essay is that I don’t want to center the conversation on myself and my big salty boo-hoo feelings about my bad choices. It’s a toxic white impulse to see atrocities and think “How can I make this about me?” So, I hope you’ll take me at my word that this account isn’t meant to highlight me, but rather the hundred-thousand of me in every city in the country. It’s about the structure that made me (that I chose to pollute myself with) and it’s my meager contribution to the cause of radical justice.
Yes, all cops are bastards
I was a police officer in a major metropolitan area in California with a predominantly poor, non-white population (with a large proportion of first-generation immigrants.) One night during briefing, our watch commander told us that the city council had requested a new zero tolerance policy. Against murderers, drug dealers, or child predators?
No, against homeless people collecting cans from recycling bins.
See, the city had some kickback deal with the waste management company where waste management got paid by the government for our expected tonnage of recycling. When homeless people “stole” that recycling from the waste management company, they were putting that cheaper contract in peril. So, we were to arrest as many recyclers as we could find.
Even for me, this was a stupid policy and I promptly blew Sarge off. But a few hours later, Sarge called me over to assist him. He was detaining a 70-year-old immigrant who spoke no English, who he’d seen picking a coke can out of a trash bin. He ordered me to arrest her for stealing trash. I said, “Sarge, c’mon, she’s an old lady.” He said, “I don’t give a shit. Hook her up, that’s an order.” And…I did. She cried the entire way to the station and all through the booking process. I couldn’t even comfort her because I didn’t speak Spanish. I felt disgusting but I was ordered to make this arrest and I wasn’t willing to lose my job for her.
If you’re tempted to feel sympathy for me, don’t. I used to happily hassle the homeless under other circumstances. I researched obscure penal codes so I could arrest people in homeless encampments for lesser known crimes like “remaining too close to railroad property” (369i of the California Penal Code.) I used to call it “planting warrant seeds” since I knew they wouldn’t make their court dates and we could arrest them again and again for warrant violations.
We used to have informal contests for who could cite or arrest someone for the weirdest law. DUI on a bicycle, non-regulation number of brooms on your tow truck (27700(a)(1) of the California Vehicle Code…shit like that. For me, police work was a logic puzzle for arresting people, regardless of their actual threat to the community. As ashamed as I am to admit it, it needs to be said: stripping people of their freedom felt like a game to me for many years.
I know what you’re going to ask: did I ever plant drugs? Did I ever plant a gun on someone? Did I ever make a false arrest or file a false report? Believe it or not, the answer is no. Cheating was no fun, I liked to get my stats the “legitimate” way. But I knew officers who kept a little baggie of whatever or maybe a pocket knife that was a little too big in their war bags (yeah, we called our dufflebags “war bags….) Did I ever tell anybody about it? No, I did not. Did I ever confess my suspicions when cocaine suddenly showed up in a gang member’s jacket? No, I did not.
In fact, let me tell you about an extremely formative experience: in my police academy class, we had a clique of around six trainees who routinely bullied and harassed other students: intentionally scuffing another trainee’s shoes to get them in trouble during inspection, sexually harassing female trainees, cracking racist jokes, and so on. Every quarter, we were to write anonymous evaluations of our squadmates. I wrote scathing accounts of their behavior, thinking I was helping keep bad apples out of law enforcement and believing I would be protected. Instead, the academy staff read my complaints to them out loud and outed me to them and never punished them, causing me to get harassed for the rest of my academy class. That’s how I learned that even police leadership hates rats. That’s why no one is “changing things from the inside.” They can’t, the structure won’t allow it.
And that’s the point of what I’m telling you. Whether you were my sergeant, legally harassing an old woman, me, legally harassing our residents, my fellow trainees bullying the rest of us, or “the bad apples” illegally harassing “shitbags,” we were all in it together. I knew cops that pulled women over to flirt with them. I knew cops who would pepper spray sleeping bags so that homeless people would have to throw them away. I knew cops that intentionally provoked anger in suspects so they could claim they were assaulted. I was particularly good at winding people up verbally until they lashed out so I could fight them. Nobody spoke out. Nobody stood up. Nobody betrayed the code.
None of us protected the people (you) from bad cops.
This is why “All cops are bastards.” Even your uncle, even your cousin, even your mom, even your brother, even your best friend, even your spouse, even me. Because even if they wouldn’t Do The Thing themselves, they will almost never rat out another officer who Does The Thing, much less stop it from happening.
I could write an entire book of the awful things I’ve done, seen done, and heard others bragging about doing. But, to me, the bigger question is “How did it get this way?” While I was a police officer in a city 30 miles from where I lived, many of my fellow officers were from the community and treated their neighbors just as badly as I did. While every cop’s individual biases come into play, it’s the profession itself that is toxic, and it starts from day-one of training.
Every police academy is different but all of them share certain features—taught by old cops, run like a paramilitary bootcamp, strong emphasis on protecting yourself more than anyone else. The majority of my time in the academy was spent doing aggressive physical training and watching video after video after video of police officers being murdered on duty.
I want to highlight this: nearly everyone coming into law enforcement is bombarded with dash cam footage of police officers being ambushed and killed. Over and over and over. Colorless VHS mortality plays, cops screaming for help over their radios, their bodies going limp as a pair of taillights speed away into a grainy black horizon. In my case, with commentary from an old racist cop who used to brag about assaulting Black Panthers.
To understand why all cops are bastards, you need to understand one of the things almost every training officer told me when it came to using force:
“I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.”
Meaning, “I’ll take my chances in court rather than risk getting hurt.” We’re able to think that way because police unions are extremely overpowered and because of the generous concept of Qualified Immunity, a legal theory which says a cop generally can’t be held personally liable for mistakes they make doing their job in an official capacity.
When you look at the actions of the officers who killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, or Freddie Gray, remember that they, like me, were trained to recite “I’d rather be judged by 12” as a mantra. Even if Mistakes Were Made™, the city (meaning the taxpayers, meaning you) pays the settlement, not the officer.
Once police training has—through repetition, indoctrination, and violent spectacle—promised officers that everyone in the world is out to kill them, the next lesson is that your partners are the only people protecting you. Occasionally, this is even true: I’ve had encounters turn on me rapidly to the point I legitimately thought I was going to die, only to have other officers come and turn the tables.
One of the most important thought leaders in law enforcement is Colonel Dave Grossman, a “killologist” who wrote an essay called “Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs.” Cops are the sheepdogs, bad guys are the wolves, and the citizens are the sheep (!). Colonel Grossman makes sure to mention that to a stupid sheep, sheepdogs look more like wolves than sheep, and that’s why they dislike you.
This “they hate you for protecting them and only I love you, only I can protect you” tactic is familiar to students of abuse. It’s what abusers do to coerce their victims into isolation, pulling them away from friends and family and ensnaring them in the abuser’s toxic web. Law enforcement does this too, pitting the officer against civilians. “They don’t understand what you do, they don’t respect your sacrifice, they just want to get away with crimes. You’re only safe with us.”
I think the Wolves vs. Sheepdogs dynamic is one of the most important elements as to why officers behave the way they do. Every single second of my training, I was told that criminals were not a legitimate part of their community, that they were individual bad actors, and that their bad actions were solely the result of their inherent criminality. Any concept of systemic trauma, generational poverty, or white supremacist oppression was either never mentioned or simply dismissed. After all, most people don’t steal, so anyone who does isn’t “most people,” right? To us, anyone committing a crime deserved anything that happened to them because they broke the “social contract.” And yet, it was never even a question as to whether the power structure above them was honoring any sort of contract back.
Understand: Police officers are part of the state monopoly on violence and all police training reinforces this monopoly as a cornerstone of police work, a source of honor and pride. Many cops fantasize about getting to kill someone in the line of duty, egged on by others that have. One of my training officers told me about the time he shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man wielding a big stick. He bragged that he “slept like a baby” that night. Official training teaches you how to be violent effectively and when you’re legally allowed to deploy that violence, but “unofficial training” teaches you to desire violence, to expand the breadth of your violence without getting caught, and to erode your own compassion for desperate people so you can justify punitive violence against them.
How to be a bastard
I have participated in some of these activities personally, others are ones I either witnessed personally or heard officers brag about openly. Very, very occasionally, I knew an officer who was disciplined or fired for one of these things.
· Police officers will lie about the law, about what’s illegal, or about what they can legally do to you in order to manipulate you into doing what they want.
· Police officers will lie about feeling afraid for their life to justify a use of force after the fact.
· Police officers will lie and tell you they’ll file a police report just to get you off their back.
· Police officers will lie that your cooperation will “look good for you” in court, or that they will “put in a good word for you with the DA.” The police will never help you look good in court.
· Police officers will lie about what they see and hear to access private property to conduct unlawful searches.
· Police officers will lie and say your friend already ratted you out, so you might as well rat them back out. This is almost never true.
· Police officers will lie and say you’re not in trouble in order to get you to exit a location or otherwise make an arrest more convenient for them.
· Police officers will lie and say that they won’t arrest you if you’ll just “be honest with them” so they know what really happened.
· Police officers will lie about their ability to seize the property of friends and family members to coerce a confession.
· Police officers will write obviously bullshit tickets so that they get time-and-a-half overtime fighting them in court.
· Police officers will search places and containers you didn’t consent to and later claim they were open or “smelled like marijuana.”
· Police officers will threaten you with a more serious crime they can’t prove in order to convince you to confess to the lesser crime they really want you for.
· Police officers will employ zero tolerance on races and ethnicities they dislike and show favor and lenience to members of their own group.
· Police officers will use intentionally extra-painful maneuvers and holds during an arrest to provoke “resistance” so they can further assault the suspect.
· Some police officers will plant drugs and weapons on you, sometimes to teach you a lesson, sometimes if they kill you somewhere away from public view.
· Some police officers will assault you to intimidate you and threaten to arrest you if you tell anyone.
· A non-trivial number of police officers will steal from your house or vehicle during a search.
· A non-trivial number of police officers commit intimate partner violence and use their status to get away with it.
· A non-trivial number of police officers use their position to entice, coerce, or force sexual favors from vulnerable people.
If you take nothing else away from this essay, I want you to tattoo this onto your brain forever: if a police officer is telling you something, it is probably a lie designed to gain your compliance.
Do not talk to cops and never, ever believe them. Do not “try to be helpful” with cops. Do not assume they are trying to catch someone else instead of you. Do not assume what they are doing is “important” or even legal. Under no circumstances assume any police officer is acting in good faith.
Also, and this is important, do not talk to cops.
I just remembered something, do not talk to cops.
Checking my notes real quick, something jumped out at me:
Do not fucking talk to cops. Ever.
Say, “I don’t answer questions,” and ask if you’re free to leave; if so, leave. If not, tell them you want your lawyer and that, per the Supreme Court, they must terminate questioning. If they don’t, file a complaint and collect some badges for your mantle.
Do the bastards ever help?
Reading the above, you may be tempted to ask whether cops ever do anything good. And the answer is, sure, sometimes. In fact, most officers I worked with thought they were usually helping the helpless and protecting the safety of innocent people.
During my tenure in law enforcement, I protected women from domestic abusers, arrested cold-blooded murderers and child molesters, and comforted families who lost children to car accidents and other tragedies. I helped connect struggling people in my community with local resources for food, shelter, and counseling. I deescalated situations that could have turned violent and talked a lot of people down from making the biggest mistake of their lives. I worked with plenty of officers who were individually kind, bought food for homeless residents, or otherwise showed care for their community.
The question is this: did I need a gun and sweeping police powers to help the average person on the average night? The answer is no. When I was doing my best work as a cop, I was doing mediocre work as a therapist or a social worker. My good deeds were listening to people failed by the system and trying to unite them with any crumbs of resources the structure was currently denying them.
It’s also important to note that well over 90 percent of the calls for service I handled were reactive, showing up well after a crime had taken place. We would arrive, take a statement, collect evidence (if any), file the report, and onto the next caper. Most “active” crimes we stopped were someone harmless possessing or selling a small amount of drugs. Very, very rarely would we stop something dangerous in progress or stop something from happening entirely. The closest we could usually get was seeing someone running away from the scene of a crime, but the damage was still done.
And consider this: my job as a police officer required me to be a marriage counselor, a mental health crisis professional, a conflict negotiator, a social worker, a child advocate, a traffic safety expert, a sexual assault specialist, and, every once in awhile, a public safety officer authorized to use force, all after only a 1000 hours of training at a police academy. Does the person we send to catch a robber also need to be the person we send to interview a rape victim or document a fender bender? Should one profession be expected to do all that important community care (with very little training) all at the same time?
To put this another way: I made double the salary most social workers made to do a fraction of what they could do to mitigate the causes of crimes and desperation. I can count very few times my monopoly on state violence actually made our citizens safer, and even then, it’s hard to say better-funded social safety nets and dozens of other community care specialists wouldn’t have prevented a problem before it started.
Armed, indoctrinated (and dare I say, traumatized) cops do not make you safer; community mutual aid networks who can unite other people with the resources they need to stay fed, clothed, and housed make you safer. I really want to hammer this home: every cop in your neighborhood is damaged by their training, emboldened by their immunity, and they have a gun and the ability to take your life with near-impunity. This does not make you safer, even if you’re white.
How do you solve a problem like a bastard?
So, what do we do about it? Even though I’m an expert on bastardism, I am not a public policy expert nor an expert in organizing a post-police society. So, before I give some suggestions, let me tell you what probably won’t solve the problem of bastard cops:
· Increased “bias” training. A quarterly or even monthly training session is not capable of covering over years of trauma-based camaraderie in police forces. I can tell you from experience, we don’t take it seriously, the proctors let us cheat on whatever “tests” there are, and we all made fun of it later over coffee.
· Tougher laws. I hope you understand by now, cops do not follow the law and will not hold each other accountable to the law. Tougher laws are all the more reason to circle the wagons and protect your brothers and sisters.
· More community policing programs. Yes, there is a marginal effect when a few cops get to know members of the community, but look at the protests of 2020: many of the cops pepper-spraying journalists were probably the nice school cop a month ago.
Police officers do not protect and serve people, they protect and serve the status quo, “polite society,” and private property. Using the incremental mechanisms of the status quo will never reform the police because the status quo relies on police violence to exist. Capitalism requires a permanent underclass to exploit for cheap labor and it requires the cops to bring that underclass to heel.
Instead of wasting time with minor tweaks, I recommend exploring the following ideas:
· No more qualified immunity. Police officers should be personally liable for all decisions they make in the line of duty.
· No more civil asset forfeiture. Did you know that every year, citizens like you lose more cash and property to unaccountable civil asset forfeiture than to all burglaries combined? The police can steal your stuff without charging you with a crime and it makes some police departments very rich.
· Break the power of police unions. Police unions make it nearly impossible to fire bad cops and incentivize protecting them to protect the power of the union. A police union is not a labor union; police officers are powerful state agents, not exploited workers.
· Require malpractice insurance. Doctors must pay for insurance in case they botch a surgery, police officers should do the same for botching a police raid or other use of force. If human decency won’t motivate police to respect human life, perhaps hitting their wallet might.
· Defund, demilitarize, and disarm cops. Thousands of police departments own assault rifles, armored personnel carriers, and stuff you’d see in a warzone. Police officers have grants and huge budgets to spend on guns, ammo, body armor, and combat training. 99 percent of calls for service require no armed response, yet when all you have is a gun, every problem feels like target practice. Cities are not safer when unaccountable bullies have a monopoly on state violence and the equipment to execute that monopoly.
One final idea: consider abolishing the police.
I know what you’re thinking, “What? We need the police! They protect us!” As someone who did it for nearly a decade, I need you to understand that by and large, police protection is marginal, incidental. It’s an illusion created by decades of copaganda designed to fool you into thinking these brave men and women are holding back the barbarians at the gates.
I alluded to this above: the vast majority of calls for service I handled were theft reports, burglary reports, domestic arguments that hadn’t escalated into violence, loud parties, (houseless) people loitering, traffic collisions, very minor drug possession, and arguments between neighbors. Mostly the mundane ups and downs of life in the community, with little inherent danger. And, like I mentioned, the vast majority of crimes I responded to (even violent ones) had already happened; my unaccountable license to kill was irrelevant.
What I mainly provided was an “objective” third party with the authority to document property damage, ask people to chill out or disperse, or counsel people not to beat each other up. A trained counselor or conflict resolution specialist would be ten-times more effective than someone with a gun strapped to his hip wondering if anyone would try to kill him when he showed up. There are many models for community safety that can be explored if we get away from the idea that the only way to be safe is to have a man with a M4 rifle prowling your neighborhood ready at a moment’s notice to write down your name and birthday after you’ve been robbed and beaten.
You might be asking, “What about the armed robbers, the gangsters, the drug dealers, the serial killers?” And yes, in the city I worked, I regularly broke up gang parties, found gang members carrying guns, and handled homicides. I’ve seen some tragic things, from a reformed gangster shot in the head with his brains oozing out to a fifteen-year-old boy taking his last breath in his screaming mother’s arms thanks to a gang member’s bullet. I know the wages of violence.
This is where we have to have the courage to ask: why do people rob? Why do they join gangs? Why do they get addicted to drugs or sell them? It’s not because they are inherently evil. I submit to you that these are the results of living in a capitalist system that grinds people down and denies them housing, medical care, human dignity, and a say in their government. These are the results of white supremacy pushing people to the margins, excluding them, disrespecting them, and treating their bodies as disposable.
Equally important to remember—disabled and mentally ill people are frequently killed by police officers not trained to recognize and react to disabilities or mental health crises. Some of the people we picture as “violent offenders” are often people struggling with untreated mental illness, often due to economic hardships. Very frequently, the officers sent to “protect the community” escalate this crisis and ultimately wound or kill the person. Your community was not made safer by police violence; a sick member of your community was killed because it was cheaper than treating them. Are you extremely confident you’ll never get sick one day too?
Wrestle with this for a minute: if all of someone’s material needs were met and all the members of their community were fed, clothed, housed, and dignified, why would they need to join a gang? Why would they need to risk their lives selling drugs or breaking into buildings? If mental healthcare was free and was not stigmatized, how many lives would that save?
Would there still be a few bad actors in the world? Sure, probably. What’s my solution for them, you’re no doubt asking. I’ll tell you what: generational poverty, food insecurity, houselessness, and for-profit medical care are all problems that can be solved in our lifetimes by rejecting the dehumanizing meat grinder of capitalism and white supremacy. Once that’s done, we can work on the edge cases together, with clearer hearts not clouded by a corrupt system.
Police abolition is closely related to the idea of prison abolition and the entire concept of banishing the carceral state, meaning, creating a society focused on reconciliation and restorative justice instead of punishment, pain, and suffering—a system that sees people in crisis as humans, not monsters. People who want to abolish the police typically also want to abolish prisons, and the same questions get asked: “What about the bad guys? Where do we put them?” I bring this up because abolitionists don’t want to simply replace cops with armed social workers or prisons with casual detention centers full of puffy leather couches and Playstations. We imagine a world not divided into good guys and bad guys, but rather a world where people’s needs are met and those in crisis receive care, not dehumanization.
Here’s legendary activist and thinker Angela Y. Davis putting it better than I ever could:
“An abolitionist approach that seeks to answer questions such as these would require us to imagine a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions, with the ultimate aim of removing the prison from the social and ideological landscapes of our society. In other words, we would not be looking for prisonlike substitutes for the prison, such as house arrest safeguarded by electronic surveillance bracelets. Rather, positing decarceration as our overarching strategy, we would try to envision a continuum of alternatives to imprisonment—demilitarization of schools, revitalization of education at all levels, a health system that provides free physical and mental care to all, and a justice system based on reparation and reconciliation rather than retribution and vengeance.” (Are Prisons Obsolete, pg. 107)
I’m not telling you I have the blueprint for a beautiful new world. What I’m telling you is that the system we have right now is broken beyond repair and that it’s time to consider new ways of doing community together. Those new ways need to be negotiated by members of those communities, particularly Black, indigenous, disabled, houseless, and citizens of color historically shoved into the margins of society. Instead of letting Fox News fill your head with nightmares about Hispanic gangs, ask the Hispanic community what they need to thrive. Instead of letting racist politicians scaremonger about pro-Black demonstrators, ask the Black community what they need to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. If you truly desire safety, ask not what your most vulnerable can do for the community, ask what the community can do for the most vulnerable.
A world with fewer bastards is possible
If you take only one thing away from this essay, I hope it’s this: do not talk to cops. But if you only take two things away, I hope the second one is that it’s possible to imagine a different world where unarmed Black people, indigenous people, poor people, disabled people, and people of color are not routinely gunned down by unaccountable police officers. It doesn’t have to be this way. Yes, this requires a leap of faith into community models that might feel unfamiliar, but I ask you:
When you see a man dying in the street begging for breath, don’t you want to leap away from that world?
When you see a mother or a daughter shot to death sleeping in their beds, don’t you want to leap away from that world?
When you see a twelve-year-old boy executed in a public park for the crime of playing with a toy, Jesus fucking Christ, can you really just stand there and think “This is normal?”
And to any cops who made it this far down, is this really the world you want to live in? Aren’t you tired of the trauma? Aren’t you tired of the soul sickness inherent to the badge? Aren’t you tired of looking the other way when your partners break the law? Are you really willing to kill the next George Floyd, the next Breonna Taylor, the next Tamir Rice? How confident are you that your next use of force will be something you’re proud of? I’m writing this for you too: it’s wrong what our training did to us, it’s wrong that they hardened our hearts to our communities, and it’s wrong to pretend this is normal.
Look, I wouldn’t have been able to hear any of this for much of my life. You, reading this now, may not be able to hear this yet either. But do me this one favor: just think about it. Just turn it over in your mind for a couple minutes. “Yes, And” me for a minute. Look around you and think about the kind of world you want to live in. Is it one where an all-powerful stranger with a gun keeps you and your neighbors in line with the fear of death, or can you picture a world where, as a community, we embrace our most vulnerable, meet their needs, heal their wounds, honor their dignity, and make them family instead of desperate outsiders?
If you take only three things away from this essay, I hope the third is this: you and your community don’t need bastards to thrive.
By James B. Stewart, Sept. 29, 2020
From left: Michael Cohen; Michael Flynn; Paul Manafort; Roger Stone. These former associates of President Trump have been convicted of various crimes. In “Big Dirty Money,” Jennifer Taub examines our justice system’s history of leniency toward white collar criminality. Credit...From left: Craig Ruttle/Associated Press; Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images; Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock; Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock
BIG DIRTY MONEY
The Shocking Injustice and Unseen Cost of White Collar Crime
By Jennifer Taub
298 pp. Viking. $28
Donald Trump is not the ostensible subject of “Big Dirty Money,” Jennifer Taub’s polemic against America’s failure to curb the destructive criminal tendencies of the very rich. Yet the president, his friends and former Trump campaign and administration officials parade through these pages. The latest example may be Steve Bannon, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, whose arrest in August on fraud charges came too late for inclusion in Taub’s book.
Trump is very rich, although how rich remains a subject of investigation, given the wildly varying and self-serving values he’s assigned his many real estate assets. He has escaped the consequences of what amounts to a lifetime of dubious business dealings. As Taub, a law professor at Western New England University, writes, “Trump took advantage of a system that gives first, second, third and seemingly infinite chances to the elite.”
As president, he has been investigated, impeached, tried and summarily acquitted for high crimes and misdemeanors over his dealings with Ukraine and attempts to impede Congress. Trump also oversees the Justice Department and its investigations of white-collar crime, including cases involving many of his friends and associates. It should thus be no surprise that white-collar prosecutions on his watch have plummeted. He hasn’t hesitated to enlist his compliant attorney general, William P. Barr, in the effort to gain leniency for friends like his former campaign adviser Roger Stone and his former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Both were accused of lying under oath — one of the most common crimes committed by the wealthy and well connected.
The president wields the power of the pardon, and Trump has freely used it on behalf of wealthy white-collar criminals. He did so earlier this year for Michael Milken and Eddie DeBartolo Jr., sending a powerful message that white-collar crimes don’t really matter, even though white-collar crime in America “costs victims an estimated $300 billion to $800 billion per year,” Taub reports, while “street-level ‘property’ crimes, including burglary, larceny and theft, cost us far less — around $16 billion annually, according to the F.B.I.”
Trump is a stark illustration of why so few wealthy malefactors are held accountable. Like other members of the .01 percent, he can act with seeming impunity, able to buy or influence his way out of trouble. He empathizes with rich people who run afoul of the law. He minimizes their guilt, suggesting white-collar crimes aren’t really crimes, especially when the accused are white men, as the vast majority of all rich white-collar criminals are. Yet Trump is a symptom, not the cause.
Taub is hardly the first author to call attention to the American justice system’s curious indifference to white-collar crime, apart from occasional spasms of attention triggered by populist indignation. Brandon L. Garrett’s “Too Big to Jail” (2014) and John C. Coffee Jr.’s “Corporate Crime and Punishment: The Crisis of Underenforcement” (2020) are excellent examples.
But Taub explicitly and persuasively places the breakdown of enforcement and accountability in the context of money and class. She notes that the phrase “white-collar crime” was coined in 1939 by the sociologist Edwin Sutherland to describe an offense committed by “a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” This association with respectability manifests itself throughout the justice system. Prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are largely white, well-educated, affluent men and, increasingly, women, who, consciously or not, Taub suggests, identify with the white-collar defendants who come within their purview.
Asked about the startling lack of high-profile criminal cases after the 2008 financial crisis, Lanny Breuer, who served as the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division during the Obama administration, told “Frontline” that the department looked “hard” at potential cases but couldn’t prove intent. “That’s the old standby excuse in any white-collar case,” Taub maintains.
Attorney General Barr identified lack of intent as a key factor in his swift exoneration of President Trump on obstruction of justice charges, an issue the special counsel Robert Mueller had said he couldn’t resolve.
Intent is a subjective standard, and usually must be inferred: Hardly any accused criminals admit they acted intentionally, with a guilty state of mind. Yet the jurors in the 2004 trial of Martha Stewart, to cite just one of Taub’s case studies, had no trouble inferring intent in finding Stewart guilty of lying to federal officials in connection with her suspiciously timed stock trades. (That case was brought by then United States Attorney James Comey, who was fired by Trump as the director of the F.B.I. after he turned up the heat on the investigation of the Trump administration’s contacts with Russia.)
Taub poses a simple question and a provocative thesis: Why don’t more prosecutors just lay out the facts about intent and let juries decide? Isn’t it because on some level their empathy with the affluent, high-ranking executives they’re investigating prevents them from doing so?
Needless to say, such delicate issues of intent rarely arise in petty street crimes.
A defendant’s social and economic status is even more obvious at sentencing. One might think that a person with all the wealth and advantages that society confers might be deemed more, rather than less, culpable than ordinary street criminals. On the contrary, many judges seem to believe that a fall from grace is punishment enough, especially since white-collar defendants (often older white men) pose little danger to society, at least with respect to committing violent crimes.
Some judges seem to shudder at the thought of people like themselves in prison. Taub suggests that they feel the prison environment is tougher for white-collar criminals than the presumably more streetwise non-white-collar ones.
Although the conviction and sentencing of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen happened too recently for Taub to mention, Cohen seems a classic beneficiary of judiciary deference. Sentenced to three years in prison for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress, Cohen was released early to home confinement out of concern he might contract Covid-19. Soon after, he was photographed dining at the posh Le Bilboquet restaurant near his Park Avenue apartment.
Paul Manafort, another Trump crony, faced 19 to 24 years in prison in one of two cases against him, for an array of crimes including tax fraud and money laundering. After noting Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life,” the judge in the case gave him just four years in prison. (He was sentenced to an additional three and a half years in the second case.) But no matter: Like Cohen, Manafort was released early over Covid-19 concerns. Trump has said repeatedly that Manafort’s prosecution was unfair.
Or consider Taub’s account of Deborah Kelley, a broker who admitted to paying more than $100,000 in bribes to a portfolio manager with New York’s giant state pension fund and then lying about it. She faced up to five years in prison, but instead was sentenced to home confinement and probation because the judge thought she was “a good person.”
“Such empathy rarely extends to the burglar or the small-time drug dealer,” Taub notes. “The lack of similar concern for poor offenders is astonishing,” she says. By this juncture, readers’ blood may have reached the boiling point. They’re unlikely to cool down after Taub turns to a list of six possible solutions — from creating a new Justice Department division focused on “big money criminals” to extending protections for investigative journalists and whistle-blowers. These are earnest and well intentioned but small bore given the scope of the problem she so vividly illustrates.
Solving it will require a broad shift in an American culture that celebrates the accumulation of wealth and too often turns a blind eye to — or even glorifies — the success of the white-collar criminal.
Posted by: Bonnie Weinstein <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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