No Matter Who Wins:
Close the Camps!
Saturday, 11/14, 1 pm
Union Square, SF
|Update: November 14, 2020|
Martha Hennessy, the sixth of the Kings Bay Plowshares defendants to be sentenced, was ordered to serve 10 months incarceration as well as three years supervised probation and restitution. This was a downward departure from the guidelines of 18 to 24 months recommended by the probation department. Conducting the sentencing virtually from the Brunswick, GA court Judge Lisa Wood granted defense arguments that her criminal history was overstated. She reduced Martha from a category 2 to a category 1, similar to what she had done for Carmen Trotta the day before. Then she further reduced the sentence for mitigating factors such as the good work that Martha does with the Catholic Worker, her age and the minor amount of damage she had personally caused on the submarine base.
Four friends of Martha testified as to her good character and good works. Her long-time friend and co-worker Elizabeth Blum spoke about her deep respect and love for Martha. They met while both studied to be occupational therapists in 1982, have been employed together and even shared patients, are neighbors and friends in Vermont, have birthdays one day apart, attended each other's weddings and share meals from home-grown produce. Elizabeth has watched and appreciated Martha's growth in her Catholic faith and service to the most disadvantaged. Even though Elizabeth does not share Martha's faith, she shares a deep concern "for peace and the planet and our families." Elizabeth poignantly described growing up in the 1950's during atmospheric nuclear testing, fearing milk contaminated with Strontium 90 fallout, the absurdity of imagining duck and cover drills in schools could save anyone. She expressed indebtedness to Martha for "exposing how vulnerable we all are to nuclear weapons" through the Kings Bay Plowshares action.
George Horton said he got to know Martha over his past two decades of involvement with the canonization process around her grandmother, Dorothy Day, and through Martha’s work at the Catholic Worker. His work at Catholic Charities in New York City over four decades involves teaching parishes about Catholic social teaching and the social action of the church. A Vietnam-era Army vet with a law degree, he described first seeing Martha at Maryhouse as she was bent over, meticulously cleaning a large pot that fed many people. "She's a worker,” he said, “She’s always working... for people who needed help and were welcomed into the community of the Catholic Worker.” He said that Catholic Charities of New York has a budget of $80 million. “We can become separate from the people…. We are not able to advocate for justice and peace because we have a government contract.” In contrast, Martha’s life involves charity as well as advocacy for justice and peace like her grandmother. "Martha challenges you. But I want you to know that I have never been challenged by Martha where I have never felt the love that she has…. Martha is a critical part of the Catholic Worker community…. She cooks, cleans…” He described how Martha has important relationships with homeless people that keep them from feeling isolated and alone. She engages them in conversation. "That's what the Catholic Worker community is about.... There's something special going on here…. Martha’s heart breaks when she sees someone hurting. To take her out of the Catholic Worker right now would be terrible.” He told the story of standing with Martha and others in St. Patrick's cathedral noticing a Blue Lives Matter flag hanging the day after a police officer’s funeral. Someone objected to the pastor. “I thought the complaint should have been made in private. I remember she said, ‘George, sometimes people have to be made uncomfortable.’… My faith has grown through this experience of attending the trial and going to the base. It's had an enormous impact on my faith.”
Mary Yelenick is a retired attorney and friend of Martha’s. She serves as the NGO Representative at the United Nations for Pax Christi International, a global Catholic movement for peace and nonviolence. As an attorney, Mary addressed Judge Wood on how “the adherence to law provides predictability and stability to society.” She spoke of the global community challenging the legality of “diabolical weapons of mass destruction that glide ominously through the waters of Kings Bay,” as was done to end what was once deemed “legal,” such as slavery. On Jan. 22nd, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force, making all nuclear weapons illegal under international law.
Mary spoke of the principles from which Martha’s life and actions flow. “Her biological and spiritual heritage” comes directly from her Christian faith, handed down by her grandmother, Dorothy Day. Following her faith, “In a deeply symbolic, sacramental action,” Martha poured her blood at the Kings Bay nuclear weapons base hoping “that blood would be a wake-up call…”
Here’s part of Mary’s moving statement to the court. “The final questions that dying children everywhere – not only here in Brunswick, but all across the planet – will be asking their parents – as they and their parents scream in agony, consumed by raging fire; or withering away from radiation; or inexorably reduced to skeletal remains from global starvation, with nuclear dust clouds blocking the sun’s rays – is 'why didn’t somebody stop this, while we still had a chance to stop it? ' And the response – the final agonized whispers of parents dying horrific deaths in Brunswick, Georgia, and all across the globe – the last human sounds before the extinction of all life on this small, fragile, beloved planet – will be: “Some people DID try to stop this. But we prosecuted them. And we locked them away.”
The prosecutor, Greg Gilully, then said that despite the good that Martha does, she broke the law and committed a serious crime. While she might not deserve the maximum of 20 years, a term of imprisonment was justified and needed as a deterrence.
Martha began her sentencing statement with, "I stand here as a result of my conviction that calls me to point out that nuclear weapons are illegal." Then she quoted the U.S. Constitution that all treaties are to be the supreme law of the land. "I am attempting to help transform the fundamental values of public life. I am willing to suffer for the common good and for our sin of not loving our brothers and sisters, a condition that leads to war. " She added, "I have no criminal intent; I want to help prevent another nuclear holocaust. The spirit of the law contained in international treaties for disarmament is very clear, to prevent mass murder on an incomprehensible scale. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist’s Doomsday clock is set at 100 seconds to midnight. I see my grandchildren’s faces in that clock. " Martha's full statement will be on the website. Martha was ordered to report to prison in 30 days.
Fr. Steve Kelly, in the Glynn Co. jail still awaiting transfer to Tacoma, WA, to appear in court for a probation violation, let supporters know he was able to call in to hear the sentencing of his codefendants. The final defendant to be sentenced, Mark Colville, has been granted a delay of sentencing as he does not want to waive his right to appear before the judge in open court. Mark explained in motions filed with the court that Connecticut's rules pertaining to COVID-19 are that upon returning from travel out of state, one has to quarantine. Mark is the sole driver for his nephew undergoing dialysis 3 times a week. The doctors have stated that there must be one designated driver to reduce the possibility of COVID infection. The judge granted a sentencing delay until Dec. 18th. If it is done virtually or during continued COVID travel restrictions, the court will provide the same call-in numbers to the public.
All the previous sentencing statements and character witness statements will be posted under the legal tab, under sentencing statements at the kingsbayplowshares7.org website.
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
SIGN PETITION: Don't reincarcerate Jalil Muntaquim
Support for Jalil Muntaqim petition from the Movement for Black Lives:
Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Support for Jalil MuntaqimSTATEMENT OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT FOR JALIL MUNTAQIM We the undersigned fully support the New York State Parole Board’s decision to release Jalil Muntaqim. The parole process is meant to evaluate a person for release based on who they are today, not to extend one’s sentence into perpetuity. Mr. Muntaqim has been incarcerated since 1971, when he was 19 years old. During his 49 years in prison, Mr. Muntaqim has led education/mentorship programs for prisoners, earned several educational degrees and mentored many younger incarcerated men. He has been commended for preventing prisoner violence and promoting safety. As a result, hundreds of organizations and individuals have stepped forward to support his release including community and faith leaders, family members, and the NY State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus. The Board finally acted honorably in following the guidelines put forth by New York State Executive Law 259-(i). A 2011, bi-partisan amendment to the law passed by Republican and Democratic lawmakers makes it clear that an individual’s readiness for successful re-entry should take priority in the decision to grant release. Upon his release, Mr. Muntaqim was warmly welcomed by a large, diverse set of community leaders and residents of Rochester, New York. He reported to his parole officers and followed instructions to sign up for various social services required by all senior citizens in his position. He was handed a large stack of paperwork including a voter registration form. Muntaqim, eager to follow instructions, appropriately filled out and signed everything required of him. Now, the Rochester District Attorney is attempting to reincarcerate an elder recovering from COVID-19 because he filled out a form as instructed. We are statewide and national organizations, community and faith leaders, elected officials, civil rights organizations, public defenders, and residents of the Rochester area. We pledge our continuing support for Mr. Muntaqim and our assistance in facilitating his reintegration into society. We vehemently oppose any efforts to remove him from our community and/or place him back in prison.Please click the below link to sign & share widely.Charlie HintonNo one ever hurt their eyes by looking on the bright side
Denver Black Lives
On September 17, six protest leaders, including four members of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, were arrested in Denver, Colorado in a coordinated police action. Those arrested are now being threatened with a litany of bogus felony charges, including “kidnapping.” Four of the arrested individuals—Russel Ruch, Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero—are protest leaders who have denounced the crimes of the Colorado police, most notably the racist murder of Elijah McClain. The repression against these activists, and many others, is nothing short of police-state retribution. As a PSL statement noted,
“This attack on the Denver anti-racist movement and the PSL is part of a concerted national assault on the Black Lives Matter movement, an attack driven directly from the White House, from Governor’s mansions, and from local police chiefs and police departments around the country.”
It is clear from the manner of the arrests that the Denver area police are trying to punish and intimidate activists. Russel Ruch, for instance, was followed to Home Depot and arrested in the parking lot; Lillian House was surrounded by five police cars as she was driving; and a S.W.A.T. team was sent to Joel Northam’s home. According to the 30-page long arrest affidavits, the police used livestream footage, call transcripts, and social media posts to build a case against those arrested. These coordinated arrests, which utilized both surveillance and brute force, aim to instill fear in every Denver area activist. “Protest, and you could be next” is the message being sent. And the absurd list of felony charges, known as “charge stacking,” means the arrested activists could be facing years, if not decades, in prison.
The arrest of these protest leaders in Denver are part of a larger nationwide crack-down on the Black Lives Matter movement. Across the country, protesters have been snatched off the streets by the police or federal forces in unmarked vehicles. In New York City, the NYPD used facial-recognition software to find and harass a Black Lives Matter activist. And earlier this month, in Washington, federal marshals gunned down Portland activist Michael Reinoehl without warning as he walked to his car.
Left Voice denounces the attempts to repress or otherwise intimidate anti-racist, anti-police activists. It is unacceptable that the state, under direction from both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, targets and intimidates activists fighting for racial justice, while the murderers of Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and many more walk free. The real threat to public safety can be found in every police precinct, every city hall, and every seat of political power.
Drop the charges against Denver PSL activists—Free all the arrested protesters!
To sign the PSL’s petition to have the charges dropped, click here:
To donate to the PSL’s legal defense, click here:
— Left Voice, September 18, 2020
History, Great Britain, and Julian Assange
Below are the comments Clifford D. Conner made at a September 8, 2020 press conference in front of the British consulate in New York City. Conner is an historian and author of Jean Paul Marat: Tribune of the French Revolution and The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump. The court in Britain is holding hearings on the Trump administration’s request to have Julian Assange, the Australian editor, publisher and founder of WikiLeaks, extradited. Assange would be tried in a Virginia court on 17 counts of espionage and one count of conspiracy to commit a computer crime. If convicted, he could face up to 175 years in prison.
In 2010 Assange had the audacity to post a video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter indiscriminately murdering a dozen civilians and two Reuters’ journalists in the streets of Baghdad.
Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, testified in court on September 16 that Assange could not receive a fair trial in the United States. When he pointed out that the Collateral Murder video was clearly a war crime, the prosecution maintained that Assange was not wanted by Washington for it but for publishing documents without redacting names. Ellsberg pointed out that when he leaked the Pentagon Papers, he did not redact a single name.
Assange’s lawyer has since informed the London court that in 2017 former Republican U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher and Charles Johnson, a far-right political activist, relayed Trump’s offer to pardon Assange if he provided the source for the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails. This was described to Assange as a “win-win” situation for all involved.
A National Committee to Defend Assange and Civil Liberties, chaired by Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, and Alice Walker has been set up. For further information, go to: www.facebook.com/CommitteeToDefendJulianAssange. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee. The press conference was organized by the New York City Free Assange Committee: NYCFreeAssange.org
—Dianne Feeley for The Editors, Against the Current
Comments by Clifford D. Conner
I am here at the British Consulate today to protest the incarceration and mistreatment of Julian Assange in Belmarsh Prison in Great Britain, to demand that you immediately release him, and above all, to demand that you NOT extradite Julian Assange to the United States.
As a historian who has written extensively on the case of the most persecuted journalist of the 18th century, Jean Paul Marat, I am in a position to make historical comparisons, and in my judgement, Julian Assange is both the most unjustly persecuted journalist of the 21st century and arguably the most important journalist of the 21st century.
Julian Assange is being hounded and harassed and threatened with life in prison by the United States government because he dared to publish the truth about American war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for the whole world to see. This persecution of Julian Assange is an assault on the fundamental principles of journalistic freedom.
The sociopathic Donald Trump and his accomplice, Attorney General William Barr, are demanding that you deliver Assange to them to face false charges of espionage. Every honest observer in the world recognizes Trump and Barr as utterly incapable of acting in good faith. If they succeed in suppressing Julian Assange’s right to publish, it will be a devastating precedent for journalists and publishers of news everywhere—and above all, for the general public, who will lose access to the information necessary to maintaining a democratic society.
If you allow yourselves to become co-conspirators in this crime, History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Last November, more than 60 doctors from all over the world wrote an open letter to the British government saying that Julian Assange’s health was so bad that he could die if he weren’t moved from Belmarsh Prison, where he was being held, to a hospital, immediately. Your government chose to ignore that letter and he was not hospitalized, then or later. History will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
Of all crimes against humanity, the most unforgivable is torture. No nation that perpetrates torture has the right to call itself civilized. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has unequivocally characterized Julian Assange’s treatment in Belmarsh Prison as torture. History will neither forget nor forgive that terrible moral transgression.
Furthermore, the exposure of the widespread use of torture by the United States military and the CIA at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, at Guantánamo Bay, and at so-called “black sites” all over the world, absolutely disqualifies the United States from sitting in moral judgement of anybody. If you deliver Julian Assange into the hands of torturers, history will not look kindly on Great Britain for that.
So, I join together today with human rights advocates and advocates of journalistic freedom around the world.
I stand with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which declared: “For the sake of press freedom, Julian Assange must be defended.”
I stand with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which said that the attempt to prosecute Julian Assange is “a worrying step on the slippery slope to punishing any journalist the Trump administration chooses to deride as ‘fake news’.”
And I stand with the ACLU, which said: “Any prosecution by the United States of Mr. Assange for WikiLeaks’publishing operations would be unprecedented and unconstitutional and would open the door to criminal investigations of other news organizations.”
History will not only record the names of the countries that collaborate in this travesty of justice, but also the names of the individuals—the judges, the prosecutors, the diplomats, and the politicians—who aid and abet the crime. If you, as individuals, choose to ally yourselves with the likes of Donald Trump and William Barr, be prepared for your names to be chained to theirs in infamy, in perpetuity.
History will certainly absolve Julian Assange, and it certainly will not absolve his persecutors.
—Against the Current, November/December 2020
Call for the immediate release of
Syiaah Skylit from CDCR custody!
Sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/gavin-newsom-call-for-the-immediate-release-of-syiaah-skylit-from-cdcr-custody-blacktranslivesmatter?recruiter=915876972&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=abi_gmail&utm_campaign=address_book&recruited_by_id=7d48b720-ecea-11e8-a770-29edb03b51cc
Syiaah Skylit is a Black transgender woman currently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP). Syiaah has been a victim of multiple acts of brutal, senseless violence at KVSP at the hands of prison staff and others in custody. Many of these attacks are in retaliation for her advocacy for herself and other trans women.
Syiaah’s life is currently at risk due to racist, transmisogynist violence at the hands of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCr). While all the offending officers should be fired, this isn’t about a couple of bad apples. We have centuries of evidence that prison will never be safe — for Black people, for trans people, and especially not for Black trans women.
“I’m not going to make it out of this prison alive if I’m left here any longer.”
— Syiaah Skylit, June 2020
While incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison between 2018 and the present, prison staff have subjected Syiaah to severe and persistent physical, sexual, and psychological abuse (see below for examples, with content warnings). Staff at Kern Valley State Prison are also responsible for the 2013 death of Carmen Guerrero, a transgender woman who was forced to be housed with an individual who made it clear to officers that he would kill Ms. Guerrero if he was celled with her. Earlier this year, that individual was given the death penalty for killing Ms. Guerrero just eight hours after CDCR officers forced them to cell together.
Facing immediate danger, Syiaah has repeatedly asked to be transferred to a women’s facility and CDCR has repeatedly denied her requests. We demand that Governor Newsom and CDCR immediately release Syiaah to her community and family before she falls further victim to the lethal danger that transgender people face in prison.
[Content note: assault, sexual violence, anti-Black racism, transmisogny]
While in CDCR custody between 2018 and the present, Syiaah has:
- Been physically attacked by CDCR staff multiple times;
- Been threatened with sexual assault with a baton by CDCR staff;
- Been forced by CDCR staff to parade through the yard naked from the waist down;
- Been stripped naked by CDCR staff and left overnight in her cell without clothes, blankets, or a mattress;
- Been attacked by other people in custody who admitted that CDCR staff directed them to do so;
- Had her property stolen and destroyed by CDCR staff;
- Been maced in the face and thrown in a cage after reporting an assault;
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as an individual she testified against who is facing attempted murder charges for his assault of a transgender woman. As Syiaah feared, this individual violently attacked her as revenge. This man was then allowed to attack a gay man after attacking Syiaah.
- Been intentionally placed on the same yard as individuals with histories of attacking trans women and other LGBTQI+ people, in spite of her pleas to be placed separately;
- Been thrown in administrative segregation after being the victim of an attack;
- Has had all of her recent documented complaints of discrimination and violence rejected under false pretenses;
- Has had contact with her legal representatives restricted to one phone call a week;
- Has been humiliated and discriminated against for going on a hunger strike as a form of protest;
- Has expressed numerous, documented concerns for her safety and had them blatantly ignored.
In spite of the constant violence Syiaah continues to survive, she continues to demonstrate her resilience and dedication to learning and growing. She has earned certifications in many educational and vocational programs and support groups.
We as Syiaah’s community and chosen family are ready to support her with a safe and successful reentry plan if Governor Newsom uses his executive powers to grant her clemency. Organizations that can offer Syiaah comprehensive reentry support including housing and employment upon her release include TGI Justice Project, Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Medina Orthwein LLP.
Please sign and share this petition to #FreeSyiaah and declare #BlackTransLivesMatter!
Please also check out our social media toolkit to support Syiaah!
[Please do not donate as prompted after signing, as the money goes to change.org and not to any cause associated with Syiaah.]
Art by Micah Bazant at Forward Together.
Snowden vindicated by court ruling – time to drop
Last week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA telephone surveillance program revealed by Edward Snowden was illegal and likely unconstitutional. This ruling should finally end any remaining debate on whether Snowden’s actions constituted whistleblowing, and on his necessity of going to the press. The question now is how to remedy the legal and ethical dilemma he was placed into. It’s time to either drop his charges or pardon him.
The court’s ruling validates Snowden on multiple levels. It settles beyond doubt that his belief in the illegality of the programs he witnessed was reasonable. The panel of judges ruled that the mass telephone surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act was illegal. And while they refrained from issuing a ruling on the Constitutional challenge, they strongly suggested that the program was in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that the government’s claims about the effectiveness of the surveillance had been lies, and that its legal theory about the necessity of mass collection of phone data was “unprecedented and unwarranted.”
Legally, a whistleblower does not need to ultimately be proved correct about the concerns they report. If they simply have a “reasonable belief” their employer is breaking the law, they are entitled to whistleblower protections. While any plain reading of the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statutes should have sufficed to prove a reasonable concern, this ruling is beyond sufficient affirmation that Snowden’s concern was “objectively reasonable”.
While he should have been able to make a protected whistleblower disclosure based on such concerns, those channels were not a realistic option. As an outside contractor, he would not have been guaranteed protection under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) statute in place at that time. Critics of Snowden also conveniently ignore the history of other NSA employees who blew the whistle on these programs before him. The internal channels were used to “catch and kill” the complaints of at least four previous surveillance whistleblowers, placing them – and even the Congressional intelligence committee staffer they went to – under criminal leak investigations. Snowden saw, for example, the punitive treatment of NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. Drake went through every conceivable internal channel: his boss, the NSA Inspector General (IG), the Defense Department IG, and the House & Senate Intel Committees. Not only did they fail to redress his grievances, many acted to further punish him: ignored his concerns, marginalized him, forced him out, blacklisted him, and ultimately drove his failed criminal prosecution.
Snowden correctly assessed that the only remaining option was to go to the press, and the 9th Circuit ruling credits him for choosing that path, noting that his disclosures enabled “significant public debate over the appropriate scope of government surveillance”. Indeed, this ruling simply would not have been possible without his public disclosures. The government had long maneuvered to keep mass surveillance programs beyond this kind of judicial scrutiny.
As a witness to large scale illegality, and without effective or safe channels, Snowden was placed in a dilemma: break his agreement to protect classified information, or break his sworn oath to uphold the laws and defend the Constitution. He chose to honor his higher duty and so turned to the only other available channel that could serve as a check against government wrongdoing: the press. Snowden turned to the “Fourth Estate” and it played exactly the role the Founders intended. We cannot now prosecute him as a spy or abandon him to a lifetime of exile for having done so.
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
Johnson the Invisible Brat
Johnson the invisible brat,
Thinks he’s better than us all,
For he’s a posh prime minister,
Who defies international law,
No matter how many graves get filled,
Or the cupboards are running bare,
You bet you can rely on this,
Johnson won’t be there.
Hancock, Priti, any sycophant,
It doesn’t matter who,
Can keep a straight face on camera,
While reading the lies on the autocue.
Nursing homes, schools there’s Covid everywhere,
But whenever there’s a crisis,
Johnson isn’t there
Depravity, depravity there’s no match for his depravity.
He is nastiness in human form, with not a shred of common humanity.
You may read him in a by-line, or see his face in the morning paper,
But when there’s a problem to deal with,
Boris Johnson won’t be seen till later.
Depravity, depravity the are no bounds to his depravity,
He’s already broken every law and conduct of normality,
His powers of crass dishonesty are way beyond compare,
He lies in every sentence and doesn’t seem to care,
You may look for him in Downing Street or in another lair,
But when a job is needing done,
Boris Johnson is never there.
He’ll sack anyone who happens in his way
And tear up any treaty he doesn’t like today,
He is outwardly respectably but he cheats all his friends
He’ll trample over anyone to get to his own ends,
Or he’ll send his hoodlum Cummings to crush dissenting minds.
Lies, corruption, negligence we know he doesn’t care
But when there is money to be made,
Johnson and mates will be there.
In Britain he acts like a dictator doing just as he wants,
Ignoring real life tragedies while posing for photo stunts,
For all his fake bravado, he’s just another coward,
A liar, a bully a posh self-centred fraud.
He’s an invisible prime minister who is never here,
But whenever there’s Trump’s arse to kiss,
You can be sure that,
Boris Johnson will reappear.
Calamity then catastrophe with grand theft larceny,
Another billion of our money flushed down the lavat’ry,
He cares not for our suffering our deaths and our pain,
Fake news and lies again and again,
When things go wrong and account is called,
It is always someone else’s fault,
What ever the problem no matter where
He always can claim that he wasn’t there.
Covid 19’s, coming,
He says we’ll take it on the chin,
World beating, moonshot, track and trace,
Endless lies and spin
Just more meaningless hot air from this uncaring buffoon,
Exam results fiasco, yet he never showed his face.
Children going hungry a national disgrace
We must take matters in our own hands,
To make things proper here,
Have confidence in our own powers,
Make Johnson and his kind
Take Action Now
Write, email and call the Nebraska Board of Pardons. Request that they expedite Ed’s application, schedule his hearing for the October 2020 meeting and commute his sentence.
His peers criticized this appearance. The press purposefully didn't cover it. He simply wanted to inspire young minds with the beauty and power of science, drawing attention to the power of ALL human minds, regardless of race.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.” -Albert Einstein
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Reality Winner Tests Positive for COVID, Still Imprisoned
With great anguish, I’m writing to share the news that NSA whistleblower Reality Winner, still in federal prison, has tested positive for COVID-19. Winner, despite her vulnerable health conditions, was denied home release in April – the judge’s reasoning being that the Federal Medical Center, Carswell is “presumably better equipped than most to deal with the onset of COVID-19 in its inmates”.Since that ruling, COVID infections at Carswell have exploded, ranking it now as second highest in the nation for the number of cases, and substantially increasing the likelihood that its medical capacity will be overwhelmed.This news comes one week after Trump’s commutation of convicted felon Roger Stone, and two months after the home release of Trump’s convicted campaign manager, Paul Manafort:Donald Trump’s commutation of Roger Stone’s prison sentence is galling on numerous levels. It’s a brazen act of corruption and an egregious obstruction of an ongoing investigation of the President and his enablers. There are few figures less worthy of clemency than a Nixonian dirty trickster like Stone. But the final twist of the knife is that Reality Winner, the honest, earnest, anti-Stone of the Russian meddling saga, remains in federal prison.
Please share this with your networks, and stand with us in support of Reality Winner and her family during this critical time.
Thank you,Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)
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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 email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org (Prison Superintendent). email@example.com (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: firstname.lastname@example.orgDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
A training slide show that urged officers to “always fight to the death” is no longer used but has raised an outcry in a state that has struggled with police violence.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Oct. 31, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/31/us/kentucky-state-police-hitler.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
A slide show once shown to cadets training to join the Kentucky State Police includes quotations attributed to Adolf Hitler and Robert E. Lee, says troopers should be warriors who “always fight to the death” and encourages each trooper in training to be a “ruthless killer.”
The slide show, which came to light on Friday in a report from a high school newspaper, brought harsh condemnation from politicians, Jewish groups and Kentucky residents, but not from the Kentucky State Police department itself, which said only that the training materials were old.
Morgan Hall, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, which oversees the State Police, said that the slide show was “removed” in 2013 and was no longer in use but declined to answer a list of questions, including queries about how long the material was used and how many cadets had seen the training.
Ms. Hall said in a statement that it was “unacceptable” that such material had ever been included in law enforcement training. “Our administration does not condone the use of this material,” she said. She added that the cabinet agency “began an internal review” after learning about the material on Friday.
Kentucky State Police have assisted the Louisville Metro Police Department during protests over Louisville police officers’ killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black emergency room technician shot by the police when they raided her apartment in March. The state agency also helped to investigate the Taylor killing, providing a ballistics report to the state attorney general before he determined that the officers who shot Ms. Taylor were justified.
The quotations attributed to Hitler, the genocidal leader of Nazi Germany, and Lee, the Confederate general, are included among 33 slides that were shown to cadets in the Kentucky State Police Academy as part of a slide show entitled “The Warrior Mindset.”
“The very first essential for success is a perpetually constant and regular employment of violence,” reads one quotation attributed to Hitler, who is quoted more than anyone in the training document. Some of the statements attributed to Hitler link to a website providing biographical information about him and listing books by and about him.
The training itself emphasizes that troopers must be ready to employ violence in order to do their jobs properly. One of the slides that quotes Hitler — under the heading “Violence of Action” — also says troopers should “be the loving father, spouse, and friend as well as the ruthless killer.” Another says warriors “always fight to the death, they never quit” and that they must be willing to “commit to the fight.”
The title page indicates that the training was created by a retired captain, Curt Hall, who could not be reached for comment. Local news reports, Mr. Hall’s LinkedIn page and a news release from the State Police in 2018 indicate that Mr. Hall was an assistant commander at the police academy from 2005 to 2015 and later served as a commander in the internal affairs department and as the commander of one of the agency’s 16 regional posts.
The lesson appears to be at least partially in line with “warrior training,” a controversial practice that often begins during basic training in academies and is modeled on military boot camp, which many police departments embrace. Many of the nation’s police academies and departments have long emphasized a warrior mentality, experts have said, with officers trained for conflict and equipped with the gear and weapons of modern warfare. Critics have said the specialized training can lead officers to believe they are under constant threat of being harmed and can intensify encounters with civilians.
The slide show was obtained by a lawyer who is suing a Kentucky State Police trooper who shot and killed Bradley J. Grant, 37, in 2018. David Ward, the lawyer, said he had received a copy of the slide show after filing a public records request for documents that the trooper had seen when he was going through training at the academy in 2013.
Mr. Ward said he was shocked by the material, and that it seemed to coincide with the combative nature of the trooper’s encounter with Mr. Grant that preceded the fatal shooting. The State Police said at the time that Mr. Grant had confronted two officers with a shotgun before he was killed, but Mr. Ward said Mr. Grant had been pointing the shotgun at his own chin and asking officers to shoot him.
“This type of training — these quotes — creates a mind set that these troopers are at war, that they need to come to work ready for battle,” Mr. Ward said. “This type of mind set is likely to create an adversarial situation or a violent encounter, and I think that becomes even more likely when you encounter a person who is suffering a mental health crisis and is less likely to respond to verbal commands in a rational way.”
The slide show was first reported by The Manual Redeye, a student newspaper at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, in an article written by the 16-year-old and 14-year-old sons of another lawyer involved in the lawsuit against the trooper.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky, a Democrat, said in a statement. “It is further unacceptable that I just learned about this through social media. We will collect all the facts and take immediate corrective action.”
The 33-slide presentation ends with a quotation usually attributed to Theodore Roosevelt about credit belonging to “the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
It ends: “Questions??”
Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio contributed reporting.
Despite pledges for debt relief and expanded programs, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have delivered meager aid, say economists.
"Since the pandemic began, the I.M.F. has allocated $500 million to cover the costs of debt suspension, while handing out more than $100 billion in fresh loans. More than $11 billion from the loan proceeds has paid off private creditors, according to a report from the Jubilee Debt Campaign."
By Peter S. Goodman, Nov. 1, 2020
Women lined up to receive cash assistance in Hyderabad, Pakistan, earlier this month. Families have lost livelihoods and struggled to feed themselves in the pandemic. Credit...Nadeem Khawar/EPA, via Shutterstock
LONDON — Like much of the developing world, Pakistan was alarmingly short of doctors and medical facilities long before anyone had heard of Covid-19. Then the pandemic overwhelmed hospitals, forcing some to turn away patients. As fear upended daily life, families lost livelihoods and struggled to feed themselves.
On the other side of the world in Washington, two deep-pocketed organizations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, vowed to spare poor countries from desperation. Their economists warned that immense relief was required to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and profound damage to global prosperity. Emerging markets make up 60 percent of the world economy, by one I.M.F. measure. A blow to their fortunes inflicts pain around the planet.
Wages sent home to poor countries by migrant workers — a vital artery of finance — have diminished. The shutdown of tourism has punished many developing countries. So has plunging demand for oil. Billions of people have lost the wherewithal to buy food, increasing malnutrition. By next year, the pandemic could push 150 million people into extreme poverty, the World Bank has warned, in the first increase in more than two decades.
But the World Bank and the I.M.F. have failed to translate their concern into meaningful support, say economists. That has left less-affluent countries struggling with limited resources and untenable debts, prompting their governments to reduce spending just as it is needed to bolster health care systems and aid people suffering lost income.
“A lost decade of growth in large parts of the world remains a plausible prospect absent urgent, concerted and sustained policy response,” concluded a recent report from the Group of 30, a gathering of international finance experts, including Lawrence Summers, a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama, and Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration.
The wealthiest nations have been cushioned by extraordinary surges of credit unleashed by central banks and government spending collectively estimated at more than $8 trillion. Developing countries have yet to receive help on such a scale.
The I.M.F. and the World Bank — forged at the end of World War II with the mandate to support nations at times of financial distress — have marshaled a relatively anemic response, in part because of the predilections of their largest shareholder, the United States.
During a virtual gathering of the two organizations this month, the U.S. Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, urged caution. “It is critical that the World Bank manage financial resources judiciously,” he said, “so as not to burden shareholders with premature calls for new financing.”
The World Bank is headed by David Malpass, who was effectively an appointee of President Trump under the gentlemen’s agreement that has for decades accorded the United States the right to select the institution’s leader. A longtime government finance official who worked in the Trump administration’s Treasury Department, he has displayed contempt for the World Bank and the I.M.F.
“They spend a lot of money,” Mr. Malpass said during congressional testimony in 2017. “They’re not very efficient. They’re often corrupt in their lending practices.”
Under his leadership, the World Bank has required that borrowers deregulate domestic industry to favor the private sector as a condition for loans.
“There is an ideological attitude here, a more conservative attitude of, ‘Well, it’s going to be money that goes to waste,’” said Scott Morris, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. In the midst of a crisis caused not by profligacy but by a pandemic, he added, “that’s a very wrongheaded attitude.”
World Bank officials said the institution had expanded lending at a historic pace, while defending Mr. Malpass’s demand for tighter conditions on loans as responsible stewardship. “He wants to have good country outcomes,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, the World Bank’s managing director of operations. “He wants to make sure that the programs reach people.”
The I.M.F. is run by a managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian economist who previously worked at the World Bank. She is answerable to the institution’s shareholders. The Trump administration has resisted calls to expand the I.M.F.’s reserves, arguing that most of the benefits would flow to wealthier countries.
In April, as worries about poor countries intensified, world leaders issued elaborate promises for help.
“The World Bank Group intends to respond forcefully and massively,” Mr. Malpass said. At the I.M.F., Ms. Georgieva said she would not hesitate to tap the institution’s $1 trillion lending capacity. “This is, in my lifetime, humanity’s darkest hour,” she declared.
But the I.M.F. has lent out only $280 billion. That includes $31 billion in emergency loans to 76 member states, with nearly $11 billion going to low-income countries.
“We have really stepped up in terms of quick disbursement to be able to support countries that are in need,” Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, director of the I.M.F.’s Strategy Policy and Review department, said in an interview.
The World Bank more than doubled its lending over the first seven months of 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier, but has been slow to distribute the money, with disbursements up by less than a third over that period, according to research from the Center for Global Development.
The limited outlays by the I.M.F. and the World Bank appear to stem in part from excessive faith in a widely hailed initiative that aimed to relieve poor nations of their debt burdens to foreign creditors. In April 2020, at a virtual summit of the Group of 20, world leaders agreed to pause debt payments through the end of the year.
World leaders played up the program as a way to encourage poor countries to spend as needed, without worrying about their debts. But the plan exempted the largest group of creditors: the global financial services industry, including banks, asset managers and hedge funds.
“The private sector has done zilch,” said Adnan Mazarei, a former deputy director at the I.M.F., and now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “They have not participated at all.”
Concerns about developing countries’ debts rested atop the reality that many were spending enormous shares of their revenues on loan payments even before the pandemic.
Since 2009, Pakistan’s payments to foreign creditors have climbed to 35 percent of government revenues from 11.5 percent, according to data compiled by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt forgiveness. Ghana’s payments swelled to more than 50 percent of government revenues from 5.3 percent.
As the pandemic spread, Pakistan raised health care spending but cut support for social service programs as it prioritized debt payments.
The debt suspension was at best a short-term reprieve, delaying loan payments while heaping them atop outstanding bills.
Some 46 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa, have collectively gained $5.3 billion in relief from immediate debt payments. That is about 1.7 percent of total international debt payments due from all developing countries this year, according to data compiled by the European Network on Debt and Development.
Mr. Summers recently described the debt suspension initiative as “a squirt gun meeting a massive conflagration.”
But the program has proved powerful in one regard: It conveyed a sense that the troubles of the poorest countries have been contained.
“Part of the reason why so little has been done is that there was a misguided expectation that you could provide all the support low-income countries needed simply by deferring payments on their debts,” said Brad Setser, a former U.S. Treasury official and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
This month, the G20 extended the program into the middle of next year. Ms. Georgieva has chided private creditors for remaining on the sidelines.
Private creditors have been reluctant to offer debt suspension in part because of uncertainty over who will reap the benefits. Many developing countries have borrowed aggressively from Chinese institutions in a process both opaque and uncoordinated. If American or European institutions forgo collecting on their debts, the money may simply be passed on to a Chinese lender rather than lifting health care spending.
Private creditors maintain that poor countries have not requested relief, recognizing that credit rating agencies may treat debt suspension as a default — a status that jeopardizes their future ability to borrow.
“They don’t want to lose the market access,” said Clay Lowery, executive vice president of research and policy at the Institute of International Finance, a trade association representing financial companies around the world.
But that fear has been actively fomented by creditors, discouraging poor countries from seeking relief.
“The private sector is often highly misleadingly aggressive in suggesting that debt restructuring will cut countries off forever, and that complying with its wishes will get them new money very soon,” Mr. Summers said in an interview.
Some argue that anything short of debt restructuring, in which terms are renegotiated and creditors absorb losses on loans, merely extends the pain — for borrowers and lenders alike.
Critics of the I.M.F. say its handling of the pandemic has displayed the same trait that has long defined its mission — a bias toward ensuring that creditors get paid, even at the expense of wrenching spending cuts in poor countries.
Since the pandemic began, the I.M.F. has allocated $500 million to cover the costs of debt suspension, while handing out more than $100 billion in fresh loans. More than $11 billion from the loan proceeds has paid off private creditors, according to a report from the Jubilee Debt Campaign.
“International financial institutions are going to leave countries in much worse shape than they were before the pandemic,” said Lidy Nacpil, coordinator of the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, a Manila-based alliance of 50 organizations. “Their interest is not primarily about these countries getting back on their feet, but to get these countries back into the business of borrowing.”
—Red Flag, October 30, 2020
After years of being slandered, Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended from the British Labour Party. It’s a shocking development. It’s not just an attack on Corbyn; it’s an attack on the entire left that will have global consequences. The more it goes unopposed, the worse those consequences will be.
Let’s start by stating the facts. Jeremy Corbyn is not anti-Semitic. There is no evidence that he has ever done or said anything indicating prejudice against Jews. The accusation is a cynical lie intended to intimidate and silence the left.
Unlike the cretins and liars—in Labour, in the British media and elsewhere—who are now slandering him and all his supporters, Corbyn has a decades-long record of struggle against racism and fascism. Like many of us on the left, stretching from left-wing reformists to revolutionary Marxists, he rightly decided that the best way to learn the lessons of all the atrocities carried out in the name of Nazi anti-Semitism is with a lifelong struggle against racism, oppression and imperialist violence.
Even having to write that feels a little dirty. It’s like having to write that there’s no evidence that the Moon landing was faked or that the Earth is flat. Why would a serious political publication spend time engaging with such a self-evidently ridiculous idea as the claim that Jeremy Corbyn was responsible for a revival of institutional anti-Semitism in Britain?
Because that monstrous lie is again being circulated now that Corbyn has been suspended from Labour. The myth of Corbynite anti-Semitism is getting wall-to-wall coverage and near universal endorsement from the entire British political establishment, especially in Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour and its allies in the liberal media.
Jeremy Corbyn was suspended for observing that, for the last few years, claims of anti-Semitism have been exaggerated for political reasons. Not only is this blindingly obvious— it is a massive understatement.
The notion that Corbyn had encouraged or cultivated anti-Semitism, or was even anti-Semitic himself, was a complete fraud from beginning to end, elevated to the level of national myth by the right-wing Labour bureaucracy and their friends in the media, from the formerly fascist Daily Mail to the liberal Guardian. The pretense that it had something to do with fighting racism was pure theatre: it was a coordinated attack on the most consistently anti-racist leader of a major party in British history, whose track record of anti-fascism was gleefully distorted and buried at a time when the global far right is on the rise.
Anyone who stands up for Arabs and Muslims against Islamophobia, for colonized peoples against military conquest, or for anti-fascism against the modern far right was a target in this supposedly “anti-racist” campaign. Each time Corbyn and his supporters made a gesture of conciliation towards it, the campaign of slander only intensified, until it fatally wounded his electoral support, demoralized his supporters and helped drive him from the leadership.
When Corbyn was leader, for a little while he offered hope to the young, the poor and the oppressed, who thought they had a champion at the head of a major party. Now, Labour is run by a former prosecutor who prefers to fight the left than to take on Boris Johnson’s murderous failure to protect people from the coronavirus. Yet it is Corbyn’s time as leader—not that of Starmer, or the war criminal Tony Blair—that the scum in Labour are calling the darkest and most shameful period of Labour’s history.
This provocation should be met with outrage and action: defiant collective gestures of solidarity with Corbyn, and with the Palestinian people whose basic right to live free of military occupation is now called “anti-Semitism;” and a renewal of the struggle against austerity and imperialist war that inspired Corbyn’s initial popularity.
But so far, that hasn’t happened. Corbyn and his supporters—parliamentarians such as John McDonnell and left-wing union bureaucrats like Len McCluskey—have condemned Corbyn’s suspension only because it undermines the unity of the Labour Party. What’s needed now isn’t “unity” with Sir Keir Starmer. What’s needed is a forthright defense of the right to challenge austerity, to oppose imperialism and to point out the most obvious injustices of neoliberal capitalism without being smeared and browbeaten into silence and submission.
It’s needed because in Britain, Johnson’s profits-first approach to the coronavirus—which included paying people to eat in restaurants and encouraging them to work from their office at the height of a global pandemic—has killed 50,000 people so far. It’s needed because more than 12,000 illegal settlement units have been approved in the Israeli-occupied West Bank this year, and no global movement against the injustices of capitalism can be built if activists are scared to talk about that fact openly. It’s needed because this successful attack on Corbyn will be generalized and used against the left anywhere that a movement against the rich and powerful starts to gain traction.
Israel’s lobbyists will be delighted with the suspension of Corbyn. But although they’ve helped build the narrative, they aren’t responsible for what’s happened to him. When Corbyn accidentally became Labour leader in 2015, it was an affront to the capitalist class that it could not tolerate. Its servants in Labour have led this charge. Those McCarthyite witch-hunters and their capitalist supporters are ultimately responsible for this: they are the enemies to be identified and defeated.
The attack on Corbyn is cut from the same cloth as the war against “Islamo-leftism” in France, led by the suave neoliberal Emmanuel Macron. In both cases, the wealthy and educated “sensible center” of politics is whipping up a frenzy of hatred to destroy any solidarity between the left and the oppressed. They’re portraying both left-wing activists and religious minorities as an enemy within, who should have no rights to participate in the political process and whose opinions should be dismissed out of hand.
And in France as well, some on the left have softly complained that this right-wing offensive undermines “unity”—this time, the unity of the nation after tragic terrorist attacks. But when you’re under attack from all sides, there’s no point demanding unity with your oppressor. It’s not clever politics. It’s not triangulation. It doesn’t make you look noble. You need to land blows and expose your attackers as the ones encouraging racism, spreading lies and shifting society to the right for their own narrow gain.
How did it come to this? A few years ago, Corbyn was riding a wave of popular support, speaking at enormous demonstrations about the importance of socialism, seemingly unassailable. Now he is part of an embattled minority, being driven in disgrace from a party to which he has shown incredible loyalty through its decades of criminal policies. There was barely any sign of “Corbynism” when British capitalism buckled under the coronavirus crisis; it was like that political movement had never existed.
As leader, Corbyn was obsessed with the idea of forming an anti-austerity government and overturning the legacies of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. But he could win that majority only with the support of right-wing Labour MPs—so whenever momentum was on his side, he never initiated a fight that would risk a split in the party.
In particular, he never campaigned to build a wide understanding among his young supporters that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. While Corbyn was leader, after years of growing attacks on him from the right wing and center of the party, Labour even adopted the ridiculous IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) “definition” that formally classes opposition to Zionism—a principled anti-racist position—as a form of anti-Semitism. At a small meeting of a leadership committee, Corbyn moved an amendment to the policy; his amendment was defeated, the policy made it through, and no more fight was waged against this terrible concession.
Bit by bit, the campaign of slander advanced and extracted concessions, while Corbyn prioritized maintaining the “unity” of a party that was trying to crush his project. Those priorities pose a serious challenge now the fight has reached this extreme. The lure of parliamentary majorities will make it much harder for decent supporters of Corbyn to do what they should have done decades ago—fight for socialism outside the constraints of a right-wing, pro-capitalist, imperialist Labour Party.
The occupation of Iraq provoked a massive outpouring of antiwar resistance that defined a generation and discredited the most extreme parts of Blair’s neoliberal project, but Labour remained as a lure to those who wanted the world to be a better place. That has given Labour’s right-wing bureaucrats the power to smear and sabotage anti-racist fighters like Corbyn, knowing that the promise of a “big tent” party that might form government will dampen down any counter-attack from the left. Let’s hope that the present crisis of capitalism, and the vile slanders on Corbyn, provoke some resistance that can reach new levels of radicalism, and break free of those political limits, and hasten the development of an anticapitalist current that builds its power elsewhere.
Forget cobbling together parliamentary majorities in the search for governmental power. Forget “unity” with the forces of the establishment and the bureaucrats who are leading this charge or passively endorsing it. We need unity of the oppressed in the struggle against the system that threatens us all. That task is made harder everywhere if any inch is given to this slanderous campaign against Jeremy Corbyn—because the target of the slander tomorrow will be whoever next makes a political breakthrough against the ruling class.
By March, officials expect to have reduced the state’s prison population by about 35 percent since the start of the pandemic.
By Tracey Tully, Nov. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/nyregion/nj-prisoner-release-covid.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
More than 1,000 additional prisoners will be freed in New Jersey in the coming weeks and months. Credit...Curt Hudson/Bloomberg News
In a sweeping acknowledgment of the risks of the coronavirus in cramped prisons, New Jersey will release more than 2,000 inmates on Wednesday as part of one of the largest-ever single-day reductions of any state’s prison population.
More than 1,000 additional prisoners will be released in the coming weeks and months after earning early-release credits for time served during the health crisis — resulting in a roughly 35 percent reduction in New Jersey’s prison population since the pandemic began ravaging Northeast states in March.
Beyond the health imperatives, the emptying of prisons and jails comes at a moment when there is intense national debate over transforming a criminal justice system that ensnares people of color in disproportionate numbers.
In New Jersey, supporters of the freeing of prisoners said it would not only help make prisons safer, but would also build on the state’s efforts to create a fairer penal system. But opponents said they were worried about releasing so many inmates at once and potentially posing a public safety risk in communities where they end up.
The mass releases were made possible by a bill that passed with bipartisan support in the New Jersey Legislature and was signed into law last month by Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, as part of the first legislative initiative of its kind in the country.
Prisoners in New Jersey within a year of completing sentences for crimes other than murder and sexual assault are eligible to be released as many as eight months early. They will be freed through the gates of state prisons and halfway houses, or driven by bus to transit hubs to begin treks to the county where they last lived, according to state officials and criminal justice advocates.
The releases are set to start less than 24 hours after polls closed on one of the most consequential Election Days in modern history, amid concerns about the potential for civil unrest after President Trump repeatedly sought to sow distrust in the voting process itself.
Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican minority leader, said he opposed the bill because it included people convicted of certain violent crimes and left too many questions unanswered.
“The legislation is way too broad for me to give my rubber stamp,” Mr. Bramnick said. “Is the public aware of who is being released and where they are going?”
Other states have made large virus-related reductions to their prison populations this year, including Connecticut and California. California’s governor ordered the release of about 8,000 nonviolent offenders and two weeks ago was told by a judge to free or transfer 1,500 inmates from San Quentin, the state’s oldest and most notorious prison where more than 2,000 inmates contracted the virus and 28 have died from it.
New Jersey had already released nearly 1,000 inmates early from its prison system under a pandemic-related executive order in April and freed close to 700 people from its county jails after a legal challenge.
But the decision to take a systemwide step on a single day is unique and has drawn criticism from the mayor of Trenton, the state’s capital where gun violence is surging, and from lawmakers in Cumberland County, home to three sprawling state prisons.
Those who fought for the releases have argued that there was no time to waste in a state where the virus was seeping anew into prison populations after tapering off in the summer following outbreaks that killed at least 52 inmates.
The infection rate in state prisons is now below 1 percent, but a federal prison in Fort Dix in central New Jersey is experiencing an outbreak involving at least 166 inmates and 10 staff members. An additional 41 people at Fort Dix have recovered from Covid-19, federal officials said.
In the days before the release on Wednesday, criminal justice advocates and relatives of inmates expected to be freed said they had been given conflicting information about where people would be released and when.
One woman said she was initially told by a social worker to pick up her husband at the gate of New Jersey State Prison in Trenton between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., but was later instructed to meet him in a parking lot of a McDonald’s across the street during a four-hour window in the afternoon.
The hundreds of inmates without permanent addresses to return home to have been connected with county social services agencies and will be placed in shelters, senior Murphy administration officials said.
Joe Derella, a Democrat who leads the board of commissioners in Cumberland County, a rural region with only two small transit hubs, said the county sent a letter in September urging state officials to plan for ways to transport the former inmates to the counties where they lived when they were sentenced.
“Understand the reasoning,” Mr. Derella said about the releases. “Really, really concerned about the process.”
About the prisoners who are being freed, he added: “We don’t want them to fail. We want them to be as successful as possible.”
State correction officials have said the 2,258 people being released on Wednesday will leave with necessary prescription medicines and state ID cards, which are crucial for applying for social services.
Social service teams have also provided housing and transportation assistance, as well as food stipends for those with minimal financial resources, according to Liz Velez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
“We are taking a process that normally takes six months and compressing it into a very short time-frame,” a spokesman for the governor, Michael Zhadanovsky, said in a statement.
Multiple state agencies have been “working diligently” with local officials, Mr. Zhadanovsky added, “to identify areas of anticipated need and fill those gaps with necessary resources so that people can thrive in their communities.”
James E. McGreevey, the former governor who now runs New Jersey Re-entry Corporation, a nonprofit that contracts with the state to help people transition out of prison, said the number of soon-to-be released inmates who had been signed up for Medicaid had increased over the last several weeks after a slow start.
This, he said, was a positive sign that would help them to access vital health and addiction treatment services.
Criminal justice advocates are preparing to fan out across the state at prisons and transit hubs to offer a friendly welcome and to help connect new arrivals access social services.
But even advocates who fought for passage of the bill have been critical of its implementation.
“We stand as ready as we can be, but we’re getting mostly really halfhearted gestures from the state,” said J. Amos Caley, lead organizer for New Jersey Prison Justice Watch, a coalition of social justice advocacy organizations that championed the bill. “It’s felt like we’ve been either dragging them along, or educating them at every step, or just outright wrestling with them.”
The bill, pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, is considered a model that other states are looking to replicate, according to Amol Sinha, executive director of the state chapter of the A.C.L.U.
Mr. Murphy said the releases were part of a yearslong effort to reduce New Jersey’s prison population, and he said he rejected the claim that it had been handled poorly.
“We know we can’t just throw people into the ether,” Mr. Murphy said on Tuesday. “We’ve got to responsibly get them back integrated into society, and we’re working really hard at that.”
Justice Watch volunteers will be dressed in red and will be handing out bags filled with masks and information about area homeless shelters and social service groups.
To find the former inmates, volunteers will look for telltale garb: gray sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt.
“And they’ll be carrying a white mesh laundry bag, holding all their possessions,” Mr. Caley said.
Deb Johnson, 55, said she planned to be helping out at a bus and train station in Camden, N.J., and dreaming of the day her 30-year-old son, who was convicted of a weapons possession charge, walks out of South Woods State Prison. Under the bill, he is eligible for early release before Christmas.
“For me, it’s bittersweet,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s sweet because it’s my child. I get to hold him a little sooner, especially during the holidays that we haven’t shared in five years. But there’s still a lot of other people who are incarcerated and could die.”
Since March, more than 252,000 people in jails and prisons across the country have been infected with the virus, and at least 1,450 inmates and correctional officers have died, according to a New York Times database.
“You have a child who has done something to get them incarcerated,” Ms. Johnson said. “But now you’re worried that you’re going to be getting a phone call telling you your son is dead.”
Jessica S. Henry, a former public defender who is now a criminal justice professor at Montclair State University, said the confusion accompanying Wednesday’s release underscored problems that existed with the prison re-entry process long before the pandemic.
“They are often released with $10, a bus ticket and the shirt on their back, and wished good luck,” Professor Henry said.
Amid a pervasive virus that has left hundreds of thousands residents out of work, the challenges are compounded.
“You’re releasing people because of the pandemic, into the pandemic,” she said. “Unless there are safe places for them to go, what are we doing with all these people to make sure they can begin to build new lives?”
The police broke up crowds after peaceful demonstrations turned into heated confrontations in the West Village and near Union Square.
By Ed Shanahan, Published Nov. 4, 2020, Updated Nov. 5, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/nyregion/nyc-presidential-election-protests.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
In a reprise of the violent street altercations that erupted at times in New York over the summer, a day of peaceful demonstrations in Manhattan on Wednesday turned into clashes between protesters and the police after night fell, leading to nearly 60 arrests.
The protests and subsequent confrontations came as the city and much of the rest of the United States remained on edge amid the presidential election’s uncertain outcome and with the Police Department prepared to quell any potential unrest.
At around 8:30 p.m. in the West Village, a phalanx of officers moved on a group of several hundred people who had gathered earlier outside the New York Public Library in Midtown before marching to Washington Square Park.
The protesters had briefly shut down traffic in the neighborhood while chanting slogans like “every city, every town, burn the precincts to the ground” as they passed boutique restaurants where patrons were enjoying dinner on an unseasonably warm evening.
Employing the law enforcement tactic known as kettling, the officers pushed protesters out of the street and sought to contain them on sidewalks. At one point, as a few dozen demonstrators walked down an empty side street near the park, police officers on bicycles raced past them and blocked them at the next cross street.
As the protesters banged against signposts and shouted at the police to move, more officers in riot gear joined the fray. Yet another group of police officers, their bright blue and black helmets bobbing beneath the lights from apartments above, approached from behind.
With the protesters surrounded, dozens of officers in riot gear moved in, encircling the group and pushing protesters to the ground as they made arrests.
“Why are you in riot gear, we don’t see no riot here,” protesters who had not been hemmed in screamed.
Smoke, flashing red and blue police lights and the sound of yelling filled the streets as officers, some of them grabbing their targets in rough fashion, tried to break up the crowd. A recorded message that the gathering was unlawfully blocking traffic blared from a speaker.
At least three people were detained for setting trash-can fires, the police said; others were arrested because they had blocked subway entrances, the police said. Still others who were taken into custody had thrown garbage and eggs, the police said.
At least 58 people were arrested in connection with the protests, said a senior law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the cases publicly.
“We appreciate and value the importance of freedom of speech,” the Police Department said in a statement posted on Twitter, adding that those who were arrested had “attempted to hijack a peaceful protest.”
The scene in the West Village contrasted sharply with the near-giddy mood that had carried the protesters along earlier as they called to “defund the police,” have every vote counted and end racial injustice.
As the confrontation unfolded, Chloe Hartstein recorded the arrest of a friend while standing across from a row of officers clad in riot gear.
Ms. Hartstein said that her friend, whom she identified as a member of the activist group Street Riders NYC, had been walking on Sixth Avenue with dozens of other people when officers surrounded the group near Ninth Street and put him in the back of a police van.
“They didn’t give a reason for his arrest,” she said. “They just took him.”
A second confrontation occurred around 9:30 p.m. near Union Square Park and involved a separate group that had marched through the Manhattan streets, flanked at all times by officers on bicycles, after gathering outside the Plaza Hotel.
The crowd was milling around near the intersection of 14th Street and Third Avenue when officers rushed in. One demonstrator, Bahlya Yansane, 29, said it appeared that an officer had fallen off or dropped his bike after jousting repeatedly with a protester who had been trying to force the officer onto the sidewalk.
Throngs of officers raced into and separated the crowd, arresting several people and wrestling some to the ground, he said.
“I’m shook up right now,” said Mr. Yansane, who noted that he had been attending street protests in the city since May.
Beyond the trash fires, there was no evidence of the property damage that some business owners were clearly anticipating when they boarded up their storefronts against the kind of looting and rioting that broke out briefly in June in New York amid protests after the police killing of George Floyd.
This week, police officials, on guard for violent unrest, had used trucks and barricades to create a “frozen zone” around President Trump’s showpiece property in Midtown, Trump Tower, while dispatching officers to each of the more than 1,200 polling stations in the city on Tuesday.
Terence A. Monahan, the chief of department and the police force’s top uniformed official, said at a news conference this week that officers were “fully prepared” to keep the city safe in the event of unrest.
“My message to anyone who wants to cause violence and destruction is don’t even try it,” he said.
Police officials sounded confident that officers would handle any unrest differently than they did over the summer, when they appeared to be caught off guard by what turned into huge protests. Thousands of officers were pulled onto patrol, many for the first time in years, with little or no training in how to handle large crowds.
Police officials said they had conducted an internal review of the department’s handling of the protests and had introduced changes that included training rank-and-file officers as well as senior leaders in disorder control.
“We hold the line, we don’t react on our own,” said Juanita Holmes, who was appointed last week as chief of patrol, a job in which she oversees the department’s largest and most visible arm. “We don’t just arbitrarily arrest people, even if they throw a bottle.”
Christina Goldbaum, Edgar Sandoval, Ashley Southall and Ali Watkins contributed reporting.
Amid calls for calm, officials also announced measures to help officers respond to mental health crises.
By Michael Levenson, Nov. 4, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/us/philadelphia-walter-wallace-video.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Protesters in Philadelphia marched near City Hall on Wednesday, the day officials released police body-camera footage from the shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. Credit...Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
Officials in Philadelphia urged calm on Wednesday as they released body-camera footage from last week of two police officers fatally shooting a Black man with a history of mental illness who was holding a knife. The police also announced new training measures intended to help officers respond to mental health crises.
The man, Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was fatally shot by officers on Oct. 26 in an encounter that was also captured on video by a bystander and shared on social media.
In the bystander’s video and in the police body-cam footage, Mr. Wallace is seen walking into the street in the direction of the officers, who back away and aim their guns at him. The officers yell repeatedly at Mr. Wallace to “put the knife down” and then fire multiple rounds. After Mr. Wallace falls to the ground, his mother screams and rushes to his body.
A lawyer for the family had said that Mr. Wallace was experiencing a crisis that day and that the family had told officers about it when they arrived at the scene.
In the body-cam footage, a woman can be heard repeatedly screaming that Mr. Wallace is “mental” as the officers point their guns at him.
The shooting touched off protests and looting in the city, which prompted Gov. Tom Wolf to call in the National Guard and the city to order a 9 p.m. curfew, which expired last week.
In the days that followed, more than 200 people were arrested, cars were burned and more than 50 officers were hurt, ratcheting up tensions in a nation that was already on edge before Election Day.
The White House blamed the “liberal Democrats’ war against the police” for the destruction, while former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senator Kamala Harris lamented Mr. Wallace’s death, condemned the looting and castigated Mr. Trump for fanning “the flames of division in our society.”
At a news conference on Wednesday, Philadelphia’s mayor, district attorney and police commissioner joined Black clergy members in expressing sadness and grief over Mr. Wallace’s death. They urged people not to resort to violence in response to the body-cam footage, as well as 911 calls and police radio transmissions that were released.
“We know this moment is incredibly painful, given so many failures over generations to protect all of Philadelphia’s residents, especially those who are Black or brown,” Mayor Jim Kenney said.
The “very painful” videos, he said, “will elicit anger, rage, distress, evoke more questions — and rightfully so.”
Larry Krasner, the district attorney, called the shooting “a terrible tragedy” and said that it showed that officers had failed to properly respond to a mother in distress about her son’s mental health crisis.
“Government failed because her son was killed within a minute of government’s arrival,” he said. “As a part of government, I apologize for that.”
Still, Mr. Krasner said that if residents wanted to honor Mr. Wallace and respect his family’s wishes, they should not “disgrace his memory by tearing up the city.”
Mary Floyd Palmer, one of the clergy members who spoke at the news conference, said Mr. Wallace “should be here today.” She said Philadelphians should show compassion and care in response to his death.
“God is watching,” she said. “So are our children. What will they say about what you have done?”
On Wednesday, about 300 people gathered outside City Hall to protest the killing. They stood in front of a banner that read Count Every Vote, near the Pennsylvania Convention Center where city officials were tallying ballots in the presidential election.
As helicopters flew overhead, about two dozen National Guard troops stood alongside Philadelphia police officers.
City officials said the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office were continuing to investigate the shooting.
The officers were identified on Wednesday as Sean Matarazzo, 25, who has been with the department since 2018, and Thomas Munz, 26, who has been on the force since 2017. The Police Department said both officers had been placed on “restrictive duty” while the investigation continues.
John McNesby, the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, the union that represents the city’s officers, said it had been calling for the release of the video and the 911 calls since last Tuesday.
“Eight days later, city officials held an hour-long press conference casting blame on these officers for this incident in which they were forced to make a split-second decision,” Mr. McNesby said. “This is baseless and not supported by facts.”
He said the officers had followed their training and department policy.
“Mayor Kenney has called this ‘police violence,’” Mr. McNesby said. “However, the real violence was perpetrated by a knife-wielding man who confronted our police officers.”
City officials said they were expanding programs intended to help the police defuse mental health crises without violence.
Next week, officials said, 911 call takers and dispatchers will be trained to better identify calls related to people in crisis, so they can dispatch specially trained officers.
By January, specially trained officers will respond to such calls along with civilian mental health experts, officials said.
“We firmly believe that mental illness, disabilities and substance use disorders are not crimes,” said Jill Bowen, acting commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. “Individuals affected by these challenges have the right to treatment, recovery, wellness and life.”
Jon Hurdle contributed reporting.
More than 2,000 inmates were freed to reduce the spread of Covid in the state’s prison system.
By Tracey Tully, Nate Schweber and Kevin Armstrong, Photographs by Hannah Yoon, Jonah Markowitz and Michelle Gustafson, Nov. 5, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/05/nyregion/nj-prisoner-release-covid.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
Shameka Henry, left, hugs Deborah Walker after Ms. Henry’s release from prison Wednesday. Credit...Hannah Yoon for The New York Times
TRENTON, N.J. — Brenton McPherson took a long sip of fresh air, borrowed a stranger’s phone to call his mother and walked across a busy highway Wednesday toward a train station, his back turned away from a hulking state prison for what he hoped was the last time.
After five years, the 35-year-old father of two was free.
“I tell him this is his last chance,” his mother, Christine Guidas, said after wrapping him in a hug outside a McDonald’s in Trenton.
“Look! I’m bigger than you,” his 15-year-old son — who was 10 when Mr. McPherson was convicted of second-degree robbery — teased from the back of a black minivan.
He was, by at least four inches.
Mr. McPherson was one of 2,258 inmates released on Wednesday from prisons and halfway houses across New Jersey in one of the largest-ever single-day reductions of any state’s prison population.
Only prisoners within a year of completing sentences for crimes other than murder and sexual assault are eligible to be released up to eight months early.
Over the coming months, another 1,167 prisoners will be freed to reduce the risks of the coronavirus in crowded lockups where social distancing is next to impossible. In all, the releases will result in a roughly 35 percent reduction in New Jersey’s prison population since the start of the pandemic.
The initiative grew out of legislation signed into law last month and comes at a moment of intense national debate over transforming a criminal justice system that imprisons people of color in disproportionate numbers.
But politics and criminal justice policy were far from the minds of most people waiting in crowds to spot their loved ones walking out of prison gates, or off buses and trains, into their arms.
Outside Northern State Prison in Newark, a line of cars stretched along the road early on Wednesday.
Allan Campbell, a 41-year-old Passaic County man imprisoned for a parole violation, was released around 7 a.m. His mother, who had traveled to Newark from Paterson, had expected him to be let out in the afternoon, so he waited on the roadside for a ride.
“I’m so glad to get out — I just thank God,” said Mr. Campbell, dressed in a freshly issued pair of jeans and a white shirt.
The released prisoners were easy to spot: Each carried a white mesh laundry bag filled with manila envelopes that held their prison health records, state ID cards and leaflets about addiction treatment programs and re-entry services.
The uncle of a 32-year-old man who was leaving New Jersey State Prison in Trenton after more than a decade passed around his cellphone so the half-dozen men waiting to take a train toward home could create PIN codes for the bank debit cards that held the balance of their commissary accounts.
The men spoke of people they knew who had contracted the virus, and the lockdown measures in place since March that kept them inside small rooms with a bunk mate for as many as 23 hours a day.
Mr. Campbell said a man in his unit died of Covid-19, one of at least 52 virus-related inmate fatalities in New Jersey prisons. He said he had worried about getting the virus, and in June he was quarantined for seven days with a fever of 100.7.
Deborah Walker said she could not sleep Tuesday night, anxious about the two-hour drive to Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, N.J., and her reunion with Shameka Henry, 32, a young woman she considers her daughter.
Ms. Walker began to cry as she embraced Ms. Henry, who cried, too.
Then Ms. Henry, who was serving time for burglary and assault, changed into fresh clothes and a pair of Timberland boots that Ms. Walker had brought, and made quick work of her prison garb: She stuffed the uniform into a plastic bag and tossed it into a dumpster across the parking lot.
As the two women prepared to pull away, Ms. Henry shouted to a guard: “Bye, J Rod.”
“Look at you!” he said about the new outfit. “I don’t even know who you are.”
Maria Gellatly, 42, was imprisoned for possessing heroin and shoplifting. She served about a year, but violated the terms of her parole after she was released and was sent back to prison for another 14 months.
“I’m a little shaky,” she said. “I’m happy that I’m out, but I’m just really overwhelmed about going back into society with the whole pandemic.”
She was released on a day when New Jersey, which is grappling with an alarming uptick in virus cases, reported 2,472 new infections, the largest number since May.
Ms. Gellatly said that while she was locked up, her wife, Melanie Marshall, died.
“Her not being here — I’m happy but sad,” Ms. Gellatly said. “It’s all bittersweet.”
Opponents of the bill, which was the first legislative initiative of its kind in the country, said they were worried about releasing so many inmates at once and potentially creating a public safety risk.
Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican minority leader, said he opposed the bill because it included people convicted of certain violent crimes.
Reed Gusciora, the mayor of Trenton, where killings have more than doubled since last year, has said he was concerned that many of the people returning home early will be unable to find jobs and will return to the patterns that put them behind bars in the first place.
Prisoners in all state lockups are tested regularly for the virus, and the infection rate is now less than 1 percent after surging in the spring. But the legislation, which enables prisoners to earn credit for time served during the health crisis, is binding, and even those who had contracted the virus had to be released if they were eligible.
Dr. Mark Wade, the director of the Department of Health and Human Wellness in Newark, said he called the state on Tuesday to ask for enough rapid Covid-19 tests so that each of the 160 people who were expected to arrive in Newark after being released from prison could be assessed.
Not only did the state send the tests, Dr. Wade said, but it provided workers to administer them.
Anyone who did test positive would be taken to a hotel to quarantine, he said.
Many people whose family members picked them up left directly from prison; others were taken to transit hubs and given vouchers to pay for a bus or train.
Near the Trenton train station, families began arriving at 6:30 a.m., and many were still waiting for relatives in the afternoon.
Kory Hiii, 26, of Newark, was waiting for his brother who had been in prison for six years. New silver sneakers and a button-down shirt monogrammed with his brother’s initials sat waiting on the hood of his car.
The distance, Mr. Hiii said, has been especially hard since the virus hit in March.
“It’s a nerve-racking thing,” said Mr. Hiii. “But he’s coming home today, and God willing he just moves forward.”
Volunteers from an array of social justice organizations and re-entry groups fanned out to greet people at major train stations across the state.
At the New Jersey Transit station in Somerville, two volunteers lined up sweaters, coats, masks and bottles of hand sanitizer near a large sign that read, “Welcome Home.”
“Would you like a doughnut?” Catherine Lent, a volunteer with American Reentry Initiative, asked a woman who was headed to Camden and still wearing her correctional facility ID badge clipped to her prison-issued sweatpants.
“Oh, my God!” said the woman, Ronnelle Boyce. “Yes!”
Ms. Boyce, 37, tried on coats and gloves and claimed a roller suitcase to carry the new clothing.
“I just chose the wrong path before,” Ms. Boyce, who was imprisoned for aggravated assault, said before running off to catch a train. “I’m not going back. This is all a blessing!”
After the train left with a dozen newly released women on board, a denim jacket, issued by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, still hung on a railing. A half-full cup of coffee sat beneath it.
About a fifth of all voters said the protests were the single most important factor in their decision at the ballot box, according to a new survey.
By Sabrina Tavernise and John Eligon, Published Nov. 7, 2020, Updated Nov. 8, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/us/black-lives-matter-protests.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage
The protests that broke out after the police killing of George Floyd in May were some of the biggest racial justice marches organized in decades. In the early weeks, polling showed broad and deep support for them across the country.
But as the summer wore on and with it, sporadic looting and acts of vandalism, Americans became much more divided in how they saw the protests.
Just how divided became clear on Election Day.
Alfonse Bowman of Philadelphia said that as he cast his ballot for Joseph R. Biden Jr., he was thinking of how just a week before, the police in his hometown had fatally shot a young Black man. Mr. Bowman, who is Black, said he thought to himself of President Trump: “We have to get this man out of office.”
But Anne Marie Kelly, a white medical worker who lives a couple of hours away in Stroudsburg, Pa., said she was horrified by the vandalism and looting that followed protests in some cities. It made her feel that “this is not the America I want to live in anymore,” and reinforced her resolve to vote for Mr. Trump.
As the election grinds to a close, and the nation begins sifting through the results, one thing is clear: The protests this summer and what came after weighed heavily on Americans’ minds.
About nine of every 10 voters said the protests over police violence were a factor in their voting, with more than three-fourths calling it a major factor, according to preliminary data from A.P. VoteCast, a large voter survey conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago. About a fifth of all voters said the protests were the single most important factor in their decision at the ballot box, according to the survey, which interviewed over 140,000 respondents by phone and online.
But these voters were split deeply on who should be in the White House. Among those who cited the protests as a factor, 53 percent voted for Mr. Biden, and 46 percent for Mr. Trump, according to the survey.
Interviews with a number of voters this week showed there were strong differences that often ran along racial lines — with many Black voters viewing the protests through the lens of police violence threatening their lives, while many conservative white voters saw unrest encroaching on their communities.
“All this rioting, it’s childish,” said Crystal Daddario, 32, who was standing in line to vote for Mr. Trump outside a fire station in Reeders, Pa., on Tuesday. Ms. Daddario, who is white, is the wife of an Iraq War veteran, and said they were living in Louisville, Ky., where the police killed Breonna Taylor during a botched raid, but “left because it was getting too close to home.”
The protests, which drew many white Americans as well, were especially potent as an issue in places like Louisville and Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd was killed. Unrest also roiled Philadelphia, where dozens were arrested and many police officers hurt in late October after the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man with a history of mental illness.
Mr. Bowman, 19, a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta who is taking classes online from home there, said he watched a protest from his car. He said he yelled at the police, and claimed that an officer came over and struck him in the face with a baton, fracturing bones in his face.
The experience “made me want to vote, and it made me want to help other people understand the importance of voting,” he said. His vote for Mr. Biden was the first of his life.
In the heady early days of the protests, several months before Election Day, liberal activists began making calls to “defund the police,” arguing that reducing police department budgets would allow for greater investments into communities struggling with poverty.
The electoral impact of that message is now being debated by Democrats, who emerged from Tuesday’s results with a weakened majority in the House. During a conference call among House Democrats on Thursday, Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat in a Republican-leaning district in Virginia, angrily blamed liberals for embracing the “defund the police” movement. Ms. Spanberger, who narrowly escaped defeat, had faced an opponent who attacked her by tying her to the “defund” message.
But Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, a leader of the Progressive Caucus, said that embracing liberal messages had energized young voters, “who will ultimately save the day in the race for the White House.”
During the campaign Mr. Biden distanced himself from the progressive wing of his party and said he opposed cutting resources for law enforcement. Regardless, Mr. Trump, running on a “law and order” message, often made false claims about Mr. Biden’s record on fighting crime.
It is too early to tell precisely how much of the greatly increased turnout — the highest rate of eligible voters since the turn of the 20th century, according to the United States Elections Project — went to Mr. Biden and whether the protests were a driving force.
But there are clues that they might have helped. In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, there were more votes cast this year than during Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012, a recent high-water mark for Black voter turnout.
In Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, turnout did not reach 2012 levels but rose by more than 10 percent this election compared with 2016.
Bernice Bigham, a 75-year-old Louisville resident, wore a T-shirt into the voting booth that summed up her feelings. It read, in all caps, “Black Voters Matter.” On the back it said, “It’s About Us.”
“I’m fearful,” said Ms. Bigham, who voted for Mr. Biden. “Every time there’s a killing, I’m calling around to make sure that my Black son and my Black grandsons are OK, and that’s no way to live — it’s awful.”
And in Flower Mound, Texas, Brooke Wright, 39, often voted Republican because she opposed abortion, but this fall she voted for Mr. Biden. On down ballot races, she and her husband selected women and minority candidates.
Ms. Wright, who is white and goes to an evangelical church, had gone to her first Black Lives Matter protest this summer. Tears streamed down her face as she held a sign to support her husband, who is Black, and their two biracial young sons.
“The protests made me want change so much,” she said. “I was ready to have the hard conversations with people who didn’t understand why I didn’t vote Republican anymore, instead of quietly staying out of those conversations.”
There is also evidence that the protests helped Mr. Trump.
“Downtown’s tore all to hell,” said Teresa Stidham, 43, a white Louisville resident, noting that the windows of many buildings in downtown have been covered by plywood for months. She said that she voted for Mr. Trump primarily because he would fight for the working class, but that the city’s civil unrest was an important factor, too.
In Minneapolis, Adrian Anderson, a retail worker, said he was turned off by the vandalism and looting of businesses in the aftermath of protests over the killing of Mr. Floyd.
“I don’t think it’s Trump’s fault that the police are acting the way they are acting,” said Mr. Anderson, 30, who is Black, white and Native American. He said he voted for Mr. Trump.
Black voters said they did not think Mr. Biden would be a fix for all of the problems of policing in their communities. But at least he acknowledged systemic racism, they said, something Mr. Trump has refused to do. They hoped that Mr. Trump’s exit would mean more civility.
“We’ve got a lot of people who have shown their face and their horns,” said Lakaisha Stoner, 27, a small-business owner in Louisville, adding that she hoped racism would be less on display in the future. “I’m just ready for a positive change, I can’t stress that enough,” she said.
A new president is the place to start, she added.
In a sign that the video of a police officer killing Mr. Floyd had made an impression on the public, even among the president’s backers, 70 percent of voters polled in the A.P. VoteCast survey said racism in policing was a very serious or somewhat serious problem, and of those voters, three in 10 cast their ballots for Mr. Trump.
And for some immigrants who are neither Black nor white, the protests played in complicated ways. Jose Nunez, an electrician who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in 2002, said he voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, but this time voted for Mr. Biden. He switched because he had noticed an ugliness among supporters of Mr. Trump with flapping flags and angry signs. But, he said, the Democrats also needed to expand their appeal to him.
“I don’t want to be talking about race or police brutality on a daily basis,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Others badly wanted both parties to talk about other things. Jose Soto, 37, a Navy veteran in Madison, Wis., who now works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said he cared most about education and health care, but neither issue seemed to come up in the campaign. He liked Bernie Sanders, saying, “it feels like every time he talks, he talks to me,” and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. On Tuesday, he voted for Mr. Trump.
“When Democrats focus their speech, it’s not on work or what they have to offer us,” said Mr. Soto, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic when he was 8.
As for protests, he said racial injustice had been around for a long time and the Democrats had not done much to solve it.
“I don’t think any candidate has a solution for that,” he said.
Elizabeth Dias, Will Wright and Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.
Mink in Denmark are not the only animals that could become reservoirs for the coronavirus to spread new mutations to people.
By James Gorman, Nov. 8, 2020, 10:42 a.m. EThttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/08/science/Covid-virus-transmission-mink.html
The decision this week by the Danish government to kill millions of mink because of coronavirus concerns, effectively wiping out a major national industry, has put the spotlight on simmering worries among scientists and conservationists about the vulnerability of animals to the pandemic virus, and what infections among animals could mean for humans.
The most disturbing possibility is that the virus could mutate in animals and become more transmissible or more dangerous to humans. In Denmark, the virus has shifted from humans to mink and back to humans, and has mutated in the process. Mink are the only animals known to have passed the coronavirus to humans, except for the initial spillover event from an unknown species. Other animals, like cats and dogs, have been infected by exposure to humans, but there are no known cases of people being infected by exposure to their pets.
The versions of the virus that have mutated in mink and spread to humans are not more transmissible or causing more severe illness in humans. But one of the variants, found in 12 people so far, was less responsive to antibodies in lab tests. Danish health authorities worried that the effectiveness of vaccines in development might be diminished for this variant, and decided to take all possible measures to stop its spread. This included killing all of the country’s mink and effectively locking down the northern part of the country, where the mutated virus was found. The United Kingdom has banned travelers from Denmark who are not U.K. citizens.
The World Health Organization and scientists outside of Denmark have said they have yet to see evidence that this variant will have any effect on vaccines. They have not, however, criticized Denmark’s decision to cull its mink population.
Mink are not the only animals that can be infected with the coronavirus. Dogs, cats, tigers, hamsters, monkeys, ferrets and genetically engineered mice have also been infected.
Dogs and cats, including tigers, seem to suffer few ill effects. The other animals, which are used in laboratory experiments, have exhibited varying responses. Farmed mink, however, have died in large numbers in Europe and in the United States, perhaps partly because of the crowded conditions on those ranches, which could increase the amount of exposure.
Public health experts worry, however, that any species capable of infection could become a reservoir that allowed the virus to re-emerge at any time and infect people. The virus would likely mutate in other animal species, as it has been shown to do in mink. Although most mutations are likely to be harmless, SARS-CoV-2 conceivably could recombine with another coronavirus and become more dangerous. Conservation experts also worry about the effect on animal species that are already in trouble.
One approach to studying susceptibility has been to look at the genomes of animals and see which ones have a genetic sequence that codes for a protein on cells called an ACE2 receptor, which allows the virus to latch on. One team of researchers studied the genomes of more than 400 animals. Another group did a similar study of primates, which are often infected with human respiratory viruses.
“One of the premises for doing this research was that we thought that great apes would be very at risk because of their close relationship to humans, genetically,” said Amanda D. Melin, an anthropologist at the University of Calgary and an author of the primate study.
But, she added, she and her colleagues also wanted to consider “all of the other primates and their potential risk.” In addition to investigating genomes, the team also did computer modeling of the interaction of the virus spike protein with different ACE2 receptors.
The findings of both papers reinforced each other, revealing old world monkeys and all apes to be most at risk. Both papers were released as non-peer-reviewed studies earlier this year.
Dr. Melin and her colleagues have been talking to representatives of wildlife sanctuaries and zoos about the need for caution. Many of these facilities have increased restrictions for the interactions between people and the primates.
Zarin Machanda, of Tufts University, who studies chimpanzee behavior at the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda, said that the preserve had increased its safety precautions because of the pandemic.
“We’re always cautious about respiratory viruses,” she said, because such viruses are the leading cause of death in the chimps at Kibale. Even the human common cold can be lethal.
Chimpanzees have suffered from outbreaks of other coronaviruses. Normally, humans at Kibale maintain a minimum distance of two dozen feet from chimpanzees; that has been increased to 30 feet or more. Local workers have been staying at the reserve, rather than commuting back and forth to their communities. And the project has reduced the hours for field studies. All these measures were directed by the Ugandan government.
Tony Goldberg, a veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the head of the Kibale EcoHealth Project, said that he has seen the devastation wrought by respiratory diseases among chimpanzees. A deadly outbreak in 2013 at the reserve turned out to be the result of human rhinovirus C, the most common cause of the common cold worldwide. Until then, it had never been seen in chimps.
“The last thing we need is for SARS-CoV-2 to move into an animal reservoir from which it could re-emerge,” Dr. Goldberg said.
Other researchers are studying species from Beluga whales to deer mice for signs of the coronavirus. Kate Sawatzki, the animal surveillance coordinator for a testing project in pets and other animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, said: “To date, we have tested 282 wildlife samples from 22 species, primarily bats in New England rehabilitation facilities, and we are happy to report that none have been positive.”
They have also tested 538 domestic pets, including from households with people with Covid-19, and none have shown signs of active virus. However, Dr. Sawatzki said, the lab also conducted blood tests for antibodies, showing exposure, and there they did find antibodies, as is common in humans. The pets seemed to be getting infected but not getting sick or passing the virus on.
So far, the mink in Denmark are the only known instance of the virus infecting an animal, mutating, and transferring back to humans. Emma Hodcroft of the University of Basel, Switzerland, traces various mutated versions of the coronavirus as it has spread through Europe and has reviewed scientific information released by Danish health authorities. She said she applauded the government’s decision to take swift action and cull the mink: “Many countries have hesitated and waited before acting, and it can be incredibly detrimental in the face of SARS-CoV-2, as we see.”
But she did not approve of the way the information was released, particularly in the government’s Wednesday news briefing, which warned of a dire threat to potential human vaccines but offered no detail for the concern. “The communication of the science could have been much clearer and led to less worry around the world,” Dr. Hodcroft said.
New Jersey released more than 2,000 prisoners to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But not all of them made it home.
By Eric Kiefer, Patch Staff, Nov 10, 2020https://patch.com/new-jersey/newarknj/nj-releases-2-000-prisoners-after-election-day-ice-seizes-88?utm_source=alert-breakingnews&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alert
New Jersey released more than 2,000 prison inmates the day after the 2020 election as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. (John Moore/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ — New Jersey released more than 2,000 prison inmates last week to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Many were embraced in their home communities, getting a warm welcome back.
But for nearly 100 of those inmates, the day ended much differently when they were immediately re-apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed S2519/A4235 into law, which means an early release for about 3,000 people nearing the ends of their sentences in state prisons.
Under the new law, eligible inmates and parolees can get four months of "credit" for every month they serve during a public health emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic. It will apply to adults and juveniles with less than a year of their sentences left. Anyone who is serving a sentence for murder or aggravated sexual assault, or who has been deemed a "repetitive, compulsive sex offender" is not eligible, lawmakers said.
On Wednesday – the day after the election – New Jersey coordinated a mass release for about 2,000 inmates under the new law. It was celebrated as a huge victory among civil rights advocates, including the ACLU-NJ, which said that by the end of the day, the state's prison population was expected to drop by a whopping 13 percent.
The move is also expected to help protect the safety of prison correctional officers and other staff members, its supporters say.
However, the day ended behind bars again for 88 inmates, who were sent right back into the penal system courtesy of ICE. All are "violent offenders" or have convictions for serious crimes, federal authorities said.
An ICE-ERO Newark spokesperson offered Patch the following statement on Thursday: "Eighty-eight inmates with ICE detainers who were released from New Jersey state prisons were taken into ICE custody on [Nov. 4]. All are violent offenders or have convictions for serious crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, drug trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Some were placed in removal proceedings and housed in ICE facilities outside of NJ, while others were detained locally pending execution of their final orders of removal."
Last week's events came as New Jersey rolls out another new law, which restored the voting rights of New Jersey residents on probation or parole. According to advocates, about 83,000 people regained their right to vote just in time for the 2020 election as a result – nearly the population of the state's capital city, Trenton.
Last week's mass inmate release was blasted by some conservatives, including state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (District 26).
According to Pennacchio, the prisoner release showcases the "double-standards and jumbled priorities" that have marked Gov. Murphy's administration throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
"From Day 1 of the pandemic, Trenton has been playing favorites – from picking winners and losers when selecting businesses that could remain open, to prioritizing the well-being of prisoners while 'sentencing' innocent senior citizens to locked-down nursing homes where the virus was spreading like wildfire," Pennacchio said.
"This latest maneuver once again demonstrates the administration is more concerned about releasing criminals than protecting elderly New Jerseyans," Pennacchio added.
But other elected officials have praised the prisoner release as a humane way to slow the spread of the virus.
On Thursday, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said that in the Brick City, newly released inmates were greeted with a "heartfelt welcome" and vital information from the city's Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma, Office of Homeless Services, Department of Health and Community Wellness and Department of Public Safety.
They were also given 15-minute rapid coronavirus tests. Nobody tested positive, Baraka added.
"We're in a time where it's critical that we engage with those who have returned home to Newark, and we want to ensure they have the resources to stay on a successful path," the mayor said.
The philosophy of preparing inmates for success is also a key belief of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation (NJRC), which has been on the forefront of the effort to rehabilitate former inmates for years. Part of that effort has included ensuring that recently released prisoners have access to vital benefits such as food stamps/SNAP, rental assistance, Medicaid, Medication Assisted Treatment and NJMVC identification cards.
The coronavirus pandemic hasn't made the already-tricky task any easier, the NJRC said. But tough situations also inspire innovative solutions, including a new mobile phone app that gives all formerly incarcerated New Jersey citizens a step-by-step-guide to help get them signed up for social services.
ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said the new law is one of the most significant criminal justice policies passed during the pandemic.
Leaders and community members around the country are looking at New Jersey as a roadmap, Sinha added.
"While lawmakers throughout America almost universally recognize the need for criminal justice reform, rarely do they take the necessary steps to dismantle the injustices that we know are pervasive," Sinha said.
A paper by a researcher at the Schuyler Mansion finds overlooked evidence in letters and Hamilton’s own account books indicating that he bought, sold and personally owned slaves.
By Jennifer Schuessler, Nov. 9, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/arts/alexander-hamilton-enslaver-research.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
The question has lingered around the edges of the pop-culture ascendancy of Alexander Hamilton: Did the 10-dollar founding father, celebrated in the musical “Hamilton” as a “revolutionary manumission abolitionist,” actually own slaves?
Some biographers have gingerly addressed the matter over the years, often in footnotes or passing references. But a new research paper released by the Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany, N.Y., offers the most ringing case yet.
In the paper, titled “‘As Odious and Immoral a Thing’: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden History as an Enslaver,” Jessie Serfilippi, a historical interpreter at the mansion, examines letters, account books and other documents. Her conclusion — about Hamilton, and what she suggests is wishful thinking on the part of many of his modern-day admirers — is blunt.
“Not only did Alexander Hamilton enslave people, but his involvement in the institution of slavery was essential to his identity, both personally and professionally,” she writes.
“It is vital,” she adds, “that the myth of Hamilton as ‘the Abolitionist Founding Father’ end.”
The evidence cited in the paper, which was quietly published online last month, is not entirely new. But Ms. Serfilippi’s forceful case has caught the eye of historians, particularly those who have questioned what they see as his inflated antislavery credentials.
Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and law at Harvard and the author of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” called the paper “fascinating” and the argument plausible. “It just shows that the founders were nearly all implicated in slavery in some way,” she said.
Joanne Freeman, a professor of history at Yale and editor of the Library of America edition of Hamilton’s writings, said that the detailed evidence remained to be fully weighed. But she said the paper was part of a welcome reconsideration of what she called “the Hero Hamilton” narrative.
“It’s fitting that we are reckoning with Hamilton’s status as an enslaver at a time that is driving home how vital it is for white Americans to reckon — seriously reckon — with the structural legacies of slavery in America,” she wrote in an email.
Ms. Serfilippi’s research “complicates his story, and in so doing, better reflects the central place of slavery in America’s Founding,” she said. “It also more accurately reflects Hamilton.”
But Ron Chernow, whose 2004 biography calls Hamilton an “uncompromising abolitionist,” said the paper presented a lopsidedly negative view.
The paper, he said in an email, “seems to be a terrific research job that broadens our sense of Hamilton’s involvement in slavery in a number of ways.” But he said he was dismayed at the relative lack of attention to Hamilton’s antislavery activities. And he questioned what he called her sometimes “bald conclusions,” starting with the claim that slavery was “essential to his identity.”
“I don’t fault Jessie Serfilippi for her tough scrutiny of Hamilton and slavery,” he said. “The great figures in our history deserve such rigor. But she omits all information that would contradict her conclusions.”
Hamilton married into the powerful Schuyler family in 1780. Slavery was common among New York State’s elite, and the Schuylers were some of the largest slaveholders in their area, with more than 40 people enslaved at the Albany mansion and another estate over the years.
In recent years, the mansion has done extensive research into “the servants” (as the enslaved people of the household were usually referred to), which has been incorporated into its tours. That the Schuylers were enslavers does not necessarily shock visitors, Ms. Serfilippi said. But the extent of Hamilton’s connections with slavery is a different story.
“There are some people who come here knowing he wasn’t exactly an abolitionist,” she said. “But there is surprise when I talk about the details of the research.”
Travis Bowman, the senior curator for the New York State Bureau of Historic Sites, who supervised the internal review of Ms. Serfilippi’s paper, said the relative lack of research on enslaved people in Hamilton’s household partly reflects the overall paucity of scholarship on Northern slavery. And the complexities of gradual abolition (New York’s gradual abolition law of 1799 phased slavery out over decades) makes tracking enslaved people, and clearly determining their status, particularly difficult.
“It’s a very odd period,” Mr. Bowman said. “Many people were granting half-freedom. If enslaved people walked away, they didn’t go after them.”
The idea that Hamilton stood apart from the institution goes back to the very first biography of him, by his son John Church Hamilton, who asserted in 1841 that his father “never owned a slave.”
That claim was flatly contradicted by Hamilton’s grandson, Allan McLane Hamilton. In his 1910 biography, he called it “untrue,” noting that Hamilton’s own account books included entries showing him purchasing slaves for himself and others.
But the idea of a resolutely antislavery Hamilton has endured, and has become more pronounced in recent decades. It’s certainly an image that appeals to contemporary readers seeking a founding father relatively untainted by slavery.
In her paper, Ms. Serfilippi challenges what she suggests are persistent myths, starting with the much-repeated claim that his childhood exposure to the brutalities of slavery on St. Croix left him with what Mr. Chernow, in his biography, calls “a settled antipathy to slavery.”
“To date,” she writes, echoing other scholars, “no primary sources have been found to corroborate” the notion that Hamilton’s childhood instilled a hatred of slavery.
Hamilton did criticize slavery at different points in his life, and compared with most white contemporaries held enlightened views on the abilities of Black people. He was also an early member of the New-York Manumission Society, founded in 1785 to advocate gradual abolition and encourage voluntary freeing of the enslaved. (A number of members, including Philip Schuyler, his father-in-law, were slave owners.)
But Ms. Serfilippi also notes documented cases of Hamilton consulting with legal clients on slavery-related issues. Hamilton would not likely have been hired for such work, she argues, “if he were known amongst his peers as having only abolitionist leanings.”
That Hamilton helped legal clients and family members, including his sister-in-law Angelica Schuyler Church, buy and sell enslaved people, has been noted by biographers. But whether Hamilton enslaved people in his own household is a murkier question.
Some modern biographers, Ms. Serfilippi notes, do address the question, if often briefly. In his biography, Mr. Chernow writes that Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth, “may have owned one or two household slaves,” citing “three oblique hints in his papers.” But she offers a more definitive reading, arguing that a range of primary sources “prove Hamilton purchased enslaved people for himself.”
Her case rests in large part on notations in his cash books and in family letters. For example, in May 1781, six months after his marriage to Elizabeth, Hamilton wrote to George Clinton, mentioning waiting for a sum of money “to pay the value of the woman Mrs. H[amilton] had of Mrs. Clinton.”
Some historians, she writes, have read this as paying for the value of her labor. But Hamilton, Ms. Serfilippi argues, was clearly “exchanging money for the woman herself.”
She also cites a number of similar references in other letters, corroborated, she asserts, by information in the cash books. For example, in an August 1795 letter to Hamilton, Philip Schuyler refers to “a Negro boy and woman engaged for you.” In March 1796, Hamilton’s cash books record a payment of $250 to Schuyler for “2 Negro servants purchased by him for me.”
Ms. Serfilippi also cites several letters by Philip Schuyler referring to “maids” traveling with Elizabeth and the Hamilton children, at a time when Hamilton’s cash books, she argues, show no record of wages to maids — an indication, she says, that they were enslaved.
In another entry in the cash book, from June 1798, Hamilton records receiving $100 for the “term” of a “Negro boy.” That Hamilton could lease him out to another person — a common practice — “absolutely indicates that Hamilton enslaved the boy,” Ms. Serfilippi writes.
And the Hamiltons, Ms. Serfilippi contends, appear to have enslaved people up until the time of Hamilton’s death.
She points to a piece of paper included near the end of the cash book, giving an inventory of Hamilton’s property apparently made after his death in the duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804. The inventory lists his house (valued at 2,200 pounds) and his furniture and books (300 pounds). There are also “servants,” valued at 400 pounds.
Hamilton’s own inventory, which he made shortly before the duel, includes no reference to servants. But Ms. Serfilippi believes the posthumous inventory, drawn up to settle his affairs, is more likely to be accurate.
“The Hamiltons were in debt,” she said. “It would make sense to include everything within their possession.”
It remains to be seen if Ms. Serfilippi’s firm conclusions will be broadly accepted by scholars. To her, what’s at stake is more than just how we see Hamilton.
“When we say Hamilton didn’t enslave people, we’re erasing them from the story,” she said. “The most important thing is they were here. We need to acknowledge them.”
The actress, who plays the title character’s daughter, Tutar, talks about body hair, her “nonbiological father” Sacha Baron Cohen, and that scene with Rudy Giuliani.
By Dave Itzkoff, Nov. 11, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/11/movies/maria-bakalova-borat.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=520549558&algo=bandit-all-surfaces&imp_id=204746685&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
Sacha Baron Cohen may be the star of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” but it is Maria Bakalova who has emerged its hero.
In this raucous prank comedy, now streaming on Amazon, Bakalova plays Tutar Sagdiyev, the downtrodden 15-year-old daughter of the titular Kazakh journalist portrayed by Baron Cohen. Raised in a barn and miseducated by her oblivious father, Tutar contrives a way to accompany Borat on his latest journey to the United States, becoming both the bait and the co-conspirator in her father’s schemes to deliver her to Vice President Mike Pence.
Through numerous awkward encounters with unsuspecting marks — including a now-infamous interview with Rudolph W. Giuliani — Tutar discovers her self-worth while calling attention to the quiet (and sometimes not-so-quiet) misogyny around her.
It is a breakthrough performance for Bakalova, a 24-year-old Bulgarian actress whose previous film and television work (including the Italian TV crime drama “Gomorrah”) had yet to bring her the kind of acclaim that one gains for playing a naïve teen who is unaware that women can read, drive or masturbate.
As Bakalova explained in a Zoom conversation on Tuesday, she sees the “Borat” sequel as being fundamentally the story of Tutar’s education and liberation. “It’s a movie of how a girl can grow up and should grow up,” she said, speaking from Los Angeles, where she currently lives. “How people can treat you as not equal because you’re a woman and what kind of options you have.”
For Bakalova, a prominent role in a major American film is also a satisfying opportunity to honor her home country.
“Things like that are not happening to people like us, Bulgarians,” she said. “Most of the time, there is eventually a small, small extra part in a movie, two or three lines as like a prostitute or a Mafia guy. I will be really grateful to Sacha for giving this platform to an Eastern European, to play a strong and complicated character who’s not just one thing.”
Bakalova spoke further about the making of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” her work with Baron Cohen and her highly scrutinized scene with Giuliani. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
What was your upbringing in Bulgaria like? How did you get into performing?
I started singing at the age of 5 or 6 and then I started flute lessons. But at some point, I wanted to explore more. I wanted to escape from reality. Because in acting, you can become anybody. You can do everything. You can live on Mars. I was really obsessed with Scandinavian cinema and the Dogme 95 movement, and inspired by actresses like Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman — how strong they can be and the important stories they can tell.
Were you ever a prankster or practical joker?
Actually, no. I was a super-disciplined child. I was reading too many books. I was obsessed with Dostoyevsky, at like 15, 16. When the first “Borat” movie was released [in 2006], I was 10, so I never even watched it before they gave me the part. But even if I had, I for sure wouldn’t have understood it.
How did you come to be cast in the sequel?
I heard from a friend there was an open call for the lead role in a Hollywood movie. And I was like, that’s not possible. We are Bulgarians. Nobody can actually see us in lead roles. I sent out self-tapes, then they called me for a screen test in London. But the project was so confidential, I was like, is this actually a project? I was sure it was going to be a human trafficking situation. I had no idea I was going to meet Sacha — it was a surprise.
How did you prepare with him in London?
There were three days of screen tests. The first one, we had a small rehearsal; the second one, we started working with real people. They had to believe that we’re real people, that we are not actors, for this to work for the movie. We had to stay undercover.
So it’s you and Sacha playing Tutar and Borat together. Who were you acting opposite and how did you pick them?
It was at a house and there was a super-sweet, nice old couple from England. And we went at them in our crazy way. I’m not quite sure that I know how they actually did it. At the same time, let’s not break the idea of how the magic is happening. Sacha is the person who knows how this whole machine is running.
As you started making the film, how did Sacha describe the character of Tutar to you?
Sacha explained that Tutar should be as crazy as Borat, maybe even crazier. She should be completely disoriented — what is right, what is wrong — and through this journey, she should learn how to be a normal human. It’s a satirical movie, it’s over the top, but he got me thinking about me what it would be like, living this life, even if it’s fake. He’d be like, would you be happy if people treated you this way — if the whole purpose of your life was to get married and live in a cage?
And how her perspective would be warped by a sexist manual that misinforms her about her own body?
The manual is a metaphor for how society and the patriarchy are asking us to behave and what people are expecting. Should I be ashamed that I menstruate? Should I be ashamed that I have body hair? Should I be ashamed that I’m a woman? That’s what Tutar has believed from the beginning, and Sacha wanted to show that in 2020, this is a moment when people should start treating each other equally.
When we first meet Tutar, she is in an extremely degraded state. How did you approach those scenes?
It’s something like hypnosis. You’re just going for it. We actually decided that I would grow out my real body hair. L.A.’s hot almost all the time. Every time I’m supposed to wear a dress or a top, you were able to see my armpit hair and leg hair. It was kind of gross. My facial hair never grows. I tried my best. But my eyebrows are never growing out. The facial part is because of my makeup artist, Katy Fray, but everything else is completely natural. It was so interesting when I finally shaved — I was able to feel the wind on my arms and my legs.
Were there ever times when it was hard for you to stay in character?
When Sacha starts doing his thing, and you’re right next to him, he has this super serious face. I have to act like it’s the most normal thing ever. But he’s so funny. There were moments when the scene was extremely funny and you just can’t stop laughing. It’s bad, because people were able to realize that it’s a joke. He taught me a trick to cross my fingers, to put pressure on my fingers, to stop laughing.
Continue reading the main story
Were there any marks that you sympathized with? Jeanise Jones, the woman hired as Tutar’s babysitter, was extremely kind to you — did you feel you were deceiving her?
We spent maybe five, six hours with Jeanise and she is the person you see onscreen. She is just incredible. She’s not an actress — she just wanted to help Tutar and for Tutar to appreciate herself, to follow her dreams and educate herself. We need people like Jeanise. She is an angel.
Were there ever times when you felt that you were in physical danger?
Sacha, he’s my nonbiological father and he will be like that forever. So I trusted him from the beginning and I knew he would never put me in a dangerous situation. At the same time, we had a security team that was able to save us in a moment. Maybe the scene when we were at the hotel and Rudy Giuliani called the police, I was kind of scared that something would happen. But fortunately, we escaped.
Did you know who Giuliani was before you recorded your interview with him?
I knew who he was, because 9/11 is something everybody should know. It’s one of the hardest moments in recent history. But I’m not American, I don’t get into American politics. I don’t think I’m that informed with the situation in America and its political system. Sacha has been living here for a long time. I trust him.
How did you and Sacha prepare to shoot that scene?
We’d been talking a lot about different scenarios. How should I act, this way or this way? What should I do? What is smarter? But in all of the scenarios, I was confident that Sacha will save me and he will save the scene, so it’s not going to be a disaster. He’s my guardian angel.
Were you still nervous about filming it?
Yeah. I was nervous. My heart was racing. But Sacha was like, you should be nervous in this situation. So use your nerves. Convert them and accept them and they’re going to help you through everything.
Giuliani has said that he was never inappropriate to you and that he was tucking in his shirt, but other viewers believe he was doing something illicit. What happened in that scene?
[Laughs] I saw everything that you saw. If you saw the movie, that’s our message. We want everybody to see the movie and judge for themselves.
But did you come to a conclusion yourself as to what he was doing?
I believe it’s my back [to the camera] there, we can see what he’s doing in the mirror.
What do you think was taking place? You’re the only other person who was in the room. Did you have any other indication as to what he was doing?
[Long pause] What do you think he was doing?
I can see how either interpretation could be correct. But I wasn’t there, and you were. Do you have an opinion either way?
Sacha jumped into the room quickly, because he’s been worried about me. So, if he were late, I don’t know how things were going to go. But he came just in time.
Did Giuliani think that Tutar was 15 years old when he agreed to do the interview?
I’m not the person who is actually booking these people, so when we get to the scene, I’m just doing the scene, without introducing myself. I’m not sure what he knows or does not know.
Giuliani has been widely mocked and criticized for being duped by you and the “Borat” filmmakers. Do you feel bad at all for that?
Movies like this are showing people’s true colors. It’s going to show Jeanise’s true colors. It’s going to show the real character of [Judith Dim Evans], the lady in the synagogue. It’s going to show Rudy’s real character. You’re responsible for your own decisions. So, no, I don’t feel bad.
What have you since learned about Americans, living among them after the film’s release?
I was extremely happy to see how happy people were over the weekend [following the presidential election]. Because in my country, there has been years and years, through different systems, when people haven’t had the right to vote. Now seeing that people are actually voting, and all over the streets people were celebrating and crying and dancing and singing. It was probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in my life. It was really inspiring, seeing that there is, for the first time in history, a woman as vice president. Like in the movie, women can do anything. And sometimes we can do it better.
The “war on childhood obesity” has only caused shame.
By Aubrey Gordon, Nov. 13, 2020
Ms. Gordon is the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”
I was in the fourth grade, sitting in a doctor’s office, the first time my face flushed with shame. I was, I had just learned, overweight.
I will remember the pediatrician’s words forever: It’s probably from eating all that pizza and ice cream. It tastes good, doesn’t it? But it makes your body big and fat.
I felt my face sear with shame.
There was more: Just imagine that your body is made out of clay. If you can just stay the same weight, as you grow, you’ll stretch out. And once you grow up, you’ll be thin and beautiful. Won’t that be great?
I learned so much in that one moment: You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it. I’d failed a test I didn’t even know I’d taken, and the sense of failure and self-loathing it inspired planted the seeds of a depression I would live with for many years.
As the holiday season approaches, with its celebratory family meals and seasonal treats, I worry about the children across the country who will endure similar remarks, the kind that shatter their confidence, reject their bodies and usher them into a harsh new world of judgment.
For the rest of my childhood, I weathered the storm of conversations like the one I had at the doctor’s office. Well-meaning, supportive adults eagerly pointed out my perceived failings at every turn. As the years went on, more and more foods, I was told, were off limits.
It wasn’t just that I shouldn’t eat them; it was that they were sinful, bad, tempting. Many of those foods — eggs, nuts, avocados — would later fall back into the good graces of healthy eating. At the time, though, they were collateral damage in a crusade to cut calories at all costs. Fiber, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, protein — they were all sacrificed at the altar of calories in, calories out. The focus was never on enjoying nutritious foods, just on deprivation, will and lack.
My life was filled with self-flagellation, forced performances to display my commitment to changing an unacceptable body. Adults asked openly about what I had eaten, when I had exercised and whether I knew how to do either correctly. After all, if I was still fat, it must be my fault.
My body wasn’t just a body, the way a thinner one might have been. It was perceived as a burden, an inconvenience, a bothersome problem to solve. Only thinness would allow me to forget my body, but despite my best efforts, thinness never came.
The more I and others tried to change my size, the deeper my depression became. Even at such a young age, I had been declared an enemy combatant in the nation’s war on childhood obesity, and I felt that fact deeply. Bodies like mine now represented an epidemic, and we were its virus, personified.
The war on obesity seemed to emerge, fully formed, near the turn of the millennium, but its roots run deeper than that. C. Everett Koop, surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, made fatness a priority for his office in the 1980s. In 2004, nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Surgeon General Richard Carmona compared the war on obesity to the war on terror. Suddenly, fat people weren’t just neighbors, friends or family members — we were enemies to be feared.
The war on childhood obesity reached its zenith with the 2010 introduction of the national “Let’s Move!” campaign, “dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation.” It was a campaign against “childhood obesity” — not specific health conditions or the behaviors that may contribute to those health conditions. It wasn’t a campaign against foods with little nutritional value, or against the unchecked poverty that called for such low-cost, shelf-stable foods. It was a campaign against a body type — specifically, children’s body types.
In 2012, Georgia began its Strong4Life campaign aimed at reducing children’s weight and lowering the state’s national ranking: second in childhood obesity. Run by the pediatric hospital Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, it was inspired in part by a previous anti-meth campaign. Now, instead of targeting addiction in adults, the billboards targeted fatness in children. Somber black-and-white photographs of fat children stared at viewers, emblazoned with bold text. “WARNING: My fat may be funny to you but it’s killing me. Stop childhood obesity.” “WARNING: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.” “WARNING: Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”
The billboards purported to warn parents of the danger of childhood fatness, but to many they appeared to be public ridicule of fat kids. Strong4Life became one of the nation’s highest-profile fat-shaming campaigns — and its targets were children.
These declarations of an obesity epidemic and a war on childhood obesity all doggedly pursued one question, and one question only: How do we make fat kids thin? In other words, how do we get rid of fat kids?
Overwhelmingly, childhood anti-obesity programs hinged on shame and fear, a scared-straight approach for fat children. As of 2017, fully half of the states required that schools track students’ body mass index. Many require “B.M.I. report cards” to be sent home to parents, despite the fact that 53 percent of parents don’t actually believe that the reports accurately categorize their child’s weight status. And observational studies in Arkansas and California have shown that the practice of parental notification doesn’t appear to lead to individual weight loss or an overall reduction in students’ B.M.I.s. One eating disorder treatment center called the report cards a “pathway to weight stigma” that would most likely contribute to the development of eating disorders in predisposed students.
Experiencing weight stigma has significant long-term effects, too. A 2012 study in the journal Obesity asked fat adults to indicate how often they had experienced various weight-stigmatizing events. Seventy-four percent of women and 70 percent of men of similar B.M.I. and age reported others’ making negative assumptions. Twenty-eight percent of women and 23 percent of men reported job discrimination. The effects of stigma were especially dire for young people, very fat people and those who started dieting early in life. To cope, 79 percent of all respondents reported eating, 74 percent isolated themselves, and 41 percent left the situation or avoided it in the future. Rather than motivating fat people to lose weight, weight stigma had led to more isolation, more avoidance and less support.
Despite ample federal and state funding, multiple national public health campaigns and a slew of television shows, the war on obesity does not appear to be lowering Americans’ B.M.I.s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999 there has been a 39 percent increase in adult obesity and a 33.1 percent increase in obesity among children.
Weight stigma kick-starts what for many will become lifelong cycles of shame. And it sends a clear, heartbreaking message to fat children: The world would be a better place without you in it.
Yet, despite its demonstrated ineffectiveness, the so-called war on childhood obesity rages on. This holiday season, for the sake of children who are told You’re not beautiful. You’re indulging too much. Your body is wrong. You must have done it, I hope some parents will declare a cease-fire.
Aubrey Gordon, who has written under the pseudonym “Your Fat Friend,” is a columnist for Self magazine, a co-host of the podcast “Maintenance Phase” and the author of the forthcoming book “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.”
JOSHUA CHO, NOVEMBER 13, 2020
US corporate media have buried coverage of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition hearing in the UK, despite its being the media “Trial of the Century” (FAIR.org, 9/25/20). But even in the scarce coverage that does exist of this unprecedented case with immense implications for freedom of expression, one would hardly get the impression that the US and British governments are involved in an illegal conspiracy—in violation of their own laws—to punish Assange for the “crime” of journalism.
Coverage before and at the start of the trial by establishment media outlets like the New York Times (9/7/20), Wall Street Journal (9/7/20), USA Today (9/6/20) and the Associated Press (9/6/20) largely omitted simple facts, like Assange displaying signs of abuse. Of these reports, only USA Today cited Nils Melzer, a UN special rapporteur on torture, who observed that when he visited him last year, Assange displayed symptoms of “psychological torture,” likely caused by extreme stress, chronic anxiety and isolation.
AP framed Assange’s visible and prolonged abuse at the Belmarsh maximum security prison in London and the Ecuadorian embassy—where he sought asylum for seven years—in a partisan way, presenting it as a charge of his “supporters” rather than the judgment of professionals:
Supporters say the ordeal has harmed Assange’s physical and mental health, leaving him with depression, dental problems and a serious shoulder ailment.
In fact, Melzer’s assessment is corroborated by other experts. The Lancet (2/17/20) published an open letter by 117 doctors and psychologists calling for the end to what they called the “torture and medical neglect of Julian Assange.” Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the first doctors to independently examine Guantánamo captives, who possesses extensive experience treating torture victims around the world, later testified at Assange’s hearing that he met “all of criteria for major depression,” and is at “high risk of completing suicide if he were to be extradited” to the US (Shadowproof, 9/24/20).
Torture and arbitrary detention are human rights violations of international conventions that both the US and Britain have signed, which obligates them to conduct prompt and impartial investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to believe someone has been and is being tortured. In Assange’s case, these violations have been downplayed or even celebrated by US and British media (FAIR.org, 4/18/19). AP (9/22/20) reported on psychiatric expert Michael Kopelman of King’s College London testifying to Assange’s “intense suicidal preoccupation” and “auditory hallucinations,” without once noting the obvious connection to psychological torture.
Another human right enshrined in international conventions and in US and British domestic law is the right to a fair trial, which is precisely what has been and is currently being denied to Assange, although one wouldn’t know this from corporate media coverage. Establishment media omitted, for example, that Assange was sent to these hearings by a judge who ruled on his case despite having several undisclosed conflicts of interest.
Before the hearing, journalists Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis of Declassified UK published several damning reports revealing that Emma Arbuthnot—the chief magistrate who had previously overseen Assange’s extradition proceedings before informally stepping aside in December, 2019 for “perception of bias”—had failed to disclose several conflicts of interest before delivering two rulings that prevented Assange from taking up asylum in Ecuador. Kennard and Curtis (11/14/19) reported that Arbuthnot had been receiving gifts and hospitality from Bechtel, a US military and cybersecurity company that had been exposed by WikiLeaks.
She has also taken part in junkets, along with her husband, paid for by two partner organizations of the British Foreign Office, which has long taken an anti-Assange position (Declassified UK, 2/21/20). (Her husband, James Arbuthnot, is a former Conservative Defense minister who has also worked closely with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society—Declassified UK, 9/4/20). One of the junkets involved a meeting between James Arbuthnot and Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak—the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—whose personal emails were published by WikiLeaks.
Arbuthnot’s son, Alexander Arbuthnot, is the vice president of Vitruvian Partners, a private equity firm heavily invested in Darktrace—a company founded by GCHQ and MI5 to stop data leaks, which is staffed by veterans of the NSA and CIA, intelligence agencies behind the US government’s persecution of Assange (Declassified UK, 11/15/19).
Although UK legal guidance requires British judges to declare any conflicts of interest before the courts, Arbuthnot has a history of stepping aside from adjudicating cases only after media investigations expose them. Because she refused to disclose her conflicts of interest and only informally stepped away from Assange’s case, her previous rulings in February 2018 and June 2019—which brought Assange to his extradition hearings in 2020—couldn’t be revisited by his defense. Although she is no longer personally hearing Assange’s extradition proceedings, she remains the chief magistrate, and is still responsible for supporting and guiding the junior judges in her jurisdiction, like Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who presided over Assange’s extradition hearings and is responsible for delivering her verdict on January 4, 2021.
But can any of this scandalous information make it through the filters of US media? Aside from trivial reporting that focused on technical “glitches” on the first day of the hearing (New York Times, 9/16/20; Washington Post, 9/7/20), the media blackout from establishment outlets like the Times, Post, Journal, USA Today and CNN has largely forced US audiences to rely on reprinted AP reports to get any idea of what was going on during the trial.
To AP’s credit, it has covered important topics that other US outlets have ignored, such as US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg’s defense of Assange (9/16/20), and testimony confirming that the US prosecution was lying when it claimed Assange wouldn’t be held in solitary confinement if he were to be extradited (9/29/20). It also covered crucial testimony from whistleblowers at the Spanish security firm UC Global, revealing that for their “American friends,” the firm had covertly installed in the Ecuadorian embassy microphones, cameras and special stickers that disrupt white noise machines (9/30/20).
As British media watchdog Media Lens (10/7/20) pointed out in its critique of the British media blackout, the mere fact that Assange’s confidential conversations with his lawyers had been violated under the auspices of the CIA “should have been sufficient to throw out any court case against Assange.” Journalist Kevin Gosztola (Shadowproof, 10/3/20) later reported that in the UK, the FBI had enlisted the Ecuadorian government’s help in stealing legally privileged material from Assange’s lawyers, which made it more difficult for his lawyers to prepare a defense for his extradition hearing.
However, when it came to the substance of what was actually argued by both the defense and prosecution, and the case’s evolving implications for the future of journalism, even the AP joined in the atrocious US media blackout. Without indispensable coverage from outlets like Shadowproof, Consortium News and former UK ambassador Craig Murray’s blog updates, one wouldn’t know that the prosecution had shifted its arguments from the claim that Assange isn’t a journalist—making a specious distinction between his behavior and those of other media professionals—to asserting the US government’s “right” to prosecute, under the 1917 Espionage Act, all journalists around the world who publish classified US information. These new US government charges could criminalize even receiving classified information, which is standard practice in journalism.
The prosecution was forced to do this because their unsubstantiated arguments collapsed under their own lies, such as when they falsely charged Assange with aiding whistleblower Chelsea Manning in a “conspiracy to commit computer intrusion,” or that WikiLeaks disclosures resulted in material harm, in order to dodge claims that the trial is politically motivated (Shadowproof, 9/26/20; Independent, 10/5/20).
At other times, AP reports focused on relatively trivial matters compared to reports by other observers at the extradition hearings. For example, AP (9/8/20) published an article focusing on Judge Baraitser instructing Assange to stop interrupting witnesses. On that same day, Craig Murray (9/8/20) reported on Baraitser’s blatantly inappropriate practice of reciting pre-written judgments prepared before she heard any lawyers argue their case in front of her, and preventing the defense from having adequate time to prepare for superseding indictments and present their case in court. Eyewitnesses to the trial, like Australian journalist John Pilger (Arena, 10/2/20), described it less as due process and more as “due revenge.”
AP, and corporate US news outlets more generally, never followed up on Consortium News’ revelation (9/28/20) that the US government’s lawyers had been relying not on actual witnesses but on a 2011 book by two Guardian journalists, Luke Harding and David Leigh, who are known to be hostile to Assange. Neither of them have been called to give evidence under oath about the contents of their book, which would require them to be cross-examined by Assange’s lawyers. Yet when the defense called former Der Spiegel journalist John Goetz to give evidence under oath refuting the book’s claim that Assange had remarked that informants deserved to die—a comment supposedly made at a dinner Goetz attended—Baraitser sided with the prosecution to prevent Goetz from giving firsthand testimony about the allegation (Consortium News, 9/16/20).
From top to bottom, the trial itself is a farce, since no one should be prosecuted for working with a whistleblower to expose war crimes, yet there are few reports questioning its legitimacy (FAIR.org, 4/12/19). On the contrary, it appears that major US news organizations have buried all the ways that the US and UK governments have already stacked the deck against Assange, in order to give the illusion that he’s receiving a fair trial.
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