Colin Kaepernick Supports Mumia!
This message is from: the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
21 November 2020
Colin Kaepernick is a professional football quarter-back with a sterling record, but he is now an unemployed free agent. This could not be a more important indication of systemic racism in the US, nor a greater condemnation of the corporate worms that own football in this country.
In the 49ers' third preseason game in 2016 Kaepernick sat during the playing of the US National anthem prior to the game, as a protest against police brutality and systematic oppression of blacks in this country. Throughout the regular season, Kaepernick continued his protest by kneeling during the anthem. During a post-game interview that year, Kaepernick explained his position stating, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Colin Kaepernick Speaks Out...and Gets Opposition
Since then, Kaepernick has continued his outrage against ongoing racist police murders of black people, such as that of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among many others. This has, of course, not come without opposition. President Trump mobilized his racist base with comments such as this: NFL owners should "fire" players who protest during the national anthem.
Kaepernick has been unemployed in professional football since the end of the 2016 season.
Kaepernick Supports Mumia Abu-Jamal
Now, Colin Kaepernick has come out with a statement in defense of one of the most important political prisoners in recent US history: Mumia Abu-Jamal. We say this not because other political prisoners are not important--they are--but because prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier are specifically singled out as enemies of the state...of the US government specifically.
Mumia, falsely accused of killing a Philadelphia cop in 1981, and Peltier, also falsely accused, in his case of killing federal agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975, are both the victims of frame-ups that extend through all levels from the US Justice Department, the FBI, and to national, state and local politicians and officials. These cases are prime examples of a racist and class-divided society that is corrupt every inch of the way from top to bottom.
An Important Time for Prisoners
Colin Kaepernick’s statement on former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal is an accurate and riveting summary of the false case made against this determined anti-racist fighter, who continues his insightful commentaries from behind bars in his 39th year of incarceration for a crime he did not commit.
This statement comes at an important time for all prisoners in the US, particularly those in federal and state prisons, because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Prisoners have been denied protective measures, or sent to solitary confinement, or arbitrarily moved to other prisons resulting in the spread of infections in those prisons.
The Labor Action Committee To free Mumia Abu-Jamal initiated several protests at San Quentin Prison beginning in May 2020. This work is now being carried forward by the No Justice Under Capitalism Coalition (NJUC) https://www.facebook.com/NoJusticeUnderCapitalism/Colin Kaepernick’s Statement on Mumia:Free Mumia (6:52) Colin Kaepernick
When I was invited to speak on behalf of Mumia, one of the first things that came to mind was how long he's been in prison. How many years of his life had been stolen away from him, his community, and his loved ones. He's been incarcerated for 38 years. Mumia has been in prison longer than I've been alive.
When I first spoke with Mumia on the phone, I did very little talking. I just listened. Hearing him speak was a reminder of why we must continue to fight. Earlier this year, The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued a statement, noting that prolonged solitary confinement, the precise type often used in the United States, amounts to psychological torture. Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent roughly 30 out of his 38 years in solitary confinement.
In his book Live From Death Row, Mumia wrote that prison is a second by second assault on the soul, a day-to-day degradation of the self, an oppressive steel and brick umbrella that transforms seconds into hours, and hours into days. He has had to endure this second-by-second assault on his soul for 38 years.
He had no record before he was arrested and framed for the death of a Philadelphia police officer. Since 1981, Mumia has maintained his innocence. His story has not changed. Mumia was shot, brutalized, arrested, and chained to a hospital bed. The first police officer assigned to him wrote in a report that the “Negro male made no comment” as cited in Philly Mag. Yet 64 days into the investigation, another officer testified that Mumia had confessed to the killing. Mumia’s story has not changed, but we're talking about the same Philadelphia Police Department whose behavior “shocks the conscience,” according to a 1979 DOJ report. Behaviors like shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, and tampering with evidence.
It should therefore come as little surprise that, according to Dr. Johanna Fernandez, over one third of the 35 officers involved in Mumia's case, were subsequently convicted of rank corruption, extortion, and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in unrelated cases. This is the same Philadelphia Police Department where officers ran racial profiling sweeps, like Operation Cold Turkey in March, 1985, targeting Black and Brown folks; and bombed the MOVE house in May of that year, killing 11 people, including five children and destroying 61 homes.
The same Philadelphia police department, whose officers eight days before the 2020 presidential election, shot Walter Wallace Jr. dead in the streets in front of his crying mother. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police has unrelentingly campaigned for Mumia’s execution. During their August, 1999, national meeting, a spokesperson for the organization stated that they will not rest until Abu-Jamal burns in hell. The former Philadelphia president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Richard Castello, went as far as to say that if you disagree with their views of Mumia, you can join him in the electric chair and that they will make it an electric couch.
The trial judge on Mumia's case in 1981, Albert Sabo was a former member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Court reporter Terry Maurer Carter even heard Judge Sabo telling a colleague “I'm going to help them fry the nigger.”
Found in December, 2018, in an inaccessible storage room of the DA's office, six boxes of documents for Mumia's case reveal previously undisclosed and highly significant evidence showing that Mumia’s trial was tainted by a failure to disclose material evidence in violation of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. In November, 2019, the Fraternal Order of Police filed a King's Bench Petition asking the court to allow the state attorney general, not the Philadelphia DA's office, to handle the upcoming appeals.
As the FOP president John McNesby said just last year, “Mumia should remain in prison for the rest of his life.” And a King's Bench order provides the legal angle for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to uphold Judge Sabo’s original wish, which was for Mumia ultimately to die in prison.
Today we're living through a moment where it's acceptable to paint “end racism now” in front of the Philadelphia Police Department’s 26th district headquarters, and yet a political prisoner who has since the age of 14 dedicated his life to fighting against racism, continues to be caged and lives his life on a slow death row. We're in the midst of a movement that says Black Lives Matter. And if that's truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter. And the causes that he sacrifices life and freedom for must matter as well.
Through all of the torture Mumia has suffered over the past 38 years, his principles have never wavered. These principles have manifested themselves in his writing countless books while incarcerated, in his successful radio show, and the time and energy he has poured into his mentorship of younger incarcerated folks and the continued concern for the people suffering outside of the walls. Even while living in the hells of the prison system, Mumia still fights for our human rights. We must continue to fight for him and his human rights.
Well, Mumia is 66 years old. He is a grandfather. He is an elder with ailments. He is a human being that deserves to be free.
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
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
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
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
Enough is Enough: Global Nuclear Weapons
When faced with the opportunity to do good, I really think it’s the instinct of humanity to do so. It’s in our genetic memory from our earliest ancestors. ￼It’s the altered perception of the reality of what being human truly is that’s been indoctrinated ￼in to every generation for the last 2000 years or more that makes us believe that we are born sinners. I can’t get behind that one. We all struggle with certain things, but I really think ￼￼that all the “sinful” behavior is learned and wisdom and goodwill is innate at birth. ￼ —Johnny Gould (Follow @tandino415 on Instagram)
Major Tillery, a prisoner at SCI Chester and a friend of Mumia, may have caught the coronavirus. Major is currently under lockdown at SCI Chester, where a coronavirus outbreak is currently taking place. Along with the other prisoners at SCI Chester, he urgently needs your help.
500 E. 4th St.
Chester, PA 19013
Telephone: (610) 490-5412
Email: email@example.com (Prison Superintendent). firstname.lastname@example.org (Superintendent's Assistant)Please also call the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections at:Department of Corrections
1920 Technology Parkway
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
Telephone: (717) 737-4531
This telephone number is for SCI Camp Hill, which is the current number for DOC.
Reference Major's inmate number: AM 9786
Email: email@example.comDemand that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections immediately:
2) Disinfect all cells and common areas at SCI Chester, including sinks, toilets, eating areas and showers;
3) Provide PPE (personal protective equipment) for all inmates at SCI Chester;
4) Provide access to showers for all prisoners at SCI Chester, as a basic hygiene measure;
5) Provide yard access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
6) Provide phone and internet access to all prisoners at SCI Chester;
7) Immediately release prisoners from SCI Chester, including Major Tillery, who already suffers from a compromised immune system, in order to save their lives from execution by COVID-19.
It has been reported that prisoners are now receiving shower access. However, please insist that prisoners be given shower access and that all common areas are disinfected.
The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
Prosecutors declined to pursue many of the cases because they concluded the protesters were exercising their basic civil rights.
By Neil MacFarquhar, Nov. 19, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/us/protests-lawsuits-arrests.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Kentucky state troopers dressed in riot gear took protesters who were violating curfew in Louisville, Ky., into custody in June. Credit...Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Matt Kaufmann loved bringing real-world issues into his classroom, but he never expected he would become a lesson himself. The headlines, however, made it hard to avoid: “Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Arrested,” blared the local news after he was detained on May 31.
An English teacher at Marion C. Moore School at that time, Mr. Kaufmann was among more than 800 people swept up by the police in Louisville during the many months of demonstrations prompted by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
Mr. Kaufmann and his fiancée, protest novices, joined a large downtown crowd in late May, he said, when police officers began to break up the demonstration by firing tear gas and charging from all sides. With a helicopter thumping overhead, he suddenly found himself lined up on the ground with dozens of other protesters, then hauled off to a crowded jail cell.
“I had never experienced anything like that before,” Mr. Kaufmann, 41, said. “It was scary.”
Now, more than five months later, as Mr. Kaufmann’s case and those of thousands of others finally land in courts across the United States, a vast majority of cases against protesters are being dismissed. Only cases involving more substantial charges like property destruction or other violence remain.
Prosecutors called the scale of both the mass arrests and mass dismissals within a few short months unrivaled, at least since the civil rights protests of the early 1960s. With the police detaining hundreds of people in major cities, the arrests this year ended up colliding with the limitations of the court system.
In the aftermath, prosecutors declined to pursue many of the cases because they concluded that the protesters were exercising their basic civil rights. Cases involving free speech or free assembly rarely succeed in court, according to prosecutors across the country, and the coronavirus pandemic also played a role in the decision. A wave of thousands of minor cases threatened to capsize courts already floundering under hefty lockdown backlogs.
There was also the recognition that law enforcement officers often use mass arrests as a technique to help clear the streets, not to confront illegal behavior.
For those handling the cases, the task has felt Sisyphean. “Every day I would think I was done and the next morning there would be 50 or 100 cases to tally,” said Mary Ellen Heng, a deputy city attorney for Minneapolis. So far the city is pursuing about 75 of 666 cases.
“What’s happened in the last few months here is nothing like I have seen in my 23 years when it comes to the volume of cases,” she said.
Most charges in the almost 300 federal protest cases involve arson or assaulting police officers, as do the state and municipal cases.
“This is the hangover from months of protests,” said Ted Shouse, a criminal defense attorney in Louisville who helped to organize more than 100 volunteer defense attorneys.
Protest leaders and defense attorneys nationwide accuse the police of piling on charges to try to halt the demonstrations. “It was to squelch dissent,” said Attica Scott, the only Black woman in the Kentucky State Legislature and one of the protest organizers detained by the police.
The arrest of Ms. Scott in September has become one of the most contentious cases in Louisville because she and several other protest leaders were initially accused of trying to ignite a library, a felony, and of violating a 9 p.m. curfew.
The Jefferson County attorney, Mike O’Connell, appeared in court himself to ask that the felony charges be dropped after reviewing the evidence, including a live Instagram broadcast by Ms. Scott with a time stamp showing that the arrests came before curfew.
Defense attorneys working on cases in numerous cities said more people of color than white people were charged, but it was not a universal pattern. “Even adjusting for the racial makeup of the protests, Black people have been charged out of proportion,” Mr. Shouse in Louisville said.
A recent study by The Louisville Courier-Journal found that Black people constituted 53 percent of those arrested there during the four months starting May 29, but that they faced 69 percent of the felony charges. In Portland, Ore., which is predominantly white, white defendants constituted 65 percent of the more than 140 cases moving forward, while 32 percent were from other racial groups.
Sgt. John Bradley, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Police Department, said that officers made arrests on the basis of Kentucky law, and that it was up to the county attorney whether to prosecute.
Precise numbers on both arrests and dismissals nationwide are elusive amid the complicated patchwork of law enforcement agencies and the state, county or city prosecutors involved.
In Los Angeles County, for example, the district attorney declined to file criminal charges against 334 people but is pursuing 257 cases of people arrested between the end of May and the beginning of August, said Greg Risling, a spokesman.
But not all jurisdictions in Los Angeles County are dismissing cases. Beverly Hills is pursuing misdemeanor charges against a group of 25 people stemming from one protest in June and plans to pursue others from another protest in July, said Rachel Steinback, the coordinator for the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles’s Mass Defense Committee.
In Portland, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office boiled its numbers down into a neat chart: District Attorney Mike Schmidt has rejected 721 cases, is pursuing 144 and has 165 under review.
Based on the example of Occupy Wall Street protesters a decade ago, Mr. Schmidt knew that judges would toss out most cases or impose small sentences. “Seventy to 80 percent would not survive constitutional challenges,” said Mr. Schmidt, who added that the costs far outweighed any benefit to public safety.
Adding 1,000 cases to the yearly average of under 20,000 would be daunting, he said. The same is true for the Minneapolis city attorney, whose office handles some 15,000 misdemeanors annually. “Even if Covid was not a problem, it would be a monstrous task for us to prosecute 500 additional cases,” Ms. Heng said.
Walk into virtually any large courthouse in America and the strain of dealing with the case backlog is palpable.
In Louisville, those cases are referred to as being in the “parking lot.” There are some 22,000 such cases over all, with just four of 10 trial courts functioning in the Jefferson County Courthouse. Across two days in late October, 300 protest case arraignments were jammed onto the calendar, about 10 times the normal rate.
Judge Lisa Langford briefly lost track of which cases were in the courtroom and which were on Zoom. “He has been waving at me, I thought he was just happy to see me,” she joked after locating a lawyer on Zoom.
Prosecutors have moved to dismiss 219 protest cases, said Josh Abner, the spokesman for the Jefferson County attorney.
“We don’t have a magic wand that we can wave in connection with all these cases,” said Mr. O’Connell, noting that a team of four prosecutors was combing through them.
After mass arrests during the 2000 Republican National Convention, Philadelphia legislated a lesser charge to get people off the streets. Police officers started issuing summonses outside regular courts. Misdemeanors and felonies go to the district attorney, while summonses do not.
Larry Krasner, the city’s district attorney, said that his office was reviewing 586 cases and that the city was dropping up to 2,000 summonses. Cases being reviewed involve incidents like breaking into stores or torching police vehicles.
Prosecutions there and elsewhere were also curtailed by the chaotic nature of the demonstrations, especially during the first few weeks when most arrests occurred. With the police working double shifts, paperwork lagged, so finding reports or witnesses for some cases proved impossible.
In Louisville, as the months drag on with the charges dangling overhead, many protesters feel stuck in limbo.
Kelly Parry, 33, both a volunteer defense attorney and a defendant, was among some 76 protesters arrested while blocking an avenue in July. “It is mentally draining not knowing what might happen to you,” she said. “You are constantly thinking, ‘Is this a small situation or will it become something bigger?’”
Mr. Kaufmann, the teacher, was charged with a curfew violation, a misdemeanor, but tried to ignore it. “I don’t want to give in to fear,” he said, focusing instead on his new job within the Jefferson County school system that involves helping to develop a social justice curriculum.
He and Stephanie Kornexl-Kaufmann, then his fiancée and now his wife, decided to join the protesters after hearing the recording of the 911 call that Kenneth Walker, Ms. Taylor’s boyfriend, made as the police broke into her apartment during a botched drug raid.
“We were dumbfounded, we were shocked,” Mr. Kaufmann said. “The country does not live up to the values that we have been teaching in class.”
Mr. Kaufmann had been named the state’s high school teacher of the year partly for building classroom discussions around real-world issues like the #MeToo movement. But none had hit quite so close to home.
News of his arrest spread at lightning speed.
Kaelyn Goatley, 17, a senior at Marion C. Moore School, had to explain to her grandmother, who was initially appalled, why Mr. Kaufmann’s arrest was a good thing.
“I was proud that I had a teacher who was out on the streets fighting for justice,” she said. “He has this big title being high school teacher of the year and the fact that he was out there protesting and being arrested meant that he risked that. It shows how adamant he is about making change.”
In late October, Mr. Kaufmann learned that the charges against him, his wife and a former student who was with them would be dropped. He was elated but noted that hundreds of cases were still pending.
“My young Black male and female friends who I met through the protests were in greater danger than I was and some of them are still dealing with these charges,” he said. “It is not fair, it is not consistent and we have to do better.”
It’s both a moral failure and a public health one.
By The Editorial Board
The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom. Nov. 21, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/21/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-prisons-jails.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
As Americans grapple with how — or whether — to gather with loved ones this holiday season, the roughly two million people confined in the nation’s prisons and jails face an even grimmer challenge: how to stay alive inside a system being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like the nation overall, U.S. correctional facilities are experiencing record spikes in coronavirus infections this fall. During the week of Nov. 17, there were 13,657 new coronavirus infections reported across the state and federal prison systems, according to the Marshall Project, which has been tracking these numbers since March. The previous week saw 13,676 new cases. These are by far the highest weekly tolls reported since the pandemic began. With winter descending, the situation threatens to grow bleaker still.
The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mask wearing and social distancing are essentially moot inside overcrowded facilities, many of them old and poorly ventilated, with tight quarters and with hygiene standards that are difficult to maintain. Uneven testing, inadequate medical resources and the constant churn of staff members, visitors and inmates further speed transmission. Crueler still, inmates suffer disproportionately from comorbidities, such as high blood pressure and asthma, putting them at an elevated risk for complications and death.
Eight months into the pandemic, the precise shape and scope of the devastation remains difficult to pin down. But the available data is heartbreaking. As of mid-November, more than 196,600 coronavirus infections had been reported among state and federal prisoners. More than 1,450 of those prisoners had died. The case rates among inmates are more than four times as high as those of the general public, and the death rate is more than twice as high.
Inmates are not the only ones trapped with the virus. The correctional system employs more than 685,000 people — guards, nurses, chaplains and so on. There have been more than 45,470 reported coronavirus infections and 98 deaths among staff members to date. Their case rates are three times as high as for the general public.
Remember: These are the reported cases. The real numbers are assumed to be higher. The virus ripples outward from these hot spots, engulfing the families and communities of inmates and workers. The coronavirus does not respect prison walls any more than it respects state or national borders. It will not be confined.
This spread poses a particular problem for rural communities — 40 percent of prisons are in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents — which typically lack the health care infrastructure to deal with such outbreaks. Even a modest outbreak can quickly overwhelm local hospitals with scant numbers of ventilators and I.C.U. beds.
Local jails face additional challenges. While prisons report much larger case numbers, the rapid turnover in jails — where many people are confined for only a few days or even hours — enables the virus to circulate swiftly between inmates and the larger community, and makes tracking all the more difficult. In a report last month on outbreaks in the Mountain West, The Times noted that in Cascade County, Mont., infections at the local jail made up about a quarter of all known cases in the county. Over two months, the facility knowingly released 29 people who were considered actively infected.
As with so much about the pandemic, this is a problem that should have been dealt with more aggressively early on. In the spring, Attorney General Bill Barr was among those calling on correctional facilities to mitigate risk, with a focus on reducing overcrowding through early release and other decarceration measures. While some progress has been made, it has been uneven and inadequate.
“Prisons and jails experienced declines in total population (approximately 11 percent of the incarcerated population) in the first half of 2020,” according to a report on decarceration put out by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The report notes that “these reductions appear to be mainly the result of declines in arrests, jail bookings and prison admissions related to lockdowns and the closure of state and local courts.” It continues: “The releases among sentenced jail and prison populations that have occurred have, for the most part, occurred on a case-by-case basis and have been procedurally slow and not well suited to crisis situations.”
While many jails saw a population drop during the first few months of the pandemic, the numbers of people being held in jails began climbing again over the summer, according to a September briefing by the Prison Policy Initiative, which analyzed 451 county jails. “In 88 counties, jail populations are higher now than they were before the pandemic” the briefing notes.
Some states have taken legislative action to speed the decarceration process. A bill signed by New Jersey’s governor last month permits prisoners with less than a year left on their sentences to be released up to eight months early. This has already prompted the release of more than 2,000 people, with another 1,000 or more releases anticipated.
All too often, continued foot-dragging or dysfunction by prison officials requires the courts to step in. In the spring and summer, the San Quentin State Prison in California had a major coronavirus outbreak. Built in the mid 1800s and early 1900s, the outdated facility suffered from overcrowding, inadequate medical staffing, “exceedingly poor ventilation, extraordinarily close living quarters and inadequate sanitation,” according to a panel of medical experts from the University of California, Berkeley, who were brought in to assess the situation in June. By late July, the number of active cases had topped 1,600. Tents were erected to house the sick. Before the outbreak faded, around 2,200 inmates had confirmed coronavirus infections, and 28 had died. In addition, 298 staff members were infected, resulting in one death.
The problem continued to fester. In late October, a state appeals court ruled that the prison authorities’ efforts to address the issue had been insufficient and that inmates’ constitutional protection from cruel and unusual punishment was still being violated. To deal with the emergency, the prison was ordered to cut its population by around half, through a mix of releases and transfers. (The original outbreak was sparked by the transfer to San Quentin of infected inmates from another prison.)
Clearly, more needs to be done. The report by the National Academies outlines best practices for reducing the incarcerated population, broken down into short-term and longer-term solutions. The suggested measures start with a systemic commitment to diversion efforts such as “noncustodial penalties” for minor infractions, including probation and parole violations, and the limiting of pretrial detentions through means such as reducing or eliminating bail.
In addition to offering guidance on a bolder decarceration effort, the report stresses the importance of minimizing risks to the families and communities involved, such as “offering testing prior to release, a place to quarantine in the community, and examination of parole and probation policies and procedures.” More comprehensive and more standardized testing and reporting requirements are also needed.
Managing this kind of crisis is not a one-and-done effort, the report emphasizes. It is a process requiring “sustained engagement” by a wide array of actors at all levels.
It is all too easy for many Americans to ignore the horrors of what is happening inside the nation’s prisons and jails. Inmates are isolated from the broader populace, their suffering kept out of sight. But their welfare in this pandemic remains inextricably linked to everyone else’s. The nation’s continued failure to bring the virus to heel among this vulnerable population is both a public health catastrophe and a moral one.
Relatives are demanding answers about the shooting deaths of Angelo Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, by a sheriff’s deputy in Cocoa, Fla.
By Johnny Diaz and Michael Levenson, Nov. 22, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/22/us/angelo-crooms-benjamin-crump-video.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
The authorities are investigating the fatal shooting by a Florida sheriff’s deputy of two Black teenagers who were in a moving car during an encounter with law enforcement.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the Nov. 13 shooting of the teenagers, Angelo Crooms, 16, and Sincere Pierce, 18, both of Cocoa, Fla., Jessica Cary, a department spokeswoman, said on Friday. She declined to discuss details, citing the need to protect the integrity of the investigation.
The Brevard County Sheriff’s Office released a video on Nov. 17 of the encounter.
At about 10:30 a.m., two deputies, Jafet Santiago-Miranda and Carson Hendren, were following up on what they thought was a possible stolen car that had “fled from another Deputy in the Cocoa area,” Sheriff Wayne Ivey of Brevard County wrote in a Facebook post.
Dashcam video showed the deputies in each of their cruisers following a car as it turned onto a street and then into the driveway of a house in a residential neighborhood in Cocoa, which is about 45 miles east of Orlando. It was not clear how long the deputies had been following the car.
The deputies got out of their cars “in an attempt to make contact with the occupants,” Sheriff Ivey said.
The video showed the car backing out of the driveway and moving in the direction of the deputies, whose cruisers were parked on each side of the street.
“Stop the vehicle!” Deputy Santiago-Miranda repeatedly told the driver, who was later identified as Mr. Crooms.
The police said that Mr. Crooms then drove at Deputy Santiago-Miranda, who fired his gun “in an attempt to stop the deadly threat of the car from crashing into him.” On the video, at least eight shots could be heard striking the car.
Deputy Santiago-Miranda was the only deputy who opened fire, Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said.
Mr. Crooms and Mr. Pierce were taken to hospitals, where they were later pronounced dead, the police said. A third occupant, who was not identified and who was not injured, was interviewed and released, Mr. Goodyear said.
Two firearms were found in the car, the police said.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the teenagers’ families, said on Twitter that the teenagers were “terrified” and trying to drive around the deputies.
“Out of harm’s way, the deputy moved closer to get a better shot,” and fired with the “intent to kill,” and “then kept firing as the car passed by,” Mr. Crump wrote.
Eric Smith, Mr. Crooms’s father, said the family hoped the deputies would be prosecuted.
“It’s obvious what we’re looking for — justice,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re looking for answers. There’s nothing justifiable about what the Brevard County sheriffs did.”
The family buried Mr. Crooms on Saturday, mourning a teenager whom Mr. Smith described as a “good kid” who liked football and was trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life.
Natalie A. Jackson, a lawyer for Mr. Pierce’s great-aunt and legal guardian, Cynthia Green, said the car that the teenagers were in belonged to Mr. Crooms’s girlfriend and was not stolen.
In an interview, Ms. Green recalled what happened on the morning the teenagers were killed.
She said Mr. Pierce had gotten into the back seat of the car outside the house in Cocoa, where she and Mr. Pierce lived. Ms. Green said she was also leaving at that time and was getting into her car when she saw the deputies drive by.
She was concerned that the deputies might harass Mr. Pierce and his friends, so she said she decided to follow them in her own car.
Ms. Green, who had cared for Mr. Pierce since he was 2 days old, said she saw the deputies point their guns at the car minutes later.
“Please, don’t shoot! Please, don’t shoot! My baby’s in that car!” she recalled screaming. Deputy Santiago-Miranda then fired, even though the car with the teenagers inside was turning away from him, she said.
“My baby left home at 10:31, and at 10:33 he was dead,” Ms. Green said. “That man just kept shooting.”
Ms. Jackson, the lawyer, said that if the deputies were concerned that the car had been stolen, they could have checked the license plate instead of drawing their weapons.
Mr. Pierce, who was known as Spud, loved music and cracking jokes, Ms. Green said.
“Sincere was a lovable child,” she said. “And he was one of the best dancers as a little child I could ever imagine.”
The deputies have been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Once the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has concluded its investigation, it will present its findings to the state attorney, Ms. Cary said.
Last week, dozens of Cocoa residents held a rally and vigil for the teens. People carried signs and flags that read “Black Lives Matter.”
A new report examines how plastic waste affects marine wildlife.
By Catrin Einhorn, Nov. 19, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/19/climate/plastic-ocean-animals.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=375813036&algo=identity&imp_id=231949603&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
How severely the world’s plastic waste crisis is affecting marine wildlife is not fully understood, despite decades of research and gruesome images of whales’ bellies filled with plastic and a turtle with a straw lodged in its nostril. A new report by Oceana, a conservation group, illustrates some of what we know about how plastic affects sea turtles and marine mammals in United States waters.
The findings offer a glimpse of a larger problem.
The authors focused on sea turtles and marine mammals for practical reasons. These animals are federally protected, so when they are found in distress or wash up dead on a beach, responders are required to document it. By collecting data from government agencies and marine life organizations around the country, the authors found almost 1,800 cases of plastic entanglement or ingestion affecting 40 species since 2009.
But the report notes that the number is “a gross underestimate” because humans observe a tiny fraction of animal deaths in the ocean. Even so, of the nation’s 23 coastal states, it found cases in 21.
“This is the first time we’re looking at the problem from a U.S. perspective,” said Kimberly Warner, the report’s author and a senior scientist at Oceana. “This brings the problem home.”
In 2016, the United States produced more plastic waste than any other nation, and more of that plastic entered the ocean than previously thought, according to a recent study. As of 2015, less than a tenth of the world’s cumulative plastic waste had been recycled.
The Oceana report found that in the reported cases, 90 percent of the animals had swallowed plastic, and the rest were entangled in it. Necropsies often showed that the animals had died from blockages or lacerations. Other times, ingesting plastic may have simply weakened the animal or played no role in its death. Over all, in 82 percent of the cases, the animals died.
The culprits go beyond the usual suspects.
In the 1980s, environmental activists warned of the devastating effects of six-pack rings ensnaring sea animals. People started dutifully cutting them before disposal, and in 1994 the Environmental Protection Agency mandated that six-pack rings must be degradable, though the process may take months. Consumers have also been warned about releasing balloons, which can harm marine animals.
Recently some municipalities, counties and states have banned single-use plastic bags, one of the biggest contributors to ingestion and entanglements, according to the report. Plastic packing straps were found constricting the necks or bodies of seals and sea lions, naturally curious animals who may have gotten entangled while trying to play. Manatees ingested lots of fishing line.
But the report also found many more surprising items caused harm. Along the Gulf Coast, mesh produce bags were found in the guts of sea turtles and also entangling their bodies. In 2015, a loggerhead turtle in Georgia was found with a toothbrush and fork in its digestive tract, among other items. Two years later, another turtle was found in New York with a plastic dental flosser inside it. Food wrappers, sandwich bags, sponges, and even decorative plastic Easter grass were among the items discovered. A bottlenose dolphin in North Carolina had its head stuck in the hole of a flying disc. In Virginia, a DVD case lacerated the stomach of a sei whale.
Many of the victims are endangered or threatened.
More than a dozen species at risk of extinction — including sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals and sei whales — ingested or were tangled in plastic. Manatees, those gentle, slow-moving giants that graze on seagrass, made up 700 cases. The report quotes Brandon Bassett, a biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, describing part of what he found inside one dead manatee: “Imagine a ball of plastic bags in the stomach, about the size of a cantaloupe, and then a bunch of plastic bags that were wrapped and almost like a rope that was about 3 feet long.”
Scientists are learning more about why animals consume plastic. To sea turtles, a floating plastic bag may resemble a jellyfish meal, but that doesn’t explain the bottle caps and hard plastic shards found in their digestive tracts or stool. One study suggested that plastic starts to smell appetizing as it becomes coated in algae and microorganisms.
In South Carolina, one ailing loggerhead passed almost 60 pieces of plastic through its digestive system during its rehabilitation at a sea turtle center. Juveniles are more at risk because of their size and undeveloped gastrointestinal tract. More than 20 percent of the sea turtles that had ingested plastic were just months old. Some were only a few days old. A recent Australian study found that just 14 pieces of plastic in their digestive tracts significantly increased sea turtles’ risk of death.
Still, plastic waste is not the biggest killer of marine life.
Humans have created all kinds of dire problems for sea animals: rising sea temperatures, fishermen hauling in unintended species, ships striking them, other marine pollution and habitat degradation.
“Plastic in and of itself may not be as big of a threat as we’re led to believe,” said Jesse Senko, an assistant research professor and senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University. “The scientific community has not done a good enough job of really assessing these questions, looking beyond how it affects an individual animal.”
He believes that images of decomposing sea birds with bellies full of plastic lead the public and media to focus on plastic even when other threats are more significant.
Ultimately, plastics and rising sea temperatures are connected; after all, the vast majority of plastic is derived from fossil fuels.
The Oceana report calls on national, state and local governments to restrict the production of single-use plastics and it asks companies to offer consumers plastic-free options.
“I’m old enough to remember a time when it didn’t permeate everything in my life,” Dr. Warner said. “And yet it’s built up at an alarming rate.”
While many Americans suffered, the richest among us kept getting richer.
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, Nov. 25, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/opinion/coronavirus-billionaires.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
When I called up Chuck Collins on Tuesday afternoon, I found him glued to one of the grimmest new metrics documenting America’s economic and social unraveling.
Collins is a scholar of inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, and since March he has been tracking how the collective wealth of American billionaires has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In previous recessions, Collins said, billionaires were hit along with the rest of us; it took almost three years for Forbes’s 400 richest people to recover losses incurred in 2008’s Great Recession.
But in the coronavirus recession of 2020, most billionaires have not lost their shirts. Instead, they’ve put on bejeweled overcoats and gloves made of spun gold — that is, they’ve gotten richer than ever before.
On Tuesday, as the stock market soared to a record, Collins was watching the billionaires cross a depressing threshold: $1 trillion.
That is the amount of new wealth American billionaires have amassed since March, at the start of the devastating lockdowns that state and local governments imposed to curb the pandemic.
On March 18, according to a report Collins and his colleagues published last week, America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. When the markets closed on Tuesday, there were 650 billionaires and their combined wealth was now close to $4 trillion. In the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, American billionaires’ wealth grew by a third.
It is difficult to think of a more succinctly obscene illustration of the unfairness of the American economic and political system.
“The economy is now wired ‘heads you win, tails I lose,’ to funnel wealth to the top,” Collins told me.
Billionaires amassed their new billions just as millions of other Americans plunged into dire financial straits. More than 20 million people lost their jobs at the start of the pandemic. As Congress lazily contemplates whether or not to bother to continue to provide economic assistance to America’s neediest, as many as 13 million people are at risk of losing the expanded benefits that keep them just beyond the grip of hunger and homelessness.
Food banks across the country are bracing for another surge in demand. If a federal moratorium on evictions is allowed to expire at the end of the year, millions of Americans will have to pay months of back rent — making them vulnerable to what housing advocates warn will be a wave of evictions.
Why are American billionaires doing so well while so many other Americans suffer? Part of the story is garden-variety American inequality. Stocks are overwhelmingly owned by the wealthy, and the stock market has recovered from its early-pandemic depths much more quickly than other parts of the economy.
But some billionaires are also benefiting from economic and technological trends that were accelerated by the pandemic. Among these are the owners and investors of retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Dollar Tree and Dollar General, which have reported huge profits this year while many of their smaller competitors were clobbered as the coronavirus spread.
Then there are companies that have bet on the rapid digitization of everything. Eric Yuan, the chief executive of Zoom, became a billionaire in 2019. Now he is worth almost $20 billion. Apoorva Mehta, the founder of the grocery-delivery company Instacart, was not a billionaire last year; this year, after a spike in orders that led to a new round of investment that pumped up the value of his company, he’s safely in the club. Dan Gilbert, the chairman of Quicken Loans, was worth less than $7 billion in March; now he commands more than $43 billion.
But like in the rest of the economy, there is a great deal of stratification even among billionaires — richer billionaires got even richer in 2020 than the poorer ones did.
Some of the numbers are staggering. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, was worth about $113 billion at the start of the pandemic. Now he is worth $182 billion — an increase of about $69 billion. Jim, Alice and Rob Walton, three of the largest shareholders of Walmart, saw their combined wealth grow by $47 billion during the pandemic.
Two years ago, Bezos was the only “centibillionaire” on earth — the trendy neologism for people whose wealth exceeds $100 billion. Now there are five — in addition to Bezos, there’s Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Bernard Arnault, the French luxury tycoon. Arnault’s wealth plummeted early in the pandemic, but demand for some luxury goods has rebounded in recent months, and his fortune is once again secure.
The political scene has also been kind to billionaires in 2020. A year ago, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren appeared to have a good shot at capturing the Democratic nomination for president, and pundits like myself were suggesting extreme measures like the abolishment of billionaires.
Billionaires can breathe much easier now. Joe Biden, not Sanders or Warren, is going to be the president. As he told a gathering of donors last year, Biden believes that rich people are “just as patriotic as poor people,” and he suggested that “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.
The possibility that the Senate will remain in Republican hands — or, if not, will be closely divided — is also good for billionaires. Some of the most ambitious liberal efforts to combat inequality — like a repeal of Trump’s corporate tax cuts, a new wealth tax or a tax on financial transactions — look unlikely to pass.
The political results point to the continuing danger to our democracy of the rise of superbillionaires — that they will use their wealth to build a political fortress around themselves, allowing them to gain even more wealth and influence.
“I do think we’re at risk of the oligarchic death spiral,” Collins told me. “Wealth concentrates and power concentrates, and the wealthy use their power to rig the rules to get more wealth and power.”
Collins is hopeful that we can avert the death spiral. He suggested that extreme inequality could prompt a political backlash. Perhaps, seeing the pandemic’s toll on nonbillionaire Americans, our leaders will be moved to fight for greater benefits for workers, more affordable and accessible health care and child care, and progressive taxation that can reduce some of the disparities between people at the top and everyone else.
In the absence of such reforms, Collins said, we may be staring down an uglier future. “The knot that we’re in is a tough one to unravel in a peaceful way,” he said.
This holiday, he says he’s thankful. Are you?
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, Nov. 25, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/opinion/christian-pacheco-prison-thanksgiving.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
In 1995, I was a 25-year-old Brooklyn father of a one-and-a-half-year-old son. I had recently joined The Times and had become the paper’s youngest newsroom department head since a man named Lester Markel was named Sunday editor in 1923.
In 1995, Christian Pacheco was a 18-year-old Brooklyn father of a one-and-a-half-year-old son. He had recently joined the Latin Kings street gangs and become the second youngest co-defendant in a murder case.
Pacheco and some friends, including a young woman that he was seeing, were at a small, corner lounge in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, when a bump on the dance floor quickly escalated into a brawl in which the victim was stabbed and his throat slit.
One witness testified that Pacheco was the person who slit the man’s throat. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
Pacheco insisted that he was innocent. Although he had fought another man earlier in the altercation, he had not stabbed the victim nor slit his throat. He contends that he knew the victim, came to his rescue, and as a result was stabbed several times himself for doing so.
Still, it wasn’t until this year that Pacheco’s conviction was overturned after newly discovered information proved that he did not receive a fair trial and that the testimony of the witness who said that Pacheco did the killing was “most probably false.”
I spoke to Pacheco this week. He told me what he recalled about that moment, years ago, when the judge read the verdict and he learned that he’d go to prison:
“Honestly, I don’t remember much, but I remember saying to myself, I said uh, ‘Oh God, I can’t believe this.’ You know, and I was shocked.”
“And then I turned around. I looked at my son’s mom. She had the baby there. And she was there with her mother. And all I remember seeing was my son’s mom, um, getting up from the seat where she was sitting, crying, and walking away from the courtroom.”
I spent the Thanksgiving of Pacheco’s conviction year in the largest apartment I would ever occupy in New York: A rambling four-bedroom unit in Prospect Heights, which I rented from a colleague who was moving away to take another assignment, but was having a hard time selling the place in the wake of the Savings and Loan Crisis. There were so many rooms that some we just left empty.
Pacheco would spend his first prison Thanksgiving occupying a 6-by-9-foot prison cell. He was still just a teenager. He was still in shock that he had been convicted. As he said: “I’m missing my family, especially my son, you know, and my mother.” He stresses, “I left a baby behind, and that was the one that was killing me inside: that I left the mother of my child with my child, out there,” knowing, as he says, that he had nothing to do with the killing.
He was allowed just 10 minutes to scarf down a special “facility meal” for Thanksgiving. But, as Pacheco said, mustering a laugh, “But, believe me, it’s nowhere near the Thanksgiving you would have out here.”
Over the years, he learned to cope with the loneliness and sadness of incarcerated holidays the best way he knew how. For Thanksgiving he would decorate his cell with pictures of turkeys he cut from magazines and hang up pictures of his family.
Sometimes, one of the inmates who could cook would make a special meal. One year Pacheco says that his cellmate made a special meal of instant rice, squid or calamari and spices bought from the commissary, placed in a clear garbage bag and heated on the cell’s hotpot.
I spent all those years surrounded by friends and family and eating like a glutton.
(Indeed, four years after Pacheco’s conviction, I moved just six blocks away from where the murder had occurred and stayed there almost the entire time Pacheco was in prison.)
Pacheco said that he learned through his lawyers twice, sometime in 2007 or 2008, that the prosecution would hand him a plea deal if he would plead guilty to a lesser charge. They would consider the time he’d already spent in prison as time served, and he could go home. Both times he refused. As he told me: “I told the attorney at that time, I said, ‘No, I’m not doing that because they know that I didn’t do this.’ ”
Furthermore, as The New York Post reported in 2017, another man pleaded guilty in federal court to cutting the victim’s throat and “laid out the crime in a 2013 letter to the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.”
When we spoke this week, Pacheco told me about what he recalled about the moment this year when the judge read the ruling that freed him. “All I remember was looking back, and I saw my grandma and my mother tearing, you know. And, I just kept looking at them,” he said, adding, “I remember a few tears came down my own eyes.”
That is not to say this is the end of things. The Conviction Review Unit still asserts that there was “strong direct and circumstantial evidence” that Pacheco was involved in the incident and that he was “not factually innocent.” Pacheco says that he is still fighting to fully clear his name and has filled a $100 million lawsuit against New York State for unjust conviction and imprisonment.
Our sons are now both 26, his in the Navy and mine in medical school. As I talked to him all I could think of was all the memories I have of my son over those years, watching him grow up, and all those same opportunities for memories that were stolen from Pacheco.
This is the first year in my life, because of the pandemic, that I will be forced to be away from family and friends. But I am still thankful and hopeful because I know that this is the first year in 25 years that Pacheco will be able to be with his family and friends.
When people complain about the restrictions that the pandemic has placed on our lives, when some go so far as to claim that it has unfairly stripped us of our rights and liberties, remember that there are people among us whose freedoms have truly been unfairly taken, people who would be happy if their only concerns were having to wear a mask and socially distance.
Pacheco was wrongly convicted, spent 25 Thanksgivings in prison, and he’s still thankful. As he told me:
“I’m thankful just to be home and be free, blessed to be able to do that with my family and my loved ones. And, when I say loved ones, I mean family and friends alike, you know what I mean. So, I am thankful for that. And, I give thanks to the most high, which is God, you know, and that he was able to make this happen. It doesn’t matter if it’s 25 years, 30 years, five years. What matters is that I’m out here now.”
Pacheco is now living with the woman he was seeing the night of the killing, the night that he himself was stabbed in the scrum, and they will spend Thanksgiving together.
The rule, which would permit methods including firing squads and electrocution, comes as the administration rushes to execute five more prisoners before President Trump’s term ends.
By Hailey Fuchs, Published Nov. 25, 2020, Updated Nov. 26, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/us/politics/executions-firing-squads-electrocution.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The Justice Department has created new regulations allowing for the use of more methods for federal executions, including firing squad and electrocution.
The new rule, which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday, comes as the administration rushes to execute five more prisoners before the end of President Trump’s term. It is part of a spate of moves and rule-making processes before he leaves office.
Unlike in some of the final-hour decisions, the practical effect of the rule remains unclear. The Justice Department has not indicated that it plans to execute inmates by a manner other than lethal injection, which has been the only method of execution the federal government has used in decades. Although lethal injection has come under increasing legal assault, the Supreme Court has already rejected recent challenges to it presented by inmates on federal death row. And President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who can rescind the rule, has signaled his opposition to the federal death penalty.
Last week, the Justice Department announced that it plans to execute three more inmates on federal death row. If the administration does so, along with two other executions already scheduled, it will have put 13 prisoners to death since July, marking one of the deadliest periods in the history of federal capital punishment since at least 1927, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The rule, reported earlier by ProPublica, stipulates that the federal government may conduct executions by lethal injection “or by any other manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence was imposed or which has been designated by a court in accordance with” the law that governs implementation of the death sentence. It will go into effect 30 days after its scheduled publication on Friday, before some of the executions are set to take place.
All states that use the death penalty allow execution by lethal injection, according to the rule. Some also authorize other means. For example, Alabama allows the prisoner to elect a death by electrocution or nitrogen hypoxia (a lethal dose of gas) instead of lethal injection. A law signed by the governor of Utah in 2015 states that a firing squad shall be used to execute an inmate if substances for lethal injection are unavailable on the scheduled date.
States have already struggled to obtain suitable drugs for their lethal injection protocols. Several years ago, reports of high-profile botched executions, which involved prisoners who reportedly gasped or writhed in pain, prompted new scrutiny over the death penalty. After an instance in Oklahoma, President Barack Obama directed his attorney general to review the application of the death penalty in the United States.
Federal executions carried out since the Trump administration ended a nearly two-decade hiatus on the practice have been exclusively by lethal injection. The government’s protocol uses a single chemical, pentobarbital, for which the Supreme Court cleared the way in June.
The rule recently finalized by the Trump administration concerns how the federal government must comply with state execution protocols. The Federal Death Penalty Act requires executions to be carried out “in the manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed.”
When it filed an initial version of the rule published in August, the Justice Department noted that a state might one day require executions to be conducted by a means other than lethal injection. The proposed rule said it would forestall potential challenges by prisoners to their executions because federal regulations did not expressly authorize execution by means other than lethal injection.
Agencies are generally supposed to allot at least 60 days for public comment. The Trump administration gave only 30 days for the proposed rule.
Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, noted that Mr. Biden could reverse the rule, but said that it represented a “symbolic” and “deeply practical” step by the department to carry out its five scheduled executions.
“It’s a pretty gruesome way to go out,” he said. “This is basically the attorney general doubling down on, you know, sort of making it possible to execute as many federal prisoners as he can before his tenure is over.”
He also highlighted recent legal hurdles that the Justice Department faced in death penalty litigation. Before the execution of a federal inmate, Orlando Cordia Hall, last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the department’s lethal injection protocol could violate the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. That law requires a prescription for the execution drug, pentobarbital. But the court still declined to issue in an injunction in the case.
In its effort to revive the death penalty under the Trump administration, the Justice Department declined to use the three-drug cocktail it had once used and instead introduced a protocol using a single drug, pentobarbital.
The announcements from the Justice Department for the five scheduled executions said four prisoners would be executed by lethal injection at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. The department did not specify the manner of execution for one prisoner, Dustin John Higgs, convicted of kidnapping and murdering three women. A Justice Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity also did not comment on his method of execution.
Ruth Friedman, the director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, who represented the first man executed by the Trump administration, called the rule a “grand arrogation of power.” She criticized the department’s decision to strip some judicial oversight. The rule removed a requirement that a government lawyer submit to the court, among other matters, the date and place of the execution, part of a provision the department deemed redundant.
Ms. Friedman also said that, more troubling than the rule, was the administration’s intention to execute prisoners so shortly before a new administration that has signaled opposition to capital punishment.
The Justice Department official defended the decision, saying that the regulations were intended to align federal sentences with the law.
Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, expected that the new rule would most likely result in fewer and less complicated legal challenges to executions, but that it would quickly become immaterial under an administration that does not seek to execute inmates.
“It tells us more about how much the administration wants to kill prisoners than it does about any real correctional need,” he said.
One bill would reach into Muslim life, and another would place new restrictions on filming of police. Critics say they’re part of a drift toward repressive government policies.
By Adam Nossiter, Nov. 25, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/25/world/europe/france-macron-muslims-police-laws.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
PARIS — A rightward push by the French government is alarming civil liberties advocates in France and raising questions about President Emmanuel Macron’s positioning ahead of an expected electoral challenge from the far right in 2022.
Propelled by a national wave of anxiety following recent terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists, two proposed new laws underscore what critics have called an alarming drift toward repression in government policy.
One bill, which passed an initial hurdle in the lower house of Parliament, the National Assembly, on Tuesday, restricts the public filming of the police, a step civic groups consider a shield for brutality at a moment when law enforcement has come under more scrutiny for aggressive tactics, often from citizens armed with cellphone cameras.
The other, still to be considered by Parliament, seeks further restrictions against Islamism as the French government has defined it, reaching into some aspects of Muslim life. This bill would ban home-schooling, flag in a database those deemed to “excuse” terrorist acts, subject organizations that receive government subsidies to a test of allegiance to “the values of the republic,” and increase strictures against polygamy, which is already illegal.
The law aimed at curbing Islamist extremism follows a series of terrorist attacks, including one at a basilica in Nice that left three dead and the beheading of a teacher in a suburb of Paris, that have set off a government crackdown that critics have contended is already overly broad, in rare cases sweeping up even children as young as 10.
In tilting right, Mr. Macron, a shape-shifting centrist who came out of the Socialist Party, has placed himself largely in step with public opinion. In the wake of the terrorist attacks, pollsters say, much of the French public is demanding protection from a perceived Islamist threat, and from public disorder of the sort seen during the Yellow Vest protests against economic hardship two years ago.
But while Mr. Macron has little to lose politically, and almost everything to gain, by moving to the right to keep his nationalist opponents at bay, his latest measures have dismayed even some of his early supporters.
Critics have faulted his government for a repressive, stigmatizing tone toward Muslims, perhaps a tenth of France’s population. “Under the pretext of reinforcing republican values, we’re actually serving the opponents of the republic, who have a xenophobic agenda,” said Aurélien Taché, a representative in Parliament who quit Mr. Macron’s party.
“This law does nothing to reinforce secularism,” said Mr. Taché, using the French term laïcité. “Those who pretend to want to do that, actually what they actually want is to exclude the Muslims,” said Mr. Taché, who represents a Paris suburb.
The law restricting the filming of police officers now threatens to engender even broader criticism because its wording is so open-ended that it has provoked antigovernment demonstrations in Paris and other cities. “Big Macron is Watching You,” read a sign held aloft at a Saturday rally attended by around 10,000 in Paris.
The law prescribes a penalty of a year in prison and a fine of some $54,000 for anyone who broadcasts “the face or any other identifying element” of police officers in action if the goal is to “physically or mentally harm” them.
Even the European Commission has raised questions, in addition to an outcry from journalists and left-leaning politicians.
“An authoritarian regime is installing itself,” thundered Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing France Unbowed party, before Parliament. “The first liberty the citizen should benefit from is the control of those who exercise authority.”
Still, in the context of France’s heightened anxiety — which comes after scores of attacks for several years that have left more than 250 people dead — Mr. Macron’s bigger concern is with the right, and Mr. Mélenchon’s diatribe can only serve the president’s purpose.
“You’re seeing an evolution of the electorate to the right,” said Gérard Grunberg, a political scientist. “Public opinion is demanding toughness,” said Mr. Grunberg. “Toughness toward Islamists, whoever. There’s definitely been a change,” he said.
Mr. Macron’s opposition in 2022 will come either from the far-right former National Front party led by Marine Le Pen or from the mainstream right, neither of which finds any fault with the new laws — both want them to be tougher.
The president’s disappointed supporters on the left will have no choice but to vote for Mr. Macron again, especially if his opponent is once again Ms. Le Pen, just as many did in 2017.
In an environment of fear and xenophobia after the terrorist killings, few voices have been publicly raised, yet, against the measure on what Mr. Macron describes as Islamism, or against his accompanying efforts to exert state oversight of the activities of imams in France.
Representatives of France’s main mosques and Muslim organizations have not publicly raised objections to Mr. Macron’s proposals. There is agreement on the need to curb extremism and put a stop to the influence of foreign countries who send imams to France.
In the police bill, civil libertarians have decried what they say is an attempt to stifle what is seen as a major tool in curbing French police violence — a term rejected wholesale by Mr. Macron — in recent years: the filming of the police by citizens, equipped with nothing more than their smartphones.
Police unions have been demanding such a measure, and in France these unions, unlike others, often get what they want. Governments have traditionally been afraid to cross them. The police in France are rarely punished for acts of violence.
And they have always hated being filmed. Several now-notorious cases of police brutality have come to light as a result of this impromptu filming, including the suffocation death of a bicycle delivery driver earlier this year after he had filmed his own arrest. Incidents of police brutality against Black and North African youth in the suburbs, quasi-endemic according to independent reports, have also been filmed by citizens.
On Monday night, citizens filmed the police violently breaking up a migrant encampment in central Paris, harsh scenes which led to an internal police investigation; “shocking” is how even the hard-line interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, characterized them.
“So, Mr. Interior Minister, you’ll agree then that these images are actually useful — and you’re the one who wanted to ban them,” wrote Clémentine Autain, a parliamentary representative of France Unbowed, on Twitter.
Under the new bill, they might soon be illegal.
France’s public citizens’ rights guardian has raised alarm bells, saying that these images are “legitimate and necessary” in a democracy. So have many journalists and academics.
“For the last two years, because of these videos, the whole issue of police violence has become a major subject in society, which it was not before,” said David Dufresne, a freelance journalist whose compilation of police violence videos during Yellow Vest protests brought into sharp focus the government’s harsh repression of the movement.
“Now they have introduced the idea of intention,” he said. “But what they want to do is stop the introduction of these images.”
The measure nonetheless passed easily thanks to Mr. Macron’s large parliamentary majority, smoothed by promises from Mr. Darmanin, who is seen as especially receptive to the French police, that press freedom was not at stake.
In the measure on Islam, the muted criticism has focused on an increasing official tendency to single out the country’s large Muslim community for regulation.
Originally an initiative against what Mr. Macron himself described as “separatisms,” it was rebaptized as a law to “reinforce republican principles,” in an apparent effort to back away from undertones of stigma.
The critics are not fooled, however. “I’m very disappointed by his secularist, authoritarian drift,” said Olivier Roy, one of France’s best-known scholars of Islam. “Teachers are being told to denounce their students. This is unacceptable,” he said.
‘‘Every statement against laïcité becomes separatist,” Mr. Roy said, referring to the republic’s guiding precept of secularism, which guarantees freedom of worship but also enforces a strict neutrality of the state on religious matters. “This is very serious. It’s an assault against freedom of expression.”
Others warned against potential long-term consequences. “Absurd and counterproductive, and it weakens the republic. Was it really a good idea to alienate 10 percent of the French public?” asked Ayyam Sureau, who heads a refugee aid association in Paris. “They’ve rallied together the moderates and the Islamists,” she said.
Mr. Macron himself, in an October speech heralding the initiative, slipped imperceptibly from denunciations of “Islamism,” to decrying the problems of Islam itself, and then back to “Islamism.”
“I feel this is wounding for the Muslim community as a whole,” said Ms. Sureau. “This consecrates the separation. I don’t see what’s new apart from stigmatizing the entire community.”
Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting.
Honestie’s handcuffing by the police in Grand Rapids, Mich., caused a national uproar and led to a new law enforcement policy on dealing with youths. Honestie died of Covid-19.
By Glenn Rifkin, Nov. 24, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/24/obituaries/honestie-hodges-dead-coronavirus.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=442889377&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-15min&imp_id=211890211&action=click&module=Most%20Popular&pgtype=Homepage
Honestie Hodges, in a recent photo. Credit...via Hodges family
Honestie Hodges, who was handcuffed by the police outside her home in Grand Rapids, Mich., when she was 11, a frightening incident that drew outrage and national headlines in 2017, died on Sunday. She was 14.
Her death, at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, was caused by Covid-19, her grandmother Alisa Niemeyer wrote in a post on the website GoFundMe.
The incident occurred on Dec. 6, 2017. Honestie had stepped out the back door of her home with her mother and another family member to go to the store when they were confronted by police officers with their guns drawn.
“Put your hands on top of your—,” an officer ordered them before he was interrupted by Honestie’s mother screaming, “She is 11 years old, sir!”
“Stop yelling!” the officer responded, as recorded by an officer’s body camera. He ordered Honestie to walk backward toward him with her hands up.
A second officer grabbed her arms, pulled them behind her back and handcuffed her. Honestie shouted, “No, No, No!” pleading with the officers not to place the cuffs on her. The police, who said they had been searching for a 40-year-old woman in connection with a stabbing, removed the handcuffs after several minutes.
The incident caused a widespread uproar that led to a soul-searching within the Grand Rapids Police Department. In a news conference, the police chief at the time, David Rahinsky, said that “listening to the 11-year-old’s response makes my stomach turn; it makes me physically nauseous.” He retired in 2019.
None of the officers were disciplined because they had not violated any departmental policies, Mr. Rahinsky wrote in a statement at the time. Nonetheless, the department acknowledged that the officers had made a mistake in how they handled the child.
By then the police force was already facing criticism for a similar encounter that March in which five innocent teenagers were held at gunpoint.
At the time, Honestie, who was Black, spoke out. “I have a question for the Grand Rapids police: If this happened to a white child, if her mother was screaming, ‘She’s 11,’ would you have handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police car?” she was quoted as saying on MLive.com, a Michigan news site.
In March 2018, the police department adopted the “Honestie Policy,” which called for using the least restrictive options when dealing with youths. Even so, several more incidents involving the police pointing weapons at children have heightened tensions in Grand Rapids. A local television station, WOOD-TV, reported this summer that Honestie and her family were negotiating with the city to settle a claim filed over the handcuffing episode.
Honestie developed severe stomach pains on Nov. 9, her 14th birthday. Taken to the hospital, she tested positive for the new coronavirus and was sent home. But her condition worsened that evening, an ambulance was called, and she was admitted to the hospital’s intensive care unit. Over the next few days she received iron and blood transfusions as complications arose. She was placed on a ventilator on Nov. 14. But her condition never improved. Ms. Niemeyer updated the GoFundMe page asking for prayers.
Then, on Sunday, Ms. Niemeyer wrote: “It is with an extremely heavy heart that I have to tell you that my beautiful, sassy, smart, loving granddaughter has gone home to be with Jesus.”
Ms. Niemeyer had created the GoFundMe page to collect donations for her daughter, Whitney Hodges, who had had to stop working to care for Honestie and her four other children.
Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Honestie was not the youngest person to die of Covid-19 in Michigan.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that Covid-19 deaths among children were rare over all, but that Hispanic and Black children were more likely than their white peers to be hospitalized or admitted to an I.C.U.
Ms. Niemeyer told WOOD-TV that Honestie had been “healthy and happy” with no underlying health issues.
“She could have been the vice president one day, or maybe the president,” Ms. Niemeyer said. “The world was open to her.”
David Andreatta, November 25, 2020https://www.wxxinews.org/post/governor-denies-restoring-voting-rights-parolee-jalil-muntaqim
Parolees are not allowed to vote in New York upon release from prison without the pardon.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued such pardons as a matter of course on a monthly basis since 2018, when he signed an executive order directing the corrections commissioner to submit to him each month a list of every felon newly eligible for parole, with each name to be “given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights.”
Anyone on the list is eligible for a pardon as long as they are not flagged by law enforcement for any specific concerns. Most parolees receive their pardon, which does not expunge their record, within four to six weeks of their release.
A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office said Muntaqim was denied a voting pardon last week.
In a notable twist, however, the Department of Corrections listed Muntaqim on its website as having received the pardon. The spokesperson called the listing "a clerical error."
The error could be found as recently as Monday on the department’s “Parolee Lookup” page, which provides information on parolees to the public, including their date of birth, parole status, and whether their voting rights have been restored.
On the page assigned to Muntaqim, the word “Yes” was shown next to a line that indicates whether a voting pardon has been issued. The agency modified that to “No” late Monday after CITY inquired about Muntaqim’s voting eligibility status.
Muntaqim, 69, was released from prison on parole on Oct. 7, after serving nearly 50 years on a pair of first-degree murder convictions in the 1971 shooting deaths of two New York City police officers. He was convicted and served under his given name, Anthony Bottom.
About two weeks after his release, the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office charged Muntaqim with tampering with public records and offering a false instrument for filing, both felonies, and a misdemeanor for filing a completed voter registration form with the county Board of Elections.
Muntaqim filled out the form the day after his release, before being notified whether he had received the governor’s pardon. He filled out the form using his given name, which he never formally changed after assuming his new name in prison decades ago.
The Board of Elections subsequently rejected his registration.
A conditional pardon restoring Muntaqim's voting rights would have put a wrinkle into his prosecution, which has gotten the attention of national organizations that advocate for expanded ballot access for formerly incarcerated people.
Muntaqim has been arraigned in Brighton Town Court and is scheduled to appear next on Dec. 14.
Should he be convicted on the felonies, he would likely be returned to prison. One of the felonies carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The other carries a maximum of four years.
"This case is just another reminder of the extreme outcome for the underlying act that is being called into question and the extreme level of punitiveness that characterizes American criminal jurisprudence," said Nicole Porter, the director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for criminal justice reform.
"It is incredibly frustrating that prosecutors are willing to make an example of this man and take away someone's liberty for something like this," Porter said. "I don't know how these prosecutors sleep at night."
The United States has a long history of disenfranchising felons, even after they’ve served their time, although a national movement to restore their voting rights is gaining traction. This month, California and Florida overwhelmingly approved measures to re-enfranchise voting rights to parolees.
"The point of parole is to encourage people to reintegrate themselves into the community in a healthy way," said Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program at New York University. "We should all want people who are being released from prison and returned to their communities to play a productive role in their communities. That shouldn't be a controversial proposition."
District Attorney Sandra Doorley said in an interview that Muntaqim's case was presented to her as an instance of potential voter fraud and that the facts were straightforward.
Reached at home, Muntaqim declined to comment. His lawyer, a public defender, also declined to comment.
His mother, Billie Bottom Brown, has called his filing of a voter registration form “a mistake.” She said the form was within a packet of paperwork provided to her son to help him assimilate back into society.
Friends of Muntaqim’s said the paperwork was provided by the county’s Department of Human Services, which helps newly released prisoners acclimate. Those packets include everything a former inmate might need — information on Medicaid, food stamps, child care, becoming an organ donor, and a voter registration form.
“I don’t think he was trying to game the system” by signing the form, said James Schuler, 52, a youth advocate in Wayne County who has known Muntaqim since they met as inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility in 2000 and considers him a mentor.
“One thing he wanted to be more than anything was be a productive member of society,” Schuler said. “They gave him paperwork to do that and he signed.”
David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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