Carmen Trotta and Martha Hennessy, two of the Kings Bay Plowshares disarmament activists, self-reported to federal prisons yesterday to begin their sentences.
Carmen was driven by a group of community members and friends from St. Joseph House Catholic Worker in NYC to the prison in Otisville, NY, about a two hour drive. Before leaving he received a blessing from many friends with a laying on hands. The group also stopped for a farewell meal in Middletown near the prison.
Carmen was given a 14 month sentence and has already served 7 weeks. He is expected to be quarantined for two weeks and then put into the prison camp population. The prison has stopped all visiting which may be a sign that the virus rate is growing.
Martha was brought from her home in Vermont to Danbury, CT by her husband, Steven Melanson to begin her ten month sentence. Two of her codefendants, Mark Colville and Liz McAlister along with Liz's daughter Frida Berrigan and Bill Marsten met them in the parking lot. Mark reports, "I was conscious of Martha's courage and faith, her faithfulness to the Gospel and compassion for all of creation which has made it possible for our community of love and justice to extend beyond that prison.
On the way, we passed through the little town of Sandy Hook. Dec. 14th, was the 8th anniversary of that terrible school shooting of all those children and educators. We are conscious of the connection between nuclear weapons and the kinds of violence that plague our communities and neighborhoods everywhere in this country. Martha's going forward very much was a witness to this connection between the ultimate violence of omnicidal nuclear weapons and the violence that plagues our neighborhoods."
Carmen Trotta #22561-021
Federal Correctional Institution
PO Box 1000
Otisville, NY 10963
Martha Hennessy #22560-021
Danbury, CT 06811
You can send letters to them on white paper with blue or black ink but no drawings. We are checking what else they may receive. See the website for updates.
Clare Grady and Patrick O'Neill will report to prison in the New Year. Mark Colville has a delay for sentencing until February 19.
Judge delays execution of only woman on US death row
Michael Balsamo, December 25, 2020
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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Cassie da Costa - December 24, 2020
Mike Africa Jr. met his parents in prison. In fact, he was born in a cell. For most of his life, he did all he could to get his mother, Debbie Africa, and father, Mike Africa Sr., released. A new documentary, 40 Years a Prisoner, available on HBO now, follows his journey fighting his parents’ incarceration—and rigorously examines the sordid history of law enforcement practices like the ones that landed them there in the first place.
Like Africa Jr., director Tommy Oliver grew up in Philadelphia, hearing rumblings about MOVE—the back-to-the-land Black anarchist group Africa Jr.’s parents were core members of. (While the name is capitalized, it’s not an acronym.) It wasn’t until Oliver began doing his own research on MOVE that a much bigger story began to reveal itself. “I watched everything I could. And then I went to the Temple [University] Urban Archives, and I went through dozens of boxes of content,” Oliver told Vanity Fair. “There was still so much that I knew wasn’t there. So I had a friend make an intro to MOVE”—first to a woman named Ramona, then to Africa Jr. He informed Oliver about the MOVE Nine, the incarcerated members of the group, which was founded in 1972 by John Africa. (All members take on the last name Africa.) Two had died in prison, while the other seven were still alive at the time, including his parents.
From the moment of its inception, MOVE had been a target of controversy, curiosity, confusion, and aggression. The film recounts a 1976 encounter between the group and Philadelphia police. Law enforcement attacked MOVE members just outside of their commune residence, claiming there was a disturbance. A female member of the group, Janine Africa, was holding her baby when she was shoved to the ground by an officer; the baby died. The tragedy would foreshadow the ultimate standoff between MOVE and Philadelphia police on August 8, 1978, and the resulting incarceration of the MOVE Nine.
A detailed, panoptic investigation into the lead-up to that fateful day, 40 Years a Prisoner lays bare the distortions of Philadelphia law enforcement as led by Mayor Frank Rizzo. Oliver weaves together extensive archival footage and new interviews with police, journalists, and MOVE members. The result is not only a historical excavation of anti-Blackness in one of America’s Blackest cities, but an unforgettable look into how propaganda becomes the foundation of American life.
“The truth is independent of what one believes. It just is,” Oliver told me in an interview. How, then, did he go about depicting that truth for inevitably biased audiences? The answer lies in Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill. “When we see Commissioner O’Neill at City Hall during the press conference on August 8,” Oliver said, “[O’Neill] is flanked on either side by the D.A., Ed Rendell, and Mayor Rizzo.” In the footage, O’Neill claims that MOVE member Delbert Africa came out of MOVE headquarters armed “with a clip in one hand and a knife in the other.”
“And he’s talking to the media. He’s talking to the news. He’s talking to everybody,” Oliver explained. “And that is the information that’s going to be disseminated, that’s going to be shared and played and replayed.” After showing that clip, Oliver shows another from that day: “Delbert, hands open, no shirt on, nothing in either hand. And you see the very clear difference between what is being told versus what actually happened.”
The media often takes the police’s word for unvarnished truth. But serious research reveals what many at the time already knew: MOVE, while politically militant, was not an armed organization. (They had rifles, but during an earlier raid, police themselves found that they were nonfunctional.) A police officer died on August 8, though there is no evidence, besides police testimony, of what led to his death. “There is no video, no photos. And guess what happens? You take exactly what’s given,” Oliver said. “On top of that, [regarding] evidence, the house is literally razed by the city hours after. And so that’s how I deal with it. The idea of sort of showing very clearly, literally in black and white—because that footage is in black and white—the difference between what actually happened versus what [the police] say.”
Now, after some 40 years, Africa Jr.’s parents are finally out of prison. Still, the fight is not over. Africa Jr. hopes to have their 50-plus-year parole terms commuted, and to see MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal released. As for the film about the events that have shaped his entire life, from the time he was in the womb? “My hope is that people will look at the film and do a little digging into some of these issues themselves,” Africa Jr. told me. “Today in the Philadelphia Daily News, the front page of the paper says, ‘Guilty until proven innocent.’ And that is because another man was exonerated from prison based on evidence, and witnesses that were intimidated.”
2) Another Arrest, and Jail Time, Due to a Bad Facial Recognition Match
A New Jersey man was accused of shoplifting and trying to hit an officer with a car. He is the third known Black man to be wrongfully arrested based on face recognition.
By Kashmir Hill, Dec. 29, 2020
Nijeer Parks is the third person known to be arrested for a crime he did not commit based on a bad face recognition match. Credit...Mohamed Sadek for The New York Times
In February 2019, Nijeer Parks was accused of shoplifting candy and trying to hit a police officer with a car at a Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, N.J. He had been identified by police using facial recognition software, even though he was 30 miles away at the time of the incident.
Mr. Parks spent 10 days in jail and paid around $5,000 to defend himself. In November 2019, the case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Mr. Parks, 33, is now suing the police, the prosecutor and the city of Woodbridge for false arrest, false imprisonment and violation of his civil rights.
He is the third person known to be falsely arrested based on a bad facial recognition match. In all three cases, the people mistakenly identified by the technology have been Black men.
Facial recognition technology is known to have flaws. In 2019, a national study of over 100 facial recognition algorithms found that they did not work as well on Black and Asian faces. Two other Black men — Robert Williams and Michael Oliver, both of whom live in the Detroit, Mich., area — were also arrested for crimes they did not commit based on bad facial recognition matches. Like Mr. Parks, Mr. Oliver filed a lawsuit against the city over the wrongful arrest.
Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who believes that police should stop using face recognition technology, said the three cases demonstrate “how this technology disproportionately harms the Black community.”
“Multiple people have now come forward about being wrongfully arrested because of this flawed and privacy-invading surveillance technology,” said Mr. Wessler. He worries that there have been other arrests and even mistaken convictions that have not been uncovered.
Law enforcement often defends the use of facial recognition, despite its flaws, by saying that it is used only as a clue in a case and will not lead directly to an arrest. But Mr. Parks’s experience is another example of an arrest based almost solely on a suggested match by the technology.
On a Saturday in January 2019, two police officers showed up at a Hampton Inn in Woodbridge, N.J., after receiving a report about a man stealing snacks from the gift shop.
The alleged shoplifter — a Black man, nearly six feet tall, wearing a black jacket — was visiting a Hertz office in the hotel lobby, trying to get the rental agreement for a gray Dodge Challenger extended. The officers confronted him and he apologized, according to the police report. He said he would pay for the snacks and gave the officers a Tennessee driver’s license.
When the officers checked the license, they discovered it was fraudulent. According to a police report, one of the officers spotted a “big bag of suspected marijuana” in the man’s pocket. They tried to handcuff him. That’s when the man ran, losing a shoe on the way to his rental car, police said.
As he drove off, the man hit a parked police car and a column in front of the hotel, police said. One of the officers said he had to jump out of the way to avoid getting hit. The rental car was later found abandoned in a parking lot a mile away.
A detective in the Woodbridge Police Department sent the photo from the fake driver’s license to state agencies that had access to face recognition technology, according to a police report.
The next day, state investigators said they had a facial recognition match: Nijeer Parks, who lived in Paterson, 30 miles away, and worked at a grocery store. The detective compared Mr. Parks’s New Jersey state I.D. to the fake Tennessee driver’s license and agreed it was the same person. After a Hertz employee confirmed that the Tennessee driver’s license photo was of the shoplifter, the police issued a warrant for Mr. Parks’s arrest.
“I don’t think he looks like me,” Mr. Parks said. “The only thing we have in common is the beard.”
Mr. Parks’s mistaken arrest was first reported by NJ Advance Media, which said that the facial recognition app Clearview AI was used in the case, based on a claim in Mr. Parks’s lawsuit. Mr. Parks’s lawyer, Daniel Sexton, said he had inferred that Clearview AI was used, given media reports about facial recognition in New Jersey, but now believes he was mistaken.
Clearview AI is a facial recognition tool that uses billions of photos scraped from the public web, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Clearview AI’s founder, Hoan Ton-That, said officers affiliated with the state agencies where information was analyzed in the case, known as fusion centers, involved in the case were not using his company’s app at that time.
According to the police report, the match in this case was to a license photo, which would reside in a government database, to which Clearview AI does not currently have access. The law enforcement involved in making the match — the New York State Intelligence Center, New Jersey’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center, and two state investigators — did not respond to inquiries about which facial recognition system was used.
In January, after a New York Times story about Clearview AI, New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, put a moratorium on Clearview’s use by police and announced an investigation into “this product or products like it.” A spokesman for the attorney general’s office said New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice is still evaluating the use of facial recognition products in the state, and that the development of a policy governing their use is ongoing.
‘I was afraid.’
After police arrested Mr. Parks, he was held for 10 days at the Middlesex County Corrections Center. New Jersey’s no-bail system uses an algorithm that evaluates the defendant’s risk rather than money to determine whether a defendant can be released before trial.
A decade ago, Mr. Parks was arrested twice and incarcerated for selling drugs. He was released in 2016. The public safety assessment score he received, which would have taken his past convictions into account, was high enough that he was not released after his first hearing. His mother and fiancée hired a private attorney, who was able to get him out of jail and into a pretrial monitoring program.
His prior history with the criminal justice system is what made this incident so scary, he said, because this would have been his third felony, meaning he was at risk of a long sentence. When the prosecutor offered a plea deal, he almost took it even though he was innocent.
“I sat down with my family and discussed it,” Mr. Parks said. “I was afraid to go to trial. I knew I would get 10 years if I lost.”
Mr. Parks was able to get proof from Western Union that he had been sending money at a pharmacy in Haledon, N.J., more than 30 miles away, when the incident happened. At his last court hearing, he told the judge he was willing to go to trial to defend himself. But a few months later, his case was dismissed.
Robert Hubner, the chief of the Woodbridge Police Department, declined to comment on the case because of the pending lawsuit, but said his department had not been served the complaint. The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office also declined to comment.
Mr. Parks’s lawsuit over the wrongful arrest does not yet ask for damages.
“I was locked up for no reason,” Mr. Parks said. “I’ve seen it happen to other people. I’ve seen it on the news. I just never thought it would happen to me. It was a very scary ordeal.”
Jack Begg contributed research.
By JM Wong, December 23, 2020https://southseattleemerald.com/2020/12/23/future-gazing-what-if-care-was-the-organizing-principle-of-our-society/
With a challenging year soon to be behind us, we asked community members to share their vision of what they hope becomes of our city post-pandemic.
What if care was the organizing principle of our society? Not profit, not white supremacist garbage masked as liberal paternalism in the form of “diversity” that would hire cops of color to continue to target Black and Brown folks on the street just living their lives.
What if care was my people who are here finding home as guests on Turtle Island, shredding up the myths of american empire force-fed to us through aid packages and free trade agreements, with jobs that colonize our psyches and rob us of our life forces?
What if care was us acknowledging our presence on someone else’s ancestral lands? Lands that are marked by Indigenous peoples’ resistance, the Black radical tradition, and also by Chinatown histories of striking railroad, textile factory, and hand laundromat workers?
What if this kind of care — not the citizenship test, not words from twisted tongues that we are forced to regurgitate — was how we are oriented to this country?
What if care was my dear homie F, and all the other homies locked up in cages, being able to go kick it with me and the squad at Lake Washington on a full moon night, setting intentions and sharing prayer? But not before we fish off of that one dock and share why we love the story of orca whale mom Tahlequah who carried her dead calf around for 17 days and what that teaches us about mammalian grief, which is as deep as the ocean waters and as resilient as the light that hits it everyday. We know now that Tahlequah has a new baby calf! What if care was more shared moments of freedom, not captivity? We don’t stop organizing till our families are alive and free.
What if care was my bestie, undocumented in status, being able to return to the homelands, to introduce their mother to the new baby, so it is not just the screens and distorted sounds of choppy Wi-Fi that will etch the visual and audio memory of their child’s ancestral bloodlines? What if this child could play with her grandmother so my bestie can rest sometimes, not replying at all to my insomnia texts because work has kept them up too late? Organize childcare for everyone and especially the single parents who hustle while they deal with the regular challenges of life and sometimes while still doing the work to heal for themselves and the futures they nourish.
What if care is everyone living lives of exploration, of ease, of connection?
What if care is the organizing principle of our society?
Care that is creative and tenacious, relentless and wholesome, abundant and kind. The kind of fierce love that helped us survive the pain, loss, and heartbreak of 2020. A world where this love is the uncompromising foundation of our society, is the hope that anchors me into the future. We got you, and each other, 2021!
JM Wong (they/them) is a queer child of the Chinese diaspora living on Duwamish lands (Seattle) via Malaysia/Singapore and many cities in between. They write about movements, desire, and longings across distances and bordered spaces. Of diaspora, of the logistical supply chain stretching over ocean waters, of connections transcending prison walls, of crossings over to the ancestral realms. What we each journey through matters, and the futures we imagine begin from now. They organize with COVID-19 Mutual Aid, Free Them All WA, and the FIGHT/APICAG family.
The Senate vote on Wednesday was a major victory for Latin America’s growing feminist movement, and its ripple effects are likely to be widespread.
By Daniel Politi and Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2020https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/30/world/americas/argentina-legalizes-abortion.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Supporters of legalizing abortion celebrating outside Congress in Buenos Aires on Wednesday. Credit...Sarah Pabst for The New York Times
BUENOS AIRES — Argentina on Wednesday became the largest nation in Latin America to legalize abortion, a landmark vote in a conservative region and a victory for a grass-roots movement that turned years of rallies into political power.
The high-stakes vote in the Senate gripped the nation into the early morning, and the measure’s approval — by a wider-than-expected tally of 38 to 29, with one abstention — came after 12 hours of often dramatic debate, exposing the tensions between the long-dominant Roman Catholic Church, whose influence is waning, and a growing feminist movement.
“I didn’t change my way of thinking about abortion,” said Lucila Crexell, a senator from the southern Neuquén Province who had kept her vote under wraps and abstained from a vote on the matter in 2018. “I changed my focus on how I think the issue should be approached. It isn’t about feminism or religion. Clandestine abortion is a silent figure that kills, harms and writes very sad stories.”
As it unfolded, the Senate debate was closely followed by masses of both opponents and supporters of abortion rights, who camped out in the plaza around the neo-Classical Palace of Congress, chanting, cheering and praying as they tried to sway a handful of undecided senators to their respective camps.
Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, has promised to sign the bill into law, making it legal for women to end pregnancies for any reason up to 14 weeks. After that, there will be exceptions allowed for rape and the woman’s health.
The effects of the legalization vote are likely to ripple across Latin America, galvanizing reproductive-rights advocates elsewhere in the region and leaving them hopeful that other socially conservative nations could follow suit.
Uruguay, Cuba and Guyana are the only other countries in Latin America to allow abortion on request. Argentina, like a number of other countries in the region, had previously permitted abortion in cases of rape or if the pregnancy posed a risk to a woman’s health; other Latin American countries have stricter limits or total prohibitions.
“Legalizing abortion in Argentina is a gigantic victory that protects fundamental rights and will inspire change in Latin America,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, the Americas deputy director for Human Rights Watch. “It’s predictable, however, that this will also mobilize pro-life groups.”
Supporters of the legislation cheered and hugged as soon as the vote total was announced, confirming that what they had been fighting for had become reality.
“It’s one of those things that you anticipate for so long that when it finally happens you can’t believe it and don’t know what to do with yourself,” said María Blanco, 27. “I couldn’t stop crying.”
Argentina’s legalization of abortion was a striking rebuke of Pope Francis, who injected himself into the bitter political debate in his homeland on the eve of the vote, praising a women’s group from impoverished neighborhoods for its activism against abortion. It was also a setback for the country’s fast-growing evangelical Protestant churches, which had joined forces with the Catholic Church in opposing the change.
“I feel a profound sense of anguish that in this country that I love the right to life is not respected,” said Abigail Pereira, 27, who had been out in Buenos Aires protesting against legalization. “But I will keep on fighting.”
The vote was a major legislative victory for Mr. Fernández, Argentina’s center-left president, who has made women’s rights central to his administration’s agenda.
But primarily it was a win for Argentina’s grass-roots abortion-rights advocates, who have recently paved the way for other deep shifts in the country’s cultural and political landscape — including marriage equality, gender parity initiatives and transgender rights — and made Argentina a bellwether of changes that have gained broader traction in the region.
Argentina’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the bill earlier this month, by a vote of 131 to 117. It also passed a similar measure two years ago, only to have it fail in the Senate, 38 to 31; the president at the time, Mauricio Macri, said he was personally against legalization but vowed not to veto the bill if it made it through Congress.
Mr. Fernández campaigned for the presidency on a platform that included abortion rights, gender equality, and gay and transgender rights, and he has followed through on those promises to a degree that has surprised even some of his supporters.
Supporters of the abortion measure, including Senator Norma Durango, said legalizing abortion would simply bring the practice out of the shadows. Researchers say hundreds of thousands of underground abortions are performed in Argentina every year.
Around 40,000 women were hospitalized for complications related to abortions in 2016, according to the latest available data from the Health Ministry, while at least 65 women died between 2016 and 2018 from complications, according to a report by Argentina’s Access to Safe Abortion Network.
“I sit here today representing all the women who have died having clandestine abortions,” said Ms. Durango, who was the first lawmaker to speak during the debate that began Tuesday. “Abortion is a reality, and it has been taking place since time immemorial.”
The effort to loosen Argentina’s abortion laws is decades old, but it got a boost from the feminist movement Ni Una Menos, which formed in 2015 to protest violence against women and has since been the driving force behind the abortion legalization campaign.
The symbol of that effort in Argentina — green handkerchiefs — has caught on in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, where women sporting them have poured into the streets demanding greater support for their rights.
“The green movement that started in Argentina has taken over the entire region,” said Paula Ávila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Center. “Any activist from Mexico to Argentina is wearing the green handkerchief as a symbol for legalizing abortion.”
Just hours before the Senate took up the measure on Tuesday afternoon, Pope Francis, who as pontiff has sought to distance himself from political debates in Argentina, issued a message that appeared directed to the handful of senators who had not yet made their position clear.
“The Son of God was born an outcast, in order to tell us that every outcast is a child of God,” he wrote on Twitter. “He came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love.”
Catholic and evangelical leaders had called on supporters to observe a day of prayer and fasting on Monday to reflect on “the killing of so many innocent children.” Church leaders have been working throughout the year to galvanize the faithful, and large anti-abortion marches have taken place across the country.
On Tuesday, opponents of legal abortion, who tend to wear baby blue, displayed a large doll that looked like a fetus, which they sprayed with fake blood.
Mr. Fernández, a law professor who has long supported legalizing abortion, made it a campaign promise, and an early legislative priority once he took office at the end of 2019. The decision entailed political risks, as he took the reins of a troubled economy that has been in recession for two years and soon after ordered one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in the world.
But Mr. Fernández and his vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, came to see abortion as one of the few items on their agenda they could advance amid a torrent of challenges. Ms. Kirchner, who led Argentina as president from 2007 to 2015, opposed legalizing abortion during most of her political career.
Her position shifted in the lead-up to the vote in 2018, when tens of thousands of women demonstrated across Argentina in support of making access to abortion on request legal. Ms. Kirchner, who was then a senator, has said her daughter played a key role in changing her mind.
“Through our years of activism, we’ve managed to get people to change their positions,” said Celeste Mac Dougall, an abortion rights advocate. “Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is the most obvious example that opinions can change.”
Melina Alegre, a 34-year-old retail worker, said it seemed particularly significant that the law that the women’s rights movement had been pushing for so long was approved right before the new year.
“2020 was a horrible year,” she said, “and here we are, ending it with a historic victory.”
Daniel Politi reported from Buenos Aires, and Ernesto Londoño from Rio de Janeiro.
By Susie Day, December 30, 2020https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/30/covid-19-prison-and-another-pandemic-clare-grady-made-me-remember/
Clare Grady is going to prison. On February 10, this nice Irish Catholic lady of 62, who lives with her family in Ithaca, New York will enter Alderson Prison, West Virginia, to begin a one-year-and-one-day sentence. That’s because, on April 4, 2018, Clare and six cohorts, also white and Catholic, broke into the world’s largest nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia and defaced government property to call attention to the increasing danger of nuclear war.
Because the group – Plowshares 7 – believes that nuclear weapons aren’t created in isolation from a system that also creates climate change, murders people like George Floyd, and brutally detains immigrants, the group read out a statement, repenting of the sin of white supremacy. They condemned “racism, militarism, and extreme materialism,” the triple evils of the U.S. profit imperative once called out by Martin Luther King.
Unsurprisingly, Clare and her comrades were arrested, charged with federal crimes, and convicted on all counts. By now, all but one have been sentenced to terms similar in length to Clare’s, which, compared to those served by most people convicted of felonies, seem almost tiny.
As a journalist, I recently interviewed Clare about her case. Since then, Clare and I have been emailing, Zooming, talking about people we know in common, her kids, the puppets she’s making for some peace project. She is becoming my friend. So what you’re reading isn’t anything like a balanced, unbiased hunk of journalism. I am an unprofessional.
See, over the past decades, I’ve come to know many people imprisoned for unlawful acts, protesting some or all of Dr. King’s “evil triplets.” I know that people in prison suffer physically, psychologically. Sometimes they die.
And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has invaded the crowded, unsanitary cages where people – “political” or not – are afforded little or no protection. Reportedly, COVID-19 infections are 5.5 times – and counting – higher in U.S. prisons than out. Seeing Clare Grady and her friends incarcerated would have been hard without COVID. It’s way harder now. They’re in their sixties, seventies; many battling underlying health concerns.
To try and help them, I’ve thought about reporting on the scourge of COVID-19 behind bars: the high infection rates inside; the vulnerability of elders; how hardly anyone gets out. But knowing Clare has helped me remember, from deep in the 20th century folds of my brain, something even worse than this pandemic. I remember what nuclear weapons can do.
In 1945, as everybody knows, the U.S. dropped atom bombs on two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of people, poisoning the ecosystem, and beginning a global arms race that brought us weapons of increasing devastation, capable of obliterating planetary life many times over. Like billions, I grew up in a world where “mutually assured destruction” was the only way to “peace.”
Fortunately, there was pushback. Some people wrote books like E.P. Thompson’s Protest and Survive. Others actually protested. People around the world decried not just nuclear war but also nuclear power, after accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Plowshares, begun in 1980, was only one group among hundreds working to abolish nuclear power and weapons. People like Clare and her gang were there on June 12, 1982, when around a million antinuke protestors took over Midtown and Central Park in New York City.
For a minute, back in the last century, protesting nuclear war was cool. Women in particular played a huge part; in the 1980’s, women’s peace camps sprang up in places like Greenham Common in the UK and Seneca Falls, NY. I was part of a Midwestern lesbian community where, along with supporting battered women’s shelters and marching against police brutality, just about everybody worked somehow against nuclear weapons and power. We got pretty good at describing what a nuclear winter would be for those unlucky enough to survive an initial blast: blackened sky for years; burning asphalt; deaths from radiation… We ingested that nightmare.
But it turns out you can’t live more than a few years contemplating nuclear apocalypse and ragging on the military industrial complex if you want a “normal” life. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas needed help; then the HIV/AIDS crisis hit. So, forgetting that the arms industry never sleeps, most of us migrated to other causes. Like America, we made peace with our end-of-the-world nightmare through fun, post-apocalyptic and dystopian scenarios, from Godzilla to The Hunger Games.
Years ago, it was relatively simple to identify governments as the source of nuclear buildup. Then corporations began devouring every facet of production, handling, storage. As the nuclear industry threaded its way through the products and services of our lives, it became harder to see, dismantle, and to protest. Gradually, much of the antinuke movement shuttered.
Plowshares didn’t. Clare’s April 2018 protest was maybe the 80th Plowshares action. Yet, how could it possibly change today’s world, which holds around 14,000 nuclear bombs, most of which are vastly more destructive than those that hit Japan, and can be launched (by design or accident) instantly?
There’s also the fact that Trump has pissed on nuclear pacts like the Open Skies Treaty, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Iran Nuclear Deal. A few days after Joe Biden takes office, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia will expire. Will Biden move to extend it? Maybe. But let’s remember that he voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and seems, according to In These Times, to be stocking his administration with a “host of pro-war individuals.”
What Joe Biden will never admit is that the world doesn’t have to work this way. In fact, it was Clare, not Joe, who told me that there’s a new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons [TPNW] going into effect January 22. International law will soon make nuclear weapons illegal.
Of course, Joe doesn’t care; NATO and the U.S. oppose the treaty. Clare will go to prison and the mainstream press won’t peep. All TPNW offers is small hope for a big miracle. But still, it’s hope.
So COVID. It would be wonderful if Clare and her comrades never had to go to prison and possibly contract the virus. It would be wonderful if none of the 2.3 million, mostly Black or Brown, people in U.S. prisons didn’t have to be there in the first place, and live with the constant fear of dying inside.
Basically: if you’ve been fighting those bad triplets, please don’t stop. But the whole point of that seemingly pointless Plowshares action is to wake us up to the fact that all life forms – regardless of politics – are desperately, deeply, drastically interdependent. “Intersectional,” in movement terms. And if some “right-wingers” deny COVID, most of us – left, right, center – perpetually deny the likelihood of nuclear disaster.
So let Clare Grady do her work. And if my friend goes to prison, if she gets sick there, then sicker … my heart will break. It may not recover. But here’s the thing.
It won’t break for nothing.
The video shows a man raising something to his car window before a bang is heard. An officer ducks for cover and then fires several rounds at the man.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Published Dec. 31, 2020, Updated Jan. 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/us/george-floyd-minneapolis-police-body-cam.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The Minneapolis Police Department released body camera footage on Thursday that shed new light on a fatal police shooting the night before, the first killing by a city police officer since George Floyd’s death in the spring.
The 28-second video shows a chaotic scene in which several police cars are blocking a driver from leaving the parking lot of a gas station. As an officer walks toward the car and yells for the driver to put his hands up, the man appears to raise something to his window and a loud bang can be heard. The driver’s window shatters, someone curses and the officer ducks for cover.
About two seconds later, the officer fires a shot at the man, followed by four more. About a dozen shots can be heard in all, but it is not clear from the video who fired the others.
The Hennepin County medical examiner’s office identified the man late on Thursday as Dolal B. Idd, a 23-year-old Black man, and said he had died of multiple gunshot wounds. Mayor Jacob Frey had earlier said the man was Somali. Police did not immediately release information about the officer or officers who fired.
Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a news conference on Thursday afternoon that the officers had been conducting a “weapons investigation” when they stopped the car, and that a weapon was later found inside the sedan.
Chief Arradondo had vowed to quickly release the footage as a small group of protesters arrived at the scene in the hours after the shooting, saying he would not tolerate destructive demonstrations like the ones that took hold of the city for several nights after the police killed Mr. Floyd in May.
During that unrest, people burned down a police station and set restaurants and other businesses on fire, including a pawnshop where the charred remains of a man were later found inside. But after the shooting on Wednesday night, protesters left the scene after only a few hours as temperatures dropped to single digits.
Chief Arradondo said on Thursday that he believed the body camera footage showed the man firing first at the officers, and he indicated that he thought the officers had been right to fire at the man.
The incident began when the police tried to stop the vehicle in a parking lot of a gas station and carwash, about a mile from where Mr. Floyd was killed. The chief said the man was pronounced dead at the scene.
The video released on Thursday begins with an officer stepping out of a vehicle and walking toward the driver of a white sedan who appears to be trying to flee. As the sedan pulls several feet away from the officer, its wheels spinning in the snow, the officer keeps moving toward the car and yells for the occupants to put their hands up. The gunshots can be heard after the driver puts the car in reverse and then stops.
Chief Arradondo said a female passenger was in the man’s car and was not hurt.
The chief said he understood that the shooting would inevitably bring back painful memories for Minneapolis residents still working through the death of Mr. Floyd and the ensuing protests.
“A lot of us know that our communities have been dealing with so much this year,” he said, “with the pandemic, increase in violence, certainly many in our communities facing very hard times financially.”
Minneapolis is among many American cities that have struggled with rising violence since the coronavirus pandemic began. The Police Department recorded at least 81 homicides in 2020, the same number as in the previous two years combined, and data also show a spike in carjackings, assaults and robberies. The police killing was the second of the year, including Mr. Floyd’s death. Data from the city indicates that Minneapolis police shot at people 17 times from 2015 through 2019, killing someone in five circumstances.
Minneapolis was rocked by protests in the days and nights after May 25, when three police officers pinned Mr. Floyd to the pavement outside of a convenience store. Those officers, as well as a fourth at the scene, were fired the next day, but the demonstrations grew for several nights until prosecutors charged Derek Chauvin, who had pressed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder. They soon added a more serious charge of second-degree murder and charged the three other officers at the scene with aiding and abetting Mr. Chauvin.
All of the former officers have pleaded not guilty. A trial is set for March, but prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, filed a motion on Thursday asking a judge to delay the trial until June, and lawyers for some of the fired officers have made similar requests.
City officials sought to show after the shooting on Wednesday that they were taking a different approach after the calls for reform that followed Mr. Floyd’s death. Chief Arradondo said he wanted residents “to see for themselves” what had happened, and Mr. Frey said he was determined to be transparent about the shooting.
“Honesty and accountability are what will lead us forward,” he said.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
David Bernhard, a circuit court judge, wrote in his decision that the display of portraits of white judges “is based on a non-racial principle, yet yields a racial result.”
By Derrick Bryson Taylor, Jan. 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/us/virginia-judge-white-portraits.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
When a Black man appears in a Virginia courtroom this month to stand trial on charges of eluding the police, assaulting an officer and other crimes, he will face a scene that defendants in that room have not experienced in decades: The portraits of white judges will no longer line the walls.
A judge late last month ordered the removal of the portraits ahead of Terrance Shipp Jr.’s Jan. 4 trial, ruling that the presence of the artwork, depicting judges who served in Fairfax County, could have suggested that the legal system is biased. The judge, David Bernhard of the Fairfax Circuit Court, wrote in his Dec. 20 opinion that the court was concerned the portraits might “serve as unintended but implicit symbols that suggest the courtroom may be a place historically administered by whites for whites,” and that others are thus of lesser standing. “The display of portraits of judges in courtrooms of the Fairfax Courthouse is based on a non-racial principle, yet yields a racial result,” he said.
The order was in response to a motion filed by Bryan Kennedy, a lawyer for Mr. Shipp. The idea, Mr. Kennedy said, came from both his client and a murder case in Louisa, Va., where a judge this year ordered a life-size portrait of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee removed from a circuit courtroom at the defendant’s request.
The decision underscores a year in which Virginia and the rest of the United States grappled with both implicit biases and overt images of white supremacy, leading to Confederate monuments and other symbols of racism being removed from public spaces.
It is not, however, the first time Judge Bernhard has made such a decision: The judge, who sought asylum to come to the United States from El Salvador in the 1970s, has not permitted portraits in his assigned courtroom since taking the bench in 2017. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, he and the other judges in the Fairfax County courthouse are working out of the building’s three largest courtrooms to allow for social distancing, and it is in one of those where Mr. Shipp will stand trial.
The paintings hanging in the Fairfax Circuit Court are similar to those found in courtrooms and other government offices around the country, and often show retired judges who have served in that county’s history and sometimes stretching as far back as the Confederacy.
Judges in Fairfax County have been weeding out other portraits for at least the past five years, Mr. Kennedy said. As new judges have taken the bench, they have removed portraits “of people that were clearly Confederates or slave owners,” he said, adding that the remaining portraits mostly represented judges from the modern era.
Of the 47 portraits left across the Fairfax Circuit Court, 45 show white judges, including a handful of white women. There are portraits of two of the only three Black judges to have served on the Fairfax Circuit Court bench: Judge Marcus D. Williams, the court’s first Black judge, who served from 1990 to his retirement in 2012, and Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, who served from 1992 and until 1998, when he became a Federal District Court judge. The third Black judge, Dontaè L. Bugg, was elected in 2019.
Among the portraits is one of Judge Harry L. Carrico of the Supreme Court of Virginia, who in 1966 wrote the court’s opinion in Loving v. Commonwealth, which upheld Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage. The law was overturned a year later.
Judge Bernhard noted that the portraits provide no context about their subjects and appear only as a “sea of portraits of white judges” to most members of the public, including juries. “The prevalence of portraits of white judges,” he said, “while not emblematic of racism on the part of the presiding judges, certainly highlights that until the more recent historical past, African Americans were not extended an encouraging hand to stand as judicial candidates.”
While the exact courtroom of Mr. Shipp’s upcoming trial was not yet known, Judge Bernhard’s decision will affect whatever space he occupies. “It’s more about the appearance of fairness now, than the actual monuments,” Mr. Kennedy said.
A lawyer for the prosecution did not return a request for comment, but Judge Bernhard said in his opinion that the prosecution did not oppose him granting the motion.
The chairman of the Fairfax County GOP objected to the decision.
“Judge Bernhard seems to have embraced this reductive, racialist view of his fellow man,” the chairman, Steve Knotts, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We’d all do well to remember that, whether we are Black or White, Christian or Jewish, immigrant or native-born, we are all equally human. As a culture, we must reject all divisive ideologies and, instead, unambiguously affirm our shared humanity.”
Deborah Archer, a professor of law at New York University, said she had not previously heard of a judge taking such actions and emphasized that the ruling would not, on its own, ensure a Black defendant was going to get a fair trial.
Professor Archer said Judge Bernhard’s ruling was part of a larger conversation about inclusion and the ways in which systems in America can perpetuate inequality and send messages about who belongs in a space and who doesn’t.
Sherry Soanes, a lawyer and a former law clerk in the Fairfax Circuit Court, called Judge Bernhard’s decision a “no-brainer,” adding that the move was a “step in the right direction.”
While Ms. Soanes said she hoped the decision would lead other judges to take action, she was also emphatic that it wasn’t “putting racism in the closet.”
“It’s a step to thinking about how is racism at play,” she said. “That is the question that I want judges across Virginia and across the country to ask themselves.”
Not everyone supports Judge Bernhard’s decision, said Vernida Chaney, a criminal defense lawyer who has appeared before Judge Bernhard in Fairfax Circuit Court. But progress in the way courts view race and implicit bias is being made across Virginia.
“This is not a museum, it is a place where we go to have justice rendered,” Ms. Chaney said.
Public statues and other commemorations have been the subject of much debate in recent years and became the target of renewed protests against racism and police violence across the United States after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in May.
Virginia, in particular, has been grappling with images of white supremacy this year.
A Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Va., near the site of a violent white supremacist rally in 2017, was removed in September after 111 years. In Richmond, near the state Capitol, one by one the Confederate statues along the city’s Monument Avenue were taken down. Another statue of Lee in Richmond has been ordered removed and has in the meantime become the site of an unlikely community space.
At the U.S. Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi in June ordered portraits of four speakers who served the Confederacy to be removed, and last month a statue of Lee was also removed from the building and placed in storage in a museum in Richmond.
The F.B.I. agent who led the Blackwater investigation and two other letter writers are appalled by the pardon of men who killed innocent civilians.
Letters, Jan. 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/opinion/letters/blackwater-pardons.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Re “Bullets Ravaged Iraqis. Pardons Renew the Pain” (front page, Dec. 24):
I was the F.B.I. case agent who led the investigation of the Blackwater massacre in Baghdad. We originally went to Iraq thinking this shooting was some form of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Blackwater guards and insurgents. After only one week, we determined that this incident was not as presented by Blackwater personnel and their State Department lackeys, but it was a massacre along the lines of My Lai in Vietnam. Three of the guards were convicted of manslaughter and one of murder.
I only recently became aware of the concerted effort for the pardons, which I understand started with a political push by members of Congress. President Trump should have had staff members review the trial evidence that led to the convictions and read the judges’ opinions and sentencing statements. God forbid they might have actually picked up the phone and called the investigators who built the case. I’m so disgusted with the president’s actions!
Having spent many hours with the innocent Iraqi victims who are permanently maimed and crippled because of the actions of these Blackwater guards, and the heartbroken family members of those killed, I am embarrassed for our country. I believe we will pay a heavy price in our relationships with other countries as a result of these pardons.
I’m so glad that I’m retired and will never again be asked to risk my life and those of my fellow investigators, only to have killers pardoned for purely political reasons.
John M. Patarini
To the Editor:
In 2007, when private security contractors working for Blackwater in Iraq killed 17 Iraqi civilians, and injured others, the killings provoked outrage in Iraq, and around the world. It took seven years for the U.S. government to successfully prosecute the perpetrators, a case that highlighted the need to hold private contractors accountable.
President Trump has shamefully pardoned four of the perpetrators, upending this valuable example of accountability.
The killings by Blackwater contractors served as a catalyst for several governments, including the United States, Britain and Switzerland, to create the International Code of Conduct Association, or ICoCA, dedicated to creating accountability for private security contractors around the globe.
Mr. Trump’s pardon underscores the need for governments to bolster ICoCA’s role in monitoring private security firms and addressing abuses when they occur. While the Biden administration cannot undo this ill-advised pardon, it should support ICoCA’s important global mission, by providing financial and diplomatic support and by requiring private security companies doing business with U.S. agencies to participate in ICoCA’s monitoring and assessment program.
The writers are former board members of ICoCA.
To the Editor:
This 73-year-old woman in Texas personally apologizes to the Iraqi people not only for the war this country waged there but now again for the despicable pardons of four convicted killers of your people.
I’m sure I speak for millions of Americans who are horrified by these pardons and are truly sorry. Our apologies may not help, but we still must offer them.
San Marcos, Texas
Britain is the latest of several countries to get rid of the tax in recent years.
By Christina Morales, Jan. 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/world/europe/tampon-tax-uk.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Britain on Friday became the latest country to transform its measures on sanitary products by abolishing the so-called tampon tax, no longer classifying the products as nonessential and eliminating extra costs that many have criticized as sexist.
The tax, a 5 percent value-added rate on sanitary products such as tampons and pads, is the minimum required for members of the European Union, which classifies those goods as nonessential.
“I’m proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax,” Chancellor Rishi Sunak of the Exchequer said in a statement. “Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT.”
With Britain’s split from the European Union this week, the tax was abolished, the government said.
Facing public pressure in 2016 after a Change.org petition for abolishing the tax gained more than 300,000 supporters, David Cameron, who was then prime minister, in turn pressured the E.U.
The E.U. said it would give its members the option to remove the tax, but that plan never came to fruition.
Many women’s rights activists have denounced the government for characterizing the abolishment of the tax as a positive outcome of Brexit. Some said that Brexit served as a distraction for the cause and that the tax could have been eliminated through the E.U.
“It’s been a long road to reach this point, but at last, the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as nonessential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books,” Felicia Willow, the chief executive of Fawcett Society, a charity that supports gender equality and women’s rights, said in a statement.
The abolishment of the tax is part of a wider government initiative to end “period poverty” and make period products accessible to anyone regardless of financial constraints.
Research released in May from Plan International U.K., a children’s charity, found that three in 10 girls ages 14 to 21 struggled to afford or get access to sanitary products during the coronavirus lockdown.
In 2015, the government established the Tampon Tax Fund, which allocated 47 million pounds raised from the tax on period products to charities working with vulnerable women and girls.
In January 2019, Gemma Abbott, the director of the British nonprofit Free Periods, said the group had started a campaign threatening the government with legal action, saying a lack of access to menstrual products affected a child’s educational experience.
Two months later, the government changed course, she said.
Since last year, the British government’s initiative to make period products more accessible has also included putting free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals.
Ms. Abbott said she and Free Periods were trying to hold the government accountable for the initiative, especially about funding it and getting more schools and colleges to sign up.
Over the last few years, governments around the world have revised measures on sanitary products.
In November, Scotland became the first country to make period products available for free. Last year, Germany officially changed its stance on menstrual products by declaring them essential, and reducing their tax rate after they had long been classified as “luxury goods.”
Australia, which also once considered the products a “luxury,” and Canada, India and Malaysia have also abolished the tax.
In the United States, 10 states since 2016 have eliminated the tax: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington, said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf of the organization Period Equity.
Women’s activists were overjoyed at the news in Britain on Friday. But some said there was still work to be done, including supporting other international petitions and getting free period products placed in public buildings across Britain, similar to what Scotland has done.
“We’ve seen that going on in Scotland, and we’ve seen how the Scottish government’s actions have influenced the U.K.,” Ms. Abbott said. “We’re hopeful it’ll drive change.”
The battle to abolish the tax started in 2014 with a petition by Laura Coryton, and included Ms. Coryton hand-delivering her petition to a government office in 2016, she said in an interview on Friday.
The petition led to public pressure and showed how influential online campaigning can be.
“It’s really, really hard for a government to ignore that many people,” Ms. Coryton, 27, of London, said. “I never thought it would be successful because it’s about taxation and menstruation, not very popular topics.”
On Friday morning, Change.org U.K. tweeted, “People power works.”