Governor Newsom, Free Ruchell Magee NOW!
Three California press conferences held on the birthday of the longest-serving political prisoner in the United States.
Wednesday, March 17 at 8:00 A.M. - Three Locations:
Los Angeles Location: Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, 210 W. Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Marin County Location: Marin County Superior Court, 3501 Civic Center Dr San Rafael, CA 94903
Sacramento Location: California State Capitol, 1315 10th St, Sacramento, CA 95814
The Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee will hold three simultaneous rallies across California on Wednesday, March 17 to call for the Governor of California to review and commute the sentence of Ruchell “Cinque” Magee, the longest-held political prisoner in the United States. These press conferences are being held on Ruchell’s 82nd birthday, which he will spend locked behind the walls of California Medical Facility despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which threatens the elderly and prisoners daily. 2021 will mark his 58th year of unjust imprisonment.
About Ruchell: Ruchell’s confinement stems from a bogus 1963 conviction over an incident involving a $10 marijuana trade gone wrong, which was labeled “kidnapping”. Though the alleged crime seems minor in today’s California (due to the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016), the Los Angeles Superior Court decided to railroad him with a seven-years-to-life sentence.
Ruchell also attracted worldwide attention from his auxiliary role in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse Rebellion. On August 7, 1970, several Black freedom fighters attempted to liberate themselves before San Quentin guards killed each conspirator and a judge. Ruchell was gravely injured in this massacre, and the courts saw fit that his punishment for resisting unjust captivity should be a life of brutal captivity. This is the case for which activist Angela Davis was charged with conspiracy to murder, due to her ownership weapons used, before she was acquitted. Ruchell, who has worked tirelessly to secure his release as well as the release of other political prisoners, remains incarcerated to this day.
Event Details: There will be three press conferences on the morning of March 17: one in Los Angeles because it was the site of Ruchell’s original arrest, one Marin County because of the fact that he would have never been in the courtroom on that day in 1970 if he wasn’t unfairly incarcerated, and one in Sacramento to draw attention from Governor Gavin Newsom, who has the power to commute Ruchell’s sentence.
Ruchell’s confinement costs the state more than $40,000 annually and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ruchell’s health is at constant risk. The 82-year-old Ruchell is not a threat to anyone and he deserves to live the rest of his years in freedom, with his loved ones. His story is a classic case of the horrors of racism in policing and sentencing, and given the outstanding length of this injustice, Ruchell’s case is worthy of immediate review and commutation from Governor Gavin Newsom.
Please join the growing list of individuals, organizations, and media outlets that are calling for an end to this unjust confinement and the unjust policies which result in a disproportionate number of persons of color being imprisoned and sentenced improperly. Sign up at www.freeruchellmagee.org/endorse to endorse.
Endorsing individuals include Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., author and UCLA Professor Robin D.G. Kelley, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, BLM LA leader Melina Abdullah, and Presidential candidates Gloria La Riva and Peta Lindsay.
Endorsing organizations include Black August LA, the ANSWER Coalition, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, National Jericho Movement, Northeast Political Prisoner Coalition, Oakland Abolition and Solidarity, Black Lives Matter Global Network, and Black Lives Matter LA.
Organizer with the Coalition to Free Ruchell Magee
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
With just one week to go until the next coordinated day of solidarity actions with Bessemer Amazon workers, demonstrations are set from coast to coast. Find an initial listing of actions below, and let us know what you're planning in your area here, or submit an endorsement.
Amazon is pulling out all the stops to try to prevent this historic campaign led by Black workers from succeeding, spending tens of millions of dollars to wage an aggressive union-busting campaign. March 20 will send a message loud and clear to denounce Amazon's union busting, and to let the workers in Bessemer know (and Amazon and workers everywhere!) that there is a movement behind them. The weekend of March 20 is also the U.N. Anti-Racism Day, and the actions will further draw the connection between the fight against racism and for worker power.
Join this growing day of action by planning an event in your area. In different cities, workers and community activists are planning rallies, pickets, gathering neighbors and coworkers to hold signs in front of Whole Foods or Amazon warehouses, distributing leaflets, and more. Each action is significant, regardless of how large it may be. We've also added new materials to use to build for March 20 and at your events, including graphics that can be customized with your local activity.
We're also very excited to announce a special webinar coming up this Tuesday, March 16, at 8pm eastern featuring renowned scholar-activist Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley. Dr. Kelley is the author of "Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression," and will join us to discuss the history and significance of the BAmazon Union struggle and it's connections to the period analyzed in his book. Dr. Kelley has also endorsed the call for actions on March 20. Register for this event here:
1:00 pm Car Caravan and Rally
Oscar Grant Plaza/Frank Ogawa Plaza, 14th and Broadway, Oakland, CA
Contact Support Amazon Workers – Bay Area at email@example.com or 510-813-4687
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
10am Picket & Speak-Out
7th & Berry Street, San Francisco, CA
Contact United Front Committee for a Labor Party at firstname.lastname@example.org or 415-533-5642
Join us Thursday, March 25th for an International Women's Month conversation with four courageous women who have stood up for their lives and their communities.
Register here: bit.ly/DefendOurLives
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
• Janet and Janine Africa - the MOVE 9
• Siwatu Salama Ra - Freedom Team Detroit/Grassroots Global Justice
• Laura Whitehorn - RAPP (Release Aging People in Prison)
• *Possible surprise speaker!
• Moderated by Aleta Toure' - Parable of the Sower Intentional Community Cooperative, Grassroots Global Justice (GGJ), People's Strike, and AfroSoc
Spread the word on Facebook!
*In the event that registration is full, join via Facebook live
Across the U.S. and the globe, unprecedented health, economic and social crisis is leading to escalating violence against BIPOC communities, often targeting women and TGNC people in particular. Over 10,000 people were arrested in the course of the 2020 uprisings after George Floyd's murder, but they have largely been disappeared from public view. Women who have been imprisoned for defending themselves and their communities have much to teach us about resisting state violence.
Hosted by California Coalition for Women Prisoners and Parable of the Sower Intentional Community Cooperative
Endorsed by: The National Jericho Movement, New York City Jericho Movement, Release Aging People in Prison, Aging People in Prison - Human Rights Campaign, Oakland Jericho Movement, Freedom Archives, and Grassroots Global Justice, Critical Resistance
Shut Down Adelanto Coalition puts ICE on Trial! Sat March 28th, 12:00 pm
There will be testimony from impacted folks, expert testimony, and more.
INNOCENT AND FRAMED - FREE MUMIA NOW!
NO STATE EXECUTION BY COVID!
NO ILLUSIONS IN “PROGRESSIVE” DA LARRY KRASNER!
The movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most prominent political prisoner in the U.S., from the slow death of life imprisonment and the jaws of this racist and corrupt injustice system is at a critical juncture. The battle to free Mumia must be is as ferocious as it has ever been. We continue to face the unrelenting hostility to Mumia by this racist capitalist injustice system, which is intent on silencing him, by all means.
Mumia is at immediate risk of death by covid! Mumia has tested positive for covid-19. The PA Department of Corrections and officials at SCI Mahanoy at first denied this, but then needed to hospitalize Mumia. He is now in the prison infirmary. Mumia’s life is on the line. He is almost 67 years old; his immune system is compromised because of liver cirrhosis from years of untreated hepatitis-C. It is also reported that Mumia now has congestive heart failure!
An international campaign succeeded in getting a judicial order that Mumia was deprived of essential health care and be treated with life-saving Harvoni treatment. That has compelled the DOC to provide the medication to Mumia and other prisoners infected with hep-C.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said it best, “The refusal of health-care reminds us of the conditions we were put in under Apartheid prisons where sick detainees were allowed to die in very deplorable lonely conditions in solitary as part of the punishment for their role in the struggle.”
We, in the Free Mumia movement, call on all to ACT NOW! Mumia must not die in prison from covid! He should be released, now!
Urgent: Email Gov. Tom Wolf, email@example.com; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal Must be Released from Prison! No State Execution by Covid! Prisoners 50 Years and Older Should also be Released from Prison to Protect them from Covid 19!
Mumia’s life was saved from legal lynching of state execution in 1995 and 1999 by the power of mass, international mobilization and protest, which included representatives of millions of unionized workers. Human and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and students won Mumia’s release from death row in 2012 and his medical treatment for deadly hep-C in 2017. Now we need to do the same to save his life from covid-19.
We also must face the latest obstacle in Mumia’s pending legal appeal.
In the prosecution Response to Mumia’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, filed February 3, 2021, “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner rubber stamps the lying, racially biased, politically motivated and corrupt conviction of Mumia for the murder of P.O. Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 under hanging judge Albert Sabo who promised, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
For decades Mumia fought racist and corrupt prosecutors in Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court. “Progressive” Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner joined their ranks in filing the prosecution legal brief to the Pennsylvania Superior Court stating that Mumia is guilty and should remain imprisoned for life.
There is a moment of opportunity to deepen the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. Political consciousness about the systemic racism of the U.S. injustice system and policing has reached a high level not seen in 50 years, accelerated by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and the massive protests that followed. Mumia’s name has been injected into struggles around Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the economic crisis. Notably, Colin Kaepernick has called for Mumia’s freedom.
There is also a new danger. Nationally and in Philadelphia, there is a rise in the illusions of the “progressive district attorney” who will upend the entrenched repressive, racially and class-biased [in]justice system, which is integral to capitalism and rooted in the legacy of slavery.
A new legal path to Mumia’s freedom was opened by the historic ruling in December 2018 from Philadelphia Court Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black jurist to review Mumia’s case. Judge Tucker granted Mumia the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial and police misconduct that had been rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. That evidence was proof that Mumia is factually innocent and framed and is legally entitled to dismissal of the charges against him, or at least a new trial.
“Progressive” DA Larry Krasner blocked that path with the prosecution’s legal Response to Mumia’s new appeal to the PA Superior Court on February 3, 2021. Krasner opposes Mumia getting a new trial—let alone a dismissal of the charges. And Krasner calls for the appeals court to dismiss Mumia’s appeal without even considering the facts and law. Krasner follows exactly the script of the notorious, pro-cop, racist prosecutors who preceded him, notably Edward Rendell, Lynne Abraham—called “one of America’s deadliest DAs” —and Ronald Castille, whose pro-cop, pro-prosecution, and pro-death penalty bias became the grounds opening up Mumia’s right to file this new appeal.
The Krasner Response begins with the same lying “statement of facts” of the case that has been used since Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial by District Attorney Edward Rendell. Krasner insists that Mumia’s appeal should be dismissed without considering the merits because it was “not timely filed.” This makes clear the falsity of Krasner’s purported withdrawal of his objection to Mumia’s new right of appeal granted by Judge Tucker.
Krasner also denies that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct—“Brady claims”—from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago in a DA storeroom are “material” and grounds for a new trial. This is legal jargon for saying the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. Krasner’s Response on the new evidence that the trial prosecutor purposely disqualified African-Americans as jurors is that the Pa Supreme Court has previously decided the jury selection process was fair and should not be re-examined.
As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct. Those due process violations included:
*trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
*African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
*police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting PO Faulkner which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
*the suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot PO Faulkner, that a shooter ran away and the confession to fatally shooting Faulkner.
But “progressive” DA Krasner argued these factors should not even be considered.
DA Krasner’s Response brief ends with: “For the foregoing reasons, including those set forth in the PCRA court’s opinions, the Commonwealth respectfully requests that this Court affirm the orders denying post-conviction relief.” This means District Attorney Krasner approved all previous court denials of Mumia’s challenges to his convictions made from 1995-2012, including those of Judge Sabo.
This Response is the definitive, final statement of District Attorney Larry Krasner to the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania. And should Mumia’s case return to the U.S. federal courts, this would remain the prosecution position: that Mumia is guilty and there are no legal or factual reasons to re-consider his conviction.
Once there has been a conviction and sentence, the District Attorney does not have unilateral authority or power to reverse a criminal conviction, order a new trial or dismiss the original charges. That decision rests the post-conviction review judge or appeals court.
The District Attorney does have enormous authority and credibility to argue to the courts that a case should be reversed, a new trial granted or charges dismissed. The opinion of the district attorney’s office is a persuasive authority to the reviewing court. And it was that process which resulted in overturning the convictions of 18 imprisoned men during the past three years. Those publicized reversals as well as Krasner’s promises of criminal justice reform; his “no objection” to releasing on parole the surviving, imprisoned MOVE 9 men and woman; his partial ban of cash bail and de-escalation of arrests for minor, non-violent offenses, and his record as a civil rights lawyer gave him credentials as a “progressive DA”.
Krasner’s Response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom.
To any who held out hope that Krasner would “do the right thing”, Krasner has never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process.
In fact, “progressive DA” Krasner was explicit when questioned during the proceedings brought by Maureen Faulkner to have him removed from Mumia’s case on grounds he was biased in favor of Mumia. Krasner was allowed to continue prosecuting Mumia in the Supreme Court ruling on December 16, 2020. During those proceedings, Larry Krasner assured the investigating judge that, “in my opinion based upon all the facts in law [sic] that I have is that he [Abu-Jamal] is guilty.” Further, the investigating judge found all prosecutors involved, including DA Krasner, stated, “it is their intention to defend the conviction, and that they are aware of no evidence that would support or justify a decision to the contrary or to concede any PCRA relief.”
It is precisely because Larry Krasner has a profile and reputation as “a progressive DA,” and faces hostility from the Fraternal Order of Police, and supporters of racist “law and order” who will be supporting anti-Krasner candidates in this year’s DA election that his total rejection of Mumia’s claim is so damaging.
The rejection of Mumia’s appeals by this “progressive DA” is not just equal to those of prior DAs but is more damaging. The position of the “progressive DA” in opposition to Mumia’s appeal provides additional rationale and justification for the appeals courts to reject Mumia’s appeals.
Krasner must be uncompromisingly exposed and denounced as not different from Judge Sabo and prior prosecutors. Mumia’s prosecution, his conviction, death sentence and appeal denials are an indictment of the entire racist capitalist injustice system. Opening up Mumia’s case exposes the racism, rot, corruption, brutality and fundamental injustice of the whole system. “Progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner would not and cannot go down that road and keep favor with the elements of the ruling class that seek to provide a “progressive” cover to delay and distract those who fight not only for Mumia, but for justice for all.
What is to be done to free Mumia? Continue to mobilize protest action demanding the Department of Corrections and Governor immediately release Mumia – along with prisoners 50 years and older to stop death by covid. In Pennsylvania the governor has the executive power to commute sentences and release prisoners who are serving life without parole.
We must expand the international campaign for Mumia’s freedom, centered on the understanding that Mumia is factually innocent and framed, that he never should have been arrested and prosecuted for a murder the state knows he did not commit. International mobilization has been critical to our prior limited victories. Now more than ever, we need to grow in strength and numbers Mumia’s defenders, including labor, Black Lives Matter, human rights and civil rights organizations, and left organizations in rallies and mass demonstrations.
Rachel Wolkenstein (former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal); and for the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal <laboractionmumia.org>: Jack Heyman (International Longshore and Warehouse Union-retired), Bob Mandel (Oakland Education Association-retired, member of Adult School Teachers United), Carole Seligman (Co-editor of Socialist Viewpoint)
March 5, 2021
Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not asof Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
It Is Now Freedom or Death For Mumia!
BRO. ZAYID MUHAMMAD - March 11, 2021
I’m going help them fry the nigger...” Judge Albert Sabo
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal...” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine all NNPA Black newspapers, for example, carrying regularly featured articles as a matter of priority on all of the evidence suppressed in Mumia’s case.
Imagine Black clergy rallying at major news sites condemning the white-out and/or the demonization of Mumia through their media entities.
Imagine Black elected officials from Philadelphia and from all over the country rallying to denounce the continued ordeal of this man.
Imagine surviving ’60s icons conducting civil disobedience at the governor’s office and the DA’s office in Philadelphia with an eager throng of two generations of action-hungry activists looking to bumrush it, en masse if it didn’t yield results.
Even though Mumia has survived two execution dates, 30 years on death row and several recent dangerous medical challenges, thankfully with the force of a multiracial international campaign at his back and our ancestors, this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to ask ‘why?’
As this goes to press, Mumia is in a prison infirmary dangling on a tightrope of both COVID-19 and congestive heart failure, a most deadly medical cocktail!
COVID-19 is most dangerous when it attacks the lungs, creates fluid in the lungs and then triggers fatal blood clots. Congestive heart failure, similarly speaking, creates fluid in the lungs, weakens the heart muscle and the kidneys. These two together are extremely deadly.
Not to mention Mumia’s Hep-C weakened liver and skin. Remember that?
Mumia needs to be hospitalized at minimum and truly needs to be released!
If ever there was a time to step forward for Mumia, it is now!
The most tragic dimensions surrounding Mumia’s current ordeal is that there is now so much ample evidence of his innocence, so much ample evidence of both prosecutorial and judicial misconduct to free him if he can just be allowed to get it in on an appeal and that evidence on the court record. In spite of Mumia clearly being on the verge of objectively vindicating himself, he can tragically die in prison if not enough of us turn it up now!
Wait! What about Philly’s highly prized progressive DA Larry Krasner? Hasn’t he moved to overturn more than a dozen bad convictions rooted in deep-seated Philly racism and corruption? Yes, but not for Mumia.
Even though his office ‘found’ six boxes of missing evidence in his case, which includes a letter from a star prosecution witness Robert Chobert seeking payment for his testimony, reeking of prosecutorial misconduct and granting Mumia a new trial, Krasner, up for re-election, went into court last month and said that no new appellate relief for Mumia ought to be granted because his trial and conviction were sound. From Judge Sabo vowing to help ‘fry the nigger,’ to suppressed eyewitness testimony that was not paid for by anyone totally contradicting Chobert’s, to the illegal exclusion of Black jurors from the trial, to Sabo having Veronica Jones arrested on the stand for telling the truth on how she was coerced to testify against Mumia, to their being clear evidence of another person being the actual killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner and a whole lot more, Krasner showed his true ‘white’ color and is now seeking to block Mumia’s real chance at justice and freedom at a time when it can genuinely cost him his life.
The time is now to turn it up and free this incredible human being who has become a breathing living gracious symbol of human solidarity like few others in the last several decades.
Let us all press Pennsylvania’s other liberal ‘fox’ Gov. Tom Wolf to have Mumia and all aging prisoners who pose no risk to society released to help address this insidious pandemic. Over 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons. All over 50 and with preexisting conditions.
Let’s press Mumia’s overseers John Wetzel head of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Bernadette Mason superintendent of Mahanoy Prison to get Mumia properly hospitalized.
Press DA Krasner to address his now dangerous wrong and go back into court and encourage a conviction reversal and a new trial for Mumia as he has done for others.
The time is now!
Seize The Time!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Gov. Tom Wolf 717-787-2500
Sec’y Dept of Corrections John Wetzel 717-728-2573
Supt of Mahanoy Corrections Institution Bernadette Mason 570-773-2158
DA Larry Krasner 267-456-1000
To support Mumia locally 212 -330-8029
In Philadelphia, 215-724-1618
Zayid Muhammad is a jazz poet, stage actor and well-known “cub” of the N.Y. chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Michael D’Onofrio - March 8, 2021
Mumia Abu-Jamal has lost 30 pounds since testing positive for COVID-19 as a long-term skin condition has flared up leaving “bloodied open wounds” all over his body, said one of his supporters.
On Monday, Abu-Jamal appeared to be recovering from COVID-19 and no longer receiving intravenous fluids as he remained isolated in the infirmary at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, said Johanna Fernández, an associate professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal’s body weight has dropped to 215 pounds from 245 pounds since receiving a positive COVID-19 test on March 3.
After speaking with Abu-Jamal directly on Sunday, Fernández said, “It seems that the worst of COVID is behind us,” although she was not a medical doctor.
Yet a skin condition, which is thought to be linked to Abu-Jamal’s hepatitis C infection, has left much of Abu-Jamal’s skin cracked, whitened, bloodied and ruptured, Fernández said. While Fernández said she had photos of Abu-Jamal’s condition, she did not have permission to share them.
“It’s a horror show,” Fernández said about Abu-Jamal’s condition.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal related to her that infirmary staff ought to be giving him daily medical baths to treat his skin condition, per a prison doctor’s recommendation over the weekend. Abu-Jamal was not receiving those daily medical baths.
Fernández said Abu-Jamal remains positive.
“He wants to live,” Fernández said.
Robert Boyle, an attorney for Abu-Jamal, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Fernández reiterated her calls and those of Abu-Jamal’s supporters that he should be released from prison and receive medical care at a hospital.
“That a prisoner is being held under these conditions suggests that all standards of decency, morality and humanity have eroded in American society,” Fernández said. “Mumia is not alone: This is what medical care looks like in American prisons.”
Abu-Jamal was rushed to a local area hospital on Feb. 27. Soon after, he was diagnosed with congestive heart disease.
Abu-Jamal was returned to Mahanoy SCI early last week. On Wednesday, it was revealed Abu-Jamal tested positive for COVID-19.
Abu-Jamal, formerly known as Wesley Cook, was convicted of fatally shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner after Faulkner had reportedly pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother during a late-night traffic stop in 1981.
In prison since 1982, Abu-Jamal was on death row until 2011, when his death sentence was ruled unconstitutional. He is now serving a life sentence.
Abu-Jamal and his supporters have always maintained his innocence, alleging that his trial was tainted by police corruption and racism. Yet Police Benevolent Association Lodge 5 and Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow, among several others have maintained the trial was fair and Abu-Jamal guilty.
Abu-Jamal, who worked in Black radio before his conviction, has published several books and commentaries during his decades in prison.
He is appealing his conviction in Pennsylvania courts.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/us/third-degree-murder-charge-derek-chauvin.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The judge overseeing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd, has allowed prosecutors to add an additional charge of third-degree murder against Mr. Chauvin, who is already facing a more serious count of second-degree murder.
The decision on Thursday most likely ended a sequence of legal wrangling and cleared the way for the trial to move forward. Jury selection is well underway, with five of 12 jurors already seated, and opening arguments are scheduled to begin on March 29.
The jurors will now have an additional murder charge on which they could convict, even if they decide the evidence does not support second-degree murder.
Third-degree murder was the first charge Mr. Chauvin faced last year when he was fired by the Minneapolis Police Department and arrested after Mr. Floyd’s death on May 25, and prosecutors had sought to reinstate it.
Within days of Mr. Chauvin’s arrest, he agreed to plead guilty to third-degree murder, The New York Times reported last month, but William P. Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, stepped in to reject the agreement, which had also included an assurance that Mr. Chauvin would not face federal civil rights charges.
Judge Peter A. Cahill, who is overseeing the trial, later dismissed that charge, but he upheld the more severe charge of second-degree murder. If convicted of second-degree murder, Mr. Chauvin would likely face about 11 to 15 years in prison, though the maximum penalty is up to 40 years. The maximum penalty for the added third-degree murder charge is 25 years in prison. Mr. Chauvin also faces a lesser charge of second-degree manslaughter.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals last week ordered Mr. Cahill to reconsider whether to add the third-degree murder charge, which has historically been understood to apply to defendants who commit an act that endangers multiple people. But the appeals court broadened the scope of the law in a decision this year and said the charge could be used in cases where only one person was in danger — as it was in the conviction of a Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, for a fatal shooting.
Judge Cahill said in February that he was not bound by that new interpretation because it could still be reviewed by a higher court, but the appeals court disagreed with his analysis. Judge Cahill granted the prosecutors’ motion to add the charge after brief arguments on Thursday morning from Eric J. Nelson, who is Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, and Neal Katyal, a former solicitor general who is helping prosecutors in the case.
Mr. Chauvin, 44, has been free on bail since October and has been present in court since the trial moved ahead this week, wearing a suit and mask and taking notes on a yellow legal pad as his lawyer and prosecutors interview prospective jurors. So far, the five selected jurors include three white men, one Black man and a woman of color.
Javier Castillo Maradiaga was freed this week after 15 months in federal detention. New York had turned him over to ICE in error.
By Annie Correal and Ed Shanahan, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/nyregion/daca-ice-nyc-immigration.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Javier Castillo Maradiaga was on his way to a family birthday party in the Bronx in December 2019 when the police arrested him for jaywalking.
So began a 15-month odyssey during which he was locked up and flown between detention centers around the United States after New York City authorities failed to honor a law meant to keep undocumented immigrants from routinely falling into federal immigration authorities’ hands.
It was not until Wednesday, after city officials had admitted their blunder and joined activists, federal lawmakers and Mr. Castillo’s lawyers to push for his release, that he was freed from a New Jersey detention center on a federal judge’s order.
The unusual case highlights the tensions at play in recent years between a wide-ranging crackdown on undocumented immigrants by federal authorities and efforts in some jurisdictions to shield such residents with so-called sanctuary policies, which prevent state and local law enforcement agencies from collaborating with federal immigration authorities.
It also shows how little it can take for such efforts to fall short.
Mr. Castillo, 27, moved to New York from Honduras as a child to reunite with his mother. He received temporary relief from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which began in 2012, a year after he graduated from high school; he and two siblings became legal U.S. residents.
But his status lapsed, and, fearing deportation after President Donald J. Trump was elected and the DACA program’s future became cloudy, he did not reapply. That made him an undocumented immigrant when the police stopped him.
After being brought to the local precinct, Mr. Castillo was taken to a courthouse, officials said. The next day, the city’s Department of Correction transferred him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, contrary to a city policy banning such transfers in most cases.
New York law enforcement officials are not supposed to turn people over to ICE or hold them on the federal agency’s behalf, even when ICE has made a so-called detainer request. There are exceptions for those who have been convicted of violent or serious crimes or who have been identified as possibly matching people listed in a terrorist-screening database.
In the 12 months starting in July 2019, city records show, the Correction Department turned 20 people over to ICE. Of those, Mr. Castillo was the only one who had not been convicted of a violent or serious crime. He was also the only person known to have been transferred to ICE under such circumstances since the city’s sanctuary policy took effect in 2015, officials said.
“Mr. Maradiaga’s transfer to ICE was an egregious mistake and a clear violation of local law,” a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement, adding that officials had taken “immediate measures to ensure accountability for this misconduct, including officer discipline and clear procedural changes in how cases are reviewed. This will not happen again.”
The New Yorker reported on the city’s mistake last month.
An internal Correction Department inquiry found that the mistaken transfer was the fault of a single employee, who was suspended and then transferred to a different unit, officials said. Other steps were also taken to guard against similar foul-ups in the future, officials said.
In a letter to the Justice Department last month, the city’s corporation counsel, James E. Johnson, noted that the “operational error” that had resulted in Mr. Castillo’s detention had “been addressed,” and he argued for Mr. Castillo’s release.
By then, Mr. Castillo had been in ICE custody for more than a year, mainly at a jail in New Jersey, where he was held for the duration of the pandemic. The jaywalking charges had been dismissed, and a lawyer hired by the family was continuing to pursue his immigration case.
With a new administration taking office in January, his fate became intertwined with its policies. Despite a 100-day moratorium on deportations ordered by President Biden, Mr. Castillo was sent to Louisiana in January, where, relatives said, he believed he was on the verge of being deported.
ICE subsequently returned him to New York, but he was soon sent back to Louisiana after a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked Mr. Biden’s moratorium.
At a Feb. 6 rally in Manhattan, Mr. Castillo’s mother, Alma Maradiaga, recounted getting frantic calls from her son as he was flown around the country amid the changing policies, despite the ongoing threat of the coronavirus.
She said he told her that he was scheduled to be flown out to Honduras and that she should arrange to have someone meet him there — only to learn later that he was not leaving.
“Back and forth,” Ms. Maradiaga, who works at a Manhattan hospital, said of ICE’s shifting positions. Mr. Castillo, she said, described it as: “‘They’re sending me; they’re not.’”
“They bullied my son every minute,” she said of ICE.
Beginning in January, with Mr. Castillo’s deportation appearing imminent, several Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation, including Representative Ritchie Torres, urged ICE to release him. They noted that he could reapply for DACA if he were released but that ICE policy prohibited him from doing so while he was in custody.
ICE declined to release him, but his lawyers obtained a 30-day reprieve from deportation. That gave them time to seek legal remedies that might allow him to stay in the country. The federal judge’s order means those efforts can proceed.
“I’m grateful for the release of Javier, but the threat of deportation, separate and apart from the act itself, is traumatic,” Mr. Torres said in a phone interview Wednesday evening. “I find it senseless. It is nightmarish. It is Kafkaesque.”
On Wednesday, an ICE spokesman acknowledged that Mr. Castillo had been released based on the court order. Mr. Castillo was eligible for deportation because he had entered the United States unlawfully as a child in 2002 and had failed to comply with a voluntary departure order two years later, the spokesman said.
Mr. Castillo’s lawyers’ motions to reopen his immigration case had twice been denied by an immigration judge, the ICE spokesman said. The Board of Immigration Appeals is now considering a motion to reopen the case, the spokesman said.
On Wednesday, after her brother had been released from detention, Mr. Castillo’s sister, Dariela Moncada Maradiaga, hailed the judge’s order. But, in remarks streamed over Instagram, she noted that millions of other undocumented immigrants were still detained or otherwise in legal limbo.
“Javier is out,” Ms. Moncada said, briefly turning the camera toward her brother and saying that they both planned to speak at a rally this weekend in Brooklyn. “But we still have to worry about those other 11 million.”
For years we’ve been crediting endorphins, but it’s really about the endocannabinoids.
By Gretchen Reynolds, March 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/10/well/move/running-exercise-mental-effects.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=507270612&algo=identity&variant=no-exp&imp_id=419961451&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
We can stop crediting endorphins, the natural opioid painkillers produced by our bodies, for the floaty euphoria we often feel during aerobic exercise, according to a nifty new study of men, women and treadmills. In the study, runners developed a gentle intoxication, known as a runner’s high, even if researchers had blocked their bodies’ ability to respond to endorphins, suggesting that those substances could not be behind the buzz. Instead, the study suggests, a different set of biochemicals resembling internally homegrown versions of cannabis, better known as marijuana, are likely to be responsible.
The findings expand our understanding of how running affects our bodies and minds, and also raise interesting questions about why we might need to be slightly stoned in order to want to keep running.
In surveys and studies of experienced distance runners, most report developing a mellow runner’s high at least sometimes. The experience typically is characterized by loose-limbed blissfulness and a shedding of anxiety and unease after half an hour or so of striding. In the 1980s, exercise scientists started attributing this buzz to endorphins, after noticing that blood levels of the natural painkillers rise in people’s bloodstreams when they run.
More recently, though, other scientists grew skeptical. Endorphins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, because of their molecular structure. So, even if runners’ blood contains extra endorphins, they will not reach the brain and alter mental states. It also is unlikely that the brain itself produces more endorphins during exercise, according to animal studies.
Endocannabinoids are a likelier intoxicant, these scientists believed. Similar in chemical structure to cannabis, the cannabinoids made by our bodies surge in number during pleasant activities, such as orgasms, and also when we run, studies show. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, too, making them viable candidates to cause any runner’s high.
A few past experiments had strengthened that possibility. In one notable 2012 study, researchers coaxed dogs, people and ferrets to run on treadmills, while measuring their blood levels of endocannabinoids. Dogs and humans are cursorial, meaning possessed of bones and muscles well adapted to distance running. Ferrets are not; they slink and sprint but rarely cover loping miles, and they did not produce extra cannabinoids while treadmill running. The dogs and people did, though, indicating that they most likely were experiencing a runner’s high and it could be traced to their internal cannabinoids.
That study did not rule out a role for endorphins, however, as Dr. Johannes Fuss realized. The director of the Human Behavior Laboratory at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany, he and his colleagues had long been interested in how various activities affect the inner workings of the brain, and after reading the ferret study and others, thought they might look more closely into the runner’s high.
They began with mice, which are eager runners. For a 2015 study, they chemically blocked the uptake of endorphins in the animals’ brains and let them run, then did the same with the uptake of endocannabinoids. When their endocannabinoid system was turned off, the animals ended their runs just as anxious and twitchy as they had been at the start, suggesting that they had felt no runner’s high. But when their endorphins were blocked, their behavior after running was calmer, relatively more blissed-out. They seemed to have developed that familiar, mild buzz, even though their endorphin systems had been inactivated.
Mice emphatically are not people, though. So, for the new study, which was published in February in Psychoneuroendocrinology, Dr. Fuss and his colleagues set out to replicate the experiment, to the extent possible, in humans. Recruiting 63 experienced runners, male and female, they invited them to the lab, tested their fitness and current emotional states, drew blood and randomly assigned half to receive naloxone, a drug that blocks the uptake of opioids, and the rest, a placebo. (The drug they had used to block endocannabinoids in mice is not legal in people, so they could not repeat that portion of the experiment.)
The volunteers then ran for 45 minutes and, on a separate day, walked for the same amount of time. After each session, the scientists drew blood and repeated the psychological tests. They also asked the volunteers whether they thought they had experienced a runner’s high.
Most said yes, they had felt buzzed during the run, but not the walk, with no differences between the naloxone and placebo groups. All showed increases, too, in their blood levels of endocannabinoids after running and equivalent changes in their emotional states. Their euphoria after running was greater and their anxiety less, even if their endorphin system had been inactivated.
Taken as a whole, these findings are a blow to endorphins’ image. “In combination with our research in mice,” Dr. Fuss says, “these new data rule out a major role for endorphins” in the runner’s high.
The study does not explain, though, why a runner’s high exists at all. There was no walker’s high among the volunteers. But Dr. Fuss suspects the answer lies in our evolutionary past. “When the open savannas stretched and forests retreated,” he says, “it became necessary for humans to hunt wild animals by long-distance running. Under such circumstances, it is beneficial to be euphoric during running,” a sensation that persists among many runners today, but with no thanks due, it would seem, to endorphins.
An independent report commissioned by the Los Angeles City Council faulted the department for its lack of planning and chaotic response.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, John Eligon and Will Wright, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/us/lapd-george-floyd-protests.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
The Los Angeles Police Department severely mishandled protests last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s death, illegally detaining protesters, issuing conflicting orders to its rank-and-file officers and striking people who had committed no crimes with rubber bullets, bean bags and batons, according to a scathing report released on Thursday.
An ill-prepared department quickly allowed the situation to spiral out of control when some protesters got violent, failing to rein in much of the most destructive behavior while arresting thousands of protesters for minor offenses, according to the 101-page report commissioned by the City Council.
The report was also highly critical of the department’s leadership, saying that high-ranking officers sometimes made chaotic scenes even worse by shifting strategies without communicating clearly. In many cases, officers used “antiquated tactics” that failed to calm the more violent demonstrators, some of whom the report said deliberately threw things at officers from behind a line of peaceful protesters.
The review is the latest to find serious fault with a police department’s response to the wave of protests that swept the country in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.
From New York to Chicago to Dallas, investigations in the past several months have found that police departments nationwide botched their handling of the protests. In city after city, officers, under faulty supervision, ignored protocols and used excessive force on demonstrators. Mass arrests swept up people who were not breaking any laws. And aggressive responses caused gatherings to quickly descend into chaos.
In New York, one highly critical report last year found that the Police Department, the nation’s largest force, badly mishandled the mass demonstrations, in part by sending untrained officers into marches.
“The response really was a failure on many levels,” Margaret Garnett, the commissioner for the New York City Department of Investigation, said at the time.
In Chicago, an inspector general’s report found that officers had failed to wear body cameras as required and underreported how many times they used their batons to strike protesters. Dallas police officers were found to have fired pepper balls at peaceful marchers. And in Philadelphia, a report condemned an unprepared police response in which officers fueled unrest in some predominantly Black areas with excessive force against demonstrators, while allowing white men armed with bats and pipes to confront protesters in other parts of town.
In Los Angeles, undercover officers blended into the protests but then had no way to report criminal behavior directly to supervisors. Sometimes they had to be rescued from the devolving crowd, the report said, adding that the department’s intelligence operations have become less effective as positions in that field were cut in favor of patrol units.
And although officers arrested thousands of people during the protests in late May, there was no clear plan for how to detain and process them, according to the report. Some protesters were injured so severely by “less lethal” munitions — like rubber bullets and pepper balls — that they had to get surgery.
The Los Angeles Police Department said in a statement that its chief, Michel Moore, had “taken responsibility for activities over the summer,” and that the department had provided crowd control training to its officers after the summer unrest.
“The opportunity to learn from our mistakes, to grow, and become better servants to our community is something that has been embraced and we look forward to leaning into the challenges and being better,” the statement said.
RJ Dawson, who took part in the protests in Los Angeles as part of an activist group, said he had little hope that the report would lead to significant changes.
“I find that these reports tell us what we already know,” he said. “When you’re out here, you see the civil rights violations.”
The review, one of three investigations into the department’s response to the demonstrations, was completed by a panel of former police commanders and led by Gerald Chaleff, who has served on police oversight panels in Los Angeles dating back to the city’s 1992 riots after four officers were acquitted in the beating of Rodney King.
“There was a lack of preparation, a lack of planning,” Mr. Chaleff said of the Los Angeles Police Department in an interview, adding that it “could have minimized” the destruction caused by a small group of people who vandalized the city during last year’s protests.
He said that most demonstrators were peaceful, but that “there were some people there to create chaos and cause problems.”
In interviews, several commanders admitted to the authors of the report that they lacked experience in managing peaceful protests and said they did not receive enough training to maintain order.
Training in crowd control, which became mandatory after the police responded violently in 2007 to demonstrations over immigrant rights, had not occurred for several years leading up to 2020, according to the report. There are “still a few high-level personnel” with expertise in handling large demonstrations, but the report said the Police Department should prioritize the training going forward, as officers retire and are assigned elsewhere.
Officers interviewed for the report said they thought that “good relationships” with residents would keep the demonstrations peaceful, as they had in the recent past, but that their confidence resulted in them failing to plan.
The department formed lines of officers standing shoulder to shoulder to block off a street or keep the protesters from going a certain way. But this technique proved ineffective. As violence erupted, the lines did nothing to help control the crowd.
Across the country, reports have consistently shown similar failures.
In New York, more than 2,000 people were arrested during the city’s first week of demonstrations and enforcement during the height of the protests was overly aggressive and disproportionately affected people of color, according to the highly critical report, which was issued by the state’s attorney general, Letitia James. Her office received more than 1,300 complaints of police misconduct stemming from those first weeks of protest in New York City, she said.
In Portland, Ore., Justice Department lawyers wrote last month that the city’s police department was out of compliance with a 2014 settlement agreement that focused in part on how officers used force. The Justice Department wrote in court that during protests last year, the Portland Police Bureau used force more than 6,000 times in six months, at times deviating from policy.
In Seattle, the city’s Office of Inspector General has been working on a review of last year’s protests, saying there were more than 120 separate protest events and more than 19,000 complaints about how they were handled.
In Chicago, the city’s inspector general report found that the Police Department’s senior leadership had failed the public and rank-and-file officers in its handling of intense protests. As in Los Angeles, the department failed to properly process mass arrests, the report said, overcharging some people and undercharging others. Officers obscured their badge numbers and name plates, and many did not wear body cameras, making it difficult to hold officers accountable for misconduct.
All this happened as the public’s own footage of questionable tactics by Chicago officers circulated widely, the report said. The city and the Police Department, the report said, may have been set “back significantly in their long-running, deeply challenged effort to foster trust with members of the community.”
The Dallas Police Department also came under close scrutiny for how it handled protests. A Dallas Morning News report found that the police had improperly fired pepper balls at protesters. A federal judge had issued a temporary restraining order preventing officers from using chemical agents, flash-bang grenades and other less-lethal weapons against protesters. The police chief at the time ended up resigning, though she said it was for reasons other than the criticism of the protest response.
Mr. Chaleff, who once served as the Los Angeles Police Department’s special assistant for constitutional policing under former Chief William J. Bratton, who later led the New York Police Department, noted that Thursday’s report was primarily concerned with the institutional response, not with any particular incident of police misconduct, a sign that the police had “allowed less violence” than in the past.
“I think there’s been progress,” he said. “But you have to be prepared for what’s coming, and you have to have the elected and appointed leadership that understands what is required and creates a culture for the kinds of responses that are necessary.”
Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Manny Fernandez, Shawn Hubler and Ali Watkins.
The pandemic relief bill includes $2.75 billion for private schools. How it got there is an unlikely political tale, involving Orthodox Jewish lobbying, the Senate majority leader and a teachers’ union president.
By Erica L. Green, March 13, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/13/us/politics/schumer-weingarten-stimulus-private-schools.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — Tucked into the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue law is something of a surprise coming from a Democratic Congress and a president long seen as a champion of public education — nearly $3 billion earmarked for private schools.
More surprising is who got it there: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader whose loyalty to his constituents diverged from the wishes of his party, and Randi Weingarten, the leader of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, who acknowledged that the federal government had an obligation to help all schools recover from the pandemic, even those who do not accept her group.
The deal, which came after Mr. Schumer was lobbied by the powerful Orthodox Jewish community in New York City, riled other Democratic leaders and public school advocates who have spent years beating back efforts by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to funnel federal money to private schools, including in the last two coronavirus relief bills.
Democrats had railed against the push by President Donald J. Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, to use pandemic relief bills to aid private schools, only to do it themselves.
And the private school provision materialized even after House Democrats expressly sought to curtail such funding by effectively capping coronavirus relief for private education in the bill at about $200 million. Mr. Schumer, in the 11th hour, struck the House provision and inserted $2.75 billion — about 12 times more funding than the House had allowed.
“We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that wrote letters to Congress protesting the carve-out. “The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?”
Mr. Schumer’s move created significant intraparty clashes behind the scenes as Congress prepared to pass one of the most critical funding bills for public education in modern history. Senator Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was said to have been so unhappy that she fought to secure last-minute language that stipulated the money be used for “nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency.”
“I’m proud of what the American Rescue Plan will deliver to our students and schools and in this case specifically, I’m glad Democrats better targeted these resources toward students the pandemic has hurt the most,” Ms. Murray said in a statement.
Jewish leaders in New York have long sought help for their sectarian schools, but resistance in the House prompted them to turn to Mr. Schumer, said Nathan J. Diament, the executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who contended that public schools had nothing to complain about.
“It’s still the case that 10 percent of America’s students are in nonpublic schools, and they are just as impacted by the crisis as the other 90 percent, but we’re getting a much lower percentage overall,” he said, adding, “We’re very appreciative of what Senator Schumer did.”
Mr. Schumer faced pressure from a range of leaders in New York’s private school ecosystem, including from the Catholic Church.
In a statement to Jewish Insider, Mr. Schumer said, “This fund, without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover Covid-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students.”
The magnitude of the overall education funding — more than double the amount of schools funding allocated in the last two relief bills combined — played some part in the concession that private schools should continue to receive billions in relief funds. The $125 billion in funding for K-12 education requires districts to set aside percentages of funding to address learning loss, invest in summer school and other programming to help students recover from educational disruptions during the pandemic.
The law also targets long-underserved students, allocating $3 billion in funding for special education programming under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and $800 million in dedicated funding to identify and support homeless students.
“Make no mistake, this bill provides generous funding for public schools,” a spokesman for Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “But there are also many private schools which serve large percentages of low-income and disadvantaged students who also need relief from the Covid crisis.”
Proponents of the move argue that it was merely a continuation of the same amount afforded to private schools — which also had access to the government’s aid program for small businesses earlier in the pandemic — in a $2.3 trillion catchall package passed in December. But critics noted that was when Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democrats had signaled they wanted to take a different direction. They also contend that Mr. Schumer’s decision came at the expense of public education, given that the version of the bill that initially passed the House had about $3 billion more allocated for primary and secondary schools.
Mr. Schumer’s move caught his Democratic colleagues off guard, according to several people familiar with deliberations, and spurred aggressive efforts on the part of advocacy groups to reverse it. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union and a powerful ally of the Biden administration, raised its objections with the White House, according to several people familiar with the organization’s efforts.
In a letter to lawmakers, the association’s director of government affairs wrote that while it applauded the bill, “we would be remiss if we did not convey our strong disappointment in the Senate’s inclusion of a Betsy DeVos-era $2.75 billion for private schools — despite multiple avenues and funding previously made available to private schools.”
Among the Democrats who were displeased with Mr. Schumer’s reversal was Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who told him that she preferred the provision Democrats had secured in the House version, according to people familiar with their conversation. They also said Representative Robert C. Scott, the chairman of the House education committee, was “very upset” about both the substance and the process of Mr. Schumer’s revision, and had his staff communicate that he was “insulted.”
Integral to swaying Democrats to go along, particularly Ms. Pelosi, was Ms. Weingarten, several people said. Ms. Weingarten reiterated to the speaker’s office what she expressed to Mr. Schumer’s when he made his decision: Not only would she not fight the provision, but it was also the right thing to do.
Last year, Ms. Weingarten led calls to reject orders from Ms. DeVos to force public school districts to increase the amount of federal relief funding they share with private schools, beyond what the law required to help them recover.
At the time, private schools were going out of business everyday, particularly small schools that served predominantly low-income students, and private schools were among the only ones still trying to keep their doors open for in-person learning during the pandemic.
But Ms. Weingarten said Ms. DeVos’s guidance “funnels more money to private schools and undercuts the aid that goes to the students who need it most” because the funding could have supported wealthy students.
This time around, Ms. Weingarten changed her tune.
In an interview, she defended her support of the provision, saying that it was different from previous efforts to fund private schools that she had protested under the Trump administration, which sought to carve out a more significant percentage of funding and use it to advance private school tuition vouchers. The new law also had more safeguards, she said, such as requiring that it be spent on poor students and stipulating that private schools not be reimbursed.
“The nonwealthy kids that are in parochial schools, their families don’t have means, and they’ve gone through Covid in the same way public school kids have,” Ms. Weingarten said.
“All of our children need to survive, and need to recover post-Covid, and it would be a ‘shonda’ if we didn’t actually provide the emotional support and nonreligious supports that all of our children need right now and in the aftermath of this emergency,” she said, using a Yiddish word for shame.
Mr. Diament likened Mr. Schumer’s decision to Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s move more than a decade ago to include private schools in emergency relief funding if they served students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Diament said that he did not expect that private schools would see this as a precedent to seek other forms of funding.
“In emergency contexts, whether they’re hurricanes, earthquakes, or global pandemics, those are situations where we need to all be in this together,” he said. “Those are exceptional situations, and that’s how they should be treated.”
The settlement is one of the largest of its kind, but it may make it harder to seat an impartial jury for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer charged with murder in Mr. Floyd’s death.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and John Eligon, March 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/12/us/george-floyd-minneapolis-settlement.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
The City of Minneapolis agreed on Friday to pay $27 million to the family of George Floyd, the Black man whose death set off months of protests after a video showed a white police officer kneeling on his neck.
The payment to settle the family’s lawsuit was among the largest of its kind, and it came as the officer, Derek Chauvin, was set to go on trial this month for charges including second-degree murder. As the settlement was announced by city officials and lawyers for Mr. Floyd’s family, Mr. Chauvin sat in a courtroom less than a mile away, where jurors were being selected for his trial.
Mayor Jacob Frey called the agreement a milestone for Minneapolis’s future. Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who is among those representing Mr. Floyd’s family, said it could set an example for other communities.
“After the eyes of the world rested on Minneapolis in its darkest hour, now the city can be a beacon of hope and light and change for cities across America and across the globe,” he said.
But legal experts said the agreement might make it even harder to seat an impartial jury in the case against Mr. Chauvin, which was already a challenge because of the attention given to Mr. Floyd’s death and the intense demonstrations that followed. In the first four days of jury selection this week, nearly all of the potential jurors said they had seen the video of his arrest, including all but one of the seven selected for the trial so far.
Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender in Minneapolis, said that the timing could hardly be worse for the court case and that Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers might even ask for a mistrial.
She added that the defense team might have reason to worry that jurors’ views could be affected by the deal, if they saw it as an indication that Mr. Chauvin’s actions were inappropriate. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer and a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Minneapolis said the settlement was “independent and separate from the criminal trial underway.”
The large payment was a sign of the magnitude of the response to Mr. Floyd’s death, which led to protests in hundreds of cities, changes in local and state laws and a reckoning over racism and police abuse. In Minneapolis, a police station and many businesses were burned over several nights of unrest.
At a news conference, Mr. Crump said the agreement would “allow healing to begin” in the city. He said the family had pledged to donate $500,000 to “lift up” the neighborhood around 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the corner where the police confronted Mr. Floyd on May 25. The officers had arrived after a store clerk called 911 and said that Mr. Floyd had tried to pay with a fake $20 bill.
Mayor Frey said on Twitter that the agreement “reflects a shared commitment to advancing racial justice and a sustained push for progress.”
Some community members, however, were skeptical of his assertion.
“We haven’t even taken a step, let alone a mile, toward fundamentally changing this police force,” said D.A. Bullock, a filmmaker who lives in Minneapolis. “We’re just waiting for the next George Floyd to happen.”
Mr. Bullock said he imagined that Mr. Floyd’s family would return every penny if they could have him back.
“All I want to talk about is how we’re not going to have police out here killing Black folks,” he said. “That’s really my bottom line, regardless of the size of the settlement.”
Two years ago, Minneapolis agreed to pay $20 million to the family of Justine Ruszczyk, a white yoga instructor who was fatally shot by Mohamed Noor, a police officer who is Somali. Excluding that case, the agreement with the Floyd family is larger than the city’s combined settlements related to police misconduct from 2006 to 2020, according to city data.
Minneapolis pays its settlements out of a fund for legal payouts and workers’ compensation claims, and residents have expressed concern that their taxes are subsidizing payments for the misconduct of the police while failing to hold officers accountable. Activists have pushed for legislation that would require officers to carry their own liability insurance, with premiums that could rise after cases of misconduct.
Mark Ruff, the city coordinator, said during a news conference that with cash reserves, officials were confident that the Floyd agreement would not lead to an increase in property taxes.
The settlement reflected the rise in payments over police abuse and misconduct in recent years. In September, Louisville, Ky., agreed to pay $12 million to the family of Breonna Taylor, the Black woman whom officers shot and killed in her apartment a year ago.
Five years earlier, the family of Freddie Gray reached a $6.4 million settlement with Baltimore after he was fatally injured in police custody. Also in 2015, New York agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer used a chokehold on him.
In some ways, the escalating amounts are indicative of growing public support for holding the police accountable, said Katherine Macfarlane, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho who specializes in civil rights litigation. But it is also an issue of precedent, she said.
“I think that once you have an incrementally larger settlement, it becomes, in some way, precedent to ask for at least that,” she said. “It gives an attorney a way to say, ‘This is what’s been done before on similar facts, but this is even worse, so we should go above that.’”
Mr. Floyd’s family had sued Minneapolis in July, saying that the police had violated his rights and failed to properly train its officers or fire those who violated department policies.
Mr. Crump said on Friday that the settlement was the largest ever reached before trial in a civil rights wrongful death lawsuit involving the police. That it came in a lawsuit over the death of a Black man, he said, “sends a powerful message that Black lives do matter and police brutality against people of color must end.”
Tim Arango contributed reporting from Minneapolis.
Economics offers only part of the answer. The rest depends on whether you think higher education is an investment or a public good.
By Spencer Bokat-Lindell, March 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/opinion/biden-cancel-student-debt.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
(Matt Huynh) Been Down So Long It Looks Like Debt to Me
An American family’s struggle for student loan redemptionhttps://thebaffler.com/salvos/looks-like-debt-to-me-miller
Whenever I think about student loan debt, one of the first things I think about — besides my own — is a 2018 essay by my colleague M.H. Miller. As one of the 45 million Americans who collectively owe $1.71 trillion for student loans, Mr. Miller wrote about what it is like to have debt — more than $100,000 worth in his case — become the organizing principle of your life, to be incapacitated by it, suspended, at age 30, “in a state of perpetual childishness.”
A lot has changed since Mr. Miller wrote that essay. For one thing, the national student debt increased by a couple of hundred billion dollars. But the most striking difference is how quickly calls for the president to cancel that debt, a vast majority of which the federal government owns, have migrated from the margins to the center of the national policy debate, from a radical demand chanted by activists to a proposal championed by the top Democrat in the Senate.
Here’s how economists, lawmakers and activists are thinking about it.
What’s the case for canceling student debt?
There are two overlapping ways proponents tend to answer this question: the economic injustice argument and the enlightened society argument.
If you borrowed $10,000 and you’ve been trying to repay it for 10 years and you haven’t made any progress, we should forgive it today. We shouldn’t make you wait another 10 years. If you were the victim of fraud or abuse, we should forgive your debt. — Sandy Baum, economist at the Urban Institute
The economic injustice argument frames education as an investment that has increasingly become faulty or even fraudulent: Generations of Americans were told that a higher degree was the path to financial security and upward mobility. In recent decades, however, as administrative expenses ballooned and public education budgets were slashed, schools shifted their rising costs to students, causing tuition to skyrocket. Still, people held on to the promise that the investment would eventually break even — after all, the federal government was lending them the money to pay for it.
But for millions of Americans, that promise proved hollow. Why?
· The labor market experienced what some scholars call credential inflation: Workers have had to buy more education to qualify for the same jobs, but wages have risen at a snail’s pace compared with the costs of tuition, housing and health insurance.
· The surge in demand for higher education has also contributed to the rise of predatory for-profit colleges that gladly accept federal loans but act as a “conveyor belt of dropouts and debt.”
The upshot: About a third of all student loan debt will never be paid off, according to the Department of Education’s projections — and some economists think that’s an underestimate.
The economic injustice argument tends to invite a lot of debate about how best to tailor cancellation to those who are suffering most from the crisis, which isn’t always the same thing as who has the largest student loan balance. That’s because student debt, in dollar terms, is concentrated among people who make more money and tend to be much better able to make their monthly payments than borrowers who owe relatively small amounts.
Here’s a chart from Matt Bruenig at the People’s Policy Project that shows the spread:
The enlightened society argument frames higher education as a public good, much as it’s treated in other wealthy countries and as K-12 education is already treated in the United States: It should be free or cheap for all, financed by taxes that can be raised on the rich, and no one should have to go into debt to get it.
“Education has been twisted into primarily job training. We think of it as, you take out your loans to invest in yourself, so you can get a job, so you can pay back those loans. I want to just break that paradigm and say, no, education is actually about education. This is why it should be free. — Astra Taylor, a co-founder of the Debt Collective”
From this vantage, proponents argue that the student debt crisis incurs social costs even in the case of better-off borrowers, like lawyers who have to go into corporate law instead of becoming public defenders because they have $200,000 in law school loans to pay off. And then there are borrowers for whom “affording” payments means being saddled with the depressing obligation to delay or forgo major life milestones like having children, owning a home and saving for retirement.
How much debt would be canceled?
There are three proposals being debated in Washington:
· President Biden has called for canceling $10,000 in debt for all borrowers, which would cost about $377 billion.
· Senators Charles Schumer, the majority leader, and Elizabeth Warren have introduced a resolution calling on Mr. Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in debt per borrower, which could cost up to about $1 trillion.
· Other progressive lawmakers — including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ayanna Pressley — have continued to call for the cancellation of all debt, which would cost about $1.56 trillion.
For those who believe that higher education is a public good, canceling all debt might seem like the obvious choice. But what’s fairest from an economic justice perspective?
Proponents of limited cancellation argue that it targets relief to people who need it most. “The $50,000 across-the-board relief championed by Schumer and Warren is wildly out of synch with the traditional approach of progressive policymaking,” writes Adam Looney, an economist at the University of Utah, in The Washington Post. At less than half the cost, Mr. Biden’s proposal “could eliminate debt for the 15 million borrowers with smaller balances who, paradoxically, tend to struggle most, accounting for about 60 percent of all defaults.”
Proponents of broader or total cancellation argue that actually, those policies are progressive: Better-off borrowers would receive the largest amount of relief in dollars, but worse-off borrowers would still receive the greatest relief relative to their income. And no matter their income, very few people who have student loans are wealthy.
“Removing student debt would make the overall income and wealth distributions more egalitarian,” Marshall Steinbaum, also a University of Utah economist, writes for The Appeal. “Notwithstanding all the hoopla about student debt cancellation being a giveaway to the rich, no one disputes this basic fact.”
What’s more, Naomi Zewde and Darrick Hamilton, professors who study the intersection of economics and race in America, argue in The Times that total cancellation would help close the racial wealth gap by disproportionately helping Black Americans, who are more likely to take on student debt, and more of it, just to make the same amount of money as their less-educated white peers.
Skeptics of all these plans argue that there are better ways for the government to spend its money. First, debt cancellation of any kind is arguably unfair to borrowers who have already paid off their loans, raising the question of whether they would be owed reparations.
Second, mass cancellation “boosts the balance sheets of people who attended college while doing nothing for people who did not attend college, even though the latter is, on average, worse off in many respects,” as Mr. Bruenig writes. “If the government is going to sprinkle $1+ trillion of net worth onto household balance sheets, should it really do so in a way that leaves out those without college educations?”
What happens the day after cancellation?
Virtually everyone in this debate agrees that cancellation would only treat the symptoms of the student debt crisis, not cure its causes. Some say it could make the problem even worse by, in effect, bailing out schools whose value has outstripped their cost, causing tuitions to rise even higher and incentivizing people to take out loans they can’t afford with the expectation they will be forgiven.
Opponents of mass cancellation argue for longer-term solutions, like fixing the currently dysfunctional program of forgiving loans in exchange for public service, expanding income-driven repayment systems to make repayment easier, investing more in higher education to make it more affordable and making college less necessary to earn a good living in the first place.
Proponents of mass cancellation argue that these aren’t mutually exclusive policies: Ms. Taylor, for example, supports both debt cancellation and free universal college. Mr. Biden himself has proposed a limited plan for the latter that would make two years of community college free for all, eliminate undergraduate tuition at public universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 and subsidize the cost of historically Black colleges.
But these policy disputes run aground on the reason debt cancellation has garnered so much attention in the first place: It’s the one policy the president could — maybe — do without the help of Congress.
“Unilaterally forgiving student debt without enacting deeper reforms to how we pay for college is an awkward, temporary fix that could bring up perilous political and legal issues,” Jordan Weissmann writes in Slate. “But right now, it would be a mistake for Biden to rule it out entirely: In a world where only third- and fourth-best policy options are realistic, we may be talking about a mediocre idea whose time has come.”
Mr. Bokat-Lindell is a staff editor.
Lead screenings for children plummeted last spring, and stay-at-home orders may have increased household exposure to the toxic metal.
By Emily Anthes, Published March 11, 2021, Updated March 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/11/health/virus-lead-poisoning-children.html?surface=home-discovery-vi-prg&fellback=false&req_id=49187267&algo=identity&variant=no-exp&imp_id=749330556&action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
Over the past half-century, public health officials have made enormous progress in protecting American children from lead poisoning and the irreversible neurological damage it can cause. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children with high levels of lead in their blood has plummeted.
But in 2020, a new health threat, the coronavirus, endangered these hard-earned gains.
When Covid-19 cases spiked last spring, lockdowns and day care closures confined young children to their homes, where lead exposure can be particularly high. The growing national emergency also delayed lead-removal efforts and disrupted routine childhood lead screenings, leaving health officials unable to identify and treat many children living in lead-laden homes.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the early months of the pandemic, roughly 10,000 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected.
“Hundreds of thousands of children have missed their essential tests for lead,” said Joseph Courtney, a senior epidemiologist at the C.D.C.’s lead poisoning prevention and environmental health tracking branch, who conducted the analysis. “And it’s something that has potentially permanent lifetime effects.”
There is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can disrupt neurological and cognitive development, causing learning disabilities, behavioral problems and developmental delays.
The C.D.C. estimates that more than 20 million housing units in the United States contain lead-based paint, which was banned in 1978. When the paint flakes, cracks or peels, the lead mixes with dust, which children can ingest or inhale. Young children, whose brains are still developing, are at particular risk.
“The main route of exposure for most children is lead-contaminated dust, from paint getting on their hands or their toys,” said David Jacobs, chief scientist at the National Center for Healthy Housing. “And then normal child behavior at this age is, everything goes in the mouth.”
For that reason, many states recommend or require that children of certain ages have their blood tested for lead. (Federal guidelines require that all children who are enrolled in Medicaid receive blood lead level tests at ages one and two.) Doctors typically perform these tests as part of a child’s regular checkup.
But when the pandemic hit last March, government officials issued stay-at-home orders, and many medical offices closed. Others started conducting appointments virtually. “You can’t do a blood lead test by telemedicine,” said Dr. Stephanie Yendell, senior epidemiology supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Public Health. “You can’t get a blood sample by video call.”
That month in Minnesota, the number of tests for blood lead level fell to 70 percent of what it had been the previous year, Dr. Yendell said. “And then in April, we bottomed out at 43 percent compared to the year before.”
In New York City, which was hit by an early wave of Covid-19 cases, childhood lead screenings declined by 88 percent last April.
Anecdotal reports of these declines soon made their way to the C.D.C., which asked state and local health officials to share their lead screening data so the agency could conduct a more formal analysis. Thirty-four health departments — representing 32 states, plus New York City and Washington, D.C. — ultimately did so.
Every one of those departments reported a drop-off in testing last spring, Dr. Courtney and his colleagues found. Over the first five months of 2020, roughly 500,000 fewer children had their blood lead levels tested in these districts compared with the same period of 2019. The decline was especially steep in March, April and May, when testing levels fell 50 percent compared to the previous year.
That kind of decline has no precedent, Dr. Courtney said: “There’s nothing like it before.”
Roughly 2 percent of American children have elevated blood lead levels, Dr. Courtney said. If that percentage holds for the children who missed their screenings last year, it would mean that nearly 10,000 of them had significant lead exposures. “And there were 18 states that we didn’t receive data from that probably would have added to that total,” he noted. “So that’s a conservative estimate.”
There is also reason to suspect that lead poisoning is even more prevalent among the children who missed their blood tests last year, experts said. Children of color, and those who live in low-income neighborhoods, are particularly likely to be exposed to lead. Those same communities have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus and may have faced the biggest obstacles in receiving pediatric checkups last year.
“We’re afraid that the kids who are being missed are probably the kids at higher risk,” Dr. Courtney said. Some states reported that the dip in lead screenings was especially pronounced among children who were on Medicaid, he added.
For lead-poisoned children, the consequences could be devastating. Although there is no way to reverse lead poisoning, nutritional supplements and educational services can help mitigate the harms. Children who miss their lead screenings may not receive these essential interventions.
Moreover, in many cases, it takes an elevated blood lead level to trigger lead removal or remediation efforts. “If you don’t test, you don’t find,” said Dr. Morri Markowitz, director of the lead poisoning treatment and prevention program at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, in New York City. “If you don’t find, you don’t intervene, and the kid continues to be exposed, continues potentially to be ingesting lead.” He added: “And then it can progress, and by the time you check, things will have gotten worse.”
Even as lead testing rates were falling last spring, the amount of time that children were spending in their homes, where lead exposure is most likely, was rising. The pandemic, and the financial hardships that accompanied it, may also have prompted some families and property owners to postpone essential building repairs and maintenance tasks.
“I’m very concerned that we potentially may have more children who have been exposed if they’ve been in homes with peeling, chipping paint,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan and chief deputy director for health in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We just don’t even know it.”
Widespread building closures have created other risks. Although paint is the most common cause of childhood lead poisoning, lead pipes also pose a threat. The longer that water sits stagnant in such pipes, the more lead leaches into it; schools and day care centers that shut down last year could find their water dangerously contaminated when they reopen.
“There’s likely to be high lead levels in some taps,” said Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, a senior environmental health scientist at RTI International, a nonprofit research organization based in North Carolina. “Water needs to be flushed at schools and child care centers — and really, all places that are closed — before people start using the water again for drinking and cooking.”
There is some evidence that lead poisoning rates may have risen slightly last year. Health officials in Massachusetts said they detected a 3 percent increase in the prevalence of lead poisoning among young children between mid-March and mid-August 2020. “While this may seem like a small increase, it is concerning, as we normally see rates of lead poisoning decline each year,” said Jan Sullivan, acting director of the Bureau of Environmental Health at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
And in New York City, preliminary data suggests that the share of young children with elevated blood lead levels was essentially flat over the first three-quarters of 2020, after years of steady declines.But not all health departments have found these patterns, and many are still analyzing their data from last year. Of course, if the children who face the biggest lead hazards are the ones who skipped their screenings , a rise in lead poisoning may not show up in the testing data, experts said.
Early evidence suggests that blood lead testing did begin to rebound in the second half of 2020. “But it still fell below the levels of previous years and did not nearly make up for the number of children missed earlier in the year,” Dr. Courtney said.
In Michigan, where childhood lead testing was about one-third lower in 2020 than in 2019, health officials are now trying to make up lost ground. They are organizing mobile lead testing events, to be held across the state, and planning a major media campaign.
“We’re going to put some money behind it, have some commercials and a real intentional focus on making sure people are aware of the risk of lead and that they know how and where to get tested,” said Dr. Khaldun. “We are really focused on making sure we don’t have other unintended consequences of the pandemic.”
The “Reclaim These Streets” movement in Britain asks why the police demand sacrifices of women rather than forcing men to change to end violence.
By Amanda Taub, Published March 14, 2021, Updated March 15, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/14/world/europe/sarah-everard-women-protest.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Perhaps it was because pandemic lockdowns have left women clinging to whatever is left of their access to public space. Perhaps it was because after more than three years of the #MeToo movement, the police and society are still telling women to sacrifice their liberties to purchase a little temporary safety.
It all came to the surface when 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared as she walked home in London on March 3, was found dead a week later, after doing everything she was supposed to do. She took a longer route that was well-lit and populated. She wore bright clothes and shoes she could run in. She checked in with her boyfriend to let him know when she was leaving. But that was not enough to save her life.
So the response from British women to reports that the police were going door to door telling women in the South London neighborhood where she disappeared to stay inside for their own safety became an outpouring of rage and frustration.
It has set off a social movement that feels, somehow, different from those that have come before: women from all walks of life demanding safety from male violence — and demanding that the police, the government and men collectively be the ones to bear the burden of ensuring it.
‘Arrest Your Own’
“Hey, mister, get your hands off my sister!” the crowd chanted as the police grabbed women while trying to disperse the vigil on Saturday night for Ms. Everard, a marketing executive, in a park in Clapham, South London.
“Arrest your own!” hundreds shouted, a reference to the police officer who has been charged with Ms. Everard’s killing. “Police, go home!”
As officers trampled the flowers laid on a makeshift memorial to Ms. Everard and wrestled shocked young women to the ground, London’s Metropolitan Police could scarcely have provided a better example of what women were protesting if they had set out intentionally to do so.
In the days after Ms. Everard’s disappearance, a group calling itself Reclaim These Streets announced that a vigil would be held on Saturday night in a South London park. The event would be partly to mourn and partly to protest the police instructions to women to stay home for their own security and to demand safer streets instead.
But “the Met,” as London’s police are known, once again told women to stay home. Citing lockdown restrictions, the police threatened steep fines if the vigil was not canceled.
Eventually the organizers capitulated and called off the event, in part because they could not bear the thought of their fines going to subsidize the very police force they were protesting, said Mary Morgan, a writer and scholar focused on body politics who was one of the event’s original organizers. “It makes my stomach rot,” she said in an interview.
Whatever the Met’s internal reasoning, the message it sent to women across the country was that the police were doubling down on restricting women’s freedom instead of men’s violence.
“@metpoliceuk really do want women off the streets don’t they?” Anne Lawtey, 64, wrote on Twitter after organizers announced the cancellation of the gathering. She was shocked, she said in a telephone interview, that it had been shut down. “We can’t have a vigil? People standing still, in a park, wearing masks?”
A huge crowd turned out anyway, carrying candles and bouquets, crocus bulbs in glass jars and flats of pansy seedlings to add to the pile of blooms.
With no audio equipment, women climbed on the Victorian bandstand that had become a makeshift memorial and used an Occupy Wall Street-style human microphone: The crowd repeated what was said so that it could be heard at the back.
“The police are trying to silence us, the police are trying to repress us,” hundreds repeated in unison. “The police said we can’t have a vigil to remember Sarah Everard. The police have the nerve to threaten us. The police have the nerve to intimidate us.”
Then, louder: “WE. SAY. NO.”
A Bad Bargain
To be a woman is to be “in a constant state of bargaining,” the author and columnist Nesrine Malik wrote in her book, “We Need New Stories.”
Ms. Everard’s disappearance called attention to the terms of a safety bargain so ubiquitous that many women might never have considered it in such terms: that in order to buy their own safety from male violence, they must make the “right” choices. And that if a woman fails to do so, her fate is her own fault.
Online, women shared the details of their side of that bargain. What they wore. Where they walked. Whom they checked in with before they left, and after they got home. When they would go out alone, or with other women, or with men.
Some reflected on their own close calls. Nosisa Majuqwana, 26, an advertising producer who lives in East London, said she told her friends, “Thank God I was wearing trainers, thank God I was carrying a rucksack” on the night a strange man approached her on a deserted path, pulled out a knife and told her to be quiet. “You would never walk home in London wearing heels.”
But Ms. Everard’s death has led Ms. Majuqwana and many others to reject the bargain outright.
“It doesn’t matter what women do,” Ms. Morgan said. “We can be hypervigilant, we can follow all the precautions that have been taught to us since we were children.”
The killing has “shocked people out of accepting that it’s normal” to make those trade-offs, said Anna Birley, an economic policy researcher and local politician in South London who also worked to organize the Reclaim These Streets event. “Every woman can see themselves in that situation.”
Who Should Sacrifice?
Why does the burden of women’s safety fall on women, rather than on the men who are the source of most of the violence against them?
“Women’s freedoms are seen as dispensable, as disposable — very much like sometimes, tragically, women ourselves,” Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University and author of two books on the ways sexism shapes society, said in an interview. “There is just an immediate assumption that men’s lives won’t be significantly affected by this,” so they cannot be asked to make sacrifices to change it.
As women’s role in public life has grown, the differences have become plain, and painful. The #MeToo movement revealed that many women left their jobs or entire industries to avoid predators like Harvey Weinstein — with the result that their abusers were able to continue harming other women for decades.
Women in abusive relationships are often told to just leave their violent partners, but in fact often face the worst violence when they try to do so.
Sometimes the calculus is more subtle, but the collective impact is still significant.
A working paper from Girija Borker, a researcher at the World Bank, found that women in India were willing to go to far worse colleges, and pay more tuition, in order to avoid harassment or abuse on their daily commutes to classes. The impact of that “choice” on one woman can be hard to measure — but among the thousands she documented in her research, it can be expected to have an effect on earnings, economic power and social mobility.
But British women’s anger is beginning to shift assumptions about who should make sacrifices for safety.
Jenny Jones, a baroness and Green Party peer, suggested in the House of Lords last week that there should be a 6 p.m. curfew for men in the wake of Ms. Everard’s disappearance. She later clarified that it was not an entirely serious suggestion, telling Britain’s Sky News: “Nobody makes a fuss when, for example, the police suggest women stay home. But when I suggest it, men are up in arms.”
When asked about the proposal, Mark Drakeford, the first minister for Wales, said in a BBC interview that a curfew for men would be “not at the top of our list,” but seemed to imply it could be considered in some circumstances. (He later clarified that the Welsh government was not considering such a measure.)
Focused on Policing
Demands for men to make changes have become more prominent. But public fury has also fallen heavily on the police. And as photographs circulated of women being detained and manhandled by police officers after the Clapham vigil on Saturday night, anger grew.
“There’s so much anger in the fact that this isn’t the first time that the Metropolitan Police let down women on such a large scale,” Ms. Majuqwana said.
She said she spoke from personal experience, too. A few years ago, she said, a man grabbed her by the arm, then hit her in the face with a glass bottle when she declined his advances. But when the police arrived, they said there was nothing they could do unless she wanted to be arrested, too, because she had admitted to hitting her assailant back in self-defense.
Sisters Uncut, a feminist group that had encouraged women to go to the park even after the official Reclaim These Streets event was canceled, announced a protest on Sunday as well, this time outside Police Headquarters.
“Police are perpetrators of individual and state violence against women — as evidenced last night,” the group wrote on Twitter, adding, “4pm. New Scotland Yard.”
The March 16 episode of “The Ezra Klein Show.”
March 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/podcasts/ezra-klein-podcast-mark-bittman-transcript.html
EZRA KLEIN: I’m Ezra Klein. And this is “The Ezra Klein Show.”
[THEME MUSIC PLAYING]
I’ve read Mark Bittman forever. I read him at The New York Times when he wrote “The Minimalist” cooking column, which I loved. I don’t think I can tell you how many recipes I made from that. I bought his cookbooks. I had “How to Cook Everything,” that big red one. And then when I went vegetarian, I had “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” I did not have the baking one because I don’t bake.
I read his food policy writing. He’s like my cranky food uncle. He’s been there at every step in my food journey. I’ve learned how to cook from him. And I’ve learned, I think, more importantly, a lot about how to think about food from him. So when he sent me his new book, “Animal, Vegetable, Junk,” I was excited. But I also was totally unprepared for what the book really is.
It is this sweeping history and reinterpretation of humanity’s relationship with food, going back to our hunter-gatherer days, tracing the development of agriculture, the way that changed our social mores and the way that changed our laws, then the industrialization of agriculture, the pressure of both technological advance and the profit motive, the way capitalism and philosophy converge to create a food system that — and there’s really no other way to put this — is poisoning us and poisoning the earth and inflicting cruelty to other creatures on a scale that breaks your mind if you try to contemplate it. And that is not to say that system does nothing good.
It feeds billions of people with a variety that we never could have imagined at another point in human history. But it’s doing those other things, the poisoning things, too. And we actually have to take that seriously. Bittman’s indictment here is sweeping. And I’m not sure you’ll hear that in this conversation I’m bought in on every piece of it. In particular, I think I have a different relationship or different theory of food technology than he does.
But what he’s doing here is bracing. And what he’s trying to get people to contemplate, trying to get us to contemplate in terms of what our food really means and what it is interwoven with in our world, I think is really important. It raises profound questions between the relationship among humans and animals and plants and capitalism and technology and morality. It is all here, all on your plate.
So there’s a lot to talk about. One quick note, though, before we get into it, you will hear us talk about CAFOs in here. That is concentrated animal feeding operations, these massive factory farms, where a huge proportion of the animals we eat are raised in, just not to mince words, truly horrendous conditions. But that’s very much part of our conversation, so I wanted you to have that definition. As always, my email is email@example.com. Here we go.
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America has never taken responsibility for spraying the herbicide over Laos during the Vietnam War. But generations of ethnic minorities have endured the consequences.
By George Black, Photographs by Christopher Anderson, March 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/magazine/laos-agent-orange-vietnam-war.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Choi, 19, was born with a severe spinal deformity and a heart defect. He was sent to Vientiane, Laos’s capital, for examination, diagnosis and cardiac surgery.
It was a blazing-hot morning in October 2019 on the old Ho Chi Minh Trail, an intricate web of truck roads and secret paths that wove its way across the densely forested and mountainous border between Vietnam and Laos. Susan Hammond, Jacquelyn Chagnon and Niphaphone Sengthong forded a rocky stream along the trail and came to a village of about 400 people called Labeng-Khok, once the site of a logistics base inside Laos used by the North Vietnamese Army to infiltrate troops into the South. In one of the bamboo-and-thatch stilt houses, the ladder to the living quarters was made from metal tubes that formerly held American cluster bombs. The family had a 4-year-old boy named Suk, who had difficulty sitting, standing and walking — one of three children in the extended family with birth defects. A cousin was born mute and did not learn to walk until he was 7. A third child, a girl, died at the age of 2. “That one could not sit up,” their great-uncle said. “The whole body was soft, as if there were no bones.” The women added Suk to the list of people with disabilities they have compiled on their intermittent treks through Laos’s sparsely populated border districts.
Hammond, Chagnon and Sengthong make up the core of the staff of a nongovernmental organization called the War Legacies Project. Hammond, a self-described Army brat whose father was a senior military officer in the war in Vietnam, founded the group in 2008. Chagnon, who is almost a generation older, was one of the first foreigners allowed to work in Laos after the conflict, representing a Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee. Sengthong, a retired schoolteacher who is Chagnon’s neighbor in the country’s capital, Vientiane, is responsible for the record-keeping and local coordination.
The main focus of the War Legacies Project is to document the long-term effects of the defoliant known as Agent Orange and provide humanitarian aid to its victims. Named for the colored stripe painted on its barrels, Agent Orange — best known for its widespread use by the U.S. military to clear vegetation during the Vietnam War — is notorious for being laced with a chemical contaminant called 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-P-dioxin, or TCDD, regarded as one of the most toxic substances ever created.
The use of the herbicide in the neutral nation of Laos by the United States — secretly, illegally and in large amounts — remains one of the last untold stories of the American war in Southeast Asia. Decades later, even in official military records, the spraying of Laos is mentioned only in passing. When the Air Force in 1982 finally released its partially redacted official history of the defoliation campaign, Operation Ranch Hand, the three pages on Laos attracted almost no attention, other than a statement from Gen. William Westmoreland, a former commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, that he knew nothing about it — although it was he who ordered it in the first place. Laos remained a forgotten footnote to a lost war. To those who followed the conflict’s aftermath intimately, this was hardly surprising. Only in the last two decades has the United States finally acknowledged and taken responsibility for the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, committing hundreds of millions of dollars to aiding the victims and cleaning up the worst-contaminated hot spots there.
While records of spraying operations inside Laos exist, the extent to which the U.S. military broke international agreements has never been fully documented, until now. An in-depth, monthslong review of old Air Force records, including details of hundreds of spraying flights, as well as interviews with many residents of villages along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, reveals that, at a conservative estimate, at least 600,000 gallons of herbicides rained down on the ostensibly neutral nation during the war.
For years, Hammond and Chagnon were aware of the spraying in Laos, but the remote areas affected were almost inaccessible. Finally, in 2017, with new paved roads connecting the main towns, and many smaller villages accessible in the dry season by rough tracks, they were able to embark on systematic visits to the villages of the Bru, the Ta Oey, the Pa Co and the Co Tu, four of the ethnic minorities whose homes straddle the Laos-Vietnam border. It was the first time anyone had tried to assess the present-day impact of the defoliant on these groups.
Of the 517 cases of disabilities and birth defects so far documented by the War Legacies Project in Laos, about three-fourths, like malformed limbs, are identifiable to the untrained eye as conditions of the sorts now linked to exposure to Agent Orange. “When we started the survey, I told American government officials we were doing it and said honestly that we didn’t know what we would find,” Hammond says. “In fact, I hoped we would find nothing. But as it turned out we’ve found a lot.”
Hammond’s requests for both the United States and Laos to acknowledge the long-term effects of the spraying have so far been met with bureaucratic rationalizations for inaction: Congress can do nothing without a clear signal from the Lao government; the Lao government has been hesitant to act without hard data; officials of the United States Agency for International Development in Vientiane have been sympathetic, but other senior embassy officials have waved away the problem. “One said that if we were so interested in what the U.S. had done in Laos, why didn’t we look at what the Soviets and the North Vietnamese had done?” Hammond recalls. “It was like being in a time warp, like dealing with an official in Vietnam in the 1990s. So we’ve been on this endless treadmill.”
So far, these conversations with officials have been informal, but this month she plans to submit the group’s findings to both governments, documenting the extent of the spraying recorded in the Air Force records and the number of disabilities the War Legacies Project has found. That’s when the governments of the United States and Laos will no longer have any reason to avoid taking action that is long overdue.
For Hammond and Chagnon, the personal connection to the war runs deep. Chagnon took time off from college in 1968 to work with Catholic Relief Services in Saigon, later living in a compound near the Tan Son Nhut air base. Even though public opinion had turned sharply against the war since the Tet offensive earlier that year, she wasn’t an antiwar activist. “I’d never been to a demonstration,” she says. “My parents were furious at me for going into a war zone.”
The first jolt to her innocence, she recalls, came when newspapers in Saigon published gruesome photographs of malformed babies and fetuses in Tay Ninh, a heavily sprayed province on the Cambodian border. By the late 1960s, Vietnamese doctors had strong indications that these congenital defects might be connected to the chemical defoliants. By the time Chagnon came home in 1970, the defoliation campaign was about to be shut down amid growing controversy over its possible health effects. But her anxiety increased. Many of the early spraying sorties had taken off from Tan Son Nhut, and she worried about her own exposure and the long-term effects if she had children. Those fears seemed to be confirmed when her daughter, Miranda, was born in 1985 with multiple birth defects. There was no proof that dioxin was responsible, and Miranda’s ailments were treatable with surgery and medication, but that hardly quelled Chagnon’s concerns about Agent Orange.
By this time Chagnon and her husband, Roger Rumpf, a theologian and well-known peace activist, were living in Vientiane and visited remote areas where few outsiders ever ventured. They had heard strange and unsettling stories in Xepon, a small town near the Vietnamese border. Doctors reported a rash of mysterious birth defects. A veterinarian told of farm animals born with extra limbs. There were anecdotal accounts of airplanes trailing a fine white spray. But it was impossible to find out more. “In those days there were no roads into the mountains,” Chagnon says. “You had to walk, sometimes for days.”
Hammond was born in 1965 while her father was serving at Fort Drum in upstate New York — a dark coincidence, she says, “since it was one of the first places they tested Agent Orange.” From there her father’s Army career took the family to Okinawa. Based in Danang, he was responsible for the construction of military installations in I Corps, the northernmost tactical zone in South Vietnam.
Hammond first went to Vietnam in 1991, when talk of normalizing relations was in the air. She fell in love with the place, abandoned thoughts of pursuing a Ph.D., moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 1996 to learn the language and spent the next decade organizing educational exchange programs and conferences to discuss Vietnam’s postwar humanitarian needs. It was at one of these events that she met Chagnon.
Since it began, their project has channeled modest amounts of material support to disabled people — things like a wheelchair ramp or a vocational training course or a brood cow to increase household income — in rural areas of Vietnam that were heavily sprayed. Then, in 2013, Chagnon’s husband died. “After Roger passed away, we started talking about the idea of doing a survey in Laos,” Hammond says. “I think Jacqui saw it as an opportunity to honor his memory.” After protracted negotiations with Lao authorities, the War Legacies Project signed a three-year memorandum of understanding, promising a full report by March 2021.
More than half the cases identified by the War Legacies Project are children age 16 and under. They are the grandchildren of those who were exposed during the war, and possibly even the great-grandchildren, since the people in these villages have traditionally married in their teens. Club feet are commonplace. So are cleft lips, sometimes accompanied by cleft palate. There are disturbing clusters: five babies born with missing eyes in Nong District; a family with five deaf-mute siblings; an inordinate number of short legs, malformed legs and hip dysplasia in Samuoi District — the latter a condition that is easily treatable in infancy, but if neglected will lead to severe pain, a waddling gait and more serious deformity. The rudimentary health care system in rural Laos means that few if any infants even get a diagnosis.
In each village the women visited, groups of elders assembled to share their stories, many in their 70s yet still with sharp memories. At first, they recounted, they had no idea who was spraying and bombing their villages, or why. But in time they learned the names of the airplanes: T-28, C-123, B-52. In most villages, dozens were killed by the bombings or died of starvation. The survivors lived for years in the forests or in caves. They dug earthen shelters, big enough to hide a whole family, and covered them with branches. “We had no rice for nine years,” one old man said. Sugar cane and lemongrass survived the spraying. So did cassava, though it swelled to an outlandish size and became inedible — Agent Orange accelerated the growth of plant tissue, killing most foliage.
For the most part, the old men told their stories dispassionately. But one Pa Co elder in Lahang, a place rife with birth defects, was bitter. He was an imposing 75-year-old named Kalod, tall, straight-backed, silver-haired, wearing a dark green suit with an epauletted shirt that gave him a military bearing. Like most of his people, Kalod saw the border as an artificial construct. During the war, people went back and forth between Laos and Vietnam, he said, depending on which side was being bombed and sprayed at the time. He leaned forward, gesticulating angrily. “Vietnamese people affected by the chemical spraying get compensation,” he complained. “In Laos, we need support from America, like they receive in Vietnam.”
The 600,000 gallons of herbicides dropped in Laos is a fraction of the roughly 19 million that were sprayed on Vietnam, but the comparison is misleading. Between 1961 and 1971, some 18 percent of South Vietnam’s land area was targeted, about 12,000 square miles; in Laos the campaign, which began on the Ho Chi Minh Trail between Labeng-Khok and the Vietnamese border, was compressed in time and space. It was focused on narrow, defined strips of the trail, 500 meters wide (about 1,640 feet), and on nearby crop fields, and the heaviest spraying was concentrated in a four-month period early in the war. It was as intense a ramping-up of the defoliation campaign as in any major war zone in Vietnam at the time.
To make matters worse, the newly examined Air Force records show that the first intensive period of spraying in Laos used not Agent Orange, but the much more toxic Agent Purple, the use of which was discontinued in Vietnam almost a year earlier. Tests showed that the average concentration of TCDD in Agent Purple, a different chemical formulation, was as much as three times higher than in Agent Orange.
Long before the first Marines came ashore in Vietnam in 1965, infiltrators from the North were trickling into the South from the still-rudimentary Ho Chi Minh Trail, and the loyalties of the tribal groups along the border were dubious. In response to the growing insurgency, U.S. Special Forces set up small camps near the border with Laos, notably at Khe Sanh, which later became a gigantic Marine combat base, and in the A Shau valley, later infamous for the battle of Hamburger Hill and seen by U.S. strategists as the most important war zone in South Vietnam.
Operation Ranch Hand was in its infancy. By July 1962, only a handful of missions had been flown, defoliating the perimeters of highways, power lines, railroads and the waterways of the Mekong Delta. The commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Gen. Paul D. Harkins, now requested authority to hit six new targets. One of them was the A Shau valley, and it would be the first mission aimed at destroying crops that might feed the enemy. The Joint Chiefs of Staff refused: The location was too sensitive; the valley was right on the border, and the neutrality of Laos was just days from being guaranteed under an international agreement. Harkins pushed back, arguing that the proximity of the unsecured border was precisely the point. Despite President John F. Kennedy’s strong reservations about crop destruction, the mission went ahead.
The following January, a 25-year-old Army captain from the South Bronx arrived at the A Shau base. In February, “We burned down the thatched huts, starting the blaze with Ronson and Zippo cigarette lighters,” he wrote later. “The destruction became more sophisticated. Helicopters delivered 55-gallon drums of a chemical herbicide to us, a forerunner of Agent Orange. … Within minutes after we sprayed, the plants began to turn brown and wither.” The young officer was Colin Powell, future chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state. The chemical was Agent Purple. By the end of the defoliation campaign, at least half a million gallons of herbicides would be used in the A Shau valley, making it one of the most heavily sprayed places in Vietnam; thousands eventually became sick or died.
The flow of North Vietnamese troops down the trail only increased, and by late 1965 the C.I.A. was reporting that hundreds of miles of new roads had been built or upgraded to carry trucks. The Air Force was already bombing North Vietnam, so the obvious answer was to escalate the bombing on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos.
But in addition to Laos’s neutrality, there was a second problem: Where exactly was the trail? It ran through some of the most remote and inhospitable terrain on Earth, concealed by dense rainforest, largely invisible to U-2 spy planes, infrared sensors on other aircraft, even low-flying helicopters. The solution was to strip away the forest cover to expose the bombing targets: the truck convoys and logistics centers like Labeng-Khok.
In essence, the initial spraying of Laos was a mapping exercise, formally integrated into a massive bombing campaign called Tiger Hound. In early December 1965, the ungainly C-123 aircraft, the workhorses of the herbicide campaign, crossed the Lao border for the first time. Within a week, the first wave of B-52s hit the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The details of these air operations in Laos remained largely unknown until 1997, when Chagnon and Rumpf were at a get-together at the U.S. Embassy residences in Vientiane. They were friendly with Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who was on her way to Washington, Chagnon recalls. Was there anything they needed? Yes, Rumpf said, you can get the Air Force bombing records for Laos. While you’re at it, said Chagnon, never one to be shy, how about the records on Agent Orange?
By then, Chagnon and Hammond had gotten to know Thomas Boivin, a scientist with a Canadian company called Hatfield Consultants that was completing a landmark study of Agent Orange on the Vietnam side of the border, in the heavily sprayed A Shau valley (today known as the A Luoi valley, named after its main town). The records were in the form of computer punch cards and needed to be painstakingly converted into a database that showed every recorded flight, with its date and the geographical coordinates of where each spray run began and ended. Boivin later calculated that more than half a million gallons of chemicals had been sprayed on Laos, but other declassified Air Force documents show additional amounts not found in those initial records, and several village elders gave persuasive accounts of flights that didn’t seem to conform to the official data.
“I’m sure the records are incomplete,” says Jeanne Mager Stellman, an emerita professor of health policy and management at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who played a pivotal role in documenting the spraying in Vietnam and calculating the risks of dioxin exposure for American veterans. “And my understanding is that the guys who were assigned to missions in Laos were sworn to secrecy.” Boivin adds that “the C.I.A. also undoubtedly used herbicides in Laos, but their records have never been declassified.”
In her push to have the U.S. government take responsibility for its actions in Laos, Hammond has been well aware that it took many years for the plight of America’s own veterans and their offspring to be acknowledged, and much longer still before the same compassion was extended to the Vietnamese victims of dioxin. The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed only after a bitter 14-year fight by veterans campaigning for recognition that the chronic illnesses that tens of thousands of them were developing might be directly connected to dioxin exposure. Once the legislation passed, it was determined that if you set foot in Vietnam between 1962 and 1975 and suffered from one of the conditions on the growing V.A. list, you were eligible for compensation. This resolution was a matter of political pragmatism rather than hard science. Although there was growing evidence of the toxicity of the herbicides, studies of their health impacts were inconclusive and fiercely contested. But the veterans formed an angry and influential constituency, and politicians had to assuage a good measure of guilt, both their own and that of the general public, over the trauma of those who had fought in a lost war that most Americans preferred to forget.
Accepting responsibility for the horrors visited on the Vietnamese took much longer. Even after diplomatic relations were restored in 1995, Agent Orange was a political third rail. Vietnamese complaints about the effects of the herbicides on human health — raising issues of reparations, corporate liability and possible war crimes — were dismissed as propaganda. American diplomats were forbidden even to utter the words. It was not until around 2000 that the United States was finally forced to acknowledge its obligations, after Hatfield Consultants completed its study of the impact of dioxin and showed U.S. officials incontrovertible evidence of how TCDD moved up the food chain, entered the human body and was transmitted to infants through breast milk.
Reconciliation between the United States and Vietnam was an intricate dance that depended on reciprocal steps to untangle the three most contentious legacies of the war. Once Washington had secured full cooperation in accounting for Americans missing in action, it began to aid Vietnam’s efforts to remove the vast amount of unexploded ordnance that still littered its fields and forests, killing and maiming tens of thousands. These steps, plus Hatfield’s breakthrough study, set the stage finally for the two countries to deal with Agent Orange, the most intractable problem of all.
The United States’ relationship with Laos has followed a similar sequence. Since the late 1980s, joint American-Lao teams have conducted hundreds of missions searching for the remains of aircrew who went missing on bombing missions, and over the last quarter-century Washington has committed more than $230 million to ordnance removal and related programs. The missing step has been Agent Orange, but lacking any data on its human impact, the Lao government has had little incentive to raise such a historically fraught issue. Few government soldiers fought in the sprayed areas, which were controlled by the North Vietnamese, so there were no veterans clamoring for recognition of their postwar sufferings. “In Vietnam, the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore,” Hammond says. “But in Laos it was on a smaller scale, and in remote places outside of the political mainstream.”
All these years later, the mountainous border strip in the southern Lao panhandle is still a landscape defined by war and disease. Unexploded bombs are everywhere. The road that follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail south is a kind of living archive of the conflict, in which its remnants and relics have been absorbed into the fabric of everyday life. Men fish in boats made from the jettisoned fuel tanks of American fighter-bombers. Bomb craters from B-52 strikes are everywhere. Some are now fish ponds in the middle of the rice paddies.
Cluster-bomb casings have morphed into vegetable planters or substitute for wooden stilts to support the thatched huts that store rice, frustrating the claws of hungry rats. Everywhere the village soundtrack is the dull clang of cowbells made from sawed-off projectiles. “These are our gifts from the villagers of America,” one old man told me.
Once or twice the War Legacies team had to turn back, defeated by roads that were impassable after recent monsoon floods. Halfway to the village of Lapid, the four-wheel-drive vehicle ground to a halt in the hardened mud. Chagnon climbed out and paced up and down the steep slope, inspecting ruts that were deep enough to swallow a person whole. There was no way through. It was frustrating, because Lapid had been hit hard. An Operation Ranch Hand plane with its full load of chemicals had been shot down in the nearby hills, and after the war villagers called the area the “Leper Forest” for the high incidence of cancers and birth defects. On an earlier visit to Lapid, the War Legacies Project found a paralyzed baby girl, a 4-year-old with a club foot, a teenager born without eyes.
The survey has been a slow and laborious process. Since 2017, the women have visited scores of villages in heavily sprayed districts in two of the four border provinces that were targeted: Savannakhet and Salavan. In each village, they note the age and gender of each person affected, a description of their condition — with a firm diagnosis where possible — and a comment on any who might benefit from referral to a hospital in the provincial capital or in Vientiane. They exclude disabilities that are clearly unrelated to dioxin exposure, like the large number of limbs lost to cluster-munition bomblets. Their October 2019 trip was designed mainly to check up on cases they had already recorded, but they also found several new ones, like the boy in Labeng-Khok.
Hammond recognizes the limitations of their work. Some of their findings need to be verified by medical experts. “We’re not doctors or geneticists,” she says. Yet she, Chagnon and Sengthong are the first to try in Laos what has long been routine in Vietnam, where dioxin-related disabilities are logged systematically through commune-level surveys and household questionnaires and where victims receive small government stipends, and in some cases humanitarian aid from the United States.
It was Hatfield Consultants who unlocked the door to that aid, first through its four-year investigation of the A Luoi valley and then through subsequent studies of the former Danang air base. There had never been any secret about the huge volume of defoliants used in Vietnam, and the evidence of congenital disabilities in the sprayed areas was inescapable. Hatfield joined up the dots, showing how the two were connected and how dioxin could be transmitted from one generation to the next. But that was not Hatfield’s only insight. According to what it called the “hot spot” theory, the ongoing risk of present-day exposure was greatest around former military installations like the Special Forces base at A Shau, where the chemicals had been stored or spilled. Boivin wondered whether there might be similar dioxin hot spots on the Lao side of the border.
In 2002, Laos signed the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a class of 12 “forever chemicals” including the dioxin family. All signatories were obligated to report on the extent of contamination in their countries. Boivin got a small grant from a U.N. agency to investigate dioxin in Laos, as the nation had little scientific expertise of its own. He found very little, but pursuing his hunch about Agent Orange, he made an arduous trip into the remote border areas, where it was strongly suspected that the C.I.A. had built secret airstrips, the kind of facilities that might have been used by herbicide planes and that would have been routinely sprayed to keep down vegetation, as they were in Vietnam.
Near a village called Dak Triem, he noticed a strikingly flat piece of land. Yes, the village elders said, it had once been an airstrip. Scavenging for scrap metal after the war, they found some barrels painted with orange stripes. Boivin had time to do no more than some perfunctory sampling, but he found elevated concentrations of TCDD, enough to classify the site as a possible hot spot and recommend further investigation. He and Hammond had known each other for years, and in 2014, with funding from Green Cross Switzerland and the European Space Agency, they collaborated on a more detailed report, which included a chronological table of all the known herbicide flights in Laos and a list of hundreds of clandestine C.I.A. facilities that might pose an ongoing health risk.
Boivin submitted his reports to the Lao government, but they gained little traction. This lack of interest might seem startling, but to veteran Laos watchers it comes as no surprise. “Things move slowly and cautiously there,” says Angela Dickey, a retired foreign-service officer who served as deputy chief of mission in Vientiane. “For an overworked midlevel official, there’s no real incentive to act on something like this. Only people at the very highest level can consider or speak about controversial issues.”
But there was a deeper reason for the lack of action on Boivin’s findings. He had made a preliminary estimate of the volume of defoliants used in Laos and found one contaminated air base. But he had never set out to collect data on the human impact. That was the missing piece of the puzzle that had been assembled in Vietnam, and that the War Legacies Project, using further Green Cross funding, set out to find.
When the United States finally agreed to clean up the Danang and Bien Hoa air bases in Vietnam, the two main hubs of Operation Ranch Hand, and aid the victims of Agent Orange in that country, it was an integral part of building trust between former enemies who increasingly see themselves as strategic allies and military partners. (Today, Bien Hoa is an important Vietnamese Air Force base.) In one of the larger oddities of history, the most painful legacy of the war has become a cornerstone of reconciliation.
In 2019, U.S.A.I.D. made a new five-year commitment to provide another $65 million in humanitarian aid to Vietnamese people with disabilities “in areas sprayed with Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.” The funds are channeled through the Leahy War Victims Fund, named for its creator, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Hammond’s home state, Vermont, who for years has led the effort to help victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. So why would the same logic not apply in Laos? “We weren’t aware of significant spraying in Laos,” Leahy said by email, “Nor of people with disabilities in those areas that are consistent with exposure to dioxin. But if that is what the data shows, then we need to look at it and discuss with the government of Laos what could be done to help those families.”
Hammond has met several times with Leahy’s longtime aide Tim Rieser, who seems eager to see what the War Legacies Project has found when it presents its report to his boss this month. “We have our work cut out for us in Vietnam,” he says, “but we’d also want to know what was done in Laos, since clearly those who were involved” — meaning wartime political and military leaders — “have not made a point of making it widely known. I’ve always approached this as doing what’s necessary to solve the problem, and if there’s more to the problem than we knew, then we need to deal with it.”
Hammond is painfully aware that bureaucratic wheels turn slowly; that Leahy, after 46 years in the Senate, may not be there much longer; and that Vietnam will always be the front-burner issue. In principle, the smaller scale of what’s needed should make it easier to address. “Even $3 million, which is what the U.S. started off with in Vietnam, would go a long way in Laos,” Hammond says. Meanwhile, the affected people are running out of time. Nine children under the age of 9 on the War Legacies Project list have already died.
U.S.A.I.D. already has an active disabilities program in Laos, which includes help for people injured by unexploded bombs. “All we need to do,” Hammond says, “is add the language we use now for Vietnam, earmark some money for ‘areas sprayed by Agent Orange and otherwise contaminated by dioxin.’ That one little sentence. That’s all it takes.”
George Black is a British author and journalist living in New York. He is writing a book about the long-term human and political legacies of the Vietnam War, in Vietnam and Laos and in the United States. Christopher Anderson is the author of seven photographic books, including “Pia.” He lives in Paris.
In a secret settlement in Virginia, Amazon swore off threatening and intimidating workers. As the company confronts increased labor unrest, its tactics are under scrutiny.
By David Streitfeld, March 16, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/16/technology/amazon-unions-virginia.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Mr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep conveyor belts running. Credit...Ruth Fremson for The New York Times
RICHMOND, Va. — Five years ago, Amazon was compelled to post a “notice to employees” on the break-room walls of a warehouse in east-central Virginia.
The notice was printed simply, in just two colors, and crammed with words. But for any worker who bothered to look closely, it was a remarkable declaration. Amazon listed 22 forms of behavior it said it would disavow, each beginning in capital letters: “WE WILL NOT.”
“We will not threaten you with the loss of your job” if you are a union supporter, Amazon wrote, according to a photo of the notice reviewed by The New York Times. “We will not interrogate you” about the union or “engage in surveillance of you” while you participate in union activities. “We will not threaten you with unspecified reprisals” because you are a union supporter. We will not threaten to “get” union supporters.
Amazon posted the list after the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers accused it of doing those very things during a two-year-long push to unionize 30 facilities technicians at the warehouse in Chester, just south of Richmond. While Amazon did not admit to violations of labor laws, the company promised in a settlement with federal regulators to tell workers that it would rigorously obey the rules in the future.
The employee notice and failed union effort, which have not previously been reported, are suddenly relevant as Amazon confronts increasing labor unrest in the United States. Over two decades, as the internet retailer mushroomed from a virtual bookstore into a $1.5 trillion behemoth, it forcefully — and successfully — resisted employee efforts to organize. Some workers in recent years agitated for change in Staten Island, Chicago, Sacramento and Minnesota, but the impact was negligible.
The arrival of the coronavirus last year changed that. It turned Amazon into an essential resource for millions stuck at home and redefined the company’s relationship with its warehouse workers. Like many service industry employees, they were vulnerable to the virus. As society locked down, they were also less able to simply move on if they had issues with the job.
Now Amazon faces a union vote at a warehouse in Bessemer, Ala. — the largest and most viable U.S. labor challenge in its history. Nearly 6,000 workers have until March 29 to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. A labor victory could energize workers in other U.S. communities, where Amazon has more than 800 warehouses employing more than 500,000 people.
“This is happening in the toughest state, with the toughest company, at the toughest moment,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “If the union can prevail given those three facts, it will send a message that Amazon is organizable everywhere.”
Even if the union does not prevail, “the history of unions is always about failing forward,” she said. “Workers trying, workers losing, workers trying again.”
The effort in Chester, which The Times reconstructed with documents from regulators and the machinists’ union, as well as interviews with former facilities technicians at the warehouse and union officials, offers one of the fullest pictures of what encourages Amazon workers to open the door to a union — and what techniques the company uses to slam the door and nail it shut.
The employee notice was a hollow victory for workers. The National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that negotiated the settlement with Amazon, has no power to impose monetary penalties. Its enforcement remedies are few and weak, which means its ability to restrain anti-union employers from breaking the law is limited. The settlement was not publicized, so there were not even any public relations benefits.
Amazon was the real winner. There have been no further attempts at a union in Chester.
The tactics that Amazon used in Chester are surfacing elsewhere. The retail workers union said Amazon was trying to surveil employees in Bessemer and even changed a traffic signal to prevent organizers from approaching warehouse workers as they left the site. Last month, the New York attorney general said in a lawsuit that Amazon had retaliated against employees who tried to protest its pandemic safety measures as inadequate.
Amazon declined to say whether it had complied with labor laws during the union drive in Chester in 2014 and 2015. In a statement, it said it was “compliant with the National Labor Relations Act in 2016” when it issued the employee notice, and “we continue to be compliant today.” It added in a different statement that it didn’t believe the union push in Alabama “represents the majority of our employees’ views.”
The labor board declined to comment.
The Chester settlement notice mentions one worker by name: Bill Hough Jr., a machinist who led the union drive. The notice said Amazon had issued a warning to Mr. Hough that he was on the verge of being fired. Amazon said it would rescind the warning.
Six months later, in August 2016, Amazon fired him anyway.
Mr. Hough (pronounced Huff) was in a hospital having knee surgery when Amazon called and said he had used up his medical leave. Since he couldn’t do his job, he said he was told, this was the end of the line.
“There was no mercy, even after what they had done to me,” Mr. Hough, now 56, said. “That’s Amazon. If you can’t give 110 percent, you’re done.”
Amazon declined to comment on Mr. Hough.
Amazon was founded on notions of speed, efficiency and hard work — lots of hard work. Placing his first help wanted ad in 1994, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, said he wanted engineers who could do their job “in about one-third the time that most competent people think possible.”
Amazon managers openly warned recruits that if they liked things comfortable, this would be a difficult, perhaps impossible, job. For customer service representatives, it was difficult to keep up, according to media accounts and labor organizers. Overtime was mandatory. Supervisors sent emails with subject headings like “YOU CAN SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD.”
In 1999, the reps, who numbered about 400, were targeted by a grass-roots group affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. Amazon mounted an all-out defense.
If workers became anything less than docile, managers were told, it was a sign there could be union activity. Tipoffs included “hushed conversations” and “small group huddles breaking up in silence on the approach of the supervisor,” as well as increased complaints, growing aggressiveness and dawdling in the bathroom.
Amazon was in sync with the larger culture. Unions were considered relics of the industrial past. Disruption was a virtue.
“Twenty years ago, if you asked whether the government or workers should be able to put any constraints on companies, the answer always was ‘No constraints,’” said Marcus Courtney, a labor organizer on the 1999 Amazon campaign. “If companies wanted to push people 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, hats off to them.”
When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Amazon lost some of its glow. For a time, its very existence was in question.
This caused problems for the activists as well. The company reorganized and closed the customer service center, though Amazon said there was no connection with the union drive. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Prewitt Organizing Fund, an independent group, made no inroads organizing Amazon’s 5,000 warehouse workers.
A decade later, in 2011, came a low point in Amazon’s labor history. The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., revealed that Amazon was hiring paramedics and ambulances during summer heat waves at a local warehouse. Workers who collapsed were removed with stretchers and wheelchairs and taken to hospitals.
Amazon installed air conditioning but otherwise was undaunted. After the Great Recession in 2008, there was no lack of demand for its jobs — and no united protest about working conditions. In Europe, where unions are stronger, there were sporadic strikes. In the United States, isolated warehouse walkouts drew no more than a handful of workers.
Mr. Hough worked as an industrial machinist at a Reynolds aluminum mill in Richmond for 24 years. He once saw a worker lose four fingers when a steel roller fell unexpectedly. Incidents like that made a deep impression on him: Never approach equipment casually.
Reynolds closed the plant in the Great Recession, when Mr. Hough was in his mid-40s. Being in the machinists guild cushioned the blow, but he needed another job. After a long spell of unemployment, he joined Amazon in 2013.
The Chester warehouse, the size of several aircraft carriers, had opened a year earlier, part of Amazon’s multibillion-dollar push to put fulfillment centers everywhere. Mr. Hough worked on the conveyor belts bringing in the goods.
At first, he received generally good marks. “He has a great attitude and does not participate in negative comments or situations,” Amazon said in a March 2014 performance review. “He gets along with all the other technicians.”
But Mr. Hough said he had felt pressured to cut corners to keep the belts running. Amazon prided itself on getting purchases to customers quickly, and when conveyor belts were down that mission was in jeopardy. He once protested restarting a belt while he was still working on it.
“Quit your bitching,” Mr. Hough said his manager, Bryon Frye, had told him, twice.
“That sent me down the wrong road,” Mr. Hough said.
Mr. Frye, who declined to comment, no longer works for Amazon. On Twitter last month, he responded to a news story that said Amazon was hiring former F.B.I. agents to deal with worker activism, counterfeiting and antitrust issues.
“This doesn’t shock me,” he wrote. “They do some wild things.”
The Union Drive
In 2014, Mr. Hough and five other technicians approached the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A unionization effort was already taking place with the technicians at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Del. If either succeeded, it would be the first for Amazon.
The elections for a union would be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The first step was to measure interest. At least 18 of the 30 technicians in Chester returned cards indicating their willingness to be represented by the union.
“It was not too difficult to sign people up,” said Russell Wade, a union organizer there. “But once the word leaked out to Amazon, they put the afterburners on, as employers do. Then the workers started losing interest. Amazon spent oodles of money to scare the hell out of employees.”
The board scheduled an election for March 4, 2015. A simple majority of votes cast would establish union representation.
Amazon brought in an Employee Resource Center team — basically, its human resources department — to reverse any momentum. A former technician at the warehouse, who declined to be named for fear of retaliation, said the reps on the team followed workers around, pretending to be friendly but only seeking to know their position on the union drive.
If safety was the biggest issue for the technicians, there were also concerns over pay equity — machinists said they were paid different amounts for doing the same job — and about their lack of control over their fate. Part of Mr. Hough’s pitch was that a union would make management less arbitrary.
“One guy, all I remember is his name was Bob,” he said. “They paged Bob to the control room, and the next thing I saw was Bob coming down the steps. He had taken off his work vest. I said, ‘Bob, where are you going?’ He said, ‘They terminated me.’ I didn’t ask why. That’s the way it was.”
Several technicians said they recalled being told at a meeting, “You vote for a union, every one of you will be looking for a job tomorrow.” At another, the most outspoken union supporters were described as “a cancer and a disease to Amazon and the facility,” according to Mr. Hough and a union memo. (In a filing to the labor board, Amazon said it had investigated the incident and “concluded that it could not be substantiated.”)
Mr. Hough, a cancer survivor, said the reference had offended him. He declined to attend another meeting run by that manager. He said he had known in any case what she was going to say: that the union was canceling the election because it thought it would lose. Amazon had triumphed.
On March 30, 2015, Mr. Hough received a written warning from Mr. Frye, his manager.
“Your behavior has been called out by peers/leaders as having a negative impact,” it said. Included under “insubordination” was a refusal to attend the Amazon victory announcement. Another incident, Amazon said, could result in termination.
The machinists union filed a complaint with the labor board in July 2015 alleging unfair labor practices by Amazon, including surveilling, threatening and “informing employees that it would be futile to vote for union representation.” Mr. Hough spent eight hours that summer giving his testimony. While labor activists and unions generally consider the board to be heavily tilted in favor of employers, union officials said a formal protest would at least show Chester technicians that someone was fighting for them.
In early 2016, Amazon settled with the board. The main thrust of the two-page settlement was that Amazon would post an employee notice promising good behavior while admitting nothing.
Wilma Liebman, a member of the labor board from 1997 to 2011, examined the employee notice at the request of The Times. “What is unusual to my eye is how extensive Amazon’s pledges were, and how specific,” she said. “While the company did not have to admit guilt, this list offers a picture of what likely was going on.”
Amazon was required to post the notice “in all places where notices to employees are customarily posted” in Chester for 60 days, the labor board said.
From the machinists union’s point of view, it wasn’t much of a punishment.
“This posting was basically a slap on the wrist for the violations that Amazon committed, which included lies, coercion, threats and intimidation,” said Vinny Addeo, the union’s director of organizing.
Another reason for filing an unfair labor practices claim was that the union hoped to restart its efforts with a potentially chastened company. But most of the employees who supported the Chester drive quit.
“They were intimidated,” Mr. Wade, the union organizer, said.
Mr. Hough was beset by ill health during his years at Amazon. Radiation treatment for his cancer prompted several strokes. His wife, Susan, had health problems, too. Mr. Hough said he wondered how much the unionization struggle contributed to their problems. He added that he didn’t know whom to trust.
After leaving Amazon, Mr. Hough began driving trucks, at first long haul and later a dump truck. It paid less, but he said he was at peace.
Maximum Green Times
When Amazon vanquished the 2014 union drive in Delaware, the retailer said it was a victory for “open lines of direct communication between managers and associates.”
One place Amazon developed that direct communication was in its warehouse bathrooms under what it called its “inSTALLments” program. The inSTALLments were informational sheets that offered, for instance, factoids about Mr. Bezos, the timing of meetings and random warnings, such as this one about unpaid time off: “If you go negative, your employment status will be reviewed for termination.”
As the union drive heated up in Bessemer, the direct communication naturally was about that. “Where will your dues go?” Amazon asked in one stall posting, which circulated on social media. Another proclaimed: “Unions can’t. We can.”
Amazon also set up a website to tell workers that they would have to skip dinner and school supplies to pay their union dues.
In December, a pro-union group discovered, Amazon asked county officials to increase “maximum green times” on the warehouse stoplight to clear the parking lot faster. This made it difficult for union canvassers to approach potential voters as they left work. Amazon declined to comment.
Last month, President Biden weighed in.
“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” he said in a video that never mentioned Amazon but referred to “workers in Alabama” deciding whether to organize a union. “You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”
Owning 25 Hats
Mr. Hough, in an interview before the pandemic, said part of him wanted to forget what had happened at Amazon. Why dwell on defeat? He threw away all the papers from the union drive. He never saw the employee notice because he was recovering from a stroke.
But he has not forgiven the retailer.
“You’re only going to step on me one time,” he said, sitting in his home in the outskirts of Richmond.
Amazon’s customers just don’t know how miserable a job there can be, he suggested.
“I guarantee you, if their child had to work there, they’d think twice before purchasing things,” he said.
Ms. Hough, sitting next to him, had a bleaker view.
“The customers don’t care about unions. They don’t care about the workers. They just want their packages,” she said.
As if on cue, their son, Brody, came in. He was 20, an appliance technician. His mother told him there was a package for him on his bed. It was from Amazon, a fishing hat. It cost $25, Brody said, half the price on the manufacturer’s website.
“I order from Amazon anything I can find that is cheaper,” Brody said. That adds up to a lot of hats, about 25. “I’ve never worked for Amazon. I can’t hate them,” he said.
Ms. Hough looked at her husband. “If your own son doesn’t care,” she asked, not unkindly, “how are you going to get the American public to care?”
The pandemic helped change that, bringing safety issues at Amazon to the forefront. In a Feb. 16 suit against Amazon, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said the company continued last year to track and discipline employees based on their productivity rates. That meant workers had limited time to protect themselves from the virus. The suit said Amazon retaliated against those who complained, sending a “chilling message” to all its workers. Amazon has denied the allegations.
Last week, regional Canadian authorities also ordered thousands of workers at an Amazon warehouse near Toronto to quarantine themselves, effectively closing the facility. Some 240 workers recently tested positive for the virus there, a government spokeswoman said, even as the rate of infection in the area fell. Amazon said it was appealing the decision.
Alabama is now the big test. Mr. Hough worries the union supporters will be crushed.
“They will fall to threats or think, ‘I won’t have a job, Amazon will replace me,’” he said by phone this month. “When a company can do things to you in secret, it’s real hard to withstand.”
Still, he added, “I’m hoping for the best. More power to them.”