Shut Down Adelanto Coalition puts ICE on Trial!
Sunday, March 28th, 12:00 P.M.
There will be testimony from impacted folks, expert testimony, and more.
Reprinted below is a short legal update from Judy Ritter and Sam Spital, the attorneys who are litigating Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction. On March 17th, they filed a response to DA Larry Krasner's position on the issues that are being re-litigated, following Tucker's ruling to reopen all appeals filed by Mumia's attorneys between 1998 - 2012. Maureen Faulkner also filed a motion yesterday. Both filings are at the link above.
--Reprinted below is a statement released by attorneys Judith Ritter and Sam Spital on March 18, 2021:
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.Questions and comments may be sent to email@example.com
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Britain’s policing and crime bill has set off a string of demonstrations in cities around the country. So what is the proposed legislation and why are people protesting against it?
By Megan Specia, March 23, 2021
“Kill the bill!”
That has been the refrain echoing in streets across Britain in recent weeks as protesters demand a rethinking of a sweeping crime bill that would give the police more power to deal with nonviolent demonstrations.
In recent months, a series of issues have galvanized mass protests across Europe: Black Lives Matter demonstrations in cities last summer, protests against security laws across France last fall, and anti-lockdown rallies seemingly everywhere.
How the police should handle these mass demonstrations has become a topic of heated debate, especially as officers have been accused in some cases of over-aggressive responses. Coronavirus restrictions have added another layer to questions about the right balance between the rule of law and protecting civil liberties.
In Britain, that discussion has zeroed in on the new police bill.
The proposed legislation has come under intense criticism in recent weeks in the wake of the killing of Sarah Everard, a young woman who was murdered in London after walking home from a friend’s house in the evening, and a subsequent vigil to honor her that was broken up by the police.
Here is what you need to know about the proposed policing bill that would affect England and Wales, and the protests demanding that it be shelved.
What would the policing bill do?
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill is an immense piece of proposed legislation that makes provisions for a broad range of issues in its nearly 300 pages. The bill — which covers England and Wales — introduces harsher penalties for serious crimes, end a policy of early prison release for some offenders and prevent unauthorized encampments, among other sweeping measures.
It also gives broad authority to police forces when it comes to handling protests — and that has proved to be a lightning rod.
Under current law, the police must first determine that a demonstration could result in serious public disorder, property damage or serious disruption to the life of the community before it can impose restrictions.
But the new bill would offer much broader powers for the police. It will leave much to their own discretion, and potentially allow them to criminalize protests they deem a “public nuisance.”
The police would be allowed to set time and noise limits on rallies, and protesters who do not follow restrictions they “ought” to know about, even if they have not received a direct order from an officer, would be vulnerable to for prosecution.
The bill also makes it possible for those who damage memorials to be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. That provision comes months after a statue commemorating a slave trader, Edward Colston, was toppled in Bristol last year during a Black Lives Matter demonstration.
There had already been pushback.
The government maintains that the bill provides for better policing and community protection. Priti Patel, the home secretary, said last week that there was “a balance to be struck between the rights of the protester and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives.”
“In recent years, we have seen a significant change of protest tactics, with protesters exploiting gaps in the law which have led to disproportionate amounts of disruption,” Ms. Patel said, speaking in front of Parliament last week. She pointed specifically to tactics used by Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters to block trains and shut down cities.
Opposition lawmakers and rights groups have denounced what they see as a move to give police overly broad, and potentially problematic, powers. Many say they need more time to work through the potential implications.
The Local Government Association, a cross-party organization, said that certain aspects of the bill, particularly those focused on public protests, “warrant further formal consultation.” The group expressed concerns that a rushed timetable to vote on the bill “left little time to scrutinize the bill in sufficient detail.”
The Good Law Project, a British governance watchdog, said in a briefing that the bill “represents a serious threat to the right to protest,” and called for the portions of the legislation that deal with protests to be dropped.
Why have people taken to the streets now?
While rights groups have long had concerns about the policing bill and its potential impact on what they say is the essential democratic tool of protest, the legislation was suddenly thrust into the national spotlight after the murder of Ms. Everard.
The 33-year-old vanished off a London street on March 3, and her body was later found in a wooded area. A police officer was charged in her death.
The killing set off a national outcry over violence against women. Then came the day of the vigil.
Officers were widely criticized for breaking up the March 12 event, deemed illegal because of coronavirus restrictions. Images spread quickly showing the police moving in to halt speeches and arrest a group of women denouncing violence.
An independent investigation has been launched into conduct of the police, and the controversy raised questions about the ban on protests during the pandemic.
More broadly, the police's heavy-handed response to the vigil catalyzed the movement against the policing bill, shifting the debate to one about police overreach. The vigil took place just days before the crime bill was set to be debated in Parliament.
The problem with the bill, critics say, is not just that it gives officers more power to tamp down demonstrations. The bill makes no specific mention of violence against women — indeed, it includes more language about how to criminalize the defacing a statute than it does about crimes against human being motivated by misogyny.
A number of protests against the bill have been held nationally since the vigil for Ms. Everard in London. Last week, hundreds gathered outside government buildings, with crowds parading from Parliament Square to police headquarters in largely peaceful demonstrations. Other protests were held nationally last weekend.
On Sunday, one of them turned riotous in Bristol, where a small group set fire to police vehicles, smashed shop windows and clashed with officers. At least 20 police officers were injured, two seriously, and seven were arrests made, according to the police.
What happens next?
The bill has already passed one hurdle in Parliament, despite the concerns over civil liberties, when it was voted through during its second reading last week amid heated debate.
Now it goes to committee, when it will be assessed in detail, and experts and interest groups can weigh in. When that is over, the committee will report its findings — and perhaps suggest amendments — to the House of Commons, where it will be debated again.
But that process has been put off until later this year.
The government has tried to use the passions set off by Ms. Everard’s death to secure passage of the policing bill. The sweeping new police powers it contains, officials argue, would make women safer.
But many others have argued that the bill misses the point. The measure, they argue, fails to address the pervasive misogyny at the heart of crimes committed against women, as well as undermining the right to protest.
As the dispute has heated up, some lawmakers are taking a new look the bill.
The Labour party had originally planned to abstain from voting on the bill, but shifted its position last week to instead vote against it. David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker who is the opposition party’s justice spokesman, called the legislation “a mess.”
“The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women,” Mr. Lammy said. “This is no time to be rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.”
The Atlanta murders follow a terrible pattern of misogynist violence.
By Jessica Valenti, March 22, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/22/opinion/atlanta-shooting-women-violence.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
How many women have to die for men’s sexual issues?
After the attack on three Georgia spas on Tuesday, which took the lives of eight people, Robert Aaron Long, the 21-year-old charged with the slayings, told the police that the women murdered were “temptations” he needed to “eliminate.”
Mr. Long, his onetime roommate told authorities, was deeply ashamed of his history of hiring sex workers, and like so many misogynist killers before him, decided women themselves were to blame.
For too long, women have been punished and killed because of men’s inability to deal with issues around rejection, desire and shame. Women of color are especially at risk; they’re disproportionately attacked and more likely to be blamed for the violence perpetrated against them. Six of the people killed last week were Asian women, who are distinctly hypersexualized in American culture.
Thanks to decades of academic and activist work, we know more than ever about why men lash out at women in this way and how we can curb the violence. Still, the occurrence of mass killings targeting women shows no sign of stopping. And the murders in Georgia — also inextricably entwined with the increase in anti-Asian racism and shockingly permissive gun culture — follows the same sickening pattern as other misogynist terrorist attacks that feminists, including myself, have been raising the alarm on for years.
The story has become a horribly familiar one: A young man, bemoaning his virginity or singleness or his anger, sets out to slaughter women (though men also lose their lives in these rampages). Often he posts a video, or manifesto, online. In 2014, it was in Isla Vista, Calif. (Elliot Rodger, six dead, 13 wounded); in 2015, it was Oregon (Chris Harper-Mercer, nine dead, nine more injured); in 2018, it was Toronto (Alek Minassian, who cited his admiration of Mr. Rodger, 10 dead, 16 wounded). In 2019, Christopher Wayne Cleary was arrested in Denver before he could carry out his plan to kill “as many girls as I see.”
In part, these attacks are a predictable outcome of extremist online sexism. Young, mostly white men seek community and commiseration in violent forums. There they are radicalized to believe women are to blame for all their problems, especially those around sex.
But the idea that men’s sexual issues are women’s responsibility isn’t new, nor is it a fringe ideology confined to the internet — it’s a mainstream belief held by many Americans.
Mr. Long’s views on sexuality, for example, appear to stem from his religious upbringing. Reportedly, he didn’t own a smartphone because he was afraid he would be tempted by online pornography. He is said to have felt ashamed of masturbating and was suicidal over his belief that his habit of visiting sex workers meant he was “living in sin.” Mr. Long also told the police he didn’t commit his crime just to stop his own urges, but also to “help” other men by removing the “temptation.” (Namely, women.)
These thoughts mirror traditional conservative evangelical Christian teachings about sex and the idea that it’s women’s responsibility to avoid leading men into sexual situations.
This kind of purity culture has a reach far beyond religion. Abstinence-only education classes taught in over half the states across the country tell young people that the onus is on girls not to tease or tempt boys, whose sexual compulsions, they say, are near uncontrollable.
But rather than curb sexual activity, these programs seem to normalize misogynist impulses. A 2017 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, for example, found abstinence-only programs often “reinforce gender stereotypes about female passivity and male aggressiveness.” And the federally funded Heritage Keepers curriculum teaches students that “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.”
These ideas are so pervasive that they can also be found in school dress codes, which almost exclusively target young women, explicitly telling them that the way they dress distracts their male classmates and teachers. The National Women’s Law Center has also found that Black female students are more likely to be cited for dress code violations than their white peers — another indication of how girls and women of color are hypersexualized and punished.
Even media headlines suggest that the men and boys who hurt women are passive victims of their desire. After a Maryland high school student shot 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey in the head, The Associated Press initially described him as a “lovesick teen.” And when a lab technician strangled a Yale pharmacology graduate student, Annie Le, and stuffed her body behind a wall, The New York Post said the crime was borne of “unrequited love” and called the murderer “lovelorn.”
Now, in the wake of the Georgia killings, Mr. Long’s attack has already been described as committed by someone with a “sex addiction” or simply a man having a “bad day.”
Across culture and institutions, the message is the same: Male sexual violence is to be expected. It becomes harder and harder to treat these crimes as aberrations when the values that drive them are so clearly normalized.
It’s promising that women across the globe continue to speak out against sexist killings. Marches erupted in London over the murder of Sarah Everard this month; and in Latin America, hundreds of thousands of people protested gender-based violence on International Women’s Day. But women’s activism and anger won’t stop rape and murder. Only men can do that.
There are countless ways to curb massacres like the one in Georgia: Editors could take a closer look at the way they cover sexualized violence; pop culture creators could rethink their objectification of women, especially women of color; schools could teach comprehensive sex education that dismantles gender stereotypes and myths about desire and consent.
But ultimately, the answer is quite simple: If we don’t want angry young men to take their sexual frustrations out on women, we need to stop teaching them that it’s understandable if they do.
Ms. Valenti is the author of six books on feminism.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union may be one of the most eclectic labor unions in the U.S. And it is on the cusp of breaking into the e-commerce behemoth.
By Michael Corkery, March 23, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/business/amazon-union-bessemer-alabama.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Workers lowering a lid onto a vault at Union Cemetery in Columbus. Their organization is known as “a bit of an odd-duck union” for the variety of industries it covers. Credit...Brian Kaiser for The New York Times
A group of gravediggers in Columbus, Ohio, who just negotiated a 3 percent raise. The poultry plant that processes chicken nuggets for McDonald’s. The workers who make Cap’n Crunch in Iowa. The women’s shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union is not the largest labor union in the United States, but it may be one of the most eclectic. Its membership, totaling about 100,000 workers, seems to reach into every conceivable corner of the American economy, stretching from the cradle (they make Gerber baby food) to the grave (those cemetery workers in Columbus).
And now it is potentially on the cusp of breaking into Amazon, one of the world’s most dominant companies, which since its founding has beaten back every attempt to organize any part of its massive work force in the United States.
This month, a group of 5,800 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are voting whether to join the R.W.D.S.U. It is the first large-scale union vote in Amazon’s history, and a decision by the workers to organize would have implications for the labor movement across the country, especially as retail giants like Amazon and Walmart have gained power — and added workers — during the pandemic.
The Amazon campaign, said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president, “is about the future of work and how working people are going to be treated in the new economy.”
For some labor activists, the union and its early success at the Bessemer warehouse represent the vanguard of the modern organizing campaigns. It is outspoken on social issues and savvy on social media — posting a TikTok video of support from the rapper Killer Mike and tweeting an endorsement from the National Football League Players Association during the Super Bowl.
“It’s a bit of an odd-duck union,” said Joshua Freeman, a professor emeritus of labor history at Queens College at the City University of New York. “They keep morphing over the years and have been very inventive in their tactics.”
The union is also racially, geographically and politically diverse. Founded during a heyday of organized labor in New York City in 1937 — and perhaps best known for representing workers at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — most of its members are now employed in right-to-work states, across the South and rural Midwest.
While the union’s overall membership has stagnated over the past decade, the number of members in its Mid-South office, which includes Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana, has nearly doubled, to about 9,000 from 4,700 in 2011, driven by aggressive recruitment efforts in the poultry, warehouse and health care industries. More than half of its members across the country are workers of color.
In the Mid-South office, which is leading the organizing at Amazon, local officials begin almost every meeting with a prayer, lean in favor of gun rights and say about half their members supported Donald J. Trump’s re-election bid. (Unlike the national union, which publicly backed President Biden, the southern office did not issue an endorsement of either candidate.)
“We are known as the church union,” said Randy Hadley, president of the Mid-South Council. “We put God first, family second and then our jobs.”
The retail and wholesale workers union is run nationally by Mr. Appelbaum, a Harvard Law School graduate and former Democratic Party operative from Hartford, Conn., who has written about his identity as a gay, Jewish labor leader.
Since becoming union president in 1998, Mr. Appelbaum has created a niche by organizing workers from a wide variety of professions: airline caterers, employees in fast fashion stores and gardeners at a cannabis grow house. “When you buy a joint, look for the union label,” Mr. Appelbaum said jokingly.
The strategy has helped the union to keep flourishing, even as its core work force in brick-and-mortar retail stores continues to shrink as shopping moves online.
The union often ties its organizing campaigns to the broader struggle to advance the rights of vulnerable workers, such as the predominately gay, lesbian, trans and nonbinary employees in sex toy shops in New York and undocumented immigrants working in the city’s carwashes.
After World War II, the union advocated for Black servicemen who were being shut out of jobs at Macy’s, which paid the highest commissions. “It has a history of being a militant, feisty, left-wing crowd,” Professor Freeman said.
Even the Alabama office, which leans further to the right on some issues, has stood up for workers in ways that are locally unpopular.
Mr. Hadley said one of his biggest accomplishments was negotiating a paid holiday on Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, at a Tyson poultry plant in Tennessee, where a large number of Somali immigrants work.
“We had Muslims in the facility, they said, ‘We look at that day like Christmas,’ and I thought, ‘Who am I to judge?’” recalled Mr. Hadley, a former meat cutter. “I said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Ratified in 2008, the Muslim holiday took the place of Labor Day as one of the paid holidays that workers were allowed at the facility, and was criticized by some as being un-American.
Over the years, the union has faced some powerful enemies. In the 1960s, its Black organizers were threatened — one was even shot at — while trying to sign up food industry workers across the South.
Johnny Whitaker, a former dairy worker who started as a union organizer in the 1970s, said he had grown up in a white family in Hanceville, Ala., without much money. Still, he was shocked by the working conditions and racism he witnessed when he started organizing in the poultry plants years ago.
Black workers were classified differently from their white counterparts and paid much less. Women were expected to engage in sexual acts with managers in exchange for more hours, he said. Many workers could not read or write.
Despite threats that they would lose their jobs if they organized, thousands of poultry workers have joined the R.W.D.S.U. over the past three decades, though the industry still is predominantly nonunion.
When a small group of Amazon workers contacted the union in late August about their interest in organizing the Bessemer warehouse, Mr. Whitaker acknowledged, “there was a lot of doubt” internally about the idea.
The R.W.D.S.U. had tried to lay the groundwork for organizing Amazon’s warehouse in Staten Island in 2019, but the effort failed when the company pulled the plug on its plans to build a second headquarters in New York, known as HQ2, partly because of political pressure to allow organizing at its facilities.
“What we learned from HQ2 was that Amazon was going to do anything it possibly could to avoid having a union at any of its workplaces,” Mr. Appelbaum said.
At the time, Amazon said it canceled its plans after “a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project.”
But the more the workers in Alabama kept talking to the union about their working conditions, the more Mr. Appelbaum and others believed the warehouse was fertile ground for organizing.
The workers described the control that Amazon exerts over their work lives, including tracking their time in the restroom or other time spent away from their primary task in the warehouse. Some workers have said they can be penalized for taking too much time away from their specific assignments.
“We are talking about bathroom breaks,” said Mr. Whitaker, an executive vice president at the union. “It’s the year 2021 and workers are being penalized for taking a pee.”
In an email, an Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not penalize workers for taking bathroom breaks. “Those are not our policies,” she said. “People can take bathroom breaks.”
The campaign in Bessemer has created some strange political bedfellows. Mr. Biden expressed his support for the Alabama workers to vote freely in the mail-in election, which ends later this month. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida went even further, encouraging the Bessemer workers to unionize in order to protect themselves against the “woke culture” at Amazon.
If the union wins the election in Bessemer, the effort to court workers will continue. In a right-to-work state, workers are not required to pay union dues even if they are represented by a union.
At a Quaker Oats plant in Iowa, which is also a right-to-work state, the R.W.D.S.U. finds ways to motivate workers to join the union by posting the names of workers who have not yet joined on a bulletin board.
“In a right-to-work state, you are always organizing,” Mr. Hadley said.
Early in the afternoon of Oct. 20, Mr. Hadley met with about 20 organizers before they headed out to the Bessemer warehouse to begin their campaign to sign up workers. The plan was for the organizers to stand at the warehouse gates talking to workers early in the morning and in the evening when their shift changes. In a pep talk with the group, Mr. Hadley invoked the story of David and Goliath.
“We are going to hit Goliath in the nose every day, twice a day,” he told the group, referring to Amazon. “He’s going to see our union every morning when he comes to work, and I want him thinking about us when he closes his eyes at night.”
The harrowing injustice I suffered as a boy should never happen to another child in this country.
By Ian Manuel, March 25, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/opinion/solitary-confinement-reform.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Imagine living alone in a room the size of a freight elevator for almost two decades.
As a 15-year-old, I was condemned to long-term solitary confinement in the Florida prison system, which ultimately lasted for 18 consecutive years. From 1992 to 2010. From age 15 to 33. From the end of the George H.W. Bush administration to the beginnings of the Obama era.
For 18 years I didn’t have a window in my room to distract myself from the intensity of my confinement. I wasn’t permitted to talk to my fellow prisoners or even to myself. I didn’t have healthy, nutritious food; I was given just enough to not die.
These circumstances made me think about how I ended up in solitary confinement.
In the summer of 1990, shortly after finishing seventh grade, I was directed by a few older kids to commit a robbery. During the botched attempt, I shot a woman. She suffered serious injuries to her jaw and mouth but survived. It was reckless and foolish on my part, the act of a 13-year-old in crisis, and I’m simply grateful no one died.
For this I was arrested and charged as an adult with armed robbery and attempted murder.
My court-appointed lawyer advised me to plead guilty, telling me that the maximum sentence would be 15 years. So I did. But my sentence wasn’t 15 years — it was life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
I was thrown into solitary confinement the day I arrived at the Reception and Medical Center, a state prison in Lake Butler, Fla., because of my young age. Three weeks in, I was transferred to the general population of a different prison. But a year and a half later, at age 15, I was put back into solitary confinement after being written up for a few minor infractions.
I had no idea that I would be in isolation for the next 18 years.
Florida has different levels of solitary confinement; I spent the majority of that time in one of the most restrictive. Nearly two decades caged in a roughly 7-by-10-foot room passed before I was rotated between the general population area and solitary for six more years. I was finally released from prison in 2016 thanks to my lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, and the Equal Justice Initiative.
Researchers have long concluded that solitary confinement causes post-traumatic stress disorder and impairs prisoners’ ability to adjust to society long after they leave their cell. United Nations standards on the treatment of prisoners prohibits solitary confinement for more than 15 days, declaring it “cruel, inhuman or degrading.”
Yet the practice, even for minors, is still common in the United States, and efforts to end it have been spotty: In 2016, the Obama administration banned juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, and a handful of states have advanced similar reforms for both children and adults.
More aggressive change is needed in state prison systems. Today, dozens of states still have little to no legislation prohibiting juvenile solitary confinement.
Because solitary confinement is hidden from public view and the broader prison population, egregious abuses are left unchecked. I watched a corrections officer spray a blind prisoner in the face with chemicals simply because he was standing by the door of his cell as a female nurse walked by. The prisoner later told me that to justify the spraying, the officer claimed the prisoner masturbated in front of the nurse.
I also witnessed the human consequences of the harshness of solitary firsthand: Some people would resort to cutting their stomachs open with a razor and sticking a plastic spork inside their intestines just so they could spend a week in the comfort of a hospital room with a television. Just so they could have a semblance of freedom. Just so they could feel human again.
On occasion, I purposely overdosed on Tylenol so that I could spend a night in the hospital. For even one night, it was worth the pain.
Another time, I was told I’d be switching dorms, and I politely asked to remain where I was because a guard in the new area had been overly aggressive with me. In response, four or five officers handcuffed me, picked me up by my feet and shoulders, and marched with me to my new dorm — using my head to ram the four steel doors on the way there. When we reached my new cell, they dropped me face-first onto the concrete floor. Cheek pressed to the cold concrete, I lay there, staring at the blank wall, shaking in fear and pain. I couldn’t believe I was still alive.
I served 18 consecutive years in isolation because each minor disciplinary infraction — like having a magazine that had another prisoner’s name on the mailing label — added an additional six months to my time in solitary confinement. The punishments were wholly disproportionate to the infractions. Before I knew it, months in solitary bled into years, years into almost two decades.
As a child, I survived these conditions by conjuring up stories of what I’d do when I was finally released. My mind was the only place I found freedom from my reality — the only place I could play basketball with my brother or video games with my friends, and eat my mother’s warm cherry pie on the porch. It was the only place I could simply be a kid.
No child should have to use their imagination this way — to survive.
It is difficult to know the exact number of children in solitary confinement today. The Liman Center at Yale Law School estimated that 61,000 Americans (adults and children) were in solitary confinement in the fall of 2017. A 2010 report from the Department of Justice notes that 24 percent of the country’s children detained at the time were subjected to solitary confinement.
More generally, according to a 2015 Department of Justice report, about 20 percent of the adult prison population has spent some time in solitary, with 4.4 percent of the population in solitary on any given day in 2011-12. And in Florida, where I was incarcerated, approximately 10,000 people — more than 10 percent of its prison population — are in solitary confinement each day.
No matter the count, I witnessed too many people lose their minds while isolated. They’d involuntarily cross a line and simply never return to sanity. Perhaps they didn’t want to. Staying in their mind was the better, safer, more humane option.
After spending nearly two years in solitary confinement as a teenager at Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime, Kalief Browder died by suicide at 22 years old. Others, like Carina Montes, 29, died by suicide during solitary — even while she was on suicide watch.
Solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, something prohibited by the Eighth Amendment, yet prisons continue to practice it.
Reform efforts for solitary confinement are woefully few and far between. About 15 years ago, I testified for the plaintiffs in Osterback v. Moore, a class-action lawsuit that sought to reform Florida’s solitary confinement system. Although a settlement in the case resulted in modest improvements, including a reduction of inmates held in solitary and an increase in mental health treatment, more meaningful reform is needed.
And it’s possible: State legislatures can pass legislation reforming solitary confinement, as New York recently did. (The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.) And mayors and governors can do their part to end the practice through executive action. Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, recently moved to end solitary confinement in New York City jails.
When it comes to children, elimination is the only moral option. And if ending solitary confinement for adults isn’t politically viable, public officials should at least limit the length of confinement to 15 days or fewer, in compliance with the U.N. standards.
In the meantime, prisoners in Florida like Darryl Streeter, inmate No. 514988, are forced to spend their lives in long-term isolation. He recently told me by phone that he’s been in solitary confinement for 24 consecutive years. That’s almost a quarter of a century. A generation.
As I try to reintegrate into society, small things often awaken painful memories from solitary. Sometimes relationships feel constraining. It’s difficult to maintain the attention span required for a rigid 9-to-5 job. At first, crossing the street and seeing cars and bikes racing toward me felt terrifying.
I will face PTSD and challenges big and small for the rest of my life because of what I was subjected to. Some things I’ve grown accustomed to. Some things I haven’t. And some things I never will — most of all, that this country can treat human beings, especially children, as cruelly as I was treated.
Sadly, solitary confinement for juveniles is still permissible in many states. But we have the power to change that — to ensure that the harrowing injustice I suffered as a young boy never happens to another child in America.
Mr. Manuel is an author, activist and poet. When he was 14 years old, he was sentenced to life in prison with no parole and spent 18 years in solitary confinement. His forthcoming memoir, “My Time Will Come,” details these experiences.
As the Black Lives Matter movement advanced, the ice became a platform for athletes who are also artists.
By Patrice Peck, March 25, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/sports/figure-skating-worlds.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage
Starr Andrews performed at the Skating Spectacular event at the 2021 U.S. figure skating championships. Credit...Orlando Ramirez/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
Starr Andrews remembers the stares she received in locker rooms at her earliest figure skating competitions. She remembers the requests to touch her coiled, textured hair.
“The first thing that popped into my mind is, ‘It’s because I’m Black,’” Andrews, 19, said in a recent interview. “And I wouldn’t want that to be the first thing that popped into my head, but I couldn’t help but think that.”
Andrews, the lone Black member of the U.S. national figure skating team, sometimes still encounters that unwelcome thought on and off the ice: that she might be seen as different from her peers in a sport she has loved since she was a little girl watching her mother take lessons.
Eventually, though, the ice became a place where Andrews would celebrate that difference.
She did it most emphatically last summer, at a time when many prominent athletes were staring down a “shut up and play” backlash after walking off a court or a field in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. For Andrews, though, competing was the best way to speak up.
For a virtual event in July, she skated to Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me,” a country song about racial inequality that was released after the police killing of George Floyd. Andrews ended her program with a smile and her right fist raised in the Black Power salute.
Videos of her performance have received more than 200,000 views online. Fans include Guyton and Michelle Obama, who shared one of the videos and wrote: “To all the Black kids out there striving for excellence in the face of those who doubt you: Keep going.”
Andrews fully intends to do that. So do other Black skaters who have stretched creatively, gaining support and recognition in a sport where they have often felt excluded.
Take, for example, Elladj Baldé, a 30-year-old Canadian skater who was touring the world with ice shows until the pandemic forced him back home. He soon co-founded a foundation to help diversify the sport, and became a social media superstar after posting videos of himself joyously skating in the wild outdoors, wearing casual clothing and doing routines that barely resembled the formal Olympic programs.
Then there is Joel Savary, a 34-year-old coach in Washington, D.C., who has his own diversity foundation and a self-published book, “Why Black and Brown Kids Don’t Ice Skate.”
One of Savary’s pupils is Kaitlyn Saunders, who briefly traded her ice skates for a rolling pair last summer and performed at Washington’s Black Lives Matter Plaza to a recording of Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” a 2015 song about perseverance. Kaitlyn, now 10, repeated the performance as part of the Inauguration Day celebration, this time accompanied live by Day.
These efforts have been widely acclaimed, but whether the sport becomes more inclusive depends on its ability to make concrete changes. To funding. To the training and selection of judges. (Baldé, Savary and Andrews say they can’t remember ever seeing another Black person assessing their performances.) And ultimately, to the core of what it means to be a figure skater.
A Breakthrough and Then a Halt
In 1986, Debi Thomas of the United States became the first Black skater to win a singles world championship. It happened seven years after Tai Babilonia, the daughter of a Black woman and a man with Hopi and Filipino roots, won a pairs world title with Randy Gardner.
At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Thomas finished third to claim the first Olympic medal for any Black athlete at a Winter Games.
Since then, though, only one other skater of African descent has won an Olympic medal — Robin Szolkowy of Germany, who got the bronze in pairs in 2010 and 2014.
Dominated for generations by white European and North American skaters, the elite levels of the sport have been diversified primarily through the arrival of East Asian and East Asian-American stars. At the 2018 Olympics, half of the athletes in the U.S. figure skating delegation were of Asian descent. At the world championships in Stockholm this week, the top contenders for the men’s title will be Nathan Chen of the United States, whose parents emigrated from China, and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who won gold at the last two Olympics.
The reception for a new demographic was not always warm.
Tiffany Chin, who in 1985 became the first nonwhite skater to win a U.S. senior singles title, recalled in a 2018 Huffington Post interview that early in her career, “a little girl told me: ‘You’re really good, but you know you’ll never be a champion. Figure skating champions have blond hair and blue eyes, and you don’t have either.’”
After the native Californian Michelle Kwan, the gold medal favorite at the 1998 Olympics, was upset by Tara Lipinski, her U.S. teammate, an MSNBC digital headline declared: “American Beats Out Kwan.”
Until very recently, leaders of the sport in the United States did not formally monitor the racial composition of competitors, judges and other officials. But after the Black Lives Matter movement took shape last year, U.S. Figure Skating started collecting such data and established a working group and then a task force to address diversity, equity and inclusion.
U.S. Figure Skating appointed Savary, the Washington coach and author, to both committees, because of his book and his work with Diversify Ice, the nonprofit organization he started in 2017.
The skating association, Savary said, seemed especially impressed by the part of his book in which he discussed going into neighborhoods and knocking on doors to see if families would welcome an introduction to the sport. Diversify Ice’s leadership includes Pooja Kalyan, the only skater of Indian descent on the U.S. team, and Eliot Halverson, a winner of junior and novice national titles who is Latinx and trans nonbinary.
“While I was on the ground working on these issues every day through Diversify Ice, others didn’t see the value in trying to make ice skating more equitable for skaters of color,” Savary said. “This was a complete 180.”
One recommendation from the task force involved setting up a fund to support promising competitors in memory of Mabel Fairbanks, a Black and Indigenous skater who became a prominent coach after discrimination led to her being barred from competition in the 1930s. Her protégés included Babilonia and Gardner in their early years together and Atoy Wilson, whose 1966 victory in the novice division made him the first Black U.S. skating champion.
The first award from the fund, $25,000, went to Andrews in January.
The costs of figure skating — Savary estimated that some people spend more than $50,000 a year to try to reach the elite level — and the limited access to rinks deter many people, regardless of race, from pursuing it as a competitive sport. Savary has made affordability part of Diversify Ice’s mission, in the hopes that increased participation will create a comfort zone for skaters of color, who often feel isolated.
But he and Baldé both say that the rigid culture of the sport has deterred Black participation as much as the price tag. The narrow range of favored music, body types, costumes and dance moves creates a sense of claustrophobia.
The subjective elements of the scoring system, which includes points based on personal interpretation of music and emotional translation of choreography, create a delicate predicament for Black figure skaters. Many say they feel compelled to conform to the traditional mold of stars in a sport that does not reflect or represent their identities and cultures.
Baldé, who was the Canadian junior national champion in 2008, performed primarily to the classical music that is common in the sport. But in his final five years of competing, he started incorporating more funk and hip-hop songs by Black and brown artists — like James Brown, Bruno Mars and T-Pain — into his programs.
After retiring from competition in 2018, Baldé joined the show tours and became a choreographer and judge for the Canadian reality competition series “Battle of the Blades.”
Encouraged by his fiancée, Michelle Dawley, a dancer and choreographer, he started posting videos of himself in early December. The settings include frozen lakes and random ice patches near his home in Calgary, Alberta. He does back flips, which are prohibited in competition, where figure skating jumps must be landed on one foot. He also does moonwalks, C-walks and Milly Rocks. His flannel shirts flap in the wind.
If competitive skating embraced such variety, he said, it could undo decades of declining TV ratings.
For one video, Baldé wore a Chicago Bulls jacket and skated an elegant routine with snow-dusted mountain peaks as the backdrop and Sampha’s “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” as accompaniment. It had more than 2.6 million views on Instagram after celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith and Complex reposted it.
In creating the videos, Baldé said, he felt a freedom that he had never experienced before.
“If there was representation for me as a young skater, if skating was inclusive of Black music and Black styles and ways of, of moving, it would have allowed me to find my truth and my authenticity much sooner,” he said. He imagines he would have been more confident and wonders if he might have achieved better results in his competitive career.
“The one thing that I know for sure,” he said, “is it would have allowed me to be myself for the time that I was in my career, instead of me trying to fit in.”
Embracing the Next Generation
Katrice Saunders, Kaitlyn’s mother, initially wondered whether the family would be able to cope with the costs and other demands of figure skating. Then offers of help flowed in from seemingly every corner of the sport’s Black community.
Savary’s Diversify Ice Foundation provided money for coaching and equipment. Baldé has reached out to work on Kaitlyn’s choreography.
The family has also heard from Babilonia and from Surya Bonaly, a Black skater from France whose audacious programs thrilled audiences, if not judging panels, in the 1990s. The limitations on her career raised some of the most prominent questions about racial bias in the sport.
Bonaly, 47, who now coaches, offered classes using video conferencing software for $5 over the summer, and Kaitlyn Saunders participated.
Andrews and her mother, Toshawa Andrews, have been particularly helpful, Katrice Saunders said. The total effect, she said, is a protective “we’re all in this together” feeling.
Like Kaitlyn, Starr gained a huge following at age 9, when she did an exhibition performance, choreographed by her mother, to Willow Smith’s girl-power anthem, “Whip My Hair.” A YouTube video of the routine has more than 56 million views, and it remained Andrews’s most celebrated moment on the ice until last summer.
The “Black Like Me” program, however, has become Andrews’s favorite.
It didn’t matter to her that when she used it in competition she finished 13th out of 17 skaters.
“The scores are disappointing, but that wasn’t the point of the program,” Andrews said. “The point of the program was to get out that it’s hard to be in the sport being one of the very few Black people.”
Patrice Peck is a freelance journalist. She was a competitive figure skater for three years.
Contract workers hired to help disinfect the New York City subway during the pandemic are asking the M.T.A. to support a job they say goes far beyond wiping down poles.
By Annie Correal, March 26, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/nyregion/covid-mta-subway-cleaning.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Clockwise from top left: The cleaning crew’s break room; a worker wearing winter gloves under surgical gloves because of the cold conditions; the soap that Beatriz Muñoz says she brought to work to clean her supplies; the rags used to clean subways, which some workers said were in short supply. Credit...Natalie Keyssar for The New York Times
Yaneth Ochoa, a Colombian woman who lives in Queens, was glad to find a job cleaning the subway last summer, as demolition jobs had dried up during the pandemic.
But as trains rolled into the Jamaica-179 Street Station in Queens, she learned she would not just be wiping down cars to remove traces of the coronavirus. Like workers at end-of-line stations all over New York City, Ms. Ochoa, 30, was expected to scrub away grime, sputum and even human excrement, she said, without adequate training or special equipment.
Instead, the cleaning crews were given a few rags, a bucket of cleaning solution and, according to several workers, a simple set of instructions: “Clean it like it’s your house.”
Cleaning the New York City subway has always been a dirty job. But when the pandemic hit last spring, it became even more challenging. When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered that trains be shut down overnight for cleaning, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority turned to contractors to help undertake the monumental task of scouring the trains in the nation’s largest transit system.
The thousands of workers the contractors hired — largely low-income immigrants from Latin America — were envisioned as a stopgap measure, as M.T.A. workers were falling ill and dying of the virus. At the same time, ridership and revenue had plummeted and the agency found itself in an intense budget crunch.
But nearly a year later, the workers are still toiling at stations all over the city, some paid as little as half as much as the M.T.A. employees who did the same work before the pandemic began, and many without access to health insurance.
Now, as the M.T.A. prepares to welcome more riders, the workers are pushing back, raising concerns about their safety, salaries and working conditions that they say feel like exploitation.
Their complaints illustrate the challenges of keeping the sprawling subway system cleaner than ever because of public health concerns during the pandemic. They also appear to show how the M.T.A.’s contractors have relied on a labor force that has been desperate for work at a time when hundreds of thousands have lost jobs in cleaning, construction and restaurants.
Ms. Ochoa, who earned around $15 per hour, New York State’s minimum wage, finally quit after refusing to clean a train smeared with excrement with just a few rags, she said. By then, she said, she had worked for nearly three months without a place to eat lunch or access to the station bathroom.
“It’s so scary to be left without work right now that you’ll accept almost anything,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the M.T.A., Abbey Collins, said the agency was disinfecting the subway with the help of “licensed and reputable outside companies whose performance is monitored regularly.” The cleaning program, which the M.T.A. plans to continue indefinitely, will cost about $300 million this year. The authority said it plans to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Transit officials said all workers had access to station bathrooms, but not break rooms, because of capacity issues related to social distancing. Contractors are required to supply proper personal protective equipment, or P.P.E., and cleaning materials to their employees, officials said.
They said the M.T.A. had hired an outside firm to conduct daily inspections of contractors working at end-of-line stations. It had investigated workers’ allegations and had not found any violations since June, when it addressed issues related to P.P.E.
Leaders of the Transit Workers Union, however, said they were alarmed by workers’ accounts. They would prefer that transit workers, who have been cleaning stations throughout the pandemic, also resume cleaning train cars, they said, but as long as contract workers are on the job, they should have similar protections to those given to the agency’s employees.
“If you’ve got workers on the property for a year, it’s a matter of basic equality,” said Zachary Arcidiacono, the chair of the Train Operators Division for the union.
The New York Times interviewed a dozen contract cleaners, including three who in late February had met with Patrick J. Foye, the chairman and chief executive of the M.T.A. to describe their job and share a list of “needs” with transit agency leadership.
Their accounts paint a picture of dismal working conditions, and highlight their unequal treatment compared with transit cleaners, who are paid up to $30 an hour and enjoy health insurance and other benefits, uniforms and MetroCards to swipe themselves into the system.
Unlike transit workers, the contract workers are not yet eligible to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, though they say their work routinely exposes them to unmasked passengers and dangerous waste. They are seeking better working conditions and a path to M.T.A. jobs.
Beatriz Muñoz, 38, cleaned trains for six months last year at the terminus of the Q line at 96th Street in Manhattan. When cars arrived that were closed to passengers because they had been sullied, “we were the ones who had to go in there,” she said. “We would be praying to God that we wouldn’t get sick.”
A worker named Juan described chasing down purse-snatchers and running to help co-workers threatened by homeless people who had commandeered their brooms and mops. “And we’re invisible,” he said. The Times is using only his first name because he is still employed as a cleaner and fears retribution.
Transit officials said they had called on City Hall to send more police officers and mental health workers into the subway to ensure that all workers and passengers were safe.
LN Pro Services, the contractor that employed Ms. Ochoa in Queens, disputed several workers’ claims. Lily Sierra, the chief executive of the company, said workers never lacked access to bathrooms and managers were on hand to fetch missing cleaning materials and protective supplies. She said new hires were paid an hourly wage of $18 an hour; later, employees made more.
Workers employed by other contractors have voiced similar complaints, according to Francisco Tecaxco, an organizer at New Immigrant Community Empowerment, or NICE, a workers’ rights organization in Queens that gathered the accounts of two dozen people employed by about five contractors and helped to organize the meeting with the M.T.A. in February.
“Many people were getting paid minimum wage or just a dollar or two more,” Mr. Tecaxco said. “The conditions were terrible.”
Ms. Muñoz, who cleaned trains on the Q line, earned $20 an hour. She brought her own mask, gloves and soap to clean her rags, she said; her employer, NV Maintenance Services, gave workers only a fabric mask without a filter, and gloves that easily burst, she said.
Ms. Muñoz, who cleaned the offices of an architecture firm before the pandemic, said the work was taxing and the rules were strict. Workers were let go for arriving minutes late, or for calling in sick, including from Covid-19, she said.
They were eventually told not to drink beverages on the job so they would not need to use the bathroom, and because the bottles cluttered the work space. “It was an oven in the summer,” she said. “We had to sneak sips of water.”
When inspectors came, she said, no one said a word. “Truthfully, we were all afraid.”
Victor Noce, of NV Maintenance Services, said workers had unfettered access to bathrooms, P.P.E. and materials, and that the company had received perfect ratings on inspections, both scheduled and covert. He said in an email that descriptions offered by Ms. Muñoz and other workers, “seem made up to me.”
Ms. Muñoz said she was fired in November without explanation. As the sole provider for her four children and parents in Puebla, Mexico, she pleaded to keep her job.
Since then, she has not found steady work; she cleans someone’s home every two weeks. As for her former co-workers at the end of the Q line, “My compañeros are still there,” Ms. Muñoz said. “Nothing has changed.”
In “Hooked,” Michael Moss explores how no addictive drug can fire up the reward circuitry in our brains as rapidly as our favorite foods.
By Anahad O’Connor, March 25, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/25/well/eat/hooked-junk-food.html?action=click&module=Editors%20Picks&pgtype=Homepage
In a legal proceeding two decades ago, Michael Szymanczyk, the chief executive of the tobacco giant Philip Morris, was asked to define addiction. “My definition of addiction is a repetitive behavior that some people find difficult to quit,” he responded.
Mr. Szymanczyk was speaking in the context of smoking. But a fascinating new book by Michael Moss, an investigative journalist and best-selling author, argues that the tobacco executive’s definition of addiction could apply to our relationship with another group of products that Philip Morris sold and manufactured for decades: highly processed foods.
In his new book, “Hooked,” Mr. Moss explores the science behind addiction and builds a case that food companies have painstakingly engineered processed foods to hijack the reward circuitry in our brains, causing us to overeat and helping to fuel a global epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. Mr. Moss suggests that processed foods like cheeseburgers, potato chips and ice cream are not only addictive, but that they can be even more addictive than alcohol, tobacco and drugs. The book draws on internal industry documents and interviews with industry insiders to argue that some food companies in the past couple of decades became aware of the addictive nature of their products and took drastic steps to avoid accountability, such as shutting down important research into sugary foods and spearheading laws preventing people from suing food companies for damages.
In another cynical move, Mr. Moss writes, food companies beginning in the late 1970s started buying a slew of popular diet companies, allowing them to profit off our attempts to lose the weight we gained from eating their products. Heinz, the processed food giant, bought Weight Watchers in 1978 for $72 million. Unilever, which sells Klondike bars and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, paid $2.3 billion for SlimFast in 2000. Nestle, which makes chocolate bars and Hot Pockets, purchased Jenny Craig in 2006 for $600 million. And in 2010 the private equity firm that owns Cinnabon and Carvel ice cream purchased Atkins Nutritionals, the company that sells low-carb bars, shakes and snacks. Most of these diet brands were later sold to other parent companies.
“The food industry blocked us in the courts from filing lawsuits claiming addiction; they started controlling the science in problematic ways, and they took control of the diet industry,” Mr. Moss said in an interview. “I’ve been crawling through the underbelly of the processed food industry for 10 years and I continue to be stunned by the depths of the deviousness of their strategy to not just tap into our basic instincts, but to exploit our attempts to gain control of our habits.”
A former reporter for The New York Times and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, Mr. Moss first delved into the world of the processed food industry in 2013 with the publication of “Salt Sugar Fat.” The book explained how companies formulate junk foods to achieve a “bliss point” that makes them irresistible and market those products using tactics borrowed from the tobacco industry. Yet after writing the book, Mr. Moss was not convinced that processed foods could be addictive.
“I had tried to avoid the word addiction when I was writing ‘Salt Sugar Fat,’” he said. “I thought it was totally ludicrous. How anyone could compare Twinkies to crack cocaine was beyond me.”
But as he dug into the science that shows how processed foods affect the brain, he was swayed. One crucial element that influences the addictive nature of a substance and whether or not we consume it compulsively is how quickly it excites the brain. The faster it hits our reward circuitry, the stronger its impact. That is why smoking crack cocaine is more powerful than ingesting cocaine through the nose, and smoking cigarettes produces greater feelings of reward than wearing a nicotine patch: Smoking reduces the time it takes for drugs to hit the brain.
But no addictive drug can fire up the reward circuitry in our brains as rapidly as our favorite foods, Mr. Moss writes. “The smoke from cigarettes takes 10 seconds to stir the brain, but a touch of sugar on the tongue will do so in a little more than a half second, or six hundred milliseconds, to be precise,” he writes. “That’s nearly 20 times faster than cigarettes.”
This puts the term “fast food” in a new light. “Measured in milliseconds, and the power to addict, nothing is faster than processed food in rousing the brain,” he added.
Mr. Moss explains that even people in the tobacco industry took note of the powerful lure of processed foods. In the 1980s, Philip Morris acquired Kraft and General Foods, making it the largest manufacturer of processed foods in the country, with products like Kool-Aid, Cocoa Pebbles, Capri Sun and Oreo cookies. But the company’s former general counsel and vice president, Steven C. Parrish, confided that he found it troubling that it was easier for him to quit the company’s cigarettes than its chocolate cookies. “I’m dangerous around a bag of chips or Doritos or Oreos,” he told Mr. Moss. “I’d avoid even opening a bag of Oreos because instead of eating one or two, I would eat half the bag.”
As litigation against tobacco companies gained ground in the 1990s, one of the industry’s defenses was that cigarettes were no more addictive than Twinkies. It may have been on to something. Philip Morris routinely surveyed the public to gather legal and marketing intelligence, Mr. Moss writes, and one particular survey in 1988 asked people to name things that they thought were addictive and then rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most addictive.
“Smoking was given an 8.5, nearly on par with heroin,” Mr. Moss writes. “But overeating, at 7.3, was not far behind, scoring higher than beer, tranquilizers and sleeping pills. This statistic was used to buttress the company’s argument that cigarettes might not be exactly innocent, but they were a vice on the order of potato chips and, as such, were manageable.”
But processed foods are not tobacco, and many people, including some experts, dismiss the notion that they are addictive. Mr. Moss suggests that this reluctance is in part a result of misconceptions about what addiction entails. For one, a substance does not have to hook everyone for it to be addictive. Studies show that most people who drink or use cocaine do not become dependent. Nor does everyone who smokes or uses painkillers become addicted. It is also the case that the symptoms of addiction can vary from one person to the next and from one drug to another. Painful withdrawals were once considered hallmarks of addiction. But some drugs that we know to be addictive, such as cocaine, would fail to meet that definition because they do not provoke “the body-wrenching havoc” that withdrawal from barbiturates and other addictive drugs can cause.
The American Psychiatric Association now lists 11 criteria that are used to diagnose what it calls a substance use disorder, which can range from mild to severe, depending on how many symptoms a person exhibits. Among those symptoms are cravings, an inability to cut back despite wanting to, and continuing to use the substance despite it causing harm. Mr. Moss said that people who struggle with processed food can try simple strategies to conquer routine cravings, like going for a walk, calling a friend or snacking on healthy alternatives like a handful of nuts. But for some people, more extreme measures may be necessary.
“It depends where you are on the spectrum,” he said. “I know people who can’t touch a grain of sugar without losing control. They would drive to the supermarket and by the time they got home their car would be littered with empty wrappers. For them, complete abstention is the solution.”
Virginia’s move to end the death penalty was a welcome step. The administration can do more.
"...states that execute people have consistently higher murder rates than those that do not."
By The Editorial Board, March 26, 2021
Shunned in school because of her disability, she devoted her life to the cause, organizing a historic sit-in that led to landmark federal legislation.
By Wendy Lu, March 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/26/obituaries/kitty-cone-overlooked.html?referringSource=articleShare
This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.
It wasn’t long after Kitty Cone had enrolled at the Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington that she felt the grip of discrimination.
Cone walked with a cane, and the headmistress of the seminary, a private women’s school, began imposing strange rules that segregated her from the rest of the student body. For instance, she demanded that Cone bathe in a separate tub outside of the suite that she shared with three other girls. But the tub was so big that she struggled to get out of it, so she just used the one in her suite. Another time, she was barred from attending a school activity, but she went anyway. Those acts got her expelled.
“For a variety of reasons, the headmistress threw me out, but all having to do with disability,” Cone said in an interview for the University of Illinois archives in 2009. “I think she was worried about liability, looking back on it, because she gave me these prohibitions.”
It wasn’t the first time Cone would experience injustice because of her disability, and it wouldn’t be the last.
This was the 1960s, a time when people with disabilities did not have basic civil rights in the United States — movie theaters could refuse to sell tickets to wheelchair users, for example, and there was little support for blind and deaf people. As evidenced by Cone’s experience, even an education was not a guarantee. People with disabilities were often institutionalized and largely isolated from society. It wasn’t until 1990 that discrimination against them was banned under the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.
Cone’s expulsion from school helped inspire her to devote the rest of her life to fighting for disability rights.
“Things that happened in my life determined the fact that I would be an activist,” she said in a 2013 oral history. “So many choices in my life had been circumscribed by the fact that I had a disability.”
Cone was the lead organizer and strategist of the 504 Sit-In, a nearly four-week-long protest in April 1977 in which nearly 150 disabled people and their allies took over the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Their intent was to pressure the Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. to sign regulations that would implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibiting programs receiving federal aid from discriminating against any “otherwise qualified individuals with a disability.” The act paved the way for the A.D.A.
Cone was the “organizational brains” behind the sit-in, said Mary Lou Breslin, a close friend who was at the demonstration, helping to mobilize a coalition of supporters among other activist groups, including the Black Panthers, who supplied hot meals to the protesters, and machinist union workers, who rented trucks to help transport them when they took the fight to Washington.
“She believed in the depth of her soul that the broader you build something, the better chance you have of success,” said Lorrie Beth Slonsky, who met Cone at a Section 504 advocacy training in 1979 and remained her friend.
The 504 Sit-In is the longest nonviolent occupation of a federal building in U.S. history.
The group ultimately succeeded in getting the regulations signed, and in a victory speech she gave on April 30, 1977, Cone said the disability community had “written a new page in American history.”
“We showed strength and courage and power and commitment,” she said, “that we the shut-ins, or the shut-outs, we the hidden, supposedly the frail and the weak, that we can wage a struggle at the highest level of government and win.”
Curtis Selden Cone was born on April 7, 1944, into a wealthy family in Champaign, in eastern Illinois. Her father, Hutchinson Ingham Cone Jr., served in the Army for two decades, giving his family a rootless life as he was periodically assigned to a new base. He and his wife, Molly Mattis Cone, a homemaker, and Curtis and her younger brother, George, lived in Augusta, Ga., Bethesda, Md., and Tokyo.
Cone learned she had muscular dystrophy around her 15th birthday. At the time, doctors said she wouldn’t live beyond the age of 20.
She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study English literature. It was there she became immersed in political organizing and was elected to the Student Senate. She fought against racial segregation in local housing and got involved in the advocacy group Students for a Democratic Society. She left school for a semester when her mother died of throat cancer in 1963. Though she went back, she never graduated.
Cone then lived in Chicago for three years and worked as an antiwar organizer with the Young Socialist Alliance, an offshoot of the Socialist Workers Party. Her left-wing politics alienated her from her father, a former lieutenant, and the two remained largely estranged for the rest of their lives.
As an adult, Cone traveled with friends and family members to Latin America and Eastern Europe. By then she had started using a wheelchair, and inaccessibility became a frequent problem. Buses had no lifts, bathroom doors were too narrow, and buildings had no ramps.
“Whether it was a hotel or a bus or an airport, she had many, many experiences on airplanes where her wheelchair was broken, where she was bruised,” said Georgia Springer, a cousin who lived with Cone for many years.
In 1972, Cone moved to Oakland, Calif., for the warmer weather and to be closer to friends. There she worked with the Center for Independent Living to push for public resources that would allow people with disabilities to be self-reliant. It was during this time that she met Judith Heumann, who would also become a leader of the 504 Sit-In.
“Kitty was a fireball,” Heumann said in a phone interview. “The way she expressed her words was like lightning. People listened to her, and they followed her.”
Cone came to date a blind woman, Kathy Martinez, the two bonding over disability politics, and Cone became close to Martinez’s family in New Mexico.
“In many ways, our disabilities complemented each other, because I could help Kitty with physical tasks and she could help me with visual tasks,” Martinez said in a phone interview. “She was in a power wheelchair, and I would put on roller skates. We were kind of an iconic duo because we could speed around Berkeley a lot faster than if I was walking.”
They could not wed because gay marriage was illegal, but Cone still wanted a child. She looked into adoption in the United States but encountered too much red tape. In 1981, she moved to Tijuana, Mexico, with Martinez and there adopted a baby, Jorge.
They moved back to the Bay Area a couple of years later, and Cone continued her activist work, taking up jobs at the World Institute on Disability and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
She died of pancreatic cancer on March 21, 2015. She was 70.
Cone’s efforts, particularly with the 504 Sit-In, helped give birth to a new era that empowered many people with disabilities and gave them a sense of pride.
“I am thankful for my disability,” she said in the 1990s for an oral history. “I feel like the constraints and the choices that it has given me have made me who I am. And, you know, I like who I am.”