Jeff Bezos has at least $131 Billion!
The Washington State Supreme Court just ruled to allow the right-wing Recall Campaign against Councilmember Kshama Sawant to move forward.
In response, Councilmember Sawant said “This ruling is completely unjust, but we are not surprised. Working people and oppressed communities cannot rely on the capitalist courts for justice anymore than they can on the police.”
“Last summer, all across the country, ordinary people who peacefully protested in multi-racial solidarity against racism and police brutality themselves faced brutal police violence. The police and the political establishment have yet to be held accountable, while in stark contrast, more than 14,000 protestors were arrested.”
“In October, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously threw out the grassroots recall campaign launched in response to Amazon-backed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s overseeing a violent police crackdown against Seattle protests. Now, this same Supreme Court has unanimously approved the recall against an elected socialist, working-class representative who has unambiguously stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“The recall law in Washington State is inherently undemocratic and well-suited for politicized use against working people’s representatives, because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true. In effect, the courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.”
The recall effort against Councilmember Sawant explicitly cited her role in Black Lives Matter protests and the Amazon Tax campaign in their articles of recall. In 2019, Kshama was elected for the third time despite a record-breaking influx of corporate money in Seattle elections, including $1.5 million in corporate PAC spending from Amazon, as well as donations from top Amazon executives and numerous wealthy Republican donors directly to Kshama’s opponent.
The Recall Campaign is backed by a host of corporate executives and developers, including billionaire landlord and Trump donor Martin Selig; Jeannie Nordstrom of the billionaire union-busting, retail giant Nordstrom dynasty; Airbnb Chief Financial Officer and former Amazon Vice President Dave Stephenson; Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President Matt Westphal; wealthy Trump donors like Dennis Weibling, Vidur Luthra and Greg Eneil; and plethora of major real-estate players, such as John Stephanus, whose asset management company, Epic, has ranked amongst Seattle’s top 10 landlords for evictions.
Now, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Recall Campaign is able to begin collecting signatures to get a recall election on an upcoming ballot. With the financial backing of the corporate elite, we know the Recall Campaign will have unlimited resources to collect their signatures.
That’s why we need your support to massively expand our Decline-to-Sign campaign and defeat this attack on all working people. The Recall Campaign has already raised $300,000. Can you make a contribution to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign today so that we have the necessary resources to fight back?
Kshama Solidarity Campaign
Copyright © 2021 Kshama Solidarity Campaign, All rights reserved
PLEDGE: Stand with Kshama Sawant Against the Right-Wing Recall!
The right wing and big business are going after Councilmember Sawant because she’s been such a powerful voice for working people – for leading the way on the Amazon Tax, on the $15 minimum wage, and for her role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Amazon spent millions trying to unseat Kshama last year and failed. Now the Recall Campaign is raising money from corporate executives and rich Republicans to try to overturn that election and all our victories. Their campaign is saying Kshama’s support for Black Lives Matter was promoting “lawlessness” – this is a racist attack on the movement. The right wing will be collecting signatures to get the recall on the ballot; we’re building a Decline-to-Sign movement to keep our voice on the City Council and win COVID relief for working people.
Sign the pledge at:
Paid for by Kshama Solidarity Campaign
PO Box 20611, Seattle, WA 98102
9 minutes 29 seconds
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal Must be Released from Prison! No State Execution by Covid! Prisoners 50 Years and Older Should also be Released from Prison to Protect them from Covid 19!
Mumia’s life was saved from legal lynching of state execution in 1995 and 1999 by the power of mass, international mobilization and protest, which included representatives of millions of unionized workers. Human and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and students won Mumia’s release from death row in 2012 and his medical treatment for deadly hep-C in 2017. Now we need to do the same to save his life from covid-19.
We also must face the latest obstacle in Mumia’s pending legal appeal.
In the prosecution Response to Mumia’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, filed February 3, 2021, “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner rubber stamps the lying, racially biased, politically motivated and corrupt conviction of Mumia for the murder of P.O. Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 under hanging judge Albert Sabo who promised, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
For decades Mumia fought racist and corrupt prosecutors in Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court. “Progressive” Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner joined their ranks in filing the prosecution legal brief to the Pennsylvania Superior Court stating that Mumia is guilty and should remain imprisoned for life.
There is a moment of opportunity to deepen the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. Political consciousness about the systemic racism of the U.S. injustice system and policing has reached a high level not seen in 50 years, accelerated by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and the massive protests that followed. Mumia’s name has been injected into struggles around Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the economic crisis. Notably, Colin Kaepernick has called for Mumia’s freedom.
There is also a new danger. Nationally and in Philadelphia, there is a rise in the illusions of the “progressive district attorney” who will upend the entrenched repressive, racially and class-biased [in]justice system, which is integral to capitalism and rooted in the legacy of slavery.
A new legal path to Mumia’s freedom was opened by the historic ruling in December 2018 from Philadelphia Court Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black jurist to review Mumia’s case. Judge Tucker granted Mumia the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial and police misconduct that had been rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. That evidence was proof that Mumia is factually innocent and framed and is legally entitled to dismissal of the charges against him, or at least a new trial.
“Progressive” DA Larry Krasner blocked that path with the prosecution’s legal Response to Mumia’s new appeal to the PA Superior Court on February 3, 2021. Krasner opposes Mumia getting a new trial—let alone a dismissal of the charges. And Krasner calls for the appeals court to dismiss Mumia’s appeal without even considering the facts and law. Krasner follows exactly the script of the notorious, pro-cop, racist prosecutors who preceded him, notably Edward Rendell, Lynne Abraham—called “one of America’s deadliest DAs” —and Ronald Castille, whose pro-cop, pro-prosecution, and pro-death penalty bias became the grounds opening up Mumia’s right to file this new appeal.
The Krasner Response begins with the same lying “statement of facts” of the case that has been used since Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial by District Attorney Edward Rendell. Krasner insists that Mumia’s appeal should be dismissed without considering the merits because it was “not timely filed.” This makes clear the falsity of Krasner’s purported withdrawal of his objection to Mumia’s new right of appeal granted by Judge Tucker.
Krasner also denies that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct—“Brady claims”—from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago in a DA storeroom are “material” and grounds for a new trial. This is legal jargon for saying the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. Krasner’s Response on the new evidence that the trial prosecutor purposely disqualified African-Americans as jurors is that the Pa Supreme Court has previously decided the jury selection process was fair and should not be re-examined.
As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct. Those due process violations included:
*trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
*African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
*police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting PO Faulkner which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
*the suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot PO Faulkner, that a shooter ran away and the confession to fatally shooting Faulkner.
But “progressive” DA Krasner argued these factors should not even be considered.
DA Krasner’s Response brief ends with: “For the foregoing reasons, including those set forth in the PCRA court’s opinions, the Commonwealth respectfully requests that this Court affirm the orders denying post-conviction relief.” This means District Attorney Krasner approved all previous court denials of Mumia’s challenges to his convictions made from 1995-2012, including those of Judge Sabo.
This Response is the definitive, final statement of District Attorney Larry Krasner to the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania. And should Mumia’s case return to the U.S. federal courts, this would remain the prosecution position: that Mumia is guilty and there are no legal or factual reasons to re-consider his conviction.
Once there has been a conviction and sentence, the District Attorney does not have unilateral authority or power to reverse a criminal conviction, order a new trial or dismiss the original charges. That decision rests the post-conviction review judge or appeals court.
The District Attorney does have enormous authority and credibility to argue to the courts that a case should be reversed, a new trial granted or charges dismissed. The opinion of the district attorney’s office is a persuasive authority to the reviewing court. And it was that process which resulted in overturning the convictions of 18 imprisoned men during the past three years. Those publicized reversals as well as Krasner’s promises of criminal justice reform; his “no objection” to releasing on parole the surviving, imprisoned MOVE 9 men and woman; his partial ban of cash bail and de-escalation of arrests for minor, non-violent offenses, and his record as a civil rights lawyer gave him credentials as a “progressive DA”.
Krasner’s Response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom.
To any who held out hope that Krasner would “do the right thing”, Krasner has never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process.
In fact, “progressive DA” Krasner was explicit when questioned during the proceedings brought by Maureen Faulkner to have him removed from Mumia’s case on grounds he was biased in favor of Mumia. Krasner was allowed to continue prosecuting Mumia in the Supreme Court ruling on December 16, 2020. During those proceedings, Larry Krasner assured the investigating judge that, “in my opinion based upon all the facts in law [sic] that I have is that he [Abu-Jamal] is guilty.” Further, the investigating judge found all prosecutors involved, including DA Krasner, stated, “it is their intention to defend the conviction, and that they are aware of no evidence that would support or justify a decision to the contrary or to concede any PCRA relief.”
It is precisely because Larry Krasner has a profile and reputation as “a progressive DA,” and faces hostility from the Fraternal Order of Police, and supporters of racist “law and order” who will be supporting anti-Krasner candidates in this year’s DA election that his total rejection of Mumia’s claim is so damaging.
The rejection of Mumia’s appeals by this “progressive DA” is not just equal to those of prior DAs but is more damaging. The position of the “progressive DA” in opposition to Mumia’s appeal provides additional rationale and justification for the appeals courts to reject Mumia’s appeals.
Krasner must be uncompromisingly exposed and denounced as not different from Judge Sabo and prior prosecutors. Mumia’s prosecution, his conviction, death sentence and appeal denials are an indictment of the entire racist capitalist injustice system. Opening up Mumia’s case exposes the racism, rot, corruption, brutality and fundamental injustice of the whole system. “Progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner would not and cannot go down that road and keep favor with the elements of the ruling class that seek to provide a “progressive” cover to delay and distract those who fight not only for Mumia, but for justice for all.
What is to be done to free Mumia? Continue to mobilize protest action demanding the Department of Corrections and Governor immediately release Mumia – along with prisoners 50 years and older to stop death by covid. In Pennsylvania the governor has the executive power to commute sentences and release prisoners who are serving life without parole.
We must expand the international campaign for Mumia’s freedom, centered on the understanding that Mumia is factually innocent and framed, that he never should have been arrested and prosecuted for a murder the state knows he did not commit. International mobilization has been critical to our prior limited victories. Now more than ever, we need to grow in strength and numbers Mumia’s defenders, including labor, Black Lives Matter, human rights and civil rights organizations, and left organizations in rallies and mass demonstrations.
Rachel Wolkenstein (former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal); and for the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal <laboractionmumia.org>: Jack Heyman (International Longshore and Warehouse Union-retired), Bob Mandel (Oakland Education Association-retired, member of Adult School Teachers United), Carole Seligman (Co-editor of Socialist Viewpoint)
March 5, 2021
Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not asof Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
It Is Now Freedom or Death For Mumia!
BRO. ZAYID MUHAMMAD - March 11, 2021
I’m going help them fry the nigger...” Judge Albert Sabo
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal...” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine all NNPA Black newspapers, for example, carrying regularly featured articles as a matter of priority on all of the evidence suppressed in Mumia’s case.
Imagine Black clergy rallying at major news sites condemning the white-out and/or the demonization of Mumia through their media entities.
Imagine Black elected officials from Philadelphia and from all over the country rallying to denounce the continued ordeal of this man.
Imagine surviving ’60s icons conducting civil disobedience at the governor’s office and the DA’s office in Philadelphia with an eager throng of two generations of action-hungry activists looking to bumrush it, en masse if it didn’t yield results.
Even though Mumia has survived two execution dates, 30 years on death row and several recent dangerous medical challenges, thankfully with the force of a multiracial international campaign at his back and our ancestors, this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to ask ‘why?’
As this goes to press, Mumia is in a prison infirmary dangling on a tightrope of both COVID-19 and congestive heart failure, a most deadly medical cocktail!
COVID-19 is most dangerous when it attacks the lungs, creates fluid in the lungs and then triggers fatal blood clots. Congestive heart failure, similarly speaking, creates fluid in the lungs, weakens the heart muscle and the kidneys. These two together are extremely deadly.
Not to mention Mumia’s Hep-C weakened liver and skin. Remember that?
Mumia needs to be hospitalized at minimum and truly needs to be released!
If ever there was a time to step forward for Mumia, it is now!
The most tragic dimensions surrounding Mumia’s current ordeal is that there is now so much ample evidence of his innocence, so much ample evidence of both prosecutorial and judicial misconduct to free him if he can just be allowed to get it in on an appeal and that evidence on the court record. In spite of Mumia clearly being on the verge of objectively vindicating himself, he can tragically die in prison if not enough of us turn it up now!
Wait! What about Philly’s highly prized progressive DA Larry Krasner? Hasn’t he moved to overturn more than a dozen bad convictions rooted in deep-seated Philly racism and corruption? Yes, but not for Mumia.
Even though his office ‘found’ six boxes of missing evidence in his case, which includes a letter from a star prosecution witness Robert Chobert seeking payment for his testimony, reeking of prosecutorial misconduct and granting Mumia a new trial, Krasner, up for re-election, went into court last month and said that no new appellate relief for Mumia ought to be granted because his trial and conviction were sound. From Judge Sabo vowing to help ‘fry the nigger,’ to suppressed eyewitness testimony that was not paid for by anyone totally contradicting Chobert’s, to the illegal exclusion of Black jurors from the trial, to Sabo having Veronica Jones arrested on the stand for telling the truth on how she was coerced to testify against Mumia, to their being clear evidence of another person being the actual killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner and a whole lot more, Krasner showed his true ‘white’ color and is now seeking to block Mumia’s real chance at justice and freedom at a time when it can genuinely cost him his life.
The time is now to turn it up and free this incredible human being who has become a breathing living gracious symbol of human solidarity like few others in the last several decades.
Let us all press Pennsylvania’s other liberal ‘fox’ Gov. Tom Wolf to have Mumia and all aging prisoners who pose no risk to society released to help address this insidious pandemic. Over 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons. All over 50 and with preexisting conditions.
Let’s press Mumia’s overseers John Wetzel head of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Bernadette Mason superintendent of Mahanoy Prison to get Mumia properly hospitalized.
Press DA Krasner to address his now dangerous wrong and go back into court and encourage a conviction reversal and a new trial for Mumia as he has done for others.
The time is now!
Seize The Time!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Gov. Tom Wolf 717-787-2500
Sec’y Dept of Corrections John Wetzel 717-728-2573
Supt of Mahanoy Corrections Institution Bernadette Mason 570-773-2158
DA Larry Krasner 267-456-1000
To support Mumia locally 212 -330-8029
In Philadelphia, 215-724-1618
Zayid Muhammad is a jazz poet, stage actor and well-known “cub” of the N.Y. chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Questions and comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Treating trans children isn’t an “experiment.” The experiment is making it impossible for these young people to become themselves.
By Jennifer Finney Boylan, April 7, 2021
The child stared at me with a mixture of confusion and wonder. We were in a Gap store in Freeport, Maine, 20 years ago. I was trying so hard not to be a spectacle.
“Mom!” the boy cried to his mother, looking at me in my graceless wig. “Who is that?”
“That, honey,” she said, “is a human being.”
Trans people have been part of human history for as long as there has been history, and for as long as there have been humans. But with the exception of a few brave souls, until relatively recently, trans individuals were rarely in the public eye in the United States. People knew so little about us that when I came out, at the turn of the millennium, at least one person I tried to explain myself to thought that I’d invented the whole business single-handedly.
In retrospect, my transition was made somewhat easier in 2000 because there weren’t quite so many laws designed to make my life harder. Conservatives didn’t seem to fully understand that they were supposed to hate us.
All these years later, things are both better and worse. Better because so many people have had the courage to step forward and be known. And worse because social conservatives around the country feel affronted by our very visibility. How affronted? Enough for them to propose legislation that, they hope, will lead to our erasure. By mid-March, 82 such bills had been introduced in statehouses this year, from Maine to Montana.
On March 25, Arkansas’s governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed Senate Bill 354, which keeps trans girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
Then yesterday, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Lawmakers overrode a veto of that bill issued by Mr. Hutchinson on Monday.
In issuing the veto, Mr. Hutchinson had said the bill banning medical treatment was a step too far. He called it “government overreach” into a difficult health care question, and said that the proposed legislation was the “product of the cultural war in America.” But it was his own Republican Party doing the overreaching. This skirmish is one in which conservatives have gone to battle against research backed by the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics — not to mention the lived experience of doctors around the country — showing that early medical interventions, including the prescription of puberty blockers for younger trans people, are both beneficial and safe.
Mr. Hutchinson had been urged to veto the bill by pediatricians, social workers and parents of trans children. The sponsors of the Arkansas bill criminalizing care bestowed it with the name the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, a title surely designed to make people think that treating trans kids is something straight out of science fiction.
But the procedures banned by this bill are neither radical nor experimental. Puberty blockers keep trans kids from suffering the permanent damage of adolescence in the wrong gender. They have been shown to lower the risk of suicidal thoughts, and it buys them time, should any be needed, to become more certain of the path they’re on. The effects of these medicines are reversible if treatment is suspended.
One Republican sponsor of the Arkansas bill told KATV that the bill “is giving kids a chance to grow up and then, if they make a different decision when they are older, that’s OK.” But by the time these kids are older, the effects of adolescence will have set in — breasts and periods for trans men, facial hair and deepening voices for trans women.
Treating trans kids isn’t the experiment here. The experiment is in making it impossible for these young people to become themselves.
In 2014, research published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found, in a longitudinal study of 55 trans people who had received puberty suppression treatments during adolescence, that treatment radically improved patients’ lives. The study concluded that years later, after gender reassignment, their “well-being was similar to or better than same-age young adults from the general population,” giving them “the opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults.”
Moreover, a different study published in the same journal last year found that kids who are treated when they’re younger face significantly lower risk of self-harm, depression and attempted suicide. In other words, it is not the care, but its absence, that puts these kids at risk.
Forgive me if I fail to be convinced that the spate of anti-trans bills is motivated by conservatives’ sincere concern for women’s athletics, a subtle understanding of endocrinology or even the well-being of the children themselves. Instead, these bills are a way for conservatives to perform their scorn for people who are different from themselves.
This kind of performance doesn’t make transgender people disappear, of course. All it does, in the end, is demonstrate a lack of generosity and imagination to understand a soul different from your own.
I wonder if the sponsors of these bills have ever considered who these strangers are — who it actually is that they’re going to such trouble to hurt? Those, honey, are human beings.
Ms. Finney Boylan, a contributing opinion writer, writes on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, faith and life in Maine. Her memoir, “She’s Not There,” was the first best-selling work by a transgender American.
The Brooklyn district attorney will move to dismiss old convictions in which a former narcotics detective, accused of perjury in Manhattan, played a key role.
By Troy Closson, April 6, 2021
Joseph Franco, a former New York Police Department detective, was charged with perjury in 2019. Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times
Over nearly two decades as a police officer and narcotics detective, Joseph E. Franco made thousands of arrests, many for the possession and sale of drugs. Mr. Franco often worked undercover, and his testimony secured convictions for prosecutors around the city.
But officials who once relied on Mr. Franco are questioning his accounts. After he was accused of lying about drug sales that videos showed never happened, Mr. Franco was charged with perjury in Manhattan in 2019.
Now, the fallout over Mr. Franco’s police work is spreading: As many as 90 convictions that he helped secure in Brooklyn will be thrown out, prosecutors plan to announce Wednesday. Many more cases in other boroughs could follow — a reckoning that lawyers said appears larger than any in the city’s legal system in recent history.
On Wednesday, the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, will ask judges to dismiss years-old drug cases in which Mr. Franco served as a crucial witness. The office did not uncover new evidence of possible misconduct — and none of the people involved still remain behind bars. But Mr. Gonzalez said he had lost faith in Mr. Franco’s credibility.
“We’re in a moment of talking about criminal justice reform,” Mr. Gonzalez said in an interview this week. “It’s clear that we couldn’t responsibly rely on his testimony to stand by these convictions.”
The move represents one of the largest dismissals of convictions in the state over concerns about official misconduct, and comes amid a heightened national conversation about holding police accountable and curbing abuses among officers. In New York City, legislators recently made it easier to sue officers for conducting illegal searches or using excessive force.
Mr. Franco was charged in 2019 with 26 criminal counts, including perjury and official misconduct, after investigators in the Manhattan district attorney’s office said that he had testified to witnessing several drug buys that video footage showed did not happen or that he could not have seen.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Mr. Franco’s lawyer, Howard Tanner, said his client is presumed innocent and said he would be “vigorously defending” the case in Manhattan.
“I would therefore ask that the public withhold judgment until all the facts are heard,” Mr. Tanner added.
Nearly all of the people whose convictions that Mr. Gonzalez is seeking to dismiss were charged with drug-related crimes, including many for low-level possession offenses. The group — mostly men arrested between 2004 and 2011 — spanned generations: Several were under 20 years old at the time of their arrests, and dozens were older than 40.
Mr. Gonzalez’s office was not certain of the racial breakdown, but believed that many were Black and Latino, groups who have represented a disproportionate bulk of many drug charges in the city.
Most of those who faced more serious charges for drug sales — 27 people in total — spent between six months to a year behind bars. It was unclear how often the crime represented their first or only conviction, the district attorney’s office and public defenders said.
Even those who did not serve lengthy sentences were left with criminal records, which can have long-term consequences for housing and work prospects. In recent years, attention on those lasting effects has grown. In New York and elsewhere, records of some minor convictions have been expunged — an attempt to make amends for what is now seen as overly aggressive policing of drug crimes in the past.
But erasing records can only go so far, public defenders say.
“The damage is done at the point of arrest,” said Tina Luongo, a lawyer who heads the criminal defense practice at the Legal Aid Society. “They likely had bail set on them, spent time at Rikers Island, lost jobs, were separated from their families — no matter what happens, those harms were done.”
One man who was arrested three times by Mr. Franco is set to have each case dismissed, lawyers said. The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns, said he was charged with several low-level drug crimes that he did not commit. Confronted with the prospect of a police officer’s testimony, he pleaded guilty.
The man was fresh out of high school, with a young son and a second child on the way, when he was arrested in 2005, he said. He spent several years behind bars. The man, now 35, said the transition home was rocky, and the arrests continue to affect him.
“I got the call that this was happening and it was supposed to be good news,” he said. “But honestly, I don’t know that I feel any better. It affected my whole way of thinking. That stuff changes you.”
Mr. Gonzalez said that his office could not fully reinvestigate many of the 90 cases: Video evidence had often long been lost, and potential witnesses from over a decade ago could not be tracked down.
After charges were brought against Mr. Franco in Manhattan, it was not immediately apparent that the detective also had worked in Brooklyn, Mr. Gonzalez said. The office eventually pulled together a list of cases Mr. Franco was involved in and flagged those that could not have been prosecuted without his accounts, he said.
The concern over officers making false or misleading statements about crimes is not new. Between January 2015 and March 2018, an investigation by The New York Times found more than 25 instances in which judges or prosecutors determined that a central aspect of a New York City police officer’s testimony was likely untrue.
The fallout has echoed the Brooklyn district attorney’s office’s reassessment of dozens of murder cases investigated by Louis Scarcella, a former homicide detective who handled some of the borough’s most notorious crimes, after one of his investigations unraveled. In that instance, however, the office threw out only a handful of cases and said in 2017 that Mr. Scarcella broke no laws.
Other states have confronted similar problems in recent years. In Massachusetts, for example, thousands of low-level drug cases were dropped in 2017 after prosecutors said a state chemist mishandled drug samples and returned positive results on ones she never tested.
Christopher Slobogin, the director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt Law School who has studied false testimony by the police, said the issue is most common in low-level drug cases.
The Police Department fired Mr. Franco, 48, last April. But discipline is often rare.
Major questions first surfaced around Mr. Franco’s record in New York in the summer of 2018, when the Manhattan district attorney’s office launched a review after finding inconsistencies between Mr. Franco’s statements and evidence in certain cases, said Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district attorney.
In one episode on the Lower East Side, a man was arrested in February 2017 after Mr. Franco said he witnessed the man selling drugs inside the lobby of a building. But prosecutors said security video showed the transaction never took place — and Mr. Franco had never even entered the building.
In a similar arrest four months later, Mr. Franco said he saw a woman selling drugs in a building’s vestibule on Madison Street. He had not gone into the vestibule, however, and was too far from the woman to observe any sale, prosecutors said after reviewing security footage.
Both people were serving sentences at state prisons for the crimes when the new evidence was discovered — and both convictions were thrown out by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
In a third case, Mr. Franco said he witnessed a man selling cocaine to another woman. Prosecutors said new video evidence showed the man — who was not in prison at the time, but whose case was also dismissed — had only held open a door for her.
The three people each pleaded guilty. Prosecutors later identified another case with two arrests in which they said evidence showed Mr. Franco had made false statements.
In Brooklyn, Mr. Franco also worked undercover in narcotics, buying drugs and arresting the people who sold them. All but one of the 90 people entered guilty pleas. The district attorney’s office did not find evidence of innocence in its limited investigation, but Mr. Gonzalez and public defenders noted that blameless defendants may take guilty pleas for a host of reasons.
“People understand that when it’s their word against the word of an officer, the system is not designed to give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Maryanne Kaishian, a senior policy counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, which represents several of the cases. “Many people will decide that it’s not worth it to them.”
The steps by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office intensify pressure on district attorneys in other boroughs to re-examine Mr. Franco’s cases. Shortly after joining the department in 2000, Mr. Franco was an officer for several years in the Bronx.
The Bronx district attorney’s office has been reviewing about 150 cases in the borough that Mr. Franco was involved in between 2011 and 2015 to determine if the convictions are still reliable, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the office, said on Tuesday.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
By Michael Z. Muhammad, April 7, 2021new.finalcall.com
Mumia Abu-Jamal, 66, is battling health problems while incarcerated at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. Photo: Final Call File
PHILADELPHIA—Advocates on behalf of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal are not slowing down their efforts in working toward his release.
Social activist and writer for Workers World Betsy Piette told The Final Call this slow walking of Mumia’s appeals process could have only one end result—his death. For that reason, the focus for the movement to free the former Black Panther and journalist is calling for his compassionate release on medical grounds.
According to The Jamal Journal, an online publication, Mumia is suffering from Covid-19, congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and a severe worsening of his chronic debilitating skin condition. His personal physician Dr. Ricardo Alvarez states, his only treatment is freedom.
Mumia, 66, is battling health problems while incarcerated at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. He has served 40 years after being convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was sentenced to death in 1982. His death sentence was overturned, and a life sentence was imposed in 2011. He and his supporters have maintained he is innocent.
Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, during an interview with The Final Call, pointed out a window of opportunity was opened for Mumia’s release in December 2018 when Judge Leon Tucker granted him the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial, and police misconduct that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously rejected from 1998-2012.
Following Judge Tucker’s landmark ruling on some evidence that advocates argued show Mumia’s innocence and entitlement to a new trial—which had been hidden away in a district attorney storeroom—more roadblocks were revealed.
On February 3 of this year Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, touted by many people as a “progressive” again blocked this pathway from the ruling about a new appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. D.A. Krasner, in his brief, denied that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago are “material” and grounds for a new trial.
He argued 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.
“There’s institutional inertia against Mumia, and it goes from the police department through the district attorney up through the court system in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Washington said. “ I also think that Krasner has been getting some bad advice, and he’s made a political calculus that he doesn’t want to grant the relief that Mumia is entitled to. So, in this instance, the status quo is more important than fulfilling his persona as a reformer, as well as being consistent with supposedly the lawyer’s commitment to justice.”
According to Rachel Wolkenstein, a former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, D.A. 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 had never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process,” she said.
“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,” she added.
According to Atty. Wolkenstein 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 Off. 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 officer Faulkner, and that a shooter ran away.
In court filings, Maureen Faulkner, wife of officer Faulkner, asked the Supreme Court to invoke its King’s Bench powers to disqualify D.A. Krasner’s office in the ongoing appeals and direct the state Attorney General’s Office to handle them. She has contended that Krasner’s office has conflicts of interest in defending against Mumia’s appeals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed her petition in December 2020. This action delayed Mumia’s appeal for nearly a year.
She submitted a new request on March 17 with the Pennsylvania Superior Court to intervene, again seeking Krasner’s removal and asking the court to “quash this appeal as untimely” and “for lack of jurisdiction.”
“This is part of a decade-long effort of the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) through Maureen Faulkner to block any relief from Mumia,” observed Mr. Washington.
Ms. Piette states, with Ms. Faulker’s reemergence, it’s hard to determine a time frame when the appeals process will move forward. “It’s the politics of it, and there’s never been justice for Mumia. Pretty much except (Judge) Tucker in 2018. And the one ruling that went in his favor to remove the death sentence and that took 11 years to get resolved,” she added
“That’s what their end game is. The state’s end game is to try to delay this case to the point that he’ll die in prison from medical neglect. The whole movement here is making the demand that the only solution is release. They’re not capable of giving him a fair trial, and they’re not capable of providing him adequate healthcare,” Ms. Piette surmised.
Pam Africa, coordinator for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal, told The Final Call during an interview that she believes his health conditions are the direct result of his unjust imprisonment and inadequate medical care incarcerated brothers and sisters receive.
“Mumia is innocent,” she said. “With all of this new information and delays, there is no way anybody can think that Mumia can have a fair trial,” she said. “The call must be to release Mumia! Release Mumia now!” she added.
“For people who think that you should accept the lesser evil, this is why we are in the condition we are in right now. That’s why the prisons are full of innocent people who are victims of the system. Martin Luther King said silence is a betrayal.”
Plans are underway, said Ms. Africa, to celebrate Mumia’s birthday during the weekend of April 24 with virtual meetings. “We plan a whole weekend of educating people and urging people to stay committed. We are also encouraging people to read The Jamal Journal published online for up-to-date information put out by Mumia and me.”
Our legal system allows for extrajudicial killings by the police without real consequence.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, April 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/07/opinion/us-police-killings-law.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Along with many others, I have long argued that the reason so few police officers are ever charged in their killings of unarmed Black people (and few of those charged are ever convicted) is that our legal system has effectively rendered those killings legal. This is the case regardless of how horrendous the killings are or how much evidence, including video, makes clear what took place.
The defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd raised this very concept Wednesday when questioning Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert who was a witness for the prosecution.
Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, asked if Sergeant Stiger had ever had anything to do with a training called “awful but lawful, or lawful but awful.” He said that he had. Nelson continued his questioning: “The general concept is that sometimes the use of force, it looks really bad, right, and sometimes it may be so, it may be caught on video, right, and it looks bad, right?”
Sergeant Stiger responds, “yes.”
Nelson then says, “But, it is still lawful.”
The officer concludes, “Yes, based on that department’s policies or based on that state’s law.”
This concept seems, on its face, morally depraved: The bar for actions, and in this case use of lethal force, isn’t propriety or decency, but the likelihood of legal exposure and jeopardy.
But the very existence of “awful but lawful” training reminds us that this concept isn’t new.
As Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, and J. Scott Thomson, the chief operating officer of Holtec Security International and former president of the forum, wrote in The New York Times in 2016, “just because the police can legally use deadly force doesn’t always mean they should,” and “The goal is to prevent lawful-but-awful outcomes while increasing officer safety.”
They explained that “the legal standard used in police shootings allows prosecutors and grand juries to conclude that although an officer’s shooting of a suspect may be questionable, it isn’t criminal.” They went on to trace the origins of the standard:
“The standard came from a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor. The justices ruled that an officer’s use of force must be ‘objectively reasonable.’ But the court went on to caution that ‘police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.’”
Police officers operate in the field — and enter courtrooms, if it ever comes to that — with a staggering amount of “blue privilege,” a benefit-of-the-doubt shield of protection that it is incredibly difficult to penetrate. This creates that bizarre legal phenomenon of faultless killings, the taking of life without the taking of responsibility, a Cain and Abel scenario in which blood cries out from the soil. But, in these cases, no one is seriously punished.
The standard implies that officers must be allowed to make mistakes, even deadly ones, because their jobs are dangerous. Policing is one of the few dangerous professions in which people can be killed and written off as collateral damage.
This standard allows callous, wanton behavior, the reckless and willful taking of life. Any action can be excused as a reasonable response to fear.
As the American Bar Association pointed out in February of 2020, the awful but lawful concept creates a “high burden for prosecution of bad police actions.” The group was summarizing the sentiments of a panel of legal experts at an A.B.A. meeting.
One person on the panel, Ronald A. Norwood, a defense lawyer in St. Louis who has served as counsel to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, put it this way: “Officials should not be held liable for bad guesses.”
But these “bad guesses” are not benign. In many cases, they result in someone being killed.
As Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and a former police officer in the Atlanta metropolitan area, told reporters in June about the killing by the police of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, “Would I have shot Rayshard Brooks? My answer is no.’’
But, he continued: “It’s a questionable use of force, but there are many officers who may find this a lawful use of force. So, it’s one of those things we call in law enforcement ‘lawful but awful,’ meaning that the officer could have taken alternative action that did not result in the civilian’s death.’’
Deadly use of force by police officers is highly discretionary, but these police officers are humans who bring to their jobs biases, both conscious and subconscious. Where one person may be shown patience and leniency, another will be rewarded with violence and harm. And, often, all of it is legal.
We have a legal system that has shirked its judicial responsibility, allowing for extrajudicial killings without consequence — curbside capital sentences. In this system it is too often the case that police officers are judge, jury and executioner.
With a record 20,000 migrant children in shelters and detention facilities, many parents have waited weeks to learn what happened to their children after they crossed the border.
By Miriam Jordan, April 9, 2021
Maria Ana Mendez, left, received a phone call from Cindy when she arrived in the United States from Guatemala, but then waited weeks to hear her voice again. They were reunited in San Diego this week. Credit...Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times
Migrant children last month in a pod at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas, the main detention center for unaccompanied children in the Rio Grande Valley. Credit...Pool photo by Dario Lopez-Mills
When Maria Ana Mendez left Honduras a decade ago to earn money in the United States, her daughter Cindy was still in pigtails and playing with dolls.
But settled now with a job and an apartment in upstate New York, Ms. Mendez was ready to bring Cindy to live with her. Because she is still undocumented and could not legally bring her into the country, she paid a guide $8,000 in February to take Cindy, now 16, across thousands of miles to the doorstep of the United States.
Three weeks later, Ms. Mendez heard from her daughter for the first time: She had crossed the Rio Grande on a raft and was being held in a temporary U.S. border camp in Donna, Texas. She had not showered in five days, and was sleeping on the ground. She did not feel well.
Days without news turned into weeks of anguish as Ms. Mendez made repeated phone calls to a U.S. government hotline to learn her daughter’s whereabouts. On April 3, Cindy was able to call — from a hospital in San Diego. She was “very sick” with Covid-19, she told her mother.
“I can’t take this anymore,” said Ms. Mendez, who booked a flight to San Diego.
A surge of arrivals on the border has put nearly 20,000 migrant children in government custody — the largest number in recent memory — creating chaos and confusion as immigration authorities scramble to care for them, contact their parents and process them for release.
The Biden administration has rushed to open emergency intake sites at convention centers in San Diego and Dallas, a coliseum and expo center in San Antonio, a former oil camp in Midland, Texas, and at the Army base at Fort Bliss, Texas. Other sites, including a convention center in Long Beach, Calif., are expected to accommodate children soon.
But the government is still struggling to bring in people to staff them, and immigrant parents across the country, who often have no idea what happened to their children after they entered the United States, are growing increasingly desperate.
Some children have gone weeks or longer without being able to contact their parents.
In Austin, Texas, a Honduran woman is waiting for news of her two children, 6 and 9, who were brought to the border in March by a family member but then separated from the adult relative and taken to an unknown destination.
A Honduran father said he had been told that his 14-year-old son, who arrived in March, is one of 2,000 migrant boys being housed at the convention center in Dallas. But he has yet to speak with him.
A Guatemalan woman living in Iowa City has filled out two packages of paperwork to try to reunite with her 16-year-old sister, who has been in government custody since crossing the border on March 4. She recently learned that the teenager had been moved from a shelter in Texas to another in Pennsylvania.
“I am very worried about her,” said the woman, Juana Cuyuch Brito, 32. “I don’t know why they transferred her or what is going on.”
The problem appears to be one of sheer numbers, as the new administration struggles to hire enough people to staff the temporary shelters, make contact with parents and verify that children can be safely released to them.
Administration officials say they are doing the best they can to handle the latest rush to the border, trying to provide safe housing and secure placements for children who have already faced substantial dangers traveling through Mexico and crossing the border, often with no adult guardian.
“I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” Mr. Biden said last month. “Don’t leave your town or city or community.”
Yet hundreds of children continue to be intercepted and transported to processing centers each day. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, border facilities were operating at 743 percent capacity last month. A tent structure in Donna was at 1,707 percent capacity.
About half the children arriving at the border are coming to reunify with a parent, like Ms. Mendez, who has been residing in the United States for many years.
Often the children were raised by grandmothers and other close relatives who are now aging and can no longer care for them. Like their parents, many are teenagers who do not see a future in their home countries.
Because the parents lack legal status or have asylum cases stuck in immigration court backlogs, most are unable to sponsor their children to immigrate legally to the United States; they resort to smuggling networks to transport them.
Nearly 16,500 migrant teenagers and children who crossed the border without a parent are being housed in Department of Health and Human Services facilities until they have met the requirements for release. Roughly 4,000 more are stranded in Border Patrol stations waiting for beds in those shelters to open.
The emergency facilities provide clean sleeping quarters, meals, toiletries, laundry and access to medical care, including coronavirus screening. Services are provided by a combination of contractors and federal staff.
But there is still a severe shortage of case managers to handle the bureaucracy. It is these social workers who contact parents and request documents to start the process of releasing their children to them.
Once a parent has submitted the paperwork and passed a background check, the child’s placement must be approved by a specially designated officer, to ensure that a child will be safe.
The dearth of staff at every level, according to child-welfare experts, is one of the main reasons that, on average, only about 300 minors a day are being released, creating a frantic race for new bed space as more children cross the border.
Leecia Welch, a lawyer whose team interviewed about 20 children in several intake facilities in Texas on March 29 and 30, said none of the children had been assigned a case manager by that time.
The lawyers found that many children were waiting several weeks before being permitted to speak with family members.
“What these kids want first and foremost is to be reunited with their families,” Ms. Welch said. “They were desperate to hear their parents’ voices.”
One child she interviewed in Dallas, she said, teared up as he told her that he had gone three months without contact with his family and that he had made his first call the day before.
Many parents already had undergone weeks of anxiety as their children undertook the dangerous journey through Mexico, often in the hands of smugglers. Customs and Border Protection officials this week released a video of a sobbing 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy who had been found wandering in a remote area of Texas after he was abandoned by the group he was traveling with.
“The inhumane way smugglers abuse children while profiting off parents’ desperation is criminal and morally reprehensible,” the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, said in a statement in March. “Just this month, a young girl died by drowning, a 6-month-old was thrown into the river, and two young children were dropped from a wall and left in the desert alone.”
Since arriving in the United States a decade ago, Ms. Mendez, 42, has juggled jobs as a housekeeper, a packer at a seafood processing plant and a chef’s assistant at a diner, sending $200 to $300 every two weeks back to her family.
Last year, Ms. Mendez watched her daughter graduate from high school by video. Cindy wanted to fulfill her dream of becoming a computer programmer, and the time to do that was now, she said.
As she headed north toward the border, Cindy checked in with her mother every few days.
To prepare for her arrival, Ms. Mendez painted her room pink, furnishing it with a new bed and a colorful princess spread. She hung helium balloons to make it festive.
Cindy reached Texas in early March and was intercepted by the Border Patrol, which took her to a processing center.
After an initial phone call from her daughter, Ms. Mendez waited anxiously for more news.
But weeks went by, and every time Ms. Mendez phoned a call center at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for sheltering migrant children, she heard that her daughter’s case was “pending.”
“I have no idea where my daughter is,” Ms. Mendez said in an interview on March 26. “No one is telling me anything at all.”
The agency has not responded to questions about staffing and reunification procedures, though it has said generally that children are being carefully accounted for and put in touch with their parents as quickly as possible. Rushing the process risks the possibility of releasing children into unsafe conditions, officials say.
When Ms. Mendez could learn nothing of her daughter’s whereabouts, she contacted an immigration lawyer, Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, who filed a complaint with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services. The handling of Cindy’s case, it said, represented a “gross deviation” from the Biden administration’s stated policy of reuniting unaccompanied minors with their parents as swiftly as possible.
“We fear that the child has either been lost or unaccounted for by the agency,” the letter concluded.
Then, last Saturday, Ms. Mendez’s cellphone buzzed. It was Cindy.
“Mami, I am in the hospital in San Diego. I have Covid,” she told her mother, her voice feeble.
She said that she had been staying at the convention center in San Diego before she began feeling very sick and was transferred by ambulance to the hospital.
“How could they leave her alone in the hospital and not advise me?” Ms. Mendez said.
It took a day before she would receive an update about her child’s condition. Ms. Lincoln-Goldfinch called the hospital, but a charge nurse and social worker initially refused to release any information, referring her to the Border Patrol, she said.
In an interview from the hospital on Monday, Cindy said she had been isolating in a room at the convention center, which holds about 1,400 girls, with 20 others who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Finally, on Tuesday, Ms. Mendez learned that Cindy had recovered from her illness and would be discharged soon. The government had approved her release from custody, she was told.
Ms. Mendez immediately flew to San Diego, and went straight from the airport to the convention center late on Wednesday.
Mother and daughter emerged 15 minutes later, holding each other in tears.
A pulmonologist told jurors that Derek Chauvin pressed 86.9 pounds onto the neck of George Floyd, who tried to push himself off the pavement with his fingertips.
By Shaila Dewan, Published April 8, 2021, Updated April 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/us/george-floyd-breath-oxygen.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
MINNEAPOLIS — It was a video everyone in the courtroom has been shown repeatedly, of George Floyd facedown on the street with Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck. But this time, it was slowed down so the jury could see the briefest widening of Mr. Floyd’s eyes — what the expert witness on the stand on Thursday said was his last conscious moment.
“One second he’s alive, and one second he’s no longer,” said the witness, Dr. Martin Tobin, adding, “That’s the moment the life goes out of his body.”
Dr. Tobin, a pulmonologist who specializes in the mechanics of breathing, presented the prosecution’s first extended testimony on a central question in the murder trial of Mr. Chauvin: how George Floyd died. “You’re seeing here fatal injury to the brain from a lack of oxygen,” Dr. Tobin said.
Dr. Tobin said that Mr. Chauvin and other police officers had restricted Mr. Floyd’s breathing by flattening his rib cage against the pavement and pushing his cuffed hands into his torso, and by the placement of Mr. Chauvin’s knees on his neck and back.
The doctor pinpointed the moment he said Mr. Floyd had shown signs of a brain injury, four minutes before Mr. Chauvin lifted his knee from his body.
After two days of sometimes tedious law enforcement testimony on procedures and policy, jurors appeared to be riveted by Dr. Tobin’s ability to break down complex physiological concepts, at times scribbling notes in unison.
Leaning into the microphone, tie slightly askew, Dr. Tobin used his hands and elbows to demonstrate how people breathe. He gave anatomy lessons by asking jurors to palpate their own necks, and showed an artist’s rendering of how three officers, including Mr. Chauvin, had been positioned on Mr. Floyd.
He delivered his opinions without a shred of ambivalence, noting that his conclusions were based on “very precise” scientific knowledge like the level of oxygen when someone loses consciousness.
Dr. Tobin said he had watched portions of the video evidence hundreds of times. He had calculated what he said was the exact amount of weight Mr. Chauvin had placed on Mr. Floyd’s neck (86.9 pounds), clocked Mr. Floyd’s respiratory rate and marked the instant he took his final breath: 8:25:15 p.m.
He reassured jurors that many of the medical terms they have heard during the trial — hypoxia, asphyxia, anoxia — all mean essentially the same thing, “a drastically low level of oxygen.”
His testimony may help prosecutors overcome the fact that the official autopsy report did not use the word “asphyxia,” and seemed to make irrelevant the exact position of Mr. Chauvin’s knees, which has come up several times.
“I don’t think I’ve seen an expert witness as effective as this,” said Mary Moriarty, the former chief public defender of Hennepin County, who has been following the televised trial. “He appears to be the world’s foremost expert on this, and he explained everything in English, in layman’s terms.”
The jury has heard repeatedly that police officers are taught that restraining people facedown is dangerous. Dr. Tobin walked the jury through exactly why, explaining first that simply being in the prone position reduces lung capacity.
On top of that, a knee on the neck compressed Mr. Floyd’s airway, he said, and the weight on his back alone made it three times harder than normal to breathe.
Dr. Tobin discounted the oft-repeated adage that someone who can talk can breathe, calling it “a very dangerous mantra to have out there.”
It is technically true, he said, but “it gives you an enormous false sense of security.”
“Certainly at the moment that you are speaking you are breathing,” he continued, “but it doesn’t tell you that you’re going to be breathing five seconds later.”
Using video stills, Dr. Tobin showed the efforts that Mr. Floyd had made to free his torso enough to breathe, trying to use his shoulder, his fingertips and even his face, smashed flat against the pavement, as leverage against the weight of Mr. Chauvin.
He pointed out the toe of Mr. Chauvin’s boot lifting off the pavement, and the telltale kick of Mr. Floyd’s legs that, he said, indicated that he had suffered a brain injury 5 minutes and 3 seconds after Mr. Chauvin first placed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.
The prosecution used Dr. Tobin to pre-emptively poke holes in the defense’s argument that Mr. Floyd’s death was caused by his use of fentanyl, underlying heart disease and other physical ailments.
“A healthy person subjected to what Mr. Floyd was subjected to would have died as a result,” Dr. Tobin said.
Dr. Tobin was born in rural Ireland, went to medical school in Dublin and spoke with a soft Irish lilt. He is a physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Edward Hines Jr. V.A. Hospital and Loyola University Medical Center in the Chicago area and has been practicing for more than 40 years, but this was his first time testifying in a criminal case.
He said that he had testified numerous times in medical malpractice cases, and that he had waived his usual fee of $500 an hour for the Chauvin trial.
Experts say that working for free could cut two ways, either impressing the jury or suggesting that the witness was biased in favor of one side. Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, tried to highlight the latter possibility. “You agreed to waive your hourly rate for this time?” he asked. “You felt it was an important case, right?”
Dr. Tobin disputed a defense assertion that an elevated level of carbon dioxide found in Mr. Floyd’s blood was the result of fentanyl use, attributing it instead to the length of time he was not breathing before he was given artificial breaths in an ambulance.
He said that if fentanyl had been having a significant effect, Mr. Floyd’s respiratory rate would have been slower than normal, and that if Mr. Floyd’s heart disease had been severe, it would have been more rapid. Instead, the rate was normal, he said.
Mr. Nelson pushed back, continuing to press his argument that Mr. Floyd’s death might have been an overdose.
He asked if Mr. Floyd’s breathing may have been inhibited if he had taken fentanyl in the moments before police officers brought him to the ground. Dr. Tobin agreed that it could have been but said that Mr. Floyd had never gone into a coma, as he would have done if he were overdosing.
The prosecution called to the stand two more witnesses on Thursday who undermined the claim that Mr. Floyd died of an overdose. Daniel Isenschmid, a forensic toxicologist at N.M.S. Labs in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Floyd’s blood was tested, said the level of fentanyl in his system was far from being obviously fatal. He said it was common for intoxicated drivers who had used fentanyl and survived to have an even higher level of the drug than was found in Mr. Floyd’s blood.
Dr. William Smock, the police surgeon for the Louisville Metro Police Department and a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said Mr. Floyd would have had a much more depressed disposition if he were experiencing a fentanyl overdose. “He’s breathing. He’s talking. He’s not snoring,” Dr. Smock said.
“He is saying, ‘Please, please get off of me. I want to breathe. I can’t breathe.’ That is not a fentanyl overdose. That is somebody begging to breathe.”
Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Tim Arango from Minneapolis, John Eligon from Kansas City, Mo., and Sheri Fink and Haley Willis from New York.
The company’s victory deals a crushing blow to organized labor, which had hoped the time was ripe to start making inroads.
By Karen Weise and Michael Corkery, April 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/09/technology/amazon-defeats-union.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
Amazon appeared to beat back the most significant labor drive in its history on Friday, when an initial tally showed that workers at its giant warehouse in Alabama had voted decisively against forming a union.
Workers cast at least 1,608 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to defeat the effort, as ballots in favor of a union trailed at 696, according to a preliminary count. Hundreds of votes remained to be tallied, but are not enough to bridge Amazon’s margin of victory. Once the count is complete, the results will still need to be certified by federal officials.
The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., dealt a crushing blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.
Amazon, which has repeatedly quashed labor activism, had appeared vulnerable as it faced increasing scrutiny in Washington and around the world for its market power and influence. President Biden signaled support for the union effort, as did Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. The pandemic, which drove millions of people to shop online, also spotlighted the plight of essential workers and raised questions about Amazon’s ability to keep those employees safe.
But in an aggressive campaign, the company argued that its workers had access to rewarding jobs without needing to involve a union. The victory leaves Amazon free to handle employees on its own terms, as it has gone on a hiring spree and expanded its work force to more than 1.3 million people.
Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who researches the history of technology companies, said Amazon’s message that it offered good jobs with good wages had prevailed over the criticisms by the union and its supporters. The outcome, she said, “reads as a vindication.”
She added that while it was just one warehouse, the election had garnered so much attention that it had become a “bellwether.” Amazon’s victory was likely to cause organized labor to think that “maybe this isn’t worth trying in other places,” Ms. O’Mara said.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the drive, blamed its defeat on what it said were Amazon’s anti-union tactics before and during the voting, which was conducted from early February through the end of last month.
“Our system is broken,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president. “Amazon took full advantage of that, and we will be calling on the labor board to hold Amazon accountable for its illegal and egregious behavior during the campaign.”
Amazon did not immediately have a comment.
A total of 3,215 ballots, or 55 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse, were cast in the election. A majority of votes, or 1,608, was needed to win. About 500 ballots were contested, largely by Amazon, the union said. Those ballots were not counted.
Unofficial Tally of Amazon Warehouse Unionization
Votes: 738-Yes; 1,798-No.
A total of 3,215 ballots were cast, 1.608 votes was needed to win.
William and Lavonette Stokes, who started work at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how it could improve their working conditions. Amazon already provides good benefits, relatively high pay that starts at $15 an hour and opportunities to advance, said the couple, who have five children.
“Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1,” Ms. Stokes, 52, said. She added that she had been turned off by how organizers tried to cast the union drive as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement because most of the workers are Black.
“This was not an African-American issue,’’ said Ms. Stokes, who is Black. “I feel you can work there comfortably without being harassed.”
The vote could lead to a rethinking of strategy inside the labor movement.
For years, union organizers have tried to leverage growing concerns about low-wage workers to break into Amazon. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union had organized around critical themes of supporting Black essential workers in the pandemic. The union had estimated that 85 percent of the workers at the Bessemer warehouse were Black.
The inability to organize the warehouse also follows decades of unsuccessful and costly attempts to form unions at Walmart, the only American company that employs more people than Amazon. The repeated failures at two huge companies may push labor organizers to focus more on backing national policies, such as a higher federal minimum wage, than unionizing individual workplaces.
The Amazon warehouse, on the outskirts of Birmingham, opened a year ago, just as the pandemic took hold. It was part of a major expansion at the company that accelerated during the pandemic. Last year, Amazon grew by more than 400,000 employees in the United States, where it now has almost a million workers. Warehouse workers typically assemble and box up orders of items for customers.
The unionization effort came together quickly, especially for one aimed at such a large target. A small group of workers at the building in Bessemer approached the local branch of the retail workers’ union last summer. They were frustrated with how Amazon constantly monitored every second of their workday through technology and felt that their managers were not willing to listen to their complaints.
Organizers got at least 2,000 workers to sign cards saying they wanted an election, enough for the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts union elections, to approve a vote.
The election was conducted by mail, a concession to the pandemic. Instead of holding an election over just a few days, workers had more than a month to complete and mail in their ballots, which were due on March 29.
Amazon’s public campaign focused on what the company already provided in benefits and the $15 minimum wage, which is twice the Alabama minimum. Internally it stressed that workers did not need to pay for union membership to have a great job. The company’s slogan — “Do it without dues” — was pushed to workers in text messages, mandatory meetings and signs in bathroom stalls.
The union had complained that those tactics showed how companies like Amazon have an advantage because they can hold mandatory anti-union meetings and have access to workers in the warehouse to persuade them to vote no. In 2018, the union also tried and failed to make inroads at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island.
Ms. O’Mara said the very complaints that the union had surfaced about job stability and security made organizing workers harder. That’s because the transience of warehousing jobs “works against building solidarity and a willingness to invest in that employer and that job,” she said.
Many labor leaders have said unionizing Amazon was critical to reversing the long-term decline in union membership, which has fallen to just over 6 percent of the private sector from the upper teens in the early 1980s.
They argued that Amazon had power over millions of workers across the industries in which it operated. The company’s dominance, they said, forced competitors to adopt its labor practices, which put a priority on efficiency.
“Amazon is transforming industries one after another,” Mr. Appelbaum, the president of the retail workers union, said in an interview in 2019. “Amazon’s vision of the world is not the vision we want or can tolerate.” He has frequently referred to the effort to unionize Amazon as a fight over “the future of work.”
Some union leaders said the campaign in Bessemer would advance labor’s goals even if it ended in a loss.
The election generated “a ton of coverage and discussion, and people all over this country are hearing that unions are the solution,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants. “We’ve been able to have a real discussion about what the union actually does.”
Noam Scheiber and Sophia June contributed reporting.
Investigators said that Michael Reinoehl probably opened fire before officers killed him last year. But some key evidence raises questions about that conclusion.
By Mike Baker and Evan Hill, April 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/us/michael-reinoehl-killing-investigation.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
SEATTLE — When a U.S. Marshals task force killed a self-described antifa activist in Washington State in September, the Trump administration applauded the removal of a “violent agitator” who was suspected of murder. Last week, local investigators concluded a monthslong homicide inquiry with the announcement that the activist, Michael Reinoehl, had most likely fired at authorities first, effectively justifying the shooting.
But a review of investigation documents obtained by The New York Times suggests that investigators for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office discounted key pieces of contradicting evidence that indicate Mr. Reinoehl may never have fired or pointed a gun.
While investigators found a spent bullet casing in the back seat of Mr. Reinoehl’s car, and pointed to that as evidence he probably fired his weapon, the handgun they recovered from Mr. Reinoehl had a full clip, according to multiple photos compiled by Thurston County authorities showing Mr. Reinoehl’s handgun. The gun was found in his pocket.
The federally organized task force, made up primarily of local law enforcement officers from Washington, had been seeking to arrest Mr. Reinoehl for the Aug. 29 shooting death of a supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer during the summer’s raucous street protests over race and policing. The arrest operation quickly erupted into gunfire, and Mr. Reinoehl died in the street near his car in a residential neighborhood in Lacey, Wash.
The sheriff’s office in Thurston County, where the shooting occurred, was not part of the task force.
In announcing its conclusions, the sheriff’s office wrote that “witness statements indicate there was an exchange of gunfire, which was initiated by Reinoehl from inside his vehicle.” A spokesman, Lt. Cameron Simper, said that while investigators could not conclude for certainty that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon, he said it was “highly likely.”
But one of the witnesses that Thurston County investigators relied on to reach their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his gun was an 8-year-old boy. His father, Garrett Louis, who had rushed to his son’s side at the time of the shooting, has consistently said he believed that officers opened fire first without shouting any warnings.
Of the two other witnesses who investigators cited to support the conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, one did not see it happen and the other was not sure.
Fred Langer, a lawyer representing Mr. Reinoehl’s family, said the law enforcement conclusions defy common sense.
“They are covering for themselves,” Mr. Langer said. “The physical evidence doesn’t support what they are saying.”
Mr. Reinoehl had been a consistent fixture at racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., last summer, carrying a gun as a volunteer security officer among the protesters and writing online that the protests were part of a war with the potential to “fix everything.” On Aug. 29, when a caravan of Trump supporters drove into downtown Portland, clashing with left-wing activists, Mr. Reinoehl was on the streets.
Video footage shot by bystanders appears to show that Mr. Reinoehl approached Aaron J. Danielson, the Patriot Prayer supporter, as Mr. Danielson walked through the area with a can of bear repellent and an expandable baton. Mr. Reinoehl appears to have shot Mr. Danielson, killing him, before running into the night. He later claimed in an interview with Vice News that he had fired in self-defense.
Five days after the shooting, Portland police issued a warrant for Mr. Reinoehl’s arrest on suspicion of murder. The Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force, whose local law enforcement officers were deputized as federal marshals, traced Mr. Reinoehl’s path up to Washington State and prepared a plan to take him into custody.
The investigation by Thurston County investigators that was obtained by The Times provided key new details, including witness statements, from their monthslong inquiry into the events preceding Mr. Reinoehl’s death.
Officers believed that Mr. Reinoehl had a .380-caliber handgun, an AR-style rifle and a shotgun, according to the accounts they gave to investigators. They said they had received information — apparently from an informant — that Mr. Reinoehl had said he would not be taken alive. Officers described their concern that Mr. Reinoehl was associated with “antifa,” the loose network of activists who have mobilized to confront far-right groups and protest law enforcement violence.
On Sept. 3, the officers took up surveillance positions near the apartment where Mr. Reinoehl was staying, according to their statements. Once on the scene, their chosen radio frequency only worked for a few officers, leaving the others unable to communicate.
Just before 7 p.m., the team watched as Mr. Reinoehl exited the apartment and headed toward his vehicle. Sgt. Erik Clarkson of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, a senior officer on the scene, told the others “to let him drive if no one was close enough to interdict him,” but his command was not heard as a result of the radio problem, according to his statement.
Officer Michael Merrill of the Lakewood Police Department decided to move in, and gunned his Ford Escape toward Mr. Reinoehl’s parked Volkswagen Jetta.
No video has emerged to show what transpired next, and a murky mix of sometimes contradictory information has been used to explain it. None of the officers wore a body camera, nor were cameras mounted on their vehicles. One of the officers on the scene, a deputy U.S. marshal named Ryan Kimmel who did not fire his weapon, declined to provide a statement during the investigation.
James Oleole, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy in the passenger seat of Officer Merrill’s Ford Escape, said that as law enforcement vehicles pulled up and officers announced themselves, Mr. Reinoehl was in the driver’s seat of his Jetta and made moves with his arms “consistent with the moves that someone makes when they are attempting to grab a gun they have on their person.”
Although he did not see a gun, Deputy Oleole said, he began firing his AR-15 rifle through his own windshield at Mr. Reinoehl. Officer Merrill, thinking the glass shards from the windshield meant he was under fire, exited the Ford Escape, saw what he believed was Mr. Reinoehl reaching for a gun, and also opened fire. A third officer, also from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, had followed the others in an S.U.V. and blocked Mr. Reinoehl’s Jetta from an angle. Also believing that Mr. Reinoehl was reaching for a gun, he opened fire with his 9-millimeter handgun.
As the officers unleashed a hail of bullets, a total of 40 in all, Mr. Reinoehl exited the Jetta, shielding himself, and ran for cover behind a truck parked behind him. The three officers reported that he was continuously reaching around his waistband or pocket. A Washington State Department of Corrections officer, who had arrived in a third vehicle, saw Mr. Reinoehl round the rear of the truck and begin to pull “a small dark item” from his pocket. That officer also fired, and Mr. Reinoehl fell.
Although no officer said Mr. Reinoehl shot at them, and only one described him raising something that might have been a gun, investigators concluded that Mr. Reinoehl had most likely fired a shot — pointing to a spent shell casing they found in the back seat of the Jetta that matched the .380-caliber handgun found in his pocket.
Investigators never found a bullet matching it amid the dozens sprayed around the scene, and all of the gunshots that pierced the Jetta’s front windshield were determined to be incoming rounds fired by officers. Lieutenant Simper of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said it was possible that Mr. Reinoehl fired through an open passenger-side window.
The final report also does not address the fact that the handgun’s six-round clip was still full when officers recovered it. Lieutenant Simper said it was possible that Mr. Reinoehl had loaded an extra round in the chamber before firing and that the gun had malfunctioned and failed to load a round from the clip after he took a shot.
To reach their conclusion that Mr. Reinoehl fired his gun, investigators also cited the accounts of three witnesses. One of them, Chad Smith, had initially told journalists that he saw Mr. Reinoehl shooting at officers but later said he did not see Mr. Reinoehl shooting. He reported to investigators that he believed that Mr. Reinoehl shot first because the first shot he heard sounded less powerful than later ones.
Another witness told investigators he believed there was an exchange of gunfire. The man, who asked not to be identified publicly, said in an interview on Friday that he could not be sure Mr. Reinoehl had fired a weapon.
Mr. Louis’s 8-year-old son told officers that Mr. Reinoehl was shooting at the agents. But when asked what kind of gun Mr. Reinoehl fired, he described it as “big” and “two-handed,” a description that did not match Mr. Reinoehl’s pocket-size handgun.
Mr. Louis said his children were taught that police officers were “heroes” but that the investigator who interviewed his son had phrased his questions in a way that prompted the boy to say that Mr. Reinoehl had fired his weapon.
“He initially told me for the first 24 hours that he didn’t know that guy had a weapon,” he said.
Mr. Clark oversaw the drafting of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and went on to defend both the disadvantaged and the unpopular.
By Douglas Martin, April 10, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/10/us/politics/ramsey-clark-dead.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Politics
Ramsey Clark in 2012. As attorney general, he led the way on desegregation; as a lawyer, he strove to resolve international conflicts and defended the infamous. Credit...Dennis Darling
Ramsey Clark, who championed civil rights and liberties as attorney general in the Johnson administration, then devoted much of the rest of his life to defending unpopular causes and infamous people, including Saddam Hussein and others accused of war crimes, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan He was 93.
His niece Sharon Welch announced the death.
In becoming the nation’s top law enforcement official, Mr. Clark was part of an extraordinary father-and-son trade-off in the federal halls of power. His appointment prompted his father, Justice Tom C. Clark, to resign from the United States Supreme Court to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest involving cases in which the federal government might come before that bench.
To fill Justice Clark’s seat, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court.
Mr. Clark, a tall, rangy man who shunned a government limousine in favor of his own beat-up Oldsmobile, set an ambitiously liberal course as attorney general. Days after taking office, he filed the first lawsuit to force a school district — Dale County, Ala. — to desegregate or else lose its federal school aid. He went on to file the first voting rights and school desegregation suits in the North.
Under the limited laws then available, Mr. Clark sued to prevent employment discrimination. He oversaw the drafting of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968 — better known as the Fair Housing Act — which addressed housing discrimination. He sued to prevent discrimination in employment.
He also ordered a moratorium on federal executions and prison construction; banned wiretaps in criminal cases; and refused to enforce a law that was intended to countermand the Supreme Court’s restrictions on the questioning of criminal suspects under the so-called Miranda law.
Mr. Clark became such a liberal lightning rod that Richard M. Nixon, in his 1968 presidential campaign, repeatedly won applause by vowing to fire him. Indeed, Nixon had made him such an issue in the campaign that President Johnson blamed Mr. Clark, with whom he had had an almost fatherly relationship, for Nixon’s slim victory over the Democratic candidate, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.
After the election, Johnson stopped speaking to Mr. Clark and did not invite him to his final cabinet luncheon.
With Nixon in the White House, Mr. Clark went into private legal practice and soon devoted more and more of his time to representing the disadvantaged and the unpopular, including Alaskan Natives, war resisters, rioters at the Attica prison in New York State and Lyndon LaRouche, the perennial presidential candidate and conspiracy theorist.
He went beyond lawyering. In 1972, with the war in Vietnam dragging on, Mr. Clark met with Communist officials in Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and publicly criticized American conduct of the war. That began a pattern: In 1980, months after Iranian revolutionaries had attacked the United States Embassy in Tehran and taken Americans hostage, he went to that city with nine other Americans, in violation of a travel ban, to help resolve the crisis and participate in a conference in which he criticized the United States for having supported Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi before he was deposed.
Six years later he met with Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya and denounced United States airstrikes against that country.
In November 1990, as the United States prepared for the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Clark, who had criticized the American deployment of forces in the gulf, consulted with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The next year he filed a complaint with the International War Crimes Tribunal accusing President George Bush of war crimes.
In 2011, he condemned NATO’s bombing campaign against Qaddafi’s government. In 2013, he said Iran had no intention of building a nuclear bomb and denounced sanctions against that country. Later, he protested lethal attacks by unmanned American drone aircraft on other nations.
Criticized in Turn
Mr. Clark defended these trips and these statements, saying that a citizen’s “highest obligation” was to speak up when his government had violated its own principles and “not point the finger at someone else.”
Saying that everybody deserves the best defense counsel, Mr. Clark lent his legal talents to Hussein as well as Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslavian president accused of war crimes; a Rwandan pastor accused of abetting a massacre; the former boss of a Nazi concentration camp; and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
His critics contended that he was in effect supporting the forces of evil, not the standards of justice. John B. Judis wrote in The New Republic in 1991 that Mr. Clark had “turned into a legal 911 for a tawdry collection of accused terrorists and neo- or ex-Nazis” and that he had “gone far beyond representing them in court.”
Nevertheless, in 2008, the United Nations General Assembly awarded Mr. Clark its Prize in the Field of Human Rights, which it gives every five years to human rights defenders. The U.N. commended him for speaking out against abuses by the United States in its campaign against terrorism. Past recipients included Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
William Ramsey Clark was born on Dec. 18, 1927, in Dallas to Judge Clark and Mary (Ramsey) Clark, whose father was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court and head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. (She lived to 100, dying in 2002.) Ramsey spent his early years in Los Angeles and later remembered becoming fiercely opposed to capital punishment in the fifth or sixth grade.
Mr. Clark served in the Marines as a courier in Europe in World War II and graduated from the University of Texas. He earned a law degree and a master’s in history from the University of Chicago.
In 1949, he married Georgia Welch, a classmate at Texas. (She also earned a master’s, in political science, at Chicago.) They had two children, Ronda Kathleen Clark and Thomas Campbell Clark I. Mrs. Clark died in 2010. Their son died in 2014.
Ronda Clark was born deaf, epileptic and profoundly intellectually disabled, and Mr. Clark cited her many times as an inspiration for his humanitarian efforts.
“Ronda is our great joy,” he said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News in 1996. “But more than that, she’s a great teacher. She has shown us the importance of patience, of discovery and love.”
His daughter survives him, as do a sister, Mimi Gronlund, and three granddaughters.
Beginning in 1951 and for the next decade, Mr. Clark worked alongside cousins and uncles in a Dallas law firm. He lost only one case, and helped form the city’s first legal aid society. In 1960, he worked on the presidential campaign of Senator John F. Kennedy, who, after he was elected, named him an assistant attorney general on the recommendation of Johnson, the new vice president and a longtime friend of the Clarks’.
Envoy to the Deep South
At the Justice Department, Mr. Clark rode herd over litigation concerning preservation of natural resources. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy repeatedly sent him to the South to be a point man in the civil rights struggle there, not least because of his Texas drawl. Mr. Kennedy called him “the preacher” because of his opposition to Mr. Kennedy’s aggressive use of wiretaps to catch mobsters.
In 1965, Mr. Clark was named deputy attorney general, the No. 2 job in the Justice Department under Attorney General Nicholas deB. Katzenbach. In that post, Mr. Clark was the chief federal government officer present at the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march in 1965. That same year he was appointed chairman of a task force that investigated urban unrest after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. He helped draft the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
He was named acting attorney general in October 1966, after Mr. Katzenbach left the Justice Department to be an under secretary of state. He was officially named attorney general the following March.
The closest historical correlate to his father’s resignation from the Supreme Court to make way for him was when Charles Evans Hughes was appointed chief justice in 1930. His son, Charles Jr., then resigned as solicitor general, the lawyer who represents the federal government before the court.
As the Vietnam War came to dominate the Johnson administration, Mr. Clark later said, the president was well aware of his opposition to it and expelled him from the National Security Council, where attorneys general often sit.
But at other times Mr. Clark seemed to support the war. In 1967, he told the president that antiwar protesters had been infiltrated by Communists, the historian Robert Dallek wrote in 1998 in “Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973.” Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote in his memoirs that he had sat next to Mr. Clark in cabinet meetings for years and had never heard him criticize the war.
As late as 1968, while campaigning for Johnson in Wisconsin — before the president stunned the country by announcing that he would not seek the Democratic nomination again — Mr. Clark shouted at protesters, telling them that they should take their grievances to Hanoi.
That same year, in Boston, he began the prosecution of five antiwar activists, charging the famed pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr. and three other men with conspiring to undermine selective service laws. Four of the so-called Boston Five were convicted, but two of the convictions were overturned on appeal. The remaining defendants, Mr. Coffin and the author Mitchell Goodman, were ordered retried, but the government dropped the case.
A Sense of Guilt?
Some have postulated that Mr. Clark’s later radicalism grew out of a sense of guilt over this prosecution.
“Standing by, being attorney general during the Vietnam War without resigning, is not a particularly heroic position to have taken,” Melvin Wulf, Mr. Clark’s former law partner, said in an interview with The New York Observer in 2005. He wondered aloud if Mr. Clark’s more recent, controversial actions represented “atonement.”
In 2003, in the magazine Legal Affairs, David McReynolds, a longtime member of the War Resisters League, said he believed that Mr. Clark had been “haunted” by the prosecution of the Boston Five.
Three years after that prosecution, Mr. Clark defended the Harrisburg Seven, antiwar activists led by the Rev. Philip Berrigan, the radical Roman Catholic priest. They were charged with 23 counts of conspiracy, including plotting to kidnap Henry A. Kissinger, then the national security adviser.
The prosecution took five weeks to present its case. Mr. Clark, arguing for the defense this time, took just minutes to make his.
“Your honor, the defendants shall always seek peace,” he said. “They continue to proclaim their innocence. The defense rests.”
The jury deliberated for 59 hours before declaring itself hung. The entire case was later thrown out by a federal appeals court.
Mr. Clark became an office seeker in 1974, when, as a Democrat, he tried to unseat Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, a Republican. Holding to his principled positions, Mr. Clark often told voters what they did not want to hear. He advocated gun control legislation in speeches to hunters and told defense industry workers that their plants should be closed. He lost convincingly. He ran again for the Senate in 1976 but came in third in the Democratic primary behind Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the nominee, and Representative Bella Abzug.
Mr. Clark was the author or co-author of several books, including “The Fire This Time: U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf” (1992) and “The Torturer in the Mirror” (2010), with Thomas Ehrlich Reifer and Haifa Zangana.
He was also one of the most quotable public figures of his generation, many of his pronouncements tending toward aphorism:
· “The measure of your quality as a public person, as a citizen, is the gap between what you do and what you say.”
· “There are few better measures of the concern a society has for its individual members and its own well being than the way it handles criminals.”
· “A great many people in this country are worried about law-and-order. And a great many people are worried about justice. But one thing is certain: You cannot have either until you have both.”
· “A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you.”
Alex Traub contributed reporting.
“Blatantly illegal conduct” in Bessemer election
By Jake Johnson
—Common Dreams, April 9, 2021https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/04/09/union-file-charges-against-amazon-over-blatantly-illegal-conduct-bessemer-election?cd-
A union organizer stands outside an Amazon fulfillment center on March 27, 2021 in Bessemer, Alabama. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)
As Amazon on Friday received the votes needed to defeat a unionization effort at its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced that it intends to formally object to the election results and file unfair labor practice charges against the tech behemoth for "unlawfully interfering" with employees' right to organize.
"We won't let Amazon's lies, deception, and illegal activities go unchallenged, which is why we are formally filing charges against all of the egregious and blatantly illegal actions taken by Amazon during the union vote," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, the union that attempted to organize the roughly 6,000 Bessemer warehouse workers.
"Amazon knew full well that unless they did everything they possibly could, even illegal activity, their workers would have continued supporting the union," Appelbaum said. "That's why they required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union. That's why they flooded the internet, the airwaves, and social media with ads spreading misinformation. That's why they brought in dozens of outsiders and union-busters to walk the floor of the warehouse."
"Amazon's conduct has been despicable," added Appelbaum. "We demand a comprehensive investigation over Amazon's behavior in corrupting this election."
The RWDSU's statement came as an initial tally showed that Bessemer workers voted decisively against forming a union following a monthslong process that saw Amazon deploy a variety of aggressive anti-union tactics, fearing that a union victory would galvanize similar organizing efforts nationwide.
Nearly 1,800 of the 3,215 total votes cast went against the union while 738 ballots were in favor, according to the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) count.
If RWDSU challenges the election results, there will be "a hearing to investigate the union's claims against Amazon," as HuffPost labor reporter Dave Jamieson explained Friday.
"NLRB officials could potentially set aside the results and order a new election if they find Amazon's behavior to be as egregious as the RWDSU has portrayed it," Jamieson noted. "A lengthy dispute could eventually go before the NLRB's board in Washington, which President Joe Biden could reshape in Democrats' favor as early as August."
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair emeritus of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Friday that he supports "RWDSU's filing an objection to the conduct of the election and related unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board—a right that they clearly have under the National Labor Relations Act."
"Amazon's workers deserve to be treated better than they have been on the warehouse floor," added Pocan, "and better than they have been during this election."
In a statement on Friday, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka applauded Bessemer workers for courageously fighting for collective bargaining rights in the face of "systematic bullying and intimidation by one of the largest companies in the world."
Trumka argued that Amazon's "outrageous behavior" throughout the Bessemer election spotlights the urgent need for Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, a proposed revamp of U.S. labor law that would strengthen union rights and crack down on employers' coercive activities. The bill won House approval in March but has run up against the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate.
"Our rights have been steadily eroded by a handful of powerful elites," said Trumka. "We can't allow this societal failure to deprive one more worker of the freedom to organize. This is the fight of our time, and it starts with passing the PRO Act."
Others echoed Trumka's call for passage of the PRO Act, arguing the measure would have prevented Amazon from waging such a sweeping and vicious anti-union campaign.
"We need the PRO Act because nearly every fucking thing Amazon did to harass and intimidate their workers throughout the election in Bessemer (which took longer than a presidential election!) would be illegal," said Ryan Kekeris, communications director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
"Imagine the 2020 elections but only [former President Donald] Trump was allowed to talk to voters, Biden had to stay in Canada and shout over the border, and Trump and his supporters had unfettered access to corral U.S. voters into a room, forbid you from leaving, and tell you that you had to vote for Trump," Kekeris continued. "Now imagine that under the eyes of the law this is considered completely fair and legal. That is how U.S. labor law works right now."
Customers can start telling Jeff Bezos to treat his workers like human beings.
By Farhad Manjoo, Opinion Columnist, April 10, 2021
Supporters of Amazon workers rallied last month in Birmingham, Ala. Credit...Charity Rachelle for The New York Times
Here are some of the ways that people who have worked inside Amazon’s warehouses describe the experience: “The job crushed my spirit and crippled my body.” “The lowest point in my life.” An “isolating colony of hell.” “They’re killing people mentally and physically.” “I began to hate my day-to-day life.” “The way Amazon pushes people is not moral.” “I had whole days where I didn’t talk to anyone.” “The systematic devaluing of human bodies.”
Few of these accounts are new. But persistent horror stories have done nothing to diminish Amazon’s geometric growth. In 2017, the company’s head count surpassed 500,000 employees. In 2020, Amazon added that many new workers, very likely a record level of hiring for a company in a single year. Today, nearly 1.3 million people work at Amazon, making it the country’s second-largest private employer, after Walmart. The majority toil in its sprawling fulfillment operations — they are the people who pick, pack, drive and deliver your stuff.
Are these workers happy? Is this good work? Should we rejoice about a company that can hire so many people in the midst of pandemic-induced mass unemployment? And one that, in 2018, instituted a minimum hourly wage of $15, pushing Walmart, Target and other competing retailers to raise their pay, too?
Or should we recoil at the way Amazon has swept the apparent brutality of its operations under a haze of public-relations opportunism — the way it paints itself as a high-minded savior of American labor while its workers are so pressed for time that they must urinate and defecate in bags and bottles?
More urgently: Should we stop shopping at Amazon?
As an inveterate Amazon shopper whose spending with the company soared to embarrassing heights during the pandemic, I have thought about the ethics behind those smiling boxes a whole lot recently. And I regret to say that my hottest take is irritatingly tepid: It’s complicated.
To me it is far from obvious that boycotting Amazon is the best way to reform American retail in a way that results in greater safety and prosperity for workers. But that doesn’t mean that consumers have no power. To a degree greater than many of its competitors, Amazon has thrived by accommodating its customers’ desires. Consumers can now try to marshal that power on behalf of Amazon’s workers. There is one thing Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, seems to care about above all else: What his customers want.
I suspect that if he were pushed to take employees’ safety as seriously as he does price or selection, Bezos could do more than just about anyone else to improve the lives of America’s workers by radically improving conditions at Amazon to set a standard for rivals to follow.
I can sense readers ready to mock me as Bezos’s credulous stooge. I understand that impulse; it is becoming impossible not to feel icky about shopping at Amazon.
In the last few months, as the company faced the most serious union drive in its history at a fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., its ugly labor record has become inescapable. Amazon’s employees suffer injuries at rates far higher than the national average for the warehouse industry, stats that it has worked hard to hide from the public. Turnover at its facilities is so far off the charts that you have to conclude that treating workers as disposable cogs is a core part of its business model. The company is obsessed with crushing unions; the workers in Alabama voted down the union, but Amazon’s victory came at the cost of laying bare its antagonism toward organized labor.
On the other hand, in American retail, what real choice is there? In his excellent new book, “Fulfillment,” the journalist Alec MacGillis examines American inequality and economic desperation through the lens of Amazon’s growth and rapid domination. The company almost seems to personify economic imbalances. Its founder is the richest man alive; its workers are mainly refugees from an industrial economy decimated by globalization; and while its customer base has become quite broad, it is a favored shopping destination for the wealthy.
Yet MacGillis’s account also makes clear that the problem of Amazon is far bigger than Amazon.
Amazon’s retail competitors are not much better guardians of American labor; a lot of them are obviously worse. Remember that Walmart was destroying local economies long before Amazon came along, and according to an analysis of data from 11 states, more of Walmart’s workers in those states rely on public assistance to make ends meet. Dollar General, the discount chain that is one of America’s fastest-growing retailers, might have just as shameful a record on worker safety and comfort. Workers at Whole Foods, Amazon’s grocery subsidiary, seem to have fared pretty much the same during the pandemic as those at Kroger, Walmart and other food giants.
The larger point is that Amazon is less the cause of American inequality than it is a consequence. Amazon is what you get when a country has systematically devalued workers and labor organizations to the benefit of billionaires. Amazon is what you get when a country has decided to import so many of its physical goods from abroad. And Amazon is what you get when states and cities compete with one another to lavish huge tax breaks upon corporations that pledge to create local jobs, without setting any requirements that they be good, safe, high-paying jobs.
Consider, for instance, how America’s longtime negligence on worker safety opened the door to Amazon’s injurious warehouses. Workers say that the most punishing thing about working at Amazon is the repetitiveness and relentlessness of the work.
“The human body was not designed to do the same motion over and over and over again for hours,” Tyler Hamilton, an Amazon warehouse employee in Shakopee, Minn., told me. “That’s what robots do.”
Yet there is little in American law that prevents companies from treating workers like robots. Deborah Berkowitz, a former chief of staff of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency that sets standards for worker safety, told me that injuries in Amazon’s warehouses are mostly ergonomic — the results of “forceful exertions, repetitive motions, twisting, bending and awkward postures,” according to a 2019 report published by a coalition of labor advocates. But OSHA can’t do much about ergonomics. In 2001, the agency was specifically prevented by Congress and President George W. Bush from setting standards on ergonomics. Bush argued the rule would have been too costly to employers.
That wasn’t the only time worker safety was brushed aside by the federal government. David Michaels, who ran OSHA during the Obama administration, told me that the agency’s “basic model doesn’t work.” OSHA, Michaels said, is disastrously underfunded and understaffed, leaving it unable to inspect and enforce standards across the economy. It is also very slow, putting it far behind workplaces that are changing as quickly as Amazon’s. For example, the agency began working on a rule about crystalline silica — a dust produced in the manufacture of glass and other materials that can cause respiratory illnesses — in 1997. The rule was not finalized until 2016.
oth Michaels and Berkowitz said that unions could do a great deal to address safety. At companies that are unionized, the union can negotiate for practices that are safer than those required by OSHA’s moldering standards. But it would be preferable to have stronger federal rules than counting on long-weakened labor unions to improve standards.
I asked several Amazon employees over the past week whether consumers should stop using the company.
Some thought so. “I wish people can stop buying from them,” said Mohamed Mire, who also works at the Shakopee, Minn., warehouse.
But Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the union campaign in Alabama, said consumers can have a powerful voice without a boycott.
“What people should do is demand that Amazon change the way it operates and demand from our elected officials that they ensure Amazon does that,” Appelbaum told me. “I think that in America we should have higher standards for the way working people should be treated.”
But how can we get Amazon to fix up its workplace without withholding our dollars? One thing I have noticed in covering Amazon is the company’s willingness to make big changes quickly. For years, Amazon skirted collecting sales tax from its customers, giving it an unfair price advantage over its brick-and-mortar competitors. Then, in 2012, Amazon suddenly stopped fighting sales tax laws because Bezos realized that Amazon’s customers cared a lot more about speed than price. This meant that it was wiser for Amazon to build warehouses across the country even though it meant collecting sales tax in the states where they were located. That was a trade-off Bezos was willing to make to please his customers and get more business.
The best way to push changes to labor standards at Amazon is for its most loyal customers to demand it. We should demand it from our elected officials and our regulators, but it might be more effective to go to the source of the problem.
It is a point of pride with Bezos that his email address is public: firstname.lastname@example.org. When customers email him complaints, Bezos has been known to forward them to his staff with a single ominous character — a question mark, widely understood to mean that they should drop everything and address the problem.
Here’s what I would say: Jeff, you will not believe how much stuff I buy from you. But I am having more and more trouble defending that choice, and I’m starting to look at the alternatives. Your workers are hurting, Jeff. One of your employees told me he had trouble holding the phone because his hands had been rendered numb from the unrelenting repetitiveness of his job. Another told me that your company treats him as if he weren’t human.
Jeff, you are a smart, inventive man, and you have racked up a fortune larger than you know what to do with. Don’t you have enough? You have altered the retail industry more than just about anyone. You can do much better than simply meeting the lowest bar of American workplace standards. You can be transparent about injuries and what you’re doing to address them. You can remake Amazon as a better place to work — a company that empowers employees rather than chews them up in pursuit of tax-free profits.
As a customer, I demand it.
My New York Times Comment and copy of letter I sent to Bezos:
You can email him at: email@example.com
“My letter to Jeff Bezos:
“As a retired senior vulnerable to the pandemic, I shop from Amazon almost every day. So far, you have about $131 billion dollars. Let me put that into a perspective that I can understand—one that I saw on Facebook—If I made a million dollars a year (I don’t, I make about $50,000 a year)—I would have to work for one thousand years to make one billion dollars! And that’s just obscene! Don’t you have enough? You can stop “earning” money for yourself right now and put that money you would be earning, virtually tax free, I might add, to create humane, well paid jobs for your employees under their control. Let them unionize. Then they could create their own workers’ councils that would regulate working conditions, pay and benefits just from what you would have been earning—all the while keeping your $131 billion. I think you and your family can live on that! You don’t need another dime!
“Let your workers live, too!
An emerging branch of neuroscience asks a question long on the minds of researchers. Recent stimulus payments make the study more relevant.
By Alla Katsnelson, April 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/07/upshot/stimulus-children-poverty-brain.html?action=click&module=Science%20%20Technology&pgtype=Homepage
New monthly payments in the pandemic relief package have the potential to lift millions of American children out of poverty. Some scientists believe the payments could change children’s lives even more fundamentally — via their brains.
It’s well established that growing up in poverty correlates with disparities in educational achievement, health and employment. But an emerging branch of neuroscience asks how poverty affects the developing brain.
Over the past 15 years, dozens of studies have found that children raised in meager circumstances have subtle brain differences compared with children from families of higher means. On average, the surface area of the brain’s outer layer of cells is smaller, especially in areas relating to language and impulse control, as is the volume of a structure called the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory.
These differences don’t reflect inherited or inborn traits, research suggests, but rather the circumstances in which the children grew up. Researchers have speculated that specific aspects of poverty — subpar nutrition, elevated stress levels, low-quality education — might influence brain and cognitive development. But almost all the work to date is correlational. And although those factors may be at play to various degrees for different families, poverty is their common root. A continuing study called Baby’s First Years, started in 2018, aims to determine whether reducing poverty can itself promote healthy brain development.
“None of us thinks income is the only answer,” said Dr. Kimberly Noble, a neuroscientist and pediatrician at Teachers College, Columbia University, who is co-leading the work. “But with Baby’s First Years, we are moving past correlation to test whether reducing poverty directly causes changes in children’s cognitive, emotional and brain development.”
Dr. Noble and her collaborators are examining the effects of giving poor families cash payments in amounts that wound up being comparable to those the Biden administration will distribute as part of an expanded child tax credit.
The researchers randomly assigned 1,000 mothers with newborns living in poverty in New York City, New Orleans, the Twin Cities and Omaha to receive a debit card every month holding either $20 or $333 that the families could use as they wished. (The Biden plan will provide $300 monthly per child up to age 6, and $250 for children 6 through 17.) The study tracks cognitive development and brain activity in children over several years using a noninvasive tool called mobile EEG, which measures brain wave patterns using a wearable cap of 20 electrodes.
The study also tracks the mothers’ financial and employment status, maternal health measures such as stress hormone levels, and child care use. In qualitative interviews, the researchers probe how the money affects the family, and with the mothers’ consent, they follow how they spend it.
The study aimed to collect brain activity data from children at age 1 and age 3 in home visits, and researchers managed to obtain the first set of data for around two-thirds of the children before the pandemic struck. Because home visits are still untenable, they extended the study to age 4 and will be collecting the second set of brain data next year instead of this year.
The pandemic, as well as the two stimulus payments most Americans received this past year, undoubtedly affected participating families in different ways, as will this year’s stimulus checks and the new monthly payments. But because the study is randomized, the researchers nonetheless expect to be able to assess the impact of the cash gift, Dr. Noble said.
Baby’s First Years is seen as an audacious effort to prove, through a randomized trial, a causal link between poverty reduction and brain development. “It is definitely one of the first, if not the first” study in this developing field to have direct policy implications, said Martha Farah, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society who studies poverty and the brain.
Professor Farah concedes, however, that social scientists and policymakers often discount the relevance of brain data. “Are there actionable insights we get by bringing neuroscience to bear, or are people just being snowed by pretty brain images and impressive-sounding words from neuroscience? It’s an important question,” she said.
Skeptics abound. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago who studies inequality and social mobility, said he didn’t see “even a hint that a policy would come out of it, other than to say, yes, there’s an imprint of a better economic life.”
“And it still remains a question what the actual mechanism is” through which giving parents cash helps children’s brains, he said, adding that targeting such a mechanism directly might be both cheaper and more effective.
Samuel Hammond, director of poverty and welfare policy at the Niskanen Center, who worked on a child allowance proposal by Senator Mitt Romney, agrees that tracking the source of any observed cognitive benefits is tricky. “I have trouble disentangling the interventions that actually help the most,” he said. For example, policy experts debate whether certain child care programs directly benefit a child’s brain or simply free up her caregiver to get a job and increase the family’s income, he said.
Yet that is exactly why providing disadvantaged families with cash might be the most potent way to test the link to brain development, Dr. Noble said. “It’s quite possible that the particular pathways to children’s outcomes differ across families,” she said. “So by empowering families to use the money as they see fit, it doesn’t presuppose a particular pathway or mechanism that leads to differences in child development.”
Neuroscience has a track record for transforming societal thinking and influencing policy. Research showing that the brain continues to mature past adolescence and into a person’s mid-20s has reshaped policies relating to juvenile justice.
In another example, research on brain and cognitive development in children who grew up in Romanian orphanages from the mid-1960s into the 1990s changed policy on institutionalization and foster care, in Romania and worldwide, said Charles Nelson, a neuroscientist at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital who co-led that work.
Those studies demonstrated that deprivation and neglect diminish IQ and hinder psychological development in children who remain institutionalized past age 2, and that institutionalization profoundly affects brain development, dampening electrical activity and reducing brain size.
But that work also underscores how consumers of research, policymakers among them, are prone to give more weight to brain data than to other findings, as other studies show. When Professor Nelson presents these findings to government or development agency officials, “I think they find it the strongest ammunition to implement policy changes,” he said. “It is a very powerful visual, more so than if we said, well, they have lower IQs, or their attachment isn’t as strong.” (He is an adviser for Baby’s First Years.)
The vividness of such data isn’t necessarily bad, Dr. Noble said. “If we find differences and the brain data make those differences more compelling to stakeholders, then that’s important to include,” she said. Moreover, brain data provides valuable information in its own right, particularly in infants and young children, for whom behavioral tests of cognition are often inaccurate or impossible to conduct, she said. Brain differences also tend to be detectable earlier than behavioral ones, she said.
The field may simply be too young to clock its contributions to policy, Professor Farah said. But increasing understanding of how specific brain circuits are affected by poverty, along with better tools for gauging such circuits, may yield science-based interventions that get taken up at a policy level, she said.
Meanwhile, Baby’s First Years hopes to address a broader question that is already relevant at the policy level: whether cash aid to parents helps their children’s brains develop in a way that helps them for a lifetime.
“Justice for Daunte Wright” was written near the memorial for George Floyd outside of Cup Foods on Monday. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
Daunte Wright with his son.Credit...Ben Crump Law
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — The officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop near Minneapolis mistakenly confused her gun for her Taser, police officials said on Monday, quickly releasing video as they tried to ease tensions in a state on edge over the Derek Chauvin trial.
In a brief clip of body camera video, officers from the Brooklyn Center Police Department can be seen trying to handcuff the driver, Daunte Wright, before he suddenly lurches back into his car. One of the officers aims a weapon at Mr. Wright and shouts, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
She fires one round, and Mr. Wright groans in pain.
“Holy shit, I just shot him,” the officer can be heard shouting.
Late Monday, the officer who fired the fatal shot was identified as Kim Potter, who has worked for the department for 26 years.
The announcement came as protesters faced off with the police. Hundreds had gathered outside the Brooklyn Center police station for the second consecutive night, defying a new 7 p.m. curfew in a steady rain.
Demonstrators occasionally lobbed water bottles and rocks over newly erected fencing, chanting “killer cop” and “hands up, don’t shoot” while officers clad in riot gear stood guard. Officers responded by sporadically firing projectiles at the crowd and at one point released a chemical agent that caused people to start coughing.
Mayor Mike Elliott of Brooklyn Center, in an interview on CNN, urged the protesters to leave: “I’m asking everybody to go home. We need to keep the peace in our city.” By midnight, only a few dozen people remained.
The fatal shooting on Sunday took place in a region already at the center of a national reckoning over police officers’ use of force against Black people. As the investigation into Mr. Wright’s death in Brooklyn Center was beginning on Monday, prosecutors in a courtroom less than 10 miles away completed the questioning of their witnesses in the trial of Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd last May.
The Twin Cities had spent the day bracing for unrest. The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul declared states of emergency, and professional baseball, basketball and hockey games in Minnesota were postponed.
The shooting of Mr. Wright, 20, whose autopsy revealed that he was shot once in the chest, caused an immediate outcry across the state, protests and looting in Brooklyn Center, and recognition by President Biden, who said he was praying for the Wright family and called for an investigation.
“We do know that the anger, pain and trauma amidst the Black community is real,” Mr. Biden said at the White House.
He also said: “In the meantime, I want to make it clear again: There is absolutely no justification — none — for looting. No justification for violence. Peaceful protest? Understandable.”
Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, angrily demanded that state lawmakers pass police reform that has languished since Mr. Floyd’s death. He said he was going straight from the news conference to the Capitol in St. Paul.
“Our time was made clear last May in Minnesota,” Mr. Walz said, alluding to the death of Mr. Floyd. “Our time to get one shot at fixing it was there. And in the midst of this trial that the world’s watching, the situation repeated itself yesterday.”
The fatal police shooting comes at a particularly fraught moment.
“Everyone in the metro area is on tenterhooks right now,” said Abigail Cerra, a Minneapolis civil rights lawyer and a member of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission, noting that her husband, a firefighter, is among the many emergency workers throughout the region who have been told to keep their gear with them at all times as the trial proceeds.
She questioned why Mr. Wright — who the police said was stopped for driving a vehicle with an expired registration — would have been pulled over at all. “Everyone is on high alert right now,” she said. “I don’t know why they would be making traffic stops like this at this moment in time.”
The police said officers attempted to detain him after they discovered that there was a warrant for his arrest, stemming from a missed hearing on a misdemeanor gun charge.
Mr. Wright was facing two misdemeanor charges after Minneapolis police said he had carried a pistol without a permit and had run away from officers last June. Katie Wright told reporters that her son had been driving a car his family had given him two weeks ago and that he had called her as he was being pulled over.
“He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror,” she said. Ms. Wright added that her son had been driving with his girlfriend when he was shot. The police said a woman in the car had been hurt in a crash that occurred as the vehicle kept moving after the shooting.
Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department said in a news conference that it would use the body camera video of the shooting to determine whether Officer Potter would remain on the force.
“It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” he said.
Mike Elliott, the mayor of Brooklyn Center, urged calm in the city and promised that an investigation would be conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a state agency that investigates police killings in Minnesota.
“We recognize that this couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said Mr. Elliott, the city’s first Black mayor. “We recognize that this is happening at a time when our community, when all of America — indeed, all of the world — is watching our community.”
The racial makeup of the suburb, home to 30,000 residents, was until recently mostly white, but now less than half of residents are white and nearly a third are Black.
Mr. Elliott, who has been mayor for two years, called for the officer who shot Mr. Wright to be fired. “My position is that we cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession,” he said. “And so I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties.”
Minnesota has seen more than its share of high-profile police killings, including the shootings of Philando Castile in 2016 and Jamar Clark in 2015, and the death last year of Mr. Floyd.
In the final day of the prosecution’s case against Mr. Chauvin, Mr. Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd took the stand, telling of their upbringing in Houston. George would help his siblings get dressed for school and made “the best banana mayonnaise sandwiches,” his brother said. “George couldn’t cook, but he’ll make sure you have a snack or something.”
The state also called two expert witnesses, a cardiologist who said Mr. Floyd’s death was “absolutely preventable,” and a policing expert who said a reasonable officer would not have put Mr. Floyd facedown since he was already in handcuffs and was not a threat.
In the wake of Mr. Wright’s death on Sunday, Mr. Walz and other officials in Minnesota called for policing reforms, including making sure that officers cannot mistake their guns for their Taser.
“Why can’t we have Tasers that look and feel differently?” Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul said. “That you could never mistake for deploying a firearm, so that we can ensure that that mistake, which has happened before, can never happen again.”
Ed Obayashi, a California-based expert on the use of force by law enforcement and a deputy sheriff, said that with appropriate training, it should be difficult for officers to confuse a gun with a Taser, “but unfortunately it does happen — this is not the first time and it won’t be the last.”
In most cases, said Deputy Obayashi, who is also a lawyer, the confusion occurs when officers carry both weapons on the same side of their body, or holster their stun guns on the opposite side of their body with the grip facing backward so that they can use their dominant hand to “cross-draw.”
Instances of police officers accidentally firing a handgun when they meant to draw their Tasers, while not common, are not entirely unusual, either. In 2015, a former Oklahoma reserve deputy killed an unarmed man when he accidentally grabbed his handgun. In 2018, a rookie Kansas police officer mistakenly shot a man who was fighting with a fellow officer. And in 2019, a police officer in Pennsylvania shout
Within hours of Mr. Wright’s death, people clashed with the police outside of the Brooklyn Center police station, where officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, some of whom threw bags of garbage and rocks.
Hundreds of additional National Guard troops were flooding the metro area, adding to troops that have been standing by during Mr. Chauvin’s trial.
Residents said they were struggling to absorb the news of another death at the hands of a police officer — while the Chauvin trial was underway in Minneapolis.
“I’m really saddened,” said Laura Vizenor, 56. “I just don’t understand it and I don’t understand how you yell ‘Taser’ and then fire your gun. It doesn’t make sense.”
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reported from Brooklyn Center, and Julie Bosman from Chicago. Reporting was contributed by Azi Paybarah from New York, Shawn Hubler from Sacramento, Calif., Matt Furber from Brooklyn Center, and Neil Vigdor from Greenwich, Conn. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
The government says the plan is the best way to dispose of water used to prevent the ruined nuclear plant’s damaged reactor cores from melting.
By Jennifer Jett and Ben Dooley, Published April 12, 2021, Updated April 13, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/13/world/asia/japan-fukushima-wastewater-ocean.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Japan said on Tuesday that it had decided to gradually release tons of treated wastewater from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the ocean, describing it as the best option for disposal despite fierce opposition from fishing crews at home and concern from governments abroad.
The plan to start releasing the water in two years was approved during a cabinet meeting of ministers early Tuesday.
Disposal of the wastewater has been long delayed by public opposition and by safety concerns. But the space used to store the water is expected to run out next year, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said during the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that disposing of the wastewater from the plant was “a problem that cannot be avoided.”
The government will “take every measure to absolutely guarantee the safety of the treated water and address misinformation,” he said, noting that the cabinet would meet again within a week to decide on the details for carrying out the plan.
Some activists rejected the government’s assurances. Greenpeace Japan denounced the decision, saying in a statement that it “ignores human rights and international maritime law.” Kazue Suzuki, a climate and energy campaigner for the organization, said that the Japanese government had “discounted the radiation risks.”
“Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term,” the statement added, “they have opted for the cheapest option, dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean.”
The Fukushima crisis was set off in March 2011 by a huge earthquake and tsunami that ripped through northeastern Japan and killed more than 19,000 people. The subsequent meltdown of three of the plant’s six reactors was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Tens of thousands of people fled the area around the plant or were evacuated, in many cases never to return.
Ten years later, the cleanup is far from finished at the disabled plant, which is operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. To keep the three damaged reactor cores from melting, cooling water is pumped through them continuously. The water is then sent through a powerful filtration system that is able to remove all of the radioactive material except for tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is not harmful to human health in small doses.
There are now about 1.25 million tons of wastewater stored in more than 1,000 tanks at the plant site. The water continues to accumulate at a rate of about 170 tons a day, and releasing all of it is expected to take decades.
In 2019, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed disposing of the wastewater either by gradually releasing it into the ocean or by allowing it to evaporate. The International Atomic Energy Agency said last year that both options were “technically feasible.” Nuclear power plants around the world routinely discharge treated wastewater containing tritium into the sea.
But the Japanese government’s plan faces strong opposition from local officials and fishing crews, who say that it would add to consumer fears about the safety of Fukushima seafood. Catch levels in the area are already a small fraction of what they were before the disaster.
After meeting with Mr. Suga last week, Hiroshi Kishi, head of the National Federation of Fisheries, told reporters that his group was still opposed to the ocean release. Neighboring countries including China and South Korea have also expressed concerns.
Responding to Japan’s decision, the U.S. State Department said in a statement, “In this unique and challenging situation, Japan has weighed the options and effects, has been transparent about its decision, and appears to have adopted an approach in accordance with globally accepted nuclear safety standards.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency welcomed Japan’s announcement and said it would offer technical support. It called the plan to release the water into the sea in line with international practice.
“Today’s decision by the government of Japan is a milestone that will help pave the way for continued progress in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” the agency said in a statement. The decommissioning process is expected to take decades.
A decade ago, it was already a crisis. But it feels as if it’s getting worse.
By Shawn McCreesh, Mr. McCreesh is an editorial assistant in Opinion., April 14, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/14/opinion/opioids-us.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
HATBORO, Pa. — I’d almost lost my capacity to be shocked by drug overdose. At 28, I’m of Generation Opioid. During high school, prescription pills were as easy to abuse as a learner’s permit. Our reunions take place coffin-side and often.
But shock is what I felt when I got the call, three days before Thanksgiving, that David was dead. He was found slumped against a tree in the neighborhood where we grew up, where both of our mothers live still. Technically, David was my earliest friend. We called each other cousins because our mothers are like sisters — I refer to his as my Aunt Tammy. Like many people in this suburb just north of Philadelphia, he became saddled with addiction when we were teenagers, then spent his short adulthood fighting it.
Clean for almost two years, with a good job as a lead install technician at an HVAC company, married and with two little sons, he seemed to be winning the fight. A few months before his death, I had come home to write about what it was like to grow up in a society awash in prescription drugs. I thought I had enough distance to look back and freeze-frame the blur of our high school years, but knew I couldn’t do it justice without talking to David. He had more clarity about this catastrophe than anyone. The article was published, and then he died. Now all I have left of him, apart from some ashes, are the pages of notes in which he talked to me so recently about the very thing that would soon kill him.
“Everybody was dabbling in high school,” he reminded me in that conversation. “It was fun, readily available. It was expensive but everybody would put their money together and it became a social thing. But by the end it was an isolated addiction. You cross the line, and you never know when or where it is. It’s cunning and it’s baffling but once you’re over that line, it’s a battle between you and you. You have to defeat yourself if you want to get out of it and not die. It’s almost good versus evil in your brain.”
In a period of sobriety, David got married; four years ago, his first son was born. More than anything else, it was fatherhood that compelled him to get and stay sober. But there were slip-ups. “It’s ongoing and at any second I can go back,” he said.
After David’s body was discovered, Aunt Tammy’s house became packed with mourners. Five of the mothers standing around the tiny kitchen that night had lost a child this way. Nobody was much concerned about Covid distancing. That crisis feels intangible, compared with the durable and familiar opioid crisis.
“I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve been to since Carly died,” said one of the mothers, Renee Whyte. “It’s hideous.”
Carly, her daughter, went to school with me and David. She was smart and artistic, a total cool girl. She died in 2013. “Losing your child, you could have a thousand people around you and feel so alone,” Ms. Whyte said. “It’s not because people don’t care. It’s because only you know what your child meant to you.”
One of the hardest parts, she said, is when someone asks: How many kids do you have?
“And you don’t know how to answer.”
By the time I graduated from high school, 10 years ago, opiates were everywhere. Percocet and Vicodin became a regular presence at parties. Mixed with booze and some weed, pills were a new way to kick a Saturday night up a notch. Teenagers eager to get their paws on something stronger had no trouble finding OxyContin. Those pills were designed to mete out pain relief over 12 hours, but they could be crushed and snorted for immediate zombification. Addiction came quickly after. In 2010, when I was in 11th grade, Purdue Pharma tweaked OxyContin to make it uncrushable. But rather than deter my friends, this pushed classmates already keen for the high straight to heroin — why bother with a pesky pill that takes its time when a “stamp bag” of the real stuff could be had for cheap? The overdoses ramped up.
David named his first son DJ, after his best friend, DJ McGettigan, another classmate of ours who overdosed. “It’s coming up on five years since DJ passed,” said his mother, Laurie McGettigan. “So my grief is at a different point than Tammy’s. In the addiction world, I always talk to her about how you can’t cure this, you can’t control this, and you didn’t cause this. I just find ways to honor who I knew DJ really was, not who the world saw. That’s probably the saddest part for me.”
Ms. McGettigan now volunteers with the nonprofit Shatterproof, working to reverse the stigma of addiction. “The stigma still exists in tons of little ways,” she said. “Even when someone dies, people want to talk about how, and then when they find out they don’t want to talk about it further. There’s a shame attached.”
In some ways, though, the stigma has been blown apart here because the whispering has turned into one perpetual scream. As David himself said to me: “It’s in our face every day, whether you go to 7-Eleven or Walmart, driving down the road you see people dipping out” — dozing off. “You see it no matter where you’re at.”
Two weeks before David died, another old friend of mine felt himself start to spiral. He tried to get help from the local drug clinic but was turned away because all the beds were full. He died.
Addiction woes threaten to swallow families whole. Parents learn to speak the language of the netherworld in which their children walk. Stamp bags. Speedballs. Suboxone. Vivitrol. Narcan. Fentanyl. Perc 30s. Blues, bars, 40s and 80s — the lexicon of the unlucky.
Some are left to grapple with the living, breathing wreckage of their worst moment: how to live in the same town with the neighborhood kid you’ve known since he was a toddler but who sold the lethal dose to your child. Or the one who helped him shoot up and then left him for dead. There are no answers. “You can be the best person in the world and this stuff will make you do something so screwed up,” David had said to me.
“Nobody wants their child’s life defined in one moment of a bad decision,” Ms. Whyte said. “My daughter was more than one night, more than an overdose. She was defined by 23 years of greatness to my family.”
While we planned David’s funeral, Christmas lights began to blink awake throughout the neighborhood, and new reporting in The Times that week cast light on the nature of the crisis that killed him. McKinsey & Company, the prestigious consulting firm that helped Purdue Pharma “turbocharge” opiate sales, had proposed awarding Purdue’s distributors with a rebate for every OxyContin overdose, as a way to maintain sales. Earlier reports revealed that McKinsey had strategized how “to counter the emotional messages from mothers with teenagers that overdosed.”
The heinous documents confirmed that so much about this crisis was manufactured. There is no amount of money the odious Sackler family can throw around to counter the emotion here. Especially because these days, things are worse than ever, since heroin has been largely edged out by the far more lethal fentanyl. It’s difficult to even find a block in North Philadelphia that sells just heroin anymore; even cocaine is being cut with fentanyl.
The drug has closed the door to many hoping for a path back to their lives. Of fentanyl, David presciently told me, before the drug turned up on his own autopsy report, “It’s much harder to get off of, because it’s so much stronger, and much easier to overdose on, too.”
The pastor who presided over David’s funeral was himself recovering from addiction. He spoke during the service of his own rock bottom: Breaking open his children’s piggy banks, scrounging for quarters and driving to “the Badlands” — Philly-speak for the neighborhood of Kensington and its open-air drug markets — for 10 bucks worth of dope. In pews around me, friends and family nodded knowingly. Some of these mothers have spent untold hours scouring those blocks, hoping their child isn’t one of the bodies face down in the street. Sometimes they do find their kid, but can’t convince him or her to get in the car. All they can really do is give them a warm coat, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a hug.
What doesn’t shock me is that high school students are still falling down this well the same way we did 10 years ago. The nature of a teenager — that heady and sometimes lethal mix of feeling invincible, curious, bored and reckless — is immutable. As long as drugs are everywhere, kids will do them.
When we got home from the funeral, my younger sister flipped her phone back on, looked down at it and began to bawl. An avalanche of text messages told how her friend had overdosed on OxyContin that same day. He was 19. She turned back around and got in the car, headed to wherever mourners were gathering this time.
Three weeks later, it happened again.
Prosecuting police in cases of so-called weapon confusion has happened before, but the legal landscape is complex.
By Alan Feuer and Mihir Zaveri, April 14, 2021
A Taser and handgun, similar to the weapons in Mr. Bates’s case, displayed in Tulsa, Okla., in April 2015. Credit...Cory Young/Tulsa World, via Associated Press
It happened in a flash.
A deputy drew what he thought was his stun gun on a Black man who was fleeing, announcing his choice of weapon with a shout of “Taser!” But it was a pistol he pulled out, not a stun gun, and the man died. “Oh, I shot him,” the deputy says on video. “I’m sorry.”
Though the facts sound eerily familiar, that was six years ago in Tulsa, Okla., in a case that closely echoed what occurred this weekend in Brooklyn Center, Minn. There was the same announcement, the same tragic result, the same shocked response.
But what made the Tulsa case unusual happened in its aftermath: The deputy, Robert C. Bates, a reserve volunteer with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, was charged by prosecutors, convicted at a trial and sent to prison.
The similarities between the 2015 case in Tulsa and the shooting death of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in Minnesota on Sunday are striking. Six years later, amid a fraught national conversation around race and policing, Mr. Wright’s death has once again provoked intense interest in how the legal system should treat such deadly use of force.
While it is rare for the police to mistake their sidearms for their stun guns, it is even rarer for charges to be brought against them in such cases. A New York Times review of 15 cases of so-called weapon confusion over the past 20 years showed that only five of the officers were indicted. Only three, including the only two cases in which people were killed, were eventually found guilty.
“When you’re talking about cases where the excuse is it’s an accident, they’re just not easy to prove,” said Geoffrey P. Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who studies the use of force.
The case in Minnesota, which on Tuesday led to the resignation of the department’s chief and the officer who shot Mr. Wright, Kim Potter, who is white, has focused the nation yet again on the killing of an unarmed Black man by the police. The case is playing out only 10 miles from the courtroom where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer accused of murdering George Floyd last May, is being held.
Captured on body camera video, Ms. Potter’s actions are an almost identical replay of what happened in Tulsa in 2015. While another officer struggles with Mr. Wright as he sits in the driver’s seat of his car, Officer Potter aims her weapon, the video shows, shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” After she fires one round, Mr. Wright groans in pain as Officer Potter cries, “Holy shit, I just shot him.”
It remains unclear what, if any, legal repercussions Ms. Potter may face. But Kevin Gray, the lead prosecutor in Mr. Bates’s case, said the Tulsa district attorney’s office brought charges only after determining that Mr. Bates had not acted “like a normally prudent person should have” by reaching for his pistol when he meant to draw his Taser.
Mr. Gray said that prosecutors did not accuse Mr. Bates of murder in the shooting death of the man he killed, Eric Harris; they accused him of second-degree manslaughter. To prove that accusation, prosecutors had to show only that Mr. Bates acted with “culpable negligence.”
“The case was premised on the idea that an ordinary person, exercising caution and care, should have known what weapon they had in their hand,” Mr. Gray recalled. “We charged what we saw and what the evidence supported, not what might have been popular.”
In the 15 cases reviewed by The Times, the two incidents in which people were killed resulted in manslaughter convictions by juries; a third officer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in a case in which someone was injured. Two other cases are pending.
In 2014, Officer Jason Shuck shot a man who ran away from the police when they approached him as he was panhandling outside a Walmart in Springfield, Mo. Officer Shuck later told an investigator his “brain was saying Taser” but his “body moved faster” and he drew his pistol.
Local prosecutors allowed the officer to plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. As part of the plea deal, Mr. Shuck, who quit the police department, agreed to never work again in a job that required him to carry a firearm.
The authorities in Minnesota have not yet said if charges might be pending. In two of the three cases in which people were fatally shot, the officers eventually faced charges.
Because the law grants the police enormous leeway to protect their own lives and those of others in situations they deem to be dangerous, it remains difficult to charge and convict them even in cases when they do not claim a shooting was accidental. It can be at least as difficult to bring charges when officers argue they merely made a mistake.
In 2017, for instance, Charles Gillis, a small-town Georgia sheriff’s deputy, claimed that he had accidentally drawn his gun instead of his Taser and fired a bullet through the arm of a young man he and his partner were trying to arrest. After considering the case, the local district attorney said he found no negligence or criminal intent.
Robert Weisberg, a professor of criminal law at Stanford University, said that typically, officers could be culpable if their actions meet the standard of gross negligence.
“Was it extremely reckless or negligent for a trained officer to make this mistake?” he said.
Officers may evade charges or convictions if the context around their actions — whether the victim made sudden or threatening movements, for example — makes those actions seem reasonable.
Mr. Weisberg said that cases in which officers say they mistook which weapon they were using are rare. He said they are legally different from the majority of police shootings, where officers concede they used deadly force but argue they were justified in doing so.
“We haven’t seen any evidence that the officer intended to cause Mr. Wright’s death,” he said.
In 2019, Matthew D. Weintraub, the district attorney in Bucks County, Pa., investigated a case of weapon confusion involving an officer who yelled, “Taser!” before shooting a man in a police holding cell. Mr. Weintraub ultimately ruled out charges after finding that the shooting was “neither justified, nor criminal” and that the officer had an “honest but mistaken” belief that he had used his Taser against the victim, who was injured but survived.
But when a transit officer fatally shot Oscar Grant III in Oakland, Calif., in 2009, prompting protests nationwide, prosecutors charged the officer, Johannes Mehserle, with second-degree murder. They reviewed surveillance video that showed him pulling out a firearm and shooting Mr. Grant, who was lying face down on a train platform.
“What we had was ‘A shoots B,’ that’s all we know, it’s second-degree murder,” Tom Orloff, who was Alameda County district attorney when Mr. Mehserle was charged, said in an interview.
Mr. Mehserle would later argue in court that he meant to use a stun gun, a contention prosecutors challenged.
Mr. Orloff said that had prosecutors known Mr. Mehserle was going to make that argument before charging him, “it would have made it more likely that a manslaughter charge was filed as opposed to a murder charge.” Mr. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Mike Rains, a lawyer in California who represents law enforcement in criminal and civil cases, including Mr. Mehserle, said officers mistake firearms for stun guns because they are on “autopilot,” and the officers should not be held criminally culpable.
He said many officers in such cases have been trained to draw the stun gun with the same hand as their firearm. He said they typically have fired only one shot with the firearm, indicating a mistake — if they intended to use the firearm, he said, they would likely have fired multiple shots.
“They aren’t thinking, they are reacting,” he said.
Several of the victims and their families in weapon confusion cases filed civil lawsuits against the officers who shot them after charges were denied. Courts have long set a high bar for permitting suits against officers in situations where they were performing their official duties under the theory known as qualified immunity. But courts have appeared more generous in cases of mistaken shootings, often setting immunity aside and allowing suits to move forward.
In 2005, for instance, a Minnesota federal court permitted a suit against Officer Gregory Siem, who was accused of drawing his Glock, not his Taser, and shooting Christofar Atak, a man his partner was trying to handcuff. In a decision denying qualified immunity, the judge ruled there were too many differences between the weapons for Officer Siem’s actions to have in fact been accidental.
The Glock was not only heavier than the Taser, the judge decided; it also had “a noticeably different feel when held.” The pistol, he noted, had a trigger safety, but the Taser had no “security mechanism.” Finally, the Glock had a conventional trigger, the Taser a rubber button.
The case was ultimately settled. Mr. Atak received $900,000.
My NYT Comment:
“This article is deceptive. First of all, Johannes Mehserle—the cop who murdered Oscar Brown in Oakland, California at the Fruitvale BART station on January 1, 2009. was sentenced to two years but got out in 11 months. Second, the photo in this article showing a black Taser next to a silver-colored revolver with its barrel down (to mimic the shape of the Taser shown?) is also deceptive. First, because officers don't carry their revolvers with the barrel down. Potter's gun was black. And the taser Potter supposedly intended to pull out was bright yellow, not black. This can be seen at exactly 0:50/1:00 in the video of the shooting showing another officer's belt clearly showing a bright yellow Taser. Finally, the ‘auto-pilot’ defense is absurd. Isn't that what cops are supposed to be trained for—not to go on ‘auto-pilot?’ Especially after 20+ years on the force?” —Bonnie Weinstein