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?
We also need everyone to show up to our socially-distanced rally to go "All Out to Defend Kshama" , this Saturday at 11 am PST at Cal Anderson Park! If you can’t make it in person, tune in to the livestream of the event. It’s critical that we get organized to fight back against the recall. At the end of the rally, there will be several socially-distanced opportunities to go out and canvass the community. Join us!
Kshama Solidarity Campaign
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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 email@example.com
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.
INNOCENT AND FRAMED - FREE MUMIA NOW!
NO STATE EXECUTION BY COVID!
NO ILLUSIONS IN “PROGRESSIVE” DA LARRY KRASNER!
The movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most prominent political prisoner in the U.S., from the slow death of life imprisonment and the jaws of this racist and corrupt injustice system is at a critical juncture. The battle to free Mumia must be is as ferocious as it has ever been. We continue to face the unrelenting hostility to Mumia by this racist capitalist injustice system, which is intent on silencing him, by all means.
Mumia is at immediate risk of death by covid! Mumia has tested positive for covid-19. The PA Department of Corrections and officials at SCI Mahanoy at first denied this, but then needed to hospitalize Mumia. He is now in the prison infirmary. Mumia’s life is on the line. He is almost 67 years old; his immune system is compromised because of liver cirrhosis from years of untreated hepatitis-C. It is also reported that Mumia now has congestive heart failure!
An international campaign succeeded in getting a judicial order that Mumia was deprived of essential health care and be treated with life-saving Harvoni treatment. That has compelled the DOC to provide the medication to Mumia and other prisoners infected with hep-C.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said it best, “The refusal of health-care reminds us of the conditions we were put in under Apartheid prisons where sick detainees were allowed to die in very deplorable lonely conditions in solitary as part of the punishment for their role in the struggle.”
We, in the Free Mumia movement, call on all to ACT NOW! Mumia must not die in prison from covid! He should be released, now!
Urgent: Email Gov. Tom Wolf, firstname.lastname@example.org; John Wetzel, Secretary PA Department of Corrections, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Demand: Mumia Abu-Jamal Must be Released from Prison! No State Execution by Covid! Prisoners 50 Years and Older Should also be Released from Prison to Protect them from Covid 19!
Mumia’s life was saved from legal lynching of state execution in 1995 and 1999 by the power of mass, international mobilization and protest, which included representatives of millions of unionized workers. Human and civil rights organizations, labor unions, and students won Mumia’s release from death row in 2012 and his medical treatment for deadly hep-C in 2017. Now we need to do the same to save his life from covid-19.
We also must face the latest obstacle in Mumia’s pending legal appeal.
In the prosecution Response to Mumia’s appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, filed February 3, 2021, “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner rubber stamps the lying, racially biased, politically motivated and corrupt conviction of Mumia for the murder of P.O. Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 under hanging judge Albert Sabo who promised, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
For decades Mumia fought racist and corrupt prosecutors in Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court. “Progressive” Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner joined their ranks in filing the prosecution legal brief to the Pennsylvania Superior Court stating that Mumia is guilty and should remain imprisoned for life.
There is a moment of opportunity to deepen the struggle for Mumia’s freedom. Political consciousness about the systemic racism of the U.S. injustice system and policing has reached a high level not seen in 50 years, accelerated by the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others, and the massive protests that followed. Mumia’s name has been injected into struggles around Black Lives Matter, the pandemic and the economic crisis. Notably, Colin Kaepernick has called for Mumia’s freedom.
There is also a new danger. Nationally and in Philadelphia, there is a rise in the illusions of the “progressive district attorney” who will upend the entrenched repressive, racially and class-biased [in]justice system, which is integral to capitalism and rooted in the legacy of slavery.
A new legal path to Mumia’s freedom was opened by the historic ruling in December 2018 from Philadelphia Court Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black jurist to review Mumia’s case. Judge Tucker granted Mumia the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial and police misconduct that had been rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. That evidence was proof that Mumia is factually innocent and framed and is legally entitled to dismissal of the charges against him, or at least a new trial.
“Progressive” DA Larry Krasner blocked that path with the prosecution’s legal Response to Mumia’s new appeal to the PA Superior Court on February 3, 2021. Krasner opposes Mumia getting a new trial—let alone a dismissal of the charges. And Krasner calls for the appeals court to dismiss Mumia’s appeal without even considering the facts and law. Krasner follows exactly the script of the notorious, pro-cop, racist prosecutors who preceded him, notably Edward Rendell, Lynne Abraham—called “one of America’s deadliest DAs” —and Ronald Castille, whose pro-cop, pro-prosecution, and pro-death penalty bias became the grounds opening up Mumia’s right to file this new appeal.
The Krasner Response begins with the same lying “statement of facts” of the case that has been used since Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial by District Attorney Edward Rendell. Krasner insists that Mumia’s appeal should be dismissed without considering the merits because it was “not timely filed.” This makes clear the falsity of Krasner’s purported withdrawal of his objection to Mumia’s new right of appeal granted by Judge Tucker.
Krasner also denies that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct—“Brady claims”—from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago in a DA storeroom are “material” and grounds for a new trial. This is legal jargon for saying the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first degree murder and sentenced him to death. Krasner’s Response on the new evidence that the trial prosecutor purposely disqualified African-Americans as jurors is that the Pa Supreme Court has previously decided the jury selection process was fair and should not be re-examined.
As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct. Those due process violations included:
*trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
*African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
*police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting PO Faulkner which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
*the suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot PO Faulkner, that a shooter ran away and the confession to fatally shooting Faulkner.
But “progressive” DA Krasner argued these factors should not even be considered.
DA Krasner’s Response brief ends with: “For the foregoing reasons, including those set forth in the PCRA court’s opinions, the Commonwealth respectfully requests that this Court affirm the orders denying post-conviction relief.” This means District Attorney Krasner approved all previous court denials of Mumia’s challenges to his convictions made from 1995-2012, including those of Judge Sabo.
This Response is the definitive, final statement of District Attorney Larry Krasner to the Superior and Supreme Courts of Pennsylvania. And should Mumia’s case return to the U.S. federal courts, this would remain the prosecution position: that Mumia is guilty and there are no legal or factual reasons to re-consider his conviction.
Once there has been a conviction and sentence, the District Attorney does not have unilateral authority or power to reverse a criminal conviction, order a new trial or dismiss the original charges. That decision rests the post-conviction review judge or appeals court.
The District Attorney does have enormous authority and credibility to argue to the courts that a case should be reversed, a new trial granted or charges dismissed. The opinion of the district attorney’s office is a persuasive authority to the reviewing court. And it was that process which resulted in overturning the convictions of 18 imprisoned men during the past three years. Those publicized reversals as well as Krasner’s promises of criminal justice reform; his “no objection” to releasing on parole the surviving, imprisoned MOVE 9 men and woman; his partial ban of cash bail and de-escalation of arrests for minor, non-violent offenses, and his record as a civil rights lawyer gave him credentials as a “progressive DA”.
Krasner’s Response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom.
To any who held out hope that Krasner would “do the right thing”, Krasner has never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process.
In fact, “progressive DA” Krasner was explicit when questioned during the proceedings brought by Maureen Faulkner to have him removed from Mumia’s case on grounds he was biased in favor of Mumia. Krasner was allowed to continue prosecuting Mumia in the Supreme Court ruling on December 16, 2020. During those proceedings, Larry Krasner assured the investigating judge that, “in my opinion based upon all the facts in law [sic] that I have is that he [Abu-Jamal] is guilty.” Further, the investigating judge found all prosecutors involved, including DA Krasner, stated, “it is their intention to defend the conviction, and that they are aware of no evidence that would support or justify a decision to the contrary or to concede any PCRA relief.”
It is precisely because Larry Krasner has a profile and reputation as “a progressive DA,” and faces hostility from the Fraternal Order of Police, and supporters of racist “law and order” who will be supporting anti-Krasner candidates in this year’s DA election that his total rejection of Mumia’s claim is so damaging.
The rejection of Mumia’s appeals by this “progressive DA” is not just equal to those of prior DAs but is more damaging. The position of the “progressive DA” in opposition to Mumia’s appeal provides additional rationale and justification for the appeals courts to reject Mumia’s appeals.
Krasner must be uncompromisingly exposed and denounced as not different from Judge Sabo and prior prosecutors. Mumia’s prosecution, his conviction, death sentence and appeal denials are an indictment of the entire racist capitalist injustice system. Opening up Mumia’s case exposes the racism, rot, corruption, brutality and fundamental injustice of the whole system. “Progressive” district attorney Larry Krasner would not and cannot go down that road and keep favor with the elements of the ruling class that seek to provide a “progressive” cover to delay and distract those who fight not only for Mumia, but for justice for all.
What is to be done to free Mumia? Continue to mobilize protest action demanding the Department of Corrections and Governor immediately release Mumia – along with prisoners 50 years and older to stop death by covid. In Pennsylvania the governor has the executive power to commute sentences and release prisoners who are serving life without parole.
We must expand the international campaign for Mumia’s freedom, centered on the understanding that Mumia is factually innocent and framed, that he never should have been arrested and prosecuted for a murder the state knows he did not commit. International mobilization has been critical to our prior limited victories. Now more than ever, we need to grow in strength and numbers Mumia’s defenders, including labor, Black Lives Matter, human rights and civil rights organizations, and left organizations in rallies and mass demonstrations.
Rachel Wolkenstein (former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal); and for the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal <laboractionmumia.org>: Jack Heyman (International Longshore and Warehouse Union-retired), Bob Mandel (Oakland Education Association-retired, member of Adult School Teachers United), Carole Seligman (Co-editor of Socialist Viewpoint)
March 5, 2021
Call the Superintendent of Mumia's Prison and demand he be taken to the hospital for treatment for COVID-19. It is not okay that they merely test him (they had not asof Fri. night), the results will take days to come back and he is experiencing chest pains & breathing problems now--and COVID requires quick medical care to avoid death.
It Is Now Freedom or Death For Mumia!
BRO. ZAYID MUHAMMAD - March 11, 2021
I’m going help them fry the nigger...” Judge Albert Sabo
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal...” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine all NNPA Black newspapers, for example, carrying regularly featured articles as a matter of priority on all of the evidence suppressed in Mumia’s case.
Imagine Black clergy rallying at major news sites condemning the white-out and/or the demonization of Mumia through their media entities.
Imagine Black elected officials from Philadelphia and from all over the country rallying to denounce the continued ordeal of this man.
Imagine surviving ’60s icons conducting civil disobedience at the governor’s office and the DA’s office in Philadelphia with an eager throng of two generations of action-hungry activists looking to bumrush it, en masse if it didn’t yield results.
Even though Mumia has survived two execution dates, 30 years on death row and several recent dangerous medical challenges, thankfully with the force of a multiracial international campaign at his back and our ancestors, this hasn’t happened yet.
It’s time to ask ‘why?’
As this goes to press, Mumia is in a prison infirmary dangling on a tightrope of both COVID-19 and congestive heart failure, a most deadly medical cocktail!
COVID-19 is most dangerous when it attacks the lungs, creates fluid in the lungs and then triggers fatal blood clots. Congestive heart failure, similarly speaking, creates fluid in the lungs, weakens the heart muscle and the kidneys. These two together are extremely deadly.
Not to mention Mumia’s Hep-C weakened liver and skin. Remember that?
Mumia needs to be hospitalized at minimum and truly needs to be released!
If ever there was a time to step forward for Mumia, it is now!
The most tragic dimensions surrounding Mumia’s current ordeal is that there is now so much ample evidence of his innocence, so much ample evidence of both prosecutorial and judicial misconduct to free him if he can just be allowed to get it in on an appeal and that evidence on the court record. In spite of Mumia clearly being on the verge of objectively vindicating himself, he can tragically die in prison if not enough of us turn it up now!
Wait! What about Philly’s highly prized progressive DA Larry Krasner? Hasn’t he moved to overturn more than a dozen bad convictions rooted in deep-seated Philly racism and corruption? Yes, but not for Mumia.
Even though his office ‘found’ six boxes of missing evidence in his case, which includes a letter from a star prosecution witness Robert Chobert seeking payment for his testimony, reeking of prosecutorial misconduct and granting Mumia a new trial, Krasner, up for re-election, went into court last month and said that no new appellate relief for Mumia ought to be granted because his trial and conviction were sound. From Judge Sabo vowing to help ‘fry the nigger,’ to suppressed eyewitness testimony that was not paid for by anyone totally contradicting Chobert’s, to the illegal exclusion of Black jurors from the trial, to Sabo having Veronica Jones arrested on the stand for telling the truth on how she was coerced to testify against Mumia, to their being clear evidence of another person being the actual killer of Officer Daniel Faulkner and a whole lot more, Krasner showed his true ‘white’ color and is now seeking to block Mumia’s real chance at justice and freedom at a time when it can genuinely cost him his life.
The time is now to turn it up and free this incredible human being who has become a breathing living gracious symbol of human solidarity like few others in the last several decades.
Let us all press Pennsylvania’s other liberal ‘fox’ Gov. Tom Wolf to have Mumia and all aging prisoners who pose no risk to society released to help address this insidious pandemic. Over 100 people have died from COVID-19 in Pennsylvania prisons. All over 50 and with preexisting conditions.
Let’s press Mumia’s overseers John Wetzel head of Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Bernadette Mason superintendent of Mahanoy Prison to get Mumia properly hospitalized.
Press DA Krasner to address his now dangerous wrong and go back into court and encourage a conviction reversal and a new trial for Mumia as he has done for others.
The time is now!
Seize The Time!
Free Mumia Abu Jamal!
Gov. Tom Wolf 717-787-2500
Sec’y Dept of Corrections John Wetzel 717-728-2573
Supt of Mahanoy Corrections Institution Bernadette Mason 570-773-2158
DA Larry Krasner 267-456-1000
To support Mumia locally 212 -330-8029
In Philadelphia, 215-724-1618
Zayid Muhammad is a jazz poet, stage actor and well-known “cub” of the N.Y. chapter of the Black Panther Party.
Questions and comments may be sent to email@example.com
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
The politics of predators seem poised to enter a new chapter in the state, which now seems intent on reviving some of the practices of a century ago that virtually exterminated wolves from Montana.
By Jim Robbins, Published March 28, 2021, Updated March 29, 2021
Wildlife scientists say the bills, which would affect gray wolves and grizzly bears, “are harmful to wildlife, harmful to the image of hunters, contrary to science and wrong for Montana.” Credit...Dennis Fast/VWPics/Universal Images Group, via Getty Images
A grizzly bear in northwestern Montana. Credit...Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, via Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. — In addition to its spectacular landscape of mountains, rivers and prairie, Montana, the third least populous state in the country, has long been known for something else — wildlife policies that have protected animals of all sorts, including ones like grizzly bears and gray wolves that are often seen as threats to humans and to farming and ranching.
The state’s abundance and variety of wildlife has been a selling point for tourism, a source of pride to many Montanans and something that has set it apart from its less ecologically minded neighbors in the Mountain West. Even as its neighboring states of Idaho and Wyoming have aggressively reduced their wolf population, for example, Montana has managed its numbers largely through hunting seasons and targeted lethal control actions by wildlife biologists.
Now, with its first Republican governor in 16 years, Greg Gianforte, and a solidly Republican legislature, the politics of predators seem poised to enter a new chapter. In the West these days, predators are very much part of the culture wars, and the state now seems intent on reviving some of the practices of a century ago that virtually exterminated wolves from Montana.
Several bills are headed to Mr. Gianforte’s desk that would allow for more killing of wolves in the state to drive down their numbers. Practices that are being proposed include the use of spotlights at night, which is considered unethical because it temporarily blinds the animal; hunting animals by luring them with bait like wild game or commercial scents; night vision scopes and widening use of neck snares that catch and choke animals to death. Other controversial predator proposals allow hunting black bears with hounds, a practice outlawed a century ago, and placing limits on where wandering grizzlies can be moved, which conservationists say could lead to more bear deaths.
Proponents of the changes say the state is overwhelmed by the presence of too many predators, and their numbers urgently need to be reduced. At a hearing, State Senator Bob Brown, a Republican who introduced one of the bills, said many of his constituents felt they had “no voice,” and that game, in particular elk and deer, that they depended on to fill their freezers was being eliminated by wolves instead.
“We can’t sit by and allow our game — the thing that feeds so many families — to be taken off the table,” he said.
Critics say the state is embarking on a wholesale war on wildlife that is based on little more than emotion and supposition, and rejecting decades worth of management lessons.
“It’s bar talk replacing biology,” said Ed Bangs, a wildlife biologist who is now retired and used to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery project. He also led the effort in the mid-1990s to bring the first wolves to Yellowstone National Park after a half century’s absence. “People are saying it seems like there are fewer elk and deer, so it must be the wolves,” he said. “I believe in professionalism and vetting with science; this is based on bar talk.”
Mr. Bangs is one of more than 50 wildlife biologists who have signed a letter calling on Republican officials to reject the legislation. The bills have passed, or are near passing, both houses of the Legislature and are awaiting a decision by the governor.
Experts say these changes, if they occur, probably would not cause a crash in the number of wolves and grizzlies to the point where their existence is seriously threatened. Instead, in their letter, the wildlife scientists say the bills “are harmful to wildlife, harmful to the image of hunters, contrary to science and wrong for Montana.”
“This is an all-out war on wolves,” said Nick Gevock, the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “We support ethical fair chase hunting of wolves. This is going way overboard. It’s a 19th-century approach.”
The result is a dispute over wildlife management suffused with contemporary politics with Mr. Gianforte at the center of it. In February, he was the subject of controversy when he trapped and shot a black, radio-collared wolf known as 1155 that had come north onto a private ranch from nearby Yellowstone National Park. The wolf wore a collar as part of a study of wolves at Yellowstone.
While trapping and even shooting a collared wolf outside the park is legal in Montana, the governor had neglected to take a required three hour wolf trapping certification course that teaches hunters to trap and hunt wolves “ethically, humanely and lawfully.”
Mr. Gianforte said at a news conference he had been trapping wolves since he was a “tot” and called his violation of the law an oversight. He said he was issued a warning letter and had since taken the course.
Mr. Gianforte, a hard-line Republican first came to national prominence in 2017 when he body slammed a reporter for The Guardian after taking offense at answering questions about his race for Congress. He won the House seat and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. But indications seem to point to him possibly gaining politically from a firm stance against predators in a state where anger over the perceived overabundance of wolves and bears runs deep, and one that overwhelmingly supported Donald J. Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
The return of the wolf and grizzly bear to the northern Rockies are two success stories that came out of the Endangered Species Act. In 1975, when grizzly bears were listed as endangered species, there were from 100 to 200 of them, mostly in Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Their numbers are now estimated at about 1,800 in the Lower 48 states. The grizzlies were able to make that comeback largely because hunting was ended, trash was carefully managed and there was an effective crackdown on poachers.
Outside Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, grizzly bears roam mainly in wilderness areas of the state, though they are expanding into more populated areas where they are increasingly vulnerable to being hit by cars, shot by hunters, and killed or removed by biologists because of conflicts with humans. And bears and wolves pose a real threat to livestock and to humans. Every year, hikers or hunters are attacked by bears, and in many parts of the state anyone hiking is cautioned to be “bear aware” and carry a pepper-based spray for protection.
The debate over protecting endangered species, particularly predators, has long roiled Montana, pitting liberal urban areas in the state and across the country against rural ranchers who are increasingly concerned about their livestock being killed or hunters who think game animals are in decline. Until now, a measured approach — which includes some hunting of wolves and intervention by the state when grizzlies get into someone’s beehive or chicken coop — along with lots of protection have prevailed. But with wildlife management increasingly part of the culture wars, antagonism toward widening federal control and Republican control of the state, the balance has shifted, conservationists say.
The new bills approach management of bears and wolves in various ways. One of the new bills would pay wolf hunters their expenses — in effect, critics say, a bounty — to kill the animals. Another bill would allow for snaring animals with a metal aircraft cable fashioned into a noose that would hang over a trail. When the animal gets its head caught in one, it grows tighter as the animal tries to flee, until it is strangled to death. Snares can be used for coyotes in Montana but not wolves.
A major problem with snares is that they also kill species that are not the target, such as moose, elk, deer and even pet dogs. “Snares are cheap,” Mr. Bangs said. “It isn’t unusual for a trapper to set out 100. And you catch all kinds of stuff.” Snares that were set for coyotes, for example, inadvertently killed 28 mountain lions from 2015 to 2020, Mr. Gevock said.
Another bill would extend the wolf trapping and snaring season. Wildlife experts say the extended season would overlap with the period that grizzly bears and black bears are out of their dens and could be inadvertently trapped. Another would reinstate hunting black bears with dogs and prevent Montana wildlife officials from relocating any grizzly bears captured outside recovery zones. Most recovery zone habitat are occupied, which means many grizzlies would most likely have to be euthanized.
In their letter, the wildlife professionals wrote that the bill would reverse 40 years of policy “and result in the unnecessary death of many grizzly bears.” They also said that the bill would prevent grizzly bears from being removed from their endangered species status.
Supporters of the bills say bringing down the wolf population is essential. State Representative Paul Fielder, a Republican and a retired wildlife biologist and trapper who introduced two of the bills, said there were about 1,200 wolves in the state, according to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Because of their recovery, wolves are no longer protected by the Endangered Species Act. Federal law requires that Montana has 15 breeding pairs, which, according to Mr. Fielder, is about 300 wolves.
“We have four times the number of wolves the Montana management plan requires,” he said when the bill was introduced.
The state already allows hunters to kill about 300 to 350 wolves a year.
Increasingly, the arguments are being couched in the language of national politics.
Steve Daines, the state’s senior U.S. senator and a Republican, this week became one of five senators who introduced legislation to take the grizzly bear off the endangered species list. “Wildlife management must be determined by science, not by activist judges,” he said. “Montana’s state leaders know what’s best for our communities, public safety, the ecosystem, wildlife and the bear itself.”
Mr. Gianforte has not yet said whether he will sign the bills. A spokeswoman for the governor would only say he “would carefully review any bill that the legislature sends to his desk.”
But Representative Tom France, a Democrat and retired regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said whatever emerges in Montana would almost certainly echo the partisan split of national politics.
“The return of the grizzly bears and wolves were remarkable success stories in the state and federal partnerships — this is a rejection of that,” he said. “There’s a political sentiment here.”
The State Legislature is saying “We don’t live by federal laws and aren’t going to pay attention to them,” he added. “Montana is not excused from the polarization that typifies the nation.”
Children are sleeping shoulder to shoulder in the overcrowded facility at Donna, Texas, which is now housing more than 4,000 migrants amid a new surge on the border.
By Miriam Jordan, March 30, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/30/us/texas-border-facility-migrants.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage
Migrant children and families are sleeping shoulder to shoulder on mats in a Texas border facility designed for 250 people that is now holding more than 4,100, according to some of the first photographs to emerge from the crowded camp that has become a focal point of the Biden administration’s struggles to absorb thousands of new arrivals on the southwestern border.
Young children were being cared for by older siblings in a playpen area in the border processing facility at Donna, Texas, where a small group of reporters were allowed to enter for the first time on Tuesday to observe conditions at the camp, which U.S. officials admit has been overwhelmed by the growing numbers in recent weeks.
“As I have said repeatedly, a Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, said in a statement. He said border agents were “working around the clock” to move migrant children out of overcrowded border facilities like the one in Donna and into government shelters before they were placed with family members or other sponsors.
Oscar Escamilla, the acting executive officer of the U.S. Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, said “it would be better for everybody” if there were room to move the migrant children into government shelters.
“I’m a Border Patrol agent. I didn’t sign up for this,” Mr. Escamilla said as he looked at some of the younger children, many of them under 12, being housed at the facility.
He said the youngest children were sleeping in playpens, rather than in the large pods where older children were stretched out on mats.
“It’s so crowded in those pods that I can’t possibly put these young kids in those pods because they’re going to get hurt,” he said.
In one case, a 17-year-old migrant was caring for a newborn.
The tent structure at Donna was erected to help alleviate pressure on Border Patrol stations, where migrants must be processed before being released or transferred to other facilities. But new photos taken by Associated Press reporters and a camera crew allowed to enter on Tuesday painted a grim picture of conditions that were likely to worsen during a surge that shows no signs of abating.
Children, jammed hundreds to a single pod intended for fewer than 50, were lying down shoulder to shoulder across the 3,200-square-foot space, crumpled aluminum blankets covering some of them. Many of the pods held more than 500 children. In a playpen area, a 3-year-old girl was being tended to by her brother, 11.
About 3,300 of the migrants being housed at the soft-sided structure are children who have crossed the border without parents or other guardians in recent months. While most arrive with the name and telephone number of a family member whom they hope to join, U.S. authorities must process them at the border and then send them to a government shelter.
Transfers from the border are not keeping up with the pace of arrivals — children have been entering the country at the rate of 500 a day — which two shelter operators this week said was without any recent precedent.
In February alone, more than 9,400 minors, ranging from young children to teenagers, arrived without parents, a nearly threefold increase over the same period last year.
The Biden administration has established temporary facilities for the young migrants 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 Fort Bliss, Texas.
But it is still failing to quickly transfer the minors to the shelters, which are supposed to come with education programming and recreational space, unlike the sites managed by the Border Patrol.
More than 4,000 minors were stuck in such detention facilities for more than the maximum of 72 hours allowed under federal law, according to internal government documents.
The United States currently has more than 17,600 beds for the minors in tent camps, emergency facilities and shelters, according to the internal documents. The administration is projecting it will need more than 35,500 beds by the end of May.
Additional facilities to shelter the minors are being scouted, including a Crowne Plaza hotel in Dallas, a convention center in Orange County, Fla., and a church hall in Houston.
The shelter system, which normally has a 14,000-bed capacity, has been struggling to expand after the coronavirus pandemic limited how many children it could house. The administration is releasing roughly 250 minors a day to sponsors, organizations and foster homes, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.
There are more than 12,000 migrant children presently in government shelters. Another 5,160 are stranded in Border Patrol processing facilities like the one at Donna because there are not enough vacant beds to accommodate them all, and children already in roomier shelters operated by the Department of Health and Human Services are not being released quickly enough to make room for hundreds more crossing the border every day.
They are released from government custody after a guardian provides dozens of pages of documents and is screened, to ensure that the children are not being trafficked and will be safe.
“There’s a pull factor. They know that we’re releasing them,” Mr. Escamilla told reporters in Donna. “They know that right now there’s nothing stopping them. We’re not going to deport them back to their country so they keep coming.”
He said that 250 to 300 children were entering the Donna facility each day — and far fewer were departing. The remainder of the migrants housed at the camp — a total of about 700 — are adults and children traveling together as families.
The children are not tested for the coronavirus by the Border Patrol unless they exhibit symptoms. Mr. Escamilla said that 14 percent of the children had tested positive when they were later transferred to shelters.
The tent facility at Donna, erected in February, is the biggest emergency processing center on the border. Mr. Escamilla said it was costing $16 million a month to run, not including medical care and personnel contracts.
Nurses were on hand to perform physical and mental health assessments. They checked the children for lice, scabies and fever and asked if they had suicidal thoughts. The children were fitted with bracelets with a bar code that kept track of when they had showered and any medical conditions.
As part of the processing, children age 14 and older were fingerprinted. During the intake process, Border Patrol agents issued them notices to appear in court, where they will be considered for deportation or asylum.
More than 2,000 of the children have been held for more than 72 hours, according to Mr. Escamilla, in violation of the law.
On average, he said, the minors were spending 133 hours in the facility before being transferred to a shelter. Among them, 39 had been there for at least 15 days. One child had been in the tent center 20 days.
Finding suitable housing has been a challenge for previous administrations as well. The Obama administration struggled to house thousands of children and families who began crossing the border in large numbers in 2013, and the Trump administration was criticized for processing families under a road overpass and placing migrant children in a filthy, overcrowded facility in Clint, Texas.
Amy Cohen, a psychiatrist who works with migrant children and families, said the photographs from Donna were reminiscent of those depicting conditions in Clint, which drew widespread condemnation from physician and child-welfare groups.
“The conditions are antithetical to the well-being of children, particularly vulnerable minors,” said Dr. Cohen, who runs an organization called Every Last One that assists migrants.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.
On the second day of Derek Chauvin’s trial, eyewitnesses painted a harrowing and consistent picture of what they saw during the fatal arrest of George Floyd.
By John Eligon, Tim Arango and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Published March 30, 2021, Updated March 31, 2021
An image from a video taken from a police body camera released by the Minneapolis Police Department shows bystanders filming the arrest that led to Mr. Floyd’s death. Credit...Minneapolis Police Department, via Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS — She was the teenager whose video of George Floyd’s final moments rippled across the globe. And in a courtroom on Tuesday, Darnella Frazier, now 18, shared her story publicly for the first time, testifying that she remained haunted by Mr. Floyd’s cries for help as she watched a police officer kneel on his neck.
Ms. Frazier, at times crying, spoke softly during emotional testimony on the second day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer facing murder charges. As her voice cracked, Ms. Frazier described how what she witnessed that day last May had changed her life. She sometimes lies awake at night, she said, “apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more and not physically interacting and not saving his life.”
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” she added. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.”
Ms. Frazier was among a diverse group of bystanders who by accident became eyewitnesses to one of the most high-profile police brutality cases of recent decades. They were Black and white. There was a firefighter, high school students and a mixed martial artist.
Their stories were an expression of the trauma of a city that is still struggling to rebuild physically and emotionally from last summer’s unrest.
Most of Tuesday’s witnesses were children and teenagers at the time of the fatal arrest, and they painted a harrowing, consistent picture of what transpired at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in South Minneapolis. They all said they have struggled with what they saw.
“It seemed like he knew it was over for him,” Ms. Frazier said in her testimony, referring to Mr. Floyd. “He was terrified. He was suffering. This was a cry for help, definitely.”
The bystanders offered accounts of converging outside of a convenience store for the most mundane of reasons — getting a phone cord, buying snacks, taking a walk — only to end up becoming central players in a drama that would grip much of the country.
They urged the police to render aid to Mr. Floyd to no avail. They excoriated Mr. Chauvin and the three other officers on the scene, and said they felt scared that the police would harm them, including in one instance when Mr. Chauvin put his hand on his mace.
The defense has said that the crowd influenced the way the police responded after arriving on the scene. It has become a crucial point of contention between the prosecution and the defense.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer said that the officers felt threatened at what they saw as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd, which diverted their attention from caring for Mr. Floyd. The prosecution has attempted to portray the bystanders as ordinary people who were scared and presented no danger to the officers.
Those different views reflect longstanding tensions between Black residents in Minneapolis and the police who patrol their neighborhoods.
Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric J. Nelson, did little to press most of the young witnesses or challenge their accounts.
Ms. Frazier’s 9-year-old cousin, who was with her outside the convenience store, Cup Foods, testified to the trauma of seeing Mr. Floyd struggle as Mr. Chauvin knelt on his neck.
“I was sad and kind of mad,” said the young girl, Judeah Reynolds, who, like the other minors who testified, was not shown on camera during her testimony. “It felt like he was stopping his breathing and it was kind of like hurting him.”
Ms. Frazier, who was 17 at the time of Mr. Floyd’s death, testified that she and her cousin were going to a store she had been to many times before to buy snacks. Surveillance video showed what looked like a casual stroll, with the cousins smiling at each other as they approached the entrance to Cup Foods. Ms. Frazier wore a hoodie over her head and comfortable blue pants, while her cousin, petite with a poof of hair, wore a teal T-shirt that said “Love.”
When she saw officers pinning Mr. Floyd, Ms. Frazier said, she ushered her cousin into the store and then came back out. She pulled out her phone and tapped record, creating a roughly 10-minute clip that she would later post on Facebook.
She recorded what was happening because “it wasn’t right,” said Ms. Frazier, who sat in the witness box wearing a blue pantsuit and allowed her tears to flow at times. Like her, most of the six eyewitnesses who testified on Tuesday described feelings of helplessness and anger.
If they felt like they were unable to do anything for Mr. Floyd as he was pinned to the street last year, several of the witnesses suggested that this was their chance to do something for him.
“I just want the truth to come out,” said Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, a 17-year-old high school senior, who had stopped by Cup Foods to buy snacks and a cellphone cord with a friend, and became distressed by what she saw happening to Mr. Floyd.
Genevieve Hansen, 27, had visited a community garden on her day off and was walking home when she saw emergency lights down the block. A firefighter and emergency medical technician, she said she went to see if any of her colleagues were there. She came upon a scene that quickly worried her, with Mr. Floyd going limp on the pavement and a woman screaming that the officers were killing him.
She told the officers that they needed to check his pulse but they shooed her away, she testified.
“I was desperate to help,” she said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue at times during her testimony. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities, and this human was denied that right.”
Donald Williams, 33, a mixed martial arts fighter, went to Cup Foods that day to buy a drink and clear his head after going fishing with friends and his son. He remembered becoming a bit disturbed when he saw the life being sucked out of a fish they had caught and placed in a plastic bag, he said.
He was drawn to the commotion by the police car, and quickly became upset when he saw Mr. Chauvin’s knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck. It appeared to be a blood choke, he testified, referring to having seen the hold render people unconscious as a fighter. He grew so frustrated at the officers that he began yelling obscenities at them.
Mr. Williams then took a highly unusual step: He called the police on the police.
“I believe I witnessed a murder,” he told a 911 operator, according to a recording of a call he placed that evening that was played in court. On the witness stand, Mr. Williams wiped his eyes as the recording played.
The operator asked Mr. Williams if he wanted to speak with a sergeant. Yes, he told her.
“That was bogus what they just did to this man,” he told her. “He was unresponsive. He wasn’t resisting arrest.”
On the 911 recording, Mr. Williams could then be heard addressing the officers: “Y’all murderers, bro!”
One of the prosecutors asked Mr. Williams why he called 911.
“I just felt like that was the right thing to do,” he replied. “I didn’t know what else to do.”
In cross-examining Mr. Williams, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyer pressed him on his attitude toward the officers. The lawyer, Mr. Nelson, repeated several vulgar statements that Mr. Williams had made to the officers, and repeatedly asked if he had been growing in anger that evening. A seemingly agitated Mr. Williams pushed back.
“I grew professional and professional,” he said. “I stayed in my body. You can’t paint me out to be angry.”
Ms. Hansen, too, seemed to take exception to Mr. Nelson’s effort to portray the bystanders as an angry mob. During a very testy exchange, Mr. Nelson asked Ms. Hansen if she would describe people as upset or angry.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting,” she responded, earning an admonition from the judge.
John Eligon and Tim Arango reported from Minneapolis, and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs from New York. Marie Fazio contributed reporting from Jacksonville, Fla.
David Andreatta, March 30, 2021https://www.wxxinews.org/post/grand-jury-refuses-indict-parolee-jalil-muntaqim-voter-fraud-charges
A Monroe County grand jury has declined to indict a controversial parolee who was facing felony charges for registering to vote illegally that could have sent him back to prison.
The parolee, Jalil Muntaqim, was imprisoned under his given name, Anthony Bottom, for nearly 50 years for his role in the murder of two New York City police officers in 1971 before his release in October.
The Monroe County Public Defender’s Office confirmed Tuesday that the grand jury last week “no-billed” Muntaqim’s case, meaning the jury declined to indict. The case is now sealed.
"I think a no-bill was the right outcome in this case," said his public defender, Jaquelyn Grippe. "Mr. Muntaqim is a truly inspirational person and I can say that it was my privilege to get to know him through this process."
Originally from San Francisco, Muntaqim, 69, settled in Brighton with a friend upon his release.
A day after being set free, however, Muntaqim filled out paperwork given to him by the county Department of Human Services, which helps former prisoner’s acclimate to civilian life. The packet included a voter registration form, despite Muntaqim not being eligible to vote.
Prosecutors alleged that when Muntaqim filed his voter registration form with the county Board of Elections, he committed two felonies — tampering with public records and offering a false instrument for filing. He was also charged with providing a false affidavit, a misdemeanor.
The Board of Elections subsequently rejected his registration, and the former chair of the county Republican party, William Napier, seized on the matter as a question of voter fraud.
District Attorney Sandra Doorley has said that the charges against Muntaqim were about answering allegations of voter fraud in the weeks before the election and that the case seemed straightforward.
“Is it a major thing?” she asked of the charges. “No.”
If convicted on the charges, Muntaqim's parole status would have required him to return to prison.
Muntaqim enjoyed much public support from family, friends, and Rochester’s activist community, who echoed the argument of his public defender that Muntaqim did not realize he was not eligible to vote.
Parolees are not allowed to vote in New York upon release from prison without receiving a conditional pardon to restoring voting rights from the governor.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued such pardons as a matter of course on a monthly basis since 2018, when he signed an executive order directing the corrections commissioner to submit to him each month a list of every felon newly eligible for parole, with each name to be “given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights.”
Most parolees receive their pardon, which does not expunge their criminal record, within four to six weeks of their release. Cuomo denied Muntaqim a voting pardon in November, however, after news reports of Muntaqim's predicament.
A national movement to restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people is gaining steam, and Muntaqim's case became a rallying cry for advocates.
"I certainly hope that legislation is passed in the future that expands on Gov. Cuomo's executive order allowing parolees the basic right to vote," Grippe said.
Twenty states allow parolees to to vote upon their release, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group for criminal justice reform.
The concept of disenfranchising felons dates to colonial days, when certain criminals were striped of rights in a practice known as "civil death." Later Americans applied a racist twist to the practice after the Civil War, when many states used it to deprive Black men of the vote they had recently gained.
Today, the impact of these laws still falls disproportionately on poor people of color.
The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in such a way that upholds these restrictions.
David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Determined to make good on the nativist promise of Brexit, it has embraced anti-migrant authoritarianism.
By Maya Goodfellow, April 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/opinion/uk-immigration-boris-johnson.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
LONDON — Last week, as Britain focused on its gradual emergence from lockdown, the home secretary, Priti Patel, laid out the government’s “New Plan for Immigration.”
The details were deeply sinister. Only those coming through resettlement schemes, who amount to less than 1 percent of refugees globally, would be welcomed. Everybody else, forced to take life-threateningly dangerous journeys, would be branded “illegal” and aggressively penalized. They would be blocked from key state support, given diminished family reunion rights and be permanently liable for removal, even if granted asylum.
These drastic proposals — which some suggest could contravene the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention — have been months in the making. Last year, Ms. Patel reportedly raised the possibility of sending asylum seekers to islands in the south Atlantic and considered deploying the Navy to prevent people from reaching Britain’s shores. Her plan, inhumane and wrongheaded, exemplifies how the British government treats migrants and refugees.
But such cruelty goes further than the asylum process. Since Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government took office in December 2019, promising to “Get Brexit Done,” it has sought to institute a harsher, more punitive system of immigration and border control. In the name of British sovereignty, it has suffused its rule with anti-migrant authoritarianism.
Since its election, the government has touted its intent to remake the immigration system. On Jan. 1, its new points-based system came into effect. For all the talk of reform, in many ways the new rules extend the unjust treatment long suffered by non-European Union migrants — subject to outrageously high immigration fees, denied access to basic state support and forced to pay every year to use the National Health Service — to those coming from the E.U. (Before Britain’s exit from the E.U., people from the bloc could enter and settle in Britain with relative freedom.)
But the system introduces new features, like handing out “points” that applicants must accrue to come to Britain. Some are mandatory, like 20 points for a job offer from a government-approved sponsor. Others are optional, such as 10 points for a Ph.D. in a field relevant to the job. The new rules make entry to the country conditional on a migrant’s income (a minimum of £25,600 a year, around $35,000, with a few exceptions) and perceived “skills.” Low-paid workers are effectively excluded. Along with making it even harder to safely migrate to Britain, the new system treats migrants as nothing more than disposable commodities.
This dehumanizing, ruthless approach has been on display through the past year. At the start of the pandemic, a group of organizations handed the government a clear road map to ensure that all migrants, regardless of status, were protected from the virus, including through access to health care and other public services. The government did not listen. Ministers made some changes but largely kept the system intact.
Similarly, after pressure from activists, the government released many people from immigration detention centers, but kept some locked up and continued to detain thousands of others — despite reported Covid-19 outbreaks at a number of facilities.
And while warning against international travel, the government pushed on with deportation flights, ripping people away from their families and loved ones. Osime Brown, a 22-year-old who has autism and learning difficulties, faces deportation to Jamaica — a country he barely knows, having moved to Britain when he was 4. “If he is deported,” his mother has said, “he will die.” In November, the government website boasted that despite the pandemic, there had been over 20 deportation flights that year.
Mr. Johnson’s government has also refused to suspend “hostile environment” policies, a sprawling web of immigration controls through which people without documentation are denied access to basic services like health care and housing. Not even a deadly pandemic can wean the government off the detention centers, deportation flights, bureaucratic cruelty and institutional racism that make up Britain’s immigration system.
The human toll has been horrific. Without a safety net, many undocumented migrants had to choose between potentially contracting the virus at work or becoming destitute. Forty-three percent of migrants surveyed between December and January by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said they would be afraid to seek health care if they became ill during the pandemic — rising to 56 percent for migrants from Asia and 60 percent for those from Africa and the Caribbean.
For a Filipino man known only as Elvis, a cleaner who’d lived in Britain for over a decade, it was a matter of life and death. With no documents, he was too afraid to seek medical advice when he came down with a fever and a cough in April 2020 during the country’s first lockdown. After being ill for two weeks, he died at home.
Mr. Johnson’s government has left immigrants, especially those of color, exposed and vulnerable. But it’s no use denouncing the current system without understanding that it is built on decades of brutality. British history is full of legislation, like the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, aimed at making it more difficult for people of color to come to the country.
And for decades, British politicians of all persuasions glossed over the reasons people move while wrongly blaming migrants for almost anything they can think of, from low pay to an underfunded national health service. Even the latest proposals draw on the racialized figure of the “bogus asylum seeker,” popularized during former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s New Labour government as it made asylum rules stricter and harsher in the early 2000s.
Mr. Johnson’s government is the heir to decades of anti-migrant rhetoric and policymaking. Determined to make good on the nativist promise of Brexit, it is taking things to the next level, with devastating human consequences.
Britain has an immigration problem, all right. But it’s not the people coming to the country. It’s the people who rule over it.
Ms. Goodfellow is a British academic who has written widely on immigration, borders and racism. She is the author of “Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats.”
The I.R.S. believes the American drugmaker used an abusive offshore scheme to avoid federal taxes.
By Jesse Drucker, April 1, 2021
Bristol Myers Squibb’s tax-reduction plan hinged on a write-off known as amortization. Credit...CJ Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock
Almost nine years ago, Bristol Myers Squibb filed paperwork in Ireland to create a new offshore subsidiary. By moving Bristol Myers’s profits through the subsidiary, the American drugmaker could substantially reduce its U.S. tax bill.
Years later, the Internal Revenue Service got wind of the arrangement, which it condemned as an “abusive” tax shelter. The move by Bristol Myers, the I.R.S. concluded, would cheat the United States out of about $1.4 billion in taxes.
That is a lot of money, even for a large company like Bristol Myers. But the dispute remained secret. The company, which denies wrongdoing, didn’t tell its investors that the U.S. government was claiming more than $1 billion in unpaid taxes. The I.R.S. didn’t make any public filings about it.
And then, ever so briefly last spring, the dispute became public. It was an accident, and almost no one noticed. The episode provided a fleeting glimpse into something that is common but rarely seen up close and that the Biden administration hopes to discourage: multinational companies, with the help of elite law and accounting firms and with only belated scrutiny from the I.R.S., dodging billions of dollars in taxes.
Then, in an instant, all traces of the fight — and of Bristol Myers’s allegedly abusive arrangement — vanished from public view.
The Tax Shelter
Like most big pharmaceutical companies, Bristol Myers, which is based in New York, reduces its U.S. taxes by holding patent rights to its most lucrative drugs in subsidiaries in countries with low tax rates. The result is that the company’s profits move from high-tax places like the United States to places like Ireland, which has a low corporate tax rate and makes it easy for companies to attribute profits to locales with no income taxes at all.
The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that the White House unveiled on Wednesday proposed increasing the minimum overseas tax on multinational corporations, which would reduce the appeal of such arrangements.
For the three years leading up to 2012, Bristol Myers’s tax rate was about 24 percent. The U.S. corporate income tax rate at the time was 35 percent. (It is now 21 percent.)
The company wanted to pay even less.
In 2012, it turned to PwC, the accounting, consulting and advisory firm, and a major law firm, White & Case, for help getting an elaborate tax-avoidance strategy off the ground. PwC had previously been Bristol Myers’s auditor, but it was dismissed in 2006 after an accounting scandal forced Bristol Myers to pay $150 million to the U.S. government. Now PwC, with a long history of setting up Irish tax shelters for multinational companies, returned to Bristol Myers’s good graces.
The plan hinged on a tax write-off known as amortization. It lets companies deduct from their taxable income a portion of the cost of things, like the value of a patent, over a period of years. (For physical assets like office buildings, the process is known as depreciation.)
In the United States, Bristol Myers held rights to patents on several drugs that it had already fully written off for tax purposes.
In Ireland, a Bristol Myers subsidiary held rights to patents that it had not yet fully written off.
That mismatch provided a lucrative opportunity. The company moved the patent rights from the U.S. and Irish subsidiaries into a new company. As the U.S. patents generated income, the Irish amortization deductions now helped offset U.S. taxes.
When a company deploys a complicated new arrangement like this, it will generally seek the imprimatur of law and accounting firms. If they vouch for the maneuver’s legitimacy, that can protect the company from accusations that it deliberately broke the law.
In fall 2012, after the new structure was set up, Bristol Myers asked PwC and White & Case to review the arrangement. Both firms provided the company with lengthy letters — each more than 100 pages — essentially signing off from a legal standpoint.
“Bristol Myers Squibb is in compliance with all applicable tax rules and regulations,” said Megan Morin, a company spokeswoman. “We work with leading experts in this area and will continue to work cooperatively with the I.R.S. to resolve this matter.”
A spokeswoman for PwC declined to comment. White & Case lawyers and a spokeswoman did not respond to a list of questions.
But there were ample signs that the I.R.S. would probably take a dim view of the arrangement. A few months earlier, a federal appeals court had sided with the agency after it challenged a similar maneuver by General Electric using an offshore subsidiary called Castle Harbour. The I.R.S. also contested comparable setups by Merck and Dow Chemical.
The Bristol Myers arrangement “appears to be essentially a copycat shelter,” said Karen Burke, a tax law professor at the University of Florida. Since the I.R.S. was already fighting similar high-profile transactions, she said, “Bristol Myers’s behavior seems particularly aggressive and risky.”
The next January, the company announced its 2012 results. Its tax rate had plunged from nearly 25 percent in 2011 to negative 7 percent.
On a call with investors, executives fielded repeated questions about the drop in its tax rate. “Presumably, all drug companies try to optimize their legal entities to take their tax rate as low as they can, yet your rate is markedly lower than any of the other companies,” said Tim Anderson, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. “So I’m wondering why your tax rate might be unique in that regard?”
Charlie Bancroft, the company’s chief financial officer, wouldn’t say.
The more than $1 billion in tax savings came at an opportune moment: Bristol Myers was in the midst of repurchasing $6 billion worth of its own shares, an effort to lift its stock price. By January 2013, it had spent $4.2 billion. The cash freed up by the tax maneuver was enough to cover most of the remainder.
The Botched Redaction
It is not clear when I.R.S. agents first learned about the arrangement. But by last spring, the I.R.S. chief counsel’s office had determined that it violated a provision of the tax law that targets abusive profit-shifting arrangements.
In a 20-page legal analysis, the I.R.S. calculated that the offshore setup was likely to save Bristol Myers up to $1.38 billion in federal taxes.
After a complex audit, the I.R.S. often circulates its analyses to agents nationwide in case they encounter similar situations. A redacted version of the report is also made public on the I.R.S. website, cleansed of basic information like the name of the company.
But when the I.R.S. posted its Bristol Myers report last April, it was not properly redacted. With tools available on most laptops, the redacted portions could be made visible.
The I.R.S. quickly removed the improperly redacted version from its website. But Tax Notes, a widely read trade publication, had also posted the document. When the I.R.S. provided a clean version, Tax Notes took down the original.
An I.R.S. spokesman declined to comment.
Cara Griffith, the chief executive of Tax Analysts, the publisher of Tax Notes, said the publication erred “on the side of not publishing confidential taxpayer information that was accidentally released through an error in redaction, unless it reaches a very high threshold of newsworthiness.”
In the intervening hours, though, some tax practitioners had downloaded the original version from Tax Notes. One of them shared it with The New York Times, which viewed the document without the redactions.
In addition to detailing the offshore structure, the I.R.S. report revealed the role of PwC and White & Case in reviewing the deal. While both firms assessed the arrangement’s compliance with various provisions of the tax law, neither firm offered an opinion on whether the deal violated the one portion of the tax law — an anti-abuse provision — that the I.R.S. later argued made the transaction invalid.
Tax experts said they doubted the omission was inadvertent. The I.R.S. can impose penalties on companies that knowingly skirt the law. By not addressing the most problematic portion of the law, Bristol Myers’s advisers might have given the company plausible deniability.
Both firms “appear to have carefully framed the issues so that they could write a clean opinion that potentially provided a penalty shield,” Professor Burke said.
David Weisbach, a former Treasury Department official who helped write the regulations governing the tax-code provision that Bristol Myers is accused of violating, agreed. PwC and White & Case “are giving you 138 pages of legalese that doesn’t address the core issue in the transaction,” he said. “But you can show the I.R.S. you got this big fat opinion letter, so it must be fancy and good.”
The current status of the tax dispute is not clear. Similar disputes have spent years winding through the I.R.S.’s appeals process before leading to settlements. Companies often agree to pay a small fraction of what the I.R.S. claims was owed.
“There is a real chance that a matter like this could be settled for as little as 30 percent” of the amount in dispute, said Bryan Skarlatos, a tax lawyer at Kostelanetz & Fink.
In that case, the allegedly abusive tax shelter would have saved Bristol Myers nearly $1 billion.
A 26-year-old man detained at the Collin County Jail on a misdemeanor marijuana charge died after being pepper-sprayed and placed in a spit hood.
By Jacey Fortin, Published April 1, 2021, Updated April 2, 2021
Marvin D. Scott
Seven sheriff’s officers in Collin County, Texas, were fired on Thursday in connection with the death of Marvin D. Scott III, a 26-year-old Black man who died after being restrained at the county jail last month.
“Evidence I have seen confirms that these detention officers violated well-established Sheriff’s Office policies and procedures,” Jim Skinner, the sheriff, said in a statement, adding that an eighth officer had resigned.
The police in Allen, Texas, just north of Dallas, arrested Mr. Scott on a marijuana possession charge on March 14. He had less than two ounces of the drug, according to the authorities — a misdemeanor.
The police said they had taken Mr. Scott to a hospital because he was acting erratically. He was then taken to the county jail, where county officers restrained him and pepper-sprayed him. A spit hood was placed over his head. He died later that night.
Every evening for more than two weeks, members of Mr. Scott’s family have been gathering to protest outside the Collin County Jail, demanding transparency and accountability.
“We want to know, how did my son die?” Mr. Scott’s mother, LaSandra Scott, said at a news conference last week, according to NBC 5. “We want answers.”
Mr. Scott had a schizophrenia diagnosis and sometimes used marijuana as a form of self-medication when his prescription medication did not work well, according to S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the family.
Amy Gruszecki, a forensic pathologist who performed a second autopsy on Mr. Scott after his body was examined by the Collin County medical examiner, said at the news conference that according to her preliminary findings, it was possible that asphyxiation, as well as a physical struggle against his restraint, might have contributed to Mr. Scott’s death.
The county medical examiner did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Mr. Merritt said the county’s autopsy results had yet to be released.
The officers who were fired on Thursday had been placed on administrative leave after Mr. Scott’s death. The sheriff’s office opened an internal investigation into the episode, and the Texas Rangers, a state law enforcement agency, is conducting a criminal investigation.
Mr. Merritt said the family was asking for the officers involved to be arrested and for the release of security camera footage from the jail on the night of Mr. Scott’s death.
“They laid Marvin to rest on the 30th, just a couple days ago,” he said. “The family continues to protest every night along with other members of the community.”
The firings in Texas were announced during the trial in Minnesota of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck before Mr. Floyd died on May 25, prompting nationwide protests. Holding law enforcement officers accountable in the United States has long been difficult, in part because of powerful police unions and a legal system that gives wide latitude for officers to use force.
At a March 19 news conference, Sheriff Skinner called Mr. Scott’s death a tragedy and said he had met with Mr. Scott’s relatives.
According to a statement from the Allen Police Department, police officers encountered Mr. Scott on March 14 while responding to a disturbance call at an outlet mall and “were concerned for his safety due to the possible ingestion of drugs.”
Mr. Scott was taken to an emergency room, where he remained for three hours before being released with a physician’s clearance, the police statement said. It added that he had been taken to the Police Headquarters in Allen before being transferred to the Collin County Jail in McKinney.
Sheriff Skinner said that the police had taken Mr. Scott to the county jail shortly before 6:30 p.m. “While in the booking area, Mr. Scott exhibited some strange behavior,” he said. “Several detention officers tried to secure him to the restraint bed, and during the process used O.C. spray once, and also placed a spit mask on his face.”
O.C. spray — its formal name is oleoresin capsicum — can also be referred to as pepper spray. Sheriff Skinner described a spit mask as “a mask that fits over one’s head. It has a net on it in order to keep spittle from being spit on another person.”
The sheriff said that Mr. Scott had become unresponsive around 10:30. He added that the Texas Rangers, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday evening, were examining video footage of the episode.
FedEx and Nike are among those found to have avoided U.S. tax liability for three straight years.
By Patricia Cohen, April 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/business/economy/zero-corporate-tax.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Politics
Just as the Biden administration is pushing to raise taxes on corporations, a new study finds that at least 55 of America’s largest paid no taxes last year on billions of dollars in profits.
The sweeping tax bill passed in 2017 by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Donald J. Trump reduced the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. But dozens of Fortune 500 companies were able to further shrink their tax bill — sometimes to zero — thanks to a range of legal deductions and exemptions that have become staples of the tax code, according to the analysis.
Salesforce, Archer-Daniels-Midland and Consolidated Edison were among those named in the report, which was done by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning research group in Washington.
Twenty-six of the companies listed, including FedEx, Duke Energy and Nike, were able to avoid paying any federal income tax for the last three years even though they reported a combined income of $77 billion. Many also received millions of dollars in tax rebates.
Companies’ tax returns are private, but publicly traded corporations are required to file financial reports that include federal income tax expense. The institute used that data along with other information supplied by each company on its pretax income.
Catherine Butler, a spokeswoman for Duke Energy, responded in an email that the company “fully complies with federal and state tax laws as part of our efforts to make investments that will benefit our customers and communities.”
She pointed out that the bonus depreciation, intended to encourage investment in areas like renewable energy, “caused Duke’s cash tax obligations to be deferred to future periods, but it did not eliminate them.” According to a filing at the end of 2020, Duke has a deferred federal tax balance of $9 billion that will be paid in the future.
DTE Energy, a Detroit-based utility that was also found to have paid no federal taxes for three years, said major investments in modernizing aging infrastructure and new solar and wind technologies were the primary reasons last year. “For utilities, the benefit of these federal tax savings are passed on to utility customers in the form of lower utility bills,” it said in a statement.
A provision in the 2017 tax bill allowed businesses to immediately write off the cost of any new equipment and machinery.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed last year to help businesses and families survive the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus, also contained a provision that temporarily allowed businesses to use losses in 2020 to offset profits earned in previous years, according to the institute.
DTE used that provision to get an accelerated refund of credits representing $220 million of previously paid alternative minimum taxes, the company said.
FedEx, too, took advantage of provisions in the CARES Act, using losses in 2020 to reduce tax bills from previous years when the tax rate was higher.
The report is the latest fodder in a debate over whether and how to revise the tax code. Policymakers, business leaders and tax experts argue that many deductions and credits are there for good reason — to encourage research and development, to promote expansion and to smooth the ups and downs of the business cycle, taking a longer view of profit and loss than can be calculated in a single year.
“The fact that a lot of companies aren’t paying taxes says there are a lot of provisions and preferences out there,” said Alan D. Viard, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group. “It doesn’t tell you whether they’re good or bad or indifferent. At most it’s a starting point, certainly not an ending point.”
He pointed out that the Biden administration itself supported tax credits for green energy investments.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has been issuing a form of its report on corporate taxes for decades. During the 2020 presidential campaign, its findings grabbed center stage, with Democratic candidates citing it to argue the tax code was deeply flawed.
Tax avoidance strategies include a mix of old standards and new innovations. Companies, for example, saved billions by allowing top executives to buy discounted stock options in the future and then deducting their value as a loss.
The Biden administration announced this week that it planned to increase the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, and establish a kind of minimum tax that would limit the number of zero-payers. The White House estimated that the revisions would raise $2 trillion over 15 years, which will be used to fund the president’s ambitious infrastructure plan.
Supporters say that in addition to yielding revenue, the rewrite would help make the tax code more equitable, requiring individuals and companies at the top of the income ladder to pay more. But Republicans have signaled that the tax increases in the Biden proposal — which Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, called “massive” — will preclude bipartisan support.
Referring to the proposed revisions, Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at the taxation institute, said, “If I were going to make a list of the things I would want the corporate tax reform to do, this outline tackles all these issues.”
Deductions and exemptions wouldn’t disappear, but other changes like the minimum tax would reduce their value, he said.
Isolation for more than 15 consecutive days will be barred in prisons and jails starting next March after years of efforts to restrict the practice.
By Troy Closson, April 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/01/nyregion/solitary-confinement-restricted.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
After the 2019 death of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who had an epileptic seizure while in solitary confinement, pressure to end the practice mounted. Credit...Stephanie Keith for The New York Times
In a far-reaching move that will fundamentally change life behind bars in New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday signed into law a bill that will end the use of long-term solitary confinement in prisons and jails.
The new law is set to restrict prisons and jails from holding people in solitary confinement — nearly all-day isolation — for more than 15 consecutive days. It also bars the practice entirely for several groups, including minors and people with certain disabilities.
The new limitations, which do not take effect for one year, mirror recent changes in several other states that have limited the practice. Mr. Cuomo signed the bill on Wednesday, his office confirmed, but signaled that he planned to negotiate some changes to the legislation.
The law was long sought by advocates for incarcerated people, who have raised concerns about the mental health ramifications of solitary confinement and the apparent racial inequity in its use. Black and Latino people make up about 70 percent of the state’s prison population and represent more than four-fifths of those in solitary confinement.
Other provisions in the law focus on the mental health consequences of solitary confinement. The law would require screenings for suicide risk and the creation of new rehabilitation units for prisoners who need to be separated from the general population for more than 15 days.
“Having spent a lot of time with the advocates who have direct stakes in this bill, this is deeply meaningful,” Senator Julia Salazar, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said Wednesday evening before the bill became law.
In recent years, more lawmakers across the country have joined a push to curb widespread use of solitary confinement, also referred to as punitive segregation, over the objections of corrections officials who argue that rollbacks to the practice will make effective discipline more difficult and make prisons and jails less safe.
Still, public defenders point to data showing racial disparities in the use of solitary. In New York State, Black people represent about 48 percent of the prison population, but 58 percent of those in special housing units.
A large body of research also links solitary confinement to increased risks for self-harm and suicide, worsened mental illness and higher rates of death after release.
“It didn’t take me long to start seeing things that weren’t in my cell, to start having a conversation with nobody there,” said Victor Pate, who campaigned for the legislation after being released from prison. Mr. Pate said he spent more than two years in isolation over his roughly 15 years in the system. “You never get over that. I’m not well by a long shot.”
Colorado barred use of long-term isolation in its prisons in 2017, and two years later, New Jersey restricted use of solitary confinement to 20 consecutive days. At least 11 other states, including Georgia, Nebraska and New Mexico, in 2019 also limited or banned punitive segregation for certain groups.
A large campaign to limit the use of solitary confinement in New York kicked off more than eight years ago. But those efforts had long fallen short in Albany.
The state agreed in 2015, following a lawsuit, to changes that included improved living conditions in isolation.
A measure similar to the new law appeared primed to pass in 2019, but ultimately died after union pushback and a threat of veto from Mr. Cuomo, who cited concerns over large potential costs to carry out the changes. (Those projections were later disputed.) Instead, the governor agreed to roll out several less expansive administrative changes to alter the practice.
After Democrats secured a legislative supermajority in last November’s elections, which allowed a veto from the governor to be overridden, their efforts to pass the measure gained traction. Activists in recent weeks staged several rallies outside Mr. Cuomo’s office in Manhattan. The measure passed both chambers with wide support this month, and some lawmakers threatened to push ahead even without Mr. Cuomo’s signature.
In his approval of the law, Mr. Cuomo wrote that “amendments are necessary” in order to protect people living and working in correctional facilities. He said those changes would involve addressing “all possible circumstances” in which incarcerated people may need to be separated from the general population, including when they commit “multiple violent acts.”
He did not offer additional specifics.
The current legislation would restrict the use of solitary to no more than 15 consecutive days, or 20 total days over a two-month period. Punitive segregation would be banned entirely for people under 22 or over 54, those who are pregnant and individuals with mental and physical disabilities, among other groups.
Some of those changes, such as the ban for people under 22, had already been adopted in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to eventually do away with solitary confinement altogether. Corrections officials, however, were found to be transferring young detainees to correctional facilities elsewhere in the state, where such restrictions did not exist.
After the 15-day cap, people would move to high-security rehabilitative units when needed, where they would spend at least seven hours outside of a cell per day for therapy, treatment and other programs. (The change applies to prisons and jails with populations of more than 500.)
“All of this really changes the framework. It’s significant, and it’s justified,” said Craig Haney, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has studied the effects of isolation. “We’re all going to look at how it works, and it may very well be the case that the state can go further.”
The legislation comes as the proportion of detainees in isolation at Rikers Island and other jails in New York City has risen in recent years, even as the total jail population has fallen. In state prisons, about 40,000 solitary confinement sanctions were doled out in 2018, though use of the most restrictive form of isolation fell, according to a report from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The majority of those in solitary for serious rule violations spent between one and three months inside, though many terms lasted three to six months. About 130 people were in isolation for more than one year.
Corrections leaders have long argued that isolation is a crucial tool for punishing disorderly detainees and say that its increased use can be attributed in part to a rise in violence in some facilities. A report from the Department of Correction in New York City showed steady increases over recent years in the rate of violent incidents among incarcerated people and assaults on staff by those in custody. Prisons, too, have reported some of those trends.
Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, called the rollbacks to punitive segregation “reckless” in a statement and said he worried they could make jails more dangerous for detainees and staff.
“There is nothing humane about subjecting our brave men and women to brutal assaults that send them to the hospital every week,” he said. “The governor should put safety first.”
Some Republican lawmakers who voted against the measure took similar stances, and Mike Powers, who heads the union that represents state corrections officers, said in an interview that he was frustrated that the concerns of staff were left out of conversations about the new law. He questioned what effective discipline would now look like.
“None of that’s being addressed,” Mr. Powers said. The move, he said, was reflective of a lack of investment in and concern for state corrections staff.
Still, some experts and public defenders point to studies that suggest the use of solitary confinement has little effect on reining in violence behind bars. “It’s fear-mongering,” said Kelsey De Avila, the jail service project director at the Brooklyn Defender Services.
The heightened scrutiny of the practice among lawmakers in New York has followed some of the starkest examples of its use.
Officials in New York City first moved to limit the use of isolation for young people after the suicide of Kalief Browder, a teenager who spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial after being accused of stealing a backpack. Nearly two of those years were spent in solitary confinement, only then to have the charges against him dropped. The death of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who had an epileptic seizure while in solitary after guards failed to check on her, motivated Mr. de Blasio’s pledge to do away with solitary altogether.
Darlene McDay said the changes on the state level hold a particular significance.
Her 22-year-old son, Dante Taylor, killed himself four years ago while in isolation at a state prison in Erie County.
In a report last September, the state’s Commission of Correction wrote that officers had used excessive force against Mr. Taylor after an incident the previous day. Officials had also failed to update their assessment of his suicide risk, the report said, and did not provide him with proper mental health care during his time in isolation.
“My son is gone now, and it affects me every single day. This has now become my life,” Ms. McDay said. “It was so preventable. I don’t want this to happen to someone else.”
A Texas woman is appealing her conviction of voting illegally in the 2016 election. A lawyer says her prosecution “guts the entire purpose of the provisional ballot system.”
By Christina Morales, April 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/03/us/texas-provisional-ballot-appeal.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Politics
On Election Day 2016, Crystal Mason went to vote after her mother insisted that she make her voice heard in the presidential election. When her name didn’t appear on official voting rolls at her polling place in Tarrant County, Texas, she filled out a provisional ballot, not thinking anything of it.
Ms. Mason’s ballot was never officially counted or tallied because she was ineligible to vote: She was on supervised release after serving five years for tax fraud. Nonetheless, that ballot has wrangled her into a lengthy appeals process after a state district court sentenced her to five years in prison for illegal voting, as she was a felon on probation when she cast her ballot.
Ms. Mason maintains that she didn’t know she was ineligible to vote.
“This is very overwhelming, waking up every day knowing that prison is on the line, trying to maintain a smile on your face in front of your kids and you don’t know the outcome,” Ms. Mason said in a phone interview. “Your future is in someone else’s hands because of a simple error.”
Her case is now headed for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest state court for criminal cases, whose judges said on Wednesday that they had decided to hear it. Ms. Mason unsuccessfully asked for a new trial and lost her case in an appellate court.
This new appeal is the last chance for Ms. Mason, 46, who is out on appeal bond, to avoid prison. If her case has to advance to the federal court system, Ms. Mason would have to appeal from a cell.
Alison Grinter, one of Ms. Mason’s lawyers, said the federal government made it clear in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that provisional ballots should not be criminalized because they represent “an offer to vote — they’re not a vote in themselves.”
She said that Ms. Mason didn’t know she was ineligible and was still convicted, and that Texas’ election laws stipulate that a person must knowingly vote illegally to be guilty of a crime.
“Crystal never wanted to be a voting rights advocate,” Ms. Grinter said Thursday. “She didn’t want to be a political football here. She just wanted to be a mom and a grandmother and put her life on track, but she’s really taken it and run with it, and she refuses to be intimidated.”
A Tarrant County grand jury indicted Ms. Mason for a violation of the Texas election laws, a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
“Our office offered Mason the option of probation in this case, which she refused,” the statement said. “Mason waived a trial by jury and chose to proceed to trial before the trial judge.”
In March 2018, Judge Ruben Gonzalez of Texas’ 432nd District Court found Ms. Mason guilty of a second-degree felony for illegally voting.
According to Tommy Buser-Clancy, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Ms. Mason should never have never been convicted. If there is ambiguity in someone’s eligibility, the provisional ballot system is there to account for it, he said.
“That’s very scary,” he said of Ms. Mason’s conviction, “and it guts the entire purpose of the provisional ballot system.”
If her eligibility was incorrect, he said, “that should be the end of the story.”
The appeals court’s decision could set an important precedent for the future of how the public interprets voting, especially if they’re confused, according to Joseph R. Fishkin, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He said he hoped that the court establishes a principle not to “criminalize people for being confused about the complexities of the interaction between the criminal law and election law.”
Professor Fishkin said that he and many other law experts believe that if the court upholds Ms. Mason’s conviction, the state would be in direct conflict with the federal Help America Vote Act.
“It’s very important for basic fairness and for participation around the country that people are confident that when they act in good faith and aren’t trying to pull a fast one, that you’re not going to start charging them for crimes,” Professor Fishkin said Thursday. “If this case stands, that’s obviously concerning, because a lot of people who may not understand the details of their status or who is allowed to vote will be deterred from voting.”
Across the United States, 5.2 million Americans cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, a research organization dedicated to crime and punishment.
The office of the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, said that 531 election fraud offenses have been prosecuted since 2004. The outcomes of those cases were not immediately available. At least 72 percent of Mr. Paxton’s voter fraud cases have targeted people of color, according to The Houston Chronicle.
Ms. Mason’s cause has received support from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. Clark Neily, a senior vice president for criminal justice at the institute, said the case represented an example of excessive criminalization.
“It’s putting people in a position where they can commit a criminal offense without even knowing that they’re in violation of any law,” he said.
Celina Stewart, chief counsel at the League of Women Voters, which has filed supporting briefs on Ms. Mason’s behalf, said her case sent “a very clear message” that people with felony convictions should be cautious.
“She’s being made an example, and the example is that you don’t want returning citizens, Black people, Black women to vote,” she said. “That’s an egregious narrative, and we have to push back on that because that’s not how democracy works.”
On Sunday, March 28, 2021, at 3:04 P.M., our brother, uncle, cousin, comrade and friend, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, joined the ancestors. For a week, he lay barely conscious in a Los Angeles hospital as he struggled to extend his life after suffering a massive stroke in California’s gulag known as Lancaster. Chip’s strength and dedication to life remained intact as he defied those doctors who said he would not make it through the night in the hours after his initial arrival at the hospital. A stalwart soldier, he fought until his very last breath. Chip died as he had lived: fighting. A Service is being planned which may be in a month or so due to COVID, followed by a memorial. We want to also thank the many thousands who put their voices together to free Brother Chip.
Among the government’s many victims, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was a member of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles. Incarcerated since 1969, he grew old in prison and was disabled many years ago by an earlier, less lethal stroke. Like millions of Black youth during the sixties, Chip, at the age of 17, joined the freedom struggle as the social justice movement rapidly expanded to include massive numbers of urban youth. The government’s conduct towards Chip proves that important elements of our society are guided by an irrational tradition that values vengeance over justice or reconciliation. This failure demonstrates the nation’s unwillingness to fully acknowledge historic wrongs perpetrated against Black Americans.
Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald was a social justice activist, and it is inhumane to imprison activists for 50-years or more, particularly while others convicted of comparable crimes have served significantly less time. A closer look reveals the only differences between those serving shorter sentences and those serving longer ones are the political beliefs and affiliations some had with social justice groups like the Black Panther Party.
Chip never compromised, though he continued to the end to seek redress for this egregious wrong by working with his lawyer, family and defense committees to end his half-century nightmare of a slow death behind bars. For us the living, Chip’s passing is a lesson to keep fighting the good fight. To give when perhaps it’s hard to give. And to live when perhaps life seems so empty. Chip’s life did not leave us without a clear message. During his final days in the hospital, the authorities felt the need to chain and shackle Chip to his bed. Despite the fact that he was hardly conscious, they saw this demeaning action as necessary. What they failed to understand is that you can neither jail nor shackle the spirit of liberation. May we all aspire to leave this same impression of daring to struggle until our last breath. And may Chip’s stalwart example give us the courage to dare to win.
All Power to the People!
Free All Political Prisoners!