The Washington State Supreme Court just ruled to allow the right-wing Recall Campaign against Councilmember Kshama Sawant to move forward.
In response, Councilmember Sawant said “This ruling is completely unjust, but we are not surprised. Working people and oppressed communities cannot rely on the capitalist courts for justice anymore than they can on the police.”
“Last summer, all across the country, ordinary people who peacefully protested in multi-racial solidarity against racism and police brutality themselves faced brutal police violence. The police and the political establishment have yet to be held accountable, while in stark contrast, more than 14,000 protestors were arrested.”
“In October, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously threw out the grassroots recall campaign launched in response to Amazon-backed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s overseeing a violent police crackdown against Seattle protests. Now, this same Supreme Court has unanimously approved the recall against an elected socialist, working-class representative who has unambiguously stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“The recall law in Washington State is inherently undemocratic and well-suited for politicized use against working people’s representatives, because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true. In effect, the courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.”
The recall effort against Councilmember Sawant explicitly cited her role in Black Lives Matter protests and the Amazon Tax campaign in their articles of recall. In 2019, Kshama was elected for the third time despite a record-breaking influx of corporate money in Seattle elections, including $1.5 million in corporate PAC spending from Amazon, as well as donations from top Amazon executives and numerous wealthy Republican donors directly to Kshama’s opponent.
The Recall Campaign is backed by a host of corporate executives and developers, including billionaire landlord and Trump donor Martin Selig; Jeannie Nordstrom of the billionaire union-busting, retail giant Nordstrom dynasty; Airbnb Chief Financial Officer and former Amazon Vice President Dave Stephenson; Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President Matt Westphal; wealthy Trump donors like Dennis Weibling, Vidur Luthra and Greg Eneil; and plethora of major real-estate players, such as John Stephanus, whose asset management company, Epic, has ranked amongst Seattle’s top 10 landlords for evictions.
Now, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Recall Campaign is able to begin collecting signatures to get a recall election on an upcoming ballot. With the financial backing of the corporate elite, we know the Recall Campaign will have unlimited resources to collect their signatures.
That’s why we need your support to massively expand our Decline-to-Sign campaign and defeat this attack on all working people. The Recall Campaign has already raised $300,000. Can you make a contribution to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign today so that we have the necessary resources to fight back?
Kshama Solidarity Campaign
Copyright © 2021 Kshama Solidarity Campaign, All rights reserved
PLEDGE: Stand with Kshama Sawant Against the Right-Wing Recall!
The right wing and big business are going after Councilmember Sawant because she’s been such a powerful voice for working people – for leading the way on the Amazon Tax, on the $15 minimum wage, and for her role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Amazon spent millions trying to unseat Kshama last year and failed. Now the Recall Campaign is raising money from corporate executives and rich Republicans to try to overturn that election and all our victories. Their campaign is saying Kshama’s support for Black Lives Matter was promoting “lawlessness” – this is a racist attack on the movement. The right wing will be collecting signatures to get the recall on the ballot; we’re building a Decline-to-Sign movement to keep our voice on the City Council and win COVID relief for working people.
Sign the pledge at:https://www.kshamasolidarity.org
Paid for by Kshama Solidarity Campaign
PO Box 20611, Seattle, WA 98102
9 minutes 29 seconds
Reprinted below is a short legal update from Judy Ritter and Sam Spital, the attorneys who are litigating Mumia Abu-Jamal's conviction. On March 17th, they filed a response to DA Larry Krasner's position on the issues that are being re-litigated, following Tucker's ruling to reopen all appeals filed by Mumia's attorneys between 1998 - 2012. Maureen Faulkner also filed a motion yesterday. Both filings are at the link above.
--Reprinted below is a statement released by attorneys Judith Ritter and Sam Spital on March 18, 2021:
Yesterday we filed our reply brief in Superior Court in support of Mumia’s claims in the re-opened appeals. We focused on four arguments:
(a) the Court’s jurisdiction to hear this case notwithstanding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Reid that most petitioners seeking to re-open their cases post Williams v. Pennsylvania cannot do so because their claims are not timely;
(b) trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to present evidence that Robert Chobert was on probation at the time of his trial testimony;
(c) the admissibility of Yvette Williams’s declaration reporting what Cynthia White said to hear about lying against Mumia; and
(d) racial discrimination in jury selection in violation of Batson.
Also yesterday, Maureen Faulkner sought permission, again, to intervene in the Superior Court. Essentially her argument is that the DA is not in her view raising—or at least not vigorously raising—a jurisdictional/timeliness argument, which she says reflects ongoing bias and the need for disqualification.Questions and comments may be sent to 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.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or 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:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
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!
The witnesses who testified this week are still tormented by that day.
By Frank Bruni, Opinion Columnist, April 3, 2021
It has been more than 10 months since George Floyd was pinned to the Minneapolis pavement, a knee hard on his neck as the life drained senselessly out of him and he moaned, again and again, “I can’t breathe.” The small group of people who were there — along with countless others who watched the horrifying video — have had all that time to come to terms with it, or at least to try.
Still, Charles McMillian all but collapsed on the witness stand, a 61-year-old man crying beyond control at his recollection of what he saw that day. He can’t shake it. That’s true of witness after witness at this excruciating trial. They’re not so much haunted as tormented by their memories of Floyd’s last minutes.
McMillian possibly articulated one of the reasons with the words he squeezed out between his sobs.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “I couldn’t help but feel helpless.”
“Helpless.” Even the witnesses who didn’t say that said it in one way or another. Helplessness is a big part of what this trial is about.
Floyd felt helpless once police officers descended on him. What he’d experienced and observed in his life to that point convinced him that the odds were stacked against him and that he was in danger. “Please don’t shoot me,” he begged when they ordered him out of his car. The fear in his voice — heard on video played in the courtroom — was real.
Witnesses felt helpless as Derek Chauvin, the former officer now on trial, knelt on Floyd’s neck for minute after unconscionable minute. Chauvin was in uniform. He was the law. Can you actually call the police on the police? It’s like some rhetorical riddle, signaling a world out of whack. Three witnesses actually did call the police on the police, but it was too late.
Listening to witnesses’ testimony, which was often punctuated with tears, I got the sense that some of them felt helpless not only to stop what was being done to George Floyd but also to affect the larger forces that conspired in his death and trap so many Black Americans like him in a place of great vulnerability and pain.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” Darnella Frazier testified. She took the video of his death that went viral. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black.”
“I look at how that could have been one of them,” she added. She also said that there have “been nights I’ve stayed up apologizing and apologizing to George Floyd for not doing more.”
She was 17 then. There were four police officers on or around him. She couldn’t see a way to help.
But society isn’t helpless. That’s why we have trials like this one. They’re our attempts to find the truth, to address any injustice, to declare our values — here’s what we will permit, and here’s what we won’t — and perhaps make us better in the long run.
Chauvin is charged with murder. At some point the trial, whose first week just concluded, will turn toward forensics and feuding claims over the specific cause of Floyd’s death. Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, will mine autopsy results for ambiguity. He’ll assert reasonable doubt that Chauvin’s knee was the murder weapon.
But Chauvin’s inhumanity is indisputable, and the depth of the mark that it left on the people who intersected with it has been heartbreaking to behold. What happened near the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue on May 25, 2020, was a chilling lesson in power and powerlessness. It both validated and stoked their fears.
“I felt like I was in danger,” Frazier said. “I felt threatened.”
“I was scared,” said Kaylynn Ashley Gilbert, who was also 17 when she came upon that gruesome scene, where four men who were supposed “to protect and to serve,” in the motto of many police departments, were ordering bystanders to keep away as Floyd, losing breath, cried out for his mother.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody be killed,” testified another witness, Genevieve Hansen, an off-duty firefighter who also found herself at the scene. “But it’s upsetting.” That was putting it mildly, to judge by her expression and her voice, in which there was still so much rage and so much regret that she couldn’t intervene.
“I was desperate to help,” Hansen said. But she was helpless.
She grabbed a tissue to sop up her tears. That gesture defined the first week of the trial as surely as laments of helplessness did. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, seemed to go through a whole box of tissues.
She recalled that some of his first words to her, on the day they met, were a question: “Can I pray with you?” He could see that she was going through a rough time. He wanted to help.
Seeking context for Floyd’s cries to his dead mother just before his own death, one of the prosecutors asked Ross about Floyd’s relation with his mother and how the loss of her affected him.
“He seemed kind of like a shell of himself,” Ross said. “He was broken.”
Her testimony was meant to shed light not on how Chauvin behaved but on how Floyd lived, and that made it essential. She reminded anyone paying attention — and a great many of us are paying close attention — that Floyd, now a symbol, was also a man: loving, loved, strong, weak, with virtues, with vices.
And so very, very vulnerable.
The witnesses who were there at the end of his life came face to face with that. I think they came face to face, too, with their own vulnerability — with the confirmation of how many people are unsafe, and sometimes even helpless, when we let hatred and bigotry fester.
Unable to alter that big picture, a few of the witnesses wondered what, if anything, they might have done differently on that one day.
“If I would’ve just not taken the bill, this could’ve been avoided,” said Christopher Martin, the clerk at Cup Foods, where Floyd used a fake $20, prompting a manager to summon the police.
Martin, 19, seemed to be struggling with a kind of survivor’s guilt. So did other witnesses. They shouldn’t, but I can’t say the same for many of the rest of us. We too seldom turn toward the ills that factored into George Floyd’s fate. We too often look the other way.
By The Editorial Board, April 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/03/opinion/sunday/property-taxes-housing-assessment-inequality.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times
Americans expect to pay property taxes at the same rates as their neighbors. But across most of the United States, flat-rate property taxation is a sham.
Local governments are failing at the basic task of accurately assessing property values, and there is a clear and striking pattern: More expensive properties are undervalued, while less expensive properties are overvalued. The result is that wealthy homeowners get a big tax break, while less affluent homeowners are paying a higher price for the same public services.
Homeowners have long complained about inequitable assessments, and past studies have documented problems in particular cities. A new nationwide analysis led by Christopher Berry of the University of Chicago reveals that the inequities in tax assessments are both very large and very common.
For example, in Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, 1,015 homes were sold for exactly $100,000 from 2007 to 2016. Their average assessed value before the sale was $151,585. During the same decade, 149 homes sold for exactly $1 million. Their average presale assessed value: $647,030.
These distortions in assessed values carry through directly to tax bills. Nationwide, from 2007 to 2016, homes in the bottom 10 percent of property values in a given county were taxed, on average, at an effective rate that was twice as high as the rate for homes in the top 10 percent of property values.
The maladministration of property taxation means the wrong people are picking up the tab for public services. In a separate study, focused on Cook County, Mr. Berry calculated that from 2011 to 2015, inequities in property assessment resulted in the improper billing of $2.2 billion in taxes. While a comparable national figure is hard to calculate, the scale of the issue is indicated by the fact that local governments annually collect almost $500 billion in residential property taxes.
Inequitable assessment is also an important reason the burden of state and local taxation is regressive, meaning that most state and local governments collect a larger share of the income of lower-income households than of upper-income households. By failing to properly assess property, government is worsening the large and growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth and income.
The burden falls disproportionately on minorities. Because of the accumulated effects of past racism, minorities tend to live in homes that command lower prices — yet are assessed at inflated values. In another recent national study of assessment data, the economists Carlos Avenancio-León of Indiana University, Bloomington, and Troup Howard of the University of Utah, found that Black and Hispanic homeowners paid 10 percent to 13 percent more in property taxes than the owners of similar homes living under the same tax laws. For the median minority homeowner, the extra tax tab was more than $300 a year.
Property taxation is appealingly simple in concept: Everyone who owns the same kind of property in the same community pays a fixed share of the value each year to support public schools, public safety, road construction and the other basic functions of local government.
In practice, it’s not so easy to figure out what a home might be worth. Taxable value is an approximation of market value — the amount a buyer would pay. But less than 5 percent of homes are sold in any given year, so assessors need to assign values to every house based on the prices of those few that sold. This is particularly difficult at the fringes of the market.
Both cheap and expensive homes are, by definition, unusual. But even similar homes, as in a cookie-cutter subdivision, are not so easy to assess. A new kitchen can push up the value of one home while an old roof can depress the value of another. And sales prices can be distorted by motivated sellers or eager buyers.
Some local governments, like Harris County, Texas; Maricopa County, Ariz.; and Wake County, N.C., regularly overcome these obstacles, showing equity is achievable.
But they are exceptions. Mr. Berry examined counties in each year from 2007 to 2016 in every state except California, which has a unique property tax system. In the average year, 90 percent of those counties failed to meet a basic industry standard for accuracy and equity.
Many states require assessors to assess the accuracy of their own results. The problem is what happens next — or, rather, what does not happen next.
In New York, where assessments are mostly performed by cities and towns, the state’s most recent review in 2019 concluded that 55 percent of jurisdictions did not meet the industry standard. But the standard is not enforced. Indeed, New York is one of a small handful of states that does not even require regular assessments.
In Syracuse, which last conducted a citywide assessment in 1996, the city ignored the appreciation of many high-dollar homes until the local paper, The Post-Standard, called attention to the problem. The paper highlighted the example of a woman who paid higher annual taxes on a home she bought for $46,000 than other residents paid for homes purchased at prices that approached $200,000.
In Delaware, where counties have not revalued properties since the 1980s, a state judge ruled last year that inequities had grown so large as to violate the state Constitution.
Reassessment by itself, however, is insufficient if the methodology is warped. In 2017, Detroit systematically updated the values of properties for the first time in six decades, sharply reducing valuations across the board. But an independent review found that high-value homes got disproportionate reductions, deepening inequities.
One reason for these inequities is that assessors aren’t paying enough attention to the cardinal rule of real estate: location, location, location. The data show errors in valuation tend to cluster geographically. Underestimating the significance of location has the effect of discounting the value of properties in more desirable locations and overstating the value of those in less desirable locations.
Some reasons are fairly easy to identify, like the boundaries of school districts. Others, like proximity to a particular house of worship, may be harder to discern. But assessors don’t need to figure out these details. Statistical techniques are readily available to account for variations without inquiring into causes.
Daniel McMillen, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has reviewed the recent studies, said that the geographical pattern of the errors indicates that many assessors simply aren’t trying very hard to deliver accurate numbers. Mr. Berry estimates that statistical best practices could reduce the inequities by roughly one-third.
Assessors face a more difficult task in accounting for differences inside homes. Robert Ross, a data scientist who has led an effort to improve Cook County’s assessments, said the county has made significant progress in accounting for location, but still struggles to assess homes in the bottom 30 percent of property values. Using the available data, the county can’t reliably distinguish between a home that will sell for $100,000 and a home that will sell for $150,000. The relevant differences, like new kitchens and old roofs, are often invisible from the street.
Mortgage lenders, whose profits depend on accurate assessments, rely on appraisals that include internal inspections. But emulating that practice would require the consent of the homeowners, and even then it would be dauntingly expensive and politically unpopular.
Fortunately, there are other ways to make progress. Assessors can incorporate data from building permits and real-estate listings. They can make it easier for property owners to submit relevant information. They can seek patterns in the data.
Homestead exemptions, which shelter a portion of the assessed value of a primary residence from taxation, can help to offset the systemic overvaluation of low-end properties. Many homeowners, particularly in lower-income communities, do not claim those exemptions. Local governments can encourage use of the exemptions, or apply them automatically.
Local governments also need to reconsider the process that allows homeowners to appeal assessments. That system is meant to rectify inequities, but it often widens them.
In Nassau County, N.Y., for example, a Newsday investigation in 2017 found that appeals were routinely successful. Following a reassessment, fully 61 percent of property owners won reductions in assessed value. The problem is that those least likely to appeal were the owners of the low-priced properties most likely to be overvalued on the tax rolls.
In Cook County, the nation’s second-largest county by population, Mr. Avenancio-León and Mr. Howard found that minorities were less likely to appeal assessments, that those who appealed were less likely to win and that those who won received smaller assessment reductions.
The inequities that researchers have put on public display are galling not just because they have come at the expense of those who can least afford it, but because it’s clear that it would be relatively easy for local governments to address these problems.
Equitable assessment is possible. Anything less is unacceptable.
Amazon must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.
By Pamela L. Geller and Christopher Parmeter, April 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/opinion/amazon-plastic-waste.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images
The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone.
Did you need a book, disposable surgical mask, beauty product, or garden hose? Amazon was probably your online marketplace. If you wanted to purchase a Nicolas Cage pillowcase or a harness with leash for your chicken, Amazon had your back (They’re #17 and #39 on a 2019 Good Housekeeping list of the 40 ‘weirdest” products available on the website “that people actually love.”) From pandemic misery came consumer comfort and corporate profit.
And plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.
In 2019, Amazon used an estimated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging, according to the nonprofit environmental group Oceana. The group also estimated that up to 22 million pounds of Amazon’s plastic packaging waste ended up as trash in freshwater and marine ecosystems around the world. These numbers are likely to rise in 2021.
Amazon has disputed those figures, telling the news website Vox that they are “dramatically miscalculated” and that actually it uses about a quarter of what Oceana reported. But that would still amount to more than 116 million pounds of plastic. The company was expected to account for an estimated 39 percent of e-commerce sales in the United States last year, according to the market research firm eMarketer, more than six times the expected sales of the No. 2 company on the list, Walmart.
With this growth, the continuing surge in demand for single-use plastic packaging seems inevitable. Packaging is the largest market for plastic resins in the United States, accounting for 31 percent in 2019, according to the American Chemistry Council. A significant portion of that is for food and beverages, but packaging for e-commerce is growing rapidly.
The magnitude of plastic packaging that is used and casually discarded — air pillows, Bubble Wrap, shrink wrap, envelopes, bags — portends gloomy consequences.
These single-use items are primarily made from polyethylene, though vinyl is also used. In marine environments, this plastic waste can cause disease and death for coral, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Plastic debris is often mistaken for food, and microplastics release chemical toxins as they degrade. Data suggests that plastics have infiltrated human food webs and placentas. These plastics have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system, which releases hormones into the bloodstream that help control growth and development during childhood, among many other important processes.
Certainly, some of the onus for plastic pollution should fall on consumers. Convenience is seductive. Amazon’s distribution network is vast and efficient. Its products are also numerous; the company sells its own goods and serves as a clearinghouse for many other businesses. According to a 2020 Amazon report, small- and medium-size businesses sold an average of 6,500 products per minute on the website in the 12 months through May 31.
Amazon, of course, is only one company among thousands using plastic packaging to ship its products. But given its enormous size and reach, the company should spearhead the elimination of single-use plastic packaging worldwide for the products it sells. As a sign of what is possible, Amazon says it has phased out single-use plastic packaging at its more than 50 fulfillment centers in India.
Elsewhere, it still has a long way to go.
In the United States, Amazon advertises its packaging as recyclable, and points consumers to chain retailers and supermarkets with drop-off recycling programs. But these programs will generally not accept air pillows and envelopes unless the paper labels are removed entirely. Challenges created by the pandemic and decidedly stubborn adhesive also make this endeavor anything but “Frustration-Free,” despite Amazon’s certified claims.
And Amazon may own Whole Foods, “the first and only certified organic national grocery store,” as the company puts it, but a trip down most of the aisles demonstrates the ubiquity of single-use plastic packaging — from the produce section, where you can find pre-cut fruit in plastic containers, to the deli counter, where your sliced turkey is placed in a plastic bag.
There are several routes Amazon — and other e-commerce companies — can take to reduce their plastic footprint. First, and easiest, these companies should honor consumers who want plastic-free shipping. Amazon should offer reduced shipping costs for those who want to forgo plastic packaging. For secondary shipping (meaning shipping directly from sellers, not Amazon), the company could develop a plastic-use index that allows consumers to know how much single-use plastics those businesses use in a package.
Amazon should also put to work its in-house brain trust — the company is one of the biggest employers of Ph.D. economists in the United States — to develop more economic incentives to help consumers and corporations break free of single-use plastics. Finally, the sustainability research arm of Amazon Science could hire applied scientists to create packaging that breaks down safely on land and in the ocean.
Amazon has such enormous market power that it could do much to force these changes throughout the economy. This would sidestep the need for government action.
We know Amazon has the capabilities. Its accomplishment in India is one example. And the company claims to have eliminated more than one million tons of plastic, cardboard and paper from its packaging since 2015. Now it needs to build on that record. By eliminating single-use plastics globally, Amazon could be the model for other multinational companies, as well as part of the solution instead of a major contributor to the plastic problem.
Drs. Geller and Parmeter are associate professors at the University of Miami.
There’s a through-line from a noose on the neck to a knee on the neck.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, April 4, 2021
A memorial space, called the Say Their Names Cemetery, remembering victims of police violence in Minneapolis. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
There are many appalling narratives emerging from the trial of the former police officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd.
There’s the transference of guilt from the people who killed Floyd to those who watched him die. There’s the difference in empathy when a Black person in the inner city is struggling with opioid addiction, compared to when the drug user is a young white person in a suburb or rural America.
But what resonated for me was the sense of powerlessness in Floyd begging, to no avail, for his life, and in the powerlessness of the agitated crowd of bystanders and witnesses to intervene. The power in this dynamic was held by the officers, including Chauvin, and it was wielded to a deadly extreme.
The application of force, a deadly force, even after Floyd was handcuffed, even after he became unresponsive, is to me emblematic of an attempt not only to punish Floyd’s body, but also to demonstrate complete control and demand complete submission. The treatment of Floyd’s body was a message to those in his community: Any perceived disorder or disobedience will be crushed, literally.
t recalled for me the long history of demonstrative displays against Black people in America. The enslavers performed barbaric acts on the bodies of so-called disobedient enslaved Africans, as a punishment to the person deemed guilty, but also as a deterrent to the fellow enslaved people who saw or heard of it.
It was the flaying of flesh, the human beings torn apart by hounds, the stiff bodies dangling from the stiff branch of a tree. The display was the thing. The theatrical production of pain, to the point of mutilation, was the thing. The transmission of trauma was the thing.
When the enslaved rebelled, this theater was taken to even higher levels. The German Coast Uprising of 1811 in Louisiana, one of the largest slave revolts in United States history, ultimately failed, but so intent were the white enslavers to terrorize the remaining enslaved never to repeat the attempt that, as Leon A. Waters wrote for the Zinn Education Project:
“Some of the leaders were captured, placed on trial and later executed. Their heads were cut off and placed on poles along the river in order to frighten and intimidate the other slaves. This display of heads placed on spikes stretched over 60 miles.”
When Nat Turner staged his revolt some 20 years later, the response took on a similar expression. As Daina Ramey Berry, an associate professor of history and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote for The New York Times in 2016 about Turner’s 1831 hanging:
“Those who came to witness his death then decapitated and skinned him. They bragged about it for decades. One participant, William Mallory, also known as Buck, gloated so much about having skinned Turner that it was listed in his own obituary.”
She wrote that one of her students even claimed that his family was in possession of a purse made from Turner’s skin.
Even after slavery ended, or maybe because it did, lynching surged. And the terror infliction moved from the plantation into the general populace. Often, the bodies weren’t just hanged, they were burned or their fingers, toes or genitalia sliced off. And to commemorate — and disseminate — the terror, postcards were often made of the lynchings.
In 1956, just months after being acquitted in the lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till, his killers gave an interview to Look Magazine in which they confessed. As one of Till’s killers, J.W. Milam, said of the killing, “I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice” that as long as he lived Black people (he used a racial slur), “are gonna stay in their place.” As Milam is quoted as saying:
“I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddamn you, I’m going to make an example of you — just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.’”
They pistol-whipped Till, made him strip naked on the banks of the Tallahatchie River that Sunday morning, shot him through the face, then tied a cotton gin to his neck with barbed wire, and pushed him in.
Till’s face would emerge nearly unrecognizable.
There is no way for me to know if Chauvin intended to kill Floyd, but there is an abundance of evidence of a depraved indifference about Floyd’s life. There is no way to predict how a jury will rule, even with video of the killing, and being predictive in that regard is not the point of this column.
My point is that there are echoes in Floyd’s killing, in public, in front of his community, in broad daylight, that reverberate from centuries of killings of men and women who look like Floyd, whose killings the system of the time validated or shielded.
It is hard not to draw the through-line from a noose on the neck to a knee on the neck. And it is also hard not to recall that few people were ever punished for lynchings.
Motionless Black bodies have been the tableau upon which the American story has unfolded, and Floyd’s body is sadly but one of the latest examples.
Amazon was built on an underdog philosophy, but its workers are finding a voice. That presents a problem for the company that goes far beyond the union vote in Alabama.
By David Streitfeld, April 5, 2021
Union organizers distribute literature as employees exit the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., in December. A growing number of workers feel the company is pushing them past their limits. Credit...Bob Miller for The New York Times
It has been Day 1 at Amazon ever since the company began more than a quarter-century ago. Day 1 is Amazon shorthand for staying hungry, making bold decisions and never forgetting about the customer. This start-up mentality — underdogs against the world — has been extremely good for Amazon’s shoppers and shareholders.
Day 1 holds less appeal for some of Amazon’s employees, especially those doing the physical work in the warehouses. A growing number feel the company is pushing them past their limits and risking their health. They would like Amazon to usher in a more benign Day 2.
The clash between the desire for Day 1 and Day 2 has been unfolding in Alabama, where Amazon warehouse workers in the community of Bessemer have voted on whether to form a union. Government labor regulators are getting ready to sort through the votes in the closely watched election. A result may come as soon as this week. If the union gains a foothold, it will be the first in the company’s history.
Attention has been focused on Bessemer, but the struggle between Day 1 and Day 2 is increasingly playing out everywhere in Amazon’s world. At its heart, the conflict is about control. To maintain Day 1, the company needs to lower labor costs and increase productivity, which requires measuring and tweaking every moment of a worker’s existence.
That kind of control is at the heart of the Amazon enterprise. The idea of surrendering it is the company’s greatest horror. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, wrote in his 2016 shareholder letter: “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
For many years, Amazon has managed to maintain control and keep Day 1 going by dazzling with delivery and counted on the media, regulators and politicians to ignore everything unpleasant. The few stories about workers rarely got traction.
But it is now the second-largest private employer in the country. There is widespread pro-worker sentiment in the United States and a pro-union president. In Bessemer, many of the pro-union workers are Black, which makes this a civil rights story as well.
So the costs associated with Day 1 are finally coming into view. And it is showing up not only in Alabama, but in the form of lawsuits, restive workers at other warehouses, Congressional oversight, scrutiny from labor regulators and, most noisily, on Twitter.
In recent weeks, a heated discussion about whether Amazon’s workers must urinate in bottles because they have no time to go to the bathroom — a level of control that few modern corporations would dare exercise — has raged on Twitter.
“Amazon is reorganizing the very nature of retail work — something that traditionally is physically undemanding and has a large amount of downtime — into something more akin to a factory, which never lets up,” said Spencer Cox, a former Amazon worker who is writing his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Minnesota about how the company is transforming labor. “For Amazon, this isn’t about money. This is about control of workers’ bodies and every possible moment of their time.”
Amazon did not have a comment for this story.
Signs that Amazon is facing more pushback against its control have started to pile up. In February, Lovenia Scott, a former warehouse worker for the company in Vacaville, Calif., accused Amazon in a lawsuit of having such an “immense volume of work to be completed” that she and her colleagues did not get any breaks. Ms. Scott is seeking class-action status.
Last month, the California Labor Commissioner said 718 delivery drivers who worked for Green Messengers, a Southern California contractor for Amazon, were owed $5 million in wages that never made it to their wallets. The drivers were paid for 10-hour days, the labor commissioner said, but the volume of packages was so great that they often had to work 11 or more hours and through breaks.
Amazon said it no longer worked with Green Messengers and would appeal the decision. Green Messengers could not be reached for comment.
An Amazon warehouse in the Canadian province of Ontario showed rapid spread of Covid-19 in March. “Our investigation determined a closure was required to break the chain of transmission,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the regional medical officer. “We provided our recommendation to Amazon.” The company, he said, “did not answer.” The health officials ordered the workers to self-isolate, effectively shutting the facility for two weeks.
And five U.S. senators wrote a letter to the company last month demanding more information about why it was equipping its delivery vans with surveillance cameras that constantly monitor the driver. The technology, the senators wrote, “raises important privacy and worker oversight questions Amazon must answer.”
Amazon has presented a different opinion of what Day 1 means for workers. The first thing it mentions in its official statement on Bessemer is the starting pay of $15.30 per hour, double the federal minimum wage.
Mr. Cox, who worked in an Amazon warehouse in Washington state, said the higher pay has paradoxically fueled the discontent. The pay “is better than working at a gas station, so people naturally want to keep these jobs,” he said. “That’s why they want them to be fair. I saw a lot of depression and anxiety when I worked for Amazon.”
(Mr. Cox said he was fired by Amazon in 2018 for organizing. Amazon told him he had violated safety protocol).
The confrontation between Day 1 and Day 2 has been sharpest over bladders.
The topic erupted last month when Representative Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, tweeted at the company, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Amazon’s social media account fired back: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
This isn’t the way corporations usually talk to members of Congress, even on Twitter. On Friday, after days of being pummeled on the issue, Amazon apologized to Representative Pocan, saying: “The tweet was incorrect. It did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” Amazon blamed Covid and “traffic,” not its punishing schedules.
Representative Pocan responded on Saturday with a sigh. “This is not about me, this is about your workers — who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity,” he wrote.
The bathroom question is one on which the company has long been vulnerable. Enforcement files from regulators in Amazon’s home state of Washington indicate that questions about whether the company had an appropriate number of bathrooms in its Seattle headquarters have arisen over the past dozen years.
The company has “insufficient lavatory facilities for male employees” according to a 2012 complaint received by the state’s Department of Labor and Industries. “Employees routinely traverse multiple buildings in search of available facilities.”
A 2014 complaint filed by an Amazon employee to the same department said employees got 12 minutes a day for “bathroom, getting water, personal calls, etc.” outside of normally scheduled breaks. Those who needed further toilet time had to provide a doctor’s note “explaining why the need to void more than usual.”
The complaints went beyond Amazon’s white-collar offices. A warehouse worker told Labor and Industries in 2009 that a manager and a human resources representative had told her that “there would be disciplinary action against me if I continue to use the bathroom on company time” — she meant unscheduled breaks. The employee added that the H.R. representative told her that “it was not fair to the company that I was getting paid when I’m not working because I’m in the bathroom.”
Amazon did not respond to questions about the enforcement reports. A spokesman for the Department of Labor and Industries declined to comment, except to note that outside of Amazon, “We really don’t get a lot of bathroom-related complaints.”
Other technology companies have prided themselves on overriding mere bodily needs. Marissa Mayer, an early Google employee, attributed the search company’s success to working 130 hours a week — entirely possible, she said in a 2016 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, “if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”
When Google was a start-up, the notion was that you gave up everything — family, sleep, diversion — so you might become successful and rich. But former workers at Amazon warehouses said that under the Day 1 philosophy, they suffered merely to stay employed.
“I believe many employees have indirectly lost their job for going to the bathroom. You’re like, can I hold it to break time?” said John Burgett, who blogged for several years about working in an Amazon warehouse in Indiana.
His conclusion on his last entry, in 2016: Amazon was “testing the limits of human beings as a technical tool.”
The two employees had publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers.
By Karen Weise, April 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/technology/amazon-nlrb-activist-workers.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Emily Cunningham, left, and Maren Costa outside Amazon’s Seattle headquarters four months before the company fired them last April. Credit...Jenny Riffle for The New York Times
SEATTLE — Amazon illegally retaliated against two of its most prominent internal critics when it fired them last year, the National Labor Relations Board has determined.
The employees, Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, had publicly pushed the company to reduce its impact on climate change and address concerns about its warehouse workers.
The agency told Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa that it would accuse Amazon of unfair labor practices if the company did not settle the case, according to correspondence that Ms. Cunningham shared with The New York Times.
“It’s a moral victory and really shows that we are on the right side of history and the right side of the law,” Ms. Cunningham said.
The two women were among dozens of Amazon workers who in the last year told the labor board about company retaliations, but in most other cases the workers had complained about pandemic safety.
“We support every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against our internal policies, all of which are lawful,” said Jaci Anderson, an Amazon spokeswoman. “We terminated these employees not for talking publicly about working conditions, safety or sustainability but, rather, for repeatedly violating internal policies.”
Claims of unfair labor practices at Amazon have been common enough that the labor agency may turn them into a national investigation, the agency told NBC News. The agency typically handles investigations in its regional offices.
While Amazon’s starting wage of $15 an hour is twice the federal minimum, its labor practices face heightened scrutiny in Washington and elsewhere. The focus has escalated in the past year, as online orders surged during the pandemic and Amazon expanded its U.S. work force to almost one million people. Amazon’s warehouse employees are deemed essential workers and could not work from home.
This week, the national labor board is counting thousands of ballots that will determine whether almost 6,000 workers will form a union at an Amazon warehouse outside Birmingham, Ala., in the largest and most viable labor threat in the company’s history. The union has said the workers face excessive pressure to produce and are intensely monitored by the company to make sure quotas are met.
The results could alter the shape of the labor movement and one of America’s largest private employers.
Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham, who worked as designers at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, began criticizing the company publicly in 2018. They were part of a small group of employees who wanted the company to do more to address its climate impact. The group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, got more than 8,700 colleagues to support its efforts.
Over time, Ms. Cunningham and Ms. Costa broadened their protests. After Amazon told them that they had violated its external communications policy by speaking publicly about the business, their group organized 400 employees to also speak out, purposely violating the policy to make a point.
They also began raising concerns about safety in Amazon’s warehouses at the start of the pandemic. Amazon fired Ms. Costa and Ms. Cunningham last April, not long after their group had announced an internal event for warehouse workers to speak to tech employees about their workplace conditions.
After the women were fired, several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, wrote Amazon expressing their concerns over potential retaliation. And Tim Bray, an internet pioneer and a former vice president at Amazon’s cloud computing group, resigned in protest.
Mr. Bray said he was pleased to hear of the labor board’s findings and hoped Amazon settled the case. “The policy up to now has been ‘admit nothing, concede nothing,’” he said. “This is their chance to rethink that a little bit.”
Ms. Cunningham said that, despite the company’s denial, she believed that she and Ms. Costa were prime targets for Amazon because they were the most visible members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.
The labor board also upheld a complaint involving Jonathan Bailey, a co-founder of Amazonians United, a labor advocacy group. The agency filed a complaint against Amazon based on Mr. Bailey’s accusation that the company broke the law when it interrogated him after a walkout last year at the Queens warehouse where he works.
“They recognized that Amazon violated our rights,” Mr. Bailey said. “I think the message that it communicates that workers should hear and understand is, yes, we’re all experiencing it. But also a lot of us are fighting.”
Amazon settled Mr. Bailey’s case, without admitting wrongdoing, and agreed to post notices informing employees of their rights in the break room. Ms. Anderson, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company disagreed with allegations made in Mr. Bailey’s case. “We are proud to provide inclusive environments, where employees can excel without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment,” she said.
Kate Conger contributed reporting.
Georgia’s new voting law has to be understood in its own peculiar historical context.
By Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist, April 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/06/opinion/georgia-voting-law.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
The laws that disenfranchised Black Americans in the South and established Jim Crow did not actually say they were disenfranchising Black Americans and creating a one-party racist state.
I raise this because of a debate among politicians and partisans on whether Georgia’s new election law — rushed through last month by the state’s Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican — is a throwback to the Jim Crow restrictions of the 20th century.
Democrats say yes. “This is Jim Crow in the 21st century. It must end,” President Biden said in a statement. Republicans and conservative media personalities say no. “You know what voter suppression is?” Ben Shapiro said on his very popular podcast. “Voter suppression is when you don’t get to vote.”
The problem with the “no” argument here is that it mistakes both the nature and the operation of Jim Crow voting laws. There was no statute that said, “Black people cannot vote.” Instead, Southern lawmakers spun a web of restrictions and regulations meant to catch most Blacks (as well as many whites) and keep them out of the electorate. It is true that the “yes” argument of President Biden and other Democrats overstates similarities and greatly understates key differences — chief among them the violence that undergirded the Jim Crow racial order. But the “no” argument of conservatives and Republicans asks us to ignore context and extend good faith to lawmakers who overhauled their state’s election laws because their party lost an election.
Southern lawmakers at the turn of the 20th century weren’t shy about their motives — “Whenever there were political questions involved, of course, we looked to the interests of the party, because they are the interests of the State,” one Democratic delegate to the 1898 Louisiana constitutional convention, which sharply restricted the franchise, said at the time — but their laws had to be more circumspect. “Those who sought to prune the Southern electorate were hampered by various constitutional restrictions,” the historian J. Morgan Kousser explained in his 1974 book, “The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910.”
Between the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited overt discrimination on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and the Fourteenth Amendment, which allowed Congress to slash the representation of states that disenfranchised adult males for any reason other than crime or rebellion, Southern lawmakers could not just write Black voters out of the electorate. “The disenfranchisers were forced to contrive devious means to accomplish their purposes,” Kousser writes.
According to Kousser, the first wave of suffrage restriction after Reconstruction relied primarily on laws and practices that “decreased the influence of opposition voters but did not actually prohibit them from exercising the franchise.” Some states, for example, took the right to name their local officials away from voters and granted it to governors and state legislatures, a practice that “guaranteed that white Democrats would rule even in Republican areas.”
Other Southern states embraced changes like voter registration, which had a stark and negative effect on turnout, made worse by the discretion given to registrars.
According to the North Carolina law of 1889, for instance, registrars, appointed indirectly by the Democratic legislature, could require that a voter prove “as near as may be” his “age, occupation, place of birth and place of residency … by such testimony, under oath, as may be satisfactory to the registrar.”
“Democrats, he notes, ‘employed this law to deny the vote to white and Black Republicans and Populists in the early 1890s.’ Louisiana lawmakers passed a registration law in 1896. That year, 95.6 percent of Black adult males appeared on the voter rolls. Two years later, at which point voters were required to have reregistered, 9.5 percent of Blacks were listed.”
In addition to registration requirements, there were the now-infamous literacy tests. In Virginia, a potential voter had to read a section of the state or federal constitution — and persuade the registrar that he understood the words — in order to qualify to vote. Mississippi’s similar requirement came with an “understanding clause” that allowed a would-be voter to cast a ballot only if he could understand the text read to him.
A recently published paper by the political scientists Luke Keele, William Cubbison and Ismail White on the use of the understanding clause in Louisiana during the 1950s underscores the impact of voting laws that rely on discretion for their effect. “These results highlight that voting restrictions that give local officials greater authority to deny the franchise may be particularly susceptible to discriminatory outcomes,” they note.
Rounding out these legal restrictions on the right to vote were poll taxes. On their own, they may not have had the decisive impact that critics at the time attributed to them, but in conjunction with other measures, they worked to discourage many Southern men, Black and white, from even trying to vote. “Although the $1 to $2 levies did not seem high to middle-class convention delegates and legislators,” Kousser writes, “they represented a significant charge to many inhabitants of the nation’s economic backwater region.”
For as much as Southern lawmakers were often explicit about their intentions and aims (“Discrimination!,” declared Carter Glass, who as a state senator helped craft Virginia’s 1901 Constitution. “Why, that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this convention was elected for.”), they also knew that they had to mask these laws and provisions in the language of neutrality. The authors of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 even added an addendum to this effect:
Every provision in the Mississippi Constitution applies equally, and without discrimination whatever, to both the white and Negro races. Any assumption, therefore, that the purpose of the framers of the Constitution was ulterior, and dishonest, is gratuitous and cannot be sustained.
“One of Kousser’s conclusions is that Jim Crow voting restrictions were as much about partisanship as they were about race, with Southern Democrats targeting the two groups outside of plantation-dominated areas, Blacks and low-income whites, who powered their Republican and Populist opposition.”
This brings us back to the Georgia law. To the extent that it plays at neutrality while placing burdens on specific groups of voters on a partisan (and inescapably racial) basis, it is, at least, Jim Crow-adjacent. And as my Times colleagues Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein wrote last week, there are key provisions that fit this bill.
After an election in which 1.3 million Georgians used absentee ballots — and nearly two-thirds of them voted for Joe Biden — the Republican-led government has now cut by more than half the period during which absentee voters can request a ballot, from six months to three. It has also implemented a strict new ID requirement for absentee ballots, adding additional steps for voters that, if they do them incorrectly, would invalidate their votes.
The new law requires each county to provide drop boxes for absentee ballots, but limits their location and the hours in which they are available, as well as the number the most populous counties can have. The result is to increase access for largely Republican-voting rural counties and decrease it for the state’s Democratic urban centers.
“For the 2020 election, there were 94 drop boxes across the four counties that make up the core of metropolitan Atlanta: Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett,” Corasaniti and Epstein report. “The new law limits the same four counties to a total of, at most, 23 drop boxes, based on the latest voter registration data.”
Another part of the new law affects voters who go to vote at the wrong precinct, a common problem after the state shuttered hundreds of polling sites following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Rather than be cast a provisional ballot, those voters will now have to go to the correct precinct. If they cannot do so before the end of voting hours in their area, they may not be able to vote at all.
The most potentially consequential change gives the Republican-controlled state legislature greater influence over the state election board, and then empowers that board to remove local election officials.
Even if these provisions didn’t directly burden Democratic voters, they may raise the cost of mobilization for Democratic-leaning groups, who will need to invest more and greater resources into assisting voters with new barriers.
That said, we cannot evaluate this law outside the context of the last election, in which Democrats won three statewide races, breaking decades of Republican dominance in elections for federal office. Nor can we ignore the degree to which this law might empower legislators to do exactly what Donald Trump demanded after it was clear he would lose the state: directly intervene in the election and overturn the result. The incontrovertible truth is that if Trump had won Georgia, or if Republicans had held Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue’s seats in the Senate, this law wouldn’t exist.
With all of this in mind, it is important also to say that Jim Crow was not an overnight phenomenon. “Twentieth-century Southern politics did not spring full-grown from the heads of those who negotiated the Compromise of 1877,” Kousser writes. “What followed after Reconstruction was a period of transition, uncertainty, fluctuation that ended only with the restriction of the suffrage and the consequent stifling of anti-Democratic political parties.”
One of the lessons of the South after Reconstruction is that democratic life can flourish and then erode, expand and then contract. Democracy is not a solid state, and we should be wary of politicians who would undermine any part of it for partisan advantage.
It took three decades of struggle, and violence, before Southern elites could reclaim dominance over Southern politics. No particular restriction was decisive. The process was halting, contingent and contested, consolidating in different places at different times. It was only when the final pieces fell into place that the full picture of what took place was clear.
Put a little differently, the thing about Jim Crow is that it wasn’t “Jim Crow” until, one day, it was.
Some on the right want the Supreme Court to go beyond ending Roe.
By Michelle Goldberg, Opinion Columnist, April 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/opinion/us-abortion-bans.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
The anti-abortion movement was never going to stop with overturning Roe v. Wade.
For years, Republicans have argued that their goal was to return the issue of abortion to the states. At no point was this believable; since 1984, the Republican Party platform has called for a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Having spent decades denouncing abortion as a singular moral evil, the anti-abortion movement will not be content to return to a pre-Roe status quo, where abortion was legal in some places but not others.
So it’s not that surprising that, with the possible end of Roe in sight, some opponents of abortion are thinking about how to ban it nationally. Last week my colleague Ross Douthat wrote about a debate within the anti-abortion movement sparked by a highly abstruse article by the Notre Dame professor John Finnis in the Catholic journal First Things. Finnis argues that fetuses are persons under the 14th Amendment, and that the Supreme Court should thus rule abortion unconstitutional. The political implication, wrote Douthat, is that just jettisoning Roe is “woefully insufficient.”
Finnis’s contention is radical, but apparently resonant. Damon Linker, a former editor at First Things and author of a book about the Catholic right, writes, “That is where the pro-life movement is headed — and the rest of the country better be ready for it.”
The threat isn’t immediate; it’s highly unlikely that this Supreme Court is going to adopt constitutional personhood. The justices are “not interested in reading the Constitution to protect life from the moment of conception,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal group. “It would make so many things so incredibly difficult to give a fertilized egg all the rights and protections of a born human being.”
But the embrace, by some, of Finnis’s proposition is the latest sign of the right’s disenchantment with democracy, and its dream of imposing on the American people a regime that a majority of them will never consent to. Even Mississippi, after all, rejected fetal personhood in a 2011 referendum.
The anti-abortion movement has always had authoritarian underpinnings; forcing women to give birth against their will would require police-state surveillance and coercion. (It’s certainly more intrusive than being made to wear a mask, which some conservatives regard as tyranny.) But as long as abortion opponents were fighting for the ability of state legislatures to pass laws their voters wanted, they could claim to be upholding democracy, albeit a form that traduced individual rights.
The 14th Amendment strategy, by contrast, is a plan to ignore voters altogether. It’s not surprising that it would gain currency at a moment when the right is going all-in on minority rule.
The argument Finnis made isn’t new; the scholar Nathan Schlueter made a similar case in First Things in 2003. What is new is how seriously it’s being taken. The notion that the 14th Amendment applies to fetuses seems, on the surface, preposterous. The amendment’s first sentence defines citizens as “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Back in 2003, Robert Bork wrote a dismissal of Schlueter’s argument rooted in originalism, the idea, once prevalent on the right, that the Constitution should be interpreted as it would have been understood when written.
The Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia similarly rejected the idea that the 14th Amendment applies to fetuses: “I think when the Constitution says that persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws, I think it clearly means walking-around persons,” he said in 2008.
But many on the right have grown weary of originalist doctrine. As the reactionary Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule wrote in The Atlantic last year, originalism “has now outlived its utility.” In a legal world dominated by liberalism, he wrote, originalism was a “useful rhetorical and political expedient,” but the conservative takeover of the judiciary has proceeded far enough that it can be dispensed with.
Instead, he endorsed what he called “common-good constitutionalism,” an understanding of constitutional law that, among other things, “does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy, because it sees that law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits.”
Douthat is hesitant about the 14th Amendment strategy because he believes that ending abortion in America — his goal — requires winning over the American people. He knows that supporters of abortion rights insist that legal abortion is a precondition for women’s well-being and equality. The anti-abortion movement, Douthat wrote, “needs to prove the pro-choice premise wrong.”
But the anti-abortion movement can’t do that, because, as the experience of every country that has ever banned or severely restricted abortion shows, the pro-choice premise is correct. In this sense, the people pushing for a Supreme Court declaration of constitutional personhood have a point. If your aim is a near-total abortion ban in a rapidly secularizing country with a younger generation that largely despises the right, democracy isn’t your friend.
Finnis acknowledges that if the Supreme Court does what he wants, it would “meet unimaginable resistance,” but he doesn’t seem to find this relevant. After all, that’s the point: People shouldn’t have a choice.
Treating trans children isn’t an “experiment.” The experiment is making it impossible for these young people to become themselves.
By Jennifer Finney Boylan, April 7, 2021
The child stared at me with a mixture of confusion and wonder. We were in a Gap store in Freeport, Maine, 20 years ago. I was trying so hard not to be a spectacle.
“Mom!” the boy cried to his mother, looking at me in my graceless wig. “Who is that?”
“That, honey,” she said, “is a human being.”
Trans people have been part of human history for as long as there has been history, and for as long as there have been humans. But with the exception of a few brave souls, until relatively recently, trans individuals were rarely in the public eye in the United States. People knew so little about us that when I came out, at the turn of the millennium, at least one person I tried to explain myself to thought that I’d invented the whole business single-handedly.
In retrospect, my transition was made somewhat easier in 2000 because there weren’t quite so many laws designed to make my life harder. Conservatives didn’t seem to fully understand that they were supposed to hate us.
All these years later, things are both better and worse. Better because so many people have had the courage to step forward and be known. And worse because social conservatives around the country feel affronted by our very visibility. How affronted? Enough for them to propose legislation that, they hope, will lead to our erasure. By mid-March, 82 such bills had been introduced in statehouses this year, from Maine to Montana.
On March 25, Arkansas’s governor, Asa Hutchinson, signed Senate Bill 354, which keeps trans girls from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
Then yesterday, Arkansas became the first state to ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors. Lawmakers overrode a veto of that bill issued by Mr. Hutchinson on Monday.
In issuing the veto, Mr. Hutchinson had said the bill banning medical treatment was a step too far. He called it “government overreach” into a difficult health care question, and said that the proposed legislation was the “product of the cultural war in America.” But it was his own Republican Party doing the overreaching. This skirmish is one in which conservatives have gone to battle against research backed by the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics — not to mention the lived experience of doctors around the country — showing that early medical interventions, including the prescription of puberty blockers for younger trans people, are both beneficial and safe.
Mr. Hutchinson had been urged to veto the bill by pediatricians, social workers and parents of trans children. The sponsors of the Arkansas bill criminalizing care bestowed it with the name the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act, a title surely designed to make people think that treating trans kids is something straight out of science fiction.
But the procedures banned by this bill are neither radical nor experimental. Puberty blockers keep trans kids from suffering the permanent damage of adolescence in the wrong gender. They have been shown to lower the risk of suicidal thoughts, and it buys them time, should any be needed, to become more certain of the path they’re on. The effects of these medicines are reversible if treatment is suspended.
One Republican sponsor of the Arkansas bill told KATV that the bill “is giving kids a chance to grow up and then, if they make a different decision when they are older, that’s OK.” But by the time these kids are older, the effects of adolescence will have set in — breasts and periods for trans men, facial hair and deepening voices for trans women.
Treating trans kids isn’t the experiment here. The experiment is in making it impossible for these young people to become themselves.
In 2014, research published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found, in a longitudinal study of 55 trans people who had received puberty suppression treatments during adolescence, that treatment radically improved patients’ lives. The study concluded that years later, after gender reassignment, their “well-being was similar to or better than same-age young adults from the general population,” giving them “the opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults.”
Moreover, a different study published in the same journal last year found that kids who are treated when they’re younger face significantly lower risk of self-harm, depression and attempted suicide. In other words, it is not the care, but its absence, that puts these kids at risk.
Forgive me if I fail to be convinced that the spate of anti-trans bills is motivated by conservatives’ sincere concern for women’s athletics, a subtle understanding of endocrinology or even the well-being of the children themselves. Instead, these bills are a way for conservatives to perform their scorn for people who are different from themselves.
This kind of performance doesn’t make transgender people disappear, of course. All it does, in the end, is demonstrate a lack of generosity and imagination to understand a soul different from your own.
I wonder if the sponsors of these bills have ever considered who these strangers are — who it actually is that they’re going to such trouble to hurt? Those, honey, are human beings.
Ms. Finney Boylan, a contributing opinion writer, writes on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, faith and life in Maine. Her memoir, “She’s Not There,” was the first best-selling work by a transgender American.
The Brooklyn district attorney will move to dismiss old convictions in which a former narcotics detective, accused of perjury in Manhattan, played a key role.
By Troy Closson, April 6, 2021
Joseph Franco, a former New York Police Department detective, was charged with perjury in 2019. Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times
Over nearly two decades as a police officer and narcotics detective, Joseph E. Franco made thousands of arrests, many for the possession and sale of drugs. Mr. Franco often worked undercover, and his testimony secured convictions for prosecutors around the city.
But officials who once relied on Mr. Franco are questioning his accounts. After he was accused of lying about drug sales that videos showed never happened, Mr. Franco was charged with perjury in Manhattan in 2019.
Now, the fallout over Mr. Franco’s police work is spreading: As many as 90 convictions that he helped secure in Brooklyn will be thrown out, prosecutors plan to announce Wednesday. Many more cases in other boroughs could follow — a reckoning that lawyers said appears larger than any in the city’s legal system in recent history.
On Wednesday, the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, will ask judges to dismiss years-old drug cases in which Mr. Franco served as a crucial witness. The office did not uncover new evidence of possible misconduct — and none of the people involved still remain behind bars. But Mr. Gonzalez said he had lost faith in Mr. Franco’s credibility.
“We’re in a moment of talking about criminal justice reform,” Mr. Gonzalez said in an interview this week. “It’s clear that we couldn’t responsibly rely on his testimony to stand by these convictions.”
The move represents one of the largest dismissals of convictions in the state over concerns about official misconduct, and comes amid a heightened national conversation about holding police accountable and curbing abuses among officers. In New York City, legislators recently made it easier to sue officers for conducting illegal searches or using excessive force.
Mr. Franco was charged in 2019 with 26 criminal counts, including perjury and official misconduct, after investigators in the Manhattan district attorney’s office said that he had testified to witnessing several drug buys that video footage showed did not happen or that he could not have seen.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Mr. Franco’s lawyer, Howard Tanner, said his client is presumed innocent and said he would be “vigorously defending” the case in Manhattan.
“I would therefore ask that the public withhold judgment until all the facts are heard,” Mr. Tanner added.
Nearly all of the people whose convictions that Mr. Gonzalez is seeking to dismiss were charged with drug-related crimes, including many for low-level possession offenses. The group — mostly men arrested between 2004 and 2011 — spanned generations: Several were under 20 years old at the time of their arrests, and dozens were older than 40.
Mr. Gonzalez’s office was not certain of the racial breakdown, but believed that many were Black and Latino, groups who have represented a disproportionate bulk of many drug charges in the city.
Most of those who faced more serious charges for drug sales — 27 people in total — spent between six months to a year behind bars. It was unclear how often the crime represented their first or only conviction, the district attorney’s office and public defenders said.
Even those who did not serve lengthy sentences were left with criminal records, which can have long-term consequences for housing and work prospects. In recent years, attention on those lasting effects has grown. In New York and elsewhere, records of some minor convictions have been expunged — an attempt to make amends for what is now seen as overly aggressive policing of drug crimes in the past.
But erasing records can only go so far, public defenders say.
“The damage is done at the point of arrest,” said Tina Luongo, a lawyer who heads the criminal defense practice at the Legal Aid Society. “They likely had bail set on them, spent time at Rikers Island, lost jobs, were separated from their families — no matter what happens, those harms were done.”
One man who was arrested three times by Mr. Franco is set to have each case dismissed, lawyers said. The man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of privacy concerns, said he was charged with several low-level drug crimes that he did not commit. Confronted with the prospect of a police officer’s testimony, he pleaded guilty.
The man was fresh out of high school, with a young son and a second child on the way, when he was arrested in 2005, he said. He spent several years behind bars. The man, now 35, said the transition home was rocky, and the arrests continue to affect him.
“I got the call that this was happening and it was supposed to be good news,” he said. “But honestly, I don’t know that I feel any better. It affected my whole way of thinking. That stuff changes you.”
Mr. Gonzalez said that his office could not fully reinvestigate many of the 90 cases: Video evidence had often long been lost, and potential witnesses from over a decade ago could not be tracked down.
After charges were brought against Mr. Franco in Manhattan, it was not immediately apparent that the detective also had worked in Brooklyn, Mr. Gonzalez said. The office eventually pulled together a list of cases Mr. Franco was involved in and flagged those that could not have been prosecuted without his accounts, he said.
The concern over officers making false or misleading statements about crimes is not new. Between January 2015 and March 2018, an investigation by The New York Times found more than 25 instances in which judges or prosecutors determined that a central aspect of a New York City police officer’s testimony was likely untrue.
The fallout has echoed the Brooklyn district attorney’s office’s reassessment of dozens of murder cases investigated by Louis Scarcella, a former homicide detective who handled some of the borough’s most notorious crimes, after one of his investigations unraveled. In that instance, however, the office threw out only a handful of cases and said in 2017 that Mr. Scarcella broke no laws.
Other states have confronted similar problems in recent years. In Massachusetts, for example, thousands of low-level drug cases were dropped in 2017 after prosecutors said a state chemist mishandled drug samples and returned positive results on ones she never tested.
Christopher Slobogin, the director of the criminal justice program at Vanderbilt Law School who has studied false testimony by the police, said the issue is most common in low-level drug cases.
The Police Department fired Mr. Franco, 48, last April. But discipline is often rare.
Major questions first surfaced around Mr. Franco’s record in New York in the summer of 2018, when the Manhattan district attorney’s office launched a review after finding inconsistencies between Mr. Franco’s statements and evidence in certain cases, said Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district attorney.
In one episode on the Lower East Side, a man was arrested in February 2017 after Mr. Franco said he witnessed the man selling drugs inside the lobby of a building. But prosecutors said security video showed the transaction never took place — and Mr. Franco had never even entered the building.
In a similar arrest four months later, Mr. Franco said he saw a woman selling drugs in a building’s vestibule on Madison Street. He had not gone into the vestibule, however, and was too far from the woman to observe any sale, prosecutors said after reviewing security footage.
Both people were serving sentences at state prisons for the crimes when the new evidence was discovered — and both convictions were thrown out by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
In a third case, Mr. Franco said he witnessed a man selling cocaine to another woman. Prosecutors said new video evidence showed the man — who was not in prison at the time, but whose case was also dismissed — had only held open a door for her.
The three people each pleaded guilty. Prosecutors later identified another case with two arrests in which they said evidence showed Mr. Franco had made false statements.
In Brooklyn, Mr. Franco also worked undercover in narcotics, buying drugs and arresting the people who sold them. All but one of the 90 people entered guilty pleas. The district attorney’s office did not find evidence of innocence in its limited investigation, but Mr. Gonzalez and public defenders noted that blameless defendants may take guilty pleas for a host of reasons.
“People understand that when it’s their word against the word of an officer, the system is not designed to give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Maryanne Kaishian, a senior policy counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, which represents several of the cases. “Many people will decide that it’s not worth it to them.”
The steps by the Brooklyn district attorney’s office intensify pressure on district attorneys in other boroughs to re-examine Mr. Franco’s cases. Shortly after joining the department in 2000, Mr. Franco was an officer for several years in the Bronx.
The Bronx district attorney’s office has been reviewing about 150 cases in the borough that Mr. Franco was involved in between 2011 and 2015 to determine if the convictions are still reliable, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the office, said on Tuesday.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
By Michael Z. Muhammad, April 7, 2021new.finalcall.com
Mumia Abu-Jamal, 66, is battling health problems while incarcerated at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. Photo: Final Call File
PHILADELPHIA—Advocates on behalf of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal are not slowing down their efforts in working toward his release.
Social activist and writer for Workers World Betsy Piette told The Final Call this slow walking of Mumia’s appeals process could have only one end result—his death. For that reason, the focus for the movement to free the former Black Panther and journalist is calling for his compassionate release on medical grounds.
According to The Jamal Journal, an online publication, Mumia is suffering from Covid-19, congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and a severe worsening of his chronic debilitating skin condition. His personal physician Dr. Ricardo Alvarez states, his only treatment is freedom.
Mumia, 66, is battling health problems while incarcerated at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. He has served 40 years after being convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was sentenced to death in 1982. His death sentence was overturned, and a life sentence was imposed in 2011. He and his supporters have maintained he is innocent.
Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, during an interview with The Final Call, pointed out a window of opportunity was opened for Mumia’s release in December 2018 when Judge Leon Tucker granted him the right to file a new appeal of all the evidence of judicial, prosecutorial, and police misconduct that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had previously rejected from 1998-2012.
Following Judge Tucker’s landmark ruling on some evidence that advocates argued show Mumia’s innocence and entitlement to a new trial—which had been hidden away in a district attorney storeroom—more roadblocks were revealed.
On February 3 of this year Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, touted by many people as a “progressive” again blocked this pathway from the ruling about a new appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. D.A. Krasner, in his brief, denied that the newly disclosed evidence of state misconduct from the six hidden boxes of Mumia’s prosecution files found two years ago are “material” and grounds for a new trial.
He argued the evidence against Mumia at trial was so overwhelming that it wouldn’t have made a difference to the jury that convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.
“There’s institutional inertia against Mumia, and it goes from the police department through the district attorney up through the court system in Pennsylvania,” Mr. Washington said. “ I also think that Krasner has been getting some bad advice, and he’s made a political calculus that he doesn’t want to grant the relief that Mumia is entitled to. So, in this instance, the status quo is more important than fulfilling his persona as a reformer, as well as being consistent with supposedly the lawyer’s commitment to justice.”
According to Rachel Wolkenstein, a former attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, D.A. Krasner’s response to Mumia’s appeal is an undeniable legal blow and has most likely blocked the judicial path to Mumia’s freedom. “To any who held out hope that Krasner would ‘do the right thing,’ Krasner had never given any indication that he questioned Mumia’s conviction, even when—after protest and pressure—he agreed not to oppose the appeal process,” she said.
“As District Attorney, Krasner had the legal authority and responsibility to review Mumia’s case and, as constitutionally warranted, to support overturning Mumia’s conviction because of due process violations and state misconduct,” she added.
According to Atty. Wolkenstein those due process violations included:
· Trial and post-conviction judge Sabo was biased and racist
· African-Americans were excluded from juries as a policy and practice of the Philadelphia DA’s office
· Police and prosecutorial misconduct in presenting false witness testimony that Mumia shot Faulkner, a fabricated confession and a manufactured scenario of Mumia shooting Off. Faulkner, which is disproved by ballistics, medical, and other forensic evidence, including photographs of the crime scene; and
· The suppression of witnesses who swore that Mumia did not shoot officer Faulkner, and that a shooter ran away.
In court filings, Maureen Faulkner, wife of officer Faulkner, asked the Supreme Court to invoke its King’s Bench powers to disqualify D.A. Krasner’s office in the ongoing appeals and direct the state Attorney General’s Office to handle them. She has contended that Krasner’s office has conflicts of interest in defending against Mumia’s appeals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed her petition in December 2020. This action delayed Mumia’s appeal for nearly a year.
She submitted a new request on March 17 with the Pennsylvania Superior Court to intervene, again seeking Krasner’s removal and asking the court to “quash this appeal as untimely” and “for lack of jurisdiction.”
“This is part of a decade-long effort of the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) through Maureen Faulkner to block any relief from Mumia,” observed Mr. Washington.
Ms. Piette states, with Ms. Faulker’s reemergence, it’s hard to determine a time frame when the appeals process will move forward. “It’s the politics of it, and there’s never been justice for Mumia. Pretty much except (Judge) Tucker in 2018. And the one ruling that went in his favor to remove the death sentence and that took 11 years to get resolved,” she added
“That’s what their end game is. The state’s end game is to try to delay this case to the point that he’ll die in prison from medical neglect. The whole movement here is making the demand that the only solution is release. They’re not capable of giving him a fair trial, and they’re not capable of providing him adequate healthcare,” Ms. Piette surmised.
Pam Africa, coordinator for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal, told The Final Call during an interview that she believes his health conditions are the direct result of his unjust imprisonment and inadequate medical care incarcerated brothers and sisters receive.
“Mumia is innocent,” she said. “With all of this new information and delays, there is no way anybody can think that Mumia can have a fair trial,” she said. “The call must be to release Mumia! Release Mumia now!” she added.
“For people who think that you should accept the lesser evil, this is why we are in the condition we are in right now. That’s why the prisons are full of innocent people who are victims of the system. Martin Luther King said silence is a betrayal.”
Plans are underway, said Ms. Africa, to celebrate Mumia’s birthday during the weekend of April 24 with virtual meetings. “We plan a whole weekend of educating people and urging people to stay committed. We are also encouraging people to read The Jamal Journal published online for up-to-date information put out by Mumia and me.”
Our legal system allows for extrajudicial killings by the police without real consequence.
By Charles M. Blow, Opinion Columnist, April 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/07/opinion/us-police-killings-law.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
Along with many others, I have long argued that the reason so few police officers are ever charged in their killings of unarmed Black people (and few of those charged are ever convicted) is that our legal system has effectively rendered those killings legal. This is the case regardless of how horrendous the killings are or how much evidence, including video, makes clear what took place.
The defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd raised this very concept Wednesday when questioning Sgt. Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department use-of-force expert who was a witness for the prosecution.
Eric Nelson, an attorney for Chauvin, asked if Sergeant Stiger had ever had anything to do with a training called “awful but lawful, or lawful but awful.” He said that he had. Nelson continued his questioning: “The general concept is that sometimes the use of force, it looks really bad, right, and sometimes it may be so, it may be caught on video, right, and it looks bad, right?”
Sergeant Stiger responds, “yes.”
Nelson then says, “But, it is still lawful.”
The officer concludes, “Yes, based on that department’s policies or based on that state’s law.”
This concept seems, on its face, morally depraved: The bar for actions, and in this case use of lethal force, isn’t propriety or decency, but the likelihood of legal exposure and jeopardy.
But the very existence of “awful but lawful” training reminds us that this concept isn’t new.
As Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, and J. Scott Thomson, the chief operating officer of Holtec Security International and former president of the forum, wrote in The New York Times in 2016, “just because the police can legally use deadly force doesn’t always mean they should,” and “The goal is to prevent lawful-but-awful outcomes while increasing officer safety.”
They explained that “the legal standard used in police shootings allows prosecutors and grand juries to conclude that although an officer’s shooting of a suspect may be questionable, it isn’t criminal.” They went on to trace the origins of the standard:
“The standard came from a 1989 Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Connor. The justices ruled that an officer’s use of force must be ‘objectively reasonable.’ But the court went on to caution that ‘police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.’”
Police officers operate in the field — and enter courtrooms, if it ever comes to that — with a staggering amount of “blue privilege,” a benefit-of-the-doubt shield of protection that it is incredibly difficult to penetrate. This creates that bizarre legal phenomenon of faultless killings, the taking of life without the taking of responsibility, a Cain and Abel scenario in which blood cries out from the soil. But, in these cases, no one is seriously punished.
The standard implies that officers must be allowed to make mistakes, even deadly ones, because their jobs are dangerous. Policing is one of the few dangerous professions in which people can be killed and written off as collateral damage.
This standard allows callous, wanton behavior, the reckless and willful taking of life. Any action can be excused as a reasonable response to fear.
As the American Bar Association pointed out in February of 2020, the awful but lawful concept creates a “high burden for prosecution of bad police actions.” The group was summarizing the sentiments of a panel of legal experts at an A.B.A. meeting.
One person on the panel, Ronald A. Norwood, a defense lawyer in St. Louis who has served as counsel to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, put it this way: “Officials should not be held liable for bad guesses.”
But these “bad guesses” are not benign. In many cases, they result in someone being killed.
As Kalfani Ture, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut and a former police officer in the Atlanta metropolitan area, told reporters in June about the killing by the police of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, “Would I have shot Rayshard Brooks? My answer is no.’’
But, he continued: “It’s a questionable use of force, but there are many officers who may find this a lawful use of force. So, it’s one of those things we call in law enforcement ‘lawful but awful,’ meaning that the officer could have taken alternative action that did not result in the civilian’s death.’’
Deadly use of force by police officers is highly discretionary, but these police officers are humans who bring to their jobs biases, both conscious and subconscious. Where one person may be shown patience and leniency, another will be rewarded with violence and harm. And, often, all of it is legal.
We have a legal system that has shirked its judicial responsibility, allowing for extrajudicial killings without consequence — curbside capital sentences. In this system it is too often the case that police officers are judge, jury and executioner.