Stand with Palestine!
Say NO to apartheid!
Rally and march, Saturday, May 15, 2:00pm
Valencia St. and 16th St., San Francisco
In response to the mobilization of tens of thousands of Palestinians to defend the right to live in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Israel has unleashed murderous actions all across occupied Palestine. Al-Aqsa is an iconic national symbol of the Palestinian people and one of the holiest sites in Islam, and has been repeatedly targeted by Zionist extremists who want to take it over. The Israeli government has indicated that it is prepared for a drawn out military campaign against the Palestinian people.
On May 10, a horrifically violent and desecrating attack on Al-Aqsa left more than 400 Palestinians wounded, with 250 suffering injuries serious enough to require hospital treatment. Israeli police fired huge quantities of plastic-covered steel bullets, tear gas and other munitions indiscriminately into crowds for protestors, including flash-bang grenades launched into the mosque itself. In response, Palestinian forces fired hundreds of rocket into Israel from Gaza.
In the latest escalation, Israel launched hundreds of air strikes over several days on the Gaza Strip that have so far killed over 65 people, many of them children. Two million people are trapped in Gaza by the Israeli occupation and have no anti-aircraft defenses.
Join the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Come out and make your voice heard.
We are following COVID precautions with an emphasis on social distancing and masks. Sanitizer and extra masks will be available, so please come join us and help one another stay safe!
A Tribute to the Life, Activism, and Legacy of Ernie Tate
About this Event
We warmly welcome you to join us for a tribute to the life, activism and legacy of Ernie Tate (1934-2021).
Ernie Tate believed capitalism is a cruel and unjust system that has to be changed. Ernie was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1934 and emigrated to Canada in 1955. As a Marxist, union activist and revolutionary, Ernie spent his life working to achieve that in organizing against the war in Vietnam, in union struggles at Toronto Hydro, for protecting universal healthcare and living wages, and much else. Ernie, along with Tariq Ali, was a leading organizer of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in Britain, worked for Bertrand Russell’s International War Crimes Tribunal and was a founding member of the International Marxist Group in Britain. In 2014, Ernie published a memoir of his life on the far left in Canada and Great Britain called Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s and 1960s. This two-volume memoir is an important resource for anyone interested in a gritty account of mid-20th century revolutionary movements. It has been a source of information for the 2020-2021 Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings, taking place in England, in which the illegal and immoral activities of police agents in infiltrating the left have been laid bare.
Ernie died on February 5th this year. Please join us to reflect upon and celebrate Ernie’s life, activism and legacy with many of his comrades and friends from around the world, including: Tariq Ali and Phil Hearse (England), Riche Venton (Scotland), Barry Sheppard and Suzanne Weiss (USA), Pam Frache, Judy Rebick, Caroline Egan, Sam Gindin, Bryan Palmer, Rob Fairley, and John Riddell (Canada), and Patrick Bond (South Africa).
The event will be online, on ZOOM. Please register for your free ticket on Eventbrite. A link to the ZOOM room will be sent to you.
Hosted by Socialist Project, Centre for Social Justice, Spring, Resistance, Green Left Weekly, Socialist Viewpoint
Update: Mumia Abu-Jamal is Recovering from Heart Surgery!
Mumia's wife, Wadiya, has spoken to Mumia and reports that he sounded strong. He still needs to be free to get the medical care he needs for his weakened physical condition and, because he's innocent!
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Bezos has at least $180 Billion!
The Washington State Supreme Court just ruled to allow the right-wing Recall Campaign against Councilmember Kshama Sawant to move forward.
In response, Councilmember Sawant said “This ruling is completely unjust, but we are not surprised. Working people and oppressed communities cannot rely on the capitalist courts for justice anymore than they can on the police.”
“Last summer, all across the country, ordinary people who peacefully protested in multi-racial solidarity against racism and police brutality themselves faced brutal police violence. The police and the political establishment have yet to be held accountable, while in stark contrast, more than 14,000 protestors were arrested.”
“In October, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously threw out the grassroots recall campaign launched in response to Amazon-backed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s overseeing a violent police crackdown against Seattle protests. Now, this same Supreme Court has unanimously approved the recall against an elected socialist, working-class representative who has unambiguously stood with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“The recall law in Washington State is inherently undemocratic and well-suited for politicized use against working people’s representatives, because there is no requirement that the charges even be proven true. In effect, the courts have enormous leeway to use recall elections as a mechanism to defend the ruling class and capitalist system. It is no accident that Seattle’s last elected socialist, Anna Louise Strong, was driven out of office by a recall campaign for her links to the labor movement and opposition to World War I.”
The recall effort against Councilmember Sawant explicitly cited her role in Black Lives Matter protests and the Amazon Tax campaign in their articles of recall. In 2019, Kshama was elected for the third time despite a record-breaking influx of corporate money in Seattle elections, including $1.5 million in corporate PAC spending from Amazon, as well as donations from top Amazon executives and numerous wealthy Republican donors directly to Kshama’s opponent.
The Recall Campaign is backed by a host of corporate executives and developers, including billionaire landlord and Trump donor Martin Selig; Jeannie Nordstrom of the billionaire union-busting, retail giant Nordstrom dynasty; Airbnb Chief Financial Officer and former Amazon Vice President Dave Stephenson; Merrill Lynch Senior Vice President Matt Westphal; wealthy Trump donors like Dennis Weibling, Vidur Luthra and Greg Eneil; and plethora of major real-estate players, such as John Stephanus, whose asset management company, Epic, has ranked amongst Seattle’s top 10 landlords for evictions.
Now, because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Recall Campaign is able to begin collecting signatures to get a recall election on an upcoming ballot. With the financial backing of the corporate elite, we know the Recall Campaign will have unlimited resources to collect their signatures.
That’s why we need your support to massively expand our Decline-to-Sign campaign and defeat this attack on all working people. The Recall Campaign has already raised $300,000. Can you make a contribution to the Kshama Solidarity Campaign today so that we have the necessary resources to fight back?
Kshama Solidarity Campaign
Copyright © 2021 Kshama Solidarity Campaign, All rights reserved
PLEDGE: Stand with Kshama Sawant Against the Right-Wing Recall!
The right wing and big business are going after Councilmember Sawant because she’s been such a powerful voice for working people – for leading the way on the Amazon Tax, on the $15 minimum wage, and for her role in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Amazon spent millions trying to unseat Kshama last year and failed. Now the Recall Campaign is raising money from corporate executives and rich Republicans to try to overturn that election and all our victories. Their campaign is saying Kshama’s support for Black Lives Matter was promoting “lawlessness” – this is a racist attack on the movement. The right wing will be collecting signatures to get the recall on the ballot; we’re building a Decline-to-Sign movement to keep our voice on the City Council and win COVID relief for working people.
Sign the pledge at:
Paid for by Kshama Solidarity Campaign
PO Box 20611, Seattle, WA 98102
9 minutes 29 seconds
Pass COVID Protection and Debt Relief
Stop the Eviction Cliff!
Forgive Rent and Mortgage Debt!
Millions of Californians have been prevented from working and will not have the income to pay back rent or mortgage debts owed from this pandemic. For renters, on Feb 1st, landlords will be able to start evicting and a month later, they will be able to sue for unpaid rent. Urge your legislator and Gov Newsom to stop all evictions and forgive COVID debts!
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock our state, with over 500 people dying from this terrible disease every day. The pandemic is not only ravaging the health of poor, black and brown communities the hardest - it is also disrupting our ability to make ends meet and stay in our homes. Shockingly, homelessness is set to double in California by 2023 due the economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19. 
Housing is healthcare: Without shelter, our very lives are on the line. Until enough of us have been vaccinated, our best weapon against this virus will remain our ability to stay at home.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
This click-to-call tool makes it simple and easy.
Renters and small landlords know that much more needs to be done to prevent this pandemic from becoming a catastrophic eviction crisis. So far, our elected officials at the state and local level have put together a patchwork of protections that have stopped a bad crisis from getting much worse. But many of these protections expire soon, putting millions of people in danger. We face a tidal wave of evictions unless we act before the end of January.
We can take action to keep families in their homes while guaranteeing relief for small landlords by supporting an extension of eviction protections (AB 15) and providing rent debt relief paired with assistance for struggling landlords (AB 16). Assembly Member David Chiu of San Francisco is leading the charge with these bills as vehicles to get the job done. Again, the needed elements are:
Improve and extend existing protections so that tenants who can’t pay the rent due to COVID-19 do not face eviction
Provide rent forgiveness to lay the groundwork for a just recovery
Help struggling small and non-profit landlords with financial support
Ten months since the country was plunged into its first lockdown, tenants still can’t pay their rent and debt is piling up. This is hurting tenants and small landlords alike. We need a holistic approach that protects Californians in the short-run while forgiving unsustainable debts over the long term. That’s why we’re joining the Housing Now! coalition and Tenants Together on a statewide phone zap to tell our elected leaders to act now.
Will you join me by urging your state senator, assembly member and Governor Gavin Newsom to pass both prevent evictions AND forgive rent debt?
Time is running out. California’s statewide protections will start expiring by the end of this month. Millions face eviction. We have to pass AB 15 before the end of January. And we will not solve the long-term repercussions on the economic health of our communities without passing AB 16.
ASK YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO SAY YES ON AN EVICTION MORATORIUM AND RENT DEBT FORGIVENESS -- AB 15 AND AB16!!!
Let’s do our part in turning the corner on this pandemic. Our fight now will help protect millions of people in California. And when we fight, we win!
Tell the New U.S. Administration - End
Economic Sanctions in the Face of the Global
Take action and sign the petition - click here!
To: President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and all Members of the U.S. Congress:
We write to you because we are deeply concerned about the impact of U.S. sanctions on many countries that are suffering the dire consequences of COVID-19.
The global COVID-19 pandemic and global economic crash challenge all humanity. Scientific and technological cooperation and global solidarity are desperate needs. Instead, the Trump Administration escalated economic warfare (“sanctions”) against many countries around the globe.
We ask you to begin a new era in U.S. relations with the world by lifting all U.S. economic sanctions.
U.S. economic sanctions impact one-third of the world’s population in 39 countries.
These sanctions block shipments and purchases of essential medicines, testing equipment, PPE, vaccines and even basic food. Sanctions also cause chronic shortages of basic necessities, economic dislocation, chaotic hyperinflation, artificial famines, disease, and poverty, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. It is always the poorest and the weakest – infants, children, the chronically ill and the elderly – who suffer the worst impact of sanctions.
Sanctions are illegal. They are a violation of international law and the United Nations Charter. They are a crime against humanity used, like military intervention, to topple popular governments and movements.
The United States uses its military and economic dominance to pressure governments, institutions and corporations to end all normal trade relations with targeted nations, lest they risk asset seizures and even military action.
The first step toward change must be an end to the U.S.’ policies of economic war. We urge you to end these illegal sanctions on all countries immediately and to reset the U.S.’ relations with the world.
Add your name - Click here to sign the petition:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
As localized violence in Jerusalem grew into a cross-border conflict, at least 26 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed, according to officials in Gaza. Two people in Israel were also reported killed.
By Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner, May 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/11/world/middleeast/israel-gaza-airstrikes.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Carrying the body of an 11-year-old, Hussain Hamad, during his funeral in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, on Tuesday. He was killed in an explosion during the conflict. Credit...Khalil Hamra/Associated Press
ASHKELON, Israel — Cross-border fighting between Israel and militant groups in Gaza intensified on Tuesday, with Israel carrying out deadly airstrikes in the Palestinian territory and Hamas firing heavy barrages of rockets at Israeli cities.
At least 26 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed in at least 130 Israeli strikes on Monday and Tuesday, and 122 others were wounded, according to health officials in Gaza. Two people in Israel were killed in strikes on the Israeli seaside city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, and at least 56 Israelis have received hospital treatment, according to medical officials.
As multiple salvos of rockets streaked out of Gaza in rapid succession, one hit a school in Ashkelon, just 13 miles up the coast from Gaza.
The school was empty at the time because the Israeli authorities had ordered all schools within a 25-mile radius of Gaza closed in anticipation of rockets.
Several more slammed into the port city of Ashdod, a little farther up the coast, where at least one hit a house. The emergency services reported several people wounded lightly.
A spokesman for Hamas’s military wing who is known as Abu Obeida said that 137 rockets had been launched at Ashkelon and Ashdod within five minutes. That number could not be immediately verified, but the rain of fire was unusually intense and may have overpowered Israel’s antimissile defenses. Residents of Ashkelon were told to remain in shelters as sirens wailed, warning of incoming rockets.
The Israeli military, prepared for the latest eruption of cross-border fighting with militant groups in Gaza, designated a code name for its operation just hours after the deadly violence began: Guardians of the Walls, a reference to the ancient ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem. The militant groups had their own code name for their campaign: Sword of Jerusalem.
By early Tuesday morning, barely 12 hours after Hamas, the Islamist militant group that holds sway in Gaza, had launched a surprise volley of rockets toward Jerusalem, Israel had carried out at least 130 retaliatory airstrikes in the Palestinian coastal territory, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. Militant groups had fired hundreds of rockets into Israel by the afternoon, according to military officials.
Colonel Conricus said early Tuesday that 15 militants had been killed in strikes by jets and unmanned drones.
He did not confirm or reject the reports of civilian deaths, adding, “We are doing everything possible to avoid collateral damage.”
Hamas said that a number of its militants had been killed and that some others had been reported missing in an Israeli attack on a target, without giving further details.
Although the intensity of the fighting seemed to have waned slightly during the night, Colonel Conricus said that the military’s air campaign was still in its “early stages.” Journalists were unable to enter the coastal enclave on Tuesday morning because of rocket fire near the crossing point from Israel.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it had reinforced its troops and was “prepared for a variety of scenarios.”
The cross-border military conflict escalated rapidly on Monday evening after weeks of rising tensions and confrontations between the police and Palestinian protesters in and around the ancient center of Jerusalem, including at the sacred Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. Hamas, casting itself as the Palestinian defender of the contested city, had issued a series of threats and ultimatums.
The immediate trigger appears to have been a police raid at the mosque compound on Monday morning to disperse crowds and stone-throwing protesters with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-tipped bullets. More than 330 Palestinians were wounded, at least three critically, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. At least 21 police officers were wounded.
But as the conflict expanded and the airstrikes began, it quickly became deadly.
In Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, the Masri family was grieving for two young boys who were killed on Monday evening. Ibrahim, 11, and Marwan, 7, had been playing outside their home when a missile struck, according to their uncle, Bashir al-Masri, 25.
For Mr. Masri, the attack showed that Israel had no concern for civilian life.
“They target buildings with children, they target ambulances, they target schools,” he said by telephone. “And all the world, beginning with America, says that people in Gaza are terrorists. But we are not terrorists. We just want to live in peace.”
He also called on Israel to end a blockade on Gaza that has placed heavy restrictions on goods and materials, lest they be used to make weaponry. The blockade, coupled with similar restrictions by Egypt, has crippled Gaza’s economy and led to high unemployment.
“God knows how we live in Gaza — and the number one reason is the Israeli siege,” said Mr. Masri, who is one of the roughly 50 percent of Gazans without work. “They want to kill us. But they cannot.”
About a dozen miles north, in a suburb of Ashkelon, residents were startled shortly before 6 a.m. by a rocket strike on an apartment block. The rocket crashed through the window of a third-story apartment in Kohav HaTzafon, an area that is home to mostly Russian immigrants, and it shattered several others with its impact.
Six people wounded by the direct hit on the building, four of them from one family, were transported to Barzilai Medical Center, the main hospital in Ashkelon. The parents were in moderate to serious condition and their two children, ages 6 and 12, along with the two others were lightly wounded, according to the hospital.
The father of the family, Edward Weinstock, speaking on public radio from his hospital bed a few hours later, said that the rocket had landed in his son’s bedroom and that the family had not had time to reach the safety of the stairwell. “Lucky he was not there,” he said of his son. “I found myself lying on the floor, not understanding what had happened.”
Sitting among the shattered glass in her son’s second-floor apartment, Maria Nagiv, 61, said she understood little about the events that had led to the attack.
“What happened in Jerusalem?” she asked as shards crunched beneath her feet. “I haven’t been following anything about that.”
She added: “All the world says that the Jews make trouble. But what have I done wrong? I didn’t do anything, and they still send us bombs.”
A few minutes later, the sirens sounded again, warning of another rocket nearby.
The Iron Dome, an Israeli antimissile defense system, successfully intercepted about 90 percent of rockets headed for populated areas, according to military officials.
Many of the rockets fired out of Gaza were short-range projectiles, primarily aimed at civilian communities within a few miles of the border.
The Israeli military said that its targets had included the weapons manufacturing sites of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, as well as military facilities and two offensive tunnels. A Hamas battalion commander who was at home in a residential apartment building was also targeted, according to the military.
Neither the location nor the condition of the person said to be a battalion commander was immediately clear.
But health officials said that the bodies of three civilians had been removed from the ruins of the building.
Two of them were said to be members of a family that lived three floors below the apartment of the person alleged to be a commander — Amira Soboh, 58, and her son Abdelrahman, 17, who had cerebral palsy. They were killed by falling rubble, said Ms. Soboh’s older son, Osama Soboh.
Mr. Soboh, a 31-year-old civil servant, questioned why Israel had targeted a civilian building. “It’s not a military barracks, it’s not posing any danger to Israel,” he said. “This was an old woman with a child with cerebral palsy.”
“This is my mom,” he added. “It’s a very hard thing to say farewell to the most precious person you have on Earth.”
The military wing of Hamas, known as the Qassam Brigades, issued a statement after the strike on the building warning Israel that if it kept hitting civilian houses, “We will turn Ashkelon into hell.”
The first barrage of rockets quickly followed.
As the day wore on, there seemed no end in sight. Israel struck more targets in Gaza. Hamas hit back with the extensive salvos of rockets that reached civilian areas in Ashdod.
In a phone interview with a state-funded broadcaster, an Ashkelon City Council member, Amichai Siboni, paused the conversation three times as he sought the nearest bomb shelter.
“There is a siren right now, I am looking for a safe room in a supermarket, I see around me elderly shoppers getting down to the floor,” Mr. Siboni said as he searched. “They are anxious and holding on to each other on the ground.”
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Myra Noveck from Jerusalem.
By Carmen Maria Machado
Ms. Machado is the author of “Her Body and Other Parties,” a collection of short stories, and “In the Dream House,” a memoir, May 11, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/11/opinion/censorship-domestic-violence-book.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Carmen Maria Machado. Credit...Yael Malka for The New York Times
When I was in my early 20s, I was in an abusive relationship with another woman. Soon after it ended, I did what I always did when I was heartbroken: I looked for art that spoke to my experience. I was surprised to find shockingly few memoirs of domestic violence or verbal, psychological and emotional abuse in queer relationships. So I wrote into that silence: a memoir, “In the Dream House,” which describes that relationship and my struggle to leave it.
This year, a parent in Leander, Texas — livid that “In the Dream House” appeared on high school classes’ recommended reading lists — brought a pink strap-on dildo to a school board meeting. Voice trembling with disgust, she read excerpts from my book — including one where I referred to a dildo, inspiring the prop — before arguing that letting a student read my book could be considered child abuse.
She, and the other parents like her, demanded the removal of my book and several others from district reading lists for high school English class book clubs, from which students were allowed to select one of 15 titles. The school board ultimately decided to remove a number of books, including “V for Vendetta” and a graphic novel version of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and is currently considering whether it should remove more, including mine.
I have teamed up with Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, Jacqueline Woodson and many other authors whose works have been targeted for removal from class reading lists in Leander. In conjunction with PEN America, a group that promotes free literary expression, we wrote a letter to the school district demanding that our books remain available to students. While our books may contain passages that are potentially uncomfortable, challenging or even offensive, exposure to our books is vital to expanding minds, affirming experiences, creating appreciation for the arts and building empathy — in short, respecting the adults that the students in Leander, Texas, will soon become.
Schools rarely provide education about relationships. Teenagers aren’t often taught that extreme jealousy is not romantic, but is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. The sections of my book read aloud by the outraged parent in that meeting are part of a larger story, examining what it means to be so head over heels in love, in lust or both that you let someone treat you badly.
It was painful and difficult to recount that experience for my book, to lay plain my own vulnerabilities and dark moments. But I’m glad I did it. Now that it’s out in the world, I receive easily a dozen messages a week from readers. They thank me; they open up to me; they describe the life-changing experience of feeling seen. More than one person has told me my book gave them the clarity and strength to leave an unhealthy relationship.
Book bans in America are nothing new. As long as there have been writers, there have been reactionaries at their heels. (Boston held its first book burning in 1650.) Today in the United States, books that feature characters who are Black, Latinx, Indigenous, queer or trans — or are written by authors who identify that way — frequently make up a majority of the American Library Association’s annual list of the top 10 books most often censored in libraries and schools. These book bans deprive students of a better understanding of themselves and each other. As a writer, I believe in the power of words to cross boundaries at a time of deep division. Now more than ever, literature matters.
Those who seek to ban my book and others like it are trying to exploit fear — fear about the realities that books like mine expose, fear about desire and sex and love — and distort it into something ugly, in an attempt to wish away queer experiences.
They do not try to hide their contempt, or their homophobia. They accuse teachers who want to assign my book of “grooming” students, language that’s often used to accuse someone of being a pedophile and a common conservative dog-whistle when it comes to queer art. They want to shield their children from anything that suggests a world beyond their narrow perception.
As anyone can tell you — as history can tell you — this is ultimately a fool’s errand. Ideas don’t disappear when they’re challenged; banned books have a funny way of enduring. But that doesn’t mean these efforts are without consequences.
The high school seniors affected by this action are on the cusp of adulthood, if not already there. Soon, they will go into the world. They will date and fall in love and begin relationships, good and bad. I understand that for a parent, it’s almost unthinkable to imagine that your child could experience such trauma. But preventing children from reading my book, or any book, won’t protect them. On the contrary, it may rob them of ways to understand the world they’ll encounter, or even the lives they’re already living. You can’t recognize what you’ve never been taught to see. You can’t put language to something for which you’ve been given no language.
Why do we not see these acts of censorship for what they are: shortsighted, violent and unforgivable?
The attempts by settlers to forcibly displace Palestinian families have set off a catastrophe.
By Rula Salameh, May 11, 2021
Ms. Salameh is a Palestinian community organizer and film producer from Jerusalem.
Palestinians protesting at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday. Credit...Amir Levy/Getty Images
JERUSALEM — I watched the wailing ambulances bring the injured, the medical staff carry them on stretchers and the nurses guide them into the emergency ward. I saw blood-soaked clothes and gauze-wrapped necks and faces.
On Monday more than 330 Palestinians were wounded by the Israeli police at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Many of those needing medical attention were taken to Al Makassed hospital, about a mile and a half from the mosque, in East Jerusalem.
Tensions had been rising as Israel blocked access for Palestinians from outside Jerusalem headed to the mosque for prayers during the last days of Ramadan, the sacred Muslim month of fasting. Serious violence erupted on Jerusalem Day, an annual event to celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. Early Monday, Israeli police officers stormed the mosque compound and began firing rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians who were throwing stones.
I am a Palestinian community organizer and film producer and live in Beit Hanina, less than five miles from Al Aqsa Mosque and Al Makassed hospital. I have been part of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation for years.
Soon after the Israeli forces entered Al Aqsa, I called a spokesman for the Palestinian Red Crescent, who was inside the compound. “The police have been shooting people with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters,” he told me, stress and exhaustion evident in his voice. “People are being shot in their chests, faces, heads.” The injured included older people, women and children, he continued, though the majority were young men. (The Israeli police force said 21 officers had also been injured.)
I raced with a few friends to the hospital to check how we could help, whether it was donating blood for the injured or arranging food and transportation for their families. Desperate voices were calling out for information about their sons, husbands, brothers, who had been taken there for treatment. I overheard a doctor instruct two nurses about a patient. “He is still in critical condition. He might lose his eye,” he said. “We’ll do further tests and then inform his family.” The overworked nurses nodded and rushed to get new arrivals onto examination tables.
My phone rang relentlessly. Friends and colleagues from all over the world were calling and asking what they could do for Sheikh Jarrah, a tiny East Jerusalem neighborhood about two miles from the Aqsa compound. The events unfolding at Sheikh Jarrah were the context of the escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israeli forces at Al Aqsa Mosque and elsewhere in the territories.
Palestinian residents of the neighborhood have been protesting for weeks to prevent the eviction of Palestinian families sought by Israeli settlers. The protests underscore that the expulsions in Sheikh Jarrah are part of the broader expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland — a process that started during the establishment of Israel in 1948 and turned about 750,000 Palestinians into refugees.
The protests at Al Aqsa against denying us access to our holy sites are related to the same oppressive process of disenfranchisement and occupation.
The Sheikh Jarrah families who have faced eviction are Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes in Haifa and Jaffa during the 1948 war. Israel prevented refugees from returning to their cities, seized their homes and moved Jewish Israeli families in. In the 1950s, the Jordanian government, which controlled East Jerusalem until 1967, settled 28 refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah in coordination with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
After the 1967 war, when Israel extended its occupation to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Jewish settlers began making claims on the refugees’ houses in Sheikh Jarrah. The settlers have been relying on a 1970 Israeli law that allows Jewish people to reclaim properties their families owned in East Jerusalem before 1948.
In 2009, settlers began taking over some of the families’ homes in Sheikh Jarrah, displacing 53 refugees, including 20 children, under Israeli court order. I met the affected families in 2009. We organized together, brought delegations of Israeli and international solidarity activists to the neighborhood and laid the foundations for a grass-roots movement. I co-produced a documentary on the community’s response to those expulsions.
Last fall, Israeli courts ruled to evict several more Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Four of those families appealed, and an Israeli Supreme Court hearing was scheduled for their case on Monday.
Led by a new generation of Palestinians, the community in Sheikh Jarrah resumed and heightened its protest movement. Scores of Palestinian youths joined the Sheikh Jarrah families to break the Ramadan fast each night, eating, singing and dancing together, despite being attacked by the settlers with stones and being beaten, Tasered, arrested and doused with a stinking liquid by the police.
On Saturday, thousands of Palestinians were on their way to Jerusalem to spend the final days of Ramadan in Al Aqsa Mosque, as is our tradition. When stopped by the Israeli police from entering the city, they parked their cars and buses on the highway and began walking. Residents from across East Jerusalem — including Sheikh Jarrah — drove to the highway to pick them up.
It gives me hope to see displays of unity and support from all parts of Palestine and abroad. #SaveSheikhJarrah pops up on my Twitter feed every few seconds, in Arabic and English. Activists on the ground have made it clear that these evictions are not a “real estate deal between private parties,” as the Israeli government tries to portray it, but part of a systemic policy to replace Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with Jewish Israelis.
The energy and momentum emanating from Sheikh Jarrah have been palpable and inspiring. The world is watching Sheikh Jarrah. On Sunday, the attorney general of Israel asked the Supreme Court to postpone its ruling. A new date will be set within a month. I believe the suspension of the court ruling and the escalation of violence by Israel in Al Aqsa and Gaza is an effort to shift focus from Sheikh Jarrah.
The Sheikh Jarrah families and their struggle against forced displacement yet again are emblematic of our liberation struggle. After the Israeli police injured hundreds of Palestinians in Al Aqsa Mosque, militants in Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at Israel — which, according to the Israeli military, injured six Israeli civilians. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza, killing at least 28 people, including 10 children.
I received numerous messages about Al Aqsa, Gaza and Sheikh Jarrah, which underscored that what happens at Al Aqsa and in Gaza is intrinsically tied to Sheikh Jarrah. We see our collective fate in the future of Sheikh Jarrah.
I also see our collective fate in the irrepressible resistance led by my young friends in Sheikh Jarrah. I saw it in the eyes of 22-year-old Mohammed El-Kurd as he lit a cigarette, perched atop the hood of an Israeli police car. I saw it in his younger brother Mahmoud and their neighbor Tala Obeid, who were arrested on May 4 while protesting and were marched to the police station, keeping their backs erect and heads held high.
The Netanyahu government miscalculates that our resistance to encroaching colonization and Israeli supremacy will wane in the coming days. It is not only the future of the families in Sheikh Jarrah that is at stake. It is the future of our homes, our homeland.
By Farhad Manjoo, May 12, 2021
Jessica Craig-Martin/Trunk Archive
I was reading about Jeff Bezos’ new boat last week when I began to understand one of my greatest failures as a pundit. This might seem an outsize reaction to a bit of maritime news, but as Bloomberg reported, Bezos’ is no ordinary boat. It is, instead, a “superyacht” — a 417-foot, three-mast sailing vessel that could be one of the largest such yachts ever built, if not in length then perhaps in moral recklessness. In a boom time for billionaires, Bloomberg says, the market for these most elephantine of yachts is roaring.
There was one detail that sent me reeling: At a cost of more than $500 million, you’d think the Amazon founder’s yacht would be outfitted with every luxury. Nope — it lacks a helipad, which couldn’t be accommodated because of the boat’s enormous sails. Bezos’ partner, Lauren Sanchez, is a helicopter pilot, so how would she get on and off the big boat? For the world’s richest man the answer is obvious — another boat. The Bezos superyacht will be accompanied by a smaller yacht — maybe call it Lil Yachty — whose primary function is as a place to land and park the helicopter.
Hence my heartburn: Two years ago, I was part of a boomlet in lefty opinion circles calling for American society to reconsider our fondness for billionaires. To me it seemed self-evidently immoral for anyone to possess a billion American dollars in wealth. We could argue where exactly the line was, but a billion was indefensibly beyond it — it’s far more money than anyone needs, even accounting for life’s most excessive lavishes, and far more than anyone might reasonably claim to deserve, however quickly he can ship you toilet paper.
The problem with billionaires was not just the obscenity of their wealth, though in a society where millions of people go without food, that was certainly part of it. It was also that their wealth was rarely questioned, even though it’s clear that extreme wealth corrupts — it buys power, especially political power, and uses that power to perpetuate its winnings at the expense of the rest of us, ultimately corroding democracy.
But in early 2019 — with progressives like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez releasing popular plans aimed at curbing extreme wealth — it looked like we were ready for a new social order. It looked like we were ready to abolish billionaires, as I put it.
I argued that we ought to enact economic policies that recoup some of the booty from the super-wealthy, but more important, instead of worshiping these masters of the universe, we should begin to look upon billionaires with moral suspicion. We should wonder about the kind of person who would hold claim to that level of wealth in a world weeping with so much suffering.
Typing these words now I want to reach out and shake myself out of my delusions — what a sweet summer child I was to believe my fellow Americans would put billionaires on the run. The anti-billionaire boomlet died with the Democratic presidential primaries. Since then billionaires have grown only wealthier and more powerful than ever. Now it feels like we can’t quit them — even after a pandemic in which billionaires prospered beyond all measure while so many others suffered great loss, we are nowhere close to putting any significant curbs on extreme wealth.
The world is enthralled with billionaires, almost shamelessly so. In just the last couple weeks, one billionaire, Elon Musk, sent cryptocurrency markets reeling by pumping a “memecoin,” successfully tested a prototype rocket meant to travel to Mars, and then took a charming turn as the host of “Saturday Night Live.” Bill and Melinda Gates, already both lauded and vilified (often unfairly, sometimes on the mark) for their role in global public health, announced a divorce whose cause and ramifications are just beginning to unravel. And besides the boat story, Bezos is the subject of an excellent new book, “Amazon Unbound,” by the Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone. In it, Bezos emerges as the ur-billionaire of our time, the deft wielder of a fortune so vast that he and his company are becoming “perilously close to invincible,” Stone writes.
As a matter of politics, that proposition is hard to refute. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden declined to “demonize” the wealthy and told rich donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” for their standard of living — a promise he has kept. The Biden White House has proposed tax increases on the wealthy, but the president has remained far from a tax on accumulated wealth or other efforts to snip the wings of the extremely wealthy. On the right, there may be growing suspicion of “woke corporations,” but on policy, Republicans remain glued to the interests of billionaires, not least the self-proclaimed billionaire who just left the White House.
How did I so misread the moment — why was I ever so optimistic that we could curb the power of the richest among us? I could say something self-serving, like that I overestimated my fellow Americans’ sense of shame, but the truth is that I got caught up in the moment. Traumatic as it was, for a time the Trump era seemed to open up wide possibilities on the left — remember that early in the Democratic presidential primaries, Sanders and Warren were top contenders. There suddenly seemed new space to question some of America’s fundamental cultural tenets, among them the idea that excessive wealth should be considered a mark of benevolence rather than greed.
But the pandemic quickly short-circuited these possibilities. As the incompetence of the government came into full view, billionaires began to look like our saviors — Bezos was keeping our houses stocked, Gates was minding public health and Musk was building the climate-friendly future. So when billionaires grew billions of dollars richer while the world locked down, hardly a peep of criticism rang out.
Now the billionaires are unleashed and untouchable. Behold their mighty yachts — and their other, smaller yachts, too, God help us.
By Refaat Alareer, May 13, 2021
Mr. Alareer lives in Gaza and is the editor of “Gaza Writes Back,” a collection of short stories.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/opinion/israel-gaza-rockets-airstrikes.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Gaza City, May 12. Credit...Khalil Hamra/Associated Press
TAL AL-HAWA, Gaza Strip — On Tuesday night, my wife, six children and I huddled in the living room of our apartment, the place least likely to take a stray hit from Israeli missiles or the debris they scatter. We were watching Al Jazeera’s livestreaming of Israeli warplanes’ imminent destruction of al-Jawharah (The Gem), one of Gaza’s largest buildings, when the power went out.
Linah, 8 years old — or, in Gazan time, two wars old — asked sheepishly if “they” could still destroy our building now that the power had gone out.
The next day, Wednesday, would be Amal’s birthday. She was turning 6 and for the past two years has made a habit of spending six months anticipating and planning her next birthday, followed by six months reminiscing about the celebration. She is quieter than her sister Linah and still a bit naïve about the world around her. I wish she were more naïve.
When Amal woke up on Wednesday, she didn’t ask for her birthday cake or candles. She knew something was wrong. She sensed the fear in the household. She heard the constant bombings.
My wife, Nusayba, insisted on celebrating anyway. “It should be a day of hope,” she said. Sure, dozens of families in Gaza have lost their homes in the past few days, and scores of people have died. This is no time for celebrations or cakes. “But we cannot give in to Israel,” Nusayba said.
I sneaked out of the house, making sure not to wear my Covid-19 mask, lest the Israeli drones mistake me for a target trying to hide. I bought Amal her favorite treats: Jordan almonds and chocolate biscuits. When I got back, we managed a muted rendition of “Senna Helwa” (“Happy Birthday”), far less raucously than we’d usually sing it. Amal smiled hesitantly. I looked at her and promised to take her to get the biggest cake when “this” is over.
On Monday, caught off guard by the attacks, I didn’t tell my kids their bedtime stories as usual. It was a mistake that I will try not to repeat.
I’ve since taken to tweaking the stories because of the bombings. In the original version of one tale I’ve made up for the children, two kittens die of neglect because their owner is careless. Now I say the kittens belong to a little girl named Amol and they only fall sick and are nurtured back to health because Amol is good-hearted and caring.
As the habit goes in Gaza, when parents end a children’s story, we offer a little rhyming refrain: “Toota toota, khalasat el hadoota. Hilwa walla maltouta?” (“The story is over. Was it nice or not?”) The kids usually shout back, “Maltouta!” — meaning “not nice” and that another story is in order.
On Tuesday, when I asked the question, Linah and Amal replied nervously, in unison: “Hilwa.” “Nice.” No more.
Most Gazans I know have barely gotten any rest since the beginning of the week. As my friend Hassan Arafat tweeted: “We do not sleep; we just faint with fatigue.” There are no high-tech warning systems here to alert us to incoming missiles or tell us to take shelter. We have to learn to read the patterns of Israel’s wanton strikes. Being a good parent in Gaza means developing a knack for what Israel’s drones and F-16s will do next.
On Wednesday night, after two hours of nonstop bombardment and Israeli missiles raining down all over the Strip — some landing just a few hundred meters away from our building — we finally managed to catch some sleep. The missiles shake the whole area for several seconds. Then you hear screams. Shouting. More screams. Whole families turn out onto the street. Our kids were all sat up in bed, shaking, saying nothing.
Then comes the intolerable indecision: I am caught between wanting to take the family outside, despite the missiles, shrapnel and falling debris, and staying at home, like sitting ducks for the American-made, Israeli-piloted planes. We stayed at home. At least we would die together, I thought.
The deafening strikes destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, cutting off roads leading to hospitals and water supplies, bringing down access to the internet. Many of the targets Israel hits have no strategic value. Israel knows this, and knows how it unnerves us. I wonder what those officers do in their command centers: Do they draw straws on which block to annihilate? Do they roll a dice?
Wednesday was the last day of Ramadan. The holy month of fasting ends with Eid al-Fitr, a celebration considered to be the second-happiest in Islam. Children traditionally wear new clothes and receive cash gifts and toys from relatives. Muslims in Palestine visit their families and eat together. Not this Eid, though.
By early Thursday, 69 people in Gaza were reported to have been killed in Israel’s airstrikes, including commanders of Hamas, the group that governs the Strip, and 17 children. At least seven Israelis, including one child, had died from the hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas.
In 2014, during the last war, Israel killed my brother Hamada; it destroyed my apartment when it brought down the family home that housed 40 people. It killed my wife’s grandfather, her brother, her sister and her sister’s three kids. We have not overcome that trauma yet. We have not finished rebuilding the homes Israel obliterated then.
Nusayba and I are a perfectly average Palestinian couple: Between us we have lost more than 30 relatives.
These days, as we lie in the darkness at night, I fear the worst — and I fear the best. If we come out of this alive, how will my children’s psyches fare in the years to come, living in constant dread of the next attack?
On Tuesday, Linah asked her question again after my wife and I didn’t answer it the first time: Can they destroy our building if the power is out? I wanted to say: “Yes, little Linah, Israel can still destroy the beautiful al-Jawharah building, or any of our buildings, even in the darkness. Each of our homes is full of tales and stories that must be told. Our homes annoy the Israeli war machine, mock it, haunt it, even in the darkness. It can’t abide their existence. And, with American tax dollars and international immunity, Israel presumably will go on destroying our buildings until there is nothing left.”
But I can’t tell Linah any of this. So I lie: “No, sweetie. They can’t see us in the dark.”
By Peter Beinart, May 12, 2021
Palestinians from Gaza leaving the occupied West Bank to go to Jordan in 1968.
Why has the impending eviction of six Palestinian families in East Jerusalem drawn Israelis and Palestinians into a conflict that appears to be spiraling toward yet another war? Because of a word that in the American Jewish community remains largely taboo: the Nakba.
The Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic, need not refer only to the more than 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled or fled in terror during Israel’s founding. It can also evoke the many expulsions that have occurred since: the about 300,000 Palestinians whom Israel displaced when it conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967; the roughly 250,000 Palestinians who could not return to the West Bank and Gaza after Israel revoked their residency rights between 1967 and 1994; the hundreds of Palestinians whose homes Israel demolished in 2020 alone. The East Jerusalem evictions are so combustible because they continue a pattern of expulsion that is as old as Israel itself.
Among Palestinians, Nakba is a household word. But for Jews — even many liberal Jews in Israel, America and around the world — the Nakba is hard to discuss because it is inextricably bound up with Israel’s creation. Without the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, Zionist leaders would have had neither the land nor the large Jewish majority necessary to create a viable Jewish state. As I discuss at greater length in an essay for Jewish Currents from which this guest essay is adapted, acknowledging and beginning to remedy that expulsion — by allowing Palestinian refugees to return — requires imagining a different kind of country, where Palestinians are considered equal citizens, not a demographic threat.
To avoid this reckoning, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies insist that Palestinian refugees abandon hope of returning to their homeland. This demand is drenched in irony, because no people in human history have clung as stubbornly to the dream of return as have Jews. Establishment Jewish leaders denounce the fact that Palestinians pass down their identity as refugees to their children and grandchildren. But Jews have passed down our identity as refugees for 2,000 years. In our holidays and liturgy we continually mourn our expulsion and express our yearning for return. “After being forcibly exiled from their land,” proclaims Israel’s Declaration of Independence, “the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion.” If keeping faith that exile can be overcome is sacred to Jews, how can we condemn Palestinians for doing the same thing?
In addition to telling Palestinians they cannot go home because they have been away too long, Jewish leaders argue that return is impractical. But this too is deeply ironic because, as a refugee rights advocate, Lubnah Shomali, has pointed out, “If any state is an expert in receiving masses and masses of people and settling them in a very small territory, it’s Israel.” At the height of the Soviet exodus in the early 1990s, Israel took in about 500,000 immigrants. If millions of diaspora Jews began moving to Israel tomorrow, Jewish leaders would not say taking them in was logistically impossible. They would help Israel to do what it has done before: build large amounts of housing fast.
When most Jews imagine Palestinian refugees’ return, they probably don’t envision it looking like Israel’s absorption of Soviet Jews. More likely, they predict Palestinians expelling Jews from their homes. But the tragic reality is that not many Jews live in former Palestinian homes, since it is believed that only a few thousand remain intact. Ms. Shomali estimates that more than 70 percent of Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948 remain vacant. And the Palestinian activists and scholars who envision return generally argue that large-scale eviction is neither necessary, nor desirable. Asked in 2000 about Jews living in formerly Palestinian homes, the famed Palestinian literary critic Edward Said declared that he was “averse to the notion of people leaving their homes” and that “some humane and moderate solution should be found where the claims of the present and the claims of the past are addressed.”
None of this means refugee return would be simple or uncontested. Efforts at historical justice rarely are. But there is a reason the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates ends his famous essay on reparations for segregation and slavery with the subprime mortgage crisis that forced many Black Americans into foreclosure in the first decade of the 21st century. The crimes of the past, when left unaddressed, do not remain in the past. That’s also the lesson of the evictions that have set Israel-Palestine aflame. More than seven decades ago, Palestinians were expelled to create a Jewish state. Now they are being expelled to make Jerusalem a Jewish city. By refusing to face the Nakba of 1948, the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies ensure that the Nakba continues.
Perhaps American Jewish leaders fear that facing the crimes committed at Israel’s birth will leave Jews vulnerable. Once the Nakba taboo is lifted, Palestinians will feel emboldened to seek revenge. But more often than not, honestly confronting the past has the opposite effect.
After George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American law professor, wrote about the house in Jerusalem that his grandfather had built and been robbed of, a former Israeli soldier who had lived in it contacted him unexpectedly. “I am sorry, I was blind. What we did was wrong, but I participated in it and I cannot deny it,” the former soldier said when they met, and then added, “I owe your family three months’ rent.” Mr. Bisharat later wrote that he was inspired to match the Israeli’s humanity.
“Just that response, writ large, is what awaits Israel if it could bring itself to apologize to the Palestinians,” he wrote. In that moment he saw “an untapped reservoir of Palestinian magnanimity and good will that could transform the relations between the two peoples.”
There is a Hebrew word for the behavior of that former soldier: “teshuvah.” It is generally translated as “repentance.” Ironically enough, however, its literal definition is “return.” In Jewish tradition, return need not be physical; it can also be ethical and spiritual. That means the return of Palestinian refugees — far from necessitating Jewish exile — could be a kind of return for us as well, a return to traditions of memory and justice that the Nakba has evicted from organized Jewish life.
“The occupier and myself — both of us suffer from exile,” the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish once declared. “He is an exile in me and I am the victim of his exile.” The longer Jews deny the Nakba, the deeper our moral exile becomes. By facing it squarely and beginning a process of repair, both Jews and Palestinians, in different ways, can start to come home.
Mr. Beinart, a contributing Opinion writer who focuses on politics and foreign policy, is an editor at large of Jewish Currents, where a version of this essay appeared.
The revelation that unidentified remains from at least one of the victims of a 1985 police bombing had been discarded without regard to the family’s wishes touched off fresh waves of pain and anger.
By Michael Levenson, Published May 13, 2021. Updated May 14, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/us/health-commissioner-philadelphia-move-bombing.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Philadelphia’s health commissioner has resigned under pressure after confiding to city officials that he had authorized the cremation and disposal of remains from at least one of the Black Philadelphians who were killed when the police dropped a bomb on a rowhouse where members of the communal, antigovernment group MOVE lived in 1985.
The bomb, which the police had dropped from a helicopter, started a fire in the house, and the police ordered firefighters to let it burn. Eleven people, including five children, were killed, and more than 60 nearby homes were destroyed.
The episode has for decades been held up as an example of the city’s mistreatment of Black people, and the revelation that unidentified remains from at least one of the victims had been discarded without regard to the family’s wishes touched off fresh waves of pain and anger.
Many residents and activists believe city officials have never been held accountable for the bombing and burning of a middle-class, mostly Black neighborhood in West Philadelphia. In 1988, a grand jury cleared officials of criminal liability for the death and destruction resulting from the bombing.
The cremation was disclosed on Thursday, exactly 36 years after the bombing, by Mayor Jim Kenney, who said he had learned on Tuesday that it had been carried out in 2017, during his first term in office. He said he had apologized directly to members of the Africa family, who are still active in MOVE, and had ordered an investigation into the episode.
Mr. Kenney said he had also asked for and received the resignation of the health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, and had placed the medical examiner, Dr. Sam Gulino, on administrative leave, pending an investigation.
“We need to address this,” Mr. Kenney said at a news conference. “This has been years now that the family has been abused, and not listened to, and not taken seriously, and their wishes were never taken into account.”
Dr. Farley said he had reconsidered his actions after officials at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University recently acknowledged that anthropologists had been passing the bones of an unidentified victim of the MOVE bombing between them for the last 36 years. Those bones had also been featured in a video for an online course, “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” taught by a University of Pennsylvania professor and offered by Princeton.
“I believe my decision was wrong and represented a terrible error in judgment,” Dr. Farley said in a statement. “I profoundly regret making this decision without consulting the family members of the victims and I extend my deepest apologies for the pain this will cause them.”
Jamie Gauthier, a member of the Philadelphia City Council, which apologized last year for the bombing, said the cremation and disposal demonstrated “a complete lack of care and concern for Black lives.”
“These individuals lost their lives at the hands of the state and even in death were denied the dignity and respect that every human being deserves,” Ms. Gauthier said in a statement.
According to Mr. Kenney, Dr. Farley learned in 2017 of remains found by the Medical Examiner’s Office that belonged to victims of the bombing. Instead of fully identifying those remains and returning them to the family, Dr. Farley decided to cremate and dispose of them, Mr. Kenney said.
“This action lacked empathy for the victims, their family, and the deep pain that the MOVE bombing has brought to our city for nearly four decades,” Mr. Kenney said in a statement.
A physician trained in pediatrics and epidemiology, Dr. Farley was appointed Philadelphia’s health commissioner in 2016. He was New York City’s health commissioner from 2009 to 2014.
Dr. Farley said that Dr. Gulino had informed him in early 2017 that, among some personal effects of the dead, a box had been found that contained materials related to autopsies from the MOVE bombing. In the box, he said, were bones and bone fragments, presumably from one or more of the victims.
Under the standard procedure for autopsies in the Medical Examiner’s Office, some specimens are kept for investigations before they are released to next of kin, Dr. Farley said. But after investigations are complete, these specimens are discarded, without notifying anyone, he said.
“Believing that investigations related to the MOVE bombing had been completed more than 30 years earlier, and not wanting to cause more anguish for the families of the victims, I authorized Dr. Gulino to follow this procedure and dispose of the bones and bone fragments,” Dr. Farley said. “I made this decision on my own, without notifying or consulting anyone in the Managing Director’s office or the Mayor’s office, and I take full responsibility for it.”
Dr. Gulino did not immediately respond to messages on Thursday.
Mike Africa Jr., an activist, writer and member of MOVE who was 6 when the bomb was dropped, said the cremation and disposal of the remains was “jolting” but not shocking, given what he said was the city’s history of mistreating MOVE members.
“You never get clear of it,” Mr. Africa said. “As soon as you think it’s over or about to subside, you’ve got some other stuff that pops right in your face. Everybody who was involved has to be held accountable.”
Mr. Kenney said the city had hired a law firm to investigate, and he promised the Africa family “full transparency” in the investigation.
“I cannot imagine that it means much, but I also offer a formal apology to the Africa family and members of the MOVE on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, not just for this disgraceful incident, but also for how administration after administration has failed to atone for the heinous act on May 13, 1985 and continues to dishonor the victims,” Mr. Kenney said. “I am profoundly sorry for the incredible pain, harm, and loss caused by that horrific day.”
The surge in fighting left Israel in an unprecedented position — fighting Palestinian militants on its southern flank as it sought to head off its worst civil unrest in decades.
“Israel intensified its campaign of relentless airstrikes against Hamas targets there on Thursday, pulverizing buildings, offices and homes in strikes that have killed 119 people including 31 children, according to the Gaza health authorities.”
By Declan Walsh, Published May 13, 2021, Updated May 14, 2021
Taking shelter at a United Nations-run school in Gaza on Friday. Credit...Hosam Salem for The New York Times
A residential building that was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday in Gaza City. Credit...Hosam Salem for The New York Times
Israel launched an intense air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip early Friday, pounding targets with warplanes, artillery and tank fire in the largest single operation of a four-day conflict with Palestinian militants that had been waged by airstrikes from Israel and rockets from Gaza.
An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said that the 40-minute assault targeted an underground network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to evade airstrikes and surveillance. Colonel Conricus initially said that ground troops were “attacking in Gaza,” but he later clarified that Israeli troops had not entered the territory.
Residents of Gaza reported a terrifying barrage of explosions that shook buildings across the densely populated territory, where many fled their homes for United Nations-run schools on Friday morning.
The Israel military called it “the largest focused operation against a focused target that we have conducted so far.”
The surge in fighting highlighted the unprecedented position Israel finds itself in — battling Palestinian militants on its southern flank as it seeks to head off its worst civil unrest in decades.
It followed another day of clashes between Arab and Jewish mobs on the streets of Israeli cities, with the authorities calling up the army reserves and sending reinforcements of armed border police to the central city of Lod to try to head off what Israeli leaders have warned could become a civil war.
Taken together, the two theaters of turmoil pointed to a step change in the grinding, decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. While violent escalations often follow a predictable trajectory, this latest bout, the worst in seven years, is rapidly evolving into a new kind of war — faster, more destructive and capable of spinning in unpredictable new directions.
In Gaza, an impoverished coastal strip that was the crucible of a devastating seven-week war in 2014, Palestinian militants fired surprisingly large barrages of enhanced-range rockets — some 1,800 in three days — that reached far into Israel.
Israel intensified its campaign of relentless airstrikes against Hamas targets there on Thursday, pulverizing buildings, offices and homes in strikes that have killed 119 people including 31 children, according to the Gaza health authorities.
Seven civilians and a soldier have been killed by Hamas rockets inside Israel.
Egyptian mediators arrived in Israel Thursday in a sooner-than-usual push to halt the spiraling conflict.
Most alarming for Israel, though, was the violent ferment on its own sidewalks and streets, where days of rioting by Jewish vigilantes and Arab mobs showed no sign of abating.
The unrest in several mixed-ethnicity cities, where angry young men stoned cars, set fire to mosques and synagogues, and attacked each other, signaled a collapse of law and order inside Israel on a scale not seen since the start of the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, 21 years ago.
The violence follows a month of boiling tensions in Jerusalem, where the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from their homes coincided with a spate of Arab attacks against Israeli Jews, and a march through the city by right-wing extremists chanting “Death to Arabs.”
The jarring violence this week caused Israeli leaders, led by President Reuven Rivlin, to evoke the specter of civil war — a once unthinkable idea. “We need to solve our problems without causing a civil war that can be a danger to our existence,” Mr. Rivlin said. “The silent majority is not saying a thing, because it is utterly stunned.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Lod, a working-class city with a mixed Arab-Israeli population that has emerged as the center of the upheaval. Hulks of burned-out cars littered the streets where, a few nights earlier, Arab youths burned synagogues and cars, threw stones and let off sporadic rounds of gunfire, before gangs of Jewish vigilantes counterattacked and set their own fires.
On Thursday, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to a synagogue there, but survived.
“There is no greater threat now than these riots,” said Mr. Netanyahu, who vowed to deploy the Israel Defense Forces to keep the peace in Lod. A day earlier, he described the violence as “anarchy” and said: “Nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs, and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews.”
To secure Lod, the government brought in thousands of armed border police from the occupied West Bank, and imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, but to little effect.
Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s 80,000 people, continued a campaign of stone-throwing, vandalism and arson, while Jewish extremists arrived from outside Lod, burning Arab cars and property. Arab protesters erected flaming roadblocks.
As night fell there were signs that the violence might escalate when a large convoy of armed Jews in white vans moved into town.
Palestinian leaders, however, said the talk of civil war by Jewish leaders was a distraction from what they called the true cause of the unrest in Lod — police brutality against Palestinian protesters and provocative actions by right-wing Israeli settler groups.
“The police shot an Arab demonstrator in Lod,” said Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Ta’al party and a member of Israel’s Parliament. “We don’t want bloodshed. We want to protest.”
Mr. Tibi said that Mr. Netanyahu, who has frequently aligned with far-right and nationalist parties to stay in power, had only himself to blame for the political tinderbox that has exploded with such ferocity across Israel.
On Thursday evening, the State Department urged American citizens to reconsider traveling to Israel and warned against going to the occupied West Bank or Gaza. In an advisory, the department noted rocket attacks that could reach Jerusalem, protests and violence throughout Israel and a “dangerous and volatile” security environment in the Gaza Strip and on its borders.
The trouble started on Monday, when a heavy-handed police raid at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam, located atop a site also revered by Jews — set off an instant backlash.
But beyond the images of police officers flinging stun grenades and firing rubber bullets inside the mosque, Palestinian outrage was also fueled by much wider, decades-old frustrations.
Human Rights Watch recently accused Israel of perpetrating a form of apartheid, the racist legal system that once governed South Africa, citing a number of laws and regulations that it said systematically discriminate against Palestinians. Israel vehemently rejected that charge. But its security forces are now confronted with a swelling wave of fury from the country’s Arab Israeli minority, which complains of being treated as second-class citizens.
“‘Coexistence’ means that both sides exist,” said Tamer Nafar, a famous rapper from Lod. “But so far there is only one side — the Jewish side.”
The rocket attacks from Gaza are also quantitatively and qualitatively different from the last war in 2014. The more than 1,800 rockets Hamas and its allies have fired at Israel since Monday already represent a third of the total fired during the seven-week war in 2014.
Israeli intelligence has estimated that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian militant groups have about 30,000 rockets and mortar projectiles stashed in Gaza, indicating that despite the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the coastal territory, the militants have managed to amass a vast arsenal.
The rockets have also demonstrated a longer range than those fired in previous conflicts, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
They have also proven more effective. In the 2014 war, they killed a total of six civilians inside Israel, the same number killed in the last three days.
Those casualties appeared to be a product of Hamas’s new tactic of firing more than 100 missiles simultaneously, thwarting the American-financed Iron Dome missile-defense system, which Israeli officials say is 90 percent effective at intercepting rockets before they land inside Israel.
Gaza residents have no such protection against Israeli airstrikes, which crushed three multistory buildings in the strip after residents were warned to evacuate. Israeli officials said that the buildings housed Hamas operations and that they were striving to limit civilian casualties, but many Gaza residents viewed the Israeli attacks as a form of collective punishment.
Thursday was supposed to be a day of celebration for Palestinians as they marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a day when Muslims typically gather to pray, wear new clothes and share a family meal. In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of worshipers gathered at dawn outside the Aqsa Mosque, some waving Palestinian flags and a banner showing an image of Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas.
In Gaza, though, it was a somber day of funerals, fear and missile strikes. Some families buried their dead, others laid out prayer mats beside buildings recently destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, and still others came under attack from Israeli drones hovering overhead.
“Save me,” pleaded Maysoun al-Hatu, 58, after she was wounded in a missile strike outside her daughter’s house in Gaza, according to a witness. An ambulance arrived moments later, but it was too late. Ms. al-Hatu was dead.
American and Egyptian diplomats were heading to Israel to begin de-escalation talks. Egyptian mediators played a key role in ending the 2014 war in Gaza, but this time there is little optimism they can achieve a quick result.
Israeli military officials have said their mission is to stop the rockets from Gaza, and the military moved tanks and troops into place along the border with Gaza on Thursday in preparation for a possible ground invasion.
The decision to extend the campaign is ultimately political. Analysts said that a ground operation would likely incur high casualties, and it was unclear if the troop deployment was anything more than a threat.
But the political calculation grew more complicated on Thursday after the collapse of negotiations between opposition parties seeking to form a new government.
Naftali Bennett, an ultranationalist former settler leader who opposes Palestinian statehood, pulled out of the talks, citing the state of emergency in several Israeli cities.
His withdrawal increases the likelihood of Israel holding a general election later this summer — in what would be its fifth in just over two years. And the collapse of the talks appears to benefit Mr. Netanyahu, making it impossible for opposition parties to form an alliance large enough to oust him from office.
Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, is serving as caretaker prime minister until a new government can be formed.
On the Palestinian side, the indefinite postponement last month of elections by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, created a vacuum that Hamas is more than willing to fill.
The delay in the trial of three former officers who are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder allows for a separate federal case against them to move forward.
By Matt Furber, May 13, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/us/george-floyd-three-officers-murder-trial.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
MINNEAPOLIS — The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged in the death of George Floyd has been delayed several months to allow for a federal case against them to move forward.
The decision was announced Thursday by Judge Peter A. Cahill during a pretrial hearing for the three former officers, and comes weeks after another former officer, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of two counts of murder and one of manslaughter for kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
The three other former officers, who were scheduled to face trial on Aug. 23, will now be tried in March, Judge Cahill said. They face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Two of the officers, all of whom were fired shortly after Mr. Floyd died last May, were rookies at the time: J. Alexander Kueng, 27, who was positioned on Mr. Floyd’s back, and Thomas Lane, 38, who held Mr. Floyd’s legs down. A veteran police officer, Tou Thao, 35, was positioned nearby and kept bystanders, who grew increasingly angry as they watched Mr. Floyd repeatedly say he could not breathe, from intervening.
All four officers were seen in a widely circulated cellphone video taken by a bystander that captured Mr. Floyd’s last moments and reverberated around the world, prompting weeks of social unrest in American cities.
The delay in the second trial will have the effect of allowing a recently announced federal case to move forward, while also putting some distance between the second trial and the enormous publicity generated by Mr. Chauvin’s trial, which was livestreamed and shown on television networks around the world.
“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” Judge Cahill said in court on Thursday.
Mr. Chauvin’s conviction was handed down April 20, and about two weeks later the Justice Department announced indictments against the four former officers on federal criminal charges of violating Mr. Floyd’s civil rights. The indictments were not a surprise, but they were unusual, partly because Mr. Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota.
In similar cases, the federal government has often only filed charges if officials believe that justice was not served at the state level. For instance, after four officers accused in the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in the early 1990s were acquitted, they were indicted on federal charges.
Because federal charges often come only after the conclusion of state cases, some legal experts were surprised to see that the three other former officers were indicted by a federal grand jury before their case went to trial in Minnesota.
Still, even though Judge Cahill cited the federal case as a reason for delaying the trial in Minneapolis, it is uncertain that a federal trial would happen before March 7, when the three former officers are now scheduled to go on trial in state court. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Minneapolis said on Thursday that no date had been set for a federal trial of any of the former officers.
Mr. Chauvin is scheduled to be sentenced on the highest charge for which he was convicted — second-degree murder — on June 25. Judge Cahill ruled this week that Mr. Chauvin could receive a higher sentence than the 15-year maximum that Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for. Judge Cahill ruled that Mr. Chauvin was “particularly cruel” in killing Mr. Floyd and also found that several other so-called aggravating factors apply: that he committed the crime in front of children, abused his authority and did so with the participation of at least three other people.
Legal experts say Judge Cahill is likely to sentence Mr. Chauvin to up to 30 years in prison, although the maximum sentence possible is 40 years.
The trial of Mr. Chauvin was deeply traumatic for the city of Minneapolis, especially its Black community, with the harrowing video being shown repeatedly and emotional testimony from bystanders who witnessed Mr. Floyd’s murder. At its conclusion, the city almost immediately began bracing for the second trial of the other officers.
But now that the trial is delayed, some activists said it would have been better to hold the next trial on time, rather than push it off to allow for the publicity generated by Mr. Chauvin’s trial to subside.
“I think they should have just moved forward,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and prominent civil rights activist in Minneapolis.
She added, “I don’t think it helps our community in a positive way to have to wait about another year.”
Sickle cell trait has been cited in dozens of police custody deaths ruled accidental or natural, even though the condition is benign on its own, a Times investigation found.
By Michael LaForgia and Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, May 15, 2021
A wooded area in Wadesboro, N.C., where Mr. Perry fled the police and died. Credit...Travis Dove for The New York Times
When they carried the body of a 32-year-old Black man named Lamont Perry out of the woods in Wadesboro, N.C., there were no protests over his sudden death in police custody.
No reporters camped at the scene. No lawyers filed suit.
Instead, the final mark in the ledger of Mr. Perry’s life was made by a state medical examiner who attributed his death in large part to sickle cell trait, a genetic characteristic that overwhelmingly occurs in Black people. The official word was that he had died by accident.
But the examiner’s determination belied certain facts about that night in October 2016, public records and interviews show. Accused of violating probation in a misdemeanor assault case, Mr. Perry was chased by parole and local police officers through the dark into a stand of trees, where only they could witness what happened next.
He had swelling of the brain, and a forensic investigator reported that he had an open fracture of his right leg. He was covered in dirt, and residents of a nearby housing complex told his family that when the officers emerged from the woods, their shoes and the bottoms of their pants were spattered in blood.
Mr. Perry’s case underscores how willing some American pathologists have been to rule in-custody deaths of Black people accidents or natural occurrences caused by sickle cell trait, which is carried by one in 13 Black Americans and is almost always benign. Those with the trait have only one of the two genes required for full-blown sickle cell disease, a painful and sometimes life-threatening condition that can deform red blood cells into crescent shapes that stick together and block blood flow.
As recently as August, lawyers for Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted last month of murdering George Floyd, invoked sickle cell trait in an unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case against him, saying that the condition, along with other health problems and drug use, was the reason Mr. Floyd had died.
The New York Times has found at least 46 other instances over the past 25 years in which medical examiners, law enforcement officials or defenders of accused officers pointed to the trait as a cause or major factor in deaths of Black people in custody. Fifteen such deaths have occurred since 2015.
In roughly two-thirds of the cases, the person who died had been forcefully restrained by the authorities, pepper-sprayed or shocked with stun guns. Scattered across 22 states and Puerto Rico, in big cities and small towns, the determinations on sickle cell trait often created enough doubt for officers to avert criminal or civil penalties, The Times found.
K.C. Cage-Singleton, a 30-year-old landscaper and father of four, was walking in Baton Rouge, La., in October 2009 when two officers approached him because they thought his clothing resembled that of an armed robbery suspect. Records show they chased him into an apartment complex, shocked him with a stun gun and beat him with a baton. The coroner cataloged a slew of injuries, including abrasions, lacerations and broken teeth, but said the manner and cause of his death were “undetermined,” citing “probable” sickle cell trait. The officers were not charged.
Army Sgt. James Brown, 26, had completed two tours in Iraq and was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder in July 2012 when he turned himself in to the El Paso jail to serve a two-day sentence for drunken driving. The authorities said he became violent, and he died after five jailers in riot gear piled atop him, pulled a mesh mask over his head and bound him in a chair. The medical examiner ruled that he had died a natural death caused by sickle cell crisis, and a grand jury declined to bring charges.
Gamel Brown, a 30-year-old property maintenance supervisor, cut his hand on a broken mirror at his home in a Baltimore suburb in January last year, prompting a call to 911. The police who responded said he became “extremely combative,” and they jolted him several times with a stun gun. After he died at a hospital, the medical examiner said that the manner of his death was undetermined — and that it was caused in part by sickle cell trait. The state’s attorney filed no charges.
In three cases, deaths linked to sickle cell trait that were deemed natural or of indeterminate cause were later ruled homicides — as occurred when Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died at the hands of his jailers at a northwest Florida juvenile detention camp in January 2006.
“You can’t put the blame on sickle cell trait when there is a knee on the neck or when there is a chokehold or the person is hogtied,” said Dr. Roger A. Mitchell Jr., the former chief medical examiner for the District of Columbia and now chairman of pathology at the Howard University College of Medicine. “You can’t say, ‘Well, he’s fragile.’ No, that becomes a homicide.”
Not every death that is tied to the condition is inherently questionable. Medical experts say sickle cell trait has caused deaths in rare cases of extreme overexertion, especially among military trainees and college athletes. Three of the in-custody deaths identified by The Times involved people who were exercising vigorously in jail yards or running hard before they collapsed — and law enforcement officers said that at most they put handcuffs on them.
In none of the deaths examined by The Times did the person have actual sickle cell disease, though there were instances when imprecise language by medical examiners left the false impression the trait and the disease were the same.
Dr. James R. Gill, chief medical examiner in Connecticut and president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said that pathologists would not be doing a thorough job if they identified sickle cell trait and failed to mention it in their reports.
“We know that this, in the right situation, can cause death, and you can’t just ignore that,” said Dr. Gill, who cited the trait in the autopsy of Lashano Gilbert, a 31-year-old Black man who had died in police custody in October 2014.
Mr. Gilbert, who had attended medical school, suffered a psychotic episode in New London, Conn., and was arrested after jumping on a passing car. His jailers put him in restraints, used pepper spray and a stun gun on him and fit him with a mask to prevent biting. Dr. Gill ruled the death a homicide, though the state’s attorney deemed the use of force “appropriate” and filed no charges.
In interviews, Dr. Mitchell and other medical experts agreed that the trait warranted mention in autopsies, but said any natural or accidental death attributed to it, even in part, should be scrutinized if the person died during or after a struggle with law enforcement.
Many said they suspected some sickle cell determinations might reflect a pattern of bias or conflicts of interest among medical examiners and police officials.
Forensic pathologists, the doctors who conduct autopsies for coroners and medical examiners, were singled out in a hotly disputed study published in a scientific journal in February suggesting that racial bias could influence their rulings, though it did not address sickle cell trait.
And coroners and medical examiners have entrenched relationships with law enforcement in many areas, functioning as part of police departments or working closely with them. In California, for example, the elected sheriff serves as coroner in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. Several years ago, two pathologists resigned from the coroner’s office in San Joaquin County there, citing interference by the sheriff with in-custody death reviews. The sheriff denied the claims and lost re-election.
In Mr. Perry’s case, agents with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation sealed his body in a bag before a forensic investigator inspected it. Officers at the scene could not say for sure how he had suffered his injuries, but said it appeared he had tripped and fallen into a ravine. The officers said he had been talkative when they found and handcuffed him, but then he lost consciousness. No efforts were made to revive him with lifesaving equipment when paramedics arrived, records and interviews show, and the “open fracture” documented by the forensic investigator was described in the autopsy as a “laceration.”
Mr. Perry, who was sometimes shy to the point of seeming rude, had his detractors in the neighborhood, his family members said, and records show he had a history of misdemeanor breaking-and-entering, larceny and drunken-driving convictions. The assault conviction that gave rise to the foot chase stemmed from an argument with the girlfriend he was visiting that night, family members said.
Mr. Perry had alcohol and a small amount of cocaine in his bloodstream when he died, and the medical examiner ruled that he had succumbed to “cocaine toxicity in the setting of sickle cell trait,” effectively ending any deeper inquiry. The local district attorney declined to bring charges.
“I find no evidence of any criminal activity or wrongdoing of any kind,” the district attorney, Reece Saunders, wrote in March 2017. “I consider this unfortunate matter closed.”
For Mr. Perry’s relatives, who could not afford a lawyer to challenge the ruling, all that was left was a series of unanswered questions. What had happened in the woods? Why wouldn’t the investigators let them view the body before the autopsy?
“The only people who know what happened are that probation officer and the officers who ran out there,” said Mr. Perry’s half brother, Mario Robinson. “I don’t believe what they said.”
A Nationwide Pattern
To gain a sense of how often medical examiners have used sickle cell trait to explain in-custody deaths, The Times reviewed thousands of pages of autopsy records, court filings and police reports. It examined data on suspicious deaths from more than 30 of the United States’ largest counties, whose jurisdictions cover nearly one in three Black Americans.
The review identified dozens of cases dating to the 1970s and was almost certainly an undercount. In some areas with large Black populations, like New York City, The Times relied on court cases and media reports because relevant medical or identifying data was not publicly available. Other locations, including Wayne County, Mich., which contains Detroit, did not provide the data to The Times before publication.
Many of the deaths received little outside scrutiny at the time — perhaps a brief mention in the local media — in part because the families did not have the resources to challenge official determinations, or because the detained people were not seen as particularly sympathetic. Many had histories of arrests on drug use, domestic violence or other charges, and additional evidence that might point to police misconduct, such as video footage, was often not made public.
In some cases, The Times only pieced together details of the deaths through interviews with relatives, witnesses, emergency workers and outside pathologists.
The results offer a vivid glimpse into deaths in custody. In the past 25 years, 19 cases involved Black people who died after being restrained in ways that could hinder breathing. Twelve deaths occurred after the police or sheriffs’ deputies used stun guns. Nine happened after they used pepper spray. Two followed bites from police dogs.
Five of the cases were initially ruled homicides.
The rest were labeled undetermined, accidental or natural.
In communities from California to Pennsylvania, officials cited the rulings in closing investigations into the deaths, ensuring that police agencies provided the last word on what had occurred.
David Campbell, 25, stopped breathing in Allentown, Pa., in October 2011 after resisting his jailers’ efforts to remove his clothing and put him on suicide watch. They responded by dousing him with pepper spray, jamming knees into his back and leaving him tied to a chair, according to a lawsuit brought by his family.
While the results of Mr. Campbell’s autopsy were pending, emails show, the head of the Lehigh County Corrections Department sent the coroner a video of the arrest of a Florida man whose death was attributed to “excited delirium” — a condition that pathologists say can suddenly kill drug users or the mentally ill, though they acknowledge it is poorly understood and unevenly applied.
“I found this video which appeared similar to our incident with David Campbell,” wrote the corrections chief, Edward Sweeney, “and I thought I’d share it with you as we await the toxicology report.”
The coroner’s ruling in the case stated: “excited delirium complicating sickle cell trait, dehydration and abnormalities of the cardiac conduction system during restraint.” Manner of death: “undetermined.”
Ronney Moss Jr., wanted on suspicion of smoking marijuana outside a Greyhound bus station in Atlanta, suddenly was unable to breathe in August 2012 in the presence of an Atlanta police officer after running less than two-tenths of a mile. Investigators told the Fulton County medical examiner that the officer had not restrained Mr. Moss but instead found him on the ground gasping for air. The medical examiner attributed the death of Mr. Moss, 31 and apparently in good physical condition, to natural causes, particularly sickle cell trait “following exertion.”
Jason Pierce, 40, had been held for days in July 2017 at Louisiana’s Orleans Parish jail — where two guards would later be charged with smuggling drugs and other contraband — when he died with cocaine and opiates in his system. After Mr. Pierce’s autopsy, the coroner’s office focused not on the drugs but on sickle cell trait, ruling that he had died a natural death caused by “widespread red blood cell sickling.”
A handcuffed Dean Smith, 25, told the police that he could not breathe following a foot chase in Evansville, Ind., in February last year. An officer standing over him said, “Boy, you are being overly dramatic,” according to body camera footage. Mr. Smith’s death would be recorded by the Vanderburgh County coroner as an accident prompted by sickle cell crisis and cocaine and alcohol intoxication.
Three months later, Larry Ross Jr., 37, died after state police officers arrested him in Cambridge, Md. The officers said they handcuffed Mr. Ross, who had run from his car after they stopped him for a traffic violation, without handling him roughly. The county medical examiner determined that his death was an accident caused by synthetic marijuana use, with sickle cell trait as a factor.
The Times described its findings to Simon Dyson, a British researcher who studies sickle cell conditions and deaths in custody. He said the cases follow a well-established pattern in which the trait is listed alongside other conditions, like high blood pressure or drug use, to create doubt about the role of law enforcement.
“It’s all throwing a smoke screen up around the death that makes it more difficult to effect a prosecution,” he said.
Determining whether a death is a homicide is ultimately a judgment call, though most pathologists interviewed by The Times said they applied the label if the intentional actions of one person led to the death of another — even if those actions were taken by the police and the person who died had health problems.
But not all medical examiners agree on how much another person’s actions must contribute to the death to call it homicide. Dr. Lisa Scheinin, a former deputy medical examiner in Los Angeles, who wrote a journal article in 2009 about sickle cell trait, said she had been “very hesitant” to rule in-custody deaths homicides unless the police had played an important role.
“If you call something homicide, there’s going to be all kinds of people waiting to sue you, to sue law enforcement,” Dr. Scheinin said in an interview. “We generally have to make decisions without thinking about other consequences, but sometimes you just can’t help think about that.”
A Medical Debate
Most people with sickle cell trait never suffer a symptom, though studies and experts have suggested that on rare occasions it can cause the fatal curving of blood cells in people who overexert themselves when other conditions are present — for example, hot weather, high altitude or drug use.
Dr. Bruce Mitchell, the former director of hospital medicine at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, who has studied sudden death and sickle cell trait, said the condition had been cited in the deaths of some military recruits because they are often made to run long distances in the heat and with heavy equipment without enough training or conditioning.
Several doctors and researchers who spoke with The Times said they would be skeptical of in-custody deaths attributed to sickle cell trait, unless the situation also involved other risk factors.
“The analogy I would make would be to someone who has heart disease,” Dr. Mitchell said. “It might be true that they died because of heart disease, but, well, they probably would have lived if you hadn’t put them in a chokehold and stressed their heart.”
In at least three cases reviewed by The Times, the person was exerting himself and did not appear to interact significantly with law enforcement. In another, the environment was harsh: Darryl Daniels, 30, stopped breathing in Reno, Nev., in 1998 after taking cocaine and running for several blocks in 97-degree weather. The pathologist acknowledged that sickle cell trait was “usually benign and asymptomatic except under circumstances of extreme stress,” but wrote that the heat, activity and stimulant drugs provided that stress even before the man was arrested.
More often, The Times found, the police reported that the arrested people struggled, prompting the medical examiner to rule that their physical activity precipitated a so-called sickling crisis, when the blood cells bend into crescents and block blood vessels. In many instances, law enforcement also used control techniques that doctors said could limit oxygen enough to cause sickling and death. These included repeatedly using stun guns and pepper spray and holding people facedown with their arms behind them.
Sickle cell trait alone cannot cause death, said Dr. Swee Lay Thein, a hematologist at the National Institutes of Health who has studied the condition. “It has to be something else, and something quite extreme,” she said.
Medical experts also said it could be misleading to attribute death to the trait based on the presence of cells that have clumped or sickled — something that often happens when people with the condition stop breathing. Finding the crescent-shaped blood cells during an autopsy is to be expected, the experts said, and does not mean the cells were like that before death.
In the case of Mr. Floyd, the medical examiner in Minneapolis noted the curved cells and said he had had sickle cell trait. But the autopsy indicated that it had not contributed to his death, and there was no evidence the cells had sickled before he died. In their unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case, Mr. Chauvin’s lawyers nonetheless suggested that the trait could cause trouble breathing.
The argument echoed claims made in other cases as early as 1973, The Times found. That year, 28-year-old George Lucas died in the Cook County jail in Illinois, according to media reports at the time. Inmates testified that guards had beaten, strangled and suffocated him with a blanket, while jail officials said they had only strapped him to his bed.
But after sickled cells were found during the autopsy, the coroner said Mr. Lucas would not have died were it not for the trait, Dr. James Bowman, a pathologist who participated in the hearing, wrote in an academic article years later. The death was deemed natural and the guards were not charged. “Thus,” Dr. Bowman wrote, “the dangerous precedent for legalized murder of persons with sickle cell trait could become established.”
For decades, coroners and medical examiners have reached for answers when pressed to explain deaths of people in police custody.
One of the most prominent proponents of citing sickle cell trait was Dr. Charles V. Wetli, a pathologist who originated the idea that in-custody deaths could be caused by excited delirium.
During that chapter of his career, as a deputy chief medical examiner in Miami in the 1980s, Dr. Wetli theorized that men who died after arrest had often succumbed to the syndrome. But it was not only men who were susceptible, Dr. Wetli told reporters in 1988. Excited delirium may also have felled nine Miami women who were found dead in sexual poses, he said, in situations that might lead others to conclude that they had been raped and murdered. Nearly all the women were Black.
“For some reason, the male of the species becomes psychotic, and the female of the species dies in relation to sex,” Dr. Wetli told The Miami News at the time. That came under serious doubt about six months later, when the police arrested a man on a rape charge who they believed was a serial killer responsible for the deaths, which numbered 32 in all. The man died in prison after being convicted of the rape.
Dr. Wetli, who died in July, moved to New York in 1995 and became the chief medical examiner in Suffolk County, where he oversaw identification of the remains of victims in the crash of Trans World Airlines Flight 800.
In his later years, he became an outspoken backer of using sickle cell trait to explain in-custody deaths of Black people, writing a journal article with Dr. Scheinin of Los Angeles and testifying as a $450-an-hour expert witness hired by police agencies. He also acted as a paid consultant for Taser International, the maker of the stun guns cited in some of the deaths reviewed by The Times.
In 2008, Baron Pikes, known as Scooter, died after being shocked with a stun gun at least eight times by a police officer in Winnfield, La., while handcuffed and lying on the ground. The coroner ruled the death of Mr. Pikes, 21 and Black, a homicide, and the officer, Scott Nugent, was charged with manslaughter. Still, at the criminal trial, Dr. Wetli testified that “the cause of death was exertional sickling due to sickle cell trait.”
Mr. Nugent was acquitted.
The Times found other medical examiners invoking the trait as early as the 1970s.
In May 1979, Los Angeles pathologists blamed “massive intravascular sickling” in the death of Jerry Eugene Wright Jr., a 20-year-old Black man whom police officers had mistaken for a drug user. In fact, he had been the victim of a violent robbery; they handcuffed him, put him facedown on the ground and ignored bystanders who warned that he was struggling to breathe. Mr. Wright’s family was later awarded $2.1 million after suing for wrongful death.
A panel convened by a coroner outside Augusta, Ga., concluded that Larry Gardner, 33, had died of cardiopulmonary arrest caused by sickle cell trait in August 1984 after the authorities arrested him on marijuana and shoplifting charges. Mr. Gardner’s death led to rioting after it was said that he had been beaten in custody.
Authorities in Burlington County, N.J., cited sickle cell trait in the cases of two brothers who had died in police custody 15 years apart. They used it first to explain the sudden death of Sidney Miles, 20, while he was fleeing officers who sought to arrest him on a charge of driving without a license in 1984.
They cited it again when his brother, Cleathern Miles, 28, stopped breathing in 1999 after the police shot him with pepper spray and restrained him in the midst of an apparent mental breakdown — during which he was calling out his dead brother’s name. The same pathologist, Dr. Dante Ragasa, conducted both autopsies.
“There were allegations of police brutality in Sidney’s death, but that was not the case,” the acting county prosecutor, James Gerrow, told reporters in 1999. “Sadly and tragically, this mirrors what happened to Sidney.”
“There was,” he added, “no police misconduct in either case.”
The death of Martin Lee Anderson, the 14-year-old Florida boy, shows the potential pitfalls when medical examiners rush to blame sickle cell trait.
An autopsy deemed Martin’s death to be natural, saying the trait was why he had suddenly stopped breathing in January 2006. But a later inquiry found that he had died after drill instructors at a Bay County, Fla., juvenile detention center punched and kneed him, pinned him down, pressed their fingers into pressure points and covered his mouth while forcing him to inhale ammonia.
Seven guards and a nurse were charged with manslaughter. All were acquitted, but the state agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the family for $5 million.
The case of Derek Williams, who died in Milwaukee in July 2011, offered another cautionary tale.
The police saw Mr. Williams, 22, on a street corner and arrested him on suspicion of robbery after chasing him into the yard of a nearby home. He stopped breathing in the back seat of a patrol car. The police told the county medical examiner that he had been taken into custody “without incident,” and the medical examiner, based solely on that account, ruled that he had died a natural death caused by sickle cell crisis.
After being confronted with information reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which showed, among other things, that officers had piled onto Mr. Williams during his cuffing and did not immediately respond to his pleas as he gasped for air, the county reversed itself and declared his death a homicide. Still, none of the officers were charged. Mr. Williams’s family settled a lawsuit against the city for $2 million.
The urge to elevate sickle cell trait over other factors was evident in more recent cases, too, The Times found, including when the police arrested Darren Boykin in Texarkana, Texas, in 2019.
Mr. Boykin, 23, had grown up in Ohio and gotten in trouble there for using counterfeit money to buy a gaming system, records show. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge before moving to Texarkana to live with his mother.
In August 2019, a Texarkana College employee saw him walk into an administration building and became suspicious, thinking he resembled a suspect in burglaries on campus. She called the police, who chased Mr. Boykin for about a third of a mile before an officer tackled him from behind. Mr. Boykin struggled as the officer tried to handcuff him, records show, and another officer joined to subdue him.
Mr. Boykin began showing signs of distress on the way to the jail. Patrol car footage showed him lapsing in and out of consciousness, apparently without the officer in the car taking notice, records show. “Had the officer not been paying attention to driving,” the Texas Ranger who investigated the death would tell the medical examiner, “she probably would have transported him straight to the hospital.”
The authorities realized he had stopped breathing only after he had reached the jail. They started pumping on Mr. Boykin’s chest to try to revive him, according to the investigators, and brought him to a hospital, where a doctor determined he had died.
The medical examiner noted abrasions on Mr. Boykin’s shoulder and bruising on his back, the autopsy report shows, but ruled that he had died of complications of sickle cell trait, citing the short distance he had run and the hot weather.
The manner of his death: natural.
Andrew Chavez contributed reporting, and Kitty Bennett contributed research.