ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE TO SUPPORT THE NATIONAL STRIKE IN COLOMBIA
2. Send an email to your Congress person urging them to take appropriate actions to end the assaults on the National Strike.
Greetings to all. The popular strike and national demonstrations continue in Colombia, as does the repression. We want to thank everyone who contributed to the fund to support victims of police violence in the region of Cali, Colombia, where the repression has been concentrated and especially fierce. We have collected more than $4,000 from over 70 contributors. This not only helps the movement in the streets with vitally needed materials; this is a form of solidarity that reaches deep into the heart and soul of Colombia’s popular resistance to encourage them to stay strong.
We will be following up in a few days with more detailed news and analysis about the strike. Briefly, the government has been impeding the flow of information with rolling electrical blackouts, interruption of internet, suspension and censorship of Facebook accounts, and disruption of telephone communications. Nevertheless, reports do continue to get through, and what we are hearing is very concerning. We have heard reports of two youth burned alive by police in Cali, of takeovers of major cities by the U.S. funded and armed ESMAD riot police and Colombian military, multiple reports of troops saying they have received orders to “shoot to kill” (which top officials deny), of houses being set on fire by police, of random shooting into Cali neighborhoods by helicopter gunships. Some things we can confirm—for instances, we have videos of the helicopters flying over and firing on residential parts of Cali. Some we cannot. But so many reports are coming in, the situation is certainly dire and chaotic.
As always, we in the U.S. must remember that Colombia’s weapons of repression flow south from Washington, DC—whether the Democrats or Republicans are in power. We have to change that.
One of the most troubling allegations has been that the police are not respecting even officially recognized human rights monitors. The following is from a notice that details aggressions against human rights monitors including Darnelly Rodriguez, who coordinates the Cali chapter of the Francisco Isaias Human Rights Network (REDDHFIC). REDDHFIC, along with the Alliance for Global Justice and five other popular movement organizations, are members of the Centro Pazífico Human Rights Center.
According to a notice released on May 5, 2021
At around 8:40 p.m., the verification mission arrived at the Fray Damian police station, informed the police officers of their presence, and requested to conduct a verification because they had information of people detained at the site. The police officers let them pass on the condition that they do so individually.
Delegates from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Attorney General's Office entered the National Police facilities while human rights defenders Darnelly Rodríguez (REDDHFIC), Ana María Burgos (Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners Foundation and Defend Freedom Campaign), James Larrea (Unitary Workers Center – “AFLCIO of Colombia”), Rubén Darío Gómez (Observatory of Social Realities of the Archdiocese of Cali) and an official from the Ombudsman's Office waited their turn to enter.
Outside, a police officer began to shout at the defenders saying that they were "good for nothing", accusing them "why didn't they defend the police" and kicking them out of the place, saying "you are good for nothing, go away, you useless people". Immediately, police officers came out of the station, surrounded the defenders, and started shouting at them.
This part of the Verification Mission was forced to try to leave the site, but one police officer assaulted human rights defender James Larrea and others assaulted human rights defenders Darnelly Rodríguez and Ana María Burgos. The police officers surrounded them and shouted at them to leave the place, so the defenders accelerated their pace to leave and received threats that they were going to be killed.
Nevertheless, these brave human rights defenders are not daunted. The very night of this beating, after being treated in the emergency room, Darnelly was back in touch with us at AFGJ, telling us about the latest news, strategizing on how to keep up the struggle in the streets and how to build international solidarity. Bruised, beaten, in fear for their lives—they keep on.
When will the repressors learn: the resistance will never die, not until the repressor is gone forever.
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
By Charles M. Blow, May 2, 2021
Last Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina added himself to the long list of Republicans who have denied the existence of systemic racism in this country. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday” that “our systems are not racist. America’s not a racist country.”
Graham argued that the country can’t be racist because both Barack Obama and Kamala Harris had been elected and somehow, their overcoming racial hurdles proves the absence of racial hurdles. His view seems to be that the exceptions somehow negated the rule.
In the rebuttal to President Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress, the other senator from South Carolina, Tim Scott, the lone Black Republican in the Senate, parroted Graham and became an apologist for these denials of racism, saying too that the country wasn’t racist. He argued that people are “making money and gaining power by pretending we haven’t made any progress at all, by doubling down on the divisions we’ve worked so hard to heal.”
Scott’s argument seems to leave open the possibility that America may have been a racist country but that it has matured out of it, that it has graduated into egalitarianism.
I personally don’t make much of Scott’s ability to reason. This is the same man who said in March that “woke supremacy,” whatever that is, “is as bad as white supremacy.” There is no world in which recent efforts at enlightenment can be equated to enslavement, lynching and mass incarceration. None.
It seems to me that the disingenuousness on the question of racism is largely a question of language. The question turns on another question: “What, to you, is America?” Is America the people who now inhabit the land, divorced from its systems and its history? Or, is the meaning of America inclusive of those systems and history?
When people say that America is a racist country, they don’t necessarily mean that all or even most Americans are consciously racist. However, it is important to remember that nearly half the country just voted for a full-on racist in Donald Trump, and they did so by either denying his racism, becoming apologists for it, or applauding it. What do you call a country thus composed?
Historically, however, there is no question that the country was founded by racists and white supremacists, and that much of the early wealth of this country was built on the backs of enslaved Africans, and much of the early expansion came at the expense of the massacre of the land’s Indigenous people and broken treaties with them.
Eight of the first 10 presidents personally enslaved Africans. In 1856, the chief justice of the United States wrote about the Dred Scott case, in an infamous ruling that would be issued in 1857, that Black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
The country went on to fight a Civil War over whether some states could maintain slavery as they wished. Even some of the people arguing for, and fighting for, an end to slavery had expressed their white supremacist beliefs.
Abraham Lincoln said during his famous debates against Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 that among white people and Black ones “there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.”
Some will concede the historical point and insist on the progress point, arguing that was then and this is now, that racism simply doesn’t exist now as it did then. I would agree. American racism has evolved and become less blunt, but it has not become less effective. The knife has simply been sharpened. Now systems do the work that once required the overt actions of masses of individual racists.
So, what does it mean for a system to be racist? Does the appellation depend on the system in question being openly, explicitly racist from top to bottom, or simply that there is some degree of measurable bias embedded in those systems? I assert the latter.
America is not the same country it was, but neither is it the country it purports to be. On some level this is a tension between American idealism and American realism, between an aspiration and a current condition.
And the precise way we phrase the statement makes all the difference: America’s systems — like its criminal justice, education and medical systems — have a pro-white/anti-Black bias, and an extraordinary portion of America denies or defends those biases.
As Mark Twain once put it: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Being imprecise or undecided with our language on this subject contributes to the murkiness — and to the myth that the question of whether America is racist is difficult to answer and therefore the subject of genuine debate among honest intellectuals.
Saying that America is racist is not a radical statement. If that requires a longer explanation or definition, so be it. The fact, in the end, is not altered.
A handful of parents from Mexico and Central America who were deported under the Trump administration’s family separation policy will be reunited this week with their children.
By Miriam Jordan, May 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/us/migrant-family-separation.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Four parents from Mexico and Central America who were among thousands of migrants deported without their children under the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to join their children in the United States this week, U.S. officials said on Sunday.
The parents, who are from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, will be the first families to reunite in the United States since the Biden administration began taking steps to unravel the 2018 policy that attempted to deter families from trying to enter the country by separating children and parents.
Another 30 migrants are expected to be allowed into the country in 30 to 60 days to reunite with their children, who like most others have been living with relatives in the United States, according to two sources familiar with the administration’s plans.
“They are children who were 3 years old at the time of separation. They are teenagers who have had to live without their parent during their most formative years,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in announcing the impending arrivals on Sunday.
The four women scheduled to cross the border in Texas and California this week are among parents of some 5,500 children known to have been separated under the zero-tolerance policy officially introduced by former President Donald J. Trump in spring 2018. While most families have been reunited in recent years, more than 1,000 remain apart, mainly because a parent was removed from the United States.
Mr. Mayorkas said that he could not provide details about the families because of privacy considerations, saying only that two of the mothers had been separated from their sons in late 2017, before the Trump administration had extended the policy across the entire southwestern border.
Immigrant advocates and lawyers welcomed the decision to bring a handful of parents to the United States but said that more must be done to address the harm inflicted by the policy.
“We are pleased the Biden administration has now taken its first steps to address the harm caused by the Trump administration’s barbaric family separation practice and thrilled for the four families who will be reunited this week,” said Lee Gelernt, lead counsel in an ongoing class-action lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union brought against the policy in 2018.
“But we certainly do not intend to take a victory lap at this point. It is not enough for these families to be reunited,” he said.
Mr. Gelernt’s team, which is negotiating with the Biden administration to settle the lawsuit, has demanded financial compensation, mental health services and legal permanent residency for all separated families, among other things.
The family separation policy was a key step in the Trump administration’s moves to crack down on unauthorized immigration. The goal was to deliver a powerful deterrence to those hoping to come to the United States, a formidable roadblock that affected even families who may have been legally entitled to asylum from persecution in their home countries.
The policy was first made public with a memo in April 2018. Later it surfaced that families had been separated as early as 2017 as part of a pilot program conducted near El Paso. All told, about 5,500 children were separated from their parents.
Under the measure, Border Patrol agents criminally charged parents with illegally entering the United States, imprisoned them and placed their children in government-licensed shelters around the country. Images and audio of children weeping after being forcibly removed from their parents drew widespread condemnation.
In June 2018, a federal judge in California ordered the government to rescind the policy and promptly reunify families, saying that the practice “shocks the conscience” and violated the Constitution.
Most families were reunited within months. However about 1,000 families remained separated because a parent had been deported, and an estimated 645 parents — in the United States or abroad — still had not been contacted by the time Mr. Trump left office.
President Biden vowed from the beginning of his presidency to make reuniting migrant families a top priority.
Within weeks of taking office, he signed a series of executive orders intended to roll back Mr. Trump’s most stringent anti- immigration policies. A central piece of his early agenda was an interagency task force, led by Mr. Mayorkas, to identify and reunite all migrant families separated at the border by the previous administration.
It has been a mammoth undertaking. Contact information for many parents is outdated or unavailable, and some parents have disappeared or prefer not to be found out of fear. The task force has managed to find about 200 out of the 645 remaining parents, and it recently reported that it is reviewing 5,600 additional files from early 2017 that could contain evidence of more separations.
“One of the things is, we don’t know yet where those kids are. We’re trying like hell to figure out what happened,” Mr. Biden said last week in an interview with NBC News.
“It’s almost like being a sleuth, and we’re still continuing to try like hell to find out where they are,” he said.
Last year, a group of nine deported parents were allowed to enter the United States to rejoin their children after the federal judge in the class-action lawsuit, Dana Sabraw of the Federal District Court in San Diego, ordered their return. About a dozen others managed to return with the help of private lawyers.
But these efforts faced strong resistance from the Trump administration.
“Even with a court order, bringing back parents was vigorously resisted at every stage,” said Linda Dakin-Grimm, a Los Angeles lawyer who represented a Guatemalan father who returned last year. The man had been separated from his 12-year-old daughter.
She said that the Biden administration’s decision to allow deported parents into the country signaled “the beginning of a new way that’s important. But there remains a huge lift to be accomplished.”
Mr. Mayorkas did not reveal when additional parents would be allowed into the United States to join their children but said that the arrivals this week would be the first of many.
“We are accomplishing reunifications without delay,” he said.
Michelle Brané, a veteran immigrant-rights advocate serving as executive director of the Biden administration task force, said her team has been combing through records, often incomplete, to piece together and review cases.
In addition to demands for legal residency and monetary compensation, some advocacy groups are calling on the Biden administration to consider filing civil lawsuits or even criminal charges against officials in the Trump White House who were behind either the design or implementation of the family separation policy. When asked about this on Sunday, Mr. Mayorkas said that the Justice Department was part of the reunification task force, but he did not commit to pursue investigations. “We have not excluded accountability, but our focus right now is on the reunification of the families,” he said.
Parents arriving this week will be allowed to remain in the country at least temporarily on humanitarian parole.
Lawyers familiar with the process said that the parents would be allowed to remain in the country for at least a few years, or until longer-term solutions, like green cards, are explored. Generally, people who enter the country are entitled to apply for asylum within a year of arriving in the country.
For products as diverse as lumber and microchips, price increases are filtering through the economy.
By Alan Rappeport and Thomas Kaplan, May 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/business/economy/commodity-shortages-inflation.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Politics
WASHINGTON — In a normal year, Ron Whelan, vice president of Roger B. Kennedy Construction, receives one or two “Dear Valued Customer” letters from suppliers notifying him of price increases for certain materials. This year, a stack of 30 such warnings sits on his desk in Orlando, Fla., alerting him that things as diverse as lumber, drywall, aluminum and steel are going to cost 10 to 20 percent more.
The notices are the result of commodity shortages that are rippling across the United States economy as growing demand for housing, cars, electronics and other goods runs up against supply chain congestion and high tariffs left behind by former President Donald J. Trump.
The shortages — and the price increases they are eliciting — are being watched closely by the Biden administration, which is under increasing pressure from industry groups and businesses to take steps to ease them. Automakers want the White House to help them get the semiconductors they need to make cars, while the housing industry is asking for tariff relief.
Pressure to intervene could intensify as the administration pushes for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure investment package that includes money for building roads, bridges and electric vehicle charging stations — all of which could become increasingly expensive if prices keep rising.
“We keep waiting for things to settle down and get back to normal, but they haven’t,” Mr. Whelan said. He has considered using other material, such as metal stud systems rather than wood framing, for some construction projects because the price of lumber has almost tripled in the last year.
Economists and policymakers are carefully tracking the shortages as they hunt for signs of inflation, and companies are increasingly worried that the price spikes may not be temporary.
The Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book survey found that businesses were citing “Covid-related disruptions in production and supply chain logistics” as reasons for shortages and price spikes of commodities such as “agricultural products, building materials, cleaning products and microchips.”
For now, the Fed is not overly concerned about the price increases, viewing them as temporary and not the type of inflation that could spiral out of control. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, said last week that officials expected to see short-lived price spikes as the economy reopened and consumers started spending again.
Still, he acknowledged that the shortages could weigh on certain sectors, like the housing market, where inventories are “tremendously low” and builders are “struggling to keep up with demand.”
“If you’re an entry-level housing buyer, it’s a problem because it’s just going to be that much harder to get that first house,” Mr. Powell said.
And the Institute for Supply Management’s March survey of manufacturers said labor shortages and elusive parts were stunting the factory sector.
“Extended lead times, wide-scale shortages of critical basic materials, rising commodities prices and difficulties in transporting products are affecting all segments of the manufacturing economy,” said Timothy R. Fiore, chairman of the institute’s Manufacturing Business Survey Committee.
In corporate earnings calls last month, some of America’s largest companies warned that higher commodity prices would soon be passed on to consumers.
“The commodity cost challenges we faced this year will obviously be larger next fiscal year,” said Andre Schulten, chief financial officer of Procter & Gamble, noting that its baby care, feminine care and adult incontinence products are scheduled for price increases in September. “We will offset a portion of this impact with price increases.”
Darius Adamczyk, chief executive of Honeywell, said the company was seeing substantial increases in the prices of steel, semiconductors and copper.
“That’s definitely a watch-out item for the year and for us, inflation is taking hold,” Mr. Adamczyk said. “I don’t think things are going to abate. The short cycle is definitely hot.”
A White House official who asked to remain anonymous to share the administration’s internal thinking said that price stability was primarily the Fed’s responsibility but that the administration was taking the risk of inflation seriously. While the administration anticipates temporary increases in prices as the economy reopens, the official said, it does not believe they will lead to a broader overheating of the economy.
Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said the shortages were largely a result of factories being unable to keep up with pent-up demand that was being unleashed as consumers emerged from the pandemic ready to spend.
And many factories are still not operating at a full clip. A shortage of truckers and clogged ports are also gumming up the gears that keep supply chains moving.
“This is better described as suppliers working at, or near, capacity and still unable to keep up,” Mr. Ashworth said. “Expanding capacity will take a lot longer.”
The shortages are more than just a nuisance — they are affecting crucial areas of the U.S. economy and could hurt growth. A global microchip shortage has caused disruptions across industries, but it has been particularly disruptive for the auto industry, with General Motors, Ford Motor and others temporarily halting production at factories, in some cases for weeks at a time.
In the United States, automakers could end up making as many as 1.3 million fewer vehicles this year as a result of the shortage, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group. Ford said last week that its production in the second quarter would be about 50 percent lower than planned and that the shortage would reduce the company’s profit about $2.5 billion in 2021.
Carmakers want the Biden administration to urge that semiconductor suppliers give priority to the automotive industry so they can get the chips they need for vehicle production, said Matt Blunt, the president of the American Automotive Policy Council, which represents G.M., Ford and Stellantis, the company formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA of France.
“If you look at our economic impact, when you cannot build a car in the United States because you’re lacking a handful of semiconductors, that has an entirely different economic impact than if you can’t build a consumer electronics product in Asia because you’re lacking semiconductors,” Mr. Blunt said. “So we think it’s appropriate for everybody involved, including the U.S. government and the administration, to encourage suppliers to prioritize a critical industry that has a critical impact on U.S. employment and our nation’s economy.”
After taking office, President Biden ordered a 100-day review of the semiconductor supply chain, and he proposed spending $50 billion on semiconductor research and manufacturing as part of his infrastructure plan. Last month, the White House hosted a virtual summit meeting on semiconductors with a group of business executives.
But the complex global supply chains involved in chip manufacturing do not lend themselves to quick or easy solutions to the current supply problems, leaving Mr. Biden with little apparent power to mitigate the shortage in the near term.
Manufacturing chips can take as long as 26 weeks from when a customer orders them, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, which represents chip companies. And expanding U.S. chip manufacturing, as Mr. Biden wants to do, is more of a long-term aspiration, given the time and expense required to build new plants.
Any intervention by the Biden administration intended to help automakers could wind up hurting other industries that rely on chips, such as tech companies and appliance makers, which have made their opposition known to the administration.
In comments submitted to the Commerce Department last month, CTIA, a trade group representing the wireless industry, wrote that the federal government “should refrain from allocating semiconductor resources to specific industries versus others.” It warned that such a move would “cause unintended consequences that would be detrimental to a range of the United States’ most critical industries.”
The Information Technology Industry Council, which represents tech companies, urged against “picking winners or losers by prioritizing certain industries over others.” The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers said semiconductor chips “should not be reallocated from the home appliance industry to another product or use.”
Intensifying the supply chain problems are hefty tariffs that Mr. Trump imposed on Chinese imports, along with steel and aluminum from Europe and other parts of the world. The Biden administration has said it is reviewing the tariffs, but it has so far been reluctant to make a sharp change of course on trade.
“That’s the one where it’s a third rail in terms of politics, domestically,” Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said of removing the China tariffs. “It would probably be interpreted as being weak on China somehow.”
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators led by Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware, sent a letter to Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, urging her to restart the process for American businesses to apply for exemptions from tariffs on Chinese imports so they can more easily buy products that are difficult to get from other countries.
Other industries are also urging the Biden administration to offer relief from tariffs.
The Associated General Contractors of America wrote to Mr. Biden in February, urging him to reach a new softwood lumber agreement with Canada to help alleviate a lumber shortage in the United States. The group noted that the rising prices mean higher building costs for projects at schools, hospitals, restaurants and offices.
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the contractors association, said he was disappointed that his group had received no response from the White House.
“I think that it’s undermining some of his goals to support more jobs in this country and also what he proposes to do on infrastructure,” Mr. Simonson said. “It is going to drive up costs and completion times for projects if we don’t have more availability of materials for affordable prices.”
The company said its vaccine generated $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year.
By Rebecca Robbins and Peter S. Goodman, May 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/04/business/pfizer-covid-vaccine-profits.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Politics
Last year, racing to develop a vaccine in record time, Pfizer made a big decision: Unlike several rival manufacturers, which vowed to forgo profits on their shots during the Covid-19 pandemic, Pfizer planned to profit on its vaccine.
On Tuesday, the company announced just how much money the shot is generating.
The vaccine brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, nearly a quarter of its total revenue, Pfizer reported. The vaccine was, far and away, Pfizer’s biggest source of revenue.
The company did not disclose the profits it derived from the vaccine, but it reiterated its previous prediction that its profit margins on the vaccine would be in the high 20 percent range. That would translate into roughly $900 million in pretax vaccine profits in the first quarter.
Pfizer has been widely credited with developing an unproven technology that has saved an untold number of lives.
But the company’s vaccine is disproportionately reaching the world’s rich — an outcome, so far at least, at odds with its chief executive’s pledge to ensure that poorer countries “have the same access as the rest of the world” to a vaccine that is highly effective at preventing Covid-19.
As of mid-April, wealthy countries had secured more than 87 percent of the more than 700 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines dispensed worldwide, while poor countries had received only 0.2 percent, according to the World Health Organization. In wealthy countries, roughly one in four people has received a vaccine. In poor countries, the figure is one in 500.
Pfizer has said it is committed to making its vaccine accessible globally. It announced on Tuesday that it had shipped 430 million doses to 91 countries or territories. A Pfizer spokeswoman, Sharon Castillo, would not say how many of those doses have gone to poor countries, where Pfizer has said it is not profiting on vaccine sales.
The World Health Organization figures make clear that Pfizer has provided minimal help to the world’s poorest countries.
The company pledged to contribute up to 40 million doses to Covax, a multilateral partnership aimed at supplying vaccines to poor countries. That represents less than 2 percent of the 2.5 billion doses that Pfizer and its development partner, BioNTech, aim to produce this year.
The doses that Pfizer pledged to Covax are “a drop in the ocean,” said Clare Wenham, a health policy expert at the London School of Economics.
Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca both vowed to sell their vaccines on a nonprofit basis during the pandemic. Moderna, which has never made a profit and has no other products on the market, decided to sell its vaccine at a profit.
Unlike Moderna’s vaccine, Pfizer’s shot is not crucial to the company’s bottom line. Last year, Pfizer earned $9.6 billion in profits, before the Covid vaccine had any discernible impact on its results.
Pfizer frequently points out that it opted not to take federal funds proffered by the Trump administration under Operation Warp Speed, the initiative that promoted the rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines.
But BioNTech received substantial support from the German government in developing their joint vaccine. And taxpayer-funded research aided both companies: The National Institutes of Health patented technology that helped make so-called messenger RNA vaccines possible. BioNTech has a licensing agreement with the N.I.H., and Pfizer is piggybacking on that license.
Pfizer has kept the profitability of its vaccine sales opaque. The United States, for example, is paying $19.50 for each Pfizer dose. Israel agreed to pay Pfizer about $30 per dose, according to multiple media reports.
In some cases, such as when the European Union recently agreed to buy 1.8 billion Pfizer doses, the company isn’t disclosing its prices.
The pricing for the United States was in line with the cost of seasonal flu vaccines and much less expensive than vaccines for conditions like shingles, which can run into several hundred dollars.
“That price point does not seem offensive, even if you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about prescription drugs,” said Stacie Dusetzina, an associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Just thinking about any prescription you’d fill, you’d be hard-pressed to find pretty much anything for $20.”
But the fact that Pfizer appears to have earned something like $900 million in pretax profits from its vaccine — coupled with its comparatively small sales to poor countries — suggests that profits have trumped other considerations. That could undercut the company’s embrace of loftier principles.
“At Pfizer, we believe that every person deserves to be seen, heard and cared for,” the chief executive, Albert Bourla, said in January as the company announced it would join Covax. “We share the mission of Covax and are proud to work together so that developing countries have the same access as the rest of the world.”
But the company seems to have prioritized higher-priced sales.
“Despite all the talk about Covax, they have been far more interested in bilateral deals, because that’s where they make their money,” said Richard Kozul-Wright, director of the division on globalization and development strategies at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva. “It’s one of the great public relations triumphs of recent corporate history.”
Multiple factors explain the inequitable nature of Pfizer’s vaccine distribution.
The shot, which must be stored and transported at very low temperatures, is less practical for hard-to-reach parts of the world than other shots, like those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, that can simply be refrigerated. Some poor countries were initially not hit hard by the virus, and so their governments had less urgency to place orders for the Pfizer vaccine, to the extent that they could afford to pay for the shots.
“Not everyone was interested in the vaccine or prepared to take steps; thus, conversations continue, including working with Covax beyond their initial order of 40 million doses,” said Ms. Castillo, the Pfizer spokeswoman.
In India, where the virus is raging out of control, Pfizer’s vaccine is not being used. The company applied for emergency authorization there but withdrew the application in February because India’s drug regulator was not willing to waive a requirement that it run a local clinical trial. At the time, India’s coronavirus case numbers were manageable and vaccines being made locally were thought to be sufficient.
Pfizer and India’s government have since resumed talks. On Monday, Mr. Bourla said the company would donate more than $70 million worth of medicine to India and is trying to fast-track the vaccine authorization.
Pfizer has publicly promised to run its company not solely for the enrichment of shareholders, but for the betterment of society.
Mr. Bourla, who earned $21 million last year, was among the 181 heads of major companies who signed a Business Roundtable pledge in 2019 to focus on serving an array of “stakeholders,” including workers, suppliers and local communities — not only investors.
The financial figures that Pfizer reported on Tuesday understate how much money the vaccine is generating. Pfizer splits its vaccine revenue with BioNTech, which will report its own first-quarter results next week. BioNTech said in March that it had locked in revenue of nearly 10 billion euros, or about $11.8 billion, based on vaccine orders at the time.
The vaccine is expected to keep generating significant revenue for Pfizer and BioNTech, especially because people are likely to need regular booster shots. Pfizer said on Tuesday that it expects its vaccine to generate $26 billion in revenue this year, up from its previous estimate of $15 billion.
Vaccine developers have been trying to play down the financial upside. Last week, when AstraZeneca reported its vaccine revenue, it said that the vaccine effort had slightly dented its overall profits.
Companies are eager not to be seen as profiting from the pandemic, especially as pressure mounts on the Biden administration to relax protections on intellectual property and allow poor countries to produce more affordable versions of the vaccines. Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies have staunchly opposed such proposals.
A group of developing countries led by South Africa and India has proposed to the World Trade Organization that intellectual-property protections be loosened on coronavirus vaccines during the pandemic.
The proposal is intended to pressure pharmaceutical companies to ensure access to vaccines for developing countries, perhaps by offering discounted prices or by partnering with other companies to increase capacity.
“It could just be an incentive for companies to come forward and collaborate,” Mustaqeem De Gama, councilor at the South African mission to the W.T.O. in Geneva, said in an interview late last year. “But if left to the choice of companies, usually companies will refuse to collaborate and share what knowledge they have.”
The eruption of anger in Colombia, where at least 24 have died as the government cracks down on the protests, could spread to other countries in the region that share the same combustible conditions.
By Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil, Published May 5, 2021, Updated May 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/05/world/americas/colombia-covid-protests-duque.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=World%20News
A “die-in” on a street in Bogotá on Wednesday to protest police brutality against demonstrators. Credit...Federico Rios for The New York Times
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A teenager shot to death after kicking a police officer. A young man bleeding out on the street as protesters shout for help. Police officers firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling through neighborhoods, explosions echoing in the streets. A mother crying for her son.
“We are destroyed,” said Milena Meneses, 39, whose only son, Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.
Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government, which has responded to the protests with the same militarized police force it often uses against rebel fighters and organized crime.
This explosion of frustration in Colombia, experts say, could presage unrest across Latin America, where several countries face a combustible mix of an unrelenting pandemic, growing hardship and plummeting government revenue.
“We are all connected,” said León Valencia, a political analyst, noting that past protests in Latin America have jumped from country to country. “This could spread across the region.”
On Wednesday, after seven days of marches and clashes that turned parts of Colombian cities into battlefields, demonstrators breached protective barriers around the nation’s Congress, attacking the building before being repelled by the police.
Several people in the political party of President Iván Duque are asking him to declare a state of siege, which would grant him broad new powers.
The clashes have left at least 24 people dead, most of them demonstrators, and at least 87 missing, and they have exacerbated the anger with officials in the capital, Bogotá, who many protesters say are increasingly out of touch with people’s everyday lives.
On Wednesday, Helena Osorio, 24, a nurse, stood at the edge of a rally in Bogotá.
“I am in pain for Colombia. I am in pain for my country,” she said. “All that we can do to make ourselves heard is to protest,” she went on, “and for that they are killing us.”
“This is not just about the tax reform,” said Mayra Lemus, 28, a schoolteacher standing not far from the nurse on Wednesday. “This is about corruption, inequality and poverty. And all of us young people are tired of it.”
The demonstrations are, in part, a continuation of a movement that swept Latin America in late 2019 as people took to the streets in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and elsewhere.
Each country’s protest was different. But in all of them, people voiced grievances over limited opportunity, widespread corruption and officials who appeared to be working against them.
Then came the pandemic. Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the virus in 2020, with cemeteries filling past capacity, the sick dying while waiting for care in hospital hallways, and family members spending the night in lines to buy medical oxygen in an attempt to keep loved ones alive.
The region’s economies shrank an average of 7 percent. In many places, unemployment, particularly among the young, spiked.
In the first few months of 2021, though, the Covid-19 situation has only worsened.
While wealthier countries prepare to reopen, in Latin America a deadly variant of the virus originally found in Brazil, called P.1, has ripped through populations and become one of several factors pushing many countries to their worst daily death tolls.
For months, as people stayed inside or struggled to survive amid dwindling incomes, the anger and frustration that had been manifested during protests in 2019 was still simmering.
Then, in Colombia, Mr. Duque announced his tax reform, one of the first attempts in the region to try to deal with the economic shortfall exacerbated by the pandemic. While the measure would have kept in place a critical pandemic-era cash subsidy, it would have also raised prices on many everyday goods and services.
Soon, long-brewing resentment spilled over into the streets.
On Tuesday, Mr. Duque said he would open a national dialogue to find solution to fiscal problems and other challenges.
“It is vital to have all the institutions, parties, the private sector, governors, mayors and leaders of civil society” in conversation he said. “The results of this space will be translated into initiatives we can act on quickly.”
But the call for national dialogue was similar to one he made in 2019, and many civil society groups have said that discussion produced few results.
Mr. Duque, a conservative, has lost significant popularity since the beginning of the pandemic, according to polling from the firm Invamer. And analysts say he is at his weakest point since he came to office in 2018.
The police and military response has made a national conversation built around compromise extremely difficult, said Sandra Borda, a political analyst and columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo.
“He has no political capital,” she said. “People cannot sit down to dialogue with a government that by night kills people who protest and by day extends a hand in conversation.”
“I think there will be a lot of upheaval,” she went on. “And I think this next year and a half will be terrible for the government, terrible for Colombian society and with very few long-term solutions.”
Colombia will hold presidential elections in 2022. For decades, the country has elected conservative leaders. But Gustavo Petro, a left-wing former mayor of Bogotá and former member of a demobilized guerrilla group, now leads in the polls. Mr. Duque, limited by law to one term, cannot run for re-election.
The government’s response to the recent protests could be a significant factor in next year’s vote.
This week, the United Nations’ human rights division said that it was “deeply alarmed,” by the situation and had documented at least one case “where police opened fire on demonstrators.”
On Saturday night, Santiago Murillo, 19, a student in his final year of high school, was headed back to the home he shares with his parents in the midsize city of Ibagué, and crossed through a crowded protest.
Two blocks from home, according to his mother, shots rang out and he fell to the ground. In a video, a witness can be heard shouting.
“Is he OK?” the witness says. “Can he breathe? Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!”
A passing deliveryman loaded Mr. Murillo onto his motorbike and rushed him to a clinic. There, his mother’s anguished cries were captured on tape. “Son, take me with you! Son, I want to be with you!”
Doctors could not revive him, and resident of Ibagué held a protest vigil in his name the next day.
“I asked them to protest civilly,” said his mother, “in peace.”
The officer, Garrett Rolfe, faces murder and aggravated assault charges, but officials determined that his firing violated his due process rights.
By Richard Fausset, Published May 5, 2021, Updated May 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/05/us/atlanta-rayshard-brooks-garrett-rolfe.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
ATLANTA — Garrett Rolfe, the Atlanta police officer who was fired from his job after fatally shooting a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, in a fast-food parking lot, was reinstated on Wednesday by the city’s Civil Service Board, which found that Officer Rolfe’s firing violated his due process rights.
Officer Rolfe was terminated one day after the shooting, which came a few weeks after the police killing of another Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis. The killing of Mr. Brooks led to a new round of demonstrations across the United States, including in Atlanta.
Though reinstated to his job, Officer Rolfe is being placed on administrative leave until the resolution of murder and aggravated assault charges he faces for the June 12 shooting, according to a city news release. Though criminally charged, Officer Rolfe has not yet been indicted, a step needed for the case to move forward. But his lawyer maintains his innocence. “Garrett did not violate the law on June 12, 2020,” the lawyer, Lance LoRusso, said Wednesday.
The decision by the Civil Service Board to reinstate Officer Rolfe turned not on whether the shooting was justified, but on whether the city had followed proper procedures when firing him. At a hearing before the board on April 22, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, a lawyer for the city, argued that under the city code, “immediate dismissal” of an employee was proper when the employee’s presence on the job “impairs the effectiveness of others.”
“Here we have an officer-involved shooting of a Black man occurring at a time when there are protests against police officer brutality, against Black men in particular,” Ms. Lawrence-Hardy said. Keeping Officer Rolfe on the job, she said, “would have been extremely disruptive.”
But in its written order on Wednesday, the board noted that Officer Rolfe was not afforded the opportunity to adequately respond to the city’s notice that it intended to fire him. The decision cited the testimony of Sgt. William Dean of the Atlanta police’s internal affairs division, who said that the firing “seemed rushed.”
Officer Rolfe, the board concluded, was not afforded his right to due process “due to the city’s failure to comply with several provisions” of the city code.
In a statement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms defended the city’s move to fire Officer Rolfe so quickly, given the level of anger and pain in the streets of Atlanta, a majority African-American city.
“Given the volatile state of our city and nation last summer, the decision to terminate this officer, after he fatally shot Mr. Brooks in the back, was the right thing to do,” Ms. Bottoms said. “Had immediate action not been taken, I firmly believe that the public safety crisis we experienced during that time would have been significantly worse.”
Ms. Bottoms, a first-term mayor, said the day after the shooting that she had called for the “immediate termination” of Officer Rolfe. At the same time, she announced that the police chief, Erika Shields, was stepping down. Rodney Bryant, a department veteran, was named interim chief.
This week, Ms. Bottoms announced she was making Mr. Bryant the permanent chief. The appointment comes after a period of low morale at the Police Department, which saw a number of officers call in sick after Officer Rolfe was criminally charged.
The department has more than 400 officer vacancies on a force authorized for just over 2,000 sworn positions. Atlanta, like other American cities, has also seen a spike in violent crime that researchers say is connected to the pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.
The killing took place on a Friday night, after Officer Rolfe and his partner, Devin Brosnan, both of whom are white, were called to a Wendy’s restaurant where Mr. Brooks, 27, had fallen asleep in his car in the drive-through line.
The two officers had a lengthy and cordial discussion with Mr. Brooks, body and dashboard camera footage shows. But when he failed a sobriety test and the officers began to arrest him, Mr. Brooks fought with them, then wrested away Officer Brosnan’s Taser, firing it at Officer Brosnan. As Mr. Brooks ran away, he fired the Taser in the direction of Officer Rolfe. Officer Rolfe then fired his handgun, striking Mr. Brooks twice in the back.
Officer Brosnan was charged with three counts for his role in the encounter, including aggravated assault and violations of oath, and was placed on administrative leave. But the criminal case against the officers has been beset by complications and controversy.
The charges were brought by the former Fulton County district attorney, Paul L. Howard Jr. In January, his successor, Fani Willis, wrote to Attorney General Chris Carr of Georgia, alleging that Mr. Howard had engaged in misconduct, including using videos of the shooting in campaign commercials in violation of state bar association rules.
As a result, Ms. Willis argued, there was “sufficient question of the appropriateness” of the Atlanta-based prosecutor’s office continuing to handle the case.
Ms. Willis asked Mr. Carr to refer the case to a special prosecutor, but he declined. The matter is currently before a local judge.
On Wednesday, Mr. LoRusso said that Officer Rolfe was “very happy” with the decision, “and appreciative that the Civil Service Board had the courage to do the right thing.”
Gerald Griggs, the vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., said that he hoped the city would appeal the Civil Service Board’s decision and that prosecutors had been right to bring murder charges against Officer Rolfe. “He used a lethal weapon to respond to nonlethal force,” Mr. Griggs, a lawyer, said. “There definitely was probable cause for murder charges.”
In the late afternoon, about two dozen demonstrators rallied in front of Atlanta City Hall to protest the decision. “It was a kick in the gut and a slap in the face,” Britt Jones-Chukura, an organizer with a group called Justice for Georgia, said through a megaphone.
Chassidy Evans, Mr. Brooks’s niece, said she was upset that Officer Rolfe got his job back. She said she was frustrated with Ms. Willis for not moving forward with the criminal case, and with the city for not handling the firing properly.
“At this point it’s like, there’s no court date set, there’s no ending,” she said. “He’s still gone. His children are still without a dad, and it’s hard.”
Sean Keenan contributed reporting from Atlanta.
State lawmakers have voted to add the firing squad as an alternative to the electric chair or lethal injection, with the drugs used for capital punishment in short supply.
By Richard Fausset and Rick Rojas, May 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/us/firing-squad-south-carolina.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
A photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Corrections shows the state’s electric chair in Columbia, S.C. Credit...Kinard Lisbon/South Carolina Department of Corrections, via Associated Press
Frustrated by the lack of drugs available to carry out lethal injections in their state, South Carolina lawmakers are on the cusp of a controversial solution: forcing death row inmates to face the electric chair or firing squad when lethal injection is not possible.
A bill proposing that change, approved by the State House this week, appears almost certain to become law in the next few days, and is being lauded by Republicans, including Gov. Henry McMaster, who have been vexed by pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to sell states the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections. The lack of drugs, they say, is a key reason South Carolina has not executed anyone in 10 years.
Opponents are appalled by the bill, which would make South Carolina the fourth state — along with Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — in which death by firing squad is an option for the condemned.
“Why would South Carolina move toward the firing squad when they also do that in North Korea?” State Representative Justin Bamberg, a Democrat, said in an interview on Thursday.
The firing squad measure was proposed by State Senator Richard A. Harpootlian, a Democrat and former prosecutor, who argued that it was more humane than the electric chair. “It’s an extraordinarily gruesome, horrendous process,” Mr. Harpootlian said of electrocution, “where they essentially catch on fire and don’t die immediately.”
Three inmates in the United States have been executed by firing squad since the 1970s, said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The most recent, in 2010, was Ronnie Lee Gardner, a convicted murderer who requested that Utah officials carry out the execution by firing squad, calling the method “so much easier” than lethal injection, and one in which “there’s no mistakes.”
On the day of Mr. Gardner’s execution, officials placed a black hood over his head and affixed a small circular target over his heart.
Internationally, the use of firing squads is uncommon. In the United Arab Emirates, a convicted murderer was executed by firing squad in 2014. Defectors from North Korea have reported on the use of firing squads for a range of offenses. China used firing squads for many years but more recently has relied on lethal injection.
South Carolina’s proposal, and the passionate debate that has followed, comes at a complicated juncture for capital punishment in the United States. The nation has seen a general move away from the practice in recent years, but there has also been a vigorous effort to turn that tide, one headed most conspicuously by former President Donald J. Trump.
South Carolina is among 24 states where the death penalty remains law. In the past 16 years, 11 states have rescinded capital punishment, Mr. Dunham said, including Virginia, which in March became the first Southern state to do so. Governors have also imposed death penalty moratoriums in California, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
At the courthouse level, prosecutors have been increasingly reluctant to seek the death penalty, and juries increasingly unwilling to impose it. The decline in death sentences has been dramatic: Fewer than 50 have been imposed in the United States in each of the last six years, Mr. Dunham said, a marked difference from the mid-1990s, when the total number of yearly sentences sometimes exceeded 300.
Gallup polling from late last year showed that public support for the death penalty was at its lowest level since the early 1970s, although still popular with a majority of Americans, with 55 percent of respondents saying they approved of capital punishment for convicted murderers.
After years without a federal execution, Mr. Trump’s administration oversaw 13, more than a fifth of the prisoners who the Bureau of Prisons says were on death row. President Biden, by contrast, campaigned on a promise to end the death penalty for federal inmates and encourage states to follow suit.
In articulating his support for ending capital punishment, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, noted the vast racial disparity in how it was imposed in his state: Roughly 79 percent of the inmates who were executed were Black. “Ending the death penalty comes down to one fundamental question, one question: Is it fair?” Mr. Northam said.
A similar imbalance exists across the country, including in South Carolina; in the 284 executions carried out by the state since 1912, almost three-quarters of the inmates were Black.
The state now has 37 men on death row, with three who have exhausted all appeals, officials said.
“Those families of victims to these capital crimes are unable to get any closure because we’re caught in this limbo stage,” William Weston J. Newton, a Republican state lawmaker, said during the House debate.
But critics said that lawmakers arrived at a solution that was retrograde and inhumane. “When we should be moving forward, we like to move backward,” Mr. Bamberg told colleagues during the House debate on Wednesday.
Mr. Bamberg cited the botched and sometimes gruesome executions using the electric chair and the fate of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African-American convicted of murdering two white girls by an all-white jury in 1944. He was sent to the electric chair, then posthumously exonerated in 2014.
Many states had gravitated over the years toward lethal injection, seeing it as more humane than the electric chair.
But that impression has been undermined in recent years, as problematic executions, including one in which an inmate regained consciousness, drew widespread attention. Medical experts have also argued that while lethal injection gives the appearance of a more peaceful death, the paralytic component of the common three-drug cocktail masks an excruciating demise that can stretch on for 15 minutes or longer.
In Tennessee, a rare state that uses the electric chair, death row inmates have repeatedly opted in recent years to die from the two cycles of 1,750 volts of electricity instead of lethal injection. In 2018, four inmates, in an unsuccessful effort, asked a judge if they could be killed by a firing squad, arguing that, compared with other methods, “the firing squad significantly reduces a substantial risk of unnecessary and severe pain.”
The use of the death penalty has slowed as the drugs used in lethal injections have become scarce; pharmaceutical companies, not wanting their product associated with ending lives, have made them more difficult for states to acquire.
Still, those complications have not dimmed the resolve of states that continue to embrace the death penalty. Last year, Oklahoma moved to resume executions through lethal injection after a five-year pause that began after a string of botched executions, including one where an inmate appeared to moan and struggle during a 43-minute ordeal and another in which the wrong drug was used to stop an inmate’s heart.
In South Carolina, corrections officials had previously contemplated producing their own execution drugs, but the proposal was scrapped because of the cost.
A version of the current South Carolina bill previously passed in the State Senate. After a few procedural steps, it will most likely head to the governor, who pledged this week to immediately sign it into law.
“We are one step closer to providing victims’ families and loved ones with the justice and closure they are owed by law,” Mr. McMaster wrote on Twitter.
Lawyers’ request to conduct additional DNA testing before Ledell Lee was executed had been denied.
"Along with providing new DNA results, Ms. Young’s petition pushed the city of Jacksonville to compare fingerprints from the crime scene to a state and national fingerprint database for the first time. It has long been established that Mr. Lee’s fingerprints did not match any of those at the scene.
By Heather Murphy, May 7, 2021"
Ledell Lee in Pulaski County Circuit Court for a hearing in 2017. Credit...Benjamin Krain/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, via Associated Press
For 22 years, Ledell Lee maintained that he had been wrongly convicted of murder.
“My dying words will always be, as it has been, ‘I am an innocent man,’” he told the BBC in an interview published on April 19, 2017 — the day before officials in Arkansas administered the lethal injection.
Four years later, lawyers affiliated with the Innocence Project and the American Civil Liberties Union say DNA testing has revealed that genetic material on the murder weapon — which was never previously tested — in fact belongs to another man. In a highly unusual development for a case in which a person has already been convicted and executed, the new genetic profile has been uploaded to a national criminal database in an attempt to identify the mystery man.
Patricia Young, Mr. Lee’s sister, has been fighting for years to prove that it was not her brother who strangled and fatally bludgeoned the 26-year-old Debra Reese in Jacksonville, Ark., a suburb of Little Rock, in 1993.
“We are glad there is new evidence in the national DNA database and remain hopeful that there will be further information uncovered in the future,” Ms. Young said in a statement last week. In response to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Young in January, Jacksonville city officials released the bloody wooden club recovered from the victim’s bedroom, a bloody white shirt wrapped around the club and several other pieces of evidence for testing.
The Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U. have pushed for additional DNA testing at previous times, including the eve of Mr. Lee’s execution. The request was denied. A federal judge rejected Mr. Lee’s request for a stay of the execution, saying that he had “simply delayed too long,” according to a complaint filed by Ms. Young.
Mr. Lee’s execution, on April 20, 2017, was the first in Arkansas in more than a decade. Some accused the state of rushing Mr. Lee and several other prisoners to their deaths that month before the expiration of its supply of a lethal injection drug.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson defended Mr. Lee’s execution. “It’s my duty to carry out the law,” he said, adding that “the fact is that the jury found him guilty based upon the information that they had.” He called the new DNA evidence that has emerged “inconclusive.”
In a statement, lawyers from the A.C.L.U. and the Innocence Project were cautious about stating what, exactly, could be extrapolated from the newly tested DNA from the shirt and the murder weapon — beyond the facts that both samples appeared to belong to the same man and that that man was not Mr. Lee.
“While the results obtained 29 years after the evidence was collected proved to be incomplete and partial, it is notable that there are now new DNA profiles that were not available during the trial or post-conviction proceedings in Mr. Lee’s case,” Nina Morrison, senior litigation counsel at the Innocence Project, said in the statement, which The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Uploading this newly generated profile to a national criminal database maintained by the F.B.I. has not yet provided a “hit,” she said. That means that the mystery man’s DNA does not match any of the DNA profiles that are already in the database, taken from people who were convicted or arrested on suspicion of violent crimes.
“However, the DNA profile will now remain in the database and will be automatically compared to all new profiles from convicted persons, arrestees or unsolved crimes that are entered in the future,” lawyers for the A.C.L.U., the Innocence Project and Ms. Young said in a joint statement.
According to the Innocence Project, no physical evidence was ever produced that connected Mr. Lee to Ms. Reese’s murder. In a summary of the case, the group also outlined obstacles that Mr. Lee had faced over the years, including a lawyer who was drunk and unprepared at court hearings, unreliable neighborhood eyewitnesses and conflicts of interest for key players.
Mr. Lee’s first trial resulted in a hung jury. His second murder trial began on Oct. 10, 1995, just seven days after O.J. Simpson had been acquitted of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
“Mr. Lee, a Black man charged with the vicious beating and murder of a white woman in her home, was tried under the shadow of the O.J. Simpson prosecution and trial,” Ms. Young argued in her January lawsuit. “The Simpson verdict shocked and angered many white Americans and polarized the nation along racial lines. It’s difficult to imagine that any jury could be truly objective in considering the evidence against Mr. Lee at that particular moment in time.”
Leslie Rutledge, the Arkansas attorney general, said on Thursday that she was not swayed by the new developments.
“The courts consistently rejected Ledell Lee’s frivolous claims because the evidence demonstrated beyond any shadow of a doubt that he murdered Debra Reese by beating her to death inside her home with a tire thumper,” she said in a statement, adding, “I am prayerful that Debra’s family has had closure following his lawful execution in 2017.”
Along with providing new DNA results, Ms. Young’s petition pushed the city of Jacksonville to compare fingerprints from the crime scene to a state and national fingerprint database for the first time. It has long been established that Mr. Lee’s fingerprints did not match any of those at the scene.
The resulting search against the national database did not provide a match, according to the Innocence Project and the A.C.L.U., but the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory has not yet searched the state database. If that search happens and a fingerprint match emerges, then the lawyers will push to compare that person’s DNA to the mystery man’s, they said.
Police officials and human rights activists called Thursday’s operation in a district controlled by drug traffickers the deadliest in the city’s history.
By Flávia Milhorance and Ernesto Londoño, Published May 6, 2021, Updated May 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/06/world/americas/brazil-rio-police-shootout.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
RIO DE JANEIRO — A police operation targeting drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday morning left at least 25 people dead, including a police officer, in an operation that officials and human rights activists called the deadliest in the city’s history.
The gun battle in Jacarezinho, a poor and working-class district controlled by the drug gang known as Comando Vermelho, or Red Command, also wounded at least two subway passengers who were struck as their train was caught in the crossfire.
Residents and human rights activists accused the police of using excessive force and questioned why the operation was launched at all, given a Supreme Court ban on law enforcement raids in the city during the pandemic.
Nadine Borges, vice president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s bar association, said a team of lawyers gathering facts had heard chilling preliminary accounts.
“There were executions of people who had already surrendered,” she said. “It was absolute barbarism.”
Jurema Werneck, the executive director of Amnesty International Brazil, described the police operation as the deadliest to have occurred in Rio de Janeiro. “This is unprecedented,” she said.
Police commanders said the shootout began at 6 a.m. when officers who had arrived to serve arrest warrants were fired upon. One officer, André Leonardo de Mello Frias, was fatally shot in the head, they said.
“There were no executions, but rather a reaction to an assault,” said Roberto Cardoso, a police commander.
Another commander, Felipe Curi, said the warrants were the result of a 10-month investigation into drug gangs’ recruitment of minors. He called the police department a “guarantor of rights” working to free people from “the dictatorship of trafficking.”
Police operations in Rio de Janeiro are among the most lethal in the world: In 2019, at least 1,810 people were killed by the police in Rio de Janeiro State, a record high. Officers are seldom subject to criminal investigation or prosecution.
Gun battles between the police and gang members in Rio de Janeiro are routine. Heavily armed traffickers act as the de facto authority in vast areas of the city, including Jacarezinho, where drugs are sold in plain sight.
Elected officials who have been critical of the police denounced Thursday’s raid.
“The slaughter in Jacarezinho is a typical example of the barbarities that happen in favelas in Rio,” Talíria Petrone, a federal lawmaker from Rio de Janeiro, said in a statement. “It’s the state doing the minimum to guarantee rights and doing the maximum to repress and kill.”
A Supreme Court justice last June banned routine police operations in Rio de Janeiro during the pandemic. The justice, Edson Fachin, said the police could carry out only those operations considered “absolutely exceptional.”
Joel Luiz Costa, a lawyer from Jacarezinho, said he had visited several homes in which people were killed on Thursday and saw evidence that residents had been executed.
“This is cruel. This is barbaric,” he said in a video posted on Twitter. “Did it end drug trafficking because 25 people were killed? Will this end drug trafficking?”
The operation in Jacarezinho was undertaken less than a week after the new governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Cláudio Castro, took office. Governor Castro, whose predecessor, Wilson Witzel, was impeached on corruption charges, said fighting crime was among his highest priorities.
“I am committed to reducing the rates of violence,” he said during his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday.
Rodrigo Oliveira, a deputy police chief, said his officers had conducted themselves lawfully.
“The only execution that took place was that of the police officer,” he said. “The other deaths that occurred were those of traffickers who attacked the police and were neutralized.”
Among the thousands who have died in prisons and jails from the coronavirus were dozens of people approved for parole or not convicted of a charge for which they were arrested.
By Rebecca Griesbach and Libby Seline, May 6, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/06/us/coronavirus-inmates-parole.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
Joe Dan Channel was granted parole from a Texas prison in late 2019. But the 62-year-old man was still behind bars several months later when he fell ill with the coronavirus and died only a few weeks before his release date.
In Florida, Lawrence Carter, a disabled Vietnam veteran in his late 70s, also fell ill from Covid-19 while he was incarcerated and died. He had not been convicted of the drug possession charge that brought him to jail: Mr. Carter was contesting the charge against him and had been awaiting trial in Seminole County.
The coronavirus tore through the nation’s prisons, jails and immigration detention centers over the past year, killing more than 2,700 people who were incarcerated. Dozens of them, including Mr. Channel and Mr. Carter, died after being approved for release by a parole board or while being held in jail without a conviction. That finding comes from a New York Times review of state and federal court records and data, and interviews with prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys and court administrators.
Mr. Channel, who had a history of drug arrests, was one of at least nine prison inmates around the country who was cleared for release by state parole boards but died within weeks of their scheduled discharges, the review showed. Mr. Carter was one of more than 50 men and women who died of Covid-19 in local jails while awaiting trial on the charges that brought them there.
The deaths raise troubling questions about the way the country’s justice system responded to a pandemic that infected incarcerated people at more than three times the national rate. Defense attorneys, judges and some prosecutors have been critical.
“We have, as Americans, a moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, and as prosecutors, we have responsibilities to protect against cruel and unusual punishments,” said Andrew H. Warren, the state attorney for Hillsborough County, Fla. “So being in jail or prison, especially for a nonviolent offense, should not be a death sentence.”
Some counties and states released incarcerated people during the pandemic as a precaution. New Jersey and California sent home thousands of prison inmates before the ends of their sentences to reduce overcrowding and try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Hundreds of local jails released tens of thousands of inmates during the early days of the pandemic.
But a vast majority of states resisted calls to free inmates early or expedite parole.
The pandemic has been particularly devastating in the nation’s criminal justice system: Tens of thousands of trials and parole hearings were canceled; families said they were unable to afford even modest bail amounts amid record job losses; and facilities were ill-equipped to handle outbreaks of a virus that spread rapidly, especially in close quarters.
In 2019, just before the onset of the pandemic, Mr. Channel was serving a three-year sentence at Larry Gist State Jail in Beaumont, Texas, for felony bail jumping and failing to appear for a court date.
Mr. Channel was a skilled hunter of deer and wild boar and a gregarious man who loved riddles, his family said, but he struggled with addiction, including to methamphetamine.
Arrested on a low-level drug possession charge that prosecutors later dropped, Mr. Channel had been granted parole in October 2019 by the state’s parole board. He was scheduled to be released once he completed a six-month drug treatment program in late June or early July 2020, according to Timothy McDonnell, chief of staff for the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
But as the virus battered the state’s prisons, he was infected, and he died in a hospital on June 2. Mr. Channel had told relatives that he feared that getting infected might kill him because of his underlying health issues, including a heart condition.
“I try to just remember all the good times and try to push the fact that he died alone and away from everyone to the back of my mind,” said Brittany Channel, 32, Mr. Channel’s niece. “It’s all I can do, honestly.”
The drug rehabilitation course, which was all that kept Mr. Channel from being released sooner, is not required for all inmates imprisoned for drug offenses, Mr. McDonnell said, adding that such decisions are made on an individual basis by the parole board. Mr. McDonnell said the programs were available only inside Texas prisons, so Mr. Channel would not have been able to finish the course while at home.
“The Board of Pardons and Paroles values the treatment programs that are available within the institution and believe that they have been instrumental in helping to reduce the state’s recidivism rate,” Mr. McDonnell wrote in an email.
Brittany Channel said her uncle’s death was unnecessary.
“When he went to prison, it wasn’t for a violent crime,” she said. “No one was victimized in any kind of way. And it’s just so hard for me to accept the way that the prison system treated that situation. It’s mind-boggling to say the least.”
In Florida, drugs were also at the center of Mr. Carter’s legal problems.
In November 2019, police officers found Mr. Carter sleeping inside a vehicle in Sanford, Fla., that appeared to have been involved in a collision, according to a police report. Officers found small amounts of heroin and cocaine in a black purse and arrested him, according to the report.
Mr. Carter told family and friends that he was confident he would be acquitted and out of jail within a month or two because he believed that the police search had been improper.
For Mr. Carter, the stakes in the case were high. When he was arrested, he was on parole after having served seven years of a 15-year drug trafficking sentence. If he was found to have violated his parole by possessing drugs, he would be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.
But Jaya Balani, his lawyer, said that if Mr. Carter could prove the police search had been illegal, she could get the drug charges dropped and a parole violation would no longer be an issue.
Mr. Carter’s decision to contest the charges — including requesting police body camera footage — meant that his trial date kept getting delayed. In the spring of 2020, it was postponed indefinitely by coronavirus prevention protocols.
“He was talking in his sleep about trying to get out,” said Titus Manning, Mr. Carter’s cellmate in the Seminole County jail’s medical unit. “He’d call the guards and ask them, ‘Why am I in here? I’m 76 years old. Why am I in here?’”
Years earlier, diabetes had led to the amputation of one of Mr. Carter’s legs and half of the other one. In jail, Mr. Manning said, Mr. Carter had waited several months for insulin medication, and once the insulin arrived, Mr. Carter had become too weakened to inject himself.
“You could see the man’s bones in his hands,” said Mr. Manning, who wrote a letter to Jessica J. Recksiedler, the circuit judge who was handling Mr. Carter’s case, urging her to consider granting Mr. Carter release pending trial. “It was like he was fading away.”
Mr. Manning said he never received a response to the letter. A spokeswoman for Judge Recksiedler said the judge did not respond because while the letter had been “well-intentioned,” it had been “improper” not to send it to “all parties” in the case.
The Seminole County Sheriff’s Office declined to respond to written questions about Mr. Carter, including the status of his insulin. The department said it could not disclose medical information about current or former inmates.
In a news release announcing Mr. Carter’s death, the sheriff’s office wrote that the jail’s medical staff had examined Mr. Carter for “congestion and cold symptoms” on Aug. 19. Three days later, he was tested for the coronavirus and found to be positive. On Aug. 24, he was taken to a hospital. The jail announced his death on Sept. 2.
Reporting was contributed by Izzy Colón, Brendon Derr, Ann Hinga Klein, Danya Issawi, Derek M. Norman, Chloe Reynolds, Rachel Sherman, Maura Turcotte and Timothy Williams. Research was contributed by Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill.
Culture, once considered exclusive to humans, turns out to be widespread in nature.
By Natalie Angier, May 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/science/animals-chimps-whales-culture.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Science
Julia, her friends and family agreed, had style. When, out of the blue, the 18-year-old chimpanzee began inserting long, stiff blades of grass into one or both ears and then went about her day with her new statement accessories clearly visible to the world, the other chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi wildlife sanctuary in Zambia were dazzled.
Pretty soon, they were trying it, too: first her son, then her two closest female friends, then a male friend, out to eight of the 10 chimps in the group, all of them struggling, in front of Julia the Influencer — and hidden video cameras — to get the grass-in-the-ear routine just right. “It was quite funny to see,” said Edwin van Leeuwen of the University of Antwerp, who studies animal culture. “They tried again and again without success. They shivered through their whole bodies.”
Dr. van Leeuwen tried it himself and understood why.
“It’s not a pleasant feeling, poking a piece of grass far enough into the ear to stay there,” he said. But once the chimpanzees had mastered the technique, they repeated it often, proudly, almost ritualistically, fiddling with the inserted blades to make sure others were suitably impressed.
Julia died more than two years ago, yet her grassy-ear routine — a tradition that arose spontaneously, spread through social networks and skirts uncomfortably close to a human meme or fad — lives on among her followers in the sanctuary. The behavior is just one of many surprising examples of animal culture that researchers have lately divulged, as a vivid summary makes clear in a recent issue of Science. Culture was once considered the patented property of human beings: We have the art, science, music and online shopping; animals have the instinct, imprinting and hard-wired responses. But that dismissive attitude toward nonhuman minds turns out to be more deeply misguided with every new finding of animal wit or whimsy: Culture, as many biologists now understand it, is much bigger than we are.
“If you define culture as a set of behaviors shared by a group and transmitted through the group by social learning, then you find that it’s widespread in the animal kingdom,” said Andrew Whiten, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, and the author of the Science review. “You see it from primates and cetaceans, to birds and fish, and now we even find it in insects.”
Culture “is another inheritance mechanism, like genes,” Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University, who studies culture in whales, said. “It’s another way that information can flow through a population.” But culture has distinct advantages over DNA when it comes to the pace and direction of information trafficking. Whereas genetic information can only move vertically, from parent to offspring, cultural information can flow vertically and horizontally: old to young, young to old, peer to peer, no bloodlines required.
Genes lumber, but culture soars. In 1980, for example, an observant humpback whale discovered that by smacking its tail hard against the water, the tiny fish on which it preyed were prompted to ball up into tidy packages fit for comparatively easy capture and consumption. The enhanced hunting technique, called lobtail feeding, quickly spread along known lines of humpback social groups, aided, researchers suspect, by the cetacean talent for acrobatic mimicry among members of a pod. Today, more than 600 humpbacks are lobtail feeders. “This would only be the case if it was socially transmitted,” Dr. Whiten said.
Sperm whales likewise used crowdsourcing to outwit Ahab. In a new study examining whaling logs from the 19th century, Dr. Whitehead and his colleagues determined that when New England whalers first started hunting a naïve population of sperm whales in the north Pacific, they were essentially harpooning fish in a barrel, harvesting untold gallons of the fine spermaceti oil contained in the whale’s distinctive top hat of an acoustical organ. In just three to five years, however, long before the whalers had made a dent in the whale population, their hunting success rate had plunged by nearly 60 percent.
“The whales were very quickly learning from each other ways to avoid being harpooned,” Dr. Whitehead said. Tip No. 1: Humans are not like your traditional enemy, the killer whale, so forget the old defense strategy of forming a tightknit circle with your babies protected in the middle. “That just gives the whalers something to aim their harpoon at,” Dr. Whitehead said. Tip No. 2: Swim upwind fast — humans hate rowing upwind in the ocean, and they’ll soon give up the chase. Tip No 3: Find your inner Moby; dive deep, rise up and smash that whaling vessel to pieces.
Some differences between animal tribes make sense only if viewed through a cultural lens. Liran Samuni, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard, and her colleagues have been following two neighboring groups of bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The home ranges of the chimpanzee-like apes overlap considerably, and the bonobo troops meet and mingle frequently, grooming one another, traveling and foraging together, and pausing often for mutual pelvic rubdowns.
But a there is a salient distinction between them. Once or twice a month, bonobos supplement their vegetarian diet with meat, and when these two troops turn carnivorous, they seek out different prey. One group goes after anomalures, which resemble flying squirrels, while the other hunts small antelopes called duikers.
“No matter where they are, even when the group is together, they maintain the preference,” Dr. Samuni said. “If a hunt begins, it follows group lines: The duiker group chases duikers, the anomalure group pursues anomalures.” Dr. Samuni suggests that the prey specialization serves either to reduce competition between neighbors or solidify a sense of team identity. “We all like to feel we belong to a group, and that feeling has ancient origins,” she said.
Peter Richerson of the University of California at Davis, who studies the coevolution of genes and culture in humans, admitted he was once reluctant to talk about animal culture, but he has since changed his mind. “This is a golden age of animal culture and nonhuman learning studies,” he said.
He is particularly impressed by recent research showing that animal migrations, long considered the essence of mindless instinct in motion, are, in fact, culturally determined. “Mountain sheep have to learn their migrations from other sheep,” he said. Whooping cranes are long-distance migrators, and when their numbers declined so precipitously that there were no adult birds to teach young birds the route, conservationists stepped in and used ultralight airplanes as whooping crane tutors. Even farm animals can be repositories of cultural wisdom, as ranchers discover when they precipitously sell off their entire herd.
“Cows learn your ranch, and if you start over again with new cows, they won’t know where the water is, or where the best places to huddle are,” Dr. Richerson said. “There’s a lot more going on in a cow’s head than you might think.”
And more buzz in a bee’s bonnet. Lars Chittka of Queen Mary University of London and his colleagues showed that bumblebees could be trained in a stepwise manner to tug on a string and gradually uncover a source of sugar. Very few of the bees could figure out the string-pulling trick on their own, but once there was an experienced individual in their midst, the other bumblebees learned by watching. Moreover, the researchers reported in the journal PLoS Biology, the string-pulling skill could be transferred from colony to colony, even in semi-natural conditions outdoors. The authors’ conclusion: A bumblebee’s brain may easily fit on a lentil, but that’s quite enough “for the cultural spread of unusual skills.”
Federal documents indicate that while the Biden administration has cleared migrant children from border detention centers, now shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services are strained.
By Eileen Sullivan, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Luke Broadwater, May 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/us/politics/migrant-children-shelters.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials have insisted that they have gotten better control of a surge of migrant children that has swamped detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But documents obtained by The New York Times indicate that the problem has moved to other facilities, like convention centers in Dallas, San Diego and Long Beach, Calif., which are nearing capacity as funds for more space are scarce.
The migrant children are far better cared for at the new facilities, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, than they were at crammed jails run by the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, according to administration officials. But health department officials are taking about a month on average to move the children and teenagers out of government custody and into the care of a family member or sponsor in the United States.
The White House this week allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to redirect $850 million to migrant care, according to an internal document dated May 6. Another nearly $850 million could be available in the coming weeks. Before that transfer was completed, the administration estimated that it would need another $4 billion before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, according to the document.
In all, over the past week, more than 21,000 children were living in shelters under government care, leaving the shelters around 80 percent full. A shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas has a capacity of 2,270 — and a caseload of 1,990. The San Diego Convention Center’s 1,450 beds are all taken. The Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio is 90 children away from its 2,100 limit and announced on Friday it would stop taking in migrant children after this month. The Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center is similarly full, according to the document.
According to the document, a $366 million shortfall hits this month “and grows quickly through July.” Officials project the cost for the entire 2021 fiscal year could be higher than $8 billion.
Biden administration officials have framed their response to the migrant surge as a triumph of governmental logistics. In a matter of weeks, the administration was able to set up a dozen additional facilities to house and care for these children who, during March and much of April, were arriving alone by the thousands and forced to stay in overcrowded Border Patrol facilities, sleeping on gym mats with foil sheets, often without bathing.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, visited the border this week to tour the department’s far less crowded facilities, which were originally intended to hold adults caught trying to enter the country without proper documentation. The department broadcast before-and-after photographs showing the progress that had been made in moving the children out.
“We have re-engineered the process for the treatment of unaccompanied children — the transfer of them to Health and Human Services shelters where they belong,” Mr. Mayorkas said Friday when he spoke to Border Patrol agents in Donna, Texas. “A Border Patrol station is no place for a child.”
But the Biden administration has yet to solve one of the more troubling bottlenecks in the system at the border: quickly and safely releasing the minors from the shelters to vetted sponsors in the United States. The process is a balance of making sure the children are released to safe situations as well as trying to minimize the time they spend in government custody, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief executive of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The Biden administration has also said many sponsors feared coming forward to claim minors after a Trump-era program required the health department to share background information on all adults in a child’s prospective household with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. President Biden has rescinded the program.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services said, the time in government custody has improved significantly from an average of 42 days when Mr. Biden took office to the current stay of about a month. On Thursday, 775 children were released from government care, which is about 300 more than were being released last week. But officials at the border report a need for more case managers to help move the children out of government custody, even as federal employees from other agencies have already been deployed to fill in the gaps.
The Department of Health and Human Services also said that there was no immediate risk of running out of money to care for the migrant children. The additional $850 million the program received this week, the department said, was to cover pandemic-related costs for testing and other precautions. And the need for additional funds was not a new problem, the department said, and it pointed to a nearly $3 billion request in 2019 from the Trump administration when there was a similar influx in migrants.
“The Unaccompanied Children program has long relied on funding transfers to meet its mission, and this year faces the additional expense of rebuilding a decimated system while taking pandemic-related safety precautions, such as testing and social distancing,” Mark Weber, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement on Friday.
Mr. Biden blames the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies for leaving his team ill equipped to handle the migrant surge this spring. When migrants — mostly from Central America who were fleeing poverty, violence and natural disasters — started to arrive at the southwestern border in large numbers, the government did not have enough shelters to safely house children who arrived alone.
The Biden administration so far has not asked Congress for an emergency spending bill, which could distract from Senate Democrats’ efforts to pass immigration legislation. A 2019 request for more funding for the situation at the border set off a bitter fight in Congress, and a new request would most likely fuel criticism from Republicans who have made clear that they intend to seize on Mr. Biden’s border policies to galvanize their party’s base before the midterm elections.
“It’s politics. It’s not about substance or process. If the government needs money to manage the border, they should get money to manage the border,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “It’s an emergency. It wasn’t planned or in the budget that they would have record numbers of unaccompanied kids.”
On Friday, Representative Nanette Barragán, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the House homeland security subcommittee on border security, toured the shelter at the convention center in Long Beach and said the Biden administration was providing minors with much more humane conditions in the health department facilities than they had while in Border Patrol custody, where she said youths slept on mats on the ground and lacked medical care.
“Let’s get the kids out of Border Patrol custody as quickly as possible,” Ms. Barragán said in an interview after touring the shelter, which housed 728 migrant children, with room for only 72 more. “In the H.H.S. custody, even in the emergency centers, they have medical staff, they have beds, they have television, they have activities.”
Even so, she said she was “concerned” with data showing that the program was in need of more money in the coming months.
“Make no mistake,” Ms. Barragán said, “there are things we need to work on.”
Migrant surges in the spring are typical, but this year has brought record numbers.
While previous administrations focused on expanding the number of facilities run by border agents, the Biden administration has pivoted by spending money on developing temporary shelters in convention centers, military sites and vacant arenas.
“The administration is qualitatively looking at this response to this migration event in a different way,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden promised that the United States would return to being a compassionate destination for migrants, a sharp contrast with the harsh policies put in place by President Donald J. Trump, who used an emergency public health rule to turn children away. Mr. Biden has committed to allowing these children to enter the country.
And housing the migrant children is not the only challenge on the border for the Biden administration.
The United States has also been increasingly allowing migrant families to enter the country because of new barriers to sheltering families in Mexico. As a result, the administration has struggled to find space for them and has turned to housing them in hotels before releasing them into the country.
The administration is expected to expand the number of hotels holding families this weekend, according to a senior homeland security official, a sign of the potential increase in crossings by migrants in the near future.
Jeffrey Parker had called 911 to report that he was suicidal and was holding a gun to his head when he was fatally shot by Officer William Darby, prosecutors said.
By Michael Levenson, May 7, 2021
A police officer in Huntsville, Ala., was convicted of murder on Friday for fatally shooting a man who had called 911 to report that he was suicidal and who was holding a gun to his head when the police arrived, prosecutors said.
The officer, William Darby, who had been strongly defended by the Police Department and cleared of wrongdoing by a city review board, will face 20 years to life in prison when he is sentenced for the killing of Jeffrey Parker, 49, on April 3, 2018, according to prosecutors.
The verdict stunned city leaders, who had maintained that Officer Darby was justified in using deadly force. The Huntsville City Council had voted to dedicate $125,000 in public money for the officer’s criminal defense, according to AL.com. And police officers throughout Alabama had been watching the case because of how frequently they respond to mental health crises.
“We are in the first stages of shock,” the Huntsville police chief, Mark McMurray, said in a statement. “While we thank the jury for their service in this difficult case, I do not believe Officer Darby is a murderer. Officers are forced to make split-second decisions every day, and Officer Darby believed his life and the lives of other officers were in danger.”
Prosecutors said the evidence showed that the first officer on the scene, Genisha Pegues, had been trying to help Mr. Parker when Officer Darby showed up. Officer Darby, who was 25 and had been on the force for about 18 months, shot Mr. Parker 11 seconds after entering his house, according to Martin Weinberg, a lawyer who represents Mr. Parker’s family.
“In this particular case, there was zero hostility or aggression by Mr. Parker when the officers arrived,” the Madison County district attorney, Robert L. Broussard, said at a news conference. Yet Officer Darby’s response was “off the charts,” he said.
“The facts of the case bore out that there was nothing justified about this encounter with Mr. Parker, and justice was served,” Mr. Broussard said.
Officers called to Mr. Parker’s house found him “suicidal” and holding a gun, the police said in a statement in August 2018. After Mr. Parker disregarded several orders to drop his weapon, Officer Darby fatally shot him, the police said.
According to a lawsuit filed by Mr. Parker’s family, Officer Darby was the third officer to arrive at Mr. Parker’s house that day.
Officer Pegues had entered with her gun pointed down and found Mr. Parker sitting on a couch with a gun to his head, according to the lawsuit. She had been talking to him when Officer Darby arrived about five minutes later, according to the lawsuit.
Officer Darby began screaming at Officer Pegues while he was still in the front yard, according to the lawsuit, telling her to point her gun at Mr. Parker because “he can shoot you!” Officer Darby then repeatedly yelled at Mr. Parker to put his gun down before firing a single shot that killed Mr. Parker, the lawsuit states.
About a month later, a review board convened by the Huntsville Police Department concluded that Officer Darby’s use of deadly force had been “within policy,” the city said.
But a Madison County grand jury indicted the officer in August 2018.
At Officer Darby’s trial, Officer Pegues testified that she had never felt that Mr. Parker was a threat, and a prosecutor argued that Officer Darby had been the initial aggressor, according to WSFA, a local television station.
Officer Darby’s lawyer, Robert Tuten, contended that Officer Darby had not been the initial aggressor and had been protecting not only himself but his fellow officers, WFSA reported. After the verdict on Friday, Mr. Tuten vowed to appeal.
“To say that people are shocked by this verdict would be a big understatement,” Mr. Tuten said at a news conference. “This was a very important case to Alabama law enforcement,” he added, and could affect the way officers throughout the state respond to people with guns and threats of suicide.
“Everybody has been watching this,” Mr. Tuten said.
Mayor Tommy Battle said that he disagreed with the verdict and that Officer Darby had the right to appeal. “Officer Darby followed the appropriate safety protocols in his response on the scene,” he said in a statement. “He was doing what he was trained to do in the line of duty.”
Bill Parks, a longtime friend of Mr. Parker's, said he hoped that the conviction would prompt officers to respond more humanely to people in mental health crises.
At a news conference on Friday, Mr. Parks said his friend had been “a very kind soul” who had loved music and “could fix anything” but who had also had his “demons.”
“He just asked for help,” Mr. Parks said. “He wanted help, and what ended up in a situation where he asked for help turned out terribly.”
Peter Stuyvesant was an enslaver. So were other prominent New Yorkers whose names are all over the city.
By Julianne McShane, May 7, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/07/nyregion/slavery-nyc.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
Last month, Vanessa Thompson stepped outside the juice bar where she works on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn and noticed a green and white sticker on a light pole. She leaned in for a closer look.
“John van Nostrand was a slave owner,” it said. “According to the US census in 1790, the (Van) Nostrands owned 6 people.”
Ms. Thompson, who is Black, was dumbfounded. “I didn’t even know anything about that,” she said. “He could’ve owned me.”
The sticker was partly the brainchild of Elsa Eli Waithe, 33, a comedian living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who, along with two collaborators, has been on a mission to let New Yorkers know that a good number of the city’s streets, subway stations and neighborhoods are named after enslavers.
The project was inspired in part by a talk between Mx. Waithe, who is Black and grew up in Norfolk, Va., and a white friend about a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Va., that was dismantled last August. Mx. Waithe recalled the friend’s dismissing the statue as a Southern issue, a regional affront.
But just a few months before, while scrolling through social media, Mx. Waithe had stumbled upon records from the nation’s first census in 1790, which listed well-known New York families like the Leffertses, the Boerums and the Nostrands. To the right of those names was another category: “slaves.”
According to the census, the Lefferts family enslaved 87 Black people throughout New York City (Prospect Lefferts Gardens and an avenue in that Brooklyn neighborhood were named after them). The Boerums owned 14 slaves (the neighborhood Boerum Hill is named for them). And the Nostrands (of the eight-mile-long Nostrand Avenue), enslaved 23 people (this number would nearly double by the beginning of the 19th century).
The discovery sparked Slavers of New York, a sticker campaign and education initiative dedicated to calling out — and eventually mapping — the history of slavery in New York City.
Designed by Ada Reso, 30, who is Mx. Waithe’s roommate, and with research by Maria Robles, 33, the stickers, which mimic street signs, feature the names of prominent New Yorkers and provide details on the number of slaves they owned.
So far, the trio has distributed about 1,000 stickers, mostly in Brooklyn, though they hope to expand eventually throughout the five boroughs.
The group’s mission reflects a growing body of scholarship challenging the assumption that New York City, and the North more generally, was an idyllic land of freedom.
“We’ve all been given this education around, ‘Slavery happened in the South, and the North were the good guys,’ when in reality it was happening here,” Ms. Robles said.
Enslaved labor was foundational to New York’s early development and economic growth, said Leslie M. Harris, a professor of history and African-American studies at Northwestern University and author of “In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863.”
For parts of the 17th and 18th centuries, the city was home to the largest urban slave population in mainland North America, Dr. Harris said. At one point, 40 percent of Manhattan households owned slaves, most of them Black women doing domestic work, she explained. The local economy was also heavily dependent on the slave trade: Wall Street banks and New York brokers financed the cotton trade and shipped the crop to New England and British textile mills, according to Jonathan Daniel Wells, a history professor at the University of Michigan.
For enslaved people in the South who escaped to New York, a main stop on the Underground Railroad, permanent freedom was not guaranteed. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Black people were often kidnapped in New York City — both those who had been born free and those who had escaped bondage — and were sold in the South. The Fugitive Slave Act facilitated the practice, which was chronicled most recently by Dr. Wells in his book “The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War.”
Slavery dates to the city’s very beginnings. In the 17th century, Peter Stuyvesant, the director-general of the Dutch colony that gave rise to New York, enslaved 15 to 30 people on his 62 acres, part of which was in the area that is now the Bowery, according to Jaap Jacobs, an honorary reader in the school of history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who is working on a Stuyvesant biography.
Today many sites still bear his name: Stuyvesant High School and Stuyvesant Town among them. The websites for the school and apartment complex do not mention his history as a slave trader and owner. Neither does St. Mark’s Church, under which Stuyvesant is buried (although it does have a section outlining its work in racial justice).
But the Stuyvesant stickers, which were distributed around the city last fall, offer the additional information.
“Peter Stuyvesant was a slave trader,” they read. “Peter Stuyvesant trafficked 290 human beings in the first slave auction in Manhattan.”
Stuyvesant High School, which offered admission to eight Black students out of 749 spots for the 2021-22 academic year, is working to update its website to include more context on Stuyvesant, according to a Department of Education spokeswoman, who added that the department “has a sustained commitment to build an anti-racist education system that serves all children, in all school communities.”
Nadeem Siddiqui, the general manager of Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village, said that the vast apartment complex near the East River “will always be a community that supports equity for all, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for racism or discrimination of any kind.”
And St. Mark’s Church has hosted virtual conversations with Dr. Jacobs focusing on “slavery in Stuyvesant’s world,” according to the Rev. Anne Sawyer, its rector. She added that a temporary memorial outside the church honors slaves owned by members of the church and by Stuyvesant on the Bowery.
Unlike many movements, Slavers of New York is not seeking explicitly to strip the names of enslavers from the public eye, Mx. Waithe said.
“Our goal is to get the information to the people who live in and around the community and let them decide what they want to do about it,” Mx. Waithe said.
Back in Crown Heights, in front of Lionheart Natural Herbs and Spices, a Nostrand sticker has been on a parking meter for months. Tracey Reid, the store’s owner, seems fine with it staying put. “It’s important for people to not just think, ‘OK, we’re on Nostrand Avenue,’ but to know it’s part of the history of slavery,” she said.
The project has seen a few detractors, mostly in the form of people who may see the stickers as vandalism and remove them. Last fall, all of the stickers on Bergen Street in Brooklyn disappeared within an hour of going up, according to Ms. Reso and Ms. Robles.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, the two put a Nostrand sticker on a crosswalk pole at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Lincoln Place in Crown Heights. Passers-by were asked if they were aware of the family’s history.
Simbi Ogbara, 25, was not, she said. But upon learning more, she said she hoped the avenue’s name would be changed.
“It doesn’t make me feel proud of living on this street,” said Ms. Ogbara, who is Black.
This was a typical response, Ms. Robles said. “The facts speak for themselves.”
The 16-year-old girl was fatally shot while threatening a young woman with a knife. She had spent two years shuttling among Ohio foster homes, hoping to return to her mother.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Ellen Barry and Will Wright, May 8, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/08/us/columbus-makhia-bryant-foster-care.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
Ma’Khia Bryant in a selfie provided by her family.Credit...Ma'Khia Bryant/Don Bryant and Paula Bryant, via Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The voice on the 911 call is a teenage girl’s, and it is quavering, as if she has been crying.
“I want to leave this foster home,” she tells the dispatcher. “I want to leave this foster home.”
When two police officers arrived at the home in Columbus, Ohio, they reported later, they met an agitated ninth grader, Ja’Niah Bryant, who told them that the fighting at 3171 Legion Lane was getting worse and worse.
They said there was nothing they could do, and this seemed to push her over an edge. She became “irate,” the officers wrote in their report, and told them that if she was not allowed to leave, “she was going to kill someone.”
Twenty-three days later, Ja’Niah called 911 again, telling the police that she and her older sister were being threatened by two young women who used to live at the house. Officers arrived in the middle of a melee outside the house, and one of them fatally shot Ja’Niah’s 16-year-old sister, Ma’Khia Bryant, who was lunging at one of the women, brandishing a steak knife.
The shooting, which occurred moments before a jury in Minneapolis convicted Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, released a new wave of anger over shootings by the police. To calm the furor, the Columbus police quickly released body camera footage, which showed some of the fight outside the house and, they said, demonstrated that the officer had acted to protect the other woman.
But Ms. Bryant’s tragic death was also preceded by a turbulent journey through the foster care system, which had cycled Ma’Khia through at least five placements in two years — after her own mother was found to be negligent — despite efforts by their grandmother to reunite the family.
Ohio places children in foster care at a rate 10 percent higher than the national average, and child welfare officials here are considerably less likely than in the country as a whole to place children with their relatives. Black children, like Ma’Khia and her sister, account for nearly a third of children removed from homes — nearly twice their proportion in the population.
A review of Ma’Khia’s pathway through foster care shows that it failed her in critical ways.
Research has demonstrated that children fare far better when they remain with family members, a practice known as kinship care. It also shows that each successive placement causes additional trauma, further setting back a child in crisis.
“Everybody knows and the research has proven over and over and over again that the best placement for children is with their kin,” said Ronald R. Browder, the president and chief executive of the Ohio Federation for Health Equity and Social Justice. “But the focus has always been on foster care.”
What the Bryant sisters wanted, Ja’Niah said, was to return to their family.
“We can go to Mommy or Grandma, it doesn’t matter, as long as we can get off the system,” Ja’Niah recalled Ma’Khia telling her younger siblings, who were also in foster care. “That was her biggest thing, she didn’t want to be in the foster care system until she was 18.”
A spokeswoman for Franklin County Children Services, which had custody of the siblings, declined to comment on Ma’Khia’s case, citing confidentiality laws. Angela Moore, their foster mother at the time of Ma’Khia’s death, talked about the teenager and the events leading up to her death but did not respond later to detailed questions about the Bryant girls and their care.
This account is based on interviews with Ma’Khia’s family members and acquaintances, as well as court documents, and other case records that were provided by her mother’s lawyer.
The oldest of four children born to Paula Bryant, a nursing assistant, and Myron Hammonds, Ma’Khia was removed from her mother’s home in 2018, and spent 16 months living with her grandmother Jeanene Hammonds.
When her grandmother was kicked out by her landlord, the siblings went into foster care and spent two years cycling through short-term placements, arrangements that dissolved one after another.
People who knew Ma’Khia had trouble recognizing her in the chaotic footage of the shooting released by the police. Staff members at her school saw her as quiet and diligent, the kind of student who would hug her teacher’s aide every morning before math. She had a tight knot of girlfriends, who lavished one another with affection. Aaliyaha Tucker, 16, recalled her once coming to school with her hair in an outrageous style she called a “rainbow horn,” extending vertically from the top of her head and then bursting into a mop.
“She didn’t care what other people thought of her,” said Aaliyaha, who allowed tears to run down her face. “She taught us how to love ourselves.”
By this spring, when Ma’Khia’s sister placed the first call to the police, her life in foster care had spiraled into dysfunction and disorder, family members said. And it was about to get much worse.
The chute of the system
In 2018, Paula Bryant had moved with her five children — including a teenage son from a previous relationship — into a house in West Columbus, where, she said in an interview, the landlords did not mind her credit problems. Mr. Hammonds, Ma’Khia’s father, did not live with the family and Ms. Bryant described herself as raising the children largely on her own.
The Hilltop neighborhood once housed blue-collar workers for a General Motors plant, but the plant was shuttered years ago, and many of the bungalows have been converted into cheap rentals. It has one of the highest crime rates in the city.
Andrea Douglass, 37, a pastor’s wife who lived two doors down from the Bryant family that year, has gotten used to turbulence. When shootings occur on her block, she said, “it’s a big hubbub for a day or two and then life just moves on.” But, three years later, she can still remember the fights between Ms. Bryant and her daughters.
“The girls ran out of the house terrified, and were hanging out in the backyard screaming while the mom was yelling at them,” Ms. Douglass said, recalling that she was worried about their safety. “I never want kids to be afraid. When kids are afraid, that is a problem.”
The family had been on the radar of Children Services for several years, amid repeated complaints that the two youngest children were absent from school. In February 2017, Ms. Bryant took Ma’Khia, Ja’Niah and two younger siblings to one of the agency’s offices and said “she was at her wits end” and could no longer handle them, according to a Children Services document outlining the case. The children, Ms. Bryant told the agency, had “no respect” for those around them.
The move to Hilltop had been difficult for her daughters, who missed their friends on the East Side, Ms. Bryant said. “They were kind of rebelling in the home,” she said. The police came, she said, when she was arguing with Ma’Khia and Ja’Niah over bedtimes, and their younger sister, Azariah, ran outside and yelled for help.
“The officers said, you have just lost control as a parent, meaning, you can tell them to go to bed, go upstairs right now, and they’re not going to go,” she said. The children told police officers that they had suffered physical abuse from their mother and an older half brother, according to the mother’s lawyer, Michelle Martin, though Ms. Bryant denied ever abusing them. A magistrate judge dismissed the abuse claims against Ms. Bryant in February 2019 but found that she had neglected the children, according to court documents.
Ms. Bryant said she was detained while Ma’Khia and her three younger siblings “went in the paddy wagon.”
Ms. Hammonds, their grandmother, took the four children into her two-bedroom apartment, sleeping on the couch so the children could have the beds. After about six months, she began receiving $1,200 a month in aid from the state to cover their care.
Service agencies offer far less support to family members who agree to take care of children in need: The per diem allowances paid to licensed foster parents are often 10 times greater than the public assistance paid to relatives. A grandparent can become licensed as a foster parent, but it can take as long as six months, said Anthony Capizzi, an Ohio family court judge who took part in a comprehensive review of the state’s family services in 2019.
Ms. Hammonds did not have that long to wait.
“I was worn out,” she recalled. “I was doing all the laundry, all the cooking, and I was working a part-time job at the time. And it was difficult because these children came from a lot of dysfunction.”
Then her landlord found out that the children had moved into the apartment and told her she would have to move. She scrambled, placing the older girls at a summer camp and the younger two siblings in temporary foster care. When the camp ended, she had few options.
In desperation, she called the children’s caseworker to ask if she could take them to a hotel with her for a few nights, but the caseworker said that was not allowed. He told her to drop the two older girls off at Franklin County Children Services, a hulking brick edifice in downtown Columbus.
She found it frustrating; she felt the children belonged with their family.
“They could’ve just given me what they give one foster parent, and then I could’ve gotten housing, taken care of the kids and done what I needed to do,” Ms. Hammonds said.
When they pulled up to the building, she said, Ma’Khia did not want to get out of the car.
“She didn’t want to leave me,” she said. “I think about that all the time.”
‘Where’s my sister?’
There was no chance at that point that the children would go back to their mother, who was still struggling to meet requirements for counseling and scheduled visits. Instead, the county placed all four children in foster care.
Ms. Hammonds slept wherever she could for several months — sometimes in hotel rooms, sometimes with friends, and many nights in her car — until she secured a home that could accommodate the children. In December 2019, Ms. Hammonds submitted a petition to the court for their return, but it was rejected.
Though the court’s reasoning is not known, the Children Services agency had reported to the court that Ms. Hammonds had failed to meet all of the children’s needs and had not made sure they attended all necessary counseling appointments, according to Ms. Martin, the mother’s lawyer, who said the conditions imposed were unreasonable.
The girls, meanwhile, were placed in group homes. Ja’Niah recalled that, not long after their grandmother dropped them off, she and Ma’Khia were told they had to go into separate rooms for physical examinations. When she emerged, her sister was no longer there.
“I said, ‘Where’s my sister?’” she said. “It was like, ‘We don’t know, we’ll check,’ but he never got back. So that’s when I realized we were being split up.”
After that, Ja’Niah said, the two sisters moved through half a dozen living situations. There was, she said, a foster home so strict that Ma’Khia was often not allowed to leave the house; a group home with dog feces on the floor; a foster mother who screamed at the top of her lungs, not realizing Ma’Khia was recording it all on her phone.
Even when the living situation was good, and a foster parent in Dayton mused about adopting Ma’Khia, her sister was not interested, Ja’Niah said. “She wanted to get back to me, to family. To Columbus,” she said.
At school, Ma’Khia kept her family issues to herself. Jessica Oakley, the teacher’s aide who worked with her at Canal Winchester High School, recalled her as “a hard worker, a sweet girl, very shy.” At the end of ninth grade, she made the school’s honor roll.
She was diligent about schoolwork, and continued to seek out Ms. Oakley’s assistance even when the school shut down because of the coronavirus, once spending eight hours with her teacher on a Google Hangout, going through all her homework.
“She was definitely my girl,” Ms. Oakley said.
She said it was rare for Ma’Khia to mention anything about her family — except for Ja’Niah.
“She was very protective of her sister,” she said. “She was like, ‘No one messes with my baby sister.’”
Micheale Cates, 54, one of the foster parents who briefly housed Ma’Khia during that period, was friends with Ms. Moore, who took her in later. She would not discuss the details of the case, but she said she had noticed a pattern: Children who had escaped from traumatic family situations often long to return to them.
“Home is more than just a location, it’s where you have a level of comfort,” she said.
“Ma’Khia really was a family person, she needed that,” she said. “But, see, sometimes it’s not the best for the children. These children get triggered. I know the whole idea — keep them together, keep them together — sometimes that’s the worst thing for these kids.”
An afternoon at Angie’s
The two girls ended up at Ms. Moore’s house on Legion Lane — not far from their grandmother’s house, and together for the first time since they left her care.
The suburban home is neat and well-tended, with bunches of artificial yellow flowers poking out of the turf beside the door. The two sisters would make TikTok videos, dance, go skating, or go to an amusement center called Scene75 that has rides and video games, Ms. Moore said. Ma’Khia, she said, was not troublesome.
“She’s a quiet girl. She doesn’t start fights anywhere. She wasn’t a troubled child,” she said. “She was fun. She loved her family. She loved her siblings. They were close.”
Still, Ms. Moore placed repeated calls to 911 in which she seemed to struggle to manage the children she had taken in.
Sometimes, she was calling to report that a teenager had “gone AWOL,” failing to return home by curfew. But late last year, Ms. Moore sounded deeply shaken as she asked the police to remove a 10-year-old boy — or, as she put it, “one of my irate foster youths” — from her home.
The boy could be heard in the background, alternately roaring and howling, as Ms. Moore told the police that he had been knocking ornaments off her Christmas tree. Three hours later, she made a repeat call for assistance, saying she did not feel safe driving the 10-year-old in for a psychiatric evaluation.
After a brief initial interview, Ms. Moore declined to answer questions about conditions inside the home in the period before the shooting.
Ms. Cates, who formerly cared for Ma’Khia, said Ms. Moore faced a problem common to many foster parents: The agency expected her to work full-time outside the home, a situation that forced her to leave foster children unsupervised.
“I believe she was a loving, caring foster parent,” she said. But, she added, “foster parenting is a full-time job.”
By this spring, Ja’Niah said, Ms. Moore’s home had become increasingly tense. In the weeks leading up to the shooting, she said, Ms. Moore had accused the girls of stealing the cards that carry cash benefits for food.
And she said Ms. Moore sometimes left them unsupervised, or with former foster children, women in their 20s who, she said, berated them and mocked Ma’Khia’s speech impediment.
After school on April 20, the two Bryant girls found themselves alone in the house with Tionna Bonner, 22, one of Ms. Moore’s former foster children and, Ja’Niah said, her special favorite.
Ms. Bonner, who had come to celebrate Ms. Moore’s birthday the previous day, was now scolding the girls, saying they were habitually disrespecting Ms. Moore.
“She’s like, ‘My mom told you all to clean up this house, it’s dirty,’” Ja’Niah said.
The dispute escalated quickly, but when Ja’Niah called Ms. Moore, who was at work, she said she was too busy to get involved, Ja’Niah said. So each of them called for backup: Ja’Niah called her grandmother, and Ms. Bonner called another young woman, Shai-Onta Craig-Watkins, 20, who had lived in the house as a foster child. Neither Ms. Bonner nor Ms. Craig-Watkins agreed to be interviewed for this article.
Ms. Hammonds rushed over and described standing on the stairway inside, trying to protect her granddaughters as the older women threatened to beat them up. Ms. Bonner had pulled out a knife, Ja’Niah and her grandmother said, and Ma’Khia had grabbed a steak knife from the kitchen. Ja’Niah went into her room and called 911. In the call, placed at 4:32 p.m., Ja’Niah asked for help as people shouted in the background.
Someone could be heard saying, “I’m not scared of no knife.”
“It’s 3171 Legion Lane,” Ja’Niah told the dispatcher. “We got Angie’s grown girls trying to fight us, trying to stab us, trying to put her hands on our grandma. Get here now!”
Twelve minutes later, the police arrived.
In a brief lull, Ms. Craig-Watkins left the house and the sisters began to pack up their things, thinking the worst of the situation was over. As they rushed out of the house, their father was pulling in to come to their aid. But also arriving was Ms. Craig-Watkins, who had returned with two more people. The two groups crossed paths, and Ms. Craig-Watkins spit toward the family, Ja’Niah and Ms. Hammonds said.
“I feel like that really made Ma’Khia really mad when she spit,” Ja’Niah said. “That’s when everything just went left.”
A police officer stepped out of his car and walked toward the driveway just as Ma’Khia turned her attention to Ms. Craig-Watkins and could be heard on a video from a neighbor’s surveillance camera threatening to stab her.
As Ma’Khia charged, Ms. Craig-Watkins tumbled to the ground, and Ma’Khia’s father tried to kick her. Ma’Khia turned to Ms. Bonner and backed her up against a car.
Ma’Khia raised a knife, and Officer Nicholas Reardon, a white 23-year-old who was the first officer to approach the scene, shot four times at Ma’Khia, who slumped down.
As Ma’Khia’s body lay on the ground, police officers led Ja’Niah inside Ms. Moore’s house, along with her father’s young son.
Ja’Niah turned on the television to find some cartoons for her younger brother to watch. Instead, what flashed on the screen first was a news report: a jury in Minneapolis had found Mr. Chauvin guilty of murdering Mr. Floyd.
Before an officer took her phone, she sneaked into a bathroom and made one more call for help.
“I called my real mom — my biological mom — and I told her, I said, ‘I need you. They just shot Ma’Khia. Get here now,’” Ja’Niah recalled. “I needed her.”
In addition to the disciplinary action they have faced, the boys’ mother said that at least one of her three sons has been bullied because of the shirts.
By Jesus Jiménez, May 9, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/09/us/black-lives-matter-shirt-oklahoma-school.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Two brothers, 8 and 5, were removed from their Oklahoma elementary school classrooms this past week and made to wait out the school day in a front office for wearing T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter,” according to the boys’ mother.
The superintendent of the Ardmore, Okla., school district where the brothers, Bentlee and Rodney Herbert, attend different schools had previously told their mother, Jordan Herbert, that politics would “not be allowed at school,” Ms. Herbert recalled on Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has called the incident a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights.
On April 30, Bentlee, who is in the third grade, went to class at Charles Evans Elementary in a Black Lives Matter shirt, which Ms. Herbert said he had picked out himself to wear.
That evening, Ms. Herbert learned that the school’s principal, Denise Brunk, had told Bentlee that he was not allowed to wear the T-shirt. At Ms. Brunk’s direction, he turned the shirt inside out and finished out the school day.
On Monday, Ms. Herbert went to the school to ask the principal what dress-code policy her son had violated, Ms. Herbert said. Ms. Brunk referred her to the Ardmore City Schools superintendent, Kim Holland.
“He told me when the George Floyd case blew up that politics will not be allowed at school,” Ms. Herbert said on Friday, referring to Mr. Holland. “I told him, once again, a ‘Black Lives Matter’ T-shirt is not politics.”
Neither Ms. Brunk nor Mr. Holland responded to emails or phone calls seeking comment on Friday.
On Tuesday, Ms. Herbert’s three sons — Bentlee; Rodney, who is in kindergarten; and Jaelon, a sixth grader, all of whom are Black — went to their schools in matching T-shirts with the words “Black Lives Matter” and an image of a clenched fist on the front.
Later that morning, Ms. Herbert received a call from Rodney’s school, Will Rogers Elementary, telling her that she needed to either bring Rodney a different shirt or let the school provide one for him, or Rodney would be forced to sit in the front office for the rest of the school day. Rodney did not change shirts, and he sat in the office until school was over.
Ms. Herbert learned later that day that Bentlee had also been made to sit in his school’s front office, where he missed recess, and did not eat lunch in the cafeteria with his classmates.
Jaelon, 12, encountered no issues at Ardmore Middle School because of his T-shirt, his mother said.
In an interview with The Daily Ardmoreite, Mr. Holland suggested that the T-shirts were disruptive.
“It’s our interpretation of not creating a disturbance in school,” Mr. Holland told the newspaper. “I don’t want my kids wearing MAGA hats or Trump shirts to school either because it just creates, in this emotionally charged environment, anxiety and issues that I don’t want our kids to deal with.”
Mr. Holland said there had been similar cases in the district this year.
“Most of it has not been an issue until this lady here has been angry about it,” Mr. Holland told The Ardmoreite. “I wish she weren’t so upset.”
Ms. Herbert said she met with Mr. Holland on Monday and asked him what would happen if she sent her children to school in “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts again.
“He told me nothing could be done because it wasn’t against policy,” Ms. Herbert recalled.
Indeed, the dress code outlined in the district’s Elementary Student Handbook makes no mention of politics. It says that “sayings or logos” on shirts or tops “should be in good taste and school appropriate.”
“Any clothing or apparel that disrupts the learning process is prohibited,” the handbook adds, stipulating that principals have the final say on “the appropriateness of dress.”
To Ms. Herbert, the idea that her 8-year-old son would not “be able to express that his life matters” was ludicrous.
On Friday, the A.C.L.U. of Oklahoma sent a letter to Mr. Holland, Ms. Brunk and James Foreman Jr., president of the Ardmore City School Board of Education.
In the letter, the A.C.L.U. said it would be a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights to be prohibited from wearing clothing that says “Black Lives Matter.”
If the school district does not reverse its policy and allow students to wear “Black Lives Matter” clothing, it must be prepared to prove in federal court how wearing the T-shirts creates “a substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities,” the A.C.L.U. said. “Anything less than that would be found to be a violation of the students’ First Amendment rights.”
It cited a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which addressed the issue of a group of students who wore black armbands to object to the Vietnam War. A principal told the students that they would be suspended if they wore the armbands at school.
The court ruled 7-2 that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
“This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years,” the A.C.L.U. said.
Mr. Foreman and the other members of the school board did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
In addition to issues with disciplinary action, Ms. Herbert said Bentlee has now been bullied at school over his T-shirt. When Bentlee returned from school on Thursday, he told his mother that two white boys had picked on him.
“One boy told him that his life does not matter, and the other one told him to just get suspended,” Ms. Herbert said.
The principal told Ms. Herbert the situation would be handled, she said.
“With everything going on in the world today, I keep my boys informed,” Ms. Herbert said, adding that the family watched the news together. “They know what’s going on.”
Out of principle, Ms. Herbert said she would continue to support her sons in wearing the T-shirts to school.
Despite the turmoil, the shirts were never intended to be an “attention-seeking ordeal,” Ms. Herbert said. “I don’t see Black Lives Matter disrupting anything.”