Photo from San Francisco rally and march in support of Palestine Saturday, May 15, 2021
Stand with Palestine!
Say NO to apartheid!
Join the global movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta released from prison
Martha Hennessy was released yesterday, May 26, from Danbury prison after 5 1/2 months confinement to a halfway house in Manchester, New Hampshire which is about a two hour drive from her home in Vermont. Her husband, Stephen Melanson, picked her up and drove her to the halfway house. She expects to have to spend a week or two at the halfway house before being allowed to return home to finish the last few months of her 10 month sentence. She had applied for early release through the CARES Act which allows release for the qualified elderly to reduce the risk of catching COVID. She is looking forward to return to her home and family and her gardening soon. Martha gave a short video statement on getting out and it will be posted on the website shortly.
Mark Colville is scheduled to report to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY on June 8 to finish his 21 month sentence. He has already served 15 months in the county jails in Georgia before the trial in October 2019. He may also be eligible for an earlier release but does not intend to apply for any special consideration.
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Ms. Cooper, who made the call after a man asked her to leash her dog in Central Park, says that she was discriminated against because of her race.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/26/nyregion/amy-cooper-suing-racial-discrimination.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
Amy Cooper, a white woman who last year became an international symbol of the routine racism that Black people face in their daily lives, is suing her former employer for firing her, arguing that she is a victim of racial discrimination.
Ms. Cooper makes the claim in a lawsuit filed this week against the investment firm Franklin Templeton, which terminated her employment a year ago after she was captured on a widely shared video in a tense encounter with a Black bird-watcher.
The lawsuit is the latest fallout from the May 2020 episode in Central Park, which touched off intense discussions about the history of white people making false, and sometimes life-threatening, accusations against Black people to the police.
The encounter, in the section of the park known as the Ramble, began with the bird-watcher, Christian Cooper, asking Ms. Cooper to leash her dog as park rules required. She refused, and Mr. Cooper said he would give the dog treats to draw the animal away from her. (Mr. Cooper and Ms. Cooper are not related.)
With Mr. Cooper recording their exchange on his phone, Ms. Cooper, clutching her dog tightly, called the police.
“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” she said to Mr. Cooper while she dialed, her tone growing more intense as she repeated, twice, to the operator, “African American.”
Within a day, Mr. Cooper’s video, which his sister shared on Twitter, had been viewed more than 30 million times. Franklin Templeton initially suspended Ms. Cooper, who was head of insurance portfolio management at the firm and had worked there about five years, before firing her.
Despite what the video shows, Ms. Cooper argues in her suit that she was not motivated by racial animus when she called the police on Mr. Cooper.
She says in the suit, which was filed in federal court in Manhattan, that she “did not shout at Christian Cooper or call the police from Central Park on May 25, 2020, because she was a racist — she did these things because she was alone in the park and frightened to death.” She goes on to say that Mr. Cooper had selected her as a “target” and describes him as “overzealous.”
And the suit argues that Franklin Templeton did not thoroughly investigate the situation because of Ms. Cooper’s own race and gender, effectively reaching its decision to terminate her because she is a white woman.
The suit also describes an earlier encounter between Mr. Cooper and another man, who is Black and who said Mr. Cooper had approached him aggressively about an off-leash dog.
“Ms. Cooper was judged and her life was destroyed without hearing her story,” said Andrea M. Paparella, a lawyer for Ms. Cooper.
The suit’s characterization of Mr. Cooper’s behavior appeared to be at odds with a statement Ms. Cooper posted online the day after the episode, apologizing to him “for my actions when I encountered him in Central Park yesterday.”
“I reacted emotionally and made false assumptions about his intentions when, in fact, I was the one who was acting inappropriately by not having my dog on a leash,” Ms. Cooper wrote in the statement.
Mr. Cooper, who has repeatedly said he does not believe that Ms. Cooper’s life should have been torn apart for her actions, declined to comment on her lawsuit.
A Franklin Templeton spokeswoman said in a statement that the company stood by its decision to fire Ms. Cooper.
“We believe the circumstances of the situation speak for themselves and that the company responded appropriately,” the spokeswoman, Stacey Coleman, said. “We will defend against these baseless claims.”
Damon T. Hewitt, the executive director of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that the civil rights arguments in Ms. Cooper’s suit seemed to him to be fairly meager. He expressed concern that the suit, and others like it, could weaken the cause of stronger cases.
“I think it’s frankly inappropriate to hijack civil rights statutes with these kinds of claims,” he said. “I’m not going to say a white person can never face discrimination. I would not say that. But in this instance, there just seems to be no claim at all.”
Another civil rights attorney, Richard D. Emery, agreed and said that the weakness of the civil rights claim was likely to doom the entire suit in federal court.
“They have not alleged any plausible facts that connect Templeton’s actions to race discrimination,” he said. “The only thing it does plausibly allege is that Templeton was reacting to what they perceived as a racist act on her part. But that doesn't mean that they’re racist in regard to her.”
The Manhattan district attorney’s office eventually charged Ms. Cooper with filing a false report, among the first instances of a white person in the United States being criminally charged for calling the police on a Black person.
After Mr. Cooper chose not to participate in the investigation — he said he thought Ms. Cooper had already paid a “steep price” — prosecutors asked that she participate in a series of counseling sessions before dismissing the charge.
The prosecutor overseeing the case, Joan Illuzzi-Orbon, said in court when the charge was dropped that Ms. Cooper had “learned a lot” in the sessions and that they had been “a moving experience” for her, according to Ms. Cooper’s therapist.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Ms. Cooper’s lawsuit.
Sarah Maslin Nir contributed reporting.
The administration says the country must pivot away from fossil fuels but backed a project set to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil each day for 30 years.
“In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install ‘chillers’ into the permafrost — which is fast melting because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to support the equipment to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.”
By Lisa Friedman, May 26, 2021
Nuiqsut, Alaska, a village near an oil drilling project that residents worry could affect caribou migration and air quality. Credit...Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post, via Getty Images
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is defending a huge Trump-era oil and gas project in the North Slope of Alaska designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, despite President Biden’s pledge to pivot the country away from fossil fuels.
The multibillion-dollar plan from ConocoPhillips to drill in part of the National Petroleum Reserve was approved by the Trump administration late last year. Environmental groups sued, arguing that the federal government failed to take into account the impact that drilling would have on fragile wildlife and that burning the oil would have on global warming.
The project, known as Willow, set up a choice for the Biden administration: decline to defend oil drilling and hinder a lucrative project that conflicts with its climate policy or support a federal decision backed by the state of Alaska, some tribal nations, unions and key officials, including Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican senator seen as a potential ally of the administration in an evenly split Senate.
On Wednesday, the administration filed a brief in U.S. District Court for Alaska, defending the Trump administration decision to greenlight the Willow project.
In a statement, the Interior Department said that the Trump administration decision complied with the environmental rules in place at the time and that the plaintiffs did not challenge the approval “within the time limitations associated with environmental review projects” for the National Petroleum Reserve.
The administration declined to explain how its position on the Willow project aligns with its climate change policies. But in its court filing, the government said the Trump administration adequately considered Willow’s impacts on fish, caribou and polar bear habitat. It also upheld the method used by the prior administration to account for the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the project.
“Conoco does have valid lease rights,” the filing states, noting that under law the company is entitled to develop its leases “subject to reasonable regulation.”
In a paradox worthy of Kafka, ConocoPhillips plans to install “chillers” into the permafrost — which is fast melting because of climate change — to keep it solid enough to support the equipment to drill for oil, the burning of which will continue to worsen ice melt.
Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Arctic ecosystems are in disarray, sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising and the ground is thawing.
A federal court halted construction in February while the case is pending. The court could ultimately still decide against the project, its critics said. But oil and gas industry officials and members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, some of whom personally appealed to President Biden this week, said they believed the administration’s support would help it proceed.
Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, called the project a “big, big deal for Alaska, a big deal in my view for America” when speaking with reporters earlier this week. He said he raised the Willow project directly with President Biden when he and other members of the Alaska delegation went to the White House on Monday for the signing of a tourism bill allowing cruise ships to visit Alaska.
“He said he’d look into it and get back to us,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters after that White House meeting.
The decision comes just days after the International Energy Agency, the world’s top energy body, warned that governments must stop investing in new fossil fuel projects if they want to keep the increase in average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold beyond which scientists say the Earth will experience irreversible damage.
It also stands in stark contrast to Mr. Biden’s pledge to cut United States emissions about in half by 2030, replace fossil fuels with solar, wind and other renewable energy and enhance protections for public lands and waters.
“This is especially disappointing coming from a president who promised to do better,” said Siqiñic Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic in Alaska.
Kristen Miller, acting director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said the burning of oil produced by the Willow project over its lifetime would create nearly 260 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions — about the equivalent of what is produced by 66 coal-fired power plants. But, she argued, the infrastructure also will lead to new oil and gas projects in the region.
“Not only does the project in itself have significant and long-lasting climate problems, it’s setting the stage for more emissions in the future,” Ms. Miller said.
Mr. Biden has taken significant steps to limit oil and gas development in the United States. One of his first acts as president was to temporarily freeze new oil and gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. He also placed a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is still in place.
The Willow project is in the northeastern portion of the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, an area the federal government set aside for oil and gas development. The initial discovery of oil in the Willow area was made by ConocoPhillips Alaska in 2017, and the company has said the project is expected to create more than 1,000 jobs during peak construction, and more than 400 permanent jobs.
In October, David Bernhardt, Mr. Trump’s secretary of the Interior Department, approved a plan for the company to drill up to three sites and build about 37 miles of gravel roads, at least one airstrip, 386 miles of pipelines and an oil processing facility to support that drilling.
Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, an environmental activist and a resident of the nearby village Nuiqsut, said she believed the project would divert the normal migration of caribou, hurting the community’s ability to feed families.
“It’s going to be very devastating for our way of life,” Ms. Ahtuangaruak said. And, she added, communities like hers are already suffering the consequences of air pollution from other oil and gas projects as well as the impacts of climate change.
An administration that has made climate action a priority needs “to stand up to their words, not cave to the pressures of industry,” she said.
Other Alaska Native groups, however, said they welcomed the jobs as well as the state and local revenue expected to be generated by the project. In an April letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, George Edwardson, president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, called oil drilling “critical to the economic survival of the eight Inupiat villages that call this region home” and said the Willow project had the group’s “strong support.”
“Alaska’s oil and gas industry provides much-needed jobs for our people, tax revenue to support our schools and health clinics, and support for basic public services,” he wrote.
By Jessica Corbett
—Common Dreams, May 28, 2021https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/05/28/julian-assanges-father-and-brother-announce-us-tour-demand-journalists-freedom?cd-
The father and brother of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are planning a nationwide tour of the United States next month to advocate for the release of the detained journalist and for the Biden administration to drop its extradition effort—and to highlight the broader implications that his prosecution has for global press freedom.
John and Gabriel Shipton, Assange's father and brother, will kick off the #HomeRun4Julian tour in Miami on June 6, then travel to over a dozen U.S. cities for the rest of the month, wrapping up in Washington, D.C. in July. Some events will be live-streamed, and the pair plans to meet with activists, journalists, and policymakers along the away.
"My brother Julian Assange has effectively been a prisoner for over a decade because he published evidence of war crimes," said Gabriel Shipton in a statement Thursday. "The U.S. government wants to make an example out of him to deter journalists and whistleblowers."
Assange has been held at Her Majesty's Prison Belmarsh in London for over two years, since he was forcibly dragged from the Ecuadorian Embassy in the city, where he had sought refuge in 2012. A British judge in January declined the Trump administration's request to extradite Assange to face charges of violating the Espionage Act, concluding he would be at extreme risk of suicide.
Since taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden has continued to ignore global calls to end the extradition effort and drop all charges. The Department of Justice formally appealed Judge Vanessa Baraitser's decision in February. Forty-nine-year-old Assange could face up to 175 years in a maximum-security prison if he is extradited to the United States.
"Gabriel and I are excited to talk to the American public on why protecting journalism and freeing Julian is so important to a free press," said John Shipton, who toured their home country of Australia this month to advocate for his son. "This issue is bigger than just Julian. Freedom of the press in America impacts every part of the world."
The U.S. tour is sponsored by the Courage Foundation, which was founded in 2013 as the Journalistic Source Protection Defense Fund. Assange is a trustee of the foundation, which supports whistleblowers and other truth-tellers—or "those who risk life or liberty to make significant contributions to the historical record."
"For the first time in American history, a journalist has been indicted for publishing truthful information in the public interest," Courage Foundation director Nathan Fuller said of Assange. "That's why press and human rights groups around the world are in agreement that this is an existential threat to investigative reporting."
Press freedom advocates last month marked the two-year anniversary of Assange's arrest by British police by reiterating demands that the Biden administration immediately drop all charges against him. Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, has also long advocated for Assange's release.
In a December 2020 open letter asking then-President Donald Trump to pardon Assange, Melzer wrote that "I can attest to the fact that his health has seriously deteriorated, to the point where his life is now in danger. Critically, Mr. Assange suffers from a documented respiratory condition which renders him extremely vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic that has recently broken out in the prison where he is being held."
Melzer and the mayor of Geneva are among dozens of people planning to join a June 4 event in the Swiss city to launch the "Geneva Call to Free Assange," which supporters are promoting online with the hashtag #GVA_FreeAssange.
"The 'AnythingToSay' statue dedicated to whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning as well as to Julian Assange will be installed at the same time on the Pâquis pier in front of the Geneva Jet d'eau," according to an event webpage. "The Association of Users of the Bains des Pâquis, initiator and organizer of the event, will also present an exhibition on whistleblowers."
By Steven Paulikas, Mr. Paulikas is an Episcopal priest, May 31, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/31/opinion/covid-new-york-state-prisons.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Witnessing unwarranted suffering is a solemn duty of the priesthood. But when one of my parishioners died of Covid-19 in a New York State prison, I felt the need to not only witness but to also tell the story he no longer can — the story of a prison system that failed to protect his life and the lives of so many others in its care, subjecting them to confusion, fear and even death.
This man committed a crime and was sentenced to two years in prison; he was not sentenced to death. But death is the penalty he received. I hope that my parishioner’s story will heighten the sense of urgency for a wholesale reform of New York’s prisons.
My parishioner, who was 68 at the time of his death, had built a stable life on a foundation of trauma born of an abusive upbringing. He was mild-mannered and slightly eccentric, and lived alone. He worked as a caretaker for the elderly, loved to travel and sang in the church choir. We had a running yet playful conflict in which I consistently rebuffed his requests to program the hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers” during the Sunday liturgy. I always had the impression that church was the family and the support structure he never had growing up and couldn’t build for himself as an adult, and I watched with affection as our faith community lovingly honored the sacred place the church had in his life.
But in 2016 he was convicted of a criminal sexual act involving a minor. News of his crime was a shock, his sister told me. I was equally confounded and disturbed, and I confess that I often found it difficult to foster pastoral empathy toward him, given the nature of his crime.
The sister and brother had immigrated separately from Belize to the United States 40 years ago and stayed in close touch even though she lived on the West Coast. (As his closest relative, she gave me permission to tell his story, but I’ve chosen not to use his name in order to protect those his crime affected.) When I attended his sentencing hearing in a Brooklyn courtroom, I watched as he was sent to prison with the 10 or so other men of color who came before the judge, while the one white man present received probation. In a state with an African American population of roughly 17 percent, my parishioner became part of the astounding nearly 50 percent of New York’s prison population that is Black.
Our regular letter correspondence during my parishioner’s incarceration kept me up-to-date on his life. Singing during religious services during his term gave him a weekly spiritual release, but mostly he felt frightened, alone and trapped in a system he feared he’d never escape. He arrived at Fishkill Correctional Facility in June 2019 after serving the bulk of his sentence in the St. Lawrence Valley. Fishkill, just outside the fashionable Hudson Valley town of Beacon, is a hulking fortress, parts of which opened in the early 1890s as the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In his first letter from the facility, he told me that his arthritis and diabetes made it hard for him to navigate the Victorian-era stairs. He wasn’t in the best of health in the outside world, and I could see a visible decline — a common occurrence for older incarcerated people — when I visited him shortly before his transfer to Fishkill.
As my parishioner’s parole date approached, the state offered to place him in what is essentially a homeless shelter in the Bronx for formerly incarcerated people. Strange as it may seem, he chose to remain in prison after he was eligible to leave, and I understood why. Our system lacks a viable “release valve” for people like him whose financial stability collapses while incarcerated and who don’t have an extended support system. Moving to a potentially dangerous place without adequate access to health care in an unfamiliar borough seemed foolhardy. His sister sent a notarized letter offering to house him, but her request was rejected because she lives in a different state.
His letters took on a tone of terror as soon as the pandemic hit. “The inmates do not go anywhere on the outside so it is the staff who is bringing the VIRUS,” he wrote, as if the existential threat it posed to him couldn’t be expressed with lowercase letters. That was his last letter to me, dated April 7, 2020.
At that point, the state was still tinkering with policies on individual issues like visitations, quarantining and social distancing, and had yet to develop a plan addressing all aspects of life in prison during a pandemic. Meanwhile, the virus began to spread in New York’s prisons. The state had dug graves for several incarcerated victims of the pandemic in the cemetery adjacent to the prison around the time he wrote the letter.
I received word my parishioner was dead on May 2. Another member of our church who used to speak with him weekly became concerned when he didn’t make his regular call. Since the pandemic’s start, he’d always tried to be the first in line at the phone, for fear of using the receiver after someone who was infected. A few days later, a hospital near Fishkill called her to report his death. She became emotional recently as we talked about the state’s handling of his case. “Life had no meaning for them,” she said of the prison officials.
No one outside the prison even knew he was sick.
I lived under the shadow of my parishioner’s death for almost a year, returning often to the sense of powerlessness he felt in trying to protect his own life. Eventually, I decided to look into the state’s Covid-19 prison response. What I’ve learned confirms the outrage and condemnation of watchdog groups, including the failing grade for Covid-19 response given to New York by the Prison Policy Initiative last June.
In the spring of 2020, when my parishioner died and while New York was reporting thousands of new cases daily statewide, it was already apparent that the state was unprepared to respond to the unfolding crisis in its prisons. In March that year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proudly announced the state’s own line of hand sanitizer, “made conveniently by the State of New York.” He failed to explain that the sanitizer was bottled in a state correctional facility by incarcerated people — at the same time that Covid-19 infections were skyrocketing in those places. The state didn’t actually mandate the availability of sanitizer in correctional facilities until the end of the month.
The close quarters of Fishkill’s congregate setting were a tinderbox for largely unmasked residents without adequate access to testing, but it wasn’t until mid-May — a week after my parishioner died — that the state reported it had completed distributing masks in its facilities. Advocacy groups say there wasn’t consistent access to masks even after that: Laurie Dick, who runs the grass-roots advocacy group Beacon Prison Action, told me that during a demonstration outside the prison around Thanksgiving, people inside opened windows and yelled that they needed masks. “I couldn’t believe that in November still they were struggling with masks,” she said.
After all this, the state largely withheld the single most important measure to save lives: the vaccine. The Health Department’s “phase one” vaccine eligibility list included residents of all state-run congregate living settings — except prisons. In March, Judge Alison Tuitt of the State Supreme Court in the Bronx ordered New York to offer vaccines to all incarcerated people, adding that their exclusion from access was “unfair and unjust.”
Who can we hold accountable for this failure to adequately protect New York State’s incarcerated people? I reached out to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which operates New York’s prisons, to ask who was in charge of the state’s Covid-19 prison policy. It provided me with extensive information, including this written statement: “From the onset of the Covid-19 health crisis, NYS DOCCS has worked around-the-clock with the governor’s office and multiple state agencies to ensure the protection of both the incarcerated population and our staff.” It is true that after the first peak of infections, DOCCS carried out Covid-19 mitigation measures, including the early release of almost 4,000 incarcerated people.
But the language of this statement is unclear about who ultimately calls the shots — DOCCS or Governor Cuomo. “If we don’t know who’s making the decisions, we don’t know who to engage,” said Stefen Short, a supervising lawyer at the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, which helped litigate the vaccine case against the state.
One thing I do know: For those with power over other people’s lives, bureaucracies that work in shadows are the ultimate “convenience,” to borrow Governor Cuomo’s word. What happens to the nearly two million people in our nation’s prison system demonstrates who we are as a people. When the state deprives people of their freedom, it also assumes responsibility for their safety. I don’t want to live in a society that is comfortable locking away so many of its members, yet treats their lives with indifference. I can no longer stand a status quo in which someone like my parishioner loses his life for no good reason.
I know that the reality of prison can seem remote and irrelevant to those who haven’t experienced it. It’s tempting to ignore what happens behind bars. But the only way for anything to change is for all of us to pay attention — and to let lawmakers know we’re paying attention.
There are immediate actions New York should take. First, DOCCS should ensure that its existing vaccination and other Covid-19 safety policies are administered uniformly across all 50 state facilities. The spotty quality of prison medical care infrastructure is a persistent complaint in the system; greater central control could ensure smoother vaccination and better care of the infected. “The state’s prison medical care infrastructure is structured in such a way that DOCCS central can’t really oversee all of it,” Mr. Short told me. “So much of the state’s prison system is run like 50 individual fiefdoms.”
Another issue that continues to gnaw at many in the prison reform community is the state’s official tally of Covid-19 infections and deaths. As of May 28, DOCCS reports only 35 confirmed deaths in a population of about 35,000 that suffered widespread exposure to the virus. Given that the governor’s administration has seriously undercounted Covid-19 deaths in state nursing homes, it is not unreasonable to demand that DOCCS submit to an independent audit of its statistics and reporting methods.
But these efforts would be just a Band-Aid on a festering wound. My parishioner was up against a system that disproportionately punishes his race, has little vision for returning people like him to society and ultimately failed to keep him alive. Our eye-for-an-eye system of justice mandates the suffering of those who the state has determined caused suffering to others. His death is a reminder that ultimately, the only way truly to end the cycle is to end the carceral state as we know it and replace it with more humane responses that actually seek to heal, rehabilitate and give some semblance of hope to both victim and perpetrator.
One proposed legislation package in New York, the “Justice Roadmap,” supports a range of legal, community and social reforms, including eliminating predatory court fees and raising the age of juvenile delinquency, to address the inequities that plague the criminal justice and prison systems. This is not just wishful thinking. The Senate proved it can lead on prison reform when it passed the HALT Act in March, limiting solitary confinement to 15 days. Senate leaders can use this momentum to learn what really happened in our prison system in the past year.
I’m speaking here as a citizen, but also as a Christian and a pastor. You certainly don’t need to be a person of faith to advocate prison reform. But those of us who do follow Jesus Christ would do well to remember that we worship a man who died an unjust death within a broken criminal justice system, just as my parishioner did.
By Viet Thanh Nguyen, May 31, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/31/opinion/asian-american-AAPI-decolonization.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
Illustration by The New York Times; Photographs, via Getty
One is not born an Asian American. It’s an identity that is inherently political, and must be chosen. Before college, I had never even heard of the term, but I vividly remember the moment that I became Asian American.
I had been raised in multicultural San Jose, Calif., during the late 1970s and 1980s, among Mexican Americans and working-class white people. My family and I were refugees from Vietnam and the war fought there, but all I knew of the history that had brought us and many of our neighbors to the United States was what Hollywood told me. It confused me and shamed me to see people who looked like my parents being reduced to wordless masses, condemned to be killed, raped, rescued or silenced.
When my parents talked about Americans, they meant other people, not us, but I felt American, as well as Vietnamese. My parents could use “Oriental” without self-consciousness, but I could not. Something struck me as wrong about that word, but I didn’t know what it was until I studied Asian American history and literature at the University of California, Berkeley. There I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans, the colonization of the Philippines, the annexation of Hawaii, the often forgotten presence of Korean and Indian immigrants in the early 20th century, the signs that said “No Dogs or Filipinos Allowed,” and the experiences of Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laotian and Hmong people during and after the Indochina wars.
That’s when I became Asian American. And the overwhelming emotion that I felt on learning this history was rage. Muhammad Ali said that “writing is fighting” — and I wanted to write and fight, especially after I discovered that Asian Americans had been writing and fighting in English since the late 19th century: the sisters Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, Carlos Bulosan, John Okada, Frank Chin, Maxine Hong Kingston and many more.
I hadn’t learned about them before because racism isolates us, disempowers us, and erases our history. One solution is to find others and discover strength in our stories and our numbers. In high school, my Asian friends and I jokingly called ourselves “the Asian invasion” because that was all the language we had. In college, I joined the Asian American Political Alliance. There I learned that the term “Asian American” had been invented in California by Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee when they formed the group in 1968.
“Asian American” was a creation — and those who say that there are no “Asians” in Asia are right. But neither is there an “Orient” or “Orientals” — those fantastic figments of the Western imagination, as Edward Said argued. Against this racist and sexist fiction of the Oriental, we built the anti-racist, anti-sexist fiction of the Asian American. We willed ourselves into being, but as with every other act of American self-conjuring, we became marked by a contradiction between American aspiration and American reality.
On the one hand, Asian Americans have long insisted that we are patriotic and productive Americans. This self-defense often leans upon the “model minority” myth, and the idea that Asian Americans have succeeded in fields such as medicine and technology because we immigrated with educational credentials, and we raise our children to work hard. But Asian Americans are also haunting reminders of wars that killed millions and generated many refugees. And Asian Americans have come to satisfy the American need for cheap, exploitable labor — from working on railroads to giving pedicures. We were and are perceived to be competitors in a capitalist economy fractured by divisions of race, gender and class, and the ever-widening gap of inequality that affects all Americans.
These roles that we play, and the contradictions they represent, aren’t going anywhere. So long as the United States remains committed to aggressive capitalism domestically and aggressive militarism internationally, Asians and Asian Americans will continue to be scapegoats who embody threat and aspiration, an inhuman “yellow peril,” and a superhuman model minority.
No claim to American belonging will end the vulnerability of Asian Americans to racism and cyclical convulsions of violence. And what does it even mean to claim belonging in the United States? If we belong to this country, then this country belongs to us, every part of it, including its systemic anti-Black racism and its colonization of Indigenous peoples and land. Like wave after wave of newcomers to this country before, Asian immigrants and refugees learned that absorbing and repeating anti-Black racism helps in the assimilation process. And like the European settlers, Asian immigrants and refugees aspire to the American dream, whose narrative of self-reliance, success and property accumulation is built upon the theft of land from Indigenous peoples.
“Asian American” has now morphed into a newer fiction: the “Asian American and Pacific Islander” community, or A.A.P.I. But again, there are contradictions inherent to this identity. Pacific Islanders — Hawaiians, Samoans, the Chamorro of Guam — have been and remain colonized by the United States, with Hawaii and Guam serving as major American military bases that project power in the Pacific and Asia. “A.A.P.I.” is a staple of the lofty rhetoric and pragmatic corporate language of diversity and inclusion, but it also tends to gloss over the United States’ long history of violence and conquest. It’s not only railroads and internment that are central to A.A.P.I. experience; so is the colonization of Hawaii, masked by the tourist fantasy of an island paradise.
Now we applaud the success stories of Asian American billionaires, politicians, movie stars, and “influencers,” and the popularity of our cultural commodities, from boba to BTS. We raise each other up through networking — in the hope that embracing global capitalism, the idea of meritocracy and corporate culture will make us belong in the United States. But belonging will only get us so far, for belonging always involves exclusion.
We should look to other ideals: solidarity, unity and decolonization. Colonization and racism divide and conquer, telling the subjugated that they have nothing in common. That’s why unity is crucial, and a broader unity can grow from the solidarity we have expressed with one another as Asian Americans, the force that pulled together such disparate peoples and experiences. That will to find kinship can be the basis for further solidarities — with everyone else shaped by colonization’s global impact, its genocide and slavery, racism and capitalism, patriarchy and heteronormativity.
This is the only way that an Asian American-Pacific Islander coalition makes sense — pointing the way toward alliances with other groups, from Black Americans to Muslims, Latinos to L.G.B.T.Q. people. Asian Americans are one political identity among the many that must come together for decolonization.
By Adam Frank, May 30, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/30/opinion/ufo-sightings-report.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
This month the TV news program “60 Minutes” ran a segment on recent sightings by Navy pilots of unidentified flying objects. The pilots’ accounts were bolstered by videos recorded by cameras onboard their planes that captured what the government now calls “unidentified aerial phenomena.”
In the wake of these enigmatic encounters, people are asking me what I think about U.F.O.s and aliens. They’re asking because I’m an astrophysicist who is involved in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. My colleagues and I were recently awarded one of the first NASA grants to look for signs of advanced technology on planets outside our solar system. (I’ve argued in these pages that the 10 billion trillion habitable planets that we now believe exist in the universe make extraterrestrial civilizations far more likely.)
I understand that U.F.O. sightings, which date back at least to 1947, are synonymous in the popular imagination with evidence of extraterrestrials. But scientifically speaking, there is little to warrant that connection. There are excellent reasons to search for extraterrestrial life, but there are equally excellent reasons not to conclude that we have found evidence of it with U.F.O. sightings.
Let’s start with the Navy cases. Some of the pilots have told of seeing flying objects shaped like Tic Tacs or other unusual forms. The recordings from the planes’ cameras show amorphous shapes moving in surprising ways, including appearing to skim the ocean’s surface and then disappear beneath it. This might appear to be evidence of extraterrestrial technology that can defy the laws of physics as we understand them — but in reality it doesn’t amount to much.
For one thing, first-person accounts, which are notoriously inaccurate to begin with, don’t provide enough information for an empirical investigation. Scientists can’t accurately gauge distances or velocity from a pilot’s testimony: “It looked close” or “It was moving really fast” is too vague. What a scientist needs are precise measurements from multiple viewpoints provided by devices that register various wavelengths (visual, infrared, radar). That kind of data might tell us if an object’s motion required engines or materials that we Earthlings don’t possess.
Perhaps the videos offer that kind of data? Sadly, no. While some researchers have used the footage to make simple estimates of the accelerations and other flight characteristics of the U.F.O.s, the results have been mixed at best. Skeptics have already shown that some of the motions seen in the videos (like the ocean skimming) may be artifacts of the cameras’ optics and tracking systems.
There are also common-sense objections. If we are being frequently visited by aliens, why don’t they just land on the White House lawn and announce themselves? There is a recurring narrative, perhaps best exemplified by the TV show “The X-Files,” that these creatures have some mysterious reason to remain hidden from us. But if the mission of these aliens calls for stealth, they seem surprisingly incompetent. You would think that creatures technologically capable of traversing the mind-boggling distances between the stars would also know how to turn off their high beams at night and to elude our primitive infrared cameras.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ll read with great interest the U.S. intelligence report about U.F.O.s that is scheduled to be delivered to Congress in June; I believe that U.F.O. phenomena should be investigated using the best tools of science and with complete transparency.
But there may be more prosaic explanations. For example, it’s possible that U.F.O.s are drones deployed by rivals like Russia and China to examine our defenses — luring our pilots into turning on their radar and other detectors, thus revealing our electronic intelligence capacities. (The United States once used a similar strategy to test the sensitivities of Soviet radar systems.) This hypothesis might sound far-fetched, but it is less extreme than positing a visit from extraterrestrials.
What’s most frustrating about the U.F.O.s story is that it obscures the fact that scientists like me and my colleagues are on the threshold of gathering data that may be relevant to the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. But this evidence involves subtle findings about phenomena far away in the galaxy — not sensational findings just a few miles away in our own atmosphere.
Powerful telescopes that will soon be operational may be capable of detecting city lights on the night side of planets that orbit distant stars or the telltale mark of reflected light from planet-wide solar-collecting arrays or the distinctive sign of industrial chemicals in a planet’s atmosphere. All of these “technosignatures,” should we find evidence of them, will be small effects. If we do detect such things, you better believe that my colleagues and I will go to extraordinary lengths to eliminate every possible source of error and every possible alternative explanation. This will take time and careful effort.
The work of science, though ultimately exciting, is mostly painstakingly methodical and boring. But that is the price we pay because we don’t just want to believe. We want to know.
Dr. Frank is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Rochester. He and his colleagues were recently awarded a NASA grant to study signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
By Peter Hepburn, June 2, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/02/opinion/eviction-moratorium-biden-covid.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
A federal judge last month struck down the eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though the judge stayed her decision pending appeal, the ruling is a harbinger of the inevitable: the end of the federal eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on June 30. With millions of tenants behind on rent and emergency rental assistance only now beginning to be disbursed, few states are ready for this eventuality.
According to the Covid-19 Housing Policy Scorecard — which is run by the Eviction Lab at Princeton where I work — only two states, Minnesota and Washington, afford renters strong pandemic-related protections, defined as freezing the eviction process in most or all cases. Thirty-nine states have few, if any, protections. No state that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 is still offering meaningful protections to renters.
The C.D.C. moratorium, which has now been in place for nine months, limits landlords’ ability to evict tenants who fall under certain income thresholds or are unable to pay rent because of a medical or economic hardship. Tenants must attest — and often prove under cross-examination in court — that they have made good-faith efforts to get rental assistance and have nowhere to go if evicted.
In anticipation of the end of federal renter protections, progressive housing activists persuaded lawmakers to make a robust investment in emergency rental assistance. Congress appropriated $25 billion in the Consolidated Appropriations Act in December and an additional $21.55 billion in the American Rescue Plan in March. These funds are intended to help renters catch up on back rent and to support landlords struggling to make mortgage and utility payments because of missed rent.
This aid, however, won’t be equally available everywhere. Congress allocated assistance on the basis of state population, without taking into account differences in the number of renter households, variation in the cost of rent, or the extent of pandemic-related hardship.
The legislation also mandated a minimum payment to smaller states. The result is that far more assistance will be available to renters in smaller, rural states than in larger, urban states — those that, in many cases, were hardest hit by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan included discretionary funds for “high-needs grantees,” but they do not come close to providing equal resources to renters.
If you were to divide the maximum aid allocated to the states by the number of occupied rental units, each renter household in New York would get $766, compared to $5,167 in Wyoming. Based on median rent data from the American Community Survey, that would cover roughly half a month’s rent in New York, but six months in Wyoming.
Some funds were also allocated directly to large cities and counties, but at a lower rate. For example, New York City directly received only $645 million in rental assistance — just a quarter of the $2.6 billion allocated to New York despite the city’s being home to nearly two-thirds of the state’s renting households. Decisions about the distribution of state funds will vary across the country in ways that could shortchange renters in dense urban centers.
Ideally, better-funded states will use this aid to ensure that all rental debt is paid down and to institute eviction diversion, right to counsel, and housing counseling programs. If they don’t pursue such strategies, or if excess funds remain, the American Rescue Plan allows for the reallocation of unused aid. Money that Alaska isn’t able to use could, in theory, be sent to California. But that reallocation won’t happen until October at the earliest, well after many renters have been evicted.
When the C.D.C. moratorium ends, renters in large Republican-leaning states are likely to be hit the hardest. Renters in New York, California and Nevada get much less in emergency aid, but still have meaningful state-level protection. Places like Montana and South Dakota have few renter protections, but they have ample assistance available. By contrast, in places like Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Texas, renters will be receiving little in rental assistance and have few protections available.
Cities have interpreted the C.D.C. eviction moratorium in a wide variety of ways. Notably, the moratorium still allows landlords to file eviction cases for reasons other than failure to pay rent. The records of these cases — even those that do not eventually lead to an eviction — trail tenants, tarnish their credit, and limit their ability to find housing later. Across sites monitored by the Eviction Tracking System, more than 255,300 eviction cases have been filed since the C.D.C. moratorium went into effect — 54 percent less than normal over the same period in a typical year, but still troubling.
When the moratorium ends, renters’ rights will revert to the strict prepandemic status quo. Last spring, states put in place a range of moratoriums and renter protections. In mid-May 2020, nearly a quarter of renters lived in a state with a strong moratorium. But state governments largely abandoned these policies by the end of last summer.
So in the short term, maintaining the C.D.C. moratorium is affording critical time for rental assistance to reach tenants and landlords. While the initial $25 billion in assistance was provided to states and cities in late January, it has taken time for officials arrange how to distribute funds.
Overly burdensome application procedures delayed this process, but the Biden administration recently announced changes that should significantly improve the pace of distribution. Assistance is now available in most places and aid is being distributed more quickly, though not without problems.
What’s most encouraging is that policymakers are now more seriously exploring longer-term options to support renters. The pandemic has inspired attempts to expand the right to legal counsel in eviction cases, to establish eviction diversion programs, to seal records in eviction cases and to increase the cost for landlords of filing eviction cases. These efforts signal a potentially larger shift in renter protections and a rethinking of how eviction should — and should not — be used.
Mr. Hepburn, an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Newark, runs the Eviction Tracking System at the Eviction Lab.
By Daniel Alpert, June 1, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/01/opinion/labor-shortage-jobs-biden-covid.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage
The hopes for a booming pandemic recovery — growth led by jobs gains in the millions every month — were dealt a blow in recent weeks by a disappointing April jobs report. Perhaps we will see better when results for May are released this week, on Friday. But, for weeks, many in Democratic policy and political circles have been queasy about addressing the connection between federally supplemented unemployment insurance benefits and the slowing pace of re-employment at this stage of the recovery from the pandemic. There is almost certainly a common sense connection: If you were a low-wage worker, why aggressively attempt to go back to work at a lousy, low-paying job, when you can make more money collecting unemployment benefits.
Still, Republican politicians are getting it wrong too. They are citing countless news reports that businesses are struggling to fill certain positions as both a reason to end federal unemployment benefits and as evidence that the extra benefits were too generous in the first place. They worry that the ability of some workers to stay on the sidelines of the labor market, unless employers offer wages that trump jobless benefits, could result in dangerous “wage inflation” — a potential increase in labor costs that, they believe, consumers will pay for in the form of higher priced goods and services.
That argument simply does not hold water either: Over the coming weeks and months as this aid for the jobless phases out, there will be a flood of anxious job seekers pouring into labor markets. Even if a significant share of workers are temporarily avoiding taking low-paying jobs while benefits remain generous, then there is no true “labor shortage,” as many economists and market commentators are calling it.
When Congress passed the CARES Act last May and the American Rescue Plan Act this March, it was hard, even impossible, for policymakers to forecast the demand for labor or the pace of the economic recovery. The pandemic was still stubbornly lurking. The economic (and humanitarian) risk of doing too little far exceeded the risk of being generous. And in spite of some recent comments from Democrats facing political pressure, the entire point of the enhanced unemployment checks, at least originally, was to tide Americans over until it was safe for more people to work again.
Now enhanced benefits are ending every day for the millions of Americans who have benefited from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program, which extends unemployment insurance for 13 weeks to those who exhausted their conventional state and federal unemployment benefits. All extra federal supplements for the unemployed will end on Sept. 6, including the general $300 weekly benefit, as well as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, which provides aid to those who were self-employed. (Some states are in the process of cutting them early.)
Republican-controlled states, as well as some more politically mixed states, are doing this because they presume there is a macroeconomic upside to millions of workers returning to lower-income jobs. They shouldn’t be so sure.
In the aggregate, during the week that ended on May 1, the unemployed were still receiving almost $10 billion in federal transfers per week — that’s money being directly injected into local economies. Shutting off that pipeline means the economy at large could experience one of two adverse outcomes: Either there won’t be enough jobs for the people eventually looking for work because so many businesses closed during the pandemic, or the jobs left over will be, frankly, lousier jobs. This latter possibility would leave a large share of Americans underemployed, which would cause a wide reduction in household income among the country’s less wealthy half.
Neither the financial markets, nor most policymakers, seem to expect a contraction in household incomes this autumn. But the probability is likelier than they think. Just imagine seeing millions of new jobs added over the next few months and unemployment falling, all accompanied by a decline in household spending by workers who are then only able to access the low-wage, low-hours jobs they had before the pandemic. As with much else during the pandemic recession, the pain and the recovery are uneven.
The majority of the jobs that aren’t back to prepandemic work force levels are very low-income jobs; they are what the U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index, which I cocreated, calls low-quality jobs. Through March of this year, most of the private sector jobs eliminated during the pandemic that haven’t been restored are production and “nonsupervisory” jobs that offered weekly pay averaging less than $750 prepandemic. There are more than 45 million low-paying jobs like these, constituting roughly 43 percent of all production and nonsupervisory jobs in the country. This is not about a mere, unfortunate corner of the jobs market.
Twenty-three million of these jobs paid under $500 per week prepandemic: That’s $26,000 per year. Not only are the wages low: Many of these jobs offer well below 30 hours of work per week.
For those wondering about the connection between these employment and compensation numbers and the broader partisan debate about unemployment insurance, here’s the rub: When you add normal state unemployment benefits and the federal supplements together, $750 per week from the government is a fairly typical benefit for an unemployed American. (Some states go lower, others higher.) And it is safe to assume that someone getting $750 per week for not working is not eagerly jumping up to go back to work for potentially hundreds of dollars a week less.
The chronic problem we face as we put Covid-19 in the rearview mirror is that the U.S. economy before the pandemic was incredibly dependent on an abundance of low-wage, low-hours jobs. It was a combo that yielded low prices for comfortably middle-class and wealthier customers and low labor costs for bosses, but spectacularly low incomes for tens of millions of others. This dynamic was first brought into stark relief by the discourse about “essential workers” during the worst of the pandemic. Now it will be highlighted by the frustrating, unequal outcomes of this Great Reopening.
If, in this summer interim, the remaining federal benefits for those without jobs pressures some employers to increase wages and offer more full-time hours to their employees, then that is all to the good for them and the sturdiness of our economy. The good news for workers is that wages tend to be “sticky” and hard to reverse. Sadly, employers are aware of this too, and many are offering signing bonuses and other perks instead of increasing wages.
Some progressives may take me to task for admitting that emergency unemployment benefits, which served many so well, are now keeping some people from returning to their lousy, pre-crisis work. But why, as a former Obama administration economist pointed out, fight common sense or parse the data for more complex explanations? Instead, why not absorb the lesson being taught?
It’s pretty simple and one that, normally, progressives fight to have heard: businesses are paying tens of millions of workers too little money relative to the cost of living in this country.
Mr. Alpert is a senior fellow in macroeconomics and finance at Cornell Law School. He is the founding managing partner of Westwood Capital and the author of “The Age of Oversupply: Overcoming the Greatest Challenge to the Global Economy.”
“Science doesn’t support prosecution of second graders,” one lawyer said. Still, in New York, children as young as 7 can be charged with a crime.
"Earlier this year in North Carolina, a 6-year-old boy was arrested and taken to court after he picked a tulip while waiting at a bus stop, according to a report in the Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C. ...Juvenile arrests are also often carried out inequitably along racial lines: In 2019, over 90 percent of children age 7 to 11 arrested in New York City were Black or Hispanic, according to data provided by Legal Aid, though those groups make up just 57 percent of the city’s population of children."
By Sarah Maslin Nir, June 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/nyregion/rape-arrest-7-year-old-boy.html?action=click&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-engagement-time-
At the forested edge of the Canadian border this spring, state police arrested a person from the hamlet of Brasher Falls, N.Y., population about 1,000. He was charged with rape.
The pain of such crimes often tears small towns apart without rippling beyond their borders. But following the March 23 arrest, news of the arrest ricocheted far beyond the hamlet.
The resident charged with rape was a 7-year-old boy.
Little is known about the circumstances of the arrest, the specifics of the allegations or the case’s disposition. The records of cases involving children are kept private. But in New York, the arrest reignited a discussion about how the justice system deals with so-called juvenile delinquents — children between the ages of 7 and 18 whose cases are heard in family court.
Judges, juvenile justice experts and lawyers who have handled such cases from both sides of the courtroom say arrests traumatize children, ensnare them in the legal system and increase their chance of recidivism. Young children are almost never charged as adults. But arresting and charging them at all, those who study the issue say, ignores the science of brain development and in an attempt to seek justice often achieves the opposite result.
“What we know now is that the science doesn’t support prosecution of second graders,” said Dawne Mitchell, who leads the Legal Aid Society’s juvenile rights practice. Citing cognitive science that shows such young children lack true awareness of the consequences of their actions, and that emphasizes the psychological trauma of being cuffed and prosecuted, Ms. Mitchell is one of a growing number of experts across the country urging states to raise their age minimums.
The incident in Brasher Falls last November, and a video of police handcuffing and pepper spraying a 9-year-old girl in Rochester in the back of a police car in January, have renewed focus on a bill that has continued to work its way through New York’s State Legislature. It would raise the minimum age at which a child may be charged as a juvenile delinquent in family court to 12 from 7 (except for homicide offenses) and divert cases involving younger children to social and other services.
The push follows a similar movement to raise the age at which people can be criminally responsible as adults. In 2019, New York State completed a phase-in that raised the age at which teenagers can be charged as adults for misdemeanors and most felonies from 16 to 18 years old.
The attempt to raise what is known as the age of delinquency has moved more slowly.
Despite apparent broad agreement — including a 2018 call by the United Nations for countries to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 — there has been little legislative traction. That is in part because there are relatively few criminal cases brought against small children, said N. Nick Perry, a New York State assemblyman from Brooklyn who co-signed the legislation that was first introduced in 2018.
“There are not a lot of 7-year-olds who are getting snagged in some egregious criminal charge,” said Mr. Perry, who expects the law to pass this legislative session. “If something egregious does not draw the attention to the need to update or change the law, it will hang around, as improper as it is.”
But other states have begun to make changes to their laws: In 2018, Massachusetts raised its minimum age from 7 to 12. California and Utah also set 12 as the minimum age. Recently, Mississippi enacted a law raising its age at which children can be committed to juvenile facilities from 10 to 12. Similar legislation is being considered in over half a dozen states.
Still, more than half of American states have no minimum age at all. Of those that do, only North Carolina, at age 6, has a lower minimum than New York.
Earlier this year in North Carolina, a 6-year-old boy was arrested and taken to court after he picked a tulip while waiting at a bus stop, according to a report in the Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C.
The case was dismissed but set off a furor. “Should a child that believes in Santa Claus, the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy be making life-altering decisions?” J. H. Corpening, the Chief District Court judge of New Hanover County, asked, expressing his belief that such young children are unaware of the consequences behavior that could be considered criminal. North Carolina is also considering a change to its law.
The proposal in New York to direct children younger than 12 who are accused of serious crimes to social service agencies would in a sense codify what experts say often occurs already.
Across New York State in 2019, for example, of the hundreds of children 12 and younger who were arrested, just 121 cases went through Family Court proceedings, according to records obtained by the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, the New York office of the national policy advocacy group.
Juvenile arrests are also often carried out inequitably along racial lines: In 2019, over 90 percent of children age 7 to 11 arrested in New York City were Black or Hispanic, according to data provided by Legal Aid, though those groups make up just 57 percent of the city’s population of children.
White children, experts say, are more likely to be sent to therapists or returned to their parents for the same behavior for which Black children are arrested, a pattern reflected nationwide.
There appears to be little, if any, organized opposition to raising the age of delinquency. But those who resist say doing so would hamstring the legal system, according to Jeffrey A. Butts, the director of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center. In rare cases involving a particularly dangerous child, he said, incarceration may prevent them from being a risk to others.
“You’ll always have these cases where you just don’t have the right resources,” Dr. Butts said. “Any red line set by law is a compromise that basically acknowledges we don’t have a legal system that is capable of making complex decisions.”
Many who study juvenile justice say young offenders are often the victims of abuse themselves. As a small child, the rage Charles A. Rice felt over the physical and sexual abuse he said he suffered at home came out at school in violent bursts.
Then one afternoon, while building a wire sculpture in fifth grade art class at his elementary school in Syracuse, N.Y., he scuffled with a classmate. His teacher intervened, and Charles grabbed one of his art supplies — an X-acto knife — and slashed him. Mr. Rice, who is Black, was arrested.
He spent eight months in a juvenile detention center. Mr. Rice, now 31 and an advocate for at-risk youth, believes that if he had been white, he would have been offered therapy. “It was the criminalization of my childhood,” he said. “My behavior was crying for help — not handcuffs.”
In Massachusetts, in the three years since the new law took effect, there has been no uptick in criminal activity by children, according to Sana Fadel, the deputy director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, even as the juvenile court system’s caseload has dropped by 40 percent. Rather, children are being handled via supportive programs that focus on delivering social services, she said.
“The legal system is probably a hundred years behind, because the usual test is, ‘Do you understand that this is right and this is wrong?’” said Jane Tewksbury, who worked in Massachusetts as a prosecutor and later served as commissioner of the state’s youth services department. “A 4-year-old could say that, but that doesn’t mean if they stabbed somebody with a pencil that they actually know what’s happening.”
Court proceedings can also be incomprehensible for small children. When Debbie Freitas, a lawyer based in Lowell, Mass., brought an 8-year-old client before a magistrate in 2018 for bringing a butter knife to school, the child exclaimed: “‘Oh, wow, are we going to see the president?’” Ms. Freitas recalled. “They are so young they do not understand the very basics of what is going on.”
News of the arrest in Brasher Falls stunned residents, said Mark A. Peets, the supervisor of the Town of Brasher. “You can’t fathom a 7-year-old being arrested; you watch all these ‘true crimes’ on TV, and you just never think of a 7-year-old,” he said.
But alongside the collective grief for the victim, he said, is a sense that such a young perpetrator too must need help.
“There is right and wrong, but there has got to be some sort of social service protocol,” Mr. Peets said, “some sort of way to handle this without him being treated almost like an adult.”
A new book enters that category known as “fashion horror stories.” Something to consider before you shop.
By Vanessa Friedman, June 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/style/jeans-fashion-sustainability-.html?action=click&algo=bandit-all-surfaces-engagement-time-bandit-all-surfaces-engagement-time-cutoff
Denim has a life long after it leaves our closets. Credit...Leslie-Ann Smith/EyeEm, via Getty Images
Early on in “Unraveled,” a new book about the dark underbelly of fashion, the author, Maxine Bédat, describes walking through a factory in Guangdong, China, that specializes in acid-washing jeans, picking her way over dark puddles of “iridescent, bubbling content” that had spilled from industrial washing machines and was sloshing around on the floor.
This is a hundred pages or so before she is warned not to wear makeup to a landfill in Kpone, an area in Ghana where 2.8 million items of castoff clothing are added per week, because “the chemicals in the landfill would make mascara congeal on my eyelashes.”
The book is the latest entry in a growing genre of nonfiction: the consumption horror story. It’s as scary as any adult tale Roald Dahl ever wrote. (Indeed, if he were alive today, he might well imagine a fashionista who got swallowed by a mountain of discarded finery.)
But as we prepare for the re-emergence, and how and where we shop once again becomes a topic of conversation, is it scary enough?
Subtitled “The Life and Death of a Garment,” “Unraveled” purports to trace the story of a pair of jeans from the farm where the cotton is grown through its spinning, dyeing, cutting, sewing, shipping and, ultimately, disposal.
It’s a journey that, according to Ms. Bédat, crisscrosses the world from America to Asia and back again before ending in Africa, and involves side trips into advocacy, the history of labor unions, marketing psychology and economic policy.
Really, though, “jeans” are more of a symbol in the book. The author doesn’t actually deconstruct the life of, say, your 501s, but rather uses denim as a quasi-synonym for “piece of clothing most people own” and a tool to illustrate how surprisingly hard it is to answer the seemingly innocuous questions: Where and how are my clothes made? How do they get to me? What happens when I’m done with them? Not to mention the pretty awful reality of the response when it finally comes.
In this, it joins Lucy Siegle’s “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?,” Elizabeth Cline’s “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion” and, most recently, Dana Thomas’s “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes” (along with documentaries like “The True Cost”).
All of which illuminate the damage being done to both humans and the environment by the ever-churning cycle of cheap shirts and skirts and slip dresses; the growing addiction to the promise of different and better embodied by an outfit fresh from the box; and the tendency to toss the old in the trash. Or the donation bin.
Yet at this point, it’s not really news to anyone that fashion is a major contributor to climate change. For years one of the biggest pieces of online news was the data point (now largely disavowed yet somehow still being parroted by many) that fashion was the second greatest polluter on the planet.
Ever since the Rana Plaza garment district disaster in 2013, there has been increased scrutiny on the exploitation of cheap labor by global fashion brands. Over the same period, brands both high and mass have become fluent in (and florid with) the language of sustainability, each vying to be more carbon neutral than the next.
And that was before the pandemic, which caused the fashion world to go into free fall. Stores were closed, ateliers darkened, fabric mills shuttered, orders for fall clothes canceled and spring shipments turned away at department store loading bays. With so much tragedy and fear in the world, with people hunkered down in their homes, clothes were the absolute least of the matter.
At the same time, stories leaked about garment workers in faraway countries in desperate straits as the losses were passed down the supply chain.
Predictions were made that this was finally the moment the industry would grapple with the system it had created; that a reset was on the way. Designers and retailers and editors convened. Maybe, they said, this is our wake-up call. We couldn’t change our patterns of overproduction and overconsumption and markdowns and waste, so nature has changed them for us. Maybe we should seize the day and reboot the system in a more rational way.
There were calls for President Biden to install a fashion czar to corral the industry. (So far, that has come to naught.) High-end designers began to discuss the joys of upcycling and using their own dead stock. Much was made of the booming resale market and Gen Z’s migration to used clothes and away from fast fashion.
These days, however, all anyone can talk about is the Great Unmasking, when we will all be partying like it’s 1921 and dressing for it. The brief hubbub about reforming sales and seasons has gone quiet. All that pent-up social energy is also, apparently, potential shopping energy. How it is wielded will determine whether any of this really sticks.
Because now, much in the way a sale price tag can seduce us into thinking we should buy a garment we might otherwise pass up, the fact that a dress is made from, say, recycled polyester or orange peel has become part of its allure.
Just as the opportunity to recycle an old garment becomes part of the rationale for replacing it, because in doing so you will not be adding to your closet — even though, as Ms. Bédat makes clear, you will still be adding to the volume of clothes in the world, which adds to the problem. Personal math and public math don’t always equate.
And one of the unforeseen, ironic results of the genuinely valuable conversation and consciousness raising that books like “Unraveled” have spurred is that sustainability itself has been transformed into a selling point.
That may be the most horrifying development of all.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter was speaking at an American Legion service in Hudson, Ohio, on Monday when he was intentionally silenced.
By Neil Vigdor, June 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/us/american-legion-ohio-mic-cut-speech.html?action=click&module=In%20Other%20News&pgtype=Homepage
A little more than four minutes into Barnard Kemter’s speech at a Memorial Day service organized by the American Legion post in Hudson, Ohio, an unusual thing happened: His microphone was silenced.
Mr. Kemter, 77, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who served in the Persian Gulf war, had been crediting formerly enslaved Black Americans with being among the first to pay tribute to the nation’s fallen soldiers after the Civil War when his audio cut out on Monday.
Soon after, he said in an interview on Thursday, he learned that he had been intentionally muted by the event’s organizers, who disapproved of his message.
Now, the head of the American Legion of Ohio is seeking the resignation of two of the event’s organizers, and the organization has opened an investigation into the matter.
“Like anyone else, I figured it was a technical difficulty,” said Mr. Kemter, who tapped the microphone to see if it was on and continued his speech to a few hundred people with his unamplified voice.
The two organizers who have been called upon to resign, Cindy Suchan-Rothgery and James Garrison, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
But in an interview this week with The Akron Beacon Journal, Ms. Suchan-Rothgery acknowledged that she or Mr. Garrison — she did not specify — had turned off Mr. Kemter’s microphone for two minutes. She told the newspaper that Mr. Kemter’s narrative “was not relevant to our program for the day” and that the “theme of the day was honoring Hudson veterans.”
The episode swiftly drew international attention to the solemn observance in Hudson, a town of some 22,000 people about 15 miles north of Akron, Ohio, at a time of reckoning in the country over racial injustice.
Until that moment, the service had resembled countless others that take place every Memorial Day. There was the playing of taps, the reading of the names of local armed forces members who died while serving the nation and the placement of wreaths.
The American Legion of Ohio said on Twitter on Thursday that the group’s commander, Roger Friend, had requested the resignations of Ms. Suchan-Rothgery and Mr. Garrison. It also noted that it had opened an investigation.
Mr. Friend said in an email on Thursday night that he would not be commenting further until that investigation was concluded.
In a statement issued on Thursday on Twitter, James W. Oxford, the national commander of the American Legion, saluted Mr. Kemter for his efforts to highlight the “important role played by Black Americans in honoring our fallen heroes.”
“We regret any actions taken that detracts from this important message,” Mr. Oxford said. “Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, the national headquarters is very clear that The American Legion deplores racism and reveres the Constitution.”
Mr. Kemter, who grew up in Hudson and had been invited by the local American Legion post to speak at the event, said he had researched his 11-minute speech and practiced it several times.
As a courtesy to the event’s organizers, he said, he sent a copy of his speech to Ms. Suchan-Rothgery three days before the service. On Sunday, he said, she replied.
“She just said she wanted changes made,” said Mr. Kemter, who lives in Pataskala, Ohio, which is more than two hours from Hudson.
Mr. Kemter said that Ms. Suchan-Rothgery had forgotten to save her notations on the word processing document that he had sent to her, so he just went ahead with his speech on Memorial Day.
“I did not have time to rewrite a speech,” he said.
As he took the microphone, Mr. Kemter mentioned his roots in Hudson and said that Memorial Day was a “day of solemn contemplation over the cost of our freedoms.” He said the observance had been born out of necessity when the nation was faced with the task of burying 600,000 to 800,000 Civil War dead.
“Memorial Day was first commemorated by an organized group of Black freed slaves less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered,” he said on Monday, citing research by David W. Blight, a Yale University history professor.
On May 1, 1865, Mr. Kemter said, a large group of formerly enslaved people organized a tribute to Union soldiers who had died at what had been a Confederate prisoner of war camp in Charleston, S.C.
“The ceremony is believed to have included a parade of as many as 10,000 people, including 3,000 African American schoolchildren singing the Union marching song, ‘John Brown’s Body,’” he said.
That was when Mr. Kemter’s microphone was silenced.
“It’s sad that it had to develop like that,” he said. “My whole intent on the speech was to be informative, educational and to pay tribute to African American contributions to the Memorial Day service and traditions.”
Since the murder of George Floyd, the racial justice movement has received millions of dollars in donations. But some chapters have questioned how those funds are spent.
By John Eligon, June 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/04/us/black-lives-matter.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
In the year since George Floyd was murdered, racial justice organizations across the country have been inundated with millions of dollars in donations and thousands of eager new activists. They have earned a prominent platform that puts them on the front lines of political and social battles.
Their influence has been immediate: A local organization helped St. Louis elect a Black woman as mayor for the first time. A longtime activist group in Louisville, Ky., oversaw what became a hub for protests over the police killing of Breonna Taylor. And in Chicago, activists have lobbied the city to fund a program that would dispatch paramedics, instead of police officers, to people experiencing mental health crises.
But the surge in attention has also brought greater scrutiny and exposed tensions and challenges within a movement that saw tremendous growth over the past year, much like other progressive groups such as the Women’s March, which saw three of its leaders step down amid controversy.
In a very public dispute, several chapters within the national organization known as the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation broke away, claiming that the group’s national leaders had failed to provide financial transparency or include the chapters in decision-making. And family members of some victims of police killings have openly criticized racial justice organizations, accusing them of raising money in their children’s names but not supporting the families and their work to make change.
“I just feel like all these organizations that were made were made after someone had lost their loved one,” said Michael Brown Sr., who established his own foundation after his son, Michael, was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014. “And they see that these parents are coming up with organizations already. They should be able to get on board and support these families that’s going through this.”
Since the police killing of Mr. Brown’s son led to a new wave of civil rights activism seven years ago, organizers of protests and marches have openly embraced a grass-roots philosophy. They have avoided individual leaders, seeking instead to build a movement by the people, for the people.
But the tensions playing out complicate the road ahead for the organizations that have sprouted from this movement, as their sway has only grown since Mr. Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. In the weeks after his killing in May 2020, an estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in about 4,700 demonstrations across America, accounting for the largest movement in the country’s history.
That growth has brought great visibility, but also difficult questions over how to sustain it and how to effect meaningful change, whether through donations to political campaigns, services to families or investments in Black communities — or all of the above.
Chapters that broke from the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, calling themselves the #BLM10, issued an open letter in December that said internal attempts at seeking transparency had gone nowhere.
Among their primary concerns, they said, was that the national organization had not detailed how much it had raised in donations or how the money had been spent. The national group also had not given much financial support to the chapters for the work they were doing in their communities, they said. If Black Lives Matter could not be transparent with its own members, the chapters argued, then it could not be a credible advocate for the communities it aimed to serve.
Leaders of the global network defended the way it was spending money, and emphasized that the breakaway chapters criticizing the group were not officially affiliated with it. The infusion of funds over the past year will allow the global network to build out its infrastructure so it can become a sustainable operation, said Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter which is affiliated with the global network.
“I think we have to be very, very clear again that we are a power-building organization that works in concert with families,” she said, “but not a social service organization for families.”
As some leaders have risen to international attention, they have faced backlash from activists who see that ascent as a betrayal of the movement’s grass-roots spirit. And activists who once accused legacy civil rights leaders and organizations of being too mainstream and detached from the masses are now facing those same criticisms.
From W.E.B. Du Bois’s criticism that Booker T. Washington was too accommodating to white people, to ministers objecting to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to protest as too worldly, tensions have long been a part of social justice movements.
“With visibility comes vulnerability, which is why you have to be tight in what you do,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, an often polarizing figure who has parlayed a long career in activism into becoming a political and media figure and the creator of a civil rights group, National Action Network, with chapters throughout the nation.
Younger activists who criticized him several years ago for not being grass-roots enough have recently turned to him for advice as they wrestle with the type of scrutiny he has faced, he said.
“I think out of the tension, it will make us all settle and find more possible ways to work together,” he said. “I think that sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but it’ll bring us to a better place, I hope.”
For years, national leaders warned that the Black Lives Matter movement could fracture if internal concerns were voiced publicly, said YahNé Ndgo, who recently stepped back as a core organizer with one of the breakaway chapters, Black Lives Matter Philly. That prevented many chapters from speaking up, she said.
But when the national leaders spun off a new organization, BLM Grassroots, last year to act as an umbrella for all chapters, those with concerns had to speak up, Ms. Ndgo said. It felt like another attempt by the national organization to evade accountability, she said.
“If a group is not acting in service to the movement,” she said, “then it has to be addressed.”
Amid questions from critics, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which received tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization last year, in February released its most complete accounting in its roughly six-year history. It reported receiving $90 million in donations last year, the most it had ever raised in a year. A majority of the funds were saved, the report said, with $8.4 million spent on operational expenses and $21.7 million distributed to local aid organizations and chapters.
The report caught the attention of Mr. Brown, who has at times seen the foundation he established after his son’s killing struggle to get resources, he said. In a video posted to social media, he stood alongside a local activist, who demanded that Black Lives Matter contribute $20 million to local organizers.
After releasing the video, Mr. Brown met with Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and other leaders from the organization. “We’re working on developing tangible relationships to aid in the work that we do within our foundation and the community,” Mr. Brown said in an interview. Last week, Ms. Cullors resigned from her post, saying that she planned to focus on other projects and that her departure was unrelated to criticism she has faced.
While BLM Grassroots will center on the work by local organizers in its various chapters, the national arm will focus on fund-raising, grant making and serving as an “action-oriented think tank of the movement,” according to the report on its operations.
The organization has increasingly sought to be a force in politics and last year created a political action committee to support candidates in November’s elections. It also lobbied against the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and drafted public safety legislation called the Breathe Act that it plans to champion before Congress.
But some activists say the optics are troubling. The families of some victims struggle financially, while the leaders of racial justice organizations oversee large fund-raising hauls that come, in part, from the public’s sympathy for the deaths of their loved ones.
Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old Black boy who was killed by Cleveland police officers in 2014, blasted Tamika Mallory, a co-founder of an organization called Until Freedom, calling her a “clout chaser” after she appeared at the Grammys in March.
Similar criticism has been widespread, with some local activists chastising national leaders for appearing more interested in publicity and fund-raising over the gritty work of pushing for change on the ground.
“We’re not trying to do celebrity activism,” said the Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, the executive director of Black Lives Matter-Oklahoma City. “We’re trying to save lives, uphold lives and to empower Black lives.”
Still, even with internal tensions, racial justice organizations say the past year has put them in a strong position.
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation has grown and gained influence among elected officials. Leaders say they now have 20 chapters, some of which engage in local battles to reduce police department budgets and institute policy changes.
There are now 17 breakaway chapters loosely collaborating to support the work they do in their respective communities, such as bailing out protesters who get arrested and providing resources and assistance to the families of those killed by the police.
Several families of people killed or injured by the police are turning toward one another for support instead of formal activist groups. Saying she was tired of what she saw as activists trying to make money off the victims of police violence, Lisa Simpson, whose son, Richard Risher, was fatally shot by the Los Angeles police in 2016, said she was starting her own movement with other victims’ families.
As much as some racial justice organizations argue they are working to change the system to prevent future police killings, that work can sometimes be of little comfort to people like Ms. Simpson who have lost their children.
“Because when the money’s gone, I got days where I cry, where I’m sad, where I’m angry, where I’m upset,” Ms. Simpson said.
Ultimately, the public tussle over the Black Lives Matter movement may serve to strengthen it, said Daniel Gillion, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies protest movements. The conflict allows a broad cross-section of people to have a say in shaping the movement, which bolsters the democratic principles upon which it was founded, he said.
“This isn’t Nancy Pelosi talking with congressional members behind closed doors,” he said. “It’s not that. It is truly grass roots, involving multiple people chiming in. And that’s what you want.”
By Stephen Vider and David S. Byers, June 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/05/opinion/Supreme-Court-LGBTQ-foster.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Contributors%20%20Opinion
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on a case that could upend, in the name of religious freedom, 50 years of progress in the effort to provide better support for L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system. Such a decision would be a devastating setback for all children in foster care, and set a dangerous precedent that could have broad repercussions.
The question the court has been asked to decide is whether the city of Philadelphia can bar Catholic Social Services from screening future foster parents. The agency claims a religious right under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause to exclude lesbian and gay couples as foster parents.
If the court’s conservative majority rules in favor of Catholic Social Services, the most obvious losers would be prospective lesbian and gay foster parents. Yet those with the biggest stake are L.G.B.T.Q. children and adolescents. A ruling for the agency would not only threaten hard-won advances to recognize and support L.G.B.T.Q. youth, but would embolden foster care agencies across the country to acquiesce in and perpetuate discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people.
On any given day, there are over 400,000 children and adolescents in foster care in the United States. Trauma is built into the system. Children are typically removed from their families of origin because of reports of abuse or neglect, or because a guardian has died or been incarcerated. While there is no recent federal data on L.G.B.T.Q. young people in the foster care system, various studies, including one published in 2019 in the journal Pediatrics, show that L.G.B.T.Q. young people are over represented, with rates ranging from 24 to 34 percent.
For these L.G.B.T.Q. youth, the trauma is often different. Many are pushed out of their family homes because of homophobia and transphobia; once in foster care, they are often more vulnerable to harassment and abuse. L.G.B.T.Q.-affirming foster parents offer the best chance of providing a supportive home for those children and adolescents if they can’t remain with their families. This case directly threatens them.
When the case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, was argued before the Supreme Court in November, lawyers for Catholic Social Services maintained that the city should grant it an exemption from Philadelphia’s anti-discrimination law and simply allow it to refer lesbian and gay couples to another agency. Wouldn’t that, in Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s words, be a “win-win”? The agency’s lawyers also emphasized that the organization had served the community for more than a century. Why should it be stopped now from handling foster care?
But those arguments ignored an important fact: Since the early 1970s, state and local agencies have shown an increasing investment in protecting and supporting L.G.B.T.Q. children in the foster system.
As the journalist Michael Waters recently recounted in The New Yorker, with the rise of gay liberation, social workers in several states began placing L.G.B.T.Q. youth with lesbian and gay foster parents. This intervention was at once radical and pragmatic: While straight foster parents often rejected L.G.B.T.Q. young people, many lesbians and gay men were eager to step in. In some cases, as the legal historian Marie-Amelie George has shown, agencies actively reached out to L.G.B.T.Q. organizations for help.
One of the earliest and most expansive collaborations of this kind emerged in 1980 in Philadelphia when Eromin, a seven-year-old L.G.B.T.Q. counseling center, was licensed as a children and youth service agency. The previous year, two city social workers had obtained a meeting with the director of the Philadelphia County Children and Youth Agency to discuss the needs of L.G.B.T.Q. youth in the foster system. Eromin was soon enlisted to run training sessions for the agency’s staff on how to support these young people. By June 1980, the city asked Eromin to develop its own foster care program.
By 1981, Eromin began recruiting lesbian and gay foster parents and opened one of the first L.G.B.T.Q. group homes in the country, housing up to 12 young people at a time — most of them teens of color. As we detail in our 2019 article in American Psychologist, Eromin’s staff had no affirming clinical theories or models to draw on, so they developed novel approaches of care, often guided by their own experiences as L.G.B.T.Q. people, an approach we call clinical activism. As they learned, they also partnered with other agencies in their area and provided them with training, building a coalition of services. Eromin was forced to close its doors for financial reasons in 1984, but its efforts helped lead to the city’s first conference on social services for lesbian and gay youth later that year. Today, there are many organizations around the country that support L.G.B.T.Q. foster parents and young people.
The Fulton case is ultimately a tragic distraction from the pressing issues facing youth in foster care today, and the case has the potential to exacerbate the trauma that is already widespread in the child welfare system. Foster care abolitionists, for example, point out that Black, Indigenous and, in many areas, Latinx children are disproportionately separated from their families, and call for ending the child welfare system as we know it. These advocacy efforts have yet to substantially account for the needs of L.G.B.T.Q. children and youth. We should indeed be focused on finding ways to reduce out-of-home foster care placements for children and adolescents. But placements that are necessary should be integrated with L.G.B.T.Q.-affirming community programs under the presumption that all children and young people could be L.G.B.T.Q. Instead, we are fighting discrimination disguised as religious freedom.
Potential foster parents who agree to be chosen on an exclusionary basis would perpetuate anti-L. G.B. T. Q. stigmas. They would be unfit to provide foster care to L.G.B.T.Q. young people — or to their cisgender/straight peers.
The impact would extend beyond Philadelphia. Other agencies across the United States would also feel free to exclude L.G.B.T.Q. parents. According to Family Equality, 11 states have laws allowing faith-based foster care agencies to exclude L.G.B.T.Q. parents. Family Equality says more states are considering similar discriminatory legislation.
A decision in favor of Catholic Social Services could also undermine laws prohibiting employment and housing discrimination, and efforts by states to ban so-called “reparative” therapies in religiously oriented clinics. Religious rationales for homophobic and transphobic discrimination would be legitimized.
A win for Catholic Social Services would reinforce the problems we continue to face. And that is unquestionably a lose-lose.
Dr. Vider is an assistant professor of history and director of the Public History Initiative at Cornell University, and the author of the forthcoming “The Queerness of Home: Gender, Sexuality, and the Politics of Domesticity After World War II.” Dr. Byers is an assistant professor of social work at Bryn Mawr College’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, and a postdoctoral associate at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University.