As a renewed wave of worker militancy and organizing is unfolding across the United States, alongside major developments in recent months in the fight to organize Amazon workers, the Support Amazon Workers network is reconstituting itself on a national basis to build and mobilize solidarity for these critical struggles.
On Monday, October 25, Amazon workers in Staten Island picked up the baton from Bessemer workers and filed for a union election there. The effort, organized by the independent Amazon Labor Union, is a critical new front in the long term battle to organize Amazon. Right now, solidarity from every corner of the workers and progressive movements is needed to support the Staten Island workers, who will undoubtedly come under a fierce anti-union attack from Amazon as the drive toward the election picks up.
We have initiated a national petition, both to show solidarity with these workers and to call on Amazon to recognize the union. Add your name and circulate the petition now.
The development in Staten Island is but one among many in the drive to organize Amazon. In recent months:
- A hearing officer from the National Labor Relations Board, in response to 23 charges filed by Bessemer workers and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, recommended that the results of the election there earlier this year be set aside and a new election conducted. There has not yet been an official ruling on this recommendation from the NLRB, but one could come in the weeks or months ahead.
- The Teamsters overwhelmingly approved a resolution at their national convention in June to undertake a major campaign to organize Amazon. The language of the resolution indicates that, rather than going the route of a shop by shop NLRB election approach, the Teamsters intend to carry out a campaign that targets Amazon across the country with a wide array of tactics, including shop floor actions, recognition strikes, close coordination with community and solidarity activists, and more. They are wrapping up their national leadership election soon, and more could unfold on this front following that.
- Canadian Amazon workers at 9 locations across the country recently filed to hold elections for their union there. The Teamsters are organizing those 9 facilities.
- Amazon workers in Germany are currently conducting rolling strikes demanding higher wages and better working conditions
- Each and every day, Amazon workers across the country are organizing shop floor committees, engaging in boss fights, and building power on the job through a wide array of other initiatives and organizing efforts, including with Amazonians United and others.
At the same time, organized and unorganized workers in many sectors are also on the move, including Starbucks workers in the Buffalo area, rideshare and other gig workers, graduate students, school bus drivers, and many more.
In the upcoming weeks, the Support Amazon Workers network intends to build solidarity with these workers:
- We invite you to participate in a Strategy/Organizing Meeting to support Amazon (and Whole Foods) worker organizing and connecting this work to other workers struggles (reply to this email if you’re interested in joining)
- Supporting and helping to organize actions on November 26 (known as Black Friday) and November 29 (known as Cyber Monday)
- Forming local solidarity committees that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and unorganized workers
- Mobilizing solidarity for Staten Island Amazon workers and other Amazon workers engaged in struggle on the shop floor
- Looking ahead to activities, national actions, and more in the new year.
All workers have a stake in the fight to organize Amazon, given its central role in the global capitalist economy and the logistics sector in particular, as well as for the way it is pioneering new methods of automating work and exploiting our labor.
With these developments unfolding, and many more likely to open up in the months ahead, re-constituting a national solidarity network that can engage in a variety of activities to support Amazon and all workers -- especially the unorganized -- fighting for power could not be more critical.
Organizing Amazon cannot and should not be left to the major unions and Amazon workers alone -- it will take a strong, united, and powerful mobilization of the entire working class to take on this giant. Join us in the fight.
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons
Sign Petition at:
On the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement’s founding, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research launches the online exhibition, Let Cuba Live. 80 artists from 19 countries – including notable cartoonists and designers from Cuba – submitted over 100 works in defense of the Cuban Revolution. Together, the exhibition is a visual call for the end to the decades-long US-imposed blockade, whose effects have only deepened during the pandemic. The intentional blocking of remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions have prevented essential food and medicine from entering the country. Together, the images in this exhibition demand: #UnblockCuba #LetCubaLive
Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in organising a local exhibition of the exhibition.
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
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:
Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!
We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
Prosecutors called the actions of Joshua Taylor and Brandon Dingman, former officers in Wilson, Okla., a “substantial factor” in the 2019 death of Jared Lakey.
By Neil Vigdor, Nov. 8, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/08/us/oklahoma-police-taser-murder-conviction.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=690836697&algo=bandit-all-
Joshua Taylor, left, and Brandon Dingman, former police officers in Oklahoma. Prosecutors said their repeated use of Tasers on a man were “dangerous and unnecessary” and contributed to his death in 2019. Credit...Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation
Two former Oklahoma police officers were convicted on Friday of second-degree murder for using their Tasers a total of more than 50 times on an unarmed man who later died in 2019, according to court records.
Prosecutors said the repeated use of the Tasers, also known as stun guns, by the former officers, Brandon Dingman and Joshua Taylor, was “dangerous and unnecessary” during their encounter with Jared Lakey on July 4, 2019.
It was a “substantial factor” in the death of Mr. Lakey, 28, who stopped breathing and became unresponsive shortly after he was taken into custody by the officers, who were employed by the Wilson Police Department, court documents said. Mr. Lakey died two days later.
The case brought further scrutiny to the use of Tasers by law enforcement officers. Supporters say the devices are a practical alternative to often-lethal firearms, but critics point out they have contributed to many fatalities.
In addition to second-degree murder, which is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, Mr. Dingman, 35, and Mr. Taylor, 27, were found guilty of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon by a jury in Carter County, Okla., according to court records. They are to be sentenced on Dec. 2.
Shannon McMurray, a lawyer for Mr. Dingman, said on Monday that the former officer planned to appeal his conviction.
Citing a medical examiner’s autopsy report, she said that Mr. Lakey had an enlarged heart and critical coronary artery disease before he died. The report listed the officers’ use of electrical weapons and restraint as contributing to Mr. Lakey’s death.
“It’s just a tragedy for everybody,” Ms. McMurray said. “In my opinion, they acted within policy.”
Ms. McMurray said that the officers had been trying to avoid using other types of force on Mr. Lakey. “They were truly, truly concerned for his safety and theirs if they had gone hands-on,” she said.
Warren Gotcher, a lawyer for Mr. Taylor, said on Monday that his client would also file an appeal.
“We’re very disappointed in the verdict,” said Mr. Gotcher, who also pointed to Mr. Lakey’s health as playing a significant role in his death. “No one could look at him and tell that he had that much of a diseased heart.”
The police department in Wilson, which is about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A lawsuit filed by Mr. Lakey’s family said that his body was riddled with Taser probes and that medical providers had told the family that he died from multiple heart attacks.
Spencer Bryan, a lawyer for Mr. Lakey’s parents, Doug and Cynthia Lakey, said in a statement on Monday that they were “grateful to the jury and prosecution for taking these officers off the streets,” but admonished the police chief over his explanation during the trial about why the officers had kept using their Tasers.
The chief, Kevin Coley, testified that the officers had been attempting to cause neuromuscular incapacitation in Mr. Lakey but that he had kept moving around on the ground, the television station KXII reported. The chief could not be reached on Monday.
During the officers’ encounter with Mr. Lakey, they were responding to a call that involved his “acting in a disorderly way,” according to the State Bureau of Investigation.
When Mr. Lakey would not comply with the officers’ commands, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Dingman used their Tasers a combined total of more than 50 times, “which greatly exceeded what would have been necessary or warranted by the attendant circumstances,” court records said.
The records said that “such dangerous and unnecessary” use of the Tasers was a “substantial factor” in bringing about Mr. Lakey’s death.
Craig Ladd, the district attorney for the 20th Judicial District in Oklahoma, which includes Carter County, said on Monday that police officers were trained to limit Taser exposure to 15 seconds or less and to avoid simultaneously using their devices. But in the case of Mr. Lakey, he said, the electrical connection from the officers’ Tasers lasted 3 minutes and 14 seconds.
“They clearly failed to adhere to these safety guidelines,” Mr. Ladd said, adding that in Oklahoma, officers are only permitted to use the degree of force “reasonably necessary” under the circumstances.
“They Tased Jared because he was lying naked in a ditch and wouldn’t put his hands behind his back when they asked him to, even though it wasn’t clear whether Jared truly understood what was going on or what he was being requested to do,” he said. “He never made any aggressive moves towards the officers, swung at them, lunged at them, or kicked at them.”
Tasers, which are part of a class of “less lethal” tools, are designed to help law enforcement officers temporarily immobilize a person by jolting them with electricity.
Axon Enterprise, which makes them, says the devices save lives and prevent injuries. But more than 1,000 people in the United States have died after being shocked with stun guns by police, according to a 2017 investigation by Reuters.
Michael Levenson contributed reporting.
The testimony of three New York Police Department detectives in dozens of cases in Queens was called into question after they were convicted of crimes or misconduct.
By Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Nov. 8, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/08/nyregion/nypd-queens-detectives.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
The Queens district attorney’s office asked a judge Monday to toss out 60 criminal cases that relied on work by three former New York Police Department detectives who were later convicted of perjury, sexual assault or official misconduct.
The move is part of the office’s review of cases that involved police officers who had committed crimes or workplace misconduct and who had served as “essential witnesses” in Queens prosecutions, District Attorney Melinda Katz said.
“We cannot stand behind a criminal conviction where the essential law enforcement witness has been convicted of crimes which irreparably impair their credibility,” Ms. Katz said.
The office’s review stems from a letter sent in May by the Legal Aid Society and other legal defense and civil rights organizations to the city’s five district attorneys and the special narcotics prosecutor, identifying 20 police officers who had been convicted of crimes and two others who had engaged in work-related misconduct. The letter asked the offices to erase convictions in which the officers played a role.
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office was reviewing the Legal Aid letter as part of its broader efforts to examine problematic convictions, a spokesman, Oren Yaniv, said. “Our review is nearing its end, and we expect to dismiss a number of cases,” Mr. Yaniv said.
A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said a review of cases involving the identified police officers was ongoing, and the Bronx district attorney’s office said cases involving seven police officers were under review.
A representative for the Staten Island district attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
After receiving the letter, Ms. Katz, who took office in January 2020, launched a review of the borough’s cases. It found that 10 officers on the list had played roles in Queens criminal cases, Ms. Katz said Monday, adding that hundreds of cases remained under review.
In a hearing Monday afternoon in Queens Supreme Court, Justice Michelle Johnson vacated 59 convictions and cleared one person of pending charges and a warrant issued for an arrest. Most of the cases were misdemeanors or violations, but seven were felonies.
Some of the people cleared Monday had served prison terms, while others had lost jobs and licenses; one man was still on parole at the time of his dismissal, and one woman had died, Legal Aid Society lawyers said.
Of the 60 cases, 34 were based on the work of former detective Kevin Desormeau, a street cop once held in high regard, who in 2018 was convicted of lying about witnessing a Queens drug deal that had not taken place. At the sentencing, Justice Michael Aloise gave Mr. Desormeau no jail time and criticized the prosecutor’s office for its conduct during the former officer’s trial.
Mr. Desormeau later pleaded guilty in Manhattan to separate charges that he fabricated facts concerning a 2014 gun possession arrest in Washington Heights, a case that also led to charges against his former partner on the force, Sasha Cordoba.
The Queens district attorney asked Monday to dismiss 20 cases involving Ms. Cordoba, who pleaded guilty in Manhattan in 2018 to perjury and official misconduct charges in connection with the gun possession arrest. Ms. Cordoba was also convicted of a misdemeanor in the Queens drug sale case, but the judge threw out her verdict, citing lack of evidence.
Six of the cases dismissed Monday stemmed from the work of former Queens detective Oscar Sandino, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to federal civil rights charges related to the sexual assault of people in custody. In one instance, Mr. Sandino sexually abused someone under arrest in the bathroom of the 110th Precinct in Queens, the district attorney’s office said.
“Criminal convictions largely based on the work of corrupt former or active N.Y.P.D. officers who engaged in misconduct while executing their duties flies in the face of oaths officers take to protect and serve New Yorkers,” said Elizabeth Felber, director of the Legal Aid Society’s wrongful conviction unit. “This unconscionable and inexcusable behavior corrodes the public’s trust in law enforcement,” she said.
The review in Queens is part of a broader movement to reassess criminal cases and convictions, some decades old, over concerns about official misconduct and perjury by police officers.
In April, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez asked the court to dismiss 90 convictions — nearly a third of them felonies — that were based on the work of a former narcotics detective, Joseph E. Franco, who had been charged with perjury and other offenses in connection with his undercover work and testimony for prosecutors.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office had charged Mr. Franco in 2019 with 26 criminal counts, saying he had lied about witnessing drug buys. The Manhattan and Bronx district attorney’s offices, as well as the special narcotics prosecutor, have moved to vacate scores of convictions in which Mr. Franco was involved.
Mr. Franco was fired by the Police Department in April 2020. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
By Jonathan Lippman, Nov. 10, 2021
Mr. Lippman is a former chief judge of the State of New York and of the New York State Court of Appeals. He chairs the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
“90 percent of the human beings subjected to the appalling conditions at Rikers are there pretrial, many because they cannot afford bail. Almost 1,600 have been waiting for a trial for over a year. Almost 700 have been waiting for more than two. Languishing cases can drive up both the current epidemic of jail violence and recidivism.”
Fourteen people incarcerated in the New York City jail system have died since December 2020, at least six apparently by suicide. Overflowing toilets and mold plague the jails. A federal court-appointed monitor has issued increasingly scathing reports outlining profound mismanagement and rampant violence.
Staffing shortages compound these problems. As of early October, around 30 percent of New York City correction officers were unavailable to work with incarcerated people. The officers who did show up were sometimes pressed into double or triple shifts.
Some housing units go many hours without any officer inside. Those incarcerated at Rikers, New York City’s main jail complex, frequently go without the most basic of services — medical appointments, court dates, showers, family visits, religious services and more. The jails are awash in weapons, mostly metal and plastic shanks manufactured from the crumbling buildings and fixtures themselves. There is virtually no staff available to routinely search for and confiscate them.
90 percent of the human beings subjected to the appalling conditions at Rikers are there pretrial, many because they cannot afford bail. Almost 1,600 have been waiting for a trial for over a year. Almost 700 have been waiting for more than two. Languishing cases can drive up both the current epidemic of jail violence and recidivism.
The morally unacceptable and life-threatening crisis on Rikers Island has crystallized the need to close its long-dysfunctional jails permanently. But until they are shuttered, we need to enact safe, pragmatic and sensible strategies to bring the incarcerated population down to a level that the Department of Correction can realistically handle.
As a former New York State chief judge and as the chair of the Rikers commission, I urge our public officials to act before more lives are shattered or lost. There are a number of common-sense steps that the government can take to safely reduce the jail population.
For many months, the coronavirus forced courts to put trials on hold almost entirely. And now every time a judge, person on trial, lawyer, witness or courtroom staff member is exposed to Covid-19, it upends court proceedings.
Currently, according to New York State Department of Health Covid guidelines, indoor settings like courthouses should maintain at least six feet of distance between people. That generally means that more than one courtroom must be dedicated to each trial, limiting severely how many trials can occur at once.
To expedite criminal cases and shrink the number of people at Rikers, the court system needs to be given the flexibility to hold trials without the current, inefficient pandemic restrictions.
While the coronavirus is undoubtedly still a grave concern, including in city jails, where Covid-19 positivity rates are above those in the city as a whole, cases have generally and thankfully been declining. Everyone in courthouses is required to wear a mask. Correction officers are required to be vaccinated by Dec. 1.
Logic tells us that as vaccination rates go up and Covid rates continue to go down — subject to scientifically based evidence to the contrary — we can reduce social distancing to a minimum of three feet between people with masks, just as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends for children in school.
Gov. Kathy Hochul should direct state health authorities to review their guidelines immediately. Adjusting those guidelines to better accord with present Covid realities would help the courts process cases more quickly and would help reduce the number of people jailed at Rikers at any given time.
The governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio should also continue their collaboration and start to move the 17 percent of people at Rikers with a serious mental illness out of destabilizing jails and into treatment facilities. Three New York State-run prisons in Manhattan sit empty or underused. Were Governor Hochul to transfer control of them to New York City, two could be modified to accommodate hundreds of people at Rikers with serious mental illness who need therapeutic settings.
The third prison should be swiftly converted into a facility for jailed women, 80 percent of whom have been treated for mental illness, and transgender people. It should be run as much as possible by nonprofits with experience providing trauma-informed care. That would ensure that women and transgender people are never again jailed on Rikers, where complaints of sexual assault have been more than double the national average for jails. It would also significantly reduce the size of the jail about to be built in Queens, which, when it opens, is slated to house all incarcerated women from across NYC.
Mayor de Blasio has committed to opening nearly 400 secure beds in New York City Health and Hospitals facilities for people with serious mental and physical needs. More than 100 are scheduled to come online in December 2022, and the rest will likely not be available for two years or more. We need these beds far sooner.
The city should also accelerate development of supportive housing for people with serious mental illness to help prevent their being arrested in the first place. Additional inpatient and outpatient treatment options in the community would help these people get and stay on their feet. In the absence of such options, judges are too often left with a decision between incarcerating someone with a serious mental illness pretrial or releasing them unaided to the streets.
Finally, Governor Hochul can continue her leadership by immediately putting into effect the parole reforms in the Less Is More Act, which is supported by a unique coalition of district attorneys and sheriffs, Republicans and Democrats, faith groups and formerly incarcerated people across New York. As demonstrated by places like Louisiana, Missouri and South Carolina, a mix of incentives and graduated sanctions of the sort in the Less Is More Act makes communities safer and reduces recidivism while reserving the heavy hammer of incarceration for more serious and repeated violations.
Carrying out those reforms now would ensure speedier hearings for people jailed at Rikers for allegedly violating parole rules — violations often tied to homelessness and mental illness, like leaving shelters and missing appointments. It would also enable judges, rather than parole officers, to determine whether people on parole should be incarcerated pending those hearings or redirected to treatment. The millions of dollars saved on unnecessary jail costs could then be invested in the mental health treatment and housing that many people on parole need.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams has said he will oversee the construction of smaller, modern, more humane community-based jails to replace the antiquated, dangerous facilities on Rikers Island. Construction of these local jails must proceed at a pace befitting the emergency we face, with work beginning in the next three to six months at the latest.
But for now, the steps outlined above would advance safety, fairness and justice and reduce the jail population by at least 2,000 people. These measures would contribute greatly to confronting the shameful nightmare we presently face and bring us closer to a safe, swift end to the daily tragedy that is Rikers.
By Shoshana Zuboff, Nov. 12, 2021
Dr. Zuboff is a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/12/opinion/facebook-privacy.html
Facebook is not just any corporation. It reached trillion-dollar status in a single decade by applying the logic of what I call surveillance capitalism — an economic system built on the secret extraction and manipulation of human data — to its vision of connecting the entire world. Facebook and other leading surveillance capitalist corporations now control information flows and communication infrastructures across the world.
These infrastructures are critical to the possibility of a democratic society, yet our democracies have allowed these companies to own, operate and mediate our information spaces unconstrained by public law. The result has been a hidden revolution in how information is produced, circulated and acted upon. A parade of revelations since 2016, amplified by the whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s documentation and personal testimony, bear witness to the consequences of this revolution.
The world’s liberal democracies now confront a tragedy of the “un-commons.” Information spaces that people assume to be public are strictly ruled by private commercial interests for maximum profit. The internet as a self-regulating market has been revealed as a failed experiment. Surveillance capitalism leaves a trail of social wreckage in its wake: the wholesale destruction of privacy, the intensification of social inequality, the poisoning of social discourse with defactualized information, the demolition of social norms and the weakening of democratic institutions.
These social harms are not random. They are tightly coupled effects of evolving economic operations. Each harm paves the way for the next and is dependent on what went before.
There is no way to escape the machine systems that surveil us, whether we are shopping, driving or walking in the park. All roads to economic and social participation now lead through surveillance capitalism’s profit-maximizing institutional terrain, a condition that has intensified during nearly two years of global plague.
Will Facebook’s digital violence finally trigger our commitment to take back the “un-commons?” Will we confront the fundamental but long ignored questions of an information civilization: How should we organize and govern the information and communication spaces of the digital century in ways that sustain and advance democratic values and principles?
Search and Seizure
Facebook as we now know it was fashioned from Google’s rib. Mark Zuckerberg’s start-up did not invent surveillance capitalism. Google did that. In 2000, when only 25 percent of the world’s information was stored digitally, Google was a tiny start-up with a great search product but little revenue.
By 2001, in the teeth of the dot-com bust, Google’s leaders found their breakthrough in a series of inventions that would transform advertising. Their team learned how to combine massive data flows of personal information with advanced computational analyses to predict where an ad should be placed for maximum “click through.” Predictions were computed initially by analyzing data trails that users unknowingly left behind in the company’s servers as they searched and browsed Google’s pages. Google’s scientists learned how to extract predictive metadata from this “data exhaust” and use it to analyze likely patterns of future behavior.
Prediction was the first imperative that determined the second imperative: extraction. Lucrative predictions required flows of human data at unimaginable scale. Users did not suspect that their data was secretly hunted and captured from every corner of the internet and, later, from apps, smartphones, devices, cameras and sensors. User ignorance was understood as crucial to success. Each new product was a means to more “engagement,” a euphemism used to conceal illicit extraction operations.
When asked “What is Google?” founder Larry Page laid it out in 2001, according to a detailed account by Douglas Edwards, Google’s first brand manager, in his book “I’m Feeling Lucky”: “Storage is cheap. Cameras are cheap. People will generate enormous amounts of data,” Mr. Page said. “Everything you’ve ever heard or seen or experienced will become searchable. Your whole life will be searchable.”
Instead of selling search to users, Google survived by turning its search engine into a sophisticated surveillance medium for seizing human data. Company executives worked to keep these economic operations secret, hidden from users, lawmakers, and competitors. Mr. Page opposed anything that might “stir the privacy pot and endanger our ability to gather data,” Mr. Edwards wrote.
Massive-scale extraction operations were the keystone to the new economic edifice and superseded other considerations, beginning with the quality of information, because in the logic of surveillance capitalism, information integrity is not correlated with revenue.
This is the economic context in which disinformation wins. As recently as 2017, Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, acknowledged the role of Google’s algorithmic ranking operations in spreading corrupt information. “There is a line that we can’t really get across,” he said. “It is very difficult for us to understand truth.” A company with a mission to organize and make accessible all the world’s information using the most sophisticated machine systems cannot discern corrupt information.
Facebook, the First Follower
Mr. Zuckerberg began his entrepreneurial career in 2003 while a student at Harvard. His website, Facemash, invited visitors to rate other students’ attractiveness. It quickly drew outrage from his peers and was shuttered. Then came TheFacebook in 2004 and Facebook in 2005, when Zuckerberg acquired his first professional investors.
Facebook’s user numbers quickly grew; its revenues did not. Like Google a few years earlier, Mr. Zuckerberg could not turn popularity into profit. Instead, he careened from blunder to blunder. His crude violations of users’ privacy expectations provoked intense public backlash, petitions and class-action suits. Mr. Zuckerberg seemed to understand that the answer to his problems involved human data extraction without consent for the sake of advertisers’ advantage, but the complexities of the new logic eluded him.
He turned to Google for answers.
In March 2008, Mr. Zuckerberg hired Google’s head of global online advertising, Sheryl Sandberg, as his second in command. Ms. Sandberg had joined Google in 2001 and was a key player in the surveillance capitalism revolution. She led the build-out of Google’s advertising engine, AdWords, and its AdSense program, which together accounted for most of the company’s $16.6 billion in revenue in 2007.
A Google multimillionaire by the time she met Mr. Zuckerberg, Ms. Sandberg had a canny appreciation of Facebook’s immense opportunities for extraction of rich predictive data. “We have better information than anyone else. We know gender, age, location, and it’s real data as opposed to the stuff other people infer,” Ms. Sandberg explained, according to David Kirkpatrick in “The Facebook Effect.”
The company had “better data” and “real data” because it had a front-row seat to what Mr. Page had called “your whole life.”
Facebook paved the way for surveillance economics with new privacy policies in late 2009. The Electronic Frontier Foundation warned that new “Everyone” settings eliminated options to restrict the visibility of personal data, instead treating it as publicly available information.
TechCrunch summarized the corporation’s strategy, “Facebook is forcing users to choose their new privacy options to promote the “Everyone” update, and to clear itself of any potential wrongdoing going forward. If there is significant backlash against the social network, it can claim that users willingly made the choice to share their information with everyone.”
Weeks later, Mr. Zuckerberg defended these moves to a TechCrunch interviewer. “A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies,” he boasted. “We decided that these would be the social norms now, and we just went for it.”
Mr. Zuckerberg “just went for it,” because there were no laws to stop him from joining Google in the wholesale destruction of privacy. If lawmakers wanted to sanction him as a ruthless profit-maximizer willing to use his social network against society, then 2009 to 2010 would have been a good opportunity.
A Sweeping Economic Order
Facebook was the first follower, but not the last. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple are private surveillance empires, each with distinct business models. Google and Facebook are data companies and surveillance-capitalist pure plays. The others have varied lines of business that may include data, services, software and physical products. In 2021 these five U.S. tech giants represent five of the six largest publicly traded companies by market capitalization in the world.
As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, surveillance capitalism is the dominant economic institution of our time. In the absence of countervailing law, this system successfully mediates nearly every aspect of human engagement with digital information. The promise of the surveillance dividend now draws surveillance economics into the “normal” economy from insurance, retail, banking and finance to agriculture, automobiles, education, health care and more. Today all apps and software, no matter how benign they appear, are designed to maximize data collection.
Historically, great concentrations of corporate power were associated with economic harms. But when human data are the raw material and predictions of human behavior are the product, then the harms are social rather than economic. The difficulty is that these novel harms are typically understood as separate, even unrelated, problems, which makes them impossible to solve. Instead, each new stage of harm creates the conditions for the next stage.
All of it begins with extraction. An economic order founded on the secret massive-scale extraction of human data assumes the destruction of privacy as a nonnegotiable condition of its business operations. With privacy out of the way, ill-gotten human data are concentrated within private corporations, where they are claimed as corporate assets to be deployed at will.
The social effect is a new form of inequality, reflected in the colossal asymmetry between what these companies know about us and what we know about them. The sheer size of this knowledge gap is conveyed in a leaked 2018 Facebook document, which described its artificial intelligence hub, ingesting trillions of behavioral data points every day and producing six million behavioral predictions each second.
Next, these human data are weaponized as targeting algorithms, engineered to maximize extraction and aimed back at their unsuspecting human sources to increase engagement. Targeting mechanisms change real life, sometimes with grave consequences. For example, the Facebook Files depict Mr. Zuckerberg using his algorithms to reinforce or disrupt the behavior of billions of people. Anger is rewarded or ignored. News stories become more trustworthy or unhinged. Publishers prosper or wither. Political discourse turns uglier or more moderate. People live or die.
Occasionally the fog clears to reveal the ultimate harm: the growing power of tech giants willing to use their control over critical information infrastructure to compete with democratically elected lawmakers for societal dominance. Early in the pandemic, for example, Apple and Google refused to adapt their operating systems to host contact tracing apps developed by public health authorities and supported by elected officials. In February, Facebook shut down many of its pages in Australia as a signal of refusal to negotiate with the Australian Parliament over fees for news content.
That’s why, when it comes to the triumph of surveillance capitalism’s revolution, it is the lawmakers of every liberal democracy, especially in the U.S., who bear the greatest burden of responsibility. They allowed private capital to rule our information spaces during two decades of spectacular growth, with no laws to stop it.
Fifty years ago the conservative economist Milton Friedman exhorted American executives, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game.” Even this radical doctrine did not reckon with the possibility of no rules.
Democratic societies riven by economic inequality, climate crisis, social exclusion, racism, public health emergency, and weakened institutions have a long climb toward healing. We can’t fix all our problems at once, but we won’t fix any of them, ever, unless we reclaim the sanctity of information integrity and trustworthy communications. The abdication of our information and communication spaces to surveillance capitalism has become the meta-crisis of every republic, because it obstructs solutions to all other crises.
Neither Google, nor Facebook, nor any other corporate actor in this new economic order set out to destroy society, any more than the fossil fuel industry set out to destroy the earth. But like global warming, the tech giants and their fellow travelers have been willing to treat their destructive effects on people and society as collateral damage — the unfortunate but unavoidable byproduct of perfectly legal economic operations that have produced some of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the history of capitalism.
Where does that leave us? Democracy is the only countervailing institutional order with the legitimate authority and power to change our course. If the ideal of human self-governance is to survive the digital century, then all solutions point to one solution: a democratic counterrevolution. But instead of the usual laundry lists of remedies, lawmakers need to proceed with a clear grasp of the adversary: a single hierarchy of economic causes and their social harms.
We can’t rid ourselves of later-stage social harms unless we outlaw their foundational economic causes. This means we move beyond the current focus on downstream issues such as content moderation and policing illegal content. Such “remedies” only treat the symptoms without challenging the illegitimacy of the human data extraction that funds private control over society’s information spaces. Similarly, structural solutions like “breaking up” the tech giants may be valuable in some cases, but they will not affect the underlying economic operations of surveillance capitalism.
Instead, discussions about regulating big tech should focus on the bedrock of surveillance economics: the secret extraction of human data from realms of life once called “private.” Remedies that focus on regulating extraction are content neutral. They do not threaten freedom of expression. Instead, they liberate social discourse and information flows from the “artificial selection” of profit-maximizing commercial operations that favor information corruption over integrity. They restore the sanctity of social communications and individual expression.
No secret extraction means no illegitimate concentrations of knowledge about people. No concentrations of knowledge means no targeting algorithms. No targeting means that corporations can no longer control and curate information flows and social speech or shape human behavior to favor their interests. Regulating extraction would eliminate the surveillance dividend and with it the financial incentives for surveillance.
While liberal democracies have begun to engage with the challenges of regulating today’s privately owned information spaces, the sober truth is that we need lawmakers ready to engage in a once-a-century exploration of far more basic questions. How should we structure and govern information, connection and communication in a democratic digital century? What new charters of rights, legislative frameworks and institutions are required to ensure that data collection and use serve the genuine needs of individuals and society? What measures will protect citizens from unaccountable power over information, whether it is wielded by private companies or governments?
Liberal democracies should take the lead because they have the power and legitimacy to do so. But they should know that their allies and collaborators include the people of every society struggling against a dystopian future.
The corporation that is Facebook may change its name or its leaders, but it will not voluntarily change its economics.
Will the call to “regulate Facebook” dissuade lawmakers from a deeper reckoning? Or will it prompt a heightened sense of urgency? Will we finally reject the old answers and free ourselves to ask the new questions, beginning with this: What must be done to ensure that democracy survives surveillance capitalism?
Longtime field laborers in the Mississippi Delta said in a lawsuit that they were asked to train white guest workers from South Africa before losing their jobs to them.
By Miriam Jordan, Photographs by Sarahbeth Maney, Nov. 12, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/12/us/black-farmworkers-mississippi-lawsuit.html
Richard Strong in a cotton field near Highway 82 in Indianola, Miss. Mr. Strong said he never imagined that he would lose his lifelong job to foreign workers.
INDIANOLA, Miss. — For more than a quarter-century, Richard Strong worked the fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta, just as his father and his grandfather did, a family lineage of punishing labor and meager earnings that stretched back to his enslaved ancestors brought from Africa.
He tilled the soil, fertilized crops and irrigated the fields, nurturing an annual bounty of cotton, soybeans and corn for a prominent farming family. “I’ve been around farming all my life,” Mr. Strong said. “It’s all we knew.”
Black families with deep connections to the Delta have historically been the ones to perform fieldwork. That began to change about a decade ago, when the first of dozens of young, white workers flew in from South Africa on special guest worker visas. Mr. Strong and his co-workers trained the men, who by last year were being lured across the globe with wages of more than $11 an hour, compared with the $7.25 an hour that Mr. Strong and other Black local workers were paid.
Growers brought in more South Africans with each passing year, and they are now employed at more than 100 farms across the Delta. Mr. Strong, 50, and several other longtime workers said they were told their services were no longer needed.
“I never did imagine that it would come to the point where they would be hiring foreigners, instead of people like me,” Mr. Strong said.
From the wheat farms in the Midwest to the citrus groves in California’s Central Valley, growers have increasingly turned to foreign workers as aging farmworkers exit the fields and low-skilled workers opt for jobs in construction, hospitality and warehouses, which offer higher pay, year-round work and, sometimes, benefits.
The agricultural guest worker program, known by the shorthand H-2A, was once shunned by farmers here and elsewhere as expensive and bureaucratic. But the continuing farm labor shortages across the country pushed H-2A visas up to 213,394 in the 2020 fiscal year, from 55,384 in 2011.
“Our choice is between importing our food or importing the work force necessary to produce domestically,” said Craig Regelbrugge, a veteran agricultural industry advocate who is an expert on the program. “That’s never been truer than it is today. Virtually all new workers entering into the agriculture work force these days are H-2A workers.”
In the Mississippi Delta, a region of high unemployment and entrenched poverty, the labor mobility that is widening the pool of fieldworkers is having a devastating effect on local workers who are often ill-equipped to compete with the new hires, frequently younger and willing to work longer hours.
The new competition is upending what for many has been a way of life in the rich farmlands of Mississippi. “It’s like being robbed of your heritage,” Mr. Strong said.
In Mississippi, where the legacy of slavery and racism has long pervaded work in the cotton fields, a federal lawsuit filed by Mr. Strong and five other displaced Black farmworkers claims that the new foreign workers were illegally paid at higher rates than local Black workers, who it said had for years been subjected to racial slurs and other demeaning treatment from a white supervisor.
Two additional plaintiffs are preparing to join the suit, which says farmers violated civil rights law by hiring only white workers from South Africa, a country with its own history of racial injustice.
“Black workers have been doing this work for generations,” said Ty Pinkins, a lawyer at the Mississippi Center for Justice, which is representing the Black farmworkers in the lawsuit. “They know the land, they know the seasons, they know the equipment.”
A region steeped in poverty
A vast flood plain, the Mississippi Delta boasts some of the country’s richest soil. It also is the poorest pocket of the poorest state. In Indianola, a town of almost 10,000 about 95 miles north of Jackson, the median household income is $28,941.
The hometown of the blues legend B.B. King, Indianola is the seat of Sunflower County, where empty storefronts line forlorn downtowns and children play outside crumbling shacks.
The region, which is more than 70 percent Black, remains rigidly segregated. Black children attend underfunded public schools while white students go to private academies. Black and white families bury their dead in different cemeteries.
The Delta is only one of a number of places where South Africans have been hired for agricultural work in recent years. While Mexicans accounted for the largest share of last year’s H-2A visas, or 197,908 of them, the second-largest number, 5,508, went to South Africans. Their numbers soared 441 percent between 2011 and 2020.
Garold Dungy, who until two years ago ran an agency that recruited foreign farmworkers, including for Pitt Farms, the operation that employed Mr. Strong and the other plaintiffs, said South Africans represented the bulk of his business. They are “the preferred group,” he said, because of their strong work ethic and fluency in English.
Under the program, growers can hire foreign workers for up to 10 months. They must pay them an hourly wage that is set by the Labor Department and varies from state to state, as well as their transportation and housing.
Farmers must also show that they have tried, and failed, to find Americans to perform the work and they must pay domestic workers the same rate they are paying the imported laborers.
According to the Black workers’ lawsuit, Pitt Farms paid the South Africans $9.87 an hour in 2014, a rate that reached $11.83 in 2020. The plaintiffs who worked in the fields were paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour or $8.25 on weekends, plus occasional bonuses.
Both Walter Pitts, a co-owner of Pitts Farms, and the farm’s lawyer, Timothy Threadgill, declined to discuss the farm’s hiring strategy because of the pending litigation.
The reliance on South Africans may reflect the nature of agriculture and the demographics in the Mississippi Delta, compared with places like California.
“In the Mississippi Delta, row-crop production requires fewer workers but workers who have skills to use machinery and equipment,” said Elizabeth Canales, an agricultural extension economist at Mississippi State University. “We hardly have any Latinos in this remote region. Naturally, it’s easier to hire South Africans where language will not be a barrier, especially because in this area, you have a very small Spanish-speaking population.”
The South Africans arrived in the region willing to work weeks that sometimes stretched to 75 hours or more, grueling schedules that might have been difficult for older local workers to maintain, industry analysts said.
There was initially no public controversy over the program in Indianola. Growers in the region described the South Africans as “good workers,” said Steve Rosenthal, a three-term mayor of Indianola who lost his bid for re-election in October. Until the lawsuit was filed, he did not realize that some Black workers had been let go.
“If you have a man that you’ve trained and worked with for years and he knows how to get stuff done,” he said, “how in good conscience can you bring somebody over and pay him more than a man that’s been with you five, eight, 10 years?”
A long family history in the Delta
The Strong family has worked for generations for the Pitts family, which has farmed in the Mississippi Delta for six decades. Richard Strong’s grandfather Henry and grandmother Isadora worked their land. So did his father and his uncle.
Mr. Strong and his brother got hired in the 1990s; he eventually operated not only tractors, but big equipment like combines and cotton pickers. He mixed chemicals to control weeds and pests. He ran irrigation pivots in 19 fields, covering some 3,000 acres. He rose to manager, driving across the farm to verify that everything was in working order.
When he first heard that Africans were coming to work on the farm, about eight years ago, “I didn’t question it. I just went along doing my job,” he said.
But when four white men showed up, they were not the Africans he had expected. Even so, Mr. Strong said, the men, a good 20 years younger than him, were “cool guys.”
He taught the men how to properly plow, how to input GPS settings into the tractors’ navigation systems, how to operate the irrigation system so just the right amount of water was sprinkled on the crops.
Over the next few years, more South Africans came, until more than half the farm’s work force was there on foreign visas.
One of them was Innes Singleton, now 28, who learned about the opportunity to work in Mississippi from a friend in 2012.
He had recently finished secondary school and did not know what to do next.
He arrived in Indianola in early 2013, and is now earning $12 an hour, making in one week what would take a month for him to earn in South Africa, where the unemployment rate now exceeds 30 percent.
“I learned a lot here,” he said, adding that he sometimes had to work up to 110 hours a week. South Africans now do the main work on the farm, he said, and four locals “help us out.”
The end of an era
After the 2019 season, Mr. Strong traveled to Texas to visit his ailing father-in-law. When he returned, the Pitts Farm truck that he drove had disappeared from outside the house he had rented from the grower for about a year. He was told to vacate and was not offered work for the 2020 season.
A year later, others were let go, including his brother, Gregory, who said he had devoted much of his life to Pitt Farms.
“I gave them half my life and ended up with nothing,” he said. “I know everything on that place. I even know the dirt.”
Andrew Johnson, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, is 66 and said he had worked 20 years at the farm.
“I used to work rain or shine or anything,” he said.
But before the 2021 season began, he said, one of the Pitts owners told him “he didn’t need me no more.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, other Black workers have come forward, saying they had labored in the fields and catfish farms of the Delta before unfairly losing their jobs, Mr. Pinkins, the lawyer, said.
In late October, as the harvesting season came to a close, eighteen-wheelers in Indianola rumbled down the highway, loaded with bales of cotton. Driving alongside the farm where he spent 24 years, Mr. Strong scanned the rows of neatly carved earth as far as the eye could see. “I put in all that,” he said, with a certain pride.
Then a tractor passed by, a young South African man at the wheel, and Mr. Strong looked away. “I miss working the land,” he said.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.