Many of you remember Rev. Pinkney from some of his several speaking engagements in San Jose. Rev. Pinkney was completely exonerated after serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for a crime that the Michigan Supreme Court later ruled did not even exist.
Rev. Pinkney is not only free, but he is back on the front lines in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he recently appeared on Democracy Now as a result of his leadership in the battle against lead contamination in the water of the city, which is 94% African American.
Rev. Pinkney is appearing as part of a panel addressing next steps in the struggle to defend democracy and secure basic human necessities during the 2022 elections. We will be discussing the way forward in light of the fascist offensive against the right to vote, the recent retreat by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the principled resistance by the Squad. This is not the time to get discouraged, but rather to redouble our efforts. The increasing violence, corruption, and white supremacy of the corporate ruling class is a only sign of its desperation. Our cause is just, and the beautiful world we are fighting for is drawing nearer.
Fighting for Our Futurein the 2022 ElectionsRegister TodayClick Link BelowA National Dialogue for RevolutionariesSponsored by theLeague of Revolutionaries for a New AmericaSaturday, November 20, 2021
11 AM Pacific, 1 PM Central, 2 PM EasternFor More Information
Featuring - Rev. Edward Pinkney from Benton Harbor, Mi., Kathy Powers of Chicago, Shauna Pandelidis of Sacramento (see more about our panelists below).2022 will be a watershed year in the battle to demand a government that stops serving corporate profit and starts providing for human needs, reproductive freedom, ending state violence, and saving the earth.Turnout in the 2020 election was the largest in over 100 years, and attacks on voting rights by fascist state legislatures and Supreme Court judges are not going to stop us. When the government fails to meet basic needs, it is time to take power into the people’s hands and rebuild the system from the ground up.All will be addressing the crisis of democracy and meeting basic human needs that we face in 2022 and what needs to be done. Please join us!Panelists at this event will include Rev. Edward Pinkney from Benton Harbor, Michigan, frequent contributor to the People’s Tribune, prolific speaker, and longtime fighter for human rights and democracy. Rev. Pinkney has been a valiant fighter for the right to vote, and recently appeared on Democracy Now as one of the leaders in the battle against lead contamination in Benton Harbor’s water.Also featured will be Kathy Powers of Chicago, who became a leader of the resistance to Rahm Emmanuel’s closure of mental health clinics. She has continued to be in the forefront of community issues ever since, like safe COVID-19 school reopening, criminal justice reform, and hunger and housing.Shauna Pandelidis of Sacramento will speak. She has been advocating reproductive justice since the early 1970s, serving as Executive Director of the Feminist Women’s Health Centers of Northern California for over 40 years. She has fought all forms of systemic injustice and has become a member of the Poor People’s Campaign and the League of Revolutionaries for a New America.All will be addressing the crisis of democracy and meeting basic human needs that we face in 2022 and what needs to be done. Please join us!
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.
By Alejandra Garcia on November 11, 2021, from Havanahttps://www.resumen-english.org/2021/11/cuba-nothing-will-tarnish-our-celebration/
Cuba is getting ready to make a transition toward normalcy after more than one year of struggle against the pandemic. On Monday, thousands of children from first to fifth grade will return to classrooms as the country’s borders will be open to receive international travelers and all Cubans who have been unable to return home due to international health restrictions.
November 15 will be a symbolic day; the country will gradually begin the reactivation of its economy, battered by the impact of the Covid-19 and the blockade imposed by the United States on the island for almost 60 years. On the 15th, we will also celebrate that these two realities were successfully overcome, thanks to the diligence of the Cuban authorities and the people’s capacity to make the impossible possible.
However, Washington, the right-wing in the region, the international media emporiums, and a small opposition group on the island, which calls itself Archipelago in social networks, insist on turning this date into a day of protest, hatred, and fear. It is no coincidence that these reactionaries and their masters chose this date because they would like nothing better than to sabotage the launching of our recovery that is based on hard work, patriotism and humanism.
“They seek to spoil our party, but they will not succeed. Nothing will take away Cuba’s enthusiasm after a year of achievements and challenges,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told a group of diplomats and the press accredited on the island on Wednesday.
“The constant attempts to generate destabilization conditions in the country have worsened in recent months. But we will not allow organized aggression from abroad to spoil our people’s joyful moment,” the minister added.
There is no doubt about who is orchestrating this operation, which involves U.S. high-ranking officials, lawmakers, and senators who feel an unjustified hatred against Cuba and its people. The attempt at this type of destabilization has had irreparable consequences in other countries.
No one I know supports the day of protests that the Archipelago insists on holding on Monday, even when the Cuban authorities did not authorize it. My closest friends, neighbors, and the people I hear talking on the street are afraid to even go out on the street that day, lest they be branded as government opponents. Much less will they hang white sheets on their balconies, nor will they wear white t-shirts on November 15.
The “powerful communicational machinery,” as Rodriguez called the destabilizing attempts that seek to turn a non-existent scenario into a supposed reality, has not managed to permeate the Cuban population, as they want to make it seem.
“You can walk through our streets, and you will see the joy of Cubans at this moment when our country is opening up to world travelers and a new year is approaching,” the minister said to the diplomats gathered at the Havana Convention Palace on Wednesday.
“The US government knows perfectly well that its campaigns try to provoke suffering, a suffering that causes the so-called social explosion,” Rodriguez clarified and said that this attitude violates our sovereignty and seeks to force a change of regime by strictly political decisions.
The script followed by Washington is not new. Sixty years have shown that this policy is destined to fail.
“The obstinate desire to see the end of the Revolution founded by Fidel will never come true. They need to wake up from that dream. It is not going to happen. Nothing is going to tarnish our celebration,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reaffirmed.
Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English
The FBI put the Native American activist behind bars 44 years ago based on lies, threats and no proof he committed a crime. Why is he still there?
By Jennifer Bendery, Updated November 12, 2021
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/leonard-peltier-prison-clemency-biden_n_618049f3e4b059d0bfc19e5cNative American activist Leonard Peltier in prison in February 1986. AP PHOTO/CLIFF SCHIAPPA
Leonard Peltier has been in prison for 44 years for a crime he says he didn’t commit.
His trial was riddled with misconduct that would never hold up in a U.S. court today. Prosecutors hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Peltier’s race on the second day of the trial, but was allowed to stay on anyway.
There was never proof that he murdered two FBI agents during that 1975 shoot-out on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. But the FBI needed someone to take the fall. The agency had just lost two agents, and Peltier’s co-defendants were acquitted based on self-defense. This was happening as the FBI was fueling tensions on the reservation as part of a covert campaign to suppress the activities of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a grassroots group of activists focused on drawing attention to federal treaty rights violations, discrimination and police brutality targeting Native Americans.
Peltier, an AIM member, was there that day. So based entirely on testimony from people who had been threatened and intimidated by the FBI, and operating within a 1970s-era criminal justice system tilted in favor of the U.S. government and against Indigenous rights activists like Peltier, the U.S. Attorney’s Office successfully charged him with murder.
By all appearances, the FBI wants Peltier to die in prison while serving two life sentences.
But Peltier is still alive, now 77 and ailing in a Florida penitentiary. He is perhaps America’s longest-serving political prisoner, a holdover from a different era of justice. Here in 2021, his story still moves hundreds of thousands of people to sign petitions in support of his release. An astounding mix of human rights leaders have urged his release over the years, including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Coretta Scott King. Prominent artists including Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Rage Against The Machine have held concerts in his name. Elected tribal leaders and the National Congress of American Indians have passed resolutions urging clemency.
And now, with Joe Biden in the White House, his supporters feel a renewed sense of hope that Peltier may, at last, have a shot at living out his final years as a free man.
Biden has demonstrated a willingness to address past injustices against Native Americans. He’s made it a priority to examine the U.S. government’s ugly history of Indian boarding schools, to protect sacred Indigenous sites and cultural resources, and to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a major win for Native American tribes and environmentalists.
He also chose Deb Haaland to lead the Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Indigenous Cabinet secretary. Haaland advocated for Peltier’s release from prison in her former role as a U.S. congresswoman.
For Peltier supporters like James Reynolds, these are all reasons for hope. Reynolds was the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison in the 1970s. In an extraordinary July letter to Biden that has not been made public until now, Reynolds says he has realized over the years how unfair Peltier’s trial was, and that it would serve justice to let him go home.
“I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor: to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars,” he wrote. “With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”
Reynolds pleads with Biden to grant clemency to Peltier as a step toward healing “the broken relationship” between Native Americans and the U.S. government.
“I urge you to chart a different path in the history of the government’s relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference,” he said. “I urge you to take a step towards healing a wound that I had a part in making.”
Members of Congress are looking to Biden to free Peltier, too.
Last month, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led 10 House Democrats in a letter to the president and Attorney General Merrick Garland urging an expedited release for Peltier. They note that Peltier has serious health problems with diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“Given the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country, as well as Mr. Peltier’s underlying health conditions and age, we request immediate action be taken to release him from federal custody,” reads their letter. “Mr. Peltier has yet to receive a fair trial that is free from constitutional violations. ... He has served more than 43 years in the federal prison system, some of which have been in solitary confinement. The support for Mr. Peltier’s request for clemency is both widespread and strong.”
Grijalva told HuffPost that Peltier has been punished for maintaining his innocence. He had a shot at being released in 2009 when he was up for parole, but it would have required him to admit that he murdered the two FBI agents.
He wouldn’t do it. His parole was denied.
“Whatever punishment was meant to be meted out to Leonard has been done. It’s done,” said the Arizona congressman. “The fact that he has held to his innocence shouldn’t be a reason to deny this. He has been consistent about his position from the beginning ― from being arrested to incarcerated to this day.”
The facts may be on Peltier’s side. Biden may be the most receptive president yet to pleas to end Peltier’s imprisonment. But there’s still this nagging problem with his case: Nobody in the upper echelons of the U.S. government seems to want to talk about it.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether Biden would consider clemency for Peltier.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
The FBI declined to comment.
The most obvious question remains the simplest one: why is Leonard Peltier still in prison?
“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Kevin Sharp, who is Peltier’s pro bono attorney. “It’s why it makes my head hurt trying to figure this out.”
Sharp didn’t know who Peltier was until a few years ago. A former U.S. district court judge appointed by President Barack Obama, he had been on the bench for six years when he stepped down in 2017 over his disgust with mandatory sentencing laws forcing him to put people in prison who he otherwise may not have imprisoned at all. He turned around and became the lawyer for one of the people he had just put into prison.
In an unexpected turn of events, he connected with Kim Kardashian West and landed a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office, where they lobbied Trump to grant clemency to two people whose cases they’d gotten involved in. Both of the people Sharp was advocating for were released, and it wasn’t long before the story made national news and Sharp’s phone was blowing up with people asking for help with clemency cases.
One of the people who reached out was Willie Nelson’s ex-wife, Connie Wilson, a longtime Peltier supporter. She sent Sharp a package of materials about Peltier’s case, a package that was so big that Sharp sat down and started going through it out of curiosity. Eight hours later, after poring over trial transcripts, newspaper clippings and case opinions, Sharp said he was “floored” by all the problems with Peltier’s case.
“This thing is so riddled with misconduct and just flat-out court decisions that would never happen today,” said Sharp. “They withheld ballistic evidence that proved it wasn’t Leonard’s weapon. At the very least, we’d need to have another trial…. They wouldn’t have even gotten an indictment because they had no evidence, except for three kids pressured to say they saw him. They recanted all that evidence. And said they were threatened.”
There was a darker element to the case, too. Among the documents Sharp received was an internal FBI memo, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, directing U.S. attorneys to put all of their resources into convicting Peltier. All of his co-defendants had been acquitted. The FBI needed someone to go to prison. Peltier was the only person left to go after.
Another FBI memo laid out the bureau’s broader strategy for suppressing AIM, which is what led to the shoot-out in the first place. The agency’s plan was to “continually harass and arrest and charge” AIM members to keep them tied up in court, said Sharp, so they “can’t protest their own treatment.”
AIM members operating out of the Pine Ridge Reservation were supporting local tribal members in demanding their land back from the U.S. government, and the FBI wanted them to stop, even if it meant inciting violence. The bureau was helping the tribal chairman, who was corrupt and working with the U.S. government for his own purposes, to carry out violence against AIM members.
“Part of what’s going on is an extermination policy,” said Sharp. “We’re taking your land, your minerals. We’re going to get rid of you altogether…. That’s what started it. That’s what the counterintelligence was running.”
Peltier’s case was also happening just a few years after J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI, an era marked by his secretive abuses of power and tactics aimed at harassing political activists in an effort to amass secret files on political leaders.
Connecting all these dots, Sharp said he had to take Peltier’s case.
“I’m reading through all this as a federal judge going, ‘Oh my god, this is all proven,’” he said. “I get back with Connie Nelson and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll help. I’ll do it pro bono. … This is too important. This is not about one Indian anymore. This is about the Constitution.’”
So why, again, is Peltier still in prison, despite all the damning evidence lining up in favor of his wrongful conviction?
“Politics,” said Sharp. “In order to get clemency, you have to get the FBI on board. They have an inherent conflict. You have to get the U.S. Attorney’s Office on board. They lied to get him in prison. They have an inherent conflict. They’re not going to say, ‘Oops, sorry.’”
“It’s this holdover with the FBI,” he added.
Sharp filed Peltier’s clemency petition with the Biden administration in July.
He hasn’t gotten any response.
HuffPost talked to a number of people who have played a role in either fighting or preserving Peltier’s imprisonment over the years ― international human rights attorneys, senior-level officials from the Obama administration, Peltier’s longtime allies ― and they all pointed to the same reason for him remaining in prison: resistance from the FBI.
Justin Mazzola, deputy director for research at Amnesty International USA, said he and his colleagues were “completely blindsided” when Obama declined to grant clemency to Peltier at the end of his presidency. Amnesty International USA has devoted an entire campaign to Peltier’s release and believed that Obama would deliver.
“I really think it’s the weight that the FBI and Justice Department carry that prevents presidents from granting clemency,” said Mazzola, suggesting Peltier’s case raises particular red flags. “Not only because he was convicted of killing 2 FBI agents, but all of these issues at trial come down to issues by the FBI and U.S. Attorneys that were involved in his case.”
“It’s a travesty of justice,” he added.
Going back further, some of Peltier’s supporters say President Bill Clinton appeared ready to grant Peltier clemency until the FBI signaled it would cause trouble for him.
“We were told at the time that the Clintons were agonizing, that the night before he left office, he was agonizing over the Peltier case,” said Jack Magee, a longtime friend of Peltier’s and organizer with the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, a hub of communication between Peltier and the public, political and tribal leaders, and the media. “The following morning, Leonard’s name was gone [from the clemency list].”
Days earlier, FBI leadership had quietly signaled approval of nearly 500 active and retired FBI employees gathering outside the White House to protest Clinton potentially releasing Peltier. That, in itself, was a stunning break from discipline.
“I think Bill Clinton wanted to free Leonard,” said Magee. “But [the FBI] had issues they could use against him. He had the option of, ‘Go and live a good life, get a quarter million dollars for a good speech, or do this and we’ll hurt you, make your life miserable.’”
Sharp was heavily lobbying Trump to release Peltier in his final days in the White House. He even had colleagues on the phone with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump one morning, and said he was “looking for anything for leverage” to use to make his case for Peltier. But he stopped getting calls back by noon.
And like his White House predecessors, Trump ultimately punted on it.
The FBI’s resistance to releasing Peltier doesn’t appear to have changed much in four decades, but the culture and attitudes around it have.
George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter movement have forced conversations on the nation’s fundamental problems with racism and law enforcement. In a time of deep political polarization in Congress, criminal justice reform has strong support from both parties. The president of the United States is taking major, historic steps to rectify past injustices against Native Americans, and has made significant Indigenous hires within his administration.
If anything, Peltier’s activism from decades ago has come full circle.
“Absolutely,” Grijalva said. “What was being fought for ― to define history in Indigenous terms, not just in white people’s terms ― that was the battle. And that continues.”
But there is still a man in prison who shouldn’t be there. And given his failing health, Peltier’s last shot at freedom almost certainly rests with Biden.
“He’s out of appeals,” said Mazzola of Amnesty International. “He has no real opportunities.”
HuffPost requested an interview with Peltier, either by phone or in person at his prison. But Sharp said the Federal Bureau of Prisons has to give Peltier permission to talk to reporters, and it’s “next to impossible” to make it happen.
A spokesperson for the Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for an interview.
Reynolds, the former U.S. Attorney, said he keeps thinking about how Peltier was charged with murder for being present during a violent scene where people were killed ― the same circumstances for hundreds of Trump supporters during the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, except they all just went home afterward.
He can’t shake the unfairness of it all. And the racism beneath it.
“Why aren’t all the Jan. 6 rioters charged with murder? They were all there. People were killed. What’s the difference?” he asked. “Leonard at least had a more legitimate argument to make, that he was protesting government conduct and their treatment of the Indians.”
Reynolds said he hasn’t spoken to Peltier since helping to put him in prison so many years ago. Asked what he would say to him now, if he could say something, he went quiet.
“I’m sorry,” Reynolds finally said. “I’m sorry I can’t convince anyone else that you should be able to go home and die.”
The military never conducted an independent investigation into a 2019 bombing on the last bastion of the Islamic State, despite concerns about a secretive commando force.
By Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt, Nov. 13, 2021
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors. …It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there. ‘Who dropped that?’ a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, ‘We just dropped on 50 women and children.’ An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70. … The details, reported here for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/13/us/us-airstrikes-civilian-deaths.html?searchResultPosition=1
Fleeing heavy bombardment in Baghuz, Syria — the Islamic State’s last holdout — on March 18, 2019. Credit...Giuseppe Cacace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
In the last days of the battle against the Islamic State in Syria, when members of the once-fierce caliphate were cornered in a dirt field next to a town called Baghuz, a U.S. military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank.
Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.
It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there.
“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.”
An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.
The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details, reported here for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.
The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.
“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” said Gene Tate, an evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general’s office and agreed to discuss the aspects that were not classified. “It makes you lose faith in the system when people are trying to do what’s right but no one in positions of leadership wants to hear it.”
Mr. Tate, a former Navy officer who had worked for years as a civilian analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center before moving to the inspector general’s office, said he criticized the lack of action and was eventually forced out of his job.
The details of the strikes were pieced together by The New York Times over months from confidential documents and descriptions of classified reports, as well as interviews with personnel directly involved, and officials with top secret security clearances who discussed the incident on the condition that they not be named.
The Times investigation found that the bombing had been called in by a classified American special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the American Air Force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command center said.
In the minutes after the strike, an alarmed Air Force intelligence officer in the operations center called over an Air Force lawyer in charge of determining the legality of strikes. The lawyer ordered the F-15E squadron and the drone crew to preserve all video and other evidence, according to documents obtained by The Times. He went upstairs and reported the strike to his chain of command, saying it was a possible violation of the law of armed conflict — a war crime — and regulations required a thorough, independent investigation.
But a thorough, independent investigation never happened.
This week, after The New York Times sent its findings to U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, the command acknowledged the strikes for the first time, saying 80 people were killed but the airstrikes were justified. It said the bombs killed 16 fighters and four civilians. As for the other 60 people killed, the statement said it was not clear that they were civilians, in part because women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms.
“We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them,” Capt. Bill Urban, the chief spokesman for the command, said in the statement. “In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life.”
The only assessment done immediately after the strike was performed by the same ground unit that ordered the strike. It determined that the bombing was lawful because it killed only a small number of civilians while targeting Islamic State fighters in an attempt to protect coalition forces, the command said. Therefore no formal war crime notification, criminal investigation or disciplinary action was warranted, it said, adding that the other deaths were accidental.
But the Air Force lawyer, Lt. Col. Dean W. Korsak, believed he had witnessed possible war crimes and repeatedly pressed his leadership and Air Force criminal investigators to act. When they did not, he alerted the Defense Department’s independent inspector general. Two years after the strike, seeing no evidence that the watchdog agency was taking action, Colonel Korsak emailed the Senate Armed Services Committee, telling its staff that he had top secret material to discuss and adding, “I’m putting myself at great risk of military retaliation for sending this.”
“Senior ranking U.S. military officials intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process,” he wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Times. Much of the material was classified and would need to be discussed through secure communications, he said. He wrote that a unit had intentionally entered false strike log entries, “clearly seeking to cover up the incidents.” Calling the classified death toll “shockingly high,” he said the military did not follow its own requirements to report and investigate the strike.
There was a good chance, he wrote, that “the highest levels of government remained unaware of what was happening on the ground.”
Colonel Korsak did not respond to requests for comment.
The United States portrayed the air war against the Islamic State as the most precise and humane bombing campaign in its history. The military said every report of civilian casualties was investigated and the findings reported publicly, creating what the military called a model of accountability.
But the strikes on Baghuz tell a different story.
The details suggest that while the military put strict rules in place to protect civilians, the Special Operations task force repeatedly used other rules to skirt them. The military teams counting casualties rarely had the time, resources or incentive to do accurate work. And troops rarely faced repercussions when they caused civilian deaths.
Even in the extraordinary case of Baghuz — which would rank third on the military’s worst civilian casualty events in Syria if 64 civilian deaths were acknowledged — regulations for reporting and investigating the potential crime were not followed, and no one was held accountable.
The military recently admitted that a botched strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August killed 10 civilians, including seven children. But that kind of public reckoning is unusual, observers say. More often, civilian deaths are undercounted even in classified reports. Nearly 1,000 strikes hit targets in Syria and Iraq in 2019, using 4,729 bombs and missiles. The official military tally of civilian dead for that entire year is only 22, and the strikes from March 18 are nowhere on the list.
A Secret Task Force
The battle at Baghuz represented the end of a nearly five-year United States-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and was a foreign policy triumph for President Donald J. Trump.
At the height of its rule in 2014, the Islamic State controlled an area of Syria and Iraq about the size of Tennessee. A fleet of coalition drones, jets, attack helicopters and heavy bombers hit enemy positions with about 35,000 strikes over the next five years, plowing a path for local Kurdish and Arab militias to reclaim ground.
At the end of the grinding fight, airstrikes corralled the last Islamic State fighters in a scrap of farmland against the Euphrates River near Baghuz. Coalition air power forced thousands to surrender, sparing the lives of untold numbers of Kurdish and Arab allies.
On the ground, Task Force 9 coordinated offensives and airstrikes. The unit included soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Group and the Army’s elite commando team Delta Force, several officials said.
Over time, some officials overseeing the air campaign began to believe that the task force was systematically circumventing the safeguards created to limit civilian deaths.
The process was supposed to run through several checks and balances. Drones with high-definition cameras studied potential targets, sometimes for days or weeks. Analysts pored over intelligence data to differentiate combatants from civilians. And military lawyers were embedded with strike teams to ensure that targeting complied with the law of armed conflict. In combat situations, the process might take only minutes, but even then the rules required teams to identify military targets and minimize civilian harm. At times, when the task force failed to meet those requirements, commanders in Qatar and elsewhere denied permission to strike.
But there was a quick and easy way to skip much of that oversight: claiming imminent danger.
The law of armed conflict — the rule book that lays out the military’s legal conduct in war — allows troops in life-threatening situations to sidestep the strike team lawyers, analysts and other bureaucracy and call in strikes directly from aircraft under what military regulations call an “inherent right of self-defense.”
Task Force 9 typically played only an advisory role in Syria, and its soldiers were usually well behind the front lines. Even so, by late 2018, about 80 percent of all airstrikes it was calling in claimed self-defense, according to an Air Force officer who reviewed the strikes.
The rules allowed U.S. troops and local allies to invoke it when facing not just direct enemy fire, but anyone displaying “hostile intent,” according to a former officer who deployed with the unit numerous times. Under that definition, something as mundane as a car driving miles from friendly forces could in some cases be targeted. The task force interpreted the rules broadly, the former officer said.
The aftermath of that approach was plain to see. A number of Syrian towns, including the regional capital, Raqqa, were reduced to little more than rubble. Human rights organizations reported that the coalition caused thousands of civilian deaths during the war. Hundreds of military assessment reports examined by The Times show the task force was implicated in nearly one in five coalition civilian casualty incidents in the region.
Publicly, the coalition insisted the numbers were much lower. Privately, it became overwhelmed by the volume of civilian casualty claims reported by locals, humanitarian groups and the news media, and a backlog of civilian casualty assessment reports sat unexamined for months, two people who compiled the reports said.
But even when completed, the military teams making those assessments were not equipped to make an accurate count, the former task force officer said, because the personnel doing the counting did not investigate on the ground and often based their findings on how many dead civilians they could definitively identify from aerial footage of the rubble.
Mr. Tate, who wrote a classified report on the shortcomings of the process, said the assessment teams at times lacked training and some did not have security clearances to even view the evidence.
The assessments of the strike process were also flawed, three officials said, because they were done by the units that called in the strikes, meaning the task force was grading its own performance. Rarely did it find problems.
Alarm at the C.I.A.
Human rights groups were not the only ones sounding the alarm. C.I.A. officers working in Syria grew so alarmed over the task force’s strikes that agents reported their concern to the Department of Defense inspector general, which investigated the claims and produced a report. The results of that report are top secret, but the former task force officer, who reviewed the report, said the C.I.A. officers alleged that in about 10 incidents, the secretive task force hit targets knowing civilians would be killed.
The former officer said the report determined that all the strikes were legal.
The inspector general declined to release the report or discuss its findings.
Staff in the operations center in Qatar, who oversaw the air war, also became concerned with task force strikes. Air Force lawyers started keeping a spreadsheet, recording the self-defense justifications the task force used to call strikes, then comparing them with drone footage and other evidence, according to one officer who viewed the data. The evidence appeared to show that the task force was adding details that would legally justify a strike, such as seeing a man with a gun, even when those details were not visible in the footage.
Though a number of officers in the operations center suspected that the task force was including misleading information in the logs to justify strikes, they did not feel they had enough evidence to press the issue, the officer said. That changed on March 18, 2019.
A Fatal Strike
The camp at Baghuz was effectively the Islamic State’s Alamo — a last stand where hard-core militants vowed to fight to the death. For more than a month, they had been trapped in one square mile of burned-over farm fields. Among the makeshift tents, bullet-pocked vehicles and hand-dug bunkers were tens of thousands of women and children. Some were there willingly; some were not.
The coalition had laid siege, hoping to starve the fighters out. In six weeks, 29,000 people, most of them women and children, surrendered. On March 18, drone footage showed the camp still harbored large numbers of people suspected of being fighters and their families.
Coalition drones had scoured the camp 24 hours a day for weeks and knew nearly every inch, officers said, including the daily movements of groups of women and children who gathered to eat, pray and sleep near a steep river bank that provided cover.
What happened on the morning of March 18 is in dispute.
That day Islamic State fighters trapped in the camp launched a predawn counteroffensive, according to Central Command, which oversaw Task Force 9. It said hundreds of Islamic State fighters started firing rifles and grenade launchers and sending forward fighters with suicide vests. The coalition pummeled the fighters with airstrikes — so many that by midmorning the coalition had used all the missiles on its drones. Only one American drone, controlled by the task force, was left in the area, and it was unarmed.
At about 10 a.m., local Syrian forces reported they were under fire and in danger of being overrun, and called for an airstrike, Central Command said. The task force drone tracked a group of fighters as they made their way through the camp to the area where the women and children sheltered.
A 5th Special Forces Group officer in the task force looked at the drone footage and didn’t see any civilians, a task force officer said. But the drone he relied on had only a standard-definition camera. Central Command said there were no high-definition drones in the area that could get a better view of the target.
The Special Forces officer gave the order to fire. With no precision missiles left, the command said, the ground commander called in 500- and 2,000-pound bombs. The strike log classified the strike as self-defense.
In fact, a high-definition drone was available. The task force did not use it. Circling above, it was streaming footage of the same patch of ground to the operations center in Qatar. Because the task force operated at a high level of secrecy, two officers said, the people in Qatar watching the high-definition drone were not aware the task force was about to call in a strike.
Central Command said the task force did not know that the better drone was overhead.
The high-definition drone recorded a very different scene from what was described by Central Command this past week, three people who viewed the footage said. In it, two or three men — not 16 — wander through the frame near the crowd. They have rifles but do not appear to be maneuvering, engaging coalition forces or acting in a way that would seem to justify a self-defense strike with 2,000-pound bombs. A chat log used by analysts who were watching the footage noted the presence of women, children and a man with a gun, but did not mention any active combat, two people who viewed the log said.
The Visual Investigations team at The Times reviewed hundreds of photos, videos and satellite images of the Islamic State camp in Baghuz. The reported strike point lies between two aqueducts, which the team used as reference features to pinpoint the location.
A photograph taken the previous day shows several makeshift tents in the area.
What is not in dispute is that moments after the task force called in the strike, an F-15E attack plane hit the spot with a 500-pound bomb. Five minutes later, when ground forces saw people fleeing the blast site, the F-15E dropped two 2,000-pound bombs on the survivors. The entire attack took 12 minutes.
A Syrian videographer, Gihad Darwish, captured airstrikes in the area matching that description as he filmed from a rocky bluff above the camp. The footage shows that ground troops may not have been able to see the group of civilians.
A Failed Investigation
Defense Department regulations require any “possible, suspected or alleged” violation of the law of armed conflict to be reported immediately to the combatant commander in charge, as well as criminal investigators, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense and the secretary of the Army.
After viewing the footage, the Air Force lawyer, Colonel Korsak, ordered the units involved to preserve nine pieces of evidence, including video, and reported the strike to his chain of command, according to the email he later sent to the Senate Armed Services Committee staff. He also notified the command of concerns that the unit appeared to be covering up the alleged war crimes violations by adding details to the strike log that would justify a self-defense strike.
He told the committee staff that commanders did not take action.
Coalition forces overran the camp that day and defeated the Islamic State a few days later. The yearslong air war was hailed as a triumph. The commander of the operations center in Qatar authorized all personnel to have four drinks at the base bar, lifting the normal three-drink limit.
Civilian observers who came to the area of the strike the next day found piles of dead women and children. The human rights organization Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently posted photos of the bodies, calling it a “terrible massacre.”
Satellite images from four days later show the sheltered bank and area around it, which were in the control of the coalition, appeared to have been bulldozed.
David Eubank, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who now runs the humanitarian organization Free Burma Rangers, walked through the area about a week later. “The place had been pulverized by airstrikes,” he said in an interview. “There was a lot of freshly bulldozed earth and the stink of bodies underneath, a lot of bodies.”
Concerned that details of the airstrike would be buried as well, Colonel Korsak alerted the Air Force’s version of the F.B.I., the Office of Special Investigations. In an email Colonel Korsak shared with the Senate Armed Services Committee, a major responded that agents probably would not look into it, saying the office typically investigated civilian casualty reports only when there was “potential for high media attention, concern with outcry from local community/government, concern sensitive images may get out.”
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations declined to comment.
Colonel Korsak again pressed his chain of command to act, informing his command’s chief legal officer in a memo in May 2019 that regulations required an investigation. He later told the Senate committee’s staff that his superiors did not open an investigation.
“The topic and incidents were dead on arrival,” he wrote. “My supervisor refused to discuss the matter with me.”
The chief legal officer, Colonel Matthew P. Stoffel, did not respond to requests for comment.
The task force finished up a civilian casualty report on the strike that month and determined that four civilians were killed. But two and a half years later, on the military’s website for its campaign against the Islamic State, known as Operation Inherent Resolve, the military still publicly lists the case as “open.”
A Report Buried
Unwilling to let the issue drop, Colonel Korsak filed a hotline complaint with the inspector general’s office in August 2019.
A four-person team in the office was already looking into shortcomings in the civilian casualty reporting processes in Syria and quickly set up an interview in a secure setting. After reviewing the high-definition footage and interviewing Colonel Korsak, the team, which included Mr. Tate, told superiors in the inspector general’s office that the allegation of a war crime was “extremely credible.”
“When he came to us, he wanted to make it very clear he had tried everything else first,” Mr. Tate said. “He felt that the I.G. hotline was the only option remaining.”
But like the Air Force lawyer’s earlier effort, Mr. Tate’s team soon hit roadblocks. Central Command was slow to turn over evidence, he said. Mr. Tate obtained video from several drones flying over Baghuz that day, but could not locate the footage from the task force drone that called in the strike.
The inspector general’s office received a second complaint on the hotline about the strike, a spokeswoman said, but Mr. Tate said his team was never told.
Mr. Tate studied the task force’s casualty report, but it didn’t match what he saw on video. The civilian deaths stated in the report were “an impossibly small number,” he said.
The final section of the casualty report was reserved for the legal opinion. In one version of the report that Mr. Tate was sent by the staff at Operation Inherent Resolve, the Baghdad-based military command overseeing operations in Iraq and Syria, a task force lawyer and an operations officer wrote that a violation of the law of armed conflict may have taken place. In another copy that came from Central Command, he said, that opinion had been removed.
Mr. Tate could find no evidence that the Joint Chiefs, the defense secretary or criminal investigators had been alerted, as required.
Within days of interviewing Colonel Korsak, Mr. Tate’s team took their findings to supervisors and told them the office was required to alert those officials and criminal investigation agencies. Mr. Tate said his supervisors took no action. The team pressed leaders numerous times over the next several months, and in January 2020, Mr. Tate’s team leader drafted a memo that would formally alert authorities. It only needed to be signed by the deputy inspector general overseeing the team. Mr. Tate said the supervisor did not sign it.
In the months that followed in 2020, the team finished its report on broader issues in the civilian casualty reporting process, but as it went through the editing and approval process, which included comments from Central Command, all mentions of the Baghuz strike were cut.
Mr. Tate became increasingly pointed in criticizing the leadership of the inspector general’s office. In October 2020, he said he was forced out of his position and escorted from the building by security.
The inspector general report on civilian casualties was formally released this spring to select members of Congress and the military with the proper security clearances. The office refused to release a public copy or discuss the classified findings, but acknowledged it did not mention Baghuz.
A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office disputed Mr. Tate’s account. She said that it alerted the proper authorities at Central Command shortly after receiving the first hotline complaint in 2019. The spokeswoman said the office also notified criminal investigators about the strike in October 2020, 14 months after receiving the hotline call — around the time that Mr. Tate was terminated.
A spokeswoman for the office said a new evaluation of Special Operations Command’s adherence to the law of war was expected be completed this month, and that it would include the Baghuz strike. That report will also be classified.
After leaving the office, Mr. Tate refused to give up. He contacted the Senate Armed Services Committee in May and sent a 10-page letter describing the strike and what he viewed as a “systematic failure” on civilian casualty reporting. The committee then contacted Colonel Korsak, who replied with a detailed email.
When asked by The Times about the March 2019 strike, Chip Unruh, a spokesman for Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to comment on details of the incident, about which the Central Command has briefed the committee.
He did, however, provide a broader assessment: “When tragic errors occur on the battlefield, the United States, as the leader of the free world, has an obligation to be transparent, take responsibility, and do everything we can to learn from and prevent future mistakes.”
Mr. Tate waited for months for the committee to call back and give him an indication that it was actively looking at the case. This week, he said with a sigh that he was still waiting.
Azmat Khan, Christoph Koettl and Haley Willis contributed reporting. Drew Jordan contributed production.
Curtis Means, now 16 months old, reflects a troubling trend of premature births across the United States, a problem that some research has associated with climate change.
By Maria Cramer, Published Nov. 13, 2021, Updated Nov. 14, 2021
“Climate change could be exacerbating the problem, according to a 2020 study that examined more than 32 million births in the United States and found that pregnant women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution were more likely to have children who were premature, underweight or stillborn. It is too early to conclude how large a role climate change is playing in low birth weights and preterm births, said Dr. Bekkar, one of the authors of the 2020 study. But the evidence that it is a significant factor is compelling, he said, noting that the number of preterm births fell at least 20 percent in California in areas where fossil fuel plants shut down.”
Curtis Means and his mother, Michelle Butler. Curtis was certified this week as the world’s most premature infant to live to a first birthday. Credit...Andrea Mabry/University of Alabama at Birmingham University Relations
Michelle Butler was 21 weeks pregnant with twins — a boy and a girl — when she felt contractions.
As her sister drove her to the hospital, Ms. Butler prayed for them to stop.
But the contractions persisted and on July 5, 2020, at about 1 p.m., the babies, C’Asya Zy-Nell and Curtis Zy-Keith Means, were born. She was told that the infants, who each weighed under a pound, had less than a 1 percent chance of survival. They were quickly placed on ventilators.
C’Asya died less than a day later. Ms. Butler, 35, said she had held her in her arms, prayed for her and told her she loved her.
But Curtis hung on. He was trying to breathe on his own and his heart rate was improving, showing a resilience that shocked longtime nurses and doctors at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“He was striking even from the first breath,” said Dr. Brian Sims, a neonatologist at the hospital who cared for Curtis. “He just showed that he was going to be a strong, strong fellow from Day 1.”
Curtis was released in April, after 275 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. On Wednesday, Guinness World Records named Curtis, who was born 132 days early, the world’s most premature infant to live to a first birthday. He is now 16 months old.
Babies born that premature seldom live more than a day, Dr. Sims said.
“The truth is no baby has survived at this age,” he said. “We say less than 1 percent, but it’s really closer to zero.”
Curtis’s early birth reflects the persistently high frequency of premature births in the United States, where the yearly rate of preterm births hovers at about 10 percent, according to the March of Dimes. In Alabama, the rate was 12.5 percent in 2019, according to the organization.
Curtis was born one month after the previous record-holder, Richard Hutchinson, who was born in Minneapolis after only 21 weeks and two days of gestation.
The risk of preterm births is even higher for Black women, who are over 50 percent more likely than white women to give birth early, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
Myriad factors can contribute to premature births, including a mother’s age and income, her health and her access to prenatal care. Access to contraception can play a role. Women who have pregnancies in quick succession are also at risk of giving birth early, said Bruce Bekkar, a gynecologist and obstetrician who serves as the chairman of the Public Health Advisory Council at the Climate Action Campaign in San Diego.
Climate change could be exacerbating the problem, according to a 2020 study that examined more than 32 million births in the United States and found that pregnant women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution were more likely to have children who were premature, underweight or stillborn.
It is too early to conclude how large a role climate change is playing in low birth weights and preterm births, said Dr. Bekkar, one of the authors of the 2020 study. But the evidence that it is a significant factor is compelling, he said, noting that the number of preterm births fell at least 20 percent in California in areas where fossil fuel plants shut down.
Other events caused at least in part by climate change, like the growing number of wildfires in the western part of the United States and the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves, have been associated with preterm births.
“It’s going to get worse,” Dr. Bekkar said. Climate change “is going to continue to put increasing pressure on premature birthrates.”
Dr. Sims said it was not clear why Ms. Butler went into early labor. She had access to neonatal care and saw a doctor regularly, he said.
Ms. Butler said her cervix began to open up shortly before the birth. She underwent surgery at UAB Hospital to close it and was discharged from the hospital on July 4. Her sister was driving her home over severely bumpy roads when she began feeling the contractions, Ms. Butler said.
She said that when her daughter died, she had little time to grieve, knowing that Curtis was still trying to survive.
“I had to pull myself together and be strong for him,” Ms. Butler said. The doctors told her that with a baby born that early, they would have to “take it day by day, hour by hour.”
“It was a roller coaster,” Ms. Butler said. “He had his good and bad days, for sure.”
Ms. Butler, who also has a 7-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, drove 90 minutes several days a week from her home in Greene County, Ala., to visit Curtis at the hospital.
The nurses showed her how to feed him, change him and keep his feeding tube clean.
When he was stable enough, he was placed on his mother’s chest for skin-to-skin contact, said Sumita Gray, a nurse in the hospital’s regional neonatal intensive care unit.
Ms. Butler balanced visits to the hospital with her job at a catfish processing plant. Two weeks before Curtis was discharged, Ms. Butler quit her job, knowing she would need to spend more time with the baby.
Ms. Gray said she was thrilled when she saw him recently, when the doctors and nurses who cared for Curtis reunited with him and Ms. Butler to present them with the Guinness World Records plaque.
“He looked great,” she said. “He was roly-poly.”
Curtis still relies on a feeding tube and a nasal cannula, which helps supplement his oxygen. He needs speech and physical therapy, Ms. Butler said. But the doctors said they were pleased with his progress.
“He’s very interactive,” Dr. Sims said. “He laughs, he gets an attitude. All the things that you expect from a baby so far, he does those things.”
Ms. Butler said Curtis, who now weighs 18 pounds 9 ounces, sleeps all night and seldom whines.
“He’s a happy baby,” she said. “He’s not a crybaby.”
BY Argiris Malapanis, November 15, 2021https://world-outlook.com/2021/11/15/amazon-labor-union-withdraws-petition-for-representation-vote/
I Asked Fellow Ex-Israeli Soldiers to Tell Me Their Stories
By Rona Segal
Director Rona Segal learned filmmaking in the Israeli army.
Now, she turns the camera on her fellow soldiers.
Ms. Segal is a documentary filmmaker.
I joined the army when I was 18 years old. Military service is mandatory in Israel (with few exemptions) and we’re instructed to never doubt its necessity. But I wanted to make films, so I maneuvered my way into the Israel Defense Forces’ film unit.
The army is where I learned the craft of filmmaking, and making the short documentary above allowed me to go back to those years. But now, as an independent filmmaker, I have a different perspective, a perspective that most 18-year-olds simply don’t have.
Here, ex-soldiers share their accounts of day-to-day operations on the ground in Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. They offer a view that has rarely been seen by the public.
Here are a few screenshots from the video—and these are not the most violent altercations shown:
Stop and Frisk:
And it gets worse! Tearing up homes for no reason. Shooting Palestinians for no reason. Cheering when they shoot a young man in his testicles with rubber bullets. Rewarding soldiers who hit their targets. IDF brutality is unmatched!
After two teenage boys exchanged gunfire outside a football game in a Philadelphia suburb, the police opened fire and killed an 8-year-old girl. Now the teenagers are charged with a crime.
By Tim Arango, Nov. 16, 2021
Fanta Bility was killed in August by police officers who fired toward a car they mistakenly believed was the source of gunshots. Credit...via Bruce L. Castor Jr.
It began, prosecutors say, when two teenage boys, carrying a grudge between them and the guns to settle it, exchanged gunfire outside a high school football stadium just as a game was winding down in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
It ended with the death of an 8-year-old girl named Fanta Bility — killed not by the two boys, but by a barrage of bullets unleashed by three police officers on the scene, who began firing toward a car they mistakenly believed was the source of the gunshots.
Now, more than two months after the fatal police shooting that shook the small town of Sharon Hill, criminal charges have been brought in the case — but not against the three officers. The two teenage boys have been charged with first-degree murder for setting in motion the events that led to the death of the girl, a daughter of West African immigrants who was attending the game to watch her sister, a cheerleader, and her cousin, one of the football players.
The decision by prosecutors to charge the two teenagers, even though they did not fire the shot that killed the girl, while allowing the police officers involved to keep their jobs, has stirred outrage in the community and angered her family who worry that the police will ultimately evade accountability.
The charges rely on a legal theory known as “transferred intent,” which prosecutors believe applies in this case because they say the two teenagers had intended to kill each other, and the result of their actions was Fanta’s death. But experts say prosecutors are stretching the definition of “transferred intent” and could have difficulty making the charges stand up in court.
Prosecutors say that the police role in Fanta’s death is still under investigation and that a grand jury will begin reviewing the case on Nov. 18 “so that it may be determined whether the police officers’ use of deadly force was justified,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer of Delaware County said in a statement.
“I ask for the community’s continued patience as the grand jury undertakes its investigation,” he said.
Philip M. Stinson, a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University who studies police violence, said, “It sounds like a lot of smoke and mirrors to deflect from police accountability.” He added, “It makes no sense to shoot into a moving vehicle.”
Bruce L. Castor Jr., the lawyer for the Bility family, who has filed a lawsuit on its behalf against the city of Sharon Hill and its police department, said the girl’s parents were angered to see the charges against the teenagers. He said the family believed that the charges were a smoke screen designed to shield the police from legal consequences for killing Fanta. (The family, through Mr. Castor, declined to comment.)
Mr. Castor, a former acting attorney general of Pennsylvania who was one of former President Donald J. Trump’s defense lawyers during his second impeachment trial, said he believed that a conviction of the two teenagers would be difficult at trial.
“I’m surprised that the district attorney was that aggressive but I certainly wish him well,” Mr. Castor said. “I don’t immediately see how the doctrine of transferred intent applies under these circumstances.”
The shootings began on the evening of Aug. 27 just as the last minutes were ticking off the clock of the season-opening football game at Academy Park High School. Spectators were already streaming for the exits. On the radio, the announcer was giving the final score — a 42-0 win for the home team — when bursts of gunfire could be heard. On the field, players hit the ground seeking safety.
Prosecutors say a dispute had erupted during the game between the two boys — one 16, the other 18 — and their group of friends. They say one of them flashed a gun nestled in his waistband as he left the game and later pulled it out and began shooting toward the other group of teenagers. The other boy, having run to his car to retrieve a 9-millimeter Taurus pistol, returned fire and wounded a bystander, a witness told investigators.
A group of police officers, about 140 feet away, fired 25 shots in return, killing Fanta and wounding three other people, including an older sister.
The gunfight between the two teenagers, Mr. Stollsteimer said in the statement, “precipitated the responsive discharge of weapons by police officers stationed near the entrance to the football stadium.”
The case, experts say, reflects one of the less-discussed ways that the law can shield the police from accountability — when officers kill someone but murder charges are brought against others who were on the scene and may have participated in separate criminal acts that instigated the police response.
“The main issue here is that the police were negligent and breached their duty by showing up and shooting into a crowd,” said Dan Kozieja, of Delco Resists, a local social justice organization formed last year in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd. “Now they are trying to take the easy route out by pinning this murder on two young boys rather than taking accountability for their actions.”
BuzzFeed News, in an investigation published in August, reported on several similar cases around the country. Often in these cases, prosecutors invoked the so-called felony murder rule, which in some states allows for murder charges against someone who committed a felony that resulted in death, even if the person had no intent of killing someone.
In one case, in 2019 in Phoenix, police officers pulled over a car because they suspected the four occupants of committing a robbery. When one of them fled, the police shot him dead. The three others were charged with murder, while the police were not held accountable.
As the legal process plays out, State Senator Anthony H. Williams, whose district includes Sharon Hill, has asked for calm.
Mr. Williams said he felt “blindsided” and “betrayed” when the charges were announced, since he said he had been in discussions about the case with the district attorney’s office.
“They were not the individuals who shot the little girl,” he said. “How in God’s name you can go from not charging individuals who were involved to charging individuals who were not involved is an exclamation point for the system to be changed. Not reformed, but to be dramatically changed. It’s mind-boggling.”
An examination of Brazil’s immense tannery industry shows how hides from illegally deforested ranches can easily reach the global marketplace. In the United States, much of the demand for Brazilian leather comes from automakers.
By Manuela Andreoni, Hiroko Tabuchi and Albert SunPhotographs by Victor Moriyama, Nov. 17, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/17/climate/leather-seats-cars-rainforest.html
This article was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.
BURITIS, Brazil — One morning this summer, Odilon Caetano Felipe, a rancher who raises cattle on illegally deforested land in the Amazon, met with a trader and signed over 72 newly fattened animals. With that stroke of the pen, Mr. Felipe gave his cattle a clean record: By selling them, he obscured their role in the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest.
Over lunch shortly after the July 14 sale, Mr. Felipe spoke openly about the business that has made him wealthy. He acknowledged cutting down the thick Amazon forest and that he had not paid for the land. He also said he structured his sales to hide the true origins of his cattle by selling to a middleman, creating a paper trail falsely showing his animals as coming from a legal ranch. Other ranchers in the area do the same, he said.
“It makes no difference,” he said, whether his farm is legal or not.
A New York Times investigation into Brazil’s rapidly expanding slaughterhouse industry — a business that sells not only beef to the world, but tons of leather annually to major companies in the United States and elsewhere — has identified loopholes in its monitoring systems that allow hides from cattle kept on illegally deforested Amazon land to flow undetected through Brazil’s tanneries and on to buyers worldwide.
Mr. Felipe’s ranch is one of more than 600 that operate in an area of the Amazon known as Jaci-Paraná, a specially protected environmental reserve where deforestation is restricted. And transactions like his are the linchpins of a complex global trade that links Amazon deforestation to a growing appetite in the United States for luxurious leather seats in pickup trucks, SUVs and other vehicles sold by some of the world’s largest automakers, among them General Motors, Ford and Volkswagen.
A luxury vehicle can require a dozen or more hides, and suppliers in the United States increasingly buy their leather from Brazil. While the Amazon region is one of the world’s major providers of beef, increasingly to Asian nations, the global appetite for affordable leather also means that the hides of these millions of cattle supply a lucrative international leather market valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
This leather trade shows how the wealthy world’s shopping habits are tied to environmental degradation in developing nations, in this case by helping to fund destruction of the Amazon despite its valuable biodiversity and the scientific consensus that protecting it would help to slow climate change.
To track the global trade in leather from illegal ranches in the Brazilian rainforest to the seats in American vehicles, The Times interviewed ranchers, traders, prosecutors and regulators in Brazil, and visited tanneries, ranches and other facilities. The Times spoke to participants at all levels of the illicit trade in the Jaci-Paraná Extractive Reserve, an area in Rondônia State that has been granted special protections because it is home to communities of people who, for generations, have lived off the land by tapping rubber trees.
These communities are now being forced out by ranchers who want the land for cattle. Over the past decade, ranchers have significantly expanded their presence in the reserve, and today some 56 percent of it has been cleared, according to data compiled by the state environmental agency.
The reporting is also based on analysis of corporate and international trade data in several countries and thousands of cattle-transport certificates issued by the Brazilian government. The certificates were obtained by the Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group in Washington. The Times independently verified the certificates and separately obtained thousands of additional ones.
This enabled the tracking of leather from illegal farms in the Amazon to slaughterhouses operated by Brazil’s three biggest meatpackers, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva, and then to the tanneries they supply. JBS describes itself as the world’s largest leather processor.
According to Aidee Maria Moser, a retired prosecutor in Rondônia State who spent almost two decades fighting illegal ranching in the Jaci-Paraná reserve, the practice of selling animals reared in the reserve to middleman traders suggests an intent to conceal their origin. “It’s a way to give a veneer of legality to the cattle,” she said, “so slaughterhouses can deny there was anything illegal.”
The problem isn’t limited to Rondônia. Last month, an audit led by prosecutors in the neighboring state of Pará, home to the second-largest cattle herd in the Amazon, found that JBS had bought 301,000 animals, amounting to 32 percent of its purchases in the state, between January 2018 and June 2019 from farms that violated commitments to prevent illegal deforestation.
JBS disagreed with the criteria used by the prosecutors and agreed to improve its monitoring system, block suppliers flagged by the research and donate $900,000 to the state in response to the audit.
To get a sense of scale of the ranches operating in vulnerable areas across the Brazilian Amazon, The Times overlaid government maps of protected Amazon land, deforested areas and farm boundaries with the locations of ranches that JBS publicly listed as supplying its slaughterhouses in 2020. An analysis showed that, among the JBS suppliers, ranches covering an estimated 2,500 square miles significantly overlapped Indigenous land, a conservation zone or an area that was deforested after 2008, when laws regulating deforestation were put in place in Brazil.
The methodology and results were examined and verified by a team of independent researchers and academics who study land use in the Brazilian Amazon.
International trade data showed companies that own tanneries supplied with the hides had then shipped leather to factories in Mexico run by Lear, a major seat maker that supplies auto assembly plants across the United States. Lear said in 2018 that it was then sourcing about 70 percent of its raw hides from Brazil. Brazil’s hides also go to other countries including Italy, Vietnam and China for use in the automotive, fashion and furniture industries, the trade data showed.
JBS acknowledged that almost three-quarters of the ranches identified in The Times’s analysis did overlap with land that the government categorizes as illegally deforested, or as Indigenous land or a conservation zone. But it said all the ranches had been in compliance with rules to prevent deforestation when JBS bought from them.
JBS said that, in those instances where there were overlaps, the farms were allowed to operate in protected or deforested areas, or their boundaries had changed, or they had followed rules to fix their environmental violations. Ranching is allowed in some protected areas in Brazil if it follows sustainable practices.
In a statement, JBS said it has maintained a monitoring system for more than a decade that verifies supplier compliance with its environmental policy. “More than 14,000 suppliers have been blocked for failure to comply with this policy,” it said. However, the company said, “the great challenge for JBS, and for the beef cattle supply chain in general, is to monitor the suppliers of its suppliers, since the company has no information about them.”
Amazon deforestation has surged in recent years as ranchers race to supply growing demand for beef, particularly in China. Leather industry representatives make the point that as long as there is demand for beef, they are simply using hides that would otherwise be sent to landfills.
Raoni Rajão, who studies Amazon supply chains at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said that because the leather industry makes ranching more profitable, it shares responsibility for any deforestation. “Leather can have high added value,” he said.
Forest loss is destroying the Amazon’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which trees pull out of the air. Carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is the main driver of climate change. Brazil was one of more than 100 nations to pledge to end deforestation by 2030 at the recent United Nations climate summit in Glasgow.
While most ranches in the Amazon region aren’t linked to illegal deforestation, the findings show how illegal leather is entering the global supply chain, circumventing a system that slaughterhouses and leather companies themselves created in recent years to try to show that their cattle come only from legitimate ranches.
In response to detailed questions, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva said they weren’t aware that cattle from the Jaci-Paraná reserve were entering their supply chains.
All three said they had systems to monitor farms that supply their slaughterhouses directly, and that they exclude farms that don’t comply with environmental laws. But all three acknowledged that they can’t trace indirect suppliers, such as Mr. Felipe, who sell cattle through middlemen, masking their origins.
Lear said it used “a robust sourcing process” that ensured it worked “with the most capable and advanced suppliers that are committed to purchasing hides from cattle reared on compliant farms.” The company said that if suppliers violated its policies, it would take steps that could include canceling their contracts “and/or legal action against the supplier.”
G.M. said it expected suppliers to “comply with laws, regulations, and act in a way consistent with the principles and values” of the automaker. Ford said it aspired “to source only raw materials that are responsibly produced.” Volkswagen said its suppliers already adhered to a high level of sustainability.
In Jaci-Paraná, the global demand for leather is helping to sustain a growing herd of 120,000 cattle where forest once stood. “If all the cattle were sold,” said Ms. Moser, the former prosecutor, the government would have enough money “to reforest the whole reserve.”
‘I came here to kill you’
It was pouring rain last December when two men docked at Lourenço Durães’ home by the Jaci-Paraná River. Mr. Durães, a 71-year-old rubber tapper, invited the men in and offered them coffee. Then, after discussing the weather for a few minutes, one of the visitors got right to the point
“I won’t fool you,” he said, according to Mr. Durães and one of his friends, who together described the meeting recently. “I came here to kill you.”
They wanted to get rid of Mr. Durães because his land is valuable to ranchers.
Jaci-Paraná was created in 1996 to grant a community of rubber-tree tappers the right to pursue their livelihood. Mr. Durães is among the last of the tappers. The community is being pushed out by deforestation.
“We are frightened, but I hope for justice,” Mr. Durães said, adding that he believed he was spared that day because he is an old man.
According to Mr. Durães and a police report filed by his friend, the would-be hit man identified the person who had sent him, but only by a nickname. The police didn’t investigate, according to the police report, because Mr. Durães and his friend couldn’t provide a full name of a person to press charges against.
In an interview, Lucilene Pedrosa, who directs the regional police division, said her team was waiting for the men to provide more information so it could investigate.
Government data analyzed by The Times shows the appetite for land in the area. According to the numbers, between January 2018 and June 2021 ranches operating in Jaci-Paraná on illegally deforested land sold at least 17,700 cattle to intermediate ranches. The buyers were suppliers to the three big meatpackers, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva, according to both government and corporate data.
Almost half of those 17,700 cattle were bought by Armando Castanheira Filho, a local trader who has been one of the largest buyers in Jaci-Paraná and a direct supplier to all three major meatpackers. The sales to him created a paper trail that concealed that the cattle originated on illegal ranches.
A Times reporter witnessed such a transaction when Mr. Felipe, the rancher who acknowledged engaging in deforestation, sold his 72 cattle this year. The buyer that day was Mr. Castanheira.
The Times then tracked the animals. Eleven hours later, they ended up at a Marfrig slaughterhouse.
Marfrig runs a website listing where its cattle come from in an effort to show that it sources cattle responsibly. For the July 14 shipment tracked by The Times, Mr. Felipe’s ranch isn’t listed on the site. But the list of farms that supplied cattle for the next day’s slaughter does include Mr. Castanheira’s farm, which is located outside the reserve.
At the end of that day at the Marfrig slaughterhouse, a truck marked with the name of a tannery, Bluamerica, left the slaughterhouse carrying hides. Bluamerica is a tannery that supplies Lear, the automobile seat maker.
Mr. Castanheira confirmed that some of the cattle he buys from the reserve go directly to slaughter, spending no time at his ranch, although the paperwork shows they went through his own farm first. He denied doing it to hide the cattle’s origin.
“I don’t do this to ‘launder’ anything,” he wrote in a text message. He said his intent was simply to profit from the difference between what he pays for each animal and what he can get at the slaughterhouse.
Marfrig, Minerva and JBS said they did not dispatch trucks to pick up cattle at the Jaci-Paraná reserve, or any location other than their direct suppliers. Lawyers for Marfrig have also filed a report with the police that lists the events described by The Times, calling them “potential offenses of criminal nature.”
Mr. Castanheira now maintains that the Times reporter witnessed the only instance of this kind of transaction by him. All three meatpacking companies said they have now excluded Mr. Castanheira from their supplier pool.
Two of Bluamerica’s owners, companies named Viposa and Vancouros, said their suppliers were subject to regular audits and acknowledged the challenges of tracing indirect suppliers. Both companies said they were working with the World Wide Fund for Nature, an environmental group based in Switzerland, to improve their systems.
Overall, an analysis of government data on cattle movement in Jaci-Paraná and nearby areas between 2018 and 2021 identified 124 transactions that show signs of cattle laundering, experts say. The transactions show at least 5,600 cattle were transferred from farms in the reserve to middlemen who, on the same day, sold cattle to the three major slaughterhouses.
Holly Gibbs, a University of Wisconsin-Madison geographer who has been researching agribusiness in the Amazon for a decade, said that though legitimate middlemen often buy and sell cattle on the same day, the fact that the transactions aren’t closely tracked “is a huge loophole.”
“They’re bringing animals that were raised on a protected area into national and international supply chains,” she said.
The supply chain, from the ranch to the auto showroom, is complex. Hides from Minerva and JBS slaughterhouses go to JBS-owned tanneries, while Marfrig’s hides are mainly processed by Vancouros and Viposa, according to corporate data and interviews. Trade data compiled by Panjiva, the supply-chain research unit at S&P Global Market Intelligence, shows that the seat manufacturer Lear, which is based in Southfield, Mich., is the largest American buyer of hides from JBS, Vancouros and Viposa.
This past May, illegal ranchers in Jaci-Paraná won a major victory. Rondônia’s governor signed into law a measure that shrank the size of the reserve by 90 percent.
The law, which prosecutors are fighting in court, opens a path for ranchers on illegally deforested land to legalize their businesses. Critics of the law said it could set a precedent for further deforestation in other protected reserves.
No matter the outcome of that legal fight, Mr. Durães, the rubber tapper, said he did not intend to leave his sliver of forest. The cattle pasture is now barely a mile away from his two-room wooden home.
Living among the mighty trees is the only existence he knows. And staying, he said, is “the only way to keep the forest standing.”
‘Transparency’ with a loophole
Every few seconds at the Vancouros tannery in southern Brazil, the sound of leather hides tumbling in dozens of 11-foot wooden drums is interrupted by the clicks of a pneumatic marker as each individual hide is pierced with a seven-digit code that traces its origin.
Clébio Marques, the tannery’s commercial director, plucked a damp blue hide from a pile, pulled out his phone and typed its code into a website that his company created for its clients, such as Lear. Up popped the details of the supplier of that specific hide.
“All of our leather is traceable,” he said. “This is not required, no one asked for it, but we felt the market needed more transparency.”
But then Mr. Marques was presented with the finding that one of his most important suppliers, Marfrig, was buying cattle from suppliers whose transactions showed signs of cattle laundering. “I’m surprised,” he said. “We expect the main product to be legal.”
He stressed, though, that his own company’s monitoring wasn’t at fault. “We have to trust the documents that are provided to us, because our audit is based on their system,” Mr. Marques said.
All three major meatpackers have systems designed to track the last farm where the cattle they slaughter came from. However, all three have the same flaw: They don’t account for the fact that cattle don’t typically spend their whole lives on a single farm. Therefore, they don’t consider that a direct supplier might be selling cattle that were actually raised by someone else, on illegally deforested land.
The tracking systems were created after a 2009 Greenpeace report that linked Brazilian beef and leather suppliers to illegal deforestation. Today, the three major firms state that they have zero-tolerance deforestation policies for all direct suppliers.
All three major slaughterhouses publicly post their tracking data online. JBS’s is the most detailed; the other companies omit ranches’ precise locations. It was the Times analysis of this JBS data for 2020, the most recent year available, that indicated the company’s suppliers included ranches that may have violated government rules designed to prevent deforestation and displacement of Indigenous people.
JBS said all of its suppliers were in compliance at the time of purchasing. Marfrig and Minerva said that they shared as much information about their direct suppliers as permissible under Brazil’s data privacy law.
As part of this process, tanneries rely on an industry-funded organization, the Leather Working Group, to certify their compliance. The group has assigned its top rating, “gold,” to all the Amazon-based tanneries that supply Lear with leather, signifying that they adhere to environmentally sustainable practices.
In a statement, the group said it was working to improve its traceability protocols but that “due the complexity of the farming systems in Brazil and lack of publicly available databases, there is still, unfortunately, no easy solution for this situation.”
JBS, Marfrig and Minerva all have publicly pledged to improve the tracking of ranches that sell cattle to its direct suppliers. JBS has said it will trace one layer of indirect suppliers by 2025. Marfrig vowed to trace all its indirect suppliers in the Amazon by 2025 and Minerva said it would have fully traceable supply chains in South America by 2030.
“Only a birth-to-slaughter traceability for individual animals is going to be enough to ensure that there is no deforestation in these high-risk supply chains in the Amazon,” said Rick Jacobsen of the Environmental Investigation Agency, the nonprofit group.
From Brazil to America’s car lots
The leather seats in Cadillac’s Escalade SUV, described by a dealer in Washington State as “a luxury hotel on wheels,” can push the price for General Motors’ top-of-the-line model to more than $100,000.
The Escalade is one of the many vehicles sold in the United States that uses leather seats and other trimmings from Lear, a company that commands about a fifth of the world’s market in car seats.
Neither Lear nor G.M. labels where the leather for its car seats comes from. Lear’s imports of Brazilian leather have surged over the past decade, driven by a jump in leather sourced from JBS, according to data from Panjiva, the supply-chain data company. Last year, Lear was the largest American importer of leather and hides from Brazil, importing about 6,000 tons, the bulk of that from JBS, according to Panjiva data.
Full-size trucks and large SUVs are a growing force behind the demand for leather trimmings in the auto industry. To many buyers, leather “screams luxury and usually adds significant resale value,” said Drew Winter, a senior analyst at Wards Intelligence, an automotive research firm.
Raymond E. Scott, Lear’s chief executive, laid out the importance of luxury vehicles at an investor presentation in June. The company has 45 percent of the luxury market, he said. And what was propelling the growth in Lear’s seating business was “really the strength of G.M.’s full-size trucks and SUVs,” a lineup that also includes the Yukon, Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.
In Brazil, “100 percent of our suppliers use geo-fencing” (a technology that uses GPS to establish a virtual fence) “to ensure they don’t buy animals from farms involved with deforestation,” Lear said in a 2018 statement.
However, The Times’s findings in Brazil indicate that Lear’s suppliers didn’t have the ability to track all cattle in this way.
Lear said it required all suppliers to comply with a no-deforestation policy, which bans the use of any materials sourced from illegally deforested areas or from Indigenous or other protected lands. According to corporate filings, Lear’s other biggest customers are Ford, Daimler, Volkswagen and Stellantis, formed from the merger of Fiat Chrysler and the French maker of Peugeot and Citroën cars.
General Motors said its supply chain was “built on strong, transparent and trusted relationships.” Ford said it held itself and its suppliers to ambitious standards and “did well in many areas and can improve in others.” Volkswagen said it was working on better tracking the supply chain back to the farm.
Daimler said that a small percentage of its leather came from Brazil. Stellantis said it shared concerns over traceability, and was actively working to confirm locations of tanneries and farms in its supply chain.
Last year, about one-third of the 15,000 tons of leather imported to the United States came from Brazil, which recently overtook Italy to become the biggest exporter of leather and hides to America. Much of that increase can be attributed to the auto industry.
The bulk of JBS’s leather shipments to Lear in the United States travels from São Paulo to Houston, according to trade data from Panjiva. From there, much of it is trucked across the Mexican border to one of two dozen car-seat factories operated by Lear in Mexico, where workers cut the hides and stitch them into seat covers.
The leather is then trucked back over the border. From January 2019 through June 2021, Lear’s plants in Mexico shipped at least 1,800 tons of leather to the United States, according to trucking data tallied by Material Research.
Its final destination: Lear facilities nationwide. They tend to be located closer to the final automobile-assembly plants, making it easier for the company to match color and other variations to the models coming down the vehicle assembly lines.
One such destination is General Motors’ plant in Arlington, Texas, a sprawling campus on 250 acres where the automaker produces some of the company’s largest and most luxurious trucks, including the Escalade. Autoworkers assemble about 1,300 SUVs a day for sale in the United States as well as for export.
A 10-minute drive away, Lear has a factory that makes leather seats.