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.
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
Sign Petition at:
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
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Cybèle C. Greenberg, Nov. 26, 2021
Ms. Greenberg is a fellow with the editorial board and a former active-duty Marine officer.
Illustration by Rebecca Chew/The New York Times; photograph courtesy of the Vassas family
Anne Vassas loved being a Marine.
She was always smiling. Younger members of her unit saw Corporal Vassas, 20, as something like a mother. Stationed in Iwakuni, Japan, she was re-enlisting for a second tour.
So it came as a shock when Corporal Vassas took her own life in August 2019, a month before her 21st birthday.
Six months after her death, her father was surprised to discover among her belongings pages from a sexual assault report she filed in October 2018. A military investigation into Corporal Vassas’ death later found that she may have been sexually assaulted on three occasions while serving in uniform.
The death of Corporal Vassas, and other deaths like hers, raises questions regarding the military’s ability to care for its service members who experience sexual trauma. In many cases, untreated trauma can have deadly consequences.
There are numerous misconceptions about military suicide. Despite the stereotypes, there is no significant association between combat deployments and the rate of suicide, according to a study in JAMA Psychiatry.
Some experts say that it would be more accurate to blame the problem on the military’s culture of intensity and violence that extends well beyond the battlefield. That includes toxic relationships between service members and continued stigma surrounding those seeking help. It is perhaps no coincidence that the Army and the Marine Corps — the two branches founded on an infantry culture, in which the perception of strength trumps all else — experience the highest suicide rates.
A report by the Defense Department inspector general this month indicates that although the number of sexual assault complaints has doubled in the past decade, the services often cut corners when it comes to investigating and prosecuting them.
Sexual trauma is associated with an increased risk of suicide and is more likely than combat to lead to post-traumatic stress for both men and women. While combat troops get time to recover from their deployments, victims of sexual trauma are often sidelined or forcibly discharged, according to Don Christensen, a retired Air Force officer who is president of Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit that works to end sexual violence in the military.
Many victims of sexual violence actually experience trauma twice: once, at the hands of the offender, and a second time, at the hands of the institution they serve.
In a July report, the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military found that many of those who reported sexual violence regretted doing so. The backlash often compounds the trauma of the actual assault.
Worse still, some service members attempt suicide after speaking up and seeking help. Studies show that the perception of betrayal by the military bureaucracy in the aftermath of sexual assault is associated with severe depression and self-inflicted violence. Women who served in the military are at 2.5 times the risk for suicide compared to their counterparts who did not.
According to the investigation into her death, Corporal Vassas tried reporting her sexual assaults several times. But the reporting process was perilous. During her initial training, she said that she had been forcibly kissed by another Marine. But when investigators reminded her that having a relationship with another trainee was prohibited, she withdrew her complaint.
While stationed in California, Corporal Vassas told two of her childhood friends that an officer had interrupted another Marine pushing her up against the wall of his room and taking her pants off without her consent, after both had been drinking. She was disciplined over this incident because she was not supposed to be in the barracks for men.
The inquiry into her death suggests that the officer who reprimanded Corporal Vassas ignored the assault and that a military investigator believed she may have been lying about the incident “to get out of trouble for being in the wrong barracks.”
But her medical record tells a different story. Her heightened depression and anxiety can be traced back to late 2018 and were likely “due to the stress induced by the sexual assault” in the barracks, according to a behavioral health assessment. It was also around this time that Corporal Vassas started voicing suicidal ideations to her friends, including one text message that read, “I can’t live with this pain.”
But in February 2019, she was given a clean bill of health and cleared to deploy to Japan. There, Corporal Vassas may have been sexually assaulted yet again, according to Marines in her unit.
Six months after her arrival in Iwakuni, Corporal Vassas was dead.
The contours of her story are all too similar to those of other servicewomen. In May an Army specialist, Kaylie Harris, 21, who reported she was raped by a man after she came out as gay, died by suicide. In 2018 an Army private, Nicole Burnham, 21, died by suicide after incidents in which male soldiers held her down against her will and photographed and assaulted her. Despite some fellow soldiers calling her a “whore,” “slut” and “deserving of rape” after she reported the attacks, the Army was slow to transfer her out of South Korea, according to an investigation by CBS News. In 2009 a 20-year-old Marine, Carri Leigh Goodwin, died from acute alcohol poisoning after, according to a lawsuit, she was raped twice and bullied by her commander for reporting the second rape.
Many factors have contributed to a recent increase in suicide rates for military personnel, and they’re not entirely well understood. The accessibility of guns certainly plays a role: The most common method of suicide across the military is death by firearm. The White House recently announced regulations that will increase the availability of secure gun storage and safety devices.
More research is also needed on the possible correlations between military suicide, the protracted length of recent wars and the rise in traumatic brain injuries from increased exposure to improvised explosive devices.
Despite years of effort and tens of millions of dollars invested in prevention research and programs, suicide continues to afflict military communities. Last year there was a statistically significant increase in the rate of suicide deaths by active duty troops in all services — the highest rate since 2008, when the Pentagon began keeping detailed records, according to the Defense Department’s latest annual suicide report.
An independent Pentagon commission established this year prefaced its findings on sexual trauma with a letter to service members: “We heard you.”
But in at least some important ways, no one listened to Corporal Vassas, Specialist Harris, Private Burnham or countless other service members who experienced unbearable trauma while serving their country.
Many military units still do not take sexual trauma or mental health as seriously as they should and often treat suicide awareness training as a perfunctory exercise. Few active duty military leaders speak out about their own struggles coping with trauma. Those who do often face derailed careers — something that discourages junior troops from speaking up and seeking help themselves.
Ultimately, it is only genuine, supportive human connections with other service members, leaders and veterans — those who believe and understand them — that will save young American troops from feeling there is no way out.
Iranians couldn’t buy gas. Israelis found their intimate dating details posted online. The Iran-Israel shadow war is now hitting ordinary citizens.
By Farnaz Fassihi and Ronen Bergman, Published Nov. 27, 2021, Updated Nov. 28, 2021
Cars line up for gas in Tehran on Oct. 27, a day after a cyberattack on Iran’s fuel distribution system. Credit...Vahid Salemi/ Associated Press
Millions of ordinary people in Iran and Israel recently found themselves caught in the crossfire of a cyberwar between their countries. In Tehran, a dentist drove around for hours in search of gasoline, waiting in long lines at four gas stations only to come away empty.
In Tel Aviv, a well-known broadcaster panicked as the intimate details of his sex life, and those of hundreds of thousands of others stolen from an L.G.B.T.Q. dating site, were uploaded on social media.
For years, Israel and Iran have engaged in a covert war, by land, sea, air and computer, but the targets have usually been military or government related. Now, the cyberwar has widened to target civilians on a large scale.
In recent weeks, a cyberattack on Iran’s nationwide fuel distribution system paralyzed the country’s 4,300 gas stations, which took 12 days to have service fully restored.
That attack was attributed to Israel by two U.S. defense officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments. It was followed days later by cyberattacks in Israel against a major medical facility and a popular L.G.B.T.Q. dating site, attacks Israeli officials have attributed to Iran.
The escalation comes as American authorities have warned of Iranian attempts to hack the computer networks of hospitals and other critical infrastructure in the United States. As hopes fade for a diplomatic resurrection of the Iranian nuclear agreement, such attacks are only likely to proliferate.
Hacks have been seeping into civilian arenas for months. Iran’s national railroad was attacked in July, but that relatively unsophisticated hack may not have been Israeli. And Iran is accused of making a failed attack on Israel’s water system last year.
The latest attacks are thought to be the first to do widespread harm to large numbers of civilians. Nondefense computer networks are generally less secure than those tied to state security assets.
No one died in these attacks, but if their goal was to create chaos, anger, and emotional distress on a large scale, they succeeded wildly.
“Perhaps there’s a war going on between Israel and Iran, but from the little civilian’s perspective we are being held as prisoners here in the middle and are helpless,” said Beni Kvodi, 52, an editor at an Israeli radio station.
Mr. Kvodi has been openly gay for years, but the hack on the Israeli dating site threatened to expose thousands of Israelis who had not come out publicly about their sexual orientation. The site collected embarrassing information about users’ sexual habits, as well as explicit photos.
Ali, a 39-year-old driver with the national taxi company in Tehran who, like other Iranians interviewed, asked that his last name not be used out of fear for his security, said he lost a day of work waiting in gas station lines that snaked for miles.
“Every day you wake up in this country and you have a new problem,” he said in a telephone interview. “It isn’t our fault our governments are enemies. It’s already hard enough for us to survive.”
Both countries appear to be striking out at civilians to send messages to their governments.
The hack on Iran’s fuel distribution system took place on Oct. 26, near the two-year anniversary of large antigovernment protests set off by a sudden increase in gasoline prices. The government responded then with a brutal crackdown, which Amnesty International said killed more than 300 people.
The cyberattack appeared aimed at generating another wave of antigovernment unrest.
Gas pumps suddenly stopped working and a digital message directed customers to complain to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, displaying the phone number of his office.
The hackers took control of billboards in cities like Tehran and Isfahan, replacing ads with the message “Khamenei, where is my gasoline?”
“At 11 a.m. suddenly the pumps stopped working,” said Mohsen, the manager of a gas station in northern Tehran. “I have never seen anything like this.”
Rumors spread that the government had engineered the crisis to raise fuel prices. Iran’s app-based taxi companies, Snap and Tapsi, doubled and tripled their normal fares in response to drivers having to purchase expensive unsubsidized fuel, Iranian news media reported.
The antigovernment uprising never materialized but the government scrambled to contain the damage and tamp down the uproar. The Oil Ministry and the National Cyber Council held emergency meetings. The oil minister, Javad Owji, issued a rare public apology on state television, and pledged an extra 10 liters of subsidized fuel to all car owners.
To get pumps back online, the ministry had to send technicians to every gas station in the country. Once the pumps were reset, most stations could still sell only unsubsidized fuel, which is twice the price of subsidized fuel.
It took nearly two weeks to restore the subsidy network, which allots each vehicle 60 liters — about 16 gallons — a month at half price.
But the hack may have been more serious than an inconvenience to motorists.
A senior manager in the Oil Ministry and an oil dealer with knowledge of the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions, said that officials were alarmed that hackers had also gained control of the ministry’s fuel storage tanks and may have had access to data on international oil sales, a state secret that could expose how Iran evades international sanctions.
Because the ministry’s computer servers contain such sensitive data, the system operates unconnected to the internet, leading to suspicions among Iranian officials that Israel may have had inside help.
Four days after Iran’s pumps stopped working, hackers gained access to the databank of the Israeli dating site Atraf, and medical files at Machon Mor Medical Institute, a network of private clinics in Israel.
Files from both hacks — including the personal information of about 1.5 million Israelis, about 16 percent of the country’s population — were posted to a channel on the Telegram messaging app.
The Israeli government asked Telegram to block the channel, which it did. But the hackers, a little-known group called Black Shadow, immediately reposted the material on a new channel, and continued to do so each time it was blocked.
The group also posted files stolen from the Israeli insurance company Shirbit, which was hacked last December and insured employees of Israel’s Defense Ministry.
Three senior Israeli officials, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss secret cyber issues, said that Black Shadow was either part of the Iranian government or freelance hackers working for the government.
Personal data from the dating site could be disastrous “even for those who are already out of the closet,” Mr. Kvodi said. “Each one of us has a very close and intimate ‘relationship’ with Atraf.”
The site contains not only names and addresses, he said, but also “our sexual preferences, who’s H.I.V. positive, who uses prophylactics or does not, along with the fact that the site makes it possible to upload nude photographs and relevant video footage of us and to send them to other subscribers.”
Many Atraf subscribers soon complained that their Instagram, Facebook or gmail accounts had also been hacked.
Cyber experts said these hacks were not the work of Black Shadow but knock-on hacks by criminals who used the personal data Black Shadow had posted. In some cases, they blocked the accounts, demanding ransom to restore access.
Neither Israel nor Iran has publicly claimed responsibility or laid blame for the latest round of cyberattacks. Israeli officials refused to publicly accuse Iran, and Iranian officials have blamed the gas station attack on a foreign country, stopping short of naming one.
Experts say the cyberattacks on softer civilian targets could be the start of a new phase in the conflict.
Lotem Finkelstein, head of intelligence at Check Point, a cybersecurity company, said that Iranian hackers had “identified a failure in Israeli understanding” about cyber conflict.
They realized that “they do not need to attack a government agency, which is much more protected,” but could easily attack small, private companies, with less sophisticated security, “that control enormous amounts of information, including financial or intimate personal information about many citizens.”
Each side blames the other for the escalation, and even if there were the will to stop it, it’s hard to see how this genie gets recorked.
“We are in a dangerous phase,” Maysam Behravesh, a former chief analyst for Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, said in a Clubhouse chat on Monday. “There will be a next round of widespread cyberattack on our infrastructure. We are a step closer to military confrontation.”
More than 20,000 strangers have donated to an online fund-raiser to help Kevin Strickland’s re-entry to society.
By Christine Chung and Claire Fahy, Nov. 27, 2021
Kevin Strickland after his release from prison on Tuesday. He said he hopes to build a small house with a fishing pond nearby. Credit...Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star, via Associated Press
Kevin Strickland left a Missouri prison penniless on Tuesday after serving more than 40 years for a triple murder that he did not commit, but more than 20,000 strangers have donated about $1.3 million to an online fund-raiser to help his re-entry to society.
He was exonerated without DNA evidence, which disqualified him from being compensated by the state, despite spending decades behind bars, his lawyers said. Mr. Strickland, 62, said on Friday that the community did not owe him anything for his wrongful imprisonment.
“The courts failed me and that’s who should be trying to make my life a little more comfortable,” he said. “I really do appreciate the donations and contributions they made to try to help me acclimate to society.”
Mr. Strickland said the four days back in Kansas City had been overwhelming.
The sprawl of highways was especially dizzying, he said during a phone call while headed to the Independence Center shopping mall to spend $25 that someone had given him. He said he planned to buy a bag of cough drops and a shower cap — his first purchases outside of prison in more than 40 years.
The online fund-raiser, organized by the Midwest Innocence Project, was set up by Tricia Rojo Bushnell, one of his lawyers and the project’s executive director. Ms. Bushnell said she routinely raises funds for newly released clients but the amount raised for Mr. Strickland was a surprise.
“I think for all of us it’s hopeful, right?” Ms. Bushnell said. “Until the system has changed where the system is failing, the community is stepping in to fix it, to fill the void. It’s pretty amazing.”
Mr. Strickland does not yet have a bank account, a phone or a form of government identification. For now, he is staying at a brother’s house.
Mr. Strickland will receive the full amount of the donations as soon as he has a bank account to transfer it into, Ms. Bushnell said. The Midwest Innocence Project will also set him up with a financial adviser to help him structure the money and determine how he wishes to spend it.
Ms. Bushnell printed out a packet of supportive comments that accompanied the many donations.
“I wish I knew how many pages it is, but it’s very thick,” she said. “He can read them and see them and know that it’s not just monetary. The folks have messages and stories of hope for him.”
Mr. Strickland was convicted in 1979 of killing three people in Kansas City the year before: Sherrie Black, 22; Larry Ingram, 21; and John Walker, 20. The only eyewitness had picked Mr. Strickland from a lineup. Mr. Strickland was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years.
One of the two other men who pleaded guilty to the murders maintained that Mr. Strickland played no part in the killings, and the sole eyewitness later recanted her testimony, Judge James E. Welsh of Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals noted in his decision to exonerate Mr. Strickland.
The exoneration advanced after the passage this year of a state law allowing prosecutors to hold hearings for potential wrongful convictions for which there was new evidence.
Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor for Jackson County, said in a statement that she filed a motion in Mr. Strickland’s case as soon as she could in August.
“Mr. Strickland was falsely held for 43 years and he doesn’t have a single cent to support him from the State of Missouri,” she said. “He should be paid for this wrong that happened to him. No one could argue that would not be the right thing, the just thing, to do.”
Barbara O’Brien, the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, said there is a misconception that a majority of exonerations relied on DNA evidence. Of the registry’s 2,900 exonerations, only 549 involved DNA.
“It’s shortsighted to have a compensation scheme that turns on whether or not there’s DNA evidence of innocence because that has nothing to do with how innocent they are,” she said.
Ann Jacobs, executive director of John Jay College’s Institute for Justice and Opportunity, said that the goal of re-entry into society was to “move from survival” to a plan for long-term stability and self-sufficiency.
“Everybody who, you know, goes away for some period of time has to come back and reconstruct a whole life for themselves, and their ability to do that is different depending on what their lives were like before they went in, how long they’ve been away, and what kind of support exists for them when they get out,” she said.
In many cases, it is very important for those exonerated to receive a formal apology, Ms. O’Brien said. Mr. Strickland said he would have liked to receive apologies from top state officials but that he’s not dwelling on it.
There are other life plans to attend to, he said, like leaving Missouri and pursuing his dream of buying a small piece of land outside of a city.
“I’ll build a small house, a small bedroom, two- to three-bedroom house, have me some chickens and four to five dogs, a fishing pond somewhere close by, a big fence where nobody can get in,” he said. “Just some alone time, some getaway space.”
By Sarah Wildman, Nov. 29, 2021
Ms. Wildman is a staff editor and writer in Opinion.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/29/opinion/heartbeat-abortion-bans-savita-izabela.html
In 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old married dentist, appeared at Ireland’s University Hospital Galway in pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying. According to Dr. Halappanavar’s husband, hospital staff said that there was no saving the pregnancy, but they refused to intercede because her fetus still had a heartbeat. She was told her only option was to wait.
Dr. Halappanavar became feverish. By the time the fetal heartbeat faded away, she was in organ failure. Two and a half days later she was dead.
Nearly three decades earlier, Ireland’s leaders created one of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws with an amendment to their nation’s Constitution, cementing Ireland’s near-total ban on abortions. After that, women who were able left the country for the procedure, while those who couldn’t lived with the consequences of the law. The amendment remained in place despite many stories of related brutality during that period, including a suicidal 14-year-old girl who was impregnated through rape. Her family had to plea to the highest court in the nation for her to even travel for a termination. She lost her case at first, but mass protest prompted the court to reconvene, and she was ultimately allowed to travel to Britain for an abortion.
Dr. Halappanavar’s story had an even greater impact. When she died, her husband stepped forward immediately and said Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws were to blame in her death. Her death created a surge of grief and anger that became a focal point of the abortion and women’s rights movement in Ireland, and contributed to the drive to overturn the country’s constitutional amendment.
“People would say, ‘This is for Savita,’ and she came to symbolize all women who had to struggle and suffer because of that ban,” an Irish abortion rights activist, Ailbhe Smyth, told me. In 2018 Irish voters finally overturned the amendment.
In the United States, with Roe v. Wade likely to be largely dismantled, if not overturned, next year, it is time to look again at the women whose lives — and deaths — changed how the public understands what’s at stake when we talk about banning abortion.
“The thing I worry about in the United States is that the rallying cry won’t happen until women die, and that’s so unnecessary and unfortunate,” said Kathryn Kolbert, who in 1992 argued the major abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court.
It should not take a high-profile death to expose just how much is at risk when medicine is hamstrung by politics, religion or culture. And yet, interviewed for The New York Times, women across Ireland described how learning about Savita Halappanavar’s story had woken them up to the reality that their very lives were on the line — not only if they found themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy, but also if a wanted pregnancy went wrong.
When you look at which stories have fueled abortion rights activism in other countries, Ms. Kolbert’s worry seems well founded. In September a 30-year-old mother identified in the press only as Izabela arrived at a Polish county hospital. According to a lawyer for her family, she was 22 weeks pregnant and the prognosis was poor: There was little or no amniotic fluid, and sonograms showed the fetus bore abnormalities. Still, a heartbeat remained.
Last year the Polish high court struck down a provision in the country’s already draconian abortion law that allowed for abortion in cases of fetal abnormality.
Izabela knew that her situation was grim. She sent a text message to her mother from the hospital: “The baby weighs 485 grams. For now, because of the abortion law, I have to lie down. They can’t do anything. They are going to wait until he dies or something else happens. Oh and also, I could die of septic shock.”
In time, the fetus died. Then Izabela died, too.
(“Doctors and midwives did everything in their power, they fought a difficult battle for the patient and her child,” the hospital said in a statement.)
Eventually, Izabela’s mother made her texts public. Days later, in early November, Polish protesters marched with signs that said, “Her heart was beating too” and “Not one more.” In apparent response to the protesters, Poland’s health ministry “clarified” the nation’s abortion law, insisting that the procedure remains available to save the life of the pregnant woman.
Storytelling, Ms. Kolbert pointed out, has always been a tool in the arsenal of the political movement to safeguard abortion rights, or to win them in the first place. In recent years, the focus among activists in the United States has shifted away from telling stories of dangerous back-alley abortions and become one of empowerment, focused on sharing stories that help remove the stigma and shame that still clings to the procedure.
But in the years before Roe, clergy, legislators, media and feminist activists hoped that telling women’s stories of victimization, humiliation and death could humanize the need for universal abortion access and bring about legalization. One such story began with a 1964 police photo of a woman’s bloodied, lifeless body, facedown on a motel carpet. The woman was Geraldine Santoro, known as Gerri, 28 and a mother of two. Ms. Santoro had been fearful of what her estranged and violent husband would do to her if he discovered she was pregnant with a lover’s child. Her boyfriend attempted to perform an abortion on Ms. Santoro, accidentally killing her in the process. (He fled and was later convicted of manslaughter.)
That photo of Ms. Santoro was published in Ms. magazine in 1973, under the words “Never Again.” The image was blown up on placards carried at abortion rights rallies, a visceral illustration of the risks of illegal abortion.
In recent years, the state of abortion rights in America has deteriorated, especially for poor women and women of color. But it may be harder to motivate protesters now, in an era where women of reproductive age have spent their entire lives with the protections of the Roe era. The back-alley abortions that motivated the movement in the past are largely someone else’s memory.
There are other fears now. Today, a person could be charged with a crime after miscarrying or could face legal consequences for ingesting abortion pills ordered on the internet. In states where abortion access has been whittled down, legal provisions promising to safeguard the life of the pregnant woman are left to interpretation by medical personnel. But this is a space without clear answers, and hospital staffs will inevitably factor their own legal and professional risk into what would otherwise be a decision about the patient’s best interest.
Texas’ law banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy has been in effect since September, and already, The Lily has reported, a woman in the state who experienced an ectopic pregnancy said she was turned away for care. Ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, require immediate termination because they endanger the patient’s fertility or, worse, her life. In theory, terminating an ectopic pregnancy is not banned under the Texas law. But in this case, according to the National Abortion Federation’s hotline director, who spoke with The Lily, doctors were afraid to intercede, and the woman ended up driving at least 12 hours to New Mexico for the procedure.
The Texas woman with the ectopic pregnancy survived her ordeal. But as more states consider passing laws like Texas’, the next woman might not. What will happen then? Will we know her name? Will she become a rallying cry? Or will she and other women with tragic stories fade into obscurity, their families fearful of coming forward? No one wants to see this happen, but what are we doing to prevent it?
I called up Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (who happens to be my cousin by marriage), and asked her: Why does tremendous outcry over restrictive abortion laws come after a woman dies, rather than before? Ms. Paltrow was biting in her response. “The primary impact of the anti-abortion movement has not been to stop abortions, it is to dehumanize,” she said. “It is martyrdom and the visible suffering and death of a visible woman that reminds people of their humanity and their right to life.”
In Texas and elsewhere, Americans shouldn’t wait for another woman’s heart to stop beating before they demand change.
On Wednesday, the justices will hear the most important abortion case in decades, one that could undermine or overturn Roe v. Wade.
By Adam Liptak, Nov. 28, 2021
The case that the Supreme Court will hear concerns a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — In 1973, in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court drew a line. The Constitution, it said, did not allow states to ban abortions before the fetus could survive outside the womb.
On Wednesday, when the court hears the most important abortion case in a generation, a central question will be whether the court’s conservative majority is prepared to erase that line. The case concerns a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks, long before fetal viability.
The court could overrule Roe entirely, allowing states to ban abortions at any point. But at least some justices may want to find a way to sustain the Mississippi law without overturning Roe in so many words, requiring them to discard the viability line and replace it with another standard that would allow a cutoff at 15 weeks.
Lawyers for Mississippi, who mostly argued that there is no constitutional justification for any line at all, did propose two backup arguments. They said the court could revise another existing standard, one prohibiting an “undue burden” on the right to abortion, to allow the 15-week cutoff by focusing on the fact that a substantial majority of abortions take place by then. Or, the lawyers wrote, the court could simply uphold the Mississippi law and leave for another day the knotty problem of drawing a new line.
Neither argument was serious, lawyers for Mississippi’s only abortion clinic responded. “The state offers no alternative to the viability line that could sustain a stable right to abortion,” they wrote.
Viability is supported by a principle in a way that other cutoffs are not, said David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University.
“That is a point in time at which interests shift, because there is a medical justification for intervention in a way that would be different before viability,” he said. “If the court were to go backward in time without overruling Roe and say 15 weeks is now the new cutoff, I’m not sure what basis there would be for that.”
At the same time, drawing the line at viability has long been the subject of criticism. “The viability framework has always been something of an embarrassment, in large part because viability hinges on medical technology and access to it,” said Julia D. Mahoney, a law professor at the University of Virginia.
When Roe was decided, viability was around 28 weeks. These days, depending on the hospital, fetuses can survive outside the womb after around 23 weeks.
“Viability has come in for criticism from some bioethicists, both pro-choice and pro-life, essentially on the theory that it doesn’t track our moral intuitions of when life takes on value to focus exclusively on dependency, especially if dependency tracks technological development or even technological availability,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor and historian at Florida State University.
The Supreme Court considered other approaches in Roe itself.
Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, initially chose another place to draw the line, at around 13 weeks.
“I have concluded that the end of the first trimester is critical,” he wrote to the other justices in 1972. “This is arbitrary, but perhaps any other selected point, such as quickening or viability, is equally arbitrary.” (“Quickening” is when a woman becomes aware of fetal movements, often around 16 weeks.)
Justice Thurgood Marshall helped persuade his colleague to choose viability, around the end of the second trimester. “Given the difficulties which many women may have in believing that they are pregnant and in deciding to seek an abortion,” Justice Marshall wrote to Justice Blackmun, “I fear that the earlier date may not in practice serve the interests of those women, which your opinion does seek to serve.”
The line Roe ultimately drew has been questioned.
Sherry F. Colb, a law professor at Cornell who was a law clerk to Justice Blackmun, recently wrote on a law blog that viability “would appear to have little to recommend it as a border between prohibiting and permitting abortion.” As a practical matter, she wrote, viability is a function of the ability to breathe outside the womb.
“The ability to breathe is essential for life,” she wrote, “but it is not the sort of thing to which we attach moral status, any more than the ability to see or to walk or to speak are such abilities.”
She also questioned the logic of viability as a standard for allowing a pregnant woman to seek an abortion.
“She can take the fetus out when it needs to be in but once it can survive an exit, it must stay in,” Professor Colb wrote. “What kind of a rule is that?”
Professor Mahoney said the approaches of other countries provided another point of comparison. Nominal limits of around 12 weeks are commonplace in other developed nations, though the social context is usually quite different. There are often few obstacles to obtaining abortions abroad, and public insurance is commonplace.
In the United States, the Supreme Court has repeatedly reaffirmed viability as the line required by the Constitution. In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which established that states could not place an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions before fetal viability, the court said viability was part of Roe’s “essential holding.”
“The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade,” the controlling opinion in Casey said.
“We must justify the lines we draw,” the opinion said. “And there is no line other than viability which is more workable.”
Just last year, in providing the fifth vote to strike down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. underscored the point, quoting from the Casey decision.
The two sides in the Mississippi case have taken nearly absolutist positions. Lawyers for the state spent all but the last few pages of their main Supreme Court brief on a frontal attack on Roe and Casey, saying they were “egregiously wrong” and should be overruled, allowing states to ban abortions at any time.
The brief’s final pages did propose two approaches that would allow the Supreme Court to uphold the Mississippi law but avoid overruling Roe.
First, the state’s brief said, “the court could hold that the state’s interests in protecting unborn life, women’s health and the medical profession’s integrity are, at a minimum, compelling at 15 weeks’ gestation” and “leave for another day the question of what standard applies in the absence of a viability rule.”
Second, the brief said, the court could transform Casey’s “undue burden” standard to allow outright bans on abortions before viability if they do not impose a substantial obstacle to a significant number of women seeking abortions. Since most women obtain abortions in the first trimester and the sole abortion clinic in Mississippi performs abortions until 16 weeks, the brief said, the law does not impose an undue burden.
Lawyers for the clinic responded that sustaining the state’s law was impossible to reconcile with Roe and Casey.
“There are no half measures here,” the clinic’s brief said. “Every version of the state’s argument amounts to the same thing: a request that the court scuttle a half-century of precedent and invite states to ban abortion entirely.”
Professor Cohen sounded a note of caution, saying that merely upholding the Mississippi law was not tantamount to overruling Roe v. Wade.
“If people are still able to get 95 percent of the abortions that happen in this country at 15 weeks or before, that’s still very significant,” he said. “That’s not Roe being overturned. Roe being chipped away? Yes. But Roe being overturned means that no abortions are legal in a state.”
Some members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority may be tempted to look for a half measure, one that would undermine Roe and Casey without expressly overruling them.
Casey itself revised Roe in ways that supporters of abortion rights had said would amount to overruling Roe. When the Casey case was argued, Kathryn Kolbert, a lawyer for a group of abortion clinics challenging a Pennsylvania law, told the justices that abandoning the demanding form of heightened judicial scrutiny required by Roe and replacing it with “a less protective standard such as the undue burden test” would “be the same as overruling Roe.”
The court did abandon such heightened review, and it did replace it with the now familiar undue burden test, under which the court has sustained restrictions on abortion. Yet few people would say that Casey overruled Roe.
Some legal experts wonder if the court can make a similar move in the new case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392.
“One of the questions many of us will be interested in is whether it’s possible to sever viability from Roe and Casey and have anything left — if the court can pull off the trick it did in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when it eliminated what many viewed at the time as the core of Roe v. Wade and yet preserved what it deemed to be the essential holding,” Professor Ziegler said.
Professor Mahoney said that at least some of the justices may be inclined to try.
“We draw lines all the time in constitutional adjudication,” she said. “We have no choice. And we recognize that they are not entirely satisfactory.”