Thursday, November 11, 2021, San Francisco
Timeline of Events:
Meet at The Ferry Building, grab signs and get ready to march.
March along the scenic Embarcadero, the route is two miles, flat and wheelchair accessible
End at Aquatic Park near Hyde St. Pier for a short rally.
COP26 in Glasgow this November has the stated aim of “uniting the world to tackle climate change”.
Yet at the previous 25 COP conferences since 1995, world leaders have repeatedly failed to deliver on this.
We will not accept this failure—governments must act now!
“Stop killing us” is the message from XR Global South groups already suffering the most catastrophic consequences of climate change. We must also provide a voice for the millions of species and future generations who cannot speak for themselves.
XR will continue demanding immediate action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency in the run up to, during and beyond COP26.
Join us. Together we will tell these leaders to listen.
Bring yourself, friends, colleagues, neighbors, schoolmates, children, and community for a demonstration to let the power that be know we are watching them.
We will march with signs, hand crafted puppets, banners, a safety team, and each other to call for our right to safe and healthy planet for future generations by Non-Violent Direct Action.
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
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
An investigation of the Aug. 29 airstrike, which mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, did not recommend any disciplinary action.
By Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Nov. 3, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/us/politics/drone-strike-kabul-child.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=World%20News
A U.S. military investigation into a strike that mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in Kabul, Afghanistan, said video showed at least one child minutes before the launch. The inquiry found no law violations and did not recommend disciplinary action. CreditCredit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Surveillance videos showed the presence of at least one child in the area some two minutes before the military launched a drone strike on a site in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August, the Defense Department said on Wednesday.
But the general who conducted the investigation into the U.S. airstrike, which the military has acknowledged mistakenly killed 10 civilians, including seven children, said the footage showing the presence of a child would have been easy to miss in real time.
The inquiry by the Air Force’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Sami D. Said, found no violations of law and does not recommend any disciplinary action. The general blamed a series of assumptions, made over the course of eight hours as U.S. officials tracked a white Toyota Corolla through Kabul, for causing what he called “confirmation bias,” leading to the Aug. 29 strike.
“That assessment was primarily driven by interpretation,” the general said on Wednesday during an unclassified briefing on the report to news media at the Pentagon. “Regrettably, the interpretational assessment was inaccurate.”
While General Said acknowledged that the military had video footage showing a child at the site two minutes before the launch, he said that he was unsure whether anyone who was not specifically looking for evidence of a child would have picked up on it.
“Two independent reviews that I conducted, the physical evidence of a child was apparent at the 2-minute point,” he said. “But it is 100 percent not obvious; you have to be looking for it.”
The military makes an effort to avoid civilian casualties. The known presence of a child in a strike zone would most likely have prompted, at a minimum, further consideration of whether a more thorough assessment of the target was warranted.
Planners involved in the strike “had a genuine belief that there was an imminent threat to U.S. forces,” the general said. He acknowledged that was “a mistake” but added that “it’s not negligence.”
General Said insisted that the strike has to be considered in the context of the moment, with American officials at a heightened state of alert after a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport three days earlier killed about 170 civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
The investigation made several recommendations for fixing the process through which strikes are ordered, including putting in new measures to cut down the risk of confirmation bias and reviewing the pre-strike procedures used to assess the presence of civilians.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III ordered the review of the military’s initial inquiry into the drone strike to determine, among other issues, who should be held accountable and “the degree to which strike authorities, procedures and processes need to be altered in the future.”
Almost everything senior defense officials asserted in the hours, days and weeks after the drone strike turned out to be false. The explosives the military claimed were loaded in the trunk of a white sedan struck by the drone’s Hellfire missile were probably water bottles. And a secondary explosion in the courtyard in the densely populated Kabul neighborhood where the attack took place was probably a propane or gas tank, officials said.
The driver of the white sedan that was struck by the American drone, Zemari Ahmadi, was employed by Nutrition and Education International, a California-based aid organization.
Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of Central Command, said in a news conference in September that the strike was carried out “in the profound belief” that the Islamic State was about to launch another attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Since then, the Pentagon offered unspecified condolence payments to the family of the 10 civilians, including seven children, who were killed in the Aug. 29 drone strike.
The Pentagon has also said it was working with the State Department to help surviving members of the family relocate to the United States.
Congress has authorized the Pentagon to pay up to $3 million a year for payments to compensate for property damage, personal injury or deaths related to the actions of U.S. armed forces, as well as for “hero payments” to the family members of local allied forces, such as Afghan or Iraqi troops fighting Al Qaeda or ISIS.
Condolence payments for deaths caused by the American military have varied widely in recent years. In fiscal 2019, for instance, the Pentagon offered 71 such payments — ranging from $131 to $35,000 — in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This investigation is deeply disappointing and inadequate because we’re left with many of the same questions we started with,” Dr. Steven Kwon, the president of Nutrition and Education International, said in an emailed statement. “I do not understand how the most powerful military in the world could follow Zemari, an aid worker, in a commonly used car for eight hours, and not figure out who he was, and why he was at a U.S. aid organization’s headquarters.”
Critics of the strike pointed to the incongruity of acknowledging the mistake but not finding anyone responsible for any wrongdoing, a point that General Said touched on in his remarks. He said that he had sent the full report to senior military officials.
“The fact that I’ve sent it to the chain of command, that doesn’t mean the chain of command won’t do anything,” he said. “They can read this and say ‘This is sub par performance.’”
Hina Shamsi, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement that Nutrition and Educational International “and the surviving family members have repeatedly asked for meaningful transparency and accountability for the wrongful killing of their loved ones, but they did not receive it today.
“The Inspector General’s main findings of error, confirmation bias, and communication breakdowns are all too common with U.S. lethal strikes, and his recommendations do not remedy the tremendous harm here, or the likelihood that it will happen again.”
The Pentagon’s initial acknowledgment of the mistaken strike came a week after a New York Times investigation of video evidence challenged assertions by the military that it had struck a vehicle carrying explosives meant for the airport.
By David Graeber and David Wengrow, Nov. 4, 2021
Mr. Graeber and Mr. Wengrow are the authors of the forthcoming book, “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity,” from which this essay is adapted. Mr. Graeber died shortly after completing the book.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/04/opinion/graeber-wengrow-dawn-of-everything-history.html
Most of human history is irreparably lost to us. Our species, Homo sapiens, has existed for at least 200,000 years, but we have next to no idea what was happening for the majority of that time. In northern Spain, for instance, at the cave of Altamira, paintings and engravings were created over a period of at least 10,000 years, between around 25,000 and 15,000 B.C. Presumably, a lot of dramatic events occurred during that period. We have no way of knowing what most of them were. This is of little consequence to most people, since most people rarely think about the broad sweep of human history anyway. They don’t have much reason to. Insofar as the question comes up at all, it’s usually when reflecting on why the world seems to be in such a mess and why human beings so often treat each other badly — the reasons for war, greed, exploitation and indifference to others’ suffering. Were we always like that, or did something, at some point, go terribly wrong?
One of the first people to ask this question in the modern era was the Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in an essay on the origins of social inequality that he submitted to a competition in 1754. Once upon a time, he wrote, we were hunter-gatherers, living in a state of childlike innocence, as equals. These bands of foragers could be egalitarian because they were isolated from one another, and their material needs were simple. According to Rousseau, it was only after the agricultural revolution and the rise of cities that this happy condition came to an end. Urban living meant the appearance of written literature, science and philosophy, but at the same time, almost everything bad in human life: patriarchy, standing armies, mass executions and annoying bureaucrats demanding that we spend much of our lives filling out forms.
Rousseau lost the essay competition, but the story he told went on to become a dominant narrative of human history, laying the foundations upon which contemporary “big history” writers — such as Jared Diamond, Francis Fukuyama and Yuval Noah Harari — built their accounts of how our societies evolved. These writers often talk about inequality as the natural result of living in larger groups with a surplus of resources. For example, Mr. Harari writes in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” that, after the advent of agriculture, rulers and elites sprang up “everywhere … living off the peasants’ surplus food and leaving them with only a bare subsistence.”
For a long time, the archaeological evidence — from Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Mesoamerica and elsewhere — did appear to confirm this. If you put enough people in one place, the evidence seemed to show, they would start dividing themselves into social classes. You could see inequality emerge in the archaeological record with the appearance of temples and palaces, presided over by rulers and their elite kinsmen, and storehouses and workshops, run by administrators and overseers. Civilization seemed to come as a package: It meant misery and suffering for those who would inevitably be reduced to serfs, slaves or debtors, but it also allowed for the possibility of art, technology, and science.
That makes wistful pessimism about the human condition seem like common sense: Yes, living in a truly egalitarian society might be possible if you’re a Pygmy or a Kalahari Bushman. But if you want to live in a city like New York, London or Shanghai — if you want all the good things that come with concentrations of people and resources — then you have to accept the bad things, too. For generations, such assumptions have formed part of our origin story. The history we learn in school has made us more willing to tolerate a world in which some can turn their wealth into power over others, while others are told their needs are not important and their lives have no intrinsic worth. As a result, we are more likely to believe that inequality is just an inescapable consequence of living in large, complex, urban, technologically sophisticated societies.
We want to offer an entirely different account of human history. We believe that much of what has been discovered in the last few decades, by archaeologists and others in kindred disciplines, cuts against the conventional wisdom propounded by modern “big history” writers. What this new evidence shows is that a surprising number of the world’s earliest cities were organized along robustly egalitarian lines. In some regions, we now know, urban populations governed themselves for centuries without any indication of the temples and palaces that would later emerge; in others, temples and palaces never emerged at all, and there is simply no evidence of a class of administrators or any other sort of ruling stratum. It would seem that the mere fact of urban life does not, necessarily, imply any particular form of political organization, and never did. Far from resigning us to inequality, the new picture that is now emerging of humanity’s deep past may open our eyes to egalitarian possibilities we otherwise would have never considered.
Wherever cities emerged, they defined a new phase of world history. Settlements inhabited by tens of thousands of people made their first appearance around 6,000 years ago. The conventional story goes that cities developed largely because of advances in technology: They were a result of the agricultural revolution, which set off a chain of developments that made it possible to support large numbers of people living in one place. But in fact, one of the most populous early cities appeared not in Eurasia — with its many technical and logistical advantages — but in Mesoamerica, which had no wheeled vehicles or sailing ships, no animal-powered transport and much less in the way of metallurgy or literate bureaucracy. In short, it’s easy to overstate the importance of new technologies in setting the overall direction of change.
Almost everywhere, in these early cities, we find grand, self-conscious statements of civic unity, the arrangement of built spaces in harmonious and often beautiful patterns, clearly reflecting some kind of planning at the municipal scale. Where we do have written sources (ancient Mesopotamia, for example), we find large groups of citizens referring to themselves simply as “the people” of a given city (or often its “sons”), united by devotion to its founding ancestors, its gods or heroes, its civic infrastructure and ritual calendar. In China’s Shandong Province, urban settlements were present over a thousand years before the earliest known royal dynasties, and similar findings have emerged from the Maya lowlands, where ceremonial centers of truly enormous size — so far, presenting no evidence of monarchy or stratification — can now be dated back as far as 1000 B.C., long before the rise of Classic Maya kings and dynasties.
What held these early experiments in urbanization together, if not kings, soldiers, and bureaucrats? For answers, we might turn to some other surprising discoveries on the interior grasslands of eastern Europe, north of the Black Sea, where archaeologists have found cities, just as large and ancient as those of Mesopotamia. The earliest date back to around 4100 B.C. While Mesopotamian cities, in what are now the lands of Syria and Iraq, took form initially around temples, and later also royal palaces, the prehistoric cities of Ukraine and Moldova were startling experiments in decentralized urbanization. These sites were planned on the image of a great circle — or series of circles — of houses, with nobody first, nobody last, divided into districts with assembly buildings for public meetings.
If it all sounds a little drab or “simple,” we should bear in mind the ecology of these early Ukrainian cities. Living at the frontier of forest and steppe, the residents were not just cereal farmers and livestock-keepers, but also hunted deer and wild boar, imported salt, flint and copper, and kept gardens within the bounds of the city, consuming apples, pears, cherries, acorns, hazelnuts and apricots — all served on painted ceramics, which are considered among the finest aesthetic creations of the prehistoric world.
Researchers are far from unanimous about what sort of social arrangements all this required, but most would agree the logistical challenges were daunting. Residents definitely produced a surplus, and with it came ample opportunity for some of them to seize control of the stocks and supplies, to lord it over the others or fight for the spoils, but over eight centuries we find little evidence of warfare or the rise of social elites. The true complexity of these early cities lay in the political strategies they adopted to prevent such things. Careful analysis by archaeologists shows how the social freedoms of the Ukrainian city dwellers were maintained through processes of local decision-making, in households and neighborhood assemblies, without any need for centralized control or top-down administration.
Yet, even now, these Ukrainian sites almost never come up in scholarship. When they do, academics tend to call them “mega-sites” rather than cities, a kind of euphemism that signals to a wider audience that they should not be thought of as proper cities but as villages that for some reason had expanded inordinately in size. Some even refer to them outright as “overgrown villages.” How do we account for this reluctance to welcome the Ukrainian mega-sites into the charmed circle of urban origins? Why has anyone with even a passing interest in the origin of cities heard of Uruk or Mohenjo-daro, but almost no one of Taljanky or Nebelivka?
It’s hard here not to recall Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” about an imaginary city that also made do without kings, wars, slaves or secret police. We have a tendency, Le Guin notes, to write off such a community as “simple,” but in fact these citizens of Omelas were “not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. They were not less complex than us.” The trouble is just that we have a bad habit of “considering happiness as something rather stupid.”
Le Guin had a point. Obviously, we have no idea how relatively happy the inhabitants of Ukrainian mega-sites like Maidanetske or Nebelivka were, compared with the steppe-lords who covered nearby landscapes with treasure-filled mounds, or even the servants ritually sacrificed at their funerals (though we can guess). And as anyone who has read the story knows, Omelas had some problems, too.
But the point remains: Why do we assume that people who have figured out a way for a large population to govern and support itself without temples, palaces and military fortifications — that is, without overt displays of arrogance and cruelty — are somehow less complex than those who have not? Why would we hesitate to dignify such a place with the name of “city”? The mega-sites of Ukraine and adjoining regions were inhabited from roughly 4100 to 3300 B.C., which is a considerably longer period of time than most subsequent urban settlements. Eventually, they were abandoned. We still don’t know why. What they offer us, in the meantime, is significant: further proof that a highly egalitarian society has been possible on an urban scale.
Why should these findings from the dim and distant past matter to us today? Since the Great Recession of 2008, the question of inequality — and with it, the long-term history of inequality — have become major topics for debate. Something of a consensus has emerged among intellectuals and even, to some degree, the political classes, that levels of social inequality have gotten out of hand, and that most of the world’s problems result, in one way or another, from an ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots. A very small percentage of the population control the fates of almost everyone else, and they are doing it in an increasingly disastrous fashion. Cities have become emblematic of our predicament. Whether in Cape Town or San Francisco, we are no longer shocked or even that surprised by the sight of ever-expanding slums — sidewalks crammed with makeshift tents or shelters overflowing with the homeless and destitute.
To begin reversing this trajectory is an immense task. But there is historical precedent for that, too. Around the start of the common era, thousands of people came together in the Valley of Mexico to found a city we know today as Teotihuacan. Within a few centuries it became the largest settlement in Mesoamerica. In a colossal feat of civil engineering, its inhabitants diverted the San Juan River to flow through the heart of their new metropolis. Pyramids went up in the central district, associated with ritual killing. What we might expect to see next is the rise of luxurious palaces for warrior-rulers, but the citizens of Teotihuacan chose a different path. Around A.D. 300, the people of Teotihuacan changed course, redirecting their efforts away from the construction of grand monuments and devoting resources instead to the provision of high-quality housing for the majority of residents, who numbered around 100,000.
Of course, the past cannot provide instant solutions for the crises and challenges of the present. The obstacles are daunting, but what our research shows is that we can no longer count the forces of history and evolution among them. This has all sorts of important implications: For one thing, it suggests that we should be much less pessimistic about our future, since the mere fact that much of the world’s population now lives in cities may not determine how we live, to anything like the extent we might have assumed.
What we need today is another urban revolution to create more just and sustainable ways of living. The technology to support less centralized and greener urban environments — appropriate to modern demographic realities — already exists. Predecessors to our modern cities include not just the proto-megalopolis, but also the proto-garden-city, the proto-superblock, and a cornucopia of other urban forms, waiting for us to reclaim them. In the face of inequality and climate catastrophe, they offer the only viable future for the world’s cities, and so for our planet. All we are lacking now is the political imagination to make it happen. But as history teaches us, the brave new world we seek to create has existed before and could exist again.
Sarver, who owns the N.B.A.’s Phoenix Suns and the W.N.B.A.’s Phoenix Mercury, has been accused of using racial slurs and making sexual and other inappropriate comments.
By Sopan Deb and Kevin Draper, Nov. 4, 2021
Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury, attended Game 2 of the 2021 W.N.B.A. Finals at Footprint Center last month. Credit...Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. have opened an investigation into Robert Sarver, the owner of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury basketball teams, after current and former employees accused him of racist, sexist and other inappropriate behavior in an ESPN report.
Sarver, who is white, was accused of frequently using an anti-Black racial slur in the presence of and in reference to employees and players, according to an ESPN report on Thursday. Sarver was also accused of saying other remarks that made Black employees uncomfortable and of making misogynistic and sexual comments about women in the workplace, according to the report.
One former Suns employee recalled Sarver pulling the employee’s pants down in front of dozens of employees as a joke.
After word of ESPN’s investigation into Sarver became public two weeks ago, the Suns pre-emptively released statements denying that Sarver had a history of racism or sexism. Sarver, in statements to ESPN for Thursday’s report, denied most of the accusations in the article.
Baxter Holmes, the ESPN reporter behind the article, said more than 70 current and former Suns employees were interviewed for the article. Most of the employees spoke anonymously about their experiences working for the team.
Here are the key takeaways.
Who is Robert Sarver?
Sarver, 60, led the ownership group that purchased the N.B.A.’s Suns and the W.N.B.A.’s Mercury from Jerry Colangelo in 2004 for $401 million, then a record price for an N.B.A. team. He had made his fortune in banking, as the executive chairman of the Western Alliance Bank, and as a founding partner of Southwest Value Partners, a San Diego-based real estate firm.
Sarver has developed a reputation as an involved owner unafraid to draw attention to himself with showy stunts like dunking off a trampoline during halftime or being thrown from a giant slingshot. He has also expanded his sights beyond basketball, leading a group that included Steve Nash, who played for the Suns for several years, in buying the Spanish soccer club Real Mallorca.
On multiple occasions, Sarver batted down rumors that he was considering selling the Suns. In 2018, he reportedly demanded public funding for a $230 million renovation of the arena where the Suns and Mercury play, and threatened to move the team if he didn’t get it. Sarver denied that he had made the demand and committed to keeping the team in Phoenix.
Sarver and the Suns have also been the subject of critical reporting by ESPN before. In 2019, ESPN reported that the Suns had “no discernible direction” and described Sarver as an “interventionist owner with more authority than expertise.”
What does the ESPN report say about racism?
The report paints a picture of a meddlesome owner who fostered a work environment that was toxic, especially for women and Black people. The most prominent voice in the article was Earl Watson, who is Black and Hispanic and spent parts of four seasons in assistant, interim and head coaching roles with the Suns. He was fired in 2017, three games into his second season as head coach.
According to the report, Watson told ESPN that Sarver came into the coaches’ locker room after one game “repeating the N-word several times in a row” in discussing an opposing player’s use of the word on the court. Watson recounted to ESPN that he told Sarver, “You can’t say that.” At least six staffers told ESPN that they heard Sarver repeat the slur in other instances.
Sarver, through his legal team, told ESPN he had “never called anyone or any group of people the N-word, or referred to anyone or any group of people by the N-word, either verbally or in writing.” He said he had used the word “once many years ago” when he was repeating what a player had said but apologized.
In 2004, Sarver made “racially insensitive” comments in an initial recruitment meeting with Nash, according to ESPN, which cited three unnamed people who were in the room. Nash, now the head coach of the Nets, declined to comment to The New York Times on Thursday.
What does the report say about sexism and other inappropriate behavior?
Sarver was accused of making inappropriate comments about sex. In one instance, Sarver, according to ESPN, told a pregnant employee that she could not continue her work in coordinating an All-Star game because she would need to breast feed. Sarver denied these accusations.
In another instance, David Bodzin, a former Suns account executive, told ESPN that Sarver pulled Bodzin’s pants down in front of more than 60 employees as part of a charitable event in 2014. Sarver apologized in a statement to ESPN.
Several unnamed women in the article recounted instances of Sarver’s comments making them feel uncomfortable in the workplace.
How have the Suns performed under Sarver?
Within days of Sarver’s purchase, the Suns were ultimately successful in their pursuit of Nash, immediately rejuvenating a team that had a record of just 29-53 in the previous season. The Suns made the Western Conference finals in back-to-back seasons, under the stewardship of Bryan Colangelo, the head of basketball operations; Mike D’Antoni, the coach; and Nash.
After Nash led the Suns to the Western Conference finals in 2010, the Suns began to unravel. Over the next decade, the Suns missed the playoffs every year, cycling through coaches and executives. Since Sarver took over the team in 2004, the Suns have had nine different head coaches. The playoff-less stretch from 2011 to 2020 was the longest in franchise history.
Last year, the Suns made a surprising run to the N.B.A. finals, helped by a trade for point guard Chris Paul. They have regained a sense of organizational stability since James Jones took over basketball operations in 2018 and Monty Williams became coach in 2019.
The Mercury, meanwhile, have been a perennial playoff team. They won championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014, and lost to the Chicago Sky in last season’s finals.
Is this another Donald Sterling situation?
It’s unclear. Recordings emerged of Sterling, then the Clippers’ owner, making racist statements in 2014, and he was forced out of the league.
In a statement to ESPN, the N.B.A. said that it had not “received a complaint of misconduct at the Suns organization through any of our processes, including our confidential workplace misconduct hotline or other correspondence.”
Sarver has denied almost all of the accusations against him in the piece.
What is happening now that the report is out?
Both Sarver and Jason Rowley, the chief executive of the company that owns the Suns and the Mercury, released blistering statements denying the article’s claims and attacking ESPN and Holmes. Sarver said that there was “so much that is inaccurate and misleading” in the report and added that “the N-word is not part of my vocabulary.” He also accused Watson of creating “an unprofessional and toxic atmosphere in our organization.” Both Rowley and Sarver wrote that they welcomed an investigation from the N.B.A.
Jahm Najafi, a partial owner and vice chairman of the Suns and Mercury, said in a statement that the conduct described in the ESPN story “stunned and saddened me and is unacceptable,” and he pledged to offer his “support to ensure there is full accountability.”
Watson, now an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors, said in a statement through the team on Thursday that he did not want to engage in an “ongoing battle of fact.” His years in the N.B.A. gave him the “financial privilege” to speak for the story, he said, but many others are silent because they fear losing their jobs.
In the statement from the N.B.A. and W.N.B.A. announcing the investigation, the leagues called the accusations in the article “extremely serious.” The N.B.A. players’ union said in a statement that it supported the N.B.A.’s investigation. The W.N.B.A. players’ union did not respond to a request for comment from The Times.
Ms. Thunberg and other activists also spoke about the critical role that young women have played in pressuring world leaders to take action on climate change.
By Jenny Gross, Published Nov. 4, 2021, Updated Nov. 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/04/climate/greta-thunberg-cop26.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Climate%20and%20Environment
GLASGOW — The United Nations climate conference in Scotland has become a venue for world leaders and business executives to pretend they are taking action on climate change without following through, the climate activist Greta Thunberg said on Thursday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the summit meeting, known as COP26, the 18-year-old Ms. Thunberg said the event was “sort of turning into a greenwash campaign, a P.R. campaign,” for business leaders and politicians.
“Since we are so far from what actually we needed, I think what would be considered a success would be if people realize what a failure this COP is,” Ms. Thunberg said.
At panel events Thursday at The New York Times Climate Hub in Glasgow, Ms. Thunberg and other young female activists, including Vanessa Nakate and Malala Yousafzai, also spoke about the critical role that young women have played in rallying protesters and pressuring world leaders to take action.
“It is the young people, especially young women who are the voices of the climate movement, and that gives hope to so many people,” Ms. Yousafzai said.
The comments came on the fifth day of the summit meeting, a gathering that John Kerry, the United States climate envoy, had billed as the planet’s “last, best chance” to curb the fossil fuel emissions that are driving climate change.
More than 39,000 diplomats, business leaders and activists have registered for the event in hopes of hammering out agreements to reduce emissions and keep the average global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to preindustrial levels, by the end of this century. That’s the threshold beyond which many scientists say the planet will experience catastrophic effects from heat waves, droughts, wildfires and flooding. The average global temperature has already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius.
So far, leaders and business executives have made some significant commitments. On Tuesday, more than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 30 percent by 2030. And, on Wednesday, a coalition of the world’s biggest investors, banks and insurers that collectively control $130 trillion said they were committed to financing projects that would help get companies and countries to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Environmentalists, however, criticized the financing pledge as lacking in detail. Several key leaders, including President Xi Jinping of China, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, were also criticized for not attending the event in person. Environmentalists say that China and Russia’s targets are not ambitious enough, and activists are skeptical that Mr. Bolsonaro will follow through on his country’s pledge to end deforestation by 2028.
Ms. Nakate, a 24-year-old climate activist from Uganda and founder of the Africa-based Rise Up Movement, said at the panel discussion on Thursday that the pledge by leaders of the 20 largest economies to “pursue efforts” to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius did not go far enough.
She said that 1.5 degrees would “not be safe” for communities like hers. “Even right now, it’s already evident that the climate crisis is ravaging different parts of the African continent,” Ms. Nakate said.
Ms. Yousafzai, 24, said that women were disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.
“Treating climate change and gender inequality and girls’ education as separate issues is not doing justice to the cause of creating a fairer and better and cleaner world for all of us,” Ms. Yousafzai said. “It is important that we take these issues seriously and see the link between all of these.”
She and the other activists on Thursday said there was reason for hope. When the moderator at Ms. Thunberg’s event asked what one fact the panelists would want everyone in the world to know, she said that people should understand that their individual actions can make a difference. The changes that are necessary will not come from inside of conferences like COP26, she said.
“This is the misconception,” Ms. Thunberg said. “That what we as individuals do doesn’t have an impact.”
“And I’m not talking about not using plastic and so on,” she said. “I’m talking about going out onto the streets and making our voices heard, organizing marches, demanding change.”
How Police Justify Killing Drivers: The Vehicle Was a Weapon
By Kim Barker, Steve Eder, David D. Kirkpatrick and Arya Sundaram, Nov. 6, 2021
Cedric Mifflin, 27, was initially pursued by officers for not wearing a seatbelt.
PHENIX CITY, Ala. — On a Sunday in May 2017, a patrol car sat outside the city’s oldest public housing project, waiting for anyone acting suspiciously. The two police officers heard Cedric Mifflin before they saw him, blasting music from a silver Mercury Grand Marquis. Then they tried to pull him over: He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.
Mr. Mifflin, a 27-year-old Black man, kept driving. What happened next is disputed, but how it ended is certain. Officer Michael Seavers leapt out of the patrol car, drew his gun and fired 16 times at the moving car. He thought Mr. Mifflin intended to run him over, he said later.
“I had never felt the fear that I had at that moment,” Officer Seavers, who is white, told investigators in a statement. He said he thought of what a vehicle can do “to a human body and how I would die if I didn’t react.”
The officer’s defense of killing Mr. Mifflin, who wielded neither a gun nor a knife, is one repeated over and over across the country: The vehicle was a weapon. In a New York Times investigation of car stops that left more than 400 similarly unarmed people dead over the last five years, those words were routinely used to explain why police officers had fired at drivers.
When asked in a deposition whether a man he had fatally shot in 2017 had used a weapon, an officer in Forest Park, Ill., answered, “Other than a moving vehicle, no.”
Minutes after sheriff’s deputies near San Leandro, Calif., killed a shoplifting suspect and injured a passenger in an S.U.V. in early 2019, an officer asked what weapons they had been armed with. “A vehicle,” one deputy replied.
And a lawyer for a sheriff’s deputy who shot a driver in Wichita, Kan., in late 2019 said the motorist had used “a 4,500-pound vehicle as a weapon.”
In about 250 of the cases, The Times found that police officers had fired into vehicles that they later claimed posed such a threat. Relative to the population, Black motorists were overrepresented among those killed.
Like Mr. Mifflin, the other drivers had been pursued for nonviolent offenses, many of them minor. A seatbelt ticket in Phenix City that would have cost $41. A cracked taillight in Georgia, a broken headlight in Colorado, an expired registration tag in Texas. Most motorists were killed while attempting to flee.
The country’s largest cities, from New York to Los Angeles, have barred officers from shooting at moving vehicles. The U.S. Justice Department has warned against the practice for decades, pressuring police departments to forbid it. Police academies don’t even train recruits how to fire at a car. The risk of injuring innocent people is considered too great; the idea of stopping a car with a bullet is viewed as wishful thinking.
“Bad idea. Bad to do,” said Carmen Best, the former Seattle police chief, in an interview. “If you think the vehicle is coming toward you, get yourself out of the way.”
Moving vehicles can be deadly. Nine officers have been fatally run over, pinned or dragged by drivers in vehicles approached for minor or nonviolent offenses in the past five years.
But in many instances, local police officers, state troopers and sheriff’s deputies put themselves at risk by jumping in front of moving cars, then aiming their guns at the drivers as if in a Hollywood movie, according to body-camera footage. Or they reached into cars and became entangled with motorists, then opened fire.
Often, the drivers were trying to get away from officers, edging around them, not toward them, the footage shows, and the officers weren’t in the path of the vehicle when they fired.
“You see many where bullets are in the back of the car, in the side of the car,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who has researched high-risk police activities for more than 30 years. “In the high 90 percentile of cases I’ve seen, the person’s just trying to get away.”
Some officers who fatally shot motorists didn’t appear to be in any jeopardy at all, The Times review showed. In some cases the vehicle was stationary, even incapable of moving. Yet prosecutors found that the claim that officers feared for their lives or the lives of others was enough to justify all but the rarest of shootings.
Officer Seavers faced no charges in the Mifflin case. Phenix City and state officials have declined to release police body- and dashboard-camera videos of the fatal encounter. “All it’ll do is inflame people, and people don’t understand the fine points of the law,” the city’s lawyer, James McKoon, said in an interview. “And this guy was scared to death when he shot.”
Jeremy Bauer, a forensics expert in Seattle who has testified for police departments nationwide and for families of people killed, reviewed the state investigative report, witness testimony, photographs and other materials and concluded that the officer had not been in peril. It would have been impossible, he said, for Mr. Mifflin to have been headed for Officer Seavers when the shots were fired.
“The officer just wouldn’t have been in the path of the vehicle,” Dr. Bauer said.
Enacting a Ban
Once, Phenix City was known as the Sin City of the South, and its major industry was vice: gambling, brothels and bootleg booze. In 1940, the U.S. secretary of war called it the “wickedest city in America.” Politicians and the police were on the take. After a top candidate in the Alabama attorney general’s race in 1954 pledged to clean up the city, he was gunned down.
Now, the town has a new slogan: “Positively Phenix City.” Local officials still boast of its 2007 BusinessWeek designation as one of the country’s most affordable suburbs — just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Ga. — for raising a family.
The city is typical of many communities where fatal police encounters with motorists have occurred over the past five years. It’s in the South. It has fewer than 50 patrol officers. With under 39,000 residents, it’s relatively small. The police department has lower training and qualification requirements than those of big cities. A G.E.D is enough.
“They’re not Navy SEALs,” said Kenneth Davis, the district attorney in Russell County, home to Phenix City. “These guys are average guys.”
The chief, Ray Smith, joined the department 32 years ago and has led it for the past 12. His two predecessors each spent decades with the department. Its use-of-force policy — governing how officers are permitted to subdue people — has not been revised to include reforms that many other departments have adopted. Chief Smith didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview. Neither the police department nor Mr. McKoon responded to detailed questions about The Times’s findings.
Law enforcement killed two unarmed Black men here in 2013: One was shot after he drove through a stop sign, led officers on a chase, fled his car and allegedly refused to come out from under a vehicle; another, naked and mentally ill, died after being stunned with a Taser 19 times and then restrained.
But there was no citywide protest, no Ferguson fallout, no George Floyd moment.
Phenix City’s use-of-force policy mentions that police officers can fire their weapons to “destroy” a threatening animal. It allows for shooting “during range practice or competitive sporting events.” While it prohibits firing from inside a moving vehicle, it doesn’t say anything about shooting at moving vehicles.
That is unusual: Out of nearly 200 departments that had such shootings and provided their policies to The Times, just 13 did not address the issue.
“It’s something that has never come up,” said Chief Darryl Laxton, in Oneida, Tenn. He added: “This is not a very active place. A lot doesn’t go on.”
Most other departments surveyed had policies prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles — but they were ambiguously worded and allowed officers to do so if they felt the need.
Critics of the practice argue that shooting at a driver is ineffective or even disastrous. “It’s like you’ve created an unguided missile,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a law enforcement policy nonprofit. “You’ve basically lost control.”
To identify cases where police fired into vehicles, The Times reviewed data collected by The Washington Post and the research groups Mapping Police Violence and Fatal Encounters. Reporters then filed hundreds of public-records requests, analyzed more than 115 video and audio recordings, examined investigative records and interviewed dozens of experts and motorists’ families. In addition to the 250 otherwise unarmed drivers, scores of such shootings involved motorists who held weapons or were being pursued for violent crimes.
The movement to stop shooting into moving vehicles began in New York City in 1972. The police department banned the practice as part of a package of reforms after an officer shot and killed an 11-year-old boy, who had been joyriding with two friends, and wounded the driver and two passers-by.
In 1972, the city’s police officers were involved in 994 shooting incidents of any kind; the next year, 665. By 2019, officers fired their guns only 52 times. And since the ban, not one on-duty officer has been killed by a vehicle fleeing a traffic stop.
The nation’s 25 largest cities have since adopted similar bans. (Some carve out exceptions for terrorists aiming vehicles into crowds.)
No one disputes that cars can be deadly: Scores of officers have been killed working accident scenes or writing tickets. But no officer in any big city that has banned the practice has been fatally run over by a vehicle he or she stopped.
The bans haven’t entirely stopped the police from fatally shooting unarmed motorists in moving vehicles not suspected in violent crimes. Still, only 11 such deaths have occurred in those departments collectively in the last five years.
Compare that with Honolulu, a city of nearly 350,000. Between 2016 and 2020, officers there shot four unarmed motorists.
On April 1, the department tightened its rules, but with a big exception: Officers could shoot if “the vehicle’s movement poses a threat that justifies the use of deadly force.”
Four days later, officers pursued a stolen car suspected in an armed robbery and two purse snatchings. After it stopped, officers fired 15 shots, hitting the 16-year-old driver, Iremamber Sykap, in the back of the head, records show. Two officers said they shot to protect themselves and “members of the public.” One said the teenager had “rammed” his patrol car and “reversed” directly at him.
But body-cam videos show that the patrol car wasn’t rammed, the car didn’t reverse directly at the officer and officers fired when it was moving away.
The three officers were criminally charged, but a judge dismissed the charges. The officers are back on patrol.
A Stop, a Chase and 16 Bullets
Mr. Mifflin’s friends thought he would become a comedian. They called him “Kevin Hart” because he looked and behaved like the comic-actor. Mr. Mifflin pretended to find the nickname tiresome — “Lol here u go,” he’d write on Facebook — but he embraced it.
He sported a tattoo of praying hands on his left forearm; his right was inked with the name of his daughter, Shay, whom he fathered in high school. If friends got annoyed at him, he’d badger them into forgiveness. Only 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds, Mr. Mifflin acted streetwise, posing like a tough guy in photos. But that was a front; he never got into fights, and friends often mocked him for how he spent his Sunday mornings.
“He was the one who stayed in church with his grandma,” said Dontrell Grier, Mr. Mifflin’s stepbrother.
Mr. Mifflin lived in Columbus with his grandparents, a social worker and a retired small-town Georgia police chief who instructed him to always follow police orders. When Mr. Mifflin was 22, he agreed to testify in court after witnessing a mother leave a toddler alone in a car for at least 20 minutes.
He worked stocking shelves at Walmart and Piggly Wiggly. He loved cars, but he allowed more than eight years of traffic tickets for infractions like driving without a seatbelt spiral into a crisis, including a suspended driver’s license, a misdemeanor for not showing up in court, thousands of dollars in fines and potential jail time, according to court records.
Mr. Mifflin stole $265 from the Piggly Wiggly when he was 26, about the same time he lost his job there, records show. And Walmart later terminated him.
On that fateful Sunday in May 2017, he drove from Columbus to Phenix City to pick up a friend at the Frederick Douglass Homes, a public-housing complex with mostly Black residents.
The officers’ decision to pull him over appeared to be a “pretextual” stop, when the police stop drivers — often people of color — for an infraction and then look for a more serious offense, two policing experts said.
The officers seemed to be “looking for a reason to stop him because they felt that he was up to no good — he plays loud music, he doesn’t have a seatbelt,” said Michael Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor who works with police departments to improve accountability and reviewed the case for The Times.
Why did Mr. Mifflin drive off? Maybe because of the suspended license. Maybe because of a story his stepbrother liked to tell: Mr. Grier had been a passenger in a car pulled over after the driver initially didn’t obey commands to stop. The Phenix City officers had aimed their weapons at him and dragged him out of the vehicle and across a parking lot.
Whatever the reason, instead of complying, Mr. Mifflin sped across a busy road. The police chased him. At that point, he was just four minutes from the Georgia line. He only needed to make it to the corner near Ed’s barbecue, take a couple of turns and cross a bridge.
But an S.U.V. blocked his path: Djaron Green, a manager for a financial company, was about to turn into the restaurant for lunch.
So Mr. Mifflin whipped his car into Ed’s parking lot, stalling out, Mr. Green recalled in an interview. Sirens blaring, the cruiser came to a stop, pointing toward Mr. Mifflin’s rear passenger door, according to the report by the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation, which examines any officer-involved death.
Officer Seavers jumped out of the passenger side of the patrol car. Gun drawn, he confronted Mr. Mifflin.
The driver backed his car away from the restaurant — the officer later described the vehicle’s “spinning tires” to investigators, according to the state report, obtained by The Times from Mr. Mifflin’s family. The document included some details from the unreleased body- and dash-cam videos, mentioning that Mr. Mifflin’s “front right tire was turned to the right towards the area of Officer Seavers.”
The patrol car driver, Cpl. Jason Searcy, told investigators that he had begun to reverse the cruiser and didn’t see anything, but “heard several gunshots.”
Officer Seavers did not reply to requests for comment; most of the other officers mentioned in this article declined to comment or could not be reached. Officer Seavers told state investigators that the Mercury had come straight at him. So did an Ed’s employee who was inside the restaurant during the encounter; she did not respond to messages from The Times.
But Mr. Green, the closest witness, said the car never came near Officer Seavers. Instead, he said, it appeared to move around him. And Dr. Bauer, the forensic expert, concluded that Officer Seavers was never in harm’s way.
Dr. Bauer created a video reconstruction for The Times, drawing on the state report and other records. (The Times offered to let state and city officials review the video; they declined.) The officer initially fired twice; both shots entered the passenger side of the front window at a sharp angle, indicating that the car was moving past the officers, Dr. Bauer said. Both hit Mr. Mifflin. Either would have been fatal.
The vehicle kept traveling forward; Officer Seavers turned his body and his gun to follow. Four bullets entered the passenger’s side of the car. As it passed, the patrolman emptied his magazine, striking the back of the car multiple times, the state investigation shows.
“His life was not in danger if the vehicle was leaving,” said Isaac Lawrence, Mr. Mifflin’s grandfather, who added that he had been trained never to fire at moving vehicles. He wanted to ask the officer, “So why did you shoot him?”
Mr. Mifflin’s sedan drifted across a road and finally stopped at a used-car lot. At first, the two officers thought Mr. Mifflin had fled on foot. Instead, he was slumped over, dying from seven bullet wounds.
Creating Their Own Jeopardy
In November 2020, Deputy Jafet Santiago-Miranda of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office searched for a stolen car in Cocoa, Fla. He spotted a similar vehicle, which pulled into a driveway, then backed out. The deputy left his cruiser and stepped in front of the car, then fired 10 times as it moved slowly forward, the dash-cam video shows.
The driver, A.J. Crooms, 16, and a passenger, Sincere Pierce, 18, who had been planning to hang out with a friend, were dead. Officials later said that the vehicle was not the stolen car. (As in several other cases, guns were later found in or near the car, but they played no role in the confrontation.)
This April, Deputy Nolan Davis of the Delta County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado tried to pull over a white Honda with no license plates. The driver fled, eventually running over “stop sticks” placed by another deputy, which flattened the Honda’s tires. As the car attempted to maneuver between Deputy Davis’s patrol truck and a white truck, he stepped out of his car into the path of the Honda, body-cam footage shows. Deputy Davis moved backward as he fired eight times, even after the Honda passed him. Paige Pierce, 26, was dead.
The driver “was about to hit me,” Deputy Davis told his superior. “I had no choice, Sarge.”
Deputy Davis later said that when he stepped from his patrol truck he thought that the driver may have exited the Honda and been “possibly stopping to flee on foot,” according to a review by the district attorney.
Neither deputy lost their job or faced criminal charges.
In dozens of fatal cases over the past five years, officers reacted similarly, jumping in front of vehicles or failing to move out of the way.
Such decisions are dangerous for both motorists and officers. Over the past five years, three officers who leaned inside vehicles during stops were killed when the drivers took off. Six others were run over by vehicles they were facing down, like Amy Caprio, a Baltimore County police officer killed in May 2018 after responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle connected to a burglary.
“I just wanted to get away,” wrote 17-year-old Dawnta Harris to a judge after running over the officer. “From the bottom of my heart, I thought she was going to move.”
Many big cities that ban shooting into moving vehicles also say officers should not step in front of cars. But of the departments that responded to The Times, more than two-thirds — mostly outside big cities — had no such policy.
“If we have to write a policy to tell someone to not step in front of a moving vehicle, then we wouldn’t be hiring very smart people, would we?” said Capt. Mike McCoy of the Fulshear Police Department in Texas, which has no such ban. “Sometimes, common sense must take over.”
Shootings sometimes had unintended consequences. In the cases reviewed by The Times, law enforcement officers did not just hit drivers: They killed eight passengers and injured at least 17 more.
In December 2017, for instance, a part-time deputy in Grundy County, Tenn., named Mike Holmes kept firing after a Mustang he had pursued for reckless driving fled — hitting the side and rear of the car multiple times. One bullet hit the passenger, Shelby Comer, 20, killing her. (In an interview, Mr. Holmes, who is no longer in law enforcement, said the driver had pointed a gun at him; no gun was ever recovered.)
Mr. Holmes was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide, one of three law enforcement officers convicted after vehicle-as-weapon shootings in the past five years. “If I’ve ever had a regret in my life, it’s making that decision to pursue that Mustang that night,” he said at his sentencing hearing. “I should have discontinued the pursuit. I should have stopped.”
He was given three years’ probation.
A Pair of Settlements
The day after Cedric Mifflin was killed, Phenix City’s police chief said the encounter was traumatic not only for the man’s family “but for the entire police department.” He described the death not as a killing but as a “situation.”
“We’re going to try to find out everything that we can about how to avoid it in the future,” Chief Smith pledged at a news conference.
But as of August, Phenix City had not changed its use-of-force policy to even mention shooting at moving vehicles. Officer Seavers was still a patrol officer. The police department did not respond to questions about whether he had faced any discipline.
In his written statement, the officer said he fired at the rear of the vehicle because if Mr. Mifflin had just tried “to kill a police officer, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill a citizen.”
State investigators waited two days to question Officer Seavers and did not record their interview with him, records show. Mr. Gennaco, one of the nation’s top police oversight consultants, described the state’s inquiry as “inconsistent with basic investigative protocols.”
Mr. Davis, the county’s district attorney, brought the case before a grand jury, typical in police shootings. He called a handful of witnesses and played the body- and dash-cam videos. Police found no weapons or drugs in the car. The grand jury opted not to charge him.
“I honestly thought it could go either way,” Mr. Davis recalled.
After the grand jury decision, Mr. Davis suggested to Mr. Mifflin’s mother, Pochya Sanders, that she get a lawyer — advice he says he always gives in cases like this. She hunted for someone willing to sue Phenix City, she said, but most lawyers told her that Alabama juries side with the police.
Two months after the lawyer she eventually found filed a wrongful-death suit, the city offered Ms. Sanders $100,000 to settle. Her lawyer, Kenneth Shinbaum, advised her to take it, even though neither of them had seen the video footage. So she agreed. (The law firm got 50 percent of the settlement, a high rate for such contingency fee arrangements.)
The city then offered to show her the videos, but she decided that she couldn’t watch her son die. Now, Ms. Sanders said in an interview, she wants them to be made public. “I just need the truth,” she said.
Officer Seavers also sued the city — a workers’ compensation claim over an “accident occurring on the job” the day of Mr. Mifflin’s death. The officer said he suffered hearing loss that day, in all likelihood because of gunfire. The city settled for $5,500.
No police or city official reached out to Mr. Mifflin’s family after he was killed, his mother said. She was the one to identify her son’s bullet-ridden body. “I carried him for nine months. I’m the first person he ever talked to, the first person he ever smelled,” she said.
She chose a baby blue coffin. At the Looking Good clothing store in downtown Columbus, she picked out a $50 blue suit for him. Blue was his color.
Reporting was contributed by Donovan J. Thomas, Rick Rojas, Erica Sweeney, Sydney Cromwell and Glenny Brock. Julie Tate, Susan C. Beachy and Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Thousands gathered in the rain in Glasgow to press the case for more urgent and meaningful action by world leaders in response to global warming.
By Stephen Castle and Megan Specia, Nov. 6, 2021
“Ms. Ismail, the Goldsmiths lecturer, said that the question for the protest movement was whether it could extend its influence by combining with trade unions and persuading workers to use the threat of strikes to push forward a coherent agenda. But she said it had made strides already.
“The protest movement is the only thing that is going to change the situation,” Ms. Ismail said. “If there is no pressure, there will be no change.”
“Do something! Now!” “Climate justice! Now!” “Get up.” “What?” “Get down.” “What?” “Keep your carbon in the ground.” “Get up.” “What?” “Get down.” ”What?” “Keep your carbon in the ground.” “Get up.” “What?” “Get down.” ”What?” “Keep your carbon in the ground.” [marching band music] “Save our planet. Save our planet. Save our planet.” “Cop-out.” “Greenwash.” “Cop-out.” “When I say greenwash, you say cop-out.” “Greenwash.” “Cop-out.” “Tell me can you feel it?” “Tell me can you feel it?” “Getting louder by the hour.” “Getting louder by the hour.”
GLASGOW — Defying biting wind and steady rain, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Glasgow on Saturday in noisy and colorful protests, calling on global leaders to take action drastic enough to match the scale of a climate crisis already wreaking havoc on parts of the globe.
Waving banners, beating drums and chanting, an array of demonstrators — including members of trade unions and faith organizations, as well as left-wing groups — took over large parts of the Scottish city, which is hosting the COP26 climate summit. By midafternoon, a long, winding line of protesters was making its way through the city, and by late afternoon they were still streaming into Glasgow Green, a city park, to hear speeches from activists.
The protest illustrated how the battle to curb climate change had become an umbrella for a growing protest movement that aims to put global leaders under pressure for a broad range of causes, including racial justice and income equality.
“We should not underestimate the significance of how the climate movement has broken through into the mainstream in the last two years because it’s really starting to change people’s consciousness,” said Feyzi Ismail, a lecturer in global policy and activism at Goldsmiths, University of London.
“I think it is more important than what’s going on inside the COP meeting because it’s applying the kind of pressure that’s needed to force governments to act, but also to take far more radical positions than they might have,” she added.
The police did not provide an estimate for the size of the crowd. Organizers said that more than 100,000 people took part, and while that was not possible to verify independently, the gathering was sprawling and extensive; at one point the procession took more than an hour to pass a fixed location.
Many of the protesters said they were motivated by a connection to their own lives.
“Flooding is happening, and it is going to keep happening,” said Alexandra Bryden, 63, an upholsterer and curtain maker from Auchterarder, north of Edinburgh, who said that her workshop had been flooded and that she worried about the future of her family members who live by the coast.
According to some organizers, more than 200 events were planned around with the world, with more than half of that number in Britain. In London thousands marched from the Bank of England to Trafalgar Square, and there were protests in other British cities including Birmingham and Bristol.
In Paris, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall, where activists held up portraits of world leaders they accused of doing too little to curb global warming. The leaders’ names, including President Biden and President Emmanuel Macron of France, were read out and then booed by the crowd.
But the focus on Saturday was in Glasgow, where authorities closed off several dozen streets to manage the protests.
“People are coming out in this weather to say we have had enough of this,” said Robert Dickie, 64, a retired accountant from Hamilton, Scotland, near Glasgow, wearing a kilt and speaking after playing the bagpipes.
“Things have got to change before we all become extinct — and that is what is going to happen in the long term,” he said.
By mid afternoon, the storms had lifted, a rainbow appeared briefly, and helicopters hovered overhead. A massive crowd cheered as a number of Indigenous activists from the Americas took the stage and demanded that world leaders prioritize the protections of their ancestral lands.
In Glasgow there was some confrontation with police, who said they removed protesters who blocked a bridge and were “containing” another group “following an escalation in their conduct.”
But despite the poor weather there was an uplifting mood for the most part at Saturday’s march, which was the culmination of smaller protests that took place during the week around the city. They included a substantial youth-led demonstration on Friday organized by the group Fridays for Future, an international movement that grew out of Greta Thunberg’s solo school strike in 2018. She addressed the crowd on Friday and described COP26 as “a failure.”
The first week of the climate summit saw new pledges to tackle deforestation and to move away from coal. At least 105 countries signed an agreement to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 30 percent this decade. Major financial institutions said they would mobilize trillions of dollars to help shift the global economy toward cleaner energy.
Still, experts say that, to avert the worst effects of climate change, temperature rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, between preindustrial times and the end of this century. And that goal is not within reach even if all countries fulfill their current pledges.
Like many environmental groups, protesters in Glasgow were skeptical of pledges, doubting that such promises would be delivered and arguing that, in any case, they did not go far enough to solve an urgent global problem.
“There are going to be communities on the Scottish coast that will be cut off. It is real,” said Ms. Bryden, the upholsterer. “I can’t look my grandson in the eye. I am sorry about what he is going to have to put up with in the future.”
Bel Burn, 59, a retired health worker from Cumbria, in northern England, said she was protesting because she opposed intensive agriculture and described how she had bought 20 acres of land, on which she planned to plant 4,200 trees.
“They haven’t gone far enough,” she said referring to global leaders. “They have agreed a lot of this stuff before, why would we believe it’s going to be different this time?”
Stuart Graham, a Glasgow trade union official and a member of the COP26 Coalition that organized the protests, said he hoped the march would bolster campaigns for free public transportation and for a huge program to insulate and improve the city’s housing stock. “It’s critical that we have a civil society with a powerful voice to hold these leaders to account,” he said.
Organizers argue that the bewildering range of groups with different agendas are united by a common commitment to what they call climate justice.
Katia Penha, one of the activists, who is also part of the Quilombola community, a group of Black rural residents in Brazil, said her community has been affected by mining and wants its challenges to be acknowledged alongside Indigenous communities that are disproportionately affected.
“We came here to tell the world: Without us — the Quilombola’s people in Brazil — it’s not possible to have debate about climate change,” she said, pointing out how a burst hydroelectric dam in 2015 in Mariana, Brazil, killed Quilombola people and wiped out communities.
Elsewhere, vegan activists carried balloons of a cow and a chicken with the message, “Thank you for not eating us.” On a hillside, a group spelled out “Amazonia Forever” with strips of cloth above the image of a butterfly, calling attention to the destruction of the rainforest.
Ms. Ismail, the Goldsmiths lecturer, said that the question for the protest movement was whether it could extend its influence by combining with trade unions and persuading workers to use the threat of strikes to push forward a coherent agenda. But she said it had made strides already.
“The protest movement is the only thing that is going to change the situation,” Ms. Ismail said. “If there is no pressure, there will be no change.”
Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris.
In nationwide municipal elections, South Africans rebuked the African National Congress, handing it less than half the collective vote for the first time in its history.
By Lynsey Chutel, Nov. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/04/world/africa/south-africa-election-anc.html?surface=most-popular&fellback=false&req_id=747236217&algo=bandit-all-
JOHANNESBURG — The African National Congress, South Africa’s once-vaunted liberation movement, suffered its worst election showing since coming to power in 1994, according to the results of municipal elections released Thursday.
Facing widespread anger over corruption and collapsing services, the party won less than 50 percent of the vote nationally on Monday, the first time in its history that it has failed to cross that threshold.
Voters went to the polls on Monday to choose councilors and mayors to govern towns and cities, but they used the opportunity to vent their grievances over national issues, including record unemployment and anger over the handling of Covid. The result was a resounding rebuke for the A.N.C., particularly in urban areas. Significantly low voter turnout was a further indictment of the A.N.C. and of the main opposition parties, with voters choosing smaller, identity-driven parties.
After municipal setbacks in 2016, A.N.C. leaders promised to “learn from our mistakes,” and they staked their hopes this year on polling that found President Cyril Ramaphosa with a higher approval rating than that of his party.
But however warmly South Africans may feel toward their president, they see a disconnect between his message of national renewal and the corruption that has sullied his party and crippled municipalities.
“They listen to him, they like him,” said Mcebisi Ndletyana, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg. “But when they lower their eyes to the local leaders that are there, they see mediocrity.”
Not since the 1990s, when Nelson Mandela was the face of the party, has the A.N.C. so heavily relied on the personality of its leader in a local election, said William Gumede, chair of the Democracy Works Foundation. It was not enough to convince voters, but the A.N.C. may have dipped below 40 percent if Mr. Ramaphosa were not at the center of the campaign, Mr. Gumede said.
In the aftermath of the embarrassing showing this week, Mr. Ramaphosa is likely to face leadership challenges from within his party. To replace him, his opponents will have to find a unifying candidate. Mr. Ramaphosa, in turn, may have to fire tainted but popular leaders, Mr. Gumede said.
This fallout could lead to a split in the ruling party but prove to be good for South African voters.
“It’s really energized the country again. There was a sense of despair and hopelessness in the country because the A.N.C. was this dominant force,” Mr. Gumede said.
Even with its losses Monday, the A.N.C. remains South Africa’s dominant party, having secured 46 percent of the vote.
But the modest victory means it will now be forced to enter coalitions with smaller parties in cities it once comfortably controlled. It will also have to pursue political compromises in Gauteng Province, home to the economic capital, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, the seat of government.
A.N.C. officials tried to cast the results in the best light.
“We’re not a loser here,” Jessie Duarte, the party’s deputy secretary general, said at a news briefing on the floor of the results center in Pretoria. “As far as we’re concerned, we are the winning party on that board.”
But Ms. Duarte acknowledged that voters had sent a message.
“We do not disrespect the electorate,” she said. “They’ve spoken.” She said the party would be “pragmatic” in analyzing its losses.
Yet it was not simply the losses that unsettled A.N.C. leaders. Many South Africans appeared to be sending a message by not casting ballots at all. Voter turnout was 47 percent, an 11 percentage point drop from the last election.
While political parties sought to blame the low turnout on a campaign season compressed by Covid-19 regulations and poor weather in some parts of the country, many observers attributed it to a dispiriting political landscape. Inaction at the polls, one analyst suggested, was a form of action.
“We need to start analyzing and speaking about not voting as a political activity in itself,” said Tasneem Essop, a researcher at the Society, Work and Politics Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Lungisile Dlamini, a 28-year-old schoolteacher who lives in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, was among those South Africans who did not go to the polls.
“I didn’t see the need,” she said. “They’re not doing anything, so what’s the point of voting?”
Daniel Vinokur, 27, worked as an auditor during the ballot count — but none of the ballots counted was his, he said.
“I just don’t have a political party I identify with,” he said.
Many of those who did vote said they were motivated by national issues, like South Africa’s stagnant economy and record unemployment, which have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown measures.
“I’m thinking about the youth,” said Bongile Gramany, a 62-year-old A.N.C. supporter who voted at a church in Alexandra township. “If they can help the youth to get jobs, to get skills, I’ll be happy.”
Like many of the party’s backers, Ms. Gramany pointed to the A.N.C.’s governing experience and said she believed that “they can change.”
The party still plays an outsize role in South Africa’s political landscape and in voters’ psyches, said Ms. Essop, the political analyst. For some South Africans, the decision not to vote, or to vote for a smaller party, may have partly been meant to punish a party that has fallen short of the ideals of Mandela, its famed leader, she said.
Still, despite a record 95,427 candidates running for 10,468 council seats, the main opposition parties struggled for traction. The Democratic Alliance, which is the leading opposition, failed to make gains, instead, losing support by 5 percentage points since 2016.
Opposition parties that did attract voters drew on issues of identity in communities where people felt let down by the governing party.
In KwaZulu-Natal Province, once an A.N.C. stronghold, the Inkatha Freedom Party leaned on a history of Zulu nationalism to help it win nearly a quarter of the vote in the largely rural province.
Similarly, the Freedom Front Plus, a historically Afrikaner nationalist party that repositioned itself as a bulwark for all minorities against the A.N.C., increased its support across the country.
These gains may be a sign that South African voters are shifting to the political right. Instead of the “big ideologies” of left-wing parties, said Susan Booysen, head of research at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection in Johannesburg, some voters may want parties and civic organizations they believe “can get things done.”
“I think it is relatively easy for a community to turn to that direction,” she said, “when they are exposed to such harsh conditions, and when national government does not lend a helping hand.”
By Helen Prejean, Nov. 9, 2021
Sister Prejean is an anti-death-penalty activist and the author of “Dead Man Walking.”
The one time I was allowed inside a death chamber was as the State of Virginia took Joseph O’Dell’s life in 1997. That night, I stood close to the gurney, looking into Joe’s face, with my hand firmly on his shoulder as I prayed. In my prayer I asked God to affirm Joe’s worth as a beloved son possessing a sacred dignity that even the ones killing him could not take from him.
Upholding the God-given dignity of the condemned has been the core reason I, a Catholic nun, have served as a spiritual adviser to seven men on death row. And nothing conveys a greater sense of dignity to a human being — especially one whom society designates as a despicable “untouchable” — than loving, respectful touch.
Joe was on my mind when I got a call from the American Civil Liberties Union to participate in an amicus curiae brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of John Henry Ramirez, a death row inmate in Texas. Mr. Ramirez is requesting that his Baptist pastor, Dana Moore, who has ministered to him for five years, be allowed to lay hands on him and pray audibly as the State of Texas takes his life.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied his request, informing Pastor Moore that he would have to stand silently in the death chamber and would not be permitted to touch Mr. Ramirez as officials carried out the execution. But the same day Mr. Ramirez was scheduled to die, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on his request, which snatched him, at least for now, from death in the Huntsville killing chamber. He would have been the 573rd prisoner to be executed by the State of Texas since 1982. The oral arguments are due to take place today.
Mr. Ramirez is not innocent. Seventeen years ago, he killed a man, Pablo Castro, whose family still suffers grievously from his loss. I pray that this family finds lasting peace.
I believe that Mr. Ramirez, while responsible for his crime, is worth more than that singularly worst act of his life. As one who seeks to follow the teachings of Christ, I believe that Mr. Ramirez can be truly remorseful, love others and change his life. The courts, however, have determined the opposite: that Mr. Ramirez’s heinous crime reveals the core of his true nature, which is incapable of personal transformation and, therefore, irredeemable. They demonize him, which is why, perhaps, they feel justified in denying his inalienable human right to live and in depriving him of a trusted pastor to lay hands on him as he dies.
For many Christians, the laying on of hands is at the heart of prayer rituals. The New Testament is filled with examples of touching: Jesus touches a leper and heals him; Jesus takes children into his arms and holds them close; the apostles of Jesus lay hands on religious seekers, empowering them with God’s spirit.
And it’s not only in a religious context that human touch has meaning. The extended isolation and distancing imposed by the Covid pandemic have reminded us of how desperately we crave the touch of our fellow humans. Studies have shown that premature babies who are massaged gain weight faster and leave hospitals quicker than those who aren’t. As humans, we are deeply wired to connect with our fellow human beings, especially when we first come into this world and when we leave it. During the pandemic, some of the most tragic accounts are of the people who died of Covid and were deprived in their last days and hours of their loved ones, holding them close.
I can viscerally feel something of the agony and terror Mr. Ramirez may experience as he is strapped down and killed. From the time of his trial, Mr. Ramirez has received countless signals that he is worth nothing more than disposable human waste.
In April 1984, as Patrick Sonnier took his last steps on this earth toward the electric chair, I gripped his shoulder tightly as I prayed for God to hold up his legs. He was the first human being I accompanied as spiritual adviser to his death. Not allowed in the chamber, I touched him in the only way I could. I told him: “Look at my face. I will be the face of Christ, the face of love for you.” All the other witnesses for the state sitting there that night wanted to see him die. Mine was the last face he saw. And when I emerged from the witness chamber in the deep dark of that night, I threw up.
I pray that John Henry Ramirez will not die at the hands of Texas executioners. But if he is killed, I pray that his faith companion, Pastor Moore, will be there with him, laying his hands on him, shoring up his dignity, commending him to God.
By Jamelle Bouie, Nov. 9, 2021
Whether for inspiration, new ideas or simply as a refresher, it is important to revisit the classics of whatever constitutes your field of interest. It was with that in mind that I spent much of the weekend rereading the 1948 book “Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics,” an influential (if now somewhat obscure) work of sociological analysis by the Trinidadian scholar Oliver Cromwell Cox.
If there is a reason to revisit this specific book at this particular moment, it is to remind oneself that the challenge of racism is primarily structural and material, not cultural and linguistic, and that a disproportionate focus on the latter can too often obscure the former.
Cox was writing at a time when mainstream analysis of race in the United States made liberal use of an analogy to the Indian caste system in order to illustrate the vast gulf of experience that lay between Black and white Americans. His book was a rebuttal to this idea as well as an original argument in its own right.
Over the course of 600 pages, Cox provides a systematic study of caste, class and race relations, underscoring the paramount differences between caste and race, and, most important, tying race to the class system. “Racial antagonism,” he writes in the prologue, “is part and parcel of this class struggle, because it developed within the capitalist system as one of its fundamental traits.”
Put differently, to the extent that Cox had a single problem with the “caste” analysis of American racism, it was that it abstracted racial conflict away from its origins in the development of American capitalism. The effect was to treat racism as a timeless force, outside the logic of history.
“We may reiterate that the caste school of race relations is laboring under the illusion of a simple but vicious truism,” Cox wrote in a section criticizing the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal’s famous study “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy.” “One man is white, another is black; the cultural opportunities of these two men may be the same, but since the black man cannot become white, there will always be a white caste and a black caste.”
In Cox’s reading of Myrdal, caste exists as an independent force, directing the energies and activities of Black and white people alike. The solution to the “race problem,” in this vision, is to shake whites of their psychological commitment to the caste system. Or, as Cox summarizes the point, “If the ‘race problem’ in the United States is pre-eminently a moral question, it must naturally be resolved by moral means.”
But this, for Cox, is nonsense. “We cannot defeat race prejudice by proving that it is wrong,” he writes. “The reason for this is that race prejudice is only a symptom of a materialistic social fact.” Specifically, “Race prejudice is supported by a peculiar socioeconomic need which guarantees force in its protection; and, as a consequence, it is likely that at its centers of initiation force alone will defeat it.”
For most of American history, until the Civil War, this socioeconomic need was the production of tobacco, agricultural staples and, eventually, cotton. After the war, it was the general demand for cheap workers and a pliant, divided labor force coming from Southern planters and Northern industrialists. Whether in the United States or around the world, Cox argues, it is capitalist exploitation — and not some inborn tribalism — that drives racial prejudice and conflict.
“Race prejudice,” Cox writes, “developed gradually in Western society as capitalism and nationalism developed. It is a divisive attitude seeking to alienate dominant group sympathy from an ‘inferior’ race, a whole people, for the purpose of facilitating its exploitation.” What’s more, “The greater the immediacy of the exploitative need, the more insistent were the arguments supporting the rationalizations.”
Although Cox was writing in an era very different from our own — Jim Crow ruled the American South, and the dismantling of colonial empires was only just beginning — his insights still matter. We must remember that the problem of racism — of the denial of personhood and of the differential exposure to exploitation and death — will not be resolved by saying the right words or thinking the right thoughts.
That’s because racism does not survive, in the main, because of personal belief and prejudice. It survives because it is inscribed and reinscribed by the relationships and dynamics that structure our society, from segregation and exclusion to inequality and the degradation of labor.
The solution, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in the year of his assassination, must involve a “revolution of values” that will “look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth” and see that “an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
“If democracy is to have breadth of meaning,” King declared, “it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.”
By Jeffrey Ball, Nov. 9, 2021
Mr. Ball, a writer focusing on energy and the environment, is the scholar in residence at Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance and a lecturer at Stanford Law School.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/opinion/climate-emissions-developing-countries.html
Nowhere is cutting carbon emissions more crucial than in the world’s emerging and developing economies, where the thirst for energy, and the output of carbon dioxide, is rising the fastest. New power plants there will lock in the trajectory of global warming for decades to come.
But here’s the big problem: Fifty-two percent of new power generation financed in those countries from 2018 through 2020 is on track to be inconsistent with the global goal of keeping Earth’s average temperature from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. That’s the threshold scientists have said is crucial to stave off particularly disastrous effects from global warming.
The biggest foreign financiers of these projects were in Japan, China and South Korea. But significant funds have also been coming from banks, utilities and other companies in the countries themselves.
Much has been made of late about capitalism getting religion on climate change. To be sure, financiers of developing-world infrastructure are increasingly forsaking coal-fired power plants, which are becoming economically unattractive and politically untenable. But what they’re largely building in coal’s place is less than pristine: plants powered by natural gas. That’s hardly evidence of the financial world’s conversion.
If the financing of these climate-shaping projects doesn’t get smarter soon, then all that money from corporations and governments claiming it as evidence of progress is likely to end up doing all too little for the planet.
In the three years immediately preceding the current frenzy of corporate and government promises to reach net-zero emissions — a period of supposedly rising climate consciousness — slightly more than half of the projected electricity generation financed in the parts of the globe that most matter to the atmosphere made it harder for the world to make the net-zero pivot. That is a principal finding of a newly published peer-reviewed study I conducted with students at Stanford, where I teach. The bulk of global carbon emissions in coming decades is expected to come from emerging and developing economies, according to the International Energy Agency.
In all, we identified 55 emerging and developing countries where power plants were financed that failed to line up with global climate goals. Those countries include Vietnam, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa.
Compared to coal-burning plants, gas-fired ones emit, in the best of circumstances, about half as much carbon dioxide for every bit of electricity they produce. Yet studies have raised major concerns about leaks in natural-gas systems — leaks that, particularly in certain countries and regions, may markedly reduce gas’s climate benefit over coal.
Our analysis suggests that, even disregarding gas leaks, so much gas-fired power capacity was financed in emerging and developing economies from 2018 to 2020 that it will emit 80 percent as much carbon annually over its expected lifetime as will the fleet of coal-fired plants financed in these countries during the same period. Virtually none of the gas-fired plants are expected to be equipped with technology to capture the carbon emissions they produce. Instead, their carbon dioxide will simply waft up into the air.
That hardly inspires confidence in a carbon-neutral tomorrow. Those bankrolling energy infrastructure in emerging and developing economies must be made to explain — in detail and soon — how they will shift their money to achieve that goal.
Though renewable energy is plummeting in cost and surging in volume, fossil fuels remain so entrenched in the global economy that they will continue to be burned for decades. The International Energy Agency projects that between 2020 and 2050, if countries follow through with green promises they’ve made — a big if — the portion of global energy coming from renewables will rise to 37 percent from 12 percent, while the portion from fossil fuels will fall only to 49 percent from 79 percent.
Further, the agency calculates that current climate pledges by governments, if met — another big if — will achieve less than 20 percent of the cuts in carbon emissions necessary by 2030 to maintain the possibility of staying below the 1.5-degree threshold by 2050.
The “missing link to accelerate clean energy deployment,” as the agency puts it, is finance. Annual investment in clean-energy projects will have to soar to $4 trillion by 2030, more than triple current spending.
Even if such money materializes, it won’t cool the atmosphere unless it’s spent well. To be politically viable, this shift in spending must avoid eviscerating powerful industries and populous regions that for decades have depended for their livelihoods on profits from carbon-intensive infrastructure in the developing world. It will need the buy-in of those countries. And because, scientists agree, a major planetary window to address global warming will close within a decade, it will need to be done fast.
Yet reorienting this worldwide web of high-carbon finance seems more possible than it has in years. That’s in no small part because a recent spate of climate-related disasters — wildfires in California, hurricanes in Louisiana and New York, flooding in Germany and China — has catapulted global warming to the top of consumers’ minds and of the international agenda.
For the first time in a long time, there’s a will to fight climate change. What has been missing is an economically and politically workable way.
That way is coming into focus. The deep-pocketed players must be pressed to put their money where their mouths are — and, crucially, to disclose enough information about their spending that outsiders can assess the legitimacy and effectiveness of their efforts. All this will have to happen well in advance of the middle of the century.
Curbing climate change is, in the most fundamental sense, not about innovating technology or changing morality. It’s about moving money. The climate conference underway in Glasgow is, with just days to go before it ends, long on vague promises for more clean investment. But it’s short on specifics about precisely what “clean” means and about what details financiers will have to disclose so the public can meaningfully assess their climate progress. If the conference ends with these crucial questions unaddressed, then it will be remembered as having squandered the opportunity to do something serious about global warming.
Like so many climate confabs before it, but more catastrophically, it will have generated little more than hot air.
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.