United in Action to STOP KILLER DRONES:
SHUT DOWN CREECH! Spring Action, 2022
March 26 - April 2—Saturday to Saturday
Co-sponsored by CODEPINK and Veterans For Peace
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons
Sign Petition at:
On the anniversary of the 26th of July Movement’s founding, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research launches the online exhibition, Let Cuba Live. 80 artists from 19 countries – including notable cartoonists and designers from Cuba – submitted over 100 works in defense of the Cuban Revolution. Together, the exhibition is a visual call for the end to the decades-long US-imposed blockade, whose effects have only deepened during the pandemic. The intentional blocking of remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions have prevented essential food and medicine from entering the country. Together, the images in this exhibition demand: #UnblockCuba #LetCubaLive
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in organising a local exhibition of the exhibition.
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!
We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: email@example.com
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
By The Editorial Board, Dec. 18, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/18/opinion/free-press-journalists-jailed.html
The Committee to Protect Journalists has recorded another dismal milestone in the onslaught of authoritarian leaders against a free press — a new high over the past year in the number of journalists jailed around the world.
In its annual report on reporters jailed for their work, the organization, which is a nongovernmental nonprofit, said 293 journalists were imprisoned around the world, an increase of 13 from 2020. At least 24 journalists have been killed so far this year, the committee reported; 18 others died in circumstances “too murky to determine whether they were specific targets.”
China remained the top jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with 50 locked up. Myanmar moved up to second place because of a military coup in February and the media crackdown that followed. Egypt, Vietnam and Belarus were the next three.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is usually on the conservative side among organizations that monitor press freedoms in reporting on the abuse, arrest or killing of journalists, because of its stringent verification protocols. Even so, this is the sixth consecutive year that it has recorded at least 250 journalists jailed for their reporting, a trend it attributes to “a growing intolerance of independent reporting” by increasingly arrogant autocrats prepared to flout due process and international norms to stay in power.
The fact that dictators cannot abide a free press is in itself a measure of its importance. The strongman of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, was prepared to face full-throated condemnation, at least from the West, for diverting an international flight just so he could arrest a self-exiled journalist, Roman Protasevich, and send a message to other critics.
But then other authoritarian leaders such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman — the latter responsible for one of the most gruesome murders to date of a journalist, that of Jamal Khashoggi — have not been shy about disregarding international norms and elemental decency to rid themselves of meddlesome reporters.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia did drop out of the top five nations imprisoning journalists in 2021, but that was not necessarily progress, the committee noted. Since a failed coup attempt in 2016, Turkey has effectively crushed the country’s mainstream media, and some journalists have been released from jail to await trial. In Saudi Arabia, the murder and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi probably served to dissuade many critics. In many authoritarian states, the committee said, governments are finding more sophisticated ways to block independent reporters and organizations, such as internet shutdowns and better surveillance.
Societies can and do agree to set limits on freedom of speech with criminal penalties; for example, for child sexual abuse imagery, libel or spreading dangerous misinformation. A roiling debate is underway over whether social media, with its vast powers to swiftly disseminate news both real and fake, should be controlled. But these questions are debated openly and cautiously, and their purpose is to safeguard society, not control it.
Authoritarian leaders, by contrast, seek to control and manipulate what is said and written with the sole purpose of remaining in power and above the law. They know full well that this violates freedoms enshrined in law and convention, which is why they so often attack journalists obliquely, using trumped-up charges like tax evasion and terrorism or drawing on vague and arcane laws to arrest reporters and shut down their operations.
To arrest Jimmy Lai and close down the popular Hong Kong tabloid he founded, Apple Daily, China used a catchall clause in its draconian national security law banning “collusion with external forces.” On Monday, Mr. Lai and seven other pro-democracy activists were sentenced to prison on another charge — gathering last year to commemorate the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
In mainland China, journalists face an array of bizarre charges such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” which is what the journalist Zhang Zhan was accused of doing when she criticized China’s response to Covid-19. In Turkey, insulting the president is a crime; in Russia, a favorite weapon against journalists and media outlets is to label them “foreign agents.”
Condemning the persecution of journalists is not about protecting a profession or an industry. For its reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists identifies journalists as “people who cover the news or comment on public affairs in any media, including print, photographs, radio, television and online.” That, with the internet and social media, covers a vast array of people who are basically exercising their fundamental right to speak out against the excesses of those in power — or anything else on their mind.
That tension is also a prerequisite for keeping tabs on those in power, as America’s founders understood. The press was far more partisan, less restrained and more often unscrupulous back when James Madison argued for what became the First Amendment. Yet he declared, and the legislators agreed, that “the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”
When China imprisons Ms. Zhang, who is currently on a hunger strike, or Belarus kidnaps Mr. Protasevich, whose parents say was coerced into confessing that he tried to topple Mr. Lukashenko, or any other journalist is thrown in jail for not kowtowing to the powers that be, that bulwark is being brutally and deliberately violated. That this is happening in record numbers should sound loud alarms the world over.
For Americans, there has been an increasing infringement on press freedom in recent decades that once seemed anathema to the country’s ideals. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama each waged their battles with the press. President Donald Trump went much further, calling some news outlets the “enemy of the people.” President Biden’s administration has shown courage on certain fronts, such as standing down on efforts by federal prosecutors under Mr. Trump to secretly obtain phone and email records of journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists report, however, coincided with the ruling of a British court that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, can be extradited to the United States to face charges under the Espionage Act.
It is most unfortunate that the U.S. government has chosen to continue to use a law as potent as the Espionage Act to pursue Mr. Assange. There is a debate about whether Mr. Assange is a journalist, but equating the publication of classified materials received from government sources with espionage strikes at the very foundations of a free press and should be rejected by Mr. Biden.
Mr. Assange plans to appeal, and his legal odyssey could stretch out even longer than it already has. And the drawn-out effort by the United States to try Mr. Assange in an open court where he could contest the charges under the First Amendment’s protection of press freedoms is qualitatively different from the incarceration of journalists by authoritarian leaders who seek nothing more than unchallenged power.
But if Mr. Assange’s and his colleagues’ methods and motives are sometimes murky — they released numerous documents leaked by an Army private without removing the names of confidential sources, putting lives in danger — his case could set dangerous precedents that could interfere with a free press monitoring the shenanigans of those in power. That should be inviolable.
BY SALVADOR RANGEL, DECEMBER 17, 2021https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/12/17/enjoying-ted-lasso-you-are-a-socialist-you-may-just-not-know-it-yet/
“The forest is a socialist community, and trees work in harmony to share the sunlight”
Ted Lasso has become one of the most popularly streamed shows. One common theory behind the show’s reception is that it came out during the pandemic, at a time when audiences were looking for feel-good shows amid the stress and anxiety caused by COVID 19. TV critics, however, had noted an increase appeal for shows depicting earnest, feel-good characters, and storylines, well before the pandemic. The pandemic likely only intensified a trend that had been emerging since the Great Recession of 2008–that is the increased appeal of socialism. The advent of the pandemic and accompanying economic and social chaos represented an intensification of already-existing discontent with capitalism and a desire for alternatives.
By the way, the fact that you are still reading, and that this piece was published in the first place, is in further evidence of this trend. The show sets up a subtle but poignant contrast between the values of capitalist and socialist values. The actions of the individual characters that either make the team better or help each other out in some way are the result of socialist ethics. Whereas the type of actions or attitudes that bring people down or make the team less cohesive are the result of self-interested, self-serving ethics. That is because capitalist ethics prioritize the individual over the community. Recall Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that “there is no such thing” as society, but only “individual men and women”.
From a capitalist perspective, people are seen as inherently self-interested, seeking to maximize their own individual well-being even at the expense of their community. The interests of the individual are often seen as directly in conflict with those of the community. This is why the ideas behind the so-called “tragedy of the commons” (whose author, by the way, was a eugenicist and white supremacist and whose ideas have been thoroughly debunked) are so popular with the advocates of capitalism. From this paradigm, relationships are seen as transactional, with each individual seeking to improve their own lot. Since the gains an individual makes come at the expense of another, there is also a necessary emphasis on hierarchies and statuses.
Socialist ethics on the other hand, are inherently egalitarian and eschew statuses and hierarchies. It is not so much that the individual is not valued but rather that their fate and well-being is inextricable from that of the community. Contrary to capitalist ethics, the interests of the individual are not in opposition to those of the community–as the community thrives so does the individual and vice versa.
There is perhaps not a better illustration of this tension between capitalist and socialist ethics within the show, than that embodied by Nate Shelley–the “kit manager.” At the beginning of the show, we see capitalist ethics reigning supreme. There is a clear hierarchy among the boss and the players and among the players and Nate. In this hierarchy, Nate is at the bottom of the pecking order and regularly bullied by the players. Not all players participate in the bulling, but none is willing to challenge the bullies. Within this system, they don’t stand to benefit in any way from standing up to the bullies on Nate’s behalf. As Coach Lasso not only embodies but also encourages prosocial ethics, Nate’s fate begins to improve, and he becomes an important and influential member of the team. Unfortunately, as we see towards the end of the show, Nate proves unable to emulate the socialist ethics that rescued him from the pit of despair and instead embraces the kind of behavior and ethics associated with his former tormentor (and utter personification of capitalist ethics, at least in the beginning,) Jamie Tart.
Tart’s unrelenting selfishness, competitiveness, and lack of any of regard for the rest of the team stand in stark contrast with the socialist ethics promoted by Lasso and increasingly embraced by Roy Kent and other players in the team. He is never happier than when hearing his own name being chanted by the crowd (and himself!). His constant preoccupation with his “brand” is part of these distinctly capitalist ethics, which also lead him to pursue scoring goals by himself, even when passing the ball to other players, such as Sam Obisanya, would more likely result in more scored goals. It is Kent who finally decides to put an end Tart’s reign of terror. He realizes, following Lasso’s lead, that the well-being of the individual and the community are intertwined and that better morale among the individual players will translate to a more cohesive and better performing team.
If Tart, and perhaps later Nate, represent the damaging results of capitalist ethics, Sam Obisanya (a football player from Nigeria) represents what can be achieved through embracing socialist ethics. Sam, much like Nate in the beginning, is subject to constant undermining by Tart which impacts his performance on field. Coach Lasso counters Sam’s alienation by drawing him into the collective of the team. With Ted’s encouragement, the team celebrates Sam’s birthday by pooling money and sharing cake after a stunning football match loss. Their celebration despite the loss reinforces the team’s value and shared humanity beyond their abilities as laborers.
As Sam comes to feel more a part of his team-community, he feels more emboldened to stand up for his other community–the one back home. These views are first hinted at when Sam reminds Ted Lasso that his gifts of plastic toy soldiers represent American imperialism and rampant capitalism in Africa and the broader, Global South. Sam, with the support of this teammates, later takes a more visible stance against capitalist ethics. He boycotts his team’s sponsor, who funds a Nigerian oil magnate with a dubious human and environmental rights record, even when doing so will affect his livelihood and compromise his future with the team. His team, in a demonstration of the interconnectedness between individual and community well-being, offers to support his public activism by similarly altering their jerseys to hide the sponsor.
Ted Lasso and its representation of what socialist ethics can achieve stands in contrast to another recent runaway show, Squid Game. While Ted Lasso depicts the society we may want to be part of, Squid Game represents the worst excess of the capitalist society we currently inhabit. The games within the show are only an exaggerated (and dramatized) version of the despair and desperation in which many people are forced to live in our current society. Capitalist ethics are present not only in the games depicted in the show, but also in the social context in which the games take place. The people who ultimately end up becoming players in the games by and large agreed to do so out of the despair of not being able to have any kind of decent life under the current socioeconomic system. They are only in the games because they are already victims of the reality another rigged game–capitalism.
Salvador Rangel is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
American policy decisions are vital to understanding Haiti’s political instability, and why it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
By Chris Cameron, Dec. 19, 2021
"A bloody history of American influence looms large, and a century of U.S. efforts to stabilize and develop the country have ultimately ended in failure.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/19/us/politics/us-haiti-intervention.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20Politics
In September 1994, the United States was on the verge of invading Haiti.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the country’s first democratically elected president, had been deposed in a military coup three years earlier. Haiti had descended into chaos. Gangs and paramilitaries terrorized the population — taking hostages, assassinating dissidents and burning crops. International embargoes had strangled the economy, and tens of thousands of people were trying to emigrate to America.
But just days before the first U.S. troops would land in Haiti, Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a senator on the Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke against a military intervention. He argued that the United States had more pressing crises — including ethnic cleansing in Bosnia — and that Haiti was not especially important to American interests.
“I think it’s probably not wise,” Mr. Biden said of the planned invasion in an interview with television host Charlie Rose.
He added: “If Haiti — a God-awful thing to say — if Haiti just quietly sunk into the Caribbean or rose up 300 feet, it wouldn’t matter a whole lot in terms of our interest.”
Despite Mr. Biden’s apprehension, the invasion went forward and the Haitian military junta surrendered within hours. Mr. Aristide was soon restored to power, and the Clinton administration began deporting thousands of Haitians.
Nearly a decade later, Haiti’s constitutional order would collapse again, prompting another U.S. military intervention, more migrants and more deportations. As rebels threatened to invade the capital in 2004, Mr. Aristide resigned under pressure from U.S. officials. A provisional government was formed with American backing. The violence and unrest continued.
That cycle of crisis and U.S. intervention in Haiti — punctuated by periods of relative calm but little improvement in the lives of most people — has persisted to this day. Since July, a presidential assassination, an earthquake and a tropical storm have deepened the turmoil.
Mr. Biden, now president, is overseeing yet another intervention in Haiti’s political affairs, one that his critics say is following an old Washington playbook: backing Haitian leaders accused of authoritarian rule, either because they advance American interests or because U.S. officials fear the instability of a transition of power.
Making sense of American policy in Haiti over the decades — driven at times by economic interests, Cold War strategy and migration concerns — is vital to understanding Haiti’s political instability, and why it remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, even after an infusion of more than $5 billion in U.S. aid in the last decade alone.
A bloody history of American influence looms large, and a century of U.S. efforts to stabilize and develop the country have ultimately ended in failure.
The American Occupation (1915-34)
The politics of slavery and racial prejudice were key factors in early American hostility to Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution, Thomas Jefferson and many in Congress feared that the newly founded Black republic would spread slave revolts in the United States.
For decades, the United States refused to formally recognize Haiti’s independence from France, and at times tried to annex Haitian territory and conduct diplomacy through threats.
It was against this backdrop that Haiti became increasingly unstable. The country went through seven presidents between 1911 and 1915, all either assassinated or removed from power. Haiti was heavily in debt, and Citibank — then the National City Bank of New York — and other American banks confiscated much of Haiti’s gold reserve during that period with the help of U.S. Marines.
Roger L. Farnham, who managed National City Bank’s assets in Haiti, then lobbied President Woodrow Wilson for a military intervention to stabilize the country and force the Haitian government to pay its debts, convincing the president that France or Germany might invade if America did not.
The military occupation that followed remains one of the darkest chapters of American policy in the Caribbean. The United States installed a puppet regime that rewrote Haiti’s constitution and gave America control over the country’s finances. Forced labor was used for construction and other work to repay debts. Thousands were killed by U.S. Marines.
The occupation ended in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. As the last Marines departed Haiti, riots broke out in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Bridges were destroyed, telephone lines were cut and the new president declared martial law and suspended the constitution. The United States did not completely relinquish control of Haiti’s finances until 1947.
The Duvalier Dynasty
The ruthless dictator François Duvalier took power in 1957, as Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba and as U.S. interests in the region were becoming increasingly focused on limiting the influence of the Soviet Union.
Duvalier, like many other dictators in the Caribbean and Latin America, recognized that he could secure American support if he presented his government as anti-communist. U.S. officials privately described Duvalier as “the worst dictator in the hemisphere,” while deeming him preferable to the perceived risk of a communist Haiti.
When the United States suspended aid programs because of atrocities committed soon after Duvalier took office, the Haitian leader hired public relations firms, including one run by Roosevelt’s youngest son, to repair the relationship.
Duvalier — and later his son Jean-Claude — ultimately enjoyed significant American support in the form of aid (much of it embezzled by the family), training for Haitian paramilitary forces who would go on to commit atrocities and even a Marine deployment in 1959 despite the protests of American diplomats in Haiti.
By 1961, the United States was sending Duvalier $13 million in aid a year — equivalent to half of Haiti’s national budget.
Even after the United States had tired of Duvalier’s brutality and unstable leadership, President John F. Kennedy demurred on a plot to remove him and mandate free elections. When Duvalier died nearly a decade later, the United States supported the succession of his son. By 1986, the United States had spent an estimated $900 million supporting the Duvalier dynasty as Haiti plunged deeper into poverty and corruption.
At crucial moments in Haiti’s democratic era, the United States has intervened to pick winners and losers — fearful of political instability and surges of Haitian migration.
After Mr. Aristide was ousted in 1991, the U.S. military reinstalled him. He resigned in disgrace less than a decade later, but only after American diplomats urged him to do so. According to reports from that time, the George W. Bush administration had undermined Mr. Aristide’s government in the years before his resignation
François Pierre-Louis is a political science professor at Queens College in New York who served in Mr. Aristide’s cabinet and advised former Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis. Haitians are often suspicious of American involvement in their affairs, he said, but still take signals from U.S. officials seriously because of the country’s long history of influence over Haitian politics.
For example, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, American and other international diplomats pressured Haiti to hold elections that year despite the devastation. The vote was disastrously mismanaged, and international observers and many Haitians considered the results illegitimate.
Responding to the allegations of voter fraud, American diplomats insisted that one candidate in the second round of the presidential election be replaced with a candidate who received fewer votes — at one point threatening to halt aid over the dispute. Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, confronted then-President René Préval about putting Michel Martelly, America’s preferred candidate, on the ballot. Mr. Martelly won that election in a landslide.
A direct line of succession can be traced from that election to Haiti’s current crisis.
Mr. Martelly endorsed Jovenel Moïse as his successor. Mr. Moïse, who was elected in 2016, ruled by decree and turned to authoritarian tactics with the tacit approval of the Trump and Biden administrations.
Mr. Moïse appointed Ariel Henry as acting prime minister earlier this year. Then on July 7, Mr. Moïse was assassinated.
Mr. Henry has been accused of being linked to the assassination plot, and political infighting that had quieted after international diplomats endorsed his claim to power has reignited. Mr. Martelly, who had clashed with Mr. Moïse over business interests, is considering another run for the presidency.
Robert Maguire, a Haiti scholar and retired professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said the instinct in Washington to back members of Haiti’s political elite who appeared allied with U.S. interests was an old one, with a history of failure.
Another approach could have more success, according to Mr. Maguire and other scholars, Democratic lawmakers and a former U.S. envoy for Haiti policy. They say the United States should support a grass-roots commission of civic leaders, who are drafting plans for a new provisional government in Haiti.
That process, however, could take years.
By Michelle Cottle, Dec. 20, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/20/opinion/medicaid-reentry-act.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Opinion
Illustration by The New York Times; photographs by Bettmann and johnnyscriv, via Getty Images
Each year, more than 650,000 people are released from state and federal prisons. Nine million others churn through local jails. For many, the transition back to the outside world poses an acute risk. Studies have shown a decline in the health of the recently released, who experience significantly higher rates of death and hospitalization compared to the general populace. The first two weeks can be especially dangerous.
Among the most common killers of this population are suicide, cardiovascular disease, homicide and, topping the list, drug overdoses. A 2007 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the formerly incarcerated in Washington State were around 129 times as likely to die of an overdose in the first two weeks after their release as other state residents. The opioid epidemic has hit this cohort extra hard.
Multiple factors are fueling this tragedy. The incarcerated population already suffers from disproportionately high rates of physical and behavioral health problems, from hypertension and asthma to mental illness and substance abuse disorders. While effective treatment options can be hard to come by behind bars, returning to the community can be even bumpier, resulting in dangerous disruptions in care. People suddenly find themselves without the medication they desperately need to survive, be it insulin or antipsychotic drugs. Many face barriers to care including homelessness, unemployment and a lack of social support systems. The newly released are unusually susceptible — physically and psychologically — to overdoses.
The pressures faced during this high-risk transition period do not affect the former inmates alone. Families and communities suffer. Absent stable care, the newly released are more likely to wind up in overburdened emergency rooms — or back in trouble with the law. Experts consider improving access to and coordination of care for this population as key to reducing recidivism.
The Medicaid Re-entry Act, one of the many policy proposals thrown into limbo with the collapse of the Build Back Better Act this weekend, seeks to smooth this transition. The legislation would clear the way for states to use Medicaid to provide coverage for inmates up to 30 days before the inmates’ scheduled release. Currently, a provision of the Social Security Act known as the Medicaid inmate exclusion prohibits any federal health coverage for inmates of jails, prisons and detention centers. (There is a narrow exception for those requiring an outside hospital stay of more than 24 hours.)
When someone covered by Medicaid lands behind bars, his or her benefits are automatically suspended — and in some states terminated altogether. When the person returns to the outside world, it can take time and effort for coverage to be restored. Some states make this process easier than others.
Experts say getting inmates settled into Medicaid shortly before their release could greatly aid what is often referred to as a “warm handoff” from institutional to community-based care systems.
This unglamorous policy idea has been bumping around Capitol Hill for a couple of years, championed by Representative Paul Tonko, a Democrat from New York. (Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, is its Senate sponsor.) It has earned bipartisan support in both chambers, along with a broad coalition of outside backers. At the crossroads of the public health and criminal justice systems, the plan has brought together groups ranging from the National Alliance on Mental Illness to the National Sheriffs’ Association, lobbying for it from multiple angles.
“In the long run this will reduce recidivism and therefore ease budgetary burdens from the jail system,” Dave Mahoney, then the president of the National Sheriffs’ Association, said earlier this year. “Our taxpayers deserve that.”
Supporters of the bill have been savvy in their positioning efforts, stressing how the measure would help address the opioid crisis — a top-of-mind concern for many lawmakers. This could help increase its appeal even for members who are skittish about Big Government — for instance, Senator Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat from West Virginia who has been the chief impediment to passing the Build Back Better Act but whose home state has been ravaged by opioids.
The bill is relatively modest in its aims. Mr. Tonko has stressed that it would not expand Medicaid eligibility. Neither does it seek to abolish the inmate exclusion provision wholesale, as some groups favor. Even so, it would cost money, and talk of providing any benefits to inmates can be politically tricky. As is often the case, the provision’s best bet is to get folded into a much larger legislative package. Proponents were hoping to attach it to the Covid relief bill that passed this year, to no avail. They then folded it into Build Back Better.
As the larger spending bill shatters against Mr. Manchin’s unyielding opposition, the re-entry proposal should be rescued and revived for another day. Maybe in a pared-down version of Build Back Better to be hashed out in the new year. Maybe attached to a different vehicle entirely. The plan may not be flashy, but it could make a big difference to the masses of sick and vulnerable people who emerge from America’s jails and prisons each year — and to the communities to which they return.
By Samuel Earle, Dec. 22, 2021
Mr. Earle is a British journalist who writes on politics and culture.
"The internet now stands as a vast web designed to capture our tastes, attention and patterns of thought, and to push them along profit-making lines. The goal is not a world where anything is possible — but a world where everything is predictable and purchasable."https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/opinion/the-matrix-resurrections-internet-dystopia.html
When “The Matrix” was released in 1999, hype about the internet had reached a frenzy. Time magazine had named a young Jeff Bezos Person of the Year, for embodying the two great themes of the year, “e-commerce and dot-com mania.” The BBC declared it “the year of the internet.” In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman described the web as “a symbol that we are all connected but nobody is in charge.”
Some excitedly heralded “The Matrix,” with its pioneering computer-generated special effects and cyberpunk motif, as “the first movie of the 21st century.” And over 20 years after its release, the film persists as perhaps the definitive movie of the early internet age. Its influence is everywhere, animating fashion and philosophy, as well as our technological fears and fantasies. Its iconography — from the “red pill,” which helps to awaken characters to the reality of their dystopian circumstances, to “the endless allure of Keanu Reeves’ sunglasses,” as GQ put it — are cultural mainstays. The film spawned two sequels, both released in 2003, and with “The Matrix Resurrections,” a fourth film, released Wednesday, the franchise returns to a digitized world that it has played no small part in shaping.
Given how the internet has panned out, however, it’s not an entirely happy accolade. We are in a very dark timeline — one in which the Tesla and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk could tell his 34 million Twitter followers to “take the red pill,” a concept increasingly co-opted by alt-right conspiracists, and the former first daughter Ivanka Trump can reply: “Taken!” (Lilly Wachowski, “The Matrix” co-director, was unimpressed by this exchange.) After Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg announced his dreary plans for a “metaverse,” a Matrix-like “embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content, you are in it,” the film franchise’s marketing team responded by tweeting a new tagline for “The Matrix Resurrections”: “Now based on real events.”
Yet in some ways, even the original “Matrix” film and its two sequels imagined a future more hopeful than the one conjured up by Silicon Valley today. On the surface, the movies presented a straightforward dystopia: a bleak world where, sometime in the late 22nd century, humans are harvested in vast fields as an abundant energy resource to fuel machine overlords. The machines have plugged humans into a simulation of the year 1999, known as the Matrix, which keeps them passive and distracted, unaware of their predicament.
So far, so depressing. Yet alongside this dark tableau, “The Matrix” also contained dreams of a better internet than our own. The eponymous computer simulation is a sinister mechanism of control, imposed upon humans to harness their energy. But after the simulation is seen as a construction (enabled by swallowing the “red pill”), people have the power to plug back in and traverse it as a truer version of themselves.
This is where a sense of nostalgia haunts a rewatching of “The Matrix”: not for the 1999 it depicts, but for the future — and the internet — it suggested could exist. It’s “a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible,” Neo (the main character, played by Mr. Reeves) declares at the end of the first film.
Dominated by a handful of mega-corporations, today’s digital sphere seems more in line with the machines’ coercive operation than the dreams of Neo and his band of rebels. The internet now stands as a vast web designed to capture our tastes, attention and patterns of thought, and to push them along profit-making lines. The goal is not a world where anything is possible — but a world where everything is predictable and purchasable.
The promise of digital self-realization that made “The Matrix” no ordinary dystopia was integral to the utopianism of the early internet. An early online user, quoted by the sociologist and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle in 1995, declared that, on the internet, “you can be whoever you want to be … whoever you have the capacity to be … You don’t have to worry about the slots other people put you in.” Or, as a famous New Yorker cartoon playfully put it around the same time, showing a dog typing away at a computer, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
The diverse cast of “The Matrix” suggests an internet that has freed humanity from discrimination based on race, class and gender. Neo starts out as Thomas Anderson, a bored software engineer who hates his job (working for a company called, somewhat forebodingly, “Meta-cortex”), before he becomes a kung fu master who can dodge bullets. A fellow superhacker, his look-alike lover, Trinity, (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), persistently defies both gravity and the gendered expectations of her enemies. “The Matrix cannot tell you who you are,” she tells him. (Another character, Switch, was originally intended by the directors to be gender fluid: a man in the real world and a woman in the simulation.)
But the internet today does tell you who you are, and it’s hardly a place free from prejudice. Silicon Valley’s prevailing ethos has moved away from the idea that the internet can be a space to live outside society’s demands and expectations. At Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg, for example, has argued that having a second identity is “an example of a lack of integrity,” and the social media company’s policy explains that “Facebook is a community where everyone uses the name they go by in everyday life … so that you always know who you’re connecting with.” Such strictures recall the main villain of “The Matrix,” Agent Smith, a corporate apparatchik working on behalf of the machines, who insists on calling Neo by his original name. “It seems that you have been living two lives,” Smith chides in the first film, after arresting Neo. “One of these lives has a future. One of them does not.”
Despite the pseudonyms, trolls and alter egos that still dwell in some corners of the internet, its main byways now prize consistency and transparency over the risks of anonymity and reinvention. The idea of the internet as a place to cultivate an identity outside the slots other people put you in has been eclipsed by a social media-driven focus on creating an aspirational personal brand. Self-realization is now measured in likes, shares and follower counts.
“Our digital presentations are slicker, influencer-influenced,” Ms. Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, told me. “Everyone wants to present themselves in their best light, but now we have a corporate filter of what ‘pleases.’”
The cultural shift toward holding one narrowly defined identity — online and offline, across platforms — aligns neatly with Silicon Valley’s interests. The aim of many tech companies is to know us more intimately than we know ourselves, to predict our desires and anxieties — all the better to sell us stuff. The presumption that we each hold a single “authentic” identity simplifies the task, suggesting to advertisers that we are consistent, predictable consumers.
The tech theorist Mark Andrejevic, the author of “Automated Media,” has used a provocative term for this mode of capitalism: “umbilicular commerce.” Just as an umbilical cord provides for a fetus’s needs before it can communicate them, so too do tech platforms strive to sate our desires before we have expressed them. Mr. Zuckerberg has said he wants to find “a fundamental mathematical law” that “governs the balance of who and what we all care about.” And Amazon’s predictive algorithm for what it calls “anticipatory shipping” uses artificial intelligence to predict what you’ll order and stock it in a warehouse near you, for same-day delivery. This is a vision where the internet amounts to little more than a big, mind-reading “vending machine,” providing products the moment you think of them, or earlier.
Mr. Andrejic’s term has an eerie resonance with “The Matrix,” where humans are grown in womb-like pods and then plugged into the simulation through umbilical-like cords. (The title comes from both an early term for the internet and a Latin word for “womb.”) The setup suggests our infantilization, a future where all our desires are fulfilled in advance yet agency has ceased to exist, where the darker facts of our digital existence — the alternative interests at its center — are concealed from us. It is a future very like our own.
As “The Matrix” franchise returns, the optimism around the internet in 1999 feels very far away. In our age of climate breakdown and extreme inequality, the hours we while away online are increasingly shadowed by an awareness that, like humans plugged into the Matrix, we perpetuate a system that does not have humanity’s best interests at its heart, a system that may in fact be working actively against us.
At least in “The Matrix,” humans have machines to blame. We have only ourselves, and the internet we have made.
Federal agents infiltrated Portland’s unruly racial justice protests, dressing to blend in and capturing clandestine video. The tactics raised internal concern.
By Mike Baker, Sergio Olmos and Adam Goldman, Dec. 22, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/us/portland-protests-fbi-surveillance.html
PORTLAND, Ore. — In the hours after President Biden’s inauguration this year, protesters marched once again through the streets of Portland, Ore., sending a message that putting a Democrat in the White House would not resolve their problems with a system of policing and corporate wealth that they saw as fundamentally unfair.
“No cops, no prisons, total abolition,” they chanted. Some of the activists, dressed in the trademark uniform of solid black clothing and masks that often signals a readiness to make trouble without being readily identifiable, smashed windows at the local Democratic Party headquarters.
The event — like others that had consumed the city since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 — included a variety of anarchists, antifascists, communists and racial justice activists. But there were others mingling in the crowd that day: plainclothes agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The F.B.I. set up extensive surveillance operations inside Portland’s protest movement, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and current and former federal officials, with agents standing shoulder to shoulder with activists, tailing vandalism suspects to guide the local police toward arrests and furtively videotaping inside one of the country’s most active domestic protest movements.
The breadth of F.B.I. involvement in Portland and other cities where federal teams were deployed at street protests became a point of concern for some within the bureau and the Justice Department who worried that it could undermine the First Amendment right to wage protest against the government, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.
Some within the departments worried that the teams could be compared to F.B.I. surveillance transgressions of decades past, such as the COINTELPRO projects that sought to spy on and disrupt various activist groups in the 1950s and 1960s, according to the officials, one current and one former, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the debate.
There has been no evidence so far that the bureau used similar surveillance teams on right-wing demonstrators during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, despite potential threats of violence against the heart of federal government — though the F.B.I. did have an informant in the crowd that day. The bureau has at times used secretive tactics to disrupt right-wing violence, such as efforts that led to charges against men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan’s governor.
The F.B.I. has broad latitude to conduct surveillance when agents suspect threats to national security or that federal crimes may be committed. But bureau guidelines warn that agents should not cross into actions that could have a chilling effect on legitimate protest, and should instead prioritize less-intrusive techniques.
In Portland, federal teams were initially dispatched in July 2020 to protect the city’s federal courthouse after protesters lit fires, smashed windows and lobbed fireworks at law enforcement personnel in the area. One demonstrator had attacked a federal officer with a hammer. But the F.B.I. role quickly widened, persisting months after activists turned their attention away from the courthouse, with some targeting storefronts or local institutions whose protection would normally be up to the local police.
Both local and federal law enforcement officials have complained that lawful peaceful protests were hijacked in many cases by criminals.
But organizers of the protests and civil rights groups, after being told of The Times’s findings, said that surveillance agents recording and following protesters in the midst of a demonstration was a form of domestic spying.
“These are all insidious tactics that chill First Amendment expression and erode trust with local officials,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, one of several civil rights organizations that objected to the mass arrests and violent crackdowns that followed the protests. He called the government’s operations an “alarming” misuse of resources.
Kieran L. Ramsey, the F.B.I.’s special agent in charge of the Portland field office, said the office was committed to pursuing “violent instigators who exploit legitimate, peaceful protests and engage in violations of federal law.”
“At all times, our focus was on those planning or committing significant criminal activity or acts of violence,” Mr. Ramsey said in a statement.
Police officers made more than 1,000 arrests during the course of the protests, and more than 200 people ultimately faced criminal prosecution; more than 100 cases had to be dropped because there was not sufficient evidence.
In fast-moving street gatherings where people concealed their identities and demanded that cameras not be present, working invisibly inside the crowd may have given the authorities more opportunity to identify and apprehend those engaging in the most serious mayhem.
In one case, F.B.I. agents in plain clothing were credited in court records with helping catch a man accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at law enforcement officers. He faced federal explosives charges in addition to state charges that included attempted murder.
The F.B.I. teams continued their operations among Portland’s far-left activists for months at the end of 2020 and the start of 2021. While the F.B.I. has also been investigating far-right groups, some lawmakers have blasted the bureau for failing to detect and blunt the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Renn Cannon, who was the Portland office’s special agent in charge during the demonstrations until he departed early this year, said in an interview that there were persistent protest-related crimes and tense political dynamics, leaving the bureau to try to address the crimes while also upholding First Amendment rights.
“I thought a lot about what is allowed under the Constitution,” Mr. Cannon said. “How do you do surveillance effectively, safely and legally? That was something we spent a lot of time on.”
Mr. Cannon declined to discuss specific operations or tactics but said he believed that his agents had crossed no lines while trying to make sure that laws were enforced.
In the middle of his re-election campaign, President Donald J. Trump vowed to “dominate” protesters who had taken to the streets in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death, and he directed federal agencies to deploy personnel to protect federal property around the country. Outrage and even larger mass protests ensued in Portland after videos showed federal agents in tactical gear seizing people off the streets into unmarked vehicles and one agent beating a Navy veteran with a baton.
F.B.I. officials heeded the call for action. David L. Bowdich, who was then the F.B.I.’s second-in-command, had called the protests after Mr. Floyd’s murder “a national crisis” in a memo. He likened the situation to Sept. 11 and suggested that the bureau could make federal criminal cases against protesters by using the Hobbs Act — a law from the 1940s that was designed to crack down on racketeering in labor groups.
The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, told lawmakers in September 2020 that the bureau was pursuing “quite a number of properly predicated domestic terrorism investigations into violent anarchist extremists, any number of whom self-identify with the antifa movement.”
The F.B.I. is aggressively investigating people associated with violent far-right groups such as Atomwaffen and the Base, and prosecutors have already brought charges against dozens of members of the far-right Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia in connection with the attack on the Capitol. Federal agents are actively pursuing additional cases against those groups and further charges are likely to be filed.
Those investigations have sometimes involved confidential informants and surveillance. But no other evidence has emerged that F.B.I. agents in recent years had blended into crowds engaged in political protests in the streets.
Later, after the overt federal crackdown in Portland ebbed and protest crowds waned, smaller groups of activists continued demonstrations that frequently included smashed windows and fires at buildings such as the headquarters of the Portland Police Association.
Agents from the F.B.I. were still on the ground. In early November 2020, according to records reviewed by The Times, federal agents at one demonstration were “conducting surveillance in the crowd.” As a group marched near the Portland State University campus, some in the crowd shattered windows at a Starbucks.
An F.B.I. special agent who reported being “in a plainclothes surveillance capacity” described witnessing one of the demonstrators break out a Starbucks window with a tire iron before placing the tire iron back inside his backpack, according to a written Portland Police Bureau summary of the federal agent’s account. In the report, the police officer wrote that he had been asked not to identify the federal agent’s name in documents.
The following week, according to an email between an F.B.I. agent and a Portland police officer, F.B.I. agents were again in the crowd conducting surveillance. One of the F.B.I. agents captured a 30-minute video of the scene as he appeared to stand next to a crowd of demonstrators while others smashed windows at a Democratic Party building. The video shows the agent then joining the crowd as it marched down the street.
One of the agents later reported in records seeing an agent from the Department of Homeland Security also on the scene.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who has been scrutinizing the federal response to Portland, said in an interview that while federal officers have a right and a responsibility to protect federal property, there should be a high bar when it comes to agencies surveilling political gatherings.
“The Department of Justice needs to explain to me why it deployed those teams and provide a real record of their activities,” Mr. Wyden said. “What were they there for? Were they there primarily to chill peaceful protesters, or were they there to protect federal property?”
At the Inauguration Day demonstration in January, about 200 people gathered. “We are ungovernable,” one of their signs said.
Local and federal law enforcement records show that about half a dozen federal agents were there that day, with at least some of them doing what was described as surveillance in which they planned to follow protesters who engaged in property crimes or violence — even though the protest that day was starting on the east side of the city, far from the federal properties downtown. Agents singled out and tracked several people who had broken windows, trailing the individuals for several blocks until local law enforcement agents detained them.
Four agents testified before a local grand jury that was considering indictments against protesters who had been arrested. A person familiar with the proceedings said one of the agents testified that the federal officers had been wearing black apparel, a fact that suggests the agents were attempting to disguise themselves as protesters. F.B.I. officials declined to discuss specific tactics or clothing used during their operations.
Prosecutors obtained indictments for six people on riot and criminal mischief charges.
Mike German, a former F.B.I. special agent who specialized in domestic terrorism and covert operations and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, said that such surveillance operations inherently run the risk of violating First Amendment rights. They should be used only when there is evidence that a serious crime may occur, he said, and they should be tailored to focus on obtaining the evidence needed to prosecute that crime.
“The F.B.I. should focus its resources on groups engaged in deadly violence, not vandals,” he said.
Mr. Cannon, the former F.B.I. supervisor in Portland, said the bureau was indeed worried about acts of violence directed at the police, the potential that the protests could escalate and the toll the demonstrations were taking on the Portland Police Bureau, whose officers were fatigued after months of near-nightly confrontations on the streets.
“This was a wave of protest-related crimes that had a severe impact on the community,” Mr. Cannon said. “There was a lot of pressure. It was a fraught situation.”
Mr. Boric, 35, is now the most prominent face of a generation of Chileans who are calling for a break with the past.
By Julie Turkewitz, Pascale Bonnefoy and John Bartlett, Published Dec. 21, 2021, Updated Dec. 22, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/21/world/americas/chile-boric.html
Mr. Boric at a campaign rally in Santiago in November.
Gabriel Boric rose to prominence in Chile ten years ago as a shaggy-haired student leading massive demonstrations for free quality public education. He ran for president this year, calling for a square deal for more Chileans, with more social protections for the poor and higher taxes on the rich.
Now, having won the presidency on Sunday — with more votes than any other candidate in history — Mr. Boric is poised to oversee what could be the most profound transformation of Chilean society in decades.
It’s not just that he wants to bury the legacy of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship by overhauling the conservative economic model the country inherited at the end of his tenure in 1990. Mr. Boric’s government will also oversee the final stages of the writing of a new Constitution to replace the dictatorship-era document that continues to define the nation.
And then there’s who he is: Elected at 35, Mr. Boric will be the youngest president in the country’s history when he takes office in March. He never completed his law degree — the protests got in the way. He speaks openly about his obsessive-compulsive disorder. And he scandalized the Chilean establishment by showing up for his first day as a congressman in 2014 in a beige trench coat — and no tie.
For many Chileans, Mr. Boric’s win is the natural institutionalization of generational howl that has echoed throughout the country for at least a decade. He is seen as the voice of a generation that is ready to break with the past and that has taken to the streets by the tens and even hundreds of thousands to demand a more equal, inclusive country.
“Chile had already changed even before Boric was elected,” said Fernanda Azócar, 35, a voter who participated in weekslong protests in 2006 and 2011. “It’s just that now we have a president who can make these changes permanent.”
Central to the protesters’ claims has been the idea that the promises of the establishment — that the market will produce prosperity, and that prosperity will fix their problems — have failed them. More than 25 percent of the wealth produced in the country is owned by one percent of the population, according to the United Nations. Low wages, high levels of debt and underfunded public health and education systems continue to keep people waiting for opportunity.
Looming over those protests, and over the presidential campaign, has been the legacy of Chile’s bloody dictatorship. General Pinochet came to power in a violent coup in 1973, and his years in power were mired in reports of corruption and repression, including torture and extrajudicial killings.
Mr. Boric is a child of Chilean democracy. He was just four years old when General Pinochet ceded power, and he did not often mention the general on the campaign trail. But his election was in many ways a full-throated rejection of the dictator and what he meant for the country.
First, because General Pinochet was the architect of both the free market economic model and the Constitution that Mr. Boric and his allies have criticized for so long, saying that they have favored the rich and the private sector at the expense of everyone else.
“If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism it will also be its grave,” Mr. Boric shouted before a crowd after his primary win earlier this year.
And second, because the man Mr. Boric beat on Sunday, José Antonio Kast, is the brother of a former adviser to General Pinochet who has spoken favorably of aspects of the dictatorship and had proposed hard-line security measures that reminded some of the days of military rule.
Manuel Antonio Garretón, a sociologist and professor at the University of Chile, called the confluence of Mr. Boric’s election with the national vote to rewrite the Constitution “the second most important moment” in moving past the dictatorship — behind only the 1988 popular vote with which Chileans ended Pinochet’s reign.
Mr. Boric was born in Punta Arenas, in Patagonia, on Feb. 11, 1986. He has two younger brothers, and he comes from a middle class family of Croatian origin, descendants of immigrants who arrived in the late 1800s. (His last name is pronounced “Boritch.”) His father and grandfather worked in the oil industry in the province of Magallanes.
Mr. Boric attended the local private British school, where Pinochet’s rule was debated openly — not the case in many parts of Chile.
In an interview, his brother, Simón, 33, said that the family was not fiercely political, but had opposed Pinochet. One uncle was co-owner of a radio station that blasted the crimes of the regime. “More than once my family received threats,” he said, adding that “anonymous letters arrived because of my uncle’s activities.”
Months after winning his first term in Congress, Mr. Boric described his early determination to understand politics. He came from a fairly protected environment and his father’s politics were centrist. But even as a high school student in Punta Arenas, he said, he started reading up on revolutionary leaders and political processes. It was a lonely endeavor — he didn’t have a group he could discuss politics with.
So, still in high school, he decided he wanted to become a member of a far-left group that had supported armed struggle, the Revolutionary Left Movement, or MIR. The group had been largely crushed during the dictatorship. So Mr. Boric went to Google, found an email for one of its small surviving factions and wrote a letter asking how he could contribute to the revolution. No one ever answered.
In Punta Arenas, Mr. Boric helped restart his city’s high school student federation. Then, in 2004, he moved to Santiago, the capital, to study law. He completed his studies in 2009, but failed a part of the final exam, said his brother. He could have taken the test again and gotten his degree, but soon he was swept up in student activism and politics, and never went back.
In 2011, as protesters took to the streets to call for better public education, he ran for president of the University of Chile’s student federation and won, becoming one of the key leaders of the movement.
From there, he made a bid for office, becoming one of four student protest leaders to enter Congress in 2014.
For 30 years in Chile, two coalitions have alternated power — but Mr. Boric is aligned with neither.
Matías Meza, 41, a longtime friend, said that Mr. Boric is motivated by his understanding of the past, which informs his desire to move the country definitively out of the shadow of the dictatorship.
“He has a strong grasp of history and is acutely aware of his position in society and the privileges he has had,” said Mr. Meza.
Mr. Boric won the election on Sunday with 55 percent of the vote, 11 points ahead of Mr. Kast — a strong popular mandate to restructure the country in light of his promises.
They include shifting from a private pension system to a public one; pardoning student debt; increasing investment in education and public health care; and creating a care giving system that would relieve the burden on women, who do most of the work of tending to children, older relatives and others. He has vowed to restore territory to Indigenous communities and to support unrestricted access to abortion.
But now that he’s won, major hurdles stand in the way of the transformation he envisions.
Mr. Boric will face a pandemic-battered economy, a divided Congress, and the high expectations of voters: those on the left, who rallied behind him in the first round of the presidential election, and those in the center, who flocked to him in the second round, when his rhetoric became more moderate.
“He’s going to have to choose between going moderate or being radical,” said Patricio Navia, a professor of political studies at Diego Portales University in Chile. “Whatever he chooses, it’s going to alienate many voters.”
This election left clear that the majority of Chileans are demanding significant change, said José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch (and a Chilean himself).
The question is what comes next, he said, because Mr. Boric “will be judged on whether has the capacity to deliver.”
Engineers know how to protect people from tornadoes like the ones that recently devastated parts of Kentucky, but builders have headed off efforts to toughen standards.
By Christopher Flavelle, Dec. 22, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/22/climate/tornadoes-building-codes-safety.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Climate%20and%20Environment
WASHINGTON — After a tornado killed 162 people in Joplin, Mo., safety experts and cement manufacturers proposed a way to save lives: Require most new apartments, commercial structures and other large buildings in tornado-prone areas to have safe rooms — concrete boxes where people can shelter, even if the building around them is torn to shreds.
Safe rooms provide “near-absolute protection” during a tornado, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They can cost as little as $15,000 for a small shelter in a commercial building, and possibly could have saved the six workers who died when a tornado destroyed the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill., two weeks ago.
But the 2012 proposal was blocked by a little-known organization that sets the building codes widely used by states and cities around the country. That group, the International Code Council, is made up of state and local code officials from around the country. Before it could vote, the proposal was scrapped by a council committee made up of building industry representatives and local code officials. The committee found the 2012 safe room proposal to be “overly restrictive and contained several technical flaws.”
While experts say the technology and design standards exist to better protect people and buildings from tornadoes, attempts to incorporate those designs into building codes have repeatedly been blocked or curtailed by the building industry, according to public documents and people involved in efforts to tighten the model codes.
“It really does kind of boil down to money,” said Jason Thompson, vice president of engineering at the National Concrete Masonry Association and one of the proponents of the 2012 change. “There’s just different groups out there that want to keep the cost of construction as low as possible.”
The stakes are growing. Tornadoes, long associated with Oklahoma, Kansas and other sparsely populated Plains states, appear to be shifting eastward, occurring more frequently in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, according to Victor Gensini, a professor in the department of geographic and atmospheric sciences at Northern Illinois University.
Although scientists lack the data to clearly connect tornadoes with climate change, a warming planet is producing more humid air near the Earth’s surface, which may in turn be fueling more tornadoes, he said. And it’s putting more people at risk. “The population density as you go east of the Mississippi River increases exponentially,” Dr. Gensini said.
‘It’s totally inappropriate’
Building codes are a state responsibility in the United States. And, rather than each state devising its own building codes from scratch, the International Code Council issues a series of model codes for residential and commercial building, plumbing, electrical and even wildfire safety. States can then adopt those codes, modifying as needed.
As engineering science improves, the council’s model codes are updated every three years. Proposed changes need to be approved by council members.
But before those proposals get a vote, they must first be endorsed by committees that include industry representatives. That step is designed to weed out ideas that experts feel are poorly thought out or hard to implement. The process is designed to ensure that only changes with broad consensus will advance.
But it also gives industry an opportunity to block changes that could increase their costs. Adding a safe room can cost from $7,000 for a house to as much as $100,000 for a version that holds about 100 people in a commercial building, according to Jim Bell, director of operations for the National Storm Shelter Association.
The 2012 safe room proposal was introduced by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a research group backed by the insurance industry that studies changes in building construction that can reduce damage during storms, fires and other disasters, then lobbies for the adoption of those changes. It was joined by trade groups for the cement industry, whose members stood to benefit from increased demand for safe rooms.
But at a hearing before the committee that would decide whether the proposal would advance to a vote by the council, representatives of the building industry lined up to oppose it, according to a video recording of the hearing.
“It’s totally inappropriate,” said Ron Burton, who at the time worked for the Building Owners and Managers Association and had previously overseen codes and standards at the National Association of Home Builders.
“I’m concerned that this is just not the fix,” said Jonathan Humble, a director of construction codes and standards at the American Iron and Steel Institute.
“It’s way too soon to do a knee-jerk reaction,” said Chad Beebe, an official with the American Hospital Association.
The committee voted down the proposal. It approved a narrower requirement for safe rooms in most new schools, as well as emergency facilities like police stations and 911 call centers.
Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator at the time, called the code-development process a perennial debate between safety advocates pushing better design in the face of disasters, and developers who want less red tape.
“There’s a lot of building codes in this country that are based on hope: We just hope it won’t be that bad,” Mr. Fugate said. “And people die.”
The power to stop code changes
The idea of requiring safe rooms more widely got a boost in 2014, when the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an office within the Department of Commerce, issued a report on the 2011 Joplin tornado. It recommended installing tornado shelters in new and existing multifamily residential buildings, commercial buildings, schools and other buildings in high-risk areas.
The national institute initially planned to push for that recommendation to be incorporated into the model building codes, according to Marc Levitan, a tornado researcher at the institute and the lead investigator for the Joplin report.
Those plans caught the attention of the home building industry, which wields particular clout in the process of developing codes and boasted to members one year that just six percent of the proposals it opposed made it past the committee stage.
The National Association of Home Builders has more than 140,000 members, and typically resists changes that would make homes more expensive. It had opposed the safe room requirement proposed in 2012, according to Stephen Skalko, an engineer who worked at the time for the Portland Cement Association and was one of the people who introduced the idea of requiring safe rooms.
In September 2014, the home builders association alerted its members that the national institute and FEMA wanted to try to get the council to mandate safe rooms for new and existing apartment buildings, businesses, schools and other large buildings in high risk areas for tornadoes.
Instead, the council slightly expanded the requirement for safe rooms for schools so that it applied to additions to existing buildings.
“After discussions with many of the key stakeholders, it was understood that an iterative process over time would have more support and would be more likely to be successful,” Dr. Levitan said by email. He declined to identify the stakeholders that had expressed concern.
A spokeswoman for the builders’ association, Elizabeth Thompson, declined to comment on specific proposals. She provided a statement from Chuck Fowke, the group’s chairman.
“NAHB strongly supports building codes that result in safe, decent and affordable housing,” Mr. Fowke said. “We continue to advocate for cost-effective, common-sense building codes that promote housing affordability and make new homes safer and more efficient.”
‘It’s a political issue more than anything else’
Even as the push to require safe rooms across a wide range of buildings fizzled, engineers were working on an even more ambitious goal: Changing the way buildings are designed and constructed in tornado zones, to survive all but the most violent storms.
Designing a structure to withstand tornado winds involves two basic steps, according to Don Scott, who has helped develop tornado-resilient building standards at the American Society of Civil Engineers. First, the roof must be tightly secured to the walls, and the walls to the foundation, in order to transfer the pressure from the tornado downward to the strongest part of the building.
Second, windows and other openings have to be strong enough to survive the debris, like tree limbs, that gets hurled through the air at high speeds during a tornado. If a window breaks, the wind pressure from the tornado is forced into the building, “like blowing up a balloon,” Mr. Scott said. Covering windows with a special glaze can prevent them from being shattered, similar to hurricane-resistant windows in Florida, he said.
Mr. Scott and his colleagues at the civil engineering society set about turning the findings from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Joplin report into building requirements to be incorporated into the next version of the model building code in 2024.
Here too, the building industry succeeded at whittling down those aims.
Stronger design standards and impact-resistant windows work for any type of structure, Mr. Scott said. But as the engineering society began its work, Mr. Scott said he got a warning from Gary Ehrlich, the head of standards at the National Association of Home Builders: If Mr. Scott’s group recommended applying those standards to homes, the recommendations would never get into the model codes.
Ms. Thompson, the spokeswoman for the home builders’ group, declined to make Mr. Ehrlich available for comment.
Evidence suggests that tornado-resistant building standards don’t add significantly to the cost of a home. After a tornado devastated Moore, Okla., in 2013, the city imposed new regulations to reduce damage from future tornadoes. Those changes added about $3,000 to the cost of a new home, according to Elizabeth Weitman, the city’s community development director.
“It is well worth the money,” Ms. Weitman said.
Even so, the American Society of Civil Engineering decided to be cautious. When its new tornado standards were released on Dec. 1, they applied only to a narrow group of buildings, such as hospitals, fire stations and police stations.
They don’t include apartment buildings, warehouses, most manufacturing plants or houses. Mr. Scott said he hoped that would happen eventually.
“It’s a political issue more than anything else,” Mr. Scott said. “Many different organizations within the building code do not want to increase the cost of a home.”
Karen Weise contributed reporting.
By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 23, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/23/us/manslaughter-kim-potter-verdict.html
MINNEAPOLIS — The former police officer who said she mistook her gun for her Taser when she fatally shot a man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb was convicted of two counts of manslaughter on Thursday, a rare guilty verdict for a police officer that is likely to send her to prison for years.
The jury deliberated across four days before agreeing on guilty verdicts for Kimberly Potter, a 49-year-old white woman who testified that she had never fired her gun in her 26 years on the police force in Brooklyn Center, Minn., until she shot a single bullet into the chest of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who had been driving to a carwash in April.
As the verdict was read, Ms. Potter remained stoic, looking briefly downward and then toward the jurors but never crying, as she had when she testified. Judge Regina Chu ordered that Ms. Potter be immediately sent to prison, and deputies led her out of the courtroom in handcuffs as one of her relatives shouted, “Love you, Kim!”
It is unusual for police officers to be convicted in accidental shootings, and jurors heard testimony from several current and former police officers — including two put on the stand by prosecutors — who said that Ms. Potter had been justified in trying to use her Taser, or even firing her gun.
Mr. Wright had been trying to flee from Ms. Potter and two other officers who were attempting to arrest him on a warrant. At trial, prosecutors conceded that the shooting was an accident, but they argued that Ms. Potter had been so reckless that she should be imprisoned.
Judge Chu will sentence Ms. Potter, who resigned two days after the shooting, at a hearing scheduled for February. The standard sentence for the more serious charge, first-degree manslaughter, is a little more than seven years in prison, and the maximum penalty is 15 years.
Mr. Wright’s parents let out cries in the courtroom as the guilty verdicts were read and later joined several dozen of Mr. Wright’s supporters who celebrated outside of the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.
“Today, Minnesota has shown that police officers are not going to continue to pull their gun instead of their Taser,” Mr. Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, said to the supporters. “And we made this happen, you made this happen, Daunte Wright made this happen.”
Body camera videos from the traffic stop on April 11 show Mr. Wright twisting out of the grip of another officer and getting back into the driver’s seat of his car to avoid being handcuffed. A judge had issued a warrant for Mr. Wright’s arrest that month after he missed a court date on charges that he had illegally possessed a gun and run from the police.
In the videos, Ms. Potter threatens to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser, but she actually draws her department-issued Glock. After yelling “Taser! Taser! Taser!” she pulls the trigger. Then, realizing she shot him instead, Ms. Potter shouts that she had grabbed the wrong weapon, and collapses and sobs as she says she is going to prison.
The shooting took place during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer who was ultimately convicted of murdering George Floyd, a Black man whose death led to a huge protest movement and heightened scrutiny of police killings. The Potter trial was seen by some as a test of whether juries were more likely to convict officers of crimes after the outcry over Mr. Floyd’s death.
At a news conference after the verdict, Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general whose office prosecuted the case, said he had long believed it would be difficult to win a conviction. Mr. Ellison said Ms. Potter had gone from being an “honored member of a noble profession to being convicted of a serious crime.”
“I don’t wish that on anyone,” he said.
Richard Frase, an emeritus law professor at the University of Minnesota, said the fact that Ms. Potter was charged and convicted was a sign that prosecutors and jurors were increasingly willing to punish police officers for killing people.
“Prosecutors have become more confident that they actually have a shot at getting a conviction,” Mr. Frase said. “The state did a pretty effective job of making its case.”
In convicting Ms. Potter, jurors rejected the defense that she had been justified in firing her gun and found that she had knowingly taken a risk of seriously harming Mr. Wright, even if she mistakenly thought she was firing her Taser.
The jurors’ verdict forms indicated that much of their deliberations, which began on Monday and lasted 27 hours, were spent on the first-degree manslaughter charge. That charge required jurors to find that Ms. Potter had killed Mr. Wright by recklessly handling her gun, defined as committing a “conscious or intentional act” with her gun that creates a substantial risk.
All 12 jurors had agreed to find Ms. Potter guilty of second-degree manslaughter by Tuesday morning, and they asked Judge Chu later that day what to do if they “cannot reach consensus,” suggesting that they were in conflict on the more serious charge.
The judge urged them to keep discussing the case, and they did so for 14 more hours before finding Ms. Potter guilty late on Thursday morning.
Daunte Demetrius Wright had played basketball in high school and later worked at Taco Bell and then a shoe store with his father. His son, Daunte Jr., was 1 when Mr. Wright was killed, and friends and relatives said becoming a father had made him want to improve his life. His mother testified that he had recently enrolled in a vocational school and was considering pursuing carpentry.
When Ms. Potter took the stand as the last of 33 witnesses in the trial, she sobbed while describing the moments leading up to Mr. Wright’s death and said she was “so sorry” it had happened.
She had been riding in a police car with Officer Anthony Luckey, a rookie officer she was training, when Officer Luckey began following Mr. Wright’s white Buick because he saw the car using the wrong turn signal. Officer Luckey noticed that the car had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which is against the law in many states, and that it also had an expired registration sticker.
When Mr. Wright’s car was photographed by criminal investigators, a tree-shaped air freshener was on the driver’s seat, covered in his blood.
Ms. Potter testified that in the moments before the shooting, she had seen the third officer at the scene, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, leaning into the car and that he had “a look of fear on his face.” Her lawyers argued that the shooting was justified because Sergeant Johnson could have been dragged to his death if Mr. Wright drove away.
Prosecutors argued that Ms. Potter had been wrong to try to use her Taser on Mr. Wright because her department’s policies warned against using a Taser on someone driving a car. They also said only a small part of Sergeant Johnson’s body had been in the car when Ms. Potter fired.
“Accidents can still be crimes,” a prosecutor, Erin Eldridge, told the jury during closing arguments. She called the killing “a colossal screw up” and “a blunder of epic proportions.”
In the defense’s closing argument, Earl Gray, a lawyer for Ms. Potter, said Mr. Wright had “caused his own death” by trying to flee from the police. He also said Ms. Potter should not be imprisoned for an accident.
“This lady here made a mistake, and, my gosh, a mistake is not a crime,” Mr. Gray said.
Tim Gannon, the previous chief of the Brooklyn Center police, testified that Ms. Potter had not broken his department’s rules.
Mr. Gannon, who testified for the defense and said he had been forced to resign because he refused to fire Ms. Potter for the shooting, said that when he viewed videos of the encounter, he saw “no violation — of policy, procedure or law.”
For a week after the shooting, thousands of people gathered outside of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, grilling food and providing groceries to nearby residents by day and throwing water bottles and other objects at a line of police officers come nightfall. The police made hundreds of arrests and fired an array of projectiles, including foam bullets, canisters of smoke and pepper spray that made it difficult to breathe.
During the trial, Ms. Potter’s husband, a retired police officer, sat in the courtroom for much of the testimony, as did Mr. Wright’s mother, Ms. Bryant, who often cried quietly in court as videos of her son’s death were shown to jurors.
On the first day of the trial, Ms. Bryant testified that her son had called her when the police had pulled him over, but that the line had gone dead seconds before he began to struggle with officers. Ms. Bryant said she raced to the scene, where she saw a white sheet that covered everything except for her son’s familiar tennis shoes.
George Floyd’s murder set in motion shock waves that touched almost every aspect of American society. But on the core issues of police violence and accountability, very little has changed.
By Tim Arango and Giulia Heyward, Dec. 24, 2021
“Since Mr. Floyd’s death in May of last year, 1,646 people have been killed by the police, or about three people per day on average, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit that tracks police killings.”
A memorial in Minneapolis for victims of police violence. Credit...Joshua Rashaad McFadden for The New York Times
For the second time this year, a jury in Minneapolis has ruled against a former police officer for killing a Black man.
Like the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, the verdict on Thursday against Kimberly Potter on two counts of manslaughter for the shooting death of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop represented an unusual decision to send a police officer to prison.
And yet, despite the two high-profile convictions in Minneapolis, a review of the data a year and a half after America’s summer of protest shows that accountability for officers who kill remains elusive and that the sheer numbers of police killings have remained steady at an alarming level.
The murder of Mr. Floyd on a Minneapolis street corner drew millions to the streets in protest and set off a national reassessment on race that touched almost every aspect of American life, from corporate boardrooms to sports nicknames. But on the core issues that set off the social unrest in the first place — police violence and accountability — very little has changed.
Since Mr. Floyd’s death in May of last year, 1,646 people have been killed by the police, or about three people per day on average, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit that tracks police killings. Although murder or manslaughter charges against officers have increased this year, criminal charges, much less convictions, remain exceptionally rare.
That underscores both the benefit of the doubt usually accorded law officers who are often making life-or-death decisions in a split second and the way the law and the power of police unions often protect officers, say activists and legal experts.
The convictions of both Mr. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer who was captured on an excruciating bystander video pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground for more than nine minutes as he gasped for air, and Ms. Potter strike some experts as tantalizing glimpses of a legal system in flux. Ms. Potter’s case, in particular, reflected the kind of split-second decision — she mistakenly used her gun instead of her Taser after Mr. Wright tried to flee an arrest — that jurors usually excuse even when something goes horribly wrong.
Chris Uggen, a sociology and law professor at the University of Minnesota, said that even though police killings remained prevalent, high-profile cases could still send a message to the police. “The probability of punishment is not zero,” he said. “So it moves the needle to some degree, and it can certainly affect the behaviors of police officers.”
But many experts are reluctant to read too much into a few isolated cases carried out in the glare of media scrutiny.
“Criminal trials are not designed to be instruments of change,” said Paul Butler, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and a former prosecutor. “Criminal trials are about bringing individual wrongdoers to justice. So while there have been high-profile prosecutions of police officers for killing Black people, that doesn’t in and of itself lead to the kind of systemic reform that might reduce police violence.”
Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who tracks police criminal charges and convictions, said Ms. Potter was the first female police officer convicted of a murder or manslaughter charge in an on-duty shooting since 2005. He said he believed that the number of deaths from excessive police force was higher than what was recorded and reflected in news coverage.
“Many police officers exhibit a fear of Black people,” he said. “Until we can address that, it is very difficult to bring about meaningful reforms.”
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, a constitutional law professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said accountability also needed to be aimed at prosecutors who gave officers “carte blanche” for a century until the recent show of public outrage. Change is not likely to come soon, she said.
“In these individual cases, justice won in the end,” she said. “But there is a lot of work that still needs to be done.”
In fact, there has been no finding of fault against officers in many of the other recent high-profile police killings.
Less than three weeks after the murder of Mr. Floyd, an officer in Atlanta fatally shot a Black man named Rayshard Brooks, who was fleeing a Wendy’s parking lot after taking a Taser from the officer’s partner and firing it at him. The killing in Atlanta, like that of Mr. Floyd’s, was captured on bystander video and drew protesters, adding to the demands for justice and accountability over the number of African Americans killed by the police.
And about two months before Mr. Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor was killed in her Louisville apartment during a botched police raid that targeted an ex-boyfriend for alleged drug crimes. Her name, too, became familiar to millions of Americans.
Yet the officers involved in the Taylor case have largely been cleared, even as federal authorities continue to investigate. And in Atlanta, Mr. Brooks’s case stalled this summer as it was passed to a third prosecutor, who is starting the investigation all over again. The officer who shot Mr. Brooks has been charged with murder, but there is no timeline for a trial.
“We are taking a fresh look at it and starting from Day 1,” said Pete Skandalakis, the special prosecutor in Georgia who took over the case. He added that he could not predict when the case would see a courtroom.
That has left Mr. Brooks’s family wondering if they will ever see justice.
“I think we’re all just lost right now,” said L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer who represents the Brooks family. “We don’t know what to think or what’s going on.”
According to data kept by Mr. Stinson and a research team at Bowling Green, 21 officers this year have been charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting — although five of the officers charged are for the same encounter, the killing in November 2020 of a 15-year-old boy who was a suspect in an armed robbery.
While this is an increase from the 16 officers charged in 2020, and the highest number since Mr. Stinson began compiling the data since 2005, it remains small next to the roughly 1,100 people killed by the police annually. (Just as the pace of killings since Mr. Floyd’s death has remained largely unchanged, racial disparities have also stayed the same. Black people are still two and a half to three times as likely as white people to be killed by a police officer, according to Mapping Police Violence.)
While Mr. Chauvin’s trial was underway in the spring, Mr. Wright’s death at the hands of Ms. Potter in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, set off new rounds of protests in the Twin Cities. And in the rest of America, new police killings continued apace, some of them piercing the national consciousness and adding to the names protesters shouted in the streets.
Among them were Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old Latino boy who was killed by a Chicago police officer after running down a dark alleyway with a gun. And in Columbus, Ohio, shortly before the jury reached a decision in the Chauvin trial, a 16-year-old Black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant was shot to death by an officer as she swung a knife at a young woman.
A state agency investigated Ma’Khia’s death and, in July, turned its findings over to local prosecutors in Franklin County. At the time, the state attorney general said he expected it to take prosecutors “several weeks” to make a charging decision, but a spokeswoman for G. Gary Tyack, the county’s top prosecutor, said the case was still under review five months later.
More recently, at a high school football game in a suburb of Pennsylvania this fall, police officers opened fire amid a crowd after they heard gunshots, killing an 8-year-old Black girl named Fanta Bility.
All of these cases remain under investigation, and no charges have been filed against the officers involved.
One of the reasons for Mr. Chauvin’s conviction was that the circumstances of the case differed so starkly from so many other cases in which officers were cleared by prosecutors or juries: There was no split-second decision made in an environment in which Mr. Chauvin could argue that his life, or those of other officers, was in danger.
In the trial of Ms. Potter, which played out in the same courtroom where Mr. Chauvin was tried, her defense lawyers said Ms. Potter acted reasonably in using force because she feared for the life of a fellow officer, a scenario more emblematic of a typical police killing case.
This time, that argument did not work.
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.
The suspect was killed and a shot pierced a wall, fatally striking a 14-year-old in a dressing room during the confrontation at a clothing store, the police said.
By Michael Levenson, Published Dec. 23, 2021, Updated Dec. 24, 2021
After the shooting, officers found a heavy metal lock near the suspect but no gun. Credit...Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
A Los Angeles police officer opened fire on a man who was involved in an assault at a clothing store on Thursday, and one of the shots pierced a wall, killing a 14-year-old girl in a dressing room, the police said.
The shooting happened at a Burlington store in North Hollywood during the busy holiday shopping season after the police received reports at about 11:45 a.m. of an assault with a deadly weapon and possible shots fired, the police said. Some of the callers said they were hiding in the store, the police said.
When the officers arrived, they went upstairs and found a man who was assaulting a woman, the police said. The police opened fire, killing the man, whose name was not immediately released, the police said.
Officers found a heavy metal lock near the man but no gun, Dominic H. Choi, an assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said at a news conference.
A woman who had been assaulted was taken to the hospital with injuries to her head and arms, Chief Choi said. Her relationship to the suspect was not immediately known, he said.
As officers continued to search the store, they noticed a hole in the wall, Chief Choi said. Behind the wall, they found the 14-year-old girl who had been shot and killed in the dressing room.
The teenager had been in the dressing room with her mother, the Los Angeles Police chief, Michel R. Moore, told LAist.com, adding that the shooting was the “worst thing anyone can imagine.” The police did not immediately release the girl’s name.
Chief Choi described the encounter as a “tragic and unfortunate sequence of events” and said it remained under investigation. He said that the investigation had indicated that the girl had been fatally shot by the police.
“Preliminarily, we believe that round was an officer’s round,” he said.
He said investigators had not yet reviewed body-camera video or the store’s security-camera footage, although it appeared the dressing room had been in the officer’s line of fire.
“The dressing room was behind where the suspect was, in front of the officer,” Chief Choi said, adding: “You can’t see into the dressing rooms. It just looks like a straight wall of drywall.”
California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, said the California Department of Justice was investigating the shooting.
Once the investigation has been completed, it will be turned over to the California Department of Justice’s Special Prosecutions Section for review, he said.
Burlington, which was formerly known as Burlington Coat Factory, said in a statement that it was supporting the authorities in their investigation.
“At Burlington, our hearts are heavy as a result of the tragic incident that occurred today at our North Hollywood, Calif., store,” the company said. “Our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our customers and associates.”
Azi Paybarah contributed reporting.
The agreement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous settlement that the e-commerce giant has made.
By Karen Weise, Published Dec. 23, 2021, Updated Dec. 24, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/23/technology/amazon-labor-deal.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Business
A labor activist and his son encouraging motorists to sign union authorization cards outside Amazon’s JFK8 distribution center on Staten Island in May. Credit...Dave Sanders for The New York Times
SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.
Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.
Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.
Because of Amazon’s sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.
The agreement stemmed from six cases of Amazon workers who said the company limited their ability to organize colleagues. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.
It is a “big deal given the magnitude of the size of Amazon,” said Wilma B. Liebman, who was the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.
Amazon, which has been on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.
This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.
Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.
Amazon has responded by raising wages and pledging to improve its workplace. It has said it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.
“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.
Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.
Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.
Last month, the agency threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.
Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.
With the new settlement, Amazon agreed to change a policy that limited employee access to its facilities and notify employees that it had done so, as well as informing them of other labor rights. The settlement requires Amazon to post notices in all of its U.S. operations and on the employee app, called A to Z. Amazon must also email every person who has worked in its operations since March.
In past cases, Amazon explicitly said a settlement did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. No similar language was included in the new settlement. In September, Ms. Abruzzo directed N.L.R.B. staff to accept these “non-admission clauses” only rarely.
The combination of terms, including the “unusual” commitment to email past and current employees, made Amazon’s settlement stand out, Ms. Liebman said, adding that other large employers were likely to take notice.
“It sends a signal that this general counsel is really serious about enforcing the law and what they will accept,” she said.
The six cases that led to Amazon’s settlement with the agency involved its workers in Chicago and Staten Island, N.Y. They had said Amazon prohibited them from being in areas like a break room or parking lot until within 15 minutes before or after their shifts, hampering any organizing.
One case was brought by Ted Miin, who works at an Amazon delivery station in Chicago. In an interview, Mr. Miin said a manager had told him, “It is more than 15 minutes past your shift, and you are not allowed to be here,” when he passed out newsletters at a protest in April.
“Co-workers were upset about being understaffed and overworked and staged a walkout,” he said, adding that a security guard also pressured him to leave the site while handing out leaflets.
In another case on Staten Island, Amazon threatened to call the police on an employee who handed out union literature on site, said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer who represents the company’s workers in Staten Island.
The right for workers to organize on-site during non-working time is well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.
“The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.
Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.
Mr. Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement’s terms.
“They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law,” he said.
By Meg Jacobs, Dec. 24, 2021
Dr. Jacobs teaches history and public affairs at Princeton and is the author of “Pocketbook Politics: Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America.”
Since the Carter administration, monetary policy has been the chief tool presidents use to curb inflation, which has been on the rise: The Consumer Price Index rose by 6.8 percent in the year through November — the fastest pace since 1982. The Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, has pivoted to a tighter monetary policy, announcing plans to taper the central bank’s bond purchases and raise interest rates next year.
Yet inflation doesn’t rise and ebb just because of monetary policy. It’s largely the result of choices businesses make. And history shows presidents have the power to stem inflation by taking on corporate power — if they choose.
While Franklin Roosevelt is best known for the New Deal expansion of the social safety net, he also protected Americans against wartime inflation. During World War II, his Office of Price Administration imposed price ceilings on three million businesses and more than eight million goods. The office also put caps on rents in 14 million dwellings occupied by 45 million residents and issued ration stamps for goods like meat to manage supply. According to Gallup polls, more than three-quarters of the public favored extending controls after the war.
When Harry Truman lost a bitter fight in Congress to do just that, there were consequences. When peace came, Americans eager to spend their stored-up savings ran headlong into a supply shortage: Manufacturers had yet to convert back from wartime production.
In the summer of 1946, without controls, the cost of living jumped. In July, meat prices doubled to 70 cents a pound. In the midterm elections that November, Democrats lost control of Congress for the first time since 1932.
In 1948, with inflation running at 7.7 percent, Truman condemned the “do-nothing” Republicans who placed blame for rising prices on newfound union power. In his re-election campaign that year, he promised to expand the New Deal and ran hard against corporate power. “The Republicans don’t want any price control for one simple reason: the higher prices go up, the bigger the profits for the corporations,” he said that year.
At a campaign stop in Kentucky on October 1948, he lashed out at the National Association of Manufacturers, a business lobbying group that opposed price controls, for engaging in a “conspiracy against the American consumer.” He called Congress into a special summer session to restore price controls, but that effort failed.
Democrats returned to the polls; automobile workers gave Truman 89 percent of their vote, helping him secure re-election in a close contest. One key to his success: doubling down on tough talk against inflation and support for liberal programs to raise living standards for ordinary Americans.
From the presidencies of Truman through Lyndon Johnson, Democrats stuck to the program. Like Truman, who went so far as to order a takeover of the nation’s steel mills when they announced a price hike, John F. Kennedy and Johnson also publicly reprimanded steel executives for price increases.
They all spoke out against efforts by William McChesney Martin, the Fed chairman, to raise interest rates. Martin famously asserted his independence and raised rates anyway; as he saw it, the job of the Federal Reserve was “to take away the punch bowl just as the party is getting good.” Truman called him a “traitor.”
When inflation struck in the 1970s, Richard Nixon understood the expectations created by Roosevelt’s Office of Price Administration. As a World War II-era inspector for the agency, Nixon had been horrified at the thought of bureaucrats checking up on the pricing decisions of private business, and he quit. Yet once in the White House, he didn’t hesitate to slap on price controls in response to the soaring cost of beef and gas.
Milton Friedman, the free-market economist, and other conservatives denounced Nixon’s response as heavy-handed — a message that his successor Gerald Ford absorbed. Instead of price controls, Ford distributed “Whip Inflation Now” buttons and called for budgetary austerity.
As American economic thinking fell under Friedman’s influence, the Roosevelt-Truman tools lost favor. With inflation reaching double digits in 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Volcker to the Federal Reserve to use monetary policy to fight inflation. When Ronald Reagan came into office, he endorsed Mr. Volcker’s muscular move to raise interest rates and drive the economy into recession to fight inflation. Subsequent presidents have largely stuck to this approach of controlling inflation.
Amid a pandemic, Mr. Biden has shown a willingness to lean hard on corporate America and embrace New Deal-style tools to lighten inflationary pressures. Through his supply chain task force, he is working to reverse offshoring and outsourcing, expand domestic production and help the ports in Los Angeles stay open round the clock to ease the cargo pileup. His infrastructure bill will allocate billions to construct and operate coastal ports and inland waterways, further easing prices.
Mr. Biden has also warned the big four meat processors against anticompetitive practices that probably contributed to spiking prices, including squeezing out competitors. His administration has pledged to take more aggressive action on illegal price fixing and antitrust, while working to bring more transparency to cattle markets. Higher meat prices are “not just the natural consequences of supply and demand in a free market — they are also the result of corporate decisions to take advantage of their market power in an uncompetitive market, to the detriment of consumers, farmers and ranchers, and our economy,” his economic advisers Brian Deese, Sameera Fazili and Bharat Ramamurti recently wrote.
Through the Federal Trade Commission, Mr. Biden has called for an investigation into the prices set by large oil and gas companies and authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to dampen OPEC’s ability to raise prices. He also met with the chief executives of Walmart, Mattel, Food Lion, Kroger and other companies to discuss their plans to overcome supply-chain problems and keep prices in check for the holidays.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Biden should use his bully pulpit to make clear to Americans that corporations are padding their profits while working families are struggling through the pandemic. Almost two-thirds of publicly traded companies had substantially larger profit margins this year compared to the same period in 2019, before the pandemic. In 2021, close to 100 of them saw their profit margins go up at least 50 percent relative to 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Showing working Americans that he gets it will help Mr. Biden demonstrate that he cares, as the Democratic pollster Joel Benenson told me. “We’re not having an inflation problem,” he said. “We’re having a corporate greed problem. And the president should put the blame where it belongs.”
As Mr. Biden leans on big businesses to temper rising prices, he also needs to push hard for policies that have a much greater impact than fluctuations in gas or meat prices: His stalled Build Back Better legislation would go a long way to ease the burden of major expenses. Mr. Biden promised the bill would lower out-of-pocket costs for child care, care for the elderly, housing, college, health care and prescription drugs — some of the biggest costs that most families face.
Like his Democratic predecessors, Mr. Biden needs to get tough.
By The Editorial Board, Dec. 24, 2021
The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/24/opinion/project-veritas-new-york-times.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Editorials
Half a century ago, the Supreme Court settled the matter of when a court can stop a newspaper from publishing. In 1971, the Nixon administration attempted to block The Times and The Washington Post from publishing classified Defense Department documents detailing the history of the Vietnam War — the so-called Pentagon Papers. Faced with an asserted threat to the nation’s security, the Supreme Court sided with the newspapers. “Without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote in a concurring opinion.
That sentiment reflects one of the oldest and most enduring principles in our legal system: The government may not tell the press what it can and cannot publish. This principle long predates the Constitution, but so there would be no mistake, the nation’s founders included a safeguard in the Bill of Rights anyway. “Congress shall make no law,” the First Amendment says, “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
This is why virtually every official attempt to bar speech or news reporting in advance, known as a prior restraint, gets struck down. “Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity,” the Supreme Court said in a 1963 case. Such restraints are “the very prototype of the greatest threat to First Amendment values,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a generation later.
On Friday, however, a New York trial court judge broke from that precedent when he issued an order blocking The Times from publishing or even reporting further on information it had obtained related to Project Veritas, the conservative sting group that traffics in hidden cameras and fake identities to target liberal politicians and interest groups, as well as traditional news outlets.
The order, a highly unusual and astonishingly broad injunction against a news organization, was issued by State Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood, who wrote that the Times’s decision to publish excerpts from memos written by Project Veritas's lawyers “cries out for court intervention to protect the integrity of the judicial process.” This ruling follows a similar directive Justice Wood issued last month in response to a story The Times published that quoted from the memos. The Times plans to appeal this latest ruling.
In requesting the order from Justice Wood, Project Veritas’s lawyers acknowledged that prior restraints on publication are rare but argued that their case fits a narrow exception the law recognizes for documents that may be used in the course of ongoing litigation. This exception recognizes that because parties are forced by the court to disclose materials, courts should have the power to supervise how such forced disclosures are used by the other party. The litigation here is a libel suit Project Veritas filed against The Times in 2020, for its articles on a video the group produced about what it claimed was rampant voter fraud in Minnesota. The video was “probably part of a coordinated disinformation effort,” The Times reported, citing an analysis by researchers at Stanford University and the University of Washington.
The group’s lawyers also argue that the memos are protected by attorney-client privilege and that The Times was under an ethical obligation to return them to Project Veritas, rather than publish them. This is not how journalism works. The Times, like any other news organization, makes ethical judgments daily about whether to disclose secret information from governments, corporations and others in the news. But the First Amendment is meant to leave those ethical decisions to journalists, not to courts. The only potential exception is information so sensitive — say, planned troop movements during a war — that its publication could pose a grave threat to American lives or national security.
Project Veritas’s legal memos are not a matter of national security. In fact, but for its ongoing libel suit, the group would have no claim against The Times at all. The memos at issue have nothing to do with that suit and did not come to The Times through the discovery process. Still, Project Veritas is arguing that their publication must be prohibited because the memos contain confidential information that is relevant to the group’s litigation strategy.
It’s an absurd argument and a deeply threatening one to a free press. Consider the consequences: News organizations could be routinely blocked from reporting information about a person or company simply because the subject of that reporting decided the information might one day be used in litigation. More alarming is the prospect that reporters could be barred even from asking questions of sources, lest someone say something that turns out to be privileged. This isn’t a speculative fear; in his earlier order, Justice Wood barred The Times from reporting about anything covered by Project Veritas’s attorney-client privilege. In Friday’s decision, he ordered The Times to destroy any and all copies of the memos that it had obtained, and barred it from reporting on the substance of those memos. The press is free to report on matters of public concern, he wrote, but memos from attorneys to their clients don’t clear that bar.
This is a breathtaking rationale: Justice Wood has taken it upon himself to decide what The Times can and cannot report on. That’s not how the First Amendment is supposed to work.
Journalism, like democracy, thrives in an environment of transparency and freedom. No court should be able to tell The New York Times or any other news organization — or, for that matter, Project Veritas — how to conduct its reporting. Otherwise, it would provide an incentive for any reporter’s subjects to file frivolous libel suits as a means of controlling news coverage about them. More to the point, it would subvert the values embodied by the First Amendment and hobble the functioning of the free press on which a self-governing republic depends.
Inside the self-reinforcing ecosystem of people who advise, train and defend officers. Many accuse them of slanting science and perpetuating aggressive tactics.
By Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Mike McIntire, Rebecca R. Ruiz, Julie Tate and Michael H. Keller, Dec. 26, 2021
When lawyers were preparing to defend against a lawsuit over a death in police custody in Fresno, Calif., they knew whom to call.
Over the past two decades, Dr. Gary Vilke has established himself as a leading expert witness by repeatedly asserting that police techniques such as facedown restraints, stun gun shocks and some neck holds did not kill people.
Officers in Fresno had handcuffed 41-year-old Joseph Perez and, holding him facedown on the ground, put a spinal board from an ambulance on his back as he cried out for help. One officer sat on the board as they strapped him to it. The county medical examiner ruled his death, in May 2017, a homicide by asphyxiation.
Dr. Vilke, who was hired by the ambulance provider, charged $500 an hour and provided a different determination. He wrote in a report filed with the court this past July that Mr. Perez had died from methamphetamine use, heart disease and the exertion of his struggle against the restraints.
Dr. Vilke, an emergency medicine doctor in San Diego, is an integral part of a small but influential cadre of scientists, lawyers, physicians and other police experts whose research and testimony is almost always used to absolve officers of blame for deaths, according to a review of hundreds of research papers and more than 25,000 pages of court documents, as well as interviews with nearly three dozen people with knowledge of the deaths or the research.
Their views infuriate many prosecutors, plaintiff lawyers, medical experts and relatives of the dead, who accuse them of slanting science, ignoring inconvenient facts and dangerously emboldening police officers to act aggressively. One of the researchers has suggested that police officers involved in the deaths are often unfairly blamed — like parents of babies who die of sudden infant death syndrome.
The experts also intersect with law-enforcement-friendly companies that train police officers, write police policies and lend authority to studies rebutting concerns about police use of force.
Together they form what often amounts to a cottage industry of exoneration. The dozen or so individuals and companies have collected millions of dollars over the past decade, much of it in fees that are largely underwritten by taxpayers, who cover the costs of police training and policies and the legal bills of accused officers.
Many of the experts also have ties to Axon, maker of the Taser: A lawyer for the company, for example, was an early sponsor of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, a commercial undertaking that is among the police-friendly entities, and some of the experts have worked as consultants for Axon; another has served on Axon’s corporate board.
The New York Times identified more than 100 instances of in-custody deaths or life-threatening injuries from the past 15 years in which experts in the network were hired to defend the police. The cases were nearly all civil lawsuits, as the officers involved were rarely charged with crimes. About two-thirds of the cases were settled out of court; of the 28 decided by judges or juries, 16 had outcomes favoring the police. (A handful of cases are pending.)
Beyond the courtroom, the individuals and businesses have offered instruction to thousands of police officers and medical examiners, whose cause-of-death rulings often help determine legal culpability. Lexipol, a Texas-based business whose webinars and publications have included experts from the network, boasts that it helped write policy manuals for 6,300 police departments, sometimes suggesting standards for officers’ conduct that reduce legal liability. A company spokeswoman said it did not rely on the researchers in making its policies.
The self-reinforcing ecosystem underscores the difficulty of obtaining an impartial accounting of deaths in police custody, particularly in cases involving a struggle, where the cause of death is not immediately clear. The Times reported earlier this year that outside criminal investigations of such cases can be plagued with shortcuts and biases that favor the police, and that medical examiners sometimes tie the deaths to a biological trait that would rarely be deemed fatal in other circumstances.
Some researchers and doctors in this ecosystem who responded to questions from The Times said they did not assist law enforcement but provided unbiased results of scientific research and opinions based on the facts of each case. Several pointed to research demonstrating that police struggles overall have an exceedingly low risk of death. They also highlighted health issues that could cause deaths in such circumstances, including drug use, obesity, psychological disturbances and genetic mutations that may predispose people to heart problems.
Some also criticized research and medical opinions that found that police techniques might cause or contribute to deaths, suggesting these were flawed. They also pointed out that other academic papers have been written by people who testify against law enforcement in such cases.
“Sensationalism, without offering scientifically demonstrated better control techniques, adds no benefit, and merely exacerbates the existing tensions between law enforcement and the society at large,” said Mark Kroll, a biomedical engineer who has backed the idea of an “arrest related death syndrome” as an explanation of the deaths.
Others in the network, including Dr. Vilke, said it was wrong to characterize their work as favoring the police, and suggested The Times’s analysis misrepresented it. “I would disagree,” Dr. Vilke said when The Times shared its findings with him. Another of the experts, Dr. Steven Karch, sent papers suggesting Black males and people exerting themselves were generally more likely to have sudden cardiac death.
Lawyers for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was ultimately convicted in last year’s murder of George Floyd, also drew upon the same network of researchers and experts. In particular, they turned to the defense of prone restraint, a technique in which officers subdue subjects facedown, as happened to Mr. Floyd. The work of Dr. Kroll, who has a Ph.D in electrical engineering but no medical degree, was cited by the Chauvin defense as proof that putting body weight on someone facedown does not cause asphyxia.
The experts have been called on to defend a broad range of other police techniques, including Taser shocks and neck holds. Medical examiners and investigators have also relied on the research:
· Omaha police officers used a Taser 12 times when detaining Zachary Bear Heels in 2017 and punched him repeatedly in the head and neck. Dr. Kroll, who sits on Axon’s corporate board, testified in the criminal trial that the stun gun could not have contributed to the death of Mr. Bear Heels, a 28-year-old with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He also wrote a report in the civil case that is under seal.
· Officers in Phoenix held Miguel Ruiz in a neck hold and shocked him multiple times with a stun gun in 2013. In a civil case, Dr. Vilke attested to the safety of neck holds that cut off blood flow to the head by compressing arteries, and another researcher, Dr. Charles Wetli, discussed excited delirium, a condition that some doctors say can suddenly kill drug users or the mentally ill.
· Sheriff’s deputies in Kern County, Calif., handcuffed David Silva in 2013, bloodied him with batons, tied his hands and feet together behind his back, and pushed him facedown into the ground. Two physicians in the expert network, Dr. Karch and Dr. Theodore Chan, agreed with the coroner’s finding that Mr. Silva did not asphyxiate; Dr. Chan cited studies he had done on the subject.
Dr. Chan, who works in San Diego with Dr. Vilke, is also serving as an expert witness in the lawsuit over the death of Mr. Perez in Fresno. Citing his own research, he stated that there was “no evidence” that such weight on a person’s back could contribute to asphyxiation.
According to court documents, Mr. Perez had recently taken methamphetamines when police saw him behaving erratically. They handcuffed and tried to calm him, at one point putting a towel under him to keep him from injuring his face.
After an ambulance arrived, they placed a backboard on top of him and an officer sat on it. In a deposition, the officer said he had been trained that doing so posed no danger of asphyxia. A captain from the department said in the case that the training had relied on an article by Dr. Kroll.
“The problem is that when officers get sued in these cases,” said Neil Gehlawat, the lawyer for Mr. Perez’s family, the cadre of researchers insist that “‘no one can die this way,’ and then officers start to believe it.”
Mr. Perez’s sister, Michelle Perez, said that watching the video of his death was “terrifying” and that she didn’t understand why officers would push him facedown and sit on him.
“I just kept thinking, ‘Get off of him!’” she said. “There could have been some kind of different tactic.”
Shaping the Science
The physicians, scientists and researchers who come to the defense of law enforcement officers often cite experiments conducted on volunteers. They shock them with Tasers, douse them with pepper spray or restrain them facedown on the ground.
Their published findings are usually the same: that there is no evidence that the actions have enough of an effect to cause death.
A Times analysis of more than 230 scientific papers in the National Library of Medicine database published since the 1980s showed those conclusions to be significantly different from those published by others, including studies about restraints, body position and excited delirium.
Nearly three-quarters of the studies that included at least one author in the network supported the idea that restraint techniques were safe or that the deaths of people who had been restrained were caused by health problems. Only about a quarter of the studies that did not involve anyone from the network backed that conclusion. More commonly, the other studies said some restraint techniques increased the risk of death, if only by a small amount.
The few studies by the group that found problems with police techniques focused on deaths in which Tasers ignited gas fumes or caused people to fall and hit their heads.
Dr. Vilke’s first report on police restraint was funded by a $33,900 grant from San Diego County during a lawsuit over the 1994 death of Daniel Price. A woman reported seeing odd behavior from Mr. Price, 37, who had taken methamphetamines; officers restrained him facedown, his hands and feet tied together.
As part of their research, Dr. Vilke and others hogtied healthy volunteers. They observed that measurements of their lung functions decreased by up to 23 percent, which they concluded was not clinically significant because similar levels of diminished lung capacity could still be considered normal. The judge in the Price case cited the research when he dismissed the lawsuit.
TRIAL TESTIMONY DECLARATION OF DR. TOM NEUMAN
As concerns, a knee in Price’s back, whether after the hogtie or before the hogtie, if having a knee in your back caused asphyxia after struggle, along with being overweight, and being on your stomach, I think we can safely say that there would not be a single professional wrestler alive today.
The study and others have been challenged by some scholars and physicians because they are based on controlled conditions that are unlike real life, said Justin Feldman, a social epidemiologist at Harvard University who studies patterns of deaths in law enforcement custody.
“There’s a fundamental problem in terms of study design,” he said. “They’re not using people with more severe mental and physical disabilities. They’re not doing it with people who have taken drugs. When they’re testing Tasers, they aren’t using them as many times as you might see in some deaths.”
When their studies appeared in peer-reviewed publications, the network of experts acknowledged that their work had limitations. But when discussing the research in court, or during trainings and elsewhere, some of them used more expansive language, did not mention conflicting work, or said they had fully refuted scholars who disagreed.
In the Fresno lawsuit and others, for example, Dr. Chan repeatedly wrote that Dr. Donald Reay, a former medical examiner in King County, Wash., had concluded that hogtying “does not produce any serious or life-threatening respiratory effects” — omitting the crucial phrase “in normal individuals.” Other physicians in the network consistently left off that phrase when repeating the quote, although Dr. Reay maintained that such restraints could be fatal in some instances.
Dr. Chan did not respond to a question about the quotation.
Papers by researchers outside the network were more frequently balanced — finding, for example, that some restraint positions are generally safe while others can cause statistically significant changes in breathing. Another recent paper used new computer imaging technology to measure lung function and found that it was affected during restraint.
In their own writings and when asked about these papers, some scientists in the network dismissed them. They said papers that found “statistically significant” effects were inadequate because the changes were not “clinically significant” enough to be considered health problems in the participants. (Some other scientists said choosing test subjects who would be more likely to face such distress would generally not be ethically permitted in experiments.) They said some experiments with Tasers on animals could not be used to draw conclusions about humans. And several suggested that some of the other papers should be scrutinized because they were written by doctors who testified against police.
Dr. Kroll said in a 2019 webinar that “the science has completely debunked” the claim that pushing someone facedown could contribute to asphyxiation. In the session, conducted by Lexipol and titled “Arrest Related Deaths: Managing Your Medical Examiner,” he suggested that such deaths were outside the control of officers.
“Decades ago we used to prosecute mothers for crib deaths and sudden infant death syndrome, and then we figured out it really wasn’t their fault,” he said at one point in the training session, adding later: “Hopefully in the future we’ll have something like sudden infant death syndrome, just ‘arrest related death syndrome’ so we don’t have to automatically blame the police officer.”
A spokeswoman for Lexipol, which was co-founded by a lawyer who had previously hired Dr. Chan to defend police officers, said an upcoming webinar would discuss recent court rulings that found extended prone restraint to be excessive force in some circumstances.
“We are not in the business of determining such science-based decisions” about whether prone restraint is dangerous, the spokeswoman, Shannon Pieper, said in an email.
Some of the scientists are fierce defenders of their approach, vigorously challenging anyone who suggests an alternative finding. They submit letters to the editors of medical journals that publish the opposing research, discredit it in textbooks they write and routinely dismiss it as “junk science” in public forums.
One cardiologist, Dr. Peyman Azadani, said in an interview that he was intimidated by the pushback. In a 2011 academic paper, he reviewed studies by authors associated with Taser and found they were far more likely than others to conclude that the devices were safe.
Dr. Azadani said two people who identified themselves as being affiliated with Taser had approached him about the research during a medical conference.
“They knew everything about my background, and they told me I was destroying my future,” he recalled.
Having recently immigrated from Iran at the time, Dr. Azadani was concerned about making waves, he said, so he removed his name from subsequent papers and then changed research subjects.
In a statement, Axon said it had no information about the incident but did not condone such behavior. The company said it promoted research into its devices out of a concern for safety, and Dr. Kroll, who makes more than $300,000 a year as a member of Axon’s corporate board, pointed to a more recent study that found no correlation between Taser funding and safety determination.
A Network Forms
Dr. Wetli, a former Miami medical examiner who died last year, was among the first to publish research that launched what has become an industry of sorts defending police officers. He wrote in the 1980s about men who had taken cocaine and died, many while being subdued by the police. He attributed the deaths to a condition he called excited delirium, when someone becomes aggressive from a mental illness or psychoactive drugs.
Later, in 1994, two former law enforcement officers, Michael A. Brave and John G. Peters Jr., described in a paper what they called custody death syndrome. The condition, they wrote, had “no apparent detectable anatomical cause” but could be associated with excited delirium or other vague diagnoses.
In describing the death of a hypothetical suspect, they focused on potential liability: “You immediately cringe at the thought of the critical scrutiny you will soon be facing by the media, by council officials and by special interest groups,” they wrote.
The two men later became affiliated with both the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths and Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, another group that provides legal resources for officers. Mr. Brave also became a lawyer for Taser.
In the early 2000s, as Tasers were adopted more widely, studies about them proliferated. A group of researchers led by Dr. Jeffrey Ho in Minneapolis pioneered the work. In their initial study, funded in part by Taser, they shocked volunteers for five seconds and concluded that measurements of heart health did not change.
For years, Dr. Ho has worked in emergency medicine at Hennepin Healthcare, as a part-time sheriff’s deputy and, until 2019, as the medical director for Axon.
Taser was also present at the creation of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths, which was founded in 2005 by Mr. Peters.
In an interview, Mr. Peters said he started the business because so many deaths were being blamed on Tasers, which he characterized as one of many misguided criticisms of police conduct. The institute conducts research and training that often rebuts the criticism and is one of several commercial forums that draw like-minded researchers about law enforcement behavior.
“When we first started teaching this stuff back in the ’90s, it was all pepper spray deaths,” he said. “Well, then they did the science and showed that of all the people who died, only two may have been associated with pepper spray. So that issue went away. Then positional asphyxia popped up. So we did a little bit of work in that area and then that quieted down.”
Taser provided some early funding to the institute in exchange for training programs, Mr. Peters said, and one of its initial sponsors was Mr. Brave, who joined Taser’s legal department around the same time.
“We put him on the board the first year so we would have a connection to information at Taser,” Mr. Peters said.
The institute had also worked closely with Deborah C. Mash, a neuroscientist who has written papers about excited delirium. When Dr. Mash was affiliated with the University of Miami, Mr. Peters and Taser representatives recommended that medical examiners send brain tissue samples from people who had died in police custody to her lab for testing. The Times found a handful of instances in which medical examiners relied on these test results to determine that someone had died of excited delirium as well as one case in which the results were used to rule it out.
Dr. Mash left the university in 2018. In an email to The Times, she said she tells officers that excited delirium is a medical emergency and that the proper response is to immediately request emergency medical help.
Another private company that lends expert support for the police, the Force Science Institute, has promoted research and commentary by Dr. Kroll, including a paper he wrote with Mr. Brave and Dr. Karch that tested law enforcement officers pressing their knees into a prone person’s back. They said their results did not support the theory that this could cause asphyxia.
The business of supporting law enforcement can be lucrative. Not all of the researchers testify frequently in court, but when they do, experts associated with the network typically earn $500 to $1,000 an hour for testimony and depositions. Lexipol charges thousands of dollars to review and write policies for police departments. The Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Deaths also charges for its training programs and promotes its business partners.
At the institute’s annual conference in Las Vegas last month, law enforcement officers, lawyers and physicians attended presentations, some by experts in the network, on such topics as ways to subdue or restrain a suspect, and how to manage publicity when someone is injured or dies in custody. The price of admission: $695.
One-Sided Track Record
The Times found that, with rare exceptions, when members of this network weigh in on a case in court, they side with the police.
In court documents and testimony, some of them have acknowledged their one-sided track record.
“That’s like trying to retain Columbus to testify that the Earth is flat,” Dr. Tom Neuman, a retired emergency medicine physician in San Diego, said in 2018 when asked if relatives of people who had died in police custody would ever hire him as an expert.
In a deposition this past summer, Dr. Vilke said it had been 20 years since he had last testified that an officer was likely to have contributed to a death. In an email to The Times, he said that he had “no independent recall” about specific earlier work, and “would disagree” that his work over the past 20 years almost always found that law enforcement was not to blame.
Mr. Peters, who founded the training institute, is an exception. He has testified regularly on behalf of people harmed in police encounters, or their families, but his testimony has been limited to whether police procedures were followed. After Mr. Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Mr. Peters released a video statement saying that putting a knee on a someone’s neck should not be permitted under any use-of-force policy.
Making determinations on death-in-custody cases is a complex and inexact process. The people being detained in the instances reviewed by The Times were often on drugs or in psychological distress, and some had severe medical conditions.
But in death after death, The Times found, actions by law enforcement officers fell well outside the controlled conditions in the research the experts cited to exonerate them. Occasionally, the experts used identical language in different cases to rebut allegations and suggest alternative explanations for the deaths. They also emphasized common ailments like heart disease, or leaned heavily on the poorly understood notion of excited delirium.
DR. VILKE’S REPORT IN THE PEREZ CASE
It should be noted that in the video Mr. Perez could be heard at least once saying, “I can’t breathe” right after the backboard was placed on his back before Detective Calvert sat on the board. At face value, one might think this evidence that Mr. Perez could not breathe or ventilate. However, when evaluating the video, Mr. Perez was clearly moving air in and out of his lungs at this time, talking loudly, and had no clinical evidence of ventilatory restriction at the time he was saying this. What was likely happening is that Mr. Perez was having a cardiac event not a pulmonary event.
DR. VILKE’S REPORT IN THE BARRERA CASE THE FOLLOWING MONTH
It should be noted that in the video that after being handcuffed on laying on the ground, Mr. Barrera could be heard stating, “I can’t breathe” shortly after he asked for some water. At face value, one might think this evidence that Mr. Barrera could not breathe or ventilate. However, when evaluating the video, Mr. Barrera was clearly moving air in and out of his lungs very well, talking loudly, and had no clinical evidence of ventilatory restriction at the time he was saying this. What was likely happening is that Mr. Barrera was having a cardiac event not a pulmonary event.
In 2010, officers in Palm Desert, Calif., responding to a 911 call found 48-year-old Robert Appel delusional. Multiple officers pinned him facedown with their knees. When they turned him over after what the officers described as a short time, he was dead. Dr. Vilke blamed cardiac arrest caused by undiagnosed kidney failure.
Mathew Ajibade hit his girlfriend in January 2015 while experiencing what his family described as a manic bipolar episode. Deputies in Savannah, Ga., beat him, handcuffed him, put him in a restraint chair with a spit mask over his face and shocked him four times in the groin with a Taser.
Dr. Mash and Dr. Wetli both reported that the actions had not led to Mr. Ajibade’s death. Dr. Mash blamed natural causes associated with his bipolar disorder and said he exhibited signs of excited delirium, while Dr. Wetli said it was related to sickle cell trait, a typically benign condition in which a person carries one of the two genes that together cause sickle cell disease.
Assessing the effectiveness of the opinions exonerating the police is difficult because most cases settle or are decided without explanation.
But several cases reviewed by The Times suggest that the research has had far-reaching effects — influencing investigator decisions in death inquests and giving officers assurance that their methods are safe. Some of the experts’ legal statements and educational materials they have prepared for police called safety warnings by Taser and other law enforcement groups outdated or needlessly conservative.
In a deposition in April, the sheriff in Riverside County, Calif., cited studies backed by the law-enforcement-leaning experts to explain why his deputies held people facedown after handcuffing them. The sheriff, Chad Bianco, described the position as “the absolute safest place for any subject.”
Two years ago, deputies working for Sheriff Bianco found Kevin Niedzialek, 34, bleeding from a head wound and behaving strangely after taking methamphetamines. They shocked him twice with a Taser, and held him facedown.
When they rolled him onto his back, Mr. Niedzialek was unresponsive. He died the next day.
Produced by Eden Weingart
The police said they expected to release more details on Monday about the shooting, which happened after officers responded to a call about an assault with a deadly weapon at a clothing store.
By Christine Chung and Giulia Heyward, Dec. 26, 2021
Flowers were left in memory of Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, who was killed after the police opened fire on a man reported to be assaulting a woman. Credit...Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times, via Getty Images
The Los Angeles Police Department is expected on Monday to release more details, including audio from 911 calls and body camera video footage, about an encounter between officers and a man reported to be assaulting a woman that resulted in the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old girl in a North Hollywood clothing store on Thursday.
Officers responded to multiple radio calls about an assault with a deadly weapon and a potential shooting at a Burlington store on Victory Boulevard, the police said. When officers arrived, they said, they found a man assaulting a woman and fired at him. They identified him as Daniel Elena Lopez.
The teenager, Valentina Orellana-Peralta, was in a dressing room with her mother directly behind him, and the officers did not see her. Police said a bullet, likely fired by an officer, penetrated the dressing room’s wall.
Both the man and the girl died from gunshot wounds to the chest, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. They were both pronounced dead at the scene.
Upon surveying the scene after Mr. Elena Lopez’s death, officers then discovered Ms. Orellana-Peralta’s body, the police said.
The unidentified woman who was reported to have been assaulted was taken to a hospital for injuries to her head and arms, Dominic H. Choi, assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, said at a news conference on Thursday. Chief Choi said officers found a heavy metal lock near the man but no gun.
The Los Angeles police chief, Michel R. Moore, said in a statement that the “chaotic incident” was “tragic and devastating for everyone involved.” He pledged to conduct a “thorough, complete and transparent investigation.”
Investigations into shootings involving the police hinge on what the officer “reasonably could have known,” said Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and a former New York City police officer.
Inquiries will analyze the officer’s tactics during the shooting, perceptions of the threat and weapons, the officer’s history and interviews with other officers who were at the scene. He noted that the Los Angeles Police Department regularly posts video footage from fatal shootings.
The officer who opened fire has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard for all police shootings in California, said Tom Saggau, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League.
After the Police Department completes its investigation, a five-member civilian commission will hold a hearing and issue a recommendation, Mr. Saggau said.
The California Department of Justice and the attorney general’s office are investigating, in addition to the Los Angeles Police Department.
A new state law that went into effect in July requires the California Department of Justice to investigate officer-involved shootings that resulted in an unarmed civilian’s death and assess the potential for a criminal prosecution. If the department declines to file charges, it must issue a public report explaining its decision.
Shootings by Los Angeles Police Department officers have been on the rise, The Los Angeles Times has reported. So far this year, officers have shot 37 people, resulting in 17 fatalities. Last year, officers shot 27 people, killing seven.
Edwin Arroyo, a supervisor at Nancy’s Cleaning Service, was tasked with cleaning the dressing room space a day later. He could not believe, he said in Spanish, that he was cleaning the same place he had read about earlier in the news.
Mr. Arroyo said he got through the day by thinking of his own daughters, who are 12 and 18.
“It gave me so much pain, so much sadness because innocent blood was all over the floor,” he said. “The only thing I really know is that I went home that night and hugged my daughters tightly.”