To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Sign Petition at:
Rashid just called with the news that he has been moved back to Virginia. His property is already there, and he will get to claim the most important items tomorrow. He is at a "medium security" level and is in general population. Basically, good news.
He asked me to convey his appreciation to everyone who wrote or called in his support during the time he was in Ohio.
His new address is:
Kevin Rashid Johnson #1007485
Nottoway Correctional Center
2892 Schutt Road
Burkeville, VA 23922
Freedom for Major Tillery! End his Life Imprisonment!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Governor's Press Office
Friday, May 28, 2021
Governor Newsom Announces Clemency Actions, Signs Executive Order for Independent Investigation of Kevin Cooper Case
SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced that he has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and 8 medical reprieves. In addition, the Governor signed an executive order to launch an independent investigation of death row inmate Kevin Cooper’s case as part of the evaluation of Cooper’s application for clemency.
The investigation will review trial and appellate records in the case, the facts underlying the conviction and all available evidence, including the results of the recently conducted DNA tests previously ordered by the Governor to examine additional evidence in the case using the latest, most scientifically reliable forensic testing.
The text of the Governor’s executive order can be found here:
The California Constitution gives the Governor the authority to grant executive clemency in the form of a pardon, commutation or reprieve. These clemency grants recognize the applicants’ subsequent efforts in self-development or the existence of a medical exigency. They do not forgive or minimize the harm caused.
The Governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks.
A pardon may remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation. A pardon does not expunge or erase a conviction.
A commutation modifies a sentence, making an incarcerated person eligible for an earlier release or allowing them to go before the Board of Parole Hearings for a hearing at which Parole Commissioners determine whether the individual is suitable for release.
A reprieve allows individuals classified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as high medical risk to serve their sentences in appropriate alternative placements in the community consistent with public health and public safety.
The Governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is consistent with public safety and in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors.
While in office, Governor Newsom has granted a total of 86 pardons, 92 commutations and 28 reprieves.
The Governor’s Office encourages victims, survivors, and witnesses to register with CDCR’s Office of Victims and Survivors Rights and Services to receive information about an incarcerated person’s status. For general Information about victim services, to learn about victim-offender dialogues, or to register or update a registration confidentially, please visit:
www.cdcr.ca.gov/Victim_Services/ or call 1-877-256-6877 (toll free).
Copies of the gubernatorial clemency certificates announced today can be found here:
Additional information on executive clemency can be found here:
Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal Denied!
We regret to share with you some alarming news on the continued case of Political Prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)—The Pennsylvania Superior Court has challenged Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest effort for an overturned conviction and new trial—nearly 40 years after he was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The high court said Abu-Jamal’s appeal was untimely, adding that the lower court shouldn’t have reinstated any part of his appeal because it lacked jurisdiction.
This fifth appeal attempt—filed in 2016—was based on a federal ruling involving former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who later became a state Supreme Court justice and ruled on a death penalty appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Castille had an “unconstitutional risk of bias” as the district attorney.
ABU-JAMAL’S ATTORNEYS ARGUED TO A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE IN 2018 THAT CASTILLE WAS ALSO THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY WHEN ABU-JAMAL WAS CONVICTED, AND A STATE SUPREME COURT JUDGE WHEN HE APPEALED.
And, they pointed to a letter Castille penned to the governor in 1990, urging the death penalty be used to send a “clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that “the 1990 letter cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille had a personal interest in the outcome of the litigation,” court documents say. “There is no evidence that Castille had ever personally participated in the prosecution of Abu-Jamal.
“The 1990 letter is not evidence of prior prosecutorial participation. It is evidence that while acting as an advocate, District Attorney Castille took a policy position to advance completion of the appellate process for convicted murderers: ‘I very strongly urge you immediately to issue death warrants in each and every one of these cases. Only such action by you will cause these cases to move forward in a legally appropriate manner.’ He was not arguing that the law should be changed or should be ignored. Rather, he simply took a position to facilitate collateral review of death sentences which was subscribed to by many prosecutors at the time.” But, the state Superior Court noted, Castille didn’t list Abu-Jamal, and they say Abu-Jamal didn’t file a new petition, using the letter as an argument, in time.
“Further,” the decision reads, “the 1990 letter was dated June 15th. At that time, Abu-Jamal’s direct appeal was still pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. … As such, Abu-Jamal was not even in the class of litigants that District Attorney Castille was referencing in the letter. The 1990 letter therefore cannot create a reasonable inference that Justice Castille was personally biased against Abu-Jamal.”
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: 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.
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:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Michele Goodwin, November 30, 2021
Ms. Goodwin is a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood.”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/30/opinion/abortion-texas-mississippi-rape.html
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi that provides no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. What’s at stake in this case matters to the countless girls and women who have been raped — including those who, like me, were raped by a father, an uncle or another family member.
It was the early morning of my 10th birthday the first time that I was raped by my father. It would not be the last. The shock was so severe that I temporarily went blind before I began the fifth grade a few weeks later. By the time the school year began, my father had taken me to see a battery of doctors — a medical explanation would paper over the fact that the trauma caused by his sexual violence had caused my body to shut down.
The physiological suffering that I endured included severe migraines, hair loss and even gray hair — at 10 years old. While other girls may have longed for puberty, I loathed the idea of it. My body became a vessel that was not mine. It had been taken from me. I lived in fear of the night, and the footsteps outside my bedroom door.
I gravitated to closets — I would find the deepest corner, sit with a flashlight, read and rock myself. Only years later, while in therapy at 16, would I understand that my involuntary rocking when relating to these experiences was the manifestation of my stress and anxiety.
My father’s predations were hidden behind wealth, social status and his acting the part of a committed and attentive parent. I attended elite schools in New York City, studied ballet at a renowned academy and took private violin and tennis lessons. My father never missed a parent-teacher conference. However, that veneer of normalcy belied intimate family violence that began years before with his physical abuse of my mother. At times he was so violent that she was hospitalized.
At age 12, I was pregnant by my father, and I had an abortion. Before we got to the doctor’s office, I had no idea that I was pregnant. My father lied about my age and the circumstance of my pregnancy, informing the doctor that I was 15 and that I had been reckless with a boyfriend. My father shook his head, explaining to the doctor that he was doing all that he could as a single parent — my parents had divorced by this time — but that I was out of control. Both men seemed to convey contempt toward me. For many years, the shame of my father’s lie lingered with me — the stereotype embedded in the narrative of the risky, hypersexualized Black girl.
My shame was never about the abortion. I will forever be grateful that my pregnancy was terminated. I am fortunate that my body was spared an additional trauma imposed by my father — one that today would be forced by some state legislatures and courts. No child should be pressured or expected to carry a pregnancy and give birth or to feel remorse, guilt, doubt or unease about an abortion under any circumstances, let alone rape or incest.
As Justice Harry Blackmun recognized in his majority opinion in Roe v. Wade in 1973, the barriers to a decent life are enormous when there is an unwanted pregnancy; for many, they are insurmountable.
In the end, my way out was to leave the economic security of home at age 15. That, too, is a decision that I will never regret. But it was not easy. When I left, I had $10 and no access to the savings account my father held for me. I enrolled myself in a public school on Staten Island. To support myself, I cleaned the house of a very kind couple. I lived in an unfinished attic and survived on a modest diet that mostly consisted of beans, rice and cans of tuna. To win my freedom from my parents, I went to court, where I endured interrogation from ill-prepared and insensitive lawyers about being raped as a child.
As a survivor of childhood rape and pregnancy — and today a law professor who teaches constitutional law and bioethics — I recognize the grave dangers of the current crop of abortion bans.
In Texas, the right to an abortion is virtually meaningless under Senate Bill 8, which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when many people will not know they are pregnant. Like the Mississippi ban, it provides no exceptions for rape or incest.
Given the importance of the Supreme Court’s deliberations this week and the naïve bravado of Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas suggesting that rape will disappear in his state with a tough-on-crime approach, I felt compelled to speak out.
The governor imagines that he can “eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas,” but like many abusers, my father was respected in the community, a successful businessman who was adored by family, friends and colleagues. I, on the other hand, felt alone and in fear. I was not only sexually abused but physically harmed as well. I was threatened to keep quiet and told by my father to “grit your teeth and bear it.”
Nobody ever wants to write about such experiences, exposing intimate aspects of one’s life, revisiting traumatic aspects of childhood. That is probably a big reason survivors of incest do not come forward. Even as our society becomes more enlightened about sexual assaults and abuse, often survivors pay a cost. While in college, a prominent professor warned me to never speak or write of my experiences. He believed that I had a bright future and that I could be personally and professionally harmed by sharing my story.
Yet the lack of compassion and the hubris that underlie the Mississippi and Texas legislation deserve a response.
With those laws, the state has in effect forced girls to carry the burden of its desires, forcing many of them to risk their health — and even risk death — by remaining pregnant. Like a military draft, the state has coercively conscripted rape and incest survivors to endure one more tremendous burden. To take another devastating physical and mental hit. To tie their lives to those of their rapists. This time it is state lawmakers who strong-arm their bodies into service.
This draft — the pregnancy draft — is warfare at home, and the state leaves its girls on the battlefield to fend for themselves. Rather than provide aid and care, states often punish girls who have run away from home after experiencing sexual violence. More than 80 percent of the girls in juvenile justice systems in some states are victims of sexual or physical violence. For so many of these girls, their pipelines are not from youth to college and graduate school but to juvenile detention and possibly prison. Their lives are treated as expendable and not worth saving.
Abortion bans represent more than isolated state lawmaking or states’ rights — they represent an attack on the fundamental principles of liberty, freedom and autonomy. As Justice Blackmun noted in a 1986 majority opinion that reaffirmed Roe, “few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy” than the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Abortion bans that provide no exceptions for rape and incest are a particularly cruel and immoral type of lawmaking.
For these reasons, this is a pivotal moment for the Supreme Court to issue a corrective and show that here, too, the arc of the moral universe may be long, but as foretold by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it bends toward justice — and that includes the protection of girls.
District attorneys around the country are investigating officers in cases their predecessors had handled, raising the ire of police unions that say it undermines public safety.
By Steve Eder and David D. Kirkpatrick, Nov. 30, 2021
"A recent New York Times investigation found that since the fall of 2016, officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding a gun or a knife, or under pursuit for a violent crime. In about 250 of the cases, officers later claimed a driver used a vehicle as a weapon, and most officers killed with impunity: Only five have been convicted of crimes. (About two dozen cases are pending.)"
Protesters address the Torrance City Council after Christopher De’Andre Mitchell was killed by police. A prosecutor is reopening an investigation into whether the shooting was justified. Credit...Axel Koester
The attorney general of Maine declined 14 years ago to prosecute the police officer who had killed Gregori Jackson, 18, a drunk passenger who fled on foot from a routine traffic stop in the town of Waldoboro. (“Legally justified,” the attorney general ruled.)
It was nearly 11 years ago that the district attorney in Westchester County, N.Y., found no crime when an officer, claiming he was about to be run over, had fired at Danroy Henry Jr., 20. He had bumped his Nissan Altima into the officer outside a bar while police responded to an unrelated scuffle inside. (“No reasonable cause” to indict, the grand jury concluded.)
And it was two years ago that the Los Angeles County prosecutor cleared the officers who had shot Christopher De’Andre Mitchell, 23. He had been in the driver’s seat of a stolen vehicle with an air rifle between his knees. (“Acted lawfully in self-defense,” the district attorney wrote.)
Now, in the aftermath of protests over racial justice and police abuse, new prosecutors are taking a previously rare step: They are reopening investigations into all three deadly car stops, asking whether the use of force was justified or if the officers should face criminal charges. Mr. Henry and Mr. Mitchell were Black, and Mr. Jackson was white.
District attorneys in Democratic precincts around the country have been re-examining other old use-of-force cases, too — including 340 killings in Los Angeles County alone. They are promising a sharp break from the traditionally close relationship between the police and prosecutors that critics say has long shielded officers from accountability.
“For 200 years in this country we have been electing one kind of prosecutor,” said José Garza, who last fall was elected district attorney of Travis County, Texas, which includes Austin. But since the killing of George Floyd, he added, “People across the country have spoken up loudly and clearly to say they want a new way of being policed.”
So far, Mr. Garza’s team has persuaded grand juries to hand down 11 indictments against officers — including at least six for use-of-force incidents in 2019 and 2020 for which his predecessor had not sought charges.
The reviews are arousing furious resistance from police unions and conservative district attorneys, who call them political stunts that demoralize officers and are unlikely to sway trial court juries. Unions in Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia have backed campaigns to oust the top prosecutors.
At the same time, rising crime rates across the country are provoking a backlash against calls from last year’s protests to rein in the police.
“To go back and open up all the cases, because you have an absolute grudge against police officers and you’re trying to carry a badge of honor — ‘Look at me, look at me, I’m going to prosecute police officers, I’m going to hold them accountable’ — is turning the table completely upside down,” said Todd Spitzer, the district attorney of Orange County, Calif. A Republican, he is an outspoken supporter of the union-backed campaign to recall his Democratic counterpart in nearby Los Angeles.
“These counties where the ‘woke D.A.s’ are elected,” Mr. Spitzer said, “they are utterly destroying police morale. They are making it impossible to recruit police.”
The number of progressive district attorneys vowing new accountability for police has grown from a first wave of 14 in 2016 to more than 70, representing one-fifth of the U.S. population, according to Fair and Just Prosecution, a group that supports criminal justice reforms. Nearly half of the prosecutors are women, and nearly half are people of color.
Bringing charges against police officers for old use-of-force cases — especially those formally closed by their predecessors — is among the boldest of a range of changes many are seeking. Other policies have included compiling lists of officers deemed discredited as witnesses, requiring a search for corroboration to bring charges of resisting arrest, or reassessing past convictions for potential exonerations or sentence reductions.
Legal scholars say the efforts amount to a decisive test of the criminal justice system. “The stakes are enormous,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and a member of a panel advising the Los Angeles district attorney on the review of past use-of-force cases. Noting the election of the progressive prosecutors coincides with increased awareness about officer misconduct, he asked, “Will these combine to reform policing, or will we just revert to where we were?”
The progressive prosecutors reflect “the anti-cop political moment,” said Hannah E. Meyers, director of policing research at the conservative Manhattan Institute. “But if we are serious about reform,” she asked, “is this endeavor really the way to have a system for putting the best cops in those positions and for justice when police act badly?”
Legal codes and court precedents generally allow police to use lethal force if they reasonably believe it necessary to defend themselves or others from imminent harm. Persuading a jury that an officer’s professed fear was unreasonable can be a high hurdle, prosecutors often say, especially in the context of vehicle stops, where police training and culture typically overstate the dangers to officers.
A recent New York Times investigation found that since the fall of 2016, officers have killed more than 400 drivers or passengers who were not wielding a gun or a knife, or under pursuit for a violent crime. In about 250 of the cases, officers later claimed a driver used a vehicle as a weapon, and most officers killed with impunity: Only five have been convicted of crimes. (About two dozen cases are pending.)
One of those rare convictions came this fall in the 2018 police shooting in Danville, Calif., of a driver, Laudemer Arboleda, who was 33 and mentally ill. He had ignored an attempted traffic stop and continued to drive slowly when he was fatally shot by Officer Andrew Hall. Mr. Hall claimed Mr. Arboleda was attempting to use his vehicle as a weapon. The officer returned to duty, and in March, he fatally shot a homeless man who was holding a folding knife during an encounter in the street.
District Attorney Diana Becton of Contra Costa County charged Mr. Hall in April for the death of Mr. Arboleda. He was convicted in October of felony assault with a semiautomatic firearm. (The jury deadlocked on a manslaughter charge; Ms. Becton’s office is still investigating the killing of the homeless man.)
“Vehicle cases can be difficult,” she said. “But we also know that we now have a conviction on one of the charges.”
In a review of more than 150 formal statements or public comments from prosecutors declining to bring charges for the deadly use of force against unarmed motorists, The Times found that almost all either characterized the motorist as a potential menace or emphasized that the legal standards left prosecutors few options.
But the new prosecutors say they were elected on promises to hold law enforcement officers accountable. In several districts — including Los Angeles and San Francisco — they pledged not to accept campaign contributions from police unions.
In a striking departure, several of the new district attorneys have little experience as prosecutors. Mr. Garza, of Travis County, Texas, was a former public defender who led a community organization for migrant workers before running for district attorney. Others were defense attorneys or civil rights lawyers, like Larry Krasner, the Philadelphia district attorney, who as a candidate was known for having sued the police 75 times.
Some district attorneys have responded to the urging of families to reopen cases of relatives killed by police years ago. “A loss can be even harder when the killer is law enforcement — you know, the entity that’s there to protect and serve,” said Rachael Rollins, the district attorney in Suffolk County, Mass., which includes Boston, who agreed to revisit three such cases.
But a review does not necessarily produce a new result: A prosecutor’s re-investigation of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., ended last year without charging the officer.
Dozens of staff lawyers who object to the new approach have departed from several of the offices. At the same time, several district attorneys have brought in new staff lawyers, investigators or special prosecutors to carry out the reviews.
In Los Angeles, District Attorney George Gascón has enlisted a panel of legal experts and community advisers as well as a clinic at the University of California, Irvine law school to review as many as 340 killings going back to 2012 that his predecessor deemed justified. (Statutes of limitations can bar prosecutors from seeking certain charges in older cases, although generally not for murder.)
He promised during his campaign to reopen at least four specific cases, including the 2018 killing of Mr. Mitchell, who had the air rifle between his knees. To bring any charges, he has recruited the former federal prosecutor Lawrence Middleton, who handled the infamous Rodney King beating case in 1992.
Mr. Garza, in Travis County, promised to bring every officer-involved shooting to a grand jury, and his staff discontinued the past practice of working with officers to prepare them for the process.
He has already secured four indictments this year of officers for a killing and a beating from 2019 that the police department’s special investigations and internal affairs units had deemed justified and his predecessor never took up. His office has also won indictments against officers for the 2019 killing of Javier Ambler II, who was repeatedly stunned with a Taser after he fled a traffic stop, as well as the 2020 shooting of Mike Ramos, who officers said had driven his car at them. Both men were unarmed.
Police advocates argue that re-examining old police use-of-force cases without new evidence is like putting an officer on trial twice for the same actions. In Maine, where the prosecutor Natasha Irving prodded the attorney general to reopen the passenger killing case from 2007, officers are wondering who might be next, said Mike Edes, executive director of the Maine chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police and a retired officer.
“I was involved in a shooting in 2004. If she doesn’t like the outcome, is she going to go back 17 years and reinvestigate it?” he asked. “Where’s this going to stop with her?”
Others say that the prosecution of old cases is diminishing public safety by making officers hesitate. “Every interaction you have with a citizen is a chance for something to go wrong and a chance for you to be indicted by Garza,” said Ken Ervin, a lawyer who represents the police officers in Austin facing criminal charges. “You have some officers who are checked out and they just sit in the cars and they do nothing.”
In a public letter to the Austin city manager released in July, District Attorney Garza also complained of “increasing incidents of some Austin Police Department officers declining to investigate suspected criminal activity and suggesting to community members it is because our office will not prosecute the cases.”
The president of the police union had urged officers to stop “active enforcement,” Mr. Garza noted, asserting that “rogue” officers had answered that call.
Yet some prosecutors reviewing old cases were elected with the support of the police unions.
“I don’t define myself as a progressive prosecutor,” said Fani T. Willis, a Democrat who was elected district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., last year with police union backing. “I just define myself as doing what’s right.”
Since taking office in January, she has begun reviewing 50 use-of-force cases and seven death-in-custody cases going back to 2016 that her predecessor had not addressed; she has so far landed indictments in 13 of them. Six officers were indicted in November for a jailhouse death in 2018. They had allegedly shouted that it was “Taser Tuesday” as they tortured and killed Antonio May, 32, arrested for throwing rocks at a building.
“There were too many cases where nothing had been done,” said Ms. Willis, noting her office had also cleared more than 20 officers. “Where there is no courage, nothing happens.”
By Esau McCaulley, Dec. 2, 2021
Nolis Anderson for The New York Times
Anjanette Young never wanted you to see the video.
It documents the worst night of her life, when 12 Chicago police officers burst into her home, with a warrant based on faulty information, and handcuffed her naked.
“My life before was just a quiet life,” Ms. Young told me. “I lived a very quiet and simple life and now my life has been completely turned upside down. I can’t sleep at night.”
Why would she want this life-altering trauma circulated for all the world to see? Why would she want us to hear her shouting to police officers, over 40 times, some form of “This is a mistake; you’ve got the wrong house”? Why would she want to relive the terror?
Because all too often today, a viral video is the most effective way for a person of color to find justice. And so after months of being brushed aside by the City of Chicago, Ms. Young and her lawyers released the bodycam footage of that awful night to the local news. Despite what the video has cost her in terms of privacy, dignity and emotional health, she believes that it was the right thing to do.
But I do wonder if it is right for us as a society to expect that level of sacrifice and vulnerability for already traumatized people to receive justice.
Ms. Young tells her story in a disciplined, measured tone. She is leery of the cynic in all of us. She knows that people hear her story, see her lawyers and think it is a money grab — as if she hoodwinked the City of Chicago into invading her home.
But despite her best efforts, her desperation seeps out. How could it not? She needs us to believe her when she says that she was normal before a single night changed her life. If we believe that she is a real person who had an ordinary life, then maybe we will believe that her desire for justice is genuine.
On Feb. 21, 2019, after a long day of work, Ms. Young was getting ready for an evening of comfort. As a medical social worker who dealt with the problems of others all day, she knew the importance of self-care. So she poured a glass of wine and got ready to watch one of her favorite television shows, “Grey’s Anatomy.”
She was getting undressed when she heard what she remembers as an “earth-shattering noise.” Frightened, she grabbed a small jacket and made her way to the front of the apartment. She was greeted by large guns, flashlights and the police demanding that she get her hands in the air.
Ms. Young was faced with a dilemma common to too many Black women: between her dignity and her life. The decision wasn’t conscious. She feared getting shot, so she threw her hands into the air and dropped the only thing covering her naked body. Within seconds, she was in her own home, handcuffed and naked in a room full of mostly white men.
They placed a blanket over her shoulders, but because her hands were cuffed behind her back, she could not wrap the blanket around herself. It hung open with the front of her body exposed for at least 10 minutes, until Officer Ella French took Ms. Young into her bedroom and allowed her to put on clothes. Ms. Young remembers Officer French as the first person that night who treated her with kindness and empathy. Tragically, Officer French would be shot and killed two and a half years later in the line of duty during a traffic stop.
Ms. Young remained handcuffed for approximately 10 more minutes while the officers searched her 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom home. After they uncuffed her, they stayed for roughly another 40 minutes, still looking. They departed having found nothing.
Before this occurred, Ms. Young thrived at her job; she had worked at the same hospital for two years without any blemishes on her record. After the raid, she struggled at work. During the summer of 2019, she said, her employer put her on a 90-day corrective plan. By October she had been fired.
No longer feeling safe in her home, she moved. She was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Sirens and loud noises give her panic attacks. The glass of wine before bed is gone. The medication she takes to deal with her depression and PTSD cannot be mixed with alcohol.
None of this needed to happen. The police obtained a warrant to raid her home after an informant reported seeing a man with an illegal weapon at what the police interpreted as Ms. Young’s address. Ms. Young would later discover that the man in question wore an ankle monitor. Those who battered down her door reportedly could have looked up his location and known that he was not in her home.
Ms. Young knew that she deserved better. She came from a family shaped by the faith and activism of the Black church. She remembers being told stories of her grandmother, Lucendia Young, marching with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders engaged in civil rights work in Mississippi, where her family originated. There are also accounts of her grandmother working with Fannie Lou Hamer on voting rights in Mississippi.
Faced with an injustice, Ms. Young did what her family had always done. She turned to her faith community. The night of the raid her first call was to an associate minister at Progressive Baptist Church, a historic Black church in the city that hosted Dr. King in its pulpit. (My family and I have attended this church for the past four months, and I’m a friend of the senior pastor.)
The congregation has quite a few attorneys, and one of them (a civil rights lawyer) agreed to take the case, forgoing pay unless the suit is successful. That allowed Ms. Young legal representation that she probably would not have been able to afford on her own. Ms. Young said she believes that she would not have survived the spiritual and emotional trauma of that night without her faith and the support of her church.
At first, Ms. Young and her lawyer pursued justice quietly. She sought a financial settlement that would avoid a lengthy and public litigation. She wanted the officers responsible for the raid held accountable, including their removal. Here she is careful. She makes it clear that her problem isn’t with all police officers. Her focus is the particular group that entered her home without doing due diligence and treated her so poorly.
The city rejected her financial settlement offer. In a terse, two-sentence email, it offered her “$0 to resolve this matter.”
Ms. Young and her lawyers decided to request the video footage from one of the officers’ body cameras, in the hopes that having the footage would put pressure on the city to act. After several requests, the city finally released the video to Ms. Young and her lawyers in February 2020, under a protective order that precluded it from being shared publicly.
It became clear to Ms. Young that the city was not going to take her case seriously. So she and her lawyers did what they felt they had to do. What is the disruption of a Black life worth without media pressure? Nothing.
CBS 2 in Chicago aired the video in mid-December 2020, and Ms. Young’s story immediately went viral as yet another manifestation of anti-Black racism in America. Civil rights leaders including Bernice King, daughter of Dr. King, tweeted in support of her, as did Tamron Hall. Gayle King, Soledad O’Brien and Joy Reid aired TV segments bringing attention to the incident.
Ms. Young made it through only a minute and a half of the footage before she had to turn it off. It was not the images that overwhelmed her — it was her voice, the pleas and the screams.
“It’s just too much,” she said.
The support encouraged Ms. Young, but being so exposed stirred up the old trauma. She had resumed work at a different hospital, but the fresh wave of grief and pain led her to take a medical leave that continues.
Still, releasing the video had its desired effect: The city started to act. It expressed regret for what she suffered and began negotiations on a settlement. The officers involved were placed on desk duty.
Ms. Young, working with five African American Chicago alderwomen, drafted the Anjanette Young Ordinance, which would better protect those being served with warrants. The city offered its own proposal, which fell short of the reforms put forward by Ms. Young and the alderwomen.
“I feel like the city continues to view me as invisible and not one who deserves respect or resolution or fairness,” Ms. Young said. “You have changed my life. You have harmed me.”
Ms. Young’s negotiations with the city continue. She is hopeful that she will soon reach a financial settlement with the city and be able to gain support from enough aldermen to pass the ordinance, so that residents will be better protected from experiencing an ordeal like hers. (The city’s law department said that Chicago’s mayor, Lori Lightfoot, “is dedicated to bringing any litigation in this matter to an equitable and expeditious resolution.”)
I wish that we had never met Ms. Young. In a perfect world, those police officers would have never entered her home. But they did, and now that wrong must be righted. Money cannot undo the trauma; money doesn’t work that way. But it is, in our broken system, one of the only tangible ways that the city can express its regret for its actions. It is a way of making its errors painful enough to spur on real change.
In the parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus tells his disciples about who will and will not be condemned. The main criterion was how his followers treated the vulnerable: the imprisoned, the hungry and the downtrodden. Jesus says that the people who are blessed will be those to whom he can say, when “I was naked, you clothed me.” Incredulous, his followers ask him, “When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” Jesus replies that what you did to the least of these, you did to me.
The city of Chicago is not the kingdom of God, but God and the world are watching. The city has an opportunity that it has waited too long to act on. The path to change should not have required releasing a video that brought with it a fresh wave of grief. But the city can still clothe Ms. Young. It can, after over two and a half years of struggle, restore her dignity.
Joseph Gordon has been locked up for nearly 30 years. A model inmate, he is eligible for parole — but only if he expresses remorse for a crime he says he did not commit.
By Tom Robbins, Dec. 2, 2021
Joseph Gordon at Fishkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Credit...Todd Heisler/The New York Times
When Joseph Gordon, a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly three decades in prison for murder, went before the New York State parole board in March, among the letters supporting his bid for freedom was an extraordinary appeal.
In addition to endorsements from corrections officers, civilian prison employees and a psychiatric social worker (who wrote that Mr. Gordon had changed the lives of many mentally ill prisoners), was a letter from a former superintendent at Fishkill Correctional Facility, in Beacon, N.Y. The superintendent, Leroy Fields, noted that in his more than 37 years as a corrections official, Mr. Gordon was only the second inmate he had ever recommended for release. Joseph Gordon, he wrote, has “the character and moral compass to return to society as a productive member of his community.”
The parole board remained unpersuaded. “Your release at this time is not compatible with the welfare of society,” the panel ruled, “and would so deprecate the serious nature of your crime as to undermine respect for the law.” It was the fifth parole denial Mr. Gordon had received since 2017, when he completed the minimum term of his sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
In their decisions, board members focused chiefly on a single and apparently unforgivable flaw: He insists he is innocent of the crime that sent him to prison. Mr. Gordon, who is Black, was convicted of the 1991 murder of a white Westchester County doctor. His refusal to admit guilt, the parole panels ruled, showed that he lacked remorse for his crime.
It is a conundrum faced by scores of prisoners who insist they’re not guilty. “The board expects them to accept responsibility and express remorse,” said Michelle Lewin, executive director of the Parole Preparation Project. “People who maintain their innocence remain in an impossible situation.”
Mr. Gordon’s situation may be more impossible than most. He admits that after Dr. Daniel Pack, a 38-year-old neurologist with a wife and two young children, was shot to death in the basement of Mr. Gordon’s home in Elmsford, N.Y., he covered up the murder. He admits to hiding the body in a remote wooded area in Putnam County and ditching the doctor’s car in a New Jersey parking lot. But he insists that he did not kill Dr. Pack. He has long hesitated to say who did and why.
“The person that committed the murder was young, very young at that time, and I did what I did in order to protect that person,” he said at his first appearance before the board, in 2017. “I was led to believe it was an unwanted sexual encounter,” he added, “and that’s the end of that part of it for me, because I’m not going to disparage Dr. Pack. I’m not going to try in any way to sully his reputation.”
Citing Mr. Gordon’s “lack of full disclosure,” the board rejected him. At his next hearing, and for the first time in more than 25 years, he personally identified the shooter: It was his son, Chad, he said, who was just 16 at the time. The hearing transcript shows that he moaned, “Oh, God,” as he told how he had returned home to find that Chad had shot Dr. Pack during an argument over a secret sexual relationship between them. He didn’t call the police because of fear of what could befall his son in prison. “I didn’t trust to do that,” he said at his March hearing. “I didn’t trust the system, society. I didn’t trust any of it. All I know is I wanted to take care of my son.”
He voiced regret for the suffering endured by the doctor’s family. “To this day I am sorry that he died,” he said of Dr. Pack. “The pain that this caused his wife is unimaginable. I can’t even speak to it. All I can say to you is that I am sorry. I can’t change it. If I could, I would. I have tried to do everything in here that I could.”
At each hearing, commissioners cited the jury’s verdict at his 1993 trial, where Mr. Gordon was convicted of shooting Dr. Pack during what prosecutors said was a fight over thousands of dollars they had invested together in rare baseball cards. Parole commissioners quoted Judge John Sweeny Jr.’s comments at sentencing that Mr. Gordon’s defense had offered “a concocted story of a homosexual argument … that underscored the coldblooded and ruthless nature of this crime.” As he sent Mr. Gordon to prison, the judge told him he “did not deserve to walk free in society ever again.”
These days Mr. Gordon walks with a slight shuffle. Guards at Fishkill refer to him as “old man Gordon.” He is on his second pacemaker and spent several weeks in the hospital last winter. A short, trim man, he still carries some of the military bearing he acquired while serving two combat tours with the Air Force in Vietnam.
The military taught him computer skills, and in civilian life he found work at large corporations. While living in California in the 1970s, he married a woman and had a son. They separated when the child was not yet 2. Mr. Gordon moved back east and settled in Elmsford, where he grew up. Chad remained with his mother in California, visiting his dad on holidays.
Mr. Gordon began trading baseball cards, he said, in a bid to draw closer to his son, who was a fan. In 1991, however, Chad forged a grade on his school report card, and his parents decided he should live with his father for a while. Mr. Gordon enrolled him in a Catholic high school and put him to work in the afternoons at the sports memorabilia shop he operated in Rockland County. It was on one of those afternoons, Dec. 20, 1991, Mr. Gordon said in an interview at the prison, that he asked his son to wait at home to hand off a package of money and cards to Dr. Pack, with whom he had been investing in collectible baseball cards over the previous year.
After dropping off his son at the house, Mr. Gordon, recalling the story he told the parole board, said he drove to his shop to find several anguished messages on his answering machine from Chad begging him to come home. He raced back to find his son in the basement, Dr. Pack’s body nearby. “Chad couldn’t talk,” he said. “Neither could I.” His actions over the next hours, he said, were driven by panic over what would happen to his son if he was arrested. “I saw him going through every ugly scene in every prison movie I’d ever watched,” he said. He remembers also thinking that while his son couldn’t handle prison, an ex-soldier might be able to.
Though his lawyers would outright accuse Chad of killing the doctor at the trial, Mr. Gordon had never wanted to say it out loud himself. Arrested and charged with murder, Mr. Gordon refused to take the stand. “I was not going to be compelled to testify against my son,” he explained. “I was not going to put my son in prison.”
The prosecution presented the case as a simple fight over money. District Attorney James Rooney argued that on the day he was killed, Dr. Pack had gone to Mr. Gordon’s house to confront him over some $70,000 he had invested in baseball cards. Dr. Pack, the prosecutor said, “never got a penny” from his investment. Although there was no evidence that the men had previously quarreled, Mr. Rooney said that rather than pay him back, Mr. Gordon killed him that day in his own home.
Testimony confirmed that the doctor was killed in Mr. Gordon’s basement, where fragments from Dr. Pack’s eyeglasses were found. The one shred of forensic evidence at odds with the prosecution’s account was the presence of a small amount of semen that an autopsy found in Dr. Pack’s mouth. At the time, however, the amount was too small to determine the source. The most likely explanation, the district attorney told the jury, was that the semen had been deposited there by “the last person to see Dr. Pack alive” — meaning the defendant — in a bizarre bid to confuse investigators.
But the most powerful witness against Mr. Gordon was his son.
He had been stunned to learn his son was testifying against him. “Chad was scared,” Mr. Gordon said in the interview. “He forgot who his father was, and that his father would never allow anything to hurt him.”
On the witness stand, Chad said that on the day Dr. Pack was killed, his father picked him up at school at 2:30 and dropped him off at the store. He said he worked there and at a nearby food stand until late that night, as his father came and went several times. He arrived home to find police officers looking for Dr. Pack.
Over the next few days, he told the jury, his father repainted the basement floor and installed new carpeting in the trunk of his car, where an odor like “old meat” lingered. He said his father told him to lie to the police about Mr. Gordon’s whereabouts on the day of the murder, as well as about a pistol Mr. Gordon kept in the house. The gun was never found, but the police maintained it was the murder weapon.
Representing Mr. Gordon were William Kunstler, the fiery radical attorney, and his associate, Ron Kuby. The lawyers were recruited by local civil rights activists who feared that, as a Black man accused of killing a white man, Mr. Gordon wouldn’t receive a fair trial. Mr. Gordon said his lawyers assured him that they could question Chad about the killing without putting the son in legal jeopardy. That would allow the jury to hear an alternative explanation for the murder, the lawyers said.
In cross-examining Chad Gordon, Mr. Kunstler attempted what he called “a Perry Mason”: abruptly and loudly accusing the witness of shooting the doctor. “You know whose sperm was in Dr. Pack’s mouth, don’t you?” he demanded. “It was yours, wasn’t it?” The teenager denied it, but Mr. Kunstler pressed on: “Will you now tell the jury the truth? Who murdered Dr. Pack? It was you, wasn’t it?”
Before leaving the witness stand in tears, Chad angrily repeated his denial. “This is an outrage,” he said. “I did not kill Dr. Pack.”
The jury deliberated for a day before finding Mr. Gordon guilty. Reached in California, where he lives, Chad Gordon said he still believed in his father’s guilt and denied any involvement in Dr. Pack’s death. “My father is a sociopath,” he said before hanging up. His mother did not respond to messages. Mr. Kunstler died in 1995. “I always believed a terrible injustice was done in Joseph Gordon’s case,” Mr. Kuby said.
In prison, Mr. Gordon sought repeatedly to have the semen analyzed using new genetic tests. In 1996, three years after his conviction, an article about his appeals caught the eye of a woman who had lived across the street from Mr. Gordon at the time of the murder. The neighbor, Elizabeth Deerr, said that she had not told her story to the police at the time because her mother-in-law, whose house she lived in, warned her not to get involved.
In an affidavit filed with the court in December 1996, she said that at about 3:30 on the afternoon of the murder, as she was watching her children play outside, she saw Mr. Gordon drop off his son at his home, then drive away. Fifteen minutes later, she saw a “white fancy car” pull up. A tall, thin white man emerged and was met by Chad Gordon at the entrance of the home. Ms. Deerr saw Chad directing the man to the back of the house. She never saw Chad or the man leave the house or Mr. Gordon return.
Citing the affidavit, Mr. Gordon filed a new appeal. The judge who had presided at the trial denied it. In an interview, Ms. Deerr, who is white, said she regretted not coming forward earlier. “I always hoped he would get another trial and I could tell my story,” she said. “Things could’ve been different for Joe.”
In 2003, Mr. Gordon asked the Innocence Project, the nonprofit organization specializing in DNA analysis, to take up his case. The project’s lawyers pressed the Putnam County district attorney’s office to allow experts to examine the semen. The office eventually agreed, but repeated tests failed to produce results. It wasn’t until 2015 that conclusive findings emerged: Neither Mr. Gordon nor his son was the source of the semen. Experts also determined that it could not have been deposited after Dr. Pack’s death.
To Mr. Gordon and his lawyers at the Innocence Project, the new findings added credibility to his assertion that Dr. Pack had sex with men and disproved the assertion by the prosecutor at his trial that Mr. Gordon had placed the semen there himself.
Mr. Gordon’s persistence impressed Christopher York, the former chief assistant at the Putnam County district attorney’s office, who handled the requests for the DNA testing. Mr. York, a career prosecutor, wrote to the parole board in January. He took no position on Mr. Gordon’s guilt or innocence, he wrote, but added, “In my view it would be inappropriate to deny Mr. Gordon — or any other applicant — release from prison for asserting his or her actual innocence.”
Parole boards, however, regard assertions of innocence with skepticism. “There is a very strong presumption that claiming innocence is a sign of denial,” said Daniel S. Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University who wrote a 2008 study titled “The Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma.”
One solution to that dilemma, Mr. Medwed’s study found, is to falsely admit guilt. John Ramsey, a Brooklyn man who spent 33 years in prison after his conviction for a 1981 murder during the robbery of a drug den, claims he did just that. Mr. Ramsey repeatedly told the parole board that he was innocent, having been convicted on the word of a single witness who admitted he had spent the day smoking angel dust. After being denied parole six times, Mr. Ramsey reversed course and was released in 2015.
“I just admitted it,” Mr. Ramsey said. “I was never getting out if I say it wasn’t me,” he said.
Kevin Smith, who served 27 years for murder, did the same. At his initial parole hearing, Mr. Smith insisted that he had been wrongly convicted of a 1984 shooting in Brooklyn. He changed his position after his mother fell ill. “I couldn’t stomach saying I did it, at first,” he said. “But I went back before the board and made a false admission.” Approved for parole, he returned home in 2012 in time to see his mother before she died.
Since their release, both Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Smith have tried to get their original convictions overturned. Their parole board confessions have complicated those efforts. In 2019, a Brooklyn Supreme Court judge dismissed Mr. Ramsey’s request for a new trial, citing his admission of guilt to the board. He is appealing the decision.
Mr. Gordon said he always knew his story would be difficult for the parole board to accept, and he initially considered falsely admitting guilt. “My plan was to go in to the board and say I did it, take full responsibility,” he said. He rejected the idea after being warned against it by a doctor with whom he worked in programs for mentally ill prisoners. “He said, ‘That would be a lie, and you don’t lie,’” Mr. Gordon said.
The parole boards have cited “extensive and vehement community opposition” to Mr. Gordon’s release. Dr. Pack’s widow, Margit Pack, has steadily advocated for Mr. Gordon to remain in prison. “Daniel Pack will never get out of the grave, and I hope Joseph Gordon never gets out of jail,” Ms. Pack said after the conviction.
The current district attorney of Putnam County, Robert Tendy, who took office in 2016, has also strenuously opposed his release. Last year, Mr. Tendy wrote to the board saying that he had reviewed the case file and concluded that Mr. Gordon was involved in “a continuing charade.” Mr. Gordon, the district attorney wrote, used “a naïve doctor as a cash cow — scamming him out of tens of thousands of dollars,” and then killing him when confronted about the scheme.
In an interview, the district attorney said that he was most disturbed by Mr. Gordon’s explanation of the crime. “The most offensive thing to me,” he said, “is that he is trying to blame it on his own son and also trying to turn Dr. Pack into a child molester.” Mr. Gordon remains a threat to society, he said, despite his advanced age. “It is not just the physical threat,” Mr. Tendy said. “It is a threat that this person will be given a soapbox to preach his innocence and become part of the ever-growing movement to undermine the justice system. There is a lot of it going around these days.”
Mr. Gordon said he had no interest in mounting any soapboxes. This month, he faces his sixth parole board hearing, and he will tell the panel his plan: if released, he will live quietly in the Putnam County home of his current wife, whom he married more than 20 years ago after meeting her while she was teaching prisoners. He will do part-time community work if he’s able, he said.
In the meantime, he is working as a grievance counselor, representing prisoners on medical and other issues. “What do I want to do, lay around all day doing nothing?” he said. “That doesn’t work.”
As he sat talking to a visitor recently, a passing officer gave the prisoner a rare seal of approval. “This guy’s top notch,” the guard said, gesturing at Mr. Gordon.
The former deputy, Jason Meade, was a member of a fugitive task force when he shot Casey Goodson Jr., 23, who was not the target of the operation, according to an indictment. He faces two murder counts.
By Christine Hauser, Dec. 2, 2021
Sean Walton, the lawyer for the family of Casey Goodson Jr., stood with Mr. Goodson’s mother, Tamala Payne, during a protest outside the Ohio Statehouse last year. Credit...Stephen Zenner/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A former sheriff’s deputy in Ohio has been charged with murder in the death last year of Casey Goodson Jr., a 23-year-old Columbus man who was shot several times in the back, during a fugitive operation that had nothing to do with Mr. Goodson, according to a grand jury indictment.
The former Franklin County sheriff’s deputy, Jason Meade, was indicted on two counts of murder and one count of reckless homicide in the shooting of Mr. Goodson. Mr. Goodson’s family and a lawyer have said he was shot in the doorway of his house in Columbus on Dec. 4, 2020, as he was returning home with sandwiches after a dentist’s appointment.
An autopsy report said Mr. Goodson was shot twice in the mid-back, in both sides of his back and in his buttocks.
The indictment was released by a special prosecutor, H. Tim Merkle, on Thursday, almost a year after Mr. Goodson was killed.
The Franklin County sheriff’s office said after the shooting that Mr. Meade, then a 17-year veteran of the office, had been assigned full time to a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force. Members of the task force had been in the area looking for someone in an operation that had nothing to do with Mr. Goodson, the authorities and lawyers for Mr. Goodson’s family have said.
Mr. Meade will plead not guilty when he is arraigned, his lawyer, Mark Collins, said on Thursday.
The Franklin County prosecutor, Gary Tyack, appointed Mr. Merkle and another lawyer, Gary Shroyer, as special prosecutors in June to present the case to a grand jury because Mr. Tyack’s office was expected to defend the county and the sheriff’s office in civil matters related to the shooting.
Mr. Goodson’s death, one of a series of police killings of Black men last year, prompted hundreds to demonstrate in the streets in Columbus, and underscored tensions between the city’s Black community and the authorities.
Mr. Goodson’s family and Sean Walton, the family’s lawyer, have said that Mr. Goodson had in his possession only a face mask to protect him from the coronavirus and Subway sandwiches he had brought home for himself and his family that day.
Correction: Dec. 2, 2021
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the timing of Mr. Meade’s assignment to a fugitive task force. It was before the shooting, not after.
By Elizabeth Spiers, December 3, 2021
Ms. Spiers, a Democratic digital strategist, was adopted as an infant.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/opinion/adoption-supreme-court-amy-coney-barrett.html
On Wednesday, as the Supreme Court heard oral arguments from state attorneys seeking to uphold Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, Justice Amy Coney Barrett kept getting at one question: Why was abortion necessary, when women who do not want to be mothers can simply give their babies up for adoption?
As an adoptee myself, I was floored by Justice Barrett’s assumption that adoption is an accessible and desirable alternative for women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. She may not realize it, but what she is suggesting is that women don’t need access to abortion because they can simply go do a thing that is infinitely more difficult, expensive, dangerous and potentially traumatic than terminating a pregnancy during its early stages.
As an adoptive mother herself, Justice Barrett should have some inkling of the complexities of adoption and the toll it can inflict on children, as well as birth mothers. But she speaks as if adoption is some kind of idyllic fairy tale. My own adoption actually was what many would consider idyllic. I was raised by two adoptive parents, Alice and Terry, from the time I was an infant, and grew up in a home where I knew every day that I was loved. A few years ago, I found my biological mother, Maria, and three siblings I didn’t know I had via a DNA test and Facebook.
The first time I spoke to Maria on the phone — she lives in Alabama, not too far from my parents, and I live in Brooklyn — she apologized repeatedly for giving me up and told me she loved me and that I would always be family. “You are blood,” she would say later. I told her, and continue to tell her, every time she brings it up, that the apology is unnecessary. I had a wonderful childhood and I believe she had made the right decision. But she remains heartbroken about the years we missed together.
Both Maria and my mom, Alice, oppose abortion on religious grounds. My mom is white and Southern Baptist; Maria is Hispanic and Pentecostal. Both like to point to me to justify their beliefs, saying that had Maria gotten an abortion, I would not exist. It’s a familiar argument: The anti-abortion movement likes to invoke Nobel Prize winners who might never have materialized, or potential adoptees who might have cured cancer, if they hadn’t been aborted at eight weeks.
I’m no Nobel Prize winner, but I still resent being used as a political football by the right. I believe that abortion is a form of health care, and that every woman should have access to it if she needs it. But perhaps more than that, I resent the suggestion by people like Justice Barrett that adoption is a simple solution, and I resent it on behalf of Maria, who found the choice she made traumatizing and still feels that pain, 44 years later. Even when an adoption works out well, as it did in my case, it is still fraught.
When I echo Maria in saying that she “gave me up,” the language always rankles adoptive parents, because it introduces an unpleasant complexity — implying that my birth mother was not completely happy with her choice. Or worse, that it made her miserable. But that is sometimes the case, even when adoption is the best option for all involved. Adoption is not always an unalloyed good. It’s a complicated choice in a situation that has no right or wrong answer.
If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, many women will be forced to give birth to children they did not want or did not feel that they could afford to support. While pregnant, they will undergo the bonding with a child that happens by biological design as an embryo develops into a living, breathing, conscious human. And then that child will be taken away.
The right likes to suggest that abortion is a traumatic experience for women — a last resort, a painful memory. But adoption is often just as traumatic as the right thinks abortion is, if not more so, as a woman has to relinquish, not a lump of cells, but a fully formed baby she has lived with for nine months.
I’m a mother myself, to an adorable 6-year-old self-proclaimed Fortnite expert, and as is often the case, I did not know I was pregnant with him until the usual symptoms appeared a few weeks into the pregnancy. As anyone who has gestated a human will tell you, there is a vast difference between the fourth week of pregnancy and the 40th. By the 40th, you’re familiar with your baby’s regular rhythms of kicking and moving. When I awoke, my son would wake up shortly after and I’d feel him turning and stretching, or less pleasantly, jamming his precious little foot into what felt like my cervix. This is one of the paradoxes of pregnancy: something alien is usurping your body and sapping you of nutrition and energy, but you’re programmed to gleefully enable it and you become desperately protective of it. It’s a kind of biological brainwashing. And this often happens whether you want to be a parent or not.
Justice Barrett is well aware of the kind of biological brainwashing that occurs during pregnancy; she gave birth to five children. And yet she blithely seems to assume that a mother can simply choose not to bond with the child she’s gestating solely on the basis that she is not ready to be a mother or believes that she is unable to provide for the child. She assumes that the mother will be supported financially and otherwise, throughout the pregnancy, even in a country where maternal mortality statistics are abysmal. And she assumes that children surrendered for adoption will find a home, and not a bed in the foster care system. She probably assumes these things because she cannot fathom being in this position herself. These are assumptions that stem from the privilege of being financially secure, having never needed an abortion, and perhaps, the assumption that women who do have done something wrong and must face the consequences.
In my experience, some on the right believe that the trauma adoption inflicts is a consequence of irresponsibility. But unexpected pregnancy is not a de facto function of bad decision making. It can be a failure of contraception, the product of a rape, a mistaken belief that a woman is infertile. There is no justifiable reason to inflict harm on women and the babies they might produce in any of these situations, regardless of judgment.
The trauma doesn’t just affect mothers, either. Researchers have a term for what children who are adopted, even as infants, may suffer from later in life: “relinquishment trauma.” The premise is that babies bond with their mothers in utero and become familiar with their behaviors. When their first caretaker is not the biological mother, they register the difference and the stress of it has lasting effects.
I probably got off easy in that respect, in part because I did spend a few months with my biological mother before I was adopted, but that had the unintended affect of traumatizing my older siblings, who remember me as a baby who was there, and then suddenly was gone. This was driven home to me by my older sister Bobbi, whose first encounter with me was over Facebook. “All I can say is I remember you,” she wrote. “I have loved you and missed you my entire life.”
What Justice Barrett and others are suggesting women to do in lieu of abortion is not a small thing. It is life changing, irrevocable, and not to be taken lightly. It often causes trauma, even when things work out, and it’s a disservice to adoptees and their families, biological and adopted, to pretend otherwise in service of a neat political narrative.
Two dozen homes and businesses burned in the town of Denton as unseasonably warm temperatures descended from the Great Plains to the Mid-Atlantic.
By Jim Robbins, Dec. 2, 2021
Brock Linker, a volunteer firefighter and fourth-generation farmer in Denton, Mont., surveyed the fire damage to his family’s grain elevator. Credit...Lynn Donaldson for The New York Times
HELENA, Mont. — Record-high temperatures and powerful winds have sparked a series of unusual December prairie fires in Montana, one of a series of late-season fires across the country amid an unusually warm approach to the winter season.
The worst of the fires ripped through the small farming town of Denton, about 85 miles east of Great Falls, burning at least two dozen homes and businesses and sending several grain elevators up in flames.
Witnesses described rail cars melted, piles of grain and haystacks burning and firefighters staged on the football field at the local school.
“It’s definitely not a good sign that it is this dry in December and this warm,” said Brock Linker, a farmer and volunteer firefighter in Denton. “We’ve had zero moisture since May and no sign of any in the future.”
The fires came as an unusual heat wave broke records across large portions of the United States and Canada. Temperatures from the Great Plains to the Mid-Atlantic were 20 to 30 degrees above normal for early December, reaching into the 60s and 70s, the National Weather Service said.
In Colorado, firefighters only recently managed to contain a wildfire in the northern part of the state, near Estes Park, that had led to a wave of evacuations. And in North Carolina, firefighters were still battling a blaze at Pilot Mountain State Park that had burned more than 1,000 acres.
Fire season in Montana usually ends in September or October. Snow often falls in November, and can last on the ground until spring. But this year has seen almost no snow, and temperatures have climbed into the high 60s.
Cathy Whitlock, a paleoclimatologist at Montana State University, said the late-season fires and other extremes were a product of the global climate crisis. She said the current drought in Montana had exceeded all previous measurements and took the state into “uncharted territory” as the end of the year approaches.
“We’re looking at conditions we haven’t seen for a thousand years in Montana and probably longer in terms of the drought,” she said. “Temperatures are exceeding what we have seen for the last 11,000 years.”
The fire on the outskirts of Denton initially erupted around midnight on Tuesday night. “It was burning toward a house and we got it pretty well out,” Mr. Linker said. “Then around daylight Wednesday morning, the wind started blowing very, very hard and pushed the fire straight into town.”
Three of four grain elevators went up in flames, including one owned by Mr. Linker, and the blaze took down power poles and knocked out electricity. It was the third wildfire this year in the area of Denton, a town of about 200 people.
Mr. Linker said more than 50 fire crews responded from across central Montana. Fighting the blaze from the air was impossible, he said, with gusts at Great Falls reported at 65 miles per hour and higher.
The Fergus County Sheriff’s Office lifted its evacuation warning and allowed people to return to town at noon on Thursday. “We encourage the community not to let its guard down as we expect high winds again today,” a news release from the sheriff’s office said.
Another fire on the edge of Great Falls swept through a subdivision early Wednesday morning, burning 11 homes and numerous outbuildings. And two fires swept across the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, in Browning, where winds of up to 85 m.p.h. were reported. One was still burning late Thursday, with tribal offices and schools closed because of high fire danger.
No deaths or injuries have been reported.
An estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the country’s population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening food insecurity this winter. Many are already on the brink of catastrophe.
By Christina Goldbaum, Dec. 4, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/04/world/asia/afghanistan-starvation-crisis.html
Women and children awaited treatment at a World Food Program-supported health clinic in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in October. Credit...Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times
SHAH WALI KOT, Afghanistan — One by one, women poured into the mud brick clinic, the frames of famished children peeking out beneath the folds of their pale gray, blue and pink burqas.
Many had walked for more than an hour across this drab stretch of southern Afghanistan, where parched earth meets a washed-out sky, desperate for medicine to pump life back into their children’s shrunken veins. For months, their once-daily meals had grown more sparse as harvests failed, wells ran dry and credit for flour from shopkeepers ran out.
Now as the crisp air grew colder, reality was setting in: Their children might not survive the winter.
“I’m very afraid, this winter will be even worse than we can imagine,” said Laltak, 40, who like many women in rural Afghanistan goes by only one name.
Nearly four months since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan is on the brink of a mass starvation that aid groups say threatens to kill a million children this winter — a toll that would dwarf the total number of Afghan civilians estimated to have been killed as a direct result of the war over the past 20 years.
While Afghanistan has suffered from malnutrition for decades, the country’s hunger crisis has drastically worsened in recent months. This winter, an estimated 22.8 million people — more than half the population — are expected to face potentially life-threatening levels of food insecurity, according to an analysis by the United Nations World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization. Of those, 8.7 million people are nearing famine — the worst stage of a food crisis.
Such widespread hunger is the most devastating sign of the economic crash that has crippled Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power. Practically overnight, billions of dollars in foreign aid that propped up the previous Western-backed government vanished and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban isolated the country from the global financial system, paralyzing Afghan banks and impeding relief work by humanitarian organizations.
Across the country, millions of Afghans — from day laborers to doctors and teachers — have gone months without steady or any incomes. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared beyond the reach of many families. Emaciated children and anemic mothers have flooded into the malnutrition wards of hospitals, many of those facilities bereft of medical supplies that donor aid once provided.
Compounding its economic woes, the country is confronting one of the worst droughts in decades, which has withered fields, starved farm animals and dried irrigation channels. Afghanistan’s wheat harvest is expected to be as much as 25 percent below average this year, according to the United Nations. In rural areas — where roughly 70 percent of the population lives — many farmers have given up cultivating their land.
Now, as freezing winter weather sets in, with humanitarian organizations warning that a million children could die, the crisis is potentially damning to both the new Taliban government and to the United States, which is facing mounting pressure to ease the economic restrictions that are worsening the crisis.
“We need to separate the politics from the humanitarian imperative,” said Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program’s country director for Afghanistan. “The millions of women, of children, of men in the current crisis in Afghanistan are innocent people who are being condemned to a winter of absolute desperation and potentially death.”
In Shah Wali Kot, a barren district in Kandahar Province, the drought and economic crash have converged in a perfect storm.
For decades, small farmers survived the winters on stored wheat from their summer harvest and the income from selling onions in the market. But this year yielded barely enough to sustain families during the fall months. Without food to last the winter, some people migrated to cities hoping to find work or to other districts to lean on the help of relatives.
Inside one of the two mud huts of the clinic, which is run by the Afghan Red Crescent and supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Laltak clutched her granddaughter’s gaunt frame as if steeling herself for the hardships she knew this winter would bring.
Her family has no wheat left, no wood to make fires for heat, no money to buy food. They have exhausted the support of nearby relatives who cannot even feed their own families.
“Nothing, we have nothing,” Laltak said in an interview at the end of October.
She and most of the mothers interviewed did not own cellphones or have phone service in their villages, so The Times could not follow up with them on the health of their children.
The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan comes as hunger has steadily risen around the world in recent years, driven by the coronavirus pandemic, conflict and climate-related shocks.
Thirty percent more Afghans faced crisis-level food shortages in September and October compared with the same period last year, according to the United Nations. In the coming months, the number of Afghans in crisis is expected to hit a record high.
“It was never this bad,” said Sifatullah Sifat, the head doctor at the Shamsul Haq clinic on the outskirts of Kandahar city, where malnutrition cases have doubled in recent months. “Donors are shipping in medicine, but it’s still not enough.”
By 10 a.m. each morning, a throng of mothers carrying skeletal children masses in the hallway of the malnutrition unit.
Inside an examination room in October, Zarmina, 20, cradled her 18-month-old son while her 3-year-old daughter stood behind her, clutching her blue burqa. Since the Taliban seized power and her husband’s work as a day laborer dried up, her family has survived on mostly bread and tea — meals that left her children’s stomachs gnawing with hunger.
“They are crying to have food. I wish I could bring them something, but we have nothing,” said Zarmina, who is six months pregnant and severely anemic.
Zarmina’s son had grown frail after weeks of diarrhea. He stared blankly at the wall as a nurse wrapped a color-coded measuring band used to diagnose malnutrition around his rail-thin arm, stopping at the color red: Severe malnourishment.
As the nurse told Zarmina that he needed to go to the hospital for treatment, another mother barged into the room and collapsed on the floor, demanding help for her infant daughter.
“It’s been almost one week, I can’t get medicine for her,” she pleaded.
The nurse begged her to wait: Her daughter’s malnutrition was considered only moderate.
Since the Taliban seized power, the United States and other Western donors have grappled with delicate questions over how to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan without granting the new regime legitimacy by removing sanctions or putting money directly into the Taliban’s hands.
“We believe that it’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” the deputy U.S. Treasury secretary, Wally Adeyemo, told the Senate Banking Committee in October.
But as the humanitarian situation has worsened, aid organizations have called on the United States to move more quickly.
American officials showed some flexibility around loosening the economic chokehold on Afghanistan last week, when the World Bank’s board — which includes the United States — moved to free up $280 million in frozen donor funding for the World Food Program and UNICEF. Still, the sum is just a portion of the $1.5 billion frozen by the World Bank amid pressure from the United States Treasury after the Taliban took control.
How those released funds will be transferred into Afghanistan remains unclear. Despite letters that the U.S. Treasury Department recently issued to foreign banks assuring them they can process humanitarian transactions to Afghanistan, many financial institutions remain fearful of exposure to U.S. sanctions.
The Taliban government has repeatedly called on the Biden administration to ease economic restrictions and has worked with international organizations to deliver some assistance. But already, millions of Afghans have been pushed over the edge.
At Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar this fall, children suffering from malnutrition and disease crowded onto the pediatric ward’s worn metal beds. In the intensive care unit, an eerie silence filled the large room as children too weak to cry visibly wasted away, their breath labored and skin sagging off protruding bones.
“I wanted to bring her to the hospital earlier,” said Rooqia, 40, looking down at her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Amina. “But I had no money, I couldn’t come.”
Like many other mothers and grandmothers in the ward, they had come from western Kandahar where over the past two years irrigation channels have run dry and more recently, pantries emptied. Amina started to shrivel — her skin so drained of life-sustaining vitamins that patches peeled away.
On a bed nearby, Madina, 2, let out a soft wail as her grandmother, Harzato, 50, readjusted her sweater. Harzato had taken the girl to the local pharmacist three times begging for medicine until he told her there was nothing more he could do: Only a doctor could save the child.
“We were so far from the hospital, I was worried and depressed,” Harzato said. “I thought she might not make it.”
Witnesses said soldiers also fired into the crowd and kicked wounded demonstrators, the latest in a series of confrontations in which the military’s behavior has infuriated citizens.
By Sui-Lee Wee, Dec. 5, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/05/world/asia/myanmar-car-protesters-killed.html
A military vehicle drove through a group of protesters in Myanmar on Sunday, resulting in fatalities and leaving at least eight people injured, according to the local news media, witnesses and video footage from the scene.
The incident occurred on Sunday morning in Yangon, Myanmar’s most populous city. Soldiers fired into the group, according to two eyewitnesses. A video of the incident included the sound of gunfire, but it was not clear who or what was being fired upon.
There were conflicting reports on fatalities. The Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now, two news outlets that cover Myanmar, reported that five protesters had died. One witness said the soldiers had also kicked the wounded protesters and arrested several others.
The excessive force used by the military as it has tried to quell protests against a Feb. 1 coup has infuriated people throughout the country and could very well spur more demonstrations. Despite the harsh punishments meted out by the junta, hundreds of people have organized flash-mob protests — including the one on Sunday — in cities and villages across the country to show opposition to military rule.
On Sunday, the demonstrators had gathered between 8 and 9 a.m. in the western part of Yangon. They marched through the streets, holding a banner with a portrait of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted civilian leader, who was detained in the coup. Another banner carried a quote of hers: “The only real prison is fear, and the real freedom is freedom from fear.”
The protest came a day before a court is expected to deliver the first of several verdicts against Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is facing 11 charges and a maximum imprisonment of 102 years.
On Sunday, the protesters held up their hands in a three-finger salute that originated in the “Hunger Games” series and is used universally in Myanmar as a symbol of resistance against the military. According to video footage, they yelled, “Return back the people’s power,” and, “Free all political prisoners.” An eyewitness said there were roughly 30 people in the flash mob.
Videos posted on social media showed the military truck accelerating through the group as several protesters ran in the opposite direction. Photographs showed a body lying in the middle of the road and scattered roses on the ground, with several injured people sitting on the side.
In a statement on Facebook, the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar said it was “horrified” by the reports and called on the junta “to end the use of violence, release those unjustly detained, and respect the will of the people.”
“The military’s widespread use of brutal violence underscores the urgency of restoring Burma’s path to inclusive democracy,” the embassy said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
One of the injured protesters, who asked not to be named, fearing official retribution, said the protesters had been caught unaware because the military vehicle suddenly overtook a bus, which was right behind the protesters.
When the vehicle plowed into the group, the injured protester said, he fell on the hood of the vehicle and a soldier struck his head with the butt of his gun. He said he kicked the soldier, who fired in his direction but missed.
In the aftermath, soldiers flooded the streets of Yangon. One photograph showed a soldier standing over a protester, who knelt in front of a sign that said, “The Yangon People’s Revolution cannot be defeated.”
On Sunday afternoon, dozens of people gathered in Yangon, carrying umbrellas in the rain and singing a lullaby in tribute to the protesters who had died. All of them held up three fingers.
Prosecutors say the parents of the 15-year-old accused of killing four classmates failed to act on troubling signs. The parents pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges.
By Jack Healy, Published Dec. 3, 2021, Updated Dec. 4, 2021
Four Oxford High School students were killed: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Justin Shilling, 17; Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16. Credit...Nick Hagen for The New York Times
The gun was an early Christmas gift from his parents: a semiautomatic 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun. “My new beauty,” Ethan Crumbley, 15, called it.
The day after Thanksgiving, he and his father had gone together to a Michigan gun shop to buy it. He and his mother spent a day testing out the gun, which was stored unlocked in the parents’ bedroom. On Monday, when a teacher reported seeing their son searching online for ammunition, his mother did not seem alarmed.
“LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.”
A day later, the authorities say the teenager fatally shot four classmates in the halls of Oxford High School in suburban Detroit, using the handgun his parents had bought for him.
On Friday, Karen D. McDonald, the Oakland County prosecutor, laid out those and other chilling details as she took the rare step of filing involuntary manslaughter charges against the suspect’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley.
Ms. McDonald said the Crumbleys were culpable in the year’s deadliest school shooting because they had allowed their son access to a handgun while ignoring glaring warnings that he was on the brink of violence.
Law enforcement officials said that the parents had gone missing on Friday afternoon, leading to a manhunt that involved the county’s fugitive-apprehension team, F.B.I. agents and United States Marshals. Early Saturday morning, after receiving a tip, the police arrested the parents after finding them in a commercial building in Detroit, officials said. Later that morning, the couple were arraigned, listening to the charges by videoconference. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Lawyers for the parents said the Crumbleys had not fled, but had left town for their own safety and were planning to return for the arraignment, attributing the confusion to a miscommunication with the prosecutor’s office.
Scrutiny Over Missed Signs
Ever since the 1999 attack at Columbine High School, the parents of children who commit school shootings have come under scrutiny over missed warning signs and whether they should bear some blame. But they are rarely held criminally responsible in the raw aftermath of a school shooting, even though many underage attackers arm themselves with guns from home.
But in an extraordinary news conference, Ms. McDonald recounted a nearly minute-by-minute litany of missed opportunities to intervene — including how the suspect’s parents had been alerted to a disturbing drawing he made containing violent images and a plea for help just hours before the shooting.
“I am in no way saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a criminal prosecution against parents, but the facts of this case are so egregious,” Ms. McDonald said.
“I’m angry as a mother, I’m angry as a prosecutor, I’m angry as a person that lives in this county, I’m angry,” she added. “There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent.”
On the morning of Tuesday’s shooting, the suspect’s parents were urgently called to Oxford High School after one of his teachers found an alarming note he had drawn, scrawled with images of a gun, a person who had been shot, a laughing emoji and the words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
School officials told the parents during the in-person meeting that they were required to seek counseling for their son, Ethan, Ms. McDonald said. The teenager’s parents did not want their son to be removed from school that day, and did not ask him whether he had the gun with him or search the backpack he brought with him to the office, Ms. McDonald said.
“The notion that a parent could read those words and also know their son had access to a deadly weapon, that they gave him, is unconscionable, and I think it’s criminal,” she said.
He was allowed back to class.
A few hours later, authorities say, Ethan Crumbley moved from ominous words and drawings into actual bloodshed. At 12:50 p.m., the authorities said, he walked into a bathroom carrying his backpack, emerged with the handgun and began to fire.
At 1:22 p.m., as news of the shooting tore through Oxford, prosecutors said, Jennifer Crumbley texted her son: “Ethan don’t do it.”
But it was too late.
At 1:37 p.m., James Crumbley called 911 to say that a weapon was missing from his house, and that his son could be the gunman at Oxford High, prosecutors said.
Law enforcement officials say the gunman fired more than 30 rounds before he was apprehended. He has been charged with terrorism and first-degree murder in the deaths of Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Justin Shilling, 17; and Hana St. Juliana, 14. Seven other people were wounded.
Defense Lawyers Dispute Version
On Saturday at the arraignment, the defense lawyers the prosecutor’s version of events, emphasizing that the assertion that the gun was easily accessible in the Crumbley home was not accurate.
“The court is only aware of the facts the prosecution has presented, but that gun was actually locked,” Shannon Smith, one of the defense lawyers, said. She also said that “there is far more going on than what this court has been made aware of.”
A lawyer for Ethan Crumbley pleaded not guilty on his behalf this week. Parents across the country have been charged with child abuse, violating gun laws and even negligent manslaughter after their young children accidentally shoot themselves or other children. But gun control experts said Ms. McDonald’s move to charge the parents of a mass shooting suspect was almost unheard-of.
“I can’t think of a high-profile mass shooting where the parents were prosecuted,” said Allison Anderman, director of local policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In western Kentucky, there were calls three years ago to prosecute the stepfather of a 15-year-old school shooter after the authorities learned the teenage gunman had obtained his stepfather’s handgun from an unlocked bedroom closet.
But the local prosecutor, Dennis Foust, decided he could not make a case against the stepfather. Kentucky law makes it a crime to “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly” provide a handgun to a minor — a high standard to prove. Mr. Foust said the stepfather did not know the gun was gone until questioned by investigators after the shooting.
“I’m a firm believer in gun responsibility, but we just didn’t see there was enough there,” he said.
Mr. Foust said that local law enforcement also opposed charging the stepfather with a crime and wanted to keep the focus of the prosecution squarely on the gunman, who is serving a life sentence after killing two classmates.
“There needs to be accountability,” Mr. Foust said. “But under our situation, we weren’t able to do that. I don’t know that society, at least here, would effect sufficient change to be able to prosecute a parent.”
Varying State Laws
Gun control advocates say that lax gun storage leads to suicides, accidental deaths and intentional school shootings. But legal experts say a patchwork of state laws — some stringent and some lax — regulating gun storage and children’s access to weapons can pose a hurdle to prosecutions.
Kris Brown, president of the gun control group Brady United, said that Michigan, unlike nearly 30 other states, did not have what was known as a child-access prevention law requiring adults to keep any guns in their home out of the reach of children.
“The idea is that if you have a kid in the home, even if it is not your own kid, any firearm needs to be stored safely — which means unloaded, locked and separated from any ammunition,” Ms. Brown said.
States like California and New York set tougher safety standards for gun owners while more gun-friendly states in the Southeast impose penalties only if a child actually obtains or fires a gun.
“Michigan doesn’t have a strong law or a weak law,” Ms. Brown said. “It has no law on this.”
Ms. McDonald’s decision to charge the accused gunman’s parents was widely praised by gun control groups, who have long argued for tougher gun storage laws and stricter penalties to keep guns away from children.
Many states, including Michigan, do not have laws requiring guns to be locked away, and experts say prosecuting a gunman’s family members in the raw aftermath of a mass shooting can raise divisive questions pitting Second Amendment rights against gun safety.
Prosecutors may next turn their attention to the culpability of the school.
Michael Kelly, a Northville, Mich., lawyer who frequently represents expelled students, said that the warning signs should have led the school to take more decisive action, but that because the accused shooter had no prior disciplinary record, the school’s failure to act more decisively might fall into a legal gray area.
Mr. Kelly predicted that the Oxford school district could face lawsuits similar to those filed against other schools after mass shootings. After the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., families of the victims filed dozens of lawsuits against those they argued could have prevented the attack.
The revelations on Friday quickly compounded the anger of students and parents in the suburban Detroit village of Oxford who have accused school officials of failing to prevent the shooting rampage.
“Everybody should be angry,” said Renee Guzanek, whose daughter sheltered in an office during the shooting. “It certainly sounds from what the prosecutor says that there was an opportunity for this to be disrupted and it wasn’t.”
Reporting was contributed by Serge F. Kovaleski, Sophie Kasakove, Dana Goldstein and Stephanie Saul.
By Joél Leon Daniels, Dec. 5, 2021
Mr. Daniels is a writer and a creative director of T Brand Studios.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/05/opinion/culture/virgil-abloh-black-mortality.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Opinion
When Virgil Abloh died last week at the age of 41, I thought of my father. Many in the Black community did. We thought of all the other Black men we’ve loved and lost too early: our friends, our fathers, our brothers. And we thought about ourselves.
To know Blackness is to know death, as close to us as breath is to being. For two years, Mr. Abloh, a fashion designer and icon, hid his diagnosis of cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer, from the public. It’s a story reminiscent of Chadwick Boseman’s, who died from colon cancer in 2020 following his diagnosis in 2016. Their privacy about their struggles is a shattering kind of silence.
What was it like to be Mr. Abloh in those two years that he knew he was ill? Was he watching the clock, the minute hands meeting glorious, terrifying hours, like my father did, like I do?
It is a silence familiar to those who share air, space and lifetimes with Black men who have gone too soon — the actor Michael K. Williams, the rappers Nipsey Hussle and Young Dolph, and George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Eric Garner among them. It is a silence most familiar if you are born a Black man in America.
No one knows when they are going to die. There is no crystal ball, no psychic hotline, no palm reading that can predict the moment of our death, nor tell us what awaits on the other side. But as Black men in the United States, we do know we are likely to die sooner than most. And when we are confronted with constant peril and trauma, in every hospital visit, every encounter with law enforcement, every too-long stare, every grainy bystander video capturing our last breaths, we are not only prone to be scared of death, but are prone to be scared to death.
Black men are not alone in this — the health care outcomes for Black women show similar inequity. Black women are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white women to have high blood pressure, and three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than are white women.
I lost my father last year, but I had been expecting my father’s death for years. Trauma and suffering are relative, but my father suffered more than most. Drafted into the Army in 1968, he left Vietnam in 1970 with a Bronze Medal. Afterward, he would often tell my mother that he wasn’t sure if he had murdered any children while on active duty. Loving and brave, boisterous and dangerous, my father was a bomb waiting to explode.
Later, my father suffered from dementia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These were consequences not only of Vietnam, but of Pensacola, Fla., still segregated when my father grew up there in the 1950s and ’60s. At the age of 72, my father died of natural causes. But I think my father died because he was tired of living. Because he was tired of a country that neglected him from the moment he was born. Charles Lorenzo Daniels Jr. died because as a Black man in America, he was taught to prepare for his death long before it happened.
In the wake of my father’s and Mr. Boseman’s deaths, I thought about my own. So this past summer, at the age of 38, I finally went to see a doctor. It was the first time I’d been to see a primary care physician in over two decades. Cancer and heart disease are among the leading causes of death for Black men, and African Americans are more likely to get, and more likely than other groups to die from, colorectal cancer, which killed Mr. Boseman. Preventive care is the best defense from this and many other illnesses and ailments. My visit to the doctor was a belated but necessary act of self-preservation.
Like too many Black men, I’ve struggled with suicidal ideations, with an undying fear of not being enough or being too much, and with the gap between Black life and the death I feel constantly looming. This is all a heavy burden to carry, and racism and internalized masculinity norms can reduce Black men’s willingness to seek help. Depressed African American men are less likely to seek mental health treatment, compared with depressed white men. Our masculinity, and the fragility surrounding the ego it upholds, can keep us from asking for and receiving the help we need.
We must break our silence and begin the process of opening ourselves up to one another and the ones we love. If we continue to hide our pain, our grief, our heartache in the shadows, we will continue to mourn prematurely our brothers, our fathers, our friends.
As I watched a video of the rapper DMX comforting his daughter on an amusement ride, which went viral after his death, I wondered: Did he feel death biting at his neck that sunny day?
I wonder whether every Black man who dies in the public eye will make me think of my father. Probably. My hope is that those thoughts will not linger in silence, but will instead be as loud, as bright and as burning as all the names of all the Black men gone too soon — including my father, Charles Lorenzo Daniels Jr.