United in Action to STOP KILLER DRONES:
SHUT DOWN CREECH! Spring Action, 2022
March 26 - April 2—Saturday to Saturday
Co-sponsored by CODEPINK and Veterans For Peace
To: U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
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:
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
The concept is to permit two military judges to hold proceedings simultaneously starting in mid-2023.
By Carol Rosenberg, Dec. 29, 2021https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/29/us/politics/pentagon-guantanamo-secret-courtroom.html
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is building a second courtroom for war crimes trials at Guantánamo Bay that will exclude the public from the chamber, the latest move toward secrecy in the nearly 20-year-old detention operation.
The new courtroom will permit two military judges to hold proceedings simultaneously starting in 2023.
On those occasions, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the four other men who are accused of plotting the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, would have hearings in the existing chamber, which has a gallery for the public.
Smaller cases would be held in the new $4 million chamber. Members of the public seeking to watch those proceedings at Guantánamo would be shown a delayed video broadcast in a separate building.
It is the latest retreat from transparency in the already secretive national security cases at the base, where the military and intelligence agencies have been restricting what the public can see. That includes forbidding photography of sites that were once routinely shown to visitors and declaring both populated and emptied wartime prison facilities off limits to reporters.
In Guantánamo’s current war court chamber, which opened in 2008, members of the public watching the proceedings live hear the audio on a 40-second delay, time enough for the judge or a security officer to mute the sound if they suspect something classified has been said.
That allowed spectators in the gallery in January 2013 to see the puzzled look of an Army judge after the C.I.A. remotely cut off video feeds of the proceedings. Another time, only observers in the room saw guards bring an uncooperative defendant into court strapped to a restraint chair, with a soldier following behind carrying his prosthetic leg.
In 2018, guards set up a hospital bed inside the courtroom for a disabled defendant that could not be seen on video feeds.
But the new courtroom, in what is described as a cost-saving measure, has no such gallery. Only people with a secret clearance, such as members of the intelligence community and specially cleared guards and lawyers, will be allowed inside the new chamber.
As a workaround, the court staff is designing a “virtual gallery with multiple camera angles simultaneously displayed,” said Ron Flesvig, a spokesman for the Office of Military Commissions. The public would be escorted there to watch the proceedings, streamed on a 40-second delay.
During recesses in the current courtroom, lawyers and other court participants often engage with reporters and relatives of victims of terror attacks, routine contact that would be lost with the “virtual gallery.” So would the ability for a sketch artist to observe the proceedings live.
The construction plan illustrates continuing improvisation at Camp Justice, the court compound at Guantánamo, where the military has been using modular structures and tents since 2007 to avoid building more permanent structures, which require congressional approval.
The second court was designed before President Biden took office with an administration-wide goal of ending detention operations at the base at Guantánamo Bay. It is being built in the United States for assembly at Guantánamo and is expected to be up and running in the middle of 2023, Mr. Flesvig said.
Meantime, workers can be seen at the court compound preparing a space adjacent to the existing courtroom for the new one. But Defense Department officials have yet to decide where to put the virtual gallery, or calculate its cost, he said.
The new court has room for just three defendants, too small for the Sept. 11 case, unless the judge severs some of the five defendants from the joint capital punishment trial.
The plan does, however, allow for a scenario of two death-penalty cases being tried at the same time. In the Sept. 11 case, reporters and victims would watch live. But family members and shipmates of the 17 sailors killed in the Qaeda suicide attack of the destroyer Cole off Yemen in 2000, who routinely attend sessions, would be kept away from the court with other observers, watching video feeds.
It appears to be tailor made for the conspiracy murder trial of three men who were recently charged in two terrorist bombings in Indonesia in 2002 and 2003 that killed more than 200 people. Lawyer James R. Hodes, who represents the lead defendant, Encep Nurjaman, who is known as Hambali, said that even at the current court, access has been far from open.
Public viewing at Mr. Hambali’s arraignment in August was strictly controlled by the military, which decides which reporters, law students or human rights advocates can board a Pentagon charter plane to travel to the base. The military also controls access to two remote video sites inside the Pentagon or at Fort Meade in Maryland.
“I’ve observed trials in Mongolia that were more transparent than this,” Mr. Hodes said.
To be sure, some secrets have been declassified, particularly in the death-penalty cases, which have been mired in pretrial hearings for about a decade.
A medical expert recently testified in open court about the post-traumatic stress of a prisoner who was waterboarded by the C.I.A. in 2002. Previously, the doctor’s descriptions of the trauma would have been consigned to a classified session that excluded both the public and the prisoner.
Separately, the intelligence services permitted open court discussion of something that defense lawyers had known for years: Under a secret agreement, the C.I.A. requisitioned nine F.B.I. agents and temporarily made them agency operatives to interrogate prisoners in a network of black sites where the C.I.A. used torture in its interrogations. The agreement is still classified, but the intelligence agencies last month permitted its existence to be known.
But the new courtroom reflects a trend toward what appears at times to be a peculiar pick-and-choose transparency.
For example, for 17 years the military routinely took visiting journalists to the detention facilities where most captives are kept, but required them to delete photographs that showed cameras, gates and other security procedures. Then, the military undertook a consolidation that moved Mr. Mohammed and other detainees who were held by the C.I.A. from a secret site to the maximum-security portion of those once showcase facilities — and declared the entire detention zone off limits to journalists.
Their empty, formerly C.I.A.-controlled prison is off limits to reporters too. Defense lawyers who are seeking a preservation order on the site describe it as a rapidly deteriorating facility that was clearly unfit for the prisoners and their guards. One military lawyer who visited there recently described carcasses of dead tarantulas in the empty cellblocks.
In 2019, a Marine judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers discussing a new triple-wide, wheelchair accessible holding cell at the court used the expression “jumbo cell” — derived from a Miami Herald article — 30 times in a single court hearing.
Security officers subsequently sent word that the nickname for the cell, essentially a description of a security measure, could no longer be spoken in open court. The prohibition continues, although the military showed reporters the new jumbo cell before a hearing on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
“This is an ad hoc classification system,” said James P. Anderson, the security specialist assigned to the defense team of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who has spent nights in the cell at the court complex. “Things that used to be unclassified become classified just because the person reviewing it is uncomfortable with its use. It defies all reasonable logic.”
On the evening of Oct. 28, an anonymous government official sent word to the judge that a paragraph should be censored from a statement a prisoner was about to read to a military jury about his torture by the C.I.A.
The judge considered the request and refused, noting that the statement was not classified.
In it, the prisoner Majid Khan quoted Jose Rodriguez, the former C.I.A. counterterrorism director, as saying in a newspaper article that “mistakes were made” in the operation of a particularly grisly C.I.A. prison known as the Salt Pit. Mr. Khan was tortured there in 2003.
In November, U.S. Marines escorted reporters and others to the fabled Northeast Gate, a passageway to Cuban-controlled territory.
For this visit, the sightseers were told they could take selfies at the often photographed gate but were forbidden to post or publish them.
To reach the gate, motorists drive past the remains of Camp X-ray, Guantánamo’s first wartime detention site, now a weed and rodent infested labyrinth of cells made of chain link fencing. Military officials for a time forbade reporters from filming there, invoking unspecified security reasons. A senior official intervened. Now, reporters who find themselves at the base on Jan. 11 can take pictures there — 20 years to the day of the arrival of Camp X-ray’s first prisoners.
By Austin C. McCoy, January 1, 2022https://truthout.org/articles/2022-could-be-the-year-of-labor-and-racial-justice-coalition-building/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=9a2cce7a-c6de-43a1-a4a0-30f264e9fe9c
Los Angeles International Airport food workers demonstrate as they strike against airport concessions company HMSHost in Los Angeles, California, on December 22, 2021.
In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. published Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, in which he assessed the state of the civil rights movement after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. In it, he argued that the movement had reached a crossroads. After winning civil rights legislation, Dr. King argued, “The paths of Negro-white unity that had been converging crossed at Selma, and like a giant X began to diverge.”
Where did Dr. King go amid this impasse? He went to Memphis to support sanitation workers. He also followed welfare mothers as he sought to build a coalition — the Poor People’s Campaign — of poor folks. He continued articulating a politics synthesizing anti-imperialism as well as labor and civil rights.
We could be heading toward a similar synthesis. While 2020 was a resurgent year for the movement for Black lives — as hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest state violence, advance abolitionist demands to defund the police, and to confront structural and symbolic vestiges of racism and colonialism at the center of our modern world — 2021 was a resurgent year for organized labor and workers.
As labor intellectual Kim Moody reports: “There were 124 strikes by these [private-sector] workers across industries in 2021.” Despite its defeat, the “BAmazonUnion” drive in Bessemer, Alabama, captured the nation’s attention earlier this year. Workers at John Deere, represented by the United Auto Workers, struck for the first time in three decades. Graduate students at Columbia went on strike for a second time this year last month and are seeking improvements in pay and working conditions. Even Starbucks workers at a Buffalo café successfully won recognition as the company’s first union in the U.S. Organizers there built on a two-year effort to recruit employees to Starbucks Workers United (SWU) by building support and encouraging them to join their organizing committee before announcing its unionization drive in August.
Like the 2020 uprisings for Black liberation, the context of the COVID-19 pandemic makes this strike activity remarkable. Workers and unions are taking action as the labor market tightens due to increased hiring and what has been deemed “The Great Resignation.” As more workers have recognized that their jobs do not love them back, as labor journalist Sarah Jaffe puts it, more are recognizing their individual power to quit, stay out of the job market or switch careers. According to Moody, 73,320 workers have participated in labor strikes in 2021, which for instance, does not even approach the 4.4 million Americans who quit their jobs this past September. This moment is clearly an opportunity to build more solidarity through labor organizing, education and militancy.
The 2021 labor actions, as well as the 2020 anti-racist and anti-colonial uprisings, have also taken place in the context of a growing right-wing authoritarian counterrevolution. The 2020 uprisings seemed to knock the reactionary right on its heels, but then it regained its footing when then-president Donald Trump deployed federal law enforcement to cities where anti-racist protests were taking place, and members of his administration targeted anarchists and anti-fascists in cities like Portland, Oregon, while denying the existence of structural racism.
Counterrevolutions, as Herbert Marcuse argued in Counterrevolution and Revolt, are “altogether preventative.” This seems to be the case in 2021 as reactionaries have launched a broad attack against racial justice by rallying support for law enforcement institutions and individuals like right-wing teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who are willing to kill in the name of protecting private property. State legislators across the country are also passing what historian Timothy Snyder has called “memory laws” restricting the teaching of anti-racism, not limited to critical race theory and The 1619 Project. White power groups also continue to organize openly. Meanwhile, pro-police Democrats remain instrumental in this counterrevolution as New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams ran on attacking demands to defund the police and promising to strengthen the city’s police forces. Democrats in “blue cities,” such as Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and Oakland, California, have increased police budgets since the 2020 uprising.
Recently, mainstream media outlets buttressed support for law enforcement with sensationalist coverage of organized robberies at a time when property crimes remain at historic lows. This coverage helps strengthen calls for “law and order,” which threaten to reverse momentum gained by the movement for Black lives in the wake of the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
While capitalists continue to resort to tried-and-true tactics to thwart labor organizing outside of public view, the counterrevolution has not launched such a broadside against labor yet. However, congressional Republicans continue to block paths toward labor action and unionization with their opposition to the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which would invalidate right-to-work laws, shield workers from employer interference in unionization efforts, and institute “card check,” which allows for union certification after a simple majority signs union cards.
While the movements for racial justice and workers’ rights often heavily overlap — most Black and Brown people tend to both express an anti-racist politics and support unionization — there is an opportunity for more coalition building between anti-racist activists and this burgeoning labor movement in 2022.
We saw creative instances of this solidarity in 2020. In June, workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down 29 ports along the West Coast in solidarity with those protesting the police-perpetrated murders of Black people and in commemoration of Juneteenth. Then, later that summer, workers from the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) Local 3550 of the American Federation of Teachers engaged in an “abolitionist” strike in response to the University of Michigan administration’s attempts to reopen campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the ILWU, GEO sought to mobilize in solidarity with the movement for Black lives, for Black students and students of color on campus. According to graduate student unionists Alejo Stark, Jasmine Ehrhardt and Amir Fleischmann, GEO issued a series of demands for a “safe and just” campus that included “disarming, demilitarizing, and defunding campus police as well as severing ties from both Ann Arbor police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” The ILWU and GEO joined other unions, such as the Chicago Teachers Union and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America who also expressed the view that confronting structural racism and state violence is key to their organizing.
It is possible that this coalition could grow beyond the labor movement in 2022. It might build upon the work of organizations devoted to abolishing debt, such as the Debt Collective, and the myriad of reproductive justice organizations that center racial justice in their analysis and organizing. Joining these coalitions in 2022 seems especially imperative as the Biden administration seems hell bent on restarting loan payments instead of fulfilling its campaign promise to cancel additional debt for all borrowers and the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, putting women and any person who might need abortion services at physical risk.
This forging of coalitions between movements in the new year must be grounded in a robust analysis of the material conditions that have given rise to these forces. For example, the policing of workplaces and spaces with concentrated poverty — as well as the steady decline of workers’ power — is connected to massive layoffs and the emergence of more precarious work in the wake of transformations of mass production. The transformation of production and work, working parents’ inability to save for their children’s higher education due to wage stagnation and rising education costs, and the federal government’s de-emphasizing of Pell Grants in favor of extending loans, have created more incentive for prospective students to borrow. Moreover, as many reproductive justice activists and organizations have contended, abortion bans will hurt those most economically vulnerable, especially Black and Brown people, as many will not have the money, nor resources, such as time away from work and reliable transportation, to seek abortion services.
The climate is ripe for building coalitions based on these intersecting issues, as we might be in the middle of a massive social transition. As sociologist Paolo Gerbaudo claims, the pandemic may be hastening the fall of the neoliberal order. We seem to be at a three-way intersection: Many of those in the center are trying to halt any reform efforts that could help most Americans in the name of fighting inflation; right-wing authoritarians are seeking to restore a racial and class dictatorship; and those on the left are growing more urgent in calls for a progressive — even radical — vision of democracy. We also remain at the intersection of various emergencies.
The U.S. has surpassed 800,000 deaths in the pandemic. The capitalism-driven climate crisis killed workers in an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon warehouse and a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, in what is probably the worst series of tornadoes in this country’s history.
Just as Dr. King and others refused to allow a political impasse to obstruct efforts to build solidarity and power, we must continue developing grassroots power to address the violence of the capitalist state and to supplant a murderous political and economic system. We must also respond to the growing counterrevolutionary threat on the right and the moderating impulses in the center by building solidarity and coalitions among nascent progressive movements and upsurges. Not only do threats of state violence — which include capitalist divestment, debt, the protection of capitalists’ private property rights, infringements on reproductive rights, and the climate crisis — bind us together, so do our desires to overturn these forces.
We can join together to establish more radical forms of democracy, restore the commons, and develop more humane ways to protect each other and build a more just, equitable, flourishing world.
By Bonnie Weinstein
—Socialist Viewpoint, January 3, 2022http://www.socialistviewpoint.org
The U.S. capitalist class has taken on the role of global police force to enable U.S. industry to exploit natural resources wherever they can be found. U.S. industry has no borders. They can profit where they wish—by force of violence when necessary. Borders are for the poor and the working class in the service of capitalism.
All the U.S. military interventions around the world are too numerous to mention but these three recent revelations stand out as stark examples of how capitalism’s wars not only wreak havoc militarily, but are reinforced through sanctions that punish poor and working-class people. Their goal—to get rid of any barriers to U.S. business interests and their profits. And to make the point that they will stop at nothing to continue their rule over the wealth of the world.
The war may be over, but the killing continues
Although the War in Afghanistan is supposedly over, the U.S. has not stopped the murder and mayhem against the Afghan people—now through U.S.-enforced sanctions.
According to a December 4, 2021, New York Times article by Christina Goldbaum titled, “Facing Economic Collapse, Afghanistan Is Gripped by Starvation:”
“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. â€¦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. â€¦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. â€¦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.”
In other words, after bombing the country into oblivion, they are starving millions of Afghans through U.S. sanctions. This is on top of the COVID-19 pandemic drastically impacting the Afghan people. The U.S. wants to make sure the Afghan people understand that they will pay the price of resistance to their rule.
U.S. continued brutality
The widespread killing of civilians by the U.S. is nothing new. The U.S. drone war in Syria resulted in untold civilian deaths.
In a November 13, 2021, New York Times article by Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt, titled, “How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria:”
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors. â€¦It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there. ‘Who dropped that?’ a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, ‘We just dropped on 50 women and children.’ An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.”
In a December 12, 2021, New York Times article by Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzet, titled, “Civilian Deaths Mounted as Secret Unit Pounded ISIS:”
“A single top secret American strike cell launched tens-of-thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria the shadowy force sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians, according to multiple current and former military and intelligence officials. The unit was called Talon Anvil, and it worked in three shifts around the clock between 2014 and 2019, pinpointing targets for the United States’ formidable air power circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the C.I.A. by killing people who had no role in the conflict: farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings. Talon Anvil was small—at times fewer than 20 people operating from anonymous rooms cluttered with flat screens—but it played an outsize role in the 112,000 bombs and missiles launched against the Islamic State.”
Capitalism is moving the world closer to barbarism every day. Not only are capitalist production methods that put profits above all else—especially production for the U.S. war industry—but they have created global warming, polluted our oceans and fresh water, caused wildfires, heatwaves, violent storms, and flooding across the globe, making parts of the world uninhabitable.
Masses of people in revolt
Amidst this capitalist plunder and violence, are uprisings of masses of working people in every part of the world who are demanding justice—freedom from war, starvation, homelessness, bigotry, exploitation.
There have been massive demonstrations in defense of our climate, for democratic rights, against racism, sexism, demanding free healthcare—including reproductive rights—childcare and education for all.
These protests have happened spontaneously such as the Woman’s March for abortion rights this year in response to the draconian Texas anti-abortion law, and the Black Lives Matter protests over the deaths of George Floyd and so many others who have been murdered by police—all involving tens-of-thousands of people on the streets in acts of solidarity.
More than protests are needed
While these protests are inspiring, they are like a match in a windstorm. They flair up and die until the next spark lights another match. The failure is not in the sentiment of those out in the streets, but in the solutions offered to achieve their desired goals.
Supporting capitalist politicians leads us down a spiral of defeat
We workers here in the U.S. have been in a downward spiral politically. Our unions—the very few we have left—spend more effort in getting us to support the Democratic Party than fighting for better wages and working conditions.
We are told our only alternative to gain the demands we are overwhelmingly in favor of, like free healthcare and education, is to support candidates that claim they are on our side.
The union bureaucrats spend all their time schmoozing Democratic Party candidates, contributing huge sums of our union dues to support so-called “pro-labor” candidates, yet even with a majority in congress, the Democrats that labor supports can’t seem to get even the most modest pro-labor bills passed.
Shining lights of inspiration and the way forward
There have been two successful workers’ struggles here in the U.S. recently: John Deere workers who won significant wage and benefit increases and Starbucks workers who won union representation in one Buffalo store by going on strike.
As reported in a November 17, 2021, New York Times article by Noam Scheiber, titled, “Striking Deere workers approve a new contract on the third try:”
“About 10,000 workers at the agriculture equipment maker Deere & Company will go back to work after the approval of a contract on Wednesday, bringing to an end a five-week strike that affected 14 facilities primarily in Iowa and Illinois. â€¦The new contract raises wages and includes language that makes the company’s performance pay more generous.”
And in a December 9, 2021, article in Common Dreams, by Julia Conley, titled, “Buffalo Starbucks Workers Win Union:”
“…employees at the Elmwood Avenue location of Starbucks in Buffalo, New York celebrated Thursday, December 9, 2021, as they became the first U.S. employees of the international coffee chain to unionize, with a decisive margin of victory.”
Continuing workers’ struggles at Amazon and Kellogg’s
Amazon workers are seeking to organize unions in warehouses in Staten Island and Alabama and in other locations around the country. Their pay and the conditions they work under are deplorable while Jeff Bezos, the second wealthiest person in the world and executive chairman (former CEO) of Amazon has accumulated over $200 billion as of December 2021. (1)
Let’s put this figure in perspective. Suppose you had $1 billion dollars. You could spend $5,000-a-day for 500 years before you run out of money! (2)
Kellogg’s workers, who have been on strike at four cereal plants across the country since October 5, 2021, rejected a contract proposal over a dispute around a two-tier compensation structure that would limit pay and benefits for newer employees condemning them to poverty wages and dwindling benefits.
Kellogg’s CEO, Steve Cahillane, earns an annual salary and bonuses that are 279 times that of the median pay of Kellogg’s employees. For 2020, Cahillane made over $11.6 million in total compensation as Kellogg’s CEO. (3)
This extreme disparity between what workers earn compared to the enormous and mind-boggling sums commandeered by corporate CEOs have not gone unnoticed by the masses of the working class. Workers are beginning to realize that it’s their labor that creates these enormous profits for their bosses and we would get none of it without fighting for every cent.
Workers’ democracy and control over the economy
The next major step to confront this profound economic inequality is for workers to organize independent struggles in our own interests and in opposition to the bosses—to recognize that the system of capitalism itself, that puts profits over everything, must be overthrown. And in its place, a working-class democracy that makes decisions based upon what everyone needs and wants.
Capitalism is at war with the workers of the world
The capitalist wars dominated by the U.S. commanders of capital—Democrats and Republicans alike—use war and repression to hammer into the minds of the world’s working class that if anyone gets in the way of their profits, they will use all in their power against us. It’s what the U.S. military does, it’s what the police do, it’s what the prison industrial complex does. They are there to protect the private property of the wealthy.
The property they own is worldwide—across all borders—above all laws since they make the laws and rule the military, police, and prison industrial complex itself.
U.S. big business interests finance candidates from all capitalist parties. It’s their ace in the hole of whichever pro-capitalism candidate wins.
We, the working class, only get to vote for one capitalist candidate or another. We get to vote for the boss, no matter which capitalist party they represent. That’s what is meant by the term “bourgeois democracy.” We don’t get to vote for the things we want and need—what would be the norm for a socialist society—we only get to vote to maintain the power and rule of the capitalist class.
Socialism is democracy. Capitalism is a dictatorship of the wealthy few over the many.
The power of the working class to control our own lives can only be achieved through independent, anti-capitalist, democratically organized organizations controlled by the working class and its allies alone.
That means our unions must abandon support to the Democratic Party and all capitalist politicians and parties and organize to form parties of our own—under our control and organized to defend our interests—in the interests of the masses of workers of the world.
Only the working class and our allies have the right to determine our destiny. And this can only be achieved through independent action and organization in direct opposition to capitalism and their modus operandi of profits over people.
Only a socialist revolution in defense of the entire working class can ensure the health and welfare of all life on Earth.
A Palestinian accused of plotting to kill Israelis went on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment without trial. Fearing unrest, Israel agreed to release him.
By Raja Abdulrahim and Ronen Bergman, Jan. 4, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/04/world/middleeast/palestinian-hunger-strike-israel.html
BEER YAAKOV, Israel — In the five-bed intensive care unit of a hospital in central Israel, ventilators and machines beeped and hummed. But there was a hushed quiet around Hisham Abu Hawash’s bed and the vital signs monitor above him was silent.
He had refused any medical intervention, including the machines that can monitor his declining health, and rejected food, intravenous fluids or supplements.
Mr. Abu Hawash, 40, was in his 141st day of a hunger strike, the latest Palestinian prisoner to take drastic measures to protest his open-ended detention by Israeli military authorities without charge or trial, a practice called administrative detention.
On Tuesday night his protest came to an end with sips from a cup of tea after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached a deal to release him next month. After days of protests calling for his release and mounting fears in Israel of widespread unrest if he died in custody, the government capitulated.
According to the deal, Mr. Abu Hawash will remain in the hospital until Feb. 26 and begin receiving medical care. The Palestinian Authority agreed “to guarantee he will not return to terrorism.”
Under the rules of administrative detention, Mr. Abu Hawash had never been charged with terrorism, much less convicted. His lawyers insist he is innocent.
A West Bank construction worker and father of five, Mr. Abu Hawash had become gaunt and frail by the time his hunger strike ended.
He slipped in and out of consciousness and his family, lawyers and medical aid groups warned that his death was imminent. Every few hours his wife, Aisha Hirbat, 31, roused him to try to give him a few sips of water. Sometimes he was unable to swallow and the water dribbled out of his open mouth.
Israel has used administrative detention to imprison thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories since 1967, detaining them under military law for open-ended terms based on secret evidence. With no charges and no way to defend against them, lawyers can only petition the courts for their clients’ release.
Hunger strikes are not an uncommon response, though Mr. Abu Hawash’s was one of the longest in recent years.
Israel does not regularly release official numbers but the prisoner-rights group Addameer estimates that there are 500 Palestinians currently in administrative detention, including four minors.
Israeli officials did not respond to questions about the use of administrative detention, but they have said previously that it is used as a preventive tool to save lives, not as a punitive measure for actions already taken. They say that the intelligence is kept secret to protect sources.
Israel is not alone in the practice. Authoritarian countries like Egypt and China use it routinely, as does the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
According to a defense official familiar with Mr. Abu Hawash’s case, he was accused of being a West Bank operative for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group based in Gaza.
Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, said he was involved in plans to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers, the official said. The official did not provide any evidence to support the accusation, or say whether any of the attacks were carried out.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad is considered a terrorist organization by many countries, including Israel and the United States, and has carried out numerous deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.
Mr. Hawash’s family and lawyers denied that he was a member of the group and called on the military court to present its evidence supporting the allegations against him.
“Of course they haven’t given us any evidence to prove their allegations, because this is all secret,” said one of his lawyers, Ahmed Safiya.
International humanitarian law permits occupying powers to use administrative detention as a temporary measure when a detainee presents a clear and serious threat to society, according to Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch. But he says Israel’s use of the practice goes beyond the accepted legal basis.
“Israel’s overbroad use of it, 54 years into an occupation, locking up hundreds of people with secret evidence clearly goes beyond what international law authorizes,” he said. “It makes a mockery of basic due process.”
There have been international calls for Israel to end the practice. Michael Lynk, the United Nations rights expert monitoring the occupied territories, has called it “an anathema in any democratic society that follows the rule of law.”
When he began his hunger strike, Mr. Abu Hawash weighed about 175 pounds, his family said. For months, he consumed only water and 3 grams each of salt and sugar a day, but stopped taking the sugar and salt about six weeks ago, his wife, Ms. Hirbat, said.
He now weighs less than 85 pounds. His ribs and pelvic bones jut out from a sunken stomach.
Mr. Abu Hawash, from the town of Dura, near Hebron, has spent more than seven years behind bars in the past two decades, more than half of it without charge, according to a prisoner’s rights group, the Palestinian Prisoners Club.
After his first arrest, in 2004, he spent three years in prison after pleading guilty to charges including attempting to intentionally cause death, dealing in military equipment and helping fugitives by reporting on Israeli military movements, according to the Israeli military.
In prison, he shared a wing with Islamic Jihad members, his brother Imad Abu Hawash said. Mr. Abu Hawash became friends with them but did not join the group, his brother said.
After his release, the Israeli official said, he “continued with serious terrorist activity” and was detained again in 2008 for about nine months.
During this detention, he asked Ms. Hirbat, a Dura neighbor, to marry him.
“He was afraid that I would marry someone else and that he would miss his opportunity,” she said Sunday in the I.C.U. waiting room of Shamir Medical Center in Beer Yaakov, near Tel Aviv. “I didn’t even think twice about it. I said yes.”
They married soon after he was released.
Ms. Hirbat said she didn’t know much about his previous involvement with Palestinian resistance groups but that once they married his focus was on working long hours in construction to support his growing family.
In 2012, he was placed in administrative detention again, this time for 26 months. The Israeli official said he had been “involved in building and strengthening the terrorist infrastructure” and “promoted the purchase of weapons.”
He was arrested again in October 2020, because “he was involved in significant terrorist activity, endangering the security of the region and public safety,” the Israeli official said.
When he began his hunger strike last Aug. 17, Ms. Hirbat said she tried to persuade him not to.
“He refused,” she said, explaining, “‘If I don’t do this I won’t get out for another two or three years.’”
A major motivation to resort to drastic measures to end his detention was his 6-year-old son, Izzedine, who suffers from kidney atrophy. Before his imprisonment, Mr. Abu Hawash’s brother said, he was working long hours to pay for his son’s operations.
Izzedine has had two operations at an Israeli hospital since his father’s hunger strike began. A third operation is on hold as his father clings to life.
As his condition has deteriorated, his case has become a rallying cause for Palestinians chafing under Israeli occupation.
At a protest in Gaza on Monday night, Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, said that if Mr. Abu Hawash died, his group would consider it an Israeli assassination and would retaliate.
Israeli officials were concerned that his death could touch off civil unrest.
If Mr. Abu Hawash died in custody, said Aida Touma-Sliman, a Palestinian member of Parliament from Hadash party, “they know that the West Bank will ignite and there will be pressure from the international community.”
Mr. Abu Hawash’s detention was suspended on Dec. 26 by a military court, which determined that because of his failing health he no longer posed a danger to the state, according to Israel’s prison service. That night he was transferred from a prison infirmary to the civilian hospital.
But he was still not free and not allowed to leave the hospital. Nor was his family allowed to transfer him to a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank, as they have said they wanted to do.
A guard is stationed outside his room.
Ms. Hirbat has been staying at the hospital for more than a week, sleeping next to her husband’s bed. When she is occasionally ushered out of the room as hospital staff treat other critical patients, she dons fuzzy blue slippers and waits nervously outside.
She said her husband had vowed to continue his hunger strike until he was free, and he repeatedly warned his family not to allow doctors to feed him intravenously no matter his condition.
“Hisham is going to continue whether it is martyrdom or victory,” Ms. Hirbat said. “Even if it’s martyrdom it will be a victory, because he did not capitulate to them.”
Raja Abdulrahim reported from Beer Yaakov, Israel, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv. Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Iyad Abuhweila from Gaza City.
Toddlers are discovering guns under piles of clothes and between couch cushions. Teenagers are obtaining untraceable ghost guns made from kits. Middle school students are carrying handguns for protection.
By Jack Healy, Jan. 5, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/05/us/american-children-gun-deaths.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=US%20News
Kendall Munson was so worried about the gun violence in her neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side that she sent her sons to live with their grandparents outside Atlanta. But death found them anyway.
On Dec. 9, her goofy, football-loving 11-year-old son, Elyjah, and some friends were walking to a gas station for after-school snacks when one of Elyjah’s best friends, a 12-year-old, pulled a gun from a backpack and shot Elyjah in the head.
It was the second time last year that the family had been jolted by gun violence. Two weeks before Elyjah was killed, his 5-year-old cousin, Khalis Eberhart, was fatally shot after a 3-year-old cousin found a gun under a sofa cushion.
“It’s easy to get a gun. It’s easy for our kids to get one,” said Elyjah’s mother, Ms. Munson, who believes that her son’s death was not intentional. “When you’re a kid frivolously playing with something you think is a toy, this is what happens.”
The number of children and teenagers killed by gunfire has risen sharply during the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers describe the increase as a fatal consequence of rising nationwide homicide rates, untreated traumas of Covid-19 and a surge of pandemic gun-buying that is putting more children into close contact with guns — both as victims and those wielding guns.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rate of gun deaths of children 14 and younger rose by roughly 50 percent from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.
And it appears the toll grew worse last year. More than 1,500 children and teenagers younger than 18 were killed in homicides and accidental shootings last year, compared with about 1,380 in 2020, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a publicly sourced database that tracks gun deaths in real time ahead of official government counts.
Toddlers are discovering guns under piles of clothes and between couch cushions. Teenagers are obtaining untraceable ghost guns made from online kits. Middle school students are carrying handguns for protection.
While children die of gunfire at far lower rates than adults, the rise in young lives cut short has raised alarms with police officials and families across the country.
“We keep seeing the same thing over and over again,” said Keith Meadows, the police chief in South Fulton, Ga, where two young children, including Khalis Eberhart, have recently died of accidental shootings. “When the pandemic hit, we just had this big influx of people getting gun permits. People are buying these weapons without getting the right type of education.”
Police departments and cities across the country are struggling to intervene. Larger cities like Philadelphia tormented by rising youth violence are plowing millions into violence-intervention programs, youth leadership groups and community groups. In December, Chief Meadows held a gun safety course that 50 parents attended, some with their children in tow.
A day later, a 3-year-old boy was wounded after he found a gun under a bed and shot himself in the stomach.
Much of the toll is concentrated in a few dozen big cities, with Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and Milwaukee at the top of the list, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
But few American places go unscathed. In Sedalia, a city of 22,000 in central Missouri, 4-year-old Andre Walker fatally shot himself at home after finding the loaded family handgun. D’Shaunti Kyanni Hunter, 17, was found shot to death in a rural Georgia cemetery.
After a gunman killed four teenagers at Oxford High School in Michigan, the local prosecutor filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents of the 15-year-old suspect. The prosecutor accused the teenager’s parents of buying him the handgun as a Christmas present and leaving it available to him in an unlocked bedroom drawer, even as school officials raised alarms about their son’s violent fantasies. The parents have pleaded not guilty.
But for the most part, adult gun owners are not charged when their weapons are involved in shootings that kill children and teenagers, legal experts say. And some families said they were frustrated that the shootings — which disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic children and teenagers in poorer neighborhoods — did not seem to stir much wider concern.
“It’s like a normal thing,” said Kim Sipes, whose 16-year-old nephew, Ramon Sosa, was shot and killed with his grandmother over the summer in Oklahoma City.
A 16-year-old has been charged in their deaths, reflecting how the number of youths 19 and younger who commit homicides rose by nearly 20 percent between 2019 and 2020, according to F.B.I. crime data.
Ms. Sipes said she wanted Oklahoma legislators to pass laws that would prevent 16-year-olds from gaining access to handguns, but said she had little hope that her nephew and sister’s killings would galvanize them to act. Even a fund-raising website her family set up to cover funeral costs struggled to reach a third of the $10,000 goal.
Researchers say public health agencies and schools strained by two years of the pandemic are now falling behind in addressing the roots of the current surge in violence affecting children.
“We hoped that as life resumed things would go back to the way they were,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group funded largely by Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor. “It’s clearly not happening.”
Instead, anti-violence activists say a sense of helplessness and anger has taken root.
“Is it Covid? Is it mental disorders? Are these guns getting into the hands of younger kids?” asked Malissa Thomas-St. Clair, an activist in Columbus, Ohio, who co-founded the group Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children after a 14-year-old boy shot and killed his 2-year-old nephew last year. “There’s nowhere you can hide.”
A recent tally from Mike McLively, who directs the Community Violence Initiative at the gun reform group Giffords, found that 15 states have pledged nearly $700 million toward gun-violence prevention. The pandemic interrupted many of these programs, and cities are now scrambling to catch up.
“It is absolutely a crisis,” said Erica Atwood, senior director of Philadelphia’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice and Public Safety. More than 30 children and teenagers died in shootings in the Philadelphia area last year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
In Columbus, Ohio’s booming capital, activists say a rise of chaotic, sometimes inexplicable eruptions of gun violence aimed at children has left neighborhoods reeling and children too frightened to walk home from bus stops.
In 2019, three children 17 and younger were killed by gunfire. That number rose to 20 in 2020 and 17 last year, according to police statistics.
Bereaved families have begun organizing to demand action from the police and community leaders. Mothers march in matching orange T-shirts and wave posters of their slain children. They visited impromptu vigils at murder scenes until one was shot up over the summer.
In Columbus, 2021 began with the murder of two young children. Late on New Year’s Day of last year, Ava Williams, 9, and her sister, Alyse, 6, were shot and killed by their father, who had spent the pandemic in and out of work and hoarding guns.
“I was worried about Covid,” said Vanecia Kirkland, the girls’ mother, who described her daughters as loving and inseparable sisters. “I should have been worried about their father.”
Then in early December came the grim news that another pair of children had been killed.
Demetrius Wall’Neal, a football-loving 9-year-old, and his 6-year-old sister, Londynn, who never left home without a favorite sparkly purse, were climbing into a car with their mother’s boyfriend when gunmen walked up and sprayed the car with bullets, killing all three.
“How could you kill two babies?” their grandmother Jessica Jones wondered as she sat inside a bakery one morning in the Columbus suburb where Demetrius had played football. “I just don’t understand. When does it end?”
Shaila Dewan contributed reporting.
Prisoners were subjected to solitary confinement and denied family visits because of improperly administered tests, the state inspector general found.
By Karen Zraick, Jan. 4, 2022
Because of faulty results in drug testing at state prisons, including Attica, prisoners were placed in solitary confinement, a report found. Credit...Steve Russell/Toronto Star, via Getty Images
New York’s prison system unjustly penalized more than 1,600 incarcerated people based on faulty drug tests, putting them in solitary confinement, delaying their parole hearings and denying them family visits, the New York State inspector general said in a damning report released on Tuesday.
The arbitrary penalties were meted out across the state over an eight-month period in 2019, while the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision relied on improperly administered drug tests made by the company Microgenics, the report found. The tests led to “rampant false positive” results for buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat addiction, as well as synthetic cannabinoids.
“This stands as a heartbreaking example of how the absence of transparency can undermine due process and basic human rights,” Lucy Lang, the inspector general, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The department started using the tests in January 2019, the report found. The manufacturer’s directions specified that a positive result should be confirmed with a second, more sensitive test, but officials neglected to do so as a matter of policy. Instead, they simply carried out the same test a second time to confirm the results.
The rate of positive tests immediately spiked, but the department failed to address widespread concerns among prisoners, their families and advocates that many of the results were false positives, the report found.
The report cited several examples of the grave consequences the tests had for prisoners. One woman at Albion Correctional Facility, near Rochester, N.Y., who had never tested positive for drug use during her two years in jail, suddenly tested positive for synthetic cannabinoids.
As punishment, she was confined to her cell for 40 days and placed in solitary confinement for 45 days. She lost her prison job and privileges like recreation time, receipt of packages and phone use for months. She was also denied visits with her three children.
The report also accused Microgenics representatives of presenting false or misleading information to prison officials. A review of internal company documents revealed that even ingesting over-the-counter antacids and the sweetener Stevia could potentially lead to false positives, but the company failed to disclose those possibilities, the report said.
The report faulted department officials for deciding to forgo the second test and found that a sales representative from Microgenics had exerted undue influence over the process.
It also found that the contract with the company most likely violated procurement guidelines and that the department “did not perform due diligence when contracting with Microgenics for its drug testing systems, failing to understand that such tests were merely preliminary screening tests.”
During the eight-month period, more than 1,600 prisoners were punished over drug tests statewide, including 140 who were subjected to solitary confinement, leading to complaints from inmates across the state, Ms. Lang said.
Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, an advocacy group, brought the concerns of four incarcerated people who said they had been disciplined based on false positives to the department in June 2019. Later that summer, the department sent six positive test samples from other prisoners to another company for retesting, and five came back negative.
The department then brought its findings to the office of the inspector general. It later moved to expunge more than 2,500 disciplinary records that were based on the faulty drug tests.
Karen L. Murtagh, the executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York, said the impact of the penalties was difficult to overstate.
“The psychological and physical damage caused by solitary confinement, the loss of family visitation, the lack of proper programming, lost work-release and educational opportunities, all of which help combat recidivism, adds to the ledger for which we as a society need to take account,” she said.
Bianca Tylek, executive director of Worth Rises, an advocacy group that seeks to dismantle the prison industry, said the report illustrated the problems inherent in allowing private companies to profit from incarceration. She called for further review of prison contracts.
In a statement on Tuesday, the department noted that its staff had cooperated with the inspector general’s investigation and adopted all its recommendations, which included ending solitary confinement in response to drug tests and improving drug-test training and data collection.
Microgenics is a subsidiary of Thermo Fisher Scientific, a Massachusetts-based company. In a statement on Tuesday, Ron O’Brien, a spokesman for the company, said the instructions clearly state that the drug tests are only preliminary and that a more specific, alternative chemical method must be used to obtain a confirmed result.
“We have complete confidence in our product and, when it is used as directed, have no reason to believe there is any issue with its accuracy,” Mr. O’Brien said.
He added that the company had conducted its own investigation and did not believe that any Microgenics representatives provided “any intentionally false or misleading testimony” at disciplinary hearings, as alleged in the report.
The drug tests have spurred several lawsuits, including a federal class-action suit filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel in 2019. The following year, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, filed suit on behalf of the Department of Corrections against Microgenics in Albany, alleging breach of contract. The lawsuit is pending.
The department now uses a preliminary drug screening test known as the Premier Biotech Bio-Cup, and positive results are confirmed using a second method.
Ms. Lang, who was appointed inspector general in the fall, said that more than half the complaints her office receives involve the prison system.
“We are directing resources toward addressing those complaints as proactively as possible,” she said.