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
Friday April 8: Take up the green bandana, the symbol of the increasingly victorious Green Wave in-the-streets fight for abortion rights across Latin America. Campuses, cultural events, social media and workplaces must be awash in GREEN (bandanas, banners, chalk, stickers, etc.). Everyone must show where they stand!
Saturday April 9: Take to the streets in mass protest! With serious determination and rebellious joy, we will wake tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of others up to the emergency and inspire growing numbers to join us.
From there, we will rally even greater numbers in growing nonviolent protests and creative GREEN WAVE resistance, aiming to bring society to a halt and force our demand – that women not be slammed backwards – to be reckoned with and acted upon by every institution in society. NOW is the time to stand up, together, as if our lives depend upon it—for, in fact, they do.
(Find a protest near you or host your own. DM us on social media / 973 544 8228 /
email to info@RiseUp4AbortionRights.org
· New York City 2:00 pm Union Square (@14th Street) RSVP + Share
· Atlanta 2:00 pm Midtown MARTA 41 10th Street NE RSVP + Share
· Austin 12 noon rally at Republic Square Park 422 Guadalupe
1:00 pm march to Governor’s mansion RSVP + Share
· Boston 2:00 pm Boston Commons Free Speech Area across from Massachusetts State House RSVP + Share
· Cleveland 2:00 pm Market Square 25th & Lorain Avenue RSVP + Share
· Chicago 2:00 pm Wrigley Square at Millennium Park, North Michigan Avenue RSVP + Share
· Detroit 3:00 pm W. Warren & Woodward 1 W. Warren Avenue RSVP + Share
· Los Angeles 2:00 pm Hollywood & Highland RSVP + Share
· San Francisco Bay Area 12:00 pm Sproul Plaza UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley RSVP + Share
· Seattle 1:00 pm Seattle Central College Plaza RSVP + Share
RefuseFascism.org national team
This March 19th webinar for Ruchell “Cinque” Magee on his 83rd birthday was a terrific event full of information and plans for building the campaign to Free Ruchell Magee. Two of the featured speakers also spoke at the February 1 webinar for International workers’ action to free Mumia and all anti-racist, anti-imperialist Freedom Fighters—Jalil Muntaqim (who was serving time at San Quentin State Prison in a cell next to Ruchell!) and Angela Davis (who was a co-defendant of Ruchell’s!) A 50 year+ struggle!
Below are two ways to stream this historic webinar sent by the webinar organizers.
Here is the YouTube link to view Saturday's recording:
Here is the link to the Facebook upload:
After The Revolution
By David Rovics
It was a time I'll always remember
Because I could never forget
How reality fell down around us
Like some Western movie set
And once the dust all settled
The sun shone so bright
And a great calm took over us
Like it was all gonna be alright
That's how it felt to be alive
After the revolution
From Groton to Tacoma
On many a factory floor
The workers talked of solidarity
And refused to build weapons of war
No more will we make missiles
We're gonna do something different
And for the first time
Their children were proud of their parents
And somewhere in Gaza a little boy smiled and cried
After the revolution
Prison doors swung open
And mothers hugged their sons
The Liberty Bell was ringing
When the cops put down their guns
A million innocent people
Lit up in the springtime air
And Mumia and Leonard and Sarah Jane Olson
Took a walk in Tompkins Square
And they talked about what they'd do now
After the revolution
The debts were all forgiven
In all the neo-colonies
And the soldiers left their bases
Went back to their families
And a non-aggression treaty
Was signed with every sovereign state
And all the terrorist groups disbanded
With no empire left to hate
And they all started planting olive trees
After the revolution
George Bush and Henry Kissinger
Were sent off to the World Court
Their plans for global domination
Were pre-emptively cut short
Their weapons of mass destruction
Were inspected and destroyed
The battleships were dismantled
Never again to be deployed
And the world breathed a sigh of relief
After the revolution
Solar panels were on the rooftops
Trains upon the tracks
Organic food was in the markets
No GMO's upon the racks
And all the billionaires
Had to learn how to share
And Bill Gates was told to quit his whining
When he said it wasn't fair
And his mansion became a collective farm
After the revolution
And all the political poets
Couldn't think of what to say
So they all decided
To live life for today
I spent a few years catching up
With all my friends and lovers
Sleeping til eleven
Home beneath the covers
And I learned how to play the accordion
After the revolution
Free Em All—Mic Crenshaw and David Rovics featuring Opium Sabbah
“In His Defense” The People vs. Kevin Cooper
A film by Kenneth A. Carlson
Teaser is now streaming at:
Posted by: Death Penalty Focus Blog, January 10, 2022
“In his Defense,” a documentary on the Kevin Cooper case, is in the works right now, and California filmmaker Kenneth Carlson has released a teaser for it on CarlsonFilms.com
Just over seven months ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered an independent investigation of Cooper’s death penalty case. At the time, he explained that, “In cases where the government seeks to impose the ultimate punishment of death, I need to be satisfied that all relevant evidence is carefully and fairly examined.”
That investigation is ongoing, with no word from any of the parties involved on its progress.
Cooper has been on death row since 1985 for the murder of four people in San Bernardino County in June 1983. Prosecutors said Cooper, who had escaped from a minimum-security prison and had been hiding out near the scene of the murder, killed Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, and 10-year-old Chris Hughes, a friend who was spending the night at the Ryen’s. The lone survivor of the attack, eight-year-old Josh Ryen, was severely injured but survived.
For over 36 years, Cooper has insisted he is innocent, and there are serious questions about evidence that was missing, tampered with, destroyed, possibly planted, or hidden from the defense. There were multiple murder weapons, raising questions about how one man could use all of them, killing four people and seriously wounding one, in the amount of time the coroner estimated the murders took place.
The teaser alone gives a good overview of the case, and helps explain why so many believe Cooper was wrongfully convicted.
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!
Wrongful Conviction podcast of Kevin Cooper's case, Jason Flom with Kevin and Norm Hile
Please listen and share!
Kevin Cooper: Important CBS news new report today, and article January 31, 2022
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
How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
By Michael Moore—VIA Email: email@example.com
American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.
And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.
And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.
The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.
For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?
President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.
For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.
The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.
This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:
President Joe Biden
E-mail: At this link
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Attorney General Merrick Garland
E-mail: At this link
I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet:
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”
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:
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.
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:
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Mark Miles, a Black officer with the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, says in a lawsuit that his white supervisor and other officers made hateful comments in a work-related text chain.
By Michael Levenson, March 16, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/16/us/black-lives-matter-montgomery-police.html
The Maryland-National Capital Park Police said it “does not tolerate racism or harassment in the workplace.” Credit...MNCPP
In a series of text messages, a white supervisor and other police officers in Montgomery County, Md., talked about preparing for a “race war,” and expressed hope that Black Lives Matter protesters would be killed, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week by a Black colleague.
The officer, Mark Miles of the Maryland-National Capital Park Police, says in the lawsuit that his supervisor and other officers repeatedly made racist, hateful and offensive comments on a group text chain that was used to discuss work assignments and other business.
The officers sent the texts, which were excerpted in the lawsuit, as protests set off by the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 swept across the United States, increasing scrutiny of police brutality and racism.
At the time, Officer Miles, who was hired in October 2019, was the only Black officer in his squad, known as “Shift 5,” which he joined in March or April of 2020, and which operated primarily in Montgomery County, outside Washington. The department also polices parks in Prince George’s County, Md.
According to the lawsuit, the unit’s supervisor, Sgt. Stephanie Harvey, questioned whether Officer Miles, who is mixed race and identifies as Black, would be “on our side” in a “race war.”
“At least half of u is!” she texted, according to the lawsuit.
Another time, she said she was “ready” for a “race war,” and added, “I need more ammo though,” the lawsuit states.
When discussing Black Lives Matter protesters, she texted: “Well they got the Army out there sooooo … hopefully they will get to kill some people,” and, “Kill em all,” the lawsuit states. When an officer sent a photo of an albino squirrel, Sergeant Harvey replied: “Squirrels gotta Nazi too,” the lawsuit states.
During roll call on Aug. 4, 2020, Sergeant Harvey referred to a squad meeting about two weeks earlier during which she had told the chief that the department should not support Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
“Why didn’t you speak up?” Sergeant Harvey asked Officer Miles, according to the lawsuit. “You’re the only half-colored on the squad.” The other officers laughed at the comment, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, accuses the department of harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It seeks economic and compensatory damages, the termination of Sergeant Harvey’s employment and the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure fairness in the Park Police, among other actions.
“Fundamentally, he wants to see things in the department change,” Erika Jacobsen White, Officer Miles’s lawyer, said on Wednesday. “The fact that this kind of overt racist behavior has gone on unchecked inside the Police Department is just tremendously egregious, and it affects not only Officer Miles but the citizens they are charged to protect.”
Martin Oliverio, a lawyer who represents Sergeant Harvey, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In a statement, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police said: “When a series of secret text messages among a group of Park Police officers came to the attention of our management, we promptly initiated an investigation and took appropriate action based on the findings of that inquiry.”
The statement adds, “In accordance with the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, several officers were suspended and referred to the disciplinary process for termination.”
“While we cannot disclose the details of individual personnel actions or pending disciplinary proceedings, the suggestion that Park Police management ignored allegations of misconduct by this group of officers is simply incorrect, and we will make the results of the trial board process public at the appropriate time,” the statement says.
The Park Police leadership team “does not tolerate racism or harassment in the workplace and will not hesitate to put a stop to any such behavior whenever it arises,” the statement says.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 30, which represents officers in the department, declined to comment on the lawsuit while the trial board was still deliberating.
But the organization said in a statement that it “works tirelessly to see that all members are treated fairly, have the best possible work environment and are afforded their due process rights as defined by law.”
The lawsuit says that while Sergeant Harvey may have been suspended in March 2021, she and other officers who engaged in “racist vitriol” are still employed by the department and several of those who made racist comments have been promoted to supervisory roles.
Officer Miles, however, was ostracized by the department after he complained about the harassment to a captain, to a lieutenant in Internal Affairs and to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the lawsuit states.
He was removed from the Shift 5 text message group, stopped getting invitations to group dinners and was pressured to transfer out of the unit, the lawsuit states. Although he wanted to remain in the squad, the lawsuit states that, in November 2021, he was “involuntarily transferred” to a less desirable night shift.
She fought oppression in public and private spheres, and shaped her son’s education as he evolved into a powerful thinker and speaker.
By Jolie Solomon, March 19, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/19/obituaries/louise-little-overlooked.html
This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.
For more than 50 years, the few Americans who knew the name Louise Little had one, maybe two, images of her.
In the first, on a dark night in 1925, a young woman trembles on a porch in Omaha, Neb., three children at her skirts, the future Malcolm X in her belly, while Klansmen circle the house shattering windows.
In the second image, 14 years later, the same woman, now a widowed, careworn mother of eight, is shuffled into a sheriff’s car and driven off to a mental asylum, her children left to the mercy of the state authorities.
The first story opens “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965), and it became ubiquitous in the many books and films about his life that followed. The second consigned Little to obscurity: She disappeared behind the tall brick walls of the asylum, where she remained for 25 years.
Both stories are keys to the narrative of a boy, born Malcolm Little, who rose from violence and poverty to become a global figure in the struggle for Black rights. But both have played too neatly into the bluntest of tropes about Black women and erased vital truths not only about Malcolm’s life but also the arc of Black history.
Now, as a new generation of biographers reclaim Little’s life, these images of her have been transfigured: Louise Little emerges as a formidable and nuanced protagonist who, like other Black women over the centuries, fought oppression in both public and private spheres. The reframing of her life corrects a tradition that has presented Black women activists as exceptions, and has missed the critical role of Black mothers. Anna Malaika Tubbs says it precisely in the subtitle of her 2021 book, “The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation.”
The K.K.K. targeted the Little home because Louise and her husband, Earl, were unapologetic activists who pushed a message of revolution in the new Black communities of the unwelcoming Midwest. On that terrifying night on her porch, recalled her eldest son, Wilfred, she drew herself up to her full 5 feet 8 inches and spoke with her characteristic calm until the Klansmen retreated. Her institutionalization trapped her and traumatized her children, but it came only after she had waged an eight-year battle against welfare workers, police and judges — the powers that have epitomized structural racism.
Helen Louise Langdon was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada in 1894 or 1897. Her birth year is just one of many details that are hard to pin down. Larger questions about her life are also matters of dispute or interpretation in the now growing literature about her. Did a white man named Norton, her biological father, have a relationship with Louise’s mother, the much younger Edith, or did he rape her? How did Louise feel about her fair skin, which complicated her relationships with her husband, with Malcolm and with any community where she lived?
Louise was a baby when Edith died, so she was raised by her grandmother Mary Jane Langdon and her aunt Gertrude. Mary Jane and her husband, Jupiter, who also died when Louise was small, were captured in West Africa when they were young but were freed by the British Navy sometime after 1833, when imperial Britain banned slavery. The Langdons celebrated their African roots and Grenada’s proud legacy of rebellion against occupiers while living a code of self-reliance. They farmed their own land and each plied a trade, Jupiter as a carpenter, Mary Jane as a herbalist and Gertrude as a seamstress.
Louise studied at a local Anglican school, excelled in writing, spoke English, French and Creole and absorbed world history — however slanted a version — from the Royal Reader textbooks given to millions of children across the British Empire.
At about 21, she embarked alone on a journey of more than 3,000 miles, from the port of St. George in Grenada to Montreal, where her uncle had emigrated. He introduced her to the growing Black nationalist movement led by Marcus Garvey. Little was immediately drawn to Garvey’s ethos of self-determination and Pan-African confraternity — as was Earl Little, a Baptist minister and recent immigrant who had escaped the violence of Jim Crow Georgia. The two married after meeting at a Garvey event.
Their marriage proved turbulent. Earl, haunted by what he had suffered in the South, was sometimes calmed, sometimes provoked by the more hopeful, worldly Louise; she, by contrast, had escaped “exposure to America’s more toxic form of racism,” according to “The Dead Are Arising,” a 2020 biography of Malcolm X by Les Payne and his daughter, Tamara Payne.
By most accounts Earl was abusive at times. But the marriage was also a “stable merger of shared striving,” the Paynes wrote, powered by shared passions for their children, for personal and political autonomy and for their work.
The young couple arrived in Omaha — their first assigned post as Garvey missionaries — in the wake of the Red Summer of 1919, when dozens of American cities were convulsed by racial violence. The thousands-strong lynch mobs there were particularly notorious.
The Littles set to work founding a Garvey chapter, as they would in cities in Wisconsin and Michigan over the next decade. Earl recruited at home and on the road. Louise was chapter secretary and a reporter for Garvey’s newspaper, The Negro World. According to “The Life of Louise Norton” (2021), by Jessica Russell (with contributions by Little family members), the family sheltered Garvey when he was in flight from federal agents on charges of mail fraud, and Louise wrote material for a national campaign urging President Calvin Coolidge to grant Garvey clemency.
Wherever they settled their growing family, the Littles were a provocation. Not only did they spread Garvey’s bold rhetoric, but their own literacy and economic autonomy were also an affront. When one of their homes in a white area burned down, Earl, a skilled carpenter, quickly rebuilt it. Louise worked as a seamstress and sold her own designs. Most of the family’s livelihood came from farming and hunting — on land they owned, a rarity in sharecropping America. Their family car was another anomaly — as was Louise’s driving it. They were continually threatened by white neighbors and officials, and many Black residents were afraid to be seen with them.
As the Little children began to attend school, Louise took on a new role: a prescient form of the activist parent. She worked to counter what the children were taught, correcting the routine slander about Black people to inoculate her children against self-hatred. If she heard of a particularly egregious remark or lesson, she would march into the school and demand respect. She took the children to various churches and temples to sample religious ideas and had them sing the alphabet in French, read aloud from The Negro World and another newspaper, The West Indian, and look up every new word in the family dictionary. By the seventh grade, Malcolm had top grades and was class president.
Family life, solid if not secure, was shattered in 1931, when Earl died after he was run over by a streetcar in Lansing, Mich. The idea that the incident was not an accident — that Earl could have been murdered — became a touchstone of Malcolm’s life story, though it has largely been refuted.
Even with help from her oldest children, Louise struggled to keep the family fed in the depths of the Great Depression and in the throes of escalating harassment.
First, an insurance company insisted that Earl had committed suicide and refused to pay out on the $10,000 policy that the Littles had so carefully funded. When Louise reluctantly accepted federal relief money, violating her values, she became subject to new levels of scrutiny. Local officials routinely withheld her relief checks while pushing her to sell her land.
Hope appeared briefly in the form of a man courting her. But when she became pregnant, he left town. She was suffering from hunger, overwork and most likely postpartum depression when the authorities used her out-of-wedlock birth — and delinquent behavior by Malcolm — as excuses to attack with fresh vigor. A judge first removed Malcolm from the home, then ordered Little’s other children to be placed in foster care. Soon after, the judge engineered Little’s commitment to an institution.
Malcolm saw his mother twice during her 25 years of institutionalization, the same years he was evolving into a powerful thinker and speaker as a prominent figure in the Nation of Islam. His renown very likely helped get Little released in 1963, after years of petitions by his siblings.
Her saw her again at a joyous family reunion. Less than two years later, he was assassinated.
In her last years, Little lived quietly with one of her daughters in the celebrated Black community of Woodland Park, Mich. Her ashes were scattered there after her death, on Dec. 18, 1989. She was believed to be 91.
Malcolm’s speeches and writing reflected a deep ambivalence about his mother. In his autobiography, written with Alex Haley and published after Malcolm’s death, he sounded contrite in allowing that his behavior had accelerated Louise’s decline. But he also seemed to justify Earl’s abuse of Louise because she had showed off her superior education, and he sought to erase any hint that his educated mother had educated him.
For years the autobiography set the tone for any view of Little. But beginning in 2003, letters that Malcolm wrote to family members have surfaced to present a different picture. The scholar Garrett Felber, who has had access to the letters, referred to one that Malcolm wrote to his brother Philbert in 1949. Their mother had suffered at the hands of the state, Malcolm wrote, because the authorities knew that “she was not ‘deadening our minds.’”
He added, “My accomplishments are ours, and yours are mine, but all of our achievements are Mom’s, for she was a most Faithful Servant of the Truth years ago. I praise Allah for her.”
The officer, a member of the Kenosha Police Department in Wisconsin, has resigned from his school security job.
By Sophie Kasakove, March 19, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/19/us/kenosha-officer-kneel-neck-girl.html
In this still image from a video, Shawn Guetschow, working off-duty as a security guard at Lincoln Middle School, holds a student to the floor and puts his knee on her neck after a fight between her and another student in the cafeteria. Credit...Kenosha Unified School District
A police officer in Kenosha, Wis., has resigned from his position as a school security officer after video circulating on social media showed him restraining a 12-year-old student by putting his knee on her neck.
Surveillance footage released on Friday by the Kenosha Unified School District shows a fight on March 4 between two students in the cafeteria at Lincoln Middle School. In the video, school district employees intervene, including a Kenosha Police Department officer working off-duty for the school district. The officer, Shawn Guetschow, has been an officer with the Kenosha police for four years, according to the department.
The video shows Mr. Guetschow restraining the student and kneeling on her neck for at least 20 seconds. The girl’s name has not been released.
Drew DeVinney, an attorney for the girl’s father, Jerrel Perez, said that Mr. Perez took his daughter to the emergency room that night to be evaluated for neck injuries and concussion symptoms. Mr. DeVinney said she was undergoing continued therapy and neurological evaluation to determine the extent of her injuries and that she was given a doctor’s note permitting two weeks of medical leave while she recovers.
“She’s humiliated, she’s traumatized,” Mr. Perez said at a news conference this week, adding that every day, she tells him, “‘Daddy, I don’t want to go to school.’”
Mr. DeVinney noted that the maneuver by Mr. Guetschow mirrored the one used by Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
“The officer continued to push his knee into Jerrel’s daughter’s neck as she told him she couldn’t breathe,” Mr. DeVinney said.
This week, Mr. Guetschow resigned from his position with the school district, citing the “mental and emotional strain” it placed on his family, and “the lack of communication and or support I have received from the district.” The police department has not said whether it would take action against the officer and did not respond to a request for comment. Efforts to reach Mr. Guetschow’s police union were unsuccessful.
In 2021, Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin signed a package of bills involving the use of force, including a bill prohibiting the use of chokeholds by law enforcement. But even without this legislation, Mr. Guetschow’s actions constitute excessive force, Mr. DeVinney said.
“I want to see this officer get charged, because if it was me or another parent or any adult that put their knee on a kid, that would be abuse,” Mr. Perez said. “Why does that make him any different?”
Mr. DeVinney said that the family intends to bring a lawsuit against Mr. Guetschow, the police department and the school district. The family is also working to get the police department to dismiss a charge of disorderly conduct against the student.
In a statement a few days after the incident, the department said that it was “investigating the incident in its entirety while being cautious not to make conclusions based off a small piece of information shared on social media.”
The school district declined to comment pending possible litigation.
A database used by the New York Police Department violates state law and the Constitution, the Legal Aid Society contends in a lawsuit.
By Troy Closson, March 22, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/22/nyregion/nyc-dna-database-nypd.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=New%20York
The New York Police Department instructs detectives to offer water, soda, a cigarette, gum or food to people whose DNA is sought -- and to collect the item once they leave. Credit...Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times
Three years ago, Shakira Leslie was returning home from a cousin’s birthday party in the Bronx when officers pulled over her friend’s car for a traffic infraction. After she got out of the back seat, the police searched her and found nothing illegal.
But when a gun was found in another passenger’s bag, everyone in the car was arrested, charged with weapon possession and taken to a precinct. There, Ms. Leslie waited for more than 12 hours without getting anything to eat or drink, she said — until officers brought her into an interrogation room and gave her a cup of water.
Eventually, she was released, and the charge against her was dropped.
But weeks later, Ms. Leslie learned new details about the night of her arrest that rattled her: The police had taken the cup and collected her DNA from it without asking. Officials later tested it and used it to determine that she had not handled the gun. “I was shocked, upset. I just felt violated,” said Ms. Leslie, 26, a hair stylist. “I completely lost trust for N.Y.P.D.”
Her DNA was entered into a city database that contains tens of thousands of profiles, and her lawyers say it remained there, even though that night three years ago is the only time she has ever been arrested.
Ms. Leslie is a plaintiff in a federal class-action lawsuit filed late Monday by the Legal Aid Society, which accuses the city of operating an illegal and unregulated DNA database in violation of state law and constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.
The suit calls for DNA profiles that lawyers argue were gathered unlawfully to be expunged and for the database to be shut down entirely.
“Thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom are Black and brown, and many of whom have never been convicted of any crime, are illegally in the city’s rogue DNA database,” Phil Desgranges, a lawyer in the Special Litigation Unit at Legal Aid, said in a statement.
“We simply cannot trust the N.Y.P.D. to police itself, and we look forward to judicial review of these destructive practices to bring our clients the justice they deserve,” he said.
Sgt. Edward Riley, a spokesman for the New York Police Department, said in a statement that officials would review the suit, adding that they believe the use of DNA helps bring justice.
“The driving motivation for the NYPD to collect DNA is to legally identify the correct perpetrator, build the strongest case possible for investigators and our partners in the various prosecutors’ offices and bring closure to victims and their families,” he said.
The city medical examiner’s office, which maintains the database, said that it complies with applicable laws and is operated “with the highest scientific standards,” set by independent accrediting bodies.
The dispute underscores tensions that have erupted in cities across the country over efforts to increase the use of technology and surveillance tactics in policing and comes amid a highly charged local debate over elevated gun violence. In New York, Mayor Eric Adams has called for expanding the use of facial recognition and software to identify gun carriers, which he argues could aid in crime fighting.
But civil liberties advocates and privacy groups have contended that the advancements come at the expense of communities of color, infringe on the rights of people who have not been convicted of crimes and place them at risk of wrongful conviction if errors are made.
“You can change your Social Security number if you’re a victim of identity theft. You can’t change your DNA,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. “You’re creating this constant threat not for months, not for years, but the rest of your life, that you can be targeted by this information.”
The genetic database has come under fire in recent years for the tactics the police use to collect DNA samples, often without a person’s consent, lawyers say. The department’s Detective Guide instructs detectives to offer a water bottle, soda, cigarette, gum or food to someone being questioned in connection with a crime whose DNA is sought — and to collect the item once they leave.
Those practices have invited scrutiny in high-profile cases, like when detectives offered a McDonald’s soda to a 12-year-old boy who was facing a felony charge in 2018, took the straw and tested it for DNA. The boy’s profile did not match crime-scene evidence but remained in the system for over a year.
New York State law requires a conviction or a court order before someone’s DNA can be stored in the state-run databank. But the city’s database, which contains more than 31,800 profiles and is known as the Local DNA Index System, includes DNA from people like Ms. Leslie, who have been arrested or questioned but not convicted.
The specific demographics of those in the database are unclear, but they most likely reflect arrest patterns in the city, where about 75 percent of people arrested over the past decade were Black or Latino.
The suit in New York mirrors one filed last year in Orange County, Calif., in which lawyers argued that a database of DNA samples maintained by the district attorney’s office ran afoul of state law and violated residents’ right to due process. (That county’s database, which contains 200,000 DNA profiles, is significantly larger than New York City’s, even though its population is much smaller.)
While state and federal DNA databases are subject to legislative oversight, New York City’s lacks independent supervision, which civil liberties groups argue often leads to a failure to address questions over legality, privacy, effectiveness and data security.
Facing criticism, the Police Department overhauled rules for the database in 2020. It conducted an initial audit and flagged for removal samples that were more than two years old and had not been linked to an ongoing investigation. Officials pledged to routinely repeat the process for new profiles, and about 4,000 have been removed since then.
State legislators have also weighed a bill that would ban New York City and other local governments from operating their own DNA databases.
Howard Baum, a former assistant director at the city medical examiner’s office who helped build the system, has said it has grown far beyond its intended purpose, size and scope.
“I know that the N.Y.P.D. has worked hard to reform its policies, but as I’ve said before, the new policy is half-baked,” he wrote in testimony for a City Council hearing on the database in 2020. “No arrest, no conviction, but the government is keeping your DNA. What possible justification is there for that?”
The police and prosecutors say that the database is a crucial tool and removing it would be damaging.
Rodney Harrison, the Police Department’s former chief of department, said two years ago that the database had led to 5,000 matches since 2015. He argued that expansive changes to it could lower the number of leads in investigations and create “unintended consequences for the innocent.”
“To drop this valuable science would be a grave mistake to anyone invested in transforming our criminal justice system by better ensuring citizens’ rights while continuing to keep New Yorkers safe,” wrote Mr. Harrison, who is now the police commissioner in Suffolk County.
The database has come under particularly heavy scrutiny for including minors, from whom the Police Department said in 2020 they would no longer collect DNA in connection with misdemeanors. City Council members this year are expected to reintroduce a bill that would prohibit the collection of DNA from minors in all cases without a parent’s consent.
But Oleg Chernyavsky, a top lawyer for the Police Department, argued at a Council hearing on Friday that the bill would make police work more difficult and said that people under 18 made up less than 2 percent of the current database.
Many experts on DNA evidence say that vast databases that include large numbers of people who have only been questioned or arrested on minor charges can be less effective because of the increased likelihood that a crime scene sample will produce a partial match with an innocent person.
“There’s this perception that the bigger the database, the better for public safety — and that hasn’t been borne out,” said Brandon L. Garrett, a law professor at Duke University who has extensively studied the use of DNA evidence. “The more innocent people’s stuff you have in these databases, the more its crime-fighting ability is harmed.”
The coronavirus was expected to devastate the continent, but higher-income and better-prepared countries appear to have fared far worse.
By Stephanie Nolen, March 23, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/health/covid-africa-deaths.html
KAMAKWIE, Sierra Leone — There are no Covid fears here.
The district’s Covid-19 response center has registered just 11 cases since the start of the pandemic, and no deaths. At the regional hospital, the wards are packed — with malaria patients. The door to the Covid isolation ward is bolted shut and overgrown with weeds. People cram together for weddings, soccer matches, concerts, with no masks in sight.
Sierra Leone, a nation of eight million on the coast of Western Africa, feels like a land inexplicably spared as a plague passed overhead. What has happened — or hasn’t happened — here and in much of sub-Saharan Africa is a great mystery of the pandemic.
The low rate of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths in West and Central Africa is the focus of a debate that has divided scientists on the continent and beyond. Have the sick or dead simply not been counted? If Covid has in fact done less damage here, why is that? If it has been just as vicious, how have we missed it?
The answers “are relevant not just to us, but have implications for the greater public good,” said Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s health minister, in an interview in Freetown, the capital.
The assertion that Covid isn’t as big a threat in Africa has sparked debate about whether the African Union’s push to vaccinate 70 percent of Africans against the virus this year is the best use of health care resources, given that the devastation from other pathogens, such as malaria, appears to be much higher.
In the first months of the pandemic, there was fear that Covid might eviscerate Africa, tearing through countries with health systems as weak as Sierra Leone’s, where there are just three doctors for every 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. The high prevalence of malaria, H.I.V., tuberculosis and malnutrition was seen as kindling for disaster.
That has not happened. The first iteration of the virus that raced around the world had comparatively minimal impact here. The Beta variant ravaged South Africa, as did Delta and Omicron, yet much of the rest of the continent did not record similar death tolls.
Into Year Three of the pandemic, new research shows there is no longer any question of whether Covid has spread widely in Africa. It has.
Studies that tested blood samples for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the official name for the virus that causes Covid, show that about two-thirds of the population in most sub-Saharan countries do indeed have those antibodies. Since only 14 percent of the population has received any kind of Covid vaccination, the antibodies are overwhelmingly from infection.
A new W.H.O.-led analysis, not yet peer-reviewed, synthesized surveys from across the continent and found that 65 percent of Africans had been infected by the third quarter of 2021, higher than the rate in many parts of the world. Just 4 percent of Africans had been vaccinated when these data were gathered.
So the virus is in Africa. Is it killing fewer people?
Some speculation has focused on the relative youth of Africans. Their median age is 19 years, compared with 43 in Europe and 38 in the United States. Nearly two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under 25, and only 3 percent is 65 or older. That means far fewer people, comparatively, have lived long enough to develop the health issues (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer) that can sharply increase the risk of severe disease and death from Covid. Young people infected by the coronavirus are often asymptomatic, which could account for the low number of reported cases.
Plenty of other hypotheses have been floated. High temperatures and the fact that much of life is spent outdoors could be preventing spread. Or the low population density in many areas, or limited public transportation infrastructure. Perhaps exposure to other pathogens, including coronaviruses and deadly infections such as Lassa fever and Ebola, has somehow offered protection.
Since Covid tore through South and Southeast Asia last year, it has become harder to accept these theories. After all, the population of India is young, too (with a median age of 28), and temperatures in the country are also relatively high. But researchers have found that the Delta variant caused millions of deaths in India, far more than the 400,000 officially reported. And rates of infection with malaria and other coronaviruses are high in places, including India, that have also seen high Covid fatality rates.
So are Covid deaths in Africa simply not counted?
Most global Covid trackers register no cases in Sierra Leone because testing for the virus here is effectively nonexistent. With no testing, there are no cases to report. A research project at Njala University in Sierra Leone has found that 78 percent of people have antibodies for this coronavirus. Yet Sierra Leone has reported only 125 Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Most people die in their homes, not in hospitals, either because they can’t reach a medical facility or because their families take them home to die. Many deaths are never registered with civil authorities.
This pattern is common across sub-Saharan Africa. A recent survey by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa found that official registration systems captured only one in three deaths.
The one sub-Saharan country where almost every death is counted is South Africa. And it’s clear from the data that Covid has killed a great many people in that country, far more than the reported virus deaths. Excess mortality data show that between May 2020 and September 2021, some 250,000 more people died from natural causes than was predicted for that time period, based on the pattern in previous years. Surges in death rates match those in Covid cases, suggesting the virus was the culprit.
Dr. Lawrence Mwananyanda, a Boston University epidemiologist and special adviser to the president of Zambia, said he had no doubt that the impact in Zambia had been just as severe as in South Africa, but that Zambian deaths simply had not been captured by a much weaker registration system. Zambia, a country of more than 18 million people, has reported 4,000 Covid-19 deaths.
“If that is happening in South Africa, why should it be different here?” he said. In fact, he added, South Africa has a much stronger health system, which ought to mean a lower death rate, rather than a higher one.
A research team he led found that during Zambia’s Delta wave, 87 percent of bodies in hospital morgues were infected with Covid. “The morgue was full. Nothing else is different — what is different is that we just have very poor data.”
The Economist, which has been tracking excess deaths throughout the pandemic, shows similar rates of death across Africa. Sondre Solstad, who runs the Africa model, said that there had been between one million and 2.9 million excess deaths on the continent during the pandemic.
“It would be beautiful if Africans were spared, but they aren’t,” he said.
But many scientists tracking the pandemic on the ground disagree. It’s not possible that hundreds of thousands or even millions of Covid deaths could have gone unnoticed, they say.
“We have not seen massive burials in Africa. If that had happened, we’d have seen it,” said Dr. Thierno Baldé, who runs the W.H.O.’s Covid emergency response in Africa.
“A death in Africa never goes unrecorded, as much as we are poor at record-keeping,” said Dr. Abdhalah Ziraba, an epidemiologist at the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya. “There is a funeral, an announcement: A burial is never done within a week because it is a big event. For someone sitting in New York hypothesizing that they were unrecorded — well, we may not have the accurate numbers, but the perception is palpable. In the media, in your social circle, you know if there are deaths.”
Dr. Demby, the Sierra Leone health minister, who is an epidemiologist by training, agreed. “We haven’t had overflowing hospitals. We haven’t,” he said. “There is no evidence that excess deaths are occurring.”
Which could be keeping the death rate lower?
While health surveillance is weak, he acknowledged, Sierra Leoneans have the recent, terrible experience of Ebola, which killed 4,000 people here in 2014-16. Since then, he said, citizens have been on alert for an infectious agent that could be killing people in their communities. They would not continue to pack into events if that were the case, he said.
Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who is on the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Covid task force and who was part of the research team tracking excess deaths in South Africa, believes the death toll continentwide is probably consistent with that of his country. There is simply no reason that Gambians or Ethiopians would be less vulnerable to Covid than South Africans, he said.
But he also said it was clear that large numbers of people were not turning up in the hospital with respiratory distress. The young population is clearly a key factor, he said, while some older people who die of strokes and other Covid-induced causes are not being identified as coronavirus deaths. Many are not making it to the hospital at all, and their deaths are not registered. But others are not falling ill at rates seen elsewhere, and that’s a mystery that needs unraveling.
“It’s hugely relevant to things as basic as vaccine development and treatment,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, who heads the Centre for Global Health Research in Toronto and is leading work to analyze causes of death in Sierra Leone.
Researchers working with Dr. Jha are using novel methods — such as looking for any increase in revenue from obituaries at radio stations in Sierra Leonean towns over the past two years — to try to see if deaths could have risen unnoticed, but he said it was clear there had been no tide of desperately sick people.
Some organizations working on the Covid vaccination effort say the lower rates of illness and death should be driving a rethinking of policy. John Johnson, vaccination adviser for Doctors Without Borders, said that vaccinating 70 percent of Africans made sense a year ago when it seemed like vaccines might provide long-term immunity and make it possible to end Covid-19 transmission. But now that it’s clear that protection wanes, collective immunity no longer looks achievable. And so an immunization strategy that focuses on protecting just the most vulnerable would arguably be a better use of resources in a place such as Sierra Leone.
“Is this the most important thing to try to carry out in countries where there are much bigger problems with malaria, with polio, with measles, with cholera, with meningitis, with malnutrition? Is this what we want to spend our resources on in those countries?” he asked. “Because at this point, it’s not for those people: It’s to try to prevent new variants.”
And new variants of Covid pose the greatest risk in places with older populations and high levels of comorbidities such as obesity, he said.
Other experts cautioned that the virus remained an unpredictable foe and that scaling back efforts to vaccinate sub-Saharan Africans could yet lead to tragedy.
“We can’t get complacent and assume Africa can’t go the way of India,” Dr. Jha said.
A new variant as infectious as Omicron but more lethal than Delta could yet emerge, he warned, leaving Africans vulnerable unless vaccination rates increased significantly.
“We should really avoid the hubris that all Africa is safe,” he said.
A deadly weekend was an ominous harbinger for the summer months ahead, which is typically America’s most violent time.
By Tim Arango and Troy Closson, March 23, 2022
Hayden Kiger, 27, shows a customer a rifle at McBride’s Gun Store in Austin, Texas. Supporters of new laws allowing people to carry a gun without a permit argue that it allows citizens to defend themselves at a time of rising gun violence. Credit...Matthew Busch for The New York Times
On Friday night in Louisiana, a seven-month-old baby was shot in the head, caught in the crossfire during a drive-by shooting. In Norfolk, Va., an argument early Saturday over a spilled drink escalated into gunfire outside a pizzeria, killing two people, including a young reporter for the local newspaper.
Later that same day in the Arkansas farming town of Dumas, an annual car show and community event to promote nonviolence became a bloody crime scene after a gunfight broke out, killing one and injuring more than two dozen people, including several children.
And in Miami Beach, where spring break revelers have descended, officials this week declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew after a pair of weekend shootings.
All told, in a single weekend when the calendar turned to spring, there were at least nine mass shooting events — defined by at least four people shot — across the country, as well as many more with fewer victims. It was an ominous harbinger for the warmer summer months ahead, which is typically America’s most violent time.
“We can’t endure this anymore, we just simply can’t,” said Dan Gelber, the mayor of Miami Beach, in announcing the curfew. “This isn’t your father’s, your mother’s spring break. This is something totally different.”
The surge in gun violence in the United States that began in 2020 as the pandemic set in and continued through a summer of unrest following the murder of George Floyd, shows no sign of easing. Homicides were up 30 percent that year, the largest annual recorded increase.
While in most places gun violence has not reached the record levels of the 1990s, and other types of crime have remained low during the pandemic, the continued drumbeat of shootings has forced officials like those in Miami Beach to take extraordinary measures at a time when gun ownership has soared, and as some states have moved to pass laws to allow easier access to firearms.
“When picnics and outside events like this car show, when all that happens that’s a kickoff” to a period of violence, said Mark Bryant, the founder of the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that collects data on shootings. “And I’m just afraid the kickoff was this weekend.”
James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metro State University in Minnesota and co-founder of the Violence Project, which researches mass shootings, said the types of shootings that occurred over the weekend in public spaces, like the one at the car show in Arkansas, grab people’s attention because they took the lives of innocent bystanders. But, he said, they obscure the fact that the majority of the gun violence that plagues America doesn’t affect strangers. It’s more likely to be the settling of personal grudges or tit-for-tat gang shootings that have surged in cities like Los Angeles.
In New York City, many neighborhoods where shootings have long been part of the fabric of daily life — largely lower-income with predominantly Black and Latino residents — bear the brunt of the pandemic’s sustained spike in gun violence. Last weekend, 29 people were shot, including two patrons at a bar in Queens; a man on a subway platform in Brooklyn; and a Jamaican immigrant, who was killed after an argument in the Bronx.
Mayor Eric Adams, who took office at the start of the year after campaigning on a message of public safety, has focused on the prevalence of firearms on city streets, attempting to curtail their spread through legislative and policing changes. He has repeatedly asked the courts and state lawmakers to treat weapon offenses with harsher penalties, calling for decreasing the minimum age that someone can be charged as an adult in certain situations and for revising the state’s 2020 bail reform laws.
“I say this over and over again,” Mr. Adams said at a news conference on Monday, “we need help from Washington, we need help on the state level. We need help. But with or without that help, we’re going to make our city a safe city.”
Mr. Adams, a former police captain, also played a crucial role in the reinstatement of a specialized N.Y.P.D. unit that focuses on gun arrests, which was disbanded in 2020, amid citywide protests following the murder of Mr. Floyd. Officers in the unit last week began to patrol about 25 areas of the city to recover weapons where shootings are particularly high.
Around the country, gun purchases, which surged in 2020, have begun to level off, at least when measured by the number of federal background checks, a proximate measure of Americans’ gun-buying habits. After setting records during the pandemic — in a single week in March of 2021 the F.B.I. reported more than 1.2 million background checks, the highest ever — figures have largely returned to prepandemic levels.
Still, researchers estimate that there are at least 15 million more guns in circulation in the country than there would have been had there not been such a large increase in purchasing during the pandemic.
Garen J. Wintemute, who researches gun violence at the University of California, Davis, said that while he was pleased to see the apparent reversal in the surge of gun purchases, “we have no choice but to live through the aftermath, whatever it is going to be. We’re doing that now.”
Criminologists and researchers say no single cause explains the rise in gun violence, but they point to a confluence of traumatic events, from the economic and social disruptions of the pandemic to the unrest of 2020, as well as the accompanying surge in gun ownership.
Dr. Wintemute said he worries that Americans increasingly see those they disagree with as the enemy.
“We have lowered the bar, the threshold of insult or affront or whatever, that’s necessary for violence to seem legitimate,” he said.
The rise in shootings comes as some Republican lawmakers in red states move to pass more permissive gun laws.
On Monday, Eric Holcomb, the Republican governor of Indiana, signed a bill that will allow people to carry handguns without first securing a permit. Earlier this year, Ohio and Alabama also passed so-called “constitutional carry” laws. Last year, five other states — Iowa, Texas, Utah, Tennessee and Montana — approved similar laws.
Supporters of the new laws have framed them as necessary to allow citizens to defend themselves at a time of rising gun violence, and when there is at least the perception that police in some communities have been less visible following the protests of 2020.
“We are at a time right now when police feel handcuffed, citizens don’t know where they can turn for help and this just gives us a fighting chance,” Rob Sexton, the legislative affairs director for the Buckeye Firearms Association, which lobbied for the new law in Ohio, recently told the Statehouse News Bureau.
Still, some in law enforcement object to the new laws, arguing that they will put officers at risk.
At the federal level, promises to spend billions on community violence prevention programs — like groups led by former gang members working in hospitals and in the streets to reduce gun crime — have so far gone unfulfilled, as the centerpiece of President Biden’s domestic agenda, the Build Back Better bill, has stalled.
“It’s going to be a real shame if that funding doesn’t come through,” Dr. Wintemute said. “We’re going to be heading into a summer where we still have the pandemic — sorry, we still will — there will be war in the background, in Ukraine and maybe other places too by then. It’s a federal election year, and it’s going to be very hot.”
On Sunday morning in Dumas, Ark., the parking lot of Fred’s Store, wedged between a McDonald’s and a butcher shop, was stained with blood, while police were still searching for suspects in Saturday night’s shooting.
“Kids were enjoying themselves, people were enjoying themselves,” said Amber Brown-Madison, a local politician who attended the annual event, which had been canceled for two years because of the pandemic, with her children and her sister.“After we heard about two or three shots, I immediately grabbed my sister and my children. We just hit the ground. That’s all we could do. I couldn’t say anything but, ‘Jesus.’”
Rob Moritz contributed reporting from Dumas, Ark.
By Mark Satinoff and Argiris Malapanis, March 22, 2022https://world-outlook.com/2022/03/22/amazon-labor-union-pre-election-rally-vote-yes/
Amazon workers march in front of JFK8 Amazon fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, at conclusion of March 20, 2022, union rally. (Photo: Argiris Malapanis / World-Outlook)
STATEN ISLAND, New York, March 20, 2022 — “We will win! We will win!” reverberated across the main entrance to Amazon’s giant JFK8 fulfillment center this afternoon. About 300 Amazon warehouse workers and their supporters rallied here to boost efforts by the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) to win representation for more than 7,000 workers employed at JFK8. Workers will vote in person March 25-30 in a large tent set up in front of the facility.
In addition to ALU organizers, representatives of other unions and several politicians addressed the rally pledging support for the union organizing effort. They included Steve Lawton of Communication Workers of America Local 1102 and Jean-Homère Lauture of UNITE HERE Local 100. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, and New York State Senator Jessica Ramos also spoke at the rally.
Lauture explained that Local 100 made its headquarters available for daily phone banking to reach Amazon workers and convince them to vote for the union.
Delegations from the Service Employees International Union Local 1199, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 342, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also took part in the event. Nurses, teachers, and students, faculty and staff from the College of Staten Island, Baruch College, and other area schools participated as well.
Many Amazon truck drivers and other workers driving by slowed down, honked their horns, and gave thumbs up in solidarity as they passed by the rally.
Short, moving speeches by a dozen ALU organizers were the centerpiece of the event, describing the year-long effort culminating in the vote set to start within days. (Videos of these remarks by several ALU organizers are posted at the end of this article.)
Two years ago, Amazon fired ALU president Chris Smalls after he led a walkout over health and safety conditions at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking at the rally, he described how the ALU — a grassroots group with no affiliation to any established national trade union — started less than a year ago with “no money, no resources, no real guidance, and a pro bono lawyer, Seth Goldstein.”
At first, the union’s resources consisted of two chairs, two tables, and a blue tent that workers set up every day at the bus stop across from JFK8.
“There were days where we signed up only one worker, and we thought all was lost,” Smalls said. “We had a setback when we had to withdraw the petition we submitted to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board], because Amazon had fired a thousand workers in less than six months, and we didn’t have enough signatures. Then there were days when we came out here and signed up nearly 200 workers in one day. We had days where we came into the building, and everybody was happy to see us. We built a relationship with and earned the trust of the workers.”
Guarded optimism for a union victory
Even before the pandemic, which increased attrition across the labor market, the turnover in Amazon’s workforce was roughly 150 percent a year, almost double that of the entire retail and logistics industries. This means some workers who have signed union cards may no longer be working at Amazon by the time the union files its petition with the NLRB, or a representation vote takes place. This is one of the main challenges ALU organizers face.
Connor Spence, ALU vice president for membership, addressed this point at the rally. Workers are treated like disposable commodities, he said. “They might not need me, and they might not need you, but they need us,” he emphasized. “If we stand together and we fight together, we can win the victories that will change our lives.”
Rank-and-file organizers explained the reasons for their optimism that the ALU stands a good chance of winning the upcoming election. In less than a year, the ALU signed up over 4,000 workers at JFK8 and an adjacent warehouse, LDJ5.
Derrick Palmer, ALU’s vice president for organizing, has been working at Amazon for six years, which makes him among the most experienced workers. He has trained over 1,000 workers, has been a lead, and has worked in almost every department. Earlier in his employment, management even flew him to a facility in another state to train the workforce.
“Initially they told me if you work hard, you’ll be able to move up within the company, which is what I wanted to do,” he told the rally. “Well, it didn’t work out that way. I tried to move up and got denied a million times. Other workers who’ve been with the company for four months, five months, got promoted–just like that. All because they were cool with the managers. So, there’s favoritism in Amazon. There’s a lot of racism in Amazon and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to unionize.”
Palmer explained that many workers are scared to speak up because they don’t know their rights, so the ALU has focused on educating about the role of unions in giving workers a voice. “Amazon treats these workers like pawns on the chess board,” he said. “But I guarantee when we win this election, they’re going to treat them like kings and queens.”
ALU secretary Karen Ponce works the night shift at JFK8. She joined the union organizing drive recently. When she was hired, she knew nothing about unions, she told the rally.
“All I had heard was Amazon’s side of the story,” she said. “I saw the ALU outside hosting barbecues and I wanted a cheeseburger, but I was too scared to approach them. So, I did my research. I asked questions and found out that organizing a union is actually protected under the law. Amazon doesn’t want us to know that.”
Ponce continued: “I’m here for people with disabilities who don’t get accommodated. I’m here for the people that get fired left and right, including my sister. The first day I was hired she was fired. And you don’t get fired for being lazy. You get fired because you can’t keep up with their robots. Just the other week I got written up. When I asked who’s giving me this write up, I was told the system wrote me up! HR [Human Resources] is here to protect Amazon. We need somebody to protect the workers. We’re here for all the workers that don’t speak up. I want to thank the ALU for giving me that voice, for giving me that confidence, and for teaching me my rights.”
‘Inflation is eating up our paychecks’
Angelika (Angie) Maldonado has worked at JFK8 since 2018. She is a single mother who now chairs the ALU’s Worker’s Committee, which is responsible for educating and advocating for the union inside the warehouse. “Some workers are intimidated because they don’t know their rights,” she told World-Outlook in an interview. “Our job is to speak to their concerns and answer their questions.”
The committee distributes literature and posts ALU notices in every break room. “Since the ALU is a worker-led union, one of the committee’s most important jobs is for every organizer to recruit more organizers,” she said.
Michelle Arady Valentín Nieves, who has worked at JFK8 for three years, is one. “I was tired, overworked, exhausted,” she told World-Outlook in an interview. Nieves said she joined the union effort four months ago when ALU organizers helped her deal with harassment from her manager after Nieves spoke up against the fast pace of work that results in many injuries.
In addition, “inflation is now eating up our paychecks,” she noted. Even though Amazon has been boasting that hourly wages starting at $15 an hour is good pay, many workers find it harder and harder to make ends meet. “We can’t stay current with utility bills or pay for childcare. This is another reason support for the union is growing.”
Fighting sexual harassment
ALU treasurer Maddie Wesley works at the LDJ5 warehouse, which employs 1,600 workers. The NLRB recently certified that the ALU had gathered enough signatures for a union vote to be held there, and set April 25-29 as the dates for a representation election at LDJ5.
Wesley told the rally about overt sexual harassment she and another worker faced on the job shortly after getting hired last August. It took the form of verbal abuse, text messages, and attempted touching.
As new employees, the young women “didn’t want to cause any trouble” and they didn’t tell the company initially. They did report the harassment last November. Management didn’t take it seriously and said there was nothing they could do about it.
The harassment continued. Wesley said she had to “keep looking over my shoulder every day that I knew he was on shift because he would pop up right behind me and say something completely inappropriate and try to touch me.”
Three weeks after reporting the incidents to management with no resolution, Wesley informed Chris Smalls. “That’s when my union family got involved,” she explained.
“Chris and some of the other union people started protesting outside the building, demanding that Amazon address the multiple sexual harassment cases that we knew were happening in LDJ5. After I started talking to my coworkers and sharing my story, I found out that I was not alone. Other women had gone through the same thing. Two days after the ALU started protesting, the workers carrying out the harassment were suspended. It proves the union has power and that every worker needs a union.”
Connor Spence, the ALU vice president for membership, has worked at Amazon for four years. He said he knew a union was needed and waited years for “somebody to come unionize Amazon, for somebody to save us.”
Then, he told the rally, “One day I realized that’s not how it works. It can only be done by the workers themselves. Nobody’s coming to save us. The union is how you save yourself. The ALU is a way for the workers of Staten Island, and afterwards, the rest of the country, to save themselves, protect themselves, and protect each other.”
When Amazon workers cast a “Yes” vote next week, “We are making a commitment to work together,” he said. “That’s what unionizing is. It’s a commitment and a recognition that when we unite, we have power, and we can make powerful demands of the company that we built. You know it, I know it, and Amazon definitely knows it. That’s why they fight us so hard.”
Gerald Bryson is a case in point. Amazon fired Bryson in 2020 while he was also protesting unsafe company practices early in the pandemic. His case for reinstatement has sat with an administrative law judge for two years, even though the NLRB determined that Bryson’s firing was illegal retaliation for his workplace organizing.
In a rare move, the NLRB sued Amazon in federal court March 17 demanding an injunction to force the company to rehire Bryson before the upcoming union vote. The suit also demands that Amazon post notices at the facility that it is illegal to terminate workers for union organizing activities, and read aloud a statement of worker rights at mandatory employee meetings.
“I hope I will be back and vote yes for the union next week,” Bryson told the rally.
Intensive phone banking
For the past few weeks the ALU has been on an intensive campaign to call every worker at JFK8. The response has been “more than 60 percent in favor of the union,” Wesley said in an interview. ALU organizers and other volunteers are calling back those still undecided to discuss their concerns and answer questions.
As the election approaches, Amazon has been changing previously established policies in an effort to intimidate workers and make it harder to campaign for the union on the job. This includes altering clock-in and -out procedures, denying overtime to selected workers, and threatening to ban use of cellphones.
In response, the ALU has formulated a list of eight demands over health and safety issues, pay, overtime, transportation, and time off. You can see the demands here.
The rally ended with a spirited march through the parking lot and in front of the main entrance to JFK8. “ALU, Vote Yes!” workers chanted.
—Sheerpost, March 25, 2022
"Disintegration Policy." [Illustration by Mr. Fish]
London—I am standing at the gates of HM Prison Belmarsh, a high security penitentiary in southeast London, with Craig Murray, British Ambassador to Uzbekistan until he was fired for exposing CIA black sites and torture centers in that country. Inside the prison, Julian Assange and Stella Moris are being married. Craig and I were on the list of the six guests invited to the wedding, but prison authorities, in an example of the institutional sadism that characterizes all prisons, denied us entry. Craig, who was to have been one of two witnesses, was informed that he could not enter because he would “endanger the security of the prison.”
Craig came down from Edinburgh by train. I flew over from New York. We would at least be at the entrance of the prison with 150 Assange supporters. Craig, dressed in full Scottish regalia—and a kilt he admitted to expanding every few years to accommodate his broadening girth—made a fashion statement and perhaps a point about Scottish independence. He was outdone by Stella, who wore a flowing ice lilac A-line bridal gown, corset with plastic stays so she could pass through the four metal detectors, and veil designed and donated by fashion designers Vivienne Westwood and Andreas Kronthaler.
“It’s a part of the ongoing mental torture that even on his happiest day they will at the last moment strike off guests on his guest list just to mess him about, just to try and make things as unpleasant as they can possibly make them,” Craig laments. “We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a piece of the unnecessary cruelty with which he has been kept from the start. Why on earth is he even in a maximum-security prison built to house terrorists? I’m quite amused by the explanation that I endanger the security of the prison. I feel quite flattered by this. I couldn’t understand it all until today when, of course, it occurred to me that I look incredibly sexy in my kilt and they thought a prison riot might ensue.”
The day is bittersweet. Julian may never be able to live with his wife and family. Yet it is an affirmation of love and commitment and hope carried out in a small side room with folding chairs and a laminate table. The prison authorities denied Julian and Stella use of the chapel. The ceremony was witnessed by six family members, including Julian and Stella’s two young sons, one of whom fell asleep and the other of whom was preoccupied with a paper plane and tried to turn on one of the alarms. Two guards were stationed in the room.
There was no reception. There was no cake. The prison denied Julian and Stella’s request for a photographer. A guard took a few pictures, but prison authorities told Julian and Stella they could not be posted on social media or shared with the public. They were allowed to kiss. This prompted the older boy, Gabriel, to say, the family told me, “Oh, that’s a sloppy one.” Afterwards, the Catholic chaplain, who had the foresight to bring a white tablecloth and candles, gave them his blessing. Julian and Stella were given half-an-hour together in a crowded visitors hall. And then Julian, prisoner A 9379AY, was escorted back to his cell to the applause of the prisoners on his tier.
“It was an act of defiance,” Stella tells me later of the wedding. “You can tell by how much they fear it.”
The campaign to dehumanize Julian, who honored his Scottish roots wearing a purple and beige kilt, along with a purple tie and waistcoat, also donated and designed by Westwood and Kronthaler, extends to his wedding day. No doubt one of the reasons Craig, whose coverage of the court proceedings for Julian have been dogged and brilliant, and I were not at the wedding is because the prison authorities did not want us to write about the wedding, which they should have known we would do whether we were in the prison or not.
“They have viciousness,” Craig says. “They have the ability to employ the violence of the state. They have arbitrary power they can use to take cruel and nasty decisions for the sake of it, just to show that they can, but we, on our side, have peace and love and truth. Those values, at the end of the day, are far more important.”
Julian is targeted because his organization WikiLeaks released the Iraq War Logs in October 2010, which documented numerous U.S. war crimes—including images seen in the Collateral Murder video—of gunning down two Reuters journalists and ten other unarmed civilians.
He is targeted because he made public the killing of nearly 700 civilians that had approached too closely to U.S. checkpoints.
He is targeted because he exposed the hacking tools used by the CIA known as Vault 7, exposing that the CIA is able to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers and the operating systems of most smart phones, as well as operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux.
He is targeted because he exposed the more than 15,000 unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, the torture and abuse of some 800 men and boys, aged between 14 to and 89, at Guantánamo.
He is targeted because he showed us that Hillary Clinton in 2009 ordered U.S. diplomats to spy on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other U.N. representatives from China, France, Russia, and the UK, spying that included obtaining DNA, iris scans, fingerprints, and personal passwords, part of the long pattern of illegal surveillance that included the eavesdropping on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
He is targeted because he exposed that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA orchestrated the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, replacing it with a murderous and corrupt military regime. He is targeted because he released documents that revealed that the United States secretly launched missile, bomb, and drone attacks on Yemen, killing scores of civilians.
He is targeted because he made public the $657,000 paid to Hillary Clinton by Goldman Sachs to give talks and her private assurances to corporate leaders that she would do their bidding while promising the public financial regulation and reform. He is targeted because he revealed the internal campaign to discredit and destroy British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by members of his own party.
For these truths alone he is guilty.
The Biden administration is determined to extradite Julian and charge him with 17 counts of the Espionage Act and one count of hacking into a government computer, which would send him to prison for 175 years. I sat through some of the court proceedings in London. It was a judicial farce, especially since the Spanish security firm UC Global at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian had taken refuge for seven years, recorded all of Julian’s conversations with his attorneys and turned them over to the CIA. That fact alone should invalidate the trial. But there is also the bald fact that Julian never committed a crime.
Julian is not a U.S. citizen. WikiLeaks is not a U.S.-based publication. And yet he is charged, under the U.S. Espionage Act, with treason. It is judicial pantomime, a show trial where the rule of law is sabotaged by barristers in horsehair wigs and grand inquisitors such as Gordon Kromberg, the Assistant United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who handles high profile terrorism and national security cases. Kromberg has open contempt for Muslims, Islam and anyone who defies the state. He has denounced what he calls “the Islamization of the American justice system.”
Kromberg oversaw the nine-year persecution of the Palestinian activist and academic Dr. Sami Al-Arian and at one point refused his request to postpone a court date during the religious holiday of Ramadan. “They can kill each other during Ramadan, they can appear before the grand jury. All they can’t do is eat before sunset,” Kromberg said in a 2006 conversation, according to an affidavit filed by one of Arian’s attorneys, Jack Fernandez. Kromberg criticized Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst who was sentenced to 45 months in prison for leaking information about the indiscriminate killings of civilians by drones, saying Hale had not contributed to public debate but had “endanger[ed] the people doing the fight.” He ordered Chelsea Manning jailed after she refused to testify in front of a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks. Manning attempted to commit suicide in March 2020 while being held in a Virginia jail.
The perversion of the law for all of us who follow Julian’s case is chilling. It presages the rise of a global corporate totalitarianism, one where the law is a tool not of justice but oppression.
The U.S. successfully won an appeal of a lower British court ruling that denied the U.S. request to extradite Assange because his psychological fragility makes him a suicide risk and the conditions under which he would be held in the American prison system awaiting trial are inhumane.
Julian appealed in an effort to reinstate the original ruling. His appeal was denied. Home Secretary Priti Patel will rule soon on whether he will be extradited. If she decides to extradite Julian, he can go back to the lower court to appeal the points on which he was found guilty. If the High Court rules in his favor, the U.S. can appeal that decision to the Supreme Court. This legal dance will probably take a year. If the High Court rejects Julian’s appeal, he could be extradited within weeks.
Julian has been observed pacing his cell obsessively, punching himself in the face, banging his head against the wall, repeatedly calling the Samaritan hotline because he was thinking about committing suicide “hundreds-of-times a day” and hallucinating. A razor was found under his socks. He told Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, who brought in UN doctors to examine Julian, that if he was extradited, he would kill himself. He suffered a stroke during his trial last October. He is on antidepressants, anti-stroke medication and the antipsychotic Quetiapine. He is gaunt, his posture is poor and his color ashen. He has spent months in the prison’s medical wing. Julian, as Melzer concluded in his UN report, is being methodically and systematically tortured. The goal of the U.S. and UK governments is to turn Julian’s psychological and perhaps physical obliteration into a chilling warning to anyone who might also attempt to shine a light on the inner workings of power.
I like and admire Julian. He is intellectually curious, incredibly courageous, funny and, at least when I was with him in the Ecuadorian Embassy, charmingly boyish. He could have easily used his precocious computer skills to make a very comfortable life for himself working for high finance or national security agencies. He chose instead to use those skills for the public, in the service of truth. He provided the most important body of information of our generation about the war crimes, lies, corruption and cynicism that defines the ruling elites. This information ripped back the veil on the centers of power around the globe, sparking movements and popular protests from Tunisia to Haiti.
If Assange is extradited and found guilty of publishing classified material, it will set a legal precedent that will effectively end national security reporting, allowing the government to charge any reporter who possesses classified documents, and any whistleblower who leaks classified information, under the Espionage Act. The inner workings of power will be shrouded in darkness, with very ominous consequences for press freedom and democracy.
It is night. I am in Stella’s house with the wedding party, her mother, her brother, Julian’s father, and Julian’s brother, as well as Julian and Stella’s two young boys.
“He has been disappeared,” Stella says softly. “The only pictures that have emerged of him since 2019 have been illegally taken in the courtroom, everything else has been court illustrations and pictures from the prison van from 2019.”
“Walking out was really jarring,” she adds.
Stella and Julian spent years trying to get married. They first asked the Ecuadorian Ambassador to marry them, but Julian was not an Ecuadorian citizen. Once Julian was granted Ecuadorian citizenship the new government in Quito had become hostile. Stella and Julian began to lobby the prison for the right to marry in 2020, but the prison authorities did not respond to their requests until they threatened a lawsuit.
Stella brings down her satin wedding dress with its three-quarter sleeves and her veil to let us examine it. On the inside flap of the dress Vivienne Westwood has written this: “To me, Vivienne, Julian is a pure soul and a freedom fighter. All my love to the family, Julian, Stella, Max, and Gabriel. May the holy life force bless your marriage.” The veil has embroidered into it words from family and friends. Julian chose “Enduring Love.” Ardent. Boundless. Joyous. Resilient. Incandescent. Wild. Valiant. Resolute. Tender. Stubborn. Tumultuous. Patient. Yearning. Fearless. Eternal.
“For their love to have grown and flourished in these dire circumstances of ceaseless persecution and psychological torture,” John Shipton, Julian’s father tells me. “Love transcends the circumstances.”
He turns towards his two young grandchildren.
“You can see it produced two lovely, joyful children,” he says.
It is late. Stella cuts her wedding cake on the wooden kitchen table. The top tier is lemon. The bottom is raspberry. We eat silently.
Pray for Julian. Pray for Stella. Pray for their children. Pray for us all.
More than three weeks after her 14-year-old son was shot to death, Dora Vela is still trying to learn the basic facts of the case.
By Edgar Sandoval, March 26, 2022
Edgar Sandoval spent a week talking to officials, residents and family members in Midland, Texas, for this article.
On the afternoon of March 3, Dora Vela was in the middle of her shift as a mail carrier when a message on her phone popped up with news about her 14-year-old son. Ms. Vela immediately called back.
“Juan is dead,” a woman’s voice told her, referencing her son, Juan Herrera, who had run away from home late last year.
“How do you know this?” Ms. Vela recalled shouting back. “What happened? Where is my son? I freaked out.”
The caller, who said she had been sheltering Juan as well as at least four other youths, went on to tell her that her son was fatally shot after a local sheriff’s deputy responded to a call about a burglary in progress at an upscale apartment complex in Midland, a midsize city in West Texas.
But more than three weeks after her son’s death, Ms. Vela knows little more than that. She has not seen an autopsy report or been told who fired how many shots and why. An unnamed sheriff’s deputy has been placed on administrative leave, as is customary in police-involved shooting investigations, officials said, but no information has been released about what happened at the scene and whether the deputy was the shooter.
Moments after being told Juan had been shot, Ms. Vela rushed to Midland Memorial Hospital. But she said she was not allowed to see him and was originally given a description of the shooting by law enforcement officials that did not match her son. It took her more than five days to locate his remains in Dallas, some 330 miles away, where his body was sent to facilitate the identification of his dental records, she said.
“I have so many questions,” Ms. Vela, who also has three daughters, said last week at her modest home. “And no one’s telling me what happened.”
The result is both a fog, with a 14-year-old youth dead, and a reminder of the struggles that many families, particularly those without means, can face in finding out even the most basic facts about officer-involved deaths.
The Texas Rangers, state police investigators often assigned to sensitive cases, have taken over the inquiry from the Midland County sheriff’s office and have said little about what transpired that day. In a vague statement released to the media, the authorities said that at around 2:20 a.m. on March 3 a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to the Sandstone Ridge Apartments, an upscale, gated complex in the north part of town, and that shots were fired.
The authorities did not elaborate on details of the shooting but added that “the suspect” was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Nearly a week later Juan was identified via dental records. He was not carrying identification at the time of his death, which might help explain why his remains were sent to a medical examiner in a bigger city, Ms. Vela said.
But the mystery surrounding the case is eating away at Ms. Vela and others in Midland, in the heart of the West Texas oil patch. While the case has received little attention outside Texas, state civil rights activists have raised questions about the use of police force during encounters with Black and Latino people and the lack of information that often follows fatal encounters with the police.
Rodolfo Rosales, a state director with the Texas branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest and one of the largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States, urged the authorities to release any relevant footage and details about the shooting.
“The family deserves answers, the community deserves answers,” said Mr. Rosales, who is known to colleagues as Rudy. “There needs to be transparency.”
Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas State Police said no further information will be released to the public until the case has been presented to a Midland County grand jury.
Sitting in her living room, Ms. Vela reflected on her son’s brief life. She turned to a large photo of Juan wearing a white T-shirt and matching headphones.
At a young age, he found it difficult to concentrate and was later diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, she said.
Medication helped at first, but she terminated his treatment after he turned 11 because he complained of severe stomach aches. Ms. Vela had hoped that having him play football might keep his busy mind occupied. “He would get bored easily, but sports wasn’t for him,” she said.
His grades and behavior took a turn for the worse, and he was assigned to an alternative program for troubled youth, Ms. Vela and family members said. “It is there when he fell into the wrong crowd,” his mother said.
Ms. Vela said Juan ran away after what seemed like a routine argument between mother and son. Later, she learned he was living with a group of teenagers in another part of town. She eventually tracked some of their TikTok accounts that showed him sitting on the floor, looking distant and distraught, as seemingly older teenagers taunted him.
“Maybe he did not know how to get out of there,” she said. “Maybe he was afraid.”
With very little communication between her and the authorities, Ms. Vela and other relatives like Melanie Melendez, Juan’s aunt, have gathered bits of information talking to people on the streets and viewing social media.
On the early hours of March 3, they learned, Juan and four other friends had gone to the Sandstone Ridge Apartments, an upscale complex with a pool and a tanning deck, to do “car hopping,” in which young people commit thefts as opportunities arise and then speed away in a car, Ms. Vela said. That’s where the shooting took place, the police statement said.
It is unclear if the teenagers were armed or if the deputy was wearing a body camera.
Two weeks after his death, Juan’s body was mourned at a funeral home in Midland surrounded by heartbroken relatives.
Grief did not stop Ms. Vela from looking for clues about her son’s last moments. She wasn’t told where on his body he was shot or by how many bullets. But during a rosary prayer service, Ms. Vela stood over Juan’s open brown wooden coffin and noticed heavy layers of makeup on the top part of his face and that his hair was combed downward, as if to obscure an injury. A black rosary was placed on his folded hands.
In the background, the song “Un Dia a La Vez” — “One Day at a Time” — by Los Tigres del Norte, a norteño band, played as a photo slide showed Juan as a newborn staring curiously at the camera. Later slides showed him smiling next to his three sisters and goofing around with friends at school.
A day later, a small group of relatives attended his funeral at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and Shrine. The Rev. Timothy Hayter pointed at a statue of a crucified Jesus at the altar and tried to console them.
He asked the somber crowd to remember Juan as a shy teenager who loved music and drawing and who had said a prayer before riding a roller coaster.
“He was legitimately really afraid, and what did he do? He asked God to help him,” Father Hayter said. “And I have no doubt that in those darkest moments for him, that he did exactly what his mother taught him, to reach out to God.”
Some in the pews gasped loudly and others held one another tightly.
“Hang on to those moments,” the priest told them.
After the funeral, Ms. Vela and her oldest daughter, Esmeralda Herrera, 18, who moved back home from Arizona after her brother died, held on to remnants of his life. Ms. Herrera remembered that Juan had sent her a song he had recorded recently and pressed play on her phone. Mother and daughter took in every word.
“All by myself, I did it all by myself, in the streets all by myself” Juan sang. “You couldn’t tell, going through all of this hell.”
Scientists say a period of unusual weather, combined with record-low sea ice, led to the disintegration of the Conger ice shelf.
By Henry Fountain, March 25, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/25/climate/east-antarctica-ice-shelf-collapse.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Climate%20and%20Environment
For the first time since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago, an ice shelf has collapsed on the eastern part of the continent, scientists said.
The collapse of the 450-square-mile Conger ice shelf in a part of the continent called Wilkes Land occurred in mid-March. It was first spotted by scientists with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and appeared in satellite images taken on March 17, according to the National Ice Center in the United States.
Ice shelves are floating tongues of ice at the end of glaciers that in Antarctica serve as outlets for the continent’s massive ice sheets. Stresses cause cracks in the floating ice, and meltwater and other factors can cause the fissures to erode and grow to a point where the shelf disintegrates rapidly.
According to the National Ice Center, the largest fragment of the Conger shelf after the collapse was an iceberg, named C-38, that was about 200 square miles in size.
The loss of a shelf can allow faster movement of the glaciers behind it, which can lead to more rapid ice-sheet loss and thus greater sea-level rise. Ice-shelf loss is a major concern in West Antarctica, where warming related to climate change is having a greater effect than in the east.
Several very large glaciers in West Antarctica are already flowing faster and if their ice shelves were to collapse completely, sea levels could rise on the order of 10 feet over centuries.
But the two glaciers behind the Conger sheet are small, and even if they were to accelerate, would have minimal effect on sea level, on the order of fractions of an inch over a century or two, said Ted Scambos, a senior researcher at the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.
While some ice shelves have collapsed in West Antarctica — notably the much larger Larsen B, in 2002 — the Conger collapse is the first observed in East Antarctica since the era of satellite imagery began in 1979, said Catherine Walker, a glaciologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Dr. Walker, who had been monitoring the ice shelf for a few months, said it had been retreating for several years. “It was an unhealthy little ice shelf to begin with,” she said. But it had appeared to become stabilized, she said, between the mainland and a small island.
So while the collapse was not a complete surprise, it occurred sooner than expected, she said. She and Dr. Scambos agreed that recent weather in that part of Antarctica may have played a role.
In mid-March an atmospheric river, a plume of air heavy with water vapor, swept into East Antarctica from the ocean to the north. It resulted in record-setting warmth in some locations, with temperatures as much as 70 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal for this time of year.
The warmth could have led to more surface melting of the Conger ice shelf, helping to further erode its fissures and hastening its collapse. But Dr. Scambos said it was likely that the windy conditions resulting from the atmospheric river, combined with record-low sea ice around Antarctica this season, played a larger role.
Sea ice serves as a buffer, damping the swells that roll in to the coast from the Southern Ocean. With little ice, and with the wind stirring the ocean even more, the floating shelf flexed more than it normally would. “The flexing probably weakened the more fixed parts of the ice that held the shelf together,” Dr. Scambos said.
“The warm pulse probably didn’t do a lot,” he said, “but wind events and warm temperatures in the air and in the ocean certainly don’t help with ice-shelf stability.”
East Antarctica has been considered to be the more stable region of Antarctica, with less warming and even ice gains in some areas. The collapse of the Conger ice shelf doesn’t really change that view, Dr. Walker said. “We don’t see any indication that this is going to happen in the rest of East Antarctica anytime soon,” she said.
Dr. Scambos, who studies the more at-risk ice shelves and glaciers in West Antarctica, said it will be interesting to see what happens with the glaciers behind Conger. “Every time one of these things happens,” he said, “it tells us a little bit more about how bigger parts of Antarctica are going to respond when bigger events occur.”
By Rod Buntzen, March 27, 2022
Mr. Buntzen is the author of “My Armageddon Experience: A Nuclear Weapons Test Memoir.”
In the early days of his war against Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin told the world that he had ordered his nation’s nuclear forces to a higher state of readiness. Ever since, pundits, generals and politicians have speculated about what would happen if the Russian military used a nuclear weapon.
What would NATO do? Should the United States respond with its own nuclear weapons?
These speculations all sound hollow to me. Unconvincing words without feeling.
In 1958, as a young scientist for the U.S. Navy, I witnessed the detonation of an 8.9-megaton thermonuclear weapon as it sat on a barge in Eniwetok Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. I watched from across the lagoon at the beach on Parry Island, where my group prepared instrumentation to measure the atmospheric radiation. Sixty-three years later, what I saw remains etched in my mind, which is why I’m so alarmed that the use of nuclear weapons can be discussed so cavalierly in 2022.
Although the potential horror of nuclear weapons remains frozen in films from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the public today has little understanding of the stakes of the Cold War and what might be expected now if the war in Ukraine intentionally or accidentally spins out of control.
The test I witnessed, code-named Oak, was part of a larger series called Hardtack I, which included 35 nuclear detonations over several months in 1958. With world concern about atmospheric testing mounting, the military was eager to test as many different types of weapons as it could before any atmospheric moratorium was announced. The hydrogen bomb used in the Oak test was detonated at 7:30 a.m. A second bomb was set off at noon on nearby Bikini Atoll.
In a nuclear detonation, the thermal and shock effects are the most immediate and are unimaginable. The fission-fusion process that occurs in a thermonuclear explosion happens in a millionth of a second.
As I watched from 20 miles away, all the materials in the bomb, barge and surrounding lagoon water and air, out to a radius of several feet, had been vaporized and raised to a temperature of tens of million degrees.
As the X-rays and neutrons from the bomb raced outward, they left the heavier material particles behind, creating a radiation front that was absorbed by the surrounding air. The radiation, absorption, reradiation and expansion processes continued, cooling the bomb mass within milliseconds.
The outer high-pressure shock region cooled and lost its opacity as it raced toward me, and a hotter inner fireball again appeared.
This point in the process is called breakaway, occurring about three seconds after detonation, when the fireball radius was already nearly 5,500 feet.
By now, the fireball had begun to rise, engulfing more and more atmosphere and sweeping up coral and more lagoon water into an enormous column. The ball of fire eventually reached a radius of 1.65 miles.
Time seemed to have stopped. I had lost my count of the seconds.
The heat was becoming unbearable. Bare spots at my ankles were starting to hurt. The aluminum foil hood I had fashioned for protection was beginning to fail.
I thought that the hair on the back of my head might catch on fire.
The brightness of light the detonation created defies description. I worried that my high-density goggles would fail.
Keeping my eyes closed, I turned until I could see the edge of the fireball.
As I again turned away from the fireball, I opened my eyes inside the goggles and saw outlines of the trees and objects nearby.
The visible light penetrating my goggles increased, and the heat on my back grew more intense. I squirmed to distribute the heat from my side to my back.
About 30 or 40 seconds after detonation, I took off the goggles and watched the angry violet-red and brown cloud from the fireball.
As the rising cloud started to form a mushroom cap, I waited for the shock wave to arrive. In the distance, I could see a long vertical shadow approaching. I instinctively opened my mouth and moved my jaw side to side to equalize pressure difference across my eardrums, closed my eyes and put my hands over my ears.
It hit me like a full body slap, knocking me back. I opened my eyes to see another shadow approaching from a slightly different direction. Over the next few seconds, I felt several smaller blows created by reflections of the pressure wave off distant islands.
The fireball kept expanding and climbing at over 200 miles per hour, reaching an altitude of about 2 miles. The boiling mass 20 miles away turned into a mixture of white and gray vapor and continued its climb until it reached somewhere about 100,000 feet.
Meanwhile, the lagoon water had receded like a curtain being pulled back, and the sea bottom slowly appeared. Shark netting that usually protected swimmers lay on the bottom.
Finally, the water stopped receding and appeared to form a wall, like pictures of Moses parting the sea. The wall seemed to remain motionless before finally roaring back.
The water receded for a second time, then repeatedly in smaller and smaller waves and finally as minuscule oscillations across the lagoon surface that lasted all day.
Mankind conducted more than 500 nuclear tests in the atmosphere before moving operations underground, where we tested 1,500 more. Tests to verify the design of weapons. Tests to measure the impact of radiation on people. Tests to make political statements.
During my early Navy career, I focused on scenarios involving nuclear exchanges that could have killed tens of millions of people — what was known during the Cold War as mutually assured destruction.
But the end of the Cold War didn’t bring an end to these fearsome weapons.
Just a few months ago, in January, Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States issued a joint statement affirming that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
“We underline our desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undiminished security for all,” the statement read.
If nuclear weapons are used in Ukraine, the biggest worry is that the conflict could spin quickly out of control. In a strategic war with Russia, hundreds of detonations like the one I witnessed could blanket our countries.
Having witnessed one thermonuclear explosion, I hope that no humans ever have to witness another.
By Jaeah Lee, March 30, 2022
Ms. Lee is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and a 2021-22 Knight-Wallace reporting fellow.
Tommy Munsdwell Canady was in middle school when he wrote his first rap lyrics. He started out freestyling for friends and family, and after two of his cousins were fatally shot, he found solace in making music. “Before I knew it my pain started influencing all my songs,” he told me in a letter. By his 15th birthday, Mr. Canady was recording and sharing his music online. His tracks had a homemade sound: a pulsing beat mixed with vocals, the words hard to make out through ambient static. That summer, in 2014, Mr. Canady released a song on SoundCloud, “I’m Out Here,” that would change his life.
In Racine, Wis., where Mr. Canady lived, the police had been searching for suspects in three recent shootings. One of the victims, Semar McClain, 19, had been found dead in an alley with a bullet in his temple, his pocket turned out, a cross in one hand and a gold necklace with a pendant of Jesus’ face by his side. The crime scene investigation turned up no fingerprints, weapons or eyewitnesses. Then, in early August, Mr. McClain’s stepfather contacted the police about a song he’d heard on SoundCloud that he believed mentioned Mr. McClain’s name and referred to his murder.
On Aug. 6, 2014, about a week after Mr. Canady released “I’m Out Here,” a SWAT team stormed his home with a “no knock” search warrant. Lennie Farrington, Mr. Canady’s great-grandmother and legal guardian, was up early washing her clothes in the kitchen sink when the police broke through her front door. Mr. Canady was asleep. “They rushed in my room with assault rifles telling me to put my hands up,” he recalled. “I was in the mind state of, This is a big misunderstanding.” He was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and armed robbery.
Prosecutors offered Mr. Canady a plea deal, but he refused, insisting he was innocent. “Honestly, I’m not accepting that,” he told the judge. He decided to go to trial.
I have been reporting on the use of rap lyrics in criminal investigations and trials for more than two years, building a database of cases like Mr. Canady’s in partnership with the University of Georgia and Type Investigations. We have found that over the past three decades, rap — in the form of lyrics, music videos and album images — has been introduced as evidence by prosecutors in hundreds of cases, from homicide to drug possession to gang charges. Rap songs are sometimes used to argue that defendants are guilty even when there’s little other evidence linking them to the crime. What these cases reveal is a serious if lesser-known problem in the courts: how the rules of evidence contribute to racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Federal and state courts have rules requiring that all evidence — every crime scene photo, DNA sample, witness testimony — be deemed reliable and relevant to the crime at hand before it is shown to a jury. The strength of these rules, however, ultimately rests on the discretion of judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Each side makes its case as to how the rules should apply to a particular piece of evidence; the judge makes the final call. Cases like Mr. Canady’s can hinge on interpretation — whether a police officer, prosecutor, judge or jury sees the lyrics as creative expression or proof of a criminal act.
Courts typically treat music and literature as artistic works protected under the First Amendment, even when they contain profane or gruesome material. The small number of non-rap examples that I found — only four since 1950 — involved defendants whose fiction writing or lyrics were considered to be evidence of assault or violent threats. Three of those cases were thrown out; one ended in a conviction that was overturned.
Research has shown that rap is far more likely to be presented in court and interpreted literally than other genres of music. A 2016 study by criminologists at the University of California, Irvine, asked two groups of participants to read the same set of violent lyrics. One group was told the lyrics came from a country song, while the other was told they came from rap. Participants rated whether they found the lyrics offensive and whether they thought the lyrics were fictional or based on the writer’s experience. They judged the lyrics to be more offensive and true to life when told they were rap.
“The findings suggest,” the authors wrote, “that judges might underappreciate the extent to which the label of lyrics — and not the substantive lyrics themselves — impact jurors’ decisions.” Simply describing music as rap, they concluded, is enough to “induce negative evaluations.”
The Irvine findings mirrored those of a study conducted by Stuart Fischoff, a psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, almost 20 years earlier. Dr. Fischoff presented 134 students with one of four scenarios about a young man and asked them to rate their impressions of him across nine personality traits, including “caring-uncaring,” “gentle-rough” and “capable of murder-not capable of murder.”
The first scenario described “an 18-year-old African American male high school senior,” a track “champion” with “a good academic record” who made “extra money by singing at local parties.” The second scenario described the same person but added one detail: “He is on trial accused of murdering a former girlfriend who was still in love with him, but has repeatedly declared that he is innocent of the charges.” The third scenario did not mention the murder but instead asked the participant to read a set of rap lyrics by the young man. The fourth mentioned both the murder and the lyrics.
Dr. Fischoff found that the participants who read only about the lyrics reacted more negatively to the young man than the group who had read only about the alleged murder. “Clearly,” he wrote, “participants were more put off by the rap lyrics than by the murder charges.”
At Mr. Canady’s trial in 2016, prosecutors presented evidence that was largely circumstantial. A firearms examiner testified that one of two guns the police found in Ms. Farrington’s apartment, an unloaded .38-caliber revolver, matched the type that the police believed killed Mr. McClain, but conceded there was no way to be certain it was the same gun. Mr. McClain’s cousin testified that he had seen the victim carrying a gun he described as a “black .380,” which prosecutors proposed was similar to the other gun — a loaded pistol — found in Mr. Canady’s home. The government’s theory was that Mr. Canady had killed Mr. McClain and stolen his gun.
But no witness or physical evidence placed Mr. Canady at the crime scene. Mr. McClain’s cousin said that he saw the victim argue with a young man on the day of the murder. He noted that Mr. Canady was one of several people present but not part of the argument. (Mr. Canady told me that he knew Mr. McClain from the neighborhood and that they had friends in common.) A witness who had told the police that he heard Mr. McClain and Mr. Canady discussing guns denied it on the stand.
That’s where the lyrics came in. On the final day of testimony, prosecutors played “I’m Out Here” twice for the jury, first at full speed and then slowed down. A police investigator, Chad Stillman, testified that he heard Mr. Canady say “catch Semar slipping” and other lyrics that he believed alluded to the murder, including references to an alley and bullets hitting a head. Mr. Stillman also read aloud four excerpts from lyrics that Mr. Canady wrote while in jail awaiting trial — a cellmate had turned them over to officers — and interpreted their connections to the crime. “It’s consistently about shooting people,” he said. The lines “blood on my sneaks that’s from his head leaking” and “his last day i took that, im riding around with 2 straps,” Mr. Stillman asserted, referred to Mr. McClain’s head wound and the two guns found in Mr. Canady’s home.
Mr. Canady tried to tell his attorney that the investigators had misheard his song, that an isolated vocal track on his computer would prove he did not name the victim. Where investigators heard “catch Semar slipping,” he said, the actual lyrics were “catch a mawg slippin’,” a slang reference to “someone on the opposite side” and a phrase that he had used in at least one other song.
During cross-examination, the defense attorney pointed out that several of the lyrics Mr. Stillman mentioned did not match the facts of the murder, including the reference to blood on sneakers, “a big Glock with 50 in it,” and an “opp car” — meaning a car belonging to a rival. (The court would later acknowledge that there were, in each of the four exhibits, “other lyrics that do not bear a resemblance to this crime.” One excerpt even ended with a critique of gun violence, in which Mr. Canady condemns all the “killing for no reason” that surrounded him.)
Asked whether he was familiar with rap composition — that boasting and violent imagery are conventions of the genre — Mr. Stillman replied, “Vaguely,” and admitted that he wasn’t sure whether rappers told the truth in their lyrics or not. “I don’t know those artists, you know, what they’ve been through,” he testified. “I know a lot of rappers come from really shady pasts where they’ve committed a large amount of crimes, and they like to brag about those crimes through their lyrics.” (Mr. Stillman, who no longer works for the department, did not reply to a request for an interview.)
Prosecutors relied heavily on the songs in their closing argument. “I think it’s best described as really a tale of two Tommy Canadys,” an assistant district attorney told the jury. “The defendant described it best in his own words,” he added, when Mr. Canady said, “‘I’m handsome and wealthy, with a monster in me.’”
During their deliberation, jurors asked to listen to “I’m Out Here” two more times. After an hour and a half, they found Mr. Canady guilty on both counts. In March 2017, just before his 18th birthday, Mr. Canady was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 50 years.
The rules of evidence are supposed to prohibit the presentation of “character evidence” — information that simply impugns a defendant or reveals past wrongs — to avoid biasing jurors. The use of rap lyrics in Mr. Canady’s case was an example of what legal scholars sometimes call racialized character evidence: details or personal traits prosecutors can use in an insidious way, playing up racial stereotypes to imply guilt. The resulting message, as a Boston University law professor, Jasmine Gonzales Rose, told me, is that the defendant is “that type of Black person.”
“There’s always this bias,” said Andrea Dennis, a University of Georgia law professor who has been studying the use of rap in criminal cases since the early 2000s, “that this young Black man, if they’re rapping, they must only be saying what’s autobiographical and true, because they can’t possibly be creative.” In 2016, Professor Dennis teamed up with Erik Nielson, a University of Richmond professor who studies African American literature, to compile a list of trials in which rap lyrics had been used as evidence. They found roughly 500 defendants, whose cases they discuss in their 2019 book, “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics, and Guilt in America.”
I worked with Professor Dennis to track down court documents for more than 200 of those defendants, including their race, how lyrics were used against them and the outcomes of their cases. We found more trials involving rap lyrics in the past decade than during the heyday of the war on crime in the 1990s, which suggests that the practice has become more prevalent despite a broader awareness of racial disparities in the courts and the need for reform. We identified about 50 defendants who were prosecuted using rap between 1990 and 2005, but we found more than double that number in the 15 years that followed.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a single driving force behind this trend. As some scholars have pointed out, the rise of social media, online music platforms and the popularity of rap means that the police and prosecutors have easier access to lyrics and videos. Over the years, courts that have weighed in on the matter of rap evidence have overwhelmingly ruled in favor of admitting and interpreting them literally. Of the cases where court or correctional documents specified the defendant’s race and gender, roughly three-quarters of the defendants were African American men. (Professors Dennis and Nielson note that in some states, such as California, the defendants they identified are predominantly Latino.)
While rap was rarely the only evidence presented in a case, it often played a key role in a prosecutor’s line of argument. Some used snippets of written lyrics or a recording to indicate a confession or articulate a motive. One prosecutor in California argued that lyrics from a notebook found during a search of the defendant’s home showed his intent to murder: Three round bursting real military weaponry / Leaving cold cases for eternity. Others used music videos to show that a defendant had access to a weapon similar to one found at a crime scene or that multiple defendants were in a gang. We found that courts often acknowledged that rap lyrics were prejudicial but still admitted them, concluding that their probative value was greater.
That’s what happened in Mr. Canady’s case. Before his trial, Judge Emily Mueller held a hearing to decide whether to admit several sets of lyrics Mr. Canady wrote while awaiting trial. Judge Mueller acknowledged that introducing rap lyrics to a jury unfamiliar with the genre might cause them to “think this must be some bad guy.” She considered each line in turn. Ambulance come and pick him up aint no face on em / Police come and pick me up aint got shit on me. “It does refer to the face, which I think can refer to a head shot,” she said. “The ambulance coming to pick up the person, and then police coming to pick up the writer. ‘Aint got shit on me,’ which I assume means they don’t have any evidence.” She decided to allow the lyrics because they constituted a sufficient “nexus” to the crime — an idea that’s appeared in numerous rap cases and has been criticized by some for being a meaningless standard. “While I am cognizant of the prejudice,” Judge Mueller concluded, “I don’t believe that it is undue prejudice here.” (Judge Mueller declined a request for an interview.)
Deborah Gonzalez, the district attorney who covers Athens-Clarke County in Georgia, said rap lyrics present a conundrum for prosecutors whose job is to prove guilt. She cautions those in her office against relying on rap lyrics without context or other convincing evidence, but she also sees how they could be valuable. “We’re in this Catch-22,” she said, describing trying to decide whether something was a threat or creative expression. “That’s where it sometimes gets a little iffy out there, when you can’t say that it’s 100 percent one or the other.”
Prosecutors also used rap to justify harsher sentences. In sentencing hearings, information that is off-limits during a trial, like character evidence or prior crimes, is fair game. Of the cases we reviewed, a majority of defendants went on to serve sentences of 10 years or longer; roughly a quarter received life sentences, and at least 17 people received death sentences, including Nathaniel Woods, a Black man in Alabama who was convicted of serving as an accomplice to the murder of three police officers. Mr. Woods maintained his innocence; another man, Kerry Spencer, confessed to the murder and was convicted in a separate trial. When Mr. Woods appealed his verdict, however, prosecutors countered by presenting evidence that included lyrics he was alleged to have written while in jail awaiting trial: Seven execution-style murders / I have no remorse because I’m the fucking murderer. / Haven’t you ever heard of a killa / I drop pigs like Kerry Spencer. Mr. Woods was executed in 2020. He had adapted the lyrics from a Dr. Dre song.
Evidence rules not only fail to curtail racial bias in the courts; they also enable it to thrive in plain sight. That’s why a growing number of scholars, lawyers and legislators are calling for rethinking the rules themselves. Take Federal Rule 403, which gives judges the power to exclude relevant evidence if it has a much higher risk of creating unfair prejudice or confusion, or misleading a jury. What if that rule required judges to first assess whether the burden of proof could be met without evidence like rap lyrics? Prosecutors are already asking this question in Athens-Clarke County, Ga., where Ms. Gonzalez, the district attorney, has studied Professors Dennis and Nielson’s work.
Or what if the rules simply barred rap lyrics in the first place? That’s what two New York state senators, Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey, hope to achieve in a bill they introduced last fall. If passed, it would be the first to prohibit prosecutors from using rap lyrics or other creative expression as criminal evidence “without clear and convincing proof that there is a literal, factual nexus.” The bill, which has garnered support from musicians including Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Kelly Rowland, was approved in committee in January and awaits a full vote.
In 2019, two years into his sentence at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wis., Mr. Canady asked the court to grant him a new trial. His lawyer, Jefren Olsen, argued in a brief that Mr. Canady’s trial attorney had demonstrated ineffective counsel by failing to obtain the original recordings of “I’m Out Here” and that the judge should not have admitted the written rap lyrics in the first place.
“The parties argued a great deal” about “whether Canady’s lyrics as a whole constitute posturing and braggadocio or a representation of who he is and what he does,” Mr. Olsen wrote. The overall effect was to convince the jury of “Canady’s general bad character” without necessarily proving “his specific conduct in this case.” In July 2020, Mr. Canady finally obtained the original song mix and the isolated vocal track that he believed would give him the chance to prove his innocence.
Getting a new trial, however, requires clearing a high bar. Defendants must typically prove that the original lawyers or judge committed a serious error, and they must make a convincing case that without the error, the jury would have been likely to reach a different verdict. Arguments having to do with the interpretation of evidence do not often meet that threshold. Only Mr. Canady knows whether he is innocent. But the rest of us must ask ourselves what we’re asking jurors to judge, what we’re ultimately putting on trial, when the evidence is rap.
In May 2021, the judge who presided over Mr. Canady’s trial denied his request for a new one. (In Wisconsin, the circuit court oversees both the trial phase and the first appeal following a conviction.) Mr. Canady has since challenged the decision in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. In a new brief, his attorney, Mr. Olsen, argues for a stricter relevance standard to be applied when the evidence in question is rap lyrics. If the appeal is successful, it could set a new precedent in the state.
Meanwhile, Mr. Canady continues to write in prison. “Music is the only way I know how to vent,” he told me. “I pour my heart out, and let my soul do the singing.”