Leonard Peltier’s statement
on Rio Grande Water Walk:
Greetings my Relatives,
I would like to offer my support for all of you, as you walk and pray for world peace and to protect the water spirits of the Rio Grande. I know when you walk you carry a torch of light and hope that the world will finally get it right in these two fundamental parts of life. And I thank the organizations who have organized these important events.
From my limited point of view here behind these high gray walls I often shake my head in disbelief at what is going on in the world. The brutal attack on the people of Ukraine has captured the attention of people all over the world, as it should, but there are indigenous peoples in every part of the world who continue to struggle to survive every day in the face of "progress." I join you praying for help and relief for them now.
As an indigenous person myself I honor all of you. The stronger ones who can walk, and the Native people who will run. But I do not forget all of you who offer your voices and your support in all the ways you do to support these honorable efforts. Those who gather the food and cook and those who drive and those who write the letters and make the phone calls to seek support and public awareness.
I am now old enough to understand that for us, who grew up traditional indigenous, it was simply a part of our original instructions that we should Honor the Earth and water always, and protect them every day in every way.
No one ever heard the term "Earth Day" when I was young. It did not exist. It was your elders who invented it. And now I know that was what drew so many people in the 60's to acknowledging our way of looking at the natural world. I think they understood on a deep level that it is everyone's duty to protect the water and the earth for those yet unborn.
I cannot forget to send love to our Buddhist relatives who will help to lead your walk. I send them my love and respect. And my profound Thanks for standing up for us, and for me, all these years.
I live in a place that knows little of peace ,but I have not forgotten that PEACE should be the natural order of things. It is the most beautiful of things. All faiths know and acknowledge this.
But you, my sisters and brothers are living it and I am deeply grateful to you for keeping such a sweet dream alive.
You are my heroes. Thank You, and know I will join you in my prayers each day as you walk and speak for those who have no voices.
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse
Leonard Peltier 89637-132
USP Coleman 1
P.O. Box 1033
Coleman, FL 33521
Note: Letters, address and return address must be in writing—no stickers—and on plain white paper.
Be sure to watch:
Stop the War in Ukraine. April 9 Online Rally
Is now on YouTube:
Alexey: Socialist Against War, Russia
Yuri: Ukraine Peace Activist
With Vijay Prashad, Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Medea Benjamin, MP Clare Daly, Tariq Ali and many others
Bucha Massacre Evidence and Russia’s Propaganda
By Eric Draitser, April 8, 2022
Exploring the newly emerging evidence of a Russian atrocity in the village of Bucha and debunking the fraudulent narratives of the Kremlin disinformation army on the Left.
Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached email@example.com.
With our partners in Europe, we are organizing protests to stop the war in Ukraine, call for Russian troops to leave Ukraine, and oppose NATO expansion. Find an action in your city or organize one here.
Here's the full petition:
Open letter: Solidarity with Russian anti-war protestors
Dear Russian anti-war protestors,
We, women and other feminists (including men) of the world, express our solidarity with you as you protest the devastating invasion of Ukraine, and we join your call for Russian troops to immediately leave Ukraine. We are aware of the risks you face from police and civil authorities and thank you for your profound bravery and sacrifice. We are also moved by the tremendous courage of the Ukrainian people in the face of disaster, and our hearts ache as we bear witness to Ukrainian families huddling in bomb shelters and parking garages, or facing long lines at the border after being forced to flee their homes.
We have experience standing up to our own governments’ aggression. During the U.S./NATO invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, we took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to oppose the horrific destruction of entire cities and the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Now, as Russian missiles mercilessly wipe out your neighbors’ homes, medical facilities, and schools in Ukraine, we see you take to the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian cities in peaceful protest, and we are so deeply inspired and grateful.
As we oppose this brutal war being waged in your name, we are also aware of the role the U.S. and NATO have played in stoking the geopolitical crisis that led to this war. We have opposed NATO’s expansion into Central and Eastern Europe, and we continue to oppose NATO expansion today. We steadfastly believe Ukraine should be a neutral country.
Today, as Putin has put your nuclear arsenal on high alert, we see the terrifying possibility of this conflict spinning out of control. The U.S. and Russia are guilty of stockpiling 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, putting the entire world at risk, and violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. As we organize today to stop this war, we must work together in the future to force our governments to join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons so we can rid the world of this existential threat to survival on our beautiful planet.
The imposition of sanctions aimed to damage the Russian economy also concerns us. We have no problem with taking yachts and private jets from oligarchs, but sanctions that hurt millions of ordinary Russians like you and impact the entire global economy are cruel and counterproductive. We have seen the devastating results of sanctions in countries from Cuba to Iran to North Korea–such sanctions harm the civilian population, particularly women, children, and the elderly, and fail to change government policies.
Instead of indiscriminate sanctions and fanning the flames by pouring more weapons into Ukraine, we demand that Russia and Ukraine engage in serious negotiations, with all the compromises this would entail.
As women and other feminists, we have had enough of senseless wars that destroy lives and communities while lining the coffers of weapons manufacturers. We’ve seen too many attacks on civilians from Yemen to Gaza to Ethiopia to Ukraine, and we’ve watched in horror as precious resources are poured into wars while families' basic needs for food, shelter, education, and healthcare go unmet and climate change threatens all life on our planet. A world of violence, hatred, and destruction is not the world we want for our children. With fire in our bellies and love in our hearts, we join with you — across borders — to demand an end to the bloodshed and the destruction.
Russian Troops Out of Ukraine!
No NATO expansion!
Peace Talks NOW!
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
End Legal Slavery in U.S. Prisons
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”
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022
(202) 691-6378 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.bls.gov/cps
(202) 691-5902 • PressOffice@bls.gov
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions—the union membership rate—was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020—when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The 2021 unionization rate is the same as the 2019 rate of 10.3 percent. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
These data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. For further information, see the Technical Note in this news release.
Highlights from the 2021 data:
• The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent). (See table 3.)
• The highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). (See table 3.)
• Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.6 percent) than women (9.9 percent). The gap between union membership rates for men and women has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. (See table 1.)
• Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
• Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 83 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($975 versus $1,169). (The comparisons of earnings in this news release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
• Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (22.4 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2021, 7.0 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions, the same as in the private sector. (See table 3.)
Union membership decreased by 191,000 over the year in the public sector. The public-sector union membership rate declined by 0.9 percentage point in 2021 to 33.9 percent, following an increase of 1.2 percentage points in 2020. In 2021, the union membership rate continued to be highest in local government (40.2 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
The number of union workers employed in the private sector changed little over the year. However, the number of private-sector nonunion workers increased in 2021. The private-sector unionization rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in 2021 to 6.1 percent, slightly lower than its 2019 rate of 6.2 percent. Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.7 percent), motion pictures and sound recording industries (17.3 percent), and transportation and warehousing (14.7 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), professional and technical services (1.2 percent), food services and drinking places (1.2 percent), and insurance (1.5 percent).
Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2021 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.1 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); personal care and service occupations (3.9 percent); and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (4.0 percent).
Selected Characteristics of Union Members
In 2021, the number of men who were union members, at 7.5 million, changed little, while the number of women who were union members declined by 182,000 to 6.5 million. The unionization rate for men decreased by 0.4 percentage point over the year to 10.6 percent. In 2021, women’s union membership rate declined by 0.6 percentage point to 9.9 percent. The 2021 decreases in union membership rates for men and women reflect increases in the total number of nonunion workers. The rate for men is below the 2019 rate (10.8 percent), while the rate for women is above the 2019 rate (9.7 percent). (See table 1.)
Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2021 (11.5 percent) than White workers (10.3 percent), Asian workers (7.7 percent), and Hispanic workers (9.0 percent). The union membership rate declined by 0.4 percentage point for White workers, by 0.8 percentage point for Black workers, by 1.2 percentage points for Asian workers, and by 0.8 percentage point for Hispanic workers. The 2021 rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics are little or no different from 2019, while the rate for Asians is lower.
By age, workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1 percent. Younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2 percent.
In 2021, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.1 percent) continued to be considerably higher than that for part-time workers (6.1 percent).
In 2021, 15.8 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union, 137,000 less than in 2020. The percentage of workers represented by a union was 11.6 percent, down by 0.5 percentage point from 2020 but the same as in 2019. Workers represented by a union include both union members (14.0 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.8 million). (See table 1.)
Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,169 in 2021, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $975. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region. (See tables 2 and 4.)
Union Membership by State
In 2021, 30 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.3 percent, while 20 states had rates above it. All states in both the East South Central and West South Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it. (See table 5 and chart 1.)
Ten states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2021. South Carolina had the lowest rate (1.7 percent), followed by North Carolina (2.6 percent) and Utah (3.5 percent). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2021: Hawaii (22.4 percent) and New York (22.2 percent).
In 2021, about 30 percent of the 14.0 million union members lived in just two states (California at 2.5 million and New York at 1.7 million). However, these states accounted for about 17 percent of wage and salary employment nationally.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact on 2021 Union Members Data
Union membership data for 2021 continue to reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Comparisons with union membership measures for 2020, including metrics such as the union membership rate and median usual weekly earnings, should be interpreted with caution. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to an increase in the unionization rate due to a disproportionately large decline in the number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The decrease in the rate in 2021 reflects a large gain in the number of nonunion workers and a decrease in the number of union workers. More information on labor market developments in recent months is available at:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
- Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312
- San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or email@example.com
- Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
- Know Your Rights During Covid-19
- You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide for Encounters with Law Enforcement
- Operation Backfire: For Environmental and Animal Rights Activists
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Center for Constitutional Rights
Civil Liberties Defense Center
- Grand Juries: Slideshow
Grand Jury Resistance Project
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
Tilted Scales Collective
“If I was to run for president, I would look just like this,” said Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union.
By Gina Cherelus, April 6, 2022
Christian Smalls on Friday, after the Amazon Labor Union victory was announced. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
On Friday morning, before the results were released from a vote that would mark the first union victory at Amazon, Christian Smalls dressed as he would just about any other day.
Mr. Smalls, the union’s 33-year-old president and a former Amazon employee, put on a black durag and paired it with a fitted baseball cap, hoodie and sweatpants — all in red, his favorite color. Over his sweatshirt, he threw on a pair of goldtone chains and a red Amazon Labor Union T-shirt to show solidarity with the employees.
But that day, as Amazon union supporters celebrated the results, Mr. Smalls stood out in the crowd — popping champagne in streetwear and big sunglasses, a man whom Amazon had underestimated from the start. The monthslong battle he led against one of the largest corporations in the world wasn’t waged in a suit and tie or even jeans, as Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos often wears. Instead, Mr. Smalls did it in sweats, with sneakers on his feet and grills in his mouth.
“I’m one of one,” Mr. Smalls said in a phone interview on Monday. “I don’t like to be wearing the same stuff as everybody else.”
Mr. Smalls, who lives in Newark, described his style as a nod to hip-hop culture. He’s a former rapper and enjoys expressing himself through streetwear, even in the face of detractors.
“I read comments on my social media, and I see people taking shots at me all the time,” he said, citing critics who couldn’t take him seriously because of his clothes.
“That’s the people that I want to prove wrong,” he continued. “That really motivates me to continue dressing the way I do because I want y’all to understand it’s not about how I look. It’s work that I’m putting in.”
But clothes have undeniably set him apart from management at Amazon. The day of the vote count, he stood in contrast to the company’s besuited lawyers, and even most union organizers.
“Chris is just unashamedly himself,” Connor Spence, the Amazon Labor Union’s vice president of membership, wrote in a text message. “He doesn’t try to be someone he isn’t, and I think on some level the workers can sense that.”
As a young boy growing up in Hackensack, N.J., Mr. Smalls was often teased for not wearing the latest trends. It wasn’t until he was a teenager and had started working that he began developing his own style.
“It only stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t afford the clothes that everybody was rocking at the time,” he said. “Whatever I’m wearing, I had to make it hot. I had to make it look like it was worth a lot of money even though it wasn’t.”
Clothes have become a point of connection between him and those who have followed his story at Amazon. Last week, after the result of the vote was announced, many people remarked on his siren-red sweatsuit — a distinctive look for a leader. And when he speaks to students about labor organizing, as he often does now, he said they are often struck by his style.
“When they look at me, they see themselves in me,” he said. “They’re like, ‘Wow, you’re going up against Bezos and you look like you can be hanging out with us.’”
Amazon fired Mr. Smalls in 2020, saying he violated a quarantine order by attending a walkout to protest the company’s safety conditions. He doesn’t shop as much as he once did, but he loved going to Urban Outfitters, H&M and thrift stores. He used to wear a lot of Supra sneakers. Occasionally he wears Jordans.
“If I was to run for president, I would look just like this,” he said. “I’d walk in the White House with a pair of Jordans on because this is who I am as a person.”
However these days, he’s mostly wearing the union shirts he helped design, which come in an array of hues — black, white, hot pink, teal — meant to contrast the shirts Amazon gives its warehouse employees.
“We need to look like Skittles,” he said, referring to the multicolored candy. “And I said one thing that’s going to help us succeed with this union is our gear is going to be way better than theirs. Our drip is going to be way better.”
The company listed a series of complaints against an upstart union’s organizing efforts. Both Amazon and another union noted objections to another vote in Alabama.
By Karen Weise, Published April 8, 2022, Updated April 9, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/08/business/amazon-alabama-union-vote-objections.html
Amazon objected on Friday to a landmark union election at its Staten Island fulfillment center, saying an upstart union’s unorthodox tactics there crossed legal lines, according to a copy of its filing to the National Labor Relations Board obtained by The New York Times.
The company argued that the result should be thrown out because the labor board had conducted the election in a way that favored the union and members of the union had coerced workers into supporting their cause.
In the final tally last Friday, workers cast 2,654 votes to be represented by the Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 voted against it, giving the union a win by 11 percentage points.
The result of another Amazon election, at a warehouse in Alabama, is also being challenged by both the company and a union seeking to represent workers there, according to filings submitted late Thursday. That union argued that the problems “both separately and cumulatively constitute grounds to set the election aside,” but Amazon stopped short of calling for the result to be tossed. The union trails in the initial tally.
Amazon’s new filing detailed 25 objections to the result on Staten Island. Its argument turned many of the tactics of the Amazon Labor Union — started by a handful of workers at the facility — against it.
Amazon argued, in one instance, that when the union offered workers marijuana, it amounted to an “impermissible grant of support” for workers’ votes. The company said the way union supporters had interrupted mandatory anti-union meetings “intentionally created hostile confrontations” that limited Amazon’s right to communicate with staff.
The company also said the union had improperly “polled” workers during a key period before the election when both employers and unions are prohibited from tracking votes.
The Amazon Labor Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amazon also targeted the N.L.R.B., saying the way the agency investigated complaints brought by workers and pursued enforcement against Amazon tilted the field in support of the union. The agency has said it was performing its duty to enforce labor rights.
Amazon said the agency had erred in the operations for the election, including not having enough staff on hand to manage voting, which the company said had created long lines and suppressed turnout.
“Based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, as set out in our objections, we believe that the actions of the N.L.R.B. and the A.L.U. improperly suppressed and influenced the vote, and we think the election should be conducted again so that a fair and broadly representative vote can be had,” Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement.
In another objection, the company said the union had failed to file standard financial reports. In an interview with The Times this week, Christian Smalls, president of the union, said it had supplied needy workers with cash, both through separate GoFundMe efforts and the union’s funds.
If a worker needed her bills paid, “we’re paying that bill, we’re sending money right over no question,” Mr. Smalls said. Legal experts said that some of those transactions — such as extra pay for union organizers out sick with Covid-19 — might be fine but that others could cause problems depending on when and how many people received them.
But the N.L.R.B. “rarely” overturns elections on allegations of union misconduct, said John Logan, a professor at San Francisco State University who studies employer campaigns. Amazon will need to prove that any objectionable conduct could have altered the result of the election, he said, and “unlike Amazon, the A.L.U. has no coercive power over employees.”
The labor agency granted Amazon a two-week extension, to April 22, to provide additional evidence supporting the objections.
In Bessemer, Ala., the union trailed slightly in the initial tally of the votes announced on March 31: 993 workers voted against being represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and 875 voted in favor. But more than 400 ballots have yet to be counted because they were challenged by either party. Those challenged ballots, enough to potentially affect the outcome, are set to be resolved at a labor board hearing in the coming weeks.
The election this year was a do-over that the labor board had ordered after siding with the union’s claims that Amazon illegally interfered with an election at the facility last year.
In its recent filing, the retail workers union enumerated 21 objections, including intimidation, retaliation and unlawful surveillance of workers.
“The company violated the law in the first election, and did so again in this re-run election, without any doubt,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, said in a statement.
Amazon detailed eight objections, including several related to misrepresentation or improper conduct when the union visited employees at home. One objection was against the labor board itself, for deciding to hold the election by mail instead of in person, which Amazon said depressed turnout.
“We’ve said from the beginning that we want our employees’ voices to be heard, and we hope the N.L.R.B. counts every valid vote,” Ms. Nantel said.
Jodi Kantor and Noam Scheiber contributed reporting.
When it comes to the dynamics of public school in 2022, the season’s best new network comedy has done its homework.
By James Poniewozik, April 7, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/07/arts/television/abbott-elementary.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage§ion=Television
Quinta Brunson, center, created and stars in “Abbott Elementary,” a surprise hit in its first season. Credit...Liliane Lathan/ABC
If you follow local news or morning shows or social media, you’ve seen the inspirational videos. A dedicated teacher gets a surprise donation of back-to-school items, or P.P.E., or shoes. An educator asks for school supplies in lieu of flowers at her funeral. A school staffer pays out of pocket to make sure students have warm clothing or even food. It’s heartwarming, isn’t it?
Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s depressing. The unspoken flip side of these tear-jerking stories, after all, is that we have outsourced our society’s essential needs to the whims of viral philanthropy. These videos substitute for actual investment by giving boons to a few lucky winners. We love to feel good about teachers. But actually doing good by them is rare enough to require memorialization in video. After a couple minutes of which, we scroll on.
ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” the best new network sitcom of the season, is not a year’s supply of pencils. But it is something else significant: Sustained attention for a profession that, however much lip service we pay it, usually gets lost among TV’s stable of doctors, lawyers and police.
There is an intermittent history of shows about teaching: “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “Boston Public,” Season 4 of “The Wire.” But TV tends to see students as the protagonists of school — the Sweathogs stole the show from Gabe Kotter — and even in series that take teaching more seriously, like “Friday Night Lights,” educators are at best equal players.
“Abbott Elementary,” whose first season ends on April 12, is a workplace comedy, which means that it looks at teaching as a job done by complicated, messy humans. This also means that its mission and good intentions would mean nothing if it weren’t funny. And it is hilarious. (As a critic, I appreciate a bittersweet seven-episode niche dramedy more than most, but sometimes you just want a good sitcom.)
Shot in mockumentary style — the camera crew, we’re told, is making a film about underfunded public schools — “Abbott Elementary” would have fit in on any NBC must-see-TV lineup of the ’00s, if the network had been making comedies with mostly Black casts at the time.
The creator, Quinta Brunson (“A Black Lady Sketch Show”), plays Janine Teagues, a second-year, second-grade teacher at a scrappy public school in Philadelphia, where restroom users learn to avoid “Reversey Toilet” (a malfunctioning fixture in permanent geyser mode) and the history textbooks have the three presidents since George W. Bush taped in.
A nerdy, conscientious people pleaser, Janine craves the approval of veterans like the formidable kindergarten teacher Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph). But she struggles to manage her own students — partly because, with her short stature and hummingbird nerves, she seems like half a kid herself.
Janine has Michael Scott’s need to be liked without his excruciating cluelessness, Leslie Knope’s idealism without her steamroller confidence. On another sitcom, she might be a supporting character; there’s even a hint of a Pam-and-Jim long game between her and Gregory (a perfectly dry Tyler James Williams), a substitute teacher embittered by losing the principal gig to Ava (a scam-tastic, anything-but-dry Janelle James).
Making Janine the point-of-view character feels like a statement. She’s not larger than life. If anything, she’s a couple of sizes smaller. And this, “Abbott Elementary” suggests, is exactly the sort of person who makes the world work: a regular person who swallows her doubts and does the job that needs to be done.
The sharp gags and character sketches alone make “Abbott” a delight. The show has a well-balanced ensemble, rounded out by Jacob (Chris Perfetti), the earnest young white guy who quotes Robin DiAngelo, and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter), a street-smart South Philly native who’s “got a guy for everything.”
But what becomes clear over the first season is how thoroughly Brunson and her creative team have done the reading when it comes to American education, about both its eternal challenges and its of-the-moment dynamics.
The third episode, “Wishlist,” is built around those viral please-fund-my-classroom videos and the “American Idol”-ization of education that they promote. (“I cannot listen to one more squeaky voice begging for pencils,” Melissa grouses.) Janine makes a promo for her online supply list with the help of Ava, who may not know much about pedagogy but does have a green screen in the office for shooting TikTok videos.
They’re so successful that they decide to secretly do the same for the tech-phobic Barbara (“I’m going to make it rain glue sticks in that room,” Ava says). The mawkish video Ava produces gets a flood of donations, but Barbara is appalled.
“Is it nice to have stuff? Sure,” she tells Janine. “But my students do not need to feel less-than because they do not have stuff.”
Our culture likes to tell itself educational success stories about the few. But public schools truly work only if they work for the many. In a later episode, Abbott launches a gifted program whose students get to watch baby chickens hatch. When Janine tries to expand the offering to the rest of her class, the eggs she procures through one of Melissa’s “connections” hatch baby snakes, a gaspingly funny scene whose point is sharp as a serpent’s tooth.
“When you give some kids chickens, other kids are going to get snakes,” Gregory says. “If you get snakes long enough, that’s what you think you deserve.”
Some of the show’s strongest statements are delivered not in speeches but simply through its comfort with being what it is. “Abbott” is thoroughly but casually steeped in Black culture, as comes through in scenarios like when Janine and Ava organize a school step show.
And while the pandemic doesn’t come up, “Abbott Elementary” feels thoroughly of the moment by emphasizing all the social services — counseling, food, crisis intervention — for which communities rely on in-person schooling. Janine spends an episode trying to schedule a meeting with a student’s mother, who she assumes is merely uninvolved. Turns out, the mother is a nurse who has been stuck at work.
You don’t need to show an N95 mask to make the connection. “Abbott Elementary,” at heart, is about the overworked serving the overburdened. And all of them lately have been asked to give more than they have.
A drama could tell the same sorts of stories, but there’s something about a workplace comedy, with its focus on eccentricities and petty annoyances, that makes it especially effective. The teachers of “Abbott Elementary” are as imperfect as you are, and this is important. Part of the “heartwarming” narrative that we like to tell ourselves about education is that teachers are saints. It’s convenient: You don’t owe anything to a saint.
In the next-to-last episode of the season, on the other hand, “Abbott” gives one of its most potent lines to its most flawed character. Ava, who has always relied on a combo of delegation and blackmail to stay in her job, finds herself having to give a solo presentation to win the school a funding grant. It does not go well.
But at the last minute, she unexpectedly finds her voice. “Don’t give us the money because we need it,” she says. “Give it to us because everyone at Abbott deserves it.” That distinction, between need and deserve, is the difference between charity and obligation, between pity and respect.
And sometimes laughter is the best kind of respect you can pay. “Abbott Elementary,” thank God, is more gut-busting than it is heartwarming. It’s the kind of comedy that network TV needs, and that education deserves.
A district attorney said on Sunday that the woman “cannot and should not” be prosecuted.
By Giulia Heyward and Sophie Kasakove, Published April 10, 2022, Updated April 11, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/10/us/texas-self-induced-abortion-charge-dismissed.html
Protesters stood outside the Starr County Jail on Saturday after Lizelle Herrera, 26, was charged with murder. A Texas district attorney’s office will dismiss the charges. Credit...Jason Garza/Reuters
The murder charge against a woman in Texas in connection with a “self-induced abortion” will be dismissed, a Texas district attorney announced Sunday.
Gocha Allen Ramirez, the district attorney of Starr County, said in a statement that, after reviewing the case, he will file a motion on Monday to dismiss the indictment against the woman, Lizelle Herrera, 26.
“It is my hope that with the dismissal of this case it is made clear that Ms. Herrera did not commit a criminal act under the laws of the state of Texas,” Mr. Ramirez said.
Ms. Herrera was arrested on Friday and detained in Starr County, near the Mexico border, according to a local sheriff’s official. An abortion rights organization, Frontera Fund, said she was released on $500,000 bail on Saturday.
According to the sheriff’s office statement, which was reported Saturday by The Associated Press, Ms. Herrera was indicted on the murder charge after she “intentionally and knowingly” caused the death of an individual by “self-induced abortion.”
Self-managed abortion is any abortion outside of medical care and can include the use of abortion pills. But in dangerous cases, it can include those attempted with supplements, herbs or vitamins; multiple contraceptive pills or emergency contraception pills; or physical trauma.
Many details of the indictment remained unclear on Sunday, including whether Ms. Herrera was accused of having the abortion or aiding one, or how far along the pregnancy had been.
The indictment came months after the Texas Legislature passed several restrictions on abortion. But Mr. Ramirez said that “in reviewing applicable Texas law, it is clear that Ms. Herrera cannot and should not be prosecuted for the allegation against her.”
He also acknowledged that “the events leading up to this indictment have taken a toll on Ms. Herrera and her family. To ignore this fact would be shortsighted.”
Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Herrera’s lawyer, Calixtro Villarreal, did not respond to requests for comment.
It was not immediately known what statute Ms. Herrera was being indicted under. An abortion ban that took effect in Texas in September, known as S.B. 8, prohibits abortion after six weeks but leaves enforcement to civilians, offering them rewards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.
The Texas Legislature then enacted another law, S.B. 4, which establishes a criminal violation — a state felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison — for providing medical abortion pills after 49 days of pregnancy, or for providers who fail to comply with a series of new regulations and procedures. That law also exempts pregnant women from prosecution.
One section of the Texas penal code exempts expectant mothers from being charged with murder in connection with “the death of an unborn child.” Most states instead target abortion providers when an abortion is deemed illegal.
In most of the country, abortion is prohibited after fetal viability, generally at 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Several states, however, are moving to ban abortions at much earlier stages in anticipation that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and that prohibited states from banning the procedure before a fetus is viable.
The anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life supported Mr. Ramirez’s decision to drop the charge. S.B. 8 and other anti-abortion policies in the state “clearly prohibit criminal charges for pregnant women,” the organization said in a statement. “Texas Right to Life opposes public prosecutors going outside of the bounds of Texas’ prudent and carefully crafted policies.”
Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said that the district attorney’s reversal reflected what Mr. Vladeck said was a misreading of the law.
“I think what this really suggests is that this was a rash decision, by a local prosecutor who might not have fully appreciated what the law does and does not prohibit, as opposed to a piece of a broader campaign of hostility to abortion,” Mr. Vladeck said. But he added it is only a matter of time before more cases like this occur.
“I think this case is also a sobering reminder of how much discretion prosecutors have — even when they’re wrong on the law,” he said. “And how difficult it is, especially for those less familiar with the system, those with fewer resources, for them to push back against prosecutorial mistakes, or overreach. And that’s a phenomenon that goes far beyond abortion.”
Kate Zernike contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.
Research on past conflicts suggests that the war in Ukraine could have a profound environmental impact.
By Emily Anthes, April 13, 2022
A Ukrainian soldier moving through a forested area near Irpin last month. Credit...Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times
The Black Sea Biosphere Reserve, on the southern coast of Ukraine, is a haven for migrating birds. More than 120,000 birds spend the winter flitting about its shores, and a multicolored spectrum of rare species — the white-tailed eagle, red-breasted merganser and black-winged stilt, to name just a few — nest among its protected waters and wetlands.
The reserve is also home to the endangered sandy blind mole rat, the Black Sea bottlenose dolphin, rare flowers, countless mollusks, dozens of species of fish — and, in recent weeks, an invading military.
“Today the territory of the reserve is occupied by the Russian troops,” Oleksandr Krasnolutskyi, a deputy minister of environmental protection and natural resources in Ukraine, said in an email last month. “Currently there is no information on environmental losses.”
But military activity in the area sparked fires large enough to be seen from space, prompting concerns about the destruction of critical bird breeding habitats.
“We see what’s happening in Ukraine,” said Thor Hanson, an independent conservation biologist and expert on how wars affect the environment. “And we are shocked and horrified for the human cost first and foremost, but also what’s happening to the environment there.”
Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, the world’s attention has been focused on the nation’s heavily shelled cities. But Ukraine, in an ecological transition zone, is also home to vibrant wetlands and forests and a large swath of virgin steppe. Russian troops have already entered, or conducted military operations in, more than one-third of the nation’s protected natural areas, Mr. Krasnolutskyi said: “Their ecosystems and species have become vulnerable.”
Reports from the ground, and research on previous armed conflicts, suggest that the ecological impact of the conflict could be profound. Wars destroy habitats, kill wildlife, generate pollution and remake ecosystems entirely, with consequences that ripple through the decades.
“The environment is the silent victim of conflicts,” said Doug Weir, the research and policy director at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Britain.
There are exceptions. Wars can make landscapes so dangerous or inhospitable to humans — or create so many barriers to the exploitation of natural resources — that ecosystems have a rare opportunity to recover. It is a paradox that highlights the threat that human activity poses to the natural world in times of war and peace.
“Humans are generally disruptive,” said Robert Pringle, a biologist at Princeton University, “and that includes their conflicts.”
Waging war is an act of destruction. And, studies suggest, it’s one that disproportionately affects the planet’s most important ecosystems. From 1950 to 2000, more than 80 percent of the world’s major armed conflicts took place in biodiversity hot spots, areas that are rich in native species but under threat, Dr. Hanson and his colleagues found in a 2009 study.
The take-home message, Dr. Hanson said, “was that if we were concerned about biodiversity and conservation in the world, we need to be worried also about conflict and patterns of conflict.”
There has been little large-scale research on the ecological impact of warfare, but in one 2018 study, scientists found that armed conflict was correlated with declines in wildlife across protected areas of Africa. Wildlife populations tended to be stable in peacetime and decline during war, the researchers found, and the more frequent the conflicts, the steeper the declines.
In some cases, environmental destruction is an explicit military tactic. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed defoliants over wide swaths of jungle to thin out forests and deprive enemy forces of cover. And armed forces often exploit “lootable resources,” such as oil and timber, to fund their war efforts, Dr. Hanson said.
But even when environmental destruction is not deliberate, war can cause deep damage. Soldiers dig trenches, tanks flatten vegetation, bombs scar landscapes and explosives ignite fires. Weapons spew toxic gases and particulates into the air and leak heavy metals into soil and water.
“In many conflict areas, that stuff doesn’t get cleaned up,” Mr. Weir said. “So when we see damage, it’s long-term damage.” In 2011, scientists reported that levels of lead and copper were still elevated in the soil in certain areas around Ypres, a major World War I battlefield in Belgium.
Environmental pollution is an especially acute concern in Ukraine. “You have a high-intensity shooting war in a country with a lot of industrial risks,” Mr. Weir said.
Ukraine is replete with chemical plants and storage facilities, oil depots, coal mines, gas lines and other industrial sites, which could release enormous amounts of pollution if damaged. Some have already been hit.
“This could really be compared to using chemical weapons,” said Oleksii Vasyliuk, a biologist in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, and a co-founder of the Ukrainian Nature Conservation Group. The Russians “didn’t bring toxic substances here, but they have released ones that were already on the territory of Ukraine into the environment.”
And then there is the nuclear fear. Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four power plants; the largest has already been the site of intense fighting. “Military actions near the nuclear power plants can lead to the large-scale radioactive contamination of vast areas not only in Ukraine but also far beyond its borders,” said Mr. Krasnolutskyi, the deputy minister. Damage to nuclear waste storage sites could also produce significant contamination.
Scientists have learned a lot about the long-term effects of radiation on animals and ecosystems from studies conducted in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which has been largely abandoned since the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986.
Research at the site revealed that not only did radiation cause deformities in individual animals, it affected entire populations. “We see dramatic declines in abundances and lower diversity of organisms in the more radioactive areas,” said Timothy Mousseau, a biologist at the University of South Carolina.
The Russian military activity in the Chernobyl exclusion zone may have worsened conditions there, experts said. Fires may have released radioactive particles that had been captured in the local flora, and driving through the most contaminated areas might have kicked up clouds of radioactive dust.
The military activity may have also threatened the recovery that wildlife has made in the exclusion zone. As humans have largely kept their distance, “large species that don’t really have a home nearby in the region have started to come back,” said Bruce Byers, an independent ecological consultant who has led biodiversity assessments of Ukraine for the United States Agency for International Development.
Gray wolves, red foxes, raccoon dogs, lynx and boars all reside in the exclusion zone, as do endangered Przewalski’s horses, which were introduced to the area about two decades ago.
But the Russian takeover of the site created an enormous disturbance, Dr. Mousseau said: “All of this noise and activity likely would have pushed the animals away.”
Still, research suggests that war wreaks much of its ecological havoc less directly. “The long-term environmental impacts of war are more driven by the associated societal upheaval,” said Kaitlyn Gaynor, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Wars often cause economic and food insecurity, driving civilians to rely more on natural resources, such as wild game, to survive. Some armed forces also depend on wild animals to feed their troops, or they harvest valuable animal parts, like elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns, to finance their activities. This increased demand for wildlife is often accompanied by a weakening of environmental protections or enforcement, experts said.
After civil war broke out in Angola in 1975, the country suspended antipoaching patrols. At the same time, the conflict increased access to automatic weapons, said Franciany Braga-Pereira, a biologist at the University of Barcelona who studied the effects of the war. The result was a drastic increase in hunting that reduced the number of buffaloes, antelopes and other target species.
Wartime hunting takes a disproportionate toll on large mammals, many of which play critical roles in shaping their ecosystems.
During Mozambique’s civil war, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, the population densities of nine large herbivores — including elephants, zebras, hippopotamuses and buffaloes — declined by more than 90 percent in Gorongosa National Park.
One downstream effect: A highly invasive shrub spread through the landscape.
Meanwhile, the collapse of carnivore populations — leopards and African wild dogs vanished from the park — prompted behavioral changes in their prey. The shy, forest-dwelling bushbuck, a type of antelope, began spending more time in open plains, where it feasted on new plants, suppressing the growth of native fauna.
Food insecurity and economic instability can threaten even abundant animals. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leading to soaring poverty rates in Russia, the population of moose, wild boars and brown bears declined, according to a study led by Eugenia Bragina, coordinator of scientific capacity development at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Arctic Beringia program.
None of these species were “even close to being vulnerable,” said Dr. Bragina, who grew up in the Soviet Union and remembers that her parents did not receive paychecks for months after it fell. Wild boars, in particular, were plentiful, but between 1991 and 1995, their population plummeted by about 50 percent. “In Russia, we literally ate half of them,” she said. “Half of the population went poof.”
The findings suggest that wildlife could be at risk anywhere that the war in Ukraine creates food insecurity, even outside the areas of active hostility, Dr. Bragina said.
Mr. Vasyliuk, the Ukrainian biologist, said that he had not personally heard reports of poaching in his nation’s nature preserves but remained concerned about the animals. Herds of herbivores, including endangered saiga antelopes and Przewalski’s horses, roam in the Askania-Nova preserve, which is currently occupied by Russian forces, he said. Many of the animals in the preserve, which also includes a zoo, require supplemental feeding by humans in winter and early spring, he added.
But the government may not be able to safely move funds or supplies into reserves in occupied areas, leaving the animals at risk of starvation, Mr. Vasyliuk said. His conservation group has been raising money for the reserves, including paying local grain farmers to feed the animals in Askania-Nova, he said.
Some of the administrative offices of occupied reserves have been looted, Mr. Vasyliuk said, and many staff members have been evacuated. His organization has been working to provide food, water and medicine to workers in occupied areas and help displaced workers find housing, he said, adding that some members of his own conservation group had become refugees.
War also has opportunity costs as funds and priorities shift from conservation to human survival. “We tend to focus on the kind of direct stuff — the big fires and smoke plumes, damaged oil infrastructure,” Mr. Weir said. “But, actually, it tends to be the collapse of environmental governance which leads to this kind of death of a thousand cuts and then, obviously, has this lasting legacy.”
Refuge and Reconstruction
For all the damage that war can do, in isolated cases, human conflicts can provide a shield for nature.
The most famous example is Korea’s Demilitarized Zone, a thin ribbon of land that serves as a buffer between North and South Korea. It is entirely off limits to humans, protected by guards, fences and land mines. But in the absence of people, it provides refuge for rare flora and fauna, including red-crowned and white-naped cranes, Asian black bears and possibly Siberian tigers. (The mines can pose a danger to the larger land animals.)
In some instances, war can also disrupt extractive industries. During World War II, commercial fishing in the North Sea ceased almost entirely because of the requisitioning of fishing boats, restrictions on their movement and the drafting of fishermen for the war. The populations of many commercially harvested fish species rebounded.
But the gains can be temporary. In the early years of Nicaragua’s civil war, forests along the nation’s Atlantic coast regrew as people fled, abandoning their farms. But as the war wound down, residents returned and deforestation resumed; nearly twice as much land was denuded during that period as had been reforested during the early war, scientists found.
Such findings, experts said, speak to the urgent need to consider conservation immediately after a conflict, when the environment can be at risk as nations seek to rebuild infrastructure and economies.
That is likely to be true in Ukraine, too. “All of this all-encompassing construction that will start after the end of the war will be our sand, our rock, our wood,” Mr. Vasyliuk said, and that activity is likely to take a further toll on the environment. “Our main role will be to ensure, as much as possible, that the restoration of Ukraine doesn’t mean the destruction of its nature.”
Policymakers can use the post-conflict period to strengthen environmental protections and even incorporate conservation into the peacemaking process, turning contested territories into nature reserves. “Environmental degradation in the wake of conflict can cause further harm to already vulnerable people that rely on having healthy environments for their livelihoods and their well-being,” Dr. Gaynor said.
Restoration is possible. In Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, an intensive recovery project has been underway since the 2000s. It includes enhanced anti-poaching patrols, the development of a wildlife tourism industry and efforts to improve economic and food security in local communities.
Apex predators, including leopards and wild dogs, have been reintroduced. Large herbivore populations are recovering and “re-establishing control over invasive plant species,” said Dr. Pringle, who was on the advisory board for the project. “Gorongosa is, I’d say, the world’s leading flagship model of ecological resilience in the wake of a devastating conflict,” he said.
Recovery remains incomplete, but the park’s collapse and ongoing restoration shows how human and ecological well-being are intertwined.
“When people are doing well, that’s when you have the greatest opportunities to secure a future for biodiversity,” Dr. Pringle said. “And when people are suffering and struggling, I think that’s when things tend to fall apart.”
Ali Kinsella contributed translation.
Your comment has been approved!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with The New York Times community.
If you're having trouble viewing your comment, please copy and paste this link in your browser:
—World-Outlook, April 13, 2022
The following are the lyrics of three union songs written by Tristan “Lion” Dutchin, and videos of their performances. The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizer sung the first two with fellow organizer Justine Medina at an April 8, 2022, press conference outside LDJ5, Amazon’s sort center on Staten Island, New York. A union election is set to take place at LDJ5 April 25-29. Tristan performed the third song, “Election Time,” at a February 22, 2022, ALU fundraiser held at the People’s Forum in New York City. The artist sent the lyrics and the “Election Time” video clip to World-Outlook. We are publishing them because of their artistic value and the inspiration they continue to provide to ALU’s magnificent organizing campaigns.
By Tristan “Lion” Dutchin
The Union Train
What’s that I see yonder coming, coming (3x)
Get on board! (2x)
Is that the Union train ah coming (2x)
Get on board! (2x)
It has saved many a thousand, thousand! (3x)
Get on board! (2x)
It will carry us to freedom, freedom! (3x)
Get on board! (2x)
Billionaires They Got to Go!
When I say AL you say U!
System ah try fi bring we down to ah lower level
Amazon corporation is nothing special
Treating workers like slaves that is the work of the devil
Never again in your life, mediocre nah settle
Inna Staten Island, warehouse is like prison
Jeff Bezos and his henchmen will never listen
Everyday dem mek dem money off of di workers, real ting
It’s time to come together and expose the propaganda in
Heathen yuh better now run!
The ALU come!
We don’t carry knives or guns!
What do we really want?
A strong union
When we want it?
Now! Not soon!
Billionaires they got to go! (3x)
Amazon should know
This is our streets (3x)
More Fyah, Real Heat!
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, Bun 12! (2x)
When I say AL you say U!
United we stand, divided we fall!
It’s Solidarity for y’all
Authorities you better not call!
We stand firm with our backs against the wall!
We bring hope & peace with information
Signatures we get for an election
Bun out the confusion & union busting
Bun out di TOT dem too corrupting
Everyday at the station, no adjustments
The same damn thing at Amazon Fulfillment
Amazon feeds this narrative, that workers nah trust us
We bring food, shirts, weed, employees do trust us!
March with the people, screaming “Let’s Shut it down!”
If we don’t get it
We goin all around town
History in the making, Yo mi neva forget this
This moment in this lifetime, I sit back & reminisce
Only one life to live, The union mek ah difference
(Verse 1 again)
Now it’s time to make a change for the betterment 🎶
The ALU rise up, undefeated
Keep going strong, Our work almost completed
We’ve come a long way, no more tears & weeping
Just Vote Yes
Election Time is coming
For the young & old
Haffi stand firm like a lion, big & bold
Better show up, or else…. you have really sold
You’ll be charged, might as well run back in ya home
This is a serious family affair, If yuh want to contribute, get involved, apply ya self, the greater victory is coming near & here
Big up the ALU crew! From Months & Years we are fighting fi di struggle from Dusk til Dawn!
Ah Jump fi Joy 5x
What you gonna do now?!
What you gonna say now!?
I know will win, Together! Young & Old!
The fiercely anti-union company has doubled down on its anti-union efforts at a Staten Island warehouse, LDJ5, that is scheduled to begin a union election on April 25.
By Lauren Kaori Gurley, April 13, 2022https://www.vice.com/en/article/epx9jp/amazon-cracks-down-on-organizing-after-historic-union-win
Amazon Labor Union organizers.
Less than two weeks after a small upstart union won the first election at an Amazon warehouse in U.S. history, the fiercely anti-union company is cracking down on organizing at a smaller neighboring warehouse, known as LDJ5, that is scheduled to begin its own union election on April 25.
Organizers of the scrappy Amazon Labor Union say the company has clamped down on union activity in recent days at LDJ5, by repeatedly dismantling a pro-union banner in the break room, disciplining a leader of the unionization effort at LDJ5 for her organizing activity on the warehouse floor, and confiscating pro-union literature.
“Amazon’s tactics have gotten very, very intense,” said Madeline Wesley, an Amazon warehouse worker at LDJ5 and the treasurer of Amazon Labor Union who was written up on April 10 for “soliciting” her coworkers. “They’re getting away with lots of illegal anti-union activity.”
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Amazon has also continued to hold daily mandatory anti-union meetings and one-on-ones at LDJ5, and ALU organizers say, that the company has hired anti-union consultants, who typically work as independent contractors, as full-time employees with “blue badges” that allow them to blend in better with workers in the warehouse. Motherboard reviewed documentation that Amazon hired a veteran union buster, Rebecca Smith, to work at LDJ5. Smith is the author of Union Hypocrisy, has more than a decade of experience fighting union drives, and has ties to “ultra-conservative” political circles.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board’s top attorney said she wanted to ban so-called ‘captive audience’ meetings saying they involve “an unlawful threat” that workers will be punished for refusing to listen to “such speech.”
At both warehouses, Amazon has deployed a wide variety of other anti-union propaganda, including fliers, mailers, phone calls, Instagram and Facebook ads, banners, and videos.
A victory for the union at LDJ5, which employs some 1,500 workers according to an internal roster obtained by Motherboard earlier this year, would be an important indicator of whether Amazon Labor Union’s success can be replicated elsewhere and spur a wave of unionization at Amazon warehouses across the country.
In late March, representatives of the company also repeatedly confiscated pro-union literature in the break room at LDJ5, according to Amazon Labor Union and videos uploaded to social media, where an Amazon representative confiscates union literature, but then promises to put it back when workers confront her saying “it’s illegal to remove anti-union literature,” and then removes it again shortly after.
In December, Amazon reached a national deal with the National Labor Relations Board, agreeing to email past and current warehouse workers in the United States—likely more than one million people—of their rights to organize within its facilities, the largest concession Amazon had made to date to organized labor.
The cases that led to the settlement involved workers in Staten Island and Chicago, where Amazon had banned workers from being in its break rooms and parking lots more than 15 minutes before or after a shift, impeding workers ability to organize.
Amazon’s settlement in December gave workers greater legal protection to organize in break rooms at Amazon warehouses, which became crucial in Amazon Labor Union’s victory in April, but ALU lawyers say that Amazon has refused to fully abide by this settlement at LDJ5.
“Amazon is violating the national settlement agreement,” said Seth Goldstein, an attorney who represents Amazon Labor Union workers and has filed more than 50 unfair labor practice complaints against Amazon on behalf of the union since May 2021. “These are blatant attacks on an agreement they were a party to. The core of the matter is Amazon agreed to something but they’re violating it because it suits their purposes for winning the election.”
At JFK8, Amazon did not interfere when union supporters hung up a free-standing yellow banner in the break room that said “Amazon Labor Union: VOTE YES!” in the lead up to the recent election. But when workers brought the banner into the break room at LDJ5 following Amazon Labor Union’s victory at JFK8, Amazon managers asked workers to take it down.
When workers refused, Amazon representatives removed the banner multiple times, at one point telling workers that the banner was only allowed to remain up if workers were holding it the entire time, and later saying that the banner could not be displayed in the break room at all.
“It’s the same banner that we were allowed to have at JFK8, but they didn’t think we’d win,” said Wesley. “First a manager and HR rep said we’re asking you to take it down, they didn’t say why, and we said ‘no we’re not going to take it down. It’s legally protected.’ Then they said it's a policy and we said’ then show us the policy,’ but [they refused.]’ Then they said organizers have to hold the banner, it can’t be freestanding. Then they said no banners allowed period. Their policy keeps changing and they still haven’t shown us the policy, but we’re worried that they’ll write organizers up for it, so now there are no banners.”
On April 10, two Amazon representatives called Wesley into a private meeting and presented her with a disciplinary write up for “soliciting” her coworkers during work hours at a workstation five days earlier, according to an audio recording obtained by Motherboard. According to an Amazon manager who is recorded on audio, Amazon punished Wesley for asking her coworkers to “vote yes” during work hours because “Amazon prohibits employees from soliciting during working time in working areas.”
“Soliciting involves engaging with a group of associates during the working time period,” the human resources representative said.
“So am I not allowed to talk to people during work?” Wesley said.
“You’re more than welcome to talk to anybody you’d like to,” the Amazon representative says. “It’s just when it’s regarding anything about the union.”
“So I’m not allowed to talk about the union when I’m working?” Wesley says.
“Specifically soliciting and engaging associates regarding that in the lanes while people are clocked in is prohibited, but you’re more than welcome to distribute any type of literature during non working periods,” the representative says.
“They wouldn’t give me any specific info on what I did,” Wesley told Motherboard of the incident. “I’m on the floor talking to people about union all the time. I have freedom of speech and other people are talking about the union all the time.”
In response to Amazon’s disciplinary action against Wesley, Goldstein filed unfair labor practice changes against Amazon for allegedly retaliating against a worker in order to discourage union activity. Goldstein also filed an unfair labor practice charge against Amazon for removing the “Vote Yes!” banner from the LDJ5 break room. Both charges will likely not be resolved for months, long after a result is determined in the upcoming union election.
The union election at LDJ5 will occur throughout the week of April 25. Votes will be tallied on May 2.
—World-Outlook, April 13, 2022
ALU secretary Karen Ponce speaks at April 8, 2022, press conference in front of LDJ5, Amazon’s sort center in Staten Island, New York, where a union representation election is scheduled to take place April 25-29.
Staten Island, New York—At an April 8 press conference—more like a workers’ rally—here, Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizers called on union members and supporters to focus their efforts over the next two weeks on winning the upcoming union vote at LDJ5. This is Amazon’s sort facility across the street from JFK8, the company’s giant fulfillment center employing 8,000 workers, where the ALU just won a landmark union election. The ALU urged everyone to join an April 24 rally in front of LD5.
“2,654 votes Yes, 2,131 votes No, 67 challenged ballots, and 17 void ballots,” ALU secretary Karen Ponce told the media and the several dozen Amazon workers and supporters gathered near the bus stop by the entrance of LDJ5, referring to the outcome of the union vote at JFK8, announced April 1.
“We got 57 percent of the turnout in favor of the union. This may be the NLRB’s [National Labor Relations Board] largest bargaining unit,” Ponce continued. “We kicked Amazon’s management and union busters’ ass,” she said to cheers, laughter, and applause.
ALU organizers Tristan “Lion” Dutchin and Justine Medina then led the singing of “The Union Train” and other songs written by Dutchin (videos of the performance, along with the lyrics, are posted separately).
While describing the key lessons of how a team of rank-and-file workers organized Amazon’s first warehouse in the U.S., ALU members also drew attention to the main tasks ahead: the election campaign at LDJ5, beating Amazon’s challenge to the JFK8 victory, unifying the workforce to fight for a contract, and a nationwide organizing campaign.
“We shook up the labor movement,” said Derrick Palmer, ALU vice president of organizing. “This is history in the making. Now we got to bust our ass to make sure we get a union at LDJ5.”
“Since we won, we’ve been contacted by workers in over a hundred [Amazon] buildings nationwide and even overseas,” ALU president Chris Smalls said in opening the press conference. That’s about ten percent of the company’s more than 1,000 fulfillment centers and other facilities across the country. Smalls said the ALU will share its experience through webinars and a “national call” it will host with fellow employees at Amazon who want to unionize their workplaces.
“The ALU is coming”
The day before, Smalls and Palmer traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Sean O’Brien, the new president of the 1.2-million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). The IBT has expressed interest in organizing Amazon facilities. Smalls said the Teamsters promised help in the ALU’s push for a first contract in New York.
“The Teamsters are going to support us,” said Smalls. “That’s all we are asking for: resources, office space, manpower, strength, funds, lawyers, negotiators.”
The ALU—a grassroots group with no affiliation to any national trade union—has sought and welcomed solidarity from established unions, community, and political organizations, as well as politicians. But a number of speakers emphasized that the leadership and direction of the fight will continue to come from the ranks of the ALU.
“I want to get that out of the way, we’re not affiliating” with the IBT or other established trade unions, Smalls said. “We will remain independent. We won this way, workers organizing ourselves. We won’t give that up.”
The ALU leader stressed the same point in referring to remarks by U.S. president Joe Biden. “Amazon, here we come,” Biden said on April 6, touting the White House Task Force on Worker Organization and Empowerment.
“You all heard Biden say that, but he should have said the ALU is coming for Amazon,” Smalls said to loud cheers. “Because we are.”
Hours before the press conference, Amazon filed 25 objections to the outcome of the union vote at JFK8 with the NLRB. The company argued that the result should be thrown out because the labor board conducted the election unfairly and ALU members had “coerced” workers into supporting their cause. The NLRB gave Amazon a deadline of April 22 to substantiate its allegations.
“These objections have no merit, and exist merely to stall certification of our union,” responded Connor Spence, ALU’s vice president of membership.
“Amazon makes claims that are either misleading, trivial, or downright false. These claims will be investigated and dismissed, but not before weeks or months of NLRB time and resources are wasted,” Connor added in a press release. “We are eager to work with the Board to set the record straight on each baseless objection and move forward with our certification.”
“The entire world knows that the workers won our election,” Cassio Mendoza, an ALU organizer who works the night shift at JFK8, said in an interview. “We look forward to sitting down with Amazon in May to negotiate a fair contract for the workers at JFK8.”
Unify workforce in fight for a contract
Unifying the workforce behind the fight for a contract is one of ALU’s immediate tasks, said Angelika “Angie” Maldonado, the chairwoman of the union’s Workers Committee at JFK8.
“If it wasn’t for the workers, there would be no victory,” Maldonado told the press conference. “I want to thank all the workers who voted ‘Yes.’ And even the ones that are misinformed, who voted ‘No,’ we’re here to inform you. This is not a war between us. Let’s unify and let’s bargain for the contract of our dreams. I thought I was fighting a battle from October to April. But the real fight is now. If we fight together, we can defeat the beast.”
“I wanna say thank you to my coworkers for being brave and facing the unknown, different, but better future of Amazon,” said Michelle Valentín Nieves, who joined the ALU a few months ago. She outlined key ALU contract proposals. “Amazon warehouse workers,” she said, “made Amazon the billion-dollar company that it is today. We deserve a living wage. We demand job security. We need paid sick leave. Together we will change Amazon forever.”
ALU organizers are aiming for $30 an hour from the current starting rate of $18.25. They want job security to prevent the company from constantly firing and rehiring people several months later, resulting in a turnover that exceeds 150 percent per year. They are also pushing for quality-of-life improvements, including allowing workers to keep their phones on the warehouse floor and pushing the company to provide shuttle buses for employees with long commutes.
The ALU is reaching out to recruit shop stewards to help defend workers victimized by management on the job and to volunteer for other union tasks. In response to a recent appeal, more than 300 workers have stepped forward since the union victory on April 1, Spence said in an interview.
A number of Amazon workers who addressed the media for the first time at the April 8 press conference gave examples of the union’s expanding appeal and organizers’ growing confidence in accelerating active involvement of the ranks in union affairs.
Pasquale “Pat” Cioffi is a middle-aged Process Assistant (PA) at JFK8. PAs train other employees and have close relations with hundreds of workers. Though they collaborate with supervisors and other managers, they are wage workers on an hourly rate.
“About a month ago I was looking for Cassio [Mendoza] and Brett [Daniels], and they were nowhere to be found,” said Cioffi, who has union experience as a dock worker and member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. He soon found that Amazon had called the police who arrested these ALU organizers, and Chris Smalls, for bringing food to other workers in the cafeteria.
“I didn’t like that. I started flipping ‘No’s’ to ‘Yes’s’ for the election,” Cioffi explained. “Next thing I know, I am under investigation from Amazon. I got pulled into the office, Human Resources, for allegedly cutting a wire into computers. I got suspended for a day. They soon realized they messed up with the wrong person. In the next three weeks, I must have flipped 400 to 500 ‘No’s’ to a ‘Yes’ for the union.”
James DeVille described how early in the COVID-19 pandemic Amazon tried to hide facts about workers who got sick and could have infected others. “I knew one of the persons who passed away from COVID on my shift,” DeVille explained. “There was no mention of him. No memorial. They swept it under the rug.”
DeVille said he started thinking about a union when the company fired Smalls two years ago after he helped lead a walkout to protest unsafe job conditions during the pandemic. “It is the falsehoods and misinformation managers spread that got to me,” DeVille emphasized.
Amazon stepped up its attempts to smear union leaders during the election campaign. “One of the union busters, Emma, started spreading rumors that Chris [Smalls] is buying a Lamborghini,” Cioffi said. “I asked her for a loan, since her LM-10 [pay document] showed she was getting up to $3,000 a day! She disappeared.”
“One of the first steps in war is propaganda,” DeVille added.
“These guys spent millions and millions and millions of dollars to tell us to vote ‘No,’” he said, referring to company “captive audience” meetings where Amazon brought pressure to bear to dissuade workers from unionizing. “They shut down this entire building at least seven times,” DeVille continued, referring to management stopping production to herd workers to “training” anti-union sessions. “I work in a spot called Amnesty. When the floor shuts down, we get cursed up because it’s like $200,000 for every ten minutes,” he explained. “They tried to force people who are immigrants, or young people with little job experience, away from fighting back. But it backfired.”
DeVille recently volunteered for the union’s outreach efforts. “I joined to counter Amazon’s propaganda,” he said. “I try to break down union information in layman’s terms. I wrote a couple of flyers.”
Extending and receiving solidarity
Chris Smalls said the ALU has extended solidarity to other workers seeking unionization or a decent contract. These include Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama, Starbucks workers organizing across the country, Met Coal miners on strike for more than a year and “anyone looking for dignity and a decent life.”
In a separate election at the Bessemer Amazon warehouse, the union trailed slightly in the initial tally of the votes announced on March 31: 993 workers voted against being represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), and 875 voted in favor. But more than 400 ballots have yet to be counted because they were challenged by either the company or the RWDSU. Those challenged ballots, enough to potentially affect the outcome, are set to be resolved at a labor board hearing in the coming weeks.
“Employees at six more Starbucks coffee shops in Upstate New York voted to unionize Thursday and Friday [April 7-8], delivering a string of wins for the nascent organization effort at one of America’s most ubiquitous coffee retailers,” reported the Washington Post on April 8. These successes pushed the total unionized Starbucks shops to 16. This is still a drop in the bucket of the more than 15,000 company-operated and licensed Starbucks stores across the country, but a drop that had not yet formed a year ago and one that could become a flood.
ALU members have also received solidarity from other countries. “We want to salute our colleagues in the United States who created the first Amazon union in the country!” said a message from Antoine Delorme of the CGT Amazon trade union at Châlons-sur-Saône, France. “What they’ve done is a victory for all workers!”
Delorme wrote that all Amazon logistics sites in France went on strike April 4, seeking better pay to make up for the impact of inflation on eroding wages. “At some sites, barricades were erected to slow down trucks from entering and exiting,” Delorme noted. “Many of these workers are on strike for the first time.”
Join April 24 pre-election rally at LDJ5
ALU treasurer Maddie Wesley painted a sobering picture of the campaign to win the union vote at LDJ5.
“I am an LDJ5 worker,” Wesley said. “It’s a war in there. They are really fighting us.”
Amazon took all its hired union busters who tried to thwart a pro-union vote among JFK8’s 8,000 employees “and walked them across the street to our little building of 1,600 people,” she said.
“They are spreading racist lies about Chris,” she explained, referring to ALU’s president, “and sexist lies about me, trying to undermine my authority as a young woman involved with the union. They are spreading things so horrible I don’t even want to repeat.”
Smalls added that one of the rumors union busters are spreading is that Wesley bears responsibility for a worker committing suicide. “That’s ridiculous, disgusting, and must be exposed,” Smalls said.
We call on all those people who are in the news saying they support us, all over social media, the politicians, the celebrities, the labor leaders who are talking about our campaign, come shake hands with the LDJ5 workers, come meet the workers fighting for the union,” Wesley said.
“Our rally is on Sunday, April 24, starting at 3:00 P.M.,” she said, referring to ALU’s pre-election rally before the vote at LDJ5 scheduled for April 25-29. The rally will take place at 526 Gulf Avenue on Staten Island.
“I’m so proud of the LDJ5 team right now because they’re really stepping up,” Wesley continued. “We’ve got a great team of people, just workers, who have decided to take their livelihoods into their own hands and fight for this union and stand up against Amazon. Every LDJ5 worker who is out there speaking out for the union, despite all of the ‘Vote No’ propaganda, despite all the rumors and the lies, every LDJ5 worker fighting for the union right now is a hero.
“Come show your solidarity,” the union leader said. “Shake workers’ hands. Those who say you support us, actually do it.”
 See “ALU Union Songs” published by World-Outlook on April 13, 2022.
 For more information see “‘When We Unite Together We Win’: How a Team of Rank-and-File Workers Organized the First US Amazon Warehouse,” published by World-Outlook on April 8, 2022.
By David Ost, April 11, 2022https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/recognize-imperialism-americocentrism.html
The Left has to Recognize Russian Imperialism in Ukraine or it is Trapped in Americocentrism
By David Ost, April 11, 2022
( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – It is tough for leftists to be on the same side as the mainstream. We can easily feel at those times that we’re missing something, that we’re letting down the struggle, that by ganging up even on an admittedly bad actor we’re helping strengthen the nemesis at home, allowing it to appear as the good guy. Ever since 1917, that has been the case with regards to the western Left and Russia. Before 1917, the Left saw the tsarist autocracy as the pinnacle of authoritarian reaction, an attitude that eased the path for the socialist parties of Russia’s enemies to embrace World War I. But ever since the Russian Revolution, the Left has been wary of joining with any western bourgeois condemnations of the country, despite its own often fierce objections to Stalinism or the clampdown on internal democracy.
As the war now enters its second month, we see this again in the case of Ukraine, despite the fact that Putin’s Russia is far closer to the tsarist model than to anything from the Soviet period. In the first days after the invasion, it seemed like almost all that prominent western left commentators could talk about was not Russia but NATO. The invasion was wrong, they usually stated at the outset and then proceeded to focus on the “real” culprit, invariably the West. Its guilt? That it had already expanded NATO to the east, and that it not ruled out the possibility of Ukrainian membership. It didn’t matter that NATO expansion was driven more by the east Europeans than by Washington, which was originally quite divided on the matter. Nor did it matter that NATO membership for Ukraine was hardly imminent, or that in no scenario was a NATO attack on Russia imaginable.
What mattered was that all these moves angered Russia, and it was the justified anger of Russia that so many western leftists seemed so eager to focus on in these first days following Russia’s invasion. In this way, they have effectively minimized Russia’s responsibility by embracing a “realist” view that the destructive rage of a “great” power is something the world must somehow accept as normal. It is not surprising that east European leftists have been unsparing in their criticism of their western counterparts, accusing them of “westsplaining.”
Even Noam Chomsky, while more viscerally critical of the invasion—he called it “a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939”—then proceeded to speak all about NATO, endorsing someone else’s claim that “there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion” of NATO. Once again, Putin appears here as almost helpless, apparently left no other choice but to invade Ukraine in trying to defend Russia.
The statement of the “Party for Socialism and Liberation” was blunter but not really different from the approach of too many others: “While we do not support the Russian invasion, we reserve our strongest condemnation [emphasis added] for the U.S. government, which rejected Russia’s legitimate security concerns in the region.”
In other words, in the first days of this brutal and completely unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country, the first concern of many western leftists was to contextualize the invasion, shifting the blame to the enemy at home, and thereby standing aside from the outpouring of mainstream condemnation.
As for its supposed “security guarantees,” perhaps Russia does “need” them; great powers always insist they do. But for leftists to be more concerned with the security interests of a great power—in this case, a right-wing militarist power that supports itself almost entirely by the mining and selling of planet-killing fossil fuels—than with the desires of a small people hoping to secure their independence and not be invaded, is scandalous. Leftists never treat the peoples marginalized by western imperialism in such a dismissive way.
Giving a pass to imperialism
And yet this is not so surprising to me. I have been writing as a leftist about eastern Europe since the late 1970s. When I harshly criticized Soviet policies, or supported opposition movements in the Soviet bloc, western left colleagues sometimes looked at me askance. After all, the mainstream press and usually even the American government often criticized the same things and at least discursively supported the same movements. Wasn’t I thus just endorsing western Cold War government policies when, as an American, I should be focusing on how to change things here?
In the early 1980s, I wrote numerous articles from Poland for the left American weekly In These Times about the Solidarity trade union movement there—a workers’ movement fighting against the Soviet-backed government that practiced participatory democracy, opposed capitalism, and demanded independent trade unions. When I got home, one friend introduced me as a “former leftist.” The fact that my critique of the putatively left state socialist system never sounded anything like that of bourgeois counterparts—the fact that leftists really defended Polish workers’ labor rights unlike, say, Ronald Reagan’s cynical defense of Solidarity while crushing labor movements back home—somehow meant nothing to some leftists, concerned above all that taking a certain position put them “on the same side” as their enemies at home.
Yet it’s contrary to all internationalist principles, and plainly Americocentric, to give even a slight pass to an imperialism just because the country doing it opposes the country you think does it more. Blaming America for Russia invading Ukraine is like blaming the German Communist Party for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. If the Party didn’t organize an uprising, which the Freikorps and government had made clear they would resist, they wouldn’t have shot her. In politics, states always face provocations. But they are not obligated to respond in the worst way possible.
The problem of NATO
NATO has of course long been a major point of contention for Russia. The West has understood the prospect of Ukrainian membership as so unacceptable to Russia that NATO has repeatedly stated that there were no plans to do begin accession, though without formally withdrawing its 2008 statement that this was the long-term aim.
So, did Putin invade in order to keep NATO out of Ukraine? Objecting to NATO is one thing. But waging a war that invariably leads to the strengthening of NATO suggests that this is not the key question here. If the main aim were to take NATO membership off the table, Russia could have kept its troops surrounding Ukraine and announced that it was ready to invade. It would have then held off any attack pending emergency talks on Ukrainian neutrality. If rejected, it might have begun a limited incursion into the lands already controlled by separatists and threatened an escalation without an agreement on NATO. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said soon after the invasion that he was open to discussing the question of neutrality. Putin could have taken various steps short of all-out war to address what so many have said is Russia’s main grievance.
So, there must have been something else going on. And it hasn’t been hidden.
Putin has been expressing his views on Ukraine extensively for years. In July 2021 Putin wrote (perhaps even himself) a 7,000-word article completely devoted to two points: that Ukraine is an inalienable part of Russia, and that Ukrainians have no right to govern themselves unless they do so in deep collaboration with Russia. The piece argues that an unbreakable connection between Russia and Ukraine existed for over a thousand years until it was broken definitively by Lenin and the Bolsheviks, allowing a large Ukrainian Soviet republic to become an independent state when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Forget for a moment the bizarre assumption that nations take on their eternal form at one particular moment of creation. Putin’s more important quote is this: “Soviet nationality policy created three separate Slavic peoples, when in fact there is only one large Russian nation, a triune people comprising Great Russians [i.e., Russians], Little Russians [i.e., Ukrainians], and Belorussians.”
The problem, then, with all the accounts focusing on NATO—a topic barely mentioned in Putin’s July text—is that they deny Putin agency. They present Putin as someone capable only of reacting, to America. Putin has repeated endlessly, and with signal clarity, what he thinks of Ukraine apart from the question of NATO. The NATO question is certainly not unimportant, but western analysts who keep stressing its absolute centrality are just plain guilty of not letting easterners, even in this case Vladimir Putin himself, speak for themselves. Yet Putin is clear: if NATO, one year ago, had taken membership off the table, Putin would still be left with the problem of Ukraine insisting that it is a completely separate entity from Russia.
Further evidence for the centrality of the “one great Russian nation” theme comes from a remarkable article published a day after the invasion in Novosti, the official Russian news agency, and then deleted hours later when it realized the extent of Ukraine’s resistance. Amazingly, some in the top leadership have believed this would be a cakewalk, because the article announces that “a new era” has begun, with Russia “restoring its historical fullness” by re-uniting the Russian people “in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarussians, and Little Russians.” Ukrainian independence, it continues, is intolerable because it means the “de-Russification of Russians.”
How much clearer can Russia say that NATO was only a minor symptom of a bigger problem? Publicly Russia spoke about NATO because it knew that this was something anyone wary of American power could latch onto, as a way of minimizing Russian responsibility. We should indeed be wary of American power. But if we are to listen to what Putin says, then we must acknowledge his clear and proud expressions of utterly imperialist ambitions toward Ukraine.
Putin and the Left
Do some people still harbor a view of Putin as some kind of leftist? Is that why there is still this reluctance in some western left circles (though not in eastern European left circles) to attribute the same ill intentions to Russia as they do to the United States?
It is true that Putin long served the Soviet state, belonged to the Communist Party, and famously bemoaned the end of the Soviet Union. It is also true that in most international conflicts during the Cold War, except for the ones inside the Soviet bloc, the Soviet Union was usually on the progressive side.
But Putin entered the state apparatus of the Soviet Union not for any progressive reasons, but to serve a powerful Russian state. There is no evidence of Putin having ever been interested in any kind of left ideology. He belongs squarely in the tradition of those old imperial White Army émigrés who began to embrace Soviet Russia in the 1930s when they saw that it was restoring the Great Russian power they had been pushing for all along.
In fact, the closest Putin comes to having an intellectual hero is one of the key theorists of the anti-Bolshevik side in the Civil War: Ivan Ilyin, a Christian monarchist and early admirer of Hitler, whose ashes Putin retrieved from America to have ceremoniously reinterred in Moscow. As for Russian leaders he styles himself after, his model is Tsar Alexander III, who reversed the reforms of his predecessor and strengthened authoritarian rule during his reign from 1881-1894, becoming a model for the west European right resisting liberal and socialist reforms just as Putin is now a hero for Marine Le Pen or Tucker Carlson fighting against egalitarian “woke” tendencies today.
George Kennan offered his warnings about NATO expansion before anyone had ever heard of Vladimir Putin. Any Russia was likely to be wary of NATO on its borders. But not every Russia would treat Ukraine as devoid of the most elementary rights of self-determination. Neither Lenin nor Gorbachev nor Yeltsin treated Ukraine that way, and Putin has denounced all three. Not every Russia would respond to a distant possibility of Ukrainian membership in NATO with an all-out war. And for those who keep returning to Russia’s justified fears of NATO on its borders, how to explain an invasion that is, as anyone could have predicted, already leading to a more aggressively anti-Russian NATO than anything since the end of the Cold War?
Recognizing Putin’s enormous culpability does not mean giving a free pass to America. Given its unwillingness to push for Ukraine’s NATO membership, it ought to have publicly taken the prospect off the table and worked towards a joint agreement for neutrality that would have defused Russia’s main talking point. Yet for all of America’s historic sins and culpabilities, the war in Ukraine is not one of them. Even Putin locates the causes of the war in Ukraine’s push for full independence—a push, he tells us repeatedly, that he cannot accept.
Almost no one on the left has supported the war. But saying “Down with the Russian invasion” and then turning immediately to blaming America, and only America, for provoking it is almost the same. Not only does it show a lack of basic understanding about Russia, it is also a stunning betrayal of the most basic internationalist principles. If we want to support the right of self-determination to America’s neighbors, we can’t deny the same to Russia’s. If we’re not able to recognize multiple imperialisms, we are guilty of the same kind of Americocentrism for which we castigate others.
Decades after independence, many African countries are increasingly troubled by the ongoing influence of their former colonial power.
By Ruth Maclean, April 14, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/14/world/africa/france-macron-africa-colonies.html
BAMAKO, Mali — Many French guests came through the guesthouse where El Bachir Thiam worked as a security guard, a small oasis of greenery in busy Bamako, the capital of the West African country of Mali. They were friendly, usually, and he liked them.
But after he had welcomed them in, shown them to their rooms and reassured them that Bamako was safe, not the hotbed of terrorist activity it might seem from outside, he went back to his phone, where his activist WhatsApp groups were focused on one thing. Getting the French — their businesses, diplomats and thousands of troops — out of Mali.
Over the past few years there has been a sharp rise in criticism of France across its former colonies in Africa, rooted in a feeling that colonialist practices and paternalistic attitudes never really ended, and propelled by a tide of social media posts, radio shows, demonstrations and conversations on the street.
In Senegal, young people attending protests last year accused the president of being a puppet of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who is currently vying for a second term. They smashed the windows of French gas stations and set fire to French supermarkets.
In Burkina Faso, as a coup d’état unfolded in January, tailors tore up French flags and pieced the tricolors back together horizontally to make Russian ones.
In Niger last November, after protesters shouting “Down with France!” tried to block a French military convoy, the soldiers opened fire. They killed two people, the Nigerien government said.
Nearly half of the countries in Africa were at one time French colonies or protectorates. Six decades after most of them gained independence, young people like Mr. Thiam — born long after the colonial French departed — are driving this uprising, tapping into a wealth of online information that older generations, often less educated and literate, never had access to, and trying to use it to promote change. And their elders are paying attention.
“There’s a new awakening in sub-Saharan Africa that the world should know about,” said El Hadj Djitteye, a Malian analyst who recently founded a think tank, the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies on the Sahel. “If a foreign minister makes a speech today, there’s a group of young analysts that can look at it and say this paragraph is paternalist, that one is aggressive, this isn’t diplomacy.”
Though the tide of information they consume and share sometimes veers into misinformation, including unfounded rumors about France working with jihadists or stealing gold, much of the criticism in countries with ties to France is aimed at the perceived arrogance of the former colonial master. There have always been critiques of France, particularly in more educated, urban circles in West Africa, but now that almost everyone either owns a cellphone or knows somebody who does, these ideas have spread.
In Mali, where for almost a decade French soldiers who initially came at the invitation of the Malian government have tried and failed to stop the spread of armed Islamist groups, France stands accused of disrespecting Malians not just by activists like Mr. Thiam, but by the country’s highest officials, including the prime minister.
“They want to humiliate us,” said Prime Minister Choguel Maiga in a recent speech which drifted into unfounded conspiracy theory. This kind of rhetoric has helped the military junta that seized power in 2020 retain huge popular support. “We’re not a people that submits.”
This is a stark turnaround from a decade ago. When jihadists took over its northern cities in 2012, Mali appealed to France for military help. And when French soldiers arrived, Malians greeted them as liberating heroes.
Now they are effectively being chased from the country. They are blamed for sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, aimed at trying to get the junta to commit to handing over power — France is assumed to be the group’s puppet master.
The French are blamed for their failure to stop an insurgency that metastasized and spilled over Mali’s borders, destabilizing a vast stretch of arid territory known as the Sahel — even though troops from Mali have also been fighting the insurgents and now stand accused of massacring hundreds of people together with their new partners, Russian mercenaries. The French are blamed, too, for their support of former rebel groups from the north considered by many in Mali’s powerful south to be no different than the jihadists.
The deteriorating security situation was one of the main things Mr. Thiam posted about on social media during his night shifts at the guesthouse. He built up a following of more than 35,000 friends and followers on Facebook at one point.
But he wasn’t just an online warrior: He co-founded an activist group, On A Tout Compris — French for “We’ve Got it All Figured Out” — which organized demonstrations outside the French embassy and targeted French-owned businesses like the petroleum company Total. Soon, he found he was having to duck out of his activist meetings early to get to work on time. Then he left the guesthouse job for full time activism.
His favorite trick was to post videos of himself burning the French flag on Facebook — something that eventually got him banned from the social network, he said. (Facebook said that the burning of flags does not violate their policies, but he could have been banned for another reason). He said he posted pictures of dead French soldiers, labeling them “other terrorists,” just for shock value.
“We knew that was mean, but it was part of our battle plan,” he said.
French soldiers are now packing up in their bases, preparing to leave, while their leaders focus on their relationships with other, friendlier countries like Niger and Ivory Coast, where this month they will hold a training session with local troops, as they have done for years.
For years after African nations got independence, France maintained a web of political and business ties with its former colonies, often in effect propping up corrupt governments or dictators for its own benefit, a system widely known as Françafrique.
When Mr. Macron became president, it initially seemed that things would change. He promised to declassify secret files related to the assassination of Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s revolutionary leader, killed in a putsch in which many suspect France played a role. He asked Rwanda for forgiveness over France’s role in the genocide.
“I am from a generation that doesn’t come to tell Africans what to do,” he told students in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, in 2017.
But this rang hollow in January 2020 when he summoned five African leaders to a summit, partly to disavow rising anti-French sentiment in their countries. To many of their citizens back home, Mr. Macron came across as insufferably arrogant.
And in Mali — often, of late, the harbinger for the region, whether in terms of coups or destabilizing Islamist groups — people felt that the arrogance just kept coming — notably, in French ministers’ condemnations of the military junta that overthrew the president, France’s erstwhile ally, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The relationship between the two countries broke down fast.
After France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, called the junta “illegitimate” and “out of control” in January, its ambassador in Bamako was instructed to leave.
On a recent afternoon at the embassy, the ambassador’s spacious office was hushed, the only sign of him a photograph atop his office chair, where he jokingly propped it on his way out.
Many Malians still bristle at that “illegitimate” label: of course, they say, the junta was not elected. But many feel they have been failed by democracy as France conceives it, and that the junta speaks for them.
“Stop thinking we are inferior,” said Pierre Togo, a former soldier, addressing France as he nursed a mango juice at a Bamako bar on a recent evening. “France is plotting, playing games, and Africans understand that now.”
Across town, at a busy roundabout where vendors sold Malian flags, Lassina Keita, a mechanic, wiped oil-stained hands on his shirt, to which was clipped the source of all his information, a small yellow radio. “It’s better to say thank you, and let them go,” he said of the French.
But while these sentiments are common in the capital, some Malians from the north and center, where the insurgency is raging, see things differently.
In a quiet suburb of Bamako, Ami Walet Idrissa and Bintou Walet Abdou, both 22, chatted in Ami’s house, its rough cinder block walls heating in the sun. They reminisced about their lives back home in Timbuktu, which was taken by Islamist militants, after arms and men flooded into the country in the wake of Libya’s descent into chaos.
“France helped Mali a lot,” said Bintou.
“They’re the ones who chased the jihadists out,” Ami said.
When jihadists took over Timbuktu in 2012, Ami was 13. Her parents had fled, but she stayed behind with her siblings. One day, walking home after bathing in the river, armed men stopped Ami and her brother. Males and females were forbidden from walking together, they said — siblings or not. They whipped them both, she said.
Both women worried about what would happen if the French left, but they never said so in public, even when people equated the French with jihadists, as they often did. Their opinions could invite trouble in Bamako.
Were France’s harshest critics living in areas threatened by extremists or abusive military forces, rather than safely in Bamako, things could be different.
At the leafy guesthouse, one of Mr. Thiam’s former co-workers was amused to hear what his old colleague was up to.
“Send him to Dogon country, let him hear a bit of gunfire,” he said with a smile, referring to an area often attacked by the armed groups that France fought. “He’ll run back yelling ‘Vive la France!’”
Patrick Lyoya, 26, was killed by a Grand Rapids police officer last week during a traffic stop. Activists said the shooting followed years of unheeded calls for changes to the police force.
By Mitch Smith, April 13, 2022
“A New York Times investigation last fall revealed that American police officers, over the previous five years, had killed more than 400 motorists who were not wielding a gun or knife or under pursuit for a violent crime. The Times found that police culture and court precedents significantly overstated the danger to officers at vehicle stops. … Already this year, more than 250 people have been fatally shot by on-duty police officers nationwide, according to a Washington Post database, close to the pace from both 2020 and 2021, when more than 1,000 people were shot dead by the police.”
A confrontation between a Grand Rapids police officer and Mr. Lyoya. Credit...Grand Rapids Police Department
Protesters marched in Grand Rapids on Wednesday after the videos of Mr. Lyoya’s death were released. Credit...Nic Antaya for The New York Times
The police in Grand Rapids, Mich., released videos on Wednesday showing a white officer fatally shooting Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old Black man, after a struggle during a traffic stop last week.
The officer, who has not been named, was lying on the back of Mr. Lyoya before he appeared to shoot him in the head. In the seconds before the shooting, Mr. Lyoya and the officer wrestled on the ground and seemed to be fighting for control of the officer’s Taser.
“When I saw the video, it was painful to watch,” Mark Washington, the Grand Rapids city manager, said. “And I immediately asked, ‘What caused this to happen, and what more could have been done to prevent this from occurring?’”
Even before the release of the footage, the case exposed longstanding tensions in Grand Rapids, a city of about 200,000 people where 18 percent of residents are Black. Activists aired their frustration and grief on Tuesday night during a City Commission meeting, speaking for hours about what they described as years of inaction on policing issues by Grand Rapids leaders, and then protested through the evening on Wednesday after the videos were released.
The investigation into the officer’s actions was ongoing, officials said on Wednesday, and no charging decision had been made. Chief Eric Winstrom of the Grand Rapids police said he was not aware of any weapons other than the officer’s gun and Taser being found at the scene. Police body camera video shows the officer telling Mr. Lyoya that he is pulling him over because his license plates do not match his car.
A New York Times investigation last fall revealed that American police officers, over the previous five years, had killed more than 400 motorists who were not wielding a gun or knife or under pursuit for a violent crime. The Times found that police culture and court precedents significantly overstated the danger to officers at vehicle stops.
Police killings of Black men have dominated national discussions about law enforcement in recent years, particularly after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020 touched off protests across the country, including in Grand Rapids. Already this year, more than 250 people have been fatally shot by on-duty police officers nationwide, according to a Washington Post database, close to the pace from both 2020 and 2021, when more than 1,000 people were shot dead by the police.
In Grand Rapids, officials said that the police officer who fired the fatal shot joined the department in 2015. Mr. Lyoya immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014 and had lived in Grand Rapids for about five years, according to the office of Ben Crump, a lawyer for the family.
“The video clearly shows that this was an unnecessary, excessive and fatal use of force against an unarmed Black man who was confused by the encounter and terrified for his life,” Mr. Crump said. He called for the officer to be fired and prosecuted.
The videos released on Wednesday show Mr. Lyoya driving through a residential area on the cold, rainy morning of April 4 when an officer pulls him over. Mr. Lyoya steps out of his car, the videos show, and appears confused as the officer tells him to get back in the car. The officer asks Mr. Lyoya whether he speaks English.
Mr. Lyoya responds that he does speak English, and asks, “What did I do wrong?” After a brief exchange about whether Mr. Lyoya has a driver’s license, the officer grabs Mr. Lyoya, who pulls away and starts to run, the video footage shows.
The officer tackles Mr. Lyoya in a nearby lawn, yelling “Stop!” as Mr. Lyoya appears to try to regain his footing. At one point, body camera footage shows Mr. Lyoya grasping for the Taser that is in the officer’s hand. Chief Winstrom said he believed that the Taser was fired twice during the encounter, but that it did not hit anyone.
Midway through the struggle, the officer’s body camera stops filming. Chief Winstrom said pressure was applied to the camera to turn it off during the struggle. It was not clear who applied that pressure or whether it was intentional.
Other cameras — from the officer’s vehicle, a nearby doorbell security system and a bystander’s cellphone — capture different portions of the encounter. Shortly before the fatal shot is fired, the officer yells, “Let go of the Taser.” Mr. Lyoya is facing the ground and pushing up, with the officer on top of him, in the moments just before the shooting.
Chief Winstrom called the shooting a tragedy but declined to say whether he thought the officer followed department policy or state law, citing the investigations into the case. The officer is on paid leave and his police powers have been suspended, officials said.
In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expressed sympathy to the Lyoya family and called for any protests to be peaceful.
“The Michigan State Police will conduct a transparent, independent investigation of the shooting,” said Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat and former prosecutor. “Then, prosecutors must consider all the evidence, follow the law and take appropriate action on charges. Justice is foundational to safety, and without justice, we are all less safe.”
Mr. Lyoya’s death was the latest in a series of incidents that have strained relations between residents and the Grand Rapids police. In 2017, officers searching for a middle-aged woman wanted for a stabbing instead handcuffed an 11-year-old girl at gunpoint while she was leaving a house. Those officers were not disciplined. Months prior, other Grand Rapids officers held five innocent teenagers at gunpoint. And in 2020, local outlets reported, an officer was suspended for two days after shooting a protester in the face with a gas canister.
City data from 2020 showed that Black residents who responded to a survey said they had less trust in the Grand Rapids police than their white and Hispanic neighbors did.
“We’ve constantly, constantly been talking about the harassment and the brutality that’s done right here,” Cle Jackson, the president of the Greater Grand Rapids N.A.A.C.P., said in a news conference after the video was released.
A spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police, the agency handling the case, declined to say when the investigation might be finished and handed over to prosecutors for a charging decision.
Christopher Becker, the prosecuting attorney in Kent County, which includes Grand Rapids, last week urged the police to hold off on releasing the video until the State Police investigation was completed. Chief Winstrom, who took over as police chief last month, responded by saying he would release the video by the end of this week, though he did not set a date for that release until Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Becker did not answer questions about the status of the case on Wednesday morning, but said he expected to release another statement later in the day.
The scene of the shooting, a residential street southeast of downtown, was quiet Wednesday morning before the video was released. A small memorial of flowers, candles and a teddy bear surrounded a tree near where Mr. Lyoya was shot.
By evening, hundreds of protesters had gathered downtown, including outside a police station that had been surrounded with concrete barricades. Some chanted “Justice for Patrick” and “Shut it down.” Others raised their fists in the air.
Kristina Rebelo and Steve Eder contributed reporting.
Capt. Kevin Larson was one of the best drone pilots in the U.S. Air Force. Yet as the job weighed on him and untold others, the military failed to recognize its full impact. After a drug arrest and court martial, he fled into the California wilderness.
By Dave Philipps, April 15, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/us/drones-airstrikes-ptsd.html
REDWOOD VALLEY, Calif. — After hiding all night in the mountains, Air Force Capt. Kevin Larson crouched behind a boulder and watched the forest through his breath, waiting for the police he knew would come. It was Jan. 19, 2020. He was clinging to an assault rifle with 30 rounds and a conviction that, after all he had been through, there was no way he was going to prison.
Captain Larson was a drone pilot — one of the best. He flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper, and in 650 combat missions between 2013 and 2018, he had launched at least 188 airstrikes, earned 20 medals for achievement and killed a top man on the United States’ most-wanted-terrorist list.
The 32-year-old pilot kept a handwritten thank-you note on his refrigerator from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was proud of it but would not say what for, because like nearly everything he did in the drone program, it was a secret. He had to keep the details locked behind the high-security doors at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev.
There were also things he was not proud of locked behind those doors — things his family believes eventually left him cornered in the mountains, gripping a rifle.
In the Air Force, drone pilots did not pick the targets. That was the job of someone pilots called “the customer.” The customer might be a conventional ground force commander, the C.I.A. or a classified Special Operations strike cell. It did not matter. The customer got what the customer wanted.
And sometimes what the customer wanted did not seem right. There were missile strikes so hasty that they hit women and children, attacks built on such flimsy intelligence that they made targets of ordinary villagers, and classified rules of engagement that allowed the customer to knowingly kill up to 20 civilians when taking out an enemy. Crews had to watch it all in color and high definition.
Captain Larson tried to bury his doubts. At home in Las Vegas, he exuded a carefree confidence. He loved to go out dancing and was so strikingly handsome that he did side work as a model. He drove an electric-blue Corvette convertible and a tricked-out blue Jeep and had a beautiful new wife.
But tendrils of distress would occasionally poke up, in a comment before bed or a grim joke at the bar. Once, in 2017, his father pressed him about his work, and Captain Larson described a mission in which the customer told him to track and kill a suspected Al Qaeda member. Then, he said, the customer told him to use the Reaper’s high-definition camera to follow the man’s body to the cemetery and kill everyone who attended the funeral.
“He never really talked about what he did — he couldn’t,” said his father, Darold Larson. “But he would say things like that, and it made you know it was bothering him. He said he was being forced to do things that went against his moral compass.”
Drones were billed as a better way to wage war — a tool that could kill with precision from thousands of miles away, keep American service members safe and often get them home in time for dinner. The drone program started in 2001 as a small, tightly controlled operation hunting high-level terrorist targets. But during the past decade, as the battle against the Islamic State intensified and the Afghanistan war dragged on, the fleet grew larger, the targets more numerous and more commonplace. Over time, the rules meant to protect civilians broke down, recent investigations by The New York Times have shown, and the number of innocent people killed in America’s air wars grew to be far larger than the Pentagon would publicly admit.
Captain Larson’s story, woven together with those of other drone crew members, reveals an unseen toll on the other end of those remote-controlled strikes.
Drone crews have launched more missiles and killed more people than nearly anyone else in the military in the past decade, but the military did not count them as combat troops. Because they were not deployed, they seldom got the same recovery periods or mental-health screenings as other fighters. Instead they were treated as office workers, expected to show up for endless shifts in a forever war.
Under unrelenting stress, several former crew members said, people broke down. Drinking and divorce became common. Some left the operations floor in tears. Others attempted suicide. And the military failed to recognize the full impact. Despite hundreds of missions, Captain Larson’s personnel file, under the heading “COMBAT SERVICE,” offers only a single word: “none.”
Drone crew members said in interviews that, while killing remotely is different from killing on the ground, it still carves deep scars.
“In many ways it’s more intense,” said Neal Scheuneman, a drone sensor operator who retired as a master sergeant from the Air Force in 2019. “A fighter jet might see a target for 20 minutes. We had to watch a target for days, weeks and even months. We saw him play with his kids. We saw him interact with his family. We watched his whole life unfold. You are remote but also very much connected. Then one day, when all parameters are met, you kill him. Then you watch the death. You see the remorse and the burial. People often think that this job is going to be like a video game, and I have to warn them, there is no reset button.”
In the wake of The Times’s investigations, the Pentagon has vowed to strengthen controls on airstrikes and improve how it investigates claims of civilian deaths. The Air Force is also providing more mental-health services for drone crews to address the lapses of the past, said the commander of the 432nd Wing at Creech, Col. Eric Schmidt.
“We are not physically in harm’s way, and yet at the same time we are observing a battlefield, and we are seeing some scenes or being part of them. We have seen the effects that can have on people,” Colonel Schmidt said. In the past, he said, remote warfare was not seen as real combat, and there was a stigma against seeking help. “I’m proud to say, we have come a long way,” he added. “It’s sad that we had to.”
Captain Larson tried to cope with the trauma by using psychedelic drugs. That became another secret he had to keep. Eventually the Air Force found out. He was charged with using and distributing illegal drugs and stripped of his flight status. His marriage fell apart, and he was put on trial, facing a possible prison term of more than 20 years.
Because he was not a conventional combat veteran, there was no required psychological evaluation to see what influence his war-fighting experience might have had on his misconduct. At his trial, no one mentioned the 188 classified missile strikes or the funeral he had targeted. In January 2020, he was quickly convicted.
Desperate to avoid prison, reeling from what he saw as a betrayal by the military he had dedicated his life to, Captain Larson ran.
A Vexing Moral Landscape
Captain Larson grew up in Yakima, Wash., the son of police officers. He was a straight-and-narrow Eagle Scout who went to church nearly every Sunday and once admonished a longtime friend to stay away from marijuana. At the University of Washington, where he was an honors student, he joined R.O.T.C. and the Civil Air Patrol, set on becoming a fighter pilot.
The Air Force had other plans. By the time he was commissioned in 2012, the Pentagon had a developed seemingly insatiable appetite for drones, and the Air Force was struggling to keep up. That year it turned out more drone pilots than traditional fighter pilots and still could not meet the demand.
“He was sobbing when he got the news. So disappointed. He wanted to fly,” his mother, Laura Larson, said in an interview. “But once he started, he enjoyed it. He really felt like he was doing something important.”
Captain Larson was assigned to the 867th Attack Squadron at Creech — a unit that pilots say worked largely with the C.I.A. and Joint Special Operations Command. The drone crews operated out of a cluster of shipping containers in a remote patch of desert. Each crew had three members: a sensor operator to guide the surveillance camera and targeting laser, an intelligence analyst to interpret and document the video feeds, and a pilot to fly the Reaper and push the red button that launched its Hellfire missiles.
The specifics of Captain Larson’s missions are largely a mystery. He kept the classified details hidden from his parents and former wife. His closest friends in the attack squadron and dozens of other current and former crew members did not respond to requests for interviews; secrecy laws and nondisclosure agreements make it a crime to discuss classified details.
But several pilots, sensor operators and intelligence analysts who did the same type of work in other squadrons spoke with The Times about unclassified details and described their struggles with the same punishing workload and vexing moral landscape.
More than 2,300 service members are currently assigned to drone crews. Early in the program, they said, missions seemed well run. Officials carefully chose their targets and took steps to minimize civilian deaths.
“We would watch a high-value target for months, gathering intelligence and waiting for the exact right time to strike,” said James Klein, a former Air Force captain who flew Reapers at Creech from 2014 to 2018. “It was the right way to use the weapon.”
But in December 2016, the Obama administration loosened the rules amid the escalating fight against the Islamic State, pushing the authority to approve airstrikes deep down into the ranks. The next year, the Trump administration secretly loosened them further. Decisions on high-value targets that once had been reserved for generals or even the president were effectively handed off to enlisted Special Operations soldiers. The customer increasingly turned drones on low-level combatants. Strikes once carried out only after rigorous intelligence-gathering and approval processes were often ordered up on the fly, hitting schools, markets and large groups of women and children.
Before the rules changed, Mr. Klein said, his squadron launched about 16 airstrikes in two years. Afterward, it conducted them almost daily.
Once, Mr. Klein said, the customer pressed him to fire on two men walking by a river in Syria, saying they were carrying weapons over their shoulders. The weapons turned out to be fishing poles, Mr. Klein said, and though the customer argued that the men could still be a threat, he persuaded the customer not to strike.
In another instance, he said, a fellow pilot was ordered to attack a suspected Islamic State fighter who was pushing another man in a wheelchair on a busy city street. The strike killed one of the men; it also killed three passers-by.
“There was no reason to take that shot,” Mr. Klein said. “I talked to the pilot after, and she was in tears. She didn’t fly again for a long time and ended up leaving for good.”
Squadrons did little to address bad strikes if there was no pilot error. It was seen as the customer’s problem. Crews filed civilian casualty reports, but the investigative process was so faulty that they rarely saw any impact; often they would not even get a response.
Over time, Mr. Klein grew angry and depressed. His marriage began to crumble.
“I started to dread going in to work,” he said. “Everyone kind of expects you to do that stuff and just be fine, but it ate away at us.”
Eventually, he refused to fire any more missiles. The Air Force moved him to a noncombat role, and a few years later, in 2020, he retired, one of many disillusioned drone operators who quietly dropped out, he said.
“We were so isolated, that I’m not sure anyone saw it,’ he said. “The biggest tell is that very few people stayed in the field. They just couldn’t take it.”
In her job as a police officer, Captain Larson’s mother conducted stress debriefings after traumatic events. When officers in her department shot someone, they were required to take time off and meet with a psychologist. As part of the healing process, everyone present at the scene was required to sit down and talk through what had happened. She was not aware of any of that happening with her son.
“At one point I pulled him aside and told him, ‘If things start bothering you, you and your friends need to talk about it,’” Ms. Larson said. “He just smiled and said he was fine. But I think he was struggling more than he ever let on.”
The Air Force has no requirement to give drone crews the mental health evaluations mandated for deployed troops, but it has surveyed the drone force for more than a decade and consistently found high levels of stress, cynicism and emotional exhaustion. In one study, 20 percent of crew members reported clinical levels of emotional distress — twice the rate among noncombat Air Force personnel. The proportion of crew members reporting post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide was higher than in traditional aircrews.
Several factors contribute — workload, constantly changing shifts, leadership issues and combat exposure. But the most damaging, according to Wayne Chappelle, the Air Force psychologist leading the studies, is civilian deaths.
Seeing just one strike that causes unexpected civilian deaths can increase the risk of PTSD six to eight times, he said. A survey published in 2020, several years after the strike rules changed, found that 40 percent of drone crew members reported witnessing between one and five civilian killings. Seven percent had witnessed six or more.
“After something like that, people can have unresolved, disruptive emotional reactions,” Dr. Chappelle said. “We would assume that’s unhealthy — having intrusive thoughts, intrusive memories. I call that healthy and normal. What do you call someone who is OK with it?”
Having time off to process the trauma is vital, he said. But during the years when America was simultaneously fighting the Taliban, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, that was nearly impossible.
Starting in 2015, the Air Force began embedding what it called human performance teams in some squadrons, staffed with chaplains, psychologists and operational physiologists offering a sympathetic ear, coping strategies and healthy practices to optimize performance.
“It’s a holistic team approach: mind, body and spirit,” said Capt. James Taylor, a chaplain at Creech. “I try to address the soul fatigue, the existential questions many people have to wrestle with in this work.”
But crews said the teams were only modestly effective. The stigma of seeking help keeps many crew members away, and there is a perception that the teams are too focused on keeping crews flying to address the root causes of trauma. Indeed, a 2018 survey found that only 8 percent of drone operators used the teams, and two-thirds of those experiencing emotional distress did not.
Instead, crew members said, they tend to work quietly, hoping to avoid a breakdown.
Bennett Miller was an intelligence analyst, trained to study the Reaper’s video feed. Working Special Operations missions in Syria and Afghanistan in 2019 and 2020 from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, the former technical sergeant saw civilian casualties “almost monthly.”
“At first it didn’t bother me that much,” he said. “I thought it was part of going after the bad guys.”
Then, in late 2019, he said, his team tracked a man in Afghanistan who the customer said was a high-level Taliban financier. For a week, the crew watched the man feed his animals, eat with family in his courtyard and walk to a nearby village. Then the customer ordered the crew to kill him, and the pilot fired a missile as the man walked down the path from his house. Watching the video feed afterward, Mr. Miller saw the family gather the pieces of the man and bury them.
A week later, the Taliban financier’s name appeared again on the target list.
“We got the wrong guy. I had just killed someone’s dad,” Mr. Miller said. “I had watched his kids pick up the body parts. Then I had gone home and hugged my own kids.”
The same pattern occurred twice more, he said, yet the squadron leadership did nothing to address what was seen as the customer’s mistakes. Two years later, Mr. Miller was near tears when he described the strikes in an interview at his home. “What we had done was murder, and no one seemed to notice,” he said. “We just were told to move on.”
Mr. Miller grew sleepless and angry. “I couldn’t deal with the guilt or the anxiety of knowing that it was going to probably happen again,” he said. “I was caught in this trap where if I care about what is happening, it’s devastating. And if I don’t care, I lose who I am as a person.”
At Shaw, he said, his squadron did not have a human performance team. “We just had a squadron bar.”
In February 2020, he got home from a 15-hour night shift, locked himself in his bedroom, put a cocked revolver to his head and through the door told his wife that he could not take it anymore. He was hospitalized, diagnosed with PTSD and medically retired.
Beyond their modest standard pensions, veterans with combat-related injuries, even injuries suffered in training, get special compensation worth about $1,000 per month. Mr. Miller does not qualify, because the Department of Veterans Affairs does not consider drone missions combat.
“It’s like they are saying all the people we killed somehow don’t really count,” he said. “And neither do we.”
A Question of Forgiveness
In February 2018, Captain Larson and his wife, Bree Larson, got into an argument. She was angry at him for staying out all night and smashed his phone, she recalled in an interview. He dragged her out of the house and locked her out, barely clothed. The Las Vegas police came, and when they asked if there were any drugs or weapons in the house, Ms. Larson told them about the bag of psilocybin mushrooms her husband kept in the garage.
When she and Captain Larson had met in 2016, she said, he was already taking mushrooms once every few months, often with other pilots. He also took MDMA — known as ecstasy or molly — a few times a year. The drugs might have been illegal, but, he told her, they offered relief.
“He would just say he had a very stressful job and he needed it,” Ms. Larson said. “And you could tell. For weeks after, he was more relaxed, more focused, more loving. It seemed therapeutic.”
A growing number of combat veterans use the psychedelic drugs illicitly, amid mounting evidence that they are potent treatments for the psychological wounds of war. Both MDMA and psilocybin are expected to soon be approved for limited medical use by the Food and Drug Administration.
“It gave me a clarity and an honesty that allowed me to rewrite the narrative of my life,” according to a former Air Force officer who said he suffered from depression and moral injury after hundreds of Reaper missions; he asked not to be named in order to discuss the use of illegal drugs. “It led to some self-forgiveness. That was a huge first step.”
In Las Vegas, the civilian authorities were willing to forgive Captain Larson, but the Air Force charged him with a litany of crimes — drug possession and distribution, making false statements to Air Force investigators and a charge unique to the armed forces: conduct unbecoming of an officer. His squadron grounded him, forbade him to wear a flight suit and told him not to talk to fellow pilots. No one screened him for PTSD or other psychological injuries from his service, Ms. Larson said, adding, “I don’t think anyone realized it might be connected.”
As the prosecution plodded forward over two years, Captain Larson worked at the base gym and organized volunteer groups to do community service. He and his wife divorced. Struggling with his mental health, seeking productive ways to cope with the trauma, he read book after book on positive thinking and set up a special meditation room in his house, according to his girlfriend at the time, Becca Triano.
“I don’t know what he saw, what he dealt with,” she said. “What I did see toward the end was him really working hard to try to stay sane.”
The trial finally came in January, 2020. His former wife and a pilot friend testified about his drug use. The police produced the evidence. That was all.
After deliberating for a few hours on the morning of Jan. 17, the jury returned with guilty verdicts on nearly every count.
On the Run
The pilot would be sentenced after a break for lunch. His lawyer told him to be back in an hour. Instead he took off.
He loaded his Jeep with food and clothes and sped away, convinced that he was facing a long prison sentence, Ms. Triano said. Within hours, the Air Force had a warrant out for his arrest.
Captain Larson headed southwest to Los Angeles and stayed the night with a friend, then started heading north. By the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 18, he was driving by vineyards and redwood groves on U.S. Route 101 in Mendocino County, north of San Francisco, when the California Highway Patrol spotted his Jeep and pulled him over.
Captain Larson stopped and waited calmly for the officer to walk up to his window. Then he gunned it — down the highway and onto a narrow dirt logging road that snaked up into the mountains. After several miles, he pulled off into the trees and hid. The police could not find him, but they knew something he did not: All the roads in the canyon were dead ends, and officers were blocking the only way out.
Night fell. Nothing to do but wait.
In the morning, during a briefing at the bottom of the canyon, records show, Air Force agents explained to the Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies that the wanted man was a deserter who had fled a drug conviction, was probably armed and possibly suicidal.
The officers drove up the canyon and spotted tire tracks on a narrow turnoff. Agents crept up on foot until they spotted the blue Jeep in the trees, but did not risk going farther. The deputies had a better option, something that could get a view of the Jeep without any danger. A small drone soon launched into the sky.
Captain Larson was hiding behind a mossy boulder. There was no phone service deep in the canyon, no way to call for whatever hope or solace he might have conjured. He could only record a video message for his family members. One by one, he told them that he loved them. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I won’t go to prison, so I’m going to end this. This was always the plan.”
There was a lot he did not explain — things that have kept his family and friends wondering in the years since. He did not talk about the hundreds of secret missions or their impact. He did not say what it had felt like to have his commanders stand by quietly as civilian deaths became routine, then stay just as quiet when a decorated pilot was prosecuted for drug possession. He did not talk about the other pilots who had done the same drugs and then avoided him like a virus after he got caught.
Perhaps he was planning to say more, but as he spoke into the phone camera, he was interrupted by an angry buzzing, like a swarm of bees.
“I can hear the drones,” he said. “They’re looking for me.”
Had they found him alive, his pursuers would have been able to tell him this: In the end, the Air Force had decided not to sentence him to prison, only to dismissal.
But now, just as Captain Larson had done countless times, the officers could only study the drone footage and parse the evidence — slumped behind the boulder, shot with his own assault rifle — of another unintended death.