Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, April 6, 2022


The news coming Ukraine is horrific and heartbreaking: mass graves and civilian bodies scattered throughout the streets of Bucha and other cities.


This war has got to stop!  Join the Saturday April 9 Global Day of Action to Stop the War in Ukraine: Ceasefire and Negotiated Settlement Now, Russian Troops Out, No NATO Expansion. Plan an April 9 protest in your city — we can help you with outreach, signage, and posting the photos of your action — and RSVP for the online rally at 9AM PT/12PM ET with Vijay Prashad, Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Medea Benjamin, MP Clare Daly, Tariq Ali and others.


Biden is right that Russia should be investigated for war crimes. But the U.S. has no credibility to call for such investigations, given U.S. crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. support for Israeli and Saudi war crimes, and the fact that the U.S. is not even a member of the International Criminal Court. It has been less than two years since the U.S. put sanctions on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and senior ICC prosecution official Phakiso Mochochoko, and restricted visas to individuals “involved in the ICC’s efforts to investigate US personnel.”  


The war in Ukraine has given the Biden administration an excuse to propose the largest military budget ever for FY2023: $813 billion! Tell Congress NO WAY!


While horrified by the atrocities taking place in Ukraine and calling for Russian troops to withdraw, we in the West must also address the role our countries have and are currently playing in exacerbating the conflict. Join us this Saturday, April 9, as we take to the streets and rally online at 9AM PT/12PM ET to say: Stop the War in Ukraine, Ceasefire and Negotiated Settlement Now, Russian Troops Out, No NATO Expansion!


Towards peace in Ukraine,

Medea and the entire CODEPINK team: Ariel, Ann, Audrey, Clay, Danaka, Emily, Farida, Jodie, Justina, Kelly, Leonardo, Marcy, Mark, Michelle, Nancy, Olivia, Paki, Samantha, Teri, Shea, and Suzie


P.S. Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 6 at 5PM PT/8PM ET join Medea’s report back from the women's delegation she was on last week in Afghanistan. RSVP here:




April 9, San Francisco Bay Area, 12:00 P.M. 

Sproul Plaza UC Berkeley campus

Friday April 8: Take up the green bandana, the symbol of the increasingly victorious Green Wave in-the-streets fight for abortion rights across Latin America. Campuses, cultural events, social media and workplaces must be awash in GREEN (bandanas, banners, chalk, stickers, etc.). Everyone must show where they stand!


Saturday April 9: Take to the streets in mass protest! With serious determination and rebellious joy, we will wake tens- and hundreds-of-thousands of others up to the emergency and inspire growing numbers to join us.


From there, we will rally even greater numbers in growing nonviolent protests and creative GREEN WAVE resistance, aiming to bring society to a halt and force our demand – that women not be slammed backwards – to be reckoned with and acted upon by every institution in society. NOW is the time to stand up, together, as if our lives depend upon it—for, in fact, they do.


(Find a protest near you or host your own. DM us on social media / 973 544 8228 /

email to info@RiseUp4AbortionRights.org


·      New York City 2:00 pm Union Square (@14th Street) RSVP + Share

·      Atlanta 2:00 pm Midtown MARTA 41 10th Street NE RSVP + Share

·      Austin 12 noon rally at Republic Square Park 422 Guadalupe

1:00 pm march to Governor’s mansion RSVP + Share

·      Boston 2:00 pm Boston Commons Free Speech Area across from Massachusetts State House RSVP + Share

·      Cleveland 2:00 pm Market Square 25th & Lorain Avenue RSVP + Share 

·      Chicago 2:00 pm Wrigley Square at Millennium Park, North Michigan Avenue RSVP + Share

·      Detroit 3:00 pm W. Warren & Woodward 1 W. Warren Avenue RSVP + Share

·      Los Angeles 2:00 pm Hollywood & Highland RSVP + Share

·      San Francisco Bay Area 12:00 pm Sproul Plaza UC Berkeley campus, Berkeley RSVP + Share

·      Seattle 1:00 pm Seattle Central College Plaza RSVP + Share


RefuseFascism.org national team 

(917) 407-1286



Tax Day Global Mobilization to Stop Lockheed Martin

Friday, April 15, 11:30am-1:30pm

Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, meet up at El Camino @ Page Mill 


To join Carpools/offer rides from SF and East Bay, reply to this email, call, or text Cynthia at 510-365-1500. We have 3 drivers so far; one from SF and two from the East Bay, so let me know if you want a ride.


Since so much of our taxes go to war and weapons, on "Tax Day" we need to look at Lockheed Martin-- the largest weapons manufacturer on earth, with facilities in nearby Palo Alto. It's time to call out Lockheed for what they are-- merchants of death, war profiteers making a killing on killing, and the greatest impediment to peace and security on the planet. Half of your federal tax dollars go to the military, and half of the military budget goes to the war industry, with Lockheed at the top of the list of war profiteers.


LM's thirst for profits has made peace impossible. LM sells killing weapons to countries all over the planet, including to regimes that violate human rights, like the Saudis and Israel. LM made the 500 pound bomb that killed 40 children in Yemen in 2018. LM won big in Afghanistan, making 1000% profit on the failed U.S. war and occupation. LM is delighted that the war in Ukraine means more weapons sales. 


LM donates millions to members of Congress who continue to pass gigantic military budgets. LM has facilities in 40 states employing thousands, making those states dependent on the war industry.


The war industry, led by Lockheed Martin, supplies the military, which is literally killing the planet with their fossil fuel-driven wars and military bases polluting countries around the world.


We are demanding that Lockheed disarm and convert to making things that sustain life, such as clean energy and transportation systems.


We are demanding that Congress stop taking campaign contributions from the war industry and enact the Green New Deal to provide good green jobs for Lockheed employees, so they don't have to participate in killing. 


We aren't going to stand for Lockheed Martin poisoning the earth any longer. Join us.


Meet up in Palo Alto at El Camino & Page Mill at 11:30am. Proceed by foot to Lockheed Martin facility.


Cynthia Papermaster, 510-365-1500, Coordinator, Codepink Women for Peace, Golden Gate Chapter



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! 

Ceasefire Now! 

No NATO expansion! 

Peace Talks NOW!


Sign here:




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:




Photo by David Solnit



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



Ringo Starr



Free Em All—Mic Crenshaw and David Rovics featuring Opium Sabbah

 (Mumia, Leonard Peltier, lots of other political prisoners)



Screenshot of Kevin Cooper's artwork from the teaser.


 “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:






Kevin Rashid Johnson is Back in Virginia!


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!

Major Tillery and his family have set up a new Change.org petition to submit to the Board of Pardons in support his petition to commutation of his sentence to parole while maintaining his legal fight for exoneration and overturning of his conviction.
Major's commutation petition focuses on both his factual innocence as well as his decades of advocacy for other prisoners while serving almost 40 years as a lifer, over 20 of those years in solitary.

Please circulate and support the petition:




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


Great news for Kevin Cooper, an innocent man 

on San Quentin's death row:




Contact: Governor's Press Office


Friday, May 28, 2021


(916) 445-4571


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

By Johanna Fernández

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.”



Demand Mumia's Freedom:

Governor Tom Wolf -1(717) 787-2500  Fax 1 (717) 772-8284
Office of the Governor
508 Main Capitol Building
HarrisburgPA  17120    
After calling the governor, send an online communication about our concerns.   https://www.governor.pa.gov/contact/#PhoneNumber
Let us know what there response was, Thank you.  Mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com


Questions and comments may be sent to: info@freedomarchives.org



This beautiful and powerful exhibit is


and can be viewed online at:



A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Video at:


Screen shot from video.

Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.




Email: contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info

Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603


Bury My Heart with Leonard Peltier

How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?

By Michael Moore

—VIA Email: michaelmoore@substack.com

LEONARD PELTIER, Native American hero. An innocent man, he’s spent 44 years as a political prisoner. The prosecutor who put him behind bars now says Peltier is innocent. President Biden, go to Mass today, and then stop this torture. (Sipa/Shutterstock)

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


Phone: 202-456-1111

E-mail: At this link



Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland


Phone: 202-208-3100

E-mail: feedback@ios.doi.gov


Attorney General Merrick Garland


Phone: 202-514-2000

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”



Union Membership—2021

Bureau of Labor Statistics

U.S. Department of Labor

For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022

Technical information: 

(202) 691-6378 • cpsinfo@bls.gov • www.bls.gov/cps

Media contact: 

(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).

Union Representation

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: 

www.bls.gov/covid19/effects-of-covid-19-pandemic-and- response-on-the-employment-situation-news-release.htm.



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.

Emergency Hotlines

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: 

National Hotline

If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:

Know Your Rights Materials

The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides. 

WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office

We also recommend the following resources: 

Center for Constitutional Rights

Civil Liberties Defense Center

Grand Jury Resistance Project

Katya Komisaruk

Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources

Tilted Scales Collective






1) Let Us Now Praise Courageous Men and Women
By Chris Hedges

Sheerpost, April 4, 2022


Hammer-Head by Mr. Fish

Let us honor those workers who stood up to Amazon, especially Chris Smalls, described by Amazon’s chief counsel as “not smart, or articulate,” who led a walkout at the Amazon warehouse at Staten Island JFK8 at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago to protest unsafe working conditions. He was immediately fired. Amazon’s high-priced lawyers, however, were in for a surprise. Smalls unionized the first Amazon warehouse in the country. He, along with his co-founder Derrick Palmer, built their union worker by worker with little outside support and no affiliation with a national labor group, raising $120,000 on GoFundMe. Amazon spent more than $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year alone, according to federal filings.

We must not underestimate this victory. It is only by rebuilding unions and carrying out strikes that we will halt the downward spiral of the working class. No politician will do this for us. Neither of the two ruling parties will be our allies. The media will be hostile. The government, beholden to corporations and the rich, will use its resources, no matter which of the two ruling parties is in the White House, to crush worker movements. It will be a long, painful, and lonely struggle.

You can tell what the oligarchs fear by what they seek to destroy—unions. Amazon, the country’s second largest employer after Walmart, pours staggering resources into blocking union organizing, like Walmart. According to court documents, it formed a reaction team involving ten departments, including a security group staffed by military veterans, to counter the Staten Island organizing and had blueprints for breaking union activity worked out in its “Protest Response Playbook” and “Labor Activity Playbook.” The strike-breaking teams organized compulsory Maoist-type meetings, up to 20 a day, with workers where supervisors denigrated unions. It employed subterfuges making it hard to vote for a union. It put up anti-union posters in the bathrooms. It fired workers suspected of organizing. And it relied on the gutting of antitrust legislation and OSHA, as well as the emasculation of the National Labor Relations Board, which left workers largely defenseless, although the NLRB made a few decisions in favor of the union organizers.

“They called us a bunch of thugs,” Smalls told reporters after the 2,654 to 2,131 vote to form the union. “They tried to spread racist rumors. Tried to demonize our character, but it didn’t work.”

Amazon, like most large corporations, has no more commitment to worker’s rights than it does to the nation. It avoids taxes through a series of loopholes designed by their lobbyists in Washington and passed by Congress. The company dodged about $5.2 billion in corporate federal income taxes in 2021, even as it reported record profits of more than $35 billion. It paid only six percent of those profits in federal corporate income tax. Amazon posted income of more than $11 billion in 2018 but paid no federal taxes and received a federal tax refund of $129 million. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the second richest man in the world, is worth over $180 billion. He, like Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, worth $277 billion, plays with space rockets as if they were toys and is finishing work on his $500 million yacht, the largest in the world.

Bezos owns The Washington Post. The billionaire bio-scientist Patrick Soon-Shiong owns The Los Angeles Times. Hedge funds and other financial firms own half of the daily newspapers in the United States. Television is in the hands of roughly a half-dozen corporations who control 90 percent of what Americans watch. WarnerMedia, currently owned by AT&T, owns CNN and Time WarnerMSNBC is owned by Comcast, which is a subsidiary of General Electric, the 11th-largest defense contractor in the U.S. News Corp owns The Wall Street Journal and New York Post. The ruling oligarchs don’t care what we watch, as long as we remain entranced by the trivial, emotionally-driven spectacles they provide. None of these outlets challenge the interests of their owners, shareholders, or advertisers, who orchestrate the assault on workers. The more powerful workers become, the more the media will be weaponized against them.

The first story I published in a major newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, was about the U.S. corporation Gulf and Western’s crushing of labor organizing in its industrial free zone in La Romana in the Dominican Republic, a campaign that included the intimidation, beating, firing, and assassination of Dominican labor organizers. The story was originally accepted by the Outlook section of The Washington Post until Gulf and Western, which owned Paramount Pictures, threatened to pull its movie advertising from the newspaper. The Monitor, funded by The Christian Science Church, did not carry advertising. It was an early and important lesson on the severe constraints of the commercial press.

The New York Times had gutted an investigative piece a year earlier written by perhaps our greatest investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, who exposed the killing of some 500 unarmed civilians by the U.S. army in My Lai and the torture at Abu Ghraib, and Jeff Gerth about Gulf and Western. Hersh and Gerth documented how Gulf and Western carried out fraud, abuse, tax avoidance and had links with organized crime. Charles Bluhdorn, the CEO of Gulf and Western, socialized with the publisher, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, which included invitations to preview soon-to-be-released Paramount movies in Bluhdorn’s home theater. Bluhdorn used his connections at the paper to discredit Hersh and Gerth, as well as to bombard the newspaper with accusatory letters and menacing phone calls. He hired private investigators to dig up dirt on Hersh and Gerth. When the two reporters filed their 15,000-word expose, the business editor, John Lee, in Hersh’s words, and “his ass-kissing coterie of moronic editors,” perhaps fearful of being sued, neutered it. It was one thing, Hersh found, to go up against a public institution. It was something else to take on a major corporation. He would never again work regularly for a newspaper.

“The experience was frustrating and enervating,” Hersh writes in his memoir Reporter. “Writing about corporate America had sapped my energy, disappointed the editors, and unnerved me. There would be no check on corporate America, I feared: Greed had won out. The ugly fight with Gulf and Western had rattled the publisher and the editors to the point that the editors who ran the business pages had been allowed to vitiate and undercut the good work Jeff and I had done. I could not but wonder if the editors there had been told about Bluhdorn’s personal connection to Punch. In any case, it was clear to me and Jeff that the courage the Times had shown in confronting the wrath of a president and an attorney general in the crisis over the Pentagon Papers in 1971 was nowhere to be seen when confronted by a gaggle of corporate con men…”

The United States had the most violent labor wars in the industrialized world, with hundreds of workers murdered by company goons and militias, thousands wounded and tens-of-thousands blacklisted. The fight for unions, and with them decent salaries, benefits, and job protection, was paid for by rivers of working-class blood and tremendous suffering. The formation of unions, as in the past, will entail a long and vicious class war. The security and surveillance apparatus, including Homeland Security and the FBI, will be deployed, along with private contractors and thugs hired by corporations, to monitor, infiltrate and destroy union organizing.

Unions made possible, for a while, a middle-class salary for auto workers, bus drivers, electricians, and construction workers. But those gains were rolled back. If the minimum wage had kept pace with rising productivity, as The New York Times pointed out, workers would be earning at least $20 an hour.

The nascent organizing at Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, Lyft, John Deere, Kellogg, the Special Metals plant in Huntington, West Virginia, owned by Berkshire Hathaway; REI, the Northwest Carpenters Union, Kroger, teachers in Chicago, Sacramento, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona; fast food workers, hundreds of nurses in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees are signs that workers are discovering that the only real power they have is as a collective, although a paltry nine percent of the U.S. workforce is unionized. Fourteen hundred workers at a Kellogg’s plant in Omaha that makes Cheez-Its won a new contract with more than 15 percent wage increases over three years after they went on strike for nearly three months last fall.

The betrayal of the working class by the Democratic Party, especially during the Clinton administration, included trade deals that allowed exploited workers in Mexico or China to take the place of unionized workers at home. Anti-labor legislation was passed by bought-and-paid for politicians in the two ruling parties on behalf of big business. Deindustrialization and job insecurity morphed into the gig economy, where workers are reduced to living on subsistence wages with no benefits or job security, and few rights.

Capitalists, as Karl Marx pointed out, have only two goals: Reduce the cost of labor, which means impoverishing and exploiting workers, and increase the rate of production, which often occurs through automation, such as Amazon’s ubiquitous squat orange robots carrying yellow racks across million-square-foot warehouse floors. When human beings interfere in these two capitalist objectives, they are sacrificed.

The financial distress afflicting workers, trapped in debt peonage and preyed upon by banks, credit card companies, student loan companies, privatized utilities, the gig economy, a for-profit healthcare system that has not prevented the U.S. from having roughly a sixth of all reported worldwide COVID-19 deaths—although we have less than a twelfth of the world’s population—and employers who pay meager wages and do not provide benefits is getting steadily worse, especially with rising inflation. 

Biden, while lavishing $13.6 billion on Ukraine and expanding the military budget to $754 billion, has overseen the loss of extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance, forbearance for student loans, emergency checks, the moratorium on evictions and now the ending of the expansion of the child tax credit. He has refused to fulfill even his most tepid campaign promises, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and forgiving student loans. His Build Back Better bill has been gutted and may not be revived.  

Amazon workers, like many American workers, endure appalling work conditions. They are forced to work compulsory 12-hour shifts. They are denied bathroom breaks, often urinating into bottles. They endure stifling temperatures inside the warehouse in the summer. They must scan a new item every 11 seconds to hit their quota. The company knows immediately when they fall behind. Fail to meet the quota and you are fired.

Will Evans, in an investigative piece for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, found that “the company’s obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills.” Evans amassed internal injury reports from 23 of the company’s 110 “fulfillment centers” nationwide. “Taken together,” he writes, “the rate of serious injuries for those facilities was more than double the national average for the warehousing industry: 9.6 serious injuries per 100 full-time workers in 2018, compared with an industry average that year of four.”

Those who are injured, Evans found, are “cast aside as damaged goods or sent back to jobs that injured them further.”

“The Amazon tenure of Parker Knight, a disabled veteran who worked at the Troutdale, Oregon, warehouse this year, shows the ruthless precision of Amazon’s system,” Evans writes. “Knight had been allowed to work shorter shifts after he sustained back and ankle injuries at the warehouse, but [proprietary software tracking program] ADAPT didn’t spare him. Knight was written up three times in May for missing his quota. The expectations were precise. He had to pick 385 small items or 350 medium items each hour. One week, he was hitting 98.45 percent of his expected rate, but that wasn’t good enough. That 1.55 percent speed shortfall earned him his final written warning—the last one before termination.”

The New York Times revealed last year that Amazon also regularly shortchanges new parents, patients dealing with medical crises and other vulnerable workers on leave.

“Workers across the country facing medical problems and other life crises have been fired when the attendance software mistakenly marked them as no-shows, according to former and current human resources staff members, some of whom would speak only anonymously for fear of retribution,” the newspaper reported. “Doctors’ notes vanished into black holes in Amazon’s databases. Employees struggled to even reach their case managers, wading through automated phone trees that routed their calls to overwhelmed back-office staff in Costa Rica, India, and Las Vegas. And the whole leave system was run on a patchwork of programs that often didn’t speak to one another. Some workers who were ready to return found that the system was too backed up to process them, resulting in weeks or months of lost income. Higher-paid corporate employees, who had to navigate the same systems, found that arranging a routine leave could turn into a morass.”

The ruling class, through self-help gurus such as Oprah, “prosperity gospel” preachers and the entertainment industry, has effectively privatized hope. They peddle the fantasy that reality is never an impediment to what we desire. If we believe in ourselves, if we work hard, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, we can have anything we want. The privatization of hope is pernicious and self-defeating. When we fail to achieve our goals, when our dreams are unattainable, we are taught it is not due to economic, social, or political injustice, but faults within us. History has demonstrated that the only power citizens have is through the collective, without that collective we are shorn like sheep. This is a truth the ruling class spends a lot of time obscuring.

Any advance we make in social, political, and economic justice immediately comes under assault by the ruling class. The ruling class chips away at the gains we make, which is what happened following the rise of mass movements in the 1930s and later in the 1960s. The oligarchs seek to snuff out what the political scientist Samuel Huntington cynically called “the excess of democracy.” The sociologist Max Weber, for this reason, called politics a vocation. Social change cannot be achieved simply by voting. It requires a constant, ceaseless effort. It is an endless striving for a new political order, one that demands lifelong dedication, organizing to keep the rapacious excesses of power in check and personal sacrifice. This eternal vigilance is the key to success. 

Amazon’s vast machinery, as I write, is no doubt plotting to destroy the union in Staten Island. It cannot allow it to be a successful example. It has 109 “fulfillment centers” it is determined to keep nonunionized. But, if we do not become complacent, if we continue to organize and resist, if we link our arms with our unionized allies across the country, if we are able to strike we—and they—have a chance.



2) Maybe Amazon Shouldn’t Have Dissed Its Own Workers

By Jamelle Bouie, April 5, 2022

The Amazon Labor Union organizing committee celebrating its victory.
The Amazon Labor Union organizing committee celebrating its victory. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times

Faced with an unexpectedly strong organizing campaign by workers at one of its Staten Island warehouses, Amazon initially turned to one of the oldest tricks in the anti-union playbook: a little bit of racism.


Speaking about Christian Smalls, a warehouse employee who was fired after he led a walkout in March 2020, David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel, said in leaked meeting notes that, “He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent that the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position than simply explaining for the umpteenth time how we’re trying to protect workers.”


Zapolsky believed Amazon could discredit the organizers if they made Smalls — who is young, Black and has tattoos on his neck — “the face of the entire union/organizing movement.”


If that was the plan, it backfired.


On Friday, by a vote of 2,654 to 2,131, or 55 percent to 45 percent, the workers at Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse — led by Smalls and a dedicated cadre of other organizers — voted to form a union. In winning this surprising victory, these workers have also dealt a blow to one of the most powerful, and most powerfully anti-union, companies in the United States.


What makes this all the more remarkable is the extent to which the Amazon Labor Union had no formal ties to (or assistance from) more established unions. This was the bottom-up triumph of an independent organization, something very rare in American labor history, especially in light of the size of the shop in question, with its thousands and thousands of workers organized into 24/7 coverage.


There has already been a wealth of commentary and reporting on the meaning of this win for organized labor, on the prospects for unionizing other Amazon warehouses and on the specifics of the organizing effort itself. To these, I would like to add a few observations about the structural factors that helped make this victory possible.


To start, there is the economy. Even with rising inflation, this is the strongest economy we’ve had for workers in at least a generation. Overall, in 2021 the United States added more than 6.4 million jobs to its economy, an all-time high. At the start of this year, the nation’s labor market was on track to recover from the pandemic three times faster than it did from the Great Recession a decade earlier. And it still is: The United States added 431,000 jobs in March and 95,000 more than previously recognized for the months of January and February, both of which also saw record job growth. Unemployment has dropped below 4 percent, the lowest since the economic boom of the 1990s, and wages are growing this year at an annual rate of more than 5 percent.


Employers can go ahead and threaten to fire workers who try to unionize, even if these threats are illegal, but the tight market for labor gives those workers other options, which makes the threat less potent that it might have been when the economy was weaker and jobs were scarce. On the flip side, a red-hot labor market means that employers who want to fire employees are hamstrung by the fact that they may not be able to replace old workers with new ones. This, on its own, gives workers leverage where they may have previously possessed very little.


Additional leverage, for Amazon workers in particular, comes from the nature of the enterprise itself. In theory, Amazon could simply close a warehouse that voted to unionize, in the same way that a 20th-century textile company might have shut down a mill or moved it rather than face an organized work force. But the value of Amazon’s shipping business rests on its ability to deliver packages as quickly as possible, which means that the products must be as physically close to customers as is feasible. The very thing that makes Amazon what it is — its ubiquitous presence across the American landscape — also makes it vulnerable to those workers who are able to organize themselves.


The final point I’ll make relates back to that attempt to divide the warehouse workers along racial lines. In an interview with the left-wing magazine Jacobin, one organizer — Angelika Maldonado, the chairman of the Amazon Labor Union’s Workers Committee — explained how the union campaign used the racial and ethnic diversity of the work force to attract supporters and build class solidarity. To reach Spanish-speaking workers, for example, the campaign used Spanish-speaking organizers; to reach African immigrant workers, it brought in food from a local African caterer. “That really attracted a whole bunch of African workers toward us and we gained a couple of new organizers off that,” Maldonado told Jacobin. Far from a liability that Amazon could use against the union campaign, the diversity of the Staten Island warehouse proved to be a strength.


The story of the Amazon Labor Union is far from over. In a statement, Amazon said it was considering “filing objections based on the inappropriate influence and undue influence by” the National Labor Relations Board, an accusation that the board had put its finger on the scale in favor of the workers. Amazon could also refuse to negotiate with the union, turning this labor battle into a legal one. If the company does choose to negotiate, we can assume it will fight to give as few concessions to the union as possible, since a successful negotiation for workers would then become, like the organizing effort itself, an example for other workers at other warehouses to follow and pursue.


But even with these fights on the horizon, the Staten Island warehouse workers have done something remarkable. They have seized the opportunity presented by the state of the economy and the nature of Amazon’s business to show, in dramatic fashion, how ordinary workers can overcome the best efforts of one of America’s largest companies to keep democracy out of the workplace.


And while it is impossible to know at this stage whether the initial success of the Amazon Labor Union is the dawning of a new day for the labor movement, it is certainly true that it represents a real glimmer of hope for the American working class and the unions that still hope to organize it.



3) A Small Earthquake on Staten Island

By Paul Krugman, April 4, 2022


Union supporters marched outside the Amazon warehouse on Staten Island two weeks ago.

Union supporters marched outside the Amazon warehouse on Staten Island two weeks ago. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times

I grew up in a relatively equal society, at least as far as incomes were concerned. Obviously there were class differences in 1974, the year I graduated from college; some jobs paid much better than others, some people were rich while others were desperately poor. But for most Americans these differences were much narrower than they are today.


It was an era in which many though not all blue-collar jobs offered solidly middle-class incomes and lifestyles. Labor productivity in the early 1970s was less than half what it is today, but the average hourly wage of nonsupervisory workers, adjusted for inflation, was as high then as it was on the eve of the pandemic. And while the economic elite lived well, it was nothing like the extravagance we now take for granted. In 1973, C.E.O.s at major corporations were paid about 23 times as much as their workers; now the ratio is 351 to 1.


At the time, we took a broadly middle-class society for granted, imagining it was the natural condition of an advanced economy. Clearly, however, it wasn’t.


So what made that relative equality possible? A large part of the answer, surely, is that back then America still had a strong union movement. There is overwhelming evidence that in their heyday unions had a powerful effect in reducing inequality, both by raising their own members’ wages and by setting pay norms even for nonunion workers.


Which is why what happened on Staten Island last week — when workers at an Amazon fulfillment center voted by a wide margin to unionize — may be hugely significant.


I often encounter people who assume that the decline and fall of America’s private-sector unions — which represented 24 percent of private-sector workers in 1973, but only 6 percent last year — was an inevitable consequence of economic change. After all, weren’t the big, powerful unions concentrated in manufacturing? And weren’t they fated to lose power both because manufacturing declined as a share of employment and because international competition sapped their bargaining power?


But other countries have remained highly unionized — two-thirds of Danish workers are union members — even while experiencing deindustrialization comparable to what has happened here.


After all, why should unionization be mainly restricted to manufacturing? If I had to describe a company that would make an especially good target for unionization, it would be something like this: It would be a large company, with a lot of market power because it doesn’t face strong competition either at home or from abroad. It would also be a company that can’t credibly threaten workers with outsourcing their jobs to lower-cost locations if they unionize, because its business model depends on having most workers close to its customers.


It would, in short, be a company that looks a lot like Amazon. Consumers may experience Amazon as a sort of immaculate, untouched-by-human-hands experience: You click on a button and stuff appears on your doorstep. But the reality is that Amazon’s business success depends less on the quality of its website than on a huge network of fulfillment centers located close to major markets — like the one on Staten Island — that make it possible to quickly deliver a wide variety of products. The need to maintain this network is why Amazon employs more than a million workers in the United States, making it the second-largest private employer, after Walmart.


So why aren’t Amazon and Walmart workers represented by unions the way General Motors workers were when G.M. was America’s largest private employer? The answer, surely, is mainly political. The great unionization of U.S. manufacturing took place during the New Deal era, when federal policy was pro-union. The shift of the U.S. economy from manufacturing to services took place during an era of right-wing dominance, with federal policy hostile to unions and willing to turn a blind eye to hard-line — and sometimes illegal — tactics used by employers to block unionization drives. Indeed, Amazon aggressively fought to block a pro-union vote on Staten Island.


But it failed.


Now, maybe this labor victory was a fluke. It comes as Amazon workers in Alabama appear to have narrowly rejected a union. But maybe, just maybe, it represents a turning point.


You don’t have to romanticize unions to realize that a revival of unionization would, in multiple ways, make America a better society. Unions can, as I said, be a powerful force for equality. They could also reduce the craziness of U.S. politics.


I don’t just mean union members are far more Democratic-leaning than otherwise similar voters, although given the QAnonization of the G.O.P. I think it’s fair to call that a step toward sanity.


Beyond that, however, unions appear to be an important source of political information for their members, potentially helping voters to focus on real policy issues as opposed to, say, the existential threat posed by woke Disney.


OK, I’m making a big deal out of what so far is a small event. But if America manages to steer itself toward becoming a more equal, less insane polity, future historians may say that the turn began on Staten Island.



4) Amazon Workers at Over 50 Buildings Have Contacted the Union About Organizing

By Sharon Zhang, Truthout, April 5, 2022


Union organizer Christian Smalls speaks following the April 1, 2022, vote for the unionization of the Amazon Staten Island warehouse in New York.

After Amazon workers successfully unionized at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, a flood of Amazon workers across the country contacted the union about organizing their own workplaces, according to the union’s president.


Amazon Labor Union (ALU) leader Christian Smalls wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that workers at over 50 locations have contacted the union since their win on Friday.


“Since we WON [ALU] has been contacted by workers in over 50 buildings nationwide, not including the several buildings overseas and counting,” Smalls said.


Workers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island voted in favor of unionizing with a 55 percent “yes” vote. The union won by over 500 votes, with a vote count of 2,654 to 2,131. Over 8,000 employees work at the warehouse.


It was a stunning win for ALU, an independent union that was formed last year with no affiliation to a major organization. Smalls said it was the leadership of the union’s organizing team that brought them the victory, and sarcastically thanked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for the win.


“We want to thank Jeff Bezos for going to space, because when he was up there, we was signing people up,” Smalls said in a speech after the victory.


ALU is also in the process of organizing LDJ5, a second warehouse in New York City. About 1,500 employees work at LDJ5; those workers will soon get their own union election after filing for one in February.


When workers in Bessemer, Alabama, began unionizing with the Retail, Warehouse and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the RWDSU similarly said that over 1,000 workers had contacted the union about organizing last year.


Bessemer workers’ first attempt at unionizing failed; the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a second union election for the warehouse because Amazon illegally interfered with the first campaign, the labor board said. The results of the second election, which the NLRB began counting last week, were too close to call on Friday. The final result will come down to roughly 400 challenged ballots, the eligibility of which will be determined by the NLRB in the coming weeks.


However, the fact that workers are eager to contact the union is an indication that the union campaign may spread to Amazon warehouses and workplaces across the country, especially now that workers in New York have shown that it can be done despite aggressive union busting from the company.


As the labor movement undergoes a resurgence, public support for unions is growing. A Gallup poll found last year that support for labor unions in the U.S. is at 65 percent, the highest point since 1965.


Still, the path ahead for ALU may be difficult. As labor reporter Steven Greenhouse noted in The Atlantic, ALU’s independent status is part of its strength but could also be a weakness if the union isn’t able to gather enough resources and infrastructure to be able to organize other warehouses.



5) No Charges Against Police in Amir Locke Shooting

The shooting drew thousands of protesters to the streets and renewed calls for police accountability in the city where George Floyd was murdered.

By Tim Arango, April 6, 2022


Protestors in Minneapolis in February. Prosecutors were critical of the raid that the police carried out with a no-knock warrant, but said they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer had committed a crime.
Protestors in Minneapolis in February. Prosecutors were critical of the raid that the police carried out with a no-knock warrant, but said they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer had committed a crime. Credit...Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

The Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Amir Locke, a Black man, during an early morning raid in February at an apartment complex will not face criminal charges, prosecutors announced Wednesday.


The shooting drew thousands of protesters to the streets and renewed calls for police accountability in the city where George Floyd was murdered.


Even as the killing provoked new rounds of condemnation against the Minneapolis Police Department and the mayor who oversees it, criminal charges were seen by legal experts as unlikely. That is because Mr. Locke, who was awakened in the early morning hours by officers entering the apartment under a no-knock warrant, was holding his own handgun. Mr. Locke owned the gun legally.


Mr. Locke was 22 when he was killed. He was an aspiring musician. His father, Andre Locke, said in an emotional news conference after the shooting that his son had been days away from moving to Texas to live near his mother.


“Amir Locke’s life mattered,” Attorney General Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Michael Freeman, the Hennepin County Attorney, said in a joint statement. “He was a young man with plans to move to Dallas, where he would be closer to his mom and — he hoped — build a career as a hip-hop artist, following in the musical steps of his father.”


In announcing they would not file charges, the prosecutors were critical of the raid that the police carried out with a no-knock warrant, but said they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer had committed a crime in violation of Minnesota law that allows officers to use deadly force in certain situations.


In a graphic, and short, video clip from a police body-worn camera that was released in the aftermath of the killing, Mr. Locke is seen under a blanket on the couch where he was sleeping, clearly groggy and startled as he raises a gun that he held in his hand.


Mr. Locke was not a suspect on the warrant, which was being carried out in connection with a homicide investigation in nearby Saint Paul. But after the killing, the police department’s first statement on the incident described Mr. Locke as a suspect — a misstatement that fueled anger in the community and drew comparisons to the department’s first, misleading, statement about Mr. Floyd, which said he died after a medical emergency.


In a region still shaken by the murder of Mr. Floyd, as well as the police killing of Daunte Wright, a Black man, in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center last year, the killing of Mr. Locke reopened wounds in the community that were still raw.


Mr. Locke’s killing also brought renewed scrutiny to a department that is still depleted from the exodus of hundreds of officers in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd’s murder, and one that is still struggling to enact reforms and rebuild trust with the community.


That Mr. Locke was killed as police used a no-knock warrant, a law enforcement tactic that was heavily criticized in the wake of the police killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., in 2020 after a botched raid, only added to the anger in Minneapolis.


Mayor Jacob Frey had already limited the use of no-knock warrants, but the killing of Mr. Locke drew accusations that Mr. Frey had misled the public during his campaign for re-election last year when he claimed to have banned such warrants. In response to Mr. Locke’s killing, the mayor issued a new policy this week, which prohibits no-knock warrants and requires officers to knock and announce their presence, and then wait, before entering a building.


“This policy is among the most forward-looking and extensive in the nation, and will help keep both our residents and officers safe,” Mr. Frey said in a statement.


Just as Mr. Wright was killed during the trial last year of Derek Chauvin, the officer who was convicted of murdering Mr. Floyd, the killing of Mr. Locke occurred during a federal trial in St. Paul, Minn., for the other three officers involved in Mr. Floyd’s death. Those three officers were all found guilty of violating Mr. Floyd’s constitutional rights.



6) Taking On Amazon in Streetwear

“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.

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.”



7) Amazon Workers Who Won a Union Their Way Open Labor Leaders’ Eyes

The success of an independent drive has organized labor asking whether it should take more of a back seat.

By Noam Scheiber, April 7, 2022

Amazon employees on Staten Island lined up to vote last month.

Amazon employees on Staten Island lined up to vote last month. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times

After the stunning victory at Amazon by a little-known independent union that didn’t exist 18 months ago, organized labor has begun to ask itself an increasingly pressing question: Does the labor movement need to get more disorganized?


Unlike traditional unions, the Amazon Labor Union relied almost entirely on current and former workers rather than professional organizers in its campaign at a Staten Island warehouse. For financing, it turned to GoFundMe appeals rather than union coffers built from the dues of existing members. It spread the word in a break room and at low-key barbecues outside the warehouse.


In the end, the approach succeeded where far bigger, wealthier and more established unions have repeatedly fallen short.


“It’s sending a wake-up call to the rest of the labor movement,” said Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union. “We have to be homegrown — we have to be driven by workers — to give ourselves the best chance.”


The success at Amazon comes on the heels of worker-driven initiatives in a variety of other industries. In 2018, rank-and-file public-school teachers in states like West Virginia and Arizona used social media to plan a series of walkouts, setting in motion one of the largest labor actions in recent decades and forcing union leaders to embrace their tactics.


White-collar tech workers have organized protests at Google and Netflix over issues like sexual harassment and prejudice toward transgender people. At colleges like Grinnell and Dartmouth, workers have recently formed unions that are unaffiliated with existing labor groups.


And at Starbucks, where workers have voted to unionize 10 corporate-owned stores and filed for elections in roughly 150 more over the past six months, the campaign has largely expanded through worker-to-worker interactions over email, text and Zoom, even as it is being overseen by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.


Nonunion Starbucks employees typically receive advice from their newly unionized counterparts, then meet with co-workers in their stores, distribute union cards, decide whether and when to file for an election and respond to media inquiries — responsibilities that professional union staff members often carry out in traditional campaigns.


“I can give my opinions — experience means something, but living it means more,” said Richard Bensinger, an organizer for Workers United, referring to the difference between organizing as an outsider and working at a company.


Some union officials have criticized the labor movement for being content to shrink gradually, like a wheezing media giant ill suited for the internet age, rather than experiment with new models and invest aggressively in recruitment. They have pointed to a decline in funding for an A.F.L.-C.I.O. department dedicated to organizing, though the federation’s president, Liz Shuler, has said organizing remains a priority and is funded through different mechanisms.


Other activists and scholars have complained that even when established unions do invest in organizing, some are too intent on controlling key decisions and use workers merely as props who recite union-crafted talking points.


In her book “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age,” the organizer and scholar Jane McAlevey wrote skeptically of two common approaches of established unions. One is “advocacy,” in which union officials try to hammer out deals with corporate executives or political power brokers to allow workers to unionize, but with little input from workers.


Ms. McAlevey also questioned an approach she called “mobilization,” in which the union takes on an employer primarily through the efforts of a professional staff, consultants and a cadre of activists rather than a large group of rank-and-file workers. “The staffers see themselves, not ordinary people, as the key agents of change,” she wrote.


Some union officials have argued that the Fight for $15 campaign, in which the service employees’ union has spent tens of millions of dollars seeking to raise wages and help fast-food workers unionize, and OUR Walmart, which had similar goals for Walmart employees, were effectively mobilization efforts run largely by professional operatives.


“They were engaged in a campaign to try to bring to bear a lot of external pressure, with show strikes and community support, to jack up Walmart to deal with them,” said Peter Olney, a former organizing director of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, alluding to protests involving activists but few workers. “My critique is that was not going to happen. Walmart is not going to respond to show strikes. You have to have real strikes.”


The critics typically acknowledge that the campaigns helped galvanize support for higher wages even if they fell short of unionizing workers. Defenders say the goal is to have an impact on a company- or industrywide scale rather than a few individual stores. They point to certain developments, like a pending California bill that would regulate fast-food wages and working conditions, as signs of progress.


In other cases, workers themselves have perceived the limitations of established unions and the advantages of going it alone. Joseph Fink, who works at an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Seattle with roughly 150 employees, said the workers there had reached out to a few unions when seeking to organize in the summer but decided that the unions’ focus on winning recognition through National Labor Relations Board elections would delay resolution of their complaints, which included sexual harassment and health and safety threats.


When the workers floated the idea of staging protests or walkouts as an alternative, union officials responded cautiously. “We received the response that if we were to speak up, assert our rights publicly, we’d be terminated,” Mr. Fink said. “It was a self-defeating narrative.”


The workers decided to form a union on their own without the formal blessing of the N.L.R.B., a model known as a “solidarity union,” whose roots precede the modern labor movement.


For workers who do seek N.L.R.B. certification, doing so independent of an established union also has advantages, such as confounding the talking points of employers and consultants, who often paint unions as “third parties” seeking to hoard workers’ dues.


At Amazon, the strategy was akin to sending a conventional army into battle against guerrillas: Organizers said the talking points had fallen flat once co-workers realized that the union consisted of fellow employees rather than outsiders.


“When a worker comes up to me, they look at me, then see I have a badge on and say, ‘You work here?’ They ask it in the most surprising way,” said Angelika Maldonado, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who heads the union’s workers committee. “‘I’m like, ‘Yeah, I work here.’ It makes us relatable from the beginning.”


In recent years, a variety of groups have sought to make it easier for workers to organize independently. The nonprofit Solidarity Fund has provided stipends to workers involved in organizing campaigns and awarded $2,500 grants to seven Amazon workers on Staten Island last year.


A for-profit company, Unit, provides software allowing workers to track the support of co-workers and file authorization signatures electronically with the N.L.R.B. The company, structured as a public benefit corporation, pairs workers with one of its professional organizers during the most delicate portions of the unionizing process, such as employer anti-union meetings. It recently helped its first group of workers unionize at Piedmont Health Services, a health care provider in North Carolina with roughly 40 eligible employees.


The problem for independent organizing efforts is that their momentum can be hard to sustain, even with such cutting-edge tools, or after securing a win through a strike or an election.


“The organizing never stops,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. “You can’t sit back. For a normal first contract campaign, it averages three years. If Amazon contests this in court, this is going to take a lot longer.”


Established unions like the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which came close to winning a do-over election last week at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., and recently notched a victory at the outdoor retailer REI, can provide institutional support to see the effort through.


For worker-led unions, such challenges may point to the need for a hybrid approach in which they retain control of their organizations but seek guidance and resources from more established unions — something that is already occurring to varying degrees.


The Amazon workers on Staten Island received pro bono legal help from employees of established unions as well as office space, and the Communications Workers of America lent them a messaging platform capable of sending out texts to co-workers en masse.


At Starbucks, Workers United has paid for extensive legal work, such as litigating the company’s challenges to election petitions. One of the Buffalo baristas involved in the original campaign is also an organizer paid by Workers United.


The question is whether traditional unions, while ramping up their contributions to these efforts, including opposition research and other public relations strategies, will be able to resist the temptation to seize control from the workers who fueled them.


Mr. Dimondstein, who said his postal workers union was prepared to contribute resources to the Amazon campaign with no strings attached, advised his fellow union leaders to stand down and play a similar long game.


“We need to make sure this doesn’t break down into jurisdictional fights — who’s getting these types of workers, these members,” he said.


But when asked whether he thought established unions would be able to resist that temptation, Mr. Dimondstein confessed his uncertainty. “Well, I don’t know how confident I am,” he said. “I know it’s necessary.”



8) Grand Jury Indicts Nurse, but Not Jail Officers, in Death of Black Man

The nurse was working at a North Carolina jail in 2019 when officers restrained John Neville on his stomach for more than 12 minutes after he fell from his bed, according to an autopsy report.

By Michael Levenson and Vimal Patel, April 6, 2022

An image shows detention officers surrounding John Neville in a Forsyth County jail cell.
An image shows detention officers surrounding John Neville in a Forsyth County jail cell. Credit...Forsyth County District Attorney's Office

John Neville
John Neville, Credit...Natasha Martin

A grand jury this week indicted a nurse but declined to indict five former detention officers in the death of a Black inmate who repeatedly exclaimed “I can’t breathe” as the officers tried unsuccessfully to remove his handcuffs at a North Carolina jail.


All six had been charged by the Forsyth County district attorney in July 2020 with involuntary manslaughter in the death of the man, John Neville, 56. He had been booked into the Forsyth County jail in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Dec. 1, 2019, on a charge of assaulting a woman, according to the authorities.


But after the case was presented to a Forsyth County grand jury, the panel on Monday declined to indict the officers, opting instead to indict only the on-call nurse, Michelle Heughins, 46, who was employed by a private contractor, the authorities said.


Mr. Neville’s son, Sean, said in a statement that the family appreciated the efforts of the district attorney, Jim O’Neill, in submitting the case to a grand jury. However, Sean Neville added, it was “disheartening that the videos of our father gasping for air and begging for mercy while he was bound and suffocated do not seem to have gained any purchase with Forsyth County or Wellpath,” Ms. Heughins’s employer at the time.


“It is shameful that another Black life has been extinguished at the hands of law enforcement, and yet still, there is no accountability and no justice,” the son said.


Ms. Heughins’s lawyer, Claire Rauscher, said on Tuesday that her client was not responsible for Mr. Neville’s death.


“She did not restrain him or hold him face down on a mat in a cell,” Ms. Rauscher said in a statement, adding that she did not know why Ms. Heughins was the only person indicted.


“She was not allowed to be in the cell as the other officers held him down,” Ms. Rauscher said. “She asked the detention officers to open the door and let her in when she thought he was not breathing and immediately began performing CPR. She was the only person at the Forsyth County jail who worked to save his life. She will be fully vindicated at trial.”


Mr. O’Neill said in a statement that the North Carolina grand jury process is conducted in secret and that district attorneys do not participate in the private hearings.


“While I was disappointed in Monday’s outcome, our prosecutors will continue to meet again with investigators and speak with the Neville family and their attorneys, the people that are invested in this case as much as I am, before deciding on any further action,” Mr. O’Neill said in the statement.


In July 2020, Mr. O’Neill said, about 24 hours after Mr. Neville had been booked into jail, he experienced an unknown medical condition that caused him to fall from the top bunk of his cell and hit the concrete floor.


Detention officers and Ms. Heughins found Mr. Neville disoriented and confused and took him to an observation cell, Mr. O’Neill said.


According to an autopsy report released by the state medical examiner’s office, jail officers had restrained Mr. Neville on his stomach for more than 12 minutes after he fell from his bed and was found with vomit on his clothing and blood around his mouth.


Mr. Neville was alternately thrashing around and losing consciousness, the report said, and in between incoherent mumbles said: “Let me go,” “Help me up” and “Mama.”


Jail staff members covered his head with a mask after he tried to bite them and then rolled him onto his stomach to handcuff his wrists, at which point he said, “I can’t breathe,” according to the report.


The officers then strapped him to a chair, it said, and moved him to another cell, where they lowered him onto a mattress, face down on his stomach.


The officers removed his ankle restraints and folded his legs behind his back. He pleaded: “Please,” “I can’t breathe,” “Help me” and “Let me go,” the report said.


Officers, however, could not get his handcuffs off after one key broke in the keyhole, another key wouldn’t work, and a set of bolt cutters malfunctioned.


Officers used another set of bolt cutters to remove Mr. Neville’s left handcuff after he had been on his stomach for about 12 minutes, the report said. Ms. Heughins checked him and the group left his cell, with Mr. Neville still on his stomach, according to the report.


After Ms. Heughins didn’t see him breathing or moving, the staff members went back into the cell, rolled Mr. Neville onto his back and started CPR, the report said.


Mr. Neville died on Dec. 4, 2019, at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.


The autopsy found that he had died of a brain injury because of cardiopulmonary arrest that was caused by “positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint.” The report said that Mr. Neville had other “significant conditions,” including “acute altered mental status” and asthma.


In August 2020, one day before officials released videos showing the episode that led to Mr. Neville’s death, the Forsyth County sheriff, Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr., apologized to Mr. Neville’s family. Mr. Kimbrough said he cried after watching a video of the encounter and said that “mistakes were made that day.” The sheriff’s office said at the time that it had fired all five of the officers.


In a statement this week, Mr. Kimbrough said it would not be proper or ethical for him to comment on a matter that was still the subject of a criminal case and a lawsuit.


“My heart and my prayers go out to all those affected by this incident,” Mr. Kimbrough said, “but especially to the Neville family for the loss of their father.”