March For Reproductive Justice
BANS OFF OUR BODIES
74 Years of ongoing NAKBA, 74 years of resistance!
Rally and mobilization for Nakba 74
Saturday, May 14, 2022, 11:30 A.M.
16th and Valencia Street, San Francisco
Join the USPCN Bay Area chapter as we commemorate another year of Palestinian resistance to the ongoing occupation and colonization of Palestine. RALLY AND MOBILIZATION! Bay Area show up for Palestine!
The Israeli occupation again escalated its attempted ethnic cleansing of Palestine during the holy month of Ramadan, and continues to attack Palestinian worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, while white supremacist Israeli settlers illegally occupying Palestinian homes and land are attacking our people in Jenin and Sheikh Jarrah, under the cover of the Israeli police and military.
47 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in 2022, while Gaza has been bombed numerous times. Palestinian political prisoners continue militant resistance from inside Israeli jails through hunger strikes and political organizing. And the Palestinian resistance continues to bravely combat Israel's state terror.
SUNDIATA ACOLI RELEASED BY NEW JERSEY SUPREME COURT
Bring Sundiata Acoli Home Free Campaign Lauds the Court
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY – The New Jersey Supreme Court correctly upheld the law today, granting the release of 85-year-old Sundiata Acoli after serving more than 49 years in prison. The Court ruled that the parole board unlawfully denied Mr. Acoli’s petition for release eight times by claiming that he was a risk to public safety and has shown no substantial risk of recidivism or a risk to public safety.
“We applaud the New Jersey Supreme Court in granting Mr. Acoli’s freedom and correcting the parole board’s improper application of the law by denying his petition for release after serving more than 49 years in prison,” said Soffiyah Elijah, Civil Rights attorney and one of the primary advocates for Acoli. “It’s time now for Mr. Acoli to live the rest of his life in the loving care of his family and community,” Elijah added.
“We appreciate and thank his thousands of supporters from his attorneys, individuals, and community organizations to those who submitted amicus briefs on his behalf to champion his freedom. Freedom that is rightfully his. We strongly hope that Mr. Acoli’s freedom will bring attention to the thousands of elders like him in the New Jersey correctional system,” Elijah concluded.
Sign the petition:
If extradited to the United States, Julian Assange, father of two young British children, would face a sentence of 175 years in prison merely for receiving and publishing truthful information that revealed US war crimes.
UK District Judge Vanessa Baraitser has ruled that "it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America".
Amnesty International states, “Were Julian Assange to be extradited or subjected to any other transfer to the USA, Britain would be in breach of its obligations under international law.”
Human Rights Watch says, “The only thing standing between an Assange prosecution and a major threat to global media freedom is Britain. It is urgent that it defend the principles at risk.”
The NUJ has stated that the “US charges against Assange pose a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists & their ability to protect their sources”.
Julian will not survive extradition to the United States.
The UK is required under its international obligations to stop the extradition. Article 4 of the US-UK extradition treaty says: "Extradition shall not be granted if the offense for which extradition is requested is a political offense."
The decision to either Free Assange or send him to his death is now squarely in the political domain. The UK must not send Julian to the country that conspired to murder him in London.
The United Kingdom can stop the extradition at any time. It must comply with Article 4 of the US-UK Extradition Treaty and Free Julian Assange.
“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.
New Legal Filing in Mumia’s Case
The following statement was issued January 4, 2022, regarding new legal filings by attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
In her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”
With continued pressure from below, 2022 will be the year that forces the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and the Philly Police Department to answer questions about why they framed imprisoned radio journalist and veteran Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have filed a Pennsylvania Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition focused entirely on the six boxes of case files that were found in a storage room of the DA’s office in late December 2018, after the case being heard before Judge Leon Tucker in the Court of Common Pleas concluded. (tinyurl.com/zkyva464)
The new evidence contained in the boxes is damning, and we need to expose it. It reveals a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority by the prosecution, including bribery of the state’s two key witnesses, as well as racist exclusion in jury selection—a violation of the landmark Supreme Court decision Batson v. Kentucky. The remedy for each or any of the claims in the petition is a new trial. The court may order a hearing on factual issues raised in the claims. If so, we won’t know for at least a month.
The new evidence includes a handwritten letter penned by Robert Chobert, the prosecution’s star witness. In it, Chobert demands to be paid money promised him by then-Prosecutor Joseph McGill. Other evidence includes notes written by McGill, prominently tracking the race of potential jurors for the purposes of excluding Black people from the jury, and letters and memoranda which reveal that the DA’s office sought to monitor, direct, and intervene in the outstanding prostitution charges against its other key witness Cynthia White.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and convicted 40 years ago in 1982, during one of the most corrupt and racist periods in Philadelphia’s history—the era of cop-turned-mayor Frank Rizzo. It was a moment when the city’s police department, which worked intimately with the DA’s office, routinely engaged in homicidal violence against Black and Latinx detainees, corruption, bribery and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
In 1979, under pressure from civil rights activists, the Department of Justice filed an unprecedented lawsuit against the Philadelphia police department and detailed a culture of racist violence, widespread corruption and intimidation that targeted outspoken people like Mumia. Despite concurrent investigations by the FBI and Pennsylvania’s Attorney General and dozens of police convictions, the power and influence of the country’s largest police association, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) prevailed.
Now, more than 40 years later, we’re still living with the failure to uproot these abuses. Philadelphia continues to fear the powerful FOP, even though it endorses cruelty, racism, and multiple injustices. A culture of fear permeates the “city of brotherly love.”
The contents of these boxes shine light on decades of white supremacy and rampant lawlessness in U.S. courts and prisons. They also hold enormous promise for Mumia’s freedom and challenge us to choose Love, Not PHEAR. (lovenotphear.com/) Stay tuned.
—Workers World, January 4, 2022
Pa. Supreme Court denies widow’s appeal to remove Philly DA from Abu-Jamal case
Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder of Faulkner in 1982. Over the past four decades, five of his appeals have been quashed.
In 1989, the state’s highest court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s death penalty conviction, and in 2012, he was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 66, remains in prison. He can appeal to the state Supreme Court, or he can file a new appeal.
KYW Newsradio reached out to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys for comment. They shared this statement in full:
“Today, the Superior Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to consider issues raised by Mr. Abu-Jamal in prior appeals. Two years ago, the Court of Common Pleas ordered reconsideration of these appeals finding evidence of an appearance of judicial bias when the appeals were first decided. We are disappointed in the Superior Court’s decision and are considering our next steps.
“While this case was pending in the Superior Court, the Commonwealth revealed, for the first time, previously undisclosed evidence related to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. That evidence includes a letter indicating that the Commonwealth promised its principal witness against Mr. Abu-Jamal money in connection with his testimony. In today’s decision, the Superior Court made clear that it was not adjudicating the issues raised by this new evidence. This new evidence is critical to any fair determination of the issues raised in this case, and we look forward to presenting it in court.”
Questions and comments may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign our petition urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.
Address: 116 W. Osborne Ave. Tampa, Florida 33603
How long will he still be with us? How long will the genocide continue?
By Michael Moore—VIA Email: email@example.com
American Indian Movement leader, Leonard Peltier, at 77 years of age, came down with Covid-19 this weekend. Upon hearing this, I broke down and cried. An innocent man, locked up behind bars for 44 years, Peltier is now America’s longest-held political prisoner. He suffers in prison tonight even though James Reynolds, one of the key federal prosecutors who sent Peltier off to life in prison in 1977, has written to President Biden and confessed to his role in the lies, deceit, racism and fake evidence that together resulted in locking up our country’s most well-known Native American civil rights leader. Just as South Africa imprisoned for more than 27 years its leading voice for freedom, Nelson Mandela, so too have we done the same to a leading voice and freedom fighter for the indigenous people of America. That’s not just me saying this. That’s Amnesty International saying it. They placed him on their political prisoner list years ago and continue to demand his release.
And it’s not just Amnesty leading the way. It’s the Pope who has demanded Leonard Peltier’s release. It’s the Dalai Lama, Jesse Jackson, and the President Pro-Tempore of the US Senate, Sen. Patrick Leahy. Before their deaths, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Bishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with the United States to free Leonard Peltier. A worldwide movement of millions have seen their demands fall on deaf ears.
And now the calls for Peltier to be granted clemency in DC have grown on Capitol Hill. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), the head of the Senate committee who oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, has also demanded Peltier be given his freedom. Numerous House Democrats have also written to Biden.
The time has come for our President to act; the same President who appointed the first-ever Native American cabinet member last year and who halted the building of the Keystone pipeline across Native lands. Surely Mr. Biden is capable of an urgent act of compassion for Leonard Peltier — especially considering that the prosecutor who put him away in 1977 now says Peltier is innocent, and that his US Attorney’s office corrupted the evidence to make sure Peltier didn’t get a fair trial. Why is this victim of our judicial system still in prison? And now he is sick with Covid.
For months Peltier has begged to get a Covid booster shot. Prison officials refused. The fact that he now has COVID-19 is a form of torture. A shame hangs over all of us. Should he now die, are we all not complicit in taking his life?
President Biden, let Leonard Peltier go. This is a gross injustice. You can end it. Reach deep into your Catholic faith, read what the Pope has begged you to do, and then do the right thing.
For those of you reading this, will you join me right now in appealing to President Biden to free Leonard Peltier? His health is in deep decline, he is the voice of his people — a people we owe so much to for massacring and imprisoning them for hundreds of years.
The way we do mass incarceration in the US is abominable. And Leonard Peltier is not the only political prisoner we have locked up. We have millions of Black and brown and poor people tonight in prison or on parole and probation — in large part because they are Black and brown and poor. THAT is a political act on our part. Corporate criminals and Trump run free. The damage they have done to so many Americans and people around the world must be dealt with.
This larger issue is one we MUST take on. For today, please join me in contacting the following to show them how many millions of us demand that Leonard Peltier has suffered enough and should be free:
President Joe Biden
E-mail: At this link
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland
Attorney General Merrick Garland
E-mail: At this link
I’ll end with the final verse from the epic poem “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet:
I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.
I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.
You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.
PS. Also — watch the brilliant 1992 documentary by Michael Apted and Robert Redford about the framing of Leonard Peltier— “Incident at Oglala”
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Department of Labor
For release 10:00 a.m. (ET) Thursday, January 20, 2022
(202) 691-6378 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.bls.gov/cps
(202) 691-5902 • PressOffice@bls.gov
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions—the union membership rate—was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020—when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The 2021 unionization rate is the same as the 2019 rate of 10.3 percent. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
These data on union membership are collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 eligible households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over. For further information, see the Technical Note in this news release.
Highlights from the 2021 data:
• The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent). (See table 3.)
• The highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). (See table 3.)
• Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.6 percent) than women (9.9 percent). The gap between union membership rates for men and women has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. (See table 1.)
• Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
• Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 83 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($975 versus $1,169). (The comparisons of earnings in this news release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
• Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (22.4 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2021, 7.0 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions, the same as in the private sector. (See table 3.)
Union membership decreased by 191,000 over the year in the public sector. The public-sector union membership rate declined by 0.9 percentage point in 2021 to 33.9 percent, following an increase of 1.2 percentage points in 2020. In 2021, the union membership rate continued to be highest in local government (40.2 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers.
The number of union workers employed in the private sector changed little over the year. However, the number of private-sector nonunion workers increased in 2021. The private-sector unionization rate declined by 0.2 percentage point in 2021 to 6.1 percent, slightly lower than its 2019 rate of 6.2 percent. Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.7 percent), motion pictures and sound recording industries (17.3 percent), and transportation and warehousing (14.7 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), professional and technical services (1.2 percent), food services and drinking places (1.2 percent), and insurance (1.5 percent).
Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2021 were in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.1 percent); sales and related occupations (3.3 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7 percent); personal care and service occupations (3.9 percent); and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (4.0 percent).
Selected Characteristics of Union Members
In 2021, the number of men who were union members, at 7.5 million, changed little, while the number of women who were union members declined by 182,000 to 6.5 million. The unionization rate for men decreased by 0.4 percentage point over the year to 10.6 percent. In 2021, women’s union membership rate declined by 0.6 percentage point to 9.9 percent. The 2021 decreases in union membership rates for men and women reflect increases in the total number of nonunion workers. The rate for men is below the 2019 rate (10.8 percent), while the rate for women is above the 2019 rate (9.7 percent). (See table 1.)
Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2021 (11.5 percent) than White workers (10.3 percent), Asian workers (7.7 percent), and Hispanic workers (9.0 percent). The union membership rate declined by 0.4 percentage point for White workers, by 0.8 percentage point for Black workers, by 1.2 percentage points for Asian workers, and by 0.8 percentage point for Hispanic workers. The 2021 rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics are little or no different from 2019, while the rate for Asians is lower.
By age, workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1 percent. Younger workers—those ages 16 to 24—had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2 percent.
In 2021, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.1 percent) continued to be considerably higher than that for part-time workers (6.1 percent).
In 2021, 15.8 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union, 137,000 less than in 2020. The percentage of workers represented by a union was 11.6 percent, down by 0.5 percentage point from 2020 but the same as in 2019. Workers represented by a union include both union members (14.0 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.8 million). (See table 1.)
Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,169 in 2021, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $975. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region. (See tables 2 and 4.)
Union Membership by State
In 2021, 30 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.3 percent, while 20 states had rates above it. All states in both the East South Central and West South Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it. (See table 5 and chart 1.)
Ten states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2021. South Carolina had the lowest rate (1.7 percent), followed by North Carolina (2.6 percent) and Utah (3.5 percent). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2021: Hawaii (22.4 percent) and New York (22.2 percent).
In 2021, about 30 percent of the 14.0 million union members lived in just two states (California at 2.5 million and New York at 1.7 million). However, these states accounted for about 17 percent of wage and salary employment nationally.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic Impact on 2021 Union Members Data
Union membership data for 2021 continue to reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Comparisons with union membership measures for 2020, including metrics such as the union membership rate and median usual weekly earnings, should be interpreted with caution. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to an increase in the unionization rate due to a disproportionately large decline in the number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The decrease in the rate in 2021 reflects a large gain in the number of nonunion workers and a decrease in the number of union workers. More information on labor market developments in recent months is available at:
Resources for Resisting Federal Repression
Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests.
The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page.
If you are contacted by federal law enforcement you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities.
State and Local Hotlines
If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for:
If you are located in an area with no hotline, you can call the following number:
Know Your Rights Materials
The NLG maintains a library of basic Know-Your-Rights guides.
WEBINAR: Federal Repression of Activists & Their Lawyers: Legal & Ethical Strategies to Defend Our Movements: presented by NLG-NYC and NLG National Office
We also recommend the following resources:
Movement for Black Lives Legal Resources
By Sharon Zhang, Truthout, May 5, 2021https://truthout.org/articles/thats-a-fact-amazon-unions-smalls-lambasts-anti-union-senators-in-hearing/?eType=EmailBlastContent&eId=77e07376-4f26-4746-9b6e-12d42fb0f129
Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, testifies during the Senate Budget Committee hearing titled "Should Taxpayer Dollars Go to Companies that Violate Labor Laws?" in Dirksen Building on May 5, 2022.
Amazon Labor Union (ALU) President Christian Smalls sharply rebuked U.S. senators for protecting Amazon from criticisms about its illegal labor practices at a Senate Budget Committee hearing led by Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) on Thursday.
After Sanders delivered his opening speech, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) went on a tirade about how he thinks the independent Senator’s stances on the issues of Amazon illegally union busting and support of the labor movement in general are too politicized — even though Republicans dubiously claim to be the party of the working class. Graham said that it’s “very dangerous” that Sanders and the committee have determined Amazon to be, in Graham’s own words, “a piece of crap company.”
The hearing was held for lawmakers to examine whether companies that violate federal labor laws, often openly, should be allowed to contract with the federal government.
When Smalls began his testimony, he directly addressed Graham’s remarks.
“First of all, I want to address Mr. Graham. It sounds like you were talking about more of the companies and the businesses in your speech, but you forgot that the people are the ones who make these companies operate,” Smalls said. “And when we’re not protected, and when the process for holding these companies accountable is not working for us — that’s the reason why we’re here today.”
Smalls went on to say that it’s not “a Democrat or Republican thing. It’s a workers thing.” He reminded Graham that he is also supposed to represent the interest of workers who may be abused by companies in his state.
Later in the hearing, Graham said that it’s unfair for the $1.2 trillion company to discuss their illegal conduct when there’s a legal system to file complaints about unfair labor practices — though labor experts generally acknowledge that the system’s lax punishments for breaking labor laws fail to deter union busting.
Graham asked Smalls if he had filed legal complaints against the company. “You had a process where somebody could advocate for your interest,” Graham said.
“There is a process that’s not working,” Smalls replied.
“Well that’s your opinion,” Graham quipped.
“That’s a fact,” Smalls said.
Workers and union organizers faced abusive conditions from Amazon as ALU was organizing two New York City warehouses in Staten Island, Smalls continued, facing traumatizing intimidation and coercion tactics as part of the company’s multimillion dollar union-busting campaign. At one point, Smalls and other organizers were arrested while handing out food to workers after Amazon called the police on the group.
Though Amazon faces charges of illegal union busting from the National Labor Relations Board, lax labor laws allow the company to get away with vast amounts of union busting moves, illegal or not, while facing little consequence. Sanders has asked President Joe Biden to cancel Amazon’s contracts with the federal government until the company stops union busting, but there’s no word from Biden yet on the request.
“We want to feel that the government is allowing us to use our constitutional rights to organize,” Smalls said. “The notion that people united in this democracy will outmatch tyranny is the oldest American ideal.” And though workers won the union at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse, Amazon is still refusing to meet at the bargaining table with the workers, despite the legal obligation to do so.
“To me, it just sounds like the corporations have the control, and they control whatever they want. They break the law, they get away with it — they know that already, that breaking the law during these election campaigns won’t be resolved during the election campaigns. So they purposely continue to break the law,” Smalls said, saying that the union had filed 40 unfair labor practices during the campaign. But despite the fact that many of these charges had merit, he said, the victims of these charges have still not gotten relief.
Smalls called for Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would make it easier for workers to form a union.
A group of convicted murderers came together to share knowledge on how to prove their innocence. It took decades, but it worked.
By Corey Kilgannon, May 7, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/07/nyregion/sing-sing-prison-exoneration.html
Photographs throughout the years of Jon-Adrian Velazquez with Dan Slepian, a journalist who helped him fight his conviction. Mr. Velazquez was granted clemency last summer after serving nearly 24 years in prison. Andrew Seng for The New York Times
There were five inmates, all of them sent to prison for murder at the height of New York City’s violent-crime wave in the 1990s. Though their cases were completely unrelated, they all shared a single, fervent belief: Each one knew he had been wrongly convicted.
One inmate in solitary confinement would stuff his ears with torn bedsheets so he could concentrate on drafting his appeals amid the chaos of the other prisoners’ yelling.
Another fixed a broken electric typewriter and muffled it with a pillow so he could type legal correspondence in his cell all night.
Another inmate’s activism and leadership attracted the support of prison administrators and celebrities like Martin Sheen and Alfre Woodard.
Another gained his freedom after a theater volunteer connected him with a newspaper reporter.
And it all started with an offhand comment that a Bronx homicide detective made to a television journalist about a fifth inmate, who was serving time for a murder that another man had committed.
When Dan Slepian, of NBC’s “Dateline,” decided to visit the inmate, it began a chain that would eventually help free these five men. Their tortuous quests for exoneration intersected largely inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the notorious maximum-security prison on the Hudson River some 30 miles north of New York City.
“What started with one wrongful conviction claim became a chain of human dominoes,” Mr. Slepian said, “where one innocent person led me to the next.”
The “Dateline” segments, which were broadcast over the span of a dozen years, bolstered each convict’s claims of innocence with new evidence and new witnesses, highlighting problems in how cases were investigated and prosecuted.
The chance of even a single inmate achieving exoneration is a long shot in the New York State prison system, where out of thousands of inmate appeals, only a handful are successful each year. The fact that these five men rallied to support one another is exceptionally rare.
In interviews with The New York Times, the men discussed how they bonded and worked together in prison to overturn the convictions that put them behind bars for a combined century’s worth of time. One after the other, they were released, but they would continue to help those left behind by visiting, donating money, raising awareness and even searching for other possible witnesses.
“Our relationships were reciprocal,” said one of the men, Jon-Adrian Velazquez. “These guys are my brothers.”
The last man out
In September, armed prison guards watched from atop tall concrete walls as a heavy steel door rumbled open to release a middle-aged man holding all of his possessions in a small mesh bag.
It was Jon-Adrian Velazquez, Inmate No. 00A2303, the last of these five to leave prison. He was 46 years old and had served nearly 24 years for a 1998 murder he insists he never committed. After numerous denied appeals, he was finally granted clemency and released.
He hugged his mother and two adult sons, who were little boys when he entered prison as a 22-year-old.
He also hugged Mr. Slepian, who had become a regular visitor over the past two decades.
Now that Mr. Velazquez has been released, Mr. Slepian’s reporting will be developed into a series called “The Sing Sing Chronicles,” to be produced by NBC News Studios and directed by the prominent filmmaker Dawn Porter.
“This is a horror story, that innocent people are sent to jail for something they didn’t do,” Ms. Porter said. “These men were supposed to get a fair hearing and a fair legal process.”
The men were all convicted when New York City, facing soaring crime rates, turned to aggressive policing strategies, some of which are being revived today to address the recent rise in violent crime.
Though otherwise unrelated, the five cases shared many of the same troubling traits common in wrongful convictions, including sloppy detective work, questionable legal representation, shaky witness identifications and withheld evidence.
“These five cases check all the boxes of how and why people are wrongfully convicted,” Mr. Slepian said. “But because jury verdicts are seen as sacrosanct, it is exceedingly rare to have a conviction overturned, even when disturbing flaws of a case are revealed.”
The National Registry of Exonerations adds roughly 200 wrongful conviction cases each year to its database but notes that the number of wrongful convictions is unknown and a great majority will probably never be overturned.
Over the past decade, New York City has paid out nearly $500 million in settlements to exonerees seeking compensation for their wrongful convictions.
Remarkably, these five cases did not rely on DNA evidence; not one was overturned by a miraculous lab result. Instead, each required the kind of arduous appeal process that is exceedingly difficult in the best of circumstances. In prison, where these inmates had limited access to phones, meager legal resources and virtually no internet, it was almost impossible.
“Something that could take a day on the outside could take me a month in prison,” said Mr. Velazquez, who was convicted in the 1998 murder of a retired police officer during a botched robbery of a gambling den the officer ran in Harlem.
The case against Mr. Velazquez relied heavily on the testimony of several witnesses who identified him in a lineup as the gunman. But Mr. Slepian’s decade-long investigation for a 2012 “Dateline NBC” segment raised troubling questions. Key eyewitnesses tracked down by Mr. Slepian either expressed doubts about their testimony or recanted entirely.
Despite Mr. Velazquez’s clemency, granted last August by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, his conviction remains. He has not been exonerated.
The first domino
Mr. Slepian’s involvement with the five men began in 2002 with a tip from a Bronx homicide detective regarding the high-profile killing of a bouncer outside the Palladium dance club in Manhattan in 1990.
The detective told him that two men — David Lemus and Olmedo Hidalgo — were languishing in prison for the shooting, even though two other men had actually committed the crime.
Mr. Lemus was serving his sentence at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
Eight years into his 25-years-to-life sentence, Mr. Lemus was studying relevant cases in the Green Haven law library and consulting lawyers on his appeal. His case was gaining momentum with press coverage that included a front-page story in The New York Times in 2000 detailing doubts regarding his conviction.
Mr. Lemus’s dedication impressed Mr. Velazquez, who in 2000 was a new inmate at Green Haven.
“We were just doing time,” Mr. Velazquez said. “But what he showed me gave me hope and showed me it was possible to fight.”
The two inmates bonded in the prison yard, and Mr. Velazquez began to pursue his appeal more actively.
Mr. Lemus also helped Mr. Velazquez land a porter job like the one he had, cleaning and running tasks for inmates. This job provided a degree of freedom to use the law library.
Mr. Slepian’s investigation of Mr. Lemus’s case for a 2005 “Dateline” segment helped uncover new evidence. Several months after the broadcast, Mr. Lemus’s conviction was vacated, and he was released after roughly 15 years in prison.
Before Mr. Lemus left Green Haven, Mr. Velazquez implored him, “Don’t forget me.”
He did not. Mr. Lemus visited Mr. Velazquez regularly, and after receiving a $1.25 million settlement in 2009 for his wrongful conviction, he donated more than $11,000 of it to Mr. Velazquez, enabling him to hire a private investigator for his case, among other expenses.
When Mr. Velazquez was finally released, Mr. Lemus, now 53 and living in Florida, sent him a new iPhone.
A prisoner without a lawyer
But perhaps Mr. Lemus’s greatest gift to Mr. Velazquez had come earlier, in 2002, when he introduced him to Mr. Slepian. This resulted in another “Dateline” segment that raised troubling questions about Mr. Velazquez’s conviction.
Mr. Velazquez resolved to help others seeking exoneration. “Dave passed a blessing to me in Dan, so I vowed to pass the torch forward as much as I could,” said Mr. Velazquez.
In 2005, Mr. Velazquez was transferred to Sing Sing. There, he would introduce Mr. Slepian to three other inmates with compelling wrongful conviction claims.
Sing Sing opened in 1825 and has a notorious reputation; more than 600 executions had been conducted in an adjacent prison building called the Death House, where the electric chair was known as Old Sparky. Its 1,375 inmates include convicted murderers and rapists. But it is also one of the most frequently requested of the state’s 44 prisons, partly because of its proximity to New York City, which makes it easier for many inmates’ families to visit.
Inmates can also earn master’s and bachelor’s degrees through affiliations with nearby colleges, and can take arts classes like jazz guitar, yoga and modern dance.
Once in Sing Sing, Mr. Velazquez took full advantage of the prison programs, becoming a popular leader as he continued work on his case.
But early on, he was an inmate with no lawyer. Prison rules and logistics make legal appeals difficult. Pay phones tend to be outside, in the prison yard, and are often controlled by gangs. Determined to be his “own best advocate,” he set out to prove he was wrongly identified by problematic witnesses.
He pored over legal books and consulted with other inmates in the law library, including a law clerk, Johnny Hincapie, whose infamous murder case was well known among the other inmates.
Jailhouse law 101
Mr. Hincapie was one of seven men convicted in the murder of 22-year-old Brian Watkins, who died trying to defend his parents on a Manhattan subway platform in 1990.
Mr. Watkins and his parents had traveled from Utah to New York to attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament. While waiting for a train, they were surrounded by a group of teenagers demanding their money. One of them fatally stabbed Mr. Watkins.
Though Mr. Hincapie, who was 18 at the time, was not accused of actually stabbing Mr. Watkins, he still faced a murder charge; under state law, any participant in a mugging is held responsible if a victim dies.
Mr. Hincapie, who was arrested the day after the stabbing, claimed he was coerced into signing a confession. Despite his claim that he was not even on the subway platform when the stabbing occurred, he knew his chances were slim of proving his innocence.
Still, within months of his guilty verdict, he began writing letters, longhand, pleading for help from law firms, advocacy groups and foundations that help the wrongfully convicted.
“When you’re in prison, your resources are very, very limited,” Mr. Hincapie said recently. “So you find other cases that have similar attributes to yours, and you contact the attorneys from those cases for guidance.”
Initially, it was hard to find help, so he also began discussing his situation with Mr. Velazquez and with Eric Glisson, who was one of the “Bronx Six,” a group convicted in the murder of a cabdriver in the Bronx in 1995.
Mr. Velazquez took classes with Mr. Glisson, who was serving 25 years to life and seeking to overturn his 1997 conviction, which also was largely based on testimony from a problematic witness — in Mr. Glisson’s case, he was identified through a bathroom window a football field’s length away from the murder location.
Grabbing time in the law library, prison yard and classrooms, the three men began discussing how to file Freedom of Information Act requests and other means to procure documents supporting their claims of innocence.
“Anytime we’d learn something new, we’d discuss it with each other and see if it could work,” Mr. Velazquez said.
A constant backdrop to the legal lessons was navigating Sing Sing, then a brutal environment of violence, gangs and run-ins with correction officers.
“Of course, all the legal stuff is secondary to survival,” said Mr. Glisson. “Self-preservation is first and foremost. You got to always be on point because something is always going down.”
The three inmates caught the eye of Sing Sing’s superintendent, Michael Capra, who styled himself as a tough-but-fair prison warden and promoted educational and rehabilitative programs.
“These guys all had a similar outlook,” Mr. Capra said. “They were positive. They weren’t your average thug, and all of our staff saw something in them.”
Mr. Velazquez would eventually introduce Mr. Slepian to the few fellow inmates whose appeals he believed in. This included Richard Rosario, a tough, brooding man convicted in a 1996 murder in the Bronx.
Mr. Rosario’s bitterness over his wrongful conviction made him a defiant prisoner — not the sort of positive inmate who thrived under the superintendent, Mr. Capra. His behavior had resulted in long stretches of solitary confinement — by his estimate, a total of seven years.
Nonetheless, he was as devoted as the law library regulars, taking his legal materials into solitary with him and plugging his ears with paper and shreds of bedsheet to drown out the ranting from inmates in nearby cells. To call his lawyer, he had to be led to a nearby phone in shackles.
“It’s an uphill battle,” Mr. Rosario said of appealing from prison. “Nothing is structured. You have to learn everything on your own.”
A ‘one-man Innocence Project’
Mr. Velazquez, known as J.J., studied to become a certified paralegal and earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. He also became a teaching fellow, paired with Columbia University teachers, for inmate classes.
His leadership roles, which fostered relationships with other inmates and prison officials, would eventually help his path to freedom.
This included forming a tight relationship with Mr. Slepian, who lived a short drive from Sing Sing. Starting in 2007, the journalist would visit Mr. Velazquez so often that he became well known to the prison administration and gained unusual access.
Soon, inmates from Sing Sing and other prisons, noticing Mr. Slepian’s commitment to Mr. Velazquez, began asking for introductions.
“When J.J. said, ‘I got somebody for you,’ I knew that came after months of vetting a case,” Mr. Slepian said. “For me, here’s an inmate who became a one-man Innocence Project inside Sing Sing.”
Since claims of innocence are so common in prison, even among the guilty, Mr. Slepian said he approached each of the five cases skeptically, maintaining a cautionary presumption of guilt. “But after investigating their cases, I found information and stories that their juries never heard.”
The first one out of Sing Sing
In 2010, Mr. Slepian was in Sing Sing to produce a segment on Mr. Velazquez. His film crew had been given access to Honor Block, the living quarters for inmates with good disciplinary records. It was there that Mr. Velazquez introduced the producer to Johnny Hincapie.
When he was arrested, Mr. Hincapie was a slight, college-bound teenager from Bayside, Queens, who was DJing in nightclubs.
It was a fraught moment in the city. There were more than 2,200 murders in 1990. The subway stabbing inspired fear and anger in New York and was seen as a tipping point. The case was handled by some of the same detectives, using some of the same aggressive policing strategies, as the infamous Central Park jogger rape case the year before.
Mr. Hincapie said he was beaten and coerced into making a false confession by a detective who convinced him that admitting a minor role in the robbery would allow him to go home and receive lenient punishment. But he was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Mr. Hincapie tried to make the best of it. While they worked on their cases, he and Mr. Glisson enrolled in the prison’s theater program. They acted together in productions like “Twelve Angry Men” and “West Side Story.”
Just when Mr. Hincapie had exhausted his appeals, his theater coach, Kim Breden, helped connect him with a newspaper reporter, Bill Hughes, who wrote an article that revealed new witnesses. They ended up testifying that he had not been near the subway stabbing.
Mr. Hincapie’s conviction was vacated by a judge in 2015 after he had spent 25 years in prison, and prosecutors finally dropped his case in 2017. He is 49 and lives in Florida.
‘I might die in prison’
For Mr. Glisson, the theater program provided respite from the frustrations of his appeal, which included writing hundreds of letters and perhaps 80 Freedom of Information requests. He searched tirelessly to find exonerating witness information withheld from his trial.
“I just kept trying — I was going to die on my feet, not on my knees,” said Mr. Glisson, who entered prison as a teenager with only a fifth-grade education.
Inside, he studied to be a paralegal in order to appeal his conviction and also earned a bachelor's degree.
His 6-by-8 cell, where he kept a “wall of hope” covered with articles about exonerated inmates, served as a repair shop where he fixed inmates’ radios, hot plates and other items in exchange for their allotment of stamps and envelopes, which he would use for legal correspondence.
After fixing a microwave oven for some correction officers, he was given a broken electric typewriter. Mr. Glisson repaired that, too, and spent his nights typing his legal appeals, muffling the typewriter with a pillow to avoid waking other inmates.
But by 2006, after 11 years in prison, he was notified that he had exhausted his last appeal.
It was at a rehearsal for “Macbeth” that the gravity of the situation set in. “I just broke down,” Mr. Glisson recalled, “realizing I might die in prison.”
But a volunteer with the program — Sister Joanna Chan, a nun known to the inmates as Grandma — noticed his despair and cryptically told him it was crucial to summon his best performance. After the show, she introduced him to Peter Cross, a Manhattan lawyer who had attended the play. He agreed to take on Mr. Glisson’s case pro bono and made crucial advances.
But it was Mr. Glisson himself who found the real murderer. In 2012, one of his Freedom of Information requests yielded suppressed documents showing that two gang members had used the cellphone of the Bronx cabdriver he had supposedly killed.
Mr. Glisson included this new information in a letter to federal prosecutors that happened to land on the desk of a federal investigator, John O’Malley.
Through another case, Mr. O’Malley knew that another man had confessed to killing a livery driver, information that would become crucial to Mr. Glisson’s exoneration.
But with that exoneration still delayed, Mr. Velazquez introduced Mr. Glisson to Mr. Slepian. A WNBC news segment aired in August 2012, after which Mr. Glisson, his conviction dismissed by a judge, was released at age 35 after serving nearly 18 years.
‘I have another one for you’
Even as his own appeals met denial after denial, Mr. Velazquez sat across from Mr. Slepian in a Sing Sing visiting room in late 2012 and told him, “I have another one for you.”
This was Richard Rosario, who was convicted on questionable witness testimony, despite providing the authorities with 13 alibi witnesses to confirm he had been in Florida when the murder was committed in the Bronx.
Neither the authorities nor his own lawyers ever went to Florida to interview them, and the issue of ineffective legal representation loomed so large in his case that it would eventually be considered for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
From 1998 until his release in 2016, Mr. Rosario sent hundreds of handwritten letters to lawyers, advocates and other authorities, seeking evidence that witnesses had wrongly identified him at trial. He began to receive police reports with redacted sections that hinted at problems with witnesses.
Mr. Slepian did travel to Florida to interview most of the 13 alibi witnesses, who included a deputy sheriff, a pastor and a federal correction officer.
It resulted in a 2016 “Dateline” series. That same month, Mr. Rosario’s conviction was vacated by the Bronx district attorney and he was released from Sing Sing.
When Mr. Rosario finally walked free out of a Bronx courtroom, he faced news cameras and said, “Free Jon-Adrian Velazquez.”
A fateful cell visit
As each of the other four inmates gained their freedom, reunited with their families and starting to pursue compensation settlements, Mr. Velazquez posted newspaper clippings about their releases on the walls of his cell.
“I wasn’t bitter about other guys being released,” he said. “In fact, I celebrated that.”
Each of the four returned to visit him in Sing Sing and supported his appeal. Mr. Glisson and Mr. Lemus sent him money to hire investigators.
Mr. Velazquez’s case drew support from celebrities who visited him in prison, including Martin Sheen, who visited twice. Also supportive were the actress Alfre Woodard, and the music industry executive Jason Flom, who visited him frequently.
Mr. Velazquez had forged a unique rapport with the prison’s administration, especially Mr. Capra, the superintendent, who wrote a letter supporting Mr. Velazquez’s application for clemency from the governor.
One day last August, the cellblock went silent as Mr. Capra showed up at Mr. Velazquez’s cell. He was holding a letter.
Mr. Velazquez had been granted clemency and was going home.
In a rare emotional moment for the by-the-books warden, he hugged Mr. Velazquez as the entire cellblock broke into shouts and applause.
Mr. Velazquez, who is still on parole, now works for the Frederick Douglass Project for Justice, organizing prison visitation programs for civilians.
His is one of the first cases up for review by the post-conviction justice unit newly formed by Alvin Bragg, the new district attorney for Manhattan.
This past Monday, Mr. Velazquez was back at Sing Sing, meeting with Mr. Capra about creating a program for inmates.
“I made a promise to the men that I’d be back to help them,” he said. “I need to help the people I left behind.”
Company officials said the terminations were the result of an internal review, while the fired managers saw it as a response to the recent union victory.
By Karen Weise and Noam Scheiber, May 6, 2022
Amazon employees lined up in March to vote at the JFK8 fulfillment center on Staten Island. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
After Amazon employees at a massive warehouse on Staten Island scored an upset union victory last month, it turned the union’s leaders into celebrities, sent shock waves through the broader labor movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers. Now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.
On Thursday, Amazon informed more than half a dozen senior managers involved with the Staten Island warehouse that they were being fired, said four current and former employees with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
The firings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, were seen by the managers and other people who work at the facility as a response to the victory by the Amazon Labor Union, three of the people said. Workers at the warehouse voted by a wide margin to form the first union at the company in the United States, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in at least a generation.
Word of the shake-up spread through the warehouse on Thursday. Many of the managers had been responsible for carrying out the company’s response to the unionization effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years of experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly as they related to Covid-19 and repetitive strain injuries, and that the company pushed them too hard to meet performance targets, often at the expense of sufficient breaks. Many also said pay at the warehouse, which starts at over $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York City.
An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had made the management changes after spending several weeks evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8, which is the company’s name for the warehouse. “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve, and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team,” said Kelly Nantel, the spokeswoman.
The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organizational change,” two people said. One of the people said some of the managers were strong performers who recently received positive reviews.
The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organized to form an upstart, independent union.
The company is challenging the election, saying that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the National Labor Relations Board was biased in the union’s favor. And the union is working to maintain the pressure on Amazon so it will negotiate a contract.
Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, testified on Thursday before a Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Mr. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.
A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board to certify the results of the recent election but affirmed that Mr. Biden had long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.
Amazon has said that it invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and that it provides pay above the minimum wage with solid benefits like health care to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.
More than 8,000 workers at the warehouse were eligible to vote, and the union made a point of reaching out to employees from different ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos and immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as those of different political persuasions, from conservatives to progressives.
Company officials and consultants held more than 20 mandatory meetings per day with employees in the run-up to the election, in which they sought to persuade workers not to support the union. The officials highlighted the amount of money that the union would collect from them and emphasized the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.
Labor experts say such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the bargaining process.
Roughly one month after the union victory at JFK8, Amazon workers at a smaller facility nearby voted against unionizing by a decisive margin.
The votes came during what could be an inflection point for organized labor. While the rate of union membership reached its lowest point in decades last year (about 10 percent of U.S. workers) petitions to hold union elections were up more than 50 percent over the previous year during the six months ending in March, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The number of petitions is on pace to reach its highest point in at least a decade.
Since December, workers at Starbucks have won initial union votes at more than 50 stores nationwide, while workers have organized or sought to organize at other companies that did not previously have unions, such as Apple and the outdoor apparel retailer REI.
Grace Ashford contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.
By Jennifer Bendery
—Huffpost, May 7, 2022https://www.huffpost.com/entry/leonard-peltier-joe-biden-clemency_n_6266f6d9e4b0dc52f49aaf1f
Leonard Peltier has been imprisoned since 1977.
Illustration: Huffpost; Photos: APress/Intl. Leonard Peltier Defense Committee
Leonard Peltier knows his time is running out.
The Native American rights activist is 77, has serious health issues, just survived an ugly bout with COVID-19 and is now serving his 46th year in federal prison ― where the U.S. government put him without any evidence that he committed a crime.
Peltier and his supporters are holding out hope that President Joe Biden will finally send him home. Because, if anything has become clear with time, it’s just how troubling Peltier’s imprisonment has been from the start. Prosecutors in his trial hid key evidence. The FBI threatened and coerced witnesses into lying. A juror admitted she was biased against Native Americans on day two of the trial, but was allowed to stay on anyway.
Even some of the same U.S. government officials who helped put Peltier in prison in the first place have since admitted how flawed his trial was and how horribly the government has long treated Native Americans, and they have urged clemency for him.
There is reason to believe that Biden could, at last, give Peltier his freedom. He has already demonstrated a willingness to address past injustices against Native Americans. Since taking office, Biden has made it a priority to examine the government’s ugly history of Indian boarding schools, to protect sacred Indigenous sites and cultural resources, and to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. He also canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a major win for tribes and environmentalists.
Biden also chose Deb Haaland to lead his Interior Department, making her the nation’s first Indigenous Cabinet secretary. Haaland strongly advocated for Peltier’s release from prison in her former role as a member of Congress.
In November, HuffPost pressed Haaland on whether she still supports Peltier’s release in her role as interior secretary and whether she’s talked to the president about him. Haaland said only, “My thoughts and feelings about this issue are well-documented.”
If only Peltier had a few minutes alone with Biden himself. What would he say?
In a rare interview from his maximum security prison in Florida, Peltier recently told HuffPost that his message to the president would be simple.
“I’m not guilty of this shooting. I’m not guilty,” he said. “I would like to go home to spend what years I have left with my great-grandkids and my people.”
Peltier said he’s been following Biden’s efforts to support Native American rights and empower tribes, and if he had the president’s ear, he would give him credit for that.
“I appreciate what you’re doing by giving us our nationhood back, our sovereignty back,” he said he’d tell Biden. “I’m very grateful for that, because that’s what I was fighting for all my life.”
Before he was put in prison, Peltier was a member of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a grassroots group of activists focused on drawing attention to federal treaty rights violations, discrimination and police brutality targeting Native Americans. Back in the 1970s, the FBI was running a covert campaign to suppress the activities of AIM. In fact, as time has revealed, the FBI is at least partly responsible for the shootout that day on Pine Ridge Reservation, as it was intentionally fueling intra-tribal tensions there in an effort to disrupt AIM’s efforts.
Today, the FBI remains the biggest obstacle to Peltier getting out of prison, for no clear reason other than wanting to shield itself from scrutiny over its past wrongdoings. The bureau simply doesn’t want him to ever be released. It recently made that clear to HuffPost ― even when we didn’t ask. This was very weird. The unsolicited statement it provided was also full of misinformation, which signals the FBI’s plan is to keep recycling a flimsy, face-saving argument for keeping Peltier in prison until he dies.
Peltier said he knows exactly what he would say to FBI Director Christopher Wray if he had the chance to talk to him alone for a few minutes.
“Stop killing my people. That’s all I would tell him,” he said. “Stop killing my people. Arrest the people that are guilty of crimes on the reservations.”
Perhaps Peltier’s greatest strength is something the FBI can’t match: the staying power of his story. For decades, thousands of people have been protesting his imprisonment ― including U.S. senators, members of Congress, Native American groups, celebrities and human rights leaders like Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King and Amnesty International, an organization otherwise focused on political prisoners in other countries.
Just last week, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland on the status of Peltier’s clemency petition as Garland testified in an unrelated Senate budget hearing. The U.S. attorney general offered a surprisingly weak response, saying he didn’t know about Peltier’s case beyond what he’s read in the press.
Pleas for Peltier’s release are also happening at the international level. On Tuesday, North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Anna Buffalo (D) gave a statement at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues demanding clemency for him.
“The case of Leonard Peltier demonstrates the failure of the U.S. criminal justice system to provide real justice for Native Peoples as well as the government-generated environment of racism that consistently leads to unjust convictions,” Buffalo said in her statement, which she read aloud on behalf of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee. She urged the U.N. to push for “a means for relief and justice for Leonard Peltier.”
Buffalo later told HuffPost she felt her remarks were “well-received” at the U.N. forum.
“I hope the reading of the statement on behalf of the ILPDC will have a positive effect on the release of our elder, Leonard Peltier,” she said. “I’m thankful for the decades of advocacy in fighting for justice for Leonard Peltier.”
Peltier is watching all of this play out from his prison cell. He gets regular updates from supporters on news stories that come out about him and rallies being organized in his name. He is surprisingly up to date on current news. Sometimes people mail him articles to read, and when he can’t access a relevant news story online, he has friends who will call in and read it to him over the phone, line by line.
During HuffPost’s interview with Peltier, he did most of the talking. He said he was scared recently by chest pains he’d had when he was walking across the prison yard and that he hopes to get back to painting after being denied access to the art room for years because of pandemic precautions.
Asked if he thinks he’ll make it out of prison before he dies, Peltier said he doesn’t know. To date, the White House has either ignored HuffPost’s questions about the president’s willingness to grant clemency to Peltier or talked only about the process a person must go through for requesting clemency.
“Sometimes it feels like, well...,” Peltier said, trailing off. “I shouldn’t even be here. ... I should have never been in prison to start with.”
He is clearly still animated by the cause for justice for Native Americans that he was fighting for with AIM so many years ago. He told stories from his days in the 1970s, when he said Indigenous women were being routinely raped by white men who later got little or no punishment for it, and he and other AIM members would confront local law enforcement to do something about it.
Peltier specifically cited the case of former South Dakota Republican Gov. Bill Janklow, who allegedly raped a 15-year-old Lakota schoolgirl, Jancita Eagle Deer, at the Rosebud Boarding School on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Eagle Deer was mysteriously killed by a car a few months after she testified against Janklow, who was never charged.
“Native people are humans and we had a society, a very advanced society of our own. We were generous people. We gave. That was our problem,” he said. “When the white man first came here, we gave too much. That’s what we did. We opened up because that’s the way we were brought up. We have been nothing but abused for the last 300-some years.”
Peltier said the fact that he has a strong base of supporters who are still fighting for him to get clemency shows that the more people learn about the way he was put into prison, the more people “are finally believing us” that the whole process was unjust.
“How do I feel about it? I feel good about it,” he said of people appealing for his release at the United Nations this week. “Maybe I’ll be able to go home and die now.”
He paused before adding, “I’m still pissed off about what they did. What they did to me was wrong. It violated the whole Constitution of the United States.”
By Margaret Atwood
—The Guardian, May 7, 2022https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/07/enforced-childbirth-is-slavery-margaret-atwood-on-the-right-to-abortion
‘What kind of country do you want to live in?’ … Margaret Atwood. Photograph: Derek Shapton/The Guardian
Nobody likes abortion, even when safe and legal. It’s not what any woman would choose for a happy time on Saturday night. But nobody likes women bleeding to death on the bathroom floor from illegal abortions either. What to do?
Perhaps a different way of approaching the question would be to ask: What kind of country do you want to live in? One in which every individual is free to make decisions concerning his or her health and body, or one in which half the population is free and the other half is enslaved?
Women who cannot make their own decisions about whether or not to have babies are enslaved because the state claims ownership of their bodies and the right to dictate the use to which their bodies must be put. The only similar circumstance for men is conscription into an army. In both cases there is risk to the individual’s life, but an army conscript is at least provided with food, clothing, and lodging. Even criminals in prisons have a right to those things. If the state is mandating enforced childbirth, why should it not pay for prenatal care, for the birth itself, for postnatal care, and – for babies who are not sold off to richer families – for the cost of bringing up the child?
And if the state is very fond of babies, why not honour the women who have the most babies by respecting them and lifting them out of poverty? If women are providing a needed service to the state – albeit against their wills – surely they should be paid for their labour. If the goal is more babies, I am sure many women would oblige if properly recompensed. Otherwise, they are inclined to follow the natural law: placental mammals will abort in the face of resource scarcity.
But I doubt that the state is willing to go so far as to provide the needed resources. Instead, it just wants to reinforce the usual cheap trick: force women to have babies, and then make them pay. And pay. And pay. As I said, slavery.
If one chooses to have a baby, that is of course a different matter. The baby is a gift, given by life itself. But to be a gift a thing must be freely given and freely received. A gift can also be rejected. A gift that cannot be rejected is not a gift, but a symptom of tyranny.
We say that women “give birth”. And mothers who have chosen to be mothers do give birth, and feel it as a gift. But if they have not chosen, birth is not a gift they give; it is an extortion from them against their wills.
No one is forcing women to have abortions. No one either should force them to undergo childbirth. Enforce childbirth if you wish but at least call that enforcing by what it is. It is slavery: the claim to own and control another’s body, and to profit by that claim.
This is an edited extract from Burning Questions by Margaret Atwood, published by Chatto & Windus.
—The Guardian, May 7, 2022
By Charles M. Blow, May 8, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/08/opinion/supreme-court-oppression.html
Damon Winter/The New York Times
If you focus on the Supreme Court’s expansion of equal rights since the 1950s, you could see Justice Samuel Alito’s stunning, leaked draft opinion as a shocking, anomalous reversal, a decision at odds with the trajectory of the court.
But in doing so, you would also have to ignore the fact that for much of the court’s history, it has been used as an instrument of oppression.
The potential for persecution is always present in the court, lurking like a recessive gene, waiting for an opportunity to express itself.
Opponents of equality know this well. That’s why they focus so heavily on the courts. It is why Senator Mitch McConnell stole an appointment from Barack Obama and defied his own rationale for doing so — because it was an election year — to rush Amy Coney Barrett onto the court.
There are no inviolable rules for those bent on oppression. There is only winning, at all costs, no matter the casualties. Conservatives would abide a boor like Donald Trump because he could give them the judges they wanted, the judges who are now poised to reverse federal abortion protections.
The court is a product of the framers of the Constitution. And, for all their flashes of brilliance, they made some terribly flawed decisions about our government. That’s why originalists, those who believe that judgments by the court must conform to how the founders understood the Constitution when it was written, are so dangerous.
As Thurgood Marshall put it in a 1987 speech, when the founders wrote “we the people” in the preamble, “they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens.” They did not see white women as equal citizens. They didn’t see Black people as citizens at all.
As Marshall would say: “I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a Civil War and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today.”
And yet the originalists know that they can turn that clock back. They know the horrendous history of the court, and they want it to rise again.
It was the court in 1857, in the Dred Scott case, that ruled that the framers believed Black people were “beings of an inferior order” and “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect and that the Negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
As Douglas A. Blackmon laid out in his brilliant book, “Slavery by Another Name,” it was the court that in 1883 “ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the one federal law forcing whites to comply with the provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendments — awarding voting and legal rights to Blacks — could be enforced only under the most rare circumstances.” He wrote, “Civil rights was a local, not federal issue, the court found.”
Alito used similar logic in the leaked draft of his decision that would overturn Roe.
It was the court that sanctioned the architecture of Jim Crow in its “separate but equal” ruling in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. And it has continued to hand down oppressive rulings since then.
In 1927, the court upheld the forced sterilization of the disabled. In 1944, it upheld the internment of Japanese Americans. In 1986, it upheld sodomy laws in Georgia.
And now the court has signaled a willingness to revisit some of its previous rulings that increased equality and curbed oppression. In 2013, the court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and now we are entering a new Jim Crow era, as conservative state legislatures adopt waves of voter restrictions. In just a few short weeks, the fundamental right enshrined in Roe nearly 50 years ago could disappear overnight for millions of American women. What’s next? Is anything truly safe? The answer is “no.”
The court is not bound by public opinion, the will of the voters or changing mores.
The court is a permanent council that answers to no one. It can behave as it chooses. The robes can go rogue.
This is the power Republicans want — the power to overrule the will of the majority — and the courts are one of the only areas where that power can be guaranteed. Conservative activists have fought for decades for this moment. Two Republican presidents, George W. Bush and Donald Trump (neither of whom won the popular vote when he was first elected), appointed five of the nine justices on the current court.
The average age of those five justices is 61 years old. And, as Forbes noted last year, the average age of a justice leaving the court, by death or retirement, has increased to roughly 81.
Republicans and their judges may well have just ushered in a new age of oppression.
Dashawn Carter was found hanging in his cell in an apparent suicide during a time of deepening crisis for the jail.
By Winnie Hu and Jan Ransom, May 8, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/08/nyregion/inmate-death-rikers.html
A 25-year-old homeless man is believed to have committed suicide at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City on Saturday evening, according to people familiar with the case.
The man, Dashawn Carter, was found hanging from a window in his cell at the Anna M. Kross Center just two days after being transferred back to Rikers from a state psychiatric hospital, according to a person with knowledge of the circumstances surrounding his death.
Mr. Carter is the fourth person to die in custody there this year, during a time when correction officials face increasing pressure to show that they can keep inmates safe in the notorious jail complex in the East River.
Louis A. Molina, the recently appointed commissioner of New York City’s Department of Correction, has less than two weeks to present a plan to address the crisis at Rikers or risk a federal takeover of the jail.
When Mr. Carter was returned to Rikers on Thursday, mental health officials at the jail cleared him to be held in a general population housing area known as Quad Upper 12, according to the person familiar with his case.
Mr. Carter was later found slumped over in a partially seated position near his bed around 5 p.m. on Saturday, said Joseph Russo, the president of the union representing deputy wardens and assistant deputy wardens. Mr. Russo said the housing area had an officer on the floor who called for medical assistance.
Jeanette Merrill, a spokeswoman for Correctional Health Services, which provides health care in the city’s jails, declined to comment on Mr. Carter’s case, saying the provider is “unable to share patient health information because of health privacy laws.”
Correction officials said that Mr. Carter’s death was under investigation.
Mr. Carter had been taken into custody after being charged with first-degree robbery and third-degree burglary, according to the officials.
“Any death in custody is a tragic event and an impactful loss,” Commissioner Molina said in a statement on Sunday. “We are truly heartbroken for this person’s family and loved ones and we wish to express our deepest condolences. As with all deaths in custody, we will work with our partner agencies on an immediate and full investigation.”
Ms. Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American reporter who was killed in the West Bank on Wednesday, was a household name across the Middle East.
By Raja Abdulrahim, May 11, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/11/world/middleeast/shireen-abu-akleh-al-jazeera-dead.html
JERUSALEM — Shireen Abu Akleh originally studied to be an architect but her career took a different path after she decided to go into journalism instead, becoming one of the most well-known Palestinian journalists.
A Palestinian American, Ms. Abu Akleh became a familiar face on the Al Jazeera network, where she spent 25 years reporting, making her name amid the violence of the Palestinian uprising known as the second intifada, which convulsed Israel and the occupied West Bank beginning in 2000.
“I chose journalism to be close to the people,” she said in a short reel shared by Al Jazeera soon after she was killed on Wednesday by gunfire in the West Bank. “It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.”
Ms. Abu Akleh was shot in the head in the West Bank city of Jenin, Al Jazeera and the Palestinian health ministry said, blaming Israeli forces for her death. The Israeli military said on Twitter that “Palestinian armed gunfire” may have been responsible.
Born in Jerusalem to a Roman Catholic family, Ms. Abu Akleh studied in Jordan, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, according to the Palestinian agency Shehab News. She also spent time in the United States where she received U.S. citizenship.
Al Jazeera said that after graduating from college, Ms. Abu Akleh worked for several media outlets, including Voice of Palestine radio and the Amman Satellite Channel, before joining Al Jazeera in 1997.
Ms. Abu Akleh soon became a household name among Palestinians and Arabs across the Middle East, inspiring many to follow in her path. Al Jazeera said she was 51 at the time of her death.
Her live TV reporting and signoffs became iconic for those who wanted to emulate her, said Dalia Hatuqa, a Palestinian American journalist and friend of Ms. Abu Akleh’s.
“I know of a lot of girls who grew up basically standing in front of a mirror and holding their hair brushes and pretending to be Shireen,” Ms. Hatuqa said. “That’s how lasting and important her presence was.”
Her death also illustrated the dangers Palestinian journalists face doing their jobs, whether in the occupied West Bank, in Gaza or inside Israel, she said.
“Shireen was a trailblazer,” she said. “I’m just sad that she won’t be around to continue to lead in this industry.”
The Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Britain, Husam Zomlot, called her the “most prominent Palestinian journalist.”