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.
Shakaboona and his mother, Patricia Vickers
Welcome Home Shakaboona!
Comrade, client, and human rights activist Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall—imprisoned since age 17—is free after more than 33 years!
We're writing with some beautiful news:
At approximately 10:30 am yesterday morning, Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall walked out of the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia and into the free world.
Imprisoned in 1988 as a 17-year-old child and sentenced to death by incarceration in 1990, Shakaboona’s hard fought freedom marks a huge victory for inside-outside family organizing in Pennsylvania that began with the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) in 2000.
Shakaboona and his mother, Patricia Vickers, co-founded HRC in 2000 alongside other incarcerated and impacted community members, including ALC’s current Executive Director, Robert Saleem Holbook, who was imprisoned at SCI-Huntingdon at the time. ALC Legal Director and Shakaboona’s lawyer, Bret Grote, began volunteering with HRC in 2007 and six years later he co-founded ALC.
As a result of landmark Supreme Court cases Miller (2012) and Montgomery (2016) that deemed mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, Shakaboona was resentenced in 2018 to 29-to-life. Upon parole in 2021, he was transferred to federal custody to serve time on a federal sentence of 110 months imposed in 2001. That sentence was revised to time served in federal court last week after a successful petition under the federal First Step Act.
His freedom is a testament to a protracted struggle led by Shakaboona himself and his mother Patricia, collaborating with impacted families and allied abolitionist lawyers at ALC, Amistad Law Project, and All Rise Law, who’ve fought tirelessly against unconstitutional sentencing schemes such as “juvenile life without parole,” and to protect loved ones against abuse, censorship, and medical neglect while centering the mission of bringing ALL lifers – like Shakaboona – home to their communities. In an uncommon judicial decision in March 2022, a federal judge cited Shakaboona’s work with prison and political advocacy organizations, including HRC and ALC, as evidence of rehabilitation justifying re-sentencing along with other factors.
From within the confines of a prison cell, Shakaboona co-founded the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration (CADBI) and HRC’s The Movement magazine. He’s held numerous leadership positions: VP of the PA Lifers Association at SCI-Huntingdon, Committee Chairperson of the NAACP Graterford Branch, President of the Paraprofessional Law Clinic at SCI-Graterford, and Secretary of the Regents Betterment Organization at SCI-Mahanoy. To date, Shakaboona has published over 120 commentaries on Prison Radio and was also a lead plaintiff (alongside Saleem and Mumia Abul Jamal) in ALC’s 2015 lawsuit that successfully overturned a state statute that would’ve silenced prisoner free speech and censored publications of incarcerated peoples’ writings.
ALC's Legal Director, Bret Grote, noted: “Shakaboona’s family and his movement family packed the courtroom wall-to-wall and showed by their presence and participation that further incarceration was not warranted. They came to court to request that Shakaboona, who has given himself in tireless service to our movement, be returned to us and the judge was more than happy to oblige.”
Today is a proud and emotional day for our movement. We continue to be inspired by the unrelenting activism of Shakaboona and his mother Patricia.
We invite you to read more about this extraordinary journey to freedom in this blog post by Amistad Law Project, and join us in welcoming home ALC’s comrade and client, Kerry ‘Shakaboona’ Marshall.
—The Abolitionist Law Center
Laws are created to be followed
by the poor.
Laws are made by the rich
to bring some order to exploitation.
The poor are the only law abiders in history.
When the poor make laws
the rich will be no more.
—Roque Dalton Presente!
(May 14, 1935 – Assassinated May 10, 1975)
 Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.
“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 Gail Collins, May 11, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/11/opinion/roe-v-wade-senate.html
When I was back in high school — a Catholic girls’ school in Cincinnati at the beginning of the sexual revolution — our religion class covered the abortion issue in approximately 45 seconds.
“Abortion is murder,” said the priest who was giving the lesson, before moving on to more controversial topics, like necking and heavy petting. I still have a vivid memory of being marched into the auditorium for a lecture from a visiting cleric who assured us that when Jesus was dying on the cross, he was tortured by a vision of the sins of mankind — notably adolescent girls “making out with boys in the back seat of a car.”
Now, that was a long time ago, and the bottom line was at least clear and consistent: no sex except for married couples who want to have babies. You don’t hear that specific message too much in today’s political debates about reproduction, but as a way of thinking, it’s most definitely still there.
On Wednesday the Senate failed to pass a Democratic bill supporting women’s right to choose in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision going in the other direction.
During the debate, Republicans claimed most Americans are opposed to late-term abortion, while Democrats noted that polls show the public wants abortion to be a matter between a woman and her doctor. Easy to imagine both being true — most people are uncomfortable with the idea of ending a pregnancy when the fetus is well developed, but there’s long been a deeply reasonable yearning to keep the government out of a matter so private and personal.
It’s pretty clear where we’re going. The Supreme Court’s Trump-constructed majority will reject the by-now-longstanding understanding that a woman has the constitutional right to decide whether she wants to end a pregnancy. In at least 13 states, laws banning abortion could kick into place almost immediately.
Welcome to the land of my high school religion classes, people. The governor of Mississippi, when asked whether the state would move on to a ban on contraception, said, rather unnervingly, that it’s “not what we’re focused on at this time.” And the dreaded Tennessee senator Marsha Blackburn has denounced the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which covers the use of contraceptives for married couples under the constitutional right to privacy.
Blackburn says Griswold is “constitutionally unsound.” Not the only unnerving position — when Republican candidates for Michigan attorney general were asked about Griswold in a debate earlier this year, they didn’t seem to know what it was about. (One pulled out a mobile device to look it up while another complained, “I didn’t know we could have our phones up here.”)
Anyhow, the question is whether states that are able to ban abortion will march further into anti-birth-control territory. There’s bound to be a next step. The many, many activists who have focused their political careers on constraining women’s sexual activity aren’t going to just declare victory and go home.
In Louisiana, lawmakers are considering a proposal to classify ending a pregnancy at any point from the moment of fertilization as homicide. And the Idaho State Legislature may hold hearings on outlawing emergency contraceptives, a reminder that when we’re talking about “states’ rights,” we should think about trusting your fate to a roomful of state legislators.
All this is basically about punishing women who want to have sex for pleasure. It’s a concept with a long tradition in American history. Back in 1873, Congress began to pass a series of laws prohibiting dissemination through the mail of birth control literature, drugs or devices. Later, when a journalist asked Anthony Comstock, founder of the New York Commission on the Suppression of Vice, whether it would be all right for a woman to use contraceptives if pregnancy would endanger her life, Comstock snapped: “Can they not use self-control? Or must they sink to the level of beasts?”
OK, the current debate is probably not going to get quite that far. But it’s important to note that the policies we’re talking about here are basically a matter of legislating the religious beliefs of just one segment of the public.
The goal of the Democratic Senate bill was mainly to get the public focused on the reproductive rights issue before the fall elections. And that certainly couldn’t hurt. There have to be voters out there who aren’t all that geared up about going to the polls but who might be moved if they got to hear the speech by Republican Steve Daines of Montana that praised anti-abortion laws as being similar to ones “that protect the eggs of a sea turtle or the eggs of eagles.”
Those sea turtles have been coming up a lot in this debate. Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma, in a long, emotional speech, recounted a confrontation with abortion rights demonstrators who pointed out there was a difference between laws protecting a woman’s right to choose and laws protecting endangered species.
“And I’m called the extremist,” Lankford declared. He added, “If people call me a radical for believing children are valuable — so be it.”
Actually, people call Lankford a radical for believing that the reproductive experiences of female water-dwelling reptiles are comparable to the experiences of human beings whose offspring will need and deserve many years of constant care and concern in order to prosper.
Why has the union campaign spread so much further at the coffee chain than at the e-commerce giant?
By Noam Scheiber, May 12, 2022
Uriel Concepción, who works at Amazon’s LDJ5 warehouse on Staten Island, wore an Amazon Labor Union flag during a rally last month. Workers at the facility rejected joining the union. Credit...DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York Times
Roughly six weeks after successful union votes at two Buffalo-area Starbucks stores in December, workers had filed paperwork to hold union elections in at least 20 other Starbucks locations nationwide.
By contrast, since the Amazon Labor Union’s victory last month in a vote at a huge warehouse on Staten Island, workers at just one other Amazon facility have filed for a union election — with an obscure union with a checkered past — before promptly withdrawing their petition.
The difference may come as a surprise to those who believed that organizing at Amazon might follow the explosive pattern witnessed at Starbucks, where workers at more than 250 stores have filed for elections and the union has prevailed at a vast majority of the locations that have voted.
Christian Smalls, the president of the independent Amazon Labor Union, told NPR shortly after the victory that his group had heard from workers in 50 other Amazon facilities, adding, “Just like the Starbucks movement, we want to spread like wildfire across the nation.”
The two campaigns share some features — most notably, both are largely overseen by workers rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon Labor Union has made more headway at Amazon than most experts expected, and more than any established union.
But unionizing workers at Amazon was always likely to be a longer, messier slog given the scale of its facilities and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is so much harder a nut to crack,” John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University, said by email. The union recently lost a vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.
To win, a union must get the backing of more than 50 percent of the workers who cast a vote. That means 15 or 20 pro-union workers can ensure victory in a typical Starbucks store — a level of support that can be summoned in hours or days. At Amazon warehouses, a union frequently would have to win hundreds or thousands of votes.
Organizers for the Amazon Labor Union spent hundreds of hours talking with co-workers inside the warehouse during breaks, after work and on days off. They held cookouts at a bus stop outside the warehouse and communicated with hundreds of colleagues through WhatsApp groups.
Brian Denning, who leads an Amazon organizing campaign sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America chapter in Portland, Ore., said his group had received six or seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors after the Staten Island victory, versus one or two a week beforehand.
But Mr. Denning, a former Amazon warehouse employee who tells workers that they are the ones who must lead a union campaign, said that many didn’t realize how much effort unionizing required, and that some became discouraged once he conferred with them.
“We get people saying how do we get an A.L.U. situation here? How do we do that like they did?” Mr. Denning said, adding: “I don’t want to scare them away. But I can’t lie to workers. This is what it is. It’s not for everyone.”
At Starbucks, employees work together in a relatively small space, sometimes without a manager present to supervise them directly for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about pay and working conditions and the merits of a union.
At Amazon, the warehouses are cavernous, and workers are often more isolated and more closely supervised, especially during an organizing campaign.
“What they would do is strategically separate me from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who is one of the union’s vice presidents. “If they see me interacting with that person, they would move them to a different station.”
Asked about the allegation, Amazon said it assigned employees to work stations and tasks based on operational needs.
Both companies have accused the unions of their own unfair tactics, including intimidating workers and inciting hostile confrontations.
Organizing drivers is an even greater challenge, partly because they are officially employed by contractors that Amazon hires, though labor organizers say they would like to pressure the company to address drivers’ concerns.
Christy Cameron, a former driver at an Amazon facility near St. Louis, said the job’s setup largely kept drivers from interacting. At the beginning of each shift, a manager for the contractor briefs drivers, who then disperse to their trucks, help load them and get on the road.
“It leaves very little time to talk with co-workers outside of a hello,” Ms. Cameron said in a text message, adding that Amazon’s training discouraged discussing working conditions with fellow drivers. “It was generally how they are highly against unionizing and don’t talk about pay and benefits with each other.”
Amazon, with about a million U.S. workers, and Starbucks, with just under 250,000, offer similar pay. Amazon has said that its minimum hourly wage is $15 and that the average starting wage in warehouses is above $18. Starbucks has said that as of August its minimum hourly wage will be $15 and that the average will be nearly $17.
Despite the similarity in pay, organizers say the dynamics of the companies’ work forces can be quite different.
At the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against unionizing, many employees work four-hour shifts and commute 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they have limited alternatives.
“People who go to that length for a four-hour job — it’s a particular group of people who are really struggling to make it,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime labor organizer who advised the Amazon Labor Union in the two Staten Island elections, in an interview last month.
As a result of all this, organizing at Amazon may involve incremental gains rather than high-profile election victories. In the Minneapolis area, a group of primarily Somali-speaking Amazon workers has staged protests and received concessions from the company, such as a review process for firings related to productivity targets. Chicago-area workers involved in the group Amazonians United received pay increases not long after a walkout in December.
Ted Miin, an Amazon worker who is one of the group’s members, said the concessions had followed eight or nine months of organizing, versus the minimum of two years he estimates it would have taken to win a union election and negotiate a first contract.
For workers who seek a contract, the processes for negotiating one at Starbucks and Amazon may differ. In most cases, bargaining for improvements in compensation and working conditions requires additional pressure on the employer.
At Starbucks, that pressure is in some sense the union’s momentum from election victories. “The spread of the campaign gives the union the ability to win in bargaining,” Mr. Logan said. (Starbucks has nonetheless said it will withhold new pay and benefit increases from workers who have unionized, saying such provisions must be bargained.)
At Amazon, by contrast, the pressure needed to win a contract will probably come through other means. Some are conventional, like continuing to organize warehouse employees, who could decide to strike if Amazon refuses to recognize them or bargain. The company is challenging the union victory on Staten Island.
But the union is also enlisting political allies with an eye toward pressuring Amazon. Mr. Smalls, the union president, testified this month at a Senate hearing that was exploring whether the federal government should deny contracts to companies that violate labor laws.
On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced legislation seeking to prevent employers from deducting anti-union activity, like hiring consultants to dissuade workers from unionizing, as a business expense.
While many of these efforts may be more symbolic than substantive, some appear to have gotten traction. After the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it was awarding Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo hub, a coalition of community, labor and environmental groups mobilized against the project.
The status of the lease, which was to become final by late last year, remains unclear. The Port Authority said that lease negotiations with Amazon were continuing and that it continued to seek community input. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company was confident the deal would close.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey indicated that the company might have to negotiate with labor groups before the deal could go forward. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to work collaboratively with labor partners in good faith,” the spokeswoman said.
Karen Weise contributed reporting.
By Jamelle Bouie, May 13, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/13/opinion/overturning-roe-democracy-equality.html
Shuran Huang for The New York Times
The Pro-Democracy Argument Against Roe Falters When It Meets Reality
By Jamelle Bouie, May 13, 2022
A significant part of the case against Roe v. Wade is that the Supreme Court was wrong to intervene in 1973 to recognize a constitutional right to abortion while the democratic process was still playing out. Better, instead, to have left the issue to the states — to voters and elected officials — who could then tailor their laws to their respective communities.
Justice Samuel Alito takes note of this in his draft opinion overruling Roe. “In some states,” he writes, “voters may believe that the abortion right should be even more extensive than the right that Roe and Casey recognized.” Voters in other states, he continues, “may wish to impose tight restrictions based on their belief that abortion destroys an ‘unborn human being.’” He concludes that “Our nation’s historical understanding of ordered liberty does not prevent the people’s elected representatives from deciding how abortion should be regulated.”
The end of Roe, in this telling, is a victory for democracy against judgeocracy.
That might be true, if Americans lived with fair and representative institutions. But they don’t. And even if they did, there’s more to democracy than just voting or the process of making a law.
Which is to say that the pro-democracy argument against Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to have an abortion falters on a few key realities. The first relates to democratic government, or the lack thereof, in the states. The second relates to the expansion of state power inherent in any effective law against abortion. And the third concerns the intimate relationship between bodily autonomy and political equality.
On the first point, let’s begin with a little Madison. Among the most famous essays in American political thought is Federalist No. 10. In it, James Madison makes his case for the “extended republic” against naysayers who argue that the United States is too big to be a functional country with a representative government.
His argument, in brief, is that the smaller the republic, the more acute the “violence of faction” (defined here as a group united by “some common impulse of passion or of interest” and “adverse to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”) to its citizens.
“The smaller the society,” Madison writes,
the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.
He concludes that if you
extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and act in unison with each other.
Madison’s point is that a federal union will be less vulnerable to the “mischiefs of faction” than the states it comprises, that “the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular states, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other states.”
Now, Madison’s theory isn’t airtight (mostly because it doesn’t anticipate the emergence of national political parties), but it isn’t wrong either. It is easier for narrow factions to win power at the state level than for them to win control of the federal government.
And this, in essence, is what has happened with abortion.
Last year, in a review of public opinion data, the Pew Research Center found 14 states where a majority of adults agreed that “abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.” State legislatures in each may well outlaw the practice if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade. But so will legislatures in states where a majority of adults support legal abortion in all or most cases. Fifty-six percent of Florida adults, according to Pew, support the status quo under Roe. Despite this, Florida lawmakers have already passed a 15-week abortion ban. A similar situation exists in Oklahoma, where 51 percent of adults support the right to an abortion in most cases but where the Republican governor just signed a far stricter ban into law. Then there are states — like Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin — where pre-Roe bans may take immediate effect if Roe is overturned.
But, Alito might say, if voters do not want their states to ban abortion, they can elect representatives who will then take steps to protect it.
That’s not so simple. Thanks to Alito’s own votes and opinions (and those of his conservative colleagues) in Shelby County v. Holder, Rucho v. Common Cause and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, state legislatures have nearly free rein to restrict voting, gerrymander in a hyperpartisan fashion and otherwise insulate themselves from democratic accountability.
A pro-Roe electoral majority might exist in Wisconsin, but the state Republican Party has gerrymandered itself into durable control of the legislature; it only needs a minority of voters to win a majority of seats. The same is true in states like Ohio and North Carolina where — according to a New York Times analysis of public opinion data — most adults support Roe.
In other words, there are a number of states — home to tens of millions of Americans — where voters may not actually have the power to elect lawmakers to protect the abortion rights they say they want. If states and state legislatures are supposed to be the places where democracy happens — and that itself is debatable — then these facts are a real challenge for the pro-democracy case against Roe.
Next is the matter of the abortion bans themselves.
Although anti-abortion activists insist that they intend only to penalize providers and clinics, lawmakers in Republican-led states have already introduced bills that would criminalize patients as well. But even if that weren’t the case, there’s simply no way to enforce an abortion ban without the state intruding deeply into women’s lives.
Think about what it would take to establish that someone had an illegal abortion. The state and its agents would need access to everything from search results, call histories, text messages and medical records to bank statements, social media posts and location data. It would need to turn its attention to anyone who may have helped, friends and family included. (To this point, the Texas bounty law extends legal liability in exactly this manner.)
The state would need to treat the womb — any womb — as a potential crime scene, with anything other than a healthy birth as evidence of a possible crime. A miscarriage or stillbirth would have to invite the same scrutiny as an abortion. There is no other place a total ban can go. Indeed, this kind of scrutiny is already part of daily life for many women, especially those who are either poor, nonwhite or both. The criminalization of pregnancy is not new, but it is poised to get much worse.
There’s a word for this, and it’s certainly not “democracy.”
Which brings us to the final problem with the idea that a world without Roe is somehow more democratic. Democracy rests, on paper at least, on the idea of political equality — that all citizens have equal standing and equal say when it comes to representation and political decision-making.
But equal standing is undermined and eroded when the state can effectively seize your person for its own ends — that is, when it can force you to give birth. And the erosion of political equality has social consequences; it leads to disregard and disrespect, to treating the people in question as a subordinate class.
We know this. Prisoners represent the most extreme end. They are citizens, but they are not political equals. We see it in our history as well; before Jim Crow, there was the decades-long effort to erode the already tenuous political standing of Black Americans in the aftermath of Reconstruction.
To put the right to have an abortion up for debate is to put the bodily autonomy of women up for debate. There’s no other way to spin it. It’s just the nature of the thing. And to put the bodily autonomy of women up for debate is to degrade their citizenship, their social standing and their political equality.
Assuming Roe is overturned, there may be more legislators casting votes over the right to have an abortion, but that’s not the same as more democracy. Just the opposite: States that ban abortion will undermine the values of democracy and curtail the liberty of their citizens. Subjected to surveillance and criminal scrutiny, people who give birth in those states — and those who support their right to privacy and bodily autonomy — will live with a degraded form of citizenship.
Democracy is substantive as well as procedural; it is a set of values as well as a set of processes. Our system can and should be much more representative than it is. But even if it were, a democracy that allows this strict control of reproduction — that curtails the rights of its citizens in this manner — isn’t worthy of the name.
Video showed police officers in Jerusalem beating and kicking mourners next to the coffin of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera reporter who was killed on Wednesday, forcing one to the ground.
By Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim
JERUSALEM — Israeli police officers on Friday assaulted mourners at the funeral procession of a prominent Palestinian American journalist killed this week in the occupied West Bank, forcing pallbearers to nearly drop the coffin.
Video showed police officers in Jerusalem beating and kicking pallbearers carrying the coffin that contained the body of the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, forcing another mourner to the ground and pushing the pallbearers backward. Many around them waved Palestinian flags.
The incident occurred outside a hospital in East Jerusalem, where mourners had gathered to take the coffin of Ms. Abu Akleh, who was a Christian, to a nearby church for her funeral.
In a statement, the Israeli police said they “took enforcement action” after some mourners began chanting “nationalist incitement” and after police officers had given the crowd a warning. As the coffin was carried out of the hospital, police said, they were “forced to act” because “rioters began throwing stones toward the policemen.”
Ms. Abu Akleh was shot dead on Wednesday morning in the occupied West Bank during an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin. Witnesses said she was killed by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli Army said on Friday that while it was possible Ms. Abu Akleh was mistakenly killed by Israeli fire, its initial investigation suggested that she might also have been hit by a Palestinian gunman.
On Thursday, Israeli police warned Ms. Abu Akleh’s family about displaying “flags and slogans” at the funeral, said Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.
At one point during the funeral a man holding up a wreath stood between the pallbearers and police. Later, as the black hearse carrying her coffin began to slowly make its way through the crowd, an Israeli police officer ripped three Palestinian flags off the vehicle and threw them to the ground, video showed.
Church bells throughout the Old City rang out as mourners chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Shireen.”
A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the Israeli public security minister, Omer Bar Lev, who oversees the police.
The funeral was attended by thousands of people and came a day after a state memorial service was held in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mourners stood in the courtyard of the Palestinian Authority’s presidential headquarters to eulogize and bid farewell to a person considered by many Palestinians to be a trailblazing journalist.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, awarded her the Star of Jerusalem, also known as the Quds Star. One of the highest honors the Palestinian president can bestow, it is traditionally awarded to ministers, ambassadors and members of Parliament. Mr. Abbas described Ms. Abu Akleh as a “martyr for truth and for the free word.”
She will be buried in Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery, next to her parents.
Hiba Yazbek contributed reporting from Nazareth, Israel, and Iyad Abu Hweila from Gaza City.
Women inmates are less dangerous than incarcerated men. Their prisons should reflect that reality.
By Ginia Bellafante, May 14, 2022
Ginia Bellafante writes the Big City column, a weekly commentary on the politics, culture and life of New York City.
The Rose M. Singer Center — known to inmates as “Rosie’s” — houses women detainees on the Rikers Island Prison Complex. Credit...Bryan Thomas for The New York Times
One Saturday morning in 1992, as she was coming home from a night shift as a home health aide, Sharon White got off the subway a few stops early at Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, hoping to find a bathroom. At the station, she ran into a high-school friend, Judy, whom she had not seen in a long time and who offered to take her to the apartment of a man she was dating. It wasn’t far away, and she could use the bathroom at his place. Ms. White took her up on the offer and left the apartment after a few minutes. Sometime later, she realized that her purse was missing, so the next morning she went back to the apartment in hopes of retrieving it.
When she arrived, Judy’s friend told her he had not seen it but that she was welcome to come in and look around. Unable to find the purse, she began to leave. It was at that point that he grabbed her arm and pinned her against a sink.
“I wanted him off me,” she told me recently. “He was choking me. I understood that this guy had been drinking.” There was a roommate in the apartment but he did not respond to her screaming. So she grabbed a knife, stabbed the man who was trying to rape her and ran off.
As a result, Ms. White (now the Rev. Sharon White-Harrigan) would spend a year at Rikers Island on a manslaughter charge and another decade at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. During that time, her mother died and her daughter grew up, and she took stock of the many flaws in the system, chief among them “that the law does not meet trauma,” as she explained it.
Four years ago, she helped found an organization called the Women’s Community Justice Association, with the aim of improving the lives of incarcerated women. Recently, she has been focused on getting the women’s facility at Rikers closed ahead of schedule.
Conditions at New York City’s largest jail are notoriously bad, but little attention has been paid to the circumstances of female detainees, 80 percent of whom are mothers and 77 percent of whom are victims of domestic violence. Currently, the city plans to close Rikers entirely and move to a system of smaller “community” jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens by 2027. But the Rose M. Singer jail — incongruously known as “Rosie’s” — will be the very last to shut down, even though women are far less likely to get into trouble while incarcerated and far less likely to reoffend, according to Vincent Schiraldi, the city’s former corrections commissioner. In 2019, women arrested in New York were 49 percent less likely than men to be arrested for a violent crime within one year.
Of the roughly 5,400 people currently kept at Rikers, only around 300 are women. What confounds Ms. White-Harrigan and Mr. Schiraldi, who now presides over Columbia University’s Justice Lab, is the city’s plan to move the female population to a facility in Queens that would have to be built from the ground up and that would be connected to a men’s jail. As several members of the New York State Legislature put it in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul asking for an alternative, the proximity puts women at risk of exposure to their abusers.
As it happens, there is an alternative, whose implementation ought to be self-evident. Advocates are proposing that the women be moved to a vacant state prison in Harlem, shuttered in 2019 and closer to some of the neighborhoods in which many women entering the system are coming from, crucially making it easier for their families to visit, which is known to reduce recidivism.
The argument made in a recent paper produced by the Justice Lab and Women’s Community Justice Association is that prisons have been historically designed for men and have neglected the particular needs of women — chiefly that they are caregivers and that they so often have been the victims of violent crime. In effect, rehabilitation, including therapy, should begin immediately, the entry process sped up so that women aren’t spending days in central booking without access to a shower, for example. And more women, the paper argues, should be on staff at the facility.
“Everybody who stands before a judge, their history is really not there,” Ms. White-Harrigan told me. “It’s pieced together by people who don’t really know the story. The system already has a narrative about you.” By the time that she was arrested for stabbing her attacker years ago, Ms. White-Harrigan had already suffered through an abusive relationship. “The thought of someone trying to violate you is unbearable,” she said.
Ultimately, the decision to move in this direction will be up to the governor and Mayor Eric Adams, who has not expressed especially progressive leanings around changes in the jail system.
“What I want is for people to get their trauma treated,” Ms. White-Harrigan said. “Trauma is the driver of a lot of things. Subconsciously, you have this built-up anger. In this new place, we want to operate from a healing perspective. Even if someone had to go upstate for some time, she would know that she is on the pathway to healing and wellness.
“This isn’t just about creating a new building,” she added. “It is about a creating a new culture that allows people to get to where they need to be. There is justice without punishment. You can hold people accountable without leaving them worse than when they came in.”
By Jesse McKinley, Alex Traub and Troy Closson
The Tops grocery store in Buffalo, where 10 people were killed on Saturday in a mass shooting. Credit...Malik Rainey for The New York Times
BUFFALO — A teenage gunman espousing a white supremacist ideology known as replacement theory opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo on Saturday, methodically shooting and killing 10 people and injuring three more, almost all of them Black, in one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history.
The authorities identified the gunman as 18-year-old Payton S. Gendron of Conklin, a small town in New York’s rural Southern Tier. Mr. Gendron drove more than 200 miles to mount his attack, which he also live streamed, the police said, a chilling video feed that appeared designed to promote his sinister agenda.
Shortly after Mr. Gendron was captured, a manifesto believed to have been posted online by the gunman emerged, riddled with racist, anti-immigrant views that claimed white Americans were at risk of being replaced by people of color. In the video that appeared to have been captured by the camera affixed to his helmet, an anti-Black racial slur can be seen on the barrel of his weapon.
The attack, at a Tops Friendly Market in a largely Black neighborhood in east Buffalo, conjured grim comparisons to a series of other massacres motivated by racism, including the killing of nine Black parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015; an antisemitic rampage in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 that left 11 people dead; and an attack at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019, where the man charged had expressed hatred of Latinos. More than 20 people died there.
In the Buffalo grocery store, where four employees were shot, the savagery and planning were evident: Mr. Gendron was armed with an assault weapon and wore body armor, the police said. And his preferred victims seemed clear as well: All told, 11 of the people shot were Black and two were white, the authorities said.
“It was a straight up racially motivated hate crime,” John Garcia, the Erie County sheriff, said.
Nearly two weeks after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, protesters gathered in Washington, New York and other cities.
By Madeleine Ngo and Lola Fadulu, May 14, 2022https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/14/us/abortion-rights-march.html
WASHINGTON — In the nation’s capital, protesters marched to the Supreme Court in the rain while chanting “We will not go back” and “Abortion is a human right.” In New York, thousands crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. And in Los Angeles, demonstrators filled a park near City Hall to show their support for abortion rights.
Thousands of protesters converged in cities across the country on Saturday, nearly two weeks after the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Gathering near the Washington Monument, some wore shirts that read “Bans Off Our Bodies” and “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.” They vowed to fight to preserve abortion rights, even as some accepted that Roe would most likely be overturned.
Colleen Lunsford, 42, a lawyer from Arlington, Va., brought her 5-year-old daughter, Orla. Pointing to her daughter, she said she attended the march for “her future and autonomy.”
“I’m terrified,” Ms. Lunsford said. “We did our best to elect a Democratic president and House and Senate, and this is still happening.”
More than 450 marches were set to take place in cities across the country on Saturday, including Chicago, Nashville, and Austin, Texas, according to Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the executive director of the Women’s March, a nonprofit organization that helped coordinate the events.
Organizers had been planning a national march for abortion rights before the draft opinion leaked, but they fast-tracked Saturday’s events after the draft was published. Ms. O’Leary Carmona said she hoped the events would allow demonstrators to “build power, both civically and electorally.”
“Folks are mobilizing because they see that the hour is later than we thought,” she said.
The marches took place after the publication this month of the draft opinion, which showed that the Supreme Court appeared poised to overturn Roe, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The court’s ruling is not expected until June or early July.
With the midterm elections months away, President Biden and congressional Democrats are hoping to use the issue to energize voters. Democratic senators failed on Wednesday to advance legislation to guarantee abortion rights nationwide in the face of opposition from Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
In Washington, Elizabeth Moser, 34, a communications specialist from Burke, Va., said she hoped the marches would galvanize voters and politicians.
Although she had been planning to vote in the midterms, she said she was now considering driving people to the polls and texting her friends to encourage them to attend other rallies in support of abortion rights.
“I’m out here trying to build a movement,” said Ms. Moser, who wore a red bandanna and held up a sign that read, “I will not go quietly back to the 1950s.”
At around 2 p.m., demonstrators began the walk to the Supreme Court as No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” blared from speakers and light rain began to fall, dampening posters.
Gazing at the crowd, Alla Stepanov, 26, a chemist who drove to the rally from Baltimore, said she was excited to see the show of solidarity. Still, she said she was not sure what the Supreme Court would ultimately decide.
“I never thought that someone like Trump would be elected,” she said. “I thought that was a joke until it wasn’t a joke. So in these recent years, I kind of don’t know what to expect. I don’t have a lot of trust.”
There were few counterprotesters. One man standing on the sidewalk beside marchers condemned the demonstration and carried a black sign with flames around the edges that read, “Jesus Is Coming Very Soon.” Over the noise of protesters chanting “My body, my choice,” the man said he would “never shut up.”
In Brooklyn, thousands of abortion rights supporters gathered in Cadman Plaza Park before marching to Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. Volunteers offered snacks and signs with phrases like “Stand With Black Women.”
Several elected officials led the group for a while on the way to Foley Square, including Mayor Eric Adams; Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; and Letitia James, the state attorney general. They walked behind a green banner that read: “Our Bodies Our Abortions.”
City Councilwoman Crystal Hudson, who represents several neighborhoods in Brooklyn, said she was especially concerned about what overturning Roe would mean for low-income and Black and brown people.
“We need to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to maintain access and keep abortion legal,” Ms. Hudson said.
Khloe Rains, 35, a college student, said she was devastated and angry when she learned about the draft ruling.
“Without abortion, I would not be here,” said Ms. Rains, who stood in the Brooklyn park with her 5-month-old daughter, Hendrix, and 3-year-old son, Jagger. At five months pregnant in November 2020, she said, she started losing large amounts of blood, forcing her medical providers to perform an abortion to save her life.
“I very much wanted my daughter,” she said, “but I was bleeding and there was nothing they could do.”
For some, protesting the draft opinion was not just about protecting the right to abortion.
Lillian Penafiel, 35, and her wife, Emi Penafiel, 44, worried about what the court’s ruling could mean for marriage equality, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and voting rights.
“They’ve been very clear, especially what was written up, that our rights are going to be threatened as well, too, so that’s why we’re nervous,” said Emi Penafiel. “They’re coming after all of it.”
Many parents came with their children. Sonia Reiter, 41, who is pregnant, brought her 5-year-old son, Casio Coleman, to the march to educate him on the importance of choice, she said.
“Casio, how did we talk about today’s protest, what’d we say?” Ms. Reiter asked her son. “If someone wants to be pregnant, they should be pregnant — and if they don’t want to be pregnant?”
“They shouldn’t,” he replied, beaming at his mother.
In Los Angeles, protesters filled Grand Park in front of City Hall and chanted phrases such as, “We won’t go back, we won’t back down!” An estimated 5,000 people were on hand.
Senator Alex Padilla, Democrat of California, took the stage to lament the potential demise of Roe, vowing to fight for the right to abortion in every state.
“We will not stand by and watch while extremist politicians make rules for your body,” Mr. Padilla said. “You make the right decisions for your own body. No one else.”
Renee Chanon, 84, said she has been campaigning for women’s rights since the 1970s, when she first began protesting in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Now, half a century later, she said she was demonstrating against what she called a “horrifying” leaked opinion.
“It’s hard to believe that we’re still doing the same thing, but then, if you look at your history, you’ll see that it took us almost 100 years to win the right to vote,” Ms. Chanon said. “That’s just what it’s taken and what it’s going to take in our society.”
Whatever the cost of any student loan cancellation program, it’ll just be money we should have spent on higher education in the first place.
By Ron Lieber, May 13, 2022
Let’s stop the conversation about student loan forgiveness and start one about the necessity of saying we’re sorry.
After all, it’s not the borrowers who did anything wrong — it’s the country. We’re the ones who should be asking their forgiveness.
Teenagers go to college because we tell them to. Many people in their 20s pursue graduate education because an advanced degree is what they need to prosecute criminals, cure cancer and teach or counsel those teenagers.
And for decades we’ve failed these students over and over.
We’ve left them mostly on their own to pay for the betterment of themselves and society, and then heaped one administrative burden after another on them along the way.
Pell Grants should be renamed in honor of Ebenezer Scrooge. Franz Kafka appears to have written the rules governing our student debt system, while Rube Goldberg collects the monthly payments.
And if you can’t pay? The legal guidelines in bankruptcy court often demand that those wanting out from under their student loans quite literally have a “certainty of hopelessness.” Those woebegone souls must prostrate themselves in front of judges, begging their honors to declare them complete and total failures.
Forgiveness for these sins might — might — be reasonable. After all, plenty of policymakers were at least trying to do the right thing along the way as this slow-motion monstrosity came into focus.
If President Biden removes $10,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower, it would total $321 billion, according to Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimates. That would leave 69 percent of debtors with remaining balances.
That is a large dollar figure, but its size ought to help reframe the national conversation around what we owe the victims of this scandalous failure of public policy. This is especially true for the roughly 40 percent of borrowers who acquired some debt but did not get a degree after six years — and thus lack the earning power that a diploma often brings, according to Mark Huelsman, the director of policy and advocacy at the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, who looked at students entering in the 2011-12 school year.
Still not convinced that the nation should ask debtors for absolution, and not the other way around? Consider the facts.
First, there’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which for decades has yoked millions of students and families each year to its cumbersome form, confusing questions and confounding — and infuriating — “expected family contribution.” New legislation brings the number of questions down to a maximum of 36 from 108, but it, too, is so complex that it’s taking years to fully carry out the changes. And that does nothing to address the chasm that exists between what the federal system (and a second one, the CSS Profile, that many private colleges use) “expects” and what feels realistic to many families.
So what about Pell Grants?
They were named for Senator Claiborne Pell in 1980, though earlier versions existed for years because it had long been clear that the lowest-income teenagers couldn’t afford many colleges. But the help those grants offer has dwindled because legislators did not set the annual amount per person to track any index of college costs.
Phillip Levine, a Wellesley College economics professor and the author of a new book called “A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of Pricing Hurts Students — and Universities,” has calculated just how far short this can leave low-income students.
Take teenagers from households with about $37,000 in income, which is about the 25th percentile of income and assets. By his calculations, the public schools he examined will ask the students who live on campus to pay around $14,000 each year, after accounting for Pell Grants and other scholarships. Even if these students max out their federal loans — $5,500 for most of those freshmen — and take a job via the federal work-study program, there will still be thousands of dollars each year left to cover. No one is minding that gap.
As we ask these teenagers to borrow tens of thousands of dollars that we’d never lend them for anything else, the government provides a menu of loan options. With some of this debt, interest starts ticking right away, years before you can even have a legal beer.
There wouldn’t be so much of a debt problem if, as a nation, we made a priority of subsidizing public higher education. But we don’t. Among the 26 nations that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development surveys, only Britain has higher average tuition for public universities than the United States.
Things don’t look much better when you examine American states. Appropriations per student in 2020 were exactly where they were in 1994, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. But over the same 26-year period, net tuition revenue per student has risen 71 percent to $6,726 a year.
If you think the borrowing is bad, we make it worse through the dystopian nightmare that is repayment. If only we could be Australia, which has a dead-simple system. The taxing authorities there help determine what you must pay: The more you make, the higher the percentage of your income that you shell out. Young adults there are aghast at how much their American peers must struggle with the bureaucracy we’ve painstakingly constructed.
Federal student loan borrowers are blessed with so-called servicers who handle their pile of individual loans. The indebted repay these loans, of which there are multiple types, through at least half a dozen types of repayment plans.
Borrowers don’t get to choose their servicer, but they do suffer the consequences when, as all manner of government investigators have noted repeatedly, the servicer makes a hash of the process by giving them terrible advice when they ask for help.
These servicers have often failed to help borrowers qualify for one good thing the government has done for borrowers: the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. It is supposed to allow those serving the public good to have their debts wiped out after 120 months of payments. The result was a decade-long mess that the Biden administration has tried to fix.
There are other ways to qualify for loan cancellation. You could be a victim of fraud if your school misled you, which was the case for thousands of students who attended for-profit colleges. That relief program ground to a near halt during the Trump administration, but at least there’s some progress lately.
Another way: You can spend a couple of decades not making enough money to afford your loan payments. If you get into one of the federal income-driven repayment plans and make payments for 20 or 25 years (it depends on your plan, of course) without paying off all you owe, the government will cancel your remaining balance. If you do end up with that result — and your servicer (or servicers) correctly tracked your payment history — you could get a tax bill, since our laws state that many forms of canceled debt are actually income. America!
And if it just becomes impossible — your partner gets sick, your child gets sick, your parent gets sick — even bankruptcy is unlikely to help. Unlike any other debt, federal student loans are often subject to that unique and horrifying standard: the certainty of hopelessness.
How did the bankruptcy rules for student loans get so harsh? Here’s one reason: Back in 2005, a senator named Joe Biden sided with legislators who wanted to make things a whole lot harder for many student loan borrowers to discharge their debt, fearing that fledgling doctors, lawyers and others would game the system to get off scot-free.
Mr. Biden was defensive about this on the campaign trail, but his platform promised relief of all sorts. I’d like to think that his refusal thus far to rule out loan cancellation comes, at least in part, from his own guilt over what has happened since 2005.
Whether or not Mr. Biden does cancel any debt, our nation owes student loan borrowers an apology, which he might as well deliver himself.
And if that apology does come with loan cancellation, consider it payback for all the support that tens of millions of teenagers never had in the first place.