Bay Area United Against War Newsletter, September 26, 2023




Wednesday, September 27 - Friday, September 29, 2023

In-person at various locations & livestream

Mobilization4Mumia.com mobilization4mumia@gmail.com


(Times here are Eastern Standard Time)

Contact: Sophia Williams 917-806-0521; Gabe Bryant 215-687-3754; Joe Piette 610-931-2615

The Feminist Fight to Bring Mumia Home: Opening Panel of Brown University

Symposium “Voices of Mass Incarceration” Wednesday, September 27, 2023 | 7 – 9 p.m.

Salomon Center for Teaching and Learning, DeCiccio Family Auditorium


 Angela Y. Davis - Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Cruz

 Johanna Fernández ‘93 - Associate Professor, Department of History, Baruch College, CUNY

 Julia Wright - Author, Mumia Abu-Jamal United Nations Liaison Group


Tricia Rose - Chancellor's Professor of Africana Studies, Associate Dean of the Faculty for Special Initiatives, Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Brown University


 7 - 7:10 p.m. - Opening remarks and panelist introductions by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve - Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Brown University

 7:10 - 8:45 p.m. - Keynote panel discussion

 8:45 - 9 p.m. - Q&A

 9 - 10 p.m. - Reception in Sayles Hall, located next door to the Salomon Center

Registration required:


A Black Panther Party veteran, community activist and revolutionary journalist, Mumia Abu Jamal was framed for the murder of a white Philadelphia cop. As a result of police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in a highly contested trial, Abu-Jamal was given the racist death sentence in July 1982. Since 1981, he has been incarcerated under inhumane and illegal imprisonment — including 29 years in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Abu-Jamal’s defense team filed a 6th PCRA petition on Dec. 23, 2021, pertaining to the newest evidence from six hitherto unknown boxes of files on the case found in a closet of the Philadelphia's District Attorney's Office, first disclosed to the defense in January 2019. On March 31, 2023 Judge Lucretia Clemons once again denied all arguments, despite the new evidence.

Abu-Jamal’s health is precarious. He is 69 years old. He had double bypass surgery in March 2020, renal failure in 2017, and has been refused necessary cardiac rehabilitation. As an ill elder, who has suffered from cataracts, hepatitis B/renal failure, and debilitating skin rashes, and because he has been unjustly incarcerated, Mumia Abu-Jamal should be released immediately.

As of 2022, the United States’ vast carceral system imprisons two million people — more than any other nation and with a growth rate of 500% since 1970. Though government and institutional records on incarceration, law, and policy abound, there is a paucity of archival materials by incarcerated individuals, their families, and advocates.

There are fewer than twenty archival collections in the U.S. that represent individuals who are incarcerated. Most of these are small (5 folders; a handful of diaries). Until now, none of these have been collected directly from a currently incarcerated individual.

Voices of Mass Incarceration in the United States will provide essential research material to advance scholarship on the carceral state and its historical antecedents.





Zaid Abdulnasser, the coordinator of Samidoun Network’s chapter in Germany, and member of the Palestinian Alternative Revolutionary Path Movement, is currently being threatened by the German state that his residency as a Palestinian refugee born in Syria will be revoked due to his political engagement in Samidoun and Masar Badil.


In the face of this attack, more than 130 international organisations, unions, and political parties, have expressed their absolute refusal of Germany’s ever increasing repressive measures against Palestinian refugees and their fundamental right to struggle for their liberation and return.


We call for organisations to join us by signing the statement under the following link:



To financially support the legal defence of Zaid and other Palestinians in Germany bearing the brunt of the state’s repressive measures against Palestine, you can make a donation to the following account:


Name: Rote Hilfe e.V.

IBAN: DE55 4306 0967 4007 2383 17


Note: Palaestina gegen Repression


We, in Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, declare that all attacks against us by the zionist occupation, its organisations abroad, and by Western imperialist countries and right-wing, racist media, have not and will not change our absolute commitment to defending and supporting the Palestinian prisoners movement, and to struggle for the liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.

Sign the statement!


Download the poster, take a selfie or group photo, and send it to us at: 


@samidounnetwork (Instagram) 

@SamidounPP (Twitter/X)!



Leonard Peltier’s Letter Delivered to Supporters on September 12, 2023, in Front of the Whitehouse


Dear friends, relatives, supporters, loved ones:


Seventy-nine years old. Mother Earth has taken us on another journey around Grandfather Sun.  Babies have taken their first breath. People have lived, loved, and died. Seeds have been planted and sent their roots deep below red earth and their breath to the Stars and our Ancestors.


I am still here.


Time has twisted one more year out of me. A year that has been a moment.  A year that has been a lifetime. For almost five decades I’ve existed in a cage of concrete and steel.  With the “good time” calculations of the system, I’ve actually served over 60 years.


Year after year, I have encouraged you to live as spirit warriors. Even while in here, I can envision what is real and far beyond these walls.  I’ve seen a reawakening of an ancient Native pride that does my heart good.


I may leave this place in a box. That is a cold truth. But I have put my heart and soul into making our world a better place and there is a lot of work left to do – I would like to get out and do it with you.


I know that the spirit warriors coming up behind me have the heart and soul to fight racism and oppression, and to fight the greed that is poisoning our lands, waters, and people. 


We are still here.


Remember who you are, even if they come for your land, your water, your family. We are children of Mother Earth and we owe her and her other children our care.


I long to turn my face to the sky. In this cage, I am denied that simple pleasure. I am in prison, but in my mind, I remain as I was born: a free Native spirit.


That is what allows me to laugh, keeps me laughing. These walls cannot contain my laughter – or my hope.


I know there are those who stand with me, who work around the clock for my freedom. I have been blessed to have such friends.


We are still here and you give me hope. 


I hope to breathe free air before I die. Hope is a hard thing to hold, but no one is strong enough to take it from me. 


I love you. I hope for you. I pray for you. 


And prayer is more than a cry to the Creator that runs through your head.  Prayer is an action.


In the Spirit of Crazy Horse



Write to:

Leonard Peltier 89637-132

USP Coleman 1

P.O. Box 1033

Coleman, FL 33521

Note: Letters, address and return address must be in writing—no stickers—and on plain white paper.




SF ANSWER office suffers major fire damage. Your support needed!





Dear Friends and Supporters of the ANSWER Coalition,


An early morning fire on Thursday, Sept. 14 caused massive damage to our offices on Mission Street. It appears that the fire started in the lot next to our building, turned into a two-alarm blaze, and took fire-fighters more than three hours to fully extinguish. Thanks to their skill and courageous action our building was not completely destroyed. But it will take at least several months to restore it to use. We are awaiting an investigation and assessment of what if any of the contents – our several-thousand-book library, a very large collection of historical materials, computers and other office equipment, etc.– are salvageable.


This disaster occurred just as we were in the midst of reconstructing and refurbishing the building, painting the main meeting room, installing a new ramp, doors and entryway for disabled persons, redoing the storefront windows and the marquee.


Multiple organizations are now using our office for activities and we were about to announce a new name for the building: the Mission Liberation Center. Such centers are now operating in cities across the country. That will of course have to be put on hold.


The loss of the use of our building for an extended period of time creates a serious problem for carrying out our work, but we have no intention of being sidelined. From opposing the blockade of Cuba and providing critically needed humanitarian aid, to support for the many labor struggles taking place from coast-to-coast, to resisting the U.S. war drive against Russia and China, to fighting toxic racism in the Bayview, and much more, ANSWER will continue our work on vital international, national and local issues.


We are asking everyone who values our work to express your solidarity at this time of greatest need. While many of the costs of repair will be covered by insurance, not everything will. If you are able to help with a donation, you can make a tax-deductible donation to the Progress Unity Fund.


Thank you in advance for your solidarity,


Richard Becker

Western Region Coordinator, ANSWER Coalition









Drop the Charges on the Tampa 5!

Sign the Petition:


The Tampa 5—Gia Davila, Lauren Pineiro, Laura Rodriguez, Jeanie K, and Chrisley Carpio—are the five Students for a Democratic Society protesters at the University of South Florida who were attacked by campus police and are now facing five to ten years in prison for protesting Governor Ron DeSantis' attacks on diversity programs and all of higher education.


On July 12, 2023, the Tampa 5 had their second court appearance. 


The Tampa 5 are still in the middle of the process of discovery, which means that they are obtaining evidence from the prosecution that is meant to convict them. They have said publicly that all the security camera footage they have seen so far absolves them, and they are eager to not only receive more of this evidence but also to share it with the world. The Tampa 5 and their supporters demand full transparency and USF's full cooperation with discovery, to which all of the defendants are entitled.


In spite of this, the charges have not yet been dropped. The case of the five SDS protesters is hurtling towards a trial. So, they need all of their supporters and all parties interested in the right to protest DeSantis to stay out in the streets!


We need to demand that the DeSantis-appointed, unelected State Attorney Susan Lopez and Assistant Prosecutor Justin Diaz drop the charges.


We need to win this case once and for all and protect the right of the student movement—and all social movements in the United States—to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and to protest.


Defend the Tampa 5!


State Attorney Susy Lopez, Prosecutor Justin Diaz, Drop the Charges!


Save Diversity in Higher Education!


Protesting DeSantis is Not a Crime!



Free Julian Assange

Immediate Repeated Action Needed to Free Assange


Please call your Congressional Representatives, the White House, and the DOJ. Calls are tallied—they do count.  We are to believe we are represented in this country.  This is a political case, so our efforts can change things politically as well.  Please take this action as often as you can:


Find your representatives:



Leave each of your representatives a message individually to: 

·      Drop the charges against Julian Assange

·      Speak out publicly against the indictment and

·      Sign on to Rashida Tlaib's letter to the DOJ to drop the charges: 

           202-224-3121—Capitol Main Switchboard 


Leave a message on the White House comment line to 

Demand Julian Assange be pardoned: 


             Tuesday–Thursday, 11:00 A.M.–3:00 P.M. EST


Call the DOJ and demand they drop the charges against Julian Assange:

             202-353-1555—DOJ Comment Line

             202-514-2000 Main Switchboard 



Mumia Abu-Jamal is Innocent!


Write to Mumia at:

Smart Communications/PADOC

Mumia Abu-Jamal #AM-8335

SCI Mahanoy

P.O. Box 33028

St. Petersburg, FL 33733



Update on Ed Poindexter and Urgent Health Call-In Campaign


Watch the moving video of Ed's Niece and Sister at the April 26, 2023, UN EMLER Hearing in Atlanta: https://youtu.be/aKwV7LQ5iww


You can also watch Ed speaking about himself some years ago thanks to Sister Tekla, who was able to interview Ed and Mondo some years ago: https://youtu.be/sps0s4zeJxg.

More of these videos will be forthcoming.


Ed needs to be released to live the rest of his life outside of prison, with his family! (His niece Ericka is now 52 years old and was an infant when Ed was targeted, stolen from his home, jailed, framed, and railroaded.)


Friends and Comrades,


Thank you so very much for your phone calls and communications in support of Ed Poindexter’s health care!


We have learned from Ed’s family that a date has been set for Ed to go to an outside doctor to be evaluated for a hearing device. (Thank you, callers!) We have also learned that Ed will not be fitted for a prosthesis within the foreseeable future. The reason for this is that Ed is unable to sit up for more than a few seconds on his own. He is unable to get himself out of bed by himself. Ed cannot go to the restroom without substantial help. There is a fear of him falling.


The prison’s response has been to suggest that Ed try harder at physical therapy—so that he might be able to tie his own shoes again and perform basic self-care—but he cannot. Our position is that he is too weak because of the near daily kidney dialysis and multiple other health problems. As you know, he has lost sight in one eye, and is unable to hear. While he may have been weakened by being wheelchair bound for years, the fact that the institution amputated his left leg below the knee (without notice to the family) has made recovery of strength in his legs difficult. Add to this that Ed is extremely ill from kidney disease, and the near daily kidney dialysis artificially making his kidney’s function causes him to vomit his food and makes him ill overall. All of these combined illnesses have resulted in Ed not being able to even hold his frame upright for more than a few seconds.


Therefore, in protection of Ed’s basic rights as a human being to health care and human dignity, we demand that Ed be seen by an outside high ranking National Medical Association Certified geriatric physician or team of physicians who specialize in heart, kidney, and geriatric health. We demand the evaluation be by a physician connected to a reputable hospital so that Ed’s entire condition: eyes, heart (recall that Ed underwent triple bypass heart surgery in 2016) kidneys, neuropathy, amputated leg, serious inability to balance his frame, and hearing can all be evaluated as a whole.


It is the family’s belief that Ed is experiencing a diminishing quality of life that it is irreversible, and we demand an outside doctor also evaluate him for this obvious fact. If it is determined by a reputable doctor that Ed is experiencing a diminishing quality of life; we want his status changed at the prison to reflect this reality.


Please call the numbers below and write to demand that Ed be seen by an outside doctor at a state-of-the-art hospital facility—for the purpose of evaluation specifically as to whether his condition is diminishing and irreversible—taken as a whole.


Ed Support Committee and Family and Concerned Members of the Community




Acting Medical Director Jeff Kasselman, M.D.: 402-479-5931 jeffrey.kasselman@nebraska.gov


Warden Boyd of the Reception and Treatment Center: 402-471-2861


Warden: Taggart Boyd

Reception and Treatment Center

P.O. Box 22800

Lincoln, NE 68542-2800

Phone: 402-471-2861

Fax: 402-479-6100


Jeff Kasselman, M.D.

Acting Medical Director,

Nebraska Department of Corrections

Phone: 402-479-5931

Email: jeffrey.kasselman@nebraska.gov


Sample Message:


“I’m calling to urge that Ed Poindexter, #27767, be given appropriate medical care. I demand that be seen by an outside high ranking National Medical Association certified geriatric physician or team of physicians who specialize in heart, kidney, and geriatric health. I demand the evaluation include Ed’s entire condition: eyes, kidneys, diabetes, neuropathy, amputated leg, serious inability to balance his frame, and hearing. ”


You can read more about Ed Poindexter at:




Updates From Kevin Cooper 

March 23, 2023 

Dear Friends and Comrades, 

This is Kevin Cooper writing and sending this update to you in 'Peace & Solidarity'. First and foremost I am well and healthy, and over the ill effect(s) that I went through after that biased report from MoFo, and their pro prosecution and law enforcement experts. I am back working with my legal team from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

'We' have made great progress in refuting all that those experts from MoFo came up with by twisting the truth to fit their narrative, or omitting things, ignoring, things, and using all the other tactics that they did to reach their conclusions. Orrick has hired four(4) real experts who have no questionable backgrounds. One is a DNA attorney, like Barry Scheck of the innocence project in New York is for example. A DNA expert, a expect to refute what they say Jousha Ryen said when he was a child, and his memory. A expect on the credibility of MoFo's experts, and the attorney's at Orrick are dealing with the legal issues.

This all is taking a little longer than we first expected it to take, and that in part is because 'we' have to make sure everything is correct in what we have in our reply. We cannot put ourselves in a situation where we can be refuted... Second, some of our experts had other things planned, like court cases and such before they got the phone call from Rene, the now lead attorney of the Orrick team. With that being said, I can say that our experts, and legal team have shown, and will show to the power(s) that be that MoFo's DNA expert could not have come to the conclusion(s) that he came to, without having used 'junk science'! They, and by they I mean my entire legal team, including our experts, have done what we have done ever since Orrick took my case on in 2004, shown that all that is being said by MoFo's experts is not true, and we are once again having to show what the truth really is.

Will this work with the Governor? Who knows... 'but' we are going to try! One of our comrades, Rebecca D.   said to me, 'You and Mumia'...meaning that my case and the case of Mumia Abu Jamal are cases in which no matter what evidence comes out supporting our innocence, or prosecution misconduct, we cannot get a break. That the forces in the so called justice system won't let us go. 'Yes' she is correct about that sad to say...

Our reply will be out hopefully in the not too distant future, and that's because the people in Sacramento have been put on notice that it is coming, and why. Every one of you will receive our draft copy of the reply according to Rene because he wants feedback on it. Carole and others will send it out once they receive it. 'We' were on the verge of getting me out, and those people knew it, so they sabotaged what the Governor ordered them to do, look at all the evidence as well as the DNA evidence. They did not do that, they made this a DNA case, by doing what they did, and twisted the facts on the other issues that they dealt with.   'more later'...

In Struggle & Solidarity,

An immediate act of solidarity we can all do right now is to write to Kevin and assure him of our continuing support in his fight for justice. Here’s his address:

Mr. Kevin Cooper

C-65304. 4-EB-82

San Quentin State Prison

San Quentin, CA 94974



Call California Governor Newsom:

1-(916) 445-2841

Press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish, 

press 6 to speak with a representative and

wait for someone to answer 

(Monday-Friday, 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. PST—12:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EST)






The writers' organization PEN America is circulating this petition on behalf of Jason Renard Walker, a Texas prisoner whose life is being threatened because of his exposés of the Texas prison system. 

See his book, Reports from within the Belly of the Beast; available on Amazon at:


Petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/protect-whistleblowers-in-carceral-settings



Sign the petition:




Tell Congress to Help #FreeDanielHale


I’m pleased to announce that last week our client, Daniel Hale, was awarded the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The “Corner-Brightener Candlestick” was presented to Daniel’s friend Noor Mir. You can watch the online ceremony here.

As it happens, this week is also the 20th anniversary of the first drone assassination in Yemen. From the beginning, the drone assassination program has been deeply shrouded in secrecy, allowing U.S. officials to hide significant violations of international law, and the American Constitution. In addition to the lives directly impacted by these strikes, the program has significantly eroded respect for international law and thereby puts civilians around the world in danger.

Daniel Hale’s revelations threw a beam of light into a very dark corner, allowing journalists to definitively show that the government's official narrative was a lie. It is thanks to the great personal sacrifice of drone whistleblowers like Hale that public understanding has finally begun to catch up to reality.

As the Sam Adams Associates note:

 “Mr. Hale was well aware of the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment to which other courageous officials have been subjected — and that he would likely suffer the same. And yet — in the manner of his famous ancestor Nathan Hale — he put his country first, knowing what awaited him at the hands of those who serve what has become a repressive Perpetual War State wreaking havoc upon much of the world.”

We hope you’ll join the growing call to pardon or commute Hale’s sentence. U.S. citizens can contact your representatives here.

Happy new year, and thank you for your support!

Jesselyn Radack
Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR)

Twitter: @JesselynRadack



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)[1]

[1] Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran poet, essayist, journalist, political activist, and intellectual. He is considered one of Latin America's most compelling poets.







A Plea for the Compassionate Release of 

Leonard Peltier

Self Portrait by Leonard Peltier

Video at:


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




Email: contact@whoisleonardpeltier.info

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



Resources for Resisting Federal Repression



Since June of 2020, activists have been subjected to an increasingly aggressive crackdown on protests by federal law enforcement. The federal response to the movement for Black Lives has included federal criminal charges for activists, door knocks by federal law enforcement agents, and increased use of federal troops to violently police protests. 


The NLG National Office is releasing this resource page for activists who are resisting federal repression. It includes a link to our emergency hotline numbers, as well as our library of Know-Your-Rights materials, our recent federal repression webinar, and a list of some of our recommended resources for activists. We will continue to update this page. 


Please visit the NLG Mass Defense Program page for general protest-related legal support hotlines run by NLG chapters.


Emergency Hotlines

If you are contacted by federal law enforcement, you should exercise all of your rights. It is always advisable to speak to an attorney before responding to federal authorities. 


State and Local Hotlines

If you have been contacted by the FBI or other federal law enforcement, in one of the following areas, you may be able to get help or information from one of these local NLG hotlines for: 


Portland, Oregon: (833) 680-1312

San Francisco, California: (415) 285-1041 or fbi_hotline@nlgsf.org

Seattle, Washington: (206) 658-7963

National Hotline

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


National NLG Federal Defense Hotline: (212) 679-2811






1) U.A.W. Extends Walkouts to More Plants, but Cites Progress in Ford Talks

The union designated 38 parts distribution factories as additional strike targets at G.M. and Stellantis.

By Neal E. Boudette, Sept. 22, 2023

“‘The question is, can the union maintain solidarity and keep everyone together if this continues for several more weeks,’ he said. Earlier in the week, workers demonstrating at Stellantis’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., said they were energized and ready to join the walkout, if called to do so. ‘President Fain has got fight,’ said Marnice Alford, who works in the paint shop at a Stellantis plant in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. ‘I like that.’”

A United Automobile Workers union rally in Detroit on Sept. 15. The union expanded its strike on Friday.
A United Automobile Workers union rally in Detroit on Sept. 15. The union expanded its strike on Friday. Credit...Cydni Elledge for The New York Times

The United Automobile Workers union on Friday significantly raised the pressure on General Motors and Stellantis, the parent of Jeep and Ram, by expanding its strike against the companies to include all the spare parts distribution centers of the two companies.


Shawn Fain, the union’s president, said Friday that workers at 38 distribution centers, which provide parts to dealerships for repairs, at the two companies would walk off the job at noon. He said talks with two companies had not progressed significantly, contrasting them with Ford Motor, which he said had done more to meet the union’s demands.


“We will shut down parts distribution centers until those two companies come to their senses and come to the bargaining table,” Mr. Fain said.


The union said it was not striking more facilities at Ford in recognition of the gains it has achieved in talks with that company.


“To be clear, we are not done at Ford,” he said. “We have serious issues to work through, but we do want to recognize that Ford is serious about reaching a deal.”


Tensions between the union and the automakers had flared up even before Mr. Fain announced the expansion of the strike. On Thursday, private messages sent by a union communications manager via X, formerly known as Twitter, seemed to suggest that the union leaders were pleased that the strike appeared to be hurting the three manufacturers.


Jonah Furman, who was hired to direct the U.A.W.’s media relations after Mr. Fain took office this year, wrote in the messages that the strike was causing the automakers to suffer “reputations damage and operational chaos.”


The contents of the messages were revealed in The Detroit News.


G.M. said in a statement that the leaked messages showed a “callous disregard for the seriousness of what is at stake” in the strike.


“It’s now clear that the U.A.W. leadership has always intended to cause monthslong disruption, regardless of the harm it causes to its members and their communities,” the company added.


The expansion of the stoppage heightens the stakes for both sides, and could force other plants owned by the automakers and their suppliers to halt production.


The union is paying striking workers $500 per week each from its $825 million strike fund, while the manufacturers are faced with losing tens of millions of dollars in revenue every day that the affected plants remain idled.


A week ago, the union called on workers to strike at a G.M. pickup truck plant in Wentzville, Mo.; a Ford factory in Michigan that makes the Bronco sport-utility vehicle; and a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio, owned by Stellantis.


The union is seeking a substantial increase in wages, noting that the automakers have reported strong profits in the last 10 years and have raised the pay of their chief executives. The union initially demanded a 40 percent increase; the companies have offered about 20 percent over four years.


The U.A.W. also wants more workers to qualify for pensions, company-paid retiree health care, shorter working hours and job security for workers if the manufacturers close plants in the future. It also wanted to end a wage system in which new hires start at about $17 an hour, and must stay on the job eight years to climb up to the top wage of $32 an hour.


Peter Berg, a professor of employment relations at Michigan State University, said the U.A.W.’s strategy of limiting strikes to certain locations eases the cost of supporting workers from its strike fund, but hurts the manufacturers because those plants make some of their most profitable vehicles.


“The question is, can the union maintain solidarity and keep everyone together if this continues for several more weeks,” he said.


Earlier in the week, workers demonstrating at Stellantis’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., said they were energized and ready to join the walkout, if called to do so.


“President Fain has got fight,” said Marnice Alford, who works in the paint shop at a Stellantis plant in Sterling Heights, near Detroit. “I like that.”



2) One Day on the Border: 8,900 Migrants Arrested, and More on the Way

A sudden surge of people from around the globe is showing up at the southern border, despite dangers and deportations. ‘If you don’t take risks, you cannot win,’ said one man who traveled from Peru.

By Miriam Jordan, Jack Healy and Eileen Sullivan, Sept. 22, 2023

Adults hold the hands of a child as they wade through a river.
People crossed the Rio Grande on Friday to turn themselves in to law enforcement in Eagle Pass, Texas. Credit...Verónica G. Cárdenas for The New York Times

They come from Brazil, Burkina Faso, Uzbekistan, India and dozens of other countries, a moving global village of hundreds of thousands of people crossing the Rio Grande and slipping through gaps in the border wall at a pace of nearly 9,000 people a day, one of the highest rates of unlawful crossings in months.


Despite new border barriers and thickets of razor wire, risk of deportation and pleas for patience, a resurgent tide of men, women and children is not waiting. Driven by desperation, families and individuals are pushing across the southern border and past new efforts by the Biden administration to keep migrants waiting until they secure hard-to-get appointments to enter the nation with permission.


The influx is creating a humanitarian and political crisis that stretches from packed migrant processing facilities in border states to major American cities struggling to house and educate the new families. Though many get through, thousands are being sent back across the border or on flights to their home countries. But from Texas to California, more than two dozen migrants who have entered illegally in recent days said they could not afford to wait.


“If you don’t take risks, you cannot win,” said Daniel Soto, 35, who crossed with his mother on Tuesday after they sold their car, restaurant and house in Lima, Peru, betting their entire fortune of $25,000 on a weeklong journey to the border near Tijuana.


Surges in migration at the southern border, while motivated by poverty, violence and hunger, are also tied to weather patterns, policy changes and personal circumstances. The pace of unlawful crossings dropped sharply in the spring amid uncertainty surrounding the end of a pandemic-era measure that allowed the government to quickly deport migrants. But numbers rebounded over the summer, and are now nearly double the 4,900 unlawful crossings a day that were recorded in mid-April.


The Biden administration opened new pathways for entry, including an app to allow migrants to make appointments to cross into the United States in an orderly way, and started a program this summer to enable certain people to apply to immigrate at new processing centers in other countries. Around 1,500 migrants a day enter the country using the app, which is meant to help control and organize the flow of migrants into the country.


The Biden administration also allowed nearly 500,000 Venezuelan migrants who are already in the country to seek work permits and protection from deportation. The administration yielded to pressure from leaders in New York, where the recent arrival of more than 100,000 migrants in New York City has overwhelmed shelters and strained resources. Though the Biden program doesn’t apply to new arrivals, it touched off debate about whether the action would encourage more people to migrate.


Yet those moves are not enough to meet the tremendous demand, and they cannot compete with the misinformation spread by smuggling networks — a multimillion-dollar industry — or the messages sent home from other migrants who made it into the United States.


Migrants like Mr. Soto and his mother are arriving on a tailwind of stories of friends and relatives who reached New York or Chicago months earlier. Many also believe false claims from smugglers and social media that migrants would definitely be able to remain in the United States if they could make it in.


“The smuggling organizations are spreading misinformation with a global reach that they couldn’t do before,” said John Modlin, the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector chief, who is coordinating the response to border crossings in Arizona and California. “In the past, at best, they could talk to the village they were in, or a small region. Through social media, they can hit people all around the world.”


Mr. Modlin said border agents are “recovering bodies almost every day of people not making it.”


Thousands of migrants who do cross the border successfully are being deported shortly after they arrive, based on factors that include their home countries, available flights, and the discretion of border officials. But others file asylum claims when they face deportation in immigration court, and are allowed to remain in the United States while they wait for their cases to wind through immigration court, a process that can take years.


Some people will not show up for their court proceedings, and continue to live and work in the United States along with millions of other undocumented immigrants.


Some migrants who arrive using the government app are eligible for permission to stay in the country and work for two years, but may still eventually be ordered deported.


“It will work out,” said Diego Santos, a 23-year-old Brazilian who was heading to Philadelphia after being released by border authorities in San Diego. Ahead of him lay the hope of construction work, but also deportation proceedings that he now has to fight.


“I’ll do what I can to stay,” he said.


As new arrivals swamp processing facilities and strain the capacity of shelters, the Border Patrol has begun dropping off many migrants outside churches, supermarkets and gas stations, transforming border cities into scenes of confusion and triage.


In San Diego, the Border Patrol released thousands of people in the last week near a hub for trolleys and buses, many of them with little money or idea where they were.


Mamadou Barry, 19, who had traveled from Guinea, carried paperwork from U.S. authorities saying he had “failed to provide address” of his final destination. Officials had scheduled his first deportation court hearing in Los Angeles. But he knew no one there, or anywhere.


In the border city of Nogales, Ariz., local officials and nonprofit groups have scrambled to arrange for buses to take newly released migrants to a shelter in Tucson, an hour’s drive north. But one evening this week, immigration vans released 30 people in Nogales three hours after the day’s last bus to Tucson had left.


“Where are we going to sleep?” asked Liliana Quishpe, 44, who had arrived from Guatemala with her 17-year-old daughter. “They just left us here.”


The surge shows little sign of ebbing, according to Brandon Judd, the head of the Border Patrol union, who said that 8,900 people were arrested on Wednesday and another 8,360 on Thursday.


Officials in Panama say that even more migrants are now on their way north. Already this year, some 381,000 people bound for the United States have crossed the Darién Gap — a treacherous jungle bottleneck between South and Central America — and there could be a surge in October, the most popular month for crossings there.


In interviews, many newly arrived migrants said they made plans to travel to the United States as soon as they had cobbled together the money to pay for the trip. Most did not plan to stay at the border, and with the aid of a network of nonprofit groups on the U.S. side, quickly set off for other cities where jobs, relatives or the promise of space in a shelter awaited them.


In Texas, Yosnavys Venta, a 23-year-old from Venezuela, said he spent six months in Mexico trying again and again to get an appointment using the new mobile app. Some who have used the app said they were able to secure appointments right away, others said they could not get one for months.


Mr. Venta finally gave up earlier this month and decided to take his chances in joining thousands of migrants who sloshed across the Rio Grande and into the overwhelmed city of Eagle Pass, Texas.


So many migrants have poured in to the city that on Thursday, the mayor authorized law enforcement officers to arrest people for trespassing if they clamber onto the banks of a city-owned riverside park. Mayor Rolando Salinas, a Democrat, said his small city can’t sustain thousands of migrants coming into the community.


Gov. Katie Hobbs of Arizona, a Democrat, joined border law-enforcement officials and mayors in criticizing the Biden administration for what she called haphazard releases of migrants. “Arizona is being overwhelmed,” she said Friday.


Even places with more resources, like Pima County, Ariz., are struggling.


“It’s been really hectic,” said Mark Evans, a spokesman for Pima County, which runs buses that collect migrants from small border towns and take them to a large shelter in Tucson. “We shouldn’t be doing this. There’s an entire federal agency designed to provide this kind of shelter, and that’s FEMA.”


Blas Nuñez-Neto, an assistant secretary of Homeland Security, said the influx of migrants from countries beyond Mexico and Central America had put “an incredible amount of pressure” on the system.


The Biden administration has expanded the number of appointments available to migrants who use the mobile app, scheduling some 43,000 appointments a month.


Demand still far outstrips available slots, though, and many migrant families who are stranded in fetid, dangerous makeshift tent encampments along the Mexican side of the border have given up trying to use the app, preferring to brave a perilous crossing across the Rio Grande and often paying cartels that control the river.


“They are tired of waiting,” said Juan Fierro Garcia, a pastor in the El Buen Samaritano migrant shelter, in Juarez, Mexico. “They are more desperate.”


In Arizona, Walter Garcia, a 26-year-old firefighter from Guatemala, is among many migrants who barely even considered the legal route. Like many people making their way to the U.S., he had never heard of the new app.


His mother had managed to slip into the United States through the desert a year ago, so Mr. Garcia figured that he could do the same. He paid a smuggler $3,000 last week to take him to a gash in the border wall in Arizona, and on Wednesday, Mr. Garcia was freed from immigration custody and waiting at the Tucson airport for a flight to New Jersey to meet his mother.


“Two days in immigration, and we’re out,” he said. “It was easy.”


Migrant shelters in Texas, Arizona and California say they are struggling to find cots and hotel rooms to house the hundreds of new families and single adults who arrive every day, and local governments have scrambled to keep up with the pace of migrants being released onto the streets.


Outside a community center in San Diego, Ender Pirela, a 23-year-old from Venezuela, recalled how he had almost given up waiting for an appointment to enter the United States.


Mr. Pirela’s older brother had used the new app to enter six months ago, and ended up in Dallas. He worked at construction and saved $2,500 so that Ender could make the same journey.


Mr. Pirela said he and two traveling companions spent six weeks in Monterey, Mexico, where they were harassed and robbed and forced to sleep on the street when they ran out of money. Many other migrants, fearing for their safety, gave up waiting and crossed illegally, he said, but he waited.


“When our date arrived,” Mr. Pirela said, “there were tears everywhere.”


Reporting was contributed by Julie Turkewitz, Edgar Sandoval, J. David Goodman, Reyes Mata III and Rob D’Amico.



3) Tyson and Perdue Are Facing Child Labor Investigations

The Labor Department has opened inquiries into whether migrant children were working inside slaughterhouses owned by the poultry-processing giants.

By Hannah Dreier, Sept. 23, 2023

Hannah has spent the past year and a half covering the resurgence of child labor in the United States.

A boy in a blue shirt stands in the doorway of a trailer.
Marcos Cux was sanitizing a deboning area in a Perdue plant last year when his arm was mangled in a conveyor belt. Credit...Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, which together produce a third of the poultry sold in the United States, are under federal investigation into whether they relied on migrant children to clean slaughterhouses, some of the most dangerous work in the country.


The Labor Department opened the inquiries after an article in The New York Times Magazine, published this past week, found migrant children working overnight shifts for contractors in the companies’ plants on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Children as young as 13 were using acid and pressure hoses to scour blood, grease and feathers from industrial machines.


Meat processing is among the nation’s most hazardous industries, and federal law bans minors from working in slaughterhouses because of the high risk of injury. The Times article focused on one child, Marcos Cux, whose arm was mangled in a conveyor belt last year as he sanitized a deboning area in the Perdue plant. He was in the eighth grade.


The investigations are a rare instance of two major consumer brands facing federal scrutiny over child labor. Many meat-processing companies outsource cleaning to sanitation firms, which technically employ the workers. After another Labor Department investigation recently found more than 100 children cleaning plants around the country, one firm, Packers Sanitation Services Inc., paid a $1.5 million fine. But the national corporations that benefited from the children’s work, including Tyson, did not come under investigation.


Seema Nanda, the Labor Department’s chief legal officer, said in an interview that the Biden administration is now examining whether large corporations can be considered employers even when children enter their factories through contractors.


“We are long past the day when brands can say that they don’t know that they have child labor in their supply chain,” Ms. Nanda said. “The intention is to make sure that those higher up in the supply chain are holding their subcontractors and staffing agencies accountable.”


Representatives for Perdue and Tyson declined to comment on the Labor Department investigations. The companies, which have policies prohibiting underage labor, said they had not known children were working in their Virginia plants.


Tyson said it was now directly employing cleaners at 40 percent of its slaughterhouses and aimed to bring more of this work in house. Perdue said it had hired an outside auditor to suggest new policies. “We recognize the systemic nature of this issue and embrace any role we can play in a solution,” a Perdue spokeswoman, Andrea Staub, said in a statement.


The Labor Department has also opened investigations into the companies that have been running the cleaning shifts for Perdue and Tyson in Virginia: Fayette Industrial, which works with Perdue, and QSI, which works with Tyson and is part of a conglomerate, the Vincit Group.


Fayette hired Marcos at age 13 after he arrived in Virginia from his village in Guatemala. In February last year, he was cleaning deep inside a conveyor belt at the Perdue plant when it suddenly came to life and pulled him across the floor, tearing open his arm. He underwent three surgeries, but his arm remained limp at his side, his hand frozen in a claw.


He is one of thousands of Mexican and Central American children who have come to the United States alone since 2021 and ended up in dangerous, grueling jobs, The Times has reported in a series of articles this year.


On Wednesday, the Labor Department took the additional step of sending out an alert to hundreds of investigators nationwide about a child labor “enforcement action” against QSI. The alert outlined a clearinghouse system for tips about the company that will be run through the department’s Tennessee office, where the sanitation company is based.


Fayette and QSI said they had policies against child labor and were not aware of the federal investigations. Tyson said it planned to end its relationship with QSI at several plants, while Perdue has told Fayette that it may end its contract.


While the Labor Department has fewer than 750 investigators for more than 11 million workplaces, another federal agency — the Agriculture Department — sends inspectors into the nation’s slaughterhouses every day. The Times reported this past week that food safety inspectors regularly encountered minors working in the Virginia plants but did not believe it was their role to report child labor violations. The inspectors said they knew the children had to work to pay rent and send money back to desperate families.


A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said the agency was retraining the nation’s nearly 8,000 food inspectors to quickly report child workers to the Labor Department.


“The use of illegal child labor — particularly requiring that children undertake dangerous tasks — is inexcusable,” said the spokesman, Allan Rodriguez.


Lawmakers called on companies and the Biden administration to do more to get children out of slaughterhouses. Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, sent a letter to the chief executive of Tyson Foods, Donnie King, asking the company to commit to an independent child labor audit.


Several Democrats, including Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Hillary Scholten of Michigan, said they would push for legislation and increased funding to hold companies accountable.



4) Mother Who Gave Abortion Pills to Teen Daughter Gets 2 Years in Prison

Jessica Burgess had pleaded guilty to violating Nebraska’s abortion law. Her daughter, who was 17 when she ended her late-term pregnancy last year, was sentenced in July to 90 days in jail.

By Jesus Jiménez, Sept. 22, 2023

A large crowd of people, many of them holding signs, standing in a building atrium facing toward a doorway.
Protesters gathered at the Nebraska Capitol in Lincoln in May as the Legislature approved a 12-week abortion ban. Credit...Margery Beck/Associated Press

A Nebraska woman who acquired abortion pills that her teenage daughter used to end her pregnancy last year was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison.


The woman, Jessica Burgess, 42, was charged after the police found her private Facebook messages, which revealed plans she had with her daughter to end the pregnancy and “burn the evidence.”


Prosecutors said that Ms. Burgess ordered the pills online and gave them to her daughter, Celeste Burgess, in April 2022, when her daughter was 17 and in the third trimester of her pregnancy. The Burgesses later buried the fetal remains, the authorities said.


Ms. Burgess pleaded guilty in July to violating Nebraska’s abortion law, furnishing false information to a law enforcement officer and removing or concealing human skeletal remains. Celeste Burgess was sentenced in July to 90 days in jail and two years of probation after she pleaded guilty in May to removing or concealing human skeletal remains.


Jessica Burgess, who faced up to five years in prison, was sentenced to two years, with her terms for false reporting and removal of skeletal remains running concurrently.


Brad Ewalt, a lawyer for Ms. Burgess, asked Judge Mark A. Johnson of Madison County District Court on Friday to sentence his client to probation. The judge denied the request, saying that Ms. Burgess had treated the fetal remains “like yesterday’s trash,” The Norfolk Daily News reported.


Celeste Burgess, who was released from jail on Sept. 11, sat near the back of the courtroom on Friday and wiped tears from her face when her mother was sentenced, The Daily News reported.


Mr. Ewalt and the Madison County prosecutor who tried the case did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.


A police investigation into the Burgesses began before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The case has fueled fears that people who end their pregnancies in the post-Roe era, and those who help them, could be prosecuted for having abortions and that their private communications could be used as evidence against them.


The investigation began in late April 2022, when the police in Norfolk, Neb., began looking into whether a 17-year-old girl had given birth prematurely to a stillborn baby, and whether the girl and her mother had buried it, according to court documents.


At the time, abortion was banned in Nebraska after 20 weeks from conception. This May, Gov. Jim Pillen, a Republican, signed a 12-week ban into law.


The Burgesses were initially charged with concealing a stillbirth. But according to court documents, a detective later asked Celeste Burgess for the exact date her pregnancy ended. When she said she needed to check her Facebook messages to remember, the detective obtained a warrant for messages she had exchanged with her mother.


Meta, the parent company of Facebook, complied with the warrant. The detective found evidence of a medically induced abortion, according to court documents, allowing the authorities to file additional charges.



5) This Alaska Mine Would Destroy the World’s Largest Salmon Fishery

By Carl Safina and Joel Reynolds, Sept. 24, 2023

Dr. Safina is a marine ecologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Mr. Reynolds is a senior lawyer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he directs the organization’s efforts in the American West. 

A photo of salmon being hauled on a net.
Christopher Miller

For decades, a Canadian company has sought to excavate an enormous open pit mine at the headwaters of the 40,000 square mile Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska. Called the Pebble Mine, it would destroy the planet’s most productive salmon fishery and impoverish the communities the fishery sustains.


How bad would this be? The breadth of the opposition offers an idea. The entire Alaska congressional delegation opposes the project. The Trump administration denied it a permit in 2020, and this year the Environmental Protection Agency issued a rare veto, effectively blocking the mine. The project is opposed by a consortium of Alaska Native tribes that represent about 80 percent of the people who live in the region. In 2016 it was condemned by a near unanimous vote of the World Conservation Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.


All of the project’s major mining partners walked away a decade ago, leaving the scheme to its financially challenged Canadian owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals.


And yet this project to extract copper, gold and molybdenum has refused to die. Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, Northern Dynasty’s inexplicably loyal disciple, is trying to revive it again.


This summer, at Gov. Dunleavy’s direction, the state bypassed the normal appeals process by going directly to the United States Supreme Court to challenge the E.P.A. veto. It’s no mystery why: Since last year, the Supreme Court has gut-punched the E.P.A. twice, first on climate change regulation and then, this spring, on clean water protection. The Dunleavy administration and the mining company are clearly hoping for another bolt of deregulatory lightning.


A changing climate, a changing world



Climate change around the world: In “Postcards From a World on Fire,” 193 stories from individual countries show how climate change is reshaping reality everywhere, from dying coral reefs in Fiji to disappearing oases in Morocco and far, far beyond.


The worst climate risks, mapped: In this feature, select a country, and we'll break down the climate hazards it faces. In the case of America, our maps, developed with experts, show where extreme heat is causing the most deaths.


The court should decline the invitation.


While Gov. Dunleavy claims to be representing the interests of Alaskans, he has for years supported the development of the Pebble Mine over the strong objections of Alaskans. In fact, a recent poll found that 74 percent of Alaska’s voters are still concerned that the E.P.A.’s rejection of the project won’t do enough to protect the Bristol Bay watershed from large-scale mining. The initial petitions that led to the E.P.A.’s veto were filed by six Bristol Bay tribes and later joined by a consortium of other federally recognized tribes.


They have been actively supported by a diverse consensus of businesses, commercial fishermen and processors, anglers and lodges, chefs and restaurant owners, hunters, conservationists and many others, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, where one of us is a senior lawyer. “Gov. Dunleavy’s lawsuit,” Alannah Hurley, the executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, said in August, “is another example he is willing to waste state resources to try and save a failing foreign mining company.”


The project is on state land, and the governor said earlier this year in comments leading up to the filing of the lawsuit that “my job is to make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity.” Apparently unfazed by the project’s singular risks, he added: “I believe we have the best environmental standards in the world.”


What hangs in the balance is the greatest remaining commercial, recreational and subsistence salmon fishery on Earth, and the sustainable lifeblood of the region and its residents. Last summer alone, this single fishery produced a record run of nearly 80 million fish, surpassing a succession of annual record runs year after year. It is a natural wonder of global proportions.


The E.P.A.’s decision was based on over a dozen years of transparent review, including extensive peer-reviewed science, broad public participation and public comment — and vigorous engagement in the process by Northern Dynasty and the Dunleavy administration. Having compiled this comprehensive record, the agency concluded that the Pebble Mine would violate the Clean Water Act and cause the watershed’s globally important aquatic resources to suffer “unavoidable adverse impacts.”


The state’s complaint, on the other hand, is high on rhetoric and low on substance. It attacks the veto as a strike “at the heart of Alaska’s sovereignty” and asks the court to find that the E.P.A. has taken state “property without just compensation.” It cites no actual language to support its claim, and it ignores the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2019 decision that, in Alaska, “state, Native and private land (and waters)” do “of course remain subject to all the regulatory powers they were before, exercised by E.P.A., the Coast Guard and the like.”


Bizarrely, the state asserts with emphasis that “there is nothing the State can now do with these lands for economic purposes.” The annual salmon runs are an economic engine that generates half of the world’s sockeye salmon, yielding more than $2.2 billion a year in revenue and supporting over 15,000 jobs. The Bristol Bay watershed’s staggering economic value and job creation, all generated by the streams and waters where the salmon spawn, are exactly what the E.P.A.’s veto is intended to protect.


The E.P.A.’s action is consistent both with its legal authority and with what Alaskans have requested and overwhelmingly support. The Dunleavy administration has a right to appeal through the established appellate process for review of complex, fact-based agency action. But its attempt to bypass that process — and to get the Supreme Court to ignore its own precedent — should be rejected.


The state’s lawsuit highlights the need for federal legislation to permanently protect Bristol Bay from the mining company that has relentlessly stalked the region’s communities for a generation. Despite all prior efforts to preserve the unparalleled generosity of the region’s sustainable fisheries, the only future certainty for the communities of Bristol Bay is the inevitable pressure for catastrophic large-scale mining in its headwaters. That is, unless Congress provides permanent protection for this national treasure, unruined.



6) Incarcerated for Life, an Inmate Is Left Behind by Prison Reforms

Bonnie Erwin, a disabled Black inmate who has served 39 years, fell just outside the reach of a recent law’s “compassionate release.” His former lawyer became a Republican congressman who voted against it.

By Robert Draper, Sept. 24, 2023

Reporting from Tyler, Texas

An image of Bonnie Erwin wearing a red T-shirt and red pants, sitting on a chair in a prison.
“I’ve seen people charged with a whole lot worse crimes, and they’ve moved on,” said Bonnie Erwin, seen here in prison in the 1990s.

Federal inmate number 14289-077 is baffled whenever the television in his Texas prison blares out assertions from supporters of Donald Trump that the former president has been victimized by a two-tiered system of justice.


“I’ve heard all these Republicans say, ‘Well, we don’t care if Mr. Trump did wrong, we’re going to support him anyway,’” Bonnie Erwin said in a recent phone conversation from prison. “What kind of system is that? I don’t mean any disrespect to his people. There’s two justice systems, all right. And if I was a white man, I’d have been out of here a long time ago.”


Mr. Erwin, 81, has been incarcerated for 39 years, spread across 11 different facilities. For the past three years, his home has been the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, in a minimum-security unit with other disabled inmates. Partially paralyzed on his right side from a stroke a decade ago, Mr. Erwin relies on other inmates to push his wheelchair and to type his emails.


Mr. Erwin is both a reflection of an earlier era’s draconian prison sentences and an example of how recent reforms can miss their mark. He was convicted by an all-white jury two years before the Supreme Court forbade the racial pruning of jury pools. He was sentenced three years too early to qualify for “compassionate release” under the terms of a law, the First Step Act, signed by President Trump in 2018.


And though a murder charge against him was overturned in 1987, his court-appointed attorney on that appeal was Louie Gohmert, a young trial lawyer who would add another chapter to Mr. Erwin’s story. As a far-right Republican congressman from Texas, Mr. Gohmert, now retired, voted against the First Step Act and later contended that the real victims in the criminal justice system were Trump supporters.


“Now, I don’t agree with Mr. Gohmert,” said Mr. Erwin. “But at least he tried to help me.”


“Listen, even if I’m guilty of everything they charged me with,” he said, isn’t “39 years long enough to be in prison? I’ve seen people charged with a whole lot worse crimes, and they’ve moved on.”


Mr. Erwin’s nearly four decades of incarceration began in 1984, when he and 10 other Black defendants were found guilty by an all-white jury in Dallas federal court of participating in a drug ring that distributed mostly painkiller and weight-loss pills. As the leader of the drug conspiracy, Mr. Erwin was an early test case of a newly codified “kingpin” provision in federal law that enabled the presiding judge to sentence him to life without parole, plus 120 years.


His sentence was emblematic of a decade of tough-on-crime politicking that has come to be seen by members of both parties as a misguided era of mass incarceration. It took a particular toll on Black men like Mr. Erwin.


In his 1984 trial, an Erwin associate who had been granted immunity testified that he had watched Mr. Erwin torture and kill an underling for stealing drug profits. Two months later, a separate state jury, also all white, convicted Mr. Erwin of murder and sentenced him to death.


But the verdict was later reversed by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled that testimony that might have exonerated Mr. Erwin was excluded from the state trial. His lawyer in that case, Mr. Gohmert, would later write of defendants in the Jan. 6 trials that “sadly, two systems of justice exist in America today: one for former President Trump along with those who support or don’t hate him, and the other for everyone else.”


Those sympathetic to Mr. Erwin say his experiences would seem to suggest otherwise.


“He’s the worst-case scenario in all the highly racialized policies that were enacted in the eighties,” said Dr. Ashley Nellis, co-director of research for the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that studies inequalities in the American criminal justice system.


Ms. Nellis was referring to Mr. Erwin’s status as among the less than 1 percent of roughly 158,000 inmates in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons who are serving a life sentence for drug-related offenses. The vast majority of them are Black. Most of them can apply for what is known as “compassionate release” under the First Step Act.


Mr. Gohmert, who did not respond to requests for comment, was among the 36 House members who voted against it.


Paradoxically, some of the longest-serving federal inmates are the least likely to be released early under the act. Any inmate who was convicted before the law took effect on Nov. 1, 1987, cannot qualify for early release.


“I believe it was simply an oversight when they wrote the law,” said Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has written extensively on the subject. “If I had to guess, I would say we’re talking about maybe one hundred inmates.”


‘A born leader’ falls into trouble


Mr. Erwin was born in 1942 in Tyler, Texas, where the Black community lived on the north side of town, the whites lived on the south side and Black people did not cross Front Street after sundown. “There was no mixing at all,” said Ann Levin, a reporter for The Tyler Morning Telegraph in the early 1980s who is white and grew up in the Northeast. “It felt like living in the distant past.”


The Erwins were community mainstays on the north side. Mr. Erwin’s grandfather, one of the pre-eminent sweet potato growers in East Texas, owned more than 300 acres of farmland. Old-timers recall that the family drove nice cars and that seven grandchildren worked hard in the family’s sweet potato and watermelon fields, including the second-eldest, Bonnie.


“A watermelon is a truly beautiful thing,” Mr. Erwin said during several hours of phone conversations from his prison in Fort Worth. Still, he did not see his family’s labors as a path to prosperity and instead sold his grandfather’s melons off the books, sometimes directly to grocers, pocketing the profits.


In 1966, the family lost the farm to taxes. Mr. Erwin followed his older brother to a job in an Omaha meatpacking plant, gambled when he was supposed to be working, ran games on paydays at the military bases in Omaha and Lincoln, then brought his talents back to Tyler’s pool halls. His stature in the neighborhood grew, and he freely gave out money and meals to poorer residents.


“I was a bad boy, but also a born leader,” Mr. Erwin said. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s his illicit constellation widened to include prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers, and then he further expanded into deputizing young women to sell drugs out of low-income apartments in south Dallas. The drugs were mainly from Los Angeles, leading the Drug Enforcement Administration to monitor Mr. Erwin’s activities. In June 1984, federal and local officers arrested nearly two dozen of Mr. Erwin’s accomplices. By the time they tracked Mr. Erwin himself down, in Phoenix in August, several of his associates had cut deals with the Justice Department to avoid prison time.


On the eve of his trial, federal prosecutors succeeded in striking from the jury pool every Black potential juror. Over the course of the three-week trial, one government witness testified that he saw Mr. Erwin kidnap, torture and murder an underling, though a different witness fingered the first witness as the actual killer — an account that yet another witness said she corroborated to the prosecutors before trial.


After six hours of deliberation, the jury found Mr. Erwin and 10 of 11 co-conspirators guilty of multiple drug-related crimes. Under the 1984 kingpin statute to enhance penalties for drug organization ringleaders, Judge Robert Porter sentenced Mr. Erwin to life without parole plus 120 years, the harshest among the defendants.


Two months later Mr. Erwin stood trial again, this time on state charges for the kidnapping and murder of the underling. The judge denied a request by Mr. Erwin’s attorney to locate the witness who testified at the federal trial that another witness had been the murderer. Absent such exculpatory testimony, it took less than three hours for the all-white jury to convict Mr. Erwin, who was sent to death row.


Mr. Erwin, who said he briefly thought of starving himself to death, was disheartened to learn that his court-appointed attorney for his appeal was Mr. Gohmert, then a relatively inexperienced 33-year-old former Boy Scout, R.O.T.C. cadet, assistant district attorney and Baptist church deacon.


But Mr. Gohmert proved himself up for the challenge. His appellate brief argued that the trial judge had “misstated facts” in dismissing the request for a witness to provide exculpatory testimony. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Mr. Gohmert and ordered a retrial.


But that never happened. A Smith County district attorney, Jack Skeen Jr., filed a motion to the presiding state district judge claiming that a retrial would constitute a needless expense because the kidnap and murder of the underling was considered by the federal court in assessing Mr. Erwin’s life sentence. By the time of Mr. Skeen’s motion in 1989, Mr. Erwin was already two years into his sentence at Fort Leavenworth.


‘A matter of common decency’


Mr. Erwin describes his decades behind bars as time spent mainly in prison law libraries, punctuated by occasional fights with gang members and, more recently, the vagaries of advancing decrepitude. In 2017, he applied to the Bureau of Prisons for compassionate release but was turned down, partly because he had not served half of his 120-year sentence and also because what an internal prison memo described as “the seriousness of his offense.”


Since 1999, Mr. Erwin has been the only member of his former drug confederation to remain in prison. Several key players in his legal saga — both trial judges, his federal trial attorney, his wife, and several witnesses — are now dead.


In 1992, four years after serving as Mr. Erwin’s state appellate attorney, Mr. Gohmert was elected as a state district judge. In his campaign he declared his support for capital punishment and for legalizing castration to punish rapists, but he did not run on having removed a Black drug dealer from death row. In 2004, he was elected to Congress in a deeply conservative district, where he cemented his reputation as a molasses-tongued arch-conservative until his retirement earlier this year.


Efforts led by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, to widen the First Step Act’s reach to include pre-1987 inmates like Mr. Erwin have stalled in committee. Advocates for granting early release to lifers who have fallen through the legislative cracks are left grappling for a solution.


“There must be a way smart lawyers doing clemency work and people of good will in the Bureau of Prisons and the Biden administration can get this done,” said Barry Scheck, a professor at Cardozo School of Law and co-founder of the Innocence Project. “It’s a matter of common decency.”


In the meantime, Mr. Erwin continues to send out petitions for compassionate release from his Fort Worth cell, undeterred by the legal obstacles. “I’m a gangster redeemed by God,” he said. “And I’m waiting on the real judge.”



7) Yes, We Can End Child Poverty if We Want To

By Nikhil Goyal, Sept. 25, 2023

Dr. Goyal is the author of the book “Live to See the Day: Coming of Age in American Poverty.”

A young girl rides a pink scooter down a residential street.
Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times

The annual Census Bureau report released earlier this month revealed that child poverty more than doubled in the United States last year, the largest single-year increase on record. The news feels less like a surprise and more like a confirmation, if not a deliberate choice.


Many federal pandemic relief programs in health care, food assistance, housing and child care — most notably the expanded child tax credit — have either expired or are set to expire, which in all likelihood will ensure that child poverty will continue to accelerate. The list also includes emergency rental assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program emergency allotments and Medicaid continuous coverage. The implications of letting these policies lapse without replacement, one after the other, will likely be felt for years to come.


A significant blow arrives on Sept. 30, when child care emergency-relief funding terminates. According to a Century Foundation report, 3.2 million children are expected to lose access to care in the coming months. Seventy thousand child care programs are likely to close, and more than 200,000 industry workers could lose their jobs. Child care and preschool costs have been soaring faster than inflation, and the surviving centers could be forced to raise their fees. The lack of accessible and affordable child care could pull more women out of the work force, potentially leading to higher inflation and a slower economic recovery.


We should not be surprised by the outcomes that follow from subjecting children and families to chronic deprivation. Over eight years, I conducted an ethnographic study examining the lives of children growing up in Kensington, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia. Babies born in the neighborhood are expected to live to 71, which is 17 years less than babies born no more than four miles away in the affluent, predominantly white neighborhood of Society Hill — and a life span on par with countries such as Egypt, Bhutan and Uzbekistan.


When I first met Emmanuel Coreano, a Puerto Rican student from Kensington, he was living with his disabled mother in a dilapidated row home that lacked hot water and electricity. The rooms were filthy and mold-ridden. The bathtub was at risk of falling through the cracked ceiling into the kitchen. One night, Emmanuel was sleeping when he woke up to a sharp pain. Tasting something metallic, he touched his lip, and in the glow of his phone screen he could see that his finger was stained with blood. A rat had bitten him.


Still, this was the best housing that his mother could find on her limited budget; she had no earnings and relied on Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. “I remember asking God to give me a happy home,” Emmanuel wrote in a poem. “One where the neighborhood was good, where I didn’t have to care about the anger in people’s hearts, where I didn’t have to worry about getting shot up in a park.”


Despite experiencing housing precarity and economic hardship, Emmanuel managed to graduate from El Centro de Estudiantes, a last-chance alternative high school, thanks to the support of caring educators. He was an adult when Donald Trump and Joe Biden enacted trillions of dollars of the most significant anti-poverty measures in decades — economic impact payments, expanded unemployment insurance and the expanded child tax credit. Tens of millions of Americans were kept out of poverty and economic insecurity as a result; in another world, a younger Emmanuel could have been one of them. The stark relief that pandemic programs brought to families is proof that poverty is not an intractable problem when there is sufficient political will.


The economist Amartya Sen has argued that poverty is not simply the condition of low income, it is also “the deprivation of basic capabilities,” which he defines as “the substantive freedoms he or she enjoys to lead the kind of life he or she has reason to value.” To guarantee such economic and social freedoms, we also need to reverse decades of privatization and austerity and invest in equitable public goods: education, health care, housing, child care, broadband, utilities, food and other sectors.


As a senior policy adviser for Bernie Sanders, who was then the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, I spent six months in 2021 helping my colleagues draft, revise and negotiate the details of the Build Back Better bill. ​​We dreamed of achieving a feat akin to the New Deal, so it was devastating to watch the original $6 trillion, 10-year spending plan get hacked to $3.5 trillion, and then $1.75 trillion, only to die in the Senate. A dramatically pared-down version of that bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, made transformative investments, but nearly all of Build Back Better’s original measures were left out. We should recommit to finishing the job and passing an agenda that will reduce child poverty and make life more affordable.


It is also up to the states to do their part. Buoyed by Democratic trifectas, some have become bona fide laboratories of social democracy. Fourteen states have adopted a state-level child tax credit, with many featuring a fully refundable provision so that families with little to no income can benefit. This year, New Mexico has expanded free preschool seats and made child care free for families earning up to four times the federal poverty rate — roughly $120,000 for a family of four. In the upcoming fiscal year, Minnesota will pour more than $250 million of additional funding into early childhood education to reduce the costs of child care and create thousands of new preschool slots. This includes $10 million to supplement funding of the federal Head Start program, which serves children up to the age of 5 and should be bolstered by states. Today, nine states have universal free school breakfast and lunch on the books. Just last month, the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, established a $20 million initiative that will help fund grocery stores in food deserts.


Millions of children are in the predicament that Emmanuel Coreano was once in, and more will join them if we refuse to act. The government has a choice here. It can deliver cash transfers, enact public goods and establish a floor of livelihood where nobody suffers from poverty or want — or it can allow children and families to go hungry, unhoused, indebted and abandoned on the altar of the market. It is time to once again use our immense power and resources to reduce suffering and save lives.



8) A New Border Crossing: Americans Turn to Mexico for Abortions

American women are seeking help from Mexico for abortions, crystallizing the shifting policies of two nations that once held vastly different positions on the procedure.

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Edyra Espriella, Sept. 25, 2023

A woman holds a sign in support of abortion rights at a demonstration in Mexico.
Women in Saltillo, Mexico, celebrate a court ruling that declared criminalization of abortion illegal in 2021. Mexican abortion-rights activists are seeing American women who seek abortions turning to Mexico. Credit...Daniel Becerril/Reuters

The text message Cynthia Menchaca received this summer was one she was seeing more and more: A woman living in Texas said she had left a violent relationship only to discover she was pregnant, and she desperately wanted an abortion. The woman had learned that Ms. Menchaca could send her abortion pills from Mexico, where the procedure has been decriminalized in several states.


But the growing U.S. demand for abortion care is not limited to deliveries of medication, according to advocates like Ms. Menchaca, who lives in Coahuila state in northeastern Mexico.


Clinics in Tijuana and Mexico City, as well as activists in the northwestern city of Hermosillo, say they have seen women crossing the border from Texas, Louisiana and Arizona seeking access to abortion.


“Before, the women from Sonora would go to the United States to access abortions in clinics,” said Andrea Sanchez, an abortion-rights activist, referring to the Mexican state that borders Arizona. “And now the women from the United States come to Mexico.”


More than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Mexican abortion-rights activists have seen a rise of American women crossing the border to seek abortions — crystallizing the shifting policies of two nations that once held vastly different positions on the procedure.


For decades, abortion was criminalized in Mexico and much of Latin America with few exceptions, while in the United States, the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling established a constitutional right to abortion.


Today, Mexico’s Supreme Court has decriminalized abortion nationwide, making it legally accessible in federal institutions and eliminating federal penalties for the procedure. Twelve of the country’s 32 states have also decriminalized abortion, and activists say they have renewed momentum to push local officials in the remaining states.


By comparison, more than 20 American states currently ban or restrict the procedure after 18 weeks of pregnancy or earlier, with 14 states completely forbidding the procedure in almost all circumstances.


Mexican activists, anticipating the Supreme Court could overturn Roe when it was still weighing the case, began organizing and have established an underground system, sending thousands of pills north and helping women travel south across the border. They say the longstanding restrictions in Latin America prepared them to now handle the influx of demand.


“The truth is that years ago, we neither had nor envisioned collaboration with the United States,” said Verónica Cruz, who 20 years ago helped found the reproductive-rights organization Las Libres, which means “the free ones.”


She added: “But faced with the urgency, the increasing restrictions, and having a model, resources like the pills, and as our territory progresses, it became evident that we needed to build international solidarity.”


Ms. Cruz initially planned to help shuttle women in the United States to Mexico, but found it to be too financially burdensome both for her organization and those seeking abortions. She has instead focused on sending mifepristone and misoprostol, the two-drug regimen to end a pregnancy, over the border to American women, particularly those living in states that ban the procedure or ban providers from prescribing the pills.


In U.S. studies, the combination of these pills causes a complete abortion in more than 99 percent of patients, and is as safe as the traditional abortion procedure administered by a doctor in a clinic. Growing evidence from overseas suggests that abortion pills are safe even among women who do not have a doctor to advise them.


Since the lifting of Roe, Ms. Cruz said she has helped roughly 20,000 women in 23 states secure the abortion pills. She said she will continue to help these women even as certain states move to penalize those who assist with abortions.


Activists involved in sending the pills to the United States declined to specify their shipping and delivery methods, though most said they are coordinating with American activists over the border. One organizer in Mexico, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said she conceals the medication in electronic accessories, clothing, stuffed animals or dietary supplements when shipping to states that restrict it.


While the Food and Drug Administration said that abortion drugs can be delivered by mail, several states banned this shipping method, or require that the drugs be dispensed by providers in person.


Carol Tobias, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, one of the largest anti-abortion groups in the United States, said she was not surprised that women were traveling to Mexico for abortions. Americans have long crossed the border for various procedures, she said.


But she called for tougher enforcement in the United States to prevent people from easily delivering abortion pills in the mail. “I think it’s very sad that women are being told the abortion pill is an easy, safe way out of a difficult situation,” Ms. Tobias said. “It’s much more complicated than that.”


There is no reliable national data on abortion in Mexico, according to public health experts. Abortion-rights activists say they are mainly sending medication north to help Americans rather than providing access in Mexico itself.


Luisa García, director of Profem’s clinics in Tijuana and Mexico City, said she would typically see only one patient a month crossing the border to Mexico, where clinics offer abortion care at a lower price than in the United States. But this year, she has received at least 80 calls from American numbers requesting appointments.


“I can’t believe it,” Ms. García said. “America was free and open-minded about abortion, but now with these decisions about the court, women need to relocate their reproductive and sexual rights.”


Ms. García said that Americans occasionally arrive at her clinic alone, nervous and speaking minimal Spanish. Some women have told her staff that they traveled to Mexico secretly without telling family members who disapprove of the procedure.


Nicole Huberfeld, a professor of health law at Boston University, said the decision to cross the border for abortions shows just how desperate many American women are to get the procedure.


“When we see more people crossing the border for care it shows something is wrong in the U.S.,” Ms. Huberfield said.


Mexican organizers say that even amid recent abortion-rights rulings in Mexico, the procedure is still not completely available nationwide. The Mexican Supreme Court ruling did not void criminal penalties at the local level, and private or state institutions can still ban the procedure.


Anti-abortion groups in Mexico adamantly opposed the top court’s decision this month.


Marcial Padilla, director of the Mexico-based ConParticipación, told the Catholic news agency ACI Prensa that Mexico’s Supreme Court decision would pressure senators to “remove the protection of the right to life.”


The recent court decisions in Mexico have conveyed “that a son or daughter does not deserve the same protection of the law before birth as after birth,” he said.


Some Americans seeking abortion care in Mexico were surprised to find lasting restrictions south of the border.


Vanessa Jimenez Ruvalcaba, a Mexican activist who opens her home in Nuevo León state near the border to women seeking abortions, received a call in July from a father who traveled to the state with his daughter from Nebraska, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.


But Nuevo León only permits the abortion in the case of incest, rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. Ms. Jimenez said the father and daughter were turned away from a clinic before they were referred to her organization, the I Need to Abort Collective.


Ms. Jimenez and her fellow activists helped the young woman eventually access to abortion pills.


Even in the face of abortions bans, Mexican groups have formed a model known as “accompaniment,” in which they disseminate pills while providing medical counseling and psychological support to women.


Ms. Sanchez and her colleague, Carolina Castillo, said they have been implementing the model in Sonora for years. They are now fielding questions on social media from American women who fear facing criminal punishment for seeking abortion medication in the United States. They say the women are relieved to hear from organizers who have spent years confronting such restrictions.


“We have been living for many years in a context of social and legal penalization of abortion,” Ms. Sanchez said. “Which is why we, as women, have had to organize ourselves.”


Emiliano Rodríguez Mega contributed research from Mexico City.



9) F.B.I. Investigating Charges of Abuse by Baton Rouge Police in ‘Brave Cave’

Lawsuits filed in federal court said officers detained, abused and humiliated detainees in an unmarked “torture warehouse.”

By Livia Albeck-Ripka, Sept. 24, 2023


A body camera video still shows Jeremy Lee in tan pants, sleeveless undershirt and white sneakers in a chair, leaning forward in a warehouse with a large bay door in the background. Two officers, faces unseen, are on the sides of the camera.

Jeremy Lee inside a warehouse in Baton Rouge on Jan. 9, 2023, as seen in an image from a police body camera video. Credit...Baton Rouge Police Department, via Associated Press

A grandmother detained by the Baton Rouge police for mixing two different prescription pills in the same container said officers interrogated and humiliated her in an unmarked “torture warehouse” known as the Brave Cave, according to a lawsuit filed last week.


The woman, Ternell L. Brown, was pulled over by officers on June 10 and “forcibly” transported to the warehouse, where she was stripped and cavity searched, according to the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.


It was unclear from the documents why Ms. Brown, who was with her husband, was pulled over in the first place.


She was held at the warehouse for more than two hours before being released without being charged, according to the suit, which identified the officers as Troy Lawrence Jr. and Matthew Wallace. Another female officer, who was not named, was also involved, according to the complaint.


Officer Lawrence, who was described in court documents as having an “extensive record of injuring members of the public,” resigned on Aug. 29, television station WAFB reported.


He was charged on Thursday with battery in connection with a separate incident on Aug. 8, in which he is accused of using a stun gun on a handcuffed male subject before he could comply with verbal orders, the Baton Rouge Police Department said on Facebook.


The warehouse, run by the Street Crimes Unit of the Baton Rouge Police Department, was closed in recent weeks after allegations similar to those raised by Ms. Brown came to light, according to the documents.


On Friday, the F.B.I. opened a civil rights investigation into the allegations, saying it was based on “allegations that members of the department may have abused their authority.”


In a statement, the Baton Rouge Police Department confirmed the F.B.I. investigation, adding that Murphy J. Paul Jr., the police chief, had met with the F.B.I. and requested its help to “ensure an independent review of these complaints.”


“The Baton Rouge Police Department is committed to addressing these troubling accusations and has initiated administrative and criminal investigations,” the department said, noting that the Street Crimes Unit was “disbanded and reassigned.”


According to Ms. Brown’s lawsuit, the officers switched off their body cameras and searched her without a warrant, probable cause or consent.


“They were not acting as rogue officers when they sexually humiliated Mrs. Brown; rather, they were simply carrying out official BRPD policy,” court records said.


Another lawsuit, filed on Aug. 29 in the same court, said that Officers Lawrence and Wallace, as well as another officer, Joseph Carboni, beat a 21-year-old man so badly that he had to be treated at a hospital for broken bones and other injuries.


The man, Jeremy Lee, was arrested in front of a house in Baton Rouge on Jan. 9 and detained “without reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” according to court records.


Police handcuffed Mr. Lee and forced him down on a street near the house, where they pulled down his pants to search him and, despite Mr. Lee’s insistence that he was being hurt, proceeded to shove and throw him around, according to the complaint.


Officers Lawrence and Wallace, who frequently muted or switched off their body cameras during the interaction, then took Mr. Lee to the “Brave Cave,” where they were joined by Officer Carboni, the court papers said.


The three “repeatedly kicked and punched” Mr. Lee, according to the complaint.


“Mr. Lee’s screams for help and screams in pain could be heard throughout the facility,” court documents said, noting that the officers “laughed at and mocked” him for his pain.


The officers switched off their body cameras before the beating, which left Mr. Lee with a fractured rib and visible damage to his face, according to the documents. Mr. Lee was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing.


Neither the Baton Rouge Police Department nor the Southern States Police Benevolent Association responded to questions about whether or not the officers involved in both Ms. Brown and Mr. Lee’s cases were facing disciplinary actions.


Mr. Lawrence and Officers Carboni and Wallace could not be reached for comment on Sunday night. Mayor Sharon Weston Broome also could not be reached.


According to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Ms. Brown, the “Brave Cave” was not a jail or detention facility but rather a warehouse adopted as the home base of the Street Crimes Unit.


“It is a place where BRPD takes suspects to interrogate them, gather intelligence and attempt to ‘flip’ them to begin cooperating with BRPD,” the complaint states.


In a news conference last month, Chief Paul said he was “aware of the facility” and referred to the warehouse as a “narcotics processing center” but said he had been unaware of its nickname.


The lawsuits follow other allegations of misconduct in the Baton Rouge Police Department, which came under scrutiny in 2016 after the fatal shooting of a 37-year-old Black man, Alton Sterling.


Officers were also found to have violated department policy when they strip-searched a teenager in 2021. The same year, an internal investigation of the department’s narcotics unit led to criminal charges and internal discipline for the officers involved.



10) Dear Supreme Court of Brazil,

Use Your Power to Protect Women

Video by Eliza Capai, Text by Joanna Erdman, Sept. 26, 2023

Ms. Capai is a Brazilian filmmaker. This short film is adapted from her feature-length documentary “Incompatible With Life.” Ms. Erdman is a professor of health law and policy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.


When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, state anti-abortion laws came into immediate effect, clinics closed the same day, and people desperately searched for care against the clock of pregnancy.


That is to say, there is an urgency to injustice, much as the time for justice is always now.


These lessons are being tested in Brazil. Last week Brazil’s Supreme Court opened voting in a case to decriminalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This would be a sea change in the country, as explored in the film above. Today Brazil prohibits abortion, with only narrow exceptions in cases of rape, risk to life and a fatal fetal condition known as anencephaly.


The judgment is long overdue. Known as A.D.P.F. 442, the case was filed in 2017 and asks the court to declare the criminal law on abortion unconstitutional and end the near total prohibition on abortion.


Last Friday, the departing chief justice, Rosa Weber, cast the first vote to decriminalize abortion in the case. Her replacement, Luis Roberto Barroso, could ensure that the case proceeds without delay. Brazil’s women cannot wait any longer for the equality and justice their Constitution promises them. The court must vote, and it must do so as soon as possible.


When filed, this case was likely the first to ask a Latin American court to decriminalize abortion. Since then, other courts in the region have acted. What began as tentative support for legislative reforms and congressional power to decriminalize abortion has swelled into the so-called green wave, a political movement for abortion rights. Courts started to issue judgments on access to abortion as a matter of fundamental rights and as part of nations’ constitutional framework, challenging rather than accepting the use of criminal law in abortion regulation. In a few countries, decriminalization as a constitutional imperative soon followed.


In 2021, Mexico’s Supreme Court declared the abortion provisions of a state penal code unconstitutional and two years later declared the same of the federal code. In 2022, Colombia’s Constitutional Court issued a sweeping judgment that decriminalized abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy. These are principle-based judgments that allow abortion at the simple request of a person in need. They remove authorizations for care that were associated with little health or social benefit and were too often abused to delay and deny care. They are judgments in step with the everyday facts of fundamental rights and rooted in the strongest public health evidence.


The World Health Organization recommends the decriminalization of abortion to save lives and to protect health and well-being. The evidence is unassailable. Women suffer and die under these laws. Abortion will always carry this threat until it can be practiced without legal sanction.


This is because criminalization denies more than access to a single health care service; it carries broader social harms. It breeds fear among those who need care and those who could care for them, a cruel fate for the most vulnerable women, denounced by those who profess to care and harmed in a system that purports to help. In Brazil, abortion criminalization betrays the constitutional promise of universal care. People who flee from or are abandoned by the nation’s public health system must desperately seek care outside it. They face extraordinary burdens — burdens that some do not survive.


By the punishment that it inflicts and the secrecy and shame that it commands, criminalization separates people from their support networks, severs their social bonds and invites all manner of indignity and loss into their lives. It deepens the racial, class and gender inequalities of social life. In Brazil, Black and brown women, poor and young women and women from the most vulnerable regions of the country are more likely to have abortions, to be arrested for having them and to die from them. These are the women buried in the statistics on unsafe abortion in the country.


There are also the women surviving under the pain of forced pregnancy. They labor and give birth after fetal diagnosis, only to see their children suffer or die. Others grieve a future free of violence; a future of economic security; a future of a family nourished, clothed and housed; or a future of any life plan of their making.


This is the evidence for abortion decriminalization in living terms. The dissenting justices of the U.S. Supreme Court implored their colleagues not to turn away from it when ending the constitutional right to abortion. The courts in Colombia and Mexico relied on it to find abortion rights in the most fundamental precepts of their Constitutions: life and health, freedom from violence, equality and human dignity.


Years ago, this evidence was put before Brazil’s Supreme Court in a public hearing in this case, the most significant public engagement on abortion in a state institution. Today this evidence makes women’s lives the pressing burden of the court’s judgment.


Every year, hundreds of thousands of women have abortions in Brazil. Abortion is an everyday experience because it is an act by which people take care of themselves and others. As such, its protection as a constitutional right becomes an act by which we care for women in our most public sphere, a court of justice.


The criminalization of abortion requires every vote to be cast against it. There is nothing more to analyze, no more evidence to call; only a constitutional future for the women of Brazil and their fundamental rights awaits. The time for judgment is now.