Jesse Williams’ Powerful BET Award Speech Addresses Police Brutality, Racism in America

Jessie Williams BET
Jesse Williams accepts the Humanitarian Award on stage during the 2016 BET Awards. (Photo: Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Actor Jesse Williams is best known for his role on the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. But on the night of June 26, he earned a standing ovation at the BET Awards for the powerful speech he gave when accepting the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. Williams paid homage to police shooting victims, including Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice, who would have turned 14 years old on Saturday (June 25th) had he not been gunned down by police in Cleveland. Below is a transcript of Williams’ speech in its entirety.


Before we get into it, I just want to say, you know, I brought my parents out tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to focus on comprehension over career, that they made sure I learned what the schools were afraid to teach us. And also I thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country—the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students—that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. All right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also, in particular, for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we’ve been doing is looking at the data. And we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and ours.

Now, I got more, y’all. Yesterday would have been young Tamir Rice’s 14th birthday. So I don’t want to hear anymore about how far we’ve come, when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how it’s so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isn’t going to stop this. All right? Now, dedicating our lives—dedicating our lives to get money, just to give it right back for someone’s brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies?

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us, and we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. “You’re free,” they keep telling us, “but she would have been alive if she hadn’t acted so free.” Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But you know what, though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let’s get—let’s get a couple things straight. Just a little side note. The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. All right? Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest—if you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We’ve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil—black gold—ghettoizing and demeaning our creations, then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though—the thing is that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.

In Her Own Words: A Rape Survivors Addresses Her Rapist In Court

Rape 2


One night in January 2015, two Stanford University graduate students biking across campus spotted a freshman thrusting his body on top of an unconscious, half-naked woman behind a dumpster. This March, a California jury found the former student, 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner, guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Turner faced a maximum of 14 years in state prison. On June 2, he was sentenced to six months in county jail and probation. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky said he feared a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on Turner, a champion swimmer who once aspired to compete in the Olympics — a point repeatedly brought up during the trial.

But by the early hours of Tuesday morning, more than 191,000 people had signed a petition to recall Persky, a possibility in California, where judges are elected.

“Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency,” the petition read. “He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender or other factors. Please help rectify this travesty to justice.”

Stanford University released a statement Monday deflecting criticism of its handling of the case. The school did “everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case,” from immediately investigating the incident to referring it to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, the statement said.

On June 2, Turner’s victim addressed him directly, detailing the severe impact his actions had on her — from the night she learned she had been assaulted by a stranger while unconscious, to the grueling trial during which Turner’s attorneys argued that she had eagerly consented. The woman, now 23, told the press she was disappointed with the “gentle” sentence and angry that Turner still denied sexually assaulting her.

✒ Her words, which need no introduction, are below.

Your Honor, if it is all right, for the majority of this statement I would like to address the defendant directly.

You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.

On January 17th, 2015, it was a quiet Saturday night at home. My dad made some dinner and I sat at the table with my younger sister who was visiting for the weekend. I was working full time and it was approaching my bed time. I planned to stay at home by myself, watch some TV and read, while she went to a party with her friends. Then, I decided it was my only night with her, I had nothing better to do, so why not, there’s a dumb party ten minutes from my house, I would go, dance like a fool, and embarrass my younger sister. On the way there, I joked that undergrad guys would have braces. My sister teased me for wearing a beige cardigan to a frat party like a librarian. I called myself “big mama”, because I knew I’d be the oldest one there. I made silly faces, let my guard down, and drank liquor too fast not factoring in that my tolerance had significantly lowered since college.

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing. The thin piece of fabric, the only thing between my vagina and anything else, was missing and everything inside me was silenced. I still don’t have words for that feeling. In order to keep breathing, I thought maybe the policemen used scissors to cut them off for evidence.

Then, I felt pine needles scratching the back of my neck and started pulling them out my hair. I thought maybe, the pine needles had fallen from a tree onto my head. My brain was talking my gut into not collapsing. Because my gut was saying, help me, help me.

I shuffled from room to room with a blanket wrapped around me, pine needles trailing behind me, I left a little pile in every room I sat in. I was asked to sign papers that said “Rape Victim” and I thought something has really happened. My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. To calm me down, they said it’s just the flora and fauna, flora and fauna. I had multiple swabs inserted into my vagina and anus, needles for shots, pills, had a Nikon pointed right into my spread legs. I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions.

After a few hours of this, they let me shower. I stood there examining my body beneath the stream of water and decided, I don’t want my body anymore. I was terrified of it, I didn’t know what had been in it, if it had been contaminated, who had touched it. I wanted to take off my body like a jacket and leave it at the hospital with everything else.

On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately. But for now, I should go home and get back to my normal life. Imagine stepping back into the world with only that information. They gave me huge hugs and I walked out of the hospital into the parking lot wearing the new sweatshirt and sweatpants they provided me, as they had only allowed me to keep my necklace and shoes.

My sister picked me up, face wet from tears and contorted in anguish. Instinctively and immediately, I wanted to take away her pain. I smiled at her, I told her to look at me, I’m right here, I’m okay, everything’s okay, I’m right here. My hair is washed and clean, they gave me the strangest shampoo, calm down, and look at me. Look at these funny new sweatpants and sweatshirt, I look like a P.E. teacher, let’s go home, let’s eat something. She did not know that beneath my sweatsuit, I had scratches and bandages on my skin, my vagina was sore and had become a strange, dark color from all the prodding, my underwear was missing, and I felt too empty to continue to speak. That I was also afraid, that I was also devastated. That day we drove home and for hours in silence my younger sister held me.

My boyfriend did not know what happened, but called that day and said, “I was really worried about you last night, you scared me, did you make it home okay?” I was horrified. That’s when I learned I had called him that night in my blackout, left an incomprehensible voicemail, that we had also spoken on the phone, but I was slurring so heavily he was scared for me, that he repeatedly told me to go find [my sister]. Again, he asked me, “What happened last night? Did you make it home okay?” I said yes, and hung up to cry.

I was not ready to tell my boyfriend or parents that actually, I may have been raped behind a dumpster, but I don’t know by who or when or how. If I told them, I would see the fear on their faces, and mine would multiply by tenfold, so instead I pretended the whole thing wasn’t real.

I tried to push it out of my mind, but it was so heavy I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone. After work, I would drive to a secluded place to scream. I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep, I didn’t interact with anyone, and I became isolated from the ones I loved most. For over a week after the incident, I didn’t get any calls or updates about that night or what happened to me. The only symbol that proved that it hadn’t just been a bad dream, was the sweatshirt from the hospital in my drawer.

One day, I was at work, scrolling through the news on my phone, and came across an article. In it, I read and learned for the first time about how I was found unconscious, with my hair disheveled, long necklace wrapped around my neck, bra pulled out of my dress, dress pulled off over my shoulders and pulled up above my waist, that I was butt naked all the way down to my boots, legs spread apart, and had been penetrated by a foreign object by someone I did not recognize. This was how I learned what happened to me, sitting at my desk reading the news at work. I learned what happened to me the same time everyone else in the world learned what happened to me. That’s when the pine needles in my hair made sense, they didn’t fall from a tree. He had taken off my underwear, his fingers had been inside of me. I don’t even know this person. I still don’t know this person. When I read about me like this, I said, this can’t be me, this can’t be me. I could not digest or accept any of this information. I could not imagine my family having to read about this online. I kept reading. In the next paragraph, I read something that I will never forgive; I read that according to him, I liked it. I liked it. Again, I do not have words for these feelings.

It’s like if you were to read an article where a car was hit, and found dented, in a ditch. But maybe the car enjoyed being hit. Maybe the other car didn’t mean to hit it, just bump it up a little bit. Cars get in accidents all the time, people aren’t always paying attention, can we really say who’s at fault.

And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened.

The night the news came out I sat my parents down and told them that I had been assaulted, to not look at the news because it’s upsetting, just know that I’m okay, I’m right here, and I’m okay. But halfway through telling them, my mom had to hold me because I could no longer stand up.

The night after it happened, he said he didn’t know my name, said he wouldn’t be able to identify my face in a lineup, didn’t mention any dialogue between us, no words, only dancing and kissing. Dancing is a cute term; was it snapping fingers and twirling dancing, or just bodies grinding up against each other in a crowded room? I wonder if kissing was just faces sloppily pressed up against each other? When the detective asked if he had planned on taking me back to his dorm, he said no. When the detective asked how we ended up behind the dumpster, he said he didn’t know. He admitted to kissing other girls at that party, one of whom was my own sister who pushed him away. He admitted to wanting to hook up with someone. I was the wounded antelope of the herd, completely alone and vulnerable, physically unable to fend for myself, and he chose me. Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realized, it would have happened, just to somebody else. You were about to enter four years of access to drunk girls and parties, and if this is the foot you started off on, then it is right you did not continue. The night after it happened, he said he thought I liked it because I rubbed his back. A back rub.

Never mentioned me voicing consent, never mentioned us even speaking, a back rub. One more time, in public news, I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers had been jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris, my bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my half naked, unconscious body. But I don’t remember, so how do I prove I didn’t like it.

I thought there’s no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught. He’s going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me, find loopholes in my story to invalidate me and my sister, in order to show that this sexual assault was in fact a misunderstanding. That he was going to go to any length to convince the world he had simply been confused.

I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.

How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.

I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life, inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name. After a physical assault, I was assaulted with questions designed to attack me, to say see, her facts don’t line up, she’s out of her mind, she’s practically an alcoholic, she probably wanted to hook up, he’s like an athlete right, they were both drunk, whatever, the hospital stuff she remembers is after the fact, why take it into account, Brock has a lot at stake so he’s having a really hard time right now.

And then it came time for him to testify and I learned what it meant to be revictimized. I want to remind you, the night after it happened he said he never planned to take me back to his dorm. He said he didn’t know why we were behind a dumpster. He got up to leave because he wasn’t feeling well when he was suddenly chased and attacked. Then he learned I could not remember.

So one year later, as predicted, a new dialogue emerged. Brock had a strange new story, almost sounded like a poorly written young adult novel with kissing and dancing and hand holding and lovingly tumbling onto the ground, and most importantly in this new story, there was suddenly consent. One year after the incident, he remembered, oh yeah, by the way she actually said yes, to everything, so.

He said he had asked if I wanted to dance. Apparently I said yes. He’d asked if I wanted to go to his dorm, I said yes. Then he asked if he could finger me and I said yes. Most guys don’t ask, can I finger you? Usually there’s a natural progression of things, unfolding consensually, not a Q and A. But apparently I granted full permission. He’s in the clear. Even in his story, I only said a total of three words, yes yes yes, before he had me half naked on the ground. Future reference, if you are confused about whether a girl can consent, see if she can speak an entire sentence. You couldn’t even do that. Just one coherent string of words. Where was the confusion? This is common sense, human decency.

According to him, the only reason we were on the ground was because I fell down. Note; if a girl falls down help her get back up. If she is too drunk to even walk and falls down, do not mount her, hump her, take off her underwear, and insert your hand inside her vagina. If a girl falls down help her up. If she is wearing a cardigan over her dress don’t take it off so that you can touch her breasts. Maybe she is cold, maybe that’s why she wore the cardigan.

Next in the story, two Swedes on bicycles approached you and you ran. When they tackled you why didn’t say, “Stop! Everything’s okay, go ask her, she’s right over there, she’ll tell you.” I mean you had just asked for my consent, right? I was awake, right? When the policeman arrived and interviewed the evil Swede who tackled you, he was crying so hard he couldn’t speak because of what he’d seen.

Your attorney has repeatedly pointed out, well we don’t know exactly when she became unconscious. And you’re right, maybe I was still fluttering my eyes and wasn’t completely limp yet. That was never the point. I was too drunk to speak English, too drunk to consent way before I was on the ground. I should have never been touched in the first place. Brock stated, “At no time did I see that she was not responding. If at any time I thought she was not responding, I would have stopped immediately.” Here’s the thing; if your plan was to stop only when I became unresponsive, then you still do not understand. You didn’t even stop when I was unconscious anyway! Someone else stopped you. Two guys on bikes noticed I wasn’t moving in the dark and had to tackle you. How did you not notice while on top of me?

You said, you would have stopped and gotten help. You say that, but I want you to explain how you would’ve helped me, step by step, walk me through this. I want to know, if those evil Swedes had not found me, how the night would have played out. I am asking you; Would you have pulled my underwear back on over my boots? Untangled the necklace wrapped around my neck? Closed my legs, covered me? Pick the pine needles from my hair? Asked if the abrasions on my neck and bottom hurt? Would you then go find a friend and say, Will you help me get her somewhere warm and soft? I don’t sleep when I think about the way it could have gone if the two guys had never come. What would have happened to me? That’s what you’ll never have a good answer for, that’s what you can’t explain even after a year.

On top of all this, he claimed that I orgasmed after one minute of digital penetration. The nurse said there had been abrasions, lacerations, and dirt in my genitalia. Was that before or after I came?

To sit under oath and inform all of us, that yes I wanted it, yes I permitted it, and that you are the true victim attacked by Swedes for reasons unknown to you is appalling, is demented, is selfish, is damaging. It is enough to be suffering. It is another thing to have someone ruthlessly working to diminish the gravity of validity of this suffering.

My family had to see pictures of my head strapped to a gurney full of pine needles, of my body in the dirt with my eyes closed, hair messed up, limbs bent, and dress hiked up. And even after that, my family had to listen to your attorney say the pictures were after the fact, we can dismiss them. To say, yes her nurse confirmed there was redness and abrasions inside her, significant trauma to her genitalia, but that’s what happens when you finger someone, and he’s already admitted to that. To listen to your attorney attempt to paint a picture of me, the face of girls gone wild, as if somehow that would make it so that I had this coming for me. To listen to him say I sounded drunk on the phone because I’m silly and that’s my goofy way of speaking. To point out that in the voicemail, I said I would reward my boyfriend and we all know what I was thinking. I assure you my rewards program is non transferable, especially to any nameless man that approaches me.

He has done irreversible damage to me and my family during the trial and we have sat silently, listening to him shape the evening. But in the end, his unsupported statements and his attorney’s twisted logic fooled no one. The truth won, the truth spoke for itself.

You are guilty. Twelve jurors convicted you guilty of three felony counts beyond reasonable doubt, that’s twelve votes per count, thirty ­six yeses confirming guilt, that’s one hundred percent, unanimous guilt. And I thought finally it is over, finally he will own up to what he did, truly apologize, we will both move on and get better. Then I read your statement.

Rape 1

If you are hoping that one of my organs will implode from anger and I will die, I’m almost there. You are very close. This is not a story of another drunk college hook­up with poor decision making. Assault is not an accident. Somehow, you still don’t get it. Somehow, you still sound confused. I will now read portions of the defendant’s statement and respond to them.

You said, Being drunk I just couldn’t make the best decisions and neither could she.

Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. Everyone in this room has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much, or knows someone close to them who has had a night where they have regretted drinking too much. Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference.

You said, If I wanted to get to know her, I should have asked for her number, rather than asking her to go back to my room.

I’m not mad because you didn’t ask for my number. Even if you did know me, I would not want to be in this situation. My own boyfriend knows me, but if he asked to finger me behind a dumpster, I would slap him. No girl wants to be in this situation. Nobody. I don’t care if you know their phone number or not.

You said, I stupidly thought it was okay for me to do what everyone around me was doing, which was drinking. I was wrong.

Again, you were not wrong for drinking. Everyone around you was not sexually assaulting me. You were wrong for doing what nobody else was doing, which was pushing your erect dick in your pants against my naked, defenseless body concealed in a dark area, where partygoers could no longer see or protect me, and my own sister could not find me. Sipping fireball is not your crime. Peeling off and discarding my underwear like a candy wrapper to insert your finger into my body, is where you went wrong. Why am I still explaining this.

You said, During the trial I didn’t want to victimize her at all. That was just my attorney and his way of approaching the case.

Your attorney is not your scapegoat, he represents you. Did your attorney say some incredulously infuriating, degrading things? Absolutely. He said you had an erection, because it was cold.

You said, you are in the process of establishing a program for high school and college students in which you speak about your experience to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that.”

Campus drinking culture. That’s what we’re speaking out against? You think that’s what I’ve spent the past year fighting for? Not awareness about campus sexual assault, or rape, or learning to recognize consent. Campus drinking culture. Down with Jack Daniels. Down with Skyy Vodka. If you want talk to people about drinking go to an AA meeting. You realize, having a drinking problem is different than drinking and then forcefully trying to have sex with someone? Show men how to respect women, not how to drink less.

Drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that. Goes along with that, like a side effect, like fries on the side of your order. Where does promiscuity even come into play? I don’t see headlines that read, Brock Turner, Guilty of drinking too much and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with that. Campus Sexual Assault. There’s your first powerpoint slide. Rest assured, if you fail to fix the topic of your talk, I will follow you to every school you go to and give a follow up presentation.

Lastly you said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.

A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.

See one thing we have in common is that we were both unable to get up in the morning. I am no stranger to suffering. You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was “unconscious intoxicated woman”, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster, while you are the All­ American swimmer at a top university, innocent until proven guilty, with so much at stake. I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, my life was put on hold for over a year, waiting to figure out if I was worth something.

My independence, natural joy, gentleness, and steady lifestyle I had been enjoying became distorted beyond recognition. I became closed off, angry, self deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see. I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells, I can tell you all the best places in that building to cry where no one can hear you. The pain became so bad that I had to explain the private details to my boss to let her know why I was leaving. I needed time because continuing day to day was not possible. I used my savings to go as far away as I could possibly be. I did not return to work full time as I knew I’d have to take weeks off in the future for the hearing and trial, that were constantly being rescheduled. My life was put on hold for over a year, my structure had collapsed.

I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five year old, because I have nightmares of being touched where I cannot wake up, I did this thing where I waited until the sun came up and I felt safe enough to sleep. For three months, I went to bed at six o’clock in the morning.

I used to pride myself on my independence, now I am afraid to go on walks in the evening, to attend social events with drinking among friends where I should be comfortable being. I have become a little barnacle always needing to be at someone’s side, to have my boyfriend standing next to me, sleeping beside me, protecting me. It is embarrassing how feeble I feel, how timidly I move through life, always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.

You have no idea how hard I have worked to rebuild parts of me that are still weak. It took me eight months to even talk about what happened. I could no longer connect with friends, with everyone around me. I would scream at my boyfriend, my own family whenever they brought this up. You never let me forget what happened to me. At the of end of the hearing, the trial, I was too tired to speak. I would leave drained, silent. I would go home turn off my phone and for days I would not speak. You bought me a ticket to a planet where I lived by myself. Every time a new article come out, I lived with the paranoia that my entire hometown would find out and know me as the girl who got assaulted. I didn’t want anyone’s pity and am still learning to accept victim as part of my identity. You made my own hometown an uncomfortable place to be.

You cannot give me back my sleepless nights. The way I have broken down sobbing uncontrollably if I’m watching a movie and a woman is harmed, to say it lightly, this experience has expanded my empathy for other victims. I have lost weight from stress, when people would comment I told them I’ve been running a lot lately. There are times I did not want to be touched. I have to relearn that I am not fragile, I am capable, I am wholesome, not just livid and weak.

When I see my younger sister hurting, when she is unable to keep up in school, when she is deprived of joy, when she is not sleeping, when she is crying so hard on the phone she is barely breathing, telling me over and over again she is sorry for leaving me alone that night, sorry sorry sorry, when she feels more guilt than you, then I do not forgive you. That night I had called her to try and find her, but you found me first. Your attorney’s closing statement began, “[Her sister] said she was fine and who knows her better than her sister.” You tried to use my own sister against me? Your points of attack were so weak, so low, it was almost embarrassing. You do not touch her.

You should have never done this to me. Secondly, you should have never made me fight so long to tell you, you should have never done this to me. But here we are. The damage is done, no one can undo it. And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it head on, I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on.

Your life is not over, you have decades of years ahead to rewrite your story. The world is huge, it is so much bigger than Palo Alto and Stanford, and you will make a space for yourself in it where you can be useful and happy. But right now, you do not get to shrug your shoulders and be confused anymore. You do not get to pretend that there were no red flags. You have been convicted of violating me, intentionally, forcibly, sexually, with malicious intent, and all you can admit to is consuming alcohol. Do not talk about the sad way your life was upturned because alcohol made you do bad things. Figure out how to take responsibility for your own conduct.

Now to address the sentencing. When I read the probation officer’s report, I was in disbelief, consumed by anger which eventually quieted down to profound sadness. My statements have been slimmed down to distortion and taken out of context. I fought hard during this trial and will not have the outcome minimized by a probation officer who attempted to evaluate my current state and my wishes in a fifteen minute conversation, the majority of which was spent answering questions I had about the legal system. The context is also important. Brock had yet to issue a statement, and I had not read his remarks.

My life has been on hold for over a year, a year of anger, anguish and uncertainty, until a jury of my peers rendered a judgment that validated the injustices I had endured. Had Brock admitted guilt and remorse and offered to settle early on, I would have considered a lighter sentence, respecting his honesty, grateful to be able to move our lives forward. Instead he took the risk of going to trial, added insult to injury and forced me to relive the hurt as details about my personal life and sexual assault were brutally dissected before the public. He pushed me and my family through a year of inexplicable, unnecessary suffering, and should face the consequences of challenging his crime, of putting my pain into question, of making us wait so long for justice.

I told the probation officer I do not want Brock to rot away in prison. I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars. The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft time­out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence. Probation should be denied. I also told the probation officer that what I truly wanted was for Brock to get it, to understand and admit to his wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, after reading the defendant’s report, I am severely disappointed and feel that he has failed to exhibit sincere remorse or responsibility for his conduct. I fully respected his right to a trial, but even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol. Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence. It is deeply offensive that he would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of “promiscuity.” By definition rape is the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent, and it perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.

The probation officer factored in that the defendant is youthful and has no prior convictions. In my opinion, he is old enough to know what he did was wrong. When you are eighteen in this country you can go to war. When you are nineteen, you are old enough to pay the consequences for attempting to rape someone. He is young, but he is old enough to know better.

As this is a first offence I can see where leniency would beckon. On the other hand, as a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.

The Probation Officer has stated that this case, when compared to other crimes of similar nature, may be considered less serious due to the defendant’s level of intoxication. It felt serious. That’s all I’m going to say.

What has he done to demonstrate that he deserves a break? He has only apologized for drinking and has yet to define what he did to me as sexual assault, he has revictimized me continually, relentlessly. He has been found guilty of three serious felonies and it is time for him to accept the consequences of his actions. He will not be quietly excused.

He is a lifetime sex registrant. That doesn’t expire. Just like what he did to me doesn’t expire, doesn’t just go away after a set number of years. It stays with me, it’s part of my identity, it has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life.

To conclude, I want to say thank you. To everyone from the intern who made me oatmeal when I woke up at the hospital that morning, to the deputy who waited beside me, to the nurses who calmed me, to the detective who listened to me and never judged me, to my advocates who stood unwaveringly beside me, to my therapist who taught me to find courage in vulnerability, to my boss for being kind and understanding, to my incredible parents who teach me how to turn pain into strength, to my grandma who snuck chocolate into the courtroom throughout this to give to me, my friends who remind me how to be happy, to my boyfriend who is patient and loving, to my unconquerable sister who is the other half of my heart, to Alaleh, my idol, who fought tirelessly and never doubted me. Thank you to everyone involved in the trial for their time and attention. Thank you to girls across the nation that wrote cards to my DA to give to me, so many strangers who cared for me.

Most importantly, thank you to the two men who saved me, who I have yet to meet. I sleep with two bicycles that I drew taped above my bed to remind myself there are heroes in this story. That we are looking out for one another. To have known all of these people, to have felt their protection and love, is something I will never forget.

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought everyday for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.

The Panama Papers: ICIJ Investigators Expose Global Corruption and Crime


The Panama Papers is an unprecedented, global investigation into the sprawling, secretive industry of offshore that the world’s rich and powerful use to hide assets and skirt rules by setting up front companies in far-flung jurisdictions.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, together with the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and more than 100 other media partners, spent a year sifting through 11.5 million leaked files to expose the offshore holdings of world political leaders, links to global scandals, and details of the hidden financial dealings of fraudsters, tax evasion, drug traffickers, billionaires, celebrities, sports stars and more.

The trove of documents is likely the biggest leak of inside information in history. It includes nearly 40 years of data from a little-known but powerful law firm based in Panama. That firm, Mossack Fonseca, has offices in more than 35 locations around the globe, and is one of the world’s top creators of shell companies, corporate structures that can be used to hide ownership of assets.

Executive producer: Hamish Boland-Rudder
Producer: Carrie Ching
Animation artist: Arthur Jones
Report: Will Fitzgibbon
Narrator: Eleanor Bell Fox
Supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

ICIJ’s analysis of the leaked records revealed information on more than 214,000 offshore companies connected to people in more than 200 countries and territories.

The leaked data reveals information about 140 politicians, 12 current or former heads of state from 50 countries, including Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s former leader Muammar Qaddafi. It reported Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stored millions of dollars of investments in Iceland’s major banks in an offshore company. The Guardian reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s associates secretly moved as much as $2 billion through offshore accounts. Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Juan Pedro Damiani, the Uruguayan lawyer who is president of the country’s most popular soccer team and a FIFA ethics expert, managed companies through which FIFA members may have received bribes.

ICIJ’s data and research unit indexed, organized and analyzed the 2.6 terabytes of data that make up the leak, using collaborative platforms to communicate and share documents with over 100 news outlets and 400 journalists working in 25 languages in nearly 80 countries.

The first news reports based on the papers, and 149 of the documents themselves, were published on April 3, 2016. The ICIJ plans to publish a full list of companies involved in early May 2016.

Source: The Panama Papers | ICIJ

Related & Recommended
❋ The Panama Papers: The Power Players

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❋ Inside The Panama Papers: Dirty Little Secrets | FUSION (Video)

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❋ Panama Papers: The Real Scandal Is What’s Legal by Brooke Harrington | The Atlantic

❋ The Panama Papers: The Mysterious U.S. Connection by John Carey | WSJ

❋ Mossack Fonseca: Statement Regarding Recent Media Coverage (Web/PDF)

Love in the Time of War: Newlyweds in Syria Amid the Ruins

Newly-wed Syrian couple Nada Merhi,18, and Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a wedding picture amid heavily damaged buildings in the war ravaged city of Homs on February 5, 2016. (Photography: JOSEPH EID /AFP /Getty Images)

In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death,” according to AFP photographer Joseph Eid. Here, Nada Merhi, 18, and her husband, Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a series of wedding pictures amid heavily damaged buildings in Homs on February 5, 2016.


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images


Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

Source: Newlyweds in the Ruins: A Syrian Wedding Shoot by Alan Taylor | The Atlantic

The Playgrounds of Pakistan – Where Children Play and Die

Angie Wang

Not far from the house where I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, there was a children’s amusement park. It sat on top of a hill, its slides and swings beckoning children from the houses below. As summer vacations dragged on, my brother and I would hear the gleeful screams of other children, and we begged my mother to take us. It wasn’t an easy sell. “The swings are so rickety,” she would say one day. “Aren’t you afraid you will fall out of the spinning wheel?” she would say on another. We were a little afraid, but we ached to go. That park was the only one we knew, and if it was shabby, its toy horses and pretend cars worn and weary, it still held the promise of exhilaration.

Like children everywhere, we were drawn to being a little scared. That, after all, is the pull of the amusement park: small thrills ordered and anticipated, and then conquered, fear confronted and overcome. When we did get to go, our hearts pumped wildly at the crazy height of a swing, our breath raced as our bodies were flung about; all of it made us wild with joy. Like everywhere, there were small dangers: grim grown men who sat at the periphery, watching giggling children with beady eyes; boarded-up or broken rides, like ominous warnings of thrills gone wrong; beggars who beseeched us for the coins we clenched in our fists. But the heedlessness of childhood worked its wonders; the swings and the slides blurred them into the background.

The children who died in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Sunday would have been riding those familiar crests of feeling: the wild joy of being high up or spun around mixing suddenly, grotesquely with the grim finality of death. Twenty-nine of the at least 72 dead were children, all of them, presumably, engaging in the child’s pastime of facing fear and surviving it. In the footage of the aftermath, their bloodied clothes and toys are strewn about; a green plastic toy car sits untouched in the rubble.

Their deaths are a stern rebuke to the country that failed them and to the world that turns away from them. The lurking men of the playgrounds of my childhood are no longer predictable villains, the deviants and kidnappers who feature in the cautionary tales told to children around the world. They are assassins, their hearts harnessed with explosives, their bodies bundled with bombs. The mothers refusing their children a trip to the amusement park will now tell them not about a rickety swing but about a bombing. Even the resilience of the very young cannot dream that away; the shadow of terror encroaches on childhood.

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.”

In the media, too, it seems. Two days after Sunday’s attack, Lahore has disappeared from the top headlines. Pakistan’s pain has already been extinguished from the global news cycle, its catastrophe a news item and not — as in Paris or Brussels — a news event. The world has many demands on its meager stores of empathy. The children’s names, their pictures, the terrain of the park where they fell to bits will never be familiar to a mourning world. Efforts to make the dead children of Pakistan real and innocent, worthy of a tear and not just a tweet, start, sputter and fizzle.

The playgrounds of Pakistan have fallen silent for the moment as the country buries its dead children. As I think of them, my ears ring with the sounds carried down by the wind from the playground on the hill. We wished to go when we couldn’t, but even that longing for the playground has now been denied to Pakistani children. What children ache to do when they stand on top of a slide or swing high in the air is simply to face their fear and vanquish it. In this the dead children of Lahore are braver than their country, braver than the world, braver than all of us who are scared but cannot confront our fears.

By Rafia Zakaria | NYT (OpEd)

UNICEF: Female Genital Mutilation More Widespread Than Previously Thought

FGM Header

Among the Marakwet people of Kenya, FGM is still considered a prerequisite for marriage, marking the transition from girlhood to adulthood. Photograph: Siegfried Modola/ Reuters

“You are brave, you are courageous, tomorrow you are going to be a woman.” These words are what relatives of six-year-old Hibo Wardere told her the night before she was led to a makeshift hut in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, where a local ‘cutter’ used a razor to remove her genitalia.

Wardere, now 46, is one of at least 200 million women and children who have experienced female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM) in more than 30 countries, according to new data from UNICEF. Not only is that total far higher than previous estimates, the practice is also more widespread than researchers thought.

UNICEF researchers have only been able to source national data from 30 nations, but there are reports of procedures happening in pockets of Europe, Colombia, the U.S., India and South East Asia.

New data from Indonesia, where around 50% of girls under 11 have been cut, was largely responsible for an explosion in overall figures of nearly 70 million more people than totals of three years ago.

“What is relevant to highlight is we have always thought the practice originated in Africa and remained concentrated in many parts of the Middle East, but now with new evidence…the focus becomes wider,” Claudia Cappa, lead author of UNICEF’s report on FGM, told TIME.

Although global prevalence of the practice has declined over the past three decades, booming youth demographics in developing countries where FGM is most common has meant that absolute numbers of victims are increasing.

Today, more than 100 million girls in Egypt, Ethiopia and Egypt have undergone FGM, UNICEF reports, and at least 90% of women and girls between 15-49 in Guinea, Somalia and Djibouti.


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According to the World Health Organization, FGM is classified into four types. Each involves the partial to total removal of a female’s external genitalia for no medical reason. Wardere, today an FGM educator and author in London, says Type 3 is the most devastating. Known as infibulation, the clitoris and other parts of the genitalia are carved away, leaving a tiny opening after the remaining skin is stitched-up together. ‘It is basically a slab… a wall with tiny holes, it is a dangerous business and the psychological affects that come with it is massive” Wardere says.

In all types of FGM, the short-term risks include haemorrhaging, urine retention, shock and, in the worst case scenario, death, says Leyla Hussein, a prominent anti-FGM campaigner whose online petition successfully lobbied the British government to launch an inquiry into the practice. Victims must live with infections, painful and irregular menstrual cycles, cysts, sexual dysfunction and infertility.

The reasons why FGM is inflicted varies from country to country: it is related to specific regional practices found in Christian areas to Muslim countries, linked to female right-of-passage ceremonies or the idea of preserving virginity. But activists say the common link are entrenched, patriarchal communities. “Fundamentally, it is done to control women, that is why myself and millions of young girls have undergone this” says Hussein, who started the U.K.’s first counseling service for FGM survivors.

Activists say political will, education and community dialogue are now needed to stem the problem. Wardere, who works for a U.K. governmental pilot scheme that will teach students, teachers and local councils about the risks of being cut, says a 16-year-old girl realized she was a FGM victim after attending Wardere’s lecture. She then disclosed that fact to her teachers, so as to protect her younger sisters from suffering the same fate.

Some progress is being made; Since 2008, 15 thousand communities and sub-districts in 20 countries have publicly declared they are abandoning FGM. Surveys also show men from countries with high prevalence are becoming more opposed to the practice than girls or women. In Guinea, 41% of boys aged between 15 and 19 think the practice should end compared to 27% of girls the same age, UNICEF says, while in Sierra Leone over a third of men (36%) between the ages of 45 and 49 want it to end, compared to 13% of women.

If more men in areas of Africa and the Middle East knew the issues it creates with fertility and women’s health, activists say, those voices of opposition might be louder. “I challenge these communities who undergo the practice: if you want us to have children, then why do you make it so difficult?’” Hussein says.

Source:  Female Genital Mutilation More Widespread Than Previously Thought, UNICEF Says -By Tara John | TIME

HRW World Report 2016: The United States

Human Rights Poster

The United States has a vibrant civil society and strong constitutional protections for many civil and political rights. Yet many US laws and practices, particularly in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice, immigration, and national security, violate internationally recognized human rights. Often, those least able to defend their rights in court or through the political process—members of racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, children, the poor, and prisoners—are the people most likely to suffer abuses.

1. Harsh Sentencing

The United States locks up 2.37 million people, the largest reported incarcerated population in the world. About 12 million people annually cycle through county jails.

Concerns about over-incarceration in prisons—caused in part by mandatory minimum sentencing and excessively long sentences—have led some states and the US Congress to introduce several reform bills. At time of writing, none of the federal congressional measures had become law.

Thirty-one US states continue to impose the death penalty; seven of those carried out executions in 2014. In recent decades, the vast majority of executions have occurred in five states. In August, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty unconstitutional, barring execution for the 11 men who remained on death row after the Connecticut legislature did away with the death penalty in 2007.

At time of writing, 27 people had been executed in the US in 2015, all by lethal injection. The debate over lethal injection protocols continued, with several US states continuing to use experimental drug combinations and refusing to disclose their composition. In March, Utah passed a law allowing execution by firing squad. In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol was constitutional. Two prisoners executed in Oklahoma in 2014—Clayton Lockett and Michael Wilson—showed visible signs of distress as they died.

2. Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice

Racial disparities permeate every part of the US criminal justice system. Disparities in drug enforcement are particularly egregious. While whites and African Americans engage in drug offenses at comparable rates, African Americans are arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for drug offenses at much higher rates. African Americans are only 13 percent of the US population, but make up 29 percent of all drug arrests. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men.

A US Department of Justice report on the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, commissioned after the 2014 police killing of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown, found that African Americans were disproportionately impacted at all levels of Ferguson’s justice system—a problem that persists in justice systems throughout the country.

3. Drug Reform

The federal government has begun to address disproportionately long sentences for federal drug offenders. At time of writing, President Barack Obama had commuted the sentences of 86 prisoners in 2015, 76 of them drug offenders. Yet more than 35,000 federal inmates remain in prison after petitioning for reconsideration of their drug sentences. In October, the Bureau of Prisons released more than 6,000 people who had been serving disproportionately long drug sentences; the releases resulted from a retroactive reduction of federal drug sentences approved by the US Sentencing Commission.

4. Police Reform

Once again, high-profile police killings of unarmed African Americans gained media attention in 2015, including the deaths of Freddy Gray in Baltimore and Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. The federal government does not maintain a full count of the number of people killed by police each year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed in 2015 that it tracks only 35 to 50 percent of arrest-related deaths on an annual basis. A new federal law incentivizes the collection of data regarding deaths in police custody, but does not require states to provide that data and so fails to ensure reliable data on people killed by police.

In May, Obama’s Law Enforcement Equipment Working Group released recommendations to better regulate and restrict the transfer of Defense Department equipment to local law enforcement.

5. Prison and Jail Conditions

Momentum against the use of solitary confinement continued in 2015, but according to a new report, an estimated 100,000 state and federal prison inmates are being held in isolation.

In July, President Obama ordered the Department of Justice to review the practice of solitary confinement. Several states are currently considering legislative or regulatory reforms to reduce the use of solitary confinement. In New York, a proposed bill would limit the time during which an inmate could be held in isolation, and would ban solitary confinement for people with mental illness and other vulnerable groups. California settled a lawsuit brought by prisoners and agreed to eliminate the use of indefinite solitary confinement at the Pelican Bay State Prison—a supermax facility—as well as significantly reduce the length of time prisoners in California can be kept in solitary. However, California’s legislature failed to pass a bill that would have eliminated solitary confinement for children.

Jail and prison staff throughout the US use unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities. Although no national data exists, research—including a 2015 Human Rights Watch report—indicates that the problem is widespread and may be increasing in the country’s more than 5,100 jails and prisons.

6. Poverty and Criminal Justice

Poor defendants nationwide are subjected to prolonged and unnecessary pretrial detention because they cannot afford to post bail. Kalief Browder committed suicide in June, two years after being released from the jail complex on New York City’s Rikers Island, where from age 16 he had been held for three years in pretrial detention, mostly in solitary confinement, because he could not afford to post $3,000 in bail. His case catalyzed renewed criticism of money bail, prompting the New York City Council to announce creation of a bail fund and city officials to embrace new pretrial detention programs.

A new lawsuit challenging money bail was filed in October in San Francisco, and the governor of Connecticut has called for review of money bail in that state.

State and municipal practices that prey on low-income defendants to generate income gained increased attention after the Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, Missouri described that town’s municipal court system as little more than a revenue-generating machine targeting African Americans, with the Ferguson police as its “collection agency.”

The privatization of misdemeanor probation services by several US states has also led to abuses, including fees structured by private probation companies in ways that penalize poor offenders or lead to the arrest of people who genuinely cannot afford to pay. In March, Georgia passed a law that imposes important new limits on the practices of such companies. Other states where private probation is widespread have thus far not taken similar steps, though awareness of probation-related abuses seems to be rising.

7. Youth in the Criminal Justice System

In every US jurisdiction, children are prosecuted in adult courts and sentenced to adult prison terms. Fourteen states have no minimum age for adult prosecution, while others set the age at 10, 12, or 13. Some states automatically prosecute youth age 14 and above as adults. Fifteen states give discretion to the prosecuting attorney, not a judge, to decide whether a youth is to be denied the services of the juvenile system. Tens of thousands of youth under the age of 18 are being held in adult prisons and jails across the country. The US remains the only country to sentence people under the age of 18 to life without the possibility of parole.

In 2015, there was some movement toward reducing the number of children tried as adults. In Illinois, a new law ended the automatic transfer of children under 15 to adult court. New Jersey increased the minimum age to be tried as an adult from 14 to 15. California, for the first time in 40 years, improved the statutory criteria judges use in transfer hearings, which could reduce the number of youth tried as adults.

8. Rights of Non-Citizens

The US government continued the dramatic expansion of detention of migrant mothers and their children from Central America, many of them seeking asylum, though it announced some reforms mid-year. Human Rights Watch has documented the severe psychological toll of indefinite detention on asylum-seeking mothers and children and the barriers it raises to due process.

In June, the Obama administration announced it would limit long-term detention of mothers and children who pass the first step to seeking refugee protection, and cease detaining individuals as a deterrent to others. A federal judge ruled in July that the US government’s family detention policy violates a 1997 settlement on the detention of migrant children. While detention of families continues, most are released within weeks if they can make a seemingly legitimate asylum claim.

A federal lawsuit halted implementation of the Obama administration’s November 2014 executive actions to provide a temporary reprieve from deportation to certain unauthorized immigrants, which could have protected millions of families from the threat of arbitrary separation. Legislative efforts toward legal status for millions of unauthorized migrants in the US continued to founder.

Human Rights Watch documented in June how the US government targets for deportation lawful permanent residents and other immigrants with longstanding ties to the US who have drug convictions, including for old and minor offenses. State and federal drug reform efforts have largely excluded non-citizens, who face permanent deportation and family separation for drug offenses.

9. Labor Rights

Hundreds of thousands of children work on US farms. US law exempts child farmworkers from the minimum age and maximum hour requirements that protect other working children. Child farmworkers often work long hours and risk pesticide exposure, heat illness, and injuries. In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency banned children under 18 from handling pesticides. Children who work on tobacco farms frequently suffer vomiting, headaches, and other symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. After Human Rights Watch reported on hazardous child labor in US tobacco farming, the two largest US-based tobacco companies—Altria Group and Reynolds American—independently announced that, beginning in 2015, they would prohibit their growers from employing children under 16.

10. Right to Health

Stark racial disparities continue to characterize the HIV epidemic in the US, as the criminal justice system plays a key role as a barrier to HIV prevention and care and services for groups most vulnerable to HIV, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men, and transgender women.

A large outbreak of HIV and Hepatitis C infection occurred in rural southern Indiana in 2015, affecting more than 180 people who inject drugs. A state law allowing needle exchange programs in response to outbreaks was passed but maintains prohibitions on state funding for such programs as part of a broader prevention approach.

11. Rights of People with Disabilities

Corporal punishment in state schools is still widely practiced in 19 US states. Children with disabilities receive corporal punishment at a disproportionate rate to their peers, despite evidence that it can adversely affect their physical and psychological conditions. In contrast, 124 countries have criminalized physical chastisement in public schools.

12. Women’s and Girls’ Rights

Military - Sexual Assault

Despite Defense Department reforms, US military service members who report sexual assault frequently experience retaliation, including threats, vandalism, harassment, poor work assignments, loss of promotion opportunities, disciplinary action including discharge, and even criminal charges. The military does little to hold retaliators to account or provide effective remedies for retaliation. In May, Human Rights Watch released a report that found both male and female military personnel who report sexual assault are 12 times as likely to experience some form of retaliation as to see their attacker convicted of a sex offense.

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that housing policies and practices with a disproportionate and negative impact against classes protected from discrimination violate the Fair Housing Act, regardless of whether the policy was adopted with the intent to discriminate. The ruling is important for domestic and sexual violence victims who can face eviction due to zero-tolerance policies—where an entire household may be evicted if any member commits a crime—or municipal nuisance ordinances that subject tenants to eviction if they call the police frequently.

13. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The US Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on June 26, 2015, that grants same-sex couples throughout the country the right to marry.

At time of writing, 28 states do not have laws banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while three states prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not on gender identity.

In July, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under the existing definition of discrimination based on sex in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In June, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) introduced a policy providing certain protections for transgender women in immigration detention. Nevertheless, transgender women in ICE custody continue to receive inadequate medical care and report verbal and sexual harassment in detention.

14. National Security

The practice of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay entered its 14th year; at time of writing, 107 detainees remained at the facility, 48 were cleared for release, and the Obama administration had in 2015 transferred 20 detainees to their homes or third countries.

The administration continued to pursue cases before the fundamentally flawed military commissions at Guantanamo. In June, a federal appeals court overturned the 2008 conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, the alleged Al-Qaeda “public relations director” who was found guilty of conspiracy, soliciting murder, and providing material support for terrorism. As a result of the decision, at least five of the eight convictions imposed by the military commissions are now no longer valid.

Some detainees continued hunger strikes to protest their detention, including Tariq Ba Odah, who has been force-fed by nasal tube for several years and whose lawyers and doctors say is near death. The Obama administration opposed Odah’s legal request for a court-ordered release, even though the administration had cleared him for release five years ago.

Congress and President Obama signed into law the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which in recent years has included provisions on Guantanamo detentions. In 2015, the law tightened existing restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantanamo. The provisions will make it more difficult, though not impossible, to transfer detainees home or to third countries, and maintains the complete ban on transfer of detainees to the US for detention or trial.

The release in December 2014 of a summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s detention and interrogation program uncovered new information on the methods and extent of torture and Bush administration efforts to avoid culpability. The summary sparked calls by Human Rights Watch and others for new Justice Department criminal investigations into CIA torture and other violations of federal law, and, should the US fail to act, for action by other governments, including renewed efforts in Europe where a number of cases related to CIA torture already have been filed.

In response to the Senate summary, Congress included a provision in the NDAA that requires all US government agencies except law enforcement entities to abide by rules in the Army Field Manual on interrogation, and provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with notification of, and prompt access to, all prisoners held by the US in any armed conflict. The provision will bolster existing bans on torture, but without credible criminal investigations into CIA torture it is unclear how effectively the provision will guard against future abuse.

In June, Congress took a first small step toward curbing the government’s mass surveillance practices by passing the USA Freedom Act. The law imposes limits on the scope of the collection of phone records permissible under section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. It also puts in place new measures to increase transparency and oversight of surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The law does not constrain surveillance under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act or Executive Order 12333, the primary legal authorities used by the US government to justify mass violations of privacy of people outside US borders. The law also does not address many modern surveillance capabilities, from use of malware to interception of all mobile calls in a country.

US law enforcement officials continued to urge major US Internet and mobile phone companies to weaken the security of their services to facilitate surveillance in the course of criminal investigations. In May, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression called on all countries, including the US, to refrain from weakening encryption and other online security measures because such tools are critical for the security of human rights defenders and activists worldwide.

15. Foreign Policy

In July, the US and other countries reached a comprehensive deal with Iran, restricting its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Although a full drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan was planned for the end of 2014, Obama ordered 9,800 US troops to remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015 and 5,500 to remain into 2017.

Throughout the year, the US conducted airstrikes against the forces of the armed extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria and led a coalition of Western and regional allies in what Obama called a “long-term campaign” to defeat the group. A US program to train and equip “moderate” Syrian rebels—costing hundreds of millions of dollars—only produced approximately 60 fighters, a number of whom were promptly captured or killed. The US continued to call for a political solution to the conflict in Syria without a role for President Bashar al-Assad.

In March, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states began a military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. The US provided intelligence, logistical support, and personnel to the Saudi Arabian center planning airstrikes and coordinating activities, making US forces potentially jointly responsible for laws-of-war violations by coalition forces.

US drone strikes continued in Yemen and Pakistan, though at reduced numbers, while
US strikes increased in Somalia.

The US restored full military assistance to Egypt in April, despite a worsening human rights environment, lifting restrictions in place since the military takeover by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013. Egypt resumed its position as the second-largest recipient of US military assistance, worth $1.3 billion annually, after Israel. In June, the US lifted its hold on military assistance to the Bahraini military despite an absence of meaningful reform, which was the original requirement for resuming the aid.

In July, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria met with Obama in Washington; the US then pledged broad support for counterterrorism efforts and the fight against the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, as well as collaboration on economic development and tackling corruption. Obama in July traveled to Kenya and Ethiopia, where he urged respect for term limits across Africa.

More than 50 years since trade and diplomatic ties were severed during the Cold War, the US officially reopened diplomatic relations with Cuba in August. Obama also called for the lifting of the economic embargo, which would require an act of Congress.

In September, Obama waived provisions of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to allow four countries—the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan—to continue to receive US military assistance, despite their continued use of child soldiers. Obama delegated authority to Secretary of State John Kerry to make determinations under the act regarding Yemen, where child soldiers are used by all sides to the conflict; at time of writing, all US military aid to Yemen was suspended because of continuing instability there.

Reprint: World Report 2016 – Country Chapters: United States | Human Rights Watch (all hypertext sources added by SWilliamsJD)

The Rhineland Bastards: The Forgotten Black Victims of the Holocaust

Afro-German 1An Afro-German girl in a school photo. Afro-Germans in the Third Reich were victims of persecution, isolation, sterilization, medical experimentation, incarceration, brutality and murder.  (Photo: USHMM)

Most people know about the Nazi Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews and 6 million others: Russians, Gypsies, Slavs, socialists, disabled people and LGBT people.

Alongside the big narrative of the Holocaust there are a myriad of small, individual stories and testimonies that help illustrate and shed light on the cruelty and barbarity of the Nazi regime. One such account is the story of what happened to Germany’s tiny black population.

Primo Levi once wrote, “this is a story interwoven with freezing dawns”. Some may know their story, I certainly didn’t. Tucked away inside Hitler’s anti-Semitic diatribe, Mein Kampf, there is the following passage:

It was, and is, the Jew who brought negroes to the Rhine, brought them with the same aim and with deliberate intent to destroy the white race he hates by persistent bastardisation, to hurl it from the cultural and political heights it has attained, and to ascend them as its masters.

This was not entirely a figment of his imagination; there were a small number of young black children of African heritage living in the Rhineland. Like most west European countries, by the 17th century, Germany had a small black population. The modern state of Germany was founded in 1871.

The number of black people living in Germany increased from 1870 onwards. They came mainly from Germany’s small colonies in Africa and south east Asia; they were students, artisans, entertainers, former soldiers, low-level colonial officials, such as tax collectors, who had worked for the imperial colonial government.

Black Population

The black population of Germany at the time of the Third Reich was 20,000 – 25,000 out of a total population of over 65 million.

Even before the Nazis took power in 1933, Germany’s black population faced racial discrimination and violence. Most government, religious and colonial officials refused to register interracial marriages or births. The state promoted eugenics, and popularized arguments about the inferiority of dual-heritage children.

Following the defeat of Germany in the First World War, the Allies stripped Germany of its colonies. Also as part of the war reparations (under the Versailles Treaty) the Allies occupied the Rhineland in western Germany.

Firpo Carr in Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890-1945, estimates that over 200,000 French troops occupied the Rhineland region. They included a number black colonial troops. Some of these African Rhineland-based soldiers married German women and raised their children as German; other German women had children by African soldiers outside of marriage.

Estimates vary, but there were over 800 dual-heritage children living in the Rhineland region. The Nazis and some sections of the press labeled these children “Rhineland Bastards” or “Rhineland Mischlingers” (mixing their blood with “alien” races).

The term “Rhineland Bastard” is of course vile. It both articulated the Nazis’ biological construction of race and colonial conceptions of race and racial mixture that were seen as posing a threat to “white” superiority.

The isolation, segregation and attempted eradication of Germany’s black population was carried out in stages. This mirrors (obviously on a tiny scale) the methods used by the Nazis in their attempts to wipe out Europe’s Jewish population. Some of these children and their families fled Germany after the Nazis took power; others were killed in the round-ups that followed.

The Nazis enacted a new law providing a basis for forced sterilization of disabled people, Gypsies, and blacks on the 14 July 1933. If you want to read further about this horrific practice go to Benno Muellar-Hill’s Murderous Science: Elimination by Scientific Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others in Germany, 1933-1945.

Under the Nazis, African-German mixed-heritage children were marginalized, isolated socially and economically, and not allowed to attend university. Racial discrimination prohibited them from seeking most jobs.

Then followed the Nuremberg Laws of September 1935. These prohibited miscegenation – mixed marriages between Aryans and others. Any young Afro-German woman who got pregnant was forced to have an abortion.

Commission Number 3

bastarde am rhein_grNazi propaganda about “Rhineland Bastards” (Photo: USHMM)

An organization named “Commission Number 3” was created by the Nazis to deal with the so-called problem of the “Rhineland Bastards”. This was organized under Dr. Eugen Fischer of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics. It was decided that the African-German children would be sterilized under the 1933 Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring.

The programme began in 1937, when local officials were asked to report on all “Rhineland Bastards” under their jurisdiction.

All together, some 400 children of mixed parentage were arrested and sterilized. The Nazis went to great lengths to conceal their sterilization and abortion programme.

What happened to these Afro-Germans is very complex – their experiences were not uniform. Some of these children were subjected to medical experiments and others mysteriously “disappeared”.

Hans Hauck, a black Holocaust survivor and a victim of Hitler’s mandatory sterilization programme, explained in the film Hitler’s Forgotten Victims that when he was forced to undergo sterilization as a teenager, he was given no anaesthetic. Once he received his sterilization certificate, he was “free to go”, so long as he agreed to have no sexual relations whatsoever with Germans.

Tina Campt, in her path-breaking book, Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender, and Memory in the Third Reich, interviewed several black Rhineland survivors. She published testimony from one male member of this Rhineland group. In his complex statement he recalls being sterilized under the Nazi programme, then later he became a member of the Hitler Youth movement. He then joined the German army, was captured by the Russians and spent several years as a German prisoner of war in Russia.

Jean Voste
Two survivors prepare food outside the barracks. The man on the right, presumably, is Jean (Johnny) Voste, born in Belgian Congo, who was the only black prisoner in Dachau. Dachau, Germany, May 1945. (Photo: USHMM)

Not enough research has been done to unravel what happened to Germany’s black population. We know that most – alongside other black Europeans and many black soldiers – ended up in Nazi concentration camps and were murdered.

Like their Jewish counterparts they did not go meekly to their deaths – they resisted the best they could. A tiny handful survived and were able to tell their story.

One such black survivor was Jean (Johnny) Voste, a Belgian resistance fighter who was arrested in 1942 for alleged sabotage and then shipped to Dachau concentration camp.

He told that one of his jobs was stacking vitamin crates in the camp. Risking his own life, he distributed hundreds of vitamins to camp detainees, which saved the lives of many who were starving and weak. His motto was: “No, you can’t have my life; I will fight for it.”

Reprint: The Rhineland Bastards: The Holocaust Forgotten Black Victims -By Martin Smith | Dream Deferred

Related & Recommended Sources
Black During the Holocaust | United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)
Mosaic of Victim: In Depth (USHMM)
The Nazi Olympics Berlin 1936 (USHMM)
Death Medicine: Creating The Master Race (USHMM)
The 71st Infantry Division (USHMM)

Record Number of People Exonerated in 2015 for Crimes They Didn’t Commit

Darrell CannonDarrell Cannon says police tortured him in 1983 and forced him to confess to a murder he didn’t commit. He spent more than 20 years in prison, but after a hearing on his tortured confession, prosecutors dismissed his case in 2004. He was released three years later.

The Netfilx hit true-crime series “Making a Murderer” leaves many people wondering: Just how common is the story of a wrongful conviction in America’s criminal justice system? Too common, according a new report that tracks exonerations.

Researchers found that 149 people were cleared in 2015 for crimes they didn’t commit — more than any other year in history, according to a report published Wednesday by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School. By comparison, 139 people were exonerated in 2014. The number has risen most years since 2005, when 61 people were cleared of crimes they didn’t commit.

“Historically, this is a very large number for a type of event that we’d like to think almost never happens or just doesn’t happen,” Samuel Gross, a University of Michigan law professor who helped write the report, told The Huffington Post.

The men and women who were cleared last year had, on average, served 14.5 years in prison. Some had been on death row. Others were younger than 18 when they were convicted or had intellectual disabilities. All had been swept into a justice system that’s supposed to be based on the presumption of innocence, but failed.

The high number of exonerations shows widespread problems with the system and likely “points to a much larger number of false convictions” that haven’t been reversed, the report said.

“That there is an impetus at all to address the underlying problems that create false convictions is of course good news,” Gross said. “But the other side is equally important, probably more so: When you see this many exonerations, that means there is a steady underlying problem. We now know that this happens on a regular basis.”

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

About 40 percent of the 2015 exonerations involved official misconduct, a record. About 75 percent of the homicide exonerations involved misconduct.

The wrongful conviction of Debra Milke, detailed in the report, was among them. Authorities accused Milke of conspiring with two men who shot her son in the back of the head to keep him from her ex-husband and to cash in on an insurance policy. Milke’s conviction was built largely on the testimony of now-retired Phoenix police Detective Armando Saldate Jr., who said Milke offered him sex during questioning and confessed to the murder. The interrogation wasn’t recorded, and Milke’s defense argued Saldate had a long history of misconduct that the state had concealed. In multiple other cases, the defense lawyers said, judges had tossed out confessions or indictments because Saldate had lied or violated defendants’ rights.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Milke’s attorneys and overturned her conviction. Milke had always maintained her innocence. She spent 26 years in prison — 22 on death row — before she was exonerated.

Debra Milke 2
Debra Milke, who spent more than two decades on death row for the alleged killing of her 4-year old son(Reuters)

False Confessions

Almost 20 percent of exonerations in 2015 were for convictions based on false confessions — a record. Those cases overwhelmingly were homicides involving defendants who were under 18, intellectually disabled, or both.

Bobby Johnson, of New Haven, Connecticut, was 16 years old with an IQ of 69 — just below the threshold for intellectual disability — without a parent or guardian present when he confessed to two detectives that he murdered 70-year-old Herbert Fields.

Johnson received a 38-year sentence in 2007. But in 2015, a new defense attorney argued that Johnson’s confession was coerced by the detectives, who lied that they had evidence linking him to the murder that would subject him to the death penalty. The lawyer also argued police ignored evidence that the murder was linked to two other killings committed by others. Nine years after his conviction, Johnson was exonerated and set free.

In a separate analysis of hundreds of cases since 1989, false confessions were found to be a leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit dedicated to correcting wrongful convictions. Overall, about 31 percent of wrongful conviction cases included a false confession. For homicides, that number balloons to 63 percent.

Bobby JohnsonSurrounded by his family, Bobby Johnson addresses the media outside of Superior Court in New Haven, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. Johnson spent nine years in prison for a 2006 killing his lawyer says he didn’t commit. Prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to set aside Johnson’s conviction “in the interest of justice and fair play.” (Arnold Gold / New Haven Register via AP)

Guilty Pleas

An innocent person pleading guilty to a crime they didn’t commit may seem unfathomable. But the National Registry of Exonerations said the number of false guilty pleas has been increasing for seven years, and has risen sharply in the past two years.

More than 40 percent of people exonerated in 2015 were convicted based on guilty pleas made by an innocent defendant, a record. The majority of these cases involved drugs. Some were homicide cases.

“Many people, including judges, take comfort in knowing that an overwhelming number of criminal cases are resolved by guilty plea rather than trial,” Judge Alex Kozinski, of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote last year in a paper critiquing the criminal justice system. But Kozinski said this attitude fails to account for issues surrounding plea deals that include the trend of bringing multiple counts for a single crime, the “creativity” of prosecutors in “hatching up criminal cases where no crime exits” and the general “overcriminalization of virtually every aspect of American life.”

Plea bargains can be an efficient way to resolve cases without draining taxpayer resources. They aren’t always bad. But a 2013 Human Rights Watch study found the U.S. system often creates situations where a federal prosecutor will “strong-arm” a defendant into a plea deal. And the deep fear of a harsh sentence — one “so excessively severe, they take your breath away,” in the words of Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York — can lead a defendant to plead guilty in order to obtain a shorter prison term, even if they’re accused wrongfully.

One example of plea deal complexities is the case of Shawn Whirl, who pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Chicago cab driver Billy Williams in 1991, according to the report.

Whirl’s defense argued he was being chased by an assailant the day he wound up in the back of Williams’ cab. The same assailant later killed Williams in retaliation for rescuing Whirl, the lawyers said. Whirl confessed to the crime, but said it was because he was tortured by a Chicago cop. When prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty, Whirl agreed to plead guilty to murder and armed robbery to save his life — even though he said in court on the day he received a 60-year sentence that he was innocent.

It wasn’t until 2012 that the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission, formed to investigate claims of torture against Chicago police, found that Whirl had indeed been tortured by a subordinate of Jon Burge — an ex-Chicago cop who led a police torture ring that used electrical shock, burnings and beatings on more than 200 black men.

Whirl was cleared of all charges on Oct. 13 and freed.

In May 2015, the Chicago City Council approved a $5.5 million reparations fund for victims of police torture. More than 200 people, most of them African-American, were tortured under the reign of Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge from 1972 to 1991. Tactics included electric shocks and suffocation.

No Crime Was Actually Committed

In about half of the exonerations in 2015, no crime was actually ever committed by the people put behind bars — a record, according to the report. Most of these cases involved drugs. Some included homicide or arson.

The report details the 1981 conviction of Raymond Mora, William Vasquez and Amaury Villalobo on six counts of murder for starting a fire in a Brooklyn, New York, building that killed a mother and her five children. The convictions were based on the building owner’s account that she saw the men leaving shortly before the fire, and a fire marshal’s testimony that the blaze had multiple origin points and was started with accelerants — signs of arson.

Each of the men’s wives gave alibi testimony that the men weren’t near the building when the fire started. All three men were convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Mora died in prison in 1989. Vasquez lost his eyesight due to untreated glaucoma, according to the report. In 2012, Vasquez and Villalobos were released on parole, and Villalobos sought the help of a legal clinic. Records from the case were reexamined and, using modern science, John Lentini, an arson expert, concluded that the original fire marshal’s interpretation of the evidence was mistaken, based on science that has since been disproven. This kind of expert testimony has likely resulted in “numerous” wrongful convictions, Lentini said.

Moreover, the building owner, just before she died, admitted lying about seeing the three men leaving the building at the time of the fire. She also hid an insurance settlement.

After this new evidence was presented, the convictions of all three men were vacated in December.

ellerin-bernhard-villalobosNew York Law School graduate Marissa Ellerin, left, and New York Law School professor Adele Bernhard with Amaury Villalobos, center, who was exonerated. (New York Law Journal)

Flawed Forensic Evidence

Many of last year’s exonerations involved flawed or invalid forensic evidence. According to the Innocence Project, improper forensic science is a leading cause of wrongful conviction.

Too often, the group says, forensic experts speculate when they testify, asserting conclusions that stretch the science. Further, some forensic techniques aren’t backed by research, but are nevertheless presented to juries as fact. And there are honest mistakes. The FBI has admitted that from 1972 to 1999, almost every examiner in the bureau’s elite forensics unit gave flawed testimony in nearly every trial in which they presented evidence.

Forensic fields like ballistics, bloodstain pattern identification and footprint and tire print analysis, have been “long accepted by the courts as largely infallible,” Kozinski said in his paper, arguing that the techniques should be viewed with skepticism.

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

False identifications of innocent people happened in several cases the exoneration registry report outlined.

The Innocence Project says eyewitness misidentification of a suspect plays a role in more than 70 percent of convictions that are later overturned through DNA evidence. Hundreds of studies have shown that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate and that human memories are not reliable, especially with traditional identification procedures. While simple reforms have been proposed, only about 14 U.S. states have implemented them, according to Innocence Project.

Kozinski called for states to adopt rigorous procedures for witness identification.

How Many More Wrongful Convictions?


There’s no clear data on how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted. The Innocence Project, citing multiple studies, estimates from 2 percent to 5 percent of prisoners are actually innocent. The U.S., which leads the world in incarceration of its citizens, has approximately 2 million people behind bars. That means a wrongful conviction rate of 1 percent would translate to 20,000 people punished for crimes they didn’t commit. On death row, 1 in 25 are likely innocent, according to a recent study.

“Because these things happen regularly, we should be more open-minded about reconsidering the guilt of convicted defendants when substantial new evidence emerges after conviction,” Gross said. “The impulse to say: ‘It’s over, I don’t want to think about it anymore’ is very strong. However, there are cracks in that position.”

Reprint: A Record Number Of People Were Exonerated In 2015 For Crimes They Didn’t Commit -By Matt Ferner | Huffington Post

Florida Teen Beaten, Mutilated & Raped In Prison Initiation Ritual

A minor at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Florida was brutally beaten and raped as part of a prison initiation ritual that was ignored by a guard, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Florida Institutional Legal Services Project of Florida Legal Services.

Jail Cell

The minor, R.W., endured a beating by more than six other youths as part of an initiation rite known as a “test of heart,” while a prison guard failed to come to his aid. R.W. was cut multiple times with sharpened barbed wire, choked until unconscious and raped with a broomstick.

“R.W. suffered a nightmare at Sumter,” said Miriam Haskell, SPLC attorney. “Unfortunately, his experience is not unique. A culture of brutality persists within the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC), and what R.W. endured is just another example of why children do not belong in the adult prison system.”

Bruce A. Kiser Jr., the officer on duty at the time and defendant in the lawsuit, was stationed immediately in front of the area where the attack occurred for the very purpose of supervising the youths involved, according to the suit. Yet he did nothing to stop the beating, and never reported the attack. An investigation by the FDOC’s Office of the Inspector General noted Kiser’s inaction and recommended the matter be reviewed for possible administrative action. Despite that recommendation – and FDOC Secretary Julie Jones’ commitment to a “new accountability” – Kiser remains employed.

Numerous complaints related to violence and tests of heart have been brought to the attention of the FDOC, yet this culture of brutality continues. Last month, the department agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit by a youth who was permanently injured in a test of heart at Lancaster Correctional Institution. In 2014, a youth died from injuries reportedly sustained in a similar attack.

Children as young as 14 are incarcerated in Florida’s youthful offender prisons, which are part of the adult prison system and among the most brutal facilities in the state. On any given day there are approximately 140 minors incarcerated in Florida prisons. The state incarcerates more children in adult prisons than any other state in the country, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most were tried as adults as a result of “direct file,” a procedure in which prosecutors transfer a child’s juvenile charges to adult criminal court without any judicial oversight.

Advocates around the state are calling on the Florida Legislature to keep more children out of adult prison by requiring that a judge – not just a prosecutor – determine whether a case should be tried in adult court.

The filing of R.W.’s lawsuit coincides with Children’s Week at the Florida Legislature. During this week, children and youth advocates from around the state gather in Tallahassee to raise critical issues affecting Florida’s children, including education, health, safety and abuse prevention.

“We need more accountability at all levels,” said Karen Garcia whose son, Bryce, was released last year from a youthful offender prison. “My son told me stories about inhumane treatment, getting hit by guards, mental abuse and guards opening closets to let kids fight. Whenever I raised these concerns, I got the runaround, from classification officers up to the warden.”

In October, the SPLC and other advocates sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling on the federal government to investigate horrific conditions in Florida prisons, including for incarcerated youth.

Reprint: SPLC Suit: Florida Teen Raped, Beaten in Prison Initiation Ritual