FIRED/REHIRED: How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Unfit Cops on the Street

Photo credit: Getty Images; Background image: The Washington Post

Since 2006, the nation’s largest police departments have fired at least 1,881 officers for misconduct that betrayed the public’s trust, from cheating on overtime to unjustified shootings. But The Washington Post has found that departments have been forced to reinstate more than 450 officers after appeals required by union contracts.

Most of the officers regained their jobs when police chiefs were overruled by arbitrators, typically lawyers hired to review the process. In many cases, the underlying misconduct was undisputed, but arbitrators often concluded that the firings were unjustified because departments had been too harsh, missed deadlines, lacked sufficient evidence or failed to interview witnesses.

A San Antonio police officer caught on a dash cam challenging a handcuffed man to fight him for the chance to be released was reinstated in February. In the District, an officer convicted of sexually abusing a young woman in his patrol car was ordered returned to the force in 2015. And in Boston, an officer was returned to work in 2012 despite being accused of lying, drunkenness and driving a suspected gunman from the scene of a nightclub killing.

The chiefs say the appeals process leaves little margin for error. Yet police agencies sometimes sabotage their own attempts to shed troubled officers by making procedural mistakes. The result is that police chiefs have booted hundreds of officers they have deemed unfit to be in their ranks, only to be compelled to take them back and return them to the streets with guns and badges.

“It’s demoralizing, but not just to the chief,” said Charles H. Ramsey, former police commissioner in Philadelphia and chief in the District. Philadelphia and the District together have had to rehire 80 fired officers since 2006, three of them twice.

“It’s demoralizing to the rank and file who really don’t want to have those kinds of people in their ranks,” Ramsey said. “It causes a tremendous amount of anxiety in the public. Our credibility is shot whenever these things happen.”

The Post’s findings illustrate the obstacles local police agencies face in holding their own accountable at a critical moment for policing: the Trump’s administration has indicated that the federal government will curtail the strategy of federal intervention in departments confronted with allegations of systemic officer misconduct, even as controversial police shootings continue to undermine public confidence.

Nationwide, the reinstatement of fired officers has not been comprehensively studied or tracked. No national database logs terminations. Some firings receive local publicity, but many go unreported. Some states shield police personnel records — including firings — from public disclosure.

To investigate how often fired officers were returned to their jobs, The Post filed open records requests with the nation’s 55 largest municipal and county police forces. Thirty-seven departments complied with the request, disclosing that they had fired a combined 1,881 officers since 2006. Of those officers, 451 successfully appealed and won their jobs back.

Police departments disclosed the reasons why they reinstated officers in about one-half of the 451 cases.

Rehired, Reason Is…                          Fired, Not Rehired
219 Disclosed  | 232 Undisclosed                                                                     1,430

The officers’ names and details were available in about half of the reinstatement cases: 151 of the officers had been fired for conduct unbecoming, and 88 had been terminated for dishonesty, according to a review of internal police documents, appeals records, court files and news reports.

At least 33 of the officers had been charged with crimes. Of these, 17 had been convicted, most of misdemeanors.

Eight officers were fired and rehired by their departments more than once.

“To overturn a police chief’s decision, except in cases of fact errors, is a disservice to the good order of the department,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who in February was ordered to reinstate Officer Matthew Belver for a second time. “It also undermines a chief’s authority and ignores the chief’s understanding of what serves the best interest of the community and the department.”

In the District, arbitrators have ordered the city to rehire 39 officers since 2006, more than half of them because arbitrators concluded that the department missed deadlines to complete its internal investigations. One officer, convicted of assault after he was caught on video attacking a shoe store employee, was fired in 2015 and reinstated in 2016 after an arbitrator concluded that police had missed the deadline by seven days, arbitration records show.

D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he disagreed with the arbitrators’ conclusions on when the clock started in those cases. “The public has to suffer because somebody violated an administrative rule,” Newsham said, adding that two-thirds of the officers reinstated because of missed investigative deadlines are no longer on the D.C. force.

Police unions argue that the right to appeal terminations through arbitration protects officers from arbitrary punishment or being second-guessed for their split-second decisions. Unions contend that police chiefs are prone to overreach, especially when there is public or political pressure to fire officers. In interviews, local and national union officials said some of the 451 reinstated officers should never have been fired in the first place.

“They’re held to a higher standard,” said James Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police. “Their work is constantly scrutinized to a far higher degree. You very seldom see any phone-cam indictments of trash collectors or utility workers.”

Local police departments have often been criticized in recent years as not holding their officers accountable in fatal shootings, or in cases of brutality and corruption. To address the outcry from the public, the Department of Justice has employed its authority to investigate police departments for civil rights violations and to force reforms. Under President Barack Obama, Justice launched dozens of these investigations. The tactic was used, for example, in the aftermath of the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The Trump administration, however, has indicated that local officials should take the lead in policing their own departments. “I think there’s concern that good police officers and good departments can be sued by the Department of Justice when you just have individuals within a department who have done wrong,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during his Senate confirmation hearing this year.

Justice Department officials recently told The Post that the department will be more judicious in launching civil rights investigations.

“The Attorney General has explicitly said that ‘police officers who abuse their sacred trust are made to answer for their misconduct’ and that ‘the Department of Justice will hold accountable any law enforcement officer who violates the civil rights of our citizens by using excessive force.’ Any assertion to the contrary is flat out wrong and incredibly irresponsible,” said Ian D. Prior, a Department of Justice spokesman, in a written statement.

“What the Attorney General does not believe, however, is that the unconstitutional actions of one police officer should result in onerous and ineffective agreements between the Department of Justice and local police departments that prevent law enforcement from reducing violent crime and protecting the public,’ ” Prior said in the statement.

But in a speech to law enforcement officers recently, President Trump made comments that were widely interpreted as condoning police violence against “thugs” who are taken into custody. He told officers: “[P]lease don’t be too nice.”

“When you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head. … I said, you can take the hand away, okay?” Trump said.

The White House later said the president had been joking.

The 37 departments that complied with the The Post’s request for records employ nearly 91,000 officers. The nearly 1,900 firings and the 451 re-hirings show both how rare it is for departments to fire officers and how difficult it is to keep many of those from returning.

“It’s the frustrating part of my job,” said Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans, who has been compelled to rehire four officers. “Most of the people we terminate [it] is clearly for good reason.”

Read full series report at Fired/ Hired -By Kimbriell Kelly, Wesley Lowery and Steven Rich | Washington Post

The 9 piece series includes: Fired/HiredGetaway DriverSuspended Then FiredThe Eight Year FiringA Challenge to FightFatal ForceMissed DeadlineNo Due ProcessA Rush to Judgment

This article was produced in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University. Students Teaganne Finn, Josephine Peterson, Matt Hanan, Taylor Hartz, Jordan Houston and Shaun Courtney contributed reporting to this article. Dalton Bennett and Alice Crites also contributed to this report.


Recommended…
Fired/Rehired: Documents Behind the Cases of Reinstated Police Officers
✻​ Alarming Number Of Cops Fired And Rehired Since 2016 | NewsOne hosted by Roland Martin (Video)

✻​ Cast-Out Police Officers Are Often Hired in Other Cities -By Timothy Wilson | The New York Times
✻​ How Police Unions and Arbitrators Keep Abusive Cops on the Street -By Conor Friedersdorf | The Atlantic

✻​ How Fired Police Officers Often End Up Back on the Job | CBS

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Lowering the Sky-High Murder Rate in Latin America

Two women hold signs with the pictures of murdered relatives during a demonstration against the lack of safety on the streets, on June 20, 2009 in Caracas.  ​(Photo: Juann Barreto / AFP/ Getty Images);  featured background image by Creatyves / DeviantArt.

Sergio Vicente Goulard’s body lay naked on a hospital stretcher in Rio de Janeiro, waiting to be identified. A few hours earlier, paramilitaries had shot him in the head inside his home. Luiz Carlos Barbosa was found on the street in the middle of a favela controlled by two criminal gangs; he had been executed for switching his allegiance. Jorge Luiz Bento’s family found his corpse rotting near a stream in the municipality of Nova Iguaçu, headless and with his hands bound. Claudeir Francisco had been cycling when he was shot; he was still clinging to his cellphone headphones as his mother wept over his body. Leandro Alves died in the company of his wife and son after he pulled out a gun during an attempted carjacking. The ensuing shootout also took the life of one of the assailants.

On Jan. 28, 2017, we saw those six corpses in Baixada Fluminense, an area with the highest homicide rate in the state of Rio de Janeiro. In Latin America, the most violent region in the world, the victims will most likely be forgotten and the murderers will most likely go free.

Those bodies, found far from Rio’s beaches, attest to the average of six murders per day in this area. And they are just one example of what is going on all over Latin America, where each day the morgues receive the bodies of roughly 400 murdered people. The homicide rate is so high — about four people every 15 minutes — that we are no longer shocked by the deaths. Latin America is home to just over 8 percent of the world’s population but a third of its homicides; between 2000 and 2016, 2.6 million people were murdered. Most countries have seen their homicide rate fall, but in Latin American countries, it is on the rise.

Murder has become a normal part of life. But we must work to reverse that. Some cities are fighting impunity and have developed social programs to reduce violence. Unfortunately, it’s not enough. The cure for the epidemic is complex. It will come from difficult, long-term adjustments in everyday life. And, of course, from the enforcement of the rule of law.

That day in January we began investigating homicide in the seven most violent countries in Latin America — Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — to understand how an act that takes place in the space of a second can represent an entire culture of violence, corruption and impunity.

Many lives are connected to the dead: drug traffickers, police officers, death squads, ranch owners and sometimes children with access to guns. There are the investigators, whose new cases are more likely to be shelved than resolved, and the overburdened judges and expensive lawyers. And there are the mothers, children and wives who will relive the fatal scenes over and over again in their minds.

Punishment is rare. The Latin American countries included on the Global Impunity Index, from Mexico’s Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice, are categorized as nations of “high” impunity. Mexico is No. 2 on the list, after the Philippines. If we take into account the crimes that are never reported and remain unaccounted for, the two countries have an impunity rate of 99 percent.

People kill because they can get away with it. They kill to gain territorial control, to traffic drugs, to settle political disputes. The United Nations’ Global Study on Homicide establishes three types of murders: criminal, interpersonal and sociopolitical. Latin America takes first place in all three categories.

Infographic: The Top-10 Most Violent Cities Worldwide | StatistaFind more statistics at Statista

Marco Antônio Pinto, a homicide investigator from Baixada Fluminense, in Rio de Janeiro, told us that he liked working in his unit because it was a “jungle” of murders with “a wild variety of fauna.” A juvenile judge who has heard hundreds of testimonies told us that the young people who pass through his courtroom rarely express regret for having committed murder, just shame for having been caught.

While most Latin Americans have seen murder victims only on TV and in the newspapers, there are indeed many — usually poor people with dark skin from marginal neighborhoods — who have actually witnessed far too many murders. They are also likely to be murderers and murder victims themselves. According to a 2016 report, 50 percent of the homicides in Latin American cities take place on 1.6 percent of their streets.

Not long ago we visited Fortaleza, the city with the highest rate of child and adolescent homicide victims in Brazil. In 2013, the murder rate was 268 per 100,000 inhabitants between the ages of 16 and 17, but the map of lethal violence was an almost perfect arc that covered an area far from the tourist zone, where some neighborhoods had gone a whole year without a single homicide. When we visited these areas and asked young people how many murders they knew of, they sometimes had to use two hands to count.

A majority of the murders committed in Latin America take place in the seven countries on the path that we have been covering since January. Three years ago we traveled to those countries, as well as 11 others in Latin America, to write “Narco América,” a book about the impact of drug trafficking. Whenever we asked authorities why they had such high homicide rates, the answer was usually the same: drugs.

Bodies of two victims of Mexico’s ongoing drug war are seen lying by the side of a road as police secure the area in the city of Veracruz, Mexico.​ (AP / Getty Images)​

Drug trafficking is a factor in these and other ills (30 percent of the homicides are linked to organized crime or gangs), but it doesn’t explain everything. Countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, which also lie on the drug route leading to the United States, have the lowest homicide rates in Central America, light-years from their neighbors in the so-called Northern Triangle. Peru and Bolivia are major cocaine producers, yet their murder rate is nowhere near that of Colombia.

The most murderous nations are plagued with a number of common problems, but each also has it own particular issues. The drug war in Mexico is one of the most lethal conflicts in the world. Gang-related battles in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras have rendered that small triumvirate the world homicide capital. In Colombia, on the other hand, deaths connected to the country’s conflict dropped by a third over a decade, but other types of violence led to more than 12,000 murders last year. Venezuela is in the grip of a social and economic meltdown: Last year there were 21,752 registered homicides. In Brazil, cities as well as rural areas are rife with territorial conflicts, and the national police force is among the deadliest in the world. All told, in Latin America 144,000 people are murdered every year.

Homicide is not just a consequence of something else: In our society it is a normalized practice for resolving conflicts. A 15-year-old told us he had killed his girlfriend because he had gotten angry at her.

As with any illness or addiction, the first step is accepting that we have become homicidal countries. For years, governments have massaged the statistics and assigned blame to their neighbors. In some cases, they have actively contributed to the problem, using violence to stop violence, as in the cases of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico — a country that, a decade after militarizing the fight against crime, started the new year with the highest number of homicides in its history.

But there are a handful of positive experiences worth examining and replicating. In Honduras, the Association for a More Just Society has developed a project that supports homicide investigations. In Venezuela, Proyecto Alcatraz provides work, sports and educational opportunities to young people in criminal gangs. In Brazil, authorities have tried placing community police officers in high-risk zones with programs like Stay Alive and Pact for Life. The ban on carrying firearms in Colombian cities has resulted in a moderate reduction in murder rates. Regulating the sale of alcohol as a security measure has been successful in Bogotá and Diadema, in the state of São Paulo.

In April, 30 civic organizations from Latin America’s seven most violent countries began the Instinto de Vida (Instinct for Life) campaign, aimed at reducing homicides by 50 percent over the next 10 years through conflict mediation; gun, alcohol and drug regulations; recidivism prevention; guaranteeing access to justice and due process; and strengthening relations between the police and communities. These measures share a common vision: They repudiate hard-line policies, target specific areas with high homicide rates and view homicide as a social, educational, economic and cultural phenomenon rather than simply a security issue. All of this work is producing promising results.

​White crosses placed by human rights organizations in memory of victims of violence are seen around Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)​

It is impossible, however, to attempt to reduce crime without the rule of law firmly in place. When the justice system doesn’t work, when investigations are not pursued, when crimes go unpunished, more murders will be committed. The bottleneck in the Mexican justice system, for example, gets tighter and tighter in the path from police officer to judge. In Mexico, there are four judges per 100,000 inhabitants; the international average is about 40 per 100,000. We have an exorbitant number of murders and a system that is unable and unwilling to investigate them, whether because of corruption or because the dead simply don’t matter enough.

A few years ago at a crime scene in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, we found a homicide inspector holding an almost blank notebook, indignant because he couldn’t get any information. “Nobody gives a damn — this is a farce,” he told us, gesturing at the gawkers taking photos of the body. Each month his superiors asked him to solve just two of the 30 cases stacked on his desk.

If we want to change this, we must confront the homicides with security policies as well as social programs. Most important, we need to break the chain of impunity. The first 24 hours after a murder are essential: Investigations must be swift, exhaustive and transparent. A strong chain of justice, which would include specialized police officers and sufficient independent judges to deal with the volume of cases, would be the first steps toward reducing the number of people who kill and are killed in Latin America.

Source: Life Where the Murder Rate Is Sky-High -By Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras | The New York Times | Leer en español @NYT

Alejandra Sánchez Inzunza and José Luis Pardo Veiras, the authors of “Narco América,” are currently doing research for En Malos Pasos, a project on homicide in seven Latin American countries. This essay was translated by Kristina Cordero from the Spanish.


Recommended…
Latin America’s Murder Epidemic: How to Stop the Killings -By Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabo de Carvalho | Foreign Policy
The World’s Most Dangerous Cities | The Economist
Mexico Can Catch All The Drug Kingpins There Are, But There’s a Different Problem Driving Crime -Christopher Woody | Business Insider
✻ How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico -By Ginger Thompson | ProPublica
✻ Duterte’s Murderous Drug War in the Philippines -By Alex Emmons | The Intercept
Open for Business, Not Human Rights: Trump’s Priorities in Central America -By Lauren Carasik | Boston Review
✻​ Crime Reporting in the Murder Capital: San Pedro Sula Nights​ | VICE News (Video)
✻​ Brazil Violence: Murders on the Rise in Rio de Janeiro | Al Jazeera (Video)
✻ Brazil Has Nearly 60,000 Murders, And It May Relax Gun Laws -By Lulu Garcia-Navarro | NPR
✻ Organized Crime, Gangs Make Latin America Most Violent Region -By Mary Murray | NBC News
✻ Latin America Is World’s Most Violent Region -By David Luhnow | The Wall Street Journal
✻ Inside the World’s Deadliest Country: Honduras

Venezuela in Crisis

A woman with her face painted in the colors of Venezuela’s national flag takes part in the blockade of a highway in Caracas on April 24, 2017. (Photo: Fernando Llano/ AP); Background image: A demonstrator against President Nicolas Maduro’s government during a protest on the east side of Caracas on April 19, 2017. (Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty)

Introduction
Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement; Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites.

In January 2016, opposition lawmakers took a majority in the legislature—the National Assembly—for the first time in nearly two decades. However, the Maduro government has taken steps since to consolidate his power, including usurping some of the legislature’s powers. Maduro’s actions have been met with massive protests and international condemnation, including threats of expulsion from the Organization of American States.

I. Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’

Chavez, a former military officer who launched an ill-fated coup in 1992, was elected president of Venezuela in 1998 on a populist platform. As a candidate, he railed against the country’s elites for widespread corruption, and pledged to use Venezuela’s vast oil wealth to reduce poverty and inequality. During his presidency, which lasted until his death in 2013, Chavez expropriated millions of acres of land and nationalized hundreds of private businesses and foreign-owned assets, including oil projects run by ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Chavez, whose rhetoric often drew inspiration from Simon Bolivar, the Venezuela-born revolutionary of the nineteenth century, aimed to align Latin American countries against the United States. He led the formation of ALBA, a bloc of socialist and leftist Latin American governments, and established the Petrocaribe alliance, in which Venezuela agreed to export petroleum at discounted rates to eighteen Central American and Caribbean states.

Chavez also greatly expanded the powers of the presidency. Shortly after he took office, voters approved a new constitution that allowed him to run for another term, removed one chamber of Congress, and reduced civilian control over the military. In 2004, two years after he was briefly removed from office in a coup, Chavez effectively took control of the Supreme Court by expanding its size and appointing twelve justices. In 2009, he led a successful referendum ending presidential term limits.

Chavez remained popular among the country’s poor throughout his presidency, expanding social services including food and housing subsidies, health care, and educational programs. The country’s poverty rate fell from roughly 50 percent in 1998, the year before he was elected, to 30 percent in 2012, the year before his death.

Maduro, who narrowly won the presidency in 2013, pledged to continue his former boss’s socialist revolution. “I am ensuring the legacy of my commander, Chavez, the eternal father,” he said after the vote.

In Pictures – Crisis in Venezuela
Click on images to enlarge and read caption.

II. An Oil-Based Economy
Venezuela is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its heavy dependence on oil revenues. Oil accounts for about 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings and 25 percent of its GDP, according to figures from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The state-run petroleum company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), controls all the country’s oil exploration, production, and exportation. Critics say PDVSA is grossly mismanaged and suffers from cronyism, a bloated payroll, underinvestment in infrastructure, and a lack of budgetary oversight.

As global oil prices fell from $111 per barrel in 2014 to a low of $27 per barrel in 2016, Venezuela’s already shaky economy went into free fall. That year, GDP dropped 12 percent while inflation soared to 800 percent. By early 2017, the country owed $140 billion to foreign creditors while it held only $10 billion in reserves, raising fears of a default.

Many critics fault the Chavez government for squandering years of record oil income. “Chavez did not use the massive oil price boom between 2004 and 2013 to put money aside for a rainy day,” wrote Harvard University economist Ricardo Hausmann in 2016. Instead, he “used the boom to expropriate large swaths of the economy, impose draconian foreign currency and price controls, and to subsidize imports. All this weakened the economy and made the country more dependent on imports, which Venezuelans can no longer afford.”

III. Price Controls and Shortages
Venezuela’s economic crisis is marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, medical supplies, and staples like toilet paper and soap. Experts say the government’s strict price controls, which were meant to keep basic goods affordable for the country’s poor, are partly to blame. Many manufacturers in the country cut production because of the limits on what they could charge for their goods.

Another policy contributing to the country’s economic problems, many experts say, are currency controls, which were first introduced by Chavez in 2003 to curb capital flight. By selling U.S. dollars at different rates, the government effectively created a black market and increased opportunities for corruption. For instance, a business that is authorized to buy dollars at preferential rates in order to purchase priority goods like food or medicine could instead sell those dollars for a significant profit to third parties. In April 2017, the official exchange rate was ten bolivars to the dollar, while the black market rate was more than four thousand bolivars to the dollar.

Imports reportedly fell to $18 billion in 2016, down from $66 billion in 2012, as foreign-made goods became increasingly expensive. Many consumers are faced with the choice of waiting for hours in line for basic goods or paying exorbitant prices to so-called bachaqueros, or black market traffickers.

Experts say widespread expropriations have further diminished productivity. Transparency International, which ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 on its perceived corruption index, reports that the government controls more than five hundred companies, most of which are operating at a loss. (By comparison, Brazil, which is more than six times as populous as Venezuela, has 130 state-run companies.)

IV. A Humanitarian Crisis

Observers have characterized the situation in Venezuela as a humanitarian crisis. In 2016, the head of the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation estimated that 85 percent of basic medicines were unavailable or difficult to obtain. Hospitals reportedly lack supplies like antibiotics, gauze, and soap. Infant mortality rates reportedly reached 18.1 per 1,000 live births in early 2016, up from 11.6 in 2011, while maternal mortality reached 130 per 100,000, more than twice the 2008 rate. Diseases like diphtheria and malaria, which had been previously eliminated from the country, have reemerged.

Poverty has also spiked. In 2016, a local university study found that more than 87 percent of the population said it did not have enough money to buy necessary food. Another study by a local nutrition organization found that 30 percent of school-aged children were malnourished. According to a 2016 report from Human Rights Watch, the Maduro administration “has vehemently denied the extent of the need for help and has blocked an effort by the opposition-led National Assembly to seek international assistance.”

Poverty and lack of opportunity are exacerbating Venezuela’s high rates of violence. Long one of the world’s most violent countries, in 2016 Venezuela experienced its highest-ever number of homicides: 28,479, or roughly 91.8 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, an independent monitoring group. (The U.S. rate, by comparison, is 5 per 100,000.) Maduro’s administration has deployed the military to combat street crime, but rights groups and foreign media have reported widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings.

The humanitarian crisis has spilled across Venezuela’s borders, with thousands of desperate people crossing into neighboring Brazil and Colombia; others have left by boat to the nearby island of Curaçao. By some estimates, as many as 150,000 Venezuelans left the country in 2016 alone.

V. Political Turmoil

Amid the crisis, the Maduro administration has become increasingly autocratic. Opposition lawmakers, under the Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, won a majority in the National Assembly in 2015 for the first time in sixteen years, but Maduro has taken several steps to undermine them. In September 2016, Venezuela’s electoral authority, which is considered loyal to Maduro, ordered the opposition to suspend a campaign to recall the president, sparking protests and international condemnation. The following month, the Supreme Court stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy and annulled a law that would have freed eighty political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. The president and the opposition subsequently entered into Vatican-brokered reconciliation talks, but those were declared “frozen” in November after Maduro administration officials stopped attending meetings. Maduro said he plans to stay in office until his term ends in 2019.

In March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly. The court revised its order days later following an international outcry, but kept the legislature in contempt, effectively preventing lawmakers from passing laws. A week later the government barred opposition politician Henrique Capriles, who narrowly lost to Maduro in the 2013 presidential election, from running for office for fifteen years, citing Capriles’s failure to secure proper approval for budgets and contracts.

Government security forces have attacked journalists, and several foreign reporters have been detained and, in some cases, expelled, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2017, Freedom House rated Venezuela as “not free,” making it one of two countries in the Western Hemisphere, along with Cuba, with the democracy watchdog’s lowest ranking.

VI. The Region Reacts
Mercosur, an economic and political bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, suspended Venezuela in 2016. In March 2017, the secretary-general of the Organization of the American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, recommended suspending Venezuela from the bloc unless the Maduro administration moved quickly to hold elections. The last time OAS suspended a member country was 2009, when it did so to Honduras following a military coup.

U.S. policy under Donald J. Trump appears to follow that of former President Barack Obama, writes CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Matthew Taylor. In February 2017, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Vice President Tareck El Aissami for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking. Later that month Trump met with Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and called for his release. In April 2017, as protests continued in Caracas, the U.S. State Department issued a statement voicing concern over government actions against Capriles and demonstrators.

On May 19, The Trump administration sanctioned eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, including the court’s president, Maikel Moreno, the U.S. Treasury Department announced. U.S. officials said the sanctions were a direct response to an incident in March in which the Supreme Court annulled the nation’s democratically elected National Assembly, which is controlled by Venezuela’s opposition party. At the time, the Supreme Court, which remains loyal to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, justified the takeover by claiming that the National Assembly was in contempt of its rulings. The court ultimately sought to authorize Maduro’s oil joint ventures by bypassing congressional approval. Despite tensions between Washington and Caracas, the United States remains Venezuela’s largest trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. In February 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s support for the Maduro government, saying bilateral relations “are on the rise.”

Reprint (w/ relevant updates added by blogger): Venezuela in Crisis -By by Danielle Renwick and Brianna Lee | Council on Foreign Relations

Recommended…
✻​ Venezuela Is Falling Apart – By Moisés Naím & Francisco Toro | The Atlantic
✻​ Internal Splits, Immolations, and Burning Houses: Venezuela Gets Worse -By Emily Tamkin | Foreign Policy
✻​ Venezuela’s Crisis | Human Rights Watch
✻​ Thousands Protest Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela -By Tamara Taraciuk Broner | HRW
✻ ​Crisis Upon Crisis in Venezuela | New York Times Editorial Board
✻​ U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s Supreme Court -By Aria Bendix | The Atlantic

An American Tragedy

Donald Trump at a campaign rally on Oct. 5, 2016, in Reno, Nev. (Photo: Evan Vucci / AP); Background image credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.

There are, inevitably, miseries to come: an increasingly reactionary Supreme Court; an emboldened right-wing Congress; a President whose disdain for women and minorities, civil liberties and scientific fact, to say nothing of simple decency, has been repeatedly demonstrated. Trump is vulgarity unbounded, a knowledge-free national leader who will not only set markets tumbling but will strike fear into the hearts of the vulnerable, the weak, and, above all, the many varieties of Other whom he has so deeply insulted. The African-American Other. The Hispanic Other. The female Other. The Jewish and Muslim Other. The most hopeful way to look at this grievous event—and it’s a stretch—is that this election and the years to follow will be a test of the strength, or the fragility, of American institutions. It will be a test of our seriousness and resolve.

Early on Election Day, the polls held out cause for concern, but they provided sufficiently promising news for Democrats in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and even Florida that there was every reason to think about celebrating the fulfillment of Seneca Falls, the election of the first woman to the White House. Potential victories in states like Georgia disappeared, little more than a week ago, with the F.B.I. director’s heedless and damaging letter to Congress about reopening his investigation and the reappearance of damaging buzzwords like “e-mails,” “Anthony Weiner,” and “fifteen-year-old girl.” But the odds were still with Hillary Clinton.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Trump ran his campaign sensing the feeling of dispossession and anxiety among millions of voters—white voters, in the main. And many of those voters—not all, but many—followed Trump because they saw that this slick performer, once a relative cipher when it came to politics, a marginal self-promoting buffoon in the jokescape of eighties and nineties New York, was more than willing to assume their resentments, their fury, their sense of a new world that conspired against their interests. That he was a billionaire of low repute did not dissuade them any more than pro-Brexit voters in Britain were dissuaded by the cynicism of Boris Johnson and so many others. The Democratic electorate might have taken comfort in the fact that the nation had recovered substantially, if unevenly, from the Great Recession in many ways—unemployment is down to 4.9 per cent—but it led them, it led us, to grossly underestimate reality. The Democratic electorate also believed that, with the election of an African-American President and the rise of marriage equality and other such markers, the culture wars were coming to a close. Trump began his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants to be “rapists”; he closed it with an anti-Semitic ad evoking “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; his own behavior made a mockery of the dignity of women and women’s bodies. And, when criticized for any of it, he batted it all away as “political correctness.” Surely such a cruel and retrograde figure could succeed among some voters, but how could he win? Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion. And yet Trump, who may have set out on his campaign merely as a branding exercise, sooner or later recognized that he could embody and manipulate these dark forces. The fact that “traditional” Republicans, from George H. W. Bush to Mitt Romney, announced their distaste for Trump only seemed to deepen his emotional support.

The commentators, in their attempt to normalize this tragedy, will also find ways to discount the bumbling and destructive behavior of the F.B.I., the malign interference of Russian intelligence, the free pass—the hours of uninterrupted, unmediated coverage of his rallies—provided to Trump by cable television, particularly in the early months of his campaign. We will be asked to count on the stability of American institutions, the tendency of even the most radical politicians to rein themselves in when admitted to office. Liberals will be admonished as smug, disconnected from suffering, as if so many Democratic voters were unacquainted with poverty, struggle, and misfortune. There is no reason to believe this palaver. There is no reason to believe that Trump and his band of associates—Chris Christie, Rudolph Giuliani, Mike Pence, and, yes, Paul Ryan—are in any mood to govern as Republicans within the traditional boundaries of decency. Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment. Fascism is not our future—it cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin.

Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate but a resilient, intelligent, and competent leader, who never overcame her image among millions of voters as untrustworthy and entitled. Some of this was the result of her ingrown instinct for suspicion, developed over the years after one bogus “scandal” after another. And yet, somehow, no matter how long and committed her earnest public service, she was less trusted than Trump, a flim-flam man who cheated his customers, investors, and contractors; a hollow man whose countless statements and behavior reflect a human being of dismal qualities—greedy, mendacious, and bigoted. His level of egotism is rarely exhibited outside of a clinical environment.

For eight years, the country has lived with Barack Obama as its President. Too often, we tried to diminish the racism and resentment that bubbled under the cyber-surface. But the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign. Steve Bannon, a pivotal figure at Breitbart, was his propagandist and campaign manager.

It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.

Source: An American Tragedy – By David Remnick | The New Yorker (11/9/2016)


David Remnick has been editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer since 1992. He is the author of “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.”

From Democracy to Autocracy: Turkish President Erdoğan Granted Broad Powers In Questionable Referendum Election

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the Presidential Palace (Photo by ​Asin Bulbul/​ Reuters). Background image: A woman places a bandage other mouth as she protests Saturday’s explosions in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. Authorities in Istanbul banned a protest rally and march by the same trade union and civic society groups who lost 97 friends and colleagues in Turkey’s bloodiest terror attack. Some demonstrators were detained. (AP Photo/ Emrah Gurel)

A slim majority of Turkish voters agreed on Sunday to grant sweeping powers to their President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a watershed moment that the country’s opposition fears may cement a system of authoritarian rule within one of the critical power brokers of the Middle East.

With nearly 99 percent of votes in a referendum counted on Sunday night, supporters of the proposal had 51.3 percent of votes cast, and opponents had 48.7 percent, the country’s electoral commission announced. The result will take days to confirm, and the main opposition party said it would demand a recount of about 37 percent of ballot boxes, containing around 2.5 million votes. But on Sunday night the result was already a political reality, as President Erdoğan hailed his victory in front of a crowd of supporters in Istanbul. “We are enacting the most important governmental reform of our history,” he said.

The constitutional change will allow the winner of the 2019 presidential election to assume full control of the government, ending the current parliamentary political system. The ramifications, however, are immediate. The “yes” vote in the referendum is a validation of the current leadership style of Mr. Erdoğan, who has been acting as a de facto head of government since his election in 2014 despite having no constitutional right to wield such power. The office of Turkey’s president was meant to be an impartial role without full executive authority.

The result tightens Mr. Erdoğan’s grip on the country, which is one of the leading external actors in the Syrian civil war, a major way station along the migration routes to Europe and a crucial Middle Eastern partner of the United States and Russia.

Since a failed coup last summer, Turkey has been under a state of emergency, a situation that allowed the government to fire or suspend about 130,000 people suspected of being connected to the failed putsch, and to arrest about 45,000.

The campaign itself was characterized by prolonged intimidation of opposition members, several of whom were shot at or beaten while on the stump by persons unknown. The opposition questioned the legitimacy of the referendum after the election board made a last-minute decision to increase the burden needed to prove accusations of ballot-box stuffing. At least three instances of alleged voter fraud appeared to be captured on camera. 

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) says that there were more than 2.5 million of these irregular ballots; other estimates range between 1 million and 4 million. Even the low end of this range would be enough to change the results of the referendum. The CHP has called on the Supreme Election Board to nullify the referendum results. After all, its official guidelines mandate the stamping of both ballot and sealed envelope.

Beyond simply arresting tens of thousands of opponents, it seems that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gamed the system in order to guarantee himself victory. An observer from inside Turkey explains (edited slightly for clarity and grammar):

Apparently, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) arranged illegally with the Supreme Election Board and with several voting districts around the country to give ballots out to AKP people the day before the voting. These were given to poor people and others wishing to earn money for a vote.

The ballots were marked “yes” in front, but they lacked the official stamp issued at the polling location on the back. This was done deliberately because those people were to use the pre-prepared ballot in the ballot box and then return the ballot with the official seal which they received at the polling station. They then received between 350-400 Turkish liras, about 100 dollars.

If it seemed that the “no” vote was ahead in initial tallying, then the Supreme Election Board would rule the referendum invalid due to a large number of unstamped ballots. But if it looked like “yes” could win, then those votes would be declared valid.

The new system will, among other changes:

■ Abolish the post of prime minister and transfer executive power to the president.

■ Allow the newly empowered president to issue decrees and appoint many judges and officials responsible for scrutinizing his decisions.

■ Limit the president to two five-year terms, but give the option of running for a third term if Parliament truncates the second one by calling for early elections.

■ Allow the president to order disciplinary inquiries into any of Turkey’s 3.5 million civil servants, according to an analysis by the head of the Turkish Bar Association.

Academics and members of the opposition are concerned that the new system will threaten the separation of powers on which liberal democracies have traditionally depended.

“It represents a remarkable aggrandizement of Erdoğan’s personal power and quite possibly a death blow to vital checks and balances in the country,” said Professor Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at Project on Middle East Democracy and lecturer at St. Lawrence University: “Judicial independence was already shockingly weak before the referendum; the new system makes that worse.”

Mr. Erdoğan’s supporters deny that the new system will limit political and judicial oversight. If opposition parties win control of Parliament, they could override the president’s decrees with their own legislation, while also asserting greater control over judicial appointments, supporters of the new Constitution contend.

The victorious “yes” camp also argues that a strong, centralized government will make Turkey better able to tackle its many challenges, including a troubled economy, the world’s largest population of Syrian refugees, two terrorism campaigns, a civil war against Kurdish insurgents and the Syrian war across Turkey’s southern border.

The fearful environment in which the referendum campaign was held has led watchdogs to question its fairness. In addition to the vast purges of perceived opposition members, the authorities also often prevented “no” campaigners from holding rallies and events. And Mr. Erdoğan and his supporters often implied that their opponents were allied with terrorist groups or those suspected of plotting last year’s failed coup.

Analyses of television coverage showed that the “yes” campaign received disproportionately more airtime than its opponents: “It’s been a completely unfair campaign,” said Andrej Hunko, a German lawmaker assigned by the Council of Europe to observe the election. Hundreds of election observers were also barred from monitoring the vote, and thousands of Kurds displaced by fighting in southeastern Turkey may not have been able to vote because they have no address, according to the Independent Election Monitoring Network, a Turkish watchdog.

Despite this, Mr. Erdoğan’s victory fell far short of the 20-point majority that he and his supporters had expected. The result revealed a deeply divided country, nearly half of which now feels highly embittered.

Few could agree about how Mr. Erdoğan would respond, and he offered no conclusive clues in his victory speech. In one breath, he appeared to reach out to his opponents, calling the results the “victory of everyone who said yes and no.” But in the next, he promised to reinstate the death penalty — which would end any hopes that Turkey will join the European Union — and mocked his opponents’ intent to appeal the result.

Some believe Mr. Erdoğan may initially try to rebuild relations with the West, which were severely damaged during the referendum campaign as he sought to manufacture diplomatic crises to energize his base at home.  But Professor Eissenstat said it was unlikely Mr. Erdoğan would spend any time repairing relationships with the opposition.

“Some people have imagined that Erdoğan might reboot after a ‘yes’ victory and reach out to the opposition,” he said. “I don’t think that is likely. The purges will continue; Erdoğan’s instinct is to crush opposition, not co-opt it.  The question is whether further centralization of power and increased repression can bring stability and allow Erdoğan to reboot a troubled economy. The record of the past 10 years is that the opposite is true” added Professor Eissenstat.”

Erdogan may want to claim victory and put the referendum behind him. He has declared that the result ends all debate. It may not be so easy, however. Especially when the real results suggest the Turkish people did not support the system of government over which Erdogan now presides.

Sources: Erdoğan Claims Vast Powers in Turkey After Narrow Victory in Referendum -By Patrick Kingsley | The New York Times

How Erdoğan Rigged the Election That Makes Him a Dictator -By Michael Rubin | Newsweek


Recommended…
Turkey’s Referendum: How Democracies Decline -By Uri Friedman | The Atlantic
Turkey Votes to Make Erdoğan Effectively A Dictator -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker
Inside Turkey’s Purge -By Suzy Henson | The New York Times
Turkey’s Election Was Soaked in Suppression and Blood -By Fréderike Geerdink | Huffington Post

The Case of Théo L. and The Toxic Legacy of Police Brutality in French Suburbs

A rally in Paris against police violence when they arrested a young man called Theo in early February. (Photo: AFP / Irina Kalashnikova); Featured imaged: The Observers via FRANCE 24. 

A horrific case of alleged rape by police officers has once again highlighted the culture of abuse and impunity that has driven a wedge between law enforcement and youths in France’s deprived suburbs.

Alexandre T. was enjoying some late drinks with his friends when a police car rolled up outside their estate, one of the huge – and often bleak – housing blocks that have turned parts of Paris’s northern banlieues (suburbs) into giant dormitories. When the inebriated young man reportedly insulted the officers, he was bundled into their car and driven to the local police station. Shortly after, he landed in hospital with a 1.5-centimetre-deep anal perforation caused by an expandable police baton. His blood was found on his clothes and in the car. The tip of the police baton bore traces of his DNA.

Sixteen months later, the 28-year-old man told a court in Bobigny, northeast of the French capital, that he was still bleeding from the wound, had trouble sleeping, and had lost his job as a result. The public prosecutor asked for the officer who wielded the baton to be given a six-month suspended jail term, charging him with “aggravated assault”. He dismissed calls for rape charges, arguing that the incident had a “sexual connotation” but not a “sexual character”. The nuance was rejected by the court, which ruled on February 20 that the policeman should indeed face “criminal proceedings” for rape.

Welcoming the ruling, the victim’s lawyer Marie-Cécile Nathan said the prosecutor had been “wrong” to reject rape charges. She suggested the initial leniency was indicative of a wider tendency to hand out “disproportionate sanctions” when dealing with police violence. “Abusive police officers do get punished,” she told FRANCE 24. “The problem is that the punishment hardly ever reflects the gravity of the offence.”

Théo’s Ordeal
Alexandre’s case had gone largely unnoticed, until a similar incident involving a black man in the nearby town of Aulnay-sous-Bois cast a spotlight on the festering issue of police violence in some of France’s most deprived suburbs, blighted by poverty, unemployment and a dearth of public services. The brutal encounter, on February 2, between a police patrol and the young man, known as Théo L., left the 22-year-old with such severe wounds to the rectum that he required major emergency surgery and was declared incapacitated for 60 days. The incident, part of which was caught on CCTV, sparked outrage and protests – some of them violent – in suburbs across France.

Théo’s ordeal stemmed from a routine ID check, a fraught issue in France’s economically poor and immigrant-rich suburbs, where men of African and North African origin have long complained about being routinely stopped and searched simply because of the colour of their skin. A study conducted by France’s National Centre for Scientific Research has shown that blacks are 11.5 times more likely to be checked by police than whites, and those of Arab origin are 7 times more likely. In a landmark case last November, France’s highest court ruled for the first time that police had illegally stopped three men based on racial profiling, setting more specific rules to ensure ID checks are not discriminatory.

Activists say the identity checks frequently bear a sexual component, ranging from heavy-handed frisking to extreme – and much rarer – cases such as Théo’s. On three occasions since 1999, the French state has been found guilty of police sex abuse by the European Court of Human Rights. The abuse included anal rape with a baton, a fractured testicle, and an attempt to force oral sex. In each case the victim was a man of North African origin.

Ceremony of Degradation
“Some officers do their job extremely conscientiously, but others behave like thugs,” said Omer Mas Capitolin, a community worker in Paris who helps youths victimised by police. While he conceded that cases like Theo’s and Alexandre’s were rare, Capitolin argued that abuse of a sexual nature was “frequent, even regular”. He pointed to groping and repeated homophobic taunts as part of a “ceremony of degradation” designed to assert the police’s domination, with devastating consequences for youths’ physical and psychological integrity.

“It’s perfectly normal for police officers to pat down individuals they deem suspicious,” he told FRANCE 24. “But it’s not normal for the procedure to include stroking their testicles, passing a finger between their buttocks, or staring at their privates. Remember we’re talking about kids here. They might be as tall as adults, but they’re not mature. They’re uncomfortable with nudity. Some may also be unsure about their sexuality.”

While the abuse is generally aimed at visible minorities, Capitolin said white youths can also be targeted if they come from the “wrong” neighbourhood or stick to the “wrong” crowd. “Some officers might ask them why they ‘hang around with bamboulas [a racist slur to refer to a black man]’, or say, ‘watch out, you might turn into a monkey’,” he said. When a police union representative argued on national television that using the term bamboula was “just about acceptable”, days after Théo’s assault, critics saw this as evidence of widespread tolerance of racism within the police.

When Outrage Stifles Outrage
Capitolin said many cases of abuse go unreported because victims fear they will be exposed to taunts in their neighbourhoods. “They dread being ‘the one who shows his arse to cops’ or ‘who got a baton up his bum’,” he said. “Besides, who are they supposed to report abuses to? The police? And then end up with an outrage and a conviction?” he added, referring to a “contempt of cop” rule, known as outrage à agent public, that allows for the arrest and prosecution of individuals deemed disrespectful of public authority.

Rights groups working in the banlieues have expressed fears that Théo’s ordeal will ultimately go unpunished, their suspicions heightened by a police inquiry that suggested the 10-centimetre-deep anal penetration had been “accidental”.  Months earlier, the muddled investigation into the death in police custody of another black youth, 24-year-old Adama Traoré, had already amplified the feeling that the justice system cannot be trusted to protect minority youths and punish abusive officers.

Both cases have stoked fears of a repeat of the huge riots that followed the 2005 deaths of teenagers Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré (no relation to Adama), who were electrocuted in a power station while hiding from police in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. The officers in pursuit, who left the scene when a phone call would have sufficed to cut the voltage and save the two boys, were cleared of wrongdoing.

“Théo and Adama remind us of why Zyed and Bouna were running,” says this poster, referring to the teenagers’ death while running away from police in 2005. (Photo: Florence Richard)

Sophie Body-Gendrot, a researcher at the Centre for Sociological Studies on Penal Institutions (CESDIP) who has written extensively about the 2005 riots and policing the suburbs, said the odds tended to be stacked in favour of the police when disputes made it to court. “It is hard to catch officers at fault, and their accounts are smoothened by lawyers and their hierarchy,” she told FRANCE 24. “In contrast, minority youths are generally reluctant to speak to institutions they don’t trust. And when they do come out, they are often intimidated, confused and incoherent.”

Them and Us
A member of the National Police Complaints Authority for five years, Body-Gendrot said the “rotten apples” on display in the worst cases of abuse were not representative of the institution as a whole. “Most officers are very professional,” she noted, adding that the antagonism with youths in sensitive suburbs meant police patrols were “constantly being targeted and provoked”.

With France’s security forces under exceptional stress due to the threat of terrorism, police unions have reacted angrily to the stinging criticism elicited by Théo’s alleged rape. Replying to an op-ed signed by several artists in left-wing daily Libération, the Unité SGP union wrote on its website: “Do you know that dozens of police officers are attacked and injured each day? Do you know that hundreds of officers receive insults and threats each day? Do you know that hundreds of officers cannot live and work in the same neighbourhood because of the risk for their families, their children?”

Body-Gendrot said the antagonism between police and minority groups in deprived areas reflected a structural reluctance to engage with local communities. “New recruits don’t join the police in order to give free rein to racist or violent impulses,” she said. “It is once they are inside the institution that a ‘them and us’ mentality develops. Officers feel – often wrongly – that they are despised by residents, magistrates and the media. Sometimes they snap, verbally or physically; particularly when they operate in small units, hidden from the public eye.”

The establishment of community policing, at the turn of the century, marked a short-lived attempt to bridge the gulf with residents of the banlieues. But the so-called police de proximité (proximity police) jarred with the tough “law and order” rhetoric of conservative firebrand Nicolas Sarkozy, who disbanded the unit after becoming France’s interior minister in 2002. “You’re not a social worker,” Sarkozy famously told an officer who had helped organise a football tournament for youths in a poor suburb of Toulouse. Most unions were happy to see the programme ended. “Police unions hated the idea of being accountable to the local community,” said Body-Gendrot. As a result, “community policing was never really given a chance to prove its worth”.

Politicians’ Betrayal
Ever since, left-wing politicians have regularly floated the idea of reintroducing some form of police de proximité. But President François Hollande’s Socialist government made no such attempt. Instead, to the dismay of minority youths singled out by police, Hollande’s administration reneged on a campaign promise to introduce a form of written receipt for all identity checks carried out by officers – a measure long advocated by campaigners against racial profiling.

“The receipts would have protected our dignity and our essential right to move freely in the public space, without being constantly harassed,” said Capitolin, the community worker, for whom Hollande’s U-turn explained why many in the banlieues have “no faith in politicians”. Another of the president’s broken promises, to give foreign nationals the right to vote in local elections, was seen as further evidence of politicians’ neglect of the immigrant-rich suburbs.

Nor is the prospect of national elections in two months raising hopes for change. Body-Gendrot said she was doubtful governments would, in the near future, take concrete steps to address the problem of policing the suburbs, such as improving police training and supervision, and ensuring seasoned officers are deployed where they are most needed. “The strength of police unions means junior officers will continue to be deployed to sensitive neighbourhoods they are unfamiliar with,” she said. “Sadly, the banlieues are simply not a key electoral issue.”

Sources
Racism, Sex Abuse and Impunity: French Police’s Toxic Legacy in the Suburbs -By Benjamin Dodman | France 24
The State of the Suburbs: Is France at its Ferguson Moment?: Part 1 | France 24 (Video)
The State of the Suburbs: Is France at its Ferguson Moment?: Part 2 | France 24 (Video)


Recommended…
Police Violence and Discrimination in France’s Suburbs | The Observers | France 24

Justice for Theo: ‘Police Abuse Is An Everyday Thing’-By Shafik Mandhai | Al Jazeera
Investigators Say French Police Who Sodomized Black Man With A Baton Did So By Accident -By Jesselyn Cook | Huffington Post
The Tragedy of Theo L. Reveals France’s Failures on Race -By Joel Dreyfuss | Washington Post

James Baldwin: I Am Not Your Negro | Film Review

james-baldwin-2Photos: Mark B. Anstendig (above); featured: Daniel Bretton Tisdale, “James Baldwin,” 2007, (graphite on Italian handmade paper) from the “Harlem Masters” series.

James Baldwin is having a posthumous resurgence, but we are so in need of his words at this moment that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t still been writing every day since his death in 1987. In every genre Baldwin dabbled, from novels to political commentary to arts criticism, he found the core of our identity as a nation: a core that feeds off division and prejudice; that celebrates its own history while refusing to learn from it; and that was, and plainly remains, too painful for anyone other than him to talk about honestly.

Today’s media is flush with essayists who trace a direct line to Baldwin, the most prominent being Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose bestselling sensation Between the World and Me is a grim postscript to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and dispels even the slim notion of hope for true racial justice Baldwin offered in 1963. But Baldwin refused to see himself as a “race writer”: Instead, he framed arguments for equality as pleas to save the entire American soul from corrosive hatred and isolation. The exceptional new documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which director Raoul Peck began to work on before the Obama presidency, gives us a fresh new view on Baldwin’s words, while also reminding us that the same American soul he struggled so hard to convince us was worth saving remains on life support today.

“If any white man in the world says ‘Give Me liberty Or Give Me Death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a black man says EXACTLY the same thing; he is judged a criminal, and treated like one, and everything is possibly done to make an example of this bad nigger so there won’t be anymore like him.” – James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro is also not your Baldwin CliffsNotes. Instead, Peck gives us a far more urgent, revelatory document: a visual imagining of the writer’s last, unfinished manuscript. Titled Remember This House, it was to be Baldwin’s personal reflection on the lives and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, all of whom he was close with. “I want these three lives to bang against and reveal each other,” Baldwin wrote. And as these lives bang, Baldwin’s (and Peck’s) gaze turns: from the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s to America’s insistence on imagining great social progress where little has occurred.

The film uses only Baldwin’s words, superbly narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. There are no talking heads to put them “into context,” because the context is already there, in our history and all around us. Peck, working from 30 pages of raw text gifted him by Baldwin’s sister Gloria, animates the prose with archival news clips, still photographs, and scenes from popular films of Baldwin’s time. And he also, with dreamlike continuity, grants brief passage into the modern day: young black men shot by police, the Black Lives Matter protests, a montage of superficial apologies from white politicians. Robert Kennedy accurately predicts that America will see a black president 40 years from his time, and then Baldwin takes apart the idea that we had to wait so long in the first place.

Baldwin was also a voracious consumer of pop culture. Some of the film’s most intriguing passages muse on the history of onscreen black identity from Stepin Fetchit to Sidney Poitier, the latter characterized as a kind of panacea to comfort white people. (Poitier’s escaped convict in The Defiant Ones jumps off a train carrying him to freedom in order to save the white escapee he’s been chained to for the entire film. Baldwin’s response: “Get back on the train, you fool!”) These bits are where you realize just how much of a documentary’s strength depends on its editing. Would Baldwin’s memory of finding a black woman who “looked exactly like Joan Crawford” have carried as much symbolic weight were it not overlaid on the perfect clip of the lily-white Crawford boogying in Dance, Fools, Dance?

Peck renders his subject’s prose with brisk pacing, without turning Negro into a soundbite film — a remarkable task, given how much Baldwin structured his sentences with the intention of his audience getting to reread them, picking over their bones for protein. It helps that the film frequently leans on Baldwin’s gift for oratory, as he delivers his own message on college campuses and late-night television, with his wry smile and searching eyes. This approach is dense and yet accessible, and seems to be a direct challenge to Baldwin’s own musings that television “weakens our ability to deal with the world as it is, as we are.” (That Jackson, the reigning king of escapist entertainment, is the one reciting these words adds a delicious layer of irony.)

“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it… then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it’s able to ask that question. -James Baldwin, “The Negro and The American Promise”, 1963

It is easy, in a time when protest feels urgent and the past seems to have vanished, to get swept up in Baldwin’s essays, and in so doing to forget that he was also a peerless storyteller. One flaw to the film is that, by painting such a convincing portrait of Baldwin-as-polemicist, it neglects that only a great novelist could make those arguments as forthright and necessary as he did. In books like Another Country and Giovanni’s Room, he could take manners of race and sexuality no one was talking about in public and render them with such finely wrought passion as to rip their invisibility cloaks to shreds. Negro wants to anoint Baldwin as the voice of reason in our troubled, divided times, but we need to remember he valued the power of stories and chastised those who did not. Of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe, he once wrote, “She was not so much a novelist as an impassioned pamphleteer.”

Though it was just nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar, Negro seems at risk of being overshadowed in the public eye by the two more popular nominees that broadly deal with that discordant, shapeshifting topic we call “race relations”: the sweeping yet granular true-crime saga O.J.: Made in America, and the fiery mass-incarceration lecture 13th. All are worthy of attention. But to dismiss all three movies as different pages of the same pamphlet — or to declare that Negro is only relevant now because it’s Black History Month — is to continue to misunderstand Baldwin’s message. He wasn’t lecturing to “white America” or passing instructions to “black America”; he truly wanted everyone to confront the same narrative together, to stop hiding behind fictions and make some sense of the country. Did he succeed? Well, when confronted with such pressing, vibrantly cinematic power built entirely from decades-old words, we must ask ourselves exactly why, in 2017, these words may as well have been written for the first time.

Reprint: James Baldwin, In His Own Searing, Revelatory Words: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ -By Andrew Lapin | NPR (Movie Review)


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James Baldwin from “The Negro and the American Promise” | PBS

‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Review: Brilliant Notes on a Native Son -By Joe Morgenstern | Wall Street Journal

Review: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Will Make You Rethink Race -By A.O. Scott | New York Times

Box Office: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ Shaping Up to Be Documentary Hit -By Brent Long | Variety

The Misunderstood Ghost of James Baldwin -By Ismail Muhammad | Slate

The Tragically Chronic Relevance of James Baldwin -By Wesley Morrison & Jenna Wortham | New York Times

Do Yourself a Favor: Go See Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro -By Julia Felsenthal | Vogue

James Baldwin, The Art of Fiction No. 78 | Interview by Jordan Elgrably | Paris Review, Issue 91, Spring 1984

WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer

Hollywood FAME Award-winning Director and Producer A.J. Ali, and Oscar and Sundance winner Errol Webber have teamed up to create Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer, a documentary film that examines racial profiling in law enforcement. The film recounts painful stories of the past while offering solutions to curb future profiling incidents. It seeks to build a movement that will make a distinct difference in the areas of social justice and racial reconciliation.

“I think police departments need an intervention,” retired LAPD Sgt. Cheryl Dorsey said. “If you don’t admit that there’s a problem, then there’s nothing to fix and so there’s no harm in saying that we don’t always get it right as police officers.”

“It is a reminder of some of the things in law enforcement that we’re not proud of,” Santa Monica College Chief of Police Johnnie Adams said.

“The next step is we need churches and schools and non-profits and even law enforcement agencies to license this film and bring us to their town so we can go there and do the screening, do a ‘Q and A,’ hold workshops and just spend time with people and teach people how to love each other again,” Ali explained.

The word “love” in the title is also an acronym as explained by those involved with the film. “Lstands for learning about your community and its people, “O” means to open your heart, “V” stands for volunteering yourself and “E” stands for empowering.


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Human Rights Lawyer Describes Torture in China’s Secret Jails

xie-yangXie Yang, undated (Photo: ChinaChange.com)

Perched unsteadily on a stack of plastic stools in an isolated room, Xie Yang (谢阳), a Chinese lawyer, was encircled day and night by interrogators who blew smoke in his face, punched and kicked him, and threatened to turn him into an “invalid” unless he confessed to political crimes, he has said.

Eventually, according to transcripts of meetings with Mr. Xie issued by his attorneys, the isolation, sleepless days and nights of abuse and threats to his family from the police investigators proved too harrowing. Mr. Xie said he had scribbled down whatever they told him to say about trying to subvert the Chinese Communist Party by representing disgruntled citizens and discussing rights cases.

“I wanted to end their interrogation of me as quickly as I could, even if it meant death,” Mr. Xie, anguished and often sobbing, told his attorneys, Chen Jiangang and Liu Zhengqing, according to the transcripts of the meetings this month that Mr. Chen released on Thursday. “Later, I wrote down whatever they wanted.”

The records lay out the most detailed firsthand allegations thus far that torture has stained a crackdown on Chinese rights lawyers and advocates that began in July 2015. The government detained almost 250 people in that operation, according to Amnesty International. Most were released, but four were tried and convicted last year on charges that they tried to subvert the one-party state, and about 13 are in detention and likely to face trial.

Mr. Xie, 44, a lawyer from the southern Chinese province of Hunan, is also likely to face trial in the coming weeks on subversion charges, according to his lawyers.

“These transcripts are totally authentic,” Mr. Chen said in a telephone interview on Friday, referring to two detailed records of pretrial meetings with Mr. Xie that were released on overseas websites focused on human rights in China. “He’s suffered torment and abuse, and this was a call for help, because the internal mechanisms for preventing torture haven’t worked.”

Other defendants and suspects in the clampdown on rights lawyers have abjectly declared their guilt, either in court or in televised confessions. Mr. Chen said that Mr. Xie wanted to release his account of his secretive detention to prove beforehand that he was innocent and that any admissions had been made under coercion.

“He was unbending. He refused all government lawyers. In the end, they had to let us see him,” Mr. Chen said, since he and Mr. Liu had been chosen by Mr. Xie. “We all know this kind of case is about political persecution.”

Mr. Xie’s wife, Chen Guiqiu, had also approved releasing the transcripts, Mr. Chen said. But Ms. Chen, an academic, did not answer repeated calls to her phone on Friday. Mr. Chen, the lawyer, said she had been led away that morning by security guards at the university in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, where she works.

“Let the world know what forced confession through torture is, what shamelessness without limit is,” Ms. Chen said in a statement issued on Thursday.

Mr. Xie’s account of being locked away appeared after China’s president, Xi Jinping, sought this week to promote his government as open and mature. On Tuesday, Mr. Xi told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that economic protectionism was like a country locking itself in a dark room.

Li Chunfu, a Beijing lawyer detained in the crackdown, was released early this month, emaciated and mentally shattered after nearly one and a half years in detention, according to his family and supporters.

“It’s ironic that the Chinese government is calling for openness in Davos when the Chinese government is doing the opposite domestically,” Maya Wang, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, said by telephone from Hong Kong. “They say one thing in terms of rhetoric, to appeal and charm globally, but what they do is quite another thing. What they do is exactly the opposite.”

Human rights organizations and defense lawyers have said that other suspects caught in the crackdown have also been at risk of torture while in secretive detention. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied such accusations. The police in Changsha did not respond to multiple phone calls to find out whether they knew of Mr. Xie’s allegations of torture and were doing anything about them.

But Mr. Xie has gone to extraordinary lengths to back his claims: He named many of the officers he says perpetrated abuses. “If I stand trial, I’ll recount to the court just what happened in this case — that the records were the product of torture,” he told his lawyers.

Mr. Xie was taken away by the police in Hunan on July 11, 2015, and spent half a year in secretive detention in a retired military cadres’ hostel, kept from contact with the outside world. In the first week, Mr. Xie said, he was questioned by rotating teams of officers who gave him no more than three hours of sleep between grueling rounds of questioning.

Often they made Mr. Xie sit on top of the “dangling chair”: several plastic stools without backrests that were stacked on top of each other.

“I sat on top so that my feet didn’t touch the ground and my legs were dangling there. They ordered me to sit there with my back straight,” he said. He said that an officer warned him: “If you move, we can consider that you attacked a police officer, and we can take whatever steps to deal with you.”

In addition, the interrogators would not let him drink water, lit fistfuls of cigarettes and blew nauseating clouds of smoke in his face, and beat, kicked and head-butted him, he said. They also indirectly threatened his wife, warning that she should be careful when driving, he said.

“We represent the party center in handling your case,” one police officer said, referring to China’s central leadership, according to Mr. Xie’s account. “Even if we leave you dead, you won’t find any evidence to prove it.”

By mid-August 2015, Mr. Xie said, he was broken, and he signed documents put before him, but still he resisted the interrogators’ demands that he name and implicate other people. A year ago, he was formally arrested on a charge of inciting subversion of state power and was moved to a detention center. But there, the abuses continued, and other detainees were used to bully him, Mr. Xie said.

Despite pressure from the police and prosecutors, Mr. Xie insisted on seeing his own lawyers. On Friday, they asked prosecutors to examine his claims of torture, listing the names of 10 police officers they say should answer the accusations.

“I tell you now that my spirit is free,” Mr. Xie told his lawyers. “I declare that I, Xie Yang, am innocent.”


Xie Yang, born on February 4, 1972, has been a lawyer with Hunan Gangwei Law Firm and has represented many politically sensitive cases. Some of Xie’s previous clients include activist Xue Mingkai (薛明凯), arrested in 2011 during the “Jasmine Crackdown”; New Citizens’ Movement activist Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), who was imprisoned in 2014; and “Southern Street Movement” activist Xie Wenfei (谢文飞), seized during the 2014 clampdown on mainland supporters of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. In early 2014, Xie Yang criticized the violent assaults against four human rights lawyers in retaliation for defending their clients; perhaps to avoid official rebuke over Xie’s stance, his law firm issued a statement at that time denying it was employing Xie. More recently, Xie represented the family of a petitioner shot to death by police in Qing’an, Heilongjiang in May 2015, in one of the “politically sensitive” cases authorities cited as a “subversive” activity conducted by the lawyers in the “709 Crackdown.” Days after he traveled to Qing’an, Xie was himself a victim in an incident of violence in Guangxi while handling a case involving a financial dispute between two companies.

Sources: Punches, Kicks and the ‘Dangling Chair’: Detainee Tells of Torture in China -By Chris Buckley | The New York Times and Xie Yang | Chinese Human Rights Defender (CHRD)

Inmates Beheaded & Burned, 60 Dead in Brazil Prison Riot

brazil-prison-riot-2017A relative of a prisoner holds a local newspaper, which shows a headline about a deadly prison riot, in front of Anisio Jobim prison in Manaus, Brazil, on January 3, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

Brazil’s first days of 2017 were baptized by 17 hours of violence. Members of a drug ring called Familia do Norte (Family of the North) massacred members of the rival Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital), or P.C.C., one of the country’s largest gangs. The bloodletting occurred inside a privately administered prison in the northern city of Manaus. At least 60 people were slaughtered, many of them beheaded, dismembered and incinerated. Some 180 gang members escaped, 140 of whom are still at large. The state police were reluctant to intervene in the fight, fearing they might make the situation even worse.

The warning signs were written on the prison’s graffiti-lined walls. The penitentiary in Manaus has experienced bloody riots before. In the days leading up to the weekend massacre, prison guards suspected that firearms were being smuggled into cellblocks housing drug trafficking groups. A collection of revolvers was turned over to the police when the riot came to end.

Investigators unearthed a network of tunnels under the prison’s bloodstained floors, suggesting the attack was premeditated. Familia do Norte was sending a message: The P.C.C. is not welcome in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas. A local judge was called in to negotiate the release of hostages, and he’s now facing death threats.

As shocking as the prison riot is, it is not unprecedented. The most lethal episode of prison violence in Brazil occurred in 1992 when 111 inmates were killed during a riot in the Carandiru prison in São Paulo. Other outbreaks occurred in Rondônia in 2002, Maranhão in 2010, Pernambuco in 2011, Rio de Janeiro in 2014 and Roraima last year. Prison violence has been registered in at least 24 of Brazil’s 26 states over the past decade.

Historically, violence followed demands for improved prison conditions. But the latest massacre in Manaus stems from a different cause. It signals the rupture of a longstanding truce between the São Paulo-based P.C.C. and Rio de Janeiro’s Comando Vermelho (Red Command), which is aligned with the Northern Family. These two gangs are fighting for control over the prison system and the cocaine trade.

Part of the reason prison violence is so common in Brazil is that conditions in most of the country’s penitentiaries are barbarous. There are an estimated 656,000 incarcerated people in state prisons, where there is officially space for less than 400,000. Yet roughly 3,000 new inmates are added to overcrowded penitentiaries each month. The prison population has increased by more than 160 percent since 2000. It’s for good reason that a former justice minister reportedly said he’d rather die than spend time in a Brazilian prison.

Brazil’s state prisons are overseen by drug gangs that act as judges, jurors and executioners. Most prisons are divvied up among competing gangs. The government is only nominally in control. Experts describe drug factions as a “parallel state.” Gangs have long recruited their rank and file from prisons and organize trafficking and racketeering businesses from within their walls. Research has found that 70 percent of inmates who leave prison find their way back.

Successive governments, the United Nations and human rights groups have described crumbling buildings where torture and sexual violence are rampant. Studies have found that incarcerated Brazilians are around 28-30 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and almost 20 times more likely to be infected with H.I.V. than the general population.

Most Brazilians tolerate this state of affairs, but this forbearance is shortsighted. Brazil’s prison wars routinely spill on to the street. In 2006, the P.C.C. unleashed a wave of attacks against law enforcement and penal personnel as a protest over prison conditions. Some 40 security agents were killed in riots in prisons and public spaces across São Paulo. The latest attacks in Manaus will surely inspire retribution inside and outside the prison gates.

Brazil’s penal system reflects wider inequalities. For one, it is fundamentally elitist. Felons who happen to have a university degree — business executives charged with corruption, for example — frequently enjoy better conditions and don’t have to share cells. Elsewhere, nonviolent first-time offenders are jammed together with extremely violent inmates. Most defendants cannot afford to hire a lawyer, and there is a chronic shortage of public defenders. Not surprisingly, those most likely to be killed while in custody are poor black males.

The leading cause of imprisonment is minor drug offenses, despite laws recommending that nonviolent crimes and possession not result in jail time. Judges and prosecutors favor heavy-handed prison sentences over rehabilitation or alternative sentencing arrangements. Brazilian politicians lack the political and moral resolve to do the right thing. Nor are they feeling any pressure from Brazilian citizens. A 2015 poll found that 87 percent of Brazilians favor lowering the criminal age of responsibility to 16 from 18. Public complacency ensures that prison violence continues unabated.

What is needed now is courageous leadership. Alexandre de Moraes, the minister of justice, has already announced some remedial measures in the wake of the Manaus massacre. He is planning to transfer gang leaders from state to federal prisons, which are better managed. But this is only an interim solution.

For Brazil to reform its prisons, it needs to reduce both the stock and flow of inmates. The first priority is to diminish the bloated caseload of pretrial detainees. Federal and state-level judges, prosecutors and public defenders should set up task forces to immediately resolve outstanding cases. Next, Brazil’s juvenile justice system is as rotten as the one for adults and needs to be fixed. Mayors must assume a much greater responsibility in rehabilitating first-time offenders. Support for at-risk adolescents can reduce their likelihood of becoming gang members in adulthood.

The government urgently needs to regain control of public security, and the prison system in particular. Rather than imposing more draconian laws and building new prisons, Brazil needs to enforce existing legislation — including ensuring that suspects are provided hearings within 24 hours of their arrest and expanding the network of public defenders.

This is not just about ensuring the humane treatment of inmates. Strategies to decriminalize drugs, ensure proportional sentencing and provide rehabilitation for offenders are vastly more cost-effective than putting nonviolent offenders in jail and throwing away the key.

President Michel Temer announced that the federal government would furnish states with 1.2 billion reais ($366 million), mostly to improve infrastructure and security in existing prisons and to build new ones.

Reprint: Brazil’s Deadly Prison System -By Robert Muggah and Ilona Szabó de Carvalho | New York Times


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