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


Recommended…
The Red Ink Behind Brazil’s Bloody Prison Massacre -By Mac Margolis | Bloomberg

Brazil Prison Riot, a ‘Butchery Foretold,’ Sparks Fear of More Killings | VOA

The Decline of Democracy and Rise of Fascism in Turkey

erdogan_reutersTurkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: Reuters/ Files).

One year has passed since 1,128 academics raised their voices for an end to the violence against the Kurdish population in Turkey, demanding an international, independent investigation of the occurrences during the 24-hour curfews declared in Kurdish towns and districts from August 2015 onward. The now well-known ‘peace petition’ had been a reaction to the violence, an outcry against the unbearable way in which the military had taken over towns and districts in the predominantly Kurdish south-eastern provinces of the Turkish state. Children and elderly people had been assassinated on the streets and in their homes, bodies left on the streets, the injured denied medical treatment. Despite the decisive and clear wording accusing the state of committing a massacre and refusing to be party to this crime, the petition was nevertheless a modest form of protest, because all other forms of democratic contestation had already been radically impeded since a suicide bomb attack on a previous attempt to demand peace with a large demonstration on October 10, 2015 in Ankara. A hundred demonstrators from various political factions were killed, hundreds injured and scarred.

Government’s Reaction
However, even this comparably simple form of critique was not tolerated by the government. The reaction was a concerted mass smear campaign triggered by the words of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading to arrests, police investigations and ongoing dismissals of scholars. Denouncing the signatories as traitors, as ‘pseudo academics’ who were enemies of the nation, the pro-government media took up Erdogan’s discourse, picturing the signatories individually on their web and print outlets, making them perfect targets for goaded Erdogan-supporters. The homes of a number of signatories were raided in the early morning hours; some were taken into custody on campus and the wave of dismissals commenced, starting with those in the most precarious working conditions.

This harsh reaction, however, prompted a wave of solidarity both in Turkey and beyond. Defying the threat of persecution, over another thousand scholars added their names to the petition. Academic and non-academic associations from all over the world expressed their critique of the state’s course of action in open letters to the Turkish government and solidarity messages. However, continuing its politics of spreading fear, the state had four signatories exemplarily arrested on charges of terrorism propaganda. Professors Esra Mungan, Muzaffer Kaya, Kivanc Ersoy and Meral Camci remained detained for over a month, enduring solitary confinement and strip searches. (Meral Camci was in fact in France at the time of the detainment of the other three, but decided to return knowing she could also be imprisoned upon arrival. She was released with the others after the first court hearing, after 23 days in prison.

A year later, the trial is still ongoing. Police investigations have been commenced against all signatories, including those abroad. Nearly 500 signatories have faced disciplinary investigations within their institutions. The number of those dismissed is increasing every month, currently at 182. Others have been forced to resign or retire, have lost administrative positions, are sidelined and excluded from standard academic procedures such as participating in thesis committees, are disinvited from conferences and refused funding for research projects and conference attendance. Dozens have had to leave the country, while others cannot leave the country due to travel bans and the cancellation of their passports. The most worrying fact, however, is that this repression towards the academics is unfortunately part and parcel of the state’s authoritarian regime to silence all critical voices left.

In the months following the petition, the state further accelerated its war-strategy against the Kurdish population, a strategy which has radically turned its back on the previous more liberal discourses of the government emphasising the brotherhood between Kurds and Turks, and the initial peace talks between state officials and the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party which had lasted until February 2015.

The violence reached its preliminary climax when military special forces killed around 170 people who had sought shelter in the two or three basements in Cizre, a small border-town to Syria. For days, critical media had published video messages and telephone calls in which those trapped were calling for help. However, the military officials permitted neither ambulances to access the area nor the wounded to leave, finally burning the building to the ground. The shocking brutality of the state exceeded all expectations. Following this, hardly any people remained in those towns and districts under curfew. Over a million people were forced to leave their homes only to return to a heap of rubble. Whole districts have been razed to the ground; bulldozers carrying away the remains even before the owners were allowed to return, including all personal belongings. Having left for what they thought would be a week, these people now have nothing to return to.

A Concerted Effort Against the Kurdish Movement
This comprehensive strategy is definitely not a limited operation against an armed group. Instead, it aims at destroying the successful politics of the Kurdish movement and the trust and support the population has in it. Since the mid-2000s, the Kurdish movement had particularly focused on empowering civil society with help of the municipalities in the region which are run by the Kurdish party and formed a ‘coalition’ party HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) with other left and marginalised ethnic, faith and LGBT groups. This politics had been very successful receiving strong support for the municipalities and gaining a landslide 13.2% in the national elections of June 2015, which left the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) without a majority. Re-elections were held five months later and the AKP made a decisive shift to the right, becoming increasingly authoritarian by the minute.

The aftermath of the attempted coup six months ago has been a welcome excuse not only to rid the state institutions of anyone in contact with the Gülen Community, held responsible for the attempted coup, but also to imprison mayors of the Kurdish municipalities, council members and municipality employees, as well as currently 12 MPs of the Kurdish-leftwing party HDP. Since the declaration of emergency rule, the elected mayors of over 50 towns and districts have been ousted out of power and replaced by state-assigned ‘trustees’, as they are euphemistically called. The media has been severely intimidated, with around 200 journalists currently in prison and over 177 different newspapers, magazines and TV channels shut down. Self-censorship is at its peak. The parliament has been practically by-passed through emergency decrees, most of them listing pages and pages of individual names of those to be dismissed. Overall, more than 80,000 state employees have been sacked so far, among them military and police personnel, but the highest number interestingly in the field of education.

A constant pledge to national unity, loyalty and militarism is the dominant discourse today, turning all critical voices into traitors and internal and external threats to the nation. The legal system has become a farce; the number of prisons is being increased; torture and deprivation of imprisoned back on the agenda. And as I am writing these lines, the parliament is voting on the end of parliamentary democracy, the concentration of power in the hands of the president alone, lacking the simplest mechanisms of checks and balances; MPs demonstrating their loyalty to the president by overtly waving their voting tokens for everyone to see and the prime minister celebrates the proposed abolishment of his post as an act of heroism adding the words “relax and obey”.

Looking back at this past year in Turkey, we see an increasingly overt development towards a more and more authoritarian society and government. Rudimentarily masked by arguments of counter-terrorism, society has been put into a straitjacket. Critique in any form has become increasingly impossible to voice, let alone make it heard. The few acts of protest remain limited, often with only few participants or even individual. With a mixture of disbelief and fear, people hope for this to be a phase, which is soon to end. However, according to law expert and honorary president of the Turkish Supreme Court Sami Selcuk, if the amendment of the constitution is accepted in the proposed form, the president to come “can become nothing other a dictator”.

Source: Steady Progress Into Fascism? Turkey, a Year After the Peace Petition -By Ulrike Flader | The Wire

Ulrike Flader is research coordinator for social movement studies at DEMOS Research Centre for Peace, Democracy and Alternative Politics, Turkey.


Recommended…
Turkey: Alarming Deterioration of Rights | 2017 World Report | Human Rights Watch

“Dreadful Year” of Attacks in Turkey Capped by 39 Dead in Istanbul Nightclub Attack | Democracy Now!

The End of Democracy in Turkey -By Dexter Filkins | The New Yorker

Erdogan’s Turkey: The End of Democracy? -By Ruadhán Mac Cormaic | The Irish Times

It Is, By Far, The Worst Time to Be a Turkish Journalist -By Berivan Orucoglu | Foreign Policy

Turkey’s Free Press Withers as Erdogan Jails 120 Journalists -By Rod Nordland | New York Times

10 Human Rights Causes to Support in 2017

happy-new-year-2017

Happy New Year!

🎉🎈 🎤 🍰 🍸🍷🍾⌛️🌹

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” ― Edith Lovejoy Pierce.

Today’s post continues a tradition I started three years ago, whereby I dedicate the first post of the new year to noteworthy organizations and individuals committed to the advancement of human rights or the protection of Mother Earth. While the criteria for my list hasn’t changed, you may notice that I selected more causes that focus on refugees . The reason is simple: We are currently witnessing highest level of displacement on record. According to the UNHCR, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. In a world where nearly 34,000 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution, the least I can do is acknowledge some of the many social entrepreneurs committed to assisting the stateless and traumatized.

There are three other things worth mentioning. (1) After toying with the idea for over three years, I have finally decided to limit the number of causes to 10 going forward. (2) There is a tie for one of the spots below. Because I don’t rank the entries, the word “tie” should be construed to mean two interconnected organizations, equally deserving of recognition, featured under the same number. (3) Feel free to leave me a comment or complete the contact form if you would like me to consider an organization, cause or person for my 2018 post! The deadline for submissions is November 20, 2017.

Now, and without further ado…

10 Human Rights Causes to Support 2017

o-u-r1. Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is a non-profit founded by Tim Ballard which assists governments around the world in the rescue of human trafficking and sex trafficking victims with a special focus on children. O.U.R. also aids with planning, prevention, capture and prosecution of offenders, and works with partner organizations for prevention, victim recovery, and strengthened awareness or fundraising efforts. The organization has been documented for their covert operations with jump teams consisting of former CIA agents, U.S. Special Operations Forces Members, and other support volunteers. Operation Underground Railroad’s ultimate goal is to eliminate Sex Trafficking world-wide. Operation Underground Railroad has rescued 200 victims and helped law enforcement capture 130 perpetrators this year. This brings the total number of rescued victims to 529, and 182 traffickers arrested.

 

tanzanian-childrens-fund2. The Tanzanian Children’s Fund works to ensure that all children and families in the Karatu region of northern Tanzania lead healthy and productive lives and have the opportunity to become positive agents of change for their country. In order to achieve our goals, TCF provides a loving and permanent home for 97 marginalized children at the Rift Valley Children’s Village (RVCV). The RVCV staff works with local village leaders to identify orphaned children in the surrounding community in need of the safe haven RVCV can provide. From the moment they step through the gates, these children become permanent members of the RVCV family.  TCF also recognizes that the best way to promote the well-being of all children is to provide access to high-quality education, free healthcare, and microfinance trainings and loans to the entire community. Our innovative, multi-pronged approach to addressing systemic poverty is what has enabled TCF/RVCV to have a deep impact and catalyze real and lasting change.

 

place3. place  (Property, Land, Access, Connections, and Empowerment) explores the complex social, economic and political effects of inadequate land rights – from environmental sustainability and food insecurity to the potential for conflict and war. However, place will not just show you what is going wrong in the world. It also want to tell you about the exciting and courageous projects unfolding worldwide to help solve this pressing issue. Its name explains its stories and its mission.Property features urban reportage – from shantytowns and slums to the pressures of development, forced eviction and mass displacement. Land focuses on rural areas, the countryside, on agriculture and the extraction of resources, from mining to logging. Access explores the battle to retain land, from squatting rights and individual tenure to freeholds and the larger community battles to secure or return to ancestral lands. Connections shed light on tenure rights, on public and private documentation and how communities – and individuals – campaign for or harness their rights. Empowerment brings you the good news, the success stories, the projects that are contributing to resolving this complex global issue. In sum, place believes property rights are human rights and wants to spark a global conversation to show that when land and property rights are denied, social stability, economic prosperity – and even peace – are at risk. 

 

4. Reshma Qureshi, Founder of Make Love Not Scars. Reshma Qureshi is an Indian model, vlogger, and anti-acid activist. In India, she is the face of Make Love Not Scars. Her foray into modeling in the United States came when she walked the catwalk for Archana Kochhar at the 2016 New York Fashion Week.

Qureshi was born the youngest daughter of a taxi driver from Eastern Mumbai, India. They lived in a two bedroom apartment that housed all ten members of the family. She studied commerce at school. On May 19, 2014, at the age of seventeen, Qureshi was attacked with sulfuric acid by her estranged brother-in-law and two other assailants when she was traveling to the city of Allahabad for an Alim exam. The attack was actually aimed at her sister Gulshan, but Qureshi was mistaken for her. While the two other assailants were never captured after the attack, her brother-in-law was arrested. After the attack, she felt suicidal for a short period of time as she was left scarred on her face and arms and lost one of her eyes completely. After healing, Qureshi became the face of the Make Love Not Scars campaign, which aims to give “a voice to those who have been assaulted” by acid attacks and campaigns for the end of the sale of acid in India. She also began making beauty tutorials online as a way to campaign against the sale of acid. Cosmopolitan has praised Quereshi’s videos as “ridiculously empowering“. Photo credit: Reshma Qureshi walks at New York Fashion Week (Mary Altaffer/AP).

 

standing-rock5. Standing Rock Indian Reservation & #NoDAPL Campaign – The Dakota Access Pipeline is a part of  a 1,172-mile-long (1,825 km), 30-inch diameter pipeline underground oil pipeline project in the United States. The pipeline is being planned by Dakota Access, LLC, a subsidiary of the Dallas, Texas corporation Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. It begins in the Bakken oil fields in Northwest North Dakota and is set to travel in a more or less straight line southeast, through South Dakota and Iowa, and end at the oil tank farm near Patoka, Illinois. The pipeline is designed transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The nearly $4 billion project was first proposed in 2014 and anticipated for delivery on January 1, 2017.

Construction of the DAPL would engender a renewed fracking-frenzy in the Bakken shale region, as well as endanger a source of fresh water for the Standing Rock Sioux and 8 million people living downstream. DAPL would also impact many sites that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous nations. The DAPL is a massive project being organized by the world’s largest fossil-fuel companies and banks. They have offices in cities around the world. Supporting the Standing Rock #NoDAPL camps and putting direct, nonviolent pressure on the corporations building and funding this project is critical for supporting frontline resistance to DAPL and preserving the land for future generations.

 

coc36. Color Of Change is a 501(c)(4) progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization that utilizes the Internet, specifically e-mail and social media, as its main conduit for communicating with its members, organizing campaigns, pushing out policies, and combating racial and social injustices. The organization has successfully inspired and motivated millions of Americans from all backgrounds to fight for (or against) a gambit of issues, including criminal justice reform, racists media bias, ALEC and its support of voter ID laws, gun violence, and net neutrality. Color Of Change was co-founded in 2005 by James Rucker and Van Jones to replicate the MoveOn.org email list model among African American in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Rucker had previously worked for the MoveOn.org Political Action and MoveOn.org Civic Action while Jones was the founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Rashad Robinson is the organization’s Executive Director, having joined the organization in May 2011. In 2015, Color of Change was ranked 6th on Fast Company’s list of the 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.

 

white-helmets-27. White Helmets/Syrian Civil Defense rush in when bombs rain down in Syria. These volunteer rescue workers operate in the most dangerous place on earth. White Helmet volunteers are bakers, tailors, engineers, pharmacists, painters, carpenters, students, and many other who come from all walks of life. They work tirelessly to save people on all sides of the conflict – pledging commitment to the principles of “Humanity, Solidarity, Impartiality” as outlined by the International Civil Defence Organisation. This pledge guides every response, every action, every life saved – so that in a time of destruction, all Syrians have the hope of a lifeline. The White Helmets mostly deal with the aftermath of government air attacks, but they have risked sniper fire to rescue bodies of government soldiers to give them a proper burial.

The White Helmets have also trained 62 women in medical care and light search and rescue work. These heroic women respond to barrel bomb and missile strikes and dig for survivors using tools and their bare hands. In some cases, they are the only hope for other women or girls who are trapped under rubble. In Syria’s most conservative communities, people have refused to let male volunteers rescue women and girls – but the women have intervened to help those who wouldn’t have been helped otherwise. The White Helmet volunteers have saved 78,529 lives – and this number is growing daily. Many have paid the ultimate price for their compassion – 154 have been killed while saving others.

In addition to their life-saving missions, White Helmets deliver public services to nearly 7 million people, including reconnecting electrical cables, providing safety information to children and securing buildings. They are the largest civil society organization operating in areas outside of government control, and their actions provide hope for millions.

 

safari-doctors8. Safari Doctors is a nonprofit that provides free basic medical services to residents of remote parts of Kenya threatened by the terror group Al-Shabaab. The idea was conceived from several health initiatives around Lamu that have slowly come to a halt given the insecurities in the area and the loss of a substantial businesses that supported these projects. Safari Doctors was established in 2014 to continue with the much needed services. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners, the Safari Doctors crew sets sail once a month during high tide and embarks on to the rough roads to visit remote communities. On board is the crew, a full-time nurse, a clinical officer and a visiting specialist who provide basic curatives services. Depending on the availability of volunteering specialists, Safari Doctors plans to host trips that meet gaps of, dental, optometry, gynecology and other services. Current services include: immunizations, maternal healthcare, respiratory infections treatment, communicable diseases treatment, access to clean water, and hospital referral logistics. On August 26, Safari Doctors’ founder Umra Omar was selected as a CNN Hero in 2016. Support the programs by becoming a friend ~ Rafiki in Swahili ~ of Safari Doctors, which will ensure that Safari Doctors continue to deliver the required services and information to the neglected areas they serve.

 

redi-school9. ReDI School of Digital Integration and Refugees on RailsTie. The unprecedented influx of migrants to Europe, driven by the war in Syria, has created a massive backlog for authorities tasked with sorting out the new arrivals. As they figure out who’s who, where each person came from, whether they should be permitted to stay and where there is space to accommodate them, migrants have little else to do, but wait. This limbo can drag on for months, dampening the euphoria of finally making it to Europe, after so much hardship. Many Germans have been eager to help. As hundreds of thousands of people poured into the country over the last year— by rail, by foot, sometimes jammed into the back of trucks— volunteers have lined up to hand out food, and even invite them to rest at their homes. Others volunteers banded together to create separate, but interconnected, coding centers to train refugees.

The ReDI School of Digital Integration is a non-profit organization co-founded by Anne Kjær Riechert and Ferdi Van Heerden in December 2015 for tech-interested newcomers applying for asylum in Germany. The school, which has been featured on TEDx Innovations, aims to teach refugees tech skills and give them access to a future professional and social network, whilst waiting for their asylum application to be processed. The students in this course attend coding and mentoring sessions over a three to six months, with the Sunday sessions being hosted at German Tech Entrepreneurship Center in Berlin. The ReDI School of Digital Integration also host several local events where students, teachers, mentors, partners, sponsors and members of the community get together to share best practice. The school is currently accepting applications for students and volunteer as well as accepts donations for both specific and general projects.

refugee-on-railsRefugees on Rails is a nonprofit program co-founded by friends and tech entrepreneurs  Weston Hankins, Anne Riechert, and Ahmet Acar in 2015. It is designed to teach coding to refugees in Berlin and has now expanded to four other German cities. In many ways, the coding is almost incidental to Refugees on Rails’ real purpose: building community and friendships. Indeed, one of the founding ideas behind the start-up is the desire to counter the negative image of refugees in Europe as an economic burden to be dealt with, rather than a resource to be cultivated. Germany has welcomed over 600,000 refugees this year, many of whom are highly educated millennials with valuable work experience who simply lack the appropriate paperwork to begin contributing to their adopted society. The volunteer-run program provides refugees with a laptop and three months of coding instruction, two nights per week, for three hours each session. The classes are held in space donated by local tech companies, including the Berlin offices of Amazon.com. The course is open to refugees with rudimentary computing experience. Refugees on Rails is still in it’s early stages. Via their website, and in partnership with the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, individuals can donate money or their old computers to help get the school and its students.

 

10. Fugees Family, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war. The organization empowers refugees integrate successfully into their new country by providing them the support and structure they need to realize their vast potential. In 2004, Coach Luma Mufleh started a Fugees team to provide refugee boys with free access to organized soccer. Since then, the organization’s programming has grown to include year-round soccer for 86 boys and girls aged 10-18, after-school tutoring, soccer for 50 elementary-aged students, an academic enrichment summer camp, and the Fugees Academy – the nation’s only school dedicated to refugee education. The school has received SAIS and SACS accreditation, blending creative teaching with academic fundamentals, interwoven with leadership and character building. The Fugees Family also offers consultation support to organizations looking to provide effective, culturally-appropriate, and impactful services to refugee and immigrant students and families. They offer expert guidance and support for planning, operating, and evaluating cultural, educational, social, and athletic programming. On August 26, Coach Muflesh was selected as a CNN Hero in 2016.


Previous Years:
2016
2015
2014

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

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

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

☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥☥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some patterns the organization found in 2015 exonerations:

Official Misconduct

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

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

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

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

False Confessions

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty Pleas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Crime Was Actually Committed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flawed Forensic Evidence

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

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

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

Faulty Eyewitness Identification

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

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

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

How Many More Wrongful Convictions?

Exonerations

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

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

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

Washington Post: Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted

On a rainy night five years ago, Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney set off in pursuit of a suspected drunk driver, chasing his black Mazda Miata down rural Arkansas roads at speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour. When the sports car finally came to rest in a ditch, Brackney opened fire at the rear window and repeatedly struck the driver, 41-year-old James Ahern, in the back. The gunshots killed Ahern.

Prosecutors charged Brackney with felony manslaughter. But he eventually entered a plea to a lesser charge and could ultimately be left with no criminal record.

Now, he serves as the police chief in a small community 20 miles from the scene of the shooting.

Brackney is among 54 officers charged over the past decade for fatally shooting someone while on duty, according to an analysis by The Washington Post and researchers at Bowling Green State University. This analysis, based on a wide range of public records and interviews with law enforcement, judicial and other legal experts, sought to identify for the first time every officer who faced charges­ for such shootings since 2005. These represent a small fraction of the thousands of fatal police shootings that have occurred across the country in that time.

In an overwhelming majority of the cases where an officer was charged, the person killed was unarmed. But it usually took more than that.

When prosecutors pressed charges, The Post analysis found, there were typically other factors that made the case exceptional, including: a victim shot in the back, a video recording of the incident, incriminating testimony from other officers or allegations of a coverup.

WARNING: GRAPHIC – SOUTH CAROLINA SHOOTING 

This video contains graphic content. A police officer in North Charleston, S.C., has been charged with murder after shooting a man during a traffic stop. Authorities said the decision to charge officer Michael Slager was made after they viewed video footage of the incident that showed him shooting the other man in the back as he was fleeing the scene.

Forty-three cases involved at least one of these four factors. Nineteen cases involved at least two.

In the most recent incident, officials in North Charleston, S.C., filed a murder charge Tuesday against a white police officer, Michael T. Slager, for gunning down an apparently unarmed black man. A video recording showed Slager repeatedly shooting the man in the back as he was running away.

“To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green who studies arrests of police. “It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

But even in these most extreme instances, the majority of the officers whose cases have been resolved have not been convicted, The Post analysis found.

And when they are convicted or plead guilty, they’ve tended to get little time behind bars, on average four years and sometimes only weeks. Jurors are very reluctant to punish police officers, tending to view them as guardians of order, according to prosecutors and defense lawyers.

The definition of “officers” used in the analysis extends beyond local police to all government law enforcement personnel who are armed, including sheriff’s deputies and corrections officers. The analysis included some shootings that officers described as accidental.

There is no accurate tally of all the cases­ of police shootings across the country, even deadly ones. The FBI maintains a national database of fatal shootings by officers but does not require police departments to keep it updated.

Over the past year, a series of controversial police killings of unarmed victims — including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Tamir Rice in Cleveland and Eric Garner on Staten Island — has raised questions over what it takes for officers to face criminal ­charges. Often, the public is divided over whether the police went too far. Only in rare cases­ do prosecutors and grand juries decide that the killing cannot be justified.

Such cases include a Michigan state trooper who shot and killed an unarmed homeless man in Detroit as he was shuffling toward him, the man’s pants down past his knees. The incident was captured on video, and the officer, who said he thought the man had a gun, was charged with second-degree murder. A jury accepted the officer’s account and found him not guilty. He remains on the job.

They also include a police officer in Darlington County, S.C., who was charged with murder after he chased an unarmed man wanted for stealing a gas grill and three U-Haul trailers into the woods, shooting him in the back four times. A jury, believing that he feared for his life, found him not guilty.

Two Atlanta plainclothes officers opened fire and killed a 92-year-old woman during a mistaken drug raid on her home. As they pried the bars off her front door, she fired a single warning shot with an old revolver. The police responded by smashing the door down and shooting at her 39 times. One of the officers tried to disguise their error by planting bags of marijuana in her basement. The two officers pleaded guilty and received unusually stiff sentences of six and 10 years in a federal prison.

A rap musician, Killer Mike, wrote a song to memorialize the death of this African American grandmother at the hands of white officers, comparing her killing to “the dream of King when the sniper took his life.”

After the death of Michael Brown last summer, concerns about racism in policing have exploded in public debate, in particular whether white officers use excessive force when dealing with minorities and whether the criminal justice system protects the victims’ rights.

Among the officers charged since 2005 for fatal shootings, more than three-quarters were white. Two-thirds of their victims were minorities, all but two of them black.

Nearly all other cases­ involved black officers who killed black victims. In one other instance, a Latino officer fatally shot a white person and in another an Asian officer killed a black person. There were a total of 49 victims.

Identifying the exact role of race in fatal shootings and prosecutions is difficult. Often, prosecutors pursued charges against a backdrop of protests accusing police of racism. Race was also a factor in court when federal prosecutors stepped in and filed charges­ against officers for allegedly violating the victims’ civil rights. Six officers, all white, faced federal civil rights charges for killing blacks.

In interviews with more than 20 prosecutors across the country, they said that race did not factor into their decisions to bring charges against officers. The prosecutors said they pursued cases­ based on the legal merits.

RACE MATTERS 

 

But defense lawyer Doug Friesen, who represented a white officer convicted in 2013 for fatally shooting an unarmed black man, said that “it would be naive” for prosecutors to say race isn’t a consideration.

“Anytime you have politicians that have to make charging decisions, realistically that is part of their decision-making process,” Friesen said. “They are asking themselves, ‘Is there going to be rioting out in the streets?’ ”

Both Officer Coleman “Duke” Brackney and his victim James Ahern, shot dead in his Miata, were white.

Brackney, 32, recalled in an interview that he believed Ahern was about to back his car up and run over him. The engine was racing and the backup lights flashed, Brackney said.

A video, captured by a camera mounted on his cruiser’s dashboard, indicated that the sports car was not moving when the officer opened fire. The existence of that video was the key reason why prosecutors decided to bring charges, they said.

Number killed“In my mind, it was the third time he tried to run me over,” Brackney said in an interview with The Post. “His right hand came up in this sweeping motion, and I thought he was going for a gun. I don’t know what a jury would have believed — and that’s the problem. There was this risk, so entering a plea, I viewed it as a business decision.”

After pleading to a reduced charge of negligent homicide, a misdemeanor, Brackney served 30 days in jail as part of a plea agreement. The judge deferred the conviction, and if Brackney fulfills the terms of his probation, the case will be dismissed.

“No one wants to take a life, but at the end of the day, I realize that I’m the one who got to go home,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t change what I did.”

He was fired by the Bella Vista Police Department, where he worked at the time, but was given another chance by the city of Sulphur Springs, Ark. Two years ago, city officials hired him to run the police department, where he manages a force of four officers who spend much of their time patrolling quiet streets and arresting small-time drug dealers.

Excerpt, read more Thousands Dead, Few Prosecuted | Washington Post

❋ Story by Kimberly Kindy, Kimbriell Kelly
❋ Graphics by Vesko Cholakov, Kevin Schaul
❋ Videos by Whitney Leaming, Divya Verma, Natasha Rudnick


Related: South Carolina: Police Dashcam of Moments Before Shooting (FULL VIDEO)

RECOMMENDED READINGS

South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott -By Michael S. Schmidt & Matt Apuzzo | NYT

The Total Rejection of Michael Slager -By Adam Chandler | The Atlantic

❋ Michael Slager Had History Of Violence Against Black People | The Young Turks (Video)

❋ Another Police Shooting Of An Unarmed Black Man | The Young Turks (Video)

Fairfax Jail Inmate [Natasha McKenna] in Taser Death was Shackled -By Tom Jackman & Justin Jouvenal | Washington Post

Reserve Deputy Who Killed Eric Harris Pleads Not Guilty, Is Allowed to Take Vacation in Bahamas -By Breanna Edward | The Root

Tamir Rice and the Value of Life -By Charles M. Blow | NYT

Police Killed More Than 100 People In March -By Carimah Townes | ThinkProgress

A New Estimate Of Killings By Police Is Way Higher — And Still Too Low -By Carl Bialik | FiveThirtyEight

Killed By Police (Data Collection)

Ferguson, Missouri: Where The Mere Act of Being Alive & Black Is a Crime

Police car light

In the city of Ferguson, nearly everyone is a wanted criminal.

That may seem like hyperbole, but it is a literal fact. In Ferguson — a city with a population of 21,000 — 16,000 people have outstanding arrest warrants, meaning that they are currently actively wanted by the police. That statistic should be truly shocking. Yet in the wake of the Department of Justice’s withering report on the city’s policing practices, it has gone almost entirely unmentioned. News reports and analysis have focused on the racism discovered in departmental emails, and the gangsterish financial “shakedown” methods deployed against African Americans. In doing so, they have missed the full picture of Ferguson’s operation, which reveals a totalizing police regime beyond any of Kafka’s ghastliest nightmares.

The Department of Justice’s 102-page report is a rich source of damning facts about the Ferguson criminal justice system. But tucked halfway in and passed over quickly is a truly revelatory set of figures: the arrest warrant data for the Ferguson Municipal Court.

It turns out that nearly everyone in the city is wanted for something. Even internal police department communications found the number of arrest warrants to be “staggering”. By December of 2014, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants that had been issued by the court.” The report makes clear that this refers to individual people, rather than cases, so people with many cases are not being counted multiple times. (Though clearly some of these cannot be Ferguson residents, since the number represents more than the entire adult population and Ferguson policing applies to visitors as well.) However, if we do look at the number of cases, the portrait is even starker. In 2013, 32,975 offenses had associated warrants, so that there were 1.5 offenses for every city resident.

That means that the city of Ferguson quite literally has more crimes than people.

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

This complete penetration of policing into everyday life establishes a world of unceasing terror and violence. When everyone is a criminal by default, police are handed an extraordinary amount of discretionary power. “Discretion” may sound like an innocuous or even positive policy, but its effect is to make every single person’s freedom dependent on the mercy of individual officers. There are no more laws, there are only police. The “rule of law,” by which people are supposed to be treated equally according to a consistent set of principles, becomes the “rule of personal whim.”

And this is precisely what occurs in Ferguson. As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

None of this is even to mention the blinding levels of racism, which remain the central fact of police interactions in Ferguson and nationwide. The overwhelming force of this violent and exploitative policing system is directed at the African American population. In 2013, 92 percent of Ferguson’s arrest warrants were issued against African Americans, and black Fergusonians were 68 percent less likely than others to have their court cases dismissed. The racism is so blatant and comprehensive that the DOJ concluded that “Ferguson law enforcement practices are directly shaped and perpetuated by racial bias.” Considering the qualified and colorless language typically deployed in government documents, this is an astonishingly forceful statement.

Ferguson’s racism has been central to the media coverage of the release of the DOJ report. But in a certain way, by focusing entirely on disparate racial impacts without examining the sheer scale of the brutal state juggernaut, one misses crucial facts. MSNBC listed as the DOJ’s number one “most shocking” finding the fact that “at least one municipal employee thought electing a black president was laughable.” But the existence of racist views in the department is not the most shocking fact, not by a country mile. Rather, endemic racism in policing comes standard. However, that racism occurs in the wider context of an ever-enlarging interlocking system of administrative bureaucracy and police violence.

The other pitfall in analyzing the Ferguson report is to see it as being about Ferguson. There are 19,492 municipal governments in America, and the chances that Ferguson happens to be the worst are extremely slim. In fact, there is strong evidence that in the world of better funded, more militarized, more technologically advanced police departments, Ferguson is simply a high-profile case study. While the Ferguson nightmare may dwarf the problems in cities like Boston, American policing is so out-of-control that Ferguson-style practices can occur on at least some level in almost every department.

It’s hard to believe, but the Ferguson police department’s massive deliberate racism only represents one of its problems. The DOJ report shows not just a racist criminal justice system, but one in which the very act of being alive has been made a crime, and in which nearly everybody is wanted by the law at every moment of every day.

Reprint: The Shocking Finding From the DOJ’s Ferguson Report That Nobody Has Noticed -By Nathan Robinson | Huffington Puff


This post was co-authored by Oren Nimni, a civil rights attorney in Boston and member of the National Lawyers Guild’s executive board.

Last Words . . .

Journalist Shirin Barghi collected the last words of men like Michael Brown — young, black, killed by authority figures while unarmed — and turned them into powerful illustrations. The minimalist images, twelve of which appear below, are poignant echoes of the victims’ final moments. All illustrations are by Shirin Barghi (@shebe86).

Posted in loving memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Jan 15, 1929 – April 23, 1968). He, too, was unarmed when an assassin’s bullet ripped through his body, silencing him forever.

Alabama Senator Schools Charles Barkley On How Bad Slavery Was In Epic Open Letter

charles-barkley

Last month, Charles Barkley referred to Ferguson protesters as “scumbags” who “aren’t real black people.” After being called out for his offensive remarks by TNT colleague Kenny Smith in an open letter, the pair confronted each other during an episode of “NBA on TNT.” That’s when Barkley made an asinine statement about slavery: “I don’t think anytime anything bad that happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery,” Barkley said. “Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me.”

According to Barkley, slavery wasn’t so bad. It’s a statement that many white supremacists are probably pinning to bulletin boards in glee. But Alabama Senator Hank Sanders was deeply hurt by what Barkley said, and composed an epic open letter to teach Sir Charles just how bad slavery was and how it still affects us today. This letter can be found on Senator Sanders facebook page.


Dear Mr. Barkley,

I write you out of love. I write you out of profound pain. I write you out of deep concern. I hope you accept this letter in the spirit that I write.

Mr. Barkley, I understand that you said, in so many words, that slavery was not so bad and that you were tired of people bringing up slavery. I was shocked by both statements. Then I was mad. Then I was terribly disappointed. Finally, I was just in deep hurt and great pain. Now, I am trying to help you and all those who may think like you.

Mr. Barkley, allow me to tell you why slavery was “not so bad,” but very, very bad. First, African people were snatched from their families, their villages, their communities, their tribes, their continent, their freedom. African people were made to walk hundreds of miles in chains. They were often beaten, poorly fed and abused in many ways. Women and girls were routinely raped. The whole continent was ravaged and still suffers to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Second, African people were placed in “slave dungeons” for weeks and sometimes months until the slave ships came. They were often underfed, terribly beaten, raped and stuffed together so tightly they could hardly move. African people were packed in the holds of ships with little space to even move. They performed bodily functions where they lay and then lived in it. They were oftentimes beaten, raped and abused mentally, physically and emotionally. Many died from disease and broken spirits. Some were so terribly impacted that they jumped overboard and drowned when brought to the deck of the ships. Millions died during the Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Third, African people were broken like wild animals. They were stripped of every element of their identity. Their names were taken. Their languages were taken. Their religions were taken. Their histories were taken. They were forbidden to have family. They had no rights to own anything. They were considered property. Their personalities were permanently altered. Their freedom was taken. They became chattel sold from “slave blocks.” This crushing of identity impacts us to this day. I call it the psychology of the oppressed. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fourth, African Americans were worked from “kin to can’t;” that is from “can see” in the morning to “can’t see” at night. There was no pay for their long, hard labor. Many were poorly fed. Most felt the lash of the whip. All felt the lash of the tongue. Many were repeatedly raped. Their children and other loved ones were sold at will. Some mothers killed their baby girls so they would not have to endure the ravages of slavery. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Fifth, African Americans had no right to defend themselves no matter what was done and how wrong it was. By law, they could not even testify against their abusers. As U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Toney said in the 1857 Dred Scott case, “A Black man has no rights a White man is bound to respect.” This became the law of the land and its legacy bedevils us to this day. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Sixth, African Americans were perceived and treated as sub human. The only way enslavers could square this terrible treatment with their Christian beliefs was see us as less than human. Therefore, they could proudly place such beautiful words in the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution with impunity: i.e. – “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To them, African Americans were not human so these beautiful words did not apply. Even the U.S. Constitution designated us as 3/5 of a person. That’s why White terrorists, in and out of uniforms, can kill us without punishment. The legacy of being less human lingers with us today. Black lives are worth much less than White lives. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Seventh, it required great violence to implement and maintain the worse form of human slavery known to humankind. It required unbridled violence by enslavers, slave catchers, local, state, federal governments and the entire society. Maintaining the institution of slavery created a very violent society that infests us to this day. That’s why the United States has far more violence than any country in the world. Mr. Barkley, this is very, very bad.

Eighth, even after slavery formerly ended, we still had Jim Crow. These same imbedded attitudes generated state-sanctioned terrorism for nearly another 100 years. The Ku Klux Klan and other terrorist groups hanged, mutilated, maimed and murdered without any punishment. It was state sanctioned terrorism because the “state” did not do anything to prevent it. That’s why even during the Civil Rights Movement murders took many years before even a modicum of justice was forged. Just look at the deaths of Medgar Evers, James Chaney, the three little girls murdered by the bombing of a Birmingham Church and so many others. That is why today Trayvon Martin could not walk the streets of his neighborhood and Jordan Davis could not play loud music in his car and Eric Garner was choked to death and Michael Brown was gunned down. Mr. Barkley this is very, very bad.

Mr. Barkley, if you knew your history, you would not say slavery is not so bad and you are tired of people bringing up slavery. The legacy of slavery is everywhere. However, you are not totally to blame because you were deliberately denied the opportunity to learn your history. That is one more legacy of slavery. I hope you will seek the full history for yourself so that you will not ever say such things again.

In deep concern, (emphasis added)

Hank Sanders


Henry “Hank” Sanders (born October 28, 1942) is a Democratic member of the Alabama Senate, representing the 23rd District since 1983. He is the longest-serving chair of a legislative budget committee in Alabama, having first been named to Chair of the Senate Finance & Taxation Committee in January 1996 and serving in it for four consecutive terms. Hank “The Rock” Sanders is serving his eighth term in the Alabama Senate. He first received his nickname “The Rock” by his mother because of his solid, steady and reliable nature, and that nickname has been adopted as a slogan in his political campaigns for the Alabama Senate.

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Sources:
Senator Hank Sanders (Facebook page)
AL.com
Addictinginfo.org

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: WRITE FOR RIGHTS

Write for RightsA History of Letter Writing
Every year around Human Rights Day on December 10, hundreds of thousands of people around the world send a message to someone they’ve never met. Letter writing has always been at the heart of Amnesty International’s work and 53 years of human rights activism shows us that words really do have the power to change lives.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of people in 143 countries around the world took a record-breaking 2,373,422 actions. Three of the Prisoners of Conscience featured in Write for Rights 2013 – Yorm Bopha, Vladimir Akimenkov, and Mikhail Kosenko – were released, and nearly all of the Individuals whose cases were featured told us that the burst of activism generated by the campaign helped to inspire and encourage them as they continue to struggle for justice.

HERE’S HOW IT WORKS

  • Amnesty looks at its global portfolio of cases, including Prisoners of Conscience, human rights defenders, torture survivors and communities at risk to decide who will be featured in each year’s campaign.
  • They identify 10 cases where global activism can have a huge impact, right now, and share them with Amnesty activists.
  • Amnesty grassroots leaders sign up to organize events and actions – or write on their own – on behalf of the 10 cases from December 1-17.
  • Letters, tweets, emails, faxes, text messages and petitions start arriving at government offices, in prison cells and to families all over the world.
  • Change happens. Hope Grows. As messages flood mailboxes, prisoners get better conditions or are released. Human rights defenders are better protected. Torture survivors finally get the reparations that they need to heal. People know that others, worldwide, are taking their injustice personally.
  • Amnesty receives updates about the kinds of actions people are taking and the ways in which it is making a difference. Every year, they better understand how Write for Rights changes lives.

Write for Rights – also known as the Writeathon – is the world’s largest human rights event, but it has humble origins. Twelve years ago, a young man named Witek met a young woman named Joanna at a festival in Warsaw, Poland. Joanna had just returned from traveling through Africa, where she’d seen activists organizing 24-hour events to write protest letters to governments.

Witek invited Joanna to join a meeting of his local Amnesty group. Together, they decided to write Urgent Action appeals for 24 hours, beginning at noon on Saturday. When they emailed their idea to all the other Polish groups, it turned into something much bigger, bringing together activists across the country. Then, their idea went viral.

They emailed their idea to all the other Polish groups, and it turned into something much bigger, bringing together activists across the country,” explains Grzegorz Zukowski, from Amnesty Poland. Then, their idea went viral.

Write For Rights