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Civil Rights / Liberties
Maya Schenwar is the author of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better. She discusses the book, what to do about prison, and her own family's experience. She is also the editor-in-chief of Truthout. She mentions this article during the show: http://davidswanson.org/node/4583
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U.S. politicians and pundits are fond of saying that America’s wars have defended America’s freedom. But the historical record doesn’t bear out this contention. In fact, over the past century, U.S. wars have triggered major encroachments upon civil liberties.
Special Armistice Day Edition: Interview of IVAW Vet and Folksinger Emily Yates About Her Independence Park Assault Conviction
By Dave Lindorff
Emily Yates, a US Army veteran of two tours in Iraq and an activist with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), was at a demonstration last year on Philadelphia's Independence Mall protesting against a looming US plan to begin a massive bombing assault on Syria. While standing in the shade of a couple of trees (it was a sweltering summer day), she was confronted by some burly National Park Police officers, who told her to leave.
By Linn Washington Jr.
Repeated lies and law-breaking forced the 1974 resignation of then U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, leading to Nixon’s subsequent, and continued inclusion on the list of the "Worst Presidents" in American history.
By John Grant
When you tuck your children in at night
Don’t tell ‘em it’s for freedom that we fight
- Emily Yates
Hot tub poll shows Republicans don’t like their politicians: Election Night Wasn’t a GOP Victory, It was a Democratic Rout
By Dave Lindorff
The sclerotic Democratic Party was trounced yet again yesterday, as Republicans outdid projections and appear to have taken at least seven Senate seats away from the Democrats, giving them control of the both houses of Congress.
Another friend of the blog, a man named Sai, is routinely harassed by the TSA. He’s not only an ally in the fight against TSA abuse but a sharp and dogged crusader. We’ve written about him several times. Now Sai needs our help again, so if you can offer it, please do. Here’s the email he recently sent me, which I have his permission to publish:
By Linn Washington Jr.
Part II of II
I would not have guessed that people cared so much and so well about U.S. prisoners. The Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign into law a dangerous precedent that we all need to speak out against and put a quick stop to. In the first day since posting the following petition, over 10,000 people have signed it and added quite eloquent reasons why. It can be signed here.
We stand against the passage, in Pennsylvania, of the so-called "Revictimization Relief Act," which affords virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the state Attorney General to silence prisoner speech, by claiming that such speech causes victims' families "mental anguish." Politicians are claiming a power that if granted to them will be difficult if not impossible for citizens to check.
In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners, the state also damages citizens' right and freedom to know -- in this case, to better understand an area of U.S. life physically removed from public scrutiny.
This legislation emerged following the failure of the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies to stop prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering an October 5, 2014, commencement address. This bill sacrifices the rights of all prisoners in Pennsylvania in order to silence Abu-Jamal -- an unethical deployment of collective punishment by those in power.
Victim relief is not served by denying fundamental rights to those convicted, especially because prisoner freedom of speech is crucial for redressing wrongful convictions and the current crisis of harsh sentencing that is often disproportionate to alleged crimes. Our society is currently engaged in a full-scale debate on the problems of mass incarceration that could not have developed without prisoners' voices.
Here's a PDF of the names and comments of the first 10,000 plus people to sign this. Flipping through the first few pages, these comments jump out at me:
Lawrence Fine NY This is an ill-conceived bill.
Christopher Scerbo ME Democracy is never served by silence.
Robert Post NJ The only proper answer to bad speech is good speech!
Ellen Kirshbaum NY Why does speech frighten these corrupt politicians? Let all prisoners SPEAK!
Jenefer Ellingston DC Why is our local or national gov't afraid of Free Speech?
Allan Carlson NJ This is a FASCIST law. It represents that antithesis of the intent of the Founding Fathers who penned the U.S. Constitution.
Jesse Reyes NJ This bill only makes sense if it is known, beyond all shadow of doubt, that the incarcerated person is actually "guilty." The Innocence Project and several other high profile cases ("The Central Park Jogger" case) has proven that far too many incarcerated people are not guilty of the crimes they were sent to prison for. I would not want to deny anyone their rights on that basis alone. This bill is wrong and should not be signed by anyone who actually cares about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.
Jan Clausen NY This bill threatens to make Pennsylvania a poster child for the unconstitutional curtailment of the free speech rights that are known around the world as one of the great strengths of U.S. system. Pennsylvanians and all U.S. citizens need to wake up and soundly reject this ill-conceived measure that threatens the freedoms of all.
Dallas C. GalvinNY Censorship for the state that promotes itself as the site of the U.S. Constitution and home of Benjamin Franklin and William Penn? Deeply troubling behavior. Rethink, then reject. Mr. Jamal (let's be clear about motivation here) has been able to show the corruption and disingenuousness of the D.A., the state senate, and police. Clean up your own acts, then you need no longer fear free and unfettered speech.
David Drukaroff NJ I have tried to win exoneration for a wrongfully convicted inmate for the last 25 years. People have a right to know how this inmate feels.
Chad Sell PA Does anyone care about the constitution anymore?
Katharine Rylaarsdam MD Public officials are servants of the law, not demigods who should be granted unlimited arbitrary power.
Edward Costello CA This is outrageous.
Julimar CastroMN Wrongful and disproportionate convictions exist. To prevent these people from speaking is outrageous. I suspect those proposing this law care more about silencing convicts and preventing them from telling the truth regarding the system, than about the families themselves.
Robert Belknap NC This is theft of rights, pure and simple.
Paul Palla PA Have you heard of the Constitution? You know, that thing that guarantees everybody FREEDOM OF SPEECH??!?
NancyNorton NY I used to visit prisoners in our local jail. It is too easy to forget these people, members of our community and citizens of our county. The right of free speech should not be abridged because a person is serving a sentence in prison or jail. We need to remember these people and not dismiss them as a group we can ignore.
J. R. Jarvis WA I believe in justice, human rights and the constitution - this ain't it!
ralph Calabrese NY Too many of our freedoms are being taken from us.
Sean Murphy FL These abuses of power must be stopped and we must resist the 1% from using criminals and other hot topics to pass laws that ultimately will affect us all.
Sharyn Diaz OR prisons have replaced the poorhouses in America and now you want to silence the common folk...shame on you...all of you who support just another try at control.
r. tippens MA This is a law straight from Stalin's text book. Please...do not embarrass this democracy.
BetseyPiette PA Once again Corbett & Co. will waste millions of tax dollars to defend their criminal violation of citizens' Constitutional Rights but can't find money for public education?
Dave JeckerTX Being a prisoner is bad enough and their punishment is that given to them for their actions. Words should never be silenced and that is a human right. We have seen how governments silent individuals and groups and it leads to nothing except rebellion. Right to speech is everyone's human right, it is not something you can take away.
Samuel Perry NJ Prisoners are on the front line of our civil liberties battles. The rights that oppressive governments first strip from prisoners are the rights the same regimes will later strip from "non-citizens" and finally "citizens" themselves. Free speech doesn't come from Government and cannot be taken away by government. Philadelphia should know that.
DonnaFriedman FL So many in prison for drug use, mental illness and even falsely accused. They should have the right to say what goes on there.
Joanne Snyder CA No lessons learned about corrupt Pennsylvania judges who sentence juvenile offenders in exchange for money? Who is paying for this?
Rev. Jake Harrison TX Freedom of speechdoes not exclude inmates - and some of the most poignant voices in history were those of inmates.
Casey Lyon VT Let us not forget the insightful words of Dostoyevsky: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."
JG Tentler NY This dangerous precedent must not be allowed to be established.It's implications are chilling and are clearly designed to muzzle the free speech of one Political Prisoner,at the expense of every wrongly incarcerated petitioner who is stifled by it.
Carol Stanton NC We must not become a gulag state.
This Wednesday is a day of action that some are calling a national day of action against police brutality, with others adding "and mass incarceration," and I'd like to add "and war" and make it global rather than national. This Tuesday, the Governor of Pennsylvania is expected to sign a bill that will silence prisoners' speech, and people are pushing back. A movement is coalescing around reforming police procedures and taking away their military weapons. And a powerful book has just been published called Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence.
Saving Trayvon Martin would have required systemic reforms or cultural reforms beyond putting cameras on police officers. This young man walking back from a store with candy was spotted by an armed man in an SUV who got out of his vehicle to pursue Trayvon despite having been told not to when he called the police. George Zimmerman was not a police officer, though he wanted to be one. He'd lost a job as a security guard for being too aggressive. He'd been arrested for battery on a police officer. He had left Manassas, Va., and its climate of hatred for Latinos in which he participated, for Florida, where he was a one-man volunteer neighborhood watch group in a gated neighborhood. He'd phoned the police on 46 previous occasions. He apparently expressed his contempt for Trayvon Martin in racist terms. When the police arrived, they let Zimmerman ride in the front seat (no handcuffs, of course) and never tested him for drugs, testing instead the dead black boy he'd murdered. When public outrage finally put Zimmerman on trial, his defense displayed a photo of a white woman living in the neighborhood who had nothing to do with the incident but who was used to represent what Zimmerman had been "defending." He was found innocent.
Killing Trayvons is a rich anthology, including police records, trial transcripts, statements by President Obama, accounts of numerous similar cases, essays, poetry, and history and analysis of how we got here . . . and how we might get the hell out of here.
Recently I was playing a game with my little boy that must have looked to any observer like I was secretly spying on people. I found myself thinking that it was a good thing I wasn't black or I'd risk someone reporting me to the police, and I'd find myself struggling to explain the situation to them rather than yelling at them, and they wouldn't listen. "What do I tell my son," wrote Talib Kweli, "He's 5 years old and he's still thinking cops are cool / How do I break the news that when he gets some size / He'll be perceived as a threat and see the fear in their eyes." I remember a character of James Baldwin's explaining to a younger brother on the streets of New York that when walking in the rich part of town you must always keep your hands in your pockets so as not to be accused of touching a white woman. But a set of rules devised by Etan Thomas in Killing Trayvons includes: "Keep your hands visible. Avoid putting them in your pockets." Opposite advice, same injustice. I can recall how offended I was when, as a young white man, I became old enough for a strange woman in a deserted place to hurry away from me in panic. Maybe if I'd been black someone would have prepared me for that. Maybe I'd have experienced it a lot earlier. Maybe I'd have experienced it as racist. Maybe it would have been. But would I have come around to the conclusion, as I have, that there's nothing I have a right to be indignant about, that people's fear -- wherever it comes from -- is more important to reduce than other people's annoyance?
But what about fear that leads to murder? What about white fear of black violence that leads to the killing of so many African Americans -- and many of them women, suggesting that fear isn't all there is to it? Police and security guards kill hundreds of African Americans each year, most of them unarmed. In most cases, the killers claim to have felt threatened. In most cases they escape any accountability. Clearly this is a case of fear to be doubted and treated with appropriate skepticism, fear to be understood and sympathized with where real, but fear never to be respected as reasonable or justified.
We need a combination of addressing the fear through enlightenment and impeding the violence with application of the rule of law in a manner that does not treat murdering black kids as what any reasonable person would do. We need to rein in and hold accountable individuals and institutions -- groups like the NRA and ALEC that push racist policies on us. Police and neighbors should not see a black boy as an intruder in his own house when his foster parents are white. They also shouldn't spray chemical weapons in someone's face before asking him questions.
The editors of Killing Trayvons, Kevin Alexander Gray, Jeffrey St. Clair, and JoAnn Wypijewski put killing in context. What if Trayvon actually got into a fight with his stalker superhero? Would that have been a good reason to kill him? "It takes a jacked-up disdain for proportionality to conclude the execution is a reasonable response to a fistfight. And yet . . . high or low, power teaches such disdain every day. Lose two towers; destroy two countries. Lose three Israelis; kill a couple thousand Palestinians. Sell some dope; three strikes, you're out. Sell a loosey; choke, you're dead. Reach for your wallet; bang, you're dead. Got a beef; bang, you're dead."
This is exactly the problem. High and low includes supreme courts that kill black men like Troy Davis, and presidents who kill dark-skinned Muslim foreigners (some of them U.S. citizens) with drones, leading Vijay Prashad to call Zimmerman a domestic drone and Cornel West to call President Obama a global Zimmerman. Two bizarre varieties of murder have been legalized at the same time in the United States. One is Stand-Your-Ground killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. The other is drone missile killing justified by fear and applied on a consistently racist basis. Both types of murder are much more obviously murder than other instances that have not been given blanket legalization.
Stand-your-ground murders are facilitated by racism; and racist propaganda that blames the victims protects the killers after the fact. Drone murders are driven by profit, politics, power lust, and racism; and the guilt of President Obama is sheltered by the prevalence of racist hatred for him -- which comes from generally the same group of people who support stand-your-ground laws. (How can Obama be guilty of any wrong in overseeing a global kill list, when racists hate him?) Millions of Americans think of themselves as above the ignorant whites who fear every black person they see, and yet have swallowed such a fear of ISIS that even giving ISIS a war it wants and benefits from seems justified. After all, ISIS is barbaric. If it were civilized, ISIS wouldn't behead people; it would have its hostages commit suicide while handcuffed in the backseat of police cars.
By Linn Washington Jr.
(Part I of II)
Obscured by a current scandal involving pornographic emails currently rocking the top reaches of Pennsylvania’s state government, a scandal that has cast a shadow over embattled Pennsylvania Governor and former state's attorney general Tom Corbett and the state’s judiciary, including a state Supreme Court member, is another explosive scandal.
By Alfredo Lopez
A couple of weeks ago, the mere mortals who lead the voracious giants of technology -- Google and Apple -- announced that they were striking a blow for protection against NSA spying by making "encryption" the default on Google cell phone software (which is used on most cell phones) and THEY software used on Apple mobile devices.
This affects equipment like the ubiquitous cell phone, although it is also relevant to some handheld computers and similar portable equipment.
As the United States’ armchair warriors sit in their comfortable homes and offices and decide on which country it is time to invade, attack or bomb, little consideration is given to those that must carry out their decisions. Sound bites for the evening news are far more important that human suffering.
Libeling a movement and its activists: Accusing Hong Kong Activists of Being Tools of US Policy is Both Ignorant and Dangerous
By Dave Lindorff
A number of progressive and left-leaning writers in the US have jumped on a report by Wikileaks that the neo-con dominated National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and various other US-government linked organizations with a history of subversion and sowing discord abroad are operating in Hong Kong to make the leap of “logic” that the democracy protests in Hong Kong must therefore be a creation of US policy-makers.
Expired respirators? Unsanitary hand sanitizer? Antivirals unaccounted for? No problem! As long as the TSA keeps putting its hands down people's pants, we're safe!
Read the rest at TSA News.
By Linn Washington
Police carp about college students’ selection of a prison inmate for their commencement speaker. It must have something to do with Mumia Abu-Jamal…the man that cops across America love to hate.
Chuck Canterbury, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), issued a statement on October 1 that blasted Goddard College for its failure to block the commencement speech scheduled for Sunday (10/5) by Abu-Jamal, an alum of the small liberal arts institution in Vermont.
Freedom’s just another word: US Launches Wars and Backs Coups in the Name of Democracy, but Won’t Back Real Democracy Activists
By Dave Lindorff
The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
By Dave Lindorff
Eric Holder has announced that he is leaving his post of Attorney General, which he has sullied and degraded for six years.
Wall Street is fertile ground for a movement: Liberals and Liberation on a Weekend of Climate Action in New York
By Dave Lindorff
Regular readers will remember the two times we’ve written about this young man, one of thousands of people who’ve been abused by the TSA.
His name is Sai. He is disabled and requires medication. The TSA detained him, taunted him, and denied him his medication . . .
Sai isn’t taking his mistreatment lying down. He’s fighting. And he’s asking for your help. Following is the email Sai sent to me explaining his next steps. I have his permission to publish it:
By Linn Washington
Two acts of ugly terrorism occurred in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.
One act was widely abhorred. The other act ignored.
Many across America know about the 9/15/63 Birmingham murders of four little girls slain in the bombing of a black Baptist church 18-days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have A Dream” speech.
By Susan Harman
On Sept. 10 the UC Berkeley Law School (aka Boalt Hall) held its first major speaking event of the school year. This was Sujit Choudhry, the new Dean's, first event. The guest was Rosalie Abella, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and a mentor of Choudhry's.
They each told charming stories about the other. Then the judge gave a very literate and entertaining speech on discrimination.
At one point, as she was listing human rights violators around the world, Cynthia Papermaster said loudly, "and John Yoo walks the halls of this law school."
I asked the second question. I first thanked her and the Dean for her presentation.
Then I thanked the two of them for their respective roles in winning a little justice for Omar Khadr, who has spent his adolescence in Guantanamo (see Sharon Adams' summary here: http://www.firejohnyoo.net).
Then I asked how they deal with the cognitive dissonance that must come from believing what they do about justice, and presenting in an institution that harbors convicted war criminal John Yoo.
The Honorable Supreme Court Justice replied, "I don't think about it."
I realize this might seem like small potatoes, what with our Hawk-in-Chief doing what he does best -- bomb people to smithereens -- but as activists should know, these issues are all related. Quoting Hanna Arendt, "Empire abroad entails tyranny at home."
The U.S. is eviscerating civil liberties left and right. And every time you go to the airport and acquiese to the abusive practices of the TSA, you're going along with the evisceration of these civil liberties. Anyway, here's how one man handled himself recently at an American airport.
“So you want to disarm cops LOL yeah that’s an intelligent thing to do the gang bangers would love that surely they will unilaterally disarm too.”
I’m used to semi-anonymous sarcasm by now, like this Huffington Post comment beneath a recent column I wrote on the militarization of the police and the possibility of disarmament, and I have no interest in “fighting it out” with the guy. But there it is, perfectly preserved: an impulse homage to Big Fear, wrapped in unexamined certainty. This is fast-draw morality, made in Hollywood.
I take this moment to highlight it because it’s so typical and, for that reason, the first line of defense of the status quo of violence: this instant acceptance of the idea that our enemies are continually stalking the perimeter of our lives, waiting to invade, to commandeer our way of life the moment we lower our weapons.
This instant reaction to any questioning of the use of armed force to maintain safety and “peace” not only shuts down the discussion but hides all the consequences of violent self-defense, including the creation of the very enemies we fear (e.g., the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and the hemorrhaging of sanctioned, official violence backwards into our own lives.
Violent force and temporary dominance of a situation may occasionally serve a larger end, but the permanent maintenance of this mindset has us stalled in a state of endless embattlement, both at home and abroad. Fear has us locked into a bad story: that violent dominance over our enemies is our only hope. In actuality, our only hope is embracing a larger story: that all humanity, and all of life, is connected. Finding that connection is often what requires courage.
What if policing, for instance, were more about finding that connection than exerting authority? In point of fact, I’m sure that it is. However, as police departments across the country militarize and, in the process, disengage emotionally and spiritually from the communities they protect — acting like armies of occupation rather than humble servants of the common good — incidents of unnecessary violence escalate, widening the gulf between police and the public. Factor in the nation’s endemic racism and even the simplest, most harmless situations often spiral completely out of control.
And in the era of the cellphone video, we now have ringside seats to such incidents. In an altercation that occurred last January in St. Paul, Minn., the video of which recently became public, Chris Lollie, who is African-American, was approached by a police officer as he was sitting in a seemingly public space in a downtown skyway, waiting for his children to get out of daycare. The officer, who had been called by a local merchant, asked Lollie for his ID. He refused to cooperate, claiming he had a perfect right to sit in a public space and wait for his children.
What happened next was absurd — of course. An incredibly minor matter went haywire, as both parties insisted on their right to do what they were doing. The police officer wanted her questions — who are you? what are you doing here? — answered. Lollie refused. At one point, as the officer started to explain why there was a problem, he interrupted her: “The problem is I’m black, that’s the problem. No, it really is, because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Two more officers eventually joined in, grabbed hold of the man and, when he defended himself, tasered him. As this was going on, the daycare class let out and Lollie’s 4-year-old daughter saw the whole thing. Lollie was arrested, charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstruction of a legal process. In July, all the charges were dismissed. The officer who initially confronted him has since left the force.
I highlight this incident not to judge either party in the altercation but, rather, to note the futility of maintaining even superficial order with us-vs.-them tactics. The situation degenerated into a gang confrontation in a high-school cafeteria, as both sides felt disrespected and refused to back down — or, more relevantly, refused to access a better strategy for handling things. The police in particular, as professional keepers of the peace, should have done so. To that end, this video would make an excellent training film in what not to do.
Lasting peace cannot be built on an us-vs.-them foundation, even — or especially — when it’s backed up by armed force.
“So you want to disarm cops LOL . . .” etc., etc. Advocates of nonviolence and human dignity push on through the empty sarcasm. It helps to know we’re not alone. Two years ago, the BBC News Magazine published an extraordinary article by Jon Kelly about the unarmed police of the UK. Two female police constables in Manchester had just been killed in the line of duty and a number of people began wondering if more officers shouldn’t be armed. (In 2012, about 5 percent of the officers in England and Wales were authorized to use firearms.)
Remarkably, the call for arming the police did not come from within the ranks. “But one thing is clear. When asked, police officers say overwhelmingly that they wish to remain unarmed,” Kelly wrote.
He quoted Peter Fahy, the Greater Manchester chief constable: “We are passionate that the British style of policing is routinely unarmed policing. Sadly we know from the experience in America and other countries that having armed officers certainly does not mean, sadly, that police officers do not end up getting shot.”
Kelly added that “arming the force would, say opponents, undermine the principle of policing by consent — the notion that the force owes its primary duty to the public, rather than to the state, as in other countries.”
Policing by public consent! Every community should have such a relationship with its peacekeepers, armed or otherwise.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.
By John Grant
I just thank God I’m out of this place.
- Henry Lee McCollum
First there was Ferguson, Missouri and the gunning down of an unarmed black youth and the ad-nauseum follow-up emphasizing over-and-over the shooting officer’s fear. Now it’s the release of two half brothers in North Carolina clearly railroaded into convictions and death sentences by a notoriously remorseless, good-'ol-boy district attorney.
By Alfredo Lopez
One sensationally reported incident this week exposes a dual threat: your data isn't safe on a corporate-controlled "cloud" and spying software made for police and government agencies makes it completely accessible.
Several stories have been circulating recently about people’s medications being confiscated by the TSA. In some cases, these are potentially lifesaving medications, such as nitroglycerin for heart patients or insulin for diabetics.
By Dave Lindorff
Kuopio -- Finland can be a shock to a visitor from America. The cities are clean, the highways and byways are smoothly paved and pothole-free despite the punishing winter climate faced by a country that straddles the Arctic Circle, schools look shiny and new, and it’s hard to see anyone who looks destitute.