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Civil Rights / Liberties
No more grand juries: Coercive 13th Century Relics, They Serve the Political Interests of DAs, not Justice
By Dave Lindorff
In case people didn’t get it earlier, it’s time to recognize that the ancient institution of the grand jury has outlived its usefulness, and should be eliminated, as its only real purpose today is to give prosecutors political cover and an added cudgel with which to intimidate witnesses.
1st December is Prisoners for Peace Day. For over 60 years, War Resisters' International have, on this day, made known the names and stories of those imprisoned because of their actions for peace. Many are conscientious objectors, in gaol for refusing to join the military. Others have taken nonviolent actions to disrupt preparation for war.
This day is a chance for you to demonstrate your support for those individuals and their movements, by writing to those whose freedom has been taken away from them because of their work for peace.
While WRI has a permanent Prisoners for Peace list, which we make a special effort to update for Prisoners for Peace Day on December 1st.
Coming next -- Year-round worker protests at Walmart: Walmart Black Friday Strikes Become a Thanksgiving Holiday Tradition
By Jess Guh
Yesterday marked the third annual Black Friday protests and strikes at Walmart, the largest private employer in this country. The Walton family, controlling owners of the company, is America’s richest family, with holdings valued at almost $150 billion dollars. For decades, Walmart has remained an employer powerhouse based upon a business model of low wages, poor benefits and union busting.
It’s not about justice, it’s winning convictions: Prosecutors Falsely Push Prison Term for Innocent Teen
By Linn Washington Jr.
Nasheeba Adams was both ecstatic and sad as she stood outside of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center courthouse recently hugging her son Tomayo McDuffy.
By Dave Lindorff
Sign up here:
Thursday, December 4, at 6:30 p.m.
Southern Hospitality, 1815 Adams Mill Road NW, Washington, DC 20009
Join us to celebrate the release of Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn't Work and How We Can Do Better! by Maya Schenwar.
Maya will read from her book and discuss the impacts of prison on families and communities -- and how people around the country are taking action to create a world beyond prison.
Event is cosponsored by Truthout and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
What people are saying about Locked Down, Locked Out:
"This book has the power to transform hearts and minds, opening us to new ways of imagining what justice can mean for individuals, families, communities, and our nation as a whole. I turned the last page feeling nothing less than inspired."
--Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow
"Maya Schenwar's stories about prisoners, their families (including her own), and the thoroughly broken punishment system are rescued from any pessimism such narratives might inspire by the author's brilliant juxtaposition of abolitionist imaginaries and radical political practices."
--Angela Davis, author of Are Prisons Obsolete?
By Alfredo Lopez
The week before last, our President made a pronouncement on Net Neutrality that pleasantly surprised activists and won him favorable coverage in the newspapers: both rare outcomes these days.
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
Total run time: 29:00
Host: David Swanson.
Producer: David Swanson.
Music by Duke Ellington.
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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."