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Thandisizwe Chimurenga

U.S. Politics Expert Political Philosopher
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Thandisizwe Chimurenga is an award-winning, freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, California. She is a staff writer for MintPress News, Daily Kos and co-hosts a weekly, morning drive-time public affairs/news show on the Pacifica Radio network. She is the author of No Doubt: The Murder(s) of Oscar Grant and Reparations … Not Yet: A Case for Reparations and Why We Must Wait; she is also a contributor to several social justice anthologies.

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 02/28/2018 0

In Baltimore Guilty Cops May Soon Have to Pony Up

BALTIMORE – As the Baltimore Police Department currently sits front and center in a massive corruption trial, talk of having individual police officers be fiscally responsible for the lawsuits against them is making the rounds. Two officers in Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force were found guilty earlier this week of racketeering and robbery in the federal trial. Six other officers pleaded guilty prior to trial and are currently awaiting sentencing.

The talk of police officers’ fiscal responsibility is apparently coming from the police union itself, which, like most other law enforcement unions around the country, ordinarily views as anathema any attempt at finding fault with its members or holding them accountable.

Forward Observer states that the police union sent out a memo on February 13 saying individual police officers could now be responsible for paying punitive damages when juries rule against them, which represents a change in the city’s policy. The city’s solicitor, however, says it’s not, in fact, a change in policy, as it has always been that way. He added that it’s just now being publicized because of the scope and seriousness of the current trial.

When an individual files a civil lawsuit against the police department and/or an individual officer, the city that employs such parties usually settles the lawsuit out of court. When a settlement is not reached and the case goes to trial, if a jury finds the officer guilty, the city pays both the compensatory damages and the punitive damages, if any are awarded. It is only when a jury finds that an officer “acted with malice” — as in, intended to do harm to a person in his or her custody — that the city will not pay punitive damages, making the officer individually liable.

That’s shaping up to be the case currently in Baltimore, where nine rogue officers were found to have acted “with malice” in making drug arrests.

The egregiousness of some of Baltimore’s cops’ activity has prompted Maryland state legislators to propose bills as a much-needed corrective measure. Jail time for deliberately turning off body cameras, a review of police department spending, and monies earmarked for people wrongfully arrested and convicted, are among some of the plans. What hasn’t been talked about, however, is a commitment by the city to make it official policy that there will be no payment of damages out of city coffers for cops.  That actually would change Baltimore’s policy, since the city has paid millions of dollars before most judges pick up their gavels.

A drain on city budgets

2015 data from the Wall Street Journal shows that, while Baltimore paid out only $12 million over the years 2010-14 for police misconduct cases, that payout was 74 percent of all police-claims payouts. That figure, while not including employment lawsuits, is higher percentage-wise than those of New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, three cities with much larger police misconduct payouts during the same time period.

The Marshall Project, named after Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to create awareness of the U.S. criminal justice system, maintained a database of Police Misconduct Payouts for three years, last updated in September of 2017.

A cursory glance at some cities’ payouts, based on the available data, shows Baltimore isn’t the only city that operates this way.

The City of Chicago has paid out a whopping half a billion dollars in total police misconduct payouts: $662 million as of March 2016. That figure encompasses payments reaching back to a lawsuit in 1952.

In a five-year time period from 2011-16, though, the Windy City paid out $280 million, and another $91 million to lawyers. And yet, Chicago claims there is no money to keep its schools open.

By May of 2017, the LAPD had paid out $81 million for its misconduct. The sheriff’s department – which has county oversight – paid close to $51 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Not surprisingly, New York City payouts for police misconduct over a four-year time period lead the way: $601 million from 2010-14. Philadelphia’s total was $54 million for that same time period. In 2017, Philadelphia paid about half of that – $24 million – to settle just three lawsuits. Three.

 

Taking away from the things that keep communities safe

Jazmin Holloway sits below a mural depicting Freddie Gray at the intersection of his arrest, in Baltimore. Gray’s family agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the city in September 2015. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

Jazmin Holloway sits below a mural depicting Freddie Gray at the intersection of his arrest, in Baltimore. Gray’s family agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the city in September 2015. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

The citizenry is doubly affected because such payouts drain city (and county) budgets of resources for essential services. As the Baltimore Sun noted in 2014, for example, “the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.”

Rec centers, playgrounds, mental-health and drug-abuse support; job training and placement; curbing homelessness; and of course, educational needs: the very sorts of things most municipalities bemoan never having enough money for. The very sorts of things that keep communities safer than punitive policies and force.

When you consider the fact that, in a city like Chicago, even when juries find against rogue officers, their penalties are negotiated away, it underscores the absolute need for a legally binding policy of police paying out-of-pocket for their misdeeds.

Campaign Zero, launched in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s August 2014 murder by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, suggests that the cost of police misconduct be shifted back to the institution of policing as opposed to individual rogue officers. Their specific policy recommendations are to:

  • Require the cost of misconduct settlements to be paid out of the police department budget instead of the city’s general fund
  • Restrict police departments from receiving more money from the general fund when they go over-budget on lawsuit payments

Whether it’s the individual officers who pay for their dirty deeds, as proposed in Baltimore and elsewhere or the police department itself as suggested by Campaign Zero, one thing is clear: those who are currently paying for this calamity are the ones who can least afford to — the tax-paying public.

Top Photo | A boy stands in front of a police cordon following the funeral of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Gray’s family agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the city in September 2015. (AP/Matt Rourke)

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 02/13/2018 0

In NYC When Cops Backed Off, Crime Did Too

NEW YORK – A couple of weeks ago ProPublica noted that 2017’s murder rate in New York City was down to 291, the lowest since the 1950s. That number is noteworthy in and of itself, but also because of the context in which it occurred: the number of “stops” and “frisks” employed by the NYPD. About 10,000 people were stopped and frisked — checked for weapons, illegal substances, or outstanding warrants – on the streets of New York in 2017. At its height six years earlier, the total was 700,000. The number of people stopped by police dropped but crime didn’t go up. And this was not the first time.

A few months after the explosion of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement onto the national scene in August of 2014, two NYPD officers would be gunned down that December. This was the first incident to bring swift condemnation of the group as being anti-cop and advocating for the killing of police officers. As a protest against that movement (stated as concern for officer safety) and the perception that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was not supportive of NYPD, officers staged a “work slowdown” with the following effects:

  • Overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013
  • Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame
  • Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300
  • Parking violations dropped by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241
  • Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall arrest number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.

Less was more

A woman and children walk past a street mural depicting individual rights during a "Stop and Frisk" on in New York. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

A woman and children walk past a street mural depicting individual rights during a “Stop and Frisk” on in New York. (AP/Bebeto Matthews)

As the Los Angeles Times noted last year, a study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, which looked at NYPD statistics from 2013 through 2016, concluded that during the weeks of the “work slowdown” — from late December 2014 through January 16, 2015, when officers resumed full duties — complaints of major crimes had dropped by as much as 6 percent:

Each week during the slowdown saw civilians report an estimated 43 fewer felony assaults, 40 fewer burglaries and 40 fewer acts of grand larceny. And this slight suppression of major crime rates actually continued for seven to 14 weeks after those drops in proactive policing — which led the researchers to estimate that overall, the slowdown resulted in about 2,100 fewer major-crimes complaints.”

Despite the worst fears and predictions of many, anarchy, mayhem, and murder did not envelop New York. One explanation for this is that stop-and-frisk was never really about crime at all but a continuation of racist intimidation of the city’s Black and Brown population. According to the New York ACLU (NYCLU),

[I]nnocent New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and street interrogations more than 5 million times since 2002, and … black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent.”

“Innocent” — as in, no weapons, illegal substances, or warrants were found on those who were detained.

To further underscore that point, the NYCLU stated in 2011 (the year of the highest stop-and-frisk detentions) that “the number of stops of black men between the ages of 14 and 24 (168,126) exceeded the total city population of black men in that age range (158,406).”  Yep, the NYPD made more stops of young black men than the total number of young black men in New York.

Some voices actually lauded the sudden drop in police aggressiveness, noting that quality-of-life crimes — such as public urination, drunkenness and subway fare evasion — while unpleasant, do not pose a mortal danger to society or serve as a gateway to a dystopian police state.

 

Additionally, there have also been those who maintain that police actually don’t keep communities safe. Groups like Chicago’s Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) argue that true community safety should focus less on “police forces, military grade weapons, high-tech surveillance, jails, and prisons.” BYP100 explains:

The choice to invest in punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make our communities safer. Study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are more successful in reducing crime than more police or prisons.”

If, as noted above, stop-and-frisk was never really about crime at all, and if, as BYP100 argues, true community safety lies in reliance not on punitive options but on “stabilizing and nourishing ones,” perhaps what is actually needed is less force and more fairness.

Top Photo | New York City police officers detain and question a man,, July 11, 2017, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 02/10/2018 0

In the US it’s “Objectively Reasonable” for Cops to Kill Arrestees with Hands Up

Erica Garner never stopped fighting for justice for her father Eric, who was killed by an NYPD officer with an illegal chokehold in 2014. The 27-year-old — who passed away at the end of December last year — led vigils and protests, spoke at rallies and on panels, and endorsed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential campaign. And this week, she posthumously released a secretly recorded video of a meeting with Department of Justice officials regarding her father’s case:

 In a piece Garner wrote that was released on the site Blavity the same day as the video, Garner expressed her frustration with the pace of the investigation and the feeling that the meeting was a waste of time:

 

My family has sat through two black federal prosecutors, Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, and still has yet to see justice in my dad’s case. The only answers we have received is that the investigation is still open.

So when me and my family got the call that new investigators were willing to meet with us, they were hopeful — but I, personally, thought it would be a waste of time. And surely it was a waste. During the hour-long meeting, answers to our questions were avoided or we were simply told they weren’t at liberty to discuss the case with us.

It’s frustrating, because while we waited to hear something new, what we got was the same old “be patient” speech and vague comments like “we are working as hard as we can to ensure justice.”

 

The frustrating pursuit of justice and accountability

Eric Garner is surrounded by family as she speaks during a news conference, July 14, 2015, in New York, days before the anniversary of her father's death at the hands of the NYPD. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Eric Garner is surrounded by family as she speaks during a news conference, July 14, 2015, in New York, days before the anniversary of her father’s death at the hands of the NYPD. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Elsewhere, MintPress News has written about how Garner, in passing away suddenly, shared the same fate as many other close relatives of victims of police terror. The other thing Garner has in common with many others is a failure to obtain indictments and prosecutions from the federal government.

Pressing for hate-crime or federal civil rights violations in the deaths of unarmed black people by police is somewhat of a staple in the arsenal of police-brutality activists. Unfortunately, the track record of success is all but nonexistent.

Even when the incident of police brutality is caught on video, even when a person appears to have their hands up or is unarmed or is running away from police, it is not enough to meet the federal standard. That standard, as enumerated in the case of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the August 2014 killing of Michael Brown, is as follows:

(1) that the person was acting under color of law;

(2) that the person acted willfully;

(3) that the person deprived the victim of a right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and

(4) that the deprivation resulted in bodily injury or death.

To clarify what is meant by a “right protected by the Constitution:”

Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer’s use of physical force against an arrestee must be objectively reasonable under the circumstances.”

 

A slippery standard

Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. (Photo/Jeff Roberson,AP)

Police wearing riot gear walk toward a man with his hands raised, Aug. 11, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. during protests following the police killing of Michael Brown. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Which begs the question: “objectively reasonable” to whom? What is considered to be objectively reasonable differs between those of us who are not law enforcement and those who are. Which standard applies? This is of critical importance when it comes to the deterrence of future acts of violence by law enforcement. If it is considered to be “objectively reasonable” for a cop to shoot-to-kill a person with arms raised in the air, the roll of such victims will only continue to expand.

There have been successes, but they are notable chiefly for their rarity. Most recently, Michael Slager — the killer of 53-year old-Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April of 2015 — pled guilty to a federal civil rights violation charge and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In the 15 most recent high-profile cases of police murder, Slager is one of two police officers to have been convicted in the death of an unarmed civilian — and the only federal conviction.

While a pretty robust movement to hold police accountable for their actions has sprung up nationally, the predominant result of that movement has been increased visibility and acknowledgment of the problem. The movement has yet to score significant state criminal convictions for police officers or federal civil rights convictions. But that’s no reason for justice activists to stop fighting. Erica Garner didn’t stop.

Top Photo | Protesters rally against a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner in Foley Square, Dec. 4, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo)

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, the current United States attorney general under President Donald Trump, has said his department will be “pulling back” on suing police departments for civil rights violations. That should not be surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising. The fact that the attorney general of the U.S. hadn’t read his own department’s reports on some of the past decade’s most notorious police departments serves as a good predictor of his and the department’s attitude toward the balance of rights and responsibilities on the nation’s streets.

Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 02/04/2018 0

Holding Top Cops Accountable: When the Brass Lead by Bad Example

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – Todd Shaw, the former assistant police chief of the city of Prospect, Kentucky, resigned November 20, 2017, after more than 20 years on the job. Shaw quit after Prospect’s Chief of Police Jeff Sherrard confronted him with copies of Facebook messages sent to a Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (LMPD) recruit. Those messages, made public by a court last week, have been described as being “highly disturbing,” “racist,” and “threatening.”

The recruit was writing a paper about “the right thing to do” and asked Shaw what he should do if he comes across some juveniles smoking marijuana:

“Fuck the right thing,” Shaw allegedly responded. “If black shoot them.”

And as for what to tell the parents of the juveniles, Shaw said: “… call their [pa]rents … if mom is hot then fuck her … if dad is hot then handcuff him and make him suck my dick,”…

Shaw continued, “Unless daddy is black. … Then shoot him.”

Under investigation in an unrelated case about interference, Shaw’s Facebook content was requested under an open records provision. He had sought to exclude the material but a judge ruled it was fair game.

Shaw’s social media posts are indeed disturbing, racist and threatening; that’s obvious. What’s not obvious, unfortunately, is the remedy for them. The reflexive, go-to remedy for such vulgarity by a cop like Shaw is “better training.” The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, while applauding increased anti-bias training for law enforcement in California, noted that it’s going to “take more than a few hours-long training courses to erase unconscious biases …” that have been built-up after “hundreds” of years. Which begs the question: more what?

One of the things that is missing in looking at this particular issue is an understanding of who Todd Shaw is. Shaw was the city of Prospect’s assistant chief of police. When Chief Sherrard was on leave, Shaw would be the interim chief of police. This is not your racist, good-ole-boy partner sitting in a squad car with you. This is your commanding officer.

 

Influence of community attitudes on police behavior

Members of the Baltimore Police Department stand guard outside the department's Western District police station during a protest in response to Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

Members of the Baltimore Police Department stand guard outside the department’s Western District police station during a protest in response to Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

A research team at Ryerson University in Toronto found “a link between the unconscious racial biases of white residents and the disproportionate use of lethal force against blacks by the police. Areas with greater levels of prejudice had higher rates of such tragic incidents.”

The team was led by psychologist Eric Hehman. In Pacific Standard magazine last July, Tom Jacobs wrote that it appeared self-evident that “the attitudes of the communities the police officers work in — which are usually the same ones they live in, and often the ones they grew up in — would have a profound influence on their attitudes, behavior, and instinctive reactions.”  A racist culture, in other words; a culture in which police chiefs and other commanding officers live and breathe, just like their subordinates.

Raeford Davis was a cop in South Carolina for several years, leaving the force in 2006. He now works as an advocate against both police brutality and the war on drugs.  According to Davis, as a young recruit, he was in training for eight weeks — which primarily consisted of how to maintain control and “worst case scenarios” when dealing with a “suspect” — and he was given a 1,500-page training manual. No more than 20 pages of that manual discussed how to de-escalate a situation. “It wasn’t really until you got out with your field training officer,” Davis said, that you would unlearn things you learned in the police academy.

 

Better training avoided by those who most need it

Former LAPD officers Don Wynne, left, and Ann Bozzi instruct Los Angeles Police Department officers to recognize unconscious prejudices and how they can impact behaviors on the street at a class at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

Former LAPD officers Don Wynne, left, and Ann Bozzi instruct Los Angeles Police Department officers to recognize unconscious prejudices and how they can impact behaviors on the street at a class at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)

Better training is always “the fix” for police. But it’s also always directed at new recruits and those cops who patrol neighborhoods every day. Rarely, if ever, is it directed at those officers who have been on the streets for years, or those who are responsible for commanding other officers in the field. Any efforts aimed at creating less lethal, more humane policing need to address both types of officers.

Shaw is not alone. The Akron Beacon Journal reported that James Nice, Akron’s former police chief, resigned at the end of August last year, partly because of his use of the N-word slur amongst people who were not law enforcement.

Also last August, Wayne Welsh — another former assistant police chief, in Estherwood, Louisiana — resigned after sharing a cartoon meme on Facebook of a mother drowning her daughter in the bathtub. The caption on the meme stated, “When your daughters (sic) first crush is a little Negro boy.”

A Facebook post shared by former assistant police chief, Wayne Welsh, of Estherwood, Louisiana.

A Facebook post shared by former assistant police chief, Wayne Welsh, of Estherwood, Louisiana.

Prior to the revelations about Shaw, New Jersey’s Frank Nucera was in the lead for top repugnant police leadership. Nucera was charged in November with a hate crime for allegedly assaulting a Black youth detained at his facility, and for making racist remarks against Blacks. As reported by Jon Schuppe of NBCNews.com:

The litany of Nucera’s alleged abuses listed in the complaint include frequent use of racist slurs in reference to African Americans and the use of police dogs to intimidate black fans at a local high school basketball game and in an apartment complex where black people were present. At one point, talking about a black suspect believed to have slashed the tires of a police car, Nucera allegedly told the officer who was secretly recording him that ‘n—–s are like ISIS, they have no value.”

Redditt Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer, now works for the Ethics Project of the NAACP. Hudson has stressed that the real issue is that police violate the rights of individuals with impunity daily. The fix for that, he says, is that police must know that they will be held accountable for their actions. If that knowledge is to be imparted, accountability must begin at the top.

Top Photo | Newly minted NYPD Officers attend the New York City Police Graduation Ceremony for the Graduating Class of December 2017 held at the Beacon Theater on December 28, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Mpi43/MediaPunch/IPX)

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/31/2018 0

Florida Prison Strike Focuses on Prison Slavery, Fair Treatment

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – Prisoners in Florida went on a statewide strike on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday this week, after having issued a list of demands in December. Operation PUSH, as the action is called, is scheduled to last for one month. The prisoners are demanding fair wages for the work that the prisoners do; fair pricing for the goods they must purchase from the prison; and a restoration of parole to end what the inmates call “Buck Rogers release dates” – lengthy, often astronomical sentences.

Inmates in Florida are not paid for their work; instead, time is deducted from their prison sentences. In the words of Jacqueline Azis, an attorney with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union:

A lot of times people will work in order to get time deducted, and then the prison guards and officials will find ways to punish someone for what the prisoners are saying are made-up reasons that then extend the person’s time.”

Prison slavery enshrined in U.S. Constitution

When Florida prisoners say they want an end to prison slavery, they’re not being hyperbolic.

They’re not calling it prison slavery simply because they aren’t paid wages for their work, despite the $38 million that the state’s Community Work Squads provided in 2017. It’s prison slavery because that mode of punishment is enshrined in the United States Constitution. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, states:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The shifting role of prison in the U.S.

Inmate laborers cut down trees along the Highway 29 near Calistoga, Calif. as deadly wildfires rage nearby. (AP/Jae C. Hong)

Inmate laborers cut down trees along the Highway 29 near Calistoga, Calif. as deadly wildfires rage nearby. (AP/Jae C. Hong)

The Religious Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, created the first jail in the 1700s in Pennsylvania. It was conceived of as a place where persons who committed crimes against society would be sent to do penitence – reflect on what they had done and how they might contribute to society instead of preying upon it. It was supposed to be a place of both punishment and rehabilitation.

The theme of rehabilitation continued throughout the founding and maturing of the U.S. up until the 1970s. A push towards punishment and away from rehabilitation began during the time that the Civil Rights movement began to yield to the more threatening Black Power. Both of these phenomena involved the galvanizing of African-Americans in demanding equality and an end to discrimination.

The end of chattel enslavement via the 13th Amendment – except in prison – was also a transformation that heavily involved African-Americans. Scholar Angela Davis notes in her work Are Prisons Obsolete? that the “Black Codes,” which were created to repress the movements of newly freed African-Americans in the aftermath of slavery, provided a direct link into the prison system:

The new Black Codes proscribed a range of actions-such as vagrancy, absence from work, breach of job contracts, the possession of firearms, and insulting gestures or acts-that were criminalized only when the person charged was black.”

Fast forward nearly a century to a new period of backlash in the 1970s. Still reeling from the upheaval of the 1960s, there were also a number of prison uprisings that helped trigger a new and steeper decline from rehabilitation towards more punitive confinement. The most notable uprising of that era was Attica.

 

Limited options for prisoners seeking reform

Inmates at Attica State Prison in Attica, N.Y., raise their hands in clenched fists in a show of unity, Sept. 1971, during the Attica uprising, which took the lives of 43 people. (AP Photo)

Inmates at Attica State Prison in Attica, N.Y., raise their hands in clenched fists in a show of unity, Sept. 1971, during the Attica uprising, which took the lives of 43 people. (AP Photo)

The uprising at Attica, begun as an observance of the murder of California inmate and author George Jackson a couple of weeks prior, was the largest and deadliest prison rebellion of the 1970s. Deadly as a result of the violence carried out by New York state troopers in putting down the rebellion. The demands made by the inmates were not unreasonable: payment of fair wages for work; the right to form a union; and the ability to have insurance for on-the-job injuries were just three of several that dealt with the issue of compensation for labor.

Rebellions and work stoppages are the most potent weapons available to prisoners since, under the Constitution and by law, slavery is allowed to exist in U.S. prisons and jails.  The action by Florida prisoners this week is the second such move undertaken by them. They were involved in a nationwide protest in September of 2016 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Attica uprising. Billed as the largest prison strike in history, the event was called specifically to end prison slavery:

This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.”

As of press time, supporters of the Florida prison strikers were demonstrating at the state Department of Corrections. One woman was arrested after police were called. The department issued a press release stating there were no reports of any inmates stopping work.

With prison slavery, or “involuntary servitude,” sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution itself for those convicted of crimes, striking prisoners seeking payment for their work and decent treatment are appealing to a more fundamental principle: what is fair and right.

Top Photo | A prison guard on horseback watches inmates return from a farm work detail at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. (AP Photo)

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/19/2018 0

US Police Kill A Thousand Each Year While Cops Are Safer than Trash Collectors

WASHINGTON – The Washington Post reported that 2017 saw close to a thousand people killed by law enforcement in the U.S. — 987 people in total, an increase of 16 over the number killed in 2016. According to the Post — which has been tracking police killings since 2015, a project it began after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri:

National scrutiny of shootings by police began after an unarmed black teenager from a suburb of St. Louis was fatally shot by a white police officer in August 2014. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked widespread protests, prompted a White House commission to call for reforms, galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement and led many police agencies across the nation to examine their use of deadly force.”

It is the third year in a row that the number of people killed by police in the U.S. has hovered around one thousand. Apologists for law enforcement say that the high number of police shootings has to do with law enforcement’s confronting dangerous individuals, stressing the life-and-death situation that officers face. What is not talked about as much, however, is that the number of police officers killed in the U.S. has actually been declining. 2017 saw the lowest number in close to 50 years.

 

The fictional “war on cops”

Blue Lives Matter Protest

A US flag, with blue and black stripes in support of law enforcement officers, flies at a protest by police and their supporters outside Somerville City Hall, July 28, 2016, in Somerville, Mass. (AP/Charles Krupa)

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which keeps tally of officer deaths, released its report at the end of December last year. It found that of the 128 officers that died in the line of duty, 44 had been shot and killed. That’s an important number to remember. Not only because it is a 10 percent decrease from the previous year, but because the Memorial Fund lists all police officer deaths while on duty. That includes traffic accidents, drowning incidents and suicides.

Despite the unflagging attempts to portray a “war on cops,” data consistently shows that being a police officer is safer than many other professions. In fact, it is safer than being a taxi driver or a trash collector.

But then again, when it comes to attacking, shooting and killing police officers, there is one piece of evidence to which we can point: when it does happen, nine times out of 10 it will be a white male that commits the crime.

Who is really taking aim at law enforcement?

Noted New York-based journalist Shaun King has covered this issue before. By the end of February of 2016, while conservatives and police unions were deriding superstar Beyoncé for her Super Bowl halftime performance — the artist and her performers wore Black berets, which were said to be an ode to the Black Panther Party — King had noted that eight police officers had been killed in the line of duty, seven of them by white men. “My gut was that most of them weren’t Beyoncé fans,” wrote King.

One reason for the prevalence of white male cop killers may have to do with white supremacy. Yes. White supremacy. As in Steve Bannon-Breitbart-Richard Spencer-Charlottesville-the KKK. Writing in Paste Magazine last September, Roger Sollenberger stated:

White supremacists (also referred to as “domestic terrorists” and “right-wing extremists”) have been responsible for more than 73 percent of deadly terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 2001. In that same 15-year span they’ve also killed 34 police officers, compared to 10 from left-wing extremists (including the five officers killed within minutes of each other in Dallas), and one from a domestic jihadist terrorist.”

The meshing of white supremacy, alt-right and right-wing extremism is not that far fetched. They all look to government as being ultimately responsible for the ills of their world. The face of government doesn’t get much more obvious than that of a law enforcement officer.

Top Photo | A protester displays a sign outside a courthouse after Officer Caesar Goodson, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, was acquitted of all charges in his trial in Baltimore, June 23, 2016. (AP/Patrick Semansky)

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/15/2018 0

Baltimore’s Apartheid Schools: Students Forced To Sit in 40 Degree Classrooms

BALTIMORE – Usually people – especially children – look forward to snowy days. In addition to building snow creatures and throwing snowballs, it sometimes means no school. Usually. But not in Baltimore; in Baltimore, during one of the coldest winter storms on record, children were in school. They were shivering, wearing coats, hats and gloves, in classrooms that reached highs of 40 degrees. Only after being lambasted by both parents and a teachers union did officials send the children home.

According to a school spokesperson, outdoor temperatures of 20 degrees and lower put a strain on an already-taxed school heating system. That, in addition to old buildings and heating systems in need of repairs, caused some pipes to burst in schools across the city, leading to no heating in the buildings. That was according to Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who posted a video interview on Facebook.

But according to the Baltimore Sun, schools in the city have had to return millions of dollars to the state for heating repairs:

“Since 2009, city schools have lost out on roughly $66 million in state funding for much-needed repairs after approved projects ran afoul of state regulations meant to prevent waste, state records show. The money could have funded dozens of new heating systems at schools where the heat is now failing.”

The article quotes David Lever, former director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, explaining that many projects were either delayed or scrapped altogether, sometimes as a result of failure to request enough funding, or because the delays had led to deadlines being missed. The schools would then have to foot the bill themselves – which most could not do – so many would end up canceling the projects.

The uncompleted projects meant to fix the schools’ HVAC systems also means that students are exposed to sweltering heat with no air conditioning during Maryland summers.

As Baltimore’s mayor, school officials and state politicians sparred on social media over the debacle, Samierra Jones — a 22-year-old senior at Coppin State College, a historically Black university (HBCU) in the city — organized a fundraiser to bring repairs and heat to the city’s schools. “These kids are cold — they’re cold as of last month, as of last week, as of yesterday,” Jones said. “There is no reason why these babies should be sitting in classrooms with no heat.”

At press time, the fundraiser, hosted by GoFundMe, had raised more than $50K — more than double the requested $20K — in only two days time.

 

“Apartheid schools”: why schoolchildren of a rich state are sitting in the cold

While using GoFundMe is a quick and efficient approach to emergency financial difficulties, it is hardly a substitute for rationally and systematically addressing the heating problems of Baltimore city schools.

The problem is not that funding is especially hard to come by in Maryland in any general sense. In fact, Maryland has been ranked as the wealthiest state in the United States. The problem is more with the allocation of funds, and in particular with the systemic neglect of the needs of communities of color. The problem is that schools in the city of Baltimore are considered to be “apartheid schools.”

“Apartheid” was the name of the official government policy of separation that held in South Africa for more than 50 years. “Apartheid schools” are defined as those where white students make up 1 percent or less of the student body. In the city of Baltimore, the majority of schools have this lack of racial diversity within their student bodies. Coupled with pronouncements that simply visiting the city of Baltimore is unsafe for white children, it’s not hard to understand why the students in Baltimore’s schools were freezing in their classrooms when they should have been warm.

 

Another root cause and more denial

Just as GoFundMe appeals will not fix a U.S. city’s systemic biases and infrastructural issues, a policy of denial and/or inaction will not address the world’s issue of climate change. A Guardian article from December of 2016 gives a scientific explanation of how not just a warmer planet but also more extreme weather temperatures and events — such as the current “bomb cyclone” — are a result of the phenomenon.

There’s a lot going on weather-wise, much of it still being studied. But the most important piece to all of this is the belief, overwhelmingly backed by scientific data, that climate change is caused by human activity, much of which can be addressed and transformed.

Which more or less brings us back to where we started. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere created this mess. Humans in Baltimore and elsewhere need to fix it.

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Thandisizwe Chimurenga, USA 01/07/2018 0

From Greensboro 1979 to Charlottesville 2017: Police Absent In Face Of White Supremacist Violence

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – Some among Virginia’s highest levels of law enforcement have stepped down this year amid a small cloud of controversy. Col. W. Steven Flaherty, superintendent of the Virginia State Police,  announced his retirement December 19 after 42 years with the agency. Charlottesville Police Chief of two years, Al Thomas, announced his retirement the previous day. And Charlottesville City Attorney Craig Brown has announced that he will be leaving office by the end of January 2018.

All three of these agencies are responsible for public safety and all three institutions have faced harsh criticisms for their response to the violence of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville earlier this summer.

In late November, a comprehensive, 219-page independent review led by a former U.S. Attorney concluded that law enforcement had “failed to ‘stand up’ to protect human life” during the August “Unite the Right” rally held at the University of Virginia.

 

Protesters actually first fought with white nationalists before the rally began, giving law enforcement fair warning of the dangers inherent in the situation and of its explosivity. Then, during a subsequent impromptu post-rally march by the protesters to reclaim Charlottesville’s streets from hate, a white nationalist who had attended the earlier event is alleged to have intentionally driven his car into the protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Hayer and injuring dozens of others.

Representatives of the agencies say the recent departures at the top are in no way related to the fallout from the white nationalist protest, and the growing perception that the passivity of law enforcement reflected a politicized lack of interest in protecting those protesting the white nationalist presence. While several media outlets took note of the inactions of police that day, including the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), talk of a police “conspiracy” has been dismissed.

While talk of conspiracies and collusion is reflexively dismissed, it should not be labeled “far fetched” considering the threat posed by white supremacists to law enforcement or their historical infiltration of such institutions.

 

Looking back at Greensboro

While Berkeley, California, this past April would be another recent example of police being surprisingly absent while white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, a case from November of 1979 is the most glaring.

Anti-racist activists, including members of the Communist Workers Party, held an anti-Klan rally to protest the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Movement members in Greensboro, North Carolina. The rally was part of a union organizing drive at a local textile plant in which the white supremacists were intimidating workers from joining the union.

During the rally, a caravan of Klansmen and Nazis drove up, got out of their cars, and fired on the protesters. Five of the anti-racist activists died and several others were wounded. Owing to the presence of television crews during the event, the assailants were caught on film, which led to their eventual arrest. During the trial it was revealed that the Greensboro Police Department had an informant in the Klan group who had told the police of the planned violence.

Both state and federal juries refused to convict the white supremacists for the deaths that happened that day. A federal civil rights lawsuit, filed subsequent to those acquittals, revealed that two federal law-enforcement informants, in addition to the police informant, had been present and knew about the potential for violence. That lawsuit, filed by the Christic Institute, was successful not only in awarding $1 million to the plaintiffs but as the “first successful prosecution of Klan, Nazi, and police collusion in North Carolina history.”

In a chilling echo of the Greensboro incident — and of what seems to be a chronic, recurrent theme in American law enforcement — the reticence of police to intervene in white supremacist events in Charlottesville and Berkeley this year sends the message that “public safety” is only for certain members of the public. That’s a message that we the public must wholeheartedly reject.

Top photo: White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. (AP/Steve Helber)

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