Justice

Sen. Dick Durbin Introduces Bill to Curtail ICE’s “Unnecessary Overuse of Solitary Confinement”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 8:27am in

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Justice, Politics

Slamming the “rampant and unnecessary overuse of solitary confinement” at U.S. immigration detention centers, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Thursday proposed legislation to dramatically curtail the practice.

The bill takes aim at a range of abusive practices identified in “Solitary Voices,” an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and Intercept joint investigation into the heavy use of solitary confinement by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement at detention centers around the country.

If adopted, the bill would outlaw locking detained immigrants in solitary confinement in most instances as a punishment. It would also prohibit the use of isolation on individuals with severe mental illness, physical disabilities, and those who have recently given birth, with “narrow and temporary exceptions for detainees who pose a substantial and immediate threat.”

“There’s virtually no accountability when it comes to these detainees,” Durbin told NBC News in an interview. “We’re setting strict standards here, and it’s about time.” (NBC News was part of a reporting consortium spearheaded by ICIJ that included The Intercept, Grupo SIN in the Dominican Republic, Plaza Pública in Guatemala, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción in Mexico, and Univision in the U.S.)

In releasing the bill, Durbin’s office cited ICIJ’s investigation, along with reports on the misuse of solitary confinement by the Project on Government Oversight and others.

Solitary confinement is a practice well known to cause mental illness, deepen preexisting psychological issues, and even drive people to suicide. Former ICE detainees who ICIJ and its partners interviewed spoke of lasting trauma and even suicide attempts resulting from their time in the agency’s isolation cells.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Ellen Gallagher, a whistleblower within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told ICIJ she believed ICE’s use of solitary confinement “rises to the point of torture.”

In the months following publication of “Solitary Voices,” various U.S. lawmakers spoke out critically about ICE’s use of solitary confinement, but Durbin’s proposed bill is the first concrete attempt to address the issue with legislation.

The bill mandates that, for those detained immigrants who must be segregated from the general population for more than two weeks, ICE must provide at least four hours of daily time outside the cell, meaningful social interaction, and access to mental health care.

ICIJ’s investigation was sparked by a public records request, which yielded more than 8,000 records describing solitary confinement placements. But those records were far from complete: ICE detention centers are not currently required to report all cases. Durbin’s bill would require ICE personnel to send a daily report to the agency’s director about every single detainee in solitary confinement that would include the “rationale behind each such placement.”

Durbin’s bill follows sharp criticism of ICE actions from other lawmakers.

In July, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to ICE citing ICIJ’s work and demanding answers on “recent allegations of the misuse of solitary confinement.”

In late October, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., cited ICIJ in a letter to the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, expressing deep concerns that agency leadership, and even its own directives, are impeding the office’s ability to provide proper oversight over ICE’s use of solitary confinement. In making her case, Warren cited recent deaths of detainees in solitary confinement.

“It is crucial that the federal government deploy every available tool to stop the abuse of solitary confinement and prevent another avoidable death,” Warren said.

Durbin’s bill attempts to put the power of federal law behind CRCL’s role as a watchdog over ICE’s use of solitary confinement. The bill states that the oversight office “shall be able to review documents, request and review information, and speak privately with aliens, contractors, volunteers, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility staff.”

Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute who has studied solitary confinement extensively, said he was impressed by the comprehensiveness of Durbin’s draft bill.

“There is an epidemic of suicides in immigration detention,” Kupers said, pointing to solitary confinement as a primary culprit. “This is a very thoughtful bill that would have the effect of vastly limiting the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities.”

The post Sen. Dick Durbin Introduces Bill to Curtail ICE’s “Unnecessary Overuse of Solitary Confinement” appeared first on The Intercept.

Lawyers and Scholars to LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters: Stop Helping ICE Deport People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/11/2019 - 7:30am in

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Lawyers, students, and scholars called on legal database providers to end their contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, and private surveillance contractor Palantir, saying the arrangements put universities and immigration lawyers in the untenable position of feeding money and even information into systems that facilitate deportation.

Researchers Against Surveillance and Law Students Against ICE made their requests in a letter and petition asking Thomson Reuters, which owns the legal search tool Westlaw, and RELX, owner of LexisNexis, to end the deals, which they estimated were worth tens of millions of dollars. They were joined by Latinx advocacy group Mijente as well as Immigrant Defense Project, which engages in litigation and legal activism.

The signatories, about 300 so far, said law firms and universities are put in an ethical bind when they routinely pay companies whose products the government relies on to target immigrants for detention and deportation.

The tension stems from multi-pronged business model of Thomson Reuters and RELX. On the one hand, Westlaw and LexisNexis, their respective legal products, provide virtually every law firm and law school in the country with access to court filings, case law, opinions, academic work, and other resources essential for legal research. On the other hand, the companies have expanded their role as data brokers for government agencies.

According to the letter, which was provided to The Intercept by organizers, ICE’s six current contracts with Thomson Reuters have a total potential value of more than $54 million. This includes ICE’s use of the CLEAR database, which, as McKenzie Funk recently reported for the New York Times Magazine, has come to play a crucial role in deportations and immigration enforcement by collating and providing to government clients “data from credit agencies, cellphone registries, social-media posts, property records, utility accounts, fishing licenses, internet chat rooms and bankruptcy filings, all fused and vetted by algorithm to form an ever-evolving, 360-degree view of U.S. residents’ lives.” Privately run databases like CLEAR are particularly attractive to government agencies like ICE because the agencies face legal restrictions on what information they can themselves collect and how long they can retain such data.

CLEAR also helps ICE suck in some government data, including license plate information from Vigilant Solutions, a California-based division of telecommunications giant Motorola. Another Thomson Reuters subsidiary has provided ICE with real-time data on jail bookings to help the agency locate immigrants, sparking a letter of concern from watchdog group Privacy International. RELX’s ICE contracts total $2.24 million, the letter asserts, including subscriptions to the public records database Accurint.

“Lawyers are funding the companies that are building ICE’s surveillance system, which totally works against their clients,” said Sarah Lamdan, a professor and librarian at CUNY School of Law and a member of Researchers Against Surveillance. “They’re paying collectively millions of dollars to Thomson Reuters and Lexis every year, and then those companies are putting it into R&D, where they are creating products for ICE and law enforcement.”

“Lawyers are funding the companies that are building ICE’s surveillance system, which totally works against their clients.”

Spokespeople for LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters, asked about their work with ICE, both emphasized helping law enforcement with “public safety.” Services provided to ICE “by Thomson Reuters are explicitly in support of its work on active criminal investigations and priority cases involving threats to national security or public safety,” said company rep Jeffrey McCoy, echoing previous statements on the matter. He did not clarify how they could be sure ICE was not using their tools to deport people who did not pose a criminal threat. (In 2018, NBC reported that Steve Rubley, CEO of a Thomson Reuters subsidiary, was on the board of the ICE Foundation, which “supports the men and women of ICE.”)

Lamdan, author of a recent paper on the subject, said that she is also concerned that search terms, queries, and other data about legal researchers’ use of LexisNexis or Westlaw could be made available to ICE or other government agencies.

Asked if information from legal research tools could be used in products marketed to law enforcement, a spokesperson for LexisNexis, Jennifer Richman, said, “We don’t do that. Data from our legal research products is not used for that.” Thomson Reuters also denied sharing information across platforms, saying, “Customer data, queries or other inputs submitted via the use of one of our products, are never sold or added into any of our product databases.”

In addition to ending their work with DHS and ICE, the two companies are also asked in the letter to stop working with Palantir, the CIA-funded startup founded by Trump adviser Peter Thiel, which lists Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis as key partners. Palantir runs the Investigative Case Management, a system that allows ICE agents to access a plethora of interagency intelligence platforms, some of them also created by Palantir, and to handle immigration cases against individuals. ICE used this system, The Intercept reported earlier this year, for an operation that targeted for arrest the parents and other relatives of children who arrived at the border alone.

Jacinta Gonzales of Mijente, which has been pressuring tech companies to stop working with ICE, said that she’d been struck by the interdependence of Palantir, Thomson Reuters, and LexisNexis. “It’s not only the people creating the software to process the information but also the data brokers who are providing the information from the beginning,” she said. Mijente has noted that ICE contracts with Thomson Reuters specify that CLEAR must be compatible with Palantir systems. Even if the legal research companies stopped working with ICE, the agency could presumably still access their data through Palantir.

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, associate law professor at the University of Denver, told The Intercept in an email that he signed the petition because “I teach students that Westlaw and Lexis are important tools in a lawyers’ toolkit. I teach them that these databases are resources for advocating on behalf of their clients.”

And so, he added, “It is my moral obligation to inform them that the companies that operate these databases facilitate and profit from the suffering that their future clients—people whom my students genuinely care about helping—experience.”

Update, Nov. 14, 2019, 4 p.m. ET: 
The number of signatories to the petition has been updated.

The post Lawyers and Scholars to LexisNexis, Thomson Reuters: Stop Helping ICE Deport People appeared first on The Intercept.

Australia’s Pedos Nominate Andrew Bolt For Australian Of The Year

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 8:24am in

bolta

Australia’s leading pedophiles have gathered together on the dark web to unanimously nominate Australian blogger Andrew Bolt for Australian of the year for his work in defending one of their brethren George Pell.

“Andrew Bolt has gone above and beyond in his tireless defense of George Pell,” said a pedo who wished to remain anonymous. “Most of us are ostracised and shunned when we first get charged but Andrew Bolt and a couple of his media mates really stuck by George.”

“Despite him being charged and being found guilty and losing an appeal, they stuck with him and will take his case all the way to the high court. It’s like that movie the Castle, maybe Pell will argue that it’s the vibe.”

When reached for comment on his nomination Mr Bolt said: “Awards and trinkets are nice but I won’t rest until Cardinal Pell is out of prison and we have won the culture wars.”

“There’ll be no more of these school kid climate strikes if I have my way. Kids will be forced to spend some time under the learning tree with the Cardinal. I’m sure they will find the experience quite touching.”

Mark Williamson

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

Private Eye on the Real Reason the Americans Don’t Want Anne Sacoolas Investigated: RAF Croughton is a Spy Base

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 6:52am in

This fortnight’s edition of Private Eye, for 15th – 28th November 2019, has a very interesting article in its ‘In the Back’ pages. Titled ‘RAF Croughton – Base Motives’, this alleges that the real reason Trump and the Americans have been so reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas, the women, who allegedly killed Harry Dunn in a road accident, is married to an American intelligence officer and the base on which they lived was a communications intelligence base run by the CIA and the NSA, with links to Britain GCHQ. The article is worth quoting in full

It is hardly surprising the US is reluctant to see Anne Sacoolas put on trial in a UK court over the death of 19-year-old Harry Dunn in a crash outside “RAF” Croughton given what goes on inside the Northamptonshire base.

Sacoolas left the UK shortly after the August crash, initially claiming “diplomatic immunity” because her husband works at Croughton, described as housing an “annexe of the US embassy”. But that is not the full picture. The base is a major CIA/Pentagon communications centre. It is not staffed by diplomats; Sacoolas’ husband is an intelligence officer. It has satellite and fibre-optic links to US bases around the world and to the UK’s own signals intelligence-gathering and eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, in Cheltenham.

From Croughton, with British contrivance, more than 200 US personnel control and monitor US air strikes by drones based in Djibouti on the Red Sea, including attacks on targets in Yemen and Somalia. The base is also the hub of a CIA/ American National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance network, intercepting communications throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It was from there, for example, that the Americans were found to have tapped into the mobile phones of prominent politicians, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The US also describes “RAF” Croughton (under the purely nominal command of a British officer) as the home of its 422nd Air Base Group. But that too, is just another cover, designed to hide its CIA/NSA activities. However, under the 1952 Visiting Forces Act, which covers US bases in Britain, military personnel come under the jurisdiction of the British police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for any action outside their bases.

After Donald Trump’s botched attempt last month to broker a resolution, when Harry Dunn’s family visited Washington seeking justice for their son, it seems the US has now dropped all pretence at “immunity”. The fact that the UK police have been to the US to interview Sacoolas and submitted a file to the CPS would suggest that they may also drop any argument that the 1952 act does not apply to civilian operatives.

Reports in both the UK and US suggest those representing Sacoolas might now be looking to negotiate some kind of plea deal – which might prevent scrutiny in court of what staff do at Croughton. It’s clear that neither the US nor British intelligence agencies would welcome such attention. Not least because the US hopes to expand Croughton and set up a “joint intelligence analysis centre”, a headquarters for all American intelligence communications in Europe and Africa.

The NYPD Kept an Illegal Database of Juvenile Fingerprints for Years

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/11/2019 - 12:00am in

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Justice

For years, the New York Police Department illegally maintained a database containing the fingerprints of thousands of children charged as juvenile delinquents — in direct violation of state law mandating that police destroy these records after turning them over to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. When lawyers representing some of those youths discovered the violation, the police department dragged its feet, at first denying but eventually admitting that it was retaining prints it was supposed to have destroyed.

Since 2015, attorneys with the Legal Aid Society, which represents the majority of youths charged in New York City family courts, had been locked in a battle with the police department over retention of the fingerprint records of children under the age of 16. The NYPD did not answer questions from The Intercept about its handling of the records, but according to Legal Aid, the police department confirmed to the organization last week that the database had been destroyed. To date, the department has made no public admission of wrongdoing, nor has it notified the thousands of people it impacted, although it has changed its fingerprint retention practices following Legal Aid’s probing. “The NYPD can confirm that the department destroys juvenile delinquent fingerprints after the prints have been transmitted to DCJS,” a police spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Intercept.

Still, the way the department handled the process — resisting transparency and stalling even after being threatened with legal action — raises concerns about how police handle a growing number of databases of personal information, including DNA and data obtained through facial recognition technology. As The Intercept has reported extensively, the NYPD also maintains a secretive and controversial “gang database,” which labels thousands of unsuspecting New Yorkers — almost all black or Latino youth — as “gang members” based on a set of broad and arbitrary criteria. The fact that police were able to violate the law around juvenile fingerprints for years without consequence underscores the need for greater transparency and accountability, which critics say can only come from independent oversight of the department.

“The NYPD is saying, ‘Trust us, these are law enforcement tools that we know how to use, and we are going to comply with the law, and we don’t really need anybody looking over our shoulder,’” Christine Bella, a staff attorney at Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice, told The Intercept. “This exemplifies that they’re not particularly trustworthy when it comes to arrest records.”

Denial and Obfuscation

It’s not clear how long the NYPD was illegally retaining the fingerprints of juveniles — or how many people have been impacted. But New York state has been using the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, a biometric system that stores fingerprint data, since 1989, and laws protecting juvenile delinquent records have been in place since at least 1977. While juvenile arrests have been on a steady decline in recent years, they were much higher in the 1990s and early 2000s, and Legal Aid lawyers estimate tens of thousands of juveniles could have had their fingerprints illegally retained by police.

Under New York’s Family Court Act, police can fingerprint and photograph youths under the age of 18 who are arrested for felony crimes. (Legislation that recently went into effect raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.) Children under 13 can only be photographed and printed in connection to the most severe crimes. Police can then retain photographs and some records, like palm prints, which they are required to keep confidential. They cannot, however, hold on to fingerprints, which must be turned over to DCJS, the statewide repository for fingerprints, and then destroyed.

Additionally, all juvenile arrest-related fingerprints, photos, and palm prints must be destroyed by both NYPD and DCJS if there is a positive outcome to the case, meaning the charges aren’t filed, the charges are dropped or dismissed, or the juvenile is found to have committed a misdemeanor. The records must also be destroyed if a juvenile is found to have committed a felony but reaches the age of 21 without criminal convictions. (Under the law, juvenile adjudications are not considered convictions.)

Several years ago, Bella and Lisa Freeman, director of special litigation and law reform at Legal Aid’s Juvenile Rights Practice, started to notice that some of their clients had old police contacts showing up in their rap sheets that should not have been there because they occurred when the clients were under the age of 16. In one instance, a client was arrested when police ran fingerprints they shouldn’t have had on file at all.

The two lawyers started reaching out to different agencies about their maintenance of juvenile records, and whether they were destroying the fingerprints of juveniles as stipulated by law. When the police department replied that it had “sealed” the records instead, the attorneys grew suspicious. “When destruction is required, sealing does not go far enough,” they wrote in a demand letter outlining their concerns and threatening the department with legal action. The department’s failure to destroy arrest-related documents, they added, “is long standing and places thousands of individuals who have been arrested as juvenile delinquents or juvenile offenders at risk of serious negative consequences.”

Police officials subsequently met with the Legal Aid attorneys — but the conversations raised even more questions. In one meeting, officials told them in person that they were retaining juvenile fingerprints. But when the attorneys followed up in writing, police officials who were not present at the meeting told them they had misunderstood. “We did get a response from them that said that they denied that they were retaining fingerprints and somehow we misunderstood what was mentioned at the meeting,” Bella said. “Which we know we didn’t, there were several of us there.”

“We spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to understand why we were getting these very confusing responses,” Freeman added. “It was very effective obfuscation.”

 Mary Inhea Kang for The Intercept

Attorneys Christine Bella, left, and Lisa Freeman in New York City on Nov. 8, 2019.

Photo: Mary Inhea Kang for The Intercept

Over the course of several months, the attorneys continued to push the police department for clarity, without success. Then, in 2016, DCJS officials who Legal Aid had also been pressing about their juvenile record-keeping admitted they had erroneously held on to tens of thousands of fingerprint records they were supposed to have destroyed: those of former juvenile delinquents who had turned 21 without being convicted of a crime.

“DCJS realized that they weren’t keeping up with their record destruction, and after an internal review they realized that they had to purge tens of thousands of fingerprints from the state database,” Bella told The Intercept.

DCJS notified all the agencies that had originally provided the fingerprint records, including the NYPD. “DCJS is hereby providing notification of your obligation to destroy all fingerprints, palm prints, photographs, and related information concerning the arrests of the individual(s) on the attached list,” the agency wrote, noting that the cases were “identified as the result of a recent data reconciliation.” DCJS declined to comment for this article.

But even after DCJS’s admission, NYPD officials continued to stonewall the Legal Aid attorneys. They took weeks to respond to each inquiry and denied they had received DCJS’s list of cases to expunge. It got to the point that, nine months after DCJS notified the NYPD of the need to destroy 5,000 fingerprints, Bella and Freeman themselves sent the department a copy of the letter from DCJS that police had claimed they never received.

When Bella and Freeman followed up again, in early 2017, to ask the NYPD if they had destroyed the list of records flagged by DCJS, police lawyers wrote in an email that “all fingerprints have been removed from AFIS.” That was the admission Legal Aid had been waiting for: The department was not supposed to have those fingerprints in the first place, and the email confirmed that for years they had been concealing what records they were retaining.

Secret Blacklists, Perpetual Suspects

That email was dated March 2017 — and the NYPD now maintains it is in compliance with the law. But the department seems to have quietly corrected its course without ever notifying city officials or the thousands of people whose records it maintained for years.

In a 2018 legal bulletin, the NYPD updated its policy about the dissemination and retention of juvenile records — in part in response to the “Raise the Age” legislation that went into effect that month. In the bulletin, the NYPD’s legal department highlighted that police “must not retain any copies of the (juvenile delinquents’) prints sent to DCJS” — even though that’s exactly what the department had done for years. According to Legal Aid, which filed public records requests for earlier versions of the policy, none of the documents provided by the NYPD referenced destruction of juvenile fingerprints.

Meanwhile, there remains no clear system in place for juveniles, or their parents, to check that the fingerprints have been destroyed.

“If a mother whose teen son is arrested calls me and says, ‘How do I know that my son’s fingerprints were handled appropriately? My son was fingerprinted. He’s 14. I’m scared. What does this mean for his future?’” said Bella. “We have the law that we can cite that says, at some point they will be destroyed, they’re being maintained now, these are the agencies that are responsible. But the young person and his mother can’t really walk into One Police Plaza. … There’s no mechanism for young people and parents to get the assurances that these laws that are in place are being complied with.”

“It is so difficult to know what information is being kept about you,” Freeman added. “They could deny and obfuscate, and we had no way of establishing definitively that they were or weren’t violating the law. That’s part of what’s so problematic about these databases.”

In response to the police department’s growing reliance on surveillance technology and massive databases of personal information, the New York City Council recently introduced a bill — the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act — aimed at establishing reporting and oversight requirements for use of these tools. “Whether it is detaining young Black boys trick-or-treating on a Cobble Hill Street, or running arrests through databases full of young people of color’s fingerprints and mug shots, bias continues to be embedded in our policing no matter how high or low tech,” Council Member Brad Lander, who has long advocated for police oversight and is one of many co-sponsors of the bill, wrote in a statement to The Intercept.

“We can have little confidence that an agency that continues to cast Black and brown young people as perpetual suspects can be responsible for sensitive personal data such as DNA and facial recognition,” Lander added. “While the NYPD continues to prove itself to be resistant to even basic privacy and transparency measures, like the POST Act, it cannot be responsible for increasingly invasive investigative tools and databases of sensitive personal information.”

The fact that police illegally retained juvenile fingerprint records, with no public reckoning afterward, is consistent with law enforcement’s nontransparent use of other investigative tools, Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, told The Intercept.

“The history of policing is a history of secret databases that get misused and that are used to blacklist people. This is quite typical police behavior,” said Vitale, who has called for independent civilian monitoring of policing. “The city council is supposed to play that role but has rarely done so. The police department has worked assiduously to prevent that by failing to comply, failing to disclose things, and by exerting direct political pressure on city council members.”

Josmar Trujillo, a community activist organizing to end the NYPD gang database, said that the latest revelations are confirmation that police lie about their intelligence-gathering practices at “consequential and far-reaching levels” — and that official efforts to keep them accountable have fallen short.

“It’s no surprise that the NYPD considers itself above the law, but what is surprising is that our elected officials continue to do too little, too late, to actually prevent these abuses from happening in the first place,” Trujillo told The Intercept. “It seems like the city is always playing catch-up to the misconduct and lack of respect that comes from the entire department, from top to bottom.”

The post The NYPD Kept an Illegal Database of Juvenile Fingerprints for Years appeared first on The Intercept.

Government Doesn’t Want Trump or His Immigration Policies Mentioned in Retrial of Border Aid Worker Scott Warren

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/11/2019 - 5:02am in

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As they prepare to make their second attempt at sending a border-based humanitarian volunteer to prison, federal prosecutors in Arizona are worried that the politics behind the policies they enforce might creep into the courtroom.

In a late-stage motion, government lawyers have urged an Arizona judge to bar any mention of President Donald Trump or his immigration policies from the upcoming retrial of Scott Warren, a 36-year-old geographer who was indicted on felony harboring and conspiracy charges for giving two young migrants crossing a deadly stretch of desert food, water, and a place to sleep for three days in 2018. Warren is one of nine volunteers with the faith-based organization No More Deaths that the administration has charged with federal crimes for their work in the Arizona desert since Trump’s inauguration.

The prosecutors’ concerns that Warren’s trial could become a referendum on Trump’s policies — specifically those that involve pressing charges against people for providing humanitarian aid — are not entirely misplaced. According to new research examining public opinion around the president’s hard-line border enforcement measures, Americans, regardless of political affiliation, overwhelmingly reject the notion that providing lifesaving care to people in the desert should be criminalized, suggesting that the government’s crackdown in the borderlands is well outside the bounds of what most people expect or demand from law enforcement.

A national survey conducted in August by Chris Zepeda-Millán, an associate professor of public policy at UCLA, and Sophia Jordán Wallace, an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington, posed the question: “Do you agree or disagree that it should be a crime for people to offer humanitarian aid, such as water or first-aid, to undocumented immigrants crossing the desert along the U.S.-Mexico border?” To the researchers’ surprise, nearly 87 percent of the 1,500 American adults surveyed disagreed. When the results were broken down along party lines, the survey became even more interesting: Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they disagreed with criminal prosecution for the provision of humanitarian aid, and nearly 38 percent said they “strongly disagreed” with the idea.

Nearly 70 percent of Republicans said they disagreed with criminal prosecution for the provision of humanitarian aid.

“The findings suggest that the vast majority of Americans, including the vast majority of Republicans, do not support the criminalization of the type of work that No More Deaths and Scott Warren were doing,” Zepeda-Millán told The Intercept.

The survey was conducted for a forthcoming book and paper looking at public opinion around Trump’s most aggressive immigration and border policies. And while there’s still work to be done on that broader project, the researchers chose to share their findings on the humanitarian aid question in advance of Warren’s retrial — he returns to court on Tuesday and faces a decade behind bars if convicted and sentenced to consecutive terms — in part because of how striking they are.

Students of U.S. immigration enforcement history tend to agree that the Trump administration’s approach did not suddenly materialize out of nowhere, but is instead the extension of a multidecade trajectory of increased criminalization of immigration offenses and an unprecedented build-up in border security infrastructure, now infused with the hard-right rhetoric of authoritarian regimes around the world. There is one area, however, in which the current administration has distinguished itself from its White House predecessors, Zepeda-Millán noted: the targeting of immigrant rights activists. While it keeps thousands of asylum-seekers in legal limbo in some of Mexico’s most dangerous border cities, the administration is simultaneously criminalizing — and in some cases arresting and deporting — those who challenge Trump’s policies, he noted.

It’s a pattern of “anti-movement state repression,” Zepeda-Millán argued, and it’s why understanding public opinion on these policies is so critical. Traditionally, the best indicator of a person’s stance on a given immigration policy issue is their party affiliation, he explained. “When it comes to immigration, there’s usually a really strict and stable partisan divide,” he said. “As long as we know what your political party is, we can pretty much guess what your opinion is going to be on deportation, on the wall, etc.”

The survey results bucked that trend in a major way, reflecting a rare thing in American politics: strong, bipartisan consensus on a matter of immigration-related policy in the era of Trump.

The same Trumpian politics and policies that Zepeda-Millán and Wallace examined, and that prosecutors have sought to banish from Warren’s trial, have served as the backdrop for the government’s criminalization campaign in southern Arizona from the beginning.

It started in the run-up to the 2016 election, with Border Patrol agents parking their vehicles outside the humanitarian aid camp that No More Deaths has used for years and urging the volunteers to “Vote Trump!” by megaphone. Shortly after Trump’s election, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions flew to Arizona, where he encouraged his prosecutors to bring more cases like the one against Warren. “This is the Trump era,” Sessions said at the time.

Not long after the visit, the Border Patrol raided No More Deaths’ camp in a show of force that involved a helicopter and roughly 20 agents, some carrying rifles, deployed to arrest four undocumented migrants who had crossed the desert and were receiving medical aid. Six days later, a senior Border Patrol agent in the Tucson sector told a world-renowned forensic anthropologist, who works on the issue of migrant deaths in the desert, that the humanitarian aid group had “messed with the wrong guy.” The anthropologist, in a sworn court declaration, said the agent told her his agency intended to “shut them down.”

Throughout the summer of 2017, the Border Patrol and senior officials at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to monitor the activity of No More Deaths volunteers who were leaving food and jugs of water on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a profoundly remote and extraordinarily deadly stretch of the Sonoran Desert. They compiled blacklists of volunteers and kept tabs on Warren’s movements in the tiny border community of Ajo, where he lives and works. As summer turned to fall, prosecutors filed federal misdemeanor charges — for littering and trespassing — against Warren and eight other No More Deaths volunteers for driving on designated wilderness and leaving humanitarian aid supplies on the wildlife refuge.

On the morning of January 18, 2018, No More Deaths published a scathing report implicating the Border Patrol in the destruction of thousands of gallons of water, left in jugs for migrants crossing the desert. The report, which included video evidence that soon went viral, was shared with the patrol agent in charge of the Ajo Border Patrol station. Agents from the station then set up surveillance on a building known as “the Barn,” which serves as a base for Warren, No More Deaths, and other border aid groups. Late in the afternoon, the agents spotted Warren with two young men who they suspected to be undocumented. A raiding party composed of most of Ajo’s law enforcement community was quickly organized.

Since 2001, in Pima County alone, more than 3,000 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Sonoran Desert.

Warren and the two young men were placed under arrest. Their names were Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Godoy. They had fled El Salvador and Honduras, respectively, and crossed the desert by foot, where they were chased by immigration agents and lost the food they had brought with them. In the depositions they later gave, they described how a man in Ajo dropped them off at the Barn and they let themselves inside. Warren showed up not long after. They asked him for food and water, and he welcomed them to both. Warren came and went in the days that followed, the migrants said, along with a number of other humanitarian aid volunteers using the space at the time.

Warren was indicted a month later on two charges of harboring and one count of conspiracy, bring the total time he faced in prison to 20 years. His trial, which began in late May, ended in a hung jury.

With Warren’s retrial approaching, the prosecution and the defense have filed several motions in recent weeks, perhaps none so unusual as the one the government’s attorneys submitted on October 29. “For the first time, the United States learned the defense might mention the President of the United States, Donald Trump, his administration, or his administration’s policies,” the motion read.

Such references, the prosecutors argued, “would be irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial.”

The idea that Warren’s actions should now be divorced from the politics of the world at large is a new direction for Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anna Wright and Nathaniel J. Walters — though given the events during the last trial, that is perhaps understandable.

While Walters, in his opening statement at Warren’s trial over the summer, insisted that the prosecution was not about No More Deaths, and that the government’s concern was Warren’s actions alone, the nature of the prosecution’s case was something else entirely. Throughout the eight-day trial, Walters and Wright argued that Warren was the lynchpin in a shadowy criminal conspiracy to move people into the country illegally for political purposes. According to the prosecutors, the goal was not to make a profit, unlike most other criminal operations, but to undermine the Border Patrol and further No More Deaths’ political aim of establishing a borderless world. Over and over, both at the trial and pretrial hearings, the prosecutors asked No More Deaths volunteers if they supported the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a policy proposal born in the midst of Trump’s immigration crackdown.

Central to the government’s narrative was a characterization of Warren as a deceptive and “high-ranking leader” of No More Deaths who could not be trusted. In an effort to underscore this idea, Walters at one point entered into evidence an article Warren wrote for the Washington Post on the eve of his trial. The bungled and baffling attempt to draw some damning revelation from Warren’s own assessment of the case backfired spectacularly. On cross-examination, Warren’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall, argued that if Walters was going to cherry-pick details from the op-ed, the jury should hear the rest of what was written. District Judge Raner Collins directed Warren to read the piece out loud and, with that, Warren linked his case directly to Trump’s most infamous immigration enforcement policies, from the crackdown on humanitarian aid to the separation of families at the border to a pattern of potentially preventable deaths in the desert.

For Warren’s friends and supporters, the introduction of the politics and policies that surround Warren’s prosecution into the official record felt like a turning point, a moment when the people deciding his fate were permitted to see what his case was really all about. In the end, eight jurors chose to oppose Warren’s conviction, while four supported it. In July, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that it would be retry the case, it dropped the conspiracy charge.

Any efforts to prohibit mention of Trump or his policies would violate Warren’s First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, defense attorney Amy Knight wrote in a motion responding to the government’s request last week. Knight argued that the motion amounted to a request for an “extraordinary ban” with zero “explanation whatsoever of the prejudice” that would result from “daring to mention the President, a man who maintains ultimate authority over this prosecution (notably, the same man who appointed both the United States Attorney General and the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona).” Not only that, she noted, “the government itself introduced the only mention of President Trump into the previous trial, when, while questioning Dr. Warren, it brought up an article he had written expressing some of his views.”

Paige Corich-Kleim, a longtime volunteer with No More Deaths, said in a statement to The Intercept that the organization worked “to expose government misconduct and intervene in the border crisis.”

“The government’s attempts to erase the political nature of this retrial is part of their continued efforts to hide what is truly happening along the border and evade responsibility for the violence they have caused,” she added. “Deaths on the border are the predictable outcome of not just border militarization, but also U.S. intervention in Latin America. Their attempts to limit the scope of evidence are self serving.”

“The good news is that despite Republican support for very punitive, draconian immigration policies, we seem to have found a limit or a threshold to their nativism.”

Whether or not the government’s “he who shall not be named” efforts are successful, there are realities in Warren’s case that the prosecutors cannot escape.

Since 2001, in Pima County alone, more than 3,000 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Sonoran Desert, a grim result of government policies that began two decades before Trump’s election. These deaths, predominantly resulting from dehydration and exposure to the desert sun, are horrifically agonizing and, as Zepeda-Millán and Wallace’s survey shows, most people oppose criminalizing efforts to stop them from happening. It’s a fact that Zepeda-Millán finds both heartening and deeply sad.

“The good news is that despite Republican support for very punitive, draconian immigration policies, we seem to have found a limit or a threshold to their nativism,” he said. Though they consistently support a wall to keep undocumented immigrants out, and aggressive deportation measures to remove them once they are here, Zepeda-Millán added, “At the moment of life and death that migrants in the desert often find themselves in, Republicans seem to be willing to throw undocumented migrants at least a momentary lifesaver. That’s the good news.”

“The bad news,” he said, “is that’s a pretty low bar.”

The post Government Doesn’t Want Trump or His Immigration Policies Mentioned in Retrial of Border Aid Worker Scott Warren appeared first on The Intercept.

The Criminal Justice System Is Not Broken. It’s Doing What It Was Designed to Do.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/11/2019 - 2:32am in

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Justice

Alec Karakatsanis’s “Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Injustice System” should be assigned reading for every first-year law student. Published last month by The New Press, the book is an unusually blunt takedown of a system the author never once refers to as a criminal “justice” system. Litigated with the intellectual vigor of someone who has won a number of landmark fights in federal court, “Usual Cruelty” clearly lays out a case for why our criminal legal system is not broken, but doing exactly what it was designed to do.

At a time when talk of justice reform has become mainstream but risks becoming hollow, and phrases like “progressive prosecutor” contribute to the deception that we are, in fact, making progress, Karakatsanis is clear-eyed about the bigger picture. But while “Usual Cruelty” is ultimately an abolitionist book that calls on people to imagine a world with fewer laws and in which jails and prisons aren’t the default response to all social problems, Karakatsanis is also keenly aware of how lawyers can use the law’s tools to fight the law’s harm. At Civil Rights Corps, the nonprofit he founded, Karakatsanis takes on cases challenging systemic injustices in the legal system — like cash bail and the systems of fines and fees that keep poor people in jail — which he says have become so “normalized and entrenched” they barely give us pause.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Who is this book for?

Much of the book is written for people who don’t know a lot about our criminal punishment bureaucracy and who generally care about issues of social justice, but don’t know much about how the criminal system works, and especially all the pain that it constantly inflicts for no good reason. But it also has a lot of deep analysis and reflection for people who have been working in the system, whether they’re public defenders or social workers or prosecutors or judges.

usual-cruelty-1573234761

Image: Courtesy of The New Press

It’s really meant to touch anyone who’s worked in the system and get them to reevaluate, come to the system with fresh eyes and see, here’s what we’ve been doing to people and their families and their bodies. Let’s ask ourselves some really hard questions about why we’ve been inflicting so much pain. This book is also meant to be an acknowledgement of the real failure of lawyers in our vision, in our understanding of politics, our understanding of organizing, our understanding of power, the way that we’ve tried to use the legal system to change what is really a problem of capitalism and white supremacy in power. And it’s meant to reach out and say we actually need a really different approach: a mass power-building movement that lawyers should not be leading.

Some people go to law school with these grand ideas about changing the world. But your book makes a strong case that it’s not through lawyering that things are going to change.

The American legal system has never been an institution of radical social change. To the contrary, it has been an instrument of ruling class oppression. The legal system, from its founding, was about preserving distributions of wealth and property and white supremacy. If you go back and read old Supreme Court cases, you’ll see in every era the Supreme Court and the federal courts and the state courts are reproducing the sort of power dynamics of that era into what’s called legal decision-making, and passing it off as legal reasoning.

We need to build a movement that changes the power dynamics so that our society demands that our legal system create different rules. The best example of this might be Brown v. Board of Education, maybe the most celebrated legal decision in American Supreme Court history. Sixty years after Brown, you have schools that are just as segregated, if not more segregated, in some parts of the country than they were before Brown. Why? Because if you don’t attack the underlying systems of oppression that lead to a problem, a court ruling isn’t going to solve them.

A contrary example might be same-sex marriage. Very smart lawyers brought those cases 40 years ago, and they essentially lost everywhere, including in the U.S. Supreme Court. Then years after that, other lawyers, and actually some of the same lawyers, using the same words, challenged same-sex marriage bans again. This time, they prevailed. It wasn’t because the 14th Amendment changed, or because they became better lawyers. It was because there had been a movement in our society that changed the way we think about same-sex marriage. What we in the criminal system need to understand is that we need to be part of a social movement that changes the way we think about human caging. And until we are part of that movement, I don’t suspect that the courts are fundamentally going to alter this architecture of mass incarceration.

You write about the need for lawyers to remain “human” and to find creative ways to re-sensitize themselves. How do you stay human when working in a system that is designed to dehumanize daily, and on a mass scale?

We often find ourselves using the language of a bureaucracy as opposed to the language of humanity when we’re in court. The things that we write, the arguments that we make, it’s almost like reading from police reports; we use words like “suspect,” “defendant.” And we use propagandistic terms like the “Department of Justice” or the “criminal justice system.” We even use the word “hold” to describe someone who’s in a cage, which is such a strange thing to say. You hold someone you love; holding is a term of care. Or we use terms like “law enforcement,” which make it seem like we enforce all laws against all people, when in fact law enforcement in this country just enforces some laws against some people. The language that we use is really important.

“We use the word ‘hold’ to describe someone who’s in a cage, which is such a strange thing to say.”

As a lawyer, you can also change the narratives that are presented in a courtroom. I would always ask my clients to be unshackled while in court, and I would ask the U.S. marshals to allow my clients’ children to come hug them before sentencing. Little acts like these may not be significant in the broader sense, in the sense that they’re not taking down capitalism or white supremacy, but they change the way that this mass assembly-line bureaucracy is able to process human beings: It slows it down, it makes everybody a little bit more sensitized to the cruelty that they’re about to inflict on a child or on a parent, on a human being.

I found that the sentences started to get lower when we did those things. I think lawyers can be doing this throughout every aspect of a case: help to create space for their clients to tell their stories. Our punishment bureaucracy is only able to do what it’s doing because the pain that it’s causing has not been sufficiently explored in the popular consciousness.

We prosecute and incarcerate so many people that it becomes impossible to give each a fair process, so we end up with shortcuts like the mass plea bargaining system. You write that we created a system that would collapse were it to offer “too much justice.”

Anyone who observes court in the U.S. or works in the system understands that there is simply no way to process two million human beings from their families, homes, jobs, communities and into cages without coming up with shortcuts at every single step in the process. It’s just a really significant bureaucratic achievement to transfer that many people and their bodies and their lives into government-run cages. And to do that, the system basically has to ignore the main constitutional rights that are provided for in the Bill of Rights, because those documents were not written with a world of mass incarceration in mind. In fact, they were written precisely to avoid mass human caging.

karakatsanis_alec_civil_rights_corps-1573234821

Alec Karakatsanis.

Photo: Civil Rights Corps/Courtesy of The New Press

You write about defendants appearing in court in Roxbury being made to stand behind glass cages — and people only realizing how dehumanizing that is when a bunch of white baseball fans were arrested after the Red Sox won the World Series. Do we tolerate the cruelty of the system because of the people it usually affects?  

There is no way that much of what happens in the punishment bureaucracy would be tolerated if it were happening to people who looked different or had more power. The idea of drug laws being enforced on Yale’s campus, for example, in the same way that they are enforced down the street in the rest of New Haven would be laughable. And this goes for virtually any law you can think of. The way that law is enforced reflects distributions of power in our society. It’s the same way that people are routinely arrested and jailed for street gambling, but it’s totally acceptable to gamble over international currencies and global supply of wheat, even though gambling over the global supply of wheat has caused starvation for tens of millions of people. These same activities, depending on who’s doing them, are seen as morally culpable or morally praiseworthy, even.

I think even those who don’t work closely with the criminal justice system have some sense, by now, that it actually doesn’t have much to do with justice. Why is it that ideas like “the rule of law” and “justice” itself continue to wield incredible power?

I think that there are very powerful forces in our society that benefit from people having faith in what’s thought of as “the rule of law.” I always use that term in quotes because it’s a joke. Those forces have invested a great deal into a kind of propaganda about what our legal system is about. We’re told that our legal system is about public safety and human flourishing, but if you think that our legal system is really about creating a society of equality and justice and liberty and public safety, all you have to do is look around to understand that it’s failing miserably at that. That’s why you hear so many people, from all over the spectrum, saying the criminal justice system is “broken.”

But it’s only broken if you think that those are its purposes. If you actually think that its purpose is controlling certain populations, oppressing certain people, conserving the hierarchies of wealth and power, then it’s actually functioning very well. And the people who’ve been running our criminal legal system for decades aren’t stupid. They weren’t trying to do one thing but woefully failed, they were trying to do what the system has been doing, which is to keep certain people controlled.

Which brings me to the question of criminal justice “reform.” What is wrong with criminal justice reform?

I think we are at a very dangerous moment in what’s called the criminal justice reform movement. There is some popular energy, meaningful energy, to change the criminal punishment system, and the people who created and profited from the punishment bureaucracy understand that and they’re trying to co-op that reform. What’s at stake now is whether we will actually make big changes to dismantle mass incarceration, or whether we’ll make little tiny tweaks that curb off some of its most grotesque flourishes but preserve the architecture of the punishment bureaucracy and of mass human caging.

There are a lot of people with a lot at stake in this, whether it’s police and correctional unions or prosecutors and the elite class that benefits from keeping people controlled, the private companies at every stage of the process — from those that make all of the handcuffs and the Tasers and the guns to the private probation companies, the bail bond companies, the private prison companies, all of the companies that contract for health care and telephones and video calling in jails. And of course, all of the defense lawyers and judges and probation officers. It’s a massive bureaucracy, and what do bureaucracies do? They try to expand and preserve themselves.

I’m really interested in reorienting our discussion about what our criminal punishment system should look like to the question of whether we should have one, and whether it should look anything like what we have now, and how do we build the power that’s necessary to demand that our society do something drastically different.

Can an abolitionist approach and a reformist approach coexist? What do you make of the whole “progressive prosecutor” moment, for instance?

I’m all for reducing the pain that our current system has caused. Many of the cases that I work on can only be characterized as incremental: We win a case in Houston, and we get 12,000 people out of jail. But there are still tens of thousands of people being jailed every year in Houston; it’s not like we’ve abolished the punishment bureaucracy there. All the work we do, even the most successful work, is in a sense incremental.

I think the real question is, is there a theory for how the incremental work that you’re doing is part of a broader movement for much more radical change? If you’re just doing incremental work to do incremental work, and if that incremental work sucks energy out of a movement, or isn’t done in strategic alignment with a movement and just stops there, then that is troubling. But if it’s part of a strategy for actually building power step after step and each increment is actually building more power for the next fight, then I think it’s worth doing.

Is the reform that you’re proposing giving more resources to the punishment bureaucracy, or is it taking resources from the punishment bureaucracy and giving them to communities? That’s why, for example, you always need to oppose hiring more police officers, giving them more money for body cameras, increasing the budgets even of “progressive” prosecutor offices. We need to shrink all of these systems, and we need to invest in noncarceral, community-based mutual aid and empowerment solutions. The kinds of reforms that are offered by most punishment bureaucrats all over the country are mistaken reforms.

I think the reason abolition sounds so strange to many people is that those people are envisioning a society that looks exactly like our current society, just with no police and prisons and jails — and that does seem ridiculous because our society creates so much desperation and violence. But in a society that is tackling things like white supremacy, economic deprivation, toxic masculinity, and that is providing connections between people, and where communities are responsible for each other, I actually don’t think it would be weird at all. You wouldn’t even need the things that we now think of as elemental parts of our society, like the local jail.

The post The Criminal Justice System Is Not Broken. It’s Doing What It Was Designed to Do. appeared first on The Intercept.

Texas Prepares to Execute Rodney Reed Amid a Flood of New Evidence Pointing to His Innocence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/11/2019 - 2:30am in

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Deke Pierce was wearing civilian clothes as he took to the lectern in a narrow press room inside the Texas Capitol in Austin last month, but it was still obvious that he was a cop. He stood with his feet wide and his arms slightly away from his body, a stance molded by years in a uniform encumbered by heavy gear. He was there to make an extraordinary announcement: He and 12 other members of law enforcement with more than 250 years of combined experience had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of a Texas death row prisoner named Rodney Reed, slated for execution on November 20.

“We each care deeply about the criminal justice system and the rule of law. While that often means holding wrongdoers accountable, it is the equally important goal of the criminal justice system to avoid punishing the innocent,” Pierce told a group of reporters. “Not only would moving forward with Mr. Reed’s execution be cruel and immoral, it would also undermine the rule of law and the legitimacy of the very system we as law enforcement officers swore to uphold.”

Their brief argues that Reed’s conviction was tainted by common problems in law enforcement — forensic errors, “weak facts,” tunnel vision, and “community pressure that can distort an investigation.” The officers argue that in this case there is “uniquely compelling” evidence that Reed is innocent.

Pierce and his fellow officers join an increasing number of high-profile voices calling for a stay of execution and a thorough review of Reed’s case as a stream of new witnesses continue to come forward with revelations that cast doubt on Reed’s conviction; there is one who now says another suspect confessed to the crime that put Reed on death row. Reed’s lawyers, including his long-time attorney Bryce Benjet of the Innocence Project, have asked various courts to intervene, among them the U.S. Supreme Court. Those actions remain pending as the clock ticks down toward the execution date.

While Pierce and his colleagues understand “as well as anyone the need for finality in criminal cases,” they wrote, where “there is a significant risk of executing an innocent man, that need for finality must yield to the needs of justice.”

18 Years on the Case

Rodney Reed was convicted and sentenced to die in 1998 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites two years earlier. On April 23, 1996, Stites was found dead, her body dumped on the side of a country road outside of Bastrop, a small town roughly a half-hour east of Austin. She was partially clothed and lying face up, her arms above her head. Marks on her neck led investigators to conclude that she’d been strangled with a length of braided leather belt, a piece of which was left nearby. Sperm was collected from inside her.

The murder went unsolved for nearly a year before law enforcement officers, apparently acting on a hunch, tested the recovered DNA against 29-year-old Reed. It matched and formed the basis of the prosecution’s case. No other evidence tied Reed to the murder. The DNA was the “Cinderella’s slipper,” prosecutors argued at trial.

When he was initially questioned by police, Reed denied knowing Stites, but soon admitted to having an affair with her, which would explain the presence of his DNA; the two had sex just days before Stites was found dead, he said.

It’s hardly surprising that Reed wasn’t immediately forthcoming. The relationship would have been a risky one in small-town Texas, even in the mid-1990s: Reed is black, and Stites was white and engaged to a man named Jimmy Fennell, a white cop in a neighboring town.

At trial, Reed had various witnesses lined up who could testify to the relationship, but most weren’t called, seemingly because they were related to Reed. Those who did testify weren’t particularly effective: One woman referred to Stites as “Stephanie” when recounting meeting her at the Reed family’s Bastrop home. Among the witnesses who weren’t called were at least two who said they knew about the affair and that Fennell had found out about it and threatened Reed.

Over the last 18 years, I’ve written dozens of times about Reed’s case. It was clear early on that it had serious problems and that Reed’s conviction left open a number of questions about what happened to Stites and why. As the years have passed, the case has become even more disturbing. There is medical and forensic evidence that has been debunked. There are witnesses — including within Stites’s family — who have come forward to say they were aware of the relationship. And then there’s Fennell. There’s been a lot of troubling information about him, too, including from law enforcement officers disturbed by his behavior both before and after Stites’s murder. Some of that information should have been made available to defense lawyers before Reed’s trial but wasn’t.

And then there are the courts, crucially including Texas’s Court of Criminal Appeals, which has repeatedly demonstrated a results-oriented willful ignorance in the face of mounting evidence challenging the conviction.

Bastrop County District Court Judge Doug Shaver listens to arguments from Ronald Reed's attorney Bryce Benjet, left, and Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ottoway, right, during a hearing to reconsider testimony from Reed's murder trial in the slaying of Stacey Stites Tuesday October 10, 2017. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Bastrop County District Court Judge Doug Shaver listens to arguments from Rodney Reed’s attorney Bryce Benjet, left, and Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ottoway, right, during a hearing on Oct. 10, 2017.

Photo: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP

A Suspicious Timeline

From the beginning, the state’s theory of Stites’s murder was a problem. On the day she died, Stites was slated to work at 3:30 a.m. at a Bastrop grocery store. She was living in the nearby town of Giddings, about 30 minutes northeast of Bastrop, in an apartment she shared with Fennell, who was a cop there. She never made it to work. Several hours later, Fennell’s pickup truck, which Stites allegedly drove to work that morning, was found in the parking lot of Bastrop High School. Her body was found that afternoon, several miles out of town.

Based on this set of facts, the state came up with a theory of her death that hinged on Reed’s DNA being the result of a stranger encounter: Stites left the apartment sometime around 3 a.m., driving toward Bastrop. Along the way, Reed, on foot, somehow stopped her and attacked her. He raped and strangled her and dumped her body before driving into town where he parked Fennell’s truck at the school before walking away.

As a practical matter, this never made much sense to me. How would a man on foot overcome a woman driving along a highway? Even if she were to come to a stoplight, it’s not as though she couldn’t drive through it — after all, it was 3 a.m. And if there was traffic at that hour, it would seem even less likely that he could pull off such a feat.

The timeline underpinning the state’s theory was provided by Fennell. He wasn’t awake when Stites got up for work, he said, but she would have left around 3 a.m. or so. He said that he and Stites had been home alone all evening. Yet the police never sought to search their Giddings apartment, even though it was the last place she was seen alive.

Despite that inexplicable oversight, reading the police reports and notes related to the case, you can see that early on, Fennell was a suspect — members of Stites’s family even penned a list of concerns about his behavior at the time. He was interrogated several times by police, exchanges that he characterized in trial testimony as abusive “from day one.”

That Fennell was originally a suspect is important because investigators knew that he hadn’t contributed the DNA evidence. In other words, at least early on, the DNA wasn’t considered the lynchpin of the case. Nonetheless, once they matched the DNA to Reed, they dropped Fennell as a suspect. And that’s a problem, Pierce and the other law enforcement officers say. It suggests that detectives suffered from tunnel vision, “to which all law enforcement officers are susceptible,” they wrote in their brief to the Supreme Court. “This phenomenon does not depend on any bad faith or incompetence of the officers involved. Rather, it is a result of ordinary cognitive bias, that can make even experienced, well-intentioned officers fixate on a theory of the case that, from an objective perspective, does not hold up.”

By Fennell’s own account, Stites died while she was at home alone with him.

“In particular, the pretrial investigation shows that police did not believe the forensic evidence exonerated Mr. Fennell until after Mr. Reed became a suspect,” they continued. “Only after Mr. Reed was identified as the source of an intimate sample did police consider the forensic evidence dispositive of guilt.”

In fact, additional forensic evidence pointed toward Fennell. Fingerprints lifted from his pickup truck — the one Reed supposedly drove after hijacking Stites — matched only Stites and Fennell. It’s hard to imagine that Reed would have tried to hide his identity by wiping his prints from the truck while leaving his DNA inside Stites.

As it turned out, there was also a problem with that DNA sample — not with its identification of Reed, but with what the state said it meant about Stites’s time of death. According to state witnesses, the fact that three intact spermatozoa were recovered from Stites meant that she’d had sex no more than about 24 hours prior to death.

Taken at face value, along with Fennell’s insistence that he was home with Stites the night before she was murdered, it would seem that the only conclusion was that Stites had sex just before she was killed. “We know, from the credible evidence, that [sperm] doesn’t hang around for days on end. We know from the credible evidence that that tells you that that sperm got in that girl’s body within 24 hours” of when the evidence was collected, prosecutors told the jury at Reed’s trial. “Which is when? On her way to work.”

I always found this suspicious because it was so oddly specific. Even back then, it sounded like junk science. Reed’s trial lawyers failed to call their own experts, so in 2002, I asked a Texas medical examiner unconnected to the case to review the evidence. He was uncomfortable with the state basing the timeline on sperm evidence, which, he told me, is “never very precise.”

In the intervening years, a number of noted forensic pathologists have agreed that the state’s conclusion lacked scientific support. Even the medical examiner who conducted Stites’s autopsy and had agreed with the state’s truncated timeline at Reed’s trial recanted his testimony. In 2018, both a state crime lab and a private DNA lab walked back the testimony of their employees who had been witnesses at Reed’s trial, noting that their assertions that the sperm had to be deposited close to Stites’s time of death were not supported and were in “error.”

There is another glaring issue for the medical experts who have reviewed the case: The state’s timeline for Stites’s murder was off — by hours. According to the pathologists, changes to Stites’s body at the time it was found demonstrated that she’d been killed before midnight and then dumped in the woods the following morning, meaning, by Fennell’s own account, Stites died while she was at home alone with him.

After death, blood no longer circulates and gravity causes it to pool under the skin in the lowest parts of the body, leading to dark patches that resemble bruising, known as post-mortem lividity. When Stites’s body was found, she was lying face up, yet the front of her body showed clear signs of lividity — on her face, right arm and hand, and chest. Since lividity takes at least four hours to set, the pathologists have agreed that this meant that Stites was killed and left in a position where she was slumped forward, one arm outstretched, for at least four hours before her body was dumped.

Jimmy Fennell Jr, left, walks away with his lawyer Bob Phillips, after Judge Burt Carnes denied Fennell's plea agreement and set a jury trial for September 8. (Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Jimmy Fennell, left, with his lawyer Robert Phillips after Judge Burt Carnes denied Fennell’s plea agreement and set a jury trial for an unrelated charge in June 2008.

Photo: Kelly West/Austin American-Statesman via AP

Something I Will Never Forget

This brings us back to Fennell.

In the early stages of the investigation into Stites’s murder, Fennell was repeatedly questioned by police. And he was twice given a polygraph exam; both times he failed, including when asked if he’d strangled Stites. Polygraph exams are notoriously unreliable and are not admissible as evidence in court. Still, at that point, Fennell refused to cooperate further with detectives and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

By the time Reed’s trial rolled around, Fennell had changed his tune and took the stand as a witness for the prosecution. He testified that he and Stites got along well and had no “ongoing conflicts.” On April 22, 1996, he got off work around 2 p.m. Later, he said he went to coach a Little League team. He got home around 8 p.m. or so, and he and Stites spent the rest of the evening in their upstairs apartment. They were both “in good spirits.” He said that they discussed him driving her to work in the morning, but ultimately agreed that she would go alone. She went to bed around 9 p.m., and he stayed up to watch the news.

Prosecutors emphasized to the jury that Fennell’s story was consistent with their theory of the crime. “It’s important to note that nobody could ever find anything inconsistent with what he told you. Nobody,” said Lisa Tanner, a Texas assistant attorney general.

But that’s not true. In a 2016 interview with CNN’s “Death Row Stories,” Bastrop County sheriff’s deputy Curtis Davis, a friend of Fennell’s, recalled a conversation he had with Fennell shortly after he was told that Stites was missing. According to Davis, on April 23, 1996, Fennell said that he’d stayed out drinking after Little League the night before and was not home with Stites as he’d claimed. “Him and a couple of other police officers, I believe … had consumed a little bit of alcohol,” he said. “I won’t say they were drunk ’cause that’s not what he said, but they had drank a few beers after practice.”

In a 2017 court hearing, Davis confirmed this story. Fennell refused to testify and instead offered a written declaration saying that if he was called to the stand, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to answer questions. He said he stood by his testimony at Reed’s trial.

This is far from the only post-trial revelation that has come out about Fennell, and certainly not the most recent or disturbing. In fact, in October, two additional law enforcement officers who knew Fennell came forward with explosive accounts.

“Jimmy was directing his comment at Ms. Stites’s body. I was completely shocked.”

On October 3, Jim Clampit, a sheriff’s deputy in Giddings, came forward with a story about Stites’s funeral. He recalled standing in the doorway of the viewing room as Fennell stood before the casket. “At that moment, Jimmy said something I will never forget,” he said in a sworn affidavit. “Something along the lines of, ‘You got what you deserved.’ Jimmy was directing his comment at Ms. Stites’s body. I was completely shocked.”

On October 11, Reed’s lawyers secured a second affidavit, this one from Charles Wayne Fletcher, who worked as a deputy with the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Office and was friends with both Stites and Fennell. He’d known them since the start of their relationship in late 1995. By the following March, he saw signs of hostility. “Their relationship seemed to deteriorate,” he said. He recalled standing outside the couple’s apartment; Stites had gone to the pool, and he and Fennell were talking by a barbecue pit. “After Stacey left, I remember clearly that Jimmy said that he believed Stacey was ‘fucking a nigger,’” Fletcher said. “He did not say specifically how he knew that or what made him believe it, but I remember he said those words because I was disturbed by them.” After Stites’s death, he said Fennell’s behavior grew increasingly strange. “It caused me to question whether he was involved in Stacey’s death,” he continued. “I also chose to have no further interaction or communication with him.” Fletcher soon left the sheriff’s office but didn’t report what had happened because he had family in Bastrop and was worried about what would happen “if it is perceived that I am going against local law enforcement.”

Robert Phillips, a defense attorney who has represented Fennell, believes these accounts are pure fiction. “Where were you all this time? If what you have to say is true at all and you’re a sworn law enforcement officer … where is your conscience for the last 20 years?” he asked. “I don’t know why they’re coming forward with false narratives. Maybe there’s some kind of personal animus against Jimmy — he was not the most popular or honorable cop during his law enforcement career, he had his own problems. But why let a man rot on death row when you know the ‘whole true story’ and you’ve got a badge and the credibility that goes with that?”

Indeed, there was evidence of Fennell’s racial animus and propensity for violence before Stites’s murder, though much of it wasn’t made public until well after Reed’s trial.

Just two months before Stites died, Fennell and another officer initiated a pursuit of Mario Murillo. In a civil complaint that was eventually settled, Murillo claimed that the two officers chased him and beat him up. Murillo said that Fennell held a gun to his head. The sheriff had to be called in to calm the situation.

Three months after Stites was murdered, Fennell began dating a woman named Pam Duncan. She complained to police that when she tried to break off their relationship, Fennell began to stalk and threaten her. He was “possessive and jealous” while they were dating, she said in an affidavit, and would harass men that he thought were “flirting” with her. After they broke up, he drove by her house “night after night,” shining a spotlight through her windows or standing outside screaming “bitch and other names.”

It’s not clear if Reed’s trial attorneys knew much, if anything, about these incidents. At his trial, however, one of Reed’s attorneys asked Fennell if he knew a woman named “Pat Duncan.” No, he said. “The name does not ring a bell.”

Cases Resolved and Unresolved

Despite the utter lack of evidence tying Reed to Stites’s death, there are still those who defend the conviction. They claim that Reed is a serial sex offender into whose modus operandi Stites’s murder fits. Over the years, my reporting has been criticized for not focusing on this point.

The DNA that police used to connect Reed to Stites had been collected from him in conjunction with another sexual assault in Bastrop, one that was never prosecuted. The details of that alleged assault did not come into evidence at the guilt-innocence portion of Reed’s trial but were used against him during the punishment phase as a means to argue that he deserved the death penalty. The punishment phase of a Texas capital trial is something of a free-for-all; nearly every bad act a person has ever been accused of can be used as evidence to argue that they’re too far gone to be redeemed. Reed’s trial followed that pattern. Prosecutors brought in testimony from a handful of women who had been sexually assaulted. Even though at least two of them could not describe their attacker, the state claimed they were all Reed’s victims. In one case Reed had been prosecuted and acquitted. Another case was later dropped. The others remained open, but after Reed was convicted of Stites’s murder, they were considered closed.

Reading the punishment phase transcripts, it is clear that the women who testified had been traumatized by terrifying sexual assaults. But what is also clear is that solving those crimes, each involving a white woman or girl — including a 12-year-old who had been assaulted in 1989 — was not a priority for police. Instead of aggressively pursuing these cases, it appears that law enforcement had done little to solve them. Then prosecutors came in and weaponized the women’s stories in an effort to send a man to death, in part by playing up the dangerous and offensive stereotype of a black male predator out to hurt white women.

And more to the point, as harrowing and demanding of justice as these allegations are, they are not evidence that Reed is guilty of assaulting or killing Stites. As it stands, every piece of the state’s case against Reed for that crime has fallen apart. To use the unadjudicated rape cases as proof that Reed committed Stites’s murder is, simply put, untenable.

But there is at least one person connected to Stites who we know has a history of sexual violence: Jimmy Fennell, who in 2008 pleaded guilty to kidnapping and improper sexual contact with a person in custody after he raped, at gunpoint, a woman named Connie Lear against the back of his patrol car while on duty and in uniform. After it was over, Lear told me in 2014, Fennell threatened her. “When he got done, he told me that if I told anybody … if he went to prison, when he got out, he would hunt me down, he would use his gun, and he would kill me.” Fennell was sentenced to 10 years in prison and released in the fall of 2018.

Fennell’s arrest in that case prompted several other women to come forward, alleging similar threats and assaults, including one rape. These episodes had either never been reported or had been ignored by law enforcement.

I asked Phillips, the attorney who represented Fennell in the Lear case: If the allegations against Reed were enough to convict him for Stites’s murder, why wouldn’t the allegations against Fennell at least cast a similar shadow on him?

“I’m not vouching for Jimmy Fennell’s overall character,” Phillips told me. There were complaints against Fennell, but “a lot of them are kind of quasi-immoral, but not criminal acts.” He characterized the allegations against Reed as “violent, savage, repeated behavior.” Fennell’s behavior, on the other hand, according to Phillips, was “audacious, it was improper, it was exploitation of his badge.”

Sandra Reed, the mother of death row inmate Rodney Reed, shows her continued support of her son by carrying this placard around the parking lot during a break in a hearing in Bastrop County District Court on Tuesday, October 10. 2017. Reed was asking Judge Doug Shaver to reconsider testimony from his murder trial in the slaying of Stacey Stites. (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

Sandra Reed, Rodney Reed’s mother, carries a placard around the parking lot during a break in a hearing in Bastrop County District Court on Oct. 10, 2017.

Photo: Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP

At All Costs

As Reed’s execution date nears, advocacy around his case has hit a near fever pitch. “This is how bizarre my life is right now,” Benjet, Reed’s principal attorney, told me. “I’m waiting on a call from Kim Kardashian right now.”

Since October 19, Kim Kardashian West, who has taken a full plunge into criminal justice reform, has tweeted or retweeted about Reed’s case nearly a dozen times to her 62 million followers. Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, picked up on the case too, tweeting about it to his nearly 8 million followers. Musicians Rihanna, Meek Mill, and LL Cool J have also entered the Twitter fray. In early October, Dr. Phil McGraw devoted two days of his syndicated daytime talk show, “Dr. Phil,” to the case. And on Thursday, his television mentor, Oprah Winfrey, told CBS This Morning that the state of Texas should “at least pause” on Reed’s execution.

They all want someone to intervene — perhaps Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “PLEASE @GovAbbott How can you execute a man when since his trial, substantial evidence that would exonerate Rodney Reed has come forward and even implicates the other person of interest. I URGE YOU TO DO THE RIGHT THING,” Kardashian West tweeted.

It is hard to imagine anyone less inclined to be swayed by outside calls for mercy than Abbott. Abbott previously served as the state’s attorney general, and his office fought to uphold Reed’s conviction. During his 12-year tenure as attorney general, the state executed 278 people, including at least one innocent man. As governor, he has only once intervened in a capital case; since he took office in 2015, Texas has executed 47 people, including those with strong claims of innocence.

To be fair, under Texas law, the governor has only the power to issue a temporary reprieve unless clemency is recommended by the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is made up of members appointed by the governor.

Traditionally, then, it would be the courts that would have the greatest power to remedy the possibility of a wrongful conviction. Too often, however, the court declines to intervene, often in a way that betrays its affinity for upholding convictions seemingly at all costs. This has been particularly true in Reed’s case.

The court has engaged in a willful blindness to the cumulative effect of the evidence pointing toward a wrongful conviction.

The court has repeatedly denied requests for DNA testing, including on the braided belt the state alleged was used to strangle Stites. If it was the murder weapon, the belt would almost certainly retain the genetic trace of her killer. But the court has balked, agreeing with the AG’s office that the evidence has been poorly stored or handled too many times to provide probative evidence. To the extent that evidence has been stored improperly, however, that is on the state, which has the responsibility for safekeeping evidence. More importantly, the most likely people to have handled it, aside from Stites’s killer, are members of law enforcement, including prosecutors, whose DNA should be relatively easy to exclude.

The court has also engaged in a willful blindness to the cumulative effect of the evidence pointing toward a wrongful conviction. Benjet has represented Reed for nearly 18 years and in that time, has worked with a team of lawyers that has routinely uncovered new witnesses and evidence that call Reed’s conviction into question. To raise these issues, the lawyers have used what is known as a writ of habeas corpus, a legal filing that raises constitutional violations to challenge a person’s detention.

Benjet’s team has filed exhaustive writs that the court has sat on, at times for years. And as they’ve waited, Benjet’s team has found additional evidence. When new information comes up, they’ve filed a supplement to the main writ. However, the Court of Criminal Appeals has considered each new supplement a brand-new writ. Meaning that, at least judging by years of rulings in the case, each time it has received new evidence from Benjet, the court has evaluated it in a vacuum, devoid of the overall effect that the collection of evidence has on Reed’s conviction. This hardly serves as a rigorous, intellectually honest route to meting out justice and ensuring the integrity and finality of the system.

Sometimes, the court doesn’t weigh in at all; it just denies an appeal without comment. It did this in Reed’s case most recently on October 30, when it denied, by postcard, his request to withdraw the looming execution date. That filing had included the affidavit of veteran Texas cop Jim Clampit, who reported Fennell’s bizarre utterance at the funeral home.

At present there are legal bids still in play. Benjet has filed a federal civil rights suit to secure DNA testing, which has been successful in the past. There is also the relatively long-shot appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices are slated to consider Reed’s case on November 15. And there is a plea to Abbott and to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to intervene.

In filing their petition with the Board of Pardons and Paroles on October 30, the lawyers included a new potential bombshell. This time, it was not a member of law enforcement who came forward but a member of notorious prison gang the Aryan Brotherhood. At this point, it’s hard to know what exactly to make of the witness’s story, but given the serious nature of the allegation — and the irrevocability of an execution — it’s another piece of potential evidence that demands attention.

Arthur Snow, Jr. grew up in a racist household and has been in and out of prison or jail for most of his life, he swore in an affidavit attached to Reed’s clemency bid. Behind bars, he became a leader of the notorious white supremacist prison gang. Back in 2010, he said he was imprisoned in South Central Texas where he came to know a man named Jimmy Fennell. Fennell sought protection from the gang. One day on the rec yard, Snow said Fennell confessed to him. “He was talking about his ex-fiancé with a lot of hatred and resentment,” said Snow, who is currently in jail and just this week pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge. He said Fennell told him that Stites had been sleeping with a black man. “By the way Jimmy spoke about this experience, I could tell that it deeply angered him. Toward the end of the conversation Jimmy said confidently, ‘I had to kill my nigger-loving fiancé.’”

The post Texas Prepares to Execute Rodney Reed Amid a Flood of New Evidence Pointing to His Innocence appeared first on The Intercept.

Trailer for Movie of HP Lovecraft’s ‘The Colour out of Space’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/11/2019 - 9:23pm in

I found this trailer for a forthcoming movie version of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, The Colour out of Space, over on YouTube. It stars Nicholas Cage and is directed by Richard Stanley.

Lovecraft was a master of cosmic horror, and the creator of the Cthulu mythos about malign, alien gods that seeped down from the stars untold aeons ago. Although they were banished from Earth by the ancient Elder Races, they are constantly seeking ways back. And when the stars are right, and the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from the deep, Cthulhu, the bat-winged, octopus-headed god will rule over a mankind reveling and killing. And in untold aeons even death may die.

The trailer says it marks the return of Stanley to directing. This is welcome news. He made an excellent film about a berserk robot going on the rampage in a decaying future, Hardware, back in 1989.  2000AD sued and won for plagiarism, as the film’s plot appeared to be stolen from a short story from comic, ‘Shocc!’, drawn by the master of macabre art, Kevin O’Neill. This was about an explorer, who finds a war robot and gives it to his girlfriend. It then comes back to life, and goes on the rampage. The film has cameos with Lemmy, a member of the Goth band The Mission, and Iggy Pop as the DJ, Angry Bob, and the soundtrack includes Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, The Mission’s ‘Power’ and Pil’s ‘Order of Death’. There’s a reference to the earlier film in the trailer. A shot of the family’s kitchen shows a framed Biblical quotation, ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This was also used in Hardware to explain the B.A.A.L. robot’s genocidal mission to exterminate all humanity.

Stanley disappeared from directing movies, although he continued to make documentaries and pop videos, after the debacle of a version of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Stanley originally intended it to be a relatively low budget film, but the studio wanted a big star. Stanley chose Marlon Brando. Big mistake. Once in the movie, Brando proceeded to do his best to wreck it through bizarre demands and massively arrogant behaviour. There was a documentary made about this whole shambles a few years ago. One of the actresses provided an example of Brando’s weird, cavalier attitude to the film. She went to him to ask the great Hollywood star for acting tips. He told her to carry on doing whatever she liked, because it didn’t matter as the film would be shut down in three weeks anyway. He also asked a member of the production crew if they should ‘f**k with’ one of the producers. When the man asked why, as the producer was a good guy, Brando made a very lame excuse. It’s pretty clear from this that Brando didn’t have any respect for the film. With costs and time overrunning, Stanley was sacked, and a veteran Hollywood director brought in instead to salvage something from the mess. The result apparently is a competent film, but it’s not the really amazing movie that would have appeared if Stanley had been able to complete it according to his vision.

It’s a pity that there was that plagiarism case between 2000AD and Stanley over Hardware. 2000AD want to produce films based on their characters. Two films have been made of ‘Judge Dredd’, but both have performed less than expected at the box office. The most recent, 2012’s Dredd, starring Karl Urban, was a critical success. There’s too much enmity there, but I’d say that if anyone could direct a great movie based on 2000AD’s cast of heroes, Stanley is the man for the job.

Looking at the trailer for the movie, it seems to have rejected Lovecraft’s original plot for the Hollywood cliche of a happy American family that moves into a rural area, only to find something sinister and threatening. It’s a long time since I read the original story, but I don’t think it’s the one Lovecraft wrote. Still, it looks like it could be a really good film, even if it is somewhat less than faithful to Lovecraft.

And to show everyone what Stanley’s Hardware was like, here’s a video for Pil’s ‘Order of Death’ using clips from the film from Hert Zollner’s channel on YouTube.

Enjoy!

‘I’ Article on McDonnell Receiving Death Threats

Also in Tuesday’s I was a brief article by Patrick Daly reporting that McDonnell had told a meeting of NHS workers that he receives death threats weekly. The article ran

Labour’s shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, said he regularly receives two death threats a week, as he called for calm as the general election campaign gets under way.

He said politicians had “exploited” the Brexit result to “unleash forces” that were “dividing society”.

He made the comments after being told by a migrant NHS worker how he and a surgeon colleague had been verballed abused following the 2016 referendum decision.

Speaking to London NHS workers at Unison’s headquarters, Mr McDonnell said he wanted more politicians to “follow the advice” given by the Archbishop of Canterburty. The Most Rev Justin Welby warned the Prime Minister and MPs last week that it was “extraordinary dangerous to use careless comments” in what he described as a “very polarised and volatile situation”S.

Mr McDonnell said: “We’ve all had continual death threats. I usually get about two a week now.

“That’s the sort of politics we have got at the minute.”

This potentially explosive situation has been fanned by Johnson’s own highly inflammatory rhetoric and that of the Tory press towards anyone, who dares to oppose Brexit, or their version of it. Remember how the Fail slandered the judges, who declared one of their Brexit initiatives illegal, ‘enemies of the people’. Which mirrors exactly the rhetoric used by the Nazis against the democratic Weimar authorities before they seized power in Germany.

But it’s also a notable for a number of other reasons. The first is that it contradicts the Tory, Blairite and media narrative a few years ago that Corbyn’s followers were evil, raging misogynists sending abusive messages to ‘moderate’ – read Thatcherite – Labour women. Like Luciana Berger and the rest. This gave the misleading impression that only these ladies received abuse. But as the I also revealed a few days ago, half of the abusive messages sent to Labour politicians go to Diane Abbott, a close ally of Corbyn. And while I’ve no doubt that some of they did receive abuse and threats, some of the messages they claim to have received, on examination, didn’t exist. But I have no doubt that McDonnell’s statement is absolutely true.

As is the statement by the migrant NHS worker about the abuse he and a surgeon colleague received after the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Not everyone, who voted for Brexit are racist or xenophobic by any means. Some Labour voters did so in some communities because European policies has harmed their industries. The British fishing industry is a case in point, and used as an example of destructive EU policies by the Times sketchwriter, Quentin Letts, in his book Fifty People Who Buggered Up Britain. Some Old Labour voters no doubt voted for Brexit because of the way neoliberalism and privatisation are written into the EU constitution and economic structure. But many others did. They were lied to by the Tories and UKIP, told that by leaving the EU there would be less foreigners taking their jobs and pushing down wages. And that meant Black and Asian immigrants. One of the most noxious examples of this was Nigel Farage and his wretched UKIP poster showing a line of immigrants from Syria and North Africa, which exactly matched Nazi posters against Jewish and eastern European immigration.

Last year I went into hospital for treatment for a form of blood cancer here in Bristol. I received excellent care, as I have done through the process generally, from the doctors, nurses and other medical and ancillary staff. Very many of these are foreign workers, not just from other parts of Europe, but also Africa and the Caribbean. They were conscientious in their care, and in my experience, had an excellent and supportive attitude towards the patients. We are very fortunate to have such people working for us.

But they are being abused. There was a piece on the local news for the Bristol region, Points West, the other day, reporting that one of the city’s hospitals in Southmead has been forced to put in place a zero tolerance policy because of people abusing staff, including, I believe, threats of violence. Threats and abuse to hospital workers and medical professionals isn’t new. There have been posters up warning patients against it for years, as well as reports and denunciations in the press and media. But now it seems it’s becoming particularly serious.

This is disgraceful. It needs to be stopped, now. Before there’s another assassination like that of Jo Cox.

 

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