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Report Demands Reform of Major Public Inquiries

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 11:28pm in

This is another interesting piece from Tuesday’s issue of the I for 25th August 2020. Written by Jane Clinton, it discusses the publication of a report by the Justice reform group demanding extensive reforms of major public inquiries. The piece, ‘Major public inquiries ‘need radical reform’ runs

The way the justice system responds to incidents ranging from the Manchester Arena bombings to the Grenfell Tower fire needs a major overhaul, according to a report.

Official investigations to discover what happened and how to stop it recurring are too slow, insufficiently concerned about victims and their families and too often limit the likelihood of preventing similar events in the future.

The report, When Things Go Wrong, by the influential Justice reform group warned public trust in how the justice system responds to deaths has been “eroded” and says a “consistent, open, timely, coherent and readily understandable” response is required to restore public confidence.

The report, chaired by former High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, who conducted the inquest and public inquiry into Russian poisoning victim Alexander Litvinenko makes recommendations for improvements. It highlights “costly delay and duplication” of a system that has “insufficient concern for the needs of those affected by disasters” with the bereaved and survivors “often left confused, betrayed and re-traumatised”.

It calls for a central inquiry team to run such investigations. “Previous experience has not been routinely captured,” it said.

It also calls for greater collaboration between investigating agencies to prevent those affected from having repeatedly to recount traumatic events. Sir Robert said that a system cannot provide justice if its processes “exacerbate the grief and trauma” of participants.

I think Sir Robert Owen and his group are right about the public having low confidence in official inquiries. It seems to me that we’ve seen them repeatedly used, especially by Boris Johnson and the Tories, as a way of whitewashing or trying escape the blame for their catastrophic decisions. The Grenfell fire, and the way its victims have been treated, with many still homeless years after the government promised that they’d be rehoused, is a case in point.

But I have absolutely no doubt that these reforms won’t be implemented by Boris. He’s used public inquiries himself as a way of deflecting blame and attention away from his government. It’s not just with major disasters, but also lesser issues like the allegations about islamophobia. There are revelations that the Tories are riddled with it, and the Equalities Commission was prepared to launch an inquiry. Until Boris said that he was going to launch one himself. So the Equalities Commission backed down. So far, there has been no Tory inquiry into islamophobia in the party, and I doubt there ever will be. But as Mike has pointed out, this incident also shows that the Equalities Commission is politically biased and unfit for purpose. It spent years trying to uncover the largely spurious anti-Semitism in the Labour party. But when it comes to casting the same critical glance over the Tories because of the very real, poisonous hatred of Muslims there, it does nothing.

And then there’s Boris’ promise at the time of the Black Lives Matter protests to do something about the Black community’s condition in Britain. This was going to be another inquiry. Just like Tweezer promised one.

The government has made too many broken promises, and arranged too many public inquiries to allow officials and senior MPs and government leaders to escape blame. The Justice reform group are right – the system’s reform is urgently needed. But Boris and co. will continue abusing it for as long as they can get away with it. And with a mendacious, complicit press and media, that’s going to be a long time.

 

Some Teachers Are Being Required to Come to School — to Teach Virtually

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 9:00pm in

Tags 

Politics

Kathy Rokakis, a 62-year-old high school French teacher in Michigan, is dreading her return to school next week.

Students in her Wayne County school district — Plymouth-Canton Community Schools — were originally going to be given the option to return to in-person classes or do remote learning, but earlier this month her school board voted to start the school year 100 percent virtual. “A lot of teachers were really relieved for so many reasons,” said Rokakis.

But two days after the school board decided the district would go fully remote, Superintendent Monica Merritt announced that teachers would still be coming into school to teach children virtually. “There wasn’t anything that had been discussed, we were just told that’s how it would happen,” recalled Rokakis. “We were basically blindsided.” 

In a letter sent last Friday to educators, Merritt defended her decision by saying, “We anticipate how hard it will be for many students to continue learning in a remote space when they miss their school community so much. It is with this lens, focused on what is best for our students, that has resulted in our expectation that our staff will teach remotely from their classrooms.” Merritt did not return requests for comment.

Teachers have continued to press administration for reasons the benefits of this arrangement outweigh the public health risks of coming into school during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The reasons have been ridiculous. One is so that students will be able to see their classrooms, so that when they come back face-to-face they’ll feel more comfortable,” said Rokakis. “Another is they say so we’ll have anything that we need accessible to us, and they keep using the scenario of if we have to do a science experiment. But I don’t teach science, and the things I need are very accessible to me here at home. And now I’m expected to teach French in a mask?”

In light of all this, some teachers in Plymouth-Canton have applied for family and medical leave to avoid going back, and others are retiring early, according to Rokakis. “If I could, I would, but I can’t because I carry the health insurance for my family,” she said. “I’m feeling very uncomfortable. To me, there needs to be more grace. This is not a normal time and people are trying their hardest.”

Across the country, as schools in some states have already reopened and others are planning to do so in the coming weeks, school districts and board members are grappling with and continually revising their back-to-school procedures. While many schools have opted to begin the year fully virtual given the risks presented by Covid-19, educators in some of those districts are still being required to teach from their classrooms. Even with requirements to wear masks, many teachers feel coming into school buildings is an unnecessary risk during the pandemic, for reasons including poor ventilation, slow coronavirus testing, and unreliable levels of personal protective equipment. 

Late last week, Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education, released guidance saying it’s the state’s “expectation” that all teachers and critical support staff will report to schools to teach each day if their district is doing remote learning. Reasons Riley listed included “provid[ing] more consistency” for students, more reliable internet access and faster IT support, making it easier to collaborate with colleagues, and making it easier for administrators “to monitor the level and amount of instruction students receive.”

The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy, released a blistering statement in response to the state’s recommendation, accusing Riley of having a “fundamental lack of trust” in teachers to do their jobs without being supervised.

“It is paternalistic and punitive and has no bearing on the quality of education that the real experts — the educators — provide so masterfully,” Najimy wrote, urging for districts to reject the state’s guidance. “Educators across the Commonwealth are focused on fully redesigning remote instruction to make it more effective, while pushing school districts and the state to make the changes needed to gradually return to in-person instruction. Commissioner Riley should be advocating for the resources that educators and districts need to achieve these goals rather than putting the thumbscrews to teachers to get them to return to school buildings before it is safe to do so.”

Scott McLennan, a spokesperson for the union, told The Intercept that districts and unions are still negotiating reopening plans, so they’re still “waiting to see how it plays out.” At least a few large school districts in the state, like Springfield and Worcester, have said they will not require teachers to come to school for remote instruction. 

Joanna Plotz, an elementary ESL teacher in Chelsea, a city with among the highest rates of Covid-19 infections in the state, is hoping her union succeeds in blocking the recommendation. “In an ideal world I’d obviously love to be in a classroom, but it just doesn’t feel worth it,” said Plotz.

If teachers at Plotz’s school are required to return to school, Plotz would be sharing a classroom with another educator, who has a 3-year-old daughter. Many teachers would like the option to go in. “I might want to go in sometimes. I live in a 500-square-foot-apartment, and Sundays it might be good to go in and prepare things, but I’d only want to do it if the other teacher and her daughter wouldn’t be there,” said Plotz. “And I do have some coworkers who are going crazy at home. But the way [the state] is doing it just says, ‘We don’t trust teachers.’”

Reached for comment, Colleen Quinn, a spokesperson for Commissioner Riley, defended the guidance. “In remote scenarios, instruction from the classroom is the most effective educational environment,” she said.

In other parts of the country, some teachers are already back at school providing remote instruction to students at home.

Erin Taylor, a middle school teacher in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said she still has not received a real explanation from her district as to why educators have to be teaching remotely from their school buildings.

“As teachers we always have to have an answer when our students ask us, ‘Why do we have to learn this?’ and I have not heard any answer from the district,” said Taylor. “It feels like a lack of trust, a surveillance thing, and I would totally be open and love to hear how they arrived at this decision, even if I disagreed with it. But we haven’t even gotten that.” 

Devra Ashby, a spokesperson for the school district told The Intercept that it is their goal “to provide a standard professional instructional delivery setting and enhanced teacher classroom performance” and that teachers “have the most resources at their fingertips when they are in their classrooms.” Ashby added that one-third of their students will be coming into the building for hybrid learning and that their standards for education have not changed. “We must deliver industry-standard instructions in a professional academic setting, which promotes student academic potential and achievement,” she said.

Taylor said there has been mixed messaging around masks. Colorado has a statewide mandate that says individuals must wear masks when inside public places, and she says her school district has also advised educators to wear masks at all times, but that policy is not being enforced at every school.

“I’ve been back at school for over two weeks now and I just see a lot of people not wearing masks even though that’s supposed to be the official policy,” she said. “I’ve walked past people where there are meetings going on and a bunch of people sitting around the table not wearing masks.”  

Taylor, who spoke to The Intercept on the second day of the school year, said she’s trying to be empathetic but is worried about how unsafe she already feels.

“We always talk as teachers about how the beginning of the year is the time to reinforce routine and rules and make sure you’re being clear, because with kids, if you don’t enforce a rule at the beginning, it becomes really hard to get that [compliance] later on,” she said. “It just feels like, well, if we’re not all wearing masks on Day 2, then I don’t have much hope for the year.”

Shawntel Shirkey, a paraeducator in Wichita, Kansas, also has to come into her high school for remote instruction. Earlier this month, the Wichita school board approved in-person learning for elementary schools and remote learning for middle and high school students.

Shirkey thinks given the conservative political climate in Kansas, her school board “made the best decision I could hope for.” At least one teacher at her school has tested positive for Covid-19 so far, but she praised her school for at least giving all staff members cloth masks, ample amounts of sanitizer and disinfectant, and the option to get face shields. “The district itself is not being very forthcoming but I’m lucky that my principal is being transparent about if someone has tested positive,” Shirkey said. Like in Taylor’s school, masks mandates don’t always mean staff actually wears them. 

Shirkey thinks it’s been “pretty split” among teachers about who wants to be providing remote instruction from school. “Some educators definitely see the irony of requiring teachers to come into buildings that the district has deemed unsafe for students,” she said. “But others just think the pandemic is ridiculous and as soon as the election is over, coronavirus is going to go away.”

The post Some Teachers Are Being Required to Come to School — to Teach Virtually appeared first on The Intercept.

Delayed Second Stimulus Already Leading to Cuts in Grocery Store Spending

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 8:54pm in

Hunger is on the rise. Grocery store operators see weaker spending now that the $600/week unemployment supplements are gone.

BBC Proms Row: ‘Land of Dopes and Tories’

The best comment I’ve seen about the current furore over the BBC’s supposed decision to ban the lyrics of ‘Rule, Britannia’, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the Last Night of the Proms has come from the Labour MP Wes Streeting  He’s said that it’s a distraction to divert attention away from the Tories and their repeated failures. And he’s right. More people are in grinding poverty, the Coronavirus rates appear to be heading back up, they’ve wound up the public body tasked with combating the outbreak right in the middle of the pandemic, and given it to a woman, who has no qualifications for the job apart from the fact that she’s close to Johnson’s coterie, the government’s exam algorithm unfairly marked down 40 per cent of schoolchildren, the vast majority from poor backgrounds, the public deficit has hit over a trillion pounds, thus destroying any credibility the Tories can claim for being the party of sound fiscal management, and they’re still trying to get away with the illegal deportation of the Windrush migrants. While blaming ‘activist lawyers’ of course. Then there’s the cronyism and corruption, as one after another government contracts are given to firms run by or with connections to the Tory party itself and its leaders. The mighty Ash Sarkar of Novara Media has also weighed in on the issue on YouTube with a video describing these claims as ‘a paranoid fantasia’.

But these aren’t the real issues! No! The real issue is that the Beeb is full of evil, unpatriotic, subversive lefties determined to blot out every last trace of British national pride and greatness. And they’re starting by banning the lyrics to ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Except they didn’t. The decision not sing them was due to the general restrictions on singing imposed by the lockdown. It’s for the same reason that, although churches are now open, worshippers can’t sing the hymns. It’s purely for health reasons, nothing more. But never mind, Boris Johnson has appeared and condemned the Beeb’s decision, thus rescuing us all from this latest Black Lives Matter attack on Britishness.

I have absolutely no problem with either of the two songs. I really enjoy them, and enjoyed the Proms itself when I went with a friend years ago. But I also remember that there have also been spoof versions of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ down the years. One of them was released in the mid-1990s by the Devon band, the Amphibians from Outer Space, fronted by the cryptozoologist Jon Downes. This had the title ‘Land of Dopes and Tories” and was a bitter comment on Britain under the-then Tory government of John Major. I can’t remember the lyrics exactly, but they went something like this:

Land of  dopes and Tories,

Game shows and TV.

The land our fathers fought for

Don’t seem the same to me.

Land of idiot violence 

Where innocent blood is shed

Land where only the assholes

Heard what Mosley said.

Downes clarified the last line, explaining that it referred to Mosley’s prediction that, who ever won the War, Britain would be finished as a world power. Mosley was right about that, but it still doesn’t make him less of a Fascist ***hole himself, who was responsible for so much of the idiot violence in his time.

The song went on for a few more lines before ending with Downes’ declaration that

Anarchy and freedom is everything I want.

With the recent riots in America and the horrific mess of the former anarchist commune in Seattle, anarchy looks much less attractive. But I think the parody, like so much of the bitter social comment of the 1990s, is still very relevant. Boris Johnson’s government is very like that of Major’s in its sleaze, corruption, privatisations and indifference to real, mass poverty. Except, compared to Johnson, Major seems to be a pillar of competence and statesmanship. And this from someone who was considered mediocre at best when he was actually in power.

The lyrics for ‘Rule, Britannia’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ haven’t been banned for any left-wing ideological reasons. The Tories are lying when they tell you they are. And Downes’ spoof lyrics accurately describe them, and the Britain of hatred and violence they’ve created.

Tom Ferguson: Biden Blurring Almost Everything

Political scientist Tom Ferguson juxtaposes the factions around Biden with how Roosevelt eventually stared down banks and corporatists in the second phase of the New Deal

The deficit is a record of past history and not an indication that there is no future…

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 5:00pm in

I first came to doubting ‘Economics’ through Steve Keen’s ‘Debunking Economics’, which was first published in 2001! and I’ve been a skeptic ever since. I follow intermittently Steve’s conversations with Phil Dobbie which are podcasts which are often free – as indeed is this one here. In it Steve tells what he has learnt from... Read more

The Scottish subsidy to London should stop now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 4:32pm in

I wrote this tweet yesterday:

It was, of course, meant to be provocative. There is nothing wrong with being provocative. Unless people are willing to be so then nothing changes. All progress is, as a result, dependent upon those willing to be provocative.

That said, I am not willing to be provocative without good reason, or within the boundaries of suggesting what is reasonable. This tweet was posted with both constraints in mind.

If the ongoing debate on the Scottish economy proves three things it is these: that first of all, Scotland is willing to have that debate when others are not; that second this debate is now backfiring on Unionists in Scotland because their continual attempts to undermine Scotland are now being used by people in rUK to ask why they should supposedly subsidise Scotland for any longer; and, third, that those in Scotland who want independence must reject the efforts of those who want independence based on a neoliberal agenda and must instead offer truly radical alternatives.

Part of that radical alternative is to understand why Scotland is where it is, and that this is not inevitable, or appropriate to its needs, and that it is not as a result the basis for extrapolation into the future.

My tweet says that the last decade has seen Scotland suffer as a result of choices imposed on Scotland and not made by it. That draws on evidence from  this chart:

I created that chart from GERS data published this year.

Scotland’s spend has fallen slightly over the last decade. But, as we know, that figure for spending is in any case wrong because it includes a great many costs Scotland would not choose to incur for itself or which it would not need to incur. The former includes many defence costs: based on an Irish model of defence spending Scotland might incur only one-third of the cost incurred now. The latter includes interest costs, which now largely relate to the UK crash, which as I note in my tweet, was not made in Scotland, and which was severe in its impact, as this chart shows:

Again, that is based on GERS data, plotted by me.

It’s a matter of fact that the bank failure that delivered the recession that the chart evidences did so as a consequence of US banking failure and UK banking regulation failure, and that these events were not, in any way, Scotland’s fault. But Scotland has paid a heavy price for them.

That is most especially seen in the size UK deficit that has been sharted with Scotland and, as importantly, in the quantitative easing figures. Not only was Scotland burdened with a heavy cost for bailing out the south-east of England and its failed main commercial activity, but that same sector got, in effect, the whole benefit of the Bank of England’s quantitative easing programme that created more than £400 billion during the period from 2010 to late 2019, which was intended to, and did, shore up those banks' balance sheets. It coincidentally boosted almost all asset prices, including property values in the south-east of England, but the spillover effect, most especially to Scotland, was remarkably limited.

So just as Scotland was always going to have an issue with a decline in oil revenues and needed investment it was hit by:

  • a recession not of its own making for which it had to pay;
  • a lack of investment whilst money was literally poured into the south-east of England, and
  • all its tax bases were undermined (including oil revenues) by decisions in London, which was doing all it could to boost the tax bases of England for which devolved powers for Scotland have never been considered because it is considered that they are not even relevant to its needs.

And that does mean that in that case that Scotland suffered downturn constructed in London, whose aim it has been over the last decade to show that Scotland cannot, supposedly, be independent. A different government, with a different policy (and maybe no such thing is plausible within the Union now) might have delivered a very different policy for Scotland, but that government did not exist. Instead we have one that gloats like this:

This is London saying to Scotland that it should learn its place and be quietly grateful when, as a matter of fact, the figures used to make this claim are wrong and Scotland need not be grateful because London has in fact generated £400 billion or more for investment in the rest of the UK using quantitative easing from which Scotland has seen no benefit whatsoever, with the unsurprising consequence that its tax revenues have been suppressed whilst those of the rest of the UK have been less so.

My tweet was intended to call this out. London has created what is alone describes the Scottish deficit when the Scottish government actually does not have one. And that is deliberate and part of the whole policy of English exceptionalism that underpins the whole English nationalist agenda that this government pursues, which amongst other things assumes that the rest of the world are idiots who will not notice that such an agenda is being pursued (just look to Brexit for the evidence).

I will call them out. Their claims are wrong. Scotland has problems because London has made them by diverting resources to the south-east of England and yet still charges Scotland for their use whilst denying Scotland any significant revenue-generating investment opportunities or support. My suggestion is that this will continue until Scotland says no to it doing so by declaring itself independent.

And I should add, Wales should also take note.

We need activist lawyers. They are our protection from a government that is on the path to fascism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 4:12pm in

Tags 

Ethics, Politics

The Law Society tweeted this yesterday:

It is now apparent that this claim by the government was not a ‘one off’. Note the quotes in this tweet:

That The Times is using the same language as the Home Office is not by chance: the aim is to discredit those lawyers who are doing what we expect lawyers to do in in a society that upholds the rule of law, which is to defend their clients’ rights as defined by law.

To vilify those lawyers who are defending human rights that are enshrined in law is deeply dangerous.

It suggests that the government sees lawyers as an enemy. That, of course, is part of the route to fascism.

It suggests that some people do not deserve the rights the law provides to them, as others do, but which only those others are entitled to enjoy. That, of course, is also part of the route to fascism.

And it eventually says that only those who conform to the government’s expectations  should think of practising law. Again, that is part of the route to fascism.

And I think that if we have a government that is clearly on the path to fascism we have a duty to say so. So I am doing so.

You Know In Your Heart That the Day of Real Resistance Is Coming

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 3:50pm in

First demonstrations across the US, now a guillotine in front of Jeff Bezos' house. Is this more #Resistance or a system-breaking resistance?

Protesters in Multiple States Are Facing Felony Charges, Including Terrorism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 7:33am in

Tags 

Justice, Politics

Prosecutors and lawmakers in several states have responded to mass protests against police brutality by charging demonstrators with committing felonies, including terrorism charges. The trend of criminalizing protest has been on the uptick since the 2016 protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, during and after which numerous states upped charges for protests “near critical infrastructure” as felonies. 

Since 2016, 14 states have enacted new laws to restrict the right to peaceful assembly, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks related state and federal legislation. But in the wake of the nationwide movement in support of Black lives, numerous states have increased the severity of criminal penalties for protesters along political lines and are prosecuting them more aggressively, as demonstrations continue with no sign of slowing down. 

Just last week, following more than 60 days of demonstrations outside the State Capitol, Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a law that made it a felony to participate in some types of protests, including camping out overnight on state property. Charges for the same activity were previously classified as a misdemeanor. In Tennessee, people convicted of felonies lose their voting rights — making the new law a tool for disenfranchisement. 

Earlier this month, police in Muscatine, Iowa, apprehended two people they say were attempting to drive a vehicle into the city Public Safety Building and got stuck on a planter. They charged both men with numerous counts, including terrorism. That follows an Oklahoma district attorney’s pursuit of terrorism charges against five young people, including three teenagers and two people in their 20s. The fourth-term prosecutor also threw felony charges at numerous other people in relation to protests and damage to local and police property in late May. 

The terrorism charges reveal a “false equivalency between people who kill, and people who commit acts of property damage,” said Kate Chatfield, policy director at the Justice Collaborative, a policy and media organization focused on mass criminalization and incarceration. “Maybe not a great thing.” 

“To say that the power of the state will be wielded in this way against political enemies is incredibly frightening,” Chatfield said, drawing a parallel to the post-9/11 era, when many people who had never committed an act of violence were prosecuted for terrorism. “Let’s not ignore the fact that we have a history of this in this country. A very recent history. And a continuing history, unfortunately.”

The nationwide protests prompted by George Floyd’s killing have continued through the summer, though at a lower intensity over the last month — before picking back up this week. Streets across the country swelled with demonstrators after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake in the back seven times, in front of his children. Blake is paralyzed from the waist down, his father told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. Protesters burned down a state Department of Corrections building on Monday. The following night, armed white members of a militia group organized counterdemonstrations to protect local property. Video footage from Kenosha shows the militia members chatting with the police. Shortly after the video was captured, one member of the militia shot and killed two protesters, and left a third in serious condition. Police arrested 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in Illinois on Wednesday and charged him with first-degree intentional homicide. 

“When you hear our president talk about Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization, or antifa as a terrorist organization, it is the kind of thing that — his statement holds no weight in law, but it sends a message to prosecutors like this that they’ll be supported,” said Thomas Harvey, justice project director at the Advancement Project, a non-profit civil rights group. “And even more frighteningly, I think it sends a message to people like the militia members we saw in Kenosha, and gives them the state and the latitude to commit even more violence than what we see on a daily basis in this country against black and brown folks.”

In some states where police have charged protesters en masse with felonies, prosecutors have swiftly dropped them, calling into question the reasoning behind the original charges. 

In Louisville, Kentucky, police arrested 87 protesters who had staged a sit-in on the lawn of a home belonging to state Attorney General Daniel Cameron last month — part of an ongoing  call for accountability in the killing of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT whom three Louisville police officers shot at least eight times inside her home in March. (The officers were acting on a no-knock warrant in connection with a suspect who did not live at Taylor’s residence. The police department fired one of the three officers who were involved in June. Local activists including Louisville Black Lives Matter worked with Taylor’s family to develop a list of demands, including firing, charging, and convicting the three officers.) Three days later, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell dismissed the felony charges and said his office would consider misdemeanors and other violations for prosecution at a later date. On Tuesday, Louisville police arrested another 68 protesters and charged them with obstructing a highway and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors.

In some states where police have charged protesters en masse with felonies, prosecutors have swiftly dropped them, calling into question the reasoning behind the original charges.

Earlier this month in Washington, D.C., police arrested 41 protesters in the Adams Morgan neighborhood on charges of felony rioting and assaulting police officers. The Metropolitan Police Department said in a tweet on August 14 that it only arrested people “engaged in rioting behaviors.” Between May 30 and June 1, District police arrested more than 100 people on charges of burglary, destroying property, and violating curfew, including at least 40 charges of felony rioting. Prosecutors dropped most of the charges in both sets of arrests.

In Salt Lake City on Friday, a judge dropped possible life sentence charges facing protesters who poured paint, broke windows, and posted signs at the District Attorney’s Office building, reducing some charges to lower-class felonies and misdemeanors. In June, West Valley police and FBI agents arrested two men in Salt Lake who had allegedly threatened officers and were headed to protests armed with multiple weapons. Prosecutors later charged one man with terrorism. 

Also in early June, police officers in Columbia, South Carolina, arrested more than 80 protesters and charged three men with instigating a riot, typically a low-level felony or misdemeanor. 

Elected officials participating in the protest have also been caught in the crackdown. In Portsmouth, Virginia, on Monday, sheriff’s deputies delivered a summons charge to the vice mayor, after a resident pressed misdemeanor criminal charges against her for calling on the Portsmouth police chief to resign. Earlier this month, police brought felony charges against the Virginia State Senate pro tempore, a local school board member, local NAACP leaders, and public defenders for injury to a monument and conspiracy, in relation to the destruction of confederate statues in June.

Federal authorities have also carried out their own crackdown on demonstrations, arresting protesters in Portland, Oregon, and New York City in recent months. The FBI has opened some 300 domestic terrorism investigations since late May. Last year, according to the agency, most federal arrests for domestic terrorism involved white supremacy, though the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit has also investigated a fictional “black identity extremists” movement. The FBI has also quietly investigated white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement in recent years, The Intercept reported. 

Among the most serious recent charges against protesters are those of terrorism in Oklahoma.  There, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged three teenagers and two other people in their 20s with terrorism related to their alleged activity during protests in late May. 

“We found it especially inappropriate — and unconstitutional — because it was made with the explicit purpose of silencing protesters who are standing up for Black lives,” American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma Staff Attorney Megan Lambert told The Intercept, regarding the recent terrorism charges. “We didn’t even see terrorism charges for the Murrah bombing,” she added, referring to the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The terrorism charges, which were filed in June and July, stem from allegations that protesters set fire to a sheriff’s van and caused damage to a local bail bond business. Last month, Prater charged two other teenagers with terrorism in connection to demonstrations at the end of May, bringing the total to five. The DA also charged multiple people with rioting, assaulting officers, and at least five others for incitement to riot for painting murals in the city’s downtown area in June. 

Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews, the ACLU of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma City Black Lives Matter founder and Executive Director Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson slammed Prater’s move, saying that the charges of terrorism were far too harsh. During a press conference early last month, Andrews said she didn’t condone vandalism or destruction of property but that Prater was using the charges to silence protesters. “‘Use your First Amendment right in a way that we don’t like, and we will ruin your future.’ These charges are an attempt to send a message, ‘We’re tired of hearing about Black lives,’” she said. 

Prater took office in 2007 and is currently serving his fourth term as DA. His current term ends in 2023. He started his career in law enforcement at age 19 as a deputy sheriff, according to his bio. “These people are speaking out against violence that Prater himself has largely been complicit in,” Lambert said. “This is just another example in a pattern from David Prater’s office of upholding white supremacy.” Prater’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

“Many of these charged protesters are young teenagers. … So they are facing spending their entire lives in prison simply for, in some cases, attending a protest to try and hold police accountable.”

Last May, Prater declined to charge officers who killed 17-year-old Isaiah Lewis, who was in the middle of a mental health crisis when police shot him in Edmond. Over the last few months, local activists have brought renewed attention to Lewis’s killing, which has been a focus of some demonstrations in the area. Other cases have gotten less attention, Dickerson pointed out. Derrick Scott, 42, died last May after being apprehended and restrained by Oklahoma City police. In video footage of the arrest released in June, Scott tells officers he can’t breathe and asks them repeatedly to give him his medicine. An officer replies, “I don’t care.” 

“The Scott family is not receiving any justice,” Dickerson said, adding that Scott’s killing was eerily similar to Floyd’s. Earlier this month, police shot 32-year-old James Harmon in the head, saying that he had a weapon in his hand (Oklahoma is an open-carry state). Harmon is still in the hospital. 

“Systemic racism, institutional racism, and white supremacy is so deep-rooted,” Dickerson said, agreeing with Lambert’s characterization of Prater’s office. “There’s really nothing more Oklahoman than that.” 

“This was a state that was formed basically for them to literally lump Natives and Blacks here together,” she said. “And so it has always been very intentional and deliberate, for us to be victims of what I consider state-sanctioned violence and state-targeted violence.”

For the Oklahoma City teens and young adults facing terror charges, “what’s next is they fight for their lives,” Lambert said. The statute carries a maximum of life in prison. “Many of these charged protesters are young teenagers. … So they are facing spending their entire lives in prison simply for, in some cases, attending a protest to try and hold police accountable.” Criminal defense attorneys are still working to get those charges dropped or significantly reduced.   

“Some of the young people were saying, ‘We should go to Kenosha and stand with the young people there,” Dickerson said. “And I was like, ‘How do you choose?’”

Correction:  Aug. 28, 2020
A previous version of this article referenced terrorism charges brought by the Oklahoma City prosecutor against environmental protesters in 2013. While police officers initially booked the protesters on such charges, the prosecutor declined to file them. The reference has been removed. 

The post Protesters in Multiple States Are Facing Felony Charges, Including Terrorism appeared first on The Intercept.

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