Industry lobbyist David Bernhardt has been nominated for deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior, where he would directly oversee management of more than 1,600 endangered species and millions of acres of public lands.
Over the past 20 years, Bernhardt has taken full advantage of the revolving door between industry and government — including a stint as Interior’s top lawyer under the George W. Bush administration — and the law firm of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck, where he represented big agriculture, oil and gas, and mining companies.
The first 100 days of the Trump administration brought conflicts of interest and ethical and legal problems on a massive scale not seen since at least President Nixon—and perhaps ever, according to a new report just released by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
Ahead of the Peoples Climate March and nearly 7 years to the day since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Trump administration issued an executive order today directing federal agencies to revise the 5-year-plan for offshore drilling previously approved by the Obama administration. The order could expose the Atlantic, the Pacific, and Arctic coasts, which are excluded from the current plan, to future drilling.
Donald Trump today directed the Department of the Interior to review the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Oil and Gas leasing program, and will seek to undo President Barack Obama’s permanent protection for the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, threatening Virginia coastal economies and communities.
Drilling off Virginia’s coasts will present an immediate threat to coastal communities and wildlife while posing a long term one as it contributes to climate change.
In response Kate Addleson, Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter
Commenting on President Trump's first 100 days in office, Kate Higham, Assassinations Project Lead at human rights organization Reprieve said:
“President Trump has used his first 100 days in office to ramp up a failed, Obama-era policy of secret strikes around the world. Trump could have reversed this disastrous policy - instead, he has ramped it up, killing innocent children in countries like Yemen.
"The US assassination programme is illegal and unconstitutional - it is the death penalty without trial, on a global scale.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s staff and members will join the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C. and across the nation on Saturday in united resistance to Trump’s attacks on the climate during his first 100 days in office.
The Center will co-lead the Fossil Fuel Resistance Bloc in Washington and will spearhead and join sister marches in Los Angeles, Oakland, Flagstaff, Denver, St. Petersburg, Portland, Tucson and other cities.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, students and families join the national strike billed as a “day without immigrants” to demonstrate that the country depends on the labor of immigrants and working class people of color. Immigrant rights groups, worker centers and unions come together for what organizers expect to be the largest national strike since the Mega Marches of 2006.
The Cosecha Movement is planning strikes and marches in over 40 cities across the country, along with mass student walkouts and escalated actions.
The Trump administration is holding a meeting next week to look for ways to let polluters dump more toxic contaminants into the nation’s drinking water. Americans who want clean water can also try to speak up, but the opportunity for public input is severely restricted.
At 11:05 pm CT, the state of Arkansas executed Kenneth Williams by lethal injection. Says Rita Sklar, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas:
“Reports that Kenneth Williams coughed, convulsed, and lurched during his execution raise serious questions about whether the state, in its rush to use up its supply of midazolam before it expired, has violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Mr. Williams’ execution must be reviewed to investigate the witnesses’ accounts and determine whether the state tortured Mr. Williams before killing him.
Why are some of us walking that extra mile? We are marching to underscore a specific political message, to make more visible certain sectors of our growing progressive community and to show what a principled coalition looks like in one local context. This year the scope and complexion of the march will change.
Representatives of OCAD, Mijente and Black Youth Project 100 speak at the #RealSanctuary press conference in Chicago, Illinois, on January 26, 2017. (Photo: Sarah Ji)
Chicago—May Day is now a worker's day observed all over the world, but its origins are in Chicagoans' fight for an eight-hour (as opposed to unlimited) workday. On May 1, tens of thousands of Chicagoans will take a day off work and school to commemorate May Day. This year, the protests are being organized with a greater sense of urgency, given the racist and reactionary policies coming from Washington, DC, the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield and Chicago's City Hall, and new forces will be participating.
One of these new forces is the six-month old "Resist. Reimagine. Rebuild." (R3) Chicago coalition, which includes 30 grassroots organizations primarily led by Black, Latinx, Arab, Muslim and Asian-American activists, many of them millennials. R3, which is part of the national Beyond the Moment Coalition initiated by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), is planning to rally on May Day outside of two sites of repression and injustice: the Chicago FBI headquarters and the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The group will then join labor and immigrant rights groups in Union Park for a mega-rally and march to downtown.
Why are some of us walking that extra mile? We are marching to underscore a specific political message, to make more visible certain sectors of our growing progressive community and to show what a principled coalition looks like in one local context.
The message is this: Beginning with the powerful and historic immigrant rights marches of 2006, May Day in Chicago has focused on immigration and labor, and has been primarily based in our large and diverse Latinx community. This year the scope and complexion of the march will change, while still honoring its origins.
Building upon the leadership of M4BL, R3 is emphasizing the importance of naming police violence and the increased criminalization of Black and Brown communities as a critical part of our May Day agenda.
Black Youth Project 100 and Mijente have teamed up nationally to help frame this new emphasis as a call for an expanded notion of sanctuary, and Organized Communities Against Deportations in Chicago is part of this call as well. Through racial and ethnic profiling, and the harsh and violent policing of certain communities, and with laws that target and punish marginalized people, we are seeing a growth in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers as a corollary to the persistent plague of racist mass incarceration.
This country imprisons more than 2 million people, mostly poor and unemployed workers, who are treated like non-citizens when they are incarcerated and like second-class citizens when released. So, the precarious relationship to citizenship is something poor people of color and all immigrants have in common.
All Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, have been essentially criminalized through the malicious and racist rhetoric of the 45th president. Police violence and shootings in Black communities continue unabated, although the press seems to have lost interest in them. Meanwhile, the new attorney general, former segregationist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, is threatening to "revisit" DOJ consent decrees that sought to at least modestly deter police violence and corruption.
While much of the media focuses on the theatrics of tyranny in Washington, we cannot afford to ignore or minimize the ongoing reality of police violence in Black communities and the racist raids, deportations and harassment of Black, Brown, Arab and South Asian immigrant communities. Arabs and Muslims, in particular, have been typecast and vilified as "terrorists," and a blatantly discriminatory immigration ban looms. "Criminalization" is the method by which many of us have been deemed "other," undeserving of rights and deserving of containment, harassment and persecution.
It is not enough to say we agree on all these things. We have to recognize the organizing that preceded Donald Trump's election as we build coalitions and united front alliances in this surreal era of looming fascism. We have witnessed a resurgent Black Freedom Movement in recent years, marked by some of the most intense and consistent protests since the 1970s, with Black, queer folk and Black, feminist organizers in the lead. Under the rubric of M4BL (formerly, and inclusive of, Black Lives Matter), thousands of rallies, disruptions, shut downs and marches brought the issue of systemic racism and state violence to the attention of a broader public.
M4BL activists have consistently linked their opposition to police violence to their critique of economic injustice and racial capitalism, which have ravaged Black and Brown communities coast to coast, and north to south.
There is an erroneous argument coming from some sectors of the left that suggests we need to put our differences, our identities and our competing priorities on the back burner for the sake of an ill-defined "common good." That is the formula for a fragile, brittle coalition that will not stand the test of time. However, if we forge a united front that is unapologetically anti-racist; that recognizes the fact that class exploitation has always been unevenly suffered; that refuses to choose between "good" and "bad" immigrants; that rejects anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia; and that supports the rights, issues and well-being of LGBTQIA people, then we will stand a better chance of enduring and winning.
So, in addition to marching for labor rights and against the increasing wealth disparity in this country and the excess of the 1%, we are also marching this May Day to say no to the racism and xenophobia that has fueled the current mess we find ourselves in. As US bombs fall on Syria and Afghanistan, we are also reminded of the dangers of militarism as another form of state violence.
So, here in Chicago, many of us will get up early on May Day. At 11 am, we will gather at the corner of Ogden and Roosevelt to underscore the call for expanded sanctuary. The logic of our feeder march is to underscore critical ideas that are a part of the larger effort. We can be united without being uniform. Building coalition is messy but necessary work.
As civil rights activist and cultural worker Bernice Johnson Reagon once wrote, "if you are in coalition and you are comfortable, your coalition is probably not broad enough."
With this in mind, we seek to broaden our coalition based on the analysis that even if we speak different languages and feel the blows of oppression differently, we have a shared interest in resisting the attacks being waged against us, collectively reimagining something better and building a viable alternative.
Note: Readers in Chicago can join the R3 coalition feeder march on May 1 at 11 am at the corner of Ogden and Roosevelt. The R3 march will head up Ogden Avenue to join the Union Park march at 1 pm, at which point the combined marches will head downtown. For more information follow the Resist Reimagine Rebuild Chicago page on Facebook or email email@example.com.
Readers in other locations can learn about their local marches by visiting the Beyond the Moment website and are encouraged to follow the #beyondthemoment hashtag, and text the word "updates" to 90975.
Who are the billionaire bandits responsible for turning democracy in the United States into a joke? In this new documentary, dogged sleuth Greg Palast investigates the GOP's vote-purging and other dirty tricks that helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Click here to order The Best Democracy Money Can Buy on DVD by making a donation to Truthout today!
With all the discussion of the contentious 2016 election, the most shocking fact is often ignored: that millions of people had their votes stolen through malicious, means. The Republican Party is currently working to purge millions more voters leading up to the 2018 election.
To explain this major attack on our supposed democratic process, Abby Martin interviews investigative reporter Greg Palast, who has done the most extensive work uncovering this massive disenfranchisement campaign.
To mark the 100th day of Donald Trump's presidency, thousands of climate activists from around the country are converging in Washington, D.C. on Saturday for the People's Climate March. Already, Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord, begun dismantling President Obama's climate legacy and revived the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. He has also put climate change deniers in charge of several key agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, and proposed slashing the budget of the EPA and other climate programs. This comes as scientists have confirmed 2016 was the warmest year on record. Our guest is Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, who helped organize this latest march and notes: "Weekends are for fighting tyranny."
Please check back later for full transcript.
Republicans are working to gut net neutrality and other consumer protections online, and Democrats are using the issue to drive a wedge between the GOP and voters. Meanwhile, the same activists who turned net neutrality into a household name two years ago have vowed to make Republicans pay.
The internet is quite popular these days, but companies such as AT&T and Comcast that provide internet service are not. That's one reason why Democrats are betting that voters will punish Republicans in the next election for scrapping rules designed to stop internet providers from harvesting personal information without permission and manipulating how easily users can access certain parts of the web.
The threat of voter disapproval was not enough to thwart the legislation repealing online privacy rules that the Republican majority recently rushed through Congress with party-line votes. Democrats hammered their Republican colleagues for selling out their constituents' personal information to big business, a charge that could come back to haunt the GOP now that a looming fight over net neutrality at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promises to keep the broadband lobby in the media spotlight.
"I think there was a great political education that just took place after the privacy vote was cast," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) told reporters on Wednesday.
A few hours later, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to dismantle his commission's authority to enforce net neutrality rules. The rules prevent internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T from blocking or slowing access to web content, or providing priority speeds to web services like Netflix in exchange for special payments. It also bars sweetheart deals with wealthy media conglomerates, ensuring that the corporate media does not dominate the web.
To enforce these rules, the FCC voted in 2015 to classify ISPs as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act, allowing the government to regulate the internet more like a public utility that everyone needs to use. ISPs have been trying to sue and lobby their way out from under the classification ever since.
Net Neutrality on the Chopping Block
Pai, who was once a lawyer for Verizon, consistently promoted the industry's positions on net neutrality and other reforms during the Obama administration. After taking office, Donald Trump rewarded Pai with the top seat on the commission under the FCC's new Republican majority. Like other Republicans in Washington, Pai has quickly moved to slash regulations established under President Obama.
"Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake," Pai said in a speech laying out his plans on Wednesday. "Most importantly, I said that Title II regulation would reduce investment in broadband infrastructure."
As expected, ISPs such as AT&T and Verizon issued statements supporting Pai's proposal, while digital rights and consumer groups are launching a coordinated campaign to oppose him at every turn. Advocates say it's clear whose side the public is on.
Voters tend to support net neutrality, as do a large number of tech startups and web services that don't want to pay extra fees in order to compete. Moreover, people don't like their internet providers. ISPs consistently rank at the bottom of the 43 industries surveyed by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. House Republicans who voted to repeal the privacy rules received an average $138,000 in campaign contributions from ISPs and are probably more eager to defend them against regulation than the average voter.
"When the internet is under attack, we fight back," said Craig Aaron, CEO of the digital rights group Free Press, in a statement. "Pai's move threatens to erase one of the most important victories for the public in the FCC’s history, to defang a needed watchdog, and to leave people everywhere at the mercy of the country’s most-hated phone and cable companies."
Back in 2014, a massive pushback from the media, Silicon Valley and internet users, organized in large part by groups like Free Press, generated an unprecedented 3.7 million comments on net neutrality. The outcry pushed the FCC to adopt strong net neutrality protections under orders from President Obama. The activists who built that movement are preparing for a repeat performance now that net neutrality is on the chopping block under President Trump.
Net Neutrality Redux: The Coming Backlash
On Wednesday, a coalition of digital rights groups announced a campaign to relaunch BattleForTheNet.com, a website that went viral and helped large numbers of people file comments with the FCC in 2014. The groups pledged to send more than 1 million comments to the FCC in the coming weeks. Consumers Union, the policy arm of the group that publishes Consumer Reports, has launched its own online petition.
"Hell hath no fury like the internet scorned," said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, one of the groups behind BattleForTheNet.com. "We’ll fight tooth and nail to defend net neutrality and keep the web free from censorship."
Democrats in Congress smell blood and are jumping on the bandwagon. On Wednesday, Aaron and Greer joined Sen. Markey and two other Democrats, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Sen. Ron Wyden, in a press conference announcing the campaign and warning Republicans that gutting protections for consumers online would backfire.
Greer said the message is already getting across, as evidenced by 15 Republicans who broke rank and voted against repealing the privacy rules in the House. The rules, which were established under Title II and had yet to go into effect, would have required ISPs to ask permission before gathering sensitive personal information such as web browsing records from their customers and sharing the data with third parties.
Greer said the ISPs have "poisoned" the debate over online privacy and net neutrality, turning consumer protection into a "partisan issue."
"I think Republicans are misjudging their base on this," Greer said.
Pai wants to exempt ISPs from Title II and send the job of enforcing net neutrality back to the Federal Trade Commission, an agency that does not have the ability to protect consumers like the FCC can, according to net neutrality supporters. This cannot happen overnight. Unlike the privacy rules, which the Republican majority was able repeal quickly under the Congressional Review Act, an obscure legislative tool used to roll back a number of Obama-era regulations, the FCC's rulemaking process could take months.
Pai said the FCC would begin taking public comments when it releases a proposal on May 18, giving Democrats and advocacy groups plenty of time to gather momentum and articulate that the effort is a giveaway to the same powerful broadband companies that send consumers a bill every month. Blumenthal said that even the ISPs themselves should reconsider their support for Pai's plan.
"The bad guys are potentially targets, and they are going to have to think twice about whether they want to fight this fight, because it will be a fight," Blumenthal said.
Net neutrality has long been surrounded by obtuse technical jargon, but the political lines drawn around it are now clear. Republicans and the ISPs argue that "light touch" regulation will foster innovation and investment in infrastructure. Advocates say the ISPs have proven that they can't be trusted to respect net neutrality and the rights of their customers on their own, and a strong government watchdog is needed to protect consumers and the internet itself.
Democrats and digital activists are betting that a large chunk of the public will agree with the latter, and they are ready pounce now that the Trump administration is headed in the opposite direction.
US Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. during a the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day commemoration ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, April 26, 2016. (Photo: Logan Mock-Bunting / The New York Times)
Attempts by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to ease the concerns of North Korean leadership may have backfired spectacularly on Thursday, when a high-ranking military commander refused to rule out the possibility of the US toppling Pyongyang "for the heck of it."
Adm. Harry Harris, head of Pacific Command, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to brief lawmakers about the simmering conflict on the Korean peninsula -- tensions that could ratchet up following the unsettling exchange between the admiral and Sen. Graham.
Characterizing Kim Jong Un's dash to a deliverable nuclear weapon as an "insurance policy" against perceived US aggression, Sen. Graham tried to assure the North Korean government that they're mistaken, and that the US isn't interested in regime change.
"Is it fair to say, we do not have any intention of invading North Korea at all?" Graham asked Adm. Harris. "Nobody has told you get ready to invade North Korea."
"That is not fair to say, sir," Harris countered. "I believe the President has said that all options are on the table."
"Yeah, but I mean we're not just going to go in and take North Korea down for the heck of it," Graham responded, trying again to get the Admiral to dispel the notion of US aggression.
Harris persisted, replying: "I don't want to get into what we could or couldn't do."
"Well North Korea thinks we're going to invade at any moment," Graham pushed on. "Do you think that's part of our national security strategy—without provocation to attack North Korea?"
"I think North Korea has provided provocation already," Harris said.
Despite the exchange, Graham concluded his questioning with a message to Pyongyang: "In case North Korea is listening, none of us want to invade your country."
The senator's overtures, however, weren't just undermined by US Pacific Command, but also by his own prior words. A day earlier, during an interview with NBC, Graham defended the idea of a preemptive strike on North Korea.
"It'd be terrible, but the war would be over there, it wouldn't be here," Graham said. "It would be the end of North Korea, but what it would not do is hit America."
On Wednesday, the entire US Senate was invited to the White House for a rare briefing on the North Korea situation. Most lawmakers emerged from the meeting confused about its purpose.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told CNN that he "learned nothing new" at the gathering. "I'm not quite sure why we went all the way down to the White House," he said.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the briefing, "okay." When asked if it was "worthwhile," Corker said: "I'm not sure."
During Thursday's hearing, Adm. Harris told lawmakers that a newly-deployed missile defense system in South Korea would be "operational in the coming days."
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system was installed over the objections of Russia and China, who are concerned about the radar system's wide reach.
North Korean state news, meanwhile, reported that there was a massive military drill ongoing Wednesday, featuring a live-fire artillery barrage. The drill was held to commemorate the 85th anniversary of the North Korean army's creation.
US and South Korean military units have also been conducting joint drills of their own.
Wall Street's business model is fraud. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created to fight fraud. So naturally, Wall Street and Republicans in Congress are trying to kill the CFPB as fast as they can.
The CFPB came into existence after the public learned about the Wall Street frauds that led to the near-collapse of the financial system in 2008. Financial firms were found to have been scamming, lying, defrauding, manipulating and generally tricking people into signing up for things that did little more than drain their funds. And making Wall Street types really, really rich.
In some cases, financial firms were draining people's funds even though they hadn't signed up for it. A recent example of the work of the CFPB was nailing Wells Fargo for fraudulently opening accounts for customers, then charging them fees for the accounts.
In the time the CFPB has been in existence, it has:
● Returned $11.8 billion to 29 million consumers from financial companies that broke the law;
● Enacted key rules, including a series of reforms to reduce foreclosures; and
● Handled more than 1 million consumer complaints, requiring companies to respond directly to their consumers and, where necessary, issue refunds.
CFPB Cracking Down On Payday Lenders
Payday loans are a debt-trap scam. The payday loan industry intentionally loans money to people who can't pay the loan back, then traps them into a cycle that drains them of everything. The push borrowers into loan after loan, with the new loans paying back to old loans, always at extremely high interest rates. The idea is to collect more and more from the borrower, until they're completely broke, then more on to another borrower.
Don't take my word for it. This is a business model, and industry insiders actually say so:
"The theory in the business is [that] you've got to get that customer in, work to turn him into a repetitive customer, long-term customer, because that's really where the profitability is."
The CFPB is trying to crack down on the predatory payday lending industry that hits working people so hard and is so lucrative for Wall Street. The Bureau proposing rules that would:
● Require lenders to make sure the borrower has the ability to repay loans,
● Limit loan payments to amounts that would not be a financial hardship,
● Not allow lenders to allow consumers to immediately get another loan or carry more than one loan,
● Limit how often lenders can directly try to take payments from a borrower's account if there are not sufficient funds to cover the payment.
Wall Street's Financial CHOICE Act
Wall Street is trying to get rid of, or at least neuter, the CFPB. Wall Street makes a lot of money from scams, trickery, fraud, gimmicks and manipulation, and the CFPB is cramping Wall Street's style.
And Wall Street gives a LOT of money to politicians. So Wall Street likes to get its way.
Now Wall Street and Republicans in Congress are pushing a bill they call The Financial CHOICE Act. The CHOICE Act would strip the CFPB from being able to regulate payday lenders. In fact, the CHOICE Act website, hosted on a taxpayer-funded, U.S. Congress webserver, reads like it is written by people working for, or hoping to soon work for, Wall Street.
The bill would require the agency to get approval from the Republican Congress before it can do anything that interferes with how financial institutions behave. It restricts the Bureau's from writing rules regulating financial companies. It revokes the agency's authority to regulate the use of arbitration clauses to keep people from being able to take financial institutions to court.
The Consumerist explains what the bill means for payday lender regulation:
Section 733 of the Act calls for the "removal of authority to regulate small-dollar credit."
"NO AUTHORITY TO REGULATE SMALL-DOLLAR CREDIT -- The Agency may not exercise any rulemaking, enforcement, or other authority with respect to payday loans, vehicle title loans, or other similar loans," the Act states.
The bill would even repeal a rule that requires investment advisers to act in the best interest of their clients.
Call, Call, Call
Wall Street's CHOICE Act is a "sneak law."
One way the corporate/plutocrat/conservative agenda gets foisted on us is through what I call "sneak laws." These are laws that sneak through state legislatures and the Congress before We the People get a chance to learn about them and organize opposition.
This is a law that can't pass if the public learns about it and organizes to stop it. Spread the word.
Call your Representative. Call your Senators. Tell them you know about this and you oppose it. March. Sign petitions. Give money to progressive organizations that work to get the word out and to organize people who have heard the word.
And then, again: Call your Representative. Call your Senators. Tell them you know about Wall Street's Financial CHOICE Act and you oppose it.
This week's episode discusses the courts blocking Trump's attack on sanctuary cities, selling Whole Foods, Jack Ma and blaming technology for jobs collapse, falling department store jobs since 2000, the British queen's enterprise award to UK worker co-op, Suma. The episode also takes on Trump's corporate tax "reform," the crisis as millions of new entrants into global job markets find too few jobs, SSDI being crudely targeted by Trump's budget director and populism as an elite vs. people formatting of elections.
Visit Professor Wolff's social movement project, democracyatwork.info.
Permission to reprint Professor Wolff's writing and videos is granted on an individual basis. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request permission. We reserve the right to refuse or rescind permission at any time.
Two Years After the Uprising, Black Women's Experiences of Policing in Baltimore Still Under the Radar
Protesters march after the trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, ended in a hung jury in Baltimore, December 16, 2015. Black female victims of police violence, like Mya Hall -- killed two weeks before Freddie Gray -- tend to garner less attention and visible activism than their male counterparts. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)
Two years after the Baltimore Uprising in response to Freddie Gray's killing, Black women are still invisible in the conversation about policing in Baltimore and beyond. It's time for local policymakers and activists to take a more expansive vision of police reform to address women's experiences, even as the Department of Justice pulls back from oversight of local police departments.
Protesters march after the trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, ended in a hung jury in Baltimore, December 16, 2015. Black female victims of police violence, like Mya Hall -- killed two weeks before Freddie Gray -- tend to garner less attention and visible activism than their male counterparts. (Photo: Gabriella Demczuk / The New York Times)
Two weeks before Freddie Gray was killed by Baltimore Police officers, Mya Hall took a wrong turn and wound up dead.
Hall, a Black transgender woman, was killed on March 30, 2015, when she and a companion mistakenly took an exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway that leads to a National Security Agency campus at Fort Meade, Maryland -- as many people have been known to do without incident. In her case, police emptied a hail of bullets into her vehicle even as she was turning around and attempting to leave.
Thirteen days later, Freddie Gray was arrested and suffered extensive injuries -- including a severed spinal cord -- in the custody of the Baltimore police. Ultimately, those injuries would kill him. Gray's death on April 19, 2015, sparked weeks of protest and, eventually, an investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Hall's name and story were rarely seen and heard during the Baltimore Uprising except in tweets posted and at events organized by Black women and trans women. While Hall was not killed by members of the Baltimore Police Department, and the circumstances of her shooting were unique, her death was no less an injustice. A smattering of news stories -- many of which misgendered, demonized and exoticized Hall and her community of transgender women in Baltimore's Old Goucher neighborhood -- followed her killing. And then, nothing.
There has been even less conversation, then and now, as we commemorate the second anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising, about Black women's experiences of policing on the streets of Baltimore."The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence."
"Our collective focus on police shootings overshadows the reality of what is going on for women on a daily basis," said Jacqueline Robarge of Power Inside, an agency that works with criminalized women, in an interview. "The way the police engage women, especially Black women and sex workers, creates a culture of violence. The police use a variety of tactics, including harassment, physical and sexual violence, medical neglect in police custody, and ignoring violence committed by family and community members."
The DOJ investigation prompted by Gray's killing revealed a number of instances in which Baltimore police officers extorted sex from women they alleged were engaged in prostitution or drug-related activities. The women's complaints were poorly and partially investigated, if at all, with little or no consequences for the officers involved. One woman's testimony gathered by Power Inside described, "They call us bitches, whores, prostitutes, tricks.... I've been offered to give head, fellatio, I've been offered to have sex for information or they're gonna lock us up."
According to Robarge, a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University found that 6 percent of study participants involved in prostitution in Baltimore had been coerced to have sex with a police officer within a given month. In Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color, I summarize the sizeable body of research revealing that the police sexual violence found by the DOJ in Baltimore, and committed by now infamous Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, is alarmingly commonplace across the country.Given the choice between facing decades in prison for a drug or prostitution-related charge or performing a sexual act ... women will continue to be targets of sexual shakedowns by police.
Federal Judge James K. Bredar recently approved a consent decree -- an agreement between the Obama DOJ and the City of Baltimore mandating reforms to the police department -- despite the Sessions DOJ's attempts to stall and roll back the process. Unfortunately, the agreement does little to address the police sexual violence found by the DOJ investigation. One of the dangers of the DOJ pulling back from oversight of police departments, and of Sessions' stated intention to ramp up the war on drugs and trafficking enforcement, is that both will create conditions giving police officers tremendous power to do more of the same. Given the choice between facing decades in prison for a drug or prostitution-related charge or performing a sexual act, with little likelihood of accountability for the officer involved, all too many women will continue to be targets of sexual shakedowns by police, in Baltimore and across the country.
Robarge, who submitted testimony to the DOJ and the court overseeing the consent decree, emphasized, "Police sexual violence continues to be ignored here -- people always want to reduce the issue to the unfounding of sexual assault complaints, which is bad enough, but people are roundly ignoring the fact that police are coercing sex and raping people. And it's not just sex workers, it's people they know are visible and vulnerable because they have a warrant or are less likely to be believed. Black women are particularly vulnerable to the whole range of rights violations by the police, but that fact has been stripped out of the conversation."
It's certainly a reality that has consistently failed to come up in both media coverage of sexual violence (even as we mark April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month) and debates over the DOJ's ongoing involvement in Baltimore.
Police sexual violence is not the only form of police brutality against Black women that is not being addressed by the consent decree. A 2014 investigation into use of force by the Baltimore Sun uncovered the story of Starr Brown, a 26-year-old Morgan State University graduate who returned home from work one afternoon in September 2009 and saw a group of girls fighting on her block. When police responded and began to yell at the victims, Brown went outside to urge the officers to chase the aggressors, who had left the scene. One of the officers responded by lunging at her and wrapping his arm around her neck -- despite the fact that both Brown and her neighbors screamed that she was pregnant. The officer later offhandedly said "we hear that all the time." Brown told the Sun, her voice cracking: "They slammed me down on my face ... I was tossed like a rag doll. He had his knee on my back and neck." Without any evidence of wrongdoing on her part, the officers charged her with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest. The charges were dismissed and the city settled Brown's civil suit in 2011.
The same Sun investigation also revealed the case of Barbara Floyd, a 58-year-old Black grandmother who suffered similar treatment as she was standing outside her home observing an undercover drug bust. A Baltimore police officer came up behind her and wrapped his arm around her neck, threw her to the pavement, and ground her face into the sidewalk, opening up a wound on her forehead and sending her blood pressure over 200. The City also eventually settled her lawsuit.
In a piece published in Rolling Stone shortly after the 2015 Uprising exposing the role of "broken windows" policing in the daily police violence against Baltimore residents like Freddie Gray, Matt Taibbi told the story of Makia Smith. Smith, a 33-year-old accountant, was stuck in traffic on her way home one day in 2012 when she saw police surrounding a boy on the ground and began filming. She told Taibbi, "I was hoping that if they saw me, then maybe they would stop doing what they were doing." Instead, an officer ran toward her screaming, "You want to film something, bitch? Film this!" Makia tried to get back into her car, but the officer grabbed her phone, threw it to the ground, dragged her by her hair and threw her on the hood of her car. Her two-year-old screamed in the back seat as she witnessed the abuse. As they arrested Makia, police threatened to turn her daughter over to child protective services. Frantic, she asked a young girl by the side of the road to take the toddler until her grandmother could pick her up. Smith fought the charges piled on her by the officers responsible and brought a civil suit, but the officers were eventually found innocent of any wrongdoing.
And, just this week, 52-year-old Kim Doreen Chase died after collapsing in a holding cell in a Baltimore police precinct under circumstances that leave lingering questions for local advocates, and prompted a departmental investigation.
These are just a few among many more untold stories. According to the Baltimore Police Department's own data, arrests of Black women make up 71 percent of the total number of women's arrests in a city that is 62 percent Black -- a rate of racial disparity similar to that for all arrests, including among arrests of men. Where charges are known, Black women are most frequently arrested for narcotics, prostitution, disorder, assault and theft-related offenses.
These numbers suggest that as Baltimore embarks on the next phase of the consent decree process, there needs to be greater attention to police violence against Black women and to the potential impacts of ramped-up drug and "broken windows" policing the Sessions DOJ is promoting across the country.
Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner have announced their intention to implement court-ordered reforms of the police department, notwithstanding Sessions' second-guessing of consent decrees in Baltimore and elsewhere. But if they, and officials in cities across the country who have expressed similar commitments, are serious about wanting to address issues of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests and use of force against Black communities, then they need to go further to address the experiences of Black women.
They need to adopt and enforce policies that will effectively prevent, detect and hold officers accountable for the kinds of police sexual violence documented by the DOJ. They need to take action to prevent use of force against pregnant women like Starr Brown. They need to stop officers from threatening to put children in the system instead of waiting to place them in the care of family members when mothers like Makia Smith are arrested. And they need to make clear to officers that women like Smith and Barbara Floyd are entitled to observe police activity in their communities without violent retribution.
And, most importantly, they need to move away from aggressive enforcement of "broken windows" offenses like "disorderly conduct," prostitution and low-level drug offenses, and instead redirect resources to meeting the needs identified by women who are involved in the drug and sex trades.
"Women whose stories are told in the DOJ report continue to be hassled, stopped and violated by police. Things need to change more quickly," Robarge urges. It's up to the mayor and commissioner to make sure those changes don't leave Black women targeted by police violence behind.
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