Content Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of abuse and sexual violence.
Lisa Montgomery is the first woman to be executed by the federal government since 1953.
52-year-old Montgomery was killed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute today. Her time of death was 1:31 AM.
Montgomery's crime was heinous by nature: In 2004, Montgomery killed 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett and removed Stinnett's unborn child from her womb. The infant, Victoria Jo, survived and is 16 today.
No one is arguing that Montgomery doesn't deserve a life in prison for her crimes (though whether she deserves a life in a mental asylum is another discussion). But her execution — part of a string of executions that the Trump Administration is ramming in before its dissolution — cannot be extricated from politics, nor can it be extricated from Montgomery's traumatic life story.
Her death was the result of a long, hard-won battle between those who believed she deserved to die and those who believed that a lifetime of sex trafficking, torture, and mental illness merited a life in prison, not government-sanctioned death.
An Early Life
Lisa Montgomery's childhood was a nightmare in every sense. Her mother, Judy, drank during her pregnancy, and Lisa was born with brain damage. Judy would beat and psychologically torment Lisa and her sisters throughout their early years, even beating the family dog to death in front of them.
Starting at the age of 11, Lisa was raped multiple times each week by her stepfather, Jack Kleiner, who also beat her and her mother. The rapes became so frequent that Kleiner even built a makeshift shed on the side of the family's trailer where he could attack Lisa and no one could hear her screams. MRI brain scans show that Lisa suffered brain damage from his brutal retaliations to her attempts to resist.
Over the years, her stepfather began inviting friends over to violently gang rape Lisa for hours on end. Lisa's mother also participated, selling Lisa's body to plumbers and electricians in exchange for utility work and showing no empathy for what was happening to her daughter.
Teachers and doctors often suspected something was happening, but no one ever stepped up to help Lisa.
These were the formative experiences that shaped Lisa Montgomery, experiences that psychologists would later conclude amounted to torture. "This is a story about a woman who is profoundly mentally ill as a result of a lifetime of torture and sexual violence," said Sandra Babcock, a consultant to Montgomery's legal team. "Lisa is not the worst of the worst – she is the most broken of the broken."
Lisa's trials didn't end in childhood. She married her stepbrother at 18, and he continued the cycle, raping and abusing her again and again. Lisa gave birth to four children in four years before being pressured by her husband and mother into a sterilization procedure.
After that, her mental health declined and she began struggling to keep a job. She also started participating in sex work and frequently fell into trances around her children. Following the sterilization, she also often told people she was pregnant.
An Awful Crime
The crime Lisa Montgomery committed, as a journal article from the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide writes, "reflects the depth of her mental illness and despair."
Two days before the crime, Montgomery's abusive ex-husband filed for custody of two of their children. At the time, Lisa told her new husband she was pregnant, but the abusive former husband knew this was impossible because of the sterilization and threatened to expose Lisa in court.
Desperate, and likely in the midst of a psychotic break, Lisa went to the home of Bobbie Jo Stinnett, a woman she had bonded with online over their shared love of dogs. She strangled Stinnett, then removed the infant from Stinnett's abdomen. The crime shattered the Skidmore, Missouri town where it occurred, and some family members called for death as retribution.
The Fight to Stop Lisa's Execution
Lisa's crime was horrific and unforgettable. Lisa herself felt "deep remorse" for the crime "before she lost all touch with reality in the days before her execution," according to her attorney.
But still, simply based on tradition, most murders do not result in the death penalty. Instead, prosecutors must actively make the decision to push for the death penalty. Under the Bush Justice Department, since-disgraced Attorney General Alberto Gonzales chose to break with tradition and pursue the death penalty for Lisa.
Lisa's initial defense team was led by an all-male team of lawyers that included Dave Owen, who had never defended anyone against the death penalty, let alone a woman who had a history of sexual violence and trauma. Experts recommended a more experienced lawyer be put on the team, and so experienced capital defense lawyer Judy Clarke was added. Clarke quickly built up a rapport with Lisa.
But Owen apparently could not stand having to take orders from a female lawyer, so removed her from the team. The male chief investigator on Lisa's case said that it was clear that Owen was "not going to take any orders from any damn woman."
Clarke was removed and banned from visiting Lisa in prison. Of course, Lisa's male team of attorneys failed her in the trial, failing to bring up Lisa's history of abuse and trauma. Instead they disparaged Lisa's mothering skills and the state of her home. Lisa was sentenced to death.
Near the end of her life, a new team of defenders stepped up to try to defend Lisa. They investigated her mental health, finding that Lisa suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, and cerebellar dysfunction, according Amy Harwell, a public defender who worked on Montgomery's case.
Lisa showed "symptoms of dissociation, including confused thinking, major gaps in memory, and an inability to recognize the reality of certain events," explained Dr. Katherine Poterfield, a Bellevue clinical psychiatrist who interviewed Lisa in prison. She added that Lisa's trauma was "massive," one of the most severe cases of dissociative disorder she had ever seen.
"She would not be able to keep her train of thought, and describe strange ways of thinking to describe her reality," said Porterfield. "She lives in a state of disassociation, going in and out all the time. When I asked about her childhood, she would display an inability to connect to her emotions – with a blank facial expression, blank voice, talking about herself in the third person."
While in prison, Lisa also displayed other signs of debilitating mental dissociation, believing that God could speak with her through crossword puzzles and often expressing doubts about whether what she was seeing around her was real.
Montgomery's parents' family trees both feature psychiatric and neurological issues, including mood disorders, intellectual disability, PTSD and schizophrenia. Porterfield compared the abuse Lisa suffered to "pouring lighter fluid onto a spark."
"I have never seen a case like this. I don't know of any execution in the US or elsewhere that has been carried out on someone who has been subjected to such unrelenting sexual torture and violence," said defender Sandra Babcock.
"Talking to Lisa was like talking to Vietnam and Korean war veterans who had been held in holes and bamboo cages under the most horrible conditions," said social worker Janet Vogelsang.
Lisa's own sister and family also came to her defense, begging that Lisa be kept alive and in prison for the sake of her 14 grandchildren.
"I'm bruised, but I'm not broken," wrote Montgomery's sister Diane in an essay. "My sister, Lisa Montgomery, is broken. On December 8, the federal government plans to execute her for a crime she committed in the grip of severe mental illness after a lifetime of living hell. She does not deserve to die." Diane was adopted out of the house at the age of eight and Lisa was four.
"Retribution is one method of accountability for criminal acts," writes Rachel Louise Snyder in The New York Times. "But Ms. Montgomery's life, however much she has left of it, is already irreparably shattered. For many of us, that might seem punishment enough."
For more on the horrific abuse Lisa Montgomery suffered in her early childhood that contributed to her severe menta… https://t.co/nTJ9b7T3tR— Scott Hechinger (@Scott Hechinger)1610543173.0
For the Supreme Court, it wasn't.
The Trump Administration's Bloodlust
Up until the last minute, people fought against Lisa's execution. On Monday, an Indiana judge halted the execution until a mental evaluation could be held. On Tuesday, an appeals court panel overruled the stay. Two further courts – in the district of Columbia and the eighth circuit court – issued their own separate stays.
In his ruling on a stay, Judge James Hanlon found that "the record before the court contains ample evidence that Ms Montgomery's current mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government's rationale for her execution." According to the Death Penalty Information Center, defendants who are so mentally ill they do not understand their crimes are not eligible for execution.
But still, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the execution just before midnight on Tuesday night.
The act has been widely condemned. "The craven bloodlust of a failed administration was on full display tonight. Everyone who participated in the execution of Lisa Montgomery should feel shame," said Montgomery's lawyer, Kelley Henry, in a statement to the USA TODAY Network. "Our Constitution forbids the execution of a person who is unable to rationally understand her execution," she said. "The current administration knows this. And they killed her anyway."
There is a cruel irony — if it could even be called that — to Lisa's death. Throughout her entire life, Lisa was taken advantage of and tortured by people who were supposed to protect her. She was damaged beyond comprehension by men and offered no mercy.
This tradition would extend to the end of her life, when Donald Trump's administration and the Supreme Court he stacked would vote to kill her.
That a man accused of sexual assault by 25 women has executed a woman who suffered psychologically devastating sexual abuse throughout her whole life feels like an appropriate end to a horrible story. That she died on the day of Trump's impeachment trial is another kind of twisted irony.
A Spree of Executions
Throughout 2020, the Trump Administration has rushed 10 prisoners to death in a murderous spree. Joe Biden has pledged to end the death penalty, so the Trump Administration's executions are a clear attempt to exercise and cling to power before it leaves or is forced to leave office.
In the few months since he lost the 2020 US election, Trump's administration has ordered the executions of Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, and Alfred Bourgeois, three Black men. The last time a sitting duck president presided over an execution was when Grover Cleveland presided over the murder of a Native American of the Choctaw Nation named Richard Smith.
Others who received the death penalty this year under Trump include Christopher Vialva and Brandon Bernard, who committed crimes when they were 18 and 19, respectively, making them the first teenage offenders sent to death by the government in 70 years. In addition, Trump came under fire for killing a Navajo man named Lezmon Mitchell, ignoring the fact that the crime was committed on tribal lands, which do not implement the death penalty.
Today, 22 states have abolished capital punishment and support for the death penalty has plummeted to its lowest in 50 years. Not only is a federal death penalty extraordinarily ethically questionable—federal executions are extravagantly expensive and a drain on government resources.
Yet the savagery of Trump's administration's string of executions is yet another affirmation of his and his administration's fundamental beliefs, another example of how easily invocations of "law and order" disintegrate to violence.
"No-one has ever attempted to carry out so many executions at the federal level," said Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "No-one in modern American history has attempted to carry out so many executions in such a short period of time... and no-one has done so in a manner that so closely disregards the rule of law."
This year, on January 5th, Georgia voters will participate in a runoff election to select their state senators. But why is this race so important, important enough to make national news and urgent enough that celebrities and activist groups around the nation are rallying to make sure as many voters as possible get out to the polls?
What's at Stake?
The Georgia runoffs will determine Georgia's two Senate seats. This is so important because the outcome of this election will determine whether there is a Republican or Democratic Senate majority.
To win a Democratic Senate majority, both Democratic candidates — Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock — will have to win their seats. If either Republican candidate, Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue, wins, the Republicans will maintain their Senate majority, and Mitch McConnell will remain Senate majority leader; as currently, Republicans hold 50 of the 100 Senate seats and Democrats hold 48, and there are two independents — Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — who caucus with the Democrats.
Democrats hold the House with a razor-thin majority, and Joe Biden, a Democrat, also holds the White House. But a Republican Senate can easily negate the efforts of Democratic governing bodies. When he was Senate Majority Leader during Barack Obama's presidency, Mitch McConnell was able to block much of Obama's legislation.
In short, in order to pass a substantial coronavirus relief bill, substantial climate crisis legislation, and many of the other initiatives Biden promised in his campaign, we need a Democratic Senate majority. While Mitch McConnell remains in charge of the Senate, every Democratic-leaning bill will face tremendous roadblocks to actualization.
As Jonathan Chait explains in his Intelligencer article, Only a Democratic Senate Can Produce a Moderate Biden Presidency, "McConnell won't bring a bill to the floor unless most Republicans support it," and, "When Biden takes office, the Republican incentive will lean heavily toward demonizing any Biden-supported initiative as a fiendish socialistic plot, making broad GOP support almost impossible."
That means, to put it bluntly: No $2,000 stimulus check and probably no future thanks to unchecked climate change. The stakes are, in fact, quite high.
In 8 days, Georgia has the opportunity to deliver the U.S. Senate majority by electing @ReverendWarnock and @ossoff… https://t.co/nykdQqPBg2— Stacey Abrams (@Stacey Abrams)1609180553.0
What Are Runoffs, and Why Do They Exist?
A runoff occurs when there is no clear winner in an election. Georgia law proclaims that candidates must win over 50% of the total vote to win an election; if this doesn't happen, the race goes to a runoff. In the general election, Warnock won the most votes followed by Loeffler, but neither garnered the 50% needed, and all candidates went to runoffs.
Georgia's runoff elections were created in the 1960s as a way to keep white candidates in power, reports The New York Times, in a majority-white state where Black candidates had better shots at winning a plurality of the vote. Runoffs also typically benefit white candidates whose followers typically vote more frequently.
Who Is Running?
Currently, Senator Kelly Loeffler and Senator David Perdue represent Georgia in the Senate. Kelly Loeffler is a businesswoman and devotee of Donald Trump. The richest US Senator, she made headlines for selling $18 million worth of vulnerable stocks after being briefed on COVID-19, meaning she profited from the coronavirus crisis. (Lawmakers are barred from insider training, but a probe into Loeffler's activity was eventually dropped).
Loeffler's opponent, Rev. Warnock, would be Georgia's first Black senator. He is a pastor at the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King once preached, and he is a strong supporter of Black Lives Matter. For her part, Loeffler has criticized BLM for what she calls its "Marxist" origins.
David Perdue is a Senator and businessman. Similarly to Loeffler, he sold stocks prior to the 2020 stock market crash. He does not believe in climate change, opposes same-sex marriage and wants to slash the Affordable Care Act.
Perdue's opponent, Jon Ossoff, is a 33-year-old former journalist. His campaign made waves when Perdue failed to meet him in their debate, leaving him to speak to an empty room. Ossoff interned for Congressman John Lewis, who passed away earlier this summer, and has painted himself as a youthful idealist and Democratic moderate.
"Both are representing the New South," said Representative Hank Johnson of Warnock and Ossoff. "It's very symbolic. It's providential. I think Georgia and Georgians have changed quite a lot. There are people with old South ideas — but they're fewer and fewer."
What Are the Odds?
Both Democrats and Republicans are pouring millions into the race, and the Republicans have far outspent the Democrats thus far.
Georgia has not seen a Democratic Senator in 20 years. Republicans have far more money and establishment power on their side. The polls aren't looking great for Democratic candidates, though most do show a close race (though who trusts polls anymore, anyway?).
There's also a long and horrifying history of voter suppression in Georgia that is alive and well today. In addition to the racist history of runoffs themselves, Georgia has always fought to make it difficult for anyone not white to vote. After the 15th Amendment allowed Black men to vote, Georgia employed the Ku Klux Klan and other forms of violence and intimidation at the polls.
It has since closed majority-Black polling spaces, creating hours-long waits. It has required "exact match" signatures on voting records, an effort that disqualified thousands — 80% of the disqualified being people of color.
A recent seven-year investigation found that Georgia purged over 200,000 evoters from its rolls, marking them as ineligible when they actually were eligible. These methods disproportionately affected Black voters, voters living in metro areas, and voters who did not speak English. The list of Georgia's effort to suppress its voters' constitutional rights goes on and on and continues to this day.
Democratic candidates, however, are supported by organizers like those at Fair Fight who are on the ground getting people to the polls. Other organizations like New Georgia Project and Southerners on New Ground have been working tirelessly to reach people who have too long been ignored by modern politics, showing them that their vote can help make a tangible difference in their lives. And with the entire country's eyes on Georgia, it's hard to know what the outcome will be.
Either way, it's clear that there's a new organizing infrastructure in Georgia that's here to stay.
What Can We Do?
If you're from Georgia or know people there, contacting family and friends and asking them to contact their family and friends and to ask the same — a technique known as vote tripling — is definitely one of the most effective ways to get out the vote. In addition, many people are going to Georgia to do in-person ballot curing, poll-watching, canvassing, and voter aid such as keeping voters comfortable in line.
If you're not in Georgia, you can join a phonebank or text bank and make calls or send texts to Georgians all throughout the week.
Like texting? How about expanding electoral access? How about the FABULOUS @Peppermint247? Help@us get out the vote… https://t.co/ZxCfnYrkcv— New Georgia Project (@New Georgia Project)1609191711.0
The Justice Department is suing Walmart, alleging that the company helped fuel the opioid crisis that's been devastating America for years.
According to the Associated Press, Walmart may have unlawfully provided controlled substances to its customers, providing thousands of people with prescriptions that should not have been filled. The suit alleges that Walmart's system made it impossible for pharmacists to properly screen and vet the prescriptions they filled, ignoring warnings from pharmacists in the process.
This comes after Walmart sued the Justice Department and the DEA, arguing that hundreds of doctors who should not have been allowed to prescribe controlled substances at all were still actively registered with the DEA.
Both suits are ongoing, but one thing is clear: A lot of powerful organizations are to blame for the opioid crisis.
How the Opioid Crisis Began
The US's opioid crisis has been festering for a long time. In 1991, the first wave of the opioid crisis occurred when a sharp rise in the prescription of opioids led to multiple deaths. At this time, many pharmaceutical companies claimed the risk of addiction to opioids was very low.
In 1995, Purdue Pharma received approval for OxyContin, leading many patients to get hooked. In 2007, they paid a $634 million dollar fine for lying about the drug's addictive nature.
Prescriptions for opioids began to increase over the next few decades, tripling between 1991 and 2011. The second wave of the crisis occurred in 2010, when prescriptions to opioids became harder to obtain and more people started turning to heroin and illegal drugs. The third wave began in 2013, when drugs like fentanyl and synthetic opioids began to rise in popularity, leading to another spike in deaths.
Today, overdoses are the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old. In 2017, there were more than 70,237 deaths related to overdoses and 47,600 were related to opioids. An estimated 130 people die each day from opioid-related misuse. The opioid epidemic has claimed a total of over 400,000 lives.
Who Is to Blame?
The opioid crisis is a complicated issue that can't be neatly blamed on any one company or action. Certainly, the root of the problem lies with Big Pharma — the Purdue Pharmas and Sacklers of the world who lied about the addictive nature of their products and relentlessly sold these dangerous products. Drug company executives and opioid salesmen also have blood on their hands.
In addition, the government is to blame. Evidence continues to find that Congress was and is influenced by pharmaceutical lobbyists, and Congress has passed legislation that crippled the DEA's power.
In addition, Department of Justice-led investigations that should've burned drug corporations to the ground failed to adequately persecute the corporations. Furthermore, the FDA also failed to act when they should have; in 2001, they approved OxyContin for anyone suffering from chronic pain, despite scientists previously finding that the drug is only effective in the very short-term.
Over-prescription and doctors are to blame, as well. Many believed they were doing the right thing but prescribed far, far more than safe limits of drugs to their patients. In addition, distributors like Walmart and other pharmacies are also to blame for not taking adequate precautions.
The root of the issue, however, can't be separated from other systemic crises, like economic inequality, a broken healthcare system, and the chronic health issues that plague many Americans.
"Greed drove opioid manufacturers to oversell and overproduce the drugs, the lawsuits allege," writes Melissa Healy for the Los Angeles Times. "Greed drove companies that distribute prescription drugs to oversupply pharmacies… And greed drove pharmacies to overdispense the drugs to patients who were becoming hooked, to criminals who were diverting them to the black market, and to addicts shopping for a fix."
Arguably, greed also prevents America — one of the richest nations in the world — from offering its citizens healthcare and the ability to live safely.
How Do We Solve the Opioid Crisis?
Solving the opioid crisis won't be simple or easy.
In an immediate sense, any solution to the crisis will have to treat friends and family members of people who suffer from addiction as well as the people themselves. Treatment will have to be made broadly available, as will ongoing support.
"We need to treat opioid use disorder like we treat other chronic health disorders — managed in primary care, using specialists for exacerbations, consultations, and particularly challenging cases," says Bradley Stein of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center.
But to really solve the crisis, we'll have to take a deeper look at what's causing it. Millions of people are still suffering from chronic pain — another root of the opioid crisis — and healthcare workers will have to figure out how to treat pain without using opioids. Solutions might lie in "interventional" pain therapies or other approaches that lead to long-term relief instead of just putting a band-aid over the problem.
In addition, many people are driven to use opioids due to emotional issues or mental health issues. To treat the root causes of the opioid epidemic, we also need to treat mental health issues and treat reasons why people are suffering from such extreme emotional pain in America today.
Those solutions might lie in deepening community ties, in education, and in healing some of the economic inequality that has created so many of our issues. It might also mean making healthcare, housing, healthy food, and opportunity more affordable so people don't wind up in so much pain and distress. It might also mean reducing pollution and other issues that lead people, particularly low-income people and communities of color, to develop chronic health issues.
In short, simply cracking down on prescriptions and distributors and making Big Pharma pay up isn't the solution. It's just the beginning. The solutions of the opioid crisis are bound up with solutions to climate change and economic inequality, and until we understand the interconnectedness of it all, we'll never really treat the crisis at its source.
Christoph Carr talks art, music, and protest.
Scholar, activist, musician, event organizer, author—Christoph Carr is the personification of a visionary. As the co-founder of Brooklyn Wildlife and Black Land Ownership, Carr has long been working to break down boundaries and to create space where art and life can thrive without outside imposition.
More recently, he's been leading unique NYC-based Black Lives Matter protests that attempt to engage directly with the police. His many projects address current, pressing needs—but they also envision a world that could be, a world of connection, deep roots, and human empathy. Here, we spoke about the stories behind his groundbreaking organizations, and the grief and strange possibility buried in the depths of 2020.
Give us your best meme of Kamala destroying Pence at the debates: GO!
After months of deliberation, Joe Biden has picked Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Harris became nationally recognized after she surged to prominence in the 2020 Democratic primary season. Notoriously, she called Biden out about racial issues during the first Democratic debate. "There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she bused to school every day," she said in a speech that has now become famous. "And that little girl was me."
55-year-old Harris is currently the only Black woman in the Senate. She served as California's Attorney General prior to being elected in 2016.
Harris was born in Oakland, California; her father is from Jamaica and her mother from India. She studied at Howard University and then at University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She worked as a prosecutor in Alameda County and San Francisco before running for district attorney and then attorney general.
As a Senator, Harris was on the Intelligence Committee which interrogated Trump about Russia, and she also made waves through her interrogations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General William Barr and Brett Kavanaugh.
This is how Kamala Harris handled Barr. Now imagine how she’ll handle Pence. #BidenHarris2020 https://t.co/UbRcW4vzpy— Rantt Media (@Rantt Media)1597179179.0
Since her 2020 presidential campaign concluded, Harris has focused on the Senate's response to the coronavirus crisis, as well as their response to systemic police brutality and racist violence. In the past, Harris worked closely with Joe Biden's late son, Beau, on challenging big banks in the wake of the housing crisis.
Biden announced the decision via email and text messages to his supporters. "You make a lot of important decisions as president. But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President," he wrote Tuesday afternoon. "I've decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021. These aren't normal times. I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person."
If elected, Harris would be the first vice president to be female or a person of color. "I think that she will help bring a strong voice on issues of immigration and racial justice," said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Fremont Democrat who backed Harris' opponent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries. "Given her life story, to see someone like her selected ... it will be encouraging to so many young people of different backgrounds."
Harris's mixed record as a prosecutor and her vacillation on progressive policies like Medicare for All has come under fire from many progressives' but in this scenario, even the most radical progressives seem to agree that Biden must be elected in order to oust Trump.
Immediate reactions to the Biden-Harris ticket on social media indicated how much supporters were looking forward to seeing Harris face off with Pence during the debates: The match-up seems to be made in meme-heaven.
I will take EXTREME pleasure watching Kamala Harris eat Mike Pence alive in a debate. JUST SAYING.— Adam Rippon (@Adam Rippon)1597180224.0
Kamala Harris waving goodbye to Mike Pence’s wig after the first VP debate https://t.co/ZYplRfTG4E— Joey Nolfi (@Joey Nolfi)1597178245.0
mike pence on his way to the first debate against kamala harris https://t.co/A1PBV94fiI— chase (@chase)1597177622.0
Perhaps meme culture is the best response to the Biden-Harris ticket, as Democrats must support Biden as the only way to oust Trump–though Biden is far from ideal. "Biden is very problematic in many ways, not only in terms of his past and the role that he played in pushing toward mass incarceration, but he has indicated that he is opposed to disbanding the police, and this is definitely what we need," said civil rights activist Angela Davis.
Davis continued, "The election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don't think there's a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold."
Students want police funding redistributed to nurses and counselors.
Since the killing of George Floyd, a massive wave of anti-police and pro-Black lives protests have erupted in America and across the world.
Many of these protests focus on the fact that police actually don't tend to keep Americans safer. Specifically, they pose threats to Black Americans, and this problem pervades every aspect of society, from courtrooms to prisons to schools.
Over the past few months, students (Black and brown students, in particular) have zeroed in on an effort to remove police from schools. Across the nation, student protestors have taken the fate of their schools and peers into their own hands, launching increasingly intense protests in efforts to remove police from their educational institutions.
A Legacy of Violence: The Problems with Policing in Schools
The roots of these protests stretch deep. The first police officers to appear in schools were part of a program pioneered in the 1950s that saw "school resource officers" (SROs) hired.
"Called a lliving symbol of law and orderl by some at the time, the presence of police in schools represented a larger, national tide of clarion calls to solder steel fangs onto America's criminal justice system," writes Alexander Zhang for Slate. But immediately there was pushback. "Students, some critics worried, might be coerced into self-incrimination and service as informants on their friends and families," Zhang continues.
Still, as late as 1975, only one percent of schools employed police officers. By the late 1990s, after the War on Drugs and other racist efforts targeted specifically poor, black and Latinx communities, the majority of urban schools began to employ cops—and today two thirds of students attend school with police, and NYC alone employs more police officers than counselors.
Empathy EducatesPolice in schools
The modern movement to defund and remove police from schools has been in progress for years, and many dedicated student activists have spent countless hours fighting for safer police-free schools.
"It's millions of dollars spent on police," said Denilson Garibo, a senior at Oakland High School. "We're having assistant principals being cut [from] our schools. Our teachers are not getting enough money for what they do. Why are we prioritizing school police over our education?" Garibo has been fighting police for over two years, attending school board meetings and speaking about the dangers that police officers pose to Black students.
It's not hard to see where these student protestors' anger comes from. Police—an often violent, undertrained force endowed with weapons and the power to lock people up—and underserved schools full of vulnerable, impressionable kids make an inherently ugly mix.
"When you have police in schools, you have a culture clash," said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project National Office. "And that culture clash is that their job is to protect people but also they enforce the criminal code, and they were enforcing criminal code on regular teen behavior."
The School-to-Prison Pipeline: A System Targeting Students of Color
The data reveals that these crackdowns disproportionately affect communities of color, making police in schools a racial justice issue.
"During the 2015-2016 school year, Black students accounted for 15% of total enrollment but 31% of students referred to law enforcement or arrested," a report by the Civil Rights Data Collection the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights found.
Black students are, in essence, arrested at double the rate of their white counterparts. Why? Schools that have larger Black and Latinx populations are more likely to have larger police presences, automatically raising these students' chances of being arrested. "Students of color are also more likely to be enrolled in a school with an officer. While 42% of U.S. high schools in the 2013-2014 school year had officers, 51% of high schools with large Black and Latino populations had them," writes Astrid Galvan for wgme.com.
Schools comprised of largely poor, Black, and Latino populations are more likely to be plagued by the school-to-prison pipeline, a structure that filters students to prisons just like some schools filter (typically whiter, wealthier) students towards colleges.
This pipeline exists in part thanks to the disproportionately large police presences in schools that are part of underserved communities, and the dearth of community resources available to these schools.
The school-to-prison pipeline is "part of a national trend that criminalizes rather than educates students — and one that disproportionately targets black students — as "tough-on-crime" policy has resulted in millions of mostly black and brown people winding up behind bars," notes Mariame Kaba in Teen Vogue, adding that "nationally, since 1990, spending on prisons has increased three times as quickly as spending on education."
Police employed in schools are likely to target undocumented children and families, to arrest children for petty crimes that wealthier, whiter children are far more likely to get away with, and to criminalize people based on racist ideas baked into the framework of policing since its inception.
Policing Schools: Why Are There Cops In Schools? www.youtube.com
"The presence of police in schools, I believe, is fueled by a dehumanization of children of color, which suggests that there needs to be a constant surveillance of these children in schools," writes author Monique Morris.
The data is there every step of the way to support all this. According to NPR, "Data show that schools with cops are more likely to refer children to law enforcement, including for non-serious violent behaviors. In 43 states and the District of Columbia, Black students are more likely to be arrested than other students while at school, according to an analysis by the Education Week Research Center."
These studies stand for themselves, but they don't actually reveal the truly harmful and traumatizing effects that police in schools can have on individual students of color. Over the past few years, police have been filmed performing atrocious acts of violence towards students, revealing a deeper pattern and implying a much longer and more terrifying history of police committing crimes against the students they're assigned to protect.
In the fall of 2019, an officer was caught handcuffing a sobbing 6-year-old girl. In another school, an officer was filmed shoving an 11-year-old student against a wall. Both students were Black.
This is not a new phenomenon. In 2015, a video of a police officer throwing a 16-year-old Black girl across a room sparked outrage. The student who filmed the video received a misdemeanor charge and a suspension.
So if there are so many issues with police in schools, why are they there at all?
"There isn't much evidence indicating that police officers in schools make schools safer," says Dominique Parris of the research organization Child Trends. "What they do do is increase the likelihood that Black and brown children are going to be involved in the legal system early and often."
In America, there is a pervasive cultural myth—often most prevalent among white, powerful groups—that teaches us to associate police with safety. Police presence increased in schools in the wake of early school shootings in the 1990s, but a 2018 Washington Post analysis of over 200 incidents of gun violence found that police were only successfully able to intervene twice in armed shooter situations.
On the other hand, restorative justice programs that focus on relationships between students and the people there to protect them are far more likely to stop shootings and to reduce violence in general. Behavioral assistance programs based on relationships between students and counselors help prevent students from lashing out and can also help students identify unstable or potentially dangerous peers.
Visions of a Police-Free Future
Slowly, protests are working. The Minneapolis Public School board voted this year to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department after a number of protests. Still, other schools have resisted students' efforts to remove police officers.
Protestors don't plan on giving up, and they don't plan on being satisfied with only removing cops. Protestors who want the police out of schools don't simply want the police gone—and they know removing the police is not a solution to every problem.
Instead, protestors want the funds used to pay salaries of cops redistributed, specifically towards counselors, nurses, and other resources that might actually help students succeed rather than relegating them to prisons.
These programs are appealing alternatives to funneling students off to deeply traumatizing and damaging prison systems, which can haunt people well into adulthood, destroying families in the process. Protestors are asking schools to imagine a world in which funds used to police and punish students could be used to provide educational programs, health and wellness resources, psychological health, and social work avenues.
They're asking, in short, for schools to do what they're supposed to do: help students learn.
If you have questions or issues with voting, call New York's voter hotline at (866) 687-8683 or the Attorney General at 1-800-771-7755, or contact the NYC DSA at 866-700-5927.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
When Paperboy Prince went to vote for himself in the Democratic primary on June 23rd, 2020, he was surprised to see that he hadn't even received the ballot that was supposed to have his name on it.
THEY ARE CHEATING ALREADY AT THE POLLS!!! I WENT TO MY POLLING LOCATIONS IN NYC AND THEY ONLY HAD OPTIONS FOR PRESI… https://t.co/g02hV2fQd3— Paperboy Prince for Congress Vote June 23rd 🧢❤️ (@Paperboy Prince for Congress Vote June 23rd 🧢❤️)1592912907.0
People all over New York City are reporting similar stories, saying that they only received their presidential ballots—not their state and congressional ballots. The problem started as early as 6AM, when reports thatsome poll sites weren't giving out the full ballots came to light.
"Poll workers didn't know there were 2 ballot sheets. 30 min of relentless arguing & discussion to convince them to look and find it," wrote one voter. "Oversight not deliberate rather disorganized. Unacceptable. Others denied a proper vote."
Some say they were given incorrect ballots. Bronx Assemblymember Victor Pichardo was given the wrong ballot when he went to vote in his neighborhood.
Went to vote with my family at my polling place at Bailey Senior Center in the Bronx at 20/86 and was initially giv… https://t.co/225nH4kzBP— Victor Pichardo (@Victor Pichardo)1592923753.0
Others have reported additional disturbing incompetence on the part of the NY Board of Elections. "Voted at 6:30am, in person. very disappointed to find out hours later I wasn't given my full ballot. Only 1 of 2 pages. Didn't vote in presidential- thought courts made it clear I should," wrote a Twitter user.
"Another @BOENYC fiasco in Brooklyn. This Flatbush poll site opened 30 min late, then told dozens of voters waiting that both scanners are broken. After waiting for 2 hours, voters now leaving ballots in lockbox to get scanned later. Volunteers are taking chairs outside for seniors," reported another.
"Also just received a report, also at Russell Sage H.S., that several DEMOCRATIC voters were given REPUBLICAN ballots for the presidential candidates & the presidential delegate candidates. What is going on? Please get to the bottom of this ASAP," wrote yet another.
Election Day in New York is off to a bad start. Here's a running thread of problems voters are experiencing, which… https://t.co/BDQZjHy8D7— Peter F. Martin (@Peter F. Martin)1592915130.0
Furthermore, many people who requested absentee ballots have found themselves without them. "A vast but unknown number of voters who requested absentee ballots have not received them," write Ben Adler and Rebecca C. Lewis for City and State. "On Sunday, a volunteer for Brooklyn congressional candidate Adem Bunkeddeko told City & State that of the voters she has been calling since Friday, approximately 40% who requested absentee ballots have not received them." Even more disturbingly, the article continues, "As is typically the case with voter disenfranchisement, the failure to send ballots seems to have fallen disproportionately on marginalized communities."
Still, this disenfranchisement is definitely not reserved to any specific groups of people. For better or for worse, anyone can be disenfranchised, stripped of their right to vote by incompetence, mistakes, or—as some propose—direct efforts to challenge progressive candidates.
So why did this happen? Part of it has to do with state lawmakers like Governor Andrew Cuomo who provided little assistance to local boards of elections. "Neither Cuomo nor the state Legislature, which was largely absent following the passage of the state budget in early April, proposed plans to increase funding for boards to handle the additional requests and hire temporary election workers to bulk up small staffs not designed for elections with a large amount of absentee voting," Adler and Lewis continue.
Gothamist reports that anyone looking to complain about voting can contact (866) 687-8683 or report to NY Attorney General Laetitia Jones at 1-800-771-7755. The NYC DSA is also accepting calls and questions about voting today and can be contacted at 866-700-5927.
Progressive Challengers Like Jamaal Bowman Put in the Work—Now Can They Get the Votes?
It's a shame to see such incompetence in NYC, especially during such an important election featuring many vibrant challengers who have worked on these campaigns for years, refusing corporate donations and instead relying on thousands of phonebanks and local canvassers.
One such challenger, Jamaal Bowman, has made headlines for his groundbreaking campaign. A former middle school principal, Bowman is running to unseat Eliot Engel, who has been in Congress since 1989.
"The election on June 23 will thus be a test of whether the energy on American streets translates into votes," writes Michelle Goldberg. "Engel is a 16-term incumbent, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. If he's dethroned by a political newcomer calling for defunding the police, it could be as politically earthshaking as Ocasio-Cortez's victory two years ago."
"When you look at the impact of concentrated poverty that's been created by bad policy, and the trauma that results from that, and then add on top of it stop-and-frisk policing, zero-tolerance schools, you're dealing with a population of black and Latino students that consistently feel occupied," Bowman said, his experience and energy a stark contrast to Engel's.
Other strong challengers are emerging, bringing extensive experience in community organizing along with varied backgrounds. Jabari Brisport, running for State Senate in District 25, is a queer Black socialist who is also running on a campaign to provide healthcare and housing for all.
While some of these challengers' progressive ideals may have been written off a few months ago, as Bernie Sanders' were, it's clear that we are in a new iteration of America. New forms of unrest and revolutionary sentiments are shaking the nation's streets. With unemployment skyrocketing and healthcare hanging in the balance, ideas like Medicare for All and a Homes Guarantee seem not only plausible—they seem necessary.
It's hard to know whether the tremendous energy currently in the streets for the Black Lives Matter movement will translate into votes. But on the other hand, with so much voter suppression and incompetence at polling sites in NYC, it's hard to know if any of this is fair at all.
Voter Suppression and Disenfranchisement: An American Tradition
Voter suppression is, of course, not reserved to NYC. It has a very long and deeply embedded history in America, dating back to the Jim Crow laws that suppressed poor and non-white voters (like poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses) and continuing to today.
In Kentucky, where Charles Booker is vying to be the Democrat who takes on Mitch McConnell for Senate Majority Leader, talk of voter suppression is everywhere. "Fewer than 200 polling places will be open for voters in Kentucky's primary Tuesday, down from 3,700 in a typical election year," reported the Washington Post.
In Georgia earlier this month, Black voters had to wait up to five hours to cast ballots in some cases. The event was called a "complete meltdown."
Faith in American democracy has continued to erode (if it was ever there), and certainly all this will only add fuel to that fire. Does that mean that insurgent progressive champions have more or less of a chance? We'll have to wait and see, while keeping in mind that election results may be distorted by incompetence, lack of funding, or something as insidious as illegal tampering.
ALEC puts people in for-profit jails, prevents gun laws, and stops action against climate change—all from inside locked hotel conference rooms.
Georgia Senator Nan Orrick, a former ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) member, describes back rooms in Vegas resorts and behind-closed-doors legislative sessions where corporations not only vote on bills—they write them.
ALEC brands itself as an educational charity, she says, but hefty donations (memberships can cost $25,000 a year) fund "education efforts" for legislators, according to a local 11 Alive broadcast—educational efforts led by multi-billion dollar corporations with specific agendas.
The Investigators: ALEC - The Backroom Where Laws Are Born www.youtube.com
In the end, Orrick left ALEC because it was just a bunch of "angry white men," she said.
But these "angry white men" have arguably guided America towards the state it's currently in, making some sort of revolution inevitable.
From the Prison Industrial Complex to Stand Your Ground: ALEC's History of Oppression and Harm
ALEC was partly responsible for the massive spike in prison populations over the last few decades—a 500% increase over the last 40 years, to be exact. In 1995, ALEC's "Truth Sentencing Act" was signed in 25 states. ALEC also pushed for mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. And ALEC helped privatize the bail bond industry and has worked to pass laws to create for-profit prisons, catalyzing what we now know as the Prison Industrial Complex.
Unsurprisingly, two of ALEC's major sponsors include the Corrections Corporation of America and the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections).
"An In These Times investigation last summer revealed that ALEC arranged secret meetings between Arizona's state legislators and CCA to draft what became SB 1070, Arizona's notorious immigration law, to keep CCA prisons flush with immigrant detainees," write Mike Elk and Bob Sloan in The Nation. "ALEC has proven expertly capable of devising endless ways to help private corporations benefit from the country's massive prison population."
In Ava DuVernay's documentary 13th, which tells the story of Black oppression in America from the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 until today, she dives into ALEC and how—building on momentum from the War on Drugs—it resulted in the mass criminalization of Black people, leading to a system of punishment that Michelle Alexander calls "The New Jim Crow."
13TH | FULL FEATURE | Netflix www.youtube.com
ALEC has a long track record of creating racist policies that disenfranchise vulnerable populations. For example, they were an origin point of voter ID laws that successfully prevented many voters from participating in elections. In 2011, the civil rights organization Color of Change launched an investigation into ALEC's political actions in 2011, and reported that for years, "the right wing has been trying to stop Black people, other people of color, young people, and the elderly from voting for partisan gain—and now some of America's biggest companies are helping them do it."
ALEC was also responsible for creating the "Stand Your Ground Laws," which helped George Zimmerman go home free after he shot Trayvon Martin.
Once people began connecting the dots and investigating this law across states, they realized that the bill looked almost identical from state to state—and were able to trace its origins back to ALEC.
A Foundation Built on Disregard For Human Life
Destruction is in ALEC's lifeblood. Two of ALEC's early founders were the Koch brothers, both of whom played a significant role in destroying early government action against climate change. Over recent years, ALEC has doubled down on its efforts to defend fracking and to fight against protestors and whistleblowers, passing bills that threaten to fine and imprison anyone who attempts to vandalize pipelines, and beyond.
Other current corporate sponsors include the tobacco industry, the giant pharmaceutical company Pfizer, the National Rifle Association, Wal-Mart, ExxonMobil, and hundreds of other corporations. That means that these major corporations have a say in what bills are passed where.
ALEC has faced some resistance. After whistleblowers published a database called ALEC Exposed in Wikipedia, corporate sponsors began to face pressure to leave the shadowy lawmaking organization. Coca-Cola, Kraft, Intuit, the Gates Foundation, Google, and other companies pulled out. Hundreds of legislators have cut ties—but ALEC continues to meet year after year.
ALEC Is Still Alive and Well—and Was Fighting to Reopen in Mid-May
ALEC is still alive and well today, if quiet (or very good at diverting attention from it). According to the ALEC Exposed Wikipedia page, ALEC has been "Leading Right-Wing Campaign to Reopen the Economy Despite COVID-19" this May.
The suffering that some of ALEC's bills have caused is literally unimaginable–and genuinely apocalyptic in scale. The number of lives ruined from big pharma, gun violence, climate change, and mass incarceration is absolutely uncountable. Bills like the "No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act," the "Consistency of Firearm Regulation" Act (which prevents local areas from restricting firearm possession), and many others have each had brutal lived consequences on people's lives—and each was created in an unjust, secretive way.
Yet ALEC still insists that it's a legal organization and that its nay-sayers are simply delusional leftists.
But if ALEC really were a legal organization, wouldn't they open their doors to the media instead of forcibly removing the reporters who try to enter at its annual policy summit?
Of course the fact that corporations are running the show nowadays isn't exactly a surprise, and ALEC is just one of the many corporate lobbyist groups that are "ghostwriting the government," as one Harvard Political Review report put it. The best of these groups are probably so secretive that no one knows exactly what they're called or where they are. Certainly, ALEC is growing alongside the times, figuring out how to further its agenda as more politicians refuse corporate donations, and who knows: It may disappear completely, reforming itself as another slick corporate group in some other identical hotel ballroom, ruining lives with the flick of a few keystrokes.
But at least the people are beginning to wise up to the fact that many of our lawmakers have pledged allegiance not to the people but to corporations.
United States of ALEC: A Follow-Up www.youtube.com
The police's violence comes as no surprise. Violence and oppression is built into the police's origin story, and violence will continue to define policing unless serious changes are made.
During the protests that are occurring all across the country in response of George Floyd's murder, the police have displayed violence, aggression, and brutality towards mostly peaceful activists exercising their rights.
Police have driven through crowds, have fired rubber bullets at peaceful journalists and crowds, and have attacked people who are not even protesting. They have destroyed medical tents, arrested medics, and trapped people before curfew, making arrests inevitable. They have pepper sprayed State senators and innocent people, have fired rubber bullets at crowds, and have independently instigated violence. Videos of protestors with blood streaming down their faces are now the norm.
This protest was entirely peaceful. There was no violence, no looting, no criminal behavior at all. The HORROR I… https://t.co/tOwBbKveAR— jonathan (@jonathan)1591334777.0
The police's violence during a protest against police brutality merely proves the point that protestors are trying to make and that many Black and brown communities have always known: The police are a violent, confrontational, largely untrained, and highly armed battalion of people that often encourage and instigate violence.
A History of Violence
It has, in fact, always been this way.
Modern policing is a relatively new institution that was actually developed in the 1830s and 40s, with the first police force established in Boston. These very early police forces initially focused on European immigrants, but later began to heavily police African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South. "There was a lot of one-on-one conflict between police and citizens and a lot of it was initiated by the police," writes sociologist Malcolm Holmes.
In the South, slave patrols were primary forms of policing, and after slavery was abolished these patrols continued to work to maintain preexisting structures of power. "During Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves," writes Olivia B. Waxman for Time.
Since those early days of policing, the definition of who and what the police are supposed to defend has been determined by those in power. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, police were arms of the powerful, used to harass opposing political parties, to torment union members, and to persecute people drinking in taverns, among other uses. This only grew worse during Prohibition.
Over the past century, policing has continued to work as a tool to maintain existing structures of power while criminalizing the poor and non-white. There has been pushback: Police brutality was a main catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, as was the fact that police enforced racist tactics such as redlining, which kept Black communities in positions of subjugation. But the police remain a beloved institution in white society. Nixon's War on Drugs only intensified this divide, resulting in the criminalization and incarceration of thousands and thousands of Black people. Today, America has 25% of the world's prison population while being only 5% of the world's population.
So what is there to be done about all this? What can be done about America's major, centuries-old problem with police and its related systems of mass incarceration?
The answer is tied up with the goals of the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. There isn't one concise answer, but one thing is clear: Things have to change.
Police Don't Make Us Safer
Many people—often white—think of the police and prisons as institutions that keep us safe, but statistically, this is simply not the case.
In 2011, NYC saw nearly 700,000 incidents of stop-and-frisk. When "a radical scaling back of stop-and-frisk," occurred, "Critics predicted a disastrous return to, depending on one's age and experience, the 1970s or the 1990s," writes Joe Sexton for ProPublica. But "the disaster never happened. Instead, what many scholars and police officials thought nearly unthinkable — further reductions in crime after two decades of plummeting numbers—did."
Furthermore, incarceration—a natural consequence of increased aggressive policing—does very little to actually reduce crime."There is a very weak relationship between higher incarceration rates and lower crime rates," writes the Vera Project. "Since 2000, however, the increased use of incarceration accounted for nearly zero percent of the overall reduction in crime."
So if incarceration and policing don't reduce crime, what does?
"Research has shown that the aging population, increased wages, increased employment, increased graduation rates, increased consumer confidence, increased law enforcement personnel, and changes in policing strategies were associated with lower crime rates and, collectively, explain more of the overall reduction in crime rates than does incarceration," the Vera Project report continues. "Although it may seem counterintuitive, research has shown that incarceration may actually increase crime."
Still, the police and America's prisons receive tremendous high levels of funding—the NYPD received 6 billion dollars in funding this past year—and meanwhile police keep killing and imprisoning Black and brown communities.
"The punitive impulse [the police] embody saturates nearly every facet of American life," where officers "take the place of social workers and emergency medical personnel and welfare caseworkers, and when they kill, we let them replace judges and juries, too," writes Sarah Jones in New York Magazine.
There’s no end to the responsibilities with which we have charged police offers, and no end, seemingly, to the tole… https://t.co/a1m4YjQ4cy— New York Magazine (@New York Magazine)1591138813.0
During the onset of COVID-19, "the decision that mayors in even liberal cities like Los Angeles and New York were making as of early May was to propose deep cuts in essentially every major category except the police," writes Matthew Yglesias for Vox.
As has always been the case, policing and incarceration are often used to make money for the powerful, upholding structures of power. That's why they've avoided the cutting room.
"A Department of Justice investigation found that in Ferguson, Missouri, the town used the police and the courts as a kind of fundraising office, plugging budget holes with ginned-up traffic tickets and housing-code violations and charges for missed court dates," Lowrey continues. "America badly needs to rethink its priorities for the whole criminal-justice system."
Alternatives to Aggressive Policing
How does one actually address aggressive policing? What strategies actually work? "The problem America faces is not figuring out what to do," argue Seth W. Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble, and Geoffrey P. Alpert for The Atlantic. "As an industry, American policing knows how to create systems that prevent, identify, and address abuses of power. It knows how to increase transparency. It knows how to provide police services in a constitutionally lawful and morally upright way. And across the country, most officers are well intentioned, receive good training, and work at agencies that have good policies on the books. But knowledge and good intentions are not nearly sufficient… What we desperately need, but have so far lacked, is political will."
Therefore it's important to spread information about the logistics of alternatives to policing. Stoughton, Noble, and Alpert argue that in order to reform policing, we need to end qualified immunity (which prevents police from being sued unless their crimes were labeled unconstitutional at the time they committed them). Congress could also encourage better and clearer data about police's work and invest more in training.
According to a document from the organization Campaign Zero, here are five additional strategies that could help reform police:
- End Broken Windows Policing
"Only 5% of all arrests made in America are for violent crimes. Meanwhile, the vast majority of arrests are for low level offenses that pose no threat to public safety. Police departments should decriminalize or de-prioritize enforcement of these issues," the document reads. Armed police who are trained to react violently but have no training in de-escalation strategies should not be tasked with dealing with nonviolent crime. Homelessness, mental health crises, and petty crime should initially be addressed by mental health workers, social workers, community intervention workers, or a task force specifically trained to deal with these issues, not cops as we know them today. Police funds should be redistributed towards community intervention initiatives and similar task forces.
2. End For-Profit Policing
Police should not rely on tickets or fines issued in order to make money. Arrests should not be sources of profit. The Supreme Court actually ruled to place limitations on for-profit policing in 2019, but these measures need to be enacted in every state.
3. Limit Use of Force
"The research is clear: police departments with more restrictive use of force policies - like banning chokeholds and requiring de-escalation - are substantially less likely to kill people," reads the document. An Early Intervention System that identifies officers who tend to use excessive force should be established.
Cities and countries should not be allowed to use federal funds to purchase military equipment, and city council approval should be required before police can purchase this type of equipment.
5. Body Cameras
"Research shows that body cameras do not prevent police violence from happening, but they do increase the chances that officers will be disciplined or even prosecuted for these incidents."
6. Independent Investigations
"Only 1% of all killings by police lead to an officer being charged with a crime," the document reads. Independent investigations of officers charged with misconduct must be required.
"The average police recruit spends 58 hours learning how to shoot and only 8 hours learning how to de-escalate." Police should receive de-escalation training.
8. Fair Police Union Contracts
Police union contracts are major impediments that make it difficult for police to be fired. Barriers to accountability should be removed. According to checkthepolice.org, police union contracts can block accountability by "disqualifying misconduct complaints, preventing police officers from being interrogated immediately, giving officers access to information that civilians do not get, requiring cities to pay for costs related to police misconduct, preventing information on past misconduct, and limiting disciplinary consequences."
Another Choice: Defund Police
Despite the purported efficacy of these tactics, people have been attempting to institute these police reform-based practices for years. Funds have been poured into police training, body cameras have been installed, and yet… These things have not worked, and people are still losing their lives to police violence.
"There is no evidence that better police training programs or "implicit bias" training changes police behavior," writes Samuel Sinyangwe. "More restrictive state and local policies governing police use of force are associated with significantly lower rates of police shootings/killings by police. This is backed by 30+ years of research," Sinyangwe adds.
For those who are interested in research-based solutions to stop police violence, here’s what you need to know - ba… https://t.co/SoXi1hG3kA— Samuel Sinyangwe (@Samuel Sinyangwe)1570325229.0
The only solution to actually reducing police violence might be a more radical tactic: Defund the police—and channel that money into education, community development, social work, and other tactics that stop crime before it starts instead of tamping it out through violence or making it up to reach a quota.
There is no precise consensus on what defunding the police will actually involve, though people have plenty of ideas. "I think we need to consider a divest/invest model," said Queens Senator Julia Salazar as she made her argument for defunding the police. "When we look at their resources, and how they're deploying them violently and recklessly, it makes the case even stronger for reducing their budget, and then using those funds for social services, and specifically for things that New Yorkers would want the police to do but the police are not currently doing: harm reduction, community-based public safety."
When discussions about defunding and curtailing the power of the police come up, the main question that arises is: Who will uphold our laws?
It's important to remember that people who advocate for defunding the police are not advocating for a lawless land. Instead, they're asking for the massive amount of funds that the police receive to be redistributed to investments in people-powered organizations that actually keep us safe.
Should Police Be Abolished?
Beyond defunding is the ultimate goal of police abolition, which many abolitionists argue is the only way to actually stop police violence.
"Our police is not working—we need to replace it with something new. It's more than a repair. We need something new," writes Jessica Disu in the Chicago Reader. "We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice."
The concept of police abolition is connected to the prison abolition movement started by Black abolitionists in the 70s. As the existence of the prison industrial complex—a complicated arrangement that allows the U.S. government and corporations to profit off of prison labor—became solidified in the early 2000s, so did the idea of prison abolition.
"[The work of maintaining incarceration], which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called 'corrections' resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex," wrote Angela Davis in an article in the magazine Colorlines.
Prison and police abolition doesn't mean suddenly abolishing police and prisons. Instead, it means redesigning the entire punitive system, and developing correctional systems based in communities, in systemic change, and justice. "For me prison abolition is two things: It's the complete and utter dismantling of prison and policing and surveillance as they currently exist within our culture. And it's also the building up of new ways of intersecting and new ways of relating with each other," says Mariame Kaba, a major prison abolitionist advocate.
When many people hear about abolishing police, they immediately begin to worry: Who would I call if my house is robbed? But it's important to remember that police are not a safe option in the first place for many people, particularly Black people, and so many are left without any help at all in the case of criminal activity. It's also important to remember that this kind of violence is often connected to poverty or other forms of suffering that could be eliminated by investments in communities, healthcare and the like.
Many reforms & strategies to fight policing are circulating right now, some are AMAZING like #DefundPolice; others,… https://t.co/FJxEN4o5rV— Critical Resistance (@Critical Resistance)1591319561.0
Seattle city council candidate Shaun Scott put it this way: America must "[disinvest] from the police state" and "build towards a world where nobody is criminalized for being poor." He went on to criticize so-called officers" for their "deep and entrenched institutional ties to racism" that created an "apparatus of overaggressive and racist policing that has emerged to steer many black and brown bodies back into, in essence, a form of slavery."
Another police abolitionist, Kristen Harris-Taley, asks: "How do you reform an institution that from its inception was made to control, maim, condemn, and kill people? Reform it back to what?"
"Oppressed people must give up the systems that harm them," writes Derecka Purnell for the Boston Review. "Police are not public, nor good. Departments arrest for profit and sell vulnerable people to jails and prisons to fill beds. Cities incentivize and reward police officers for maximizing their ticket writing and traffic stops. On college campuses, cops make drugs disappear; on the streets, cops make alleged dealers disappear. Police officers are prison–industrial complex foot soldiers, and poor people are its targets. Disadvantaged communities should not ask for law enforcement to ensure safety any more than someone should ask for poisoned water to quench thirst."
So while police abolition may sound extreme, it's worth deep study at the very least for anyone invested in racial justice. (Check out this syllabus on police abolition to learn more).
Restorative Justice: What Would a Post-Police Future Look Like?
If police were abolished, what would take their place?
The answers are surprisingly logical. "Police abolition work is not about defunding every department instantly; it's about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention," writes MPD 150, a police abolition organization. "The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best equipped to deal with those crises."
"Where's the community resource center? Where are the supports for families, so that maybe they can fix their problems? Where are the outlets for women so that they can live independently, to get away from an abuser?" asks Alex Vitale, the author of The End of Policing.
Instead of aggressive policing, prison and police abolition advocates point to community organizations, better mental healthcare, an end to solitary confinement, and a "restorative justice" approach as viable alternatives.
In a restorative justice system, the victim and perpetrator's perspectives are both examined and discussed. "Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the adversarial legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process," writes Mark Engler for Morningside Center. "All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator and law enforcement — come together in a forum sometimes called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done." This may sound like a lot of work, but remember how much paperwork and processing one arrest requires.
"Restorative practices focus on repairing the harm that has been done, rather than simply punishing someone who has committed an offense by locking them up," writes Vanessa Hernandez in an ACLU op-ed. Restorative practices in the criminal justice system, including peacemaking circles, mediation, and family conferencing, bring people who have committed crimes together with victims of crime, their families, and other community members to identify and address the damage caused by crime." This is also particularly effective in schools and juvenile detention centers. When exposed to restorative justice practices, "Incarcerated people at San Quentin reported to the delegation that the restorative process was highly transformative in that it allowed them to be forgiven by those who they had harmed and cultivated in them an ability to forgive themselves," writes Peter Kletsan.
Seeking strength and wisdom from Angela Davis this morning. Thinking of the communities that sustain me. https://t.co/4k82jT1TXL— Ethan Chang (@Ethan Chang)1591022533.0
Of course, restorative justice practices alone are not enough to heal America's broken criminal justice system. That will take a lot more—a lot of protests, a lot of political action, a lot of coming together. Perhaps it will take a revolution.
As we wait, we can all learn ways to mitigate the amount of harm that police cause. We can research alternatives to calling 911; we can invest in community infrastructure; we can study de-escalation and first-aid; we can join prison and police abolition groups; white people can learn how to put their bodies in between Black people and the police; and we can continue to learn and make our own decisions about the policing systems that our tax dollars are paying for.
Take action and learn more here: https://m4bl.org/week-of-action/tuesday/
Police and Prison Abolition 101: A Syllabus and FAQ
New studies show a correlation between COVID-19 deaths and low levels of the "sunshine vitamin."
Vitamin D has long been a useful warrior in the fight against disease, but now some studies are hinting that it might help fight COVID-19.
In this day and age, everyone is desperately looking for a cure, the Internet is rife with misinformation, and nothing is certain about vitamin D yet. But several promising studies have found that lower levels of vitamin D can put patients at increased risk of death from COVID-19, while higher levels might increase patients' chances of survival.
An April 9 study from the Philippines measured vitamin D levels in 212 coronavirus patients and found that patients with lower Vitamin D levels had relatively mild symptoms, while patients with deficiencies tended to grow much sicker. Prior to that, an Indonesian study from May said that "majority of the COVID-19 cases with insufficient and deficient vitamin D status died."
A similar study from Northwestern University explored 10 countries and also "found a correlation between low vitamin D levels and hyperactive immune systems." Most recently, a new study from Trinity in Ireland came to the same conclusions, also finding that lower levels of vitamin D are linked to a higher mortality rate for COVID patients.
Vitamin D plays an important role in the body's immune response. It may also be able to help heal compromised respiratory functions, according to Newsweek. COVID-19 is still a relatively unknown disease, but it is believed that the virus creates what's called a cytokine storm in patients. That means that the body produces a superabundance of messenger proteins called cytokines, which can lead to inflammation in the lungs. Vitamin D can help prevent the release of cytokines.
These studies are inconclusive, and clinical trials are just beginning. "If vitamin D levels are really a marker for better diet, or more access to healthcare, or any of a variety of other variables that are not statistically assessed, then it is not the vitamin D that is the cause of the better or worse outcomes but rather the other factors," said Daniel Culver, Director of the Interstitial Lung Disease Program in the Department of Pulmonary, Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
To be clear, vitamin D is not a miracle cure. "We found no clinical evidence on vitamin D in COVID-19," scientists from Oxford University wrote after their study. "There was no evidence related to vitamin D deficiency predisposing to COVID-19, nor were there studies of supplementation for preventing or treating COVID-19."
Still, because it's relatively harmless, some countries are now calling for widespread dissemination of vitamin D supplements and advising people to pay attention to their own levels. It's important to note that it is possible to ingest too much vitamin D, but a few supplements, some eggs, or some extra (safe) sunshine is probably as good a prescription as any during these isolated times.