Demonstrations erupted after a black man was shot and killed by police on Tuesday
Protests erupted late Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina after police officer fatally shot a black man while attempting to serve a warrant on a separate individual. The demonstrators clashed with police in riot gear, several people were injured, and five protesters were ultimately arrested, the New York Times reports.
The Los Angeles Times writes that tear gas was used by police, about a dozen police officers were hurt, and a highway was eventually shut down as the demonstrations continued into early Wednesday.
Police, according to reports, say that 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott was armed and "posed an imminent deadly threat" before he was fatally shot Tuesday afternoon by Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer Brentley Vinson, who is also black. Scott's family disputes the police account, saying that he was disabled, unarmed, and reading a book in his car when he was shot.
The Guardian described the contradictory accounts surrounding Scott's death:
Police said officers went to a Charlotte apartment complex around 4pm looking for a suspect with an outstanding warrant when they encountered Scott, who was not the suspect they were looking for, inside a car.
According to department spokesman Keith Trietley, officers saw the man get out the car with a gun and then get back in. When officers approached the car, the man got out of the car with the gun again. At that point, officers deemed the man a threat and at least one fired a weapon, he said. A weapon was recovered by detectives at the scene.
According to police, officers immediately began rendering aid after the shots were fired. Scott, a father of seven, was pronounced dead at Carolinas Medical Center.
The police version is at odds with that of Scott's family who have insisted that he was disabled, sitting in his car reading a book, and had no gun. "He sits in the shade, reads his book and waits on his kid to get off the bus," Scott's sister told reporters. "He didn't have no gun, he wasn't messing with nobody."
"As protests swelled on Tuesday night, police used tear gas in an attempt to disperse crowds heard yelling 'Black lives matter,' and 'Hands up, don't shoot!' One person held up a sign saying 'Stop killing us'; another sign said: 'It was a book,'" the Guardian adds.
"In statements the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department distinguished between 'agitators' and 'demonstrators,' blaming the former for damaging police vehicles and causing injuries to at least a dozen officers. One officer was reportedly struck in the face with a rocks," notes the Guardian.
The Los Angeles Times reports that "Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts appealed for calm and tweeted that 'the community deserves answers.'"
'The shocking consolidation in the biotech seed and agrochemical industry turns our food system over to a cabal of chemical companies, undermining family farmers and consumers'
Hundreds of thousands have signed petitions calling on the U.S. Department of Justice and elected officials to block three proposed mega-mergers of chemical and biotech behemoths:Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-Dupont, and ChemChina-Syngenta.
"Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs, and health-harming pesticides." —Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, Pesticide Action Network
"The continuing consolidation of seed and pesticide companies essentially creates a monopoly of toxicity in control of the world's seed market and food supply. These agrichemical giants threaten the availability and genetic diversity of seeds that are critical to a sustainable food system and to our ability to respond to the impacts of climate change," Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety, said Tuesday.
The petitions signed by over 700,000 people were delivered by nine consumer advocacy and environmental groups—including Food & Water Watch, Sierra Club, Pesticide Action Network, Friends of the Earth, and Center for Food Safety, among others—as the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee met Tuesday to examine the wave of consolidation in the biotech and agrochemical industry.
"I'm afraid this consolidation wave has become a tsunami," said Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as the hearing opened.
"Just six corporations already dominate worldwide seed and pesticide markets," commented Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist with Pesticide Action Network, in a statement released by the groups. "Additional consolidation will increase prices and further limit choices for farmers, while allowing Monsanto and friends to continue pushing a model of agriculture that has given us superweeds, superbugs, and health-harming pesticides. Instead, we need to invest in agroecological, resilient, and productive farming."
Kiki Hubbard, director of advocacy for Organic Seed Alliance, noted that all farmers "experience the negative consequences of seed consolidation. Organic farmers in particular are already underserved by the industry because the dominant players only invest in seed technologies and chemical production systems that are in conflict with organic farming practices."
"The last thing that U.S. agriculture needs now is more concentration," added Michael Sligh of the Rural Advancement Foundation International. "What farmers need is more regionally and locally-adapted seeds choices and more biodiversity. Concentration lead to higher seed prices for farmers and lower take home pay."
"The shocking consolidation in the biotech seed and agrochemical industry turns our food system over to a cabal of chemical companies, undermining family farmers and consumers," noted Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. "We urge federal regulators to block these pending mergers to prevent further corporate control of our food system."
Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.
"Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.'"
Civil rights groups and family members of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday, are demanding justice for the slain father of four.
Dashboard and helicopter footage released late Monday shows Crutcher with his hands in the air as four white police officers approach him, guns drawn and pointed at him, in the moments before he was shot. Video footage of the shooting can be viewed below. (Warning: footage is graphic and may be disturbing.)
Crutcher's death is the latest fatal shooting of an African-American person by police at a moment when the Movement for Black Lives has created a national debate on police brutality that activists say disproportionately targets black communities.
"The murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, by a Tulsa police officer is yet another reminder that our nation's law enforcement departments need radical change,"said Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.'"
"It's time for everybody to demand that this stops and that justice is served," said Crutcher's twin sister, who appeared devastated during a press conference on Tuesday:
Crutcher's family says his car had broken down in the middle of the road, and that Crutcher had just left the vehicle to seek help when police arrived.
"They treated him like a criminal," added one of the family's lawyers, Benjamin Crump. "They treated him like a suspect. They did not treat him like somebody in distress who needed help. Instead of giving him a hand, they gave him bullets."
The 40-year-old husband and father had no criminal record. The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it is investigating the shooting.
"[The Tulsa police officers’] actions were immoral, reprehensible, and outright criminal." —Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma
"As the Department of Justice investigates this case, we must confront the racism embedded so deeply in police practices and demand change now," Brooks said.
"As Terence's family and community plead for peaceful protests and level heads, today's promise of an independent federal investigation perhaps will bring some hope for peaceful resolution to a community that has been brutally betrayed by the people sworn to protect it," said legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma Brady Henderson.
"If this killing is investigated competently and fairly, I believe we will see murder or manslaughter charges against the shooter, and hopefully accessory charges against the officers who treated Terence Crutcher like a piece of meat rather than a human being. Their actions were immoral, reprehensible, and outright criminal," Henderson continued. "Putting Terence's killer and her companions behind bars won't bring Terrence back, but it is a necessary part of repairing the broken bond between police and communities of color, a rift that continues to claim lives."
The officer who shot Crutcher, Betsy Shelby, is white. She said she thought Crutcher was behaving as though he was on PCP, and that Crutcher was not cooperating before she fatally shot him. Shelby has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The police officers did not offer first aid to Crutcher for over two minutes after he was shot. In the video footage, he is shown lying prone on the street while blood pools around him.
The fatal shooting occurred only three days before the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bomb incidents, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was arrested alive despite engaging in a gun battle with police officers. The contrast between Rahami's arrest and Crutcher's treatment was one that several observers pointed out in the wake of Crutcher's death.
"Can African-Americans all over the country get a little of that Ahmad Khan Rahami treatment?" asked Black Lives Matter activist and journalist Shaun King. "The family of Terence Crutcher could've really used some of that Ahmad Khan Rahami police work."
Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.
SPLC Statement on the Death of Terence Crutcher
Yesterday, authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released dashboard and aerial video capturing the killing by police of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man.
Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, released the following statement in response to the event:
"The murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, by a Tulsa police officer is yet another reminder that our nation’s law enforcement departments need radical change. Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.' As the Department of Justice investigates this case, we must confront the racism embedded so deeply in police practices and demand change now."
The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.
Today and every year, “NEVER FORGET” echoes through the neighborhoods, cities, and Facebook statuses of America. In the face of Colin Kapernick's National Anthem Protest and 15 years after 9/11, Americans still bear the cross of a nation victimized and scorned after the brutal attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. While Americans — and politicians who are still intent on capitalizing on the tragedy — vow never to forget the fateful day, far too many citizens forget the liberties they have relinquished as a result. Lest today’s valiantly waving flags, government ceremonies, and TV news specials replaying the plane crashes coax you into forgetting, these nine essential freedoms have been usurped since 9/11:
1. The liberty to not be spied upon: Essential to a free society — at least as the founders of the United States saw it — was the freedom to be left alone. In the not too distant past, government agencies suspicious of citizens had to obtain warrants to investigate private citizens. They had to prove to a judge why they deserved to violate a person’s sacrosanct privacy from the State. Though surveillance programs were in place long before 9/11, the tragedy enabled much more far-reaching impositions. Multiple federal agencies — most notably the NSA — are enabled to surveil citizens, all the time — all around the world. The government’s paranoid desire for total surveillance has only grown since 9/11. The FBI, which built the NSA’s foundation for dragnet spying, continuously throws temper tantrums over its inability to spy on encrypted communications. The Department of “Justice” argued just this week that it should have access to all Americans’ emails. A separate court recently ruled that a case challenging NSA bulk data collection could not move forward because the plaintiff could not prove — due to government secrecy — that he was being surveilled.
2. The liberty to not be harassed by law enforcement: The federal government’s total surveillance state is a direct consequence of 9/11 — or rather, the political exploitation of it. However, at the local level, police departments not only conduct their own invasive spying with secret technology provided by the federal government — they pose a far greater danger. Where police officers were once trusted to protect life, they now threaten it. Currently, the risk of being killed by a police officer is anywhere from eight to 55 times greater than being killed by a terrorist. In 2015, police are on track to kill 1,100 Americans — and since 9/11, have killed more than died that day. This year, it was revealed that Chicago’s Homan Square operated as a black site without due process but replete with torture. Other violations by police, constitutionally speaking, include a basic protection against unwarranted searches and seizures. This makes unauthorized cavity searches on the side of the road and civil asset forfeiture — a policy by which police have stolen millions of dollars from unaccused citizens — an egregious seizure of the freedoms Americans still drunkenly celebrate on national holidays. Checkpoints, anyone?
3. The freedom of movement and travel without being treated like a criminal: Considering how traumatized the collective American populace continues to be by incessant, repeated clips of two planes flying into the World Trade Center, it is unsurprising that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), formed after 9/11, is accepted as a vital element of modern society. Millions of Americans routinely huddle in cramped airport security lines, removing their shoes and flashing their private parts to security agents via X-ray machines so as to avoid more invasive gropings. Recently, two agents were caught tag-teaming to grope attractive women. Theft of passenger belongings runs rampant among officers. Racial profiling is allowed by the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA. Unsurprisingly, these practices fail to find terrorists 95% of the time. Meanwhile, children in wheelchairs, the elderly, and otherwise innocent Americans are forced to endure what would amount to sexual harassment in any other environment. But rest assured, if travelers pay a special fee, they can bypass security lines. For your safety.
4. Freedom of Speech: While no one (that the government admits to) has been black-bagged for criticizing the government yet, the State has spent years incrementally criminalizing this fundamental right. In addition to designating anti-government activists, hippie communes, and Americans with seed libraries as potential terrorists, the federal government has made a habit of punishing individuals who attempt to shed light on the government’s crimes. From Bradley (Chelsea) Manning to Edward Snowden and countless others, those who attempt to inform the American people of the atrocities their government commits are promptly silenced. Though the story received little mainstream attention, the military’s new operating procedures condone killing journalists. Further, the people’s right to free speech has been widely suppressed. During the Bush years, protesters were cordoned off into “free speech zones” to air their grievances. Today, protests are heavily patrolled by police, who do not shy away from pestering — if not abusing — people peacefully exercising their most essential constitutional right.
5.The liberty to simply know what the government does: When President Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008, he decried George W. Bush’s cloak of secrecy shrouding government actions. Obama vowed to be more transparent, to make the government truly work for the people by allowing them to know what it does. His presidency is almost over, but any echo of that sentiment has been silenced. His administration, self-designated the “most transparent in history,” is one of the least transparent and denies more Freedom of Information Act requests than ever. Lawmakers refuse to reveal details of foreign policy, surveillance, and more, citing “national security” as a blanket excuse. This justification is how they perpetuated continued warrantless spying even after the Patriot Act expired. It is how they have instigated perpetual war with little explanation beyond “grave threats” to the American people. To say more would be to endanger the people further, of course. Whenever politicians feel threatened by real questions, they need only parrot the need for “public safety” and drum up memories of 9/11 to shirk accountability.
7. The right to a fair trial: When the near-mythical “founding fathers” crafted the Constitution, one of their greatest revolutions was ensuring fair trials to the accused. This banned cruel and unusual punishment while ensuring a speedy trial where the defendant was considered innocent until proven guilty — not the other way around, as had been practiced by despotic regimes throughout human history. However, this right to a fair trial has been increasingly eroded by autocratic elements within the so-called justice system, especially since 9/11. An Irish judge recently refused to extradite a terror suspect to the United States, citing fears he would endure cruel and unusual punishment. “Death by firing squad!” many patriots mourning 9/11 might chant. He is a terrorist, after all, and “innocent until proven guilty” is a moniker of the weak and those hell-bent on seeing Americans murdered.
But what about the American citizens presumed guilty before an actual verdict is reached? Prosecutors have been criticized for exercising racism in jury selection, biasing courts in favor of conviction. One mentally ill black man died languishing away in prison for months — awaiting a (non-speedy) trial for allegedly stealing less than five dollars worth of snacks from a convenience store. In more high-profile cases, the government and media go out of their way to ensure defendants are presumed guilty long before their trials start. Such was the case with Ross Ulbricht (where FBI agents were found to have committed criminal acts during investigations and key evidence was suppressed). Chelsea Manning and others have faced similar fates. The government also actively campaigns against activists attempting to educate jurors about their rights. None of these violations of due process compete with the indefinite detention provision of the 2012-present National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Language found in Section 1021(b)(2) of the NDAA allows the president to order the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without charge or trial, merely for being suspected of being a threat to national security.
8. The liberty of owning your body: Though not codified in the Constitution, a basic premise of liberty is self-ownership — that free individuals may choose what they want to do with and put in their bodies. Though the Drug War has been in full swing for decades, the events of 9/11 allowed the government to regulate people’s body chemistry more heavily. While the Patriot Act is widely associated with unwarranted surveillance — as it should be — it was used overwhelmingly to prosecute non-violent drug “crimes” and has helped to create the world’s largest prison population, because…freedom?
9. Economic liberty: While the state places many restrictions on economic freedom, it has done so for centuries through taxation, fees, fines, and regulations that favor corporations (such as the recent Trans-Pacific Partnership). Still, these policies have not been contingent on the 9/11 terror attacks. What 9/11 has allowed, however, are increased piles of tax dollars to fund military adventures throughout the world. Though the military chronically eats up trillions of dollars, every year it demands more money — and nearly every year it gets it. Without the jarring images of 9/11 branded into Americans’ brains, the military would have a much more difficult time securing funding. Those who disagree with such expenditures (whether out of fiscal responsibility or outrage at endless violence) must square off with the IRS — an entity more terrifying to most Americans than the government’s more murderous agencies.
While the events that transpired on 9/11 should never be forgotten — and should be commemorated — often, the nationalistic grandstanding that comes along with mourning the dead removes any possibility to mourn the freedoms lost — or the very literal lost and tortured lives of individuals around the world subjected to the aggressive foreign policy enabled by 9/11. While the government is categorically to blame for these violations, it is an unfortunate fact that Americans are guilty of creating an environment where crimes against humanity go unchecked and nearly every element of American life is regulated and surveilled. By allowing themselves to be manipulated by constant fear-mongering, Americans have allowed — if not applauded — this confiscation of their freedoms.
'When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the U.S. prison system, the entire structure…must shift to accommodate us as humans'
Prisoners across the United States are launching a massive strike on Friday, on the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, to protest what they call modern-day slavery.
Organizers say the strike will take place in at least 24 states to protest inhumane living and working conditions, forced labor, and the cycle of the criminal justice system itself. In California alone, 800 people are expected to take part in the work stoppage. It is slated to be one of the largest strikes in history.
"Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won't be anymore," reads the call to action from groups including Support Prisoner Resistance, the Free Alabama Movement, and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC). "This is a call to end slavery in America."
Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they'll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they'll stop building traps to pull back those who they've released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.
As the organizers explain in their call to action, "Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work."
"Work is good for anyone," Melvin Ray, an inmate at the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, and Free Alabama Movement organizer, toldMother Joneson Friday. "The problem is that our work is producing services that we're being charged for, that we don't get any compensation from."
Prison wages, which range from a few cents to $1.15 an hour, are determined on a state-by-state basis; in many states, such as Texas, Arkansas, and Georgia, inmates are not paid at all. Meanwhile, items in the prison commissary are often hiked up from their market value, making them increasingly inaccessible to the inmates themselves. And as Prison Legal Newseditor Paul Wright explained to Mother Jones, those who refuse to work are subject to retaliation, including having their sentences lengthened or being held in solitary confinement.
The jobs themselves can vary from farming and manufacturing to doing call work for private phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon, as well as work that keeps the prison itself running, such as laundry or kitchen service.
Azzurra Crispino, media co-chair of the IWOC, toldShadowproof that the conditions are often dangerous. "We've had reports of people being asked to operate heavy machinery with standing water on the ground," she said. "In Texas, no air-conditioning, in a lot of the units. Last year, the heat in Texas was 116 degrees. You can imagine what it's like working in a kitchen, in a unit with no air conditioning."
The strike is only the first step in a sustained plan of resistance, the organizers said. The actions are scheduled to continue to "[build] the networks of solidarity and [show] that we're serious and what we're capable of."
To that end, the organizers are calling on supporters on the outside to take part in events around the country, including demonstrations, fundraising benefits, marches, discussions and film screenings, teach-ins and phone banking, and other efforts.
"Prison impacts everyone, when we stand up and refuse on September 9th, 2016, we need to know our friends, families, and allies on the outside will have our backs," the call to action reads. "Step up, stand up, and join us. Against prison slavery. For liberation of all."
The Ferguson Protest brought national attention to predatory court systems in the St. Louis Area. However, St. Louis wasn't the only local predatory system. The civil rights being demanded by groups such as Black Lives Matter ultimate help protect the rights and privileges of all American. Court.rchp.com exist to help teach Black people and others about the law and their rights and how to envoke them so they can better protect themselves from predatory situations.
We continue our look at what the ACLU calls an illegal debtors’ prison in Arkansas by speaking with a former resident who wrote a check for $1.07 for a loaf of bread. She describes how after her check bounced, her debt ballooned with fees and fines to nearly $400, and police officers twice came to her job to arrest her. Since then, she has been caught up in Sherwood’s Hot Checks Department. We are also joined by lawyer Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who says the woman’s experience is common.
Is an Arkansas Town Operating a "Hot Check" Court as an Illegal Debtors' Prison?
A woman in Sherwood, Arkansas, just spent 35 days in a county jail after she accidentally bounced a $29 check five years ago. Nikki Petree was sentenced to jail last month by a judge accused of running a debtors’ prison. She had already been arrested at least seven times over the bounced check and paid at least $600 in court fines. Her release comes as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU and an international law firm have filed a lawsuit to challenge the modern-day debtors’ prison in Sherwood. We speak with Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who says Sherwood jails people in violation of a long-standing law that forbids the incarceration of people for their failure to pay debts.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by Janice, who is a native of Little Rock, Arkansas, who’s been caught up in Sherwood’s Hot Checks Department for decades. One check she wrote for $1.07 for a loaf of bread bounced. The debt ballooned after fees and fines to nearly $400. She currently has a warrant in Sherwood’s Hot Checks Department and wishes to remain anonymous for fear of arrest.
So, Janice, you’re in profile; you don’t want to be seen. But explain what happened to you.
JANICE: On several occasions, I have been arrested by Sherwood Police Department for bounced checks, insufficient funds checks. I’ve even been arrested on my job—two different jobs, as a matter of fact, one—with two different hospitals. My checks has totaled, I would say, less than $1,000 worth of checks. And they’re little, small checks. I was a bad manager. I didn’t keep a good register, so, therefore, I had bounced checks. Some were $20. Hundred dollar may have been the highest number of checks that I wrote. But I have had accumulated fees up to thousands of dollars in fees and costs, on roughly less than $1,000 worth of checks.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you go into the—before the judge on these cases, what’s the process? What happens there?
JANICE: He just bring you before him, and, like they say, you sign a waiver. You go up before the judge, and he assesses your fees and court costs, and give you a monthly payment amount, until you have to pay this monthly payment by such, such date. You have a 10-day grace period. If it’s not paid, then there’s another failure-to-pay warrant issued and additional costs and fines assessed to the amount you already have.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, part of your struggle is you have MS—is that right, Janice? And you’re trying to deal with medical costs, as well?
AMY GOODMAN: And is this Judge Hale that you’re going before, who Kristen Clarke just described?
JANICE: Yes, it is.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you allowed to bring in a friend, a family member, a lawyer at your side?
JANICE: Now, if you do retain an attorney, an attorney can be there, but family members and friends are not allowed in.
AMY GOODMAN: So what is your situation right now?
JANICE: Right now, I have not been there since somewhere around 2008. And I have an active warrant, because I could not afford to pay the monthly payment that he had assessed of $200, because I feel as if I have paid, you know, restitution on the checks that I’ve previously wrote, but these are all accumulated fines and court costs that has been assessed.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And they’ve come on several occasions to arrest you on your job? I find this hard—this is a civil issue. Why they would be coming to arrest you on your job?
JANICE: Because that’s what they do. Even though they know your address, your home address, they will come out to your job, opposed to your home. And this has caused me to lose two jobs because of that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kristen Clarke, what about that, this issue of—I mean, normally, if somebody writes a check that they don’t have funds for, the bank will send them and issue, you know, a charge, but having law enforcement come in and arrest you for this, especially on your job, is this—is this illegal?
KRISTEN CLARKE: This abusive debt collection practice is part of the scheme. The clients that we represent in this case have had the cops show up at their doorstep and insist that they pay money now, or they are threatened with arrest. I am heartbroken to hear the story of the woman who just spoke. But again, we know that these are not isolated cases. This is a systemic pattern that exists across Sherwood and across Pulaski County. This is a court that has made big business out of preying on the backs of poor people. And they have made the focus on the most marginalized people in this community the focus of this court. People who have written small checks that are returned for insufficient funds, that is the focus of this court. And I can’t tell you how many people we’ve talked to who have stories like the woman who just spoke. We represent a cancer patient in this case. You know, he was hospitalized and receiving chemotherapy. And two—you know, a few checks bounced for very small amounts, and this man has been jailed and remains indebted in thousands of dollars to a court. Every time someone appears before Judge Hale, he imposes more court costs, more fines, more fees. And there is no way out for the people who are entrapped in this system.
AMY GOODMAN: So where does the lawsuit go from here, Kristen?
KRISTEN CLARKE: Well, we filed a federal class-action lawsuit. The woman who just spoke may indeed be somebody who is a member of this class. We will fight. We believe that Sherwood is a poster child, if you will. This is a classic example of a debtors’ prison. And we believe we’ll be successful at the end of the day in securing relief for the poor people of Sherwood. We believe that when somebody faces criminal charges, that they should have a lawyer by their side. They should have a judge who warns them about their rights and who counsels them about their rights and respects their due process rights. We will—we will fight on.
And then we’re going to look elsewhere around the country, because we know that this is a nationwide problem that we face. All around the country, we’ve seen the resurgence of debtors’ prisons. We’ve seen the criminalization of poverty. So, we are going to fight until we end this practice and bring our courts in line with that 1983 ruling from the Supreme Court that says you cannot lock poor people up merely because of their inability to pay a fine or fee.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Kristen Clarke, with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. And, Janice, thank you for being with us—not her real name. She is in shadow, but that’s because of what she faces as a poor person who is a victim of Sherwood’s Hot Checks Department in Arkansas.
– END –
35 Days in Jail, For $29 Bounced Check
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Arkansas to look at the case of a mother who just spent 35 days in a county jail after she accidentally bounced a $29 check five years ago. Nikki Petree was sentenced to jail just last month by a judge accused of running a debtors’ prison. Petree had already been arrested at least seven times over the bounced check, and paid at least $600 in court fines—more than 20 times the original debt. Petree said, quote, "Every time I go to jail, they’d let me out immediately for $100. They’d turn around and add $600 or $700 more to my bond. I couldn’t afford to pay. They cornered me, and there was no way out from underneath it. I felt overwhelmed and hopeless," she said.
AMY GOODMAN: Nikki Petree’s release comes as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU and the international law firm Morrison & Foerster have filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit challenging the modern-day debtors’ prison in Sherwood, Arkansas. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against the city of Sherwood, Arkansas; Pulaski County, Arkansas; and Judge Milas Hale. Petree is one of four named plaintiffs in the suit who allege their constitutional rights were violated by the Hot Check Division of the Sherwood District Court when they were jailed for their inability to pay court fines and fees. The lawsuit alleges that Sherwood, Pulaski County, engages in a policy and custom of jailing poor people who owe court fines, fees and costs stemming from misdemeanor bad check convictions. It also says they jail people in violation of a long-standing law that forbids the incarceration of people for their failure to pay debts.
For more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., to Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups that filed this lawsuit.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain exactly what happened to Nikki Petree? She ends up in jail for a $28-and-change check, that she didn’t realize had bounced because her last paycheck hadn’t put in, and she ends up in jail five years later?
KRISTEN CLARKE: Yeah, Nikki Petree is not alone. This is a debtors’ court system that’s been in place in Sherwood that preys on the backs of poor people. Nikki Petree is one woman who exemplifies what happens if you’re poor in Sherwood. She wrote a check that was returned for insufficient funds about five years ago. That check amounted to about $28. And since that time, she’s spent more than 25 days in jail and has paid more than $600 in fines to the local court system. That is money that she did not have. She lives below the poverty line. She remains indebted by more than $2,500 to the local court system. And she was jailed at the time that we filed this suit last week. And there are so many people like her in Sherwood. We filed this lawsuit to bring an end to a court system that we believe preys on the backs of poor people.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Kristen Clarke, in that lawsuit, you raise the issue of why this is happening. You say that local courts and municipalities throughout Arkansas have used the threat and the reality of incarceration to trap their poorest citizens in a never-ending spiral of repetitive court proceedings and ever-increasing debt. But you say also that faced with opposition to increased taxes, municipalities have turned to creating a system of debtors’ prisons to fuel the demand for increased public revenue. How extensive is this in Arkansas that municipalities are using this as a new revenue source?
KRISTEN CLARKE: It’s not only the case in Arkansas, but all over the country we’re seeing the resurgence of debtors’ prisons. In Sherwood, this is a court that’s generated more than $12 million over the course of five years by imposing fines and fees over and over again on poor people who wrote checks to local merchants that were returned for insufficient funds. In Ferguson, Missouri, we saw a local court system that was built on this concept of entangling people in the court system for transit, for traffic offenses. That court generated $20 million off the backs of poor people in Ferguson. But we know that these are not isolated practices.
What’s happened is that in 1983 the Supreme Court made clear that this is unconstitutional, that you can’t lock people up merely because they are poor. But what we’ve seen is the resurgence of debtors’ prison, because there hasn’t been enough enforcement to put a check on court systems like the one in place in Sherwood. So we filed this lawsuit to bring an end to an era that’s been marked by a court system in which one judge presides, Judge Butch Hale, where he has disregarded the due process rights of poor people at every turn.
What happens in Sherwood is that people get on line outside his courtroom. They are forced to sign a waiver of their right to counsel. Nobody is allowed in that courtroom but the defendants. If you come with a family member, an advocate or friend, you’re not allowed in. There are no tapes or recordings of the proceedings, no transcripts of the proceedings. People appear without counsel by their side. No one explains their rights to them. And every time they stand up before Judge Butch Hale, he imposes fine, fee after fine and fee, and court costs on them, subjecting these people to a spiraling cycle of debt.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it is an astounding story about Nikki Petree. Didn’t she end up owing something like $2,600 on this $28-and-change check?
KRISTEN CLARKE: That’s exactly right. She remains indebted by more than $2,500, $2,600. She spent more than 25 days in jail. She’s already come out of pocket more than $600. And that’s money that she doesn’t have, because she, like everybody who appears before this court, are poor people. This is a court that preys on the most vulnerable people in Sherwood. And they make a profit off of this.
Colin Kaepernick is the latest athlete following the example of Muhammad Ali and others using their celebrity status to bring attention to injustice and oppression to bring about change. Many Black people had become so accustomed or comfortable with the status quo, that many of us were not speaking out when we should. Others have remained silent because of fear of lossing their job or being criticized. However, there comes a point at which a person must ask themself, how much disrespect, humiliation, injustice and oppression are they willing to accept and ignore.
Jerry Rice and others are victims of their own ignorance. Rice obviously doesn't know the racist history behind the "National Anthem". “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was written by Francis Scott Key, a slave owner, about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. One of the key British tactics during the war was active recruitment of American slaves.
The "Star-Spangled Banner" as originally written contained four verses, however, only the first verse is associated with our National Anthem. The third verse, celebrating the death of slaves who’d freed themselves, contains: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave".
Francis Scott Key was Washington D.C.'s District Attorney from 1833-1840 and he used his office and its influence to vehemently defend slavery. Key prosecuted a doctor who lived in Georgetown for possessing abolitionist pamphlets. In the case of U.S. v. Reuben Crandall, Key sought to have the defendant hanged, asserting the property rights of slave owners carried more weight than the free speech rights of those arguing to abolish slavery. Key conspired with pro-slavery Congressmen to pass a series of "gag rules" in 1836 to quash all anti-slavery petitions and prevent them from being read or discussed.
Meritorious manumission was the legal act of freeing a slave because of some distinguished service to his white master, including snitching on or some other betrayal of fellow slaves. A legacy of meritorious manumission is the "House Negro" where some in the Black community are still willing to sell out others within the community in order to increase their own level of comfort or wealth at the expense of others. Some are so brainwashed by a lifetime of propaganda that they don't even realize that they are participants in a racialized process.
Colin Kaepernick has been taking a whole lot of heat since he made the decision to sit during the national anthem in protest of the way people of color are treated in the United States. On Thursday night, Kaepernick once again refused to stand while the Star Spangled Banner was sung, but this time, he wasn’t the only one.
Kaepernick was joined in his protest Thursday night by fellow 49er Eric Reid, a safety, who knelt beside the quarterback as the national anthem rang out through the stadium before they played the San Diego Chargers. Reid also serves as the representative for the player’s union and has been supportive of Kaepernick all week, despite the uproar over his protest.
"I believe in what [Kaepernick] is doing," Reid toldESPN. "I believe that there are issues in this country—many issues, too many to name. It's not one particular issue. But there are people out there that feel there are injustices being made and happening in our country on a daily basis. I just wanted to show him I support him. I know there are other people in this country that feel the same way."
When the song ended, the two players stood and embraced. "It was amazing," Kaepernick told ESPN. "Me and Eric had many conversations and he approached me and said 'I support what you're doing, I support what your message is, let's think about how we can do this together.' We talked about it at length and we wanted to make sure the message that we're trying to send isn't lost with the actions that come along with it."
Those actions have now expanded, as Kaepernick on Thursday pledged to donate $1 million of his salary to community organizations focused on social justice causes.
"I've been very blessed to be in this position and make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people. I have to help these communities," he said. "It's not right that they're not put in the position to succeed, or given the opportunities to succeed."
"The message is that we have a lot of issues in this country that we have to deal with. We have a lot of people that are oppressed, we have a lot of people that aren't treated equally, aren't given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed," he added.
However, it is not only his teammates who are joining Kaepernick’s protest. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane also sat while the national anthem was sung on Thursday night before the start of their game against the Oakland Raiders. In Oakland, Lane was the only member of either team to sit down during the anthem. He said he didn't know Kaepernick personally, but was "standing behind" him. After the game, he said, "It's something I plan to keep doing until I feel like justice is being served."
As of Saturday afternoon, Kaepernick's has become the top-selling jersey overall in the team shop, ahead of Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, NaVorro Bowman, and the customizable jerseys. We're excited to see the support people are demonstrating. When entertainers and athletes speak up for us, we must stand with them.
The 49ers have played four exhibition games this year and Kaepernick has not stood for the national anthem at any of these games. Nobody seemed to notice until his first game in uniform, which was last Friday. Kaepernick explained that he wasn’t standing as a protest of the way the lives of minorities are continually snuffed out by those who are sworn to serve and protect them. He noted that the only consequence for these “murders” is a paid vacation.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
It is good to see other teammates and professional football players standing beside Kaepernick and standing up for all African American lives in America. Hopefully, their numbers will grow and they will continue to use the national platform at their disposal to help bring awareness to the systemic racism plaguing not only the country in general but the criminal justice system in particular.
Active Duty Military Members and Veterans Stand in Support of Kaepernick
U.S. military veterans are speaking out in support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose protest against the national anthem prompted a wave of criticism claiming he had disrespected veterans by not paying tribute to the American flag.
The hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick took off on Twitter this week in response to the right-wing outrage, and as Kaepernick himself clarified that his sit-down protest was only meant to critique state violence and oppression against people of color.
"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country," he said Sunday. "I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. [But] people are dying in vain because this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody."
The hashtag began trending Tuesday night as veterans posted photos of themselves in their military gear and noted the hypocrisy of the backlash against Kaepernick.
"I'd never try to shame someone with 'patriotism' in order to silence their 1st amend Right,"one wrote.
Meanwhile, others pointed out that even the national anthem itself has a racist undertone, with one verse ending in a celebration of slavery. And as Oakland, California-based writer Elizabeth Ann Thompson wrote for The Progressive on Tuesday, "instead of being offended and reacting to Kap's protest, we should emulate his teammates in trying to understand where he is coming from. He is giving voice to the voiceless. He is speaking for Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and the countless other black and brown folks who are killed by the police every year."
Kudos to you Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid and Jeremy Lane, and Kudos to all the others speaking out in support.
Complete version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" showing spelling and punctuation from Francis Scott Key's manuscript in the Maryland Historical Society collection
O say can you see, by the dawn's early light, What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming, Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there, O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, In full glory reflected now shines in the stream, 'Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore, That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion A home and a Country should leave us no more? Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation! Blest with vict'ry and peace may the heav'n rescued land Praise the power that hath made and preserv'd us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto – "In God is our trust," And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.