Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tears From Trail to Highway & The Navajo Water Crisis

Iron Eyes Cody's iconic 1970's anti-pollution ad
It's a genuine shame that a diverse culture with such a rich hisory as that of the indigenous peoples of North America are so often associated in mainstream media with tears.

From the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral lands in the southeastern U.S. following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 know as the "Trail of Tears".

To the iconic 1970's anti-pollution television commercial for the 'Keep America Beautiful' campaign.

The brilliant oft-played commercial that famously featured Native American Iron Eyes Cody shedding a tear after traversing a trash-strewn American landscape.

Yet tears were what came to mind after I read a couple stories about issues that impact the lives the Native American people both here in America and just to the north along a lonesome stretch of wilderness in Canada.

Last night before going to bed I read Dan Levin's New York Times article about Canada's "Highway of Tears".

Some of the women who've vanished along the Highway of Tears
It's a a sad account of a notorious stretch of Highway 16 that traverses vast isolated stretches of British Columbia where anywhere between 18 and up to 50 women and girls, the majority of them indigenous people, have vanished, or died, since 1969.

Like so many other Native American communities, it's a story of indifference by government and law enforcement.

It also speaks to how the lack of adequate and balanced infrastructure spending in Canada adversely impact the lives of those who happen to live far from a modern urban metropolis like Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.

As Levin notes in his article, a number of the women who've gone missing along Highway 16 were hitchhiking because of the lack of even basic public transportation - and of course the accompanying economic circumstances that make it difficult for many to have access to a car.

After years of conservative leadership ignoring the tragedy of young indigenous women disappearing along Canada's Highway of Tears, Newly elected progressive Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is finally devoting resources and leadership towards addressing the societal imbalances that have existed between the government and Canada's "mainstream" population, and the people who originally lived upon the lands upon which the country was built.

More than a thousand miles to the south on the sprawling 27,425 acres of the Navajo Nation covering parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, the same pivot of government attention to life-threatening issues impacting Native American communities is yet to take place.

Uranium-poisoned water flows through Navajo land
While the scope of the Flint water crisis is simply devastating for the thousands of current and former Flint residents impacted by lead poisoning of the water supply, according to a recent email sent from the eco-activist group Environmental Action, the water supplies on the sovereign lands occupied by Navajo people has been contaminated by toxic levels of uranium since the 1950's - and it's still going on.

Back in February, environmental activist and filmmaker Christina Laughlin wrote a detailed and troubling article in the Huffington Post that offers a 360 degree perspective on the Navajo water crisis - and reminds us that Flint, Michigan is not the only place in America where people marginalized by society through no fault of their own face monumental obstacles to access safe, clean water because of  government indifference.

Since the 1950's, over 400 million tons of radioactive uranium were extracted from mines located on Navajo lands, these days there are some 500 different uranium sites that contain 25 times the level of radioactivity considered safe.

The legacy of decades of uranium mining to provide fuel for nuclear weapons is that most of the water on the more than 27,000 acres of Navajo lands is now too contaminated to use; for a sovereign nation with a staggering 70% unemployment rate.

Cancer rates on Navajo lands used to be almost non-existent, 60 years after uranium mining began, Cancer is now the leading cause of death in the Navajo Nation.

The scope of this environmental crisis dwarfs the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan, but you don't hear much about it from mainstream media or from the politicians who control the purse strings who could do something about it - remarkably, according to the Free Thought Project, there are still no federal or state laws that mandate that the over 15,000 abandoned uranium wells must be cleaned up. 

The fact that 75% of them are located on Navajo and federal land might have something to do with that.

Darlene Arviso - "The Water Lady"
Why is it that in 2016, so many residents in a rural impoverished area of New Mexico that has suffered years of environmental abuse at the hands of politicians and the mining corporations they serve, must now depend on the charity and kindness of someone like Darlene Arviso to get fresh water delivered once a month?

Known as "The Water Lady", she drives a distinctive yellow tanker truck on behalf of the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission.

As NPR reported in a feature back in January, she covers hundreds of miles delivering fresh water to 250 different families - some of whom would have to drive up to 30 miles to get fresh water.

Speaking of a man-made water crisis, is it possible that the horrific scope of the Flint water crisis actually motivated the members of U.S. Senate to do their jobs?

As the New York Times reported last Thursday May 12th, for the first time since 2009 (a year after President Obama was elected...), the Senate passed a "Regular Order" Energy and Water Appropriations bill to fund energy and water programs in 2017.

Senate Majority Leader (R) Mitch McConnell
Regular Order means that all twelve appropriations must pass through the burdensome Congressional committee process, then pass both the Senate and House so both chambers can appropriate the money to actually fund the bills.

H.R. 2028 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2016, as it's known, would appropriate $37.5 billion to water and energy programs.

Whether the more contentious House of Representatives also does their part to get it passed and funded, the fact that the Senate passed the Water Appropriations Act 98-0 suggests that it's just possible that some members of the Senate are not completely immune to the suffering of the residents of Flint Michigan or the Navajo Nation.

And to the credit of Senator Mitch McConnell (wow did I just say that?), the passage reflects his goal as Senate Majority Leader to have the Republican-controlled Senate do their part to pass all twelve appropriations by the end of this year so that government programs can be properly funded without the kind of insane gridlock former House Speaker John Boehner faced with the extremist wingnuts in his party forcing government shutdowns over petty bickering and partisan nitpicking on appropriations spending.

Spending that, as is evident in places like the Navajo Nation and Flint, Michigan, can make a difference between life and death.

It's unfortunate that it takes a presidential election year that could have dire consequences on the Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House to motivate the GOP to take action on critical spending measures (which is their job after all) that affect clean water - and the appropriations being passed won't magically cleanse the water on Navajo land or in Flint.

But some progress is better than no progress, hopefully, buried deep in the pages of H.R. 2028, are some measures that would offset the decades of uranium pollution of water on Navajo land by mining companies that made profits, but are nowhere to be seen now that costs to undo the damage is in the billions.

The Water Lady traversing hundreds of miles of remote New Mexico territory on her own to bring fresh water to families can't be the only response to the needs of Native Americans.

People who are living in parts of the nation where there's not enough water for tears.

Monday, May 23, 2016

'Nothing Wrong?' Nero Walks - Symone Marshall Died In a Texas Jail

Not Guilty - BPD Officer Edward Nero
In the wake of Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry William's finding BPD Officer Edward Nero not guilty on all accounts for charges related to his role in the death of Freddie Gray earlier today, the joint statement released by his defense lawyers was interesting.

After criticizing the prosecutors, Nero's attorneys Marc Zayon and Allison Levine suggested their client being found not guilty means the prosecutors should re-examine the case and charges against the other five should be dropped.

As they concluded in their statement: "Like Officer Nero, these officers have done nothing wrong."

Since the facts presented in this case make clear that Gray was chased and arrested without legal justification (a small knife was found on him only after he was stopped and searched), and was in police custody when he died,  I think it's pretty clear that something did go very wrong.

With all due respect to Officer Nero's lawyers, someone did something wrong.

The only question is whether the judicial system is going to hold any of the five other officers involved with Gray's arrest and transport in a police van responsible for his death.

That said, from a legal standpoint, it's questionable whether Nero should even have been arrested and charged.

Lt. Brian Rice (left) & Officer Garrett Miller (right)
While the BPD never produced a valid reason for stopping Gray in the first place, it was actually Lt. Brian Rice who initially began to chase Gray.

Nero and his partner Officer Garrett Miller responded to Rice's call for help.

Miller testified in court that it was he, not Nero who handcuffed Gray; Nero was off retrieving their police bicycles after a foot chase.

Legal experts have questioned States Attorney Marilyn Mosby's decision to charge all six officers rather than focusing on the individuals most directly involved with not securing Gray in a seat belt in the police van while he was handcuffed; and the driver, Caesar Goodson, for repeatedly accelerating and braking the vehicle intentionally.

Goodson will face trial in two weeks for second-degree murder and other trials will follow, but in terms of perception, what's troubling is the lingering sense that six different members of a police force with a notorious reputation for the mistreatment and unfair targeting of poor suspects of color were all involved in the death of a young man who hadn't actually broken any laws.

But collectively, none of them are legally responsible for his death. That's what bugs me about Nero's defense lawyers saying none of the officers did anything wrong - they don't seem to think anything is wrong with what happened.

Gray's neck didn't break itself, and our nation continues to see highly questionable deaths of people of color while in police custody.

Symone Marshall and her daughter
In the months since the death of Sandra Bland under mysterious circumstances inside a Texas jail cell after she was pulled over for an illegal lane change, other women of color have lost their lives while in custody in jails across the United States.

While 22-year old Symone Marshall's name never rang across mainstream media headlines, her death in a Huntsville, Texas jail back on May 10th nonetheless raises the question of how racial bias impacts the way police treat people taken into custody.

If you want to read a succinct account of Symone Marshall's death, check out the article Taryn Finley wrote for the Huffington Post last Thursday.

Marshall and her friend Amanda Arnold, 26, were in a car that flipped over three times after another driver ran them off the road in what Marshall's sisters say was a road rage incident.

When the police arrived at the scene, instead of taking them to the hospital, police claim Marshall couldn't produce a valid driver's licensed and officers claim to have found some cocaine in the car - they were both taken into custody on drug charges.

Arnold was released on bond, but Marshall couldn't pay her $5,000 bail and was kept locked up for two weeks. Marshall's sisters say she repeatedly complained that she didn't feel well and that her head hurt - the Walker County Sheriff's office claimed to have had a doctor and a nurse examine her eight days before she died, but they ignored repeated requests from Marshall's sister that they take her to the hospital.

On Tuesday May 10th, fourteen days after being taken into custody, she suffered a seizure and died from a blood clot in her lung that had gone untreated - she leaves behind a three-year old daughter.

Obviously this case is still under investigation, but like Freddie Gray, it illustrates how some people of color are treated in custody by law enforcement in this nation, even without having been convicted of any offense.

As I've tried to touch on a few times this month on the blog, Marshall's case also points to how bail requirements for local and state courts around the nation routinely keep non-violent offenders who haven't been convicted of a crime locked up in custody.

Sometimes, as in the case of this young mother who'd just moved from Detroit, had never been in trouble and had a good job, the consequences can be deadly.

Just as they were for Freddie Gray.

Friday, May 20, 2016

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr Out After Cops Kill Unarmed 27 YO Black Woman

Ex-SFPD Chief Greg Suhr - [Photo]
Not to end the week on a down note but the San Francisco Police Department is on some kind of tear lately and it's not a good one.

The department was already under fire because of the shooting of 45-year old Hispanic resident  Luis Gongora, who was killed back in April.

And an embarrassing scandal involving police, including high-ranking officers, who were discovered to have been regularly exchanging racist, misogynist and homophobic text messages.

On Thursday police chief Greg Suhr was forced out just hours after an as-yet unnamed SFPD sergeant shot and killed a 27-year old unarmed African-American woman while he and another officer were trying to get her out of a stolen vehicle she'd just crashed.

Specific details on the incident are still a bit scarce, but she was shot in the very same Bayview neighborhood where Mario Woods, a 26-year old African-American man was shot and killed by SFPD cops just months ago back on December 2, 2015.

SFPD victim Mario Woods
According to a February 9, 2016 account of the incident by, Woods had been seen talking to himself and walking back and forth along a sidewalk when he approached a vehicle and attempted to reach into the passenger-side window; the SFPD report said Woods appeared to be under the influence of something.

The 26-year old male occupant of the vehicle opened the passenger-side vehicle door to try and push Woods away and Woods took out a knife and slashed the man across his left arm.

Police were called to the scene after the victim went to a local hospital and reported the attack.

The officers who responded eventually cornered Woods a short distance from where the attack occurred and ordered him to drop the knife.

Officers made four attempts to disable him with non-lethal bean bags fired from special guns - one officer also tried using pepper spray, but Woods refused to drop the knife.

According to a police report, Woods then began trying to walk towards a crowd of onlookers when five officers, Charles August, Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips opened fire and struck Woods with between 15 and 20 shots, killing him.

Judge for yourself, take a look at the video of the shooting (don't worry, it's not bloody, but you can clearly hear the shots and see Woods walking just before the five officers unload on him - he is clearly NOT walking towards the crowd in a threatening way at all - nor is he waving a knife.

In fact on audio heard on one of the two different cell phone videos of the shooting taken by a bystander at the scene,you can clearly here a female pleading for Woods to just drop the knife and surrender and another eyewitness to the shooting can be heard saying "Why did you shoot him? He was literally just standing there!" immediately after the shooting.

Do you think that was an appropriate use of deadly force?

Was Chief Greg Suhr a convenient scapegoat for the numerous uses of excessive force by officers under his command over the past 18 months? Possibly.

New SFPD Chief Toney Chaplin
As the New York Times reported yesterday, a number of San Francisco's influential African-Americans including former Mayor Willie Brown and local N.A.A.C.P head Rev. Amos C Brown, were supportive of Suhr and his efforts to introduce reforms in the police department.

But Suhr had been under fire before, including in 2015 when the city paid a $725,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed against Suhr for mishandling a harassment investigation.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced that Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin, a 26-year veteran who is African-American, would succeed Suhr as Chief.

It's sad to see what some of the officers within the SFPD are doing to the police culture, and the resulting effects on the people and the perception and reputation of San Francisco as a community.

I've visited San Francisco five times between 1989 and 2011 and while I was mostly in "nice" neighborhoods, or hotels and venues in high-traffic touristy areas of the city, and probably was never there long enough to get a genuine feel for the city, I always found it a comfortable and welcoming place to visit in terms of culture and racial diversity.

It was once known as a liberal-leaning progressive West Coast city welcoming to other cultures and sympathetic to the homeless.

Protesters block busses carrying Apple employees in 2013
In recent years San Francisco has earned a reputation as a mecca for the influx of a young (mostly white and Asian) affluent tech-class demographic who make their money in places like Cuppertino, California working for Apple, Google, or in the city's expanding high-tech industry where companies like Twitter have received generous tax breaks for locating there.

That's sparked a range of protests by affordable housing advocates since 2012.

Is the SFPD's culture of hostility towards African-Americans and Hispanics a reflection of that?

San Francisco has become yet another desirable coastal city where rapid gentrification has driven rents into the stratosphere, pushing large numbers working and middle class residents out; leaving an increasingly two-tiered urban environment protected by a police force who increasingly seem to view non-white people with suspicion and fear.

A police force (one of only two in the United States with populations over 500,000 that do not issue tasers to its police officers) whose tactical decisions to use deadly force on people of color in the past two years now merit federal investigation.

The SFPD needs to take a long hard look at itself, systematic departmental self-examination that cannot be mandated, but must come from within.

Best of luck to new Chief Toney Chaplin in that regard, will he be an agent of that change, or maintain the status quo?

Based on the frequency of killings of people of color in the past 18 months by the SFPD (five that we know of), time will certainly tell.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Reducing the Stigma of Criminal Backgrounds in America

As we all know, genuine systematic change never happens overnight.

Progress only comes in steps, but it's those individual steps, however small they might be, that lay the path to broader change that is lasting, significant and meaningful.

At long last in the United States, we're finally beginning to see unprecedented bi-partisan support from Congress on a major issue that undermines the very definition of the freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

The massive effort to begin to depopulate American prisons of non-violent offenders and individuals jailed for relatively low-level drug offenses to address the crisis of mass incarceration.

Tackling the prison-industrial complex and the scope of the systematic unequal application and enforcement of local, state and federal laws that feed it is only one part of unraveling mass incarceration in America.

The reintegration of former prisoners back into society to enable them to become productive members of the community must be a priority as well, and slowly but surely those changes are starting to manifest around the nation.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe
Just consider the state of Virginia, where last month Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to some 200,000 former convicted felons, enabling them to cast votes in the presidential elections this fall.

Despite outrage from Republicans who've made putting up barriers to the right to vote for students, racial minorities, the poor and the elderly a priority in recent years, surely restoring former convicts's right to participate in the Democratic process is a positive step towards keeping them on the right track.

Across the nation juvenile sentencing laws are being reformed at the state level to ensure that teenagers under the age of 18 are not incarcerated in prisons with adults, denied access to bail or locked up for low-level drug charges.

Like Connecticut, where Democratic Governor Dan Malloy is pushing the state legislature to pass more juvenile justice reforms in a state where reforms in juvenile sentencing that raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana have helped push the crime rate to a 48-year low.

But those kinds of changes, long overdue, are going even deeper.

Last month, on April 4th (the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a memo entitled "Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records By Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions".

Now that's a mouthful, but it's pretty remarkable.

What it boils down to is that HUD has issued new government recommendations and guidelines to real estate companies, residential leasing / property management companies, and associated vendors (like companies that provide application screening services) on screening individuals with criminal backgrounds for residency applications.

For people like me who process leasing applications for apartments for a living, it means HUD now recommends that we now need to begin looking closer at applicants who may be flagged for having a criminal record and look deeper at the specifics of what that record means - specifically because a disproportionate percentage of those with criminal backgrounds are people of color.

People who have been statistically proven to have been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, and convicted in state an local court systems, for a range of non-violent offenses based on race and ethnicity.

For example, someone who submits an application for an apartment (or a mortgage) may be flagged for having a criminal record and prevented from renting or buying housing.

But that record may be for a minor drug offense, or a low level misdemeanor related to something like cashing a bad check, or getting into an altercation in a bar - and believe me, those kinds of things affect people of all races.

A criminal background flag may stem from warrants issued for accumulated fines from unpaid parking violations, or the criminalization of procedural vehicular violations, as we saw in places like Ferguson, Missouri.

Unarmed motorist Sandra Bland
Or worse, in Texas where Sandra Bland ended up dying in jail under mysterious circumstances for an illegal lane change - and no one faced legal repercussions for it.

Routine things like that can prevent people from being approved for renting an apartment, even if it happened 5 to 7 years ago - even if those folks qualify with good credit and sufficient income requirements.

If you have the time, read through the HUD memo, it's pretty significant in that it's making a major government policy recommendation that companies now begin to revise policy to take into account the fact that as many as 100 million American adults  (fully one third of the U.S. population) have some kind of criminal record.

The memo also highlights the staggering fact that the approximately 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in American prisons represent 25% of the global prison population - even though the U.S. represents only 5% of the world's population.

Now as some of you reading this know all too well, judicial and human rights activist have been talking about those stats for years.

It's a significant step that HUD is now recommending that private real estate companies begin to take those statistics into account when screening people for residency.

That's a big step for addressing mass incarceration in America, one that reflects an acknowledgment of a troubling reality in this nation.

The stigmatization of a huge portion of the U.S. populace based on systematic bias built into a law enforcement and judicial system that treats people differently not based on the objective interpretation of the law, but on the perception of the race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status of the individual.

Change doesn't happen overnight, it happens in steps, and the HUD recommendations are an important step in dismantling the dehumanizing savagery of the American prison-industrial complex.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Cokie On Trump & 'The Bradley Effect' On GOP Voters

When selfies with Donald get really awkward
As the media turns the power of its focus and attention on the two remaining presidential front runners and the public vetting process begins to intensify, it's gotta be awkward to be a card carrying Republican these days.

The New York Times in-depth investigation into Donald Trump's treatment of, interactions with, and behavior around women that he's worked with or been around in the past is alarming to say the least.

And from just a brief sampling of the commentary about the article I've read online, or heard on public radio, for both Democrats and Republicans alike, it raises deeply troubling questions about Trump's intellectual capacity to deal with the complexities and nuances required of the commander in chief.

Yesterday afternoon, as is my habit at least three days during the work week, I took my lunch hour at the gym, and while I was on the exercise bike, I watched Brooke Baldwin interview veteran journalist, inside the Beltway commentator and author Cokie Roberts.

Now I've always found Roberts to be thoughtful and measured in her political analysis, which is always insightful as it benefits from her years in D.C. and having grown up in a prominent political family; more on that in a moment. 

Author and journalist Cokie Roberts
She's from the old school of journalism where a sense of objectivity is a prized asset.

Even though you know where she stands on the issues, she generally keeps her personal political leanings to herself, unlike some of the opinionaters on both the liberal and conservative side.

Personally I view Cokie as an enlightened pragmatic centrist with Democratic leanings.

And I admire her ability to balance compassion, reason and keen political analysis, regardless of whether she's actually a Republican, Democrat or independent.

She was ostensibly on CNN yesterday to plug her latest book 'Capital Dames: The Civil War & the Women of Washington, 1848 - 1868',  but she also weighed in on her reaction to the New York Times piece on Trump's interaction with women.

As always she was classy and reserved in her analysis, but it was clear she found the accounts of Trump's behavior around women to be abhorrent and disturbing.

Without directly saying it, she compared the overall tone of Trump's commentary and campaign message to a period of this nation's history when women and African-Americans were marginalized by mainstream society.

As a fairly astute observer of the human condition, I watched Robert's normally cool "television" facial expression momentarily contort into a rare flash of emotion when she alluded to the kinds of overt sexism she'd faced on the job as a younger journalist; when such a thing was not as common as it is today.

You could actually see her eyes water up ever so slightly as she rolled her eyes with a slight shake of her head as if to silently say, "Oh the stories I could tell you!", but that's not why she was there and as a professional she stayed on subject.

Hale Boggs with President Kennedy in 1963
While trying to describe the tone of Trump's campaign, she said she hasn't seen anything like it in years, and she recalled that as a girl growing up in the south, she witnessed the darkness of racism and bigotry first-hand when the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the lawn of her house in response to her parent's support of civil rights. 

Her father was the Mississippi-born former Democratic House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, who was famously declared dead in November 1972 after a twin-engine plane he was traveling in with Congressman Nick Begich mysteriously disappeared during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska on October 19, 1972.

The two were on their way to a political fund raiser and it is of interest to note that Hale Boggs was a member of the Warren Commission tasked with investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Boggs was the lone member of the Commission who refused to accept the validity of the "single bullet theory", and over the years some have speculated that the plane crash was related to the still unnamed people responsible for Kennedy's death - despite a rigorous 39-day search by members of the United States Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard, the wreckage of the plane was never found.

Roberts has stated (publicly anyway) that she doesn't believe the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's death have ever been proven true with facts.

But given her political lineage and her experiences as a journalist, there's little doubt how she feels about Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.

We're a long way away from November, but with all the division Trump's candidacy has caused within the ranks of the Republican party establishment, including politicians, pundits and major party donors alike, I think a lot of Republicans must be torn over the actual reality of his candidacy - and the potential damage he could do to the Republican Congressional majority down the road.

I have to wonder if there aren't large numbers of mainstream Republican voters who's conservative ideology will be trumped (pun intended) by reason when they close the curtains to the voting booth or drop their ballot in the box this November.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley
It's possible Trump is going to be affected by a 'reverse Tom Bradley effect' this fall, meaning that there are conservatives who may say they're voting for Trump to like-minded friends, family or associates, but when it comes to their actual vote, they may quietly cast votes for Hillary Clinton based on his troubling interactions with women, lack of clear policy objectives and some of the abhorrent things he's said about Mexicans, immigrants, women and others.

"The "Bradley Effect" is the name commonly given to the theory that political polls and and actual outcome of elections can vary when an African-American and white candidate are running against each other - some suggest the theory can apply to candidates who differ widely in terms of policy, regardless of race, a la Hillary and Trump.

Its named for the popular former African-American Los Angles Mayor Tom Bradley, who helped bring the city back together after his election in 1973 in the wake of the Watts Riots (when blacks were only about 15% of the LA population) by forging coalitions that crossed race and ethnicity - he was the longest serving Mayor in LA history and the first African-American elected to the position.

Polls suggested he had a commanding lead in the 1982 California Governor's race against a white Republican opponent named George Deukmejian, but lost the actual election.

Some political experts have speculated that some white California voters who were polled prior to the election felt self-conscious about being perceived as harboring racial prejudices by telling pollsters they didn't want to vote for Bradley (whether because of his policy or his race) so they simply lied to the pollsters then voted against Bradley on election day.

With Republicans I wonder if there's a reverse-Bradley Effect going on with angry conservatives who feel like they should be supporting Trump, but are privately turned off by the idea of his actually being president knowing his stance on women and non-whites and the contempt with which people in other nations view him could make him a disaster as president.

It's hard to gauge what Republican voters are going to do this fall, but there are clearly large numbers of conservatives who may like some of the things he says, but who realize that he's totally unsuitable for the highest office in the land.

Will they quietly turn the lever for Hillary in the voting booth, and not tell anyone they did? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

'Racist McShootface' Thwarts Zimmerman & Missouri Legislators Pass SB 656

Racist killer George Zimmerman
The use of the Internet and social media as a powerful tool for the targeted expression of rapid public response on issues where government, the judiciary and law enforcement have failed to act is impressive.

Nowhere was that more evident than the recent efforts of large numbers of online activists to prevent delusional racist psychopath George Zimmerman from auctioning off the handgun he used to murder innocent teenager Trayvon Martin back in 2012.

As reported on Friday, Zimmerman first attempted to auction the murder weapon on, but the site removed the auction minutes after it was posted claiming it wanted no part of the sale or the negative publicity it generated.

So Zimmerman then went to another gun exchange site called United Gun Group to conduct the auction, and the volume of Web traffic temporarily crashed the site.

After the auction began an anonymous Internet user calling himself 'Racist McShootface' joined others in rapidly flooding the Website with fake bids on the gun to drive the price up to $65 million.

Their actions were designed to prevent anyone from buying the murder weapon to thwart Zimmerman's efforts to cash in on murdering a black teenager and getting away with it.

As you may know, the name Racist McShootface is a clever twist on 'Boaty McBoatface', the name British participants overwhelmingly selected in an online poll to name a new government polar research ship; voters were disappointed after government officials decided to name the ship after noted  environmental researcher Sir David Attenborough instead.

17 year-old Trayvon Martin
One of the most egregious examples of state judicial systems failing to hold psychotic gun-happy lunatics accountable for killing innocent people was Florida's failure to convict George Zimmerman for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin.

Martin's death triggered global outrage after the teenager was walking back to his house with a bag of Skittles and a drink when Zimmerman, thinking the high school student was a criminal, began following him home.

Despite a police dispatcher instructing Zimmerman not to follow Martin, he eventually confronted the kid, starting a physical confrontation which ended with Martin being shot a stones throw from his own house.

A jury acquitted Zimmerman based in part on his lawyers invoking Florida's absurd 'Stand Your Ground' law which gives gun owners a free pass to shoot and kill anyone if they feel "threatened."

Since walking free 2013, Zimmerman has not only demonstrated no remorse over having stalked and killed Martin, he's actually bragged about it and actually gone out of his way to attempt to cash in on it.

He's showed up at gun shows to sign autographs like some kind of celebrity.

Last September he re-Tweeted a police crime scene photo of Trayvon Martin's dead body after one his "fans" had the gall to post the photo on Zimmerman's Twitter page with the comment that "Z-man is a one man army".

And yeah, that's the same Twitter page Zimmerman has used to call African-Americans "Apes" and "black slime" among other colorful descriptions.

Missouri SB 656 backer Rep Eric Burlison
Did you hear that after all the flood of public outrage and controversy generated by Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law, legislators in the state of Missouri recently passed their own version of the law?

According to a Friday press release from Everytown for Gunsafety, Missouri is the latest of over 21 other states with Republican-majority state legislatures that have bent to pressure from the NRA to try pass 'Stand Your Ground Laws'.

The Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have condemned the passage of Senate Bill 656 which would allow certain felons, people with no firearms training to carry concealed weapons even though 76% of people in Missouri opposed concealed carry permits.

Republican legislators including representative Eric Burlison were the primary backers of SB 656 and the Missouri Moms are calling on Democratic Governor Jay Nixon to veto the bill.

SB 656 would also give gun owners the right to shoot to kill in public places even if they have the option of walking away from a situation they deem threatening.

Is the pressure being put in Missouri legislators by the NRA stronger than common sense?

After all it was pretty obvious to people around the world that Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law enabled a racist psychopath like George Zimmerman to murder an innocent teenager.

Florida movie shooter Curtis Reeves in court
How can it be in the public interest to pass such a bill in the same state still recovering from the aftermath of the tragedy of Michael Brown being gunned down in the street like an animal by a member of an overtly racist Ferguson, Missouri police department?

'Stand Your Ground' laws haven't made anyone in Florida safer.

They certainly didn't make it safer for 41 year-old Chad Oulson who was shot and killed in front of his wife in 2015 by enraged 71 year-old retired Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves in a movie theater after an argument over Oulson sending text messages on his phone during the movie trailers.

Reeves' lawyers quickly claimed he was using the 'Stand Your Ground' defense as justification for shooting someone in a movie theater with a gun for using a cell phone; the idea that these laws make people safer is absurd.

In fact research conducted by Everytown for Gun Safety showed that the rate of 'justifiable homicides' in Florida tripled after the law was passed, and states with 'Stand Your Ground Laws' experienced a 53% increase in homicides while states without 'Stand Your Ground' laws experienced a 5% decrease in homicides over the same period.

Were legislators in Missouri expecting a different outcome?

Or maybe, since the brunt of the impact of the spike in 'justifiable homicides' disproportionately affects communities of color, the statistics just don't matter to Missouri (and other state) legislators responsible for passing these laws.

Regardless, Zimmerman's actions should serve as a warning sign for any state considering passing a law that makes it okay for people (even someone as unbalanced as Zimmerman) to carry weapons in public and shoot and kill anyone they deem to be a "threat."

Not much question who the real threat is in these cases are.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Who's Getting Jailed and Why?

The day after posting my previous blog on debtor's prisons, Fresh Air host Terry Gross conducted a really informative radio interview with Nancy Fishman, the project director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the Vera Institute for Justice.

Vera is a progressive non-profit established in 1961 that works to ensure fairness in the justice system and address issues related to mass incarceration and injustices embedded within America's jails and prisons.

Fishman, the co-author of a report entitled 'Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of America's Jails',  shared some really troubling insight about U.S. jails.

Including the disturbing fact that for-profit companies that operate local jails for municipalities and counties across the nation actually charge people held there fees for their own room and board.

A fact made more absurd in light of statistics posted on the Vera Institute for Justice Website that show that local jails currently admit some 11.7 million Americans a year, most of whom are being held for low-level non-violent offenses or minor traffic violations based on their inability or failure to pay fees for tickets and fines.

62% of those people are actually innocent and haven't even been convicted of an actual offense or crime, and the vast majority of them are poor.

As Fishman told Terry Gross about the approximately 730,000 Americans currently in U.S. jails:

"They are legally of the great travesties, frankly, of jail admissions right now is that we have innocent people sitting in jails for long periods simply because they can't afford to pay [bail]."

As a recent New York Times article reported, the problem of backlogged court cases for minor offenses has gotten so bad in the Bronx that Bronx Defenders (which provides legal services to the poor) and two law firms filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan last Tuesday alleging that excessive wait times and delays for people awaiting court appearances actually constitutes a violation of the right to fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Now obviously that doesn't mean that there aren't people who deserve to be in jail.

Speaking of which....

Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back
Former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager was back in the news earlier this week after the Justice Department announced that he will face federal indictment on three counts for the 2015 shooting death of unarmed African-American veteran Walter Scott.

In fact it was just about this time last year that Slager made headlines after he stopped unarmed African-American veteran Walter Scott for driving with a broken tail light.

After a brief and fairly cordial verbal discussion, Scott abruptly got out of the car and took off running.

Following a brief foot chase, Slager caught up with Scott and there was a brief physical struggle before Scott got away; it was then that Slager opened fire with his handgun, killing Scott as he was running away.

Slager initially told investigators that he fired in self defense as Scott was coming towards him, but a bystander caught the incident on a cell phone camera and it showed that not only did Slager shoot the Navy veteran in the back, he actually picked up his taser weapopn which had fallen during the physical struggle, and brought it over and dropped it near Scott's body in an effort to try and plant false evidence that Scott had tried to attack the former officer,

As I said, some folks do belong in jail.