Category Archives: Justice

A Family Braves Floods, Rats, and Hunger in Tijuana as They Wait for a Chance to Ask for Asylum

Eric and his wife, Oneida, took turns pushing a stroller and carrying or walking next to their two sons for nearly 2,500 miles, from southern Mexico to Tijuana. The Honduran couple and their boys, 9-year-old Kelvin and 18-month-old Julian, arrived in mid-November, shortly before winter rainstorms soaked the camps of thousands of people who have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border as part of refugee caravans in the last few months.

After sewage-infested flooding left an earlier camp uninhabitable, Eric and his family roughed it for 10 days in a small cluster of tents under a damp concrete overpass between two busy streets, a spot that also occasionally flooded. I found them just a couple hundred yards from the El Chaparral port of entry, one of the cross-border bridges that leads to the United States. Safety and a new chance at life seemed tantalizingly close, even as despondency and the damp Tijuana winter seeped into their tent.

Throughout the city, there are now an estimated 28 shelters housing approximately 4,000 members of the caravans, who are enduring hunger, unsanitary conditions, and anxiety about their fates as the Trump administration slashes options for asylum-seekers. Without easy access to bathrooms, water bottles filled with urine are stashed against walls and behind tents. Islands of trash swirl in puddles; sopping blankets and water-pulped cardboard pile up in corners. The refugees work to sweep up and clean, but struggle against the constant flux, the rains, and the cold. One day as I spoke with Eric, a driver passed by and yelled, “Go back to your country, faggots!” The insult was typical. A strip club sat about a dozen yards from the family’s tent, and on nights when it was open, the patrons sometimes mocked and cursed at them.

Each day around 7 a.m., a couple hundred people idle near the bridge, awaiting the morning call of the now infamous “notebook” — a makeshift response to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s practice of “metering,” in which they let only a few dozen people each day into the U.S. port of entry to request asylum. A committee of refugees manages the list, overseen by Mexican immigration officials who are informed each morning by CBP how many asylum-seekers may present their claims. Eric’s number was in the 1,500s, and he estimated that he’d have to wait at least another month before his number might be called. On November 29, a group of mothers began a hunger strike, demanding that CBP permit at least 300 people a day to stake their claims. Eric and Oneida joined the strikers two days later (to protect their security and privacy, The Intercept is using pseudonyms for the family.)

As we sat at a folding table set up in the street, which served as the hunger strikers’ headquarters, I asked Eric why he had left his home in Honduras, about his experience with the caravan, and why he’d joined the strike.

Eric, silhouetted from the harsh mid-morning light, reads a passage from a abridged bible that was donated to the camp on December 8, 2018.

Eric, silhouetted from the harsh, mid-morning light, reads a passage from a donated Bible on Dec. 8, 2018.

Photo: Tracie Williams for The Intercept

“I worked in Danlí selling fruit, bags of strawberries, grapes, watermelon,” Eric began. “I cut it up and sold it. I had a cart and I would walk from neighborhood to neighborhood. But because of the crime, the gangs, I had to leave my business. They wanted taxes. If you enter into a neighborhood, you have to pay. I had to pay 25 lempiras [about a dollar] to enter into a neighborhood, but in some neighborhoods, there were three different competing gangs, and I had to pay 75 lempiras. I’d make about 200 lempiras a day, so almost half went to them.

It’s pretty dangerous, you can’t avoid paying. All you can do is stop negotiating and stop working. But if you stop working, you can’t eat, and you can’t raise your kids. And with the 200, maybe 300 [lempiras], I had to take care of my family. I had to buy shoes for my kid. My son was going to school. So maybe I could eat, but how am I going to buy clothes, buy shoes for my sons? My kids need medicine. If one of them gets sick …”

The family decided to move, selling much of what they owned — the fruit cart, some furniture, their pig — and relocating to a neighboring state, where Eric found work clearing land for coffee growers. Oneida sold French fries at local fairs. One night, Oneida was kidnapped as she was leaving work, taken to the home of a local narco, and raped. When she didn’t come home, Eric called the police, suspecting the worst. The next morning, the police located Oneida (her kidnapper had been harassing her and was the first person Eric had suspected) and she was able to escape. “It changes you forever,” Oneida said. “There are scars you have inside. You try to live with it and try not to remember, so you can be at peace.” After her testimony led to a conviction, gang members began hounding the family, pressuring Oneida to retract her statement. It got bad enough that they soon had to flee again, this time to the capital, Tegucigalpa. But that didn’t prove far enough, Eric said.

“We never felt good in Mexico where we were. We never felt safe. So I told my wife, the caravan is coming, it’s time to go.”

“They found us. They started calling again to get us to retract the charges. They were going to give us 60,000 lempiras. They started talking to us, and then they started calling my dad, who was living with us in Tegucigalpa. My dad told them, ‘You can’t buy someone’s dignity with money. It’s with respect.’ And that’s when they said, ‘OK, this is when we stop playing nice, and we start playing mean.’ That’s when they started threatening us, telling us they had found us. They knew where our family lived. And where we were from. And if they didn’t get us, they were going to get our brothers and sisters, our parents. So we decided to flee to Mexico. We moved to Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas. The situation there is pretty difficult because the Guatemalan gangs are there, and so are the narcos.”

Kelvin and Oneida watch news on television about the Central American Exodus while Eric and Julian play in the background in their room at Hotel Belen, on December 9, 2018.

Kelvin and Oneida watch news on television about the Central American exodus, while Eric and Julian play in their room at Hotel Belen on Dec. 9, 2018.

Photo: Tracie Williams for The Intercept

The narcos who had been harassing them back in Honduras originally showed up at Eric’s mother-in-law’s house: “They came in a truck, the same ones who kidnapped her [Oneida]. They have contacts everywhere. They were asking where we were. And they were asking our neighbors, wanting to pay them off. And so, this is like six months ago. … I was working in an egg warehouse, where you inspect and sell eggs wholesale. So we thought to move again, maybe outside the city. So we moved to La Libertad, another part of Ciudad Hidalgo. And then we saw that the caravan was coming, and I said to my wife, ‘Look, we have an opportunity now to go further north where they can’t find us.’ And it’s safer to go with the caravan, because we all know that in Mexico, it’s hard for Central Americans to go further north than Tapachula [in Chiapas]. We never felt good in Mexico where we were. We never felt safe. So I told my wife, the caravan is coming, it’s time to go.”

Traveling with the caravan, Eric said, “some people were generous and offered us rides. I’d say we walked about halfway and rode halfway. Some days, we walked all day. Some men came by themselves, without kids or wives, and when a car would stop, they would get on and there wouldn’t be enough space for me and my kids. There were times when they left everyone but us. We wanted to follow the caravan, but sometimes they left us behind. They’d jump on the trucks, and there wasn’t room for us, and we would be by ourselves. Night would come on and we’d look for a spot in the woods where nobody could find us, because there are always bad people. There were some really long walks, and so we’d hide in the mountains, by ourselves. Because we couldn’t keep walking at night, we were scared we’d get kidnapped. We didn’t have a tent or anything, just some blankets.”

Eric, Oneida and Kelvin walk back to the Hunger Striker camp after they receive news that they can move to a church the next day, on December 9, 2018.

The family walks back to the hunger strikers’ camp after they receive news that they can move to a church the next day.

Photo: Tracie Williams for The Intercept

Eric had first heard about the caravan on TV while the family was in Chiapas.

“I would work from six in the morning until 10 or 11 at night. They paid me 1,000 pesos a week [a little under $50] to work seven days a week. So at night, I’d watch this secondhand TV we had. We didn’t have cable, but we had a little antenna and watched Guatemalan TV, and I said, ‘Look, the Honduran caravan is coming, it’s time to get out of here. Time to go.’ We left because of our kids, we really love them. I don’t want something to happen to me and for our kids to be abandoned. So let’s go, I said. So the caravan passed through Tecún Uman [on the border between Guatemala and Chiapas] and that’s where we joined. We sometimes put both our kids in that stroller or my wife would carry the littlest one, and that’s how we did it. It was pretty difficult because we didn’t have any money.

I went to my boss, before we left, who was the municipal president, and I said, ‘Boss, honestly …,’ OK, I lied to her, I said that I was sick, because otherwise she wasn’t going to pay me. So she paid me just for the days that I worked that week. She gave me 492 pesos. I bought a bag of dried milk that cost 72 pesos, and we bought some diapers for 30 pesos, and we packed the milk and some sugar, and we had about 200 pesos left.

In the morning, we’d get up and start walking again. I remember when we got to Juchitán [in Oaxaca], we started asking for money, with my wife and kids, and we got about 400 pesos. The Mexicans were nice to us. Then a truck trailer passed and offered us a ride for 500 pesos each, and I said, OK, but I don’t have it. I told him we had 452 pesos. And finally he did take us, he gave us a ride to Puebla, outside of Mexico City, and then we got to Mexico City at like 11 at night, and it was so cold. … It was freezing, we were sleeping outside in the city. I couldn’t sleep at night, because of my wife and kids with me. I was always looking over them, but during the day, sometimes I could sleep a little. It was a lot of suffering, but sometimes we laughed.”

Oneida embraces her head in her hands while she talks on the phone in front of the Hunger Striker camp on December 9, 2018.

Oneida holds her head in her hands while talking on the phone in front of the hunger strikers’ camp on Dec. 9, 2018.

Photo: Tracie Williams for The Intercept

When Eric joined the hunger strike, there were about 25 people involved. The strike, he said, was “to pressure the U.S. to start hearing asylum claims more quickly.”

“We need asylum,” he continued. “We don’t want to be sent back to our country. We need it. We don’t want them to kill us. In Honduras, you never forget. Revenge is revenge. They’d just disappear us. That’s what happens if you have an enemy. We’re just working people. I’ve sold bread, I’ve cleared land, I’ve taken care of animals, and sometimes I wonder, why did this happen to us? If I’m in Honduras, if I can earn enough for my eggs, my tortilla, my rice, I’m happy. But why did this happen to us? Sometimes I ask my wife, Why us? I’m happy living in a small hut, selling fruit. But like they say, out of the frying pan and into the fire. Horrible things happen — it’s the law of life.

“We’re not criminals, we’re not gangsters or thieves. No, we want to cross the bridge and we want them to hear our claims.”

It’s bad luck. I think we’ve had bad luck. Because like I say, poverty doesn’t exist for me. As long as you can earn your rice and beans, you can be happy. But then the injustice, the danger, people want to kill you — that’s bad luck. Maybe we’ll never even see our family again. My aunts and uncles, my grandmother is very old and you know. My brothers. My mother, my father, we’ve all been affected.

We’re not criminals, we’re not gangsters or thieves. No, we want to cross the bridge and we want them to hear our claims. If I were a criminal, if my wife was a criminal, if we were all criminals here, we’d be trying to do something else, but we just want them to listen to us. We want to come in legally, so they can hear our claims. I think it’s possible. With the help of God, I think it’s possible.”

When we spoke, Eric had already been fasting for three days. “Just electrolytes and water. I feel bad. I get tired. The hunger is … you have to bear it. You get used to it. Some people haven’t eaten in five days.”

It started raining again during the strike. Outside of one camp, an old baseball stadium called Benito Juárez, men and women dashed to scavenge for whatever scraps of plastic or waterproof material they could find. Parents hugged their children, trying to shelter them from the pounding rain and rising puddles. UNICEF came to deliver supplies, but their truck was full of toys and hula-hoops.

After five days, Eric decided to eat. He wasn’t feeling well and was worried about losing strength for his family. Oneida had stopped the strike the night before. Others continued, and the strikers planned to go forward in shifts of five days without food. Conditions in the camp were rough — the night that Eric broke his fast, a rat bit his youngest son’s hand as the family slept in their tent.

“We made a little lean-to, but it was freezing, and then the storm came and everything flooded, everything was wet, our clothes, we were so cold.”

“Before, we were in the Benito Juárez stadium. At first it was nice, but then the storms came, and the water, and everything flooded. We didn’t have a tent. Then some man came and gave us a tent. He saw us outside, we had wet blankets, and we made a little lean-to, but it was freezing, and then the storm came and everything flooded, everything was wet, our clothes, we were so cold. We didn’t have anything else to put on. The water was up to our knees, the camp was evacuated, and they wanted to take us to the Barretal [another refugee camp]. It’s further, but we heard about the strike, and we didn’t want to go farther away from the border.

So we’re here, we’ve been here 15 days, and I’ve been trying to get a work permit, but they’re not giving it to me. And, honestly, I’ve been looking for work anyway, but they ask for my papers. I heard that there was a job fair, and I went, and they said they were going to give out permits, and we kept going and going, but we never got the permit, and I got tired of going for nothing. And at all the construction sites, they always ask for your papers. I say, ‘I’m looking for work, I need something to support my wife and kids, and I don’t want to be in the street, I want to rent a room.’ ‘Do you have papers?’ they ask me.”

Eric rest his arms on his head during his security shift on the Hunger Striker camp on December 8, 2018.

Eric rest his arms over his head during his security shift at the hunger strikers’ camp on Dec. 8, 2018.

Tracie Williams for The Intercept

After nearly two weeks, the hunger strikers’ situation seemed increasingly precarious. Rumors circulated that the police were going take down the strikers’ camp, and they began to realize that their demands were being wholly ignored. Eric and Oneida decided to stop, and the strike ended two days later, on December 11, with a march to the U.S. Consulate. The family lugged their belongings and pushed the stroller across the city to a small hotel; they had been gifted a room for two nights. About a week later, I got a call from Oneida. Like many others, the family had run out of patience and jumped the border fence to turn themselves in and ask for asylum. Oneida and the children were being held in detention in San Diego; Eric had been separated from them.

As nonprofit groups have mobilized on both sides of the wall to provide legal and other basic services to families like Eric’s, the sheer number of people and variety of needs seems overwhelming. Yet, when the clouds break, the mood in the camps is often cheerful: kids playing, folks kicking around soccer balls, people repairing their tents, and ubiquitous huddles of three, four, or five migrants in which rumors, plans, fears, and hopes run together like water.

At one point, while the family was still camped out under the bridge, Eric and Oneida’s 9-year-old son pointed to the buildings visible on the U.S. side of the border and said that he had never imagined he would be there, so close to the U.S. I asked him why he thought some people could cross and others couldn’t. “I think it’s bad,” he said, “because God made a world without borders and they put up bars.”

The post A Family Braves Floods, Rats, and Hunger in Tijuana as They Wait for a Chance to Ask for Asylum appeared first on The Intercept.

A Small Town Rocked by a Series of Violent Murders

It was just after 11 a.m. on Friday, November 10, 2000, and Norfolk Southern Railroad engineer Lloyd Crumley and his brakeman Corbit Belflower were securing their train before jumping off to grab lunch at a small store abutting the tracks on the south side of Adel, Georgia.

Crumley, Bellflower, and another colleague, conductor Wayne Peters, often dropped into Bennett’s Cash and Carry for lunch when working in town. The owner, William Carroll Bennett, was a legend in the community where his family went back generations. He was known for his generosity and would often extend credit to families who needed groceries but couldn’t afford to pay for them. “He was a saint,” said former Adel police Officer Tim Balch.

Peters hopped off the train and headed to the store ahead of Crumley and Belflower, who followed not far behind. In his nearly 40 years working for the railroad Crumley had seen beauty — pristine landscapes stretching out for miles; a river flowing past as his train moved across a truss high above. He’d also seen tragedy; he’d lost count of the number of people who had perished on the tracks when his train was too close to stop. That did not prepare him for what he saw that day inside Bennett’s grocery.

As he and Belflower approached the store, a man exited, holding a bat of some kind that appeared to be stained with paint. As the two men reached the store’s front door, a second man, carrying a cash register, burst through to the outside. Crumley asked what he was doing. The man threw the cash register at them. Crumley fell backward, but Belflower avoided the blow and raced toward the man as he hopped into the driver’s seat of an older blue Cadillac. Crumley scrambled to his feet and as the car raced away, the two men called out the license plate number, which Crumley scribbled onto his hand with a pen he always kept in his shirt pocket.

Just inside the store’s front door, Crumley and Belflower found their colleague, Peters. He’d been hit in the head and part of his scalp was peeled back. He was alive. Further inside, the men realized that Bennett and his employee, Rebecca Browning, had been bludgeoned to death. Although Peters would recover from his injuries, he would have no recollection of what happened that day — of who hit him and with what.

The brazen lunchtime murder of two beloved community members stunned a small town still reeling from the brutal murder of Shailesh Patel just seven months earlier. Despite a grisly crime scene filled with physical evidence, no arrests had been made. The crime remains unsolved to this day. But this time, the cops got a break. Crumley and Belflower’s quick action to copy down the plate number of the blue Cadillac produced almost immediate results: Less than an hour later, Hercules Brown was arrested while driving the car.


Hercules’s ankles were shackled that afternoon when he was brought in for an interview with Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Jamy Steinberg, the same man who had led the investigation into the September 1998 murder of Donna Brown outside the Adel Taco Bell. Steinberg had been given information back then that strongly implicated Hercules as being responsible for Donna Brown’s death, but judging from the police report he never followed the lead. Instead, Steinberg focused his attention on a 20-year-old from out of town, Devonia Inman, who the state said had acted alone in ambushing Donna Brown in the Taco Bell parking lot, robbing her of the evening’s receipts before shooting her in the face. Inman insisted that he was not involved in the crime — he was at his girlfriend Christy Lima’s home at the time — but was nonetheless arrested and charged with the murder. The day that Bennett and Browning were beaten to death Inman was still in jail awaiting trial.

Under questioning, Hercules denied that Hercules was even his name, so Steinberg called in Adel police investigator Jimmy Hill. The town’s veteran and only detective, Hill had worked with Steinberg on the Donna Brown case. Hill positively identified Hercules. The 20-year-old relented; yes, that was his name — but he didn’t know anything about any crime at Bennett’s grocery. Hercules was booked into jail.


Hercules Brown.

Photo: Georgia Department of Corrections

What Happened to Hercules

In Greek mythology, Hercules is the half-mortal son of Zeus. The goddess Hera was furious that Zeus had cheated on her and was vengeful toward Hercules. She sent two snakes into his crib to kill him, but it didn’t work; the powerful infant crushed them both. Indeed, Hercules became known not only for his strength, but also for his temper. He wore a lion skin with the head still attached that came up over his forehead like a mask, and he carried a large club, his favorite weapon.

In Adel, the life of Hercules Brown has become something of a legend. Everybody remembers him, giving some version of a similar tale: a formidable young man from a good family who took a bad turn.

Hercules was funny and did well in school, and he excelled in both football and baseball. He was such a large and muscular child that he needed a special-ordered uniform; he could easily have used his strength to dominate on the field, but he didn’t. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, recalled his youth sports coach. Hercules stopped playing sports in high school and instead joined the band, playing trombone and baritone. In a 1997 quiz for band members titled “Getting to Know You,” Hercules wrote that his favorite piece of music was “Mozart” and that his greatest extravagance was his hair. He kept a Bible at his bedside, would like to visit Australia, and should play himself in the movies, he wrote. He described himself as “carefree.” Hercules also worked at the Taco Bell in Adel, often as a closer.

If Hercules was as carefree as he claimed, at some point things changed. Why is not entirely clear, though many who knew him as a teenager blame drug use for his change in temperament. Tim Balch, the former Adel police officer, said that in those days Hercules was trying to build “street cred.” He had heard that Hercules was selling drugs out of the Taco Bell drive-thru, although police never proved it. Tim Eidson, assistant district attorney of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit, said that Hercules was obviously high on something when he was arrested for the Bennett and Browning murders, though Hercules denied it.

Others say that Hercules was simply a “thug.” He threatened his girlfriend and was known for trying to rob people or burglarize houses and cars, according to Lima, Inman’s girlfriend in the summer of 1998. “This boy had a violent streak in him, and everybody in Adel knew that,” she said. “Everybody was scared of him.” Many people were also scared of his mother, Lucinda, who worked at the state Division of Family and Children Services, which had the power to take people’s children away. Lucinda had “pull,” Lima said — the kind of pull that kept people from saying anything bad about her son, regardless of the circumstances. If the extent of her power was less real than perceived, numerous people nevertheless recall Adel residents being wary of coming forward when Hercules acted out, afraid that Lucinda Brown would take away custody of their children or cut off access to benefits like food stamps.

Balch had a similar impression. “His mother was always very, very, very overprotective,” he said. Whenever her son had a run-in with the Adel police, Lucinda did not hesitate to come to the station to complain. Officers would hold their tongues in response. They knew they had to rely on her cooperation in child abuse cases, and they did not wish to ruffle her feathers. “I don’t know a good way to put this without being ugly,” Balch said, “but you don’t want to do something to mess the relationship up.”

Still others, like Balch’s then boss, former Chief Kirk Gordon, and prosecutor Eidson recall Lucinda and her family as kind, respected members of the community. “Just super good people, just as nice as they could be,” said Gordon.

Indeed, in a rather jaw-dropping revelation, Eidson said that it was actually Lucinda who provided an alibi for her son on the evening Donna Brown was killed. According to Lucinda, Eidson recalled, Hercules was either at home asleep or possibly returning from a school trip at the time of the murder. “In any event, she gave an alibi for Hercules,” he said. Despite the obvious conflict of interest, officials apparently accepted her explanation at face value. Sure, there was “innuendo” that Hercules might have been involved in the crime, Eidson recalled, but there was nothing that would outweigh Lucinda’s assurances. “There wasn’t any reason to disbelieve her at the time,” he said. “She was a well-respected citizen.”

The Taco Bell in Adel, GA. Devonia Inman was convicted of a murder that happened in the parking lot of this Taco Bell in 1998.

The Taco Bell in Adel, Ga., photographed in July 2017.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

A Witness Recants

On a winter day in early 2001 — less than three months after the brutal murders of Bennett and Browning — defense attorney Melinda Ryals received a letter at the public defender’s headquarters in neighboring Tifton, Georgia. For months she had been working on one of the most significant cases of her career, defending Devonia Inman, who faced the death penalty for the murder of Donna Brown — the first death penalty trial in Cook County in a generation. The letter that arrived at Ryals’s office that day was dated January 30. To her surprise, it came from LarRisha Chapman, who was poised to take the stand as one of the state’s key witnesses against Inman.

Chapman, then 16, worked the closing shift at Taco Bell the night Brown was murdered and was one of the last people to see her alive. She initially told investigators that she’d seen nothing “unusual or suspicious” outside the restaurant that night, but eventually changed her story, claiming that while waiting for her ride, she actually heard Devonia Inman’s voice coming from some weeds near the parking lot curb line, a detail that neatly fit the cops’ theory that someone had been lying in wait to attack Brown.

Ryals had recently gone to see Chapman, who expressed gratitude for the visit in her letter. “I’m so glad that you came to speak with me on this situation,” Chapman wrote. She was writing to Ryals now so that she could “clear up the huge lie I told years ago.”


The tamped-down grass where Chapman alleged that Inman was waiting, outside the Taco Bell.

Photo: GBI

“I, LarRisha Nicole Chapman, admit that I lied on the statement I wrote about I could recognize the voice of a Mr. Inman,” she wrote. “I don’t even know what his voice sounds like. I’ve never even heard his voice before. I didn’t see anyone in the bushes either.” Investigators had relentlessly harassed her, Chapman explained. “I was sick of it and so I lied to stop them from bothering me and I thought it was over. I only made it worse by lying. I’ve got to get the truth out because I haven’t been able to sleep good since I said this.”

Chapman wrote that she wanted to replace her previous statements with this confession, which she insisted was the truth. She did not want to take the stand and lie. “I was young and I didn’t know how to handle this kind of thing. But now I’m sorry that I lied. Please can you help me to get off the stand and try to straighten this huge lie that I told?”

Ryals shared the letter with prosecutors.

Chapman was not the only one who tried to recant what she said about the crime at Taco Bell. According to Marquetta Thomas, the first person to implicate Inman, she herself had twice tried to tell authorities that she wanted to change her statement, including after she’d been subpoenaed to appear as a state witness against Inman. “They kept getting smart with me, telling me they was going to hold me in contempt of court. I was like, ‘He didn’t do it, yo.’ They never paid any attention.”

If the state’s theory of the crime seemed to be falling apart in the months before the trial, prosecutors did not seem troubled. Nor did they seem concerned with the possibility that Hercules, who had long been rumored to be truly responsible for the murder of Donna Brown and now sat in a local jail cell accused of brutally killing Bennett and Browning, might have been responsible for Donna Brown’s death too. All the while, the horrific murder of Shailesh Patel had yet to be solved. If any of these factors should have given prosecutors pause, perhaps to reconsider their case against Inman, they instead were ignored. The capital trial continued to move forward.

A photo of Devonia Inman and Christy at the home of Dave and Dinah Ray in Sacramento, CA.

A photo of Devonia Inman and Christy Lima at the home of Dave and Dinah Ray in Sacramento, Calif.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

The Trial

The trial of Devonia Inman began on June 19, 2001, at the Cook County Courthouse in downtown Adel. Representing the state was Robert “Bob” Ellis, the judicial circuit’s elected district attorney. In his 40s, with a conservative side-part and moustache, Ellis had the politician’s skill of projecting folksy humility while harboring ruthless tactics. “The Southern gentleman is how he presented himself,” says Earline Goodman, who worked on Inman’s defense team, attending the trial from start to finish. Ellis’s image would later be tarnished after he was exposed, over the course of a federal corruption probe, of sexual misconduct with a confidential drug informant. The informant accused him of rape, but Ellis insisted that his acts were consensual. He eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Today, Ellis is a boat salesman and part-time Baptist preacher. In a 2015 interview, he defended his prosecution of Inman, while insisting that remembered very little about the case. “I can only tell you at the time, that we felt strongly that he was guilty, or we wouldn’t have gone forward,” he says.

Ellis was accompanied by Eidson, the assistant DA, an affable, slightly younger attorney who would go on to head the public defender’s office in nearby Cordele, Georgia. He, too, ran afoul of the law after Inman’s trial; in 2007, Eidson was indicted on federal corruption charges after allegedly interfering in a drug case involving his wife. He was acquitted, but was later sued in a class-action brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights and the firm Arnold & Porter, which charged him and others in his office with shockingly inadequate defense work on behalf of indigent clients. (The case was settled in 2015.) Eidson also defends Inman’s conviction, although he says he believed at the time that he had not acted alone, which contradicts the theory that he and Ellis presented to the jury. “If the courts give Devonia Inman a new trial you’re not going to see me arguing about it in the papers or getting mad about it,” Eidson said. Still, he insists, “from the evidence that was presented during that time … I just believe Devonia was involved with it.”

Leading Inman’s defense was David Perry, who has since died, along with Ryals, his co-chair. According to Goodman, it was Ryals who first took the case, aggressively gathering evidence the police had ignored. The two were a close team, Goodman says, with a shared sense of adventure — a local judge used to joke that they were like Thelma and Louise. “Melinda and I, we went to so many people’s houses. We learned street names. Every lead we got, we’d go to,” Goodman said. But Ryals, who now works at the Georgia Capital Defender’s Office, felt daunted by the challenge of a capital trial, Goodman says. She asked Perry to join her — and he ended up taking over the trial strategy. “David was first chair. We had to go along with what David said,” Goodman said, with obvious frustration. In her opinion, Ryals could have won the case herself.

Indeed, among the leads Goodman and Ryals had pursued was that Hercules was actually responsible for the murder of Donna Brown. They’d heard persistent talk about this around town. Ryals tried to get into evidence testimony from a number of people who pointed to Hercules as the real culprit but was rebuffed — both by Perry, who seemed disinterested in an alternate-suspect defense, and Judge L.A. McConnell who refused to allow jurors to hear any of it. None of the evidence implicating Hercules was reliable, he concluded.

Goodman is 61, with white hair, a warm smile and a slightly self-deprecating air. She was eager to talk about the case — and firm in her belief that what happened to Inman was a miscarriage of justice. “My first impression of Devonia [was] that he was a punk, but he wasn’t no killer,” she said. Like others, she described him as having a big mouth but little to back it up. “He was the pretty boy. He wore the nice shoes, the up-to-date clothes. A lot of those people from Adel are below poverty, so I think they were jealous of Devonia.” He was also spoiled. It was Goodman’s job to “babysit” him throughout the trial. “He’d be telling me he wanted a cigarette or he wanted to see his mama. I’d have to go over [to the jail] and be real nice and get them to let his mama come in there to see him and things like that. I just don’t think Devonia had guts enough to pull the trigger.”

Inman’s weeklong trial was lengthy by Cook County standards. “South Georgia, baby, you going to be tried in just a few days,” Goodman said. Even as he faced a possible death sentence, she remembers him being calm — perhaps even overconfident. “I don’t really think that Devonia really understood what he was up against,” she said. He seemed to think, “Well I didn’t do it, so they can’t do nothing to me.”

There were certainly reasons to doubt that the state would win a conviction. In his opening statement, Eidson conceded “there was really no physical evidence in this case.” No gun or money was ever found. Fingerprints taken from the scene did not match Inman. But Eidson spun these glaring holes in the case as proof that Inman was a mastermind who had left no traces behind. “Whoever had thought this out had planned it quite well,” he said.


A photo of the crime scene, marking where Donna Brown’s body had been found.

Photo: GBI

With no hard evidence, Ellis and Eidson relied on an array of witnesses whose testimony was contradictory, confusing, and at times completely counter to the prosecutors’ theory of the crime. Several did little more than paint Inman in a vaguely criminal light, rather than offer proof that he had actually committed the murder of Donna Brown. Among the first was Zachary Payne, the man who first tipped the GBI to the fact that Inman had access to a gun — although not the same type of gun used to murder Brown. Payne was brought from a drug detox facility in order to testify and he told a disjointed tale about Inman showing up at his door and pointing a gun at him. It was not clear what had prompted the alleged confrontation or what connection it had to the murder two weeks later.

If Payne’s testimony was more prejudicial than probative, other witnesses were wildly improper, at least by prevailing legal standards. Under the justification of presenting “similar transactions” to the crime in question, the state called a slew of Sacramento police officers to describe Inman’s previous run-ins with the law in California. Most dated back to when he was a juvenile — and none rose to the level of violence in the killing of Donna Brown. There was a car theft when he was 18, the robbery of a pizza delivery person when he was 15, and a traffic stop in which drugs were found. The third incident prompted a call for a mistrial by Perry, which was denied. McConnell would later instruct the jury to disregard the testimony of a police sergeant who described the drug incident, but by then, jurors had heard plenty about Inman’s checkered past. In a significant leap, the state cast Inman as intrinsically criminal, a man whose previous record showed that he was as a natural-born killer. “It’s a logical progression of a propensity to commit crimes,” Ellis said in his closing statement during the sentencing phase, urging jurors to hand down the death penalty. He compared Inman to a leopard hunting its prey. “He won’t change his spots.”

The witnesses from California would likely not have made it to the stand had the trial taken place today. In 2011, Georgia legislators finally overhauled the state’s ambiguous and antiquated rules of evidence, imposing desperately needed guidelines on trial lawyers and judges for what qualified as admissible testimony. For decades prior, Georgia had been the only jurisdiction in the country where prosecutors could admit evidence of previous crimes to show “bent of mind” or “course of conduct” — language that the state supreme court itself had described as “difficult to define and slippery in application.” In the hands of the wrong prosecutor, such evidence could prejudice a jury completely against a defendant, making it more likely to convict, no matter how weak the evidence.

Eidson was one such prosecutor. “He was the king of similar transactions,” Goodman recalls. “But I never understood how that little penny ante stuff in California was a similar transaction to [the Taco Bell murder].” The phrases “bent of mind” and “course of conduct” appear again and again in the trial transcript, which also captures the generally slipshod approach to evidence. Over numerous tedious passages, McConnell wonders aloud about the propriety of a given witness, including when it’s too late. “It seemed like everybody forgot they went to law school, including me,” he joked at one point after having allowed improper questioning of a witness to go unchecked.

It’s unclear how much of an impact the California witnesses had in the end. “To me that was a total waste,” says Steven King, one of the jurors at Inman’s trial. Their testimony “didn’t really matter at all back in the jury room.” In fact, King remembers most of the state witnesses being fairly unconvincing.

King, a tall white man in his 40s, lives in rural Hahira on family land dense with pine trees that mark the border of neighboring Lowndes County, visible just outside his window. King’s relative isolation made him attractive to both sides when it came to jury selection: In a place as small as Adel, finding jurors unconnected to a high-profile case was a major challenge. Today, King is a mail carrier and knows a lot of people in town. But at the time of Inman’s trial, King had just finished six years in the Army. “I didn’t even know we had a Taco Bell, let alone a murder here,” he said.

The jury was sequestered — a rare phenomenon in Cook County. King remembers police deputies escorting him and his fellow jurors around town in a little yellow school bus. Although he wasn’t thrilled at the circumstances, he took the job seriously, making detailed notes throughout the trial and recording his impressions of various witnesses.

The view from where Virginia Tatem and Lee Grimes were standing when Virginia claims to have heard the gunshot at  Taco Bell and see Devonia's car go into an abandoned Pizza Hut parking lot. Looking northwest.

The view from the spot where Virginia Tatem and Lee Grimes were standing when Virginia claims to have heard the gunshot at Taco Bell and seen Devonia’s car go into an abandoned Pizza Hut parking lot.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

Among those King found least convincing was the newspaper carrier, Virginia Tatem, despite her being presented as the state’s star witness. On the witness stand, Tatem swore that she had seen Inman fleeing the scene of the crime — a memory so significant that she compared it to remembering where she was the day Ronald Reagan was shot. “I’ll never forget for the rest of my life what he looks like,” she said. “His face will be etched in my memory forever.” But during cross examination, Perry picked apart elements of her testimony, to show that her recollections were hardly reliable. She claimed to have seen police cars racing to the Taco Bell with their lights and sirens on, which contradicted testimony from the officers, who said they had never turned on either. And while the GBI report showed that Tatem had told Steinberg she saw “four or five black people” in a brown car that was following Inman, on the stand, she insisted that she had only seen three people.

Like many eyewitnesses who give repeated statements, Tatem’s claims to police evolved significantly since she first came forward with information, getting increasingly detailed as time passed. Even her courtroom testimony included details she had never brought up before. “I could see the Pound Puppy in the back window when the car went down the road,” she said at one point, only after being shown a photograph of the car in question.

Under cross-examination, Tatem was asked why she had waited a month to call police — and only after seeing the ad in the paper offering a hefty cash reward in exchange for information. “The $5,000 didn’t have anything to do with it,” she insisted. “It had to do with the fact that this woman had died, and she had a son. I have children of my own. I cannot live with the idea to think that someone took this boy’s mother from him for a robbery.”

In the jury box, King was skeptical. Tatem was probably out for the reward, he thought. And even if she wasn’t, the things she claimed to have seen and heard while standing on the corner of Adams and Fourth Street at 2 a.m. were pretty much impossible. Tatem maintained that she had heard a gunshot (despite being across multiple lanes of interstate from the Taco Bell) and that she had seen the cars pull into the Pizza Hut and heard the group speaking to one another some five blocks away. It struck King as totally implausible. “Anybody that’s from Adel knows you can’t see the Pizza Hut because the Dairy Queen is right there,” King said. He dismissed her testimony, he said, and he remembers other jurors doing the same.

If Tatem lacked credibility, other witnesses were far more disastrous. Despite their attempts to recant their statements months before, the state put both Marquetta Thomas and LarRisha Chapman on the stand. In his opening statement, Eidson alluded to their attempts to recant their statements. “I don’t know what she’ll testify to here at trial, whether she’ll change her mind or whatever,” he said about Thomas, vowing to confront her with her earlier statements if she tried to change her story.

He did the same with Chapman. In fact, under direct examination, Eidson had Chapman read her letter to Ryals out loud, then walked her through her previous statement to the GBI, including how she had recognized Inman’s voice from the weeds. If the point was to confuse the jury while impeaching his own witness, Eidson succeeded; as he concluded his questioning, he went so far as to blame Chapman for Donna Brown’s death. Showing her a photograph of Brown’s lifeless body, Eidson said that if Chapman had told somebody that she’d seen a man in the weeds that night, “Ms. Brown would still be alive.”

“But I didn’t see nobody,” Chapman said, reiterating that she had made up the story. Eidson ignored her: “If you had gone in and told Ms. Brown there was somebody hiding in the bushes, she might still be alive today.”

While Marquetta Thomas initially threw Inman under the bus by claiming that he had not been at the home she shared with her sister on the night that Brown was murdered — and that he had showed up the next day with a wad of cash — on the stand, Thomas mostly changed her tune. She insisted that she had been harassed by law enforcement until she provided them with the information they wanted to hear. She was motivated to do so, she said, because she got the feeling that the cops were angling to pin the crime on her, so she went on the offense, implicating Inman.

For all of the confusion and changing narratives, to King there was only one credible witness brought by the state — so credible, he would vote to convict, despite all the questions about the state’s evidence. “Without Kwame Spaulding,” he said, “they had no case.”

Spaulding was 19 and locked up on cocaine-related charges in January 1999 when Inman was indicted for Donna Brown’s murder. The two briefly shared a cell, and it was during that time that Spaulding said Inman gave up the details of his crime. Spaulding asked the jailers to contact the GBI, saying that if he could get some kind of consideration on his case, he would tell investigators what Inman had said. There is no paperwork commemorating any particular deal that DA Ellis might’ve offered, but Spaulding still shared his story, suggesting that he was assured there was something in it for him. According to Spaulding, Inman said that he’d done the job with his girlfriend’s sister and that the two had waited in the weeds for Brown to emerge from the restaurant. He said Inman confessed to shooting Brown with a .44 caliber gun and that the two then split the proceeds of the crime, leaving the deposit bag in Brown’s car.


Donna Brown’s abandoned car in the Pizza Hut parking lot.

Photo: GBI

The details in Spaulding’s testimony caught King’s attention. He seemed to have information that only the killer would know — like the caliber of weapon used to kill Brown. “It wasn’t discussed and then Kwame knew it, knew what the caliber was,” he recalled. “Kwame to me was a very credible witness.”

Although Eidson told jurors that the detail about the .44 hadn’t been released to the public before Spaulding came forward, it was not true. That fact had been repeatedly printed in the newspaper. Spaulding’s story also included the assertion that the bank bag was found in the car; it wasn’t, but that erroneous detail was also reported more than once.

It took just two rounds of voting for the jury to decide that Inman was guilty. In a paradoxical twist, when it came to sentencing, the same evidence that convinced King to convict Inman was not enough to overcome his doubt about imposing a death sentence. “The murder weapon wasn’t found and there’s no eyewitness,” he said. “There was not enough evidence for me to vote for the death penalty.”

The jury ultimately decided that Inman should be sentenced to life without parole.

Inman’s girlfriend Lima was dismayed by the outcome. Of all the witnesses, she was the only one to maintain her original story throughout the case — from police questioning through trial testimony and beyond — without either embellishing or recanting. Inman was home with her the night that Brown was killed, she said. But in his closing arguments, Eidson painted her as an unreliable whore whose testimony should be dismissed, which infuriated Lima. “They just kept trying to put me down because I was a stripper, and I had kids from different dads,” she recalled. “And I was like, wait a minute, what does that have to do with Devonia being on trial for murder? You know, the trial was just a mess. To me it wasn’t even a trial. It was whatever the prosecutor said.” She insists that her background is irrelevant. “I don’t care what my life was like, what I did; what I said was true,” she said. “He’s innocent and I’ve been saying that from day one.”

Listen to the full Murderville podcast now exclusively on Stitcher Premium. Sign up for a 30-day free trial with promo code MURDERVILLE. Starting December 20, the series will be available for free on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, and other platforms.

The post A Small Town Rocked by a Series of Violent Murders appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump’s Travel Ban Faces a New Day in Court

Opponents of Donald Trump’s travel ban have a chance to chip away at it this week by challenging the way it’s been implemented. If they’re successful, Trump will have only his own administration to blame.

The argument that a group of plaintiffs is making is straightforward: Because the travel ban was upheld, individuals impacted by it can only enter the United States through a waiver system that was said to be a safeguard against arbitrarily keeping people out of the country. Yet the administration has done next to nothing to set the waiver system up, which suggests that a total ban of Muslim travelers from the targeted countries was indeed the original intent.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, known as Presidential Proclamation 9645, in June. The proclamation allows for waivers for foreign nationals who establish that the government’s denial of a visa would cause them undue hardship, and that their entry would not threaten the national security or public safety of the United States, and would be in the national interest. The proclamation called on the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to “adopt guidance addressing circumstances in which waivers may be appropriate.” The proclamation also lists a number of such circumstances. For example, a waiver would be appropriate for an individual who is a student in the United States, has significant business obligations in the country, or is coming to visit or reside with a close family member.

The government has not only failed to provide any meaningful guidance on the waiver, according to an ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration, but it is also not providing any meaningful consideration of an applicant’s eligibility for a waiver. Within days of the proclamation going into effect, scores of visa applications were denied. Many applicants whose applications were denied at their interviews were told that their eligibility for a waiver would not be considered. At least one consulate explicitly told applicants not to submit any documents in support of a waiver application. “Applicants are thus at a loss for what to do,” the lawsuit reads.

For these reasons, the plaintiffs argue, the government has violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits federal action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The process, or lack of it, makes it impossible for individuals who should seemingly be exempt from the ban to get permission to travel to the United States. The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Trump administration to retract all the visa denials it issued under the ban and give those individuals the chance to apply for a waiver. The court should also order the State and Homeland Security departments to issue clear guidelines on the waiver process, including by letting applicants know what type of documents they should submit to apply for a waiver. Those applications should be weighed on a case-by-case basis, as the language of the proclamation requires, the plaintiffs charge.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will on Thursday hear arguments in the case, known as Emami v. Nielsen. It was brought by Muslim Advocates, Lotfi Legal, the Immigrant Advocacy and Litigation Center, and Public Counsel against the Homeland Security and State departments. The class-action lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of 36 plaintiffs of Iranian, Libyan, Somali, Syrian, and Yemeni backgrounds, covers nationals of the five countries included in all three iterations of the travel ban.

The crux of the arguments raised in round two of the travel ban fight are procedural, but the plaintiffs also argue that the lack of a waiver process violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The blanket denials of visas to applicants from the targeted countries, combined with Trump’s statements regarding his intent for instituting a travel ban “makes clear that Defendants are targeting individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their country of origin or nationality, without any lawful justification,” the complaint reads. (In Hawaii v. Trump, the Supreme Court upheld the travel ban without deciding on the merits of the constitutional claims raised.)

“It goes to the heart of the question of whether this ban is actually intended to advance national security or whether it’s intended to shut Muslims out of the United States.”

“This is a case fundamentally about a government putting forth two completely contradictory statements,” said Sirine Shebaya, an attorney at Muslim Advocates who will be arguing the case in federal court. Trump, in his proclamation, made a somewhat binding statement that each individual applicant will be assessed against certain criteria for a waiver, but at the same time, the government has prevented individuals from having a way to make that demonstration, Shebaya explained. “I think it goes to the heart of the question of whether this ban is actually intended to advance national security or whether it’s intended to shut Muslims out of the United States.”

Between December 8, 2017, and April 30, 2018, the government issued waivers to the ban in only 2 percent of all cases, according to State Department data. The numbers went up in the months after the ban was upheld, but it’s still unclear how many people remain stuck in processing. If it’s any indication, though, Muslim Advocates clients remain in bureaucratic limbo. And even in cases where the waiver was approved, Shebaya said, there’s no way to know whether the visa was ultimately issued.

The government, in its motion to dismiss, largely defended itself against the claims in the lawsuit by referring to the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, which means that a discretionary decision made by a consular officer cannot be appealed. The defendants also argue that the proclamation does not create individually enforceable rights that can be litigated in court. They point to Hawaii v. Trump, in which the majority of the Supreme Court cited the case-by-case waiver provision in its decision to uphold the ban. The plaintiffs counter that merely announcing the intent to create a waiver process is not the same thing as actually creating one.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that there is evidence that the government is not applying the terms of the proclamation as written, supporting the inference that the proclamation is a “Muslim ban” and not a “security-based ban.” In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor went even further. “Ultimately, what began as a policy explicitly ‘calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ has since morphed into a ‘Proclamation’ putatively based on national-security concerns,” she wrote, referring to Trump’s December 2015 statement that many point to as the genesis of the travel ban. “But this new window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact: the words of the President and his advisers create the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers.”

The plaintiffs in the Muslim Advocates lawsuit fit into a number of the 10 circumstances Trump laid out in his proclamation under which a waiver might be appropriate. The scenarios described in the lawsuit demonstrate the arbitrary manner in which the government is dealing with what is supposed to be individualized consideration for a waiver grant.

Najib Adi, for example, is a Virginia-based dentist who has been unable to visit his native Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising. His dad died in 2014, and Adi was unable to attend the funeral. Now, he’s trying to bring his 70-year-old mother to live with him. She had an interview for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate in Amman, Jordan, in December 2017, where she was told she’d be considered for a waiver. She is still waiting for an answer. Ismail Alghazali is a U.S. citizen of Yemeni origin who is currently stuck in Djibouti with his wife and infant child. At his wife’s January 2018 interview for a visa to the United States, her application was automatically denied and she was told she wouldn’t be considered for a waiver. She was never told that she could demonstrate her eligibility for a waiver under the proclamation.

“What it means for a lot of these families is there’s a great deal of confusion and ambiguity,” said Debbie Almontaser, a New-York based Yemeni-American activist. “They’ll come to the Yemeni American Merchants Association and say, ‘My family member needs a waiver, can you help us complete the waiver?’ And for us to stand there in front of them and say, ‘We’ll be happy to help you, but there’s no form or application,’ … they’ll look at us like we don’t know what we’re talking about.”

The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which Almontaser co-founded in the wake of the travel ban, has teamed up with a lawyer who’s trying to help Yemeni families in New York bring their loved ones to the United States. Different people they’ve worked with have had radically different experiences, depending on the consulate at which they’re applying for a visa, Almontaser said. In some cases, the consular officers have asked applicants for proof that they meet the waiver criteria, and in other cases, they’ve said they’ll review existing visa application information. “The confusion is causing people a lot of anxiety, and it’s also giving people a lot of false hope of what the government wants,” she added.

Chris Richardson, a former consular officer who submitted an affidavit in support of the Muslim Advocates litigation, said the government was hiding behind the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. Diplomats like himself, he said, were not actually empowered to exercise discretion in issuing waivers.

“I think that the Muslim ban itself became the template for all the other things that came after it.”

“If there was an actual waiver process, then consular officers themselves would’ve had total discretion in terms of issuing the visa to anyone they wanted,” said Richardson, who resigned from his diplomatic outpost in Madrid in March of this year. He said in his affidavit that it was his understanding that no one was to be eligible to apply for a visa waiver, and that consular officers were not allowed to exercise discretion to grant a waiver. Instead, they’d have to ask officials in Washington, who’d be empowered to make a final determination.

“You wouldn’t put up nondiscretionary hurdles in there unless you were trying to discourage people from giving waivers,” Richardson told The Intercept.

“I think that the Muslim ban itself became the template for all the other things that came after it,” Richardson said. Trump “realized with the Muslim ban that if you do something outrageous at first, and then you get the government to modify it to make it seem less bad, people will forget. People won’t care anymore. People will let it go.”

The post Donald Trump’s Travel Ban Faces a New Day in Court appeared first on The Intercept.

Activists Found Guilty of Terrorism-Related Offense For Stopping U.K. Migrant Deportations

The guilty verdict arrived around lunchtime on December 10 — Human Rights Day, which this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It signaled the end of a nine-week trial and three days of jury deliberations in Chelmsford Crown Court, about 30 miles northeast of London. More than a year and a half after the 15 defendants had locked themselves around a deportation charter flight at London’s Stansted Airport, successfully stopping it from taking off, the defendants were convicted of intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome, a terrorism-related offense with a potential life sentence.

Known as the Stansted 15, the defendants had all pleaded not guilty to the charge, which falls under the United Kingdom’s Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, an obscure law intended to fight terrorism. The activists were originally charged with aggravated trespass, but that charge was later upgraded to intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome — under the “endangering safety at an aerodrome” section of the act — and seen by many as a disproportionate response to peaceful protest. Now, the guilty verdict has sent a chilling message to those who may wish to follow in the Stansted 15’s footsteps. Amnesty International, which had been observing the trial, tweeted, “The rights and freedoms of all of us are being eroded. The UK should not be targeting human rights defenders in this way.”

In a statement released minutes after the verdict was announced, the defendants wrote, “We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm. The real crime is the government’s cowardly, inhumane and barely legal deportation flights and the unprecedented use of terror law to crack down on peaceful protest. We must challenge this shocking use of draconian legislation, and continue to demand an immediate end to these secretive deportation charter flights and a full independent public inquiry into the government’s ‘hostile environment’.”

The Crown Prosecution Service published a press release about the verdict, outlining the disruption to airport operations, such as delayed and rerouted flights, caused by the Stansted 15’s action. Judith Reed, a deputy chief crown prosecutor, stated, “The [Crown Prosecution Service] worked with the police to build a strong case which reflected the criminality of the defendant’s actions, regardless of their motivation.” Tony Badenoch, who represented the prosecution in court, declined to comment.

“We are guilty of nothing more than intervening to prevent harm.”

On March 28, 2017, the 15 activists, members of anti-deportation groups End Deportations and Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, cut a hole through Stansted Airport’s perimeter fence and climbed through. Once inside airport grounds, they headed toward a Titan Airways Boeing 767 and broke into two groups. One intended to lock themselves around the plane’s front wheel with double-layered pipes; the other, to construct a two-meter pyramid structure out of scaffolding poles under the plane’s left wing and then lock themselves around it.

The plane had been chartered by the Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order, and was set to fly migrants and asylum-seekers back to Nigeria and Ghana later that night. Instead, it remained in place until the next morning, when police officers managed to remove all of the activists. In grounding the flight, the activists aimed to prevent the deportees from being sent back to places where they faced threats of harm and even death; they also wanted to draw attention to the government’s practice of deporting people via private charter flights, where security personnel often outnumber deportees, there is little notice given to asylum-seekers in advance, and reports tell of excessive restraint used on passengers.

Most of the people scheduled to be on that flight were eventually placed on other flights and deported back to their countries of origin. However, the Stansted 15’s action also allowed additional time for some of the deportees’ asylum applications to be reviewed or for decisions to be appealed. As of this past July, 11 people scheduled for that flight remained in the U.K. According to the activists, two have been found to be victims of human trafficking and at least one has since been granted indefinite leave to remain in the country.

In an anonymous piece written by one of the deportees scheduled for that March 28 flight and published by The Guardian right after the verdict came down, a man explains how the Stansted 15 changed his life, giving him “a chance to appeal to the authorities over my deportation — a case that I won on two separate occasions, following a Home Office counter-appeal.” More importantly, he wrote, it also allowed him to be in the U.K. for the birth of his daughter.

This was precisely what the activists had hoped for when they cut a hole in Stansted’s fence and laid down on the tarmac below the Titan plane. And it was this goal of preventing harm that, they argue, justified their actions, regardless of any laws they may have broken in the process — a defense that Judge Christopher Morgan discarded when instructing the jury on what to consider during his summation on December 4. Instead, he told the jury, the decision hinged solely on whether the defendants had acted “in such a way as to be likely to endanger the safe operation of the aerodrome or the safety of persons at the aerodrome.” Jurors’ personal feelings about the Home Office, immigration policy, and the use of this charge, as well as any sympathy they may have for the defendants, were not to be factors.

Now, the 15 defendants — one of whom is eight months pregnant — remain in a state of limbo until their sentencing hearing, scheduled for February. “It’s disappointing to get this ruling, but I feel it’s not the end for us because we will appeal it,” explained Jyotsna Ram, one of the defendants, speaking to The Intercept a few hours after the verdict was announced. Ram, 33, works for a small organization in London that does research and campaigns around climate change and energy, although, she laughed, “It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what my life outside of this is like.” She said that, at least in some ways, the verdict did not come as a shock. “This was the wrong charge in the wrong court. So we’re not surprised because everything about this process has been wrong, and we have to fight a bit more.”

The post Activists Found Guilty of Terrorism-Related Offense For Stopping U.K. Migrant Deportations appeared first on The Intercept.

A GOP Governor Has a Chance to Fix a Blue State’s Draconian Approach to Paroling Juvenile Offenders

In 1993, a 40-year-old man in Maryland who was serving a life sentence for a 1975 murder left prison on the state’s prerelease program. Correctional officers had described Rodney Stokes as a model prisoner who had demonstrated no inclination to reoffend. Stokes had been in the work-release program since 1988 and had worked for the Baltimore Department of Public Works as a laborer since 1989. But one day after leaving, he killed his former girlfriend and then himself.

The murder-suicide came on the heels of three other incidents in Maryland involving the prerelease of prisoners. The Willie Horton ad that derailed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign was also still fresh in the public’s mind. Horton was a convicted felon serving a life sentence in Massachusetts; while on a weekend furlough, he committed assault, armed robbery, and rape. He was captured and sentenced in Maryland, where he remains to this day.

In reaction to the Stokes incident, Maryland’s Democratic governor at the time, Parris Glendening, removed all lifers from the prerelease program and announced, in 1995, that he would approve no recommendations to parole lifers going forward. “A life sentence means life,” he declared. Maryland, along with California and Oklahoma, is one of just three states in which the governor’s signature is required in order to parole prisoners with life sentences; in the 25 years leading up to Glendening’s decision, three Maryland governors had paroled 181 prisoners with life sentences. The state courts upheld Glendening’s pronouncement in 1999, and it remains effectively in place today — even with respect to juvenile offenders, who in recent years have seen their life sentences revisited around the country.

There are an estimated 2,100 people in prison nationwide who were sentenced to life for crimes they committed when they were 17 or younger. But recently, some states have eliminated life without parole sentences for juveniles altogether. Others have devised alternative sentencing schemes to give juvenile offenders a “meaningful opportunity” for release. The changes were prompted by a bevy of scientific evidence about adolescent brain development and powerful U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have been issued in the past eight years.

Maryland, however, appears to be stuck in the tough-on-crime fervor of the 1990s. Not one juvenile lifer in Maryland has been paroled outright — released on a formal recommendation to the governor based on the prisoner’s good behavior and signs of rehabilitation — since 1995. There are currently more than 200 parole-eligible juveniles toiling away in the state’s prisons. That’s in large part, criminal justice reformers say, because of the governor’s role in the process, which they describe as highly politicized — and which leads to people being locked up forever.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was re-elected to a second term last month. He now has an opening to parole more individuals with life sentences, and then ultimately remove himself from the parole approval process altogether.

“Republicans are presumed to be about law and order, and it can be easier for law-and-order politicians to move on criminal justice reform or grant clemency,” said Jane Murphy, a University of Baltimore law professor. “There’s a lot of pressure on him, but it’s also politically easier for him to [grant parole]. We’re sort of hopeful now, because this is his second term and he’s term-limited. … If this is the end of the road for Hogan, he might be more courageous.”

Hogan’s approach to juvenile lifers is rooted in the Maryland Court of Appeals’s 1999 decision upholding Glendening’s decree. The court found that the rights of lifers were not violated by the governor’s blanket refusal to approve any recommendation from the Maryland Parole Commission.

From then on, Maryland’s governors would reject recommendations — typically without explanation — to parole lifers who had demonstrated good behavior. Sometimes recommendations to parole lifers would be left in limbo, sitting on the governor’s desk for years.

In 2011, advocates confronted the Maryland legislature with evidence that parole and commutation requests were pending indefinitely, and the General Assembly responded by modifying the statute, requiring the governor to act on a parole recommendation within six months. The governor at the time, Democrat Martin O’Malley, responded by swiftly rejecting all pending recommendations.

Criminal justice reformers have continued to press the legislature to take the governor out of the process, and to leave parole decisions up to the Parole Commission. Those efforts, however, have been routinely stymied by legislators that are fearful of being blamed for another Rodney Stokes or Willie Horton. “It’s hard for someone to say, ‘I’m going to undo this policy,’” said Sonia Kumar, a juvenile justice-focused attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. “They’ll say, “Well, one bad headline and my political career is in the toilet.’”

In 2017, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill that would have removed the governor from the decision-making process, leaving it up to the Parole Commission to make a final determination. “It is the Parole Commission that sits in front of these individuals who are serving life sentences, and can aptly gauge the person’s rehabilitation, remorse, and disposition, while conducting a thorough review of the relevant records and documents,” reads testimony in support of the bill from the University of Baltimore law school’s Juvenile Justice Project and the University of Maryland law school’s Gender Violence Clinic.

But Hogan fought the bill in the Senate and wrote on Facebook that he “strongly disagree[s] with giving this important responsibility to a nameless board with no accountability to voters and people of this state.” He described it as a partisan attempt to “radically change our state government” and deny Marylanders the “needed and appropriate oversight” they deserve. The bill ended up floundering in the Senate, due to some proposed amendments that advocates deemed unacceptable.

“I think the pushback came because [Hogan] views it as just a challenge to his authority,” said Walter Lomax, the executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative. Lomax was released from prison in 2006, after serving 40 years for a murder he did not commit. “We try not to be adversarial when pushing for this legislation,” Lomax added. “We’ve just tried to present the hard facts as to why this policy should be changed.”

ANNAPOLIS, MD - FEBRUARY 1:  Maryland Senator Delores Kelley shows a page of people still serving life terms ,during a press conference organized in part by the ACLU of Maryland and Legislators in Annapolis proposing to take the governor -- and politics -- out of the parole process for people serving life in prison. Many who were juvenile offenders when they committed their crimes.(Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

At a press conference on Feb. 1, 2018, organized in part by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and legislators, Maryland Sen. Delores Kelley holds a page showing people still serving life terms, many of whom were juvenile offenders when they committed their crimes.

Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

These political battles are especially urgent, criminal justice reform advocates say, because the process for parole and commutation is shrouded in secrecy.

Murphy, who directs the Juvenile Justice Project at the University of Baltimore law school, put it this way: “Our sources of information are occasional leaks from the Parole Commission, or if the ACLU can glean facts through a lawsuit discovery. We don’t know how many people have been commuted, and the only reason we have any information at all is because we push and [file requests under the Freedom of Information Act] and call and write letters and ask for favors, but the vast majority of people in the parole system are unrepresented and there’s no accountability at all.”

There’s “a recognition that secrecy does not tend to breed fair outcomes,” said Kumar of the ACLU. Unlike many other states, Maryland does not recognize a right to counsel in parole hearings, and there are no records of what happens during the proceedings. When the ACLU of Maryland filed a public records request in order to learn how many people had been recommended for clemency, the Parole Commission refused to even disclose that number, saying the information was protected by executive privilege.

The consequence of all this, advocates say, is a loss of hope for people who have spent decades in prison working to rehabilitate themselves, while being told that good behavior could one day lead to parole.

When Hogan ran for governor in 2014, he gave the impression that he would govern differently on this issue, promising to parole lifers who were recommended for release more quickly. And his record on approving parole requests has been slightly better than that of his Democratic predecessor, O’Malley, but that bar is so low that advocates see the situation as still fundamentally broken.

“In office, he’s dealt with it like [Republican Gov. Robert] Ehrlich dealt with it,” said Lomax, “where he’d commute a few sentences and then let people be paroled out that way.”

As of February, according to a letter sent to the state Senate by Hogan’s chief counsel and reviewed by The Intercept, the governor approved two out of nine parole requests during his first three years and granted seven commutations. By contrast, O’Malley, in his eight years in office, granted three commutations and authorized just two medical paroles, a form of release granted to prisoners who are terminally ill and need to move into hospice.

Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokesperson, told The Intercept that the governor received one recommendation to parole a juvenile lifer, which he denied, but he commuted the sentence of another juvenile lifer, and has granted medical parole to three juvenile lifers. Chasse did not answer questions about whether the bases for the governor’s decisions are available for public review or available to the prisoners themselves.

The nationwide push to eliminate life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders came to a head in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Graham v. Florida, struck down such sentences for non-homicide offenses. “The juvenile should not be deprived of the opportunity to achieve maturity of judgment and self-recognition of human worth and potential,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

Two years later, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, even in cases of homicide, violated the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the majority opinion. In Miller, the court held that juvenile offenders, unless they were “irreparably corrupt,” were entitled to a “meaningful opportunity” for release from prison. Four years later, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that Miller should be applied to juvenile offenders retroactively — giving juveniles who’d previously been sentenced to life without parole for killing someone a chance to reopen their cases.

In Maryland, attorneys and advocates argue that while juvenile offenders are technically eligible for parole, in reality they’re systematically denied it, given the politicized nature of the governor’s approval process.

“Graham was decided in 2010, and we have people who are still not getting anything close to a meaningful opportunity for release eight years later,” said Kumar of the ACLU of Maryland.

In February, Hogan issued an executive order that stipulated he would consider “the same factors and information assessed by the Maryland Parole Commission” when deciding whether to parole juvenile lifers, as well as “other lawful factors deemed relevant by the Governor.” Hogan said this was codifying what he already did but stressed that the order would not apply retroactively. In other words, he was not opening a chance to review past decisions.

Advocates blasted Hogan’s executive order as a political stunt. “He issued something he can change at any time, and there’s nothing enforceable about the order,” said Kumar. “As a practical matter, the order doesn’t alter the system in any way that shifts it from one of clemency to parole, which is the fundamental failing.”

The state’s highest court, however, disagrees. This past summer, in a 4-3 ruling, Maryland’s Court of Appeals held that state law provides a meaningful opportunity for release for juvenile defenders. The court cited Hogan’s executive order, finding that it “attempts to bridge the gap between unfettered discretion that the legislature has given to the governor with respect to parole of inmates serving life sentences and the requirements of the Eighth Amendment as to juvenile offenders.”

In a dissent, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said the majority opinion does not apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings to Maryland’s situation in a “realistic manner.” She was unconvinced that Hogan’s executive order “cures the constitutional infirmity of Maryland’s current parole system,” she wrote.

While the August decision was a blow for criminal justice reformers, Kumar described it as a “mixed bag,” since it also brought about some positive new pressure. It was the first time the state’s highest court spoke to any of the questions that had grown out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases on youth serving life sentences.

In contrast, other states have taken real steps to respond to the decisions of the Supreme Court, including Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state in the country. In 2017, in the case of Commonwealth v. Batts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set forth a series of protections to effectuate the constitutional decrees of Montgomery and Miller. As a result of these protections, explained Riya Saha Shah, an attorney at the Pennsylvania-based Juvenile Law Center, fewer people have received life without parole at resentencing hearings, and Pennsylvania has also been paroling out people who have served long prison sentences on good behavior. “Overall, the parole process offers a more meaningful opportunity for release than a state like Maryland, which effectively denies it,” she said.

The pressure on Hogan to take criminal justice reform more seriously is coming from a number of directions. A group of about 50 attorneys came together in 2017 to fight for protections for juvenile offenders. The Maryland Juvenile Lifer Parole Representation Project offers pro bono legal services to juvenile offenders languishing in jail. “Our goal is not only to provide individual representation, but to unleash these large firm lawyers on this system,” explained Murphy.

The state is also currently defending itself against a 2016 federal lawsuit, brought by the ACLU, that challenges the constitutionality of Maryland’s parole scheme for juveniles. The case remains pending.

There is also an economic argument for enacting reform. During the gubernatorial campaign, Hogan’s Democratic opponent, Ben Jealous, spent significant time talking about the amount of money wasted on mass incarceration that could be better spent elsewhere. In a 2015 report, the ACLU of Maryland found that the detention of more than 2,000 with life sentences costs the state more than $70 million per year. By contrast, a recent report from the Justice Policy Institute estimated that it would cost about $6,000 per year to support the successful re-entry of prisoners into society. (The report focused on about 200 former Maryland prisoners who were freed on probation under a landmark 2012 decision and who provided with substantial philanthropic support upon release. Less than 3 percent of them have reoffended, the Justice Policy Institute found, compared to a recidivism rate of 40 percent for the general prison population. Chasse, Hogan’s spokesperson, did not return request for comment on the findings.)

While Maryland has taken some recent steps to tackle its prison system — notably, the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016, which took effect last fall — the bulk of the new reforms have focused on low-level, nonviolent offenders.

“We’re not really going to take on mass incarceration,” said Kumar, “until we help people who made horrible mistakes with tragic outcomes and have turned their lives around.”

The post A GOP Governor Has a Chance to Fix a Blue State’s Draconian Approach to Paroling Juvenile Offenders appeared first on The Intercept.

Les Moonves Might Lose His Severance, but Don’t Let the Corporate Culture That Enabled Him Off the Hook

SUN VALLEY, ID - JULY 11: Leslie 'Les' Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Corporation, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 11, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every July, some of the world's most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, technology and political spheres converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Les Moonves, former president and CEO of CBS Corporation, attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 11, 2018, in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Harvey Weinstein has had, in his own words, “a hell of a year” and “the worst nightmare” of his life. So the disgraced Hollywood mogul reportedly told close friends in an email on Monday, which was leaked to the press within days. His self-pity drew righteous public ire. The fact of the email itself, however, reminds us of a crucial aspect undergirding so many #MeToo cases like Weinstein’s, in which industry titans have been revealed as serial sexual abusers. An email like that is only sent on the presumption of sympathetic recipients — in other words, enablers.

Media attention in recent weeks has focused on another powerful alleged perpetrator of sexual violence, former CBS chief Les Moonves, with the question looming as to whether the media executive will receive his $120 million severance payout. Over a dozen perturbing allegations detailing decades of overlooked workplace harassment and assault have been levied against Moonves. Like Weinstein’s, Moonves’s case exemplifies the nexus of power, institutional abetment, vast wealth, and abuse, which no number of #MeToo revelations and figurehead removals will themselves undo.

In response to two reports published by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker last August and September detailing 12 women’s accusations against Moonves, CBS moved at a glacial pace before gently relieving the CEO of his duties (with a thank-you note included). Since Moonves’s departure, the network — also the former home of accused abusers Charlie Rose, “60 Minutes’s” Jeff Fager and producer Brad Kern — has done nothing beyond what it describes as a “thorough investigation of these matters, which is ongoing.”

Moonves’s case exemplifies the nexus of power, institutional abetment, vast wealth, and abuse, which no number of #MeToo revelations and figurehead removals will themselves undo.

The New York Times reported this week that a draft report, compiled by lawyers for the CBS board, found that Moonves “destroyed evidence and misled investigators in an attempt to preserve his reputation and save a lucrative severance deal.” The report stated that “based on the facts developed to date, we believe that the board would have multiple bases upon which to conclude that the company was entitled to terminate Moonves for cause.” At most, then, Moonves, an inordinately wealthy mega-millionaire, will lose his severance.

Even if the CBS board finds grounds to deny Moonves severance, the company cannot be absolved of its complicity. This is the double-edged sword of payouts, as we saw when NBC denied accused harasser Matt Lauer his severance deal: A company must show it has fired an employee “for cause” in order to withhold paying out their contract. But to do so, it must be established that the company was not aware or enabling of the employee’s wrongdoing. An employee generally cannot be denied compensation based on behavior that, up until that point, the company had known about and countenanced.

Moonves’s alleged attempts to obstruct investigations into his abuses could count as such grounds for a “for cause” firing on a legal level. But the narrative that there was no institutional awareness or enabling of the former CEO’s behavior is laughable and belied by dozens of testimonies. The lawyers’ report, for example, detailed the allegation that an employee was “on call” to engage in sexual relations with Moonves, and that a current CBS board member was aware of at least one allegation of sexual assault. (Moonves’s lawyer told the Times that he denied any “nonconsensual sexual relation” and that he cooperated with the investigation. CBS did not comment.)

The narrative that there was no institutional awareness or enabling of the former CEO’s behavior is laughable.

No one with a functioning moral compass wants Moonves to walk away with $120 million, but the denial of his severance shouldn’t exempt CBS or the entire industry, which bolstered Moonves throughout his tenure, from accountability. After over a year of #MeToo stories pouring forth from the media and entertainment industries, it seems obvious that more than a few bad apples need removing — an entire orchard should be cleared to let new trees grow. By which I mean, the abuse-enabling board members and managers removed, systems of radical accountability put in place, and pay ceilings and pay floors established to challenge the impunity-fostering power imbalances.

If “thorough investigations” were to take the need for these structural changes seriously, they would lead to an inevitable conclusion: the establishment and maintenance of robust, diverse, worker-organized bodies within industries, endowed with the power to protect and represent all workers and keep checks on bosses. Typically, we call these unions.

The post Les Moonves Might Lose His Severance, but Don’t Let the Corporate Culture That Enabled Him Off the Hook appeared first on The Intercept.

Who Killed Donna Brown?

In a section of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation website listing unsolved crimes, a few short paragraphs detail the death of a man in a small town more than 18 years ago. “On April 8, 2000, at approximately 1:20 p.m., Shailesh Patel was found murdered at his brother-in-law’s residence located on North Gordon Avenue, Adel, Cook County, Georgia,” it reads. “Mr. Patel, who lived in Locust Grove in Henry County, GA., had been staying at this residence and managing the E Z Mart Convenience store while his brother-in-law and family were vacationing in California.”

There’s no photograph of Patel on the GBI profile, only a forensic artist’s sketch of “a man seen in the area several hours prior to the incident” – a possible witness. Patel had been “stabbed and beaten,” it says, although this hardly captures the brutality of the crime. Former Adel Police Officer Tim Balch remembers arriving at the house, on a quiet block on the north side of town. “When I got there,” he says, “I just peeped in and it was like, ‘We’re calling GBI. This is bad.’” There was blood everywhere and signs of struggle throughout the home. Patel had been bashed over the head with a television. Balch, a large tattooed Army veteran who drives a Hummer, had seen his share of bloodshed. But the savagery of this scene stands out in his mind. Whoever committed the crime had to be “a straight psychopath.”

The GBI concluded it was a robbery gone bad but was otherwise tight-lipped. Additional details were published in the local Adel News Tribune. Patel, a 37-year-old immigrant from India, was only in Adel temporarily to help his brother-in-law with the convenience store attached to a gas station near the home where he lived. According to his nephew, Manishh, a college student in Atlanta at the time, Patel would ordinarily eat dinner in a neighboring town after his shift. But that night, he had apparently walked the few blocks back to the house and discovered a burglary underway. After Patel failed to show up at work the next morning, police were called.

There was a cruel irony to his death. Manishh told the News Tribune that Patel planned to move to Adel with his wife and two kids, in part to avoid the crime he had encountered in other places. Murders in Adel were rare — and the neighborhood where Patel was killed was particularly peaceful. “The only noise you ever heard around here was children playing,” the minister at the church next door told the newspaper.

Yet Patel’s death was the second violent killing in Adel in less than two years. In the fall of 1998, a woman named Donna Brown, the single mother of a 7-year-old son, had been robbed and shot dead in front of the Taco Bell where she worked, less than two miles away. A suspect was quickly arrested and jailed in that case. But now there was another murderer on the loose, a terrifying prospect in a town of just more than 5,000 that covers only eight square miles. “We have never had anything like this happen here before,” an elderly neighbor told the newspaper after Patel’s death.

Still, Patel’s family had warned him to be careful. His brother-in-law, Vishnu, had been robbed at the EZ Mart several months earlier by a “masked man brandishing an Exacto knife,” according to a separate newspaper report. Patel told police that a “stocky black man” had forced him to the store counter after 10 p.m. on October 26, 1999 and said, “Give me all the money or I’ll kill you.” He then punched Patel in the mouth and fled.

Whether police sought a link between the 1999 robbery and the 2000 murder is unclear. Nor is it clear what was done with all the physical evidence left at the house on North Gordon Avenue, which was ripe for forensic testing. The case was presumably in good hands: The GBI routinely took over cases in the rural towns of South Georgia, which did not have the resources or technology to investigate major crimes. In the year Patel was killed, the GBI was taking full advantage of new DNA technology; by 2002, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the agency boasted that it was matching an average of “six crimes a month” to criminals in the state’s DNA database.

Yet the trail to Patel’s murderer quickly went cold. In contrast to the swift arrest following the murder of Donna Brown at the Taco Bell in 1998, the Patel case would be handed off to “a plethora of agents” over the next 18 years, according to GBI Special Agent Mark Pro, who insists that the agency is still working on solving the crime today. “We’re dealing in an area in South Georgia that is very small, and the neighborhood and the people that live in that area are very close-knit,” he said, explaining that he did not want to tip off any potential suspects by divulging further details about the agency’s investigation. But at least one man who worked on the Patel case was surprised to hear it was never solved. Former GBI agent Richard Deas remembers taking photos and dusting for fingerprints. He retired in 2001, figuring the killer was someone who had been in trouble with the law “or would be in trouble with the law again.”

Regardless, the Patel family says it has not heard from the GBI in years. Now in his 40s, Manishh Patel says the family never received basic answers about what happened or why the crime was not solved. He could understand this coming from a rural police force in a town like Adel, he said. But the GBI is “like the FBI of Georgia, the highest criminal investigators in our state,” he says. “So that’s the question that I have. What did they do?”

An Adel water tower seen from the Cook County Courthouse.

An Adel water tower, seen from the Cook County Courthouse.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

Adel, Georgia, the seat of Cook County, sits just off Interstate 75, a north-south artery that runs from South Florida all the way north to the Great Lakes. Six lanes of highway slice through the west side of town, with an overpass bridging the divide. An Alabama news columnist once described Adel as “a little town nestled between billboards,” which remains an apt description. The highway is lined with dueling displays offering nostalgia or redemption; approaching from the north, signs aggressively promote the Magnolia Plantation, an oversized Greek revival-style home where travelers can buy peach marinades and praline pecans. Farther down the highway, a series of eye-popping religious billboards — sponsored by the defunct website — portray the harrowing alternative to Christian salvation, with ashen zombie-humans depicting the damned. In one fiery scene, Jesus’s flowing white robes are surrounded by tanks and gun-pointing soldiers, below the words “I Am Still In Control.”

Located some 40 miles from the Florida border, Cook County was built up along the Georgia Southern and Florida Railroad, which first opened in 1890, the year after Adel was incorporated. The tracks ran from Florida to Macon, part of a rapidly growing network of railroads throughout the state that would be key to its economic recovery from the Civil War. By 1910, according to a historical marker in downtown Valdosta, some 30 miles south of Adel, the region was home to one of the largest cotton markets in the world. “The railroads were the life line that connected Valdosta to its market centers and led to the economic growth of the town,” it reads. The trains were a selling point for towns like Adel, advertised by a turn-of-the-century real estate broker as “the best little town in south Georgia, growing bigger and better every day.”

A McDonald's in Adel, GA.

A McDonald’s in Adel, Ga.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

But for black residents of Cook County, it was a different story. The cotton industry had been built on the backs of their enslaved ancestors — and the railroads were built under brutal conditions using convict labor, which became plentiful as the state criminalized its black population following abolition. By the time Cook County (named after Confederate general Philip Cook) was founded in 1918, chain gangs were common, while the short-lived political representation of black Georgians gained during Reconstruction had come to an end.

The legacy of slavery is all around Adel. A historical marker in Hahira, some 10 miles south, commemorates “one of the deadliest waves of vigilantism in Georgia’s history” in 1918, when a notorious white landowner was allegedly killed by a man sent to work for him from the local jail. Eleven black residents were rounded up and lynched, including a woman who was eight months pregnant. The site where Union soldiers captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis, about 40 miles north of Adel, is home to a park, museum, and gift shop.

Today, Adel remains small and segregated, and the railroad tracks, now in the hands of the Norfolk Southern Railway, are the de facto divider between black and white residents. Officially designated as the City of Daylilies by Georgia lawmakers in 2006, the city website lauds Adel for preserving “its friendly atmosphere and small-town charm.” But the perception is not universally shared — especially where police are concerned. Black residents have long complained about harassment from cops in Adel. For those just passing through Cook County, it is hard to miss the police cars swarming I-75, bearing the names of myriad small cities and towns clustered in the area, each with its separate police force. And for strangers who come to town, perhaps to ask questions about old crimes, the reception from law enforcement can be downright hostile.

Train tracks in Adel, GA seen through the reflection of a business window.

Train tracks in Adel, Ga., seen through the reflection of a business window.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

Another Killing

It was not long before the murder of Shailesh Patel was dramatically eclipsed by a third gruesome murder in Adel. Just seven months after Patel’s body was discovered on North Gordon Avenue, a beloved local grocer and his employee were beaten to death in broad daylight at a small store near the railroad tracks, just two miles away. The murder “horrified and revulsed the community,” the News Tribune reported on November 15, 2000, with a mugshot of the perpetrator on the front page: 20-year-old Hercules Brown.

It was a familiar name. In fact, for nearly two years, “Hercules Brown” had been whispered and muttered out loud — by callers to the newspaper, by gossiping teenagers at the car wash on 4th Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and by locals interviewed by the GBI. It was a name that came up in rumors, not only after the brutal killing of Shailesh Patel earlier that year, but also following the 1998 death of Donna Brown at the Taco Bell, where Hercules had worked for two years, often on the closing shift. As a different man sat in jail awaiting trial for that crime — swearing he was innocent — the brazen double murder in the fall of 2000 resurfaced old questions in Adel. Did police get the wrong man in 1998?

It is often said that the tragedy of wrongful convictions is not just what they mean for the innocents who lose their freedom, but also the threat they present to communities as a whole. When a person is imprisoned for a murder they did not commit, the real perpetrator is free to kill again. Among longtime residents of Adel, the period between the fall of 1998 and the fall of 2000 is a bad memory, a time when four people were violently murdered across a four-mile radius. Whether some of the murders could have been avoided is a question few seem willing to confront.

Almost 20 years later, Adel residents have moved on from that era in the town’s history. Yet the man convicted for the murder at the Taco Bell, Devonia Inman, has continued to proclaim his innocence while facing the prospect of dying in prison. Today, there is good reason to believe him, including compelling new evidence showing that police got it wrong. Many involved in the original case do not understand why Inman is still in prison. Others simply refuse to revisit it. From the Cook County Sheriff’s Department to the State Supreme Court, his pleas have proven futile. In Georgia, the truth will not set you free.

The Taco Bell in Adel, GA. Devonia Inman was convicted of a murder that happened in the parking lot of this Taco Bell in 1998.

The Taco Bell in Adel, Ga., in July 2017.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

The Taco Bell Murder

It was well after midnight on September 19, 1998 and 40-year-old Taco Bell manager Donna Brown was still trying to close for the night. It was only her third day on the job, and she was having a problem with the staff time cards. Employees working the closing shift usually left the restaurant together, but Brown told the two teenagers with her that night to go on home. Brown said she would call the Adel Police Department for an escort when she was ready to leave — a courtesy routinely extended to employees making late-night bank deposits. That evening, the Taco Bell’s deposit would be roughly $1,700.

Robin Carter and LarRisha Chapman, both students at Cook County High School, were working with Brown that night. Carter was picked up first; she remembered seeing Chapman pacing back and forth as she waited for her boyfriend to pick her up, which he eventually did shortly before 1 a.m. It was 1:52 a.m. when Brown finally clocked out.

A call came in to Adel police dispatch 12 minutes later. Customers at a nearby Huddle House restaurant had seen someone lying outside the adjacent Taco Bell, possibly passed out drunk. An employee called the cops. When police arrived on the scene, they found Donna Brown’s lifeless body in the middle of the otherwise empty parking lot. She was on her back; her employee uniform was intact — her white, short-sleeve collared shirt was tucked into pleated navy pants; a green chile-shaped nametag was still attached to her shirt — and her arms were splayed out to each side. Her head was cocked slightly to the left, her wavy hair matted from blood that had spread out across the asphalt. She had been shot once through her right eye with a bullet that police would later conclude had been fired by a .44 revolver.

A medical examiner would eventually testify that abrasions on Brown’s palms and left knee suggested she had fallen and tried to catch herself. Investigators would theorize that she had been killed by someone lying in wait, based on strands of vegetation found on her pants, which matched the weeds that ran along the parking lot curb. In one spot, those weeds were tamped down — a sign to the police that the killer had sprung from the bushes, surprising her before shooting her to death.


A photo of Donna Brown’s hand at the crime scene.

Photo: GBI

There had recently been a similar ambush at a fast food restaurant just over the interstate from the Taco Bell. Two Hardee’s employees were heading out after midnight on August 11, when a man in a ski mask emerged from the bushes next to the drive-thru window, pointing a pistol and demanding cash. But there was nothing to hand over — “we don’t take the money out at night anymore,” one of them told him. She and her co-worker drove straight to the police station, but officers lost the masked man as he ran off across a field.

If the murder of Donna Brown just one month later had any connection to the attempted robbery, police would never find out. Adel Police Officer Kevin Purvis was the first to arrive at the Taco Bell that night. He secured the area, putting crime tape around the scene. Then he waited. Later he would testify that, although there were people in the surrounding area at the time he found Brown’s body, he did not know who they were. He didn’t interview them to see if there was a possible witness. Nor did he find out who called 911. There was no police report; none of the Adel police officers at the crime scene that night documented their discoveries or recorded their actions. “We don’t usually do reports for murders,” Purvis explained. Everyone knew the case would be handed over to the GBI.


A photo of the crime scene.

Photo: GBI

It was true that the GBI would take charge when a serious crime occurred in Adel. The agency had investigative resources far beyond that of rural police forces in South Georgia, some of which did not even have an investigator on staff. Although the Adel Police Department employed a full-time detective — a man named Jimmy Hill — the murder at Taco Bell would soon be led by GBI Agent Jamy Steinberg.

A thickset man with an imposing presence now in his mid-40s, Steinberg was a rookie when he was tasked with solving Brown’s murder. He had previously been a member of the South Georgia Drug Task Force, one of several narcotics units born of federal funding to fight the war on drugs. Tim Balch, the former Adel police officer who would later respond to the Patel murder scene, remembers Steinberg as methodical, a stickler for paperwork, and comically clumsy at times. “If there’s a court day, you’ll know it because he’ll spill something on his tie that day at lunch,” Balch recalled.

Steinberg arrived at the Taco Bell at 3:30 a.m. accompanied by members of the GBI crime scene unit. As the team began processing the murder scene, two things were immediately clear: The bank deposit was missing, as was Brown’s black 1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The car was soon found in the parking lot of a long-shuttered Pizza Hut just over the interstate overpass. But neither the money nor the deposit bag was ever found — even though the Adel News Tribune would report, repeatedly, that the deposit bag had been recovered from the car.

There was plenty of physical evidence at the scene. Brown’s keys were wedged between the driver’s seat and the door; her purse was in the trunk. A pink bath towel was lying on the ground next to the car. Several finger and palm prints were lifted from the car, and investigators found tire tracks from a single vehicle leading into the parking lot, along with a shoe print near the abandoned car. Yet investigators somehow overlooked the key piece of evidence among these items, despite it being clearly visible in crime scene photos. Draped across the front passenger seat of the Monte Carlo was a makeshift ski mask, constructed from a length of gray sweatpants, with two eyeholes cut into it. The mask went undiscovered for approximately two weeks, until it was found in the car by Brown’s family.

That missed ski mask would be something of a harbinger for the investigation to come. The nearly 1,000-page GBI report on the murder of Donna Brown is thick but shallow, filled with leads never followed. Describing the GBI investigation to a jury years later, prosecutors claimed it was exhaustive: “They went down every path, they went down every road until they could exclude a person,” Assistant District Attorney Tim Eidson promised. But in fact, the opposite was true. After perfunctory efforts to match the finger and palm prints to several seemingly random people, the GBI quickly zeroed in on a single suspect who matched none of the physical evidence. With Adel Police Detective Jimmy Hill by his side, Steinberg turned to a 20-year-old who was new in town, with a recent history of run-ins with the police. His name was Devonia Inman.

Old family photos at Dave and Dinah Ray's house in Sacramento. The top photo is of Devonia Inman.

Family photos on display at Dave and Dinah Ray’s home in Sacramento, Calif., including Devonia Inman at the top.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

A Troubled Teen

Devonia Tyrone Inman was born on August 24, 1978, to Dinah Pickett and Eddie Lee Inman. He was delivered at home in a small house on Tomlinson Drive, just one mile southeast from where the Taco Bell would later stand. His father was in the military; when Inman was very young, his father’s post moved the family out of Georgia, leading them to Sacramento, California. His parents divorced when he was about 4 — Dinah would testify that her husband was abusive to her, including in front of their son. She remarried and stayed in California; Eddie Lee returned to Adel, eventually going to prison.

The move to California might have helped Inman avoid his father’s fate. As Inman’s aunt Ethel Pickett recalls, in her day, “when a black child graduated from high school, they went to the army. … They got out of Cook County, because if they hadn’t of got out of Cook County, they was going to jail.” Inman’s uncle, Ben Pickett, returned after a year deployed with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. “They didn’t have as many police then to really harass everybody,” he remembers about Adel in the 1970s. But like any segregated southern town, the law had a way of coming down hard on black folks. In 1982, Adel made national news after two white police officers fired their guns at a car carrying four black youth who were allegedly speeding. The car overturned, prompting calls from the NAACP for the cops to be fired.

By the time he was a teenager, Inman began getting in trouble in California. There was an arrest for armed robbery at 15, which landed him in juvenile hall, followed by an attempted robbery and car theft a couple years later. There was also a burgeoning pattern of domestic abuse. When Inman was 16, he was accused of choking and threatening to kill a girl he’d been dating for two weeks. Later, the family of a live-in girlfriend named Veronica filed several complaints against Inman, referring to him by his middle name. “Tyrone beats up Veronica all the time, but lately he has been getting much more violent,” her sister told police in 1997. An aunt described a phone call she overheard between her niece and Inman, who became enraged that her family was not letting her see him. “Fuck your aunt, fuck your grandma, fuck the law, I’m gonna get rid of them all,” he said.

Yet Inman also had a reputation for making empty threats, even among those who had been on the receiving end of his violent temper. “His bark is bigger than his bite,” said Marquetta Thomas, who met Inman when he returned to Adel in 1998. Her sister Christy Lima was dating Inman at the time of the murder at Taco Bell. He was violent toward her, Thomas said, but mostly he was a “pretty boy” who bullied girls because he wasn’t tough enough for real fights. For her part, Lima insisted that she was usually the one who got physical during fights with Inman, like the time she struck him in the face with a belt buckle. “Devonia probably hit me once, you know what I’m saying?”

There are different rumors for why Inman returned to Adel in the summer of 1998. One, still repeated among law enforcement, is that he was fleeing a murder rap in Sacramento. But according to his family, his mother simply thought he would stay away from trouble under the protection of his large extended family. That summer, the family was traveling South for a family reunion; before they returned to California, Dinah told Inman that she was going to leave him in Adel with his grandmother. He was angry, but his mother made it clear he did not have a choice.

It did not take long for Adel cops to remember the newly returned Inman. His relatives had deep roots in town, and his father had only recently gone to prison. Besides, Inman had already had his own run-in with the local law, after fathering a child with a girl during a visit to Adel in 1995. Inman showed up at the hospital that December, apparently against the mother’s wishes. “I just didn’t want him in there,” she later testified, denying she was afraid of him. “I just wanted him to leave.” But her mother and the nurses took out a warrant on Inman. Cook County prosecutor Bob Ellis charged him with terroristic threats and acts. He received 10 years’ probation, which he promptly violated by returning home to California. Breaking the terms of his probation would later come back to haunt Inman.

Marquetta Thomas at her home in Baldwin, GA. in 1998, Mrs. Thomas told investigators that Devonia Inman committed a murder at the Taco Bell in Adel, GA, but then recanted at trial.

Marquetta Thomas at her home in Baldwin, Ga. Thomas told investigators in 1998 that Devonia Inman committed a murder at the Taco Bell in Adel, but recanted at trial.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

Case Closed

It’s unclear why investigators first set their sights on Inman for the murder of Donna Brown. The GBI report shows that his name was first provided by a man named Zachary Payne, a sometime drug dealer in his early 30s, who had once lived near Inman’s aunt. On the evening of September 20 — just over 24 hours after the murder — Jamy Steinberg went to see Payne in the trailer park where he lived. The one-page summary of the meeting is short on details, but it says that Inman had recently come to Payne’s door to harass him with a couple of friends. Payne suggested that Inman was mad because Payne “knew” Inman’s girlfriend, Christy Lima. But whatever their original beef, it was clearly far less important than what Payne claimed to have seen Inman carrying: a gun pulled from his waistband and pointed in Payne’s direction. There was little else beyond that. Payne had no specific information about the murder at the Taco Bell, but “believes Inman would be very capable of committing this crime,” according to the GBI report.

On September 22, Steinberg and Hill went to see Inman’s girlfriend Lima at the home she shared with her sister, Marquetta Thomas. According to the GBI report, Lima said that Inman had a bad temper, but she had never had problems with him. She said that he had once hidden a revolver “between the mattress and box springs in her bedroom,” but she hadn’t seen it since. Perhaps most importantly, she said Inman had been with her the night Donna Brown was killed. A third person, Victoria Allen, also said Inman had been at the house all night, except for a brief time when he left around 11 p.m., and that she did not think he was capable of committing the crime.

But Thomas told a very different story. Thomas told Steinberg and Hill that Inman had recently talked about “jacking and robbing” places in order to get enough money to “come up” in the Adel drug trade. He’d tried to involve her in his robbery plots, she said, but she declined. And she said Inman was not home the night of Brown’s murder — and that her sister would probably lie to protect him.

The next day, Jimmy Hill went to see Inman at the Adel jail. Conveniently, he had been picked up on a warrant for violating probation in connection with the incident at the local hospital several years earlier. Inman reluctantly admitted that he’d briefly possessed a gray .38 snub-nosed revolver that he’d found in his uncle’s closet. And he said that he’d been at Lima’s house all night on the night of the murder.

But police didn’t believe him. Investigators began re-interviewing individuals they had spoken to before. A big break came almost immediately, when 16-year-old LarRisha Chapman met again with Steinberg on September 24. Chapman had originally told him that nothing out of the ordinary had happened at the Taco Bell on the night of the murder. But now she had a new story to tell. Waiting outside the Taco Bell for her boyfriend, she said, she did see something — or rather, she heard something: While sitting on the curb tying her shoe, she was startled to hear Inman’s voice coming from the weeds. The person had a “bald head and a white tank top,” she said. She told Steinberg that she had been too scared to say anything earlier.


A diagram of the Taco Bell parking lot, featuring measurements from key points in the crime scene.

Image: GBI

From there, the evidence against Inman began to stack up. A little over a month after the crime, a white woman named Virginia Tatem, a newspaper carrier, came forward with a damning account. On the night of the murder, she said she was under an awning outside the Howard Johnson’s just up the block from the abandoned Pizza Hut — the place where Brown’s car would later be found. It was around 2 a.m. and she was waiting for the papers to be brought up from Valdosta, when she heard what might have been a gunshot coming from the direction of the Taco Bell on the other side of the interstate. Shortly after that, she said, two cars came roaring across the overpass: the first, being driven by a black man wearing a gold chain, was a black two-door that matched the description of Brown’s Monte Carlo and going so fast that it fishtailed as it made the corner in front of her. Following close behind was a second car carrying at least two other black men and one black woman. They drove down the dark road that led to the Pizza Hut parking lot and disappeared. Steinberg showed Tatem a photo lineup, where she identified the driver of the first car. “Oh my God, that’s the one,” she said, according to the GBI report, covering her mouth and pointing at a picture of Inman.

The witness who would clinch the case against Inman came forward early in the new year. In January 1999, a man named Kwame Spaulding contacted the GBI from a jail in Valdosta, where he was being held on cocaine charges. Spaulding had been locked up with Inman, who remained in jail after being arrested on the probation violation. According to Spaulding, Inman had confessed to killing Brown, telling him he’d done the job with his girlfriend’s sister — presumably, Marquetta Thomas — and that the two had waited in the weeds for Brown to emerge. Then Inman shot her with a .44 caliber gun and the two had split the proceeds of the crime, leaving the deposit bag in Brown’s car. Spaulding asked if his jail time might be reduced for having provided this critical information. Steinberg said he would see about it.

On January 11, 1999, Inman was indicted for Donna Brown’s murder. His trial would not take place until 2001. In the meantime, elected District Attorney Bob Ellis announced he would seek the death penalty.

Inman’s relatives expressed disbelief. Ben Pickett recalls contacting Adel Police Chief Kirk Gordon and telling him repeatedly that the police had rushed to judgment, that word around town was that someone else had committed the crime. “I said, ‘You need to put the mens out on the street and find out what’s going on,’” he said, but was told, “No, we got our man.” Pickett answered, “Chief, you got the wrong man.”

A recent photo of Devonia Inman while in prison.

A recent photo of Devonia Inman while in prison.

Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones for The Intercept

Unreliable Witnesses

For all the circumstantial evidence pointing to Inman, there were reasons to think that his uncle was right. For one, Marquetta Thomas, whose story was so dramatically different from that of her roommates, had numerous potential reasons to lie. There was the fact that Inman mistreated her sister, which made Thomas hate him and gave her a motive to implicate him. More inconvenient for the GBI’s investigation, numerous people said Thomas — who would eventually be sent to prison for acting as a getaway driver in an unrelated armed robbery — had bragged that she herself was involved in Brown’s murder. She even fit the description of the woman in the second car that Tatem allegedly saw that night. Yet there is little indication in the GBI report that Steinberg investigated Thomas’s potential link to the crime.

Tatem’s story was also questionable. It was highly unlikely that she would have been able to see and hear everything she claimed from the spot where she stood that night. She had also waited more than a month to come forward — only after a $5,000 reward for information in the case had been published in the Adel News Tribune.

Finally, there were problems with Spaulding’s story. Like any jailhouse snitch, it was clear he sought to trade information to help himself, regardless of how accurate it was. But more importantly, many of the details he offered had been published in the newspaper by the time he came forward — including the erroneous detail about the deposit bag being left in Brown’s car. Spaulding also said that Inman had shot Brown with a .44 — a detail prosecutors would later say was never made public, convincing Steinberg that Spaulding was telling the truth. But that detail, too, had repeatedly appeared in the paper.

But the most significant reason to doubt the case against Inman was the GBI’s failure to pursue alternative suspects, central among them, Hercules Brown. In a brief interview with Steinberg, who had secured a list of all current and former Taco Bell employees, Hercules was asked questions that might implicate other people in the case, for example, whether Hercules knew of any trouble Donna Brown might have had with a boyfriend. Not surprisingly, Hercules said no.

Hercules, then a high school senior, worked at the Taco Bell for two years, often on the closing shift with LarRisha Chapman. He was not at work the night of the murder, allegedly because he was either at home or had been on a school band trip that evening. Yet numerous people came forward with information pointing toward Hercules. Though some of the information is included in the GBI report, there is no indication that Steinberg or Hill ever acted on any of the tips.

One man told investigators that his brother said Hercules had admitted that the crime was an inside job and that LarRisha Chapman was supposed to help him rob the store that night but that she’d chickened out. A second man also told police that he knew who did it — that the man had confessed to him that he’d used a .44 and that he’d worn a ski mask because Donna Brown knew who he was. The man would later say that the story had come from Hercules, while the two of them were talking at a local car wash.

Finally, Takeisha Pickett, Inman’s cousin, said she told Steinberg that before she quit her job at Taco Bell in July 1998, on two separate occasions, Hercules had asked whether she would join him in a plot to rob the store. Pickett turned him down. While Pickett is adamant that she gave Steinberg that information just two weeks after Donna Brown’s murder, it is not included in his report.

If Steinberg had followed up on these leads, there is a good chance that at least two, if not three, additional murders in Adel, Georgia, could have been prevented.

The post Who Killed Donna Brown? appeared first on The Intercept.

NYPD Gang Database Can Turn Unsuspecting New Yorkers into Instant Felons

Keith Shenery was hanging out with friends in the courtyard of a Harlem public housing project when police saw him remove a small bag from his pants. When police approached him, he told them that it was “just weed.” When the officers searched him, they found a small bag of marijuana and a folding knife, a gift from his grandfather. Shenery, 21 at the time, was arrested and indicted for unlawful possession of marijuana and felony possession of a weapon — an unusually severe charge. Prosecutors asked for his bond to be set at a whopping $10,000. Shenery, they claimed, was a “known” gang member.

Shenery, who had only three nonviolent misdemeanor arrests on his record from when he was a teenager, could have been released that night on his own recognizance with a misdemeanor charge. He had no idea why prosecutors would call him a gang member and strongly denied the accusation. But as his case has dragged in court for nearly two years, prosecutors labeled him a gang member over and over — telling a judge, but providing no evidence, that he belonged to Harlem’s Cash Money Boys, “a violent narcotic sale crew based out of 1990 Lenox,” according to court files.

More than a year after his April 21, 2017, arrest, Shenery learned that prosecutors appeared to be basing their accusation on his inclusion in a database of more than 42,000 New Yorkers that the New York Police Department considers as “gang members.”

As The Intercept has reported, the NYPD’s gang database was massively expanded in recent years, even as gang-related crime dropped to historic lows. The information on the secretive list is available to prosecutors but not to those named in the database, who often learn that the police have labeled them gang members only if they are arrested and slammed with inexplicably harsh charges or excessive bond. The database has been widely criticized as arbitrary, discriminatory, and over-inclusive — with no clear process in place to discover or challenge one’s alleged gang affiliation. Like Shenery, an overwhelming majority of people in the database are young black and Latino men.

Last year, the Legal Aid Society, one of several New York organizations that have demanded greater transparency from the NYPD about the database, launched a website to help New Yorkers file public records requests to learn whether they are listed in it. So far, more than 300 people have filed such requests — but police have denied every one of them.

Shenery, who learned of the existence of the gang database after prosecutors called him a gang member in court, filed a Freedom of Information Law request last July to understand what earned him the label. Within a day, the NYPD denied his request. Shenery appealed and then sued in November after the NYPD responded that it had found “responsive records” for him but refused to turn them over.

Shenery declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a series of questions by The Intercept about the gang database and Shenery’s lawsuit, but wrote in an email that the department “maintains among the nation’s most rigorous criteria for identifying an individual as being a member of a known criminal group.”

A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Shenery’s criminal case because it is still open, but referred to court documents in which prosecutors making the bond request cited his record, as well as previous failures to appear in court and a recommendation by the Criminal Justice Agency, an independent city agency that evaluates whether an individual is a candidate for release.

The spokesperson added that the DA’s office does not have direct access to the NYPD’s gang database and wrote that “our prosecutors would not have referenced inclusion in the NYPD’s gang database, standing alone,” and that “any reference to a defendant’s membership in a Manhattan-based gang would have been based on independent analysis from our Office, including our Office’s own independently-gathered intelligence.” Prosecutors’ claim that a defendant is a “known” gang member, the spokesperson added, is based on “information from community members and other law enforcement agencies, and our office’s own independently-gathered intelligence.”

Attorneys argue that calling someone a gang member, and providing no evidence, immediately impacts a defendant’s right to due process.

“The mere use of the label renders you guilty in the eyes of the court,” said Anthony Posada, a supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit, who is representing Shenery in his lawsuit against the NYPD. “We’re seeing people being criminalized, found guilty by association, in court, where you’re supposed to be presumed innocent until you’re proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. What is happening is a practice by which assistant district attorneys are relying on the gang database to label people and prejudice their cases.”

Smoking While Black

Although the NYPD has said little about how it uses the “criminal group database,” as the database is known internally, it is no secret that the department shares information about alleged gang membership with prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies. It’s also clear that designation as a gang member, even when based on questionable evidence and without that evidence being disclosed to the accused or their attorneys, can have a profound impact on one’s fate in court. While gang association by itself is not a crime, prosecutors regularly use it to bolster their cases.

That’s exactly what happened to Shenery.

Earlier this year, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced that it would no longer prosecute the possession of small quantities of marijuana, calling on legislators to legalize and regulate its use and citing the lack of “moral justification for the intolerable racial disparities that underlie enforcement.” Shenery’s arrest preceded the policy change, but in a city where marijuana use was already effectively legal for most people, he fit the profile of the New Yorker most likely to be prosecuted: young, black, and from a poor neighborhood. Before the DA’s announcement, black New Yorkers were arrested for small marijuana possession at eight times the rate of white New Yorkers. In Manhattan, black residents were arrested on low-level marijuana charges at 15 times the rate of white residents.

“Gravity knives,” as prosecutors call the commonly used kind of folding knife that police found in Shenery’s pocket, have also been a controversial issue in New York City — with critics noting that criminalizing them has led to the arrest of thousands of working-class individuals, mostly people of color. While the gravity knife ban was originally intended to target dangerous switchblade-style knives, it has since been applied to even the most widely used pocketknives, common especially among manual laborers.

The DA’s spokesperson told The Intercept that the office either dismisses the cases of individuals found in possession of these knives for work purposes, if they are not re-arrested within six months, or offers them a disorderly conduct plea. But attorneys say that workers continue to be arrested and prosecuted over the knives.

While Shenery’s case highlights some of the city’s most intractable issues regarding race and policing, he would have been unlikely to receive a felony charge and an exorbitant bond had he not been identified by police as a gang member. “For almost anybody in New York, this would have been a misdemeanor arrest,” said Jane White, an attorney with Legal Aid who has been representing Shenery in his criminal case. “They don’t do this to most defendants, but they do it when they want to slam somebody, when there’s information that they want to get from somebody, or when they think somebody’s a so-called person of interest.”

In its response to Shenery’s request for records, the NYPD claimed that it could not disclose any records alleging his gang affiliation without revealing “non-routine” investigative techniques. But Legal Aid attorneys shot back that the techniques used by the NYPD to determine who is a gang member have already been discussed publicly, and that they are deeply problematic.

At a city council hearing last June, NYPD Chief Dermot Shea testified that individuals can be added to the database if they “admit” to being members of a gang or if they are identified as such by “two independent and reliable sources.” In the absence of identification, the NYPD may choose to add an individual to the list if they meet at least two of a wide-ranging list of criteria that include one’s presence at a “known gang location,” association with “known gang members,” social media posts, scars, tattoos, and the use of gang “signs” and “colors.” One document published by The Intercept in June showed a list of colors that the NYPD considered to be associated to gangs: black, gold, yellow, red, purple, green, blue, white, brown, khaki, gray, orange, and lime green.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea speaks during a press conference about gang violence at New York City Police Department (NYPD) headquarters, June 27, 2018 in New York City. Law enforcement officials announced the arrest of alleged members of the Bronx-based Mac Balla gang following a months-long investigation. The NYPD is also currently investigating the Trinitarios gang, who were responsible for the recent murder of a 15-year old in The Bronx.  (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea speaks during a press conference about gang violence at NYPD headquarters on June 27, 2018.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Earning a spot on the list requires no evidence of criminality, but Shea said that the department has “instituted oversight mechanisms” to ensure that the recommendation to enter someone in the database is “backed up by evidence.”

Despite Shea’s testimony, when the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or LDF, filed a public records request to obtain those criteria, the NYPD responded that it could not locate any. “Instead, the NYPD officer charged with responding to our requests insisted that NYPD personnel communicate this information verbally,” Marne Lenox, an assistant counsel at the LDF, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Daily News. “This, apparently, is the NYPD’s sophisticated ‘oversight mechanism’ to ensure the reliability of its database.” Shea did not respond to The Intercept’s questions about his testimony.

The problem with such vague, broad, and apparently unwritten criteria, critics say, is that it criminalizes perfectly innocuous behavior — like having friends in one’s neighborhood — and does so in a way that is discriminatory.

Because the NYPD is not complying with Shenery’s FOIL request, he and his attorneys don’t know what criteria put him on the list. “The DA and the NYPD, they share this information openly with each other and they just will not turn that over to us, which is absurd,” said White. The DA spokesperson told The Intercept that “the Office meets and exceeds its legal and professional obligations with regard to disclosures to criminal defendants, including in this matter.”

What is clear is that Shenery was targeted because he lives in a certain neighborhood and knows people in that neighborhood. After his arrest, prosecutors offered him a one- to three-year sentence, then told him that it could be significantly reduced if he gave them information they needed. “They wanted him to give them information that he didn’t have,” said White. “He has always said, ‘I’m not what they’re saying.’ He’s in the street hanging out because that’s what kids do in New York.”

Precision Policing

Prosecutors and police have regularly defended their enforcement practices as precise and surgical — even when they have led to mass raids and indictments. In law enforcement lingo, gang policing and prosecutions in the city have been “intelligence-driven” and “proactive.” But what that means in practice is that one need not have committed or intended to commit any serious or gang-related crimes in order to get swept up by law enforcement’s gang policing efforts.

A set of documents used by the Manhattan DA’s office for training purposes, obtained by The Intercept, shows how the “gang” label, an unproven allegation, can trigger a series of consequences and enhancements for individuals coming into contact with police over sometimes minor violations. In a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the office’s Crime Strategies Unit, as well as in a report by the office about investigative innovations, prosecutors lay out how, when an arrest alert is shared between police and prosecutors across jurisdictions, an individual’s presence in a series of law enforcement lists, including the gang database, is also flagged. The slides also list, under the header “case enhancement,” elements like suspects’ social networks or their nicknames. The DA’s spokesperson said that “case enhancement” can refer to identifying potential investigative steps or informing bail and sentencing recommendations.

Shenery’s case is a textbook example of how this works in practice.

“So he comes in on a marijuana charge,” Posada said, “and immediately under this form of policing that they have, what they call precision policing, they’ll dial up the charges on him and bump up his knife to a felony.”

“[The gang label] was weaponized in court, so the district attorneys could add more weight to their case,” he added.

Legal Aid is not the only group using the courts in an effort to force the NYPD to be more transparent about its gang policing efforts.

The LDF and the Center for Constitutional Rights have sued the department over its failure to comply with public records requests about the database. Darius Charney, a senior staff attorney at CCR, called the NYPD’s gang policing practices “a black box that, like stop and frisk before them, have subjected thousands of young people of color in New York City over the past several years to police surveillance, harassment, and worse.” The LDF also filed a similar records request with the Manhattan DA, and another one with the New York City Department of Education.

The gang database came under heightened scrutiny earlier this year at a city council hearing during which the NYPD disputed The Intercept’s reporting and the figures we cited about the database — even though those figures were released by the NYPD itself in response to yet another public records request.

Council Member Brad Lander, who has long advocated for police oversight, told The Intercept that the hearing “raised more questions than it answered,” prompting him and others to call on the Inspector General for the NYPD, which is tasked with independently monitoring the department’s work, to investigate its gang policing practices. After the hearing, the Inspector General indicated to stakeholders that it was considering an investigation — but has yet to announce one. BuzzFeed News reported that the office was “discouraged” from scrutinizing the database by Department of Investigation head Mark Peters, who was recently fired by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The Department of Investigation, which oversees the Inspector General for the NYPD, declined to comment.

“We don’t yet have a public commitment from them to do that investigation, but we have asked them to, they are taking the request seriously, and I hope they will in the near future,” Lander told The Intercept. “I had hoped that they’d move very quickly.”

“It says a lot about policing in general, but policing on this issue specifically, that the police want to operate with as little transparency as possible,” Josmar Trujillo, a community organizer who has long advocated against the NYPD’s gang policing practices, told The Intercept. “That’s generally how they like to operate but in this regard, they are creating an infrastructure that affects thousands and thousands of people, including young people who are middle-school age. The public has almost no means other than suing them in order to get it.”

Trujillo noted that the discriminatory and unchecked policing tactics the database is built on are nothing new, but the technology behind the NYPD’s growing emphasis on data-driven, proactive policing is unprecedented.

“People have a street sense that police can use this gang label, that an individual cop can just put a label on you and that prosecutors can pretty much do whatever they want in court. They know that from their experience and generational memory of what policing and prosecution is in communities of color,” he said. “I think what they don’t know is the extent to which police have codified it and what technology has allowed police to do. They’re not aware of how much infrastructure, how much investment, has gone into this type of policing for the future. You ask 100 New Yorkers and I think 99 of them won’t know what predictive policing is.”

“That doesn’t have to do with the public’s ignorance, that has more to do with the secrecy the NYPD has been allowed to operate under,” he added. “We have concerns now based on the little we know. Can you imagine if we knew the full extent of what the police is doing?”

But while much about the database and how it is used remains secret, its impact is already being felt.

Two years of fighting his charges has left Shenery exhausted and discouraged — so much so that at one point, he considered simply taking the felony conviction. He ended up pleading guilty, but under the terms of the agreement, the felony will be reduced to a misdemeanor after a year if he meets a series of conditions. But that means he’s regularly back in court. His next hearing is on Thursday.

“It’s been hard for him to have to hear these things said about him and know this case has taken the long path it’s taken because of this view of him that is just false,” said White. “He thinks it’s unfair and unwarranted and that they really have no basis to do what they’ve done, but he also feels that it’s a fruitless fight, and that the police will continue to treat him like a gang member when they see him.”

The post NYPD Gang Database Can Turn Unsuspecting New Yorkers into Instant Felons appeared first on The Intercept.

Imprisoned Hacktivist Jeremy Hammond Bumped a Guard With a Door — and Got Thrown in Solitary Confinement

Last month, a famed hacker who has been serving a 10-year prison sentence since 2012 was accused by a guard at a federal detention center of “minor assault,” landing the so-called hacktivist in solitary confinement, according to advocates. The guard at Michigan’s Federal Correctional Institute-Milan made the accusation against Jeremy Hammond — the activist associated with hacking groups Anonymous and LulzSec and best know for hacking private intelligence firm Stratfor and leaking documents to WikiLeaks — on either November 19 or 20. Hammond has been held in solitary confinement ever since, according to the Jeremy Hammond Support Network.

The guard claims that Hammond hit him with a door, “stood his ground,” and pushed his shoulder into the guard. The head of Hammond’s support network said the prison guard’s account is an overblown. “Jeremy says that he was exiting his unit through a door that has no windows and could not see the guard on the other side, and as he’s exiting, bumped the guard with the door,” Grace North told The Intercept. “The guard immediately grabbed Jeremy and threw him up against the wall and dragged him down to solitary, with no handcuffs, without calling for backup, which is against prison protocol, and Jeremy has been there ever since.”

North’s version of events also portrays the guard as overly aggressive: After the guard was hit with the door, North said, he asked Hammond if he “wanted to go.”

“It’s absurd to classify being bumped with a door as assault and to think that an appropriate response is to subject the person who bumped you to torture.”

Hammond, who pleaded guilty to violating one count of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in a noncooperating plea deal, had never been part of any physical alteration since his arrest in Chicago on March 5, 2012. In 2013, Hammond pleaded guilty to hacking the private intelligence firm Stratfor Global Intelligence and other targets. The Stratfor hack lead to numerous revelations, including that the firm spied on activists for major corporations on several occasions.

Hammond’s run-in with the guard could have severe implications on his time in prison, disrupting his studies toward a higher-education degree and potentially precipitating a move from the minimum-security Milan facility to a medium-security prison.

“It’s absurd to classify being bumped with a door as assault and to think that an appropriate response is to subject the person who bumped you to torture,” said North. “This is yet another example of the wildly unchecked systems of power and abuse that are endemic to American prisons, and illustrate the need not just for reform, but the complete abolition of the entire prison-industrial complex.”

This week will mark the start of Hammond’s third week in a so-called segregated housing unit — more commonly known as solitary confinement. The United Nations has said that confinement of such length could be considered torture. “Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Méndez said in 2011, “it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” He added that prolonged isolation for more than 15 days — around the length of Hammond’s current stint in solitary — should be absolutely prohibited because scientific studies have established that it can lead to lasting mental damage.

The charge that led to Hammond’s move to solitary confinement was upheld in a disciplinary hearing last week, which Hammond attended over the phone because he was barred from attending in person. North said that the “minor assault” charge against him is a disciplinary matter — as opposed to criminal — so Hammond was not allowed to have a lawyer. “He’s not entitled to representation of any kind,” North said. North added that Hammond was left unaware if any evidence against him was presented at the hearing, such as video of the incident. “It’s a prison, obviously there’s video of every corner of the building,” North said. “So we’re not aware if there was video shown, or if it was just the word of the guard.” The recommendation from the hearing is to transfer Hammond from FCI Milan, a low-security federal prison in Michigan, to a medium-security federal prison, according to North. (A spokesperson for FCI Milan declined to comment, citing the Privacy Act of 1974 that prohibits them from releasing information about any incarcerated people without their written permission.)

The “minor assault” charge is severely disrupting Hammond’s life in prison. Hammond has been taking college classes through a local community college that has a prison education program and was expecting to earn an associate’s degree in general studies next semester, making him part of the first class of incarcerated people to receive a college degree through the program. Since he’s been in solitary confinement, however, he has missed his classes, been unable to turn in assignments, and is unable to take his finals. “He greatly enjoys his studies, he greatly enjoys the classes he’s been taking,” North said. “Most prisons don’t offer the prison education program. Milan is one of them. It would almost certainly be guaranteed that whatever prison he was transferred to would not offer the program that Milan offers.”

In 2004, while Hammond was a freshman at University of Illinois at Chicago on a full scholarship, he hacked into the website of the computer science department, told them about it, and offered to help fix the vulnerability. In the cybersecurity industry, this is called responsible disclosure, but university administrators expelled him for it, and he never finished his degree.

If he gets transferred to a medium-security prison, Hammond will enjoy fewer freedoms than he currently does at Milan. He’ll also be farther from friends and family who right now are able to visit him frequently.

In 2011, hacktivists affiliated with Anonymous and LulzSec, including Hammond and FBI informant Hector Monsegur, also known as “Sabu,” hacked Stratfor and leaked seven and a half years of the company’s emails to WikiLeaks. At the time, Stratfor — which describes itself as “the world’s leading geopolitical intelligence platform” — had clients ranging from military agencies and defense contractors to global corporations that wanted to spy on activists.

Among other things, the hack and leak exposed how Dow Chemical hired Stratfor to spy on the culture-jamming activist group the Yes Men; Coca-Cola, a sponsor of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, hired the firm to spy on activists associated with animal rights organization PETA, worried that they might be planning direct action against the corporation during the games; and American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. oil and gas industry lobby group, hired Stratfor to spy on Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist outfit ProPublica, which in 2008 broke the first news stories about the environmental and health risks posed by fracking.

Monsegur, who was often referred to as the leader of LulzSec, was secretly arrested by the FBI on June 7, 2011. Immediately after his arrest, he began working closely with the FBI as an informant, building a case against Hammond and the other hackers associated with LulzSec and Anonymous. With Monsegur’s help, the FBI was aware of — and helped fund and participate in — the hacking of Stratfor and other targets. Monsegur provided Hammond with an FBI-owned server to exfiltrate emails and documents to during the Stratfor hack.

In a statement during his sentencing hearing, Hammond referred to his hacking as “acts of civil disobedience and direct action,” describing “an obligation to use my skills to expose and confront injustice and to bring the truth to light.” He says he had never heard of Stratfor until Monsegur — who was already an FBI informant at the time — brought it to his attention. “Why the FBI would introduce us to the hacker who found the initial vulnerability and allow this hack to continue remains a mystery,” he said at the sentencing.

Hammond is currently scheduled for release in February 2020.

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An Immigrant Journalist Faces Deportation as ICE Cracks Down on Its Critics

A Tennessee-based journalist who was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after being arrested while covering a protest won temporary relief from deportation through the end of the month. But Manuel Duran, who was arrested in April and remains in ICE custody while a court reviews an appeal in his case, believes he was targeted because of his coverage of law enforcement’s collaboration with ICE in Memphis’s Latino community. He and his supporters say his case is emblematic of a nationwide trend of officials cracking down on journalists and activists who are critical of immigration enforcement policies.

Over the last year, a handful of activists from New York to Washington state have found themselves in the crosshairs of ICE. In some cases, like Duran’s, they’d had little to no contact with the agency for years, then found themselves facing deportation shortly after vocalizing criticism of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant crackdown.

Duran’s case also highlights the controversial relationship between ICE and local law enforcement, and the ways in which ICE can call on local police to aid immigration enforcement efforts even in the absence of formal partnerships. While the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office that detained him claims not to collaborate with ICE, Duran was transferred to immigration custody in response to a “detainer” request by the agency — a controversial policy Duran himself had reported on.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department did not answer The Intercept’s questions about its cooperation with ICE detainers, referring instead to a statement released at the time of Duran’s arrest. “By State law, whenever a person is booked into a jail, the person is asked about the country of birth and citizenship,” the statement said. “Information must be provided to ICE if the jailer cannot determine the person’s citizenship status or if the person appears to be in violation of the Immigration and Naturalization act.”

Bryan Cox, a spokesperson for ICE, did not answer a question about allegations that the agency is retaliating against activists and critical journalists. With regard to Duran, he said, “Claims his arrest was retaliatory in nature are patently false. Hyperbole aside, the actual facts of this case are not in dispute. He was criminally arrested by local police, he is in the U.S. in violation of federal law, and he is subject to an outstanding judicial order of removal issued by a federal immigration judge.”

But Duran and his supporters have little doubt that he was singled out because of his work.

“Manuel’s case is part of a disturbing pattern of ICE retaliating against those who speak out about its policies and practices,” said Michelle LaPointe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, which is representing Duran, on a recent call with reporters. “Many other noncitizens across the country have experienced retaliation from the government for exercising their First Amendment rights. If the government feels free to treat noncitizens like this, the constitutional rights of all us are at risk.”

April 3, 2018 - Memphis, TN: Ashley Cathey gets ready for the protest at 201 Poplar that was a part of the Rolling Block Party organized by members of C3 coalition, Fight for $15 and Comunidades Unidas en Una Voz (C.U.U.V) Photo by Andrea Morales.

Protesters at 201 Poplar, part of the Rolling Block Party organized by members of C3 coalition, Fight for $15, and Comunidades Unidas en Una Voz on April 3, 2018, in Memphis, Tenn.

Photo: Andrea Morales

“Get Him, Guys”

Duran was arrested on April 3 in Memphis, while covering a protest to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. in that city. Local activists had staged a demonstration the day before the anniversary, role-playing as immigration detainees and an ICE guard holding them in chains, to call out local police for its collaboration with immigration enforcement and private investment in the detention industry.

Video of the incident taken by citizen journalist Gary Moore shows officers closing in on peaceful demonstrators. While several reporters and photographers were covering the protest, including some who were standing on the street, Duran, who was wearing a press badge, was the only reporter who was arrested, along with several activists. In Duran’s own livestream of the protest, one officer can be heard saying, “Get him, guys,” and pointing in Duran’s direction, right before they grab him and his camera lowers to the ground. As officers dragged Duran away, two activists wearing blue ICE inmate uniforms tried to shield him. One, Yuleiny Escobar, repeatedly screamed at the officers, “He’s a reporter,” before being arrested herself.

“I am saying very loud and clear, he’s a reporter, he’s a reporter,” Escobar told The Intercept in a recent interview. “And fine, it was a lot of people getting arrested, and commotion, but once you have him all cornered up, you should have seen he had a press badge.”

Escobar, who knew Duran’s work for Memphis Noticias, the Spanish-language news site he founded, said that police had actually reached out and asked to meet with him after he had published a series of articles detailing their apparent collaboration with ICE. “They knew exactly who he was,” said Escobar.

Duran’s detention has left a hole in the coverage of Memphis’s Latino and immigrant communities, Escobar added. While Duran’s partner, Melisa Valdes, has tried to keep the site alive, she does so while working another job and fighting for his release. “It’s not the same. That’s what Manuel did. He was manager, producer, reporter, everything,” said Escobar. “Now that he’s gone, we have nobody reporting on these cases and the community is not informed.”

Duran founded Memphis Noticias after settling in Tennessee in 2006. He had been an investigative reporter in his native El Salvador, writing about corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary, but fled after his reporting earned him death threats. “From the moment that I left my country, it was because I was being persecuted in response to my work. I left my country to the United States thinking this is the right country to keep working as a journalist,” Duran said in Spanish during a recent call with reporters. “Because this country respects the rights of information and of a free press. I was going to feel safe here.”

In Memphis, Duran returned to investigative journalism, this time focusing on immigration issues and relations between law enforcement and the city’s Latino community. In the months before his arrest and detention, he reported on the stories of people who were arrested by police and later ended up in immigration detention, despite Memphis officials repeatedly saying that the city was not cooperating with ICE. Police asked Duran to take down that story, according to Escobar.

Duran also reported on the mishandling by police of a murder investigation and on a surge of workplace raids in Tennessee and across the country. “He was there, he was reporting, he was informing,” said Escobar. “We strongly believe that he was targeted because he was informing the community.”

“I was pulled away from my community and the community I love serving,” said Duran. “Because I was doing my job, that’s the reason why I’m going through this. I was doing the right thing.” In detention, Duran never stopped reporting. He and others were treated like criminals, he said on the call with journalists, and in the months he spent at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center, he collected enough stories of injustice and abuse inflicted on detainees to one day write a book about them. “I hope that one day I have the chance to write these stories and let you know about them.”

April 10, 2018 - Vigil for Manuel Duran at El Mercadito.

Melisa Valdez, Duran’s partner, center, and other supporters hold a community vigil for Duran on April 10, 2018.

Photo: Andrea Morales

Coordination With ICE

After his arrest, Duran was taken to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. That night, Valdez, his partner, posted his $100 bond, but Duran was not released. According to court documents, a clerk later brought him documents in Spanish that said the Department of Homeland Security wanted more information about him, and documents in English that he did not understand and refused to sign. Spencer Kaaz, who was also arrested at the protest, said he saw the paper and remembers it being an ICE detainer — a request that local authorities provide 48-hour notice before releasing from their custody a person suspected of being in violation of immigration laws. At the time, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office denied that a detainer had been issued. In the statement it provided to The Intercept, the sheriff’s office claimed that Duran “declined to accept” his bond and therefore was not released.

On April 5, Duran went to court and his case was dismissed, but instead of being released, he was taken back to his jail cell. Within two hours, Shelby County jail authorities handed him over to ICE, who shipped him off to Louisiana that same day. For the duration of the eight-hour bus ride, Duran was shackled by his wrists, ankles, and waist.

“The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department claimed that he was not held on a detainer. Now we have a record that shows that there was a detainer lodged for him by ICE,” said LaPointe, Duran’s lawyer at the SPLC. She added that sources in Memphis reported that ICE was in the courtroom when Duran’s charges were dropped. “There’s obviously some level of coordination going on between the two entities,” she said.

Cox, the ICE spokesperson, confirmed to The Intercept that ICE lodged a detainer request with Shelby County, adding that Duran has “been in the country as an immigration fugitive for more than 10 years.” He did not respond to a question about whether ICE was present during Duran’s criminal court proceedings. The sheriff’s office confirmed that ICE was there.

Duran fled his native El Salvador 12 years ago after facing death threats for his work as a journalist. He was apprehended and then released by Customs and Border Protection officers upon his entry into the United States. In early 2007, Duran was ordered removed in absentia, but he says he never received proper notice of his immigration court hearing.

Four days after he was detained by ICE, Duran filed a motion to reopen his January 2007 removal order in the Atlanta Immigration Court. Duran argued that violence against journalists in El Salvador had increased since he left, so he should be allowed to apply for asylum.

On April 24, a court denied Duran’s motion to reopen his 2007 case, and his lawyers again appealed. “Cases like Mr. Duran Ortega’s implicate not only his individual rights, but the basic First Amendment freedoms that apply to every person in this country regardless of their immigration status,” his lawyers wrote in the appeal. “His removal would chill other immigrant journalists from exercising their rights.”

On May 29, the Board of Immigrant Appeals issued a stay of removal, meaning that ICE could not deport Duran so long as his case was pending. The BIA rejected Duran’s request in October and dissolved the stay of removal, upholding the findings of the immigration court. Duran’s case is now before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has said that he cannot be deported before November 30.

“We’re encouraged that the 11th Circuit seems to want to take the time to at least consider arguments carefully about the harm that Manuel would face if he’s deported, and also the First Amendment concerns that his case raises,” LaPointe said in an interview the day after the court’s ruling. “It’s obviously a reprieve, so we still have a lot of hurdles to go through, but I think that we’re cautiously encouraged.”


Manuel Duran, left, interviews Comunidades Unidas En Una Voz organizers Yuleiny Escobar and Veronica Castillo at a “Desayuno con Libros” event in March 2018.

Photo: Andrea Morales

Targeting of Activists

A number of press freedom groups, including the Freedom of the Press Foundation, have gotten involved in Duran’s case. In August, 11 press freedom groups filed an amicus brief in Duran’s support, arguing that his arrest and detention were carried out “as a means to silence him from speaking further.”

“It is certainly a trend and a pattern,” said Andrew Free, a Tennessee-based immigration attorney who has represented individuals facing deportation across the country. “And it has the potential to stifle dissent and has the potential to kill speech, and to make it so that those who would have criticized the abuses that have been documented, and that are happening, might be less likely to do so.”

Perhaps the most prominent case of apparent retaliation is that of Ravi Ragbir, a leader in New York’s immigrants’ rights movement whose January arrest by ICE garnered national coverage. Ragbir had been under an order of removal for 11 years, but ICE largely ignored him until his organizing at the New Sanctuary Coalition helped generate public criticism of the agency. Ragbir is, like Duran, fighting his deportation on First Amendment grounds.

Ravi Ragbir, center, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, walks with hundreds of supporters as he arrives for his annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. The Trinidadian immigrant works with an interfaith network of congregations and activists working to protect New York's immigrant families from detention and deportation. Ragbag says he could face deportation. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Ravi Ragbir, center, executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition, is accompanied by hundreds of supporters as he arrives for his annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on March 9, 2017, in New York.

Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

Just last month, three groups based in Washington state — Northwest Detention Center Resistance, Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites, and the Detention Watch Network — filed a lawsuit accusing ICE of systematically surveilling, detaining, and deporting “immigrant activists who speak out about immigration policies and practices.”

One of those named in the lawsuit is Maru Mora-Villalpando, an activist with the Detention Watch Network. “Journalism has been a tool to expose what’s happening, and I think especially since the Trump administration came into office, there’s been … an incredibly high level of engagement from the media and from investigative journalists on what is really happening with the administration,” said Silky Shah, the group’s executive director.

Though the volume of apparently retaliatory immigration arrests has increased since Donald Trump took office, a recent lawsuit suggests that those actions were also taking place under the Obama administration. On November 14, the Vermont-based group Migrant Justice sued DHS, ICE, and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, alleging that those agencies have been targeting and retaliating against activists since at least 2014.

In 2013, Migrant Justice worked to pass Vermont’s Driver Privilege Card, allowing state residents to obtain driving privileges, regardless of immigration status. “Documents obtained through public record requests show that when the plaintiffs submitted their DPC applications, the DMV sent their personal information directly to ICE, which compiled dossiers on Migrant Justice leaders, including their social media pages and media appearances,” the plaintiffs wrote in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “The records show DMV workers shared the plaintiffs’ information with ICE for discriminatory purposes, out of racial and anti-immigrant animus.”

The plaintiffs in that case are making three First Amendment arguments, explained Angelo Guisado, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is involved with the lawsuit. The first is based on free expression, namely that the individual plaintiffs have suffered harm for their relation to Migrant Justice. The second is based on free speech and the freedom to petition the government. By surveilling and harassing individual activists, the plaintiffs argue, the government has interfered with their rights to express themselves and to organize. The third argument is about the government’s alleged retaliation against the Migrant Justice activists for exercising their rights to free speech.

“The federal government and its law enforcement arms have been targeting and retaliating against activists of color, progressive voices, since pretty much forever,” Guisado said. “When I first got involved, it became very clear to me that not only are ICE — and, at certain points, CBP and the state DMV — interested in retaliating against them because of their anti-Latino and anti-immigrant animus, but that it’s a labor organizing advocacy collective made it particularly clear that they were going to face retaliation.”

April 7, 2018 - Cathedral to City Hall march.

Members of the community protest outside of Memphis City Hall on April 7, 2018.


ICE in Tennessee

Before Duran’s arrest, Memphis officials had insisted that the city’s law enforcement did not collaborate with ICE — a claim Duran’s own reporting called into question. While the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office does not formally partner with ICE under the widely criticized 287(g) program — which deputizes local law enforcement officers to ask people booked into local custody about their immigration status and hold undocumented individuals for ICE — Duran was transferred to ICE custody in response to a detainer request.

In fact, even in the absence of formal cooperation, ICE often asks local law enforcement to place someone on an “immigration hold,” detaining them for 48 hours after their release date to give ICE time to decide whether to take them into federal custody. Detainers are administrative warrants, not judicial ones, but there is much misinformation around them, and law enforcement officers don’t always understand that they are not required to honor them.

“We knew that if he was placed in jail, there was a possibility that ICE could issue a detainer for him, so we launched a campaign to let the Shelby County sheriff know that he did not have to honor that detainer,” Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, told The Intercept. “Unfortunately the sheriff didn’t listen.”

Months after Duran’s arrest, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office stopped honoring ICE’s detainers, but a new state law slated to go into effect in January will require local law enforcement across Tennessee to honor such detainers. The Anti-Sanctuary bill, as the legislation is known, was approved by the state’s legislature last April, despite warnings by some sheriffs that detainers conflicted with individuals’ Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Critics have also long argued that collaborating with ICE both puts an enormous drain on local law enforcement resources and severely damages their relationship with the communities they serve. In Tennessee, that comes at a time when a wave of ICE raids has disseminated panic in many immigrant communities.

“Collaboration is not in their interest,” said Sherman-Nikolaus, referring to local law enforcement. “It risks public safety, because communities are less likely to participate as victims or witnesses when they are afraid of local law enforcement.”

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Photos of Children Being Teargassed Stoke Outrage — While Playing into Trump’s Manufactured Border Crisis

Maria Lila Meza Castro (C), a 39-year-old migrant woman from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, runs away from tear gas with her five-year-old twin daughters Saira Nalleli Mejia Meza (L) and Cheili Nalleli Mejia Meza (R) in front of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in Tijuana, Mexico November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1786AEC760

Maria Lila Meza Castro, center, a 39-year-old migrant woman from Honduras, runs away from tear gas with her 5-year-old twin daughters Saira Nalleli Mejia Meza, left, and Cheili Nalleli Mejia Meza at the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, in Tijuana on Nov. 25, 2018.

Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

As the weekend’s brutal drama unfolded at the U.S.-Mexico border, with American authorities firing tear gas across the border fence at would-be asylum-seekers, an iconic image emerged. Captured by Reuter’s photographer Kim Kyung-Hoon, the photo shows a woman wearing a Disney princess T-shirt running from plumes of white gas, dragging two young children with her, both little girls in diapers, one wearing no shoes. The razor wire border fence stretches behind them as they run away.

The logic behind tear gas is one of torture: to render a situation unbearable.

Tear gas burns the eyes and skin. It causes choking, gagging, and temporary blindness. The logic behind it is one of torture: to render a situation unbearable. It also produces a violent spectacle, which is why the deployment of tear gas so often constitutes a media event.

Since the shift from its deployment as a chemical weapon in World War I to its use in putting down anti-colonial uprisings from Ireland to India to Palestine, to its ongoing deployment by domestic governments against dissent, this is how states use tear gas — for repression. In firing tear gas at asylum-seekers at the Mexican border on Sunday, U.S. border agents reaffirmed America’s willingness not only to act as a repressive anti-immigrant state, but to embrace the optics of fascistic cruelty while doing so.

Violence against immigrants at the border is not new and has been far deadlier than Sunday’s tear gas attacks. Just last week, U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz was found not guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting an unarmed Mexican 16-year-old through the fence with Mexico in 2012. Swartz claimed that the teen, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, had been throwing rocks, but José Antonio was found with bullets in his head and back.

The deployment of tear gas, however, provided a visual representation of violence at the border that has proven rare. When they do emerge, the photos are extremely affecting. Think of the images published by The Intercept of migrants’ dead bodies found in the desert borderlands. Or the photos of caged children and toddlers separated from their parents by the Trump administration — and why media access to those detention centers has been under fierce government control.

The violent optics of tear gas, then, represent the affirmation of an existing state of affairs and the strengthening of an anti-immigrant agenda by means of the administration asserting a state of crisis.

It is for good reason that the photographs and footage from the border on Sunday produced outrage, but it would be a mistake to presume this to be some sort of watershed moment for the government’s racist and brutal immigration policy.

Like the disturbing images of children and toddlers in cages, footage and photographs of tear-gassed asylum-seekers prompted numerous Democrats to decry the situation as somehow un-American. California’s Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom tweeted, “These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas…That’s not my America. We’re a land of refuge. Of hope. Of freedom.” Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez tweeted, “Shooting tear gas at children is not who we are as Americans.” Responses like Perez’s and Newsom’s are no doubt preferable to the barbaric comments from the Trump administration defending the gassing. But the outraged Democrats’ comments miss that the use of tear gas against groups and people the U.S. wishes to exclude and oppress has been a common American practice since the invention of tear gas over 100 years ago.

Newsom, 51, and Perez, 57, were perhaps too young to recall U.S. armed forces filling Viet Cong tunnels with tear gas before the chemical weapon was banned for use in international war. But they should recall the clouds of tear gas choking protesters — children among them — at Standing Rock in 2016, or the gas canisters lobbed at teenagers protesting in Ferguson in 2014.

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17:  Tear gas reigns down on a woman kneeling in the street with her hands in the air after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on  August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A woman kneels in the street amid tear gas, after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, on Aug. 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

When the state uses tear gas, it does so under the purported rationale of a crisis in need of control. As such, tear gas becomes the mark of state-defined crisis. It can play out in a number of ways — and not always in the state’s favor.

When the Ferguson police released lashings of tear gas at protesters, the images of a poor, black suburb under military occupation drew widespread outrage and increased support for the uprising. The police handling of the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle drew broad censure after so much tear gas was used that summit guests had to be evacuated from their hotels. The use of tear gas by French law enforcement against refugees, including many children, before the Calais “Jungle” camp was torn down, provoked international condemnation, but to little avail for those fighting for the encampment.

None of that means that Sunday’s brutality will work against President Donald Trump simply by virtue of producing outrage. There’s even reason to believe that the spectacle of crisis could work in his favor — and to assume otherwise would be dangerous.

In September 2015, a perturbingly similar scene to that at the U.S.-Mexican border played out at Hungary’s border with Serbia. Around 2,500 refugees fleeing war, devastation, and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere had set up camp near the border, hoping to cross through Hungary to head further west. Hungary sent hundreds of riot police to block the Horgoš-Röszke border crossing. When a few hundred refugees attempted to breach the border fence, the police shot tear gas and aimed water cannons into the crowd. Images of screaming, gassed children produced international censure and outrage then, too.

A girl reacts after receiving tear gas during clashes between migrants and Hungarian anti-riot police at the Hungarian border with Serbia near the town of Horgos on September 16, 2015. Europe's 20-year passport-free Schengen zone appeared to be a risk of crumbling with Germany boosting border controls on parts of its frontier with France as migrants desperate to find a way around Hungary's border fence began crossing into Croatia. With a string of EU countries tightened frontier controls in the face of the unprecedented human influx, the cherished principle of free movement across borders -- a pillar of the European project -- seemed in grave jeopardy. AFP PHOTO / ARMEND NIMANI        (Photo credit should read ARMEND NIMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

A girl reacts to tear gas during clashes between migrants and Hungarian anti-riot police at the Hungarian border with Serbia near the town of Horgoš on Sept. 16, 2015.

Photo: Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

Yet the far-right Hungarian government blamed the refugees and doubled down on its virulent anti-immigrant agenda. The government and its supporters circulated images of refugees throwing rocks and attempting to tear down the border fence. The Hungarian government’s invented crisis was made material through the entirely superfluous use of tear gas and riot policing. This fascistic narrative of fictitious immigrant threats continues to win the day.

Like Hungary in 2015, Trump on Monday already used the optics of the militarized immigrant “crisis” zone, which he himself choreographed, to call for tighter border controls, even threatening a border closure. The images coming from the border may be barbaric, but they also present a picture of crisis — something tear gas is most effective in producing — which is entirely what Trump has been working toward conjuring with regards to the migrant caravan.

Even well-meaning outrage at Sunday’s violent spectacle risks feeding a narrative of a border crisis where there is none. The only crises are those faced by the migrants stuck in Tijuana seeking American asylum, which this country can well afford to provide. A violent spectacle is not a turning point unless we make it one.

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The Counterinsurgency Paradigm: How U.S. Politics Have Become Paramilitarized

Donald Trump ran a campaign promising to refill the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison, to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” to “take out” the families of suspected terrorists, to ban Muslims from entering this country, and to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Yet these policies didn’t start with Trump: Torture, indefinite detention, extraordinary renditions, record numbers of deportations, anti-Muslim sentiment, mass foreign and domestic surveillance, and even the killing of innocent family members of suspected terrorists all have a recent historical precedent.

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, continued some of the worst policies of the George W. Bush administration. He expanded the global battlefield post-9/11 into at least seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria. At the end of Obama’s second term, a report by Council of Foreign Relations found that in 2016, Obama dropped an average of 72 bombs a day. He used drone strikes as a liberal panacea for fighting those “terrorists” while keeping boots off the ground. But he also expanded the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan. Immigrants were deported in such record numbers under Obama that immigration activists called him the “deporter-in-chief.” And then there were the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, where Obama national security officials would order pizza and drink Coke and review the list of potential targets on their secret assassination list.

For his liberal base, Obama sanitized a morally bankrupt expansion of war, and used Predator and Reaper drones strapped with Hellfire missiles to kill suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens stripped of their due process. The Obama administration harshly prosecuted whistleblowers in a shocking attack on press freedoms. By the end of his presidency, official numbers on civilian deaths by drone were underreported; we may never know the true cost of these wars, which continue today.

Bush, before him, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, took a hatchet to civil liberties: He expanded National Security Agency surveillance on overseas communications and created a system for unprecedented levels of surveilled communications of U.S. citizens. Much of this happened with the support of leading Democrats. Mosques across the country and in New York City were spied on. The authorization for the use of military force was passed in 2001 with the full backing of every lawmaker except for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. The bill created the justification for the forever wars that still rage on 17 years later.

And steadily, all of the counterinsurgency tactics of these foreign wars have crept back home, Bernard Harcourt argues in a recent book. Called “The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens” and it makes the argument that through NSA spying; Trump’s constant, daily distractions; and paramilitarized police forces or private security companies, the same counterinsurgency paradigm of warfare used against post-9/11 enemies has now come to U.S. soil as the effective governing strategy.

We are in the middle of an unprecedented paramilitarization of state and local law enforcement agencies in this country. Police at protests and demonstrations often look like they’re SEAL Team 6 getting ready to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound. Many agencies have received military equipment through a Defense Department program that allows police to obtain military equipment after it’s been used in foreign war zones.

In “The Counterrevolution,” America’s post-9/11 domestic reality is placed within the deeper history of modern warfare and counterinsurgency doctrine. Harcourt traces the evolution of modern warfare, or counterinsurgency, as it developed in the 1950s and ’60s to fight small rebellions, including the colonial struggles for freedom in Algeria and Indochina against France and the Viet Cong fighting against the United States in Vietnam. The lessons learned by France in fighting colonial uprisings were distilled into French war strategist David Galula’s “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice,” which many decades later became an influential text for Gen. David Patraeus as he worked on writing the document that would come to define U.S. war strategy in the Middle East. The 2006 counterinsurgency field manual shaped the counterinsurgency strategy across Iraq and Afghanistan.

Insurgents, or the “active minority,” were aggressively sought out — often targeted for elimination via drone strike. In fact, at the center of Harcourt’s argument for how the domestication of the counterinsurgency warfare paradigm occurred is the drone strike. Heralded as “precise” or “surgical,” the drone strike won the public’s favor under Obama. Any public debate surrounding the use of drones as a legitimate replacement for boots-on-the-ground arguably ended in 2011, with the drone assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and, subsequently, the strike that killed his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. Instead of an arrest, trial, and verdict for these U.S. citizens, an execution by strike from the sky was authorized. A Gallup poll reported in 2013 that 65 percent of the American public supported drone strikes against overseas targets even after the killing of its own citizens. Harcourt writes, “[Drones] make killing even U.S. citizens abroad far more tolerable. And this tolerance is precisely what ends up eroding the boundaries between foreign policy and domestic governance.”

We spoke to Harcourt about his latest book, what makes the Trump presidency unique, and why we aren’t talking about drones anymore on the Intercepted podcast. What follows is the audio of the edited conversation as aired and the full transcript of the unedited interview.

The interview begins at 45:32.


Jeremy Scahill: Bernard Harcourt, welcome to Intercepted.

Bernard Harcourt: Thanks, Jeremy.

JS: So, I want to start off by asking you about a phrase that you use in your latest book. You say that we now have a counterinsurgency warfare model of politics. What do you mean by that?

BH: So, what I mean by that is that basically all of the [ways] in which we govern abroad and at home is now funneled through a particular way of thinking about the world. It’s a mentality. It’s a way of thinking about society that triggers particular kinds of strategies and politics that result from that. And the way of thinking about society is this counterinsurgency paradigm of warfare.

So, counterinsurgency started in the 1950s – well, it started long before then, but it kind of crystallized with Western powers in the 1950s and 60s in Algeria, and Indochina before then, and in Vietnam for the Americans. And it was a particular way of thinking about society, the way society is structured into three groups. With, on the one hand, a small active minority who are the insurgents, and a large passive majority who can be swayed one way or the other, and then a small minority of counterinsurgents.

And that way of thinking has become internalized, second hand. Most, I would say, many in America, but certainly our political leaders are looking at the world through that lens when they look at other countries when they look domestically at their own population, and as a result of that it triggers particular kinds of counterinsurgency practices, really. And three practices particularly that I think when you look at what we’re doing both abroad and at home, you see resonances of them everywhere. The first is the idea of getting total information awareness. That’s always been the key linchpin of counterinsurgency theory, is to get total information on the total population.

And that’s what distinguishes it from just getting good intelligence. It’s that you have to get total intelligence on the total population, not just targeted to people who you suspect, but on the total population. So that you can make a distinction between or you can identify that small group of active insurgents. And you need the information on everyone so that you can make that separation, those fine distinctions between someone who is in that active minority or someone who’s just [in the] you know, passive masses. So that’s the first strategy. The second strategy is then that you have to rid of the active minority that you identified, just that small group of individuals, the insurgents, and you do that through any means possible. And then the third strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the masses, basically.

And I think that starting after 9/11. We saw that way of thinking become the dominant way of governing abroad particularly with the war in Iraq, but then more generally with the use of drones outside of war zones et cetera, use of total information through the NSA in the way in which everything was captured about everyone to the most minor detail. And then also trying to pacify the masses in Iraq through kind of some provision of services or just distribution of cash. But then eventually, when this way of thinking comes back to the United States through different forms of pacification of the masses. Particularly right now, I would say through forms of distraction, really.

JS: How does this counterinsurgency warfare model of politics apply in the Trump era?

BH: The Trump Administration is kind of a crystallization, or it seals the deal really on this on this model of governing. But what I want to emphasize though is that it wasn’t unique to Trump. And so, it goes back and it threaded through the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration.

I’ll come back to that in a second. But when you see it today, what you see predominantly is through Trump’s creation of an internal enemy. So, one of the things that drives counterinsurgency ways of thinking is having an internal enemy that, the internal enemy which is that identifiable small class of the active insurgents.

And I think that Trump [has] really rested his entire way of governing us by creating internal enemies out of whole cloth, really, in this case. It started with the Muslims and Muslim Americans and the idea that we needed a Muslim ban.

But when you listened to the rhetoric that surrounded the Muslim ban, it was this rhetoric about, “Muslims are coming into the country. We got to keep them out and even the ones who are here aren’t patriots. They don’t call the police when they have information. We need a registry for them. We need – there was talk about –

JS: Surveillance on mosques.

BH: – Well, exactly, right. All of the surveillance on the mosques and on all of the Muslim businesses, everywhere. And so, all of that was the creation of a dangerous element in this country, which were the Muslim Americans. And we saw it, of course with Mexican Americans, with talking about Mexicans as criminals, as rapists. You saw it just recently with the whole caravan episode, right. I mean, I think that the caravan episode was an effort to create an internal enemy because it was not only identifying and indexing this real group of individuals, but I think it was, through those groups of individuals, it was pointing at all of the undocumented persons who are in this country and who substantiate that threat.

JS: If that philosophy is as you say, what is the purpose then of identifying these people as you say, as sort of the insurgents?

BH: It’s a coherent strategy that not only kind of identifies the danger and then, of course, tries to eliminate the danger, right. But is doing that in part to pacify the masses to win the support of the masses to bring them on Trump’s side. And of course, that was exactly a strategy for the whole week preceding the midterm elections, right? It was to win the hearts and minds of Americans by targeting this dangerous internal enemy that was coming to the border but that also is in the country, is in the country already. It’s these undocumented residents.

So, it’s got these different prongs to it and in part, what’s always been unique about counterinsurgency theory from the 1950s is that it is focused on the population in this interesting way. So, when you read all of the text by the great counterinsurgency commanders — the French, and British, and some Americans, and texts that were written for and by the RAND Corporation on counterinsurgency — one of the central pillars of this way of thinking is that the battle is over the population. It’s over the masses.

JS: Well and this was popularized with David Petraeus, Stanley McChrystal and the whole notion of COIN, the counterinsurgency doctrine.

BH: Precisely, and when that got popularized — so, when Petraeus actually publishes the new field manual for counterinsurgency, field manual 24, which is an important event, kind of crystallizing all of this thought. Petraeus — who really had his hands in the writing of the document and was overseeing a team of people trying to crystallize counterinsurgency theory — goes back to the original thinkers of counterinsurgency in the 1950s and 60s, goes back to the French counterinsurgency theorist David Galula, goes back to Thompson, the British counterinsurgency theorist. And tries to kind of crystallize and update that theory and turn it into the dominant paradigm of warfare for America in these times.

JS: We’re talking about the French in Indochina, but also in Algeria.

BH: Specifically, in Algeria. For some reason, a lot of the kind of, French crystallization of the thought happens in Algeria with different sets of commanders who took different views, slightly different theories of counterinsurgency theory and practice. And it’s those variations actually that I find most interesting historically because I think we see them replicated since 9/11 in the United States.

JS: How so?

BH: In France, for instance, you can kind of distribute the counterinsurgency theorists into two camps. There were those who were much more explicitly brutal. So, somebody like Roger Trinquier, or later the general Paul Aussaresses who essentially praised torture and very brutal forms of summary execution. So, people who openly embraced those kinds of extreme terroristic acts as a way to accomplish these ends, as a way to eliminate the small minority, but also somewhat terrorize the masses so that they didn’t get radicalized.

And so, you’ll read Aussaresses account and he’s explicit. He’s transparent. He’s plain. He’s forthright: “I tortured. That was the only way to do it. That was the best way to do it. We summarily executed. Most people wouldn’t come out of the torture chamber alive. Either they would confess quickly or it would be over for them.” You know, this is pen on paper. I mean, this is printed. These are his memoirs. That’s the way he viewed things which was a very, really brutal, brutal form of counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency theory is always somewhat brutal but this was just extreme on the sleeve.

And then there were other commanders, particularly David Galula but some others, who acknowledged that some torture happened. They would say, “You know, well, there’s all this talk of torture. It’s not entirely accurate but yes, there are some cases of torture.” And who would feed into that mechanism? Who would deliver a prisoner to you know, some camp where they knew the person would be tortured? Or who would be involved with say, the assassination of a suspect, an FLN suspect, but then would turn to legal processes to kind of, brush it over?

And so, they understood very well that Algerian war wasn’t a declared war so if someone died, there had to be an investigation by the gendarmeand the gendarme would come and they would investigate it and of course, every time somebody had been running away or trying to escape and got shot in the back, or whatever.

But nevertheless, that camp was a little bit more legalistic and emphasized the provision of services more. In other words, to win the hearts and minds, it was not only to terrorize them through torturous methods but also providing basic water services, electricity, some education, et cetera.

So, what you end up with, and what is particularly interesting about the Algerian experience [are the] two camps, two different variations on counterinsurgency theory. And that’s, I think, what we’ve seen over the course of American history since 9/11. So, we know that counterinsurgency as a way of thinking and as a way of preceding in international affairs, but also domestically, is not new to 9/11. We were engaged in counterinsurgency in Vietnam. We also, the United States, experimented with forms of counterinsurgency domestically against the Black Panthers and with the COINTEL program, et cetera. But starting in 9/11 really there was a much more systematic turn to that way of thinking and governing.

JS: It was not only tolerated by Democrats and Republicans alike, but there was an almost entirely unified House, so to speak, where you had one example being Barbara Lee being the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The PATRIOT Act — one Senator, Russ Feingold standing up and voting against it when it was initially promoted. So, it was a very effective consolidation of thinking and this bipartisan embrace of counterinsurgency as a normal part of American politics.

BH: Right, and then we saw it kind of emerge in these aberrant ways that, for some Americans felt aberrant, the use of torture to interrogate suspects. Also, the idea of indefinite detention, right. Some of these emerge in ways that were still shocking a little bit to the American sensibility because we thought that we had gotten past the willful use of waterboarding. And I think a lot of people didn’t connect the dots in part and didn’t fully understand that these were actually coherent pieces of a counterinsurgency strategy, and that’s the purpose of the book is to try and connect the dots.

But what we did see was, as you were suggesting with the passage of the PATRIOT Act, total information awareness coming into place on Americans, right, with the Section 215 program and also some illicit programs as well, but not all of them were passed by Congress. As you remember from that night where [John] Ashcroft was in his hospital bed asked to sign some of those illicit programs.

JS: And there was James Comey right next to him.

BH: Exactly, right. Acting though to kind of stop that, at that time. But the use of torture, the use of indefinite detention as a way to eliminate the suspected minority, the beginnings of the use of drones as a way to kind of target and eliminate, again, suspects.

These were all pieces that fit perfectly in a counterinsurgency theory. Now, it fit perfectly in the more extreme version of counterinsurgency, particularly torture. Now, but what we saw over time with the changing of the administration was not the end of a dominant counterinsurgency mentality but a slightly different variation on the theme.

JS: You’re talking about as we transition from Bush to Obama.

BH: Yes, right. As we transition to Obama, we see for instance, yes, a repudiation of torture. Although never any kind of accountability for the tortures, with the exception of a female officer at Abu Ghraib, and [a] few underlings who get prosecuted. No one was held accountable for that. Although, there was a statement that we wouldn’t engage in torture again, OK.

JS: Quickly before you go on with that: To me, one of the most telling and under-told stories about the very point that you’re making, the Obama administration’s posture on terrorism, is that you had civil litigation brought against Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush himself, but specifically for the torture and alleged extrajudicial killings at Guantanamo.

And when either the family members of survivors or prisoners themselves filed this civil litigation seeking damages from the U.S. government, the Obama justice department repeatedly intervened in the cases and filed briefs saying that even if Rumsfeld had participated in genocide as Defense Secretary, for instance, that it would have been within the official scope of his duties. And these were papers filed by Eric Holder as the attorney general. Those cases, and it’s a little bit complicated legally, but the short of it is that that intervention removed those officials as defendants in those cases.

It was then just the individual suing the entirety of the U.S. government bureaucracy and they were all dismissed. So, it wasn’t just that Obama said “Well, we need to look forward not [backward],” or failed to take any action. His justice department actively intervened to protect the very people at the top who were authorizing torture and potentially extrajudicial killings.

BH: Which shows the kind of, the continuities and the ways in which this takes slightly different variations, has [a] different flavor, different cast, different language, different public relations, but was essentially a continuation. I’ll come back to that in a split second because I think that’s really important and relevant here. What I wanted to suggest was that with the Obama Administration, we see those departures that end up actually, as you were suggesting, protecting and immunizing. But we also see the use of very deliberate, what are counterinsurgency practices, like the drone strikes which go up dramatically once Obama takes office in Pakistan, for instance. And that of course, is a different way of eliminating and targeting the small minority. You’re not using torture. the Obama administration tried to close down Guantanamo, didn’t succeed.

But the drone strikes in outside war zones is a perfect illustration of something that is counterinsurgency theory but has a slightly different flavor. Now, part of this is you know, it’s odd to come back to all of this now that we’re in the Trump, in this nightmare with the Trump administration and presidency. It’s odd to go back to Obama or Bush when it feels so unique what’s going on today and as we worry about a kind of encroaching authoritarianism – or what is it? Is it fascism or what, exactly? Where are we headed?

My point is, that you have to do that. In other words, the groundwork was laid for this. You can’t think about Trump’s penchant for authoritarian executive power without thinking about all of the theorists during the W. Bush Administration — very well-recognized law professors at the elite schools, who were talking about unbounded executive power as a good thing. There are continuities here and that’s the main point is that the most important continuity is this mentality, I would say, of counterinsurgency theory. And insofar as the Trump Administration marks a separate moment, you have to identify it within those logics, within the logic of a way of governing that we’ve had since 9/11. We’ve had [it] for a long, long time, 17 years of this.

And what does it represent? So, then the question becomes what is unique about the Trump formulation of this? Some things are not unique. When he says on the campaign trail, he’s ready to waterboard or worse, you know, torture the family members et cetera. Well you know, it’s not that unique, right? We had that when we had water – I mean, you know, a hundred-and-eighty-three application of water on one individual under the Bush Administration. So, we had that –

JS: It’s what Cheney was referring to when he told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, you know, that we’re going to have to be doing work on the dark side. I mean he was – you know, you had Cofer Black, senior CIA official telling Congress there was a before 9/11, and an after 9/11. And after 9/11, the gloves came off. I mean what they’re talking about there is torture and so-called targeted assassination in addition to the big scale military maneuvers.

BH: Exactly, right. So, some of these aspects of the Trump era are not novel, sadly. I wish they were almost. But then so what is unique — I think that one of the things that’s unique is this creation of an internal enemy in terms of all Muslims, for instance. And the language that Trump used about Muslims — well, I would not have imagined anyone in post-Nazi Germany ever being able to use that kind of language about a religious group. I mean, if you substituted “Jews” for “Muslims” in most of the statements that he made, people would be falling off their chairs, right. So, the creation of Muslims as a group, the demonization also of the undocumented and Mexicans which the Obama Administration did not have a very enlightened policy towards deportation or towards detention at the border. Tent cities pre-date Trump et cetera, massive detention pre-dates Trump. But nevertheless, the demonization, the way in which it’s used as a way to pull the masses on his side, I think is relatively, is characteristic and has a particular flavor. And the way in which some of the kind of militarized policing has now become routine in this county are all aspects that make it somewhat unique or the variation of counterinsurgency more extreme today.

JS: Well, there’s this, Department of Homeland Security program working with DOD to transfer the weaponry and vehicles of war to local law enforcement agencies across the country, which has enhanced the progress of the para-militarization slash militarization of the police, the 1033 program.

BH: Right, exactly, right. You’re putting your finger right on the right spot which is kind of, how does this counterinsurgency theory in practice make its way back into the domestic governing context? And it’s precisely through actually, material distribution. So, the fact that all of this counterinsurgency equipment that’s basically created for Iraq and Afghanistan, all of that equipment actually comes back to ordinary police departments to become hyper-militarized. Through the brave men and women who are fighting abroad who come back into police departments and security forces and bring all of that know-how and technology back. Through the private security firms at Standing Rock, you know, TigerSwan that The Intercept exposed some of their documents, and the mentality that was in the security, in the private security there, of thinking of the water carriers as you know, Jihadists –

JS: Oh, yeah, it was straight out of the CIA targeted killing program.

BH: Yeah, it’s straight out of counterinsurgency way of thinking in the Middle East brought back into this country. And then, [this] just particular mentality, just the way of seeing the world, the way of thinking of society as being divided into these three categories of the passive masses and the counterinsurgents. All of that is how this way of thinking, and breathing, and living, and governing becomes second nature. But also, as you were suggesting with these material flows of hardware, it’s both the hardware and the software that’s coming back.

Now, what I would say is unique about the Trump Administration or the point at which we are now is that this way of governing has now become dominant. And I can talk about other parts of it kind of distracting us, distracting the masses, in a second. But it’s become dominant domestically in a time when there is no longer, there is no insurgent minority. There is no insurgency, right? These techniques were developed mostly at times of revolutions, independence movements, many communist movements in the South whether it was in Algeria or in Indochina, et cetera, when there was, in fact, a war to be fought. There were armed insurgents trying to liberate the countries.

Now, you can have a whole debate about counterinsurgency in that context. Counterinsurgency theory was actually — [it] never succeeded. All of those movements for independence, all of those anti-colonial struggles prevailed. So, you can have an independent conversation among the military strategists as to whether or not counterinsurgency is a good thing, but what’s so unique about it now is that it’s operating in this country as a mode of governing, a filter through which we govern in this country, and there’s no insurgency.

There’s no active group, I mean, there are as we see practically every week now, you know, very unstable individuals who are engaging in violent acts, and who are appealing to the most attractive ideologies now for someone who is in an extreme violent condition, and that tends to be white supremacy, on the one hand, or you know, the Islamic state, on the other. And you have these individuals, but you don’t have an insurgent minority in this country.

JS: Isn’t it the case, and I know you work on death penalty cases in the state of Alabama, but I recently have come to believe that our carceral state in this country, the prison industrial complex is perhaps the premiere form of counterinsurgency. And if you look at the economics, the housing trends after desegregation in black communities across this country, and you look at the explosion of the prison population — in Florida now, there’s going to be the re-enfranchisement of 1.4 million people who were previously imprisoned — but what would any of those people have done in their lives? This is one of the most targeted groups in the history of this country and you have record-shattering numbers of black people warehoused in prisons.

BH: Yeah.

JS: Do you buy what I’m saying or — ?

BH: You know, so I’ve spent a lot of time – because I bridge these spaces, these two worlds a lot — and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to locate mass incarceration within the paradigm of the counterinsurgency way of governing and it’s a little tricky. Here’s where I end up: Mass incarceration starts around 1973 is when we start seeing the uptick in rates of incarceration and it’s an exponential rise in the prison population. And every time I or others flash this, the graph of incarceration in this country, people’s jaws usually drop because you’re not used to exponential trends literally sky-rocketing in public policy. You’re used to it in the context of microbes or some kind of scientific experiment or something but not when we’re deciding what we’re doing.

So, it starts in 1973. It’s racialized from the beginning.

JS: And coming on the tails of the height of the civil rights movement, the black power movement.

BH: Right.

JS: The uprisings in ghettos across America. Prominent black athletes now standing up. I mean, Nixon understood the way the winds were blowing there and, in a way, this was sort of his brainchild toward the end of his time in office.

BH: It sure was. It sure was. And through Reagan and Ed Meese who really was favoring the building of prisons.

JS: And Clinton.

BH: And Clinton, as well. Rights. The New Democrats.

JS: But on your point about – I’m interested in how you’ve internally debated that question.

BH: Yeah, because a lot of what caused that were things like the war on crime and the war on drugs. Now, you can’t over-emphasize the war on drugs. It’s about one-quarter of the increase. Everybody debates this. We’ve rehashed it a million times but nevertheless, it contributed. But what was contributing I think, were these ideas of large-scale warfare and that’s where mass incarceration feels somewhat to me, a little bit out of joint. Now, in terms of what brought it about because counterinsurgency theory and counterinsurgency mentalities were opposed to large-scale battlefield war models. But a lot of the social policy that predated 9/11 was the result of a particular, large battlefield war model.

You can think of the New Deal as being that. You can certainly think of the war on poverty as being an effort to have a wide scale, all forces on those problems. And the way that the war on crime was implemented did have a lot of this idea of “We’re just going to put all our forces on it and we’re just going to attack this thing.” And that’s a slightly different mental structure say, than the more targeted counterinsurgency interventions. And that’s why, for me, it’s always been difficult to – the result seems very similar in the sense that what you’ve effectively done at the end, by the end, by the time you get to mass incarceration is you know, you have literally just incapacitated, you have just knocked out this whole tranche of young, black and brown men, predominantly. The numbers are really increasing for African American and Hispanic women right now. But you’ve just knocked out this tranche which is the generally, in the United States, perceived as the internal enemy.

You know, when I was speaking earlier about the internal enemy and referring to the Muslims and referring to the Mexicans, et cetera, of course, also African American protesters or #BlackLivesMatter folks fit in that category, right now, particularly with Donald Trump, being an internal enemy. So, you’ve achieved something that kind of fits with the counterinsurgency model which is to eliminate that tranche. Although, I think at the beginning at least, it was coming from a different way of thinking which was this large war on crime approach. So, I think it has fed in to the point where today, it functions in that way. You see it well in a state like Florida, as you were saying.

JS: Yeah, I mean, not to belabor the point but part of what informed my thinking on this was when we interviewed Mehrsa Baradaran who wrote an excellent book about the history of black banks. And I think you could make an argument — and maybe we’ll have you back to have a longer discussion about just this — but I think you could make an argument that from the official end of slavery through reconstruction, the entire strategy with black masses in America has been “Never allow independent financial power, never allow viable community-building and ensure that large numbers of people are just stuck in the criminal justice hamster wheel, basically.”

BH: Right.

JS: But I definitely understand the distinction that you’re drawing but I do think it can be helpful. And also talking to black activists who are really looking at this – Mariame Kaba and others – I do think it’s helpful to engage in a line of inquiry about prisons as counterinsurgency when you’re taking the full scope of that history into account.

BH: Yeah, I agree. I agree, and you know, the relations between the buildup and the hyper-incarceration and the creation of ghettos before them are I think important elements to understanding the transition to a more theorized, or a more coherent counterinsurgency mode of governing.

JS: One of the specific examples that you cite as being a particularly disturbing if not unprecedented event was back in 2016, I believe it was when the Dallas police used an anti-bomb robot strapped with explosives to blow up the Army veteran Micah Johnson. So, this was Dallas PD. There was some litigation about that against the officers. It ended up getting tossed up. But remind people of the circumstances of that and why you describe it as basically, unprecedented. What was it about it that was unprecedented? First, just sort of the context.

BH: Okay, well the context was there was a large anti-police misconduct protest going on in Dallas. It was a significant group of, you know, it was a big demonstration. And towards the tail-end of the demonstration, there was an unstable individual, Micah Johnson, who was an Army veteran, who started firing on the police, and who got cornered. So basically, I mean, he shot and killed five police officers and wounded others. So, it was a pretty dramatic situation and of course, very extreme situation, extreme danger for everyone and [a] terrible, terrible situation.

But ultimately, he got kind of cornered in a particular location and there were negotiations taking place to try and get him to surrender. And at some point, the chief of police in Dallas instead of continuing with the negotiations decided, “Look, we’re just going to take him out with a bomb.” And basically, a drone, effectively. You know, so it was an anti-bomb robot, as you were suggesting. That usually is used to diffuse bombs, but instead, they strapped a bomb to it and they sent it in the direction of Micah Johnson and then when it got close enough, they detonated the bomb and he was killed.

JS: Do we know if this was something that they kind of, thought up on their own or was this a product that is already ready-made in the hands of police departments?

BH: My understanding, but you know, I’d have to go back and double-check, my understanding is that they were inventing, that they were kind of jiggering the device. Because it wasn’t intended, it’s not intended to be a blow-up robot. And you know, these things are kind of expensive, so you know, it’s not a kind of self-destruct kind of robot. So, my understanding is that it was jiggered to have a bomb placed on it and then it was deployed. Now, so what was so unique about that was: that’s not the police function. The police function when you have a suspect is to subdue the suspect, is to try and get the suspect alive so that the person can be tried in a criminal court.

Now these were extreme circumstances for sure, but we don’t know for instance, Micah Johnson was in his right mind. We can suspect that he was not. He might’ve been suffering from delusions. He might have been in a state that we would qualify as a trial insanity. There may have been other defenses. Who knows? That’s why we have a criminal process. That’s why we would afford someone like that an attorney and we could try to figure out what happened.

JS: But this is an argument against – I mean does it matter to you if it was with a robot that was created by the police for the purpose of blowing this guy up or a sniper shooting him and taking him out?

BH: Well right, I mean in a situation like that a sniper, and there were snipers ready to try, wouldn’t be shooting to kill. That’s the point. The difference, the line of demarcation, right: There is shooting to kill versus trying to subdue and catch the suspect. That demarcation is the demarcation between the military context and the policing context. In a military context, it’s fine to shoot to kill if you’re in an engagement against a declared enemy in uniform et cetera. There are rules of war but the logic in the military context is yes, people are trying to kill each other. That’s what a war is, like it or leave it. There are going to be Geneva Conventions and other forms of regulations of what can and can’t be done but against an enemy in a conflict, in an active conflict, you shoot to kill.

That’s just not what we do in the domestic policing context and that’s the huge difference. And that’s what was unprecedented about it, really. It was transitioning from a policing context where you try to subdue suspects and bring them to court alive, flipping into this drone tactical attack that is the pristine illustration of counterinsurgency theory in warfare, right. It was that. It was that flip.

And you know a lot of people, a lot of people looked at the situation and thought “Well it’s no big deal, you know. I mean, you know, he shot five cops and what not.” It’s fine to take those kind of, you know –

JS: Well they make a similar argument about drones. “Oh, this is a more precise weapon. We don’t have to risk our soldiers.” Yes, it’s true. I mean, the missiles fired from a drone tend to be more accurate than a cruise missile launched from a ship. However, it also removes the participants in that act of mass violence further away from the process that would involve the human mind or logic. It makes it so easy to say “Oh we can just zap this person and then they disappear from the world.” That’s a big part of the problem with using these technological platforms. It’s still based on the idea that “Better we kill him than he kills any of us.” But it has this added dimension of making it so sort of, void of any moral oversight or removing it even further from any kind of human intervention, logic, compassion, all of that.

BH: Right. And it’s administering a completely different logic right. That’s what it’s doing. I mean you’re no longer there to serve and protect. You’re there to destroy, eliminate. Now, with the drones – I mean, the drone situation is particularly fraught particularly outside of the war zone. And again, there I don’t think people have sufficiently thought through all of the implications, as you were suggesting. Because when you’re not in the war zone it can only be done effectively. It can only be justified as an act of self-defense. I mean in the war zone, using a drone becomes almost an ordinary form of a ballistic attack, right. I mean, but when you’re outside of the war zone and you can’t use the logic of active military engagement. The only way in which it’s defensible is if you are in imminent need of self-defense.

JS: Define imminent.

BH: Define imminent first of all but then there become limits on self-defense when there are going to be innocent bystanders, right.

JS: Well, you recall that on that there was this Department of Justice white paper that leaked under Obama that revealed to the public — and then later this was confirmed through public release of documents — that the Obama Justice Department had radically changed the definition of the term “imminent” so that it had almost no resemblance to an ordinary person or even a very learned person’s understanding of the definition of imminent. It was basically if you’ve ever talked to anyone that we believe is a terrorist, ever, you represent an imminent threat to the United States. I mean they just threw the basic meaning of it out the window and said, “Anyone in Yemen that we say is a threat is an ‘imminent’ threat, and therefore all of this is justified.”  

BH: Right. And when you start doing that then you really move away from anything that is justifiable or defensible, right. Because self-defense is a very bounded concept basically, in criminal law, jurisprudence, and it has certain limits and it’s not as if you can engage in forms of self-defense that cause death to others, to innocent others. And what happens is that you pivot at that moment. You pivot from a domestic logic to a military logic but you’re not in a military war zone. And so, what’s happening right there, those moments right there is where you begin to see the extension of counterinsurgency theory to foreign affairs more broadly. The use of drones in a place like Pakistan is no longer a military engagement. It’s foreign policy, right. Now we’re conducting our foreign policy with this counterinsurgency mentality.

Or when you bring it onto American soil and you all of a sudden use a drone to assassinate a target effectively, a suspect, you’ve domesticated this way of thinking and you’ve blurred the lines in such a way that we don’t really think about questions of self-defense anymore because now we’re thinking through a military prism. We’re thinking through a counterinsurgency prism.

JS: You wrote that “Trump ratcheted up and accelerated the counterrevolution on every front.” What do you mean by that?

BH: When you take all of the different elements that I’ve suggested: the use of torture, the use of indefinite detention. So, torture we don’t know of use of torture under the Trump Administration, but during the campaign this kind of embrace of torture worse than what was done during the Bush Administration –

JS: It is perfectly plausible that many of those programs have been reactivated particularly when you have Gina Haspel now running the CIA. We hear almost nothing about any of the tactics that are being used.

BH: Right.

JS: I’m not even sure that Trump outside of saying “Well, let’s pull some fingernails out,” has any sort of involvement in the tick-tock of counter-terrorist policy, whereas Obama was like babysitting the whole thing, you know, and was getting briefings on every aspect of it.

It does seem like Trump is very hands-off and is letting the most unsavory players within the intelligence community run the show. So, I just want to point out we have no idea what tactics have been reauthorized or newly authorized under this administration. Zero idea.

BH: Yeah and let me just emphasize that that is a product, I would argue, of the ratcheted-up heart and minds work that’s being done right now through distraction. So, you were saying, you know, Trump has ratcheted up all these elements, you can go through each one of them: indefinite detention, the idea of we’re going to fill Guantanamo again. Not only are we going to fill Guantanamo again but we’re going we’re going to fill it with American citizens too, right.

JS: And he’s suggested it a few times like when you had the West Side highway.

BH: Right.

JS: He suggested that that suspect should be sent to Guantanamo.

BH: Right, right, right. So, you’ve got all of these different aspects. Increased use of drones, so we’ve seen a spike since the Trump Administration [came] into power, but — and this is the key point here — we don’t even talk about the increase in drones anymore. We don’t even talk about drones anymore. Not just because this Administration has stopped the flow of information, and not because we’re used to drones, but because of the distraction techniques that Trump is so agile at that preoccupy us with other things. So, it’s almost as if there isn’t any air space to debate drones, to even write about drones, or to draw our attention to this escalating problem with drones because all of our time, and attention, and energy is being distracted with you know, “who got fired?” These distraction techniques of which Trump is a master, right? Day after the midterm, right, a midterm where he loses the House, Democrats gained the House, you know, it was pretty eventful: Bam! Sessions gets fired.

JS: Well Sessions gets fired and then the whole thing with Jim Acosta and CNN, and then Trump right now is basically going after every black White House correspondent calling them either a racist or stupid, right.

BH: Right, exactly. And that, those forms of distraction that he is so masterful at is, I believe, our newest way of winning hearts and minds. Our hearts and minds are not so much one as they are pacified because we are glued to our devices figuring out what happened next. You know, this acting Attorney General Whitaker. You know, what’s he going to do next? What did he say? He already said how to close down the Mueller investigation. You know it’s such a – before President Trump was inaugurated, I believe he told his team, you know, “I want my presidency to be like a reality TV show with one episode a day where I conquer my enemies,” right? That’s the way in which we are now being, I would say, most pacified under this counterinsurgency form of governing because we can’t even pay attention to the important things anymore.

We can’t even pay attention, for instance, to how many drones we’ve used in the last month and how many civilians have been killed as a result. It’s nowhere. You won’t find that anywhere in the news, right, or in the conversation because we just don’t have time for that.

JS: As we wrap up here – one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you is that I think a discussion that we’re not having in this society, and I think it’s a real problem that we’re not having it, is what do these trends that you’re describing – and that we cover a lot on the show – what do those trends look like if you remove Trump from the equation and it was another term of Obama? What is there that we should be focused on, concerned about trying to confront versus what is new with Trump? And it seems from listening to you, that you are identifying some real differences that Trump presents in policy, and style, and tactic from Obama but that the core strategy, that you document the history of it in your book, is in place whether you have a third term of Obama or a first term of Trump.

BH: Yeah, I think that that’s right. I mean one of the – it’s hard to say this – one of the downsides of Trump is, in part, this distraction that doesn’t allow us to see the continuities. It’s a confusing statement, I know –

JS: No, I know exactly what you’re saying.

BH: It’s that all of sudden we’re talking about — we’re now facing an Administration that is what would people call it, some people call it fascist, some people call it authoritarian, some people call it some kind of right populism, some people call it alt-right. I mean [there] are lots of different ways of describing this and some are more accurate than others. But what that hides were the continuities that came before and that we would still be facing today.

When I really conceptualize this, when I came to see that what we face is [a] counterinsurgency mode of governing, I was pretty convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to be elected president of the United States and that it would take a different form. I didn’t think – we weren’t going to stop drone strikes pretty clearly and there would have been different ways in which — and it’s not clear what the continuation of deportations and what our immigration policies, where they would have gone, right.

But the radicality of Trump masks all of those continuities which is one of the troubling aspects here. Because in part, we need to address the radical dimension of Trump the way in which our political discourse has shifted so dramatically to the right and that people feel emboldened to say things that they would never have been willing to say before. And all of the kind of signals and indexing to what [is] effectively, you know, white nationalist language, with the “globalists” and you know, which substitutes in for anti-Semitic, basically, language et cetera. So, all of that needs to be addressed.

And yet we also need to address the fact that we’ve been on this course since 9/11, and that those practices continue that, and that way of thinking continues today so that the counterinsurgency mode of governing, the militarized police forces that we see across this country that continues, and it becomes second nature. And it’s almost masked by the extraordinarily radical language and actions of the president.

JS: Right. And I mean, just parenthetically it also has had the consequence of lionizing the FBI, the CIA, the intelligence community for certainly one whole television network MSNBC which is just filled with these people on their airwaves. But I mean, I think if I were one of the sort of evil plotters of you know, within the CIA paramilitary division or propaganda ops, I would be loving this moment. Because on the one hand, you have Trump who is totally hands off, just get the torture done. It’s fine. I don’t need to know the details. And then on the other hand, you have John Brennan, the drone lord who is you know, on CNN constantly. He now has the audacity to say that he’s against you know the continued involvement of the U.S. military in Yemen. He started it. You have James Clapper, a known perjurer, who’s now a hero. James Comey. They have Go Fund Me campaigns for all these people. The Trump era is really — I’ve been saying this for quite some time. It’s like a new golden era for the worst parts of the so-called national security apparatus in this country.

BH: Right. I mean that is what is so striking is the way in which you know, the way in which the NSA, or the CIA has become the savior.

JS: They’re protecting us from Trump.

BH: Right, and I mean and that just goes to show – so when we talk about like how has counterinsurgency changed over time and how has this mode of governing change over time from the Bush, to the Obama, to the Trump Administration. I think it really does show how extreme the Trump form of kind of counterinsurgency management becomes when those tranches of our government become not sufficiently embracing of a counterinsurgency mentality, right. Not sufficiently embracing of the fear of the caravan, or all of these other kind of, Trumped up fears. Not sufficiently embracing a repression of Muslim Americans, right. All of a sudden, those entities no longer can serve the function of a counterinsurgency approach. Entities that were at the core of a counterinsurgency approach. I mean, the FBI and COINTELPRO, that was the beginning, the seeds, the first experiments with a domestication of counterinsurgency approach. Those agencies are no longer even kind of, have fallen off the chart of the kinds of you know, people, and associations, and agencies that will fulfill this vision of a counter-revolution.

JS: Final question, what would a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil look like under Trump?

BH: Oh, don’t. Please don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t.

JS: Well, I mean, I’m –

BH: No, no, no, no, no. I mean, I mean you have to understand that is the greatest danger for this country. Had those pipe bombs not been white supremacist pipe bombs, but some kind of other unstable individual claiming Islamic fundamentalism. I am — I do not know where we would be in this country. My greatest worry is a true terrorist attack that would afford this administration the opportunity to put in place emergency measures or state of emergency that would centralize power further.

Now, the one kind of saving grace now, I think, was the midterm elections that turned the House Democratic. But before I mean, I think at this point now, there is potentially a political counterweight in our government that will be able possibly at least to to serve as a as a counterweight.

But prior to that with the Senate in Republican hands and the House in Republican hands and Trump – my greatest fear prior to those midterm results was some kind of credible terrorist attack from someone who delusionally claims Islamic fundamentalism of some sort triggering a kind of state of exception.

JS: Or someone advocating for the rights of immigrants, particularly undocumented.  I mean, it could be Islamic terrorists. It could also be that it’s immigrant groups. It’s Antifa that’s doing this.

BH: Right.

JS: The one thing that would push you on though is I think that Bush and Cheney could have could have gone much further than they did in that open space right after 9/11. I think they obviously they got a lot and with a lot of Democratic support. I think they could have even pushed it further on a domestic level and they would have lost Democrats, but not all of them. And I think that when you look at the key programs you describe in your book, and you look at the U.S. military you look at the intelligence budget, you look at surveillance capabilities, the leadership of the Democratic Party is consistently backing Trump in expanding all of these things despite the fact that they say he’s such a threat to our democratic process in this country. I mean it’s very interesting how the powerful in those Reichstag-like moments sort of do coalesce around the flag. The challenge here is that Trump is the kind of cartoonish villain that you’re describing. So, it does throw a bit of a monkey wrench. But if recent history is any indication when it comes to “We’re all Americans and we need to protect the country,” the Chuck Schumer’s of the world are going to be whipping up those votes to make sure that the military gets its record breaking budget again or that the president has these surveillance capabilities.

BH: Right, yeah, and sadly, that’s what kind of, you know, fuels this kind of the continuation of this counter-insurgency way of governing right and that sadly, there wasn’t a rupture. I mean that’s the point of the book. There wasn’t a dramatic rupture from Bush to Obama. And that’s one of the things that’s most disappointing in our contemporary politics is that there isn’t a real counterweight. And you know, it’s a situation that that keeps me up at night thinking about the potential triggering mechanisms that could that could push us further into this form of counterrevolution.

JS: We’re going to leave it there. Professor Bernard Harcourt, thank you so much for joining us.

BH: Thank you, Jeremy Scahill.

Elise Swain contributed to this story.

The post The Counterinsurgency Paradigm: How U.S. Politics Have Become Paramilitarized appeared first on The Intercept.

In South Texas, Border Residents Struggle to Cope With the Latest Military Surge

The blue and white chopper dipped low over the old white farmhouse and the muddy green river. Seventy-three-year-old Reynaldo Anzaldua, sporting a tan Vietnam vet baseball cap, squinted up at the chopper blotting out the blue sky. “Border Patrol, ver…” he said, the whir of the rotor blades drowning out his words. Anzaldua waited a bit, watching the chopper move upriver. “Verdad?” he said finally to his cousin, Fred Cavazos, who had rolled his wheelchair over to the edge of the cattle pen so he could feed his Longhorns. Cavazos nodded. “They’ve got three kinds of helicopters down here,” he said, knowingly. “That one’s Border Patrol, then you’ve got the National Guard, and the state police got their own.”

“But now, we also got the military,” Anzaldua added. “I heard they’re down at the port of entries jumping out of black helicopters with submachine guns. I haven’t seen it yet myself, but that’s what I’ve heard.” Both of them had lived along the Rio Grande their entire lives and the recent deployment of more than 5,800 active duty soldiers near their homes and along the southern border still felt surreal, even in border communities that had grown accustomed to more policing and surveillance than anywhere else in America. Photos, snapped by locals, circulated on Facebook of Customs and Border Protection agents clad in black riot gear shutting down lanes at the ports of entry with Mexico, of soldiers in Mission, Texas, not far from Cavazos’s farm, lining the Rio Grande with razor wire. A feeling of foreboding had settled in along the border.

It was November 6 — Election Day. We stood in the sun watching Cavazos push a bale of hay into the cattle pen. The Pentagon had announced the deployment, dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot, one week earlier. In a string of increasingly hysterical tweets leading up to the deployment, President Donald Trump had warned of an “invasion” by Central American families traveling north to seek asylum in caravans — or “scare-a-vans,” as CNN had dubbed them. Mexico, Trump tweeted, should stop “this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to the US. …If unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”

Cranking up the rhetoric on October 31, Trump had told reporters he’d send as many as 10,000 to 15,000 troops. Never mind that the 5,800 soldiers and 2,100 National Guardsman already deployed meant that more troops were amassed there than in Iraq and Syria combined. The next day, in televised remarks from the White House, Trump said he’d authorize lethal force against migrants traveling in the caravans. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” Trump said. “We’ll consider — and I told them — consider it a rifle.”

The president’s words sent a chill through border communities, where many still remember when a U.S. Marine assigned to a drug interdiction task force mistakenly shot and killed an 18-year-old boy, Esequiel Hernández, in 1997 as he was herding goats in the small Texas border town of Redford. Fatal shootings of unarmed residents by the Border Patrol is an ever-present danger. In less than a decade, agents have fatally shot at least 25 unarmed people — some of them standing across the border in Mexico. The Border Patrol often claimed the shootings were in self-defense because the victims had thrown rocks in the direction of agents.

A cross honoring  Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. sits on the place he fell dead in Redford, Texas, Saturday, July 26, 2008. Redford, a knot of adobe homes and alfalfa fields some 300 miles down river from El Paso, made headlines in 1997 when U.S. Marines on a secret anti-drug mission mistakenly gunned down a local high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., as he herded goats along the Rio Grande. Residents on both sides of the Big Bend, as the curve is known, are relieved their unspoiled desert boundary has been largely left out of plans to wall off 700 miles of the United States' southern border _ even if the unfenced frontier may draw more smugglers and migrants as the rest of the line is sealed off. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

A cross honoring Esequiel Hernández, Jr., marks the place where he died in 1997 after being shot by a U.S. Marine, in Redford, Texas.

Photo: Guillermo Arias/AP

So it wasn’t much consolation when Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, chief of U.S. Northern Command and in charge of the deployment, told reporters that the troops would be extensively briefed on the rules of engagement but would follow the lead of CBP, Border Patrol’s parent agency. CBP will be “the primary and principle members that will be handling specifically the migrants,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There could be incidental interaction between our military members and migrants or other personnel. … And so we are making [sure] that our soldiers, our Marines are going to be fully trained in how to do that interaction. They’re going to understand the rules for that interaction and they’ll be consistent with CBP.”

“Having the military here is a disaster,” Anzaldua said. “Or more likely a tragedy. They are trained for war. They shouldn’t be here. But it’s not their fault.” Anzaldua, himself a former Air Force sergeant, shook his head, frowning. “They’re just doing what they’re told. In my opinion, some of those politicians who sent them down here should be held accountable if they shoot someone. They should be tried for murder.”

Reynaldo Anzaldúa, 73, left, asists his cousin Fred Cabazos, 69, as they arrive to to feed the cattle in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Reynaldo Anzaldua, 73, left, assists his cousin Fred Cavazos, 69, as they arrive to to feed his cattle in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

They didn’t feel safer, only under occupation, he said, and people were suffering on the other side of the river, too. “They’re supposed to take in asylum-seekers and vet them to see whether they’re eligible to stay or not,” Anzaldua said. “A lot of those folks are families with children, and they’re suffering from the elements, and there’s no telling whether they’re getting food or water. It’s inhumane what they are doing.”

During the Pentagon press conference on October 29 announcing Operation Faithful Patriot, O’Shaughnessy said the deployment would consist largely of Army engineering, aviation, and medical personnel who would “harden the southern border” in advance of the migrant caravan arrivals. It would also include armed divisions of military police, he said. But the general emphasized that the military police were not authorized to engage in law enforcement at the border, which would violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that bans the use of military for civilian law enforcement. “Everything we are doing is in line with and in adherence to Posse Comitatus,” O’Shaughnessy said.

I asked Mark Cancian, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, and now senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, whether migrant caravans filled with asylum-seekers should be considered a national threat. He chuckled. “It’s in the eye of beholder. The president says it is, others say it isn’t. The notion that we should defend our borders — that’s why we have a military, to safeguard the borders. On the other hand, this is mostly a law enforcement problem. The military is terrible with civilians. When they see threatening people, their inclination is to eliminate the threat.”

“Is the deployment political?” Anzaldua asked rhetorically, as he leaned against his cousin’s white van. “Sure it is. It’s all a big show.” Cavazos nodded in agreement. Up on the earthen levee, a Border Patrol agent whizzed by on an ATV, trailing a plume of dust. Then a constable in a black SUV parked on the levee, at the base of Cavazos’s driveway. Anzaldua glanced over at the officer in dark sunglasses who had gotten out of her vehicle and was now rifling through a case of water bottles in the back. “Last week I was here at the farm and in less than one hour, I counted over 20 Border Patrol units, four [Texas] Department of Public Safety units, a game warden, and four city police units,” he said. “We feel like we’re always being watched.”

Anzaldua had brought me to his cousin’s farm, he said, because he wanted to get the word out about Trump’s border wall, which will run along the levee next to their land. The farmstead sprawled more than half a mile from the levee south down to the Rio Grande, Cavazos explained. At least 30 people rented modest riverside cabins and homes from him, and their access would be cut off by the wall. A construction firm in Galveston had already signed a $145 million contract to build the new wall, and work was slated to begin as early as February. The earthen levee will be replaced with concrete and an 18-foot steel bollard fence on top.  The farm and his riverside property will be cut off from the United States. Anzaldua and Cavazos were contemplating a lawsuit against CBP. It might win them some time, Anzaldua said, but ultimately it would be tough to beat the Trump administration and eminent domain.

Anzaldua has lost this battle before. More than a decade ago, I interviewed him when he was trying to stop the construction of a similar border wall — under the George W. Bush administration — that went through his backyard in the neighboring town of Granjeno, three miles east of his cousin’s farm. But Anzaldua said he’d take up the fight again to help his cousin. “I was a U.S. Customs agent for 30 years,” said Anzaldua. “So I know how smuggling works. And a wall won’t stop it. People in America don’t understand that the problem is here — the demand for drugs, the demand for cheap labor. Until you do away with those, it’s never going to stop.”

After the wall was built in Granjeno, his relatives who lived south of it had to abandon their farms, and now it had become a haven for smugglers. “What most people don’t understand is that it’s about a mile between the border wall in Granjeno and the river,” Anzaldua explained. “Everything south of the wall we call no man’s land now because no one goes there, not even Border Patrol. They stick to patrolling the wall.”

“The same will probably happen here,” Cavazos said, surveying the small farm from his wheelchair. “No man’s land.”

But the land was still of some value to the government. As the wall went up in Granjeno, a new port of entry and bridge was built to accommodate the international factories in Mexico shipping car parts, flat-screen TVs, and other consumer items for the global market. The new port of entry was named Anzalduas International Bridge.

After I left Cavazos’s farm, I learned that soldiers had lined the Anzalduas bridge with razor wire and unspooled coils of it along the perimeter of the river underneath. Since the first influx of unaccompanied Central American children and families had started arriving at this stretch of the border in 2014, the field below Anzalduas bridge, dotted with yellow wildflowers and delicate fronded huisache trees, had become a popular point of arrival for asylum-seekers — their first acquaintance with the United States, after crossing the Rio Grande on inner tubes and small inflatable rafts. When I arrived one autumn afternoon in 2016, the scene was almost bucolic from a distance, with women and children splayed in the tall grass under the shade of the bridge. But as I drew closer, their faces told another story. As they waited for Border Patrol to arrive so they could request asylum, their faces were marked by exhaustion mixed with fear and guarded hope. Now the field was blocked off from the river with rolls of barbed concertina wire.

DONNA, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  U.S. Army vehicles sit parked at a military camp under construction at the U.S.-Mexico border on November 7, 2018 in Donna, Texas. The new forward operating base is located near the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge and port of entry between the United States and Mexico. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered troops to the border weeks in advance of the possible arrival of a migrant caravan, which the president has called an "invasion."  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

U.S. Army vehicles sit parked at a military camp under construction in Donna, Texas, on Nov. 7, 2018.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A Political Stunt

I drove to the city of Donna, 20 miles east of Cavazos’s farm, where a sprawling military encampment, Base Camp Donna, had started to take shape. A large field near the port of entry had been cordoned off with concertina wire strung along metal posts. News teams from the major networks had set up cameras outside the perimeter to capture images of the troops setting up their base camp. Further blurring the line between law enforcement and the military, two bemused soldiers on gate duty sat in a blue and white Customs and Border Protection SUV watching the camera operators set up their shots. Inside the compound, soldiers were readying the olive drab tents where they would sleep until December 15, when the deployment was supposed to end. Other soldiers unloaded concrete barriers from military trucks, which would be used to block off bridges to Mexico if and when the migrant caravans arrived.

At a Pentagon press conference on October 31, Defense Secretary James Mattis had defended the large number of active duty soldiers being sent to the border, comparing it to what the Defense Department might do after a natural disaster. A reporter asked Mattis whether the whole thing wasn’t just a political stunt, as many Democratic legislators had alleged, since the deployment had been announced a week before the midterms.

“The support that we provide to the Secretary for Homeland Security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of Customs and Border Police (sic),” said Mattis. “We don’t do stunts in this department.”

Two weeks later, as Mattis toured Base Camp Donna, he was more philosophical. Trump had only issued one lackluster tweet about the caravan since Election Day. The DOD had also dropped the Operation Faithful Patriot moniker, reportedly at Mattis’s request, and was now simply calling it “border support.”

Lieutenant general Jeffrey Buchanan, U.S. Army north commanding general, briefs Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, U.S., November 14, 2018.   Master Sgt. Jacob Caldwel/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1C8AF3D4F0

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, right, briefs Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of Defense James Mattis at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2018.

Photo: Master Sgt. Jacob Caldwel/U.S. Army via Reuters

He advised the soldiers to focus on their mission to assist CBP and avoid the chaotic roil of news. Just that day, news reports had indicated that his job and that of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was touring the camp alongside him, were in jeopardy. “Now, there’s all sorts of stuff in the news,” he told the assembled soldiers, according to CNN. “You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander tells you. Because if you read all that stuff, you know, you’ll go nuts.”

En route to Texas, Mattis had tried to frame the deployment to reporters as commonplace. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” he told them, citing a history of military deployments leading back a century, when the U.S. Army had been sent to the border after a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, by Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his revolutionary troops in 1916. The comparison fell flat. There was no Division del Norte setting fire to American cities, just caravans of exhausted asylum-seekers, who were still hundreds of miles away.

But Mattis wasn’t wrong when he noted that the border was already militarized. The Rio Grande Valley, which stretches along 130 miles of Texas-Mexico border and includes the cities of Donna and Mission, is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Texas, with a population of more than 1.3 million. The stretch of border at the southern tip of Texas is also the shortest distance from Central America, which is why many migrants favor the crossing. In little more than a decade, the Rio Grande Valley has seen 11 deployments of National Guard and Texas State Police.

The deployments have often come during election season. For many years, sending police and National Guard to the region, which is largely Latino and Democratic, has been a reliable Republican campaign strategy. In 2014, when the first major influx of Central American asylum-seekers began arriving at the Texas border, then-Gov. Rick Perry called a press conference to announce that he would not “stand idly by while our citizens are under assault” and deployed 1,000 National Guard soldiers and hundreds of state police to the Rio Grande Valley, calling it Operation Strong Safety. Residents complained of being arbitrarily stopped and harassed by state troopers with nothing to do. The warning of an “invasion” of Central Americans coming from Perry, Fox News, and others also attracted civilian militia members to the area, pledging to guard the homeland from “illegal alien invaders.” With so many armed individuals in the brush along the Rio Grande, things grew chaotic. In the summer of 2014, a Border Patrol agent shot at an armed man near the river in Brownsville. The man, a militia member, narrowly missed being hit. In another incident, a state police officer mistakenly shot at a Border Patrol agent during a nighttime patrol.

Not long after the deployment, Perry announced his second presidential bid. He failed to garner enough votes in the Republican primary, but after being eliminated from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” he was appointed by Trump to run the Department of Energy.

In April, Trump sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border in reaction to another migrant caravan he’d seen reported on Fox News. The deployment, part of the president’s “zero tolerance” strategy, unfolded in tandem with a family separation policy that horrified the world with children being torn from their parents’ arms and thrown in detention. At least eight states, led by both Democratic and Republican governors, recalled their National Guard soldiers in protest, dealing a blow to Trump’s family separation policy, which he ended in June.

Four months later, the president bypassed the states, ordering the Department of Defense to send active duty troops. Mattis complied but has reportedly turned down a number of Trump’s other controversial requests, including that the soldiers build tent cities for asylum-seekers along the border and detain or use lethal force against migrants. (On November 20, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly signed a “cabinet order” authorizing lethal force to protect border agents if needed, but Mattis said it would ultimately be up to him to give the order.) Since many of those deployed are from engineering battalions, and Base Camp Donna appeared to have a lot of heavy, earth-moving machinery, I wondered whether the soldiers would be used to build the border wall through Fred Cavazos’s farm. But a Northcom spokesperson assured me that the soldiers were only building temporary barriers, not permanent ones.

Paula, 14, center, from Colombia, plays with Tania, 42, right, from Honduras in a shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 7, 2018. They have been waiting for weeks at the shelter to seek asylum in the U.S. because Customs and Border Protection, CBP, agents have told them that they are at full capacity.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Paula, 14, center, from Colombia, plays with Tania, 42, right, from Honduras in a shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in Mexico on Nov. 7, 2018. They have been waiting for weeks at the shelter to seek asylum in the U.S.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Complete Disorder

Across the river at a crowded migrant shelter in Matamoros, Mexico, a Venezuelan man holding his infant, clad only in a diaper, approached me, his face a picture of anguish. “Can you help us? Can you tell us what is happening — what we should do?” he said, identifying me as someone from the United States. “My son is sick, now he’s getting a rash, and we’ve been here since last month.”

He told me his name was Jesus, and he was a 38-year-old former police officer who had fled a government-controlled death squad in Venezuela. Jesus said he’d been at the Mexican shelter, Casa del Migrante, with his two sons for more than three weeks. His wife had died in Venezuela during childbirth, he said. He had come to the border to ask the United States for asylum, but he’d been unable to speak with anyone from U.S. immigration.

Jesus said that he and the others at the shelter had been given numbers at the bridge by Mexican immigration agents who told them that U.S. immigration was at capacity, and they would have to wait. “We are supposed to be on a list and wait for our number to be called,” he said. “But we have never seen this list, and Mexican immigration tells us to wait, and wait, and wait.”

The other day, Jesus went back to the Mexican immigration office at the bridge to check on his family’s progress. An agent there told him they’d lost the list. “What I’ve seen so far is complete disorder,” Jesus said.

We sat down at a long white folding table in the tiled patio at the shelter, which had on one side, a crowded dormitory filled with women and children, many of them sleeping on the floor, and on the other side, a dormitory for the men. In the middle was a courtyard with patches of singed lawn. There, a group of children played with a soccer ball, while their parents worried.

Other men and women came and sat down at the table, curious about what I had to say. The director of the Catholic shelter, Juan Antonio Sierra, had told me that Casa del Migrante was designed to serve Mexicans deported from the U.S. and not asylum-seekers. Sierra said the shelter could comfortably house 84 people, but on many days, he now had more than 150, and he worried that the shelter would not be able house so many asylum-seekers if it continued.

I told Jesus and the others that I, too, was trying to find out what was happening at the bridges, which was why I wanted to speak with them. Jesus and the others looked disappointed. “It’s been so long now that our fear is the caravan will arrive,” a Colombian woman said.

“And the border closes,” said a woman from Honduras, in the shelter with two daughters, ages 5 and 7. She said it had taken them three months to arrive in Matamoros, and she had been waiting at the shelter for 16 days to speak with someone from U.S. immigration.

“Why did you leave Honduras?” I asked her.

“Too much crime,” she said. “Especially the gangs and the police. You can’t press charges against the gangs because the next day they build your coffin.”

I asked whether they’d heard about families being separated after they’d crossed into the United States. Most of them nodded yes.

“We face uncertainty,” the woman from Honduras conceded. “But we are in the hands of God.”

Asylum seekers gather to eat the food brought to them by volunteers near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Asylum-seekers gather to eat food brought to them by volunteers near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in Mexico on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

A Catch-22

The day before the midterms, the two bridges linking Brownsville with Matamoros appeared to be the last ports of entry in Texas still accepting asylum requests. The only other option was in El Paso, which had more than 400 people waiting to request asylum protection. The Honduran woman at Casa del Migrante told me that she was considering making the 800-mile trek with her two young daughters.

On November 9, Trump signed a presidential proclamation banning migrants from applying for asylum outside official ports of entry, contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act. (A federal judge temporarily blocked the asylum ban little more than a week later.) It was a Catch-22. Since May, armed CBP agents had been stationed at the halfway point on international bridges preventing asylum-seekers from stepping foot on U.S. soil, said Jennifer Harbury, a longtime immigration attorney in the Rio Grande Valley, who had for the last few months walked asylum-seekers across herself to make sure they got through.

Harbury said she had to stop in October. Now it was impossible to cross on the bridge between the city of Hidalgo, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico, where she usually crossed with clients. Mexican immigration, she said, was forcing anyone with an asylum claim back into Reynosa, where cartel wars have raged for years and many migrants are kidnapped by organized crime.

Recently, Harbury and other attorneys and human rights advocates at the border filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which alleges that Mexican and U.S. immigration officials are working in tandem to make sure that few asylum-seekers reach U.S. soil to request protection. The petition, which took several months of investigation and signed witness affidavits, also describes Mexican immigration agents taking bribes to put asylum-seekers on “lists,” to insure their place in line with a U.S. asylum officer. The petition asks the commission to force both countries to respect federal and international asylum laws, but it could take several months for the commission’s court, based in San José, Costa Rica, to rule, and, even so, the United States has rejected the commission’s authority before. Harbury said she has greater hope for Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office on December 1 and has said he won’t do the U.S.’s dirty work on immigration.

“Trump doesn’t care,” Harbury said. “But I’m hoping the new president in Mexico doesn’t want this on his blotter sheet.”

Volunteers Michael Benavides, center left, Rolando Covar, wearing a cap, and Andrea Rudnik, far right, deliver food to people waiting to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Michael Benavides, center left, Rolando Covar, wearing a cap, and Andrea Rudnik, far right, alongside other volunteers, deliver food to people waiting to seek asylum near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

A Sense of Fear

At the entrance of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, I met up with a group of volunteers who had been delivering food, medicine, and clothing to people camped out on the bridges on the Mexican side in Matamoros. One of the volunteers, Brendon Tucker, told me he’d recently witnessed a helicopter filled with soldiers swoop down over the Rio Grande, pointing their rifles at asylum-seekers on the Mexican side of the river. And that for the last few days, CBP and the military had been practicing riot drills and shutting down lanes on the U.S. side of the bridges, creating a sense of fear along the river.

Mike Benavides, another volunteer and a special education supervisor for the Brownsville school district, said that he and his partner Sergio Cordova had started delivering food in July after they heard that asylum-seekers were stuck on the bridges, waiting in the 100-plus degree heat. “We went to see for ourselves and we couldn’t believe it,” Benavides said. “There were children, pregnant women, and babies sitting there under the hot sun with nothing, no food or water. We went to Home Depot and bought some tarps, bought cases of water, and the first night we bought pizzas for everybody — basically we went all-out.” Benavides, who wore a gray guayabera, broke into a wide, easy smile. “But we were like, ‘Man, this is going to get expensive. We can’t do this alone.’”

They were soon joined by others, including Andrea Morris Rudnik, a retired special education teacher, and Tucker, who described himself as a “redneck from the hill country” who had arrived in Brownsville in June to protest at the “tender age facility,” where babies and young children were held after being taken from their parents.

As time passed, and it became clear that the tender age facility wasn’t going to close, Benavides convinced Tucker, who is an experienced line cook, to start preparing meals for the asylum-seekers on the bridges.  Tonight, it was a delicious-looking creole chicken with rice and pans of baked brownies.

As the sun went down, we took off for Matamoros on foot, hauling wagons filled with supplies and enough creole chicken and brownies for 50 people. Another volunteer, Elias Cantu, had brought a brand-new pair of sneakers for a 9-year-old Nicaraguan boy who had arrived in Matamoros shoeless. I was struck by how open and generous border residents were to these strangers, while Trump, from hundreds of miles away, had portrayed them as a mortal threat to the United States.

Asylum seekers gather to eat the food brought to them by volunteers at the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. 
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Asylum seekers gather to eat food brought to them by volunteers at the Gateway International Bridge on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

On the Mexican side, a group of about 20 Cubans, Central Americans, and Africans sat waiting near the base of the bridge. They’d set up a white plastic folding table and some plastic chairs. Some families were sleeping on bits of cardboard and blankets in a parking lot next door. Several waved excitedly and called out greetings in Spanish as the volunteers arrived with the food and bottled water. Many of them, especially the babies and children, were in need of clean drinking water, one Cuban mother told me.

After delivering food there, the volunteers visited with another group of migrants who were camped under blue tarps near the middle of the bridge. Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stood nearby, questioning anyone who passed and checking passports, to prevent any asylum-seeker from getting through. The migrants waiting on the bridge explained that as their number grew closer on the list, they advanced further on the bridge, waiting for a U.S. immigration officer to come out and escort them into an office on the U.S. side of the bridge for an asylum interview. “Some days, we don’t see anyone,” a Cuban woman waiting at the middle of the bridge told me. “Other days, they will take five or six people. There’s no explanation as to how the system works, so we just wait.” The woman told me that she and her teenage daughter had been sleeping on the bridge for nearly two weeks.

At the base of the bridge, I met Ngomeich, a 24-year-old from Cameroon, who said he’d waited for several weeks at Casa del Migrante and then decided to come to the bridge where he might have a better chance to make his case for asylum. He claims that Mexican immigration officials had told him, however, that the Americans said the shelter for Africans was full. In fact, there is no separate shelter for asylum-seekers from African nations. “I feel heartbroken,” Ngomeich said. He told me he had been studying biomedical engineering until a violent conflict broke out between French- and English-speaking factions in Cameroon. Some of his family members were killed. The university had closed, and rebel forces were trying to conscript him to fight. “I’ve never held a gun in my life,” he said. “So I fled.” It took him months to get to the Mexican border, he said, and he’d been robbed of everything he owned in Nicaragua. “At the worst times, I always kept this idea of the United States in my mind, that there I’d be safe,” Ngomeich said. “This was not what I expected.”

“No one is being denied the opportunity to make a claim of credible fear or seek asylum,” Carlos Diaz, a CBP spokesperson, wrote in an email in response to a request for comment. As we have done for several years, when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.” Mexican immigration officials said they were not authorized to speak with reporters and referred me to Mexico’s department of the interior, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Ngomeioh, from Cameroon, waits to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Ngomeich, from Cameroon, waits to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Speaking with Ngomeich and others, I learned that conflict was brewing between asylum-seekers waiting at the two bridges. U.S. immigration was now occasionally receiving asylum-seekers from the Brownsville and Matamoros International Bridge, known as the B&M, even though Mexican immigration officials told everyone at the shelter that the U.S. will only accept people on the Gateway Bridge — and the asylum-seekers there now felt that they were being skipped. And then there was a strange encounter with a local man at the B&M bridge, in a black and white Punisher skull T-shirt, who said he was volunteering to protect the asylum-seekers, because before he had arrived some had been kidnapped. He said he had a list with all their names but didn’t say whom he’s keeping the list for. He said he was not affiliated with Mexican immigration or bridge officials. Matamoros, like Reynosa, is under the control of the Gulf Cartel and the kidnapping of migrants for ransom is common.

Before I crossed back into Brownsville, I said goodbye to Ngomeich, who sat with two other young men from Cameroon, who said they have also been told by Mexican immigration that the United States is not accepting Africans. “If the United States will not offer protection to us, then who will?” Ngomeich asked. “Then we have nobody.”

Fred Cabazos, 69, sits by the Rio Grande riverbank as a Border Patrol boat passes in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Fred Cavazos sits by the Rio Grande as a Border Patrol boat passes by in Mission, Texas, on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Make Way for the Wall

On November 14, the first members of the migrant caravan began arriving in Tijuana at the California border, bypassing Texas altogether. Even so, Texas still has the highest number of soldiers from the deployment — 2,800 in total. The same day, the Border Patrol held an invite-only meeting in the Rio Grande Valley at its headquarters in McAllen for landowners who will be impacted by the border wall. Reynaldo Anzaldua attended the meeting with his cousin. “They had more law enforcement there than they had actual landowners at the meeting,” he told me. “And there were two soldiers there, too.” He and other landowners had to pass through four security checkpoints, he said, and were searched for firearms, cellphones, and recording devices before they could enter the meeting. And Border Patrol barred the executive director of a butterfly conservation center slated for the border wall, as well as attorneys representing Fred Cavazos and his family and other property owners, for demanding that the meeting be made public and that the media outside be allowed to enter. When the people barred from the meeting refused to leave, the local police were called to remove them.

In the end, Anzaldua said the Border Patrol didn’t tell them much anyway, only that construction for the wall would begin soon. Just the other day, he said, they’d received the “letter of taking” from the government for the family farm. “Now we’re seeing the Army helicopters flying over our property,” he said. “You can tell when they’re coming because they’ve got a more powerful engine. You can feel it.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, where Melissa del Bosque is a Lannan Reporting Fellow.

The post In South Texas, Border Residents Struggle to Cope With the Latest Military Surge appeared first on The Intercept.

Reality Winner Battles An Eating Disorder Behind Bars

In August, Reality Winner stood before a federal judge, ready to accept a plea bargain of more than five years in prison for sharing classified information with journalists. Surrounded by dozens of reporters, attorneys, and activists who have followed her case, the whistleblower told the court something deeply personal that she had not even shared with her closest family members before her arrest.

Winner struggles with depression and bulimia.

“I try to be optimistic, and then they just surprise me and I’m just like, I signed a plea deal to get help.”

Weeks later, Winner made a distressed phone call from a crowded Oklahoma county jail that she called a “filthy warehouse.” She questioned why she gave up her right to a trial in a bid for stability and medical treatment, even if it was in prison, where her bulimia has gotten more severe. “I keep saying it can’t get worse,” Winner said, through tears. “I try to be optimistic, and then they just surprise me and I’m just like, I signed a plea deal to get help.”

In the run-up to arriving at her final prison assignment, Winner spent 16 months in various jails — bouncing between county jails across three states, where she was at times held in isolation or not allowed to go outside for weeks, as she was transferred to prison after sentencing. In mid-October, she was finally transferred to a federal medical center in Fort Worth, Texas, a facility designed for female inmates with special mental health or medical needs, where she will serve the remainder of her time.

Winner’s sentence is the longest of its kind under the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law used in recent years to send journalists’ sources to prison, even as comparable defendants have simply gotten probation for “mishandling classified information.”

With her move to prison, Winner’s determination to seek treatment will likely be crucial in an institution known for perpetuating, rather than alleviating, mental illness.

Of the approximately 2.3 million incarcerated people in the U.S., the former National Security Agency contractor is among the many who languish behind bars despite needing intensive medical care. Though the Bureau of Prison Statistics does not collect data on inmates diagnosed with eating disorders, a 2017 report from the agency said that incarcerated people showed “serious psychological distress” three to five times more, as a percentage, than the general U.S. population. Incarcerated women are acutely affected: Two-thirds of those included in the survey by the Bureau of Prison Statistics reported a history of mental health problems.

Winner’s record sentence means that her young adulthood will be spent between two institutions where her body has been subject to frequent scrutiny that few ordinary citizens face: the military and prison. But her eating disorder began well before her secretive work in the NSA and the U.S. drone program, and the illness was not an unfamiliar one in her household. Being thrust into the public sphere by the political nature of her high-profile arrest turned what had been a private struggle with mental illness into something Winner would have to recount to friends and strangers alike in an increasingly desperate attempt to seek relief.

Bulimia is an illness in which individuals binge on food and then engage in compensatory actions, such as excessive exercise or regurgitation. “The disorder is a constant struggle for me and even now is the most pressing internal challenge in my day-to-day survival,” Winner told the federal judge in August. She said that without proper treatment, she fears that bulimia could become her “only coping mechanism” to handle the stress of incarceration.

Eating disorders are sometimes misunderstood as a conscious decision or picky eating, said Sondra Kronberg, a clinical nutrition therapist in Long Island, New York, when in fact they can have lethal consequences. “It is the mental disorder with the highest rate of death and mortality,” said Kronberg, who is also a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association.

Winner’s older sister Brittany Winner said that eating disorders and a focus on thinness “runs in the family.” For Reality, the condition collided with many of the daily hardships of the American carceral state, such as the strip searches that she was subjected to when she left for court hearings, which she dreaded.

“It’s hard for people who haven’t obsessed over eating to understand what that is like.”

Because she keeps a vegan diet, Winner experienced severe anxiety in jail about finding appropriate foods, something that earns little sympathy from those who see it as a choice to follow a fad, her sister said. “It’s hard for people who haven’t obsessed over eating to understand what that is like,” Brittany Winner said.

Reality Winner’s friends and family describe her as a woman whose professional and personal lives have a common thread of idealism and high self-expectations, traits she has maintained even while incarcerated. A friend from her CrossFit gym challenged Winner to do 5,000 pushups in a month — which she finished in 19 days, while in jail. Winner’s environmentalism and opposition to animal cruelty motivate her strict vegan diet, elusive in jail where — only thanks to the generosity of a church — she ate fresh fruit and vegetables about once a month.

“It is a priority for her that she eats clean and that she has a clean conscience,” said Brittany Winner. “I think it’s about doing the best that she can.”

The downturn in Reality Winner’s health while in custody was the second chapter of her illness. When Billie Winner-Davis pulled Winner’s medical records after her arrest, she learned that her daughter had been diagnosed with bulimia years before, in her early 20s, while working on a drone program at Fort Meade, Maryland. At the time, Winner worked 12-hour days translating the intercepted communications of terror suspects; she would eventually receive a commendation for aiding in “600 enemies killed in action.”

During that time, Winner shared vague but dark worries with her mother about the anxiety she felt over her work.

“You really hope that all of your information is correct when you are watching a screen and you watch somebody go poof,” Winner-Davis recalled of her daughter’s concerns.

The prevalence of eating disorders in the military doesn’t come as a surprise. A Defense Department study published in June notes that “several factors could increase risk” of military personnel developing the disorders, such as regimented lifestyles and strict regulations on personal fitness and weight, which include measuring waistlines as part of fitness tests. The already “relatively high rates of mental health disorders” among service personnel, combined with exposure to trauma, also put them at increased risk for eating disorders, the report added.

An estimated 5 to 8 percent of servicewomen are diagnosed with an eating disorder, an incidence rate 11 times that of their male counterparts, according to the report. The study called for additional research on the topic, as women make up a “rapidly” growing demographic in the armed forces.

Winner went from being an low-profile veteran to a newsworthy name when she was arrested by federal authorities. She was widely reported as the source for a June 2017 article in The Intercept on an NSA report detailing phishing attacks by Russian military intelligence on local U.S. election officials. The Intercept received the document anonymously; The Intercept’s parent company First Look Media has contributed to Winner’s legal fund through the Press Freedom Defense Fund since learning of her arrest.

The secretive nature of her former employment followed Winner as she went from being a trusted security state insider to incarceration while subjected to a gag order. She was denied bail after government attorneys claimed that she was a flight risk capable of harming the country should she await trial outside prison. The government argued that she held “very valuable information in her head,” which she could leak if released. By making that argument — and winning with it — the government ensured that this nonviolent offender would be held in a small county jail for well over a year before any treatment for her eating disorder could happen.

Winner tried her best to maintain her plant-based diet during the months of confinement before she had been found guilty of a crime. She often made meals of peanut butter and chips. On other days, she “celebrated” getting black-eyed peas or white potatoes, according to Winner-Davis, while others in detention ate biscuits and sausages.

Her cellmates in Lincoln County Jail, the small Georgia prison where Winner spent her first 15 months behind bars, would watch in awe as she used a table in their common area like a StairMaster for up to two hours. Winner was allowed outside on most days for a mere 30 minutes, which she spent running barefoot in circles around the small jail yard. Diet and exercise, her mother said, are her mechanisms to curb “self-harming” tendencies. (Asked about Winner’s diet, the Lincoln County Jail referred The Intercept to the U.S. Marshals Service for questions on Winner’s diet while in custody. Lynzey Donahue, a U.S. Marshals spokesperson, declined to comment.)

“One doesn’t choose to have an eating disorder. They can choose what to do to get better. Obviously, there’s not a lot of choice around that in prison.”

Treatment for an eating disorder is more involved than meeting a patient’s criteria for what they will eat, and appropriate treatment would likely address whether insistence on dietary restrictions is part of one’s eating disorder, said Kronberg, the therapist. However, the first part of treatment for an illness that is “serious and deadly,” she said, is getting well-nourished.

“One doesn’t choose to have an eating disorder. They can choose what to do to get better,” said Kronberg. “Obviously, there’s not a lot of choice around that in prison.”

Whether a prisoner eats a nutritious meal — or even three daily — is the luck of the draw. The infamous former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio bragged that he served meals just twice a day. On the other hand, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently touted his move to spend more on prison food — from a daily average of $2.95 per person to $3.25 — as both a practical and moral choice. In California, the state Senate faced little opposition to a new bill that guarantees prisoners plant-based diets; it passed unanimously in May.

These disparities persist despite incarcerated people’s legal rights to adequate, nutritionally balanced meals, said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. For example, a federal law passed in 2000 provides strong protections for incarcerated people who seek special meals for religious reasons. Nonetheless, Fathi said he is “amazed” by how many facilities will “fight tooth and nail” to resist offering common diets, such as halal, kosher, or vegetarian.

“The reality is you are never going to save significant amounts of money by cutting corners on food,” he said. “If you want to save money on incarceration, the only way to do that is to lock up fewer people.”

Winner’s transfer to the Fort Worth federal medical facility is already bringing her some relief, said Winner-Davis. The Bureau of Prisons told The Intercept in an email that its units serve “no-flesh” entrees at every meal, fresh fruits daily, and fresh vegetables “frequently.” Winner-Davis said her daughter has seen a psychologist and is exercising regularly.

Whether Winner will continue to rely on her own ad hoc methods to treat her bulimia or start a new chapter under reliable professional care will become clearer over the coming months. Winner, who will soon turn 27 in prison, will begin to discover if her plea deal with the government brings her the relief she bargained for.

“It just shouldn’t be this hard to just survive the system,” Winner said.

The post Reality Winner Battles An Eating Disorder Behind Bars appeared first on The Intercept.

Landmark California Law Bars Prosecutors From Pursuing Murder Charges Against People Who Didn’t Commit Murder

Jacque Wilson was in his car heading home from a softball game on a late August evening when his phone rang. It was his friend Kate Chatfield: She told him California Senate Bill 1437 had finally passed and was headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. “And I’m driving, and I just break down crying,” Wilson told The Intercept.

The new law would dramatically redefine use of the state’s archaic felony murder rule in criminal prosecutions. It would also mean that Wilson’s younger brother Neko might finally be coming home after more than nine years behind bars awaiting trial for a grisly crime that he insists he played no part in.

Neko Wilson was one of six people charged with the robbery-murder of Gary and Sandra DeBartolo, who had an illicit marijuana grow operation inside their Fresno County home. The state alleged that Neko and the others planned to steal the dope and whatever cash was in the house. But that plot apparently went sideways. Minutes after two of the accused conspirators, Leroy Johnson and Jose Reyes, entered the DeBartolos’ home on the morning of July 22, 2009, the couple was killed, their throats slashed. After a high-speed chase, police caught up with the getaway car.

Neko was not at the DeBartolos’ house that day, and he wasn’t in the getaway car. Still, he was arrested and charged with the couple’s murder. Prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty for Neko under the felony murder rule.

A throwback to English common law, the felony murder rule works like this: Say two people decide to burgle a house, and in the process, one of them shoots and kills the homeowner; even if the shooting was completely spontaneous, and even if one of the burglars didn’t know the other had a gun, both could be held equally liable for the murder. Neko Wilson might not have been there when the DeBartolos died, but prosecutors alleged he was the one who hatched the plan for the robbery, which meant he was responsible for what happened even if he didn’t kill anyone.

Most states have some version of the felony murder rule on the books, and in a number of states, it can be used to seek the death penalty. In Texas, five men have been executed for murders that they did not commit (a sixth is slated for execution in December). Although a handful of states have curtailed or eliminated this brand of accomplice liability, California’s law had remained active — much to the chagrin of people like Jacque Wilson, who is also an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Jacque had spent eight years working to free his brother when he formally took over as his lead defense attorney in 2017. Last spring, as he was preparing for Neko’s case to finally go to trial, he heard about a bill pending before the California legislature that would bar prosecutors across the state from charging someone with a murder they had no direct connection to. “The first time I read it, it was as if the words were jumping off the pages,” Jacque said. He called Chatfield, who is policy director of the advocacy group Re:store Justice, which was sponsoring SB 1437. “I said, ‘Hey, whatever I have to do … I will do to try to get this bill passed.’”

It wasn’t a particularly easy lift, but after a dramatic final vote in the state Assembly, the bill did pass, and in September, it was signed by Brown. It is now poised to serve as model legislation for reform-minded lawmakers across the country.

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, speaks on a bill before the Senate in Sacramento, Calif. Lawmakers approved Skinner's bill, SB1437, that limits the states "felony murder" rule that holds accomplices to the same standard as if they had personally killed someone. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, speaks on SB 1437 before the Senate in Sacramento on Aug. 31, 2018.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A Check on the Power of Prosecutors

State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s district is in Alameda County, just east of San Francisco. She said she had no idea that felony murder was something that existed until she started hearing about it from constituents and advocates.

She remembers meeting with the family of an incarcerated woman who was prosecuted under the rule. The woman had been on a third date with a guy “who, in hindsight, she never should’ve dated,” Skinner said. The guy was a gang member. The woman was in the car with him and several other members of the gang when there was a drive-by shooting. “She was not aware that would happen,” Skinner recalled, “and yet she was charged with felony murder.”

What Skinner learned convinced her to co-author SB 1437. Put simply, she said, felony murder is not fair because it divorces intent from action.

Moreover, like other aspects of the criminal justice system, the law in practice is both racist and sexist. The felony murder rule has disproportionately impacted blacks in the state — roughly 40 percent of those convicted under the rule are black — and even more so, young people of color. Nationally, 26 percent of juveniles serving life without parole were convicted of felony murder. (That the felony murder rule would sweep up so many juveniles isn’t entirely surprising, says Chatfield, “because most young people act in groups.”) Meanwhile, 72 percent of women serving a life sentence in California did not kill anyone. According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a majority of the women sentenced under the felony murder rule were accomplices “navigating intimate partner violence, criminalized for survival acts.”

California’s new law bars prosecutors from using a person’s intent to commit one crime — for example, a robbery — as a way to hold them responsible for a murder committed during the course of that robbery, unless they can prove that the person played some direct role in the killing.

Also significant is that the law is retroactive, meaning it affects the cases of those already in prison, and applies equally to individuals who accepted plea deals — two provisions that are often a tough sell: The criminal justice system favors finality and relies on plea bargains to keep it humming along, and lawmakers are often loath to intervene.

Exactly how many people may be eligible for release under the new law isn’t entirely clear, in part because of the way records are kept. Nationally, it is estimated that a staggering 20 percent of individuals convicted of first-degree murder were sent to prison under felony murder provisions. Based on that, Re:store Justice estimates that there are roughly 800 people incarcerated in California for first-degree felony murder who may find relief under the new law. The number of individuals convicted of second-degree felony murder who would be eligible is currently unclear, as is the number of those who pleaded guilty (though it is possible that some are included in the 800-inmate estimate).

In 2016, another state lawmaker filed legislation that would have provided more clarity, by requiring district attorneys to collect data on individuals they charged with and convicted of felony murder. Despite broad support, the bill ultimately failed under pressure from the district attorneys’ lobby.

Indeed, the California District Attorneys Association, along with the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, opposed SB 1437. Sean Hoffman, legislative director of the district attorneys association, told senators on the public safety committee that while “we recognize that there’s room for discussion on this concept of some level of reduced liability for individuals who are not the actual killer or major participant in one of these offenses,” the group still had problems with the bill. Chief among them: that foreclosing the possibility of charging with murder “those who are not the killer or a major participant” in the crime would not be in the interest of public safety. (Notably, research from the University of Chicago has concluded that felony murder laws do not deter crime.)

The sheriffs’ association also said the bill’s retroactivity was a problem. That was particularly true for cases that resulted in a plea deal, lobbyist Cory Salzillo told the senators, since it isn’t “always the case” that prosecutors have actually “proved up every fact” of a crime or a defendant’s alleged involvement before entering into a plea deal.

But when questioned by a member of the committee about why the felony murder rule was needed, Hoffman seemed to have a difficult time. After all, state Sen. Steven Bradford noted, a person who committed a robbery in which someone was killed could be charged with manslaughter if the facts warranted. And there was nothing in the law that would bar a prosecutor from charging a non-killer participant in connection with their role in the underlying felony. So, Bradford asked, why would a prosecutor use the rule? It would be case-specific, Hoffman responded.

“Your questioning is precisely why I am carrying this bill and trying to narrow the application” of the rule, Skinner told Bradford. “Because there is — depending on your perspective — one could say that this has evolved into a far greater amount of prosecutorial discretion than we may have intended.”

Chatfield thinks that prosecutors opposed the bill precisely because it is a direct check on their discretion. “This makes them have to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what they should be doing anyway,” she said — as opposed to overcharging defendants in order to force a plea deal. “You can’t just round up five people when you know four people didn’t do the killing; you know they’re not culpable. But you get to go right at them and use your discretion in that way. And we’re saying no.”

She points to several stories from across the state that Re:store Justice put together in a publication for state lawmakers. They reflect the wide breadth that prosecutors are given in deciding who to charge with murder — including in the case of a woman who was passed out in a car blocks away when a murder happened. “That’s how that prosecutor used his discretion,” she said.


Joanne Scheer, left, and her son Tony Vigeant.

Photo: Courtesy of Joanne Scheer

Who the Law Leaves Out

For all the hand-wringing about how curtailing the use of felony murder would tie prosecutors’ hands, force them to revisit old cases, and allow some defendants to go free, there is still a large group of people incarcerated in California under the rule who the new law will not immediately effect: Those serving death sentences or life without parole, even when their connection to the crime might have been tangential or tenuous.

In California, the imposition of a sentence of death or life without parole requires a “special circumstance” finding — that the defendant was a “major participant” in the crime or acted with “reckless indifference” to human life. These add-ons were created by ballot initiative back in 1978 and can only be changed by another initiative or a supermajority vote in the Legislature.

But even a jury’s finding that one or both of these special circumstances applied to a particular case doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, says Joanne Scheer, founder of the Felony Murder Elimination Project and a co-sponsor of SB 1437. Her son Tony Vigeant is serving life without parole after a jury concluded both special circumstances applied to his role in the murder of a man named David Pettigrew in 2007.

According to the state, Vigeant and his cousin, both Marines who were stationed at Camp Pendleton, enticed a third service member, Ramon Hernandez, who had sustained a major brain injury during a tour of duty in Iraq, to shoot Pettigrew in a dispute over an alleged drug debt. Scheer disputes that narrative and says that what actually happened was a tragedy rooted in a string of poor, but pedestrian, decisions. After a day of watching football and drinking beer, Scheer says, the three Marines decided to go to Pettigrew’s to collect a laptop that Vigeant had sold him, but that Pettigrew had not yet paid for. Vigeant knew Hernandez had a gun, says Scheer, but it never occurred to him that anything would happen at the apartment, let alone a murder.

Scheer has been working with California’s corrections department to try to figure out how many inmates may be serving a life-without-parole or death sentence based on a theory of felony murder. As of the end of July, there were 5,206 people serving life without parole in the state; of those, more than 3,700 were first-time offenders and more than 3,200 were under the age of 25 at the time of the crime. Because it appears that so many individuals convicted under accomplice liability are young, first-time offenders, Scheer suggests that a large number of inmates serving life without parole might have been swept into prison under the rule.

“I’m not coming off saying that prosecutors are bad. I go to prosecutors’ offices. I got an hour and a half in a DA’s office and they answered my questions,” she said. “I said, ‘Why do you think we need felony murder?’ And they said, ‘Because without it, the killer may get away.’ I said, ‘But does felony murder assure you that you got the murderer?’”

Although SB 1437 doesn’t provide direct relief to people like Vigeant, the California Supreme Court has created an avenue for potential review. The court opined back in 1983 that the felony murder rule could be “barbaric” in application, and in more recent years, it has issued a string of decisions that would rein in indiscriminate use of the “major participant” and “reckless indifference” special circumstances that can so dramatically increase punishments. The court’s decisions have provided a framework for a defendant to have the imposition of special circumstances reviewed; if the courts agree they were improperly applied, they can be tossed out. If that happens, the case could be eligible for review under the provisions of SB 1437.

If Neko Wilson had gone to trial soon after he was arrested in 2009, he might be in the same boat as Vigeant — after all, the state signaled early on its intention to seek the death penalty. But there were flaws with the case from the get-go, says his brother and defense lawyer Jacque Wilson, including repeated failures by the state to turn over key exculpating evidence. The years that Jacque spent fighting the state meant that Neko was still in jail awaiting trial when SB 1437 finally passed out of the Assembly on August 29.

Jacque had been sweating it out, waiting to see if the bill would pass — and for a while, things in the Assembly looked dicey. Lawmakers on each side of the debate made impassioned speeches on the floor, urging colleagues to follow their lead. When the voting started, it didn’t look like the bill would get the 41 votes necessary. Chatfield was there, pacing the hallways, sending texts, and making calls in an effort to gin up final support. As it turned out, Brown, a supporter of the legislation, was making calls of his own. The vote was held open, and finally, with 42 votes, the measure passed. That’s when Chatfield called Jacque. Both of them broke down in tears.

Fresno prosecutors dropped the charges against Neko, and on October 18, he was the first person freed by the new law. Relief flooded Jacque. After Neko was arrested, their father, Mack, told Jacque that all he wanted was to be able to touch his son again. Now 83, he’s been able to do that. “From my family’s perspective,” says Jacque, “this is a miracle.”

Violent Crime as Part of the Equation

Alexandra Mallick, executive director of Re:store Justice, hopes the new law will provide the same relief for other families in California — and potentially elsewhere.

In her work with incarcerated people, she had grown tired of hearing stories about individuals doing time for murders they did not commit. “If we’re really talking about a just and fair system, someone who didn’t even commit murder spending a longer time in prison than someone who did — I don’t see how that’s fair,” she said. “It’s just something that I thought was so unjust and that it was a duty to right this wrong.”

The U.S. is an outlier when it comes to felony murder, says Lara Bazelon, director of the Criminal Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice clinics at the University of San Francisco law school. “It’s hundreds of years old, and the rest of the Western world has turned its face against it and has abolished it,” she said. “The U.S. stands alone.”

Although there are roughly 40 states that have some version of the felony murder rule, there are some that have curtailed or abolished it altogether, including Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio. Since passage of SB 1437, Mallick and Chatfield say they’ve been fielding inquiries from across the country from individuals and groups interested in passing similar legislation in their states. Chatfield has heard from lawyers in New York and Pennsylvania. Attorneys from Massachusetts have called, too; they’d like to see their provisions made retroactive. Mallick says she’s been in touch with a group in Texas interested in pushing for reform during the state’s 2021 legislative session.

Mallick says that part of what’s so meaningful about California’s reform of the felony murder rule is that it has addressed the issues of system reform and violent crime head on. “Doing stuff that deals with violence or issues around violence is not incredibly popular,” she said. “But my belief is that you can’t really move the needle with mass incarceration unless you talk about issues around violence.”

Chatfield agrees and hopes that California’s success will lead to more discussion and action. “I think it starts a conversation about what we talk about when we talk about ‘violence.’ What does it mean when we talk about murder? If somebody doesn’t do anything to facilitate that murder and doesn’t have that intent, what does it mean to call that person a murderer?” she asks. “I think it’s a very important conversation about how we’ve labeled a lot of our crimes. And if we can address something called ‘felony murder’ and educate people, we can educate people about a lot of things.”

The post Landmark California Law Bars Prosecutors From Pursuing Murder Charges Against People Who Didn’t Commit Murder appeared first on The Intercept.

“It’s Killing the Student Movement”: Canary Mission’s Blacklist of Pro-Palestine Activists Is Taking a Toll

S.A. was a high school sophomore when she had her first personal encounter with the post-9/11 surveillance state. It was 2010, and the federal government’s security apparatus had taken a particular interest in New York Muslims like herself. One of her classmates called the FBI to report that S.A. was a threat.

Federal agents responded to the call and questioned S.A about terrorism, after which she grew paranoid about government surveillance and deleted her Facebook. Still, a year later, she felt comfortable enough to get back online.

That comfort didn’t last. Her paranoia and anxiety blew up again in 2015. At the time, she was the head of a campus Students for Justice in Palestine group and advocated for boycotting Israel. S.A. was placed on the website Canary Mission, which compiles dossiers on Palestinian rights advocates and labels them racists, anti-Semites, and supporters of terrorism.

Being placed on Canary Mission led her to close all her social media pages to the public. She stopped posting on Tumblr. She hasn’t created a LinkedIn, even though that could hinder future job searches. And when she contemplates her future, S.A.’s anxiety flares up again because of her profile on Canary Mission, which focused on, among other things, her criticism of her school system’s support for Israel and her participation in protests condemning Israel’s use of force on Palestinians.

“My anxiety is so bad I literally have put off applying to grad school for the past two years because I’m afraid that this will be part of the reason I’m rejected,” she told The Intercept. “[Canary Mission] updates the page, so I know there’s someone who looks for me online and updates every few months, which just feels incredibly scary.”

Canary Mission’s growth coincides with the increasing strength of the Palestinian rights movement in the United States, and S.A. is one of more than 1,000 students, professors, and activists that the website has placed in its crosshairs.

Since it first splashed on the web three years ago, the blacklist has taken a remarkable toll on activists’ mental health and ability to engage in free speech and public advocacy on Palestine. A survey of over 60 people profiled on Canary Mission, conducted by the group Against Canary Mission, found that 43 percent of respondents said they toned down their activism because of the blacklist, while 42 percent said they suffered acute anxiety from being placed on the website.

Their shared experiences include feelings of anxiety and paranoia, and in some cases, stepping back from Palestinian rights activism.

The Intercept spoke with 13 people, all of them current or former students, who are profiled on Canary Mission. The majority of them, like S.A., requested anonymity because they were afraid that speaking out about the blacklist would result in additional harassment. Their shared experiences include feelings of anxiety and paranoia, and in some cases, stepping back from Palestinian rights activism — mirroring the results of the Against Canary Mission survey. Some reported receiving death threats online when Canary Mission tweets about them, and others said they believe they have had a tough time finding a job because of their inclusion on the list.

The blacklist has become especially frightening, some activists said, because it’s being used by law enforcement in Israel and the United States. Palestinian rights advocates have been interrogated and deported from Israel because of their Canary Mission profiles. Others have been interrogated by the FBI, as The Intercept reported in June.

Canary Mission has grown alongside the explosion of a nationwide panic over campus free speech manufactured by right-wing activists and supported by some leading liberal writers. But in the face of Canary Mission’s actual threat to free speech and activism on college campuses, those supposedly concerned with the silencing of dissenting voices have largely remained mum on how the website deters speech and activism.

While Canary Mission promotes itself as a group working against anti-Semitism, the blacklist’s effective goal is to clamp down on growing support for Palestine in the United States by intimidating and tarnishing Palestinian rights advocates with the brush of bigotry. Many students were added after they got involved in campaigns led by Students for Justice in Palestine to get their universities to divest from corporations that support the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Some profiles on Canary Mission do highlight actual bigotry, but critics of the blacklist say the profiles are often based on quotes ripped out of context, and wrongly conflate support for Palestinian human rights with support for violence or anti-Semitism. (Canary Mission is a reference to the phrase “canary in the coal mine,” which the group sees as a “metaphor for the persecution of a minority that subsequently spreads to the general populace.”)

“Targets of Canary Mission have been denied entry to Palestine, fired from jobs, interrogated by employers and university administrators, and targeted with death threats and racial, homophobic misogynist harassment from Canary Mission followers,” said Liz Jackson, a founding staff attorney for Palestine Legal, a group that has interviewed over 200 people targeted by Canary Mission. “We know one person who was denied a bank account. People have reported their relationships with parents and business relationships being damaged. And that doesn’t begin to describe the self-censorship and psychological warfare effects.”

Canary Mission perfectly articulated its vision and strategy in its April 2015 debut video. The two-minute clip features images of Jews with yellow stars on their clothes followed by images of hijab-clad women waving Palestinian flags. The video’s female narrator closes by saying, “It is your duty to ensure that today’s radicals are not tomorrow’s employees.”

Along with the ominous video, Canary Mission’s website went live with dozens of profiles of students and academics who were critical of Israel. The profiles feature students’ names, professions, photos, screenshots of social media posts that included critiques of Israel, and allegations that Students for Justice in Palestine intimidates and assaults Jewish students. Many allegations of anti-Semitism are based on declarations of support for Palestine and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement that targets Israel over human rights abuses.

The website was anonymously run, making it even more creepy. But in the three years since Canary Mission went online, journalists — most notably Josh Nathan-Kazis of The Forward — have slowly peeled back the careful veneer of anonymity the site constructed.

Earlier this year, The Forward uncovered two sources of funding for the website. The Helen Diller Family Foundation, a charity controlled by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, gave the website $100,000 in late 2016 or early 2017, while the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, between November 2016 and September 2017, sent $250,000 to an Israeli nonprofit thought to operate the website. (Both charities said they would no longer be funding the blacklist.) The Forward also reported that the Israeli nonprofit linked to the site, Megamot Shalom, is run by former employees of Aish HaTorah, a right-wing Orthodox Jewish organization. (Requests for comment sent to Jonathan Bash, an ex-Aish HaTorah employee who The Forward identified as the operator of the website, and Canary Mission were not returned.)

clip from Al Jazeera’s undercover investigation into the Israel lobby in the United States showed a pro-Israel advocate pointing to another funder of Canary Mission: Adam Milstein, an Israeli-American real estate magnate who funds an alphabet soup of pro-Israel organizations. No hard proof has emerged that Milstein is in fact a funder, though Milstein, who denied he gave the website cash, has praised the blacklist.

The puncturing of Canary Mission’s anonymity has done little to slow it down.

But the puncturing of Canary Mission’s anonymity has done little to slow it down. The website continues to add information on Palestinian rights advocates, and has continued to single out activists on Twitter, which in turn leads Canary Mission’s followers to harass those activists. (Canary Mission has been suspended from Twitter twice, but its account was reinstated both times.)

In its dossiers, Canary Mission also links to the Facebook profiles of the activists it targets. R.G., a member of SJP at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that after Canary Mission added him to its blacklist, he started receiving threatening messages to his Facebook account.

“My first quarter at UCLA, someone said they were going to come to UCLA and kill me. And I had to move out of my dorm,” he told The Intercept.

The harassment happens in the offline world, too. D.G., the president of an SJP chapter at an Illinois university, is a resident adviser in a dorm. She says that two of her fellow resident advisers found her profile on Canary Mission, printed out a dossier on her based on her Canary Mission profile, and gave it to her boss in an unsuccessful effort to get her fired.

Many of those on the blacklist say it has harmed their mental health.

“I had a dissociative panic attack when I was added,” said K.G., a Chicago-based activist who was involved in Palestine solidarity work while in college. “It seemed like my world had changed because all of these hateful and violent things attached with my picture had just been lobbed into the public sphere.”

That Canary Mission mostly goes after people of color, who are often already at a disadvantage in a job market rife with discrimination, makes the blacklist even more harmful. Moreover, Palestinians and Arabs listed on the site say that it reinforces pernicious stereotypes.

“When you’re Arab and you’re on it, you’re automatically guilty. There’s no question that you’re an anti-Semite, or whatever it is they want to accuse you of,” said one woman blacklisted by Canary Mission. She noted that the uniqueness of Arabic names makes it more likely that Arabs on the list will be impacted by the dossiers. “If my name was Mark Smith, you could Google me all you want, you’re not going to find anything on it,” she said. “But for me, when it first happened, it was the first hit when you Google my name.”

Canary Mission has also led people to quiet their support of Palestinian rights. One organizer of a national Students for Justice in Palestine conference held in mid-November said many students decided not to attend because of fear of the blacklist.

“It’s killing the student movement,” said Rani al-Hindi, who was a member of Palestine activist groups at Hunter College in New York. “We’re not able to organize any big actions, have any big events, organize for the divestment campaign that has launched. There is a lot of intimidation.”

Still, some who are listed on the Canary Mission website, particularly those who are more established in their workplace or school program, have not backed down from their advocacy.

“Resistance has to continue no matter how dire the material manifestations are.”

“In my mind, I had to keep going just as strong as and stronger than before,” said Omar Zahzah, who said he was one of the first people placed on the website while organizing with University of California, Los Angeles’s SJP. “From a historic perspective, resistance has to continue no matter how dire the material manifestations are. That kind of spirit, of needing to continue in the struggle no matter what, is my guiding inspiration.”

Online blacklists of advocates for Palestine have existed for more than 15 years. The most notable precursor to Canary Mission was Campus Watch, a website run by Daniel Pipes, an academic known for his hawkish foreign policy views and antipathy to Arabs and Muslims. Pipes’s blacklist, launched in 2002, targeted professors who were critical of Israel and U.S. foreign policy, and encouraged students to report their professors to Campus Watch. While Campus Watch took the original dossiers on professors down, the website still lists “professors to avoid” because of their politics.

But Canary Mission, born in an era of ubiquitous social media use, is of a different breed.

It lists many more people than Campus Watch did at any time. It targets students, rather than well-known professors, and it often appears as the first Google result for a search of a student’s name. It has also leveraged the power of social media, tweeting its dossiers and giving Israel’s most vociferous online warriors a list of targets to harass.

“It is the most significant and effective of pro-Israel groups at intimidating activists,” said Bill Mullen, a professor of American studies at Purdue University and a creator of Against Canary Mission. “This is because it is omnipresent, on the web, 24/7, virile, and constantly reproducing and updating its results.”

The post “It’s Killing the Student Movement”: Canary Mission’s Blacklist of Pro-Palestine Activists Is Taking a Toll appeared first on The Intercept.

Richard Ojeda Comes Out Swinging on Abortion Rights

Former West Virginia congressional candidate and Democratic presidential hopeful Richard Ojeda, facing questions from reproductive rights advocates about his position on abortion, has fired off a 500-word statement framing the issue in terms of class and racial politics. 

“There has been some confusion about where I stand on the issue of abortion access so let me clear this up. I wholeheartedly support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. Full stop,” he said. As president, Ojeda said, he would oppose any 20-week abortion ban or other such restrictions.

Ojeda also committed to nominating only judges who were similarly invested in protecting women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions, and vowed to oppose the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used for abortion. Globally, he committed to reinterpreting the Helms Amendment, which, as currently implemented, bars U.S. funds from being used to support abortion services in foreign countries, even in cases of rape or when the life of the pregnant woman is in jeopardy.

The full-throated endorsement of reproductive rights comes in response to criticism of Ojeda’s past description of his politics as “pro-life.” Yet Ojeda said he is not willing to cede the term to abortion rights opponents.

“I’m also calling bullshit on the idea that opposing abortion makes you pro-life,” he said in a statement provided to The Intercept. “If you just want to keep working class women from making their own decisions, you might be pro-birth but you’re not pro-life. I have always considered myself pro-life because I want to reduce the number of abortions by making birth control accessible, by quadrupling the funding for Planned Parenthood, and by making sure that those who would start families have jobs and childcare so that they can afford to raise their kids.”

Ojeda, a state senator from West Virginia and a retired major in the U.S. Army, lost a congressional race in November in a district that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 by 49 points. After the election, he announced that he’d be running for president.

His statement framed the issue of choice forcefully in terms of class and race. “Throughout history, rich women have always had access to the care that they want or need and they always will. It’s only poor and working class women who have died in back alleys or been forced to use crude instruments like coat hangers,” he said.

That Ojeda is challenging the Helms Amendment this early in the presidential campaign is a signal of just how quickly reproductive freedom is advancing within the Democratic Party. In 2016, it wasn’t until February that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made a pledge to reinterpret Helms, and that was only after pressure from advocacy groups and repeated pestering by reporters.

The Helms Amendment, named for former Sen. Jesse Helms, a prominent white nationalist, says that U.S. foreign aid cannot be used for abortion “as a method of family planning.” That language has been interpreted — wrongly, it’s easy to argue — by every White House since 1973, including the Obama administration, as a strict ban on all abortion, even in the cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. “A woman raped by the Taliban or Boko Haram should not be forced by the callousness of our government to bear her rapist’s child,” he said.

The Hyde Amendment, too, has been a mainstay of federal policy and was incorporated into the Affordable Care Act. Clinton vowed to oppose it and Sanders, in his most recent “Medicare for All” legislation, would overturn it.

If even the lawmaker from West Virginia is willing to make the pledge on Helms and Hyde, Ojeda’s position lays down a marker, making it difficult for other Democratic candidates to run on a more restrictive agenda.

For Ojeda, arguments about the sanctity of unborn life are hypocritical coming from wealthy Republican politicians who publicly oppose abortion in general, but are supportive of it when they accidentally impregnate their girlfriends. He singled out former Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned his seat amid such a controversy, as well as Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.

“They all run around saying how they’re against abortion until their mistress gets pregnant,” he said. “Right Tim Murphy? Right Congressman Desjarlais? Right Mr. President?” (Trump has called avoiding venereal disease his “personal Vietnam,” but there have been no allegations that he pressured anyone to have an abortion.)

The case of DesJarlais, a medical doctor, however, is extraordinary: He impregnated one of his patients and pressured her to have an abortion. For that ethical breach, he was reprimanded by the state medical board, but his heavily evangelical voting base has continued to return him to Congress.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, applauded the positioning by Ojeda. Bingo. Major Ojeda’s unequivocal support for abortion rights demonstrates that he not only thoroughly understands of the cruelty and danger inflicted on women by current anti-choice policy makers but that he has a fundamental respect for the dignity of all women to make their own decisions and be able to control their own lives regardless of the conditions of their lives,” she said in a statement to The Intercept. “Major Ojeda also calls out the inherent hypocrisy of the current anti-choice movement and their agenda to control women, not to support families. This perspective not only places him well within the mainstream of Americans who feel the same, but it also demonstrates the kind of commitment and leadership we hope to see in every candidate for office in 2020 from city council to president.”

Erica Sackin, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said her organization was “pleased to see candidates from across the country understand and fully embrace sexual and reproductive health care.”

Here is Ojeda’s full statement:

There has been some confusion about where I stand on the issue of abortion access so let me clear this up. I wholeheartedly support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. Full stop. Throughout history, rich women have always had access to the care that they want or need and they always will. It’s only poor and working class women who have died in back alleys or been forced to use crude instruments like coat hangers. These laws that are passed only control the bodies and medical decisions of poor and working-class women because those in power have not trusted working class women to make their own decisions. Especially since working class women are disproportionately black and brown. Well guess what, they might not trust women, but I do.

I will stand against non-scientifically based 20 week bans and other arbitrary barriers like forced ultrasounds. I will stand against allowing the Hyde Amendment to keep poor women from having access. I will never support a judicial nominee who would stand in the way of access for all women regardless of class or race. And as President, I will immediately reinterpret the Helms amendment to end the inhumane exclusion of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A woman raped by the Taliban or Boko Haram should not be forced by the callousness of our government to bare her rapist’s child.

But I’m also calling bullshit on the idea that opposing abortion makes you pro-life. If you just want to keep working class women from making their own decisions, you might be pro-birth but you’re not pro-life. I have always considered myself pro-life because I want to reduce the number of abortions by making birth control accessible, by quadrupling the funding for Planned Parenthood, and by making sure that those who would start families have jobs and childcare so that they can afford to raise their kids.

It was not easy or popular to stand with working class women and with Planned Parenthood in West Virginia. But I did it any way. When an anti-working class abortion amendment was put on the ballot, I didn’t run and hide and try to keep quiet. I gave a floor speech about how I almost lost my own wife during childbirth. And how I would never, never take away a family’s ability to make their own decisions. I did it because it was right and because all of these rich men in the Republican Party are hypocrites. They all run around saying how they’re against abortion until their mistress gets pregnant. Right Tim Murphy? Right Congressman Desjarlais? Right Mr. President?

Just like with everything else, they want one thing for themselves and something else for the working-class citizen. They strip public school funding and send their kids to private school. They send the sons and daughters of the working class off to die in foreign wars but their kids don’t sign up. They want privacy and choice for them and their own families, just not for you. That’s not pro-life, that’s the same elitist attitude these so-called leaders have about everything, and I will never sit quiet when our working-class citizens are under attack.

The post Richard Ojeda Comes Out Swinging on Abortion Rights appeared first on The Intercept.

Google and Facebook Ended Mandatory Arbitration for Sexual Harassment Claims. Will Workers Outside the Tech Industry Benefit?

Employment activists have railed against mandatory arbitration for decades, to little avail. But the #MeToo movement put a spotlight on the downsides of mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment and assault claims, and technology companies have begun responding.

Seven days after the November 1 walkout of 20,000 Google workers across the globe, outraged over a New York Times investigation of the company’s lenient treatment of sexual harassers, Google issued a stunning response. CEO Sundar Pichai sent a memo to employees saying arbitration would now be “optional” for individual claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Facebook announced a similar policy the next day. Since then, Airbnb and eBay also have said they’re dropping requirements binding employees to using arbitration for sexual harassment complaints. Microsoft, Uber, and Lyft, as well as the law firms Munger, Tolles & Olson and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, had already made similar changes over the past year.

It would be hard to argue that it isn’t good news. But even employee advocates caution that the changes lack a sturdy foundation — that they constitute a response to pressure, rather than a mass moral awakening among managers looking to do the right thing. Sellers said it’s important to consider the motivation of recent policy changes by business, which he doubts are the result of some sudden bout of corporate righteousness. “There’s no question in my mind these were very carefully considered decisions where they considered the upside risk of litigation, the downside risk of losing workers, and the potential for improved morale this might create,” he said. In fact, even the positive news coverage “is itself part of the calculation.”

Sellers, who for 10 years has been fighting Sterling Jewelers in the arbitration of a class-action gender discrimination case, says he’d be surprised if the changes extend far beyond the tech sector. “I don’t see this as the beginning of a wave of excluding sex harassment or workplace discrimination claims from arbitration agreements,” he said, adding that technology companies were ripe to make changes. The job market is tight, and companies are competing for many of the same young, tech-savvy people who have developed “especially strong” feelings about harassment in the #MeToo era, Sellers said. “I’m not sure there are other industries where this kind of change in the rules would so fundamentally affect people’s attitude about their employers.”

Still, the news was embraced by employee advocates who have long fought closed-door arbitration, arguing that it has stifled exposure of sexual harassment and protected perpetrators. “Being shut up was key to the whole system,” said attorney Nancy Erika Smith, who represented former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson in her harassment suit against Roger Ailes. “I think the employer is going to have to struggle with doing things right for a change.”

It’s an abrupt shift from the employer-side momentum that launched in 1991, when the brokerage industry won a Supreme Court fight in Gilmer v. Interstate over forced arbitration of an employment dispute involving a civil rights claim. The Google walkout “sent shivers down the spines of many companies that didn’t want to be the next in line,” said San Francisco employment lawyer Cliff Palefsky. “It demonstrated the power that tech workers have at this point in history.”

Since the early 1990s, a growing number of companies — from Wall Street to Silicon Valley to the manufacturing industry — have insisted that as a condition of being hired, an employee must agree to forego access to public courts and instead abide by mandatory arbitration in the event of a dispute over anything from the size of a bonus to age discrimination. The Economic Policy Institute found, earlier this year, that since 1992, the share of non-union workers subject to mandatory arbitration has risen from just over 2 percent to more than 55 percent.

Over the past year, Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Washington state have each limited the ability of companies to stop harassment victims from filing their cases in public courts — though these laws will likely face daunting challenges. The new laws are at risk of being pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act, according to New York employment lawyer Jonathan Hiles.

The companies that have changed their policies often have done so in the wake of a bout of bad publicity. Five days after Bloomberg reported on Microsoft’s mishandling of an intern’s rape claim, the company announced it would no longer require harassment victims to have their claims heard in arbitration. (In a December 2017 blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith said that only a “limited number” of employees were bound to arbitration for harassment claims, but decided the company should abandon that policy altogether.) The day after an associate law professor at Harvard University tweeted pages from a mandatory arbitration agreement that the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson was requiring summer associates to sign, the firm announced that it “will no longer require any employees, including summer associates, to sign any mandatory arbitration agreements.”

And just weeks after victims of sexual harassment and assault wrote an open letter to Uber’s board of directors in late April, the company’s chief legal officer released a memo saying Uber would no longer require arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment by Uber riders, drivers, or employees.

Note the careful insertion of the word “individual” by Uber and Google, which means the landmark policy changes still prohibit any effort by women to band together in a class-action suit.

The hot lights are shining on companies now, but in a stagnant job market in which there’s reduced pressure to keep employees happy, Sellers can imagine even tech companies reverting to closed-door hearings. If a big, public trial were to wind up making an accuser look terrible during ruthless cross-examination, it could provide an employer with the perfect excuse to revert back to private, forced arbitration. All in an effort to avoid embarrassing future victims, of course.

For now, the power of bad publicity to keep pressure on companies has been impressive. “It’s amazing to me how fast companies move in response to a stupid Twitter storm,” Palefsky said.

The post Google and Facebook Ended Mandatory Arbitration for Sexual Harassment Claims. Will Workers Outside the Tech Industry Benefit? appeared first on The Intercept.

His Conviction Was Overturned. Why Is Arizona Doing Everything in Its Power to Keep Barry Jones on Death Row?

Elishia Sloan was 15 years old when her mother’s ex-boyfriend went to death row for a crime he swore he didn’t commit. It was 1995; Barry Lee Jones was convicted of raping and murdering a 4-year-old girl at the Desert Vista trailer park in Tucson, Arizona. Sloan had previously lived there with Jones and her mom, Joyce Richmond, who went by Rose at the time. The couple was hooked on drugs — all the adults at the trailer park seemed to be. But Sloan trusted Jones, who was like a father to her. “It’s weird, because usually as a pre-teen, you’re like, ‘You’re not my dad,’” she recalled. “But it wasn’t like that.” She did not believe Jones had killed that little girl.

Jones wrote letters to Sloan and her mother while awaiting trial in the Pima County Jail. He tried to be upbeat, using envelopes illustrated with cartoons. But after he was found guilty and sentenced to die, Sloan and her mom eventually fell out of touch with him. Sloan married a boy from the trailer park, later divorcing him, and settled with her mom in Montana. Richmond got clean while Sloan worked on raising her three kids. As the years passed, they would periodically look for information about Jones’s status on the website of the Arizona Department of Corrections. “It’s a scary feeling, looking at that page,” Sloan said. “But thank God it always said ‘Active.’”

Sloan and Richmond moved back to Tucson last year. Early last month, Sloan Googled Jones’s name and found the series of articles on his case published at The Intercept. They laid out the myriad problems behind Jones’s conviction: tunnel vision and sloppy police work by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department; unreliable evidence, from dubious eyewitness testimony to junk science; and a medical examiner who appeared to have shifted his conclusions to support the state’s case.

Elishia Sloan at Picture Rock Park on Oct. 28 in Tucson, Ariz. (Caitlin O'Hara for The Intercept)

Elishia Sloan, photographed on Oct. 28, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz.

When Sloan got to the third story in the series, she called out to her mother, who was in another room. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, they overturned his conviction.’” Sloan sought out Jones’s legal team and spoke to Andrew Sowards, an investigator with the Arizona Federal Public Defender’s Office in Tucson. As it happened, he said, Jones was due in court the next day, October 12.

It was a gray, rainy morning as Sloan and her mother drove their black Ford truck to the U.S. District Court downtown and went up to the sixth floor. Richmond, 68, wore jeans, a coral top, and a gold chain. Sloan, 38, wore a shirt that said “Rock ’n’ Roll Forever.” At 9:20 a.m., Jones was escorted into the courtroom and seated just a few feet in front of them. He wore orange prison garb and looked almost unrecognizable, his remaining hair thin and gray. U.S. marshals walked in and out of the courtroom as Sloan and Richmond tried to follow the back and forth between the attorneys and U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess.


U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess.

Photo: U.S. Court for the 9th Circuit

It was Burgess who had overturned Jones’s conviction, after presiding over an evidentiary hearing that exposed fatal flaws in the case. In his July 31 order, Burgess said Arizona prosecutors had to either retry Jones or release him, within a strict timeframe. But the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which has spent years fighting to keep Jones on death row, filed a notice of appeal before the 9th Circuit Court to reverse the order and reinstate Jones’s conviction. Prosecutors also sought a stay from Burgess to waive the fast-approaching deadline to retry Jones. “We could be up in the 9th Circuit for a long time,” Jones’s attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Cary Sandman, told me. In the meantime, Jones would remain in prison.

Speaking before the court on October 12, Sandman pushed back on the state’s request for a stay. “The fact of the matter is that Mr. Jones has spent nearly 24 years on death row on a premise that’s completely faulty,” he said. That premise was that Jones had fatally assaulted the victim the day before she died. “And we now know there’s no reliable medical evidence to support that,” he said.

“When did it happen? Who did it?” Sandman went on. “We’re left now with no answers to those questions.” He added, “The time has arrived for him to get a fair trial.”

At around 10:30 a.m., Burgess declared a 20-minute recess and said he would hand down his decision when he returned. There was a quiet stir in the courtroom — federal judges rarely rule from the bench. When Burgess returned, he put on his glasses and read his decision aloud. The state’s motion for a stay was denied, he said. Prosecutors would have to move forward with a retrial, to begin by March 13, 2019. Jones was quickly whisked from the courtroom.

At a nearby McDonald’s afterward, Sloan and her mother processed what had happened. It was hard for Richmond to comprehend why the state insisted on fighting Jones’s release. “How do they sleep at night?” she asked. “They think he’s guilty,” her daughter replied. Neither of them believed it was true. In a 2002 affidavit filed by Jones’s legal team, Sloan wrote, “Barry would never hurt a child, especially not sexually. In fact, Barry was the one who always tried to protect the girls in the park from all the perverts who lived there.”

Sloan and her mother could think of plenty of other people in the trailer park who might have hurt that little girl. “If [detectives] had investigated right, they could have investigated everybody,” Richmond said. “There was a lot of weird men there. I’d be the first to admit that. They had just as much opportunity to do anything as anybody else.”

For a brief moment over the summer, it seemed possible the state of Arizona would be open to some kind of mutual resolution in Jones’s case. The Pima County Conviction Integrity Unit — an office founded in 2015 to review questionable convictions — had signaled it was open to examining it. In an August email, Supervising Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay, who is in charge of the CIU, told me that “once the case comes back to this office we will be reviewing it.” But he backtracked in a more recent email, writing that “it’s a bit premature to have a discussion about where the case is going.”

The notion that the state must not be too hasty carries a cruel irony for Jones. At 60, he has spent much of his adult life on death row, struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. After his conviction was overturned, “there was a sense of relief in Barry’s voice I’ve never heard,” Sowards told me. Sandman hoped to secure Jones’s release pending the appeal; Jones’s older brother, Otis, an Army veteran retired from law enforcement, signed an affidavit offering to let Jones stay at his home south of Tucson. But prosecutors cast Jones as a danger to the public, warning in filings that “any release from custody will be brief,” since Pima County law enforcement would be poised to re-arrest him in advance of a retrial.

If it was hard to imagine how the state could retry Jones given the dismantling of its case, a retrial nevertheless seemed to be on the horizon after Burgess’s October 12 ruling. Jones was appointed a trial attorney and a hearing was scheduled in Pima County Criminal Court. But on the eve of the hearing, his future was thrown into doubt once again. The state had asked the 9th Circuit to grant the stay denied by Burgess — the hearing was canceled. A week later, the 9th Circuit ruled for the state. It ordered that the appeal proceed as quickly as possible. Rather than allow its case against Jones to withstand the scrutiny of a new trial — and rather than face the likelihood of an acquittal — the attorney general’s office is determined to undo Burgess’s order overturning Jones’s conviction.

For Jones, the setback was compounded by his temporary transfer to Pima County Jail. According to Sandman, prison officials did not send any of the medication Jones takes for anxiety and depression. It was “very traumatic,” Sandman told me. Jones is faring better now, back among his old neighbors at the maximum-security prison in Florence, Sandman said, where Burgess’s order has made the rounds on death row. “It helps quite a bit that most people recognize he shouldn’t be there.”

It has now been more than a year since the evidentiary hearing in Jones’s case. Seven days of testimony in the fall of 2017 revealed how badly the Pima County Sheriff’s Department had botched the investigation into the death of 4-year-old Rachel Gray. The child’s lifeless body was carried into the hospital by her mother, Angela Gray, shortly after 6 a.m. on May 2, 1994. Angela, Jones’s then-girlfriend, had been living with Jones in his trailer along with her three children; it was Jones who dropped her off with Rachel at the hospital, then came under suspicion when he did not return.

In an aggressive interrogation later that day, Sheriff’s Detective Sonia Pesqueira accused Jones of killing Rachel, although it was not at all clear yet how she had died. Pesqueira never investigated the timing of Rachel’s fatal injury — a tear in her duodenum, part of her small intestine, caused by some sort of blow to her stomach. At the evidentiary hearing, it became clear that Pesqueira merely assumed the injury had occurred the day before Rachel died and tailored her investigation accordingly. But medical experts reiterated what they have said for years: that the injury could not have occurred in the window presented by the state.

To prevail at the evidentiary hearing, Jones’s attorneys had to show that his trial lawyers had provided ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Burgess found that they had proved their case. In his 91-page order overturning the conviction, Burgess concluded that if not for the failures of Jones’s original defense attorneys, “there is a reasonable probability that his jury would not have convicted him of any of the crimes with which he was charged and previously convicted.” He sharply criticized Pesqueira for her failure to interview alternative suspects, and Dr. John Howard, the former Pima County medical examiner, whose estimates about the timing of Rachel’s fatal injury had inexplicably shifted from his pretrial interviews to his testimony to the hearing decades later. Had Jones’s defense attorneys done their job properly, Burgess wrote, “the jury would likely have found Dr. Howard’s testimony not credible or persuasive.”

Burgess’s decision validated the feelings of at least two jurors who had served on Jones’s trial, both of whom told me that they had been troubled by the weakness of his defense representation. Hildegard Stoecker remained especially disturbed by the case. She had followed news of the evidentiary hearing and was glad to hear that Burgess had overturned Jones’s conviction. Had she known about the issues brought up at the hearing, she wrote in an email this past August, “I know I would never have voted to convict Barry Jones.”

The Evo A. DeConcini United States Courthouse seen on Oct. 22 in Tucson, Ariz. 
(Caitlin O'Hara for The Intercept)

The Evo A. DeConcini United States Courthouse in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 22, 2018.

On November 14, prosecutors filed their appeal to the 9th Circuit. It was accompanied by thousands of pages of case records and exhibits — a daunting amount of material to review, especially given the expedited schedule ordered by the court. In their opening brief, prosecutors confidently reasserted Jones’s guilt, while rehashing arguments they have made before.

They insisted the medical evidence presented at the evidentiary hearing actually supported the state’s case against Jones. They argued that Jones’s trial lawyers had been perfectly adequate in investigating Rachel’s fatal injury, for example, by consulting with an independent pathologist. (Just because there was no indication the expert had ever reviewed the evidence necessary to provide an opinion didn’t mean it never happened.) Moreover, prosecutors said, even if the medical evidence did not prove that Jones had raped and fatally beaten Rachel, jurors would have found him guilty of endangering her health by failing to take her to the hospital the night before she died. Under Arizona law, this would still make him guilty of murder — and eligible for the death penalty.

Above all, the appeal invoked the powerful procedural barriers that routinely prevent people like Jones from winning challenges to their convictions. Under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Strickland v. Washington, which governs ineffective assistance claims, courts must show considerable deference to the decisions made by defense lawyers. The U.S. Supreme Court has said that there must be a presumption that their actions were undertaken “for tactical reasons rather than through sheer neglect,” prosecutors wrote, arguing that Burgess was wrong to find Jones’s defense unconstitutionally inadequate.

More confusing was the state’s continued insistence that Burgess should never have granted the evidentiary hearing in the first place. Prosecutors invoked the most reliable bulwark against revisiting questionable convictions: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Passed in 1996, a year after Jones was convicted, the sweeping law known as AEDPA drastically raised the bar for overturning convictions in federal court, in part by forcing judges like Burgess to show significant deference to rulings by state courts. When it came to ineffective assistance claims, AEDPA also bolstered rules shutting out such claims from federal review if a defendant had previously failed to bring them in state court.

For most people in Jones’s position, AEDPA is indeed the last word. But Jones got back into federal court thanks to a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that carved out a limited exception, at least in Arizona. Martinez v. Ryan held that, if the failure to bring an ineffective assistance claim in state court was itself due to the ineffectiveness of a state post-conviction attorney, a federal court could consider the claim. For Jones, Martinez opened the door to de novo review — a fresh consideration with no need to defer to a lower court. Crucially, this meant Burgess was not beholden to the strictures of AEDPA when considering his case.

Yet prosecutors insist the law still controls Jones’s fate. “Congress specifically intended AEDPA to limit federal evidentiary development,” they wrote, “and to restrict the general availability of habeas relief.” In other words, it was enough for Burgess to have reviewed Jones’s claim at all, they argued — Jones was not entitled to actually prove it in court.

In Sandman’s view, the AEPDA argument is “absurd.” Among other things, he pointed out that all the Supreme Court rulings prosecutors used to support it predate the Martinez ruling. “I’m not sure why they’re doing that,” he said. “Then again, I’m not sure why they’re doing anything that they are doing. Because if they were the least bit fair-minded, they would get on to either retrying Jones or let him go.”

Elishia Sloan at Picture Rock Park on Oct. 28 in Tucson, Ariz. (Caitlin O'Hara for The Intercept)

Elishia Sloan, photographed on Oct. 28, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz.

Apart from dubious legal arguments, the state’s appeal to the 9th Circuit is perhaps most striking for its highly selective narrative about what happened at the Desert Vista in the spring of 1994. Whereas prosecutors once argued that lead detective Sonia Pesqueira followed the evidence of guilt for Rachel’s injuries “directly to Jones,” there is no mention of her now. Instead the state constructed a circumstantial case against Jones, starting with the claim that 4-year-old Rachel was afraid of him in the weeks leading up to her death. But this assertion rests heavily on testimony from Rachel’s sister, Becky, who was 10 years old when her sister died and whose statements evolved significantly over time to further implicate Jones. For a reader intimately familiar not only with Jones’s case but also with the trial of Angela Gray, who was convicted of child abuse but acquitted of murder, it is not hard to notice such things. It is far less clear what the 9th Circuit will make of them.

In our conversation at McDonald’s, Sloan remembered being glad when Jones would return to the trailer at the end of the day. “It wasn’t like, ‘Oh God, he’s home,’ the way it would be if he was an abuser,” she said. Like Jones’s own daughter, Brandie, who told police that her father never hit her, Sloan said Jones never laid a hand on her. She was just a few years older than Brandie; the girls used to sneak out of the trailer to hang out with the kids in the trailer park, which sometimes got them in trouble. Jones disciplined them but never harshly. “Barry caught me in the laundry room, kissing a boy, and I got grounded for, I swear, he said my ‘whole life,’” Sloan said. “But it ended up being a day.” Richmond remembered how if Brandie and Sloan wanted to smoke a cigarette, “they had to come inside and sit down in the room and read a book for an hour.”

“I hated it so much,” Sloan chuckled.

Sloan says she barely remembers anything from the time Jones went to death row. But she recalls being questioned by Pima County sex crimes prosecutor Kathy Mayer back in 1994. Sloan said Mayer tried unsuccessfully to get her to implicate Jones by showing her graphic photos from Rachel’s autopsy. “She’s like, ‘Look at these pictures. This could have been you,’” Sloan said. In her 2002 affidavit, Sloan wrote, “The prosecution wanted me to say how mean he was, but I would not lie.” Mayer, who retired earlier this year, did not return messages seeking comment.

Desert Vista Village seen on Oct. 22 in Tucson, Ariz. (Caitlin O'Hara for The Intercept)

Desert Vista Village, formerly known as the Desert Vista trailer park, on Oct. 22, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz.

In retrospect, Sloan says, the way they lived at the Desert Vista seems shocking. They didn’t always have food to eat; she remembers getting fresh fruit from a man who would bring produce in a truck from a food bank. Sometimes they got bags of leftover hamburgers that were thrown out by a nearby McDonald’s. “You look at it from the outside, and you’re like, ‘Wow. These poor kids,’” Sloan said. But she doesn’t remember her childhood as unhappy.

Richmond says that for all the problems at the trailer park — and despite what happened to Rachel — the community there tried to look out for one another, especially for the kids. Jones was particularly well-liked, Sloan remembered. “He would give you the shirt off his back,” she said. “Barry was a very nice-looking guy when we met,” Richmond says. She was “head over heels.” Richmond and Sloan passed by the Desert Vista when they returned to Tucson last year. “It looked the same, but it wasn’t the same, you know?” Richmond said.

Sloan felt guilty about falling out of touch with Jones. “It’s weird to see how he’s aged so much,” she said. She became emotional when I mentioned the letters he sent her from jail, which she did not remember now. Richmond said Jones wrote her a letter at one point and said, “‘If you’re not gonna be consistent about writing me, don’t write me anymore.’ And I didn’t. And I should’ve. But 24 years is a long time to write letters every day or every week, you know?”

The post His Conviction Was Overturned. Why Is Arizona Doing Everything in Its Power to Keep Barry Jones on Death Row? appeared first on The Intercept.

What Happens When a Barrio 18 Soldier Tries to Leave the Gang

Benjamin suspected the Salvadoran gang Barrio 18 Revolucionarios would kill him when he asked permission to leave. He was 21 years old and had been in the gang for a decade. He was ready to die to get out.

He had joined at age 12 because his world didn’t feel right. He thought the gang looked cool by comparison; it took him years to name the deeper attraction. Neighborhoods like his were violent places where no one made a living wage, and the justice system was absent except to punish. Kids like him were either ignored or treated like criminality coursed through their veins. But not if he was Barrio 18. The gang, with its brotherhood and strict rules, promised him protection and stability. Here were his wafer-thin options: Benjamin could remain passive, buffeted by the winds of danger and impunity. Or he could do something proactive. He chose to act.

Within a few years, he saw that the gang’s promise was a siren song. A few years after that, he found the courage to plot his escape.

He called his mother to say goodbye. He summoned the leaders of the area cliques. He delivered his speech: He had done much for the gang, killing dozens who wished the group harm, especially MS-13 rivals. He had collected extortion taxes to feed and clothe the tens of thousands of members and their families and to hire defense lawyers when they were arrested. Now he felt called to evangelical Christianity, so he had researched churches and chosen one that was strict; no vices like alcohol or non-Christian music allowed. It would keep him out of trouble. He had earned his retirement.

Benjamin is about 5 1/2 feet tall. He is thin and angular; his face runs from cheekbones to sharp nose to jutting jaw. He has cobalt hair cropped close and pupils so glossy dark they’re nearly mirrors. He looks like a falcon. He could play Dracula. And in that moment, he stood before his audience, the gang’s leaders, pleading for a second chance at life.

To his surprise, they said yes. They let him go. He had to check in regularly and couldn’t do anything to harm the gang, like snitching. He couldn’t ask them for favors or use his previous affiliation to gain anything. They would observe his change to ensure it was genuine. They reserved the right to call him back to active duty. But with those conditions, he was free.

I met Benjamin five weeks later. (“Benjamin” is a pseudonym; as for most people in this article, to use his real name would cause an immediate threat to his life.) We met as part of a project: For four years, I followed four kids as they tried to leave their gangs. None of them knew each other. They were all under age 22.

One fled MS-13 without permission. She changed her name, moved across the country, and had a child. The gang tracked her down. Now she is paying to save her child’s life, and her own, with constant criminal favors. Another, a young man who also deserted MS-13 without permission, withdrew from our interviews, so ashamed of his past that he decided to amputate it, to banish his former self. The third retired with permission from Barrio 18, found work at a chain of thrift stores run by evangelical Christians, went to church every day, and raised his toddler son. His name was Jonathan Osvaldo Tobar. On August 7, 2015, he was shot dead in the middle of a market by unidentified gunmen. His funeral was a tense juxtaposition of the people one meets in such a life.

The fourth was Benjamin.

Paradoxically, the danger faced by gang members increases when they leave. In the gang, Benjamin was a soldier in a war. He was armed and he was backed by an army. But the problem with retiring is that the battlefield has no boundaries, and the war has no end. That’s in part due to a colloquial belief in Salvadoran society that gang members are people forever ruined. Given the havoc they wreak, they are reviled. So society blocks on-ramps to civilian life like education and employment. Police see them as fodder for vengeance. For former enemies, they’re easy prey.

Yet even in the hardest moments, Benjamin believed he could be salvaged. There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in El Salvador. What is the solution to this problem if they can’t retire?

He didn’t expect society to welcome him. “People don’t trust us. They don’t like us and I understand why,” he told me. “If I’m well-known in some places, it isn’t because I was a good person. Imagine how much evil I did to numerous families, how much pain I caused them.” He saw the ostracization as karma. “I’m paying off a tiny bit of the many things I did.”

Kids like Benjamin try to leave their gangs by hiding in plain sight. They bury their pasts and attempt to start over. They do it in myriad ways and so well that often they’re even unaware of each other. Alone, they shed skin like any wild creature and take on a new identity.

But their needs are akin to those of child soldiers or war veterans — and the devastating cruelty wrought by gangs leaves little public will to provide that kind of support. As a result, the process is like burrowing through a boulder with a screwdriver. Exhausting. Seemingly impossible. You sweat it out alone.

There are some exceptions. Retiring to evangelical Christianity, as Benjamin did, is a path that has existed almost as long as the gangs themselves. But it, too, can be hazardous. And as Benjamin would find, swapping gang for church means trading one black-and-white vision of the world for another. It was initially effective but became insufficient the longer he lived and the more his world blossomed into color.

There was one more problem. El Salvador is small. Like the civilians threatened by gangs — who very frequently must flee the country to survive — kids trying to leave gangs can only hide for so long.

Benjamin’s attempt began in December 2015. We met nearly once a week. He shared his experiences with me, a foreign journalist, because he was desperate to circulate his story. He knew many gang members who wanted to leave, but they were afraid. He wanted to show them they could.

“I’d like to be recognized by society. It’s not that I want to be famous. It’s like with young people who want to be guitarists — they have an example of some well-known guitarist,” he told me. “There is no example for me, to show me a better life is possible. I have to be that example.”

No Extra Lives

Violence didn’t appear in Benjamin’s life when he joined the gang. He was born into violence.

His uncle, who raised him as a son, was a guerrilla fighter in the 12-year Salvadoran civil war, which ended in 1992 after a nominally democratic government, funded by billions of dollars from the U.S., tried to annihilate a leftist guerrilla force. The war turned his uncle into an alcoholic who spent most of his time playing war-themed video games. When 12-year-old Benjamin murdered a boy in a gang initiation — a repelling and traumatic experience that became easier with repetition, he told me — in his mind he retreated to images from his uncle’s games, as if willing the bloody boy to come back to life in a next round.

The civil war introduced particular kinds of violence to El Salvador. Government death squads pulled students off buses and church workers from their beds, aiming to puncture leftist thought and litter the roadsides with tortured corpses as messages to those considering dissent. Thousands of youth taken by the state simply disappeared.

In December 1988, the Spanish Jesuit priest Ignacio Martín-Baró, who lived and taught at the Central American University in San Salvador, described what raged around him in the introduction to a book called “The Social Psychology of War.” Thousands fled the armed forces, “pursued like animals,” while in the U.S., President Ronald Reagan boasted that those same forces were defenders of democracy. Reagan was performing a part, “‘the good guy in the movie,’ ‘the righteous cowboy,’” the priest wrote, and was ignorant about El Salvador. But his administration’s “ideological blindness and tooth-and-nail militarism,” Martín-Baró wrote, turned the country into “a living laboratory in which the principles of ‘low intensity conflict’ have been put into practice,” thus changing El Salvador forever. “War has become part of the frame of reference of Salvadoran lives. In some way, the fact that there’s war is now assumed as ‘natural,’ and no one is surprised by the daily aspects of shootouts and ambushes, cadavers and wounded.” Martín-Baró was murdered by the army less than a year later.

On January 16, 1992, 16 signatures on paper, the peace accords, officially ended the war. Violence remained.

Gangs that had formed among war refugees in Los Angeles were then deported to El Salvador. The government shored up its post-war power by turning on this new internal enemy, meeting it with a bellicose security policy called mano dura, “iron fist.”

It wasn’t that murders spiked when the gangs arrived. In fact, the first years of the 21st century were a time of relative peace: The homicide rate dropped and reached a post-war low. But the ruling right-wing party, the Nationalist Republican Alliance, known by its Spanish acronym ARENA, feared its weak prognosis in the 2004 presidential elections. So in 2003, the president announced mano dura, which had the simultaneous effect of fishing up gangs from a cauldron of national problems and then selling ARENA as the only force capable of vanquishing them. ARENA won.

Gangs offered an opportunity: Political parties could prop up this straw man — young people in poor communities — and then humiliate, incarcerate, beat, and kill them, and emerge victorious at ballot boxes nationwide.

Between July 2003 and July 2005, the police arrested 30,934 alleged gang members in SWAT-style raids choreographed for news cameras. Many detainees were released and re-arrested 48 hours later, according to scholar José Miguel Cruz. The Salvadoran president erroneously claimed in 2004 that gangs committed 40 percent of the country’s murders; the national coroner’s office counted only 10 percent.

Mano dura was repression masquerading as policy — but 80 percent of the population bought into it. “Gang members have a mental illness called murder,” said police chief Ricardo Meneses. The following year, the FBI described in a press release how it was “ganging up on” gangs by partnering with Salvadoran authorities.

Mano dura has remained and mutated ever since. In response, the gangs became sophisticated and heinous. Their victims multiply in a country besieged by grief and fear. For those who suffer, the most important thing is not that the policy doesn’t work, or that violence-as-security is a self-perpetuating cycle. Mano dura gave victims a name for the cause of their misery. It gave them a stability similar to what Benjamin sought in the gang.

The policy had striking success in just two areas: in continually selling itself despite being counterproductive, and in selling the image of gang members as irreformable youth who no longer belong to El Salvador or any nation, to whom nothing is owed but iron bars or bullets.

In January 2015, police director Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde announced that “any member of the institution who needs to use their firearm to comply with the duty of self-defense, or defense of others, should do so without fear.” The reaction was vivid: In 2014, police had killed 49 suspected gang members. In 2015, they killed 320. The police followed the U.S. model, creating elite anti-gang forces, one of which did target practice on images of Osama bin Laden’s face. “These two gangs need to be annihilated,” said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to the Salvadoran press in May 2015, when he was hired as a security consultant whose services cost millions of dollars.

“I see the faces of wealthy politicians, and then I see [people] who work all day, every day and make $5 a day,” Benjamin told me in April 2016. “Why do so many youth become gang members? Because they see that. Why are they arming the police? There will be more deaths. They’re not thinking with their brains. They’re thinking of their money, of their power.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to members of MS-13, the one Salvadoran gang he’s apparently aware of, as “animals.” This is the same word he chose to refer to Middle Eastern combatants who he argued the U.S. should torture by waterboarding. He employs the term with a goal: to rally his base. The president, like Reagan before him, is ignorant of the situation. He is using gangs to increase his power. But in El Salvador, state security forces are torturing and murdering young people suspected of gang membership, and the words of the U.S. president are encouraging them.

This is the new war, a Russian doll of a war: gangs against each other, police against them all. Civilians again in the middle. It is as bloody as its predecessor, its engine pumped with the same gasoline: men who want power.

Benjamin wanted out.


Illustration: Clay Rodery for The Intercept

Normal Dangers

The first thing Benjamin did on his first morning of freedom was smoke pot. “Habit,” he told me. Also terror. Still in bed, he burned through five blunts, paralyzed by a refrain: “What will come of me?”

Every day of the past decade of his life had been determined by the gang. The gang’s interests were his duties, its members were his peers. The gang’s risks were his and its forms of protection were too. But not anymore. He didn’t even have a place to live; he had woken up in the gang house, and today he must leave. Then, a scarier thought: There was a trade-off implicit in his decision. Yesterday he had an identity, but today he had freedom.

He bounced between hostels until just before Christmas, when he found an affordable apartment in an old brick structure near the National University of El Salvador, four stories tall and packed with people. He was relieved to have a room. He needed to lock himself in it for protection from former enemies and police — “people who want me dead” — but also from himself. He had spent most days high on marijuana or acid or cocaine before leaving the gang, and his zealous new evangelical identity prohibited drugs, so he was antsy to wean himself off them. He needed to whittle himself down to his acceptable parts, his holy parts.

Within days, it was clear that loneliness would be the hardest part.

He spent Christmas alone. He was a marked man now; it would put his mother at risk to be together on a predictable day. So he sat on the floor and leaned against the wall under a window. There were families gathered outside. “Everyone was so happy at midnight, giving each other hugs. A ton of people in the streets. And there I was, just listening to them. I laughed at the funny things they said,” he remembered, “and then I cried.” He got high and tried to sleep.

Leaving home was always risky. One afternoon, he arrived late to our meeting at the Metrocentro mall food court. The block around his apartment had been teeming with anxious cops — there had been a homicide — and he feared that an officer would arrest him, a solitary young man near a crime scene. So he waited until a neighbor with her toddler daughter offered to walk hand in hand as if he were an older son. Everyone knew the police were dangerous.

He tried reconnecting on Facebook with friends from childhood. One by one, they shut him out.

“It hurts to be in the streets,” he told me. “On the bus, I hear someone answer a phone and say, ‘Wait for me, I’ll be there soon!’ And I think, ‘No one is waiting for me anymore.’” He saw people hugging each other, walking to school or to a store, “all of those daily things that take people to other people.”

There was relief on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday evenings, when he could go to church services and youth group. Otherwise, he rarely left his apartment, except for our meetings. Most days, “I don’t speak a word,” he told me in late January. “Imagine spending just one full day staring at the wall.” Benjamin spent weeks like that. He simmered in regret. “I wish I could be a child again. I wish I could do none of the things I did with my life.”

As the weeks passed, Benjamin’s language changed. He became a fire-and-brimstone Christian. He diagnosed the downfall of a society that produced people like him, a biblical lineup of sinners: Prostitutes. Homosexuals. Drug addicts. Rap. Bad fathers. Women with necklines too low. Women who posted “half-naked photos on Facebook.” Women who were “losing their value.”

It was a straight path out of the gang. The world was still a battlefield, but he was now a soldier in a different army.

He made progress he could measure. Once, on a bus to pay rent with money that his aunt, an immigrant in the U.S., lent him, two men robbed him at gunpoint. I asked him if he considered retreating to his clique. “Look,” he said dreamily, as if in love. “When you return to Christ, you forget the gang.”

Searching for a job was hard. When asked for his resume, he had nothing to offer. He had to lie about his past. But employers wouldn’t hire a young man with no history.

Another complicating factor: He had been incarcerated in 2013, and he’d been violating the terms of his parole. He was obligated to study upon release, but that would mean regularly crossing MS-13 territory to get to the public school, which was too dangerous. Now there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

These struggles are nearly universal in the experience of those who try to leave Salvadoran gangs, but that doesn’t make them any easier to face. One day we visited one of Benjamin’s mentors, a pastor and former gang member named Julio Iglesia, who lived deep in a labyrinthine hot zone called Tikal. Iglesia was from the first generation of homegrown Barrio 18 members, the ones who joined what the deportees from California started. “In this country, there has never been peace,” he told me. “We live at war.”

Across from Iglesia sat a giant man, his face etched in “18” ink, trembling. The man had left the gang after serving a jail sentence. Days earlier, he narrowly avoided yet another murder attempt by a joint patrol of police and soldiers. But Iglesia interceded, saving him. “They want to kill me because of what I have on my body,” the man said. “They’ll never again see me doing something bad. They sought me out. It’s because of what I have on my body.”

The pastor’s wife hung wet laundry on a line on the front porch. She dashed inside and bolted the metal door when a group of kids, guns in hand, sprinted down the street toward the community border. Tikal was Barrio 18 and the neighbors were rivals. Iglesia warned us that we needed to leave because if gunfire broke out, the police would show up and splay out house to house. The state of siege would last until tomorrow. Benjamin was at great risk.

A tense 30 minutes passed before we could find someone with a car to hustle us out of the conflict zone.

For Benjamin, these were normal dangers. The chance to sit with someone who was once in his shoes was precious. But he was beginning to worry that he wasn’t strong enough to become good. Even the most faithful iron posture toward the world can’t save a holy soldier from loneliness.

Then he met Zelda.

You’re a Mess

The night they met, Zelda came home from a bar and found Benjamin curled up drunk on the front steps. The landlord evicted disorderly residents, so Zelda hooked her thin arms under the new neighbor kid, who had spent weeks locked in his room down the hall. “I don’t think he ever even ate,” she told me later.

Zelda told me this story at a gay bar in San Salvador. She wore a sleeveless T-shirt and suspenders, her head half-shaved. Tattoos scaled her bicep. She spoke with a half-smile and a confident chin.

She deposited Benjamin in his apartment that first night, and the next morning, she woke up hungover and suspected he’d feel worse. She made soup and knocked on his door. He opened it, hair askew and eyes sleepy. “Take a shower, you’re a mess,” she laughed. “Then come eat, and then you can go back to bed.”

He stumbled into her apartment minutes later, smelling of soap, without pleasantries. This kid must have dropped out of the wilderness, she thought. He told me a few days later — months before I heard the story from Zelda — that he felt shy around this shockingly friendly stranger.

Zelda was a lesbian feminist painter who taught art therapy workshops to victims of domestic violence. He gazed at the walls covered in her paintings. “So you like art?” she asked. He mumbled something about loving it since he was a child. “He might have even drooled a little,” Zelda chuckled as she remembered in the bar. “He was in a trance.”

He told her he was a Christian, but she noticed a tattoo on his heel. “That’s a big tattoo for a Christian,” she joked. “He just laughed. He was always laughing,” she told me at the bar. “He never told me much about himself, just that he used to do drugs and graffiti and live on the street.”

For the duration of their friendship, Benjamin struggled with withholding his full story from Zelda. “I’m afraid she’ll reject me,” he told me at the time.

Zelda started bringing Benjamin meals. He seemed so lonely, and who could live like that, staring at four walls all day? She delivered the apartment building gossip: who was sleeping with whom, who he could trust and who he shouldn’t. One of the men on their floor was rumored to be MS-13. He was aggressive and referred to Zelda as “the dyke.” Benjamin started helping her avoid him.

Benjamin expected to face difficult tests on this journey to a new life. He didn’t expect Zelda. The church members who made his second chance possible, the only people who knew his full story, preached that people like Zelda were sinners akin to addicts and adulterers. People like Zelda were far from God, and Benjamin’s salvation would come from walking in the opposite direction.

But now he had company for the endless days. One afternoon, Benjamin wandered to the roof of the apartment building. Blinking in the sun, he found Zelda there painting. She was smoking a joint and offered him a drag. He said he used to smoke but was a Christian now. Zelda, an atheist, laughed and handed it to him. He took a drag.

He stood silently. He clearly was here to stay. “OK, kiddo,” she said. “Tell me, what color is the sky?” He looked up, then looked back at her. “No one’s ever asked me that,” he said. A few seconds later he ventured: “Blue?” She smiled. “That’s what everyone thinks. But there are many tones that make up that blue. Look back up. Tell me what they are.” He smiled and inhaled sharply. “He always used to do that when he was excited about something,” she told me at the bar, mimicking him and laughing. “He was like a child, so excited about the world.”

“You’re not a bad guy,” she told him. “You’ve got a good heart.”

In the next conversation that Benjamin and I had, he repeated this phrase three times: “You’ve got a good heart.”

Soon, Zelda was toting Benjamin out with her friends, other lesbian feminist activists. She had to defend him more than once. To explain himself, he could only offer that he used to be a drug-addicted street kid and was now an evangelical Christian, neither of which played well here. But Zelda is charismatic. If anyone could sneak an evangelical kid without a history into a lesbian feminist clan, it was Zelda.

They took him to a concert by the Guatemalan rapper Rebeca Lane. They took him to the beach for a weekend. He told them he didn’t know how to swim, an excuse to avoid removing his shirt and exposing his torso covered in Barrio 18 tattoos. “He was stuck to a plastic chair the whole time,” Zelda remembered. They took him to dinners at fast food restaurants at malls. Sometimes they’d end the night at a bar. Benjamin chuckled uncomfortably as he recounted how, more than once, the group separated into couples, a long table of women kissing — plus Benjamin, the boy nursing a Pilsner, the evangelical with a big secret.

“I think that if they knew what I used to be, they’d immediately reject me,” he told me then. Once he asked one of Zelda’s friends what her opinion was of the kids who retire from gangs. “I’ve never met anyone like that,” she told him. “If I ever did, I’d have to think hard about it.” He didn’t say anything else.

“I know them, and I know now that they’re good people, and I’d have criticized them once, people like this,” he told me. In fact, he loved hanging out with Zelda’s friends because they had pride in spite of society’s rejection. “They value themselves so much,” he said. Benjamin was born into a hyper-macho society and then he joined the gang, which concentrates that machismo. He’d never had friends who autopsied reggaeton songs to air out their misogyny, much less queer women.

But this wasn’t easy. Apart from Zelda, the church was all he had. “It’s God who has allowed me to step aside [from the gang], but this confuses me,” he told me.

Benjamin had never lived outside the battlefield. Zelda was teaching him to see parts of life that are invisible in war.

During the beach weekend, they walked the shore. She pointed to a piece of driftwood. Benjamin saw nothing in it, but Zelda’s finger traced its outline in the air and then he could see: It was a woman, waist to hip to thigh. They coaxed it from the waves and whittled it into an ad hoc sculpture. “I feel like I’m falling in love with life,” he told me later.

But he wasn’t naive. “Sometimes I feel like my destiny is to die for having been a gang member,” he told me. He felt that it wouldn’t matter what he did to change; the end result would be the same. “But I find the motivation in myself,” he said. “I carry on.”


Illustration: Clay Rodery for The Intercept

Left for Dead

Benjamin had just finished buying groceries when a police patrol detained him at a bus stop in a middle-class neighborhood called San Luis. It was a Wednesday evening in April, at about 7:30 p.m. When one officer lifted Benjamin’s shirt and discovered his tattooed torso, he said to the others, “Ah, here’s one we can kill.” They loaded him into the back seat of the patrol truck, folding him over at the waist so he could not be seen through the window, and drove him to a police station, where they led him into a room through a back entrance.

For the next several hours, a group of officers tortured him. The torture was methodical and fit the patterns recorded that year by human rights investigators: They maced him, thrust his head into a bucket of water to simulate drowning, hung him upside down, and beat him until he lost consciousness. They put a plastic bag over his head to simulate suffocation, smacked him in the face with the butts of their rifles, and kicked him until he felt his ribs “bend.” Benjamin drifted in and out of consciousness. “They’re just going to beat me to death,” he remembers thinking. But the police had another plan.

They put him back in the truck, again doubled over. Benjamin estimates that it was past midnight. The officers drove around looking for kids walking the streets in Barrio 18 neighborhoods, whom he said they planned to execute. Then they’d kill Benjamin and position the boys’ bodies together as if they had died after ambushing the police. This is a method of extrajudicial murder common in El Salvador since 2015.

Benjamin was lucky; they found no one to kill. But the officers decided he was weak enough that they could just throw him out, shirtless, in MS-13 territory, where his tattoos would make him a quick target. They tossed his body in front of a graffiti-covered house in an MS-13 stronghold called Los Llanitos and drove away.

He lay still. Then he crawled through shrubbery and ditches on the side of the road. He made it to La Santisima Trinidad, a nearby Barrio 18 neighborhood, where a young gang member on lookout duty took him to the clique leader, who recognized Benjamin’s old alias and offered him shelter for the night. Benjamin was wary. He knew he was not allowed to ask favors under retirement rules, but the leader told him this was different. So he accepted, and the next morning, they drove him to his apartment and carried his swollen body up the stairs.

We saw each other two weeks later. He said he had forgiven his torturers.

Benjamin was five months out of the gang, and life was a wonder. It was as if he had been blind and gifted sight. This made him extremely generous toward other people’s wrongs, including his torturers. He understood the police like he did his former self: locked in a war between brotherhoods, kept there by a screwed-up world.

But the brush with death unsettled him. He asked me for a favor: If I ever read in the paper that he died in an armed confrontation with police, to please debunk that story. “I’m telling you that I will never go back to the gang. Never. Never,” he swore. He desperately wanted other youth to know it was possible to leave, and he wanted to remain proof of it, alive or dead.

In late August, though, his resolve was tested. He began to receive messages from his former clique.

Five months earlier, the Salvadoran government had begun a draconian policy called “extraordinary measures,” meant to seal off gang prisons. Inside the prisons, food and drinking water were restricted, and skin diseases and tuberculosis ripped through the population in a torrent, killing 53 percent more inmates in 2017 than the year before. The Red Cross could no longer enter prisons, nor could inmates’ families. Originally temporary, parts of the policy have since become permanent, with the support of U.S. Ambassador Jean Manes, despite an outcry from the United Nations and Red Cross.

Between the suffering in the prisons and the extrajudicial murders outside of them, his former clique decided they needed everyone on duty.

At just past 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, a gang member sent Benjamin an audio clip via Facebook listing nearly 20 members of their clique who had been arrested or killed since Benjamin left. “The situation with the system is so black right now I don’t even consider going outside,” he said. Then he wrote in nearly illegible gang slang: “Activate again asshole. Damn we need people.” Then, “Help us out. We’re going to figure out how to pull up the neighborhood. This is our time.”

Benjamin dodged. “Truly I’d like to but the truth is that the price is high for turning your back on God,” he wrote. “But I do want to talk to you about many things, nothing bad, just important.” He was suggesting that he would try to convert his former homeboy, and he hoped it would quiet the demands.

Then one evening in mid-September, at just past midnight, another member of the clique wrote on WhatsApp with a more concrete request: They needed to find $3,000 to pay a lawyer for incarcerated homies. They asked Benjamin to find the money. “I’m going to try to figure out how I can help you,” Benjamin responded. Then he wrote to me, “They don’t want that answer. They want me to activate again.” That is, they didn’t just want his money. They wanted their soldier back.

This wasn’t an invitation. He began to believe he was not far from his tomb. If he refused the clique’s demand, they might kill him along with his surviving family members — his mom and 4-year-old niece, his late sister’s child. The three of them could try to flee the country, but with his arrest warrant, he couldn’t go anywhere legally. He could kill himself. Or he could join again, which would prove society right that he was impossible to salvage.

“I want to die, I don’t know what to do, and I’m afraid,” he told me. “I wish I could run and scream and cry until I just die.”

Benjamin was arrested before the month was over. He was accused of extorting more than $7,000 from a business with a group of other young people.

In the first phone call he made to his mother from the police holding cell, he swore that he was innocent and asked her to tell me. He said there was proof in the house where they were arrested.

So his mother and I went. Benjamin and two young men who lived there were arrested together, and the boys’ mother answered our knock. She was clearly traumatized. She spoke to us, through a door cracked open, for 15 minutes. She said the boys had been playing guitar in a room when the police arrived, forced their way in, tied everyone up, and beat Benjamin and the brothers. Then they ransacked the house while insulting her for raising “rats.” They detained her youngest child in the police cruiser, threatening to turn him over to child services for her maternal incompetence.

Telling the story, she seemed to experience a flashback. At least they didn’t take her youngest, she said. She was struggling to pay the daily fees for her sons’ meals in the police holding cells. She was bitter and scared and didn’t see Benjamin’s mother as an ally. She had no allies. “I wish I could fly away,” she said. “Anywhere but this country.”

Benjamin’s mother had been silent, afraid the woman would slam the door. As if coaxing a cowering animal, she said that Benjamin told her that something in the home proved that the boys were innocent. The woman disappeared for a few moments. She returned and slipped Benjamin’s Bible through the narrow opening.

A Religious Shield

A Bible is not proof of anything.

This is Salvadoran society’s Catch-22 with ex-gang members: The Bible is only proof if we believe Benjamin. We cannot be sure he didn’t do it. And how are we to believe someone who we know is capable of so much harm?

The night the police tortured Benjamin, they found his Bible in his backpack and accused him of using it as a shield, of faking Christianity. The accusation isn’t without evidence. Some people have costumed themselves in evangelicalism while continuing to commit gang crimes. Or, even if Benjamin had actually retired, perhaps he participated in this one extortion to save his life. It was clear he had run out of options.

But the Salvadoran police also have a record of planting weapons and drugs on kids from poor communities, gang-identified or not, in order to arrest them.

I asked a retired member of MS-13 for their perception of the way the story ended. They reminded me that one potent gang tool to force retirees to reactivate was making false accusations to the police. Once the retiree is in the state’s hands — in prison — they’re also in the gang’s hands, because El Salvador jails gang members according to affiliation.

Another question is whether it matters. Benjamin’s goal was for someone to finally recognize that kids like him exist. Someone to ratify that he was doing everything possible to leave the battlefield. His goal was to share his process, in all its imperfections, in the hope that his story would loosen the chains that hold other kids hostage. He accomplished that goal at least.

But there is still a structure in place that prevented him — and many others — from achieving a sustainable new life. It’s a cage made of discrete bars. One is the iron fist: Mano dura inflates the power of gangs, legitimizes state abuses, and leaves unaddressed the injustices that cause the problem in the first place.

Another is the lack of options: Although employers are beginning to hire people like Benjamin — sometimes with careful support from U.S. federal agencies — this is still rare. Hiring them is far more labor-intensive for employers and involves risk. Ex-gang members are veterans of a particularly cruel and personal war, and they need acute, integrated emotional, logistical, and financial support to become civilians. El Salvador is full of hardworking unemployed people who’ve never been connected to gangs and don’t need that much from employers. So it’s less fraught to continue pushing gang members out of the equation, insisting that they are permanently ruined and must be locked up or disposed of, as if that weren’t a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In late 2017, Benjamin was found guilty of extortion and received a sentence of eight years in prison. His lawyer was a public defender who told me at one hearing, “He’s probably guilty. These kids always are.”

In May 2018, his mother sent me a short video by an international news agency about ex-gang evangelicals in the Gotera prison, where Benjamin is incarcerated. In it, there is a scene of a sea of inmates in white T-shirts, clapping and singing in a church service. And suddenly there he is. He stands among the throng, eyes closed, chin raised, mouth open in song.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and a fellowship with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, with support from the Ford Foundation.

The post What Happens When a Barrio 18 Soldier Tries to Leave the Gang appeared first on The Intercept.

These Activists Blocked Migrant Deportations. Now They Face Life Imprisonment in the U.K.

It was mid-afternoon on November 5 by the time Benjamin Smoke took the witness stand in a courthouse in Chelmsford, a small city about 30 miles northeast of London that voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in 2016. Smoke is 27 — a freelance journalist and activist with short, black hair, a selection of silver rings in his ears and nose, and no previous convictions. He wore a gray suit, although most of it was hidden behind the stand where he stood that afternoon, answering questions from his lawyer that aimed to explain, and justify, the actions that had led him to being charged with a terrorism-related offense.

On the night of March 28, 2017, Smoke and 14 other activists, now known as the Stansted 15, entered Stansted Airport, an international airport northeast of London, accompanied by two journalists. After cutting a hole in the airport’s perimeter fence, they made their way toward a Titan Airways Boeing 767. CCTV footage shows them approaching in two well-organized groups: Smoke’s group headed to the front of the aircraft, intending to lock themselves around it with double-layered pipes, and the other aimed for the plane’s left wing, constructing a two-meter pyramid structure out of scaffolding poles and then locking themselves to it. One person perched atop the structure, making it dangerous for security personnel to remove it.

They remained there, them and the plane immobile on the tarmac, until 8 a.m. the next morning, rain intermittently dampening them for 10 hours. According to some reports, the airport runway was shut down for about an hour and 20 minutes, and incoming flights were rerouted. Police officers arrived quickly, but it took a while for them to cut everyone out, sawing through the pipes securing the protesters’ arms to one another. By that point, it was obvious that the plane was not going anywhere. They had achieved their goal.

Smoke is a founding member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, a group created in 2015 to stand in solidarity with migrant communities in the U.K., and also part of End Deportations, a group campaigning to end deportations that originally formed around the Stansted action. They chose to focus on one particular aspect of the U.K.’s deportation system: charter flights. While some migrants and asylum-seekers are deported on commercial flights alongside passengers traveling for business or pleasure, others are deported via private flights chartered by the Home Office, the government department responsible for immigration, security, and law and order. The Titan plane around which the Stansted 15 locked themselves in March 2017 was one of the latter.

The activists believed that at least three people scheduled to be on that particular charter flight, bound for Nigeria and Ghana, were at risk of serious harm or even death upon return to their countries of origin. Smoke had heard of one woman, an out lesbian, who had fled an abusive marriage in Nigeria and whose ex-husband had said he would kill her upon her return. The British government had rejected her asylum application. Standing in the witness box, his voice occasionally growing quiet until his lawyer would remind him to speak loudly and slowly, Smoke explained that he had acted with an intent not to do harm but to protect people from the harm that he thought would result from deportation on the charter flight.

A passenger aircraft operated by Ryanair Holdings Plc exits the runway after landing at London Stansted Airport Ltd, operated by Manchester Airports Group Plc (MAG), in Stansted, U.K., on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. European airlines must manage intense competition on short-, medium- and long-haul routes, limiting profit gains even with lower fuel prices. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A passenger aircraft exits the runway after landing at Stansted Airport on Oct. 27, 2015.

Photo: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mystery surrounds deportation charter flights. They have been known to leave in the early hours before sunrise, sometimes from military bases instead of airports, and deportees, security escorts, and a few health care personnel are often the only people onboard. According to a report by Corporate Watch, a nonprofit research cooperative, the U.K. government began using charter flights for deportations in 2001.

The Home Office does not routinely publish data about its use of charter flights. However, Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the Home Office chartered 93 deportation flights from January 2016 through May 2018, including the flight grounded by the Stansted 15. Most of these flights went to Pakistan, Albania, Nigeria, and Ghana, although a few also flew to Germany, France, and Bulgaria. Some carried over 50 deportees; most had less than 20 passengers being deported because of a criminal conviction. These destinations have shifted over time as the population of asylum-seekers has changed: Charter deportation flights in 2014 also frequented Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The Stansted 15, along with many others who research or campaign around deportation, take issue with numerous aspects of deportation charter flights, starting with the way in which migrants and asylum-seekers are notified of them.

“It’s a weird numbers game where the government needs to fill seats on this plane to make it economically viable,” says Morten Thaysen, one of the co-founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants. There will often be “raids in the weeks leading up to the flight,” according to Thaysen. “People [are] being taken from marketplaces, workplaces, their home, and put in detention centers — these kind of immigration prisons — and then taken in the middle of the night on these secret flights where there are no witnesses. So it’s the brutality of how they function.”

“People are being taken in the middle of the night on these secret flights.”

Some people, activists also argue, are not notified of their impending deportation with enough time to appeal the decision. “We see so many people on these flights whose cases haven’t been properly finished, haven’t had their cases heard properly,” says Thaysen. The government is meant to provide those being deported on charter flights with notice of either 72 hours or five working days, depending on if the person is seeking a court injunction to defer their removal.

According to Matthew J. Gibney, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, the problem goes beyond short notice. Some groups of asylum-seekers, including men from Ghana and Nigeria, are not allowed to appeal their removal orders until they have been deported back to their country of origin. “There’s no appeal right for people from these various countries,” Gibney explains. Plus, he adds, “the Home Office is in charge of fulfilling the government’s demand that the number of people immigrating to the country is reduced, and it’s also in charge of granting asylum. So that looks a bit like a kind of conflict of interest, in some respects.”

Lacking the right to appeal can be a major disadvantage. Between April 2017 and March 2018, more than one-third of appeals that went to court resulted in the Home Office’s initial decision being overturned, according to The Guardian. It is, Gibney says, “a very, very large number that are successful on appeal to an independent body, and it does make you wonder about the quality of decision-making within the Home Office. I would certainly be pretty scared if I had to apply to the Home Office, and I was actually facing persecution because I don’t necessarily think their judgments are always sound.”

Once deportees are detained and the night of their flight arrives, they are driven by bus to an airport or military base and put on the plane. Here, too, many take issue with the process. In January 2018, the chief inspector of prisons, an independent inspector who reports on the treatment of those in prison, observed a deportation charter flight to France, Austria, and Bulgaria. His report highlights the use of “excessive” restraint on the passengers and describes the presence of 80 security escorts to accompany 23 deportees — more than three escorts per person. All but one of the 23 were restrained for the duration of the flight by a waist belt that restricted arm movement. The deportees were calm and, wrote the inspector, “restraints in these cases were not necessary, reasonable or proportionate.” (The Home Office declined to respond to any questions about its use of charter flights because the Stansted 15 trial is ongoing.)

It was these conditions that, Smoke and the other 14 believed, awaited the migrants and asylum-seekers who were scheduled to be deported on March 28, 2017, when they locked themselves together to keep that plane in place.

Outside Chelmsford crown court on the first day of the trial of the Stansted 15, on October 1st 2018 in Chelmsford, United Kingdom. The defendants and supporters gathered outside the court shortly before the trial starts. The 15 defendants are charged under terrorism legislation for stopping a deportation flight at Standsted airport in 2017. The flight was due to deport people back to Nigeria and Ghana with the action stoppiung the plane from taking off. Several of the deportees are still in the UK. (photo by Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Supporters gather outside Chelmsford crown court on the first day of the trial on Oct. 1, 2018.

Photo: Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images

The consequences of the Stansted 15’s actions that night have been far greater than anyone anticipated. The activists are now coming to the end of a six-week trial in Chelmsford; soon the 12-person jury will reach a verdict. Originally charged with aggravated trespass — a charge they readily accept — the Stansted 15 have since additionally been charged with intentional disruption of services at an aerodrome. This charge falls under the “Endangering safety at aerodromes” section of the U.K.’s Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, a law intended to fight terrorism. The potential lifetime sentence accompanying this charge, as well as the fact that the attorney general is required to approve its use on a case-by-case basis, makes clear its severity.

There is little precedent for fighting a charge from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act — in 18 years, it has been used very rarely. Amnesty International has been observing the Stansted 15 trial, concerned that this charge “may have been brought to discourage other activists from taking non-violent direct action in defence of human rights.” Kate Allen, Amnesty International’s U.K. director, wrote, “We’re concerned the authorities are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut with this case.”

“We’re concerned the authorities are using a sledgehammer to crack a nut with this case.”

That a charge intended as a counterterrorism measure is being used against nonviolent protesters has shocked many. There remains debate about what Parliament truly intended when it passed the act back in 1990 and if nonviolent action falls within its scope. The transcript of a January 1990 parliamentary discussion of the bill offers some hints. In it, Cecil Parkinson, then secretary of state for transport, explains, “The protocol commits us to making it an offence under our law to carry out armed attacks at international airports and to cause damage or disruption at such airports.” He later says that the act is “to be an effective means of countering terrorism.”

John Prescott, then a member of Parliament for Hull East, described the bill as an attempt to “make it more difficult for cowardly acts of terrorism to occur or for bombs to be planted on aircraft and planes — devices like those which have already killed hundreds of innocent passengers.”

Here, then, it becomes clear why the activists’ intent to prevent harm, rather do harm, matters. In court on November 5, the defense lawyer tried to establish that Smoke had acted because he thought people were in genuine peril and that he had taken into consideration the safety of everyone involved. Safety, Smoke emphasized, had been “integral to every single conversation that was going on at the time.” Was he intending to put himself in danger? “Absolutely not.” Anybody else in danger? “No, quite the opposite.”

When Tony Badenoch, speaking for the prosecution, began interrogating Smoke, the line of questioning shifted. Now, the focus was on establishing that he cares about fairness, does not wish for harm to come to his fellow human beings, and accepts that we all have to live in accordance with the rule of law. To do otherwise, Badenoch suggested, would be anarchy. A woman in the public gallery let out a chuckle; Smoke hesitated before affirming the lawyer’s statement. What Badenoch was getting to was the idea that it would create risks if everyone made up their own rules. Smoke and the rest of the Stansted 15, he said, had self-selected their own rules.


Ewa Jasiewicz, far right, addresses a crowd of supporters outside Chelmsford crown court on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Rebeca Nathanson for The Intercept

That morning, hours before Smoke began giving evidence in court, about 100 people had gathered in front of the Chelmsford courthouse with signs reading, “Deportation flights kill,” and “The ONLY people in danger were on the plane.” Ewa Jasiewicz, a member of End Deportations who had come from Manchester, was leading the rally. “What our friends have tried to do is shine a light on this brutal process, and they’ve tried to stop it at the point of the actual deportation,” she explained. “They’d exhausted all other means to intervene in this process. They’re trying to prevent greater crime from taking place, which is that of people being deported back to danger, back to death, back to violence.”

The long trial has led to both an outpouring of support for the defendants and outrage over the severity of their charges, bringing together people from anti-war, anti-racist, and climate justice movements. And despite what the city’s pro-Brexit vote may imply, the activists have also been met with solidarity in Chelmsford, where locals have housed them for the duration of the trial. Sabina Nussey and her daughter, Helena, have been housing two defendants. At the rally, Sabina’s coat bore a “We demand a people’s vote” button, a reference to the campaign to hold another Brexit referendum. “They are both the same age as my children,” explained Sabina of the activists staying with her family. “I think they stood up and did something and the least we can do is try and give them the support.”

She wasn’t alone in that feeling: Later that day, the bishop of Chelmsford appeared in the courtroom to show his support. Last spring, about 50 prominent writers and activists, including feminist activist Gloria Steinem and Intercept columnist Naomi Klein, published a letter calling for the charges to be dropped and for the government to stop chartering deportation flights.

Raising awareness of the government’s use of deportation charter flights — a practice that was not widely known prior to the Stansted 15 — has been a welcome side effect of the trial and the charges facing the defendants. But that is just one of the ways in which the Stansted 15’s action made an impact: It did, in fact, stop some of the people meant to be on the Titan Airways flight from being deported. According to a Freedom of Information request, as of July this year, 11 people scheduled for the March 28, 2017 flight remained in the U.K.

Arising from this trial are two debates: that of criminalizing nonviolent protest and that of the legality, and ethics, of deportation charter flights. The jury will decide on the former in a matter of days; the latter may remain open after the case reaches its close. Activists, however, see that debate as having a clear winner. “Their action resulted in 11 people still being here in the U.K. with their friends and family,” implored Jasiewicz, standing outside the courthouse that morning. “So it’s an act of human solidarity and defense and resistance to an increasingly brutal border regime.” She told me that previous organizing against deportations on commercial flights by pressuring airlines had seen some success — and, she believes, had resulted in an increase in charter flights. “We’re trying to intervene in this. We think it’s our human duty to do that and the state doesn’t like it.”

The post These Activists Blocked Migrant Deportations. Now They Face Life Imprisonment in the U.K. appeared first on The Intercept.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s Long Record of Justifying Police Misconduct and Shootings

Chicago detective Dante Servin shot Rekia Boyd in the back of the head late on a warm night in March 2012. Servin was an off-duty detective, a 20-year Chicago police veteran who lived on the block of the shooting, just off Douglas Park on the city’s West Side. Boyd was a 22-year-old African-American woman hanging out in the park with some friends. She was unarmed.

As police converged on the scene, Servin told his fellow officers that he had asked Boyd and her friends to quiet down as he drove out of the alley next to his house. According to Servin, a man in the group, Antonio Cross, responded by pointing a gun at him. Servin then fired five shots over his shoulder from inside his car. One hit Cross’s hand. Another hit Boyd, who fell to the ground.

Ambulances rushed both victims to the hospital while detectives prepared charges against Cross. Officers, including a canine team, spread out to look for the gun Servin claimed he had seen. Meanwhile, Servin freely wandered the scene, talking with a succession of detectives and police supervisors.

Soon, a deputy chief named Eddie Johnson took command of the crowd of officers outside Servin’s house. As the designated on-call incident commander, Johnson assumed responsibility for the department’s initial investigation of the shooting. The OCIC is a central part of the department’s response to police shootings, operating at the scene “with the authority of the superintendent of police,” according to Chicago Police Department regulations.

Johnson faced a difficult task. The first hours after the shooting were marked by conflicting accounts from Servin and multiple civilian witnesses. The undisputed facts of the case were also disturbing: An off-duty officer had shot an unarmed woman in the head. And he had fired into a group of civilians, typically a violation of department rules.

Yet Johnson and the officers under his direct command proceeded to make a number of troubling decisions. In the days after the shooting, witnesses told investigators that Servin appeared to have been drinking. When asked several months after the shooting if he had been drinking that night, Servin told a film crew, “That’s my damn business.” Police investigators waited six hours to administer a blood alcohol test.

Detectives also discovered cameras mounted on Servin’s house that looked directly over the scene of the shooting. When Servin said the cameras didn’t work, instead of insisting on inspecting them or obtaining a search warrant, detectives dropped the matter, eventually asking him to sign an affidavit swearing that the cameras were inoperable.

Detectives also quickly uncovered evidence that Cross had been unarmed. Civilian witnesses denied that Cross had a weapon, and although there was a trail of blood and dashcam footage clearly showing Cross’s path after the shooting, police were unable to find a gun. Despite these findings, police asked prosecutors to charge Cross with felony assault and issued a press release falsely claiming that Servin had fired only after Cross began to “approach him with a handgun” and “pointed the weapon in the direction of the detective.”

At 10:40 a.m., about nine hours after the shooting, Johnson concluded his initial investigation into Servin’s use of force and endorsed the detective’s account in his official use of force report. “Based on the facts available at this time, Officer Servin acted in compliance with department policy,” he wrote, approving Servin’s decision to open fire. “Officer Servin fired his weapon at the offender after the offender pointed a firearm at Officer Servin.” Johnson did not check the box in his report that would have recommended the case for further investigation. The official use of force report Johnson signed never mentioned Rekia Boyd.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 21:  Martinez Sutton (2nd L) speaks about the shooting death of his sister Rekia Boyd by Chicago police detective Dante Servin as his mother Angela Helton (3rd L) covers up her face during a rally to mark the finishing of March2Justice April 21, 2015 at the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Dozens of marchers took part in an eight-day, 250-mile-long march from Staten Island, New York to the nation's capital to demand congressional intervention to tackle "the national crisis of police violence."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Martinez Sutton, second from left, speaks about the shooting death of his sister, Rekia Boyd, by Chicago police detective Dante Servin as his mother Angela Helton, next to him, covers up her face during a rally for “March2Justice” on April 21, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Boyd died the next day. In the weeks that followed, the official police narrative unraveled. Search teams never found Cross’s alleged gun at the scene. Cross also continued to insist that he had been holding only his cellphone. Five people eventually testified that he was unarmed that night. Police dashcam video also shows that Cross flagged down a police car within moments of the shooting. “I wanted police to catch the person who shot me,” he later testified. Within a week, 200 protesters rallied in Douglas Park, and Boyd’s case helped fuel a national movement to end police violence against black women. Eventually, prosecutors dropped charges against Cross, and the city paid Boyd’s family a $4.5 million settlement. Servin was eventually indicted for involuntary manslaughter, but charges were abruptly dismissed after a judge ruled that prosecutors should have charged him with murder.

On November 23, 2015 — three and a half years after the shooting — Superintendent Garry McCarthy initiated the process of firing Servin. Less than 24 hours later, faced with a court order, his department also released video footage of the police killing of Laquan McDonald.

That grainy dashcam footage of Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots into a teenager upended Chicago, sending thousands of protesters into the streets. Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired McCarthy and delivered an emotional speech, in which he apologized for McDonald’s death and acknowledged the existence of a police “code of silence” — a stunning admission in a city where the political establishment has long paid deference to the police. Emanuel promised that the CPD’s next leader would be a transformational figure, declaring that he was “looking for a new leader for the Chicago Police Department to address the problems at the very heart of the policing profession.”

Four months later, Emanuel announced his choice: Eddie Johnson, the 27-year police veteran who had approved Rekia Boyd’s shooting as a justified use of force.

FILE - In this Oct. 20, 2014 file image taken from dash-cam video provided by the Chicago Police Department, Laquan McDonald, right, walks down the street moments before being fatally shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago. After days of prosecutors making their case to jurors that Van Dyke committed first-degree murder when he shot the black teenager 16 times, Van Dyke's attorneys are presenting their own evidence. And almost immediately their strategy became clear: The teenager was a violent, dangerous, knife-wielding suspect "on "a rampage" that Van Dyke was forced to kill. (Chicago Police Department via AP, File)

An image taken from dashcam video provided by the Chicago Police Department shows Laquan McDonald, right, walking down the street moments before being fatally shot by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago on Oct. 20, 2014.

Photo: Chicago Police Department via AP

A Pattern of Unlawful Force

In early 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a comprehensive report on the Chicago Police Department, concluding an investigation opened in the aftermath of the Laquan McDonald video release. Finding a “pattern of unlawful force” by officers, the DOJ declared that “the failure to review and investigate officer use of force has helped create a culture in which officers expect to use force and not be questioned about the need for or propriety of that use.”

Craig Futterman, a civil rights attorney and law professor at the University of Chicago Law School who helped lead a lawsuit that sought to force the CPD to undergo court-monitored reform, said that Johnson’s actions on the night of Rekia Boyd’s shooting could be described as “investigation as cover-up.”

“My assessment is that he did indeed in this case endorse a false report in affirmatively writing and documenting, despite the absence of evidence of a gun, that this is a justified shooting because the person had been pointing a gun,” Futterman said.

At least one CPD official has been punished for making a similar decision: Chicago’s inspector general recommended that Deputy Chief David McNaughton be fired in part for signing off on a false use of force form in the killing of Laquan McDonald. McNaughton quietly retired soon after.

In an interview with CBS Chicago shortly after his selection as superintendent, Johnson insisted that he could direct Chicago’s police reforms, declaring, “I’ve actually never encountered police misconduct, ’cause you got to understand, officers that commit misconduct don’t do it in front of people that they think are going to hold them accountable for it.”

The statement was widely mocked, with one columnist questioning whether the superintendent had “come down with a case of temporary misconduct blindness.” But few publicly considered another explanation for the baffling statement — that Johnson was telling the truth and saw shootings like Boyd’s not as misconduct, but as acceptable police procedure.

In fact, the Rekia Boyd case was not an aberration. An investigation of Johnson’s record, drawing on documents obtained by the Invisible Institute via litigation and included in the Citizens Police Data Project, shows that he repeatedly approved police shootings or ignored allegations of excessive force over his years as a supervisor, consistently finding that they did not qualify as misconduct.

Dante Servin’s use of force report from the night of Rekia Boyd’s shooting. Servin did not mention Boyd in his report. Eddie Johnson approved Servin’s decision to use force about nine hours after the shooting.

In a decade as a senior CPD supervisor, Johnson personally investigated or commanded the officers responsible for six controversial shootings that left five people dead — all young African-Americans — and cost Chicago more than $13 million in misconduct payments. Moreover, Johnson’s tenure as commander of Chicago’s 6th Police District from 2008 to 2011 was marred by serious allegations of misconduct by an elite tactical squad led by a scandal-plagued lieutenant named Glenn Evans. During six months in 2010, members of the roughly 45-person team participated in the fatal shootings of three men, all unarmed or fleeing. During the same period, the entire rest of the CPD killed four people. Another of Johnson’s officers was credibly accused of killing a teenager and planting a gun on his body. After his promotion to deputy chief in 2011, Johnson reviewed and approved more disputed shootings, including the killing of Boyd and a case in which an officer fatally shot a teenager in the back. Johnson was recently called to testify in that final case, but otherwise neither Johnson nor Emanuel has ever acknowledged the superintendent’s involvement in some of the department’s most notorious recent police shootings.

Johnson’s history in the department raises troubling questions about the future of police reform in Chicago. Although Emanuel has announced that he won’t be seeking re-election, he will nonetheless wield considerable power over Chicago’s new police oversight agreement during his remaining half-year in office. Emanuel also appointed Johnson with the unanimous approval of Chicago’s City Council, circumventing the official process and ignoring two outside reformers carefully vetted by Chicago’s Police Board. No politician or newspaper raised the issue of Johnson’s involvement in some of the department’s most notorious scandals. Can a man whose career embodies the CPD’s failure to rigorously review and investigate officers’ use of force — the unlawful pattern the recent Department of Justice report placed at the center of the reform agenda — transform the department?

Chicago police Cmdr. Glenn Evans arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. A judge acquitted Evans on charges he shoved his gun down a man's throat despite evidence showing the alleged victim's DNA on Evans' gun. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Chicago police Cmdr. Glenn Evans arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on Dec. 14, 2015.

Photo: Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

A Guideline and Nothing More

Johnson first took charge of Chicago’s 6th District in March 2008. The predominately African-American district stretches from blocks along West 79th Street that rank among the city’s poorest to the tidy, middle-class bungalows of Chatham that have been home to generations of the city’s black political, business, and civic leaders.

Johnson had risen quickly through the ranks of the CPD. Just a year earlier, he had been a sergeant, a position that typically directs up to a few dozen officers. As a district commander, he was now responsible for approximately 350 police officers serving 105,000 residents.

As the CPD — like departments nationwide — places increasing emphasis on data-driven policing, its commanders face relentless pressure to produce good numbers: high arrest figures and declining reports of crimes. Upon assuming his new post, Johnson made changes, picking a new leader for his tactical team. Such teams — usually composed of roving plainclothes officers — handle more aggressive police work, serving warrants and targeting high-crime corners. The size of the tactical team varied slightly over time, but typically there were between 40 and 45 officers. Assignment to a tactical team is often a step up for patrol officers, but it also brings extra risks. Johnson chose a hard-charging lieutenant named Glenn Evans to lead his tactical team.

“These kinds of units are almost by definition likely to be involved in more use of force incidents,” said Sam Walker, a policing expert from the University of Nebraska who consults with police departments, including the CPD. “Departments have to take special precautions in terms of clear policies, much closer supervision, than would be the case with just regular patrol units.”

Many officers and residents respected Evans’s dedication to police work — he was known to sleep in his office and patrolled the streets alongside his officers — but he also racked up dozens of complaints and several lawsuits as he rose through the ranks. A formal investigation into a 2005 complaint by Evans’s ex-girlfriend found that he called her a “whore” and damaged her car. The city also paid a nearly $100,000 settlement after a partially paralyzed city worker accused Evans of beating him up. Those cases were not outliers. A report on 1,500 CPD officers compiled by a former epidemiologist and obtained by WBEZ showed that Evans garnered more excessive force complaints than any other officer between 1988 and 2008.

In a sworn deposition taken in 2015, Evans displayed a cavalier attitude toward CPD procedures, declaring that “department orders are a guideline and nothing more.”

Johnson knew Evans long before he moved him to the tactical team. Early in their careers, the two served together as patrolmen in the 6th District. Both were also among the small number of black officers in the CPD’s upper ranks. Johnson explained his support for Evans in a 2017 deposition: “He had a reputation as being a good aggressive officer.”

Evans’s approach to policing soon triggered a backlash, and allegations of excessive force began to swirl around his tactical team as a cadre of younger officers with lengthy complaint records joined the squad. Among the new additions was Jason Landrum, who had shot three people in five years, including a man he shot in the stomach after his partner handcuffed him to a fence.

The new officers appear to have had a major impact on the squad. By mid-2011, toward the end of Johnson’s tenure as commander, officers serving on his tactical team had received an average of seven complaints each over the previous three years, a 70 percent increase from when he took over the district and four times that of the average CPD officer.


Graphic: Moiz Syed/The Intercept

A string of lawsuits accompanied the complaints. The city paid a settlement of nearly $500,000 after allegations that a 6th District officer shoved a man down a flight of stairs — fracturing his leg — and a tactical officer shot his dog. A nearly $41,000 settlement followed allegations that tactical officers handcuffed a man with a heart condition and then tased him twice, and a $60,000 settlement came after a man alleged that tactical officers illegally searched him and then harassed him after he filed a complaint. A woman named Rita King alleged that Evans fractured her nose inside the 6th District headquarters, repeatedly telling her, “I’m going to push your nose through your brain.” The city of Chicago paid King $100,000 to settle her case.

Beyond the lawsuits, Johnson reviewed many of the formal complaints in his capacity as commander. In one case, a woman accused Evans of unjustly shooting her dog. Investigators cleared Evans despite acknowledging that all five non-police witnesses had provided accounts that “drastically contradict” Evans’s explanation of the shooting. Johnson affirmed that the shooting was justified.

The growing stream of brutality complaints and lawsuits against the tactical team reached its peak in 2010, when tactical officers were involved in three fatal shootings — all of which killed young men who were unarmed or fleeing — in just six months.

The first took place in July, when two tactical officers approached a young black motorist named William Hope Jr., who was parked outside of a Popeyes around lunchtime. According to the officers, Hope responded by trying to run over one of the officers with his car. The officer’s partner then fired four shots, fatally wounding the 24-year-old.

A lawsuit brought by Hope’s family presented a starkly different account. On the witness stand, one of the officers admitted that Hope’s car had been moving at three miles per hour, matching eyewitnesses who claimed that Hope presented no danger to the officers. Ultimately, the jury ruled that the shooting was unjustified and awarded Hope’s family over $4.5 million. The verdict also ordered the officers to present the case to police recruits as an example of bad policing.

Less than two months later, officers took off in pursuit of a motorist named Garfield King. King had fled a routine traffic stop, worried that officers would find his illegal gun. The multi-car pursuit ended in a collision between King’s vehicle and a police car. King’s car caught fire, and two officers suffered fractured bones. Seven officers, including three tactical officers and two 6th District patrolmen, then opened fire, killing King and wounding his girlfriend, one of three unarmed passengers who had been trying to convince King to surrender. She later told investigators that King never tried to use the gun. The officers who chased King and fired 30 shots into his car knew only that he had fled a traffic stop.


A photograph of Garfield King’s car. After a high-speed chase, his car collided with an unmarked police vehicle. Officers claimed that he then tried to hit officers with his car. Seven officers fired 30 shots at King, killing him and wounding his unarmed girlfriend who had been trying to convince King to surrender.

Photo: Chicago Police Department

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, ruled the shooting justified, but the department’s policy at the time stated that “when confronted with an oncoming vehicle and that vehicle is the only force used against them, sworn members will move out of the vehicle’s path.” The Department of Justice later raised concerns about shootings of motorists as well, pointing out that “shooting at a moving vehicle is inherently dangerous and almost always counterproductive.”

Troubling details also emerged about the third tactical team shooting, when tactical officer Tracey Williams shot and killed Ontario Billups in December 2010. Williams claimed that Billups menaced her with a dark object, possibly a handgun. Investigators eventually confirmed that Billups was unarmed. The dark object Williams saw was likely a plastic bag of marijuana. The city paid Billups’s family $500,000 to avoid a trial.

Reached by phone, Glenn Evans said that both his lawyer and the CPD superintendent’s office, “told me not to speak, but I will until they give me a direct order not to.” Evans proceeded to defend his officers, highlighting a 2010 case in which a suspect opened fire on tactical officers, including Evans. Officers resolved the situation peacefully. “We were able to talk it out. … We didn’t beat anyone up, we didn’t torture anyone, we didn’t abuse anyone.”

Evans said that the officers involved in the three fatal shootings in 2010 were “exceptional officers, exceptionally decorated … extremely good officers.” When asked about the names of the three men killed by his officers — Ontario Billups, William Hope Jr., and Garfield King — Evans said, “I don’t even know who these guys are.”

Chicago Police officers serving on the 6th District Tactical Team in May 2011. Graphic: Invisible Institute

The killings of Billups, Hope, and King within a six-month period by members of a single squad of 45 officers was highly unusual. During the second half of 2010, the other members of the CPD — nearly 13,000 officers — killed just four people. “If [a tactical squad] has more of these incidents compared with other tactical squads, there’s an obvious issue there related to supervision,” said Walker, the policing expert.

Commanders are generally “very aware” of misconduct investigations involving their officers and have wide authority over their tactical teams, said Robert Lombardo, a 30-year CPD veteran who later served as deputy chief of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department and is now a criminal justice professor at Loyola University Chicago. “If they have a personal concern, as they’re called, you put them back in uniform. You take them off the TACT team,” he said. “They have no right to the TACT team, it’s not in the contract. You serve at the pleasure of the commander, so if he doesn’t like the way you’re working, you go back in uniform and he puts someone else there.”

Following the fatal shootings, none of the officers were moved off the squad or off the street. Nor was Evans, their supervisor, reassigned, choices that had serious consequences. Over the next five years, the seven 6th District officers who fired shots in the three fatal shootings would open fire another eight times — nearly 30 times the CPD average. Those subsequent shootings, many in the 6th District, wounded four people and left 19-year-old Niko Husband dead.

The officer who shot Husband was Marco Proano, a non-tactical officer who had also fired shots in the killing of Garfield King. Proano was one of a number of regular patrol officers accused of serious misconduct while serving under Eddie Johnson.

Proano killed Husband outside a South Side dance hall in July 2011. Officers claimed that the teenager was holding a young woman hostage and brandishing a gun. The same woman testified in court that she was a childhood friend of Husband’s and that the two had been hugging when the officers approached. She also denied that her friend had a gun. A jury awarded Husband’s family $3.5 million after a trial in which the family’s lawyer alleged that Proano and two other officers had planted a gun on Husband’s body after killing him. Under Johnson, Proano was not punished. The CPD instead awarded him a medal for valor for the shooting.

FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2017, file photo, former Chicago police Officer Marco Proano leaves the federal building in Chicago. Proano's scheduled sentencing Monday, Nov. 20, 2017 comes three months after he was convicted of using excessive force in violation of the victims' civil rights. Prosecutors want a sentence up to eight years in prison because Proano could have killed six teens when he fired indiscriminately into the car. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune via AP File)

Former Chicago police Officer Marco Proano leaves the federal building in Chicago on Aug. 28, 2017.

Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune via AP

In November 2017, a federal jury convicted Proano on charges of using excessive force for firing multiple shots into a car full of unarmed black teenagers, injuring two, while on patrol in the 6th District in 2013, after Johnson had left his role as commander. Charges against Proano came after a retiring judge in a criminal case involving one of the teenagers leaked video of him shooting into the car to the Chicago Reporter, calling Proano’s actions one of the worst things he’d seen in over 30 years as a judge and public defender. He told the Reporter that “I’ve seen lots of gruesome, grisly crimes, but this is disturbing on a whole different level.”

Proano’s shooting of Husband was one of four controversial shootings by non-tactical officers working in the 6th District under Johnson. These cases included two other fatal shootings in which either the autopsy or eyewitnesses raised questions about the police account. The city also paid a man $100,000 after he claimed that two 6th District officers shot him and then planted a gun on him.

Abuses by 6th District officers outside the tactical team during Johnson’s time as commander also led to major misconduct payments and criminal cases. A jury awarded $750,000 to a woman beaten by a 6th District officer who accused the 20-year-old of violating curfew. An Internal Affairs investigation also found that 6th District officers, including a lieutenant, covered for a drunk officer named Richard Bolling — the son of a retired CPD commander — after he struck and killed a 13-year-old out riding his bike. One unidentified officer promised Bolling that “I’m gonna try to help you out as much as possible.” Sixth District officers on the scene waited over two hours to administer a sobriety test. Bolling was eventually sentenced to three years in prison.

The shootings and other misconduct allegations cost taxpayers millions. The Invisible Institute analyzed unit assignment data and a Chicago Reporter database that tracks all police misconduct payments from 2011 through 2016. Johnson’s 6th District was just one of 25 police districts but accounted for roughly $8 million, fully one-sixth of the entire CPD’s misconduct payments during his time as commander. Since the end of 2016, Chicago has paid at least another $3.7 million related to misconduct by 6th District officers during Johnson’s time as commander.

Over Johnson’s tenure, dozens of officers serving on the tactical team were involved in lawsuits that led to settlements totaling $6 million. That total accounted for a huge share of overall CPD misconduct payments, costing the city about $130,000 for each of the team’s roughly 45 officers — nearly 40 times the average for all other CPD officers.

Walker, the University of Nebraska police accountability expert, argues that Johnson’s handling of misconduct as a commander has a strong bearing on his role as superintendent. “It’s another reason why he’s probably not qualified for his current job,” he said. “He just doesn’t think in terms of these kind of problems or see them as problems and take corrective action. … He’s just not qualified to be the chief executive of a police department, especially one as large and complex as Chicago.”

Patricia Green, 44, with a picture of her son Christian Green at home in Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Her 17-year-old son Christian Green was fatally shot in the back by Officer Robert Gonzalez on the Fourth of July 2013. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Patricia Green holds a picture of her son, Christian Green, at her home in Chicago on Jan. 13, 2016. Her 17-year-old son was fatally shot in the back by Officer Robert Gonzalez on July 4, 2013.

Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

Get the Officer’s Back

Johnson left the 6th District in August 2011, and from 2012 to 2014, he served as deputy chief of patrol for Area Central, directly supervising nine district commanders.

Johnson’s time as a deputy chief followed a similar pattern as his tenure as commander. He was credited with major reductions in gun crime and murders in 2013 (though only after a spike in 2012), while continuing to sign off on cases like the shooting of 17-year-old Christian Green. As the on-call incident commander in that shooting, Johnson took aside the four officers who witnessed the shooting and interviewed them one by one. The officers all gave Johnson similar accounts: Green had turned around and pointed a gun at pursuing officers, prompting one to return fire. Johnson also conferred with detectives on the scene. He did not speak with any civilian witnesses, he said in a deposition.

Security cameras captured images of Green running from the police and carrying a gun. At one point, Green tried to throw the weapon in a trash can, but it bounced out. Green hurried back to collect it before sprinting off again. Green and his police pursuers then moved out of the cameras’ view. Moments later, he was dead.

One of the pursuing officers had fired 11 shots at the teenager. An eyewitness later testified that the officer stood over Green’s body and shouted, “Motherfucker! You wanna run? Huh? Huh? … You see how fucking far you got?” The same witness said that Green was running away and not facing the officer when he opened fire. Green’s gun was found in an abandoned lot, 75 feet from his body.

Johnson approved the officers’ use of force. While on the scene, he also gave a walkthrough to investigators from IPRA, telling them that Green had been shot in the chest when he turned to point his gun at officers. An autopsy would later reveal that Green had been shot in the back.

Officers investigate the scene of the police-involved shooting of Christian Green, 17, in the 5600 block of South State State on July 4, 2013 in Chicago. Officer Robert Gonzalez said Green turned and pointed a gun at him during a short chase through the Washington Park neighborhood. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

Officers investigate the scene of the police-involved shooting of Christian Green on July 4, 2013, in Chicago.

Photo: Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

In 2017, a jury found that the officer who killed Green had shot without cause and awarded his family $350,000. After the trial, the family’s attorney criticized the investigation overseen by Johnson, declaring that it “fell short on every level.”

Prior to the trial, Johnson testified in a deposition that he did not know that the shooter had previously belonged to a notorious crew led by Sgt. Ronald Watts. Just a year before Green’s shooting, Watts and his partner had been arrested for stealing money from an FBI drug informant. After Watts’s arrest, some questioned why the rest of his team — which included three of the four officers Johnson interviewed — remained on the street. Years later, as superintendent, Johnson placed all three on desk duty after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office found serious problems with over a dozen cases tied to Watts’s team, leading to the largest mass exoneration in Cook County history.

Aggressive officers like Glenn Evans also continued to receive Johnson’s support, even as allegations of excessive force followed him as he entered the highest ranks of the CPD. Evans took charge of the 3rd District in August 2012, becoming one of the nine district commanders who reported directly to Johnson. Former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a deposition obtained by WBEZ that he likely promoted Evans based on a recommendation from Johnson, though Johnson has disputed this.

Evans ultimately garnered nine complaints in two years as a commander, an exceptional amount for a senior official, who tend to receive far fewer complaints than street-level officers. Only 23 of Chicago’s roughly 13,000 officers received more complaints. One of the complaints against Evans concerned a man named Ricky Williams, who claimed that in 2013, Evans cornered him in an abandoned building and shoved his gun down his throat. Johnson directly supervised Evans at the time, but he and McCarthy took no action — even when IPRA recommended Evans be stripped of police powers after finding Williams’s DNA on his gun.

Evans was eventually indicted over the Williams incident in the summer of 2014. After a controversial acquittal the next year, the department demoted him to lieutenant. During Evans’s brief time as a commander, his subordinates killed two teenagers in troubling circumstances. Investigators ruled one shooting unjustified — though Chicago’s Police Board recently overturned their ruling — and recently reopened an investigation of the second after finding video contradicting officer accounts from the scene. The first shooting — a 15-year-old named Dakota Bright shot in the back of the head — took place while Evans reported directly to Johnson and led to a $925,000 settlement paid to Bright’s family.

“CPD standard operating procedure is, and has been for years, when an officer is accused of misconduct, when an officer uses force, it’s to justify it and circle the wagons and get the officer’s back,” said civil rights attorney Craig Futterman. “You don’t even need a conspiracy, it’s just standard operating procedures, and [Eddie Johnson] has been a part of that for 30 years.”

In response to a detailed list of questions for this article, Johnson provided the following statement:

During my entire career with the Chicago Police Department I have and will always approach every decision, action and investigation with the highest level of integrity and thoughtful deliberation of available facts and evidence. The trust between police and the community is paramount to everything we do and it is vitally important to me as the Police Superintendent and as a lifelong resident of Chicago. Since becoming Superintendent, I implemented a comprehensive reform agenda to solidify CPD’s path toward becoming a model agency that all of Chicago could be proud of. I support the federal consent decree and have embraced and advocated for investments into our police officers including, better training, support and mentoring. I also reinvigorated our community policing philosophy because CPD is only as strong as the community’s faith in our officers and we cannot create a safer Chicago without standing shoulder to shoulder with the people that live and work here.

All of the use of force incidents you reference have gone through an independent use of force investigation, a review by state or federal prosecutorial agency and independent deliberation by the then-Superintendent and Chicago Police Board. All of the answers to your inquiries can be found in the publicly available case records and court transcripts for those incidents.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 13: Eddie Johnson (L) speaks to the City Council with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (C) by his side after being sworn in as Chicago Police Superintendent on April 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Johnson had been acting as interim Police Superintendent after some maneuvering by Emanuel who rejected the candidates selected for the job by the Chicago Police Board.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Eddie Johnson speaks to the city council alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel after being sworn in as Chicago police superintendent on April 13, 2016.

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Gestures at Reform

Johnson took charge of the CPD in 2016, the same year Chicago endured a massive increase in homicides, with the murder rate jumping nearly 60 percent. Though homicides declined in 2017, they remained well above historic levels. Other types of crime also rose, with reported carjackings more than doubling between 2015 and 2017.

In the first months of his tenure, Johnson moved to implement some of the mayor’s key reform promises, greatly expanding the use of body cameras and supplying Tasers to more officers. The department rewrote its use of force rules, which reform advocates largely praised. Johnson also responded to some police shootings more forcefully than his predecessors, immediately suspending officers in a handful of officer-involved shootings, including a case in which an officer killed an unarmed teenager named Paul O’Neal.

But in the context of rising violence, calls to let the police return to their old ways are growing louder. Addressing the possibility of court oversight of the CPD, Fraternal Order of Police President Kevin Graham last year declared, “Already facing an explosion of crime because the police have been so handcuffed from doing their job by the intense anti-police movement in the city, this consent decree will only handcuff the police even further.”

Former CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy, now running for mayor, has voiced similar sentiments, denouncing the DOJ report and insisting that “the problem in Chicago is not the police.”

Faced with pressure from within his own ranks, Johnson has returned to a familiar approach to police shootings. He defended Officer Robert Rialmo, who shot and killed Quintonio LeGrier, a college student in the midst of an emotional disturbance, and Bettie Jones, a 55-year-old bystander, sparking pushback from several African-American aldermen. Johnson’s move to prevent Rialmo’s firing came after he also sought to block the firing of the officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Dakota Bright.

Two and a half years into Johnson’s appointment, Chicago’s police department is far from reformed. Three separate lawsuits filed last year — one by a broad civil rights coalition, including the Chicago branches of Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, and the Urban League, represented by civil rights attorneys Craig Futterman and Sheila Bedi; one from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and community groups such as the Community Renewal Society; and one from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office — all insisted that only court-overseen reforms will truly change the department. (Andrew Fan provided pro bono data analysis of a CPD use of force database to the first coalition suing the CPD).

The Madigan lawsuit pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel to begin negotiations to accept formal court oversight of police reforms in Chicago. In July, Madigan and Emanuel announced a 225-page draft consent decree that outlines sweeping changes that the department must complete in the coming years.

In early September, Emanuel’s announcement that he would not run for re-election jolted the mayoral race, prompting many of Chicago’s most prominent politicians to consider jumping into the contest. Many observers pointed to the approaching trial of Jason Van Dyke, the officer who killed Laquan McDonald, and the likelihood of renewed public attention toward Emanuel’s record on police misconduct as a key factor in his decision to step down.

Still, Emanuel will remain in office for over six months, during which time the city will finalize and begin to implement its historic court-ordered reforms. Emanuel’s unwillingness to embrace police reform is now as important as ever, with the mayor in a position of power but unconstrained by the threat of an election. Despite his repeated reform promises, in the wake of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Emanuel sought to strike a deal with then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that would have staved off court oversight of the CPD. Even after public pressure ended that effort, Emanuel spoke openly of his fear that reform could worsen the city’s crime rate, worrying that “other cities have done this to the police department and it’s come at the expense of public safety.”

The support of Emanuel and Johnson is crucial even with a formal consent decree. Chiraag Bains, a former DOJ attorney who worked on the federal investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department, argues that “the orientation of the political leadership and the leadership of the police department are key to whether the reform process is successful or not.”

Futterman echoed Bains’s point, but lamented that “sadly under this administration, I’m seeing the antithesis of that. A failure to own [the problem] and a lack of genuine commitment to address the realities that brought the DOJ to Chicago in the first place.”

FILE: Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, center, stops to talk to an officer in Chicago, May 29, 2016. The Chicago Police Department announced new rules on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, that restrict when officers can fire their guns or use other forms of force. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, center, stops to talk to an officer on May 29, 2016.

Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times via Redux

The problems posed by Eddie Johnson’s leadership extend far beyond the mayor who appointed him. When Emanuel appointed Johnson in early 2016, his hold on the mayor’s office was in jeopardy. After the release of the Laquan McDonald video, one poll showed that a majority of Chicago voters wanted him to resign. The selection process was a rare opportunity for Chicago’s City Council and the media to check the mayor during a moment of weakness, especially after the mayor picked an insider to run the police department even as he promised Chicago “nothing less than complete and total reform of the system.”

Rather than digging into Johnson’s record, political leaders and media outlets, in a deeply familiar Chicago process, instead fixated on Johnson’s political ties and loyalties. A Chicago Tribune editorial congratulated Emanuel on the politics of the pick, noting that “the mayor scored the support of the Black and Latino caucuses and the Fraternal Order of Police, a rare trifecta.”

None of the city’s major news outlets connected Johnson to his role in approving Rekia Boyd’s killing, despite devoting major coverage to Dante Servin’s trial less than a year prior. Chicago media also failed to report on Johnson’s record as a senior CPD leader, including the troubling pattern of killings hanging over his time as commander of the 6th District. Chicago’s aldermen, fresh from helping to push out McCarthy for his role in the McDonald shooting, approved Johnson by a vote of 50-0.

Chicago will soon decide on new leadership for the city and its police. With Emanuel’s retirement, voters have a wide range of options, including Garry McCarthy, Bill Daley — brother and son of former Chicago mayors — and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a supporter of police reform who once condemned McCarthy as a “racist bully boy.” With neither an incumbent nor an obvious frontrunner, the city faces perhaps its most wide-open mayoral contest since 1983.

Six years after Rekia Boyd’s killing jolted Chicago activists and three years after video of Laquan McDonald’s shooting channeled activist anger into a citywide movement, Chicagoans face a momentous choice on police reform.

How to fix Chicago’s police is a longstanding and difficult question, but this time the decision lies not in the hands of a powerful mayor, but with the people of Chicago.

This story will appear on the cover of next week’s issue of South Side Weekly, a nonprofit newspaper based on Chicago’s South Side.

Roman Rivera contributed data analysis.

The post Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson’s Long Record of Justifying Police Misconduct and Shootings appeared first on The Intercept.

US government accuses Chinese hackers of stealing jet engine IP

The Justice Department has charged ten Chinese nationals -- two of which are intelligence officers -- of hacking into and stealing intellectual property from a pair of unnamed US and French companies between January 2015 to at least May of 2015. The hackers were after a type of turbofan (portmanteau of turbine and fan), a large commercial airline engine, to either circumvent its own development costs or avoid having to buy it. According to the complaint by the Department of Justice, a Chinese aerospace manufacturer was simultaneously working on making a comparable engine. The hack afflicted unnamed aerospace companies located in Arizona, Massachusetts and Oregon.

Via: ZD Net

Source: US Department of Justice

Computer Science and Diversity

Today I saw a tweet quoting Mark Guzdial's blog saying "In last five years, little progress in increasing the fraction of American CS BS degree recipients who are African Americans."  It is a problem I've given quite a bit of thought to, but in my thinking, diversity is a problem I approached from another angle.  I've always been pleased that a large number of women have decided to work on the problems I care about.  When I came to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) I didn't come to "teach Computer Science."  I came to try to change the way we train, recruit, and equip cyber crime fighters.  I was fortunate that our department chairs in Computer Science (Anthony Skjellum) and Justice Sciences (John Sloan) believed that was something worth doing.  Since then, we've moved from having a certificate in Computer Forensics, to a Masters in Computer Forensics and Security Management, to a full Bachelors degree in Digital Forensics.  But the passion has stayed the same.  How do we train, recruit, and equip cyber crime fighters?

I hadn't realized that we were necessarily doing something unique until I had a visit from Jenn Lesser in April of 2013.  At the time, Jenn was the Security Operations Manager for Facebook.  We had a full agenda of things we were hoping to discuss with her, but something happened that halted all of that.  She came into my office, closed the door, and said  "You have SIX WOMEN working in your lab!  Would you mind if we cancel everything else and just let me interview them?"  At the time my lab was much smaller and that represented about 1/3rd of my employees. What Jenn learned was that most of the women in the lab were there because they wanted to fight crime, right wrongs, and serve the cause of Justice.  When they realized that learning to program and analyze hard drives, network traffic, and email headers could help serve that cause better, they were all in.

This fall, I'll have interactions with 83 students in the classroom and 28 of them are women. 11 of the 48 people on my lab payroll today are women, and I hope we'll hire several more at our job fair later this week! I should note that these are not "Computer Science" courses, but rather Computer Forensics courses being taught for Criminal Justice credit.

How do we recruit women?  It's the same as what our ladies told Jenn Lesser back in 2013.  None of them come to our program because they want to write code.  They come because they want to dedicate themselves to the cause of Justice, and they have learned, perhaps in an introductory course from myself or my colleague Arsh Arora, or perhaps in an introductory course from Criminal Justice professor Martha Earwood, that being skilled in technology is a force multiplier.  If you want to protect the financial assets of the elderly, technology helps.  If you want to identify and stop child predators and human traffickers, technology helps.  If you want to fight against hate speech on the Internet or cyber bullying in the schools, technology helps.  If you want to identify and stop the malware that it is stealing our data, finances, and intellectual property, technology helps.

As I was reading through Guzdial's blog post and following the linked stories, I read Kenneth Bowman's post on African American Computer Science enrollment, and also the 2017 Taulbee Survey on Computer Science Enrollment from the Computer Research Association.

The Taulbee survey has some stark numbers for US Citizen, Female, and African American enrollment in Computer Science at all levels.

At the PhD Level

In the US and Canada, they found 124 Computer Science departments awarded 1,557 PhDs.  891 went to "non-resident aliens."  291 went to Females.  10 went to African Americans.  Of the 291 females, 164 were non-resident aliens.  Of the American females, 64 were White, 27 Asian, 4 Black, and 2 Hispanic.

Of 12,689 PhD students currently studying Computer Science in 135 departments, 8,058 (64.3%) are non-resident aliens, 2,734 (21.1%) are female, and 170 are African American.

What about Masters Level?

132 US Computer Science departments awarded 12,483 Masters degrees last year.  8,813 (73.8%) are non-resident aliens.  26.1% of those students who reported a gender were female (3,162 females and 8,956 males). 111 (0.9%) of the students were Black.  Of the 3,162 females, 2,462 (81%) were non-resident aliens.  Of the American females, 272 were Asian, 250 were White, 32 were Hispanic, and 24 were Black.

Of the 25,126 currently enrolled Masters students in Computer Science, 16,414 are non-resident aliens.  Of the 6,682 females, 5,183 are non-resident aliens.  Of the 1,499 resident females, 661 are White, 620 Asian, 95 Hispanic, and 81 Black.

And at the Bachelor's Level?

131 reporting US Computer Science departments awarded 19,907 Bachelors degrees last year. At the Bachelor's level, we have a much greater percentage of American students.  Only 12.5% of these were non-resident aliens.  But of those remaining 15,433 students, only 547 were Black.  Of the 3,198 female Bachelor's degrees awarded, 2669 went to Americans women.  Of these, 1,110 (35%) were White, 1,104 (35%) were Asian, 200 (6%) were Hispanic, and 93 (3%) were black.

Of the 86,569 students currently enrolled in Computer Science Bachelor's programs, 10,704 were non-resident aliens.  Of the 75,865 citizens in CS BS programs, 13,358 (17.6%) were female. By ethnicity, 39,416 (51.9%) were White, 21,113 (27.8%)  were Asian, 8,395 (11%) were Hispanic, and 3800 (5%) were Black.

The Question

The question that data like this leaves me with is this?  Could it be that the lack of interest in Computer Science from women and minorities (especially African Americans) is similar to what I've found in my lab?  Perhaps the key to encouraging Computer Science is to look at it rather than a Subject to be studied, but as a Tool to be Mastered to enable the study of something else?  Computer Science as a tool (in my case) to improving your ability to help fight for Justice.  Computer Science as a tool to improving your ability to fight disease and illness.  Computer Science as a tool to improving your ability in economics. Computer Science as a tool to improving your ability to fight poverty.

Instead of asking "How to we get more women (or blacks) to study Computer Science?" Perhaps we should be asking "How can we learn what women (and blacks) want to make their life's work and show them how Computer Science can help make them do their life's work better?"