Exonerated After Execution: Judge Tosses Teen’s Murder Conviction

I wonder how many similar cases were not reported? Perhaps simply lynchings with no court records or police reports were the norm back then.

The reality of America’s hatred toward people of color hit me while in the 3rd grade when I saw the horrible pictures of Emmet Till, 14 who was beaten and killed for whistling at a white woman.

That incident was an fearful awakening to the racist nature of my country.

NBC News

Seventy years after South Carolina executed a 14-year-old boy so small he sat on a phone book in the electric chair, a circuit court judge threw out his murder conviction.

On Wednesday morning, Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the decision against George Stinney Jr., a black teen who was convicted of beating two young white girls to death in the small town of Alcolu in 1944.

Civil rights advocates have spent years trying to get the case reopened, arguing that Stinney’s confession was coerced. At the time of his arrest, Stinney weighed just 95 pounds. Officials said Stinney had admitted beating the girls, 11 and 8 years old, with a railroad spike.

In a 2009 affidavit, Stinney’s sister said she had been with him on the day of the murders and he could not have committed them.

Stinney was put on trial and then executed within three months of the killings. His trial lasted three hours, and a jury of 12 white men took 10 minutes to find him guilty.

He is often cited as the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. At the time of the crime, 14 was the legal age of criminal responsibility in the state.

ERIC HOLDER’S PARTING SHOT

Eric Holder's parting shot: Police abuse scandals mean the nation has "failed"

Eric Holder (Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron)

Salon ~ Joan Walsh

Holder’s frank comments, plus the president opening up about being mistaken for a valet, show a new candor on race

Attorney General Eric Holder got himself virtually muzzled early in President Obama’s first term, when he called the U.S. “a nation of cowards” for our inability to deal frankly with issues of race. On his way out the door, he’s not worried about his critics. He told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that ongoing troubles in limiting police violence mean “we, as a nation have failed. It’s as simple as that. We have failed.”

It’s a grim verdict, but it’s hard to quarrel. Holder was a deputy U.S. attorney back in 2001, when the Justice Department announced it would not prosecute the New York police officers who famously fired 41 shots at unarmed immigrant Amadou Diallo, hitting him 19 times. Though Justice concluded it couldn’t make a civil rights case against the officers, Holder warned at the time:  ”We must learn from this deeply troubling incident. Mr. Diallo, an unarmed individual who committed no crime and no act of aggression, unnecessarily lost his life.”

Now, 13 years later, similar “deeply troubling” incidents still occur regularly, and they’ve touched off a new movement for reform. While Holder speaks in measured ways, throughout the interview, about the mutual distrust between police and “communities of color,” and the work the Justice Department is doing to bridge those gaps, he places himself within the national reform movement. For a while he uses “they” when talking about protesters, but then he shifts significantly to “we.”

“That’s all we’re asking for — just make the nation better,” he tells Reid. And the interview wraps.

On the same day the president opened up to People and said “There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional” who hasn’t been mistaken for a parking valet, Holder’s exit interview shows a new comfort with candor about race in Obama’s second term. It may make heads on the right explode, but so be it. Michelle Malkin is already howling about First Lady Michelle Obama’s story of being mistaken for a store clerk by a Target shopper on her incognito trip there in 2011.

In the interview with Reid — which is running in New York Magazine and airing on “The Reid Report” — Holder talks passionately about voting rights setbacks in recent years, calling out the Republican Party for its support of voter suppression measures, while praising GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner for his work to restore the Voting Rights Act.

This is a gut check for the Republican Party. Where do you stand? Are you gonna be true to the values and the history of a great party? Or are you gonna do something that, in the short term, is politically expedient but that, ultimately, you will find historically shameful?

He says he trusts his chosen successor, deputy U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, to continue his pursuit of voting rights violations – though at least one Republican, Sen. David Vitter, has vowed to block Lynch because of the president’s moves on immigration.

While Holder uses his elbows when it comes to issues, he’s diplomatic on the topic of whether race has been a factor in his tough relationship with the House GOP.

Hard to say. I mean, the attorney general seems to be, lately, the person, whether you are white, black, Republican, Democrat, who catches a lot of grief. So there’s that — that’s just a part of the position.

I can’t look into the hearts and minds of people who have been, perhaps, my harshest critics. I think a large part of the criticism is political in nature. Whether there is a racial component or not, I don’t know.

But when Reid asks if he still thinks we’re a nation of cowards when it comes to race, he doesn’t back down. “Yeah, we’ve not done all that we can. I’m hopeful that, at this time, with this president, that we can make progress in ways that we have not in the past.”

I still think the Cleveland Browns’ Andrew Hawkins’s eloquent remarks about why he wore a shirt protesting the police killings of Tamir Rice and John Crawford was hands down the most affecting talk about race this week. But Holder and the Obamas are doing their part to help the nation evolve beyond cowardice.

Police Union Head Says 12-Year-Old Was Threat To Cleveland Cop: ‘Absolutely’

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Screen capture – MSNBC’s All In

TPM LiveWire

In an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, the union president Jeffrey Follmer criticized Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins for wearing a T-shirt calling for justice in the killing. The union previously described the football player as “pathetic” in a statement.

But soon the conversation became heated. Follmer referred to the slain 12-year-old as “the male” throughout the interview and defended the officer.

“The video clearly shows, and by the officer’s statement, that they were justified in the deadly force,” Follmer said.

“You’re saying that the video clearly shows that the 12-year-old boy was an imminent lethal threat to the officers?” Melber asked.

“Oh, absolutely. I don’t know if you didn’t see it, but yeah absolutely,” the officer replied.

Melber stated that many have disagreed with Follmer’s characterization of the video, whichshows a police car pull up to Rice — who was carrying a non-lethal pellet gun — and shoot the boy dead within seconds.

Eventually, Follmer dismissed Melber’s questions about excessive force and wrapped up the debate with a message to Americans.

“How about this: Listen to police officers’ commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop,” he said. “I think that eliminates a lot of problems.”

“I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it,” he added.

Watch the clip, courtesy of MSNBC

Report: Darren Wilson’s Key Witness Lied About Everything

Report: Darren Wilson's Key Witness Lied About Everything

[Image of McElroy via KMOV | Wilson via St. Louis County]

The absurdity of this woman having been labeled a “key witness” by the prosecution speaks volumes about the inanity of that entire Ferguson grand jury process…

Gawker

In a damning new report by the Smoking Gun, a crucial witness in the grand jury deciding whether to indict former Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson is revealed as having fabricated her eyewitness account of the altercation between Wilson and unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9. “Witness 40,” identified as 45-year-old Sandra McElroy, has a documented history of racist remarks, criminal behavior, and mental illness.

McElroy’s testimony has been latched on to by Wilson defenders because of how closely her report matched the embattled police officer’s. But as the Smoking Gun points out, the timing of McElroy’s interviews with authorities is suspicious: Both her statement to St. Louis police on Sept. 11 and another to Justice Department prosecutors on Oct. 22 immediately followed stories detailing Wilson’s account of the day:

McElroy provided the federal investigators with an account that neatly tracked with Wilson’s version of the fatal confrontation. She claimed to have seen Brown and Johnson walking in the street before Wilson encountered them while seated in his patrol car. She said that the duo shoved the cruiser’s door closed as Wilson sought to exit the vehicle, then watched as Brown leaned into the car and began raining punches on the cop. McElroy claimed that she heard gunfire from inside the car, which prompted Brown and Johnson to speed off. As Brown ran, McElroy said, he pulled up his sagging pants, from which “his rear end was hanging out.”

But instead of continuing to flee, Brown stopped and turned around to face Wilson, McElroy said. The unarmed teenager, she recalled, gave Wilson a “What are you going to do about it look,” and then “bent down in a football position…and began to charge at the officer.” Brown, she added, “looked like he was on something.” As Brown rushed Wilson, McElroy said, the cop began firing. The “grunting” teenager, McElroy recalled, was hit with a volley of shots, the last of which drove Brown “face first” into the roadway.

“I know what I seen,” she apparently told skeptical investigators. “I know you don’t believe me.” Her story of how she wound up in Ferguson that day doesn’t sound convincing, either:

When asked what she was doing in Ferguson—which is about 30 miles north of her home—McElroy explained that she was planning to “pop in” on a former high school classmate she had not seen in 26 years. Saddled with an incorrect address and no cell phone, McElroy claimed that she pulled over to smoke a cigarette and seek directions from a black man standing under a tree. In short order, the violent confrontation between Brown and Wilson purportedly played out in front of McElroy.

But when she testified before the grand jury charged with deciding whether to indict Wilson, her story changed:

McElroy, again under oath, explained to grand jurors that she was something of an amateur urban anthropologist. Every couple of weeks, McElroy testified, she likes to “go into all the African-American neighborhoods.” During these weekend sojourns—apparently conducted when her ex has the kids—McElroy said she will “go in and have coffee and I will strike up a conversation with an African-American and I will try to talk to them because I’m trying to understand more.”

McElroy also brought a highly-touted journal with alleged entries penned in the days surrounding Michael Brown’s killing. The entry dated Aug. 9 starts, “Well Im gonna take my random drive to Florisant. Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and Start calling them People.”

If McElroy’s testimony in Darren Wilson’s grand jury proves to have been made up, this will not have been the first eyewitness report she fabricated:

McElroy’s devotion to the truth—lacking during her appearances before the Ferguson grand jury—was also absent in early-2007 when she fabricated a bizarre story in the wake of the rescue of Shawn Hornbeck, a St. Louis boy who had been held captive for more than four years by Michael Devlin, a resident of Kirkwood, a city just outside St. Louis.

McElroy, who also lived in Kirkwood, told KMOV-TV that she had known Devlin for 20 years. She also claimed to have gone to the police months after the child’s October 2002 disappearance to report that she had seen Devlin with Hornbeck. The police, McElroy said, checked out her tip and determined that the boy with Devlin was not Hornbeck.

In the face of McElroy’s allegations, the Kirkwood Police Department fired back at her. Cops reported that they investigated her claim and determined that “we have no record of any contact with Mrs. McElroy in regards to Shawn Hornbeck.” The police statement concluded, “We have found that this story is a complete fabrication.”

According to the Smoking Gun, McElroy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 16 and has gone untreated for the condition for 25 years. She also has a history of posting racist comments on social media:

An examination of McElroy’s YouTube page, which she apparently shares with one of her daughters, reveals other evidence of racial animus. Next to a clip about the disappearance of a white woman who had a baby with a black man is the comment, “see what happens when you bed down with a monkey have ape babies and party with them.” A clip about the sentencing of two black women for murder is captioned, “put them monkeys in a cage.”

McElroy’s YouTube page is also filled with a variety of anti-Barack Obama videos, including a clip purporting to show Michelle Obama admitting that the president was born in Kenya. Over the past year, McElroy has subscribed to three channels devoted to mystery and real crime shows, as well as a “We Are Darren Wilson” video channel.

McElroy has rarely used her Twitter account, though she did post a message in late-October in response to a news report that several Ferguson drug cases had to be dropped because Darren Wilson failed to show up for court hearings. “drug thug will be arrested again who cares,” wrote McElroy.

And her behavior on Facebook indicates a bias toward Wilson’s story:

In the weeks after Brown’s shooting—but before she contacted police—McElroy used her Facebook account to comment on the case. On August 15, she “liked’ a Facebook comment reporting that Johnson had admitted that he and Brown stole cigars before the confrontation with Wilson. On August 17, a Facebook commenter wrote that Johnson and others should be arrested for inciting riots and giving false statements to police in connection with their claims that Brown had his hands up when shot by Wilson. “The report and autopsy are in so YES they were false,” McElroy wrote of the “hands-up” claims. This appears to be an odd comment from someone who claims to have been present during the shooting. In response to the posting of a news report about a rally in support of Wilson, McElroy wrote on August 17, “Prayers, support God Bless Officer Wilson.”

Multiple attempts by the Smoking Gun to contact McElroy—including her three Facebook pages—were left unanswered.

10 things you need to know today: December 17, 2014

Another President Bush in waiting?

Another President Bush in waiting? (Andy Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Week

The 113th Congress ends, Jeb Bush announces he is exploring a bid for the White House, and more

1. Widely criticized Congress wraps up its work
The 113th Congress, which was panned as the least productive in modern history, came to a close late Tuesday. Democrats in the Senate, on their last day in control of the upper house, wrapped up by approving at least six dozen of President Obama’s judicial nominees and extended several tax breaks that had been scheduled to expire in 2015, but failed to renew a terrorism insurance program supported by corporations and major sports leagues. “Thank God it’s over!” Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) said. [The Washington Post]

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2. Jeb Bush announces he is exploring a presidential run
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush announced Tuesday via social media that he would “actively explore the possibility of running for president” in 2016. Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush and brother of former president George W. Bush, served as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007. He is a favorite of the Republican establishment, but has angered conservatives with his support for Common Core education guidelines and comprehensive immigration reform that might include a pathway to legal residency for some undocumented immigrants. [Orlando Sentinel, ABC News]

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3. Court calls Obama’s immigration orders unconstitutional
A federal court in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared some of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration unconstitutional, saying they amounted to “arbitrary immigration enforcement.” Judge Arthur Schwab’s ruling was the first in the nation to address Obama’s executive order shielding millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. A Justice Department spokesman called the ruling, which came in the case of a Honduran charged with illegal entry after a drunken driving arrest, “unfounded” and said the judge had “no basis” to address the executive actions. [The Washington Post, Politico]

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4. Pakistan lifts death penalty a day after Taliban school attack kills 145
Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, lifted a moratorium on the death penalty on Wednesday, a day after nine gunmen armed with grenades and suicide vests killed 145 people at an army-run school. The government declared three days of mourning for the victims, with the national flag flown at half-staff at all official buildings. Security forces set up checkpoints and barricades in Peshawar, the northwestern city where the attack occurred, and all businesses and schools there were closed. [The New York Times]

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5. Jury rejects antitrust lawsuit against Apple
A federal jury on Tuesday rejected an antitrust lawsuit accusing Apple of using a 2006 update to iTunes software to give itself a monopoly over digital music sales. The eight-member jury unanimously found that Apple had tweaked the software to make legitimate improvements to iPods sold from 2006 to 2009. Competitors who filed the class-action suit complained that the changes let users play songs purchased in the iTunes stores or downloaded from CDs, but not those sold by rival stores and services. [The New York Times]

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6. Vet suspected in Pennsylvania killing spree found dead
An Iraq War veteran suspected of killing his ex-wife and five members of her family, including a 14-year-old niece, was found dead of apparently self-inflicted stab wounds on Tuesday. The body of the 35-year-old suspect, Bradley William Stone, was found a half-mile from his home in suburban Philadelphia, where a 36-hour manhunt had forced local officials to close schools. The former Marine reservist and his wife were involved in a bitter custody dispute. [The Associated Press]

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7. Sierra Leone begins searching for Ebola victims door-to-door
Sierra Leone stepped up its battle against Ebola on Wednesday with a plan to search house-to-house for infected people and anyone who has come into contact with them. Those infected will be transported to new treatment centers built by the U.K. The West African nation’s government also said it would impose new travel restrictions. Sierra Leone has more than half of the 18,000 confirmed Ebola cases, and the rate of infection there has been rising. [Reuters]

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8. Prosecutor rejects filing abuse charge against Cosby
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday declined to file a child sexual abuse charge against Bill Cosby in connection with a woman’s claim that the comedian molested her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974. The decision came a day after Cosby’s wife, Camille, issued a statement supporting him against a string of rape and other accusations by numerous women. Camille Cosby said the long-beloved entertainer really was “the man you thought you knew.” [CBS Local]

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9. Clifford-creator Norman Bridwell dies at 86
Norman Bridwell, who wrote and illustrated the Clifford the Big Red Dog children’s books, has died at a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, his publisher, Scholastic, announced Tuesday. He was 86. The first book in Bridwell’s series was published in 1963, and grew into a franchise that included 150 titles and an animated PBS series that aired from 2000 to 2003. A film adaptation of the stories is set for an April 2016 release. [TIME]

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10. Curiosity’s methane discovery fuels talk of life on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected traces of methane on Mars, a potential sign of life, researchers announced Tuesday at an American Geophysical Union meeting. Curiosity first picked up background levels of methane — just under one part per billion — within Gale Crater, where it is creeping up the sedimentary rock of Mount Sharp. But it unexpectedly picked up sporadic levels 10 times higher. Most of Earth’s methane is produced biologically, so the discovery increased speculation of life on the Red Planet, now or in the past. [Scientific American]

C’mon, Stop Blaming Obama For Failing To Cure America Of Racism

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AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

TPM Cafe: Opinion

Obama’s supporters may not be using “post-racial” as a weapon to upbraid him, but they’re still expressing disappointment that we are not further along in moving past racism. The journalist Jorge Ramos recently told the President how the recent police killings of black males show “we don’t live in a post-racial society as many expected when you were elected.”

Obama interrupted to clarify that he never expected this immediate outcome, explaining, “It’s usually not a single moment when suddenly everything gets solved. It’s a process.”

In the wake of Ferguson, Eric Garner, and growing national protests, people keep bemoaning the failure of President Obama to move us to a post-racial society. We still hold him to the vision he articulated in his 2004 convention speech of what unites us in America, and the possibility of triumph over racial and other divisions. “Post-racial” gained hopeful momentum in the press during his presidential campaign, as Obama seemed comfortable in all worlds, thanks to his multicultural upbringing and mixed racial identity.

For the president’s part, our becoming post-racial was never something he claimed he could deliver for us, and certainly not in a term or two. His own optimistic rhetoric expressed the endurance of America’s long struggle against prejudice, but when asked about the notion of his election moving us into a post-racial age, he said in Rolling Stone, “I never bought into the notion that by electing me, somehow we were entering into a post-racial period.” He added, “What happens in the workplace, in schools, on sports fields, and through music and culture shapes racial attitudes as much as any legislation that’s passed. I do believe that we’re making slow and steady progress.”

That some now hold him responsible for a lack of a racial utopia is actually another indication of how long such an advance will take. No other president has been expected the bear the weight of changing us so radically. As many have pointed out, electing a black president does not make us post-racial—in fact, it has served to bring to the surface long-simmering elements of the American soul.

How else can we explain the furious reactions, like Judge Jeanine’s, to any attempt by Obama to talk about racially charged incidents? And how else to explain the disdain and dismay of liberals who want Obama to heal us solely by his words?

To accuse the president of failing to move us past racism is like blaming our doctor when we don’t lose weight—though you made no effort to change our unhealthy habits.      

(Emphasis is mine: KS)

It is, of course, easier to blame Obama than to confront the resentments and fears in our own minds. Even beyond the evident imbalance in our justice system, studies clearly showeducational and economic gaps separate us racially in terms of opportunity and the persistence of racial discrimination. Saying it is Obama’s failure to make us post-racial is skirting our own responsibility to scrutinize ourselves.

Still, the current frustrations and anger, in fact, show us how far we have come. Extraordinary times of change are often followed by counter-movements pushing against what has been achieved. After the Civil War, William Lloyd Garrison declared victory and disbanded his antislavery organization, against Frederick Douglass’ urging. A decade and a half later, as the promise of Reconstruction morphed into the horror of Jim Crow, Garrison concluded, “It is clear, therefore, that the battle of liberty and equal rights is to be fought over again.” However crushing this must have been, people like Douglass did not shrink from that struggle; Douglass continued it relentlessly until his death, taking on lynching alongside younger activists like Ida B. Wells.

If we interpret post-racial as post-racism, as a time where racial prejudice and its systemic manifestations no longer hurt people’s lives, it remains a goal worth striving for. Fatalism over whether or not it’s possible to achieve given the human brain’s tendency towards group identification is like asking if we will ever be free of sin: everyday we are still trying to be better. Believing that Obama’s election made us somehow free of racism’s effects is an attempt to take a shortcut on the longest, hardest journey in American life. Obama’s election was a huge step forward towards defeating racism, but it was nowhere near the finish line. The responsibility to get there is not his—it is ours.

Paul Kendrick is the coauthor of “Douglass and Lincoln: How a Revolutionary Black Leader and a Reluctant Liberator Struggled to End Slavery and Save the Union” and “Sarah’s Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle For Equality Changed America.”

PolitiFact’s Lie Of The Year: Mass (Conservative) Hysteria Over Ebola

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AP Photo: Anonymous

No surprise here.  They accomplished their goal: winning the mid-terms…

TPM LiveWire

“The claims — all wrong — distorted the debate about a serious public health issue,” they continued. “Together, they earn our Lie of the Year for 2014.”

Conservative commentator George Will theorized Ebola could be spread through sneezing or coughing (False). Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) insisted it was “easy to catch” (Mostly False). Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) worried “illegal migrants” could be bringing it across the U.S. southern border (Pants On Fire). Those were the some of the top examples cited by PolitiFact.

Democrats weren’t entirely absolved, however. The fact-checking group also singled out Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor’s false claims about his GOP opponent’s votes on public health funding, which Pryor then portrayed as voting against “preparing America for pandemics like Ebola.” Pryor lost his Senate seat.

H/t: DB

 

10 things you need to know today: December 16, 2014

A man comforts a boy at the bedside of a student injured in the attack. 

A man comforts a boy at the bedside of a student injured in the attack. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)

The Week

Taliban fighters kill over 100 children at a military school in Pakistan, Australian police end a gunman’s siege in Sydney, and more

1. Over 100 children die in Taliban attack on Pakistani military school
Taliban militants killed at least 126 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were students and teachers, in an attack at an elite public high school run by Pakistan’s army on Tuesday. Eight to 10 terrorists wearing military uniforms entered the school, which is on a Pakistan military installation, and began “indiscriminate firing,” said Pervaiz Khattak, chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Two or three terrorists were killed, another blew himself up, but up to five were still in the school, holding scores hostage hours after the siege started. [The Washington Post]

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2. Police end gunman’s siege in Sydney
Australian police stormed a Sydney cafe early Tuesday to end a siege by a gunman who had taken 17 employees and customers hostage 16 hours earlier. The alleged captor — Iranian-born Man Haron Monis, 50 — and two hostages died. One, cafe manager Tori Johnson, reportedly died trying to wrestle a shotgun from the gunman. The other, customer Katrina Dawson, died shielding a pregnant colleague. Monis, a self-styled Muslim cleric, was on bail after being charged with accessory to murder and sexual assault, but he was not on a terrorism watch list. [Sydney Morning Herald, The Telegraph]

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3. Sandy Hook families sue maker of semi-automatic rifle used in school shooting
Families of nine first-graders and adults who died in the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on Monday filed a lawsuit against the maker of the military-style, semi-automatic assault rifle used by the killer. Josh Koskoff, a lawyer for the families and a teacher who survived the attack, said the Bushmaster Firearms International rifle used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza was designed for killing in combat, and should not be sold for home defense or hunting. [Hartford Courant, CNN]

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4. U.S. opens its biggest detention center for immigrants
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Monday inaugurated the nation’s largest immigration detention facility on Monday. The 50-acre facility in South Texas is equipped to hold up to 2,400 people caught crossing the border from Mexico. President Obama has offered protection from deportation to millions of undocumented immigrants, angering Republicans who say he overstepped his authority. Johnson presided over the detention center’s opening to call attention to other executive orders by Obama aiming to tighten border security. [The New York Times]

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5. Manhunt continues after Pennsylvania killing spree
Pennsylvania authorities continued a manhunt overnight for a former Marine reservist, Bradley William Stone, suspected of killing six members of his family and seriously wounding another in towns near Philadelphia. The victims, who died in shootings at three separate locations, included Stone’s ex-wife, his former sister-in-law, brother-in-law, mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and 14-year-old niece. Schools in the area were closed Tuesday as the search continued. [Philly.com,ABC News]

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6. Senate confirms Vivek Murthy as surgeon general
The Senate on Monday confirmed Dr. Vivek Murthy as the nation’s 19th surgeon general despite objections by gun-rights advocates. At 37, Murthy became the third-youngest doctor to head the U.S. public health service. The British-born Murthy graduated from Harvard University and Yale University Medical School, and founded Doctors for America, which pushed for the Affordable Care Act and promotes HIV/AIDS education. He faced opposition from some conservatives over his support for an assault weapons ban, and his belief that “guns are a healthcare issue.” [Los Angeles Times]

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7. Tens of thousands have died in a year of war in South Sudan, U.N. says
A year of war has killed tens of thousands of people in South Sudan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, a year after the fighting started in the capital city of Juba. As battles spread across the country, more than 1.9 million people were driven from their homes. Ban called on South Sudan’s leaders to reach an inclusive power-sharing agreement and stop putting their “personal ambitions” ahead of the newly established nation’s survival. [The Associated Press]

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8. Russia hikes interest rates to halt ruble’s dive
Russia’s central bank raised a key interest rate to 17 percent in an emergency meeting early Tuesday aiming to prevent the collapse of the nation’s currency, the ruble. The currency took its biggest one-day plunge since 1998 on Monday as falling oil prices and economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis push the Russian economy into recession. The ruble regained as much as 10.8 percent — its biggest surge in 16 years — after the rate hike, only to weaken again hours later. [Bloomberg, Reuters]

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9. Rare northern white rhino dies at San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo’s northern white rhino, Angalifu, has died, leaving only five of the animals left in the world. Zoo officials said Angalifu, estimated to be about 44 years old, had been under veterinary care for lack of appetite. Northern white rhinos are one of two subspecies of white rhinoceros. They once roamed the grasslands of East and Central Africa, but were hunted to the brink of extinction by poachers seeking rhino horns. There are about 20,000 southern white rhinos left. [NBC News]

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10. Navajos buy back sacred artifacts at French auction
Members of the Navajo Nation outbid a French art collector to buy back seven sacred ceremonial masks for $9,000 at a Paris auction on Monday. The objects offered by the Drouot auction house also included dozens of Hopi kachina dolls. Hopi tribal leaders declined to bid, calling the sale appalling. Navajo leaders said they had to face reality and bid to recover their artifacts, which a medicine man named Jim said were “living and breathing beings.” [The Associated Press]

Why it matters that Dick Cheney still can’t define torture

Former Vice President Dick Cheney appears on “Meet the Press” in Washington, D.C. December 14, 2014, in this picture provided by NBC News. Cheney argued on Sunday that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation of terrorism suspects did not amount to torture, the man who provided the legal rationale for the program said that in some cases it had perhaps gone too far. | REUTERS/William B. Plowman/NBC News/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES

The Washington Post – Plum Line

When we learned late last week that Dick Cheney would appear on Meet the Press to discuss the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report, I wrote this post suggesting some questions Cheney ought to be asked, the first of which is, “What is your definition of torture?”

Why is this question so important? Because torture advocates from the Bush administration and the CIA have always insisted that the things they did to prisoners — like the use of waterboarding or stress positions, the purpose of which is to induce excruciating pain — are not actually torture, and are therefore perfectly legal and morally unproblematic. This is one of the two pillars on which their advocacy rests, the other being that the torture program produced significant intelligence that couldn’t have been obtained any other way. And it’s precisely what could allow a future administration to start torturing prisoners all over again.

This has been something of a hobbyhorse for me for quite a while. But until this weekend I had never seen a high Bush administration official asked what the definition of torture is. That Cheney refused to answer wasn’t surprising, but what he did say was revealing nevertheless.

In a Twitter exchange on Friday, I promised Chuck Todd that if he asked Cheney for his definition of torture, I would send him a pie. It looks like I’ll have to make good on that pledge, because here’s how the interview began. Read Cheney’s responses closely:

TODD: Well, let me start with quoting you. You said earlier this week, “Torture was something that was very carefully avoided.” It implies that you have a definition of what torture is. What is it?

CHENEY: Well, torture, to me, Chuck, is an American citizen on a cell phone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York City on 9/11. There’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do. And that’s absolutely not true. We were very careful to stop short of torture. The Senate has seen fit to label their report torture. But we worked hard to stay short of that definition.

TODD: Well, what is that definition?

CHENEY: Definitions, and one that was provided by the Office of Legal Counsel, we went specifically to them because we did not want to cross that line into where we violating some international agreement that we’d signed up to. They specifically authorized and okayed, for example, exactly what we did. All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those without, in fact, committing torture.

To Todd’s credit, he kept trying to get Cheney to define torture. He asked Cheney about the “rectal feeding” that some prisoners were subjected to, and asked Cheney if that constituted torture; Cheney replied, “I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.”

Cheney’s argument here – and this was hardly the first time – is that as long as al-Qaeda’s tactics are worse than ours, nothing we do is morally unjustified. His claim that “there’s this notion that somehow there’s moral equivalence between what the terrorists and what we do” is a classic straw man. No one’s asking whether the CIA’s torture program is better or worse than the September 11 attacks; that’s not how you make moral judgments. According to Cheney’s logic, if I approached him on the street, pushed him over and took his wallet, I could escape accountability by telling the judge that I did nothing wrong because it would have been much worse had I hit him over the head with a lead pipe and stolen his car.

Cheney never even attempted to define torture. But that definition isn’t some complex, arcane matter that you need a team of law professors to unravel. It’s very straightforward. Here’s the way U.S. law defines torture: “An act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

The United Nations Convention Against Torture — a treaty the United States signed and ratified — defines it in a substantively identical (if somewhat more verbose) way: “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

But even after this repeated questioning, we still don’t know how Dick Cheney or any other torture advocate defines it. Why not? It seems pretty clear. There is simply no definition that anyone could devise that wouldn’t apply to things like stress positions or waterboarding. Try to imagine one. Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental suffering to obtain information or a confession — but only if it leaves a mark? Or only if it’s done by non-Americans? Any such definition would be absurd on its face.

So when people like Cheney are asked what the definition of torture is, they say, “September 11!” When asked what definition of torture wouldn’t apply to the particular techniques the CIA employed, they just repeat, “We didn’t torture” over and over. They not only defend torture as a means of obtaining intelligence, they sing its praises and insist that it was spectacularly successful, all without having the courage to call the thing by its true and only name.

After taking office, President Obama issued an executive order limiting interrogation to the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual (which defines torture as “the infliction of intense pain to body or mind to extract a confession on information, or for sadistic pleasure”). The Field Manual specifically mentions stress positions and prolonged sleep deprivation, but its list of examples of torture is hardly meant to be exhaustive. As Greg hasnoted, it would be possible for Congress to pass legislation codifying that executive order into law.

But torture was already illegal, and the Bush administration did it anyway. All it required was a couple of administration lawyers willing to writememos saying, in essence, do whatever you want. In this case, the key memo was written by a lawyer named Jay Bybee, who wrote that if a technique of abuse didn’t cause “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions,” then it wasn’t “severe” and therefore wasn’t torture. Jay Bybee sits today on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Every single Republican in the Senate, along with 25 Democrats, voted to confirm him to that position.

Even if those of us who believe the United States shouldn’t torture prisoners are getting the better of today’s argument, there is absolutely no reason to believe that in the right set of circumstances and with the right administration in power, we couldn’t start torturing prisoners again. Bush administration officials, from the former president and his vice president on down, have shown no remorse about their torture program; to the contrary, they’ve been effusive in their praise for it. No one associated with the program has been held accountable, legally or otherwise. Jose Rodriguez, the CIA officer who oversaw the program and destroyedvideotapes to keep Americans from seeing what it looked like, writes op-eds and makes the rounds of television programs promoting his version of history. George Tenet, who ran the CIA during both the torture years and the disastrous runup to the Iraq War, got the Medal of Freedom.

Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously said that while he couldn’t define pornography, he knew it when he saw it. We can define torture quite easily — indeed, the definition is widely agreed upon. Dick Cheney can’t define it, though. That’s because he wants to justify what he and his colleagues did in the past, and keep the door open to doing it again in the future.

In demanding apologies, police unions show white supremacy is a core value

Andrew Hawkins | screenshot from ABC 5

 

The above headline banner seems to reinforce my thoughts after posting the article preceding this one…

Daily Kos

Racism has a hard time hiding.People love to deny its very existence, but it just has a way of telling on itself. Those who harbor prejudice on the inside eventually can’t help but let it out in a way, so ugly and toxic, that you soon wonder how they kept it disguised for as long as they had.The leaked emails from Sony come to mind.While the overwhelming majority of African Americans see some level of racial discrimination and devaluing of black life in the police murders of unarmed men like Akai Gurley, Kendrec McDade, and Eric Garner, it’s become far too easy for police (and society) to deny race played even a small role in any of these homicides.

In essence, unless the police are recorded using the “n-word” or secretly walking out of a Klan meeting, they can effectively deny they have a racist bone in their body, but that’s not really how the new racism works in 2014. Racial slurs and Klan meetings are used less, but some reputable polls show the majority of Americans still hold some level of racist views against African Americans. Yet we’re expected to believe that those racist views are somehow never held by police and never play any role in the deaths of African Americans they kill by the hundreds year in and year out.

Like a leaking pen in the pocket of a white dress shirt, private racism just has a way of bleeding out into the public and making a mess of itself eventually. Few things smack of leaky-pen racism more than the police unions of Cleveland and St. Louis recently demanding apologies from athletes and sports franchises for wearing T-shirts showing solidarity with families of victims of police violence.

Within hours of Cleveland Browns player Andrew Hawkins coming out to his pre-game warm up with a T-shirt stating “Justice for Tamir Rice & John Crawford,” Jeff Follman, president of the Cleveland Police Union, issued a statement so incendiary that it was hard to believe. Speaking to the local Cleveland ABC affiliate, Follman said:

It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.

Follman, speaking to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, went on to say:

He’s an athlete. He’s someone with no facts of the case whatsoever. He’s disrespecting the police on a job that we had to do and make a split-second decision. He should stick to playing football and let us worry about law enforcement. The players don’t know what our job entails. Don’t judge us by what you’re reading in the media.

Let’s dissect these statements line by line.“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law.”

First off, wearing a T-shirt stating “Justice for Tamir Rice & John Crawford” isn’t a declaration of knowing the law as much as it is a statement of support and solidarity for two families who lost cherished loved ones. Tamir was his mother’s youngest son and John was a young father of two, a beloved boyfriend, and the only son of his parents as well. Neither Tamir or John broke the law but both paid the harshest price possible at the hands of police.

Secondly, Andrew Hawkins, the player who wore the shirt, is an educated man who went to college for four years in Ohio, and played several seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals before moving up north to play for the Browns. The inference here is that Andrew, and other athletes, are somehow unable to know the law, that it is beyond their comprehension and that they are pathetic for thinking otherwise. In essence, Follman made it clear that he felt he was superior to NFL athletes from the very first words he uttered.

Lastly, why did Follman use the word pathetic in his statement to the press except to enflame tensions and be insulting?

“They should stick to what they know best on the field.”

Again, another unnecessary insult from Follman in which he basically states that athletes are one-dimensional humans who should shut up and play ball. Mind you, again, that Hawkins wore a very tame T-shirt showing solidarity with the family. It didn’t say “Fuck the police” or “Cop Killer” on it, but just had the names of two young victims of police violence. It’s hard not to hear racial undertones when a white man in authority tells a black man who stood up to stick to the field.

What Follman is also completely failing to understand is that African Americans have reluctantly become experts at all things related to police violence, ranging from how to avoid it, how to record and report it, and where it’s happening all over the country. Fifteen years ago most African Americans could only name one victim of police violence—Rodney King—but today that list is long and backed my narrative details.

“The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”

First off, they are paid to do this. The police work for the Browns and for the people and are paid to do it. Working for the Browns is a privilege and doesn’t mean that the team or the players, because they’ve hired the Cleveland Police to do security, somehow then forfeit their right to stand up against injustice.

Secondly, the Cleveland Police Department was just cited for widespread abuse in a report from the Justice Department and is having oversight placed on it as a result. This is, sadly, the second time in 10 years they’ve been faced with such a designation.

Lastly, Timothy Loehman, the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice, should’ve never been hired by the Cleveland PD in the first place. His performance records suggested he was never fit for duty.

Now, let’s deal with one final statement made by Follman because it’s an increasingly common refrain made not only by police but by their sympathizers.

“He’s someone with no facts of the case whatsoever.”

Whether Follman was speaking about the shooting death of Tamir Rice or John Crawford, the bottom line is this: scores and scores of facts are known. This notion that Hawkins or the public have “no facts of the case whatsoever” is ludicrous.

Every detail in the shooting death of John Crawford has been released and his death was filmed on security camera.

Regarding Tamir Rice, we see him shot and killed within two seconds of the police pulling up. We’ve heard the 911 call that stated the gun was probably a fake and Tamir looked like a kid. We’ve learned that Timothy Loehman was unfit to be an officer. We learned that they left Tamir there to die and put his sister in handcuffs.

To say that no facts are known is bullshit personified. It’s precisely because so many awful facts are known that Andrew Hawkins felt the need to wear that T-shirt in the first place. It’s precisely because so many awful facts are known about the Cleveland Police Department that men like him and protestors all over the country and the world feel like they must speak out and speak up for justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford.

A 12-year-old boy and a young father were killed in Ohio by police. Neither were breaking laws when they were killed. Everything about their deaths is tragic. Their families are grieving and the community is outraged. Instead of showing a level of support or shared grief, what the Cleveland Police Department has shown is that they don’t really have any true remorse whatsoever. By attempting to publicly shame Andrew Hawkins for standing with these families, what the police union has actually done is show its true colors.

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