Recent events suggest there is a great deal about history and the present that we may have missed (or misunderstood). Hence, we offer a resource list for those wanting to learn to be anti-racist allies. We also suggest you look at activist and filmmaker Sarah Sophie Flicker and writer Alyssa Klein’s list as well. In addition, the Smithsonian offers 158 resources to learn about racism in America.
Heather Cox Richardson, who makes sense of current events in her nightly letters, now has a YouTube channel. She is also moving to a subscription model for comments, so that while the letters will continue to be free, she says she hopes to have a discussion forum which is less vulnerable to incessant trolling. The fee will allow her to pay her moderator.
Chrysostom, who keeps meticulous track of federal and state elections, reports that there is some good news. We surely do need it.
1. No-Knock warrant police used to enter Breonna Taylor’s home was illegal
Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, when police burst into her home after midnight in what was supposed to be a drug raid, despite the fact that Taylor was not the person being investigated and there were no drugs in her home. The police, who were dressed in plain clothes, did not identify themselves when entering the home because they had a “no-knock” warrant. Taylor’s boyfriend, a licensed gun owner, thinking they were experiencing a home invasion, shot at the entering officers. Taylor was killed in the volley of police bullets that followed, struck eight times. Her boyfriend actually dialed 911 during the raid because he had no idea that the men entering the house, who killed Taylor, were police.
The police justification for their action was that Taylor regularly received packages for an ex-boyfriend suspected of being a drug dealer—and the warrant application claimed that this receipt of packages had been confirmed by a Louisville postal inspector. The postal inspector, however, says he was never consulted about packages being received by Taylor. And Taylor had received one package at her address
The story gets worse. According to a piece by Radley Balko in the Washington Post, the no-knock warrant used by police was illegal. In a 1995 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recognized that a “knock-and-announce” rule is implicit in the Fourth Amendment when police are entering a private home: police must knock and clearly state who they are before attempting to enter. SCOTUS identified exceptions to this rule under “exigent circumstances,”and, after the 1995 ruling, police across the country began requesting routine, blanket “exigent circumstances” exceptions to the knock-and-announce rule, using formulaic, generalized language when applying for. In other words, at that time the Fourth Amendment was understood to require knock-and-announce, but in almost every real-life situation in which a warrant was served this manufactured exigence freed police of their Constitutional obligation.
As a result, in a unanimous 1997 ruling, SCOTUS determined that blanket exceptions to knock-and-announce were unconstitutional. Instead, when requesting a no-knock warrant, police must provide specific information about the particular suspect being sought and the particular behavior that was anticipated and justified the use of a no-knock warrant. However, the no-knock warrant application that ultimately led to Taylor’s death simply said “Affiant [applying officer] is requesting a No-Knock entry to the premises due to the nature of how these drug traffickers operate. These drug traffickers have a history of attempting to destroy evidence, have cameras on the location that compromise Detectives once an approach to the dwelling is made, and a have a history of fleeing from law enforcement.” No mention of a particular individual or a particular concern that in this one instance that would justify the use of a no-knock warrant. Not one.
In fact, five no-knock warrants were issued in relation to this investigation, and all five had identical wording, making it clear that none of the conditions were specifically risky in a way that would make a no-knock warrant appropriate. Attorneys representing Taylor’s family report that sixteen neighbors interviewed said they heard the gunshots, but did not hear the police announcing their presence before entering the home. Research indicates that Taylor’s case is not unique. No knock warrants continue to be approved despite the lack of specific justification. And frequently police knocks are timed to coincide with the entering of the house by force, which also violates the 1997 SCOTUS ruling. A 2015 study found that in a group of seventy-three warrants used by Louisville police none provided the specific language necessary to justify the issuing of such a warrant. Balko says that he examined group of 105 no-knock warrants issued in Little Rock and found that ninety-seven lacked the kind of specific language required to justify a no-knock warrant. S-HP
Tell federal and state officials, along with your elected representatives, that SCOTUS rulings regarding warrants must be followed in every instance and that strict limits must be placed on the use of no-knock warrants.
2. Time to consider reparations
Slavery was a part of the “American reality” long before the United States existed as a country. In fact, there is a convincing argument to be made that the creation of and economic success of the early United States depended upon slave labor. In 2014, a piece in the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates documented the way the young U.S. benefitted—at least for those who weren’t slaves—from slave labor. H.R.40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” would examine slavery in the colonies and the U.S. from 1619 to the present. The commission would be charged with identifying the role of national and state governments in supporting slavery, the forms of discrimination faced by freed slaves and their descendants in both the public and private sectors, and the lingering effects of slavery on African-Americans. The American Civil Liberties Union is working to bring about this national accounting of “the spiritual, mental, cultural and physical damage inflicted on African Americans ripped from their families and nations to labor for the enrichment of the United States” and “ the violent repression, oppression, exploitation and deprivation under Jim Crow laws and black codes in the South, as well as de facto segregation in every region of this nation.” S-HP
If you want to join the ACLU in their call for this long-overdue national soul-searching and for the development of an appropriate reparations plan, you can send their message to your representative.
3. Behind the call to defund the police
Protests against police violence and the murder of George Floyd have resulted in even more police violence, forcing us to confront the failure of our current model of policing and to develop radical alternatives to the status quo. Key goals of the current protests include:
- rethinking the nature of policing
- ending the militarization of police
- cutting police budgets and strengthening social services
- moving from a view of police as “warriors,” constantly engaged in battle, to a view of police as “guardians,” working to help build peaceful communities benefiting all.
NPR has a useful interview with Alex S. Vitale, the author of the 2017 book The End of Policing. Vitale points out that too many serious social problems–homelessness, mental illness, youth in difficulty, misuse of drugs–have been turned over to police, whose expertise is not in addressing these but in aggressive enforcement. The Guardian reminds us that the US spends $115 billion annually on policing, even as crime is declining, and that while social service budgets are continually cut, policing budgets are sacrosanct. Officials in various cities are proposing that police budgets be cut and funds reallocated to addressing the social problems that result in crime. Given the damage to state budgets resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and the cost of payments resulting from police misconduct suits, activists across the political spectrum suggest that it is time to rethink the failed model of policing that has led to protest in the streets of thousands of U.S. cities. S-HP
If you concur that a radical, non-militarized reconceptualization of policing in your state is needed, contact your governor.
4. The cost of tear gas in a respiratory pandemic
NPR has published a guide to the health risks of “Riot Control Agents” such as flash bangs, rubber bullets, and tear gas. “Tear gas,” which is an umbrella term for chemical agents (generally either pepper spray or CS gas) which irritate skin and eyes, and may cause pulmonary edema, reactive airway dysfunction, as well as respiratory arrest. Because of the effects of the gasses on the respiratory system, and their potential for causing symptoms that would increase viral shedding, NPR notes, over 1000 physicians have signed a letter calling for these agents not to be used.
Non-lethal projectiles, otherwise known as “rubber bullets” are projectiles used by police for crowd control, that are generally made of plastic, rubber, dense foam, or sponge-like material with a rubber coating. These projectiles, as has been covered by various media sources, can cause serious injuries– a 2017 study found that 70% of those injured by the projectiles had severe injuries, 15% were permanently injured, and less than 3% died. Recent photographs of damage done by these projectiles have been making the rounds on social media.
The Marshall Project has shown that rather than disperse protestors and stop violence, these uses of police force can escalate a protest. JM-L
5. Police targeting journalists–especially those of color
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has reported that at least 54 journalists were arrested and 173 were assaulted by police while reporting on George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests between May 26 and June 6, an average of twenty-three freedom of press violations each day. The total number of such attacks across the entire year of 2019 was 150. Some of the attacks on or arrests of journalists reported during that period, according to the Guardian, include:
- the on-air arrest of an entire CNN crew, who identified themselves as press, followed police orders, and repeatedly asked where the police would like them to place themselves;
- photojournalist Linda Tirado’s permanent loss of vision in her left eye and a result of being hit with a rubber bullet;
- the deliberate pepper spraying of Vice News’ Michael Adams—while he identified himself as press and was lying on the ground following police orders;
- the on-air shooting of Kaitlin Rust of WAVE3 News in Kentucky with pepper balls.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of journalists targeted by Minneapolis and Minnesota police and is working on similar class-action lawsuits in other states. The Center for Health Journalism, which points out that journalists of color are those most likely to be targeted, has scheduled a webinar on the topic for June 10. S-HP.
You can demand an end to the targeting of press that violates First Amendment protections and insist on prosecution of the officers responsible.
6. The military resists Trump’s agenda
As Heather Cox Richardson and other observers have noted, amidst the appalling scenes of police violence is a ray of light from an unexpected direction: the US military. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a memo to all the armed forces, saying that “Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the values embedded within it,” noting that the Constitution “gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly,” the Wall Street Journal reported. 89 former defense officials published a statement in the Washington Post, saying that “We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath [to defend the Constitution] by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.”
Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis released a statement critical of Trump’s aggressive clearing of protesters in order to be seen holding a Bible in front of a church: “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath [to defend the Constitution] would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.” And on Friday, current Secretary of Defense Mark Esper–without consulting Trump–disarmed the National Guard which had been deployed in Washington, the Washington Post reported. RLS
If you think it appropriate, you can thank military and Department of Defense leaders for upholding the Constitution.
7. Senate Judiciary Committee members try to blame Biden for…everything
On Wednesday, June 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its investigation into the investigation by the Justice department of Russian interference in the 2016 election, starting with testimony from former Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. As NPR reports, Rosenstein defended his decision to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but admitted that had he had more information, he would have curtailed the surveillance on Trump aide Carter Page.
Republican members of the Judiciary Committee have committed to continuing the investigation, hoping to tie any alleged wrong-doing or abuses of power to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) claimed that what the “Obama-Biden administration” had done “went right up to the very top” and was worse than the abuses of President Richard Nixon. JM-L
8. ICE tries to separate families–again
In an apparent attempt to evade a court order to “make every effort to promptly and safely” release children from its detention facilities, ICE asked parents at three detention centers whether they wanted to let their children be released without them, according to Mother Jones. Parents were not allowed to confer with attorneys before deciding and interpreters were not provided, though some agents spoke Spanish. None of the parents agreed to allow their children to be released without them. The stakes for families are that if parents permitted their children to be released to relatives in the US and if the parents were later deported, they might never see their children again. As Andrea Meza, the legal aid organization RAICES’s director of family detention services, put it, “A choice to be separated from your child is no choice at all. We know that separating a child from their parent results in lasting trauma.” RLS
You can let relevant administrators and your elected representatives know that you want to see families in detention released–together–during the pandemic. Addresses are here.
9. Why residents in long-term care homes are dying of COVID-19
At least a third of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have been in long-term homes, according to the AARP. This number is likely a massive undercount, since not all states are sharing data and since long-term care homes are not required to reveal publicly the number of residents who have died from COVID-19. These deaths were not inevitable: Long-term care homes in the US resisted regulations that would have required them to plan for emergencies, such as an outbreak of a contagious disease. In a letter to Trump on his election, the American Health Care Association wrote that “The second reason we are on the brink of failure is that we are being inundated with rules and regulations. We are already the most regulated profession in the country. Additional regulations have become extremely burdensome.” Nonetheless, the Trump administration told long-term care homes in 2019 that they were required to do such planning. By March 2020, however, 43 per cent of long-term care homes had not done so, according to an investigation by ProPublica
82 per cent of the deaths in Ontario, Canada from COVID-19 have been in long-term care homes, the Toronto Star reported in May. Last fall, a report from the National Institute on Ageing identified a number of risk factors for infection in long-term care, including understaffing and the use of part-time staff who must work at several homes in order to make a living. In an effort to address conditions in long-term care homes, the province deployed members of the Canadian armed forces to five of them, four of them for-profit. A report from those serving revealed exhausted staff and horrifying conditions, from residents being force fed or not fed, left in dirty diapers, allowed to wander and treated abusively. Simultaneously, a report from the union representing long-care home staff points out that understaffing contributes to the high levels of violence, sexual harassment and assault, and racial harassment of staff, TVO reports. 90 per cent of staff said they had been physically assaulted, while 50 per cent said that they had been sexually assaulted.
According to another investigation by the Star, for-profit long-term care homes had 25 fewer staff members per 100 beds than municipal long-term care homes, and 16 fewer than non-profit homes. As Candace Rennick, a spokesperson for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents workers in 182 long-term-care homes, put it, “When you’re running a business to make profit you have to cut corners somewhere.” RLS
To demand stricter regulation of nursing homes along with better staffing ratios, you can write the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care, or your elected representatives. Addresses are here.
10. The UK may welcome 3 million Hong Kong residents
After China said it would support the security law in Hong Kong that is widely understood to mean that the autonomy long enjoyed by Hong Kong is at an end, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he would rewrite Britain’s immigration law in order to offer citizenship to as many as 3 million residents of Hong Kong, some 40% of the population, the Washington Post reported. The president of Taiwan also said she was working on ways to welcome Hong Kong residents. In the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, China agreed to preserve Hong Kong’s political freedoms until 2047. However, the security law would criminalize dissent and allow Chinese security forces to enforce policies against “sedition” and “foreign interference.” According to Reuters, Hong Kong’s independent media understands that the security law will result in the restriction of press freedom.
Concerned about the well-being of 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, as well as critical trade issues, Canada is responding gingerly to Beijing’s shift in policy, according to Global News. The US said it would no longer give Hong Kong special status in terms of trade and tariffs but instead would treat Hong Kong as if it were part of China, the New York Times reported. Trump did not comment on the situation of the Hong Kong protesters nor on that of the 85,000 Americans living in Hong Kong. RLS
You could call on U.S. and Canadian leadership to match the British effort in offering safe harbor to current residents of Hong Kong.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
11, Mass extinctions are accelerating
Extinctions of vertebrates are occurring at a much faster rate than predicted, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 543 species went extinct in the last 100 years; in ordinary times, it would have taken 10,000 to lose that many species. 500 more are expected to go extinct in the next 20 years. The scientists involved in the study–Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Paul Ehrlich, a conservation biologist at Stanford University, and Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden–point out that these numbers do not include invertebrates or water-dwelling species, and they only include vertebrate species for which data are available. Hence, the real numbers are likely much higher, the New York Times reports. Extinctions, of course, do not affect only the animal population itself but all of us. As lead author Ceballos told the Times, “We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.” To address this issue, the scientists themselves have started a new organization called Stop Extinction. RLS
You can remind your Congressmembers that they need to continue to stand up for the animals we share the planet with—even during this time of pandemic.
12. Two influential coronavirus articles retracted
Two studies–one dismissing the viability of the antimalarial drugs promoted by Trump, the other finding that certain blood pressure drugs were protective against the coronavirus–were retracted last week, because the massive database on which they depended could not be verified. The database, called Surgisphere, was built by a small private company which amassed patient records from hospitals worldwide, but the author of the studies said that he could not verify the records and hospitals themselves were not aware that the records were being collected, according to the New York Times. The Times points out that thousands of articles on the coronavirus are being published, some without adequate peer review. RLS
13. Speak up for Joshua Trees by June 10
Joshua trees, spiky, twisted, and long-lived, are the iconic plant species of the Mojave Desert and also provided the image for U2’s highest-selling album. Climate change and human interference have increasingly put the survival of Joshua trees at risk. Climate change plays a role because young Joshua trees cannot take root without receiving crucial rains at a particular moment in their development, and rain is becoming more and more scarce in the Mojave, the National Park Service explains. Humans threaten Joshua trees in a number of ways: trees have been destroyed for developments; off-roaders damage trees and their habitat; cattle, power lines, pipeline and water-mining also threaten Joshua trees and their habitat. As NBC reminds us, Joshua trees were particularly harmed during the 2019 government shutdown when Joshua Tree National Park was overrun with off-roaders and unauthorized camping, and some of the trees were deliberately destroyed.
In April, the Department of Fish and Wildlife determined that there is sufficient data suggesting the trees are at risk to justify a review that could ultimately have them designated endangered species, but this review process could take up to a year or more. Meanwhile, the Fish and Game Commission has the power to place temporary protections on Joshua trees while the review is being conducted, the LA TImes reports. The California Fish and Game Commission is accepting public comments regarding such protections, but comments have to reach them by June 10, so you may want to email them, rather than sending a postcard. Protections are being opposed by the Yucca Valley town council and the Hi-Desert Water Board. S-HP
Speak for the trees by asking that Joshua trees be protected while undergoing review as possible endangered species. Write, call or email the California Fish and Game Commission, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090.
- See the Americans of Conscience Checklist for a series of clear, quick, efficacious actions you can take now.
- Sarah-Hope’s list is great for people who want to work through a series of carefully chosen issues and write letters or postcards to address them.
- Martha’s list of regulatory actions/notices/proposed rules and Executive Orders highlights two Trump Executive Actions – one an order, one a proclamation. The Executive Order uses the current emergency to order relaxation of environmental rules to speed up infrastructure projects, involving multiple agencies. The Presidential Proclamation removes protections for undersea monuments. She also alerts us to Skoposlabs, which tracks federal legislative responses to the coronavirus.
- See Rogan’s list for ways to speak up for reforms in policing, for the demilitarization of police, and in defense of Black lives.