- Serious “non-lethal” force injuries by police a decades-old issue
Reporting by the Washington Post shows that in the week following George Floyd’s death, eight people across the country lost vision in one eye due to being struck by police projectiles. These folks were among the 12 who reported partial loss of vision in the first week of protests. USA Today has shown that police use of rubber bullets and bean bag rounds has left “a bloody trail for decades.” Injuries have included skull fractures and head wounds, in addition to eye injuries. The pattern that was observed in the reporting is that individuals are injured, file lawsuits, and cities and police departments attempt to adopt reforms, and then a few years later it happens again. These so-called less-than-lethal munitions have been banned in the United Kingdom for decades.
But, over decades of use, munitions that originally were touted as safe and nonlethal have proven otherwise:
- In 2000, a protester at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles lost an eye. Dozens of protestors demonstrating for migrant-rights demonstrators were wounded, shot by “less-lethal” rounds.
- In 2001, after the University of Arizona lost the NCAA men’s basketball championship game, a riot ensued, during which a student was partly blinded.
- In 2003, during protests against the Iraq war, police officers injured 58 people with wooden pellets and other “non-lethal” projectiles.
- In 2004, a college student in Boston celebrating a Red Sox victory was killed when a pepper-based projectile went through her eye and into her brain.
While civil liberties groups and others have argued for banning the use of these weapons, law enforcement agencies have asked how they would contain violent crowds without them.
In Portland, federal troops incited violence, used tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash explosives against peaceful protestors, and according to Newsweek, deliberately destroyed stockpiles of COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment, which would be considered a war crime if we actually were at war. ProPublica has examined nearly 400 social media posts showing police response to protestors in Portland, and found “troubling conduct by officers” in 184 of them; as ProPublica’s investigation noted, “officers punched, pushed and kicked retreating protesters, including a few instances in which they used an arm or knee to exert pressure on a protester’s neck.”
There is no central authority setting standards for police use of force; standards generally demand that officers have a basis for the firing of less-lethal weapon, but that standard can include deeming the protest unlawful, and decisions are often placed in the hands of front-line commanders. The stress of anti-police protests and long hours may also contribute to the reactivity of police officers, according to the experts ProPublica consulted.
In Portland, protestors have filed lawsuits in response to the use of force by Federal officers outside the federal court house. They claim the use of tear gas and projectiles while they were protesting peacefully and offering aid to protestors represents a violation of their first amendment right to protest and represents excessive use of force. In response to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Oregon, a restraining order was issued barring federal agents from “dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or otherwise targeting journalists and legal observers at protests.” Related to the arrests and other threats to journalists, the Department of Homeland Security has been compiling “intelligence reports” regarding journalists who reported on leaked documents about DHS operations in Portland.
Finally, the Democratic mayor of Portland has called for a meeting with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and other officials to “discuss a cease-fire and the removal of agents sent to Portland to deal with protests,” CNN reported. A leaked email, obtained by CNN, shows that the administration is planning to keep agents there until at least October, while the actions of agents are under scrutiny by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General. JM-L
2, Legislation proposed to deal with police use of force
Several pieces of legislation regarding police use of force and the deployment of federal officers in response to protests are before Congress, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley announced. H.R.7120, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and S.3912, the Justice in Policing Act, are identical and would do the following
- lower the intent standard to convict law enforcement for misconduct in federal court;
- limit the use of qualified immunity in civil actions;
- authorize the Department of Justice to subpoena police records in order to investigate patterns or practices of discrimination;
- establishe a National Police Misconduct Registry;
- prohibit racial profiling, set up new requirements for training police, and report use of force, as well as use of body cameras.
H.R.7120 has been passed by the House. S.3912 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
S.4220, the Preventing Authoritarian Policing on America’s Street Act, was written in response to the actions of federal officers in Portland, Oregon. This legislation would:
- require identification on officer uniforms and vehicles they use;
- allow federal agents to protect only federal property unless requested to do more by the governor of the state and mayor of the city in which they are functioning;
- require disclosure on official web sites within 24 hours of any deployment of federal officers, and specifically require information on the number of personnel deployed and the purpose of the deployment;
- make violations of the above unlawful.
S.4220 is with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
H.R.7719, to Limit Use of Federal Law Enforcement Officers for Crowd Control, was also written in response to the actions of federal officers in Portland, Oregon. H.R.7719 would:
- restrict the ability of Federal Marshalls to deputize other law enforcement such as employees of the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security;
- prohibit the Attorney General from using Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employees to enforce federal laws outside the purview of the DEA.
H.R.7719 is currently with two House committees: Armed Services and Judiciary. S-HP
If you want to have a voice on this issue, contact:Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chair, Senate Judiciary Committee, 290 Russell Senate office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, 290 Russell Senate office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-3841.f
3. Those responsible for Portland debacle in office illegally
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been cooperating with Trump’s dispatching of federal officers to cities experiencing Black Lives Matter protests. Interestingly enough, at least two high-level Department of Homeland Security officials, including the highest among them, are currently serving illegally.
In general, Congress must approve high-level government appointments via Senate confirmation. Officials can be appointed temporarily without this approval, but under the Federal Vacancies and Reform Act of 1998, service in such temporary appointments is limited to 210 days. Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, took on that post on December 13, 2019, and as of August 1 had been serving for 232 days. He took the temporary position when the Republican Senate balked at confirming his appointment. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Mark Morgan, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, began serving on July 5, 2019, and as of August 1 had held that position for 393 days: 118 days (or a full half a year) beyond the legal limit. Not only are these men abusing their positions by allowing those they supervise to violate American’s First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and to petition the government for redress of grievances, but they should have been forced out of these positions by now. Wolf was in day 204 of his 210 days when he approved sending federal officers to Portland and should have stepped down the following week, given the 1998 legislation. On the day federal officers were sent to Portland, Morgan had been in his position for 365 days: 155 days (or roughly five months) beyond his legal term of service. S-HP
If you think Wolf and Morgan have overstayed their welcome, you can propose that they be removed from their positions as is required under law and call for an investigation into the full number of individuals currently serving illegally in DHS. Addresses are here.
4. Guess who the real domestic terrorists are
As Trump uses violence by federal officers to intimidate Black Lives Matter protestors, he keeps warning about the threat of antifa (anti-fascist) violence. A new study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based on 900 politically motivated acts of violence in the U.S. since 1994, examines the deaths caused by both leftwing and rightwing extremist violence. As reported in the Guardian, the study reveals 1 death resulting from that period resulting from left wing violence and 329 deaths resulting from rightwing violence. And note, the one “left wing death” was actually the perpetrator of the violence himself. Nonetheless, Trump assures us that white supremacists are “some very fine people.” S-HP
If you want to call for a serious Congressional investigation of and legislation in response to extreme rightwing violence, you can find your congressmembers’ contact information here.
5. Trump defies court orders
The Supreme Court recently ruled that Trump used an improper procedure in ending DACA, the provision allowing children and young people who had been brought to the U.S. by their parents to stay in the country. Trump via the Department of Homeland Security has re-announced a policy to end DACA in a way that he believes will be beyond legal challenge. He has also refused to accept new DACA applications, NPR reports, despite a court order to do so. As the new policy reads, Trump is directing “DHS personnel to take all appropriate actions to reject all pending and future initial requests for DACA.” 300,000 young people are still hoping to apply for DACA, according to the Center for American Progress. RLS
If you want to tell the Senate Majority Leader and your own Senators that it is well past time for Passing the American Dream and Promise Act that would give DACA youth a path toward citizenship, their addresses are here.
6. Trump administration refuses to print green cards for renewals
The Trump administration’s willingness to defy a court order is congruent with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ refusal to renew a contract with the company that prints green cards. Thus, immigrants legitimately in the country—such as those who must renew their cards every ten years and those whose immigration status has been previously approved—have not been able to get their cards, leaving them vulnerable to deportation, the Washington Post reports. The Post quotes immigration attorney Anis Saleh in Coral Gables, Fla. as saying, “The bottom line is that applicants pay huge filing fees, and it appears that these fees have apparently been either squandered through mismanagement or diverted to enforcement-focused initiatives, to the great detriment of applicants as well as the overall efficiency of the immigration process. The administration has accomplished its goal of shutting down legal immigration without actually changing the law.” RLS
If you think this situation should be put right, you can insist that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services obtain an ample supply of green cards immediately and ask for a Congressional investigation into this ill-intended decision not to order additional green cards necessary for the day-to-day function of our immigration system. Addresses are here.
7. Some child asylum-seekers able to seek hearings, others deported
ICE has been holding unaccompanied children arriving in search of asylum in hotels and then deporting them. There are no records of the children nor any information about where their parents are. “Witness at the Border” posted on Sunday about two unaccompanied children, 12 and 9, being deported to the country where their uncle was killed by gangs and where they have received death threats. Their mother lives legally in the US. “The United States is estimated to be deporting approximately 200 unaccompanied children as young as 4 EVERY WEEK to the dangerous countries of Central America. Many have no caregivers. Many will grow ill from the coronavirus to which they’re exposed on these deportation flights. Some will be trafficked, abused, raped, killed.”
In one small piece of good news, a successful challenge to the policy protected 17 people, children and adults, from being deported without a hearing, Buzzfeed reported. Buzzfeed also told the story of a teenager who successfully fought to join his father in the U.S. after receiving death threats from gangs in Honduras. He described his experience of being sequestered under armed guard in a hotel this way: “I felt locked up. I felt alone and isolated,” he said. “I didn’t know what time of day it was. I didn’t know what day it was. I felt utterly disconnected from society. I just felt anxiety and depression.” RLS
Witness at the Border urges you to sign the petition and donate to bring the two children back to their mother.
8. Kids’ schools, parents jobs
One of the great unknowns of the COVID-19 epidemic is how working parents will return to work if their children’s schools, as an appropriate safety measure, remain online. On Thursday, the House passed an important piece of COVID-related legislation that could help address this quandary. H.R.7327, the Child Care for Economic Recovery Act, which would increase federal childcare funding for 2020. H.R.7327 would increase the federal tax deduction for dependent children and make it refundable, would increase the amount of employer-provided childcare that is not taxable, and allow the carryover of any unspent childcare funding into 2021. H.R.7327 is now with the Senate’s Appropriations Committee. S-HP
If you feel strongly about this, urge quick, positive action on H.R.7327 by the Senate Appropriations Committee to help working parents make the return to onsite work as it becomes appropriate. Addresses are here.
9. Strikes for safe schools
The American Federation of Teachers has passed a resolution backing members who go on strike to oppose unsafe school openings, the AP reports. While Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump, who want to make federal school funding dependent on schools’ reopening, are at least claiming—incorrectly—that children do not contract COVID-19. They have said nothing about the risks such reopenings would present for teachers and school staff.
The National Education Association (NEA) has published a report on what safe school reopening would entail, and has been urging constituents to contact their Congressmembers telling them that we still desperately need education-related COVID-19 legislation that would:
- provide at least $175 billion to support school reopenings, whether online or in-person;
- eliminate any requirements regarding whether that instruction should be in-person or online for schools to receive these funds;
- lock any liability protections for schools as they return to in-person instruction, in order to ensure appropriate attention to the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff;
- not set funds aside for private schools or voucher funding at the expense of public schools.
The Council of Chief State School Officers has written Lamar Alexander, Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, to let the Senate know what kinds of flexibility and funding schools will need. The Washington Post has published a heartbreaking opinion piece by a superintendent about the stakes of re-opening in-person schools. S-HP
You can advocate for appropriate school funding and safety measures modeled on NEA guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and inform Education Secretary DeVos and your Congressmembers that you will be supporting any teachers who feel compelled to strike because of the health threat presented by hasty school reopenings. Addresses are here.
10. Transgender people to be deprived of shelter
Let’s consider a set of related facts. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, 1 in 3 trans people will be homeless at some point in their lives. Research by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) indicates that in 2017, 71% of all incidents of hate violence were against people of color; 52% were against transsexuals; and 40% were specifically against transsexual women of color. And the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), as reported in USA Today, says that 27 trans people were killed in hate crimes during 2019—and as of July 8, this year has seen 21 such killings.
Now let’s consider federal homeless housing assistance. Under 2016 rules, single-sex facilities determining whom they could serve are to do so “in accordance with their [the homeless] self-identified gender identity.” This meant trans women could be safely housed in women’s shelters where they would be less apt to suffer the kinds of violence documented by NCAVP and HRC. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is now proposing a rule change that would direct shelters “to consider biological sex in placement and accommodation decisions,” and that in making such decisions, shelters could consider “factors such as height, the presence (but not the absence) of facial hair, the presence of an Adam’s apple, and other physiological characteristics,” Vox reported.
Once you’ve contemplated these facts, you may want to tell HUD your thoughts about this proposal while it is open for official comments and you can get suggestions for wording here. You can also comment for the public record on this cruel and dangerous rule change proposa,l being sure to include the docket number HUD-2020-0047-0001.
11. While Black
The California legislature has an opportunity to enact penalties for deliberately placing an emergency call that is deliberately discriminatory—think of those 911 calls about BBQ-ing while Black, birdwatching while Black, swimming while Black, and entering one’s own home while Black. This legislation, AB-1550, has passed the Assembly and is now with the California Senate’s committees on Rules and Public Safety. S-HP
If you are in California, you might want to advocate for the quick passage of AB-1550. Addresses are here. If you are not, you might want to suggest that your state legislators take up such a bill.
12. Black Lives
Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13 by Louisville police officers serving a questionable no-knock warrant. The men who killed her remain free and uncharged.
If you want to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, write to Kentucky officials and your elected representatives. Addresses are here.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & THE ENVIRONMENT
13. Covid numbers
On July 10, hospitals were ordered to begin reporting COVID-19 case numbers and deaths to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS), rather than to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as had been the practice. Because of the politicized nature of DHS and Trump’s desire to keep case numbers low, many have worried that this transition will make it easier for the administration to manipulate COVID-19 numbers, MedPage Today reported. At the moment, HHS numbers are relatively close to the numbers being posted by Johns Hopkins, which has been conservative, but not repressive, in its reporting. Nonetheless, the administration numbers are lower than Johns Hopkins figures—3% lower on total cases and 1% lower on deaths, as of August 1. The uncertainty about the HHS numbers makes accurate state-level numbers all the more important. S-HP
You can ask your State Director of Public Health whether the COVID-19 numbers it’s posting are the state’s own or the numbers from the new HHS system and share your concern about the accuracy of HHS numbers. Links to all state and territory Departments of Public Health can be found here.
14. Transporting liquified natural gas
For years, the energy industry has pushed for approval to transport Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) by rail. Previous efforts have been blocked because of the potential for catastrophic explosions and fire this method of transportation would present. Now, according to EcoRI News, the Trump administration has issued a final rule, that would allow rail transport of LNG beginning August 24 and allows “voluntary compliance” (starting to ship LNG early if the industry promises to honor safety guidelines) as of July 24.
LNG is a form of extremely cold liquid methane (methane becomes liquid at temperatures below -260° F). The cooling process condenses the methane to 1/600th of the volume it would have at ambient temperatures, Insurance News explains.. An explosion involving 22 tank cars would create an explosion equal in size and power to the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Green America reports. These facts alone are cause for a concern. The extreme cold of LNG poses dangers in its own right, and if LNG ignites it will almost instantly increase in size by a factor of 600, causing massive explosions, as well as fire. Burning LNG can produce “pool” fires, fires in which a cloud of gas forming as LNG warms in a leak or spill. The gas cloud burns while hovering of the escape LNG and cannot be extinguished until all the LNG has converted to gas and burned. Then, there’s the fact that methane is a greenhouse gas responsible in part for global warming,
Currently LNG is moved via pipeline. In the six-year period ending in 2016 the LNG industry reported 35 explosions and 32 ignitions at transmission pipelines; they killed a total of seven individuals and injured another 86. Other methane-related explosions and fires include
- the 2010 explosion of an underground pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight and injured 51;
- a 2015 Texas pipeline fire that released up to 165,732 pounds of organic compounds
- an underground pipeline explosion in New Mexico that killed ten people camping nearby;
- A 2014 explosion in the state of Washington that forced hundreds to evaculate, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
This final rule comes after a 2019 rule proposal, which, oddly enough, remains open for comment, though it was to have closed on January 13 of this year, so there are actually two ways to comment as explained below. Comments on the 2019 proposed rule can be either written or online. Comments on the current final rule must be submitted online. As of August 1, only a single comment had been filed regarding the final rule. S-HP.
If you want to comment for the public record on the unacceptable risks posed by transporting LNG by rail, the instructions are here.
- Subscribe to the Americans of Conscience Checklist for a list of clear, quick actions you can take.
- Rogan’s list is taking a well-deserved break, but she suggests other sites with lists of actions you can take.
- Sara-Hope’s list is integrated above, but if you want to work through the action items systematically, you can check out the google doc.
- Apropos of her list, which offers many, many opportunities to comment on policy items for the public record, Martha muses that a lot of important proposed regulations either have no to opportunity comment or don’t allow the 60 day comment period -so don’t follow the Administrative Procedure Act. Thus, many may be illegal (as the DACA ruling showed.) If so, it may be easier to set things right later.