Perhaps the most important part of the Texas SB 8 law that bans abortion after a fetal heart beat is detected (at approximately 6 weeks) isn’t the fact that at least 85 percent of abortions in Texas take place after the sixth week of pregnancy, nor the fact that the sixth week of gestation is so early in a pregnancy that many people aren’t even aware they are pregnant. Nor even the fact that this arbitrary time frame clearly violates the precedent established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which protects “the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the state.”
No, maybe the most significant legal part of the law is its enforcement mechanism. No Texas state officer is permitted to enforce the statute. Instead, the law permits “any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state” to file a lawsuit against an abortion provider or anyone who “aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” A plaintiff who prevails in such a lawsuit is entitled to bounty of at least $10,000, paid by the person they sued.
The Texas Legislature fashioned this convoluted scheme because federal constitutional challenges to state laws ordinarily are brought against state officers who are in charge of enforcing the law. This is necessary because the 11th Amendment that prohibits federal courts from hearing suits against the state itself, so individuals representing the states through employment or appointment are used. By prohibiting state officers from enforcing the law directly and relying instead on citizen bounty hunters, the Texas hopes to make it difficult for federal courts to stop the law, or at least slow them down.
The Texas law, which took effect Wednesday at the stroke of midnight means anyone who is even suspected of performing an abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy can be hauled into court at any time by a private citizen. The abortion provider will then have to hire a lawyer and defend itself against any and every lawsuit. And if the provider loses just one case, it will have to pay a bounty of “not less than $10,000 for each abortion that the defendant performed or induced in violation of this subchapter.”
Note that there is no cap in the law for the bounty, it merely states “not less” than $10,000. So, as Ian Millhiser has noted, “a judge with particularly strong anti-abortion views might award a bounty of $20,000, or $50,000, or $18 million.”
The language is also particularly loose with regard to who might be held responsible. Anyone who “aids or abets” the abortion can be hauled before a Texas court. As NYU School of Law professor Melissa Murray recently pointed out in the New York Times, “If the barista at Starbucks overhears you talking about your abortion, and it was performed after six weeks, that barista is authorized to sue the clinic where you obtained the abortion and to sue any other person who helped you, like the Uber driver who took you there.”
And the problem here goes beyond Texas. For if Texas can avoid a court order blocking its anti-abortion law by delegating enforcement of the law to private bounty hunters, so can any other state. Indeed, nothing in the Court’s order prevents another state from passing a law banning all abortions — provided that the law is enforced using SB 8-style private lawsuits. Some states, including Florida, are already considering legislation similar to SB 8.
If that is the most significant legal part of the law, the close runner up is the vehicle through which this all came to pass—the so called ‘shadow docket.’
Basically, the shadow docket is “a mix of emergency motions and other decisions that receive only cursory briefing and no oral argument.” In the instance of SB 8, the justices took away the right to an abortion in one-paragraph, after considering the case for less than three days.
Since Aug. 24, that truncated process known as the “shadow docket” has moved at astronomical speed, producing decisions related to immigration, COVID-19 and evictions and, most recently, abortion.
Cumulatively, the effect is like watching the Titanic of deliberative case law the Supreme Court usually takes months to decide rapidly sinking into the deep, while the shadow court’s emergency orders and injunctions with little legal reasoning become the norm.
Three major cases—effecting millions of citizens– have been decided by the so called shadow docket in just the last few weeks. The first decision dealt with the Biden administration’s attempt to end a Trump-era program that forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S. With three liberal justices in dissent, the high court refused to block a lower court ruling ordering the administration to reinstate the program informally known as “Remain in Mexico.”
Days later the court’s conservative majority said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacked the authority to re-impose a moratorium on evictions, a temporary ban that was put in place because of the corona virus pandemic.
And this past week, the court allowed Texas law SB 8 to go forward banning most abortions in the state and instantly becoming the biggest curb to the constitutional right to an abortion in decades, despite the fact that the justices said there were serious questions about the constitutionality of the law.
In none of these cases were oral arguments offered, and fully reasoned majority opinions were entirely absent. In fact, the dissents offered by justices who disagreed with the majority were by far the most thoroughly articulated legal arguments. The single paragraph ‘reason’ given by the majority for allowing SB 8 to proceed in Texas was that it declined to grant relief because of “complex and novel antecedent procedural questions,” that, in fact, the Texas legislature had consciously designed. As Sotomayor noted in her dissent, “Today, the Court finally tells the Nation that it declined to act because, in short, the State’s gambit worked.”
Those decisions, with the conservative wing of the court in the majority, have the potential to affect millions of people in a fraction of the time and outside the normal scrutiny signed opinions can bring. And the legal rationale for the decisions can be as obtuse as that given in the Texas SB 8 case, or be absent altogether.
If this is problematic, a kind of judicial fiat without explanation, then the partisan nature of the shadow docket makes it even more so. In the past five years, the shadow docket has been a tremendously successful venue for the right. Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has closely followed the shadow docket, counts at least 41 requests for “emergency relief” submitted to the Court from the Trump administration, compared with eight under the Obama and Bush administrations combined. And he counts only four occasions during the Trump administration on which the Court denied “the government’s request outright.” That deference has not continued into the Biden administration.
“During the Trump administration, it was on the shadow docket that basically all of Trump’s controversial immigration policies affecting millions of people were allowed to go into effect, including the travel ban,” Vladeck said, “During the Biden administration … perhaps the biggest shadow-docket ruling so far was the ruling last week that froze and effectively killed the CDC’s revised eviction moratorium.” The ban on evictions, a two-month order, was issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The pause was meant to cover parts of the United States that are experiencing what the CDC calls “substantial” and “high” spread of the corona virus. The court denied the extension so that millions of Americans are now subject to eviction in the middle of a continuing pandemic.
The rationale for this judicial fiat?
Congress should have passed a law requiring the eviction moratorium, the majority declared, even though the CDC clearly has the power written into the constitution to effect such a moratorium (https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/264) and did so effectively for nearly a year.
“What is so troubling about this trend is its continuing acceleration, not in volume, but in quality,” Vladeck said. “The Court seems increasingly untroubled by deciding big questions that affect lots of people this way.”
As Adam Sewer has noted in The Atlantic, “The shadow docket has begun to look less like a place for emergency cases than one where the Republican-appointed justices can implement their preferred policies without having to go through the tedious formalities of following legal procedure, developing arguments consistent with precedent, or withstanding public scrutiny.”
For a freedom loving state, Texas has sent us one of the most draconian laws in U.S. history, designed in such a way that every citizen becomes a cop, complete with wiretap and a surveillance camera. All of this is occurring with the full knowledge and effective support of the majority of our Supreme Court. One wry commentator noted, “This is not Texas, this is East Germany. This is the Stasi.”
Meanwhile, through the shadow docket, our five conservative justices disingenuously plead judicial impotence: plugging their ears, binding their mouths and blinding their eyes.
In her scathing dissent, Sotomayor notes with frightening prescience that this goes far beyond a legalistic debate on the merits of abortion:
“The Court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and of the rule of law.”
Ultimately, the partisan bias that underlies the shadow docket, the promiscuous use of unsigned and un-argued decisions, and the flagrant disregard for precedent is the greatest threat– and why everyone– even those who are opposed to abortion– should be concerned.
Treason for Dummies
Everyone likes to begin with that shock and awe question. How did this happen?
Well, let’s begin with some obvious answers. They were allowed in. Yes, at some level, they were. In many places. Reinforcements were refused and at least one Capitol police officer took a selfie with the mob (see photo above). Someone, somewhere was hooked in on this and let it happen. Not everyone, but just enough folks to make the Capitol of our country as porous as Food Lion Swiss Cheese. Start with the President and work your way down. This was an ‘inside’ job as they say. Also, as they say, ‘fish rot from the head.’ And this head is exceptionally smelly.
Usually this question is followed by the proud assertion “But this is not us!”
Well, if it’s not us, then who exactly is it?
Of course, it’s us. It is us in all our vainglorious, murderous, clownish, white supremacist glory.
Some in the mob came with a specific game plan. Kill Speaker Pelosi. Hang Mike Pence. This phalanx likely caused most of the death and destruction. Not to mention smearing fecal matter and blood in the Capitol.
Others, perhaps the majority, didn’t know what to do once they got in. They stood there like they were in a state of surprise themselves. It was the classic dog catches car moment. Many kept to the roped corridors in an empty hall, still obeying the invisible commands of decorum. Elizabeth from Knoxville, seemed genuinely shocked when she was hit with pepper spray, for, you know, being part of a violent mob. If she had only joined just one little BLM protest over the summer, she might have saved herself a lot of that surprise as thousands of BLM activists were hit with pepper spray, shot with rubber bullets and beaten merely for standing on the wrong side of the street.
Most of them had no plan, had no organization, and didn’t appear to know what they actually wanted, once they got in. Those that did, settled on souvenirs, like the joker who clowned it up for the cameras stealing the Speaker’s lectern. He’s in jail now. Or like the Darwin award candidate who managed to kill himself by tazing his testicles. Repeatedly. As he sought to steal a painting of Tip O’ Neil. He is, of course, dead now.
They were from all over the hinterland, but not exactly Les Mis. Take the gent who wore a T-shirt proclaiming, “Six Million Wasn’t Enough.” Or the other gent, wearing the hoodie proclaiming “Auschwitz camp.” Isn’t it enough to see a shirt like that to know you might be marching on the wrong side of history? Or that Confederate Flag carried through the Capitol for the first time ever, something not even Confederate soldiers were able to do during the Civil War. What type of person wants to march behind that symbol of treason nearly 200 years old? Many were police from across the country—and it might not be a bad idea to do a head count of our local PDs to see who was and who wasn’t around that day. Many, despite their oath to the constitution, were ex-military, like the Air Force lady (who, by the way, had a criminal record–why is that never mentioned with reports of white people doing bad things?) who decided to Rambo her way into the Capitol and who was promptly shot in the neck. She’s dead now, too. Or like the Lt. Colonel with the collection of zip ties, for, you know kidnapping Mike Pence or Nancy Pelosi before they were ceremoniously executed. He is in jail now. He has apologized for being a traitor. I’m sure that will get taken into consideration at his trial. Along with his military pension and his health benefits.
Some were elected state officials, like the goober from West Virginia who has now decided to resign, because, as many are discovering, people actually hate traitors. He is charged with two counts of trespassing which will hopefully bring jail time. There were small business owners, like the Food Truck guy from our very own RVA. He is apologetic that he took part now, too. I suspect he is mostly trying to save his business, discovering once again that people actually hate traitors. I’d recommend jail time, anyhow, and, of course, not eating at his Food Truck. There were mom and pops with strollers.
Rumor has it that Chief Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, paid for 70 buses to bring these potential insurrectionists to the Capitol’s steps. Not verified, but she certainly did cheer them on, sending her ‘love’ to the assembled mob, and writing on her Facebook page “God Bless Each Of You!” It has since been taken down. Others, with deeper pockets, traveled in style. According to Rebecca Solnit, one protestor arrived in a private jet.
They were in the Capitol for three hours. They managed to kill four of their own numbers (one sad person was trampled to death as she carried the iconic ‘Do Not Tread on Me’ flag. Note to self: no one pays attentions to signs in a mob) And one police officer who unsurprisingly was a Trump fan, himself. Not being especially discriminating, the mob bludgeoned him to death with a fire extinguisher. (Note: another Capitol police officer killed himself on the 9th of January–no suicide note was found.)
What else? They managed to take hundreds of thousands of selfies and videos while committing felonies, and of course, their fecal matter (which they also left) will make for excellent DNA samples to match their winning profiles. Nice afternoon work, guys. Smile for the cameras!
The round up is proceeding apace. I’m not sure I have much to offer outside of the obvious. Prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. You don’t need to pass any new laws. You merely need to enforce the existing laws. Impeach the President, if he doesn’t resign. This is not over and we will not get back to ‘normal’ until many people are held to account for this nonsense. Begin with the top clown, Trump, and work your way down to the shirtless Shaman freak (now also arrested) who needs to find himself on a hard cot in a Federal prison somewhere that is very, very cold.
The ‘Catholic’ Case Against Amy Coney Barrett
I was visiting my elderly parents in Lynchburg, Virginia this Sunday and, as usual, I watched a video of the local Catholic mass service with them. I’m not a practicing Catholic, but I was raised Catholic and there is—in some cases– much to recommend the religion. There are also serious problems and, frankly, obvious hypocrisies on full display during many of these ceremonies.
Today was a good example. The priest was near tears trying to express the dismay he felt that a Supreme Court nominee might be denied a seat on the court merely because she professed openly that she thought her judicial work ought to ‘further the Kingdom of God’…He spent a lot of time being alarmed about our ‘godless’ society and how we seem to have thrown out religion and by conflation a moral compass entirely.
It was, in many ways, an unremarkable sermon, given the deeply conservative parish in the heart of Lynchburg, Virginia. There was a real difficulty though—even from the perspective of a conservative Catholic– in its premise that Amy Coney Barret wanted to bring the ‘Catholic’ view of ‘respect for life’ to the Supreme Court. That just isn’t true and the assertion itself is based on a lie. To be precise, Amy Coney Barret is willing to bring her ‘Catholic’ views on abortion to the Supreme Court, and will happily act on them, but that’s just about it. Yet, that’s hardly the Catholic view of ‘respect for life’…and Amy Coney Barret is well aware of that, too.
Let’s begin with the obvious, the Catholic doctrine regarding respect for life goes far beyond unborn fetuses. … There are issues with serving in the military, issues with immigration relief and, of course, issues with capital punishment. With a little squinting, the Catholic views on all of these are usually consonant with the New Testament. In other words, we should not be fighting in any wars except a so called ‘Just’ war’, that is, wars of self-defense. We should be sharing our communal space with hungry neighbors (i.e., immigrants), and, of course, we should be against capital punishment. In fact, the New Testament never mentions ‘abortions’ at all, but that’s another can of worms.
With regard to Amy Barret, I suspect she may actually agree with these Catholic views, to an extent anyhow. And she apparently understands the notion of separating her religious views from her more formal state ordained duties. In fact, in an article for the Marquette Law Review titled: “Catholic Judges in Capital Cases.” Barrett explicitly argued that “Catholic judges should recuse themselves from cases that involve the death penalty. She argued that the Catholic Church’s moral stance against the death penalty might make it impossible for Catholic judges to dispense the impartial justice citizens are entitled to.”
So far, so good. This is the Kennedy standard, the Kaine standard, the Biden standard. Only problem is, Barret only applies it to capital punishment—a conservative must have, but not abortion—a conservative must never have. The Catholic Church of course, apparently not versed in GOP orthodoxy makes no such distinction, but Amy Coney Barret does. According to the Nation magazine, on the Seventh Circuit, she has sought to impose herself on abortion decisions that weren’t even on her desk. In 2018, a three-judge panel invalidated an Indiana law requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated. Barrett voted to reconsider the ruling in front of the full circuit. Her side lost, but the Supreme Court eventually reinstated the law. In 2019, Barret again voted to have a case reviewed before the full circuit that involved requiring girls under the age of 18 to receive consent from a parent before getting an abortion, including girls who had already received a court order allowing them to have one.
These are not the actions of a person trying to keep their personal beliefs out of an abortion debate. Quite the opposite.
Barret wants it both ways, recusal based on her beliefs when it involves saving a human’s life from the death penalty, but no word of her belief structure when it comes to abortion cases—for which she should also recuse herself–but she does not. It’s a kind of morality that’s applied only when it’s politically convenient. There’s a word for this: hypocrisy.
As Joan Walsh quipped acerbically, “She’ll put herself between a woman and her doctor but won’t stand in front of an executioner and a defenseless prisoner.”
But there is a consistent ideology in all of this—it just has nothing to do with her Catholicism. It’s all about her extremist conservative views that are okay with the death penalty but not abortion.
In fact, to arrive at her position she actually has to ignore the moral and ethical underpinnings of her faith. She is the worst type of person to put on the Supreme Court, not specifically because she wants to ‘advance the Kingdom of God’ (although that’s still problematic)… and certainly not because she’s a faithful Catholic, but because she is a fierce conservative ideologue—and she hypocritically uses her religion, and the New Testament ‘respect for life’ as a shield for a cruel ideology which neither respects life, nor ultimately, the Catholic religion.
Dear Floyd County-An Open Letter
Following is a letter penned by Mara Eve Robbins, a one time Floyd resident and community activist who has worked tirelessly in the anti-Pipeline movements across the country. She is also a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
There were a lot of things I didn’t know before 2015 brought racist flags out of people’s yards and basements and onto the streets of my hometown after the terrible shooting in Charleston where nine black people in a bible study group were murdered by Dylann Roof. There were a lot of things I didn’t know before witnessing riot gear on the streets of my hometown in 2017 when there was a “rally and ride for confederate pride” in early September while we still grieved the tragedy in Charlottesville. There were a lot of things I didn’t know before the death of George Floyd brought the realities of racism in America undeniably before the eyes of conscientious people everywhere.
Yet once I know? I cannot UN-know.
Given that the population of Floyd is predominantly white, it’s important to acknowledge that when white people allow symbols and representations of slavery, colonization and other cruel portions of our history to continue a legacy of violence, intimidation and oppression that we are complicit in their continuation. Passively allowing a confederate monument to be centered at our courthouse is an example of something I hear often right now: “white silence is white violence.”
The statues delivered by the Daughters of the Confederacy to communities across the south were intended to be a threatening presence. They towered over our better selves and better intentions, threatening the black community and others when a physical presence of authority (such as a police officer) was not present. They promote, perpetuate and emphasize white supremacy. If you have lingering doubts? According to the publication Facing South: “Sixty-one years after the end of the Civil War, the UDC constructed a memorial to the Ku Klux Klan outside of the city of Concord, North Carolina.”
And yet over and over again, there are some in Floyd who present their own experience of the monument and the racist flag as facts. I do not deny people their personal truths or favorite stories, often passed down through families and often overlooking racism altogether, even if I disagree. There are still some in Floyd who strongly disagree with the facts. But disagreement does not equate accuracy. By all means, this narrative must be challenged.
Our actual history and heritage in Floyd County is nuanced and complex. It deserves to be honored through celebration of diversity, inclusion and compassion. What we inherit from our ancestry, though it is part of our heritage, can also be laden with trauma and maladaptive habits. Do we choose to look the other way when faced with the uncomfortable realities of our own racism? Or do we work together as friends and neighbors to learn, grow and prosper as families and beloved community? Simply knowing that we have white privilege is not enough. We must be willing to leverage that privilege to help create justice for everyone.
Because once you know? You cannot UN-know.
Removing the unknown soldier from the courthouse lawn will make many things known. It will be made known that the citizens of Floyd County no longer tolerate symbols of racism. It will be made known that we will not be bullied and abused into silence by the presence of white supremacy in our community or our government. And it will facilitate previously unknown stories to make their way from the shadows of our dark past into the light where healing can begin.
Knowing what we now know, it is evident that the unknown common soldier does not represent the Floyd we all know and love. Local leaders must take swift action to immediately remove this racist monument from our public ground. I fervently hope that those who disagree with this action find compassion in their hearts for those who have been brutalized by racism and choose to change their minds. I hope they do not create another “lost cause” battle of division and unnecessary separation. I hope they are able to understand that in order to preserve the peace, the statue must be removed. It is time. #TakeItDown.
Mara Eve Robbins
Lies, Damned Lies and Police Reports
I spent some time in the last few weeks hanging out at the beautiful Marcus-David Peters Circle (nee Lee Monument) that a prominent and well-designed sign tells me has been liberated by the people in this year of our Lord, 2020 (in Roman numerals, no less: MMXX). I went there to get a true sense of what was happening on Richmond’s most prominent avenue—and also what was going wrong. The Marcus-David Peters Circle is now a place for families to hang out, play basketball, throw footballs, barbecue, play music, wave flags, practice art, shout in grief over murdered citizens, and even celebrate marriages. It is also, alas, a place to get shot with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed, and tear gassed.
If you have been paying attention the last few weeks, the title of this article should not surprise. Nearly a month ago, on June 1st, police tear gassed peaceful protesters at around 7:30 pm at the Marcus-David Peters Circle. The nominal reason for tear gassing a bunch of folks hanging out, posing absolutely no threat to anyone was declared in this 8 p.m. tweet from the Richmond Police Department (RPD):
“Some RPD officers in that area were cut off by violent protestors. The [tear] gas was necessary to get them to safety.”
But there were at least two drone video recordings that directly contradict this report. One of them is linked below. Check out the black vehicle / truck at 4.08. Near the end, check out the cop, cheerfully waving goodbye to the protesters. This occurred well before the 8 p.m. curfew.
Richmond Times Dispatch reporter, Katy Evans even rebutted the official narrative, saying: “This contradicts what I saw. I did not see any violent protesters or anyone cut you [police] off. I was among those standing closest to you all [police] at this time.”
Another video, shared multiple times, from Virginia Public Media (VPM) illustrates how vicious and arbitrary the use of pepper spray was. Check at about .20 seconds. Also note the police holding up their pepper spray in symbolic victory as they ‘take back’ the circle.
There were also attacks on the press. VPM reporter, Roberto Roldan gave this account:
“After showing my badge and yelling “I am with the press” a Richmond Police officer sprayed pepper spray in my face and shoved me to the ground. [He] had “3397” on his helmet. I’m out.”
It’s apparent neither the Richmond City police nor the Virginia State police liked the press that evening. NBC 12 Olivio Ugino was dragged out of her car when she tried to video tape the police riot.
“Police seem to be swarming vehicles and arresting those out past curfew. I attempted to get out of my car to shoot video and was approached by officers with guns pulled and was told to get on the ground.”
Even with protestors fully subdued, (literary tie cuffed at their feet), the police behavior was incredibly vile. This video shows an officer spitting on a detained protester.
The video was sent to the Richmond Police Department who initially denied they had arrested anyone, and that the video was not filmed that day. After finally acknowledging it was in fact accurate, the police said the officers did not spit on the protestor, but just in the grass beside the protester.
But VPM had their own video of the incident which they released. It shows multiple officers spitting on the same detained person.
The Richmond Times Dispatch also posted a video. It is heavily edited and does not show what the others show; neither the drone footage nor the direct use of pepper spray on protesters. Rather, it shows folks initially berating the officers and then, weirdly shaking their hands.
So I suppose this is a tale of two protests; but only one of them is true.
After being confronted with the drone coverage, and caught in an obvious lie, the Mayor subsequently issued an apology and said there would be an investigation. He declared that he would march with protesters to show solidarity.
“Every peaceful protester should be allowed to protest, that is your right. That’s the bottom line, and we violated that,” Stoney told the crowd at City Hall.
Then Police Chief William Smith also apologized and also took a knee briefly after being invited to do so by a woman in the crowd.
“I apologize for the mistakes that we have made,” Smith said.
This didn’t exactly mollify the throng of people, many of whom had been tear gassed for no apparent reason, shot at with rubber bullets, and spit on. They called for resignations.
Not three days later, a Richmond Police SUV plowed through a crowd of activists at the Marcus-David Peters Circle — no one was seriously injured but there was considerable outrage. The mayor said in a tweet that the driver of the Police SUV was placed on leave pending an investigation.
Not satisfied with that response, the activists moved their protest to the hornet’s nest itself, directly outside the Richmond Police Headquarters. They demanded the release of arrested protesters and to hold officers accountable for the tear gassing and driving their SUV through the crowd—and getting spit on, of course.
By Monday night the situation got out of hand—not by the protesters who remained non-violent, if agitated – but by the police. That evening the Richmond police said they declared the group of activist an ‘illegal assembly’ and began firing pepper spray and rubber bullets at protesters. Yet a person who shot the video of protesters being tear gassed said they did not hear the message that they were an ‘unlawful assembly’ before officers sent the canisters flying.
Activist Jimmie Lee Jarvis charged that “It turned violent, but the first act of violence was from the police.” Prior to being gassed, the activists were peaceful and nonviolent. According to Jarvis, the police officers were “very eagerly deploying pepper spray at people who were not doing anything” other than yelling at the police.
“I saw many protesters who were vomiting, crying,” Jarvis added. “I saw people kind of collapsing on the ground.”
Councilman Mike Jones and Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch had joined protesters on that Monday evening and afterwards, Councilman Jones simply tweeted “Can’t believe what I saw this evening.”
“I’ve marched before, protested before,” Jones noted. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever encountered that number of police in riot gear and with the big guns out.”
“People were crying and screaming and vomiting and running for their lives,” observed Stephanie Lynch.
The two council members both deemed the show of force unnecessary. Jones called the use of tear gas and rubber bullets on Richmond protesters “anti-American,” while Lynch added that it’s the latest example of inappropriate response and brutality.
“There has to be another way to deescalate a situation so that innocents are not impacted by something as impactful as tear gas, chemical irritants and flashbangs,” Jones said.
“Using it on civilians, as we saw [Monday] night, is just a completely inappropriate response,” Lynch added. “Many would share the same sentiment that it has had the opposite impact of coming to a peaceful resolution.”
Following the unrest, Mayor Stoney requested Richmond Police Chief Will Smith’s resignation. Chief Smith turned it in.
“He has served this city with grace but we are ready to move it in a new direction”, Mayor Stoney said at press conference on Tuesday. Stoney also vowed a slate of reforms for the department.
Then without community input, the Mayor appointed William ‘Jody’ Blackwell to be the interim police chief for Richmond.
That was a bad move. Shortly after being appointed by Stoney, details about a fatal shooting in 2002 involving Blackwell resurfaced.
Blackwell never faced charges in the case but an investigation was launched and a grand jury heard evidence, including details that 26-year-old Jeramy Gilliam was reportedly shot in the back, and that the alleged weapon he pointed at Blackwell was found 35 feet away from him and lacked fingerprints.
This would be exactly the kind of thing BLM activists would protest, so let’s say, it was not a nuanced decision; and hardly one concerned about community input as Stoney had promised.
When he was introduced to the city by the Mayor Stoney, Blackwell was asked about the fatal shooting of Gilliam but evaded the question, saying he would not “go into any details associated with it.” But he did promise “we’re going to get the city back.” To what, or for whom, he did not say, but it turned out to be a phrase that was far more portentous than prophetic. Blackwell lasted just a little over ten days.
Jody Blackwell began his short tenure by trying to close down the heart of the protest at beautiful Marcus-David Peters Circle. Shortly after he took office, on June 22, Virginia State Police, Richmond Police, Capitol Police and Virginia Division of General Services announced “important public safety changes” that closed the Marcus-David Peters Circle from sunset to sunrise.
Apparently, there were noise complaints (admittedly police helicopters, police flash bangs, police tear gas shots, and police pepper pellets are very loud—so maybe a good solution would be for the police to not be there?) and at least one person complained of the avenue “wreaking of urine as she walked her dog”—which, frankly, I never noticed, and I’ve walked my dog all around that circle; and up and down Monument avenue.
At any rate, no matter how trivial the complaints, the protesters complied. They marched to Richmond City Hall to stage a teach-in and named the area Reclamation Square. They used traffic barriers to block off the 900 block of Marshall Street, North of City Hall so they could have their sit in without fear of getting run over by a rogue SUV. They were going to watch a movie, and discuss police violence, and talk tactics, draw up a list of demands–including reopening the Marcus-David Peters case; defunding the Richmond Police Department; dropping charges against arrested protesters; removing Confederate monuments; establishing a civilian review board with subpoena power to investigate police misconduct; and releasing the names of Richmond police officers under investigation for excessive use of force—so everyone would know why they were out there. Alas, they didn’t get that far.
According to Blue Virginia, shortly after midnight “approximately 100 police officers from Virginia State and Richmond Police showed up at 12:30 AM. They marched to the corner of Marshall and 10th at 12:45 AM and held formation in riot gear for approximately 45 minutes. During this time, a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the protest “had been declared an unlawful assembly” and that “failure to disperse will result in arrest and the use of chemical agents.”
For the record, “‘unlawful assembly’ declarations require a group of people committing violence or a clear and present danger of imminent violence, but the protesters did not move and did not engage in any violence. Nevertheless, at 1:27 AM, Richmond and Virginia State Police brutally attacked them.”
You can get a sense of how brutal from the video below.
Ultimately, a good protest will show how broken a system is. When British soldiers march horses through passive Indians, clubbing from their horse mounts, or when ‘Bull’ Conner unleashes his dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, we see at once the injustice, the unfairness, and the terrible vapidity of official violence.
At Reclamation Square, the police showed everyone exactly what they were. The Virginia State Police and Richmond Police gave a brilliant performance of the now classic ‘police riot.’
According to Blue Virginia, reporting from the ground: “The police start running and grabbing people who are trying to get away as clouds of gas rise to envelop the City Seal on City Hall. Half a block to the right is Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s home.”
“It becomes a horror scene. You can hear blood-curdling screams from victims. The light has changed as if there’s a fire. I try to film the screams and the police come at me though I’m far away from the protests. White privilege kept me safe while others were brutalized for their political views. It went from peaceful to this in less than three minutes.”
There was actually a strobe light used as an anti-assembly device by the Police, hence the nightmarish lighting.
Breanne Armbrust, who arrived at the demonstration around 8 p.m., said there was no sign of police for hours. She said some of the protesters had used their cars to block the intersection around 11:45 p.m. to prevent anyone from driving into the area where they were gathered. Police SUVs arrived shortly thereafter, she said, but officers were wearing typical uniforms — not riot gear.
It wasn’t until roughly 12:30 a.m. that Virginia State Police officers clad in riot gear arrived.
“Not one person was prepared or expecting there was going to be an incident with police,” Armbrust said.
At the time, civilians, two of whom were using wheelchairs, were sitting at a nearby GRTC bus stop, but Armbrust said that officers did not alert the bystanders of their intent to use chemical agents.
After arriving, officers attempted to make an announcement while pointing strobe lights at demonstrators. Amid the flashing lights, Armbrust said that she and others present could not comprehend what was being announced. Officers began firing tear gas canisters — oftentimes at a close range — around 1 a.m.
“I’ve been protesting for a long time and I’ve never seen what I’ve been seeing,” said Armbrust, who is the director of a nonprofit organization in the city. “There was just complete chaos that was happening.”
Between 1 and 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, officers released several waves of tear gas on demonstrators, she said, also using rubber bullets and pepper pellets to disperse the crowd. Since she joined the protests May 29, Armbrust said she has never seen “the volume of tear gas” deployed as it was that Tuesday.
Chased from Reclamation Square, the protesters moved back to beautiful Marcus-David Peters circle. That next Friday, June 26, Blackwell made his ‘last stand.’
Initially, the Virginia Capitol Police said they “arrived at the Lee monument at 10 p.m. Friday, declared the gathering illegal and all 100-plus people inside immediately left.”
Apparently the activists didn’t ‘leave’ fast enough for the Richmond police or State police, however.
The following first hand account is from Blue Virginia:
“At roughly 10:25 PM, officers were using paintball guns to take potshots at protesters far outside of Lee circle. There [outside the circle] many dozens of people who were not protesting but were lining the streets enjoying what had been a beautiful Friday evening. Thirty seconds later, police launched an unprovoked attack with tear gas, Skat Shells, and flash bangs. The recording can only pick up so much noise, but you can see the ground shake in this residential neighborhood filled with families and elderly people.”
“The opening salvo inevitably wounded people. You can see and hear a Black man writhing in pain being treated by medics. He gets on his feet perhaps a hundred yards away from the officers and screams and is met with more militarized violence. It is impossible – impossible – for anyone to maintain the officers are fearful and this is reasonable force.”
“Richmond Police left the Circle and walked en masse about a quarter mile to the corner of Allen and Park by Bethel Assembly of God Church. They appeared to be packing up their cars to leave when one officer told another: “Grab somebody. Get a hold of somebody.” An officer sprinted about 15 yards and assaulted and arrested a man peacefully standing on the sidewalk (video from woznyphoto). Every lawyer reading this knows how egregiously illegal this is.”
“The officers form a ring around the innocent victim. When they lift him up you see he is dazed. A woman tries to speak with him and she is assaulted. An officer deploys pepper spray, and dozens of people on the street start to cough during a pandemic.”
“In the area where this person was arbitrarily arrested, there was no declaration of unlawful assembly; the Richmond Police had already started their engines and were leaving. These individuals were doing nothing more than exercising their constitutional rights to political speech and to film police.”
In short, this is a false arrest, no doubt, one of many. The Richmond Police wrote up the incident saying the individual was arrested for “unlawful assembly and obstruction of justice” and “an RPD officer deployed pepper spray one time, due to ongoing assaults from the crowd.”
There’s a word for this kind of police report. It’s called a lie.
William “Jody” Blackwell resigned the following day. A few hours after his resignation, apparently fearing a leadership vacuum, Mayor Stoney announced the new head of the Richmond Police Department.
His name is Officer Gerald Smith.
Mayor Stoney said that “He is a reform-minded change agent who I think is going to be able to bring the reimagining of policing and public safety we need here in the great city of Richmond.”
But again, the facts are not in favor of the official narrative.
Gerald Smith was most recently Deputy Chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
You might have heard of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police because they are in the middle of an ugly lawsuit over their use of “riot control” agents against protesters they had entrapped during a peaceful June 2 rally. In fact, a judge is temporarily restricting the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s use of riot control agents (like tear gas and pepper spray) following the incident.
The lawsuit accuses Police Chief Putney of organizing a formal plan to end peaceful protests with a “deliberate show of force in an apparent frustration that the protests would not cease.”
That story has unfortunate echoes close to home.
I’m not sure what — if any — lesson Deputy Chief Gerald Smith may have drawn from Chief Putney’s failed effort at suppressing free speech, or his time at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, but let us hope it is one that does not involve rubber bullets, tear gas or pepper spray.
Yesterday, June 30, Governor Northam extended a state of emergency which promises more funds for Virginia State police and Richmond police and Richmond City and likely signals an even more permissive attitude toward violence with regard to protesters. The order also includes activation of the Virginia National Guard. When questioned about the activation, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the administration has “absolutely no plans to deploy the National Guard,” and said a reference to it in the order is standard language.
The ACLU noted that Northam’s “actions show no understanding of the anti-Black racism that infects our civil and social structures, accepts the police version of the facts and demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize that treating people as enemy combatants invites violence rather than quells it,”
Later, in the evening on June 30, the ACLU lost a request for a preliminary injunction on the use of tear gas in a law suit brought against the Virginia State Police and Richmond Police for violating protesters first amendment rights to speech and assembly.
Today, July 1st, an all night vigil is planned for beautiful Marcus-David Peters Circle.
Note: This article is based on multiple eye witness accounts many of whom wish to remain anonymous. I’ve also sourced published articles, public twitter and media accounts and commentaries where available, including VPM news media, Blue Virginia, the Commonwealth Times, Jimmie Lee Jarvis, various other local news outlets, and the ACLU.
Virginia Code on what constitutes and ‘unlawful assembly’
- 18.2-406. What constitutes an unlawful assembly; punishment.
Whenever three or more persons assembled share the common intent to advance some lawful or unlawful purpose by the commission of an act or acts of unlawful force or violence likely to jeopardize seriously public safety, peace or order, and the assembly actually tends to inspire persons of ordinary courage with well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order, then such assembly is an unlawful assembly. Every person who participates in any unlawful assembly shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. If any such person carried, at the time of his participation in an unlawful assembly, any firearm or other deadly or dangerous weapon, he shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony.
Code 1950, §§ 18.1-254.1, 18.1-254.3; 1968, c. 460; 1971, Ex. Sess., c. 251; 1975, cc. 14, 15.
A Hidden History: General Robert E. Lee (or what old Virginia History Books Leave Out)
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and other proponents of the “Lost Cause” narrative, I grew up reading about the kindly General, Robert E. Lee.
I knew it was weird, but I didn’t know how weird at the time. There was a kind of breath taking apotheosis of the man. Here’s a sample : one of Lee’s ex-generals, Jubal A. Early wrote two years after his death: “Our beloved Chief stands, like some lofty column which rears its head among the highest, in grandeur, simple, pure and sublime.”
But, of course, once you get past that delusional reverence and read his actual history, you realize that Lee’s treatment of his own enslaved people, and blacks, in general, could well fall into the category of plain old evil.
Let’s begin with his attitudes about race. He was a proponent of white supremacy: that was one of General Lee’s most fundamental convictions—and his fatal flaw; it was not ancillary to his efforts as general of the Confederacy; it was core.
Some folks point out that he once wrote a letter to suggest slavery was a moral and political evil. There’s some truth to that, but read the full letter (https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/arlington-bobby-lee-and-the-peculiar-institution/61428/), Lee considered it a greater evil to the white master than the enslaved black. In short, slavery was another of the white man’s “burden.”—an institution he quite usefully employed himself, presumably for profit as well as the ‘uplifting of the black race.’
Here are some examples of his general attitude.
Lee told Congress that black people lacked the intellectual capacity of white people and “could not vote intelligently,” and that granting them suffrage would “excite unfriendly feelings between the two races.” Lee explained that “the negroes have neither the intelligence nor the other qualifications which are necessary to make them safe depositories of political power.”
“Well,” his defenders might say, “Lee was a man of his time and place: that was the current attitude back then. He was just misguided, but truly, he `was a good Christian man, and gentle man to his slaves.’”
No, alas, he may have been Christian, but he was neither kind nor just to his enslaved people, even by the letter of the South’s own oppressive laws on the matter.
In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on his estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.”
Pyror notes that the way Lee treated his enslaved people nearly led to a slave revolt. They had expected to be freed upon their previous master’s death.
John Reeves, a historian and author of the book, “The Lost Indictment of Robert E. Lee: The Forgotten Case Against an American Icon,” said that Lee wanted to work the slaves beyond the five-year limit stated in his father-in-law’s will. Lee fought in court to keep the slaves working because he didn’t know if he would be able to pay off his legacies otherwise.
Wesley Norris was one of those slaves. He was born a slave on the plantation that Lee managed after his father-in-law died. Norris testified during the court fight that Lee beat him when he tried to run away. Wesley Norris recalled that “not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done.”
It wasn’t just his own slaves that Lee fought tooth and nail to keep enslaved. Pryor writes that “evidence links virtually every infantry and cavalry unit in Lee’s army” to the abduction of free black Americans, “with the activity under the supervision of senior officers.”
According to Adam Serwer writing in the Atlantic, “Soldiers under Lee’s command at the Battle of the Crater in 1864 massacred black Union soldiers who tried to surrender. Then, in a spectacle hatched by Lee’s senior corps commander, A. P. Hill, the Confederates paraded the Union survivors through the streets of Petersburg to the slurs and jeers of the southern crowd. Lee never discouraged such behavior. As the historian Richard Slotkin wrote in No Quarter: The Battle of the Crater, “his silence was permissive.”
Even as President of Washinton and Lee College, Lee’s unflagging white supremacist attitude held sway. According to Pryor, students at Washington formed their own chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, and were known by the local Freedmen’s Bureau to attempt to abduct and rape black schoolgirls from the nearby black schools. There is no record of Robert E. Lee ever disciplining students for this activity, or ever publicly denouncing the KKK, which was initially founded in 1866 for the specific purpose of terrorizing freed blacks.
As the debate about Lee’s monument rages, it might be advisable for those who attempt to defend the monument’s place on the avenue to read and understand that they are defending a slave holder, a racist, and a rather ugly white supremacist. For those who continue to argue historical context, we should point out that he tried to avoid the laws of his own time to enslave lives that should have been freed. He whipped and tortured enslaved people that tried to escape his control. He allowed his men to slaughter defeated black soldiers, when he didn’t parade them before a mocking crowds of angry white southerners. He turned a blind eye to terrorist organizations formed against the black community, and ignored the rape of innocent black girls.
Ultimately, he is a moral, political and military failure who denied blacks’ humanity to the detriment of his troops, even as he ignored his own white student’s gross moral turpitude. If he was a ‘Christian’ he certainly did not show it to the black men and women of his day. If he deserves to be remembered any place as a ‘Christian man’, it might very well be in hell; certainly not on a public avenue where he caused so much harm to so many of our brethren.
It’s time to say good bye — not to erase history — but to embrace it, because he should have never been put on that pedestal in the first place.
“I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This”
A CNN journalist and his entire camera crew were arrested by Minnesota state police Friday morning on live television while covering riots in Minneapolis over the murder of George Floyd. The lead reporter, Omar Berman, carefully asked where he should be, what he should do, and deferred obsequiously to the state police who, nevertheless, arrested him.
When he asked what was going on, he was told by a nearby state trooper, “I’m just doing my job, man.” (That last phrase, of course, has interesting historical echoes, but we’ll leave that thread for another day)
Attorney Midwin Charles noted the rich irony of arresting a CNN reporter for reporting the news “but not Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd on camera.”
As Omar Jimenez and others were led away, CNN anchor John Berman—back in the studio watching the arrests happen live—gasped, more than once, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Maybe Berman hasn’t seen anything like it, personally, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time reporters have been ‘blocked’ from reporting sensitive topics. Especially when it comes to America’s seemingly ubiquitous cops (usually white, usually unapologetic) who kill minorities that cause subsequent riots (usually non-white, usually furious).
You might recall one of the first riots in Alabama was really a ‘police riot’ featuring the relatively infamous officer, James Clark, who liked to wear a ‘never integrate’ button on duty (not too dissimilar from Derek Chauvin, I would imagine.)
Clark stood among his fellow state troopers in February 1965 outside the Zion’s Chapel Methodist church, waiting for 500 or so civil rights activists to file out. When the doors to the church opened, police shot out the streetlights, sprayed black paint on the lenses of reporters’ cameras and charged into the crowd. The New York Times reported “loud whacks rang through the square”… The police chased some of the protesters into a place called Mack’s cafe, overturned tables, lunged at patrons.
Jimmie Lee Jackson rushed to defend his mother from a beating. State Trooper James Fowler pumped two bullets into Jackson’s stomach. He died eight days later. This sparked the Selma march and subsequent violence and riots. “He [Jimmie Jackson] was murdered” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “by the irresponsibility of every politician from governors on down who have fed constituents the stale bread of hatred, the spoiled meat of racism.”
The detail that strikes me in this account, among many, is spray painting the camera lenses with black paint and shooting out the street lights. Is this different, really, from arresting a CNN reporter? Doesn’t it serve the same end?
Much has changed since that day in 1965, of course, but apparently in none of the regards mentioned above.
We need something like the 1965 Voting Rights Act to control our police force—the CNN reporter should never have been arrested, of course. George Floyd should never have been murdered, as so many others have been murdered for years and years now. Much like the rotten core of Alabama’s state police, circa 1965, our contemporary police force needs cleaned up; needs to be ‘demilitarized’, and needs retraining. If you can only control a populace with rifles, teargas and billy clubs; you’re not a peace officer, you’re an occupying force. I’ll add, that you only need an occupying force when you also have a disastrously unfair and inequitable system.
The death of Jimmie Lee Jackson led to the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which ultimately led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As I write, protestors and activists are not only marching in Minneapolis over the murder of George Floyd, they are also marching all across the country, even here in Richmond, Virginia. One can only hope something equally positive, like a law that addresses the gross inequities in our legal system, redefines down the limits of police power and the use of force, and readdresses the penalties when those limits are breached, will come out of this monstrous injustice.
We might begin with two simple, conjoined tasks:
1) Disarm/ demilitarize the police force and limit the police use of force. The police are still receiving surplus military supplies from our overseas adventures. Personally, I’d love a country with no police force, but if we must have one, than I want one that operates with very limited firepower. No one needs Rambo in their hood. Maybe a bobby with a silly hat, if we must have police at all.
2) Establish a public citizen’s board to oversee police and their use of force completely separate from the police hierarchy or the attorney general’s office. A large part of the current problem is an implicit prosecutorial bias baked into the structure of our justice system. An attorney general has no real motivation to out bad behavior if their success on prosecutions rest on the very police who may be acting badly. Take police oversight out of their hands entirely and let a separate, publically formed citizens board review police behavior–and penalize appropriately.
An equitable legal system; a non-militarized, non-racist and defanged police force–maybe a state in which a police force is hardly noticed at all. That’s something we’d like to see for the first time.
April 9th, Covid-19 News Round Up
John Prine died two nights ago. Ellis Marsalis died a few days earlier. Thus far, an additional 95,000 other individuals have also died, some under exceedingly awful conditions. Despite this, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to postpone or even allow for mail in ballots in Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Here is Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent on the Wisconsin decision that forced these voters to the polls in the middle of a pandemic:
“…the court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement.” “The majority of this Court declares that this case presents a “narrow, technical question”
“The Court’s suggestion that the current situation is not ‘substantially different’ from ‘an ordinary election’ boggles the mind…” “The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following election day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety, or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance—to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation.”
Additionally, as if they couldn’t reach any lower, ethically, the Supreme Court of the United States voted for this decision, remotely. They voted from the comfort of their homes to force poor people in Wisconsin to vote in person in the middle of a pandemic.
So there’s that. But in addition to the GOP, and the Supreme Court, we have the President—Trump– waging an all-out war on independent oversight.
First, he fired the intelligence community’s Inspector General Michael Atkinson on Friday night in clear retribution for Atkinson’s handling of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint. Then, he went after Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm for her office’s report detailing pervasive testing delays and supply shortages at hospitals across the country. The report revealed the extent to which hospitals were struggling to meet the health care demands associated with treating COVID-19 patients. The thorough review included interviews from 323 hospitals across 46 states and stood in stark contrast with the rhetoric coming from the president. Naturally, Trump labeled the report a “Fake Dossier” and suggested “politics” influenced it, and that it was “just wrong”.
And today, he removed Glenn Fine, the inspector general who was tapped by his peers to lead the panel of federal watchdogs tasked with overseeing the execution of the coronavirus relief package.
As Robert Reich has said, “If this isn’t abuse of power, I don’t know what is. Independent oversight is critical for every administration; for an administration as thoroughly corrupt and amoral as this one, it’s absolutely paramount.”
But wait, there’s more.
FEMA is apparently rounding up medical supplies but no one knows where they are going (https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-04-07/hospitals-washington-seize-coronavirus-supplies).
The Trump administration is also using federal dollars to buy supplies from China, off loading them to private companies and having states bid against each other for these supplies. (https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/2020/03/27/coronavirus-states-battle-each-other-world-ppe-medical-gear/2907297001/)
Talking Points Memo is reporting that “a pattern is coming into view: the White House seizes goods from public officials and hospitals across the country while doling them out as favors to political allies and favorites, often to great fanfare to boost the popularity of those allies. The Denver Post today editorialized about one of the most egregious examples. Last week, as we reported, a shipment of 500 ventilators to the state of Colorado was intercepted and rerouted by the federal government. Gov. Jared Polis (D) sent a letter pleading for the return of the equipment. Then yesterday President Trump went on Twitter to announce that he was awarding 100 ventilators to Colorado at the behest of Republican Senator Cory Gardner, one of the most endangered Republicans on the ballot this year. As the Post put it, “President Donald Trump is treating life-saving medical equipment as emoluments he can dole out as favors to loyalists. It’s the worst imaginable form of corruption — playing political games with lives.”
Not only is this ripping off the states when they are being crushed economically, people probably died for this incandescent bit of political favoritism– and may still be dying.
“It’s hard to know whether President Trump even knew in this case that his pandemic task force had swiped away five times as many ventilators just days before. Indeed, we still don’t whether this is all a central part of the White House’s crisis strategy – grabbing supplies from blue states to hand out to endangered Republicans or red state allies – or simply a layering of corruption over the general chaos.”
Here’s more from Talking Points:
“For all the confusion, what is clear is that the federal government is demanding that states, localities and hospital systems find their own supplies while systematically interdicting those they do purchase and rerouting them in other directions while providing no explanation of what standards are being used to distribute them. At the same time, Republican officeholders keep turning up announcing windfalls of medical supplies courtesy of the President. In many cases, like Gardner, they’re Republicans within blue or purple states.”
Ladies and gentleman, I believe we are in the middle of a pandemic, and also, apparently, a slow motion coup.
March 22, Covid-19 News Round Up
Today, Rand Paul announced that he tested positive for Covid-19, the first U.S. Senator to be diagnosed with the ailment.
Sen. Paul will get the best care that our society can engineer. Unlike millions of other Americans, he will not need to be concerned with a shortage of ventilators and a lack of health insurance coverage. As a member of congress, all those details will be handled by doctors concerned for him and attentive to his needs. He will be treated to the finest health service our country has to offer.
Despite his good fortune, his father seems not to care. Last Monday, Ron Paul,said, “People should ask themselves whether this coronavirus ‘pandemic’ could be a big hoax, with the actual danger of the disease massively exaggerated.”
Neither of them have said anything during this crisis to indicate they’ve changed their perspectives in the face of an international health crisis. Their libertarian ideology — a decidedly selfish view of the world and of humankind, in general, seems firmly in control. Even as Rand Paul was awaiting test results for Covid-19, he availed himself of the Senate gym, essentially contaminating it for all the other Senators. Nor did he practice any reasonable form of self-quarantine, meeting with multiple colleagues on the very day he was taking the test. But beyond his personal venality in the matter, there is also his callous political obstruction. Senate leaders were scrambling Tuesday to pass coronavirus legislation as quickly as possible, but Sen. Rand Paul put a damper on those plans, forcing a vote on an amendment he authored, which would “require a social security number for purposes of the child tax credit, and to provide the President the authority to transfer funds as necessary, and to terminate United States military operations and reconstruction activities in Afghanistan.”
The amendment was a purely political play, with no hope of passage. Even so it delayed effective legislative response for two days. Ultimately, Paul was also a sole “no” vote on the $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill. Paul was seeking an equal amount of cuts in unspent foreign aid money to pay for the medical aid, because, apparently, spending extra money to prevent millions of people from dying just isn’t good enough.
His ideology, which weighs everything on the scales of a ‘free market’, could not even relent in the middle of a pandemic. As Maya Angelo has noted, “when people show you who they are, believe them.”
As tendentious as Paul’s record and attitude in this crisis has been, it’s not as vile as Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina who chairs the Senate Intelligence committee.
He sold off about 1.72 million dollars worth of stock soon after he offered public assurances that the government was ready to battle the coronavirus. The country was nowhere near ready, of course, and the fact that he sold off his stock as the result of insider information makes him a serious candidate for worst person of the week, if not the decade.
According to an NPR report, Burr had confided to attendees of a wealthy luncheon held at the Capitol Hill Club: “There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history … It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”
He warned that companies might have to curtail their employees’ travel, that schools could close and that the military might be mobilized to compensate for overwhelmed hospitals. All true and useful information, but none of it was publically available at that time. Only his wealthiest constituents got this advance notice.
The luncheon was organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a club for businesses and organizations in North Carolina that are charged up to $10,000 for membership and are promised “interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector.”
So what his wealthy constituents got to hear in a private luncheon was the truth as Burr understood it at that time. What everyone else got to hear was another matter entirely.
In a Feb. 7 op-ed that he co-authored with another senator, Burr assured the public that “the United States today is better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats, like the coronavirus.” He wrote, “No matter the outbreak or threat, Congress and the federal government have been vigilant in identifying gaps in its readiness efforts and improving its response capabilities.”
This was a lie, of course. But he sold his stocks and let the wealthiest individuals in his social bracket know the truth of the matter—so they could prepare themselves and their businesses, as well.
In 2012, Congress passed a new law making it illegal for members of Congress to use inside information they gain through their official positions to buy and sell stock. Only three senators voted against the 2012 bill. Burr was one of them.
Meanwhile, our President has made such an inarticulate buffoon of himself that people are begging for him NOT to do anymore press conferences and let someone with a semblance of intelligence and compassion, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, take care of all public communications. The strong sense of disgust toward our erstwhile leader hasn’t prevented William Barr our sycophantic and deeply power mad Attorney General from floating a request to ‘suspend constitutional rights’ during the pandemic. Because how else will they maintain order when everything they do and don’t do brings us closer to eminent death?
If our legislative and Presidential leadership expresses itself with utter moral turpitude and an ethical perversity that makes Nixon’s excesses childishly quaint; the less powerful members of our society appear to be doing what needs to be done. In short, portions of our country are actually rising to the occasion, even as our executive leadership wallows in their incompetence. Local and state governments are mostly doing well (with a handful of exceptions— Florida, I’m looking at you- https://www.newsweek.com/lake-worth-beach-omari-hardy-covid-19-1493607) and local community efforts are also blooming like Aster flowers in the Spring.
A group that has been on the front lines of climate change, Extinction Rebellion, has formed a Mutual Aid Society and are calling for donations in Richmond, Virginia to help those less fortunate. (https://www.facebook.com/ShutItDownRVA/photos/gm.1385830658472779/2511566835610484/?type=3&theater)
A relief fund for restaurant workers has also been started in the local community.
Internationally, Cuba has sent doctors to Italy, which says more about the values their society holds dear than anything our own country has said about them in the last 50 years.
And Chef José Andrés has even repurposed his restaurants in the Washington, DC area as community kitchens. He told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki, “We cannot leave the communities alone … The idea is that when people are in the neighborhood, they may need food.” Adrés mentions that Congressional help for the restaurant industry will be needed “because America needs to be fed.”
Excellent sentiment, though, as they saying goes, I would hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The House may come through with help, and, paradoxically, with Rand Paul’s absence thanks to his Covid-19 diagnosis and reckless behavior–that has helped to quarantine five Republican senators–we might actually get some decent legislation pushed through the Senate. Sometimes, it seems, Karma can be a good thing.
Remember to wash your hands!
Below is a continously updated list of Covid-19 resources specific to Richmond, Virginia.
Penny Lane gofundme page
Patrick Henry gofundme page
Laura Lees gofundme page
PennyLane gofundme page
Cross Roads gofundme page
Social Democracy and FDR’s Second Bill of Rights
In 1944, just as World War II was coming to a close, and victory in Europe was in the offing, Franklin Delano Roosevelt outlined what he called the 2nd Bill of Rights. In his 1994, State of the Union Address, he argued that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and original Bill of Rights were insufficient, or in his words, had proved “inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”
From that premise, he pivoted to a Second Bill of Rights that he carefully enumerated in his speech. The main points were:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
FDR explained that a “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” he argued,
“People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
So the purpose of the Second Bill of Rights or Economic Bill of Rights was really both economic and political. By guaranteeing a reasonable environment to ‘pursue’ happiness, he hoped to stabilize our democracy and banish the attraction of dictators and authoritarian strongmen who used economic distress to bolster their popularity.
“All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.”
“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Even though FDR urged Congress to consider vesting citizens with these eight new rights, a Second Bill of Rights was never formally introduced in Congress and never was interpreted by the Supreme Court. Promises of basic human dignities—such as guaranteeing the right to housing or to be free from monopoly power, for example—historically have not blended well with raw capitalist economies.
As Jill Priluck writes in Lapham’s Quarterly, “Elite American political culture traditionally has favored a form of Adam Smith individualism in which the pursuit of self-interest, the sanctity of private property, and the right to be left alone are paramount.” These folks would be the market-fetish neoliberals of today.
I suspect our less elite political culture suffers a kind of Stockholm syndrome in this regard. Not only are they deprived of decent living standards and healthcare and retirement, they are told it’s their own fault. Sadly, too many believe this cruel tripe.
Despite our gross negligence in this matter, other countries across the world took FDR’s words seriously—and have benefitted as a result. These countries are largely what we now call Social Democracies: Nordic countries, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark. To lesser degrees, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece. Most of the western industrial world, in fact.
As Cass Sunstein notes in The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever, countries developing constitutions coming out of World War II were also quick to embrace FDR’s concept. The South African and Iraqi constitutions guarantee a right to education, health care, social security, and housing. Finland’s establishes that everyone has “the right to basic sustenance.” Norway’s requires the state “to create conditions enabling every person capable of work to earn a living by his work.” In Spain’s constitution, ratified thirteen years before Roosevelt’s speech, the nation “shall assure to every worker the conditions necessary for a fitting existence,” including “economic sufficiency through adequate and periodically updated pensions” to citizens in old age.
Constitutions in Portugal, Brazil, Poland, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Peru, and Egypt all recognize some form of Roosevelt’s economic rights. Mexico’s 1917 constitution included social-welfare provisions years before the Second Bill of Rights was proposed. U.S. state constitutions recognize aspects of the bill, such as the right to education.”
After Roosevelt’s death in 1945, his ideas informed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Article 25, for example, you can find many of FDR’s tenants summarized:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
It was the foundation for two covenants adopted by the UN General Assembly: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which, along with the declaration, are known as the International Bill of Rights. The two covenants are binding in countries that have ratified them. The treaty protects the right to work; the right to organize; the right to bargain collectively; the right to social security; the right to social and medical assistance; the right to social, legal, and economic protection of the family; and the right to protection and assistance for migrant workers and their families. Ultimately, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights was ratified by 167 countries—but not by the United States.
Social Democracies like Sweden, Finland or Norway that have implemented FDR’s Second Bill of Rights have built amazing economies and wonderfully sustainable systems for their citizens. Maybe it’s time we learned from our own history, and did the same for our own people? In the end, maybe we, too, deserve what FDR promised for us nearly a century ago.
Below is a link to archived footage of FDR’s speech on the Second Bill of Rights:
By Jack Johnson