George Stinney’s Conviction Tossed Out … 70 Years After Execution

 George Stinney in 1944. Credit SC Department of Archives and History, via Associated Press

George Stinney in 1944. Credit SC Department of Archives and History, via Associated Press

By Jesse Wegman in The New York Times

Seventy years after he was executed in South Carolina, George Stinney’s conviction was vacated by a state judge Wednesday on the grounds that he had not received a fair trial.

Stinney, a 14-year-old black boy, was arrested in March 1944 for the murder of two white girls in Clarendon County, S.C. In less than three months, he was tried, convicted and put to death.

He was the youngest person to be executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Reports from the execution chamber said he was so small that the jolt of electricity knocked the mask from his face.

In a 28-page order, Judge Carmen T. Mullen — who heard testimony on the case in January — did not rule on the merits of the murder charges against Stinney, but found that there were “fundamental, constitutional violations of due process” across the board.

Indeed, nothing about Stinney’s case came close to meeting basic constitutional requirements.

He was arrested without a warrant and questioned without a lawyer.

The lawyer eventually appointed to defend him was a tax commissioner who had never before represented a criminal defendant.

The only evidence against him was the word of the local police chief who said he had confessed.

Stinney’s entire capital trial lasted three hours. His lawyer neither cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses nor called any witnesses for the defense.

The jury — all white in a county that was almost three-quarters black — convicted and condemned him in 10 minutes. There were no appeals.

Read more at The New York Times

The Eric Garner case’s sickening outcome

 Pallbearers carry the casket of Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church following his funeral service, Wednesday, July 23, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (John Minchillo/AP)

Pallbearers carry the casket of Eric Garner at Bethel Baptist Church following his funeral service, Wednesday, July 23, 2014, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (John Minchillo/AP)

Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post

I can’t breathe.

Those were Eric Garner’s last words, and today they apply to me. The decision by a Staten Island grand jury to not indict the police officer who killed him takes my breath away.

In the depressing reality series that should be called “No Country for Black Men,” this sick plot twist was shocking beyond belief. There should have been an indictment in the Ferguson case, in my view, but at least the events that led to Michael Brown’s killing were in dispute. Garner’s homicide was captured on video. We saw him being choked, heard him plead of his distress, watched as no attempt was made to revive him and his life slipped away.

This time, there were literally millions of eyewitnesses. Somebody tell me, just theoretically, how many does it take? Is there any number that would suffice? Or is this whole “equal justice before the law” thing just a cruel joke?

African American men are being taught a lesson about how this society values, or devalues, our lives. I’ve always said the notion that racism is a thing of the past was absurd — and that those who espoused the “post-racial” myth were either naive or disingenuous. Now, tragically, you see why.

Garner, 43, was an African American man. On July 17, he allegedly committed the heinous crime of selling individual cigarettes on the street. A group of New York City police officers approached and surrounded him. As seen in cellphone video footage recorded by an onlooker, Garner was puzzled that the officers seemed to be taking him into custody for such a piddling offense. He was a big man, but at no point did he strike out at the officers or show them disrespect.

Read more at The Washington Post

The Laws That Killed Eric Garner

From Ferguson to Staten Island, America’s Failure of Justice

No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

By Jay Michaelson in The Jewish Daily Forward

My hands are quaking with rage right now, but I will choose to write rationally. I can’t believe this has happened again, and happened here, in my own backyard.

“This” being a grand jury failing even to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black man. Not even a trial. Not even a public hearing of the evidence.

And this time with a video of the entire incident, which is your moral responsibility to watch.

But I fear that my own city is soon to be engulfed in violence, and the violent people are right. So for that reason, I will try, if I can, to take refuge in reason, and in law.

It’s true that the forces that killed Eric Garner include white supremacy, racism, anger, violence, fear, a broken criminal justice system, a broken healthcare system, and ignorance. And yet another overreacting white police officer.

But I want to focus on law, because it’s something we can do something about. Right after the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, after all, the Bible famously goes into a thousand tiny details of mishpatim, laws. By detailing everything from rules of evidence to the damages for a stolen lamb, the book of Exodus makes a strong claim: that the lofty moral imperatives of Sinai only have meaning if they are translated into just laws. The God is in the details.

American law, however, helped kill Eric Garner – and it will kill more black men like him in the future. Specifically, there is a lethal nexus between judicial deference to police officers on the one hand, and the expansion of police power on the other. Each alone is problematic, but together, they make justice nearly impossible.

Read more at The Daily Jewish Forward

Righteous Indignation in Ferguson

By Simon Waxman in the Boston Review

brown-banner

I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence. —Malcolm X

The grand jury’s decision to forgo indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown compels us yet again to recognize that there is more to violence than its dictionary definition.

In clinical terms, violence is physical force intended to cause injury. But when officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown this past August, he did not engage in violence. He engaged in self-defense. He was justified.

After the jury’s decision was announced, black Americans and their supporters, who see in the non-indictment a form of impunity, took to the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis. Their righteous indignation amounted to a “night of violence,” according to The Guardian and USA Today. KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate, used a common volcanic metaphor: “Violence erupts in Ferguson: Fire, looting, arrests.” Look at any of the major news outlets—shattered store windows and overturned police cruisers. That is violence, and there need be no inquiry into its justification.

Violence is a moral category, not an act. Where aggression is presumptively unjustified, it is violent. Where it is deemed acceptable by the norms of the community in which it occurs, it is not violence.

It is perilous to extrapolate too greatly from a single case, but that peril is not at issue in Ferguson, where Brown’s shooting reflects a widespread and historically endless pattern of white lawmen, and white men acting under cover of law, injuring and killing black men without engaging in what the society calls violence. Here again, the court asked what the victim did to warrant his fate. But the political problem, which courts can’t consider, is who has access to justification.

Read more at the Boston Review

Simon Waxman is the managing editor of the Boston Review.

Also by Simon Waxman: Zimmerman: The Criminal Trial Is a Privilege of Whiteness

Obama, Down but Not Out, Presses Ahead

By PETER BAKER and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISNOV in The New York Times

 President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw.   Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw. Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Obama emerged from last week’s midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama.

In the 10 days since “we got beat,” as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.

The timing of the three different decisions was to some extent a function of separate policy clocks, not simply a White House political strategy. Mr. Obama, for example, had been scheduled to travel to China for a summit meeting in mid-November, and American officials have been trying for most of the year to negotiate a climate agreement for him to announce while in Beijing.

Still, even if by happenstance, the back-to-back moves have reinforced Mr. Obama’s desire to assert himself in a period when his poll numbers and political capital are at their lowest ebbs. While losing Congress was a grievous blow that will further challenge his capacity to govern, advisers said that he feels liberated. He can now pursue his long-term agenda, they said, without being tethered to the short-term electoral concerns of his party’s leadership in Congress.

In the process, though, Mr. Obama has angered Republicans who accuse him of essentially defying the message sent by the electorate. All of the talk by the White House in recent days of working together with the new Congress seems belied by a president who has wasted little time advancing some of the same policies that were renounced just a week ago, Republicans said.

“The president is completely ignoring the will of the American voters, who turned out on Election Day and overwhelmingly elected people who wanted to change the direction of the country,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said in an interview. “Even today, the new polls show Americans would rather have Republicans make the agenda changes than the president.”

Read more at The New York Times

Bored voters produce lowest California voter turnout ever

 Dan Kysor's guide dog, Harry, lies next to him as poll workers help him vote using an adaptive computer at the California Museum in Sacramento, California, November 4, 2014.


Dan Kysor’s guide dog, Harry, lies next to him as poll workers help him vote using an adaptive computer at the California Museum in Sacramento, California, November 4, 2014.

SACRAMENTO —Democrats won every statewide office and a comfortable majority of the congressional delegation and legislative seats. Yet at Capitol Weekly’s election postmortem confab Thursday, Republicans were giddy and many Democrats were, well, agitated.

Even for California Republicans, Tuesday was heavenly. To start, they spent Tuesday night watching the GOP make big gains nationally — a happy change of pace. In state, it’s true as Democratic strategist Jason Kinney pronounced, Dems had a “wildly successful year.” The Dems won every statewide office on the ballot and the majority of legislative districts. Still, the GOP well may have poached three Democratically controlled congressional seats. Longtime incumbent Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, was trailing against a little-known Republican dairy farmer named Johnny Tacherra — even though Costa’s seat was not on politicos’ watch lists.

Republicans picked up seats and prevented the Democrats from holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. It’s the first time, wrote California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, that any Democratic incumbents were defeated since 1994. What’s more, the GOP put three Asian American women in the Legislature.

So the Dems should have been high-fiving each other, right? Instead, California Democratic Party Chief Financial Officer Angie Tate told the audience that people juggling two jobs and families didn’t feel like they had time to vote. And: “Did we lose some races? Most definitely. Did we know coming in we’d lose some races? Duh.”

The folks who watch these things believe that when all the ballots are counted, the turnout will be lower than the state’s record low turnout of 50.6 percent of registered voters in November 2002. Panelists predicted a new low, a turnout below 40 percent. Sacramento has passed a rash of laws to make it almost automatic to register, as easy as going to the mailbox to pick up your ballot, and Californians are increasingly less likely to vote.

And that is the big takeaway from the 2014 midterm election: Even where it was easier than ever to register and vote, people didn’t.

Read more at the San Francisco Chronicle

Ted Cruz’s Big Adventure

If Republicans win the Senate, expect a ferocious tactical clash between Cruz and the actual leader Mitch McConnell

Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

“Ted Cruz’s big (awful) plans: Why a clash is coming if GOP wins majority” by Jim Newell in Salon

No one’s more excited about the prospects of a Republican takeover of the Senate than the incoming Senate majority leader, Ted Cruz. He’s already been serving as Speaker of the House for two years, and come Tuesday night, he may well have control of both chambers of Congress. Once he’s elected President in 2016, he’ll be the first man in history to serve concurrently as Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, and President of the United States. Whenever as the next Supreme Court justice keels over, he’ll appoint himself to that, too. This is ultimately the America that America deserves.

You may be asking how a junior Senate backbencher who’s not in line to chair any committee will effectively serve as Senate majority leader. He’ll do so the same way that, as a junior Senate backbencher, he’s effectively served as Speaker of the House the past two years. Through whatever feats of raw political talent and nimble exploitation of congressional process, Cruz positions himself as the go-to vehicle through which all far-right rage is channeled in Washington. He’s the front man for the interests of radicalized “outside groups” (well-funded organizations with presences in Washington D.C.) like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Tea Party Patriots, and so forth. Whenever the specter of practical governance — funding the government, raising the debt ceiling — sweeps its way into the corridors of the Republican leadership, there materializes Ted Cruz, exorcising the demon. We simply do not care for Texas Senator Ted Cruz here at Salon dot com, but hey, the man fills a space.

Read more at Salon

You Can’t Quarantine Stupid: Ebola & Unconstitutional Health Policy

WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases

WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases

The year was 1918. After two and a half years of uneasy neutrality, America had finally entered The Great War and had committed over 4 million men to the war effort. As one would expect—or at least hope—the United States government took great care to prepare newly enlisted men for military service, making sure that those who had no prior military experience would be adequately trained and ready to fight when they reached Europe. However, the United States government understood that their soldiers would not only face dangers abroad, but at home as well, and worked tirelessly to keep them safe from that most dreaded of all military foes: syphilis.

Yes, at the beginning of the 20th century, venereal diseases were a massive problem for the US military, with 13% of all Americans drafted by Uncle Sam for WWI testing positive for syphilis or gonorrhea. At the time, there was a more intensely moral stigma around venereal diseases than there is today, and the primary mode of transmission for such diseases was widely thought to reside solely in sex acts that occurred outside of traditional marriage, the most pernicious of these sex acts being prostitution. In response to this, US, state and local governments eschewed the simple solution of providing their soldiers-in-training with prophylactics should they purchase a few moments of a woman’s time and tried to take away the opportunity for soldiers to contract the diseases by dismantling the prostitution trade.

In the summer of 1918, US Congress took matters into its own hands and passed the highly unconstitutional Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which granted the military $1 million to be used in a “civilian quarantine and isolation fund” that could be used to indefinitely detain prostitutes and “promiscuous women and girls.” The exact number of women who were unjustly detained as the result of this program is unknown, but estimates generally suggest a number somewhere around 30,000. The women were held in quarantine for an average of 70 days in federal detention centers and 1 year in reformatories near Army and Navy training camps.

Only 1/3 of the women that were held in these detention centers and reformatories were ever charged with prostitution. The other 2/3 were simply detained for having a venereal disease or for a host of arbitrary reasons ranging from how they dressed to the way they danced. In no way were any of the decisions on who to quarantine based on the most recent scientific findings or public health concerns. Rather, these decisions revolved around the personal moral judgements of men in power concerning women who had little or no rights. As a member of the military’s newly formed Commission on Training Camp Activities from New Jersey described after “investigating” the behavior of local women, “the manner of dancing by certain of these girls was so suggestive as to constitute almost positive proof of their indulging in sexual intercourse.” In other words, they’re whores because we say they’re whores.

The most egregious example of this pseudo-scientific posturing is from the bipartisan duo of New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who apparently obtained masters degrees in Public Health overnight and have enacted strict quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa who have had contact with Ebola patients. Governor Christie echoed the inane violations of civil rights perpetrated nearly a century ago on prostitutes and “impure” women by quarantining Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help people in Sierra Leone who were enduring the ravages of Ebola. Upon landing in New Jersey, Hickox, who was asymptomatic for Ebola or any other disease for that matter, was promptly detained and quarantined in a tent equipped with the luxury of a portable toilet, but without a shower or television.

Read more at the Daily Kos

Jim Crow returns: Millions of minority voters threatened by electoral purge

Elderly voters board a van that will take them to a polling station in Atlanta on the first day of early voting, Oct. 13, 2014. via Al Jazeera America

Elderly voters board a van that will take them to a polling station in Atlanta on the first day of early voting, Oct. 13, 2014. via Al Jazeera America

Election officials in 27 states, most of them Republicans, have launched a program that threatens a massive purge of voters from the rolls. Millions, especially black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters, are at risk. Already, tens of thousands have been removed in at least one battleground state, and the numbers are expected to climb, according to a six-month-long, nationwide investigation by Al Jazeera America.

At the heart of this voter-roll scrub is the Interstate Crosscheck program, which has generated a master list of nearly 7 million names. Officials say that these names represent legions of fraudsters who are not only registered but have actually voted in two or more states in the same election — a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.

Until now, state elections officials have refused to turn over their Crosscheck lists, some on grounds that these voters are subject to criminal investigation. Now, for the first time, three states — Georgia, Virginia and Washington — have released their lists to Al Jazeera America, providing a total of just over 2 million names.

The Crosscheck list of suspected double voters has been compiled by matching names from roughly 110 million voter records from participating states. Interstate Crosscheck is the pet project of Kansas’ controversial Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, known for his crusade against voter fraud.

Based on the Crosscheck lists, officials have begun the process of removing names from the rolls — beginning with 41,637 in Virginia alone. Yet the criteria used for matching these double voters are disturbingly inadequate.

There are 6,951,484 names on the target list of the 28 states in the Crosscheck group; each of them represents a suspected double voter whose registration has now become subject to challenge and removal. According to a 2013 presentation by Kobach to the National Association of State Election Directors, the program is a highly sophisticated voter-fraud-detection system. The sample matches he showed his audience included the following criteria: first, last and middle name or initial; date of birth; suffixes; and Social Security number, or at least its last four digits.

In North Carolina, Republican officials are loudly proclaiming their hunt for alleged double voters using Crosscheck. But in nearby Georgia, Democratic leaders say they are shocked that they have been kept in the dark about the state’s use of Crosscheck lists — and the racial profile of the targeted voters.

“It’s biased, I think, both in form and intent,” says Rep. Stacey Abrams, leader of the Democrats in the Georgia state legislature. “But more concerning to me is the fact this is being done stealthfully. … We have never had this information presented to us.”

Abrams, in her second role as founder of New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter registration group, has, in coordination with the NAACP, already sued Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp, on behalf of 56,001 voters who filled out registration forms but have yet to see their names appear on voter rolls.

Al Jazeera America showed the Crosscheck lists to Martin Luther King III, who succeeded his father and Lowery to lead the SCLC. He notes that using shoddily put-together lists of supposed matches is not a new tactic. The capture of common names is certain to ensnare black voters, he says, and reminds him of the presidential race of 2000, when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris wrongly purged voters from a list of nearly 58,000, many of them African-American. They were purged on the grounds that they were felons and thus banned from voting, which helped to hand the presidency to George W. Bush. Yet not one was found guilty of voting illegally. Once again, King notes, this minority-heavy list falsely flags fraudulent voters. Compared to the prior purge, this new one is more sophisticated, he says. “I hate to characterize it as a trick [but] it really is. It really is about trying to control who can and cannot vote.”

With millions of suspects, one question keeps arising: Why have there been no mass convictions? Kobach proudly proclaims that Kansas has “referred” 14 voters for prosecution for double voting. And none of them has been convicted.

Yet demands to purge lists of double voters have reached a histrionic volume. In April of this year, former presidential counselor Dick Morris told Fox TV audiences that “probably over a million people that voted twice in [the 2012] election. This is the first concrete evidence we’ve ever had of massive voter fraud.”

In North Carolina, state officials have hired former FBI agent Charles W. “Chuck” Stuber, who played a major role in the campaign finance fraud case brought against former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, to, in the words of their press release, “investigate cases of possible voter fraud identified by an interstate cross-check comparing election records from 28 states.”

But despite knowing the names and addresses of 192,207 supposed double voters in the state, Stuber has not nabbed a single one in his five months on the job. Josh Lawson, a spokesman for the board of elections, says, “This agency has made no determination as to which portion of these [lists] represent data error or voter fraud.” In fact, to date, Lawson admits that Stuber has found only errors and not one verified fraudulent voter.

But Lawson did shine a light on the great benefit of the Crosscheck manhunt to the state’s Republican Party, now locked in a tight battle over the U.S. Senate seat of incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. While the use of Crosscheck has yet to produce a single indictment of a double voter, Lawson says, the program could be used for “list maintenance.” That is, voters on the list, proven guilty or not, could be subject to a process of removal from the voter rolls.

Read more at Al Jazeera America

Court Refuses To Intervene In Case of 40,000 Missing Voters In Georgia

Dr. Francys Johnson with the NAACP leads an occupation of the Georgia State Capitol to protest voter suppression. CREDIT: ALICE OLLSTEIN

Dr. Francys Johnson with the NAACP leads an occupation of the Georgia State Capitol to protest voter suppression. Photo credit: Alice Ollstein

ATLANTA, GEORGIA—On Tuesday, Judge Christopher Brasher of the Fulton County Superior Court denied a petition from civil rights advocates to force Georgia’s Secretary of State to process an estimated 40,000 voter registrations that have gone missing from the public database.

Though early voting is well underway in the state, Judge Brasher called the lawsuit “premature,” and said it was based on “merely set out suspicions and fears that the [state officials] will fail to carry out their mandatory duties.”

The New Georgia Project, who spearheaded the voter registration drive and brought the lawsuit against the state, vowed Tuesday to “continue to pursue all legal avenues available.” But with the election mere days away, there may be little remedy for the tens of thousands of people who submitted all necessary documents, but have still not received a registration card. Four of those impacted voters were present at the court hearing, but were denied the opportunity to testify.

On Monday, dozens of Georgians occupied the Secretary of State’s office to demand he meet with them and explain what happened to the tens of thousands of missing registrations. At that protest, in which eight activists were arrested, former American Government teacher and civil rights lawyer Marsha Burrofsky told ThinkProgress she suspects foul play.

“When we started registering people this spring, people were saying, ‘You know, I registered six months ago, but I haven’t gotten anything yet!’ We thought that was strange,” she said. So we sat down with our list of registrations and checked, and about 20 to 20 percent were not showing up. We truly don’t know where things stand with them.”

Burrofsky said the people she registered in Dunwoody, Georgia, a more affluent and conservative community, did show up in the system, while those in more diverse and low-income communities in DeKalb County mysteriously disappeared.

Read more at ThinkProgress

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