Sen. Cory Booker: People are ‘more outraged’ over Kaepernick protests than murder of unarmed black man

United States Senator Cory Booker (Tris Hussey/Flickr)
United States Senator Cory Booker (Tris Hussey/Flickr)

By Arturo Garcia

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) ripped the double standard surrounding reactions to Terence Crutcher and Colin Kaepernick during an interview with Buzzfeed on Tuesday.

“Right now on the Internet you have another unarmed African American who was murdered this week — or killed this week,” Booker said in reference to Crutcher’s death at the hands of a Tulsa police officer. “From the video that I saw, even with the way he was being referred to, I mean there is this dehumanization going on on the audio, and people seem to be more outraged by an NFL player taking a knee than the murder or killing of an unarmed black man.”

The Raw Story

Why Obama Should Stand Up to the Saudis

Saudi-princes2_1-510x339

By Dana E. Abizaid

With much of the US press focused on the daily images of barbarity coming out the lands occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the brutal practices of the real Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, receive scant attention. The reasons for this are as sickening as they are obvious: a major oil supplier to the West and a nation that casts itself as the mortal enemy of Shia Iran has been courted and coddled by the US since the end of WWII to keep domestic gas prices low.

The United States maintains a special relationship with the Saudi Dynasty that contradicts every ideal America stands for. Nobody should hold his breath waiting for the US media or government to finally and thoroughly expose the draconian policies of the desert kingdom, but President Obama does have the opportunity in one case to pressure the Saudis into granting amnesty to Ali-Mohammad al-Nimr and thereby earn a small part of his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a recent interview with the Guardian, al-Nimr’s mother pleaded that Obama has the power to “interfere and rescue my son.”

The Saudi government convicted al-Nimr – 17 at the time – of possessing firearms while protesting for Shia rights in 2012. But it is clear that is not the only reason the young man is sentenced to be beheaded and crucified. His uncle is the prominent dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who has also been sentenced to death for criticizing the Saudi State.

If the United States is ever to devise and implement an effective Middle East policy a reevaluation of its relationship with Saudi Arabia will be essential. Standing up for al-Nimr is vital in this regard. By pressuring the Saudis to pardon al-Nimr, Obama can win three immediate victories important to this reevaluation. First, he could portray himself as a seeker of justice in the spirit of his Nobel. Second, he could win some goodwill amongst those Shia the Saudis have repressed for generations. Lastly, his actions could open a dialogue in the US media that might educate the American public to crimes that are committed with its tacit support.

Since the US media and government rarely reprimand the Saudis, the American people have little understanding of the grave human rights abuses that take place daily in the kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis executed 102 people in the first six months of 2015. Death by sword beheading – often public – is the preferred punishment for adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft (basically, not having radical Sunni Wahhabi beliefs). Children and the mentally handicapped do not escape the sword.

Read more at CounterPunch

Dana E. Abizaid teaches European History at the Istanbul International Community School.

Why Saudi Arabia Gets Away With Murder

The kingdom is set to execute a young man for participating in the Arab Spring as a 17-year-old—and the Obama administration has admitted it’s not going to do a thing about it.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Image via Facebook
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Image via Facebook

By Jay Michaelson

An Islamic regime in the Middle East may soon behead a young man and hang his corpse up for display. ISIS? Iran? No—America’s ally Saudi Arabia. And because it’s the Saudis, the Obama administration’s silence has been deafening.

In 2012, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was a 17-year-old pro-democracy activist in the Arab Spring. After harsh government crackdowns, protests turned violent, particularly in Qatif, a majority-Shiite region in majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr was arrested, along with others, and charged, at first, with relatively low-level political crimes related to the protests, such as “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state.”

But then al-Nimr’s uncle, a prominent Shiite cleric, began giving fiery sermons against the regime. He, too, was arrested, on more serious charges of inciting sectarian strife, aiding terrorists, and “insulting Gulf leaders and scholars.”

Suddenly, the younger al-Nimr’s charges were increased as well, to include the capital crimes of attacking police and sheltering criminals. According to al-Nimr’s father, the teen was tortured until he confessed, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.

Al-Nimr would, however, be the first solely political prisoner to be executed in Saudi Arabia in some time—and based on flimsy evidence, an allegedly coerced confession, and acts of political dissidence committed when he was 17. How could such a thing happen, without a peep of protest from the United States?

Because it’s Saudi Arabia.

As outrageous as killing a kid for political activism may be, al-Nimr is just the latest collateral damage in our long, troubling marriage of convenience with the House of Saud. We need the Saudis for the fight against ISIS, for oil, and for providing some semblance of stability in the most unstable region on the planet. As my colleague Michael Tomasky wrote in January, we’re stuck with Saudi Arabia, because as bad as the Saudis are, the alternatives are worse.

Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia was just named to a UN Human Rights panel—only a subsidiary committee, and part of a regionally based rotation, but outrageous nonetheless given the country’s appalling human rights record.

Read more at The Daily Beast

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

There’s no humane way to carry out the death penalty

By Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post

No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure — they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner — but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a “humane” way to … kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn’t this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Lockett raped, brutalized and murdered an 19-year-old woman who had graduated from high school just two weeks earlier, shooting her and then burying her alive. Lockett and his accomplices also beat and robbed a 23-year-old man and raped an 18-year-old woman. The crimes took place in 1999; Lockett has been awaiting execution since 2000.

Warner, the other man who was to die in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday, was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child who was the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The baby suffered unspeakable abuse.

The question is not whether Lockett and Warner deserve to die; clearly they do, as far as I’m concerned. The question is whether our society, acting through the instrument of government, should kill them. I believe there is no way to impose capital punishment without betraying the moral standards that our justice system is theoretically designed to uphold. Put simply, when we murder we become murderers.

Perhaps the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible. Sometimes, judges and juries make honest mistakes and innocent people may be condemned to death. Some studies have shown an apparent racial bias in the way capital punishment is meted out, with blacks who kill whites more likely than other defendants to end up on death row.

Read more at The Washington Post

Executioners first used ‘Old Sparky’ in 1915

Prisoner being strapped into the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York, circa 1900. Image via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

By Debbie Jackson with contributions from Hilary Pittman, in the Tulsa World

With two jolts of electricity, Oklahoma in 1915 executed its first man condemned to die by electrocution.

Oklahoma’s method of execution has been in the headlines again recently. State officials say they have obtained from a manufacturer the drugs necessary for two executions scheduled for this month.

State law allows electrocution if lethal injection is found unconstitutional, and the use of a firing squad if the electric chair is banned.

Also known as “Old Sparky,” the electric chair was used to execute 82 condemned inmates from 1915 to 1966.

The relic remains at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

The last inmate to die in Oklahoma’s electric chair was killer James D. French, but do you know who was first?

He was Henry Bookman, a 28-year-old black man who was convicted of killing a white McIntosh County farmer on April 2, 1915. Bookman said he acted in self-defense but there was scant evidence of his motive for the brutal crime.

Justice was swift in 1915. Within two months of his arrest, Bookman was convicted and sentenced to death by electrocution. After two delays, he was executed on Dec. 10, 1915.

Following the execution, the World reported that prison officials waited four days for word from Bookman’s family.

Receiving none, they buried him in a pauper’s grave at the penitentiary. The story said no funeral was held, but black convicts were planning a memorial service the following Sunday.

The story reported that Bookman was the seventh person legally executed since statehood (and six of the seven were black). Also, 22 others had been hanged by mobs.

Read more at the Tulsa World

A last-minute act of forgiveness in Iran

Parents mourn at the grave of their son after they spared the life of their son’s convicted murderer. (ARASH KHAMOOSHI/AFP/Getty Images)

With eyes covered and a noose around his neck, a young man identified only as Balal was “screaming and praying loudly before he just went silent,” Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) photographer Arash Khamooshi, who was photographing a public execution in Iran told CNN.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan of The Guardian reports Balal, who is in his 20s, was convicted of killing 18-year-old Abdollah Hosseinzadeh with a knife during a street brawl in 2007. He was arrested by police after fleeing the crime scene and, after six years, was given a death sentence.

The crowd watched as Samereh Alinejad, Hosseinzadeh’s mother, approached. Time writes: “According to some interpretations of sharia law, the victim’s family participates in the punishment by pushing the chair from under the condemned man.”

But instead of pushing the chair from underneath him and execute him, Alinejad slapped him in the face.

Khamooshi told CNN that, after slapping Balal, the mother told the crowd that she had forgiven him, and helped Hosseinzadeh’s father take the noose off.

Read more at the Washington Post

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Egypt: sentencing to death of more than 500 people is a ‘grotesque’ ruling

Relatives cry sitting outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict. © AFP/Getty Images

‘This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen … anywhere in the world’
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East & North Africa Director

Numbers are more than total death sentences in Egypt in last three years combined

The handing down of mass death sentences by a court in Egypt today has been condemned as a grotesque move by Amnesty International. According to state media reports in Egypt, in a single hearing this morning the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi to be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting last July.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.

“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.

“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces.

“While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence for the deaths of 37 detainees.”

The Egyptian authorities do not release figures on death sentences and executions, despite repeated Amnesty requests. However, Amnesty knows that Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013. There were at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011. The last known execution in Egypt was carried out in October 2011, when a man was hanged for the killing of six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police guard in a drive-by shooting in 2010.

via Amnesty International UK