Tag Archives: carolina

Senate Intelligence Committee Gets Ready to Start Dishing Out Subpoenas

Mother Jones

Michael Cohen is in the news again. Not for this:

But because he’s been “invited” to testify before the Senate committee investigating the Trump-Russia connection:

I declined the invitation to participate, as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told ABC News in an email Tuesday.

After Cohen rejected the congressional requests for cooperation, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to grant its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, blanket authority to issue subpoenas as they deem necessary.

Martin Longman didn’t expect this:

It’s still a bit premature to be effusive or unreserved in my praise here. But I have to give credit where it is due. The Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee have shown courage here and real indications of seriousness. I wouldn’t have predicted it but I’m willing to acknowledge it now.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has historically been more serious and bipartisan than most committees, so this is probably not quite as surprising as it seems. Nonetheless, it’s good to see some confirmation that there are still a few redoubts of integrity in Donald Trump’s Washington DC.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Gets Ready to Start Dishing Out Subpoenas

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Baton Rouge Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling Will Not Be Charged

Mother Jones

The Department of Justice will not pursue criminal charges against an officer involved in the videotaped shooting of a man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last summer, the Washington Post has reported. The announcement—expected tomorrow—will be the first time under Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the department has publicly declined to press charges against an officer investigated in a high-profile police shooting case.

Alton Sterling, 37, was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge Police Department officer in July 2016, setting off days of protests in the city and nationwide. Two officers had responded to a call about a man outside a convenience store who had waived a gun at someone else. When they arrived, they found Sterling outside the store selling bootlegged CDs. A confrontation ensued in the parking lot (the beginning of the incident was not caught on camera), and an officer tased Sterling after ordering him to the ground, cell phone footage of the encounter shows. Sterling remained on his feet, and an officer tackled him while another rushed to handcuff him. In a second cell phone video, one officer is heard yelling “He’s got a gun!” Then he fires several shots into Sterling. Sterling was armed, but it’s unclear from either video whether he reached for his weapon before he was shot. Witnesses told local new outlets that Sterling never reached for his gun during the encounter.

Sterling’s shooting occurred the day before an officer shot and killed another man in a Minneapolis suburb in an incident that was streamed in part on Facebook Live by the man’s girlfriend, and in the same week that a black man—admittedly upset over police shootings of black men—opened fire on officers at a protest over the two shootings in Dallas, killing nine. Just over a week after that incident, three more officers were killed ambush-style in Baton Rouge.

The Obama DOJ launched a criminal investigation into whether the officer who shot Sterling had willfully violated his civil rights by doing so. On Tuesday, the Trump DOJ—led by adamantly pro-police Attorney General Jeff Sessions—will announce that it will not pursue charges against the officer, the Washington Post reports. The decision is not unsurprising—civil rights cases are notoriously difficult to prove in court. The DOJ declined to file criminal charges against officers involved in high-profile police shooting cases on numerous occasions under President Obama, including in the case of of Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014.

The report of the Sterling decision comes amid a flurry of other police-related news this week, including the police shooting death of a 15-year-old boy in a Dallas suburb over the weekend and news today that the officer filmed shooting a North Charleston, South Carolina, man in the back multiples times in April 2015 had pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges similar to those considered in the Sterling case. You can read Mother Jones‘ deep dive investigation into the trial of that officer here.

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Baton Rouge Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling Will Not Be Charged

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“He Killed a Man by Shooting the Man in the Back Cold-Bloodedly. The Country Isn’t Going to Bow Down.”

Mother Jones

Walter Scott in his Coast Guard days Courtesy of the Scott family

By now, you’ve probably heard that former North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager pleaded guilty on Tuesday afternoon to federal charges of using excessive force and violating the civil rights of Walter Scott in a police shooting that became national news. The big remaining questions are why Slager did so, and how much time he is likely to spend in prison. “It’s murder, regardless of what people think,” Ed Bryant, president of the local NAACP chapter, told reporters outside the courthouse.

Only a life sentence for Slager would be just, Bryant said: “The whole world has seen that. They know what he’s done. He killed a man by shooting the man in the back cold-bloodedly. The country isn’t going to bow down to that. No way.”

Five months ago, a Charleston jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s murder trial—a trial I covered for Mother Jones as part of an in-depth story on the lives of the officer and his victim, the state of police training in America, and the obstacles to convicting cops for the questionable shootings we see so often in the headlines. Here’s a scene from the Slager-Scott confrontation:

The officer returned to his cruiser intending to run Scott’s license through an FBI database, standard procedure. Scott stepped out of his vehicle and then climbed back in when Slager, sitting in his squad car, instructed him to do so. But moments later, Scott got out a second time and ran toward an open field, the site of an abandoned trailer park, and onto a painted asphalt path known locally as the Yellow Brick Road. Slager pursued on foot, warning that he was preparing to fire his stun gun: “Taser! Taser! Taser!” Scott didn’t stop, so Slager hit him with two darts.

The electricity brought Scott to his knees, but he refused to surrender. Slager then “drive-stunned” Scott—put the business end of the Taser directly on him and pulled the trigger—but could not cuff him. The men scuffled on the ground, and a winded Slager pleaded for backup. “One-five-six,” he said into his radio, calling out the badge number of the officer he knew was closest. “Step it up!”

Scott managed to break free and run away in a slow, wobbly gait. This time Slager did not give chase. He unholstered his .45-caliber Glock, took a stance, and put his left hand underneath to steady the weapon. His form was perfect, like in a training video. The only problem was that his gun was aimed at the back of a fleeing man. He squeezed off eight quick shots.

Local prosecutors in South Carolina were scheduled to retry Slager in August, but instead, as part of what is called a “global plea agreement” they agreed to drop the state charges in exchange for a guilty plea in the federal case. Slager, who will be sentenced at a later date, faces up to life in prison, but he will likely get far less. There is no mandatory minimum sentence. And, as I wrote in my prior story, the average sentence for officers convicted of murder or manslaughter over the past decade or so has been less than four years. Slager was led away after the hearing today in handcuffs. His lawyer, Andrew Savage III, said in a written statement, “We hope that Michael’s acceptance of responsibility will help the Scott family as they continue to grieve their loss.”

While reporting my story about the case, I toured the police academy where Slager was trained—for 9 weeks, as opposed to the 26 required of an NYPD officer. Inferior training was a key element of Slager’s defense. And while much of the instruction I witnessed seemed thoughtful enough, there was simply too little of it.

A report issued in March 2016 by the Police Executive Research Forum argued that misguided training—specifically, instruction that teaches officers to “draw a line in the sand” and resolve confrontations quickly—contributes directly to problematic shootings by police. Cops in training spend a median of 58 hours on firearms proficiency but just 8 hours learning de-escalation tactics to bring episodes to peaceful conclusions, according to PERF’s research. The mechanics of firing a weapon are usually taught separately from the question of when to use it.

Savage, Slager’s lawyer, had talked to prosecutors from the start about a possible deal, but they had not been able to agree on the length of a term. Although a judge will impose the sentence, Slager’s defense team and prosecutors most likely will have agreed to a sentence the government will recommend—those terms were not made clear on Tuesday. Before the deal was finalized, the government also contacted the family of Walter Scott to ascertain what penalty—if any—they would consider just. The plea deal, which you can read here, says Slager understands that the government will advocate he be sentenced under the guidelines applied to second-degree murder, the equivalent of manslaughter.

Tuesday’s plea arrangement represents a stark reversal in Slager’s account of what occurred on April 4, 2015, the day he fired eight shots at the unarmed Scott, from behind, as Scott fled. The shooting was caught on video by a bystander and viewed millions of times on the internet. Slager testified late last year that Scott was getting the better of him in a fight and he feared for his life. He told investigators initially that Scott had gained control of his Taser, though the video cast that story into grave doubt. The plea agreement states:

“The defendant used deadly force even though it was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. The defendant acknowledges that his actions were done willfully, that he acted voluntarily and intentionally and with specific intent to do something that the law forbids.”

Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Ohio’s Bowling Green University who has done extensive research on police-involved shootings, says Slager could have decided to plead guilty for a variety of reasons. The first is that federal charges against officers who shoot and kill civilians tend to be easier to prove—though it is notoriously difficult to convict a police officer in an on-duty shooting. “His defense team may have realized the Justice Department had a good case,” Stinson says. “But it could also be that the defendant exhausted his capital in many ways, not just financial, but in terms of family considerations. He may have wanted closure.”

Slager’s lawyer took the case pro bono, and after the trial last fall said he had provided a defense that would have cost more than $1 million had he billed for it. Stinson points out that one calculation of pleading to federal rather than the state charges is the quality of the respective correctional facilities: “He may end up in a prison that is more tolerable than what would have been the case in South Carolina.”

One reason it is so difficult to convict police officers is that their jobs are, in fact, often dangerous. Police and their defense teams can effectively persuade juries that, even if they made an error in judgment, they reasonably feared for their lives. One thing that made the Slager case different—and the hung jury in the first trial so shocking to many—is that the cellphone video recorded by Feidin Santana, a 23-year-old Dominican immigrant on his way to work as a barber, seemed to show a clearly egregious act.

“I don’t get surprised by much,” said criminologist Philip Stinson, “but that video took my breath away.”

Slager was not under imminent threat. After the shooting, he appeared to plant evidence by retreating to where the scuffle had taken place to retrieve his Taser and then placing it beside Scott’s prone body. Slager described a different sequence of events in the hours after the shooting, but more recently he has testified that he has no memory at all of those interviews with investigators.

His memory loss could be viewed as a calculated strategy. Or, alternatively, as an indication of a defendant who was not in the best of mental states to withstand a new trial and, as he did in the state court, testify on his own behalf.

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“He Killed a Man by Shooting the Man in the Back Cold-Bloodedly. The Country Isn’t Going to Bow Down.”

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Rep. Joe Wilson Shouted Down by "You Lie" Chants During Angry Town Hall

Mother Jones

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More than eight years after Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) memorably shouted “you lie” at then-President Barack Obama during a televised broadcast of his speech before a joint session of Congress, constituents in his home state are turning Wilson’s infamous outburst against him.

During a Monday town hall event in Graniteville, attendees shouted down the South Carolina congressman with loud jeers and “you lie” chants over his support for the Trump administration and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. According to the Post and Courier, the most raucous exchange occurred when Wilson, who in 2013 voted against extending the Violence Against Women Act, told the crowd he had advocated to protect women against violence.

The event comes on the heels of similar events nationwide, where Republican elected officials have been met by angry protests in their home districts over concerns about various White House policies.

In 2009, Wilson was the subject of bipartisan condemnation after he interrupted Obama’s address to Congress by calling him a liar when the president said his proposed health care plan wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. The congressman was forced to apologize for violating congressional decorum with the heckling, but he benefited in the end: Shortly after the incident, an aide confirmed Wilson had raised more than $1 million in campaign contributions thanks to the outburst.

Democrats have frequently pointed to Wilson’s “you lie” remark as a defining example of the disrespect Republicans showed Obama during his two terms in office.

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Rep. Joe Wilson Shouted Down by "You Lie" Chants During Angry Town Hall

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I’m a Trans Woman of Color, and I’ve Never Been More Scared to Live in North Carolina

Mother Jones

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Lara Americo has lived in North Carolina most of her life. The 32-year-old activist, artist, and musician was in Charlotte last year when state lawmakers passed one of the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT laws, House Bill 2, which banned her from the women’s bathroom because she’s transgender. She was still there late last month, when they replaced that law with another one to appease critics who called it discriminatory. The new law was framed by the governor as a repeal, or a compromise, since it does not explicitly require trans women like Americo to use the men’s room. But LGBT activists have called it HB2.0 because it prevents cities like Charlotte from passing nondiscrimination ordinances that would guarantee her access to the women’s room. This week, Americo reached out to say that while the NCAA and others seem to believe the situation has improved for transgender people, she’s never been more scared to live in the Tar Heel State.

I used to tell everyone I wasn’t going to make it past 30 because I was convinced that I wasn’t. I was suicidal and pretty much a hermit—everything was wrong but I didn’t know why. Then I realized it was because I wasn’t living as a woman, so at 29 I decided to transition. I started to go out and meet people, and I learned that North Carolina isn’t really friendly toward transgender people. People just get quiet around you, they whisper. And my family was in shock. They tried to be supportive, but I don’t think they could cope with missing the son they had loved and raised—we haven’t really talked much since.

I was still sort of in the closet until last year, when Charlotte’s City Council started talking about a nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow trans people to use their preferred bathrooms. I testified in support of it—that was when I began to be public about being trans. When it passed, it felt like we were finally going in the right direction. But then North Carolina lawmakers started considering HB2 which blocked Charlotte’s ordinance. I testified at the Senate, begging them not to, but they did. I kept using the women’s bathroom anyway—it was a protest against the law every time. Also, if I were to go into the men’s bathroom, there was the potential of outing myself as a transgender woman. While I don’t really keep it a secret anymore, I don’t make it so obvious in public because it can be dangerous for me, especially in the climate we’re in now.

After HB2 passed, it got scarier. Anytime I have to drive in North Carolina, there are 50-mile stretches without a city, just back roads and small towns, and I can’t stop the car because if I do, I’ll have to worry about someone noticing me. Transgender people, especially people of color, face high rates of violence, so I’ve had to be mindful of my presentation, making sure my clothes are right and my mannerisms are perfect and my voice doesn’t drop too low. And I have to worry about the police pulling me over, discriminating against me. Because while there was always a risk, now they’re emboldened.

A majority of people who don’t really follow the issues that closely, they think there’s been a repeal. But I don’t think it was a repeal—I think transgender people are in even more danger now. When you don’t allow cities to give people protections, you put people in danger. Our state government made it clear that they put profit and sports ahead of our safety, and that mentality trickles down. We still don’t have the protections we need—all we have is a spotlight on us, so that people who don’t like us can target us. I feel less safe now than I did a few weeks ago, and so do a lot of people. I work with the Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline, and after the new replacement law passed, there was a spike in callers.

I don’t like to show that these laws have affected me, but they do: I don’t want to stop at a gas station when I’m running out of gas. I don’t want to join the YMCA or the swim team because I worry about someone seeing my body. My partner worries—when I leave the house, I can usually count on her texting me within an hour, and if I don’t respond she gets really upset. I’ve had instances where I’m in a bar and I try to use the bathroom, and someone will look at me funny, and I’ll have to leave the bar to avoid a confrontation. Recently they proposed a bill that would increase trespassing punishments for people in the bathroom, and that bill could be used to target transgender people. I try to be optimistic, but our state has a Republican super-majority with extreme beliefs, so I do worry it’s going to pass and that transgender people will be criminalized.

Every few weeks I hear about a person who is making plans to leave the state, and I’ve considered it myself, but I have to wrestle with the thought of being forced out of my home, because I love North Carolina and I don’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful state. And I would hate it if I gave in to fear tactics and discrimination. There are many people here who don’t care that I’m transgender and they don’t care who uses the bathroom with them. It’s those people who make me want to stay here and be a part of this and fight for the transgender kids who live here and are going to public schools and worry about all these things, and make sure they don’t have to deal with this when they’re 30.

Originally posted here:

I’m a Trans Woman of Color, and I’ve Never Been More Scared to Live in North Carolina

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