Tag Archives: murder

Mistrial Appears Likely in Murder Trial of South Carolina Cop Who Killed a Fleeing, Unarmed Suspect

Mother Jones

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It appears likely that Judge Clifton Newman will be compelled to declare a mistrial in the racially charged South Carolina murder trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who fatally shot an unarmed man who had fled from an April 2015 traffic stop. Late Friday afternoon, a lone juror sent a letter to the judge saying that he or she could not, in good conscience, vote to convict Slager of murder or manslaughter. The judge sent word asking the jurors to clarify whether that meant they were hopelessly deadlocked. The jurors responded that they were, but the prosecutor requested that the jurors receive further instruction, if need be, and the jurors expressed a willingness to deliberate further. In the meantime, the judge has sent jurors home for the weekend.

A viral bystander video showed Slager, who is white, shooting 50-year-old Walter Scott, who is black, multiple times from behind. Posted online soon after the incident, the video thrust the Charleston area into the national debate on race and the use of deadly force by police.

What the video didn’t show is the preceding tussle during which, Slager testified, Scott had defied his orders and tried to grab the Taser he was deploying. After Scott broke free and ran away, Slager took aim and fired. Slager said he was in a state of “total fear” and believed Scott remained a threat to him, even though he was running away.

Earlier on Friday, the jurors told Newman they were deadlocked in their attempt to reach a verdict, and the judge—who had given them the option of a lesser verdict of manslaughter—sent them back to try again. Over two days of deliberations, the jury twice asked the judge for assistance. They asked for transcripts of Slager’s courtroom testimony and that of the officer who interviewed Slager after the shooting. They also asked Newman to clarify the legal distinction between “fear” and “passion.” The judge responded that they would have to make that determination themselves.

Many observers have taken note of the racial imbalance of the jury: six white men, five white women, and one black man. No matter which way it goes, the verdict has to be unanimous. A jury foreman’s note that accompanied the letter from the holdout juror noted there was only one juror who “had issues” with convicting the officer.

A hung jury would probably be good news for Slager and his defense team. The prosecutor, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, would have to decide whether to pursue a new trial and on what charge. She announced in court that she would first want to interview jurors to gather insights before making further decisions on resolving the case. It’s also possible Slager could head off a second trial by pleading to a lesser charge in exchange for a short prison stint—a manslaughter sentence in South Carolina ranges from two to thirty years without parole. But involuntary manslaughter, for instance, carries a maximum sentence of five years.

This post has been updated.


Mistrial Appears Likely in Murder Trial of South Carolina Cop Who Killed a Fleeing, Unarmed Suspect

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For environmental activists, 2015 was the deadliest year yet

Four protesters were killed last year in protests over the huge Las Bambas mine in Apurimac, Peru. Photo courtesy of Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros en el Perú.

For environmental activists, 2015 was the deadliest year yet

By on Jun 20, 2016 9:41 amShare

As we continue to mine the Earth for its resources, global corporate interests are fighting to get to the dwindling supply. And as the stakes rise, so has the death toll of our planet’s defenders.

Last year was the most dangerous year yet for environmental activists, the watchdog group Global Witness reported on Monday. An average of three environmentalists per week were murdered for resisting resource extraction and pollution by major agribusiness, mining, and logging interests — with 185 activists total murdered around the globe. (The murder rate was 59 percent lower in 2014.)

Of the 185 dead, many were assassinated; others were tortured, or publicly executed.

A number of Latin American countries were the most deadly for environmental defenders.

Global Witness uncovered that governments have increasingly criminalized activists for organizing or protesting, including in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Madagascar. “Across the world, collusion between state and corporate interests shield many of those responsible for the killings,” Global Witness reports.

The winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize is among the countless indigenous activists recently murdered. After having led her community to resist hydroelectric dams in Honduras, Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home in March of this year. Her success made her a target: Once she forced the largest dam company in the world to abandon a major project on the Gualcarque River.

The report is all the more sobering given that the vast majority of incidents go unreported.

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For environmental activists, 2015 was the deadliest year yet

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The Cast of the Original "Roots" Knows All About Hollywood’s Diversity Problem

Mother Jones

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The Roots miniseries that aired back in 1977 had the largest black cast in the history of commercial television—and the biggest audience numbers, too. It drew more than 100 million viewers in the United States, and millions more internationally. This unprecedented success seemed to herald new possibilities for black employment in television and film, and optimism that more black-themed shows would cross over to white audiences. But nearly four decades later—think #OscarsSoWhite—that dream remains unfilled. With History’s Roots remake now making headlines, it’s useful to look to the original series as a cautionary tale on the pace of progress in Hollywood.

Roots failed to change the racial dynamics of the industry primarily because Hollywood executives perceived it as a unique black story they could pitch to white audiences. In discussing the casting, the creators emphasized that Roots would have to appeal to whites to succeed commercially. Alex Haley’s best-selling book, the basis for the saga, contained no major white characters—but that was never seriously considered as an option for television.

Producer David Wolper argued that hiring white “television names” was the only way to ensure that Roots wouldn’t be marginalized. “If people perceive Roots to be a black history show—nobody is going to watch it,” he said. “If they say, ‘Let me see, there are no names in it, a lot of black actors and there are no whites’…It looks like it’s going to be a black journal—it’s all going to be blacks telling about their history.”

Wolper, whose son Mark produced the new Roots, was a white TV veteran who had pitched and developed programs for two decades before Roots came along. He understood as well as anyone the logic of race and demographics that governed Hollywood in that era. For Wolper and for ABC, it was simple arithmetic. “Remember, the television audience is only 10 percent black and 90 percent white,” Wolper said following Roots‘ record-breaking run. “So if we do the show for blacks and only every black in America watches, it is a disaster—a total disaster.”

Roots was successful in many ways. It sparked a national conversation about race and slavery. It helped legitimize the miniseries format and begat several follow-up projects—Roots: The Next Generation (1979), Roots: The Gift (1988), and Alex Haley’s Queen (1993). It also paved the way for unrelated miniseries such as Holocaust (1978), The Thorn Birds (1983), and Winds of War (1983). It made ABC (and Doubleday books) a ton of money to boot. But what Roots didn’t do was persuade the suits to greenlight more shows with black leads.

Roots‘ black cast members felt this failure acutely. “We were so fabulous I thought we would have jobs up the wazoo,” Leslie Uggams, who played Kizzy, told Wendy Williams in 2013. “And there were no jobs. I didn’t get another job until two years later when I did a show called Back Stairs at the White House. We were very disappointed, because we had all these accolades; it was like we did our quota, and now that’s it for the rest of time.” Lynne Moody, who portrayed Alex Haley’s great-great-grandmother in the original, said she “thought Roots would skyrocket me,” but when those acting jobs failed to materialize, “I felt the color of my skin” and fell into a “deep depression.”

When an interviewer asked John Amos, the actor who portrayed the grown-up Kunta Kinte, whether he’d reaped any rewards from Roots, Amos joked, “Yeah, the unemployment office.” Even David Wolper conceded that Roots‘ success had limits. “I don’t think it changed race relations,” he told an interviewer in 1998. “I think for a moment it had an impact. Did it help African American actors? No. A lot of them couldn’t get work even after Roots came on. Did more stories about African Americans show on television? No.”

The new series plays out, of course, in a very different cultural landscape. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn national attention to the mistreatment of African Americans by the police. And the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign called out the problematic lack of color in Hollywood’s production pipeline with help from watchdogs like UCLA’s Bunche Center, whose annual “Hollywood Diversity Report” compiles data showing how people of color are underrepresented as actors, directors, and writers in film and television.

America is far more racially and ethnically diverse today than it was in 1977, but Hollywood has been slow to catch up, particularly at the cineplex. And while the success of recent black-led television shows, including How to Get Away With Murder, Blackish, Empire, and Underground, is a hopeful sign, there’s no guarantee this trend will continue.

If Roots proved anything, it’s that high ratings aren’t enough. There have to be more people of color (and women, for that matter) in the writer’s room, behind the camera, and, crucially, in positions of power at the studios and talent agencies that determine what America watches. The Roots remake, though well worth watching, is an apt reminder that the road to equal opportunity is a long one.

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The Cast of the Original "Roots" Knows All About Hollywood’s Diversity Problem

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The Supreme Court Did Something Great for 1,000 Kids Who Were Sentenced to Life in Prison

Mother Jones

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Juvenile offenders serving a mandatory sentence of life without parole may have a shot at release, following a Supreme Court ruling made on Monday. The case, Montgomery v. Alabama, is the fourth in a string of Supreme Court decisions since 2005 that reduce the harshest penalties imposed on kids, including a 2012 ruling that mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences violated the Eight Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”

The decision will affect at least 1,000 people across the country, according to data collected by the Phillips Black Project. This group of inmates disproportionately includes black and Hispanic offenders who committed their crimes as teens.

That includes Taurus Buchanan, a ninth grader who was locked up for life automatically after he threw one punch, killing a younger boy in a neighborhood fight.

Montgomery v. Alabama expands the impact of a 2012 US Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life sentences for offenders who committed their crimes as minors. While some states allowed eligible offenders to apply for resentencing after the ruling, lower courts in other states held that the Supreme Court’s decision did not affect old cases. In Montgomery, the high court ruled that the 2012 decision was a “new substantive rule” that states were required to apply retroactively.

The petitioner, Henry Montgomery, was convicted of murder at age 17 after killing a deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, in 1963. Montgomery was sentenced to death, but a Louisiana Supreme Court finding allowed him to be resentenced to life in prison without parole. In his opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote:

The sentence was automatic upon the jury’s verdict, so Montgomery had no opportunity to present mitigation evidence to justify a less severe sentence. That evidence might have included Montgomery’s young age at the time of the crime; expert testimony regarding his limited capacity for foresight, self-discipline, and judgment; and his potential for rehabilitation. Montgomery, now 69 years old, has spent almost his entire life in prison.

Prisoners will not be granted automatic release—some face the prospect of receiving another life sentence when their cases are reheard. However, the court indicates that states could comply with the decision by simply making juvenile lifers eligible for parole:

This would neither impose an onerous burden on the States nor disturb the finality of state convictions. And it would afford someone like Montgomery, who submits that he has evolved from a troubled, misguided youth to a model member of the prison community, the opportunity to demonstrate the truth of Miller’s central intuition—that children who commit even heinous crimes are capable of change.

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The Supreme Court Did Something Great for 1,000 Kids Who Were Sentenced to Life in Prison

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What Makes a Killer a Terrorist? We Asked the Nation’s Top News Outlets

Mother Jones

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In the aftermath of the recent scourge of mass shootings—from San Bernardino to Colorado Springs to Charleston—as well as attacks aimed at Black Lives Matter protesters, many have asked why the media and public officials have been hesitant to call the suspects “terrorists.”

In a press conference on Wednesday, San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Berguan said, “We have no information at this point to indicate that this is terrorist-related, in the traditional sense that people may be thinking. Obviously, at a minimum, we have a domestic terrorist-type situation that occurred here.”

By definition, a terrorist is a person who uses violent acts to achieve political ends. So do major news outlets have protocols on when to use the words “terrorism” and “terrorist”? And does the media use them in a biased way? We reached out to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and NPR to hear how they approach the issue. Here are shortened versions of what they said:

New York Times‘ Standards Editor Phil Corbett:

The Times doesn’t have any “official” definition of terrorism. Unlike the U.S. government, we don’t have some kind of formal process of labeling terrorists, and I don’t think we need one. It’s probably not surprising that “terrorism” and related terms are likely to be used more often for attacks connected to well-known, long-standing, recognized terrorist organizations like ISIS or Al Qaeda—events like the Paris attacks, for instance. But in fact The Times has often used “terrorism” in connection with white supremacist attacks and other cases of domestic extremism, going back to Timothy McVeigh and beyond. A quick check shows that we used it in several stories in the Charleston coverage. The main point is, we try to report the facts accurately and fairly, in language that is clear to our readers. We are not working with predetermined categories or official terms or definitions. (When I’m in doubt, I generally turn to the dictionary).

The Washington Post‘s Executive Editor Marty Baron:

We don’t have a rigid protocol. Given the range of potential circumstances, we make judgments on a case by case basis. We’ve used “terrorism” and “terrorist” for both domestic and international acts of violence. For U.S. incidents, we have used the phrase “domestic terrorist” or “domestic terrorism.”

The Associated Press’ Vice President of Media Relations Paul Colford:

We generally avoid the terms because we prefer to describe more specifically what the individuals in question have done.

NPR’s Standard and Practices Editor Mark Memmott:

In each case, there are talks about the right ways to describe what has happened. That may change in the first few hours or days as more information comes in. “Murder” or “terror” or “hate crime”—all those words start percolating in the back of your mind, but it’s always best to stick to the facts and stick to the action words as information is still coming in before trying to apply labels. Now, there comes a point where it’s clear one way or the other in many of these cases. It became clear pretty quickly in Paris that this was something more than “simple” crimes. You had a lot of eye witness reporting about what was said by the attackers, how they operated, and the coordinated nature of the attacks. The targets were civilians—often an important consideration when deciding whether something is or is not terrorism.

Some of the threshold questions you have to start looking at and trying to answer: Is there evidence that it was a political motive? Is there evidence or indication that one of the motives was to strike terror in some sort of an attempt to force change, either in government or policy?

…Regarding the shooting in Charleston I don’t think newsrooms have settled on that one yet. Did he have political motives or was it a hate crime—a racially motivated crime? We’ll find out when the trial gets going whether he really did think he was going to start a race war.

Part of the media’s job is to lay out the facts. Labels are interesting but they sometimes aren’t helpful and they can get in the way.

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What Makes a Killer a Terrorist? We Asked the Nation’s Top News Outlets

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Clinton Endorses a Proposal to Help Ex-Cons Find Work

Mother Jones

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After her two leading rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination became targets of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hillary Clinton came armed with policy arguments when she met with members of the African-American activist group last week. The protesters from Massachusetts had shown up too late to disrupt the Clinton event in New Hampshire, but Clinton’s campaign arranged a short meeting afterward. A video of the session appeared last night on MSNBC and subsequently on YouTube via GOOD Magazine.

Clinton encouraged the activists to present a more coherent policy prescription for helping black people, telling them, “Let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can.” The agenda she laid out included housing programs, job opportunities, and one specific policy that has become a rallying cry among social justice activists: “Ban the Box.”

The argument behind the Ban the Box campaign is simple. Many job applications currently include a small box that potential employees must check if they’ve been convicted of a crime. It’s a tool employers frequently use to weed out applicants. This makes it significantly harder for people with a criminal record to land a job: Studies have shown that men who said they had criminal records were 50 percent less likely to hear back from an employer, and the effect is more pronounced for black men. According to the National Institute of Justice, between 60 and 75 percent of ex-offenders cannot find a job within a year of being released from prison.

Clinton’s Democratic opponents Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley have already both explicitly endorsed banning the box in the position papers they released on criminal and racial justice.

Unlike Sanders and O’Malley, Clinton has yet to put forward a comprehensive plan for criminal justice reform. The Clinton campaign didn’t respond to a request to clarify Clinton’s views on Ban the Box, but in an earlier speech the same day as her meeting with the activists, she touted the idea. “At the end of the day, people can make their own judgment” on whether to hire someone, she told a man in the audience who had been convicted of murder and struggled to find a job after being released. “But you shouldn’t be automatically disqualified.” She went on to explain what banning the box would allow: “You can get through the process and then, before somebody has to make a decision about you, you tell them. So they’re looking at you not as a statistic, but as a person. If you have the skills and the personality and the other qualities that might lead them to give you a job, you wouldn’t be eliminated at the very beginning.”

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Clinton Endorses a Proposal to Help Ex-Cons Find Work

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Abortion Is Not Murder

Mother Jones

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Ramesh Ponnuru comments on Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal tissue from the abortions it performs:

A recent Sarah Silverman tweet distilled one argument many liberals are making about the Planned Parenthood videos into a few characters: ”Abortion is still legal in the great U.S of A. It would be insane not to use fetal tissue 4 science & education in such cases. #StandwithPP.”

The death penalty is also still legal in our great country. Should we employ methods of execution so as to yield the highest number of usable organs?….

Whenever I write about abortion, I usually get a bunch of tweets or emails asking if I even understand the conservative position. Answer: of course I do. Most conservatives say that abortion is murder. Given that premise, their opposition to funding abortion, legalizing abortion, using some day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.

So I’m going to ask the mirror image question here: does Ponnuru understand the liberal position on abortion? Most of us don’t think of fetuses as persons, which means abortion doesn’t involve killing a human being in any meaningful sense. Given that premise, our support of funding abortion, legalizing abortion, promoting day-after pills, selling fetal tissue, and so forth, makes sense.

To us lefties, the death penalty involves killing a human being. Abortion doesn’t. So it’s perfectly reasonable to have different views about how the remains are treated in each case.

POSTSCRIPT: There are, of course, nuances in these positions regarding abortion on both sides. We’re all familiar enough with them that it seems unnecessary to repeat them here. That said, at its most basic, liberals don’t generally consider aborting a fetus to involve killing a human being. Obviously the rest of our views follow from that.


Abortion Is Not Murder

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John Roberts Now Officially the Fourth Conservative Sellout on the Supreme Court

Mother Jones

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From Quin Hillyer at National Review:

With today’s Obamacare decision, John Roberts confirms that he has completely jettisoned all pretense of textualism. He is a results-oriented judge, period, ruling on big cases based on what he thinks the policy result should be or what the political stakes are for the court itself. He is a disgrace. That is all.

So there you have it. Roberts has now joined a long line of conservative sellouts, from Harry Blackmun to John Paul Stevens to David Souter. After Souter, Republicans swore this would never happen again and insisted on nominating only hardline conservatives with a long paper trail: Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Sam Alito. But now Roberts has let them down. It turns out that the ability to hold onto conservative principles while serving under Ronald Reagan is insignificant next to the power of the Washington DC cocktail party circuit.

Still, at least Republicans can now end their embarrassing charade of pretending to have a plan to fix things up if the court had ended Obamacare subsidies in states without their own exchanges. I think it’s pretty safe to say that even the pretense of “working on” a plan to replace Obamacare will now be dumped quietly on the ash heap of history—until Republicans have a presidential nominee in hand, at which point the charade will have to start all over. But I think we already know what their bold new plan it will contain. There are few surprises in the land of conservative ideas.

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John Roberts Now Officially the Fourth Conservative Sellout on the Supreme Court

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Greece Gives Europe What It Wants, Europe Says No Anyway

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European leaders were in final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks with their Greek counterparts today, which by my count is at least the third time we’ve held final, last-ditch, eleventh-hour, crisis talks in the past two weeks. This leaves me a little unsure of when the real “world will explode” deadline is anymore. But soon, I’m sure.

In any case, as Paul Krugman notes, the Europeans are no longer merely demanding concessions of a certain size from the Greeks, they now want final say over the exact makeup of the concessions:

The creditors keep rejecting Greek proposals on the grounds that they rely too much on taxes and not enough on spending cuts. So we’re still in the business of dictating domestic policy.

The supposed reason for the rejection of a tax-based response is that it will hurt growth. The obvious response is, are you kidding us? The people who utterly failed to see the damage austerity would do — see the chart, which compares the projections in the 2010 standby agreement with reality — are now lecturing others on growth? Furthermore, the growth concerns are all supply-side, in an economy surely operating at least 20 percent below capacity.

Basically, the Europeans just can’t seem to say yes even when they get what they want. Besides, although tax increases probably will hurt Greek growth, so will spending cuts. There’s just no way around it. The Greek economy is completely moribund, and any kind of austerity is going to make it worse. But the Europeans want austerity anyway, and they have the whip hand, so now they’ve decided they also want to dictate the exact nature of the concrete life preservers they’re throwing to Greece.

The Greeks have little choice left, unless they’re willing to leave the euro, which would cause massive short-term pain at home. Maybe they will, but it would take a backbone of steel to do it. Voters would probably cheer raucously the first night, but be in a mood to vote the entire team out of office after about the second day, when their savings and pensions were converted into New Drachmas and suddenly slashed in half. There is no happy ending to this.

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Greece Gives Europe What It Wants, Europe Says No Anyway

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Obamacare Survives Supreme Court to Fight Another Day

Mother Jones

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Hey, I finally got one right! The Supreme Court decided to keep Obamacare subsidies intact, with both Roberts and Kennedy voting with the liberal judges in a 6-3 decision. And apparently they upheld the subsidies on the plainest possible grounds:

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan. “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he added. “If at all possible, we must interpret the act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

So this had nothing to do with the possibility that if Congress required states to build their own exchanges in order to get subsidies, that would be unconstitutional coercion on the states. That had been something a few of us speculated on in recent days. Instead it was a white bread ruling: laws have to be interpreted in their entirety, and the entirety of Obamacare very clearly demonstrated that Congress intended subsidies to go to all states, not just those who had set up their own exchanges.

So that’s that. As far as I know, there are no further serious legal challenges to Obamacare. The only challenge left is legislative, if Republicans capture both the House and the Senate and manage to get a Republican elected president. So let’s all hope that doesn’t happen, m’kay?

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Obamacare Survives Supreme Court to Fight Another Day

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