Category Archives: News

Cleveland Mayor Forced to Apologize for Claiming 12-Year-Old Shot by Police Was Responsible for his own Death

from March 03, 2015 at 12:50PM

The mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, apologized Monday for papers filed by the city that claimed a 12-year-old boy was to blame for his fatal shooting at the hands of police.


The family of Tamir Rice, shot to death last November by Cleveland police, filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the city and the officers involved in the shooting. In its response filed Friday, the city originally claimed Rice was responsible for his own death. After news of the city’s stance got out over the weekend, Mayor Frank Jackson apologized to Rice’s family and to Cleveland residents, and said a new response to the family’s suit would be filed within 20 days. “In an attempt to protect all of our defenses, we used words and we phrased things in such a way that was very insensitive to the tragedy in general, the family and the victim in particular,” Jackson said.


In its original response (pdf) to the family’s suit, the city claimed that Rice’s “injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the failure of [Rice] to exercise due care to avoid injury,” and furthermore that his “injuries, losses, and damages complained of, were directly and proximately caused by the acts of [Rice], not this Defendant.”


That assertion is made even more curious by the multiple times the city used this phrase in its response to other issues brought by Rice’s family: “In light of the fact that the circumstances of this incident will not be known until the completion of the investigation by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office, this Defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations contained . . . ” It was unclear how the city would have known the killing was Rice’s fault if the local sheriff’s office, which has taken over the investigation to help avoid conflict-of-interest charges by the Cleveland police, hadn’t finished investigating the case.


Jackson’s apology was less than satisfactory to Rice’s family. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Rice family, said Monday, “I don’t want him just to apologize for the poor word use. I want him to apologize for the death of this 12-year-old child.”


Rice was in a park on November 22 playing with a toy gun. A bystander called police to report Rice’s activity but also mentioned that Rice was a minor and that the gun was likely a toy. Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback arrived on the scene, drove up onto the grass and before the car even stopped, Loehmann got out of the car and shot Rice. A video shows that after the shooting, the officers tackled and handcuffed Rice’s 14-year-old sister Tajai. Rice’s gun was later confirmed to be an Airsoft, which shoots plastic pellets, although the orange toy indicator was removed.


 “I do believe that a 12-year-old child died unnecessarily at the hands of Cleveland police officers and I do believe that certain officers shouldn’t have been entitled to wear the uniform,” another Rice family attorney, Walter Madison, told


In the aftermath of the shooting, it was discovered that Loehmann had faced termination from a previous job with the police department in Independence, Ohio, after being deemed emotionally unstable and unfit for duty. He was allowed to resign rather than being fired. The Cleveland department later said they’d never checked his personnel record with Independence.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

City Of Cleveland Claims Tamir Rice’s Own Actions Caused His Death (by Stephanie McNeil, Buzzfeed)

City of Cleveland Answer to Complaint (pdf)

Shooting of Tamir Rice (Wikipedia)

Everything We Know About The Tamir Rice Shooting Investigation (by Alison Vingiano, Mike Hayes and Adolfo Flores, Buzzfeed)

Cleveland Mayor Apologizes For City Response to Tamir Rice Lawsuit (by David Bailey and Mary Wisniewski, Reuters)

Should the Toy Industry be Blamed for Making Toy Guns Look too Realistic? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

A Reminder: U.S. Pays One Quarter of Israel’s Defense Budget

from March 04, 2015 at 12:50PM

With Capitol Hill abuzz over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before Congress this week, there is no time like the present for a refresher on how much the American taxpayers spend on Israel’s defense.


If it wasn’t for Washington’s longtime commitment to bolstering the Israel Defense Forces, Netanyahu and Israeli lawmakers would have a serious shortfall on their hands.

After all, the U.S. funds about 25% of Israel’s annual spending on its military, thanks to $3 billion a year in aid.


“Since it was founded in 1948, Israel has become the largest single recipient of U.S foreign assistance — a total of $121 billion, almost all of which has been in the form of military assistance,” Brandon Ward wrote at Journalist’s Resource, citing a 2014 Congressional Research Service report (U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel [pdf]).


Among the items funded by the United States is Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. The 2015 budget allows $175.9 million for the system on top of $234 million in 2014 and $704 million in the years before that, according to the report.


The really big-ticket item is a purchase of 19 F-35 fighter planes financed with a $2.75 billion grant. The planes were supposed to have been delivered this year, but problems with the F-35 program have pushed the delivery date to 2016 or 2017.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

U.S. Foreign Aid To Israel: 2014 Congressional Report (Journalist’s Resource)

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel (by Jeremy M. Sharp, Congressional Research Service) (pdf)

Supreme Court Rulings Open Loopholes for Water Polluters (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

When Israelis Kill Gaza Civilians, They do so with Weapons Provided by U.S. (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Aid to Israel Equals $4.9 Million a Day for 64 Years (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

Polluting Drinking Water and Lobbying go Hand in Hand

from March 04, 2015 at 12:55PM

Companies that break the law by polluting America’s waterways tend to spend large amounts of money on lobbying politicians, according to a new environmental report.


Environment America says in its report Polluting Politics: Political Spending by Companies Dumping Toxics in our Waters that the 10 biggest corporate water polluters in the U.S. spent $53 million on lobbying and nearly $10 million on campaign contributions.


These companies also dumped 100 million pounds of toxics in public waterways, according to the report.


“As it turns out, the same companies that are polluting our waterways with toxic chemicals are also polluting our politics with their spending,” Ally Fields, the report’s author and a clean water advocate at Environment America, said in a press release.

The No. 1 polluter in the report is AK Steel Holding Corporation, which discharged 19,088,128 pounds of toxics into rivers, lakes and streams during 2012. It spent $739,752 on lobbying during 2014.


The biggest spender on lobbying was the No. 6 polluter: Koch Industries, which spent $13.8 million on lobbying and was responsible for 6,657,138 pounds of toxics dumped into waterways. Similarly, chemical giant DuPont spent $9.3 million on lobbying while dumping 5,500,000 pounds of toxics.


Second on the list of polluters is Tyson Foods, with 18,446,749 pounds of toxic waste dumped and $1.16 million spent on lobbying.


The third biggest water polluter turned out to be the Department of Defense, which dumped 10,868,190 pounds. The Pentagon does not officially spend money on lobbying, although it certainly makes its opinion known to lawmakers.


No. 4 is Cargill, which loaded waterways with 10,600,000 pounds of toxics and spent $1.3 million on lobbying.


These numbers don’t include money spent by industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute that spend more money, often with former lawmakers lobbying their old colleagues.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Polluting Politics: Koch Industries and Others Spend Millions to Gut Clean Water Act Protections (by Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch)

Polluting Politics (Environment America) (pdf)

Read more at: News – AllGov

South Carolina College Bans Homosexuality After Athletes Come Out as Gay

from February 27, 2015 at 03:03PM

Erskine College banned same-sex relationships because it isn’t part of “God’s intended design.”

A rural South Carolina college is attempting to ban homosexuality among its students after two of the school’s volleyball players came out as gay. reported that Erskine College issued a policy statement that the college is officially opposed to same-sex relationships because it isn’t part of “God’s intended design for humanity.”

Last year, two players on the Erskine volleyball team, Drew Davis and Juan Verona, went public with the fact that they are gay men. The team went on to play against the top teams in the nation at the NCAA tournament.

Now, Erskine officials are attempting to make certain that any other LGBT students at the college know that the school does not welcome them.

The school’s “Statement on Human Sexuality,” issued late last week, said “We believe the Bible teaches that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful and therefore ultimately destructive to the parties involved,” and continued:

Christ affirms that marital union is to be between a man and woman (Matt 19:4-6). The Bible teaches that monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is God’s intended design for humanity and that sexual intimacy has its proper place only within the context of marriage (1 Thes. 4:3-5, Col. 3:5-7). Sexual relations outside of marriage or between persons of the same sex are spoken of in scripture as sin and contrary to the will of the Creator (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-11).

We believe the Bible teaches that all sexual activity outside the covenant of marriage is sinful and therefore ultimately destructive to the parties involved. As a Christian academic community, and in light of our institutional mission, members of the Erskine community are expected to follow the teachings of scripture concerning matters of human sexuality and institutional decisions will be made in light of this position.

The college’s website said that it intends to “add the statement to its official manuals and determine how it will be integrated into campus culture and procedures.”

Varona told OutSports, “The release of this statement makes me disappointed because I have never received anything but kind treatment from everyone at this school, and my sexual orientation is no secret. So it took me by surprise.”

He went on to say, “(T)he school took several steps back instead of progressing towards a future where everyone can be treated as an equal” and that “it just made me sad and worried for other gay people who might be struggling with confidence to come out.”

Read more at: Alternet

Report: Justice Department to Condemn Racially Biased Policing in Ferguson

from March 02, 2015 at 11:22AM

The US Department of Justice may have passed on filing federal charges against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson after he shot and killed Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb last summer, but the department isn’t letting the city’s police force totally off the hook. According to the New York Times, the DOJ is about to release a report that accuses the Ferguson Police Department—and the city itself—of systemically mistreating the community’s African American population with discriminatory traffic stops; disproportionate ticketing, arrests, and court fines; and physical abuse at the hands of police officers.

According to the Times‘ Matt Apuzzo, the DOJ will recommend a series of changes at the department. If the city doesn’t agree, the DOJ could sue to force reforms. The DOJ has court-backed agreements with nearly two dozen police departments around the country (including the island-wide force in Puerto Rico), and is fighting four other departments in court over proposed changes.

If the Times is right, the report will bolster and likely add to information that has been documented in the past by activists, advocates, and at least one state-level agency in Missouri. As Mother Jones reported in September 2014, fines and court fees are Ferguson’s second-larges revenue source, and warrants were issued in 2013 at a rate of three per household (25,000 in a city of 21,000 people).

Another Mother Jones report—based off findings from the Missouri Attorney General’s office—noted that in 2013 in Ferguson, 86 percent of traffic stops and 92 percent of searches of individuals involved African American. That’s in a city that’s around 60% black (and one that had, at the time of Brown’s death, just three black police officers). Despite the cops’ focus on Ferguson’s black residents, just one in five black people police searched were found to be carrying contraband. For white people, that number was one in three.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones

American Atheist Hacked to Death in Bangladesh

from February 28, 2015 at 02:20PM

An American of Bangladeshi origin who blogged about liberal secular writing was hacked to death in Bangladesh this week following threats from Islamic radicals.


Avijit Roy was traveling with his wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, through Dhaka in a rickshaw when two assailants removed them and began attacking them with machetes. Roy, 42, was pronounced dead at a hospital. Bonya survived the attack but lost a finger and suffered numerous lacerations.


Muslim zealots had threatened Roy, a bioengineer and a naturalized American citizen, “for his active campaign against Islamist radicals,” according to BD News 24, for which Avijit worked as a columnist. Roy, the son of physicist Ajay Roy who has taught at Dhaka University, was the founder of a popular blog, Mukto-mona, which promoted secular writing in the Muslim-majority nation.


Several hundred people protested the killing, demanding the assailants be brought to justice. “Avijit’s killing once again proved that there is a culture of impunity in the country,” Imran Sarker, head of Bangladesh’s blogger association, told Agence France-Presse. “The government must arrest the killers in 24 hours or face non-stop protests.”


Roy was the second Bangladeshi blogger to have been killed in two years and the fourth writer attacked since 2004.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Assailants Hack To Death Writer Avijit Roy, Wife Injured (BD News 24)

American Atheist Blogger Hacked To Death In Bangladesh (Agence France-Presse)

Writer Avijit Roy Hacked to Death (Dhaka Tribune)

Read more at: News – AllGov

Average U.S. Payment for Killing an Innocent Person in Afghanistan: $3,426

from March 01, 2015 at 02:20PM

Life is cheap, at least in Afghanistan. The U.S. government makes payments averaging only $3,426 to survivors of those killed as a result of American military action in that country.


An analysis by The Intercept showed that between 2011 and 2013, the U.S. military made 957 condolence payments totaling $2.7 million, $1.8 million of them for deaths with the maximum amount generally capped at $5,000. The largest single payment for a death—$15,000—came in 2011. Other payments are as low as $100.


Even when payments are made, they’re inconsistent. Sometimes a payment for property damage can exceed that for a death. In addition, many deaths go uncompensated because survivors live too far from a base where they can make a claim.


Payments are made under two systems. The first, the Foreign Claims Act, handles payments for issues such as traffic accidents caused by military personnel. That system does not include payments for injuries and death as a result of battle, however. In those circumstances “condolence payments” are authorized, but their amount and manner of payment vary wildly.


Last year, Sen. Patrick Leahy put a provision in the defense appropriations bill that would streamline the rules for condolence payments, making for quicker payments and improved record-keeping. The Defense Department has yet to implement these changes but says it’s “reviewing the processes related to ex-gratia payments to determine if there are areas where improvements can be made,” according  to Cora Currier of The Intercept.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Our Condolences: How the U.S. Paid for Death and Damage in Afghanistan (by Cora Currier, The Intercept)

Hearts, Minds and Dollars: Condolence Payments in the Drone Strike Age (by Cora Currier, ProPublica)

How Much is the Life of a Dead Innocent Afghan Worth? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

The Forgotten Victims of the Bales Massacre (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Read more at: News – AllGov

Floridians, Help Us Stop Your State From Outlawing Anonymous Websites

from March 02, 2015 at 12:39PM

Floridians, we need your help to stop a dangerous anti-anonymity bill. This week, the Florida state legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal to run any website or service anonymously, if the site fits a vague category of “disseminat[ing]” “commercial” recordings or videos—even the site owner’s own work. Outlawing anonymous speech raises a serious First Amendment problem, and laws like this one have been abused by police and the entertainment industry.

The bill, which is moving through Florida House and Senate committees this week, requires anyone who operates a website or Internet service to “disclose his or her true and correct name, physical address, and telephone number or e-mail address.” It would apply to any website or service “dealing in substantial part in the electronic dissemination of commercial recordings or audiovisual works, directly or indirectly,” to Florida consumers.

A great many websites could be de-anonymized by this statute, whether they are hosted in Florida or not. The bill defines a “commercial recording or audiovisual work” as anything an “owner … agent, or licensee has disseminated or intends to disseminate.” That covers a potentially vast number of people. Any of them could apply for a court order forcing a website owner (or potentially their ISP) to reveal their name and address.

Worse yet, the bill could be used to unmask anonymous bloggers, vidders, or musicians who primarily put their own work online if even one recording or video belonging to someone else appears on their site – or perhaps even a link to someone else’s work.

Similar “true name and address” laws in other states have been used to justify police raids on music studios. In 2007, a Georgia police SWAT team (with RIAA employees in tow) raided the studio of DJ Drama and DJ Cannon, makers of influential “mixtapes” that record labels used to promote their artists. The police arrested the DJs and confiscated their CDs and equipment. Their justification wasn’t copyright law (which is a federal law) but a more limited version of the same law Florida is considering, one that applies only to physical goods. If Florida expands on Georgia’s law by including websites, we could see similar police raids against music blogs or other avenues of online speech. And the works on the site might even be in the public domain, as long as some “owner, assignee, authorized agent, or licensee”—perhaps a broadcaster—complains.

The bill does have a few mitigating features. It excludes service providers hosting or transmitting third-party content, as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act requires. And the bill doesn’t apply if the material on a website is “excerpt[s] consisting of less than substantially all of a recording or audiovisual work”—a small and incomplete nod to fair use.

Still, the bill raises big constitutional problems. The ability to speak anonymously is an important free speech right. Forcing website owners to identify themselves violates the First Amendment when laws like this one are vague about which sites must comply. Even a site that a court decides is “likely to violate” the statute could be de-anonymized.

In addition, using state law to regulate the contents of websites creates constitutional problems because the Internet is borderless. This bill could easily apply to sites hosted anywhere in the U.S., not just in Florida. State regulation of websites can interfere with the federal government’s exclusive authority over interstate commerce.

If you live in Florida, contact your legislators and speak out about this bill! You can find your Senator here and your Representative here. Tell them you oppose SB 604 and HB 271.

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Read more at: Deeplinks

Activists Dispute Official Account Of Fatal SFPD Shooting, Plan Protest At Town Hall Tonight

via SFist

Saying that witness statements “call into question” the San Francisco Police Department’s account of a fatal police shooting in the Mission District on Thursday, local activist groups say that they will be attending — in force — a town hall meeting on the shooting scheduled for tonight. [ more › ]

Protesting Chicago’s Black Site: Homan Square

via by Jill McLaughlin

Gitmo2Chicago ProtestOn Saturday February 28th about 200 people gathered on the west side of Chicago to protest Chicago’s very own black site called Homan Square. Revelations of this site run by the Chicago Police Department came to light with a recent article in the Guardian newspaper. What is revealed is that the Chicago PD has been operating a facility were people are detained for prolong periods of time while being denied access to lawyers and some of have even been tortured. We of Chicago World Can’t Wait could not help but make the connections between this facility and Guantanamo Bay Prison.

Read more…