Category Archives: News

Baltimore Cop Found Not Guilty Of All Charges In Freddie Gray Case

Source: TPM News

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore officer was acquitted Monday of assault and other charges in the arrest of Freddie Gray, dealing prosecutors a significant blow in their attempt to hold police accountable for the young black man’s death from injuries he suffered in the back of a police van.

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Sprawling NYC Corruption Probe Is Going After Top Cops, Jail Guards’ Union

via TPM News

NEW YORK (AP) — After a successful attack on corruption in New York’s state government, the hard-charging federal prosecutor in Manhattan appears to have set his sights on New York City.

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Hunger Strike in San Francisco Puts a Spotlight on Police Brutality

from April 27, 2016 at 04:33PM http://bit.ly/26w8d1b

At the corner of 17th and Valencia Streets in San Francisco late Tuesday afternoon, a group of about 20 protesters remained camped outside the Mission Police Station, fueled by coconut water, vitamin supplements, and car honking in solidarity. Several were in the sixth day of a hunger strike. Their goal: The ouster of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr and his boss, Mayor Ed Lee, over a string of police violence and alleged misconduct.

A stash of rations sat near the entrance of the station, where last week five people began the protest: Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Ilyich Sato, Sellassie Blackwell, Ike Peterson and Edwin Lindo. The demonstrators also set up three tents on a nearby corner. Gutierrez, a short, soft-spoken woman who runs a neighborhood preschool, has also at times escaped the cold evenings in her van parked across the street.

The group had pondered the decision to stop eating for several months, the organizers told me. What compelled them to go forward with the plan was the latest police shooting in San Francisco: In early April, a homeless man, Luis Gongora, allegedly brandished a knife at officers, who responded with fatal gunfire.

Ilyich Sato, who performs locally as a rapper, sat in a blue camping chair, musing about the mothers of two other recent victims of police shootings. "It’s the inspiration of the families," he said. "Alex Nieto’s mother. Gwendolyn Woods—Mario Woods’ mother. I think of them every day I’m out here."

Clad in a striped beanie and brown jacket, Edwin Lindo, an education consultant and community advocate who is currently running for the city supervisor seat covering the Mission district, said he hasn’t eaten since April 20. "My body is fragile," he said. "My mind and spirit is at a level I’ve never experienced in all my life."

The demonstrators’ sense of resolve flows from a series of police-involved shootings of black and Latino men. A recent investigation that uncovered alleged racist and homophobic texting by several SFPD officers has only added to the feelings of outrage and frustration. The ongoing texting scandal has forced George Gascon, the city’s district attorney and former police chief, to reassess 3,000 criminal cases for potential bias.

The group of demonstrators at Mission Police Station pointed to four recent cases:

Alejandro "Alex" Nieto: In March 2014, the 27-year-old was eating a burrito in Bernal Heights Park, when officers confronted him after receiving reports of a man with a gun who acted erratically. Gascon said that Nieto pointed a Taser gun at officers and refused to comply with their orders to show his hands. Multiple officers shot Nieto, killing him. Gascon declined to bring charges against the four officers involved. In a lawsuit brought by Nieto’s family, a federal civil jury found in favor of the officers.

Amilcar Perez-Lopez: In February 2015, the 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant was shot and killed in a confrontation with two SFPD officers in the city’s Mission District. Police Chief Suhr told reporters at a press conference that Perez-Lopez had lunged at officers with a knife before he was shot. Witnesses later told the Guardian that police had tried to grab Perez-Lopez from behind, and after he struggled free and ran, they shot him in the back. An autopsy concluded that Perez-Lopez had indeed been shot six times from behind.

Mario Woods: In December 2015, multiple SFPD officers unleashed a hail of bullets on the 26-year-old Woods, who was a suspect in a stabbing case. Police had claimed that Woods threatened officers with a large kitchen knife, but a video released by the Woods family’s attorney raised doubts about that account. The footage, released on the same day the family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the San Francisco police department, shows Woods pacing alongside a wall with his arms to his side before he was shot 20 times. Numerous shots struck him from behind, according to an autopsy report released in February. Police said Woods refused to comply with officers’ orders. At the time of his death, Woods had methamphetamine, marijuana, cough medicine, antidepressants, caffeine and nicotine in his system, according to the autopsy report. The city’s attorney argued that the cops had acted lawfully. The case is under investigation and prompted a federal probe of SFPD’s use-of-force policies.

Luis Gongora: On April 7, San Francisco police responded to a report of a man waving a large knife at a homeless encampment. Within 30 seconds of leaving their patrol vehicles, officers shouted "Get on the ground!" and "put that down," according to surveillance footage obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. The officers then fired four beanbags and seven bullets at the 45-year-old Gongora. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died. Officials told reporters at a news conference that Gongora had lunged at officers with a knife, though witnesses at the scene disputed that, according to the Chronicle.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mayor Lee told reporters at a press conference that he respected the demonstrators’ right to protest, and that he stood by his police chief. Suhr said he had no plans to resign.

By Tuesday evening, the group on hunger strike was joined by a much larger crowd: Roughly 200 packed on the street outside the Mission Police Station, trying to get into the monthly community meeting inside in which residents can raise issues with Captain Daniel Parea, who oversees the station.

As Parea began to speak, Lindo stood up and called for the meeting to be held outside, to accommodate the crowd. Parea refused, and people inside started chanting "Fire Greg Suhr!" Parea declared the meeting canceled and walked out.

Outside, the crowd circled several of the core demonstrators. Gutierrez offered some quiet pleas for justice. Selassie led chants of the names of Nieto, Woods, and others who were killed. Lindo said that if he were to be elected supervisor, any police misconduct that results in a settlement by the city would come out of the police department’s retirement fund. (Most such settlements ultimately fall on taxpayers.) "When they are not held accountable, you do things with impunity," Lindo said.

Now the block was cordoned off by police. A crowd of demonstrators spilled into the middle of the intersection at 17th and Valencia. Patrol cars and groups of officers stood at the ready nearby, although the situation remained peaceful.

"The police are going to be here regardless," Sato said. "It’s systemic police problems that have to stop, and we have to do what we can to prevent it."

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y


Hunger Strike in San Francisco Puts a Spotlight on Police Brutality

from April 27, 2016 at 04:33PM http://bit.ly/26w8d1b

At the corner of 17th and Valencia Streets in San Francisco late Tuesday afternoon, a group of about 20 protesters remained camped outside the Mission Police Station, fueled by coconut water, vitamin supplements, and car honking in solidarity. Several were in the sixth day of a hunger strike. Their goal: The ouster of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr and his boss, Mayor Ed Lee, over a string of police violence and alleged misconduct.

A stash of rations sat near the entrance of the station, where last week five people began the protest: Maria Cristina Gutierrez, Ilyich Sato, Sellassie Blackwell, Ike Peterson and Edwin Lindo. The demonstrators also set up three tents on a nearby corner. Gutierrez, a short, soft-spoken woman who runs a neighborhood preschool, has also at times escaped the cold evenings in her van parked across the street.

The group had pondered the decision to stop eating for several months, the organizers told me. What compelled them to go forward with the plan was the latest police shooting in San Francisco: In early April, a homeless man, Luis Gongora, allegedly brandished a knife at officers, who responded with fatal gunfire.

Ilyich Sato, who performs locally as a rapper, sat in a blue camping chair, musing about the mothers of two other recent victims of police shootings. "It’s the inspiration of the families," he said. "Alex Nieto’s mother. Gwendolyn Woods—Mario Woods’ mother. I think of them every day I’m out here."

Clad in a striped beanie and brown jacket, Edwin Lindo, an education consultant and community advocate who is currently running for the city supervisor seat covering the Mission district, said he hasn’t eaten since April 20. "My body is fragile," he said. "My mind and spirit is at a level I’ve never experienced in all my life."

The demonstrators’ sense of resolve flows from a series of police-involved shootings of black and Latino men. A recent investigation that uncovered alleged racist and homophobic texting by several SFPD officers has only added to the feelings of outrage and frustration. The ongoing texting scandal has forced George Gascon, the city’s district attorney and former police chief, to reassess 3,000 criminal cases for potential bias.

The group of demonstrators at Mission Police Station pointed to four recent cases:

Alejandro "Alex" Nieto: In March 2014, the 27-year-old was eating a burrito in Bernal Heights Park, when officers confronted him after receiving reports of a man with a gun who acted erratically. Gascon said that Nieto pointed a Taser gun at officers and refused to comply with their orders to show his hands. Multiple officers shot Nieto, killing him. Gascon declined to bring charges against the four officers involved. In a lawsuit brought by Nieto’s family, a federal civil jury found in favor of the officers.

Amilcar Perez-Lopez: In February 2015, the 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant was shot and killed in a confrontation with two SFPD officers in the city’s Mission District. Police Chief Suhr told reporters at a press conference that Perez-Lopez had lunged at officers with a knife before he was shot. Witnesses later told the Guardian that police had tried to grab Perez-Lopez from behind, and after he struggled free and ran, they shot him in the back. An autopsy concluded that Perez-Lopez had indeed been shot six times from behind.

Mario Woods: In December 2015, multiple SFPD officers unleashed a hail of bullets on the 26-year-old Woods, who was a suspect in a stabbing case. Police had claimed that Woods threatened officers with a large kitchen knife, but a video released by the Woods family’s attorney raised doubts about that account. The footage, released on the same day the family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the San Francisco police department, shows Woods pacing alongside a wall with his arms to his side before he was shot 20 times. Numerous shots struck him from behind, according to an autopsy report released in February. Police said Woods refused to comply with officers’ orders. At the time of his death, Woods had methamphetamine, marijuana, cough medicine, antidepressants, caffeine and nicotine in his system, according to the autopsy report. The city’s attorney argued that the cops had acted lawfully. The case is under investigation and prompted a federal probe of SFPD’s use-of-force policies.

Luis Gongora: On April 7, San Francisco police responded to a report of a man waving a large knife at a homeless encampment. Within 30 seconds of leaving their patrol vehicles, officers shouted "Get on the ground!" and "put that down," according to surveillance footage obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. The officers then fired four beanbags and seven bullets at the 45-year-old Gongora. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died. Officials told reporters at a news conference that Gongora had lunged at officers with a knife, though witnesses at the scene disputed that, according to the Chronicle.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mayor Lee told reporters at a press conference that he respected the demonstrators’ right to protest, and that he stood by his police chief. Suhr said he had no plans to resign.

By Tuesday evening, the group on hunger strike was joined by a much larger crowd: Roughly 200 packed on the street outside the Mission Police Station, trying to get into the monthly community meeting inside in which residents can raise issues with Captain Daniel Parea, who oversees the station.

As Parea began to speak, Lindo stood up and called for the meeting to be held outside, to accommodate the crowd. Parea refused, and people inside started chanting "Fire Greg Suhr!" Parea declared the meeting canceled and walked out.

Outside, the crowd circled several of the core demonstrators. Gutierrez offered some quiet pleas for justice. Selassie led chants of the names of Nieto, Woods, and others who were killed. Lindo said that if he were to be elected supervisor, any police misconduct that results in a settlement by the city would come out of the police department’s retirement fund. (Most such settlements ultimately fall on taxpayers.) "When they are not held accountable, you do things with impunity," Lindo said.

Now the block was cordoned off by police. A crowd of demonstrators spilled into the middle of the intersection at 17th and Valencia. Patrol cars and groups of officers stood at the ready nearby, although the situation remained peaceful.

"The police are going to be here regardless," Sato said. "It’s systemic police problems that have to stop, and we have to do what we can to prevent it."

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y


New Fire Legislation Would Require More Communication from Landlords

from April 26, 2016 at 10:00PM http://bit.ly/1qWhcbe
http://Roberto%20Hernandez%20discusses%20fires.%20Photo%20by%20Lola%20M.%20Chavez
San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and Jane Kim on Tuesday introduced legislation intended to protect tenants in the event of a fire by requiring that landlords keep the city informed of safety standards within their buildings. The legislation would also require that all buildings be outfitted with smoke detectors and loud alarms. It would mandate that landlords file reports with the Department of Building Inspection to keep tenants informed of…

Read more at: MissionLocal http://bit.ly/1vD0Twd


Police Briefly Cut Power and Close Bathrooms to SF Mission Hunger Strikers

from April 25, 2016 at 10:37PM http://bit.ly/1qWha35
http://Photo%20by%20Lola%20M.%20Chavez
Protesters and police engaged in two confrontations on Monday night over the use of bathrooms and public space in and around Mission Police Station where 10 people are staging a hunger strike to unseat the Chief of Police Greg Suhr. Hunger strikers told Mission Local that around 8 p.m. on Monday, officers from Mission Station – unsolicited by any request from protesters –  offered the strikers an ambulance.  At the same time, they told strikers they would risk…

Read more at: MissionLocal http://bit.ly/1vD0Twd


SF Police Captain Cuts Off Community Meeting, Rally Goes On

from April 27, 2016 at 06:00AM http://bit.ly/1qWha2U
http://Photo%20by%20Lola%20M.%20Chavez
A monthly community meeting Tuesday night at the Mission Police Station, highly anticipated by a group of nine hunger strikers and their supporters demanding the police chief’s resignation, was abruptly called off after only a few minutes as strikers and police disagreed as to where the meeting should be held. Upon arrival, Mission Station Captain Daniel Perea began to discuss neighborhood events and said he would leave time for questions…

Read more at: MissionLocal http://bit.ly/1vD0Twd


City College Students, Faculty Demand Fair Wages in Day-Long Strike

from April 27, 2016 at 09:03PM http://bit.ly/26w6jNV
http://Protesters%20demanding%20fair%20wages%20gather%20at%20San%20Francisco%20City%20College's...
Some 25 teachers and students gathered on Wednesday morning at the Mission District Campus of City College to denounce unfair labor practices at the community college stemming from low wages paid to teachers. The chants of students and faculty members could be heard down the block from the Valencia Street campus, as protesters attempted to enter the campus but found that the school had been locked. “They shut down the…

Read more at: MissionLocal http://bit.ly/1vD0Twd


Legendary Abolitionist Harriet Tubman to Replace Andrew Jackson on the Front of the New $20 Bill

from April 20, 2016 at 01:52PM http://bit.ly/1XQhKdy
In an incredibly wonderful karmic twist, the U.S. Treasury Department officially announced that the legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who dedicated her life to freeing thousands of slaves through the Underground Railroad network will be replacing the current portrait of Andrew Jackson, who was a slave-owner while he held office as President, on the obverse (front) […]

Read more at: Laughing Squid http://bit.ly/1mU3Sh6


Mexican Human Rights Defenders Say They Are Target of Smear Campaign

from April 22, 2016 at 11:28AM http://bit.ly/1XQhHyt

by Ginger Thompson

Last Saturday, I was surprised and somewhat alarmed when an email came in from one of Mexico’s most prominent human rights defenders. “Can we talk?” read the subject line. “It’s urgent.”

I immediately wrote back. Mariclaire Acosta is someone I’d known for years. She’s been in the trenches a long time, and doesn’t alarm easily. In her response, she explained that the government she once represented as a senior diplomat had turned against her. “Things are not looking good for the human rights community in Mexico,” she wrote. “We are all under serious attack.”

Attached to her email were copies of newspaper columns that smeared Acosta and her colleagues, characterizing the human rights community as a “mafia embedded in power” who had defrauded the government out of millions of dollars while advocating on behalf of traffickers and kidnappers. “How much of this money ended up in the pockets of these impassioned human rights defenders,” one column asked without citing any proof. Meanwhile, real crime victims barely receive enough government support to cover funeral costs, another column asserted.

I have reported from and about Mexico for decades. But these columns didn’t make sense to me. Acosta had been one of the earliest pioneers of human rights work in Mexico. I asked her who she thought was behind the campaign, and why she thought it had been launched now? “I’m told that it comes from the highest levels of the government, but I don’t have proof,” she said. As for why now, Acosta and others I’ve spoken to in recent days say they believe the media assault was triggered by the increasing international pressure on Mexico to address accusations that its military and police are responsible for gross human rights abuses.

This Sunday, an independent group of experts is expected to release the findings of its investigation into a 2014 attack on a caravan of buses loaded with students from a teacher’s college in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero that left three students dead and 43 others missing. The violence at Ayotzinapa shattered Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s efforts to convince the world that government corruption and impunity were problems of the past. It emboldened the relatives of the tens of thousands of other people who have gone missing to come forward and file complaints — some against the country’s vaunted armed forces. And it has spawned massive protests across the country, led by the students’ families and friends.

When the group issued its initial report on Ayotzinapa last September, it hit the country like a bombshell. The report said that science and other evidence did not substantiate the government’s version of the incident, which blamed municipal police and drug traffickers for killing the students and incinerating their bodies in a trash dump. The experts said they had found evidence that federal police and military officers may have played a role. And they said that the gunmen may have targeted the caravan because the students unknowingly had boarded a bus loaded with heroin that belonged to a criminal gang known as “Guerreros Unidos.”

It’s unclear how much new light the widely awaited follow-up report will shed on the incident. Authorities close to the investigation said that the Mexican attorney general and the defense secretary blocked soldiers from being interviewed and refused to share any information that may have come from American authorities. (Though one human rights investigator let slip that more than half of the 113 or so suspects arrested in the case — whose testimony serve as the foundation for the government’s news reports out from Europe indicated that account — were found to have injuries consistent with torture). But the lack of cooperation alone could serve as a reminder of how badly Pena’s government has handled this case, raising more questions about how much the military has to hide and triggering more protests and international condemnations.

On the day I received Acosta’s email, Mexico’s defense secretary had been forced to issue a rare apology over a videotape which showed soldiers interrogating a female trafficking suspect by wrapping a plastic bag around her head until she nearly suffocated. Earlier this month, news reports out of Europe said President Peña was hounded by questions about Ayotzinapa during visits to Germany and Denmark, where one protester even tore off her shirt and shouted that he was a “dictator” and an “assassin.” Also earlier this month, in its annual report on human rights, the U.S. State Department described abuses by Mexico’s police and military as being among the country’s “most significant human rights-related problems,” saying that soldiers had committed crimes including “unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances.” Thus the release of the final report by the group of experts couldn’t come at a worse time. Which is why, according to human rights advocates I began calling in Mexico City and Washington, there’s a systematic effort underway to discredit the report before its release.

Maureen Meyer, an expert on Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) called it a classic attempt to “kill the messenger.” In Mexico, the threat can be more than figurative. I recently spoke with a former Mexican official who said he didn’t think the smear campaign was being directed from the Mexican president’s office (a spokesperson there sent me a written statement pointing out that it was the Mexican government’s decision to invite the panel). But he said even a lesser authority ordering a minion to make life difficult for a critic — journalists are the most pressing example — can get out of hand.

The former official said, “Usually the order is something like, ‘Da les una calentadita,’” which literally translates as, “heat them up a little.” Then, he looked me in the eye. “You lived in Mexico a long time. You know what that means.”

The report’s five authors, whose previous work has led to widely acclaimed cases against the Colombian military, a former Guatemalan dictator and American oil companies, had been selected as part of an agreement between the Mexican government, the parents of the missing students and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. Mexico’s foreign minister at the time said during a press conference when the panel began its work last year that it’s “support and suggestions will be welcome.” Since then, however, the experts have seen the Mexican media, conservative activists, and leftist politicians drag their backgrounds through the mud, making vague and totally unsubstantiated claims that they are not only unqualified for the task that brought them to Mexico, but also lacking the objectivity and moral standing to question Mexico’s police and military.

An article in the Mexican daily La Razon, for instance, accused Chilean lawyer and group member Francisco Cox of inappropriately charging Mexico thousands of dollars a month for his work on the Ayotzinapa case, while simultaneously defending victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda for free. Numerous stories accused Colombia’s former attorney general, Angela Buitrago, of fabricating evidence against a Colombian colonel in support of group linked to the late Medellin cartel kingpin, Pablo Escobar. Another La Razon article said that Claudia Paz y Paz, who made history when she successfully brought genocide charges against Guatemala’s former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt, had been an agent of the guerilla insurgency during the country’s long and bloody civil war. By and large the articles I reviewed did not offer evidence to support the charges. A spokesperson for the group said that’s because the charges are “complete lies.”

In an interview, Paz y Paz told me that the group had asked the government to denounce the smear campaign. “They tried to minimize it, by saying that the attacks were coming from newspapers and journalists that no one reads, so it wasn’t worth a response.” Jose Miguel Vivanco, at Human Rights Watch, said the government’s silence is “glaring” and “sends a message that they condone” the attacks. “If this was some random thing that wasn’t worth worrying about, it would be easy for the government to refute it in categorical terms, and express full confidence in the investigation,” he said.

Vivanco pointed out that the work being done by the group marks the first time that Mexico has opened its justice system to the scrutiny of an international panel. Guatemala has recently gone even farther by allowing the United Nations to work alongside their own prosecutors on high profile corruption cases. One of its probes led ultimately to the arrest last September of the country’s sitting president, Otto Perez Molina. Joy Olson, WOLA’s executive director, said the Guatemala arrests, “scared the shit out of politicians all over the place.” And in Mexico, she said, the politicians are pushing back because the group of experts have demonstrated to a country where some 98 percent of all crimes go unresolved that “if you bring in an outside authority you might actually be able to get something done.”

I spoke to Ricardo Alemán, a columnist for the Mexican daily Milenio, who has written critically about the group and other human rights defenders, including Mariclaire Acosta. “I don’t campaign for anyone or anything,” he told me. “I do journalism.” However, just as the human rights community suspects that his work is part of a political smear campaign, he too thinks there is a political campaign at work, but to tarnish the reputations of the federal police and the military. The experts, he said, “came here to trick us and make us feel that they know better than we do how to conduct our affairs.” As an example, he pointed to the release of the videotaped torture of the trafficking suspect. “Do you think that release happened by coincidence? Things like that don’t happen by coincidence.”

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS