Tallahassee, Fla. – The U.S prison industrial complex is spiraling out of control as the prison crisis in America grows to pandemic proportions. While accounting for slightly less than 5 percent of the total global population, the U.S. incarcerates roughly 25 percent of people imprisoned worldwide.
Startling statistics from a nation that proclaims to be “the home of the free.”
The Prison Policy Initiative reports:
The U.S. incarcerates 716 people for every 100,000 residents, more than any other country. In fact, our rate of incarceration is more than five times higher than most of the countries in the world. Although our level of crime is comparable to those of other stable, internally secure, industrialized nations, the United States has an incarceration rate far higher than any other country.
Nearly all of the countries with relatively high incarceration rates share the experience of recent large-scale internal conflict. But the United States, which has enjoyed a long history of political stability and hasn’t had a civil war in nearly a century and a half, tops the list.
If we compare the incarceration rates of individual U.S. states and territories with that of other nations, for example, we see that 36 states and the District of Columbia have incarceration rates higher than that of Cuba, which is the nation with the second highest incarceration rate in the world.
Now, what we are learning is that the United States is not just imprisoning people at an outrageous pace, but that men and women are dying in these prisons at all-time highs, often at the hands of guards, in the most awful and brutal ways imaginable. The state of Florida, it appears, is ground zero for the deaths of prisoners, and the crisis is so deeply corrupt and out of hand that it needs immediate national intervention.
Florida, in 2014, recorded an all-time high of 346 inmate deaths inside of their prisons. Although the prison population has remained relatively steady the past five years, the death toll of prisoners reached an all-time high for the state in 2014.
Hundreds of these deaths inside of prison walls, from 2014 and previous years, are now being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice due to the suspicious and systemic nature of the deaths, almost all at the hands of law enforcement officers.
This past September, thirty two law enforcement officials, including prison guards and officers, were fired across the state due to dozens of cases of negligence, abuse, corruption, and death, according to Reuters.
Simply losing ones job over allegations of poisoning, gassing, and beating inmates to death is not justice. These rogue law enforcers need to have an example made out of them. They should not only lose their jobs but they should be indicted, convicted of murder and given the maximum penalty allowed.
These agents of the state, given a great responsibility, have shown themselves to willingly prey upon the most vulnerable in our society and must be held accountable for their actions for justice to be served.
Yesterday three laws widely criticized by the opposition and human rights groups were approved in Spanish Congress. The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety. The three new texts challenge freedom of expression in the streets and on the Internet. All three laws are scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2015.
Law on Citizen Safety (Gag Law)
“The gag law is revenge against social movements that emerged after 15M” – Patricia Martin, Avaaz
Under the new Citizen Safety Law or Ley Mordaza (Gag Law) as human rights defenders have renamed it, public protests, freedoms of speech and the press and documenting police abuses will become crimes punishable by heavy fines and/or jail. Some key points on the Ley Mordaza:
- Photographing or recording police – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Peaceful disobedience to authority – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Occupying banks as means of protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Not formalizing a protest – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For carrying out assemblies or meetings in public spaces – 100 to 600€ fine.
- For impeding or stopping an eviction – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- For presence at an occupied space (not only social centers but also houses occupied by evicted families) – 100 to 600€ fine.
- Police black lists for protesters, activists and alternative press have been legalized.
- Meeting or gathering in front of Congress – 600 to 30.000€ fine.
- Appealing the fines in court requires the payment of judicial costs, whose amount depends on the fine.
- It allows random identity checks, allowing for racial profiling of immigrants and minorities.
- Police can now carry out raids at their discretion, without the need for “order” to have been disrupted.
- External bodily searches are also now allowed at police discretion.
- The government can prohibit any protest at will, if it feels “order” will be disrupted.
- Any ill-defined “critical infrastructure” is now considered a forbidden zone for public gatherings if it might affect their functioning.
- There are also fines for people who climb buildings and monuments without permission. (This has been a common method of protest from organizations like Greenpeace.)
The Gag Law will also affect internet freedoms as tweets calling for demonstrations or protests may be subject to penalties and fines for organizers. While an individual user may not be considered “an organizer” it could also be construed to include anyone who disseminates a call to protest through any media, including social media.
“This is the worst cut of rights and freedoms since the Franco regime,” – Virginia Pérez Alonso, PDLI
As the Ley Mordaza makes it illegal to publish photos of the police or other authorities without permission, sharing those images on social media could also be considered a felony resulting in a fine up to 30,000 euros.
Reform of the Penal Code (Código Penal)
Reforms to the Código Penal include some vague and controversial wording that could have wider implications involving copyright, cyberactivism and online porn. Below we will outline some of the points in question.
Copyright and Downloads
Reform of the Copyright Act was already approved but the new Penal Code reform also covers cases of copyright infringement imposing a penalty of six months to four years in prison for those who, among other things, “facilitate access or localization” of works that are being shared without permission of the owners with the intention of obtaining a direct or indirect financial gain.
Another controversial section refers to those who “intentionally store copies of works” to be aimed at public communication which is a crime. Article 270 mentions imprisonment for those who provide methods or systems to remove anti-copy protection of specific content.
The new Penal Code imposes imprisonment from six months to three years those who, for commercial purposes, manufacture, import, put into circulation, design, produce, adapt or perform to facilitate the removal or circumvention of any technical device that was used to protect computer programs or any other works.
Revenge Porn & Child Pornography
The new Penal Code imposes penalties for revenge porn and child pornography. Under Article 197 terms of incarceration for revenge porn range from three months to one year. Article 189 contains new wording regarding the definition of child pornography referring to any material whether real or simulated whose protagonist “seems to be a minor” except in cases where they are proven to have been eighteen years or older at the time of depiction. It also explains that “accessing a sexually explicit website containing content that appears to be a minor may be grounds for arrest and trial.”
Together with the Citizen Safety Act, the new Penal Code will also criminalize online activism and organizing imposing sentences between three months to one year to those who “emit slogans or messages”, “incite any offense of disorderly conduct,” incuding “disturbing the public peace.”
Distribution or public dissemination through any medium, of messages or slogans that incite the commission of any offense of disorderly conduct under Article 557 of the Penal Code, or serve to reinforce the decision to carry them out shall be punished with a fine of three to twelve months or imprisonment from three months to a year.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, Partido Popular and PSOE reached an agreement to amend the criminal code on terrorism which was also approved yesterday in Congress. The law again contains some vague language which leaves room for interpretation.
The new law uses a broad definition of “terrorism”: Among other things, cybercrime is now considered a terrorist act if the goal is to disrupt and/or disturb the public peace or cause a state of terror. For example, an attack on a Ministry website will now be a terrorist attack.
Viewing web pages with content targeted for or deemed as “suitable for terrorists” in a habitual manner can carry a penalty of two to five years in prison, but the law does not specify what is “habitual” or which websites are being targeted.
By expanding the definition of terrorism, it also expands what can be considered “glorifying terrorism” which can include for example tweeting certain content.
Glorification and public justification of crimes under Articles 572-577 or those who participated in its execution or performance of acts involving disrepute, contempt or humiliation of victims of terrorist offenses or their families, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to three years and a fine of twelve to eighteen months.
Paying for technological services could now be considered collaborating with terrorists.
Shall be punished with imprisonment from five to ten years and fined eighteen to twenty four months which takes place, soliciting or facilitating any act of collaboration with the activities or purposes of an organization, group or terrorist element, or commit any of the offenses covered by this chapter. In particular acts of collaboration of information or surveillance of individuals, […] the provision of technology services, and any other equivalent form of cooperation or assistance to the activities of organizations or terrorist groups, groups or individuals for the preceding paragraph.
Blocking content: The judge may order any service provider (search engines, etc.) to remove links to illegal content related to terrorism.
If the facts were committed through services or content accessible through the Internet or electronic communications services, the judge or court may order the removal of content or illicit services. Alternatively, you can order the service providers to withdraw illegal content, the search engines to abolish links pointing to them and providers of electronic communications services to prevent access to illegal content or services provided if they fulfill the following assumptions: a) When the measure is proportionate to the gravity of the facts and relevant information and necessary to prevent its spread. b) When it exclusively or predominantly diffuses the contents to which are referred to in the previous paragraphs.
Essentially, Spanish citizens should throw their computers out the windows, smash their hard drives to bits and never log on to the internet ever again. Forget about public organizing and any press freedoms that previously existed will be sharply curtailed once the new trifecta of insanely repressive laws goes into effect this coming July.
Topeka, KS — Drivers as well as their passengers in Topeka Kansas will soon be subject to a new policy requiring everyone to put their hands up during police stops.
Police say they are implementing this policy because “we all want to go home to our families, and this makes it safer for us to approach vehicles to gain that compliance. It gives us a chance to survive these encounters.”
However, the implications regarding this practice are horrid, and many residents are up in arms about being forced to be up in arms.
“Every day somebody’s getting shot by a police officer, and it’s like ‘oh my goodness, will I be next?’, or will I be okay?” said one resident.
Local officers are citing the three tragic shooting deaths of officers in a two year period as the reasoning behind this policy.
“As we all know, we’ve lost three officers in less than 2 years and as a result of that we’ve had to take a hard look at the way we’re conducting business, particularly as it relates to car stops.” said TPD School Resource Officer Matt McClimans.
While this policy may seem like it has good intentions, nearly every aspect associated with it is tyrannical.
First of all, this “policy” was not approved by the taxpayers. No citizens got to vote on its implementation, and it is going to be enforced with potentially deadly force.
Secondly, it treats ALL parties stopped by police as criminals.
One resident summed it up perfectly by saying, “Make us feel safe, not automatically make us feel like criminals.”
“To put my hands up, I mean, I just can’t see how people are not offended by that,” said one resident.
“I think that is too aggressive, and unnecessary, and I don’t agree with it,” said another.
“Police and community interactions are tough enough as it is and the more demands, the tougher it’s going to be, and the more problems you’re going to have,” explained a resident.
Besides treating everyone they come in contact with as a criminal, forcing people to put their hands up creates a slew of other problems as well.
How would someone hold the police accountable by filming their own interactions if they are forced to raise their hands? All too often innocent people are vindicated after being beaten and assaulted by police, only because a cell phone was recording. This would end that.
Imagine a situation in which someone tries to point their phone out of the windows while they attempt to raise their hands, the end result would not be pretty if officers mistook the phone for a gun.
What if a passenger in the vehicle is paralyzed, or temporarily disabled and they cannot raise their hands? Is this an immediate death sentence?
Finally, what about all the people who have been shot by police despite having their hands up? Looking through our archives here at the Free Thought Project, we can see that holding one’s hands up, most assuredly does not protect you from being shot by cops.
The bottom line is, while the deaths of these three officers are certainly tragic, treating every person stopped by police as a criminal is also tragic.
How about looking at WHY police are stopping people and look to reduce those interactions. Do the police really need to pull people over, en masse, for victimless crimes, such as seat belt violations?
Instead of treating everyone like criminals, why don’t police stop acting as strong arms for the state’s revenue collection racket?
British state ‘involved in mass murder on British soil, colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between 1972 and 1978′
The state was involved in mass murder on British soil, a lawyer has told a coroner’s court.
The security forces colluded with loyalist paramilitaries in 80 deaths between July 1972 and June 1978 in Northern Ireland’s “murder triangle” in counties Armagh and Tyrone, Leslie Thomas QC said.
He said many were carried out by the Glenanne Gang of gunmen with the alleged involvement of soldiers and police officers.
Mr Thomas said it could take a year to hear inquests and compared the task to that of investigating the Hillsborough football disaster.
“If what we say is right this is the biggest involvement of state agents in mass murder on British soil,” he said.
He added: “We say that what the families of the bereaved want, quite simply can be put in a few words: they want the truth, they want the truth to come out, they want justice.”
Mr Thomas was addressing a preliminary hearing in Belfast of two inquests involving a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bombing at the Step Inn in Keady in Co Armagh in 1976 during which Catholics Elizabeth McDonald, 38, and Gerard McGleenan, 22, died.
He said the same weapons were used in many of the Glenanne murders and the killers adopted the same modus operandi, accused the authorities of state-sponsored terrorism and claimed one individual involved in killing Ms McDonald should have been dealt with sooner.
He said: “The murder of Betty McDonald could have been avoided, could have been avoided had that individual been taken off the street earlier on or the weapons been taken off the street earlier on, or there had not been the collusion amongst state agents in covering up earlier murders then in terms of Betty McDonald’s right to life we say she may be still here today, living long into life with her husband.”
The UVF gang operated out of farms in Armagh and Tyrone in the mid 1970s when the Troubles were at their worst.
Lawyers for the victims have insisted only a public inquiry or an inquest covering all the deaths can get to the truth of the collusion claims. Senior coroner John Leckey said he was constrained by the resources available to his office.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s (PSNI) Historical Enquiries Team (HET) has found “indisputable evidence” of security force collusion in the group.
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has declined to be represented at the inquest. No submission has been made to her seeking a public inquiry but Mr Thomas said the McDonald family was not surprised she allegedly did not want to be involved.
He added: “This is the biggest case of state collusion in mass murder of innocent individuals. This is a state murdering its own, you cannot get bigger than that, and therefore while one sees and understands and looks at what is happening in Hillsborough, if what we say has occurred on, lets face it, British soil, why should that not be investigated?
“British security agents being involved in deaths of British citizens, it does not get worse than that.”
Mother-of-three Ms McDonald and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer Mr McGleenan were killed when a no-warning loyalist bomb detonated outside the Step Inn pub and nearby houses in August 1976. Twenty-five other people were injured.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin QC ordered the new inquest.
Mr Thomas acknowledged there had been convictions in some of the other killings he said were linked, but he added a narrow criminal investigation was not enough.
He said across the cases there had been a repetition of similar failings by the investigating authorities, a lack of criminal convictions, the killings happened in close proximity to each other, and created similar victims while pursuing similar modus operandi.
He added the deaths involved a similar group of individuals involved in a number of attacks.
“Many of those responsible were either serving or former members of the security forces. There were close ballistic links between the victims, the weapons used in many of the killings which originated within the Ulster Defence Regiment (a branch of the army recruited in Northern Ireland).”
He quoted the HET report: “Despite the obvious pattern and linkages between these offences, only cursory efforts have been made to investigate further.
“No determined efforts were made to investigate them in a meaningful fashion.
“This (Step Inn) bombing could have been prevented and should have been detected.”
Mr Thomas said precedents for a linked series of inquests were given by that into the deaths of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko and Azelle Rodney, who was allegedly shot dead by Met Police.
He told Mr Leckey: “I can connect and join the dots in relation to various individuals who were named here to various atrocities, various bombings, various shootings, various matters and I can make the link on various weapons, various ballistics.
“This document enables me to tie up individuals.”
Harrisburg, PA– Hummelstown police Officer, Lisa J. Mearkle was charged with criminal homicide on Tuesday in the shooting death of 59-year-old David Kassick on February 2nd.
Mearkle shot Kassick as he laid face down on the ground in the snow, unarmed, during a routine traffic stop gone awry.
Mearkle had attempted to pull Kassick over for an expired inspection sticker, but the situation escalated when Kassick attempted to flee from the officer.
Eventually Mearkle caught up to the motorist close to his sister’s home where he was staying, but Kassick got out of the vehicle and fled on foot. As he was attempting to run away, he was incapacitated by the officer’s taser which she held in her left hand. With her right hand, she unnecessarily pulled out her service gun and shot the unarmed man twice in the back as he lay face-down on the ground.
The 36-year-old officer claims that she shot the unarmed man because he would not show his hands and she was concerned he may have been reaching in his jacket for a weapon, but the recording from the deployed taser paints a different picture.
District Attorney Ed Marsico has stated that it appeared from the recording that Kassick was simply trying to remove the stun gun probes from his back before his life was taken.
“At the time Officer Mearkle fires both rounds from her pistol, the video clearly depicts Kassick lying on the snow covered lawn with his face toward the ground, furthermore, at the time the rounds are fired nothing can be seen in either of Kassick’s hands, nor does he point or direct anything toward Officer Mearkle,” the arrest affidavit reads.
A syringe was found near his body, and there were unspecified drugs as well as alcohol in his system when he died. His family has admitted that he has struggled with addiction, a personal problem which should not have cost him his life.
“Mr. Kassick is now dead as a result of a traffic stop, a routine traffic stop,” one of the family’s attorneys, Christopher Slusser, told the press. “He should not be dead. He should not have died as a result of that traffic stop. And the manner in which he was shot — you can infer from that what you will.”
Mearkle is currently free on $250,000 bail. She faces potential charges ranging from misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter to felony first-degree murder depending on what the prosecution decides when she is formally arraigned.
Dallas, Texas – Texas State Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) is once again in the spotlight after submitting yet another Orwellian proposal, H.B. 985.
Villalba first raised the ire of civil libertarians by proposing a bill, H.B. 2006, which would have eliminated the religious exemption for vaccination, essentially creating a forced government vaccination program without exception.
More recently, Villalba was thrust into the national spotlight when he proposed H.B. 2918, which would usurp citizens of the ability to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions. The bill would negate the people’s ability to create an accurate and impartial record of police interactions by restricting citizens from filming within 25 feet of an officer.
Now with H.B. 985, Villalba intends to give school officials the authority to force psychological screenings of students that teachers and staff diagnose as having mental health issues.
Once the process is set in motion by school officials, parents would be forced to take their child to a mental health professional within 30 days, under threat of suspension of the child from school.
“ …the requirement that the parent or guardian, before the expiration of the 30-day period, to avoid suspension of the student under this section, take the student to the nearest local mental health authority or a physician specializing in psychiatry to receive a mental health screening and a certificate of medical examination for mental illness, as described by Section 533.03522(c), Health and Safety Code, that contains the examining physician’s opinion that the student is not a danger to self or others.”
While under suspension the child would still receive an education, but they would be sent to an “alternative school.”
School administrators would be required under the law to provide the student’s name, address, and information regarding the complaint to the local mental health authorities and the police department upon verification of the complaint.
(i) A school counselor or a principal who receives notice
under. Subsection (b) about a student who subsequently is subject to
a notice of intent to suspend under Subsection (g) shall:
(1) provide the student’s name and address and
information concerning the conduct or statement that led to the
notice of intent to suspend to:
(A) the school district police department, if the
school counselor or principal is employed by a school district and
the district has a police department;
(B) the police department of the municipality in
which the school is located or, if the school is not in a
municipality, the sheriff of the county in which the school is
(C) the local mental health authority nearest the
Teachers have enough on their academic plates without them being forced to become armchair psychologists in the classroom.
Also, it is highly inappropriate and dangerous for unqualified teachers to play the role of child psychiatrists. Unless they’ve had special training and are certified to diagnose the disorders, it can also be illegal.
We are already witnessing the damage caused by parents believing teachers who think that every child who acts out in their classroom has ADHD. It’s called The Ritalin Explosion.
The idea that students’ personal information would be submitted to mental health facilities and police departments for complaints initiated and investigated by only school officials also causes serious concern.
Is it really necessary to criminalize kids based upon a teacher’s unprofessional assessment of a kids mental health? And what about the student that is mentally healthy, but simply defiant?
Perhaps rather than attempting to legislate away this perceived problem by criminalizing “problem” children, there is a better way. Villalba would have been better served by using his position to help create a program to build sustainable bridges of communication between parents and administrators that assist in identifying and combating mental health problems in students.
Instead, like so many tyrants before him, Villalba tries to solve complex problems using the force of the state.
As EFF has noted, a troubling bill has been making its way through the Florida state legislature. The bill, with versions in both the state House and Senate, would require anyone “dealing in…the electronic dissemination of commercial recordings or audiovisual works” to post their “true and correct name, physical address, and email or telephone number” on their site.
The bill defines “commercial recording or audiovisual work” broadly—it’s basically any video meant to be seen by the public (whether for profit or not). The only thing it really excludes are short clips of exiting works or completely private videos. So it encompasses both a posting of my own complete home lip-synch video as well as my posting of a movie trailer or campaign ad.
Apparently, the plan is to make sure that no one can post online video that’s viewable in Florida without the world knowing just where to find you. The privacy and free speech implications of this are staggering—making it illegal to post anonymous video would chill a massive amount of valuable speech.
But what’s the purpose of this bill? Surely the state of Florida isn’t just interested in removing online anonymity, and specifically for video, is it? Is this an attempt like those in Idaho and Utah to prevent the spread of films showing animal abuse? An attempt, like the one in Texas, to go after people posting videos of police activity?
Maybe not, although the bill, on its face, would seem to cover all those cases and strip anonymity from the people posting such videos. But a closer look at the bill indicates something else at work. Failing to put your name on your site doesn’t seem to give the government the right to arrest or sue you; it gives the right to sue to the private party who “owns” or “licenses” the video. In other words, copyright holders and their business partners.
The para-copyright nature of the bill becomes clearer when looking at the staff legislative analysis of the bill, which specifically discusses copyright law, including federal preemption, the DMCA, and its enforcement. Despite it being classified as a “consumer protection” bill, it doesn’t discuss harms to consumers from anonymous videos.
So the Florida bills seem to represent another attempt to target alleged copyright infringers (note that a suit can be brought against someone merely “likely to” share a video) outside of the scope of federal law. And although the bill says that intermediaries like hosts and ISPs can’t be held liable for someone’s video-sharing under this new law, nothing in it says that they won’t be enjoined for the actual video-sharer’s actions. Given the long and growing trend of rightsholders seeking to enjoin non-liable parties in courts, it’s hard not to see this as moving in the same direction.
With a very similar law passed last year in Tennessee, the proposed Florida law seems to be part of a multi-state effort to find new ways of targeting intermediaries in an attempt to work around SOPA’s defeat. The fact that the state law tries to avoid being directly about copyright just means that other forms of speech get targeted, too. What happens when someone depicted in an unflattering campaign video starts claiming that they’re an “owner” via rights of publicity?
In other words, speech and privacy—fundamental values of our society—are merely collateral damage in the pursuit of site blocking—one particularly problematic technique only loosely connected to the values it is supposed to protect.
The bipartisan Surveillance State Repeal Act, if passed, would repeal dragnet surveillance of Americans’ personal communications, overhaul the federal domestic surveillance program, and provide protections for whistleblowers.
House lawmakers Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) are co-sponsoring bill H.R.1466, which was introduced on Tuesday and would repeal the 2001 Patriot Act, limit powers of the FISA Amendments Act, and prohibit retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers, according to The Hill.
“The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie in a statement. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans.”
Specifically, the bill would revoke all the powers of the Patriot Act, and instruct the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to destroy any information collected under the FISA Amendments Act concerning any US person not under investigation.
It would repeal provisions of the FISA Amendments Act to ensure surveillance of email data only occurs with a valid warrant based on probable cause. The bill would also prohibit the government from mandating that manufacturers build mechanisms allowing the government to bypass encryption in order to conduct surveillance.
Additionally, the bill would protect a federal whistleblower’s efforts to expose mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse, or criminal behavior. It would also make retaliation against anyone interfering with those efforts – such as threatening them with punishment or termination – illegal.
“Really, what we need are new whistleblower protections so that the next Edward Snowden doesn’t have to go to Russia or Hong Kong or whatever the case may be just for disclosing this,” Massie said.
There have been previous attempts to limit dragnet surveillance under the Patriot Act since former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden leaked information regarding the programs in 2013, but the Senate bill introduced in 2013 never reached the floor for a vote.
“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” said Rep. Pocan in a statement.
“Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security – we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”
Portions of the Patriot Act are due for renewal on June 1.
The No to Military Trials for Civilians campaign said on Monday that 3,000 civilians were tried in military courts in the last five months, since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed new legislation treating certain state facilities as military institutions.
The findings formed part of the campaign’s fourth annual conference, which included testimonies from those who have been through military trials and their families.
Campaign member Sara al-Sherif says this constitutes a “dramatic” increase in an already endemic practice, presenting a greater challenge for the campaign, as public outrage has been more recently directed at harsh rulings by civilian courts.
She says people claim, “civilian judiciaries issue death penalties and life sentences without restriction, in contrast to verdicts by military judiciaries that are swift and will never be worse than what is already practiced in civilian courts,” but maintains this is not accurate, given the nature of military courts and the verdicts they have issued.
Lawyer Ahmed Heshmat raises concerns over the independence of military courts in the first place. “The law that enabled military courts to try civilians stipulated that this judiciary is independent, but it is not independent at all. Military judges are employees of the Defense Ministry, and as such they have to adhere to the demands of their superiors.”
“Verdicts issued by military courts should be approved by the military leader or his deputy, and he has the right to request the amending of a sentence, or a retrial if the defendants were acquitted,” he adds.
Heshmat also questioned the legal procedures for military trials. Verdicts by military courts are all issued as if the defendants are present, even if they are actually absent.
Since Sisi’s decree, the number of civilians referred to military courts has increased, especially among students arrested on campuses for protesting, many of who have been handed lengthy prison sentences. Universities are now considered military institutions under the new law.
An activist in the “Horreya” (freedom) campaign, concerned with the detention of students, Seif al-Islam Farag, said that the campaign has recorded the cases of 160 students referred to military tribunals, including 48 students from Mansoura University, 31 from Al-Azhar University and 14 from Monufiya University.
He added that the sentences against many of these students are not based on reality, as in the example of student Ahmed Shokier, who was sentenced to life in prison, when he had actually passed away one month before the incident for which he was convicted took place. Another student in Port Said was referred to 11 military tribunals.
Mother of 16-year-old Youssef Shaaban, who was arrested in September, says her son was tortured to make him confess to crimes he didn’t commit, including killing a police officer. The grieving mother says she is not able to visit her son in prison as no one knows his whereabouts.
Father of 19-year-old Ain Shams student Mohamed al-Araby, said that he was surprised when five police officers stormed his house and arrested his son. They said his son had published a video concerning the military and would face charges of “spreading false news about the Armed Forces.” The father was told his son would return home in a few hours, but he never came back.
“Days later, I found a lawyer asking for a lot of money to defend my son who was facing a military trial. When I went to military prosecution, they said there is no need to hire a lawyer, as the case would be heard by a misdemeanor court and not a criminal one. I have just realized that the case was referred to criminal court,” Araby’s father added.
Araby himself spent many weeks in military prison before he was referred to Tora, with signs of torture on his face, according to his father.
The No to Military Trials campaign organizers pleaded with local media to raise the issue of military trials for civilians, which they say threatens everyone under the new legislation.
Translated by Mai Shams El-Din
ACLU report also finds pedestrian stops disproportionately aimed at minority residents
CHICAGO – Chicago police are now among the nation’s leaders in the use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice, replacing New York City which had been notorious for the technique. That startling finding is at the core of a new report issued today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on the practice by the Chicago Police Department. The report highlights the use (and overuse) of the practice in Chicago, notes that the justification for such stops often fails to meet constitutional standards and makes recommendations for fixing CPD policies in order to curb abuses and restore community trust in the City.
Perhaps the most startling finding of the ACLU report is that during the summer of 2014, CPD conducted more than a quarter million stops of civilians that did not lead to an arrest. When comparing that number of stops to population in Chicago versus New York City at the height of that city’s controversial use of the stop-and-frisk practice, Chicagoans were stopped more than four times as often as people in New York. Stops per 1000 residents was 93.6 in Chicago, compared to 22.9 (at the highest point in 2011) in New York City. The New York police have been forced to curb significantly their use of stop-and-frisk after a federal judge found the use in that city to be unconstitutional.
“While most of the media coverage has suggested that that stop-and-frisk was a New York phenomena – it’s misuse is not limited to New York,” said Harvey Grossman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “Chicago has been systematically abusing this practice, for reasons that are not justified by our constitution.”
“And just like New York, we see that African Americans are singled out for these searches,” added Grossman.
A “stop-and-frisk” search has become common in African American and Latino communities across Chicago. Under a 1968 Supreme Court ruling, officers are allowed to stop a civilian if they have reasonable suspicion that person has been, is, or is about to be involved in criminal activity. Once the stop has occurred, officers can frisk the individual if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is dangerous or has a weapon in their possession. The ACLU report demonstrates that in Chicago, these stops disproportionately target people of color and often are done without the justification required by the Court.
According to data from calendar year 2014 analyzed by the ACLU, African Americans represent nearly 72% of all the stops in the City of Chicago, as compared to the reality that African Americans represent only about 32% of the City’s population. The data analyzed by the ACLU shows that stops most commonly take place in the districts with the largest minority populations. For example, in 2014, police conducted 266 stops per 1000 people in the Englewood area (which is predominantly African American) while the rate in predominantly white Lincoln/Foster district was just 43 per 1000 people.
However, the data also shows that African Americans are much more likely to be the target of stops in predominantly white neighborhoods. Thus, in Jefferson Park where the population is just 1% African American, African Americans account for a full 15% of all stop-and-frisks in that area. In the Near North District, where the African American population is 9.1%, African Americans are subjected to more than one-half (57.7%) of all the stops. The ACLU report concludes that “black citizens are disproportionately subjected to more stops than their white counterparts.
The report also explores the problems with the reasons for many of the stops are taking place. Each time a Chicago Police officer makes a stop, the officer is required to fill out a “contact card” collecting information about the person who was stopped and why the stop took place. The ACLU’s review of a randomly-selected number of contact cards from selected months in 2012 and 2013, found that in half of all stops reviewed the officer failed to record a legally sufficient reason for initiating the stop. In a number of other instances, police stated that they stopped someone for a reason that was unrelated to criminal activity (associating with others who were suspicious, for example) or asserting that someone “matched a description” without any explanation of how or what description was matched. In spite of this poor performance, the City reported that it has no record of police officers receiving additional training after the academy in proper procedures for stop and frisks—training that seems to be needed greatly.
“What this data shows should be a wake-up call for residents of the City,” said Karen Sheley, senior legal counsel and one of the authors of the report. “CPD is engaging in wholesale stop-and-frisks of African American youth, without any link to criminal activity in most cases.”
“These stops don’t make us safer, they simply drive a wedge further between the police and the public they serve,” added Sheley.
Equally troubling is that the City’s poor record keeping about stop and frisk has resulted in a lack of transparency and accountability. The City only records information about stops if there is no arrest or charges. Stops that result in arrest are not identifiable and so the rate of innocent persons stopped cannot be ascertained. In New York, which does keep such data, 88% of persons stopped were innocent (they were not arrested or issued a summons). Also, Chicago records no information about frisks, which prevents the City from computing the rate of frisks resulting in the seizure of contraband. For example, in New York, which records frisk data, only 2% of the frisks turned up weapons.
The ACLU of Illinois offers a four-point plan for fixing this problem without the turmoil and litigation that marked the process in New York. The ACLU’s proposal includes:
• Require police to collect data on all frisks and make the data public to be analyzed and assessed;
• Require police to collect data on all stops and make the data public to be analyzed and assessed;
• Require regular training for officers on legal requirements for stop-and-frisks; and,
• Require police officers to issue a receipt for every pedestrian stop, with the officer’s name, the time of the encounter, the place of the encounter and the reason for the encounter – making it possible to facilitate a civilian complaint regarding the encounter.
“The data makes clear that stop-and-frisk is a problem in Chicago and needs to be reformed,” said the ACLU’s Grossman. “The City has an opportunity to make modest fixes now, rather than risk further alienation with large swaths of the public.”
“Policing in Chicago ought to encourage community involvement, rather than create additional resentment.”
A 36-year veteran of America’s Intelligence Community, William Binney resigned from his position as Director for Global Communications Intelligence (COMINT) at the National Security Agency (NSA) and blew the whistle, after discovering that his efforts to protect the privacy and security of Americans were being undermined by those above him in the chain of command.
The NSA data-monitoring program which Binney and his team had developed — codenamed ThinThread — was being aimed not at foreign targets as intended, but at Americans (codenamed as Stellar Wind); destroying privacy here and around the world. Binney voices his call to action for the billions of individuals whose rights are currently being violated.
William Binney speaks out in this feature-length interview with Tragedy and Hope’s Richard Grove, focused on the topic of the ever-growing Surveillance State in America.