Archives for category: Cruelty

Denis Smith writes here about the past, present, and hoped-for future of West Virginia. He urges West Virginians to throw out the leaders who undermine their health, safety, and well-being. He reminds us and them of the state’s past progressive leaders. A lifelong educator, Smith retired as an official in the Ohio State Department of Education, where he oversaw charter schools.

He writes:

In her earlier post, West Virginia: The Battle of Blair Mountain, Diane Ravitch not only reminded us about the emergence of the labor movement but also shed light on how, a century later, the coal industry, though greatly diminished in activity from earlier times, still maintains a grip on the state through the misfeasance of its political leadership in the governor’s office and by its representatives in the Congress.

The story goes back to 1921, when 10,000 coal miners, in reaction to the murder of a union-friendly local sheriff, joined together to check the power of coal companies and the low wages, unsafe working conditions, and horrific housing they provided in company towns situated near the mines operated by these representatives of corporate America.

Inasmuch as I completed almost all of my graduate work in West Virginia and lived there for nearly 20 years, I was familiar with the Blair Mountain story and the sad history of exploitation of the land and workers by extractive industries like coal companies. Unfortunately, I thought that this tale of labor history was widely known but learned otherwise about eight years ago.

At that time, I was asked to teach a number of American history courses for Ohio public school teachers so they could meet the then-new content area Highly Qualified Teacher requirements. A review of the draft course syllabus showed, however, that additional content was needed to bolster the students’ knowledge of the Progressive Era and the emerging American labor movement. In particular, there was no treatment of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as well as the Battle of Blair Mountain, which remains the largest labor uprising in American history.

I soon learned that none of the students in my class in suburban Columbus, Ohio had any knowledge of either event, and the Blair Mountain post, with its spotlight on West Virginia, sheds light on that state’s history of exploitation by energy companies and the lack of political leadership today to ensure the health, safety,and welfare of its citizens based on that past history.

But in light of the state’s challenges in the past, and with the neglect of the health, safety, and welfare shown by its top political leaders, are West Virginia residents also unknowing of its past history? Or have they been bamboozled by their politicians in not realizing what is at stake in the current political climate?

That lack of leadership to ensure the health and welfare of the populace is shown in the misfeasance and conflicts-of-interest manifested by West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice and its senior U.S. Senator, Joe Manchin, who also served as the state’s governor before his election to Congress.

As the owner of several coal companies, Justice has a history of exploiting not only the land but of the communities affected. Moreover, like his friend Donald Trump, he also has a history of tax avoidance. In 2019, for example, Justice companies paid $1.2 million in back taxes owed to Knott, Pike, Harlan and Magoffin counties in Kentucky, with more delinquent taxes to be paid at a later date. A review of his tax delinquency showed that he had additional obligations to be paid in Virginia and West Virginia, along with past due mine safety fines.

Yes, mine safety fines owed by companies owned by the governor of the state where 10,000 miners revolted against unsafe working conditions exactly a century ago. But that was then, right? Or are we back to the future and the past simultaneously?

Then we have the case of Senator Joe Manchin, a predecessor of Jim Justice in the West Virginia governor’s office. The current Build Back Better legislation would provide funds to deal with climate change, expand Medicare, and assist families with lower costs for child care and elder care. Yet Manchin, who has interests in the energy industry and a daughter who formerly was the CEO of Mylan, a pharmaceutical company, seems to have a conflict-of-interest when it comes to supporting lower prescription drug costs and dealing with the environment.

When many communities lack safe drinking water caused by years of mining and health consequences caused by such mineral extraction activity in West Virginia, wouldn’t you think that the political leadership on both sides of the aisle would support legislation that would protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents?

If you have financial interests in a top industry, as Manchin and Justice do, that’s asking far too much.

On Sunday, Manchin announced, appropriately enough, on Fox News that he does not support the Build Back Better Act. This is what Bernie Sanders had to say about his colleague, Joe Manchin:

“Well, I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell him why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” he said. “West Virginia is one of the poorest states in this country. You got elderly people and disabled people who would like to stay at home. He’s going to have to tell the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t want to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and eyeglasses.”

When it comes to drug companies and Manchin’s lack of courage in dealing with them, Bernie Sanders is certainly knowledgeable about some family history. And then some. He went on to add this observation:

“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

Manchin used the canard of not wanting to increase the national debt as one of his arguments in opposing Build Back Better. But he does not acknowledge that West Virginia greatly benefits from all types of federal spending. A study several years ago demonstrated that a number of red states, including West Virginia, receive much more in federal dollars than they receive from the treasury. As examples, West Virginia receives $2.07, Kentucky $1.90, and South Carolina $1.71 for every dollar sent to Washington.

In light of his concern about the national debt, would Manchin favor West Virginia being treated on a par with states like Massachusetts and New York, which receive far less than a dollar back from the treasury for every dollar sent to Washington?

So as I reflect a bit more about the Mine Wars and the Battle of Blair Mountain, I am puzzled by the descendants of these mine workers offering such enthusiastic support to the likes of Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin, who obstruct legislation that would improve the health, safety, nutrition, and educational opportunities for West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the union.

There are two great West Virginia Senators who must be turning in their graves as they view the likes of the state’s present political leadership. The first, Jennings Randolph, entered the U.S. Senate in 1933 at the start of FDR’s New Deal and was a champion of Social Security, Medicare, voting rights and the abolition of the Poll Tax. Then there was Robert Byrd, who served with Randolph as the long-time Senate leader who distinguished himself as a check on many of Ronald Reagan’s policies, opposed the Iraq War, and in his last days championed the Affordable Care Act from a wheelchair on the Senate floor.

In a Senate speech on February 12, 2003 that attacked the march toward war with Iraq, Byrd said that “We are truly “sleepwalking through history.” In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.”

In the same vein, it’s past time for the people of West Virginia to emerge from their sleepwalking and support leaders, unlike Manchin and Justice, who will put the interests of the people first and not those of the pharmaceutical industry and energy interests.

One more thing. Dear West Virginians, the next time you vote, remember your ancestors who fought for justice (small j, of course) and basic human rights at Blair Mountain. It’s now the 21st century. Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd might be pleased with your awakening.

The people of Chile are expunging the last traces of the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. They elected Gabriel Boric, a 35-year-old member of the Chilean Congress and a former student activist, as President of Chile. The election was expected to be close but Boric won by a 56-44% margin.

Boric was engaged in national protests over the past decade against inequality. A decade ago, he led protests against Chile’s privatized education system. He will be the youngest person ever elected to the Presidency of Chile. His election is a decisive rejection of the policies of the dictator Pinochet. His rival defended Pinochet and ran on a law-and-order platform and a pledge to cut taxes and social spending.

An Army General, Pinochet seized control of the government by a coup d’etat. He imposed a reign of terror, and thousands of his opponents were murdered, imprisoned, tortured, or disappeared. Pinochet called on Milton Friedman and the libertarian “Chicago Boys” to rewrite Chile’s Constitution. They baked the primacy of the free market and neoliberalism into the new Constitution. Pinochet’s regime cut social benefits, privatized social security and many government functions, reduced benefits, and introduced vouchers and for-profit schools. The economy grew, but so did inequality. Pinochet ruled from 1973-1990.

Protests against the nation’s privatized and deeply unequal education system rocked the nation a decade ago. Many Chileans were barely subsisting because of cuts to social security. More protests broke out in 2019 against the country’s entrenched inequality and corruption. Boric was active in all those protests.

Last year, Chileans expressed their demand for change by voting for a rewrite of the national constitution, the one written by the “Chicago Boys” and implemented by Pinochet.

The BBC reported:

Once the most stable economy in Latin America, Chile has one of the world’s largest income gaps, with 1% of the population owning 25% of the country’s wealth, according to the United Nations.

Mr Boric has promised to address this inequality by expanding social rights and reforming Chile’s pension and healthcare systems, as well as reducing the work week from 45 to 40 hours, and boosting green investment.

“We know there continues to be justice for the rich, and justice for the poor, and we no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality,” he said.

The president-elect also promised to block a controversial proposed mining project which he said would destroy communities and the national environment.

Chile’s currency, the peso, plunged to a record low against the US dollar after Mr Boric’s victory. Stock markets fell by 10%, with mining stocks performing particularly badly.

Investors are worried stability and profits will suffer as a result of higher taxes and tighter government regulation of business.

In a profile of Gabriel Boric, the BBC described his message:

When Mr Boric won the candidacy of his leftist bloc to run for president, he made a bold pledge. “If Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave,” he said. “Do not be afraid of the youth changing this country.”

And so he ran on a platform promising radical reforms to the free-market economic model imposed by former dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet. One that, he says, is the root of the country’s deep inequality, imbalances that came to the surface during protests in 2019 that triggered an official redraft of the constitution.

After a polarising campaign, Mr Boric defeated far-right rival José Antonio Kast in the second round of the presidential election by a surprising large margin, ushering in a new chapter in the country’s political history.

“We are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business,” Mr Boric said in his victory speech to thousands of supporters, most of them young people…

Mr Boric, who says he is an avid reader of poetry and history, describes himself as a moderate socialist. He has abandoned the long hair of his activist days, and jackets now often cover his tattoos on both arms.

He has also softened some of his views while keeping his promises to overhaul the pension system, expand social services including universal health insurance, increase taxes for big companies and wealthy individuals, and create a greener economy.

His resounding win in the run-off vote of the presidential election, after trailing Mr Kast in the first round, came after he secured support beyond his base in the capital, Santiago, and attracted voters in rural areas. A supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, he was also backed by huge numbers of women.

In his victory speech, when he was joined by his girlfriend, he promised to be a “president for all Chileans”, saying: “Today hope trumped fear”.

Chicago was the starting place for Arne Duncan’s very bad ideas about school reform. Duncan boasted about how many schools he closed, working on the theory that the students would transfer to a better school or a charter school. As Eve Ewing documented in her book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard, Duncan’s punitive approach wreaked havoc on black and LatinX students, communities, and of course, neighborhood schools. Arne Duncan, the President who appointed him (Obama), and the mayor who followed his failing model (Rahm Emanuel), pushed policies that hurt children and educators. The mainstream media has not yet held them accountable. Perhaps this settlement will. Meanwhile, the thousands of African American teachers who were fired in New Orleans lost their court battle and will never receive either compensation or acknowledgement of the injustice done to them.

Chicago Teachers Union

STATEMENT: 
For Immediate Release| ctulocal1.org

CONTACT: Chris Geovanis, 312-329-6250312-446-4939 (m)ChrisGeovanis@ctulocal1.org

Mayor’s Board of Ed to vote on compensating Black educators harmed by racially disparate ‘turn-arounds’

CHICAGO, Dec. 13, 2021 — The Chicago Teachers Union issued the following statement today in wake of CPS’ statement on the Board of Education’s upcoming consideration this Wednesday of a settlement agreement related to the racially disproportionate layoffs and terminations of Black teachers and paraprofessionals in ‘turned-around’ schools in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Chicago Teachers Union aims to defend public education in the City of Chicago for staff and students—including for the vast majority of Black and LatinX people in the city. 

On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education will vote on a settlement between the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, and CPS relating to layoffs and terminations from their positions that had a disparate racial impact on African American teachers and paraprofessionals resulting from the Board’s turnaround policies and in certain CPS schools in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

The agreement concludes nearly 10 years of litigation and will result in the creation and distribution of a settlement fund to benefit those staff members affected by the turnarounds. Resolving this matter is in CPS students’ best interest and will allow the District to move forward while the impacted teachers and staff will receive some compensation for the harm that was done to them. As a union, we have fought for increased funding for schools, adequate staffing and fair treatment of all teachers, regardless of race.

The cases settled are Chicago Teachers Union et al. v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago (Case Nos. 12-cv-10311 and 15-cv-8149), both pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The CTU will issue further statements once the final terms of the settlement are documented and submitted to the court for approval.”

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents more than 25,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in schools funded by City of Chicago School District 299, and by extension, over 350,000 students and families they serve. The CTU is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers and is the third-largest teachers local in the United States. For more information, please visit the CTU website at www.ctulocal1.org.Sent via ActionNetwork.org. To update your email address, change your name or address, or to stop receiving emails from CTU Press, please click here.

I watched this wonderful film—They Survived Together—on public television by happenstance. It is absorbing.

It is the story of a family that managed to escape the Warsaw ghetto just as the Nazis began to eliminate the Jews who lived there. They encountered the face of evil, they looked down the barrel of the gun pointed at them by the Butcher of Krakow. They endured unimaginable hardships. The story is told by the family, mostly through the eyes of children.

Watching the film is an excellent way to learn about the Holocaust and to see heroism, courage, persistence, luck, and the kindness of strangers, all of which made this story of survival possible.

I strongly urge you to see it and to ask your children to watch as well. It will be shown again on December 12 and will be streaming.

The film was made possible by a GoFundMe campaign. It includes a dazzling array of archival footage, from prewar Poland and wartime.

You may recall that a young Black man named Julius Jones was sentenced to death for murder in Oklahoma. He insisted on his innocence, and his cause attracted national attention. At the last minute, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt commuted his death sentence to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, was a teacher of Julius Jones. He writes:

I want to share two sets of lessons from the campaign by Justice for Julius that saved the life of my former student, Julius Jones. Despite a huge body of evidence that Julius is innocent of the 1999 murder of Paul Howell, it is unclear whether he still has a chance to be pardoned or paroled.
After the decision to not execute Julius Jones was made, I was able to rethink the reasons why he landed in Death Row. Reading and/or rereading court pleadings during the appeals process, I reached the conclusion that the 22-year battle for Julius’ life was mostly the result of two sets of decisions that were made quickly, without serious contemplation. Or, perhaps, there were no decisions made. Perhaps it was the history and the win-at-any-cost culture of the criminal justice system which prevented consideration of the testimony of Julius and the Jones family. After all, there was a long history of prosecutors trained by an Assistant District Attorney whose mantra was: “Every inmate in “Big Mac” (state prison) is guilty of the crime he was duly convicted of – or something else.”

This post will take a broad view of the conflict between the Oklahoma criminal justice system and a new generation committed to social justice. It will briefly review the key issues, first raised by the ABC News documentary, The Last Defense, that drew the attention of international news outlets regarding the question of whether Julius received a fair trial. And then it will describe the last months of the fight for Justice for Julius. A second post will summarize the most dubious of the prosecutors’ claims in the hope it offers more insights into what is wrong with our country’s criminal justice systems.

Julius was first represented by public defender Barry Albert, who was a great attorney with the ability to research and cross-examine the prosecutors’ dubious claims. But, Albert died suddenly, and he was replaced by lead attorney David McKenzie, who admitted that he was “terrified by this case due to my inexperience in death penalty litigation.” McKenzie later said in a sworn statement: “I believe that if I had been effective in establishing the true state of the evidence regarding Jordan and King, Mr. Jones would have been acquitted.”

Two decades later, McKenzie says he had been too critical of his cross-examination of Jordan.

The “Justice for Julius” campaign began at a time when criminal justice reform was remarkably bipartisan; for instance, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt appointed two of the three parole board members who recommended that the governor grant Jones clemency.

After the documentary, organizations and celebrities such as such as the Congressional Black Caucus; Kim Kardashian, the rapper Common; Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy; and football and basketball football starssuch as Baker Mayfield, Russell Westbrook, Trae Young, and Blake Griffin, whose father coached both Julius and Christopher Jordan, and who appeared in The Last Defense. Eventually, the list of supporters would include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Black Lives Matter; a significant number of Republican legislators and former legislators like Kris Steele; the George Kaiser Family Foundation; the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice; the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; the American Conservative Union in Washington, D.C.; and the Faith and Freedom Coalition; and many other organizations. Also, the European Union and German ambassadors urged Gov. Stitt to accept the Pardon and Parole Board’s recommendation.

But the backlash against these efforts demonstrated the political power that prosecutors retained. In June, 2020, then-board member and former district court judge Allen McCall “threatened to seek criminal charges against then-executive director Steven Bickley,” demanding that Bickley help block Jones’ commutation hearing. Bickley took a leave of absence, criticized “threats to criminalize my public service,” and resigned.

Similarly, according to the Parole Board members’ response, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, filed an open records request seeking all references by board members to the terms, “Commutation,” “Commute,” “Conflict of interest,” “Criminal Justice Reform,” “Death penalty,” “District Attorney,” “God,” “Jesus,” and “Julius Jones.” Prater cited a 2019 article describing Luck as “having tears in his eyes as he spoke about the criminal justice system,” and condemned his association with admirable organizations such City Care and Whiz Kids.

Prater was represented by the Asst. D.A. who prosecuted Jones, and asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to block Luck and Doyle from Jones’ hearing. After Prater’s request was rejected, the newly appointed Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor unsuccessfully filed a similar request.

The Black Wall Street reported that Prater then requested a grand jury investigation into the Pardon and Parole board. The judge who approved it is married to the prosecutor in the Jones case. Gov. Stitt criticized Prater’s “latest political stunt to intimidate the Pardon and Parole Board and obstruct the Constitutional process as high-profile cases that his office prosecuted are being considered.” And some of the younger, more progressive supporters of Justice for Julius started an initiative petition drive for a grand jury to investigate Prater.

Finally, The Oklahoman reported that Prater released tapes of 600 phone calls by Jones using another death row inmate’s PIN number. According to an investigator, “Among those called were ‘people in the sports and entertainment industries’ and podcast hosts.” The implication was that the calls were evidence that Justice for Julius was a profit-making enterprise.

In the autumn of 2021, the state restarted executions that had been put on hold after Oklahoma’s three-drug execution protocol caused the “botched executions” of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner in 2014 and 2015. The first renewed execution of John Grant caused him “to vomit, convulse and curse as he was killed.” Even so, Julius was scheduled for execution on November 18.

The state’s Pardon and Parole Board again voted 3-1 to recommend that Stitt grant clemency to Jones. But, according to the Black Wall Street Times, Attorney General O’Connor, who Stitt saw as a mentor, urged Stitt to push forward on the execution of Julius. He was said to be basing his advice on “closure for the [Howell] family,” and “Julius’s past legal troubles as a young teenager, rather than the facts of the case.”

As the execution date approached, Stitt said he was praying over his decision, and he would make no further statement. He met with the Howell family but refused to meet with anyone in the Jones family. By the day before the scheduled execution, the words and body language of Julius’ supporters indicated to me that they retained little hope of saving his life.

As the clock ticked down, even though the Justice for Julius vigils had been nonviolent and respectful, staff at the Capitol were told to close their offices and take time off, and barricades were put upbetween the Oklahoma History Center parking lot where demonstrators gathered, and the Governor’s mansion.

The last week’s vigils exemplified the contradictions in Oklahoma’s 21st century culture. As I talked with my Representative, Mauree Turner, the nation’s first nonbinary, Muslim, Black legislator, the anti-mask, anti-vaccination demonstrators walked by, proclaiming their belief in “Freedom!” Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, who taught in my former classroom at Centennial Mid-High after I retired, described his proposed legislation to expand full-service community schools. My student and basketball buddy, and Julius’ best friend, Jimmie Lawson, reenacted my clumsiness on the basketball court.

On the eve of the scheduled execution, the poetry slam at the Ponyboy, about a mile from the History Center, was cancelled, and this statement was posted:

“Given the intense anxiety and frustration I and others in our community are experiencing, if Stitt has not granted clemency by this evening we will be putting the slam on hold in favor of an intimate night of reading our poetry and focusing on healing.”

The New York Times reported:

The Oklahoma City Public Schools estimated that more than 1,800 students across 13 schools participated in walkouts to support Mr. Jones on Wednesday. The district said it “supports our students’ rights to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression

Even more students walked out the next day.

Also on Wednesday, Rev. Keith Jossell, Julius’ spiritual advisor, seemed to indicate that there wasn’t much hope for tomorrow, but Julius’ supporters should heed his call for the continuation of their campaign for justice. He said:

Julius is grateful to god. That he chose him to be able to be the spotlight so that you would understand what is wrong with the Department of Corrections in the state of Oklahoma. … This is an opportunity to try to start a new Oklahoma. If you’re a business and you think you may want to relocate to Oklahoma, look at what we do to our citizens! If you are a family and you think this might be a good Bible Belt place to raise your family, look at what we do to people in Oklahoma!

Madeline Jones was not allowed to hug Julius. He was chained down and separated from her by a glass partition. She seemed especially exhausted, saying that whatever happens tomorrow, the movement must continue. Mrs. Jones also said, “And if you think Julius is guilty, give him a fair trial!”

On November 18, less than four hours before the scheduled execution, my wife and I were about to join the huge vigil at the Capitol. Then we heard the news:

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has spared the life of high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones. He announced, “After prayerful consideration and reviewing materials presented by all sides of this case, I have determined to commute Julius Jones’ sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.” But “Stitt ordered that Jones shall never be eligible to apply for or be considered for a commutation, pardon or parole for the rest of his life.”

It will take time to determine whether the Constitution actually gives the governor that much power. Also, given Superintendent of Education Joy Hofmeister’s support for clemency for Julius, after switching from the Republican to the Democratic Party, it remains to be seen how this will affect her campaign for governor against Stitt. I believe it and her defense of public schools will likely put her in the Governors Mansion.

Clearly, Mrs. Jones was correct in saying that regardless of the outcome of the campaign to “Free Julius Jones!,” it will have a significant effect on 21st century Oklahoma.

The dramatic weeks that preceded Julius’ commutation drew national and international coverage, as the Kyle Rittenhouse, the organizers of the Charlottesville violence, and the killers of Ahmaud Arbery trials were coming to a close. And commentators often expressed surprise that this multi-racial, cross-generational and often bipartisan movement occurred in Oklahoma.

I would especially recommend Rachel Maddow’s commentary and video of the celebrations which placed Justice for Julius in the context of direct actions across the world. I especially loved her exuberant declaration:

This was outside the prison where Julius Jones is incarcerated right after the news broke. You hear the crowd chanting “‘We`re going to be all right.’ This was Oklahoma this week! This was Oklahoma today!”

#2

As ABC’s The Last Defense reported after the 1999 murder of a white father by a Black carjacker, “fear was almost palpable” in Edmond. Moreover, this was a time when the Oklahoma County District Attorney, the late Bob Macy, was listed as one of America’s top-five deadliest prosecutors. As was explained in the previous post, this meant that there were not enough experienced death penalty defense lawyers to meet the demand. Julius Jones’ lead attorney, David McKenzie, told ABC that he lacked death penalty experience and had an overwhelming case load. (I appeared several times in the documentary.)

The Last Defense offered a compelling narrative that connected the evidence in ways that the jurors or the appellate courts never heard. For instance, it quoted a juror who explained:

And this thing has weighed on me for a long time. What happened was, several of us from the jury were getting on an elevator. This was well before deliberations. And one of the jurors said, “Well, they should just take that n—– out back, shoot him and bury him under the jail.” It didn’t matter what happened, this was a black man that was on trial for murder.

Conversely, the jury foreman told ABC that, in a case like that one, you “go with your heart more than anything else.” The juror trusted “what you felt in your gut.” When delivering the verdict, the juror “felt right.”

To the contrary, we at John Marshall H.S. had thought the following scenario was most likely: As defense attorney Amanda Bass later explained, “Unfortunately in our criminal justice system … the first person to be interrogated and to talk to the police who tells the police the story can be the one who gets the deal.”

So, this second post will focus on the main witnesses that the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office claimed to believe, as opposed to listening to Julius and his family.

On July 28, 1999, a neighbor of Christopher Jordan, saw him driving a car with an unidentified person with a red bandanna. They followed Paul Howell, his sister, and his two daughters home, where he was fatally shot during a carjacking. According to the Oklahoma County district attorneys’ virtually unchallenged argument, that was evidence that Julius committed the murder and Jordan drove the getaway car!?!?

But, in 2021, Julius’s federal public defender, Amanda Bass, explained to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that Jordan and Jones were almost the same size and weight, and Prater said that the person who accompanied Jordan was a half a head taller, more muscular and bigger. And, Ladell “Day Day” King was 6 inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Jordan.

Jordan, like Julius and his brother and sister, were students of mine. I also played basketball with all of them, almost daily. That’s why I knew each of them so well that I was confident that the hundreds of students and teachers at John Marshal H.S were correct in believing Jordan, not Julius, should have been the prime suspect.

Jordan, who was known as “Westside,” told the Edmond investigators five different stories as the interrogators kept directing him back to the narrative that would make him “a better witness.”“Day Day” King had been a confidential police informant since the mid-1980s. The Edmond detective who handled him said he informed the Oklahoma City Police that “we needed to find my informant Ladell King.” The detective further explained that King “had the pulse on all auto thefts in the Oklahoma metro,” and he had told King that “his cooperation would then be shared with the District Attorney and he could get deals on his own charges or avoid charges altogether.”

During the subsequent investigation, King’s girlfriend told a detective that she and King “were trying to get the reward money” for helping to arrest the shooter. She was not asked about that statement during the trial. King was not charged and received a significant reduction in another sentence.

The second confidential informant was Kermit Lottie, who had cooperated with the Oklahoma City police since the early 1990s. He had assisted in the prosecution of two persons accused of murder and who were sentenced to death, but later exonerated.

According to the prosecution, it was a coincidence that the police stumbled across their confidential informant; an Edmond detective testified that the Oklahoma City police “just wanted to get an idea of what the area looked like.” And, at trial, the Asst. D.A. said, “By fate, by chance, [the police] pull up into Kermit Lottie’s garage and start talking to him.”

Under questioning by the prosecutor, Lottie denied he had made any requests of the D.A.’s office. However, two days before, he had written a letter to the Asst. D.A. reminding her of the “big time evidence” he had provided in the Paris Powell and Yancy Douglas death penalty case. (Powell and Douglas, were the nation’s 137th and 138thconvicts on death row to be exonerated; they served 16 years in prison and received $3.1 million in compensation. The federal appeals court criticized the Oklahoma County prosecutor for “knowing use of false testimony.”) Lottie also offered to help the prosecutor in return for “a little help for myself.”

Just three days after Julius was sentenced to death, Lottie received “very significant” help in reducing his federal sentence after the Edmond detective asked for leniency because Lottie was a “key witness” in the case against Julius.

The police officers’ and the prosecutors’ presentation of the testimony of Jordan, and the two professional informants were the biggest drivers of the case against Julius. But their arguments were doubly powerful because the overworked and inexperienced defense attorney’s failed to investigate their claims. And as explained in the previous post, they did not investigate the four inmates who said Jordan confessed/bragged about being the murderer, or competently cross-examine witnesses.

The defense attorney’s equally important, questionable decisions, to not bring Julius and the Jones to the stand, were also due to their failure to interview Julius’ girlfriend and Mrs. Jones’ friend who dropped her at the Jones’ home where she said they were about to have a spaghetti dinner. Neither of them could confirm the claims that Julius was at his family’s home when the murder occurred, but contrary to McKenzie’s understanding, neither of them made statements about where he was at the time of the murder. (emphasis mine) In other words, neither statement undermined the credibility of Jones or his family when they said Julius was with them at 9:30pmwhich was the time when the murder occurred. (And, McKenzie could not find the letter that he remembered as Julius telling his girlfriend he was on the south side, not his parents’ home. Neither could he remember the investigator, who everyone on the team agreed was incompetent, ever providing a written record of his interviews of potential witnesses.)

In the 1980’s, I extensively researched the incredibly corrupt Oklahoma County criminal justice system. Prohibition had not been repealed until the late 1950’s, and bribing the Supreme Court was routine into the 1960’s, while the prison system’s brutality and corruption prompted the 1973 McAlester prison riot. I concluded that progress began in the late 1970s and the 1980s; progress may had slowed during the Macy years, but I was still shocked by its behavior in front page headline cases. As was common in much of the nation, the chances of an innocent person being convicted were higher in high-profile capital cases, especially when the prosecution relied on confidential informants.

When I spoke to District Attorney David Prater a few years ago, he seemed to know little about the Jones case, but his opinions were driven by his respect for the Asst. District Attorney who prosecuted the case.

I especially admired the bipartisan leaders of the criminal justice movement who had brought Oklahoma to the start of what promised to be transformational improvement. But, I suspect that the Oklahoma experience followed the same pattern which is common across America. On one hand, District Attorneys believe that can’t keep their power unless they win 90% or more of their cases through a plea bargain. Defendants supposedly will not plead guilty unless they know that prosecutors are almost certain to win. That makes for a culture of winners and losers; so D.A.s must remain the “biggest bear in the woods.”

On the other hand, it seems like the anger generated by Trumpism has turned a harsh winner-take-all mentality into a commitment to cruelty. Especially when a multi-racial movement unites to defend a Black man, too many believers in “law and order” are more committed to defeating their opponents, believing whatever spin the prosecutors deliver.

Before the D.A.s full scale assault on Julius’ quest for clemency, I thought Gov. Stitt would split the difference in a way he hoped to satisfy the 60% of Oklahomans (and 49% of Republicans) who know of Julius’ case, and believe he should receive clemency, according to poll of 500 voters. As The Black Wall Street Times reported, “The poll comes after former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called on the Jones family to die quietly, and as Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater refuses to turn over Jones’ case file.”

But I was less hopeful that Stitt would pardon or parole him. It never occurred to me that his compromise would include a ban a pardon or parole by any other governor or parole board. I suspect he chose to avoid the debacle which the execution could prompt, especially if was another botched one, while minimizing anger from his Trumpian supporters who have such a taste for blood.

Finally, I had read about the change of statutes and rules during the War on Drugs that made it unlikely that evidence of innocence would be allowed as grounds for an appeal. But I had not fully appreciated the ways that today “courts were all prevented by strict and procedural
bars from reviewing the full merits of Julius’s claims.”

I was dismayed by the logic of the Court of Criminal Appeals, which I had long respected. I could have agreed with the Court that some of the circumstantial evidence was valid – if it had been investigated. The Court said the evidence against Julius was “damning,” even though I could not find any solid evidence in their statements that had been adequately analyzed. It concluded that “King was not involved in the Howell murder in any way,” even though a fair trial would have required something that didn’t happen – an investigation of confidential informants’ credibility and participation in the crime. I would hope the Court would agree that today the evidence points to Julius’ innocence and ask what that says about our appeals process.

Alternet recapitulates a Boston Globe investigation of a new phenomen: drivers who use their car as a weapon to drive into protestors.

Three Republican-led states have passed laws to protect the drivers who ran into protestors: Iowa, Oklahoma, and Florida.

On Monday, the Boston Globe reported on a “Back the Blue Act” signed by Iowa’s Republican governor, Kim Reynolds. The bill took the side of drivers who run over protesters. In June of 2020, the driver of Reynold’s state-issued Chevrolet Suburban struck a Des Moines Black Liberation Movement protester who was urging the governor to restore voting rights.

Thirteen other states are considering “hit and kill” legislation.

You can read the Boston Globe investigation here, but be advised that it is probably behind a pay wall.

ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio investigated a case that happened in 2016, when the police arrested 11young children for a crime that doesn’t exist. What they found was not simply an outrageous miscarriage of justice, but a county whose juvenile justice system is run by tyrannical officials who like to punish children to “straighten them out.”

The initial arrests occurred after a scuffle among three boys. The boys who threw punches were not arrested, but the children watching the fight were. One was only eight years old. Some were handcuffed.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid’s mother, is what started it all.

The police were at Hobgood [Elementary School] because of that video. But they hadn’t come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn’t identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay.” She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J…

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%…

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed…

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said. But Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job’s only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county.”

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county’s mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She’s been the judge ever since I was a kid,” said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport’s courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she’s having a bad day, most definitely, you’re going to have a bad day.”

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she’s had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show’s host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it’s all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I’m here on a mission. It’s not a job. It’s God’s mission,” she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren’t hers, but she calls them hers. “I’m seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds,” she says in one radio segment…

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee’s juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge’s discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court’s work. “I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now.”

The article is long and heartbreaking, to anyone with a heart. In the past five years, the county has been forced to pay out more than $11 million to the children and families who were mistreated. But Judge Davenport plans to run for another eight year term..

This is a case that should be viewed through the lens of critical race theory.

Conservative groups are funding protests against “critical race theory.” Now we learn, thanks to investigative reporting by the Washington Post, that the rightwing libertarian Koch network is funding parent protests against mask mandates. Billionaire Charles Koch has blood on his hands by supporting and encouraging parent opposition to mask mandates in schools.

Isaac Stanley-Becker writes in the Post:

The letter sounds passionate and personal.
It is motivated, the author explains, by a desire to “speak up for what is best for my kids.” And it fervently conveys the author’s feelings to school leaders: “I do not believe little kids should be forced to wear masks, and I urge you to adopt a policy that allows parental choice on this matter for the upcoming school year.”

But the heartfelt appeal is not the product of a grass roots groundswell. Rather, it is a template drafted and circulated this week within a conservative network built on the scaffolding of the Koch fortune and the largesse of other GOP megadonors.

That makes the document, which was obtained by The Washington Post, the latest salvo in an inflamed debate over mask requirements in schools, which have become the epicenter of partisan battles over everything from gender identity to critical race theory. The political melee engulfing educators has complicated efforts to reopen schools safely during a new wave of the virus brought on by the highly transmissible delta variant.

The document offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a well-financed conservative campaign to undermine regulations that health authorities say are necessary to contain the coronavirus. The frustration of many parents who want a greater say is deeply felt, school superintendents say. But their anger is also being fueled by organized activists whose influence is ordinarily veiled.

Conservative groups are trying to throw public schools into turmoil and discredit them. We have yet to see them inveighing against vaccines for polio, smallpox, measles, etc. If children get COVID, are hospitalized, and worse, this is the result of their cynical effort to make Public schools unsafe and expose children to danger.

If only it were possible to hold them accountable for endangering other people’s children.

This is the letter that the conservative Independent Women’s Forum has circulated:

Dear _____: NAME is excited to be joining NAME OF SCHOOL this year. But I want to share my thoughts on a topic I feel strongly about: masks on kids. I do not believe little kids should be forced to wear masks, and I urge you to adopt a policy that allows parental choice on this matter for the upcoming school year. I know you have to make a lot of tough decisions and you can’t please everyone. I have a world of respect for you and I am aware that some in the community may not agree with my perspective. It’s my view that emotion and politics (from both sides!) have driven alot of policy choices during the pandemic at nearly every level of government… that’s too bad. I’ll try to be brief but here are a few points that summarize my reasons for not supporting mandatory masks for young children:

●It’s a great blessing that COVID doesn’t pose as serious a health risk to children as it does to adults. Critically, young kids do not significantly spread COVID either. Furthermore, now that the adults in our community (teachers, school staff, parents and family members) have had a chance to get vaccinated, the risk to adults of serious illness from COVID infection is even smaller.

A study out of the UK released last week proved—once again—what we’ve known for more than a year:Kids transmit the coronavirus at a much lower rate than do adults. Epidemiologist Shamez Ladhani, who led the study, found that children “aren’t taking [the virus] home and then transferring it to the community. These kids have very little capacity to infect household members.”

●We do not yet know enough about the potential downside of mask-wearing for young children. I think you could make a case for or against masking kids (which is why I support parents making the choice either way), but if masking is to be mandated, the onus is on those putting a mandate in place to show that masking passes a risk-benefit analysis. This area merits more study, but common sense tells us that covering the face can come with problems.

Masking kids is associated with: increases in anxiety and depression;decreases in communication and socialization skill development; increases in headaches, face rashes and redness, and impaired facial recognition; and increases in tooth decay.

You have probably read about the gymnasts who testified before Congress last week, complaining about the failure of the FBI, the US Olympic Committee, and others had ignored their reports of sexual abuse by the doctor for the gymnastics team.

Like me, you probably never read the FBI report describing its own failure to take their reports seriously.

This CNN story has a link to the report. It is horrifying.

The Noble Network is the leading charter chain in Chicago. It boasts of high test scores. It is the darling of the Chicago white elite, including such luminaries as former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and billionaire Penny Pritzker, who served as Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. White apologists and admirers of the strict no-excuses discipline policy claimed that black and brown children needed the tough rules so that they could learn middle-class behaviors. David Whitman published a book praising “no-excuses” schools called Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism, in which he praised the high-performing schools (mostly charters) that enforced “no excuses.” His book was published in 2008; in 2009, he became the chief speech-writer for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who often lavished praise on “no excuses” charter schools.

The Noble Network wrote a letter to its alumni, apologizing for its strict “no excuses” policy, which it acknowledged was “racist.” Over the years, critics have said that the practices of “no excuses” schools are racist, but they were defended by charter advocates based on their test scores. They argued that the ends justified the punitive and harsh means. To be sure, the “no excuses” practices enabled charters to kick out the kids who did not conform and did not meet the school’s demands. The high suspension and attrition rates contributed to their “success.”

Chicago’s largest charter school network sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the “no-excuses” philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.

For years, Noble Charter Network had an ultra-strict approach in which students, for example, got demerits for small offenses, such as not wearing a belt, not following a teacher with their eyes and failing to sit up straight or wear black dress shoes. After a certain number of demerits, students had to pay for behavior classes. If they continued to get demerits, they could be forced to repeat a grade, which led many to transfer out.

The email calls the discipline and promotion policies “assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black,” according to the email sent to alumni on Monday. “We were disguising punishment as accountability and high expectations. We did not fulfill our mission to ALL students,” the email continues.

The letter set off a firestorm among former students, some of whom feel vindicated and others who say they think it was disingenuous. Some alumni point out the email did not explain what changes have been made, offer any type of reparations or ask for their feedback. Instead, the email includes a survey about whether they would want to participate in alumni events...

With about 13,000 mostly Black and Latino students, more than one in 10 Chicago public high school students goes to a Noble campus. For years, Noble’s “no-excuses, sweat the small stuff” philosophy was well-known and embraced by the school district and by some of the most prominent Chicagoans.

Its founder and chief executive officer Michael Milkie saw this approach as fundamental to the network’s success. He highlighted the fact that his schools, which don’t require a test for admission, out-performed neighborhood high schools. The Noble campuses are consistently highly rated with impressive high school graduation and college-going rates. Charter schools are largely publicly funded but privately managed.

Mayors touted Noble’s success and big donors such as former governor Bruce Rauner and the former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and her husband Bryan Traubert lined up to support them financially. The organization’s most recent audit shows it brought in nearly $200 million in fiscal year 2020, the vast majority from tuition payments from Chicago Public Schools, to run its 17 campuses. It also raised $9.4 million last year.

But Noble’s campuses also had high student suspension and expulsion rates. Charter schools can set their own student discipline codes, and even as CPS changed its disciplinary practices to move away from suspension and expulsions in district-run schools, it never held Noble accountable for its practices.

In fact, in recent years, charter school suspension data has not been publicly available through the school district. But CPS officials are now applauding the apology by Noble. “All schools should continually self-evaluate biases and act to change them if a student group is being disproportionately impacted,” they said in a statement.

Noble is one of a number of charter school networks across the country, opened in the 2000s, that touted strict discipline and high expectations. Like Noble, these schools serve mostly low-income Black and Latino students. Facing criticism, many of them have backed away from the rhetoric of no-excuses.

Noble might be the first to ask forgiveness from alumni...

Some students say the super-strict discipline made them dislike school and changed their vision of themselves as students.

“For the most part, it felt like every day going to high school was dreadful,” Collins said. “At most high schools, the goal is to graduate and go to college. When I hit Hansberry, my only goal was to get through the day without getting into detention or getting suspended.”

Collins said she will never get back the innocence, time or money that the school took from her. She said she started getting demerits her freshman year in 2015 for coming late or not wearing a black belt or leaving class to go to the bathroom without an escort.

Up until 2014, Noble charged students for each demerit, but that practice stopped after it was revealed that Noble was catapulting families into debt and sending a collection agency after them.

Collins, who rarely got in trouble in elementary school, got so many demerits at Hansberry that she had to pay for several behavior classes.

Collins said her mother started to see her as a troublemaker. Then, at the end of her sophomore year, her demerits rendered her unable to be promoted. She left and went to Hyde Park High School where she graduated early. She’s now a student at Jackson State University in Mississippi.