Tag Archives: social justice

Wisconsin’s opioid epidemic rages on, critics charge response is lame

Opioids are still killing people by the hundreds in Wisconsin even though legislators have passed nearly 20 bills to curb addiction over the last three years, prompting critics to demand lawmakers think bigger and pump more money into the fight.

Gov. Scott Walker has called a special legislative session to pass nearly a dozen additional bills designed to combat opioid addiction. Social justice groups and civil rights advocates say the package nibbles around the edges of the problem, threatens personal liberties and doesn’t invest nearly enough in prevention. Legislators have repeatedly said there’s no magic solution to stopping opioid abuse. Still, rumblings that the state needs to do more are growing louder.

Attorney General Brad Schimel, who is spearheading an awareness campaign called “Dose of Reality,” says people haven’t paid enough attention to the opioid issue and now it’s threatening to overwhelm the state.

“I get what the critics are saying,” Schimel said. “If we saw car crashes at the rate of opioid abuse, we would do crazy things. Build roundabouts every two miles, raise the driving age, lower speed limits. As a nation we’ve taken too long to take this epidemic seriously.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures says it tracked more than 500 state bills dealing with prescription drug abuse in 2016. Karmen Hanson, a program director at NCSL, says a similar number is expected this year.

Walker has signed 17 bills — all from state Rep. John Nygren, whose daughter has struggled with a heroin addiction — since 2013 to address opioids. Dubbed the HOPE Agenda, the bills include measures that require identification to pick up opioid prescriptions, provide immunity for people who report overdoses, create rural treatment programs, allow first responders to carry overdose antidotes and allocate $2 million annually toward treatment programs.

But people keep dying.

According to state data, 1,524 people died of opioid-related overdoses between 2013 and 2015 compared with 1,381 people over the previous three-year period. The data shows 622 people died in 2014 and 614 in 2015, the two highest annual death totals since 2003.

It looks like 2016 was no better. According to the most recent figures, 540 people died of opioid overdoses over the first nine months of last year alone. That’s almost 100 more people than during the first three quarters of 2015.

Walker this month declared opioid addiction a health crisis and called a special legislative session to enact 11 more bills.

The legislation would grant immunity to addicts who overdose; allow school nurses to administer overdose antidotes; allocate $420,000 annually for four more state Justice Department drug agents; lay out $200,000 over the next two years to expand a pilot drug screening program in high schools; and allow addicts to be civilly committed.

Critics aren’t impressed.

“The special session is a step in the right direction but falls far short of what is needed to make a significant dent in the opioid problem,” said Jon Peacock, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families research director.

Julie Whelan Capell runs the high school drug screening program in six school districts. The program could make a huge difference, she said, if Walker took it statewide. Legislative fiscal analysts project that would cost $1.8 million, but Capell said prevention is Wisconsin’s best hope. Robert Kraig, executive director of the group Wisconsin Citizen Action, complained the new bills spend more on drug agents than screening.

“This is an epidemic,” Kraig said. “We’re beyond pilot programs.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, meanwhile, contends the civil commitment bill would deprive opioid users of personal liberty without due process.

Nygren’s office didn’t respond to a message. Schimel said fighting opioids is difficult because they’re so pervasive. He cited statistics from the National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health that show about 163,300 Wisconsin adults and 68,600 young adults used heroin or another opiate between July 2013 and July 2014.

“Our treatment capacity can come nowhere near to addressing that,” he said.

Still, Walker’s call for a special session shows top government officials now understand the depth of the problem, Schimel said.

He said he wasn’t sure if expanding high school drug screening would be appropriate or effective. He noted that beginning April 1 doctors and dentists will have to consult a statewide prescriptions database to ensure patients aren’t shopping around for opioids, a Hope Agenda mandate. Schimel predicted the state will see a decline in opioid prescriptions after the requirement takes effect.

As for concerns about civil commitment for addicts, Schimel said a mental health facility would be a more humane place to go through withdrawal than jail. He promised addicts would still receive due process.

“There are things in (the special session legislation) that people don’t see as significant, but I do,” Schimel said. “We’ve got to keep beating this drum. This is the worst public safety and public health crisis we’ve seen in this state in many, many decades. Possibly ever.”

Dee Rees’ American odyssey ‘Mudbound’ captivates Sundance

Director Dee Rees wanted to get to the big questions in her enthralling period epic Mudbound. Specifically: What is it to be a citizen and what is it to fight for a country that doesn’t fight for you?

The film, which premiered Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival, had audiences raving and some already speculating about Oscar chances.

Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel Mudbound, chronicles the lives of two families in the WWII-era South — one white and one black, and the complicated intersectionality of their paths. There’s the McAllans, Laura (Carey Mulligan), her husband Henry (Jason Clarke), his brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and their father Pappy (Jonathan Banks), and the Jacksons, Florence (Mary J. Blige), her husband Hap (Rob Morgan) and their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell).

They’re tied together by a rental agreement — the Jackson’s rent their land and home from the McAllans — and the deeply complicated racial relationships in the segregated South in which Henry can demand help from Hap at any moment and Pappy can insist that Ronsel exit the local store from the back entrance.

It’s a sprawling and deeply American story about women, men, race and personhood that defies a simple summary.

“It’s not didactic, it’s not preachy,” Rees said. “The thing I love about it is it’s multiple points of view.”

Both Jamie and Ronsel go off to fight in WWII, where Jamie’s once shiny life becomes clouded by the horrors of war and alcohol. Ronsel finds freedom and acceptance that he’d never had in the U.S. embodied in his appointment to Sergeant status and a relationship with a German girl. But back at home, nothing has changed.

“I wanted to juxtapose the battle at home versus the battle abroad with the battle at home sometimes being even bloodier than the battle abroad — to show these two families fighting on the front lines,” Rees said, whose grandfathers both fought in wars, one in WWII and one in Korea.

“Both went away and came back and both didn’t quite get what they should have gotten,” she said.

Rees, who directed Pariah and the HBO movie Bessie, found in the story a deep resonance with her grandmother too. She integrated images and truths from her grandmother’s life in the Louisiana into the story, like how she wanted to be a stenographer and not a sharecropper (one of the Jackson children declares this her dream) and how she remembered as a child being pulled on the back of a cotton sack.

Blige, who is earning raves for her subtle and deeply powerful performance as the Jackson family matriarch, also had a grandmother who grew up in the South in Savannah, Georgia. She channeled her to embody Florence.

“She was so strong and silent. She never really said a lot, but when she said something it meant something … She planted her own food, she killed her own chickens, she killed her own cows. (She) and my grandfather were Hap and Florence,” Blige said. “Southern people are really all about love, and that’s what I took. I’m born and raised in the Bronx in New York, and as a child I went down South every summer so I saw my grandmother give love. I was raised with ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am.’ “

Though it’s been less than a day, so far the response has been rapturous. The audience at the premiere gave Rees and the cast a long standing ovation, and subsequent screenings have elicited similar praise. Mudbound does not yet have distribution, but it is expected to be one of the Festival’s hottest properties, and, one that people will be talking about long after Sundance comes to a close.

Ill omens: Hate crimes, voter suppression, appointment of Bannon

As civil rights leaders working for racial justice and economic opportunity, we join much of the nation in our apprehension about the incoming administration.

We cannot ignore that the campaign was characterized by divisive racial rhetoric and has emboldened white supremacists across the country.  The wave of hate crimes sweeping the country, with perpetrators invoking the name of the President-elect, is an ill omen, as is the appointment of a chief strategist with an appalling record of promoting racial, anti-Semitic and anti-woman rhetoric.

We were appalled by the calls for intimidation of voters at urban and rural polling places and will not forget.

Voter suppression had a measurable effect on elections in a number of states. While racial voter suppression was widespread, voter suppression was generational as well. Millennials, as a multiracial demographic, also were targeted by strict ID laws and poll closings affecting millions of youth, college and high school students, as well as young professionals. Addressing this  threat to our most vulnerable citizens and our still young democracy will be a top priority for our organizations in the coming weeks and months.

We have a responsibility to vigorously oppose any policies or actions which are inconsistent with our agenda or would serve to turn back the clock on hard-fought gains.  America’s advance toward diversity is not interrupted by the results of the election.

We will continue to battle discrimination, racial injustice and barriers to equal opportunity as we have done for decades. As always, we will advocate for the next President of the United States to honor and prioritize the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection, due process and full citizenship for every American. The President-elect needs to begin by repudiating hate crimes and attacks undertaken in his name and by announcing a commitment to abandon the divisive rhetoric and policy proposals of his campaign that are inconsistent with equality and opportunity for all.

Having earned a minority of the popular vote, elected with the support of only about a quarter percent of the adult population, the President-elect must recognize the challenge of his extremely narrow appeal to the American people. His obligation is to be President for All Americans.

Other important races on the ballot were significant for the advancement of the nation.

While Congress remains in control of leaders with a demonstrated history of obstructionism, we take encouragement from the election of the most diverse Congress in United States history.  When the 115th United States Congress is seated in January, it will include 100 women — notably Kamala Harris among the 23 elected to the Senate — and the largest-ever Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

We encourage every American to stand firm in the fight for the protection of civil rights and in opposition to racism and hate.

The statement was issued jointly by the following:

Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Melanie Campbell, President and CEO, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Convener, Black Women’s Roundtable

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Wade Henderson, President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League

The Rev. Al Sharpton, Founder and President, National Action Network

14 Wisconsin groups in national Good Food guide

Fourteen Wisconsin-based groups are listed in the annual Good Food Org Guide announced this week.

The guide includes these Wisconsin-based groups: Hunger Task Force, Wellspring, Wisconsin Local Food Network, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, REAP Food Group, Central Rivers Farmshed, Community GroundWorks, FairShare CSA Coalition, FRESH Food Connection, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, Madison Waste Watchers, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Milwaukee Urban Gardens.

The James Beard Foundation (www.jamesbeard.org) and Food Tank (www.foodtank.com), along with an advisory group of more than 70 food system experts, developed the third annual Good Food Org Guide, which features 1,000 food-related organizations across the United States.

This guide highlights organizations that are “doing exceptional and dedicated work” in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity and food justice.

The guide, expanded for 2016, incorporates new initiatives from across the nation and will be released at the seventh annual James Beard Food Conference in New York City Oct. 17-18.

”Working in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, we are proud to bring the total number of listed organizations to the 1,000 mark. It is a testament to the tremendous amount of growth and support we have seen in the ‘good food’ sector,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank.

She said the vision and objective of the annual publication is to focus attention on the organizations “that work every day in fields, kitchens, classrooms, laboratories, businesses, town halls and Congress to create a better food system.”

Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said, ”The Good Food Org Guide continues to serve as a useful tool for individuals looking for opportunities to improve their local food system. The guide’s user-friendly design makes it the go-to resource for identifying nearby organizations doing good work in the areas of food justice, hunger, and agriculture.

Experts, including past recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and food and agriculture leaders, collaborated to generate the list.

Here’s a closer look at the Wisconsin institutions, as described by the creators of the guide:

  • Hunger Task Force

The Hunger Task Force, based in Milwaukee, operates a food bank that provides healthy and nutritious food free of charge to a local network of food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, as well as a 200-plus acre farm that grows fruits and vegetables for the express purpose of feeding the hungry.

In addition, a dietitian educator teaches a nutrition education curriculum to children in local elementary schools. Kids learn about nutrition, healthy eating and how to make healthy recipes. During the growing season, these kids make regular field trips to The Farm where they get to work in our school garden and demonstration kitchen, and get hands-on experience.

  • Wellspring

Wellspring is a nonprofit education and retreat center and organic farm whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food. In so doing, Wellspring hopes to transform food systems and build community. Programs in wellness education, ecology and gardening, the arts and personal growth have been offered to the public since 1982. The group offers a variety of cooking classes and workshops on horticulture and permaculture. It also operates a Farm to School program in addition to their Summer Farm Camp.

  • Wisconsin Local Food Network

The Wisconsin Local Food Network is a collection of individuals and organizations that all share a common vision for Wisconsin: a state that offers communities and businesses a local food system that supports sustainable farms of all sizes, a strong infrastructure for those farms and supporting food business to thrive, and affordable access to healthy locally grown food for all Wisconsin residents.

  • Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Established in 1948, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association is one of the oldest organizations to be included in our guide.

Wisconsin is the third largest potato producing state in the country and this coalition of 140 farmers aims to educate Wisconsinites on their practices, research more sustainable growing methods, and create a social network of farmers where information can flow easily.

The group also operates the “spudmoblie,” a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

  • Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems is a research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The outreach and training programs are helping farmers, educators, crop consultants, businesses, and eaters put these research nonprofit land trust committed to the acquisition and preservation of land in Milwaukee.

Through partnering with neighborhood residents, communities cultivate healthy, locally sustained gardens and improve the quality of life in Milwaukee.

  • REAP Food Group

REAP Food Group wants to see locally produced food on every plate in Southern Wisconsin. The organization has also produced a Farm Fresh Atlas that maps the food organizations, organic restaurants and farmers’ markets in the region. REAP’s Farm to School program partners with the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer fresh, healthy food at school. The program includes classroom education, local food procurement for school meals and a snack program that serves a fresh, locally grown fruit or vegetable to over 5,000 low-income students every week.

  • Central Rivers Farmshed

Perhaps the first “farmshed” in the country, Central Rivers defines the term simply as a network of people, businesses, organizations and productive lands that create a local food economy. Similar in concept to a foodshed, the farmshed idea helps envision and strengthen a community’s relationship with regional landscape. Farmshed organizes events, resources and partnerships to support a local food economy by providing opportunities for participation, education, cooperation and action to support a local food economy in Central Wisconsin.

  • Community GroundWorks

Since 2001, Community GroundWorks has managed Troy Gardens, 26 acres of public protected farmland, prairie and woodlands in Madison. Hands-on educational programs for children and adults, in gardening, urban agriculture, nutrition and environmental protection, allow Community GroundWorks to realize a goal of connecting people with nature and food.

  • FairShare CSA Coalition

The FairShare CSA Coalition, based in Madison makes CSAs more accessible by linking consumers to local farmers through outreach, education, community building and resource sharing. Annual FairShare CSA Coalition events includes the FairShare CSA Open House, a free event where attendees can learn more about CSA products and meet local farmers. The coalition also organizes two annual fundraising bike tours called Bike the Barns and Bike the Barns West, which work highlight local farms and food.

  • FRESH Food Connection

FRESH Food Connection is a group of farms in southern Wisconsin sustainably producing vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheeses, canned goods, wool and other farm commodities. As farmers seeking to produce in harmony with nature and with the least environmental impact, they sign onto a sustainability pledge that enumerates the principles they follow and adhere their practices to those sustainable standards.

  • Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative

The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is a farmer-led cooperative owned by the producers and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. They are dedicated to securing the most profitable markets for producer-members. The hub makes it easy for the retail, institutional, and foodservice sectors to buy locally. The organization helps local farmers by providing them with the opportunity, through marketing, sales, aggregation and logistics, to access wholesale markets they could not access easily before.

  • Madison Waste Watchers

Madison Waste Watchers is a Madison initiative dedicated to waste reduction in the city. The program provides recycling and composting education to communities to help reduce the amount of waste produced. The organization has been busy all through 2015, hosting a number of local food events and offering internships for youths to learn more about sustainable farming.

  • Michael Fields Agricultural Institute

The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute promotes the ecological, social and economic resiliency of food and farming systems through programs like their Crop and Soil Research program, which uses classic plant breeding and modern screening methods to produce plants that perform highly and can be used in organic systems. In addition, the Public Policy program engages grassroots support for sustainable agriculture while helping farmers and others take full advantage of sustainable agriculture programs.

  • Milwaukee Urban Gardens

Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a program of Groundwork Milwaukee, is a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.

Clinton puts Trump on defensive in 1st debate

Donald Trump found himself on the defensive for much of Monday’s 90-minute showdown with Hillary Clinton and the next morning, he spread the blame.

He accused moderator Lester Holt of a left-leaning performance and going harder on him than Clinton, even floating the theory that organizers had intentionally given him a faulty microphone to set him up.

And after brushing off Clinton’s claim that he’d once shamed a former Miss Universe winner for her weight, Trump dug himself deeper.

“She gained a massive amount of weight. It was a real problem. We had a real problem,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” about the 1996 winner of the pageant he once owned.

Clinton was thoroughly prepared in the debate, not only with detailed answers about her own policy proposals, but also sharp criticism of Trump’s business record, his past statements about women, and his false assertions that President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States. She said his charges about Obama were part of his pattern of “racist behavior.”

The Democrat also blasted Trump for his refusal to release his tax returns, breaking with decades of presidential campaign tradition. She declared, “There’s something he’s hiding.”

Trump has said he can’t release his tax returns because he is being audited, though tax experts have said an audit is no barrier to making the information public. When Clinton suggested Trump’s refusal may be because he paid nothing in federal taxes, he interrupted to say, “That makes me smart.”

The televised face-off was the most anticipated moment in an election campaign that has been historic, convulsive and unpredictable.

The candidates entered the debate locked in an exceedingly close race to become America’s 45th president, and while both had moments sure to enliven their core constituencies, it was unclear whether the event would dramatically change the trajectory of the race.

The debate was confrontational from the start, with Trump frequently trying to interrupt Clinton and speaking over her answers.

Clinton was more measured and restrained, often smiling through his answers, well-aware of the television cameras capturing her reaction.

“Hillary told the truth and Donald told some whoppers,” Clinton’s running mate, Tim Kaine, told ABC News the morning after the debate.

Trump’s criticism of Clinton turned personal in the debate’s closing moments. He said, “She doesn’t have the look, she doesn’t have the stamina” to be president. He’s made similar comments in previous events, sparking outrage from Clinton backers who accused him of leveling a sexist attack on the first woman nominated for president by a major U.S. political party.

Clinton leapt at the opportunity to remind voters of Trump’s controversial comments about women, who will be crucial to the outcome of the November election.

“This is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs,” she said.

The centerpiece of Trump’s case against Clinton was that the former senator and secretary of state is little more than a career politician who has squandered opportunities to address the domestic and international problems she’s now pledging to tackle as president.

“She’s got experience,” he said, “but it’s bad experience.”

Clinton, who hunkered down for days of intensive debate preparation, came armed with a wealth of detailed attack lines. She named an architect she said built a clubhouse for Trump who says he was not fully paid and quoted comments Trump had made about Iraq and about nuclear weapons.

When Trump made a crack about Clinton taking time off the campaign trail to prepare for the debate, she turned it into a validation of her readiness for the White House.

“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said. “And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.”

The candidates sparred over trade, taxes and how to bring good-paying jobs back to the United States.

Clinton said her Republican rival was promoting a “Trumped-up” version of trickle-down economics – a philosophy focused on tax cuts for the wealthy. She called for increasing the federal minimum wage, spending more on infrastructure projects and guaranteeing equal pay for women.

Trump panned policies that he said have led to American jobs being moved overseas, in part because of international trade agreements that Clinton has supported. He pushed her aggressively on her past support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact while she was serving in the Obama administration. She’s since said she opposes the sweeping deal in its final form.

Trump repeatedly insisted that he opposed the Iraq War before the 2003 U.S. invasion, despite evidence to the contrary. Trump was asked in September 2002 whether he supported a potential Iraq invasion in an interview with radio personality Howard Stern. He responded: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Presented with the comment during the debate, Trump responded: “I said very lightly, I don’t know, maybe, who knows.”

The Republican also appeared to contradict himself on how he might use nuclear weapons if he’s elected president. He first said he “would not do first strike” but then said he couldn’t “take anything off the table.”

Clinton said Trump was too easily provoked to serve as commander in chief and could be quickly drawn into a war involving nuclear weapons.

Some frequently hot-button issues were barely mentioned during the intense debate. Illegal immigration and Trump’s promises of a border wall were not part of the conversation. And while Clinton took some questions on her private email server, she was not grilled about her family’s foundation, Bill Clinton’s past infidelities or voter doubts about her trustworthiness.

Politics, shootings undercut criminal justice overhaul in Congress

Hopes for overhauling the nation’s criminal justice system have faded in Congress this year, undercut by a rash of summer shootings involving police and the pressure of election-year politics.

Republicans, including Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, had joined forces with Democrats in hopes of revising the 1980s and ’90s-era federal “tough on crime” laws by reducing some mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders and giving judges greater discretion in sentencing. The goal is to reduce overcrowding in the nation’s prisons and save taxpayer dollars.

In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.

The bipartisan group encountered fierce opposition from some Republicans who argue reform could increase crime and pose a greater danger to law enforcement.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump hasn’t commented on the pending legislation but has dubbed himself the “law-and-order candidate” for what he calls a country in crisis, with terrorism in cities and attacks on police.

With Republicans deeply divided, one man could break the legislative deadlock: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has not indicated whether he supports the effort.

If inaction is telling, McConnell so far has declined to put the legislation to vote, suggesting he doesn’t want a messy intraparty fight before the November election.

Unlike McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., strongly supports an overhaul and may bring up a series of bipartisan House bills in September to reduce mandatory sentences and boost rehabilitation programs.

An unusual coalition — President Barack Obama, the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Koch Industries — says the system is broken and supports changes. Obama has made it a priority in his last year.

But Ryan and Obama have a tough job in winning over McConnell, who must deal with opponents such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a handful of other Senate Republicans.

Supporters are also battling the calendar.

Congress is only in session a few weeks before Obama leaves office.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton supports the effort, but if she wins it’s unclear whether there would be momentum for the overhaul in her busy first year in office.

Cotton calls the Senate bill “a dangerous experiment in criminal leniency” that would let violent criminals out of prison.

Supporters say the legislation would do the opposite, making communities safer by focusing on rehabilitation and preserving police resources. Mark Holden of Koch Industries, which has backed the Senate and House bills, points to states that have successfully put similar reforms in place.

Proponents argue that there’s no direct connection between the overhaul and this summer’s shootings of black men in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge — or the shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge — since the measures would primarily deal with incarceration of low-level drug offenders and rehabilitation programs. Opponents counter that reducing mandatory minimum sentences could further endanger law enforcement.

“If you talk to actual officers on the street, almost all of them will tell you their job has gotten more dangerous,” said the Hudson Institute’s John Walters, who was drug czar under President George W. Bush. “The current debate about this isn’t going to give them a voice.”

The House Judiciary Committee is looking at separate action on policing and has created a bipartisan working group on police accountability and aggression toward law enforcement. After meetings in Detroit on Tuesday, Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., predicted criminal justice reform will eventually pass.

On policing, Goodlatte said mistrust between law enforcement and the communities will not be solved overnight. “However, this should not deter us from devoting urgent attention to this matter of national importance,” he said.

Republicans who back criminal justice overhaul point to the support of several law enforcement groups and say they are working the party’s grassroots, bringing the message that changes could save billions of federal dollars and help criminals from returning to prison.

“There’s no question that it’s very hard to draw the lines on the conservative movement and where people are on this,” says Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who is working with a group called Right on Crime.

At the heart of the Republican debate on the issue is a philosophical difference between advocates who say rehabilitation and shorter sentences could lower recidivism and opponents who say it will let criminals out and not do enough to stem crime. Advocates point to a dip in overall crime in the U.S., while opponents point to rising crime in some major cities.

The Senate bill was introduced last October, and Cornyn and other supporters revised it this spring to try and win over reluctant GOP colleagues. But Cornyn acknowledged in July that the House would have to move first on its legislation, which is similar but not identical to the Senate bill.

Some advocates are hoping the legislation could be passed as part of the typical last-minute horse-trading in the “lame duck” session in between the election and the end of the year.

To get momentum, “we need a House vote in September, and we need a big House vote in September,” says Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network.

Justice urged to improve rules for collecting data about deaths in police custody

Dozens of nonprofits called on the U.S. Department of Justice to strengthen its proposed rule outlining the process for police departments to collect and report data about people who die while in police custody.

In a letter sent in late August, the organizations responded to the DOJ’s proposal for implementing the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act, which requires police departments to disclose details to the U.S. government about custodial deaths.

DICRA was signed into law in 2014 in response to a lack of reliable data on these deaths and DOJ is currently collecting comments on its implementation proposal published Aug. 4.

The comment period will close Oct. 3.

Groups urging Justice to strengthen its rule include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United Methodist Church, the National Immigration Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Southern Poverty Law Center and many others.

In their letter, the organizations cite refer to deficiencies in the proposal that are a “departure” from DICRA, including:

• A lack of accountability to ensure state and local police are actually reporting the data.

• A failure to condition federal funding on adequate reporting.

• A disturbing reliance on media reports instead of police departments for data.

• A lack of clarity on how DICRA applies to federal agencies.

• An absence of a clear definition of the word “custody.”

The groups expressed specific concern about the lack of consequences for not reporting accurate data because “voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed.”

The letter says only 224 of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies reported about 444 fatal police shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2014, “though we have reason to believe that annual numbers of people killed by police exceed 1,000.”

“The loopholes in these regulations are cavernous,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “You can’t fix what you can’t measure.”

Henderson added, “Police departments should report deaths in custody when they happen — it should be that simple. But these regulations make it clear that DOJ would rather bend over backward to accommodate police departments’ dysfunction or reluctance. There should be simple procedures so that police can provide complete and accurate data or face clear consequences for non-compliance.”

The groups also want the regulations to include a broader range of potential areas of police misconduct.

“To achieve complete and uniform data collection and reporting, the federal government must solicit disaggregated data that is reflective of all police-civilian encounters, including those encounters with people of color, women, and people with disabilities. Data concerning sexual assault and misconduct by law enforcement agents should also be collected and reported,” the letter stated.

Argentina’s ‘stolen babies’ seek truth, face ghosts

Pedro Sandoval stopped celebrating Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and even his own birthday after he found out the truth: The mom and dad he knew growing up had stolen him from his biological parents, who were kidnapped, tortured and never heard from again during Argentina’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

“I’m still jealous of friends who can hug or get into arguments with their parents,” said Sandoval, 38, alluding to the biological parents he never met. “But I’m also thankful that I could at least hug my grandfather and grandmother.”

Four decades after the ruling military junta launched a systematic plan to steal babies born to political prisoners, Argentina’s search for truth is increasingly focused on the 500 or so newborns whisked away and raised by surrogate families. Several hundred have yet to be accounted for.

This spring a visiting U.S. President Barack Obama and Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced, on the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought the junta to power, that Washington would open up a trove of U.S. intelligence files from Argentina’s Dirty War era, when an estimated 30,000 people were killed or forcibly “disappeared” by the regime. It may take a few years for the documents to be released, but the news gave families hope for word on the fate of other stolen babies.

For the children who have already been found, coming to grips with the past is a painful process.

Sandoval, known then as Alejandro Rei, never suspected anything was amiss growing up in a middle-class household on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. But in 2004, Victor Rei, a former border patrol officer and the man that Sandoval called his father, became the target of an investigation and his life turned upside down.

Sandoval said he felt both fury and crushing guilt after a childhood he describes as full of wonderful memories. And yet like others, he was torn over where his loyalties lay: At one point during the investigation Sandoval tried unsuccessfully to protect Rei by tainting DNA samples used to identify the older man.

“I made some mistakes,” he said. “It was part of a defense mechanism.”

Ultimately DNA matched Sandoval to Pedro Sandoval and Liliana Fontana, who were kidnapped by security forces in July 1977 when Liliana was two months pregnant. She gave birth to Pedro in captivity, and four months later he was taken away. His birth parents were never seen again.

“It’s still tough and bizarre,” Sandoval said. “But I found it beautiful that at least for four months I was in her arms.”

He has since severed ties with the people who raised him and has become close to relatives of his biological parents. His wife is expecting their first baby.

To date, 119 cases of stolen children have been resolved. Each discovery makes for banner headlines and prompts both personal and national soul-searching.

“These cases are moving because they are unique, painful and about suffering and trauma that doesn’t stop,” said Claudia Salatino, a psychologist who has treated some of the victims.

Guillermo Perez Roisinblit, 38, was Guillermo Gomez for decades before he was contacted by his biological sister and the Grandmothers of the Playa de Mayo, a human rights group that formed in 1977 to search for the disappeared. They showed him a family picture; Perez was shocked by his resemblance to the man who would later be confirmed as his real father.

“It took me 21 years to find my grandson and 15 years to win his love,” said Rosa de Roisinblit, 96, who is vice president of the Grandmothers.

“It was such a difficult process,” Perez said, sitting next to her.

Today both are plaintiffs in a trial that began last month against the former head of Argentina’s air force for the 1978 abduction and disappearance of activists Patricia Roisinblit and Jose Manuel Perez Rojo. Patricia gave birth to Perez at the Naval Mechanics School, where thousands of leftist dissidents were jailed and tortured during the Dirty War.

Francisco Gomez, the man who raised Perez, served time for stealing Perez when he was an infant and is now accused in the same trial involving the ex-air force chief, who is charged in the kidnapping of Perez’s parents.

Perez said he visited Gomez in prison in 2003, and Gomez angrily blamed him for his confinement.

“When I get out,” Perez recalled Gomez saying, “I’m going to put a bullet in your forehead, in your two grandmothers and in your sister.”

During the dictatorship, the Grandmothers marched weekly at Buenos Aires’ main square to demand the return of their loved ones. Since Argentina’s return to democracy, they have lobbied the government to create a DNA database and dedicate judicial resources to the search.

“They’re the closest to real heroes,” Perez said. “They fought against a dictatorship risking their own lives. … And that’s how I see my grandmother, as a hero.”

 

Wisconsin prison officials begin force feedings, solitary confinement protest continues

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is force feeding at least three inmates as a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years — even decades — continues for a third week.

Although the state DOC has detailed the medical conditions of the hunger strikers in publicly available petitions, the agency refuses to confirm that it has obtained court orders to force feed inmates, citing medical privacy issues. Spokesman Tristan Cook did not immediately respond to questions about how often and on whom the department has used force feeding.

Court records show the agency is now force feeding Waupun Correctional Institution inmates Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley Bey and Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name of Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki.

The food refusal campaign, dubbed “Dying to Live,” which about half a dozen inmates began as early as June 5, is aimed at pressuring the state to end the practice of holding inmates for lengthy periods of time in administrative confinement, which is intended for prisoners deemed a danger to the institution.

McKinley Bey, who escaped during a jail transfer in 1987 after shooting a sheriff’s deputy, has been held in this status for at least 25 years, according to a federal lawsuit he filed in Milwaukee. He alleges such unending isolation — at least 23 hours a day alone in a cell — violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Roughly 100 Wisconsin inmates are being held in this type of long-term solitary confinement.

A top United Nations official has declared that such isolation beyond 15 days is tantamount to torture.

On Tuesday, 30 activists gathered in front of the Department of Corrections headquarters in Madison to protest the state’s continued use of administrative confinement, chanting “solitary is torture.”

Protester Chance Zombor said he had spent many months in solitary confinement at Waupun and Oshkosh correctional institutions. Zombor said such isolation causes inmates to become “psychologically deranged.”

The protesters presented Cook with a letter demanding an end to the “overuse and abuse” of administrative confinement, improved mental health services for inmates in solitary confinement and other steps, including allowing inmates in this “non-punitive” status to have the same access to property, such as canteen items and TVs, that general population inmates have.

“As the public becomes aware of the torturous effect of any kind of solitary confinement longer than 15 days, you can imagine the outrage and bewilderment when they learned that we have inmates who have been in solitary for decades,” according to the letter addressed to Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher.

Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.
Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.

Cook accepted the letter and told the group that corrections officials are working on possible changes to solitary confinement, which the department calls restrictive housing. But he did not respond to requests by the activists to participate in that process.

In an email, Cook said the agency is studying several changes including moving mentally ill inmates out of solitary and examining ways to increase out-of-cell time and increase programming and services for inmates in restrictive housing and administrative confinement.

In June 2015, the state reduced the maximum stint in solitary confinement for violating prison rules from 360 days to 90 days, with longer stints possible under certain circumstances.

But those limits do not apply to inmates deemed to be violent or hard to manage who are in administrative confinement. The status of each inmate in administrative confinement is reviewed every six months. McKinley Bey, however, charges in his lawsuit that those reviews are a “sham.”

McKinley Bey said force feeding entails being strapped into a “restraint chair” and having a tube placed in his nose to deliver liquid nutrition while an officer films the process, according to a letter he wrote to advocates dated June 19. He wrote that he, DeLeon, Green and another inmate, Joshua Scolman, “are strong, and are in it for as long as it take to make something happen.”

In the June 17 petition for a court order to force feed DeLeon, corrections officials said the inmate began refusing food on June 7 and had also begun refusing water and that he has a “history of serious hunger strikes.” The petition states that he is suffering from “moderate” malnutrition and dehydration.

“He appears weak, gaunt and has an unsteady gait,” according to the petition. “Mucous membranes are very dry.”

However, in a letter written after the order was issued, DeLeon said that “clearly the doctor exaggerated his medical report with the intent to force feed me, to dissuade me and other(s) to stop our strike.”

Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, "incinerates the mind and spoils the soul." On  June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.
Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, “incinerates the mind and spoils the soul.” On June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.

Inmate advocate Peg Swan said she is distressed that it took a hunger strike to highlight the problems with administrative confinement in Wisconsin’s prisons. Two states — Colorado and California — have discontinued such indefinite confinement in solitary.

“I will be rooting for the them to stop,” Swan said. “They succeeded in getting the public to think about long-term solitary, and we are pledged out here to keep the campaign going, but we don’t need them to get sick.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

YGB: Black teenage girl beaten by our very own MPD

On June 21, 18-year-old black teen Genele Laird was working at Lids Hats at East Towne Mall in Madison when her phone was stolen.

She was angry and a colleague called police. When they arrived, officers apparently did not like her demeanor and rather than helping her recover her stolen property, they began approaching her to take her into custody.

According to video footage, almost immediately upon being approached two MPD officers began brutalizing the thin-framed Laird.

The attack included repeatedly kneeing her in the side, punching her in the side and face, shoving her to the ground, tasing her and putting a bag over her head while continuing to tase her.

The Young Gifted and Black Coalition with Freedom Inc call for Laird’s immediate release and that police drop the four felony charges against her.

Reportedly police have charged Laird with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct with a weapon because she had a knife in her purse, harming an officer and spitting.

This officer was very comfortable abusing this troubled teen on camera in broad daylight. A city that lets this happen is a city that needs change at root levels.

YGB and FI demand the following:
• Laird’s immediate release.
• That all charges against her are dropped.
• That the offending officers are arrested.
• Community control of the Madison Police Department.
We have got to to better as a community. We will do better. Stay tuned about how you can help.
People Power is all we got. All Power To The People! #freegenele #handsoffblackwomen #communitycontrolofpolice.

Watch the video here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3a%2f%2fwww.facebook.com%2f100008713631510%2fvideos%2f1586578181642621%2f&show_text=0&width=400

On the Web

A news report on the incident can be found here.