International Human Rights Day and Police Abuse in the US

On International Human Rights Day, Consider the U.N.‘s Statements on the American Justice System

We usually think of “human rights abuses” as something that occur abroad. But recent U.N. proceedings have strong words for the U.S.’s domestic and international activities.
                              
BY Flint Taylor
Originally posted at In These Times
It is well past time for U.S. and local governmental officials to heed the recent findings of the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the urgings of the High Commissioner
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Today is International Human Rights Day, first declared in 1950 by the United Nations in order to “bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” It’s a fitting day, then, to consider the recent proceedings before and findings of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, (CAT). Released before the gruesome Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation practices yesterday, the committee had strong words for the U.S.’s domestic and international human rights record.
In mid-November, representatives of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project and We Charge Genocide, the parents of Michael Brown, and other activists journeyed to Geneva, Switzerland and presented evidence concerning law enforcement violence and torture in Chicago, across the United States, and at Guantanamo, to the experts of the CAT. When representatives of the United States Government presented its defense to the documented charges, many in the audience , led by the We Charge Genocide delegation, stood and unfurled signs in silent protest. On November 20th, the CAT issued its findings on these and other related human rights issues.
Chicago
With regard to the ongoing Chicago police torture scandal, which the CAT first cited in its 2006 findings, and the ongoing police violence against African Americans and Latinos in Chicago, the CAT first addressed the need for specific legislation making torture by law enforcement officers a federal crime, referencing the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, which has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Danny Davis on two separate occasions and would make police torture a federal crime without a statute of limitations.
In the report, the Committee specifically addresses the Chicago police torture scandal, stating that
with regard to the acts of torture committed by CPD Commander Jon Burge and others under his command between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes … that a federal rights investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional violations occurred. However, … despite the fact that Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no Chicago police officer has been convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring. … [S]everal victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, [but] the vast majority of those tortured—most of them African Americans—have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered.
The Committee renewed its call for torture prosecutions and gave a strong endorsement to the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project’s campaign for financial, psychological, medical, and educational reparations for the survivors of Burge-related torture by calling on the government to provide for the “redress for CPD torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.” Reparations such as those sought in Chicago are called for by General Comment 3 to Article 14 of the UN Convention Against Torture.
The CAT also stated, in response to a report presented by We Charge Genocide, that it was “particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police,” and with the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.”
Use of Tasers
The Committee also examined law enforcement’s use of Tasers on unarmed citizens, stating that it was “appalled at the number of reported deaths after the use of electrical discharge weapons” and singling out the recent cases of Israel “Reefa” Hernández Llach in Miami Beach, Florida, and Dominique Franklin Jr. in Sauk Village, Illinois.
It also urged that tasers be used “exclusively in extreme and limited situations —where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury—as a substitute for lethal weapons and by trained law enforcement personnel only,” that tasers be prohibited from use on children and pregnant women, that they be subjected to “principles of necessity and proportionality” and that they be “inadmissible in the equipment of custodial staff in prisons or any other place of deprivation of liberty.” The Committee urged the U.S. “to provide more stringent instructions to law enforcement personnel entitled to use electric discharge weapons, and to strictly monitor and supervise their use through mandatory reporting and review of each use.”
Prisons, the Death Penalty, and Juvenile Justice
The CAT also addressed the death penalty and numerous systemic human rights violations within the prisons and jails of the U.S. adult and juvenile justice system. The Committee condemned the torturous suffering that has accompanied numerous executions across the country, referencing the use of untested lethal drug cocktails, and called for a moratorium on the death penalty and commutation of death sentences  “with a view to abolish” the measure.
It also condemned sexual and other related prison violence, particularly against LGBTQ and mentally disturbed prisoners, the proliferation of deaths in custody, the shackling of pregnant prisoners, and the use super max prisons and other forms of extended solitary confinement. The committee recommended the prohibition of both solitary confinement for juveniles and the placement of juveniles in adult prisons, the abolishment of life without parole sentences for juveniles regardless of the crime for which they were convicted, and argued for a commitment to seeking alternatives to prison.
Guantanamo and the Use of Torture
Writing before the release of the government report on C.I.A. detention and interrogation after 9/11, the Committee expressed “its deep concern” that the U.S. government “continues to hold a number of individuals without charge at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities” as “enemy belligerents” whom the U.S. claims it is “entitled to hold” “until the end of the hostilities.” The CAT then reiterated that, in its view, this “indefinite detention constitutes … a violation” of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It cited as evidence that out of the 148 men still held at Guantanamo, only 33 have been designated for potential prosecution, in violation of international fair trial standards, and further articulated its concern that “federal courts have rejected a significant number of habeas corpus petitions.”
Regarding the conditions at Guantanamo, the Committee “remained concerned about the secrecy surrounding conditions of confinement,” and noted “the studies received on the cumulative effect that the conditions of detention and treatment in Guantanamo have had on the psychological health of detainees.” It cited the nine deaths in Guantanamo during the period under its review, including seven suicides, repeated suicide attempts and the “recurrent mass hunger strike protests by detainees over indefinite detention and conditions of detention.” Additionally, it condemned the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes, sometimes reportedly administered in an unnecessarily brutal and painful manner, which “constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the Convention.”
The Committee called on the U.S. government to
  • Cease the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial for individuals suspected of terrorism-related activities;
  • Ensure that detainees held at Guantanamo who are designated for potential prosecution be charged and tried in ordinary federal civilian courts;
  • Immediately release any other detainees who are not to be charged or tried;
  • Provide access to detainees and their counsel to all evidence used to justify the detention;
  • Investigate allegations of detainee abuse, including torture and ill-treatment, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and ensure effective redress for victims;
  • Improve the detainees’ situation so as to persuade them to cease the hunger strike;
  • Put an end to force-feeding of detainees on hunger strikes as long as they are able to make informed decisions;
  • Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, with full access to the detainees, including private meetings with them, in conformity with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council;
  • Declassify torture evidence, in particular Guantanamo detainees’ accounts of torture; and
  • Ensure that all victims of torture are able to access a remedy and obtain redress, wherever acts of torture occurred and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.
And, most significantly, the CAT reiterated its earlier recommendation that the U.S. “should close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.”
The Committee also decried the lack of prosecutions for, and transparency about, numerous apparent criminal acts, including homicides and enforced disappearances, committed by C.I.A. operatives, the U.S. military, and other U.S. agents at foreign locations including in Afghanistan, and as part of the U.S. Government’s rendition program—a call that was echoed today by U.N. officials in the wake of the C.I.A. torture report. It condemned the continued use of sleep and sensory deprivation, including blindfolds, goggles, and earmuffs, as interrogation techniques. It also called for an absolute bar to torture in all forms and circumstances, including where terrorism is alleged, and for the “declassification and prompt public release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the C.I.A.’s secret detention and interrogation program with minimal redactions.”
The Michael Brown case
Despite a compelling closed-door presentation by Michael Brown’s parents, the C.A.T. did not expressly mention the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in its report. When queried about this omission, a Committee member stated that the C.A.T. “has to respect the decision” of authorities not to prosecute Officer Darren Wilson.
However, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, in response to the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision, issued a statement which articulated a “deep concern” about U.S. racism and its connection to law enforcement violence:
I am deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of young African Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate number of African Americans on Death Row. It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems. I urge the U.S. authorities to conduct in-depth examinations into how race-related issues are affecting law enforcement and the administration of justice, both at the federal and state levels.
On this, the 64th annual International Human Rights Day, it is well past time for U.S. and local governmental officials to heed the recent findings of the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the urgings of the High Commissioner by implementing the systemic changes that the Committee has recommended in its Report. To continue to ignore the problems that the CAT has identified and the remedies it suggests will doom people of color here and abroad to further racist law enforcement violence and the continuation of a fundamentally unjust criminal justice system.

 

UN Report: US Authorities Should Act to Combat Police Torture and Violence

UN Committee Against Torture Report: U.S. Authorities Should Act to Combat Police Torture and Violence in Chicago and Across the Nation

December 10th is International Human Rights Day, which was first declared in 1950 by the United Nations in order to “bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” On such an important date, it is appropriate to illuminate the recent proceedings before the United Nations Committee Against Torture, (CAT), and the findings that the CAT made in response.

In mid-November, representatives of the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project and We Charge Genocide, the parents of Michael Brown, and other activists journeyed to Geneva, Switzerland and presented evidence concerning law enforcement violence and torture in Chicago, across the United States, and at Guantanamo, to the experts of the CAT.  When representatives of the United States Government presented its defense to the documented charges, many in the activists, led by the We Charge Genocide delegation, stood and unfurled signs in silent protest. On November 20th, the CAT issued its findings on these and other related human rights issues.

Chicago

With regard to the ongoing Chicago police torture scandal, which the CAT first cited in its 2006 findings, and the ongoing police violence against African American and Latinos in Chicago, the CAT first addressed the need for specific legislation making torture by law enforcement officers a federal crime. Referencing the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act which has been introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Danny Davis on two separate occasions, and which would make police torture a federal crime without a statute of limitations, the Committee found:

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (A/55/44, para. 180 (a) and CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para. 13) that the State party should criminalize torture at the federal level, in full conformity with article 1 of the Convention, and ensure that penalties for torture are commensurate with the gravity of this crime. It recommends the re-introduction of the Law Enforcement Torture Prevention Act, a bill which contains a definition of torture and specifically criminalizes acts of torture by law enforcement personnel and others under the color of law.

Later in the Report, the Committee again addressed the Chicago police torture scandal, stating that:

with regard to the acts of torture committed by CPD Commander Jon Burge and others under his command between 1972 and 1991, the Committee notes the information provided by the State party that a federal rights investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutable constitutional violations occurred.  However, it remains concerned that, despite the fact that Jon Burge was convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, no Chicago police officer has been convicted for these acts of torture for reasons including the statute of limitations expiring. While noting that several victims were ultimately exonerated of the underlying crimes, the vast majority of those tortured –most of them African Americans–, have received no compensation for the extensive injuries suffered (arts. 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16).

The Committee then renewed its call for torture prosecutions and gave a strong endorsement to the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project’s ongoing campaign for financial, psychological, medical, and educational reparations for the survivors of Burge related torture by calling on the Government to provide for the “redress for CPD torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance entitled Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors.” Reparations such as those sought in Chicago are called for by General Comment 3 to Article 14 of the UN Convention Against Torture.

The CAT also stated, in response to a Report presented by We Charge Genocide, that it was “particularly concerned at the reported current police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police,” and with the “frequent and recurrent police shootings or fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals.” In response, it urged the authorities to “ensure that all instances of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers are investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent mechanism with no institutional or hierarchical connection between the investigators and the alleged perpetrators.”

Use of Tasers

The Committee also examined law enforcement’s use of Tasers on unarmed citizens:

The Committee is concerned about numerous, consistent reports that police have used electrical discharge weapons against unarmed individuals who resist arrest or fail to comply immediately with commands, suspects fleeing minor crime scenes, or even minors.

The Committee further stated that it was “appalled at the number of reported deaths after the use of electrical discharge weapons,” singled out the recent cases of Israel “Reefa” Hernández Llach in Miami Beach, Florida, and Dominique Franklin Jr. in Sauk Village, Illinois, and emphasized “the need to introduce more stringent regulations governing their use.” It also urged that tasers  be used “exclusively in extreme and limited situations –where there is a real and immediate threat to life or risk of serious injury– as a substitute for lethal weapons and by trained law enforcement personnel only,”  that tasers be prohibited from use on children and pregnant women,  that they be subjected to “principles of necessity and proportionality” and that they be “inadmissible in the equipment of custodial staff in prisons or any other place of deprivation of liberty.” The Committee also urged “the State party to provide more stringent instructions to law enforcement personnel entitled to use electric discharge weapons, and to strictly monitor and supervise their use through mandatory reporting and review of each use.”

Prisons, the Death Penalty, and Juvenile Justice

The CAT also addressed the death penalty, numerous systemic human rights violations within the prisons and jails of the U.S., and juvenile justice.  After hailing the abolishment of the death penalty in six states since its last report, the Committee condemned the torturous suffering that has accompanied numerous executions across the country, referencing the use of untested lethal drug cocktails, and called for a moratorium on the death penalty and commutation of death sentences  “with a view to abolish” this draconian measure. It also condemned sexual and other related prison violence, particularly against LGBTI and mentally disturbed prisoners, the proliferation of deaths in custody, the shackling of pregnant prisoners, and the use super max prisons and other forms of extended solitary confinement. It also recommended the prohibition of solitary confinement for juveniles and the placement of juveniles in adult prisons, and the abolishment of life without parole sentences for juveniles regardless of the crime for which they were convicted. Additionally, the CAT endorsed the enhanced use of alternatives to prison.

Guantanamo and the Use of Torture

The Committee expressed “its deep concern” that the U.S. Government “continues to hold a number of individuals without charge at Guantanamo Bay detention facilities” as “enemy belligerents” whom the U.S. claims it is “entitled to hold” “until the end of the hostilities.” The CAT then reiterated that, in its view, this “indefinite detention constitutes per se a violation” of the U.N. Convention Against Torture. It cited to evidence that out of the 148 men still held at Guantanamo, only 33 have been designated for potential prosecution, in violation of international fair trial standards, and further articulated its concern that “federal courts have rejected a significant number of habeas corpus petitions.”

With regard to the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo, the Committee  “remained concerned about the secrecy surrounding conditions of confinement,” and noted  “the studies received on the cumulative effect that the conditions of detention and treatment in Guantanamo have had on the psychological health of detainees.” It cited the nine deaths in Guantanamo during the period under its review, including seven suicides, repeated suicide attempts, and the “recurrent mass hunger strike protests by detainees over indefinite detention and conditions of detention.” Additionally, it condemned the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes, sometimes reportedly administered in an unnecessarily brutal and painful manner, which “constitutes ill-treatment in violation of the Convention.”

The Committee called on the U.S. Government to

  • Cease the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial for individuals suspected of terrorism-related activities;
  • Ensure that detainees held at Guantanamo who are designated for potential prosecution be charged and tried in ordinary federal civilian courts;
  • Immediately release any other detainees who are not to be charged or tried;
  • Provide access to detainees and their counsel to all evidence used to justify the detention;
  •  Investigate allegations of detainee abuse, including torture and ill-treatment, appropriately prosecute those responsible, and ensure effective redress for victims;
  •  Improve the detainees’ situation so as to persuade them to cease the hunger strike;
  •  Put an end to force-feeding of detainees on hunger strikes as long as they are able to make informed decisions;
  •  Invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, with full access to the detainees, including private meetings with them, in conformity with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council;
  • declassify torture evidence, in particular Guantanamo detainees’ accounts of torture; and
  •  ensure that all victims of torture are able to access a remedy and obtain redress, wherever acts of torture occurred and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrator or the victim.

And, most significantly, the CAT reiterated its earlier recommendation, set forth at CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para 2 that “the State party should close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, as instructed in section 3 of Executive Order 13492 of 22 January 2009.”

The Committee also decried the lack of prosecutions for, and transparency about, numerous apparent criminal acts, including homicides and enforced disappearances, committed by CIA operatives, the U.S. military, and other U.S. agents at foreign locations including in Afghanistan, and as part of the U.S. Government’s rendition program.  It condemned the continued use of sleep and sensory deprivation, including blindfolds, goggles, and earmuffs, as interrogation techniques. It also called for an absolute bar to torture in all forms and circumstances, including where terrorism is alleged, and for the “declassification and prompt public release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation programme with minimal redactions.”

The Michael Brown case

Despite a compelling closed door presentation by Michael Brown’s parents, the CAT did not expressly mention the unjustified shooting of Michael Brown in its Report. When queried about this omission, a Committee member stated that the CAT “has to respect the decision” of authorities not to prosecute Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. However, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, in response to the Ferguson Grand Jury’s decision, issued a statement which articulated a “deep concern” about U.S. racism and its connection to law enforcement violence:

I am deeply concerned at the disproportionate number of young African Americans who die in encounters with police officers, as well as the disproportionate number of African Americans in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate number of African Americans on Death Row. It is clear that, at least among some sectors of the population, there is a deep and festering lack of confidence in the fairness of the justice and law enforcement systems. I urge the US authorities to conduct in-depth examinations into how race-related issues are affecting law enforcement and the administration of justice, both at the federal and state levels.

On this, the 74th annual International Human Rights Day, it is well past time for U.S. and local governmental officials to heed the recent findings of the U.N. Committee Against Torture and the urgings of the High Commissioner by implementing the systemic changes that the Committee has so powerfully recommended in its Report. To continue to ignore the problems that the CAT has identified and the remedies it suggests will doom people of color here and abroad to further racist law enforcement violence and the continuation of a fundamentally unjust criminal justice system.

Judge rules that Rasmea can be released pending sentencing

People’s Law Office is happy to announce that Rasmea Odeh, beloved community leader, is being released on bond and going home.  PLO attorney, Michael Deutsch, is part of Rasmea’s defense team.

Press inquiries: Hatem Abudayyeh, 773.301.4108, hatem85@yahoo.com

We are pleased to announce that Judge Gershwin Drain just filed his ruling granting Rasmea’s motion for reconsideration of his November 10th order revoking her bond. RASMEA IS COMING HOME!
The defense committee is working now to secure the money for her release.  Please help us raise it by donating HERE now!We also thank you all for your passionate work to help restore her freedom!  We believe that the hundreds of letters to the judge, and the incredible response to the county jail’s punitive measure of placing Rasmea in solitary confinement, played a major role in making this happen.  In the ruling, the judge wrote: “Defendant’s dedication to her community work and the people that such work assists, as well as the presence of relatives in Chicago, demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that she is not as significant a flight risk as originally believed.”
In addition, all your letters to Rasmea helped keep her spirits up, and strengthened her resolve to continue challenging the unjust ruling, detention, and treatment in jail.Of course, we are going to appeal the conviction, and there is still a ton of organizing work to be done, but today we celebrate and prepare to bring Rasmea home.  Thank you all for your support!
Rasmea Defense Committee

www.stopfbi.net

REMEMBERING FRED HAMPTON AND MARK CLARK

Forty five years ago this morning, lawyers, law students and staff from the four month old People’s Law Office were summoned to a west-side Chicago apartment to bear witness to unmistakable evidence that one of their most respected young clients – – – the charismatic Black Panther leader Fred Hampton – – – was murdered in his bed by the Chicago police.  In what was later termed by an independent Commission of Inquiry as a “search and destroy” mission, Hampton and Peoria Black Panther leader Mark Clark were slain in a hail of police gunfire from a machine gun, shotguns, and handguns, while several other young BPP members were wounded, and all seven of the survivors were arrested on bogus charges of attempted murder.

After spending almost two weeks at the apartment gathering evidence of the crimes, the PLO embarked on a crusade to discover and expose the full truth about the murders, a sobering odyssey that continued for the next 13 years.  Pursuing a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid, the PLO unearthed evidence which conclusively established that the raid was orchestrated by the FBI’s secret and highly illegal Counterintelligence Program which was designed to “disrupt,” “discredit,” and” destroy” the Black Panther Party and its leaders. After an 18 month trial which was dubbed the “trial of the decade” by the Chicago Reader, and that saw PLO lawyers Jeff Haas and Flint Taylor jailed for contempt, and an appeal that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the PLO obtained, in 1982, what was then the largest settlement of its kind on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid.

Similar to the wanton police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Eugene Ellison, Roshad McIntosh and countless other victims, the killer cops who murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were never charged with murder or attempted murder, and never spent a day in jail. We can only hope that the current nationwide uprising against racist police violence will be successful in having a lasting impact on how police – – – and the entire criminal (in)justice system – – – deals with people of color.

See more information on the assassination of Fred Hampton below:

The Columbia Chronicle, November 24, 2014: Hampton’s death not quite forgotten: 45th anniversary of the death of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton calls the party’s legacy into question

HuffingtonPost, December 05, 2012: ‘Nothing but a Northern Lynching’: The Assassination of Fred Hampton

HuffingtonPost, December 03, 2013: The FBI COINTELPRO Program and the Fred Hampton Assassination

In These Times, November 24, 2014: Darren Wilson Wasn’t the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off the Hook

UN Committee Against Torture Calls Out the US Government

UN Committee Against Torture Calls Out US Government for Failing to Comply with Its International Obligations in the Burge Torture Cases: Calls on the US to Pass the Burge Torture Reparations Ordinance in Chicago

CHICAGO — On Friday, November 28, 2014, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT) condemned the U.S. Government and the City of Chicago for failing to provide sufficient redress to those who were tortured by notorious former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and the detectives under his command.  This is the second time in eight years that the UN Committee has condemned the U.S. Government for failing to fulfill its obligations under the Convention Against Torture with respect to the Burge torture cases.

Last week the UN Committee noted that the “vast majority of those tortured,” most of who are African American, “have received no compensation for the extensive injuries they suffered.” (see Paragraph 26).  The UN Committee called on the U.S. Government to provide redress to the Burge torture survivors by supporting the passage of the Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors that is currently pending in Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee.

In May of 2006, the UN Committee had addressed the Burge torture cases and condemned the “limited investigation and lack of prosecution.” It called on the U.S. Government to “bring the perpetrators to justice.”

In June 2010, Burge was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for falsely denying that he and others engaged in acts of torture. He was sentenced to serve 4 ½ years in prison. In October 2014, Burge was released from federal prison after serving less than 3 ½ years.

In its most recent findings, the UN Committee also noted that the U.S. Government failed to prosecute any other officers responsible for torture under Burge’s regime because federal authorities allowed the statute of limitations to expire.

The UN Committee also cited its concerns about police militarization, racial profiling, and reports of police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against African American and Latino youth, immigrants and LGBTI individuals.  In response to “We Charge Genocide,” who submitted a Shadow Report and sent an impressive delegation of youth of color to Geneva, Switzerland, the UN Committee noted is particular concern regarding “police violence in Chicago, especially against African-American and Latino young people who are allegedly being consistently profiled, harassed and subjected to excessive force by Chicago Police.”  The UN Committee also expressed “deep concern” about frequent and recurrent shootings and fatal pursuits of unarmed black individuals, and the appalling use of tasers resulting in death, including the tragic death of Dominique Franklin, Jr. in Chicago and the “alleged difficulties” of holding police officers accountable for such abuses.  All of these issues and concerns were raised by the We Charge Genocide delegation.  Monica James, an organizer with the Tranformative Justice Law Project from Chicago, also testified at the hearing regarding police profiling and torturous prison conditions transgender women of color face nationwide in the U.S.

If passed by the Chicago City Council, the Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Police Torture Survivors would be an important step towards U.S. compliance with its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

The Ordinance would serve as a formal apology to the survivors; create a Commission to administer financial compensation to the survivors; create a medical, psychological, and vocational center on the south side of Chicago; provide free enrollment in City Colleges to the survivors; require Chicago Public Schools to teach a history lesson about the cases; require the City to fund public memorials about the cases; and set aside $20 million to finance this redress ­- the same amount of money the City has spent to defend Burge, other detectives and former Mayor Richard M. Daley in the Chicago Police torture cases.

Chicago City Council Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) and Howard B. Brookins (21st Ward) filed the Ordinance in Chicago’s City Council on October 16, 2013The Ordinance is now supported by a total of 26 Aldermen and women.

Over 110 African American and Latino men and women were subjected to torture that was racially motivated and included electric shocks, mock executions, suffocation and beatings by Burge and his subordinates.  Scores of Chicago police torture survivors continue to suffer from the psychological effects of the torture they endured without any compensation, assistance, and they have no legal recourse for any redress.

CTJM submitted a shadow report on the Burge torture cases in conjunction with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights to the UN Committee.  Amnesty International, USA and Black People Against Police Torture & the National Conference of Black Lawyers also submitted shadow reports to the UN CAT on the Burge torture cases seeking redress for the torture survivors.  Shubra Ohri attended the UN CAT’s review of the U.S. Government this past November.  In May of 2006, Joey Mogul attended the UN CAT’s review of the U.S. Government and presented evidence on the Burge torture cases.

Lawsuit Filed Against Former Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Vagnini

People’s Law Office Files Lawsuit Against Former Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Vagnini for Illegal Strip Searches and Body Cavity Searches

Simultaneous to the outrageous decision orchestrated by the prosecutor in Ferguson, Missouri, Attorneys Flint Taylor and Ben Elson from the People’s Law Office and Attorney Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group have filed a wide-ranging body cavity search lawsuit against convicted felon and former Milwaukee Police officer Michael Vagnini, as well as his crew of outlaw District 5 officers.

For the first time, this publicly documents the policies and practices of the MPD and its police chiefs, particularly Chief Ed Flynn, that have resulted in the more than 75 documented illegal body cavity and strip searches of African-Americans from 2007 to 2012.

The suit, which was brought on behalf of four innocent African-American young men, alleges 10 separate incidents of body cavity searches committed by Michael Vagnini and his unit, under the direct supervision of disgraced former MPD sergeant Jason Mucha, from 2008 through 2011, and includes the following newly discovered evidence:

  • While working for the West Allis police Department, Vagnini verbally abused and sexually assaulted a female West Allis Police Officer
  • the MPD had access to the investigation of this incident, including several eyewitness accounts, yet hired him anyway;
  • as early as September of   2007 high MPD officials knew of Vagnini’s illegal body cavity searches and did nothing about it
  • While an MPD officer, Vagnini used sexually derogatory language towards a black female county sheriff’s officer
  • Vagnini’s off duty conduct with fellow officers, including drunken parties, led Alderman Dudzik to forward a citizen’s anonymous complaint to Assistant Chief Strunk, warning of another Frank Jude case
  • Vagnini was identified by the MPD as one of the top six repeater cops with regard to execssive force

In the harsh light of the systemic failure to do justice in Ferguson, it is long past due for the City and Chief Flynn to recognize and remedy the systemic failures within the MPD, as so extensively detailed in the complaint filed today, that resulted in the pattern and practice of illegal body cavity and strip searches, as well as the brutal beating of Frank Jude, the senseless death of Derek Williams, and the brutal slaying the unarmed Dontre Hamilton.

Darren Wilson Wasn’t the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off The Hook

HowardThe U.S. has a long history of allowing police to walk free after vicious racist violence

By Flint Taylor of People’s Law Office, originally appeared in In These Times

The pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

The Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown is heartless but unsurprising. But it is important to place the case in context with the history of police violence investigations and prosecutions in high profile cases—and the systemic and racist police brutality that continues to plague the nation. In doing so, there are lessons for the movement for justice in the Michael Brown case, as well as for those who are engaged in the broader struggle against law enforcement violence.

What follows, then, is a brief history of similar high profile cases where public outrage compelled the justice system to confront acts of racially motivated police violence—with, to say the least, less than satisfactory results.

Chicago

Over the past 45 years, Chicago has been a prime example of official indifference and cover-up when it comes to prosecuting the police for wanton brutality and torture.

On December 4, 1969, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain in a police raid that implicated the Cook County State’s Attorney and the FBI’s Cointelpro program. A public outcry led to a Federal Civil Rights investigation. Despite finding that the raiding police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, the Grand Jury in 1970 did not indict, but rather issued a report that equally blamed the police perpetrators and the Panther victims.

Outrage at this decision led to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor who, in the face of extreme official resistance, obtained an indictment against the police and the State’s Attorneys who planned and executed the raid—not for murder and attempted murder, but rather for obstruction of justice.

The case came to trial in front of a politically connected judge who dismissed the case without even requiring that the charged officials put on a defense. Again, the outrage, particularly in the African-American community was so extreme that the chief prosecutor, Edward V. Hanrahan, was voted out of office a week after the verdict was rendered in 1972.

The Jon Burge police torture scandal provides another stark example. Evidence that had been unearthed over the years demonstrated that a crew of predominately white Chicago police detectives, led by Jon Burge, tortured at least 120 African-American men from 1972 to 1991.

Cook County State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley was tendered powerful evidence of this torture as early as 1982, but did not investigate or prosecute Burge and his men. Daley’s office continued to use confessions tortured from the victims to send scores of them to prison—10 of whom went to death row, though they were later saved by a death penalty moratorium in 2000 and by a grant of clemency in 2003 by then-Governor George Ryan—during the next seven years.

In 1989, the local U.S. Attorneys’ office declined to prosecute, as did the Department of Justice in 1996 and Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine for the five years directly thereafter. In 2001, due to continuing public pressure, a politically connected Special Prosecutor was appointed to investigate the torture. But after a four year, $7 million investigation, he too refused to indict, instead issuing what is widely considered to be a whitewash report that absolved Daley, Devine, and numerous high Chicago police officials.

Finally, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney indicted Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, and he was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. However, the U.S. Attorney has subsequently declined to prosecute Burge’s confederates for similar offenses.

New Orleans

Chicago is by no means an isolated example of how difficult it is to obtain justice for wanton police violence through the judicial system. In New Orleans, a crew of white detectives responded to the killing of a white police officer in 1980 by terrorizing the black community of Algiers, killing four innocent people and torturing numerous others by “booking and bagging” them: beating suspects with telephone books and suffocating them with bags over their heads.

Seven officers were indicted by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations arising from the torture of one of the victims and three were convicted.  No officers were charged for the four killings or for the other acts of torture.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an NOPD officer fatally shot an unarmed black man named Henry Glover, then several of his fellow officers burned his body to cover-up their crime. NOPD officers also shot and killed two unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge.

After state authorities botched their investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicted the officers involved in the two cases and obtained convictions of some of the main police actors. However, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the verdict in the Glover case, and the trial judge, citing government misconduct, took the extraordinary step of granting the convicted officers a new trial in the Danziger case.

New York

In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted a Haitian-American man named Abner Louima in a precinct station bathroom by shoving a broken broomstick up his rectum. Louima’s attacker was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations, while three of his police accomplices were charged with covering up the crimes.

After Louima’s attacker pleaded guilty, his accomplices were convicted, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the lawyers who represented the officers had a conflict of interest. After they were convicted a second time, the Appeals Court again overturned their convictions—this time on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of intent.

In 1999, four officers from the NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was reaching for his wallet, hitting him 19 times. The officers were indicted for second degree murder and the case was moved to upstate New York, where a jury acquitted the officers.

In July of this year, NYPD officers arrested an African-American man named Eric Garner, allegedly for selling untaxed cigarettes. They put a prohibited chokehold on him, forced him to the ground face first with his hands behind his back, and shoved his face into the pavement, where he died a few minutes later of a heart attack. The deadly assault, which was captured on videotape, is now under investigation by a Special Grand Jury empaneled by the District Attorney’s Office.

Los Angeles

Among the most notorious cases was the brutal 1991 beating of Rodney King by five LAPD officers. A videotape captured most of the brutality and also showed several other officers standing by and doing nothing to stop the pummeling of a defenseless black man.

Four officers were charged at the state level with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The trial was moved to a predominantly white suburban county, and three of the officers were acquitted of all charges, while the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and other lesser charges. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on his use of excessive force.

After an angry uprising in the African-American community of Los Angeles that left 53 dead and around 2,000 injured, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the four officers, and a federal jury convicted two of them, while acquitting the other two.

This past August, LAPD officers fatally shot an unarmed mentally ill African-American man named Ezell Ford, who witnesses said was shot in the back while lying on the ground. Despite massive protests, there has been no grand jury investigation to date, the autopsy report is yet to be released, and the LAPD has not completed its investigation.

Oakland

In Oakland, California in the late 1990s, a unit of police officers dubbed the “Rough Riders” systematically beat, framed and planted narcotics on African Americans whom they claimed were dealing drugs. Four of the “Riders” were indicted by the District Attorney’s Office, and the trial was moved to a suburban county. The ringleader fled the country, and was tried in absentia.

After a year-long trial before a bitterly divided jury on which there were no blacks, the officers were acquitted of eight charges, and the jury was hung on the remaining 27 counts. At the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the officers were not re-tried.

Also in Oakland, in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009, a BART officer shot and killed a young black man named Oscar Grant, who was lying face down, unarmed,  in a busy transit station. The shooting was videotaped, and led to militant protests in Oakland.

Another jury with no black members rejected the charge of murder and instead found the officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As a result, Oscar Grant’s killer spent less than a year behind bars. The Department of Justice subsequently opened a civil rights investigation, but no charges were brought.

Milwaukee

From 2007-2012 in Milwaukee, a unit of white police officers, spurred on by the Department’s CompStat program of aggressive policing, stopped and illegally body cavity searched more than 70 African-American men whom they claimed to be investigating for drug dealing. In conducting these searches, most commonly performed on the street, the searching officer reached inside the men’s underwear, and probed their anuses and genitals.

After this highly illegal practice came to light, the unit’s ringleader, Michael Vagnini, was indicted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney on numerous counts of sexual assault, illegal searches, and official misconduct, while three of the other unit officers were also charged for participating in two of the searches. The unit’s sergeant and several other members of the unit, all of whom were present for many of the searches, were not charged.

The charged officers were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of official misconduct and illegal strip searches, with Vagnini receiving a 36-month sentence while the other three received sentences that totaled, collectively, less than a month in jail. By pleading guilty, they also received promises that they would not be charged with federal civil rights violations.

Pattern and Practice Investigations

These high profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases where racist police violence has not been subjected to equal justice under the law.

Recently, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Little Rock, Arkansas, officers who shot and killed Eugene Ellison, an elderly African American man who was walking out of his home with a cane in his hand, while there have been documented reports of unarmed black men recently being shot down by the police in Chicago; Houston; San Antonio; Beaver Creek, Ohio; and Sarasota, Florida.

In 1994, the United States Congress, recognizing that police misconduct and violence was systemic in many parts of the country, passed 42 U.S. Code Section 14141, which empowered the Justice Department to file suit against police departments alleging patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct, and to obtain wide ranging court orders, consent decrees, and independent monitors in order to implement reforms to those practices.

Although understaffed, the Pattern and Practice Unit of the Justice Department has attacked systemic and discriminatory deficiencies in police hiring, supervision, and monitoring in numerous police departments over the past 20 years.  A particularly egregious act or series of acts of police violence often prompts the Unit to initiate an investigation, and its lawyers have obtained consent decrees or court orders in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, Ohio, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Oakland, and Miami.

Last month, lawyers handling the Little Rock cases requested that the DOJ do a pattern and investigation of the LRPD, and the Unit is reportedly now investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department. While these investigations are not a panacea, they offer a mechanism for exposing and reforming blatantly unconstitutional police practices, and have also demonstrated how pervasive the problem systemic police violence continues to be.

In light of this history, the pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

Just two weeks ago, the Brown case, along with the Burge torture cases, was presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The movement should now turn its attention to the Department of Justice, demanding a federal civil rights indictment against Wilson, a full scale pattern and practice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, and, more broadly, an end to systemic and racist police violence.

As the history of the battle against racist police violence so pointedly teaches, the public outcry and agitation must continue not only in Ferguson but across the nation. Because as Frederick Douglas rightly stated many years ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.

Accepting Applications for Summer Internship

People’s Law Office is accepting applications for our 2015 summer internship and educational program, which focuses on learning about civil rights litigation rooted in social justice and radical legal work.

The program is open to law students. To apply send resume, cover letter and writing sample to peopleslaw [at] aol.com.  Applications will be accepted until December 30, 2014.  A stipend is available.

Welcome Our New Associate, Shubra Ohri

People’s Law Office is pleased to welcome our new associate, Shubra Ohri.  Shubra is a creative and dedicated advocate who brings her passion for human rights both internationally and domestically to her work at People’s Law Office.  Shubra is currently using her extensive international human rights experience to present the Jon Burge torture cases to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva.  In Geneva, she is urging the Committee to call on the United States to comply with the provisions of the Convention Against Torture by providing redress to Burge torture survivors and holding those officers complicit in the systematic torture responsible for their violations of international human rights law. 

Update on Rasmea Odeh Trial

UPDATE ON RASMEA ODEH TRIAL
Friday, November 7 (Day 4 of Trial)

The trial against Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh began earlier this week in Detroit.  Rasmea is being represented by Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office, with co-counsel Jim Fennerty, another Chicago-based civil rights attorney, along with William Goodman and Dennis Cunningham.

Rasmea is on trial in Federal Court for failing to disclose a prior conviction in her immigration application to the United States.  The prior conviction was from Israel and related to a 1969 bombing at a supermarket in Jerusalem.  She had been arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Israeli military.  As a result of the torture, she confessed to involvement with the bombing.

Prior to trial, the judge made rulings limiting the defense.  One of the most significant rulings was prevented Rasmea or her attorneys from raising the torture she suffered or the psychological impact it had on her, which could explain her answers on the immigration form.  This was despite the judge finding her torture claims “credible.”

Trial began on Tuesday and the first day was spent selecting a jury.  Opening statements took place on Wednesday.  Arguing for the government, Assistant US Attorney Mark Jebson argued simply that Rasmea should be convicted for immigration fraud for failing to disclose her 1970 conviction.

During his opening argument, Michael Deutsch detailed Rasmea’s life.  He described how she lost the family home to Israeli settlers at a young age and explained how she was arrested and interrogated for weeks by the Israeli military.  Due to the judge’s ruling, he was unable to go into detail about the torture she suffered.  Deutsch also told the jury about Rasmea’s life here in the United States and how much respect she has in the community.  Deutsch closed by asking the jurors to remain fair and use their sense of justice to find Rasmea Not Guilty.

The prosecution presented their case Wednesday afternoon, calling agents from Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Service.  The government’s case continued into Thursday morning.

On Thursday, the defense began presenting their case, calling UIC professor Nadine Naber to describe Rasmea and her work with Muslim and Arab women immigrants in the Chicago area.  Following Naber’s testimony, Rasmea took the stand.  Rasmea’s testimony went into her life growing up in Palestine where the family was forced from their home in 1948.  The family was forced to live as refugees before moving to Ramallah, where they lived during the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.  Ramsea then described her arrest by the Israeli military, her time as a political prisoner in Israel and her release as part of a prisoner trade.

Rasmea then went on to testify about the immigration process of coming to the United States.  She explained her English was weak at the time and she had her brother assist in filling out the forms.  She also testified that when there were questions about whether she had been arrested, her understanding was that those questions referred to arrests in the United States.

Rasmea’s testimony will continue today and she will be cross-examined by the government.  It is expected that closing arguments will follow her testimony and that the jury will begin deliberating on Monday, November 10.

For more on the trial
Earlier post from our site: Rasmea Odeh Trial to Begin Tuesday
Will Rasmea Odeh Go to Prison Because of a Confession Obtained Through Torture? in The Nation
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 2 by US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 3 by USPCN
Rasmea Odeh takes the stand in her own defense in Electronic Intifada
Press Release on Tuesday, November 4 from National Lawyers Guild