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Law and Disorder June 20, 2016

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¡Michael Ratner Presente!

We hear excerpts from Michael Ratner’s public memorial held in the Great Hall at Cooper Union in Manhattan, New York.  It would have been Michael’s 73rd birthday on June 13, 2016.

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¡Michael Ratner Presente! was co-sponsored by Cooper Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Democracy Now!, National Lawyers Guild, The Nation Institute, Nation Magazine, Haymarket Books, and Voices of a People’s History of the United States.

Michael Ratner’s Politics – By Michael Smith


Law and Disorder August 10, 2015

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Lawyers You’ll Like : Attorney Linda Backiel

As part of our Lawyers You’ll Like series today we speak with attorney Linda Backiel. She’s a lawyer and poet living in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She’s played an instrumental role in defending independentistas in the fight against colonialism in Puerto Rico. As part of that struggle she defended those who were ultimately successful in kicking the military out of Vieques. A small island near Puerto Rico. For 40 years of law practice, she devoted much of her energy to the defense of political prisoners often with her friend and mentor, Lenny Weinglass. A Poem For Lenny Weinglass.

Guest – Attorney Linda Backiel, a criminal defense attorney and poet living and practicing law in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Here is Linda Backiel’s transcript  from the talk she gave at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Criminal Justice Act.


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Rubin “Hurricane” Carter 1937-2014

In April of this year, celebrated boxer and prisoner-rights activist Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died at the age of 76. He had become an international symbol of racial injustice after his wrongful murder conviction forced him to spend 19 years in prison. Carter was arrested for a triple murder in his hometown of Patterson, New Jersey. He said he was innocent, was convicted by an all white jury, and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. In 1976, the New Jersey State Supreme Court overturned his conviction on grounds the authorities withheld material evidence from the defense. But Carter was convicted again in a second trial in 1976. In 1985, that conviction was overturned by a U.S. district court judge, who concluded the state made an unconstitutional appeal to racial prejudice. In 1988, the Passaic, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office dropped all charges against Carter.

Attorney Myron Beldock:

  • He was a defendant in a criminal case in New Jersey involved the triple shooting and three murders of 3 people in the Lafayette bar in Patterson, New Jersey.
  • He and his co-defendant John Artis were represented at the first trial and they lost, (convicted) and Rubin started his campaign to get out of jail and wrote his book the 16th Round.
  • He was charismatic and powerful, a great thinker, very very intellectually strong person as well as being spiritually strong.
  • Almost a typical case, high profile case, where you get people who are vulnerable and easily manipulated because of their need for their own benefits to falsely testify.
  • We set aside the convictions when we learned about the benefits that were given to the witnesses.
  • We went again to trial in 1975. At that time the atmosphere had changed. There was a new prosecutor, they came up with a theory that it was actually a racial revenge killing.
  • Earlier that night, a white former bar owner had shot and killed the black purchaser of the bar from him.
  • That was always known and there was no motives attributed to the killings in the first trial but the second trial really based on speculation and bias, they argued persuasively to the jury that this was a racial revenge killing.
  • Mr. Bellow who was the supposed eye witness who testified, there were two of them in the first trial, was being questioned by me on the stand as to why he recanted his recantation. The prosecutor persuaded him to again tell the story he told at the first trial, identifying Rubin and John and I was trying to establish that they had falsely manipulated him when I was pulled into the chambers along with my co-counsel Louis Steele who represented John Artis and told that if I question him further, the jury would learn that he passed the lie detector test, supporting what he said at the first trial. Supporting his identification (of Rubin Carter)
  • We did have that test. It seemed like that was the result because that’s the way it was written. In fact that was a fraud.
  • The polygraph results were completely opposite of what they were purported to be.
  • The prosecutors in that case, two of them became judges, rewarded for what they did.
  • Rubin was not a popular person, he had been an outspoken civil rights person.  It was a cesspool of rumors without any evidentiary basis.
  • The entire community there almost in Passaic New Jersey treated us like we were the devil.
  • It was the coldest community reception I ever encountered in any place.
  • Rubin would call every year (from Canada) on the anniversary of his release.  He got a group of Canadian do-gooders and free thinkers to join him in fighting to set aside convictions for people who were wrongly convicted in Canada.
  • He would vet the briefs that we sent. He was a very unusual client.
  • Rubin refused to act as a prisoner because he wasn’t anyone who was guilty he said.
  • So, he didn’t eat prison food, he didn’t take prisoner assignments, he didn’t wear prison clothes and somehow or other he was able to pull that off.
  • People think of it as being another time, I’ve been practicing law long enough and I don’t think anything changes.
  • The same kind of bias runs deep throughout the community its just masked somewhat differently.
  • You make your luck in these cases, you have to forge ahead.
  • His insistence on being an innocent person and will not compromise with the system is the kind of inspiration that pushes us on as lawyers.

Guest – Attorney Myron Beldock, graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in 1946, Hamilton College in 1950 and Harvard Law School in 1958. He served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1954 and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York from 1958 to 1960. After several years as an associate with a small New York City firm and as a single practitioner, he brought together two friends and former Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Elliot Hoffman and Larry Levine, to form Beldock Levine & Hoffman in 1964. He is best described, by his own definition, as an old-time general practitioner. He concentrates on trial and appellate litigation, in state and federal courts, in defense of criminal charges and in pursuing plaintiffs’ civil rights actions based on police and prosecutorial misconduct and employer and governmental discrimination. He regularly consults and defends charges of professional discipline. He represents plaintiffs and defendants in a wide variety of personal and business related matters, working with others in the firm’s various practice areas.


Law and Disorder December 8, 2014


Michael Ratner: Is Congress’ Decision On Obama’s Plan To Close GTMO Really A Setback As Newspapers Report?

  • Congress was considering whether to allow Guantanamo detainees to be resettled in the United States.
  • That’s something Obama wants to do because so far he’s been unwilling to settle them in other countries.
  • That bill failed and so when we get the NDAA or whatever legislation it will be put in, it will have transfer restrictions of a sort but it will not permit detainees to be transferred to the United States.
  • Obama has had 6 years to make good on his promise that he would close Guantanamo in a year.
  • Guantanamo remains, more than 142 people. More than half 73, have been cleared for release.
  • On January 11, 2015, I urge all of us to get in the streets demonstrate and tell Obama to shut it down.


Michael Ratner: The Right Livelihood Awards In Stockholm, Sweden

  • I just came back from Stockholm, Sweden where the Right Livelihood Awards, also known as the alternate Nobel Prize are given out annually.
  • Amy Goodman has received such an award. This time there were five awardees.
  • One of whom is Edward Snowden. That was one of the reasons I was there because who are involved in defending protecting whistleblowers were in Stockholm for that award.
  • The awards are not given by the Swedish government. Sweden is not a progressive government. It’s tied with Israel as the 3rd biggest arms dealer in the world.
  • Sweden did recognize that Palestine should be a state.

United Nations Committee May Question U.S. Officials On Handling Of Michael Brown Shooting


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Ferguson: It is Right to Resist, By Any and All Means Necessary

Two weeks after the non-indictment of former officer Darren Wilson over the killing of Michael Brown, protests continue nationwide from classrooms to places of work. Will a genuine movement gain traction in the wake of outrage and defiance to the grand jury decision? A movement coalescing against police violence will need to confront police, and resist the legitimacy of the state writes Glen Ford founder of the Black Agenda Report. He says the people of Ferguson’s mass violations of the curfews and countless decrees of the militarized city, county and state police were, by definition, illegal acts – which is what made the small town a model of resistance.

Glen Ford:

  • Not to belittle all the work people have put into this. There’s been a pent up energy that has been building and I mean for literally decades. We have to compare this explosion as you call it of activism to the period of quietude for decades even as the contradictions that led to Michael Brown’s murder and a multitude of murders kept on becoming more acute.
  • We have to understand that there were forces that were keeping a lid on the explosion, and finally those forces could no longer do so and we see the explosion in 170 or more cities.
  • Black folks have never trusted the police and never had any reason to trust the police. It’s never been about trust its been about power. The power of a community to protect its youth, its sons and daughters from being gunned down on the streets by these police or sucked up into the mass black incarceration machinery.
  • The helplessness has not been something inherent to black folks its because we’ve had a kind of fifth column in our midst that we at Black Agenda Report call the black misleadership class which has engaged in very enthusiastic collaboration with the same people who created this black mass incarceration state.
  • Back in June there was a vote in the house and the senate on a bill that would’ve prevented the Pentagon from transferring its weaponry and all of its militarized gear to local and state police departments.
  • Four out of five Congressional Black Caucus members either voted against that bill or abstained. 32 out of the 40 members, so 80 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus. I guess its fitting that they stand in for this black misleadership class. They were financing the murder of people like Michael Brown.
  • So, this is our problem, that these are the people that keep the lid on.
  • What should be an ongoing, not simmering distrust, but an ongoing explosion of resistance.
  • All of this started in terms of legislative form with the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration that was part of an omnibus crime bill that was passed in 1968 signed by Lyndon B Johnson which began by transferring massive federal resources to local police departments.
  • It’s been gradual, steady and now institutionalized.
  • This is the movement that does not yet have a name and it doesn’t have a name because its not yet clear about its objectives.
  • The response to this civil rights and black power movement was the mass black incarceration state.
  • Community control of the police and its a very very difficult subject. It was the subject that the Black Panther Party was born to tackle.
  • The community should be empowered to fire police, just like communities are being empowered through their mayor to fire teachers.
  • This movement can’t treat police as legitimate, that is coercive mechanisms of the state.
  • Their police, their security apparatus, their intelligence apparatus has to be seen and opposed as illegitimate.
  • He’s always in a huddle with President Obama (Al Sharpton) and that’s why I call him “king rat.”
  • The real ratting that he does is that he goes across the country and he makes an assessment of who is in opposition to the administration’s policy or mass incarceration order and then goes right back to the commander and chief of the regime and tells him who might be creating trouble and how those troublemakers can be neutralized. That’s the real rat.
  • Mass arrests and provocateurs and such. This is what Sharpton’s really talking about when he talks about the full weight of the president’s office.

Guest – Glen Ford, founder of the Black Agenda Report and many other media forums. Ford was a founding member of the Washington chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ); executive board member of the National Alliance of Third World Journalists (NATWJ); media specialist for the National Minority Purchasing Council; and has spoken at scores of colleges and universities.


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Ohio Republicans Push Law to Keep All Details of Executions Secret

Republican lawmakers in Ohio are rushing through one of the most extreme secrecy bills yet attempted by a death penalty state. It’s called HB 663 and it withhold information on every aspect of the execution process from the public, media and even the courts. Ohio has experienced four botched executions in eight years. The most recent was the 26 minute death of Dennis McGuire in January 2014. An experimental two-drug combination was used and it was reported that Dennis was gasping and fight for breath. Another aspect of HB 663 is that seeks to undermine strict distribution controls that have been placed on foreign companies that manufacture pentobarbital.

Attorney Mike Brickner:

  • They’re really trying to ram through the last few weeks of our lame duck session.
  • I think they want to resume executions here in the state of Ohio in 2015.
  • We’ve had a moratorium on executions since the beginning of 2014 when we had a botched execution of Dennis McGuire and the federal court has been trying to come with new protocol, new drugs that won’t lead to a botched execution.
  • I think the legislators want to move forward with the next scheduled execution in February so they’re trying to push it through as quickly as possible.
  • I think they’re interested in secrecy because of all the controversy that has plagued Ohio executions over the last decades.
  • I think this a natural concern from the government – when something is not going well, they want to hide it from the public.
  • Unfortunately that never really works out well for the government because when you operate in secret, the only things that follow are corruption, abuse, negligence and incompetence.
  • The legislation would shield anyone who really touches the lethal injection process from public records laws.
  • For those medical professionals who advise or assist on the executions, it would prevent the state licensing board from holding them accountable for violating their oath.
  • Unfortunately bad ideas often travel quickly. We have five states with secrecy legislation of some sort in place, we have 15 states that tried to enact secrecy legislation.
  • Compounding pharmacies are smaller companies, often one or two pharmacists. They make small batches of drugs made to order. They’re not regulated in any meaningful way by the FDA.
  • When they make these drugs in small batches, one batch could be more effective or less effective than another batch. When you’re talking about a lethal injection where you need to insure a humane and constitutional way, if you have a drug that’s being used in the lethal injection process that’s not effective, you have a very high chance of that person going through an execution that will violate our constitution.
  • We have to accept that the death penalty does exist in states like Ohio and if we are to have the death penalty then we need to make sure that it complies with our laws and that those who are subjected to the death penalty are not treated inhumanely and in a way that will violate our constitution.
  • I think we can do that while moving toward abolishing the death penalty.

Guest – Attorney Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Ohio. Brickner recently opposed the new bill in front of a committee at the Ohio State legislature. In 2013, Mike co-authored two reports focusing on the intersection of poverty and the criminal justice system. The Outskirts of Hope: How Debtors’ Prisons are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities chronicled how courts were illegally imprisoning low-income Ohioans because they could not afford to pay their fines. The report culminated in the Ohio Supreme Court increasing education and training for court personnel and issuing bench cards with clear rules for collecting fines and court costs.  He also co-authored and designed the ACLU’s April 2011 report, Prisons for Profit: A Look at Private Prisons. The report highlights the problems faced by other states who have privatized prisons, including: increased costs, safety problems, a lack of transparency, and increased recidivism.

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Law and Disorder March 3, 2014



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Russell “Maroon” Shoatz Released Into General Population After 22 Years of Solitary

Here on Law and Disorder we’ve been keeping you updated on the campaign to release Russell “Maroon” Shoatz from solitary confinement. We’re heartened to broadcast the news that he has been released from solitary confinement and is now in the general prison population. Maroon has spent 40 years in the U.S. prison system and 22 of those years were spent under intense lock down. He was allowed only one hour a day outside of that cell. In May of 2013 Maroon brought a lawsuit on the grounds that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of to the U.S. Constitution and that he was denied his legal rights to proceed with a case.

Attorney Bret Grote:

  • We had a legal phone scheduled to take place Thursday February 20, when we received notice from the prison that the housing unit that he was in. The restricted housing unit was not going to be able to facilitate that phone call because he was not longer on the unit.
  • I received a call from him at 1PM confirming that he had been released from solitary confinement just hours before that very morning. We notified his family. That same night he had his first contact visit in more than 20 years when his son Russell III, and his daughter Sharon were able to go see him. There’s a real wonderful picture of the 3 of them circulating on the internet.
  • A constellation of forces and various tactics and strategies that had been deployed over a course of 3 years of renewed, reinvigorated effort to get Maroon out of solitary confinement.
  • It started back in August of 2010 when State Representative Ron Waters held a hearing on solitary confinement in front of the House Judiciary Committee and Maroon’s daughter Theresa Shoatz was there and seeing former survivors of solitary confinement and advocates testify in the presence of DOC officials and state legislators inspired her.
  • She said on that very day. I remember it crystal clear. “I’m going to get my Dad out of solitary.”
  • That began a series of advocacy efforts including phone calls, including action alerts that saw the construction of a coalition of more than 30 organizations including the National Lawyers Guild, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Human Rights coalition in Pennsylvania.
  • There was no change in condition or indication that anything was going to change until late March of 2013. What had been happening at that time was Maroon was getting increasing visits from lawyers. There were more correspondence coming from the legal team.
  • Right when we were about to send the Department of Corrections our demand letter that he be released in 30 days or else they’d be hit with a civil rights lawsuit, they abruptly without any notice that this was going to happen, transferred him from the state correctional institution at Greene where he’d been for 18 years to SCI Mahanoy.
  • In my experience of 6 years of being a human rights advocate for prisoners in Pennsylvania, I’ve never heard of prison officials going to somebody in the solitary units and telling them we’re going to do what you want.
  • In the process of constructing this massive imperial prison state they have resorted to similar ideology, punitive ideologies and tactics to manage that prison population once they’re behind the walls, and that includes widespread use solitary confinement in a way that is qualitatively different than it had been used throughout most of the 20th century.
  • It had been used as a long term affirmative strategy for managing the prison population for warehousing for people that were problematic for prison officials because maybe they filed a lot of grievances, or they were jailhouse lawyers, maybe they were political prisoners or dissidents . . .
  • In the 30 years that this has been ongoing, there have been waves of activism that really at the outset were led by people like Bonnie Kerness, director of AFSC’s Prison Watch Project.

Guest – Attorney  Bret Grote, a member of the Russell Maroon Shoatz legal team and the Abolitionist Law Center. Bret has worked with the Human Rights Coalition since 2007 as an investigator, organizer, and researcher. He was the Isabel and Alger Hiss Racial Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012. He graduated from the University of Pitt Law School in May 2013 and was recognized as the school’s Distinguished Public Interest Scholar.


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U.N. Expresses “Deepest Concern” over Widespread Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Here on Law and Disorder we continue to report on the work of the Center for Constitutional Rights and SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of Those Abused By Priests in bringing accountability within the Catholic Church for widespread sexual violence against perhaps hundreds of thousands of victims, mainly children. Recently, the Vatican was summoned before the United Nations Committee On the Rights of the Child to respond to allegations of systemic sexual violence and practices that have allowed abuse to continue.

Attorney Pam Spees:

  • We were in Geneva with members of the Survivors network, those abused by priests because the Vatican was having to report to the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child for the first time ever on the issue of sexual violence.
  • This is in the wake of more than a decade of scandals that have broken out in different parts of the world and investigations in different countries which really revealed that the Vatican has a system in place that actually facilitates this widespread sexual violence.
  • The treaty set up a committee of independent experts. Their job is to see compliance with the treaty and review different countries that have ratified this convention, basically in a dialogue with them in how they’re complying with the treaty, protecting children’s rights.
  • The committee had asked for data on the scope of sexual violence. The information the Vatican has about it. What was done in these cases, with individual priests but also evidence of higher officials who helped cover up these crimes around the world.
  • Vatican officials are claiming that this is a thing of the past and that they’ve made changes. They point to 2011 when Pope Benedict issued a new set of guidelines, essentially an instruction to Catholic authorities around the world that they should comply with civil laws.
  • We’ve seen similar types of policy and language in the U.S. We’ve seen similar language in Ireland. But what has happened in Ireland and the U.S. is in that realm, officials at the Vatican have overridden the national level bishops plan to require mandatory reporting of sexual violence.
  • The same practices are happening behind the policies, and the policies have no teeth.
  • You have a former archbishop in Wisconsin who has talked about shredding documents on a routine basis under sworn testimony, he had admitted to this, but the priest-shifting is just common. One former cannon lawyer said its part of the DNA of the church.
  • We know sexual violence can occur in every institution but when you have a closed system like the Vatican that is saying it can police itself and its really not. It’s actually continuing to enable – they (the committee) got the way it was operating and that was really important for the survivors to be there and they called them out on that.
  • It’s not just putting the blame on individual perpetrators, its about changing the system fundamentally and the way it operates.
  • We’ve seen Vatican officials come out in two ways and criticize the report. One is the focus on the committees questions about non-discrimination issues.
  • The treaty is a wide ranging treaty that sets out a number of rights that are to be protected, respected and fulfilled by the state’s parties.
  • The Vatican has operated as a state when its convenient and then falls back to its religious entity status when its not convenient to be a state.
  • What’s coming up next is UN Committee Against Torture has decided to call the Holy See for review. That will be happening in April, again in Geneva.

Guest – Pam Spees, senior staff attorney in the international human rights program at the Center for Constitutional Rights. She has a background in international criminal and human rights law with a gender focus, as well as criminal trial practice. She serves as lead counsel on several of CCR’s cases and initiatives including, Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively, a case brought against a U.S. based anti-gay extremist for his role in the persecution of LGBTI people in Uganda; Murillo v. Micheletti, a case brought by the parents of a youth killed by the coup regime in Honduras;  and in the legal effort to hold Vatican officials criminally responsible for the crimes against humanity of rape and sexual violence within the church.


Law and Disorder September 23, 2013


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Corrections Association Program Releasing Aged Prisoners

Here on Law and Disorder we’ve reported about the Compassionate Release Program regarding Lynne Stewart’s condition. The CRP is designed to reduce the number of elderly and sick in prison, if they have a terminal health condition or a significant and permanent non-terminal health condition, disease or syndrome. This program is part of a larger effort to release aging prisoners in the United States.  Nationally, the number of prisoners over age 55 nearly quadrupled from 1995 to 2010, eight times the pace of growth for the total prison population, according to a recent Human Rights Watch report. Because of long sentences handed out in the 70’s and 80’s, American prisons now serve as quasi-nursing homes, albeit lacking the long-term care we associate with geriatric facilities. We talk today about a major new initiative called the Corrections Association Program Releasing Aged Prisoners that’s working to make prison parole boards correctly assess elderly prisoner risk and get them out.

Laura Whitehorn:

  • In New York State, there are about 9200 at the moment above the age of 50.
  • By 2030, its estimated that about a third of the entire incarcerated will be over the age of 40. There will be at least 400 thousand.
  • For the last 20 years this country has been drunk on the concept of lock em up and throw away the key.
  • You lock em up and throw away the key. . .they’re gonna get old.
  • Our project is called Releasing Aging People In Prison.
  • These people have done a lot of time and the lowest rate of recidivism is in this group. They’re over the age of 50, have done 15-20 years in prison and have committed murder.
  • This group is ready to be released without a threat to public safety.
  • You’ve advocated for Lynne Stewart on this show for compassionate release. She’s in the Federal System.
  • The Feds are very stingy with compassionate release, so is the state of New York. In 2011, I think it was, they let out 8 people on compassionate release, in a year when 200 people died in the system.
  • I’m now 68, but I feel about 78 on some days.
  • We don’t really need a new law to release the people we’re talking about.
  • What we need is the parole board to follow the law. What we need is the state to follow the law for compassionate release for those who are ill.
  • One thing we’re doing is we’re trying to join with other people in the state who’ve had enough of the way that parole board denies people over and over again and say use actual risk assessments that do exist.
  • If the risk is low let them go.
  • RAPP – Release Aging People In Prison – Harlem, NY – 2090 Adam Clayton Blvd, NY – 212-254-5700
  • Email –

Mujahid Farid:

  • The issue of mass incarceration has many facets. The impact on some communities is from the cradle to the grave.
  • The prison population has somewhat stabilized. It’s still at a rate that beats out every other country. Although that rate has stabilized it hasn’t done so with the elderly.
  • In New York State, the prison population has gone down 24 percent in the last 10 years.
  • During that same 10 years the population of the elderly (in prison) increased by 64 percent.
  • The zeitgeist in this country is about punishment and never giving up on punishing a person, especially those committed for serious crimes.
  • In my own case, I had a sentence of 15 years to life, you would assume if I did the minimum sentence, if there were indications I had rehabilitated myself and shown that I was a changed person that I would’ve been released. But that didn’t happen. I served 18 years above and beyond that 15 year sentence.
  • The sentencing structure that allows what we’re talking about is called an indeterminate sentencing structure. That means you’re given a minimum and a maximum.
  • Some people get 10 to 20, some people get 10 to 15, and other with the most serious crimes get a number and on the end they get letters.
  • In that indeterminate sentencing structure, there’s an indication that the prisoner should be released if they’re reformed or rehabilitated at that minimum posed term.
  • In my case, I received a 15-life on attempted murder of a police officer. He didn’t get a scratch.
  • That was the least amount imposed on me, I couldn’t get any less.
  • So a person who is serving a sentence such as that would have an expectation of 15 years or whatever they have to be released if they change.
  • To not give them a reason for the denial, saying its the nature of the crime, takes away hope from a person.
  • I was arrested in 1978, I went upstate within 6 months. Before that 6 months came I had earned my GED. I did that while facing trial.
  • I went upstate with no expectation of serving 15 years. I actually thought that because of the facts I was convicted for that I would eventually win on appeal.
  • Within a few years, I had earned an Associates Degree in Business. I went on and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts.
  • Shortly after that, I earned a Master’s Degree in Sociology and then I earned another Master’s Degree in Ministry.
  • All of that happened before that 15 year period.
  • None of that was considered by the parole board when I entered that 15 year mark.
  • They simply denied me and didn’t give me any guidance of what I could do to better myself to earn release.

Guest  – Laura WhiteHorn is an ex-political prisoner and native New Yorker, who was active in supporting groups such as the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Movement and was active with Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground. Laura also worked to expose the FBI’s Counter Intelligence.

Guest – Mujahid Farid is investigating potential mechanisms for increasing release rates for incarcerated aging people at the Correctional Association in New York.  He’s spent more than three decades incarcerated in New York and co-founded the Prisoners AIDS Counseling & Education program and helped design prison-based sociology and theology courses that allowed others to earn college-credited in prison. He also earned four college degrees and other certifications while in prison, including his paralegal certificate, New York State Department of Labor Certificate in Human Development Counseling, and New York City Department of Health Certificate in HIV/AIDS Counseling.


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Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Circumvented For Non Violent Drug Offenders

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would begin reassess the harsh mandatory minimum sentences on non-violent drug offenders that unfairly target young African Americans and Hispanics, some drug reform advocates said it was a breakthrough. However, our guest Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says there was no mention of clemency or pardons for those imprisoned with disproportionately long sentences. Attorney General Holder did mentioned that the United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s total population and it incarcerates nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The Drug Policy Alliance has made great strides in criminal justice reforms and to help decriminalize marijuana in states such as Colorado and Washington.

Ethan Nadelmann:

  • Early on in the first term, President Obama and Attorney General Holder working with Drug Policy Alliance and a whole range of allied groups did actually change the penalties, the mandatory minimum for crack cocaine.
  • Then they dropped the ball. They did nothing in the following years.
  • The substance of the speech (recent by Holder) was important. By saying he was going to issue explicit directives to US attorneys around the country that would effect the way they charge people especially low level players in drug trafficking organizations.  They’re really pushing this through in a bipartisan way.
  • I think he (Holder) does regard this as a legacy issue.
  • Obama has recently mentioned incarceration and the need to reduce it in the context of memorializing Martin Luther King Jr.
  • We’ve seen the drug law violators from 65 percent of the total of federal prisoners to 48 percent of the total even as the absolute numbers have gone up.
  • I think we’re going to see low level drug violators charged in different ways. One thing about mandatory minimums is they shift the discretion from judges to prosecutors.
  • Mandatory minimums empower prosecutors at the hand of judges.
  • I think what we’ll see is a downshifting in how much prosecutors are looking for. We’ll see fewer people going to prison on federal drug charges.
  • Legislators are notoriously resistant to having sentencing reforms be retroactive. They’re willing to say going forward we’ll reduce the sentence but we’re not going to touch the issue of the people who are locked up under the old laws.
  • I bet we would see some movement on behalf of the people who are behind bars as well.
  • Non violent drug law offenders, sitting there for 10 or 20 years. Statewide 20 percent of all inmates are in for drugs and in the federal prisons its 50 percent.
  • Half of all drug arrests in America are for marijuana. Overwhelmingly for marijuana in small amounts.
  • When states move forward with the ballot initiative process to legalize marijuana either for medical purposes, which 20 states have now done, or more broadly for all adults which Washington and Colorado have done, that presents a basic issue for the federal government.
  • What the US attorney general’s office can do is offer guidelines saying to US attorneys around the country, here are our priorities, here’s how we think you should handle this.
  • The feds are basically saying, we get it. That legally regulating marijuana may accomplish the objectives of federal drug control, more effectively than continuing an ineffective prohibitionist policy.
  • New York was one of 11 states that decriminalized the possession of marijuana of less than ounce, back in the 70s. Which means you could have less than ounce in your pocket or home and its like a traffic ticket.
  • But if its in public view, than you can be arrested. It’s a misdemeanor offense.
  • New York is the only state in the Northeast that hasn’t legalized medical marijuana.
  • Every 2 years we organize the leading gathering in the world of people who are against the drug war. ( Denver, CO – Oct 4, 5, 6

Guest – Ethan Nadelmann,  founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the leading organization in the United States promoting alternatives to the war on drugs.


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William Kunstler’s Performance at Caroline’ Comedy Club

We hear a part of William Kunstler’s presentation at Caroline’s Comedy Club. This was his last public appearance. He shares a great story about a particular dialogue with a judge and an envelope of marijuana.


Law and Disorder May 27, 2013


  • FDNY Lawsuit Update
  • Guatemalan Genocide Verdict Overturned


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We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks –  Michael Ratner

Our own Michael Ratner delivers a critical review of the film documentary “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks” by director Alex Gibney. The annotated transcript, reveals errors, rank speculation and a focus on personality that detracts from the important revelations by Manning and published by WikiLeaks. Bradley Manning’s 12-week trial commences on Monday (3 June) and the film may have been released to take advantage of that date.  Manning may face life in prison and could potentially face the death penalty. Julian Assange remains in the Ecuadorian embassy legitimately fearful that extradition to Sweden is a one way ticket to the US and potential for life in prison.

Attorney Michael Ratner, attorney in the US for Julian Assange and Wikileaks:

  • (The film) does a great disservice to Bradley Manning and Julian Assange.
  • I think it trivializes the incredible courage that both of them had as well as what was revealed by the documents.
  • Julian Assange declined an interview by Alex Gibney and no one currently associated with Wikileaks participated in the film. This may explain in part Gibney’s poor treatment of Julian Assange.
  • What grabs you immediately is the title, “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks.” Wikileaks is a publisher. Yet the title implies that the story of Wikileaks is the story of it stealing secrets.
  • That implication plays into the government’s theory that somehow Wikileaks and Julian Assange are co-conspirators with Bradley Manning in taking secrets. The film does so in other places as well.
  • A second criticism is that part of the film focuses on Bradley Manning’s psychological problems and implies that those are the basis for Manning’s revelation of documents.
  • Gibney has said as much in interviews given after the film: “I think it raises big issues about who whistleblowers are, because they are alienated people who don’t get along with people around them, which motivates them to do what they do.”
  • In fact, Manning gave an incredibly moving political explanation for each leak of documents; an explanation not covered in any detail in the film.
  • Third, Gibney claims Wikileaks is dead. Nothing could be more of fable.
  • Since December 2011 Wikileaks has released the SpyFiles, the Stratfor emails dubbed the GIFiles, the Syria Files and in April 2013 both Cablegate and 1.7 million Kissinger Cables in an easily searchable Plus Public Library of US Diplomacy.
  • Fourth, somehow, Gibney claims there are no charges filed against Julian Assange. How does he know that? It’s a secret Grand Jury, and if there’s an indictment, it’s going to be a sealed indictment because an indictment is not made public when a person is not in custody. In fact, there is significant, irrefutable evidence of an on going investigation and its likely there is a sealed indictment.
  • Gibney diminishes the risk to Julian Assange if he were sent to the United States because he wants to claim that Assange is in the embassy to avoid going to Sweden to answer questions about sexual misconduct allegations. But it does not work. Were Sweden to guarantee Assange would not be sent to US he would go there to answer questions.
  • Assange has also offered to answer those questions in the embassy–Sweden has refused. In the end, the problem is the United States–Gibney, in his effort to demean Assange, needs to play down the huge risk he faces in the US.

Law and Disorder Co-host Attorney Michael Ratner,  President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit human rights litigation organization based in New York City and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) based in Berlin. Ratner and CCR are currently the attorneys in the United States for publishers Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He was co-counsel in representing the Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States Supreme Court, where, in June 2004, the court decided his clients have the right to test the legality of their detentions in court. Ratner is also a past president of the National Lawyers Guild and the author of numerous books and articles, including the books The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, Against War with Iraq and Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, as well as a textbook on international human rights.


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Palestinian Prisoners Legal Support: Addameer

On the 17th of April, hundreds of Palestinians filled the streets in the West Bank in protest to mark Palestinian Prisoners Day. Right now there nearly 5000 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails, 14 of them are women. More than half have been convicted, 33 percent have not been sentenced and 3 percent are being held in administrative detention.  235 of Palestinian prisoners are minors ranging in age from 14 to 18.  As many listeners may know, Palestinian activists are often targeted and detained. In prison, tactics are used such as solitary confinement and forbidding family contact.

Attorney Sahar Francis:

  • Currently there are still 4900 Palestinians inside Israeli prisons. Most of them are adults. There are 236 minors under age 18. 14 women and 14 Parliamentarians.
  • The majority of them I would say were arrested because of political activism and being involved in the peaceful struggle, and resistance especially in the last couple of years against the wall, the checkpoints, the settlements, land confiscation, house demolition all these practices of the occupation.
  • Including Jerusalem residents, they would be arrested inside Israel but they could be subjected to 2 different legal systems. The Israeli legal system or the military system that applies just to the Occupied Territories.
  • Settlers are not subjected to the military court system that is imposed on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
  • It’s violation of International Law to move them to prisons inside Israel.  This is what Israel was doing since 1995.
  • They moved the prisoners from prisons inside the Occupied Territories to prisons inside Israel and this is a violation for the 4th Geneva Convention Act actually.
  • The number of Palestinian prisoners decreased compared to previous years, 2005, 2006.
  • Since 1967 til today more than 750 thousand Palestinians were arrested. It’s almost hitting every Palestinian house. It’s estimated to be about 40 percent of the Palestinian men population that were at least once incarcerated in their life.
  • In the 7 years of Oslo, Israel kept 1500 political prisoners.
  • Now I can say that the majority of the prisoners would be sentenced for periods less than 10 years.
  • There’s around 430 of them sentenced for life.
  • We still have cases of families where they have 4 sons or 5 sons in the same time in prison.
  • In some cases they (the sons) would be distributed in all prisons, in north, south of Israel and the mother would be traveling all the way trying to visit them.
  • The women prisoners number was much higher we used to have 120 female prisoners.
  • Most of them involved in political activism, mainly supporting their brothers or husbands in their political activism or in stop cases involved in trying to stop soldiers.
  • Addamer was established in 1991 by ex Palestinian political prisoners and lawyers who were aiming to give legal support for free to Palestinian prisoners in military court system.
  • Our focus is on political arrests. We have 8 members in Addamer. We are members of the Israeli Bar Association and members of the Palestinian Bar Association.
  • Most of the cases in military court would end in plea bargain without exhausting the system because neither the system or the lawyers don’t have much trust in the system.
  • You could end up being interrogated in the detention centers inside Israel and they will decide whether to transfer the case for the civil prosecution or the military prosecution.
  • You can have a person 90 days before charging them (military system) Civil system it’s 35 days.
  • Law In These Parts – Film Documentary.
  • Regarding torture and terms such as enhanced interrogation techniques : In our place its called moderate physical pressure.
  • We can’t sue them because the prosecutors claim out of necessity we used the torture.
  • Seeing the photos of Abu-Ghraib with this sack on the detainee’s heads, this was used in the Palestinians case since the early years of the occupation.
  • This is the method that was used to prevent them from breathing, from sleeping, and they were tied to these kindergarten small chairs with the sack on their head, with playing music 24 hours a day. Then after in this position for 2 weeks, the interrogator shake you.
  • We’re promoting Boycott Divest and Sanction.

Guest – Sahar Francis, human rights lawyer and director of the Palestinian NGO Addamer.  (Arabic for conscience) Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association is a Palestinian non-governmental, civil institution which focuses on human rights issues. Established in 1992 by a group of activists interested in human rights, the center offers support to Palestinian prisoners, advocates the rights of political prisoners, and works to end torture through monitoring, legal procedures and solidarity campaigns.It’s an organization offering legal services to political prisoners under Israeli occupation and represents prisoners in Israeli military and civil courts.


Law and Disorder May 28, 2012


  • Chris Hedges – NDAA
  • Grant Of Review In The Supreme Court On Warrantless Wiretapping ACLU Case
  • CCR Bradley Manning Case Update
  • Palestinian Prisoner Hunger Strike Update

Police Entrapment of the NATO 3

Last week, as many listeners may know, more than 100 protesters were arrested at the NATO summit in Chicago. Five activists were charged with terror related crimes, two were accused of attempted possession of explosives, 3 were accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, material support for terrorism and possession of explosives.  Sarah Gelsomino, with the People’s Law Office says three of these activists were set up by government informants who had planted the explosives.

Attorney Sarah Gelsomino:

  • The National Lawyers Guild of Chicago learned that at 11:30 at night, a home in the Bridgeport area of Chicago had been raided by the Chicago Police Department.
  • People were concerned because several people had gone missing, and we couldn’t find them.
  • This raid was completely unprofessional from the beginning.
  • Three other apartment units were just neighbors. Police removed them from their apartment, detained them, interrogated them, and then without consent or a warrant, went in and searched their home.
  • The city refused to acknowledge that they had them in custody (their clients) that they had any arrests and also refused to acknowledge that that had a raid in that neighborhood.
  • Over the next day or so, 6 of the 9 were released without any charges, after being held for over 30 hours. A good part of that time shackled at their feet and hand cuffed to a wall.
  • There 2 additional people that were also arrested, and those are the 2 people that haven’t been seen since they were arrested in the raid and who we now believe were working for the police department as a part of this investigation.
  • We believe they infiltrated Occupy Chicago a month ago.
  • As a criminal defense attorney, we have a duty to vigorously defend our client.
  • Members of Occupy Chicago have been coming forward very concerned about the 2 people who had been working for the police department – passing information to the police department.
  • The state’s case will never be as strong as it is right now, when they have not yet come forward with any evidence whatsoever, all they’ve made is allegations that have yet to be substantiated.
  • People are very afraid, particularly people in the occupy movement because they now feel so violated.
  • It is an alarming pattern that states are turning to terrorism charges in these types of cases.

Guest – Sarah Gelsomino joined People’s Law Office in the Fall of 2008. She concentrates her practice on police misconduct, wrongful conviction, representation of political activists and criminal defense cases. During law school, Sarah clerked with the Cook County Public Defenders’ Office and was the recipient of various awards, including the Sonnenschein Scholar Award which funded Sarah’s pro-bono public interest work. She is a current board member of the Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and is the co-founder of the NLG Chicago Next Gen Committee. Sarah also sits on the Advisory Board of the Irwin W. Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning at DePaul University.



Lawyers You’ll Like: Anne O’Berry

As part of our Lawyers You’ll Like series we’re joined by attorney Anne O’Berry, she’s the Vice President of the Southern Region of the National Lawyers Guild and the author of The Law Only As An Enemy:  The Legitimization of Racial Powerlessness Through the Colonial and Antebellum Criminal Laws of Virginia. While in law school, she served as Director of the Women in Prison Project at Rikers Island, where she taught incarcerated women how to prevent termination of their parental rights.

Anne clerked for federal judges in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, with whom she co-authored an article on the law as a tool of oppression against slaves and free blacks in pre-Civil War Virginia and taught civil rights and South African apartheid law at the University of Pennsylvania.  She later taught Race and the Law at St. Thomas University Law School in Miami, Florida.

In the last 12 years, Anne has served as counsel at a Florida law firm that specializes in class action litigation, particularly in the areas of securities, consumer and economic fraud, as well as some environmental and privacy rights litigation.

Attorney Anne O’Berry:

  • We did a lot of historical research in terms of racism and the law back in pre-civil war Virginia.
  • We focused on Virginia because it was a paradigm for slavery basically in the slave laws that were in place.
  • We wrote an article for publication, it was published in the University of North Carolina law review. The Law Only As An Enemy:’ The Legitimization of Racial Powerlessness Through the Colonial and Antebellum Criminal Laws of Virginia.
  • Depending on your status, if you were a free white person or a slave, you were treated differently by the law.
  • As an overall theme, depending on the race of the victim was that would effect what your sentence would be.
  • For example, if a black woman was raped, that was not considered a crime.  If you were a black person and you stole something, you would be put to death.
  • It was ironic for the slave owner because if their slave was put to death, they would have to be compensated by the state.
  • If the victim was black, the crime was treated less seriously than if the victim was white.
  • I started out working at a firm in New York, a large prominent, Wall Street type.
  • Among some people I was known as the pro-bono queen.
  • I was there for 2 and a half years and the first pro-bono case was a death penalty case.
  • The court ruled back then (1990s) that it was ok to execute the mentally retarded.
  • I was so moved by that experience that I gave up my cushy job in New York and go do death penalty work full time.
  • I ended up at the Federal Resource Center doing death penalty work in Tallahassee Florida.
  • I worked for the Battered Women’s Clemency Project in Florida.
  • More recently the Supreme Court did rule that it is unconstitutional to execute people who were juveniles at the time of the offense and unconstitutional to execute people who are mentally retarded.
  • I believe in my lifetime we will see the end of the death penalty in this country.
  • It’s just an amazing system that we have where the courts will say – yes you’ve got compelling evidence of innocence but we’re not going to hear your case.
  • I would say what got me through was the victories.
  • Presently,  I’m working with an attorney Jim Green, who’s a prominent civil rights attorney in West Palm Beach,  kind of a legend down here.
  • I also some volunteer work with El Sol. It’s a day laborer center in Jupiter, Florida.

Guest – Anne O’Berry, National Lawyers Guild’s Regional Vice President for the Southern Region and a member of the Guild’s South Florida chapter.  She obtained her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 and her law degree from New York University Law School in 1986.  While in law school, she served as Director of the Women in Prison Project at Rikers Island, where she taught incarcerated women how to prevent termination of their parental rights.  She was a member of the law school’s civil rights clinic and an editor on one of the law school’s journals, and authored a law review article on prisoners’ rights.  During and after law school, she clerked for federal judges in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, with whom she co-authored an article on the law as a tool of oppression against slaves and free blacks in pre-Civil War Virginia and taught civil rights and South African apartheid law at the University of Pennsylvania.  She later taught Race and the Law at St. Thomas University Law School in Miami, Florida.

Law and Disorder August 22, 2011


Cruel Solitary Confinement In Pennsylvania Prisons

Earlier this year the National Lawyers Guild called on Superintendent Louis Folino to support the Program Review Board’s recommendation to release Russell Maroon Shoatz into the general prison population at SCI Greene in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

Jerome Coffey, a political prisoner currently being held in Pennsylvania’s SCI Forrest.  Jerome’s social work while in prison include sending clothes to villages in Uganda and to women prisoners in the Philippines. That work has labeled him an instigator and he’s been placed in solitary confinement for more than 5 and a half years.

Bret Grote:

  • The Human Rights Coalition was founded by state prisoners at the State Correctional Institution in Greene, Pennsylvania in 2000. The Pittsburgh chapter where I work was founded in 2006-2007.
  • The main mission of the Human Rights Coalition was to bring the voices of the most excluded from criminal, legal, criminal justice discussions, namely those of prisoners, their family members and effected communities.
  • We base our work in building relationships with prisoners and to bring support and advocacy to those most impacted by the prison system and that has led us straight into solitary confinements where people’s lives are being micro-managed down to the most minute details.
  • The justifications for solitary confinement shift from to another, it used to be based on escapes.  Now that Russell Maroon Shoatz is approaching his 70th birthday, they’re claiming its because of his past efforts of organizing hunger strikes, and they cite an incident where he was forced to defend himself against another prisoner.
  • In Maroon’s case he met with a prisoner mental health staff person because there was some movement towards releasing him from solitary confinement that ended up being blocked.
  • This staff person told him there was an allegation that he tried to organize an armed prison uprising in the 80’s. This has been following him around for over 25 years in his file, but he has not been able to challenge this because he was not informed of this at all.
  • He is not represented by legal counsel. He is ripe for representation under the 8th amendment clause of cruel and unusual punishment.
  • The prison authorities typical treatment for somebody who is the restrictive housing unit is a cursory interview at the cell, maybe once every 30 days with a staff worker, which is to say they’re not really giving them effective mental health treatment.
  • You spend 23 hours in the cell, maybe 24 if the guards don’t take you to yard or shower.
  • The things that one may witness on the whole are constant screaming, banging, and yelling and crying and cursing and talking to one’s self by prisoners who are psychologically disturbed.  According to the figures up to 2500 or 3000 prisoners can be in solitary confinement on any given day in Pennsylvania. The total prisoner population in Pennsylvania is 52 thousand.
  • We are constantly looking for serious and committed civil and human rights lawyers to work with us. We have a massive body of evidence.  The solitary confinement system is an invisible system inside of a larger invisible system of the prisons.

Guest – Bret Grote, law student and volunteer with the Human Rights Coalition, an organization bringing the voices of the most excluded from criminal, legal, criminal justice discussions, namely those of prisoners, their family members and effected communities.  The HRC works to build relationships with prisoners and  bring support and advocacy to those most impacted by the prison system.

Andre Jacobs

Andre Jacobs is another Pennsylvania state prisoner in solitary confinement. Andre, a 27 year-old jailhouse lawyer, has been held in retaliatory solitary confinement for more than 8 years. In 2009, Andre was awarded 185 thousand dollars in a case against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, an action that has resulted in his being singled him out for abuse within the prison system. In January of this year, he was physically abused, issued death threats and denied medical treatment.

Liz Springer:

  • It’s been rough, there had been days where I thought he wasn’t going to make it. I thought I was going to get a call saying he was dead. I send him inspiration cards, and support him, send him some Bible verses to keep him strong.
  • There have been times he said to me, I can’t do it no longer, I can’t do it.
  • They were beatin’ him in the court room. They said he had an attitude and when he was leaving the court room, I witnessed them beating him, and I said, “I love you Andre.” He turned around and said “I love you too.”
  • They started beating him because they said he wasn’t supposed to speak to me.
  • He lost that case because the guards got on the stand and said he hurt one of the guard’s wrist.
  • He ended up with 18 years because of that. Lately he has a little hope.
  • He was strapped to a chair for 12 hours not being able to move anything but his head. Didn’t eat, had to go the bathroom and he just went.

Guest – Liz Springer, activist and the grandmother of Andre Jacobs.


Russell Maroon Shoatz

As many listeners may know, former Black Panther Russell Shoatz has been in prison since 1972, and the past 21 of those years has been spent in solitary confinement.  He’s 67, his spirit unbroken and in addition to his record of good conduct, members of the Pennsylvania Prison Society who visit Mr. Shoatz regularly attest to his peaceful disposition.  Earlier this year the National Lawyers Guild called on Superintendent Louis Folino to support the Program Review Board’s recommendation to release Russell Maroon Shoatz into the general prison population at SCI Greene in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. His daughter Theresa Shoatz joins us talk more about his advocacy work and life as a political prisoner.

Theresa Shoatz:

  • The solitary confinement has had the worst effect on us. Within the 39 years we was able to have contact visits.
  • The unit he’s in now, there’s no contact, you’re behind a glass when you visit.
  • He’s had grandchildren since that time, and he hasn’t touched the grandchildren either. Our family is dedicated to visiting him, every 3 months.
  • Russell Shoatz being known throughout the country.  I notice now, his conversations are laid back, he’s not as upbeat as he used to be.
  • He keeps stressing almost on our weekly calls, you gotta get me outta here.
  • They told me Daddy’s a leader, I said no, he’s a grandfather.  The Panthers didn’t say we want to battle the police. They said, we want to educate our youth, we want to feed them, we want to take control of our community. When it became war, and the Panthers were under attack, they said we got to protect ourselves.
  • That’s what happened, and of course, Daddy’s a political prisoner. He took a stand and stood on the front line for his people and his community.
  • I had a little attitude with him, I said why would you leave us, this was some years ago. He said,  (I did it for my people. How could I allow you to be raised in that type of system?) It hit me like a ton of bricks.
  • The guards, they called themselves the “wolfpack” when you’d see them comin, they would roll one pants leg all the up to the knee.
  • I went to Governor’s office, the Governor of Pennsylvania. I was on trains, back and forth.
  • It’s the same thing, when our people get in the streets and march, you really can’t do one march.
  • At SCI Greene, over 20 young men in their 20’s hung themselves there (lynching) within a short time of solitary confinement.
  • Daddy was constantly yelling to the guys, what to do. They come in strollin. Strollin down the solitary unit.
  • This prison bubble is going to burst. There are people fighting on all levels, this prison bubble is going to burst.
  • It’s going to end, we’re going to make sure of that.

Guest – Theresa Shoatz, daughter of political prisoner Russell Shoatz and activist with the Human Rights Coalition.


Law and Disorder June 6, 2011



Chicago Torture Cases and Jon Burge’s Deposition

Torture has cast a long shadow over Chicago and its past administrations. Yet in the past year, with the conviction and sentencing of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge, Chicago has been a beacon of light in the fight against torture.  Many are waiting to see how the city’s new administration will handle the ongoing torture cases of African American men that number in the hundreds.  Former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was sentenced to 4 and a half years in prison for obstruction of justice and lying about torturing prisoners in the 1960s to obtain coerced confessions. Attorney Flint Taylor and the People’s Law Office in Chicago fought for decades to get prosecutions, and sentencing while the city poured millions of dollars to fund private lawyers for Burge’s defense.

Attorney Flint Taylor:

  • We’ve been working on these cases since 1986. Deposing Jon Burge: We were reaffirming to the African American community that he was in prison and he is a prisoner.
  • He was complaining about the lack of medical care and the kind of treatment he felt he should be getting.
  • The struggle to put him behind bars has come to fruition. Pin stripe patronage, the city funding Burge’s defense. Rahm Emanuel needs to change course, he’s very close to Daly.
  • Daly’s policy was not to settle these cases, not to apologize to the victims.
  • There’s another issue about Burge getting his pension even though he’s in the joint.
  • When you’re convicted you’re supposed to lose your pension.
  • There’s eight people on the pension board, 4 of them are former cops.
  • Several of the men who were responsible for Burge going to the penitentiary don’t have a claim civilly, never got a penny for the torture they suffered.
  • There are about 20 men still in jail, still in the prisons, based on tortured confessions by Burge and his men.
  • There is a demand to challenge these confessions, its been happening on a piece-meal basis.
  • You most often find that torture does not lead to information that is useful. In the situation here it is to punish African American people.
  • It’s a very racist type of torture in this city. There’s linkage here in what happened in Guantanamo, what happened in Abu Ghraib.
  • The Fraternal Order of Police: They’re a very reactionary force when reforming the police department generally. In the early nineties when they fired Burge, the FOP stood up and paid for his defense.
  • In case that has gotten him to prison now, the FOP paid a million dollars for 3 lawyers of his choice. Now, the same lawyers have switched hats, and the city is now paying them in the civil cases that we talked about.
  • When it gets to a point where the city can’t pay for his defense, the FOP steps in.
  • Burge deposition: I set up a series of questions for 3 hours where he consistently took the fifth amendment to all questions that would have implicated him if he answered truthfully.

Guest – Attorney Flint Taylor, a graduate of Brown University and Northwestern University School of Law and a founding partner of the Peoples Law Office. More bio


California Inmate Reductions

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling had ordered California to release 46,000 of its 143,435 inmates which has the state trying to figure out what happens next.  The SCOTUS ruling affirmed a lower court order that required California to reduce its inmate population to 137% capacity.  The state’s prisons are now at about 180% capacity and one cause of overcrowding problems is the state’s “three strikes law” which puts third time offenders in jail for life.  Meanwhile, under Governor Brown’s current “re-alignment” program, the tens of thousands convicted of non violent, non-serious, non-sex crimes will serve sentences under county instead of state supervision.  Our guest Professor Ruth Gilmore said to one media source, quote – “County jail expansion does not solve the underlying problems,”  – -These are goals we can achieve now if we take this opportunity to shrink prisons and jails. Building bigger jails to ease prison numbers is the same as rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic: wasting the same dollars in different jurisdictions.

Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore:

  • California is out of line with the rest of country when it comes to parole policy. California sends twice the number of people back to prisons than other jurisdictions, when the person has committed a technical violation, late for a meeting, that kind of thing.
  • For that reason, California prisons have been bulging.
  • We see that numbers are kept up by this one category, parole violation return to custody.  They have to start over and over and over again.
  • The Supreme Court ordered the Department of Corrections to reduce the number of people in its custody in its current physical plant. In the 33 prisons, prison camps and dozens of facilities.
  • One method to thin the prison population is shipping about 10 thousand prisoners out of the state of California, renting space in other jurisdictions. They’ve been shipping prisoners out of California for 2 and a half years.
  • Cost does not seem to have an important effect on the kinds of political decisions, that have been made about prison expansion throughout the United States for the last 30 years.
  • A year and a half ago the state presented a plan to the Ninth District court saying here are the changes that we will make to meet the 3 judges’ order that we reduce the number of people in the California State Authority Physical Plant.
  • Then, the 3 judges agreed to let California delay in implementing the plan, while they appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • California is the proving ground for a new relationship between the state and society.  California is a place that started turning its back on public education.
  • For some time, the union of California prison guards were a political force and continue to be quite powerful.
  • There are many alternatives to locking somebody in a cage for part or all of their life. We should be cautious in thinking GPS tracking is the answer, because one of the huge barriers, that people convicted of a felony face in their lives, is the impossibility of them reintegrating into society.
  • My colleague Michelle Alexander has put out a call in a campaign to end The New Jim Crow.
  • /

Guest – Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California.  Professor Gilmore has examined how political and economic forces produced California’s prison boom in Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (University of California Press, 2007), which was recognized by ASA with its Lora Romero First Book Award. Gilmore’s wide-ranging research interests also include race and gender, labor and social movements, uneven development, and the African diaspora. She comes to the Graduate Center from the University of Southern California, where she taught courses in race and ethnicity, economic geography, and political geography, was the founding chair of the department of American studies and ethnicity, and won the USC-Mellon Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring. She also works regularly with community groups and grassroots organizations and is known for the broad accessibility of her research. She holds a Ph.D. in economic geography and social theory from Rutgers University.


Law and Disorder May 2, 2011



Largest Human Trafficking Case In The US?  Workers Lured To U.S. After Hurricane Katrina And Subjected To Abusive Conditions Seek Class Certification

In what may be the largest human trafficking case in US history, Indian guest workers are suing Signal International for human trafficking ad racketeering. Several law firms filed the lawsuit on behalf of seven plaintiffs representing 500 formers guest workers lured into the US after Hurricane Katrina. The guest workers were subjected to racial discrimination, forced labor and other abuse.

Signal is a multi million dollar marine fabrication company with shipyards in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama. They repair and build oil rigs and ships and subcontract with the Dept of Defense and multinational companies. After Hurricane Katrina, Signal’s workforce scattered and they used the government’s guest worker program to import employees as welders and pipe fitters. Between 2004 and 2006 hundreds of Indian men were paid up to 20 thousand dollars each for travel, visa and other fees after being told it would lead to good jobs and permanent US residency.

When the men arrived at Signal they discovered they would not receive green cards, but instead were given 10-month guest worker visas. Signal forced the men to pay $1,050 a month to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and racially segregated labor camps with no visitors allowed.  To talk more about this case, we’re joined by Chandra Bhatnagar is a Staff Attorney with the Human Rights Program and Sabulal Vijayan, a former guest worker involved in the lawsuit.

Chandra Bhatnagar:

  • Signal used the opportunity of the storm to seek out new labor pools. Signal in partnership with an American labor broker, an American Immigration lawyer and an Indian recruiter, conspired to bring in a group of 500 men from India as H2B guest workers.
  • The workers were promised green cards, permanent residency, and the opportunity for long term jobs.
  • Sabulal Vijayan: I was working in the middle east, the United Arab Emirates, I saw the ad by Signal that said we would get permanent residency in America. I paid about 18 thousand dollars, I cut my wrists in fear, I tried to kill myself because I spent a bunch of dollars. I was in the hospital for 3 days. I couldn’t go back to my family in India with bare hands, because I spent all the money on this job. Not only me but 500 workers, sold all their land and houses for this job.
  • The EEOC, brought a separate lawsuit against Signal, alleging racial and national origin discrimination and hostile work environment.
  • Because Sabulal was one of the workers seeking his rights under the law,  he was particularly targeted by Signal and rounded up in an early morning raid.  The camp was built on a lead contaminated waste site.
  • It’s not OSCHA compliant to have 24 guys jammed together in a temporary trailer.
  • These are in the United States and in debt. The average income in India is 3000 dollars a year for a ship worker. To pay 20 thousand dollars, you have to sell your property, borrow money from loan sharks.  You have to mortgage your whole life for the opportunity to come here.  Signal also said if you file a lawsuit, we’ll send all of you back.
  • Signal is a marine fabrication company, a multi-million dollar company. They repair and build oil rigs and ships. They have yards in Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. They provide services to the Department of Defense and major corporations.
  • It was a conspiracy between the Immigration lawyer, the Indian recruiter, the labor broker and Signal.
  • Signal got this vulnerable pool of workers who they could throw away whenever they wanted to.
  • You don’t have freedom of contract as a guest worker, you’re the disposable property of the employer.

Guest – Chandra Bhatnagar, ACLU  Staff Attorney with the Human Rights Program. He leads the domestic and international advocacy around racial profiling, affirmative action, and juvenile justice issues, and is engaged in federal court litigation and litigation in international tribunals involving the rights of low-wage immigrant workers, undocumented workers, and guest-workers.

Guest – Sabulal Vijayan, guest worker from India, who is involved in the case. Sabulal, a pipefitter, paid nearly 20 thousand dollars to work in the United States as a guest worker. He worked with others in slave labor-like conditions for Signal International.


Professor John Ehrenberg: Class Warfare Update and Analysis

Returning guest, professor and author John Ehrenberg joins us in the discussion of where the last 3 years the Obama Administration has led the country.  The United States is pouring trillions into multiple war theaters, unemployment continues to rise, CEOs of banks and corporations have been rewarded with taxpayer bonuses and bailouts, and a massive unequal distribution of wealth has polarize the country. Meanwhile, the very rights that protect organized labor and the benefits of workers are attacked and disassembled during one of the worst economic downturns to hit the United States.  Corporations and the far right wing of the Republican Party are behind some of the union busting yet even President Obama turned his back on supporting union labor demonstrations.  Most recent show with John Ehrenberg

Professor John Ehrenberg:

  • The elephant in the room that nobody talks about is the role of the state and the role of the government.
  • Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer–and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class
  • What you had since the 1980s is a policy pushed by the Republicans and acquiesced by the Democrats of undoing the Great Society. We’ve seen this in the union busting and refusing to tax the rich. It’s been happening because the Republican party is getting more radical.
  • The villan in the room is governmental and fiscal policy.
  • The top 1 percent of the population received more than a third of all the wealth created in the country from 1979 to the beginning of the recession.  The top 1/10 of one percent, that’s one out of every thousand households, received over 20 percent of all the after tax gains between 1979 and 2005.
  • It was a conscious policy. It began in the late 70s by business. If you look at the neo-conservatives of that period, their target is the Great Society.
  • Basically in the late 60s and the early 70s, the traditional stimulus programs of the Democrats failed.
  • Along comes Reagan and he takes on a radical restructuring of the economy.
  • Which began this process of shoveling huge amounts of wealth to the rich, hoping that it would trickle down and you’d have sustained growth.
  • Consider that Obama is going to raise a billion dollars for his reelection campaign. Where is he going to get it from?
  • Look, anybody at this stage of the game who continues to trust the Democratic party to lead the country out of this mess, is a fool.
  • The Democratic Party by itself is incapable of democratic initiative and progressive change unless forced to respond from pressure from outside.
  • When do they have enough? The answer in 1100 pages of Capital: A Critique of Political Economy is it’s never enough.  That the logic of capital is to reduce everybody to starvation and take everything they have.
  • This is the motor of the system, this has nothing to do with the Koch Brothers.
  • Hopefully people are tired of being pushed around. American exceptionalism, meant that Americans were more tolerant of inequality, than were people from a stronger labor tradition.
  • That American’s didn’t care so much if other people got rich as long as they got rich too.
  • If you have a situation where Americans are misinformed about the distribution of wealth and are open to appeals to redistribute wealth in the name of fairness and equity, then this is the time for a redistributus Democratic party to step forward.
  • If the Democratic Party is even a modicum of sanity in America, it’s because its going to have be pushed again.  Pushed and pushed and pushed from outside.
  • 55 percent of Republicans want higher taxes on the rich.
  • There are local manifestations of outrage and rebellion, in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ft Lauderdale, around different aspects of the mal-distribution of wealth. – but nothing has been coordinated on the national level.
  • There are as yet, no forces talking about the system as a whole, as a state.
  • There are a lot of indications across the board that people have had enough.
  • Go out there and join something and get involved.
  • UNICEF publication. The Children Left Behind. Indices: Health, Education, Material Well Being.  The United States is last of the 24 countries.
  • If you look at the fall of any of the world’s empires, it was a combination of the over reach and the refusal of the rich to pay their share of taxes.

Guest – John Ehrenberg,  author of Servants of Wealth, The Rights Assault on Economic Justice, he’s also professor of political science at Long Island University.


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