The Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement

Last night Maori TV showed The Central Part Five, the harrowing story of five African American teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of gang raping, battering and nearly murdering a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.

The most distressing part of the film is the beginning, which depicts how Central Precinct cops terrorized five innocent teenagers (age 14-16) – by depriving them food, water and sleep – into signing a a confession in which they incriminated each other of various aspects of the crime. Although they were all minors, no parents were present in the interrogation room, a violation of New York state law.

There was no consistency whatsoever between the five statements as to the exact location of the rape or exactly who was responsible for grabbing the woman, beating her, undressing her or having sex with her. None of the boys had traces of her blood on them, and there was no trace of their DNA on her body. Moreover the timeline constructed by the police establishes clearly they were in another area of the park when the woman was attacked.

In 2001, they were exonerated when a convicted serial rapist came forward and confessed to the crime. When the police investigated, not only did his DNA match the rape kit sample, but he related details of the crime that were never made public.

The eldest, who was sentenced as an adult, has served 13 years when he was released in 2002. The others had received conditional releases after 7 years, though one had be re-arrested on a drugs charge.

The case received massive publicity in 1989, in part due to Donald Trump taking out a full page ad calling for the boys’ execution. New York police and prosecutors have never acknowledged their wrongdoing.

The Demise of Academic Freedom in the US

Watchtower

Press TV (2017)

Film Review

This documentary concerns three extremely popular and effective college professors who were denied tenure and/or fired after being targeted by the Jewish Anti-Discrimination League (ADL) for their views on Palestine. Two of the professors targeted (Dr Norman Finkelstein) and Dr Joel Kovel) were accused by the ADL of being “self-hating Jews,” owing to their support for justice for Palestine. The third, Dr Joseph Massad, a Jordanian whose family fled Palestine in 1948, was accused of being an “anti-Semite” who made Jewish students uncomfortable.

None of the above accusations were ever supported by the facts. In each case, the school that employed them (DePaul, Brooklyn College and Columbia) failed to follow their own established processes. Instead they were more concerned about bad publicity interfering with their ability to fundraise.  .

In 2008 Massad, who Columbia improperly denied tenure, sought the assistance of the the ACLU for the clear violation of his First Amendment rights. With their support, he finally won tenure in 2009.

One of the most ominous aspects of these three cases is the clear monitoring/surveillance role the ADL* is playing in all US institutions of higher learning. In Finkelstein’s case, this monitoring entailed dispatching outside non-student agitators to disrupt his classes.


*The ADL has a long history of collaborating with the FBI to spy on progressive groups. In the mid-eighties they were involved in spying on a group I belonged to The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES): https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2000/12/27/12071.php

The Saga of Kim Dotcom or How New Zealand is Merely America’s Lapdog

Kim Dotcom Caught in the Web: The Most Wanted Man Online

Directed by Annie Goldson

Film Review

I was extremely impressed by the high quality of Annie Goldson’s recent Kim Dotcom documentary, which showed last night on TVNZ. The video, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed at the TVNZ website: https://www.tvnz.co.nz/shows/kim-dotcom-caught-in-the-web

Nearly six years after his January 2012 arrest, Kim Dotcom and his three co-defendants are still fighting extradition to the US on copyright infringement charges. His main legal grounds for challenging the extradition are 1) the search warrant leading to his arrest and the confiscation of his funds and property were illegal 2) as a legal resident, GCSB (New Zealand intelligence) was illegally spying on all his phone, email and Internet use and 3) New Zealand’s extradition treaty  has no provision for copyright infringement, which isn’t a criminal offense under New Zealand law.

Except for the illegal spying, Dotcom’s initial court wins on these issues were overturned when the government appealed them.* Former Prime Minister John Key addressed the spying issue through a law change making it legal to spy on all New Zealand citizens and legal residents.

The first hour of the documentary, based on hours of Dotcom’s private video footage, concerns his early life in Germany as Kim Schmidt. He made his first fortune as a hacker turned security consultant and came to New Zealand with two criminal convictions on his record – for credit card fraud and insider trading.

He comes across in the film as an especially extremely arrogant, conceited, privileged and ostentatious white male, who became enormously rich (and bragged about it) when millions of users employed his cloud service (Megaupload) to illegally share copyright Hollywood films. His legal advice at the time was that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) protected service providers against the illegal actions of their users. He has consistently argued that his activities were no more illegal than YouTube’s because a) he warned Megaupload users that sharing copyright material was illegal and b) like YouTube, he took down illegal files when copyright owners requested it.

His extensive legal battle has brought to light all manner of illegal activity on the part of both the US and New Zealand government, starting with a threat the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA) made not to fund Obama’s 2012 campaign unless he directed the Justice Department to indict Kim Dotcom. The email correspondence between the FBI (which directed the SWAT team raid on Dotcom’s house), is also highly embarrassing, as is correspondence about the deal New Zealand Immigration made with MPAA to grant Dotcom permanent residency (despite his two criminal convictions) to facilitate his extradition to the US.

The film also briefly covers his unsuccessful effort to get into government in 2014 by collaborating with the Mana Party to form the Internet Mana Party. Some of the most dramatic footage is from an historic town hall meeting in which Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange made explosive revelations about the extent of mass surveillance on New Zealand residents.

In addition to commentary by MPAA advocates, journalists and civil liberties advocates, the documentary also includes snippets of an interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.


*As of December 15, 2017, Dotcom’s appeal against his extradition order is ongoing: https://www.rt.com/news/413364-kim-dotcom-appeals-judge/

 

Connecticut: Reducing Mass Incarceration Rates and Prison Costs

Life After Parole

Frontline (2017)

Film Review

Life After Parole is a Frontline documentary about a Connecticut program seeking to reduce mass incarceration rates and prison costs by granting low risk offenders early parole. The film follows four new parolees over a 1 1/2 year period. In each case, it’s clear their risk of re-offending directly relates to the quality of their relationship with their parole officer.

It’s clear from this documentary the effectiveness of this experiment depends  largely on the ability of parole officers to shift roles. Instead of mainly monitoring parolees for infractions of their parole conditions, they must learn to play a supportive role in helping former inmates build a new life for themselves. At the moment, they are expected to play both roles simultaneously, and criminologists question whether this is even possible.

Of the four offenders, the sole female is the only one to stay out of prison on the first try. I suspect this relates partly to the nature of her offense (the three men, all imprisoned for drug-related crimes, violate their condition of parole by relapsing), partly to strong motivation to be re-united with her son and partly to a strong relationship with a highly skilled parole officer. The woman, who is African American, has been in prison for ten years for slashing another women with a knife. The length of this sentence for an assault and battery charge is ludicrous. It speaks volumes to the blatant racism of the US criminal justice system.

 

Only in the US: Kids Sentenced to Life Without Parole.

15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story

POV (2013)

Film Review

The US is the only country in the world to sentence children to life imprisonment without parole. Until it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2005, the US permitted the execution of juveniles. After an extended campaign by human rights advocates, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled it illegal for courts to sentence children to life imprisonment for crimes other than murder. This ruling made many lifers eligible for sentence review if they were underage at the time of their offense.

This documentary follows the heartbreaking sentence rehearing of a 26 year who who was fifteen when he participated in four armed robberies. Like the vast majority of offenders serving life sentences, Kenneth is African American. And like 70% of juveniles given life sentences, he accompanied an older adult in committing the crime.

Kenneth maintains the older man (his mother’s drug dealer) forced him to participate in the armed robberies by threatening his mother’s life. She owed him money over a cocaine deal. Ironically the adult received a lesser sentence than fifteen year-old Kenneth.

The filmmakers also interview sentencing reform advocates who make a compelling case that their emotional immaturity makes juveniles extremely susceptible to adult manipulation.

At the sentencing rehearing, it is the judge’s sole discretion whether to reduce a juvenile’s life sentence. Although the judge in this case acknowledges Kenneth has been rehabilitated (in eleven years of incarceration he has received only one disciplinary write-up in eleven years – for not making his bed), he inexplicably sentences him to another ten years in prison.

Sadly Florida courts continue to be dominated by an extreme racial bias that labels African American youth offenders as “superpredators” incapable of being rehabilitated.

This verdict is presently being appealed to the Supreme Court.

Wukan: A Chinese Experiment with Democracy

 Wukan:  China’s Experiment with Democracy

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

 

This very strange documentary is largely based on amateur footage smuggled out of China by social media activists. As the filmmakers point out, China experiences tens of thousands of mass uprisings every year. Most relate to local corruption and illegal theft and sale of communal land. In most cases, they fizzle out without producing any real change. A September 2011 protest in the village of Wukan was an exception. It resulted in villagers winning the right to choose their own village committee in democratic elections – a process virtually unheard of in Communist China.

Three months following the election of the new village committee (which was subject to heavy phone tapping and physical surveillance), county and provincial officials agree to return a few plots of stolen land to village farmers. Unfortunately, however, a ban on demolishing the wall surrounding their farms prevents the original owners from repossessing their property.

After a year, villagers succeeded in repossessing a second plot of land, only to find it unusable due to contamination with industrial waste. As provincial authorities continue to to stall on returning the stolen land, village protests resume. Only this time they are directed against the new village committee. There is considerable mistrust directed against the village chief especially, a man named Lin Zulan – who in the mean time has become secretary of the local Communist Party.

When two village committee members attempt to stand against him in the 2014, they are jailed on bribery charges (which surprisingly appear to be genuine). The two men have succumbed to a kind of entrapment – accepting “bonuses” at Lin’s direction without realizing this is bribery and illegal.

In 2016, after winning his sixth election, Lin organizes a petition and marching demanding the stolen land be returned. He himself is arrested on bribery charges, along with his grandson, a student in a nearby city (who has had no involvement with the protests). After Lin appears on TV to make what villagers believe is a forced confession on TV, his grandson is released.

The protests resume in earnest following Lin’s arrest. After 85 days of protests, there is a brutal crackdown – resulting in the murder, beatings and arrest of large numbers of villagers. Simultaneously the village is totally cut off physically and electronically from the rest of China.

After being warned of the crackdown, one of the village committee members escapes to New York, where he makes contact with the US pro-Chinese democracy movement. It’s their 2016 protest in front of the UN that brings the plight of Wukan to world attention.

 

What Silicon Valley Has Planned for Public Education

What Silicon Valley Has Planned for Public Education

Alison McDowell (2017

This troubling presentation concerns a well-advanced plan by corporate America to gradually replace public schools with 100% digital education. The attack on American schools is multi-pronged – with anti-public school forces closing schools, laying off teachers and neglecting crumbling infrastructure while stealthily increasing the availability of digital notepads, Chrome books and other digital platforms in existing schools.

Education Reform 2.0 would build on high stakes testing and school closures to replace teachers with digital learning platforms designed to incorporate “cradle to grave” tracking of students’ skill sets and online activity. Increasingly employers would rely on this information to determine suitability for employment.

The institutional backers of this digital revolution include some of the most powerful corporations and foundations in the US. Prominent names include the Gates Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Goldman Sachs, the Institute for the Future (offshoot of Rand Corporation), Amazon, Google, Dell (the company Snowden worked for), and Halliburton.

The US military is also involved and planning and development of 100% digital learning with Army Research and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) assuming responsibility for the “behavior modification” (ie mind control aspects) that reward students for appropriate engagement with the digital platform.

McDowell describes how many schools across the US are already replacing class time with Skype sessions with Halliburton “mentors” and on-line math lessons with carton “peers.”

Proponents of 100% digital learning are working closely with focus groups to “market” this new technology that tracks and mind controls children to skeptical Americans who value their privacy.

At 38 minutes, McDowell shows a promotional film for “tracked online learning.” It explains how high school and adult learners are earning “edu-blocks for a variety of learning experiences (including reading books, volunteer work, watching videos and “teaching” skills to other learners. Also how companies are already using your ledger blocks to evaluate potential employees’ suitability for specific projects or even investing in their university education by paying their tuition. One edu-block enthusiast describes how participating in the online program is enabling her to reduce her student loan debt.

The ledger is designed to keep track of all the YouTube videos you watch and even all the texts you send (and delete).