A disturbing video taken in New York City shows police punching and beating a man who greeted the officers with his hands up.
The July 7 video, obtained and published by the New York Daily News, shows Thomas Jennings standing at the counter of a convenience store, raising his hands in surrender. A police officer approaches with a baton in his right hand and starts pushing him in the chest with his left. Jennings begins to back up with his hands in the air, when a second officer rushes in and starts punching Jennings in the head. The two officers then begin to handcuff Jennings' hands behind his back. After cuffing Jennings, one officer hits him in the back with the baton and uses his elbow to drive Jennings' face into the counter.
Jennings was arrested and accused of robbery, menacing, larceny, possession of stolen property, possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest, according to the criminal complaint obtained by Mother Jones. He was held without bail until July 13, and was then released.
According to the Daily News, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and the NYPD are both reviewing the incident.
The incident apparently began at another store, where Jennings and another man tried to buy two slices of pizza. Jennings told the paper that he was a dollar short, so he stepped outside to ask someone for a quick loan. After he left, the other man allegedly pulled out a switchblade and told the employee that they weren't going to pay for the pizza. Then both men fled. Police tracked Jennings to another store, where the confrontation took place.
"It's horrendous what they did to him," Amy Rameau, Jennings' lawyer, told the Daily News. "He had his hands up. He didn't pose a threat to anyone in that store. It was an absolute use of excessive force."
Puerto Rican public teachers protest outside the Senate Capitol in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2013 as the Senate discussed reduced pensions for teachers.
Three weeks after Puerto Rico's governor announced that the island's debts were "unpayable," the US Senate stepped in with a measure that could finally ease the worsening fiscal crisis. But the bill's odds of becoming law remain slim, leaving Puerto Rico's debt woes as far from resolution as ever.
The island's government, facing a $72 billion public debt, has said it needs the flexibility to allow its cities and publicly financed utilities—such as the electricity company and the highway authority—to reorganize their debts under US bankruptcy laws. US cities have that right under federal law, but territories like Puerto Rico don't. Restructuring the debt would mean adjusting repayment terms on its various loans by lowering payments, for example, or stretching out repayment periods. Without the ability to do so, island officials say, Puerto Rico could default on some of its debts. If that happened, pension and retirement funds that are invested in Puerto Rican bonds could take heavy losses. Public workers in Puerto Rico would also suffer, because the island would have less money to meet its ongoing expenses.
Last week, Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would grant Puerto Rico the ability to reorganize its debt in the same way US cities do. "This measure is vital to prevent a humanitarian and financial catastrophe—a clearly avoidable disaster," Blumenthal said in a statement introducing the legislation. "Creditors, investors, ordinary citizens, all will be harmed if the Congress fails to act. This measure is not a bailout—involving not a dime of federal funds. It enables an orderly, rational restructuring of debt, instead of a financial free for all and potential free fall."
As Mother Jones has reported, Puerto Rico's debt calamity is complicated by its murky status as, essentially, a colony of the United States. Unlike every other state, Puerto Rico's central government cannot authorize its cities to reorganize debt—federal courts have held that only Congress can authorize debt reorganization on the island. But Congress hasn't intervened. Because Puerto Rico's constitution requires that debt payments be prioritized over other costs, the government is paralyzed and the crisis is mounting. Without congressional action, Puerto Rico would have to try to renegotiate with creditors individually and directly or default on debts that US taxpayers—including Puerto Ricans—would ultimately have to pay.
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, introduced an identical bill in the House in February. That bill got a hearing in a House subcommittee shortly thereafter, but the measure stalled.
In a statement, Pierluisi said that Blumenthal's bill will offer Puerto Rico short-term relief but will not not fix the deep poverty, high unemployment, and unequal economic treatment under federal law that cripple the island. "This bill is not intended to, and will not, resolve all of Puerto Rico’s economic and fiscal problems," he said. "It must be complemented by other reforms at both the federal and local level. However, if it enacts this legislation into law, Congress will be empowering a U.S. jurisdiction to help itself, at no cost to federal taxpayers."
Despite vocal support from congressional Democrats, it's unclear whether either the House or the Senate bill has the backing needed to move forward. The Senate Judiciary Committee didn't respond to questions about the bill. Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the Republican committee chairs who control the bill's fate in the House, said in a July 8 statement that they will "continue to monitor the developments in Puerto Rico and are actively assessing the merits of any potential congressional response." A House Judiciary aide who was not authorized to speak on the record told Mother Jones that there's no imminent action scheduled on the House bill in light of the new Senate counterpart. Unless the measures gain newfound momentum, Puerto Rico's debt mess seems unlikely to be cleaned up soon.
People gather in front of the Puerto Rico’s Capitol building in San Juan to protest against Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla's budget proposal April.
Greece may have overcome a major hurdle in fixing its economy this week, but Puerto Rico faces a more complicated obstacle to managing its crippling debt: its murky status as a US territory.
"If Puerto Rico were a state, there wouldn't be any question about it," Jeffrey Farrow, a former adviser on Puerto Rico policy to President Bill Clinton, said of the island's mounting debt crisis. "If it were a nation, it wouldn't have to worry about [US] federal rules, and then it could try to develop its own economy."
But Puerto Rico is neither a state nor a country. It's technically a commonwealth, a status given to it in 1950 by the US government, which allowed it to draft a constitution and elect its own officials. But even its commonwealth status is unique. Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky are all commonwealths, but they have the full power of states. That's not the case for this island of 3.6 million, which is, essentially, a colony, subject to the full control of the US Congress. The nature of its relationship with the federal government has left it with few options as it grapples with $72 billion in outstanding obligations that its governor, Alejandro García Padilla, says is "not payable."
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in US Congress, called for Puerto Rican statehood in a recent New York Times op-ed. "Puerto Rico is not a sovereign country in a monetary union with the United States. From a constitutional perspective, Puerto Rico belongs to the United States," he wrote. "It is disheartening to see many self-styled progressives, who otherwise speak eloquently about the importance of voting rights, go silent on this subject when it comes to Puerto Rico."
The island's high unemployment, poverty, and low household income, Pierluisi argued, result partly from poor local policy decisions, but the inequity it faces under federal law is a much bigger factor. Even though they are legally American citizens by birth, Puerto Ricans on the island can't vote for president and have no voting representative in Congress. They pay Medicare taxes but Medicaid funding is capped for them. They are not covered by many provisions of the Affordable Care Act and are not eligible to claim the earned-income tax credit. Excessive borrowing, Pierluisi wrote, is in many ways due to these realities.
"It is little wonder, then, that Puerto Rico is in recession, has excessive debt and is bleeding population," he wrote.
Pierluisi introduced a bill in February that would allow Puerto Rico's cities and state-owned businesses to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in the same way that some US cities that have done, most recently Detroit. The bill has no co-sponsors and is stuck in a House subcommittee. The chair of the committee, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), has said that "Puerto Rico must make serious, timely, and demonstrable steps towards righting its fiscal ship before anything moves legislatively." Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) plan to introduce similar legislation for debt relief, according to Politico, but it's unclear when that might happen.
The crisis pits Puerto Rico's creditors—including hedge funds, large US banks, and smaller investors—against the island's public workers, with each side trying to avoid absorbing the inevitable losses. A July 14 report from the Puerto Rican investigative journalism outlet Centro de Periodismo—reprinted in English via Latino Rebels—suggests that since 2013, hedge funds have been particularly active in trying to manipulate the debt crisis to their advantage.
The report points out that hedge funds, some of which were also involved in both the Greek fiasco and an ongoing debt crisis in Argentina, have been lobbying Puerto Rican officials in an effort to reduce their losses as much as possible. The hedge funds have reached out to various past and current government officials—including former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, former Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock, and Pedro Pierluisi, the island's non-voting representative in Congress—in hopes of preventing wide-scale restructuring of Puerto Rico's debt.
The issue has worked its way into the presidential campaign, with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Jeb Bush all voicing support for Puerto Rico to have the same bankruptcy options as US states. "We're not talking about a bailout," Clinton said in a statement last week. "We're talking about a fair shot at success." Sanders issued a statement the same day, saying, "We also should recognize that the reason Puerto Rico has such unsustainable debt has everything to do with the policies of austerity and the greed of large financial institutions."
Bush is the only Republican to touch the issue so far in the campaign, saying, "Puerto Rico should be given the same rights as the states."
About 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the 50 US states and can vote in national elections. Maurice Ferré, a Puerto Rican who served six terms as the mayor of Miami, said there are 4,000 to 5,000 Puerto Ricans moving to Florida every month, and noted that they are a pivotal voting bloc in Florida.
McClintock, Puerto Rico's secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 and president of its Senate from 2005 to 2008, agreed. "Puerto Ricans are the swing voters in the swing region of a swing state," McClintock said. "So, come March of next year, the presidential primaries in Florida will be very important in terms of what is done with Puerto Rico in the future."
But McClintock said there are things Congress could do right now to help Puerto Rico. It could change the repayment terms on money paid by the island to the US government for various project overruns, and adjust the way Puerto Ricans are treated under federal programs like Medicare. Or the government could steer more federal procurement dollars toward the island's struggling economy.
"That's not a bailout," McClintock says. "It's simply giving more federal procurement to Puerto Rico." But that's difficult to achieve, he says, without voting members of Congress.
McClintock and Fortuño, among others, have said that much of the island's debt is payable. Fortuño, who lost his seat to Garcia Padilla in the 2012 election, told Mother Jones that he had "no idea" why the new governor would claim the island's debts are unpayable. "From a strictly financial point of view, the information is incorrect," he said, "and the message it sends to the marketplace is terrible."
Without any intervention, Puerto Rico could default on some of its debts and cause massive turmoil in the US municipal bond market, which affects retirement funds, pensions, and other investments. It could also spur lawsuits against the Puerto Rican and US governments that could take years to work out.
Farrow, the former Clinton adviser, says the governor's calls for debt relief could help propel legislative relief or Congress could enact other short-term policy fixes, but neither will offer a permanent fix of the underlying problem.
"Puerto Rico can be a state or a nation and can develop a successful economy under either one," he says, "but right now its current political status makes no sense."
Students participate in a "die in" outside Colorado's state capitol in Denver in December 2014 as one of many nationwide in the wake of officer Darren Wilson shooting and killing Michael Brown in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The subsequent national conversation about police brutality in the US has largely ignored the suffering of the Native American community at the hands of police.
Nearly 100 people demonstrated in downtown Denver earlier this week after police there shot and killed 35-year-old Paul Castaway on July 12. Police said the man was coming towards an officer with a knife, but his family and witnesses on the scene dispute those claims and say he was pointing the knife toward himself.
The shooting comes a little more than a month after two Denver Police officers were cleared in the shooting death of Jessie Hernandez, a 17-year-old girl killed in January when the officers fired into a stolen car she was supposedly driving toward them in an alley.
According to his mother, Castaway struggled with schizophrenia and alcoholism. Witnesses say he was holding a knife to his own throat and didn't threaten officers, according to the Denver Post. Castaway was shot four times and died later that night. Denver Police Department spokesman, Sonny Jackson, told the Post that the department is reviewing the incident, and that the officers involved will be named soon.
Castaway was a Lakota Sioux. His death brings up a rarely-discussed aspect of the ongoing conversation around police brutality in the United States: Native Americans are more likely than most other racial groups to be killed by police. Indian Country Today noted that according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, a nonprofit organization that studies incarceration and criminal justice issues, police kill Native Americans at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.
The center's analysis relied on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics. It found that Native Americans, making up just .8 percent of the population, are the victims in 1.9 percent of police killings. When the numbers are broken down further, they reveal that Native Americans make up *three of the top five top age-groups killed by law enforcement:
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
"This is a reflection of an endemic problem in the perception of non-white people when it comes to the administration of justice," Chase Iron Eyes, an attorney with the Lakota People's Law Project in South Dakota, told Mother Jones. The group put out a report called "Native Lives Matter" in February discussing various ways the justice system disproportionately impacts Native Americans. He said the US Department of Justice needs to address police violence against Native Americans and that Castaway's death is only the most recent example of the problem.
"You can tell they're shooting out of fear," he said. "If it's not out of hate, for some reason they're pulling the trigger before determining what the situation actually is. Something does need to happen. Somebody does need to take a look and we need help."
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Native Americans make up four of the five top age-groups killed by law enforcement. They actually make up three of the top five.
The floor of the US House of Representatives was as noisy and contentious as the British Parliament on Thursday afternoon, when House Republicans tried to stall a vote on a spending bill that surprisingly included a Republican amendment to keep the Confederate flag on display in federal cemeteries.
Earlier in the week, the House had approved amendments introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, (D-California) that would block the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries and prohibit the use of federal funds to display the flag on federal lands. The amendments passed as part of a Department of Interior spending bill, which was set for a vote on Thursday. But Wednesday night, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California) inserted an amendment that would make it possible for Confederate flags to stay in use in federal cemeteries. House Democrats immediately objected, and House Republicans—with their leaders apparently nervous about being portrayed as pro-Confederacy—pulled the entire bill from the floor. (Here's a good breakdown on the sequence of events from TheAtlantic).
On Thursday, the same day the state of South Carolina voted to remove the flag from its capitol grounds, as Congress was wrestling with the Interior spending bill and the Confederate flag provisions, House Democrats upped the ante. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi proposed a measure that would remove any flag with Confederate symbols from the US Capitol. House Republicans objected and essentially kicked the resolution off the floor, sending to a committee. Chaos ensued. As the House clerk read the motion to exile the measure to a GOP-controlled committee, Democrats started shouting in protest. When a voice vote was called, Republicans yelled "aye," while Democrats loudly shouted "no." Republicans won, and the Democrats responded by yelling, "vote! vote! vote!"—challenging the Rs to vote on the flag-removing measure and not duck the issue.
The video above captures the moment that the GOP ran away from the issue when Democrats tried to remove the Confederate flag from Capitol Hill. (For a more complete video, see here.)