• The Man Who Grieves for Kenosha With His Violins and Violas

    The Black String Triage Ensemble plays outside in AugustCourtesy of Dayvin Hallmon

    Whenever there’s a shooting, Dayvin Hallmon turns to his violas and violins. He’s the founder of the Black String Triage Ensemble, an all-volunteer Black and Latinx orchestra in Milwaukee that plays music at crime scenes to help the community grieve and heal. Before creating the ensemble in 2019, he lived in Kenosha, first as a college student and then as an elected government official for a decade starting at age 23. On Monday night, Hallmon, 35, drove from Milwaukee back to Kenosha with his ensemble as hundreds of people took to the streets to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer. Tear gas soon surrounded their makeshift stage as they tried to play their instruments. A couple of days later, I talked to Hallmon about his troubling experiences with the police in Kenosha, and how he was processing the news of the shooting:

    The person I affectionately call my twin flame told me about it. She sent me a text message on Sunday. I was in my apartment, talking to my pianist, and I looked at my phone and I’m like, Whaaat? I said, “Send me the video link, send me the video link,” and my twin flame sent me the video link, and so I watched it, and it was just straight-up murder. And I looked at the pianist and I said, “Kenosha is gonna burn to the ground.”

    I grew up in Racine, but I lived for a while in Kenosha. In 2003, when I was beginning college, I had just come out of the closet to my mother. My mother, a Christian woman, at the time was extraordinarily homophobic, and she kicked me out of her house. I had just started a job at Kmart, and I went to work, but I hadn’t even gotten my first paycheck, I didn’t have any money, so at lunch when I had nothing to eat I just got the violin out of the car and played it. I ended up in Kenosha because a friend of mine there took me in. I just never had enough money to leave.

    My stepfather was a doctor. I come from an upper-middle-class family, and we were not taught to be afraid of law enforcement. We were taught to be aware and respectful, but fear was never a component. As a boy, my baseball coach was a white man, Officer Garrett, and my team was called the Mount Pleasant Police Department Enforcers. But in college in Kenosha, I was pulled over, if not every week, every two weeks. When I tell people that Kenosha broke me, this is what I’m talking about. It was a radical shift from what I had known and what I was accustomed to. Awareness is one thing; fear is altogether different.

    After college, I ended up on the Kenosha County Board representing a city district. Around 2010, I was coming home from a haircut, and I saw a police squad, and the hood on the dash was up. It seemed strange—the station was nearby, was the engine overheating? Then I saw on the other side of the hood was a Black man who was being illegally searched. They were using the hood of the squad to block the dash cam. Another time, I remember walking to church down 56th Street, right past the elementary school, full almost entirely of Black and brown kids, and there were law enforcement with big guns and riot gear, charging down the sidewalk in the afternoon. And they charged directly into a house I had just walked past, with the school across the street. And the babies are getting ready to be let out, and anything could go down when you charge into the house, and nobody told the teachers to keep the babies inside. It’s something that would never, ever happen in an upper-middle-class white neighborhood.

    One day I came home from work, and a police squad rolled up, two white officers, and they say, “Someone’s looking for you.” I said, “There’s nobody looking for me,” and “Listen, I live right here, I’m not going anywhere, but I just got off work, I’m tired, I’d like to go lie down.” And one of the officers says, “Stay where you are.” So they had me outside my apartment for probably a good hour. I just stand there, just as cool and just as emotionless as I can be. And there was no one looking for me. And I got no explanation as to why I was detained. When I told folks on the county board, someone said, “Well, did you tell them you’re a county supervisor?” I said, “Should I have had to?”

    I felt like there was no progress that could be made. There were far too many people that were just comfortable. I said, well, I’m a musician, not a politician. I really want to go focus on music. And Kenosha had this thing called Keyed Up Kenosha, organized by the downtown business association, where they had artists paint pianos, and they plopped them in areas of downtown Kenosha. People could just walk up and play. And I was walking through, and I thought, “Well, my constituents in Uptown”—which is considered one of the ‘hoods—”they need music. The people who live in my neighborhoods need this and don’t have access to it.” And so there was this question that just got dropped in my spirit: What would happen if after a shooting, a bunch of string players showed up who were Black and Latinx and they played a concert that wasn’t Bach, wasn’t Beethoven, wasn’t Mozart?

    Now I’m the founding music director of the Black String Triage Ensemble, a group of Black and Latinx string players—violin, viola, cello, upright bass. They respond to shootings and police brutality, in the immediate aftermath of those events, to come to the scene, and to play a 30- to 40-minute concert based off the five stages of grief, with the sixth stage of faith thrown in at the end. Because if we don’t believe it’s going to get better as human beings, we don’t move forward. The music they play is all Black and Latinx composers—spirituals, jazz, blues, soul, gospel, and classical. It’s not designed for people who have close relationships with the victim, because that is a much longer trajectory in terms of healing. But it’s for everybody else who, maybe you live down the street, or you frequent the store on the corner, or you’re coming out of church next door to where this went down. For everybody else in that space, the last thing they need on their minds is a shooting before they go to sleep. And so the work that we do is designed to help people grieve and have a sense of peace so they can move forward.

    We normally play in Milwaukee, but after hearing about Jacob Blake, I tried to make arrangements on Monday to go play in Kenosha. We have roughly 20 players. Some of these are mothers with kids, or teachers. Folks have jobs, so it’s very difficult to do this. So from the Triage, we had about five players, and I called in a few white allies from Legion of the Soul, which was formed because there were all these people who wanted to do string vigils for Elijah McClain. In the car, it was quiet. There would be a curfew at eight o’clock and our performance was scheduled for 7:30. Were they gonna start shooting after the curfew? Were they gonna open fire?  

    When we walked up to Civic Center Park, it was just a sea of Black and brown people like I’ve never seen in Kenosha before. And they were young, in their 20s and teens. There was a van that had a speaker system, and somebody was playing James Brown’s “The Payback.” And it wasn’t until we started pulling out instruments that I started to see some confused looks on people’s faces. I went over to the van that was blasting the music, and it was a few Black men, and they saw me with the viola and I made the hand gesture for volume, where you turn the knob down. And I said, “We play only Black and Latinx music.” The brother nodded, and he turned off the music entirely. They needed to know that we weren’t going to play Beethoven and Mozart. Otherwise, you don’t have any purpose of being there.

    I could see as we were setting up, that more people started to gather in front of the courthouse and started chanting at law enforcement. And I looked at the musicians and I said, “Start playing now.” Our goal was to use the music to stave off the violence as long as possible, while not getting swept up in it and becoming victims of it. I said, “Any silence that you give this space is not good. Just keep playing.” I was playing too because there weren’t enough people for me to conduct yet.

    Then other players showed up, and I swapped the viola for the baton and started conducting. And as I was conducting, I could see the young Black and brown people taking water bottles and hurling them at the sheriff’s deputies in riot gear. And I look over to the right, and I saw two white men with tattoos. They’re not hanging out with anybody Black or brown, and their energy stood out like a sore thumb. And my brain said, “The white supremacists are here.” As that’s going on, there’s a guy in a red shirt, a Black man, standing in front of the line of officers, and he starts chanting and he’s getting everybody amped up, and I’m like, “Just keep playing, just keep playing.”

    It went from water bottles to somebody having a slingshot, shooting stuff over the trees, over our heads toward law enforcement And then I heard a sound; it had to be a smoke bomb. And then tear gas started to drift in our direction, and we were flushing our eyes with bottled water that my mother had brought to us—she lives in Kenosha now. My 75-year-old bass player said, “Brother Dayvin, I’ve never been tear-gased before.” And so we’re flushing out our eyes and we’re hiding behind trees, because we heard something like gunshots, and we had heard somebody say, “They’ve got rubber bullets.” So we’re trying to protect the instruments.

    It was unlike anything we’ve ever done before. Once the National Guard, the sheriff’s department, and armored vehicles came out, it was like, “Okay, this is going to be all-out war. We’ve got to go.” And we packed up the stuff, we went to the cars, everybody said goodnight. And you know, we all hugged each other and said, “Let’s make sure we all check in,” and everybody drove off, and when I got home, I got a text message from my friend: Two buildings away from the place where we parked, the building was completely engulfed in flames.

    Since then, I haven’t really been able to eat. I haven’t really been able to sleep. I haven’t really been able to think clearly. What bothers me is two things. I need an explanation as to why my government that I used to serve in is making all the wrong decisions. I don’t think they’ve publicly issued an apology to people of color in Kenosha for the pain that this causes. My mother called me, she said they’re not even mentioning it. I said, “Because if they did, they’d have to admit that they’ve been harboring white supremacists in their community, and that the mayor knew about it and the county executives knew about it, and nobody would do anything.” It was routine. People fly the stars and bars of the Confederate flag off their pickup trucks and race. They go back and forth, up and down 60th Street in the middle of Black and brown people. That’s racial intimidation. And when I asked [a county official] about it, you know, she just said, “Oh, Dayvin, it’s everywhere.” 

    No, it’s not. What is it about you, Kenosha, that these people feel comfortable here? What is it that you all don’t want to tell me? Why is it that your Black county board colleague during the meeting was begging and pleading with you, because he saw white supremacists running around the city and throughout his district, because he saw what the police were doing to his constituents and told you…why did nobody take up that mantle and fight? Why didn’t you fix this?

    I have felt like I should cry about all of this. And I just haven’t been able to. I tried so hard. I did everything I possibly could. And no one gave a damn. I just don’t understand why.

    This interview has been condensed and lightly edited. The Kenosha Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

  • Thousands March on Washington to Demand an End to Police Brutality and Racism

    Susan Walsh/AP

    On the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—and five days after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake four times in the back—thousands of people converged on the National Mall to demand police reform, voting rights expansion, and racial equality.

    Mother Jones’ Matt Cohen is reporting live from the march, formally titled “Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.” Follow along below for updates.

    Yolanda Renee King, the 12-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, issued a poignant call to combat police brutality, climate change, and poverty. “My generation has already taken to the streets—peacefully and with masks, and socially distanced—to protest racism,” she said. “I want to ask the young people here to join me in pledging that we have only just begun to fight, and that we will be the generation that moves from ‘me’ to ‘we.’”

    Martin Luther King III drew a parallel between Jim Crow–era voter suppression and President Trump’s attempts to sabotage the United States Postal Service amid a pandemic that has disproportionately affected Black communities and made it dangerous to cast ballots in person. “We shouldn’t have to risk our lives to cast our votes,” he said. “We need to be able to do what President Trump does: vote safely by mail.”

    Fifty-seven years after his father’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King called attention to continued police killings of Black Americans like George Floyd and Elijah McClain. “There’s a knee upon the neck of democracy,” he said, “and our nation can only live so long without the oxygen of freedom.”

    Philonise Floyd, still mourning the loss of his brother George, issued an emotional tribute to victims of police violence. “Right now, Jacob Blake—it’s hard just to talk right now—shot seven times, man, with his kids,” he said through tears. “That’s painful.”

  • NBA Players End Strike

    Pool/Getty

    Well, it’s over. Multiple reports this morning from inside the Orlando “bubble” say that NBA players have decided to end their wildcat strike. It began on Wednesday when the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play the Orlando Magic to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police. And now it ends with a “discussion” that will “include plans of action moving forward on social justice issues.”

    That’s a bit of public relations pablum relayed by ESPN’s head of SOURCES, Adrian Wojnarowski, that at minimum suggests Wednesday’s fervor had worn off.

    In a few hours last night, the spirit of the NBA strike spread to the WNBA, to baseball, to soccer and tennis and even to one prominent NBA studio analyst. Even as a one-night wildcat strike, the walk-out was monumental. Within the sports context, it immediately reoriented athletes’ understanding of their labor power. There is an idea, the residue of labor’s rollback over the past half century, that a strike has to be done exclusively for direct changes in conditions at your workplace. An exasperated (anonymous!) owner in ESPN’s article on the 24 hours of the strike certainly thinks so: 

    “What is it they think the league can do?” one owner wondered. “We have been fully supportive.”

    (As Spike Friedman points out, owners aren’t exactly passive actors here. Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, funds both this LAPD initiative and the academic study used to justify it.)

    Not all strikes are about the conditions of the workplace being struck. Not all of them are about wages, time off, benefits. There is an ongoing Strike for Black Lives across industries; it includes fast-food workers, Uber drivers, and janitors. The grievances include more than just one workplace’s problems.

    At the time of his assassination in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis leading a sanitation workers’ strike. During a rally, King delivered his now-famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech to a crowd of more than just the garbage workers. “Be concerned about your brother,” he implored. “You may not be on strike, but either we go up together or we go down together. Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”

    He proposed boycotts of Coca-Cola, Wonder Bread, Sealtest milk. The point was to create crossflows of pressure, in solidarity. “As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now only the garbage men have been feeling pain,” King said. “Now we must kind of redistribute that pain.”

    A night without basketball is hardly a full redistribution. One wonders what kind of strike could be.

  • Tucker Carlson Says Teen Charged With Killing Kenosha Protesters Did What “No One Else” Would

    Fox News’ Tucker Carlson defended the actions of the white teenager charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, stating Wednesday that the armed vigilante acted to “maintain order when no one else would.” 

    “Those in charge, from the governor on down, refused to enforce the law,” Carlson told viewers of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” amid reports that the suspect had a history of idolizing police and supported Donald Trump. “They’ve stood back and watched Kenosha burn. Are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder?”

    He added, “How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

    For months, conservatives of all stripes—from the president to senators in the opinion pages of the New York Times—have called for “law and order” forces to shut down the racial justice protests that have continued in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May. Those calls continued this week as protests broke out in response to yet another police shooting of a Black man, this time Jacob Blake, whom police shot multiple times in front of his young sons on Sunday as Blake attempted to enter a car.

    As my colleague Nathalie Baptiste writes, “law and order” isn’t meant for everyone:

    As this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

    So in some ways, Carlson is correct: Many of us aren’t shocked. Those who have watched a president relentlessly promote violence against protesters while sending federal agents to crack down on peaceful demonstrations predicted that such incitement could motivate armed vigilante groups to take action. For Carlson and his ilk, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who allegedly used a semi-automatic weapon to shoot three protesters, two fatally, delivered the “law and order” they’ve been clamoring for. 

  • NBA Players Are Staging a Wildcat Strike

    Ashley Landis/AP

    The players of the Milwaukee Bucks, an NBA team headquartered only an hour’s drive from Kenosha, Wisconsin, staged what by all rights was a strike today over the shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha police. The players of five other teams soon joined them, meaning that all three of tonight’s playoff games had to be postponed. ESPN and others have called it a boycott, but that’s not right. Workers came together to withdraw their labor power. It’s a strike.

    Specifically, it’s a wildcat strike: a work stoppage without union approval. This was something new in America, or something old in newer form—a radical expression of solidarity among predominantly Black workers that seemed to spread by the minute beyond their workplace.

    In Major League Baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds—the players, that is—were canceling their game. Kenny Smith, a studio analyst on TNT and former NBA player, walked off the set of the NBA on TNT in solidarity with the players:

    On NBA TV, Isiah Thomas was delivering a seminar on the double consciousness and the social construction of race. Sam Mitchell spoke warmly of solidarity, among other things. WNBA players, who have been assertive and unflinching in their activism since the killing of George Floyd, pushed the league to postpone three games (some walked into the arena with Blake’s name on their shirts). Major League Soccer players postponed their games. Naomi Osaka pulled out of a tennis match. At some point, the Bucks players got on the phone with political power players in Wisconsin, demanding something be done.

    Dismiss this at your peril as the indulgence of well-compensated cultural figures. A labor action taken by a handful of basketball players spread quickly in various forms across the culture. It is sure to spread still farther. By stopping play—something several players pushed for as the NBA’s “bubble” was being put together in Orlando—all attention returns to the streets. There have been times, as scholars have noted, that sports were used along with other entertainment baubles to quell uprisings. But not today.

    Update: The Lakers and Clippers joined the strike, according to reports. 

  • What Conservatives Really Mean When They Call for Law and Order

    David Goldman/AP

    On Sunday, August 23, Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officers shot Jacob Blake several times in the back as he was climbing into his car where his three sons waited for him. According to news reports, the 29-year-old Black man had been trying to break up a fight between two women before the cops shot him. Blake survived but, as of Wednesday, he is partially paralyzed.

    In response to the violence wrought by law enforcement, that night protesters took to the streets in Kenosha and protests continued over the next few days. Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters shot off fireworks and set fire to police cars and other property. Then on Tuesday, a group of white armed vigilantes shot three protesters, killing two. It should go without saying that their actions were illegal. Sadly, it probably also goes without saying that they were met with less police violence than Blake faced for turning his back on some officers. 

    Since racial justice protests erupted in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, the Trump administration, its allies and supporters have tempted to quash the sometimes-peaceful-sometimes-not protests by the repeated demands for what they refer to as “law and order.” (Or, for Trump, “LAW and ORDER!”)

    When anti-racist protesters demand equality and justice, Trump justifies the use of overwhelming police and paramilitary force as necessary to reinstate “law and order” to shut them down. And yet, when white so-called militia members inflict violence on the protesters—or even act on their own in response to a perceived grievance—suddenly “law and order” no longer applies. For instance, when mostly white people defied coronavirus restrictions and gathered in crowds in public to protests those very restrictions, Trump supported their efforts.

    After a video of Blake being shot in the back seven times by a yet-to-be-identified police officer went viral, the usual drumbeat began. If Blake had only followed orders and immediately complied with police demands, then he wouldn’t have been shot in front of his children. The organizing principle seems to be that there are laws and a social order to adhere to, and if you dare violate either by defying a police officer’s orders or some other social rule, you may have to pay with your life. That is, if you’re a person of color. For armed and aggrieved white men and occasionally women, apparently, a different set of rules apply.

    If Blake’s attempt to intervene in a neighborhood conflict took the police by surprise, they should have been well-prepared for the appearance of armed vigilantes who had been in Kenosha all day on Tuesday. One man showed up after a call was put out on Facebook to “protect” the city. “Three thousand of us are armed and ready,” another man told the Washington Post. Some came from different states and cities (outside agitators, if you will). Police were aware that armed civilians, who were self-appointed law enforcement representatives, had come to town and were hanging around with their assault weapons until 11:45 p.m. when they shot and killed two protesters and injured a third. The police have identified at least one perpetrator as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was from 20 miles away in Illinois. He was not arrested until the next day, after he managed to make it back home.

    What version of a commitment to “law and order” allows for Blake to be shot in the back by police for the crime of walking away from law enforcement officials but reacts this slowly to armed vigilantes organizing to use protesters to realize their race-war fantasies?

    Even after Rittenhouse was arrested and charged with homicide, conservatives, like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) were still harping on property damage and partisan politics as they referred to the shooting of an unarmed man.

    At a press conference in Kenosha, the police implied that protesters were at fault for violating curfew.

    Kenosha is hardly an exception. Shots may not have been fired in the Michigan statehouse earlier this spring when armed “lockdown protesters” gathered to decry coronavirus restrictions but the threat of violence was unmistakable. Trump’s response? 

    Then, earlier this week, an unmasked crowd shattered the glass of a government office building to get into a state legislative hearing on public health restrictions in Boise, Idaho. Because of the coronavirus, the public hearing had limited seating. Some members of the crowd were armed with guns. They shoved past state troopers to get into the hearing and later defaced social distancing signs. A Democratic lawmaker who didn’t want to put her health in jeopardy by participating in a crowded hearing said the crowd was hostile to her.

    Afterwards, Idaho State Police made no arrests. Why? The next day, Lynn Hightower, a state police spokesperson explained the state troopers were unable to make any arrests “on the on the spot without elevating the potential for violence.” 

    Because the Idaho protesters were the right kind—white and conservative—the police exercised restraint in the face of violence because it was not worth the risk to protesters’ safety. Where would Blake be right now if Kenosha officers also believed risking his life wasn’t worth it? 

    That question is unlikely to ever be raised, given that the guy with the biggest megaphone yelling about “LAW and ORDER” is President Donald Trump, who has defined his administration and his re-election campaign on his own wild and inaccurate assessments of what constitutes “LAW” and “ORDER”—alone and together.  He starts at the top, trafficking in bogus falsehoods that leading Democrats—Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton—are criminals who take every opportunity to break the law. He’s responded to racial justice protests by gassing demonstrators in front of the White House and sending federal troops into American cities. He’s cheered on “lockdown protesters” who defy public health orders. Meanwhile, his entire administration has been one ethical violation after another. Many of his closest advisers—Stephen Bannon, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen, just to name a few—have been either charged or  convicted of crimes. And while Kenosha was reckoning with yet another vile police shooting, team Trump has been repeatedly violating federal ethics law live on television as they stage the Republican National Convention this week. 

    Throughout history, we have seen how what is “law and order” for the dominant culture doesn’t apply to everyone. But as this era of pervasive corruption, state-sanctioned violence, and a pandemic that’s killed nearly 180,000 people makes abundantly clear, the harshest punishments for violating “law and order” are only doled out to certain people in certain places. When Trump and other right-wingers say they want “law and order,” they’re really sending a signal—less a dogwhistle than a bullhorn—to the other people guided by white supremacy: Break any law you want to maintain the current order. 

  • It’s Impossible for Victims of Police Violence to Get Compensation

    A memorial to Sean Monterrosa, George Floyd, and other victims of police violence is seen in Oakland, California, on June 8 ane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

    In 2009, shortly after police officers shot and killed her 16-year-old brother in San Pablo, California, Geoffrea Morris drove to a cemetery to look for a plot of land. On top of everything else, she was stressed about money: Burial and funeral expenses would cost tens of thousands of dollars, and she was strapped for cash after graduating from social work school. A man who worked at the cemetery asked whether her brother had been the victim of a violent crime—a designation that would allow him to give her a discount. She started to cry.

    “They’re not seeing him as a victim,” she recalls telling him.

    In California and many other states, crime victims and their family members can apply to the government to help pay for funeral costs, counseling, medical fees, or other crime-related expenses. But there’s a significant catch: Across the country, victims of police violence don’t qualify. Police departments won’t issue them reports certifying their victimhood, documentation that’s required by most states’ victim compensation boards. Plus, no state’s board will provide compensation to anyone whom officers suspected of being involved in a crime when they were injured or killed, which is often the case for people harmed by police. Morris’ brother, Leonard Bradley Jr., had been suspected of a carjacking when he was shot. Two officers chased him up a grassy hill to a fence, where they fired their weapons after he allegedly reached for his waist. He was unarmed. “Once the police is involved in a shooting, especially like in my brother’s case, you’re just seen as the perp, and there are no services for the family,” says Morris.

    Just recently, though, it looked as if Morris might get some relief. The question of compensation for victims of police violence became an issue earlier this summer amid an urgent and sweeping debate about police reform following George Floyd’s killing by a police officer in Minneapolis. Morris, along with other victims’ families and criminal justice activists, hoped California would be the first state to overhaul the status quo with a bill that would have allowed victims of police violence and their family members to qualify for damages from a victim compensation board. But just last week, their hopes were dashed, as the proposal died in a Senate committee. “I’m devastated,” Morris told me upon hearing the news of the failed legislation.

    “There’s nothing out here to help us families,” adds Michelle Monterrosa, 24, whose brother Sean Monterrosa, 22, was killed by a Vallejo police officer in June outside a Walgreens. The officer, responding to reports of looting during the protests sparked by Floyd’s death, fired five rounds through the window of an unmarked pickup truck at Sean, who had been kneeling on the ground outside the store; the officer said he mistook the hammer in Sean’s pocket for a gun.

    After Sean died, the Monterrosas faced about $100,000 in funeral and burial expenses, far beyond what they could afford. The family lives together in a one-bedroom home in San Francisco, and Sean, a carpenter, had contributed a sizeable portion of their income. His mom works seven days a week as a caregiver for an elderly woman, and his dad runs a cafe. After his death, Michelle postponed a semester of school to handle the phone calls from journalists and work on police reform advocacy, and her sister Ashley, 20, quit her retail job to do the same. They both lobbied for the bill to make families like theirs eligible for compensation.

    Under the proposed legislation, California’s victim compensation board would no longer have required people to file a police report to receive funds. Instead, families and survivors of police violence could have submitted to the board a note from a doctor or social worker certifying that the incident occurred. Crucially, the legislation stipulated they would still be eligible for funding even if their loved one was suspected of a crime. The bill, a version of which had passed the Assembly, was “California’s opportunity to demonstrate that we value the lives and experiences of all victims, and particularly Black and brown victims of police violence,” Assembly member Tim Grayson, one of the co-authors, said in early August. “Victims and their families should not be forced to turn to GoFundMe accounts to cover funeral, burial, and medical expenses,” added San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who supported the proposal.

    “Everybody should be able to lay their family properly to rest,” says Morris. Whether the courts determine a police shooting was justified or not, she says, “the system took your loved one away—their grief is caused by government. The government should be held to a higher standard, even when it’s warranted, to support families of police violence.”

    To pay for her brother’s funeral, Morris had to dig into her savings; she also asked friends and neighbors for donations. But there were other costs. The family still couldn’t afford therapy for her and some of her siblings, which would have been helpful not just immediately after the shooting, but for the months and years of ongoing trauma—like when their pro bono attorney dropped their wrongful death case a year later. And it was exhausting dealing with all the press inquiries. “You can’t even grieve because you’re on the news every second,” she says.

    This is just one reason why family members and advocacy groups also want lawmakers to pass additional legislation that would allow more victims of violent crime, along with their family members, to take time off work or break their leases. Right now, these benefits are only afforded to survivors of sexual assault, human trafficking, and domestic violence. “Most of the statutes on record for crime victims in California are centered around the experiences of only certain types of crime victims,” says Tinisch Hollins, who leads the state chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that co-sponsored the compensation bill. “A lot of the advocacy has been led by organizations that are led by white women, people who do not reflect the voices of people in communities who experience crime and violence on a more consistent basis,” including gun violence and excessive police force.

    California state lawmakers, currently in the middle of a pandemic-shortened legislative session, are deciding the fate of more than a dozen police reform bills, including legislation that would ban the use of tear gas on crowds and require the state attorney general to review officer killings of unarmed people. Police reform advocates hope these proposals have better luck than the compensation bill, which died in the Senate appropriations committee on Thursday after the state’s victim compensation board warned lawmakers that broadening its payouts to police brutality victims could strain already-tight state budgets. (Some police chiefs also opposed the legislation.) The board estimated it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars each year to expand the pool of people making claimsa price tag based on the maximum payouts allowed, $70,000 per claim.

    But Hollins suggests that tab may be vastly overinflated. The board is a payer of last resort, which means it only pays for expenses that aren’t already covered by other means, like health insurance, workers compensation insurance, and automobile insurance. In the 2019 fiscal year, 50,000-plus crime victims and family members filed for compensation. Over that period, the board’s average payout to eligible people was just $1,200 per claim, and the total payout to all crime victims was about $62 million. A recent agency analysis estimates that broadening the law to include victims of police violence might add about 1,000 claims annually. “We’re not talking about millions of folks—we’re talking about a smaller number of severely disenfranchised survivors,” Hollins says. “Someone was harmed, and how do we remove all the barriers to make sure that harm is addressed and the sanction is not passed on to their family members?” The compensation board declined a request for comment.

    “We can defund the police to afford it,” counters Ashley Monterrosa. Without state help, she and her sister launched a GoFundMe for their brother’s funeral. But they feel the toll of his death in other ways. They say their mom is exhausted and has only gotten a few days off work to grieve. “It hits her hardest when she gets home at 4 p.m.—that’s when I see her cry every day,” says Michelle Monterrosa. “That’s around the time when Sean would come home from his job.” If the legislation had passed and they’d gotten compensation, maybe their parents could have stopped worrying about financial bills for long enough to try to process their son’s death. And maybe they could have paid for therapy; one of Ashley’s high school teachers is currently helping them crowd-source funds from the community so they can afford it.

    Sean had recently finished carpentry school and dreamed of building the family a house so they could move out of the one-bedroom home. The last text message he sent to his sisters was at 11:49 p.m. on June 1, asking them to sign a petition to get justice for George Floyd. The sisters replied right away to say they’d signed, and each sent him a heart emoji. He was killed less than an hour later.

  • Wisconsin Police Shot Jacob Blake in “Broad Daylight”

    Morry Gash/AP

    Protests erupted overnight in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot multiple times by at least one police officer as Blake attempted to enter a car. 

    A video of the encounter shows Blake walking away from two officers who have their guns drawn. As he opens the door of a gray SUV, an officer appears to grab Blake by the shirt before seven shots can be heard. Blake was transported to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee, where he remains in serious condition.

    Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) confirmed the incident on Twitter overnight, adding that Blake had been shot in the back multiple times in “broad daylight.” Evers also condemned the use of excessive force by police. “While we do not have all of the details yet,” Evers said in a statement, “what we know for certain is that he is not the first Black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country.” 

    The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, a statement from the state’s attorney general said. 

    It’s unclear exactly what events led up to the shooting, but the Kenosha Police Department said that officers had been responding to a reported domestic incident. Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Blake’s family, said in a statement Monday that Blake had been helping deescalate a dispute when police drew their guns. Crump said that Blake’s three sons “were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

    As protests broke out, a city-wide curfew was imposed until 7 am.

  • Protesters Arrested in Tennessee Could Now Lose Their Right to Vote

    A man holds a flag upside down in front of the Tennessee State Capitol during a peaceful protest on Thursday, June 4. Mark Humphrey/AP

    On Friday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed a controversial bill that enhances penalties for certain crimes related to political protests and makes it a felony to illegally camp on state property. In Tennessee, a felony conviction automatically revokes an individual’s right to vote.

    The law also increases penalties for assaulting a first responder, obstructing emergency vehicles, and rioting.

    The bill follows two months of anti-racism protests in Nashville, during which activists have camped outside the state capitol building in an effort to secure a meeting with Lee. According to the Associated Press, state legislators claimed the law was needed after some protesters set fire to a courthouse in May. But civil libertarians were quick to criticize the measure as detrimental to free speech and criminal justice reform in a state that already uses felon disenfranchisement laws to bar large numbers of Black residents from voting.

    Tennessee is one of many states that makes it virtually impossible for former felons to regain their voting rights. Just over 420,000 Tennessee residents have been disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction. Since 1990, fewer than 12,000 of them have succeeded in regaining their voting rights, thanks to an onerous process that applies even to people who have completed sentences for low-level felonies. As a result, more than 20 percent of Black Tennesseans are unable to vote. 

    “We are very disappointed in Governor Lee’s decision to sign this bill, which chills free speech, undermines criminal justice reform and fails to address the very issues of racial justice and police violence raised by the protesters who are being targeted,” ACLU of Tennessee Executive Director Hedy Weinberg said in a statement reported by the AP. “While the governor often speaks about sentencing reform, this bill contradicts those words and wastes valuable taxpayer funds to severely criminalize dissent.”  

    Tennessee isn’t the first state to try to crack down harshly on protesters involved in the recent demonstrations over police killings and racial injustice. Utah made international news when prosecutors charged eight protesters with enhanced felonies that carried a life sentence after they were arrested for allegedly splashing red paint on a road or smashing windows at the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office during a July protest. That demonstration erupted after the district attorney declined to press charges against the police officers who fatally shot 22-year-old Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal. On Friday, a retired judge handling the case reduced the charges against the protesters to lesser offenses carrying prison sentences of 5 to 15 years.

  • Trump Threatens to Escalate Federal Invasion of Portland

    President Donald Trump speaks with reporters as he walks to Marine One outside the White House en route to Texas Wednesday.Alex Brandon/AP

    President Donald Trump said Wednesday that federal agents will “go in and clean it out” Portland, Oregon, if state and local officials don’t “secure their city soon”—a threat apparently prompted by Oregon’s governor announcing that federal forces would soon start withdrawing from the city.

    “You hear all sorts of reporting about us leaving,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. “We’re not leaving until they secure their city. We told the governor, we told the mayor: Secure your city. If they don’t secure their city soon, we have no choice. We’re gonna have to go in and clean it out. We’ll do it very easily. We’re all prepared to do it.”

    Trump also said that many “anarchists and agitators” have been arrested in Portland and that “it’s gonna be a long sentence.”

    Trump’s remarks came after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that following her repeated requests, “the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers” who have been deployed in Portland for several weeks. Both Brown and Chad Wolf, the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security, said Wednesday that they had agreed on a plan that involved federal agents leaving Portland. But they made differing claims about the details.

    Brown said talks with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials this week led to an agreement that beginning Thursday, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers “will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will begin going home.” 

    Officers from those two agencies, which Wolf oversees, have been deputized to help the Federal Protective Service, also part of DHS, protect the Hatfield Federal Courthouse in the city, which has been the target of vandalism and arson attempts amid ongoing protests that began two months ago after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

    Federal agents, however, have been captured on video blocks away from the courthouse arresting protesters—allegedly without identifying themselves, in some cases. Those actions have drawn a national outcry and swelled the number of protesters participating in nightly demonstrations in the city from hundreds to thousands. Oregon’s attorney general and the American Civil Liberties Union have launched multiple lawsuits alleging federal officers are exceeding their constitutional authority in Portland. Inspectors general at DHS and the Justice Department have launched investigations into federal actions in the city.

    Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler say protests in the city are largely peaceful but that the feds are worsening the situation. “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community,” Brown said Wednesday. 

    The federal agents, decked out in military fatigues, have by almost all accounts intensified the situation in the city. Many demonstrators say they took to the streets in Portland to protest the federal presence there. Some people have reportedly thrown fireworks, bottles, and other objects at officers. “A number of federal officers have been injured, including one severely burned by a mortar-style firework and three who have suffered serious eye injuries and may be permanently blind,” Attorney General Bill Barr told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    Federal agents, for their part, have used tear gas, pepper spray, and “crowd-control munitions” on demonstrators. Earlier this month, a federal agent fired an impact munition that fractured a protester’s skull. 

    Brown said that Oregon state police will replace the CBP and ICE agents in assisting a “limited contingent of Federal Protective Service” officers, who are permanently stationed in the city and will remain. It’s not clear exactly how many federal agents are currently involved. The Oregonian reported Wednesday that 114 officers from CBP and the US Marshals Service have been deployed around the courthouse. Brown did not say if the Marshals, who are part of the Justice Department, will also leave Portland.

    Wolf confirmed in a statement Wednesday that the feds had reached an agreement with Brown on “a joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland” that included state police replacing DHS personnel in local law enforcement activity.

    But Wolf, who has struck a confrontational stance toward elected officials in Portland, claimed DHS agents would only leave once “the violent activity toward our federal facilities ends. We are not removing any law enforcement while our facilities and law enforcement remain under attack.”

    Trump went even further. “They either clean out their city and do it right, or we’re gonna have to do it for them,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

    Trump’s reelection campaign has touted his deployment of federal officers to various US cities, a bet that his supposed crackdown on cities he falsely depicts as lawless will play well politically. On Wednesday even as feds agreed to pull back in Portland, the Justice Department announced an expansion of “Operation Legend”—an effort supposedly aimed at using federal agents to combat local violent crime—to cities in three swing states: Detroit, Milwaukee, and Cleveland. The DOJ had previously announced a “surge” of agents in Kansas City, Chicago, and Albuquerque to fight crime there.

    In his testimony Tuesday, Barr defended Operation Legend and the federal deployment to Portland. Asked if he had talked to the president about how the federal deployments might help Trump’s reelection campaign, Barr refused to answer.

  • The Park Police’s Account of Lafayette Square Attack Doesn’t Add Up

    Shawn Thew/CNP via ZUMA

    Many questions linger over what led to the events outside in the White House on June 1 in Lafayette Square, wherein US Park Police attacked peaceful protesters with tear gas and excessive force moments before Donald Trump strolled through the park for a photo op in front of a nearby church. The USPP has insisted that the reason for the crackdown wasn’t for Trump’s photo op, but instead to install a new perimeter fence. The agency has also maintained that the protesters weren’t peaceful, which necessitated the use of force and defensive weapons to clear the park. But during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the incident on Tuesday, both of these assertions were called into question by Democratic lawmakers and a National Guard whistleblower who testified that the USPP engaged in “an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

    According to Gregory Monahan, the acting chief of the USPP, the plan to clear out the park and install the new fence on June 1 had been discussed up to two days prior, and “there was 100 percent, zero, no correlation between our operation and the president’s visit to the church,” he said. Attorney General William Barr, who said he ordered the clearance of Lafayette Park in order for new fences to be installed, also said that the effort had no connection to Trump’s photo op. But Barr admitted in a concurrent House hearing on Tuesday that he actually did learn “sometime in the afternoon that the president might come out of the White House” and that he later heard that Trump also planned to visit the church. Minutes before the park was cleared, he was captured on camera by CNN talking with a USPP officer. As Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) pointed out, something about the timeline of events that day doesn’t quite add up. 

    And while Monahan and Barr insist that the reason Lafayette Square was cleared about 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew was because the fencing materials had just arrived, Adam DeMarco, the National Guard whistleblower, backed up earlier claims that law enforcement officials were told that the park would only be cleared of protesters after the curfew went into effect. DeMarco also testified that the fencing materials didn’t arrive until 9 p.m. 

    One piece of evidence that might be able to clear all this up, however, is conveniently not available. As the Washington Post reported earlier this month, the audio of USPP’s radio communications system was not recorded on June 1, which Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) said “would answer a lot of the questions that we and public have at this moment.” According to Monahan, the reason why the radio transmissions weren’t recorded on that day had to do with a radio technician who set up the system incorrectly when the agency switched from an analog system to a digital format in 2018. The new system, Monahan explained, had only been set up to record transmissions from the USPP’s main dispatch channel, and not its secondary administrative channel, which is the channel that was used on June 1 so that USPP officers could communicate with law enforcement from other agencies. Monahan said that the agency did not realize the error in the system until they tried to pull the audio from the day in question on June 10. 

    But beyond the technical inconsistencies that Monahan testified about, the biggest bombshell to come from Tuesday’s hearing was during DeMarco’s testimony, when he countered Monahan’s assertion that USPP exercised “tremendous restraint” in clearing Lafayette Square. “Tremendous restraint does not involve the use of defensive equipment as weapons,” DeMarco said, referencing the use of pepper balls, smoke canisters, and other chemical irritants that USPP used to clear the park. DeMarco testified that he and other Guardsmen did not observe any violent behavior by protesters—which Monahan insisted was happening to justify the use of force—and were “deeply disturbed” by the tactics used to clear the park. DeMarco, who spent five years on active duty, including a combat deployment in Iraq, said that had his unit in Iraq done what federal agents did to the peaceful protesters on June 1, it would have violated the Geneva Convention. 

  • The NBA Is Back But Players Aren’t Talking About Games: “‘Justice for Breonna Taylor’—That’s Going to Be My Answer for Everything”

    Agustin Paullier/AFP/Getty

    Since landing in Orlando as part of the NBA’s return to play, Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris has spoken to the media about precisely one thing: “Justice for Breonna Taylor.”

    During a July 20 press conference, he urged Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to “arrest the cops and officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death,” adding, “that is going to be my answer for every question.” Four days later, he confirmed that his postgame interviews—the kind most NBA players routinely go through—would be devoted to justice for Taylor. “Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove need to be held accountable, and we need justice for Breonna Taylor and I’ll continue to preach that message after every single game,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

    Many NBA players participated in racial justice protests in recent weeks and have been adamant about using the return of the NBA season to keep a spotlight on Taylor’s death and police brutality against Black Americans. The NBA plastered “Black Lives Matter” on the game court in Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the professional basketball league is finishing its coronavirus-shortened season. The NBA also approved 29 statements, such as “Say Their Names” and “I Can’t Breathe,” for players to wear on their jerseys in Orlando once official games begin next week. 

    But the most powerful advocacy has come from players who have used their platform in interviews to keep the focus on Taylor. Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics told reporters on Friday after a scrimmage, “Before we start, guys, my answer is just going to be ‘justice for Breonna Taylor’—that’s going to be my answer for everything.”

    The WNBA, meanwhile, started its season on Saturday and permitted players to wear Taylor’s name on their jerseys. The league also specifically devoted its opening day game between the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm to honoring Taylor and other victims of police brutality. Before the game, New York’s Layshia Clarendon and Seattle’s Breanna Stewart asked for a 26-second moment of silence in honor of Taylor, who was killed at age 26. Both players are members of the league’s new Social Justice Council, which is driving the league’s advocacy on “race, voting rights, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and gun control,” among other issues. 

    Taylor, an emergency room technician, was killed in March after police officers used a no-knock warrant to enter her Louisville apartment and exchanged fire with her boyfriend, who believed they were intruders. As my colleague Samantha Michaels wrote, “Research shows that Black and Latino people have long been disproportionately affected by these kinds of raids, and tens of thousands more will likely be targeted within the year.” 

    Even though officer Brett Hankison was fired and reprimanded for “wantonly and blindly” firing 10 shots into Taylor’s apartment, none of the three officers have been arrested for murder. “I can assure you at the end of our investigation, we will do what is right,” Cameron, Kentucky’s top law enforcement officer, told reporters in June. “We will find the truth.”

    Taylor’s death gained national attention during the protests following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and NBA players have been part of the pressure campaign to hold the Louisville police officers accountable. “As one of the leaders of this league, I want her family to know, and I want the state of Kentucky to know that we feel for her and we want justice,” LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, said Thursday after his team’s scrimmage with the Dallas Mavericks. “What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong.”

    CNN reported that several NBA players have been in touch with Taylor’s mother, Tameka Palmer, and have “expressed their support.” 

    This piece has been updated.

  • In Tony McDade Case, a Florida Judge Just Ruled That On-Duty Cops Can’t Be Victims If They Kill Someone

    Protestors participated in a "unity walk" in Tallahassee in June. Don Juan Moore/Getty

    It has been two months and we still don’t know the name of the police officer who shot and killed Tony McDade in Tallahassee, Florida. The reason sounds ridiculous: The cop is claiming that in his encounter with McDade he was the victim and that, under a state law, his personal information should be protected.

    On Friday, a local judge ruled against that argument.

    In a lawsuit, the Florida Police Benevolent Association sought to keep the officer’s identity under wraps by offering him protections under the victims’ rights amendment to the state’s constitution. As a victim, they said, the law guaranteed him privacy, broadly defined. In this case, they argued that meant keeping confidential all identifying information about the officer, such as his name, prior disciplinary records, and body camera footage. But Leon County Judge Charles Dodson declared that the law, colloquially known as Marsy’s Law, “was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers when acting in their official capacity” because it could grant them “virtual anonymity” whenever they use force.

    The case exemplifies an increasingly popular tactic to conceal police brutality. Critics of Marsy’s Law, including Andrea Lyon, a Chicago defense attorney, say cops can use it to control the narrative and reframe the people they kill as the aggressors. As I wrote last month:

    Lyon told me that when police invoke Marsy’s Law, it tips the scales of justice even further to the disadvantage of a defendant. In her more-than-40-year career Lyon has defended hundreds of clients, including some who have survived police shootings, only to be charged with attempted murder of an officer. “It’s really quite common,” she said. When police claim victimhood, it makes it incredibly difficult for the defendant to claim self-defense. And without access to an officer’s personnel reports, it’s almost impossible to prove a pattern of brutality—it becomes a defendant’s word against law enforcement’s. And who do people usually believe?

    The city, media outlets, civil rights groups, LGBTQ advocates (McDade was a Black trans-masculine person), and, eventually Judge Dodson, agreed that classifying cops as victims sets a dangerous precedent. 

    “In the case at hand, Petitioner seeks to treat officers Doe 1 and Doe 2 as victims; however, the would-be accuseds are dead,” he wrote. “The officers do not seek protection from the would-be accused, instead they apparently seek protection from possible retribution for the on-duty actions from unknown persons in the community.” He continued that he could not interrupt a victims’ rights law “to shield police officers from public scrutiny of their official actions.”

    The police union has already appealed the ruling. Until that is exhausted, we still won’t know the officer’s identity.

  • A Bunch of Activists Just Sued the Feds to Make Sure What Happened in Portland Doesn’t Repeat in Chicago

    A demonstrator confronts police officers during a protest in Chicago on Saturday, June 13, 2020.Nam Y. Huh / AP Photo

    On Thursday, Black Lives Matter Chicago—along with a number of other activist groups—filed a lawsuit against the Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to stop his push of federal forces, which they say are “interfering in or otherwise policing lawful and peaceful assemblies and protests.” 

    The complaint, filed in a US District Court in Illinois, comes one day after President Trump announced a “surge” of hundreds of federal agents to the city. It cautions that the presence of these officers could lead to clashes like those in Portland over the past few weeks when federal agents—some in unmarked uniforms who refused to say who they worked for—descended upon Black Lives Matter protesters and began making arrests.

    The Department of Justice formally announced the expansion of Operation Legend on Wednesday—an initiative separate from what’s happening in Portland and one that’s framed as an initiative to support local law enforcement. But it’s a thinly-veiled show of force—flooding cities with federal agents, from the FBI, the US Marshal Service, DEA, and ATF, in the name of law and order. In its announcement, DOJ said it’d be sending 200 troops to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque, in addition to the 200 already sent to Kansas City.

    The plaintiffs in the suit see this deployment, of what they’re calling “secret police,” as an infringement on their right to assemble and say that the actions of federal law enforcement, alongside the actions of Chicago police, make them fearful to continue holding protests. The organizers specifically cite recent attacks by Chicago police officers: GoodKids MadCity, a youth community organizing group that’s among the plaintiffs, saw one of their members injured in a clash with city police during a protest over the weekend; 18-year-old Miracle Boyd was hit in the face and had several teeth knocked out during confrontation with an officer.

    “From many levels, Chicago knows about police brutality,” said Amika Tendaji, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. “This [lawsuit] is just one channel we go through to demonstrate in every way—we’re using every tool to make the police follow the law.”

    Yet on the federal level, protest has been twisted as an excuse to exercise the power of the state. In the press conference announcing the expansion of Operation Legend, Attorney General William Barr tied the increase in violence in Chicago and other places to anti-police protests. Trump has done the same. He repeatedly conflated protest action with gun violence in Chicago, saying federal force is needed to quell the “horrible ‘carnage’ going on.” This echoes how Wolf has described Portland, as “under siege…by a violent mob”; he has said the deployment of Homeland Security Investigations and US Customs and Border Protection was only to defend federal property from “lawless anarchists.” (Whether or not any violence is ever de-escalated by these federal agents did not appear to cross the minds of these men.)

    On July 20, after seeing what was happening in Portland, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appeared wary at the prospect of federal intervention in her city. She said, “We don’t need federal agents without any insignia taking people off the streets and holding them, I think, unlawfully.” The following day she sent a letter to President Trump rejecting aggressive interference in favor of federal assistance in other crime prevention measures. But it appears that by Wednesday, Lightfoot had spoken with the president to confirm the arrival of Operation Legend agents.  

    “There is no support—on any level of government—for Black and brown Chicago to protect them from police repression,” Tendaji said. 
     
  • Trump Campaign Smears American Protesters With Photo From Ukraine

    A police officer attacked by protesters during clashes in Ukraine, Kyiv on February 18, 2014Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

    President Donald Trump is trying to boost his reelection chances by highlighting his efforts to use federal officers to crack down on what he claims is lawlessness in US cities. This week, his campaign ran a Facebook ad that showed protesters attacking a police officer. The words “chaos & violence” appear under the photo, a suggestion that Trump will stop such actions.

    But the image is not from a protest in an American city. It is from Kyiv in 2014, part of the so-called Maidan Revolution against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian policies. Yanunkovych was eventually forced out. He fled to Moscow—but not before exacting a bloody toll. His effort to suppress the uprising resulted in the deaths of an estimated 130 Ukrainians. Most were protesters killed by troops deployed by Yanukovych. More than 30 deaths were reported during demonstrations on February 18, 2018, the day the photo was taken.

    Yanukovych was accused of extensive corruption. Last year, a Ukrainian court convicted him of treason over his invitation to Russia to invade Ukraine in 2014. Paul Manafort, who worked as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, was previously a longtime adviser to Yanukovych and was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for crimes that include illegally lobbying for Yanukovych in the United States and tax fraud related to his efforts to hide proceeds from his Ukrainian work. The House of Representatives impeached Trump last year for attempting to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. That scheme involved Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, working with former political allies of Yanukovych.

    The Trump campaign’s error was flagged Tuesday night by Jesse Lehrich, a former foreign policy spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

    In its effort to smear American anti-police-violence protesters, the Trump campaign—which did not respond to questions about the ad—seems to have inadvertently sided with pro-Russian forces suppressing democratic dissent in Eastern Europe.

    Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian photographer, confirmed via email that he took the photograph in Kyiv. He indicated the Trump campaign had not sought his permission to use the image but added that the campaign didn’t need to do so, since he published it on Wikimedia under a Creative Commons license, allowing anyone to use it. Chernov, who now works for the Associated Press, said he couldn’t comment further.

    But Chernov previously seemed to fault the Trump campaign in remarks to Business Insider: “Photography has always been used to manipulate public opinion. And with the rise of social media and the rise of populism, this is happening even more,” Chernov said. “The only way to combat this is through education and media literacy. When people learn to independently distinguish truth from lies, then the number of manipulations will decrease.”

  • House Dems Demand Abuse of Power Investigation After Federal Agents Storm Portland

    Alex Milan Tracy/AP

    House Democrats are demanding that the inspectors general of the Justice and Homeland Security departments open an immediate investigation into whether the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement agents to invade Portland, Oregon, constitutes an abuse of emergency powers.

    The letter—signed by three House committee chairs: Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Bennie Thompson, and Carolyn Maloney—comes after federal agents, some dressed in unidentified uniforms and camouflage, unleashed violent tactics against protesters in Portland last week. The chairs cited Portland as one of several troubling examples in which federal law enforcement officials have been accused of using excessive force in order to remove protesters demanding police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. The Democrats also cited the administration’s use of tear gas to clear Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, immediately before a presidential photo op.

    The administration has since pointed to Trump’s executive order in late June, itself a response to the movement to remove white supremacist statues, to defend its actions in Portland. As my colleague Dan Friedman reported:

    Officials at DHS and US Customs and Border Protection claim that they are in Portland to in support of a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense to provide “personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” More specifically, CBP says that its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service in guarding federal property, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them. In Portland, CBP says it’s protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse from vandalism.

    “The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained—and, frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner,” the congressional committee chairs wrote in their letter Sunday. “The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.”

    The Trump administration appeared to double down on Sunday, announcing that this week, the president plans to roll out a new directive aimed at expanding federal police power in cities across the country.

    Here’s the Democrats’ letter:

  • Trump Plans to Expand the Federal Invasion of American Cities

    Donald Trump displays an executive order on "Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence," on Friday, June 26.Tia Dufour/White House/ZUMA Wire

    President Donald Trump plans to assert new authority this week to dispatch federal law enforcement agents to American cities to quell “unrest,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday on Fox News. 

    “Attorney General Barr is weighing in on that with [acting Homeland Security] Secretary [Chad] Wolf, and you’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities—whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country—we need to make sure their communities are safe,” Meadows said.

    Trump’s critics say he is deploying armed federal officers to cities in an effort to help his reelection effort. The Trump campaign lent support to those claims Sunday by gleefully tweeting out Meadows’ comments.

    Meadows referred to the ongoing federal presence in Portland, Oregon. There—in defiance of requests by local officials—the Homeland Security Department and the US Marshalls Service are claiming authority to police Black Lives Matter protests and to make arrests. In Portland, Border Patrol teams have detained people, and federal agents have reportedly used tear gas against protesters. (Protesters have alleged Border Patrol officers failed to clearly identify themselves when making arrests, though the agency disputes that.)

    The Feds justify their presence in Portland by citing a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed them to protect statues, monuments, and federal property. They say they are protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal property in the city. The Border Patrol also says its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service guard federal facilities, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them. 

    But Meadows suggested the Trump administration wants to broaden its legal justification to allow federal agencies to expand their presence in other locations. Notably he cited Chicago, where the issue drawing national attention is gun violence, not political unrest. Trump has previously threatened to “send in the Feds” if Chicago “doesn’t fix the horrible ‘carnage’ going on.”

    “The statues are one thing, but it’s really about keeping out communities safe, and the president is committed to do that,” Meadows said.

    These plans are sure to draw condemnation from Democrats and other Trump critics already denouncing the administration’s actions in Portland. On Sunday, the chairs of three House committees—Judiciary, Oversight and Homeland Security—asked inspectors general in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to investigate the “use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, DC, Portland, and other communities across the United States.”

  • The Border Patrol May Be Coming to Your Town

    Federal officers in Portland, Oregon after clearing the streets with tear gas and other crowd control munitions, on July 18, 2020.Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa via AP Images)

    The Trump administration says the Department of Homeland Security can occupy downtown Portland, tear gas protesters, and arrest people on city streets with little explanation. Critics say that’s fascist. DHS says it’s a model to take on the road.

    “With as much lawbreaking is going on, we’re seeking to prosecute as many people as are breaking the law as it relates to federal jurisdiction,” acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told NPR on Friday. “That’s not always happening with respect to local jurisdiction and local offenses. But, you know, this is a posture we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.”

    In Portland, DHS, defying the express wishes of elected officials, appears to be using the fig leaf of defending federal property to pursue President Donald Trump’s wish to forcibly suppress unrest. In what critics call clearly unconstitutional behavior, camouflage-clad officers—Mother Jones reported on Friday that they are Border Patrol agents—have arrested protesters, allegedly without identifying or explaining themselves. Federal officers have used tear gas and shot projectiles from paintball guns at protesters.

    Officials at DHS and US Customs and Border Protection claim that they are in Portland to in support of a June 26 executive order in which Trump directed the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense to provide “personnel to assist with the protection of Federal monuments, memorials, statues, or property.” More specifically, CBP says that its agents are deputized to help the Federal Protective Service in guarding federal property, a role that the DHS secretary has statutory power to give them. In Portland, CBP says it’s protecting the Hatfield Federal Courthouse from vandalism.

    These efforts do face legal challenges. The US attorney in Oregon has requested an investigation into videos of camouflaged federal authorities without identification arresting protesters in Portland, CNN reported. In a statement Friday, CBP told Mother Jones its agents had carried out arrests in the city and defended them as legal.

    On Saturday, Oregon’s Attorney General sued DHS and other agencies Friday night, arguing they are violated the Constitution by detaining and arresting demonstrators without probable cause. On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oregon branch sued DHS and the US Marshals Service, which is part of the Justice Department, seeking a court order to block federal officers “from dispersing, arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force against journalists or legal observers.” The ACLU said it will be filing additional lawsuits in coming days aimed at restraining federal action in the city. Citing Cuccinelli’s comments on nationalizing the Portland model, the ACLU tweeted: “We won’t let them.”

    But DHS is pushing ahead. With little notice, the department has already dispatched teams of agents to police the National Mall in Washington, Gettysburg National Military Park, and other locations. Cuccinelli seems set on further expansion.

  • Defend History. Tear Down the Confederate Statues.

    Library of Congress

    The Monument

    After the Civil War, Edward Virginius Valentine returned from Europe to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia—the former Confederate capital—and began using his training in classical sculpture to enshrine the myth of the Lost Cause. Over the next few decades Valentine made a career of sculpting monuments to defenders of slavery, building tributes to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, among others. And he made the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond—unveiled on Monument Avenue in June 1907 by Davis’ last remaining child and toppled in June 2020 by protesters against systemic racism after the death of George Floyd.

    Over the past few months, protesters have spray-painted, damaged, torched, and toppled symbols of white supremacy around the country. Critics have decried the acts as shameful attempts to erase the country’s history. The president demanded that protesters who took down a Confederate monument in Washington, DC, be “immediately arrested.” But the destruction of our cultural legacies is itself part of our cultural legacy, reaching back to ancient history. It is as old as the act of honoring false gods.

    Video

    The Symbolism

    Valentine, working with an architect, made the monument “overwhelmingly tall” and depicted Davis in a “heroic” pose, delivering his famous 1861 speech about quitting the US Senate to the join the Confederacy. Like all the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue, it was erected during an era when white Southerners were rewriting the story of the Civil War. According to the propaganda of the Lost Cause, the Confederates hadn’t betrayed their country; they’d fought gallantly for the principle of states’ rights. And Davis wasn’t the treacherous leader of a failed state that had rebelled to protect slavery; he was a hero fighting a tyrant in vain to protect a “way of life.” But how to show all that? Valentine, and other artists, looked to a previous empire: Rome.

    Behind Davis is semicircle of Doric columns, like those used in the Colosseum and the Parthenon. An angelic female figure hovers above him, intended to be an allegorical figure of the South, harkening back to the classical images of gods. This is purposeful. As public historian Lyra Monteiro explains in her forthcoming book on the invention of “white heritage” in the early United States, the white landowners of this time saw the Greeks and Romans as their racial ancestors. W.E.B. Du Bois notes in Black Reconstruction that planters “threw Latin phrases” into their speech to cultivate an air of gentility, an affectation that reached a grim pinnacle with John Wilkes Booth supposedly yelling “sic semper tyrannis” after shooting President Lincoln.

    More importantly, Rome’s own history of slavery was central to the defense of American chattel slavery. In his famed Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson is at pains to distinguish between the “white” slaves of antiquity and the enslaved Africans in the Americas. The ancient slaves went on to become great artists and scientists due to the inherent characteristics of their race, Jefferson argues. The inferior Black souls that built and toiled on his Monticello—including, presumably, his own progeny—would never reach such heights. “The past,” Monteiro writes, “becomes an important proving ground to verify the immutability of racial categories, and the inevitability of the hierarchical structure of contemporary society.”

    Art was joined to the effort to create a racial and cultural identity out of some imagined classical patrimony. American sculptors traveled to Europe to study the ancient Greek statuary that scientists like Johann Friedrich Blumenbach were using to define the normative white body in their “empirical” racial hierarchical system. Valentine’s own masterpiece was the sculpture Andromache and Astyanax, depicting an incident in The Iliad. This was the heyday of Neoclassicism. An elegant vision of history was summoned to prettify a brutish present. “The ‘classical’ generally is what gets created to explain what whiteness is, and that’s why it happens at the same time as colonization,” Monteiro says. “It’s to justify why they are who they are.”

    Inscribed in the very design of the Jefferson Davis monument was the project of rationalizing the racial order.

    George Washington Custis Lee, a son of Robert E. Lee, reviews a 1907 Confederate reunion parade in front of the Jefferson Davis monument in Richmond, Va.
    Library of Congress
    The statue of Davis depicts him striking a “heroic” pose as he delivers his famous speech about quitting the Senate to join the Confederacy.
    Chip Somodevilla/Getty

    The Iconoclasm

    The ritualistic destruction of statues that some find sacred isn’t new, nor was it always considered barbaric. In antiquity, most of the great Mesopotamian, Persian, and Greek civilizations routinely destroyed the art and architecture of their enemies during war, a symbolic act of regime change. “Castrating a statue of a king showed that he will no longer have heirs,” explains Bailey Barnard, a doctoral student in ancient Greek art at Columbia University, who specializes in the history of iconoclasm. “Hacking out the eyes and ears of a king meant that he couldn’t see his people.” In 612 BCE, conquering Babylonians rubbed away the faces of Assyrian kings depicted on stone reliefs.

    In 480 BCE, when the Persians ransacked the Acropolis, the Athenians coped with their defeat by turning ritualistic iconoclasm into a way of demarcating the civilized from the savage. “[S]uch iconoclastic activity came to be seen as a paradigmatic example of ‘Oriental’ impiety and violence,” writes art historian Rachel Kousser. The stereotype was cemented in the art of the Parthenon, where images of ransacking Persians sat atop the columns. Says Barnard: “This set up the East-West dichotomy of civilized, not-iconoclastic people against Eastern barbaric, iconoclastic people.” Looters, you might say. Thugs.

    The Anglo-Western “descendants” of classical antiquity inherited the values around the preservation and destruction of art. In the so-called Age of Enlightenment, museums, populated with collections from ancient Greece and Rome, sprouted up as slavery spread throughout the New World. These were sites of preservation and celebration, redoubts of “civilization” built to contrast with the “savagery” without.

    The masses weren’t always pleased with the public art in their cities. In July 1776, a group of radical agitators—sorry, revolutionaries—called the Sons of Freedom pulled down a statue of King George III in New York, beheaded it, and melted down the body for bullets. The outcry in Europe was swift. One scandalized British officer sent the statue’s head to back to England as proof of the “infamous disposition of the ungrateful people of this distressed country.” According to a political cartoon of the event drawn by a German artist, the ungrateful and distressed people ripping down King George were none other than enslaved Africans. It was an early instance of homegrown iconoclasm, then as now decried by the ruling class.

    The statue of Jefferson Davis after protesters tore it down.
    Parker Michels-Boyce / AFP /Getty

    The System

    In Belgium, people are forcing down statues of King Leopold II, acknowledging the atrocities he committed in the colonial Congo. In California, statues of Saint Junipero Serra, who founded the mission system there that led to the enslavement and displacement of Indigenous peoples, are being toppled. Monuments to Christopher Columbus, that harbinger of New World colonialism, are coming down, too. Blows are being struck against tokens of white supremacy around the world.

    But iconoclasm can be a tricky thing in a country still grounded in the principles of the Enlightenment. In San Francisco, a statue of Ulysses S. Grant was torn down, as was a statue of abolitionist Hans Christian Heg in Madison, Wisconsin. Sympathetic liberals thought this was going too far, but they were missing the larger reckoning underway. “We’re basically populating our landscapes with able-bodied white men on pedestals. It almost doesn’t even matter who they are,” Monteiro points out. “It’s a message of ‘I am in power, and you are not.’” It is white supremacy, too, to center the heroism of Grant and Heg at the expense of the enslaved people who were the principal agents of their own liberation. Pulling down monuments throws open the question not just of who gets celebrated but of who gets to decide, and how, and on whose behalf.

    The plinths left behind by these felled monuments are a negative space daring us to fill them with something new. In some places, this is already beginning to happen. Just this week, in Bristol, England, a statue of Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid went up where a statue of slaver Edward Colston had once stood. Importantly, it was a guerrilla installation, unapproved by the city. The aesthetics of the piece were still beholden to some of the old cultural frameworks—a heroic individual, towering over the group—but the transgression of putting it up at all sent its own message: The time has come for the unauthorized story. A day later city officials removed the statue.   

    The iconoclasm of the past few months is a war on the inevitability and immutability embodied by the monuments. The ease with which they have come down reminds us that whiteness itself is artificial and impermanent. Something made by humans can be brought down by humans, too. “Dismantling the statues is not erasing history,” Barnard says. “It’s an act that shows how we can dismantle a system.”

    A crew removes the “Vindicatrix” statue, which stood atop a 50-foot pillar. John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty
  • Weeks Later, 500 People Still Face Charges for Peacefully Protesting in Minneapolis

    Hundreds of peaceful protesters face charges in Minneapolis.Julia Lurie/Mother Jones

    Six days after George Floyd’s death, Ahmed Abebe and some friends joined a protest marching towards Interstate 35W in Minneapolis. “I’ve been a resident of Minnesota my whole life. I’m a black man,” said 25-year-old Abebe. “So going out to the protests was something that was meaningful to me—something that hits me straight to the core.”

    Just after the 8 p.m. curfew, a swarm of city cops, state troopers, and National Guardsmen surrounded the group of 150 peaceful protesters on four sides. Using tear gas, flash grenades, and rubber bullets, the officers corralled the protesters into a parking lot, ordered them to lie on the ground, and informed them over a loudspeaker that they were being arrested.

    “That was my ‘Oh shit’ moment,” remembers Abebe, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy. Over the next few hours, they were zip-tied one by one and brought to police vans and buses, which took them to the Hennepin County Jail.

    While the protests have died down in Minneapolis, their effects linger: According to data from the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, more than 500 people still face charges from the days of unrest after Floyd’s death.

    A fraction of those are felonies. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is prosecuting roughly 15 people—mostly for alleged burglaries from businesses including Foot Locker, AT&T, and Target. (Critics note that the same office didn’t charge three cops at the scene of Floyd’s death.) The US Attorney’s Office has so far charged 13 people with federal offenses, including three men for allegedly burning down the city’s Third Police Precinct.

    But the vast majority of the cases involve people peacefully protesting after curfew. Abebe is among 493 people, many of whom are young Black and brown Minneapolis residents, faced with charges of violating the executive curfew order or unlawful assembly—nonviolent misdemeanors punishable by 90 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.

    “People are having to face having this charge be something that can be searched out about them by potential employers or schools,” said Jared Mollenkof, a public defender in Hennepin County who is on the board of the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which raised millions to bail out protesters during the unrest.

    Minneapolis stands in stark contrast with neighboring St. Paul, where City Attorney Lyndsey Olsen decided to dismiss cases against protesters who weren’t violent or threatening “in the interest of justice,” according to a statement.

    As he sat zip-tied, Abebe thought of his parents, refugees from Ethiopia who “put us here to have a better life than they did growing up,” he said. Abebe recently graduated from a master’s program and started his first job, on the tech team at a healthcare company. “I’m definitely very, very scared about what could possibly happen if this gets on my record” he said. “I don’t want something like this to ruin my chances of a dream job.”

    Deondre Moore, a 25-year-old HIV activist among the arrestees who traveled from Beaumont, Texas, to participate in the protests, thought of his mother. She’d been watching the evening’s events unfold on his Facebook Live feed. “I’m a mama’s boy,” said Moore. “So I kept thinking, ‘Oh, mom—she’s gonna be so scared for me.”

    Protesters in Minneapolis wait to be arrested on May 31.
     Julia Lurie

    Another arrestee, a physician, said he was protesting not just Floyd’s death, but gaping healthcare disparities across the country. He works at the Hennepin County Medical Center, where Floyd was pronounced dead. “Minneapolis prides itself on being a liberal city,” he said. “My experience here is that’s not so true—especially working at the county hospital and seeing a lot of the inequities tragically play out time and time again.”

    Outside the jail, in the wee hours of June 1, officers called protesters off the buses one by one, served them with their citations, and released them. “It was clear that there was a lot of confusion” among officers, says Dan Bellandi, a 44-year-old software engineer among the arrestees. “I heard them asking, ‘What are we charging them with? Is it just the one number or is it two numbers?’” Indeed, the citations varied among the five protesters I spoke to from that night: some were charged with both violating curfew and unlawful assembly, others just with violating curfew.

    The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office is “considering dismissing cases where there is no violence or other egregious conduct,” a spokesperson told me. But in the meantime, says Mollenkof, the criminal defense lawyer, “it ends up taking up a lot of emotional energy and resources to deal with having the power of the state marshaled against you.”

    Indeed, arrestees have convened regularly in a Minneapolis park to strategize how to get legal fees covered and charges dropped. “This is part of the silencing,” said arrestee Metadel Lee, a junior in college spearheading the organizing efforts. “This is just part of the system that keeps us from actually making sure that we live in a more equitable society.”

    Over the phone recently, Abebe admitted that the charges had been hanging over him ever since that night in May. “I’ve worked really hard all my life to try to stand up for what’s right,” he said. He noted that the charges are an example of the very thing he was protesting: police overreaction and inequities in the criminal justice system. “It’s very ironic, isn’t it?”