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What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

What To Do When You're Stopped By Police - The ACLU & Elon James White

Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.

This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Understanding the Controversy: Is Israel's Response to Hamas Truly Genocide?

Trump Gets OWN Supporter LOCKED UP

Opinion | American Muslims Are in a Painful, Familiar Place - The New York Times

American Muslims Are in a Painful, Familiar Place

An image of a bomb blast in Gaza with partial photos of President Biden and President George W. Bush over it.
Chantal Jahchan

By Rozina Ali

"Ms. Ali is a journalist who covers war, Islamophobia and the Middle East.

When President Biden landed in Tel Aviv days after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of more than 1,400 people, he told an audience of Israelis that this was not just Israel’s Sept. 11, that “it was like 15 9/11s.”

The comparison, which emerged widely and immediately, seemed apt on the surface: a brutal attack that shocked a nation and changed the course of its history. Indeed, it’s been dizzying to witness the speed at which the same patterns we saw after Sept. 11, 2001, are playing out. The mourning of a terrorist attack has been interrupted by the swift bombardment of civilian neighborhoods. American officials,pundits and companies have quickly rallied around Israel in its war on Gaza, which has rapidly intensified by the day. In the first week of the war, Israel dropped more bombs on Gaza than the United States did on Afghanistan in a year. Civilian casualties in Gaza have climbed exponentially. And in the West Bank, recent images of Palestinians being tied, blindfolded, stripped and allegedly subjected to attempted sexual assault by Israeli soldiers and settlers recall Abu Ghraib.

In the United States, it’s as if the country has turned back the clock two decades, but not in the way that Mr. Biden suggests. For those who experienced waves of harassment and government surveillance in the years after Sept. 11, the president’s pledge of “unwavering” support for Israel set off alarm bells. I’ve been speaking with lawyers, community groups and advocacy organizations that worked closely with Muslims after September 2001 about what they’re seeing. Not since that time — not even after the election of Donald Trump, who signed an executive order banning visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries within days of taking office — have I heard so many Muslim and Arab community members say they feel isolated. After living through and reckoning with the devastating aftermath of the war on terrorism, it seems the lessons of Sept. 11 have been forgotten.

There seems to be a sense of both resignation — we’ve been here before — and shock — but we’ve been here before.

In the wake of Sept. 11, the U.S. government activated the full force of the national security and law enforcement apparatus to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil. And it bore down on one particular group: Muslims in America. Mass arrests and a national registry of immigrant Muslims led to the deportation of thousands. F.B.I. and police informants, sent to monitor mosques and Muslim neighborhoods, were later found to have been overzealous and accused of entrapping people who committed no violent crimes. The government’s focus on potentially dangerous Muslims spread to American media and society. According to F.B.I. data, hate crimes against Muslims spiked in 2001. Though that pattern slowed in later years — assaults skyrocketed again in 2015 and 2016 — rates have never dipped back to their pre-2001 numbers.

Today, many Muslims in the United States fear a new outbreak of violence. Days after the attacks in Israel, the Biden administration announced that local and federal law enforcement officers across the United States are “closely monitoring” for connected threats. Within a week of Oct. 7, scattered reports were made to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of F.B.I. visits to mosques, and women in hijabs were reportedly being assaulted in several cities.

Though communities were braced for what was to come, no one could have predicted that the first hate crime would be the killing of a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy, Wadea Al-Fayoume, whose mother was rushed to the hospital after also being repeatedly stabbed. Joseph Czuba, their landlord, was charged in the killing. (He has pleaded not guilty.) According to the boy’s mother, Mr. Czuba had become violent after the news of Oct. 7 and yelled, “You Muslims must die,” before stabbing Wadea 26 times. While speaking at Wadea’s funeral, one religious leader, Imam Omar Suleiman, wondered in his remarks: “Have we not learned anything from 9/11? Do we really want to live those dark years again?”

Perhaps because those “dark years” were not so long ago, attacks like the one on Wadea feel as though they are opening a barely closed wound. One Illinois resident told me that community members are now planning patrols for their children, not dissimilar to those started by some mosques after Mr. Trump was elected. “This is exactly what we were afraid of,” Abed Ayoub, the director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told me recently.

What happened to the Muslim community in the United States after Sept. 11 — the surveillance, the targeting, the fear — was intimately tied to many Americans’ belief in the righteousness of what our government was doing abroad. As the United States invaded first Afghanistan and then Iraq, both wars that wrought devastating civilian casualties and paved the way for political chaos, the public perception of Muslims in America plummeted to new lows. Within a year of the Iraq invasion, a Pew poll found that a larger number of Americans believed Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. By 2014, Muslims ranked lowest in another Pew poll of how the American public views different religious groups.

That unfounded perception has remained in the years since. The sudden arrival of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria only deepened the suspicion of Muslims in America as an ever-present threat. Once again, Islam appeared in close connection to terrorism in the American imagination as images of masked figures carrying out gruesome executions reinforced twisted stereotypes of Muslims. The ISIS phenomenon of the Western recruit meant that any wayward Muslim teenager could be a threat and that even the most assimilated people had the potential to become terrorists.

Since the Israel-Hamas war started, these long-held suspicions now appear to be seeping into the public debate again over showing support for Palestinians in Gaza, more than 8,000 of whom have been killed since the bombardment began, according to the Gazan health ministry. The false connection between supporting civilians in Gaza and the terrorist activities of Hamas is manifesting across our country’s public institutions. From college campuses to places of work, people are facing retribution for expressing support for Palestinians that is being misconstrued as anti-Israel or pro-Hamas. Companies have rescinded job offers, journalists have been fired for sharing posts, and students whose organizations have signed statements have been smeared publicly. The scale of suppression of speech by social media platforms, such as the shadow banning of Gaza-related posts and the blocking of accounts on Instagram, has been alarming enough that Human Rights Watch has started to document it.

Perhaps the Sept. 11 comparison and the good-guy/bad-guy binary can be evoked successfully because there has been almost no accountability for the failures of the war on terrorism. The oversimplification is made worse by Mr. Biden, who, in the same visit to Tel Aviv during which he cautioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to avoid the “mistakes” America made after Sept. 11, he also referred to Palestinians as “the other team.” There is no call from Israel to win the “hearts and minds” of Palestinians, as George W. Bush claimed to do with Iraqis; there is no call to bring freedom to Gaza, as the United States said it wanted to do in Afghanistan. Instead, Mr. Biden has not publicly admonished the Israeli defense minister for saying that his country was fighting “human animals.” And at home, he and other leaders have offered little to assuage the growing fears in the Arab and Muslim community: Last week he had a private meeting with Muslim leaders that the administration never publicly announced. Though the White House released a statement the day after Wadea Al-Fayoume’s killing, the president didn’t call the boy’s family until five days later.

The Oct. 7 attacks didn’t happen on American soil, but this is an intimate war for many Americans. Some families wait desperately for scraps of news of their loved ones taken hostage by Hamas. Others search for some sign of their loved ones in Gaza, waiting for the blue checks to show that their WhatsApp messages have been read by family members who are trying to stay alive amid near-constant bombing and a lack of food and water.

The first Friday after Oct. 7, the first holy day for Muslims and Jews since the attacks, New York City and the rest of the country seemed to be on high alert, bracing itself because a former Hamas leader in Qatar had called for protests across Arab nations in support of the Palestinians, a call which was mislabeled as a day of jihad. I decided to visit the Islamic Center at N.Y.U., expecting a tense and nervous congregation. Instead, an imam finished his speech, and the women around me lined up to pray. As we knelt together, all I could hear was sobs.

We’ve been here before, but we don’t have to be here again.

Rozina Ali is a contributing writer at The New York Times Magazine and a contributing editor at Lux magazine. She is also a 2024 New America fellow.

Source photographs by Fadel Senna, Jonathan Ernst, Jim Watson, Tolga Tezcan/Getty Images."

Opinion | American Muslims Are in a Painful, Familiar Place - The New York Times

King Charles, Visiting Kenya, Faces Calls to Answer for Colonial Abuses - The New York Times

King Charles, Visiting Kenya, Faces Calls to Answer for Colonial Abuses

"Older Kenyans who lived through the British colonial period want an apology and reparations. Younger Kenyans want an acknowledgment of more recent alleged abuses by British companies and troops.

An old man wearing a brimmed hat looks out a window.
Joseph Macharia Mwangi is among the last surviving veterans of the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonial forces in Kenya in the 1950s. He has a message for King Charles.Patrick Meinhardt for The New York Times

At 86, his gnarled hands grasping a walking stick as he ambled around his small patch of land facing Mount Kenya, Joseph Macharia Mwangi recalled with bitterness the years that he had spent fighting the British colonial government in Kenya.

Seven decades ago, he had camped with Mau Mau rebels on that mountain and in the forests, braving frigid rain, lions and elephants. He was shot twice by British troops, he said, and almost died. And when the colonial forces eventually captured him, he said he was tortured and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

“The British forces were really hard on us. They were terrible,” said Mr. Mwangi, who served directly under the uprising’s storied leader, Dedan Kimathi. “Now we want an apology and money for what they did.”

Kenya’s bleak colonial past loomed large as King Charles III officially began a four-day tour of the East African nation on Tuesday. It is his first state visit to any member of the Commonwealth group of nations since he became king last year, and the first to an African country.

Charles and Queen Camilla arrived in a Kenya where many communities are still grappling with the pain and loss they or their families endured over decades of British colonial rule, which lasted from 1895 to 1963. The king is under pressure from human rights groups, elders and activists to redress historical injustices, apologize and pay reparations to those who were tortured and removed from their ancestral lands. 

His family has a close association with Kenya. His mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was visiting the Treetops game lodge in 1952 when she learned that her father had died and she would succeed him as monarch. That year, Britain launched a bloody eight-year campaign to crush Kenya’s independence movement, led by the Mau Mau rebels.

King Charles III visited a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history.Pool photo by Ian Vogler

There are still about 400 British military personnel stationed in Kenya for training. King Charles is also being asked to address abuses that some of those troops have been accused of committing over the years. The issue is so touchy that on Monday, Kenyan police blocked a news conference aimed at raising awareness about the accusations.

The king faces a younger generation of Kenyans, some apathetic and others welcoming, but many who are disdainful of the monarchy after learning about its grim and cruel legacy. Many Kenyans have keenly watched as other former British colonies, like Barbados, severed ties with the monarchy or are considering doing so, like Jamaica.

Kenya is a republic, and Charles has no official governmental role, but the country does belong to the Commonwealth, headed by Charles. The Commonwealth, which comprises 56 nations across five continents, was born out of the embers of the British Empire. 

Buckingham Palace has said that the king will “acknowledge the more painful aspects” of the two countries’ history and “deepen his understanding of the wrongs suffered” during the intense counterinsurgency from 1952 to 1960. 

Young people on a cargo container depicting different African leaders in Nairobi, on Sunday. King Charles faces a generation of Kenyans who are apathetic or disdainful of the monarchy.Patrick Meinhardt for The New York Times

Britain has never directly apologized for its abuses in Kenya but has expressed regret for them. After a lawsuit was filed, Britain paid about 20 million pounds ($24.3 million) a decade ago to more than 5,000 people who had suffered abuse during the Mau Mau uprising. Mr. Mwangi was not among them.

“There’s a lot of pain and harm that has gone unacknowledged and that they refuse to reckon with,” said Aleya Kassam, a Kenyan writer and a co-founder of the LAM Sisterhood, which produces plays, podcasts and musicals about women, including those involved in Kenya’s liberation movements.

“I felt just rage when I learned about that dark history and how much of it is still present,” she said, adding, “I don’t think he should be comfortable at all coming here.”

But for Charles, the trip is a chance to bolster Britain’s relationship with Kenya, a key economic and military ally in a turbulent region.

He will attend a state dinner hosted by President William Ruto, and visit a naval base in the coastal city of Mombasa. A lifelong environmental champion, Charles will visit Nairobi National Park and attend an event celebrating the life of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai in Karura Forest, which she helped save from developers before she died in 2011.

Wanjira Mathai, the daughter of Ms. Maathai, and an environmental activist herself, said, “I have admired how he’s leveraged his influence and his support on issues of sustainability and the environment for decades, and that has to be acknowledged.”

Ms. Mathai said that Charles and her mother had been close friends who would spend hours talking at conferences or over tea at his office about environmental sustainability and climate change. “So for him to come and honor her legacy is deeply personal,” said Ms. Mathai, who will meet the king on this visit.

Helmets used by British colonial forces are among the items displayed at the Nyeri Museum in Nyeri County, Kenya.Patrick Meinhardt for The New York Times

On Tuesday, Charles and Camilla visited a new museum dedicated to Kenya’s history at the site where the country was declared independent in 1963. He nodded occasionally, hands behind his back, as he viewed exhibits documenting Britain’s colonial legacy, including the state of emergency period when the British government sought to apprehend anyone suspected of belonging to or aiding the Mau Mau.

Millions of people, mostly from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group, were rounded up during this period, forcibly moved and put in detention camps or villages surrounded by barbed wire fences and trenches lined with sharp sticks. Many of them were tortured, raped, put into forced labor and left to die of disease and starvation.

The crackdown divided the Kikuyu. Those who collaborated with the colonial authorities gained access to large swaths of land that they and their heirs continue to benefit from today.

“There was a lot of agony in those villages,” said Jane Wangechi, 96, who acted as a spy and cook for the Mau Mau. Ms. Wangechi said that her family was moved into the detention villages for three years, during which she said she lost two uncles and a cousin.

Jane Wangechi, 96, acted as a spy and cook for the Mau Mau. She and her family were moved into detention villages for three years as part of a campaign to quash the anticolonial movement.Patrick Meinhardt for The New York Times

The king is also facing calls to account for other abuses and injustices, old and new.

Across Kenya’s Rift Valley, elders from the Nandi ethnic group are calling on the British government to return the head of Koitalel Arap Samoei, a spiritual leader and anticolonial fighter. The Nandi elders say his head was severed by a British officer in the late 19th century and shipped to England as a war trophy. The Nandi are part of the Kalenjin tribe that Mr. Ruto belongs to.

​​The leaders of the Kipsigis ethnic group also say they want compensation for being forcibly removed from their fertile lands, which paved the way for the arrival of white settlers and the establishment of profitable tea and pineapple farms. This year, a BBC report on sexual abuse on the tea farms owned by British companies sparked resentment and tension over land in Kenya.

Charles’s visit is also resurfacing grievances about the conduct of British soldiers currently in Kenya.

The training unit has been accused of sexually abusing women, sparking a devastating fire and using harmful chemicals.

In addition, a British soldier was a suspect in the killing of Agnes Wanjiru, a sex worker, in 2012, but was never arrested or charged. An agreement between the two countries exempts British soldiers from prosecution. Some lawmakers want to change that. In August, Kenya’s Parliament launched an inquiry into the activities of British soldiers.

“Agnes has never rested in peace,” Esther Muchiri, Ms. Wanjiru’s niece, said in an interview. “We are not asking for special treatment from the king. We just want him to deliver justice.”

King Charles, Visiting Kenya, Faces Calls to Answer for Colonial Abuses - The New York Times

Monday, October 30, 2023

Steve Schmidt explains how politicians like Trump & Netanyahu lead the world to war | The Warning

Netanyahu Says Israeli Troops Will Press On in Gaza: Israel-Hamas War News - The New York Times


The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: Censorship, Harassment Intensifies on Campus Amid Gaza War | Democracy Now!


“Not in Our Name”: 400 Arrested at Jewish-Led Sit-in at NYC’s Grand Central Demanding Gaza Ceasefire | Democracy Now!


Study Finds Trump Voters Have Drastically Lower IQ Than Liberals | Empire News

Study Finds Trump Voters Have Drastically Lower IQ Than Liberals


After Donald Trump was elected President, a group of researchers at the Pentagon set into motion a study unlike any other – they wanted to find out the average IQ of a group that would elect such an unqualified person into office.

Working with over 10,000 confirmed Trump voters and 10,000 confirmed non-Trump voters, researchers gave standardized intelligence quotient tests to each group. There was no time limit to complete the test, and it was given twice over a week-long period.

“The results of the testing, while not at all surprising, prove that Trump voters are drastically behind liberals and non-Trump voters on an intellectual basis,” said Dr. Carl Brewner, who headed the study. “The test was 200 questions, and each completed test gave us an average IQ score based on answers. On average, a Trump voter would score in the 30th percentile, or have an average intelligence level of about 71, far below the 90 to 110 that is considered ‘normal.’ A non-Trump voter would score an average of approximately 96.”

The research team claims that their test is ‘fairly conclusive,’ and they feel that even if they tested every single one of the millions of Trump voters, they’d come up with similar results.

“It was quite obvious to everyone that anyone who would vote for Donald Trump must be pretty stupid,” said Brewner. “Just look at the stupid things they say and do in your timeline on Facebook every single day. Now, though, we don’t even have to rely on just physical evidence of their stupidity via comments and posts and memes – we have the actual scientific data to back up how dumb they really are.”

Study Finds Trump Voters Have Drastically Lower IQ Than Liberals | Empire News

Marc Lamont Hill Speaks On Israel-Hamas War, International Law, History ...

Americans trapped in Gaza feel abandoned by President Joe Biden

‘Hopeless and abandoned’: How it feels to be a U.S. citizen trapped in Gaza

"The State Department told this American family in Gaza they'd be able to escape via the Rafah crossing without making sure that they would be.

The Okals, who own a beautiful home in a Boston suburb, are your typical Massachusetts family. Abood earned his Ph.D. from the University of Utah and works for a large pharmaceutical company in Cambridge. His wife, Wafaa, worked for a local nonprofit, focusing on workforce development.  They have a 1-year-old son, Yousef, whom they take on playdates with other children. They have a dog named Lilly.  They are U.S. citizens. They carry U.S. passports. And they are among the hundreds of U.S. citizens who are trapped in Gaza as the Biden administration, rather than treating them as people who are deserving of urgent action from their government, has allowed them to become more like bargaining chips. 

americans stuck in gaza strip
From left, Wafaa Abuzayda, Abood Okal and their 1-yr-old son, Yousef Okal.Courtesy Family

Weeks ago, the Okals, who are friends I've advocated for with the State Department, traveled to Gaza to visit Wafaa’s parents and introduce them to their grandson.  Based on photographs Abood shared, they went to the beach, visited the sites, gathered with family for meals, and the children played on their iPads during down time. Yousef rode a horse with his dad. 

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Everything changed on Oct. 7, when Hamas carried out its deadly and brutal attacks on Israelis. Not just for the Okal family, of course, but for everyone, everywhere. But in their case, they’ve been misled by officials from the U.S. State Department. On Saturday, Oct. 21, the Okals received text messages, a phone call and an e-mail from State Department officials advising them that the Rafah crossing, through which they could get to Egypt, would open at 10 a.m. Minutes before 10, a State Department official sent a message to Abood, stating: “[w]e are ten minutes away, I hope you’re there. Please let me know as soon as you make it across.”

They arrived at the Rafah crossing before 10. During the six hours they waited, not a single person was permitted to cross. Saturday, Oct. 21, was the third time the State Department alerted the Okals about an opening at the Rafah crossing on a specific date and time, but U.S. citizens weren’t allowed passage.

Four hundred U.S. citizens and permanent residents and 400 more of their dependentshave requested help from the State Department to leave Gaza through the Rafah border, a source familiar with the situation on the ground told NBC News for an article published Wednesday.

As Abood shared with NBC News for that article, “airstrikes have intensified in the last few days” and he and Wafaa had run out of milk for Youssef. “It would be his first night ever in his entire life to go to sleep without having milk,” he said.

The State Department has accused Hamas militants of blocking the crossing.  In a news conference Thursday, five days after the Okal’s Oct. 21 attempt to get out, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that “at times on the Gaza side of the border there has been no one there from Hamas to open the gates and process people and let them through. And at other times, there have been actually armed Hamas militants standing there, not even letting people approach the gate.”

Abood sent me photographs and videos from the Rafah crossing on Oct. 21. There are no militants or government personnel in those photos, except for the Egyptian guards on the other side of a physical gate.  In an Oct. 21 e-mail conversation that included State Department and White House National Security Council officials, a State Department official told me that, regarding Americans getting out of Gaza, they still needed “Egypt, Israel, and the DFA [de facto authorities] to all agree” and that they were “very close to agreement with two of the three” and “working the third very hard.”

They won’t tell me who’s who, but this much is clear: The State Department sent its citizens to the Rafah crossing without having secured any agreement from anyone that they could cross. In the same e-mail, the State Department official says, “I have encouraged Consular Affairs not to issue any additional statements advising of opportunities to cross Rafah until we have a clear ‘yes’ from all three actors.”

How was that not the policy before?

(When asked by MSNBC to verify the above email exchange, a State Department spokesperson said in an email, "Due to privacy considerations, we are not able to comment on specific cases, but we have made thousands of phone calls and sent thousands of emails to U.S. citizens in Gaza, their immediate family members, and their loved ones who are inquiring with us on their behalf." )

During that Thursday news conference, Miller, the State Department spokesperson, acknowledged, “As you know, there have been times when we thought that the gates were going to open and we sent messages to American citizens, telling them that it was possible it was going to open, and so if they could make it safely there they should consider doing so. And each of those times, we unfortunately weren’t — the gate didn’t actually open, for the reasons I just articulated.”

As of early Friday evening, there was still no departure option for U.S. citizens in Gaza or a timeline for when they might be able to leave. 

For two weeks, the Okal family has been sheltering in a single-family home in Rafah with 40 other people, many of them strangers.  According to reports from Abood, they currently live off canned tuna and fava beans, but with each passing day, it’s been more difficult to find food.  They’re out of cooking oil, so they can’t have hot meals. Their primary need is clean drinking water. The last time they ran out of drinking water, they relied on saltwater to stay hydrated for a whole day. Their current supply of drinking water was expected to run out Friday night, and they didn’t know what they’d drink Saturday.

Yousef’s not sleeping.  Abood tells me Yousef used to only wake up at the sound of a nearby airstrike or bombing, but now, even in moments of relative calm, he wakes up screaming in the middle of the night from night terrors.

In an audio message he shared with me Thursday, Abood said there’d been three airstrikes within 900 feet of their home.  Last week, a nearby airstrike blew out windows and doors where they’re staying.  All the walls are cracked. 

Whether it’s from an airstrike, hunger, dehydration or sickness, the Okals and hundreds of other U.S citizens in Gaza might not make it out alive. Understandably, as Abood put it, they feel “hopeless and abandoned.”

Speaking of Americans trapped in Gaza, Miller said at Thursday’s news conference that “we are going to stay in touch with them, let them know we’re working on it. And as soon as we have an update about the — them actually being able to make it through the crossing into Egypt, we will send them that update.”

Every American should be dismayed that President Joe Biden traveled to Israel, negotiated a small aid deal, and then asked the American people during a prime-time speech to fund additional military aid to Israel without securing — or even mentioning — the safety of fellow citizens.  He is prioritizing military aid to a foreign government and the destruction of a foreign territory, which is resulting in the killing of foreign civilians, over the safety and security of American citizens.

The administration’s priorities are backward.  A citizen is a citizen, and when it comes to the U.S.’s responsibility in helping them, it should not matter which side of the wall in this conflict they are on.  Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should have no bigger priority than bringing all Americans — those held hostage in Gaza and those trapped in Gaza — home safely.  If not, I fear we are barreling towards the unconscionable: that an American-made weapon paid for by American taxpayer dollars may be fired by Israel and kill American citizens."

Americans trapped in Gaza feel abandoned by President Joe Biden

Opinion | A Gaza Pediatrician’s Desperate Plea for Fuel for Hospitals - The New York Times

A prison guard confessed to sexual misconduct. He got a year of paid time off and no charges

illustration of women in prison cells
Incarcerated women in California have filed hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse by staff since 2014.Illustration: Carson McNamara/The Guardian

"Women incarcerated in California state prisons have filed hundreds of complaints of sexual abuse by staff since 2014. But in that time frame, only four officers have been terminated for sexual misconduct, according to data obtained by the Guardian. And only four guards have been confirmed to have faced criminal charges for their behavior.

One of the guards who was prosecuted, Gregory Rodriguez, has been accused of assaulting and harassing at least 22 women at the Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). He retired while under investigation and is awaiting trial on nearly 100 charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Of the others who were prosecuted, one case was dismissed, one guard pleaded no contest but had the conviction wiped from his record after the case was sealed, and a third pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two days in jail.

The low rate of prosecutions can be explained in part by the low number of cases found substantiated by the prisons and the department, which conduct the initial investigation into reports of abuse.

In rare instances where the institutions do acknowledge that abuse occurred, prison officials and prosecutors may decide that the behavior does not constitute a criminal violation.

And even when there is clear evidence of sexual assault, district attorneys, who regularly work with law enforcement and sometimes have ties to officers’ unions, may decline to file charges.

The California department of corrections and rehabilitation (CDCR) says it has moved to terminate 17 guards in its women’s prisons for sexual misconduct since 2014. Four of them were terminated, according to a spokesperson, Terri Hardy. Thirteen resigned or retired.

Survivors and their advocates say the system consistently fails victims. It feels as if “the investigative process doesn’t serve any purpose”, said Keiana Aldrich, who sued the state alleging sexual abuse by four prison staffers while she was incarcerated. When women do speak up, the system protects predators, she argued: “They just pass your case along, and it gets dismissed, and they don’t care … All officers stand together.”

‘I had proof’

Aldrich’s uphill battle is illustrative of the experiences of many women who come forward with reports of abuse inside CDCR.

Aldrich was making 35 cents an hour working as a janitor at the California Institution for Women (CIW), the other women’s prison, in June 2018 when her nightmare began, her civil complaint alleged. The wages were enough to help her buy hygiene products and food she otherwise couldn’t afford. But soon after starting the job, she said, her supervisor Ivan Ordaz repeatedly sexually assaulted her. After she complained to a lieutenant, Ordaz was transferred out of the unit where she was working, but another supervisor also started groping and grabbing her, she said.

The second supervisor, Samuel Navarro, gave her shirts and candy, and a “love letter” urging her not to tell, which she turned over to investigators, she said. Records show Navarro admitted to prison investigators he’d written the letter and “kissed” her, which would appear to constitute criminal misconduct – by law, an officer cannot have a consensual relationship with an incarcerated person, and any sexual contact is considered abuse.

But Navarro was neither fired nor prosecuted. The prison deemed Aldrich’s claim “unsubstantiated” and Navarro quietly resigned.

“I had proof and they still did nothing,” she said.

In June 2019, Aldrich was again sexually abused, this time by David Sanches, an officer who followed her into her cell and groped her, she alleged in a complaint. Records show Sanches later admitted to the prison’s investigators that he’d repeatedly looked at Aldrich naked from outside her cell and had written her sexually explicit letters. In a written confession to a lieutenant, he said: “The purpose of this memorandum is to tell on myself.”

illustration of woman and child
Keiana Aldrich: ‘I speak out now for my friends who are still in there.’ Illustration: Carson McNamara/The Guardian

But a month after he sent the letter, it was Aldrich who faced punishment: she was charged with “extortion by means of force or threat”, with an incident report listing the officer as the “victim”. The “extortion” claim, her lawyers said, was based on the fact that Aldrich’s roommate had written to the officer threatening to report his misconduct.

Aldrich was sentenced to solitary confinement and had her prison term extended by roughly 180 days.

Records show the prison ultimately concluded Sanches had engaged in sexual misconduct with Aldrich, lied about it and engaged in “insubordination”, “disobedience” and other violations. Sanches was on paid leave for a year after he wrote his confession. In August 2020, CDCR informed him he was being terminated, but allowed him to resign first.

CDCR referred Sanches’s case to the San Bernardino district attorney’s office for prosecution, but the DA declined to file charges. A spokesperson for the DA did not answer questions about the case, but said in an email that in general, “our office will turn down charges when there isn’t sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”.

It’s unclear if Aldrich’s “extortion” rules violation was ever dismissed; she was freedseveral months after Sanches’s resignation, after she was resentenced when the courts recognized her as a survivor of childhood sex trafficking who should not be imprisoned.

She ultimately won two settlements totaling $450,000 from the state.

CDCR declined to comment on the case. An attorney for Navarro declined to comment, referring questions to the corrections department. A lawyer for Sanches did not respond to inquiries. The state justice department represented Ordaz in the lawsuit and also declined to comment. In filings, the three men’s lawyers denied that they had sexually abused Aldrich.

Aldrich said the experience led her to repeatedly attempt suicide: “I couldn’t cope. I wanted to get out of there so badly, but you can’t just open the gates and leave.” She eventually found lawyers who helped, she said. “I could only cope once I had people on my side listening to my story.”

“I speak out now for my friends who are still in there. Because nothing is being said and nothing is being done, and I want people to really see what goes on,” she said.

A national crisis

Jenny Huang, one of Aldrich’s civil rights lawyers, said the only time she sees claims substantiated is when a victim becomes pregnant or guards admit misconduct. Bringing civil cases can be especially dangerous while women remain imprisoned, due to the threat of retaliation, she said. With Aldrich, she found success once she came home: “We sue the prisons over and over again and they keep settling these cases, but the problem seems to have only gotten worse.”

California recently settled seven women’s lawsuits against Rodriguez for $3.9m, according to their lawyer, Robert Chalfant.

Sexual assault in prisons occurs in states across the US and is a growing crisis as the number of women behind bars has soared.

The last federal survey of incarcerated people, conducted in 2011 and 2012, counted roughly 47,000 people who had been sexually abused by staff in the previous 12 months, about 2% of the incarcerated population. It’s the best data point for estimates of the prevalence of abuse, though government officials acknowledge it’s a significant undercount, because it’s a snapshot in time that does not account for the total number of people behind bars in a given year.

Out of those tens of thousands of victims, only a fraction file official complaints, with many women fearful of retaliation, including solitary confinement, discipline, loss of privileges and further violence by guards.

overhead view of octagonal complex
The Central California Women’s Facility, in Chowchilla. Photograph: Alamy

And only a fraction of reported complaints are substantiated by a prison investigation. The most recent national report on incidents that were disclosed by the institutions, which encompasses the years 2016, 2017 and 2018, said there were 2,496 confirmed victims of staff sexual abuse nationally.

The situation in California echoes the national picture. Data on the cases that do get reported in California, while limited, suggests few women end up filing claims. In a 2016 report based on interviews with more than 130 randomly selected CCWF residents, civil rights lawyers recorded more than 80 incidents of alleged sexual assault and abuse by guards. That year, the prison itself reported a total of 28 allegations of sexual misconduct, a figure that includes claims of abuse committed by other incarcerated people.

Rita, a 36-year-old recently released from CDCR, said she had been assaulted by Rodriguez roughly six years ago in an area with no cameras or witnesses, but had never disclosed it. She is not included in the criminal prosecution of the former officer: “I’d been a role model in prison. I never got in trouble, and I was really trying to change my life … and he told me, ‘Nobody is going to believe you.’ So I stayed quiet.”

The majority of reported cases are ultimately dismissed by the prisons. The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (Prea) requires institutions to track claims of sexual misconduct, and Prea data shows that California’s men’s and women’s prisons, which house 95,000 people, received an average of more than 600 prisoner complaints of staff sexual misconduct and harassment per year from 2017 to 2022.

For the cases for which CDCR concluded its investigations in that time frame, it concluded 96% of them were “unsubstantiated” or “unfounded”.

At CCWF, the latest audit found that out of 24 claims of sexual abuse by guards between March 2021 and March 2022, six were deemed “substantiated”. Out of nine sexual harassment investigations, zero were substantiated.

The situation is similar at CIW; a 2021 Prea report revealed that out of 200 claims of sexual harassment and abuse by guards from 2015 through early 2021, 12 cases (6%) were substantiated; 108 (54%) were ruled “unfounded”, meaning CDCR concluded “no incident occurred”; 52 (24%) were “unsubstantiated”, meaning investigators couldn’t verify the claims; and 28 (14%) remained open.

The vast majority of cases are dismissed because women may lack physical proof to verify their claims, guards’ accounts are believed over victims, staff cover for each other, and CDCR’s investigators fail to interview witnesses, according to state audits and advocates’ accounts.

A recent audit of CDCR’s handling of staff misconduct by the state inspector general rated the department’s performance as “poor” in 56% of the cases it reviewed in 2022, finding that the prisons’ investigators and internal affairs staff failed to identify threats to people’s safety, did not properly classify allegations of misconduct, failed to gather and review evidence, mishandled the interview processes and submitted incomplete reports to wardens.

One particularly harrowing example of investigators’ neglect for victims came with a botched sting operation, in which CIW staff used two women as “bait” to catch a guard engaged in misconduct and failed to intervene when he assaulted them again. CDCR and its attorneys declined to comment on the case; in court filings in the matter, a CIW lieutenant admitted the officer assaulted the women during the sting, and that investigators monitoring the operation did not stop the attacks.

Sally Moreno, the Madera county district attorney, who is prosecuting Rodriguez, filed charges on behalf of 13 women, not his 22 potential victims CDCR disclosed. She said in an interview that not all of the claims were criminal violations that could be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” in court.

But she said the broader lack of charges for sexual misconduct over the years stemmed in part from the way the institutions operate: “The prisons are intentionally opaque …They prefer to handle their own business rather than have anybody do any real oversight.”

Advocates say it’s clear sexual abuse is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions.

Why women are so vulnerable

There is no good international data on sexual violence behind bars, but human rights advocates say it’s a global phenomenon in prison settings. UK data recently revealed nearly 1,000 prison rapes have been reported in England and Wales since 2010. Reports have suggested rampant abuse in Egypt and New Zealand. A 2022 US Senate report on federal women’s prisons found that staff have abused women in at least two-thirds of facilities, with some abused for months or years.

“Sexual violence is one element of a structural system that disregards women as individuals and deprives them of liberty and autonomy,” said Macarena Sáez, executive director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, a global non-profit.

Advocates have found that sexual assault by guards is linked directly to poor prison conditions and deprivation. When women are denied access to adequate food, menstrual products, physical space, soap, medical and mental health care, and communication with their families, they become significantly more vulnerable to abuse by guards, said Linda McFarlane, executive director of Just Detention International, a nonprofit that combats sexual violence in prisons and conducts trainings for officers. “These are things that people need to live with basic dignity and health, and so the power of those who do have access to those things increases exponentially.”

complex viewed from outside fence
The California Institution for Women, in Chino. Photograph: Tribune Content Agency LLC/Alamy

Officers have been found to exploit the fact that many incarcerated women are mothers, and some were primary caregivers before their imprisonment, coercing them into sexual abuse by threatening to reduce their contact with their children or promising to expand it.

Women may also be imprisoned in remote locations far from their families, McFarlane added.

Advocates have called on CDCR to implement policies to reduce those vulnerabilities. They have also demanded the system improve its reporting process to ensure timely and thorough investigations, , offer widespread access to trauma-informed counseling with outside clinicians, remove officers who are under investigation for abuse and expedite release of survivors.

CDCR officials declined repeated interview requests over several weeks.

Jeff Macomber, the head of CDCR, told lawmakers at an August hearing that the department was participating in a working group with advocates to improve whistleblower protections and trauma services for sexual abuse survivors. He said CDCR had rolled out body cameras in the women’s prisons as a “deterrent”, and that serious complaints were now being investigated by officials outside of the prison.

But Tess Borden, an attorney with the Prison Law Office, a civil rights firm that has sued CDCR, said that on a recent visit to CCWF, she had observed many officers with their body cameras off, and the prison still had no camera in the hearing room where many of Rodriguez’s alleged rapes occurred. She said her firm had also found evidence of institutions failing to refer serious sexual assault cases to outside investigators.

Hardy, the CDCR spokesperson, said in an email that body cameras were “expected to be on during interactions with incarcerated persons” and that employees found to violate this policy were “subject to disciplinary action”. She acknowledged there was no camera in the hearing room, but said there was one in the hallway outside. And she said prisons were now “required” to refer staff misconduct claims to CDCR’s “centralized screening team”, which operates outside of the institution and decides how to proceed.

“CDCR takes all allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously. The department investigates all allegations of sexual abuse, staff sexual misconduct, and sexual harassment pursuant to its zero-tolerance policy and as mandated by [Prea],” Hardy said. “CDCR’s Prea policy also provides guidelines for the prevention, detection, response, investigation, and tracking of allegations against incarcerated people.”

‘Come forward’

Anissa De La Cruz, CCWF’s warden since March, said at the hearing where Macomber testified that the prison now had a sergeant dedicated to Prea complaints and that when victims reported abuse, protocols called for separation from the alleged perpetrator, evidence preservation, and offer of services.

“When incarcerated women report incidents of sexual assault, we respond with urgency, empathy and comprehensive care,” she said, adding that the prison was trying to transition away from an “us v them” mentality between guards and prisoners, in line with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently announced reforms to make the state’s prison system more “humane”. The governor’s office declined to comment.

Aldrich said she hoped the prosecution of Rodriguez would at least make some officers think twice about abusing women in their custody and encourage more victims to speak up: “Sue them. Come forward. Tell your story. Don’t let it go.”

But she was not optimistic about widespread change: “It’s about the power that these officers have. They get what they want, and I don’t think it’s ever going to stop.”

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