Civil Rights


Disobey or Die

Back in the winter of 1982, Air Florida flight 90 took off from National Airport. The first officer noticed dangerous readings on some instruments and pointed them out to the captain. The captain told him he was wrong, and he accepted the captain's authority. He did nothing. Thirty seconds later the plane crashed into the 14th Street Bridge. Everyone on board died except for four passengers rescued out of the icy river.


Slavery Was Abolished

Tag: Civil Rights, Peace and War, Prison Industry, Race Relations

By David Swanson, World Beyond War

I recently debated a pro-war professor on the topic “Is war ever necessary?” (video). I argued for abolishing war. And because people like to see successes before doing something, no matter how indisputably possible that thing is, I gave examples of other institutions that have been abolished in the past. One might include such practices as human sacrifice, polygamy, cannibalism, trial by ordeal, blood feuds, dueling, or the death penalty in a list of human institutions that have been largely abolished in some parts of the earth or which people have at least come to understand could be abolished.

Of course, an important example is slavery. But when I claimed that slavery had been abolished, my debate opponent quickly announced that there are more slaves in the world today than there were before foolish activists imagined they were abolishing slavery. This stunning factoid was meant as a lesson to me: Do not try to improve the world. It cannot be done. In fact, it may be counter-productive.

But let’s examine this claim for the 2 minutes necessary to reject it. Let’s look at it globally and then with the inevitable U.S. focus.

Don't Imprison Amy Goodman for Journalism

Don't Imprison Amy Goodman for Journalism

Tag: Civil Rights, Environment, Media

I've started a petition to the State of North Dakota that I would imagine and hope just about everyone would want to sign.

Here's the whole text of the petition:


Talk Nation Radio: Benjamin Madley on the California Indian Catastrophe

Benjamin Madley is an associate professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is also chair of American Indian Studies. He discusses his new book, An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can usually download from Audioport, but I couldn't get the sample rate to be acceptable to the website this week, as the show was recorded elsewhere.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at


Who Killed the People of California? Should Kaepernick Protest His Uniform?

Tag: Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been given much deserved credit for protesting racism by sitting out the Star Spangled Banner, which not only glorifies war (which everyone, including Kaepernick is totally cool with) but also includes racism in an unsung verse and was written by a racist slave owner whose earlier version had included anti-Muslim bigotry. As long as we're opening our eyes to unpleasant history hiding in plain sight, it's worth asking why the 49ers is not a team name that everyone associates with genocide. Why isn't Kaepernick protesting his uniform?

Of course, protesting one injustice is worthy of infinite thanks, and I don't actually expect anyone who speaks out on one thing to also protest everything else. But I've just read a terrific new book that I suspect unearths a history that most Californians are largely unaware of. The book is An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873, by Benjamin Madley, from Yale University Press. I doubt I've seen a better researched and documented book on anything ever. While the book maintains an engaging chronological account, and while there is plenty of uncertainty in the records used, the 198 pages of appendices listing particular killings, and the 73 pages of notes back up an overwhelming case of genocide by the UN's legal definition.


One City Is Following Through on Protests of Confederate Monuments

Tag: Art, Civil Rights, Culture and Society, Peace and War

Charlottesville is a diverse, enlightened, and progressive college town in Virginia with its public spaces dominated by war memorials, in particular memorials to Confederate soldiers not from Charlottesville who represent a five-year moment in the centuries of this place's history, as viewed by one wealthy white male racist donor at another moment in the 1920s. As the Black Lives Matter movement took off nationally this year, many Charlottesville residents demanded that imposing monuments to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson be removed from their places of prominence.

The city of Charlottesville has set up a commission on race, memorials, and public spaces. I've attended portions of two meetings and am genuinely impressed by the open, civil, and democratic process underway to find solutions and possibly consensus. The process has already been educational for me and for other members of the public and of the commission. Some white residents have mentioned realizing for the first time that African Americans do not see their history in Charlottesville's public memorials.

I am not African American, but I certainly feel the same way. I'm disgusted by the monuments to those who participated in land theft and genocide against Native Americans, by the monument to the war on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that killed some six million people who go unmentioned on the monument, and by the Lee, Jackson, and generic Confederate soldier statues. The possibility of seeing people and movements and causes I actually care about memorialized in public space is exhilarating and not previously hoped for.


What's the Truth Hidden by the "Super Predators" Lie?

Tag: Civil Rights, Prison Industry, Race Relations

The desire to punish for the joy of punishing, for revenge, or for racist or sadistic domination has always had certain difficulties hiding behind the pretense of punishing for protection from danger. Creating fear of (young, black, male) "super predators" was a propaganda tactic for politicians like Hillary Clinton that bore some similarity to the efforts by politicians like Hillary Clinton to create fear of Iraqi weapons that didn't exist. The latter was meant to hide U.S. aggression toward Iraq. The former was meant to hide mad, raging punitive vindictiveness that sought to put lots of people in cages for lots of time regardless of the damage done.

One of the difficulties that pretending to punish people for public safety has in hiding real motives for mass incarceration is that the people whom the punishers most want to lock up for the longest time (or execute) are generally the least likely people to commit another crime (even if guilty of the first one). A 2009 study cited in the remarkable new book, Boy With a Knife, found that those who had been incarcerated for homicide were the very least likely to commit any kind of crime. In California in 2011 almost 49% of prisoners released later returned to prison for new criminal convictions, but that figure was less than 1% for those released who had been convicted of murder.


Talk Nation Radio: Holly Sterling on the unjust imprisonment of her CIA whistleblower husband

Tag: Civil Rights, Peace and War, Talk Nation Radio

Holly Sterling is the wife of unjustly imprisoned CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling. She discusses his case, his imprisonment, and efforts to request a pardon.

Total run time: 29:00

Host: David Swanson.Producer: David Swanson.Music by Duke Ellington.

Download from LetsTryDemocracy or Archive.Pacifica stations can also download from Audioport.

Syndicated by Pacifica Network.

Please encourage your local radio stations to carry this program every week!

Please embed the SoundCloud audio on your own website!

Past Talk Nation Radio shows are all available free and complete at

and at


You Should Watch Making of a Murderer

Tag: Civil Rights, Prison Industry, Prosecution

There's a 10-hour documentary on Netflix with more to teach us than all the combined episodes of Star Wars. (Yes, it's nice to see a storm trooper refuse to fight, but only until he gleefully joins in the killing for the other side, with all his victims still in masks so that we, the executioner audience, don't have to see faces die.)

Making of a Murderer is a hugely important film, and it is in fact quite suspenseful. And I am about to SPOIL the plot for you. So please STOP READING until you've watched the film if you want it to include suspense. (To give you time to watch something so lengthy, I'll also spoil the rest of the NCAA basketball season and tournament for you. Virginia wins.)



I'm going to assume you've seen Making of a Murderer or are not concerned about the element of suspense.

The reason I find a need to write about this is because it exposes a silent epidemic. If child abuse or rape or child labor or some other horror were never talked about, an article or book exposing an unknown epidemic would be quite valuable. And, historically, a video documenting such a thing would be remarkable.

This past year, videos filmed primarily on telephones have exposed the long-pre-existing epidemic of U.S. police murdering unarmed people. We still don't know the full size of that epidemic. It will of course pale beside something like cancer, while dwarfing other horrors about which we are trained to obsess, such as Islamic terrorism.

Making of a Murderer exposes something else that police do. But this is a horror that cannot be documented in a 5-minute video. It takes 10 hours. What police, together with prosecutors do, on a significant scale but a scale we have not yet tried to measure, is this: they frame innocent people and send them to prison.

The psychology involved is tantalizing but a bit of a distraction. When a police officer shoots an unarmed kid, we can ask whether the act grew out of sadism or racism or fear or carelessness. The fact is it grew out of impunity. When police and prosecutors -- and judges and juries -- railroad innocent people to prison, we can ask whether they've acted out of malice, ignorance, fear, or recklessness. The fact is that they've acted out of a sense of untouchable power.

That every level of law enforcement is twisted by racism is well documented in The New Jim Crow, among other places. We know that ugly and ignorant views regularly influence what police and prosecutors do. But Making of a Murderer is a true story of white people framing innocent white people with crimes. The victims of this frame-up are poor, poorly educated, and of markedly low intelligence and social skills. Various prejudices may have been at work. But primarily what's revealed in the documentary is the power of the presumption of guilt that comes with all criminal accusations, combined with the power of the presumption of innocence that in our culture belongs to the police, and only to the police.

During the explosive growth of the U.S. prison system, most people have gone to prison under plea bargains. That many innocent people have falsely pled guilty to plea bargains in order to avoid the risk of a higher penalty has been well documented, although we have no idea of the true scale of this phenomenon. Among those who go to trial in the United States, we know also that a significant number of innocents are found guilty. One reason we know this is that in a tiny fraction of cases there is DNA evidence to be tested that can prove innocence, and -- particularly during the 1980s -- there have been cases in which that evidence was maintained but not tested. Later testing has resulted in numerous exonerations.

Those lucky cases in which DNA evidence was available to free an innocent were not unlike most other cases in the manner in which a false guilty verdict was arrived at. As I've noted before, Brandon Garrett's Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong examines the prosecutions of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA testing. Of the 250, 76% were misidentified by an eyewitness -- most of the witnesses having been led to that act by police and/or prosecutor, some of them badgered and threatened, others merely manipulated. Invalid forensic science expertise contributed to 61% of the convictions, much of it willfully manipulated, some fraction perhaps attributable to well-intentioned but negligent incompetence. Informants, mostly jailhouse informants, and most of them manipulated and bribed by police or prosecutor, helped out in 21% of the trials. In 16% of the cases, the accused supposedly confessed to the crime, but these "confessions" tended to be the result of police intimidation, manipulation, brutality, and simple lying. Garrett fears that similar problems infect the U.S. justice system as a whole. I have no doubt that they do.

In Making of a Murderer we see police produce a false confession, witnesses provide false testimony, the FBI provide false scientific evidence, and -- in a rape case toward the beginning of the story -- an eyewitness led by police into misidentifying a rapist. That earlier crime puts the protagonist in prison for 18 years before a DNA exoneration. Once free, he files a suit for $36 million that threatens to expose numerous crimes by the police who framed him for rape. But at that moment, they frame him for murder.

One of the police and prosecutors' main tools is the media. They produce a false confession by their victim's 16-year-old nephew that proves too ludicrous to be used in court. They never call him as a witness against his uncle. But the jury pool has already been overwhelmingly contaminated by the dramatic tale fed to the media. Many years ago, I reported on the production by the Culpeper, Virginia, police of a false confession by a low-IQ man named Earl Washington. The transcript of the confession was absurd. When asked a straight-forward question, Washington would guess, and always guess wrong. He didn't know any of the facts of the case. But the questioner would then feed him the facts and ask "Isn't that right?" and Washington, aiming to please, would agree. Some states have since required the videotaping of interrogations and confessions.

In the case of Making of a Murderer there is enough videotape of the questioning of the 16-year-old to make crystal-clear what happened. And yet it didn't do a damn bit of good. The kid had no money and therefore no expert defense. His lawyers and his jury blew it. But his uncle had two huge advantages. First he had been exonerated for an earlier crime. The fact that the police were out to get him was widely recognized. The local police department was forbidden to take part in the investigation of the new crime, and took part anyway, and happened to find key evidence. Second, Steve Avery -- that's the name of this innocent man -- settled his $36 million suit for $400,000 and used that money to hire excellent attorneys.

Now, having excellent attorneys is very rare but far from unheard of. Wealthy people have them all the time. But having attorneys who actually believe you're innocent is virtually unheard of. And having attorneys willing to argue that the police framed you is the most extreme rarity. Avery had all of these things, and it still was not enough.

What can we do? Sign this petition to free Steve Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey.

What can we do about the thousands who could not afford to go to trial, could not afford a good lawyer, could not devise any means to persuade their good lawyer to believe them, and/or could not convince their good layer who believed them to risk his or her career by taking on the police department?

I think we have to work to encourage the production of films that will make the phenomenon of frame-ups as well known as the phenomenon of police murder. It's either that or get people to start reading.


Chicago Restricts Drones: Who's Next?

Tag: Civil Rights, Peace and War

Chicago media outlets are reporting that drones have been banned from most of Chicago's skies and cannot fly over you or your property without your permission. The text of the ordinance, however, makes exceptions for police that will require eternal vigilance.

Local legislative action around drones began in U.S. cities in early 2013 with the public demand for resolutions opposing foreign drone murders by the military and CIA (and related training in U.S. skies), combined with public concern about domestic U.S. police departments that had begun acquiring weaponized and surveillance drones. This quickly expanded to include concerns about private drones -- among other reasons, because surveillance footage from private drones could be acquired by governments. As near misses between drones and passenger aircraft began piling up, those issues of safety were added to the mix.

Chicago has now passed a modified version of an ordinance that forbids any drone "that is equipped with a firearm or other weapon" and any drone flown "with intent to use such small unmanned aircraft or anything attached to it to cause harm to persons or property." The new law also bans any drone flight "for the purpose of conducting surveillance, unless expressly permitted by law."

Then come the exceptions: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit any person who is authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration . . . ." And: "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency in accordance with Section 15 of the Freedom from Drone Surveillance Act, codified at 725 ILCS 167/1 et seq., or its successor provision."

That Illinois law allows police to use drones whenever they claim there is "a high risk of a terrorist attack" or they obtain a 45-day warrant from a court, or they decide they don't have time to bother obtaining a warrant and must act swiftly "to prevent imminent harm to life or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or the destruction of evidence," or they're attempting to locate a missing person but not undertaking a criminal investigation, or they're solely doing crime scene or traffic crash scene photography (with a warrant if on private property), or there is a disaster or public health emergency (which need not have been formally declared).

None of that explicitly allows weaponized drones for police, except in so far as the word "terrorist" is generally taken to allow just about anything. So, does Chicago's ban on weaponized drones remain intact for police? I'm pessimistic. I don't think the ban on entering the sky over private property or flying at night or flying drunk or any of the other bans survive for police. The law says "nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the use of a drone by a law enforcement agency. . . ."

How police drone use works out, I think, depends entirely on how the state law is interpreted and enforced. Who will monitor police drone use? Who will punish violations? The new Chicago ordinance includes penalties: "Any person who violates this section or any rule promulgated thereunder shall be fined not less than $500.00 nor more than $5,000.00 for each offense, or may be incarcerated for a term not to exceed 180 days, or both. Each day that a violation continues shall constitute a separate and distinct offense." But that sounds like a penalty for an individual, not a government agency.

I'm afraid what has been created is a policy of restricting drone use by individuals in Chicago, without effectively restricting it by the entities most likely to violate rights, intimidate, restrict ability to exercise free speech or assemble or petition the government for redress of grievances, and to use unjustifiable force.

This question is far from settled. Chicago is only one city. Other cities and states could choose to clearly ban weaponized drones, and to ban police surveillance drones under a clear system of supervision, oversight, and accountability.

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