88-Year-Old Woman Gunned Down By Drug Squad
Two days before Thanksgiving, an Atlanta narcotics team crashed through the door of 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston in a 'no-knock' drug raid. Johnston, a "feeble and frightened woman" who lived alone, according to her friends and neighbors, apparently heard police breaking through the burglar bar before taking down her front door. Johnston, an African-American, fired a revolver and five shots struck the officers as they rushed in the door. The police, heavily armored and only slightly injured, returned fire. Ms. Johnston was killed instantly.
The tragedy began with a no-knock warrant stating that an unnamed informant had bought crack cocaine from a man at the house, giving police the authority to burst through the door without warning.
But in an interview with a local FOX-TV affiliate in late November, the informant, whose identity was concealed, said he had never been to the house in question and had not bought drugs there.
"They were going to pay me just to cover it up," he claims. "They called me immediately after the shooting to ask me -- I mean to tell me, 'This is what you need to do.'" He added that the officers told him explicitly that he was needed to protect their story.
The informant's claim has resulted in the suspension of the entire narcotics team, and prompted the FBI and local US Attorney to open their own investigations. Police Chief Richard Pennington has also announced a review of the Atlanta Police Department's policies on the use of no-knock warrants and confidential informants.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Groom Dies In Hail Of Police Bullets On His Wedding Day
Sean Bell, 23, an African-American man leaving a night club in Queens, NY after attending his bachelor party, died on November 25 after police opened fire on his car. Bell's friends, Joseph Guzman, 31, and Trent Benefield, 23, were both seriously injured. All were unarmed, according to The New York Times.
Over 50 shots were fired by five undercover officers documenting narcotics and prostitution at the club. Police claims of justification have fallen on deaf ears. Now an angry community wants answers.
About 400 people gathered the next day across from the hospital where Bell was pronounced dead to hear speeches from community leaders. In the crowd was Bell's fiancee, Nicole Paultre. Tears trickled down the face of their 3-year-old daughter, Jordyn. New York City Councilman Charles Barron has promised "an explosion in the community," and said "every one of those police officers should be in jail for the rest of their lives, and after they die, they should go straight to hell."
"We are here because this could have been us," Rev. Al Sharpton told the crowd. "We've got to understand that all of us were in that car."
For more graphs & charts, visit www.november.org/graphs
U.S. Correctional Population At New Record: 7 Million People
A record 7 million people - or one in every 32 American adults - were behind bars, on probation or on parole by the end of last year, according to the Justice Department.
Of those, 2.2 million were in prison or jail, an increase of 2.7 percent over the previous year. More than 4.1 million people were on probation and 784,208 were on parole at the end of 2005.
Men still far outnumber women in prisons
and jails, but the female population is growing faster.
In the 25-29 age group, 8.1 percent of black men - about one in 13 - are incarcerated, compared with 2.6 percent of Hispanic men and 1.1 percent of white men.
Source Reports from US Bureau of Justice Statistics (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs) - Prisoners in 2005, NCJ 215092, and Probation and Parole in the United States: 2005, NCJ 215091
CA Prison Health System In Receivership
The court-appointed receiver overseeing the $1.5 billion California prison medical system has promised to have federal marshals raid the state treasury to fix a problem he described as largely political, according to The Sacramento Bee.
In a riveting 1 1/2-hour presentation to the Little Hoover Commission, Robert Sillen said 65 inmates have been dying every year in the prison system due to poor medical care.
Sillen said the fatalities have continued even since his appointment, and he told the government watchdog panel about a death earlier this year in which a quadriplegic inmate with a colostomy bag and internal catheter fell into a coma with a 109-degree temperature and died after an 11-hour van ride in July heat. No medical personnel accompanied the inmate on the trip.
Sillen said the root of the prison health care problem is political, with not enough people in state government willing to tackle the crisis.
Under questioning from commission members, Sillen said he expects his receivership to last upwards of several years and that when he is finished, he expects to have established a prison health care system similar to a major private system such as Kaiser.
Study: Over 50% Of Prisoners Have Mental Health Problems
More than half of all prison and jail inmates, including 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners and 64 percent of local jail inmates, were found to have a mental health problem, according to a study published in September by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
The report, "Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates" (NCJ-213600) can be found at: www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/mhppji.htm
Border Agents Imprisoned For Shooting, Cover-Up
Two U.S. Border Patrol agents watching the Mexican border last year stopped a van carrying marijuana. The driver fled back across the Rio Grande -- with a gunshot wound in his buttocks. Federal prosecutors convinced a jury in March that the agents had shot a defenseless man and schemed to cover it up. The agents' description about what had occurred was contradicted by other agents who arrived on the scene. One testified that one of the accuse agents had admitted to picking up shotgun casings to cover up the fact that he fired at the smuggler.
Walter Boyaki, an attorney representing the alleged smuggler, commended federal prosecutors for having the courage to carry on with a politically unpopular case, and argued that if the agents had not been punished, it would have "put a bull's-eye on every illegal alien." The smuggler has sued the federal government for $5 million, claiming he was permanently injured.
"Federal agents do not get to shoot unarmed people as they are running away in the back and then lie about it and cover it up," said Johnny Sutton, U.S. attorney for Texas' Western District.
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Former Thai Prime Minister To Be Tried For Drug War Killings
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Lawyers Council of Thailand are pressing the government to try deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra for crimes against humanity.
The Thaksin administration is accused of having blood on its hands for waging its so-called war on drugs, which killed more than 2,500 people, most of them accused drug traders and traffickers.
Law enforcement officials were allegedly obeying a Thaksin policy which included a "license to kill" when it came to drug crimes.
"Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq, was charged with committing crimes against humanity for the killing of 170 people. In this case, the 2,500 deaths we witnessed here must constitute crimes against humanity," Somchai Hom-laor, chairman of the NHRC human rights cabinet, told The Bangkok Post.
Children Handcuffed, Dog Killed In Misdemeanor Pot Raid
A police strike team raided Anita Woodyear's Schenectady, NY apartment, handcuffed her children and killed her dog in September. The woman called it excessive force and a case of mistaken identity, but officers said they have no reason to apologize, and claimed they raided the house because Woodyear's 18-year-old son, Israel, sold $60 worth of marijuana there.
"I heard a big boom. My first reaction was to jump out of bed. We were trying to find where our kids were at and all of a sudden we had guns in our faces," Woodyear, an African-American woman, told the Albany Times-Union.
During the ensuing chaos, police handcuffed two of the woman's children, Elijah, 11, and 12-year-old Victoria, sprayed Victoria with pepper spray, and shot at her dog in the kitchen before killing it in the bathroom, Woodyear said.
"That seems like an awful lot of firepower for marijuana," said Fred Clark of the Schenectady chapter of the NAACP. "That's like spending $125,000 for $5."
Freedomwalk: An Annual Exercise In Undoing Racism
Since 1996, the GA Prison & Jail Project has led a sojourn through Southwest Georgia. The Freedomwalk is not a trip on a tour bus; it's not a visit to honorable, historic sites. Instead, it is a humble 85-mile journey that calls attention to abuses in the Southwest Georgia criminal justice system. The stops include prisons built to house 1500 "criminal aliens;" courthouses where harsh sentences are passed; small, suffocating jails, which meet no standard of building, health, plumbing, or fire code, and yet imprison human beings -- mainly young, African American men as they await their trial and sentencing.
US Department of Justice numbers show that Georgia rates first among all states with 6.8% of its adults in prison, jail, on probation or parole. Three of every four Georgia prisoners are African Americans. In many of the state's 150 county jails, 9 of every 10 prisoners are African American. The Freedomwalk visits many of those jails.
This year's Freedomwalk took place Sept. 10-16, and began and ended in Americus, GA. Walkers journeyed through Macon, Taylor, and Marion Counties, where vigils and rallies were held at different county jails, courthouses, and prisons along the way.
Source: Resist, Inc. (www.resistinc.org)
Mexico Orders Army Offensive Against Drug Gangs
Mexico's new government, struggling with rampant drug trafficking and crime, ordered thousands of troops to the western state of Michoacan on December 11, 2006 to fight drug cartels locked in a vicious turf war.
President Felipe Calderon's security cabinet said more than 5,000 soldiers and marines were being deployed to crack down on drug gangs in the state, a key air and sea transshipment point for U.S.-bound cocaine.
"We will establish control points on highways and secondary roads to limit drug trafficking, along with raids and arrests," Interior Minister Francisco Ramirez Acuna said.
The soldiers, accompanied by federal police, also would search for and destroy drug plantations in the state, famous for poppy and marijuana production, Ramirez Acuna said.
Almost 3,000 people -- mostly drug gang members and police -- have been killed in the past two years in escalating cartel wars across Mexico.
The conservative Calderon took office on December 1 and has vowed to stand up to the gangs, who are frequently better armed than local police and have de facto control of some coastal areas and parts of the U.S.-Mexican border.
Hundreds of people have been killed in the once-tranquil state. Brutal drug gangs fighting for control of lucrative production and trafficking routes leave behind severed heads and mutilated corpses, reminding rival gangs and authorities who is in charge.
Source: Reuters News, feature by Gunther Hamm
US Supreme Court Upholds 55-year Marijuana Sentence
In the first week of December 2006, the US Supreme Court let stand the mandatory 55-year prison sentence that a lower court imposed on a man who was convicted of carrying a handgun during three marijuana deals in Utah.
By refusing to hear the case, the Supremes ensured that 27-year-old Weldon Angelos will spend just about the rest of his life behind bars for selling three eight-ounce bags of marijuana to an undercover informant.
As Angelos' attorney noted, "The sentence he will serve is harsher than the sentence for raping a child -- or the sentence for detonating a bomb aboard an aircraft."
Even the federal judge who was required to issue the mandatory minimum sentence called it "unjust, cruel, and even irrational." Yet, the Highest Court let the sentence stand without comment.
Source: Marijuana Policy Project, www.mpp.org