Rights & Justice
War & Peace
Sign held aloft during a 2020 Detroit protest after the death of George Floyd.

Let This Be Our Communion: Another Deadly Knee On A Black Man's Neck

In a haunting, ghastly reprise, Thursday saw the funeral of D’Vontaye Mitchell, a black man in mental distress killed by four security guards outside a Milwaukee hotel - one of the sites for next week's GOP convention, yet. Like George Floyd, witness video shows Mitchell face down and gasping for air as he begs, "Please, please...." His wife: "They treated him like he was worthless, an animal." Singer Tom Prasada-Rao in $20 Bill, his searing lament for Floyd: "Oh brother, I never knew you/ Now I never will."

D’Vontaye Mitchell, a 43-year-old father of two, was killed June 30th outside Milwaukee's Hyatt Regency Hotel as he was held down by four security personnel who'd dragged him out after he entered the women's bathroom. Hotel footage reportedly shows Mitchell frantically running from something or someone unknown to hide in the bathroom; confronted by the guards, he had his hands up. During the assault outside, video shows him pinioned on the ground being beaten with batons as he grunted, struggled to breathe, and begged them to stop; at one point, a guard turns to the passerby filming and snarls, "This is what happens when you go into the ladies room." Mitchell's "last words on this earth," noted civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, were "please, please, please, please, please, please," followed by "I'm sorry" two times, "I can't breathe," and "Please help me." "How many more, America?" asked Crump. "How many more Black men have to say ‘I can’t breathe?’"

"To see them beat him over and over and over..." said Mitchell's wife DeAsia Harmon of the pitiless encounter. "They could have stopped at any time." At a press conference, she stood with Mitchell's family, including their 8-year-old daughter, Michell's former girlfriend Luella Jackson, and her and Mitchell's six-year-old son. "Our children deserve justice for their father," said Harmon. "They took everything from them... We stand together on this." Until this week, no one had been charged in connection with Mitchell's death despite a preliminary finding from the county medical examiner's office his cause of death was homicide; the four guards had been put on leave, and police had declined to release video of the encounter. "I just want justice for my son, and I want it now," said Mitchell's mother Brenda Giles, who insisted the death won't be "swept under the rug." "Give us those videos. Y’all know what went on inside the hotel. Y’all saw it, but we can’t see it. Make that make sense."

This week, ten days after his death and amidst angry protests, changes came in quick succession. The guards were finally fired by Aimbridge Hospitality, which runs the hotel, hours after the Hyatt demanded they be fired and face criminal charges. And Thursday, Milwaukee police referred four charges of felony murder to the D.A.'s office. Still, no arrests have been made, purportedly awaiting final autopsy results - a lapse blasted as "appalling" by attorney Will Sulton, representing the family along with Crump and B'Ivory Lamarr. Sulton noted the charges came only after community calls for accountability - "It was onlookers and family gathering evidence (which) led us here" - in the killing of a distressed, unarmed man "trying to run for his life." Sulton added there's footage of the guards denying they struck Mitchell, "even though that's all on camera - you see them punching, kicking, hitting him with a baton...It is just outrageous." See below. Warning: Like all that have come before, gruesome.

Death of Black man outside Milwaukee hotel is being reviewed as a homicidewww.youtube.com

For many, Mitchell's killing bitterly echoed that of George Floyd, likewise dead from a heedless white man's knee on his neck, in the harsh light of day, for all to witness. At the time, the sight hollowed out Tom Prasada-Rao, a beloved songwriter, "pillar of grace and talent" and "musician's musician" who died June 19 at his home in Silver Spring, Md of cancer at 66. Born in Ethiopia of Indian descent, Prasada-Rao performed for decades in multiple bands - the Dreamsicles, the Sherpas, Fox Run Five - usually in an Indian kurta , or tunic. But he was perhaps best known for, and most fond of, $20 Bill, the simple, mournful benediction for George Floyd he wrote in late May 2020 after, ravaged by chemotherapy for Stage IV cancer, he'd sat on his sofa and watched news coverage of the swirling protests. He was exhausted; the protests "broke his heart," and the lyrics "just came tumbling out of me." He recorded it on the couch, his voice soft, raspy, subdued, apologizing he was "not at my best."

"Some people die for honor/Some people die for love/ Some people die while singing/to the heavens above," he sang. "Some people die believing/in the cross on Calvary Hill/And some people die/in the blink of an eye/for a $20 dollar bill." Noting, "Oh brother, I never knew you/Now I never will," he promises, "I'll remember you still." "Let this be our communion/Time to break the bread/Do this in remembrance/Just like the good book said/," he sings. "Sometimes the wine is a sacrament/Sometimes the blood is just spill/Sometimes the law is the devil's last straw/A future unfulfilled....For a 20 dollar bill." He falls silent, then whispers, "Rest in peace." Ever "the grand collaborator - he never met a stranger" - he posted the chords, inviting others to cover it. Over 100 did; his favorite was by Karl Werne. Then, and at a recent celebration of his life, family and dear friends thanked him for giving "voice to the anguish of the moment" and helping them heal. To make beauty out of such savagery, said one, "is an exultation of the best in us."

$20 Bill (for George Floyd)www.youtube.com

For D’Vontaye Mitchell's family and friends, it is too soon for healing. At his funeral Thursday at Milwaukee's Holy Redeemer Church of God in Christ, they remembered how Mitchell loved to dance, rap, cook and help others even as they vowed, per his mother Brenda, "We going to fight." Reading from Psalms, she said they "shouldn't worry about the injustice that's been done to D’Vontaye, because they will get their just due...God is going to make sure it comes to pass." Rev. Al Sharpton also called on a higher power for justice against those who in 2024 still think of black men as "the least of us" thanks to a long, ugly history in America, from slavery to George Floyd, that made it so. "We want the people in this town and others (to know that) who you consider the least, God consider the most," he said. “You never thought folk like us would be coming to stand up for D’Vontaye. But you will be held accountable when you put your hands on us."

Benjamin Crump and several others noted the irony of Mitchell being killed outside one of three main venues for next week's Republican convention where, "Y'all got a crowd coming to town to talk about making America great again." Improbably, he argued justice should be part of the narrative: "We got two justice systems in America - one for Black America and one for white America." For proof, he called out Mitchell's name, then many others - George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, etc. "We going to help you D'Vontaye," Crump said, brandishing a metal baton he said was used to beat Mitchell, then naming each member of his family. "When they hit him, punch him, and beat him, it was like they were beating us all." He again cited Mitchell's final words - "Please, six times, while gasping for breath" - to "Please help me." "How many more?" he asked the mourners angrily, rhetorically. "After the video of George Floyd, you say, 'My God, not again. You'd think we would have learned our lesson."

Two workers install solar panels on a home in Oak View, California.

New Ally Joins Fight to Defend Rooftop Solar in California

A leading U.S. green group on Tuesday joined the legal challenge to a California rule banning solar contractors from installing or maintaining photovoltaic battery storage.

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) joined an amended lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court against a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulation enacted last year in accordance with the wishes of Pacific Gas & Electric and two other investor-owned utilities.

The amended lawsuit supplements a complaint filed by CalPIRG, the Solar Rights Alliance, the California Solar & Storage Association, and a solar contractor adversely affected by the new CPUC rule. Climate campaigners and Democratic state lawmakers have previously launched challenges to the regulation.

CBD said the new rule "would increase the cost and administrative burden of installing rooftop solar and storage, vital technologies that make communities more resilient to utility blackouts and the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency."

Roger Lin, a CBD senior attorney, said in a statement: "It's outrageous that California regulators keep attacking rooftop solar and it has to stop. They're undermining California's climate goals and putting clean energy further out of reach for working-class families."

"This licensing trick is straight from the utility playbook and will cause electricity rates to skyrocket while worsening the climate emergency," Lin added. "People are dying from extreme heat and California desperately needs smart, resilient energy solutions. Instead, the board is propping up a brittle electricity grid that devastates critical habitats and promotes environmental injustice."

The new suit came on the same day that the California Energy Commission (CEC) announced nearly $19 million in new grants meant to assist communities in their efforts to automate the approval of residential solar energy permits.

"We are thrilled to be able to disburse funds to over 330 cities and counties across California to make it easier for residents to go solar," CEC Chair David Hochschild said in a statement, calling the program "a win for residents, building departments, solar businesses, and our environment."

Chief U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts

'Gift to Corporate Greed': Dire Warnings as Supreme Court Scraps Chevron Doctrine

The U.S. Supreme Court's conservative supermajority delivered corporate polluters, anti-abortion campaigners, and other right-wing interests a major victory Friday by overturning the so-called Chevron doctrine, a deeply engrained legal precedent whose demise could spell disaster for public health and the climate.

The high court's 6-3 ruling along ideological lines in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce significantly constrains the regulatory authority of federal agencies tasked with crafting rules on a range of critical matters, from worker protection to the climate to drug safety.

The majority's decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"The weight of human suffering likely to arise from this decision should keep the justices up at night," said Emily Peterson-Cassin of Demand Progress, a watchdog group that called the decision "a gift to corporate greed."

"The Supreme Court is threatening safeguards that protect hundreds of millions of people from unsafe products, bad medicines, dangerous chemicals, illegal scams, and more," Peterson-Cassin added. "By handing policy decisions usually deliberated over by experts to lower level judges, the Supreme Court has set off a seismic political shift that primarily serves only the most powerful corporate interests."

Stand Up America executive director Christina Harvey issued a similarly stark warning: "Make no mistake—more people will get sick, injured, or die as a result of today's decision. Some ramifications of this decision won't be felt for decades, but they will be felt."

The Chevron doctrine, which stemmed from the high court's 1984 ruling in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, held that judges should defer to federal agencies' reasonable interpretation of a law if Congress has not specifically addressed the issue.

In her dissent, liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the consequences of upending Chevron could be vast given that it underpinned "thousands of judicial decisions" and has "become part of the warp and woof of modern government, supporting regulatory efforts of all kinds—to name a few, keeping air and water clean, food and drugs safe, and financial markets honest."

Kagan noted that unlike the Supreme Court, federal agencies are staffed with experts that should be granted deference to interpret ambiguities in laws written by Congress, which "knows that it does not—in fact cannot—write perfectly complete regulatory statutes."

"When does an alpha amino acid polymer qualify as a 'protein'?" Kagan asked. "I don't know many judges who would feel confident resolving that issue... But the [Food and Drug Administration] likely has scores of scientists on staff who can think intelligently about it, maybe collaborate with each other on its finer points, and arrive at a sensible answer."

By overturning the Chevron doctrine, the liberal justice wrote, the Supreme Court's majority demonstrated that it "disdains restraint, and grasps for power."

"This is the outcome of a multidecade crusade by big business and right-wing extremists to gut federal agencies tasked with protecting Americans’ health and safety."

An array of right-wing and industry organizations—including groups with ties to the Koch network and Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo—pushed the Supreme Court to scrap the Chevron doctrine, and Friday's decision could embolden separate legal challenges.

"Anti-abortion activists are celebrating the ruling as a big win for their plans to further restrict medication abortion," The New York Timesreported Friday, citing a strategist for Students for Life who said that "getting rid of Chevron is the first domino to fall."

"They see the decision as a new precedent that can work in their favor as they seek to bring another case against the Food and Drug Administration to the Supreme Court, which rejected their bid to undo the FDA's approval of the drug earlier in June," the Times added.

Climate advocates warned the ruling could also be devastating for the planet, potentially hamstringing the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments as they attempt to rein in planet-warming pollution using existing law. The American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. oil and gas industry's largest lobbying group, celebrated Friday's ruling as environmentalists voiced dismay.

"Today's reckless but unsurprising decision from this far-right court is a triumph for corporate polluters that seek to dismantle commonsense regulations protecting clean air, clean water, and a livable climate future," said Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. "This decision brings into sharp relief the critical importance of electing presidents who will appoint Supreme Court justices guided by science and sound legal precedent."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said that Friday's ruling "by an extremist Supreme Court eviscerates four decades of legal precedent that protects Americans' rights to clean air and water, safe workplaces, and healthcare by preventing the dedicated civil-servant experts who staff our federal agencies from implementing the laws enacted by Congress."

"That is why Congress must immediately pass my Stop Corporate Capture Act, the only bill that codifies Chevron deference, strengthens the federal-agency rulemaking process, and ensures that rulemaking is guided by the public interest—not what's good for wealthy corporations," said Jayapal. "Make no mistake: This is the outcome of a multidecade crusade by big business and right-wing extremists to gut federal agencies tasked with protecting Americans' health and safety to instead benefit corporations aiming to dismantle regulations and boost their profits."

Elon Musk

World's Richest Man, Other Billionaires Rally Around Trump After Assassination Attempt

Several prominent billionaires—including the richest man on Earth—took to social media over the weekend to endorse presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump shortly after a 20-year-old gunman attempted to assassinate the former president at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

One of the billionaires was Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who took to the social media platform that he owns to declare, "I fully endorse President Trump and hope for his rapid recovery." The endorsement came days after reports that Musk donated to a pro-Trump super PAC and just ahead of the start of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

An analyst with the Atlantic Council toldThe Washington Post that Musk's endorsement of Trump garnered "the most engagement of any post on X related to the attempted assassination."

Musk also suggested that the Secret Service's failure to detect and stop the gunman before he opened fire may have been "deliberate"—a post that was viewed 87 million times.

Hours after Musk's endorsement post went live, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman announced his decision to formally back Trump's bid for a second term in the White House, four years after the former president attempted to overturn President Joe Biden's 2020 victory and sparked a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Ackman, who has historically supported Democrats, wrote in a lengthy X post that he had privately decided to endorse Trump "some time ago" and suggested he would offer a more thorough explanation of his decision in the near future.

"I just haven't had the time nor felt the urgency to write the post as we are still a few months from the election," Ackman wrote on Saturday, hours after a gunman later identified as Thomas Matthew Crooks opened fire with an AR-style rifle, hitting Trump's right ear and killing one rally attendee.

Another billionaire, venture capitalist David Sacks, reiterated his support for Trump over the weekend after formally endorsing the former president last month and hosting a $300,000-per-person fundraiser for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Sacks, who declared following the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection that Trump had "disqualified himself from being a candidate at the national level again," called the former president a "hero" on Sunday and gushed that he has "risked everything for this country."

The trio joins at least a dozen other billionaires backing Trump, who postures as a populist ally of the working class while supporting policies that overwhelmingly benefit the ultra-rich.

Billionaires got $1 trillion richer during Trump's first term and have seen their wealth soar by $2.2 trillion since the passage of the Trump-GOP tax cuts in 2017.

Between December 2017 and September 2023, according to a recent analysis by the progressive advocacy group Americans for Tax Fairness, Musk saw his net worth rise from $20.4 billion to nearly $270 billion—a 1,222.8% increase.

ICE Deportation

Report Shows How US Drug War and Deportation Machine Are Destroying Lives

Thousands of people are deported from the United States each year for past drug offenses that often aren't even crimes anymore under evolving state narcotics laws, a report published Monday revealed.

The 91-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) report—titled Disrupt and Vilify: The War on Immigrants Inside the U.S. War on Drugs—highlights the experiences of people deported years or even decades after they committed drug offenses.

One of those immigrants, Natalie Burke of Jamaica, was convicted in 2003 of cannabis-related offenses but pardoned last August by Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, who acted on the unanimous recommendation of a state clemency board, which found that Burke was a victim of domestic violence who was "lured" into trafficking marijuana.

However, according to the report:

She cannot move on with her life because U.S. immigration authorities are trying to deport her, even though marijuana is now legal in Arizona and she has a pardon...

Natalie explained that one day in 2009, her probation officer asked her to come into the Tucson office to fill out some paperwork. Her son, who was in fifth grade at the time, waited for her outside in the parking lot. Natalie never came back to him that day. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers took her directly to an immigration detention center because her conviction made her deportable from the United States.

"Even with a hard-won gubernatorial pardon, and even in a state where marijuana is now legal, ICE is still trying to deport Natalie," the report adds. "She continues to fight back and is currently pursuing new legal arguments based on the pardon."

Burke is far from alone. Analyzing data from 2002-20, the report's authors found approximately 500,000 deportations of people whose most serious offense was drug-related. More than 150,000 of those deportations were the result of convictions for drug use or possession, including 47,000 for marijuana—which is now legal for recreational or medicinal use in a majority of U.S. states.

"The uniquely American combination of the drug war and deportation machine work hand in hand to target, exclude, and punish noncitizens for minor offenses—or in some states legal activity—such as marijuana possession," DPA federal affairs director Maritza Perez Medina said in a statement.

"This report underscores that punitive federal drug laws separate families, destabilize communities, and terrorize noncitizens, all while overdose deaths have risen and drugs have become more potent and available," she added. "It's imperative that the U.S. government revises federal law to match current state-based drug policy reforms to end and prevent the immense human suffering being inflicted in the name of the drug war."

The publication notes that "of all immigrants deported with criminal offenses, people with drug-related offenses had lived in the U.S. for the longest periods of time."

This has resulted in the deportation of immigrants who have lived in the United States since childhood and U.S. military veterans being separated from their families.

The report's authors interviewed some people living under the threat of deportation who have become parents or even grandparents of U.S. citizens during their time in the country.

"I'm not able to live and operate without fear because I'm not a citizen," one California resident convicted for marijuana and paraphernalia possession said in the report. "I've lived here for more than 20 years now. This is my home. I have children here. I want to be a citizen, and I'm making every effort to do that. But it seems like that's not going to be possible."

"Congress should reform immigration law to ensure immigrants with criminal convictions, including for drug offenses, are not subject to 'one-size-fits-all' deportations."

HRW immigration and border policy director Vicki Gaubeca said: "Why should parents or grandparents be deported away from children in their care for decades-old drug offenses, including offenses that would be legal today? If drug conduct is not a crime under state law, it should not make someone deportable."

The report also highlights cases of legal permanent residents lawfully employed in states' marijuana industries who cannot become citizens because, due to enduring federal criminalization of cannabis, they are considered to lack "good moral character," and immigrant women who have been sexually abused by corrections officers who know their victims would soon be deported.

HRW and DPA asserted that "Congress should reform immigration law to ensure immigrants with criminal convictions, including for drug offenses, are not subject to 'one-size-fits-all' deportations."

"Instead," the authors argue, "immigration judges should be given the discretion to make individualized decisions. As an important first step, Congress should impose a statute of limitations on deportations, so people can move beyond old offenses and get on with their lives."

U.S. troops prepare components of the Gaza aid pier

Failed US Military Pier Offered 'Humanitarian Gloss' as Israel Starved Gaza

After failing to re-anchor its "humanitarian pier" in Gaza, the Pentagon said Thursday that the much-ballyhooed project—which critics dismissed as a "public relations ploy" that did next to nothing to stop the deadly starvation spreading in the besieged Palestinian enclave—would shut down indefinitely.

Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder said U.S. troops had failed to reconnect the floating Trident Pier to Gaza's shore due to "technical and weather-related issues," according toThe Washington Post.

The $320 million project—which consists of a floating offshore barge and 1,800-foot causeway to the shore—was touted as eventually being able to accommodate up to 150 aid trucks per day. Instead, it facilitated the shipment of the equivalent of about a single day's worth of prewar food deliveries while operating for a total of less than three weeks.

"As a pier, it's shutting down. As a metaphor, it will live forever," said Tom Philpott, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future.

Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute, welcomed the project's demise.

"The U.S. pier was never supposed to work. It was designed to give a humanitarian gloss to [U.S. President Joe] Biden's pro-genocide policy in Gaza," he said on social media. "Good riddance to this failed PR stunt."

However, during a Thursday press conference, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan defended the pier, arguing that it "has made a difference in trying to deal with the heartbreaking humanitarian situation in Gaza."

"I see any result that produces more food, more humanitarian goods getting to the people of Gaza, as a success," he asserted. "It is additive. It is something additional that otherwise would not have gotten there when it got there. And that is a good thing."

Even if the pier had achieved its expected capacity, it would still have been far fewer than the prewar daily mean of more than 500 truckloads that U.S. and United Nations officials said are required to meet the needs of a population facing critical shortages of food, water, medicine, and other lifesaving supplies.

The pier was in operation for only about 20 days in May before it broke apart during stormy conditions. The structure was subsequently repaired, but then was dismantled just a week after reopening in June due to more rough seas.

It is also likely that the pier was used for military purposes during the June raid by Israel Defense Forces troops, who killed or wounded hundreds of Palestinians—including many women and children—during the rescue of four Israelis kidnapped by Hamas militants on October 7.

"It seems clear that the entire operation was a failed exercise in public relations by the Biden administration, which has sat on its hands while the extremist Netanyahu cabinet, full of the Israeli equivalent of neo-Nazis, has half-starved or in some instances whole-starved the Palestinians of Gaza," Middle East expert Juan Cole wrote Friday, referring to the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At least dozens of Palestinians, mostly children, have died in Gaza due to a lack of food, water, and medical treatment. Palestinian and international agencies say that Israel's 280-day war on Gaza has left at least 137,500 people dead, maimed, or missing; around 90% of the embattled strip's population forcibly displaced; and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians starving.

"A U.S. administration has to have an answer when reporters ask it why it is allowing Palestinian children to become emaciated, and the pier was an attempted answer," Cole added. "The other possibility was for the Biden administration to man up and just tell Netanyahu and his rogues' gallery cabinet that they cannot starve innocent civilians as part of their campaign against Hamas, and that if they do not cut it out there will be hell to pay. But Biden is in the tank for the Israeli government."

U.N. experts and others have called Israel's forced starvation of Palestinians in Gaza "a form of genocidal violence and has resulted in famine."

The International Court of Justice—which is weighing whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza—has ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts in the embattled enclave, to "immediately halt" its offensive in Rafah, and to stop blocking humanitarian aid from entering Gaza in the face of worsening "famine and starvation." Israel is accused of flouting all three ICJ orders.

Meanwhile, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan accused top Israeli officials of using "starvation as a weapon of war" and "extermination" in his May application for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Khan is also seeking to arrest three Hamas leaders for alleged crimes including extermination and rape.