1 Tweet Brought 120 Volunteers to Shovel Snow for Elderly

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHICAGO, United States – Many elderly people struggle to get out of their homes following snowy weather. Particularly, those with asthma, neuropathy, and oxygen tanks. This was the case after snowy weather in Chicago on the weekend of February 10th. Many of these senior citizens called Jahmal Cole about their inability to shovel their drive ways and side walks. “When you’re getting emails and calls, you don’t want to let people down,” said Cole. “I wasn’t trying to make a campaign. This was literally me trying to help out my neighbors. We had to organize on the spot,” he said.

Chicagoan Jahmal Cole is a community organizer in Chatham who runs the non-profit, My Block My Hood My City. He runs it without office space and only two full time staff members. My Block My Hood My City both organizes and brings teenagers from under-served communities on different field trips. With one tweet, Cole called for volunteers to help clear the snow of elderly neighbors in Chatham . That one tweet was retweeted more than 22,000 times and liked over 64,000 times.

What did that tweet say? “Meet me at the 79th St. Red Line stop at 10:00 am tomorrow. I got hoodies, hats and lunch for anybody that comes through.” The following morning, 120 people showed up offering to help shovel, some even bringing shovels of their own. “The people who showed up, they showed that whether people have privilege or don’t have privilege, everyone recognizes a need,” said Cole. Cole had brought 10 shovels and his 15 person van. With all the volunteers, he had to go buy more shovels. Then, he sent the volunteers to dozens of addresses that needed snow removal.

Jahmal Cole and 120 volunteers shoveled snow for the elderly in a Chicago neighborhood. Photo Courtesy of Jahmal Cole.

The volunteers came from all over, including Rogers Park, Roseland and even Indiana (a two and a half hour bus ride away). Men and women of all ages shoveled for more than four hours. The next day, 11 more people showed up. About his efforts, Cole said, “My mindset is always, ‘What’s something simple that I can do that’ll have a positive impact on my block and my neighborhood’? You don’t have to have a law degree to shovel your neighbor’s walkway.”

When all was said and done, Cole and the all of the volunteers went out to lunch at a neighborhood restaurant. “I’m proud of our city. We’re getting things done,” Cole said. “People could have been doing anything in the world. They could have been home with families or making snowmen, but they came out to help.”

For more information, please see:

KMOV – How 1 Tweet inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly – 14 February 2018

CNN – How 1 Tweet Inspired 120 People to Shovel Snow for the Elderly in a Chicago Neighborhood – 13 February 2018

Independent – Chicago Man’s Tweet Asking for 10 Volunteers to Help Clear Snow for Elderly Draws 120 After Going Viral – 13 February 2018

VA won’t Change Their Motto for Gender Neutrality

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA – A quote from America’s 16th President currently stands as the motto for Veterans Affairs. In his second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln stated, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The language of this quote has been under fire by many who believe it is outdated and/or sexist. IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow wrote a strongly worded letter in October of 2017. The letter went unanswered by VA Secretary David Shulkin. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on VA Secretary David Shulkin in November to change the motto.

For the last 59 years, the VA motto has been a quote from President Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. Photo Courtesy of Stars and Stripes/ Veterans Affairs.

Despite the outcry for change, a spokesperson for Secretary Shulkin’s office stated that the VA will continue to use it’s motto. “[The] VA is proud of Lincoln’s words as a historic tribute to all Veterans, including women Veterans, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all,” Secretary Shulkin’s spokesperson said. In response to the spokesperson,  Jaslow said, “They’re missing the point — that women don’t feel comfortable at the VA. That action enshrined not only a motto, but a culture too that often renders women veterans invisible at the agency, even to this day. Every day that the VA preserves this motto, it ignores and obscures the needs of far too many women veterans.”

There are many who think the VA has bigger problems to deal with right now rather than the currentness of the motto. Some of those problems include the long wait time for appointments and various scandals. Some of these scandals are centered around women. One such scandal was a Facebook group of over 30,000 members sharing pictures of nude female service members without their consent.

A study was also recently posted by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which stated that many female combat veterans said that they weren’t believed about their war experience and often belittled by VA doctors. The study was conducted over 4 and a half years and focused on VA mental health services.

The director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, Kayla Williams, responded to the pleas from IAVA to change the motto. She unofficially has been using a modified version of the motto which states, “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”

“Recognizing that they can seem exclusionary to some women veterans, for many years I – along with other senior VA leaders – have honored the population we serve today by using a modernized version,” Williams said to Jaslow in a letter. “This symbolic update, which we are continuing to gradually incorporate alongside the original in digital and print materials, as well as spoken remarks, is an important acknowledgement of today’s veteran population.”

Jaslow calls for more change and for that change to be official. “I get it. The VA was designed for a male population, and culture change is hard,” Jaslow said. “But we’re talking 16 years we’ve been at war in Afghanistan. Women veterans are still feeling invisible and articulating they don’t feel comfortable at the VA. At what point are we going to get serious about addressing this?”

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Is the VA Motto Outdated and Sexist? The Head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Group Thinks So – 6 February 2018

Stars and Stripes – VA Disregards Request to Make Agency Motto Gender Neutral – 2 February 2018

Computer Glitch leaves 11,000 Disabled Student Vets with Delayed Payment of Stipend

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – 11,000 disabled student veterans are facing a delay with their stipends this month. These payments are subsistence allowance payments. They help to pay for living expenses while the students go to school. The program which pays the stipends is through the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. The money is supposed to be disbursed on the last day of each month. The money should have been disbursed on January 31, but the students did not see the disbursement until February 6.  An internal memo obtained by the Washington Post called the problem a “computer glitch.” In the memo, VA employees were told to apologize to the students and tell them their money was on the way.

The program gained popularity because it helps disabled veterans get job counseling. It also helps them earn college degrees or learn technical skills. There are internship opportunities and resume workshops. Although the problem was fixed in a few days, it may create a multitude a problems for the students. They may be late on rent or other bills or may not be able to buy groceries for a few days.

Army Vet Rick Collins is one of the students whose stipend is being disbursed to him late this month. Photo Courtesy of Rick Collins.

One army veteran who did not receive his stipend on the 31st is Rick Collins of Portland Oregon. Because his stipend will be arriving several days late, he has had to put off paying some of his bills and will not have to pay late fees as well. Collin had served in Afghanistan and suffers from post traumatic stress, severe memory loss, and chronic back and shoulder pain.

“This was going to be my first month with money left over after bills, and now that will all go to late fees,” said Collin. He is a father to four children aged 9, 7, 2 and 9 months. He is also studying photography at Portland Community College.  He has also said that he is in his fifth week of the term and still has not received the computer he was promised. He only received the camera he was promised last week.

“Any large bureaucracy has their glitches, but anytime veterans are not getting their benefits on time, especially when on a program like this, it’s a real hardship,” said Garry J. Augustine, executive director of 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans.

According to VA spokesman Curt Cashour, The glitch “has been fixed and it won’t occur again the future.” He also said, “We apologize to the veterans affected by this inconvenience.”

Even still the VA is facing a lot of scrutiny lately for several issues including long waits for appointment times and medical malpractice.

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent, Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

Washington Post – 11,000 Disabled Student Veterans Left Without Rent and Expense Money Due to Computer Glitch – 2 February 2018

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)

Experts Ask Facebook to Pull Messenger Kids

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A. – Last month, Facebook launched a new messenger app for kids as young as 6 years old. This is way below the previous minimum age that Facebook required users be for their apps, which was 13. Now, dozens of pediatric and mental health experts are asking Facebook to remove the app.

Facebook has created a messaging app for kids. Photo Courtesy of New York Times.

These experts composed a letter from the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood is an advocacy group which pushes companies to abandon marketing like the Pokemon Go app. The app sent children to all kinds of stores and fast food restaurants. McDonalds even advertised on children’s report cards in Florida.  But the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood says Facebook’s new app creates bigger concerns than those created by Pokemon Go.

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the experts said in the letter. “A growing body of research demonstrates that excessive use of digital devices and social media is harmful to children and teens, making it very likely this new app will undermine children’s healthy development.”

In a study released in late January, the research stated that an increase in social media and smartphone use in children led to greater unhappiness in teenagers.

What is the Messenger Kids app? The app is a texting app that a parent can set up for their child. It works through the parent’s Facebook account. The parent sets up the account, but it is in no other way a part of the Facebook app. The app is missing “like” buttons and a newsfeed which are parts of what experts believe lead to depression and anxiety for teenagers on social media. What is included in the app are emojis, video chat, selfies and group texting.

Facebook argues that their new app provides a safer environment for children online than many other apps to social media sites. One such difference is that the app has no advertising. Facebook also says they worked with the National PTA before introducing the app. “Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions,” Facebook said in a statement.

Still, health advocates say that the app was created explicitly to hook users to keep using it and by allowing such a low age, they are giving themselves early access to the next potential generation of users.

Michael Brody, a former chairman of the media committee of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said, “Facebook is making children into a market, and the youngest children will be more likely to get hooked even earlier.”

For more information, please see:

BBC – Facebook ‘No Place’ For Young Children – 30 January 2018

Telegraph – Health Experts Urge Facebook to Pull Children’s App – 30 January 2018

NYT – Turn Off Messenger Kids, Health Experts Say to Facebook – 30 January 2018

‘Horrific’ Elder Abuse in Georgia

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter

GEORGIA, United States – Dougherty county residents initiated the investigation of this case following a tip that was given to police officers. The tip came in after several Dougherty county residents were approached by some of the elderly outside of the Albany apartments, “begging for food.” Following the investigation, three people were arrested. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr described the case as a “horrific elder abuse scheme.’’ He went on to say that the elders were not given proper “health care, shelter and necessary sustenance.” Additionally, there appeared to be a scheme which included siphoning off the resident’s social security benefits.

This is one of many unlicensed care cases in Georgia. It has remained a problem in the state for years. Georgia personal care homes are supposed to provide food, lodging and if needed, personal care. The residents of these personal care homes are usually senior citizens and people with mental impairments.

Since 2010, Georgia has had over 3,000 people charged with elder abuse crimes in situations like that of the seniors in Albany.  This issue became more apparent after 49 individuals were rescued from supposed “dungeons” according to GBI Director Vernon Keenan. Despite what appears to be high numbers of such cases, Georgia is seen as having one of the nation’s strongest laws in place to protect the elderly and mentally impaired, says Keenan.

Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley were all arrested and were indicted on 17 different accounts. Photo Courtesy of Georgia Bureau of Investigations.

The Albany units in question have been condemned because living conditions in them are so poor. Those units were rented by Michelle Oliver, Harold Hunt and Cynthia Riley. The three were charged on a 17 count indictment including violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, neglect, exploitation and intimidation of the elderly and disabled. Oliver, 39, was arrested on September 20 for operating an unlicensed personal care home called Miracle One Care Center. After seven elderly and disabled individuals were triaged at the residence, Oliver was taken into custody at her home. Four elderly and disabled individuals were found in the home. Three more victims were found at an apartment in Macon.

“While this case is horrifying, it’s also gratifying to see the results of new laws and new funding passed in the last five years by the governor and the state Legislature,’’ Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging said. “Law enforcement and state agencies have more tools and training to fight elder abuse.” Peter Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, said Tuesday that “the tentacles [of these crimes] go not only across county lines, but also state lines.”

“This has been an ongoing problem in our state,” said Melanie McNeil, the state’s long-term care ombudsman. “Georgia is a leader in the nation for recognizing this problem, developing training and collaborations among law enforcement, prosecutors, and state agencies to rescue residents and prosecute the perpetrators.”

For more information, please see:

CBS – Police: Elderly were Starved, Injected with Medicine and Victims of Fraud – 16 January 2018

Telegraph – Authorities Charge Neglect, Exploitation and Drugs Amount to ‘Web of Abuse’ in Macon Albany – 16 January 2018

WABE – ‘Horiffic’ Elder Abuse Case Highlights Crackdown on Unlicensed Georgia Facilities – 16 January 2018

Google Glass May Help Kids with Autism

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., U.S.A – Google Glass had been considered a failure by many. Recently, however, a study was completed concerning Google Glass and children with Autism. In America alone, there are over 3.5 million people who have been diagnosed with some form of Autism. The potential benefits of Glass Enterprise Edition (Glass), the successor to Google Glass smart glasses, were explored in children with autism and their caregivers to evaluate its role within the condition.

The study contained 8 children in different places along the Autism spectrum and of all school ages (6 to 17).  The children were given the glasses to inspect and on the glasses were several different assisted-reality apps. The children were all able to take their time inspecting the glasses and becoming comfortable enough to progress to the next part of the study in the interview room. All 8 of the children in the study found Glass to be both useful and practical as communicated by them or when needed, by their caregiver. The children said they did not experience sensory overload or an overwhelming emotional experience.

Google Glass was a success in a study in its use for kids with autism. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Chiu.

Additionally, all of the children’s caregivers stated they believed the children appeared to enjoy using Glass. Dr. Ned T. Sahin, the study’s principal investigator was actually surprised at how well both children and caregivers embraced the concept.

“Parents and teachers routinely tell me they are surprised how well children with autism can use Empower Me on Google Glass! It is important to recognize that millions of autistic children and adults struggle to obtain the specialized services they need. This technology will augment the work of their human therapists and teachers, provide game-like, self-motivating ways to practice life skills and add sensor-based data that no human practitioner could otherwise incorporate. The future will be very empowering!”

Although this is a small study and was limited by a short exposure to Google Glass and its’ applications, it is an important movement in validating technology’s role in addressing and assisting with the needs of children with autism. This adds to the growing literature on feasibility and tolerability and together, help establish Glass as a useful clinical tool. Further, Brain Power has secured more than $110,000 in crowd funding to help further develop this kind of technology.

The use of Google Glass can offer real-world tools and assistance for children with autism.  The data also suggests that children and caregivers could potentially embrace Google Glass and similar technology in a way that just might make it fun for all.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – Google Glass is a Hit for Children with Autism – 4 January 2018

Science Daily – Google Glass App Helps Autistic Children with Social Interaction – 16 September 2017

STAT – Google Glass is Back – As a Tool to Coach Autistic Children, Train Doctors and More – 29 August 2017

Parents Arrested After Authorities Found Their 13 Children Chained and Malnourished

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PERRIS, California, USA – David and Louise Turpin were arrested on suspicion of torture and child endangerment. They are both being eld in lieu of a $9 million bail. Police were called by the couple’s 17 year old daughter who dialed 911 on a deactivated cell phone. She said she had escaped out a window of her parents house where she and her siblings had been kept. She also had photographs to back up her claims. The authorities were shocked by her size and emaciated appearance. Although she is 17, authorities thought she was only 10 based on her appearance.

David and Louise Turpin have both been arrested after their 13 children were found chained and malnourished in their home. Photo Courtesy of Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Upon there arrival, authorities noted the home appeared dirty and had a foul stench. Three of the children were found in chains. The 13 children in total ranged from ages 2-29. Because of their malnourished appearance and small stature, authorities originally thought all of the children were minors. Authorities said the parents were not currently showing any signs of mental illness that would explain what they did to their children.

Susan Von Zabern said the 911 call received Sunday, which was cross-reported to social workers, was “the first opportunity we had to intervene.” Currently, it is unclear how long the abuse has been occurring but, she said, “their condition indicates it has been a prolonged period of time.” Social workers are trying to place them with family, but will put them through background checks to make sure that they are able and stable.

Local authorities had no prior contact with the Turpin’s. Additionally, the Police Department in Murrietta, where the family lived previously, also had no interactions with them during the four years they lived there.

The Turpin’s had registered their home as a private school as allowed by California law. Many who choose to homeschool their children in California do register their homes as private school. It first appeared in the state registry in 2010 as a private, nonreligious, co-ed institution when the family first moved there. But only six of the thirteen children were enrolled. The information contained in the registration likely gave authorities little insight into the children’s lives or even how many children there were.

“We really knew nothing about them,” said Grant Bennett, superintendent of the Perris Union High School District. “If they were in home school from the beginning, they wouldn’t have even been on our radar.”

The children are recuperating in the hospital, continuing to improve their health and hope for a better future from this point on.

For more information, please see:

L.A. Times – In Perris, a House of Horrors Hidden in Plain Sight – 17 January 2018

CNN – Found Shackled and and Emaciated, Children of Torture Suspects are Freed – 16 January 2018

ABC News – 13 Siblings Age 2-29 Held Captive by Parents, Some Shackled, Officials Say – 15 January 2018

Veterans are Experiencing CTE

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.,  U.S.A. – Veterans put their lives on the line for America every day during their time in the military. Although we hope they survive their time of duty, many are unaware of the consequences of their services once they return home. One example of this is the traumatic brain injuries experienced by veterans as a result of combat.

According to a new study, U.S. veterans are likely to suffer the same kind of brain disease as concussion victims.  Boston University has been doing a study on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is the disease in question here. CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people who have had repetitive brain trauma (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.

At the Veterans Affairs Center in Bedford Massachusetts, researchers study brains for signs of CTE which can only be done during autopsy. Photo Courtesy of Gretchen Ertl.

The repetitive brain trauma triggers the progressive degeneration of brain tissue, including a build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in a brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of active duty or athletic involvement. Common symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicide, Parkinsonism, and ultimately progressive dementia.

Veterans from combat zones often experience different kinds of trauma from exposure to blast waves. At Boston University, neuropathologist Dr. Ann McKee discovered CTE in veterans, which at this time can only be confirmed through brain autopsies. So far, 65 percent of the brains she has seen of deceased veterans exposed to combat blasts showed CTE.

Dr. McKee stated that a blast wave can damage a brain in the same way as a physical blow. “This blast injury creates a tremendous… ricochet or whiplash injury to the brain inside the skull.” The effects on the brain are not readily seen on images, she says, “This has been what everyone calls an invisible injury.”

Following in Dr. McKee’s footsteps, Dr. Sam Gandy, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, began using newly developed technology to find the markers of CTE in living veterans in order to alert those who may have the disease and help find a way to stop the disease’s deadly progress. These images from new technology will be crucial in his work with drug companies to develop a treatment.  “That’s step one,” he tells Alfonsi, “Just to stop it dead in its tracks. And then we can worry about making people feel better.”

For more information, please see:

CBS News – Combat Veterans Suffering From Same Brain Disease as Concussion Victims – 4 January 2018

CNN – Could Veterans Have Concussion Related CTE? – 6 April 2015

New York Times – Brain Ailments in Veterans Likened to Those in Athlete’s – 16 May 2012

BU Research CTE Center –FAQ 

How the Elderly and Disabled “Disappear”

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LITCHFIELD PARK, Arizona – The Center for Disease Control estimates that more than two million Americans use wheelchairs in their daily lives and approximately 6.5 million depend on canes, walkers or crutches. Right now, about 15% of the population in America is 65 or older. It is estimated that by 2060, 25% of the population will be 65 or older.  What those numbers do not tell, is how those people are treated by society.

Nancy Root is an 82, child-polio survivor who today calls herself a cripple. Five years ago, after the death of her husband, Nancy’s condition began to change. Her arms got weaker and her legs got wobblier. Nancy recounted when she disappeared. She was in a shopping mall that was rather large so she decided to use a wheelchair because her legs were not as good as they used to be. Nancy says during that shopping trip, she waited longer for service in the mattress store that she and her friend were shopping in.

Nancy Root can recall the occasion where she first disappeared. Photo Courtesy of Conor E. Ralph of the New York Times.

Nancy says after this, she began noticing how much people withdrew from her. When she was in the chair, people did not look at her. Instead, they looked around her, through her, or to whoever was pushing her chair. “They think I’m mentally incapacitated. I’m sure of that. I’d stake my life on it,” she said. She says doctors offices are the worst. The receptionists usually do not address her. Instead, they will address the person pushing the wheelchair with questions like, “Does this lady have an appointment?”

But Nancy still has her mental wit about her. People just assume that because she is in the chair, she is not as aware as someone who is not in a chair.  She said, “They don’t allow this lady to have a brain.” Nancy experiences this everywhere; at the movie theater, on airplanes, in restaurants. Nancy is not the only person to experience this. Many people who have disabilities or who are older experience this kind of treatment regularly. People often edit them out of the frame.

Part of the problem is that people do not want to bring attention to people’s disabilities or they are worried about saying the wrong thing. So, instead of being inclusive, it is easier to just remain in blissful ignorance to avoid a potentially awkward situation. But this phenomenon means people are being isolated and ignored which may negatively impact their lives and social interactions. It has been argued that it is inadvertently cruel to exclude part of the population simply because the interaction might be awkward. The first step toward changing this is bringing the issue to light.

For more information, please see:

National Review – Bruni “Gets It” About Disability Bias – Except for Assisted Suicide – 17 December 2017

New York Times – Are You Old? Infirm? Then Kindly Disappear – 16 December 2017

You Might Be Able To Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park

By: Sarah Louise Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

YELLOWSTONE PARK, U.S. – There is a little known fact about Yellowstone National Park that has captured the interest of many people around the country. Michigan State University law Professor, Brian Kalt, published a paper called “The Perfect Crime” which details how you can potentially get away with murder in a 50 square mile section of Yellowstone National Park in Idaho. Kalt writes that he has always wondered how there was a “forgotten constitutional provision, combined with an obscure statute, that together make it possible for people in the known to commit crimes with impunity.”

Kalt calls it the “zone of death.” It is created by a legal loophole. Before Montana, Wyoming and Idaho became states, Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872. Although the majority of the park sits in Montana, there are portions that lie in both Idaho and Wyoming. As a national park, Yellowstone falls under federal jurisdiction. Kalt points out that the District Court which hears the issues in Yellowstone National Park sits in Wyoming. This is true despite the fact that Yellowstone also has land in those two other states. Thus, unlike any other District Court in the United States, the District of Wyoming includes land of other states. The zone of death is the 50 square miles of Yellowstone National Park that sits in Idaho.

Yellowstone National Park’s Idaho territory has been given the title “Zone of Death.” Photo Courtesy of the National Park Foundation.

If someone commits a murder in that section, they are automatically tried in Wyoming. However, the Constitution states that trials should be held in the state where the crime was committed. So, someone may demand the trial be held Idaho. Once there, a local jury would be called to serve on the case. But there is no one who lives in that 50 square mile section of Yellowstone in Idaho. Because that section is federal land, no one is allowed to live there. Unless the murder approves of the trial being held in Wyoming, the trial cannot be held at all.

“The courts may or may not agree that my loophole exists, and in any case this Essay is not intended to inspire anyone to go out and commit crimes,” Kalt concludes. “Crime is bad, after all – but so is violating the Constitution. If the loophole described in this Essay does exist it should be closed, not ignored. In sum, when Congress set up this park and admitted these three states, it made a mistake,” Kalt writes.

“Congress can be forgiven on the park side because Yellowstone was the world’s first national park, and there was no precedent.” He then adds that “But Congress should have known how to set up states, having done it forty times before.”

Kalt argues that there is a solid chance they could get away with murder using your Constitutional rights, but there are still other ways you could be punished.

“If the government could not prosecute you, your victims and their families could sue you. Of course, if they get wind of your Constitutional argument before you leave the scene of the crime, they could just give you a dose of your own medicine, administering vigilante justice with similar impunity.”

Currently, no changes have been made regarding this “loophole” for murder in Yellowstone National Park.

For more information, please see:

Forbes – ICYMI: You Can Get Away With Murder In Part Of Yellowstone National Park – 26 November 2017

Fox News – The Best Place to Commit a Crime in America? Yellowstone National Park – 22 November 2016

Vox – Yellowstone has a 50 Square Mile “Zone of Death” Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 29 October 2016

Vice – There’s a Section of Yellowstone Where You Can Get Away With Murder – 4 August 2016

Senate Commerce Committee Unanimously Passes Bill on Online Sex Trafficking

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On Wednesday, November 8th, the Senate progressed legislation that makes online sex trafficking more difficult. The legislation makes it easier to penalize operators of websites that allow for and facilitate sex trafficking.  This piece of legislation is the most detailed form of action this year that will toughen regulation of internet companies. Major U.S. internet companies stopped opposing the legislation and so now it is moving forward. The legislation will amend a law that has been on the books for decades and has been considered a shield for internet companies.

The Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously to pass the measure which gives states and sex-trafficking victims the ability to sue social media networks, advertisers and other companies online that do not keep such explicit content off their platforms.  The measure amends Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  As it stands now, the act typically protects companies from liability for the activity of its users. Currently, the bill has bipartisanship support. Although, it needs to be passed by both Houses of Congress and signed by President Trump before it officially becomes a law.

Rob Portman supports the change to Section 230 that was unanimously passed by a Senate Committee. Photo Courtesy of J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.

Republican Senator Rob Portman, who co-authored the bill, known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act said, “This is a momentous day in our fight to hold online sex traffickers accountable and help give trafficking survivors the justice they deserve.” Many feel these changes are needed after concerns from how these platforms were used by Russia in the 2016 election.

Right now, more than 40 Senators co-sponsored the bill and Ivanka Trump has endorsed it.  However, internet companies have long argued that the way the law stands now has allowed for innovation in Silicone Valley to thrive.

Surprisingly, the Internet Association announced their support for the bill last week following changes that were made to it. The Internet Association includes companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google. The changes that were made stated that criminal charges would be based on violations of federal human trafficking laws and that the standard for liability would require a website to have “knowingly” assisted in facilitating human trafficking.

The opposition to the bill comes from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden who placed a hold on the bill. The Senator claims that  if the bill is set before the Senate for a vote, as it stands, it favors large companies at the expense of smaller startups and “stifles innovation.”“After 25 years of fighting these battles, I’ve learned that just because a big technology company says something is good, doesn’t mean it’s good for the internet or innovation,” Wyden said in a statement. “Most innovation in the digital economy comes from the startups and small firms, the same innovators who will be harmed or locked out of the market by this bill.”

Additionally, dozens of civil liberties organizations said the bill places a threat on free speech online and harms small companies who do not have as many resources available to them to police their platforms for such use.

For more information, please see:

Blaze – Facebook and Other Tech Companies Reverse Course, Decide to Back Senate Bill to Stop Sex Trafficking – 8 November 2017

CNET – Senate Committee Passes Bill to Stop Online Sex Trafficking – 8 November 2017

The Hill – Senate Panel Approves Online Sex Trafficking Bill – 8 November 2017

Reuters – U.S. Senate Panel Advances Crackdown on Online Sex Trafficking – 8 November 2017

Children Trafficked from Uganda “Adopted” in U.S.

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Davis family wanted to add to their family by adopting a child. After being in contact with Debra Parris of The European Adoption Consultants (EAC), Jessica and Adam Davis were told about a little girl named Mata. EAC said that Mata’s father was deceased and that her mother was severely neglecting her. The EAC informed the Davis family they had to decide quickly if they wanted to adopted Mata and so they quickly adopted her.

Mata and the Davises after they “adopted” her. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

As Mata’s English improved, the Davis’s learned more about Mata’s mother. The way Mata spoke of her mother did not reflect what the Davis’s were told. Jessica Davis then became suspicious. After a skype call between Mata and her mother, Jessica’s suspicions were confirmed. During the skype conversation, Mata’s mother revealed it was not her intention to give up Mata for good.

Instead, Mata’s mother explained how she was tricked into giving Mata up. Mata’s mother had been told that Mata would be given a great educational opportunity if she was sent away. Her mother was also told that Mata would one day return and that her mother would always be a part of her life. Mata’s mother unknowingly signed away her parental rights when she thought her daughter was being given a once in a life time experience.

When Jessica and Adam realized the information they had been told by the EAC was not true, they realized they had to reunite Mata with her mother. Jessica Davis contacted the U.S. State Department for guidance on how to proceed with the situation. The State Department told Jessica, “you can just keep her if you want.” She responded with, “I didn’t purchase her at Walmart.” Jessica was fearful that if the government notified EAC, something would happen to Mata’s mother. After a three-year journey, and $65,000, Mata was returned to her mother.

Mata reuniting with her mother and siblings after the Davis family brought her back to Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Keren Riley.

The Davis’s were crushed by this experience. They wanted to adopt a child as it was in line with their religious beliefs. Adam said, “We unwittingly placed an order for a child. The only trauma this poor kid ever experienced was because we essentially placed an order for a child.” The Davis’s had filed paperwork to vacate Mata’s adoption and the Ugandan government gave Mata’s mother her parental rights back. Jessica and Adam both believe that other Ugandan children like Mata are being trafficked without the American families who were “adopting” them being aware.

CNN investigated these claims and found that children were being taken from their homes in Uganda. Their mothers were being promised the same thing Mata’s mother was being promised, an educational opportunity for their children. The children were then placed in orphanages and sold for as much as $15,000. CNN also discovered that multiple families had been tricked by EAC. EAC was an adoption agency started by Margaret Cole. Cole started the adoption agency after she lost her child to SIDS.

EAC has been responsible for placing more than 2,000 children from overseas in homes across America since 1991. The agency continued to grow and handled adoptions from countries around the globe. CNN states, “tax records from 2000 to 2015 show that EAC reported more than $76.1 million in revenue and more than $76.3 million in expenses over that period.” In 2004, several families raised questions about their adoptions through EAC in story for Cleveland Magazine. Cole claimed back then that she had a “radar” for the shady businesses involved in adoptions but now stories like the Davis’s shows that this clearly is not the case. CNN has also been unable to locate Cole to receive commentary on CNN’s investigation.

EAC has been shut down by the State Department for 3 years. Since the shut down, the FBI has raided the building and taken away materials. The Ohio attorney general’s office filed suit in June to have the adoption agency ended for good. The EAC “failed to adequately supervise its providers in foreign countries to ensure” that they didn’t engage in the “sale, abduction, exploitation or trafficking of children,” according to the State Department. The Ugandan government shut down the orphanage that Mata had been placed in. In a letter to CNN, they said the orphanage had been closed for “trafficking of children,” “operating the children’s home illegally” and “processing guardianship orders fraudulently.”

The EAC building in Ohio has been abandoned since the agency has been debarred. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

A study done by the Ugandan government and sponsored by UNICEF in 2015 revealed that Ugandan parents were being deceived and bribed with financial incentives and orphanages were often complicit. The orphanages did not always verify information about children’s histories before putting them in the orphanage.

Mata’s story is similar to that of Violah. At 7-years-old, she was adopted by Stacey and Shawn Wells. Like the Davis’s, the Wells were coerced into making a decision quickly on whether or not they would adopt Violah. They paid EAC about $15,000 for the adoption. Violah lived with the Wells family for a year and during that time, they too saw inconsistencies with the adoption agencies story. They were told that Violah had been abandoned. But the longer Violah was with them, the more they learned how her mother took her to church and cooked dinner with her.

Violah also spoke about the day that she and her sister were taken away from their mother. After hearing Violah’s story, Shawn went on a Facebook page for the group Reunite. The page shared a post about a mother whose children were taken away from her against her will. Stacey knew that the woman in the post was Violah’s mother. The Wells thought they were adopting an orphan, but instead, Stacey says, “she was made an orphan.”

The Wells wanted to reunite Violah with her mother like the Davis’s reunited Mata with her mother. Stacey and Shawn reached out to Reunite’s Riley who told the Wells that Violah’s mother was lied to. She had been told Violah would get an education in America. It’s the same lie the traffickers told Mata’s mother. Violah’s mother had four children taken from her and she has only been reunited with two of them.

Violah and her mother are reunited in Uganda and embrace with each other and Stacey Wells. Photo Courtesy of Stacey Wells.

Violah and Mata are from the same village in Uganda. They have become friends since their return home. Mata’s mother said she was “very, very, very happy” that Mata has been returned to her. Violah’s mother also said she was “very happy and very grateful.” Now that the girls have been reunited with their mothers, they have kept in touch with the Davis and Wells families. The girls have blossomed since returning home.

Violah and Mata have become fast friends since returning to their mothers in Uganda. Photo Courtesy of Jessica Davis.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Kids For Sale: ‘My Mom Was Tricked’ – 13 October 2017

Ugandan Government – Information About God’s Mercy Children’s Home – 28 July 2017

Court of Common Pleas, Cuyahoga County, Ohio – EAC Lawsuit – 1 June 2017

Cleveland Magazine – Families In Crisis: When Foreign Adoption Goes Wrong – 2 March 2004

America’s Senior Citizens Sicker Than 10 Other Wealthy Counterpart Counties

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – According to a new report published by Health Affairs, United States senior citizens are sicker than the elderly in 10 other wealthy countries. The study found this despite the fact that American senior citizens have near universal health coverage through Medicare.  The Analysis also stated that America’s senior citizens are more likely to face financial barriers than the senior citizens of those 10 other countries.

Based on the results of the study, one conclusion is that creating universal health care in the United States through a “Medicare-for-all” program would not necessarily lead to Americans of all ages to be on par with their international counterparts when it comes to health outcomes and costs.

The Health Affairs report is based on the 1017 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey of Older Adults. The survey questioned over 23,000 people. It included individuals from the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. Of those that participated in the survey, one in eight older adults reported having three or more chronic health conditions. But the United States had the highest of these numbers with 36% of those reporting having three or more chronic conditions. This is almost half of what Australia, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland reported. They had only 17%  of those surveyed reporting three or more chronic conditions. New Zealand’s results were even lower at 13%.

America’s Seniors Citizens are happy with Medicare despite being sicker than their counterpart countries. Photo Courtesy of David Paul Morris.

Despite having Medicare, adults over the age of 65 frequently have trouble affording the care they need when they need it. The report stated that 23% of American senior citizens did not see a doctor when they were ill, skipped recommended treatment or tests and left prescriptions unfulfilled due to costs. Countries like France, Norway, Sweden and the U.K. only had 5% reporting the same because of costs.

Even still, Dr. David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said “Medicare is the most popular [health coverage] program in the United States in terms of satisfaction of the population that is covered by it.” He added that the level of satisfaction was high. He further stated that a significant share of the American senior citizens covered by Medicare are “underinsured” and/or do not have sufficient financial coverage for there medical needs.  The issue with Medicare is that while it does cover a large amount of beneficiaries’ health services, senior citizens are responsible for some out of pocket expenses.  The study suggests a lot of outcomes similar to this issue of Medicare.

For more information, please see:

CNBC – Older Americans Are Sicker, More Cash Strapped For Health Than Elderly In Other Countries Despite Medicare – 15 November 2017

Commonwealth Fund – Older Americans Were Sicker And Faced More Financial Barriers to Heath Care Than Counterparts in Other Countries – 15 November 2017

Health Affairs – Older Americans Were Sicker and Faced More Financial Barriers To Health Care Than Counterparts in Other Countries – 15 November 2017

Bernie Sanders – Medicare for All – 2016

Handicapped Parking Abuse Causes Problems for Those Who Need It

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

Almost all parking lots in the United States have handicapped parking spots. These spots are designated for people who have disabilities, whether they are visible or not. However, there are many people who are parking in these spots without needing them. Often times, people use the handicapped placard for someone who is not in the car or they have altered/ forged the handicapped placard.

Officers in Los Angeles are currently on the lookout for vehicles violating these traffic rules and ticketing them. In Los Angeles, police officer have the option of writing a parking ticket or a misdemeanor citations. Officer Yasnyi in particular, chooses to write parking tickets instead of misdemeanor citations because the parking ticket does not appear on the driver’s record. Regardless, the penalty for invalidly parking in handicapped parking is high. Typically, two tickets are written that can be about $363 a piece. One ticket is given for invalid use of a handicapped placard and another is for illegally occupying the space.

Officers in L.A. are on the lookout for the misuse of handicapped placards. Photo courtesy of Francine Orr of the L.A. Times.

The Department of Motor Vehicles in Los Angeles also writes citations for misdemeanors. At the L.A. County Fairgrounds in September 2017, the DMV wrote 477 citations for handicapped placard abuse.  The misdemeanor citations can cost the driver anywhere from $250 to $1000. Those that abuse the handicapped parking placard take away spots from those who truly need the handicapped parking spot. Officer Yasnyi says he would estimate that 30% of the time the placard is altered, stolen or issued to someone else (including the dead).

But L.A. is not the only city seeking to bust handicapped parking spot abusers. In Omaha, Nebraska, police are training civilians to be a part of the city’s handicapped enforcement. The civilians have volunteered to help keep enforce the traffic laws. Sgt. Erin Payne with the Omaha Police Department said, “this is really a win-win for us. For our community to be able to give back to our community, and then for them to be able to assist the police.” The volunteers are all certified to cite drivers. The Omaha Police Department said the handicap parking enforcement volunteers issue more than 1,000 citations each year. Like in L.A., the fines are heavy. First time offenders pay a $150 fine, second time offenders pay $300, and third time offenders pay $500 and risk jail time.

However, there are also people who need indeed possess a valid handicapped placard who are accused of abusing them. Lexi Baskin, a student at Kentucky University, is a cancer survivor who currently has to undergo radiation and chemotherapy that leaves her weak, tired and dizzy. She gets her treatments during her lunch break and heads back to school. Her handicap is not necessarily visible at all times, and someone who has been watching her decided to let her know their thoughts on the matter.

These signs were taped onto Lexi Baskin car after she parked in a handicapped spot. Photos courtesy of Lexi Baskin.

This person did not believe that Baskin was sufficiently disabled to deserve the parking spot. The person left signs taped all over Baskin’s car windshield and windows. Some of the signs called her “lazy” and said “shame on you.” One note in particular read, “There are legit handicapped people who need this parking space. We have seen you and your friend come and go and there is nothing handicapped about either of you. Your tag must be borrowed or fake. We will make every effort to see you fined or towed for being such a selfish, terrible person.”

The vandalism is under investigation by University police. Baskin says, “I want to get this out there to make people aware that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean people aren’t going through it.” The misuse of handicapped placards creates a multitude of issues including taking handicapped spots from people who do need the spots to those who actually need the spots being accused of being lazy just because their handicapped is not necessarily visible.

For more information, please see:

Blaze – A Cancer Survivor Had Her Car Defaced For Using Disability Parking, But She Responded With Grace – 9 November 2017

KETV Omaha – Omaha Police Seek Volunteers for Handicapped Parking – 8 November 2017

L.A. Times – It takes a special arrogance to steal a parking place from a disabled person. And this cop is out to bust you – 8 November 2017

2 Detectives of NYPD Indicted for Rape

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NEW YORK CITY, New York – On September 15, two New York City detectives stopped a car in Brooklyn under the pretense of searching its occupants for drugs. In particular, the drug at issue was marijuana. The detectives were dressed in plain street clothes and were driving an unmarked vehicle. Inside the car they stopped was an 18-year-old woman and two men.

The detectives searched the vehicle for drugs and asked the woman to lift her skirt “to make sure there is nothing under there.” The woman’s lawyer, Michael David, says “She was petrified, so she showed it. She said, ‘See, I’m not hiding anything.” Immediately after lifting her skirt, the detectives ordered the woman to get out of the car. She was then placed in handcuffs, put in the backseat of the detectives’ car and was told she would be driven to the 60th precinct. The precinct was about a mile and a half from where the woman was pulled over.

According to the woman, the detectives never drove to the precinct. Instead, they drove to a parking lot of a Chipotle that was nearby. It was at that point, the woman said the detectives raped her. She alleges that 45 minutes after, she was shoved out of the detective’s vehicle, not that far from the 60th precinct. The woman called her mother, who took her to Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park Brooklyn. Her attorney has called the incident a kidnapping. “I don’t think a gang rape has ever been reported in the history of the N.Y.P.D,” Mr. David said.

Two NYPD Detectives have been indicted on the rape of an 18-year-old woman. Photo Courtesy of Spencer Platt. 

The woman has become weary from waiting for weeks for some kind of action by prosecutors. “She was getting more frustrated by the day, this has been going on for six weeks already, and it just seemed she was crying for help,” Mr. David said. He adds that she has been crying and is depressed and that this alleged crime has placed a strain on the relationship she has with her parents.

Both the detectives, Edward Martins and Richard Hall, have been suspended without pay during the investigation. These actions are usually reserved for officers who have been charged with crimes. At this point, both of the officers has been indicted by a grand jury for the alleged rape as well as for bribery. The charge for bribery stems from telling the woman they would let her go if she did what they wanted. The detectives had been stripped of their guns and put on “modified duty” after the allegations emerged.

So far, the Brooklyn district attorney’s office has declined to comment. Mark A. Bederow, the attorney for Detective Martins said, “We are going to vigorously contest these charges in a court of law, rather than the court of public opinion.” “We look forward to defending any charges in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion,” Bederow, said. The detectives’ supervisor has also been placed on modified duty after the woman’s allegations emerged. The detectives were also demoted to police officers last week.

Hall and Martin are said to be turning themselves in early next week, says sources of New York Daily News. The sources say this surrender is likely part of an agreement between the prosecution and detectives because they are not considered a flight risk.

For more information, please see:

Fox News – 2 NYPD Detectives Suspended Amid Probe of Rape Allegations – 28 October 2017

New York Daily News – Two NYPD Detectives Indicted In Rape of 18-Year-Old Woman They Busted For Pot – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Indictment Issued in Case of 18-Year-Old Who Said 2 Officers Raped Her – 27 October 2017

New York Times – Brooklyn Prosecutors Investigating Rape Charge Against Detectives – 1 October 2017