North America

Synagogue Shooter in FBI Custody

By: Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – On Saturday, October 27th, 2018 the morning services were just beginning at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At around 9:54 am, 46-year old Robert Bowes entered the synagogue with an AR-15 type of assault weapon and three handguns. Bowes began shooting into the crowd of members, spewing anti-Semitic slurs as he did so.

Woman Kneels to place a candle at the Tree of Life Synagogue Memorial. Photo Courtesy of Brendan Smialowski. 

Local police and SWAT team members were dispatched immediately. Two first responding police officers, two SWAT team members and two individuals not associated with the Synagogue were shot when they got to the scene. A total of 11 people are dead as a result of this mass shooting.

Bowes attempted to leave the synagogue but was met with two SWAT team members at the door. Bowes then barricaded himself in a 3rd-floor room of the synagogue as a shoot-out with police commenced. As some point, Bowes was shot, although it is unknown whether it was due to his own gun or from a police officer.

Bowes was then taken into custody and brought to a local hospital where he is reportedly in a stable condition.

The Tree of Life Synagogue has stood in the heart of a majority-Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburg for over 150 years. This event, what some residents are calling one of the worst acts of anti-Semitic violence within the United States, has shaken the community to its core.

Bowes, unknown to the FBI before this event, was discovered to be an avid anti-Semitic. His account on the free speech app, Gab, popular with right-wing individuals, was littered with anti-Jew and Judaism posts. From blaming the Jewish nonprofit HIAS for bringing “killers” into the United States, to stating “Jews are the children of Satan” to even accusing President Donald Trump of not representing the country’s interests by allowing “a kike infestation” into the United States.

The owners of the app Gab have archived, deleted and handed Bowes’ account over to the authorities. Gab has made a statement which says that the app and the company behind it do not support terrorism of any kind through their app. Gab continues to cooperate fully with the authorities on this matter.

The FBI has deemed the crimes committed by Bowes to be hate crimes and revealed that Bowes had 21 guns registered to him. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made comments seeking hate crime charges for Bowes as quickly as possible.

President Trump has made several comments regarding the mass shooting. President Trump had commented to the press that if there had been an armed gunman inside the synagogue, the members would have been able to better protect themselves. President Trump also called for Bowes to receive the death penalty, as it is legal in Pennsylvania, but has not been used in over 20 years. President Trump commented that he would be visiting the community of Squirrel Hill but has not given a statement dictating a date for that visit.

For More Information Please Visit: 

NPR – 11 Killed, 6 Injured In Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

New York Time – 11 Killed in Pittsburgh Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts – 27 October 2018

BBC World News – Pittsburgh Shotting: What We Know So Far – 27 October 2018

 

Renowned Indigenous Rights Advocate Murdered in Mexico

By: Brianna Ferrante
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – Julián Carillo, long time defender and advocate of Mexico’s indigenous, was killed by a group of unidentified attackers some time after midnight on Wednesday, October 24th.

Julián Carillo in Chihuahua, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of Erica Guevara-Rosas at Amnesty International.

Carillo was a Rarámuri indigenous defender and leader of the indigenous community known as Coloradas de La Virgen, located in Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico. The community has a demonstrated history of turbulent legal battles involving both the Mexican government and private entities. The encroaching forces often threaten infringement on the community’s ancestral territories as well as exploitation of its natural resources.

Three weeks prior to the killing, members of the community had made a formal report to government authorities regarding an intrusive mining coalition in their lands lead by private individuals.

The community exhibits high levels of crime, poor security, and a distinct absence of basic social services. Multiple organized crime groups occupy the region and constitute a steadily growing presence. Carillo frequently met with Amnesty International in recent years and shared concerns about locals being pressured to appropriate lands to criminals, whom utilize it for cultivation of poppy and cannabis. In an attempt to seek assistance from a distant police force, the former landowners were met with threats or for some, assassination.

Reports from Amnesty International demonstrate nine land-reclamation related murders have taken place in the past two years.  Five of these victims have been among Carillo’s own family members.

Approximations from the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders & Journalists, 16 human rights defenders have been killed in Mexico since January. The budget for the mechanism is also scheduled to be defunded in the upcoming year. Carillo and his family have been under the official protection of the government’s ‘Protection Mechanism’ since 2014.

Such efforts have proven to be inadequate, and it is eminent that similar risk may exist for other advocates currently working under the same government granted protective measure both in this region and the country at large.

For more information, please visit:

The Chronicle of Chihuahua – Indigenous leader of Coloradas de La Virgen murdered – 25 October 2018

Amnesty International – Killing of Rarámuri leader highlights lack of state protection for human rights defenders – 25 October 2018 

MNIA – Mexico: Leader of Rarámuri assassinated proves failed protection – 25 October 2018

La Razori – Defender of indigenous rights killed in Chihuahua – 25 October 2018

Hurricane Michael Affects Those Most Vulnerable

By Kylie Mason
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TALLAHASSEE, Florida– On Wednesday, October 10th, 2018, what has been deemed the worst category 4 hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle area in twenty years, devastated the communities in its path. Hurricane Michael touched down in Mexico Beach, Florida on Wednesday morning and has run to areas in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The 155 mph winds destroyed homes, caused over 900,000 buildings to lose electricity and eliminated all access by road. Massive flooding has damaged homes and displaced property hundreds of miles from the owners.

Hurricane Michael Affects Most Vulnerable. Photo Courtesy of NOAA.

Since the severity of the storm has decreased, the United States Coast Guard have begun the slow process of search and rescue. Overnight, the Coast Guard has performed 10 missions to save 27 different people. As of present, 6 people have been found dead due to the debris that storm has caused. As crews throughout the state attempt to clear the roads blocked with thousands of fallen trees, officials are urging people to stay off the road. Residents of the area were told to stay in their rescue shelters and not return to home, which may not be there any longer.

One group of individuals at the forefront of the search mission are those individuals who were not able to evacuate pursuant to the warnings by public officially of the state. Due to a lack of socioeconomic ability, many residents of the Florida area officials to leave their homes. Additionally, those individuals who cited a lack of anywhere else to go, or lack of ability to go to a rescue shelter also stayed within their homes during the storm.

As of now, there has been no comment by the Florida government concerning the state of these individuals. Additionally, the Trump administration has not commented on the state of those displaced individuals.

No reports have been given regarding the number of residents affected by hurricane Michael, or how many residents have been relocated to temporary shelters. As there has been no solidified estimates of possible trapped, injured, or dead persons, there has been little information regarding the rescue efforts designed to target these specific populations.

As the Coast Guard and local rescue services continue clearing roads for emergency services to enter into more remote areas, the total individuals injured or dead increases.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Monster Storm Mauls US South-East – 11 October 2018

New York Times – Search and Rescue Begins Amid Ruins of Florida Coast – 11 October 2018

New York Times – ‘I Got Stuck’: In Poor, Rural Communities, Fleeing Hurricane Michael was Tough- 11 October 2018

NPR – Recovery Work Begins After Hurricane Michael Carves Through Florida Panhandle –  11 October 2018

Disability has been Added on Twitter’s User Reporting Form

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

North Carolina, USA – Twitter has added a new word for when people want to submit a report about inappropriate behavior on their platform. The word disabled as been added to the list of reasons for reporting someone. This change has been a long time coming according to some. In early April, Twitter revised its’ reporting form so that those who were being targeted for their disability could more accurately report it.

“It’s against our rules to directly attack or threaten someone based on their protected category, including disability,” Twitter stated in a tweet that was posted April 2. “You asked us to clarify this in our reporting flow, and we’ve updated it to be more specific.”

Natalie Weaver, her husband Mark and their children Sophia, Lyla and Alex. Photo Courtesy of the Weaver family.

Twitter brought about the change after Natalie Weaver suggested they revise their reporting form. Natalie Weaver called on Twitter after her daughter’s photo was used in an offensive tweet that promoted eugenics. Weaver’s daughter, Sophia, has Rett Syndrome. Sophia is only nine years old. Rett Syndrome is a genetic brain disorder that effects a person’s language, walking and coordination. Weaver said she faced some opposition from Twitter by them refusing to take down the offensive tweet, but then they removed the account completely.

“People with disability experience hate and discrimination every single day just because they are disabled,” Weaver said to Today. “It is very important to have that distinction.”

Weaver said to The Mighty, “Many people with medical conditions and/or disabilities receive hate and harassment every day on Twitter and no violations are found. I am hopeful that this change will create a safer environment for people with medical conditions and disabilities. I hope that Twitter support will be more consistent now in finding violations. I will continue my work to ensure that Twitter support follows through on this”

Melissa Blake, a freelance writer says the change has been a long time coming. “Disabilities may make people uncomfortable. I’m sure my disability and my wheelchair has made people uncomfortable in the past. But that doesn’t give people the right to use it against me and vilify me for it. Twitter’s change in policy gives me hope. Hope that perhaps, finally, we’ve moved the needle of dismantling centuries of negative misconceptions surrounding people with disabilities,” Blake wrote in an article for CNN.

Weaver took on a social media platform and called them out for not protecting disabled individuals. By getting Twitter to respond by changing their reporting form, she won.

For more information, please see:

CNN – On Disability, Twitter is Better Late Than Never – 13 April 2018

Today – Mom Fights Twitter After Cruel Troll Mocked Child’s Appearance – 5 April 2018

Mighty – Twitter Changes Reporting Form to Include Hate Against People with Disabilities – 3 April 2018

Two Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman

By: Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CONNECTICUT, U.S.A. – Two women from Terryville Connecticut have been arrested for stealing from an elderly woman who passed away April 5, 2018. 71-year-old Sandra Pelkey and 60-year-old Mary Jeannie Benedetto have been stealing from the victim for over 10 years totaling more than $800,000 USD.

Pelkey was the woman’s caregiver and Benedetto was hired to do the interior design of the victims home. They were described as a mother daughter duo in one article and a pair of sisters in another. But the pair raised eyebrows of a banker and the victims Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor. The victim no longer wished to discuss finances with her wealth management advisor. The bank and the Merrill Lynch employee noticed that some checks were being written for large amounts to the two women and notified police.

Sandra Pelkey and Mary Jeannie Benedetto were arrested for stealing more than $800,000 from an elderly woman. Photo Courtesy of New Haven Police Department.

Police visited the home and the door was answered by the victim who was very confused. She indicated to them that Pelkey was her caregiver and Benedetto was hired to redo the inside of her home. Questions also came about over the purchase of a BMW because the victim no longer drives. The victim was under the impression that the car was just waiting to be delivered but it had been sold by Pelkey and Benedetto.

It was discovered that a hand written power of attorney was used to buy and sell the car. The victims daughter stated that the signature was in fact her mothers, but that the rest of the document was not in her handwriting. The victim has an alcohol abuse problem and her daughter believes that she was being encouraged to drink by the two women who used this to their advantage.

The police investigated the situation for nine months before any arrests were made. They discovered the abuse had been going on for ten years. However, they could only charge the pair with what had happened within the last five years because of the statute of limitations. Additionally, the police believe they discovered a second victim in New Haven and alerted the local police.

“Such victims lose faith in the world and the system that was supposed to protect them, for even if the perpetrators are caught and ordered to pay restitution, many offenders use any means necessary to avoid paying, often liquidating their assets and hiding them out of reach or declaring bankruptcy,” said Officer Hartman who worked on the case.

Benedetto and Pelkey are due back in court on May 4.

For more information, please see:

NBC Connecticut – Women Stole $800,000 from Elderly New Haven Woman: Police – 10 April 2018

New Haven Patch – $800,000 Stolen From Elderly Victim Over 10 Years: Ne Haven PD – 10 April 2018

WFSB – New Haven Elderly Woman Scammed of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars – 10 April 2018

CT Post – Police: Women Stole More Than $800k From Elderly Woman – 19 March 2018