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

DHS to Decide on Continuation of TPS Program for Haitians in US

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — On November 6, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to make a decision as to the continuation of the Temporary Protected Status program that affects over 300,000 foreign nationals currently residing in the United States.

Men visiting a mass-grave of victims from the 2010 earthquake outside of Port-au-Prince. Photo Courtesy of Shannon Stapleton.

According to a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently in the United States.  The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  This allows them to apply for a work permit and a driver’s license and prevents their deportation.  There are currently over 300,000 people from 13 countries under Temporary Protected Status, including individuals from Syria, El Salvador, and Haiti.  According to The Washington Post, TPS beneficiaries are the parents of around 190,000 US-citizen children.

Haitians were granted TPS in the US by the Obama administration in January 2010 following a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed around 200,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.  Haiti has suffered several crises since then, including an outbreak of cholera in late 2010 that infected close to 800,000 and killed over 9,000 people, sexual abuse of hundreds of people at the hands of UN peacekeepers dating back to 2004, as well as a 1,000-people killed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.  The recent hurricanes have also destroyed infrastructure and caused food shortages across the country.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) extended Haiti’s TPS several times, the last time being on May 24, 2017.  After a bipartisan effort from several Florida politicians, DHS Secretary General John Kelly approved a six-month extension of the July 22, 2017, deadline, but expressed that Haitians should begin preparations to return to Haiti come January 22, 2018.  According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website, “At least 60 days before Jan. 22, 2018, Secretary Kelly will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and will determine whether another extension, a re-designation, or a termination is warranted, in full compliance of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

There are 59,000 Haitians living in the US under TPS, 80% of which are employed; $1.3 billion in remittances from US-based Haitians accounted for 15% of Haiti’s economy in 2015.

In contrast, Haiti is currently the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with 6 million people—approximately 59% of the population—living below the national poverty line.

For more information, please see:

NBC News – Will Central Americans, Haitians ‘Protected’ by U.S. Be Sent Home? – 23 October 2017

NACLA – Temporary Protected Status in Limbo – 20 October 2017

The Washington Post – Tens of thousands of Haitian, Central American immigrants could lose protected status – 20 October 2017

Al Jazeera – UN peacekeepers leave Haiti: What is their legacy? – 6 October 2017

USCIS – Temporary Protected Status Designated Country: Haiti – 3 October 2017

Sun Sentinel – Hurricane Irma effects are one more reason to extend TPS for Haitians, lawmakers argue – 18 September 2017

The Intercept – The Trump Administration is Playing with the Lives of 59,000 Haitians – 26 September 2017

The New Yorker – A Harrowing Turning Point for Haitian Immigrants – 12 May 2017

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

Former HIV-Positive School Aide Accused of Sexually Assaulting 42 Boys

By: Sarah Louise Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America 

MARYLAND, U.S. – Carlos Bell, a former school aide and track coach has been accused of sexually assaulting 42 juvenile boys. Bell was a teaching aid at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School and a track coach at La Plata High School. Bell told police he was HIV positive and that he was HIV positive when he assaulted the boys and evidence corroborated the claim.

Maryland’s State Attorney’s Office has indicted Bell on 206 counts. This is the third time the indictment has been updated to reflect charges from additional alleged victims as more are discovered.

The boys are between the ages of 11 and 17. 28 of the alleged victim are identified while the remaining 14 alleged victims are unidentified according to the State Attorney’s Office for Charles County.  In December of 2016, police say an investigation was started on Bell after a tip that Bell was involved in inappropriate behavior with a student while coaching track.

Sheriff Troy Berry said, “A parent observed suspicious text messages on a child’s phone that were sexual in nature.”  The parent checked her child’s phone and found inappropriate text messages involving Bell. However, Bell was not arrested until July. At that time, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office said as many as 10 boys were assaulted, 7 of which were identified by video found in Bell’s home. During the search of Bell’s home, police also found computers and other electronics that linked him to the production of child porn. Among that evidence were graphic images of Bell sexually assaulting victims.

Carlos Bell has been indicted on 206 counts in relation to his sexual assault of students while working at a middle school in Maryland. Photo Courtesy of Charles Co. Police Dept.

Bell allegedly assaulted the boys without protection. So far, the State Attorney’s Office for Charles County stated that they are not aware of any of the alleged victims testing positive for HIV. The abuse is believed to have been committed from May 2015 through June 2017. Bell is accused of abusing the alleged victims at the Middle School, his home and possibly, other locations.

At this time, the State Attorney’s Office said charges against Bell include: 22 counts of sexual abuse of a minor, 19 counts of second-degree sex offense, 19 counts of second-degree sex offenses, 7 counts of third-degree sex offense, 97 counts of child pornography and other offenses. If convicted of these crimes, the State Attorney’s Office will seek life in prison. Currently, Bell is being held without bail and his next court date is January 8, 2018.

The Superintendent of Schools for Charles County, Kimberly A. Hill, said they have been cooperating with authorities in a letter dated July 3, 2017.  The letter also stated that Bell has not worked in any of the school buildings since December 22, 2016. Lastly, the note also stated “To our parents and our community, who put their faith and trust in us to safeguard their children, I apologize on behalf of Charles County Public Schools.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – HIV-infected School Aide Accused of Sexually Victimizing 42 Children in Maryland – 24 October 2017

NY Daily News – Former Maryland School Aide Who Is HIV Positive Sexually Assaulted 42 Boys, Police Say – 23 October 2017

WJLA – HIV Positive Former Md. Coach Indicted on 206 Counts; 42 Alleged Victims Reported – 23 October 2017

WJLA – Former Md. School Coach Charged with Child Porn, Assault on Male Students, Has HIV – 28 July 2017

74 Foster Children Missing in Kansas

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

KANSAS, United States – More than 70 children are missing from Kansas’ privatized foster care system. In total, there are 74 children missing from the Kansas foster care system. KVC Kansas, the contractor for the cases in eastern Kansas has 38 of the missing children under its supervision and 36 more are under the supervision of Saint Francis Community Service’s in the western part of the state.

Three sisters, under the care of their great aunt, have not been seen since late August. Phyllis Gilmore, the head of the Kansas Department for Children and Families was not aware of the sisters’ disappearance before the Kansas City Star first reported it. Gilmore claims that tracking children in foster care is just one of the department’s responsibilities. She says the department has policies in place to attempt to find missing children and return them to their foster homes. “These children who run away are not under lock and key; they are generally in family foster homes, older youth, who attend school and activities, and they often miss their biological families,” she said.

Phyllis Gilmore, head of the Kansas Department of Children and Families was not aware three sisters in foster care have been missing since August. Photo Courtesy of HPPR.

Kansas has approximately 7,100 children in foster care as of August 2017. The missing 74 are 1% of the total children in the foster care system. That number is on par with the national average. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reported that during the 2015 federal government’s fiscal year, approximately 4,600 foster care children were listed as runaways which is about 1.1% of the almost 428,000 total.

Rep. Linda Gallagher said even if the number of missing children is on par with the national average, it is still too many. Chad Anderson, chief clinic officer at KVC Kansas, acknowledged to the child welfare task force that contractors can do a better job. “I don’t know that we as contractors have shared as much in terms of missing youth and the day to day as we probably should,” Anderson said. He added that contractors update the Department of Children and Families every 30 days on missing children.

During a meeting of an oversight panel at the Statehouse in Topeka, foster care contractors provided the information in response to questions about the disappearance of the three sisters. Rep. Steve Alford, chair of the task force, said he really was not surprised by the number of kids missing after the meeting. “There’s a break between DCF and the contracting,” he said. “Once the children … [go from the court] into the possession of the secretary, she hands them off to the contractors and it’s their responsibility, you know, it’s kind of like out of sight, out of mind in a lot of aspects.”

For more information, please see:

Fox News – More Than 20 Kids Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 12 October 2017

HPPR – More Than 70 Kids Missing From Kansas’ Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Time – ‘Flabbergasted.’ More Than 70 Children are Missing From Foster Care – 11 October 2017

US News – 70 Plus Children Missing From Kansas Foster Care System – 11 October 2017

Loophole Created Excluding Birth Control Coverage By Companies and Nonprofits

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – The Trump Administration has created a loophole for companies and nonprofits when it comes to birth control. The new rule allows for companies and nonprofits to exclude coverage for contraception if the company or nonprofit has a moral or religious objection. Much of the controversy over providing contraception to women centers on its use for family planning. But many medical conditions also require the use of hormonal birth control methods.

The California Attorney General filed a lawsuit on October 6, 2017 challenging the new policy allowing companies to exclude coverage for contraception. The original Obama Care mandate required that employers offer health insurance that covers birth control without a co-pay and with limited exemptions for religions and some companies. Now, employers will not have to file anything with the government to stop offering the birth control coverage; all they have to do is notify their employees of the decision, according to Health and Human Services officials.

Demonstrators in favor of the birth control provision of the 2015 Affordable Care Act. Photo Courtesy of NPR.

There are many women who use birth control for reasons other than to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Many women take birth control for conditions such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome. Hormonal birth control can keep these disorders in check. Women who have these conditions have no control over them and often rely on birth control to keep it from worsening or to limit the pain they endure. Sometimes, when these disorders are left untreated, they can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Many women are angered by this loophole and find it unreasonable. Author and blogger Jennifer Lawson said, “No employer knows me well enough to decide what is or isn’t acceptable for myself, my daughter, or anyone else. And they shouldn’t have to know me well enough because it’s none of their business.”

Those in favor of the changes and officials say that it is to protect religious freedom.  Roger Severino, director of the HHS Office of Civil Rights said, “this provides an exemption, and it’s a limited one. We should have space for organizations to live out their religious identity and not face discrimination.” Severino said he expects most companies will continue to provide birth control.

However, some health policy analysts say the new rule creates a huge opening that lets any employer claim an exemption, leaving their female workers to pay the full cost of any birth control out of pocket. The change sets up the fight between advocates of religious freedom and those advocating for women’s rights. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against the Trump Administration on the same day the rule was published, claiming it violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which ensures that all people receive equal protection under the law.

For more information, please see:

Bloomberg – Trump Officials Dispute the Benefits of Birth Control to Justify Rules – 6 October 2017

CNN – Beyond Just Birth Control: Rollback Leaves Some Women Fearful – 6 October 2017

The Hill – California Challenges Trump’s Rollback of Birth Control Mandate – 6 October 2017

NPR – Trump Guts Requirement That Employer Health Plans Pay for Birth Control – 6 October 2017

White Nationalists Return to Rally in Charlottesville

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — On Saturday night, October 7, a small group of white nationalists led by Richard Spencer held a brief rally at Emancipation Park, near the University of Virginia campus, coincidentally during the university’s bicentennial celebration.

Torch-wielding white nationalists gather around the tarp-covered statue of Robert E. Lee. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

Emancipation Park, formerly known as “Lee Park,” is the home of the Robert E. Lee statue that became a focal point during the “Unite the Right” rally in August, where white-nationalist protesters violently decried its removal.  One counter-protester was killed by a Nazi sympathizer while dozens of others were injured in various white nationalist attacks.

According to the Charlottesville Police Department, the tiki-torch toting group arrived at Emancipation Park around 7:40 p.m. One speaker announced, “Hello, Charlottesville […] We’re back and we’re going to keep coming back.”

The Washington Post reported that the crowd chanted “You will not erase us,” along with “The South will rise again. Russia is our friend. The South will rise again. Woo-hoo! Wooo.”

The rally lasted around 10 minutes, after which the group boarded a chartered bus and left the city.  Police cars followed the bus to ensure the group’s departure.

Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer took to Twitter to condemn the rally and expressed: “Another despicable visit by neo-Nazi cowards. You’re not welcome here! Go home! Meantime we’re looking at all our legal options. Stay tuned.”

After the rally, people gathered outside of the house of the president of the University of Virginia to protest the white nationalists and call for the revocation of Richard Spencer’s diploma from UVA.

Spencer is an alumnus of the University of Virginia and heads the National Policy Institute—a white supremacist think-tank in Virginia.  He allegedly called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” during a conference for American Renaissance in 2013.

This event marks the third rally held by Spencer in Charlottesville this year, and the first rally held since Congress and President Trump signed a resolution on September 12 condemning the white supremacy and violence in response to the ‘Unite the Right’ rally.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – White nationalists march again in Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

BBC – White nationalists return to Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

CNN – Charlottesville mayor slams ‘despicable visit’ as another torch rally held – 8 October 2017

The Guardian – ‘Neo-Nazi cowards’: white nationalists stage brief Charlottesville rally – 8 October 2017

NBC News – White Nationalist Richard Spencer Leads Torch-Carrying Crowd in Charlottesville – 8 October 2017

The New York Times – White Nationalists Reappear in Charlottesville in Torch-Lit Protest – 8 October 2017

Vox News – White nationalists return to Charlottesville less than 2 months after violent clashes – 8 October 2017

The Washington Post – ‘We will keep coming back:’ Richard Spencer leads another torchlight march in Charlottesville – 7 October 2017

CNN Politics – Trump signs resolution condemning white supremacy – 14 September 2017

Deadliest Mass Shooting in Modern US history is the 273rd Mass Shooting in 2017

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LAS VEGAS, Nevada On Sunday night, October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire from his room on the 32nd floor upon concert-goers attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival at the Mandalay Bay Hotel.  Police received the first reports of the shooting at 10:08 pm, according to the New York Times, and the shooter was found dead by the time SWAT entered his room.  As of October 2nd, 59 people were killed and 527 people were injured during the shooting.

Dozens of people were killed and hundreds were wounded during Sunday evening’s shooting in Las Vegas. Photo Courtesy of Vox News.

According to multiple law enforcement officials, 23 guns were recovered from the hotel room and an additional 19 guns and explosives were recovered from Paddock’s home in Mesquite, NV, 90 miles north of Las Vegas.  Stephen Paddock was a 64-year-old wealthy white man with “no significant criminal history.”

In a statement to The New York Times, FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse dismissed claims that Paddock was associated with ISIS and stated that “[Paddock had] no connection to an international terrorist group.”

Sunday night’s tragic shooting, categorized by many as an act of domestic terrorism, has surpassed the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida as well as the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre as the deadliest shooting since 1949.

Mass shootings do not have a consistent definition: organizations may categorize a mass shooting by number of people injured, number of people killed, and may exclude certain kinds of violence.  These definitions may exclude the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 or the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, both incidents with a death toll in the hundreds. Under Vox News and the Gun Violence Archive’s definition of mass shootings (any incident where “four or more people were shot, but not necessarily killed, at the same general time and location”), this incident is the 273rd mass shooting in the US in 2017.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Las Vegas shooter named as Stephen Paddock – 2 October 2017

Al Jazeera – The deadliest mass shootings in the US – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days: America’s gun crisis – in one chart – 2 October 2017

The Guardian – Mandalay Bay attack: at least 59 killed in deadliest US shooting – 2 October 2017

The New York Times – Las Vegas Shooting Live Updates: Multiple Weapons Found in Gunman’s Hotel Room – 2 October 2017

NPR – Las Vegas Shooting Update: At Least 59 People Are Dead After Gunman Attacks Concert – 2 October 2017

Vox – Is Las Vegas the worst mass shooting in US history? It’s surprisingly complicated – 2 October 2017

Reveal – Charlottesville underscores how homegrown hate is going unchecked – 21 June 2017

97-year-old Shipping Regulation Limiting Post-Hurricane Relief to Puerto Rico

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico On Wednesday, September 20, Category 4 Hurricane ‘Maria’ made landfall in Puerto Rico with winds reaching 155 miles per hour and covering parts of the island in over 10 feet of water.  It was the strongest hurricane to affect Puerto Rico since San Felipe Segundo in 1928.

The sun sets on a devastated neighborhood in Yabucoa in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

As of September 27, 97% of the population did not have access to electricity and over 50% do not have access to drinking water with the daily temperature reaching over 90°.  Puerto Rico’s hospitals are dependent on diesel fuel to power their emergency generators, and despite their stringent fuel rationing, the majority of the hospitals are on the verge of running out.  Diesel is a necessary good imported to Puerto Rico from the mainland United States.

The existing poor infrastructure and the current difficulty in getting aid to Puerto Rico post-Maria have been blamed in a large part on the Jones Act.

The Jones Act—also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—requires that the transportation of goods between points in the US be done in a ship (1) bearing the US flag, (2) built in the United States, (3) owned by US citizens, and (4) operated by US citizens or legal permanent residents.  This means that basic shipments of necessary goods must be imported to Puerto Rico from the US on Jones Act-compliant ships that tend to run four times more expensive than non-compliant ships.  This results in the cost of living in Puerto Rico is about 13% higher on average than in the contiguous United States.

Precedents for Jones Act waivers in the last 15 years have included exceptional situations of humanitarian need—Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Sandy in 2012, and Harvey and Irma in 2017—and have spanned three administrations: Bush, Obama, and Trump.

President Donald Trump has been hesitant to waive the Jones Act for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and told reporters on Wednesday: “We’re thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people, a lot of people who work in the shipping industry, that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million—roughly equivalent to the combined population of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Puerto Ricans still waiting for aid a week after Maria’s devastation – 27 September 2017

NBC News – What is the Jones Act? Opponents to 1920 Law Argue It’s Worsening Puerto Rico’s Crisis – 27 September 2017

The Guardian – Hurricane Maria pushes Puerto Rico’s struggling hospitals to crisis point – 27 September 2017

Vox – The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained – 27 September 2017

The Washington Post – Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico amid growing pleas for help – 25 September 2017

Al Jazeera – Hurricane Maria strikes US territory of Puerto Rico – 21 September 2017

Department of Homeland Security – DHS Statement on Extending the Jones Act Waiver – 13 September 2017

“Not one less:” Thousands Protest in Mexico Following the Murder of Mara Castilla

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

PUEBLA, Mexico On Sunday, September 17, thousands marched in the streets of Mexico City and Puebla after the body of Mara Fernanda Castilla—a 19-year-old university student gone missing the week before—was found.

Protestors marching against femicides in Mexico. Photo Courtesy of CNN Español.

Mara had gone missing on September 8, after hailing a driver from a popular ride-sharing app called Cabify; she got in the vehicle and the driver drove to her home. Security footage showed that the driver idled in front of her house, ended the ride, and drove away, but Mara never got out of the car.

Her body was found a week later in a ditch near a motel.  She had been raped and strangled.

The Cabify driver has been arrested for deprivation of liberty and murder.

Sunday’s marches took place throughout the states of Mexico and Puebla, with people protesting a perceived disregard from the Mexican authorities toward femicides—killings of women and girls specifically due to their gender, usually accompanied with sexual violence.  As per the Observatorio Ciudadano Nacional del Feminicidio, only 25% of reported murders are investigated as femicides.

According to Luis Ernesto Derbez, director of Universidad de la Américas Puebla (UDLAP), in an interview with Forbes Mexico, a lack of judicial infrastructure is one of the greatest problems in combating impunity in Mexico today.  This means that less than 1% of reported crimes are seen through to their conclusion. The population ratio of judges to people is approximately 4.2 judges per every 100,000 people, while the international average is closer to 16.23 judges per 100,000 people.  UDLAP has conducted a multi-year study called the Global Impunity Index (Índice Global de Impunidad), in which Mexico scored 4th highest impunity in the world.

Mara was a political science major at Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla. She is the 82nd victim of femicide in the state of Puebla this year.

For more information, please see:
Al-Jazeera – “Mexicans march against femicide after teen’s murder” – 18 September 2017

BBC Mundo – “Femicidio en México: Mara Castilla, el asesinato de una joven de 19 años en un taxi que indigna a un país violento” – 18 September 2017

El País – “Mara no se fue, a Mara la mataron” – 18 September 2017

The Guardian – “Outrage as Mexican student killed after using ride-hailing service” – 18 September 2017

Observatorio Ciudadano de Derechos Sexuales y Reproductivos – “Feminicidios en Puebla al 17 de septiembre de 2017” – 17 September 2017

CNN Español – “El trágico fin de Mara Castilla, la joven mexicana que desapareció tras tomar un coche de Cabify” – 16 September 2017

Forbes México – “México es el cuarto país con mayor impunidad en el mundo” – 28 August 2017

A Weekend of Protests Follow Ex-Cop’s Acquittal for 2011 Shooting

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ST. LOUIS, MissouriOn Friday, September 15, St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson acquitted white former police officer Jason Stockley charged with first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Hundreds of people protesting in St. Louis on Friday following Jason Stockley’s acquittal of the 2011 murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post.

In December 2011, Officer Stockley and his partner (who was not charged) engaged Mr. Smith in a high-speed car chase when he fled the scene of a suspected drug deal.  The officers rammed Mr. Smith’s vehicle.  Officer Stockley got out of the police SUV armed with his service revolver as well as an unauthorized AK-47, approached Mr. Smith’s car, and fired five shots into the car.  Mr. Smith was killed as a result.  Officer Stockley reported finding a handgun lodged between the center console and the passenger seat.

Prosecutors alleged the handgun was planted by Stockley after the shooting since it did not have Mr. Smith’s DNA on it, only Stockley’s.  Dashcam footage also recorded Officer Stockley telling his partner that he was “going to kill this [redacted], don’t you know it” immediately prior to their ramming of Mr. Smith’s vehicle.

Stockley was charged in May 2016.  He waived his right to a jury trial, opting instead for a bench trial where questions of both fact and law would be decided by the presiding judge.

Judge Wilson determined that the two points of contention alleged by the prosecution in the case were as follows:

  1. Whether Officer Stockley planted the gun found in Mr. Smith’s car.
  2. Whether Officer Stockley’s statement made prior to the end of the vehicle pursuit indicated premeditation.

Judge Wilson ruled that Officer Stockley’s comment lacked context and that there was no evidence that the handgun found in Mr. Smith’s car had been planted. “This Court, in conscience, cannot say that the State has proven every element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt, or that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” Officer Stockley was found not guilty of Anthony Lamar Smith’s murder.

Protests around St. Louis began on Friday shortly after news of the acquittal, and continued throughout Saturday and well into Sunday afternoon.

Officer Stockley’s defense attorney, Neil Bruntrager, also represented Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and whose lack of indictment by grand jury sparked protests around the United States in 2014.

In 2015, The Guardian began an investigative project called “The Counted” to document the number of people killed by police in the United States.  The database includes 1093 reports of people being killed by police in the US in 2016.

For more information, please see:
The Guardian – More protests expected over acquittal of white officer in police killing – 17 September 2017

Al-Jazeera – Ex-officer cleared in killing of Anthony Lamar Smith – 16 September 2017

New York Daily News – Here’s why a judge acquitted a St. Louis cop of first-degree murder – 16 September 2017

The Washington Post – Police and protesters clash in St. Louis after former officer who shot black driver acquitted on murder charges – 16 September 2017

National Public Radio – Protests in St. Louis After Ex-Cop Acquitted In Anthony Lamar Smith Murder Case – 15 September 2017

Vox News – St. Louis police shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith: ex-cop Jason Stockley found not guilty of murder – 15 September 2017

The Guardian – “The Counted: People killed by police in the US” – Series

Cholera Outbreak Worsens Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti

By Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LES CAYES, HAITI — Hurricane Matthew has left southwestern Haiti with a humanitarian crisis, especially in Sud and Grand Anse. Homes were destroyed, crops drowned, and ocean water flooded fresh water wells, leaving 1.4 million people without shelter, food, and safe water. Basic health services are also limited and the contamination of fresh water sources has caused a previous cholera outbreak to spread, quickly increasing the patient load of these already strained health facilities.

Cholera is a severe gastro-intestinal disease that rapidly dehydrates those infected by triggering diarrhea and vomiting. It becomes deadly when patients lose so much fluids that their organs shut down. Cholera can be contained with water purification and basic sanitation supplies such as bleach, soap, and gloves. It can also be treated with IV fluids but there are limited deliveries of the supplies needed to significantly address the outbreak. Dr. David Sack, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore says, “A patient with cholera should never die. If they get to a treatment center in time, if they still have a breath, we can save their life.”

Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)
Hurricane Matthew has left 1.4 million people without shelter, food, or clean water in Haiti. (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

The initial cholera outbreak was brought by UN peacekeepers in 2010 and the hurricane has only exacerbated the problem. The Haitian Ministry of Health says the number of new cases has doubled nationwide and even more dramatically in areas severely hit by the storm. According the World Health Organization there are about 3 million cases a year and 90,000 deaths. Haiti currently has the worst epidemic and an outbreak in South Sudan is now spreading. So far the Haiti outbreak has made 800,000 people sick and killed more than 9,000. Since the population has not seen the disease before there is no immunity and the poor infrastructure for drinking water and sewage has made cholera difficult to contain.

The Haitian government, local communities, and organizations that work in Haiti are doing what they can in relief response but the need is urgent. The United Nations has only raised 28 percent of the $119 million they are seeking for Haiti’s recovery. Immediate mobilization of individuals, corporations, foundations, and governments are needed in order to prevent a significant loss in life. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Haitian Ministry of Health has organized a number of aid groups to launch a cholera vaccination campaign. The goal is to immunize 820,000 Haitians with a relatively new oral cholera vaccination. If the campaign is successful it will be the largest emergency cholera vaccination campaign in history. However PAHO representative for Haiti Jean Luc Poncelet says, “Vaccine is not the solution. It is one tool that we have to add to the ones we already have.” Two doses of the vaccine provide a 65 percent efficacy rate but due to a lack of the vaccine only one dose will be given, reducing the efficacy rate to about 50 percent. The long term solution is to improve access to clean water. The disease can survive for years in the environment but eradicating cholera is possible if living conditions improve enough to provide reliable access to clean water for almost everyone.

For further information please see:

The Guardian – Rise in Maternal Deaths Likely in Haiti, and UN Expert Speaks out on Cholera – 1 November 2016

Huffington Post – Haiti is Facing a Humanitarian Crisis we can Solve – so why aren’t we? – 1 November 2016

New York Times – Haiti Opens a Drive to Vaccinate 820,000 as Cholera Flares – 9 November 2016

NPR – Cholera 101: Why an Ancient Disease Keeps on Haunting us – 4 November 2016

 

Nicaragua Canal Protested as a Threat to Human Rights

By Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

NICARAGUA — A $50 billion, 172-mile canal is expected to be built by a Chinese firm across Nicaragua with the purpose of connecting the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean. The Panama Canal already accomplishes this but Nicaraguan officials say the canal is crucial to increasing global trade and the new canal can accommodate larger tankers, which the Panama Canal cannot, even with its current expansion. The proposed canal would be three times as long as the Panama Canal and twice as deep. The Nicaraguan government estimates that the revenues created by the project will be almost five times the country’s GDP and will pull more than 400,000 people out of poverty by 2018. The new canal would be an alternative to the Panama Canal, which is 102 years old and handles five percent of global maritime trade. The deal between Nicaragua and Wang Jing of HKND Group would give the firm consortium rights to operate the canal for 116 years. The company broke ground in 2014 but has made little progress since. There are suspicions that the firm may not have enough money to complete the project. There are also concerns that there may not be enough transport demand to support a second canal, especially one with numerous geographical barriers.

Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)
Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Nicaraguan farmers, environmentalists, and human rights groups are protesting construction of the canal. A coalition of farmers gathered 28,000 signatures in opposition to Law 840, which grants concession for the canal project. Both indigenous and peasant farmers are concerned the canal will ruin their crops, require evictions, and destroy the graveyards where their ancestors are buried. Rural residents like 39-year-old Francisca Ramirez are coming together to defend their rights, “I will not allow this area to be destroyed by a project which will only benefit a few, but will harm a vast number of people.”

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says the canal is a threat to people, forests, and to Cocibolca Lake, Central America’s main fresh water reserve. So far, up to 120,000 peasants have no place to relocate to and they were given insufficient compensation for being forced off their land. President of FIDH Dimitris Christopoulos said, “Respecting nature and the rights of rural communities is not a luxury. It’s a duty. These projects will have a dramatic impact on the environment and on human rights. It is unimaginable to sell off territory as such. The government must back out.” The report cites environmental problems with hydrocarbon pollution, salinity, and turbidity. The report also says the canal deal breaches Nicaragua’s constitution and is denying citizens their rights to property, adequate housing, food, and water.

For further information, please see:

Amnesty International – “We Have Hope, we Have Human Rights, we will win This Fight” – 16 October 2016

BBC – Nicaragua Canal Scheme ‘Must be Dropped’ – 14 October 2016

Humanosphere – Nicaragua Canal: Rights Groups Protest Project That may Have Already Failed – 17 October 2016

Sky News – Nicaragua Canal Poses ‘Unimaginable’ Threat to Human Rights – 14 October 2016

 

El Salvador Judge to Reopen 1981 El Mozote Massacre Case

by Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR – Judge Jorge Guzman Urquilla in El Salvador has accepted a request filed by Dr. Maria Julia Hernandez Legal Defense agency, the Center for Justice and International Law, and the Association to Promote Human Rights of El Mozote to reopen one of the worst massacres to occur during the country’s civil war in the village of El Mozote.

A memorial for the victims of the 1981 massacre. (Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle)
A memorial for the victims of the 1981 massacre. (Photo courtesy of Deutsche Welle)

At least 500 people were killed by the army within three days in December 1981, according to a postwar UN truth commission. Victims’ rights advocates say the number of those killed is much more, closer to 1,000. El Mozote villagers were mostly evangelical Christians that were trying to remain neutral in the war but soldiers suspected them of sympathizing with the rebels and attacked. The army dumped many of the bodies in a small church and burned them. The UN truth commission report found Col. Domingo Monterrosa, commander of the Atlacatl battalion, operations chief Col. Armando Azmitia, and six other officers responsible. In 1984 Monterrosa and Azmitia died when a bomb went off in their helicopter. The US government had trained the Atlacatl battalion that was involved in the killings. The army and the US initially denied that any massacre had taken place, but human rights advocate Ovidio Mauricio has said, “the forensic evidence…is overwhelming” and that in just one grave forensic experts found “136 skeletons of girls and boys, with an average age of six years.”

The Supreme Court ruling in July declaring El Salvador’s amnesty law unconstitutional has former military men and the current government, which grew out of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, concerned that those involved on both sides of the conflict could face prosecution and the decision could create social conflicts. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that El Salvador should pay reparations to the victims and in 2012 the government accepted the ruling and apologized for the massacre.

For further information, please see:

BBC – El Salvador Judge Reopens El Mozote Massacre Investigation – 2 October 2016

Deutsche Welle – El Salvador to Reopen Prove Into 1981 Massacre – 2 October 2016

The Guardian – El Salvador Judge Reopens Case of 1981 Massacre at El Mozote – 1 October 2016

The News Tribune – Judge Orders Reopening of El Salvador Military Massacre Case – 1 October 2016

Telesur – Salvadoran Judge Reopens Investigation of El Mozote Massacre – 2 October 2016

 

UN to Discuss Report on US Police Killings of Black Americans

by Portia K. Skenandore-Wheelock
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

UNITED STATES — The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has released their final report based on a visit to the United States in January. A five-member group chaired by Filipino law professor Ricardo A. Sunga III made the trip to evaluate the human rights situation of African Americans. The report concludes that “Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching” during the 19th and 20th centuries and calls on the government to do more to protect its citizens. The Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization, reported in 2015 that 3,959 black people were killed in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

The report has been released while two days of protests and a riot over the shooting of Keith Scott are taking place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Last Friday another incident occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma where an officer fatally shot an unarmed black man.

A UN Report on the state of the human rights of African Americans in the US has been released while demonstrations against police brutality take place in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of AFP)

The report states, “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.” The UN group says these killings go unpunished due to a number of factors. The initial investigations are often conducted by the police departments where the alleged perpetrators are employed, prosecutors have wide discretion over the charges, and the use of force is only subject to domestic standards, not to international standards.

The UN group recommends that the US create a national system to track excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials, end racial profiling, and have federal and state laws that recognize the negative impact of enslavement and racial injustice. The report finds education accompanied by acts of reconciliation key to improving race relations and the trust between African Americans and law enforcement officials. The report is being debated at the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

For further information, please see:

Mint Press News – UN: Police Killings of Black Men Are Modern-Day Lynchings – 24 September 2016

PressTV – US Police Killings Redolent of Lynching: Report – 23 September 2016

Reuters – U.S. Police Killings Reminiscent of Lynching, U.N. Group Says – 23 September 2016

RT – Police Killings of Black People Reminiscent of Lynchings – UN Working Group – 23 September 2016