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

Death Toll Rises to 12 at Florida Nursing Home

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

MIAMI, Florida – On September 10th, hurricane Irma tore through Florida, causing the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center to lose some of its power. The home maintained some electricity, but lost the power to its air conditioning units when a tree knocked out a transformer. Three days after the hurricane hit, the nursing home called 911. Many of their patients had begun exhibiting cardiac arrest and respiratory failure. On September 13th, nearly 150 patients were evacuated. . Of the 150 patients that were evacuated on September 13th, a number of them were treated for heat-related issues.  As of September 18th, eight patients had died. That number has since risen to twelve.

Dolores Biamonte, 57, died September 28th according to a statement from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. Biamonte was the youngest of the residents who died as a result of the heat exposure. Currently, the dead range in age from 57 – 99. Some of those who died had body temperatures that reached 109.9 degrees Fahrenheit. CNN obtained a video that showed one woman sitting naked in a hallway on what looks like a hospital bed next to fans and spot coolers.

Across the street from the home is one of the largest hospitals in Florida. Investigators want to know why so many patients died even though the hospital was only across the street. The twelve deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills are now being treated as part of a criminal investigation, according to Hollywood police spokesman, Miranda Grossman. Federal and State agencies are also conducting administrative investigations.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is under investigation following the deaths of 12 residents from heat exposure after Hurricane Irma. Photo Courtesy of the Daily News.

Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office reported, even though the nursing home had multiple calls with state authorities, they never reported that the patients were in danger or needed to be evacuated.  That report also stated that the state advisors told the nursing home managers multiple times to call 911 if the patients were in danger or needed to be evacuated. The 159-page state report said that was “something [the nursing home] failed to do.”

The Governor said in a statement, “this facility is failing to take responsibility for the fact that they delayed calling 911 and made the decision not to evacuate their patients to one of the largest hospitals in Florida, which is directly across the street.” The nursing home said it is “fully cooperating with all authorities and regulators to assess what went wrong.” The nursing home has also expressed their sympathy for the families of those who died.

Several families have filed lawsuits. Pedro Franco, whose father, Miguel, died following Irma, said, “this is something that could have been prevented.” Franco is among those who filed a lawsuit against the nursing home. The lawsuit also alleges that the nursing home failed to provide proper care to Pedro’s mother, Cecilia Franco, who survived but was hospitalized in serious conditions.

The State Agency for Health Care Administration revoked the nursing home’s license and shut them down earlier this month. In addition, Governor Scott gave all Florida nursing homes and assisted living facilities sixty days to comply with news rules which require them to have generators that can provide backup power for up to four days.

For more information, please see:

CNN – Florida Nursing Home Death Toll Reaches 12 – 29 September 2017

Daily News – Death Toll Reaches 12 at Florida Nursing Home Left Without Power After Hurricane Irma – 29 September 2017

NBC News – Florida Nursing Home Death Toll Rises to Twelve After Hurricane Irma Knocked Out A/C – 29 September 2017

Time – 12th Person Dies After being Taken From Overheated Florida Nursing Home – 29 September 2017

CNN – Video Shows Naked Woman in Sweltering Nursing Home Where 8 Died – 16 September 2017

NY Amends Elder Law to Prevent Elder Abuse

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

ALBANY, New York – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law on September 13th that would help increase the protections against elder abuse. Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton) sponsored the bill which is now law. 11 of her fellow Assemblymen co-sponsored the bill. The new law requires state agencies to develop guidelines to help healthcare providers detect cases of elder abuse, self-neglect and maltreatment.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new bill into law strengthening the protections against elder abuse. Photo courtesy of Biography.

The Office for the Aging, the Department of Health, and the Office of Children and Family Services will develop the guidelines and will have the guidelines available on their websites. Lupardo said, “We want the Department of Health to be a resource for this information for healthcare professionals, where they can find information on signs and symptoms, screening tools, protocols and referrals for appropriate treatment.” Her hope is that by placing all the information in one place on each website will make the information more accessible.

10% of Americans over age 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse according to the National Council on Aging. Elder abuse has many forms including physical, financial and psychological. According to a 2011 study on elder abuse, for each reported incident of abuse, there are 24 unreported incidences.

The bill before the Assembly had included increased protections against financial abuse as well, but Lupardo said it has been difficult to get all the parties to come to an agreement. The suggestion that had been in the bill was to simplify the forms for power of attorney and to have banks offer the option of opening a convenience account when a customer wants a joint account. Governor Cuomo also recognized the financial abuse of our elders, calling it a “national issue.”

Some of the counties in New York have begun to address the issue on their own. The employees of Otsego County Office for the Aging have undergone regular training on elder abuse and will be attending more in the future. Many employees went to a training on September 26th in conjunction with the New York State Office for the Aging and the Broome County Family Violence Prevention Council. The training focused on financial abuse of seniors. Organizer Denise Shukoff said, “Elder abuse is a public health issue, and health professionals are seeing and recognizing this more and more.”

Advocates of the law say that the goal is to assist healthcare workers build relationships with their patients, detect signs of abuse, and report them to the authorities.

For more information, please see:

Daily Star – State Beefs up Laws to Fight Elder Abuse – 26 September 2017

Democrat and Chronicle – NY Installs Stronger Protections Against Elder Abuse – 15 September 2017

New York State Assembly – An act to amend the elder law, in relation to developing guidelines for identifying and reporting elder abuse in healthcare settings – 2 June 2017

Under the Radar – New York Elder Abuse Prevalence Study – May 2011

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

Flint Water Crisis Causes Precipitous Fertility Drop

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLINT, Michigan – The lead-poisoned water of Flint, Michigan has had a major effect on the fertility rate in the city according to a working paper by Daniel Grossman of West Virginia University and David Slusky of Kansas University. The city of Flint switched to the lead-poisoned Flint River in 2014 in order to cut costs. However, the result was a “culling of the least healthy fetuses” leading to a “horrifyingly large” increase in both miscarriages and fetal deaths according to the paper’s authors.

During the Flint water crisis, free water was distributed at the Lincoln Park Methodist Church on February 3, 2015. Photo Courtesy of Business Insider.

In the paper, the authors estimate that among babies conceived from November 2013 to March 2015, “between 198 and 276 more children would have been born had Flint not enacted the switch in water.” Grossman and Slusky found that pregnancies that lasted at least 20 weeks but did not result in birth increased by 58%. The authors also found that fertility rates dropped by 12% compared to other economically similar cities in Michigan that did not have a switch in their water source.

The authors argue that the change in water supply has effects beyond just infants. They believe the drop in fertility is evidence of the effect of lead on the health of potential newborns in utero.  It is important to note that the authors list a number of limitations their study had. Lead builds up in the body over time so focusing on neonatal health could underestimate the overall effects of lead on human health and development. There are also several other contaminates that could have been in the water and affected the results.

This table from the working paper shows the moving fertility rate of Flint compared to other cities in Michigan. Photo Courtesy of Washington Post.

But lead is definitively one of the contaminates of the water. According to Reuters, the water from the river is so corrosive that it stripped the city pipes of lead and contaminated the city’s drinking water. Following the switch to the Flint River, residents began complaining about the appearance and odor of the water. Yet, the city assured residents that the water was safe to drink into 2015.

Water utilities typically point out that although a person has higher lead levels in their blood, the person can’t say definitively what caused the increase. They argue it could have been dust or old paint or lead contaminated dirt. However, most of the effects of water contaminated with lead can only be observed through analysis of the population.

Grossman and Slusky conclude that “failure to provide safe drinking water has large health implications.” It has been come common knowledge that children who have been exposed to lead can face harmful consequences. Some of these consequences are increased antisocial behavior, lower educational attainment, cognitive deficiencies, and many other problems that affect the liver, kidneys and brain.

What is not as well-known is the effects of lead on fetal health. Grossman and Slusky’s literature review shows that pregnant women exposed to lead are linked to “fetal death, prenatal growth abnormalities, reduced gestational period, and reduced birth weight.” At the time the lead exposure began, many Flint residents were unaware that there was lead in the water at all. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child because lead can cross the placental barrier. According to the World Health Organization, there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered to be safe.

For more information, please see:

Business Insider – Fetal Deaths Rose 58% After Flint Switched to Lead-Poisoned Water – 22 September 2017

Huffington Post – Flint Water Crisis Likely Increased Fetal Deaths, Study Shows – 21 September 2017

Washington Post – Flint’s Lead-Poisoned Water had a ‘Horrifyingly Large’ Effect on Fetal Deaths, Study Finds – 21 September 2017

Working Paper – The Effect of an Increase in Lead in the Water System on Fertility and Birth Outcomes: The Case of Flint, Michigan – 7 August 2017

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Health Problems Caused by Lead – 17 April 2017

Business Insider – Michigan is Urging Infants Take Lead Screening After Flint Water Crisis – 17 November 2016

World Health Organization – Lead Poisoning and Health – September 2016

 

Washington Sees Bipartisanship on Bill Against Sex Trafficking

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – On September 19, 2017 the Senate Commerce Committee heard testimony from victims’ families urging law makers to approve the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA). The bill has bipartisan support as it was promoted by both Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

Human trafficking survivors and their advocates have been pushing Congress to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) for years. Courts around the country have been interpreting the act to afford immunity to individuals and companies who knowingly work with sex traffickers to create advertisements for the sale of women and children into sex trafficking.

The CDA was passed by Congress in 1996 to help families shield children form sexually explicit material. At the time, Congress also wanted the Internet to be successful. Taking both of these goals into account, Congress designed the CDA “to protect companies when they merely hosted content from third parties and when they chose in good faith to regulate explicit material on their sites — not when they knowingly engaged in clearly illegal activity.”

Yvonne Ambrose, who’s daughter Desiree Robinson was killed as a result of sex trafficking, speaks to the media after giving her testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, in favor of amending the CDA.

Today, individuals and companies utilized the immunity law of the CDA. California Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown stated, “until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.” One webpage it applies to is Backpage.com which is the website where most American victims of sex trafficking are sold.

Backpage is involved in 73% of cases of suspected child trafficking in America. Although this is a large percentage, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently dismissed three sex trafficking cases. The court ruled that the CDA’s immunity provision precluded the litigation even if they knowingly collaborated with sex traffickers to sell children. The court suggested that the victims seek legislative change to stop this issue.

Despite not taking ads from Backpage, Google “has emerged as its behind-the-scenes champion.” Google is concerned that closing the loophole created by the CDA would allow for frivolous lawsuits and investigations that will damage its’ interests and the freedom of the Internet. Senator Portman says they have nothing to fear.

Senator Portman said, “They have to be proven to have knowingly facilitated, supported or assisted in online sex trafficking to be liable in the first place.”  The Senator further declared, “Because the standard is so high, our bill protects good tech actors and targets rogue online actors like Backpage.”

While none of the members of the Commerce Committee have come out against the bill, some have indicated that they are open to revising it in order to address the concerns of the tech industry. It remains to be seen how the bill may be revised to address these concerns and effectively close the CDA loophole.

For more information, please see:

The Hill – Senators Hear Emotional Testimony on Controversial Sex-Trafficking Bill – 19 September 2017

Huff Post – Who Will Win in Congress – Trafficking Victims or Special Interests? – 19 September 2017

Washington Post – Mother of Slain Teen Makes Tearful Plea for Congress to Amend Internet Law – 19 September 2017

New York Times – Google and Sex Traffickers Like Backpage.com – 7 September 2017

Congress Considers Major Change to the Americans with Disabilities Act

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. – Currently, Congress is contemplating the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620). H.R. 620’s protestors believe it would place major increases on the burden of people with disabilities. As the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) stands now, owners of businesses open to the public – such as hotels, restaurants and movie theaters – must make sure their businesses are accessible for people with disabilities. When a business fails to comply with these rules, a person with disabilities can either take them to court or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

H.R. 620 would change this process and allow businesses to delay fixing the problem for months at a time. The process under the new bill includes many more steps. These steps start with a written notice to the business owner of the inability of the disabled person to access their business. After that, the business has two months to respond and then another four months to actually begin addressing the violation. During that six-month period, the person with disabilities sees no relief.

In the 1990’s when the American’s with Disabilities Act was passed, it contained a provision that required businesses to “remove architectural barriers and other obstacles that impede access to the establishment,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. This provision is known as Title III. The provision makes it possible for people with disabilities to have access to businesses such as groceries stores or shopping malls as well as facilities such as public restrooms and libraries.

Crowd comes together to support disability rights. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The goal of H.R. 620 is to allow for businesses to opt out of Title III. By allowing businesses to opt out of Title III, the responsibility falls on the person with disabilities to make sure businesses have the proper accommodations. Essentially, the person with disabilities has to invest a considerable amount of time and effort to get the necessary accommodations from a business. Whereas, the way the bill stands now, businesses are much more likely to fix a problem sooner in order to settle cases or appease the U.S. Department of Justice.

Supporters of H.R. 620 believe that amending Title III would reduce the number of frivolous and unwarranted lawsuits. After Title III was instituted, there were many lawsuits against businesses for failure to comply with Title III. Those against H.R. 620 believe that there are many reasons for why the amendment is unwarranted.

Currently, the ADA offers free educational resources to businesses that explain how they can comply with Title III. According to Rewire, “an analysis of ADA lawsuits in 2016 identified just 12 individuals and one organization that have filed more than 100 lawsuits each.” Those who oppose H.R. 620 believe that shows most law suits are not abusing Title III. They also say that the ADA already has methods to deal with those frivolous lawsuits.

The passage of H.R. 620 will have a major impact on the lives of people with disabilities. Many believe their civil rights are on the chopping block. With 18 co-sponsors, the bill was voted to advance by the House Judiciary Committee on September 7th, 2017. Now, many wait to see if this bill will become a reality and if it does, how it affects their lives.

For more information, please see:

Romper – What is HR 620? It Could Threaten the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities – 14 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – Will the US Weaken its Disability Laws? – 13 September 2017

Action Together Massachusetts – Action: Protect the American Disabilities Act – Oppose H.R.620 – 12 September 2017

Rewire – Congress Makes Progress in Destroying the Americans with Disabilities Act – 11 September 2017

Rewire – The Americans with Disabilities Act is Under Attack in Congress – 30 May 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

Elders Forgotten During and After Hurricanes Pay the Price

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

FLORIDA, U.S.A. – In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is under investigation for the death of 8 residents. The nursing home lost a transformer during the storm that powered their air conditioning. The rest of the power remained unaffected.

The temperature and humidity levels in Florida rose after the hurricane. The nursing home attributes the residents’ deaths to “a prolonged outage of our air conditioning system due to Hurricane Irma.” The second floor of the facility was called “excessively hot” by Police Chief Tomas Sanchez.

Nursing home administrator Jorge Carballo said, “Staff set up mobile cooling units and fans to cool the facility and continually checked on our residents’ well-being to ensure they were hydrated.” He added that the nursing home was cooperating with the authorities following this tragedy.

After a resident died in the facility late on September 12th, three more residents were found dead on the second floor of the building. An evacuation of the nursing home was done on the morning of September 13th. But it was too late for four more residents, who died in hospitals after the evacuation.

Across the street from the Hollywood Hills nursing home is Memorial Regional Hospital. This close-proximity was the reason some chose the nursing home for their family. Jeffrey Nova chose Hollywood Hills for his mother because the hospital was so close. His mother, Gail Nova was one of the residents who passed away.

Florida Governor Rick Scott is demanding answers. He said officials had been in contact with the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills. “If they find that this facility was not meeting the state’s high standards of care, they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law” the Governor said in a statement.

In previous years, the nursing home has had safety violations and citations. Two of these citations were for not following generator regulations in 2014 and 2016. In both these instances, the nursing home did correct the problems.

Residents at Texas nursing home, La Vita Bella, sit in water up to their chests as they await assistance. Photo Courtesy of Time

Other nursing homes in both Florida and Texas have been evacuated due to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. La Vita Bella nursing home residents in Texas sat in water up to their chests before they were evacuated. The residents were airlifted out after pleas were tweeted out for assistance.

But seniors in nursing homes are not the only ones who do not get the assistance they need quickly. Seniors that do not live in nursing homes are often alone with no one to help them. These seniors are reluctant to ask for help for fear of being institutionalized.

Many of them require wheelchairs, walkers or other means of assistance for medical necessity. Seniors also may be dependent on electronic devices out of medical necessity.  According to a 2005 study, about 50% of Americans needing dialysis were 65 or older. In these cases, when there is a power outage, it could create life threatening situations.

Howard Gleckman of Forbes suggests some solutions for how we can help the elderly in these disasters. Some of these suggestions are mapping at risk seniors living at home, creating easy to use technology so seniors can request assistance and making shelters accessible to the elderly the way that we have for pets.

Although many seniors are reluctant to ask for help, it can’t hurt to offer assistance, even when they don’t need it.

For more information, please see:

CNN – At least 8 dead after Irma leaves Florida nursing home with no A/C – 13 September 2017

Florida Government – Gov. Rick Scott: I am Demanding Answers on Fatalities in Broward – 13 September 2017

Forbes – Why Big Storms Like Irma And Harvey Are Killing Frail Elders – 13 September 2017

ABC News – Why hurricane preparation and recovery is especially difficult for many senior citizens – 12 September 2017

Time – ‘Need Help ASAP.’ The Story Behind the Photo of Nursing Home Residents Trapped in Hurricane Flood Water – 28 August 2017

Goodbye Columbus Day for L.A. and Others

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

LOS ANGELES, U.S.A. – Around the United States, the second Monday of every October has nationally and traditionally been known as Columbus Day since 1937. Now, the holiday is being replaced in L.A. and other cities around the country. L.A. saw a near unanimous vote to replace Columbus Day. The day will now be a celebration of indigenous people. L.A. joins cities such as Seattle, Phoenix and Denver along with the states of South Dakota and Vermont in changing the holiday.

Native Americans in LA City Hall dance while Council members vote to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Photo Courtesy of Los Angeles Times.

Another city joining the change is Ithaca, NY. Ithaca has a local connection to the change as it sits on what used to be the lands of the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ithaca wants to be more conscientious of the contributions made to their local community by Native Americans.

Many have strong opinions on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Native American activists believe that the celebration of Columbus Day is the “celebration of genocide of indigenous people.” For Native Americans, Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America signified the beginning of the atrocities and destruction that they experienced.

There is one group that has been actively fighting against the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Some Italian-Americans are strongly against changing the holiday. They claim the potential change is “an affront to their heritage.”

Historian Dominic Candeloro said, “I have no problem with it. I also happen to be an Italian-American. The one problem we have with the proclamation is it ignores the 900-pound gorilla in the room and that’s Columbus Day. You’re replacing the traditions of one ethnic group with the traditions of another ethnic group.”

Candeloro believes Indigenous Peoples Day should be celebrated in conjunction with Columbus Day. In some cities, this is still possible. L.A. has declared October 12th to be Italian Heritage Day. It was in 1492, on October 12th that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas.

Robin Abcarian of the LA Times writes, “History is written by victors, and promulgated by their descendants.” But now there is a call to correct the narrative of the victors to more accurately represent history. This has been seen around the country with the call to change Columbus Day and with the removal of Confederate soldier statutes.

The story told to children in schools about Columbus day is traditionally told as a happy one. By giving the story this narrative, author Howard Zin believes it serves as a justification of the genocide of an entire group of people. By changing the narrative of the story to include the side of Native American’s it may be possible to erase the “whitewashed American history curriculum.”

For more information, please see:

Chicago Tribune – Oak Park approves celebration of Indigenous People Day – 7 September 2017

Cornell Sun – City Passes Resolution to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day – 7 September 2017

Los Angeles Times – Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is a long overdue victory for civil rights – 1 September 2017

Huffpost – Los Angeles Replaces Columbus Day With Holiday Celebrating Indigenous People – 31 August 2017

Canada Does Good for Refugees, but also Doesn’t?

By Sarah Purtill
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

TORONTO, Canada – Canada is known around the world as accepting of immigrants and refugees. Personal stories about the positive experiences immigrants and refugees have in Canada come out every day. Seidu Mohammad, a Ghanaian refugee in Canada is chasing his dream of being a professional soccer player. His team is currently on a winning streak and the pressure is on to keep it going.

Ahmed Hussen prepares for a citizenship ceremony in Toronto. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times

Ahmed Hussen is another refugee who came to Canada from Somalia 25 years ago. He was named immigration czar in January 2017 and is the first refugee to be appointed to the spot.  After coming to Canada, he worked to get himself through college and then law school. He proclaimed “everyday generosity of Canadians … helped me each and every step of the way.”

Hussen continues to promote Canada’s open door policy despite pressure to close the border. This pressure stems from the Canadian refugee processing system being overwhelmed by Haitians who have lined up at a ditch in Champlain N.Y. out of fear of deportation from the United States.

But Hussen is not the only one addressing the refugee problem. While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed a planeload of Syrian refugees arriving in Canada in December of 2015, by September of 2017, it appears that welcome does not apply to Haitian refugees from the United States.

Trudeau claims “for someone to successfully seek asylum it’s not about economic migration. It’s about vulnerability, exposure to torture or death or being stateless people.”  The turn away of Haitian refugees disagrees with Trudeau’s statement.

Haitian human rights lawyer Patrice Florvilus believes Canada’s claims that “things have returned to normal” in Haiti is not true. Florvilus believes Canada should grant Haitians refugee status, “if Canada wants to become a real beacon for refugees.”

Haitian refugees are not the only ones having trouble getting into Canada. Syrian refugees who can make it to Canada are usually the “richest and most well-educated members of their society” because they are the ones who are able to pay off human smugglers. The political ramifications here do not bode well for Syria.

Typically, refugees who seek asylum in the geographical vicinity of the country they are escaping from return when the conflict ends. But those who travel across oceans do not come back. This means that when the Syrian conflict ends, the country will see a shortage of doctors, dentists and nurses. Essentially, this system of migration is a lottery for the rich and powerful.

While Canada has done plenty of good for many refugees, it may not have truly earned its reputation as an open and inviting place for refugees and asylum seekers.

For further information, please see:

National Post – Why Canada’s refugee policy may actually be doing more harm than good – 8 September 2017

New York Times – In Canada, an Immigration Minister Who Himself Is a Refugee – 6 September 2017

CBC News – Refugee who lost fingers to frostbite chasing soccer dreams – 5 September 2017

The Guardian – Welcoming Haitian refugees to Canada isn’t about generosity but justice – 29 August 2017

Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Protesters Rally Against KKK March in Virginia

By Sarah Lafen
Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — Over one thousand protesters met the Ku Klux Klan in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia as the white supremacist group prepared for a march through the town protesting the city’s decision to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park.  The anti-KKK protesters outnumbered the KKK members, and held signs that denounced racism and promoted racial tolerance.

Counter-protesters shout at members of the KKK at their rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (Photo Courtesy of CBS News)

Members of the Loyal White Knights chapter of the KKK, which is based in Pelham, North Carolina, wore robes, hoods, and carried the Confederate flags.  One member carried a poster that read “Stop the cultural genocide of white people!” while others shouted “white power.”  The organization claimed that the removal of the Lee statue is part of a wider effort to eliminate white history.  One member, James Moore, believes that “[t]hey’re trying to erase the white culture right out of the history books.”

In response to the rally, city officials organized events in other parts of the city and encouraged city residents to stay clear of the KKK members.  However, many residents still showed up at the rally to make sure their voices were heard.  A professor at the University of Virginia who is among those calling for the removal of the Lee statue, Jalane Schmidt, commented that it was important for her to be at the rally “because the Klan was ignored in the 1920s and they metastasized.” Schmidt emphasized that the KKK needs to know “that their ideology is not acceptable.”

Over one hundred police officers were at the rally to help maintain order.  After the rally concluded, officers led several people away in handcuffs and asked large groups to disperse.  Officers also declared the counter-protesters to be an “unlawful assembly” and used gas canisters to coerce them out of the area.

 

For more information, please see:

CBS News — At Virginia KKK Rally, Counter-protesters show up in Droves — 8 July 2017

USA Today — KKK Rally in Charlottesville met with Throng of Protestors — 8 July 2017

The Washington Post — Ku Klux Klan Rally Begins Amid Tension in Charlottesville — 8 July 2017

Yahoo News — KKK Marchers in Virginia Town met by Throngs of Counter-protesters — 8 July 2017