Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Civil Disobedience at the Georgia Capitol


Photo by Steve Eberhart
Last year Georgia lawmakers failed to expand Medicaid in our state, falsely claiming that Georgia couldn’t afford it. Over a year later the results have been disastrous. The four rural hospitals listed that Medicaid Expansion would have kept open have been forced to close their doors Charlton Memorial Hospital, Folkston Ga, Hancock Memorial Hospital, Sparta Ga, Lower Oconee Hospital, Glenwood Ga, Stewart Webster Hospital, Richland Ga. According to the Institute of Southern Studies almost 1,200 Georgians needlessly died in 2014 along because Medicaid was not expanded.

An estimated 650k regular everyday Georgians, like Athens resident Adam Lassila, could receive life saving preventative care with Medicaid Expansion. Adam, who will attend Monday's rally states, "I recently suffered a serious head injury. I was able to receive high quality health care without incurring thousands of dollars of debt only because I was lucky enough to hurt myself in Argentina, instead of my own state, whose stubborn and inhumane political ploys have thrust me into the horrible gap where the Medicaid expansion should be."


Photo by Jim Chambers
In an effort to curb the extreme forward motion toward a healthcare system that strongly resembles a third world nation, Moral Monday Georgia brought Georgians from around the state together Monday for a day of learning, lobbying, and bold direct action in the tradition of Kingian Nonviolence.

After a very spirited press conference inside the Georgia Capitol 12 Georgia residents, all part of the Moral Monday Georgia movement, went to their knees and blocked the south steps of the Capitol with a clear message, “Hospitals are closing, people are dying”. Sometimes we run out of words to say; we have made all the points there are to make; published all the reports about the healthcare crisis in Georgia.


Photo by Steve Eberhart

With Georgians who are loved and needed dying everyday and live saving hospitals shutting down we simply can’t afford to walk away from the fight to expand medicaid. Now is a time for bold drastic action. Monday’s arrestees ended up spending 17 hours in jail but in doing so forced the issue back into the spotlight in Georgia. We sincerely hope Georgians keep pushing; keep fighting; keep organizing for a state that puts real people before dogmatic politics.

We encourage those that can to contribute to the Georgia Civil Disobedience Fund to support bold actions like this.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Community Sets Up Camp Outside DeKalb Courthouse Demanding Justice for Kevin Davis

Tents were set us to keep folks warm
Wednesday afternoon, AFSC was part of a small delegation that met with DeKalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander about the Kevin Davis case. For those that don't know, Kevin Davis called 911 after his girlfriend had been stabbed. Police showed up, walked into his home, and shot and killed his 3-legged dog. Kevin assumed that the person that had stabbed his girlfriend was back, and grabbed an old gun that apparently didn't even work. At no point did Kevin threaten the officer, or point the gun at anyone. Police shot Kevin multiple times, and then arrested him for aggravated assault. Kevin's family wasn't allowed to see him as he slowly died over the course of several days. 

Kevin's Niece Reads a Letter to Her Uncle
Yesterday, Kevin would have been 45 years old. Kevin’s family, friends, and co-workers called for a vigil at the DeKalb County Courthouse yesterday, to mourn his murder at the hands of police, and call attention to their demand that the DeKalb County DA call for a GBI investigation. The fact is that the police account of what happened when they responded to the 911 call dramatically differs from eyewitness accounts. The vigil was powerful. Family and friends spoke about the kind of man Kevin was. 

Add caption
Kevin’s niece, who will go unnamed, as she is a minor, was upset that her family had not received an apology for her uncles murder, said, “Since the police officer or any other higher authority will not step down from their position to apologize, I will. I’m sorry for what they did to you. You didn't deserve it, you are a good man, and I just want to say happy birthday". 
Kevin's Sister Delisa Davis

Kevin's sister, Delisa Davis, tearfully said,“it's been 30 days since my brother was shot, but it still feels like yesterday. We want the DeKalb County DA to allow the GBI to investigate Kevin's murder”.

    In an effort to force a spotlight onto the issue, a coalition that included AFSC, The Gen Y Project, #ItsBiggerThanYou The CommUNITY, Rise Up GeorgiaMalcolm X Grassroots Movement, and others, decided to pitch tents at the courthouse and stay the night in 30 degree whether, risking arrest. Dozens braved the cold together, and passed out thousands of fliers around the courthouse in the morning, making the family's demands for a GBI investigation crystal clear to the DA.
Community Members Hold Strong After 2am

 Of course, there are broader implications here.The very safety of the community is in question. Is it safe to call 911 for black and brown people in DeKalb County? Can police be trusted to investigate themselves after they shoot a man and his dog in his own home? 

Some of the press coverage from the sleep out:

 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Michele Swan Arrested by Henry County SWAT Team After Fighting Wrongful Eviction


Michele Swan has been locked in a struggle to gain ownership of her home ever since a contentious divorce from her husband, Triveni Omar Singh, in 2012. Despite being granted ownership of the home in her divorce, Ms. Swan was ignored by Chase bank when trying to transfer ownership, and ultimately the home was foreclosed on; sold on the Henry County Courthouse steps to an investment firm.

American Residential, the group that bought the property, has continually refused to negotiate with Michele despite her efforts to buy back the home. Instead they opted to break into the home and remove all of the items of value; furniture, electronics, clothes, and personal momentous. Michele reported the theft to the local police department and detectives asked for entry to the home to discuss the burglary. Per Henry County detectives Michele’s personal items and everything of value was removed and placed off site by American Residential.

Since the foreclosure Michele has been subject to one difficultly after another in her attempt to regain legal control of her home. After being evicted by WRI Group, a property management firm affiliated with American Residential, Michele reclaimed her home in an attempt to rectify the unjust sale to American Residential.

After occupying the home publicly with support from community members for weeks, and receiving no response from American Residential, Michele and her allies where removed from the home by Henry County Police by over twenty officers. After Michele and supporters complied with an order to leave the property, Michele was arrested for criminal trespass and remains in custody at Henry County Jail, supporters are working towards her release.

Update: Michele has been denied bond and has been charged with criminal trespass, theft by taking, and burglary. This is a sad precedent to set for nonviolent housing justice protesters. Tonight there will be a vigil at the Henry County Jail.

There was a time in this country that women were not recognized as land owners, and claims to property by women were not considered legitimate; that dark chapter in American history is supposed to be closed. It is a cruel irony Michele had a rightful claim to her families home, and has been begging the financial institute that profited from Michele's clear injustice to sell her the home at a more than fair price(FYI Michele's loan has been pre-approved for months); yet tonight she sits in a jail cell with fairly serious charges.

It was just years ago that Wall street and the big banks crashed our economy and over 11 million Americans lost their homes and even more lost all of their wealth and NONE or the architects of the worst fraud in human history face jail time...but there's Michele Swan surrounded by a SWAT team for standing up to a system that continues to stack the deck against regular everyday people.


We also encourage everyone to sign and share Michele's online petition and follow the hashtag #Justice4Michele on twitter and instagram. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Georgia Law Enforcement Reform Package Introduced


Yesterday American Friends Service Committee joined Senator Vincent Fort, The Moral Monday Georgia Movement, the Davis/Bozeman Law Firm, Georgia WAND, Georgia NAACP, and the Coalition for the Peoples Agenda to introduce the Georgia Law EnforcementReform Package.
 

We believe that all deserve to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. We are troubled that black and brown Georgians continue to experience police brutality, mass incarceration, racial profiling, and excessive police tactics at an alarmingly higher rate than white Georgians.


Just this past year in Habersham, Georgia law enforcement used a “No Knock” warrant to storm an innocent family’s dwelling and in the process tossed a concussion grenade into Baby Bounkham "Bou Bou" Phonesavanh crib. This ended up almost claiming the baby’s life, blowing his face off.


In 2006 police used a “No Knock” warrant to break down the door of 92-yearold Atlanta resident Kathryn Jonhston and fired 39 shots at her, killing her. Later they planted drugs on her to justify the horrendous act.


Our communities don’t need urban tanks and other military equipment that are used to seeing in a war zone. We believe the mere presence and training that come with this unnecessary equipment makes our communities less safe and increases potential for human and civil rights violations. When we use military gear and vehicles in certain communities it makes those communities feel like they are under occupation, when we treat community members like war combatants we move farther away from the Beloved community Dr King spoke of and closer to the nightmare her preached about in 1967 when we articulated what he called the giant triplets of evil; Militarism, Racism, and Poverty.

 
This legislative session a broad Law Enforcement Reform Package is being introduced by a diverse group of Georgia law makers. We call on members of the Georgia House and Senate to pass all the bills. We believe this package will make Georgians safer, reduce the number of lawsuits for taxpayers, and reduce the amount of unnecessary equipment (like urban tanks) and the cost to taxpayers associated with them. Institutional racism and the troubling trend toward a militarized police state runs deep and will not be solved overnight; we believe these bills are a step in the right direction.


Below are the bills that make up the Georgia Law Enforcement Reform Package:

 
SB 45 (Fort, 39th) – “Bou Bou’s Law ”

This legislation would restrict no-knock warrants to situations where the affidavit or testimony supporting the warrant establishes by probable cause that if an officer were to knock and announce identity and purpose before entry, such act of knocking and announcing would likely pose a significant and imminent danger to human life or imminent danger of evidence being destroyed.

 

SB 46 (Fort, 39th) – Police Body Cameras

This legislation would require all police departments’ officers with wearable cameras by 2017.  It would also instruct the Department of Public Safety to create procedures for grants to small or underfunded police departments, subject to funding. 

 

SB 47 (Fort, 39th) – Hate Crimes

This legislation would increase criminal penalties for crimes committed against an individual intentionally selected because of such individual's race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or national origin.  Increased penalties would mimic the increased penalties for crimes against senior citizens. 

 

SB 48 (Fort, 39th) – No Guns for Violent Felons

Prohibit restoration of gun rights to convicted felons who had been convicted of violent crimes, sexual offenses, or crimes involving firearms

 

SB 49 (Fort, 39th) – Stand Your Ground Repeal

Repeal Georgia’s Stand Your Ground law

 

SB 50 (Fort, 39th) – Special Prosecutor for Police Cases

This legislation would require the appointment of a special prosecutor for cases when a police officer is the suspect

 

Pending Bills

*Police demilitarization

*Require police to report civilian deaths to GBI
 
 
The Moral Monday Georgia Movement will be mobilizing people from around the state to come together at the Capitol to support the Package, click here for details.
 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Changing The APD Narrative: Ferguson Protestor Arrests

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE: APD, ARRESTED PROTESTORS & THE RIGHT TO DISSENT

By Jim Chambers

January 12, 2015, Atlanta, GA- In the wake of the now notorious decision of a Grand Jury in Ferguson, MO, not to indict Ofc. Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, the nation-at-large has seen a torrent of protests, marches, rallies, and actions of civil disobedience.
In Atlanta, arguably the most significant, and unquestionably most heavily attended such action (estimates in the low thousands) was a 4-hour rally at Underground Atlanta, a shopping area in the heart of downtown, on November 25th, 2014, the day after the non-indictment. The rally was organized by a coalition of civil rights activist groups known as the “Shut It Down ATL Coalition.” In the wake of this rally, a series of spontaneous marches developed, dominantly propelled by young people of color. The marches largely coalesced on Atlanta’s main thoroughfare, Peachtree St., and in the surrounding areas, commencing early that evening and continuing into the next morning. A number of protestors were arrested by the Atlanta Police Dept., all but one of whom were represented in a group of 23 that appeared Wednesday, January 7th, for arraignment at Atlanta Municipal Court. The vast majority of these arrestees were charged with “pedestrian in roadway,” or “impeding traffic.”  Arrests began after dispersal orders had been given, with APD citing instances of property damage as cause to label the marches “illegal.” The genesis of the decision to disperse, and the nature of the arrests/police response are key points, which have heretofore been largely overlooked.
Quite laudably, a coalition of over 20 volunteer attorneys, spearheaded by the Davis-Bozeman Law Firm of Atlanta, appeared on behalf of the protestors; most of these attorneys were not dedicated activist/civil rights attorneys, but rather, had stepped aside from their customary work to assist in representing, pro bono, a group which they felt had been wrongly arrested, and wrongly charged whilst exercising their constitutional rights.  In a statement issued by Davis-Bozeman, it was affirmed that “none of the protestors represented were charged with any acts of vandalism…{and they} maintain their innocence and 1st Amendment right to protest and assemble.” The attorney group was also given furtherance and aid from a collection of local law students and professors.
In order to thoroughly address these cases, a chronology of events that preceded the arrests, accompanied the arrests, and occurred thereafter must be properly examined.
To begin with, law enforcement communities nationwide predictably took measures to prepare for what would inevitably be a significant reaction to the Ferguson decision; protests in Missouri had been ongoing since early August, when Michael Brown’s killing occurred, and it was largely anticipated that regardless of the decision, some kind of national response would be heard. Preparation and response was visibly multifarious amongst law enforcement agencies in different cities, but in Atlanta, given the historical backdrop of civil rights action, measures were taken to foster pre-emptive dialogue between the rally’s organizers and APD. At APD’s behest, members of the Shut It Down Coalition agreed to a sit-down with APD officials, including Chief George Turner, the week before the event. In that meeting, assurances were given by the organizers that the rally, and any associated actions, would remain non-violent. In turn, Law Enforcement officials assured that excessive use of force in response to the rally would not occur, including, but not limited to, pepper spray, teargas, and riot gear; in essence, there was to be no militarized response.
This is the point at which the narrative sharply turns; by Mayor Reed’s account, which was buttressed by that of Chief Turner, a “splinter group of 150 or so” protestors led the post-rally march, and it was this “group’s” alleged complicity in a blockage of the I-75/85 Downtown connector, and property damage (a broken window at Meehan’s Pub, a broken Taxi window, and a handful of toppled objects), which spurned the arrests. In effect, the litany of events provided by Reed/Turner, the latter of whom at one point in the night announced that “We {Atlanta} are better than this,” was that APD was honoring its pledge to stand back, and this only changed once the protestors, rhetorically monolithic, reneged on their pledge of non-violence.
There are a number of major issues with this account. First, had one been in the vicinity of the rally & the marches, as was this author and myriad eyewitnesses, it was clear that there was no such “splinter group.” As stated earlier, the postliminary marches were almost entirely organic, and consisted of the bulk of those who remained at Underground at the original rally’s conclusion. The numbers were well over 150; groups were scattered around downtown, including a handful on the connector, but it’s worth noting that not one of those arraigned Wednesday were amongst that group. The largest culmination of the spontaneous marches was at Peachtree St and Ivan Allen Blvd. There, protestors were met by police clad in full riot gear, and this is where the bulk of the arrests took place.
If one observes the timeline, something does not add up: I myself “splintered off” from the initial rally, gathering a handful of students in need of rides to MARTA, and when I learned that marches were ongoing, I parked, and began to walk back towards downtown from the GSU area, in order to cover further ongoings. En route, at least 10 witnesses, including my fiancĂ©e and I, observed and photographed a staging area of dozens of APD already clad in full riot gear. The officers performed a series of what appeared to be drills, and proceeded to load into at least 3 full sized buses, including a MARTA commuter bus and a GSU student shuttle, headed towards the marches downtown. A small group of us followed the buses, and were actually led towards the bulk of the remaining crowd by them. When we arrived to Peachtree St., we observed a handful of protestors actually replacing those few toppled objects, including a display of Christmas trees and a magazine dispenser. Simultaneously, the first round of reports of property damage began to circulate, and clearly, the two windows broken, which represent the extent of any meaningful damage, had been broken within minutes of our arrival on to Peachtree.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this author’s photographically documentable timeline is somehow errant by, say, 15 minutes. Let’s give authorities the benefit of the doubt, and say that all militarized response and arrests occurred only upon notification of property damage. If it takes at least 5-10 minutes for an officer to don full riot gear, another 15 minutes of preparation, and another 10 to load a few buses, that’s at least 30 minutes required, notwithstanding orders/organization from above, if not far longer, to mobilize such units to a scene. Other eyewitnesses claimed to have seen such stirring as early as 4pm that day in pockets of the city. Clearly, comprehensive preparation had been in place for hours, if not days, to send riot squad response teams. If APD’s promise had been in earnest, and they had no intent of escalating interactions with protestors, why would this have been the case? The reality is that these units were mobilized and ready well before any alleged breach of commitment had occurred on the parts of protestors, and basic human behavior dictates that if one shows up dressed for hostility, one being whoever was commanding APD’s actions, one is obliquely inciting hostility.
There’s another substantial problem with the APD’s decision to declare the Peachtree march “unlawful,” and to accuse the protestors and organizers en masse of breaking a vow of non-violence; in the midst of a crowd of thousands of mostly young black people, already justifiably agitated by the slayings of other innocent young black people, at the hands of police, and already aware of a looming, ominous police force descending upon them, we’re looking at two broken windows, and a handful of items which were knocked over, and subsequently replaced by protestors, 2 of whom, Sarah Garrett and Corina Cruz, were later arrested. It is this author’s opinion, alluding to Chief Turner, that “we” would be hard-pressed to be much “better than this.” In point of fact, in a metro area that roughly 2 million black people call home, seated in the heart of the South, where race has always been an issue of greater tension, an astonishing level of restraint was shown. What was shown was collective punishment, something that should be quite alien to law enforcement in an advanced democracy.
APD staging riot squads on DeKalb Ave.

As the march progressed up Peachtree, towards Ivan Allen Blvd., the visible presence of riot squads steadily grew, and a hefty perimeter was formed around protestors, the weightiest contingency grouped across Ivan Allen, thereby stopping the march in its tracks. At this point, dispersal orders were given from various officers, most notably a diminutive, well-groomed ranking officer with a megaphone. The mantra, “you have destroyed property, this assembly is unlawful, you will be arrested if you do not disperse,” was repeated. At the SW corner of that intersection, a group of 4-5 officers took it upon themselves to forcibly seize what had been a wide banner, supported by wooden posts, which read, “Black Lives Matter” from a group of protestors. The banner was torn, and in a particularly heightened moment, the posts were pointed back at protestors, conjuring an image eerily reminiscent of the famous photo of an American flag being jousted at a young man of color during Boston’s busing riots in the 1960’s. It was immediately after this that arrests began, seemingly randomly; if one happened to be in the front line of marchers, or in the wrong spot along the sidewalk, one was at risk of being apprehended. Indeed, to a man, not one of those arrested had been complicit in any way, shape, or form in the earlier destruction of property, and most were detained arbitrarily, as marchers attempted to re-route away from the blockades.
Aside from being effectively innocent bystanders, as were all of those arraigned Wednesday, a number of arrestees were detained amidst uniquely shabby circumstances, and a few sustained injuries at the hands of police:
Nile Bean was working at the downtown Hyatt hotel, adjacent to the dispersing march. He stepped outside, curious as to what was transpiring, and began to film the scene. As one of his feet flirted with the curb, he was grabbed, slammed to the ground, and arrested. Local photographer Steve Eberhardt was able to document much of this.
A young, interracial couple, Renzo Marches and Natasha Stewart, became alarmed when they saw the presence of militarized police units. They turned away from the main group, and pulled scarves across their faces, anticipating a possible pepper spray/teargas deployment. As soon as they had done so, they were accused of “inciting” and “wearing masks.” Ms. Stewart was pulled, by the scarf, incurring bruising to her neck, and Mr. Marches was thrown to the street; injuries to his leg and face were displayed in photographs at a press conference which followed Wednesday’s arraignment.
Corey Toole, a young black student, was also apprehended at random, and managed to gain access to his phone from the back of a prisoner van; he posted a troubling image of a bloodied, beaten face to Twitter, while the march was still ongoing, and his injuries remain visible to this day.
Corey Toole's photo, tweeted from APD Prisoner Transport Vehicle

Samuel Albanez, a Hispanic male who has worked for some time with local NAACP chapters, sustained injuries excessive enough to keep him at Grady Hospital overnight, resulting in a booking the following day.
The rest of the arrests occurred over the next two hours. Arrestees were released between 3am-8am the following day, and appeared in court that afternoon, November 26th, where arraignment was postponed until January. Two members of the press had also been detained, but per the Mayor’s orders, charges against them were dropped in the morning.
Following Wednesday’s court proceedings, 14 of those initially charged pled not guilty, and await a hearing on January 21st to determine a trial date, presumably to be set for mid-February. Six of the remaining defendants were granted dismissals, due to “ticket discrepancies,” on the part of arresting officers, while one man, a member of CopWatch, had charges dismissed due to video evidence provided to the prosecution amidst court proceedings by Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, 11Alive News. The footage clearly demonstrated that he had been filming the events on the street, and had violated no appreciable laws. Regrettably, another member of CopWatch also appeared in the video in the same capacity, but had already pled not guilty when the video appeared; as such, he will have to re-appear when a trial date is set. One remaining arrestee sought private counsel, and chose to plead no contest for personal reasons, receiving a commuted 2-day sentence and a small fine.
The assemblage of volunteer attorneys have indicated that their aim in this case is to achieve general dismissals, and have expressed vigorous confidence to that end, and no less. Without reserve, it is this author’s unwavering opinion that anything but dismissal would be an odious moment for the City and its administration; this is an opportunity for city officials to concede their own error, unfortunately disproportionate response, or perhaps even more germane to the issue at-large, to retract the narrative of irresponsibility and criminality previously ascribed to a group of well-intentioned, non-violent protestors. It would behoove the mayor, and the courts, to provide a show of magnanimousness, and embrace Atlanta’s Civil Rights legacy in a meaningful way, rather than persisting on a path of punitive chicanery, and politics of fear.