Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Prosecutor Daniel Donovan Invokes Eric Garner's Family While Defending Grand Jury


Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney who failed to convince a grand jury to bring charges against the police officer who killed Eric Garner, said on Sunday that he felt bad for the jurors who had to make the decision and urged respect for Garner's family in his upcoming congressional race.

In his first interview after earning thebacking of the Staten Island GOP, Donovan said the grand jury's decision should be respected.

"No one likes to serve on juries, but they upheld their civic duty and they sat for nine weeks, and they're the only people that heard all the evidence, and they're the only people that deliberated," he said in an interview on John Catsimatidis' radio show, according to the New York Daily News. "I think we should respect their decision. You may not agree with it, but you ought to respect it."

Donovan announced Friday that he was running for the seat vacated by Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.). Grimm, who was re-elected to his seat in November, announced that he would resign last month after pleading guilty to tax fraud.

Donovan said in the radio interview that he isn't sure if his opponents will attack him over the way he handled the case, but said they should be respectful of Garner's family. He called Garner's family his "first priority."

"I would hope that they would respect the fact that there was a man who died, and a mother who lost her son, and there's a wife who lost her husband, and some children who lost their dad," he said.

Police officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Garner in July by placing him in a chokehold and wrestling him to the ground. A bystander captured the unarmed Garner saying, "I can't breathe," as he was wrestled to the ground, but a grand jury decided not to bring charges against Pantaleo last month. The decision sparked a wave of protests across the country.

After the grand jury decision, Garner's widow, Esaw, said ''there was no sincerity from day one" from Donovan or the Staten Island police.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) recently told The Huffington Post that Donovan's handling of the case should be raised as an issue in his campaign.

"I certainly think that his entire public record, including what happened and did not happen in the context of the grand jury investigation into Eric Garner's death, is something that should be heavily...

Donovan warns Dems not to make issue out of Eric Garner


Republican congressional hopeful Dan Donovan warned Democrats not to make a political issue out of the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner chokehold case.

“Those 23 people who got a jury notice… they’re the only people who heard all the evidence and deliberated,” said Donovan on John Catsimatidis’s radio show on Sunday morning.

“You may not agree with it — but respect it,” he said, referring to the Dec. 3 decision not to indict the police officer involved in Garner’s death.

Donovan, who as Staten Island District Attorney brought the case to the grand jury, said his thoughts were with Garner’s wife and children but he pushed back against calls to reform the process.

“Our system is the best in the world, there’s none better than our system in the world,” he said. “We have to be real cautious if people want to jump ahead and disrupt the proceedings of the grand jury if they disagree with one matter.”

Donovan said he was “thrilled” to earn support of Staten Island Republicans who voted to give him their party’s nomination for Congress on Saturday after Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) resigned from office last week.

Donovan’s candidacy is expected to draw nationwide attention because his failure to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo roiled activists across the country.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Emily Bolton said Donovan would fit well with Republicans who “protect the ultra-wealthy and corporate special interests at the expense of the middle class.”

But Staten Island residents may not hold the grand jury’s decision against Donovan.

Only 41 percent of Staten Island residents supported an indictment compared with 64 percent of the city overall, according to an average of Quinnipiac University polls taken last fall.

And half of Staten Islanders said it was understandable that police acted the way they did when they arrested Garner while 43 percent said it was no excuse — compared with 66 percent of residents citywide, according to the polls.

Gov. Cuomo has not called a special election in the race but Donovan has already declared he has a “head start” thanks to support in Staten Island and Washington.

Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island) is also lobbying Brooklyn Republicans and Conservative Party members to get on the party line.

Democrats in Staten...


Congressional staffers walk out to protest deaths of Garner, Brown


Outside the Capitol, congressional staffers raise their arms in the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture on Thursday

Dozens of congressional staff members walked off the job Thursday afternoon in Washington to protest the lack of indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

“We are gathered here today so that we can be the voice for the voiceless,” Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black said on the steps of the Capitol, with congressional staffers standing beside and behind him.

“Today, as people throughout the nation protest for justice in our land, forgive us when we have failed to lift our voices for those who couldn’t speak or breathe for themselves,” he continued. “May we not forget that in our national history, injustice has often been maintained because good people failed to promptly act.”

The staffers, many of them black, raised their arms in the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that became widespread in the protests following Brown's death.

Protests have roiled the country after grand juries in Missouri and New York decided in the last month not to indict police officers in the deaths of Brown and Garner, both unarmed black men. A white Ferguson, Mo., police officer fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9; Eric Garner died July 17 on Staten Island when a white New York police officer subdued him in what appeared to be a banned chokehold.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) participated in Thursday’s demonstration on Capitol Hill.

“These congressional staffers put in incredibly long hours, nights, and weekends working to pass legislation to help people live better lives, so I fully support them taking a few moments today to pray with the Senate chaplain for Congress to take action to ensure that all Americans are treated equally before the law,” he said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.)introduced a bill that would prevent grand juries from being the ones to decide whether a law enforcement officer who kills a person will face charges. Instead, a special prosecutor would bring the case before a judge.

Last week, Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, expressed disappointment about the lack of indictments in Garner’s and Brown’s deaths. “In the span of two weeks, this nation seems to have heard one message loud and clear: There will be no accountability for taking black lives,” she said in a statement.

Black congressional staffers are staging a walkout to protest police abuse


A group of black congressional staffers plan to leave their offices Thursday afternoon to demonstrate against the grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown, the Daily Beast reports.
At 3:30 pm on what's expected to be one of Congress' busiest days of the year, they'll gather on the U.S. Capitol steps.
Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black is slated to lead protestors in a prayer for peace and for the families of the unarmed black men.
Organizations behind the protest include the Congressional Black Associates, Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus, the Brooke-Revels Society, the Congressional African Staff Association, and the African American Women on the Hill Network.

Recent demonstrations surrounding police use of force against unarmed black men began after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in August, and intensified in that city and around the nation after a grand jury's November 24 decision not to issue an indictment in the case.

Protests continued across the nation after the December 3 announcement that the New York City police officer involved Eric Garner's chokehold death would walk free.

In nightly gatherings in major cities, demonstrators have expressed dismay over the decisions in these two cases and larger issues of racially biased policing. College students have walked outof classes and professional athletes have written "I can't breathe" — Eric Garner's last words — on their clothing. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressed solidarity by making the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture associated with Ferguson protests on the floor of the House of Representatives.

"Black staffers on Capitol Hill wanted to do something in support of ongoing national and global protests against police aggression," an organizer of Thursday's walkout told the Daily Beast.

Update: Thursday at 3:30 p.m.,dozens of staffers walked out of their offices and gathered on the steps of the Capitol, where they stood silently with their arms raised before disbanding, NPR reports. Rep. John Lewis, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, joined the protest.


Southern California may have had the perfect rainstorm


Tuesday's rainstorm did not break records by epic amounts or pull parched Southern California out of its drought, but meteorologists were satisfied. This may have been the perfect storm.

Or close enough.

It was strong enough to do some good not just for the L.A. area but also the rest of the state. But it wasn't so strong that it over-saturated foothills and caused mud to swamp neighborhoods.

The rain shut down operations at Snow Valley Ski Resort in Running Springs, Calif.

Pedestrians make their way down the main ramp to the Santa Monica Pier during a morning downpour in Santa Monica.

A low-pressure system from the Pacific Northwest brought steady showers throughout the day that caused little damage.  The forecast called for several hours of torrential rains that raised concerns of mudslides, flooding and other hazardous conditions in areas burned by wildfire. 

But the ground was able to absorb most of the water from the constant but not overpowering rain, said  Kathy Noxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"This was as low impact of a storm as you can get," Noxsie said.  "There was very little wind, steady rain, no pounding rain that would have caused problems like flooding. It was a good winter storm."

As with most big rainstorms, there were multiple traffic accidents, as well as some incidents of rock slides in Malibu and a precautionary evacuation of 75 homes in Camarillo. 

But rain totals were right on target with forecasts, Noxsie said. Downtown Los Angeles received 1.22 inches of cumulative rainfall and San Gabriel mountains had 2.40 inches, according to figures compiled by the National Weather Service. 

Scattered showers continue to fall over the region and will linger into Thursday.  A weak system may bring some light rain showers late Friday and into Saturday morning.

"It was an excellent start to the season," Noxsie said.  "We hope to get more storms like this."

Hard California Rains Provide Little Relief From Record Drought


Amid fears of flooding and mudslides, this week's rain is only drop in dry bucket

Rain has been soaking much of California this week, but the inches of much needed water are only a drop in the bucket amid the worst drought in the state's recorded history, experts warn.

"The rain is welcome—it sure helps—but one good storm is not enough," says Jeffrey Lorens, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Western Region. "We're still in a drought, and we will be for some time."

The rain threatens many areas of California with floods and mudslides, largely because of recent damage from wildfires spurred by the drought and by higher than normal heat.

Although the drought is far from over, the rain is already bringing some benefits, says Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at Stanford. The wildfire season has officially come to an end, he says. Grasses are sprouting in northern California, which didn't happen until as late as February last year. Wildlife and local watersheds are getting a break.

Rains that began on Monday and are expected to continue until Wednesday night or Thursday morning have already soaked most of the state with at least one inch of water, says Lorens.

He forecasts that most of the state will receive up to two inches of rain by the time the storm ends, while some spots in coastal mountains will see up to seven inches.

It seems impressive, but when it comes to rain, the state has a lot of catching up to do. The past few years have been so dry that most of the state is behind on precipitation by one to two years. This three-year period is being called the worst drought in the state's recorded history.

[Photo of a crew member walking up a hillside near a mudflow.]
A crew member walks on a hillside near a mudflow in the area of the 2013 Springs Fire, in Camarillo. The region is under mandatory evacuation this week, amid heavy rains.

November typically ushers in the wet season in California, but last month saw only 70 percent of the normal amount of precipitation.

San Francisco, for instance, is 27 inches (69 centimeters) of rain below normal levels this year. Los Angeles is 25 inches (64 centimeters) below normal, and San Diego is 13 inches (33 centimeters) below normal, according to Jan Null, a meteorologist who runs the consulting company Golden Gate Weather Services.

As a result of the dry conditions, most of the state's reservoirs are far below normal, with some as low as 5 percent of capacity.

That the ground has been so dry means...


Scorecard for Supreme Court hearing: Did Alabama make it too easy for blacks to get elected?


WASHINGTON - This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments about how Alabama redrew its state legislative boundariesfollowing the last census.

The Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference both challenged the Republican-led remap, which has nearly driven white Democrats in the Legislature to extinction. Essentially, the plaintiffs argue that the state made it too easy for black candidates to win election by packing more African-Americans than necessary into majority-minority districts, thereby making it harder for Democrats to compete in surrounding districts.

From a political standpoint, that is exactly how this month's election played out. Republicans expanded their supermajority in both houses at the expense of white Democrats.

The Supreme Court, which agreed to review a 2-1 lower court ruling upholding the new districts, will rule sometime next year. Here is a scorecard of the issues involved in today's oral arguments.

The parties: The Legislative Black Caucus along with several black lawmakers, and the Alabama Democratic Conference, filed separate lawsuits challenging the redistricting. Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher will represent the state's interests. State Sen Gerald Dial and Rep. Jim McClendon, who sponsored the redistricting bills in the Senate and House, intervened as defendants in the case.

The issues: Attorneys have filed hundreds of pages of legal arguments in the case. They boil down to one basic question: Was the map illegal racial gerrymandering or permissible political gerrymandering?

The plaintiffs argue that the record is clear - that Dial and the consultant hired to draw the map acknowledged that they worked "wherever possible" to maintain the same percentage of black residents in the majority-minority districts. That proves that the race was the "predominant" factor, in violation of Supreme Court precedent, they argue.

Lawyers for the state, though, argue that the Legislature's actions amounted to political gerrymandering. The makeup of majority-black districts does not vary substantially from proposals made by several black lawmakers, the attorneys argue. They maintain that the biggest change was to reduce the allowable deviation from the "ideal" district from plus or minus 5 percentage points to plus or minus 2 points.

The reduced flexibility resulted in fewer blacks in majority-white districts that previously had elected...

After Gutting the Voting Rights Act, Alabama Cites It As an Excuse for Racial Gerrymandering


The state uses a measure it helped destroy to justify redistricting that ghettoized minority voters.

You have to give Alabama credit for its cheek. Last year, the state's Shelby Countypersuaded the US Supreme Court to find unconstitutional part of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states with histories of discriminatory election laws to get permission from the federal government before changing their voting practices. On Wednesday, Alabama will argue before the court that the same provision it helped decimate compelled lawmakers to racially gerrymander the entire state.

This convoluted case got its start after the GOP took control of both houses of the Alabama state Legislature in 2010. The Republicans then redrew the state legislative voting districts in 2012 as part of the regular redistricting process. The new plan preserved most of the state's majority-minority districts, where black residents had political power and tended to elect Democrats—often African American ones. But state legislators also redrew the lines in a way that minimized the influence of African American voters in districts where they did not make up a majority of voters.

Here's what happened: The population of several districts in the state had shrunk significantly. They needed to be redrawn to include more residents. But when the state legislators redrew the lines of those districts, they recast a few of them in extraordinary ways, going to great lengths to move in African Americans from neighboring districts. The result: The surrounding districts became more white, and thus, more hospitable to Republican candidates.

One district in Montgomery—nearly 72 percent black and already represented by an African American Democratic senator—needed an additional 16,000 residents to make up for population loss since 2000. GOP map makers reconfigured the district to add 15,785 new residents. Only 36 of those new residents were white. While working hard to add every possible black voter in the vicinity to the district, legislators moved white people out of the district and creatively drew the map to exclude a majority-white area of Montgomery. The impact of the segregated redistricting on this month's election was stark: The number of white Democrats in the state Senate fell from four to one.

In 2012, a group of African American state legislators and other activists filed two lawsuits against the state challenging the redistricting plan as unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act. (Those cases, Alabama Democratic...