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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Won’t Seek A Third Term. These Movements Are A Big Reason.

Protesters blasting everything from punitive prosecutors to police brutality should be remembered for their role in upsetting the Windy City's political status quo.

A demonstrator protesting in 2015 over the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with murder in the 2014 death of 17-year-old McDonald.
Photo illustration by Anagraph/ Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel Won’t Seek A Third Term. These Movements Are A Big Reason.

Protesters blasting everything from punitive prosecutors to police brutality should be remembered for their role in upsetting the Windy City's political status quo.

On Sept. 4, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek re-election. Many local activists and organizers celebrated the news. But with a race dominated by establishment candidates, including former Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy and Paul Vallas, a former CEO of Chicago Public Schools who is a veteran of New Orleans’ racist charter school system and a longtime advocate of school privatization, others insisted the celebrations were premature.  

I was among those celebrating, because, for Chicago’s grassroots organizers, the moment was well-earned. Though I would be troubled that in the days afterward many of the key stories behind Emanuel’s downfall were being clipped from the public narrative, despite strong, continuing evidence of their impact.

There are movements that should not be forgotten when the history of Emanuel’s Chicago is told: the Mental Health Movement, which fought Emanuel’s devastating attacks on public mental health care; the Dyett hunger strikers, who prevented a local high school from being shuttered; parents who occupied their children’s schools in the battle against Emanuel’s mass school closures.

Movements against state violence also had a tremendous impact on the Emanuel administration. Conservatives have seized upon Chicago’s often-exaggerated murder rate as a signifier of “Black on Black” crime, but for those who live here, intra-community violence is part of a larger continuum of harm, and cannot be separated from violence imposed by the state. It is therefore impossible to understand the story Emanuel’s two terms as mayor without examining protest movements that challenged the violence of his police force.

As an organizer and a movement journalist, I contributed to these moments and also worked to document them. Given that perspective, I believe that these campaigns and movement moments should be preserved for the historical record.

‘Reparations now’

Between 1972 and 1991, over 100 Black men were tortured by the Chicago police under the infamous leadership of Commander Jon Burge, who died at the age of 70 on Sept. 19. The city has paid $120 million to settle claims related to torture allegations against Burge and his officers, but a true tally of those affected may never be known.

In 2010, a group called Chicago Torture Justice Memorials began organizing to seek justice for the survivors of police torture and to memorialize their suffering. In 2012, the group drafted a reparations ordinance including demands for financial compensation for victims as well as specialized counseling services and free tuition at city colleges for survivors and their immediate families. The document also called for a monument to survivors of police torture and an addition to the public school curriculum that would reflect the experiences of torture survivors. It seemed like an impossible set of demands—but as organizer Mariame Kaba stated at the time, it was “a transformative document” worth fighting for.

The campaign for reparations dogged Emanuel as he campaigned for re-election in 2015, turning the lobby outside his office into a pop-up art exhibit about police torture and interrupting his day-to-day activities. One activist ambushed him while he was enjoying some ice cream. Organizers also staged mock votes on city trains, in which voters chose between Emanuel and reparations. Politically vulnerable, and hampered by the scrutiny of the media and his opponent, Jesús “Chuy” García, Emanuel could do little to defend himself.

On a cold night in February that year, a group of protesters amassed outside Emanuel’s home, lifting a large, lighted message that read “REPARATIONS NOW.” There was a visible reaction inside the home. Blinds were closed and lights went out. After Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term was announced, a source close to him claimed that protests outside the mayor’s family home were a major stressor and a serious consideration as he pondered a re-election bid. It has also been noted in the media that Emanuel would most likely face another runoff if he sought a third term—a prediction that probably troubled Emanuel, given the beating he took from activists during his runoff against Garcia.

The strongest crusaders for the ordinance were, of course, the torture survivors themselves. Their stories were nightmarish, moving and profoundly articulated. Darrell Cannon was subjected to three mock executions with a shotgun before his genitals were shocked with a cattle prod. A plastic bag was placed over Anthony Holmes’s head while he was subjected to electric shocks from a crude device that Burge operated himself. Students and artists, moved by their narratives, created and exhibited work that fueled a moral reckoning. By the time the city agreed to a negotiated version of the ordinance, a narrative had been forged that could not be undone—one that has now been written into the curriculum of Chicago’s city schools.

With the early momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement at its back, the reparations campaign saw victory in 2015, after leveraging Emanuel’s vulnerability in a mayoral runoff. On May 6, 2015, the Chicago City Council passed the reparations ordinance which established a $5.5 million fund for Burge’s victims and provided free tuition at  city colleges for survivors and their families. In May 2017, the Chicago Torture Justice Center, which “seeks to address the traumas of police violence and institutionalized racism through access to healing and wellness services,” opened on the city’s South Side as part of the reparations package.

‘16 shots and a cover-up’

In October 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Over a year later, video of McDonald’s killing was released. Emanuel along with other officials, including then State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, withheld the video from the public until after Emanuel had secured his second term. In a hotly contested race, many questioned whether Emanuel could have defeated Garcia if the images of McDonald being killed—as he was walking away from Van Dyke—had been broadcast during the campaign. Garcia has continued to ascend politically, and is currently running for U.S. Congress in Illinois’ 4th District.

The court-ordered release of the video of McDonald’s death gave rise to massive demonstrations led by Black youth that electrified the city for weeks. During one protest, participants shut down the city’s most popular downtown shopping destinations, including Macy’s, on Black Friday in 2015, costing retailers 25 to 50 percent of their projected sales on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. “Today, there is no shopping on Michigan Avenue,” said one protester. “Because Laquan McDonald won’t have a Christmas.” Unsatisfied by the first-degree murder charge filed against Van Dyke on the day the video was released, most protesters also echoed demands for the resignations of Emanuel, then-police superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Alvarez, chanting “16 shots and a cover-up”—a refrain that follows Emanuel to this day.

A week after the video McDonald’s death was made public, Emanuel, who had previously defended McCarthy, fired him in an effort to stem public outrage. And now Van Dyke is on trial in a Cook County courtroom, in McDonald’s killing. Chicago activists have held vigil outside the courthouse where the trial is taking place and say they will continue to do so until a verdict is rendered.


In early 2016, a coalition of young Black people organized the #ByeAnita campaign to hold Alvarez responsible for her role in the cover-up of McDonald’s killing, for her complicity with police violence, and for her aggressive prosecutions of Black people for acts of self-defense such as Naomi Freeman, who was charged with first-degree murder after she ran over her abusive partner with a minivan. Back then, most incumbent prosecutors were either easily re-elected and or ran unopposed. But protesters were undeterred because as Tess Raser, who worked on the #ByeAnita campaign, told me at the height of the effort, Emanuel “conspired with State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez during his own re-election campaign to cover up the police murder of Laquan McDonald—a life that to Emanuel, Alvarez, and [Hillary] Clinton did not matter—and any politician who supports him is implicated in it.”

The #ByeAnita campaign was characterized by relentless confrontation. Alvarez’s movements were tracked online through the hashtag #WheresAnita; her campaign events also faced repeated interruptions. On election eve, 16 banner drops highlighting her harms against the community were staged throughout the city—one for each bullet that struck McDonald.

“People need to be aware that Anita Alvarez argues for maximum penalties against young people, in juvenile court, as a matter of policy,” organizer Kaleb Autman, then just 14 years old, told me, “and people need to understand the effect that has on children and on our communities.”

Operating on a budget of less than $1,000, young Black organizers from groups like BYP 100, Assata’s Daughters, and Fearless Leading played a pivotal role in bringing down Alvarez, who was defeated by Kim Foxx in March 2016. Particularly pionering was the #ByeAnita campaign’s focus on accountability for prosecutors, rather than endorsing Foxx. “Kim Foxx did not win this campaign,” Raser said. “Anita Alvarez lost this campaign because we pushed this city to see what Anita Alvarez has been doing to this city and its people.”

In the last year, as young activists have squared off with Emanuel and the City Council, they have warned “Don’t believe us? Go ask Anita.” Indeed, the specter of Alvarez’s ouster, and the relentless nature of the campaign to remove her was most likely on Emanuel’s mind as he decided whether to run for a third term in a race that would unfold as McDonald’s killer was being tried, reopening the wounds that led so many into the streets.

The #ByeAnita campaign resonated far beyond Chicago as incumbent prosecutors and other establishment candidates are now being challenged—and defeated—across the country, often on similar issues that drove Alvarez’s loss, such as police shootings.

The culmination

Organizing against police violence in a city like Chicago is a complex project. “It was the combination of sustained and varied resistance against every single attack against the community waged by Rahm,” Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer Aislinn Pulley told me, “that collectively made it politically infeasible for Rahm to run for a third term.”

Some of those attacks included the killing of Rekia Boyd by an off-duty police officer in 2012 as she made her way home from a party—a case that helped seal Alvarez’s fate; the 2014 police killing, just days before McDonald’s death, of Ronald “Ronnieman” Johnson, whose mother has led a fight for justice; and Emanuel’s attempt in 2017 to spend $95 million on a new police academy while his austerity policies continue to punish Chicago’s most vulnerable communities, spurring the #NoCopAcademy movement.

Emanuel hoped that the story of his tenure would not be written by such protests. But every attempt he made to shape his history was interrupted by the storytelling of movements that would not allow the violence of his policies to be erased. The most impactful of these efforts drew clear connections between Emanuel’s austerity measures, police violence and the intra-community violence incubated by conditions that city officials help cultivate.  

In July, Emanuel boasted “I made a few phone calls” after a highway was shut down for a peace march led by his longtime friend, the anti-violence activist Father Michael Pfleger. The event was framed as civil disobedience but Emanuel’s comments revealed it to be effectively a protest managed by the state. At the time, some activists believed that Emanuel was attempting to co-opt protest as a means to gloss over his past harms to protesters and perhaps even pave the way for a third-term mayoral run. In hindsight, however, it seems more likely that the event was yet another example of legacy shaping. The image of Father Pfleger, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Emanuel’s current police superintendent marching arm-in-arm, amid a large crowd, made for a picture-perfect protest moment. But a week later, Emanuel’s police gunned down a South Side barber, Harith Augustus, launching yet another rebellion by the community.

“McCarthy resigned, Jason Van Dyke was indicted and on the eve of Van Dyke’s trial, Mayor Emanuel decided not to run for re-election,” Frank Chapman, director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, told me.  “One doesn’t have to be a political analyst to connect the dots here. Rahm knew that what he managed to hide in the last election would be staring him in the face in this one. Being the political coward that he is he chose not to run.”

Emanuel recently announced that after leaving office he will be writing a book called The Nation City: Why Mayors Run the World for the prestigious New York publishing house Alfred A Knopf. His publisher says the book will focus on “effective governing in a time of historic gridlock”—a curious theme, given his dismal track record on everything from criminal justice to education. But while Emanuel pens a post hoc effort to reclaim his own story, Chicago organizers will be working hard to prevent another mayor like Emanuel from taking office.

NYC Prosecutors Are Stoking Fear About the Mass Bailout, But Their Arguments Don’t Add Up

District attorneys’ comments belie the true purpose of bail in New York and ignore the safety risks of jail itself.

Rikers Island
U.S. Geological Survey

NYC Prosecutors Are Stoking Fear About the Mass Bailout, But Their Arguments Don’t Add Up

District attorneys’ comments belie the true purpose of bail in New York and ignore the safety risks of jail itself.

Throughout October, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights foundation will be working to bail out hundreds of people from New York City’s jails. The organization originally planned to target two facilities in the city’s sprawling Rikers Island jail complex: “Rosie’s,” or the Rose M. Singer Center, which detains women, and the troubled Robert N. Davoren Complex, which had held boys ages 16-17. As of Monday, the city had moved the teens to a juvenile facility to comply with the state’s “Raise the Age” law, although they appear to remain as eligible for bail as before. That leaves roughly 250 women who are eligible for bail in Rosie’s, and fewer than 100 teenagers who are eligible in the new location.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, law enforcement officials quickly assailed the proposal. The president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, Elias Husamudeen, immediately raised the specter of those released committing crimes while on bail, as did four of the five elected district attorneys in New York City (Michael McMahon of Staten Island weighed in later). The prosecutors all suggested that the bailout was jeopardizing witnesses and victims, with Queens DA Richard Brown simply saying, “It is clearly a threat to public safety.”

Such an aggressive response by law enforcement to what is ultimately a small-scale proposal is completely predictable. Their arguments, however, are deeply problematic.

Let’s just start with the fact that New York is one of four states in the country where prosecutors and judges cannot take a defendant’s likelihood of committing another crime into account when setting bail, which is intended solely to ensure appearance at trial. So when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesperson says the mayor supports bailing out those who “don’t pose a public safety risk,” she is essentially admitting that the mayor’s office is okay with using a defendant’s poverty to circumvent the state’s bail law.

Now, to be clear, Bronx DA Darcel Clark is correct when she says that there could be some public safety risk from releasing someone from Rikers without any sort of re-entry plan. But the solution is not to capitalize on defendants’ poverty and use bail to (illegally) lock them up—not only because doing so violates New York’s bail statute, but because Rikers is itself a dangerous and violent place.

At the same time, it is important that any solution not be counterproductive. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez, for example, is encouraging witnesses and victims to get orders of protection against those being bailed out. But as public defenders are quick to explain, such orders often fail to reflect the messy, intertwined nature of violence in the city, and they can push defendants into homelessness and unemployment, which might actually make things riskier.

There are two other conceptual problems with the prosecutors’ decision to stoke people’s fears of more offending. To start, all the people who the foundation will bail out were eligible for bail in the first place. Had each of them made bail at their arraignment and left the courtroom, one by one, over the course of weeks or months, no one would have said anything. It would have been the system working as it is designed to. So why is the release of a small number of them in a short window of time suddenly a cause for alarm? The most plausible explanation seems to be that each defendant making bail at arraignment was not actually the goal, that the purpose was to use unaffordable bail to ensure systematic confinement—even though New York State law requires judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail and provides up to nine ways judges can release defendants to ensure poverty alone doesn’t trap them in Rikers.

And let’s be clear: The action taken by the foundation, while laudable, is relatively minor in total scope. Rikers currently releases approximately 50,000 people every year, so the few hundred that the foundation will help leave jail constitute less than 1 percent of the total number flowing out of Rikers every year. It seems unlikely that a 1 percent increase will lead to any noticeable increase in crime. (And contrary to what some law enforcement types have said, evidence indicates that people bailed out via bail funds are just as likely to show up as those bailed out by family or friends.)

Finally, any risk to victims or witnesses has to be balanced against the risks to those detained in Rosie’s and at the Horizon Juvenile Center, where the teens formerly incarcerated in Davoren are now housed. Rikers Island is a violent, dysfunctional place. The city’s own independent commission that looked into conditions on Rikers quoted family members of detainees calling the place “Torture Island.” Rikers operated under a “code of violence,” the commission reported, and life there was defined by “brutal treatment” and “inhumane conditions.” In fact, the commission noted that those conditions were particularly dangerous and antithetical to re-entry for women and juveniles—the very populations the bailout targets. And Horizon is currently facing a federal investigation into the claim that the children detained there were sexually abused by staff for years.

By talking about the harms to victims and witnesses but ignoring those faced by the people on Rikers and at Horizon—people who retain the presumption of innocence, though that should hardly matter when talking about treating people with basic human decency—the prosecutors are reinforcing the dangerous politics of punishment. Criminal justice decisions often operate under fear of the “Willie Horton Effect,” which means that any act of leniency is politically risky, since the person out on bail could commit a crime that gets sensationalized attention. Needlessly keeping someone locked up, meanwhile, remains relatively riskless for politicians, since the costs are borne by a population mostly out of sight and whose harms aren’t considered relevant in the first place.

Even if New York’s prosecutors ultimately do not impede the foundation’s efforts, their rhetoric is disappointing. Much of criminal justice reform is about making the general public think more carefully about the needless, preventable, and often counterproductive harms that the system creates, and the prosecutors’ reactive “what about public safety?!” proclamations directly undermine such efforts, and only serve to strengthen the public’s willingness to continue to cage women and teens.

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In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

  • Claims of racism and brutality dog Los Angeles County Sheriff ‘deputy gangs’

  • Parents fight for daughter after ‘pervasive and egregious’ violations by family court volunteers

  • California laws end era of secrecy around police misconduct

  • Phase one of New York’s ‘Raise the Age’ law goes into effect today, but many are disappointed

  • George Will calls for death penalty repeal

In the Spotlight

In new video game, Spider-Man helps the cops beat up drug dealers

Reviewers have said that the new Spider-Man video game is the game that “fans deserve,” “raises the bar,” and is possibly the “best superhero game ever.” But others have pointed to a darker side of the game: “the primary objective boils down to Help The Cops,” writes reviewer Tom Ley. “Not just any cops, either, but the NYPD specifically, because the game takes place in a true-to-life rendering of New York City.” Spider-Man’s enthusiasm for the police had one writer calling Spidey a “narc.” Another reviewer, Heather Alexandra, wrote that Spider-Man was “way more accepting of state power than I expected from a hero with a history of being wrongly maligned by the press and police.” Spider-Man is “no longer performing heroic deeds out of just the goodness of his heart, but also for the purpose of solidifying the existing power structure’s grip on the city.” While beating up drug dealers, Spider-Man taunts them by yelling, “If you just got real jobs you wouldn’t have to work so hard at being criminals!” [Tom Ley / The Concourse]

“Police are an unimpeachable group in Spider-Man,” writes Alexandra. “They show no real flaws and make no mistakes. They don’t feel like an integrated part of the the community.” When villains orchestrate a breakout at Rikers Island, she says, it is “treated as a crisis so dire that Spider-Man temporarily abandons his search for a potentially pandemic-causing biological weapon to help the NYPD bust skulls and put down prisoner riots. Without fail, every convict is violent and aggressive.” In real life, the conditions at Rikers Island and safety concerns are complex, but games like Spider-Man “flatten that complexity in favor of giving you criminal enemies to overcome. In Spider-Man, these prisoners function as generic thugs to fight in waves.” [Heather Alexandra / Kotaku]

“Spider-Man doesn’t just help the cops by catching armed robbers and putting deranged super villains in jail, he helps them maintain a high-tech, citywide surveillance network,” writes Ley. One of the missions of the game is for Spider-Man to repair surveillance towers that allow the NYPD to monitor people. Constructed by a fictional shady mega-corporation, Oscorp, these towers have eerie parallels to real-life Palantir-led projects to collect massive amounts of data from New York City residents.  [Tom Ley / The Concourse] One scholar from the NYU Game Center noted on Twitter similarities between these towers and the security cameras that IBM recently used in New York City to make skin-color profiling technology.

Modern superheroes appear to be trending toward authoritarian extremes. Last year’s game Injustice 2 is based on the idea that Superman could rise to lead a “strict and heartless regime” after the Joker orchestrates Lois Lane’s death, writes Alexandra. “That incident, and its extremes, call to mind the reactionary shift in American politics since September 11th, 2001.” Even the heroes facing off against Superman in that game “share a similar authoritarian streak.” Batman has a “Brother Eye” surveillance system, which can spy on anyone in the world. [Heather Alexandra / Kotaku]

Although certain claims about video games––including President Trump’s suggestion that violent video games are partly to blame for mass shootings in America––are suspect, video games that align players with police are part of a culture that looks to law enforcement and prison as the solution to its problems. “NCIS,” a police procedural show about a team of special agents that investigates crimes, was the most-watched television drama in America for nearly a decade, and also became the most watched in the world. Crime shows often dominate the ratings charts. Many of them contribute, in ways that have been called “downright misleading,” to this narrative of law enforcement as savior. “If you look at a show where every week there are one two three homicides to solve, it gives the impression that in that neighborhood homicide is a common occurrence when really they’re quite rare … especially over the last few years,” says Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale.  [Hannah K. Gold / AlterNet]

A 2009 study found that people who watched police shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI,” “Cold Case,” and “The Closer” estimated two and a half times more real-life murders than non-viewers. According to one of the study’s authors, “Heavy TV-crime viewers consistently overestimated the frequency of crime in the real world.” Cop shows also dramatically exaggerate the rate at which police solve cases, which contributes to faith in the system. The shows also play into racial stereotypes. A 2004 study looked at racial representation in “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue” and found that Black people are shown as suspects 40 to 50 percent more often than as victims, while white people are about twice as likely to be shown as victims, rather than offenders. According to Gray Cavender and Nancy Jurik’s academic article, “Policing Race and Gender,” “both primetime crime drama and reality television programs present crime in a manner that heightens fears by whites when they view persons of color,” relating not only to the numbers of people represented but how they are portrayed. The shows also disregard the prevalence of plea deals, the rampant violation of civil rights and liberties, and wrongly treat forensics as infallible. [Hannah K. Gold / AlterNet]

Crime procedurals have the potential to change viewers’ perceptions of police. A group of researchers surveyed over 2,000 Americans and found that “those who watched crime shows view police as better behaved, more successful at combating crime, and relatively responsible in their use of force, than those who don’t partake in, say, 24-hour marathons of ‘Law & Order: SVU.’” [Kate Wheeling / The Week] This is precisely the outcome that critics of the new Spider-Man video game fear.

Stories From The Appeal

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in riot gear stand guard in front of an apartment complex as police force protesters down a street near a Trump campaign rally in May 2016 in Anaheim, California. [Photo illustration by Anagraph / Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]

Claims of Racism and Brutality Dog Los Angeles County Sheriff ‘Deputy Gangs.’ A lawsuit brought by a Compton resident detailing an alleged beating by deputies is just one of  nearly three dozen federal civil rights lawsuits alleging brutality and racial bias at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office. [George Joseph, Raven Rakia, and Ethan Corey]

Parents Fight for Daughter After ‘Pervasive and Egregious’ Violations By Family Court Volunteers. Washington case raises questions about the role of court appointed special advocates. [Roxanna Asgarian]

Stories From Around the Country

California laws end era of secrecy around police misconduct: Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two new laws that “give the public access to internal police investigations and video footage of shootings by police officers and other serious incidents” for the first time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The measures begin to undo decades of laws and court decisions that had made California the nation’s most secretive state for police records.” According to Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the ACLU of California, these records will allow the public to press for more police accountability. The laws will also grant broader access to records that could bear on the credibility of a police witness with a history of misconduct, which could impact everyday criminal cases. Until the new laws, California was the only state in which even prosecutors could not directly obtain officer personnel files, and a recent investigation found that past misconduct by police witnesses is routinely kept hidden. Brown was the governor who signed the original police confidentiality law in 1978, during his first term in office. [Liam Dillon and Maya Lau / Los Angeles Times]

Phase one of New York’s Raise the Age law goes into effect today, but many are disappointed: As of today, New York no longer automatically charges all 16-year-olds as adults. In October 2019, the law will apply to 17-year-olds as well. Today, too, everyone under age 18 will be removed from Rikers Island. In an opinion piece, Vincent Schiraldi, former commissioner of New York City Probation and director of youth corrections for Washington, D.C, argues that this “marks the end of a long and abusive chapter in state history” but “the new law creates a hybrid system that is nationally unprecedented and potentially dangerous.” The law establishes “a quasi-adult system” which would house incarcerated youth in facilities run jointly by adult and juvenile corrections personnel. But youths kept in youth systems have been shown to fare better in the future. “This approach counteracts the intended goal of raising the age of criminal responsibility in the first place—namely, to treat youth like youth.” [Vincent Schiraldi / New York Daily News]

George Will calls for death penalty repeal: Stalwart conservative commentator George Will argues in the National Review that America should get rid of the death penalty. He focuses on the case of Vernon Madison, whose death sentence for the 1985 murder of a police officer will be argued before the Supreme Court this week. In the case of Madison, whose memory and mental functions have deteriorated so much that he is now unable to remember the crime itself, there is serious reason to “question the retributive value” of his execution, as a lower court held. Will adds that the death penalty offers a “vanishingly small” deterrent value “because imposition of the death penalty is so sporadic and glacial.” The process of litigating the death penalty is so expensive that it has become disproportionate to any demonstrable public safety gain, but also “because of a healthy squeamishness” that it induces. Conservatives, he argues, should join his opposition because the government is “already is altogether too full of itself, and investing it with the power to inflict death on anyone exacerbates its sense of majesty and delusions of adequacy.” [George Will / National Review]

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