If you're looking to catch your boss breaking labor law, that smartphone in your pocket might be your best friend, thanks to a new ruling from federal officials.
On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that upscale grocer Whole Foods cannot forbid employees from recording conversations or taking photographs at work without a supervisor's permission. (Local laws, however, could still come into play in certain situations, as several states require the consent of two parties in order for a conversation to be recorded legally.)
At the center of the case were stipulations in Whole Foods' "General Information Guide," an employee manual laying out worker do's and don'ts. The guide prohibited workers from taking photos or recording conversations inside a store "unless prior approval is received" from a manager or executive, or "unless all parties to the conversation give their consent."
The rule wasn't meant to intimidate employees or curb their rights, according to Whole Foods' rationale. It was just the opposite, the company claimed.
"The purpose of this policy is to eliminate a chilling effect on the expression of views that may exist when one person is concerned that his or her conversation with another is being secretly recorded," the manual explains.
In other words, Whole Foods maintains that the policy is meant to foster a free exchange of ideas -- not suppress that free exchange. The company cited worker town hall meetings as a situation where employees shouldn't have to worry about their colleagues recording what they say.
Members of the NLRB weren't buying it. They ruled 2-1 that the policy violated federal law and had the very chilling effect that Whole Foods claimed it sought to prevent. For example, they noted that such a blanket prohibition could forbid employees from taking photos that document unsafe working conditions, or recording statements that reveal discrimination.
In many cases, they added, photography or a recording was "essential" to proving that workers' rights were violated. The decision sets an important precedent in the workplace of the iPhone era.
Any company with a policy similar to Whole Foods' will likely be taking a close look at it, since it can now easily be challenged.
The complaint against Whole Foods was brought by the board's general counsel, on behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers union and a worker center called the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.
A Whole Foods spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision Monday morning.
The ruling has broader implications at a time when practically every worker carries a recording device in his or her pocket. The Whole Foods policy explicitly lists cell phones as potential cameras or recorders.
As The Huffington Post previously reported, many workers involved in organizing campaigns have been recording the anti-union meetings held at their workplaces, then posting them online at sites like Soundcloud. Workers who made such recordings told HuffPost they wanted to expose their companies' aggressive anti-union stances, and give other workers a taste of what captive-audience meetings are like.
But such recordings serve another function -- by threat of their very existence, they can encourage managers and their consultants to stay within the bounds of the law. And they can also vindicate employees' claims when the law gets broken.
Not everyone agreed that Whole Foods' anti-recording policy is illegal, including the judge who originally ruled on the case in October 2013. Steven Davis, an administrative law judge, wrote that the rule doesn't forbid employees from engaging in "protected, concerted activities, or speaking about them ... The only activity the rule forbids is recording conversations or activities with a recording device."
Philip Miscimarra, a conservative member of the labor board, dissented from the opinion written by two of his more liberal colleagues that reversed Davis' ruling. Saying he would have affirmed Davis' decision, Miscimarra argued that the Whole Foods policy was aimed at "fostering (his emphasis) collective activity and free expression," not subverting it. A reasonable employee, Miscimarra went on, would understand that the rule is meant to "promote open, free, spontaneous and honest dialogue" in the workplace.
Under the board's order, Whole Foods has to rescind or revise the rules in its handbook related to recording. The company must also let employees know in writing when it has done so.
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CHICAGO -- Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pledged to make criminal justice reform a priority of his administration during a busy campaign stop in Chicago Wednesday afternoon.
“I consider reforming our criminal justice system one of the most important things that a president of the United States can do,” Sanders told supporters at a public event on the city's West Side. He said it was an "international embarrassment" that the U.S. incarceration rate is the highest in the world and said it would change under his presidency.
Sanders renewed calls to end for-profit prisons, remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances, eliminate the death penalty and end mandatory minimum sentencing.
"Too many lives have been destroyed because of police records," Sanders said, noting the issue affects both white and black Americans.
The disproportionately high rate of incarceration for black males and the criminalization of school-aged black Americans is "tragedy," Sanders said. "What a destruction of an entire generation."
His proposed solutions include investing more into jobs and education for young people.
"In the long run, I think it's a lot cheaper to send a kid to the University of Illinois than to jail," Sanders said to applause. He also said a demilitarized police force -- with more diversity and accountability to communities they serve -- was essential.
"I want police departments to look like their community, not like occupying forces."
Sanders acknowledged the "vast majority" of police were doing hard, dangerous and often stressful work. "But like anyone else, if that officer breaks the law, he must be held accountable."
Sanders didn't specifically address high-profile police shooting deaths of Chicagoans like Rekia Boyd or Laquan McDonald, though he did call out Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after a police officer stopped her for making an improper lane change and locked her up for arguing with him. Sanders quietly met in October with the mother of Bland, who was from Illinois.
"I talked to too many African-Americans, people with PhDs, who worry when they get into a car and travel, they're going to be pulled aside by a police officer and terrible things will happen," Sanders said.
Sanders also mentioned another hot-button issue related to crime and policing in Chicago -- embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a close ally of Sanders' opponent Hillary Clinton.
"If the question is, do I want or need Rahm Emanuel's support for president? With all due respect to the mayor, no, I don't."
Sanders' stop in Chicago featured gatherings that were relatively intimate affairs compared with the massive campaign rallies earlier this season. Activists Cornel West, Jim Hightower, Mike Render -- better known by his rap moniker Killer Mike -- and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream were among the high-profile supporters on hand.
At the popular El Pollo Feliz restaurant in the city's heavily Latino neighborhood of Little Village, Sanders said he would work to keep families together, and would use executive authority to stop deportations.
"We will not accept candidates like Donald Trump, referring to Mexican people as criminals and rapists," Sanders said to boos from attendees, according to the pool report. "We're going to end that. We're going to shut the door on racism. We are not going to let Trump or anyone else open that door."
Sanders told supporters people are sick of the "millionaire and billionaire" class "buying elections."
"What people want to see is a political revolution -- working people, low-income people, middle-class people beginning to come together," Sanders said. "Not allowing our opponent to divide us up."
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In all likelihood, Sandra Bland would still be alive today if she'd been a white woman.
A grand jury concluded the case Monday and found no felony crime committed on behalf of the sheriff's office or the jailers involved. Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13 after she was arrested, ostensibly for a traffic violation. Authorities said her death was a suicide, but her family -- and black activists everywhere -- vehemently disputed the finding at the time, and many remain dubious.
“The family of Sandra Bland is confident that she was killed and did not commit suicide," a lawyer for the family said in a statement in July. Since then, Bland's family has come to acknowledge it is at least possible Bland took her own life -- though they remain adamant that even if the official version of events is true, it was still police negligence, and the officer who pulled Bland over in the first place, that really caused her death. It's difficult to believe, after all, that Bland would have been arrested and jailed if she were white, just as it's hard to believe that a despondent detainee could take her own life unless her jailers were paying far less attention than they should have been.
Sanders, who met with Bland's family earlier this year, issued a statement Tuesday that spoke of the "need to reform a very broken criminal justice system" -- echoing the thoughts of a growing number of Americans who abhor the racial disparities in policing and the often violent treatment of black men and women by cops. After all, these are the same sentiments fueling the current movement to make it clear to those in power that black lives matter.
However, the non-indictment didn't come as a shock to many of the people passionate about Bland's case:
No justice for #SandraBland and I can't say I'm surprised. The system cannot fail those that it was never designed to protect.— KY 2 SOCIETY (@keysjournal) December 22, 2015
not being surprised that a grand jury isn't indicting anyone for the murder of #SandraBland doesn't make it any less infuriating— xenomorph papi (@KasaiREX) December 22, 2015
Bland’s story transfixed and outraged many who learned about her death, saw the video of her arrest and read about who she was -- an activist herself, on a promising journey ultimately cut short.
But Bland's case is far from singular -- it's not even the only case like it that happened that month. Two weeks after Bland’s death, Ralkina Jones, 37, was found unresponsive in her jail cell in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Jones had been arrested after her ex-husband accused her of assaulting him and trying to hit him with a car. Once in custody, she described her medical conditions and necessary medications in detail to officers, expressing concern for her well-being.
"I don't want to die in your cell,” she told them, according to Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Jones was found 15 hours later. Her death was ruled accidental and related to her medical conditions.
Her story, in turn, sounds a little like Raynette Turner’s, who died in a cell in New York the next day after complaining about health problems.
As the national conversation around race and policing gained momentum in the past year, Bland’s death brought renewed awareness to the number of black women killed in police encounters. Activists launched campaigns like Say Her Name in order to amplify the stories of black women, which rarely receive national attention.
That comparative lack of attention is still very much an issue. The non-indictment in Bland's case is reflective of more than one woman's tragic and untimely death -- it reflects the ongoing dearth of police accountability in a pattern of cases involving black women and girls.
Below, you can read the stories of 13 other black women and girls killed during police encounters in the past 12 years. Their families are all still waiting for justice.
One family received the Christmas present of their dreams -- a home for the holidays.
Latoya Ellis, a single mother who lives with her three kids in Chicago, fell on hard times after she was laid off and eventually evicted from her apartment in August. While homeless, Ellis' story was covered by local TV station ABC7 back in November, and after learning about the single mother and her family, many viewers felt compelled to help.
Among those who reached out to the family, one thoughtful donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave them a life-changing gift -- a year's worth of rent.
"I'm still in a state of shock!" Ellis told The Huffington Post of the donor's incredible present.
The single mom told HuffPost that she was working as a manager at fast food chain Jimmy John's, when she was laid off in October of last year. Ellis explained that she got behind on rent and found herself homeless after being evicted. The mom and her kids stayed with friends and family members but eventually ended up at a shelter.
When the news station covered her story, Ellis, who's been an advocate for homeless people, said that she received an outpouring of support from people everywhere. And soon after, her life completely changed. The single mother received a phone call earlier this month from the donor, who said he'd cover a year's worth of rent at the apartment of the family's choice.
"It's indescribable. I didn't know how to process it," Ellis said, recalling her reaction when she received the phone call. "No one has ever done anything like that for me."
The apartment, which Ellis says now has separate rooms for all her kids, isn't the only surprise she received after her story aired. She says people have been donating everything from basic necessities, to job services, to presents for the kids.
With all the support she's gotten Ellis says she has a positive outlook on what's to come. She plans to work and save money to eventually open a catering business. The mom also wants to finish her bachelor's degree, which she's been working on for some time.
And though she has a lot of exciting things on the horizon for her own family, she says that there are many others in need that she will no doubt give back to.
"Most of all, I just want to pay it forward," she said. "I'm going to continue advocating, I'm going to continue volunteering -- it's not just about my family."
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WASHINGTON -- A prominent advocacy group is trying to enlist basketball fans to do something about the scourge of gun violence in America.
Everytown for Gun Safety, in collaboration with the NBA, turned to top players like Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Joakim Noah and Carmelo Anthony to participate in an ad campaign against gun violence. The players joined with survivors and victims' families in a series of short videos directed by Spike Lee.
In one of them, Curry recalls hearing about a little child who died from gun violence at age 3, the same age as his daughter Riley.
The spots will begin airing during five NBA games on Christmas, when the league draws large audiences. The ads are part of the latest push by Everytown, which advocates for reforms like expanding mandatory background checks and closing the "gun show loophole."
The group has also worked with celebrities like Julianne Moore, Amy Schumer and Sofia Vergara to call for legislative action, but many of its best advocates are those who have suffered gun violence themselves or in their families.
For one of them, the NBA's involvement is especially meaningful.
Richard Martinez started advocating for gun control measures in 2014, after his 20-year-old son, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, was killed in a mass shooting in Isla Vista, California.
As he told The Huffington Post, his son loved basketball.
"I don't think 'loved' is even the right word," Martinez said, recalling that his son played basketball throughout his life and, as a kid, participated in a basketball camp run by NBA legend Michael Jordan.
"He would be thrilled that these players are doing this. He was a great fan," Martinez said.
Since his son's death, more mass shootings have occurred, and Martinez said that every time, he has the same response.
"I have a visceral reaction because I know how they're feeling," he said, referring to the loved ones of those killed. "I know what it's like to miss your loved one every day. People tell you to get over it, and you don't."
Martinez hopes that the basketball fans who see the ads recognize the devastating regularity of gun violence in America and "the appalling toll of gun violence on American life."
"People see the news and forget," Martinez said. "We need to do better, we can do better. We owe it to our kids. It's a choice to do nothing. I don't accept that it has to be this way in this country."
The holiday season is a particularly painful time for Martinez, as his son would have turned 22 years old on Wednesday. Last year on Chris' birthday, Martinez bought a cake and played basketball while wearing one of Chris' favorite shirts. This year, he hopes to once again do something that Chris would have enjoyed, like going to see the new Star Wars movie.
"Maybe I'll watch some basketball," Martinez said.
Watch one of the ads above.
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Another year, another 366 days of photography, painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture, performance and more.
As 2016 approaches, two of our culture editors and writers -- Katherine Brooks and Priscilla Frank -- sat down to contemplate the future of art and which emerging figures (or, in some cases, seasoned favorites) we're excited to follow. What resulted is a list of the 17 people we think you should know in the new year, from a 75-year-old painter to a newly minted Instagram star to a textile aficionado who blends West African weaving with Southern quilting.
If you're making New Year's resolutions in the next week or so, make it a goal to explore these 17 artists. From gallery darlings to grassroots icons, this is the multifaceted team of creatives you should watch out for, celebrated through original portraits.
Larsen is a Florida-based painter whose work depicts banal, daily pleasures rendered in awkward angles and beach-happy colors. At 75 years old, Larsen has only recently begun exhibiting her work outside the U.S., though she’s been painting ardently since the 1960s. Her canvases house humanoid figures who’ve been stretched and sharpened like cartoonish origami, often shown enjoying the simple pleasures in life: pizza, reading in bed, exercising. Yet the ordinary becomes quite bizarre through Larsen’s disorienting geometry.
"A lot of people look at my paintings and see alienation because of the geometry,” Larsen told The Huffington Post, “but I always see them as somewhat humorous and somewhat warm, in a very quietly warm way. I'm not about trying to convey alienation. I'm just trying to say here it is. This is the way it is." -- Priscilla Frank
Ebtekar is a San Francisco-based painter and illustrator known to blend aspects of his Persian ancestry and pop culture to create stunning scenes often rendered on what appear to be the pages of traditional text. Whether he's working in two-dimensions or dabbling in installation work, his pieces are reminiscent of both contemporary graffiti and ancient mythological imagery.
"I grew up on the Persian carpet," he explained in a past interview. "No, literally. I used to drive my toy cars around on the carpet. The Persian carpet has a border, with those intricate patterns, and those were my freeways and intersections. To this day, I think that's where my love for patterns comes from." -- Katherine Brooks
Faustine is a photographer, born and based in Brooklyn, New York. In her photography series “White Shoes,” Faustine revisited New York locations once plagued by slavery. Faustine incorporates her naked body into the images -- sometimes marching up the steps to City Hall or lounging on the rocks of the Atlantic Coast, exposing her vulnerability while rendering herself almost anonymous. Inspired by artists including Zanele Muholi, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker and Grace Jones, Faustine’s work recalls a history that’s often buried and forgotten, juxtaposing past atrocities with present injustices.
"The images are my truth," Faustine said in an interview with HuffPost. "My work is situated inside a photographic tradition, while questioning the culture that bred that tradition ... I often feel like an ethnographer or anthropologist. Ours is a haunted, incomplete history, one that contradicts what we are taught about this country and its people. We must acknowledge and pay tribute to those that founded and built this country. Not just some of them, but all of them. Like the thousands of Africans buried under lower Manhattan, there are others in long forgotten places." -- Priscilla Frank
Rupi Kaur, the poet and visual artist who posted the "period photo" that rocked Instagram earlier this year, was just an art student when her work went viral. In an interview with The Huffington Post, she explained how a class assignment morphed into an Internet sensation thanks to the photo sharing platform's ambiguous censorship methods coupled with the general stigma associated with menstruation.
Kaur recently published a collection of poems dubbed Milk and Honey, but I'm excited to see what the young artist brings to 2016. "I understand that anything I create after this might not cause such a stir," she remarked in the interview with HuffPost, "but I feel good about the fact that I've gotten so much attention and I've grown an audience and I can share my work." -- Katherine Brooks
Multimedia artist Paul Anthony Smith combines photography, painting, printmaking and sculpture to produce darkly mesmerizing portraits. Based in New York, he often begins with photos he takes during trips back to Jamaica, where he was born, that reveal the faces of friends, family and community members. He then transforms the images using paint, prints and other means, evoking the slightly sweet and sometimes sinister act of putting on a mask.
"Smith has noted that a compelling aspect of tribal masks is their symbolism of human’s duality between body and soul," Zieher Smith & Horton gallery notes online. "[His work] can ultimately be seen as an optimistic reflection of a world where human spirit transcends the material, self-awareness trumps stereotypes and community is collateral." -- Katherine Brooks
Goyette is a New York-based multimedia artist whose work explores sexual fantasies transgressive, queer and outlandish. You may know her by her X-rated alter ego, Lobsta Girl, the star of a feminist lobster porno/hard-core, interspecies romp that toys with traditional gender roles, sexual agency and the multiplicity of desire. For any lady who’s felt alienated by the dull predictability of most heteronormative porn, I highly recommend watching Goyette get it on in boxing gloves-cum-lobster claws, squealing on a sailboat while seagulls caw in the background.
“I’m from Massachusetts originally, and my initial interest in the lobster is connected with New England folklore,” Goyette explained to Slutist. “Digging a bit further, I discovered how lobsters have sex. The lobster female is initially the sexual aggressor, choosing only the strongest males. She boxes the male down, squirts him with aphrodisiac drugs and gets inside his cave to have sex. But in order to have sex, she has to molt her shell completely, leaving her submissive to the male.” -- Priscilla Frank
Self is a painter and printmaker who earned her MFA from the Yale School of Art in 2015. Her collage-like work, reminiscent of Wangechi Mutu, dissects and reimagines a woman's body, exploring the beauty and adulteration of fantasy. Combining bright hues and captivating patterns, she physically twists and transforms the appearance of a human form, forcing the viewer to pore over her images as if they are necessary detectives, or, unnecessary voyeurs.
"My current body of work is concerned with the iconographic significance of the Black female body in contemporary culture," she writes on her website. "I hope to correct misconceptions propagated within and projected upon the Black community in regard to Black femininity ... My project is committed to this exchange, for my own edification and of the edification of those who resemble me." -- Katherine BrooksNicki Green
Green is a Bay Area-based artist whose craft-based works, namely ceramics and textiles, provide visibility to marginalized communities. Much of her ceramic work resembles traditional pottery or Judaica from a distance, but a closer look reveals a bountiful harvest of vaginas, tongues, butt cracks and phalluses.
Her series “Small Venus” revisits classical mythology, reimagining Venus as a trans woman. As Green explains in her statement: “I am interested in the notion of ‘birthing,’ as a Creation process parallel to the notion of self-creation or ‘doing’ presentation (so commonly discussed in trans politics and gender theory), and use Venus' recognizability as an entry point to the idea of mythologizing the trans body as an act of empowerment.” -- Priscilla Frank
Fernandes is a Canadian performer and scultpor of Kenyan and Indian descent whose work often explores the myth of authenticity and the hybrid nature of identity. For his piece in the travelling exhibition “Disguise,” Fernandes showed a herd of 12 fiberglass deer, the kind used as hunting bait, donning identical white resin masks, replicas of the African-esque masks sold on Canal street. The sterile creatures allude to a certain heritage or history, though all aspects of them are fake, built out of thin air.
“We have two fake objects,” Fernandes told The Huffington Post. “The mask itself embodies the political attributes of a Kenyan nomadic male warrior, but in Kenyan tradition we don't wear masks. So somebody made this mask up and sold it as a souvenir in an African market on Canal St. These fake masks that have their own identity that's made up and created. How is that real? How is that authentic?... Hybridity is something I'm contemplating. The idea of becoming, queering, a transitional space." -- Priscilla Frank
Pétrin is a multidisciplinary artist from Montreal who works in performance and visual arts to create "altered states of conscience and perception, be it through cognitive or visual illusions, or, for her performances, the use of hypnosis." Take a peek at her website, and you'll see a burst of geometric design and neon color, punctuated by repetitive patterns and cartoonish imagery that subtly transforms familiar settings like living rooms and metro stations.
The former member of the band Les Georges Leningrad (she was also known as Pony P) recalled her relationship to color and performance in an interview with Opening Ceremony: "Color is everything. I’ve been extremely sensitive to it since I was a kid. I’m a color nerd ... I improvise most of my installations in situ, which makes the installation process explorative ... The overall assemblage experience is as important as the work itself. This is intimately connected to performance, but on a very personal level.” -- Katherine Brooks
Multimedia artist Kenya was raised in Gainesville, Florida, before earning her MFA in sculpture from the School of Art at Yale University in 2013. Her work, in both performance and sculpture, mines themes of privilege and consumerism, prodding our perceptions of gender and race along the way. From "The Inflatable Mattress" to "White Man In My Pocket," she operates under the mantra: "you are more privileged than you think, no matter your gender, socioeconomic status or the color of your skin."
I recommend following Kenya on Instagram to see what she's up to in 2016. -- Katherine Brooks
"This is a statement in the form of a letter. This is a statement as an artwork. This is a letter as an artwork. This is a letter as a statement. This is an artwork as a letter. This is a voice recording that I am making as I walk but you are now reading it as a statement made up of letters on a screen."
So begins multimedia artist Aguilar's personal statement, which captures the Chicago native's coy outlook on art. Take "Threewalls," his series of 40 clipboards painted with discounted "mistake" paint from a home improvement store. For the project, he painted clipboards in two three-hour sessions, applying color and markings in strategic but seemingly ordinary ways. He then made drawings on a small legal pad with ink and correction tape, containing each in a heavy duty zip lock bag. Combined together, these components reveal two precise actions in the artist's practice, presented as seemingly arbitrary minutiae.
(Bonus, Aguilar helps to run Pedestrian Project, an initiative that attempts to bring art to all walks of life.) -- Katherine Brooks
Figgis’ acryclic paintings tell stories of a different time -- a time filled with petticoats, picnics, silver wigs and sidesaddle horseback rides. Yet Figgis’ layers of paint become like frosting turned rotten, as her 18th century idyllic scenes are wonderfully naughty and ghoulish at once. A regal looking nobleman goes down on a nude woman, her pink face obscured by skeletal mush. A banquet crowd smiles at the viewer, revealing the monstrosity of their goopy, toothy grins. In other paintings, she renders classic erotic paintings like “Olympia” and “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” with an extra dose of nasty, the male gaze mutating into a melting mess before your eyes.
"When we’re little we’re brainwashed with history that’s just facts and dates,” Figgis told GQ. “I try to imagine it back to life with more reality and a sense of humor. Being Irish, you have to have a wicked sense of humor. Some think my work is dark, some think it’s crazy, some just think it’s hilarious." -- Priscilla Frank
German, based in Pittsburgh, is known for totemic sculptures she dubs “power dolls,” which she collaborates on with kids in her neighborhood. Working in her basement, which she’s transformed into what she calls the Art House, German uses found materials to create mixed media assemblages reminiscent of Betye Saar and Joseph Cornell. The dolls become energy totems, bolstered with the strength of numerous hodgepodge objects with forgotten histories.
“People do renovations and literally dump everything in the alleyway, so I can find great materials off the street,” German explained to The Huffington Post. “People are always dropping things off at my front porch. Somebody’s grandma died and she collected those travel spoons, and they gave me her collection. Somebody else, his partner was a drag queen and she left all her drag shoes. Huge, beautiful, glittery, stacked drag queen shoes.” -- Priscilla Frank
Koch is a comic book author and artist born in Olympia, Washington, and currently based in New York. Koch's luscious style lands somewhere between Egon Schiele and Raymond Pettibon, sans the male gaze, often emblazoned on pinkish, peach and yellow backgrounds with enveloping dashes of white, blue and black. Works like Heavenly Seas amount to beautifully fragmented stories told in words and pictures, which can excite fans and frustrate dissenters.
"Some people are irritated by not understanding what’s going on," she explained to The Paris Review, "whereas others are excited by that, excited to reread it and try and figure it out. Part of the point is that there is not necessarily a definitive view, so the more you read it, the more you might pick up on other details and see how they relate to each other." -- Katherine Brooks
Brackens’ category-jamming textiles interweave elements of European tapestry, West African weavings and Southern quilting techniques. His works, somewhere between painting and sculpture, folk and fine art, rest partly on the wall and partly on the floor. Combining elements of domestic craft with various artistic traditions, Brackens sometimes opts for commercial colors, other times, he creates his hues from tea, wine and bleach, yielding a fleshy shade that alludes to bodily fluids and the gay vernacular.
“I can use the medium (weaving) to talk about my identities as a black, gay man in America,” Brackens explained in an interview with The Daily Californian. “I pull on textile traditions from the cultures that are a part of my makeup: European tapestry, strip-woven kente cloth of Ghana, and the quilts of the American South. Through weaving and sewing, I am able to make a fabric that fully integrates all parts of my experience.” -- Priscilla Frank
London-born, Brooklyn-based Blegvad describes herself as an illustrator, designer and "general maker-of-things" who moonlights, every so often, as a ceramicist. She crafts everything from provocative jewelry -- think of a pin depicting a nude woman leading another naked lady on a leash -- to similarly romantic illustrations that render female figures in fantastical scenes.
One of my favorite pieces happens to be a ceramic pipe that turns traditionally masculine smoking devices on their heads, literally. Instead of a phallic piece, she dares her fans to puff out of a delicately painted woman's ponytail. -- Katherine Brooks
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If you’ve been listening to various police agencies and their supporters, then you know what the future holds: anarchy is coming -- and it’s all the fault of activists.
In May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned of a “new nationwide crime wave” thanks to “intense agitation against American police departments” over the previous year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went further. Talking recently with the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, the Republican presidential hopeful asserted that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t about reform but something far more sinister. “They’ve been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers,” he insisted. Even the nation’s top cop, FBI Director James Comey, weighed in at the University of Chicago Law School, speaking of “a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”
According to these figures and others like them, lawlessness has been sweeping the nation as the so-called Ferguson effect spreads. Criminals have been emboldened as police officers are forced to think twice about doing their jobs for fear of the infamy of starring in the next viral video. The police have supposedly become the targets of assassins intoxicated by “anti-cop rhetoric,” just as departments are being stripped of the kind of high-powered equipment they need to protect officers and communities. Even their funding streams have, it’s claimed, come under attack as anti-cop bias has infected Washington, D.C. Senator Ted Cruz caught the spirit of that critique by convening a Senate subcommittee hearing to which he gave the title, “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” According to him, the federal government, including the president and attorney general, has been vilifying the police, who are now being treated as if they, not the criminals, were the enemy.
Beyond the storm of commentary and criticism, however, quite a different reality presents itself. In the simplest terms, there is no war on the police. Violent attacks against police officers remain at historic lows, even though approximately 1,000 people have been killed by the police this year nationwide. In just the past few weeks, videos have been released of problematic fatal police shootings in San Francisco and Chicago.
While it’s too soon to tell whether there has been an uptick in violent crime in the post-Ferguson period, no evidence connects any possible increase to the phenomenon of police violence being exposed to the nation. What is taking place and what the police and their supporters are largely reacting to is a modest push for sensible law enforcement reforms from groups as diverse as Campaign Zero, Koch Industries, the Cato Institute, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU (my employer). Unfortunately, as the rhetoric ratchets up, many police agencies and organizations are increasingly resistant to any reforms, forgetting whom they serve and ignoring constitutional limits on what they can do.
Indeed, a closer look at law enforcement arguments against commonsense reforms like independently investigating police violence, demilitarizing police forces, or ending “for-profit policing” reveals a striking disregard for concerns of just about any sort when it comes to brutality and abuse. What this “debate” has revealed, in fact, is a mainstream policing mindset ready to manufacture fear without evidence and promote the belief that American civil rights and liberties are actually an impediment to public safety. In the end, such law enforcement arguments subvert the very idea that the police are there to serve the community and should be under civilian control.
And that, when you come right down to it, is the logic of the police state.
Due Process Plus
It’s no mystery why so few police officers are investigated and prosecuted for using excessive force and violating someone’s rights. “Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals,” according to Campaign Zero . “This makes it hard for them to investigate and prosecute the same police officers in cases of police violence.”
Since 2005, according to an analysis by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University, only 54 officers have been prosecuted nationwide, despite the thousands of fatal shootings by police. As Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green, puts it, “To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way. It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”
For many in law enforcement, however, none of this should concern any of us. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing a special prosecutor to investigate police killings, for instance, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, insisted: “Given the many levels of oversight that already exist, both internally in the NYPD [New York Police Department] and externally in many forms, the appointment of a special prosecutor is unnecessary.” Even before Cuomo’s decision, the chairman of New York’s District Attorneys Association called plans to appoint a special prosecutor for police killings “deeply insulting.”
Such pushback against the very idea of independently investigating police actions has, post-Ferguson, become everyday fare, and some law enforcement leaders have staked out a position significantly beyond that. The police, they clearly believe, should get special treatment.
“By virtue of our dangerous vocation, we should expect to receive the benefit of the doubt in controversial incidents,” wrote Ed Mullins, the president of New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, in the organization’s magazine, Frontline. As if to drive home the point, its cover depicts Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby under the ominous headline “The Wolf That Lurks.” In May, Mosby had announced indictments of six officers in the case of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody the previous month. The message being sent to a prosecutor willing to indict cops was hardly subtle: you’re a traitor.
Mullins put forward a legal standard for officers accused of wrongdoing that he would never support for the average citizen -- and in a situation in which cops already get what former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson calls “a super presumption of innocence." In addition, police unions in many states have aggressively pushed for their own bills of rights, which make it nearly impossible for police officers to be fired, much less charged with crimes when they violate an individual’s civil rights and liberties.
In 14 states, versions of a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) have already been passed, while in 11 others they are under consideration. These provide an “extra layer of due process” in cases of alleged police misconduct, according to Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability. In many of the states without a LEOBR, the Marshall Project has discovered, police unions have directly negotiated the same rights and privileges with state governments.
LEOBRs are, in fact, amazingly un-American documents in the protections they afford officers accused of misconduct during internal investigations, rights that those officers are never required to extend to their suspects. Though the specific language of these laws varies from state to state, notes Mike Riggs in Reason, they are remarkably similar in their special considerations for the police.
“Unlike a member of the public, the officer gets a ‘cooling off’ period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated ‘at a reasonable hour,’ with a union member present. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated only ‘for reasonable periods,’ which ‘shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.’ Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation cannot be ‘threatened with disciplinary action’ at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.”
The Marshall Project refers to these laws as the “Blue Shield” and “the original Bill of Rights with an upgrade.’’ Police associations, naturally, don’t agree. "All this does is provide a very basic level of constitutional protections for our officers, so that they can make statements that will stand up later in court," says Vince Canales, the president of Maryland's Fraternal Order of Police.
Put another way, there are two kinds of due process in America -- one for cops and another for the rest of us. This is the reason why the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights and civil liberties organizations regularly call on states to create a special prosecutor’s office to launch independent investigations when police seriously injure or kill someone.
The Demilitarized Blues
Since Americans first took in those images from Ferguson of police units outfitted like soldiers, riding in military vehicles, and pointing assault rifles at protesters, the militarization of the police and the way the Pentagon has been supplying them with equipment directly off this country’s distant battlefields have been top concerns for police reformers. In May, the Obama administration suggested modest changes to the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which, since 1990, has been redistributing weaponry and equipment to police departments nationwide -- urban, suburban, and rural -- in the name of fighting the war on drugs and protecting Americans from terrorism.
Even the idea that the police shouldn’t sport the look of an occupying army in local communities has, however, been met with fierce resistance. Read, for example, the online petition started by the National Sheriffs' Association and you could be excused for thinking that the Obama administration was aggressively moving to stop the flow of military-grade equipment to local and state police agencies. (It isn’t.) The message that tops the petition is as simple as it is misleading: “Don’t strip law enforcement of the gear they need to keep us safe.”
The Obama administration has done no such thing. In May, the president announced that he was prohibiting certain military-grade equipment from being transferred to state and local law enforcement. “Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments,” he said. The list included tracked armored vehicles (essentially tanks), bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and guns and ammo of .50 caliber or higher. In reality, what use could a local police department have for bayonets, grenade launchers, or the kinds of bullets that resemble small missiles, pierce armor, and can blow people’s limbs off?
Yet the sheriffs' association has no problem complaining that “the White House announced the government would no longer provide equipment like helicopters and MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles] to local law enforcement.” And it’s not even true. Police departments can still obtain both helicopters and MRAPs if they establish community policing practices, institute training protocols, and get community approval before the equipment transfer occurs.
“Helicopters rescue runaways and natural disaster victims,” the sheriff’s association adds gravely, “and MRAPs are used to respond to shooters who barricade themselves in neighborhoods and are one of the few vehicles able to navigate hurricane, snowstorm, and tornado-strewn areas to save survivors.”
As with our wars abroad, think mission creep at home. A program started to wage the war on drugs, and strengthened after 9/11, is now being justified on the grounds that certain equipment is useful during disasters or emergencies. In reality, the police have clearly become hooked on a militarized look. Many departments are ever more attached to their weapons of war and evidently don’t mind the appearance of being an occupying force in their communities, which leaves groups like the sheriffs' association fighting fiercely for a militarized future.
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sued law enforcement in Pinal County, Arizona, on behalf of Rhonda Cox. Two years before, her son had stolen some truck accessories and, without her knowledge, fitted them on her truck. When the county sheriff’s department arrested him, it also seized the truck.
Arriving on the scene of her son’s arrest, Cox asked a deputy about getting her truck back. No way, he told her. After she protested, explaining that she had nothing to do with her son’s alleged crimes, he responded “too bad.” Under Arizona law, the truck could indeed be taken into custody and kept or sold off by the sheriff’s department even though she was never charged with a crime. It was guilty even if she wasn’t.
Welcome to America’s civil asset forfeiture laws, another product of law enforcement’s failed war on drugs, updated for the twenty-first century. Originally designed to deprive suspected real-life Scarfaces of the spoils of their illicit trade -- houses, cars, boats -- it now regularly deprives people unconnected to the war on drugs of their property without due process of law and in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Not surprisingly, corruption follows.
Federal and state law enforcement can now often keep property seized or sell it and retain a portion of the revenue generated. Some of this, in turn, can be repurposed and distributed as bonuses in police and other law enforcement departments. The only way the dispossessed stand a chance of getting such “forfeited” property back is if they are willing to take on the government in a process where the deck is stacked against them.
In such cases, for instance, property owners have no right to an attorney to defend them, which means that they must either pony up additional cash for a lawyer or contest the seizure themselves in court. “It is an upside-down world where,” says the libertarian Institute for Justice, “the government holds all the cards and has the financial incentive to play them to the hilt.”
In this century, civil asset forfeiture has mutated into what’s now called “for-profit policing” in which police departments and state and federal law enforcement agencies indiscriminately seize the property of citizens who aren’t drug kingpins. Sometimes, for instance, distinctly ordinary citizens suspected of driving drunk or soliciting prostitutes get their cars confiscated. Sometimes they simply get cash taken from them on suspicion of low-level drug dealing.
Like most criminal justice issues, race matters in civil asset forfeiture. This summer, the ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a report, Guilty Property, documenting how the Philadelphia Police Department and district attorney’s office abused state civil asset forfeiture by taking at least $1 million from innocent people within the city limits. Approximately 70% of the time, those people were black, even though the city’s population is almost evenly divided between whites and African-Americans.
Currently, only one state, New Mexico, has done away with civil asset forfeiture entirely, while also severely restricting state and local law enforcement from profiting off similar national laws when they work with the feds. (The police in Albuquerque are, however, actively defying the new law, demonstrating yet again the way in which police departments believe the rules don’t apply to them.) That no other state has done so is hardly surprising. Police departments have become so reliant on civil asset forfeiture to pad their budgets and acquire “little goodies” that reforming, much less repealing, such laws are a tough sell.
As with militarization, when police defend such policies, you sense their urgent desire to maintain what many of them now clearly think of as police rights. In August, for instance, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent a fundraising email to his supporters using the imagined peril of the ACLU lawsuit as clickbait. In justifying civil forfeiture, he failed to mention that a huge portion of the money goes to enrich his own department, but praised the program in this fashion:
"[O]ver the past seven years, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has donated $1.2 million of seized criminal money to support youth programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, YMCA, high school graduation night lock-in events, youth sports as well as veterans groups, local food banks, victims assistance programs, and Home of Home in Casa Grande."
Under this logic, police officers can steal from people who haven’t even been charged with a crime as long as they share the wealth with community organizations -- though, in fact, neither in Pinal County or elsewhere is that where most of the confiscated loot appears to go. Think of this as the development of a culture of thievery masquerading as Robin Hood in blue.
Contempt for Civilian Control
Post-Ferguson developments in policing are essentially a struggle over whether the police deserve special treatment and exceptions from the rules the rest of us must follow. For too long, they have avoided accountability for brutal misconduct, while in this century arming themselves for war on America’s streets and misusing laws to profit off the public trust, largely in secret. The events of the past two years have offered graphic evidence that police culture is dysfunctional and in need of a democratic reformation.
There are, of course, still examples of law enforcement leaders who see the police as part of American society, not exempt from it. But even then, the reformers face stiff resistance from the law enforcement communities they lead. In Minneapolis, for instance, Police Chief Janeé Harteau attempted to have state investigators look into incidents when her officers seriously hurt or killed someone in the line of duty. Police union opposition killed her plan. In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ordered his department to publicly release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours of any incident. The city’s police union promptly challenged his policy, while the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in November to stop the release of the names of officers who fire their weapon or use force when on the job unless criminal charges are filed. Not surprisingly, three powerful police unions in the state supported the legislation.
In the present atmosphere, many in the law enforcement community see the Harteaus and Ramseys of their profession as figures who don’t speak for them, and groups or individuals wanting even the most modest of police reforms as so many police haters. As former New York Police Department Commissioner Howard Safir told Fox News in May, “Similar to athletes on the playing field, sometimes it's difficult to tune out the boos from the no-talents sipping their drinks, sitting comfortably in their seats. It's demoralizing to read about the misguided anti-cop gibberish spewing from those who take their freedoms for granted.”
The disdain in such imagery, increasingly common in the world of policing, is striking. It smacks of a police-state, bunker mentality that sees democratic values and just about any limits on the power of law enforcement as threats. In other words, the Safirs want the public -- particularly in communities of color and poor neighborhoods -- to shut up and do as it’s told when a police officer says so. If the cops give the orders, compliance -- so this line of thinking goes -- isn’t optional, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how sensible the reforms. Obey or else.
The post-Ferguson public clamor demanding better policing continues to get louder, and yet too many police departments have this to say in response: Welcome to Cop Land. We make the rules around here.
Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor of the ACLU. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly. He is a TomDispatch regular.
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The viral shirtless jogger, who shot to Internet fame after running half-naked through a rainstorm, is the co-founder of a Christian student ministry that has since offered "free prayers" outside of gay bars and other nightclubs in the Chicago area.
Ethan Renoe was dubbed "Ethan the Shirtless Wonder" after appearing on a live WGN-TV broadcast while running shirtless in the rain. The 24-year-old gave a shout-out to Jesus on the air and wound up with a slew of romantic proposals.
"It’s a great day for a run. Too wet to wear a shirt, you know?" he said. "I love running in the rain, and I’m also single!"
"Prayer is a way to genuinely love on people," Renoe said in a video from 2013 about the group, "to show them that we're interested in what's going on in their lives, and then do something about it, pray for it. Prayer heals people. Prayer changes and shifts things. You can never underestimate the power of prayer."
Noah Reynolds, the current leader of the movement, spoke to NBC Chicago about the group's location choices, claiming that it has to do with foot traffic. But he mainly holds the prayer sign outside a gay bar called Progress in the predominantly gay area of the city known as Boystown.
"My primary purpose of going there is to show this community love that has been severely damaged by those who claim to be Christians" he said. "That area has been hurt by people who claim Christ’s name."
A photo posted by Zach Pritz (@zp_barn) on Dec 19, 2013 at 7:34am PST
Noting that the group's actions have been compared to those of the Westboro Baptist Church, Reynold's rejected any similarities to the group, telling NBC the notoriously anti-gay organization is "nearly the antithesis of what we are."
Renoe and a rep for Moody Bible Institute were not immediately available for comment.
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