An eerie new video shows Italians of all ages sharing what they would have told themselves 10 days ago about taking the coronavirus seriously before it devastated the country.

“We underestimated this–you don’t have to do the same.”

/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Italians have a message for any Americans not taking the coronavirus seriously: Don’t say you weren’t warned.

An unsettling new video features a group of Italians sharing what they would have told themselves 10 days ago about taking precautions to stop the spread of the coronavirus before it devastated the country.

Italy’s number of coronavirus cases reached 27,980 on Monday, up 3,000 from just a day earlier, with 2,158 dead, including 350 in a single day, Italian government officials announced. The country is now the epicenter of the pandemic, with more new cases than China, where the virus originated.

Empty streets and shuttered stories have been seen across the country as 60 million people are confined to their homes, while exhausted doctors and medical staff work around the clock at overwhelmed hospitals.

An Italian state police officer processes passengers in Milan on March 10, 2020.Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images

Italy’s coronavirus crisis could be America’s

“Get ready!” doctors in Italy warn.

Three weeks ago, Italy barely had a coronavirus problem. Back then, when there were just three confirmed cases, shops and cafes were open, tourists flowed in and out of the country’s magnificent holiday destinations, and quarantines were relegated to history: 14th-century Venice during the Black Death.

Now, Italy has the highest number of reported Covid-19 cases and deaths outside China: more than 15,000 and 1,000, respectively, as of March 13. Those figures are greater than that of two other coronavirus hot zones — Iran and South Korea. And they’re why the focus of the Covid-19 pandemic has now shifted to Europe.

“Europe has now become the epicenter… with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China,” said World Health Organization director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday. Europe is also reporting more cases each day than China at the height of its epidemic, he added.

In an effort to slow the spread of infection, the Italian government on Monday announced an extraordinary measure for a Western democracy — one that hasn’t been tried in modern times at the country level: The entire peninsula was put under quarantine orders until at least April 3. Some 60 million Italians were asked to stay home.

By Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte added new coronavirus restrictions, ordering most businesses — except grocery stores and pharmacies — closed.

The major reason for the extreme response: Cases in Italy escalated fast and the coronavirus overwhelmed the country’s health system, particularly in the north. More than 80 percent of the hospital beds in Lombardy, the hardest-hit province, are being occupied by coronavirus patients, according to Bloomberg. Intensive care units are overloaded while elective surgeries have been canceled in the process to free up beds. Stories abound on social media about doctors struggling to meet their patients’ needs.

But hidden behind the official Covid-19 numbers is a much broader health crisis, rapidly accumulating across the country. Even greater than the official coronavirus toll may be the collateral damage wrought by an overstretched health system: the pregnant women and babies, cancer and HIV patients, and children in need of vaccines who are now less likely to get the health care they need.

 “Most health systems are pretty streamlined and … so an excessive increase [in patients] rapidly strains resources,” said Richard Neher, a University of Basel researcher who has been modeling how Covid-19 could stress hospital demand. “If you react too late, you’re in trouble.”

“What is very clear,” Neher added: “Without a drastic reduction in transmission of the virus, health systems will be overwhelmed.”

In other words, Italy’s situation today could be any country’s situation tomorrow. Lombardy — one of the wealthiest regions in Europe — shows how an outbreak, almost overnight, can spiral into a full-fledged crisis when officials don’t prepare and react too slowly. And that surge, many believe, is coming to the US and other countries in Europe very soon.

It’s not clear why Italy’s cases ramped up so fast

At the beginning of February, Italy had only a few identified Covid-19 cases. By February 23, Italian officials reported 76 confirmed cases to the World Health Organization. Two days later, that number grew to 229. The case and death toll rose exponentially from there while people with the virus who’d come from Italy were identified in countries as far and wide as Nigeria, Switzerland, and Brazil.

At that time, the rapid rise in coronavirus cases — both within the country and among travelers — was so concerning, a joint WHO and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control mission went to Italy to figure out what was going on. Authorities, meanwhile, scrambled to impose severe measures to try to stop the virus. In the country’s north, sporting, religious, and cultural events were canceled along with university classes. Anyone who tried to enter or leave the areas in Lombardy where the outbreak was occurring faced fines. The severity of the response rivaled only that of China.

On Monday, the response escalated even further. The government effectively stopped movement across the country, asking people to leave home only for essential work and necessities, like food. All public gatherings and meeting places — theaters, gyms, ski resorts, clubs, schools, sporting events, even weddings and funerals — were also shut down. On Wednesday, Conte announced all shops, except for grocery stores and pharmacies, would be shuttered.

It’s not clear why Italy’s Covid-19 outbreak spiraled so quickly relative to other European countries, but there are several competing theories.

One is that an aggressive testing campaign centered in wealthy Lombardy has inflated the problem at a time when other countries have lagged in detecting cases. Relatedly, the government started looking for the virus too late. Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister, pointed out that the virus had been spreading in Italy for 10 days before health officials realized. So Italy was forced into reaction mode — something other countries should avoid, Renzi told the New York Times. “Today the red zone is Italy,” he warned. In 10 days, Madrid, Paris, and Berlin may be in the same situation.

Another theory is that intense spread of the virus in the hospital system, before doctors realized there was a problem, may have amplified the outbreak. Some 10 percent of medical workers in Lombardy have been infected, according to a March 3 Washington Post report, and health workers account for 5 percent of those infected in the country. (Bolstering this explanation: The WHO-ECDC joint mission report suggests Italy should work on its infection prevention and control measures in hospitals.)

There’s also speculation about whether Italy’s burden is particularly severe because of the country’s aging population. Covid-19 is known to hit older adults particularly hard. That, along with the fast rise in confirmed cases, has tested the limits of the health system.

In a public letter, Italian doctors had a similar warning for the world: “We are seeing a high percentage of positive cases being admitted to our intensive care units (ICUs), in the range of 10 per cent of all positive patient[s].

“We wish to convey a strong message: Get ready!” Italy, they warn, is more of a harbinger of what’s to come around the world than a unique hot zone.

Covid-19 projections suggest the disease is on track to spike in the US

In many countries, perhaps including Italy, once officials have started testing more broadly for Covid-19, they find more cases. And testing so far in the US has been painfully inept and sluggish. As it ramps up, experts expect an uptick in Covid-19 cases in America.

For evidence, look at the projections coming out of America’s largest outbreak, in Washington state, where there are 457 cases to date.

According to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center computational biologist Trevor Bedford, Covid-19 may have been spreading in Seattle since at least mid-January, long before any spread was officially confirmed there, as Stat’s Helen Branswell first reported. Bedford has been working with Nextstrain, an open source project that tracks the spread of pathogens around the world, including Covid-19. He also used data from specimens collected to monitor flu activity in Seattle, which were then repurposed to look for coronavirus cases.

As of March 10, he and his colleagues estimated, there were as many as 1,100 cases in Seattle alone.  

“The Seattle data implies there’s undetected community transmission,” said Bedford’s colleague Emma Hodcroft, co-developer of Nextstrain. “It tells us [Covid-19] is circulating widely enough that random people who don’t think they have coronavirus have it.”

That’s just Washington, though. The entire country is severely lagging in its testing capacity. As of March 8, only 1,700 Americans had been checked for the virus — a number that pales in comparison to the 50,000 who have been tested in Italy or the 23,000 tested in the UK, according to an analysis by Business Insider.

A new preprint on the scale of US spread estimated that, by March 1, there were already 9,484 Covid-19 cases in the US. That’s about nine times the 1,034 cases reported nationally.

“Looking at all the signs, and there are many, it would be shocking to me if we didn’t have large numbers of cases undetected, silently transmitting in the community, in multiple countries and regions,” said Lawrence Gostin, the director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

If cases more than double every week — as they appear to be doing in Italy — the US may soon be facing its own crisis.

“I don’t think [what happened in Italy is] something specific to what Italy did. It’s just that if the virus had a chance to spread undetected, it’s hard to make up that time,” said Hodcroft. “The Italian situation should be a big wake-up call to the rest of Europe and the US.”

What America and other countries need to do now

While Italy’s economy is already in a nosedive, we don’t yet know the extent of the damage stemming from the country’s overwhelmed health system. We can expect, however, it’ll be significant, said Gostin. “What we’ve learned from all past outbreaks is that when you have a stressed health system, many more people die of other diseases than they do of the actual outbreak disease.”

During the Ebola epidemic of 2014-’16, for example, people living in the countries at the center of the outbreak failed to have their basic medical needs met. In the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, interruptions in routine vaccinations helped spark a massive measles outbreak. In China’s Covid-19 epidemic, numerous stories have already emerged about cancer patients awaiting treatments who were turned away, and HIV patients who ran short on their drugs. That’s not to mention the economic and psychological toll outbreaks can have.

So what should America and other countries do now to prevent this kind of collateral damage?

First, health officials need to find ways to flatten the epidemic curve of the outbreak. And this starts with social distancing measures, like canceling mass public gatherings, encouraging employees to work from home, and even shutting schools and universities, if necessary.

Christina Animashaun/Vox

“What’s dangerous about an outbreak is when everyone gets [the disease] at the same time and a health system can’t react,” explained Steven Hoffman, the director of York University’s Global Strategy Lab. “The whole goal of social distancing measures is to decrease the epidemic’s peak” and take that pressure off the health system.

In Italy, those measures weren’t implemented proactively — only as a desperate countermeasure after health officials started to see coronavirus cases climb. And other countries that haven’t yet recorded a spike in cases have time to be proactive.

Besides slowing transmission of the virus, though, there are many other things health officials should be doing right now to prepare for a surge. And they go far beyond the basics, such as making sure hospital beds and intensive care units are freed up to meet patient demand, that health professionals have access to personal protective equipment (including masks), and that there are enough ventilators to support the 10 percent of the potential Covid-19 patients who will need help breathing to stay alive.

In China, a vast effort to test and identify people with the virus, trace all their contacts, and quarantine the potentially exposed was key to tamping down the epidemic there, according to Bruce Aylward, the director of a World Health Organization mission to China. Chinese officials also reduced barriers to people seeking Covid-19 tests by offering them for free, and in some cases, sent health professionals into people’s homes to swab potentially infected individuals for the virus.

Last but not least, China enhanced its digital health care capacity to keep people from showing up at pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals, Aylward explained:

Normally a prescription in China can’t last for more than a month. But they increased it to three months to make sure people didn’t run out [when they had to close a lot of their hospitals]. Another thing: Prescriptions could be done online and through WeChat [instead of requiring a doctor appointment]. And they set up a delivery system for medications for affected populations.

This kind of approach is long overdue in America, even outside of a pandemic threat, said Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There are over 100 million Americans with chronic conditions and people need to be on their medications for diabetes, seizure disorder, and high blood pressure. That [care] needs to not get interrupted.” And that means states and the federal government should be looking at how to deliver services to patients online right now, he added.

Another even more basic step is making sure patients know when to show up in clinics, when to get tested, and when to stay home, said Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

A discharged coronavirus patient bows to doctors while leaving Wuchang Fang Cang makeshift hospital, which is the latest temporary hospital being shut down, on March 10, 2020, in Wuhan, China.
Stringer/Getty Images

“My first worry is about people rushing to the ER because they are seeking information or testing,” she said. “That happened in the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. And that alone is going to put a strain on health systems.”

These measures should go further than the mass quarantine Italy is currently trying out. “This … resembles methods used in medieval times,” said Hoffman. “Once you institute that, not only are you putting the people within that [quarantine] at risk — you’re also encouraging a lot of other people who might not have left the area to flee.”

A preliminary modeling study focused on Wuhan — the city at the center of China’s outbreak — showed the lockdown there only delayed the epidemic’s progression by three to five days. “Yes, three days is better than nothing but not when it comes at the expense we saw [in China] and the expense that will continue to be incurred for decades to come,” Hoffman added. “Think of the psychological trauma on those people who were bolted into their homes, who had to explain the situation to their children.

“That will leave a lasting impression— all for three days’ delay.”

When people are socially isolated, when they don’t feel safe or dignified, “they are going to react and take actions that are not helpful for public health,” Hoffman added. That counterreaction is something Italy may soon have to contend with — and other countries too, if they don’t prepare now.

Bedford has been working with Nextstrain, an open source project that tracks the spread of pathogens around the world, including Covid-19. He also used data from specimens collected to monitor flu activity in Seattle, which were then repurposed to look for coronavirus cases.

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Agnes Hitchcock, Tyrone Travis, Dee Dee Washington speak at Call em Out rally against Detroit water shut-offs

SUNRISE: OCT. 12, 1940   SUNSET: MARCH 1, 2020

Valerie Smith, formerly the wife of Tyrone Travis, notified VOD editor Diane Bukowski last week of Mr. Travis passing March 1, 2020. Tyrone Travis was a lifelong, powerful activist, political analyst, speaker and writer in Detroit, In recent decades, he worked with many groups including the Coalition to Stop Privatization and Save Our City (1992-2000), Call ’em Out, and Free Detroit–No Consent. He had been an activist since Detroit’s historic Black liberation struggles of the ’60’s.

Tyrone Travis at City Council meeting.

Tyrone Travis was an effective organizer as well, focusing  frequently on Black youth in the city, after he went to work with them at a local factory. He helped lead many heroic battles over the decades to save the City of Detroit, the largest Black-majority city in the U.S., from the devastation that white supremacy has subjected it to.

Mr. Travis was published in the Voice of Detroit during the battle against Detroit’s phony, disastrous bankruptcy.

See links to stories by Tyrone Travis published in the Voice of Detroit below, along with photos from VOD and links to stories in which he was involved, below. 

Valerie Smith and their daughter, who live in Virginia, held a special memorial for Mr. Travis there while his family members and friends from Detroit are sponsoring his funeral arrangments here. Further information will be posted after VOD receives his obituary.



 James Cole Home for Funerals–Northwest Chapel  16100 Schaefer Hwy. Detroit, MI  48235

VIEWING THURS. MARCH 12, 2020 4 to 9 pm

FAMILY HR. Fri. MARCH 13  12:30 pm FUNERAL 1 pm

VOD stories by Tyrone Travis:


To read Tyrone Travis’ presentation on history of millages for Belle Isle since 1992 that Detroiters are still paying for, click on Tyrone 9 17 12

Tyrone Travis, who passed March 1, 2020, is at far upper right in photo of Call em Out sit-in at Wayne County Clerk Janice Winfrey’s office.

Tyrone Travis is at upper right with group suing to stop the Consent Agreement.

Tyrone Travis, center, and other activists listen to Monica Lewis-Patrick speak against the state takeover of Detroit.

Rally against Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

VOD stories citing Tyrone Travis:


Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono, going. Among ongoing expenses are quarterly HostLab web charges of $360, costs for court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, etc. The editor and reporters are not paid for their dedicated work, and many live on fixed incomes or are incarcerated. Please, if you can:



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Notorious jail-house informants Twilley, Cowen gave perjured testimony in dozens of other cases including Ward’s

“Ring of Snitches” used by DPD, WCPO has been exposed repeatedly since the ‘90’s, in mainstream, other media

“Relying on lying witnesses and informants is common in Detroit”–Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy

Wayne Co. Pros. Kym Worthy’s office mum on whether it will open other such “snitch” investigations


By Diane Bukowski

February 24, 2019

Ward listens to CIU attorney Valerie Newman (r) of the WCPO’s office present stipulated memo during Feb. 20 hearing as his attorney John Smietanka (l) waits. Detroit News phot

DETROIT – Ramon Ward, wrongfully convicted at 18 of murdering two Detroit women in 1994 and sentenced to life without parole, and 40-60 years, walked free after a court hearing Feb. 20, into the waiting arms of his joyous family and supporters.

He had spent 26 years in prison based on the perjured testimony of two notorious “jail-house snitches,” Joe Twilley and Oliver Cowen, and a false, unsigned confession presented into evidence by former Detroit police officer Monica Childs, according to court records.

Twilley and Cowen’s role in obtaining false convictions, along with that of other jail-house and street snitches recruited by Detroit police and prosecutors still working today, has been well-documented since the mid-90’s. Investigative news articles, and at least one book, Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States, by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré, et al. (TruthOut) have estimated that Twilley was involved in 20 to 100 cases.

“I know there are more like me,” Ward told a reporter from Bridge Magazine after the hearing. “I know them by name.” Other exonerees like Mubarez Ahmed have made similar statements on their release. (See remarks at end of video below.) Ahmed, like many others whose release the Conviction Integrity Unit took credit for, waited for a new trial for months after his release before Prosecutor Worthy finally dropped the charges before the scheduled trial.

At the Feb. 20 hearing, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Donald Knapp ruled, “This matter having been presented in open court through the stipulation of the parties, and the parties having agreed that newly discovered evidence warrants relief . . . it is hereby ordered that Mr. Ward’s convictions and sentences in this matter are hereby vacated, and all related charges are hereby dismissed. Mr. Ward shall be released forthwith.”

Judge Donald Knapp

Judge Knapp included no findings of fact in his order. At press time, the joint motion filed by AP Valerie Newman, head of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), and defense attorney John Smietanka had not been provided to VOD, despite requests to both parties.

The Detroit Free Press reported, “Smietanka said a witness came forward several years ago claiming he was at the scene of the murder and knew Ward, verifying he was not the one who committed the crime. The witness’ story was verified and they were considered credible, Smietanka said.”

Ward was convicted of the shooting deaths of Sharon Cornell and Joan Gilliam on Jan. 21, 1994 in an alleged drug house on Moran Street in Detroit. Twilley and Cowen testified that he told them about the murders while they were housed together on the infamous 9th floor of the Wayne County Jail, where DPD used its “ring of snitches” to falsely convict hundreds.

In a statement, Worthy said in part, “The original police investigation identified no eyewitnesses. There was no physical evidence that linked Ward to the murders. As a result of investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit other evidence showed conclusively that Mr. Ward did not commit the crimes. . . .Mr. Ward served over half of his life in prison for crimes he did not commit. . . .our intensive investigation showed that he is certainly entitled to the relief we requested today. We remain committed to thoroughly reviewing all CIU cases and will support Mr. Ward’s anticipated state claim for relief under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act.”

Charles Lewis was freed last year after 44 years in prison, under juvenile lifer re-sentencing laws. However, there is abundant evidence of Lewis’ actual innocence, which contradicts statements extracted from 3 teen-agers threatened with charges by the late DPD Sgt. Gil Hill. See stories on Lewis’ case by putting his name in the VOD search engine.

Maria Miller of Prosecutor Worthy’s office added that the dismissal of charges was “without prejudice,” meaning charges can be brought back later if the prosecution desires. Knapp’s order did not cite “actual innocence,” but “newly-discovered evidence” as its basis.

The CIU claims responsibility for up to 18 exonerations since its reconstitution in 2018. But this is the first case VOD has seen in which the CIU played such a direct role.

Most exonerations, like those of Richard Phillips, Mubarez Ahmed, Davontae Sanford, Kendrick Scott, Justly Johnson, Lamarr Monson, and others have been ordered by judges after entities like the Michigan Innocence Clinic and retained attorneys have thoroughly re-investigated the cases. Primarily, Prosecutor Worthy has ensured the delay of the defendants’ release, sometimes for months afterwards, until her office decides whether or not to re-try them.

Even then, she has refused to admit the culpability of her office in the original convictions.

In his groundbreaking 2015 TruthOut exposéRing of Snitches: How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions On Young Black Men, reporter Aaron Miguel Cantu recounted the cases of Dwight Carl Love, Lacino Hamilton, and Larry Darnell Smith. The last two are still incarcerated despite the 1997 exposure of the “ring of snitches” and DPD “miscellaneous files” containing withheld exculpatory evidence in the Love case.  In his story, Cantu includes affidavits from several of the jail-house informants, one of whom, Edward Allen, estimated that over 100 murder convictions were obtained through use of their perjured testimony.


Lacino Hamilton

Larry Darnell Smith

He says Detroiter Dwight Carl Love was exonerated and freed in 1997 after 15 years, “through the efforts of a tenacious defense attorney named Sarah Hunter with a whistleblower inside Detroit’s homicide unit.” Love’s case was covered in daily media and became famous as the case which first exposed the Detroit Police Department’s use of “miscellaneous files,” in which they hid exculpatory evidence.

Lacino Hamilton was accused of killing his foster mother, who raised him, on June 28, 1994.  Another prisoner, Christopher Brooks, sent an affidavit dated Aug. 4, 2013 to the Michigan Innocence Clinic, stating that he saw the real killer Lonnie Bell (now deceased) leaving the home of Willa “Bee” Bias with a gun after she was killed and later obtained a confession from him.

Aaron Miguel Cantu

“Hamilton’s murder conviction hinged on two pieces of evidence: a coerced statement, and testimony from a jailhouse informant claiming that Hamilton confessed to the murder while awaiting trial in his jail cell,” Cantu writes.

“But according to affidavits, courthouse transcripts, letters and internal memos obtained by Truthout, the informant – who is long deceased – may have received incentives from Detroit police to falsely testify against a number of individuals. These documents also suggest that the informant was part of a ring of jailhouse informants – or “snitches” – that allegedly received lenient sentences as well as food, drugs, sex and special privileges from detectives in the Detroit Police Department’s homicide division in return for making statements against dozens of prisoners eventually convicted of murder.”

When Larry Smith was 18, he says he was detained for a murder without an attorney, allowing police to fabricate a false statement by him. Jail-house informant Edward Allen, whose letter to investigators is linked above, corroborated that statement at trial, but later wrote to Smith recanting his testimony. See

Marvin Cotton

Bernard Howard

Smith’s attorney Mary Owens told Cantu, “In many cases, even if all the witnesses have recanted, or if a person claims innocence, it’s still difficult to [overturn a conviction]. “The courts are more concerned with whether the trial has been procedurally proper.”

Reporter Ryan Felton likewise exposed similar frame-ups using informants in numerous articles. They included the case of Bernard Howard, sentenced to life in 1995, and Marvin Cotton, sentenced in 2001 after the testimony of snitch Ellis Frazier.

See links to his stories at:  and

But the use of jail-house informants by police and prosecutors has continued unabated. During the term of current Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who took office in 2004, VOD has covered other cases using jail-house snitches, including that of Charles Jones, the father of Aiyana Jones, 7, killed by a DPD military raid team in 2010.

Atty. Leon Weiss (center) speaks during Charles Jones (l) resentencing.

Jones was convicted of second-degree murder and perjury in the death of Je’Rean Blake two days prior to the raid on his mother’s home which resulted in Aiyana’s death. He was sentenced to 40-60 years. He recently pled ‘nolo contendere’ to a charge of manslaughter, after a Court of Appeals overturned his original conviction.

The plea should allow him to see the parole board soon. His attorney and family agreed with that action because the extended Jones family has been so vilified in media accounts of Aiyana’s death that they did not feel he could get a fair re-trial.

But evidence at his trial was based predominantly on the testimony of two particularly vile jail-house informants, Jay Schlenkerman and Qasim Rakib.

Schlenkerman, a white downriver resident, had his original charge of “kidnapping” in the confinement and torture of his girl friend dropped to misdemeanor domestic violence after he provided a detailed statement to prosecutors falsely claiming Aiyana’s uncle Chauncey Owens told him Jones gave him the murder gun.

Jay Schlenkerman testi-lies at Charles Jones preliminary exam, 2011.

Qasim Raqib at trial for murder of Shelley Hilliard.

Qasim Raqib, housed at the Wayne County Jail during Jones’ trial,  was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Shelley Hilliard, a transgender woman, ironically killed  because she was about to testify in a case against a drug dealer.  He testified Jones himself told him he got the gun and used it. His charge was dropped to second-degree murder, allowing him a chance at parole.

A long video of Owens’ interrogation by DPD directly after Aiyana’s death, shown only at Owens’ trial, not that of Jones, contradicts their testimony. Owens names another man as the person who gave him the gun, and has never testified otherwise..

Carl Hubbard

VOD has also covered the case of Carl Hubbard, in which Curtiss Collins, who originally testified against him at his murder trial under coercion from the DPD, has long recanted his statement. VOD interviewed Collins below, but Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Talon rejected Hubbard’s third motion for relief from judgment Oct. 2, 2019, primarily citing procedural matters.

But he also said that he did not believe Collins’ statement, although such a determination is up to a jury, not a judge who did not preside over Hubbard’s 1992 trial. Hubbard’s trial attorney Ronald Giles, now a judge, said Collins’ testimony was key to Hubbard’s conviction. There were no eyewitnesses who saw Hubbard commit the crime.

See Carl Hubbard’s story at

Thelonious “Shawn” Searcy is awaiting a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court after a stunning evidentiary hearing in front of Judge Timothy Kenny, which VOD thoroughly covered. See

DeAnthony Witcher in DPD photo line-up.

During the hearing, self-confessed hit man Vincent Smothers testified that he killed the victim in the case. Judge Townsend’s instructions to the jury at trial included a claim that the bullets which killed the victim were not identifiable, when in fact a re-examination of the forensic evidence showed that they were .40 caliber bullets, not bullets from the .45 caliber gun the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon used by Searcy.

Part of the trial testimony which convicted Searcy was his identification by a street snitch, DeAnthony Witcher, who knew Searcy and had been arrested by DPD Nov. 18, 2004, in illegal possession of a 9 mm handgun, one week before Searcy’s arrest on Nov. 30, 2004. Police never charged Witcher in that case, although they impounded the blue Corvette.

Searcy told VOD, “This is a shame that prosecutors and judges are allowed to break the law freely in Detroit. [I] have been sitting in prison because OUR judicial system failed to properly investigate [my] case. Relying on lying witnesses and informants is common in Detroit.”

Witcher was recruited to testify by DPD homicide detective Dale Collins, who also participated in numerous other “snitch” frameups including that of Davontae Sanford. AP Patrick Muscat prosecuted both Searcy and Sanford. Dale Collins also participating in Sanford’s frame-up, along with homicide detectives Michael Russell and James Tolbert, according to a scathing Michigan State Police report included in VOD’s dozens of stories on the wrongful conviction of Davontae Sanford.

Thelonious ‘Shawn” Searcy

Davontae Sanford Xmas 2019

The Detroit News called for a wider investigation after the MSP report surfaced:

“[T]he Sanford case lends credence to other allegations of bungled justice against the prosecutor’s office,” its editorial said in part. “The University of Michigan’s Innocence Clinic has a fat file of cases in which it believes Wayne County and Detroit cops either ignored evidence of innocence or distorted evidence to prove guilt. [Then State AG] Schuette should review all those cases as well. . . .Finally, if Sanford’s wrongful conviction is an indicator of wider problems in the Detroit Police Department and Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, this is fertile ground for a civil rights investigation by the federal Justice Department.”

VOD’s stories on the Sanford case are all linked inside the following:

Lacino Hamilton wrote to TruthOut, “By now, the demonstrative wasting away of Black life in urban areas, such as Detroit, has become an historical and social fact, called neglect. I mean what else can it be? Society places little to no value on Black lives. And what people don’t value, they don’t bother with … I’m in prison because no one wondered, cared, or took the time to ask how a handful of serial offenders [snitches] could show up in court again and again to have received unsolicited confessions – neglect.”

In “A Ring of Snitches,” Cantu says, “ . . . in places like Michigan, where there are no regulations for using informant testimony beyond prosecutors knowing and admitting to it, there has never been a serious investigation into the systematic use of jailhouse informants by police and prosecutors.”

In an email, VOD asked the prosecutor’s office whether the CIU would open an investigation into all the other cases in which Twilley, Cowen and other jailhouse informants were used, and whether criminal charges would be filed against police, prosecutors and others who recruited them.

No response has been received to date.


Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and DPD cop Joseph Weekley, killer of Aiyana Jones, 7, at his arraignment in Oct. 2011. A “one-man grand jury” brought the charges vs. Weekley, but Worthy charged Aiyana’s dad and uncle instead. Weekley walked free after mis-trials engineered by prosecution, defense and judge, but Aiyana’s relatives got lengthy jail terms.

During his court hearing, Ward, understandably overwhelmed, read a handwritten statement in which he expressed thanks to God, his family, “who never gave up on me,” and Pros. Worthy and the CIU “for caring enough to listen to my many pleas, which fell on deaf ears for years. You believed in me when no one else would.”

However, did the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office really listen to Ward’s pleas, including those in 26 years of appeals which they opposed, or did they knowingly conspire to keep him locked up?

He has four state appeals on record, dated in 2004, 2005 and 2012, all during the tenure of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy. Before she became the county prosecutor in 2004, Worthy was an assistant prosecutor beginning in 1984. Everyone in the prosecutor’s office should have been fully aware of the exposures regarding jail-house snitches that began in the early 1990’s, when Ward and hundreds of others were convicted.

List of Ramon Ward’s state appeals. (Michigan Courts website.)

VOD reviewed the appeals in detail, and noted that from 1995 on, the State Appellate Defender’s office, where Valerie Newman worked for 28 years, represented Ward on his state-level appeals, except for the final appeal in 2012, which Ward submitted pro se. There is a note in the register for that appeal that SADO declined to represent him then. All the appeals end with the submission of a federal habeas corpus petition, but his case appears never to have made it to federal court.

Ward was convicted in 1995 in a jury trial held in front of then Recorders Court Judge Leonard Townsend. Days after his sentencing on Jan. 28, 1995, Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Robert Agacinski sent a memo titled “Police Use of Prisoners to Obtain Confessions,” dated Feb. 8, 1995, to his superior Richard Padzieski, Chief of Operations, which outlined his concerns regarding jail-house informants including Twilley and Cowen. It also cited DPD homicide officers Dale Collins and William Rice as complicit in having Twilley’s sentence reduced as a reward for his cooperation.


But in “Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect,” the authors say Agacinski, who went on to become the head of Michigan’s attorney grievance commission for 14 years, told them nothing was ever done to address his concerns.

“I was low-middle ranking management,” Agacinski told TruthOut. “I was never part of top-level. Nobody ever told me anything else and I have no idea if the [memo] was ever acted on.”

VOD also asked Worthy’s office whether any charges would be brought against Detroit cops and Wayne County prosecutors in the growing number of wrongful convictions that are being exposed presently. Needless to say, there was no comment.

Protesters from “Protect Our Stolen Treasures,” including Kevin Kellom, father of Terrance Kellom, whose murder by police was endorsed by Wayne Co. Pros. Kym Worthy, outside the Frank Murphy Hall in downtown Detroit.

Related articles from mainstream media:

#JailhouseSnitches#WrongfulConvictions, #MassIncarceration, #PrisonNation, #PoliceState, #TearDowntheWalls


Donations for the Voice of Detroit are urgently needed to keep this paper, which is published pro bono, going. Among ongoing expenses are quarterly HostLab web charges of $360, costs for court documents, internet fees, office supplies, gas, etc. The editor and reporters are not paid for their dedicated work, and many live on fixed incomes or are incarcerated. Please, if you can:



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Cartoon by Daily Kos shows (clockwise from above left) rich commentator, candidate Joe Biden, candidate Pete Buttigieg, rich commentator putting in emergency rescue call to Bloomberg


February 15, 2020


LAS VEGAS (AP) — As early voting surged in Nevada’s nominating contest, former Vice President Joe Biden lashed out at Democratic rival Bernie Sanders on Saturday for not doing enough to control his most aggressive supporters.

Biden’s attack during an interview for NBC’s “Meet The Press” came as he fights to rescue his struggling presidential bid and Sanders works to strengthen his strong standing with the contest speeding into a new phase. Biden also sought to downplay expectations for next Saturday’s Nevada caucuses, telling reporters that he did not need to win.

In the interview, the former vice president seized on reports that Sanders’ supporters insulted and made online threats against leaders of an influential union that declined to endorse any of the eight candidates still in the Democratic race.

“He may not be responsible for it, but he has some accountability,” Biden charged. He continued: “If any of my supporters did that, I’d disown them …flat disown them.”

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Biden’s assertion. But Thursday in an interview with PBS, Sanders distanced himself from such behavior. “Anybody making personal attacks against anybody else in my name is not part of our movement,” Sanders said, denouncing such behavior in all campaigns.

Earlier Saturday, the fiery progressive senator went on the offensive against his moderate competitors for accepting campaign cash from billionaires, although he declined to go after his opponents by name.

“Democracy is not candidates going to the homes of billionaires raising money,” Sanders charged during a rally at a suburban Las Vegas high school.

Both Biden and Pete Buttigieg have aggressively courted wealthy donors over the past year. Buttigieg met with donors behind closed doors in Seattle at roughly the same time Sanders made the comments.

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Does “Lady Justice” prevail at Oakland County Circuit and higher courts?

Former Detroit police officer Burt Lancaster, with long history of  mental illness and family suicide, killed girlfriend intending to kill himself 

First conviction in Oakland Co. in 1994 overturned due to racial bias in jury selection 

Judge denied “diminished capacity” defense in 2005 due to MSC’S controversial ‘Carpenter’ ruling in 2001; original crime occurred in 1993 

Sixth Circuit Court overturned 2005 conviction, ruling that Lancaster had been denied ‘due process’ by the retroactive application of ‘Carpenter” 

U.S. Supreme Court overruled 6th Circuit, found against defendant in 2012 

By VOD Editor Diane Bukowski and Field Editor Ricardo Ferrell

 February 11, 2020

Burt Lancaster, now age 59. MDOC photo

Detroit, MI – The first-degree murder convictions of former Detroit police officer Burt Lancaster, first in 1994 and then in 2005, for killing his girlfriend Toni King in 1993, raise broader issues.

They include racism in the Oakland County judicial system, and discrimination against the mentally ill in the Michigan state judicial system, evidenced by the 2001 elimination of a defendant’s right to raise a “diminished capacity” defense.

U.S. District Court Judge Avern Cohn dismissed Lancaster’s first conviction in 2003, based on the prosecution’s elimination of a Black juror at trial. At Lancaster’s bench re-trial in 2005, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge John McDonald refused to allow his defense of “diminished capacity.” He cited the Michigan Supreme Court’s controversial 2001 ruling eliminating the defense in People v. Carpenter (627 N.W.2d 276), despite a decades-long history of its use in the state.

McDonald contended Carpenter was retroactive. State courts and the U.S. District Court agreed, but the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court granted Lancaster a second writ of habeas corpus. They agreed that the trial court violated Lancaster’s right to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution by applying Carpenter retroactively. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit, citing the state’s right to determine its own laws.

Lancaster’s former attorney Kenneth M. Mogill won the overturn of the 1994 conviction in U.S. District Court, and represented Lancaster at his 2005 trial as well as subsequent appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Attorney Kenneth M. Mogill

“To me the situation was fundamentally unfair,” Mogill told VOD. “My client went to trial the first time in 1993, but the verdict was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct, the improper use of a juror challenge based on race. But then he was deprived of the right to raise the ‘diminished capacity’ defense at retrial. If we had been allowed to raise that, he would have had a good chance [for a reduced charge]. He would have been eligible for parole by now.”

He added, “Carpenter was a horrible ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court, based on an extremely faulty analysis of the legislative scheme. Since then, it has been hurting defendants, who are no longer allowed to have a jury consider different crimes in different categories based on different mental states.”

Prominent criminal defense attorney Kimberley Reed Thompson agreed. In a 2003 Michigan State Bar Journal article on Carpenter she said,

“The dissenting justices [in Carpenter] conclude that evidence of mental abnormality or illness should be admissible to negate specific intent and thereby afford the defendant the right to present a meaningful defense, the requirement that the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt each and every element of a charged offense, and the presumption of innocence. . . Perhaps the presentation of these significant arguments, which focus upon the basic concepts of fairness and due process in our system of jurisprudence will resurrect diminished capacity as a viable defense in the state of Michigan.”

Atty. Kimberley Reed-Thompson in shirt celebrating NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Facebook 

Lancaster remains in prison today, at the age of 59. He is among many other victims of the Carpenter ruling, which left only Michigan’s insanity and guilty but mentally ill statutes in place. Neither mention the use of mental abnormality to negate the specific intent necessary for crimes like first-degree murder. Lancaster continues to deny that he intended to kill Mrs. King and says he should have been charged instead with second-degree murder.

“I am a native of Detroit and a graduate of Mumford High School,” Lancaster wrote to VOD in Dec. 2019. “I started working for the Detroit Police Department in 1985 and received a departmental citation for saving several families in a burning building on Linwood and Richton. I was disabled Dec. 13, 1986 in an on-duty scout car accident while going to a shots-fired run. I sustained injuries to both knees and a closed head injury, after which I suffered with bouts of depression.”

Trial testimony and forensic reports on Lancaster also show that he was diagnosed much earlier with major depression and bipolar disorder, attempted suicide several times, and was hospitalized for his illness at least eight times between 1987 and 1993, multiple times during his incarceration. His uncle and his younger brother both committed suicide, with Lancaster identifying his brother’s body at the medical examiner’s office while he worked for DPD.

One psychiatrist in 1987 reported that Lancaster told him the DPD had falsely charged him with conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder after he told officials that another officer was planning to kill a drug dealer. The charges were later dropped, but worsened Lancaster’s symptoms.

Lancaster said he met Toni King, then 30, in 1992. She was separated from her husband, but not yet divorced. Lancaster and King had a tempestuous 0n-again, off-again relationship for over a year, with Ms. King periodically returning to her husband and then going back to Lancaster. Lancaster claims she repeatedly hid the medication he was on, Lithium, a powerful anti-psychotic, saying, “I don’t want my husband taking crazy pills.”

In the days leading up to the killing, Lancaster told VOD, Mrs. King left for the fourth time. He said he put her belongings out on the back curb, and her brother came to the condo they shared to pick them up. Lancaster says that afterwards, her family stole his belongings from the building.

The night before the shooting, Lancaster told VOD, he went to his mother Valera Lancaster’s home and expressed his desire to kill himself due to being deeply depressed, saying he didn’t want to live anymore. He then spent the night there.

The next day, he says, he decided he was finally going to kill himself, in front of Mrs. King. He asked his mother for her .357 Magnum revolver to do so. According to her statement to police and testimony during the 1994 trial, Mrs. Lancaster refused to give her son the pistol. But he pushed open a closet door, got the gun, then left en route to his girlfriend’s job on Greenfield and Eight Mile in Southfield. Mrs. Lancaster begged her son not to leave and pleaded with him not to hurt himself. Lancaster says he left his mother a handwritten suicide note.

When Lancaster left, his mother called the police and told them that her son had taken her handgun and was going to commit suicide.

Mrs. Lancaster testified at both trials that she called 911 a second time and added that her son was going to kill his girlfriend as well, after Detroit police did not come immediately. In addition to reporting that earlier to investigators, one of her son’s subsequent doctors said she also repeated that to him. Mrs. Lancaster passed at the age of 88 in 2014.

“I told them that because I figured that if I magnified it they would come out right away and get to him before he could leave the house,” Mrs. Lancaster said. “Well, that was the era where the police were not doing too good in Detroit. And they make runs when they felt like making runs and they would be quite a long time coming to your house.”

NAG anti-busing leader Irene McCabe (center) with L. Brooks Patterson (r) in 1970.

In 1993, Oakland County’s population was 84 percent white. After 16 years as County Prosecutor, the late L. Brooks Patterson had become County Executive in 1992. He drew his support largely from his history with Irene McCabe and the National Action Group (NAG).

He represented them in the early 1970’s, fighting a court-ordered busing plan to desegregate Pontiac’s schools. The Ku Klux Klan also supported McCabe, bombing school buses and attacking ant-racists protesting a 1971 NAG rally.

Lancaster killed Toni King on April 22, 1993, in an Oakland County rife with such racism. U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn overturned his 1994 conviction for the murder in 2010, based on Mogill’s  challenge to a racist jury selection process.

Lancaster’s supporters say they believe there was therefore likely a rush to judgment by police and the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office in charging Lancaster with first-degree murder.

Mrs. King’s friend Julie Gardner testified that she and Mrs. King were on their way to lunch at a nearby Coney Island when Lancaster got to Mrs. King’s job. He offered to buy them lunch but then got into a heated dispute over financial matters with Mrs. King. Lancaster told investigators that in the course of the argument and Ms. King’s yelling at him, he panicked and shot her four times in the heat of the moment.

He said at the time of the shooting he hadn’t slept for several days or taken his prescribed psychiatric medication.

In Mental Health & Criminal Defense, Alex Bassos, JD, analyzes every aspect of a criminal case involving clients with mental health or cognitive issues and challenges attorneys to “push back against the state’s attempts to punish a person for having a mental illness.

Additionally, sources say, Burt Lancaster has agreed to submit to a polygraph exam about whether he had any intent to kill Mrs. King. The exam is pending. Lancaster, who still regrets Mrs. King’s death, and his supporters say he should have been charged with second-degree murder and would likely be eligible for parole now.

In a Dec. 13, 2016 Forensic Psychological Assessment of Parole Risk, Dr. Steven R Miller wrote, “First of all, the utter irrationality of his crimes cannot be fully understood and appreciated without taking into consideration the likely presence of some degree of ‘mental illness’ at the time of the commission of these crimes.” (Lancaster was convicted of a two-year gun felony as well as first-degree murder.)

Miller concluded his 28-page assessment of Lancaster and his progress while incarcerated and under psychiatric treatment, saying that he “presented a Low Risk to the safety or the welfare of the community.”

He included Lancaster’s statement of remorse for the crime, both for Mrs. King and her son, as well as for  her mother, siblings, and nephew as well as his own family.

“I have had very deep remorse for causing the death of my beloved girlfriend Toni King [ . . .] she did not deserve for that to happen and she did not have the chance to raise her only son Lawrence King. I am remorseful because her son Lawrence King did not have the opportunity to have his mother’s love during his growing up as a child.”

Expert Lyle Denniston, a SCOTUS blog writer, was highly critical of the unanimous 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Metrich v. Lancaster, noting that they all but completely ignored the key issue in the Sixth Circuit ruling, whether the Michigan Supreme Court ruling in Carpenter was retroactive to a crime committed eight years earler. (See link below.)

“Amid signs that the ruling was a very easy one to reach, the Supreme Court on Monday allowed the state of Michigan to deny a man accused of murder a legal defense that he previously had but then lost the right to use at a second trial,” Denniston wrote.  “Allowing the withdrawal of a mental defect defense after the fact, the Court ruled unanimously, did not violate the man’s constitutional rights to fair treatment.   It took the Court less than four weeks to prepare that ruling.”

Related documents:


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Ingham County Pros. Carol Siemon with some of the lifers whose case are being reviewed. 

“I think everyone should have an opportunity to get out some day”—Pros. Nancy Siemon

64 percent of Ingham County’s lifers are Black

Siemon  joins national movement opposing life without parole (LWOP) sentences, termed ‘death by incarceration’

U.S. the only country in the world with true LWOP sentencing practice

The states of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Oklahoma all have state legislation pending that would end the inhumane practice of “death by incarceration.” Additionally, Sen. Sharif Street of Pennsylvania has re-introduced SB 542 to reform that practice there. “No more than 20 years” is the slogan of some of the state legislation, which is an actuality in most other countries in the world. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its incarcerated population.

VOD: The article below is being re-published with some corrections (e.g. not all lifers are ‘murderers’ as original headline termed them, and some are actually innocent). It is important for Michigan residents to read about Pros. Siemon’s efforts, to encourage support here for the national anti-LWOP movement opposing “death by incarceration.” The states shown above all have active legislation that would bar LWOP for adults.

The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration campaigns for SB 542, introduced by Pennsylvania State Sen. Sharif Street to outlaw life without parole sentences.

The anti-LWOP campaign was given a huge boost when the U.S. Supreme Court twice outlawed mandatory juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) in Miller v. Alabama (2012) and Montgomery v. Louisiana (2016).

But Michigan and Louisiana are known as the two worst “outlier” states  still violating those rulings. In Michigan, county prosecutors originally recommended renewed LWOP sentences for two-thirds of the state’s juvenile lifers, despite the fact that the USSC said “only the rarest child” should be sentenced to LWOP.  At last report, 200 of the state’s original 360  juvenile lifers are still languishing in prison without re-sentencing hearings, eight years after Miller v. Alabama.

January 30, 2020

LANSING–Carol Siemon is all about second chances, even for convicted [lifers].

As the prosecuting attorney for Ingham County, Siemon knows her job is largely about ensuring justice is fairly served for about 290,000 local residents. Usually, that involves locking a lot of people behind bars, some for the rest of their lives. But this year, she could be asking Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to send [some] of them back home.

George Norris Hall, 84, is the oldest lifer in Ingham County. He was convicted in 1975 of the murder of three men during a card game.

“While I personally believe there are some people who should be in prison forever, like the Jeffrey Dahmer type of people, I just don’t believe in the death penalty,” Siemon explained. “I think life in prison without parole functions in a similar way, and I think everyone should have an opportunity to be able to get out some day.”

Siemon — with pro-bono help from former Assistant Attorney General Ron Emery — this year plans to begin a formal review of the 90 convicted murderers serving life in prison without parole in Ingham County. And for a select few, she said she plans to seek a gubernatorial commutation that could get them back out on the streets.

“It’s not whether or not they’re innocent,” Siemon told City Pulse. “We’re not saying that. But if they committed a homicide 40 years ago, who are they now? And do they deserve another chance? To my knowledge, nobody else is doing this type of thing in the state. It has just been something rolling around in my head.”

‘A progressive prosecutor’

In Michigan, only those convicted of first-degree murder or placing explosives causing injury can garner a sentence of life in prison without parole. And only the governor has the power to commute their sentences after the prisoners are reviewed and formally recommended for release by the 10-member Michigan Parole Board.

Bruce Edward Hicks was convicted of murder in Ingham County at 18. Now 62, he has spent more than 70% of his life in a prison cell. Michigan just passed legislation changing the maximum age for juveniles to 18. Under Miller v. Alabama, Hicks would have been eligible for a juvenile lifer re-sentencing. 

After Siemon took office in 2017, she enacted policy to always offer defendants (even those accused of the most heinous crimes) a chance to plead guilty to a lesser charge like second-degree murder. Her goal: eliminate the possibility of life in prison without parole, instead putting prisoners  before a review board within a few decades.

Other prosecutors before Siemon weren’t as lenient. And defendants don’t always take the deal before pushing their case to a trial. But that doesn’t mean some of them don’t deserve another shot at freedom, Siemon insisted.

“I just don’t like to exclude the possibility that someone can be rehabilitated,” Siemon said. “Families don’t always like it, and it can be very unpleasant — especially with victims’ families — but these people deserve it. Some don’t like that we offer it. We take those views into account, but it doesn’t mean they drive the decision.”

It’s typical for prosecutors to use their discretion when deciding on the severity of various criminal convictions; That’s just part of the job. But Siemon’s comparatively lenient and so-called “progressive” stance on offering plea deals to first-degree murderers is hardly the norm throughout the state of Michigan and the rest of the country.

And the differing prosecutorial philosophies largely toe the line between judicial rehabilitation and punishment.

Calhoun County Pros. David Gilbert

Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney David Gilbert, a registered Republican, said he doesn’t have a similar policy in his office because some defendants can simply “deserve” to rot away in prison for the rest of their lives.

“Can they be rehabilitated? Maybe they can. But look at some of these cases where they put a gun to someone’s face and pull the trigger: Why should we take the chance? There’s not much you can do that is more personal than taking a human life,” Gilbert added. “That’s why we have these charges. We like to let the jury decide.”

“One never says ‘never’ or ‘always’ in our profession,” added Leelanau County Prosecutor Doug Donaldson. “That automatically ties your hands. And there are some out there that probably do deserve life in prison without parole. If the crime is cold and calculated, the concept of rehabilitation can essentially be a non-starter.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel also doesn’t condone a blanket policy toward watered-down murder charges. Without careful consideration, uniform plea deals can erode the legislative intent behind the harsh sentences written into state law. And plea deals to lesser charges aren’t always appropriate considerations, Nessel said.

State AG Dana Nessel was seen as allied with Whitmer during their campaigns.

Former Prosecutor Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has the only commutation power.

“Other times it is clear from the actions of the defendant as well as the criminal history of that individual that society should be protected from that person for the remainder of his or her life,” Nessel said. “However, each county prosecutor is duly elected by their county residents, and I respect Prosecutor Siemon and her rationale.”

Siemon declined to address criticism of her prosecutorial policies on plea deals, noting she doesn’t want to rally “unwarranted opposition” to her upcoming plans to seek commuted sentences for murderers. She recognizes that her policies aren’t for everyone, but maintains it’s the best way to ensure justice — including for defendants.

“When you’re a progressive prosecutor, you have people who will say things like ‘You hug thugs,’ or ‘You don’t care about victims.’ That’s not true. I care about the process being fair. We’ve learned that locking people up for a long time doesn’t always make the community more safe. It doesn’t serve a purpose other than vengeance.”

Rehabilitation vs. vengeance

Pushing her progressive prosecutorial policy a step further, Siemon last week told City Pulse that her office will soon begin a formal review of every life sentence doled out in Ingham County since 1975. And those who display the most rehabilitative progress — pending Whitmer’s eventual approval — might soon be set free.

In addition to the severity of the crime, attorneys will look at prisoners’ misconduct records and their participation in educational programs. Siemon’s office will also focus on defendants that were convicted of first-degree murder on the basis of being an accessory to the actual killing without literally pulling the trigger.

“The main question is whether we can truly feel they’ve been rehabilitated,” Siemon added.

Siemon hasn’t established a precise timeline for the ongoing prisoner review process and noted that Emery theoretically could decide that none of the prisoners actually deserve to have their sentences commuted. If those recommendations make it to the governor’s desk, however, she’s confident that Whitmer will take action.

“I haven’t talked about it with her, but philosophically, I think she’d be on board with this,” Siemon added.

At least 90 people are serving life in prison without parole after they were convicted of first-degree murder in Ingham County in cases that date back to 1975, according to records obtained by City Pulse. An analysis cross-referenced with prison records shows the average lifer was sentenced at age 27, has served about 18 years and is now about 47 years old. All but one are men. Sixty-five percent are black. Thirty percent are white.

The oldest among them, 84-year-old George Norris Hall, was convicted in a brutal murder of three card players in an East Lansing basement, according to a newspaper clipping from 1975. The youngest, 24-year-old Marcell D’Jon Davis, was convicted in 2018 of a robbery and a murder outside of a marijuana dispensary in Lansing.

Marcell D’Jon Davis was 22 when convicted of murder.

About a third of those prisoners have spent more time behind bars than they’ve lived in the free world. Hall, for example, was convicted at 39 and spent the last 45 years in prison. Another inmate from Ingham County, Bruce Edward Hicks, was convicted of murder at 18. Now 62, he has spent more than 70% of his life in a prison cell.

“The severity of the crime used to be the only thing we really looked at,” Siemon said. “If someone committed a crime 20 years ago, however, that tells me who they were then. It’s not always who they still are now. I’ll make these decisions based on my own criteria, but it’s really all going to be about asking: Who are they now?”

But not everyone wants to bother to ask the question.

Gilbert said prisoners serving life in prison without parole from Calhoun County, for example, will remain there unless they personally seek to have their sentences commuted. Even then, it’s a long shot, he said. And besides, he said he’s not comfortable reviewing old convictions from former prosecutors that decided to levy the charges.

“I wasn’t there for these cases,” Gilbert added. “I’m not going to be the one to second guess them.”

A second chance

At a bench trial in 2017, an Ingham County circuit judge found 25-year-old Thomas McClellan guilty of first-degree murder, child abuse and arson in the stabbing (and burning) of his 5-year-old stepdaughter, Luna Younger. His first-degree murder conviction requires him to serve the rest of his life in prison without parole.

Thomas McClellan was 25 when he committed murder.

He wasn’t offered a plea deal to lesser charges, but that was before Siemon rolled out her new policies. And while his case likely won’t be up for a commutation review for at least another few decades, the possibility of his eventual release has touched a nerve with Younger’s family and those who leaned on his sentence for closure.

McClellan, according to reports in the Lansing State Journal, had stabbed Younger at least five times because she had interrupted his nap and asked for something to eat. He later piled blankets and paper towels on her body, then doused the pile in vodka and set it on fire before eventually surrendering to police just a few hours later.

Younger would’ve had her 9th birthday on Monday.

“It’s not my job to judge, but nobody won in that case,” said Jeanette Miller-Halmich, Younger’s grandmother. “What if he ended back on the street and did it again? I can forgive him, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to pay for what he did. Nobody will understand the magnitude of the grief that we’re all still feeling over this.”

Others, like Paula McKay, who was a spokeswoman for Younger’s family at trial, have a different perspective.

Paula McKay Facebook

“I do feel that everyone has the ability to be rehabilitated, but I know a lot of people — including Luna’s mother — would feel differently,” McKay added. “My own husband would disagree with me; I know he would not like to see (McClellan) get out. But I’m a very strong Christian. These are just my feelings on the situation.”

In the last decade, at least 168 Michigan prisoners have had their sentences commuted by the governor, at least 44 of which had been convicted of first-degree murder, according to the Detroit Free Press. And only one of them went on to break the law and return to prison again, MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz told the Free Press.

Since 2011, commutations have been rare. There were at least 4,017 requests for commutation in Michigan under former Gov. Rick Snyder. He only granted six — all of which were for reportedly for medical reasons, according to data published in the Free Press. Whitmer’s office has yet to issue any gubernatorial commutations.

Absent an appeal, however, there’s no other formal mechanism or judicial precedent that grants adults serving life in prison without parole — like McClellan — another chance at freedom in Michigan. And Siemon said she feels a moral obligation to ensure those defendants’ sentences actually serve some form of rehabilitative purpose.

“I’m not here to do vengeance. It’s not my job,” Siemon added. “If you’re a prosecutor, it can be really hard to go against this sort of law and order because people think you don’t care but that’s simply not true. I do care.”

Gov. Whitmer signed legislation creating a commission on criminal justice reform in April, 2019.

In a statement last week, Whitmer’s office noted that her administration has taken “historic steps to reform our criminal justice system to better serve victims and treat offenders” and that an ongoing bipartisan movement in the state legislature continues to “review all aspects” of Michigan’s criminal justice system.

“They would be responsible for changing the laws surrounding life without parole,” according to the statement sent to City Pulse from Whitmer’s office. “All commutation requests are required to go through the process established by law which begins with the Michigan Parole Board, who reviews requests on a case-by-case basis.”

Siemon, the first woman to be elected prosecutor in Ingham County, defeated her Republican challenger Billi Jo O’Berry with about 58% of the vote in 2016. She plans to run for another four-year term this year. No challengers have surfaced. And she knows her prosecutorial philosophies might not align with some of the more conservative voices in the field — especially those that tend to lean more heavily on the punitive side of the scales of justice.

But it’s a risk she’s willing to take as she heads into another campaign cycle without a clear challenger.

“My promise when I ran in 2016 was that I will always try to do the right thing, no matter the fallout. That certainly has not changed,” Siemon said. “I endeavor to do what research and justice require — not what might make me more popular. I admire my fellow Michigan prosecutors even when we don’t always agree.”

Related stories:





Posted on by Diane Bukowski | Leave a comment


The U.S. has 5% of the total world population, and 25% of its incarcerated population, largely people of color and poor people. It is the only country in the world sentencing people to actual life without parole (death by incarceration) and juvenile life without parole.

Migrant families in El Paso detention center–more mass incarceration of people of color including children and infants.


Michelle Alexander

January 22, 2020

“Once human beings are defined as the problem in the public consciousness, their elimination through deportation, incarceration or even genocide becomes nearly inevitable.”

January 20, 2020–Yes, Trump is an inveterate liar, but American politicians have always told lies about the Black and brown people they demonize and mass-imprison.

“Highly racialized and punitive systems thrived under liberal presidents who were given the benefit of the doubt by those who might otherwise have been critics.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow

Ten years have passed since my book, “The New Jim Crow,” was published. I wrote it to challenge our nation to reckon with the recurring cycles of racial reform, retrenchment and rebirth of caste-like systems that have defined our racial history since slavery. It has been an astonishing decade. Everything and nothing has changed.

When I was researching and writing the book, Barack Obama had not yet been elected president of the United States. I was in disbelief that our country would actually elect a black man to be the leader of the so-called free world. As the election approached, I felt an odd sense of hope and dread. I hoped against all reason that we would actually do it. But I also knew that, if we did, there would be a price to pay.

Everything I knew through experience and study told me that we as a nation did not fully understand the nature of the moment we were in. We had recently birthed another caste system — a system of mass incarceration — that locked millions of poor people and people of color in literal and virtual cages.

Our nation’s prison and jail population had quintupled in 30 years, leaving us with the highest incarceration rate in the world. A third of black men had felony records — due in large part to a racially biased, brutal drug war — and were relegated to a permanent second-class status. Tens of millions of people in the United States had been stripped of basic civil and human rights, including the right to vote, the right to serve on juries and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, education and basic public benefits.

“Despite appearances, our nation remains trapped in a cycle of racial reform, backlash and re-formation of systems of racial and social control.”

Presidents Trump and Obama in early meeting at White House. Mass incarceration, migrant detention and family separation have existed under both administrations.

Nevertheless, our nation remained in deep denial that a new caste system even existed, and most of us — even those who cared deeply about racial justice — did not seem to understand that powerful racial dynamics and political forces were at play that made much of our racial progress illusory. We had not faced our racial history and could not tell the truth about our racial present, yet growing numbers of Americans wanted to elect a Black president and leap into a “colorblind” future.

I was right to worry about the aftermath of Obama’s election. After he was inaugurated, our nation was awash in “post-racialism.” Black History Month events revolved around “how far we’ve come.” Many in the black community and beyond felt that, if Obama could win the presidency, anything was possible. Few people wanted to hear the message I felt desperate to convey: Despite appearances, our nation remains trapped in a cycle of racial reform, backlash and re-formation of systems of racial and social control.

Angela Davis speaking in Detroit:  people should have continued their battle in the streets after Obama’s election.

Things have changed since then. Donald Trump is president of the United States. For many, this feels like whiplash. After eight years of Barack Obama — a man who embraced the rhetoric (though not the politics) of the civil rights movement — we now have a president who embraces the rhetoric and the politics of white nationalism.

This is a president who openly stokes racial animosity and even racial violence, who praises dictators (and likely aspires to be one), who behaves like a petulant toddler on Twitter, and who has a passionate, devoted following of millions of people who proudly say they want to “make America great again” by taking us back to a time that we’ve left behind.

What our nation is experiencing is not an “aberration.” The politics of “Trumpism” and “fake news” are not new; they are as old as the nation itself.

We are now living in an era not of post-racialism but of unabashed racialism, a time when many white Americans feel free to speak openly of their nostalgia for an age when their cultural, political and economic dominance could be taken for granted — no apologies required. Racial bigotry, fearmongering and scapegoating are no longer subterranean in our political discourse; the dog whistles have been replaced by bullhorns. White nationalist movements are operating openly online and in many of our communities; they’re celebrating mass killings and recruiting thousands into their ranks.

White nationalism has been emboldened by our president, who routinely unleashes hostile tirades against Black and brown people – calling Mexican migrants criminals, “rapists” and “bad people,” referring to developing African nations as “shithole countries” and smearing a district of the majority-black city of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.” Millions of Americans are cheering, or at least tolerating, these racial hostilities.

Contrary to what many people would have us believe, what our nation is experiencing is not an “aberration.” The politics of “Trumpism” and “fake news” are not new; they are as old as the nation itself. The very same playbook has been used over and over in this country by those who seek to preserve racial hierarchy, or to exploit racial resentments and anxieties for political gain, each time with similar results.

Back in the 1980s and ’90s, Democratic and Republican politicians leaned heavily on the racial stereotypes of “crack heads,” “crack babies,” “superpredators” and “welfare queens” to mobilize public support for the War on Drugs, a get-tough movement and a prison-building boom — a political strategy that was traceable in large part to the desire to appeal to poor and working-class white voters who had defected from the Democratic Party in the wake of the civil rights movement.

Today, the rhetoric has changed, but the game remains the same. Public enemy No. 1 in the 2016 election was a brown-skinned immigrant, an “illegal,” a “terrorist” or an influx of people who want to take your job or rape your daughter. As Trump put it: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. . They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems. . They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

He promised to solve this imaginary crisis through mass deportation and building a wall between the United States and Mexico. He also insisted that his political opponent, Hillary Clinton, wanted “millions of illegal immigrants to come in and take everybody’s jobs.” And he blamed domestic terroristic attacks in New Jersey and New York on “our extremely open immigration system,” which, he argued, allows Muslim terrorists into our country.

The fact that Trump’s claims were demonstrably false did not impede his rise, just as facts were largely irrelevant at the outset of the War on Drugs. It didn’t matter back then that studies consistently found that whites were equally likely, if not more likely, than people of color to use and sell illegal drugs.

Black people were still labeled the enemy. Nor did it matter, when the drug war was taking off, that nearly all of the sensationalized claims that crack cocaine was some kind of “demon drug,” drastically more harmful than powder cocaine, were false or misleading. Black people charged with possession of crack in inner cities were still punished far more harshly than white people in possession of powder cocaine in the suburbs. And it didn’t matter that African-Americans weren’t actually taking white people’s jobs or college educations in significant numbers through affirmative action programs.

“The system of mass incarceration has stripped away from millions of U.S. citizens basic civil and human rights until their status mirrors (or dips below) that of noncitizen immigrants within the United States.” 

Getting tough on “them” — the racially defined “others” who could easily be used as scapegoats and cast as the enemy — was all that mattered. Facts were treated as largely irrelevant then. As they are now.

Fortunately, a growing number of scholars and activists have begun to connect the dots between mass incarceration and mass deportation in our nation’s history and current politics. The historian Kelly Lytle Hernández, in her essay “Amnesty or Abolition: Felons, Illegals, and the Case for a New Abolition Movement,” chronicles how these systems have emerged as interlocking forms of social control that relegate “aliens” and “felons” to a racialized caste of outsiders.


In recent decades, the system of mass incarceration has stripped away from millions of U.S. citizens basic civil and human rights until their status mirrors (or dips below) that of noncitizen immigrants within the United States. This development has coincided with the criminalization of immigration in the United States, resulting in a new class of “illegal immigrants” and “aliens” who are viewed and treated like “felons” or “criminals.” Immigration violations that were once treated as minor civil infractions are now crimes. And minor legal infractions, ranging from shoplifting to marijuana possession to traffic violations, now routinely prompt one of the nation’s most devastating sanctions — deportation.

The story of how our “nation of immigrants” came to deport and incarcerate so many for so little, Hernández explains, is a story of race and unfreedom reaching back to the era of emancipation. If we fail to understand the historical relationship between these systems, especially the racial politics that enabled them, we will be unable to build a truly united front that will prevent the continual re-formation of systems of racial and social control.

“The systems of mass incarceration and mass deportation . . . are both deeply rooted in our racial history, and they both have expanded in part because of the enormous profits to be made in controlling, exploiting and eliminating vulnerable human beings.”

In my experience, those who argue that the systems of mass incarceration and mass deportation simply reflect sincere (but misguided) efforts to address the real harms caused by crime, or the real challenges created by surges in immigration, tend to underestimate the corrupting influence of white supremacy whenever black and brown people are perceived to be the problem. “Between me and the other world, there is ever an unasked question,” W.E.B. Du Bois famously said back in 1897: “How does it feel to be a problem?” White people are generally allowed to have problems, and they’ve historically been granted the power to define and respond to them. But people of color — in this “land of the free” forged through slavery and genocide — are regularly viewed and treated as the problem.

This distinction has made all the difference. Once human beings are defined as the problem in the public consciousness, their elimination through deportation, incarceration or even genocide becomes nearly inevitable.

White nationalism, at its core, reflects a belief that our nation’s problems would be solved if only people of color could somehow be gotten rid of, or at least better controlled. In short, mass incarceration and mass deportation have less to do with crime and immigration than the ways we’ve chosen to respond to those issues when black and brown people are framed as the problem.

Charlottesvile South Carolina 2017

As Khalil Gibran Muhammad points out in “The Condemnation of Blackness,” throughout our nation’s history, when crime and immigration have been perceived as white, our nation’s response has been radically different from when those phenomena have been defined as black or brown. The systems of mass incarceration and mass deportation may seem entirely unrelated at first glance, but they are both deeply rooted in our racial history, and they both have expanded in part because of the enormous profits to be made in controlling, exploiting and eliminating vulnerable human beings.

“Once human beings are defined as the problem in the public consciousness, their elimination through deportation, incarceration or even genocide becomes nearly inevitable.”

It is tempting to imagine that electing a Democratic president or more Democratic politicians will fix the crises in our justice systems and our democracy. To be clear, removing Trump from office is necessary and urgent; but simply electing more Democrats to office is no guarantee that our nation will break its habit of birthing enormous systems of racial and social control. Indeed, one of the lessons of recent decades is these systems can grow and thrive even when our elected leaders claim to be progressive and espouse the rhetoric of equality, inclusion and civil rights.

President Bill Clinton, who publicly aligned himself with the black community and black leaders, escalated a racially discriminatory drug war in part to avoid being cast by conservatives as “soft on crime.” Similarly, President Obama publicly preached values of inclusion and compassion toward immigrants, yet he escalated the mass detention and deportation of noncitizens.

Obama claimed that his administration was focused on deporting: “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.” However, reports by The New York Times and the Marshall Project revealed that, despite Obama’s rhetoric, a clear majority of immigrants detained and deported during his administration had no criminal records, except minor infractions, including traffic violations, and posed no threat.

Equally important is the reality that “felons” have families. And “criminals” are often children or teenagers. The notion that, if you’ve ever committed a crime, you’re permanently disposable is the very idea that has rationalized mass incarceration in the United States.

“A clear majority of immigrants detained and deported during Obama’s administration had no criminal records.”

The current crisis of racist police killings is national.

None of this is to minimize the real progress that has occurred on many issues of race and criminal justice during the past decade. Today, there is bipartisan support for some prison downsizing, and hundreds of millions of philanthropic dollars have begun to flow toward criminal justice reform. A vibrant movement led by formerly incarcerated and convicted people is on the rise – a movement that has challenged or repealed disenfranchisement laws in several states, mobilized support of sentencing reform and successfully organized to “ban the box” on employment applications that discriminate against those with criminal records by asking the dreaded question: “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Activism challenging police violence has swept the nation – inspired by the courageous uprisings in Ferguson, Mo., the viral videos of police killings of unarmed black people, and #BlackLivesMatter. Promising movements for restorative and transformative justice have taken hold in numerous cities. Campaigns against cash bail have gained steam. Marijuana legalization has sped across the nation, with more than 25 states having partly or fully decriminalized cannabis since 2012.

And “The New Jim Crow,” which some predicted would never get an audience, wound up spending nearly 250 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has been used widely by faith groups, activists, educators and people directly affected by mass incarceration inside and outside prisons. Over the past 10 years, I’ve received thousands of letters — and tens of thousands of emails — from people in all walks of life who have written to share how the book changed their lives or how they have used it to support consciousness-raising or activism in countless ways.

“Nearly everyone seems aware that our democracy is in crisis, yet few seem prepared to reckon with the reality that removing Trump from office will not rid our nation of the social and political dynamics that made his election possible.”

Everything has changed. And yet nothing has.

The politics of white supremacy, which defined our original constitution, have continued unabated — repeatedly and predictably engendering new systems of racial and social control. Just a few decades ago, politicians vowed to build more prison walls. Today, they promise border walls.

The political strategy of divide, demonize and conquer has worked for centuries in the United States — since the days of slavery — to keep poor and working people angry at (and fearful of) one another rather than uniting to challenge unjust political and economic systems. At times, the tactics of white supremacy have led to open warfare. Other times, the divisions and conflicts are less visible, lurking beneath the surface.

The stakes now are as high as they’ve ever been. Nearly everyone seems aware that our democracy is in crisis, yet few seem prepared to reckon with the reality that removing Trump from office will not rid our nation of the social and political dynamics that made his election possible. No issue has proved more vexing to this nation than the issue of race, and yet no question is more pressing than how to overcome the politics of white supremacy — a form of politics that not only led to an actual civil war but that threatens our ability ever to create a truly fair, just and inclusive democracy.

We find ourselves in this dangerous place not because something radically different has occurred in our nation’s politics, but because so much has remained the same.

The inconvenient truth is that racial progress in this country is always more complex and frequently more illusory than it appears at first glance. The past 10 years has been a case in point. Our nation has swung sharply from what Marc Mauer memorably termed “a race to incarcerate” — propelled by bipartisan wars on “drugs” and “crime” — to a bipartisan commitment to criminal justice reform, particularly in the area of drug policy. And yet, it must be acknowledged that much of the progress occurred not because of newfound concern for people of color who have been the primary targets of the drug war, but because drug addiction, due to the opioid crisis, became perceived as a white problem, and wealthy white investors became interested in profiting from the emerging legal cannabis industry.

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Palestinians in Gaza CIty protest Trump “Deal of the Century” Jan. 28, 2020

The American Human Rights Council (AHRC-USA) is greatly disappointed, but not surprised, with the specifics of the recently released Deal of the Century. This proposal is one-sided, biased and rubber stamps Israeli violations of international law and human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. It is telling that no Palestinian was present at the Declaration of this plan on Tuesday January 28. It is not acceptable to any Palestinian.

The so-called “Deal of the Century,” is a false hope to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. This Trump’s administration effort to impose a surrender on the Palestinians is a betrayal of international law, justice and American values. Any peace deal that does not provide two states, Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and right of return, is bound to fail. Indeed, genuine efforts to end this conflict are long overdue and the parameters of a just and lasting peace are well known.

The Palestinians have been actively seeking a peaceful settlement of the conflict as far back as the 1970’s. Israel has refused to even acknowledge the Palestinians as a people. Now Israel recognizes the Palestinians as a people but is using the might of the United States to impose on them total surrender. This is not what the Palestinians signed up for when they went to Oslo and agreed to have the US as a broker of the peace talks.

Imad Hamad

Dr. Shadi Hamid of Brookings Institution in Washington, DC stated: ‘Israel-Palestine is that rare incredibly difficult “problem” whose solution is within realm of imagination: 67 borders with swaps; E. Jerusalem as Palestinian capital; right of return to new Palestinian state, with a small, agreed upon number being able to return to Israel proper.’ This is what the Palestinians signed up for and expected. Instead the Deal embellishes and formalizes Apartheid in the occupied territories.

“This Deal is the Great Betrayal of the Century,” said Imad Hamad, AHRC Executive Director. “Any peace agreement that is not guided by respect for international law and the human rights of the Palestinians is bound to fail,” added Hamad. “And this so-called Deal of the Century is dead on arrival,” concluded Hamad.

Detroit News link:


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Sauntore Thomas tried to deposit settlement checks from racial discrimination lawsuit; Detroit-based TCF Bank called Livonia cops on him

Thomas files second lawsuit against TCF–“Banking while Black”

“I wanted to make sure I stayed as levelheaded as possible, because I wasn’t going to be the next person on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe'”– Thomas

Storm of tweets: “Everyone knows that TCF hates Black people. Boycott the Grand Wizards of banking.”Time to boycott TCF Bank.” #BoycottTCF

$45 billion TCF  Financial Corporation, headquartered in Detroit, with subsidiary in Livonia 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan renamed Cobo Hall “TCF Center”  in alleged move against racism despite his own record

By Diane Bukowski

January 25, 2020

Planned TCF headquarters building in Detroit, at Woodward and Elizabeth, across from Comerica Park. Taxpayers shelled out over $17 million for construction.

DETROIT —  The story of Black Detroiter Sauntore Thomas’ arrest by Livonia cops, called in by TCF Bank officials, for trying to deposit checks from the settlement of a racial discrimination lawsuit, has gone viral, covered by virtually every major news outlet across the U.S.

NewsOne gathered angry tweets  from across the country responding to those stories, including:

“Everyone knows that TCF hates Black people. Boycott the Grand Wizards of banking.”

“Time to boycott TCF Bank.” #BoycottTCF

“Nothing that Mr. Thomas asked for was “unusual” the only thing that was unusual was that a Black man with three checks amounting to $97,000 walked into their bank.” 

 “TCF is the name of the bank that called the cops on the brother who won a settlement against guess?? racism! if you are Black change banks. Black power!”

 “ I hope his lawsuit causes this racist bank to shut down….”

 @TCFBank is the latest brand to issue a non-apology. #SorryNotSorry

Detroit’s Cobo Hall is now called the “TCF Center.”

Thomas has now sued TCF, whose parent company, the TCF Corporation, is headquartered in Detroit. It recently merged with Chemical Bank, making the new TCF bank the 27th-largest in the U.S., with $45 billion in assets, over 500 branches, and 10,000 employees. 

Crains Detroit said, “Chemical Bank was already by far the largest bank headquartered in Detroit since announcing its move to the city from Midland in 2016, filling a void left by Comerica Inc. in 2007 when the bank with roots in Detroit predating the Civil War moved its corporate headquarters to Dallas.”

Crain’s also pointed to the Livonia-based TCF Equipment subsidiary, which grew from making $100 million for TCF in 1999 to $5 billion annually.

Renaming ceremony Aug. 29, 2019: TCF backed the election campaigns of both Duggan and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Chemical Bank, now merged with TCF, received a $17 million tax subsidy from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to build its new headquarters, with more than $16 million coming from state school taxes and $621,000 in local tax captures,  approved by the Detroit City Council. Available local and state school capture for the project actually totaled nearly $34 million.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last year renamed the city’s downtown Cobo Hall convention center “The TCF Center,” allegedly to counter the racism embodied in the use of former Detroit Mayor Albert Cobo’s name.

Duggan said, “This center ha[d] been named for an individual who was responsible for policies that moved large numbers of African Americans out of their homes, out of their business with no place to go — in the name of urban renewal.”

But Duggan has himself long been denounced by many Black business owners and homeowners in Detroit for the same practices.

Groups rally at Coleman A. Young Center July 15, 2015 to protest the “Great Black-Out” of Detroit businesses, residents, and services under Mike Duggan. VOD photo

In 2015, VOD reported, “Black Detroit business-owners, cab drivers, homeowners, city retirees opposing the takeover of the Detroit water department and water shut-offs, and residents campaigning for streetlights rallied July 21 against what they called ‘The Great Black-Out’ of Detroit,” Protesters said Duggan and other government officials were aiding a reverse “white flight” INTO the city by corporate and banking vultures.

Bert Dearing speaks at July 21, 2015 rally.

Marcus Cummings, who chaired the rally, said, “We were here long before Dan Gilbert.”

Bert Dearing, owner of Bert’s Entertainment Complex in Eastern Market, was one of the protest leaders, battling efforts to oust his establishment from its locale, as his jazz venues have previously been ousted from W. Jefferson and Broadway Aves. in downtown Detroit over the past decades.

“I’ve done business in Detroit for over 47 years,” Dearing, Jr. said during the rally against the “Black-Out” of Detroit July 15. “My club was at 150 W. Jefferson beginning in 1957, but I was displaced from there and forced to move to Eastern Market. What programs is our government putting together for people of color to survive in Detroit?”

Bert’s was on the auction block at the time, but Dearing fought back with a federal lawsuit alleging fraud against the proposed buyers, some associated with Dan Gilbert. See VOD story on lawsuit at

TCF’S half-hearted apology bodes ill for Blacks and Detroiters

The half-hearted, arrogant apology TCF issued for Thomas’ arrest should alert Blacks, Detroiters and businesses owned by people of color, to the likelihood of  future problems in dealings with TCF.

“We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” TCF spokesman Tom Wennenberg told the Detroit Free Press..

“We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash and in this case, we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs.”

Prominent plaintiff’s attorney Deborah Gordon with Sauntore Thomas.

BuzzFeed News reporter Jullia Reinstein interviewed Sauntore Thomas, 44,  Jan. 23.

“A man who tried to deposit a settlement check from a workplace racial discrimination lawsuit said he was again discriminated against for being Black, this time by the bank, who called the police on him over accusations the check was fraudulent,” Reinstein wrote.

Reinstein said Thomas told her he had just confidentially settled the lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Detroit and wanted to open a savings account at the TCF Livonia branch, where he had been a customer since 2018. He said he told bank employees he wanted to deposit his settlement money and withdraw some of it.

Instead, the assistant bank manager “treated him suspiciously, even asking him how he got the money in the first place,” Thomas told Reinstein. The manager said she needed to verify the checks. and Thomas said he would wait in the lobby.

“Ten minutes later, the Livonia Police show up,” Thomas recounted. He said he told the four officers,  “‘This is crazy, I literally just got them from my lawyer’s office.'”

Eric Garner choked to death by NYC police

Thomas said he thought about the large numbers of Blacks killed in police encounters over past years, and did his best to stay calm in a “very stressful and unpredictable situation.”

“I didn’t give them any type of indication that I was getting upset,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I stayed as levelheaded as possible, because I wasn’t going to be the next person on the ground saying, ‘I can’t breathe.'”

Reinstein reported that Thomas’ prominent attorney Deborah Gordon spoke to the police and the bank manager, providing lawsuit documents and the bottom half of the check pay stub.

“[The assistant bank manager] basically said, ‘We can’t even prove that was your lawyer on the phone we were talking to,'” Thomas said.

“And I said, ‘OK, if you’re going to treat me like this, and I’m a customer, and I have an account. That is not right. There’s no reason why I have to do business with you at all — I have to close my account,'” Thomas told Reinstein.

TCF bank branch at 13401 Middlebelt Road,
Livonia, MI 48150 called cops on Thomas.

Thomas said he closed his TCF account on the spot, then took his checks to Chase Bank, which opened an account for him with no problem. The checks cleared the next day.

Now, Thomas has filed a lawsuit against the bank, saying his “race was a factor” in how he was treated at the bank. He is asking for damages for “mental anguish” and “humiliation.”

Even after his attorney called the bank to validate the checks, the suit states, “TCF Bank subsequently filed a police report against Plaintiff for check fraud.”

The lawsuit says Thomas was humiliated by the incident and suffered mental anguish and emotional distress. He is seeking damages.

Gordon told Reinstein she believes her client was in fact discriminated against for “banking while Black.”

“This is just another classic example of what it’s like living your life as a Black male,” she said. “The checks are for real. Why was there an issue? Why could you not verify them? You’re a bank, after all — it’s your job to verify checks.”

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By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday let residents of Flint, Michigan pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the city and government officials that accused them of knowingly allowing the city’s water supply to become contaminated with lead.

The justices turned away two appeals by the city and the state and local officials of a lower court ruling that allowed the lawsuit to move forward. The lower court rejected a demand for immunity by the officials, finding that they violated the residents’ right to “bodily integrity” under the U.S. Constitution by providing the tainted water after switching water sources in a cost-cutting move in 2014.

The justices’ action comes as similar class-action cases are currently on appeal at the Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Flint switched its public water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River to reduce costs during a financial crisis. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes.

Flint water protest Oct. 12, 2015/Photo: Record-Eagle

Lead poisoning can stunt children’s cognitive development. No level of exposure is considered safe.

The city switched back to Lake Huron water the next year. The contaminated river water also triggered an outbreak of bacteria-caused Legionnaires’ disease, which killed 12 people and sickened dozens of others

DeMario Stewart of Flint said feeds his son Damonei Stewart during his two month checkup at Hurley Childrens Center. USA Today

Lawsuits over Flint’s water have proliferated in recent years. The number of people who have reported being harmed through exposure to contaminants in Flint, including lead and bacteria, or who experienced ailments such as rashes and hair loss, has reached more than 25,000, including more than 5,000 children under 12, according to court records.

The cases center on the Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of due process under the law, which can protect people from government-induced harm to their personal security or health, a legal principle known as “bodily integrity.”

Courts have previously enforced the right to confront abuses of power in cases of direct physical intrusion, such as non-consensual medical procedures or forced drug administration.

Newark children had gone with parents to get free water.

The defendants argued that the lower courts have dangerously expanded that right by applying it to policy decisions that result in public exposure to environmental toxins. They also argued they are protected from the claims through a legal doctrine known as “qualified immunity” because they could not have known they could be held liable for “doing the best they could in difficult circumstances with limited information.”

The case before the justices was filed in 2016 by two Flint residents including Shari Guertin, who said that she and her child were exposed to high levels of lead.

Calling the water crisis a “government-created environmental disaster” in a 2019 ruling, the 6th Circuit green-lighted the constitutional claims and rejected immunity for the officials.

Flint residents in bitter protest at City Council meeting.

Related articles from VOD:

#JeffWright, #FlintWater, #KWA, #FlintLivesMatter, #NewarkLivesMatter, #Waterislife, #Beatbackthebullies, #DAREA, #Detroit2Flint, #BlacklivesmatterDetroit, #DetroitWater, #OurWaterOurVote, #Right2Water, #Saveourchildren, #SaveFlint, #SaveNewark,  #SaveDetroit 

Some related stories from other media:

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