(VOD: Only the one officer was fired, but the others are clearly complicit as shown on the video. They should all be charged with assault and with a hate crime. This abominable action was clearly motivated by racial animosity towards a Black woman and her hair style of choice. The importance of hair grooming in African-American culture has been well-documented.)
Families grieve for Aiyana Jones and Jerean Blake on Facebook pages.
Theory at trial of Chauncey Owens, Charles Jones names Owens’ brother
Witness says driver of moped with two men on it shot Blake; Sh’rron Hurt testifies he was that driver; other witnesses say Owens was the shooter
Improper communication about testimony between witnesses who identified Owens heard outside courtroom and photographed
By Diane Bukowski
February 1, 2013
DETROIT – An alternate theory of the killing of Jerean Blake, 17, in 2010 emerged from testimony during the second and third days of the first-degree murder trial of Charles Jones, father of Aiyana Jones, 7 when she was killed by Detroit police, and Chauncey Owens. It was accompanied by several contradictory accounts of the events.
It was not Owens, but his brother Sh’rron Hurt, nicknamed “Chinaman,” who shot him to death, according to an eyewitness description and an alleged statement from an acquaintance of Hurt’s, now in prison, detailing what Hurt told him about the case.
Sh’rron Hurt is at left talking to witnesses James Liddell (in red) and Sylvester Bell, along with police officer in center, during lunch break at trial. Bell and Liddell were presented as neutral witnesses, but appear to have been quite comfortable with Hurt and police. Bell testified that the officer told him he had done “a good job” on the stand. Liddell and Bell said they identified Chauncey Owens as the killer.
Hurt testified that he drove a moped, with his “best” or “good” friend named “Chris,” whose last name he said he did not know, to the parking lot where Blake died. All witnesses have said a second moped accompanied a moped with one man on it to the scene.
Hurt said he saw Owens arguing with Blake, then spoke with Blake to find out what had occurred after Owens left. Hurt said he returned to his own residence on Lillibridge, across the street from the upper flat where Owens lived, and saw Owens and Jones emerge from an SUV. He claimed he heard Owens say, “That’s how you do it, n—a.”
Owens lived upstairs from the flat where Aiyana Jones died during a military assault by Detroit police two days after Blake’s death, on May 16, 2010. (Raid is shown below in video from “The First 48,” introduced last year at the trial of Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley for Aiyana’s filling.) Aiyana’s aunt Krystal Sanders told VOD that when police came to the entrance to that flat, where she lived with Owens, they said they were looking for Owens and “Chinaman.”
Hurt said he put his moped inside the lower flat of his house and called his wife to come get him to take him to his other residence in suburban Centerline. He said he was speaking with two men in a black car in the street when Owens and Jones arrived.
“Isn’t it a common thing, that when you get in trouble, you go to Centerline?” Owens’ defense attorney David Cripps asked Hurt, who denied that was the case. Cripps asked if he put the moped inside to hide it, and whether he gave his weapon to the two men in the car. Hurt denied that description of events.
Sh’rron “Chinaman” Hurt alternated between this home in Centerline and his flat across the street from the Jones family on poverty-stricken Lillibridge, according to internet records.
Hurt identified Charles Howard from a prison photo and said he knew him, but had not seen him for months.
“Didn’t you have conversations with Mr. Howard that a couple of guys tried to rob you of your Birdman moped bike and that you went back to your Lillibridge house and put up the bike, then went back?” asked Cripps. “You told Charlie Howard you shot that young man. Did you later tell him [Howard] after the shooting what you had done?”
Hurt again denied the allegation.
Hurt said he turned himself in to police the morning of Aiyana’s death after hearing from others that he was being sought in the case. He said police showed him a video of Owens’ interrogation and told him Owens had identified him, and that he was angry and hurt that he would do so.
Former assistant police chief Ralph Godbee addresses media about Aiyana’s killing on May 17, 2010. Mayor Dave Bing barred any further use of reality TV camera crews after the raid, but never met with the Jones family to express his condolences.
In fact, court records earlier reviewed by VOD show that police coerced Owens into NOT identifying his brother, after Owens found out that Aiyana had been killed during the events surrounding his own arrest.
(VOD–if the alternate theory of Blake’s killing is true, the Detroit police would have strong motivation to stick to their contention that Jones and Owens are guilty, since they would have raided not only the wrong flat looking for Jerean’s killer as they were starring on “The First 48,” but the wrong house.)
Prior to that discovery, Owens denied any knowledge of the killing. He later pled guilty to second-degree murder with a pledge in writing to “tell the truth,” which has been taken by the daily media to mean that Charles Jones gave him the gun to kill Blake. But Owens refused to testify against Jones during Jones’ preliminary exam a year and a half after Aiyana’s death, and the prosecution withdrew his plea deal.
Community members futilely protested the opening of a liquor store so close to Southeastern High School, shown here.
Shortly after Hurt’s testimony, Devon Lawson, now 21, a friend of Blake’s from Southeastern High School, testified that it was the driver of the moped with two people on it who argued with Blake and later shot at him.
Lawson said Blake bumped into the man, who he did not know. He called the driver “Chauncey Owens” at one point, but said he knew that name only from news reports.
“Then there was an argument, words were exchanged, the two men hopped on the moped,” Lawson testified. “One had a black do-rag [on] with an orange shirt. I didn’t know him and couldn’t recognize him.”
He said a “coppertone” Suburban truck entered the lot about four minutes later.
Mike’s Motor City Marketplace, site of Jerean Blake’s killing May 14, 2010.
“Four men jumped out of the truck, and the driver had a gun,” he said. “Everybody ran, then I heard gunshots and I looked behind me and saw [Je’Rean] with blood coming out of his back.”
He said the shooter had been on the moped with two men on it, both of whom he said came back in the Suburban along with the other two individuals.
Other witnesses have testified adamantly that the shooter was Owens, the man by himself on a moped, even pointing him out in the courtroom. However, they have given different descriptions of Owens.
Blake’s classmates testified Jan. 28 that the shooter had braids, with one testifying that he had a mustache and goatee (which Hurt does have). Owens’ fiancée told VOD she had lived with him for 17 years, and that he never wore braids or a beard. Witnesses have also testified variously that only the driver got out of the truck, or that all those in the truck got out. They have said the shooter wore a white T-shirt or an orange shirt, and had on either a “do-rag” or a baseball cap.
Sites of Aiyana Jones and Jerean Blake’s deaths, close to Southeastern High School.
Two witnesses, Sylvester Bell and James Liddell, who testified on the second day, adamantly identified Owens as the killer from the stand. The two said they were at Bell’s father’s office next to the liquor store after getting off work.
They said they picked Owens out of a photo line-up in which he has very short hair and no beard. They said they did so the day after Blake’s killing, while they were at their construction jobsite, and while a cameraman from “The First 48” TV show recorded the events.
Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Richard Skutt, who is hearing the case, said he would issue an order for “The First 48” representatives to produce the relevant audio and/or videotapes. The presence of the cameramen was unknown previously to them, both the prosecution and defense attorneys said.
Bell also said he saw a man with braids put his head out of the back of the truck and yell that they would come back and shoot the place up if anybody had further problems with them. Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Moran said Liddell told him during a break that he could no longer remember anything about the incident, and did not want to testify. Moran attempted to have Liddell’s earlier testimony entered into the record instead, but Skutt ruled that Liddell would have to take the stand to be examined about his issues. When he did, he gave a version of events practically identical to that given by Bell
Was Detroit police rush to catch ANYONE in Blake killing due to A & E’s slogan?
During a break in the proceedings, Bell was heard [by this reporter] saying loudly in the court hallway to Hurt and Liddell, “I could only see two of the people in the truck.” They were joined shortly afterward by a Sgt. Williams, who sat in the front row while the three testified. On the stand, Bell told Owens’ defense attorney David Cripps that they had not discussed the case, and that Williams told him, “You did a good job.”
The three witnesses and the officer were also photographed outside the Frank Murphy Hall during the lunch break in a group (see second photo from top of story), having an animated discussion and smoking. When Cripps showed a cellphone with the photo to Bell, saying it looked like they were shaking hands, Williams, seated next to this reporter on one side, and in close proximity to the jury on the other side, whispered loudly twice, “Cripps is lying.”
Another classmate of JeRean’s, Amber Holloway, now 19, was the final witness this week.
She said she was in a car with Blake and three others, driven by Jacquavis Richards (J-Roc), when they went to the store. She said she saw Charles Jones in the front passenger seat of the truck, from where she sat in the front passenger seat of Richards’ truck. She said she first recognized him when she saw a television news report showing Jones after his daughter’s death at a press conference, and told her mother she recognized him.
Charles Jones in court.
She pointed to Jones in the courtroom, although he has gained as much as 60 lbs. since that time and looks much different.
She said she picked Jones out of a line-up 11 months after the incident. Contradicting testimony given earlier by Richards, she said repeatedly that the truck was parked in a space right next to Richards’ car, with Blake sandwiched in between the two vehicles.
Richards testified earlier that the truck had pulled into the parking lot so that its back was behind the back of his car, and that he could only observe people exiting the truck by looking through the passenger side rear view mirror of his car.
After his testimony, Richards and other classmates of Blake’s sat with his mother Lyvonne “Coolamama” Cargill in the audience. Cargill has repeatedly claimed adamantly on her Facebook page that Owens and Jones murdered her son. She was not at the scene and admitted during her testimony that she originally told police “some kids” at the scene identified someone named “Scooter” as the killer.
This is the photo originally used by the Detroit News with story on the deaths of young people in Detroit. Taken by an amateur photographer, it shows Aiyana’s grandmother Mertilla Jones clutching the child’s tennis shoes during a vigil after her death.
She has aimed bitter acrimony not only at Owens and Jones but at the entire Jones family, during a multitude of radio talk shows and on Facebook. A Facebook site called “Justice for Jerean Blake” recently claimed that the Detroit News originally ran a photo of Mertilla Jones and her granddaughter Aiyana with a recent article on the rampant deaths of young people in Detroit. It said Cargill called the News to complain, and they replaced it with a photo of herself and her daughter taken at the courtroom.
That photo is now, however, a photo of Cargill sitting next to Richards during trial proceedings. Richards has his face covered as if in grief, but it is also possible that he did not want his picture taken. It is unusual for news photographers to take photos in the audience during a trial.
Jerean Blake’s mother is shown sitting with Jerean’s friend Jacquavis (J-Roc) Richards during trial in this Detroit News photo.
The site says, “Why did Karen Bouffard [the News reporter] mention the name of Officer Joe Weekley whose gun ACCIDENTALLY went off during a raid and did not mention by name the names of the MURDERERS CHAUNCEY OWENS AND CHARLES JONES who are on trial RIGHT NOW for VIOLENTLY murdering a child?!?!?”
Whether Weekley’s gun “accidentally” went off is still in question, as is the guilt of Owens and Jones. Weekley’s trial on manslaughter charges last June ended in a hung jury and he is presumably still to be re-tried. His jury had only one Black member.
Two juries, one for each of the defendants, will have the final say in the Owens/Jones trial, during which numerous instances of “reasonable doubt” have evidently emerged. In a change from the juries usually picked in the Third Circuit Court, both juries have substantial African-American representation. Owens’ jury has four Black women, two Black men, five white men, and three white women. Jones’ jury has four Black women, two Black men, three white men, and five white women.
President Barack Obama after his State of the Union address Jan. 29, 2014
By BAR executive editor Glen Ford
January 29, 2014
“When you say ‘jobs,’ he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares.”
“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany of lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.
Moratorium NOW! protests banks bail-out in Washington, D.C.
Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.
Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government.
“The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as ‘NAFTA on steroids,’ would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom.”
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans.
Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.
The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.”
Detroit fast food workers march for $15 minimum wage with benefits.
Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practic
What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.
In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.
Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.
Pres. Barack Obama at top, with California prisoners loaded in like slaves, Amir El-Amin and Leonard Peltier at bottom.
BARACK OBAMA, THE STATE OF THE UNION AND THE PRISON STATE
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
“…Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage…”
In the days before this year’s State of the Union address, we heard a lot about how Barack Obama was finally about to unleash the mighty executive powers of his office to accomplish some of the many great things he’s always wanted to accomplish, those mostly unspecified things which evil and immoral Republicans have prevented him from doing. From long experience dating back at least to the Clinton era, the White House and Democratic party know this is an attractive picture to many, one that conveniently excuses Democrats in office from even trying to accomplish the real demands of the millions who vote them into office.
Barack Obama campaigned in 2007 and 2008 saying he would pass legislation raising the minimum wage and making it easier to organize unions so people could stand up for their own rights in the workplace. The president apparently lied. Once in office with a thumping majority in both houses of Congress the president promptly froze the wages of federal workers, and made no move to protect union organizing or to raise the minimum wage. Four and five years later, with the House of Representatives safely under Republican control, the president has begun to make noises about how “America deserves a raise” and has finally declared that federal contract workers will soon have to be paid a minimum of $10.10 per hour.
Although Barack Obama’s career, and those of the entire black political class are founded on the notion that they and the Democratic party somehow “represent” the aspirations and political power of African Americans, the policy concerns of black America were nowhere to be found in last night’s state of the union. The speech contained no mention of the persistent gap between black and white unemployment, or the widening gaps between black and white wealth, and reaffirmed his commitment to “Race To The Top” an initiative to privatize public education in poorer communities across the country.
” Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison…”
Thomson Supermax prison in Illinois.
And of course, no cluster of issues impact black America more savagely and disproportionately than police practices, the drug war and the prison state. African Americans are one eighth the US population, but more than 40% of its prisons and jails. Together with Latinos, who are another eighth and make up nearly 30% of US prisoners, people of color are a quarter of the US population and more than 70% of the locked down. No cluster of issues would benefit more from a few presidential initiatives and well placed strokes of the pen than police practices, the drug war and the prison state.
Here are just a handful of things President Obama and his party could and would do, things that Republicans are powerless to prevent, which would make a large and lasting impact upon the communities they purportedly represent.
Prisoners at California’s Pelican Bay Supermax isolation unit, who have initated two state-wide hunger strikes in the last three years.
With the stroke of a presidential pen, Barack Obama could halt the construction and opening of the new federal supermax prison at ADX Thomson in Illinois, also called “Gitmo North.” Citizen activists in the president’s home state last year managed to close down the state’s brutal supermax prison at Tamms because they know that supermax prisons do not rehabilitate, they are instruments of torture pure and simple. Ordinary citizens know that torture should not be a career, or a business governments engage in. Even Obama’s own Bureau of Prisons is on record as wanting to examine whether the regimes in supermax prisons across the country constitute torture. It’s time to look for that presidential pen.
Detroit police Gestapo raid on Colony Arms Apts. Nov. 2013, occupied by Black youth and their families.
The president could take public notice of the alarming militarization of police forces across the country and the wave of police shootings of civilians. Far more persons die in the US of police gunfire than of terrorist incidents and school shootings. The feds play an enormous role in the funding, training and arming of thousands of local police departments across the country, through its grants to the state-level training and certification agencies, and its authorization of the sale of military equipment to police departments. The result is that every county and town in the US now has a SWAT team, employing shoot-first-question-later tactics, and although African Americans are far from the only victims of unchecked police violence, a black person is killed by police, security officers or vigilantes once every 28 hours. Again, this is a case for a presidential statement, a few orders to underlings and that mighty executive pen.
The president could order his Justice Department to reconsider its objections to the retroactive reduction of unfair and disproportionate sentences to crack cocaine defendants. When the president signed the so-called Fair Sentencing Act reducing the crack to powder cocaine penalty ratio from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1 thousands of defendants should have been eligible for immediate release. But Obama’s and Eric Holder’s Justice Departments have gone to court repeatedly to keep them behind bars. Our civil rights establishment from the Mark Morials and Al Sharptons down, seem more invested in the prestige of the president than doing justice to prisoners, and so have politely refused to call Obama and Holder on this glaring disconnect between their public pronouncements and their actual policies. The mighty presidential pen in the hands of Barack Obama could have made a big difference here any time in the last several years, and still can, if only he will.
Jamil Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown
The president could use his mighty executive powers to release some long-time political prisoners. There’s Iman Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown who distinguished himself laying the foundations for what passes for black political empowerment, risking his life registering voters and conducting Freedom Schools in rural Alabama with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the mid and early 1960s. After repeated attempts by Georgia officials in the 1990s to frame Al-Amin for shootings, one of these stuck long enough to get a shaky conviction in 1999. As pressure for a retrial from local community activists built up and even in the face of protests from establishment figures like former Atlanta mayor, congressman and ambassador Andy Young, Georgia officials transferred Al-Amin into federal custody in the dead of night, and the feds spirited him away to the hellhole at ADX Florence in Colorado where he has been for more than a decade. With a stroke of that might executive pen, President Obama could send Al-Amin back to Georgia where his family and attorneys could visit him, and pressure would mount on Georgia authorities to give him a new trial, in which he might well prove his innocence.
The president could pardon or grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, a Native American leader who has served a decade longer in prison than Nelson Mandela did for an offense that nobody at his trial even alleged he actually committed. Peltier is recognized around the world as a political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows that many wounds from the 60s and 70s were never healed, and his release would demonstrate that this president acknowledges the need for this healing. After almost 40 years, Leonard Peltier surely deserves to come home.
President Obama could acknowledge the wave of hunger strikes and protests in prisons across the country, and name a commission to investigate how we can reverse the expansion of prisons, guarantee the re-absorption of former prisoners into society, and reverse the culture and law which discriminate against and punish former prisoners and their families for the rest of their lives. Right now a number of prisoners at Menard Penitentiary in the president’s home state of Illinois are waging a hunger strike, with demands that differ little from those raised by prisoners in California’s Pelican Bay last year, and those in Virginia, Georgia, Ohio and elsewhere.
Venezuela Coro prison orchestra gives hope to inmates.
We must not imagine that rolling back the carceral state is something no government on earth has ever done. Right now in Venezuela, that nation is confronting a crisis of crime, the practical limits of prison expansion, and of what kind of society they want to build. They’re taking a different path than so-called “progressives” here, who seem upset only about prisoners who are factually “innocent” and only about prisons if they’re privatized. Venezuela is frankly committed to shrinking its prison population and exploring models of restorative rather than punitive justice. There really are other ways to go, if we have the will and the vision our Democrats and Republicans lack.
Obama’s Attorney General has learned how to let the words “mass incarceration” roll off his lips fluently, after his recent discovery that such a thing actually exists. The president opined that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son, minus the status, the privilege, the neighborhood and a few other things. But that mighty presidential pen that can call commissions, impose directives, re-set priorities and make all manner of changes by executive order, changes that no evil and immoral Republicans can block or reverse, at least until they re-take the oval office, is still in that desk drawer, or wherever Barack Obama keeps it. He hasn’t found it the last five years in office. Maybe he will discover it in these last three.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be contacted via this site’s contact page, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Jones, father of Aiyana Jones, killed by police at the age of seven, and Chauncey Owens face first-degree murder charges
Witnesses say Blake’s killer had braids, which Owens never wore, and that ‘some kids’ at scene called him ‘Scooter’
Two “jail-house snitches” to testify
By Diane Bukowski
January 29, 2012
Toys in front yard of Aiyana’s grandmother’s home are same ones seen in evidence tech photos at trial of Officer Joseph Weekley. Photo by Diane Bukowski May 16, 2010
DETROIT – Who killed Je’Rean Blake, 17, two days before police stormed the home of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley Jones’ grandmother and shot the child to death with a submachine gun on May 16, 2010, looking for the killer, as cameras from A & E’s “First 48” TV series rolled?
During opening statements at the first-degree murder trial of Charles Jones and Chauncey Owens Jan. 28, Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Hindelang said Owens, who lived in a flat upstairs from Aiyana’s grandmother, killed the teen during a confrontation outside Mike’s Motor City Marketplace at Mack and St. Jean on Detroit’s east side. He said Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, gave Owens the gun.
Store where Blake was killed, at Mack and St. Jean
He said Blake’s classmates at Southeastern High School, who were with Je’Rean, Owen’s half-brother Sherrod Heard, and two convicted prisoners would testify for the prosecution regarding the guilt of the two men.
Attorneys Leon Weiss, representing Jones, and David Cripps, representing Owens, said the prosecution would fall far short of proving their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Quasim Raqib and victim Shelly Hilliard
They said they expected contradictory statements from the witnesses. They condemned the use of “jail-house snitches” Jay Schlenkerman, convicted of ten felonies and awaiting sentencing on the last three, and Quasim Raquib, serving time for killing and dismembering a transgendered woman, who made a written agreement to lessen charges in that case in exchange for his testimony.
“There are three tragedies here,” Weiss said. “The loss of Je’Rean Blake’s life, the loss of my client’s daughter, and the fact that a couple of years after the homicides of Je’rean Blake and Aiyana Jones, the government charges my client, an innocent man, with murder.”
Lyvonne Cargill with son’s ashes.
Cripps added, “Things are not as pure and clear as the prosecution suggests.” He said the eyewitnesses claim the shooter had braided hear, although Owens has never worn braids. He said press coverage showing Jones after his daughter’s death, and the witnesses’ later view of Owens in court, led to their identification of him, and that Owens’ half-brother wrongly thought Owens had identified him as the killer.
Lyvonne Cargill, Blake’s mother, took the stand apparently already in bad shape. She broke down sobbing loudly as she described getting a call from her son to come pick him up at the store, just blocks from their home, rushing to the scene, and finding a crowd of teens putting him in his friend’s car. She said she drove the car to St. John’s Hospital at high speeds, only to learn that Blake was “dead on arrival.”
Cargill exited the courtroom temporarily, crying “My baby, my baby,” as jurors were excused. Prior to her testimony, a medical examiner testified Blake died from one gunshot wound to the chest which hit his lungs and heart.
Photo from Facebook page for Je’Rean Blake
On cross exam by Cripps, Cargill reluctantly admitted she gave police a written, signed statement that day in which she said “some kids I don’t know who they are were saying Scooter shot my son.” The statement said the shooter was “light-skinned with braids.”
During her testimony, the prosecution displayed a photo of Blake in his Southeastern High School J-ROTC uniform on a screen. They earlier claimed it was the only one they had, despite the fact that the news media has long used a nice portrait head shot of Blake.
(VOD: photos on a Facebook page “G.I.H. Je’Rean Blake,” mounted as a tribute to him and other teens who also had tragically short lives, including one nicknamed “Scoota G,” show another version of Blake. This is raised not to condone this child’s killing, but in sorrow for the many killings of young Detroiters, caught up in a society that offers them little hope of living productive lives as adults.)
Blake’s older sister Aisha Blake sadly said she accompanied her mother to the scene, where she saw a group of “75 to 100” teens in the middle of Mack surrounding her brother as he lay on the ground.
Blake’s girl-friend Johnise Allen, 15 at the time, and friend Jacquavis Richards (a/k/a J-Roc), who is now 21, adamantly identified Owens as the shooter during their testimony, with Allen pointing to him. They testified they had driven with Blake in Richards’ car with other Southeastern students to a McDonald’s and then to the liquor store.
They both said they had frequented the store and that the management regularly locked the doors to prevent too many students from entering at the same time. Allen admitted fights were frequent there, while Richards said the owner was concerned about his inventory. The two said they saw Owens, who they had not seen previously, get out of a truck with a “silver revolver” and shoot at Blake after a verbal confrontation.
Allen said Owens was wearing an orange shirt and blue jeans, while Richards said he wore a white T-shirt. Both said the shooter had braids. Richards said he also had a mustache and goatee.
On cross-exam, Allen said that after Blake got out of the car, she witnessed an argument involving a girl a few feet away from them. She said Blake then told her he had “words” with two men on mopeds, and she told him to get in the car.
“By the time we got done talking,” Allen said, “a truck pulled up that I never saw before.” She said four men get out, and the driver shot at Blake. She said the incident took place in a matter of seconds.
Allen said police had never brought her to a live line-up or shown her photos to identify Owens. She said she had seen him in court “once.”
“You were told that that was one of the defendants, that he was the one who did the shooting?” Cripps asked her. Allen said “Yes.”
On cross by Cripps, Richards said he observed the incident through the passenger side rear view mirror of his car as he sat in the driver’s seat, with another student sitting in the front passenger seat. He said he had a four-door Honda Civic which he had parked in the middle of the lot, facing towards Mack, and that he saw the truck drive into the lot and park behind his car facing the store.
He said he did not see the alleged altercation between Blake and the two men on the mopeds earlier and did not know any of the men in the truck.
“Four people got out [of the truck], two on the passenger side and two on the driver’s side,” he testified. “I saw the driver. He drawed his gun and shot off twice, about 10 feet away from Je’Rean.” He said he did not see where the driver got the gun from.
He testified first that Je’Rean was standing by the passenger door of his car, and later on cross that Je’Rean “took off running” when the truck pulled up. Cripps confronted him about that testimony, telling him that Blake was not shot in the back but in the front of his chest.
Richards also said police had never brought him to an in-person line-up or showed him photos to have him identify Owens.
“I identified him because I saw him shoot my friend,” he said.
Esther Harding, 91, has lived in this spacious apartment at the Griswold for 30 years, the longest of any tenant. She thought she would be one of the ten tenants allowed to remain due to her seniority, but now must pack and move with the rest. All of the apartments VOD saw in a visit Jan. 25 had huge rooms, modern kitchens and bathrooms, and spectacular views of downtown Detroit.
MSHDA says all tenants must go, will not pay enhanced vouchers for ten to remain
Senior, disabled tenants still waiting for regular HUD vouchers; alternate placements in jeopardy
Building conditions deteriorate as contractors rip out interior
By Diane Bukowski
January 27, 2013
DETROIT – A “deal with the devil” involving a hefty 10-year tax abatement for downtown Capitol Park developers who are evicting senior and disabled tenants from the formerly federally-subsidized Griswold Apartments has evidently gone back to hell with its sponsor.
Griswold Apartments at left on Capitol Park in downtown Detroit.
The City Council unanimously approved the “Commercial Rehabilitation Act” tax abatement Nov. 19, with the understanding that ten of 127 tenants would be allowed to stay for at least a year, using “enhanced” HUD vouchers to pay rents starting at $1130. The others were to be given regular Section 8 vouchers to go elsewhere, and receive a total of $157,000 for moving expenses from the developers.
But the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) told tenants in meetings last week it will not approve the enhanced vouchers and all must go. The remaining tenants have not yet received their regular vouchers, due in December, jeopardizing their placements.
The developers, 1214 Griswold Apartments LLC, have told residents they still must leave by March 31. They are likely linked to mogul Dan Gilbert, who wants to turn the Capitol Park area into an upscale district for the affluent.
Griswold resident Willie Griffin shows the view out of his living room window.
“The senior citizens that helped build this country should be entitled to stay down here among the wealthy,” said Willie Griffin, a tenant who has been assisting his co-residents in the move. “This is nothing but financial discrimination. The tenants don’t want to move, they resent it with a passion. If all Blacks and poor whites would get together, like in the Million Man Marches I attended, we can shut them down.”
Griffin, a retired plumber/pipefitter and father of three adult children in professional occupations, belongs to two downtown churches, Second Baptist and St. Aloysius. He said he has spent his time for the last ten years feeding the homeless in the area through the churches’ programs.
“I guess I’ll have to move somewhere in Highland Park so I can at least take the bus downtown to continue,” Griffin told VOD. Most of the alternate placements are far from downtown. That venue which is now swarming with white working professionals not from Detroit, many of them with rents subsidized by their employers, and with whites using Campus Martius Park, new clubs, and the sports stadiums as their playgrounds.
Ted Phillips of UCHC (r) testifies at Council hearing Nov. 19, 2013 as developers across the table smile approvingly.
United Community Housing Coalition director Ted Phillips said the delay in receipt of regular Section 8 vouchers has jeopardized placements at the Gardenview Estates (on the site of the former Herman Gardens public housing complex at Joy Road and Southfield), since HUD told the Estates it wanted all subsidized tenants in by the end of December. Griffin said about 45 tenants planned to move there. They are supposed to tour the complex this week.
Phillips earlier advocated for the tax abatement deal, reassuring the Council about the “enhanced” vouchers during two meetings. Under an agreement with the developers and the Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO), UCHC is charged with finding alternate placements for the tenants. HUD is financing their participation through a $415 million “Tenant Resource Network” grant involving a total of 18 properties in the region.
Isabella Butler has lived at the Griswold Apartments for 24 years.
“A lot of us don’t know anything but downtown,” Isabella Butler, a 24-year tenant of the building, told VOD. “I went to school here, I worked here. They told a lie to some that wanted to stay, that we didn’t have no hope. I’m a cancer patient and have had triple bypass surgery. I’ve had to stop going to my doctors to find a place that will accommodate my hopes and dreams. This is not a color issue—we’re poor. There are quite a few whites, Arabs, and other people in here. They’ve already started working in the building, the developers don’t care. They are knocking the walls down. I have asthma and can’t sleep because of the noise. They reneged on the deal, but we pay our rents every month.”
Griffin demonstrated the deteriorating conditions in the building. Contractors are already ripping out asbestos-laden areas, leaving plumes of contaminated air to circulate into the hallways, he said. They have also taken over tenant elevators between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., leaving them laden with debris and residue, although one elevator is supposed to be reserved for tenant use.
Area being torn out by developers shows suspicious evidence of asbestos and other harmful chemicals.
Esther Harding, 91, with six children and 28 grandchildren, has lived in the building for 30 years. She occupies one of its gorgeous 890-sq. ft. one-bedroom apartments, with huge, bright high-ceilinged rooms, modern kitchens and bathrooms, and gorgeous views of the downtown skyline through large windows.
“I thought since I had been here the longest, I would be one of the ten staying,” she told VOD. “Now I have to start looking for another place and putting in applications. I need help packing, but they don’t seem willing to do anything really.”
Sign on building owned by Dan Gilbert, across the park from the Griswold Apartments, arrogantly declares “Rebirth of Detroit.”
The Council’s Legislative Policy Division (LPD) and UCHC said they are considering their options.
In a statement dated Jan. 24, the LPD said, “The Legislative Policy Division is investigating this issue with the developer and MSHDA to determine the specific details. We should have an update for the Council in two weeks.”
Phillips told VOD, “MSHDA announced last week that the rents were not comparable, therefore they would not provide vouchers for [the ten tenants] to remain there. We’re not sure what rents they are comparing them with. MSHDA had a meeting with the residents at 3 p.m. last Wednesday to get people to fill out their [Section 8 voucher] applications and begin the process. The residents also got a list of properties.”
Renovated building on Capitol Park displays signs from Dan Gilbert’s real estate company, Bedrock.
He said a private individual had been recruiting tenants for the Gardenview Estates, but that all “tax-credit” tenants were supposed to have been moved in by Dec. 31. He said the Griswold tenants would have lost their Section 8 vouchers if they had moved there in December, and that the situation was unfair to the tenants.
Phillips was asked if UCHC ever considered mounting a fight for all the tenants to remain in the face of the gentrification that is taking place in downtown Detroit and elsewhere in the city.
“We consulted with the National Low-Income Housing Project and the Michigan Poverty Law Center,” Phillips said. “We’re trying to do what is in the best interests of the residents as they identified them. More than 10 wanted to stay. We recognize that it is a horrible, horrible effort to re-gentrify downtown, a very ugly situation.”
Gilbert’s vision of Capitol Park, replete with well-to-do young whites.
Jay Schlenkerman, now convicted of ten felonies, testifies against Charles Jones in 2012 preliminary exam, as Judge E. Lynise Bryant-Weekes listens. Photo: Diane Bukowski
Schlenkerman remanded to jail pending sentencing
Opening statements in Jones/Owens trial Tues. Jan. 28, 2014; prosecution still plans to use Schlenkerman as witness
Re-trial of cop Joseph Weekley, who shot Aiyana to death, canceled
By Diane Bukowski
January 27, 2013
Charles Jones with only daughter Aiyana, 7 when she was killed by Detroit police in 2010.
DETROIT – As the trial of Charles Jones and Chauncey Owens in the 2010 killing of Je’Rean Blake proceeds this week, VOD has learned that a jury found a chief informant against them, Jay Schlenkerman, guilty of three more felony counts on Jan. 17, adding to a long list of previous convictions. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Callahan revoked Schlenkerman’s bond and remanded him to the Wayne County Jail pending sentencing Feb. 6.
Schlenkerman was charged with “Operating while intoxicated,” “Police Officer—fleeing—Third Degree;” and “Operating-License Suspended, Revoked, Denied” related to an incident April 16 that involved a vehicular collision, according to the statute cited and court records. He initially pled guilty, but then withdrew the plea and was released on tether in September pending his trial.
“My son’s attorney Leon Weiss told us that the prosecution still plans to bring Schlenkerman to testify against Charles,” Aiyana’s grandmother Mertilla Jones said. She told VOD earlier, “How does he keep getting away with beating on women and fleeing from the police, when if he was Black, they would have whipped his a- – and locked him up?”
Detroit cop Joseph Weekley, on A & E website for “Detroit SWAT.”
Charles Jones is the father of Aiyana Jones, who was seven when an army of Detroit “Special Response Team” police spilled out of an assault vehicle and stormed her home on May 16, 2010. Officer Joseph Weekley shot the child in the head with a submachine gun, killing her as she lay sleeping on a couch in the front room with her grandmother.
Weekley was tried last year in June on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless use of a firearm, but the jury deadlocked. A jury trial was set for Dec. 4, 2013, but it was canceled and another in a series of pre-trial hearings is set for Feb. 7, 2014. Weekley has been free on bond since he was first charged, while Jones and Owens have been locked up without bond since their arrests in 2010 and 2011.
The judge in his case, Cynthia Gray Hathaway, said repeatedly during hearings that she, the prosecution, and the defense all agreed that the Owens/Jones trial should take place first.
Weiss called Schlenkerman a “jail-house snitch” during Jones’ preliminary exam in the Blake killing, which took place in a crowd of at least 40 people outside an east-side liquor store two days before police stormed the Jones home, a lower flat in a poor east-side Detroit neighborhood, looking for Owens, who lived in the upstairs flat.
Schlenkerman and Owens were incarcerated at the Wayne County Jail Dickerson facility in 2011, Schlenkerman for a brutal three-day-long “domestic violence” assault which resulted in permanent, severe physical and mental injuries to the victim.
It was one of numerous assaults involving other women as well, but all were reduced to misdemeanors. The victim in the 2011 assault has said she believes that the reduction of charges in her case, which originally included kidnapping, was related to Schlenkerman’s agreement to testify against Jones. She said she is hoping for a lengthy prison sentence for Schlenkerman, so that she can finally feel safe in public again.
At Jones’ preliminary exam, Schlenkerman falsely testified that he had been convicted of only one felony despite his actual record of six felonies involving drunk driving and fleeing and eluding charges, and a two-year stint in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He then claimed that Owens told him in great detail that Jones had given him the gun to kill Blake.
Owens and Jones are being tried this week on first-degree murder charges in the Blake case, by separate juries, in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Richard Skutt.
The trial began Jan. 21, with jury selection that day and the next. Opening statements, set for Jan. 27, were delayed for one day due to the illness of Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Moran. VOD will be reporting on their trial in upcoming stories. Owens has refused to testify, as Schlenkerman claimed, that Jones gave him the gun used to kill Blake. Owens’ attorney David Cripps said in published remarks that his client is not the man who killed Blake.
Charles Jones’ family during Oct. 21, 2013 protest against police state in Detroit.
Black Student Union members at the University of Michigan rally Jan. 20, 2013, on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Photo: Clutch Magazine
BY YESHA CALLAHAN
JANUARY 21, 2014
A group of black students at the University of Michigan are making sure their voices are being heard. Last fall, the students started Being Black at University of Michigan (#BBUM) to air their grievances about the university’s lack of diversity and they’re desire for more inclusion.
Yesterday, after a speech by civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, the students amped up their protests and compiled a list of demands they want the university to follow through on.
Activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte gives the keynote address for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Mich., for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (AP Photo/The Ann Arbor News, Melanie Maxwell) (Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News)
“What brings me here today is not that social action is done,” junior Robert Greenfield, the Black Student Union treasurer, told a gathered crowd of about 75 people. “It’s the unfinished business of the first three fights of the Black Action Movements. I am a single voice in a sea of voices that yearns to get away from the sea of isolation on this campus.”’
The group’s seven demands were read by senior Erick Gavin:
We demand that the university give us an equal opportunity to implement change, the change that complete restoration of the BSU purchasing power through an increased budget would obtain.
We demand available housing on central campus for those of lower socio-economic status at a rate that students can afford, to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.
We demand an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter [Multicultural Center] located on central campus.
We demand an opportunity to be educated and to educate about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of colored groups through race and ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the university.
We demand the equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support, without the mental anxiety of not being able to focus on and afford the university’s academic life.
We demand increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley (Historical) Library. There should be transparency about the university and its past dealings with race relations.
We demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.
U-M President Mary Sue Coleman
The same day of the protest, University President Mary Sue Coleman laid out her plan that she hopes will answer some of the issues addressed.
“After climbing a great hill, [Nelson Mandela] once said, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. That is the work of developing a diverse inclusive campus. It is ongoing, one victory at a time, with more hills to climb,” Coleman said, before Belafonte’s talk.
“I want to thank our students for sharing their angst and their concerns. The BBUM campaign, as difficult as it was to hear, has been incredibly insightful. We hear you, and we are making changes.”
But students are tired of hearing promises.
Shayla Scales/Photo: Linked-in
“We have heard the phrase ‘we are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response,” senior Shayla Scales said. “… Without action, alternatively, we will be forced to engage as an entire community in ways to implement the changes we request. We will allow the university seven days to end negotiations and come to conclusions on our seven demands. If negotiations are not complete we will be forced to do more, beginning to increase valiantly our activism for social progress and take physical actions on the University of Michigan’s campus.”
University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald issued the following statement in response to the demands from BBUM organizers: “University officials at the highest level share the concerns of our students, faculty and staff. This morning you heard President Coleman reiterate the short-term action the university has taken, and the long-term commitment to continue to talk with students as well as work with them to address their concerns.”
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Erick Gavin speaks as members of the student movement Being Black at the University of Michigan, or #BBUM, rally on the steps of Hill Auditorium on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, January, 20, 2014. They gathered holding signs and read off their list of demands to those exiting a lecture given in honor of MLK by Harry Belafonte. (Melanie Maxwell | The Ann Arbor News)
VOD editor: Coverage in today’s Detroit Free Press consisted of a main article on the reaction of Jennifer Gratz, the white student who was the lead plaintiff in the 2003 lawsuit to ban affirmative action at the state’s universities, and also a prominent supporter of Proposal 2. At least online, the Freep carried only a secondary article on the Black students’ protest itself.
The elections in Venezuela and Chile in December provided new momentum for the left-leaning governments in Latin America and the ascent of post-neoliberal policies. Over the past decade and a half, the rise of the left has been inextricably tied to the electoral process.
In Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, under the governments of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, the electorate has gone to the polls on an average of once a year, voting on referendums, constituent assemblies as well as elections for national offices.In late November, it appeared the right might be taking the initiative, as the oligarchy and the conservative political parties in Honduras backed by the United States used repression and the manipulation of balloting to keep control of the presidency.
Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela in the tradition of his deceased predecessor Hugo Chavez.
And in Venezuela, it was feared the right would come out on top in the December 8 municipal elections. After Maduro’s narrow victory margin of 1.5% in the presidential elections in April, the opposition went on the offensive, declaring fraud and waging economic war. If the opposition coalition had won in the municipal elections, or even come close in the popular vote, it was poised to mount militant demonstrations to destabilize and topple the Maduro government. But the decisive victory of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the municipal elections gave a boost to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, enabling him to advance the twenty-first century socialism of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. The PSUV and allied parties won control of 72% of the municipalities and bested the opposition in the popular vote by 54% to 44%.
A class war is going on that is focused on the economy, particularly over who will control the revenue coming from its large petroleum resources that account for over 95% of the country’s exports. With no new electoral challenge until the parliamentary elections in late 2015, Maduro now has the political space to take the initiative in dealing with the country’s economic problems and to pursue a socialist agenda. As Maduro said on the night of the elections, “we are going to deepen the economic offensive to help the working class and protect the middle class….We’re going in with guns blazing, keep an eye out.”
Michele Bachelet, President of Chile
At the other end of the continent, Michele Bachelet one week later won a resounding victory in the Chilean presidential race with 62% of the vote. She has put forth an ambitious package of proposals that would increase corporate taxes from 20% to 25%, dramatically expand access to higher education, improve public health care and overhaul the 1980 Constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Chile has the highest level of income inequality among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 34 member countries.
Within her first hundred days, Bachelet has promised to draft legislation to increase tax revenues by about 3 percent of gross domestic product. On election night Bachelet proclaimed: “Chile has looked at itself, has looked at its path, its recent history, its wounds, its feats, its unfinished business and thus Chile has decided it is the time to start deep transformations,” Bachelet proclaimed on election night.” There is no question about it: profits can’t be the motor behind education because education isn’t merchandise and because dreams aren’t a consumer good.”
If these policies are implemented, they would shake the neoliberal paradigm that has been followed by every government since the Pinochet dictatorship, including Bachelet’s during her first presidential term from 2006 to 2010. Like most presidential candidates before they take office, the actual changes may fall far short of what she is promising. But the student uprising and the resurgence of the social movements over the past four years has led to a popular movement in the streets that is unprecedented since the days of Pinochet. Militants on the left have already made it clear they will challenge her from the first day she takes office. According to Reuters, right after the election, hackers posted a message on the education ministry’s website saying: “Ms. President we will take it upon ourselves to make things difficult for you. Next year will be a time of protests.”
The elections in Venezuela and Chile also set the stage for a challenge to the latest U.S.-backed trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes a dozen Pacific rim nations. Ever since Chavez became president, Venezuela has led the way in opposing U.S. efforts to dominate hemispheric trade starting with the Free Trade Area of the Americas that George W. Bush launched in April, 2001. The FTAA was dealt a fatal blow at the 4th Summit of the Americas in Argentina in 2005 under the leadership of Chavez, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, who advocated Latin American integration without the United States.
With the victory in the municipal elections behind him, Maduro was in a position to play a central roll ten days later in the second summit of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, a bloc of 18 nations receiving oil at concessionary prices. (Five of the members are overlapping.) ALBA, founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, is based on the principal of “Fair Trade, not Free Trade.”
Now including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua as well as five more Caribbean nations, they met with the nations of PetroCaribe, a concessionary oil trading arrangement, to put forth a program to create a “special complementary economic zone” between the member countries of both groups to eradicate poverty in the region. Maduro proclaimed the economic zone “is a special plan…in order to continue advancing the food security and sovereignty of our peoples, and to share investments, experiences, and actions that promote [agricultural] development.” The action plan to implement the proposal includes cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. An executive committee to coordinate the regional plan is being set up in Ecuador.
Maduro will take the document for the creation of a complementary economic zone to the January 31 meeting of Mercosur in Caracas “to advance in the great zone Mercosur-PetroCaribe-ALBA.” In all these economic and trade endeavors Venezuela plays a strategic geo-economic role. It is Latin America’s largest oil producer, and it is located on the southern flank of the Caribbean Basin and on the northern end of South American continent. Venezuela is already a member of MercoSur along with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, while Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname are associate members. As Bolivian president Evo Morales said at the conclusion of the ALBA-PetroCaribe summit, “We should never stop strengthening our integration, the integration of anti-imperialist countries.”
A key question is around the role that Chile, led by Bachelet, will play in the growing movement for Latin American integration. Under Bachelet’s billionaire predecessor, Sebastian Pinera, Chile has been involved in setting up the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and is a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, a trade and investment group that includes Columbia, Peru, and Mexico. The United States has observer status.
Evo Morales, President of Bolivia
Bachelet has given signs that a pursuit of these trade groupings alone is not in Chile’s interest, and that she intends to breach the Pacific versus the Atlantic/Caribbean divide. Her campaign manifesto stated: “Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbors are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links.” She is particularly interested in closer relations with Brazil, where she identities with Dilma Rousseff, who also forged her political identity as a young clandestine activist jailed and tortured under a repressive dictatorship. It is notable that in 2008 during her last presidential term, Bachelet convened an emergency session of UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations), to support Evo Morales against a right wing “civic coup” attempt that received direct material support from the U.S. embassy.
It is of course impossible to predict where Bachelet will wind up in the growing continental divide. Her commitment to the Pacific Alliance and to TPP may undermine domestic and international challenges to neoliberalism. The militancy of internal mobilizations to pressure her at every turn is critical. In Venezuela, Maduro faces daunting economic problems as he tries to bring inflation and the black market under control, while dealing with serious corruption problems in and outside of the government. However, the December municipal elections have opened up a space for Maduro to deal with these issues in the coming year, while playing a leadership role in advancing Latin American integration in opposition to U.S. initiatives.
Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas,http://globalalternatives.org, and co-author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism. To order, see: www.futuresocialism.org
Questions legality of swaps, COPS deals; says city could be recover losses
Allows $120 M of Barclay’s loan for “quality of life” purposes, encourages continued “negotiation”
Objectors, retirees encouraged by delay in rush to cut pensions, assets
Jones Day now attacking Puerto Rico
Detroit skyline in background under gloomy skies.
By Diane Bukowski
January 18, 2014
DETROIT – A ray of hope pierced the gloom gathering around the city of Detroit Jan. 16 when U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Steven W. Rhodes unexpectedly shot down a proposal to pay off UBS AG and Bank of America for interest swap deals tied to the notorious $1.5 billion Pension Obligation Certificates loan (known as COPS), foisted on the city in 2005 and 2oo6.
The proposal would have cut off avenues for litigation to recover the city’s losses due to what many objectors termed the banks’ predatory and fraudulent practices. The swap deals have already cost Detroit over $300 million, while the outstanding debt on the COPS has risen to $2.8 billion.
Atty. Jerome Goldberg addresses rally against swaps deal prior to City Council hearing Oct. 21, 2013. The City Council also rejected the Barclay’s loan. Judge Rhodes cited Goldberg’s argument along with that of AMBAC attorney Caroline English as partially instrumental in his decision.
Barclay’s bank was to have been the bagman in the deal, involving a $165 million loan backed by 20 percent of the city’s income taxes as well as its utility, and casino revenues. That amount is 67 percent of the original $247 million swaps termination fee.
“This Court stated earlier and states again that it will not participate in or permit the city to perpetuate the very kinds of hasty and imprudent financial decision making that led to the disastrous swaps and COPS transactions,” Rhodes said during a 45-minute oral ruling. “They have already caused great harm to city creditors and citizens. One goal [of this bankruptcy proceeding] is to end such practices so city can move forward.”
Rhodes did allow the city to move forward with $120 million of the loan proposed for alleged “quality of life” issues allowed by the Gaming Control Act, but said he would monitor that spending with regard to the use of casino taxes. He said, however, that other revenue streams used, including city income taxes, would not be subject to monitoring.
He encouraged the parties to continue to “negotiate” on the matter, but said he would “closely scrutinize” any plan of adjustment produced to deal with the city’s debts. His ruling was widely taken to mean that further delays would be necessary in the rush to cut city pensions.
Rhodes addressed arguments by Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr and the Jones Day law firm, made on behalf of the city under Public Act 436, known as “the Dictator Act,” that litigation would be too costly and lengthy and would have only a “50/50” chance of success.
“The Court has determined the city is reasonably likely to succeed on its challenges [to the swaps and POC] under the state Gaming Control Act and the Bankruptcy Code, and . . . . under Public Act 34,” Rhodes said. Although Jones Day is representing the city, Rhodes posited arguments that could be made by “the city” as if referring to an independent city government.
From the website Bankruptcy.com
Rhodes said he found it highly questionable whether the Gaming Act allowed the use of casino revenues to pay off Wall Street hedge bets such as the swap deals, as Detroit agreed to do after the global economy tanked in 2008 and it defaulted on the swaps and COPS. The gaming act says such revenues are to be used for items like public safety, street lighting, and other “quality of life” concerns.
PA 34 sets debt ceilings for municipalities. Rhodes said the swaps and COPS constituted an “end run” around Detroit’s debt ceiling through the use of separate “service corporations” set up to handle the loan. That contention was also made by Wallace Turbeville of Demos in a deposition submitted to Judge Rhodes, although Turbeville did not testify. (See Turbeville’s article on Orr’s ruling below this one.)
Judge Rhodes speaks at one-sided forum on Chapter 9 and EM’s Oct. 10, 2012. He refused to publish VOD editor Diane Bukowski’s request to recuse himself due to this forum, but did respond with a six-page brief.
“The issue of the delay, the cost of litigation, the validity of the trap of the city’s casino revenues can be promptly resolved by the court,” Rhodes said. “It is less clear how long appeals [might take.] . . . The legal expenses of filing a lawsuit challenging the . . . . agreements, for filing a motion for a preliminary injunction, and for summary judgment would undoubtedly be substantial, but given the amount of money at stake, relatively insignificant.
Rhodes said he took into serious account arguments made by the objectors, citing specifically Caroline English of AMBAC and Jerome Goldberg, representing David Sole, a city retiree.
He referred to English’s citation of a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the “bankruptcy court may not rubber stamp [a proposal], or rely on word that a settlement is reasonable. It has an affirmative obligation to apprise itself of the underlying facts and make an independent judgment as to whether the compromise is fair.”
Protest in Dublin Ireland against Anglo-Irish bank.
He said Goldberg raised “a potentially broader series of claims—whether [the deals] were induced by fraud, subject to equitable subordination, or unconscionable.” It was unclear if he thought the city could pursue litigation regarding these matters.
During closing arguments Jan. 16, Goldberg said, “Kevyn Orr testified that the city drew up a complaint raising what I would call equitable issues, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, which they said they were ready to file if no agreement was reached. This indicates they believe they had a substantive complaint.”
He said UBS AG had already admitted to fraud in its $1.5 billion settlement of a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit related to global bankers’ manipulation of the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR).
Former Detroit CFO Sean Werdlow, now COO of Siebert, Brandford and Shank.
Goldberg added, “Mr. Orr also testified that the counterparties had superior knowledge when they entered into the deal [and] misrepresented it as low risk. They did not explain to the city its potential dangers, that the city was a ticking time bomb for default based on lowering of its bond rating, and that the city’s CFO at the time, Sean Werdlow, took a job with a loan counterparty [Siebert, Brandford and Shank], five months later—raising a red flag.”
Goldberg argued further, “The U.S. Supreme Court has held that for many purposes, courts of bankruptcy are essentially courts of equity . . . .invoked to that end so that fraud will not prevail, substance will not give way to form—technical considerations will not prevent substantial justice from being done.”
He said the swaps proposal could not be looked at without putting it in the broader context that the banks involved were among those which caused the global financial collapse of 2008, largely through subprime predatory lending policies. The federal government paid $1.7 trillion to bail out the same banks, he noted.
Neighborhood on Detroit’s east side. Atty. Goldberg said plaintiff David Sole’s east side block, thriving 10 years ago, now has only five families left, with a pack of wild dogs living in an abandoned house next to Sole’s.
“Detroit almost any more than any other city was devastated by the subprime lending policies of major banks,” Goldberg argued. “If there was any question that fraud was involved, a Senate Subcommittee report showed that between 2004 and 2o06, 73 percent of new mortgages written in Detroit were subprime . . . This resulted from 2005 to 2007 alone in 67,o00 mortgage foreclosures, and two-thirds of those of homes have stayed vacant. . . .The idea that the same banks who participated in these lending practices are now to be paid $165 million, with a pledge of 20 percent of income tax revenues, is inequitable and unconscionable.”
One of a series of famed murals by Diego Rivera in the DIA. Rivera was a Communist who believed that working and poor people should take power from the rich.,
The next court hearing in the bankruptcy trial is scheduled for Wed. Jan. 22 at 10 a.m. in room 716 of the U.S. Federal Court at 231 W. Lafayette. It will consider a “Motion of Creditors for Entry of an Order Pursuant to Section 105(A) of the Bankruptcy Code Appointing and Directing the Debtor to Cooperate with a Committee of Creditors and Interested Persons to Assess the Art Collection of The Detroit Institute of Arts Based on Arms−Length Market Transactions to Establish a Benchmark Valuation Filed by Creditor Financial Guaranty Insurance Company (James, Mark).”
Much has been made of a proposal by private foundations to donate $330 million, allegedly to save both city pensions and art in the Detroit Institute of Arts. However, it appears that the real motivation here is to divest Detroit of its ownership of likely billions of dollars worth of world-class art, just as mediators are planning during meetings at Jones Days’ New York offices to divest the city of its ownership of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).
What would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. say about the unequal situation in which Detroiters find themselves today. Here he is shown addressing 1963 rally in Detroit.
Suburban officials have already pointedly declined Orr’s proposal that Detroit be paid $9 billion for DWSD, just as they declined to finance the original construction of the six-county facility through the 2oth century. It was city of Detroit taxpayers who paid for billions in bonds to build DWSD. Union officers and city administrators have said it is highly likely that water and sewerage rates will increase under any privatized structure set up during the bankruptcy proceedings,
Detroit’s Chapter 9 proceedings are unique in that the city’s assets are being attacked. Chapter 9 does not allow such attacks unless the debtor, in this case the City of Detroit as represented by Kevyn Orr under PA 436, consents. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of PA 436, Detroit and Michigan NAACP et al, was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman in December, but no hearings have yet been set. U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh was set to proceed on that lawsuit, as well as another, filed by Phillips et al, early in 2013.
Rhodes blocked action on those lawsuits by extending bankruptcy protection not only to officials of the debtor, the City of Detroit, but also to state officials including Gov. Rick Snyder and others, in a unique ruling not duplicated elsewhere in the country. He agreed to hear the Phillips lawsuit because the plaintiffs voluntarily deleted Detroit from its subject matter, but the state of Michigan has appealed that order.
Shown above is a tribute to Lolita Lebron, one of the Puerto Rican heroes who stormed the U.S. Congress with guns to demand independence for their country. Jones Day had better remember this tradition.
Meanwhile, Jones Day has turned its attention to Puerto Rico as the next candidate for its devastating “restructuring plans,” according to the following story from Bloomberg.
Puerto Rico to Get Spotlight From Jones Day at Meeting
By Michelle Kaske and Steven Church
Jan 16, 2014 11:58 AM ET
Jones Day, the law firm shepherding Detroit through bankruptcy, is extending its restructuring skills to Puerto Rico with a seminar on the $70 billion market for commonwealth debt.
The firm plans to brief investors today in New York on Puerto Rico’s fiscal outlook and the “possible paths going forward,” according to an invitation to the event. The seminar follows similar meetings last year with investors to assess the benefits and risks of Puerto Rico securities.
The three major rating companies grade Puerto Rico one step above junk, with a negative outlook. Moody’s Investors Service Dec. 11 warned that it may cut the island to speculative grade within 90 days. Puerto Rico officials plan to sell bonds this month or in February.
San Juan Puerto Rico protest to protect public services from privatization.
“There are a number of clients and friends of the firm that are interested in the topic,” Bruce Bennett, a Jones Day attorney who is helping lead Detroit’s $18 billion bankruptcy, said in an interview. The briefing “is forward-looking and not in response to any near-term developments,” he said.
Puerto Rico’s fiscal health affects the $3.7 trillion municipal market because 70 percent of U.S. local-debt mutual funds held commonwealth securities as of Jan. 9, according to Morningstar Inc. The funds own about $14 billion of the debt sold by the U.S. territory and its agencies, according to Morningstar. The securities are tax-exempt nationwide.
Just three days before Kevyn Orr, the Emergency Manger appointed by Michigan Governor Snyder to run the fiscally strapped City, filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in history, he signed a Forbearance Agreement with UBS and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch establishing a process to settle possible claims on default of $800 million of interest rate swaps.
The potential claim would be very large, then estimated in the range of $350-400 million. Even worse for the City, the banks had inserted a provision in the swaps allowing them to grab all of Detroit’s tax revenue from casinos, 20% of its total revenue, until they were paid in full, a cash drain that would be a serious matter. The Emergency Manager used this to justify the rush to a settlement so generous to the banks, even as he was prioritizing draconian cuts to City worker pensions.
Children at union protest in downtown Detroit July 12, 2013 give THEIR opinion of EM Kevyn Orr.
Under the agreement, the claim would be reduced by 20-25% and the banks would forbear from terminating the swaps and claiming the revenues, but only if Detroit could pay off the banks within one year. The agreement had two other main terms: it had to be approved by the court in the imminent bankruptcy; and the City agreed not to challenge the validity of the swaps or the claim to gaming tax revenues in any court proceeding.
The Emergency Manager then negotiated a deal with Barclay’s to pay off the swap banks, granting Barclay’s a security interest in the gaming tax and other revenues. Unlike the claim under the swaps, the Barclay’s loan would be payable over time. Financing in hand, the Emergency Manager petitioned the bankruptcy court for approval of the whole package.
Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his CFO Sean Werdlow, who negotiated the COPS deal and then got a top management job with one of the lenders.
The validity of the swaps was no trivial matter under Michigan law. Neither was the validity of the claim to the gaming tax revenues. To an experienced municipal finance professional, these deals just looked wrong. Moreover, it remained a mystery why Detroit did the swaps in the first place. Simpler, less risky financing alternatives were available. This was especially troubling since the deals were put together in the administration of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, currently serving a 28-year sentence for misdeeds while he was in office.
On Thursday, Judge Rhodes ruled that this new deal did not come close to being good enough. He found that the claims of invalidity are “reasonably likely to succeed.” If they did succeed, the banks would recover little or nothing on their claim. Moreover, if the swaps were void at inception, the City might be able to recover eight years of payments on the swaps, hundreds of millions of dollars. All of this would reduce the need to cut public employee pensions to pay for basic services and improvement of the City’s economy.
The Emergency Manager now has two choices. He could pursue resolution of the validity issues in court. Judge Rhodes promised prompt resolution of issues presented to him. Alternatively, he could bring the banks back in to negotiate a far lower settlement number that Rhodes would deem fair, eliminating the litigation risk.
The judge’s ruling deepens a lingering mystery surrounding the deal with the swaps banks: why did the Emergency Manager rush through a settlement that even the bankruptcy court found to be fundamentally out of balance while simultaneously pounding away at the public employee pensions? Perhaps he was genuinely panicked by the prospect of losing all of the gaming tax revenues until the banks were paid back. Perhaps he is just ideologically predisposed to prefer obligations to banks as being more sacred than obligations to pensioners. But there are some other possibilities:
He may have seen his mission to include damaging the public employee unions forever by fundamentally altering the retirement system. He could have concluded that, the direr were the City’s fiscal circumstances, the easier it would be to justify draconian cuts to the benefits of retirees.
He might also have been predisposed to avoid challenges to the validity of municipal swaps. Orr was a partner a Jones Day before his appointment and that firm was hired to represent the City (meaning the Emergency Manager) in the bankruptcy. Jones Day is a huge law firm with a large municipal finance practice. It has rendered hundreds of validity opinions in municipal swaps and bond deals. Such a law firm would hardly welcome any finding that a municipality’s financial obligations were invalid.
We will probably never know if any or all of these motivations were at work. But it is clear that the continuing fights over pension obligations of cities and states should be seen in the context of ideology, partisan politics, and the sheer power of the financial sector.
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