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Kenyans Are Being Violently Evicted From Their Homes to Make Room for Developers

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Kenya’s outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta presided over the worst wave of evictions in the country’s history. On the eve of the country’s general election, nothing seems set to change.


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A resident of the former North Sewerage estate in Kariobangi, Kenya, demolished by the Kenyan government in 2020. (All images courtesy of Jaclynn Ashly)

Esther Wanjiku Gitau does not like to remember what transpired in May 2020, when she and thousands of others were forcibly evicted from their homes during brutal mass demolitions of a long-established community in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

“I can’t think about that day without crying,” says Gitau, who is in her seventies. More than two years ago, government demolitions flattened her home in Kariobangi, an informal settlement located about ten kilometers from the city’s central business district.

When Gitau remembers her neighborhood, the Kariobangi North Sewerage estate — or simply the sewage estate, where hundreds of families had established themselves over almost three decades on about twelve acres of land, a rare smile takes over her face.

“I was very happy to be in that place because it was mine,” Gitau says, sitting on a stool in her small one-room home in another area of Kariobangi, where she moved following the evictions. A ray of sunshine enters from outside, illuminating her tear-streaked face. “No one could ask me for rent or why I was there. The community was like one big family. If I ever ran into problems I could immediately go to my neighbor and ask for help. I loved that place because we were united as one.”

But on this morning, during one of Kenya’s worst rainy seasons, Gitau’s life would change forever. About five bulldozers arrived in the area at around 5:30 AM, along with hundreds of police officers. At the time, there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew enforced throughout the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gitau was inside her small home, made from iron sheets, with her disabled son, who is now forty-five-years-old and cannot live independently.

“I was sleeping at the time,” she says. “I heard people screaming and a lot of noise. So I woke up and ran outside. That’s when I saw bulldozers crushing homes around me. I can still hear the noise of the metal being flattened under the excavators.”

“We weren’t given any warning,” she adds. “I tried to grab some things, but then we had to run. The bulldozers crushed everything.” Her eyes become blurry with tears as she recounts the chaos.

“Life has become too hard,” she continues. “Before 2020, I was happy. After 2020, I’ve been miserable.” By the end of the evictions, which continued for days, around eight thousand people, many of whom were women and children, were displaced, becoming homeless overnight.

While forced evictions are a common occurrence in Nairobi’s impoverished neighborhoods, demolitions on this scale, causing a humanitarian crisis, are rare. Their frequency, however, is on the rise.

Less than two weeks after city authorities demolished the Kariobangi sewage estate, they also carried out forced evictions in the Ruai informal settlement, removing more than a thousand people. Last year, some seventy-six thousand people were displaced from Mukuru kwa Njenga, another informal settlement situated between the city’s industrial zone and international airport.

Esther Wanjiku Gitau.

According to Patrick Njoroge, program manager at Akiba Mashinani Trust, a group that works for slums to be improved and integrated into the city fabric, under President Uhuru Kenyatta’s outgoing administration the city has experienced “the worst evictions in the history of this country” — often coinciding with planned developments catering to the city’s elite minority.

These mass evictions are just the beginning for displaced residents, who must start from scratch to rebuild their lives. Years later, those brutally evicted from the Kariobangi sewage estate are still grappling with the trauma of the demolitions, which overturned their entire lives.


“I Was Happy”

Gitau was one of the first residents of the Kariobangi sewage estate. She worked for three decades for the city council, now the city county, as a gardener and caretaker of Uhuru Park and City Park.

According to Isaak Abdi Aden, the chairperson of the Kariobangi Sewerage Farmers self-help group, one of the community collectives that managed the area, in the 1980s the city council provided 378 workers with plots on the estate, where several large septic tanks that drain much of the waste in Nairobi are located, so they could establish farms to help supplement their incomes. The workers planted maize, beans, and various vegetables both for subsistence and to sell at the markets.

“After work each day, we would all come to our farms and cultivate our small plots,” Gitau remembers. “And we started building a community.” Once Gitau and the other workers retired, they organized themselves into self-help groups to obtain land allotment letters from the city council in 1996.

This is when Aden united with the retirees to form the self-help group, of which he would become chairman. After receiving allotment letters, they began to move to the piece of land, building makeshift structures with iron sheets. Some, like Gitau, built additional homes to rent.

Residents made sure to invest in one another, spending their money within the community. They also practiced table-banking, a microlending practice in which group members take turns to lend and borrow from one another. Over the years, the small community grew to include thousands of people.

Seventy percent of Nairobi’s population lives in informal settlements that make up just 5 percent of the city’s residential area. Homes in these areas are often made of corrugated tin sheets and lack access to adequate sewage, electricity, or water systems.

Despite the poverty, all the former residents of the Kariobangi sewage estate remember their community fondly. “It was a place where people who are poor came together,” says Ubah Isaak, Aden’s thirty-year-old daughter. “We had churches, mosques, and small schools. Everyone was friendly and supported each other. It was a humble place to live for the poor.”

Esther Wanjiku Gitau with her lease agreement.

Gitau was able to build additional makeshift homes on one of her plots, which she rented out to eighteen people, each paying two thousand Kenyan shillings (about US$17) per month. She also sold her fruits and vegetables at the markets. “I was content with my life,” Gitau says. “I was able to afford educating all my grandchildren and I could eat directly from my farm. I invested everything into that land.”

After receiving the allotment letters, residents were given lease agreements and by 2019 individuals began receiving land titles for their respective plots. For those living in informal settlements, possessing land titles or leases is a rarity, with most residents organizing themselves through informal communal land arrangements. Life, therefore, was secure and peaceful for the sewage estate residents, who believed their documents protected them from violent evictions affecting the rest of the informal settlements.

In Nairobi, however, the increasing price of land means no poor residents are safe from violent land grabs, even when they have obtained ownership documents for their plots. These demolitions are part of the “struggle to control Nairobi,” says George Kegoro, the former executive director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), and have become increasingly “big and brutal” over the years.

“As pressure for land increases, the value of the land goes up,” Kegoro explains. “There’s always an element of greed behind these demolitions and a feeling of poor people not deserving a place to live and that land should be available to do high-end economic activity. . . . Inherent in that, then, is corruption because the only way to access that land is through the use of violence through the state.”


“Lost Everything”

Aden tells me there were “rumors” spreading that the village may be demolished. In response to these rumors, Aden and other community leaders, with the assistance of the KHRC, went to the courts to obtain a legal injunction.

“We felt safe after that,” Aden says, from the living room of his current home in Korogocho, another informal settlement. “But it didn’t matter to this government.”

Isaak Abdi Aden.

The demolitions were particularly painful for Aden. Being the leader of the community, he was forced to stand by and watch hundreds of homes and structures crushed under the weight of bulldozers, suspected to be the property of the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS); he was powerless to stop it. “We were running up and down showing the police the court order,” remembers Aden, who also rented to about ten tenants — his sole source of livelihood. “But there was nothing we could do to stop it.”

It was also less than two weeks into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. When the bulldozers pummeled over his home, “I was so shocked; I couldn’t stand,” Aden recounts. “I grabbed a stick to help me balance myself. I started just asking for water because I couldn’t hold my fast. I didn’t know where I was. My tongue was not working. I couldn’t see. It was only darkness.”

People were screaming, frantically running to and from their homes to collect as many of their possessions as they could before the bulldozers reached them. Some were desperately trying to locate their children. Elderly residents fainted upon seeing their homes destroyed, some of whom had to be carried out of the pandemonium by other residents.

One woman who attempted to salvage items from her home was picked up inside the mouth of the bulldozer, almost crushed to death. Residents’ goats, chickens, and rabbits scattered in various directions; some of them were run over by bulldozers and killed.

“It was like watching a horror movie,” Aden tells me. “Everyone was asking, ‘Chairman, what do we do? Where should we go?’ And I couldn’t even speak. Some people weren’t wearing shoes. I felt like I had failed my whole community. Our country failed us and even the courts failed us.”

“I died on that day,” Aden adds, diverting his eyes to the ground. “It’s just that God did not take my body. But in every other sense I died. That was the last day of my life. The night before, we had a home and community. Then in the morning we were homeless — without even a change of clothes. We returned to zero.” Aden was admitted to the hospital for a week following the demolitions, overcome with shock, and remained bedridden for weeks.

“We weren’t prepared for it,” Aden continues. “If we had been given some formal notice then we could have taken our things and planned to go elsewhere. But there was no warning. It came abruptly.” Forced evictions without adequate consultation and the provision of alternative housing or compensation are illegal in Kenya.

Kevin Mukoya, twenty-four, was at his stall where he irons clothes in nearby Korogocho when he heard about the demolition. He ran as fast as he could back to the sewage estate, which took him about ten minutes. He had lived there for ten years, since he arrived in Nairobi from his village in western Kenya in search of work.

“When I got to the house I jumped inside to try and grab as much as I could,” he says. “But when I was inside, the bulldozers hit the house and everything collapsed on me.” The bones in his right leg were crushed and other residents had to frantically pull him out from the rubble. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors were forced to amputate his leg.

Kevin Mukoya.

Mukoya has continued his business ironing clothes with a few other youths, but “now I have no future,” he tells me. “I was working to build up something better for myself. But now without a leg everything has become much harder and my future looks even bleaker.”

About three hundred of the sewage estate’s displaced residents, many of whom were elderly, women, and children, established a tent settlement on the rubble of their homes immediately following the demolitions, sleeping outside in the rain and cold, relying entirely on charity. After about a month, the police arrived in the middle of the night and evicted them once again, burning their tents and firing tear gas at them.

“It was inhumane what they did to us,” says Gitau, who resided in the tent settlement with her disabled son. “I don’t like to speak about this government. I never hated anyone. I never experienced much anger in my life. But now I feel furious; I feel so much hatred inside me every time someone brings up this government. I’ve never experienced pain like this before.”

Some evicted from the tent settlement were rescued by concerned citizens and provided shelter; but others were forced to continue sleeping on the streets for weeks. Peter Kyalo, forty-three, slept on the cold pavement outside with his wife and two children, now ages fifteen, thirteen, and nine, along with a group of other evictees.

“It was scary,” he tells me. “We were left just out in the open with no protection. At night the men didn’t sleep so we could guard our wives and children.” Displaced residents who spoke to the media began receiving calls from anonymous numbers threatening to kill them if they continued speaking out.

At the time, it was reported that the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC) was behind the evictions, carried out to make way for the Kariobangi Sewerage Treatment Plant, which forms part of the city’s urban development plans. It is still unclear, however, who gave orders for the evictions and on what legal grounds. But “you cannot have that scale of violence against people without high levels of government ordering it,” Kegoro says, adding that it is also not clear what development is being planned in that location.

More than two years later, the land of the sewage estate, having once hosted a thriving community, remains completely vacant, with a twelve-foot-high perimeter wall erected around its grounds. During a recent visit, I witnessed this space being used by the government to burn excess money, sending toxic smoke throughout Kariobangi, making it hard for residents to breathe.

“You see how our government treats us,” says thirty-six-year-old Joyce Mwangi, who led me to the roof of a tall apartment building so I could view the grounds of the sewage estate. “We are suffering with no money here, but then they decide to come here to burn their money and poison us. Our government does not see us as human beings.”

Mwangi, a mother of a three-year-old boy and eighteen-year-old twins, worked for years as a house cleaner in Oman. When she returned to Kenya in 2015, she invested all her savings into purchasing a plot of land at the Kariobangi sewage estate, which she then built additional homes to rent out.

Joyce Mwangi.

Following the demolitions, her husband abandoned her, unable to deal with the stress of losing their entire livelihood. Forced to raise her children alone, Mwangi now relies on sporadic house work, such as cleaning and washing clothes. It is often not enough to survive.

“They have done nothing with that land since the eviction,” Mwangi says, peering down at the massive piece of vacant land that she once called home. She begins coughing and pulls her T-shirt over her face as the wind directs the black smoke emanating from the pile of burning money in our direction.

“It makes me so sad and angry,” she continues. “All of this pain and they are not doing anything with that land. It’s just sitting there. What was the point of destroying so many peoples’ lives and then not even using the land for years?”


Mourning a Community

Years later, the displaced of the Kariobangi sewage estate continue to struggle; some have been reduced to begging and others continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress.

According to Njoroge, the mental, economic, and social impacts of such violent evictions remain a permanent fixture in the lives of those displaced from the city’s informal settlements. “The first thing people suffer from after evictions is the breakage of that social fabric that existed before,” Njoroge tells me. “People live together; they support each other and do things together. After evictions, everyone goes their own way and those support systems are severed.”

“Then a lot of people’s livelihoods are disrupted,” he continues. “People become beggars overnight. We have a lot of cases of people building up rental homes or had their own businesses and then overnight it’s completely wiped away. They have to rebuild from scratch without any compensation or support.”

Gitau says she and her son are now entirely reliant on charity to survive. “If I knew the government was going to steal that land, I wouldn’t have invested my whole life into those plots,” Gitau tells me; streams of tears return to her face. “And now I’m an old woman. What am I supposed to do now?”

“They stole not just my life, but the futures of my children and grandchildren,” she continues. “They have impoverished us for generations. We can’t even think about tomorrow. We can only think about today and how we will get food. This government took everything from us.”

In the morning, Gitau cannot bring herself to wake up or get out of bed. Sometimes if she’s able to get her hands on sleeping pills, she takes them in the morning so she does not have to be awake throughout the day.

“I still have nightmares about that day,” she says. “I’m just waiting for God to take me back now. I’m looking forward to it because everything I worked for in my life was taken — and by my own government. I have nothing left to live for.”

Even those who need just a small amount of funds to reestablish their businesses have been pushed into crippling poverty — saving money is nearly impossible. Kyalo was renting a unit in the Kariobangi sewage estate and was running a small business frying chips. But all of the equipment, which he could have salvaged if there was an official eviction notice, was destroyed.

Peter Kyalo and his wife in Embakasi West.

Kegoro says that ensuring there were no official warnings before the demolitions was a strategic act. “They knew if they give any warnings then people will organize politically or legally to resist the eviction,” he tells me. “You also can’t give warnings without accounting for who is behind the demolition; so the decision not to warn people is also about maintaining the secrecy of who is exactly driving the evictions.”

It is not the first time Kyalo’s life has been radically changed owing to government politics. In 2007, interethnic violence fueled by allegations of electoral manipulation led to as many as fourteen hundred people being killed in the span of fifty-nine days, while six hundred thousand people in the country were internally displaced.

Kyalo, who is of the Kamba ethnicity, was attacked by a group of Luo youths, brandishing machetes. “They slashed me all over my body,” Kyalo recounts. “Then they chopped off my arm.”

At the time, he was working at a tire repair shop. After the attack, he was no longer able to work. “Around that time, I started frying chips,” he tells me, sitting beside his wife on a couch at his current home in Embakasi West. “And the government came and took that away too.”

Kyalo says it would cost about fifty thousand Kenyan shillings ($428) to restart his chips frying business. But having lost everything in 2020, and backed up with months of unpaid rent in his current unit, Kyalo cannot find the funds for the initial investment.

“This government has made my life so difficult up until now,” Kyalo says. “It was because of them that people started fighting each other over politics and I got my arm chopped off. Then when I finally rebuild myself they take everything from me again. Our lives would be much better if we didn’t have a government.”

Mary Kaswii, Kyalo’s wife, is terrified over the impacts these experiences will have on her children. “They still remember that day,” she tells me. “It’s not normal for children to see their own government shoot tear gas at them and take their home from them.”

According to Njoroge, government demolitions disrupt the lives of children, with some being left out of school for extended periods of time. Schools are often destroyed in the demolitions and documents are commonly lost in the chaos. Losing livelihoods and homes also makes it so parents are no longer able to afford school fees.

Following the demolitions in Mukuru kwa Njenga last year, there are still children who have been unable to return to school. “After these evictions, people’s lives are completely distorted,” Njoroge says.

Yunis Njeri Mwangi, fifty-one, has not slept in peace since the 2020 evictions.

Njeri, a mother of five children, had rented a place at the sewage estate for about eight years and ran a kiosk in the community, selling oil, flour, milk, and other basic food items. Like the rest, she spoke lovingly about the community at the sewage estate. She was able to salvage just a table and a few chairs before the bulldozers reached her home.

“That experience was traumatizing for me,” she says. “I still have a lot of fear. I feel like everything I have can be taken from me at any moment. Even at night, if I hear any kind of commotion outside, I’ll immediately wake up and think it’s the government coming.”

“Sometimes when I’m outside the house, I feel this anxiety inside myself . . . that maybe when I come back to my home everything will be gone and demolished. I’m very scared because what happens if the government comes for us again?”

According to Aden, at least ten people from the sewage estate have died since the evictions, mostly owing to high blood pressure, which residents say is caused by the unfathomable stress of losing their homes and livelihoods. Njoroge says premature death is very common following government demolitions, especially among the elderly. While two of the recently deceased from the sewage estate were elderly, the rest of them were not, Aden says, and were in good health before the demolitions.

The grounds of the Kariobangi sewage estate, still remaining vacant.

“The stress of coming home and seeing everything you own and worked for in your life demolished becomes fatal over time,” Njoroge tells me. “I’ve seen several cases of someone looking at their demolished home and just dying on the spot. He faints from the shock and never wakes up.”

One elderly man from the sewage estate has not been able to speak a single word since the demolitions. “He is not alive,” Ubah says. “But he’s also not dead. He’s just there. He never speaks and he has to be spoon fed. Before the evictions he was fine.”

“It took us more than a year to forget what we saw that day,” Ubah adds. As Kenya’s general elections are fast-approaching in August, Ubah says no one from the sewage estate has any intentions of voting.

“There are many who say they will burn their identity cards because they no longer want to vote or even to be Kenyan,” Ubah explains. “We will never vote again. When the demolitions came we cried to our president, to our governor, to our MPs, and no one heard us or tried to help us. Why should we have any hope in this country?”

Like the others, Aden is still reeling from his loss. “We were there for twenty-six years, with documents,” he says, shaking his head in frustration. “And it still didn’t matter. Since my forties, every single thing I had, I invested in that land. And now if I die today, what do I have to leave my children? Nothing.”

“There’s no point in having laws in Kenya because if you are rich and powerful then you don’t need to follow them,” he continues. “It makes us feel like we’re not even part of this country.”

Ubah interjects: “There’s no justice for the poor in Kenya.”


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iridesce
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Indiana officers suspended for arrest of possible candidate they thought was anti-cop - The Washington Post

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Two Indiana officers were suspended after a stunning courtroom revelation that police thought a potential town council candidate was anti-police and arrested him, stopping him from running for office.

During a July 19 hearing, Franklin County Prosecutor Chris Huerkamp dropped charges that included drug possession against Trevin Thalheimer after an officer and witness recounted how Brookville police talked about Thalheimer. Huerkamp, who also did not pursue a rape charge police had investigated, said he was “disturbed beyond words” by the alleged police conduct and reported the incident to the Indiana State Police, which launched a criminal investigation. The transcript of the hearing was made public Monday.

Brookville Police Chief Terry Mitchum and the investigating officer, Ryan Geiser, were suspended with pay from the nine-person force Thursday by the town’s council, which ordered them to stay away from other officers and town property. The council installed an interim chief in a brief emergency meeting and said it would begin searching for a permanent replacement.

Thalheimer said he decided not to run in the May 3 primary race for town council since the arrest rocked his hometown of 2,500 people and consumed his life. Immediately after he got out of jail, where he was held for about an hour, he said he couldn’t leave his bed. He said he felt he had been “destroyed” by the criminal charges, which exacerbated his depression and anxiety.

“I have a bad taste in my mouth about politics,” he said. “I knew politics was dirty, but I didn’t know I’d have to dumpster dive.”

The town council president, Curtis Ward, said there has been no finding of wrongdoing and noted the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. Mitchum and Geiser did not respond to requests for comment.

The controversy comes after Brookville police have not worn body cameras, which the town council could require. Huerkamp said they are the only full-time agency in the jurisdiction without any recording devices.

The news also coincides with federal prosecutors charging police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor with falsifying information, drawing attention to past cases when police misled judges who signed off on search warrants.

After his arrest, it took months before the hearing that cleared Thalheimer’s charges.

During the hearing, Elise Whittamore, a friend of Thalheimer, testified that Geiser called to ask her to run for the seat herself. He mentioned Thalheimer’s interest in the race, saying, “We don’t want him on the town board because he hates cops.” Three days later, Thalheimer was arrested.

“I was upset,” Whittamore said about reading in the local news that Geiser arrested Thalheimer.

Shortly after calling Whittamore, Geiser said he investigated a report from Thalheimer’s neighbor that items in his house were stolen and that Thalheimer was supposed to watch the house. Geiser went to Thalheimer’s house and spoke with Thalheimer’s roommate and alleged that he smelled marijuana. He returned with a search warrant Jan. 30 and arrested Thalheimer because of drugs allegedly found there but also for a months-old rape allegation that a prosecutor had said he wasn’t able to substantiate.

Geiser testified that another officer had told him there was new DNA evidence, but Geiser didn’t know what that was, and he wasn’t an officer on the investigation.

He also said he didn’t recall mentioning Thalheimer to Whittamore, but he said that he thought Thalheimer did not like police, and that the police chief was “not a huge supporter” of Thalheimer. The police chief ordered Thalheimer’s arrest, Geiser said.

“From everything that I’ve heard throughout the law enforcement community is that he wasn’t a fan of law enforcement,” Geiser said of Thalheimer.

Huerkamp cross-examined Geiser, asking him how he came to the “unusual” step of lodging a rape charge without seeing DNA evidence or consulting anyone in the prosecutor’s office.

“Did that make you feel uneasy that your department was — I mean, didn’t this case feel just a little bit too close to you considering, you know, what was going on?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yeah,” the officer said.

“Okay. And yet, today is the first time that a lot of this is coming out to the surface, isn’t it?” Huerkamp asked.

Indiana State Police spokesman Stephen Wheeles declined to comment further about the criminal investigation, saying it’s “in its earliest stages.” If state police find any employees of the Brookville Police Department committed a criminal violation, charges would be filed with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, or a special prosecutor could be appointed.

Thalheimer said he is looking into pursuing a civil rights claim against the police department, at a time when the Supreme Court has made it easier to sue police over wrongful arrests. Thalheimer said he had never considered himself anti-police before this experience. He said he and his criminal defense attorney, Judson McMillin, have wondered whether the police were concerned that he would have been in favor of requiring officers to wear body cameras.

McMillin said Thalheimer is not his only client to face false or exaggerated charges. Still, he said it’s highly unusual that the prosecutor stepped in to stop the case as Huerkamp did, in a legal maneuver McMillin said he had seen just twice in 20 years. Huerkamp said this is the first time he joined a defense motion to suppress charges.

“That’s the scary part, is that these things are happening everywhere,” McMillin said.

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iridesce
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mareino
3 days ago
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suspended with pay for framing a felony -- which would put a civilian in prison for a decade
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ReadLots
3 days ago
I really would like someone to explain to me what the difference is between "suspended with pay" and "vacation"
deezil
3 days ago
One of them charges your PTO bank for hours consumed.
acdha
2 days ago
I recognize that some jobs do increase the odds of bad-faith lawsuits but it seems like there's a very simple solution: suspend them with pay with the requirement that it's paid back in full unless they're found completely innocent, something like the inverse of how SLAPP statues allow a judge to recognize that the case was unfounded.

‘Like a bad 1980s spy film’. Brittney Griner’s imprisonment reveals Russia’s embrace of pariah identity

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Guest essay by Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon

Earlier this month, a court in Moscow sentenced Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for bringing cannabis oil into Russia in February 2022. If forced to serve her full term, the American basketball star would be almost 40 before she’s free to come home. The outcome of Griner’s trial was never in doubt, but her fate remains undecided, pending negotiations between Moscow and Washington about a potential exchange that could involve another American citizen imprisoned in Russia (former Marine Paul Whelan) and two Russian nationals who are currently jailed in the West (arms trafficker Viktor Bout in the U.S. and convicted assassin Vadim Krasikov in Germany). Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a doctoral student in history at the University of Pennsylvania who writes about race, foreign policy, and culture in Russia, has been following Griner’s case closely and says it embodies the Putin regime’s newfound confidence in its bad reputation abroad.

Since the news of Brittney Griner’s conviction and nine-year sentence for violating Article 229 of Russia’s Criminal Code, American public discourse has been in a firestorm. Opposing sides argue that Brittney’s sentence is an example of Russian racism. Others blame Griner for breaking Russian law or for being in Russia as its diplomatic relations with the United States deteriorated. 

As many Americans focus their attention on transposing American understandings of justice and injustice onto Russia, I have been interested in how little we discuss what Griner’s case reveals about Russia. As I’ve argued previously, Griner’s conviction tells us how comfortable Russia (read: Putin and his administrative apparatus) has become as a pariah to the West. 

The latest invasion of Ukraine and the brutality with which Russian forces have behaved there (atrocities committed in Bucha, Irpin, and Mykolaiv are just a few examples) are only one facet of Russia’s growing international isolation and the embrace of its outcast position in the West. As the European Union, Great Britain, and the United States maintain their sanctions packages against Moscow, we’ve seen comical Russian reinventions of popular Western brands and foods. Vain attempts at Russianizing Western goods — like a McDonald’s replacement (“Delicious, Full Stop”) and prison versions of Ikea furniture — underscore how much Russia and Russians are economically connected to and dependent on the West.

So, how does Brittney Griner fit into this puzzle? Griner’s arrest, conviction, and sentencing are due to the war in Ukraine. It is not a coincidence that she was arrested a week before Russia began its latest assault. Griner’s imprisonment is now a warning to other Western athletes (particularly Americans) not to visit or compete in Russia anytime soon. She represents leverage that Russia has not held over the United States in decades, and we still do not know how Putin will use that leverage. Still, these are the overarching geopolitical implications. 

More about the Griner case

Despite the dazzling salaries that women’s basketball teams in Russia offer to WNBA players in the offseason, the risks of returning to play here are now too great. This is disappointing and lamentable on multiple levels. Griner and others in the WNBA enjoyed their time in Russia, praised their Russian colleagues, and won championships for Russian teams. Griner’s teammates testified on her behalf, illustrating the deep friendships and connections forged between American and Russian women’s basketball players. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine and case against Griner has severed connections like these — ties that took years to build. Like other Russians, Griner’s UMMC Yekaterinburg teammates now face increasingly draconian limitations on their speech and contact with foreigners. American audiences unfamiliar with Russian politics do not appreciate the significance of teammate Evgeniya Belyakova and General Manager Maxim Ryabkov testifying in court on Griner’s behalf.

As Russian troops commit atrocities in Ukraine, Russian civilians come closer to totalized state control. 

The war in Ukraine and Brittney Griner’s case have reinforced the worst Cold War-era Western stereotypes and ideas about Russia, from the “Communist” totalitarian state to the “Eastern” menace. The difference, it seems, is that Russia is now leaning into these descriptions. On television (still the most popular source of information in Russia), the state media regularly broadcasts support for the depravity of Russian violence in Ukraine and for using Americans like Brittney Griner as bargaining chips with Western powers. 

What remains to be seen for Griner is if Russia will negotiate with the United States in good faith for her and Paul Whelan’s release. In exchange for these two wrongfully imprisoned Americans, Russia has asked for two dangerous Russian nationals: a convicted arms dealer, Viktor Bout, and a convicted murderer in German custody, Vadim Krasikov.

It’s as if Russia is replaying the script from a bad 1980s spy film. 

Under Vladimir Putin’s rule, Russia stands at a historical precipice from which it may not be able to return. It is isolated, violent, and increasingly dependent on Western antagonism for its self-image. Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, and Viktor Bout will probably return to their respective home countries in the coming months. But the damage Russia has done in Ukraine and the harm it has inflicted on its standing in the world are irreparable. 

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Brazilians fear return to dictatorship as ‘deranged’ Bolsonaro trails in polls | Brazil | The Guardian

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They were cruel, brutish years. Dissidents languished in torture chambers. Rebels were shot in cold blood. Artists fled abroad.

“It was a time of constant sorrow and fear,” the Brazilian lawyer and former justice minister José Carlos Dias said of the military dictatorship that hijacked his country in 1964 and would rule for more than two decades. “Violence wasn’t just something the torturers enjoyed. It was government policy.”

In 1977, Dias and a group of like-minded legal experts decided they could no longer tolerate the repression and spoke out with a historic pro-democracy manifesto called the “Letter to the Brazilians”.

The document – an extraordinary rebuke to Brazil’s military rulers and watershed moment in the fight for freedom – was read at a packed assembly at São Paulo’s top law school one evening in August that year.

“We denounce as illegitimate all governments that are based on force … A dictatorship is a regime that governs for us, yet without us,” the group’s spokesman, the conservative professor Goffredo da Silva Telles Júnior, proclaimed.

Exactly 45 years later Dias, who defended hundreds of political prisoners during the dictatorship and was arrested three times, will this week return to the same venue to make a similar appeal.

On Thursday morning, intellectuals, impresarios and artists will crowd into one of the university’s courtyards to champion another manifesto inspired by the 1977 rallying cry, called the “Letter to Brazilian Women and Men in Defense of the Democratic Rule of Law”.

“We are living through a moment of immense danger for democratic normality,” warns the 2022 proclamation, which has been signed by more than 800,000 people from across the political spectrum. “There is no room for authoritarian backsliding in today’s Brazil. Dictatorship and torture belong to the past.”

The document – whose signatories include wealthy bankers and tycoons, prominent members of the judiciary and three former presidents – makes no direct mention of the man whose actions inspired its authors. But his identity is crystal clear: Brazil’s dictatorship-admiring far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who some fear is on the verge of trying to plunge the country back into another era of tyranny.

“I lived under one dictatorship and I do not want to live under another,” said Dias, who helped write both manifestos and is convinced Bolsonaro is plotting to cling to power ahead of a presidential election he looks set to lose.

“The polls show he will be defeated. But there’s no doubt that he’s laying the groundwork for a coup. It’s my belief that he wants to repeat what happened in the Capitol in the United States,” Dias claimed in reference to the 6 January assault on Congress by supporters of Donald Trump.

Bolsonaro – a pro-Trump populist whose politician son was in Washington during that failed insurrection and met with Trump’s supporters and relatives – has never been shy about his disdain for democracy or his admiration for autocrats such as Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet.

Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has repeatedly encouraged anti-democratic protests and attacked Brazil’s institutions. He once invited the wife of the dictatorship’s most notorious torturer to visit him at the presidential palace, calling him a “national hero”.

Visiting Hungary earlier this year, Bolsonaro hailed its far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán – who has governed since 2010 and been accused of eroding his country’s democracy – as “a brother”.

But fears for the future of Brazil’s young democracy have intensified in the lead-up to October’s crunch election, which polls suggest will be won by Bolsonaro’s leftist rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Facing electoral wipeout and possible jail for his calamitous Covid response and other alleged crimes, Bolsonaro has radicalized, urging supporters to “take to the streets for the last time”.

“We are the majority, we are upstanding folk, and we are prepared to fight for our freedom,” the Brazilian president declared ominously last month as he launched his re-election campaign.

Those threats, and Bolsonaro’s outlandish decision to summon foreign ambassadors to trash Brazil’s internationally respected electronic voting system, have convinced some he is cooking up some kind of pre-election political rupture.

Dias and others fear that upheaval could come on 7 September, when Brazil celebrates 200 years of independence from Portugal and Bolsonaro has instructed supporters to march down Rio’s Copacabana beach with members of the armed forces.

“It’s just madness and I fear there could be scenes of violence,” warned Dias, the president of a human rights group called the Arns Commission.

Intelligence chiefs are reportedly investigating whether radical rightwing extremists are conspiring to attack Bolsonaro supporters at the rally and blame the crime on leftists in an attempt to change the course of the election.

Even conservative media outlets such as the magazine Veja have expressed alarm, with one recent front page picturing an imaginary timebomb set to detonate on 7 September 2022.

Many dismiss Bolsonaro’s declarations as the empty bluster of a politician in decline, or an attempt to fire up his base and intimidate opponents before the 2 October vote.

But in a message to the Guardian, the former supreme court judge Celso de Mello said Bolsonaro’s coup-mongering rhetoric and “contemptible autocratic spirit” meant it was essential that democracy-loving Brazilians take a stance before the election.

“Bolsonaro’s conduct has shown itself to be intolerable,” said De Mello, who has signed the pro-democracy manifesto and said the president’s rhetoric veered “dangerously into the marshland of seditious talk”.

Another signatory, the singer-songwriter Nando Reis, said he felt apprehension over possible disturbances in the coming weeks.

“There is a real threat to democracy here … We cannot just ignore someone who is crazy and urges civilians to arm themselves and then incites them to ‘defend their freedom’,” Reis said.

“People didn’t take him seriously before and he became the president of Brazil,” the musician added. “I expect everything from Bolsonaro, except for reasonableness.”

Dias said he felt encouraged by the unexpectedly large and diverse response to the pro-democracy campaign, whose backers Bolsonaro has called “despicable brass necks”. The manifesto will be read at universities around the country on Thursday, while street protests are planned.

A second pro-democracy declaration, which Dias will read at the São Paulo event, was signed by capitalist associations including the Brazilian Federation of Banks as well as Brazil’s largest trade union. “It is capital and labour coming together to defend our democracy and freedom,” said Dias, who thought the unlikely collaboration came in the nick of time.

“Brazil is in intensive care. We have an utterly deranged president who … pays homage to torturers and dictators. We face the risk of having to live through a dictatorship once again – and this is inconceivable,” the 83-year-old lawyer said.

Speaking out was hazardous given the venomous political atmosphere and hundreds of thousands of firearms that have gone into circulation under Brazil’s pro-gun president.

“We are exposing ourselves. I have no doubt that all of us are facing the risk of violence,” Dias admitted.

“But we must fight this while there is still the chance of us surviving in democracy … We must fight until the very end – and as long as I’m alive I will continue to fight.”

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Landmark US climate bill will do more harm than good, groups say | US politics | The Guardian

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The landmark climate legislation passed by the Senate after months of wrangling and weakening by fossil-fuel friendly Democrats will lead to more harm than good, according to frontline community groups who are calling on Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.

If signed into law, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) would allocate $369bn to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy sources – a historic amount that scientists estimate will lead to net reductions of 40% by 2030, compared with 2005 levels.

It would be the first significant climate legislation to be passed in the US, which is historically responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other country.

But the bill makes a slew of concessions to the fossil fuel industry, including mandating drilling and pipeline deals that will harm communities from Alaska to Appalachia and the Gulf coast and tie the US to planet-heating energy projects for decades to come.

“Once again, the only climate proposal on the table requires that the communities of the Gulf south bear the disproportionate cost of national interests bending a knee to dirty energy – furthering the debt this country owes to the South,” said Colette Pichon Battle from Taproot Earth Vision (formerly Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy).

“Solving the climate crisis requires eliminating fossil fuels, and the Inflation Reduction Act simply does not do this,” said Steven Feit, senior attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law (Ciel).

Overall, many environmental and community groups agree that while the deal will bring some long-term global benefits by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not enough and consigns communities already threatened by sea level rise, floods and extreme heat to further misery.

The bill is a watered-down version of Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better bill which was blocked by every single Republican and also conservative Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who have both received significant campaign support from fossil fuel industries. West Virginia’s Manchin, in particular, is known for his close personal ties to the coal sector.

“This was a backdoor take-it-or-leave-it deal between a coal baron and Democratic leaders in which any opposition from lawmakers or frontline communities was quashed. It was an inherently unjust process, a deal which sacrifices so many communities and doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to go, yet is being presented as a saviour legislation,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The IRA, which includes new tax provisions to pay for the historic $739bn climate and healthcare spending package, has been touted as a huge victory for the Biden administration as the Democrats gear up for a tough ride in the midterm elections, when they face losing control of both houses of Congress.

The spending package will expedite expansion of the clean energy industry, and while it includes historic funds to tackle air pollution and help consumers go green through electric vehicle and household appliance subsidies, the vast majority of the funds will benefit corporations.

A cost-benefit analysis by the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA), which represents a wide range of urban and rural groups nationwide, concludes that the strengths of the IRA are outweighed by the bill’s weaknesses and threats posed by the expansion of fossil fuels and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen generation – which the bill will incentivise with billions of dollars of tax credits that will mostly benefit oil and gas.

“Climate investments should not be handcuffed to corporate subsidies for fossil fuel development and unproven technologies that will poison our communities for decades,” said Juan Jhong-Chung from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a member of the CJA.

The IRA is a huge step towards creating a green capitalist industry that wrongly assumes the economic benefits will trickle down to low-income communities and households, added Su.

Many advocacy groups agree that the IRA should be the first step – not the final climate policy – for Biden, who promised to be the country’s first climate president.

People vs Fossil Fuels, a national coalition of more than 1,200 organisations from all 50 states, recently delivered a petition with more than 500,000 signatures to the White House calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency, which would unlock new funds for urgently needed climate adaptation in hard-hit communities, and use executive actions to stop the expansion of fossil fuels.

Siqiniq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, said: “This new bill is genocide, there is no other way to put it. This is a life or death situation and the longer we act as though the world isn’t on fire around us, the worse our burns will be. Biden has the power to prevent this, to mitigate the damage.”

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D.C. Police Officers Charged With Murder and Obstruction Motion to Dismiss the Case

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Protesters can be seen in the reflection of a D.C. police vehicle window.

The two MPD officers facing criminal charges in the 2020 death of Karon Hylton-Brown are asking a judge to dismiss the case. Officer Terence Sutton and Lt. Andrew Zabavsky filed separate motions in U.S. District Court, made public late last week, claiming, among other things, that prosecutors acted improperly during grand jury proceedings. Zabavsky claims he is being unfairly prosecuted due to his race (Zabavsky is White).

Throughout their motions, Sutton and Zabavsky attempt to vilify Hylton-Brown, who was 20 years old when he was killed during a vehicle pursuit, by calling attention to his touches with the criminal justice system. It’s a well-worn police tactic used to justify officers’ actions and smear victims of police brutality in the public’s eye.

Sutton’s motion, for example, says “despite being only 20-years of age,” Hylton-Brown had multiple pending criminal cases in D.C. as well as charges in Montgomery County, suggesting he had a “strong motive to flee.”

The motion goes on to say Hylton-Brown was wearing an ankle monitoring device when he arrived at the hospital and had more than $3,000 in his pocket. “We think not even grand jurors would misunderstand the meaning of this evidence,” Sutton’s motion says, erroneously suggesting that Hylton-Brown “may well have forfeited” the cash “if stopped by police.” The motion also lists the drugs found in Hylton-Brown’s system during the autopsy.

Zabavsky’s motion refers to the deceased father, son, and brother as “the gang member,” rather than by his name.

“There are two things going on when they do that,” says Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “The first is that they want to demonize the victim here. They want to make people not care about him, and paint him to be this really bad guy who was harming the community.”

But Smith, who was chief of the Justice Department’s special litigation section of the Civil Rights Division from 2010 to 2015, says there is also some legal relevance to the strategy. Sutton is essentially trying to show that he was justified in pursuing Hylton-Brown that night and therefore cannot be charged with a crime.

But “that’s a factual question for the jury,” Smith says. “So I think this is really more to start to undermine the victim here before the court and the public.”

The officers also allege that prosecutors acted improperly when they presented evidence to the grand jury. Although much of their motions on this point are redacted (because grand jury proceedings happen behind closed doors), the officers claim that prosecutors did not provide jurors with exculpatory evidence, such as Hylton-Brown’s criminal record.

Again, Smith doesn’t find that argument particularly persuasive. Prosecutors have broad discretion to bring charges, and they have no obligation to present exonerating or exculpatory evidence to grand juries, he says.

“They’re essentially trying to paint their clients as victims of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests of that summer,” Smith says of the lawyers for Sutton and Zabavsky. “And say, ‘And by the way, this is a really bad guy who was on our radar screen, so we didn’t do anything wrong.’ And that’s just smearing the victim, and I don’t think the judge will be impressed by it.”

In response to the motions, Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower says the officers “offer no argument or evidence that they were prejudiced by the supposed errors—i.e., that they would not have been indicted but for them—and their claims for dismissal should be rejected on that basis alone. Moreover, their claims are based on a factually incorrect recitation of what occurred before the grand jury, and they have failed to show any error at all.”

Sutton and his attorneys argue that he cannot be charged with murder because he did not violate Hylton-Brown’s constitutional rights. But Berkower says in her response that a constitutional violation is not required. “Any jurisdiction can establish additional legal requirements above constitutional minimums for any person’s conduct, including (and perhaps especially) those individuals in whom the state vests its police powers,” Berkower writes in court documents.

And Zabavsky and his attorneys claim he is being selectively prosecuted “to prevent further discord in the district [and] based upon his race and occupation.” Federal prosecutors deny the accusation, and proving a claim of selective prosecution is incredibly difficult, Smith says.

“Another way to think of it is, had a Black officer been involved, that Black officer would not have been charged and that strikes me as very, very difficult to do,” he says.

Sutton is facing second degree murder charges, and both he and Zabavsky are charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In October of 2020, Sutton attempted to stop Hylton-Brown for riding a motorized scooter on the sidewalk and because the 20-year-old was not wearing a helmet. Hylton-Brown did not stop, so Sutton chased him in an unmarked police vehicle through city streets, running multiple stop signs and at one point reaching 45 miles per hour, according to the indictment issued last year. The vehicle chase ended when Hylton-Brown rode from an alley onto Kennedy Street NW and a motorist fatally struck him.

Then, prosecutors allege, Sutton and Zabavsky worked together to hide their involvement in the fatal incident and obstruct an investigation as they received updates about Hylton-Brown’s condition at the hospital.

On the whole, Smith doesn’t expect that Judge Paul Friedman will dismiss the charges based on the arguments the officers are making. He adds that although the officers are entitled to a defense, their attempts to smear Hylton-Brown are concerning.

“While these officers are entitled to say what they say, I find the tone of their briefs to be very, very troubling and emblematic of what is in some ways really wrong with the way law enforcement operates in the city and in the nation,” he says.

The post D.C. Police Officers Charged With Murder and Obstruction Motion to Dismiss the Case appeared first on Washington City Paper.

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