Democracy Now! 2015-07-17 Friday
President Obama became the first sitting president in history to visit a federal prison Thursday when he toured the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma. After passing through several security gates, Obama stepped inside a 9-by-10 cell and walked through a section called Cell Block B that houses prisoners who are part of a drug rehabilitation and prevention program. He also spent about 45 minutes meeting with six nonviolent drug offenders, which he described during a press conference afterward. Obama’s stop at the federal prison in El Reno comes amidst a broader, bipartisan push to end mass incarceration. On Monday, he commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders. Many of them had stories like our next guest, Jason Hernandez, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1998 for his role in a drug conspiracy, starting when he was only 15. He was one of eight prisoners whose sentences were commuted by President Obama on December 19, 2013. We are also joined by Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of Truthout and author of "Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better."
Last Friday, an African-American woman was returning home from a job interview in Waller County, Texas, when she was stopped by police. Apparently, she had improperly signaled a lane change. Two days later, the woman, Sandy Bland, was found dead in a jail cell. A video taken by a bystander during the arrest shows Bland shouting that the officer had slammed her head into the ground. According to police, Sandra Bland was taken into custody and charged with "assault of a public servant." On Monday, police say Bland was "found in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation." The announcement was made by Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith. Meanwhile, reports have emerged that Smith was fired from his previous post as chief of police of Hempstead, Texas, amidst accusations of racism. Bland’s friends and family contest Smith’s account, saying the thought of her committing suicide by hanging is "unfathomable." Social media is now ablaze with people demanding answers about Sandra Bland’s death. The hashtag #SandraBland is now trending on Twitter, edging out the Emmys as a topic of discussion. We speak to Maya Schenwar, editor-in-chief of Truthout and author of "Locked Down, Locked Out: Why Prison Doesn’t Work and How We Can Do Better."
After a two-year legal battle between the California city of Gardena and news outlets, a federal judge has ordered the release of police dashcam footage that shows local police officers shooting an unarmed man. In the video unsealed Tuesday, police order Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino and two other men to raise their hands in the air. The men comply. Diaz-Zeferino then lowers and raises his hands several times and removes his cap. His friends say he was trying to explain to the officers that they were on the streets looking for his brother’s stolen bicycle and were not bicycle thieves themselves as the cops incorrectly suspected. Three officers then open fire, killing him with eight bullets. They also wound one of the other men. The city of Gardena paid $4.7 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit with the victims’ families, but blocked release of the dashcam videos. In his ruling on Tuesday, Judge Stephen Wilson said there was a public interest in seeing the material. Gardena has since filed a notice of appeal with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which issued a stay suspending the release of the videos. However, the videos have gone viral and remain available online. For more, we go to Los Angeles, California, where we’re joined by Sonia Mercado, a civil rights attorney representing the family of Ricardo Diaz-Zeferino.
On Thursday, a gunman opened fire on two separate military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The rampage left four marines and the gunman dead and at least three people injured. The Tennessee shooting came as a jury in Colorado announced its verdict in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Almost exactly three years ago, on July 20, 2012, James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. On Thursday, the jury found him guilty of 165 counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder. Holmes now faces a lengthy sentencing process which could result in the death penalty.
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