This week’s news of the Biden-Harris administration’s about-face on U.S. refugee policy was a win for all the progressive forces that have been pressuring Biden to discontinue Trump’s egregiously low cap on the number of refugees accepted each year. But the victory did nothing to change the other massive structural ways in which the Biden-Harris administration is continuing to perpetuate the humanitarian crisis at the border through its embrace of Trump’s other asylum policies.
For example, even as the Biden-Harris administration now says it will increase the refugee cap to 62,500, rather than adopting Trump’s annual cap of 15,000 refugees as it had earlier announced it would do, the Biden-Harris administration is still continuing the Title 42 program that Trump imposed a year before, effectively closing the border to most refugees with no due process, court date or record of an asylum application.
Since Trump implemented the Title 42 program on March 20, 2020, more than 630,000 people have been expelled from the United States, 240,00 of them on Biden’s watch.
On April 27, the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States issued its long-awaited report on the U.S.’s police-perpetrated racist violence. The Commissioners concluded that the systematic police killings of Black people in the U.S. constitutes a prima facie case of crimes against humanity and they asked the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate an investigation of responsible police officials.
These crimes against humanity under the ICC’s Rome Statute include murder, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution of people of African descent, and inhumane acts causing great suffering or serious injury to body or mental or physical health. All of the crimes occurred in the context of a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population of Black people in the United States, as documented by the findings of fact in the 188-page report.
The 12 commissioners are eminent experts and jurists from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and the Caribbean. I am one of four rapporteurs who helped draft the report. After 18 days of hearings and extensive research, the commissioners found that both U.S. law and police practices do not comply with international law.
When veteran Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter, who is white, stopped Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, for an expired registration tag, she committed an act of racial profiling. As a result, Wright’s blood is on the hands not only of Potter but also of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has legally sanctioned this type of racial profiling.
Like Derek Chauvin, who is on trial for killing George Floyd, Potter is not an exception to the rule. Both are typical representatives of a system of racist, violent law enforcement against Black people. When Potter shot and killed Wright, her act — whether intentional or accidental — was also grounded in the same sort of racism manifested by officers throughout the United States.
As the murder trial of Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd proceeds, the prosecution will try to portray the defendant as a “bad apple.” In his opening statement, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell alerted the jurors that they would hear police officials testify Chauvin used excessive force in violation of departmental policy to apply restraints only as necessary to bring a person under control. However, this argument obfuscates the racist violence inherent in the U.S. system of policing.
At his impeachment trial for inciting insurrection, Donald Trump’s lawyers claimed that Trump’s exhortations to his followers before the attack on the Capitol were protected free speech under the First Amendment. But as 143 other constitutional law scholars from across the political spectrum and I collectively noted, that claim was “legally frivolous.” Moreover, the First Amendment will not protect Trump if he is charged with committing criminal offenses.
The First Amendment does not apply in an impeachment trial because a president (or former president) can be impeached even for lawful conduct if he abused his official power while in office. Impeachment is a political, not a legal, proceeding. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 65, high crimes and misdemeanors “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
George Floyd, who was publicly tortured and lynched by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, narrated his own death, legendary civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump told the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States at its January 25 hearing. “He narrated his death, like a cinema movie at the time.”
The unarmed Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill. As Floyd lay face down on the ground with his arms handcuffed behind him, Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee firmly planted on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, squeezing the life out of him. Floyd pleaded, “I can’t breathe” 28 times. “I can’t feel my insides,” he uttered. “I can’t feel my legs.” He called out for his mama, who had predeceased him by two years. Floyd said, “Tell my children I love them.” Two other officers kneeled on Floyd’s back and legs as a fourth officer stood guard to keep horrified citizens from intervening to save Floyd’s life, threatening them with mace.
The mother of Eric Garner, who was brutally murdered by New York City police officers applying a chokehold as he pleaded “I can’t breathe,” testified this week before the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Descent in the United States.
“They killed him. It is no justice for him. But we must still stand for justice,” Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said during the commission’s opening hearing on January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. “We must get justice for those who come behind him.”
Another mother to testify before the commission was Dominic Archibald, the mother of Nathaniel Pickett II, who was murdered by a San Bernardino County, California, deputy sheriff who saw him lawfully walking in a crosswalk. “In the final moments of the only life he had, my only child was stopped, beaten, and terrorized like a dog,” she testified. “My son had a civil right to social freedom and a human right to life.”
Now that the House of Representatives has impeached Donald Trump for Incitement of Insurrection, he will stand trial in the Senate. In light of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold the trial before January 20, the question arises whether Trump can be tried after he leaves office. The answer is yes. Expect Trump’s legal team to argue that he cannot.
“The Constitution does not require that an impeachment trial be held while a person is in office,” Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told Truthout. “Indeed, William Belknap, secretary of war to President [Ulysses S.] Grant, was impeached and tried after resigning from the position.”
The legal evidence is damning: Donald Trump should be held criminally liable for “seditious conspiracy” and “inciting insurrection” for his role in stoking the events of January 6, when an angry mob of Trump loyalists, incited by the president himself, stormed the Capitol building to stop the congressional counting of votes for Joe Biden in the Electoral College.
The mob easily breached the Capitol building, rampaged through the halls of Congress — some waving Confederate flags — terrorizing senators and congress members. In stark contrast to the overwhelming and violent police force used against the largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, there was little resistance offered by law enforcement against Trump’s mostly white minions as they entered the building where Congress was meeting and tore it apart. Trump’s violent backers did temporarily halt the count of votes for Biden. Five people died, and the mob of Trump supporters sprayed chemicals, threw lead pipes and injured more than 50 officers.
Hours later, Trump released a videotaped message praising them: “We love you. You’re very special.” He gave them permission to go home.
Julian Assange’s legal victory this week was bittersweet. In a stunning decision, British judge Vanessa Baraitser denied Donald Trump’s request for extradition of Assange to the United States, ruling that he was at high risk of suicide if he were extradited because the U.S. prison system could not protect him.
But at the same time, Baraitser spent most of her 132-page decision supporting the Trump administration’s case against Assange, which amounts to the criminalization of national security journalism.