In Human Rights News: Marissa Alexander, the Death Penalty, International Women’s Day, and More

In Human Rights News:  March 1 – 7, 2014

In this week’s human rights news we find issues related to the criminal justice system, corporate welfare, the death penalty, abortion, and women’s rights.

MARISSA ALEXANDER MAY FACE 60 YEARS IN PRISON. Marissa Alexander, the battered mother whose 20-year prison sentence was overturned last year, now faces 60 years if she is reconvicted. Alexander fired a warning shot to deter her abusive husband, Rico Gray, and was charged with three counts of aggravated assault for allegedly endangering the lives of Gray and her two children who were in the house. Each charge came with a 20-year sentence due to Florida’s 10-20-life law that sets mandatory penalties for crimes involving guns. After Alexander refused a plea bargain for three years in prison, presiding Circuit Court Judge James Daniel said his hands were tied and sentenced her to three 20-year stretches, to be served concurrently. Last Saturday, Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei confirmed that Angela Corey’s office will seek consecutive sentences (as opposed to the original concurrent sentences), totaling 60 years. Corey attracted nationwide attention during her unsuccessful prosecution of George Zimmerman, and her conduct throughout the Alexander case has outraged many. In a Sunday press release, members of the Free Marissa Now coalition decried Corey’s actions and asked for donations to Alexander’s defense fund. Her court costs have been estimated at $250,000. “If anyone still thought Angela Corey was seeking justice rather than making a political power-play, this latest news must erase all doubt,” said coalition member Helen Gilbert. “Corey is using the full power of the system to serve her own political ambitions, at the sake of one woman’s life and every woman’s safety.” Please click here to donate. Read more at U.S. News and click here for the press release. Please also click here to see this fact sheet prepared by Black Women's Blueprint which provides an overview of the impact of sexual violence on women and girls in the United States.

THE HYPOCRISY OF CORPORATE WELFARE. David Sirota of In These Times covered a new report this week from the taxpayer watchdog group Good Jobs First titled, “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent.” The report reveals that, rather than models of self-sufficiency and unbridled capitalism, the world’s largest companies are supported by billions of dollars in welfare payments from state and local governments. Sirota writes that these subsidies might be slightly more defensible if they were being distributed in a way that promoted upstart entrepreneurialism, but as the study shows, a full “three-quarters of all the economic development dollars awarded and disclosed by state and local governments have gone to just 965 large corporations.” For instance, Koch Industries has relied on $88 million worth of government handouts, though Charles and David Koch have marketed themselves as libertarian free-market activists. Such handouts would be derided if they were going to poor people, Sirota notes. “That’s because, unlike the huge corporations receiving all those subsidies, the poor don’t have armies of lobbyists and truckloads of campaign contributions that make sure programs like food stamps are shrouded in the anodyne argot of ‘incentives’ and ‘development.’” Read the full article at In These Times and click here for the report.

MARSHALL “EDDIE” CONWAY FREED FROM PRISON. After 44 years in prison, ex-Black Panther Marshall “Eddie” Conway, described by supporters as one of the nation’s longest-held political prisoners, was freed this week. Conway was convicted of killing a Baltimore police officer in 1970, a crime for which he has always maintained his innocence. Various groups have campaigned for his release over the years, arguing he never received a fair trial. His conviction was largely based on the testimony of a police officer and a jailhouse informant, who claimed Conway told him about the crime when they were sharing a cell. Conway remained politically active in prison, founding Friend of a Friend, a group that helps young men resolve conflicts and publishing a memoir, “Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther.” He will turn 68 in April. He recently told an interviewer that he will continue to work with the Friend of a Friend organization. “I think we’ve saved a lot of lives. I think we can save a lot more,” he said. Read more here at Democracy Now and here at TruthDig.

SUMPREME COURT REVISITS EXECUTING THE MENTALLY DISABLED. The Supreme Court began hearing a case this past Monday for the appeal of Freddie Lee Hall, a Florida inmate who is challenging the state’s inflexible use of IQ tests to decide mental competency. The case, which highlights the issue of the intellectually disabled on death row, comes almost 12 years after the Supreme Court barred the death penalty from being applied to mentally incompetent individuals. Hall has spent 35 years on death row for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman and has an IQ of 60 to 80. Most intelligence scales consider IQ scores from 90 to110 to be average, and a criminal with an IQ of 70 or more is deemed by the state of Florida competent to be executed. Hall has been declared “mentally retarded” since childhood and his lawyers argue that he falls within a five percent margin of error recognized by psychiatrists and experts when evaluating IQs. “No IQ test is a perfect measure of intellectual ability,” Hall’s written appeal says. “The best that any test can do, even when correctly administered, is to provide a certain level of confidence, as a statistical matter, that a person’s true IQ score. . . is within a particular range. The predictable consequence of Florida’s rule is that persons with mental retardation will be executed.” A ruling in Hall v. Florida is expected by June. Read more at Al Jazeera.

MAN SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR MANAGING LEGAL MARIJUANA GROW HOUSE. The Huffington Post released a story this week on Robert Duncan, a man who started managing a marijuana grow house for a collective of medical marijuana dispensaries in California in 2010. Although California voted to legalize medical marijuana over 17 years ago, cannabis is still illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration started a new crackdown on the plant in California in 2011. Duncan’s place of business was raided in October that year, and he was later indicted along with two others on the grounds that the operation had grown too large. The owner of the company, who has two young children, was sentenced to five years in prison, and the director of the operation was sentenced to three and a half years. Duncan, 31, was sentenced to two years in prison and is scheduled to report to Mendota Federal Correctional Institution on Monday. “I wasn’t even an owner, didn’t have any stake in the company, didn’t have ownership of anything,” said Duncan, who estimates that he has spent about $30,000 in legal fees. “It boils down to the feds wanting to make an example out of us.” Read more at the Huffington Post. Learn more about the case and sign the petition calling for Duncan’s release here.

GEORGIA SENATE APPROVES BILL TO BAN ABORTION COVERAGE FROM SOME INSURANCE POLICIES. This week, the Georgia Senate passed a controversial bill to prohibit abortion coverage in the State Health Benefit Plan and in policies under a federal healthcare exchange that residents can sign up for under the Affordable Care Act. The State Department of Community Health already banned abortion coverage from state employee insurance policies last year, but the new bill will put that change into law if passed. Georgia Democrats argue that the bill is a war on women - five Democratic female Senators stood and held coat hangers at one point in the debate. "Abortions are legal, and what we're doing every time we come down here to this chamber is taking us back little bit by little bit, and this time it's in the name of taxes," said Senator Valencia Seay. "Well guess what, I pay taxes. Women pay taxes. If you don't want your tax dollars going toward anything in your healthcare plan don't use it, but don't deny me a right to use my healthcare plan, because I pay my portion, and I too am a taxpayer." Twenty-four other states currently have laws that restrict abortion coverage in federal or state health exchanges. The bill will now go to the House for a vote. Read more at WABE, Atlanta’s NPR station.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. On March 8, millions of women around the globe observed International Women’s Day, with thousands participating in protests for equal rights. The day was first observed in the United States in February 1909 in a large demonstration to mark the one-year anniversary of the New York Garment Worker’s Strike. In the following years, women’s days quickly became a time for people around the world to protest war and fight for women’s suffrage. In 1975, the United Nations designated March 8 as the official International Women’s Day. Melanne Verveer, Director of the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University and the first U.S. Ambassador for Women’s Global Issues, says that views on women’s issues have shifted over the last several years. "This has happened in many ways," said Verveer, "We have increased our interconnectivity; we realize that women are the most effective investment that can be made in terms of development. And there is an increasing wealth of data that demonstrates how critical it is for women to participate in the economy, in politics and in education." Verveer says that women should focus not only on the efforts toward equality in the United States, but be mindful that women everywhere are connected. “Women’s progress in any place is progress for our world,” she said. Read more at the Daily Beast.

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in human rights news, Marissa Alexandar, Angela Corey, Chokwe Lumumba, Marshall, abortion, International Women's Day