Trump Jokes, Of State Senator, 'We'll Destroy His Career'

President Trump speaks to county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday. Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption

Andrew Harrer/Pool/Getty Images

At a gathering of sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday, President Trump joked about destroying the career of a Texas politician who is trying to set limits on an often-criticized police practice.

The remark came after a participant at the sheriff’s roundtable raised the issue of asset forfeiture — that’s when the government seizes “suspicious” assets and keeps them, even if the person who had the item was never convicted (or even accused) of a crime. The resulting funds often go directly into police budgets.

Taking property from people who haven’t been convicted of a crime is legal, but controversial.

“Police confiscate cars, jewelry, cash and homes they think are connected to crime. But the people these things belong to may have done nothing wrong,” NPR’s Laura Sullivan explained a few years ago.

“Prosecutors say the seizures are helpful tools to combat drug dealers and drunken drivers,” Laura wrote. “But for people who haven’t committed a crime, the cases are expensive to contest and often disproportionately affect people without means or access to a lawyer.”

One sheriff at the gathering mentioned that some critics have said the practice violates due process, and called for limits. Trump responded: “I’d like to look into that … There’s no reason for that,” suggesting that only “bad people” would want to reform or limit asset forfeiture.

Sheriff tells Trump that state senator is doing something he doesn’t like

Trump: “Do you want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.”

— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) February 7, 2017

A few minutes later, the following exchange occurred, as transcribed by the White House:

PARTICIPANT: Mr. President, on asset forfeiture, we got a state senator in Texas who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture.

THE PRESIDENT: Can you believe that?

PARTICIPANT: And I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation.

THE PRESIDENT: Who is the state senator? Want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career. (Laughter.) Okay, thank you.

Article continues after sponsorship

The remark made national headlines.

The sheriff did not give a name. But one state senator in Texas who introduced such legislation, and could plausibly have been the subject of the conversation told the Dallas Morning News, “I don’t know the sheriff. Quite frankly, I don’t pay much attention to what Trump says anymore.”

The sheriff who raised the issue, Harold Eavenson of Rockwall County, told the newspaper he didn’t take the president literally and thought he was just being “emphatic.”

“He was making a point about how much he opposed that kind of philosophy,” Eavenson told the Dallas Morning News. “I appreciated what the president said. I can assure you that he is on our side.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

In Meeting With Sheriffs, Trump Repeats False Murder Rate Statistic

President Trump speaks during a meeting with county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday. Evan Vucci/AP hide caption

toggle caption

Evan Vucci/AP

At a roundtable meeting with county sheriffs on Tuesday morning, President Trump repeated a false statistic about the U.S. murder rate that he repeatedly deployed on the campaign trail.

On multiple occasions Trump has suggested the murder rate is at a historic high, a claim that has been repeatedly debunked. In fact, the murder rate is currently at less than half its peak.

But here’s what Trump said to the county sheriffs at the White House on Tuesday:

“… the murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that? Forty-seven years. I used to use that — I’d say that in a speech and everybody was surprised, because the press doesn’t tell it like it is. It wasn’t to their advantage to say that. But the murder rate is the highest it’s been in, I guess, from 45 to 47 years.”

According to the FBI, the murder rate for 2015, the last year for which data are available, was 4.9 per 100,000 people.

Every year between 1965 and 2010, the FBI reported a higher rate than that.

Article continues after sponsorship

In some cases, it was much higher. In 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1991, the murder rate was at least twice as high as the 2015 rate.

Then it dropped dramatically: From 2010 to 2014, the murder rate reached 50-year lows, dropping from 4.8 out of 100,000 down to 4.4.

Last year, the FBI recorded an increase — back up to 4.9. As NPR reported, that was a one-year rise of 11 percent.

Trump repeated inaccurate statements about the murder rate several times on the campaign trail. But he got it basically right in his victory stump speech, when he noted that “the murder rate has experienced its largest increase in 45 years” — as we noted in our fact check, that increase was, in fact, the biggest in 44 years.

But he got it wrong again at the sheriffs’ gathering. Even with an 11 percent annual increase, murder rates remain lower than at almost any point in the last 47 years.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

La. Governor Sued Over State's Alleged Failure To Provide Lawyers To Poor Defendants

A new lawsuit alleges the public defender system for the the state of Louisiana has failed to provide effective representation to poor people. Alex Brandon/AP hide caption

toggle caption

Alex Brandon/AP

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was sued Monday over his state’s public defender system, which plaintiffs say violates the U.S. and Louisiana Constitutions by denying effective representation to poor people accused of crimes.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court describes defendants kept in jail for months before seeing a lawyer, public defenders who are so overworked they cannot provide adequate counsel and multiple instances in which people accused of minor crimes did not receive an attorney at all.

Similar lawsuits are active in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Utah, Idaho, New York and other states, Dan Kolb, a partner with one of the law firms involved in Monday’s filing, told The Associated Press.

The latest suit was brought by The Southern Poverty Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and two law firms on behalf of 13 criminal defendants.

One, Joseph Allen, has been in jail since Aug. 28, 2016 facing firearms charges. In the more than five months he has been incarcerated, Allen has met with his public defender once, and the suit alleges the attorney “was so careless” with a motion on Allen’s behalf that the motion “referred to the wrong case and discussed a search warrant that had no relevance to the charges against Mr. Allen.”

Another plaintiff, Ashley Hurlburt, has been held in jail since June 6, 2016, and said she has never met the public defender appointed to represent her more than three months ago, and has “no way of contacting him.” She and her husband are facing a negligent homicide charge for the death of their one-year-old child.

Article continues after sponsorship

In addition to the 13 plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit, the lawyers’ groups are seeking class-action status, which would cover all indigent defendants accused of non-capital crimes in Louisiana.

Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Law told The Associated Press that as many as 20,000 defendants could be affected.

The suit comes just over a week after a federal judge dismissed a similar lawsuit brought last year by the American Civil Liberties Union against the New Orleans public defender’s office, as we reported.

In his decision, the judge in that case acknowledged “the undisputed inadequacies of a state funding system,” but said that the funding crisis was not his court’s responsibility, according to The Times-Picayune. The chief public defender in New Orleans told NPR’s Audie Cornish last year that budget cuts had led his office to stop taking some felony cases.

“It is clear that the Louisiana legislature is failing miserably at upholding its obligations” to provide lawyers for defendants unable to afford private counsel, the judge wrote in his decision dismissing the ACLU’s case. “Budget shortages are no excuse to violate the United States Constitution. The legislature must resolve the crisis and locate a stable source of funding.”

The latest lawsuit approaches the same problem in a slightly different way, suing state officials, including the governor, on the grounds that Edwards and other state officials control funding for the entire public defender system.

“The insufficient funding for public defense can be traced to how the funding system is structured,” the lawsuit argues, continuing:

“In 2016, at least thirty-three of the forty-two public defender offices stopped accepting cases or placed clients — many of whom were incarcerated — on waiting lists for extended period of time. In stark contrast, district attorneys often receive more than twice — and sometimes three or four times — the funding for public defender services in the same district. In Orleans Parish, the District Attorney has historically had a budget more than twice the size of the Orleans Defenders.

“The level of funding for each district office depends primarily on a user-pay system of local fines and fees and, as such, varies widely based on geography and the number of traffic tickets written in a particular judicial district in any given year. No other state in the United States relies primarily on local court fees and fines to fund public defender services.”

An NPR investigation found that Louisiana’s system was symptomatic of a national trend. As of 2014, an NPR survey found most states allowed poor defendants to be billed for their public defender, and those who could not afford to, or chose not to, often ended up incarcerated for failing to pay fees or keep up with terms of plea agreements they agreed to without the guidance of an attorney.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

In 'Universal Harvester,' Mountain Goats Lyricist Reaps A Creepy Crop

Universal Harvester

“I think you work harder if you’re haunted by some small darkness,” says John Darnielle. And if the work he’s produced is any indication, Darnielle is one haunted man.

Across several albums with his band, The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has written distinctive lyrics that are gloomy and full of wry humor. Lately, his storytelling has taken a different form: novels. His latest, Universal Harvester, takes place in the late 1990s in the small town of Nevada (pronounced Nev-ay-da), Iowa, near where Darnielle used to live. Its main character, Jeremy Heldt, is still grieving for his mother, who died six years earlier in a car accident. He’s working as a video store clerk when he makes an unsettling discovery: Someone has been splicing weird, dark and sometimes violent home movies into the store’s videos.

Darnielle used some tricks of the horror trade to write the book, but he tells NPR’s David Greene that it’s more than a horror novel. “This is an examination of grief,” he says, “and … grief is horrific — that moment that you have in the early going … where you realize that nothing you do can bring back the thing or the person that you have been brought to grieve. That’s what horror is, you know, that’s that moment of helplessness.”

Article continues after sponsorship

Interview Highlights

On the origin of the book’s title, Universal Harvester

It’s the people who make combine harvesters. And it might have been International Harvester, which is a big company, but I remember driving out to Ames, [Iowa,] or Nevada and seeing a corporate headquarters that I believed at the time, just in passing, said Universal Harvester. And, you know, I’m me, I’m into words. Universal Harvester? I mean that sounds just deadly, you know, it just sounds very, very ominous to me. Because what is the Universal Harvester? Obviously, it’s the skeleton in the cowl and cloak carrying the scythe — that’s your Universal Harvester right there.

On how he became a fan of horror, and what kind of horror he likes

I think it comes in part from having a heavy resistance to it when I was a kid. I was, like, legitimately afraid of horror stuff when I was small. The first movie that I ever saw in the theater was The Wizard of Oz, and when they get to the wizard’s room and his face is there with the firepots either side of him, I ran from the theater. I was so afraid. …

John Darnielle’s debut novel, Wolf in White Van, was longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award. Brandon Eggleston/Farrar, Straus and Giroux hide caption

toggle caption

Brandon Eggleston/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

So when I got a little older, I start wanting to approach the stuff that is frightening to me. So I have the same attraction of putting your hand into a fire, you know, that you sort of want to go: How long can I stand it? But then I discovered that what I like, the place I like to be, is before I get to the stuff; so stand in the near presence of the thing I don’t want to see … and maintain that distance.

I’m not into the torture porn style stuff. I mean, I’ll watch any horror movie pretty much, but the stuff where it’s like how much of this can you stand to see? That’s not what I want. I want that glimmering moment from before the thing you don’t want to see happens. I want that moment of dread.

On why he thought Iowa, and specifically its corn fields, would make a good horror setting

If you grow up on the West Coast, which I did, the first time you drive for 10 minutes and see nothing but corn, I mean it’s like being in a movie. And if you drive all the way through Iowa like that, it’ll really strike you. … For people who aren’t from there, they are naturally kind of frightened by this unknown thing.

People always talk about: What is scary? Well, the unknown is scary. And what don’t most people these days know a lot about? They don’t know what it’s like to be out among rows of corn. They don’t know, right? They haven’t been. If they have, it’s been once at Halloween in a corn maze, you drive out there and do that, you know.

But you haven’t just walked out a good 10 minutes so that you are now far from the road. I have done that, and you just walk out and you go, “Oh, wow.” And if you’re me, then you go, “Well, if somebody shot me here nobody would ever find me.” It’s like, this is the first thing that comes to my mind is like, wow, you could abandon a body here. [Martin] Scorsese uses this in Goodfellas, right? Take somebody out in the cornfield; they’re not likely to be found for a while.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Resettlement Groups Glad For Stay Of Trump's Refugee Plan, But Still Worried

Betsy Jenson sorts through donated kitchenware, bed sheets and other household goods inside a storage area for the Nationalities Service Center in Philadelphia. The refugee resettlement agency uses donations to furnish apartments for newly arrived refugees. Hansi Lo Wang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Many resettlement agencies are relieved refugees can once again come to the U.S. now that a federal judge has blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order that suspended the refugee program. So far, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a request by the Trump administration to restore the temporary refugee ban.

But this open door to refugees could close at some point depending on what the courts decide. Many refugees and workers at resettlement agencies are stuck in limbo.

“I don’t know how long I will have this job, because we are thinking there will be some layoffs if this continues,” says Omar Mohamed, a case manager for Church World Service of Lancaster, Pa.

Local agencies worry they will no longer get the federal funding they need to provide services not only to new arrivals, but also to refugees still getting settled into their new country. Mohamed says there’s still a lot of work for case managers to do with refugees after they move into their new homes.

“Everything is new to them — this new culture, new people, new language,” he says. “We have to teach them from zero.”

Mohamed Muhumed was recently reunited in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife, Ferehiya Areb Tahir, and their four children, who arrived in the U.S. from a refugee camp in Ethiopia 10 days before President Trump announced his temporary suspension of the refugee program. Hansi Lo Wang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Mohamed Muhumed’s family arrived in the U.S. about three weeks ago. He recently moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Lancaster with his wife and their four children.

An orphan at three years old, Muhumed fled Somalia and waited 23 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia to be resettled. In 2014, after multiple interviews and security screenings, he finally moved, by himself, to central Pennsylvania, where he now works as a fork-lift driver.

His wife and children joined him in Lancaster 10 days before Trump announced his temporary ban on refugees.

“I feel very, very happy,” says Muhumed, who adds that his family had “good luck” to arrive before Trump’s executive order.

In Philadelphia, Paw Wah doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her family reunited. She escaped persecution as a member of the Karen community, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Last year she moved out of a refugee camp in Thailand with her husband and their three young children, leaving behind their eldest daughter.

Wah was planning to make a meal of fish paste, vegetables and soup to welcome her daughter to Philadelphia in late January — until Trump issued his refugee order.

The flight to the U.S. for Wah’s daughter was canceled and hasn’t been rebooked yet, according to staff at the Nationalities Service Center, a refugee resettlement agency in Philadelphia that would help her once she gets off the plane.

Plastic bags filled with clothing donations pile up in the hallways of the Nationalities Service Center, which has seen an uptick in donations for refugees and other immigrants since Trump’s election. Hansi Lo Wang/NPR hide caption

toggle caption

Hansi Lo Wang/NPR

Betsy Jenson coordinates donations and volunteers for the agency. She says that while they’re waiting for more refugees, they’re certainly prepared, given the uptick in donations of clothing, furniture and household goods they’ve received since Trump’s election. They’ve also heard from a lot of people in Philadelphia who want to help.

“We actually just closed off our volunteer applications for the moment just because we’ve sort of reached capacity,” Jenson says.

Article continues after sponsorship

In Lancaster, a group of leaders from different refugee communities recently met to discuss what more they can do.

“We, the refugees and immigrants that are qualified to vote, we have to show at the polling stations in numbers, because politicians look at numbers,” said Joseph Sackor, a former refugee who fled civil war in Liberia before he became a U.S. citizen.

Sackor added that it’s time for more refugees to register to vote once they get citizenship and to reach out to elected officials — for themselves and for others hoping to build a new life in America.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Amnesty International Reports Organized Murder Of Detainees In Syrian Prison

Former detainee Omar al-Shogre before his arrest and shortly after his release from Saydnaya Military Prison in Syria. Courtesy of Amnesty International hide caption

toggle caption

Courtesy of Amnesty International

A new report by Amnesty International alleges a widespread and systematic attack by the government of Syria against its civilian population, including murder, torture, enforced disappearances and extermination carried out at a military prison called Saydnaya.

The executive summary of the Amnesty International report opens with this grim description:

“Saydnaya Military Prison is where the Syrian state quietly slaughters its own people. The victims are overwhelmingly ordinary civilians who are thought to oppose the government. Since 2011, thousands of people have been extrajudicially executed in mass hangings, carried out at night and in the utmost secrecy. Many other detainees at Saydnaya Military Prison have been killed after being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care. The bodies of those who are killed at Saydnaya are buried in mass graves. It is inconceivable that these large-scale and systematic practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.”

Reports of torture and disappearances in Syria are not new. But the Amnesty International report says the magnitude and severity of abuse has “increased drastically” since 2011. Citing the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, the report says “at least 17,723 people were killed in government custody between March 2011 and December 2015, an average of 300 deaths each month.” The victims — political dissidents, journalists, doctors and aid workers — were perceived opponents of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Article continues after sponsorship

On the basis of its own investigation, Amnesty International estimates that between September 2011 and December 2015, between 5,000 and 13,000 people were executed without legitimate trials at Saydnaya. The report says the organization has no evidence of executions after December 2015, but based on information that the facility is still being used to imprison dissidents, “there is no reason to believe the executions have stopped.”

The 48-page report includes graphic details of systematic beatings, rapes and psychological degradation, not to mention the denial of food, water and medical care. Omar, a former detainee, described it this way:

” ‘[A]t night, we could hear them beating them again with the tank belt [an improvised tool made out of tyre tread, which is attached to a wooden handle], and the green pipe. We knew the sounds that each made. First we were thinking the people were being released or taken to the civilian prisons. But at midnight, we heard the sound of torture again, and we thought they were dying, because the sound of the torture was so strong. They were beating them in a monstrous way.’ “

The report is based on a yearlong investigation, beginning in December 2015, of the violations reported at Saydnaya. The organization interviewed 84 people in total, many with firsthand experience at Saydnaya including 31 former detainees, four prison officials or guards and 22 family members of former or current detainees, as well as Syrian judges, lawyers and doctors familiar with the facility. All but two interviews with witnesses were conducted separately, says the report. Most interviews were conducted in southern Turkey, with others in Lebanon, Jordan, Europe and the United States.

The Amnesty International report says that the organization attempted to contact the Syrian government in January 2017 about the allegations raised in its report. But the organization has received no response.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)