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Most charges against George Floyd protesters dropped, analysis shows | US policing

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The vast majority of citations and charges against George Floyd protesters were ultimately dropped, dismissed or otherwise not filed, according to a Guardian analysis of law enforcement records and media reports in a dozen jurisdictions around the nation.

But some prosecutors and law enforcement observers charge that departments carried out mass arrests as a crowd control tactic, as a means to silence peaceful protesters, and as a public relations strategy designed to turn the public against demonstrators by making them appear more violent than they were. And what’s more – some of the citing officers never witnessed the protests in the first place.

“It sends a message that you might get arrested if you express your views and first amendment rights,” said Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU’s speech, privacy and technology project. “Police absolutely should not be relying on mass arrests to control a crowd or silence people who they disagree with.”

In most of a dozen jurisdictions examined, at least 90% of cases were dropped or dismissed. In some cities, like Dallas and Philadelphia, as many as 95% of citations were dropped or not prosecuted.

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What is the Overpoliced, underprotected series?

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Overpoliced, underprotected is a series focused on police violence in the US following one of the largest-scale uprisings in history. 

A year on from the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, there are demands both inside the government and from grassroots movements to end the systemic racism and lethal force that has been embedded in police culture for centuries. 

But with stark differences in approaches to reform and revolution, and the continued power of police unions, achieving sweeping change faces more obstacles than ever.

In Houston, about 93% of citations were dropped; in Los Angeles, about 93% of citations were not filed. The prosecutor’s office in San Francisco dismissed all 127 cases related to “peaceful protest-related charges”, though data for more serious citations was not available.

Officials did not file charges for nearly all low-level offenses, like disobeying curfews, while they most often pursued cases with strong evidence of more serious crimes, like assault or looting. Still, data shows that a majority of felony charges were also dropped, which some prosecutors said was due to a lack of evidence.

The analysis does not include federal charges, and the figures are estimates that will change as the remaining cases play out in court. Police sent citations to a patchwork of agencies and departments in different cities where prosecutors, mayors or city attorneys largely made the call to drop charges.

Mayors in every city except Detroit dropped all citations over which they had jurisdiction. The administration of Mayor Mike Duggan, a former prosecutor, pursued a high number of low-level misdemeanor charges or ordinance violations, even though the demonstrations were largely peaceful. But district court judge Larry Williams Jr dismissed more than 100 cases because police refused to provide basic evidence, such as body-cam footage.

In most instances, Detroit officers who wrote tickets were not at the protests and didn’t actually witness the alleged crimes, said the National Lawyers Guild and Detroit Justice Center attorney Rubina Mustafa. Instead of continuing to attempt to prosecute with shoddy evidence, the city earlier this year dropped nearly 300 more citations, but has still pursued dozens of charges against protest organizers. All told, 93% of Detroit cases have been dropped.

Among those still facing charges is the Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor, who said the mass arrests across the country are “all about intimidation” of people who vocally oppose police brutality: “It says something about the nature of policing when that’s a uniform tactic.”

Officers arrest a protester near the police station in Detroit, Michigan, on 30 May 2020.
Officers arrest a protester near the police station in Detroit, Michigan, on 30 May 2020. Photograph: Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

The mass arrests were also part of a public relations campaign by Duggan and the Detroit police chief, James Craig, to paint the protesters as violent agitators and undermine their messaging, a strategy used by police in cities across the nation, said Tyler Crawford, the National Lawyers Guild director of mass defense.

“What they try to do is spin it and say ‘Look at how unlawful protesters are as is evidenced by all of these arrests that we’ve made,’” he said. “Then they hope people have stopped paying attention after six, 10, 12 months when prosecutors say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to drop these charges because these people shouldn’t have been arrested.’”

In Dallas, where more than 95% of cases were not filed, police represent an exception. The department dropped about 675 charges stemming from one protest because “the spirit of service to which the Dallas police department is committed would not be exemplified by moving forward with charges,” leadership explained in an August report. Still, it sent nearly 200 charges to the prosecutor’s office, of which about 85% were dropped or had not been filed as of September, though a department spokesperson did not know the outcome of eight cases.

In Philadelphia, police sent over 1,700 charges to the city and the office of the district attorney, Larry Krasner. Mayor Jim Kenney and Krasner dropped or are poised to drop about 95% of the charges, including all ordinance violations. Krasner is handling a large portion of the more serious misdemeanors and felonies with a restorative justice program that involves dropping charges upon completion of the program. It includes a mix of meeting with victims, community service and referrals to job and education programs. Only about 80 of the most serious charges have so far been filed.

“Police were making arrests as a form of crowd control, so in many instances there were no criminal charges to file,” a Krasner spokesperson, Jane Roh, said. “In other instances, there was simply not enough information to proceed on opening a criminal case.”

The number of dropped cases are also relatively high in cities that witnessed more violence. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, more than 90% of cases were dropped by November, though a local Black Lives Matter leader told the Guardian that hundreds of charges that police made since then remain in legal limbo. Portland has also seen recent violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement. Still, only 15% of nearly 1,100 cases have been filed and 82% have been rejected by the Multnomah county prosecutor, Mike Schmidt.

Minneapolis state patrol arrest protesters on 7 October 2020.
Minneapolis state patrol arrest protesters on 7 October 2020. Photograph: Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty Images

In New York City, more than 5,000 summonses that police wrote citywide for low-level offenses were dismissed by a summons court, according to the court’s chief clerk. Though the precise percentage is unclear, the National Lawyers Guild attorney Gideon Oliver, who coordinated defense for many of those cited, said the “vast majority”, if not all, of summonses were or will be dismissed. Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s prosecutor dropped 83% of 136 more serious criminal cases, and Manhattan’s prosecutor dropped about 64% of nearly 1,000 cases.

The mass arrests overwhelmed already strained criminal justice systems by forcing them to contend with processing thousands of protesters. That resulted in delayed arraignments and kept high numbers of inmates crowded in small New York jails for up to days at a time during the pandemic, Crawford said.

“The police response created this whole additional public health crisis that wasn’t something people talked about much, but, in the moment, that was one of the biggest issues we were concerned about,” he said.

Moreover, forcing the criminal justice system to process thousands of cases based on flimsy evidence that probably would not result in prosecutions represented an enormous waste of tax dollars and time, observers said.

“That’s not what the government should be doing,” Eidelman said. “It points to an excessive use of governmental authority.”

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UK Pharmacists Warn Medicine Shortages Put Patients at Risk

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The issue first came to the fore in April, when shortages of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drugs resulted in an outcry, with doctors warning that some women will resort to unorthodox methods to get the medication they need.

British pharmacists have expressed concern over medicine shortages in the UK, which they believe put patients at risk, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 1,562 UK pharmacists for the Pharmaceutical Journal found that more than 54% of respondents said that patients had been put at risk in the last six months due to drug shortages.

The outlet cited an unnamed pharmacist from a children’s hospital in England as saying that problems pertaining to variable supply of nutritional products may pose threat to patients’ health.

“We had to ration it, and this has potentially put patients at risk of vitamin deficiencies,” the pharmacist pointed out.

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They were echoed by another hospital pharmacist, who voiced alarm about drugs being unavailable at the end of a patient’s life.

“There was no alternative for one patient who had to deal with an additional symptom in his last days of life due to lack of available treatment,” the source told the Pharmaceutical Journal.

The same tone was struck by Mike Dent, director of pharmacy funding at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, who said in an interview with the journal that they are “becoming increasingly concerned about medicine supply issues and the very serious impact this is having on both community pharmacy teams and their patients.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Health and Social Care, in turn, stressed that they “take patient safety extremely seriously, and […] routinely share information about medicine supply issues directly with the NHS [National Health Service] so they can put plans in place to reduce the risk of any shortage impacting patients, including offering alternative medication.”

“We have well-established procedures to deal with medicine shortages and work closely with industry, the NHS and others to prevent shortages and resolve any issues as soon as possible,” the spokesperson added.

The remarks followed the UK government issuing a number of “medicine supply notifications,” which highlight shortages of a whole array of key drugs, including live­-saving ones such as antibiotics, insulin and antidepressants.

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The issue first came to light at the end of April 2022, when a shortage of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medication left some women in the UK sharing prescriptions and feeling suicidal. HRT is used to relieve most symptoms of menopause and it works by replacing hormones that are at a lower level.

According to the UK newspaper Express, drug shortages “are being caused by a shortage of raw ingredients used to manufacture medicines. These are often supplied by countries in the Far East. There are also rising costs set by pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers.”



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Cannabis: Canada to spend $200 million on medical marijuana for veterans | International

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The Canadian government is on track to spend CA$200 million (around $154 million) on medical marijuana for veterans, an increase of 30% compared to 2021 and 135% compared to 2019. Since 2008, Canada’s Veteran Affairs has been reimbursing former military personnel for what they spend on medically prescribed marijuana.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in October 2018 (the second country to make such a regulatory change after Uruguay). The government of Justin Trudeau justified the measure as a move to fight organized crime and ensure the safety of consumers. Marijuana for medicinal use, however, has been legal in Canada since 2001. The Canadian Health Ministry backed its decision on the grounds that studies show it can be beneficial for patients who suffer from problems such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain.

In 2008, after overcoming various legal disputes, Veteran Affairs approved a measure to reimburse war veterans for the cost of medicinal marijuana, although reimbursements were to be decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2011, the authorities simplified the procedure to make it accessible to more candidates. That year, 37 people were reimbursed for a total amount of CA$103,400 (81,000). In November 2016, the ministry modified its compensation rules, reducing the daily limit from 10 grams a day to three. The current maximum rate for refunds is $8.50 per gram.

Veteran Affairs stated that medical cannabis is “a developing area of treatment,” and it will continue to review information and “adjust the policy as necessary to guarantee the welfare of veterans and their families.” A Canadian Senate commission called for such a review in 2019, emphasizing the positive results of cannabis for therapeutic purposes, in particular as an effective substitute for highly addictive opioids against chronic pain. Senators also said that the maximum price needs to be constantly evaluated, as costs may exceed what some veterans can afford.

According to the latest data, some 18,000 ex-combatants were reimbursed for medicinal marijuana in 2021, which equated to CA$153 million ($118 million) in federal spending. While experts largely support the plan for veterans, they say it should be accompanied by psychosocial support, especially in cases of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Campaigners call on UN Women to pull out of BlackRock partnership | Women’s rights and gender equality

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The UN agency responsible for promoting gender equality is being urged to pull out of a partnership with BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, over the company’s “record of prioritising profits over human rights or environmental integrity”.

Hundreds of women’s organisations and activists have written to UN Women demanding it rescind the partnership.

The letter, sent on Tuesday to Sima Sami Bahous, UN Women’s executive director, and her two deputies, Åsa Regnér and Anita Bhatia, said the partnership “gives BlackRock a veneer of feminist approval that it clearly does not merit”.

While details of the collaboration have not been made public, BlackRock published a statement on its website in May saying it had signed “a memorandum of understanding” with the UN agency “agreeing to cooperate in promoting the growth of gender lens investing”.

BlackRock has faced pressure from environmental activists to improve its climate action policies, given its vast holdings in fossil fuel companies, and wide global reach.

The asset manager has investments in some of the world’s largest weapons sales companies, the letter said, noting that BlackRock is “consistently” ranked among the worst performers on corporate accountability by civil society watchdogs.

From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year.
From left to right: Pam Chan of BlackRock, UN Women representative Anita Bhatia and Isabelle Mateos y Lago of BlackRock at Davos this year. Photograph: UN Photo

The letter, signed by almost 600 groups and individuals, said BlackRock also holds large amounts of debt in Zambia and Sri Lanka. It was among the private sector lenders that refused to delay debt interest payments to prevent Zambia’s finances from collapsing. The country has had to cut health and social care spending by a fifth in the past two years to balance its budget, cuts that have disproportionately affected women and marginalised groups.

Sanam Amin, a Bangladeshi academic and activist, said: “We want this agreement to be rescinded. This will not have a positive outcome for UN Women or the feminist organisations it is working with.”

She said BlackRock was using UN Women for bluewashing and pinkwashing purposes, and that it was “a fantasy” to imagine that “gender-impact investment can keep investment bankers rich and also save the world”.

“This is an illusion and relies on the labour and resources of marginalised communities in a gendered fashion, in the global south and across global supply chains.”

This is not the first time UN Women has been criticised for partnering with the private sector. In 2015, after pressure from women’s groups, the organisation backed out of a deal with Uber to encourage 1 million women to sign up as drivers.

Emilia Reyes, a feminist activist, said a lack of money was driving the UN into partnerships with the private sector. “We are calling for member states to fulfil their commitments on funding for UN departments as a whole,” she said. “In the search for extra funding, [UN bodies] are undermining their mandate and pushing conflicts of interest inside the UN.”

A spokesperson for UN Women said it “understands the concerns of its civil society partners”, which “merit consideration”. They said the partnership had been “put on hold”.

BlackRock said the money it managed belonged to its clients, many of whom made their own investment decisions. It added: “We highly value UN Women’s leadership in advancing women’s empowerment around the world and respect their decision to put the agreement on hold while they review their strategy for private sector partnerships.”

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