Police Killings And The DOJ | Crooked Media
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February 02, 2022
What A Day
Police Killings And The DOJ

In This Episode

  • The NAACP is urging the Justice Department to bring federal civil rights charges against Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who murdered 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014. Zooming out, it’s not uncommon for people to look to the federal justice system when state courts or local law enforcement decline to hold police officers responsible in cases like these. The same avenues were pursued in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who also was killed by police in 2014, though the DOJ has announced it will not reopen an investigation into that shooting.
  • Later this week, employees at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting on whether to unionize their workplace after the National Labor Relations Board concluded that Amazon’s actions disrupted the process the first time around. To get a sense of where things stand, we hear from Reyn McGuire, an employee at the Bessemer facility that has been actively organizing her coworkers.
  • And in headlines: Putin publicly addresses the Ukraine crisis, NFL quarterback Tom Brady confirmed his retirement, and Native American tribes reach a settlement with opioid manufacturers who precipitated a crisis.


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Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, February 2nd. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast living in fear of the groundhog’s dreaded prediction.


Gideon Resnick: I’ve said it about Ratatouille, and I will say it again here: rodents should not hold this much power. It is not right.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true. First you let to make a little soup and the next thing you know, they’re opening the door for the next bomb cyclone.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s this show, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally speaks after amassing troops near the border of Ukraine. Plus, Native American tribes reach a settlement with opioid distributors.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, yesterday, the NAACP urged the Justice Department to bring federal civil rights charges against Jason van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who murdered 17-year old Laquan McDonald in 2014, shooting him 16 times in the back. The request comes just one day after DOJ announced it would not reopen the federal investigation into the shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who is also shot to death by police in 2014. This time in Cleveland.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and this is all happening just a few days after, as we talked about yesterday, a federal judge rejected the plea deal reached by DOJ prosecutors and Travis McMichael. McMichael, a white man, shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man, in South Georgia in 2020. So Josie, can you tell us a little bit more about the NAACP’s call for federal charges to be brought against Van Dyke?


Josie Duffy Rice: Sure. The NAACP made this request in anticipation of Thursday when McDonald’s killer, Van Dyke, is scheduled to be released from prison after serving just over three years of a state prison sentence, less than half of the six years and nine months sentence he received. Many community leaders and elected officials have objected to the fact that Van Dyke will serve a relatively short sentence, given the fact that he did murder a child in cold blood. As of record time, the DOJ has yet to respond to the request they bring federal charges against Van Dyke.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and you mentioned that DOJ would not reopen the federal investigation into Tamir Rice’s death. Can you tell us a little bit more about that situation?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So in late 2020, during the Trump administration, DOJ concluded they would not bring charges against the two police officers that shot and killed Tamir, stating that video footage was poor quality, and as a result, they couldn’t conclusively determine what happened during the shooting. But last fall, Tamir Rice’s mother, Samaria, sent four letters to top officials at the Justice Department, hopeful that a Biden DOJ would draw a different conclusion. But Kristen Clarke, who is the head of DOJ Civil Rights Division, wrote in a letter to Tamir’s family that the case would not be reopened. However, she said in her letter that quote, “by no means should you view the department’s 2020 decision as an exoneration” of the police officer’s actions.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and unlike Van Dyke, the officers who shot Tamir Rice were never convicted or even charged in state court. So Josie, why are people looking to the Department of Justice for additional action on these cases?


Josie Duffy Rice: Well, Gideon, you see it fairly often in cases like these, especially under a Democratic president, when local or state courts or local law enforcement declined to hold police officers responsible, or responsible enough, there’s often hope that the federal system will kind of course correct. And though the Constitution prohibits charging someone twice for the same offense, a person can face state and federal charges as long as they broke both state and federal law.


Gideon Resnick: Right. So what are you taking away from all of this, from DOJ decisions on these tragic cases?


Josie Duffy Rice: I understand why in both of these cases, as well as the Arbery case, loved ones seek further action from the DOJ, but I think there’s a fundamental tension here, right? I mean, we know that the criminal justice system emboldened these law enforcement officers to kill without consequence. We know in the case of Travis and George McMichael, local prosecutors and police did pretty much everything they could to avoid the two men even facing charges. So I think it’s really a losing battle to ask this system to fix this system, right? To ask the system to provide the kind of recourse that these families are requesting. Yes, the federal system is different in many ways from, say, the local system in Chicago or South Georgia, but the federal system is certainly not a perfect beacon of justice or mercy. And the problems that plague our justice infrastructure, from police to prosecutors to prisons, they’re not just systemic, right, they’re endemic—they are part and parcel of the system and how it was built, and we can’t really expect it to change in that way. I also want to note something that McDonald’s uncle said, quote, “If you set this precedent of re-convicting people because you don’t think he got enough time, then hundreds of thousands of Black men could be harmed.” And I think this is a really important point, too, right? I understand the interest in more punishment for police officers who kill people, especially in the Laquan McDonald and Tamir Rice cases where police killed two unarmed children. I mean, it’s hard to imagine something worse, right?


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Josie Duffy Rice: But we have to remember that more punishment for them will always also mean more punishment for people who aren’t law enforcement and who have lost power in the system. Those tend to be marginalized people, and I think that’s important to keep in mind as well.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I hadn’t heard that McDonald uncle quote until just now, and that is really powerful to think about. Moving to another big story that we’ve been following, later this week, employees at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, will once again try something that they attempted to do last year: unionize their workplace. So last time, as you may remember, workers did not elect to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union or RWDSU, and by a pretty significant margin. This new union vote, like the one in 2020, is going to be conducted by mail, with results counted on March 28, and ballots going out on Friday. This new vote, of course, was granted, as we’ve discussed, after the National Labor Relations Board concluded that Amazon’s actions, including the installation of a mailbox on the grounds of the Bessemer warehouse, disrupted the process and made a quote, “free and fair election impossible.” The union now estimates that 6,143 workers are going to be eligible to participate this time, which is about 350 more than last. And on top of that, some workers have been saying that there is more momentum around the campaign this time. To get a better sense of where things stand, I spoke with Reyn McGuire yesterday. She has been working at the Bessemer facility for about four months and has been active in organizing her coworkers. Here is part one of our conversation:


Gideon Resnick, interviewing: Can you tell us a little bit about the job there? How long you’ve been working there? What is it like?


Reyn McGuire: I’ve been working there since October. It’s pretty active job. Like if you’re not used to bending down and squatting and lifting things, it’s not a job for you. It’s very monotonous, very repetitive. You kind of can get lost in the automated motions that you’re doing on repeat. So if there’s not something kind of keeping your mind out of that loop, I find that you might go a little stir crazy. But that’s just me. I mean, there was one time I left my headphones at home and I was just like, Oh my god, I’m so miserable right now. [laughs] But other than that, it’s OK, like I can, I’m already an active person. I like moving my body, so I do enjoy it for that, and I like to get in zones and stuff. Doing the same thing over and over, you kind of can get lost in it when you have music in your ears, but it’s not a really fulfilling job. But it is fulfilling working with the people that I work with because in a sense, I can feel that I might be brightening up someone else’s day by being there, you know? And they brighten up my day when I can make them smile and make them happy. So I do enjoy that about the job.


Gideon Resnick: And what are the issues that you have confronted so far in terms of day to day stuff? Anything along those lines?


Reyn McGuire: My biggest issues would probably just be the fact that we have very small time to make an accurate break, an adequate break. You know, we have 30 minutes to get to our cars, to heat up our food, to use the bathroom and take a smoke break. Basically, anything that is break-worthy is supposed to fit in 30 minutes, when it takes you about 15 minutes to walk from your station to the front door.


Gideon Resnick: Right.


Reyn McGuire: So it doesn’t really balance out.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and are you sort of deeply involved in the organizing effort? What’s your role in that so far?


Reyn McGuire: And I feel like my role is pretty heavy, but I do have a lot going on in my personal life. I have three of my own children, so I can’t give as much time as I want to it. But I do spend a lot of time talking to people individually at work or, you know, whoever the union people send my way, and try to take time to speak to them about it, just to give them some information from the side of, you know, a young woman who has some understanding of it, instead of like textbook stuff that people don’t like seem to absorb so easy because it just sounds like school stuff.


Gideon Resnick: Right, right.


Reyn McGuire: Yeah. It’s like when you can have a real human conversation with someone about the stuff, they’re more receptive. But if you’re just kind of throwing definitions at them and not really giving them a point to relate to the situation, then they kind of put like their deaf ears on. I guess that’s my role, is just being the more human part of how we’re sharing this information with people.


Josie Duffy Rice: We’ll hear more from McGuire on the show in the next few days, so stay tuned for that. But that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Some updates about the Ukraine crisis: Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly addressed the issue at a press conference yesterday, accusing the U.S. of using Ukraine to provoke an armed conflict with Russia. This is the first time the Russian president has spoken about the tension since December, and during his address, Putin maintained that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine. That is despite the hundreds of thousands of troops he’s amassed at its borders. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also gave some public remarks yesterday in the session of Parliament, praising the supportive response that Ukraine has received from its allies. Officials from both the U.S. and Russia met yesterday in hopes of defusing the growing tensions, but no agreement was reached, according to the State Department summary of the call. Meanwhile, Putin has plans to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron in the coming days, as other world leaders continue their diplomatic efforts.


Josie Duffy Rice: Hundreds of Native American tribes agreed to settle with Johnson & Johnson and other major opioid distributors yesterday for $590 million for a disproportionate harm caused by the over-prescription of opioids in their communities. While a 175 tribes have filed suits against these distributors, the deal acknowledges all 574 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. as beneficiaries of the large sum, meaning they will all receive money even if they didn’t file a case. Native American tribes have been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic, with an opioid-related overdose death rate sometimes doubling that of their state’s average. The money from yesterday’s settlement will be paid out over the next few years and go towards addiction treatment and prevention programs led by tribal health care experts. Steve Skikos, one of the tribe’s lawyers, said of the verdict quote, “We are not solving the opioid crisis with this settlement, but we are getting critical resources to tribal communities to help address the crisis.”


Gideon Resnick: The January 6th Committee, or if you’re Newt Gingrich, Antifa, has had a week of revelations as they continue to investigate the events surrounding the Capitol insurrection. New documents handed over by the National Archives revealed former President Trump’s advisers drafted not one, but two versions of an executive order to seize voting machines as part of a broader effort to undermine the 2020 election results. The executive orders were unprecedented in how they would have leveraged the U.S. military to seize the machines. And notably—this is interesting—only machines in the states that Trump lost. It also came to light yesterday that last week, Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, testified privately before the House Committee—oooh. Short was with Pence on January 6th, of course, as the mob stormed into the Capitol, chanting “Hang Mike Pence” and has firsthand knowledge of the effort Trump and his allies made in pressuring Pence to block the certification of votes that day. In response to these revelations, Trump did what is known as reading the opposite of the room, and published a statement advocating that the committee examine why Pence DID NOT reject the Electoral College results. We could tell him that it’s because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, but we are not sure if you’d be able to hear us over 1,000 decibels of Fox and Friends. The man loves his TV, and he probably doesn’t have the best hearing at this point.


Josie Duffy Rice: You know, he hears what he wants to hear. I wish I had that talent. Turns out Justice Stephen Breyer and NFL quarterback Tom Brady have more in common than just being total hunks—can’t even get that out with a straight face—neither could get ahead of the retirement rumor mill. On Saturday, a deluge of tributes to Brady’s career began pouring out after ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the NFL veteran would be stepping away after this season. Many of the tributes were quickly deleted after Brady’s agent let sports reporters know that Brady had not actually decided to retire . . .  yet. ESPN stood by their reporting, and yesterday morning, Brady confirmed his retirement on Instagram. While Brady’s retirement doesn’t have the same impact on our fragile democracy as Breyers, his longevity on the field was a remarkable feat. Brady’s 22-year career stands far beyond the average of four and a half years for a quarterback. While he became the oldest player to be named Super Bowl MVP at age 43 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he is known best rows 18-season career with the New England Patriots, with whom he won six Super Bowl titles—we shall never speak of the time they beat the Atlanta Falcons, one of the saddest days.


Gideon Resnick: What happened in the first half of that game, huh? And then the second, you know?


Josie Duffy Rice: I cannot speak about it. Hopefully, all Brady’s newfound free time gives him the chance to read up a little on the world around him. That way, next time he knows the Red Hat in his locker isn’t just a goofy ball cap his golf buddy Donald gave him for good luck.


Gideon Resnick: As villains of this sort leave sports, it makes like a brighter spotlight for the next villain up, and I guess it has to be like Aaron Rodgers given the last six or seven months.


Josie Duffy Rice: 100%. 100%


Gideon Resnick: So I’m wondering if this will incentivize any movement there to not be the main football villain man.


Josie Duffy Rice: He now feels like he can move on because someone else is out there doing dumb political talk . . . or not talk.


Gideon Resnick: Right. Well, what a tangled web they weave? And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, preemptively out a retiree, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just about the inevitable rodent takeover like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And spare us, groundhog!


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, please, man.


Josie Duffy Rice: Give us a break, man.


Gideon Resnick: Let us just have this.


Josie Duffy Rice: We need it.


Gideon Resnick: Or Bill de Blasio will hold you again, and you know what happens.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s true.


Gideon Resnick: Be careful. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, with writing support from Jocey Coffman, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.