Friday, September 29, 2023

As of noon, 25,000 UAW members will be striking against the Detroit Three automakers

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance

Two more plants, employing 7,000 workers, are joining the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike at noon Friday, UAW President Shawn Fain announced Friday morning on Facebook Live. This brings the total number of workers who will have walked off the job to 25,000.

The strike against Detroit Three auto manufacturers Ford, General Motors and Stellantis started two weeks ago after contract negotiations failed.

The UAW strike begins and UAW President Shawn Fain talks to picketing workers at Ford-owned Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan the night of September 14, 2023. (photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

Fain said as he was gearing up for the planned livestream, Stellantis showed progress in negotiating with the union for a better contract, so the union did not target additional plants at the company.

Fain did call on Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, as well as GM’s Lansing Delta Township facility to stand up and go out on strike at noon Friday. Fain offered those who have already been called to strike a message of encouragement.

“Keep showing the company’s that you’re ready to stand up when you’re called. When we win this fight, when we right the wrongs of the past 15 years and longer. And when we set a new course for future generations, it won’t be because of any president, not the UAW president, not the president of the United States. It will be because ordinary people did extraordinary things,” Fain said.

At Fain’s invitation, President Joe Biden on Tuesday visited a UAW picket line in Belleville, Mich., telling workers, “Wall Street didn’t build the country; the middle class built the country. … And unions built the middle class.” 

Although Biden said he marched in UAW picket lines when he was a U.S. senator, he’s noted taking pride in doing it as president. It is believed that this is the first time in modern history that a sitting president has visited an active strike site.

Fain did not note former President Donald Trump’s Wednesday speech at a non-union Macomb County plant. The union president declined to meet with Trump, saying he was part of the problem of the “billionaire class.”

“They [the UAW] have to endorse Trump [in 2024], because if they don’t, all they’re doing is committing suicide,” Trump said at the event at Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township.

The UAW has not endorsed in the 2024 election. Michigan is again considered a pivotal swing state.

Even with Biden’s support for the striking workers, Fain noted UAW members are still facing obstacles, noting a hit-and-run incident Tuesday afternoon on the picket line at General Motors’ Flint Processing Center. The incident, where it’s reported a driver leaving the facility hit five members of the picket line, wasn’t the only violence Fain said has occurred.

Five injured in hit and run at picketing General Motors facility near Flint

“We’ve had guns pulled on us. Trucks and cars ran through us and violent threats hurled at us. And I want to be absolutely clear. We will not be intimidated into backing down by the companies or their scabs,” Fain said. “Our solidarity is our strength and right now, our strength is the hope of working class people everywhere. Let’s stand up and win this thing for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, for our country, and for our future.”

The UAW is using a staggered approach to its strike, called a “Stand Up Strike” plan, where instead of all the plants striking together, select plants are periodically informed to “stand up and walk out.” 

Prior to Friday, a total of 41 locations were called to strike across 21 states, with 14 of the locations being in Michigan.

This is bigger than even the Detroit Three, Fain said, noting several other labor actions that have occurred since the UAW went on strike against the automakers. Notably, the Detroit Casino Council (DCC) UNITE HERE workers at Detroit’s three casinos — MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Hollywood at Greektown — will vote Friday on whether to authorize their own strike.

Photo credit: Anna Liz Nichols

Originally published on September 29th, 2023, in the Michigan Advance


'This Is Our Defining Moment': UAW Launches Historic Strikes Against Big Three Automakers, Common Dreams

In two days, 144,000 US autoworkers workers are set to strike, People's Dispatch

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

New Elmore County men’s prison will cost over $1 billion

Price tag nearly equals the money legislators allocated for two men’s prisons


A state authority Tuesday put a “final guaranteed maximum price” on a new men’s prison in Elmore County at $1.082 billion, nearly equal to what legislators two years ago allocated for two men’s prisons.

The higher price tag – blamed on inflation and changes to spaces in the building – makes the construction of a second prison in Escambia County uncertain. It also throws other projects tentatively approved by the Legislature, including renovations to existing prisons and the construction of a new women’s prison, into doubt.

“We’ve got to move forward and do a good job,” said Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, following the meeting of the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA). “I’ve been out to the site, and it literally is a small city coming out of the ground.”

Alabama’s prisons, overcrowded for decades, have suffered a wave of physical and sexual violence that led to a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2020. Gov. Kay Ivey and corrections officials argued for years that new prisons would be safer for inmates and staff, cost less to run, and have space for educational, vocational and rehabilitation programs to prevent people from returning to prisons.

The Legislature in 2021 approved the construction of 4,000-bed men’s prisons in Elmore and Escambia County for $1.3 billion. The legislation also authorized renovations of the Donaldson and Limestone correctional facilities; either the Bullock or Ventress Correctional Facility, and the construction of a 1,000-bed women’s prison to replace Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, built in 1942.

A meeting of people around a table
 The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (AFICA) meets shortly before approving a “final guaranteed maximum price” on an Elmore County prison on Sept. 26, 2023. From left to right: Alabama Corrections Commissioner John Hamm; Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore (with back to camera); Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville; Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward, and Gov. Kay Ivey.

The legislation did not provide a dedicated funding source for anything but the new men’s prisons.

The Elmore County facility should include major medical, training and rehabilitation programs. The Escambia County facility would not have programs of the same scale.

Critics of the project argue Alabama’s prison crisis stems from culture, not buildings and say the new construction will not address the culture of violence in the prisons.

Alina Arbuthnot of Maynard Nexsen, which has represented the state in the construction process, estimated Tuesday that costs had gone up by approximately $500 million. Arbuthnot said inflation, including the increased cost of construction materials, had played a role, but additions to the project had also affected it.

“We’ve added interior programming space, as well as vocational and educational space,” she said. “Some other items that were required by court order, as well as making a couple of changes that will help us save money on lifecycle and maintenance over the course of the service life of the facility. Maybe some upfront costs now that should save us annually.”

Ivey, who chairs the ACIFA, said in a statement that the prisons are “critically important to public safety, to our criminal justice system and to Alabama as a whole” and blamed inflation for the price increase.

“We have not built new prisons in more than 30 years, and if it was easy, it would have been attempted by a governor before me,” the statement said. “No doubt this is a major undertaking, but we are pressing on.”

Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund chair Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said he was “concerned” about the additional price tag.

“I think we started out low,” Albritton said after the meeting. “I think we didn’t go back and revisit what we should have done. That was an error.”

The state is paying for the prison with $400 million in COVID relief money; $135 million in money appropriated from the General Fund, and about $500 million in borrowing. The Elmore County Prison is expected to be completed in May 2026.

The fate of the Escambia County prison and other projects are less certain. Albritton said “we’ve got to find the path,” and Reynolds said legislators would watch the progress of the Elmore County project.

“We’ll have to see on time and on what the market does,” he said. “I think it’s too early to answer that. They will just monitor that until February.”

Related Articles

This article originally appeared in the Alabama Reflector on September 26th, 2023.  

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

French decision to withdraw troops from Niger is a testimony “to the determination and will of the Nigerien people”

After withdrawing from Mali and Burkina Faso, and now on the way out from Niger, Chad is the last of the now practically defunct G5 Sahel country to host a permanent base of France.

September 25, 2023 by Pavan Kulkarni

French president Emmanuel Macron said on September 24 that the country will withdraw its troops from Niger. The announcement came after the country had refused to do so in a nearly two-months-long stand-off with Niger’s military government which ordered the French troops to leave the country soon after taking power in a popularly welcomed coup on July 26.

The withdrawal of its 1,500 troops will take place over “the months and weeks to come” and conclude by the end of this year, Macron said on Sunday.

France also decided to withdraw its ambassador, Sylvain Itté, who had earlier been asked to stay put in the embassy even after Nigerien authorities canceled his diplomatic card and visa late last month, and ordered the police to expel him. “In the next hours, our ambassador…will return to France,” added Macron.

“This Sunday, we celebrate the new step towards the sovereignty of Niger,” its military government, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), said in a statement soon after. “It is a historic moment which testifies to the determination and will of the Nigerien people…Imperialist and neo-colonialist forces are no longer welcome on our national territory.”

The CNSP was formed after the coup on July 26, ousting former Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum, who had welcomed more French troops and instituted a crackdown on the domestic protest movement against the French deployment.

Amid mass-demonstrations welcoming the coup and demanding the withdrawal of French troops, CNSP terminated the military agreements that had allowed France to deploy troops in Niger. The agreements entailed a one-month notice period which ended early this month.

However, French troops had continued to stay “in a position of illegality”, the CNSP-appointed Prime Minister, Ali Mahaman, had complained earlier this month. The former colonizer had refused to withdraw its troops on the grounds that it did not recognize the authority of the CNSP, insisting that Bazoum remains Niger’s president.

Even on announcing the withdrawal, Macron said, “We will consult the putschists, because we want this (withdrawal) to be done peacefully,” but maintained that France does not recognize the CNSP and continues to regard Bazoum as the “sole legitimate authority”.

Abdoulaye Seydou, national coordinator of the anti-imperialist M62 movement who had been imprisoned under Bazoum and released post-coup, had warned France late last month that “all the villages, all the surrounding communes will descend” on its base in capital Niamey, if its troops do not to leave. By the start of this month, protests demanding troop-withdrawal had become an almost daily event outside the French base.

France, however, had remained obstinate, and even extended support to the military action threatened by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to restore Bazoum to Niger’s presidency. However, the regional bloc was beset with protests and domestic opposition to war in several of its member states.

The Senate in neighboring Nigeria, the strongest military power in the bloc, refused to support the deployment of its troops. The African Union (AU) also refused to support the French-backed military intervention by ECOWAS.

In the meantime, Niger was assured of military support by Mali and Burkina Faso, which, like Niger, were also suspended from ECOWAS and sanctioned after popular coups, following which their military governments ordered French troops to leave.

After entering into a defense pact, with an agreement that an attack on one will be treated as an attack on all the three, inviting a joint military response, the three countries went on to form the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) on September 16.

In an open letter to the transitional presidents of the three countries, the West African Peoples’ Organization (WAPO) welcomed the formation of AES, “as the beginning of the realization of the ideals of the Founding Fathers of Pan-Africanism including Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, Sékou Touré, Modibo Kéita, Patrice Lumumba, etc.”

It called for devolution of “power to the masses through defense committees” in its letter to the heads of AES, one of whose objectives is to counter the “armed groups, irregular armed forces or mercenaries”.

France accused of supporting terrorist groups in Sahel

One of the reasons Macron gave for his decision to withdraw troops was that the Nigerien authorities “no longer wanted to fight against terrorism”.

However, Mali, which has lost several dozen soldiers in the fight against Islamist insurgency over the last year, including 20 only this month, had alleged in August 2022 that France had breached airspace more than 50 times that year and dropped weapons to terrorist groups. While France rejected the allegation, Niger’s CNSP also said on September 22 that France was financing and equipping terrorist groups in Sahel.

Over the last decade, Islamist insurgencies have spread across Sahel in the aftermath of the destruction of Libya by NATO’s war, in which France was a key participant. With the stated aim of defeating these insurgencies, France started Operation Barkhane in 2014. By the time the operation ended in failure last year, violence involving Islamist Militants had nearly tripled in the Sahel.

At its peak strength, France’s Barkhane force had 5,500 troops deployed in what was called the G5 Sahel – namely Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, where it had permanent bases, and in Mauritania.

After withdrawing from Mali and Burkina Faso, and now on the way out from Niger, Chad is the last of the now practically defunct G5 Sahel countries to host a permanent base of France. While threatening military action against Niger ostensibly to restore democracy, France supports military rule in Chad. However, its future in Chad is far from secure, with a rising resentment against France and the military regime it is seen to have imposed on Chadian people.

This article originally appeared at on September 25th, 2023.  

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Monday, September 25, 2023

The Baltimore Sun’s Reckoning on Freddie Gray


Five days after Freddie Gray’s death, the Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) published on its website an interactive slideshow on his arrest, which it updated later that month as the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) added information. Audiences could click through a timeline of details of Gray’s long April 12, 2015, ride in a Baltimore police van, during which police reportedly made six stops before officers said they discovered their prisoner was unconscious. (Gray died on April 19, after a week in a coma.)

The slideshow was almost entirely sourced from the statements given by BPD leaders during press conferences, without independent corroboration. Some of the police claims were repeated as fact, with no attribution. “The driver of the transport van believes that Gray is acting irate in the back,” it stated at one point.

There was one small sign of resistance to the police narrative included in the slideshow: “Multiple witnesses tell the Sun they saw Gray beaten [at the second stop], but police say evidence including an autopsy disputes their accounts.” Here, as elsewhere in its Gray coverage, the Sun implicitly “corrected” witnesses with the police version of events.

The slideshow illustrated the Sun‘s general approach to coverage of Gray’s death, one of the biggest national stories to come out of Baltimore in decades: The narrative was largely shaped by police’s version of events, presented by the paper with limited skepticism or contradictory information. When witness accounts did appear in the Sun, they were usually reduced to brief uncorroborated soundbites.

Public strategically misled

Freddie Gray (family photo)

Freddie Gray (1989–2015)

In a new book, They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up, I reveal extensive evidence that undermines most of what the Sun reported in its slideshow timeline. My book is sourced to discovery evidence from the prosecution of six officers that was never presented in court, internal affairs investigation files and more. I reveal that police and prosecutors were aware of physical abuse that happened during the first two stops of Gray’s arrest, but strategically misled the public and manipulated evidence to hide it (as I also reported elsewhere: Appeal4/23/20; Daily Beast8/19/23).

In particular, I reveal that there were at least nine witnesses who saw police pull Gray out of the van at its second stop at Mount and Baker streets, shackle his ankles, and throw him headfirst back into a narrow compartment in the van. They also saw him becoming silent and motionless at that stop. Many of them reported these details to investigators early on. The medical examiner determined Gray’s fatal injury was caused by headfirst force into a hard surface, but she wasn’t told about these statements.

While the public saw a viral video of Gray screaming while he was loaded into the van during his arrest at the first stop, it heard much less about what happened at Mount and Baker streets. My book takes a look at the role the media played in both enabling the police’s coverup and gaslighting the witnesses.

The Sun was hardly alone in its “police say” approach to this story, but it arguably did the most damage. For one, it invested extensively in its Gray coverage, becoming the paper of record on the case, with its content republished or cited frequently by other outlets (e.g., Chicago Tribune4/25/15CNN6/24/15). And much of the Sun’s coverage took a decidedly, and increasingly, pro-police slant.

Making a mystery

Baltimore Sun: The 45-minute mystery of Freddie Gray's death

The Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) turned Freddie Gray’s death into a “mystery” by marginalizing witnesses who saw Gray physically abused by police.

Twelve days after police seized Gray, the Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) published “The 45-Minute Mystery of Freddie Gray’s Arrest,” exploring what was known and still unclear about his detention. The article cited three witnesses describing different types of excessive force used against Gray, alongside the police’s narrative. Over the next two years of protests, riots, trials of four officers (with no convictions) and outside investigations, the Sun continued fostering “mystery” and speculation around Gray’s cause of death (epitomized by the Rashomon-like documentary Who Killed Freddie Gray?, co-produced by the Sun and CNN2/12/16).

Yet Gray’s death was a mystery by design. Police and city leaders began insisting early on that his cause of death could never be known. “It’s clear that what happened happened inside the van,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on April 20, one day after Gray died; she asserted that Gray’s fatal injury must have happened while the van was moving, when there was nobody present to witness it.

Two days later, the Fraternal Order of Police’s attorney made a similar statement: “Our position is, something happened in that van, we just don’t know what.”

There was no evidence to support these claims—police had more evidence of excessive force at that time—but the narrative took hold. The Baltimore Sun (4/23/15) followed those statements by speculating about “rough rides,” a practice where police van drivers harm unseatbelted prisoners by driving erratically.

As city leaders invalidated the claims of witnesses, the Sun stopped highlighting their accounts in its stories, even investigative stories. A May 2015 article (5/20/15) disclosed a cellphone video that showed a few seconds of Gray silent and motionless at Mount and Baker streets, the second stop. “Less is known about what happened…when the van stopped at Baker Street and he was shackled,” the article stated.

Yet the story omitted what witnesses had previously told Sun reporters (4/24/154/24/15) about Gray being beaten and thrown headfirst into the van at that stop. The accompanying video to the May 2015 article said that officers merely “placed him back into the van” at the second stop, which was the police’s narrative.

By the time the autopsy report was leaked to the Sun (6/24/15) in June, revealing that Gray’s fatal injury was caused by headfirst impact into a hard surface—comparable to “those seen in shallow-water diving incidents”—the witness accounts of the second stop were seemingly forgotten.

While the Sun marginalized and ultimately erased witnesses, it did not hesitate to give frequent weight and credibility to the claims of police, even anonymously sourced. The Sun (4/30/15) headlined one such claim in “Gray Suffered Head Injury in Prisoner Van, Sources Familiar With Investigation Say,” with the story reporting:

Baltimore police have found that Freddie Gray suffered a serious head injury inside a prisoner transport wagon with one wound indicating that he struck a protruding bolt in the back of the vehicle, according to sources familiar with the probe.

During the trials, the medical examiner refuted the bolt claim entirely, explaining that she had told detectives on April 28 that the bolt was not consistent with any of Gray’s injuries. Two days later, the bolt story was leaked to the media.

Embedded journalism

CJR: In Baltimore, A Tale Of Two Transparencies

CJR (5/5/15) noted that even as the Baltimore Sun was granted “exclusive access” to the BPD Freddie Gray task force, “a coalition of news organizations demanding that police respond to requests for records related to the Gray case was being stonewalled.”

In 1991, former Baltimore Sun journalist and TV writer David Simon published the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which reflected the year he spent “embedded,” as he has often described it (e.g., Simon’s blog, 3/25/127/7/23), in BPD’s homicide unit. Decades later, many of the cases brought forward by the detectives Simon made famous were overturned due to withheld evidence, coerced confessions and other misconduct; a local Innocence Project leader called Homicide “a cautionary tale for embedded journalism” (New York1/12/22).

In 2015, Sun journalist Justin George used the same language, “embedded,” to describe the nine days he spent attending meetings of BPD’s Freddie Gray “task force” (e.g., Twitter10/9/15). Police set up the task force to investigate the case during the last two weeks of April 2015. While BPD promoted George’s involvement as evidence of its transparency, the department denied even basic evidence, including 911 tapes, to other news outlets (CJR5/5/15).

The Sun (5/2/15) published George’s first article on the task force, “Exclusive Look Inside the Freddie Gray Investigation,” on May 2, the day after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six officers. Then it published his four-part series, “Looking for Answers” (10/9/15), in October, ahead of the first trial.

BPD picked the right news outlet to give exclusive access. George’s articles read like a love letter to BPD and an implicit challenge to any serious prosecution of the officers. He described the investigators having to hide their identities, while passing angry residents and a “Fuck the Police” sign:

They all realized the importance of their investigation and that they were part of a pivotal moment in Baltimore history…. Amid the allegations of brutality, they wanted to show that they would leave no stone unturned.

George turned up the rhetorical dial in describing Homicide Major Stanley Brandford, “a former Marine who kept his gray hair shorn close” with “a calm demeanor, quick wit and an uncanny ability to memorize facts.” Brandford, George reported, worked late through the night of his birthday, the last night of the task force’s investigation, to prepare files for the State’s Attorney’s Office:

Brandford didn’t finish copying the files until 3:30 a.m. He took the case file home, told his wife what he was about to do, and snapped some photos of the file as a keepsake. The next morning, Brandford placed the thick file in a blue tote bag and returned to police headquarters.…

It was less than a half-mile walk, but he felt the weight of history in his hands. He waited for walk signs before he crossed streets, fearful a car might hit him, scattering hundreds of important documents over the street, he said later.

In a speech the next day, Mosby described the files Brandford delivered as “information we already had.” George did not include this statement in his reporting—undercutting as it did the “weight of history” in the anecdote.

Dramatizing a locker search

Baltimore Sun image of Caesar Goodson's locker

The Baltimore Sun produced a dramatic video of the search of Officer Caesar Goodson’s locker—a search that turned up nothing notable.

The online version of George’s four-part series includes several highly produced videos following Lamar Howard, a chatty, well-dressed detective having a busy couple of days. He hands out fliers to people in the street and stops by a school to collect security footage.

The video also shows Howard participating in a raid on the locker of the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, on April 28. (The case files show that BPD was seeking to pin liability on Goodson from early on; Goodson is cast in a cloud of suspicion throughout George’s articles.) As papers and clothes are removed from Goodson’s locker, Howard looks toward the camera and shakes his head in dismay.

The Sun’s video editors added stirring music and artful stills and jump cuts to its videos. The camera zooms in on big bolt cutters forcing open the lock on Goodson’s locker. It then cuts dramatically to a close-up of a broken lock on the ground.

Nothing of note was ever found in Goodson’s locker. But the Sun invested its multi-media budget in doing PR for BPD.

Case files show that, by the end of the two-week task force, investigators had collected statements from a dozen witnesses describing Gray being tased, beaten, kicked, forcefully restrained and thrown headfirst into the van. None of George’s stories included any reference to these witness accounts.

George does cite Detective Howard arriving at a conclusion about Gray’s death that seemingly left the case unsolved for BPD: “‘Whatever happened,’ Howard said, ‘happened in the van.’” It was the same claim made by the mayor before the task force ever met.

Ignoring evidence 

Baltimore Sun: Baltimore officers' text messages offer glimpse at mindset after Freddie Gray arrest, and as prosecutors zeroed in

The Baltimore Sun (12/21/17) published texts messages from police officers it described as “candid, even vulnerable.”

In 2016, the Sun was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its Freddie Gray coverage. Yet as more evidence in the case emerged over the years that followed, the news outlet neglected to update the public on it. (Until 2022, when the nonprofit Baltimore Banner launched, the Sun was the only major news outlet in the city.)

In 2017, BPD finally released files from the Gray investigation to the Sun (12/20/17) and other news outlets, including nine binders of paperwork and six sets of photos. While police withheld a lot of evidence, the binders still offered a gold mine. They included a transcript of the statement of the lieutenant involved in Gray’s arrest, which was never played in court and incriminates him in a coverup story; an alternate map of the van’s route that investigators were considering while promoting their official narrative publicly; dispatch reports that undermined the police narrative of when officers called for a medic; hospital photos showing marks on Gray’s body indicating excessive force; and more.

The Sun only reported on the files in one article (12/21/17), which covers some of the officers’ text messages. Reporter Kevin Rector described the text messages as “candid, even vulnerable.” He recounted the officers denying ever harming Gray and discussing the pressures they felt from so much “anti-police sentiment.” The article did not mention that, in the same text conversations, the officers discussed that they should be careful what they texted to each other.

In 2015, George wrote that the task force investigators had left “no stone unturned.” By 2017, the Baltimore Sun didn’t change that narrative by looking closely at any of the investigators’ work.

The Sun continued to overlook new evidence in Gray’s death in 2020, when I published an article in the Appeal (4/23/20) that contained embedded audio and video files never released to the public. These included the statements witnesses gave to investigators starting from hours after the arrest, photographic and other evidence of excessive force, and evidence of the officers developing their first-day coverup story around their knowledge of what happened at the second stop.

One Baltimore Sun reporter, Justin Fenton (4/27/20), tweeted out the Appeal article, indicating that he had at least reviewed the new evidence. A few months later, Fenton co-wrote an article (7/16/20) revisiting the Freddie Gray story in light of how Gov. Larry Hogan discussed it in his new memoir. The article gave no indication of new evidence in the case, while it perpetuated old narratives of a vague mystery:

[Hogan] writes that the cause of the man’s injuries and death is “in dispute.” But he offers just two possibilities: either the injuries were the result of “a tragic, unforeseeable accident,” or officers purposely gave Gray a “rough ride.” Could it have been something else? Hogan leaves out the possibility of anything in between, such as negligence on the part of officers in handling Gray’s transport.

In keeping with the Sun’s legacy in covering the Gray case, Fenton left off the accounts of more than a dozen witnesses who saw Gray abused by police and thrown headfirst into the van, the exact kind of mechanism that the autopsy report claimed caused his “shallow-water diving accident” type of injury.

The Baltimore Sun’s seemingly stubborn refusal to share specific new evidence in Baltimore’s best-known and reported story in at least a decade is perhaps more of a mystery than how Gray was killed by police. Whatever the Sun’s reasoning, the effect has been to support police and other officials in hiding facts behind a veil of endless speculation.

Parts of this story were adapted from Justine Barron’s book They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up (Arcade, 2023).

Featured image: Detail from the cover of They Killed Freddie Gray.

Originally published on, September 22nd, 2023. Reprinted with permission.     

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Friday, September 22, 2023

Is this the end of French neo-colonialism in Africa?

The recent formation of the Alliance of Sahel States is further proof of the consolidation of anti-French sentiment in the region. Philippe Toyo Noudjenoume, President of the West Africa Peoples’ Organization, says that this sentiment is especially strong in the Sahel region but is common throughout French-speaking Africa

September 21, 2023 by Zoe AlexandraVijay Prashad

In Bamako, Mali, on September 16, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger created the Alliance of Sahel States (AES). On X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, Colonel Assimi Goïta, the head of the transitional government of Mali, wrote that the Liptako-Gourma Charter which created the AES would establish “an architecture of collective defense and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations.” The hunger for such regional cooperation goes back to the period when France ended its colonial rule. Between 1958 and 1963, Ghana and Guinea were part of the Union of African States, which was to have been the seed for wider pan-African unity. Mali was a member as well between 1961 and 1963.

But, more recently, these three countries—and others in the Sahel region such as Niger—have struggled with common problems, such as the downward sweep of radical Islamic forces unleashed by the 2011 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war on Libya. The anger against the French has been so intense that it has provoked at least seven coups in Africa (two in Burkina Faso, two in Mali, one in Guinea, one in Niger, and one in Gabon) and unleashed mass demonstrations from Algeria to the Congo and most recently in Benin. The depth of frustration with France is such that its troops have been ejected from the Sahel, Mali demoted French from its official language status, and France’s ambassador in Niger (Sylvain Itté) was effectively held “hostage”—as French President Emmanuel Macron said—by people deeply upset by French behavior in the region.

Philippe Toyo Noudjenoume, the President of the West Africa Peoples’ Organization, explained the basis of this cascading anti-French sentiment in the region. French colonialism, he said, “has remained in place since 1960.” France holds the revenues of its former colonies in the Banque de France in Paris. The French policy—known as Françafrique—included the presence of French military bases from Djibouti to Senegal, from Côte d’Ivoire to Gabon. “Of all the former colonial powers in Africa,” Noudjenoume told us, “it is France that has intervened militarily at least sixty times to overthrow governments, such as [that of] Modibo Keïta in Mali (1968), or assassinate patriotic leaders, such as Félix-Roland Moumié (1960) and Ernest Ouandié (1971) in Cameroon, Sylvanus Olympio in Togo in 1963, Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso in 1987 and others.” Between 1997 and 2002, during the presidency of Jacque Chirac, France intervened militarily 33 times on the African continent (by comparison, between 1962 and 1995, France intervened militarily 19 times in African states). France never really suspended its colonial grip or its colonial ambitions.

Breaking the camel’s back

Two events in the past decade “broke the camel’s back,” Noudjenoume said: the NATO war in Libya, led by France, in March 2011, and the French intervention to remove Koudou Gbagbo Laurent from the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire in April 2011. “For years,” he said, “these events have forced a strong anti-French sentiment, particularly among young people. It is not just in the Sahel that this feeling has developed but throughout French-speaking Africa. It is true that it is in the Sahel that it is currently expressed most openly. But throughout French-speaking Africa, this feeling is strong.”

Mass protest against the French presence is now evident across the former French colonies in Africa. These civilian protests have not been able to result in straight-forward civilian transitions of power, largely because the political apparatus in these countries had been eroded by long-standing, French-backed kleptocracies (illustrated by the Bongo family, which ruled Gabon from 1967 to 2023, and which leeched the oil wealth of Gabon for their own personal gain; when Omar Bongo died in 2009, French politician Eva Joly said that he ruled on behalf of France and not of his own citizens). Despite the French-backed repression in these countries, trade unions, peasant organizations, and left-wing parties have not been able to drive the upsurge of anti-French patriotism, though they have been able to assert themselves

France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to try to control the forces that it had unleashed with NATO’s war in Libya two years previously. These radical Islamist forces captured half of Mali’s territory and then, in 2015, proceeded to assault Burkina Faso. France intervened but then sent the soldiers of the armies of these Sahel countries to die against the radical Islamist forces that it had backed in Libya. This created a great deal of animosity among the soldiers, Noudjenoume told us, and that is why patriotic sections of the soldiers rebelled against the governments and overthrew them.


After the coup in Niger, the West hoped to send in a proxy force—led by the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS)—but the African military leaders demurred. Across the region, people set up solidarity committees to defend the people of Niger from any attack, with the threat provoking “revolt and indignation among the populations,” Noudjenoume explained. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was even forced to back down from ECOWAS’ crusade when his country’s Congress rejected the measure and mass protests occurred against militarily intervening in the neighboring country. As ECOWAS’ ultimatums to restore the deposed Nigerien leader Mohamed Bazoum expired, it became clear that its threat was empty.

Meanwhile, not only did it appear that the people of Niger would resist any military intervention, but Burkina Faso and Mali immediately promised to defend Niger against any such intervention. The new AES is a product of this mutual solidarity.

But the AES is not merely a military or security pact. At the signing ceremony, Mali’s Defense Minister Abdoulaye Diop told journalists, “This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts [among]… the three countries.” It will build upon the February 2023 agreement between Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali to collaborate on a fuel and electricity exchange, to build transportation networks, to collaborate on mineral resource sales, to build a regional agricultural development project, and to increase intra-Sahel trade. Whether these countries would be able to develop an economic agenda to benefit their peoples—and therefore guarantee that France would have no means to exert its authority over the region—is to be seen.

This article originally appeared at on September 21st, 2023.  

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