Defying Assassination Day: MLK vs. Apartheid Housing (CounterPunch)

April 4, 2016
by Greg Moses

On this day of resistance against racist murder we remember the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and we resolve to betray not only the killers but the dreamlessness of the future they kill for.

Some twenty months before he was targeted for that final bullet, King was hit in the head by a common, rock throwing racist. As much as King wanted to believe that his 1966 march through Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood would affect the structure of residential segregation in America, evidence fifty years later proves that America has done a poor job with the follow-up and follow-through.

We shall overcome racist murder only when we abolish neighborhood segregations that warp our material relations and sustain exclusionary paranoia.

In an amicus brief filed only sixteen months ago, some sixty scholars of American housing reported to the United States Supreme Court that if we measure the “exposure” of African Americans to the majority white population, “segregation is today greater nationwide than it was in 1940, and has remained mostly unchanged since 1950.”

Aided and abetted by federal law and finance, American suburbs have been endowed by their creators with inalienable landscapes of predominant whiteness, homestead wealth, ambitious education, and pursuit of upward mobility for all.

Meanwhile, as amicus scholars report, persistent techniques of systemic “hypersegregation” — in public housing, mortgage guarantees, real estate redlining, financial steering, and city planning — have confined 75 percent of African Americans to sixteen percent of census tracts.

“The executive director of the American Association of State Highway Officials, influential in Congressional highway design” was reported to use the n-word in describing the exploitation and dispossession that transportation planners pursued during the Interstate building heyday of the 1950s.

In Race and Real Estate, published by Oxford University Press in 2016, several more scholars contribute witness and expertise. Kendrick Ian Grandison shows how town geographies that once produced “the other side of the tracks” have since concretized the other side of the so-called freeway, imposing material insults and urban dangers intractably zoned in.

Urban sociologist Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, who released her disquieting study of West Baltimore shortly before the insurrections of April, 2015 rehearses in a chapter of Race and Real Estate her vocabulary for describing American apartheid. On one side policymakers and financiers collaborate to create what Peter Evans has termed “embedded autonomy,” with amply equipped opportunities to work, shop, educate, and enjoy.

On the other side, institutional structures produce “distorted engagement” where babies are likely to meet social workers even before they meet their own mothers. The difference between embedded autonomy and distorted engagement is Fernandez-Kelly’s short answer to why so many immigrant populations have been able to escape from slums to suburbs while significant numbers of African Americans endure (and insurrect against) ghetto confinement.

When King was called away from his August, 1966 Chicago marches to visit the aftermath of the Watts insurrection, he did not fail to point out that housing discrimination was one of the insurrection’s legitimate grievances. Only two years before the Watts insurrection, California had repealed its law banning discrimination in housing. “California by that callous act voted for ghettos,” said King. “The atrociousness of some deeds may be concealed by legal ritual, but the destructiveness is felt with bitter force by its victims.”

On news of King’s assassination in 1968, insurrections broke out across America. As if in recognition of where King’s struggle had stalled out – and where legitimate grievances festered — Congress fast-tracked a Fair Housing Act, the last of the landmark Civil Rights Acts to memorialize the King era.

The Fair Housing Act was but the first of King’s posthumous achievements. He came, he loved, he struggled. He exercised tremendous capacity to wage war on American dreamlessness, and we affirm, especially on this day, that King’s dream of fearless neighborhoods in America is worthy of material affirmation and respect.

Sources in order of appearance:

D.J.R. Bruckner. “Dozens Hurt During March in Chicago,” L.A. Times, Aug. 6, 1966.

Brief of Housing Scholars as Amici Curiae Supporting Respondent, Dec. 23, 2014. Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs, et al. v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. Supreme Court of the U.S.

Adrienne Brown and Valerie Smith, Editors. Race and Real Estate. Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Clayborne Carson, Editor. “Chapter 27: Watts,” The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. King Institute, Stanford University, accessed April 3, 2016.

Tale of the Eloquent Agriculturalist: Lament for Sandra Bland (CounterPunch)

July 24, 2015
by Greg Moses

This is a tribute or lament in the style of Egyptians of the Middle Kingdom who tell a “Tale of the Eloquent Peasant.” In the tale, a good farmer on his way to market finds himself criminalized by a corrupt official who confiscates his donkeys and all the goods they were transporting. The farmer appeals his case relentlessly, undeterred by official indifference or abuse.

There once was a woman
called Sandra Bland
She was an Agriculturalist of Prairie View
“Look,” she said, “I am taking a job in Texas”

She then drove south into town
and seeing in her rearview mirror
a Texas trooper by name of MyLaw
she moved her car toward the curb

Our Law it was that she moved to facilitate
thinking that the trooper was
in a rightful hurry to serve and protect
“My way is good” said Sandra Bland

But MyLaw said to the agriculturalist
“Look I will stop your car”
And MyLaw berated the agriculturalist
for steering out of his way too fast

“Look you should have put on your turn signal
before you got out of my way” said MyLaw
Then said Sandra: “But clearly you wanted
to speed on past”

“Are you upset with me?” asked MyLaw
Said Sandra: “I think you should
hurry up and finish your job”
MyLaw replied “Finish your cigarette first”

“But why should I hurry to finish my cigarette?”
asked the eloquent agriculturalist
“Now,” said MyLaw, “You should hurry up
and step out of your car”

Then he took an electric stick
and shook it in her face
“I will light you up,” said MyLaw
“Hurry up and get out of your car”

Then the agriculturalist complained very much
for the hurt that MyLaw was creating
And MyLaw said “Don’t raise your voice
Or call your lawyer, just put down your phone”

Then the eloquent agriculturalist freed her hand
from the cell phone only to see that MyLaw
would tie her wrists together, bind them
and throw her body to the ground

“You are not a real man MyLaw”
said the eloquent agriculturalist
“Because a real man has courage to
enforce nothing but Our Law”

“Stop your mouth” said MyLaw
to the eloquent agriculturalist
“I only intended to rebuke you
with a mild slap on the wrist”

“Now your wrists are tied together,” said MyLaw
“and I have tied you like a calf in the dirt”
But the eloquent agriculturalist replied
“Sir your commands smell like the shit of a bull”

MyLaw rose from his knee that was digging
into the back of the eloquent agriculturalist
and looked to his own leg
“Look I am not very sore” he said

“But look at me” said the eloquent agriculturalist
“I am weighed down. Examine me.
My head and my arm. You have struck me.
You have thrown me down at my loss.”

“I will sail the boat of Our Law on the Sea of Truth”
said the eloquent agriculturalist
“But your boat, MyLaw, will go straight down
I can’t wait to see you wailing on that Sea,

I can’t wait to meet you there!”

The Land Grabs and the Carelessness of Fracking

By Nick Braune…

I am new to this issue and it has some technical sides, but I’ve learned enough about fracking lately to be concerned.

“Fracking” is short for hydraulic fracturing. A narrow hole is drilled deep down into the ground.  According to the website for the excellent documentary “Gasland,” produced by Josh Fox, drilling can go down 8,000 feet, 24 football fields down. Then a mix of water, sand and chemicals is repeatedly shot down the hole, with very high pressure, cracking open the hard shale and rock and releasing treasured natural gas.

Although across the country there is opposition to it, and although some areas have stopped fracking because it ruins the land and the water and causes mini earthquakes, it’s rampant in Texas. Remember when candidate Perry bragged about the Texas economy? — Well, fracking did contribute to that little boost in employment.  You can see signs of fracking driving from McAllen to San Antonio; it’s all over the state. (Incidentally, have you noticed all the ads recently for “clean,” “natural” gas?  These ads alone make me suspicious.)

The “Gasland” documentary received a 2011 Academy Award nomination.  One famous scene features a fellow in rural Pennsylvania where fracking is happening.  He showed the camera team that if he turned on his kitchen faucet for water, there would also be gas and chemicals coming out.  He held a lighter to the faucet and it looked like a flaming torch coming out — that’s how much gas and chemicals were in his water!  Matt Damon also is planning a film about the fracking craze, “The Promised Land.”

According to the “Gasland” website, in 2005 a Bush/Cheney energy bill created what’s called the “Halliburton loophole,” preventing environmentalists from objecting to fracking on the basis of the Clean Water Act, and exempting companies from disclosing the chemicals used in the process.  Now there is a speculative rush all over the country to get into it; the riches being promised by natural gas fracking are causing quite a burstable investment bubble.

A Reuters report (October 3) on gas “land grab” practices interviewed a couple in Arlington Texas who did not want to sell drilling rights to Chesapeake Energy Corporation — the couple opposed fracking.  (Watch how Gov. Perry’s Texas really respects property rights.)  The couple was pressured and offered money but would not sell, so Chesapeake went to a Texas state agency, got what is called an “exception,” and drilled under them anyhow.  The couple received no money.  Reuters investigated and found that Chesapeake has asked Texas for 1,628 such exceptions.  The state agency has turned down only five exception requests and granted all the rest.  And Exxon-Mobil has received about 800 such exceptions. 

I emailed Alyssa Burgin, an environmentalist who watches land and water issues and directs the Texas Drought Project, and I asked if the Reuter’s article was exaggerating about “land grab” practices. She agreed with the article.

Burgin said, when “landmen” approach landowners they often lie. “Landmen lie about how much money owners will receive, and about how clean they will leave the land. Worse, even when people clearly own both surface and minerals, landowners are told that they had better sign, or the companies will drill right next door, horizontally burrow under, and get their oil or gas anyway — so they ‘might as well sign.’”

Fracking is mean business, from beginning to end.     [This article first appeared in “Reflection and Change” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 10-7-12, but let me add here the following paragraphs as a postscript.] 

I also asked Alyssa Burgin a follow-up question about water issues, which I know she follows.  I had attended a presentation she helped organize in Corpus Christi, but had arrived late and didn’t quite understand if franking was a water-issue problem because it uses too much water or because it poisons the water somehow.  Her answer was interesting:

“There are two issues with water. First, I will address ‘produced’ water, the water that is used to frack and then either left in open pits or hauled away to who knows where. They use seven to ten million gallons of water per frack per hole in the Eagle Ford. That water is polluted with a laundry list of toxins–benzene, toluene, and a couple of hundred more chemicals, many of which are “proprietary,” and thus not revealed to the public. Some drillers say they can clean up the water to make it potable. Not possible. Even if there were a way to remove all the chemicals, in South Texas, there is so much uranium below ground that the water becomes radioactive. Now, the areas where they are fracking are among some of the most active farming areas–corn, cotton, alfalfa. Most of those crops died in this year’s drought, and it was not unusual to see dead corn next to fracking fields. The drillers compare their water use to water acreage used for agriculture in this state. But the agricultural water used returns to the hydrological cycle through trans-evaporation. The produced water does not.  

“And additionally, the second issue–there are some recorded incidents of contamination of wells and underground water resources from fracking. The industry says this is not true, but that is because they literally pay people to shut up; their legal awards to the victims require a gag order. No joke. You can drive through areas in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania where every single house has a big water tank in the yard, furnished by the same exact company. Clearly they are getting water as a result of an agreement with the drillers.  Unfortunately, because of short-sighted Texas law, and because we have a patchwork of water regs that vary from county to county, we have almost no way of determining how much of our water is gone. Forever.”

The Law Falls Silent: The conviction of a Latino icon raises troubling questions

The government targeted Ramsey Muñiz on the uncorroborated word of a major narcotic importer. Then, by withholding this information, they made it impossible for the sharpest defense attorney in Texas to challenge the government’s case.

By Alan Bean
Friends of Justice

Re-posted by permission

“People want me to express remorse,” Ramsey Muñiz once told me. “How do you express remorse for something you didn’t do?”

In the eyes of the law, Ramiro “Ramsey” Muñiz is a convicted drug dealer who refuses to take responsibility for his actions.

In a federal trial in 1994, a Texas jury found Muñiz guilty of participating in a narcotics conspiracy. Because he had two prior convictions, federal law dictated a life sentence without possibility of parole.

A growing community of supporters is asking President Barack Obama to commute Ramsey’s sentence on humanitarian grounds. Ramsey Muñiz is approaching his seventieth birthday and, after a serious fall, he can no longer walk without the assistance of a cane. What good is accomplished, they ask, by keeping such a man in federal custody?

Others believe Muñiz was targeted as part of a political vendetta. Twice in the early 1970s, Ramsey was a gubernatorial candidate on the La Raza Unida ticket. Following a college football career with the Baylor Bears, Muñiz graduated from the university’s law school. Handsome, charismatic and tireless, Ramsey’s political campaigns galvanized the Latino community, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. According to some of his stalwart supporters, Ramsey’s Anglo opponents used the war on drugs to humiliate a Latino icon.

So, who is Ramsey Muñiz?

Is he the civil rights leader who shook up Texas politics? This is how Ramsey is remembered by his old friends from the halcyon days of La Raza Unida.

Is he the well-connected legal professional with a passion for defending young marijuana defendants? This is how his colleagues in the legal community remember him.

Is he a mystic-in-chains whose suffering has drawn him into deep communion with the crucified Christ? This is the Ramsey who greets a steady stream of visitors at the Beaumont Medium prison.

Or is Muñiz just an unprincipled opportunist who used his professional standing as a front for get-rich-quick drug deals? This is how Muñiz was portrayed in a federal courtroom in 1994, and it is how he is still regarded in the eyes of the law.

When a man is driving a car with 40 kilos of powdered cocaine in the trunk he certainly looks guilty. But who put the drugs in the car, and did Ramsey know the drugs were there?

This wasn’t the first time the hero of the Chicano movement was associated with the drug business. In 1976, Ramsey was accused of participating in a conspiracy to import marijuana into the United States. A young co-defendant negotiated a dramatic sentence reduction by agreeing to name every person who had been present when the importation of marijuana was discussed. Ramsey Muñiz was one of the names.

Like most Latinos in South Texas, Muñiz regarded marijuana as the moral equivalent of beer or wine; a common feature of social life that posed no moral problems when used in moderation. But when the Nixon administration associated the prolific plant with hippies, Mexicans and radical war protesters, the war on drugs was born.

Many former supporters were dismayed when Muñiz entered a guilty plea. He was a lawyer, not a drug dealer, so why was he going down without a fight?

Muñiz was uniquely vulnerable to federal narcotics conspiracy charges. Many of the leading marijuana importers in the Rio Grande Valley came from socially prominent families who had supported La Raza Unida in the early 1970s and regarded Ramsey Muñiz as a celebrity figure. According to federal law, a defendant can participate in a conspiracy without knowing all of his co-conspirators and with only scant information about the nature of the conspiracy. You don’t even have to profit personally. If you know illegal transactions are taking place and you fail to blow the whistle, you are part of the conspiracy.

Muñiz freely admits that he was privy to conversations related to marijuana importation. He thought he was protected from prosecution by attorney-client privilege. He was wrong.

Humiliated by his dramatic fall from grace, Muñiz wanted to disappear as quickly, quietly and completely as possible. Two virtually identical cases had been filed on the basis of the same conspiracy allegations, one in San Antonio, the other in Corpus Christi. After taking a plea offer to avoid the humiliation of trial, Ramsey was sentenced to two consecutive five-year terms and shipped off to McNeil Island, a prison on the Washington State coast commonly reserved for gang members.

After serving half his term, Ramsey Muñiz returned to the free world and, having forfeited his law license, began a new career as a paralegal. His specialty was helping Anglo attorneys communicate with Latino clients. To his great surprise, his time in prison had given him instant credibility with drug defendants and their families. They assumed that a man who had done time would understand the fear and confusion they were feeling.

They were right. Ramsey knew too much about the routine horror of prison life to be blasé about the consequences of a narcotics conviction. Wherever he went, Muñiz was surrounded by the relatives of drug defendants desperate for effective legal assistance. If his clients had money, Ramsey hooked them up with a good attorney. But he frequently went to bat for indigent defendants as well, even when the cases he sponsored were sure to lose money for the law firms he represented. Attorneys shook their heads in bewilderment, but often yielded to Ramsey’s zealous advocacy.

Muñiz was in Dallas visiting with the families of marijuana defendants when he was arrested in March of 1994. When he went to trial a few months later, the attorneys he once worked for painted a composite portrait of a morally driven crusader; a man determined to weave some justice out of his own suffering.

In the eighteen years since he was arrested in the parking lot of a La Quinta motel in Dallas, Ramsey’s spiritual education has continued. His first teacher was Diego Duran, a sixteenth-century Spanish missionary whose writings preserved much of what we know of traditional Mexican religion. Connecting with the religious roots of the Mexico’s indigenous people strengthened his commitment to the Roman Catholic piety of his childhood.

In 2009, Ramsey experienced the first of many vivid night visitations from significant people from his past. These visions lack the disconnected and logically bizarre quality of normal dream. The conversation is natural, Ramsey says, “just like you were sitting across from me and we were talking. I can reach out and touch my visitors, and they can touch me. In every respect, it is just like real life. Most nights I have normal dreams or no dreams at all; but in the hours before a visitation, I can feel the Spirit growing inside me, and I know that tonight will be one of those nights.”

The most frequent night visitor is Ramsey’s father-in-law, Dr. Salvador Alvarez. “We were very close while he was still alive,” Ramsey told me, “we were tight.”

Ramsey’s nocturnal encounters, especially with Alvarez, have been life-transforming. “Ramsey, do you love?” his father-in-law asked one night. Confused, Ramsey said, “Yes, I love. Why do you ask?”

“When you speak of love,” Alvarez replied, “it is always for your own people, la raza. Nuestra gente. Have you no love for the rest of the world?”

“I realized he was right,” Ramsey says. “It isn’t enough to love your own people, it is also necessary to love people who are not like you. That’s why I now sign all my letters, ‘Freedom, justice, and love for all the world.”

Muñiz would be an excellent candidate for a presidential commutation if he would express remorse for his crimes and many wonder why he is so adamant on this point when, at first glance, the government’s case against him seems airtight.

Consider the facts the government presented to the jury in the summer of 1994:

On the evening of March 10th, 1994, agents with Drug Enforcement Administration in Dallas saw Muñiz pick up an unidentified man at the Love Field airport in Dallas, Texas.

The following morning, Muñiz had breakfast with an associate named Juan Gonzales and the unidentified man he met at the airport. In the course of conversation, the unidentified man referenced a deal scheduled for ten o’clock.

After breakfast, Muñiz and Gonzales dropped off the unidentified man at Love Field and returned to the Ramada Inn.

Muñiz got behind the wheel of a white Mercury Topaz and followed Gonzales to a La Quinta motel one mile south on Interstate 35.

When agents from the Dallas office of the Drug Enforcement Administration questioned Muñiz moments after he exited the Topaz, he concealed the keys and denied any association with the car.

The trunk was opened, revealing 40 kilograms of powder cocaine with a street value of $800,000.

That’s all the government wanted the jury to know about Ramsey Muñiz. It was then up to Dick DeGuerin, Ramsey’s high profile defense attorney, to muddy the waters as much as he could. A string of attorneys who had employed Ramsey as a legal assistant talked about his passion for helping indigent defendants. Testimony showed that Ramsey was in Dallas in March of 1994 because several families were desperate for his assistance.

As civil rights attorney Michelle Alexander recently told Stephen Colbert, “During the 1990s, the period of the greatest escalation in the drug war, nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests were for marijuana possession, saddling these young people with criminal records for life that will authorize legal discrimination against them in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.”

Ramsey Muñiz was in Dallas, testimony suggested, trying to minimize the impact of the government’s war on marijuana.

The jury also learned a little bit about the mystery man Muñiz picked up at the Dallas airport on Thursday night and deposited at the same airport Friday morning. Donacio Medina was a Mexican businessman who came to Texas seeking legal representation for two brothers, one in Texas, the other in California, who were awaiting trial on federal drug charges.

Testimony suggested that Donacio Medina was introduced to Ramsey Muñiz by Moises Andrade, a businessman who owned camera shops on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. When Medina mentioned his brothers’ legal troubles, Andrade directed him to Ramsey Muñiz.

Medina wanted his brothers sentenced to as little time as possible and then, after they were sentenced, he was hoping to have them transferred to prisons in Mexico—a little-known feature of the recently adopted NAFTA agreement made this kind of prisoner swap possible. Well-connected and fully bilingual, Muñiz was the ideal person to help Medina negotiate with a high-profile Texas attorney.

Finally, defense counsel used motel phone logs to prove that virtually every call Ramsey made while in Dallas was either to his wife or a long list of prospective clients. The implication was that Muñiz came to North Texas on a legitimate business trip; doing a drug deal with a virtual stranger wasn’t on the agenda.

The jury also learned that Muñiz drove from Houston to Dallas in a red Toyota Camry driven by Juan Gonzales, a laborer from the Rio Grande Valley who frequently served as Ramsey’s chauffeur. Muñiz explained that he got more work done when he paid someone else to do the driving. Due to a medical emergency, Gonzales made a hurried dash to his home in South Texas and, for most of his time in the Dallas area, Muñiz was picked up and dropped off by potential clients.

Finally, the jury was told that the white Topaz Muñiz was driving just prior to his arrest had been rented in Houston by Donacio Medina using Juan Gonzales’ Sears credit card. Gonzales told Medina that he couldn’t use his card because his account for $300 in arrears, so Medina paid off the balance with cash so Gonzales could rent the car. This happened short days before Muñiz and Gonzales drove to Dallas.

Dick DeGuerin did some sleuthing while the trial was underway and the results were stunning. Prior to trial, the prosecution had portrayed the Muñiz prosecution as an in-house job. DEA agents in Dallas got a call from suspicious employees of the Ramada Inn, put Muñiz and Gonzales under surveillance, and the rest is history.

But when DeGuerin ran the official scenario past motel personnel he sparked a chorus of denials. No one associated with the Ramada Inn thought their courteous and professionally-dressed guests were the least bit suspicious, and no one had called the DEA office in Dallas. The government’s story was a complete fabrication.

There was more. Phone records showed that on March 9th, Donacio Medina called Ramsey Muñiz from the Classic Inn, a low-end motel in Fort Worth. This meant that Medina had travelled to Fort Worth prior to March 9, 1994, returned to Houston on March 9th, and flew back to Dallas the following day. This meant that Medina was in Houston on parts of March 9th, 10th and 11th (the day Muñiz was arrested).

The weird revelations kept coming. On the last day of trial, DeGuerin got a DEA agent to admit that Danny Hernandez, a criminal informant working with the DEA, had booked into Fort Worth’s Classic Inn on March 6th and maintained a room at the motel during all of Medina’s shuttle diplomacy between Houston and Dallas. The DEA agent insisted that Hernandez was working a completely different case. The agent insisted that Hernandez had no association with Medina and that no records suggested that Medina had ever stayed at the Classic Inn.

But if that was true, why did Medina call Muñiz from the Classic Inn on March 9th, and why, as trial testimony suggests, did Medina pay Danny Gallardo, an off duty FedEx driver, to transport him to the Classic Inn shortly after arriving at Love Field the following day?

Furthermore, why did the mysterious Danny Hernandez book into the Fort Worth motel claiming that he had no identification because his wallet had been stolen? If that was true, where did Hernandez get the money for the room, and why did he give the motel a fake address? Did Medina and Hernandez drive to Fort Worth in the white Topaz Medina rented with Juan Gonzales’ Sears card so that Medina could enjoy a base of operations without leaving a paper trail?

The final revelation arrived just as Dick DeGuerin was putting the finishing touches on his closing argument. Newly revealed government records showed that Donacio Medina had been “negotiating” with the DEA office in Houston. DeGuerin referenced this fact during his close, but with no time to think through all the implications, he didn’t know what to do with the information. It is likely that the prosecution revealed this information to the defense as soon as they learned about it. If so, both the prosecution and the defense went to trial knowing next to nothing about the man at the heart of the story.

What does this shocking piece of information imply?

First, it meant that the Muñiz operation originated in Houston and that DEA agents in Dallas joined the investigation late and only at the request of the Houston office.

Secondly, it means that, shortly after arriving in Houston from Mexico, Medina was arrested and “debriefed” by the DEA. What probable cause did the Houston DEA have for picking up Donacio Medina?

We can only speculate. Shortly after being convicted, Muñiz learned through the prison grapevine that an undercover DEA agent overheard Medina bragging about the size of his cocaine operation at a Houston party. Obviously, this theory can’t be documented.

It is also possible that Medina was picked up because two of his brothers were sitting in federal prisons awaiting trial on charges involving enormous amounts of powdered cocaine. One brother was found with almost $5 million in his possession. Two brothers facing narcotics charges suggested that Donacio had a stake in the family business.

Here’s what can be said for certain: Medina agreed to help the feds build a narcotics case against Ramsey Muñiz in exchange for free passage back to Mexico. Trial testimony shows that Medina was held at Love Field by DEA agents until 40 kilos of powdered cocaine were discovered in the trunk of the white Topaz. The moment the drugs were discovered, Medina was released.

Was the federal government targeting Ramsey Muñiz? This question cannot be answered with certainty. Ramsey’s name may have come up when the DEA asked Medina what he was doing in the country. If Medina claimed to be in Houston looking for legal representation for his brothers, Ramsey’s name would have dropped and a quick check would have revealed his prior narcotics conviction.

This would have suggested that, his cover story notwithstanding, Medina had entered the country to do a narcotics deal with an underworld figure named Ramsey Muñiz. It is possible that the DEA officials who targeted Muñiz knew nothing of his political history.

Confronted with the government’s suspicions, Medina faced a simple choice: deny that he and Muniz had a drug deal in the mix and join his brothers in a federal prison awaiting trial, or give the feds Muñiz in exchange for a one-way ticket to Mexico City.

It is possible, of course, that the Houston DEA got it right. The fact that Muñiz drove a narcotics-laden car down a one-mile stretch of I-35 is entirely consistent with the government’s theory. The prosecution had no burden to show who placed the drugs in the Topaz or who the prospective buyers might have been. Prior to trial, the government wasn’t even required to inform defense counsel of their relationship to Donacio Medina or any other criminal informant. In fact, the prosecution likely went to trial knowing very little (and caring even less) about Medina’s association to the Houston DEA.

With the striking exception of a single country, testimony from criminal informants is viewed with grave suspicion in the free world, and for obvious reasons. Alexandra Natapoff is America’s foremost authority on the use and abuse of “snitch” testimony.

“Criminal informants are an important piece of the wrongful conviction puzzle,” she says, “because informants have such predictable and powerful inducements to lie, because law enforcement relies heavily on their information, and because the system is not well designed to check that information.”

There are two enormous problems with the government’s case against Ramsey Muñiz (and virtually every other federal case built on snitch testimony). First, the government targeted Muñiz on the uncorroborated word of a man they believed to be a major narcotic importer. Second, by withholding this information, the government made it impossible for the sharpest defense attorney in Texas to challenge the government’s theory of the crime.

Did Ramsey Muñiz know he was transporting narcotics? That’s the only question that matters. The government shaped the evidence to make it appear that he did, while making it impossible for defense counsel to argue that he didn’t. In a nutshell, that’s what’s wrong with this case.

The government argued that Muñiz got behind the wheel of the white Topaz because it was his prearranged role in a narcotics conspiracy. That’s a nice simple story and, deprived of an alternative explanation, the jury was sure to buy it. But there are plenty of alternative explanations.

Consider this scenario. Confronted with DEA suspicions, Medina “confesses” that he came to Texas to do a drug deal with Ramsey Muñiz. Knowing that Juan Gonzales would soon be driving Muniz to Dallas, Medina rents a car for two days in Gonzales’ name and Gonzales goes along with the plan because it restores his credit and places $250 of free money in his pocket.

Next, the DEA gives Medina and Danny Hernandez 40 kilos of cocaine, the two men place the drugs in the trunk of the rented Mercury Topaz and drive to the Classic Inn in Fort Worth. Hernandez, rents a room without identification so there will be no record of Medina’s stay.

Medina flies back to Houston, at the request of the DEA (while Hernandez guards the stash), then Medina arranges to have Ramsey Muñiz pick him up at Love Field on the evening of March 10th so the Dallas DEA can witness the two men together.

The next step can be reconstructed from trial testimony. Medina approaches Danny Gallardo, an off-duty Fed Ex driver, and asks him to drive to the Classic Inn in Fort Worth on the evening of March 10th so Medina could pick up his car. After arriving at the motel, Medina tells Gallardo that the car isn’t there and asks to be driven to the Ramada Inn in Lewisville. Seeing Muñiz in the Ramada parking lot, Medina exits the car and Gallardo drives off.

Medina then gets into a car driven by an unidentified man and disappears until the following morning.

Trial testimony suggests that, on the morning of March 11th, Ramsey Muñiz, Donacio Medina and Juan Gonzales (recently returned from a whirlwind trip to the Rio Grande Valley) meet for breakfast at the Evans restaurant across the street from the motel. At some point, Medina slips Gonzales the keys to the rented white Topaz and asks him to return the vehicle for him.

The three men drive to Love Field shortly before 11:00 am the morning of March 11th, Medina gets out of the car and disappears inside the terminal. According to trial testimony, Gonzales stops en route to the Ramada Inn to call a relative from a pay phone. Only then does Gonzales inform Muñiz that he plans to spend the night at the La Quinta that evening, and asks his boss to help him move Medina’s rented car from the Ramada to the La Quinta. Although Ramsey doesn’t have a driver’s license, he agrees to make the one-mile trip as a favor to Gonzales.

Trial testimony suggests that Gonzales, learning that Muñiz intended to fly back to Houston after a noon meeting with prospective clients, decided to remain in the DFW area to look for work. The details remain sketchy, however, because Gonzales didn’t discuss his plans with Muñiz prior to arrest and because Gonzales didn’t testify at trial.

Was Ramsey Muñiz innocently moving a car for a friend, or was he engaged in an illegal narcotics deal? The answer depends on whether you believe Denacio Medina or Ramsey Muñiz.

This recreation of the story involves considerable speculation, but so does the government’s theory of the crime. Both reconstructions may be wildly off base. The real story may be buried somewhere in an obscure DEA file folder, but given the slim corpus of facts at our disposal, partisans on either side of the story are reduced to playing a guessing game.

Several questions may never be answered. Did Medina supply the drugs in the trunk of the Topaz or did the 40 kilos of cocaine come from a DEA evidence locker? Both theories are possible.

The more you know about this case the more troubling it becomes. Let’s begin with Donacio Medina. If DEA suspicions are justified (and I suspect they are) we are dealing with a man with an established narcotics distribution network trained and equipped to do his dirty business for him. Why would such a man travel to Texas to do a drug deal with Ramsey Muñiz when he could do this kind of transaction from the safety of his arm chair?

And if Medina came to Texas to do a narcotics transaction with Muñiz, why didn’t the deal go down in Houston or in the Rio Grande Valley where illegal narcotics are cheaper and more readily available? Why jump through all the logistical hoops a Dallas deal demanded? The most likely scenario is that Medina flew to Dallas because that’s where Muniz was doing business. But if Ramsey had a million dollar drug deal in the works, why was he spending so much time with piss ant marijuana defendants?

Here’s the simplest explanation: Medina planted the drugs in the Topaz and, working through Gonzales, placed Muñiz behind the wheel because that’s what his deal with the Houston DEA demanded.

Is an innocent and deeply spiritual man living behind bars because a Mexican drug lord was desperate to save his own skin? Of all the theories on the table, this one makes the most sense.

So why doesn’t the Department of Justice release Ramsey Muñiz because, innocent or not, he has paid his debt to society?

Two reasons. First, Ramsey’s innocence, however likely, cannot be proven. Since there is no parole in the federal legal system, the life sentence stands.

Second, the government can’t back away from the Muñiz fiasco without admitting that America’s war on drugs has thoroughly corrupted the federal justice system. Cases based on the uncorroborated testimony of drug dealers are guaranteed to convict the innocent along with the guilty. A morally flawed criminal with a gun to his head will say whatever the triggerman wants him to say.

Snitch testimony is inherently unreliable, that’s why the United States is the only nation in the free world that builds criminal cases on such a flimsy foundation. Unfortunately, America’s war on drugs cannot be waged without criminal informants.

Without the drug war, we are told, all hell would break loose. If a few thousand innocent Americans get locked up in the process, that’s just the price we have to pay. The Roman orator Cicero summed it up nicely a century before Jesus was crucified, “In time of war, the law falls silent.”

It is appropriate that Ramsey Muñiz identifies so closely with the suffering of Christ Crucified. Like his Savior, Ramsey has been sacrificed for the greater good. “You do not understand,” Caiaphas told the religious leaders of his day, “that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

This perverse but powerful logic keeps men like Ramsey Muñiz in bondage. If he would only admit guilt and feign contrition, Muñiz might have been released long ago. But like he says, “How do you express remorse for something you didn’t do?” If you are willing to abandon your last shred of self-respect, it’s easy. But men like Ramsey Muñiz can’t walk through that door.

There is only one way to resolve this dilemma. Barack Obama could issue a presidential commutation on humanitarian grounds. But the president can’t make this bold move unless we move first. Abraham Lincoln got it right, “With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

What Franklin Roosevelt told a group of depression era reformers, Barack Obama says to us, “I agree with you, I want to do it . . . now make me do it.”

* * * * *

Since the spring of 2000 Alan Bean has been the Executive Director of Friends of Justice, a criminal justice reform organization that specializes in narrative intervention. Dr. Bean was serving a Methodist church as an interim pastor when 46 people were arrested in Tulia, Texas on the uncorroborated word of a corrupt undercover officer. Dr. Bean’s articulate public protest transformed him into an advocate for criminal justice reform.

Into the Mythic (CounterPunch)

December 21, 2015
by Greg Moses

In the final Star Wars episode coming down the pipes in a century or two will the empire finally crush the resistance into dust? And if we saw that ending would we believe it? No way. Somehow the dust would turn out to have regenerative powers explainable in a science-fiction logic of positronic hyperspatial defiance. Linear defeat not allowable.

Back on earth injustice mans the cockpit of history, swearing allegiance to dark forces of victory, gunning down, bombing out, clearing ground, imposing the myth that more people need killing. Why do they ever think they can finally win?

I don’t know if you’ve seen a viral video of a squirrel biting a rattlesnake. The two creatures meet at the edge of a sidewalk. The furry critter is communicating in a primal code. It nips the narrowed tail of the rattlesnake. Go away! And the rattlesnake’s response is interesting. The slinky serpent strikes back, threatening with teeth of its own, but never lethally. It plays the game, then slides away.

Question is, why don’t people behave more like rattlesnakes?

Killing is abominable excess in human experience. And I’m thinking it comes from our ability to overcome recognition of death for what it is. The rattlesnake is in relation to a fellow living thing. It is incapable of redefining. Human language displaces death. If the rattlesnake could define the squirrel as a criminal, it would be conqueror of a short story, ending with a lifeless body on the pavement.

Love your enemies sounds absurd, yet the rattlesnake understands it.

Mythic power is rising, and the hunger for it is a bankable frenzy measurable in ticket sales and shopping days to Christmas. We humans wield a cosmic power in the attitudes that we choose to take. May we soon remember that death is absolutely the last thing to be wished upon fellow creatures, especially death in the name of empire.