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Government

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

screenshot from CSPAN-2

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Postmaster Louis DeJoy has made a very powerful enemy: the U.S. Congress. Well, the Democrats who control the House, anyway. A group of House Democrats has introduced the "Delivering Envelopes Judiciously On-time Year-round Act." Yes, the DEJOY Act, which is a crime against legislative nomenclature. But the lawmakers are serious, intent on blocking DeJoy from implementing the service changes he intends, including slowing delivery of first-class mail to as long as five days.

"This is the best way to kill your business," Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill, said. "To basically say to your customers, 'We're not going to meet your expectations. You're going to meet our service realities, regardless of what ends up happening.'" Krishnamoorthi told The Washington Post that this "particular change, going from 100 percent of first-class mail being delivered one to three days to only 70 percent, would be a nonstarter, in my opinion, with the American people."

DeJoy's response to Congress in a hearing before he released his plan doomed the reception of it. While DeJoy wasn't quite as obnoxious and insulting to members as in previous outings, he still angered many of them. DeJoy actually said "Does it make a difference if it's an extra day to get a letter?" as if people weren't relying on the mail to get their prescriptions, to pay their bills, to receive checks. Then he had the chutzpah to say, "I would give myself an 'A' for bringing strategy and the planning and effort to here."

It's not just Congress that is set against DeJoy. Pennsylvania's Attorney General Josh Shapiro threatened legal action if DeJoy's changes "illegally come at the expense of those who rely on the mail for everything from paychecks to medications." The Postal Service, he reminds us, is a public service and "Changes to its universal service guarantee must go through a process that is designed to protect the public interest." Shapiro's office told the Post that "it was encouraged that DeJoy recognizes the legal obligations to secure limited regulatory approvals, but said it remained concerned about timely mail delivery."

DeJoy wants to slash service, cut USPS post office hours, and increase postage costs for consumers, delivering worse service for higher cost in his attempt to save $160 billion over 10 years. That's along with legislation from Congress that is likely to pass that will repeal the 2006 law forcing the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. It's the only agency that Congress has ever required to do that, a decision made when cooking the books to make the deficit look better.

The USPS is an off-budget entity—its operating expenses don't come out of the Treasury, but its payments into the federal health benefits system do, so this intergovernmental agency pumping funds in for retiree health benefits could be counted as revenue for the federal government. It was so much book-cooking but had real consequences in burdening the USPS. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, has legislation that would both repeal the 2006 law and enroll future retirees in Medicare. They're now in the federal employees benefits plan, where all that pre-funding money has been going.

DeJoy's planned price hikes and service cuts are getting panned by consumer groups—including business groups that rely on the mail. There are lawsuits in the works to force a stop to the changes. "In the entire fifty-eight pages of the plan there does not appear to be any effort to retain mail volume," PostCom, a national postal commerce advocacy group, wrote. "Apart from price increases and service reductions, there is little about mail in the plan at all. That's inaction." Another group, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, said "the plan will drive mail volume down to levels not seen since before it reached 100 billion in 1980. […] If we mailers win our federal lawsuit, the plan is sunk."

DeJoy has to be stopped before he can implement these changes. He should have been gone before now—when his disqualifying conflicts of interestsurfaced. The fact that the USPS Board of Governors picked DeJoy—who was unqualified, had never worked in the Postal Service, and who got the job after making big donations to Trump's convention—without any vetting process means they have to go, too.

Biden should fire the board. The Senate should make confirming Biden's new board members a top priority. The Postal Service is too critical an institution to let this malfeasance continue.

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New York City police officers at Black Lives Matter protest

Photo by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

This story was co-published with THE CITY.

It was one of the most brutal police responses to last year's Black Lives Matter protests.

As hundreds of demonstrators were marching peacefully in the Bronx on the evening of June 4, New York Police Department officers blocked their way from in front and then behind, trapping the protesters in an ever-tightening space that footage shows ultimately spanned about three car-lengths.

Officers soon waded into the crowd, pepper-spraying, kicking, punching and swinging their batons. "People were being stampeded, they would try to get up and they'd get hit again," recalled Conrad Blackburn, a criminal defense lawyer who was there as a legal observer. "People were bleeding from their heads, with cuts all over their bodies. People couldn't breathe. They couldn't see."

About 60 protesters and bystanders were injured, according to a report by Human Rights Watch. Video footage the organization compiled captures the terror in people's voices. "We're being crushed!" one person screams. Another voice pleads, "Mommy!"

At the demonstration, overseeing the NYPD's response, was the top uniformed officer, Chief of Department Terence Monahan.

A recent federal lawsuit by New York State Attorney General Letitia James says that Monahan "actively encouraged and participated in this unlawful behavior." Other reports on the protests have also offered scathing criticisms of the NYPD's response.

But one voice has been conspicuously quiet: The agency whose sole responsibility is to investigate NYPD abuse of civilians.

The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, received about 750 complaints of officers abusing Black Lives Matter protesters across the city last year. But it has not yet released any findings from investigations into those complaints.

The CCRB declined ProPublica's request for an accounting of the status of its investigations. It won't say how many investigations have been closed and how many are still open. Most critically, it won't disclose how many officers have been charged with misconduct.

The NYPD also did not respond to ProPublica's questions about any discipline stemming from abuse of protesters.

The lack of disclosure comes as New York City has moved toward more transparency in police discipline. A federal court recently cleared the way for the city to make NYPD officers' disciplinary records public. Both the CCRB and NYPD have now published officers' disciplinary records, though critics have noted the limitations of the databases.

Created nearly 70 years ago, originally as a part of the NYPD, the CCRB has long been cautious about crossing the department it is charged with investigating. It is currently overseen by a 15-member board, with members appointed by the mayor, city council, public advocate and police commissioner.

Internal CCRB communications about its investigations into the NYPD response to the protests give a glimpse of the dynamics involved: They show progress on the investigations has been slowed in part because of the NYPD's recurrent lack of cooperation — which ProPublica has previously detailed — and the CCRB leadership's own caution about confronting it.

In October, the then-deputy chief of the CCRB's investigative unit, Dane Buchanan, emailed the agency's executive director, Jonathan Darche, to say that investigators were "ready to schedule Chief Monahan for an interview." Buchanan asked Darche whether he'd like to discuss it first "or should we just have an investigator reach out to his office to get his availability?"

Darche, who reports to the board, responded that he would handle it himself and raise it in a meeting with the NYPD the next day.

Buchanan continued to check in, but the issue went unresolved for months. Monahan was reportedly finally scheduled for an interview to be conducted last Friday, just after he had announced he was retiring from the NYPD after 39 years. The move means Monahan would no longer be subject to departmental discipline.

As Monahan said he was retiring, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed him to help run New York's COVID-19 response. At a press conference, de Blasio deflected a question about choosing an officer under investigation, saying, "I think the message this sends is that we're moving the recovery forward."

In a statement, the CCRB told ProPublica it was "not prepared to interview Chief Monahan in October" and that "it intends to release a report detailing the factors that complicated its investigations into the police response to last summer's protests." The CCRB said it will share the results of investigations once they are closed and once federal litigation, such as the attorney general's suit, is over.

Emails show CCRB staffers had repeatedly raised red flags about the NYPD's failure to produce evidence. "We continue to be plagued with false negatives in protest cases," one staffer emailed in the fall, referring to instances where the NYPD claimed it had no body-worn camera footage of an incident only for the CCRB to later discover footage exists.

Another email cited an example where an officer mentioned in an interview she had activated her body cam during a confrontation with a protester. The NYPD had told the CCRB that no such footage existed.

"Allegations of us not providing BWC footage is false," the NYPD said in a statement, referring to body-worn cameras. "We have spoken with senior executives at the CCRB who state they do not have any complaints and are pleased with the Departments response to providing BWC video."

Other records were also matters of contention. "We are hitting a critical point with the protest case documents," Buchanan wrote in October, referring to police records that could help the CCRB identify both officers and civilians. "Many of them have been outstanding for a long time."

The CCRB did decide to go public about one roadblock. Officers had been refusing to do interviews by video, which the agency was using because of the pandemic. Hundreds of cases were stalled as a result. After the CCRB announced an emergency hearing about it in August, the NYPD ordered officers to participate in video interviews.

But the CCRB stayed quiet on other impediments, and staff were sometimes discouraged from raising them even with the NYPD itself. The agency's then-head of policy, Nicole Napolitano, wrote in a September email that she had been barred from asking the NYPD about its policies for retention of protest footage. "I just spoke with Matt, and he's not a fan of me asking TARU any questions," Napolitano wrote, referring to the CCRB's general counsel, Matthew Kadushin, and the NYPD's Technical Assistance Response Unit.

In the same email, Napolitano noted that she had proposed writing a public report on the NYPD's response to the summer protests but that Kadushin had instructed her not to, saying it was too early.

Napolitano, Buchanan and two other senior staffers, who together had more than 50 years of experience at the agency, were abruptly laid offin November in what the CCRB has described as a needed cost-saving restructuring. (The four staffers declined to comment for this article.)

Emails show Buchanan had continued to follow up about the status of interviewing Monahan until the day he and the others were let go.

The four former staffers filed a lawsuit in January claiming that they were fired in part for "demanding greater accountability and transparency with respect to the handling of complaints of police misconduct against NYPD officers." The suit, which asserts the four were illegally retaliated against for raising concerns, says Darche "often skewed CCRB policies with a view towards currying favor with the NYPD and/or the Mayor's Office."

In one example from 2019 described in the suit, Darche objected to the term "bias based policing" and warned that any employees who used the phrase would be disciplined or fired.

The CCRB declined to comment on the former employees' lawsuit and did not make Darche or Kadushin available for interviews. The agency pointed to a previous statement by the chair of the CCRB, who was jointly appointed by the mayor and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. "The difficult but necessary restructuring the CCRB went through last year was motivated by a need for change during this difficult financial time for the City," said the chair, the Rev. Fred Davie.

A City Hall spokesperson also said at the time that the mayor "supports that step forward."

The CCRB's lack of independence has long stirred friction within the agency and with City Hall and the NYPD. Its powers have expanded over the years, most notably when it was given subpoena power in the early 1990s. But the agency, which has about 215 staffers and a $20 million budget, does not have direct access to body camera footage and other NYPD records. Instead, it effectively has to rely on the cooperation of the NYPD, which has a budget of nearly $6 billion and is the most powerful agency in city government.

The NYPD has repeatedly been cited for overly aggressive responses to large protests. "It is deja vu all over again in some ways," said the head of New York City's Department of Investigation after issuing a scathing report on the NYPD's response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

During the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York, an NYPD commander on the scene told hundreds of peaceful protesters, "Have a safe march," then a few minutes later ordered them arrested.

A federal judge later ruled there was "not even arguable probable cause to make those arrests." The city eventually settled a lawsuit over the NYPD's RNC response for $18 million.

The commander at that scene? Terence Monahan.

Do you have information to share about police oversight in New York City? Contact eric.umansky@propublica.org. You can also reach him securely via Signal at 917-687-8406.

Mollie Simon and Zipporah Osei contributed reporting.