In W. Virginia, "No Justice" After Mining Disaster That Killed 29--and In North Carolina, Sterilization Victims Wait for Theirs

Today's New York Timeshas two devastating and insightful must-read pieces about homegrown injustice in America.

First, an op-ed piece about the Massey mining disaster that killed 29 in West Virginia. David M. Uhlmann, a former federal prosecutor, wrote that the "deferred prosecution" agreement getting this shady, dangerous company off the hook is evidence of a "disturbing trend" in terms of American corporate power:

On Tuesday, the Labor Department issued a 972-page report on the calamity — the nation’s worst mining disaster in 40 years. It concluded that Massey’s “unlawful policies and practices” were the “root cause of this tragedy.” It identified over 300 violations of the Mine Safety and Health Act, including nine flagrant violations that contributed to the explosion.

The scathing findings probably came as no surprise in West Virginia, where Massey had a well-earned reputation for putting miners at risk, breaking unions and polluting the environment.

However, what jumped off the pages for me, as a former federal prosecutor, was the revelation that Massey had kept two sets of books at the mine: one for internal use, which recorded hazards, and a second for Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors, which did not. In addition, Massey routinely gave its facilities advance notice of inspections, which is a crime under federal law, and intimidated its workers so that they would not report safety and health violations.

 Despite these horrifying findings, writes Uhlmann:

Let’s be clear: this is not a criminal resolution. Massey will not be charged with any crimes and will not plead guilty before a federal judge. Nor will there be a sentencing hearing where Massey apologizes to the families of the victims and is punished for its crimes.

The deal with Massey continues a disturbing trend whereby corporations can avoid criminal prosecution by entering deferred prosecution or nonprosecution agreements. Often the terms of these agreements are no better than what could have been achieved in a criminal case; worse, they create the appearance that justice can be bought.

This individual tragedy, he notes, is indicative of the growing power of corporations to negotiate out of punishment.

Meanwhile in neighboring North Carolina, more victims await reparations. The Times has another heartbreaking story about the legacy of the mass forced sterilizations undergone decades ago in North Carolina--and how the government is deciding on what kind of payment to offer victims.

Now, along with scores of others selected for state sterilization — among them uneducated young girls who had been raped by older men, poor teenagers from large families, people with epilepsy and those deemed to be too “feeble-minded” to raise children — Mr. Holt is waiting to see what a state that had one of the country’s most aggressive eugenics programs will decide his fertility was worth....

The program, while not specifically devised to target racial minorities, affected black Americans disproportionately because they were more often poor and uneducated and from large rural families.

“The state owes something to the victims,” said Governor Perdue, who campaigned on the issue.

But what? Her five-member task force has been meeting since May to try to determine what that might be... In a period of severe budget cuts and layoffs, money for eugenics victims can be a hard sell to legislators. 

 These stories indicate how many American citizens are victimized over and over again by their own government--those elected to serve them.

AlterNet / By Sarah Seltzer

Posted at December 10, 2011, 7:37am

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