Since When Are TERRORISTS allowed to give Press Interviews?

Lorraine Berry

Why is the man who murdered Dr. Tiller being allowed to give interviews from jail?

My head just exploded.


I’ve had a migraine all day, thunderstorms are threatening, and now, I find out that the Kansas City Star thought it would be a good idea to interview the terrorist who killed Dr. Tiller.

Funny, that. How come we never interview other terrorists? We keep them locked away in chains and hoods and in places so dark and frightening that they’ll never be heard from again, but the piece of shit who killed a compassionate man is allowed to spew his crap all over the place.

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Oh, and for those people who told me that I wasn’t allowed to call Randall Terry, former used car salesman and founder of Operation Rescue, a terrorist because he never inspired anyone to kill anyone, well, you can read this: Operation
is desperately trying to get its story straight. They SWEAR they had nothing to do with the killing of anyone, but it sure is interesting how their phone numbers and whatnot show up on these terrorists’ persons when they’re arrested. Jus’ saying.

Anyway, according to the terrorist who murdered Dr. Tiller IN CHURCH,

The Kansas City man charged with killing Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller said in an interview he was angry at a major anti-abortion group that he thought had abandoned him.

Scott Roeder also said from jail that he was elated that Tiller was dead and that he knew he could be going to prison for decades.

He talked about his whereabouts on the day of his arrest, including plans he had made to pick up goat milk and cheese at a farm west of Kansas City.
The Kansas City Star interviewed Roeder three times in recent weeks, including once at the Sedgwick County Jail.

In a phone interview Friday, Roeder said he was upset at the president of Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, who had condemned the killing and said his organization <a href="">had nothing to do with Roeder.</a>

Again, WHY is this man being allowed to be interviewed by the press? Have we collectively lost our minds? Shouldn’t he be in a cell somewhere, alone, thinking about the fact that he, who claims to be a good Christian, shot a man in cold blood in a church?

Instead, we get to read this bullshit:

Tiller’s death

Roeder said he felt “relief and joy” over the shooting.

“And I’ve heard that three women have actually changed their minds and had their babies because there’s no availability here,” he said. “Wichita has been abortion-free since that time.

“That’s total elation.”

Is it seemly to allow someone to dance on someone else’s grave? Is he actually celebrating the fact that he terrorized three women into not getting abortions? Is this how we want the abortion debate to continue in this country? The Supreme Court keeps upholding the basic RIGHT TO PRIVACY and nutjobs kill doctors in response?

I actively try to practice compassion.

I actively try to love my enemies, as Dr. King and Mahatma Gandhi tell me to.

But I cannot love the man who killed Dr. Tiller.

What I want is for him to rot in jail for the rest of his natural days, and I want for us to never, ever hear a peep out of him. Allowing him to speak, when Dr. Tiller is dead, is an abomination.

A fucking abomination.

Investigations Violence

As Threats Spike, Advocates Urge Feds to Strengthen Law Protecting Abortion Clinic Access

Sofia Resnick

Just two days after NARAL Pro-Choice America submitted a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate anti-choice activities as domestic terrorism, an extremist opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, murdering three people and injuring nine others.

On a frigid January afternoon this year, a day before the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, about a dozen fresh-out-of-college feminist campus organizers marched the halls of Congress after divvying up a list of representatives to visit.

Smartly dressed under bulky winter coats, organizers Kelli Musick and Chelsea Yarborough, who work for the national nonprofit the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), dropped by the office of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

Blackburn chairs the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee’s Select Investigative Panel, created last October principally to investigate Planned Parenthood. The panel formed after the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of heavily edited videos in which it claimed—though never proved—that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue.

As part of their mission that day, Musick and Yarborough left written materials with a staffer asking Blackburn to either redirect her panel’s focus to violent attacks on abortion clinics, or to dissolve it. Specifically, the FMF wanted the congressional panel to investigate the leaders behind CMP, whose rhetoric has fueled a recent spate of threats and attacks against abortion providers, the foundation’s president, Eleanor Smeal, told Rewire in an interview. Though the investigative scope of the panel is actually quite broad, it does not specifically include abortion clinic violence as an area to probe.

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But in the four months since Musick and Yarborough submitted their request to Blackburn’s staff, the panel has forged ahead with its investigation, not just into Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation practices, but into abortion practices generally. This week, House Democrats requested that Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) disband this panel, arguing that it amounts to little more than a biased, expensive witch hunt on fetal tissue researchers and abortion providers.

Really, though, the FMF’s mostly symbolic ask is part of a recent, ongoing push by abortion rights groups to demand that the federal government start taking violence and threats aimed at abortion providers more seriously. National organizations last year began identifying a spike in violent acts, such as arson, vandalism, and death threats, directed at reproductive health clinics and staffers.

NARAL Pro-Choice America started a campaign last November asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate these types of activities as domestic terrorism. Just two days after NARAL submitted its letter to the federal agency, an anti-choice extremist opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado murdering three people and injuring nine others.

This rise in threats and attacks—further documented in a report published last month by the National Abortion Federation (NAF)—has also prompted abortion rights groups to demand that the government strengthen and fully enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a 22-year-old federal law intended to ensure access to abortion clinics and to protect the lives of abortion providers and patients.

“The time for us being quiet is over,” Smeal said at a news conference held in January. “We are determined that we are going to bring the anti-abortion violence issue to the forefront of decision making.”

A Call for More FACE Investigations

The FACE Act, which allows for criminal and civil remedies, makes it a federal crime to use force or the threat of force to prevent people from accessing or providing reproductive health care. For example, the law bans the destruction of clinic property and the practice of blocking someone’s entrance into a clinic.

Before President Bill Clinton signed the FACE Act in 1994, some abortion foes would travel the country and barricade themselves in front of clinic doors. Such blockades came to be known as “operation rescue,” pioneered by the national group of the same name whose current president, Troy Newman, was involved in the aforementioned video campaign targeting Planned Parenthood.

“It’s called ‘interposition,'” Rev. Rusty Lee Thomas told Rewire in a phone interview. He said that this blockading practice is based on a biblical and historical concept, where “someone stands in the gap between the sort of tyrant and its victim.” Thomas said in this case, the doctors providing abortions were the tyrants and the aborted fetuses the victims.

Thomas now runs a group called Operation Save America. Back in the 1990s, he joined anti-choice activists in these ventures. But Thomas said he gave up this particular brand of protest after the DOJ sued him and others under the FACE Act in 1998, after he had attempted to block the entrances of reproductive health clinics in multiple cities in Ohio. Though the federal government ultimately dropped the charges, the threat of prison time and hundreds of dollars in fines ended his blockading days, Thomas said.

“Like anything else, when the price tag goes up, people really do have to weigh that,” he said. “By that time, the government was successful at scaring people and shutting it down. The tactic of ‘operation rescue’ was put to an end.”

Many abortion rights supporters agree with Thomas that the FACE Act curbed clinic blockades. They say this federal policy and similar state laws helped decrease violent attacks, such as clinic bombings and murders of clinic workers and doctors. Smeal said that, according to the FMF’s frequent clinic surveys, the year the FACE Act went into effect, more than 50 percent of abortion clinics reported experiencing violence; today that number has dropped to 20 percent.

Since 1994, the DOJ has filed a total of 27 civil FACE cases in 17 states, a Justice Department spokesperson told Rewire in an email. The spokesperson said the DOJ receives “a great deal of information” from national abortion provider groups, as well as from victims, local law enforcement, and media reports.

As Rewire has reported previously, both criminal and civil prosecutions under FACE tend to fluctuate based on which political party controls the White House: During President George W. Bush’s administration, for example, criminal prosecutions under the FACE Act declined by more than 75 percent to about two a year, compared to an average of ten prosecutions a year under the Clinton administration. During President Obama’s first term, the DOJ reported prosecuting 11 criminal cases under the FACE Act, charging 12 defendants.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in March on the oversight of the Justice Department, Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified that her agency increased criminal prosecutions and civil cases filed under the FACE Act within the “past five or six years.” But she did not give the total number of cases prosecuted under the act. She estimated that under the Obama administration, the DOJ has charged a total of 12 criminal cases criminally and nine civil ones.

Advocates and providers say these figures pale in comparison to the number of acts of violence and harassment annually committed against clinics and providers nationwide.

Since the NAF began tracking abortion clinic violence in 1977, the organization reports that as of 2015, there have been 185 arsons, 42 bombings, 26 attempted murders, and 11 murders, three of which occurred last year.

Advocates are currently waiting to see whether the government will bring a FACE complaint against Robert Lewis Dear Jr., who invoked anti-abortion animus upon arrest and during his first media interview after he admitted to shooting up the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic last November. During her testimony in March, Lynch said the DOJ is reviewing “a possible FACE Act violation” against Dear while his murder case proceeds in state court.

It appears, however, that this case will be in limbo for a while. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that Dear lacks the mental competency to stand trial, after forensic psychologists diagnosed him with a delusion disorder they claim is based on the accused shooter’s fringe political beliefs, among them that federal agents are spying on him. Dear, meanwhile, has been very clear that he does not want to plead insanity; rather, he wants to argue that the attack on Planned Parenthood was legally justified because he was fighting against the greater evil of abortion. For the time being, Dear will be treated at a state psychiatric hospital until, if ever, he is deemed competent to stand trial.

In any case, it might seem unnecessary to charge Dear with a federal felony crime of obstructing access to abortion when he’s already on trial for multiple murders. But some advocates say that charging these crimes under FACE is important symbolically because, as with hate crimes, the FACE Act helps draw the link between crimes like vandalism, arson, and murder, and a specific bias against a group of people. Being able to illustrate a pattern of anti-abortion crimes is necessary in order to bring awareness to law enforcement and the public and to potentially deter anti-choice extremists from threatening or committing acts of violence, they say.

It’s for this reason that physician assistant Susan Cahill wanted to bring a FACE claim against Zachary Klundt, who destroyed her All Families Healthcare clinic in Kalispell, Montana, in March 2014, forcing her to forever shutter her clinic.

According to testimony that surfaced during the sentencing hearing, Klundt had texted his mother hours before the break-in, asking her for information about the “abortionist,” and had told a psychiatrist evaluating him after the break-in that Cahill was a “murderer.” Notably, Klundt’s mother sat on the board of the anti-choice pregnancy center that purchased Cahill’s old building and evicted Cahill.

Yet despite this circumstantial evidence, Klundt testified that he smashed all of Cahill’s medical equipment and personal photos and poured iodine on her patients’ medical records because of serious drug addiction, not anti-abortion animus.

“Even though everybody knows why he did it, legally it wasn’t tried that way,” Cahill told Rewire.

Though third parties can bring civil suits under the FACE Act, Cahill said she likely would be unsuccessful trying to use the statute in this case, because Klundt was only found guilty of vandalism and the court did not make a specific finding about his motivations in committing this crime.

Instead, she is suing Klundt, his family, and the crisis pregnancy center that forced her from her old building, for negligence, nuisance, and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” She said she hopes that if the case moves forward, discovery proceedings will surface what she suspects were Klundt’s anti-abortion motivations.

To be sure, not all anti-choice activists and abortion clinic protesters escalate to violence. And abortion opponents like Susan B. Anthony List national campaign chair Jill Stanek say the FACE Act goes too far in regulating the actions of protesters. Stanek told ​Rewire​ that most of these activists peacefully exercise their free speech rights to protest what they believe is a form of murder.

As an example, Stanek pointed Rewire to a FACE claim in 2010 in which the DOJ sued an activist in West Palm Beach, Florida, accusing her of blocking the flow of traffic at an abortion clinic while she tried to give pamphlets to a couple in a car. A federal judge dismissed the claim as baseless.

Stanek argued that it is a political strategy among abortion rights supporters to “play up” acts of anti-choice violence and threats. She added that abortion opponents also receive their share of attacks and threats, including herself. Upon returning from vacation in late January, Stanek said she found a brick thrown through her window with a note reading: “Quit the pro-life bullshit.” Her local newspaper in Mokena, Illinois, reported the alleged incident. Stanek posted photos she says depict the brick and busted window to Facebook.

While Stanek maintained that most abortion protesters organize peacefully and called people like Dear part of the “lunatic fringe,” she did concede that protesting in front of abortion clinics is, in part, an attempt by her movement “to stigmatize abortion doctors.” The goal is also, she said, to convince patients to turn away from clinics and for clinic staff to quit their jobs.

It’s this stigma and endless, sometimes hostile, presence in front of reproductive health clinics that, abortion providers told Rewire, can help breed eventual violence. But Stanek said the movement is not about to abandon this crucial aspect of their multi-pronged strategy to end legal abortion.

“As far as we’re concerned, the last front, the last place that we have a chance to save a baby is at the abortion clinic,” Stanek said. “Laws haven’t worked, pregnancy care centers haven’t worked, educating hasn’t worked. Now we have the mom going into the abortion clinic. And so that is what compels certain people to go to abortion clinics and try to get women to change their minds.”

Abortion Rights Advocates Say FACE Is Weak on Threats, Harassment

It was lunchtime during the summer of 2012 when Dr. Willie Parker walked outside of Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi. It was his first day at the clinic, which happens to be bright pink and the last standing abortion clinic in the whole state. As such, it’s a regular fixture for protests.

As he walked to and from a nearby sandwich shop, Parker said he was accompanied by a protester who “berated” him the entire way. He felt intimidated and threatened.

Parker, who currently divides his time among six clinics in five states, told Rewire in a phone interview that the FACE Act is a “mixed bag,” arguing it does not fully protect providers, especially when they are not on clinic property. He added that abortion foes have learned all of the federal and local statutes to know how close they can physically reach patients and providers while staying inside the law.

“At what point am I out of the safety created by [the FACE] Act simply because I chose to walk across the street from an abortion clinic to get a sandwich?” he said.

Many abortion providers think FACE is a relatively weak law, particularly when it comes to harassment and threats made against them, an element of clinic violence many advocates say is often ignored at the federal level. Though it forbids “the threat of force,” such a provision is open to interpretation by the courts.

Drexel University law professor David Cohen, who co-authored a recent book about anti-abortion terrorism, told Rewire last year that the FACE Act should be amended to specifically include stalking and harassing abortion providers within the law’s current definition of “intimidate.” Additionally, Cohen recommends directing the courts to assess threats from the perspective of an abortion provider, and increasing penalties.

Threats to providers have drastically increased in the last year, say advocacy groups. They attribute this increase, in part, to the incendiary rhetoric that Planned Parenthood “sells baby parts,” a recurring mantra from the Center for Medical Progress’ smear campaign against the reproductive health-care network.

The NAF tracked 94 threats of direct harm in 2015, compared to just one threat in 2014. According to its latest report, NAF hired an outside security firm in mid-November last year to track online threats, which helped to identify more than 25,000 incidents of hate speech and threats within six weeks.

Meanwhile, researchers at FMF also witnessed a sharp rise in threats against abortion providers last summer. Smeal said researchers were so concerned that they postponed a clinic violence survey that they were prepping to come out earlier this year and instead tried to help clinics prevent threats from escalating into actual attacks.

“We were very, very concerned about the increasing level of threats,” Smeal told Rewire in an interview. “Most of us who have been involved in this for a long time thought it was one of the highest threat levels we’ve ever seen. We were waiting for the violent acts to occur.”

They didn’t have to wait long.

Dr. Savita Ginde, the medical director at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, was one of the doctors featured in one of CMP’s videos. After the video streamed online, Ginde allegedly received online death threats, as well as picketers outside of her home. In November, Dear was arrested for shooting up her clinic, declaring afterward, “no more baby parts.” Ginde was not harmed.

The connection of threats to violence worries advocates like Smeal. Extremists do not always act on their threats, but they sometimes do, she said. Or they create a climate that motivates someone to act out what the crowd is cheering for.

It’s for this reason that the reproductive rights community eagerly anticipated the recent trial in the Justice Department’s civil lawsuit against abortion foe Angel Dillard in the hopes that the result might strengthen future enforcement against threats under FACE.

In fact, the opposite might have happened.

The DOJ sued Dillard in 2011 after she mailed a letter to family practitioner Dr. Mila Means. Means was, at the time, training to perform abortions in Wichita to fill the gap left by Dr. George Tiller, whom Scott Roeder murdered two years earlier, admitting it was because Tiller performed abortions. In the letter, Dillard, who has ties to Roeder, told Means that thousands of abortion opponents across the country were monitoring her movements and that should she begin offering abortions, she should take care to check beneath her car for explosives every day “because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” In the letter, Dillard also referenced Tiller speaking to Means from hell.

The agency interpreted this letter as a threat of violence that violated the FACE Act. Means ended up not opening an abortion practice in Wichita. She told Rewire after the trial that she backed out, in part, because of the cultural and political climate against abortion in Kansas. “The threats work,” she said.

This climate was evidenced in the Wichita jury’s decision reached earlier this month. While the eight jurors did conclude that Dillard’s letter constituted a “true threat” not automatically protected by free speech, they also accepted Dillard’s attorneys’ arguments that her threats were religious in nature rather than violent.

“The letter was intimidating, but it was a more spiritual threat, a more emotional threat,” Adam Cox, the presiding juror, told Rewire in an interview following the verdict.

Thus, they found the letter did not violate the law and did not warrant civil damages or a protective order to keep Dillard away from Means.

Smeal said she was disappointed by the verdict in the Dillard case.

“It just shows you how hard it is to enforce this law,” she told Rewire in a phone interview.

Smeal said she is working behind the scenes with other advocates and lawmakers on efforts to eventually expand and strengthen the FACE Act. In the meantime, she said, law enforcement at all levels should be employing other existing laws to prosecute but also try to prevent violent attacks against abortion providers.

Some advocates, for example, have called on the federal government to treat demonstrated acts of anti-abortion violence, bomb threats, or murder as domestic terrorism.

Since NARAL launched its campaign last fall demanding that the DOJ begin investigating anti-abortion violence as domestic terrorism, NARAL Vice President of Policy Donna Crane said her group has seen more congressional members speaking out about abortion clinic violence as domestic terrorism.

“We think [the campaign] has raised important questions about why all too often anti-choice violence at women’s health centers is seen somehow as different, maybe even somehow a little bit more acceptable,” Crane told Rewire in a phone interview. “We believe that it’s just another flavor of domestic terrorism, and it should be talked about as such and treated as such.”

Smeal said her organization is similarly not backing down from its campaign asking the House committee investigating Planned Parenthood to take to task the activist groups that have, she believes, contributed to a dangerous climate for abortion providers and their patients.

Already, Smeal said, supporters have sent the committee thousands of emails as part of this campaign. And though she said it is difficult to know what effect the FMF’s campaign has had so far, she said she knows congressional members are listening.

Earlier in May, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the committee’s ranking Democratic member Rep. Janice Schakowsky held a press conference asking Speaker Paul Ryan to disband the House select committee, arguing that its investigation is putting access to reproductive health care as well as the lives of doctors and fetal-tissue researchers in danger, a point Smeal’s group has been making for months now.

“We’re going to keep it up, because we’re worried [the committee is] endangering health-care providers,” Smeal said of her group’s campaign. “We want to continue to shed light on this anti-abortion violence and basically are doing that in every way we can.”

Analysis Human Rights

‘Gynnya! Wake Up!’: In-Custody Death of Black Teen Triggers Fresh Concerns for Detained Juveniles

Kanya D’Almeida

In a year that started with such encouraging steps as the Supreme Court’s decision to extend a ban on mandatory minimum life sentences for juveniles, advocates are concerned about what Gynnya McMillen’s death could mean, not only for juvenile offenders but for Black girls.

On Sunday evening, close to four dozen protesters gathered outside the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center in Hardin County, Kentucky, chanting, “Gynnya! Wake up!” Participants told local television channels they had come seeking answers to the in-custody death of 16-year-old Gynnya McMillen, a Black teenager who was found unresponsive in her room on the morning of January 11.

Questions and silence have shrouded McMillen’s case for weeks. Few news outlets carried reports about the teenager’s mysterious death in the 44-bed facility operated by the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). Commentators who were tracking the story turned to a Facebook page created on January 15 by McMillen’s sister in a bid to share and receive information that would help the family piece together what had happened.

“My 16 [year-old] old sister died in custody of a detention center but they’re not giving out any info on how she was found and they’re saying [her] autopsy shows no cause of death. The news channels only played her story one time. We want justice and Kentucky isn’t giving it to us!” one post said.

The page has since racked up over 11,400 members as shadowy details coalesce into a more coherent story that reveals the willful negligence of staff at the Lincoln Village Juvenile Detention Center.

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According to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, McMillen was detained on the night of January 10, following an altercation with a parent at her home in Shelby County. Upon arrival at the center, McMillen was reportedly immobilized in a martial arts hold by “multiple staff” for refusing orders to remove her hooded sweatshirt or submit to what Department of Juvenile Justice officials called routine “search and photography” procedures. DJJ spokeswoman Stacy Floden told reporters that it was unclear whether or not the girl suffered distress or injury as a result of an “aikido” move being performed on her by several adults.

Lisa Lamb, director of communications for the Kentucky Department of Corrections, told Rewire in an email the staff undergo “Aikido Control Training,” which is a modified version of aikido that “incorporates only three controls to use the energy and force of the child to control the situation without harm or injury. Since strength of the employee is not a factor, only balance, injury to the child and staff is almost non-existent.”

Whether or not the aikido move caused McMillen injury, this CBS news report suggests that she was unresponsive during three separate staff checks the following morning, the first two involving “verbal” offers of breakfast and a snack, and a third when center staff asked if she would accept a telephone call from her mother. It was not until 9:55 a.m., when staff finally attempted to physically rouse her for a court appointment, that they discovered the girl was not breathing. It took staff nine minutes to call 9-1-1 and another two minutes before attempting to perform CPR on the child, who they say was found in a “sleeping position.”

In this audio clip of the 9-1-1 call released over the weekend by CBS reporter Graham Kates, a female nurse can be heard lethargically describing McMillen’s vegetative state to the dispatcher, who asks if the center has a CPR protocol. The staff member replies, “I’m new, I can find out, I don’t know.” The dispatcher then offers to talk staff members through the CPR procedure, to which the nurse replies, “No, you don’t have to do that.”

DJJ officials say they have conducted a preliminary autopsy that ruled out homicide or suicide, but McMillen’s family and supporters are demanding more concrete information, including the release of video footage from the girl’s room and answers as to why the 15-minute mandatory checks on detained juveniles required by policy do not appear to have been performed throughout the night.

Possibly in response to pressure from the community, Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley last week called for a longer, toxicology autopsy to be expedited, and commissioned his own internal investigation into McMillen’s death. But racial justice advocates say her death is symptomatic of a much larger, nationwide epidemic of violence against Black girls that can only be tackled through broad-based reforms.

From the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw—who was recently sentenced to 263 years in prison for raping and sexually assaulting multiple Black women and one teenager—to the in-custody death in Texas last year of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, activists have been raising their voices to highlight the complicity of law enforcement in the assault and deaths of numerous Black women.

“McMillen’s case tells us what we’ve known for quite some time—that Black women and girls are targets of state violence,” Priscilla Ocen, co-author of a recent report on the overpolicing of Black girls, told Rewire in a phone interview. Pointing to the disproportionate rate at which Black girls are punished and policed in their own schools—in some instances making them six times more likely to be suspended than their white counterparts—Ocen noted that Black girls are thus more vulnerable to detention.

“At a basic level, Black children don’t benefit from ideas of protection and safety when it comes to the criminal justice system,” she said. “Just as we saw with the young woman in South Carolina who was literally thrown from her desk by a school officer last year, we also saw McMillen being subject to force for … very petty behaviors that are completely consistent with being a child. It’s part of a pattern of denying Black children a childhood and responding to everyday, completely predictable acts of childish defiance with what amounts to a life sentence.”

Juvenile Detention: Worse for Black Girls

The United States currently boasts one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the world, locking up more than 57,000 people under the age of 21 in 2012, according to data from the justice department’s most recent Juvenile Residential Facility Census, a survey covering 2,547 juvenile facilities.

These numbers belie the vast racial disparities that exist across the juvenile detention system, with Black children comprising 21,550 of the 54,148 kids locked up in 2013. With a youth incarceration rate of 605 per 100,000 population, Black kids are five times as likely to be detained as their white peers, whose detention rate is just 127 per 100,000. In 2013, Black girls comprised nearly half of female juvenile detainees (2,573 out of 7,727), the same year that the National Women’s Law Center revealed that Black girls were 20 times more likely to be detained as white female offenders.

While there is a dearth of state-level data, Kim Tandy, executive director of the Kentucky-based Children’s Law Center, told Rewire, “Racial disparities do exist at various contact points in the [juvenile] system in Kentucky, and should continue to be examined and addressed.”

She added that McMillen’s death also raises a red flag about certain practices like isolation, pointing to a need for reforms. “Simply put, no child should die in custody, especially not in a locked room in isolation,” Tandy said. “My concern given the limited facts that have been provided publicly [about McMillen’s case] is that this child died alone and in isolation, allegedly without the mandatory 15-minute checks. Room confinement for youth in custody should be closely monitored and used sparingly.”

Referring to President Obama’s recent executive order banning the use of solitary confinement for young offenders in the federal prison system, she said, “While this is intended to reduce the harm which comes from longer-term periods of isolation, the fact remains that even short periods of unnecessary room confinement can be dangerous. That’s what we should all learn from the death of Gynnya [McMillen].”

Studies have shown that Black juveniles tend to be more likely than any other ethnic group to be placed in solitary confinement, and in one facility accounted for 7 percent of youth subjected to isolation compared to 1.8 percent of white adolescents. While gender-disaggregated data is limited, experts like Ocen, who is an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, say that Black girls are “more vulnerable” than their white peers to punitive measures like solitary confinement and excessive use of force. The death of Natasha McKenna at the hands of officers in the Fairfax County Detention Center last February, details of which were captured on camera, stands as strong evidence for her claims. Like in the case of McMillen, deputies who were with McKenna at the time of her death did not call for help until 12 minutes after she lost consciousness due to repeated shocks from a Taser.

In a year that started with such encouraging steps as the Supreme Court’s decision to extend a ban on mandatory minimum life sentences for juveniles, advocates are concerned about what McMillen’s death could mean, not only for juvenile offenders but for Black girls.

“This is going to be an important time for us to elevate the stories of young women like [McMillen] who experience violence at the hands of law enforcement and to demand accountability … and visibility,” Ocen said. “We need to highlight these stories and connect them to contemporary and historic systems of exclusion and violence, and demand that not only political but also community leaders recognize and act when Black and brown girls experience violence.”

For McMillen’s family, which is still seeking answers, the nightmare is only just beginning. McMillen’s sister, LaChe Simms, told CBS News last week, “We have to hold ourselves together and be strong, but it still seems like it’s not real, like I’m going to wake up, and she’s going to come. Like someone’s going to say ‘cut.’ We want to know why she’s not here with us. We deserve to know, don’t we?”