Monday, June 22, 2020

"Get Your Knees Off Our Necks"

Law professors and moviegoers may associate the phrase "Get your feet off our necks" with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  In both the documentary "RBG" and the movie "On the Basis of Sex" we hear Justice Ginsberg say "I ask no favor for my sex; all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."  Many readers may not appreciate that Justice Ginsberg was quoting Sarah Grimke, a 19th century southern abolitionist who relocated to Philadelphia along with her sister, Angelina.  Following the end of the Civil War, Ms. Grimke turned her attention to feminist issues.  In that context, she said: "But I ask no favors for my sex. I surrender not our claim to equality. All I ask of our brethren is, that they will take their feet from off our necks, and permit us to stand upright …”

The current demonstrators incorporated the slogan substituting "knees" for "feet".  Appropriately so.  While the Grimke sisters were dedicated abolitionists, who themselves were criticized and threatened, they did not promote equality between Blacks and Whites.  Paraphrasing Sarah's statement expands the work of the Grimke sisters.  The revised phrase is apt.  Not only does the Floyd video show the perpetrator's knee as the deadly weapon, but more reports have surfaced supporting that police have used the same deadly technique on other black people.  

Demonstrators using the paraphrased words of Sarah Grimke to reflect current reality may finish what the abolitionists left undone.  Enslaved people were legally freed but then the law was used to continue their enslavement in different forms.  Equality and equity were never achieved.  Now is the time to make this right.

June 22, 2020 in Equality, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The UN Makes Unprecedented Response to George Floyd’s Murder

Editors' Note:  We continue our symposium in the aftermath of Mr. Floyd's death with this post on the United Nation's response.

By Guest Contributor Prof. Gay McDougall

Senior Fellow and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence
Leitner Center for International Law and Justice/Center for Race, Law and Justice
Fordham University School of Law

Former Vice Chair, UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 

Former UN Special Rapporteur on Minorities



Image1This week governments and civil society around the world joined forces to pressure the UN to adopt a resolution responding to the murder of George Floyd and other unarmed African Americans.  The resolution passed on June 19th, 2020, celebrated by Black Americans as the day of emancipation from enslavement, was historic in many ways and in some ways disappointing. 

The original draft that was introduced by the African Group at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, was a response to a letter from the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and Philando Castile, together with Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and over 670 rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Human Rights Network, and myself as Senior Advisor, wrote a Coalition Letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council appealing that it swiftly convene a special session to investigate the escalating situation of police violence and repression of protests in the United States.

“Mamie Till Mobley made a decision to open the casket of her son Emmett Till so the world could see the atrocities Black people faced in America. I want people across the world and the leaders in the United Nations to see the video of my brother George Floyd, to listen to his cry for help, and I want them to answer his cry,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “I appeal to the United Nations to help him. Help me. Help us. Help Black men and women in America.”

The Coalition Letter warned of an “unfolding grave human rights crisis” in the United States and describes the recent police killings of unarmed Black people as well as police use of excessive force to suppress protests as violations of United States obligations under international law. It called on the U.N. to mandate an independent inquiry into the killings and violent law enforcement responses to protests, including the attacks against protesters and journalists. The letter also calls for a U.N. investigation into President Trump’s order that maximum force be used.

“We are greatly concerned that rather than using his position to serve as a force for calm and unity, President Trump has chosen to weaponize the tensions through his rhetoric, evidenced by his promise to seize authority from Governors who fail to take the most extreme tactics against protestors and to deploy federal armed forces against protestors (an action which would be of questionable legality).”

“Our greatest concern is that the violence and counter-violence are diverting the gaze of the global community away from the pain being expressed by a nation in mourning over the callous manner of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that ended George Floyd’s life while a group of police stood and watched, about the death of more than 100,000 souls from the coronavirus – disproportionately killing Black, Brown and Indigenous people – and about how injustice never ends and equality never comes. There is serious concern that the tear gas and police-induced havoc will obscure the legitimate passion of these demonstrations. The voices of the demonstrators must be heard. Their demand is that the endemic racism, hatred, fear and disparity finally be confronted.”

The call for a meaningful response from the UN Human Rights Council was joined by other human rights officials: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that “we need to raise our voices against all expressions of racism and instances of racist behavior.” The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called for serious action to halt US police killings of unarmed African Americans and a Joint statement by 45 Special Procedures Experts of the HR Council said “[t]he uprising nationally is a protest against systemic racism that produces state-sponsored racial violence, and licenses impunity for this violence.”

The CERD Committee issued a very strong statement under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures expressing grave concern over the “horrific killing of George Floyd” and calls for accountability and immediate and appropriate reforms aimed at eliminating racially disparate impacts or structural discrimination in the police and the criminal justice system.

In a joint OpEd signed by all the Under-Secretary Generals of the UN, they committed to take effective actions that will go beyond words.

And the African Group (which represents 54 UN Member States from the African continent) requested an “urgent debate” during the Human Rights Council session “on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protest.”

In an unprecedented move, the Human Rights Council session began with a video appeal from the Special Rapporteur on Racism, Tendayi Achi---, that broke with all traditions of diplomatic double-speak in challenging the Council to not miss this chance to be on the right side of history. That was followed by an impassioned appeal by video from the brother of George Floyd.

As negotiations started on the strong draft resolution submitted by the African Group, it became clear that we were up against formidable headwinds. We were told that representatives of the US were “bullying” delegates: for example, threatening to impact the foreign assistance to their countries unless all references to the US is deleted along with the call for the establishment of a commission of inquiry—even demanding the name of George Floyd be deleted. Over the next few days, the forces against us succeeded in watering down the resolution until only its bare bones remained. 

Still, the final resolution calls on the High Commissioner to prepare a comprehensive report on systematic racism, policing practices such as that led to the killing of George Floyd, violence against protesters, and related incidents globally.  This is a significant step forward in a continuing struggle.

June 21, 2020 in Race, United Nations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Juneteenth

Editors' Note: Continuing our symposium on Black Lives Matter, we publish this post for Juneteenth

By Co-Editor Prof. Justine Dunlap, UMass Law School

Image1In the 7-10 days before Juneteenth, it has gotten a good deal of attention. For this increased awareness, we have President Trump’s scheduler to thank. That person initially selected this date for Trump’s first height-of-Covid rally in Tulsa, OK.  This choice was particularly problematic because of the Tulsa race massacre that killed many black people in the affluent black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa in 1921.

Much outcry ensued over this scheduled event and now a lot more white people know a lot more about Juneteenth, the real emancipation day for enslaved African-Americans. It occurred on June 19th, 1865, when news of Lincoln’s January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation reached and was read to enslaved people in Galveston, Texas. Many of us, regardless of race, had been taught that Lincoln’s document did the trick, with an occasional hint that there were some problems with that interpretation of history. Imagine being free but not being informed of that freedom for 2 & ½ years.

Once celebrated officially primarily in Texas, Juneteenth is an official state holiday in 46 states and is celebrated by parades and other festivities befitting a joyous day of independence.  Juneteenth.com contains much information about this critical yet under-celebrated day.  Spend some time today exploring it. It also contains the poem below by Kristina Kay Robinson.

We Rose”

From Africa’s heart, we rose

Already a people, our faces ebon, our bodies lean,

We rose

Skills of art, life, beauty and family
Crushed by forces we knew nothing of, we rose

Survive we must, we did,
We rose

We rose to be you, we rose to be me,
Above everything expected, we rose

To become the knowledge we never knew,
We rose

Dream, we did
Act we must

June 18, 2020 in Civil Rights, Justine Dunlap, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Toward a New Economic and Social Contract – Lessons from History

Editor's Note: Continuing with our symposium on racial injustice, Gerard Quinn brings us this comparative perspective. Professor Quinn is Raoul Wallenberg Chair of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Image1Pinning someone to the ground until their life expires is hardly a model for good community policing.  There is something universally repulsive in such a gratuitous act of violence.  All right-thinking people everywhere in the world recoil from it.  

But violence takes many shapes.  To a certain extent, the violent death experienced by our brother George is just the tip of the iceberg.  That is why the clamour for change includes but goes far beyond policing.  In truth, George is the latest victim of a deeper malaise that has so far defied meaningful change.

The malaise I speak of has to do with deep structural economic violence based on race.  It can and does reach across the generations and leave a lasting imprint over time.  The missteps of the past never really go away.  They are literally encoded and embodied in how people experience their own lives.  

Sometimes it is important to stand back from the familiar to assess what might have been -and what still might be with sufficient political will.  The many badges of inferiority inserted into the Constitution, and implied into by it by wayward courts, were always strikingly at odds with the philosophy of the Revolution – the inherent equality of mankind.  Franklin was acutely aware of the contradiction from the very beginning.  What held it in place was the burgeoning economic system and the dependency of the South on cotton and the exploited labour of people of colour.  The growing clamour to make ‘freedom national’ came from the move toward ‘free soil and free labour’ – an effort to deconstruct the economic models of the 1860s and to turn toward a much more radical (though classically conservative) free market model.  Even before anyone heard the name Hayek, a link was being drawn between economic freedom and political liberation.  

A crucial moment came and went.  Toward the end of the Civil War there was a clamour to break up the landed estates (plantations) and distribute the land to those who toiled in the fields (‘forty acres and a mule’).  This was no less a call to end the economic system that sustained slavery in the first place and to replace it with a system that assured some measure of basic income and employment – and the independence that normally goes with that.  Some estates were broken up.  But the process was thrown into sharp reverse once Andrew Johnson assumed the Presidency.  The cruelty of throwing people out of the land they had only just acquired must have been extremely painful.

Things could have been quite different.  At around same time (1860s-1890s) Britain dealt with a similar problem quite differently.  Ireland suffered a massive famine in the late 1840s.  The famine was not due primarily to a lack of food on the island. Food was plentiful – but the Government insisted that it be exported.  A laissez faire policy was followed regardless of its callous impact on the majority of the people who worked the land.  Mass children’s graveyards can still be seen in my neighbourhood as a result.  Most of the land was held in large estates.  The people were treated no better than legal serfs.  Over time – and due to the franchise (limited though it was) pressure grew on the British Government to break up the big estates, compensate the landowners and distribute the land to those who worked in the fields.  This was done through a series of Land Acts in the 1870s – at exactly the same time that former slaves in the US were being forced back onto the land in dire circumstances. 

Of course, this was never going to be enough to halt the clamour for political independence in Ireland.  But this act by the British set in train (admittedly over time) a positive dynamic of change that has been largely absent for former slaves in the US.  First of all, a system of national primary education (i.e., not funded by the local tax base) meant that every child could dream big and was encouraged to do so.  Secondly, a stern commitment to universal suffrage meant there was no room for suppression of the vote.  Third, the social model was changed from the odious Poor Law which stigmatised and blamed the poor for their own situation.  Last, the policing system was re-designed to be as close to the community as possible (and crucially unarmed).

The moral of the story:  Civil and political rights need to be respected.  But they depend on economic and social justice to give them reality.   The failure to break up the plantations and distribute the land in the aftermath of the Civil War was a culpable disaster.   As the British showed in Ireland it could have worked – or at least provided a foundation for further development.  A new economic and social contract is now urgently needed partly to compensate for the past and to build a more inclusive future.”

June 17, 2020 in Race, social justice | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

George Floyd's Human Rights

Editors' Note:  Prof. Jeff Baker sends this post from Pepperdine's Caruso Law School, reflecting on Mr. Floyd's human rights.


Image1The murder of George Floyd is a moral outrage that violated his human rights. Like countless Black people before him, a state agent summarily and brutally executed Mr. Floyd with no legal justification, due process, or expectation of accountability. The police officer, knowing he was on camera, acted with supreme confidence that he had the power to kill a Black man in the street. 

Americans often discuss human rights abuses as events that happen elsewhere. We are apt to discuss civil rights at home, even while we’re quick to critique other nations’ human rights abuses. This may be due to convictions about sovereignty, suspicions about international organizations, or an assumed moral superiority, but I suspect we do not look to human rights principles because we have made sure our international human rights obligations are rarely legally operable. That is, the U.S. has not consented to meaningful enforcement of international human rights laws. We have chosen to trust ourselves and to reject accountability outside our vaunted sovereignty.

Human rights arise from ineffable conscience that transcends positive law, but human rights laws codify some of those ideals in operable language. The U.S. has signed and ratified a few conventions that create international human rights law, so by ratifying them, the conventions become part of the constitutional, supreme law of the land. Notwithstanding weak enforcement mechanisms, they are law, so the U.S. must reckon with its obligations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights founds modern iterations of human rights on a bedrock: “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Every convention enumerating human rights builds on this precept, including the Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U.S. in 1994.

Under the Convention, torture means “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person . . . punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official. . . “

The state obligation is “to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture.” “Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel . . .  who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment.”

These rights are non-derogable, and “[s]tates parties are obligated to eliminate any legal or other obstacles that impede the eradication of torture and ill-treatment; and to take positive effective measures to ensure that such conduct and any recurrences thereof are effectively prevented. . . .”

Did the Minneapolis Police violate the Convention? Have our governments done enough to eradicate torture and ill-treatment by public officials?

For nearly nine minutes after being restrained in handcuffs, a uniformed police officer ground George Floyd into the asphalt, even as Mr. Floyd begged for his life, gasped for air, called out for his mother, and stopped breathing and moving. The State of Minnesota charged the police officer with murder and the attending officers with related crimes, but, by these officers’ actions, the State very likely violated human rights law against ill-treatment. Per the Convention:

States bear international responsibility for the acts and omissions of their officials. . .  acting on behalf of the State, in conjunction with the State, under its direction or control, or otherwise under colour of law. Accordingly, each State party should prohibit, prevent and redress torture and ill-treatment in all contexts of custody or control. . . .

These abuses are common in our history, certainly no mystery to Black people. As social media and smart phones force all of us to bear witness, again and anew, they shock our collective conscience because these murders by state actors are affronts to indispensable human dignity. They always have been, but now we cannot look away, diminish or evade our collective burden to confront and eliminate them.

The state obligation is the people’s obligation. Because formal enforcement of international human rights laws is so weak, the bulwarks for human dignity are our democracy, politics, and the conscience of our people. Our governments must protect human rights. If we remain a self-governing republic, then we all bear a profound obligation to vote, speak, and govern to defend the inherent dignity of every person.   

June 16, 2020 in Global Human Rights, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Reflecting on our Role as a University of Minnesota Human-Rights Community

Editors' Note:  In our continuing symposium we hear from Minnesota through a Human Rights framework.

By guest blogger Amanda Lyons  

Executive Director at the Human Rights Center, University of Minnesota Law School



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In Minnesota we find ourselves grieving and challenged by yet another horrific act of racialized state violence. In the fallout, our “Minnesota Paradox” has been dramatically exposed to the world. The voice and clarity of racial-justice advocates in our community, and the incredible groundswell of support, compels us to take greater action to live up to our human-rights identity and ideals.

Out of a desire to speak out with a shared voice, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Lab published a brief statement to condemn the killing of George Floyd, to denounce the pervasive racial inequalities in our community, and to call for a rights-based response at all levels. We sought signatures from our community of 80+ human-rights faculty across campus, and the statement swiftly received over 4,000 endorsements system-wide.

In response, an alumnus shared that as a member of the Black American Law Student Association (BALSA) in the early 1980s he had worked with Prof. David Weissbrodt to research and report on the racist killings of black people by the police in the U.S. They made two submission to the U.N. Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (in 1982 and 1983) and elicited a formal response from the U.S. government.

At first I was moved by this pioneering “human rights at home” work as a testament to the University of Minnesota’s long legacy of inspiring and preparing students to engage with international human rights to advance individual rights and social justice. But it is devastating to acknowledge that nearly 40 years later, our 2020 Black Law Students Association has to lead on the same issue.

Despite the intractability of these injustices, it does seem that in this unique moment and confluence of events, the movements have created an opening for real change. Amidst the grief and turmoil here in Minneapolis, we are seeing the uprising, outpouring, and activism lead to unprecedented institutional steps:

The day after George Floyd was killed University of Minnesota student body president, Jael Kerandi, demanded that the University cut ties with the MPD and called for a response by University leadership within 24 hours. The next day University President Joan Gabel shocked many by announcing the University was taking immediate steps to change its relationship with the MPD and would no longer contract for additional law enforcement support. Many welcomed the announcement as a sign of bold leadership and a building block for real change.

Since then, prominent Minneapolis cultural institutions have also pledged to cut ties with the MPD, including the Minnesota Orchestra, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Walker Art Museum, and beloved First Avenue, which said it will “instead work with local organizations who represent our community, and who will protect and affirm Black and Brown lives.”

These steps reflect and contribute to the growing support for reallocating funding away from policing and into services and models designed to respect and promote human rights, address root causes, and take on systemic disparities. The recent statement led by UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, Prof. Tendayi Achiume lays out the strong human-rights underpinnings for this call, as do our friends at the Minneapolis-based Advocates for Human Rights.

Despite our history of racialized police violence here in Minnesota, including the killing of Philando Castile, there has never been such a resounding demand for change. Until just a few weeks (or even days) ago, calls to radically alter our relationship with the police and policing were unimaginable for most.

We see the importance to act as a University human-rights community in support of these historic efforts to advance racial and social justice in our state and country. We are committed to advocating human-rights values in our own institution and to pushing on questions of legacy and building names, diversity and equity, and the role for the University in advancing human rights in our state. In the face of a toxic national climate of violence and bigotry, the vision, energy, anger, and leadership of our students (like many before them) compels us to see the chance of real change where we thought impossible.

June 14, 2020 in Ethnicity, Global Human Rights, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 11, 2020

A Love Letter To The Protesters

Editors' Note:  In our ongoing series on the impact of George Floyd's death, we post a perspective from Europe.

By guest blogger, Michael McEachrane

Visiting Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law

Image1Dear Protesters,

I love you all. I could never have imagined that protests against systemic racism of this magnitude would erupt during my lifetime and not only in the US, but here in Europe and across the world. Last time, just a few years ago, bigots and confused individuals wanted to dismiss #BlackLivesMatter with propositions that “all lives matter”—as if morally, politically and legally that was not precisely the point. However, this time it is different. I see young Black people taking the lead as they should, but also that the crowds of protesters seem very mixed, include many white protesters and now in every corner of the world. As if to say that these issues should concern us all and are about what kind of societies and world we want to see. “No justice, no peace!” Indeed, indeed. I’m delighted that hundreds of thousands of you are recognizing that systemic racism is real, has a long history (toppling the statue of “slave trader” Edward Colston in Bristol and throwing it in the river was a clear statement of this) and that our societies are in grave need of transformation if they are to be based on principles of human dignity, equality and non-discrimination.

However, dear protesters, I also have one concern with these mass protests. And it is not the display of police brutality, even against peaceful protests. Nor the occasional looting of even small businesses. My greatest concern is that these massive pandemic defying and awe inspiring displays of solidarity for racial and social justice, eventually will blow over without a trace and merely leave a sweet (maybe even, with the passing of time, bitter-sweet) memory of unrealized potential.

Dear protesters, I’m praying that policy- and law-makers across the world will heed your urgent calls for reform. However, judging from the many past protests in developed countries in recent decades that have come and gone without a trace of substantial change, I’m not hopeful. I do not mean to put down what you are doing or to burden you in any way, still, the crux of the matter is that it seems to be mostly up to you protesters and activists to find creative ways of translating your protesting into policy-making, reform and institutional transformation. At the end of the day, without such translation, your massive protests in all their grandeur, expressiveness and beauty of spirit, may amount to little if anything at all.

Dear protesters, as much as I love you and what you’re doing, this worries me.

A related concern is that these protests will end up merely being an insignificant ripple on the surface of a sea of historically amassed racial injustices and inequities within societies in the “New World” across the Americas, throughout the developed world, including Europe, New Zeeland and Australia as well as between developed and developing countries in the organization of the global economy, who produces what, how, for who’s consumption and profit and to whose environmental costs, who-owes-who-what-and-why, the lack of democracy at the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, World bank and International Monetary Fund, who has the greatest freedom of movement in the world and who the least, who has the most access to resources, human rights, freedom from want, education, health care and so on.

Dear protesters, I’m hoping that as many of us as possible will find it in us to take your calls as a wakeup-call for the extensive work that needs to be done to create social and international orders that truly “leaves no one behind” and are guided by a sustained, thorough, meticulous care for the dignity of the human person without distinction or discrimination.

June 11, 2020 in Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Dialogue Rather Than Danger

by Co-Editor, Prof. Jeremiah Ho, UMass Law School

Image1One lucid memory from my Southern California childhood was that of watching from our family living room the live TV newscasts of civil unrest in the days following the verdict of the first Rodney King beating case.  Koreatown and South Los Angeles stretched some considerable, and yet short miles west from where we lived in the valley.  So out of an abundance of caution, school was cancelled during the Los Angeles riots, and my younger sister and I, both in junior high school then, were under strict parental orders to stay indoors at home.  The endless news footage of revolt-turned-rampage became the regular daytime programming we absorbed continuously from our living room couch during those stay-at-home days.  We watched with our homework laid out on our laps and with questions of whether such violence might end up at our doorsteps superstitiously suppressed within our imaginations. 

Twenty-eight years later, while still sitting on the edge of the same living room couch that my parents have kept in our living room since the 1990's, and locked down in the same house during these new stay-at-home days, I viewed with eerie, heightened familiarity as an incident of police brutality and racial violence then resulted into days of outrage, protest, fire, and destruction that spread not only to the streets of Los Angeles but worldwide as well.  I blinked in 1992, and now decades later, my eyes open only to pick up watching the same live narrative.  The single patently obvious distinction seemed to be that these images of urban fire, ruin, and anger were now unfolding from the digital tablet on my lap.   

In the immediate days after the L.A. Riots, Rodney King wearily pled for peace on television by asking, “Can we all get along.”  He exhorted this sentiment after having been beaten on the side of a freeway in 1991, after watching the officers who had assaulted him dodge criminality in the first trial, after the fires in the city were finally smoldering down.  After Mr. King died in 2012, that famous question was set on his grave.  In raised metallic, all-cap letters, “Can we all get along” was bonded distinctly without a question mark at the very bottom of his gravestone plaque, deliberately rhetorical and open-ended, reminding us specifically of what Mr. King imposed upon our humanity in his televised soundbite.  Without the interrogative punctuation, “Can we all get along” also seems, in a disembodied way, to urge us imperatively to grasp for unity in our current world.  In 2020, that question (or directive) is being implored from a lonely grave in a Hollywood Hills cemetery to a world alive with (or dying from) vast income inequality, tribalist politics, alternative facts, social media hate-mongering, and selfish individualism.  I want to believe in a hopeful answer to Mr. King’s question.  I want to believe that the affirmative is possible.  

In order to get to that affirmative, we must first demand that the brutality against African-Americans and other people of color, as exemplified in the past and present incidents of Rodney King, George Floyd, and many others, was wrong and must end.  Racism and racial violence nullify a just and equal society.  From the unrecorded deaths of millions of enslaved people in our common history to the horrific lynching of African-American men during the 19th and early 20th centuries, we’ve had enough.  The riots I watched as a child in 1992 was not the first for Los Angeles.  Had I been alive in 1965, I would have witnessed the Watts Riots, an incident of civil unrest that also began with a police stop of a black man that went awry. 

And while we’re demanding an end to racial violence and overt acts of racism, we must also confront deeper obstacles keeping us from fully getting along.  At this juncture, the brutal conversation about white supremacy fueled by privilege must finally arise, even if it feels uncomfortable (as it should), even if it chokes us for the moment (unlike George Floyd or Eric Garner, we’ll survive, I promise).  A few days after George Floyd’s death, the heated Central Park exchange between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper illustrates just how our racial tensions and inequality are multi-layered.  And so we must arrive at finding fault with the more subtle and entrenched ways our society disregards and devalues people based on differences such as skin color, gender, sexual preference, national origin, disability, income, class and the like—a practice so habitually pernicious that it is, in fact, institutional, structural, and systemic. 

In terms of race, white supremacy is not defined solely by deplorable acts of racial dominance and hatred that extremist groups such as the KKK exert against different people.  It also exists subtly in the deep-seated, privileged determination for a white person to not have to see color, and thus permitting the default norms of racial hierarchy to provide cover for that choice—to afford protection under the shield of plausible deniability that, for example, using the phrase “color-blind” seem to convey about a so-called tactic of egalitarian political correctness.  What actually happens when we purport not to see color under this paradigm?  More likely than not, we unconsciously dial our attention back to seeing the way things ought to be from the vantage point of whiteness because that has been the default normative perspective all along.  That’s what the plausible deniability is protecting: that we do end up seeing color and that color is white.  At heart, this is the innocent presumption of whiteness—the benefit of the doubt­ that society would have been more prone to bestow upon Amy Cooper had she falsely cried harassment against Christian Cooper in Central Park and had no contradicting smartphone video existed to protect him.

The same plausible deniability can also attempt to justify a white person’s choices to see color when it conveniently serves a purpose.  Ignorance cannot be blissful here.  It’s not enough to black out your Facebook or Instagram profile photo for Black-Out Tuesday only to replace it the following Wednesday morning with a selfie because the short-lived moment of respect and acknowledgement for the cause has appeared to have metabolized and you think you’ve done your part for racial justice.  As long as race construction continues to separate us, the ability to choose when to see color only reflects the privilege that veils and obscures deep insensitivity.  Until we abolish race construction in our politics, every day ought to be a Black-Out Day.  True virtue here can’t be earned through social media gesturing or other comparable shallowness, but rather through actively sustaining works of contrition and alliance by continually understanding our biases and confronting them before we again consciously or unconsciously marginalize based on race. 

As it is turning out, the fiery images from last week’s initial street violence isn’t repeating of the riots saga of 1992.  This time, it’s a little different.  Across the country, the numerous and widespread rallies that have outlasted the store-front wreckage and fire-bombed cars signal that it might not be danger that has arrived at our doorsteps, but dialogue and acknowledgement about race, including the subtleties of privilege that contribute to racial disparity and white supremacy.   Together, we must learn how to unravel these nuanced forms of racism so that we can all finally give Mr. King, and ourselves, an overdue response.      

June 10, 2020 in Jeremiah Ho, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Cornell's BLSA Statement on Racial Murders

Editors' Note: In the coming days, we will be publishing an on-line Symposium of responses to the death of Mr. George Floyd.  We begin with this statement from Cornell's Black Law Student  Association:

Statement by the Black Law Students Association of Cornell Law School (Guest Post)

 

Cornell Law School’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) stands with the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery. We give honor to their memories and to the memories of countless others who have been unjustly taken from this world, whether we know their names or not. We extend our heartfelt condolences to their loved ones and acknowledge that the people they have lost are more than a hashtag.  

 Black people are in a unique position today, facing both the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unrelenting violence against our brothers and sisters all across the country. In the last month, we have seen videos of Ahmaud Arbery’s and George Floyd’s murders. We have seen reports of Breonna Taylor’s and Tony McDade’s murders. This trauma is incessant in the age of social media and more than any community should have to bear.  

 While we continue to grieve Mr. Floyd and others, we are reminded that murders like his are the result of centuries of injustice and oppression – of this country’s refusal to address and change its longstanding practice of anti-Blackness. More often than not, senseless killings by police result only in superficial reprimand that falls short of addressing the underlying problems that support a racist system. To be sure, true justice does not stop at an arrest – true justice requires that we reexamine the structural inequities that continuously exclude and actively oppress Black and brown people. 

 Many of us applied to law school hoping to make a difference, to be an ally. As lawyers in the majority, many of you will have access to spaces and tables that your Black counterparts will not. When the time comes, it will be important for you to remember this moment – remember your responsibility as movers and shakers in our justice system. Remember that your Black friends will continue to mourn long after this country has forgotten why we were protesting to begin with. We bear the burden of constantly burying our brothers and sisters and ask that you stand next to us as we endeavor to dismantle the system of oppression. 

Do not be complicit in the deaths of Black people. Have those tough conversations with your family, friends, co-workers, and fellow students. Do not shy away from the fact that both police officers and civilians are continuously allowed to use lethal force and violence against Black people. To remain silent – to remain neutral – is to side with our oppressors. Your silence is violence. Publicly demand equality, justice, and safety for us.

 For those who are anxious to learn more about their role in this fight, please consider the resources below: 

 An Antiracist Reading List – “By not running from the books that pain us, we can allow them to transform us. I ran from antiracist books most of my life. But now I can’t stop running after them – scrutinizing myself and my society, and in the process changing both.” – Ibram X. Kendi

 Don’t Let the Loud Bigots Distract You – “We believed that our country had become less racist, because we were not as brazen as we once were.”

Reach out to your Congress members to find out how your tax dollars are being used to maintain violent police tactics and to inquire about tangible changes to policing policies in your communities. 

 George Floyd mattered. 

Ahmaud Arbery mattered. 

Breonna Taylor mattered. 

Tony McDade mattered. 

Nina Pop mattered. 

Atatiana Jefferson mattered. 

Renisha McBride mattered.

Alton Sterling mattered. 

Mike Brown mattered. 

Tamir Rice mattered. 

Trayvon Martin mattered. 

Oscar Grant mattered. 

Philando Castille mattered. 

Sandra Bland mattered.

Eric Garner mattered. 

Freddie Gray mattered.

Martin Luther King Jr. mattered. 

Malcolm X mattered.

Emmett Till mattered. 

 

Black Lives Matter.

June 7, 2020 in Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 1, 2020

White People: Why Is The World Still Spinning?

George Floyd died on May 25, 2020.  Mr. Floyd died because a police officer decided to kill him by cutting off his blood and air supply with the officer's knee. Mr. Floyd left a six-year old daughter.  He had moved to Minneapolis for a fresh start and was laid off due to COVID-19.  Floyd was a human being, one whose life was eliminated on film. 

Mr. Floyd called for his deceased mother when he was dying.   I can imagine no response to that fact other than being brought to our knees.   Outrage at the actions of Officer Chauvin is matched by the grief of knowing Mr. Floyd was aware of his impending death and sought help or perhaps, I prefer to think solace, from his deceased mother. -

The horror, of course, is compounded for African Americans who live with actual or threatened police brutality every day.  African Americans, no matter what their socioeconomic status face daily indignities that are largely unacknowledged by white people.

The country is at a pivotal point.  African Americans and others are grieving a brutal and unnecessary death. And much of the white US is carrying on as usual, even if carrying on looks different during semi-quarantine.  Lately, news reports give more focus to property damage than to the sources and impact of racial discrimination.  

Mr. Floyd is not yet buried.  The grief is raw and new.  When death happens, we step out of our ordinary routines. Those who can stop working.  We take time to cry and be with our friends and family.  What to do in grief is complex.   But we can ask African American individual and communities how we can help.

I am disturbed when I see the world operating  largely without acknowledging this grief. Why aren’t flags at half-mast.  Why aren’t we demanding official times of mourning? As with any grieving, we need to acknowledge the pain of those suffering most. We need to be of service whatever that looks like. That doesn't happen when the world continues as usual, even at its new slower speed. 

June 1, 2020 in Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Irony of Asian-American Month: Part Two

Co-Editor Prof. Jeremiah Ho submits the second part of his writing reflecting on being Asian American during the time of COVID-19.

When President Trump and other politicians refer to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus,” there is meaning and blame underneath that handy reference.  Simply put, one can say that what the world is dealing with is the “Chinese virus” because Covid-19 was known to have originated in Wuhan, China.  But adhering to that meaning is denying the phrase’s other slippery and sinister meanings—perhaps as a not-so-subtle gesture of the finger-pointing to China or to Chinese people as the cause of the virus; or an implication that Covid-19 is a virus inhabited and carried by Chinese people; or even worse, an implication that Chinese people are viruses.  As a parallel to The Plague, herein lies the moralizing that funnels the narrative of the pandemic into a narrative of blame.  In times of crises big or small, we all want to find the root cause and we all want to determine fault.  In law, this tendency to make meaning is a prominent, almost-daily ritual.  It’s only human. 

Yet, in this context, it’s also absurd; and unlike Camus, I am using that word here to discern.  Scapegoating and blaming Asians and Asian-Americans during this pandemic is a fall-back strategy for those interested in stirring up racial bias and hatred in order to make meaning in this crisis and permit them to usurp this moment to their advantage.  We saw this with the AIDS crisis with queer and gay people.  Within white supremacy, this type of othering conjures a false sense of security and control at the expense of a minority group. 

In part, the historical narrative of Asian-Americans has always been one that fluctuates between proving our worthiness and proving our loyalty for a sense of belonging in the American society.  The model minority myth plays into the meritocratic values of institutional and structural racism, making Asian-Americans appear as worthy of being recognized as the “good Americans” for working hard, keeping quiet, and abiding by dominant values.  The myth was originally imposed upon Asian-Americans but it also has been leveraged by Asian-Americans as part of the negotiation for acceptance by the dominant status quo.  At the same time, the yellow peril symbolism casts Asian-Americans as economic, physical, and national threats to American society so that individuals of Asian descent have to constantly prove their loyalties to the U.S. in order to gain security.  The treatment of Japanese-Americans by the U.S. government during World War II exemplifies this strand of that narrative.  In one quick month in 2020, we saw the materialism and meritocratic benefits of the Asian-American narrative replaced by the rise of yellow peril symbolism, breathed into the collective air by the antagonizing phrase “Chinese virus” and then quickly manifesting to displays of racial hatred and violence as the American public tries to find meaning in this crisis. 

What the model minority myth and yellow peril symbolism underscore for the Asian-American narrative is an idea that those embodying white supremacy want us to believe:  that people of Asian descent in the U.S. are perpetually foreigners.  They don’t belong here and they only cause trouble.  But Camus in The Plague would want us to find fault with this kind of blame during the pandemic.  Although the production of meaning is a human tendency, what is effectively and instrumentally meaningful in a time of collective crisis is not blame and descension, but common decency.  The main character in Camus’ novel a doctor who treats the diseased comes to realize this after months of treating patients and watching them die from plague.  The only meaning he finds in his work is not something as highly-charged as a kind of heroism but rather a sense of common decency.  It’s useless during the time of plague to uncover blame as a way to combat the sickness.  Rather, The Plague’s central character, Dr. Rieux asserts, “It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency.”  When asked to clarify the meaning of decency, he answers, “In general, I can’t say, but in my case I know that it consists in doing my job.”  In the novel, the way he externalizes his common decency to help fight the plague by working in solidarity to help those suffering from plague.  This present moment is one in which we need common decency to determine what will most equitably serve all of us.  We need to act with common decency in solidarity against this disease, rather than finger-pointing and creating fragmentation.  According to Camus, who wrote The Plague as an allegory about Nazi occupation in France during World War II, that common decency in solidarity is the needed resistance against a common pestilence—whether pathological or ideological, or both.     

In this pandemic, the leaders who are lacking serious epistemic responsibility are adhering to a narrative of American exceptionalism that is both absurd and dangerously untrue.  It can cost lives.  This is a moment to change that narrative by resorting together to find common decency to resist the urge to blame.  For Asian-Americans, and other minority groups, it is important to see where we all are in this system of white supremacy, to see how we are all being used, and to decide to reject the exclusion.  We matter.  We belong.  We don’t have anything for which to apologize.  Instead, we are in this together and we have work to do to help ourselves and others move beyond this searing disease.     

May 27, 2020 in Ethnicity, Jeremiah Ho, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Irony of Asian-American Month

by Prof. Jeremiah Ho

Prof. Ho writes this two-part post on the Asian American experience in the time of COVID-19


Image1Last December, while I was searching for plane tickets for March spring break, the thought never crossed my mind that my one-week trip to visit family in my hometown just east of Los Angeles, would be extended indefinitely deep into the spring—and now likely summer—months.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine that we would all succumb to the effects of a significant virus; the world had not yet circulated the name “Covid-19”.  But very swiftly, the pandemic has made the catastrophic commonplace.  None of us have been immune to such physical and psychological terrors that have accompanied this health crisis.                 

The other thought that had not cross my mind last December was when, where, and how as an Asian-American, would I experience my next incident of racial hatred.  I know it’s coming.  It could be a confrontation and an epithet—tossed while I’m out in public when this is all over, catching me in a moment of surprise.  That sort of thing has happened before.  Or it could be a more subtle form of social denial or discrimination, where the perniciousness of the act is clearer only in hindsight.  There could also be violence involved.  Or it could be a combination of all these different types of hatred.  And it could happen more than just once.  All I know is that no immunity exists for such horror-laden moments.  Once the public health crisis arose, the number of racially motivated attacks on Asians both in the U.S. and globally also rose.  I’m expecting my turn.   

How swiftly the narrative has shifted for Asians and Asian-Americans in the U.S.from the dominant status quo’s regard as model minority citizens back so suddenly to yellow peril.  In my hometown just east of Pasadena, California where I grew up and have spent these months quarantining with family, the Asian-American population here has grown radically across the last four decades.  In the early 1980s, I was only one of three Asian-American children in my elementary school classroom, but by the time I graduated high school in the same town, Asian-American students comprised of more than 50% of the student population.  Today, my old high school counts Asian-Americans as nearly 70% of its students.  We are the majority—so much so that there is even a separate Chinese-American parents booster club.  Where the old Ralphs Supermarket used to be, a giant H-Mart Korean market now sells the most exotic (but mundane to us) Asian groceries.  In town, there are two outposts of the legendary Din Tai Fung Restaurant, the Taiwanese eatery famous among international foodies for its soup dumplings.  A handful of Asian banks dot the town’s business districts, and our city hall’s website has translated versions in traditional and simplified Chinese, in Korean, and in Spanish.  Take your pick.  Back before the health crisis had us quarantining, my retired parents never had to speak a word of English when they stepped out of the house to run errands.  And even in our time of safer-at-home, the Chinese language newspaper still delivers to our door every morning. 

My hometown is one of several cities in the San Gabriel Valley that have seen an Asian-American immigration boom.  But even so, when I take walks in my old neighborhood of quiet post-War single-family homes and I pass by white neighbors, I find that the practice of social distancing is both a practice of safety and suspicion.  It’s as if any social or political capital that’s been built on the material progress of Asian-Americans in our town has seemingly crumbled.  Every time I take my parents’ car out for its bi-weekly run and drive by the Santa Anita Race Track, a famous historical fixture in town that still hold professional horse-betting today, I recall that it was used as a Japanese-American detention facility during World War II.  And I’ve been reminded of this fact, especially so, while it’s been Asian-American Heritage Month these last several weeks. 

In Albert Camus’ The Plague, an extremely apt and salient novel to read (or re-read) during our pandemic, Camus demonstrates the human tendency to make meaning out of a natural world that has no concern for meaning.  In The Plague and other works, Camus associated this tendency with what he called “absurdism” because invariably, as he believed, the world defies meaning and is indifferent to our humanist struggle to make our lives and the world meaningful.  Contrary to the sound of the word, “absurdism,” to our ears, Camus does not judge our constant endeavors to search for meaning in life as a deficiency.  But rather, as seen in The Plague, it’s the type of meaningful response that we have when there’s an unexpected crisis, like a city-wide plague or a global pandemic, that matters for judgment.  In The Plague, the disease that unexpectedly asserts itself over the sleepy Algerian town of Oran prompts quarantine and then causes widespread suffering and death.  The plague is first interpreted by a Catholic priest in the novel as an outcome of human sin of the town’s inhabitants.  The plague is moralized and made meaningful in terms of blame. 

May 26, 2020 in Ethnicity, Jeremiah Ho, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Massacre on Black Wall Street

Tulsa Oklahoma was home to Black Wall Street, an area of Tulsa where black businesses thrived and where their owners lived.  As a recent article described "Greenwood Avenue had been lined with hotels, restaurants, furriers, and even an early taxi service using a Ford Model T. Nearly 200 businesses populated the 35-square-block district in all, as did some homes as stately as the ones owned by upper-class whites in the city."  Described as the "epicenter of African American entrepreneurship and wealth in the early 20th century."

That was, until May 31 and June 1, 1921.  That is when Tulsa whites invaded Black Wall Street, burning it down and killing many residents.  Between 100 and 300 are estimated to have died.  Approximately 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage was $32 million in today's money.   Tulsa was the largest massacre in US history.  Yet few were or are taught about this horrific part of our history.

Hopefully, that is about to change.  Several artists, including Oprah, are working on projects that will tell the story of mass destruction of people and their property.    Unknown is whether the story will be tamed down.  White people rioting and killing African Americans have not been the subject of a major movie.  It remains to be determined how many Americans will promote the movie and be willing to acknowledge the shame of the massacre. More importantly, US schools need to teach this part of our history in the raw and full context in which it occurred.  That would be a major breakthrough in acknowledging our past and the horrible acts perpetrated upon African Americans and other minorities.

October 29, 2019 in Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Remembering An Extraordinary Civil Rights Hero - Unita Blackwell

Image1Unita Blackwell passed on Monday at the age of 86.  Born in the Mississippi Delta during the depression of sharecropper parents.  She was forced to leave school at age 12 to work as a farm laborer.  She moved to Arkansas at a young age because there blacks were permitted to attend school. She returned to Mississippi when the civil rights movement began to make inroads. Eventually, Ms. Blackwell became the first black woman elected as mayor in Mississippi, but her activism and public service started much earlier.  

In 1986 Ms. Backwell was interviewed for "Eyes on the Prize."  She discussed the struggle to secure voting rights for African Americans.  In 1964 she attempted to register Delta African Americans to vote.  She was prevented from voting because of the "test" that was designed to exclude African Americans from voting.  African Americans failed the test. Whites did not.  At the time that Ms. Blackwell organized African Americans to vote, she was a field secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.  

At the same time, Ms. Blackwell was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.  The party challenged the seating of Mississippi's all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic convention.  In 1965 Ms. Blackwell sued the county in which she resided for suspending 300 students who wore pins supporting civil rights.  In 1967 she testified at senatorial hearings held in Jackson on the extreme poverty experienced by rural blacks.  She testified that there were "children in the county who had never had a glass of milk."  

Armed with a GED, Ms. Blackwell was accepted into a program a regional planning program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst from which she earned her master's degree in 1983.

During her tenure as mayor of Mayersville, from 1976-2001, she developed water and sewerage services,  saw that roads were paved and worked to improve housing.  From 1990-1992 she was president of the National Conference of Black Mayors.     Mayor Blackwell received a MacArthur genius grant for her work on water services and housing, and from 1991-1992 she was a fellow at the Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.  She became an advisor to several US presidents.

“I was put into the position of learning to survive, someway and somehow, by being black and in this country, Blackwell said in a 1977 oral history interview with the University of Southern Mississippi obtained by Mississippi Today. But also being black and in this country, you learn a great lesson, and this is how to overcome. … It’s that power to move in the midst of opposition.”

 

 

May 16, 2019 in Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Police Violence Against Afro-Descendants in the United States

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently issued its report on police violence against African Americans in the United States.   Approved in November 2018, the report assesses structural discrimination against African-Americans with a particular focus on "deepseated racial disparities in policing and the criminal justice system".  The IACHR notes that concerns that the long-standing violence against African Americans raises a larger concern with US failure to enforce international human rights norms.  

The report goes beyond assessment of violation of individual civil and human rights. The report includes a history of the race discrimination in the US as well as examining "modern structural discrimination" and over-policing.  

The IACHR press release notes that the report's "conclusions are perhaps most succinctly expressed in a note on the cover art, which reads, “the United States has systematically failed to adopt preventive measures and to train its police forces to perform their duties in an appropriate fashion. This has led to the frequent use of force based on racial bias and prejudice and tends to result in unjustified killings of African Americans.”

 

March 28, 2019 in Criminal Justice, IACHR, Margaret Drew, Police, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Human Rights Confusion: Honoring Angela Davis

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights hero.  Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was one of the early activists in the civil rights movement and shared jail cells with Dr. Martin Luther King.  Rev. Shuttlesworth was widely respected as a civil rights leader in a city and state where activism could have severe consequences.  Indeed Rev. Shuttlesworth was the recipient of many beatings and the target of bombings.  His 2011 funeral brought admirers from across the state of Alabama and the nation.  Representative John Lewis was among the eulogizers and Peter Yarrow, who sang along with Paul and Mary at the 1963 civil rights March on Washington, sang "Blowing in the Wind". 

The Institute, along with the City of Birmingham, has done a good job of owning its past.  The Institute does not shy away from the civil rights history and the city's response.   Among its many exhibits is one replicating the jail cell where Dr. King wrote "Letter from a Birmingham Jail".  The setting provides a powerful place to read the letter, which is part of the exhibit.    Across from the Institute is Kelly Park, where demonstrators were hosed by firemen and attacked by police dogs.  Again, the city does not shy from its history.  Bronze exhibits in the park replicate attacking dogs and firemen with hoses. 

So it was not surprising when the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute announced that Dr. Angela Davis would be the recipient of the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award.


Image1Angela Davis hails from Birmingham.  The civil and human rights leader is remembered for her activism against racist practices during the 1970s.   During that era, she was a member of an African American chapter of the Communist Party and supported the Black Panthers and a target of the FBI.   She spent 18 months in prison on accomplice to murder charges involving the death of a judge, a charge from which she was acquitted. A Ph.D. whose activism has sometimes made her academic life difficult, she teaches at the University of California at Santa Clara where she continues to write and work on human rights issues.  One of her recent works is Freedom is a Constant Struggle:  Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement.  She is known as a respected human rights activist who carried on her activism to ensure fundamental human rights.

Then the Institute rescinded the award, stating that Dr. Davis did not meet the criteria. The Institute had received a letter from the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center asking for reconsideration of the award based upon Dr. Davis'  support of Palestinians.  Jewish Voice for Peace published an open letter to the Institute, signed by over 350 academics, calling on them to cancel the rescission.    

The counter-pressure was intense.  Three Institute board members resigned.  The Mayor joined in criticizing the recission decision and the City Council swiftly passed a resolution supporting Dr. Davis.  The Institute acknowledged receiving criticism from several community groups. In the meantime, community leaders, including clergy and business people, arranged an alternative Birmingham event at which Dr. Davis spoke to an overflowing crowd.  

The Institute re-extended the award to Dr. Davis and published a letter stating that no decision should have been made regarding rescission before a discussion with diverse groups.  Also, it said that it was keeping with its commitment to learning from its mistakes.  Unknown is whether Dr. Davis accepted or will accept the Shuttlesworth Award.  

March 10, 2019 in Global Human Rights, Margaret Drew, Prisons, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Who Will Re-Write The History Books?

Reflecting on Black History Month in the US, the most common sentence I heard from whites was "I didn't know that!"  

This is the month when we learn more of the rich history of men and women of color who have shaped our world and failed to receive recognition for their accomplishments nor compensation for their suffering.  During February we have an abundance of lectures and films setting us straight on the past and present mistreatment of African Americans.  Mainstream movies are bringing light to the history of mistreatment of African Americans in the US.  "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "Black KkKlansman" are two of the movies that inform us of the modern history of the inhumane and degrading treatment people of color.   "Twelve Years A Slave" revealed the abhorrent treatment of blacks by those who trafficked Africans and their descendants during the years when slavery was legal.  "Green Book" addresses prior forms of discrimination - but from a white perspective-  lulling some viewers into believing bias no longer exists.  Only if that same audience would embrace the harsh historical lessons of the other movies as well.  Spike Lee has pointed out that we very much need to accept the reality of current abuses of power.

All to raise the question:  Who will re-write the history textbooks used in public education?  Race has been a divisive issue in this country since the founding.  Yet we ignore it's teaching with poor excuses and falsehoods.  We say the race issue is in our past - why drag it up?- it makes us uncomfortable to discuss race ... and on and on.  If teachers are not voluntarily having in-depth discussions on race - or are prohibited from doing so because of mandatory use of materials that limit its discussion, the question becomes, who is going to re-write the history books? And when are school administrators and parents going to demand that history courses include the underbelly of US history?  Colonialism, human slave trafficking, the refusal to acknowledge not only the mistreatment of African Americans but the many ways in which we made sure their success was limited and that those successes remained hidden.  

While waiting for textbook adoption and re-writing to transform readers understanding of racial disparity, perhaps the entire month of February should be devoted to teaching only black history, and  without the excuses made on behalf of embarrassed or uncomfortable whites. 

And then, let us move onto US genocide of indigenous people and the shaming of women and others. 

 

February 25, 2019 in aboriginal, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Virginia Dilemma Is Not Singular

When photos of Virginia Governor Northam either in blackface or a KKK outfit, the nation was once again divided.  Many called for his resignation while the governor has refused to do so.  Unfortunately, the governor's dialogue has ended there, except for an admission of earlier in his life using a "small amount"  of blackface because everyone knows how difficult it is to get black shoe polish off the face.  (Actually, most of us don't.)  

Once again, the nation is at an impasse.  Are resigning or not the only options?   Why hasn't Governor Northam talked with members of the African American community regarding their thoughts on his personal rehabilitation and political remediation?  Were there restorative measures that could create change in both the Governor's perspective on race while benefiting the community?  Given the widespread calls for his resignation, probably not - particularly given the Governor's failure to make a sincere apology that includes remedial steps both for himself and the African Americans that have been further harmed.  His most recent reference to slaves as "indentured servants" evidences Northam's deep racism and his rigid commitment to those beliefs.

Think of the opportunities missed.  In a moving opinion piece in the Washington Post, Reverend William Barber II envisions different outcomes.   He suggests that the Governor and others who have committed racist acts could begin by asking  “How are the people who have been harmed by my actions asking to change the policies and practices of our society?”  While the expansion of voting rights, providing health care for all and committing to a living wage are national issues that the Governor could endorse and foster, Reverend Barber suggests specific local measures that would immediately improve African American lives.  "In Virginia, it means stopping the environmental racism of the pipeline and natural gas compressor station Dominion Energy intends to build in Union Hill, a neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves and other free African Americans."  

In an age when apologies are presumed to be accepted no matter how untimely or insincere, the Governor needs to find a path to actual reparations whether he continues as Governor or not.   The Governor's failure to do so says more about his personal failures than anything else.

 

February 13, 2019 in Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: Addressing Human Rights For the Formerly Incarcerated

Reducing Barriers to Reintegration:  fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018 reviews recent legislative efforts to ease the lives of those US residents whose criminal records interfere with their participating in basic human rights.  The report was issued by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center.  The Center "The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction, the legal restrictions and social stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their court-imposed sentence has been served." 

Significant progress was made this year as activists succeeded in obtaining the support of legislators across the nation.  Restoration of voting rights, as well as criminal record sealing reform where among the most significant changes of 2018.  Florida was the most reported and significant state to restore voting rights after all incarceration, probation, parole periods have expired and all related fines have been paid.  The law excludes those convicted of murder and sex offenses.  The new law, which went into effect on January 8th, impacts approximately 1.6 million voters.  Those votes are significant in a swing state.  Disenfranchisement was promoted in the Jim Crow era and again during the 1960s.  As back voters exercised their voting rights, legislators looked for new ways to block their voting.  Combined with aggressive drug enforcement policies directed primarily against African Americans disenfranchisement proved to be an effective tool.  

The Reducing Barriers report's executive summary includes the following:

In 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia produced 56 separate laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and elsewhere. Many of these new laws enacted more than one type of reform. This prolific legislative “fair chance” track record, the high point of a six-year trend, reflects the lively on-going national conversation about how best to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with a criminal record.

As in past years, approaches to restoring rights varied widely from state to state, both with respect to the type of relief, as well as the specifics of who is eligible, how relief is delivered, and the effect of relief. Despite a growing consensus about the need for policy change to alleviate collateral consequences, little empirical research has been done to establish best practices, or what works best to promote reintegration.

The most promising legislative development recognizes the key role occupational licensing plays in the process of reintegration, and it was this area that showed the greatest uniformity of approach. Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.

The most consequential single new law was a Florida ballot initiative to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction, which captured headlines across the country when it passed with nearly 65% of voters in favor. Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.

The largest number of new laws—27 statutes in 19 states—expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures. A significant number of states addressed record-clearing for non-conviction records (including diversions), for marijuana or other decriminalized offenses, for juveniles, and for human trafficking victims.

The reporters state:  "The legal landscape at the end of 2018 suggests that states are experimenting with a more nuanced blending of philosophical approaches to dealing with the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction.  These approaches include forgiving people’s past crimes (through pardon or judicial dispensation), forgetting them (through record-sealing or expungement), or forgoing creating a record in the first place (through diversionary dispositions).  While sealing and expungement remain the most popular forms of remedy, there seems to be both popular and institutional resistance to limiting what the public may see respecting the record of serious offenses, and a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms that limit what the public may do with such a record, along with standards to guide administrative decision-making."

 

 

 

January 13, 2019 in Incarcerated, Margaret Drew, Race | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

White "Reform": The Underbelly of The First Step Act

Much rejoicing is happening following the Senate passage of The First Step Act, which is likely to be passed by the House as well this week.  The bill is being touted as a criminal justice reform act.  Not only is there bi-partisan support for the bill, there is also support from diverse individuals and groups outside of Congress.  The Koch Brothers and the ACLU.  Wait - The Kochs and the ACLU?  OK- the ACLU is predictable in that the organization is likely to support any bill that provides relief for a class of those incarcerated no matter how limited the group.  But why would the Koch brothers support the bill? Simple answers:  money for one.  Also, the proposed relief will be applied primarily to whites.  And passage of the bill will give the president favorable coverage of the new "policies" at a time when favorable headlines for the president are rare. 

In a New Yorker article, counsel for Koch Brothers claimed that Koch Industries is much more sensitive to over-reaching prosecutors since the company was prosecuted in 2000 for hiding emissions of toxins at a Texas facility.  That matter settled and there is a long time between 2000 and 2018 for a shift in their attitude on criminal justice "reform".  A more likely draw for Koch support is the money to be made from the bill.  Those same individuals who administer "private" prisons are looking for a slice of the pie for re-entry programs to be established under the bill.  Private prisons are known for their poor quality food, the harsh policies toward prisoners and failure to administer necessary medicines, among other criticisms.  These are not actors who entertain a human rights approach to "reform".  In addition, some legislators attempted to include a term that would require prosecutors to prove intent for corporate crimes.  To date those efforts have been resisted.   

And who else benefits from the bill?  Roughly 4,000 mostly white individuals.  And they will be chosen by algorithm.  The bill applies "reforms" to those inmates considered to be minimum security risks and those convicted of "non-violent" crimes.  Roughly, only 20% of those who will benefit are of color.  African Americans are far more likely to be considered higher security risks.  African Americans are far more likely to be designated violent.  

As noted in Intercept article,  Natasha Leonard comments that The First Step Act functions as a compromise because it is not a challenge to the carceral state.  Ms. Leonard notes that the only thing notable is its compromise.  She notes that this compromise in effect was relinquishment of true change in how criminal justice is administered.

While the bill contains some positive terms, such as more judicial flexibility in sentencing, the bill is far from reformative.  If only the commitment to more steps was from Congress.  That is unlikely.  Proponents are already touting the bill as "sweeping" when in fact the bill benefits only those who are low risk, typically white and a very small fraction of the total inmate population nationally.  Congress' revisiting criminal justice "reform" anytime soon is unlikely.

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2018 in Criminal Justice, Margaret Drew, Prisons, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)