Category: Human Rights

What will you do on this day in history?

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By , November 8, 2016 9:48 am

Nov. 8, 2016 –

One day, my grandchildren, if I am fortunate enough to have any, may ask “How did Granny and Grandpa vote in the election of 2016?”

So to future generations:

Today, for the first time in more than 35 years, we went to the polls together. Our votes often tend to cancel each other out if we both vote, as we tend to disagree on a lot of issues. But today – today – we both went to vote together because we are both convinced that Donald Trump is despicable and a threat to our country.

And I hope that the GOP will take note: when you have one independent and one ultra-ultra-Conservative both firmly rejecting your candidate for the highest office in this land and both see your candidate as a threat to democracy, you’ve screwed up. While we despise Clinton, too, she was absolutely correct when she said Trump is “unhinged” and “temperamentally unfit” to be President.

In fact, both major parties should take note: we’re tired of voting for the lesser of evils: give us a candidate of good ethical character who loves – and understands – the Constitution and rule of law, and who has some knowledge of both domestic and foreign affairs and will work towards a better world while keeping America strong. Surely you can find someone who meets those criteria, no?

My grandparents came to this country to escape persecution and for the dream of a better life.  Two of them came over with their mothers and siblings after their fathers had come ahead to find a place to live and a job to support them. Two of them came over by themselves, as their siblings sent for them after saving money for their trip. But they all came with a dream. And whenever I see the Statue of Liberty, I am thankful that they had that opportunity. And I am proud that America was the country that took in people and was a “melting pot.” Yes, our country has a long history of discrimination to overcome, but there has been progress, and it needs to continue, not be reversed.

Donald Trump’s vision of America is not my vision. I refuse to be afraid of people who have different religions or come from different cultures. I do not want to live in a country that judges people based on the color of their skin, their religion, or their country of origin. And I refuse to turn my back on those who are fleeing persecution or war-torn countries or who came here to find a better life.

We are better than that, America.

Tonight, I will find out what we, the people, have done to our future. I just hope that we make a decision that future generations will appreciate and that today, we do not create a more dangerous world for them.

On this day in history, I voted. Have you?

Update: Nov. 9.

 

How could it be that Darren Wilson did nothing wrong in killing Michael Brown?

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By , August 19, 2014 6:03 pm

The last time I posted on this blog was back in February, and it was about the pervasive racism in our country that results in the killing of black youth with some impunity:

My heart goes out to the families of  black youth who were and will be killed because they are black. I could not and likely would not have said what Jordan Davis’s mother said after the jury verdict yesterday.  Her comments may have prevented riots, but Jordan Davis did not get justice yesterday. And nor will the next black teen unless there is a tectonic shift in our country.

There has been no tectonic shift since then, and now Ferguson, Missouri is dealing with yet another senseless death of a teenager – this one at the hands of a police officer who was sworn to protect and serve.

There are those who argue that since Mike Brown was unarmed, there’s no excuse and the officer, Darren Wilson, should be arrested and charged. There are those who argue that Wilson’s actions were justified. In what rational universe can the killing of an unarmed teen following a stop for walking in the street ever be considered justified? Would that we were living in a rational universe.

Yesterday, I took Baden’s preliminary autopsy results diagram to a cop I know. I won’t name him, but will just describe him as a black cop in New York City who’s almost exactly the same size as Michael Brown. And I said to him, “Show me how police can explain or justify this pattern of gun shots and this killing when Michael Brown was unarmed. How can this possibly be a justifiable killing?” The cop, who hadn’t followed the latest developments in the case glanced at the autopsy diagram and then said, “It’s easy. I’ll show you exactly how it probably went down.” And then he proceeded to demonstrate it for me, placing us about 30 feet apart.

He said from the gun shot pattern, Mike Brown probably charged the officer or kept coming towards him and wouldn’t stop.

“The kid has to get down on his knees when told to,” he said. “If he keeps moving towards the cop, the cop will fear for his own safety and will shoot.” In other words, the kid has to cooperate with the cop – or else. His words were echoed today in an OpEd headlined I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me..

“How long do you think it will take me to get to you from here to where you are?” he asked me from 30+ feet away. I looked at the distance and calculated that with his long stride, it would take less than 2 seconds to cover the distance if he charged me, longer if he just walked towards me.

“At what point do you start shooting at me if I won’t drop to the ground with hands up?” he asked me. “You can’t wait until I’m 5 feet away to start shooting because even a shot to the chest isn’t going to bring me down or stop me. You have to start shooting when I’m further away to bring me down.”

And so he demonstrated the scenario the autopsy results suggested to him, and I stood in Darren Wilson’s place and felt the fear of a huge man coming towards me and not stopping.

Would I have shot in that situation if there was already some scuffle or problem between us, as has been suggested by some witness reports? Most likely, yes.  And yes, I know Officer Wilson is younger than me, bigger than me, in better shape, and is trained and had a gun and Mike Brown was unarmed, but in that moment with a huge man coming at me and not stopping, I could understand fear – if that’s what happened.

But is that what actually happened when Mike Brown was killed? I don’t know. Some witness reports say that Wilson opened fire on Brown before Brown moved towards him. All I do know is that the police keep leaking information to bias the public against Mike Brown. But even if Brown had robbed a convenience store and even if he had smoked pot, neither justifies a cop killing an unarmed man. Nor does contempt of cop justify the killing. Perhaps the only defense for Darren Wilson is that he feared for his own life in that encounter.

But then why not get back in his car and call for backup? Why pursue Brown and force the issue? How did it get to that point of no return? 

There are those, like my friend in the police department, who may pragmatically say that Mike Brown’s killing was avoidable if only Brown had dropped to his knees with hands up.  That may be true at that point, but how Officer Wilson handled the encounter at the very outset likely led to what became the fatal interaction. Did Wilson harass Brown or was he disrespectful to him? Would the fatal shooting have occurred if Wilson had handled things differently at the beginning? Probably not.

In considering Officer Wilson’s responsibility for the killing of Mike Brown, we should not overlook or downplay the decisions he made at the outset and the way he approached Brown and Brown’s friend at the beginning of the incident because when all is said and done, Wilson killed Brown. If you want to excuse or rationalize it by decisions Brown made in responding to the situation, then you must also consider decisions Wilson made at every stage of the interaction. Despite his huge size, Brown was just an 18-year old kid. The officer was the one with the training and duty to handle this better.

But I’m still struck by how my friend, an experienced police officer, immediately understood how this could all happen and be considered  justifiable  in the police’s eyes.

Yes, I know what some of you are likely thinking now. “Well, he’s a cop, so of course he’ll just try to justify this or see it this way or lie to cover up wrongdoing by Wilson. Even though he’s black, he’s blue.”

And nine out of 10 times, you’d probably be right, except that my friend actually hates cops and only became a cop to get them to stop harassing him. But more on that in my next post.

Racism excuses murder? Again?

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By , February 16, 2014 10:04 am

Words fail. To those who said the justice system worked when George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, what say you all now that Michael Dunn’s jury hung on the charge he murdered Jordan Davis?  Will you stand there and tell me that our justice system worked because the jurors didn’t have enough evidence to warrant a conviction?

Or will you, at long last, be honest and acknowledge that in our country, racism is so pervasive and runs so deep that all a white person needs to claim is “I was afraid of that black person” and a jury will relate to that and see reasonable doubt for a murder charge?

Three words. “I was afraid.” That’s all it takes, it seems, to justify deadly force against an unarmed black youth who was just playing music loud.

And if we spend our lives in isolation and perpetuate the myths and racism, we can then use that as an excuse to kill black youth?

I feel sick inside today.

There are many commentaries all over the Internet, but Ta-Nehisi Coates’ column reduces me to tears.

At long last, have we made no progress in this country?  Was electing a black president a sign of progress, or did we just put an “oreo” in the White House so we could tell ourselves and the world that America is not a deeply racist country?

My heart goes out to the families of  black youth who were and will be killed because they are black. I could not and likely would not have said what Jordan Davis’s mother said after the jury verdict yesterday.  Her comments may have prevented riots, but Jordan Davis did not get justice yesterday. And nor will the next black teen unless there is a tectonic shift in our country.

 

 

What do you teach your children?

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By , July 4, 2013 12:34 pm

When my children were younger, I used to read them books for children about American history. I took them to Lexington, Concord, Boston, Gettysburg, and other historical areas. I wanted them to appreciate some of the great things our country had done and the sacrifices made for democracy and equality.

But it’s been too many Fourth of July’s since I have felt any pride in America. What would I teach my children now? What do you teach your children now?

And how will you answer your young children when they grow up and ask, “Why didn’t you do something to stop the government from turning this country into a surveillance state? Why didn’t you do something to stop the government from taking away women’s rights to control their bodies? What kind of country did you leave me?”

It would be too simplistic – and ineffective – to simply say “Oust the Republicans from Congress,” because there are too many Democrats who agree with them.

We need a more fundamental shift in our country to get us back on course. Will you be part of it?

#Restorethe4th is not a total solution, but it’s an important part. Get behind it and take action.

Do we need a National Sieve Administration for all the leaks?

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By , June 28, 2013 9:50 am

So I’m sitting here, absolutely gobsmacked over the news that General James “Hoss” Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  is under investigation by the DOJ for allegedly leaking information to a New York Times reporter about the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear reactors.   Cartright would become the ninth person charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act.  That’s a lot of prosecutions considering Obama has been in office for four years and  there were only three people charged for all previous administrations, combined.  As Scott Shane and Charlie Savage report, however, not all of the increase in aggressive prosecution of leaks is Obama’s doing:

But a closer look reveals a surprising conclusion: the crackdown has nothing to do with any directive from the president, even though he is now promoting his record as a political asset.

Instead, it was unplanned, resulting from several leftover investigations from the Bush administration, a proliferation of e-mail and computer audit trails that increasingly can pinpoint reporters’ sources, bipartisan support in Congress for a tougher approach, and a push by the director of national intelligence in 2009 that sharpened the system for tracking disclosures.

But the prosecuted leaks are not the only leaks in our national security. Apart from whistleblowers like Tice and Binney who were not prosecuted, some   information was leaked by hackers who attacked HBGary Federal and later Stratfor. Those two hacks revealed a lot of information that was quite an embarrassment to the government and businesses. And when mainstream media talks about “the war on journalism,” they should include government’s attempts to cut WikiLeaks’ access to donations, what we learned from the HBGary Federal hack about efforts to discredit Glenn Greenwald, and what we might have learned from Project PM if the government hadn’t arrested Barrett Brown.  As I think about it now, Brown’s arrest may have been one of the government’s most effective steps to stop the exposure of embarrassing information because the project pretty much fell apart after his arrest.

So we need to use a wider lens when we talk about  “leaks” that goes beyond the whistleblower/leaker nomenclature for government leakers and that also considers why we have seen an increasing rate of leaks and exposures in the past seven years.

In his interview, Edward Snowden talked about how he believed in Obama and how his subsequent sense of disappointment (and betrayal?) contributed to his decision to leak documents to the media.   And maybe it is as simple as that – that when we no longer trust our government to respect our rights – including a right to privacy – we will do what we have to to expose government surveillance and wrongdoing.  When we have met the enemy, and he is, what else is a moral or ethical person to do? When normal whistleblower channels only tip the government so that they can try to prevent the leak, when the President issues directives about “insider threats” that would have people spying on each other and reporting each other instead of reporting government wrongdoing, what options are left?

I believe the ultimate responsibility for the leaks falls back on government for (1) engaging in so much unnecessary privacy-busting surveillance, and (2) not being upfront and clear with the public about the programs.  It is the government’s secrecy and over-classification that has contributed, in large part, to the problem. The government’s secrecy, one could argue, has necessitated the leaks if democracy is to survive.  National security never, however, justifies trying to smear or destroy the reputation of journalists and publishers who are shining the light on government actions by publishing documents that have been leaked to them.

At this rate, we will need a National Sieve Administration to try to plug all the leaks, because although the government’s actions may have a chilling effect on some journalists or media outlets,  they will not be able to stop those whose conscience is stronger than fear of prosecution.

The tagline of this blog used to be this quote from Edward Abbey:  “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.” By that definition, Edward Snowden and other leakers are patriots, not traitors. Instead of prosecuting them under the Espionage Act, we should be prosecuting government officials who perjure themselves in Congressional oversight hearings or who lie to the public about government invasions of our civil liberties and privacy.

In the meantime, a new unclassified but “for official use only” CIA memo designed to cut down on leaks from within the CIA was quickly leaked to the Associated Press on Wednesday.

 

 

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