Truthout Stories Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:34:30 -0500 en-gb Nine Native Sites to Visit Instead of Celebrating Thanksgiving With Turkey

November is traditionally the month of cranberries, mashed potatoes and green beans in America, but there's a growing movement to take a closer look at Thanksgiving, with some Native American activists arguing that it should be a Day of Mourning to mark the effects of colonialism, rather than a celebration followed by Black Friday excess. Some Americans are doing just that, taking advantage of the time for reflection.

But why not take it a step further and use that traditional time off to visit a Native American site and celebrate the heritage of the people who have been inhabiting North America for millennia, and enjoy the living culture of numerous vibrant Native American tribes? Use this list to map out an all-November tour or a compilation of sites to visit over the coming years, and turn Thanksgiving into an interesting cultural experience while giving your waistband and your credit card a break.

Before visiting any site, make sure it's going to be open - some are closed for part of the year or on given days, and sometimes tribes close them for private ceremonies. Conversely, you might want to time a trip for a public event to get a chance to see a powwow or other community event in action if members of a tribe are inviting the public. While at the site, be respectful: You already know to leave no trace when you visit precious historical sites, but be mindful to traditional customs as well, and mimic others - if people are taking their shoes off or covering their heads, for example, please do likewise. Remember, you're a guest on someone else's land.

1) Crazy Horse Monument

The Native answer to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument (above) is in a slowly evolving state of construction, as carvers work to slowly bring out the likeness of a famous figure in American history. When it's finished - which won't be soon, it's been underway for over 65 years already! - the massive carving will depict the famous Oglala Lakota chief, mounted, of course, on a stallion. The site, located in the Black Hills, commemorates an important figure in the fight against colonialism and includes a museum for those interested in learning more about the real-world people who fought alongside the famous Native American. Visitors can also see a scale model illustrating what the memorial is supposed to look like. For those who've also been longing to visit Mount Rushmore, you're in luck - the two sites are very close to each other, and seeing both can give you an interesting perspective on U.S. history.

When you visit, be aware that some Native American critics, including those related to Crazy Horse, have mixed feelings about the site, from the amount of money used to concerns about whether Crazy Horse himself would have wanted to see nature carved into a memorial - he famously refused to be photographed and his family buried him where he could not be found.

2) Taos Pueblo

This living community in New Mexico is hundreds of years old. Visitors are welcomed by Red Willow People who call it home, and they are happy to show people around and provide them with information about Native crafts and traditions. Sites like this one are important, because many Americans view Native culture as something dead and past, when in fact numerous tribes are still very active in the United States, working very hard to preserve their history and heritage. Seeing them firsthand is a reminder of their history, and also provides a chance to contribute directly to their work - beautiful examples of handmade traditional crafts are available in Taos. Be aware that as a living community, Taos Pueblo isn't just a historical site, and the residents deserve privacy - no photos or entering homes without permission, for example.

Many traditional crafts have special significance to Native communities - every beaded pattern, for example, has meaning, and some garments and adornments are used in religious ceremonies. This guide to shopping ethically can help you learn more about which things are off limits and how to support artisans directly. Generally, only members of a tribe are allowed to wear war bonnets (mistakenly known as "headdresses") and religious regalia. Try connecting directly with an artist to learn more about her work - both modern and traditional - so you'll have a story to associate with a treasured item.

3) Gathering of Nations

It doesn't take place in November, but it's worth an honorable mention. This annual spring event brings together hundreds of Indian tribes for traditional dance, eating, crafts, conversation, and much more. Located in Albuquerque, it's definitely not to be missed if you're traveling in New Mexico. Each year features a variety of events including the coronation ceremony for Miss Indian World - competitors all draw from their own cultural heritage and the winner becomes an ambassador for the Native community in the following year.

4) Mesa Verde National Park

While the Anasazi of Utah are famous for their cliff dwellings, this site in Colorado is amazing as well. These structures were built nearly one thousand years ago by Pueblo Indians, and visitors get to wander around and through them. If cliff dwellings aren't your cup of tea, there are over 5,000 historical sites of interest in the national park that enjoy protection from the federal government, so there's definitely something for everyone in this beautiful landscape located in the Four Corners area.

The UNESCO site is particularly notable thanks to the size and complexity of the architecture. Native American architects used the landscape to their advantage with cliff dwellings to create very sturdy and efficient homes - trapping heat in the winter, and staying cool in the summer - and some of these structures tower across multiple stories. One of the most famous is the Cliff Palace, which has recently undergone some careful restoration to keep it in good condition for future generations.

5) National Museum of the American Indian

Located in Washington, D.C., this museum provides a wealth of opportunities to learn about Native culture and history. Plan to set aside at least a day to wander through its hallways so you can take time to explore with leisure. Like other museums, it hosts regularly rotating collections so check the upcoming exhibit schedule to see if there's anything you are particularly interested in. NMAI also holds classes, workshops, lectures and other events - like discussion of racist mascots - also listed for the benefit of potential visitors. Admission to the facility is free, and it's fully accessible to disabled people and visitors with strollers.

Washington itself is famous for its museums - NMAI is affiliated with the Smithsonian - and it's well worth planning a week in America's capital to check out the sights. There's also a satellite branch of the organization in New York, for those who prefer the Big Apple. You might want to skip both in November unless you enjoy chilly weather, but put them on the list for spring!

We know that museums featuring Native artifacts and culture can be controversial, as there's a long history of looting such artifacts from Native communities and refusing to return them. The museum has a repatriation policy, which you can read here, and works with the Native community to evaluate claims on human remains, religious items and certain other culturally significant artifacts. When possible, it returns these items to tribal members, and it does not engage in destructive or intrusive testing on disputed items.

6) Sitka National Historical Park

Located in Alaska, this beautiful park preserves and celebrates totem poles, an iconic part of Northwest Indian heritage. As with many other cultural traditions, the totem pole has been appropriated by the white community and isn't well understood. Each totem has a meaning, down to the individual figures carved into it and the colors used to decorate it. The restful park encourages visitors to wander along the totem trail and learn more about the real meaning of the totem pole.

It's not just about natural beauty, though. The park also preserves the site of a battle between Russian colonists and the Kiks.ádi Tlinget people who had traditionally inhabited the site. Many consider the battle to be an important event as it marked the last significant stand against colonization in Alaska, and the site includes a totem pole marking the lives lost during the conflict. Unfortunately, commemorations of unhappy events are a common feature of Native monuments, a reminder of the cultural destruction endured by many tribes as a result of European invasion.

7) Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Another example of historic and living history blending together, this monument in Arizona includes ruins and cultural sites, but it also includes a vibrant Navajo farming community - one that's been living in the region for 5,000 years. The stunning red cliffs and caves make for fascinating exploration, and you can interact with the local community to learn more about how they're working and living today. Given the sensitivity of a site where people are living and going about their daily lives, the Navajo community works closely with the parks service to preserve the site and set boundaries.

Visitors can wander around on their own, but it's also possible to take tours. There are some strict limits on tours, including the requirement that touring companies use Navajo guides. Such tours give visitors a chance to look at rock paintings and special sites in the canyon, and they're well worth taking.

8) Ocmulgee National Monument 

Native Americans from various communities have been living in this region, located near Macon, Ga., for 17,000 years. Visitors to this park can see ancient burial mounds as well as other structures, and the Native American community holds an annual September celebration of arts and culture. Those interested in the Civil War can also see some sites related to the conflict, as well as historic monuments related to the slave trade. Park events happen year round, including an illuminated tour during cherry blossom season, held in concert with Macon's celebration of blooms.

This is one of many sites in the South and Northeast that includes an interesting and important mixture of Native American heritage and colonial influences, allowing visitors to learn more about the interaction between Natives and colonists. The simultaneous presence of a sacred site, Civil War artifacts and legacies of the slave trade is a fascinating illustration of America's complicated history.

9) Haleakala National Park

Visitors to the island of Maui have an opportunity to visit this beautiful dormant volcano and historic site. The site plays an important role in indigenous Hawaiian myths - Maui, a demigod, allegedly trapped the sun in the mountain to make the days longer, explaining the volcano's name, which means "House of the Sun." Sunrise and sunset from the rim of the crater are particularly spectacular, but it's well worth visiting at any time. (And please - don't remove stones and other natural material, not just because of myths about bad luck, but because they are better enjoyed in situ by other visitors.)

This site comes with another bitter historical legacy: Many of the native plants there are extinct or almost wiped out because it's been heavily settled by invasive species. Hawaii, like many islands, has a very delicate natural ecology (one reason they're so tough about fruits, vegetables and agricultural pests), and colonists brought plants unwittingly and sometimes intentionally. In addition to suppressing Hawaiian culture, colonists in the region also devastated the environment of the islands.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Instead of Pardoning a Turkey, Obama Should Free This Man

2015.11.26.Peltier.mainThis year, the president should extend some Thanksgiving clemency to human beings - starting with Leonard Peltier. (Photo: @Peta_de_Aztlan /Flickr )As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I've got a suggestion for President Barack Obama.

Instead of following the White House tradition and "pardoning" a turkey destined for a holiday dinner table, Obama should extend that courtesy to some of the thousands of human beings caged up in America's federal prisons.

Leonard Peltier should be one of them.

Peltier was a Native American activist on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s. On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents went to Pine Ridge to look for a young man named Jimmy Eagle, who was wanted for robbery. Soon after they spotted his car, a shootout ensued.

Both agents and one of the occupants of the car were killed. A later shootout at the gunman's home ended in two more deaths.

An FBI investigation turned up a gun with Peltier's fingerprints on it, although there was no evidence he'd been involved in the murder of the agents. Peltier was placed on the FBI's most wanted list and eventually captured in Canada.

His trial was controversial.

The prosecution's evidence showed that the two agents were killed at close range - evidence that hadn't been presented in the trial of two earlier defendants, who were acquitted. Peltier admitted to firing at the agents from a distance, but insisted that he hadn't been in close proximity to them and hadn't killed them.

Nonetheless, Peltier was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

In the years after the trial, new evidence emerged indicating that Peltier couldn't have killed the agents. An FBI ballistics expert found that the firing pin and cartridges used in the killings didn't come from Peltier's gun. And all three witnesses who placed Peltier at the scene of the killing later recanted, saying that they'd been coerced by the FBI and denied access to their attorneys.

Even the federal parole board wrote in 1993 that it  "recognizes that the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that Peltier participated in the executions of the two FBI agents."

More than two decades later, Peltier still sits in a federal penitentiary in Florida, where he won't be eligible for another parole hearing until he's well into his 80s. He's been incarcerated for 39 years.

An array of progressive, libertarian, and human rights groups have urged for Peltier to receive clemency. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark acts as his pro bono attorney. But the only thing that can help Peltier is presidential action.

It really looks like our government has locked up an innocent man. Isn't it time to fix it?

With his presidency coming to a close and Thanksgiving today, it's the perfect time for Obama to offer a gesture to help make amends with our nation's original people. Instead of pardoning a turkey, he should pardon Leonard Peltier.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Victory: Columbia University Divests $10 Million From Private Prisons

Behind the scenes with the student campaign that forced Columbia University to divest $10 million from private prisons.

News Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
There's No Such Thing as a Climate Change Refugee, but There Ought to Be

Locals in Tebikenikora, a village in low-lying Kiribati.Locals in Tebikenikora, a village in low-lying Kiribati. (Photo: Eskinder Debebe / UN Photo)

Ioane Teitiota could have been the world's first official climate change refugee. The subsistence fisherman relocated from the low-lying Pacific island of Kiribati to New Zealand in 2007, purportedly to escape the effects of climate change, which will soon make his home uninhabitable. Seeing no legal basis to grant Teitiota refugee status in New Zealand, the judiciary rejected his petition for residency, and the country's high court sent him back to Kiribati on September 23 of this year.

Australia and New Zealand are among the first countries to face petitions from so-called climate refugees because of their location in the Pacific. Small island nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu, where saltwater has infiltrated once-fertile soils and may soon submerge much of their landmass, are close neighbors to the Aussies and Kiwis. But climate change migrants won't be landing only there. Soon they will drift across the globe, reaching American shores and courts - but no legal system is prepared to handle the inevitable wave.

The Migrants

Kiribati has no future. Saying so seems cruel and unfair, but the truth often is. The island's highest point is less than 10 feet above the current sea level. It's so low that the world's tallest man could put his feet in the ocean and raise his hand higher than the island's rocky apex. Many I-Kiribati live close to the breaking waves, at elevations that the sea will likely submerge by the end of this century.

Although the Atlantis scenario is the headline concern, the island will become uninhabitable long before that. Saltwater already infiltrates drinking water supplies, and drought is quickly becoming the norm. The lack of potable water leads to frequent and deadly outbreaks of diarrhea. Anyone who can raise their children elsewhere will. This sad reality, more than eventual submersion, makes the island's slow evacuation a certainty.

The Law

But where will the I-Kiribati go? There is no such thing as a climate change refugee. The requirements for those seeking refugee status or asylum are fairly consistent from country to country, and the law is clear: Climate change migrants need not apply.

The 1951 Refugee Convention provides the basic international definition for that protected status. A refugee is a person who, "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." (Refugees are different from asylum seekers in that the former apply for entry to a country, while the latter have already entered and are asking for permission to stay. The legal standards are the same.)

Many humanitarians and legal scholars object to the definition of the 1951 convention. They say its categories of persecution are incomplete and have the effect of locking some of the world's most indigent and at-risk people in their circumstances. Those who lose their homes in earthquakes, for example, and whose countries cannot help them rebuild are not refugees. People starving to death in abject poverty are usually not eligible to be refugees either, because so many of their countrymen tend to suffer the same way. Indeed, one of the tragic ironies of refugee law is that, as the number of people in trouble grows, the less likely any of them are to qualify for protection. The law is concerned only with persecuted minorities.

Which brings us back to climate change. Rising oceans are blind to the rigid categories of refugee law. When sea levels go up, people of all races and creeds are threatened.

The Decision

Ioane Teitiota, the fisherman from Kiribati, could not overcome this legal obstacle. His lawyers argued to the New Zealand High Court of Appeal that the people of Kiribati suffered a sort of global persecution. In short, the world's major carbon emitters had singled out the low-lying people of Kiribati and Tuvalu for suffering through their complete lack of concern.

The court's rejection was complete, bordering on nasty. "Traditionally a refugee is fleeing his own government or a non-state actor from whom the government is unwilling or unable to protect him," the judges wrote. "Thus the claimant is seeking refuge within the very countries that are allegedly 'persecuting' him."

But the judges' real concern - more than the legal gymnastics that would have been required to fit Teitiota's case into the historical refugee boundaries - was that the I-Kiribati fisherman would become the leading edge of a wave of migrants.

"At a stroke," the judges worried, "millions of people who are facing medium-term economic deprivation, or the immediate consequences of natural disasters or warfare … would be entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention."

The Hypocrisy

New Zealand's argument has a name: "Too much justice." U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan penned the now famous phrase in 1987. In McCleskey v. Kemp, an African-American on death row presented extremely convincing evidence of racial disparities in capital punishment. The five-justice majority rejected the appeal, in part because accepting McCleskey's argument would likely have meant reconsidering how bias potentially infected all criminal sentencing. In his dissent, Justice Breenan, wrote, "The prospect that there may be more widespread abuse than McCleskey documents may be dismaying, but it does not justify complete abdication of our judicial role." Brennan mocked his colleagues' fear of "too much justice."

Brennan's retort struck a chord, and many people today view the McCleskey majority as having chosen expediency over fairness. But judges around the world are now making the same choice with climate change refugees. Look at the New Zealand opinion closely, and you see jurists wriggling off the hook of justice. The arguments are nothing but Huxleian doublespeak.

The judges worry that accepting climate change refugees would open the door to "millions of people who are facing medium-term economic deprivation." The word choice alone is peculiar. "Medium-term economic deprivation" is a rather understated way to describe having one's home drown in the sea. And as for the needy millions, isn't the entire point of humanitarian law to help people facing dire circumstances? The New Zealand High Court of Appeals seems to suggest that refugee law, by its very definition, is nothing but a token gesture.

The judges' argument about the I-Kiribati fleeing to economically developed countries, directly into the arms of the supposed perpetrators, is ironic in the extreme. On a basic level, it's true - political refugees don't seek asylum in the countries that created their hardship. But climate change is a different kind of persecution. Allowing the world's most prolific carbon emitters to escape their responsibility to the people they've harmed on this ground would be bizarre, if not shameful. If anything, developed countries have a greater responsibility than their developing neighbors to accept climate change migrants.

This is not an attack on New Zealand. Unlike most other countries, New Zealand has at least accepted a small number of climate change migrants, albeit on purely humanitarian grounds to avoid setting a precedent. The reality is that the international definition of "refugee" applies in almost every nation, including the United States, with little variation. Judges around the world will hide behind these legal niceties to avoid taking responsibility for climate change victims.

Solutions are available. We could tinker with the definition of "refugee" or establish a new category of legal status for people who lose their homes to climate change. Each country could develop a quota of displaced people it will accept, with global totals negotiated to meet the need.

The challenges of climate change are not merely technical and economic. They are legal as well. We've already victimized the people of Kiribati and other South Pacific islands through our carelessness. Let's not do it again through our courts.

News Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
On Holiday Myths and State Violence

Chicago police block a bridge on November 24, 2014, as protesters march in protest of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)Chicago police block a bridge on November 24, 2014, as protesters march in protest of the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

One of the common refrains that Indigenous people in the United States are confronted with when they speak to this country's history of genocide and repression is the claim that the harms Natives have historically endured are confined to the past. We are told that we are no longer living out the reality or the legacy of losing 100 million of our people in much the same way that Black Americans are told that they are no longer suffering the aftereffects of slavery. The social demand that oppressed peoples behave as though they are no longer experiencing the consequences of colonialism, mass kidnappings, dehumanization and genocide would be absurd enough on its face, given that the violence inflicted upon Brown and Black bodies has only been refashioned with time. But the popular consciousness of the United States actually takes its self-absolving delusions several steps beyond the illusion of distance.

Like most societies, the US is grounded in a set of prescribed values and ideas. Land was "settled," rather than stolen. Settlers broke bread with Natives on "Thanksgiving" as an expression of fellowship and unity, as opposed to slaughtering them at will. The institutions that police our communities were built to serve and protect the public, rather than having evolved from enforcers of slavery, displacement and genocide.

The myth of Thanksgiving has a great deal in common with the false image of policing in the United States. Just as Thanksgiving whitewashes a period soaked in the blood of Natives slaughtered during crimes of conquest, the myth of police as guardians of the public whitewashes the reality of where those institutions began.

Slave patrols and "Indian constables" were created in the United States to enforce a social and economic order, and today's police serve the same purpose. Any amount of attention paid to the endless stream of  imagery and accounts of Black and Brown people being harmed by police could easily clarify for the observer that policing in the United States is not grounded in law.

American policing is, as it always has been, grounded in the maintenance of social norms, which include a whole spectrum of oppressions, and the illusion that the state both cares for and protects its people.

The myth of Thanksgiving creates a cheery, almost cartoon-like narrative of a incredibly dark and bloody period of American history. And much like the realities of policing, the realities of this history could not be more accessible. Native genocide is not unknown to most Americans, and yet the myth of Thanksgiving is imparted to children as an inspiring representation of their country's values. Native suffering is erased with holiday platitudes. In classrooms, the ugliness of colonial history is dismissed in favor of happier sights, like the paper turkeys, cut from construction paper by children, some of whom are consuming lies that obscure their own journey through their people's oppression.

Our loss is buried in storybook history, gluttonous meals and holiday shopping deals.

These myths must be dismantled. It is a matter of defending the truth of our history, and the truth of our lives. Black and Brown people in the United States must demand an honest understanding and acknowledgment of history from all who would stand with them, and we must understand the connectivity of our past and present traumas. As police continue to kill both our peoples at startling rates, we must attack the myths of both the present and the past, because they are indivisible. The lies of this culture are the social absolution, for crimes past and present, indulged by those who would rather not own up to their privilege and complicity.

To create a future that embraces a new narrative, we must destroy those means of absolution - both old and ongoing.

Like most mythologies, these historical and ideological constructions will always have their adherents. People cling to the myths that prop up their sense of the world and their place in it, and undermining those myths can be a costly, and at times, deadly business. But to pull forward those who are capable of knowing and doing better, and to curb the internalized oppressions of our own people, marginalized people must connect the dots of history. The forces that perpetuate Black and Brown death must be understood as informing the past, the present and a wholly preventable future.

In a society grounded in the exploitation and annihilation of Black and Brown bodies, telling our story is a matter of cultural self-defense.

Social cycles cannot be broken when they aren't so much as acknowledged, and justice cannot be conceived of in communities that are grounded in the lies of the oppressor. One page follows another, and the truth of the present cannot be understood without an honest retelling of the past.

It's time to gut the storybooks and write the truth on every wall. So, this Thanksgiving, feel free tear down the paper turkeys and modern myths of white supremacy with abandon and without apology.

As the shopping commercials say, tis' the season.

This piece was written by Indigenous activist and writer Kelly Hayes, one of the co-founders of Lifted Voices.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Hubris of the United States Waging War by Claiming It Is Just and Its "Enemies" Evil

In this excerpt from the preface to a new edition of Rogue States, Noam Chomsky outlines major events in United States history, from the Cold War to the 2008 financial crisis and impending environmental catastrophe. The acclaimed public intellectual connects these events by examining them through the lens of imperialistic US policies.

A U.S. B-66 Destroyer and four F-105 Thunderchiefs dropping bombs on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder, June 14, 1966 The US always claims that when it kills, it's in the name of democracy and virtue.A US B-66 Destroyer and four F-105 Thunderchiefs dropping bombs on North Vietnam during Operation Rolling Thunder, June 14, 1966. The US always claims that when it kills, it's in the name of democracy and virtue. (Photo: Lt. Col. Cecil J. Poss, 20th TRS on RF-101C, USAF)Just one Chomsky book contains a wealth of insight and information - so imagine how much knowledge can be found in a dozen books! The Noam Chomsky Collection is made up of 12 volumes by one of the world's most prolific and influential critics of US policy, including Fateful Triangle, Rogue States, Year 501 and Propaganda and the Public Mind. To order this amazing set of books, click here to make a donation to Truthout!

The following is the preface to the 2015 edition of Noam Chomsky's Rogue States (originally published in 2000 and included in the 12-volume Noam Chomsky collection):

The chapters that follow are based on lectures given in Managua in 1986, at the peak of Reagan's terrorist war against Nicaragua. The lectures took place at about the time when the International Court of Justice condemned the United States for "the unlawful use of force" - aka international terrorism - and ordered it to cease the crimes and pay substantial reparations. The court was haughtily dismissed as a "hostile forum" by the editors of the New York Times, offended that it should dare condemn the United States for its crimes. For some years, the United States was joined in defiance of the World Court by Muammar Qaddafi and Enver Hoxha, but Libya and Albania have since complied with the Court judgments, leaving the United States in the splendid isolation it proudly occupies on many international issues.

The essential problem that the United States faces in the world was explained by State Department legal advisor Abram Sofaer. The world majority, he observed, "often opposes the United States on important international questions," so that we must "reserve to ourselves the power to determine" which matters fall "essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States, as determined by the United States," in this case, international terrorism that was intended to punish and devastate the country where I was lecturing - or in approved Orwellian translation, to bring it the blessings of freedom and democracy.

At the same time the cultural correspondent of the New York Times, Richard Bernstein, explained in the Times Magazine the world was out of step because of various psychological and social maladies. His article was accordingly entitled "The U.N. versus the U.S.," not "the U.S. versus the U.N."

The pathologies of the world continue. In December 2013, the BBC reported the results of an international Gallup poll showing that the United States was regarded as the greatest threat to world peace by an overwhelming margin. No one else even came close. Fortunately, the Free Press spared the American public this further evidence of global backwardness.

At the time of these lectures, in March 1986, Reagan's terrorist war was taking its toll in many ways. A minor one was regular power failures, so that the talks were constantly interrupted until the sound system could come back on. That of course was the least of it. The goal of the terrorist attack, as privately conceded by Administration officials, was to "debilitate the Sandinistas by forcing them to divert scarce resources toward the war and away from social programs," a fact that aroused little comment in the civilized West.

That policy made good sense. It was directed rationally to the threat posed by Nicaragua, "the threat of a good example," to borrow the title of a study by the development agency Oxfam, which reported that Nicaragua was "exceptional" among the seventy-six countries where Oxfam worked in the government's commitment "to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active participation in the development process." Oxfam's judgments were confirmed by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Another sign of Sandinista criminality was that they accepted Costa Rican-initiated diplomatic efforts that the United States was desperately seeking to evade while claiming that they were being blocked by Nicaragua. Perhaps the ultimate crime was to conduct free elections in 1984 that were carefully monitored and judged free and fair, despite massive U.S. efforts to disrupt them - elections that took place only in the world, but not within the rigid U.S. doctrinal system that prevails to this day.

In the terminology of U.S. planners, the threat of a good example is rephrased as the threat that one rotten apple can spoil the barrel, that a virus can spread contagion, that the dominoes may fall. Another version, explicit in internal documents, is that successful independent development in a poor country subjected to U.S. control might inspire others facing similar problems to pursue the same course, so that the whole system of imperial domination will erode. As discussed below, this is a leading theme of Cold War history, masked in fanciful tales of defense against enemies of awesome power, like Nicaragua. At the time of these lectures, President Reagan declared a national emergency because of the dire threat to U.S. national security posed by the government of Nicaragua, which had armies poised only two days' marching time from Harlingen, Texas. But in his best John Wayne pose, Our Leader was prepared to confront the terrifying enemy about to overwhelm us.

The driving fears were expressed eloquently by President Lyndon Johnson, an authentic man of the people, addressing U.S. troops in Asia. LBJ plaintively told the soldiers that they were protecting us from the billions of people of the world, who vastly outnumber us, and if they could would sweep over us and take what we have. So we'd better stop them in Vietnam while we still have a chance to survive.

Such fears have deep roots in American culture. They appear in the Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson lamented the fate of the innocent colonists subjected to the vicious policies of King George of England, who "excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions," words intoned solemnly every July 4. There followed fears of all sorts of other awesome and demonic enemies. Small wonder that to this day courageous souls carry guns on their hips when they venture to the corner store for a cup of coffee.

Inflamed and pathetic rhetoric aside, the actual threats of good examples abroad - not to speak of resistance by the oppressed at home - have been real, and go a long way toward explaining U.S. policies in the world since World War II, with ample precedents in earlier imperial systems, or, for that matter, within the smaller domains of the former junior superpower.

Rogue States is one of the books in the 12-volume Noam Chomsky collection available from Truthout. (Photo: Haymarket Books)Rogue States is one of the books in the 12-volume Noam Chomsky collection available from Truthout. (Photo: Haymarket Books)

In the first two lectures I attempted to outline, as best I could, what seem to me to be the primary guiding principles of policy decisions: "the commitment of the state to serving private power in the domestic and international arena and the commitment of the ideological institutions to limiting popular understanding of social reality," policies that "are firmly rooted in the institutional structure of the society and are highly resistant to change." Lecture three seeks to apply the doctrines of global management to Central America. The two final lectures turn to the United States itself, to national security policy during the post-World War II era and to the domestic scene, in particular, to the "very limited form of democracy" that exists under capitalist democracy.

The conclusions of the first two lectures are, I think, well confirmed by events since. Particularly informative is the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which eliminated the primary pretext for the policies of the preceding years: defense of all civilized values from the machinations of the Kremlin "slave state," whose "fundamental design" and "implacable purpose" was to gain "absolute authority over the rest of the world," destroying "the structure of society" everywhere - in the terminology of NSC 68 of 1950, one of the most influential internal documents in setting policy for the postwar era. A few years after these lectures, the Cold War ended with the collapse of the global enemy. For those who want to understand the Cold War era, an obvious question is: what happened when the slave state disintegrated?

The answer is straightforward: little changed, except that earlier policies were pursued more intensively. Consider NATO. According to doctrine, NATO was established to protect Western Europe (and the world) from the Russian hordes. What happened, then, when the Russian hordes disappeared? Answer: NATO expanded to the East, in violation of verbal agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev, reaching right to the borders of Russia in ways that are by now raising a serious threat of confrontation. The official role of NATO was also changed. Its mandate became control over the global energy system, sea lanes, and pipelines, while it serves in effect as a U.S.-run intervention force.

Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, the United States invaded Panama in order to kidnap a minor thug, Manuel Noriega, who had fallen out of favor when he began defying U.S. orders. U.S. forces bombed poor residential areas, killing many people, several thousand according to Central American human rights organizations. After a vulgar assault on the Vatican Embassy where Noriega had taken refuge, U.S. forces apprehended him and brought him to the United States where he was tried and sentenced mostly for crimes that Washington had praised when he was committing them while on the CIA payroll. The shameful episode was not particularly novel, apart from the pretext: no more Russians, so we were defending ourselves from Hispanic narcotraffickers. Other pretexts were developed later as circumstances required.

With the slave state gone, the Bush I administration issued a new National Security Strategy and military budget. The basic message was that things would remain much the same, but with new pretexts. A huge military establishment was still necessary because of the "technological sophistication" of Third World powers. It was necessary to maintain "the defense industrial base," in part a euphemism for high-tech industry that is substantially subsidized through the Pentagon system in our free-market economy. We must continue to maintain intervention forces targeting the crucial Middle East region, where the serious threats we had faced "could not have been laid at the Kremlin's door," contrary to decades of pretense, now abandoned, with the recognition that the primary threat had always been "radical nationalism."

Nuclear weapons strategy also had to be reconsidered. The leading problem was to determine "The Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence" - the title of a partially declassified study issued in 1995 by President Clinton's Strategic Command (STRATCOM), which is in charge of nuclear weapons. The study concludes that after the Soviet collapse, nuclear weapons "seem destined to be the centerpiece of U.S. strategic deterrence for the foreseeable future." We must retain the right of "first use" of nuclear weapons, even against non-nuclear states, and make it clear that our actions may "either be response or preemptive." Nuclear weapons must always be readily available because they "cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict," with the obvious implications. We should also not "portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed.... That the US may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project." For our strategic posture, it is "beneficial" if some parts of the decision-making apparatus "may appear to be potentially 'out of control,'" thus posing a constant threat of nuclear attack - a resurrection of the "madman theory" attributed to Richard Nixon.

The Clinton Administration went on to present its geostrategic doctrine, which asserts that the United States is free to resort to "unilateral use of military power," if deemed necessary, to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources." A less expansive version, the Bush II doctrine of preemptive war, was implemented a few years later with the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq, the worst international crime of the new millennium, with consequences that are now tearing not just Iraq but the whole region to shreds.

More was learned about the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons even when their use is not contemplated, including the years just prior to these lectures. A November 2014 study of the years 1977 to 1983 in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists estimated "false alarms that could be perceived as nuclear attacks" in the range of 43 to 255 per year, and speculated that not much may have changed since. The study concludes that "nuclear war is the black swan we can never see, except in that brief moment when it is killing us. We delay eliminating the risk at our own peril. Now is the time to address the threat, because now we are still alive."

During the years of these threatening false alarms, the Reagan Administration launched operations to probe Russian air and naval defenses, simulating attacks and even a full-scale release of nuclear weapons, along with a high-level nuclear alert intended for the Russians to detect. These actions were undertaken at a very tense moment. Pershing II strategic missiles were being deployed in Europe, with a five- to ten-minute flight time to Moscow, and Reagan announced the SDI (Star Wars) program, which is understood on all sides to be effectively a first-strike strategy. That led to a major war scare in 1983. Newly released archives reveal that the danger was even more severe than had been previously assumed by analysts. A very detailed recent study based on extensive U.S. and Russian intelligence records concludes that "the War Scare Was for Real," and that U.S. intelligence may have underestimated Russian concerns and the threat of a Russian preventive nuclear strike.

In September 2013, the BBC reported that during this dangerous period, Russia's early-warning systems detected an incoming missile strike from the United States, sending the highest-level alert. The protocol for the Soviet military was to retaliate with a nuclear attack of its own. The officer on duty, Stanislav Petrov, decided to disobey orders and not report the warnings to his superiors. Thanks to his dereliction of duty, we are alive to reflect on the black swan we prefer not to see. Other studies reveal a shocking array of close calls, even apart from the "most dangerous moment in history" during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

An enormous gap in these lectures, not appreciated at the time, was that another and even more ominous threat was inexorably advancing: environmental catastrophe. By now no reasonable person can doubt that we are marching resolutely toward a grim fate, and not far in the future, unless the course we are following is radically altered.

Meanwhile, the neoliberal assault on the population that gained force under Reagan has taken an increasing toll, particularly after the collapse of the housing bubble in 2008 and the ensuing financial meltdown, the worst blow to the international economy since the Great Depression.

The accompanying decline of functioning democracy proceeds on course. Recent studies in academic political science reveal that a considerable majority of the population, at the lower end of the income scale, are effectively disenfranchised: their preferences have no detectable effect on policy. Influence slowly increases along with wealth until the very top, a fraction of one percent, where policy is largely determined. Formal democracy remains, but in a system perhaps more accurately termed "plutocracy."

It seems that much of the population is reasonably well aware of these tendencies, which proceed in parallel with dramatically rising economic inequality. In a careful study of the November 2014 elections, political scientists Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson show that the decline in voting is reaching the levels of the early nineteenth century, when voting was limited to propertied white males. "Many are convinced that a few big interests control policy [and] crave effective action to reverse long-term economic decline and runaway economic inequality," they write, though no changes "on the scale required will be offered to them by either of America's money-driven major parties."

The lectures end with the observation that institutions are not fixed, that history is not at an end, and that the future offers "many severe threats and many hopeful possibilities."

That remains both true and critically important. Not just for contemplation, but as a stimulus for action.

Copyright © 2000 by Diane Chomsky Irrevocable Trust. Re-published with updated introduction by Noam Chomsky in 2015 by Haymarket Books. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher.

Progressive Picks Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Thanksgiving Thoughts on the Children of War

Many people in this country are ready and willing to take refugee children in. However, these children must first be screened to ensure they aren't terrorists. The process could take years. Too many of these children - even one is too many - will be dead before they ever see a hot meal again, much less shelter, education or a kind word. That doesn't matter, it seems, since it's an election year.

Fathers held their children after crossing the sea on a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos in Greece, Oct. 29, 2015. (Photo: Mauricio Lima / The New York Times) Fathers held their children after crossing the sea on a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos in Greece, October 29, 2015. (Photo: Mauricio Lima / The New York Times)

"A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave." - Gandhi

Today is Thanksgiving. Donald Trump wants to bring back torture, and crowds cheer. Republicans in the House of Representatives would just as soon simply watch the suffering of desperate Syrian refugees on TV rather than obey the all-welcoming edict on the Statue of Liberty. By attacking Iraq, we destabilized Syria, created Daesh, and set millions of people on a road of despair to escape the war zone of our making. According to those running for office here, however, these people are all terrorists bent on our destruction. It is our Christian duty, apparently, to let them die.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Half of those in flight are children, many no older than my daughter. When she was born, I called her "The Bean." There she was, this tiny creature who took 19 hours before finally deciding to show up, wrapped in her swaddling like a well-rolled cigar, with a little cloth cap to boot. I could hold her in the palm of my hand with room to spare for a couch and a coffee table. This fully helpless little slice of existence rendered me utterly helpless as well, and so I gave her that diminutive nickname to offset the reality of how completely she owned me.

She is a woman, small in stature but tall in potential. I glimpse her future from time to time when I look into her eyes ... and then she trips and falls and rolls and giggles, and is a toddler again ... but I see that future, see the woman this little girl is going to be, and it leaves me always in a state of generalized awe.

All too often these days, however, I look into her sweet face and see other people's children running for their lives from the violence in Syria, sleeping outside on dirty mattresses, a pile of rags or bare and barren dirt. Many of them are orphans, and their eyes are hollow holes of sorrow. Four million refugees have fled for their lives from the carnage, and 2 million of them are children.

Many people in this country are ready and willing to take these children in. However, these children must first be screened to ensure they aren't terrorists. The process could take years. Too many of these children - even one is too many - will be dead before they ever see a hot meal again, much less shelter, education or a kind word. That doesn't matter, it seems. Not anymore. It's an election year, you see.

This from the same crew that wants to database American citizens because they are Muslim. Bring back torture, sure, why not? Blame the refugees from our war for their situation, deny them safety, and then demonize them as terrorists to scrape a few more votes off the bottom of the barrel.

Exactly when did we become cowards? At what point on our timeline did it become acceptable to demand that war-zone refugee children be screened for possible ties to terrorism? The Paris attacks were terrible; the Mali attacks were terrible; 9/11 was terrible; so very much is terrible. These are children. How many suicide bomber toddlers have you ever heard of? I'm guessing none. Hot tip, folks: These children don't bomb us. We bomb them, almost every day.

Our fear of the few is exacerbating the suffering of the many. Low-road politicians seeking a gig shout into the megaphone of a media which profits wildly from frightening us about terrorists hiding under our beds. Meanwhile, our wars create more refugees ... and just for the record, how many acts of terrorism committed on US soil by refugees can you recall? Right, I thought so.

I am sure this will all be much discussed around our Thanksgiving table. It is to be hoped that I will not break bread with anyone who thinks these refugees, these children, should be rejected, fed into databases, fed into camps, but you never know. Fear does strange and terrible things to people. All across the nation, some folks will belly up to the table and make passionate arguments about the morality of the deprivation of children while enjoying their turkey and stuffing.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I will hold my daughter tight. Her eyes will show no woe. The same cannot be said for so many children in too many places, alone, shivering, starving, trapped. They all have the potential my daughter has, but that potential has been abandoned by the side of the road to war.

It's not because we can't do something about it.

It's because we won't.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Dangerously Limited Foreign Policy Discourse of the Democratic Candidates

The failure of the Democratic candidates to offer truly progressive responses to the Paris attacks puts the world in further danger.

From left: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin O'Malley take the stage for the Democratic presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 14, 2015. The Democratic candidates have failed to offer any truly progressive response to the Paris attacks. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)From left: Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin O'Malley take the stage for the Democratic presidential debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, November 14, 2015. The Democratic candidates have failed to offer any truly progressive response to the Paris attacks. (Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)

The terrorist attacks in Paris have reverberated across the globe. As tragic as these events were, they also provide an opportunity to change how US leaders approach the "war on terror."

In the United States, the most recent Democratic presidential debate offered candidates the chance to articulate a less militaristic, progressive foreign policy vision. Their failure to do so reflects the dangerously narrow limits of "acceptable" US political discourse.

Over the past year, the US has experienced a dramatic upsurge in progressive politics. A key issue for both Republican and Democratic voters has been rising economic inequality and the political influence of corporations.

From the left, Senator Bernie Sanders has challenged centrist Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, calling for nothing less than a "political revolution." As a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, he is trying to build a broad-based popular movement to transform the country's rigged economy by taking on the power of the billionaire class.

Progressivism at Home and Abroad?

Sanders' progressivism has failed to extend, though, to foreign policy. Sanders has importantly called climate change the country's greatest national security threat. Yet he has said little in depth about how his presidency would revolutionize the United States' role in the world.

Instead he has blamed the growth of terrorism on the Iraqi invasion - which he voted against. This critique, however, is not a substitute for a socialist or even an informed progressive account of the reasons for 21st century terrorism and how it can best be combatted.

When pushed to articulate such an account, he refers back to using the military budget more effectively and having Arab countries "put more boots on the ground." Just as worryingly, he has stated that he would continue to deploy drone attacks, themselves responsible for killing over a 1,000 innocent civilians by some estimates.

Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton has maintained the same hardline positions as a candidate that she took as secretary of state. While domestically moving further to the left, internationally she remains committed to aggressively fighting terrorism as well as preserving US military power and interests.

A Missed Opportunity

The attacks on Paris occurred only the day before the second Democratic presidential debate. The candidates were told that they would each have time to deliver an opening statement directly addressing these events. If there were ever a time to show progressive leadership in foreign affairs, this would be it.

Unfortunately, none did. Senator Sanders stated merely that, "Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of this marvellous organization called ISIS," before almost immediately turning his attention to economic issues at home.

The failure of the Democratic candidates to offer a truly progressive response to the Paris attacks puts the world in further danger.

Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley simply echoed the established party position of using all available means to pursue ISIS wherever they may be. She described the group as "the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained, it must be defeated." Despite giving lip service to "diplomacy" and "development aid," she ultimately reaffirmed that "American leadership is essential," and blamed Assad and Iraqis rather the US for the rise of terrorism.

Indeed their main contrast with their Republican rivals was largely one of language rather than policy. Each Democratic candidate refused to refer to this as a war against "radical Islam" - preferring instead a less sweeping framing about "radical jihadists."

Significantly, later in the debate Sanders was asked directly whether he felt his opponent Hillary Clinton had made any mistakes as Secretary of State. From the perspective of a "democratic socialist" he could have listed any number of issues - ranging from her failure to support democracy in Egypt and Honduras to her failed strategy in Libya to her seeming commitment to putting US corporate interests over global values of human rights and democracy. Sanders, by contrast, merely stated that he was against US backed "regime change."

It was a clear and tragic missed opportunity to expand US progressivism beyond its borders.

A Failed Democratic Debate

The lack of a progressive foreign policy vision at the debate shows the broader limits of US political discourse. Whereas the government and corporations can be criticized for the damage they do in the US, the destruction they wreak abroad is ultimately off limits.

Ignored are the deeper causes of this problem - something that a socially progressive and socialist perspective would be uniquely able to provide. More than just focus on the "military threat" of ISIS, this would permit for a larger discussion of the economic and social deprivation fueling such extremism. It would also help to clarify to the US public the reasons for these conditions, effectively framing corporate power and political oligarchy as a global rather than just national problem.

This is not just good politics. It is also necessary for strengthening national and international security. Quoting British Labour leader Corbyn, "It's vital at a time of such tragedy and outrage not to be drawn into responses which feed a cycle of violence and hatred."

At present, there is a failure in democratic discourse happening in the United States. The failure of the Democratic candidates to offer a truly progressive response to the Paris attacks puts the world in further danger.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Kochs' Push for Criminal Legal Reform Is Aimed at Protecting Corporate Lawbreakers

(Photo: Bribe via Shutterstock)The Kochs appear to want to change sentencing laws to help protect themselves and their ilk. (Photo: Bribe Money via Shutterstock)

It looks like the Koch brothers have scammed us once again.

When news first came out that Charles and David Koch - the Koch brothers - were supporting criminal legal system reform efforts in Congress, many of us thought, "Wow, they're actually doing something good for once." And for good reason, too.

Criminal legal reform has, over the past few years, become one of the very few legitimately bipartisan issues in US politics, and given their public statements, it really looked like Kochs were joining that bipartisan consensus for all the right reasons.

Here, for example, is Charles Koch on a recent episode of "Morning Joe" talking about why we need to reform drug laws. Sounds pretty persuasive, right? Boy, were we naïve.

Charles and David Koch may very well want to change drug laws, but the idea that they're making this push for criminal legal reform out of the goodness of their own hearts appears to be totally and completely false. After all the publicity they've gotten from the media and the DC establishment, it now turns out that the Kochs appear to want to change sentencing laws to help protect white collar criminals like, well, themselves or their buddies.

As The New York Times reported, Koch Industries, backing as part of a package of criminal legal system reform legislation, a bill that would change the way the feds can use a legal doctrine known as "mens rea" in white collar cases. If the bill passes, white collar criminals could get away with breaking the law if they can simply say that they "didn't know" they or their business and colleagues were breaking the law when committing the crime in question.

They can't do this now - it's that whole "ignorance of the law is no excuse" thing. And while this whole issue of "did they or didn't they know" might sound like a minor bit of legal esoterica, it's not.

The power to convict someone of committing a crime, regardless of whether or not they knew they were breaking the law when they committed that crime, is an important tool for prosecutors, especially in white collar cases.

Justice Department officials, for example, told The New York Times that not having this tool might have prevented them from getting guilty pleas in a 2013 case involving a Colorado factory farm whose listeria-infected cantaloupes killed 33 people, as well as a 2012 case involving a pharmacy that killed three people by selling them mislabeled drugs.

In other words, letting white collar criminals claim ignorance of the law as a defense would make it really easy for them to get away with, well, murder. And, yes, according to The New York Times, that's what the Kochs are proposing.

So yeah, this is a big deal.

It also turns out that the Koch brothers have a very personal reason for supporting these kinds of changes to federal criminal law.

As The New York Times reports, Koch Industries' general counsel and senior vice president Mark Holden "acknowledge[s]... that the company's efforts to pursue revisions in federal criminal law were inspired in part by a criminal case filed 15 years ago against Koch Industries claiming that it covered up releases of hazardous air pollution at a Texas oil refinery. Those charges resulted in a guilty plea by the company and a $20 million penalty."

As usual, the Kochs are just looking out for themselves. And the sad thing is that even if they do really care about changing drug sentencing laws, their push to let white collar criminals off the hook could sabotage the efforts going on in Congress right now to make real change to our criminal legal system.

A bill that's effectively a gimme for polluters might be too much for many Democrats to swallow, especially now that the Justice Department has called it out as just that - a gimme for polluters.

Ever since John D. Rockefeller started handing out shiny new dimes to children to enhance his robber baron image, rich people have been trying to portray themselves as concerned about average people as part of a ploy to protect their own privilege. Sometimes we see through it and sometimes we get bamboozled, but this time we really got bamboozled.

The Koch brothers don't want to reform the federal criminal code to help average Americans stay out of jail for smoking pot; they want to reform the federal criminal code to protect fat-cat polluters. It really is as simple and dirty as that.

Welcome to life in the best democracy money can buy.

Opinion Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Chicago Police Officer Charged With Murder After Video Shows Him Shooting Laquan McDonald 16 Times

Also see: From Mizzou to Yale: The Resurgence of Black Student Protest

For the first time in three decades, a Chicago police officer faces charges of first-degree murder for an on-duty shooting. White police officer Jason Van Dyke was arrested on Tuesday and is being held without bail for the killing of African-American 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. It was more than a year ago, on October 20, 2014, when officer Van Dyke shot the teenager 16 times, including multiple times in the back. Police claimed McDonald lunged at the officer with a small knife. But newly released dashcam footage showed the teenager walking away from the police officers' cars when another police car pulls up to the scene. The video, which has no sound, then appears to show Officer Jason Van Dyke jumping out of the car, pointing his gun at McDonald and opening fire. The teenager's body spins as he is hit with the barrage of bullets and then falls to the pavement, where he continues to be struck by bullets. Officer Van Dyke remained on paid desk duty after the shooting until he was taken into custody on Tuesday. In addition to the fatal shooting last October, Officer Van Dyke had at least 18 civilian complaints against him, which included excessive use of force, illegal arrest and use of racial slurs. None of these complaints led to any disciplinary action. This week, Chicago police announced they will also move to fire officer Dante Servin, who killed 22-year-old African-American woman Rekia Boyd in 2012. We discuss the developments in Chicago with Barbara Ransby, professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women's Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Chicago.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today in Chicago where for the first time in three decades a police officer faces charges for a first degree murder for an on-duty shooting. White police officer Jason Van Dyke was arrested on Tuesday and is being held without bail for the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was African-American. It was more than a year ago, on October 20, 2014, when officer Van Dyke shot the teenager 16 times, including multiple times in the back. Police claimed McDonald lunged at the officer with a small knife. But newly released dashcam footage showed the teenager walking away from the police officers' cars when another police car pulls up to the scene. The video, which has no sound, then appears to show Officer Jason Van Dyke jumping out of the car, pointing his gun at McDonald, and opening fire. The teenager's body spins as it is hit with the barrage of bullets, and then falls to the pavement where he continues to be struck by bullets. This is Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez talking after the indictment about what happened at the scene.

ANITA ALVAREZ: Our investigation has determined that officer Van Dyke was on the scene for less than 30 seconds before he started shooting. In addition to the fact that all evidence indicates that he began shooting approximately six seconds after getting out of his vehicle.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Officer Van Dyke remained on paid desk duty after the shooting until he was taken into custody on Tuesday. In addition to the fatal shooting last October, Officer Van Dyke had at least 20 civilian complaints against him, which included excessive use of force, illegal arrest and use of racial slurs. None of those complaints have led to any disciplinary action.

AMY GOODMAN: This week Chicago Police Superintendent Jerry McCarthy also announced that he would move to fire officer Dante Servin, who killed 22-year-old an African American woman Rekia Boyd in 2012. Officer Servin was off-duty when he fired several shots over his shoulder into a group of people Boyd was standing with near his home, striking her in the back of her head. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, marking the first time in more than a decade that a Chicago police officer was charged for a fatal shooting. But last spring in a dramatic dismissal, a judge acquitted detective Servin on a legal technicality.

Well, for more on the deaths of Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd, we're joined in Chicago by Barbara Ransby, professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women's Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, professor. Sixteen shots, 30 seconds, 400 days to indict the police officer for first-degree murder; all of those days he was paid. The number of officers at the scene, it's not clear exactly from the video, it's believed about seven in addition to Van Dyke. The number who came to Laquan McDonald's aid? None. Can you talk about the indictment yesterday just before the court ordered video of the killing was released?

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: Yes, well, thank you for having me, Amy, and for covering this issue. Yesterday, it was really after vigils and protests and lobbying and all kinds of pressure - young people marching in the street - that the city was forced to release the videotape. And as you may have reported before, there was a tape and a local - a videotape in the local Burger King that's still gone missing. So we got the dashcam video. But the time that it has taken for the city to come forward with this is really pretty outrageous, and that's what activists in the city have been saying, that's what led to thousands of people protesting in the streets of Chicago last night. Still, a young man is in custody for those protests and we are very concerned about him; Malcolm London, who is a young poet and activist here.

But, I was so disturbed by that videotape, not that we haven't seen other disturbing videotapes, but the amount of callous disregard for this young man laying in the street. The police shot him so quickly, so many times, and the other police, as you just pointed out, did not do anything to see if you he was even still alive, kicking the knife out of his hand. And, you know, thing that strikes me, WBEZ, our Chicago public radio, just reported the other day because of the budget cuts in Illinois and other priorities, Chicago Police Department only has less than 20 of its officers have received crisis intervention training.

Now it seems like that ought to be a priority for the de-escalating this kind of situation. It seems that the police have a lot of training in how to contain protesters, but very little training and something that would be quite common, which is to de-escalate a situation where someone is intoxicated, mentally ill, or otherwise behaving irrationally. We needed a nonlethal intervention there, clearly, but it seemed to be almost too much trouble to do anything other than two shoot this child. And that's why activists are so angry.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Ransby, I wanted to talk to you about the role of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel because clearly, the mayor had said that he had not previously seen the video, yet he must have approved the $5 million settlement that was given to the family earlier this year, even before the family had filed a lawsuit.

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: Well, absolutely. I mean, whether the mayor saw the video personally or not, someone in the Mayor's office must have seen the video. They must have known the likelihood that this officer would be found culpable of murdering this child. Otherwise, that size of a settlement for a cash-strapped city, as we are often told, would not have been approved. Of course, we would expect a conscientious Mayor to want to see such a video of this kind of killing. And given the attention that police violence has gotten across the country and given the legitimate anger of many in the African-American community, the question would be, why didn't the mayor see the video sooner? And that, I think, is a legitimate question.

AMY GOODMAN: At a news conference on Tuesday, the Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was also President Obama's chief of staff before that, said police officer Jason Van Dyke violated basic moral standards.

RAHM EMANUEL: Obviously, in this case, Jason Van Dyke violated both the standards of professionalism that comes with being a police officer, but also basic moral standards that bind our community together. Jason Van Dyke will be judged in a court of law. That's exactly how it should be. As of today, he is no longer being paid by the city of Chicago, as the superintendent just noted, and he was stripped of his police powers 10 months ago. Obviously, anyone who sees this video will also make their own judgments.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Barbara Ransby, if you could explain the chronology here. I mean, we are about a killing that happened over 400 days ago. The city fights to suppress the video. They give $5 million to the family, though the family did not even sue. The court, based on FOIA request by an independent journalist, orders the video to be released. They said today was the deadline for that release. And so yesterday, after 400 days, the entire leadership of Chicago gathers, the superintendent and the mayor, and they announce that Van Dyke, the officer, will be indicted for first-degree murder for his reprehensible actions. He had been on the payroll all of that time. And then as they left the stage, they released the videotape. How does Mayor Rahm Emanuel justify not having indicted - having this officer indicted before?

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: Well, that's an excellent question. And of course, I can't answer that, but that would be my question as well. That was the question of the many, many activists who took to the streets in Chicago last night. And when the Mayor and the State's Attorney, Anita Alvarez tell us that they were saddened, outraged, disturbed when they saw the video, I mean, it is really very little very late.

Dr. King and others have referred to the long arc of Justice and, you know, that long arm of justice bending slowly. This is a very, very slow arrival at a remotely just outcome. I mean the real just outcome would be to have a police department that was in fact accountable, to have swift investigations and transparency, to make data available to people without having the kind of protest and lawsuits and pressures that have been necessary heretofore.

So I think it really behooves the mayor to rethink the approach. It is very legitimate that people are calling into question the leadership of Garry McCarthy, the police chief in the city. So, you know, we understand the anxiousness. We understand the anger of young people in the streets. I mean, this incident should not have happened. And if it should have happened, our leadership should have had a swift and clear response and that response should have been transparent. And in this case, by all indicators, is simply was not.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Professor, could you put this in context of the ongoing and historical problems that citizens of Chicago and the black community, especially, have encountered with the police? I think there was a report by Truthout earlier this year the Chicago police were appear to be officially undercounting the number of people killed by the police. Talk about this historical problem in the city.

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: Right, well there's the specific issue of undercounting and making data available, which has been an ongoing problem. But of course, Chicago is the place where John Birch, former police supervisor, carried out systematic torture of young black men in the police district, including electroshocking genitals and putting plastic bags over the heads of people that they were trying to coerce into confessions. All of this has now been documented. Many of his victims have been exonerated. But the fact that this could go on for over a decade in Chicago suggests some very, very deep-seated issues of racism and corruption in the police department. And that has to be taken very, very seriously. That is part of a legacy that we are confronted with right now.

Of course, even going back to the assassination of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther party leader and NAACP leader in 1969 where the Chicago Police Department was implicated in his murder. There is a question of confidence, of account ability, of cover-up. But unfortunately, it's not just Chicago. African-American communities around the country have been at odds with police departments that have been insensitive to black communities, have engaged in racial profiling, and that have been all too quick to use lethal force against young black bodies, black and Latino people in general, but black people in particular. And I think that is why we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement garner so much support. That's why we have seen young people in The Black Youth Project 100 be so vigilant in exposing the kind of police abuse that we have seen here in Chicago and elsewhere.

So it is coming out of a historical context, but it also transcends Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: The head of the police has called for the firing of Dante Servin. In May, we spoke to the Martinez Sutton, the brother of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd who was killed in 2012 by off-duty Chicago police detective Dante Servin. Cook County Judge, Dennis Porter, acquitted the officer saying he shouldn't have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. I asked Rekia Boyd's brother, Martinez, if he should have been charged with murder.

MARTINEZ SUTTON: The judge said, it should have been murder charges put on the officer instead of involuntary manslaughter, and also said that you can't be intentional and reckless at the same time. And we had second-degree murder charges on him at first, before they announced it. But at the last minute, once they found out I talked to the officer, they changed it to involuntary manslaughter to further protect him.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, once you talked to the officer?

MARTINEZ SUTTON: Well, I was doing a documentary for my school. And as we were shooting the documentary, he pulled up in the same car that he killed my sister in. And he gets out of the car and said, who are you people? And they said, this is Martinez Sutton, Rekia Boyd's brother. And he looked surprised and he was like, you're Rekia's brother? Said yes I am. And he said, can I get a hug? So, I stared at him for a sec and I embraced him. And he started with, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to kill your sister, I'm so sorry. Your sister was innocent, but I tried to kill that mf-er. Ooh, I wish it was him that I shot in the head instead of your sister. Ooh, I wish it was him that was dead. Then he went back to, I'm so sorry, now my heart is clear. I pray to the three Mary's across the street every day, every time I leave this alley. How can you wish somebody was dead? How can you wish somebody else life was taken? Why do you want to take somebody life off this earth?

AMY GOODMAN: The brother of Rekia Boyd, now the Chicago police superintendent is saying he'll move to fire Dante Servin, the off-duty officer for the death of Rekia Boyd. We only have a few more minutes, Professor Ransby. Describe why this case is so significant, today. You have a 17-year-old teenager, Laquan McDonald, who was gunned down 400 days ago and then you still have this case of Rekia Boyd from 2012 that continually, as people march in the streets, they raise her name as well.

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: Yes, I mean, I'm glad you mentioned Rekia Boyd, because it is her murder that really has galvanized enormous outrage and energy for those fighting for justice in Chicago. It was another outrageous, you know, seemingly clear-cut case of reckless and brutal behavior, this time on the part of an off-duty police officer who has just only recently been fired. Again, very late in the game. In some ways, the activists here have done the job of the city leadership by bringing this issue to the fore by keeping it in the forefront of public consciousness and demanding justice when those in leadership have been very reluctant to deliver it.

So, I think we will continue to see protest in Chicago, we'll continue to see the very passionate demand for justice for young black people, and sadly, Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald are not the only ones. Damo Franklin was another young man who was tased by Chicago police and later died, which inspired young people to go to the United Nations to protest the consistent abuse of young black people by Chicago police department.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to -

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I just want to ask you quickly, the impact of these numerous, now we've had dozens of, literally, videos showing these kinds of assaults by the police on African-Americans, and sometimes Latinos as well, the impact of these videos nationwide in the national consciousness?

PROF. BARBARA RANSBY: I mean, it's had enormous impact, of course. I think one impact is trauma. Those of us who have seen these videos over and over really are reminded of the days of lynching. The We Charge Genocide group here in Chicago says that in the Jim Crow era, the rope was a symbol of lynching and today it is a police bullet. So there has been trauma, but I also think it has galvanized people who want to not only confront issues of police violence, but the larger conditions of justice that these communities suffer that need to change in order for us to really have both peace and justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Barbara Ransby, we want to thank you for being with us, Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women's Studies and History at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Director of the Social Justice Initiative at the University of Illinois. Among her books, "Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement." This is Democracy Now!. We go directly to Minneapolis. One thousand Black Lives Matter protesters marched last night. The night before alleged white supremacists opened fire on the protesters, shooting five of them. We'll speak to an eyewitness as well as Minneapolis Congressmember Keith Ellison. Stay with us.

News Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500