Truthout Stories Wed, 27 May 2015 10:07:25 -0400 en-gb Germany's Asylum Seekers: You Can't Evict a Movement

Berlin - In a move to take their message of solidarity to refugees across the country and calling for their voices to be heard in Europe's ongoing debate on migration, Germany's asylum seekers have taken their nationwide protest movement for change on the road under the slogan: "You Can't Evict a Movement!".

Earlier this month, in a twist to conventional protest movements, refugees organised a Refugee Bus Tour across Germany, turning action into networking through mobile solidarity.

"We wanted to go out and bring a message of solidarity to all corners of Germany, to meet other refugees and tell them not to be afraid, to take life into their own hands and above all that you are not a criminal," Napuli Görlich told IPS, tired but relieved after a month of travelling.

On the morning of Apr. 1, Napuli had stood on this same spot, flanked by fellow campaigners Turgay Ulu,  Kokou Teophil and Gambian journalist Muhammed Lamin Jadama, staring at the burnt-out refugee Info Point in Berlin, victim of one of a number of disturbing arson attacks this year, including one on a refugee home in Tröglitz, in the eastern state of Saxony.

Until the day before, the Info Point had functioned as a social solidarity base in the heart of Berlin's Oranienplatz square, known here as the O'Platz. The square holds a symbolic importance as the central stronghold of the nation-wide refugee movement.

"That was a very sad moment for us," said Napuli. "Such brutal attacks hit us where it hurts most, in our sense of vulnerability, precariousness, and invisibility," she continued, vowing that the Info Point, registered as an art installation in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, will be rebuilt.

One of the most vocal and resilient personalities of the German refugee movement, Napuli was born in Sudan and studied at the universities of Ahfad and Cavendish in Kampala.  A human rights activist, she suffered torture and persecution for running an NGO and fled to Germany, where she has been with the refugee movement ever since.

From the start, she has also been associated with the O'Platz "protest camp", which became her home and that of 40 other refugees in October 2012.  They had pitched their tents in the square after a 600 km march from what they termed a "lager" reception centre in Würzburg, Bavaria. The refugees stayed, on braving the elements, until the district council ordered bulldozers to tear it down in April last year.

"When they came to clear the camp I had nothing, absolutely nothing, only a blanket on my shoulders," Napuli recalled. For the next three days, she took her blanket, her protest and her rage at the lack of an agreement with the Berlin authorities up a nearby tree, literally.

Germany's refugee movement was sparked by the suicide of a young Iranian asylum-seeker Mohammad Rahsepar who hanged himself in his room at the Würzbug reception centre on Jan. 29, 2012.  En route to the German capital the marchers stopped by other "lagers", starting to raise awareness about the inhumane conditions of isolation for asylum applicants, inviting them to leave their camps and join the march for freedom to Berlin.

Since then, the movement has been calling unequivocally for abolition of Germany's enforced residence policy, or "Residenzpflicht", a lager system which effectively denies asylum-seekers freedom of movement.

Other demands are an end to deportations, and rights to education, the possibility to work legally and access to emergency medical care, so far unavailable to asylum seekers.

After the O'Platz protest camp was razed to the ground, many of the prevalently African refugees occupied a vacant school building in Berlin, the Gerhardt-Hautmann-Schule in the Kreuzberg district's Ohlauerstrasse, where they ran social and cultural activities until June 2014.

The local authorities attempted to enforce an eviction order, flanked by a 900-strong federal police force, and barring all access to visitors, press, voluntary organisations and even Church groups were denied access to the school or delivery of food.

Refusing to leave the building, some of the refugees took to the school's rooftops for a nine-day hunger strike and standoff, waving a banner with the slogan "You can't evict a movement", which has now become the rallying cry of the refugees' movement.

Some, like Alnour, Adam Bahar and Turgay Ulu, continue to live here, still hopeful that the district will agree to a proposal to set up an international refugee centre here and that they may be able to receive visitors.

Angela Davis, the iconic U.S. civil and human rights activist, was denied access when she tried to visit them on the premises recently.  "The refugee movement is the movement of the 21st century," said Davis, referring to the plight of migrants worldwide.

"The Polizei can come at any time of night and snatch us away; we are under constant threat of deportation. I am feeling very stressed, I cannot sleep very well," Alnour told IPS, explaining how they have had to make do with one, cold, defective shower for 40 people.

Undeterred on his return from the Refugee Bus Tour, Turgay Ulu, a Turkish journalist who was tortured and imprisoned as a dissident for 15 years, published the refugee movement's magazine and is an active network organizer, has a very busy "working" schedule.

"There is a lot to do, from organising sleeping places for the homeless, writing and producing video content, organising spontaneous demonstrations and occupations, musical events, theatre performances, and consciousness-raising on national and international refugee bus tours," Ulu told IPS.

"We have two choices, we either sit in the lagers and eat, sleep and eat again and go crazy, or we protest."

Germany's problem has been the exceedingly long waiting times necessary for processing asylum applications.  The United Nations has reported that in 2014 the country had the highest number of asylum applications since the Bosnian War in 1992. There are reportedly 200,000 asylum applications still outstanding and it is being predicted that this will have risen to 300,000 this year.

Adam Bahar, a Sudanese blogger and one of the refugee movement's campaigners, told IPS that his dream of a better life of freedom and wealth evaporated when he reached Europe, where he soon realised that freedom and human rights are not for everyone to enjoy.

"In dictatorships, young people suffer systematic oppression for a mere criticism of the regime," he said. "Faced with joblessness and lack of freedom of expression, they will seek legal or illegal emigration following the lure of the foreign media's often empty slogans of justice and freedom."

Today, continued Bahar, who is in demand as a speaker and gives seminars at Berlin's Humboldt University, "colonialism, which was born in Berlin in 1884, is being implemented by starting wars and marketing weaponry."

As politicians busy themselves with strategies and programmes and allocating resources to more programmes to hold back refugees, they should be naming and shaming the real culprits instead, he said. "Change begins by uprooting dictators who are clandestinely colluding to misuse their nation's wealth and remain in power thanks to the support of the pseudo democracies of the first world."

Meanwhile, the refugee movement's unified front appears to be making some, albeit limited, headway. The forced residence system, for example, has been abolished in a number of federal states and the Berlin Senate has just announced plans to provide refugee shelter accommodation to be completed by 2017 in 36 locations for 7,200 asylum seekers spread out across Berlin's local districts at an overall cost of 150 million euros.

Germany is currently walking a tightrope between honouring its international humanitarian responsibilities, pursuing its international economic interests, including its remunerative arms sales contracts, and handling dangerous right-leaning swings in public opinion against immigrants.

At the same time, Germany is pursuing a risky carrot-and-stick immigration policy agenda which is sending out contradictory signals – a 10-year-old immigration law which placed Germany on the map as a land of "immigration" for highly skilled foreigners, while tightening restrictions for those who are not deemed to be candidates for economic integration.

At issue is the divisive policy which places refugees in "asylum-worthy" categories. "In Germany there are three categories of refugees," Asif Haji, a 30-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, told IPS.

"The first are Syrians and other Middle East refugees who are awarded permits and education. Second come the Afghans and Pakistanis, who have to struggle a bit but are allowed language school and work permits. But then there are the Africans who are widely perceived as economic migrants leeching on the system and petty criminals dealing in drugs who are not particularly welcome anywhere."

"This is unfair," he said. "Human tragedy should not be classified."

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Taliban in Our Midst

Military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve are a danger to our country at any time, but especially after the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001.

Whether it's US Army Lieutenant General William G. Boykin telling his audience that "My God is bigger than his" in the close aftermath of that tragedy, or the more recent example of US Air Force Major General Craig Olson saying in uniform and in public—and speaking in tones far more like a preacher than a military officer—"I am a redeemed believer in Christ", these are dangerous men, making dangerous displays of religion.

Moreover, such displays occur in an environment where they are strictly prohibited by secular rules. These rules—and in the case of the US Air Force, written regulations—are in place for a reason.

First, they protect the Constitutional separation of church and state. No government representative should be seen advocating for any religion, period. We officers, when we take the oath of office, surrender for the duration of our service the privilege of publicly professing our religion, of "wearing it on our sleeve".

Second, these rules protect the good order and discipline of the military. Many religions—and no religion at all—exist throughout the ranks. To profess a particular religion from a leadership position is detrimental to that order and discipline. How might, for example, a Jewish soldier feel when his lieutenant professes his belief in Jesus before his platoon?  A Muslim soldier? An atheist?

In addition, a flag officer (a general or admiral) must be doubly careful because so many men and women are influenced by or fall under the sway and power of his or her every word and deed. Sometimes it might be thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, as was the case when I served then-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Colin Powell—who, incidentally, would never have worn his religion on his sleeve.

Third, and becoming increasingly relevant every day that passes, public professions of religion by military officers give groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra and other religious fanatics superb propaganda to use against our soldiers in the field and against us, as a nation. We, in effect, become no better than they, some sort of American taliban. As such we excite more recruits, more followers, more zealots to their banners. We also grievously undermine our own cause, just as we undermine our own Constitution.

What US Air Force Major General Craig Olson did was particularly egregious. Not only does he display by his remarks the naiveté of a twelve-year-old Boy Scout—and thus call into immediate, serious question the billions of dollars and hundreds of young lives entrusted to his care and leadership—he also repeatedly calls on a single religion, indeed seems almost entranced by that religion, in uniform, in public, and on, of all things, God TV, an international broadcast. As a soldier of 31 years myself, I found his exhortations discomfiting, dismaying, and dangerous. Frankly, I also found them flatly incredible: I had never heard such words uttered by a general officer in my life.

Should the USAF punish him? Clearly, he has violated law and regulation. There is no doubt about that. But should he be punished?

The USAF is understandably afraid of certain members of the US Congress, as are all the Services when it comes to presenting an overt challenge to what these members of Congress believe is "every Christian's right to profess his or her religion, no matter the circumstances."

Congress' constant dalliance with such pseudo-Christian organizations as James Dobson's Focus on the Family-–whose members most remind me of the people at the famous Scopes trial in Tennessee, who for the most part were hopelessly ignorant— exacerbates this fear.

It was Dobson's wife's organization that sponsored the event during which Olson made his stunningly impassioned remarks. The event was camouflaged under the aegis of one Alabama Republican's name—Congressman Robert Aderholt—but everyone with any insight into Washington knows that Dobson was behind the entire event.

Aderholt certainly knew it, as his opening remarks at the event conveyed: "Thank you, Shirley [Mrs. Dobson], for your kind introduction and for this invitation to be here this morning." 

So, if the Air Force were to punish Olson it might have to pay the piper with regard to any angst it might generate in the Congress, the provider of its funds. Of course, another way to say this is that the leadership of the US Air Force has no guts. It writes rules and its officers disobey them with impunity.

In any event, if no action is taken it's a dangerous game, playing with fire this way. A game that will get Americans killed in future. A game that undermines the very law we fight to protect. A game that destroys our truest values.

But it is an understandable game in a Washington peopled by hypocrites, Luddites, science-deniers, cowards, rabble-rousers, greedy, self-serving politicians, warmongers and, oh yes, military officers who wear their religion on their sleeve.

Opinion Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
As Mountaintop Mining Spreads, Lawmakers Oppose Rule to Protect Streams

Washington - Congressional Republicans are seeking to block an imminent rule protecting Appalachian streams from mountaintop removal mining, as opponents of the controversial practice say the mines are getting closer to communities and harming people's health.

The White House is expected to announce a stricter rule for the disposal of mountaintop-removal mining waste into streams. Some Republicans in Congress are describing the move as the latest campaign in the Obama administration's "war on coal."

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which has jurisdiction over mining, has been holding hearings and calling the rule a job killer. The chairman, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., backs a measure by West Virginia Republican Rep. Alex Mooney, which would block the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining from implementing the rule, calling for a study within two years, then a year of review, before any new stream protections.

By that point there would be a new president in the White House and different leadership at the Office of Surface Mining that could be friendlier to the coal industry.

"Should this stream buffer rule come to pass it would have a tremendous impact on further reducing mining in Kentucky," Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said in an interview.

Michael Hendryx, a health science professor at Indiana University, said in an interview that blocking the rule would force people living near the mines to keep suffering.

"They're going to continue to have higher rates of disease and premature death," said Hendryx. "There is plenty of solid evidence that mountaintop removal mining is done in a way that's not responsible for the environment or public health."

Hendryx, along with other scientists, has published more than two dozen peer-reviewed journal articles on the health impacts. Other research on the mining practice includes last year's U.S. Geological Survey findings that Appalachian streams impacted by mountaintop mining have less than half as many fish species and about a third as many fish as other streams.

"People who live in mountaintop removal communities compared to others have higher rates of lung disease, heart disease, cancer, birth defects and other types of health problems," Hendryx said.

Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association called Hendryx biased and disputed his research. The coal company Alpha Natural Resources has asked the West Virginia Supreme Court for documents related to the preparation of Hendryx's papers when he was at West Virginia University and copies of any correspondence with environmental groups.

Meanwhile, the environmental group Appalachian Voices has released maps based on satellite data showing the mining coming closer to communities, a finding questioned by industry.

The group said it's hoping the new Obama administration rule will stop the widespread practice of states giving waivers to allow mining activity and waste dumping within 100 feet of streams.

"What we would like to see is a true buffer zone around all streams that cannot be infringed," said Thom Kay, legislative associate for Appalachian Voices.

Opponents of the upcoming Obama administration rule said the impact goes beyond the mountaintops, with West Virginia Rep. Mooney asserting at a congressional hearing last week that the "stream protection rule is intentionally designed to shut down all surface mining." The Kentucky Coal Association's Bissett said that, while federally designated mountaintop mining has diminished, other forms of surface coal mining still make up half the activity in Eastern Kentucky.

National Mining Association president Hal Quinn argued in testimony to Congress last week that the federal government has shown no need to act, and that even the Office of Surface Mining's own analysis of an earlier version of the rule said it would cost 7,000 jobs. Industry backers accuse the agency of manipulating job loss estimates and not consulting with the states.

The Obama administration is not providing details on the upcoming rule, which is expected to be released in June.

Office of Surface Mining Director Joseph Pizarchik recently told Congress that the rule would be a "wash" in terms of job loss, with only a couple hundred jobs gained or lost as a result.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Bad Intelligence ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400 Capitalism Could Kill All Life on Earth

Coal smoke(Image: Coal smoke via Shutterstock)Do you want to see more stories like this published? Click here to help Truthout continue doing this work!

Are we going to let capitalism destroy life on Earth?

According to 99 percent of climate scientists – we'll know by the end of the century.

Scientists have agreed for three decades about what is causing atmospheric temperatures to rise – humans are burning Earth's carbon resources to fuel economic activity.

But even before we knew what was causing the temperature to rise – scientists warned about the dire global impacts of a two degree increase in atmospheric temperatures.

Earth's climate has been basically stable for hundreds of thousands of years.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

But that changed during the industrial revolution - when Great Britain realized the potential of coal-powered steam engines.

Soon continental Europe and the US followed suit.

And more than 150 years later – coal, oil and natural gas dominate the global politics and economics: wars are fought over oil; communities are destroyed for coal; and increasingly scarce water supplies are poisoned by natural gas extraction.

The Earth has already warmed about one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels - which means we have to change our energy system completely before the Earth warms another degree in order to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Is it possible?

Scientists say "Yes!" - BUT it will require us to take bold and immediate steps towards a completely renewable energy system.

The technology exists – the shortfall is in investment.

According to the IMF – oil companies get $5.3 trillion in subsidies worldwide per year.

And the oil companies pay only a portion – if any – of the environmental costs of ripping fossil fuels from the ground and burning the CO2 into the atmosphere.

In other words, every living human being and government are paying for coal, oil, and gas companies to profit from the destruction our planet.

And that's not a market failure – that's how the market was set up.

Capitalism as we know it isn't the solution – it's the problem.

In a report in "Nature Climate Change" – scientists point out that we can keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius – if every country takes bold and immediate action to deploy current clean energy and limit the use of fossil fuels.

The biggest failure in our system is that there is no price on carbon.

Burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon into our atmosphere has very real costs that corporations aren't paying for – costs that are being kicked down the road for future generations.

In the US, we've let the fossil fuel industry become so profitable that it relentlessly funds campaigns and lobbies to keep oil subsidies in place and weaken environmental regulations - all at the expense of our communities and our planet.

Our current oligarchs claim that renewable power isn't efficient or cheap enough to be competitive or to reliably replace fossil fuels – but that's just not true.

Solar, wind, and wave technology are all ready to be deployed at large scales – and Denmark, Germany, the UK and China, among others, are doing it right now.

Our transportation system is ready for renewables – solar roadways in the Netherlands are proving more effective than expected – and over two dozen models of electric cars are now out on the market.

Our households are ready for renewables: LED lightbulbs and high efficiency appliances mean that households use less energy – and affordable rooftop solar means that households can meet a lot their own energy needs.

We can make renewables competitive if we just cut subsidies to oil and coal companies and enforce our clean air and clean water regulations – but that means getting money out of politics so that legislation is written in the interest of communities and the planet - instead of corporations.

Capitalism is great at creating profits and products – but it doesn't care about environmental justice.

Capitalism doesn't care whether we restore our forests and soils so that the planet can begin to reabsorb the carbon we've dumped into the atmosphere.

Capitalism doesn't care whether streams are poisoned or if the air is noxious – it doesn't care if a river burns because of pollution – and it doesn't care if another technology is 'cleaner' - unless the 'dirty' option becomes unprofitable.

That's why we need both more regulation of the fossil fuel industry - and public investments into clean energy like solar and wind.

Capitalism is to make money - but a government like our republic is put into place to protect the people from those whose quest for money harms society. We cannot replace democratic government with capitalism – and climate change proves this.

In fact - climate change challenges capitalism at its very root – is an economy really growing when all the costs are dumped on society while a handful of corporations and billionaires take all the profits?

Science says that we can keep global temperatures from rising another half degree – but it can't be left to a private sector that makes its profits from leaving the costs to everybody else.

It's time for a New Green Deal – we need to stop directly and indirectly subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and we need to invest in a large-scale deployment of current clean energy technologies – one that will create permanent, sustainable jobs, and protect the Earth for future generations.

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
The Canadian University and the War Against Omar Khadr

David L. Clark: Omar Khadr is neither toxic nor disposable. What are the origins of this sometimes ferocious desire to render him expendable and unworthy? Universities are perhaps the best place in the world to ask and answer such questions, helping others understand why being schooled into aggression towards others withers the democracy that we claim to inhabit and cherish.

Omar Khadr. (Photo: 4WardEver Campaign UK)Omar Khadr. (Photo: 4WardEver Campaign UK)Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who spent the first ten years of his life moving back and forth between Canada and Pakistan. In 1996 at the age of ten, he moved with his family to Afghanistan. He was subsequently wounded and captured at fifteen years old after a firefight with American military that left Sergeant Christopher Speer as well as a number of Mujahedeen dead. After his capture, Khadr was interrogated, tortured and held in detention first at Bagram and then for over ten years in the most brutal and punitive conditions at the notorious Guantanamo Bay. In 2010, Khadr pled guilty to war crimes before a now discredited military commission and was transferred to Canada, where he served time in two maximum-security prisons in Ontario and then Alberta before being released earlier this month. Upon his release McMaster Professor and public intellectual Dr. David L. Clark wrote the following letter to Dr. Patrick Deane, President and Vice-Chancellor, McMaster University:

Listening to Mr. Omar Khadr speak yesterday, graciously thanking the Canadian public—as he put it—for trusting him and for giving him a chance, I was reminded of my dear friend and colleague, Professor Susan Searls Giroux, who, in her ground-breaking book, Between Race and Reason: Violence, Intellectual Responsibility, and the University to Come, asks: “Can the university stand for peace?” It strikes me that an exemplary way in which we might answer that question strongly in the positive is publicly to offer or to hold open a spot for Mr. Khadr in our first year undergraduate class. Let me be the first to offer my assistance. I would be pleased to teach Mr. Khadr first-year English and Cultural Studies, one-on-one and remotely, if need be, or to offer him remedial help in anticipation of taking such a course. We at McMaster have a great deal to offer Mr. Khadr. And he would undoubtedly bring so very much to us.

I recently had an opportunity to interview Dr. Clark in order to give him an opportunity to expand on the letter and discuss the stakes of his educative, peaceful, and hopeful invitation.

To read more articles in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

Tyler J. Pollard: You recently sent a letter to Dr. Patrick Deane, President and Vice-Chancellor, McMaster University, in which you ask the university to make a spot available for Khadr to begin undergraduate courses. Moreover, you go one step further, offering your own one-on-one assistance in order to make easier what would certainly be a difficult transition to life as an undergraduate at a Canadian university. I wonder if you might talk a bit about what led you to offer this deeply moving and important political challenge to President Deane and McMaster University? Why do you think public education is such an important site of intervention given the remarkably painful and unjust experiences Khadr has faced in his still young life?

David L. Clark: The fate of Mr. Khadr has long troubled me, as it has many others in Canada and indeed abroad. So what I’ve done by writing this letter is not done in isolation. Far from it. I’m not some rogue professor and this isn’t a publicity stunt. There is a significant history of carefully reasoned advocacy on behalf of Mr. Khadr and it is that work that informs my reaching out to President Deane, and through him, to the university community as a whole, both McMaster and other public universities in Canada. UNICEF, Amnesty International, the Canadian Bar Association, Free Omar Khadr Now, among many other groups and organizations, have from the very beginning of Mr. Khadr’s ordeal spoken powerfully against his grotesque mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government and the U.S. Military Commission, as they have against his shameful abandonment by Canadians and the Canadian government. I think that it is very important to remember amid all the fear-mongering swirling around Mr. Khadr, fear-mongering that has momentarily intensified now that he has been released on bail, that many Canadians unequivocally reject the notion that he poses a terrorist threat and that he was found guilty of murder or abetting terrorism by anything resembling a fair and impartial judicial process. The award-winning 2008 CBC documentary, The United States vs. Omar Khadr, for example, is still well worth watchingbecause of the rigorous way in which it brings out the extraordinary confusion over what took place in eastern Afghanistan in July, 2002, when Mr. Khadr was captured. I’m not sure how anyone could watch that documentary and come away completely convinced that Mr. Khadr had killed Sergeant Christopher Speer, the Delta Force soldier who succumbed to his wounds two weeks after the firefight near Khost. In the absence of anything like substantial evidence, how is it then that the Canadian government let Mr. Khadr languish in Guantanamo Bay, where, as the Supreme Court of Canada subsequently found, his Charter Rights had been repeatedly abrogated and where he was subjected to a judicial process hardly worthy of the name and that has since been widely discredited? The producers of the CBC documentary are only one example of many others who have called Canada to task for its willful failures regarding Mr. Khadr. In 2012, Senator Romeo Dallaire spoke eloquently in the Upper Chamber of the Canadian Parliament, making a detailed argument for why “the case of Omar Khadr taints this government,” as he put it, as well as “this country and all of its citizens.” Senator Dallaire, who knows a thing or two not only about actual combat, but also about child soldiers, strongly encouraged Canadians to focus on the violations of Mr. Khadr’s rights and on what the Canadian government’s complacency about the matter said about our country’s supposed commitment to peace and to democratic values. Consider too the words of Dr. Constance Backhouse, Distinguished University Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa: “Some cases enshrine the defining moments of their time,” she notes; “Omar Khadr’s is one. Future generations will rightly judge our shocking dereliction of responsibility in this matter [and] our collective Canadian failure to extend justice and humanity.”  And let’s not forget award-winning journalist, Michelle Shepherd, who has been writing about Mr. Khadr for years, pointing out how, in the midst of post 9/11 paranoia (remember that he was captured and tortured less than a year after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center), he was disappeared as a real human being and transformed into a kind of exemplary subject of the punishing state.

So my letter to President Deane emerges out of an already existing and robust history of critical discussions about and advocacy for Mr. Khadr. But I think one big turning point for me came several years ago, when, at a meeting of The Advocates’ Society in Mexico, I met Ms. Rebecca S. Snyder, a young Navy lawyer who had been one of Mr. Khadr’s military co-counsel during his years of incarceration in Guantanamo Bay. She addressed that conference of lawyers with such moving fearlessness, both criticizing the dangerously skewed judicial process into which Mr. Khadr had been thrown and describing the misinformation that had been circulated by the U.S. government about Mr. Khadr, including, crucially, about what happened on the day that he was captured. She walked us through photographs taken in the aftermath of the firefight. What we do know is that Sergeant Speer was fatally wounded; several Mujahedeen, whose names I’ve never heard spoken or read in print, were also killed. Mr. Khadr was himself gravely wounded, and would have perished on that battlefield had the U.S. military not decided at the last minute that it wanted to glean information from him . . . and to do so by any means possible.  27 July 2002:  an awful, awful day.  – Awful for the loved ones and acquaintances of all those who were wounded and killed, including the grieving family and friends of Sergeant Speer; awful too because scenes like this, overflowing with killing violence, would be repeated for years and years to come in Afghanistan, and the repercussions of which are felt today in this country. In the shadow of this violence and death, the question, it seems to me, comes down to this:  do we pursue vengeance or do we pursue justice?  Do we endlessly perpetuate violence or do we actively seek ways to foster humane reconciliation?  Imagine the courage that it took for a professional soldier like Ms. Snyder to defend her “client” under these circumstances, and to speak out against the most powerful military force on the planet in the panicked years following 9/11, when the U.S. government was doing anything, saying anything, to prosecute the war on terror. If Ms. Snyder managed to do that admirable work, I can certainly write a polite letter to my university’s President and Vice-Chancellor, inviting him to offer a space in our first-year class for Mr. Khadr and indicating how I would welcome him into any first-year course that I was teaching. It is a relatively minor move, in the larger scheme of things, but it is meant to be taken up as sincerely meaningful. My objective is two-fold:  first, to offer assistance to Mr. Khadr, who, like all young people, deserves both access to a good education and to be treated with dignity and respect; and second, to contribute to the creation of a robust dialogue about the roles that the Canadian university can and must play in the creation of a more just, democratic, and humane public sphere. What’s important for me is to keep the hopes and needs of Mr. Omar Khadr front and centre, but also to offer Canadians a way to interrogate the fear-mongering narratives by which Mr. Khadr’s life has too often been over-written. Reading some of the hate mail that I’ve received since issuing my invitation to President Deane, I start to see more clearly than ever before the importance of Humanities students and professors in making such thoughtlessness and warring aggression legible for all to see and resist.

But listening to Mr. Khadr speak publically, for the first time, last week was the proximate cause of my letter to President Deane. I heard in Mr. Khadr’s voice and saw in his eyes something that, as someone who has been a professor for over thirty years, I’ve seen thousands of times before – namely an expression of the hopes and concerns of a thoughtful young person, the inextinguishable desire to create a meaningful future and to become a valued member of a larger polity. Before all Canadians, he has asked to be given a chance. Who among us that advocate for peace and reconciliation can deny him that request?  But it’s not enough to say that he deserves to be given a chance.  It is important to provide him, and indeed all young men and women in the country, not platitudes but something substantial, something real. What better chance, I ask, could he possibly be given than a seat in McMaster University’s first year class, or, for that matter, a seat in any public university?  My understanding is that he has already been offered a space in a small private Christian university in Alberta, and indeed that professors there, including professors of English like myself, have been tutoring him.  Splendid!  I can’t tell you how moving it is to hear these things. So the time has come for other universities to step up and do the same as a sign of good faith, as a welcoming gesture to Mr. Khadr that is made in the name of justice and peace but also as a way of acknowledging that whatever the U.S. Military Commission determined about Mr. Khadr, he deserves the opportunity now to thrive in the country of his birth. Here in our classrooms and among our students and professors Mr. Khadr could dwell in a space of free and open critical inquiry, a rich environment of curiosity, debate, and above all, hope. He would work and learn side by side with some of the brightest students in Canada and with some of its best researchers. In a country in which a truly democratic public sphere struggles to survive, and in which Canadians are repeatedly and anxiously asked to coalesce—insofar as they coalesce at all—around fear and loathing of the other, listening to and acting upon Mr. Khadr’s measured words strikes me as only right and good. He teaches us before we have had a chance to teach him. Of course, it may well be that Mr. Khadr has quite other plans, now and for the future. Moreover, he might not be able to accept an offer of admission to McMaster University for any number of reasons. For example, Mr. Khadr might not be able to afford coming to the university, which, after all, as my students can certainly attest, is quite expensive to attend.  And for now his bail conditions might well prevent him from accepting an offer, if an offer was made, or they might prevent him from physically coming to campus . . . which is why I indicated to President Deane that I would be perfectly willing to teach Mr. Khadr first year English and Cultural Studies one-on-one and remotely. I’d love to see him enrol but even if he did not or could not, offering a place in the first-year class is in itself vitally important. It would say so much. It would say something unequivocally encouraging to Mr. Khadr. It would be a lesson in reasoned hope. It would say something unequivocally affirming about McMaster University and about the roles that the public university in Canada can play in the creation of a more humane and democratic polity. The discredited U.S. Military Commission in Guantanamo Bay is acknowledged around the world to be the very opposite of a democratic polity.  So it stands to reason that the university should exemplify what that U.S. Military Commission was not and could never be. Mr. Khadr’s release on bail has triggered a new wave of fear-mongering, as the Canadian government loses control of the narrative about him. This is precisely the moment for the public university to intervene, offering hope not fear, reason not hatefulness, thoughtfulness not thoughtless recrimination and aggression.  If we at McMaster don’t stand for these things, what do we stand for?  If we don’t stand for peace, then what is our future in the midst of this warring age?

Tyler J. Pollard: I think the notion of peace and the important role of the public university is so important here. In your letter, you refer to Professor Susan Searls Giroux’s important and probative question from her monograph, Between Race and Reason: Violence, Intellectual Responsibility, and the University to Come, in which she asks: “Can the university stand for peace?” Perhaps, in particular given that you have written extensively about the importance of pedagogy and peace, you could discuss how you see this invitation as a gesture of peace, and more generally, why you think it’s so important for a public university in these dark times to “stand for peace”?

David L. Clark: Dark times, indeed, while, in the run up to the federal election, the Prime Minister continues to vilify Mr. Khadr as a threat to national security (despite the fact that the courts have found otherwise), and when the federal government intensifies its powers of surveillance without sufficient oversight. Canada sleepwalks into yet another war with no clear objective other than the mad need to be seen to be handy with deadly and expensive weapons on the world stage. You’d think that the catastrophic war that we helped prosecute in Afghanistan, and the ocean of useless suffering that that war has now left in its wake, including not only Mr. Khadr’s suffering but also the suffering that Sergeant Speer’s family endures, would lead Canadians to be much more circumspect about entering combat again. But that’s not been the case, and so darkness indeed prevails.  All of these phenomena—the demonization of Mr. Khadr at the highest levels, the passage of Bill C-51, and the combat role that Canada is playing in Syria and Iraq—are linked. They speak to the creation of a nexus of paranoia, violence, and militarism that acts to disable and pacify the citizenry and that specifically forecloses the future of youth. We spend billions of dollars on fighter planes we do not need while so many youth struggle to find a meaningful place in Canadian society. But I’ve long said that Canadian universities, which are, after all, almost exclusively public universities, have an abiding obligation because they are public. They have been created and sustained in the public interest, and so in the interest of the flourishing of public—shared, democratic—values rather than private worries.  Because of their public mission, they should model peaceableness and make a case for peaceable co-existence in the face of war and in the face of the deforming pressures of militarism that have now effectively created a permanent state of war. During the decade that the Canadian armed forces were in Afghanistan, Canadian universities were conspicuously quiet about the war, preferring for the most part to lie low at the precise historical moment in which those universities should have stepped forward to foster a rigorous discussion about why, as a society, we remain invested in militarism.  After all, the wars we prosecute are fought almost entirely by youth and in regions of the world whose populations are largely composed of youth. The human costs of war are now and have perhaps always been hugely borne by young people. So it stands to reason that a university like McMaster, which wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the youth that make up almost all of our student body, should be committed to ensuring that we never resort to killing force without scrupulous thought. All Canadian universities have a lot of work to do on this front, that is, in forming part of a lively public sphere in which war is subject to ongoing and scouring critique.  And a place where we might begin is by inviting Mr. Khadr to join McMaster’s first year class.  Such an invitation would be an enormously peaceable gesture for two reasons. First, it would be welcoming to him, and welcoming in a very particular way, i.e., offering a hospitable place to a young man whose country of citizenship has otherwise proven to be utterly inhospitable. Critics of Mr. Khadr often focus on the battlefield where, as a gravely wounded child, he was captured in 2002.  They choose to ignore the war that the Canadian government subsequently waged against Mr. Khadr, making no attempt to extradite or repatriate him, effectively abandoning him to the machinations of the U.S. Military Commission, which, as we know, simply invented its own rules, its own laws, to suit the war on terror.

I wonder how many of the individuals who insist the Mr. Khadr is a killer and a terrorist would be willing to let their own children be judged by the same commission? Not many, I’ll wager. Mr. Khadr was classified as an enemy combatant so that he would not be afforded any of the protections ordinarily given to prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.  Instead, he was criminalized for actions that may or may not have taken place in Afghanistan. Under duress, Mr. Khadr agreed to a plea deal admitting guilt but has since pointed out that he has no recollection of throwing the grenade that killed Sergeant Speer.  A leaked memorandum from the U.S. military subsequently showed that even soldiers on the ground could not say with certainty that Mr. Khadr had been responsible for Sergeant Speer’s death. What is certain is that, as a child, he was found in the demolished ruins of the building in which he and adult Mujahedeen fighters were holed up, grievously wounded. I’ve seen photographs taken of him on that day and, as his Navy lawyer pointed out, he was more dead than alive and very unlikely to have been in any position to fight. In any case, he was saved on the battlefield in the hopes that he could be interrogated and tortured, which is precisely what happened to him, first at Bagram and then at Guantanamo Bay. For over a decade he languished in that hell-hole while the Canadian government did nothing to protect him. So it’s revealing to me to hear Canadians who insist without hesitation that Mr. Khadr’s rights be abrogated forever: for those Canadians, the rule of law applies equally, but less equally to some. Is that really the kind of Canada that we want to live in, one in which we wage war against our own citizens, stripping fellow citizens of protection under the law or abandoning them to extra-legal proceedings like those carried out by the U.S. Military Commission?  Canadians who say that they despise Mr. Khadr – but whence comes this rage, this aggression? – say that he was convicted as a war criminal and so must be disposed of, but they do so by conveniently forgetting that he has now served most of his sentence and has been granted bail.  But that is in fact the very least that needs to be said. Canadians who vilify Mr. Khadr make these pronouncements without understanding or caring to understand the unique circumstances in which Mr. Khadr was charged and found guilty—i.e., not in a courtroom in Toronto or Halifax or Medicine Hat but, of all things, the U.S. Military Commission working in one of the most notorious prison complexes in the world, a Commission which doesn’t in the slightest resemble any court in Canada and which has repeatedly and flagrantly demonstrated its disregard for due process and its indifference to impartiality. I’m always amazed by those Canadians who assume unquestioningly that Mr. Khadr was given a fair and impartial trial when those same Canadians would be appalled if their own children found themselves shackled before a Military Tribunal in Guantanamo Bay or a torturer at Bagram Airforce Base. None would stand for being held in detention for a decade without being charged. No Canadian would put any stock in a system in which they were tortured as a matter of course, a system that is under no obligation to observe the rule of law. A Canadian who found himself or herself in such circumstances would rightly say that any legal decisions emanating from this dreadful place are in fact poisoned with illegality through and through. In other words, as Canadian citizens protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms they would insist on being given a fair and impartial trial. But not Mr. Khadr. To me, this is nothing less than an example of citizens perpetrating war against him. That war has got to stop and one possible way to help bring it to a halt would be to welcome him to McMaster University, whose very motto, after all, speaks to the principle of inclusiveness and of forging communities.

McMaster has a unique opportunity to renounce that war and to stand instead for peace. In doing so, it would join all those others, both within and without Canada, who have pointed to the specific ways in which Mr. Khadr has been unjustly treated.

So why do some Canadians put such unmitigated faith in that commission’s findings, and in the plea deal to which Mr. Khadr agreed but under such palpably mitigating circumstances and so obviously as a means to get out of Guantanamo and back to the country of his birth?  It completely flies in the face of reason that fellow citizens would rather see a former child soldier, who, as a child, could not be held to be a competent belligerent on a battlefield, treated as toxic and disposable. He is neither toxic nor disposable. What are the origins of this sometimes ferocious desire to render him expendable and unworthy? Universities are perhaps the best place in the world to ask and answer such questions, helping others understand why being schooled into aggression towards others withers the democracy that we claim to inhabit and cherish. Under what specific historical circumstances does it become impossible to view Mr. Khadr as a human being and instead, irrationally, to indulge in fantasies of carrying out vengeance against him?  Why do some Canadians dream not only of harming him but of harming him forever?  Since universities, public universities, are founded on reason, as the great French philosopher, Jacques Derrida reminds us, let us, as members of the university community, and in the name of reasonableness, stretch out our hands to welcome Mr. Khadr. Let us affirm our commitment to social justice against those who would fall back on irrational prejudices or thoughtless opinions, especially prejudices and opinions fuelled by a government that is so unashamedly marshaling us around “shared fears” rather than “shared responsibilities,” as my friend and colleague, Dr. Henry Giroux would say. Let us move well beyond abstractions and platitudes and instead embody the spirit of justice and reconciliation in everything that we say and do.

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
137 Shots, No Convictions: Cleveland Cop Acquitted in Killing of Two Unarmed Black People

The national conversation on policing African-American communities is focused on Cleveland today after a major federal settlement and a controversial verdict. The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Cleveland over a pattern of what it calls "unreasonable and unnecessary" force by police. A probe last year found "chaotic and dangerous" abuse across hundreds of incidents. This comes just days after an acquittal in a case that helped launch the probe. On Saturday, Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shootings of two unarmed African Americans in their car. In November 2012, Brelo was one of 13 officers who fired 137 rounds at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after a chase which began when officers mistook a backfiring car for gunshots. Officer Brelo personally fired 49 shots, at least 15 of them at point-blank range through the windshield after he climbed onto the hood of the car. In a verdict on Saturday, Judge John O’Donnell said he can’t prove Belo shot the fatal bullets, since 12 other officers also opened fire. O’Donnell also said Brelo had grounds to fear for his safety. We are joined by two guests: the Reverend Waltrina Middleton, a community organizer close to the families of Russell and Williams; and Alice Ragland, an activist with the Ohio Student Association, which has been organizing around the issue of police violence in Ohio.


AARON MATÉ: The national conversation on policing African-American communities is focused on Cleveland today after a major federal settlement and a controversial verdict. The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Cleveland over a pattern of what it calls "unreasonable and unnecessary" force by police. A probe last year found unlawful abuses across hundreds of cases. The federal settlement could lead to independent oversight and revised policies.

This comes just days after an acquittal in a case that helped launch the probe. On Saturday, Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shootings of two unarmed African Americans in their car. In November 2012, Brelo was one of 13 officers who fired 137 rounds at Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams after a 22-mile-long, high-speed chase. The incident began after police tried to stop Russell for a wrong turn. After Russell sped away, more officers then reported gunfire from his car. But there were no guns. Instead, prosecutors say the car was making noises from backfiring.

AMY GOODMAN: The chase involved speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. More than 60 police cruisers took part, even though the rules for chases allow only two. After the other officers had stopped shooting at the victims’ car, Officer Brelo mounted the hood of the car and fired at least 15 shots through the windshield. Timothy Russell was shot 23 times; Malissa Williams, 24 times. But in a verdict on Saturday, Judge John O’Donnell said he cannot prove Belo shot the fatal bullets, since 12 other officers also opened fire. O’Donnell also said Brelo had grounds to fear for his safety.

JUDGE JOHN O’DONNELL: I find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Brelo’s decision to use deadly force against Russell and Williams was based on probable cause to believe that they threatened imminent serious bodily harm to him and the other officers, not to mention the public. I therefore find that his initial decision to use force was constitutionally reasonable.

AARON MATÉ: A report from the Ohio attorney general called the chase and shooting the result of, quote, "a systemic failure in the Cleveland Police Department." More than 60 officers were suspended over their roles. But Brelo was the only officer to be criminally charged.

The families of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams have voiced anger at Brelo’s acquittal. This is Renee Robinson, a cousin of Malissa Williams; and Paul Cristallo, attorney for Timothy Russell’s family.

RENEE ROBINSON: That was my cousin! That was my baby cousin. I’m going to tell you all something right now. We have no justice. They’re killing kids. They’re killing women now. They’re just—they’re doing whatever they want to do, and nobody is not even doing nothing about it.

PAUL CRISTALLO: Not guilty is not the same as innocent. Jumping up on the hood of a car and firing 49 bullets down into two unarmed people can hardly be said to be innocent. And while the law and the court—and we respect the decision—found him not guilty, we want it to be known that, obviously, we feel that he has—he’s culpable and that he is far from innocent, as was the city of Cleveland in their role in this situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Cristallo is attorney for Timothy Russell’s family. The not guilty verdict by the judge sparked a day of protests in Cleveland. Hundreds of people rallied outside Cleveland Justice Center and near the home of the county prosecutor.

RALLY SPEAKER: After 4,000 cases of injustice, we’re just adding another one to it.

PROTESTER: That’s right, brother. That’s right.

RALLY SPEAKER: And make no mistake about it: We are calm, but we’re mad as hell.

AMY GOODMAN: The protests later merged at the park where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed by a police officer last November. After a night of protests, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said 71 people were arrested.

MAYOR FRANK JACKSON: The majority of the protesters, yes, they were peaceful, although aggressive at the end of the day, but still peaceful. In the evening, however, there were some who crossed the line. And as a result, they were arrested. And they crossed the line, in some cases, by assaulting bystanders.

AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department could unveil details of its settlement around Cleveland’s policing today. The city is also awaiting decisions on whether officers will be charged in the killings of two other unarmed African Americans: 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead while playing with a toy gun in a park, and Tanisha Anderson, a mentally ill woman whose death has been ruled a homicide.

For more, we go right to Cleveland, where we’re joined by two guests. Alice Ragland is an activist with the Ohio Student Association, which has been organizing around the issue of police violence in Ohio. And the Reverend Waltrina Middleton is with us, a community organizer and minister with the group Cleveland Action, close to the families of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, the unarmed pair killed in their vehicle by Cleveland police in 2012.

Let’s begin with you, Reverend. If you could start by talking about the families’ reaction to the judge’s acquittal—this was a judge jury, not a jury of—not a jury, but the judge made the decision. Reverend Waltrina Middleton?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: Hi, thank you. The family was not surprised, but certainly disappointed. I think that they felt as if Officer Brelo would have at least been charged on a lesser charge. But to have no accountability is obviously grievous for the family, quite disappointing that there’s no accountability at all for the behavior of a police officer who likened himself to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rambo, jumping on the hood of a car and shooting down into a car where people were surrendering. Autopsy reports showed that there were bullets in the palm of Timothy and Malissa’s hands, and that suggests a posture of surrendering. And even the judge himself, even as the judge attempted to present Brelo as a hero, acknowledged that his behavior endangered himself and his fellow officers. And I don’t see anything reasonable or rational about his behavior. And the family is quite disappointed that justice failed and that, while Timothy finally had his day in court, justice failed to bring him justice.

AARON MATÉ: Well, Waltrina, I think, for many people across the country, this verdict and the ensuing protests marked the first time they’ve heard about this case, so take us back to this night in November 2012. What happened? They’re driving in their vehicle. An officer tries to stop them for a wrong turn. They speed away. And then, what happens next?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: Well, there is a, what the police has reported, a 25-mile pursuit of Timothy and Malissa. They were accused, falsely, of shooting at the officers, which was later determined to potentially be a backfire of the car. But even as they fleed the scene, that’s not grounds for murder. That’s not grounds for execution. And they were executed with over a hundred shots sprayed into their vehicle. Eventually, the car came to a stop at what is called Heritage Middle School. The police accused the couple of trying to use their vehicle as a weapon. The family, obviously, aware of the character of their loved ones, highly dispute that, especially after the autopsy reports showed that there were bullets in the palm of their hands. And while the judge stated that Officer Brelo had every right to be afraid for his life because of the calls over the radio system that said they have a gun, they’re shooting, he didn’t point out that there were also recordings where there were persons saying it’s not a gun, it’s a soda can in their hands. And so, I feel as if the judge pretty much presented a case to fill the holes to protect the officer and to ensure that others would not be convicted. I think that this is this unity or unified front to protect officers, even when they’ve certainly violated their own code to service and protect.

The family tells the story of Timothy Russell being an evangelist who shared his faith with others and who always had an infectious smile on his face and that he would not hurt a fly. And so, this portrayal of these two people, in spite of whatever personal challenges they may have, that most human beings suffer from, is not fair. And also, the case itself was one-sided, presenting the story of the police officers, and a mischaracterization of person, criminalizing the victim simply because of their past, which had nothing to do with the shooting and the execution that they experienced.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Ragland, you’re with the Ohio Student Association. You’ve been deeply involved in these protests. Why is Brelo the only one on trial? I mean, 137 rounds were shot at the car. He, himself, shot—what was it? Forty-nine shots at Malissa and Timothy. But why is he alone being charged with their killing?

ALICE RAGLAND: That’s something that I’m still trying to figure out, and that’s something that people in the activist community are still trying to figure out. There’s been a lot of confusion around that, the fact that there were 13 officers who fired shots and 64 officers were found to have violated their orders, but none of them were suspended for more than 10 days. So that’s a question that I still have.

AARON MATÉ: And, you know, part of Brelo’s defense was that he thought that the couple, the pair, was firing at him because of the gunfire that was actually coming from the officers. A defense expert testified, "Officers are actually firing and hitting the police vehicles, especially (police car) 238." Brelo believed the shots were coming from inside the suspects’ car, when in fact the shots were just coming from his fellow officers.

ALICE RAGLAND: Right, they were coming from his fellow officers. So, that, I guess, supposedly made him feel like he was fearing for his life. But I think that that’s completely ridiculous. I think that that is an excuse that was used to find him innocent.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the attorney for Office Brelo, Patrick D’Angelo. Praising the not guilty verdict, D’Angelo said his client had defeated an "oppressive government."

PATRICK D’ANGELO: We stood toe to toe with an oppressive government trying to coerce and put away a law-abiding citizen who did his job in this case, even though there were tragic circumstances and outcomes. And we fought, the four of us, against all odds. And I am so happy that we can walk out of this courtroom with our heads held high.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Reverend Waltrina Middleton, your response to what Brelo’s attorney says? Now, there were supervisors charged with minor issues, but the fact that a hundred police officers were involved with this, what are you calling for? I mean, there were mass protests over the weekend, over 71 people arrested. Today, the Justice Department is expected to announce an agreement with the police of Cleveland. What do you expect to come out of it? What do you want to see happen?

REV. WALTRINA MIDDLETON: May I first just address this idea of an oppressive system? When you have a system that protects abusive officers that hide behind a code of blue, that hide behind badges; where a 12-year-old cannot play in a recreation center without the threat of being murdered, in an open-carry state to say, "Oh, well, he looked like he was 21 or older"—it shouldn’t matter; it’s an open-carry state, so the child does not have the freedom to play in his own community without the fear of being murdered—his sister coming to his aid—and I’m speaking of Tamir Rice—and being handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car for trying to revive her brother; let’s talk about Tanisha Anderson, whose family contacted the police for support because of their sister’s mental health condition, and she was body-slammed and killed in the hands of officers; and the disproportionate—the countless, disproportionate deaths against black and brown bodies in this nation—I would question who is oppressed. So I want to speak to that.

I know that the family wants more than just the Department of Justice report that came out in December 2014. And so, it’s encouraging to know that the Department of Justice has come to some type of agreement with the city of Cleveland, but I hope it is more than symbolic. I pray that it’s actually taking those recommendations and putting it into action, so that people can go out without being criminalized, profiled and dying. I, myself, have been racially profiled by the police and stopped, just from trying to go from home to work. So I pray that it’s more than symbolic and that it will be fruitful so that people can live without being in fear.

AARON MATÉ: And, Alice Ragland, as this Justice Department settlement is announced today and as Cleveland awaits charges in the killings of Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice, what are you planning for next, and what do you hope for?

ALICE RAGLAND: I hope that all of the officers involved with the killings of Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice are charged and that they actually serve time. I mean, being charged is one thing, but we have so many cases where officers are indicted and charged, but they don’t—they don’t get found guilty. So, I hope that a judge and the justice system and a jury and whoever is involved with these cases will come to their senses.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to end with Vanita Gupta, the nation’s top civil rights prosecutor. In December, she unveiled the findings of the Justice Department probe. It detailed the history of abuse across hundreds of cases, characterizing police behavior in Cleveland as "chaotic and dangerous."

VANITA GUPTA: The investigation concluded that there is a reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland police engage in a pattern and practice of unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. That pattern has manifested in a range of ways, including the unnecessary and excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons; the unnecessary, excessive or retaliatory use of less lethal force, including Tasers, chemical spray and fists; excessive force against persons who are mentally ill and in crisis, including in cases where officers were called exclusively for a welfare check; and the employment of poor and dangerous tactics that placed officers in situations where avoidable force became inevitable. Supervisors throughout the chain of command have endorsed questionable and sometimes unlawful conduct by officers. Officers are not provided with sufficient and adequate training, policy guidance and supervision to do their jobs safely and effectively.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Vanita Gupta, the nation’s top civil rights prosecutor. I also want to thank our guests, Reverend Waltrina Middleton, minister with Cleveland Action, and Alice Ragland of the Ohio Student Association. Again, in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was killed last November, there have still not been any charges brought against the officers involved with his killing. We will continue to follow this story. This is Democracy Now! But we will go after break to Belfast, to Ireland, for an historic vote. Stay with us.

News Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Malcolm X, Gentrification and Housing as a Human Right

21 July, 2010: A girl walks by a mural featuring Malcolm X in New York City, New York. (Photo: Tarnie)A girl walks by a mural featuring Malcolm X in New York City, New York. (Photo: Tarnie)

Malcolm X urged us to look at the struggle for equality not through the lens of civil rights, but human rights. This paradigm offers a basis for challenging gentrification and creating housing equity in US communities of color through policy changes and community activism.

21 July, 2010: A girl walks by a mural featuring Malcolm X in New York City, New York. (Photo: Tarnie)A girl walks by a mural featuring Malcolm X in New York City, New York. (Photo: Tarnie)

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Every day the Metropolitan Tenants Organization works with renters who are facing the negative effects of gentrification and other economic forces that threaten their housing. Thousands of low-income renters and homeowners are displaced every year by a property law system with misplaced priorities. As a society, we all pay when people are involuntarily displaced because of increased crime, skyrocketing medical costs and a failing educational system. It is imperative that as a nation we confront this housing crisis and ensure that everyone has a home.

The insights of visionary Black leader Malcolm X, who would have been 90 this year, are key to the discussion around gentrification and housing. Malcolm X championed a new vision, reframing the character of the struggle for equality from civil rights to one of human rights. He also raised the concept of self-determination as essential to any struggle for equality. I want to use the lens of human rights and self-determination to contextualize gentrification and look for solutions to the nation's housing crisis.

The foundation of current gentrification can be traced to the very beginning of the United States.

What is gentrification? From the perspective of the community members, gentrification is the loss of community (and individual) control over the land they live on, a forced displacement of residents from their homes and their communities. It generally occurs in low-income neighborhoods in which people of color reside. Gentrification is not a haphazard process that happens by accident. It is systemic in nature and sanctioned by a faulty legal system.

Gentrification is not just a modern-day occurrence. The foundation of current gentrification can be traced to the very beginning of the United States. In 1823, the US Supreme Court in Johnson v. McIntosh legitimized the concept of ownership through conquest. In Johnson, the Court held that "savages" (the Court's term for Native Americans) had no right to sell or control the land because the land was "discovered" by settlers. Only the US government could give Native people the right to sell or transfer the land.

The case is important to understanding gentrification because the Court declared that the indigenous population does not have any inherent right to determine the use of their land. In this case, the Court ruled that the colonization of the continent had in fact erased the slate and thus nullified any Native people's claims to the land. It made the government the sole arbiter of sale or transfer of land. At the same time, it legitimized the government's use of force to take over the continent and gain control of indigenous people's land.

Furthermore, the Court's opinion is indicative of the primary role that race plays in community development. The Court called indigenous people "savages." Intrinsic in this name-calling is the idea that Native Americans are the "other" - that European culture is superior - and that as an inferior community, they could not possibly make good decisions as to how they use their land. This inherently wrong, racist decision enshrines the legal and conceptual basis of gentrification, or what I have called ownership through conquest.

Many of the first people to move into a changing neighborhood are described as "pioneers."

If we look at what is happening today in major cities throughout the United States, the same principles and legal precepts are at work. Now, instead of military might, overpowering economic forces are pushing low-income people of color out of their neighborhoods and often out of the cities and into the suburbs. This is happening because public and private investments in the downtown business core have made these areas extremely important and valuable. As the core of the city expands, the neighborhoods that abut the downtown area and those along transportation lines leading to downtown have dramatically increased in value.

Investors and their partners in the public institutions have "discovered" these communities and swooped in to take control of abandoned and vacant properties, at first; but soon all properties in these neighborhoods become targets for takeover. The outside investors then develop the land to fit the needs of the downtown elite. They build new and high-cost apartments and high-rises and demolish and get rid of properties suitable for people of more modest means. Many of the first people to move into a changing neighborhood are described as "pioneers," the same term used to refer to the initial invaders of North America who imposed the White man's ways on the Native peoples.

This means families who have often lived in these neighborhoods for decades are forced to relocate. Tenants in particular, because of the lack of a secure tenure, face an onslaught of economic pressures to move. Outside investors will often close buildings and evict all the tenants as they develop properties to cater to wealthier non-community members in an effort to get them to move into the community. Tenants are then forced to find and move into an ever-shrinking supply of affordable housing.

At the same time, landlords are increasing the rent as the neighborhood becomes "hot." In the end, the vast majority of the tenants will be forced out. It is beyond their means to resist these economic forces on their own. For instance, in Chicago, more than 50 percent of tenants are rent burdened, meaning more than one-third of their income goes to housing costs. Obviously, when tenants are barely able to pay rent, any changes in rent, job status or medical situations will result in displacement.

It is not only renters who face challenges. In the case of homeowners, many long-time residents are losing their properties to foreclosure or seeing dramatic increases in their property taxes, which once again force them out. The current gentrification of US cities is an economic conquest backed up by the courts.

The current gentrification of US cities is an economic conquest backed up by the courts.

Many of the same racist justifications for this conquest are still at play today. Gentrification is often explained away as a needed phenomenon. The community "needs" the often White and well-to-do invaders to move into the neighborhood to improve it. In other words, the current residents are not "invested" in the neighborhood, as they are "not good enough" to develop it on their own. The local culture is destroyed as new, wealthier people flood into a community. The newcomers take over all elements of the community, bringing in their own "superior" culture, such as more expensive restaurants and entertainment venues. This escalates and expands the dislocation to include existing businesses. It is all legal, built on decades of laws based on the rights of the powerful few and not on the human rights of the many.

It is for this reason that Malcolm X's vision of moving toward a struggle for human rights is so important. Housing is a basic human necessity that any individual needs in order to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without a home, it is next to impossible to find work, to educate your children and to better your conditions. Housing needs to be made into a human right, a right protected by law.

What would it mean if housing was a human right? It certainly means more than just ensuring a roof over one's head. It means making sure that everyone has decent, safe and accessible housing. It is hardly a home if that home does not have heat during the winter, or is infested with mold and other pests. Housing needs to be affordable. If housing becomes so expensive that a person needs to decide whether to eat or pay the rent, then they will always be at risk of losing their housing. Housing also needs to be stable. People should be able to choose where they live. No one should be forced to move just because someone else wants to live there.

So, how can we change policies and begin moving toward a human rights framework based on community needs, as it relates to gentrification? To begin with, we could implement:

  • Laws to end lockouts, self-help evictions outside of the legal system: No tenant or homeowner should lose their home without due process.
  • Mandatory inspections laws: Municipalities and other government agencies need to be responsible for ensuring that all residential properties meet certain codes of health and safety.
  • Just cause laws: A property owner should be required to have a justifiable reason to evict a resident. No one should have their tenure interrupted because of discrimination, retaliation or any other unfair reason.
  • Laws to limit foreclosures: Banks and other agencies ought to be held accountable for their actions in creating the housing crisis.
  • Property tax laws: Property tax laws should promote stability. Tie property taxes to the purchase price of buildings, which would help keep taxes affordable for long-term residents and in addition provide low-income residents with tax relief.
  • Rent controls: This can take two forms. Rent increases could be regulated by law to give current tenants the opportunity to continue to live in their homes. Or secondly, current residents could receive a rental subsidy to make up for the increase in rent due to gentrification.
  • Create community-based zoning boards: These boards can regulate zoning changes and give communities control over development.
  • Create eviction-free zones: Activists and legal services providers work to prevent any eviction in these areas of gentrification to slow down the development process and challenge the investor-invaders' assumption that they can do what they want.

All these potential policies and actions can begin to ameliorate the effects of gentrification and provide communities with a legal and moral basis to fight gentrification and promote housing stability. No one should be forced to move from their home against their will.

Adopting a human rights framework can provide individuals and communities with new tools and perspectives that offer the hope of ensuring that everyone has the right to secure safe, decent and accessible housing that is affordable. Defining housing as a human right allows for an expansive outlook that goes beyond viewing housing as merely a roof over one's head or a commodity for sale. A human rights framework will benefit the majority and move society onto a path of social equity. As Malcolm X said, "I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole."

News Wed, 27 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Of Course Jeb Bush Would Have Invaded Iraq

Jeb Bush must have set some kind of record for political flip-flopping this month.

“Knowing what we know now,” he was asked — that Saddam Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction, for example — “would you have authorized the invasion” of Iraq?

“I would’ve,” he said.

Almost immediately, the oatmeal hit the fan. Supporters and critics alike jumped up out of the weeds protesting his embrace of what many consider the greatest foreign policy blunder since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union.

Before nightfall that day, he was backing crab-like away from that position. He had “misinterpreted” the question, he said. In any case, it was futile to take up “hypotheticals” like that.

But back he tracked until it seemed as though the former Florida governor would’ve been marching in front of the White House, occupied at the time by his own brother, with a “Hell No! I won’t go” placard.

The kindest interpretation friendly critics offered was that Jeb Bush was reluctant to take issue with George W., who, after all, ordered the Iraq invasion. It was filial affection, not foreign policy naiveté, that informed his first response.

Are you kidding me?

Of course Jeb Bush would have done the same thing as George W. Bush. There’s hardly the thickness of a sheet of paper between them on Middle East policy.

Don’t believe me? The man who would like to lead the third Bush administration in three decades named Paul Wolfowitz, the Iraq invasion’s architect, to his team of advisers. That’s like taking navigation lessons from the captain of the Titanic.

Wolfowitz, you’ll remember, is the guy who promised a speedy end to the Iraq War and predicted it would pay for itself with rising oil revenue. That was a trillion dollars — and many thousands of lives — ago. And we’re still waiting for our first payment.

I’ve always thought Jeb got too much credit for being smarter than his brother. That was largely a function of the fact that even though he smoked a lot of pot in high school, he didn’t spend his youthful years drunk, unlike George W.

In reality, neither of them has shown much in the way of smarts. They’ve gone a long way on family money and friends in high places.

The best of the Bush bunch, to my thinking, is the old man, George H. W. Bush. Not a brilliant intellectual, perhaps, but he was smart enough to know that Iraq’s not a place where you want to hang out very long. As bad a guy as Saddam Hussein was, the elder Bush had the sense not to dabble in regime change when he went to war with Iraq.

Perhaps the most astonishing piece of information to come out of this latest Bush flap was a Quinnipiac University poll that showed George W. Bush’s favorability rating with likely voters in the Iowa caucus stands at 81 percent.

Eighty-one percent! Chocolate ice cream doesn’t have an 81 percent favorability rating among Iowa Republicans.

What can they be thinking of? Certainly they can’t be thinking very seriously about the Iraq invasion. Did I mention that it’s cost us a trillion dollars and counting?

Perhaps I failed to inform you that our conduct of that war and the other conflicts that seem to have unstoppably flowed from it, with our waterboarding and our drone attacks, have squandered any moral advantage that we claimed over our enemies.

Jeb Bush was the great hope of rational Republicans in the upcoming race. He was the sensible one.

Now we find he hopes to ride his brother’s tattered coat tails to victory.

Who’s his model for economic policy, Herbert Hoover?

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400
Lies, Not Mistakes, Led to Invasion of Iraq

United States Marines stand guard outside a bakery in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005, two years after the American-led invasion of the country. (Photo: Joao Silva for the New York Times)United States Marines stand guard outside a bakery in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2005, two years after the US-led invasion of the country. (Photo: Joao Silva for the New York Times)

Jeb Bush definitely did us a favor: In attempting not to talk about the past, he ended up bringing back the discussion of the Iraq war, which many political and media figures have been trying to avoid. And of course they're still trying to avoid it - they want to make sure this just about the horse race, or about the hypothetical question of "if you knew what we know now."

But that formulation is itself an evasion, as Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent and Duncan Black have pointed out - each making a slightly different but crucial point.

First, as Mr. Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, recently wrote, the Iraq invasion was not a good faith mistake. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't sit down with the intelligence community, ask for its best assessment of the situation and then reluctantly conclude that war was the only option. They decided right at the beginning - even before the dust of 9/11 had settled - to use a terrorist attack by religious extremists as an excuse to go after a secular regime that, evil as it was, had nothing to do with that attack.

To make the case for the splendid little war that they wanted to fight, they deliberately misled the public, making an essentially fake case about weapons of mass destruction - because chemical weapons, which many believed Saddam Hussein had, are nothing like the nukes they implied he was working on - and insinuating the false claim that Saddam was behind 9/11.

Second, as Mr. Sargent at The Washington Post says, even this isn't hindsight. It was quite clear at the time that the case for war was fake (God knows I thought it was glaringly obvious, and I tried to tell people) and fairly obvious as well that the attempt to create a pro-American Iraq after the invasion was likely to be an expensive failure. So the question for war supporters shouldn't be: "Would you have been a supporter knowing what you know now?" It should be: "Why didn't you see the obvious back then?"

Finally, and this is where the blogger Mr. Black comes in, part of the answer is that a lot of Very Serious People were effectively in on the con. They, too, were looking forward to a splendid little war; or they were eager to burnish their nonhippie credentials by saying, "Hey, look, I'm a warmonger too!" Or they shied away from acknowledging the obvious lies because that would have been partisan, and Very Serious People pride themselves on being centrists. And now, of course, they are very anxious not to revisit their actions back then.

Can we think about the economic debate the same way? Yes, although it's arguably not quite as stark. Consider the long period when Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, was held up as the very model of a serious, honest conservative. If you were willing to do even a little bit of homework, it was obvious from the beginning that he was a fraud, and that his alleged concern about the deficit was just a cover for the real goal of dismantling the welfare state. Even the inflation craziness may be best explained in terms of the political agenda: People on the right were furious at the Federal Reserve for, as they saw it, heading off the fiscal crisis that they wanted to use to justify their anti-social-insurance crusade. So they put pressure on the Fed to stop doing its job.

And the Very Serious People enabled all of this, just as they enabled the Iraq lies.

But back to Iraq: The crucial thing to understand is that the invasion wasn't a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war.

And we shouldn't let that ugly truth be forgotten.

Opinion Tue, 26 May 2015 00:00:00 -0400