Truthout Stories Sun, 29 Nov 2015 07:23:30 -0500 en-gb Ta-Nehisi Coates on Police Brutality: "The Violence Is Not New, It's the Cameras That Are New"

Today we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the explosive book about white supremacy and being black in America. Titled "Between the World and Me," it is written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. In July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched the book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church. "It seems like there's a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us," Coates said. "But for me, this conversation is old, and I'm sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It's the cameras that are new. It's not the violence that's new."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we spend the hour with Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of an explosive new book about white supremacy and being black in America. It's called Between the World and Me, written as a letter to his teenage son, Samori. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics and social issues. He received the George Polk Award for his Atlantic cover story, "The Case for Reparations." His book, Between the World and Me, is called "required reading" by Toni Morrison. She writes, quote, "I've been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates."

Well, in July, Ta-Nehisi Coates launched his book in his hometown of Baltimore. He spoke at the historic Union Baptist Church.

TA-NEHISI COATES: This book proceeded from a notion, and there are a couple of main notions that are really at work here. And one of the dominant ideas in the book, Between the World and Me, which is, you know, effectively an extended essay told in a letter form to my son, is the notion of fear, because I think like when people think about African-American communities, there are a lot of things that come to mind, but one of the things that does not come to mind, I think, enough in the mainstream conversation is simply how afraid we are of our bodies, how afraid we are for our children, how afraid we are for our loved ones, on a daily basis. And, you know, I understood this as a very, very young person, as I talk about it in the book. You know, from my earliest memories, I was talking to Dad about this a little while ago, and I think about my first memories, my first memories of going - my first coherent memories of going with my mother and father to see Marshall "Eddie" Conway in prison, and understanding that there are black men - you know, are in prison. That was like my first memory. He had done something, or somebody accused him of something. Something had happened where he did not have the full freedom and control of his body, and that was something that happened to people who look like me, even though I didn't quite understand how and why that happened.

And then, as you grow up in the community, and you have to go out into the world and navigate - you know, I've said this several times in many places - you know, I have my memories of going to middle school here in Baltimore, and I think about how much of my mental space was possessed with keeping my body safe, how much of it dealt with how I was dressed, who I was walking with, what neighborhood I was walking through, once I got to school how I conducted myself in the school, and not so much in such a way that would be obedient to my teachers, but in a way that would keep me safe from the amount of violence. I mean, I was talking in this interview the other day; I was saying that any sort of policy that you think about in this country that has to do with race ultimately comes back, for black folks, to securing our bodies, the physical safety of our body. And so we have these kind of high and abstract debates about, you know, affirmative action. And in the minds of certain people, we think those conversations are literally just about "Is my kid going to get into Harvard or not?" But behind that, for us, as black people, is a conversation of "Is my kid going to be able to have the means to live in a neighborhood where he or she walks outside the house and they're not looking over their shoulder, and they're not watching their back, and they're not - they don't have to do the sort of things that I have to do, the threat of violence is always there?"

Now, one of the horrifying things - and this is what, you know, I'm going to read about tonight - even for those of us who escape those neighborhoods, even for those of us who make it somewhere and are able to do something and live in better places, the threat never quite leaves us, because once we're no longer afraid of the neighborhood, it turns out we actually have to have some fear for the very people we pay taxes to protect us. And that's what we've been hearing about for the past year over this country. We've been seeing a lot of that. And it seems like there's a kind of national conversation going on right now about those who are paid to protect us, who sometimes end up inflicting lethal harm upon us. But for me, this conversation is old, and I'm sure for many of you the conversation is quite old. It's the cameras that are new. It's not the violence that's new. We are not in the midst of a new wave of anything. We're, you know, in a new technological wave, you know? And this is not unprecedented. You know, the sort of violence that folks saw in the 1960s, in Selma, for instance, or on Bloody Sunday, that sort of violence was not, in fact, actually new. That's what white supremacy, what racism is. It is an act of violence. What was new was the cameras. There was certain technology that was able to take that into the living rooms of America. And we're going through a similar thing right now, but the violence is not new.

When I think about the first time I really, really became aware of this, beyond theory, it was in the instance of the killing of a good friend of mine - a friend of mine, I should say to clarify our relationship, a friend of mine by the name of Prince Jones, who I went to Howard University with.

As a brief aside, when you write things, they're forced to become abstract, or when you interview people, they become abstract. And then, whenever you're forced to talk about them, they immediately become real, and all the emotions that you feel about those people come back. I'm going to try to control myself here.

Prince Jones was a fellow student of mine at Howard University. He was a tall, beautiful young man. He hailed from a prosperous family, a family that had not always been prosperous. His mother, you know, was the child of sharecroppers, had worked her way up through life out of poverty in Louisiana and had risen to become a prominent radiologist.

Prince was in Prince George's County, Maryland, driving. It was late at night. He had just dropped off his young daughter. He was going to see his fiancée. And he was in a jeep, an SUV. The SUV he was in was being followed, as it turned out, by the police, the Prince George's County police. And I'm in Baltimore, so you guys know about the reputation of the Prince George's County police; I don't need to give any sort of lectures on that. The gentleman who was following him had come to work that night as an undercover police officer and had dressed up as a drug dealer, so he was, you know, literally dressed as a criminal, to appear as a criminal. He was in an unmarked car. He thought Prince Jones was someone else who he was supposed to be doing surveillance on. He tracked Prince Jones from Prince George's County, Maryland, through Washington, D.C., and into Fairfax, Virginia, where, as far as I'm concerned, he effectively executed him. In the story he tells, because he's the only witness - and, you know, he's the only person whose version of events we actually have - the story he tells is that once they got to Fairfax, they got into a dark cul-de-sac, and Prince rammed his car. And he said before Prince rammed his car, he got out of the car, and he pulled a gun on Prince, and he identified himself as a police officer, but he didn't produce his badge. By his own admission, he didn't produce his badge. By his testimony, Prince got back in the car, into his truck, and rammed the guy, the police officer's car, and the police officer shot and killed him.

This happened in 2000. I believe my son was about a month old at that point. You know, you talk about fears for, like, bringing a black child into the world, like it was immediately real. You know, it was just suddenly like so visceral, like right there. And the most terrifying thing for me was when I thought about, like, myself. Like, I couldn't distance myself from what Prince had done, even in the version of events as given by the officer, whether they're true or not. Even in, you know, the most sympathetic version of events given by the officer, I could not distance myself from whatever actions Prince Jones had taken in that case. I had to imagine myself followed through three jurisdictions by somebody who did not identify themself as a police officer, who was literally dressed to appear as a criminal. And I had to think about all the fears that I had to have, you know, as I was going through the neighborhood here in Baltimore and all the fears that Prince must have had, going to visit my fiancée and worrying about her, and seeing this dude pull a gun out on me and claim to be a police. Well, I don't know if you're a police officer. And once I got into his shoes, it was very, very easy for me to see myself how I could have been killed in much the same way. And this was horrifying. And so, for normal Americans, you know, once they rise up and get out of certain neighborhoods or go certain places, you know, they feel a kind of safety that black people never feel. Fear is one of the dominant emotions of the black experience. Fear. And it does - no amount of money you can earn can ever take you away from that. You can be president of the United States, and you can be afraid for your body. You can be the first lady of the United States, and you can be afraid for your body. You can be afraid for the bodies of your two little girls. It does not go away. There's no escape from that.

Well, Prince's story stayed with me for a number of years, and I wrote about it in little places, but I couldn't get like his mom out of my head. I kept wondering, because I knew this woman had done all this, and I couldn't get her out of my head, and I wondered, like, how she lived. I wondered how she carried that. And I reached out, and I made contact with her, and I was able to go see her. And so the portion of the book I'm going to read tonight tells the story about our conversation. As I said, Between the World and Me is written as a letter to my son, so all of the yous and all of the sort of, you know, things, it's me addressing him, who is not here right now. He's somewhere in the middle of Vermont right now. This story, you know, goes a lot of places. It goes to Howard University, goes to Paris, France. It moves quite a bit. But at this point, we're at the end, and we're trying to get some sort of resolution or some sort of conclusion on everything we've seen. So I'll go ahead and read.

"In the years after Prince Jones died, I thought often of those who were left to make their lives in the shadow of his death. I thought of his fiancée and wondered what it meant to see the future upended with no explanation. I wondered what she would tell his daughter, and I wondered how his daughter would imagine her father, when she would miss him, how she would detail the loss. But mostly I wondered about Prince's mother, and the question I mostly asked myself was always the same: How did she live? I searched for her phone number online. I emailed her. She responded. Then I called and made an appointment to visit. And living she was, just outside of Philadelphia in a small gated community of affluent homes. It was a rainy Tuesday when I arrived. I had taken the train in from New York and then picked up a rental car. I was thinking of Prince a lot in those months before. You, your mother, and I had gone to Homecoming at The Mecca, and so many of my friends were there, and Prince was not.

"Dr. Jones greeted me at the door. She was lovely, polite, brown. She appeared to be somewhere in that range between forty and seventy years, when it is difficult to precisely ascertain a black person's precise age. She was" - whenever I read that in front of white people, nobody laughs. "She was well composed, given the subject of our conversation, and for most of the visit I struggled to separate how she actually felt from what I felt she must be feeling. What I felt, right then, was that she was smiling through pained eyes, that the reason for my visit spread sadness like a dark quilt over the whole house. I seem to recall music - jazz or gospel - playing in the back, but conflicting with that I also remember a deep quiet overcoming everything. I thought that perhaps she had been crying. I could not tell for sure. She led me into her large living room. There was no one else in the house. It was early January. Her Christmas tree was still standing at the end of the room, and there were stockings bearing the name of her daughter and her lost son, and there was a framed picture of him - Prince Jones - on a display table. She brought me water in a heavy glass. She drank tea. She told me that she was born and raised outside Opelousas, Louisiana, that her ancestors had been enslaved in that very same region, and that as a consequence of that enslavement, a great fear echoed down through the ages. 'It first became clear when I was four,' she told me.

My mother and I were going into the city. We got on the Greyhound bus. I was behind my mother. She wasn't holding my hand at the time and I plopped down in the first seat I found. A few minutes later my mother was looking for me and she took me to the back of the bus and explained why I couldn't sit there. We were very poor, and most of the black people around us, who I knew were poor also, and the images I had of white America were from going into the city and seeing who was behind the counter in the stores and seeing who my mother worked for. It became clear that there was a distance.

"This chasm makes itself known to us in all kinds of ways. A little girl wanders home, at age seven, after being teased in school and asks her parents, 'Are we niggers and what does this mean?' Sometimes it is subtle - the simple observation of who lives where and works what jobs and who does not. Sometimes it is all at once. I have never asked you how you became personally aware of the distance. Was it Michael Brown? I don't think I want to know. But I know that it has happened to you already, that you have deduced that you are privileged and yet still different from other privileged children, because you are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country. What I want you to know is that it is not your fault, even if it is ultimately your responsibility. It is your responsibility because you are surrounded by the Dreamers. It has nothing to do with how you wear your pants or how you style your hair. The breach is as intentional as policy, as intentional as the forgetting that follows. The breach allows for the efficient sorting of the plundered from the plunderers, the enslaved from the enslavers, sharecroppers from landholders, cannibals from food.

"Dr. Jones was reserved. She was what people once referred to as 'a lady,' and in that sense reminded me of my grandmother, who was a single mother in the projects but always spoke as though she had nice things. And when Dr. Jones described her motive for escaping the dearth that marked the sharecropper life of her father and all the others around her, when she remembered herself saying, 'I'm not going to live like this,' I saw the iron in her eyes, and I remembered the iron in my grandmother's eyes. You must barely remember her by now - you were six when she died. I remember her, of course, but by the time I knew her, her exploits - how, for instance, she scrubbed white people's floors during the day and went to school at night - were legend. But I still could feel the power and the rectitude that propelled her out of the projects and into homeownership.

"It was the same power I felt in the presence of Dr. Jones. When she was in second grade, she and another child made a pact that they would both become doctors, and she held up her end of the bargain. But first she integrated the high school in her town. At the beginning she fought the white children who insulted her. At the end they voted her class president. She ran track. It was 'a great entrée,' she told me, but it only brought her so far into their world. At football games the other students would cheer the star black running back, and then when a black player on the other team got the ball, they'd yell, 'Kill that nigger! Kill that nigger!' They would yell this sitting right next to her, as though she really were not there. She gave Bible recitations as a child and she told me the story of her recruitment into this business. Her mother took her to audition for the junior choir. Afterward the choir director said, 'Honey, I think you should talk.' She was laughing lightly now, not uproariously, still in control of her body. I felt that she was warming up. As she talked of the church, I thought of your grandfather, the one you know, and how his first intellectual adventures were found in the recitation of Bible passages. I thought of your mother, who did the same. And I thought of my own distance from an institution that has, so often, been the only support for our people. I often wonder if in that distance I've missed something, some notions of cosmic hope, some wisdom beyond my mean physical perception of the world, something beyond the body, that I might have transmitted to you. I wondered this, at that particular moment, because something beyond anything I have ever understood drove Mable Jones to an exceptional life.

"She went to college on full scholarship. She went to med school at Louisiana State University. She served in the Navy. She took up radiology. She did not then know any other black radiologists. I assumed that this would have been hard on her, but she was insulted by the assumption. She could not acknowledge any discomfort, and she did not speak of herself as remarkable, because it conceded too much, because it sanctified tribal expectation when the only expectation that mattered should be rooted in an assessment of Mable Jones. And by those lights, there was nothing surprising in her success, because Mable Jones was always pedal to the floor, not over or around, but through, and if she was going to do it, it must be done to death. Her disposition toward life was that of an elite athlete who knows the opponent is dirty and the refs are on the take, but also knows that the championship is one game away.

"She called her son - Prince Jones - 'Rocky' in honor of her grandfather, who went by 'Rock.' I asked about his childhood, because the fact is that I had not known Prince all that well. He was among the people I would be happy to see at a party, whom I would describe [to] a friend as 'a good brother,' though I could not really account for his comings and goings. So she sketched him for me so that I might better understand. She said that he once hammered a nail into an electrical socket and shorted out the entire house. She said that he once dressed himself in a suit and tie, got down on one knee, and sang 'Three Times a Lady' to her. She said that he'd gone to private school his entire life - schools filled with Dreamers - but he made friends wherever he went, in Louisiana and later in Texas. I asked her how his friends' parents treated her. 'By then I was the chief of radiology at the local hospital,' she said. 'And so they treated me with respect.' She said this with no love in her eye, coldly, as though she were explaining a mathematical function.

"Like his mother, Prince was smart. In high school he was admitted to a Texas magnet school for math and science, where students acquire college credit. Despite the school drawing from a state with roughly the population of Angola, Australia, or Afghanistan, Prince was the only black child. I asked Dr. Jones if she had wanted him to go to Howard. She smiled and said, 'No.' And then she added, 'It's so nice to be able to talk about this.' This relaxed me a little, because I could think of myself as something more than an intrusion. I asked where she had wanted him to go for college. She said, 'Harvard. And if not Harvard, Princeton. And if not Princeton, Yale. And if not Yale, Columbia. And if not Columbia, Stanford. He was that caliber of student.' But like at least one third of all the students who I knew who came to Howard, Prince was tired of having to represent to other people. These Howard students were not like me. They were the children of the Jackie Robinson elite, whose parents rose up out of the ghettos, and the sharecropping fields, went out into the suburbs, only to find that they carried the mark with them and they could not escape. Even when they succeeded, as so many of them did, they were singled out, made examples of, transfigured into parables of diversity. They were symbols and markers, never children or young adults. And so they come to Howard to be normal - and even more, to see how broad the black normal really is.

"Prince did not apply to Harvard, nor Princeton, nor Yale, nor Columbia, nor Stanford. He only wanted The Mecca. I asked Dr. Jones if she regretted Prince choosing Howard. She gasped. It was as though I had pushed too hard on a bruise. 'No,' she said. 'I regret that he is dead.'

"She said this with great composure and greater pain. She said this with all of the odd poise and direction that the great American injury demands of you. Have you ever taken a hard look at those pictures from the sit-ins in the '60s, a hard, serious look? Have you ever looked at the faces? The faces are neither angry, nor sad, nor joyous. They betray almost no emotion. They look out past their tormentors, past us, and focus on something way beyond anything ever known to me. I think they are fastened to their god, a god whom I cannot know. But, god or not, the armor is all over them, and it is real. Or perhaps it is not armor at all. Perhaps it is life extension, a kind of loan allowing you to take the assaults heaped upon you now and pay down the debt later. Whatever it is, that same look I see in those pictures, noble and vacuous, that was the look I saw in Mable Jones. It was in her sharp brown eyes, which welled but did not break. She held so much under her control, and I was sure the days since her Rocky was plundered, since her lineage was robbed, had demanded nothing less.

"And she could not lean on her country for help. When it came to her son, Dr. Jones's country did what it does best - it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, it is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans and, like all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans."

AMY GOODMAN: Ta-Nehisi Coates, speaking at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore on the launch of his new best-seller, Between the World and Me, a book that's based on a letter to his teenage son. We come back to the speech in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, as we go back to the speech of Ta-Nehisi Coates, the best-selling author whose new book is called Between the World and Me, based on a letter to his teenage son. He was speaking at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore.

TA-NEHISI COATES: "Dr. Jones was asleep when the phone rang. It was 5 A.M. and on the phone was a detective telling her she should drive to Washington. Rocky was in the hospital. Rocky had been shot. She drove with her daughter. She was sure he was still alive. She paused several times as she explained this to me. She went directly to the ICU. Rocky was not there. A group of men with authority - doctors, lawyers, detectives, perhaps - took her into a room and told her he was gone. She paused again. She did not cry. Composure was too important now.

"'It was unlike anything I had felt before,' she told me. 'It was extremely physically painful. So much so that whenever a thought of him would come to mind, all I could do was pray and ask for mercy. I thought I was going to lose my mind and go crazy. I felt sick. I felt like I was dying.'

"I asked if she expected that the police officer who had shot Prince would be charged. She said, 'Yes.' Her voice was a cocktail of emotions. She spoke like an American, with the same expectations of fairness, even fairness belated and begrudged, that she took into medical school all those years ago. And she spoke like a black woman, with all the pain that undercuts those exact feelings.

"I now wondered about her daughter, who'd been recently married. There was a picture on display of this daughter and her new husband. Dr. Jones was not optimistic. She was intensely worried about her daughter bringing a son into America, because she could not save him, she could not secure his body from the ritual violence that claimed her son. She compared America to Rome. She said she thought the glory days of this country had long ago passed, and even those glory days were sullied, because they had been built on the bodies of others. 'And we can't get the message,' she said. 'We don't understand that we are embracing our deaths.'

"I asked Dr. Jones if her mother was still alive. She told me her mother passed away in 2002, at the age of eighty-nine. I asked Dr. Jones how her mother had taken Prince's death, and her voice retreated into an almost-whisper, and Dr. Jones said, 'I don't know that she did.'

"She alluded to 12 Years a Slave. 'There he was,' she said, speaking of Solomon Northup. 'He had means. He had a family. He was living like a human being. And one racist act took him back. And the same is true of me. I spent years developing a career, acquiring assets, engaging responsibilities. And one racist act. It's all it takes.' And then she talked again of all that she had, through great industry, through unceasing labor, acquired in the long journey from grinding poverty. She spoke of how her children had been raised in the lap of luxury - annual ski trips, jaunts off to Europe. She said that when her daughter was studying Shakespeare in high school, she took her daughter to England. And when her daughter got her license at sixteen, a Mazda 626 was waiting out front. I sensed some connection to this, some desire to give and the raw poverty of her youth. I sensed that it was all as much for her as it was for her children. She said that Prince had never taken to material things. He loved to read. He loved to travel. But when he turned twenty-three, she bought him a jeep. She had a huge purple bow put on it. She told me that she still could see him there, looking at the jeep and simply saying, Thank you. Without interruption she added, 'And that was the jeep he was killed in.'

"After I left, I sat in the car for a few minutes. I thought of all that Prince's mother had invested in him, and all that was lost. I thought of the loneliness that sent him to The Mecca, and how The Mecca, how we, could not save him, how we ultimately cannot save ourselves. I thought back on the sit-ins, the protestors with their stoic faces, the ones I'd once scorned for hurling their bodies at the worst things in life. Perhaps they had known something terrible about the world. Perhaps they so willingly parted with the security and sanctity of the black body because neither security nor sanctity existed in the first place. And all those old photographs from the 1960s, all those films I beheld of black people prostrate before clubs and dogs, were not shameful, indeed were not shameful at all - they were just true. We are captured, brother, surrounded by the majoritarian bandits of America. And this has happened here, in our only home, and the terrible truth is that we cannot will ourselves to an escape on our own. Perhaps that was, is, the hope of the movement: to awaken the Dreamers, to rouse them to the facts of what their need to be white, to talk like they are white, to think that they are white, which is to think that they are beyond the design flaws of humanity, has done to the world.

"You, Samori, you cannot arrange your life around them and the small chance of them coming into consciousness. Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious. And you are here now, and you must live - and there is so much out there to live for, not just in someone else's country, but in your own home. The warmth of dark energies that drew me to The Mecca, that drew out Prince Jones, the warmth of our particular world, is beautiful, no matter how brief and breakable.

"I think back to our trip to Homecoming. I think back to the warm blasts rolling over us. We were at the football game. We were sitting in the bleachers with old friends and their children, caring for neither fumbles nor first downs. I remember looking toward the goalposts and watching a pack of alumni cheerleaders so enamored with Howard University that they donned their old colors and took out their old uniforms just a little bit so they'd fit. I remember them dancing. They'd shake, freeze, shake again, and when the crowd yelled 'Do it! Do it! Dooo it!' a black woman two rows in front of me, in her tightest jeans, stood and shook as though she was not somebody's momma and the past twenty years had barely been a week. I remember walking down to the tailgate party without you. I could not bring you, but I have no problem telling you what I saw - the entire diaspora around me - hustlers, lawyers, Kappas, busters, doctors, barbers, Deltas, drunkards, geeks, and nerds. The DJ hollered into the mic. The young folks pushed toward him. A young man pulled out a bottle of cognac and twisted the cap. A girl with him smiled, tilted her head back, imbibed, laughed. And I felt myself disappearing into all of their bodies. The birthmark of damnation faded, and I could feel the weight of my arms and I could feel the heave in my breath and I was not talking then, because there was no point.

"That was a moment, a joyous moment, beyond their Dream - a moment imbued by a power more gorgeous than any voting rights bill. This power, this black power, originates in a view of the American galaxy taken from a dark and essential planet. Black power is the dungeon-side view of Monticello - which is to say, the view taken in struggle. And black power births a kind of understanding that illuminates all the galaxies in their truest colors. Even the Dreamers - lost in their great reverie - feel it, for it is Billie that they reach for in sadness, and Mobb Deep is what they holler in boldness, and Isley is what they hum in love, and Dre is what they yell in revelry, and Aretha is the last sound they hear before dying. We have made something down here. We have taken the one-drop rule of Dreamers and flipped them. They made us into a race. But we made ourselves into a people. Here at The Mecca, under the pain of selection, we have made a home. As do black people on summer blocks marked with needles, vials, and hopscotch squares. As do black people dancing it out at rent parties, as do black people at their family reunions where we are regarded like the survivors of catastrophe. As do black people toasting their cognac and German beers, passing their blunts and debating MCs. As do all of us who have voyaged through death, to life upon these shores.

"That was the love power that drew Prince Jones. The power is not just divinity but a deep knowledge of how fragile everything - even the Dream, especially the Dream - really is. Sitting in that car I thought of Dr. Jones's predictions of national doom. I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. When I left The Mecca, I knew that that was all too pat, and knowing that the Dreamers should reap what they had sown, we would reap it right along with them. Plunder has matured into habit, and habit into addiction; and the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, and then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy, it is a belief in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.

"Once, the Dream's parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion, a plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the body of black humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all of our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into their subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.

"I drove away from the house of Mable Jones thinking of all of this. I drove away, as always, thinking of you. I do not believe we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, struggle for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos. I saw these ghettos driving from Dr. Jones's home. They were the same ghettos I had seen in Chicago all those years ago, the same ghettos where my mother was raised, where my father was raised. Through the windshield I saw the mark of these ghettos - the abundance of beauty shops, churches, liquor stores, and crumbling housing - and I felt the old fear. Through the windshield I saw the rain coming down in sheets."

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, based on a letter to his teenage son. He was speaking on the launch of the book at the Union Baptist Church in Baltimore. If you'd like to get a copy of today's show, you can go to our website at When we come back, a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates.

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
From Paris to Raqqa

This podcast discusses the Paris terror attacks prompting lawmakers on Capitol Hill to take aim at refugees and encryption; the latest development on criminal legal reform; Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism; and, prize-winning author and reporter Chris Woods of is on to talk about the ongoing air campaign against the Islamic State.

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
People Tied Up "Like Animals" on UK Deportation Flights

A woman being deported from the UK to Pakistan was compliant and cooperative throughout the process. Still, the commercial contractor Tascor, working for the UK Home Office, strapped the woman into a waist restraint belt until after the plane had taken off.

One man on suicide watch was strapped into a waist restraint belt even though there was no evidence that he posed a risk to others. Another man, who refused to board a deportation flight, was belted continuously for eight long hours. His wrists swelled. He was examined by a paramedic.

These cases have come to light in two new reports by HM Inspectorate of Prisons. The inspectors also found that waist restraint belts were used six times on three flights to Pakistan, and that approaches to security were "unduly indiscriminate in some respects."

Government advisers have described the waist belt as "a custom-designed piece of restraint equipment, manufactured from manmade fibres and using plastic snap-locks and Velcro fasteners, designed to be worn around the subject's waist. Soft cuffs, with plastic snap-lock and Velcro fasteners, are attached to the belt by retractable cords."

They said: "In the 'free' position, although still connected to the belt, the cords are long enough to allow the subject relatively free movement of his arms and hands (for example, for eating). In the 'retracted' position, the subject's hands are pulled in to the front of the belt, where they can be further secured by a snap-lock fastened mesh."

Inspectors described the waist belt as "almost equivalent … to the most extreme and very rarely used" restraint equipment in prisons.

The belts were introduced by the Home Office as part of a new training program for deportation staff, that was prompted by the unlawful killing of Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga by G4S guards in 2010.

The independent panel that advised on the use of the new equipment warned last year that "indiscriminate use of the restraint belt was not justifiable ethically or legally." It said ministers would have to approve its introduction and it should only be used as "an exceptional measure."

The coroner who presided over the inquest into Mubenga's death wrote in a Prevention of Future Deaths Report in July 2013: "It goes without saying that the use of a body-cuff would constitute a significant interference in the bodily integrity of any person to whom it is applied. Dignity and bodily integrity are matters in which close regard must be had in determining what new techniques are to be introduced."

Yet HM Inspectorate of Prisons has found that the waist restraint belts "were now embedded in practice" and that they risked "being overused." On three flights to Nigeria and Ghana, the belts were used ten times. Inspectors said that "the justification for several of these uses was not explicit in the records" which they examined. On another flight, the belt was used on eight passengers, even though five of them did not resist being put on the flight. Inspectors said: "while risk factors were used to justify each case, the evidence was sometimes minimal."

Some authorisation forms for using restraints "did not indicate what specific risk factors might have existed," and lacked sufficient detail, the inspectors noted. This appears to falls short of the Home Office's own guidance on the use of these belts, which requires a senior manager to record "whether the restraint was reasonable, proportionate and necessary."

Two detainees arrived at the airport "in a small van that had been contaminated with their urine." The men were then kept in the van for several hours, which, according to the inspectors, was "unacceptable treatment."

The inspectors noted that one man, who was on suicide watch, had lived in Britain for 15 years and was being taken away from his mother who was very ill in hospital here. Another man who was placed in one of the waist restraint belts had been on suicide watch for the previous six months in a series of detention centres.

The investigative organisation Corporate Watch tracked down one detainee who was on the same deportation flight as the man on suicide watch mentioned in the inspectors' report.

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, the witness described the scene on board: "A lot of people were tied up, in like a vest on your tummy and arms," he said. "They tightened up the back so you cannot move and you have pain in your back. You cannot move your hands. They put people on that plane like animals."

Corporate Watch spoke to one former detainee who claims he was recently restrained by guards in a device which sounds similar to the new belts. He says it blocked his airflow and caused him to pass out. He spoke anonymously, fearing reprisals from the Home Office:

"The guards tried to pin me down with their legs and their knees. After some time they put a belt from under my my armpit down to my abdomen. They started tightening it and I was screaming and screaming 'This is too tight for me!'"

He went on: "After some time I passed out - there was no air. Someone shouted that they should put me in the recovery position. I was in panic and hyperventilating. They held my head and tried to force a tablet into my mouth. I was choking and gagging for 30 minutes."

Despite his passing out, the guards continued trying to deport him, the man claimed. "They put me in a wheelchair and moved me into the deportation van. On the way to the airport my condition deteriorated and they called an ambulance on the motorway and I went to hospital for some hours."

He says he was taken to hospital in handcuffs, despite the new Home Office policy. "I was still handcuffed on the way to hospital. The handcuffs cut the bone of my wrist and I'm having pain in the scrotum and lower back from the assault," he said.

In the days before one of the deportation flights featured in the inspection reports, volunteers at the Unity Centre in Glasgow spoke to many of the men facing deportation. Among them were fathers leaving behind their partners and young children. The sense of fear and desperation was strong.

One young man, Fred (not his real name), scaled the fence at Harmondsworth detention centre. The inspectors said this caused "considerable delay" in taking people to the airport. Whenever Home Office officials tried to come near him, Fred threatened to jump. A mattress was placed underneath him. The flight left without him, and at  the end of the night he came down from the fence.

One week later Corporate Watch visited Fred in detention. He said he was born in Sierra Leone, where his father, an aid worker with the British Red Cross, was killed during the civil war. He had lived in the UK since he was 11 years old with his surviving family. He said all the detainees were talking about not wanting to go on the flight, "but no one was doing anything. So I got up the fence and they couldn't touch me." 

At 24, he had spent the past two years of his life in detention, apart from one brief spell when he was released on tag, and required to walk miles each day to report to the Home Office.

His face was vacant and expressionless. Detention was sucking the life out of him. He was being deported on the basis of police 'intelligence,' not evidence or convictions, of association with a London gang. Operation Nexus allows the Met Police to bar people from the UK if officers believe someone is not conducive to the public good. Despite Fred's desperate resistance, he was later deported to Sierra Leone.

Another deportation flight for dozens of Nigerians from London to Lagos, is scheduled for Tuesday 24th November. Campaigners from Movement for Justice rallied outside the Nigerian High Commissioner on Wednesday 18th, and women in Yarl's Wood detention centre published a statement opposing the flight, saying "we refused to be slaves to the British government."

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory Campaign Cashes in on Anti-Refugee Animus

Since the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris by Islamic State operatives, at least 31 governors across the US have said they don't want to allow any more refugees fleeing the war in the Syria into their states, including most governors in the South.

These state leaders, almost all of them Republicans, claim the Obama administration's plan to accept at least 10,000 refugees from the Islamic State stronghold of Syria over the next year presents an unacceptable security risk for their citizens - despite the fact that there is an intensive vetting process for refugees, that no refugees who've come to the US since 9/11 have been arrested on domestic terrorism charges, and that governors don't have the authority to block refugees from their states.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) of North Carolina joined their ranks on Monday afternoon, when he held a press conference where he said he was "requesting that the president and the federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina" and until he is "satisfied" with the effectiveness of federal vetting of refugees coming to the United States.

"My primary duty as governor is to protect the citizens of North Carolina, which is why I am taking the steps I have outlined today," McCrory said.

McCrory apparently also believes the issue makes for winning politics. The same day the governor called for a halt to Syrian refugees being resettled in his state, his re-election committee posted an appeal to its Facebook page calling for "NO SYRIAN REFUGEES IN NC" and linking to the campaign's contribution page:

Lagging in polls and fundraising against his leading Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, the McCrory campaign appears eager to tap what the head of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) called an "increased xenophobic streak" among the US public.

A recent survey by the group found that 46 percent of Americans say immigrants are a burden on the country while 56 percent believe the values of Islam are at odds with American values. Republicans in particular have issues with the foreign-born, PRRI found, with 66 percent of GOP respondents saying immigrants are a burden.

The PRRI poll also found that Americans' perceptions of Islam have grown more negative over the past few years - and it was conducted before the Paris attacks, which have sparked an outpouring of anti-refugee sentiment.

In Florida, for example, two mosques received bomb threats over the weekend and a Muslim family found bullet holes in their garage door, while in Texas someone splattered feces in front of a mosque along with pages torn from the Quran. In North Carolina, an Uber driver reports being beaten and threatened by a passenger who used anti-Muslim slurs. The driver is an Ethiopian immigrant and a Christian.

Of the estimated 3.8 million Syrians who have fled their country's civil war, 1,854 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the US since 2012. Of those, 59 have settled in North Carolina. They include people like the Al Haj Kasem family, who fled Syria after the bakery where Hussein, the father, worked was ransacked in the fighting. The family settled in Greensboro, and Hussein got a job in a nearby Ralph Lauren packaging plant.

McCrory may think that closing his state to people like the Al Haj Kasems will help him win an election, but it's drawing condemnation from human rights advocates. The NC Justice Center said McCrory's move "sends all the wrong signals - both to refugees here, and to people overseas who may perceive this move as hostility toward helping Muslims, even those in the most desperate of situations."

The Southeast Immigrant Rights Network said that, given that only the federal government has the power to admit refugees, "it is clear that these governors are exploiting the horrible tragedy in Paris to instill fear and hatred at a time when we most need to welcome and reach out to our sisters and brothers from Syria who are seeking refuge and risking everything in order to save their loved ones."

Human Rights Watch also issued a statement condemning the governors' anti-refugee reaction. "Resettled refugees from Syria have fled persecution and violence, and undergone rigorous security screening by the US government," said Alison Parker, co-director of the group's US Program. "The governors' announcements amount to fear-mongering attempts to block Syrians from joining the generous religious groups and communities who step forward to welcome them."

Another voice speaking out against the governors' anti-refugee reactions is that of Farris Barakat, whose brother Deah was shot to death in Chapel Hill earlier this year in what appeared to be an anti-Muslim hate crime. Barakat is the son of Syrian immigrants who came to the US in the 1980s, and his family is currently helping relatives who are refugees settle in Europe.

"I think it's really important that they understand that the reason these people are seeking refuge in this country is because ISIS destroyed theirs," Farris Barakat told Buzzfeed. "We're fighting the same enemy."

France, meanwhile, has announced that it would honor its commitment to take in more refugees, with President Francois Hollande saying it is his country's "humanitarian duty."

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Pentagon Faces More Scrutiny Over $766 Million Task Force

(Photo: Pentagon via Shutterstock)(Photo: Pentagon via Shutterstock)

The Pentagon is scrambling to justify its actions in restricting the government watchdog investigating a $766-million task force in Afghanistan - with more controversy seemingly erupting by the day. Now there are allegations that Defense Department officials retaliated against a whistleblower and news of several ongoing criminal investigations.

Earlier this month, we reported that the Pentagon was making it difficult for the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction to investigate reports of gross waste and mismanagement by the now-defunct, five-year Task Force for Business Stability Operations. One of its projects, a gas station, cost 140 times what it should have.

Since then, several members of Congress have demanded that the Pentagon cooperate fully with SIGAR.

The Defense Department has been unable to provide a reasonable explanation for why it only restricted SIGAR when the inspector general turned his attention to the troubled task force and how the department will work with SIGAR in the future. The DOD has been legally required to provide free access to the inspector general since SIGAR'S inception in 2010.

Here's the background: After receiving numerous complaints about the task force, called TFBSO, SIGAR launched an investigation. As it typically does, the inspector general requested task force documents. But the Pentagon refused to comply, telling SIGAR that it was placing new rules and restrictions on access. The Pentagon told SIGAR that it must review the documents in a DOD-controlled "reading room" in Washington and any documents SIGAR wanted to take must first have names redacted. The DOD said it believed SIGAR had inappropriately released documents with names of service members in response to an unrelated Freedom of Information Act request from ProPublica.

In response to questions from ProPublica, Lt. Col. Joseph Sowers, a DOD spokesman, insisted this wasn't a new policy, but a "common sense safeguard."

That safeguard, however, has only applied to task force documents - not any other material requested by SIGAR that contained names. That contradiction prompted SIGAR to call DOD's explanation a "red herring."

When ProPublica asked the Pentagon why the restrictions weren't applied across the board, the agency fumbled to find an answer.

First DOD officials said that "the same ground rules" would apply to all future SIGAR requests. But when asked how this would work in Afghanistan, where SIGAR has 35 people and there is no reading room, officials backpedaled. They couldn't answer questions about where SIGAR staff would read the documents, who would redact the sometimes thousands of pages in a SIGAR request, or even whether Army Gen. John Campbell, who oversees the military in Afghanistan, was involved in the decision.

The Pentagon then said the restrictions would not, after all, apply to every future SIGAR request. Instead the Pentagon would decide on a "case by case basis." DOD officials wouldn't say what criteria would be used to decide whether the documents would be restricted or who would make the decision.

Sowers said that regardless of the reading room requirements, SIGAR has "unfettered access" to do its job and evaluate the TFBSO. SIGAR, however, called the restrictions borderline obstructive and said at the very least they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the inspector general act and the law that established SIGAR.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and several other senators have said they are concerned not just with the Pentagon's policy for SIGAR, but also with the wasteful spending of the task force. That includes building the gas station, which cost $43 million when it should have cost between $200,000 and $500,000. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, has called a hearing next month on the gas station. Grassley has demanded the Pentagon turn over all the task force documents to his office, and has asked the DOD inspector general to launch its own investigation into the task force.

In addition to auditing the task force, SIGAR's criminal division is also conducting several investigations into the task force, but cannot comment on specifics, according to Grassley.

"I expect the Pentagon to cooperate fully with the inspector general and with my office in all inquiries involving the task force," he said in a statement. "With the poor track record reported on the auditing side, there's reason to be skeptical on the level of cooperation with the inspector general on the criminal side."

Grassley is also seeking answers about the allegations of Army Col. John C. Hope, the former director of operations of the task force. Hope said he is being retaliated against for "speaking the truth" about a lack of accountability with the task force in an official Army report, according to a letter Grassley wrote to Defense Secretary Ash Carter this week. Hope claims his evaluation is being purposefully withheld, which jeopardizes his next assignment and affects possible promotion.

Brian McKeon, the deputy under secretary of defense who made the decision to restrict SIGAR's access to the documents, is Hope's senior evaluator. McKeon, as well as the former task force director, Joseph Catalino, are responsible for completing Hope's evaluation.

"Neither has reportedly signed [the evaluation]," Grassley wrote to Carter, and "both would have received Hope's highly critical [report] about a total 'lack of accountability' at TFBSO."

The Pentagon said it was agency policy not to speak about individual officer evaluations. "We welcome continued review by SIGAR in their effort to ensure the TFBSO activities are properly assessed and analyzed," Sowers said.

Grassley has asked Carter to step in personally.

"If the Pentagon is retaliating against someone for speaking out on poor accountability and wasteful spending, that's unacceptable," Grassley said in a statement. "It's detrimental to the individual and to the taxpayers."

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
FDA's Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon Based on Bad Science, Say Consumer Advocates

(Photo: Salmon via Shutterstock)(Photo: Salmon via Shutterstock)

More than 20 years after the first genetically engineered plant hit American grocery stores, the FDA has approved the first transgenic animal for human consumption: a salmon.

The AquaBounty Salmon, as it is known, is an Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow more rapidly than its non-GE counterpart, allowing it to reach market size in just 18 to 20 months, compared to the standard 28 to 36 months. 

The FDA's announcement last week was met with frustration, if not surprise, by environmental and consumer groups, who point to inadequate information regarding the potential impacts of GE salmon on both the environment and human health.

"We were very disappointed in the FDA for this approval," says Michael Hansen, senior scientist with the Consumers Union, a nonprofit that works for a fair and safe marketplace for consumers. "We think it's based on bad science."

The GE fish was approved based on FDA findings that it is safe to eat, that the introduced gene is safe for the fish itself, and that the engineered salmon meets claims that it is faster growing than non-GE salmon. The approval pertains to two land-based salmon facilities: one in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where eggs will be produced, and one in Panama, where fish will be raised. The salmon raised in Panama will then be shipped back to the US for sale.

Hansen and other advocates have pointed to several areas in which the research relied upon by the FDA was severely wanting, including the impact of genetic engineering on human health, the impact of genetic engineering on the health of the fish, and the potential implications for wild fish populations. 

Take, for example, the AquaAdvantage salmon's potential impact on wild fish. In its environmental assessment, the FDA found that the GE salmon would not have a significant environmental impact because they could not escape the Panama or Prince Edward Island facilities. Even if they did somehow escape, the FDA concluded the fish couldn't survive in the surrounding environments due to water temperatures. 

However, the FDA did not conduct an analysis of the environmental impacts should the fish actually escape and survive in the wild. According to Hansen, that was a big oversight. The Prince Edward Island salmon facility is located near a stream, and there is a risk that fish could escape into nearby water bodies. 

"They didn't do a failure mode analysis," Hansen says. "Normally you say, 'what happens if the safeguards fail?'"

JayDee Hanson, senior policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, agrees that this was a major shortcoming of the FDA's analysis, especially given the proximity of the Prince Edward Island facility to endangered Atlantic salmon populations.

"Prince Edward Island does still have wild Atlantic salmon - not too many, they are hanging on," he says. "But they don't need really hungry genetically engineered fish eating up the food that they should be eating… We would be worried about [the GE salmon] literally decimating what is a barely hanging on wild population right now."

There is also a risk of cross-breeding. Although fish at the Panama facility will be sterilized, the Consumers Union asserts that up to five percent of the salmon could remain fertile. And, as Hansen points out, the fish producing eggs at the Canadian facility will not be sterile. If GE fish somehow escape the facilities, that could present an issue: A 2013 study found that genetically modified Atlantic salmon can hybridize with wild brown trout, a species that is common in areas surrounding the two approved AquaBounty facilities.

The health of wild salmon populations isn't the only thing at stake. Food advocates are also worried that, because GE salmon are engineered to grow more quickly, they will have higher levels of the growth hormone known as IGF-1, which has been linked to an increased risk of several cancers, including prostate, breast, colorectal, and lung. AquaBounty Technologies, the company that developed the fish, conducted a study comparing the IGF-1 levels between non-GE salmon and GE salmon - submitted to the FDA as part of the approval process - which concluded that "no biologically relevant differences were detected" in the levels of the growth hormone. 

However, according to Hansen, the results of AquaBounty's test were troubling, due to insufficiently sensitive testing methods: "Here is an animal you engineer with a trait, a growth hormone, and you can't detect the trait in the animal at all," he says. The Consumers Union, in its September 2010 comments on genetically engineered salmon, contended that this result was "like the police using a radar gun that cannot detect speeds below 120 mph and concluding there is no 'relevant difference' in the speed of cars versus bicycles."

Consumer advocates are also concerned about the allergenic risks associated with GE salmon, and again point to insufficient and inadequate research on the part of AquaBounty. JayDee Hanson, senior policy analyst with the Center for Food Safety, says that AquaBounty was required to do two allergy-related tests: one for general allergenic reaction, and a second for salmon allergens. However, the sample sizes were "abysmally small," he says. They tested only six fertile fish for the general allergenic reaction study.  "Six fish - that's below high school level statistics," he adds.

On top of the hormone and allergy concerns, the AquaAdvantage salmon may not have the same nutritional value as wild salmon. Specifically, studies indicate that it has significantly lower levels of healthy Omega 3 fatty acids.

The health of the GE salmon themselves could also be an issue. The fish in Panama will be triploid - which means they have three sets of chromosomes, instead of two - making them sterile. JayDee Hanson, of the Center for Food Safety, notes that triploid fish frequently have genetic defects, and that when they are engineered to grow more quickly, "the problems with triploid fish seem to be magnified." Specifically, they are more likely to have gill deformations, skeletal deformation, and focal inflammation of tissues.

"What bothers me about this is that this is a more sickly fish," Hanson adds. "To keep production up, the company might be tempted to add more antibiotics to the feed."

The FDA did not review the GE salmon under the regulatory framework for foods. Instead, in what Hanson calls a "bizarre fiction," the FDA regulates GE animals as new animal drugs, under the reasoning that, as the FDA puts it, the "recombinant DNA (rDNA) construct introduced into the animals meets the definition of a drug."

Adding insult to injury for anti-GE activists is the FDA's decision to adopt a voluntary labeling scheme, rather than requiring AquaBounty to label genetically engineered fish as such.

"Consumers have a right to know what they are eating," says the Consumers Union's Hansen. "This is information that is important to consumers."

Both decisions - to approve the fish and to adopt a voluntary labeling scheme - were made despite the fact that the FDA received roughly 2 million public comments in opposition to the approval of GE salmon, the largest number the agency has ever received on an action.

Environmental and consumer rights groups are concerned about the precedent the approval will have for other GE animals. AquaBounty has expressed interest in building a salmon hatchery in the United States, and is already developing GE trout and tilapia in addition to salmon, though it is unclear whether the company has submitted these fish to the FDA for approval yet. 

"This sets a precedent for every engineered animal that comes after it," Hansen says. "It sets the bar for how stringent the approval [process] is going to be. And they just set the bar basically on the floor."

The Center for Food Safety has announced that it will sue the FDA over its approval of AquaBounty salmon. Environmental groups in Canada are also suing the Canadian government for approving the use of the Prince Edward Island facility for GE salmon egg production. And in the meantime, 59 retailers running 4,663 grocery stores in the US have said they will not sell genetically engineered seafood. 

GE salmon won't be hitting the shelves tomorrow - it will likely be about two years before the fish even reach the market, if consumer advocates don't stop AquaBounty first. However, if the FDA's recent approval is any indication of how it will review GE animals in the future, these salmon could be the first of many GE animals that Americans may soon find on their dinner plates.

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 10:27:14 -0500
These Kids Can't Vote, but They Can Sue

In between middle school, tae kwon do and saxophone lessons, 13-year-old Gabe Mandell, along with seven other young environmental activists, sued the government of Washington State. By legally challenging a state agency's approach to carbon emission regulation, they hoped to protect the planet for future generations. Here's what they gained.

(Photo: Climate Change via Shutterstock)(Photo: Climate Change via Shutterstock)

Gabe Mandell speaks fast and with excitement, his sentences peppered with phrases like "constitutional duty," "ocean acidification," and "we're here to get a job done."

"The best available science says we need to reduce annual carbon emissions to an atmospheric concentration of 350 parts per million," he told me over the phone while sitting at the kitchen table with his mom.

He's definitely not your typical eighth-grader.

In between middle school, tae kwon do, and saxophone lessons, the 13-year-old, along with seven other young environmental activists, sued the government of Washington state. By legally challenging a state agency's approach to carbon emission regulation, they hoped to protect the planet for future generations.

"We're the ones who have to deal with it: the rising tides, dying crops, and acid in the oceans," he says. "This is our future. It's our right to protect it."

Yesterday, after a year-and-a-half of legal proceedings, Judge Hollis Hill denied the eight kids' petition to the Washington Department of Ecology (commonly known as "Ecology"). In it, they had demanded that Ecology use more current science when regulating carbon emissions. (The activists initially filed the petition in June of 2014; they sued the state after it was denied). 

"They can't vote, they can't influence policy that way," said Andrea Rodgers, a lawyer for Western Environmental Law Center representing the kids. "This is how they make their voices heard."

Earlier this month, both sides presented oral arguments before the King County appeals court in Seattle. The kids' argument rested on the right to a "healthful and pleasant environment" guaranteed by the state of Washington—a guarantee, Rodgers said, that Ecology has a duty to fulfill.

But Ecology argued it had no duty to enforce the measures called for by the plaintiffs. Representatives said the agency is already taking steps to reduce climate change per an executive order issued by Governor Jay Inslee. Though Inslee's order, inspired by a meeting with the young environmentalists in July, mandated Ecology to create a carbon emissions cap, it was based on  targets set in 2008—using science that Rodgers, Mandell, and even Ecology's own December 2014 report all consider outdated.

For Mandell, who says he's been advocating for the environment since "Day 1," the science is all that matters. "I'm surprised whenever they say [capping carbon] will hurt the economy," he said. "If we don't change, there won't be an economy!"

The kids don't consider yesterday's ruling a total loss. Although Hill denied the petition (on the grounds that Ecology is already undertaking other carbon regulations and that the court lacks the authority to tell Ecology what to consider when developing air quality standards), she affirmed something else: Ecology has the authority and duty to protect air and land quality for future generations, and the kids are constitutionally entitled to a healthy environment. "[The youths'] very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming," Hill wrote in her ruling.

"The ball is in Ecology's court now" says Rodgers, who is happy that Hill's ruling reinforced the legal arguments Rodgers made to the state. If Ecology's future rules do not take the well-being of future generations into account, Rodgers said the kids can appeal.

Advocates hope the public visibility and precedent set by the ruling may help similar lawsuits pending throughout the country: There are six suits being brought by kids against states and the federal government right now, all centered on future generations' rights to a healthy environment.

"You look at the civil rights movement, gay marriage, often times there was one court decision that set them off," says Rodgers. "This might be a decision that does that."

News Fri, 27 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
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 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