Truthout Stories Wed, 25 Nov 2015 22:25:39 -0500 en-gb Chicago Police Officer Charged With Murder After Video Shows Him Shooting Laquan McDonald 16 Times

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: We want to -

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

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

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

News Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Eyewitness Recalls Shooting by Alleged White Supremacist at Minneapolis Black Lives Matter Protest

Nearly a thousand Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota Tuesday after alleged white supremacists opened fire on a demonstration the night before, injuring five people. Police have now arrested three people in connection with the mass shooting, which took place at a protest outside a police precinct. At least one of the gunmen was reportedly wearing a mask. All three suspects are white. Authorities may treat the shooting as a hate crime. Witnesses of the shooting say police took an unusually long time to respond to the attack, and then proceeded to use mace on the protesters. At the time of Monday's attack, the Black Lives Matter protesters were gathered at an encampment outside a police precinct to protest the police killing of unarmed 24-year-old African-American Jamar Clark, which the Justice Department is now investigating. Authorities say Clark was shot in the head Sunday after a scuffle with officers who responded to a report of an assault. But multiple witnesses say Clark was shot while handcuffed. We speak with eyewitness to Monday evening's shooting Leslie Redmond, who is a student at The University of St. Thomas School of Law and president of the Black Law Student Association.


AMY GOODMAN: "American Skin (41 Shots)" by Bruce Springsteen. Written in honor of Amadou Dialo, an African immigrant in New York who was gunned down by New York police, the street crimes unit on February 4, 1999. He died in a hail of 41 police bullets. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where nearly 1000 Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets last night after alleged white supremacists opened fire on a demonstration the night before, injuring five people. Police have now arrested three men in connection with the mass shooting, which took place at a protest outside a police precinct. At least one of the gunmen was reportedly wearing a mask. All three suspects are white. Authorities may treat the shooting as a hate crime. Witnesses of the shooting say police took an unusually long time to respond to the attack, and then proceeded to use mace on the protesters. When activists reclaimed the streets, Tuesday, they vowed not to be silenced by what some call an act of domestic terrorism. This is organizer Miski Noor.

MISKI NOOR: Despite earlier statements from police about the impending threat from white supremacists, the police instead maced citizen journalists and peaceful protesters. They made disparaging comments to those at the protest instead of taking the threat seriously. We reiterate that we have zero faith in this police department's desire to keep our communities safe. We reiterate that we have zero faith in this Police Department's desire to keep our community safe.

AMY GOODMAN: At the time of Monday evening's attack, the Black Lives Matter protesters were gathered at an encampment outside a police precinct to protest the police killing of unarmed 24-year-old African-American Jamar Clark. The Justice Department is now investigating. Protesters were calling for the release of the video of that police killing. Authorities said Clark was shot in the head Sunday after a scuffle with officers who responded to a report of an assault. But multiple witnesses say Clark was shot while handcuffed. Minneapolis police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Protesters have been camped outside the 4th Precinct since last week, despite a police raid last Wednesday in which multiple people said the police beat them with batons, sprayed them with mace, and hit them with marker rounds. Well, for more we are going to Minneapolis, to speak with an eyewitness to Monday evening's shooting. And then we will be speaking with Congressmember Ellison. Leslie Redmond is a student at University of St. Thomas School of Law and President of the Black Law Student Association. We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you start off by saying what happened two nights ago?

LESLIE REDMOND: Yes, thank you for having me. Basically, two nights ago I came out, everything was fine, people were socializing, eating, just communing as normal. And then a police officer comes and pokes his head over the precinct walls. This was a night unlike any other night. I have been out since Sunday every night consistently. This officer had on a ski mask very similar to the gunmen. He poked his head around, he, like, looked at the scene, saw what was going on. Less than 30 minutes after this officer with this ski mask that was poking his head over the precinct, these gunmen show up who at the time, you know, we didn't know who they were. They had on ski masks. They came up. We don't allow people to have on ski masks anymore because of the threats that we have been getting, numerous Black Lives Matter representatives, NAACP had have received death threats. So we have just been taking precautions when it comes to who is coming to the precinct.

A number of African-American males went over to the guys and basically asked them, what are you here for? If you're going to be here, you have to take off your mask. The gunmen were not cooperative and so the African-American males proceeded to walk them away. Mind you, these are our heroes because there was a child that was three years old, another child that was eight years old, right beside me. We were less than 25 feet away from the gunman. Who would have known what they would have done if they could have opened up fire on all of us? And these heroes - I call them heroes, the gentlemen that got shot, the people that got maced, the people that walked them away down the street. But it almost seemed like it was a plot, or they were luring them down the street away so then the police officers could say they didn't see anything, when in actuality, they heard the shots just like I heard the shots.

There were over 10 shots fired. The police officers didn't do anything. It seemed like they could of been in cahoots. They didn't do anything when they came over the precinct. They just locked. I told someone to move the three-year-old and the eight-year-old child back towards the wall. And then I was on the phone with Jason Sole who's the head of the NAACP Criminal Justice Committee, and I was telling him what happened, and he wanted me to confirm. You know, did someone actually get shot? And so, I really wanted to confirm myself but I was extremely nervous because I didn't know if the gunman was still there shooting.

Nevertheless, I was courageous and I went and I saw one person wounded, shot in their leg. Another person wounded on the ground with a gun wound to the stomach. Everyone was going crazy trying to figure out what was going on. At the time I didn't realize there was three other people had been wounded, but, they had transportation coming to get them. Because, like I said, at this point, it's like 15 minutes that's passed. No police officers have come out, no ambulances come, no anything. Mind you, we're right down the street from the precinct. I've seen the police officers. They were just peeking their head over the precinct doors with ski a mask on so we could not see their face.

So then I went back, moved the kids towards the precinct building. And then I told them to take them to the car because the police officers are just standing there doing nothing. I felt like we were really in danger, as if there was a war going on in our own backyard. So they took the kids to the car. I heard one of the police officers oversay, they taken their kids to the car. They know what is going on and they have no intention to help us, stop it, do anything.

So some police cars started to come up. I was looking. Like 20 police officers with their guns went running into the crowd. You would think they would run and actually help the witnesses, but instead, they started to Mace the witnesses, they started to push them back. They did not ask for any witness, any eye testimonies, no anything until long after, maybe an hour after everything had transpired. The way they have treated the peaceful protesters and the way that they didn't come and help - even yesterday I was at the hospital with one of the guys that got shot, Cameron Clark, all night, and he said they just left him there, basically, for dead. Like, they were just waiting to leave. And it hurts you, you know? When you stood up for what you believe in and stood up for justice and also tried to protect people, and the thanks that you get is the police, basically tell you, this is what you ax for?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, Leslie Redmond, when you say the gunman, and you had a group of people try to escort them out, were they brandishing the guns or did you later find out when the shooting started that they were armed?

LESLIE REDMOND: Oh, correct. So, I later found out that they were gunmen. At the time, all we knew is that they had on ski masks. They had like a bag in their hand. They had a couple of signs in their hands. I don't know what they had in the bag. Again, we have no idea what they had planned. If those individuals, those heroes didn't walk them away from the scene.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a video where masked men are seen driving to the Jamar Clark protest site and brandishing a pistol while making racist comments. The men in the video identify themselves by the aliases SaigaMarine and BlackPowderRanger. It's still unclear if they were connected to Monday evening's shooting. This is an excerpt from the video.

SAIGAMARINE: And, yes, we are locked and loaded.


SAIGAMARINE: Why do you hate freedom?

BLACKPOWDERRANGER: Because. I don't know.

SAIGAMARINE: Alright, check it out you guys, we're gonna be driving down there. It's gonna take us about 10 minutes to get down there. We're gonna take a little while and shut the camera off in a little bit. We just wanted to give everyone a heads up on poll. We're on our way. We're going to knock this [bleep] out and we're gonna go see what these dindus are dinduing about. You know, because, apparently fighting police and fighting paramedics is good enough to let you off with a slap on the wrist, especially when you go for an officer's weapon. So, yeah, a little reverse cultural enriching. We're going to make the fire rise.

AMY GOODMAN: Now these men are wearing masks. They are spotted later at the justice for Jamar Clark protest, Thursday. In an activist-shot video, the men seem to respond sarcastically to questions regarding police brutality. This is an excerpt, beginning with the activists asking BlackPowderRanger a question.

ACTIVIST: The situation of Jamar Clark is the impetus of why you're here, what does it look like for you, for the community? What do think it means to find justice for Jamar Clark?

BLACKPOWDERRANGER: Well, what I think it means is that all these folks here should get the justice and peace that they deserve. What we really need to do is reach out to our communities, especially our militant-enriched communities.

AMY GOODMAN: And now I want to turn to the Communications Chair of the Mineapolis NAACP, Reisha Williams, speaking to CNN host Brooke Baldwin. Williams suggests members of law-enforcement were behind the Monday night shooting of the Black Lives Matter protesters.

REISHA WILLIAMS: We know that the Police Department is behind this. This is our personal belief after receiving witnesses accounts, me personally being on the ground, Bob Crow, Minneapolis Department union head, has thrown [indiscernable] out there -

BROOKE BALDWIN: Wait, wait, wait, wait. I have to interrupt you, I know there is a delay here in Paris, but you said you believe the Police Department is behind what?

REISHA WILLIAMS: We believe the Police Department is facilitating the injustice at, uh, bullying to the protesters, and we also believe that they are involved in this shooting. We know from blackboards and chat rooms and also videos that we have posted on our website that police, um, that are from different counties, police from different districts have come down to entice the protesters, have come down to bully the protesters-

BROOKE BALDWIN: I understand you are in Minneapolis and you know much more about this, but those are serious allegations you are just laying down on national television.

REISHA WILLIAMS: And we are standing behind it. We do not back down from these allegations.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Reisha Williams of the NAACP in Mineapolis. Leslie Redmond, do you share her view? Now, three people have been arrested, three of these men.

LESLIE REDMOND: Right, well, you know, the police came swarming from the same areas that the gunman fled into. Like I said, they took their precious time. So, I do agree with her, and I'd also like to say, you know, I didn't grow up in household that was scared of police. I know that there is a lot of African-Americans in America lifestyle and basically their experience, but I grew up in Washington, D.C. I had uncles that were police officers cousins that were police officers. I really looked at these people to protect and serve. But what I've been seeing over the past week, I wouldn't put anything past the police officers.

I was out there when they were macing us, when they were shooting us with rubber bullets, when they were throwing tear gas at us for no reason; literally, we were peaceful. Do not believe what the media feeds you. No one was doing anything to those officers. And then when I was actually on the ground and I saw those police officers come over the precinct for the first time with the ski masks on, that looked exactly like the people that ended up being the gunman. It's like, how do you not make the correlation? And then they didn't come to help these men, it seemed like they were in cahoots.

I cannot say for sure I know that they did it, but the belief is definitely there and the people who were there we definitely feel like the police could have definitely had something to do with it. In addition, the gentlemen who all got shot were the same ones who were, like, in the front lines of the protest out there every day fussing with the police officers, telling them they that they were doing injustice. So, I just don't think that those are all coincidences.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Leslie Redmond, one last question.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You visited one of the people in the hospital. How are the people who are wounded doing? And one of them was the cousin of Jamar Clark, the man whom you - whose death you were protesting?

LESLIE REDMOND: Yes. So, Cameron Clark, he is the cousin - I actually went to the hospital about 2:00 a.m. and I stayed until probably 5:30 p.m. until he was released because we did not want to leave him there by himself just because of all of the shady things that have been going on. Cameron is in really good spirits. He was shot twice, one in the leg and one in the foot. He actually went to the protest yesterday evening against my better judgment. I told him that he should go get some rest. But, he really is passionate about this. He really didn't want to leave his brothers and sisters out there. And he didn't want these gunmen and the police to think that they won, because we think that this was a plot to try to get us to go away. But, we want them to know that we are only coming out stronger because we are standing on the side of justice, we are standing on the right side of history. And these people that were shot are heroes of society. The other individuals that got shot, they had to go into surgery, and they're still hospitalized, from my understanding. But, Cameron was released. I was there when he was released. I stayed with him the entire time.

AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Redmond, we want to thank you so much for being with us, eyewitness to Monday evening's shooting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Black Lives Matter protester, student at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and President of the Black Law Student Association. We're going to go to break and we'll come right back to speak with Minneapolis Congressmember Keith Ellison. His son was at the protests of the killing of Jamar Clark by police. And now a picture has gone viral of police with a gun directly pointed at Jeremiah. Stay with us.

News Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
From Genocide to "Re-education": Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Sets the Record Straight on Native American History

Each November, Americans celebrate a mythical version of US history. Thanksgiving Day's portrayal of the experience of Native Americans under the boot of settler-colonialism is one of the Empire's most cherished falsehoods.

To hear about the true story of native peoples' plight - from genocide to re-education - Abby Martin interviews Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, renowned indigenous scholar and activist, about her most recent book An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States.

News Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Crimes of French Imperialism
"The home of freedom has been assaulted by terrorists determined to attack and suppress freedom."
- Malcolm Turnbull on the Paris attacks.

France should not be synonymous with the word "freedom". As with all colonial empires, its history is soaked with the blood of oppressed peoples across the globe. And its record of perpetrating violence continues.

The size of the territory claimed by the French empire in the 19th and 20th centuries was second only to Britain. From North Africa to South-East Asia, the Middle East to the South Pacific, millions were subjugated, repressed and murdered as French rulers scrambled to secure resources and markets for manufactured goods and profitable investments.

It was only in the face of heroic mass struggles by the colonised determined to win their independence that France was eventually forced to cede control in the 1950s and '60s.

From the outset of French colonialism in Vietnam, any form of political dissent was met with repression. Books and newspapers deemed subversive were confiscated. Anti-colonial political activists were sentenced to death or imprisoned on island fortresses.

The grotesque violence would only escalate.

After the defeat of the Japanese in the Pacific War, the French ruling class was determined to re-establish its control over Vietnam. In 1946, the prime minister ordered the shelling of Haiphong, killing 6,000 Vietnamese.

It wasn't until the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu that the national liberation forces drove the French out of the country.

Violence was part of the fabric of French rule. The best farmland was concentrated in the hands of the colonialists and their collaborators, leaving the majority of peasants vulnerable to famine. Some 2 million Vietnamese died during the Second World War; there was a famine despite the granaries being full with rice.

Conditions on the rubber plantations and in the mines were described as like slavery. Attempts at escape were met with hunger and torture. At one Michelin plantation, 12,000 workers died between 1917 and 1944.

Vietnamese workers were paid on average 48 piastres a year for their hard labour. This was a pittance, as Vietnamese historian Ngo Vinh Long noted: "Even a dog belonging to a colonial household cost an average of 150 piastres a year to feed".

The French claimed a "civilising" mission as false as Britain's white man's burden. Take literacy. Pre-conquest, 80 percent of the population were considered functionally literate. By 1939, the figures had reversed, with 80 percent now illiterate.

The story was the same in Algeria. Before the French invasion in 1830, there was a high rate of literacy. By the time of independence, it had been reduced to a mere 10 percent.

The virulently racist French settlers, numbering 1 million by the 1950s, lived a luxury lifestyle. But for the 6 million Arabs and Berbers, French colonialism was a disaster that they resisted by any means necessary.

Violence wasn't the terrain chosen by the independence movement. It was given. The crushing of a rising in Setif in eastern Algeria in 1945 paints a picture of a "pitiless war". At least 15,000 were killed by French troops and settler death squads.

The National Liberation Front (FLN) was formed in 1954, and quickly became the dominant nationalist organisation. It was committed to military confrontation with the French, including bombings on French soil. But as philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, "It is not their violence, but ours, turned back".

By the end of 1956, 450,000 French troops were on Algerian soil. This build-up was directed by the Socialist Party prime minister, Guy Mollet, the same party as François Hollande's.

In 1957, an eight-day general strike was broken by repression. It took another round of mass protests, riots and strikes in 1962 for the Algerian revolution to triumph.

The violence of the French state was not confined to Algerian soil. In October 1961, Paris police massacred up to 300 Algerian immigrants. They were part of a peaceful unarmed protest of some 30,000 called out by the FLN to break an imposed curfew.

Confident that they could act with impunity, the police herded panicked protesters onto bridges across the city, where they clubbed and then tossed them unconscious into the River Seine. For weeks, bodies, mutilated by truncheons and rifle butts, washed up on the river's banks.

Thousands more were arrested and taken to makeshift detention camps where they were tortured. This dark episode was the worst violence in Paris since the Second World War.

The colonial legacy lives on. The children of North African immigrants continue to live on the periphery of the "city of lights". Their shantytowns of the 1960s have been replaced by impoverished ghettoised housing estates. Here, curfews and armoured vehicles are not a historic relic.

The 70 percent of the French prison population that is estimated to be Muslim is testament to the enduring reality of state violence and racism. The policing of oppressed identities is codified into law by various bans on the Muslim veil.

Nor is French imperialism a thing of the past. From the Ivory Coast to Mali, the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria, French foreign policy has been increasingly muscular, particularly in its old colonial stomping ground.

Today as French fighter jets scream over Raqqa and lifeless bloodied bodies of children are pulled from the rubble of bombed apartment blocks, we would do well to remember the millions who have suffered a similar fate in the name of French "civilisation".

Opinion Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Land of the Brave ]]> (Lauren Walker) Art Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Climate Change Negotiations Exclude the Most Impacted: The Young and the Poor

Next week, global leaders in industry, government, and finance will descend on Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With a significant focus on private sector innovation, more than 25,000 delegates will aim to produce the first legally binding agreement on industrial greenhouse gas emissions, as well as financial incentives for more efficient models of sustainable growth. While it remains to be seen whether international leaders can achieve the lofty goal of legally binding yet ecologically sound carbon emission standards, what is clear is that UNFCCC forgot to invite an entire generation to this discussion table.

In response to growing pressure from the younger generations to make significant, inclusive, and environmentally necessary decisions, COP21 will be hosting an open forum for the general public to participate in climate discussions, education workshops, and exhibition shows. Providing an external platform for millennial voices, however, does not erase the severity of excluding millennials from the negotiation table. While expertise is necessary, millennials, their values, and their innovative ideas would give the negotiations a desperately needed sense of urgency.

Including millennials in key discussions and negotiations would allow negotiators to leverage their values and strengths to resolve an economic, ecological, financial, and political situation too often viewed as unsolvable. A recent Pew Center report found that American millennials are more upbeat about their economic futures, more likely to be ethnically diverse, and more likely to be tolerant and open-minded to new ideas, peoples, cultures, and concepts. As the impacts of climate change entangle themselves in all aspects of our lives, it is important to bring the most invested, most innovative, most motivated, and most optimistic thinkers to the stage.

Millennials aren't the only ones excluded from negotiations. Despite the fact that climate change disproportionally impacts lower socioeconomic classes in both financial stability and political agency, the social injustice of climate change is silently dismissed at industry-influenced COP conferences. People capable of using wealth as a cushion do not fall prey to fluctuating crop prices or suffer from undue communal risk during storms. Drought and other climate change-driven calamities directly affect the financial and political stability of countries globally. As global climate change fans the flames of already tenuous situations - as we've seen in Syria - the already vulnerable working classes are increasingly at risk. Poverty, refugee crises, and security conflicts will continue to persist with or without global climate change, but it cannot be denied that the unpredictable nature of global climate change destabilizes food, economic, and political systems.

The uncomfortable truth is that the victims of global climate change will be disproportionally poor, socioeconomically vulnerable communities, often ethnic or class minorities within their countries. Vulnerabilities may stem from socioeconomic class, age, education status, or legal and immigration status. Another uncomfortable truth is that climate change negotiations, policies, and implementation are largely constructed by the wealthy and privileged. Wealth allows the privileged to move to neighborhoods outside of flood ranges or pay high insurance fees; wealth blinds the privileged to the impact of the destabilized market prices of staple crops, which can affect how and whether less fortunate families eat. Wealth in the U.S. has blinded many of our policy writers and decision makers to the harsh realities of the ecological, economic, and security effects already burdening many of our developing neighbors to the south.

The exclusion of vulnerable communities and millennials - two groups with significant overlap - is not only reflective of the industrial and financial bias of COP21 but also threatens to undermine the successful implementation of any COP21 agreements. How can oligarchical committees expect buy-in without the inclusion and reflection of working class and millennial concerns, values, and priorities? The Paris leadership delegation and UNFCCC should actively make COP21 more class- and generation-inclusive. We must engage the generations and communities most at risk from climate change impacts in order to build a comprehensive, realistic, and values-driven climate agreement.

Opinion Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
My Factory-Farmed Thanksgiving Terror

The leaves are changing colors and the air is getting crisp. As we settle into fall, Americans take time to reflect on what they're thankful for.

Like many folks, I've got plenty of gratitude for the most important meal I'll eat this month. Sweet potatoes, stuffing, pecan pie… My mouth is already watering just thinking about it. But the real centerpiece is the turkey, which - thanks to Norman Rockwell - evokes feelings of homecoming, family, and love.

Yet when I look at the turkey on my family's table this year, it will evoke a very different emotion: terror.

Unless your turkey came of age on an organic farm, there's a good chance it was pumped full of antibiotics. The overuse - and misuse - of these life-saving drugs on factory-farmed animals is making them less effective for humans.

In fact, at least 70 percent of the medically important antibiotics sold in the United States are wholesaled for use on poultry, cattle, and hog farms.

Factory farming crams thousands to tens of thousands of animals into tiny confined spaces, which can lead to disease outbreaks that threaten the industry's bottom line. As a precautionary measure, factory farmers add antibiotics to farm feed and apply them in huge volumes to animals that aren't sick.

This steady diet of anti-bacterial drugs breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals' guts. Those bugs wind up in their excrement, which can filter into our food, air, and water - exposing humans.

The terrifying part is that these drug-resistant bacteria render our usual remedies ineffective. Infections that were once easily treatable can become deadly when our drugs stop working. And hospitals are reporting large increases in antibiotic-resistant infections.

In Maryland, where I work, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found an increase in infections on the Eastern Shore, where most of our large chicken farms are located. Unsurprisingly, research also shows a much higher rate of antibiotic resistance in farmworkers, who are in close contact with these animals.

Other countries, including Denmark, have phased out antibiotic abuse for their livestock without jeopardizing productivity. Here at home, some states are following their lead.

California just passed landmark legislation curtailing the practice. States like Maryland and Oregon are considering measures that would go even further to protect public health.

More than once around this time of year, I've counted myself thankful for effective antibiotics. When I got a throat infection that left me bedridden a few years ago, I could rely on penicillin to help me recover. And when I suffered from a particularly nasty case of gastroenteritis last year, one round of antibiotics cured all my symptoms.

The next time I contract a bacterial infection, will I be so lucky? Will you?

We need to protect this sacred resource - and we can start by banning the use of unnecessary antibiotics in animal farming. Because no turkey should be terrifying.

Opinion Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Massive Rolling Strikes Shut Down Quebec

After provincial bargaining stalled, 400,000 public sector workers across Quebec walked out in October and November on rolling one-day strikes.

The government is proposing pension cuts and only a 3 percent salary increase over five years. Since coming to power in April 2014 it has already begun cuts to services, including slashing health and education funding.

The Common Front, a coalition of Quebec public sector unions, is coordinating the strikes, which include teachers, health care workers, and government employees. Members voted to authorize six days of strikes per union. These began with one-day strikes, staggered by region. The Common Front vowed that if no agreement was reached, all members would strike at the same time December 1-3.

Labor Notes interviewed Benoit Renaud and Philippe de Grosbois, who have both been on strike. Renaud is an adult education teacher in the city of Gatineau and a member of the La Fédération Autonome de L'enseignement. de Grosbois teaches in a pre-college program in Laval and is an executive of his local, which is part of the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux.

At the time of the interview, a December general strike was still planned. However, the Common Front recently announced it's postponing the strike while negotiations continue.

Labor Notes: Teachers kicked off this wave of mobilizations, and overwhelmingly supported strike votes. What issues are they facing?

Renaud: When the government presented their offers back in December [2014] they demanded a worsening of our working conditions on all fronts. They basically asked teachers to work more hours, work more years before retiring, and accept more students in each class.

It really angered all the teachers. It's as if they are trying to roll back all the little gains that we have won over decades of negotiations. So we have no choice but to fight back.

And it's not just teachers. Can you describe the human-chain actions parents have been organizing?

de Grosbois: The movement is called Je Protège Mon École Publique, which means I'm Protecting My Public School.

Parents and their children, and people in the community, go to their local school on the first working day of the month between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. They make a circle and join hands around the school in a symbolic gesture to show that the school is an important institution in the neighborhood and that it needs to be taken care of.

They started in June and now they are at something like 300 schools. So that's really quite impressive. It shows that the concern for our public school system is not just being brought up by teachers and workers inside the schools, but it's also being brought up by parents and even children.

That really undermines attempts to say that teachers are just fighting for their own conditions or that they're going to ruin one semester for the students.

Coming back to the strikes, how did this coordination across public sector unions start?

de Grosbois: Almost all of our collective agreements expire on the same date. So it's been a practice for a long time to have those negotiations at the same time for everyone.

Renaud: It started in the mid-1960s after the Quebec government took over the health care and education systems and all kinds of other public services which had been managed by private organizations up to that point, most of them owned by the Catholic Church. In the process people who all had different employers before, ended up all having the same employer.

One of the main fights in that period was to have the right to strike, and the other one was to have centralized bargaining - so that teachers all across Quebec, for example, would have the same wages and working conditions. Up to the mid-'60s it was all over the place, it was a big mess.

Is the government putting forward the same package of demands to all these sectors?

de Grosbois: We know from talking to other workers that the government is working on a very coordinated plan. For example, in the summer, on the very same day, the negotiators from the government all came with a new document saying, "We're going to give you these minor adjustments."

Renaud: Really what it comes down to is that the government is presenting its budget goals as completely non-negotiable. They're saying, "We have a finite amount of money for all those services, so if you want something, you have to give us something else to compensate."

Basically they are telling teachers, if you want to have better wages, then you have to have more students in each class. They are trying to present the entire negotiation as a zero-sum equation.

It's really frustrating, because the people managing the provincial government and supervising the negotiations all used to work for banks before they became ministers. They don't have a lot of credibility to tighten our belts when they come from mega-corporations that make billions of dollars of profit every year.

de Grosbois: I think that's what plays a role in people being mobilized. They are really going against everything that has made Quebec different in terms of public services and social rights.

The Common Front has contested the idea that it's a zero-sum game by organizing a series of disruptive actions. There was one day in mid-October where a firm called KPMG [an international firm that provides tax advice to corporations] was blocked and occupied for some time.

The Common Front said, "There's lots of money going to fiscal havens with the help of that firm, so saying that we don't have money for public services is just not true. If we have the political will to go and get that money, then we would have money for public services - and for other things as well." The week after, another bank, HSBC, was blocked.

There were also local actions. In my union, for example, 20-30 teachers went into a bank that's in our neighborhood. The finance minister of our government was the chief economist for a section of that bank. So we went there for 15 minutes and had a class about the political power of banks in Quebec. It was like a flash mob.

That leads us to the general strike planned for December - that's something we don't see very often in other parts of Canada and definitely not in the U.S.! What are the possibilities that the government could act to prevent a general strike from happening?

de Grosbois: The government can pass a special law that determines our working conditions for the next few years and forbids new means of pressure or disruption at our workplace, with risks of steep financial penalties. It has been used many times in the last 50 years. The last time, for public sector workers, was in 2005.

I don't have a crystal ball, but I think if there is a special law it will be later, closer to Christmas. It's a lot harder to organize and mobilize in that period.

If they were to vote a special law at the end of the November, when people are still very mobilized, there is a much higher risk that it could backfire. Just this week [November 2-3], 1,300 community organizations struck for two days because of cuts in their funding. That's something that has never been done before. It's completely new.

Renaud: There is pressure on both sides. The union leaders are afraid of that kind of legislation. It's tailored to target the top of the union more than the bottom, and the penalties are heavier for disobeying the law.

But on the other side, the government is also afraid to trigger the kind of social movement that took place in 2012 with the student strike. It's still pretty fresh in people's memories. If the government tried to force an end to the struggle through legislation, it might actually trigger some kind of broader movement. ASSÉ, the student union that initiated the strike movement is also mobilizing in support of public sector workers.

There must be big tactical debates going on inside the government about how much they want to stick to their position on the overall fiscal framework and maybe risk a lot more trouble than that would be worth. I would be very happy to be a fly on the wall at cabinet meetings these days!

We've heard about autonomous strike fund organizing. Is this a moment where rank-and-file members might continue to strike even if there was a special law?

de Grosbois: It's quite hard to predict, but my feeling is the preparation that this would involve is a lot bigger than we're ready for right now.

I wouldn't be surprised if there would be actions to protest the idea of a special law. Just that would be an improvement compared to 2005, where nothing happened except for a press release and going to court and having an answer from the court a few years later.

The 2012 student strike was a very big inspiration in saying these laws can be denounced and protested. But I think we still have a lot of work [to do] in terms of organizing an illegal strike.


New book from Labor Notes: How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers tells how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. "A beacon to all rank-and-file members on how to bring democracy to their locals." Buy one today, only $15.

News Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
The Vicious Cycle of Pitiless Violence

The ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 18, 2001. (Photo via Shutterstock)The ruins of the World Trade Center in New York City on September 18, 2001. Snared by geopolitical interests, post-9/11 interventions have too easily been captured by leading states. (Photo: Larry Bruce /

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There has been carnage over the last few days in Beirut, Baghdad, Paris and Bamako and, of course, there have been numerous such attacks before these and, no doubt, numerous more to come. To understand something of why, it is important to start with the terrorist atrocities on 9/11, when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Centre and into one side of the Pentagon.

On Sunday, September 23, 2001, 12 days after 9/11, the novelist Barbara Kingsolver wrote something remarkable in The Los Angeles Times, a passage I have come back to many times:

'It's the worst thing that's happened, but only this week.  Two years ago, an earthquake in Turkey killed 17,000 people in a day, babies and mothers and businessmen….  The November before that, a hurricane hit Honduras and Nicaragua and killed even more….  Which end of the world shall we talk about? Sixty years ago, Japanese airplanes bombed Navy boys who were sleeping on ships in gentle Pacific waters. Three and a half years later, American planes bombed a plaza in Japan where men and women were going to work, where schoolchildren were playing, and more humans died at once than anyone thought possible. Seventy thousand in a minute. Imagine….

There are no worst days, it seems. Ten years ago, early on a January morning, bombs rained down from the sky and caused great buildings in the city of Baghdad to fall down - hotels, hospitals, palaces, buildings with mothers and soldiers inside - and here in the place I want to love best, I had to watch people cheering about it. In Baghdad, survivors shook their fists at the sky and said the word "evil".  When many lives are lost all at once, people gather together and say words like "heinous" and "honor" and "revenge"…. They raise up their compatriots' lives to a sacred place - we do this, all of us who are human - thinking our own citizens to be more worthy of grief and less willingly risked than lives on other soil.' (2001)

This is an unsettling and challenging passage. When I first read it, I felt angered and unsympathetic to its call to think systematically about 9/11 in the context of other disasters, acts of aggression and wars. It makes uncomfortable reading precisely because it invites the reader to step outside of the maelstrom of 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities and put those events in a wider historical and evaluative framework. Uncomfortable as this request is, we have to accept it if we are to find a satisfactory way of making sense of them.

If 9/11 was not a defining moment in human history, it certainly was for today's generations. The terrorist violence was an atrocity of extraordinary proportions. It was a crime against America and against humanity; a massive breach of many of the core codes of international law; and an attack on the fundamental principles of freedom, democracy, justice and humanity itself, i.e. those principles which affirm the sanctity of life, the importance of self-determination and of equal rights and liberty.

After 9/11, the US and its allies could have decided that the most important things to do were to strengthen international law in the face of global terrorist threats, and to enhance the role of multilateral institutions. They could have decided it was important that no single group or power should act as judge, jury and executioner. They could have decided that global hotspots like the Middle East which feed global terrorism should be the core priority, and that all key parties need to be involved in a sustained dialogue (including Russia, Iran and other regional players). They could have decided that the disjuncture between economic globalization and social justice needed more urgent attention, and they could have decided to be tough on terrorism and tough on the conditions which lead some people to imagine that Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other similar groups are agents of justice in the modern world. But they have systematically failed to pursue any of these things. In general, the world after 9/11 has become more polarized and international law, weaker.

Failure: A Vicious Cycle

Enter the war in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, in Syria, in Iraq again. We are in a vicious cycle of violence. President Hollande's statement, following the Paris atrocities that "we are going to lead a pitiless war" could have been applied to any one of these post-9/11 conflicts. He calls for, what is in effect, an extension of previous policies that have failed in almost every one of their objectives.In recent weeks, there has been much commentary, in the press and social media, about the consequences of the failed post-9/11 wars and military interventions, renewed by the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Commentators note with alarm the spread of ISIS across Northern Syria, large swathes of Iraq, parts of Libya and other countries with copycat armed groups. The beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya and 45 people burned to death in Iraq, for example, inevitably raise the loudest possible alarm; the grotesqueness of the events only matched by the brazenness of the executioners' celebrations. There is a call again, and again, to arms. The events in Paris, and Hollande's response, can be placed in this context.

Some blame the failure to stabilise Afghanistan after 2001 on the start of the war in Iraq in 2003. Some blame the failure of the war in Iraq on a lack of adequate planning and a failure to follow through. Some blame the failure of intervention in Libya on reluctance to put "boots on the ground" due to the widespread war fatigue that followed Afghanistan and Iraq. Some people blame the chaos in Syria on the ad hoc arming of rebel groups and an unwillingness (at least up until now) to intervene more directly. The point being that all these wars might have succeeded if only the tactics had been better, the strategy sharper, and post-conflict reconstruction more clearly defined.

The truth is, however, that these wars were misconceived from the outset and have created a calamitous geopolitical failure from which very few lessons have been learned. The wars have also created a vast power vacuum as postcolonial regimes were toppled with no viable strategy for what comes next.

Into this vacuum stepped armed groups who have sought to shore up power like postmodern medieval warlords and warring barons. The result has been a calamitous orgy of violence linked to social media for the widest possible impact in the search for territory, resources and power. The claims to religious justification cannot disguise the barbaric cruelty of the actions.

At What Cost?

The 9/11 wars were governed by a belief that despots could be toppled and replaced by accountable or, better still, democratic regimes as a result of short demonstrations of awesome American military power, with some allies in-tow. The wars were led by people that had no understanding of the countries they were fighting in, no grasp of the culture or language, no sense of the politics and the peoples, no account of local interests and divisions, and no plan for once the fighting had begun. These wars were led by men who, at best, were gripped by the belief they had the ability to reshape other countries in their own image.Such a mind-set might be conceived as a benign deployment of a colonial imaginary put to the service of reconstructing other societies through armed conflict in the interest of repressed peoples. But there is a less benign interpretation, of course, that such a position veils the prosecution of war fought out for resources (oil), revenge, and, at times, for a Christian god. This is less a benevolent colonial imaginary than, perhaps, the return of a crusading mind-set.

While some may claim that the 9/11 wars rolled back Al-Qaeda, prevented a massacre in Benghazi and rid Assad of chemical weapons, at what cost? The advances have not been sustained: terrorism continues to flourish, arms abound, open markets for slaves have developed, and massacres are widespread. The scale of the death toll and displacements of people have become difficult to grasp, and the destruction of infrastructure evokes images of Armageddon. By this standard, war after war has failed.

The Evolution of Citizenship

The 9/11 wars were conceived against the tide of history. There are only few historical instances of democracies being borne out of war (e.g. Italy, Germany, Austria and Japan in the aftermath of WWII). But this should hardly be a surprise. Democracies depend on the most subtle cultural conditions in which people can separate the values of citizenship from sectarian, ethnic, tribal and other forms of identity politics. This shift took centuries in the west and came about through centuries of struggle, debate and the slow entrenchment of that most universal of ideas - citizenship, as a trump for other forms of particular political claims.

The 9/11 wars sought to circumscribe these processes and, instead of democracy, produced the vacuum into which sectarian and tribal identities could flourish. This was a negation of history and a negation of all that should have been learnt about how liberal and democratic cultures evolve in delicate and slow trajectories.

Given the current crises in the Middle East and North Africa (and of course, one might add Ukraine), we must ask if lessons have been learnt from the series of post-9/11 failures. In Europe David Cameron still speaks of the war in Libya as necessary and justified, and now of the necessity and justification of extending a bombing campaign to Syria. Obama is more explicitly reticent on the prospect of direct military engagement on the scale deployed in Libya, instead emphasising long term strategies to combat terrorism - in the form of development and self-determination (supported, in part, by arming and training local actors such as the Kurds), while using airstrikes to slow down the advance of groups like ISIS. At the same time, he is aware of what one might call the dilemma of violence whereby a military operation may be urgently needed, but runs the risk, in aggregate, of reinforcing the cycle of violence.

But these lessons have been learnt too late and at too high a price. Presumption against war and intervention must be the starting point. We have overwhelming evidence of the failure of war as a contemporary vehicle for the promotion of good governance: freedom cannot be achieved through war and organised violence, and a lasting peace can only be won through the consent and act of participation of the many. Just as there must be a presumption against war, there must a presumption in favour of nurturing sites of citizenship values, with a commitment to building intermediate institutions such as a free press and access to social media, as well as nurturing civil society, with the aim to lay down the roots of a culture of self-determination and curtailment of the use of arbitrary power.

Unresolved Issues

There remain many unresolved issues about how to proceed faced with ISIS, Boko Haram, or despotic and repressive states, with civilians frequently caught in the crossfire.

After the Mumbai attacks of 2008, which left 164 people dead, the government in India did not rush to war. As Vijay Prashad has aptly noted, the Indian government opened an "investigation into the attack and unravelled the plot and its execution. Diplomatic discussions opened with Pakistan, which is accused by India of harbouring the planners of the attack. The file remains open. Patience is the order of the day. No hasty missile strike could make up for the attack in Mumbai. It would only have escalated the conflict further and drawn India and Pakistan into an intolerable war. It is far better to pursue the case prudently."

 Today, we all know the challenge of ISIS and other such groups does not have straightforward solutions. In the short-term, ISIS must be checked by cutting off economic resources that feed their activity via tough sanctions; by confronting Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies whose funds have supported and enhanced these violent networks; by stemming their access to arms from many of the same countries (as well as from captured US supplies to moderate Muslim groups); by putting pressure on Turkey's rulers to put aside domestic considerations and to stop attacking the Kurds; by involving all leading global and regional powers in strategic conversations about how to curb and stop ISIS, and to create a foundation for a new political settlement in the region; and by holding ISIS fighters to account as criminals, not conventional military adversaries, for their violent crimes within a framework of law and law enforcement.  In the current period, this can only be done by a mixture of national and regional military arrangements. But herein lies a difficulty.

A robust law enforcement process that upholds impartial norms would need to draw on military and policing assets that serve as enforcers of law, not as agents of geopolitical interests. An enforcement capacity of this kind only exists today in embryo and in an uneven manner, and there are no institutions that can impartially apply frameworks like the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine. Snared by geopolitical interests, post-9/11 interventions have too easily been captured by leading states. Building a robust law enforcement process is a long-term process and, yet, it is paradoxically a requirement of legitimate and effective short-term solutions.

The new resolution at the UN (resolution 2249) goes some way towards creating a legal framework for intervention against ISIS. Yet it falls short in crucial respects. While it calls on all nations to redouble and coordinate their efforts by "all necessary means" to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed by ISIS, it does not specify what these means are, and leaves the scale and scope of military action unspecified and in question. It also falls well short of generating a robust law and law enforcement framework which would allow the pursuit of criminal terrorists and the capacities to bring them to account. Instead, it provides an impetus for the intensification of conflict yet again. Few lessons seem to have been learnt from the failures of the post-9/11 wars to date.

The intensity of the range of responses to the atrocities of 9/11, Beirut and Paris is fully understandable. There cannot be many people in the world who do not experience shock, revulsion, horror, anger and a desire for vengeance, as the Kingsolver passage acknowledges. This emotional range is perfectly natural within the context of the immediate events. But it cannot be the basis for a more considered and wise response.

The fight against terror must be put on a new footing.  Terrorists must be bought to heel and those who protect and nurture them must be bought to account.  Zero tolerance is fully justified in these circumstances. Terrorism does negate our most elementary and cherished principles and values. But any defensible, justifiable and sustainable response to terrorism must be consistent with our founding principles and the aspirations of international society for security, law, and the impartial administration of justice - aspirations painfully articulated after the Holocaust and the Second World War - and embedded, albeit imperfectly, in regional and global law and the institutions of global governance.

The framers of these institutional arrangements affirmed the importance of universal principles, human rights, and the rule of law when there were strong temptations to simply put up the shutters and defend the decision of some nations and countries only. The response to terrorism could follow in the footsteps of these achievements and strengthen our multilateral institutions and international legal arrangements; or, it could take us further away from the fragile gains towards a world of further antagonisms and divisions - a distinctively uncivil world. At the time of writing the signs are not good, but we have not yet run out of choices.


This article is based on a talk David Held gave on Monday November 23, 2015 as part of a Durham Castle Lecture Series special event on Paris: Terrorism and After.

Opinion Wed, 25 Nov 2015 00:00:00 -0500
Research Confirms ExxonMobil, Koch-Funded Climate Denial Echo Chamber Polluted Mainstream Media

(Photo: Car Exhaust via Shutterstock)A new study found that organizations funded by ExxonMobil and the oil billionaire Koch brothers may have played a key role in sowing doubt in the US about climate change. (Photo: Car Exhaust via Shutterstock)

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A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) shows that the climate denial echo chamber organizations funded by ExxonMobil and Koch family foundations produced misinformation that effectively polluted mainstream media coverage of climate science and polarized the climate policy debate. 

The abstract and full text of the study can be found here: Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change.

The analysis of 20 years' worth of data by Yale University researcher Dr. Justin Farrell shows beyond a doubt that ExxonMobil and the Kochs are the key actors who funded the creation of climate disinformation think tanks and ensured the prolific spread of their doubt products throughout our mainstream media and public discourse.

"The contrarian efforts have been so effective for the fact that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust," Dr. Farrell told the Washington Post which was first to cover the news of the study's release. "This counter-movement produced messages aimed, at the very least, at creating ideological polarization through politicized tactics, and at the very most, at overtly refuting current scientific consensus with scientific findings of their own," Dr. Farrell said.

From PNAS's press briefing note about the article by Dr. Farrell:

Corporate funding likely influences the nature and content of polarizing texts pertaining to climate change, according to a study. Political polarization has become a hallmark of climate change policy discussion, with multiple groups in various sectors contributing to public discourse regarding climate and energy. To quantify the influence of corporate funding in climate change discourse, Justin Farrell analyzed more than 39 million words of text produced by 164 organizations active in the climate change counter-movement between 1993 and 2013. The author examined the ideological content of the produced texts, as well as the funding behind the organizations that produced the texts.

Organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have produced polarizing texts, the author found, with ExxonMobil and the Koch family foundation acting as influential funders (emphasis added). Further, according to the author, corporate funding may have influenced the ideological content of produced texts. The results suggest quantitative evidence of the influence of funding in the climate change debate that had previously been hypothesized, and suggests an analytical model for integrating texts with the social networks that created them, according to the author.

This study confirms once again the central thesis of industry-funded attacks on climate science, which inspired the DeSmog book Climate Cover-up and countless articles about the deception campaign over the past decade.

Now let's see how the mainstream media cover this story - that is what I'm most curious to see. (The Washington Post article was pretty straightforward, although it gave ExxonMobil an unchallenged last word, and Joby Warrick seemed to pose a bogus question to Dr. Farrell equating the fossil-funded disinformation campaign with pro-climate-action campaigns, but Dr. Farrell correctly rebutted such a comparison.)

Will this study, published in a highly authoritative journal, finally compel the newsrooms and boardrooms of the traditional media to take responsibility to undo some of the damage done by their complicity in spreading fossil fuel industry-funded misinformation?

Will false balance - quoting a distinguished climate scientist and then speed-dialing Pat Michaels at the Cato Institute for an opposing quote - finally stop?

Will editors commit to serving as referees to ensure the same industry PR pollution isn't published any longer?

It's critically important today that the public hears the scientific facts about climate change without the confusion injected into the policy debate by well-funded think tanks and their highly paid PR operative counterparts.

Dr. Farrell's research also provides further evidence of the public deception orchestrated by the fossil fuel industry, and should prove valuable to investigators examining ExxonMobil as well as other current and future efforts to hold polluters accountable for their PR pollution.

Here is a video produced years ago, Doubt by The Climate Reality Project, which provides a nice overview of this issue:

Also highly suggested: track down access to Merchants of Doubt, the full-length documentary by Food Inc. director Robert Kenner that exposes the history of tobacco-to-climate denial and their common PR manipulators such as Marc Morano and Fred Singer.

It's far beyond the time to end the climate cover-up. And responsible media can lead the way.

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