Tag Archives: race

There is No Post-Racial America

If there is one thing that events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri should make clear it is that there is no-racial America and there never was.

Conservatives and Liberals alike are guilty of assuming that because everyone is allowed on the same bus now that racism no longer exists, much like those who believe that gender-based discrimination ended when women gained suffrage.

Every 28 hours an African-American is killed by a police officer or vigilante.

A short documentary style video on the New York Times shows the fear and frustration of the people of Ferguson contrasted with the militarisation of its police force.

Mike Brown was 18, he was unarmed and he was shot six times by a police officer. Those are the facts. Regardless of whether he had weed in his system or was an excellent student or both, none of that is relevant to the fact that unarmed African-American people are seen as justifiable targets for police and vigilante violence.

Stand your ground legislation has shown over-whelming bias towards white men, leaving African-Americans, particularly women prosecuted for defending themselves. Florida woman, Merissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling above her violently abusive husband and was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for assault. That case is still ongoing with a retrial planned for December.

The statistics on SYG shootings speak for themselves. White defendants are preferred over black victims in staggering percentages.

syg graph

This is compounded by a media that seeks to villainise black victims further. The Huffington Post ran a story called “When the Media Treats White Suspects Better Than Black Victims” highlighting the headlines that demonstrate this bias most clearly.

white suspect black victim huffington

The Economist ran an article discussing the frankly shocking numbers of civilians killed in the USA and the lack of transparency or accountability shown by law enforcement.

“In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.”

They compare this with the relatively low levels of deaths by police officers in England.

But the problem with this article, and dozens like it that were published, is that they attempt to diminish the racial element to these deaths.

“The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005. The reputation of the Metropolitan Police’s armed officers is still barely recovering from the fatal shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist bombings in London.”

Firstly to describe Mark Duggan as a “known gangster” is problematic and shows a disconnect from the youth culture of black youth in London who feel massively disenfranchised by British society. This atmosphere in Tottenham in North London that the police target young black men regardless of their criminality was a huge factor in those riots. They also ignore the fact that the “innocent Brazilian” Jean Charles de Menezes was shot for looking too brown in an area where the police were profile Muslims.

In the case of Mark Duggan we see the most parallels with the American media’s standard response. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “thug” who “lived by the gun”.

The image most commonly associated with Duggan in the media was one of him staring stony eyed at the camera.

mark duggan cropped

What most did not realise is that this photograph was cropped to hide the fact that Duggan was standing distraught at the grave of his daughter.

mark duggan full

This is exactly the kind of biased reporting the inspired the “IfTheyGunnedMeDown” hashtag on social media in the wake of Brown’s death. Young African-Americans showed two different sides of themselves to highlight the kind of editorializing that goes on behind the reporting of African-American deaths.

iftheygunnedmedown 1 iftheygunnedmedown 2

Race relations are bad in the US but it would be remiss of me to pretend that they are magically worse than the rest of the world. However America is so socially divided, heavily armed and filled with a culture of militarisation that the racism in its institutions are far more lethal than in other developed countries.

There are similarities between these cases and their media portrayal, one glaring difference remains. Duggan’s case, despite the fact that he was most likely involved in crime, sparked massive controversy and attention. It stands out as an example of attitudes that are problematic in British policing.

But it is not the norm.

The same cannot be said for Ferguson, where the difficultly for journalists to do their jobs has received more attention than the physical violence against unarmed civilians.

Changed Irish Political Landscape Elections 2014

While the weekend saw one of the slowest counts most pundits had ever seen, the delay gave three days for the results to sink in. Some journalists are calling this polling day Sinndependence Day, after the enormous success of Sinn Féin and independent candidates.

Certainly Sinn Féin have nearly tripled its seats in the local councils and gained 3 MEPs compared with none from the last European elections in 2009. At the same time Labour’s vote has collapsed and Fianna Fáil, the party held responsible for the economic crisis, has proved more resilient than expected and held their local support. RTE online provides detailed electoral breakdown. 

But the rise in support for Sinn Féin is only one symptom of a wider change in the Irish political landscape. What’s more significant is how the tradition political cleavages are breaking down. Those observing the transfers (Ireland uses a PR electoral system) shows that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have transferred to each other in this election in numbers not seen before.

For those less familiar with Irish political divisions, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael represent the parties formed from two opposing sides of the Irish Civil War in 1922/1923. The two parties, historically centre-right (FG) and centre with centre-left sympathies (FF) have never been in coalition. Their voters and the candidates often inherit the position.

Labour goes into coalition with FG on occasion then suffers afterwards for it in the polls. But Labour was distinctly the third party, one of a number opposition parties.

Sinn Féin’s support stayed under 8% in most elections and there was huge stigmas attached to membership because of the Northern Ireland conflict. Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in Ireland forbidden the broadcasting of the voice of any Sinn Féin member. They could not take part in public debate. This only ended in the early 1990s so for them to be a significant player in the this election is remarkable.

One way this changing political landscape tripped Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, up was the category of ‘others’. ‘Others’ is made up of all independent/non-party candidates and smaller parties, Socialists, People Before Profit, and the Green Party, among others.

rte vote bar

But in this election ‘others’ was one of the largest groups and so displaying results in this way is not very informative.

The rise of the left was one of the most talked about outcomes of these elections. Despite making foolish decision such as the Socialist Party running its candidates as the AAA (Anti-Austerity Alliance) which no one had heard of or changing the name of the party in the European election to Stop the Water Tax – The Socialist Party, they won 12 seats on county and city councils. People Before Profit, primary a working group of the Socialist Workers Party, also took 12 seats.

Political discussion and analysis by many journalists failed to catch up with the new realities. Talking about the four historic parties and “the rest” no longer adds to the conversation.

Other changes can be seen in the issues that effect voters. Jobs, tax and healthcare will be central to most elections and the rise of real left parties has forced discussion on economic alternatives into the mainstream but new issues are also coming into play. Social equality, gender, sexuality and race, are becoming increasingly significant.

Darren Scully, who was mayor of Naas at the time, claimed that he did not represent the African community in his constituency. He resigned as Mayor and was expelled from Fine Gael. In this election, not only was he allowed to return to Fine Gael but he was re-elected to the council in Naas.

racist scully naas vote deets

At the same time Sinn Féin ran Edmond Lukusa, Chairperson of the Congolese Consortium of Ireland and he was elected to the Fingal council.

edmond lukusa

Ireland’s growing immigrant communities are still not only underrepresented in Irish politics but social disconnected from it as well. The parties that connect with this demographic before the next general election will hold  a significant advantage over the parties who do not.

A gender quota of 30% is expected to be in place by the next general election and so many analysts are already pointing at parties that will struggle to comply with that, such as Fianna Fáil. Marriage equality activists are expecting marriage reform in this next two years and increased rights for GSRM couples and families will have to be in the manifestos of many parties.

The next general election will be one that defines Irish politics for the decade to come.

Human Rights in the Land of the Free

In the discussion of intervention in Syria, much US political rhetoric on the support of human rights has been used. America publically campaigns for holding governments accountable for human rights violations, in fact that is the first point made on the State Department’s human rights goals. However the human rights landscape in the United States of America is far from static and uncontested. America today faces grave charges of human rights violations both from critics within the country and from the international community.

It has been over 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, yet human rights violations continue to cause controversy on a global scale. It has been over 50 years since The Great March on Washington, which is credited with spurring legislation to end racial discrimination in the United States of America, yet racial discrimination is still a major source of controversy there though views on prevalence vary.

March2013CivilRights

The second Article of the UDHR states that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Regardless,  in 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in U.S. v. Armstrong that racial profiling (where race is used as a distinguishing feature in identifying a suspect’s tendency to be involved in crime) is constitutional in the absence of data that “similarly situated” defendants of another race were disparately treated despite opposition based on the Fourth Amendment  of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the right to be safe from search and seizure without a warrant (which is to be issued “upon probable cause”), and the Fourteenth Amendment which requires that all citizens be treated equally under the law.

Racial profiling is condemned by the Government of USA and allegations of such taking place are usually denied but Amnesty International reports that:

“Approximately eighty-seven million Americans are at a high risk of being subjected to future racial profiling during their lifetime”.

Those affected encompassing  “Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Persian Americans, American Muslims, many immigrants and visitors, and, under certain circumstances, white Americans.”

Racial profiling also seems to have a large degree of popular support, as indicated by polls from organisations and media outlets like USA Today. Furthermore, the potential for racial discrimination among other human rights violations has exploded with the introduction of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

The USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act is an Act of Congress that was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. Opposition to the Act has focused on provision for indefinite detention of immigrants, the permission given law enforcement officers to search homes or business premises without the owner or occupants’ consent or knowledge, and the expanded use of National Security Letters which allegedly:

allows investigators to demand that businesses turn over sensitive financial records, without specifying the investigation’s target or why the files are needed“.

On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the PATRIOT Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, extending some of the most controversial provisions for a further four years past the original expiry date: roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of so called “lone wolves” (suspected terrorists not linked to larger groups).

Far more notorious than even the expansion of surveillance under the USA PARTIOT Act is the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base detention camp in Cuba, established in January 2002used by the USA to hold potential terror suspects. One issue debated is that of whether those imprisoned as part of the War on Terror are prisoners of war and thus deserving of protection under the rules of war.

The Geneva Convention’s rules for dealing with prisoners of war are only violated if the prisoners are deemed to be soldiers involved in a war. Defenders of the prison may echo Jim Phillips of The Heritage Foundation, who has said that “some of these terrorists who are not recognized as soldiers don’t deserve to be treated as soldiers.”

However, the conditions at Guantanamo Bay are held to violate more than the rules of war; international commentators have condemned it as violating universal human rights. Amnesty International has called the detention camp a scandal and it is widely considered to violate international laws, earning the condemnation of figures as diverse as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the United Nations, the Red Cross and former president of the USA Jimmy Carter.

On 22 January 2009, President Barack Obama signed an order with a view to suspending proceedings at the Guantanamo military commission for a period of 120 days and decommissioning the detention facility later that year.  Nevertheless, on 7 January 2011, Obama signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, placing restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to the mainland or to foreign countries, impeding the closure of the facility, which is still open today.

These expansions of surveillance and detention have been kept out of public eye to the extent that the American government could keep it. However, individuals and organisations inside and outside the system have leaked thousands of documents to expose the reality of human rights abuses undertaken by the United States of America and elsewhere.

The largest set of restricted documents ever leaked to the public was largely a result of the actions of Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Manning), then an intelligence analyst with the US Army (she has since received a dishonourable discharge as a result of the leaks).

Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky/U.S. Army

Manning was ultimately charged with 22 offenses, of which she pleaded guilty to 10. The trial on the remaining charges began on June 3, 2013, and on July 30 she was convicted of 17 of the original charges and amended versions of four others, but was acquitted of aiding the enemy (the most serious charge). She will serve her sentence at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.

While her actions have been debated as either heroic exposure of corruption or villainous endangerment of lives, her status as a transgender woman has been a source of further controversy. Journalist Anne Russell has noted that media outlets differ on whether to represent her as Chelsea with feminine pronouns (as she requested) or as Bradley with masculine pronouns. At the time of writing, Manning is held in a male prison, raising questions of whether she has been wrongly-gendered or correctly sexed with regard to her imprisonment.

In June 2013, Edward Snowden was charged under the same Espionage Act, when he released several documents exposing the NSA’s PRISM Surveillance Program along with details of other top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Like Chelsea Manning, he too has been hailed as both a hero and a traitor.

As the USA has struggled with how human rights apply to human criminals and terrorists on the one hand nonhuman corporations have become recognised as people with legally protected human rights such as the right to own property and the right to free speech, which may absolve human persons from legal liability for actions which have been taken by corporations under their control. A relatively recent phenomenon, it has already attracted much opposition from groups such as Reclaim Democracy and individuals such as Noam Chomsky.

More than sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, the United States of America is still deeply confused and divided on who is a human person and how universal and inalienable that human person’s rights are.

– Ian