21 May 2012

For Tyler Clementi's roommate, 30 days and a slap on the wrist

Today in a New Jersey court, former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail for his role in the webcam spying that led to the 2010 suicide of his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after learning that Ravi had used a webcam to spy on his intimate encounters with another man.

In addition, according to CNN, "Ravi will serve three years of probation and must complete community service aimed at assisting victims of bias crimes, according to Superior Judge Glenn Berman. He also must pay more than $11,000 in restitution."

I am neither a lawyer nor a judge, but 30 days in jail seems like an awfully light sentence for actions that led to someone's death. However, I suppose it's hard to balance whether Ravi was aggressively attacking Clementi or if he was just a jerk.

At the very minimum, he was a jerk.

I just hope that the amount of news coverage this case has received will do some good in getting other people to think before they act out their homophobic issues (either maliciously or stupidly).

20 May 2012

Did Texas execute yet another innocent man?

A recent study by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review suggests that Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez, was actually innocent. The study concluded that a man named Carlos Hernandez actually committed the murder. In other words, the so-called justice system had convicted the wrong Carlos.

According to the report, Hernandez "was well-known to police and prosecutors at the time and had a long history of violent crimes." In fact, Hernandez was arrested for another murder while DeLuna was on death row, and died in prison in 1999, after having admitted that he killed Lopez.

Nevertheless, the report states, "After [police] arrested DeLuna, they were so sure they had the right man, they never bothered to ascertain his height, weight or age or to compare them to the information from eyewitness Baker. Their commanding officers never requested that information, either. In fact, DeLuna was ... younger than the man [a witness] described."

"On evidence we pulled together on this case, there is no way a jury could have convicted De-Luna beyond a reasonable doubt, but they could've convicted Hernandez beyond a reasonable doubt," said Columbia Professor James Liebman, who conducted the study along with his students.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that this isn't the only case we know of in which Texas probably executed an innocent man.

The most famous such case is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, who made headlines in 2009 when The New Yorker published an investigative article on the case. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters. However, a forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fatal fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

A decade before Willingham's execution, Ruben Montoya Cantu was put to death in Texas for a murder that occurred when Cantu was 17 years old. According to Wikipedia, "During the years following the conviction, the surviving victim, the co-defendant, the District Attorney, and the jury forewoman have all made public statements that cast doubt on Cantu's guilty verdict and death sentence."

In 2009, Texas executed Reginald Blanton despite numerous flaws in the prosecution's case and the trial itself. Blanton had been convicted of fatally shooting his friend, Carlos Garza, and then stealing $79 worth of jewelry from Garza's home, where the murder took place. According to Randi Jones of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, "Reginald's case exemplifies serious prosecutorial misconduct. They systematically excluded African Americans from the jury pool." Jones also noted that there was no physical evidence linking Blanton to the crime, and that Blanton was forced to rely on an incompetent public defender who failed to present evidence of innocence at the original trial.

This is not justice.

The legal system is run by human beings, and human beings make mistakes. And they can make mistakes in matters of life and death, as in the cases described above.

Is this not sufficient reason to abolish the irreversible punishment that is the death penalty?

The full Columbia report on the DeLuna case can be found online at: http://www3.law.columbia.edu/hrlr/ltc/

17 May 2012

Thoughts on this International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia

Today, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). This date was chosen because on May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

As I reflect on the state of homophobia and transphobia today, I wonder if they will ever become obsolete. I wonder if there will ever come a day when all people are treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I wonder if there will ever come a day when the majority doesn't fear "the other" to the point of persecution.

But, given that even long-established rights of women in the U.S. are still being challenged, and that racism remains a problem, I am cautious in any optimism.

We must continue to fight tirelessly for equality for all. The right will not stop paying attention, so neither must we.

15 May 2012

Chase exec's golden parachute

JP Morgan Chase announced yesterday that its chief investment officer, Ina Drew, will retire in the wake of the institution's $2 billion trading loss.

But don't worry - she'll be just fine. Drew was paid $15.5 million last year and almost $16 million in 2010. And she probably will receive some very attractive retirement perks.

She will never have to feel what the unemployed members of the 99% are feeling.

09 May 2012

North Carolina voters choose discrimination

Bad news: At the polls yesterday, the people of North Carolina passed Amendment 1, which amends the state's constitution to say "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state."

In other words, discrimination will now be the law in that state.

And this isn't just a vote against same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage was already illegal in North Carolina. Amendment 1 appears to also invalidate civil unions and domestic partnership benefits even among opposite-sex couples.

It appears to imply that married couples will be first-class citizens, while everyone else is second-class at best.

It will be interesting to see if any court challenges arise (and how soon).

Stay tuned.

08 May 2012

Will North Carolina voters outlaw civil unions and domestic partnerships?

Today, when the citizens of North Carolina go to the polls, they will be asked to vote on Amendment 1, which would amend the state's constitution to say "Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state."

This is not just another Proposition 8. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in North Carolina. If passed, Amendment 1 would ban civil unions and domestic partnership benefits even among opposite-sex couples.

National Organization for Women (NOW) President Terry O'Neill explains the ramifications:

"In addition to placing a permanent ban on civil unions, Amendment One would also strip the domestic partnership benefits currently afforded to unmarried public employees all across North Carolina.

"Amendment One could interfere with protections for all unmarried couples, such as their ability to visit one another in the hospital or make emergency medical and financial decisions if one partner is incapacitated. It could also hamper the enforcement of wills, trusts, and medical powers of attorney, exclude partners from private employer healthcare benefits, as well as threaten domestic violence protections for all unmarried women."

In other words, if Amendment 1 passes, married couples will be first-class citizens, while everyone else will be second-class at best.

This is despite the fact that this nation was founded on the principle that all people are created equal.

Fingers crossed in hopes that the people of North Carolina will vote for equality, not discrimination.

07 May 2012

KSM goes on trial; Amnesty report discredits military commission

On Saturday, May 5, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four of his cohorts were arraigned by a U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In anticipation of the hearing, on May 3, Amnesty International released a report criticizing the military commission system as "deeply flawed" and not in accordance with international fair trial standards.

An excerpt:

"This case – one of the highest profile US prosecutions for decades – has presented the USA with a chance to show that it means what it says when it speaks about its commitment to human rights. For the time being, however, the USA seems set on a path that ends in justice neither being done nor being seen to be done."
I want to clarify that Amnesty is not soft on crime. The organization spends countless hours fighting back against impunity for lawbreakers and human rights violators. But accountability has to be done right in order to be valid. If KSM and his cohorts are, in fact, the "worst of the worst" - which seems easy enough to prove - then prove it in a proper court of law, not a kangaroo court. Otherwise, I - and the world at large - might have to wonder what the system is afraid of.

>> Download Amnesty's new report.

06 May 2012

Republican friend wants to make Islamic martyrs

On May 5, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants were arraigned in a U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And, of course, a Republican friend had to discuss it with me.

As he was eagerly devouring the latest offerings from the Drudge Report, he told me that we shouldn't waste our time putting them on trial. We should "just kill 'em," he said.

I pointed out that killing them would make them martyrs in the eyes of their terrorist cohorts - and that's what they want. After all, some believe that martyrdom for the Islamic cause will get them straight into heaven, where 72 lovely virgins are eagerly awaiting their arrival. That's not exactly a crime deterrent.

I also pointed out that the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had been given fair trials in federal court and were now safety locked away for life. They now get to spend each day lonely and defeated, in American custody. Isn't that a far worse punishment, I asked, then giving them heaven, virgins, and the glory of martyrdom?

In response, he simply stammered a weak "NO!", shook his head, and looked very confused.

I guess Drudge and Fox haven't yet given him a good retort for that argument.