26 October 2014

Amnesty International reports on human rights abuses in Ferguson

Amnesty International (AI) recently released a report on human rights abuses in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the August 9th shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer.

The report, titled On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson, outlines the findings by AI observers who were in Ferguson from August 14-22 to monitor the post-shooting protests and police response, along with recommendations to local, state and federal authorities regarding both the use of lethal force and the policing of protests.

The report addresses the following issues:

• Use of lethal force

• Racial discrimination and excessive use of police force

• Law enforcement response to protests

• Imposition of restrictions on the rights to protest - curfews, designated protest areas, and other restrictions

• Intimidation of protesters

• Use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protests

• Use of Long Range Acoustic Devices

• Restrictions on the media as well as legal and human rights observers at protests

• Failures of accountability for law enforcement in policing protests

"What Amnesty International witnessed in Missouri on the ground this summer underscored that human rights abuses do not just happen across borders and oceans," said Steven W. Hawkins, executive director of AI USA. "No matter where you live in the world, everyone is entitled to the same basic rights as a human being – and one of those rights is the freedom to peacefully protest. Standing on W. Florissant Avenue with my colleagues, I saw a police force, armed to the teeth, with military-grade weapons. I saw a crowd that included the elderly and young children fighting the effects of tear gas. There must be accountability and systemic change that follows this excessive force."

"The events in Ferguson sparked a much-needed and long-overdue conversation on race and policing in America," added Hawkins. "That conversation cannot stop. In order to restore justice to Ferguson, and every community afflicted by police brutality, we must both document the injustices committed and fight to prevent them from happening again. There is a path forward, but it requires substantive actions on the local, state, and federal levels."

>> Read the full report.

25 October 2014

F___ human rights?!

While visiting the Facebook page of the USA section of Amnesty International, specifically a post regarding this morning's execution in Iran of a woman who killed her rapist in self-defense, I noticed that a Scott Davies shared the following comment: "F___ human rights." (Emphasis mine.)

But he spelled it all out.

I wonder: Why would someone be so opposed to human rights?

And, perhaps even more disturbing: As of this writing, his comment has 3 "Likes".

What drives these people?!

22 October 2014

Malala receives Liberty Medal

Last night, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai received the 2014 Liberty Medal here in Philadelphia "for her continued demonstration of courage and resilience in the face of adversity and for serving as a powerful voice for those who have been denied their basic human rights and liberties." She is the youngest-ever recipient of the Medal.

This came after Malala had already spent a busy day speaking at the Forbes Under 30 summit, which is being held in Philly this week. There, she was also a hit.

Congratulations to Malala for this well-deserved recognition.

21 October 2014

New PA law threatens prisoners' freedom of speech

Earlier this month, on invitation, controversial convicted Philadelphia cop killer and former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal (now serving a life sentence) spoke remotely to Goddard College's graduation class. And some people didn't like it. So the Pennsylvania state legislature fast-tracked a bill called the "Revictimization Relief Act", which allows crime victims to sue to stop offenders from speaking if it might cause the victims mental anguish.

Today, Governor Tom Corbett signed that bill into law.

That slope seems pretty slippery to me.

And civil rights advocates are accusing the new law of violating the First Amendment, so I'm guessing that there's probably another kind of lawsuit brewing here. I certainly hope so.

Let me say right now that this is not a blog post about Mumia. I've written all I have to say (for now) about him here. This is about Pennsylvania's new law in general and First Amendment rights in particular.

"This bill [is] terrible public policy," said PA State Senator Daylin Leach (D, District 17), who voted against it. "You can punish certain, limited types of speech after the fact (libel, lying in advertising, etc.)," he continued. "But you can never (except for revealing state military secrets) be restrained from speaking before you speak. This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable."

"Keep in mind, the First Amendment was designed specifically to protect unpopular speakers, like Mumia," said Leach. "Popular speakers with popular messages don't need First Amendment protection. Nobody is trying to silence them. When I taught First Amendment law, I would tell my students: 'To see if you really believe in free speech, think of the speech you hate the most, and defend that.'"



"The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech."
-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Monica's life was ruined, but Bill's got better

Yesterday, Monica Lewinsky spoke here in Philly at a Forbes "30 Under 30" summit. She gave an emotional speech that set the Twittersphere on fire, in a very positive sense.

So I decided to research what Lewinsky's been up to in the more than 15 years since the scandal arose when it was discovered that she, a White House Intern at the time, was getting it on with then-President Bill Clinton.

As it turns out, she's been very busy. She earned a graduate degree from the London School of Economics - impressive! And she's done some public appearances. But, according to Wikipedia, this poised, smart, and well educated young woman can't find a steady job - or a steady guy.

While I do not condone Lewinsky's affair with Bill Clinton, I think she's been treated quite unfairly. While Bill Clinton was impeached by the House because of the affair (a partisan overreaction, in my opinion), the Senate overturned it, and he has gone on to become one of the most popular former presidents this nation has ever seen.

But we shouldn't be surprised. Here in the USA, in matters of illicit sex, the man is usually seen as a stud, while the woman is usually seen as a slut.

And it's so unfair when this double standard serves to waste the potential of someone as impressive (affair aside) as Monica Lewinsky.

After all, who hasn't done something stupid at age 22?

18 October 2014

Mexico releases prisoner of conscience

Good news: According to Amnesty International (AI), "[p]risoner of conscience and torture victim Ángel Amílcar Colón Quevedo has been released from [a Mexican] prison after five years in pre-trial detention, in a move that is welcome but long overdue."

Huge thanks to the more than 20,000 AI activists who have taken action demanding his release.

The following is AI's summary of the case:

Ángel Colón was arrested by police in Tijuana, northern Mexico, while traveling from his home in Honduras to the United States in March 2009. He was then tortured by police and soldiers: beaten, asphyxiated and racially abused. He was forced to sign a false statement which was used to implicate him in criminal activity. He retracted the statement when brought before a judge and reported his torture to the authorities who failed to take any action.

The Mexican Federal Attorney General has now agreed to drop charges against Ángel Colón and he has been released unconditionally.

"Ángel Colón suffered torture at the hands of the Mexican authorities and has had years of his life wasted in pre-trial detention. This is an outrage," said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at AI. "The Mexican authorities can and do more to ensure torture is never used by police or military officials, and that any reports of torture are swiftly and thoroughly investigated. They cannot allow the injustices inflicted on Ángel Colón to ever be repeated."

But, sadly, Ángel Colón's case is not unusual.

Last month, AI published a report, Out of control: Torture and other ill-treatment in Mexico, which noted that reports of torture and other ill-treatment at the hands of police and soldiers had risen by 600 percent over a decade.

According to a survey conducted by AI, 64 percent of Mexicans said they were afraid of being tortured if detained by the police or other authorities.

But we'll be watching.

See a moving video message from Ángel Colón here.

14 October 2014

On Thursday, Oct. 16, wear purple to fight bullying!

Thursday, October 16, is Spirit Day 2014.

Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe of the rainblow flag representing "spirit", was established as an opportunity for people to speak out against the plague of bullying aimed at LGBT youth.

On Thursday, please wear purple to show your support. I certainly will, as I do every year. (The photo is of me wearing purple for the first Spirit Day in 2010.)

Do more:

>> Find more Spirit Day actions at www.glaad.org/spiritday.

12 October 2014

A youthful spin on the right-to-die movement

Terminally ill 29-year-old newlywed Brittany Maynard is the new face of the right-to-die movement - a movement previously associated primarily with much older people.

Maynard suffers from a glioblastoma brain tumor - the deadliest form of brain cancer - and her doctors have predicted that she has only a few months to live, at most. So on November 1, Maynard plans to take her own life using medications prescribed by her doctor in accordance with Oregon's Death with Dignity law. Maynard moved from her native California to Oregon in order to take advantage of the law.

To date, only 4 U.S. states - Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington - have legalized physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, allowing them to die on their own terms. It allows them to choose a quick and dignified death over a painful, lingering one.

Furthermore, Maynard has teamed up with the nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices (formerly known as the Hemlock Society) to launch an online campaign to draw attention to the issue. (Full disclosure: I am a lifetime member of Compassion & Choices.) Hopefully this campaign, and the extensive press coverage it's been receiving, will trigger a new national dialog that will prompt more states to adopt their own Death with Dignity laws.

So-called "pro-life" groups typically oppose physician-assisted suicide. I guess they would prefer that the terminally ill be forced to tolerate the sometimes excruciating pain and suffering that accompany so many terminal conditions. What kind of "life" is that?

And I guess they want the families to suffer, too, as they watch their loved ones die slowly, sometimes over several months or even years, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes.

What it boils down to is this: While life is precious and should not be thrown away lightly, modern medical science cannot yet provide adequate pain control in all dying patients, even in the best hospices.

While physicians do take an oath to "do no harm", is it not harmful to force a dying patient to suffer a slow, lingering death against his or her will, perhaps kept alive artificially with respirators and feeding tubes?

When a pet becomes ill to the point where it is near death or suffering uncontrollably, a veterinarian will not think twice before recommending that the pet be euthanized, to put the animal out of its misery.

So why do we treat our dying pets with more mercy than we treat our dying people?


"I didn't launch this campaign because I wanted attention; in fact, it's hard for me to process it all. I did this because I want to see a world where everyone has access to death with dignity, as I have had. My journey is easier because of this choice."
-- Brittany Maynard

11 October 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt was much more than a wife

Today is October 11, and I just learned that Eleanor Roosevelt was born on this date in 1884. The website FamousBirthdays.com describes her as a "Political Wife". But Eleanor Roosevelt was so much more than that, and I want the world to know. She is one of our historical figures whom I admire the most.

After her time as First Lady of New York and then First Lady of the United States (during which time she was a very vocal civil rights activist), Eleanor Roosevelt served as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which she chaired from 1946 to 1951. While at the UN, Roosevelt played an instrumental role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

She later became the first chair of the newly created Presidential Commission on the Status of Women under President John F. Kennedy.

Eleanor Roosevelt received no less than 35 honorary degrees.

These are not the accomplishments of a mere "Political Wife". She was a political powerhouse in her own right. And she did it all with great compassion.

The world is a better place because of her contributions.

10 October 2014

Much meaning and symbolism in this year's Nobel Peace Prize

Today, the Nobel Committee announced that Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi of India will share this year's Nobel Peace Prize "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."

Malala was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012 for advocating for girls' right to education. The tragedy only inspired her to work even harder, and on an international scale.

Satyarthi has worked for more than three decades as a children's rights activist, focusing on issues such as child labor and slavery.

This year's award is remarkable for a number of reasons.

First, 17-year-old Malala becomes the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Second, the Nobel Committee "regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism."

"Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai are both incredible examples of each individual's power to improve our world," said Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. "Though they are decades apart in age, and though they hail from two countries historically hostile to one another, they share a common commitment to peace, justice, and human dignity. They are richly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize."

Huge congratulations to both of these great human rights defenders, with thanks for their hard work, their courage, and their strength. I am inspired.

07 October 2014

Same-sex marriage is on a roll - Idaho and Nevada today!

Another good step towards equality for all: Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down Idaho's and Nevada's bans on same-sex marriage on grounds that they violated equal protection rights.

This comes on the heels of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The momentum is great. I have a feeling that it will continue. Fingers crossed.

06 October 2014

SCOTUS paves the way for legalized same-sex marriage in majority of states

Today, in another great step forward towards equal rights for all, the US Supreme Court decided not to review five same-sex marriage cases, thus upholding lower court rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

According to the Washington Post, "the decision will likely expand same-sex marriages to other states covered by the federal appeals courts that already have ruled that the bans are unconstitutional, including Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, West Virginia, North Carolina[,] and South Carolina. That would bring to 30 the number of states where gays can marry."

This demonstrates that the Supremes can still do some things right.

Fingers crossed in hopes that similar cases yield similar results in the remaining 20 states in my lifetime.