Torture Done in Our Name

Torture Done in Our Name

Guantanamo Bayhttps://maryturck.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/screen-shot-2014-12-09-at-10-09-34-pm.png

The long-secret “torture report” from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is out. Sort of. The full report, still classified, is 6700 pages of “comprehensive and excruciating detail.” What we got on December 9 was a mere 525 pages of Findings and Conclusions and Executive Summary. Even with lots of names and details neatly blacked out, this gut-twisting account shines an unforgiving light on evil done in our name.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s fight for full investigation and now for release of the report makes her a hero in the causes of human rights and democracy. In the foreword to the report, she writes:

“[It] is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman, and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

Four questions seem key in understanding the report:

  • What was the CIA torture program?
  • Did torture work to get information?
  • What do the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?
  • What does the report reveal about the United States?

Get the full text of the report here: www.intelligence.senate.gov/study2014/sscistudy1.pdf

 What was the CIA torture program?

The torture conducted by the CIA from 2001 to 2009 took place at several sites, and involved 119 detainees. The extent and nature of the torture was much worse than previously known. Some examples:

  • Detainees subjected to “rectal rehydration” or feeding, including stuffing a prisoner’s rectum with hummus;
  • Placing detainees in ice water “baths;”
  • Threatening harm to children of detainees; threatening the rape or murder of detainees’ mothers;
  • Keeping detainees naked and shackled with their arms over their heads for extended periods of time;
  • Punching, slapping and waterboarding detainees.

One detainee died from suspected hypothermia, after being chained to a concrete floor, nude from the waist down.

Frequently, torture preceded questioning. The policy seemed to be to torture prisoners first, to create fear, and then to question them.

Did torture work to get information?

No. It did not. The committee investigated each instance in which the CIA claimed that it got useful information through torture. Not a single instance proved to be true. The CIA outright lied. Torture produced no useful information at all. As Senator Feinstein wrote in the introduction:

“As the Study describes, prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques “do not produce intelligence,” “will probably result in false answers,” and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored.”

What does the torture and the cover-up reveal about the CIA?

As an organization, the CIA is untrustworthy and corrupt. And that’s the kindest thing you can say. The CIA denied specific requests for information from the FBI, blocked the State Department from getting information “crucial to foreign policy decision-making and diplomatic activities,” and provided inaccurate information to executive branch

In addition, the CIA looks downright incompetent.

They tortured two people who were actually CIA sources. After the two had spent 24 hours “shackled in the standing sleep deprivation position,” CIA headquarters confirmed that they were informants wo had been trying to contact the CIA to give information.

The CIA hired two psychologists to set up the interrogation/torture program. According to the report,

“Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa’ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

They also employed interrogators who had records of abuse, including sexual abuse.

The committee found that,

“there are no indications in CIA records that the CIA conducted significant research to identify effective interrogation practices, such as conferring with experienced U.S. military or law enforcement interrogators, or with the intelligence, military, or law enforcement services of other countries with experience in counterterrorism and the interrogation of terrorist suspects.”

This incompetence and deceit is the subject of several of the committee’s findings, including:

#16: The CIA failed to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques.

#17: The CIA rarely reprimanded or held personnel accountable for serious and significant violations, inappropriate activities, and systemic and individual management failures.

#18: The CIA marginalized and ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections concerning the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program.

What does it say about the United States?

We have betrayed and abandoned the principles of justice and respect for human rights, which we claim to respect and honor as the foundations of the nation. Senator Dianne Feinstein:

“[P]ressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review.”

What questions remain?

We may never know all of the CIA’s actions, because the agency kept incomplete records and destroyed some of its records before the investigation.

Given the CIA’s dishonesty and outright lies, as revealed in the committee’s investigation, can we believe that torture has ended? Can we believe that the so-called “black sites” have been closed?

Going forward, what kind of safeguards can be put in place to ensure that the rule of law applies to the CIA and other clandestine government agencies?


By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.

Official Statement to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Keep Families Together

Official Statement to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Keep Families Together

Stock Photo woman behind fenceBelow is The Advocates for Human Rights’ official statement submitted to the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, December 10 (International Human Rights Day), 2014.

Hearing on Keeping Families Together:
The President’s Executive Action on Immigration and
the Need to Pass Comprehensive Reform

“The Advocates for Human Rights is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of internationally recognized human rights in our home community and around the world. The Advocates for Human Rights has provided free legal representation to asylum seekers, investigated and reported on human rights violations, and engaged volunteers in building respect for human rights since 1983.

“The United States is a nation of values, founded on the idea that all people are equal in rights and dignity, no matter what they look like or where they came from. These values are echoed in our obligation to respect the fundamental rights of all persons without discrimination, regardless of national origin, citizenship, or immigration status.1

“International law recognizes that while the United States has the right to control immigration that right is tempered by its obligations to respect the fundamental human rights of all persons. With few exceptions, the United States may not discriminate on the basis of national origin, race, or other status. In designing and enforcing its immigration laws, fundamental human rights, including the right to family unity,2 must be protected.

“The United States’ immigration system, while generous in many ways, is riddled with systemic failures to protect human rights. Some violations result from the statutory framework itself, while others are a matter of administrative policy or agency practice. The United States, through the federal executive branch, has the authority and the obligation to address human rights violations, including through the issuance or updating of administrative guidance, policies, procedures, or regulations to ensure that they strengthen compliance with international human rights standards. At the same time, the United States Congress must take steps to amend laws which violate human rights standards.

“United States immigration policy fails, at nearly every turn, to respect the right to protection of the family and other fundamental human rights. For example, every year tens of thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children3 are deported from the United States because U.S. law does not allow the consideration of family ties in most deportation cases. Individuals frequently are detained without regard to family ties. Thousands of family members languish in line for visas or with little hope of reunification following deportation.

“Congress must take action on immigration to bring our laws into conformance both with our values and our human rights obligations. This includes restoring judicial discretion to immigration judges; providing a meaningful opportunity for parents facing deportation to make care-giving decisions and participate in child custody proceedings; allowing waivers for family reunification for people following deportation; sensibly revising the family-based immigration system to reduce long backlogs; and creating a legalization program that allows families now living in the United States to stay together.

“While Congress must act to ensure U.S. law meets human rights standards, so to must the Administration. The President’s November announcement that certain undocumented persons who have U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien children will be a low deportation priority is a meaningful, if limited, step toward this compliance.

“While the Administration’s move to protect family unity is welcome, its decision to continue the detention of families fleeing to the United States in search of asylum is of grave concern. Just days before the announcement of administrative relief for undocumented Americans, the Administration reiterated its commitment to the imprisonment of families seeking asylum by confirming it plans to open the massive Dilley, Texas family detention center before the end of the year. This action not only violates the obligation to protect the family, but raises serious concerns about the rights to freedom from arbitrary detention and due process of law. The Administration’s detention of families, deliberately designed to deter asylum seekers from seeking protection, also violates our obligations under the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

“Our immigration laws, policies, and practices must reflect our most deeply held values: that each of us is inherently worthy of dignity, fair treatment, and respect for human rights. Both Congress and the President must act to protect these values.”


1 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 2(1).
2 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 17 and 23, articulate the right to freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with the family and recognition that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
3 See, e.g., Human Impact Partners, Family Unity, Family Health: How Family-Focused Immigration Reform Will Mean Better Health for Children and Families, June 2013, available at
http://www.familyunityfamilyhealth.org/uploads/images/FamilyUnityFamilyHealth.pdf, which estimates that over 152,000 U.S. children are impacted by deportations each year using 2012 deportation numbers.

The official statement was drafted by Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of advocacy.

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Immigration Officers Illegally Deporting People

Stock Photo woman behind fenceMaria de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was deported when the immigration agent who interviewed her assumed she was not born in the United States because she couldn’t speak to him in English. Eventually, the U.S. government recognized her citizenship and issued her a passport, but only after her attorney filed a habeas petition on her behalf.

Then there is Nydia R., a transgender woman from Mexico. Despite having been granted asylum by the United States, she was twice unlawfully deported to danger. “I didn’t know the immigration agents could have helped me,” Nydia said, recalling her treatment at the U.S. border after being raped and attacked by gangs. “They had known all the reasons I was trying to come back to the U.S. and even knowing them, they sent me back.” Deported to Mexico, Nydia was kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade.

These are just two people’s stories which are revealed in a comprehensive study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of expedited deportations ordered by federal immigration agents instead of judges. The ACLA found numerous incidents of people with rights or strong claims to be in the United States who were deported without the chance to be heard.

The Advocates for Human Rights highlighted concerns about the increasing reliance upon summary deportation procedures in its most recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will examine the U.S human rights record at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review in May 2015:

The Advocates also raised this concern in its 2014 report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. The Advocates identified these summary proceedings and other streamlined deportation efforts that have created conditions for constitutional violations with no effective remedy.

The ACLU’s investigative report titled “American Exile: Rapid Deportations That Bypass the Courtroom” is based on more than 130 cases of individuals who were deported, sometimes in a matter of hours, without the most basic due process protections — including a hearing before a judge and the chance to defend their claims. These deportations are ordered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency embroiled in controversy that has been widely criticized for lacking oversight and accountability.

“Under the current system, thousands of people are subject to the whim and mercy of immigration officers who are acting as prosecutor, judge and deporter,” said Sarah Mehta, researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and author of the report. “These officers are not equipped with the legal knowledge and expertise to decide who has rights or valid claims to enter and live in the United States.”

There are more than 40,000 CBP officers authorized to issue these deportation orders with no lawyers or evidence required and no independent review as mandated by human rights law.

“If fairness and justice matter, our government has to allow people with claims and rights to be in the United States a real opportunity to defend those rights,” said Mehta. “Our government has separated families and deported people to their death when we failed to give them the most basic opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves. We must do better — both for those facing deportation and the families left behind.”

According to the report findings, in 2013 the United States conducted 438,421 deportations. In more than 363,279 of those deportations — over 83 percent — there was no hearing or review by a judge before the person was removed. These deportation orders come with the same significant penalties as deportation orders issued by a judge after a full hearing. An immigration officer can order someone deported and banned from the United States anywhere from five years to a lifetime. If an officer makes a mistake and deports some with a right or valid claim to remain in the United States there is virtually no way for that person to rescind the deportation order.

Prior to 1996, the vast majority of people facing deportations from this country had immigration court hearings. Now most do not, opening the way for errors or outright abuse.

In addition to information from interviews with deportees, their families, lawyers and community advocates, “American Exile” includes recommendations to the federal government that are even more important in light of President Obama’s recent executive action announcement, which included both deferrals of deportations and new DHS-wide prosecutorial discretion guidance. For example, there are recommendations to immigration enforcement agencies on screening for individuals who qualify for relief and to ensure that people unlawfully deported have the chance to fix those errors.

Last Friday, a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concerns over “the expansion of expedited removal procedures, which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and other persons in need of international protection.”

The committee’s “concluding observations” also expressed concerns over CBP personnel failing to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an asylum-screening interview and recommended to the United States to “review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to counsel.”

Read the full report, executive summary, and more.
Access Spanish-language versions.

This blog post is based on a news release received by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Advocacy, contributed to the post.

 

 

UN Experts Concerned over Outcome of Michael Brown and Eric Garner Cases

UN Experts Concerned over Outcome of Michael Brown and Eric Garner Cases

ferguson_021_081414GENEVA (5 December 2014) – A group of United Nations experts on minority issues, racism, people of African descent, the right to peaceful assembly, and on extrajudicial executions have expressed “legitimate concerns” over the decision not to bring to trial the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in the United States.

The human rights experts voiced deep concern over the broader pattern reflected in this week’s decision of the Staten Island grand jury not to bring to trial the case of Eric Garner, an African-American who died after a police officer put him in a chokehold. They also recalled a similar decision of St. Louis County grand jury in the case of Michael Brown, an African-American teenager shot and killed by a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri, last August.

The decisions have sparked a renewed wave of demonstrations across the US against what is considered by many in the African-American community to be unlawful killings and further examples of lethal force being disproportionately used against young African-American men.

The UN experts welcomed possible measures to address consistent allegations of inappropriate policing practices in the country, and to build trust between communities and the police proposed by President Barak Obama. However, they highlighted that “they should also recognize the need for training and to ensure that minorities are recruited into the police in which they are under-represented.”

“I am concerned by the grand juries’ decisions and the apparent conflicting evidence that exists relating to both incidents,” the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, said.

“A trial process would ensure that all the evidence is considered in detail and that justice can take its proper course,” Ms. Izsák stated. “The decisions leave many with legitimate concerns relating to a pattern of impunity when the victims of excessive use of force come from African-American or other minority communities.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere, drew attention to continuing evidence of discriminatory practices including racial profiling by police officers targeting African Americans as specific challenges requiring urgent action.

“There are numerous complaints stating that African Americans are disproportionally affected by such practices of racial profiling and the use of disproportionate and often lethal force,” Mr. Ruteere said. “African-Americans are 10 times more likely to be pulled over by police officers for minor traffic offences than white persons. Such practices must be eradicated.”

The human rights expert also pointed out the continuing economic disparity between African-Americans and the rest of their fellow citizens, noting that “the unemployment rate of African-Americans is twice higher than the rest of the population.”

“The Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s cases have added to our existing concerns over the longstanding prevalence of racial discrimination faced by African-Americans, particularly in relation to access to justice and discriminatory police practices,” said human rights expert Mireille Fanon Mendes France, who currently heads the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

“We call for finalization without undue delay of the on-going investigations into the cases, the delivery of justice and reparations for the victims concerned,” she said. “We urge a comprehensive examination of all laws that could have discriminatory impact on African-Americans to ensure that such laws are in full compliance with the country’s international legal obligations and relevant international standards.”

In the midst of renewed street demonstrations, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, urged marchers to exercise their right to protest peacefully and without violence.

“We do understand that many people feel angry and frustrated by what they regard as an unjust decision,” the human rights expert said. “However, it is essential to act in accordance to the law and not allow anger to fuel more violence.”

“Similarly, I urge the police to facilitate the right of protestors to demonstrate peacefully and to refrain from the use of excessive force against individuals exercising their freedom to peacefully protest,” Mr.Kiai stressed.

The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, stressed that international law allows the use of lethal force only where it is absolutely necessary to protect life.

“The laws of many of the States in the US are much more permissive, creating an atmosphere where there are not enough constraints on the use of force. A comprehensive review of the system is needed – the enabling laws, the kinds of weapons the police use, the training they receive, and the use of technology such as on-body cameras to ensure accountability,” Mr. Heyns said.

The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

By: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. (The Advocates for Human Rights holds special consultative status with the United Nations.)

Learn more, log on to:

Minority issues: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

Racial discrimination: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/SRRacism/Pages/IndexSRRacism.aspx

People of African descent: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

Peaceful assembly: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx

Summary executions: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – United States of America: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/USIndex.aspx

“I Can’t Breathe”

“I Can’t Breathe”

Eric Garner

Eric Garner’s final words:

“Get away [garbled] for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me [garbled] Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me. [garbled] I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” 

Listen to the audio.

Bill Sets to Block President’s Immigration Action

Bill Sets to Block President’s Immigration Action

Stock Photo woman behind fenceToday the House of Representatives takes up H.R. 5759, the “Prevent Executive Amnesty Act.” Don’t feel bad if you’ve not heard of this bill. Introduced just two days ago, the bill bypassed any committee debate or discussion, going straight to the House floor today.

Introduced by Congressman Yoho (R-FL-3rd), the bill is an all-out attempt to outlaw President Obama’s November announcement that his administration will be allowing certain long-term but undocumented residents of the United States to register for deferred action.

The problems with Mr. Yoho’s bill, however, are myriad and illustrate the perils of bypassing the democratic process and commonsense in a rush to score political points.

Mr. Yoho’s bill seeks to block the administration from treating these long-term residents “as if they were lawfully present or had a lawful immigration status.” But the president’s November announcement does neither of these things. People who register for deferred action are not being granted a legal status. They are being put – for now – at the bottom of the priority list for deportations but like any alien – legal or not – they can be excluded or deported for any number of reasons. Contrary to the amnesty meme recirculating ad infinitum amongst opponents of the president’s action, they have not suddenly catapulted to the head of the line for immigration status. The president’s action leads at best to a life in limbo.

To accomplish his feat of blocking the president’s action, Mr. Yoho’s bill would to apply to any request for “exemption from, or deferral of, removal.” Mr. Yoho’s choice of words demonstrates the peril of wading into the marsh of immigration verbiage.

“Deferral of removal” is specifically authorized by regulation for persons who have been granted relief under the Convention Against Torture: 8 CFR 208.17. I think Mr. Yoho means “deferred action.” They’re different things. Deferred action has been used for decades to as “an act of administrative convenience to the government which gives some cases lower priority. 8 C.F.R. §274a.12(c)(14) (2011).

Mr. Yoho’s mistake illustrates two fundamental problems (although I’m sure there are others) with H.R. 5759. First, immigration laws are tricky. Draft in haste and repent at leisure.

Second, this wildly ill-informed bill has the potential to undermine protections which Congress has granted to survivors of torture, victims of persecution, crime victims, human trafficking victims, and others deserving of humanitarian protections.

Mr. Yoho appears to have a passing familiarity with these protections, given the exceptions he includes in H.R. 5759. His choice of language, however, seems to indicate that Mr. Yoho either doesn’t know what he’s doing or, worse, that he seeks deprive victims of trafficking and others of the means of earning a living or remaining lawfully in the United States while the often lengthy process by which they can be registered as lawful permanent residents.

Mr. Yoho also would exempt from his bill those aliens who are at “imminent risk of serious bodily harm or death.” Again, this seems to be either a clumsy attempt to allow people whose applications for asylum are pending or who have been granted withholding of removal under section 241(b)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act – a technical provision that, while similar to a grant of asylum, leaves an individual in the somewhat awkward position of having been found to face persecution of deported but who, often for technical reasons does will never be eligible to file for lawful permanent residency or, ultimately, to become a U.S. citizen. If that is indeed Mr. Yoho’s intent, his close-but-not-quite language in the proposed bill misses the mark and would fail to ensure that everyone allowed by statute to remain in the United States following a finding by an immigration judge that they have a clear probability of persecution is able to work. The absurd, counterproductive, and cruel result would be to render people who, pursuant to our obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the United States will not deport and who will remain indefinitely in the United States can never work.

Unlike the picture Mr. Yoho wishes to paint, where aliens in the United States can neatly and easily be categorized as “legal” or “illegal,” good public policy considers more than political labelling. It takes into account that people who come to this country in search of freedom often wait years for a decision to be reached on their claims for protection. Would Mr. Yoho’s bill render these asylum seekers unable to work to support themselves during years of government delays – delays often resulting from severe and chronic under-investment in our immigration courts? They are, after all, without immigration status. Would people on Temporary Protected Status, specifically authorized by statute at sec. 244 of the INA, no longer be eligible to work while remaining in the US during periods of natural disaster or civil strife? Such a result would mean terrible hardship for extremely vulnerable individuals and undermine our protection system. Keep in mind that none of these individuals is eligible for public benefits.

Member of Congress who vote in support of H.R. 5759 should ask themselves whether scoring a political point warrants the risk of tearing asunder the shreds of stability America’s most vulnerable migrants now have while they seek humanitarian protection.

By Michele Garnett McKenzie, attorney and The Advocates for Human Rights’ Advocacy Program

Never Give Up: #Ferguson and the Morning After

Never Give Up: #Ferguson and the Morning After

ferguson_021_081414What can any one person do in the face of #Ferguson and grief over a child’s death and despair over a country’s continuing racism and failure? What can any white person say, in the face of so much white failure, white racism, white guilt?

“Never give up. No matter what is going on, never give up. Develop the heart … be compassionate, work for peace, in your heart and in the world. … Never give up.” These words from the Dalai Lama XIV, passed on by poet and elder Louis Alemayehu on this day after #Ferguson’s failure to indict a police officer, point a way to go forward.

I can’t do much, but I can do that much. So can you.

Learning and teaching
The day after is a time to keep on learning and teaching. Too many people, especially white people, do not know our history and do not know basic facts about our present, especially about the continuing existence and effects of institutional racism.

For our history, read James Baldwin’s personal and political story, A Report from Occupied Territory, published in The Nation in 1966. Sadly, the stories of police abuse and brutality toward young black men in Harlem in his day are not only history and not only Harlem, but the present day reality across the United States.

For more about this present, review the stories of Henry Davis or Levar Jones or Henry Walsh or the FBI data showing that cops kill black people at a higher rate than white people. Or read Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Secret Lives of Inner-City Black Males and some of the hundreds of analyses of racial disparities and discrimination in hiring, in housing, in the criminal justice system.

Michael Brown’s story is all over the news, and yet it’s possible to miss essentials in the tsunami of explanation and accusation. Vox has a whole set of short articles explaining 11 things you should know about the Michael Brown shooting. If you are familiar with legal procedure and grand juries in particular, Mark Sumner poses important questions that the “professional reporters” missed in the brief Q&A with St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch. The Nation has a more basic explanation of how the criminal justice system works and why it’s impossible to indict a cop, as well as the “sick joke of self-regulation” by police internal investigations.

Speaking out: Silence gives consent
Today and tomorrow and the day after are the days to post these stories on your Facebook feeds and talk about them at your Thanksgiving tables. Back in August, Janee Woods wrote 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson. The basic message still holds: everybody, not just the activists, needs to speak up. When family members and friends and people who just don’t know any better continue to believe and repeat ignorant or racist tropes, it’s time to speak. Silence gives consent.

Let America be America Again
Way back in the day, African-American poet Langston Hughes wrote about patriotism, demanding that America become “the dream that dreamers dreamed.” In his words:

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath —

America will be!

We can and we must continue to march, speak, write, protest, argue and demand that America become

The land that never has been yet —

And yet must be — the land where every man is free.


By guest blogger Mary Turck, a freelance writer and editor, and an adjunct faculty member at Macalester College and Metropolitan State University, teaching occasional journalism and writing courses. She edited the TC Daily Planet, an online daily news publication, from January 2007 to July 2014, and before that, edited the Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG. In earlier years, she worked as a freelance writer and editor, practiced law in Chicago and Minnesota, taught in elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and worked as a community organizer. She is also the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues. She currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Be sure to visit Turck’s blog, News Day.