The killing of #GeorgeFloyd has propelled calls to #DefundPolice to the headlines. It can be difficult to get beyond the hashtag, but if you’re looking for a human rights approach to public safety, the police abolition movement makes sense.
At its heart, the call to #DefundPolice operationalizes a human rights approach to public safety. It’s grounded in a human rights approach that recognizes that rights are interconnected, interdependent, and indivisible. That accountability is essential. That discrimination is wrong. That housing, health, and food need to be included in public safety policy and funding. #DefundPolice means using policy and budgets to ensure human rights. It refocuses priorities on root causes without abandoning accountability and the rule of law.
#DefundPolice is a conversation that has been underway for years. (For those of you who love a long read, check out this law review article on police abolition.) There are no definitive, quick-fix, or one-size-fits-all answers, but there are sound and practical public policy demands driven by the communities that live with police violence every day, such MPD150 and Campaign Zero.
The bedrock of human rights is the right to live with human dignity. Accountability for human rights violations by the government or abuses by private actors top the list of the government’s human rights obligations. But, we have the right to food, shelter, and health just as much as we have the right to due process. And, the human rights approach sees the interconnectivity of these rights—we can have no public safety without protection of all rights; and, by protecting rights to basic needs, we reduce opportunities for other abuses.
Let’s be clear: No one is suggesting the end of the rule of law. Human rights law demands that everyone is subject to the law and no one is above it. If someone assaults you, you want them to be caught, held to account, and stopped from doing it again. Indeed, #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd includes a demand for accountability for his extrajudicial execution.
Interpreting #DefundPolice as an invitation to anarchy misconstrues the demand and plays into centuries of racist tropes depicting people of color as a threat to white peoples’ person and property. Minnesotans heard that dog whistle when the house majority leader demanded the governor apologize “to the moms out in the suburbs scared to death about what’s happening all around them.”
Human rights standards do not equate “safety” with “policing.” Human rights standards recognize that armed state actors have the power to inflict violence, repression, and harm if flawed in the original design and allowed to operate with impunity. One of the key UN special procedures, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, has operated since 1982 for precisely this reason.
A human rights approach demands that we consider the impact of any laws, policies, and systems on all people. It demands that those who are historically and currently marginalized from those systems play a central role in policy development so that their concerns are not drowned out by those who have historically held more power or influence. It demands recognition of the interconnected, interdependent nature of all human rights, not the selective cherry-picking that privileges some rights for some people over others.
In other words, human rights demand that people (who we might refer to as members of the “public”) be housed, fed, and healthy (what we might call “safe”).
By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.
As the coronavirus spreads throughout the U.S., and across the globe, more and more people are being ordered to stay home. Yet, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “home” is the “most dangerous place for women.”1 For victims/survivors of domestic violence, the ability to leave home to go to safe, public places, such as school or the workplace, is a critical protective measure. So, too, is a victim/survivor’s ability to access the courts to obtain emergency protection and relief.
On March 13, 2020, Governor Walz declared a peacetime emergency, which imposed restrictions of a wide range of public activities.2 And on March 25, 2020, Governor Walz issued a stay-at-home order effective midnight Friday, March 27 until April 10, 2020. The state’s district and appellate courts remain open, but have limited their operations. As essential safety services, domestic violence programs also remain open. If you are experiencing violence, please call Minnesota’s 24/7 crisis hotline at 866.223.1111 or text 612.399.9995. [Text Wrapping Break]
“COVID-19: Court Changes for…OFP Cases During the Pandemic”*
Education for Justice (Law HelpMN) & the MN Judicial Branch
*modified and condensed from original version
What has changed? On March 16, 2020, the courts split case types up into different groups. A “High Priority” group of cases will continue as normal. The rest of cases are suspended for 14 days.
As of March 23, 2020, the parties and attorneys to an OFP case may appear remotely.3
If you have exhibits, you should ask the judicial officer how best you can present those exhibits if appearing remotely.
Can I still file for a restraining order or order for protection? Yes. You can still file a case for restraining orders or orders for protection. Your county might have different rules about how to come to court for this.
If you feel unsafe, call an advocate. A domestic violence advocate who knows the process and can support you through all of the steps. Violence Free Minnesota has a statewide online directory of advocacy agencies. You can also call their 24-hour crisis line at (866).223.1111.
How do I file for a restraining order or order for protection if I don’t want to leave my house? Use Minnesota Guide & File to create the forms you need to Ask for a MN Restraining Order – either an Order for Protection or Harassment Restraining Order. You can file the forms electronically (eFile) through Guide & File, or print your completed forms. For more information, visit the Guide & File Help Topic on the MN Judicial Branch Website. Your county might have different rules for whether or not you can file by paper, so call the court to confirm (For Hennepin County District Court, call (612).348.6000). Other counties’ numbers include:
Minnesota’s criminal justice and legal systems are attempting to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak by issuing new guidelines to prevent/reduce the transmission of the virus.
How does this affect victims/survivors of domestic violence? According to the MN Department of Corrections:
“Under the new guidance, if an offender violates the terms of his/her release, supervision agents and hearing officers are being asked to assess the level of danger posed by the violation before revoking the client’s probation/parole and taking the client into custody. Overall, agents and hearing officers are being asked to be as conservative as possible when it comes to taking violators into custody.
However, if the violation or new crime provides evidence that the individual poses a credible threat to an individual victim or to the general public, agents can bring someone into custody and/or request a hearing through the Hearings and Release Unit.”
What if my abuser is currently in state prison? Will he/she be released now? Most likely not.The MN Department of Corrections noted:
“The MN DOC is not talking about releasing incarcerated individuals to reduce prison populations at this time; rather, they are focused on reducing the numbers of individuals coming in for low-level violations and crimes, and possible early release of some inmates whose release dates are less than 120 days and who have approved release plans in place. (Of the ~130 individuals being considered for this modified work release with increased levels of contact with DOC staff, all are individuals who are considered low-risk based on the DOC’s scoring assessments.)”
Will this affect whether I am notified through VINE or MN DOC system of my abuser’s release? No. Nothing has changed in regards to victim notification; it still depends entirely on whether or not victims have registered for notification in the MN DOC system (https://mn.gov/doc/assets/VICTIM_NOTIFICATION_REQUEST_FORM_2015_tcm1089-276323.pdf). It is critical to understand how notification operates, and that VINE (county jail) registration does not transfer to HAVEN (MN DOC/state prison) registration.
For more information, check out the following resources:
The “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” 50th anniversary campaign will highlight the theme of rights and freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago.
Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.
For more ideas, check out my past Human Rights Day posts:
1. Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Download an illustrated version of the UDHR on the UN website here. You can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here.
2. Join the UNICEF Kid Power Team and work together to help end global malnutrition.Globally, one in four children is malnourished, about 159 million children worldwide. 50 million children suffer from acute malnutrition resulting in about one million children dying each year. And 16 million children suffer from the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which can require specialized feeding care such as treatment with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) packets.
Families can join the UNICEF Kid Power Team by purchasing a UNICEF Kid Power Band—available at Target—and downloading the free companion UNICEF Kid Power App. Kids go on missions to learn about new cultures and earn points by getting active. Points unlock funding from partners, parents and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to real, severely malnourished children around the world. In the pilot project earlier this year, more than 11,300 kids in Boston, Dallas and New York joined the UNICEF Kid Power Team and took enough steps to walk around the world more than 23 times. These kids earned enough Kid Power Points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets, enough to save the lives of 1,259 children.
3. Stand up for the rights of girls everywhere. Girl UP, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, engages girls to take action. Girl UP’s current advocacy priority is improving access to quality education for girls worldwide, especially those in vulnerable settings. Worldwide, 140 million children are not in school – more than half are girls. Learn more about the impact of education of girls on society here. Learn about ways you can advocate (no matter your age) here.
4. Sing your own song! Amandla! is a song that was a sung by Black South Africans during apartheid to give them strength. Amandla is a Zulu and Xhosa word meaning “power”. It was also the name of a documentary about the role of music in apartheid South Africa that won multiple awards at Sundance in 2003. The chorus is:
We will fight for the right to be free We will build our own society And we will sing, we will sing We will sing our own song
The band UB40, which strongly advocated against apartheid in the 1980s, did a popular cover of the song Amandla!
Amnesty International created a full lesson plan around the song. Check out the full lesson, which encourages kids to sing along with the song. Take out specific words and have your kids fill in the blanks. Kids have such a great sense of justice that their words may surprise you! Then have your kids draw the images that the song evokes and present their art projects to others.
5. Play Rights of the Child Pictionary. Based on the game Pictionary, each child sketches his or her interpretation of one article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When all are done, you can take turns examining the sketch and guessing the article it represents. For this and other ideas for teaching children’s rights through art, click here.
6. Play Human Rights Musical Chairs. This lesson, developed by The Advocates for Human Rights, is a game similar to musical chairs, but with a writing twist. Select magazine and newspaper images that you feel effectively demonstrate a particular article of one of the 30 articles of the UDHR. For example, if the picture shows a scene where a group of children, boys and girls, are happy and walking with backpacks on their way to school, you could discuss Article 26 the “Right to Education” and Article 2 “Freedom from Discrimination” as both girls and boys are attending school.
Tape one image onto each chair along with one sheet of paper. Select music to indicate the starting and stopping of the writing. Tell the kids that they can write about whatever the image makes them think of. When the music starts, have the kids write the beginning of the story based on the image. After a few minutes, stop the music and have them move to the next image. Start the music and have them write the middle of the story based on that image. Encourage them to follow the storyline already in progress but allow them to get creative. Stop the music and have them move to the third image and write the ending. For more ideas, check out The Advocates for Human Rights’ resources for educators.
7. Learn more about famous and not-so-famous human rights heroes. There are many great biographies of famous activists (I Am Malala is one you may enjoy) but there are also many other inspiring peace and social justice activists to learn about.
Better World Heroesis an informational website which includes the biographies of 1000 heroes who have fought to build a better world.
TheGiraffe Heroes project tells the stories of “Giraffe Heroes” – people who stick their necks out for the common good.
8. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches as part of an anti-racism, anti-bullying activity. Teaching Tolerance has developed a great simulation activity. The simulation exercise can help children understand the emotional impact of unfair practices. The follow-up activity on discrimination helps ensure that students understand that the goal is to change those practices, not the characteristics that make us different from one another. Check out all of Teaching Tolerance’s resources here.
9. Take a test together. The Representation Project has developed two quizzes to examine how mainstream media shapes our beliefs and practices about women and girls, as well as what it means to be a man. For families with preteens and teens who are interested starting a conversation about this issue, the Representation Project’s family resources can be found here.
#TheRepTest is a media literacy tool, sparking conversation about overall representation in film, television, and video games and encouraging more diversity in the entertainment industry.
The #BeyondTheMask quiz lets you grade male characters as role models.
10. Have a conversation with your family about what it means to be “free and equal”.Watch this video with your kids and discuss their reactions.
What else does it mean to be “free and equal”? the United Nations recently launched a new campaign called “Free & Equal” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. There are fact sheets, information about a film series, and much more on the Free & Equal website. You can even check out the very first Bollywood video for gay rights. The UN is asking that you share if you believe everyone should be welcomed into their family’s hearts, regardless of their sexual orientation.
The 2015 “Faces” video from the Free & Equal campaign celebrates the contributions that millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people make to families and local communities around the world. The cast features “real people” (not actors), filmed in their workplaces and homes — among them, a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Can you see past the label?
If you are not sure how to talk to your kids about LGBT issues, check out these Human Rights Campaign resourcesthat provide the language and information needed to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and issues in an age appropriate way with children and youth.
I hope you and your families have a great Human Rights Day 2015! If you have other ideas for human rights activities, please share them with us!