Dalia Hashad is the former Director of the Domestic Human Rights program for Amnesty International USA. She worked on a variety of issues including the "war on terror", racial profiling and police misconduct. Dalia is a host and co-executive producer of the weekly talk radio show, Law & Disorder, covering human rights and civil liberties in the U.S. Previously, Dalia was an advocate for the ACLU focusing on civil liberties and human rights abuses post-9/11 in the Campaign Against Racial Profiling. Dalia has also worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as a human rights legal advisor. She served two terms as chair of the state board of CALPIRG, at the time, California's largest environmental and consumer watchdog group. Dalia graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in environmental policy and received her law degree from NYU School of Law.
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The stars appear to be aligning. Yesterday, for the first time, a state legislature voted to allow same-sex marriage. Vermont joined Connecticut, Massachusetts, and recently Iowa, in recognizing marriage equality. But unlike those states that overturned the ban on same-sex marriage through judicial establishment of constitutional protections, Vermont’s voter-elected representatives made the historic move. And they did it with enough support to overwhelm Governor Jim Douglas’ veto. All this happened while the Washington D.C. city council voted unanimously to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Those of us who believe in marriage equality are feeling pretty good. Just don’t turn on your television. Today, the National Organization for Marriage (don’t be confused by the name) launched a new ad campaign that “that highlights how same-sex marriage undermines the core civil rights of those who believe in the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.” Huh? The people who don’t want to let same-sex couples get married are claiming their civil rights are at risk?
This illogical dribble is part of a larger strategy to make people who have recognized marriage rights, feel threatened by people who don’t. They have been up to it for a while. The “Defense of Marriage” Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed by states was passed by Congress in 1996.
I recently listened to a radio interview, where the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, issued ominous warnings that overturning bans on same-sex marriage will “suppress, marginalize and punish” all the hetero marrieds. According to Brian, the state-by-state move to marriage equality represents a terrible threat to the country as a whole and to each marriage between a woman and a man:
I’ve tried, but I can’t see how my marital institution faces imminent threat because gay and lesbian couples are now able to get married in a handful of states. Just in case I am missing something, I took an extra hard look at my husband as we started our day. Nothing seemed amiss as I eyed him over my coffee mug. Was our union facing disintegration, brought on by allowing (gasp) gay people to have what we have? No revelations here. I can’t seem to find my way around the belief that this argument over “protecting” civil marriage is really just a mask for bigotry. Someone needs to explain it to me.
Proving that there truly is no prerequisite for intelligence in pageant winners, Miss Universe either just revealed her deep ignorance of global issues or her utter lack of humanity. Either way, the situation is not good. She is the only person (that I am aware of) who has been appointed to represent our universe, so it’s a little embarrassing.
In case you missed it, Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza and Miss USA, Crystle Steward recently enjoyed a little vacation… at Guantanamo Bay. Unfortunately, I’m serious. In her blog on missuniverse.com, Dayana raved about her new favorite Caribbean getaway: “we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip… it was a loooot of fun!” To the rest of the world, Guantanamo represents a gross departure from the rule of law, torture, hell on earth, and a human rights crisis born from a legal black hole. But not to these two ladies who rose to fame by strutting their stuff in bikinis and high heels.
This week, Guantánamo!!! It was an incredible experience.
We arrived in Gitmo on Friday and stared going around the town, everybody knew Crystle and I were coming so the first thing we did was attend a big lunch and then we visited one of the bars they have in the base. We talked about Gitmo and what is was like living there. The next days we had a wonderful time, this truly was a memorable trip! We hung out with the guys from the East Coast and they showed us the boat inside and out, how they work and what they do, we took a ride around the land and it was a loooot of fun!
We also met the Military dogs, and they did a very nice demonstration of their skills. All the guys from the Army were amazing with us.
We visited the Detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how the recreate themselves with movies, classes of art, books. It was very interesting.
We took a ride with the Marines around the land to see the division of Gitmo and Cuba while they were informed us with a little bit of history.
The water in Guantánamo Bay is soooo beautiful! It was unbelievable, we were able to enjoy it for at least an hour. We went to the glass beach, and realized the name of it comes from the little pieces of broken glass from hundred of years ago. It is pretty to see all the colors shining with the sun. That day we met a beautiful lady named Rebeca who does wonders with the glasses from the beach. She creates jewelry with it and of course I bought a necklace from her that will remind me of Guantánamo Bay
I didn’t want to leave, it was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.
At least someone’s happy to have been at Guantanamo Bay.
Today, Holland starts a one-year trial of arming police with Tasers. This sounds like a familiar story, but here’s the twist: The Dutch police don’t want the them. According to Dutch Public TV, the Federal Police issued a statement documenting their objections to using a weapon so rife with problems.
And why should they want to use this weapon? The controversy surrounding Tasers is well-documented. Between July 2001 and August 2008, Amnesty International studied more than 334 deaths that occurred after police-use of Tasers. So many of the deaths were needless. Police frequently used Tasers inappropriately, especially considering that in well over 90% of the cases, the person on whom the Taser was used did not even have a weapon. Medical examiners have cited Taser as a primary or contributory cause of death in at least 50 cases. And disturbingly, in far too many cases where people died after being shot with police Tasers, the cause of death is listed as a homicide.
The police in Holland got it right. While Dutch police and concerned citizens try to fend off the American Taser export, perhaps we can import something from Holland where policing is concerned: common sense.
On the outset, it seemed like March was going to be a great time for women. This month, we celebrated International Women’s Day recognizing women’s social achievements and ongoing struggles in pursuit of economic, social, and political justice. Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton came together to recognize women’s human rights activists. And President Obama signed an executive order establishing a White House Council for Women and Girls. Yes, ma’am! This is our month! And just days later, the nation has come to focus on … Meghan McCain’s dress size. Oh.
By now, most people know about the fight that conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham and wannabe-political-pundit Meghan (daughter of none other) McCain are having in the public sphere. For those of you who had the pleasure of missing it, I’ll spare you the discomfort of reliving it through Google. The synopsis: Laura, in the process of addressing Meghan’s lack of credentials, infers that Meghan is overweight. A rightly offended Meghan addresses the attack with the 2-prong-Jennifer-Love-Hewitt approach: You shouldn’t attack me, and all women, by focusing on my weight. Besides, I’m a size 8. That’s not fat.
Oh Meghan. You had me until the dress size. So what if you weren’t a size 8? What if you were a size 12, 16 or 22? Is there a number at which it is acceptable to publicly attack someone for her weight? There is no threshold where it is fair game to diminish a person because of her size. I don’t want to know what size you are, wish you were, or are pretending to be. It doesn’t matter and your protest is weakened by divulging what should be personal, and more importantly, inconsequential, information.
For years, women have been judged, at least in part, sometimes in whole, by how we look to the eye, instead of how we sound to the ear. When females defend ourselves against these kinds of disparaging remarks by revealing the numbers on our scales, a disservice is done to every person judged by her weight. Women across the career spectrum from Oprah Winfrey to Jessica Simpson should never have to answer for their sizes. Let’s do ourselves a favor and stop engaging in this self-destructive dialogue.
Until I attended law school, my strongest exposure to court rooms came from an old “L.A. Law” addiction. (If you don’t know what that is, do me a favor and don’t depress me by asking. Think “Boston Legal” for the 80s.) One of my girlfriends in grad school came from a family with a strong legal tradition and was a lot savvier than me when it came to actual courtroom experience. For years, her father argued cases in front of the Supreme Court and I listened with interest as she shared insider’s knowledge. Jennifer said that one of the hardest things to explain to her dad’s clients was that by the time the cases reached the Supreme Court, they were not about them. They had become cases about the law and the way the law is interpreted for everyone.
I’ve been thinking about that lesson this morning, as the California Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to Proposition 8. It’s been a hard thing to explain to the people of California – and the country- that Proposition 8 is not just a case about same-sex marriage. It’s a case about the rights of all minority populations in California.
If that doesn’t seem obvious, let me explain. The California Constitution, like all constitutions provides fundamental rights for those under its jurisdiction. Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a fundamental right and must be extended to same-sex couples. When Californians voted for Proposition 8, they voted to take away a fundamental right of a minority group. The case is really about whether we can allow fundamental rights to be taken away from citizens by majority vote. Do the majority of voters have the power to take away constitutional rights from any group? The answer must be no. Otherwise, every minority group based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender, is vulnerable. Without the security of equal protection under the law, all minority groups are at risk of losing fundamental rights whenever the majority decides to take them away.
Over 10 years ago, I worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a legal advisor, I researched Israeli policy and practice of demolishing the homes of Palestinians. In the night, bulldozers would appear before a Palestinian home and raze it to the ground. Often, the occupants were able to flee in their nightclothes. Sometimes, they could not. I stood in countless piles of rubble during my time there, witness to inhumane and senseless destruction. One of my most harrowing visits to the crumbled ruins of a 92 year-old woman’s home haunted me for many nights. In dreams, as she had in life, she clung to me sobbing, “Please help us. Please help us. Please.”
I was there as part of an interfaith peace initiative that placed budding lawyers in the OPT, with the hope that by bearing witness to the human rights atrocities, we would return to the U.S. and shed light on shaded perception. It was an optimistic initiative, counting on us Jews, Muslims and Christians to reach beyond our identities into our shared responsibility for justice. Where this happens, I find the greatest hope.
After the past weeks, hope in the OPT is in short supply, but it came again when I received an email from my dear friend, Michael Ratner. It is not a message from a Jew to a Muslim about a holiday honoring a Christian. It is a message about the deep principles of justice and mutual obligation to shed loyalties to labels and honor that which is fundamentally human. Human rights have no tribe, no religion, no skin color, no ethnicity and no price tag. Its only loyalty is to the principle that we are each owed the dignity of an even, humane standard.
In these days, the situation in the OPT can sometimes feel overwhelmingly bleak, if you need a little hope, listen to King’s speech and read Michael’s words.
A note from Michael Ratner:
On the celebration of King’s birth I often read or listen to the anti-war speech that he gave at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967—A Time to Break the Silence. It was a powerful statement of his opposition to the Vietnam War. He spoke of how he was told to not oppose the war because his opposition would anger President Johnson and harm the civil rights movement. He was warned that “Peace and Civil rights don’t mix.” King admitted he held back because of this possible consequence for too long and failed to speak out earlier.
I bring this up today when I think about Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza. While we are celebrating King’s birth and the inauguration of Barack Obama, Israel invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, men women and children, and injured thousands. It targeted UN buildings, homes, mosques, police stations, universities and media outlets. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed—a ratio of one hundred Palestinians for each Israeli. The international law violations have been well documented: disproportionate military force, attacks on civilian targets, collective punishment. The killings of the three daughters of a Palestinian doctor gave a face to those killed in way that numbers could not. Members of my broader family knew the doctor, had visited him in Gaza and heard from during the Israeli onslaught. He was terrified for his family, but had no way out.
When I heard the news of the murders of the doctor’s children I was at the Sundance film festival and had just viewed an amazing and moving film about radical lawyer Bill Kunstler called Disturbing the Universe. The film shows Bill in Chicago during the 1969 Chicago 8 trial. During the time of the trial Black Panther leader Fred Hampton was murdered by the Chicago police. Bill was appalled by the murder, but he did not just blame the Chicago police. He blamed himself and all white Americans. For it was white Americans that for too long had remained silent and accepted the pervasive racism and the murder of Blacks in our society.
This brings me to Gaza and role of American Jews and, in fact, of almost all Americans. For too long, and I do not exempt myself, most of us have stood silently by or made only a marginal protests about the massive violations of Palestinian rights carried out by Israel. I recall a conversation I had some years ago with the political artist Leon Golub, famous for his outsized oil paintings of torture carried out by American mercenaries in Central America. Leon told me that he had been invited to attend a panel to address what it meant to be a Jewish political artist. He said he had never thought of himself as a “Jewish political artist” but only as a “political artist.” Then he thought some more. Of the works of art he had made, none concerned Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And then he knew, at least for himself and probably many others: to be a “Jewish political artist” was to be an artist who avoided depicting the horrors inflicted on Palestinians. Of course, that is true for more than just artists. Many Jews who are very involved in human rights, ending poverty and war, and fighting for the underdog avoid criticism of Israel. They wrongly think that human rights are divisible; or that like ostriches they can hide their heads and pretend not to see what is clearly staring them in the face and makes them uncomfortable: the inhuman treatment of Palestinians.
Some of our willful blindness and refusal to act is a result of our ambivalence about condemning the actions of a people that have experienced pervasive antisemitism and the holocaust. Some of our hesitation to act results from the condemnation and opprobrium anyone, but especially Jews, encounter with even mild criticisms of Israel. Organizations that take a position against Israeli actions subject themselves to a loss of funding from foundations and individuals. Few can afford to do so. As long as this silence continues, so will the U.S. billions in aid and arms that facilitates the killings of Palestinians. As long as this silence continues, more and more settlements will be built. As long as this silence continues, there will be more and more Gazas and more and more children murdered.
The lesson here is simple, but difficult to act on. We are, each of us, responsible for the murders in Gaza. Our silence is betrayal. Each time we hesitate to speak out; each time we moderate our condemnation we become accomplices in killing. The time, if there ever was one, to show courage is now. Yes it will be difficult for many. As King said about the reluctance of some to oppose the Vietnam War:
“Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainly; but we must move on.
We must take King’s words to heart. We, each of us, “must move on.” We must begin somewhere even if it just means saying the issue is not off our agenda. Begin the discussion; begin to act; show that you care. And remember, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.” That time has come.
The media on MLK Day showed us just how far we have to go.
On NBC, The Today Show headlined with contrasting photos of President Obama and….50 Cent. No kidding. Throughout the next hour, they proceeded to offend their thinking viewers by asking who, of the two, has more influence.
NBC insisted on pursuing this nonsense, flashing photos of Obama, walking through the Capitol, meeting with dignitaries, in his suit and tie and 50 Cent, wearing a thin white tank undershirt and rapping surrounded by a partying crowd. They continued their President vs. rapper theme as they welcomed journalist Gwen Ifill for an interview. Today Show host Meredith Vieira tossed her the opening question while moving her hands up and down, like a scale, “So Gwen, Obama or 50 Cent?”
Excuse me? No offense to 50 Cent, but can someone please explain the comparison? As far as I can see, they are both black. And breathing. Beyond that, I’m hard pressed to see the relevance in this comparison that Today wouldn’t let die.
Race no longer an issue? When was the last time a news program compared Bush to Eminem?
Today is Oscar Grant’s funeral. He is the latest in a long string of unarmed black men to be killed by police. The night he died, Oscar, 22, was out celebrating New Year’s Eve. At around 2 a.m., he and friends were pulled off of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train- Northern California’s subway system- by police officers. He was unarmed and cooperative, even telling friends to calmly oblige the police. That did nothing to save Oscar Grant. Within minutes, without cause, a police officer would shoot him in the back, execution-style.
Watch the video yourself. You’ll see Oscar sitting up against a wall with several other young men, cooperating with police instruction. Eyewitnesses report that “the cops were hitting, yelling and cussing at the guys”, while dozens of people called out about the mistreatment. Oscar put his palms up, a clear indication of compliance. Then officers dragged him from the wall and pushed him onto his stomach, his face pressed to the floor.
Oscar feared for his life. Witnesses describe Oscar pleading for police not to taser him, begging, “Please, please, don’t tase me.” Instead, one police officer pressed his knee onto the back of Oscar’s neck. A second officer, Johannes Mehserle, leaned over him, reached for his gun, pointed it within about a foot of Oscar’s body and shot him in the back. The officers look at each other as Oscar writhes in pain and turns to look at the man who killed him. On video, you can see Oscar speaking to the officer. Witnesses tell us that he cried, “You shot me! I got a four-year-old daughter!” The video doesn’t show the officers immediately administering first aid to the man they shot. Instead, it appears to show police handcuffing Oscar, who wouldn’t live to see the sun rise on a new year.
I take the killing of Oscar Grant personally. Not because it happened in the area of my birthplace. Not because I’m a person of color who, like many people of color in the country, has experienced police abuse of power, first-hand. Not because I grew up in fear of the police after my father, the safest driver I know, was told by a police officer on a bogus stop, that the cop was considering shooting my dad. Not because of the fact, that despite the shield of my lawyer’s license, my heart still pounds at the sight of a police badge.
Oscar’s killing is personal because his death offends the fundamental principles of justice, every notion of dignity and the idea that through those threads, all of our lives are connected. As human beings, we are responsible for each other. His death means that we must work for his justice.
Taser International is busy promoting a new product. It’s called Taser Shockwave, meant to cast something of an electroshock net over an area. It belongs in my “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” file along with Taser International’s leopard-print MP3 player that doubles as a taser and their employment of Playboy Bunnies for promotion- but those are stories for another day.
This week, Taser International showcased their latest in potential human rights violations to your local police chief at the International Association of the Chiefs of Police annual gathering. I wish I could have been there to talk to those officers about our latest statistics. Since the summer of 2001, Amnesty International has been tracking the deaths that have occurred after police have used the taser weapon- we are at 320 and counting. In over 90% of those cases, the person shocked didn’t even have a weapon. And now Taser International wants police to have the ability to spray tasers over a crowd, hitting individuals, all at once.
Aside from taser’s questionable track record, the frightening trend in police crackdowns on dissent should make us particularly wary of the latest in taser technology. Forget disastrous preventative detentions at the RNC and tear gas at WTO protests. There is something new for protestors. Here is what Taser International has to say about it: With the push of a button at a stand-off distance of up to 100 meters, the Shockwave unit deploys multiple standard TASER® cartridges that are oriented across an area arc. Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region.
Development of weapons that allow police to tase en mass is not good news. This flies in the face of good law enforcement. Police shouldn’t be shocking entire crowds. Given the problems with tasers, especially among vulnerable groups like the mentally ill, police need to assess the appropriateness of taser use on particular individuals and should only elect to use the taser in dire circumstances when lesser alternatives aren’t available.
Coming off of years of crushing police responses to dissent, giving departments the technology to take down multiple people with just one pull of a trigger is a dangerous idea. I wonder what the chilling effect will be on public dissent. Would you be willing to go to a protest knowing that police on the scene were armed with Taser Shockwave? I wouldn’t bring my daughter, which means that I might have to stay home. Maybe that’s the point.
Action for Human Rights. Hope for Humanity.