The Gift that keeps on Giving

The appointment of Daniel Fried, a career diplomat who has formerly been both Ambassador to Poland and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, as the new Special Envoy on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility suggests that the Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to persuade European states to accept detainees who have been cleared for release.

As things stand, there are approximately 40 detainees still held in Guantanamo who could leave tomorrow if a suitable home for them could be found. These individuals cannot return to their country of origin because they would face persecution, torture or worse at the hands of the local authorities. Several European states, most notably Switzerland and Portugal, have indicated willingness to accept a limited number of former detainees and a number of other European states such as Ireland, France and Hungary may yet be persuaded to the same.

Unfortunately, US efforts to gain European support for resettlement are being undermined by political grandstanding in Congress as representatives try to outdo themselves in synthetic outrage playing the not-in-my-back-yard card regarding the possibility of transferring GITMO detainees to US soil. This alarmist narrative makes it all the more harder to build bridges to potentially sympathetic European states.  Having created the problem, it now seems that some Congressional Republicans are also hell bent on torpedoing the solution.

What Obama's Presidency Doesn't Say About Race

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?

Posted in USA

Another Year, Another Unarmed Black Man Killed by Police

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.

Posted in USA