Vincent Chin was beaten to death in Detroit in June 1982, by two white auto workers who reportedly said it was because of him that they had lost their jobs. At the time, listeners may recall, Japan was being widely blamed for the collapse of the Detroit auto industry. Chin was Chinese-American. Elite media, as reflected by the New York Times, didn’t seem to come around to the story until April 1983, with reporting on the protests emanating from Detroit’s Asian-American community about the dismissive legal response to the murder.
As 2021 comes to a close, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is collaborating closely with Jailhouse Lawyers Speak as they organize collective actions inside prisons and jails from August 21 to September 9, 2022. These actions will include labor strikes, work equipment sabotage, sit-ins, boycotts and hunger strikes. The campaign, called “Shut ‘Em Down 2022,” plans to focus on locally organized actions driven by incarcerated people to meet their abilities and the demands of their specific facilities. IWOC is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World. “When you’re incarcerated, human rights abuses are happening left and right because the mentality is that you are there as a punishment,” says Courtney Montoya, media liaison for IWOC and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak.
On the show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Michael Smith about civil rights attorney Michael Ratner's recently published memoir, "Moving the Bar – My Life as A Radical Lawyer". Smith was a close friend and collaborator of Ratner's for over three decades. Michael Ratner was one of the most important civil rights attorneys in our era. He spent his life fighting on behalf of those who state and empire sought to crush, from the leaders of the prison uprising at Attica to Muslim prisoners held in Guantanamo, to Julian Assange.
As public defenders, it's been hard to watch the defacement of our federal courts by the Trump administration. From the Supreme Court on down, the country's judicial benches are occupied by fewer people who have fought for compassion over cages. For every public defender on the federal bench, there are four former prosecutors —and the ratio is seven to one if you expand the comparison to lawyers who represented people instead of just lawyers who represented the government. State and federal judicial posts are packed with individuals who have spent their careers defending corporate polluters, protecting big real estate, or filling our jails and prisons, leaving ordinary people looking for the protection of the courts out in the cold.
The Supreme Court just issued a landmark decision penned by Neil Gorsuch, a conservative justice appointed by President Donald J. Trump, deciding that “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.” “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” the decision reads. “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
U.S. officials, whether Democrat or Republican, pretend that only other countries violate human rights. Every year, the State Department issues a report on worldwide human rights with the heaviest criticism aimed at enemies du jour such as China, Russia, and Iran. Human rights, as defined by U.S. officials, include freedom of the press, maintaining an independent judiciary, and civil rights. But most of the world, the United Nations included, goes further, saying human rights include the right to a job, health care, and housing, among other things. Not surprisingly, U.S. leaders never mention authoritative international reports detailing U.S. human rights abuses. In 2017, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a report sharply criticizing U.S. human rights abuses.
On the morning of May 15, Dr. Rafil Dhafir was released to home confinement from the Allenwood federal prison in central Pennsylvania. The Iraqi-American physician who has worked internationally with Doctors Without Borders has been in federal prison since the day of his arrest more than 17 years ago in 2003, on the eve of the second U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was not due to be paroled from his 22-year sentence until November, 2021. Dhafir will now complete that term at his home near Syracuse, New York. A combination of factors described in the Bureau of Prisons (BoP) COVID-19 management plan added up to Rafil Dhafir’s eligibility for release now. Many of his supporters wrote to the warden following the March 26 memo from Attorney General William Barr to the Director of the BoP that outlined the plan.
New Yorkers are allowed and encouraged to go out in the street with masks and stay at least 6 feet apart, as long as it is to stand in line to go shopping or to sit in a park, but if they are adhering to those requirements and they say something about an issue of public concern (similar to what members of Reclaim Pride did) that speech will make the speaker subject to arrest on the specious basis that speech is a public health risk. Banning that speech/protest while permitting the same activity without speech is unconstitutional. The president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association recently wrote to the police commissioner stating that: “This week the mayor announced an end to public protests in the city….the SBA believes that such a sweeping prohibition against the rights embodied by the First Amendment is glaringly unconstitutional.”
Many of the new surveillance powers now sought by the government to address the COVID-19 crisis would harm our First Amendment rights for years to come. People will be chilled and deterred from speaking out, protesting in public places, and associating with like-minded advocates if they fear scrutiny from cameras, drones, face recognition, thermal imaging, and location trackers. It is all too easy for governments to redeploy the infrastructure of surveillance from pandemic containment to political spying. It won't be easy to get the government to suspend its newly acquired tech and surveillance powers. When this wave of the public health emergency is over and it becomes safe for most people to leave their homes, they may find a world with even more political debate than when they left it.
On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” host Robert Scheer speaks with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Adam Schwartz. The civil rights lawyer, who spent two decades at the ACLU, explains why Americans should be incredibly alarmed at how the pandemic could be used to chip away at whatever is left of their civil liberties under the excuse of contact-tracing. “You've raised some cautions about the blank check we're giving every government in the world to engage and increase surveillance, to track down people on the contact list, and so forth,” Scheer tells Schwartz, “But what I don't understand is the basic justification of keeping this all secret rather than transparent. Because we don't have an enemy, this ‘invisible enemy’ that Donald Trump talks about, that cares to translate, to read, to break codes.”
We must understand that the crisis we’ve entered into will never end, at least not for as long as our neoliberal capitalist system isn’t replaced with a socialist model. In the U.S., as well as the other countries where austerity has wrecked healthcare systems, Covid-19 is going to cause societal disruptions for years as the virus partially subsides and then regrows. So will be the case for the other pandemics that are sure to emerge in the coming years due to global warming and ecological degradation. This is aside from the collapse of the economy, which is going to put the capitalist world in a general state of crisis throughout the coming years and decades. Amid this new normal where the U.S./NATO empire is fighting a war on viruses, in addition to a war on terror, a war of great power conflict with Russia and China, a war on immigrants, a war on dissent, and a war on communism, the repression we’ve seen during these last two decades since 9/11 will look mild compared to what’s coming next.
Leviathan monumental shocks currently pound citizens around the world. Shocks to our lives. Shocks to the economy. Shocks to our reality. Shocks to our families, our careers, what we used to view as our “normal.” The pain of these shocks hits us in many ways, not the least of which is being forced to have sex while 6 feet apart. Welcome to the Shock Doctrine. Many of you may know Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine.” It was also turned into a hit movie I believe called “Fight Club,” but don’t quote me on that. The Shock Doctrine basically says that the rich and powerful — our rulers bereft of empathy or moral cores — exploit any crisis such as disasters, natural and otherwise, to force through controversial, draconian, profit-based, or flat-out, offensive policies and laws, while the majority of the populace is too distracted, stressed, and drowning in anxiety to fight back adequately.
This week was called by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS) to be Unchain the Vote Week focused on bringing attention to the unconstitutional, dehumanizing act of felony disenfranchisement that plagues 48 of the 50 United States. During this week outside organizers hosted and attended events in solidarity with inside organizers’ call. One of the events I attended was the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights Symposium, The Road to Re-Enfranchisement: Advancing Rights Restoration. The event was a closed invite only collaboration between New York and New Jersey attended by aligned organizations across the country including grassroots organizers like Initiate Justice, Emancipation Initiative and Millions for Prisoners (all of which are apart of the Right2Vote Campaign) as well as larger organizations like Demos, the Vera Institute and Common Cause.
August 1964, fifty-five years ago, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party presented itself to the national Democratic Party Convention seeking to be seated as the official party from that state. The predominantly black delegation wanted to deny seating to the all-white “regulars” who had earlier in the year denied Mississippi African-Americans the right to participate in precinct, county, congressional district and statewide meetings that nominated these delegates. MFDP presented itself to the Credentials Committee at which a decision would be made to seat one-or-another, or a mixed, body of delegates. MFDP and its allies proposed rejecting the “regulars”. It is likely that a Credentials Committee offer for a 50/50 delegate split would have been accepted by MFDP, in part because its members knew this policy would lead to a walk-out by the regulars.