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Category Archives: Wrongful Convictions

The Case for Reparations | Ta-Nehisi Coates

The AtlanticDespite 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of “separate but equal” and 35 years of racist housing policies, signs of overt racism still are all around us - be it a New Hampshire police commissioner’s use of an ethnic slur to describe President Obama or a NBA team owner’s disturbing remarks about black athletes and fans. By now, we all know the drill, the media calls these people out for their ugly words and we play our parts, shaking our heads in sad disbelief — then return to our daily lives.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, thinks it’s time for a bold step to change the way we talk and think about race in America. His explosive new cover story, provocatively titled “The Case for Reparations,” attempts to rekindle a national discussion on reparations for American slavery and institutional racism. Coates explores how the original sin of slavery, state-sanctioned violence against blacks, Jim Crow segregation, and federally backed housing policy systematically robbed African Americans of their possessions and prevented them from accruing inter-generational wealth.

Coates points to a century of racist and exploitative housing policies that made it extremely hard for African-Americans to own homes and forced them to live in poorer neighborhoods with unequal access to a good education, resulting in a major wealth (and health) gap between black and white. In fact, the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households, according to a Pew Research Center study.

“It puts a lie to the myth that African Americans who act right, who are respectable, are somehow therefore immune to the plunder that is symptomatic of white supremacy in this country,” Coates says. “It does not matter. There’s no bettering yourself that will get you out of this.”

“There are plenty of African-Americans in this country — and I would say this goes right up to the White House — who are not by any means poor, but are very much afflicted by white supremacy,” Coates says. By white supremacy Coates says he refers to an age-old system in America which holds that whites “should always be ensured that they will not sink to a certain level. And that level is the level occupied by black people.”

Coates makes the case that the intolerable economic reality experienced by many middle-to-lower class African-Americans stems, not from their work ethic or lack thereof, but from their unique and unimaginably painful past. Inequality, poverty, racism and discrimination didn’t just cease after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Life for many blacks, especially those living in the deep South, changed little if at all. No longer openly referred to as “slaves”, blacks assumed the title of “sharecropper” -semantics being the primary difference between the two.

No one living now is responsible for the sins or crimes of their ancestors. But white America cannot pretend they are not the intended and actual beneficiaries of the ongoing institutional racism first introduced, then supported, by their ancestors. As Coates explained to Bill Moyer in the video above: “I am not asking you as a white person to see yourself as an enslaver. I’m asking you as an American to see all of the freedoms that you enjoy and see how they are rooted in things that the country you belong to condoned or actively participated in the past.”

“Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole,” Coates said. 

I concur.

The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates |The Atlantic


Additional Sources: Moyers & Company – Facing the Truth: The Case for Reparations (05/21)

Democracy Now! The Case for Reparations: Ta-Nehisi Coates on Reckoning With U.S. Slavery & Institutional Racism (05/29)

 

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529 Egyptians Sentenced to Death in Killing One Police Officer -David D. Kirkpatrick | NYT

529-Mursi

A relative of a supporter of Egyptian ousted Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, cries outside the courthouse on March 24, 2014 in the central Egyptian city of Minya, after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings. Photo: AFP Photo/STR

MINYA, Egypt — A crowd gathered outside a courthouse in the town of Matay erupted in wailing and rage last Monday when a judge sentenced 529 defendants to death in just the second session of their trial, convicting them of murdering a police officer in anger at the ouster of the Islamist president. Here in the provincial capital just a few miles away, schools shut down early, and many stayed indoors fearing a riot, residents said.

But the crowds went home, and soon the streets were quiet.

After nine months of escalating repression that culminated in the extraordinary verdict, the military-led government that removed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood appears to have finally cowed his supporters into near-silence here in Minya, perhaps their greatest stronghold. The city was the heart of a fierce Islamist insurgency just two decades ago, and threatened to rise up again, against the new government.

“They want to scare us so we don’t go out into the streets against them, to show us that could be the justification for another death sentence,” said Mohamed Hafez, whose brother was among those sentenced to death. So rather than give them the pretext, he said, the families consoled themselves that mass sentence was in some ways “a good thing,” because it showed that the trial itself was “a farce” and “illegitimate.”

Excerpt, read Hundreds of Egyptians Sentenced to Death in Killing of a Police Officer -David D. Kirkpatrick | NYT

Related: In Egypt, One Step Up and 529 Steps Back -By Robert Mackey | NYT


UPDATE 04/28: The same Egyptian court that sentenced 529 men to death earlier this month has condemned 683 more defendants to the gallows, making 1,100 Egyptians who have been convicted in the death of a single policeman. Meanwhile, no security official has been charged for the more than 1,000 civilians killed in July. Read Egypt’s Court Mock Justice With More Death Sentences -By Karl Vick | TIME

 

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After Death Row in Texas, I’m Fighting to End the Death Penalty | Kerry Max Cook

Kerry Max Cook © marco delogu

Kerry Max Cook © marco delogu

My name is Kerry Max Cook, but for two decades, I was known as “Cook, Execution number 600.” Innocent of the murder and rape I was accused of in 1977, my home became a tiny death row cell in Texas, the state that kills more people than anywhere else in the U.S. by far — including 141 of my fellow inmates before my release in 1999. By then, my only brother had been murdered and my Dad had died of cancer. My Mom died soon after. I was stabbed, raped and routinely abused on death row. My ordeal spanned two generations of the Smith County District Attorney’s office, two wrongful convictions, two reversals of conviction, a walk to the execution chamber, and three capital murder trials. My legal team and I have been unable to find a worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in Texan history.

I avoided a fourth trial only by pleading no contest, while making no admission of guilt. I have never been officially exonerated. Author John Grisham said, “If it were fiction, no one would believe it …”

I am, in fact, innocent. Another man’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing two months after my release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accused Smith County prosecutors of “willful misconduct” in my case. Nonetheless that office remains determined to stop me clearing my name. My lawyers are working to file an application for writ of habeas corpus in coming months, hopefully prompting the appeals court in Austin to officially exonerate me and end my 36-year-old nightmare.

It all began in 1977. I was 20 and working as a bartender when a waitress said the manager wanted to see me. I stepped into a pitch-black room that was usually lit by fluorescent lighting and fumbled for the switch. Suddenly, hands reached out to grab both sides of me. The silver Smith & Wesson handcuffs crashed down on my wrist and I heard the detective’s words, “Kerry Max Cook, you’re under arrest for the capital murder of Linda Edwards” — a name I didn’t even recognize.

At the police station, they used my head as a toilet plunger. I knew the policeman was lying as he rammed my head repeatedly down the bowl filled with dark urine, screamed at me to confess and told me they had found my DNA on the body. I wept for my mother and father, for anyone, to help.

Even though I still bear the mental and physical scars and ongoing indignities of my wrongful conviction and imprisonment, I consider myself lucky. I have a wife and son. I have powerful allies — including Amnesty International, which found me in a dark cell and helped raise awareness of my wrongful conviction in 1991. It literally saved my life. I was so proud to be introduced by Susan Sarandon at Amnesty’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn February 5 and address the audience as my 13-year-old Kerry Justice Cook looked on. I was proud to honor a powerful, global movement of activists who carry Amnesty’s torch for human rights — including my right to life. That is why I support Amnesty’s abolition work and the efforts by courageous activists on the ground, most urgently in New Hampshire, where a repeal vote in the state House is anticipated early next month.

The death penalty should be abolished across the United States, and everywhere. We do not need any more mistakes. We know that 143 people have served time on US death rows for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of. And imagine this. On appeal, the only question becomes whether the defendant received a fair and impartial trial. So if the evidence is made up, like in my case, you die.

The price of this system is a life. Of course the odds are stacked in your favor if you have access to financial resources, but you won’t be surprised to hear that you don’t meet too many people like that on death row.

One of death row’s other dirty little secrets is that it is a repository for every conceivable mental illness. Its population consists largely of untreated, traumatized children who grew up into broken adults. There are exceptions, of course, but I do not believe that even the guilty on death row are irredeemable. As Rosalind says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders.” If my case proves anything, it is that only time can tell if someone is guilty.

No prosecutor should have the power to end another human life. No other living soul should endure what I did. So I am praying now for victory, by Amnesty International USA and all those who are pushing to end this barbaric practice, in New Hampshire, and everywhere. Then, my nightmare will be over.

★ Kerry’s Fight for Justice
★ Kerry on Self-Empowerment 

 

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Video

Bryan Stevenson: We Need To Talk About An Injustice

In an engaging and personal talk — with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks — human rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson shares some hard truths about America’s justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country’s black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America’s unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.

“I was giving some lectures in Germany about the death penalty. It was fascinating because one of the scholars stood up after the presentation and said, ‘Well you know it’s deeply troubling to hear what you’re talking about.’ He said, ‘We don’t have the death penalty in Germany. And of course, we can never have the death penalty in Germany.’ And the room got very quiet, and this woman said, ‘There’s no way, with our history, we could ever engage in the systematic killing of human beings. It would be unconscionable for us to, in an intentional and deliberate way, set about executing people.’ And I thought about that. What would it feel like to be living in a world where the nation state of Germany was executing people, especially if they were disproportionately Jewish? I couldn’t bear it. It would be unconscionable. And yet, in this country, in the states of the Old South, we execute people — where you’re 11 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white than if the victim is black, 22 times more likely to get it if the defendant is black and the victim is white — in the very states where there are buried in the ground the bodies of people who were lynched. And yet, there is this disconnect.” –Bryan A. Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson’s 20 minute TEDx speech is, without a doubt, one of the most profound, urgent and inspiring talks ever!

Bryan Stevenson: We Need To Talk About An Injustice | TEDx

Annotated Transcript


Bryan A. Stevenson is a Professor of Clinical Law at New York University and a public-interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. He’s the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based group that has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent prisoners on death row, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. One recent victory: A ban on life imprisonment without parole sentences imposed on children convicted of most crimes in the United States.

 

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Recommended Reading ★ Blackbirds in the Pomegranate Tree| Mary Ellen Sanger

Blackbirds in the Pomegranate TreeMary Ellen Sanger had made her life in Mexico for 17 years when she suddenly found herself in prison in Oaxaca, Mexico, arrested on invented charges. She spent 33 days in Ixcotel State Prison in the fall of 2003. In Blackbirds in the Pomegranate: Stories from the Ixcotel State Prison, Sanger writes not only about her experience in the Mexican prison but about the many women she encountered while there.

These stories of the women she met there, illuminate her biggest surprise and her only consolation in prison: the solidarity that formed among the women she lived, ate, swept and passed long days with while inside. Nine lyrical tales show the depth of emotions that insist on their own space, even in these harshest of circumstances.

Mary Ellen weaves her own tale through the stories. Accused of a crime that doesn’t exist by a powerful man in Mexico, she depends on the fierce solidarity of friends on the outside, and a brilliant lawyer who trusts in the rule of law… even in Mexico.


Mary Ellen Sanger lived in Mexico for 17 years, and has published short stories, creative nonfiction and poetry in Spanish and English in Mexico, the US and online. She led bilingual workshops for New York Writers Coalition for six years, and is currently working with Colorado State University’s Community Literacy Center at the Larimer County Detention Center, where she writes with incarcerated women. Since leaving Mexico, Mary Ellen has been involved as a mentor and member of the fiction and poetry committees for the PEN Prison Writing Project, and as a post-production coordinator for the Emmy award-winning Mexican documentary “Presunto Culpable” (Presumed Guilty).

✿ Forward by: Elena Poniatowska
✿ Format: Kindle, Paperback
Purchase a copy

 

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ONE. FOUR. TEN.

One For TenThey belong to a very small and extremely unusual club that has only 142 members. The factor that unites them is that they have all experienced America’s capital punishment system at first hand, yet lived to tell the tale.

This is the club of death row exonerees. Its members include Kirk Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate to be exonerated by DNA evidence in 1993 and now an anti-death penalty campaigner of national renown.

Then there is Damon Thibodeaux, who walked free last September, an innocent man, from the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana where he spent 15 years in the shadow of the death chamber. And the only woman in this peculiar group, Sabrina Butler, who was wrongfully sentenced to death by Mississippi in 1990 for killing her nine-month-old son, compounding the grief of a teenaged mother who had lost her first born, as it later transpired, to liver failure.

Now a pair of filmmakers from London have created a series of documentaries to profile this exceptional club of death row exonerees in a creative experiment, where they traveled 5,500 miles across the US in an RV, in which they drove, ate, slept and edited what they hope will be a ground-breaking interactive documentary project. They are calling it One For Ten– after a simple but harrowing fact: that since the death penalty resumed in America after a hiatus in 1976, there have been 1,323 executions and 142 exonerations.

In other words, for every 10 prisoners executed, another one has been allowed to walk free because the death sentence was found to be unreliable.

“Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, that’s an outrageous level of failure,” says Will Francome, who hit the road last April along with his filmmaking partner Mark Pizzey. “The consequences of such glaring flaws are horrifying – if you get the death penalty wrong it’s irreversible.”

The 30ft RV embarked from New York on 11 April, and finished in Las Vegas on 18 May. During the course of five intense weeks, the team met and made an internet film about 10 exonerees, each one representing a different critical problem with the application of the death penalty in America.

Through the individual narratives of the 10, Francome and Pizzey hopes to highlight the many ways in which US capital punishment fails to deliver on its promise of only putting onto death row those who are guilty beyond even the minutest doubt. The 10 were carefully chosen to elucidate those problems – from misidentification of suspects, to false and coerced confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, atrociously poor representation by defense lawyers and bad forensic science.

The project’s creators hope that in addition to highlighting the injustices of capital punishment, One For Ten also broke new ground in terms of documentary film making. ‘One for Ten’ is a completely new form of interactive film-making; each film was shot in a day, edited the next and uploaded that night. This allowed us to utilise social media to engage our audience in the filmmaking process. They were able to ask interview questions of each our interviewees as well as helping to shape the films with feedback.

Excerpt, read: Death Penalty Filmmakers Hit the Road to Profile America’s Exonerees – By Ed Pilkington | Guardian UK (Note, Blogger made minor edits to reflect the fact that the film series has been produced since the article was originally published. Additionally, Blogger relied on the filmmakers’ website for post-production info such as the total number of miles traveled.)

ONE.FOUR.TEN FILMS

 

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24 Human Rights Organizations to Support in 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year! Well, it’s actually 12 days into the new year but this is my first post of 2014. Over the holiday break (which really wasn’t a break because human rights abusers don’t take holidays off), I got a chance to read several “end of the year” news stories and lists. Some recapped last year’s major events and headlines, others attempted to forecast this year’s headlines. It was all very entertaining until I began to focus on the top human rights headlines of 2013 and realized many of the “big” stories were about the suppression or regression of rights.

Thinking about all of this gave me a migraine (seriously), but it also gave me a topic idea for my first post of the year. So much attention is given to what’s wrong with the world, we often miss what’s right with it. I have the privilege of working with brave individuals and organizations around the world committed to the advancement of human rights, and it is time we shine a spotlight on them. To this end, I have compiled a list of 24 organizations that need, deserve and would be eternally grateful your support in 2014.

I could waste a paragraph or two, detailing how I came to settled upon the organizations listed below. But I’ve got other things to do today and I’m sure you do too. What I will say is that my list is comprised of both large and small, new and old, traditional and non-traditional human rights organizations. The list could have been twice as long and each additional name would have been justified and equally deserving of recognition. But don’t fret, in about 365 days I’ll pay tribute to 24 more organizations. Lastly, readers should know the numbers are intended only as counters, I intentionally did not rank or otherwise organize the list. So without further ado…”

★ My 24 for 2014 ★

The Malala Fund1. The Malala Fund is an independent non-governmental organization established by Vital Voices to honor Malala Yousafzai, the 15 year old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head and nearly killed by the Taliban when she tried to go to school on October 9, 2012. The Malala Fund provides funds and support for programs that work towards Malala’s mission to make sure all girls have access to the education they deserve. Worldwide, 66 million girls are not in school, and when girls are denied an education, society loses one of its greatest and most powerful resources. “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world,” Malala has said, and she’s right. Your donation can help deliver a high-quality education to disadvantaged communities around the world while amplifying the voices of those fighting for their right to an education.

 

HTS Movement2.  Half the Sky Movement is cutting across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide, the defining issue of our time. Inspired by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book of the same name, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide brings together video, websites, games, blogs and other educational tools to not only raise awareness of women’s issues, but to also provide concrete steps to fight these problems and empower women. 

To date, supporters of the movement have donated more than $5 million to organizations helping women and girls; more than 1.1 million people have played the Facebook game; and more than 1,500 campus and community ambassadors have hosted screenings, held panel discussions, and educated members of their communities about the issues facing millions of women and girls and the inspiring individuals and organizations that are working for a fairer, freer world.

 

Janus Logo III 150X1503. Janus Institute For Justice is a “green” business comprised of diverse individuals from various academic, professional and cultural backgrounds committed to the advancement of environmental and social justice through education, advocacy and activism, social media, volunteerism, community outreach and other forms of non-violent, civic engagement. Janus works closely with socially responsible clients and partners to develop long-term strategies and programs focused on education, engagement and empowerment. In December 2013, the organization’s Board of Directors unanimously agreed to convert to a nonprofit and announced it was launching the first two Project Initiatives of 2014. In November 2013, the organization’s President and Founder was awarded the National Audubon and Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship.

 

nmt_logo4. No More Tears is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization whose mission is to rescue victims of domestic violence. Somy Ali, the founder and president of No More Tears, witnessed domestic violence growing up in Pakistan and during her teenage years while working as an actress in India. After finishing her education, Somy formed No More Tears in 2006 to help victims of abuse that were brought to the U.S from various countries around the world. No More Tears has to date rescued over 365 abused adults and 685 children since its inception. The organization provides legal services, counseling, shelter, English classes, household items, groceries, and helps survivors find jobs to complete their empowerment.

 

HRW logo5. Human Rights Watch is one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, HRW gives a voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Their rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For more than 30 years, HRW has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

 

Jean R Cadet Org6. The Jean R. Cadet Restavek Organization is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ending child slavery in Haiti. The organization focuses on raising international awareness, conducting national sensitizing campaigns in Haiti and developing and implementing elementary and secondary school curriculum that empowers Haitian children to work together to end child slavery.

 

Fistula Foundation7. Fistula Foundation was founded in 2000 as an all volunteer organization to support the pioneering Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. Its success between 2004 and 2008 enabled its founders to dramatically expand the mission to fight fistula globally. As a result of this rapid expansion, the organization now supports fistula treatment in 19 countries at 38 sites on two continents, Africa and Asia. They support more obstetric fistula surgeries globally than any other organization in the world that is not taking government funding.

 

SPLC8. Southern Poverty Law Center is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. Founded by civil rights lawyers Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. in 1971, the SPLC is internationally known for tracking and exposing the activities of hate groups. SPLC’s innovative Teaching Tolerance program produces and distributes – free of charge – documentary films, books, lesson plans and other materials that promote tolerance and respect in our nation’s schools.

 

One For Ten9. One.Four.Ten The death penalty was re-instated in the United States in 1976. Since then, for every ten people that have been executed, one person has been exonerated and released from death row after spending an average of ten years in isolation. ‘One For Ten’ is an online series of films that were produced and broadcast over five weeks in April and May of 2013. During that time, a of four traveled the width of the US and interviewed ten individuals who have been freed from death row. Each of the films profiles a major issue in wrongful convictions highlighted through an individual case. ‘One for Ten’ is a completely new form of interactive film-making; each film was shot in a day, edited the next and uploaded that night.

 

EJI10. Equal Justice Initiative is a private, nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. They litigate on behalf of condemned prisoners, juvenile offenders, people wrongly convicted or charged with violent crimes, poor people denied effective representation, and others whose trials are marked by racial bias or prosecutorial misconduct. EJI works with communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment. EJI also prepares reports, newsletters, and manuals to assist advocates and policymakers in the critically important work of reforming the administration of criminal justice.

 

ACLU11. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. These rights include First Amendment rights, equal protection under the law, due process, and privacy. The ACLU also works to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including people of color; women; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people; prisoners; and people with disabilities.

 

Amnesty12. Amnesty International is a global non-governmental organization (NGO) and a movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. Amnesty’s vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards. Amnesty’s headquarters are registered in England and Wales. But it is independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion, and are funded mainly by our membership and public donations.

 In the field of international human rights organizations, Amnesty has the longest history and broadest name recognition, and is believed by many to set standards for the movement as a whole.

 

hrc_logo-svg13. Human Rights Campaign is the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide — all committed to making HRC’s vision a reality. Founded in 1980, HRC advocates on behalf of LGBT Americans, mobilizes grassroots actions in diverse communities, invests strategically to elect fair-minded individuals to office and educates the public about LGBT issues.

 

Freedom House14. Freedom House is an independent, non-governmental watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world. Today, as more than two billion people live under oppressive rule, Freedom House speaks out against the main threats to democracy and empowers citizens to exercise their fundamental rights. We analyze the challenges to freedom; advocate for greater political and civil liberties; and support frontline activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change. Founded in 1941, Freedom House was the first American organization to champion the advancement of freedom globally.

 

EDF15. Environmental Defense Fund or EDF (formerly known as Environmental Defense) is a United States–based nonprofit environmental advocacy group. The group is known for its work on issues including global warming, ecosystem restoration, oceans, and human health, and advocates using sound science, economics and law to find environmental solutions that work. It is nonpartisan, and its work often advocates market-based solutions to environmental problems. The group’s headquarters are in New York City, with offices nationwide, and scientists and policy specialists working worldwide.

 

EarthJustice16. Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law organization dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. Earthjustice works through the courts on behalf of citizen groups, scientists, and other parties to ensure government agencies and private interests follow the law. On Capitol Hill, they work to protect and strengthen federal environmental laws and preserve special places, like the Arctic.

 

UltraViolet17. UltraViolet, Equality at a Higher Frequency is a new and rapidly growing community of women and men across the U.S. mobilized to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, from politics and government to media and pop culture. UltraViolet works on a range of issues, including health care, economic security, violence, and reproductive rights. UltraViolet combines innovative, cutting-edge organizing with grassroots, people-powered actions to fight for equality and progress.

 

Polaris Project18. Polaris Project is a leading organization in the global fight against human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Named after the North Star “Polaris” that guided slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, Polaris Project is transforming the way that individuals and communities respond to human trafficking, in the U.S. and globally. By successfully pushing for stronger federal and state laws, operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), conducting trainings, and providing vital services to victims of trafficking, Polaris Project creates long-term solutions that move our society closer to a world without slavery.

 

The Innocent project19. The Innocence Project is a non-profit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and created by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld in 1992. The project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. As a clinic, law students handle case work while supervised by a team of attorneys and clinic staff. To date, there have been 312 post-conviction DNA exonerations in United States history.

 

Stahili20. Stahili Foundation was established to combat child labor and abuse of children living in rural Kenya. Stahili works to rescue and provide these children with the basic needs they deserve – a supportive and loving environment and the right to achieve their individual potential through education. Stahili currently provides assistance to 15 children, but they hope to double that number by 2016. Stahili focuses on quality over quantity. The Foundation holistically cares for and assists students through the entirety of their education.

 

Room-to-Read-Logo21. Room to Read is an award-winning non-profit organization for improving literacy and gender equality in education in the developing world. Headquartered in San Francisco, California and founded on the belief that “World Change Starts With Educated Children,” the organization focuses on working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments. Room to Read develops literacy skills and the habit of reading among primary school children, and supports girls in completing secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond. Room to Read is serving communities in ten countries in Asia and Africa: South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

 

somaly-mam-foundation22. The Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the eradication of sex slavery and the empowerment of its survivors, led by the vision and life’s work of Cambodian survivor and activist Somaly Mam. Founded in 2007, the organization’s multilateral approach helps victims to escape their plight, empowers survivors with economic independence and as part of the solution, and engages governments, corporations, and individuals in the fight.

 

elie-wiesel-foundation-for-humanity23. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity was founded by Holocaust survivor, professor, writer and activist Elie Wiesel and his wife, Marion, soon after he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for Peace. The Foundation’s mission, rooted in the memory of the Holocaust, is to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality. The international conferences of The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity serve as a catalyst for change and action. In the United States, the Foundation has for 25 years offered the Ethics Essay Contest which challenges college juniors and seniors to analyze the urgent ethical issues confronting them in today’s complex world.

 

PBS 224. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is a private, nonprofit corporation, founded in 1969, whose members are America’s public TV stations — noncommercial, educational licensees that operate more than 350 PBS member stations and serve all 50 states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. PBS’ mission is to create content that educates, informs and inspires. To do this, PBS offers programming that expands the minds of children, documentaries that open up new worlds, non-commercialized news programs that keep citizens informed on world events and cultures and programs that expose America to the worlds of music, theater, dance and art. PBS reaches 120 million people through television and over 29 million people online each month.

 

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Video

HERMAN’S HOUSE – A JACKIE SUMELL PROJECT

Herman's House (Paper)Herman Wallace’s world for much of the last 41 years had been a solitary prison cell, 6 feet by 9 feet, when he left a Louisiana prison on October 1. Wallace was freed by Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana who ruled that his original indictment in the killing of a prison guard had been unconstitutional. Wallace was moved from Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, LA by ambulance to the home of a friend and supporter, Ashley Wennerstrom, a program director at the Tulane University School of Medicine. Three days later, on October 4, Wallace died of cancer in New Orleans. He was 71.

Wallace had been one of the “Angola 3,” convicts whose solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, an 18,000-acre prison farm on the site of a former plantation, became a rallying point for advocates fighting abusive prison conditions around the world.

He was serving a prison sentence for armed robbery when the correctional officer, Brent Miller, was stabbed to death in a riot at Angola in April 1972. Mr. Wallace and two other men were indicted in the killing. Two of the three — Albert Woodfox and Mr. Wallace — were convicted in January 1974.

The two were placed in solitary confinement, where they joined Robert King, who had been convicted of a different crime. For decades to follow, the three men were locked up for as much as 23 hours a day. Amnesty International published a report on them in 2011, and they were the subject of a documentary film, “In the Land of the Free,” directed by Vadim Jean.

In the film, Teenie Verret, the widow of Brent Miller, said of the killing, “If they did not do this — and I believe that they didn’t — they have been living a nightmare.”

George Kendall, who was a lawyer for Mr. Wallace and who confirmed the death, said in an interview that his client’s original conviction was “a travesty” based on shoddy evidence, and that the men had been kept in solitary confinement because they had been members of the Black Panthers, the black nationalist group. Officials worried “that they would organize the prison,” he said.

Even from solitary, Mr. Wallace worked to improve prison conditions and to press his own appeals, Mr. Kendall said. He answered mail from people who had heard about his case.

Then in 2001 Herman received a perspective shifting letter from Jackie Sumell, a young New York artist, who posed the following provocative question:

What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6-foot-by-9-foot cell for over 30 years dream of?

Thus began an inspired creative dialogue, unfolding over hundreds of letters and phone calls and yielding a multi-faceted collaborative project that includes the exhibition “The House That Herman Built.” The revelatory art installation—featuring a full-scale wooden model of Herman’s cell and detailed plans of his dream home—has brought thousands of gallery visitors around the world face-to-face with the harsh realities of the American prison system.

There are 2.2 million people in jail in the U.S. More than 80,000 of those are in solitary confinement. Herman Wallace had been there longer than anyone.

Herman’s House is a moving account of Wallace’s unending struggle for freedom and the powerful expression it found in Sumell’s project, which began as a game and turned into an interrogation of justice and punishment in America. It is also a testament to the transformative powers of art and imagination.

Sumell was with Wallace after his release. Though Mr. Wallace was weak, drifting in and out of consciousness, Ms. Sumell said, “He was very well aware of the fact that he was in Ashley’s home, and he was a free man.” Indeed, his final words as he departed this Earth were‘I am free. I am free.’

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Sources: Herman Wallace, Freed After 41 Years in Solitary, Dies at 71 -By John Schwartz | NY Times

Film Synopsis by Herman House.org, Herman House.com, and PBS POV

Herman’s House premiered on PBS’s POV July 8, 2013. Watch the full-length film here until November 3, 2013. Check here for local screenings or to order a copy of the DVD.


*Robert King was released from prison in 2001; Albert Woodfox is still in prison in Louisiana.

SIGN THE PETITION – END THE INJUSTICE, FREE ALBERT WOODFOX FROM ISOLATION!

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Video

Death Before Dying: Solitary Confinement on Death Row | ACLU

We know that the death penalty system is broken. Racial bias, junk science, underfunded public defense, and other serious breakdowns in our legal system can mean that people – sometimes innocent people – will languish on death rows for years while pursuing appeals. Spending these years in extreme isolation can erode mental health to the point that some will “volunteer” to die rather than continue to live under such conditions. Many prisoners die a slow and painful psychological death before the state ever executes them. Never mind the countless innocent people languishing on death row. The story of Anthony Graves, featured in the video above, brings the issue into sharp focus.

From 1994 to 2006, Anthony Graves spent at least 22 hours a day locked alone in a small cell waiting to die — all for a crime he did not commit. During those years, 400 other prisoners were also locked alone on Texas’ death row.  Anthony recounts what it means to be completely alone for 12 years on death row.

Death Before Dying: Solitary Confinement on Death Row | ACLU

 

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Write About Race Before the Circus Comes to Town | Leonard Pitts (Keynote Address, July 18, 2013)

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are!” -Benjamin Franklin

CircusEight years ago, a storm came barreling through the Gulf of Mexico and smashed the Gulf Coast of the United States. Hurricane Katrina leveled the city of Waveland. It buckled roads in the city of Biloxi, it ripped the city of Bogalusa. And it absolutely smashed the city of New Orleans.

Eight years later, the images from that time feel as if they happened in someone else’s nightmare. But they were real. The bodies floating in the canals were real. The dead woman in the wheelchair covered by a sheet was real. The people trapped in the heat and stench of the Super Dome were real. The people sweltering in their attics as the flood waters rose were real. The people making camp on the highways and bridges were real. The people looting, the people wading through chest-high waters in search of bread and diapers, were real.

Real, too, was the sense of surprise, of abject shock, with which the nation and their news media realized an astonishing thing. There are poor people in America. Indeed, it turns out there are people in America so desperately poor that they lack the means even to run to higher ground in the face of a killer storm. They don’t have cars. They don’t have credit cards. They don’t have the things that the rest of us are able to take for granted.

As an Illinois senator named Barack Obama put it, “I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren’t just abandoned during the hurricane. They were abandoned long ago – to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.”

For a brief moment, the astonishing news that there is poverty in America seemed to galvanize the news media. We wondered how in the heck we could have missed this. Newsweek responded with a cover story: The Other America. The public editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution chastised the paper for dedicating a reporter to coverage of the zoo and the aquarium, but none to cover welfare and public housing. A reader wrote the New York Times to express disappointment in that paper’s failure to bring attention to poverty. “As a close reader of The Times and of poverty trends,”’ he said, “I was surprised to learn of the poverty conditions that prevailed in New Orleans. Why didn’t the economic-social-racial conditions in New Orleans get some attention in the paper?”

”The Times,” he added, “let us down.”

The Times, or at least its public editor, agreed, writing: “Poverty so pervasive that it hampered evacuation would seem to have been worthy of The Times’ attention before it emerged as a pivotal challenge two weeks ago.” The paper’s coverage, he added, “falls far short of what its readers have a right to expect of a national newspaper.”

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there arose a consensus in American journalism that we had done a terrible job of covering poverty. I am here to tell you that we have done an equally abysmal job of covering race.

Many of us, I suspect, will resist that characterization. They will point to the attention given the furor over Paula Deen, the Henry Louis Gates affair and the subsequent “beer summit,” the headlines out of Jena, Louisiana, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the opening of the Martin Luther King monument on the Washington Mall, the sliming of Shirley Sherrod. And, yes, they will point to the wall-to-wall coverage given the shooting of Trayvon Martin – especially this week, as Martin’s assailant was acquitted and the nation grappled with the aftermath.

But that is not covering race. That is covering the tragedies, dramas and sideshows that periodically arise from race. We are always there when the circus comes to town.

And even then, it turns out our attention is surprisingly fickle. Last year, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism posted an analysis which found that, with the notable exception of the Trayvon Martin case, news media tend to drop stories with racial implications with surprising quickness. According to Pew, for instance, during the week of March 17th 2008, 2008, the story of Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory comments consumed 17 percent of the news hole nationally. The following week, it dropped to 3 percent. The week of July 19th 2010, Shirley Sherrod represented 14 percent of the news whole, the following week, she was two. Stories related to race, according to Pew, tend to have little staying power.

The reason we tend to drop race like a hot potato, I think, is that, contrary to what some of my readers contend, we in the news media draw our members from the ranks of the human race. And human beings, particularly in this country with its fraught history of slavery, violence, suppression, exclusion and murder, often find race a very difficult subject to talk about.

But again, it’s not even race that we tend to cover but, rather, the aftermath of race – the incidents that race creates the circus of race. So what do I mean, then, by race?

If you read the first of the two columns I wrote in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, you may remember that I made reference to a social experiment I once saw on television. What Would You Do? is one of those hidden camera shows in which they set up a situation and watch to see how average people respond. In the segment I wrote about, a young white actor sets to work trying to steal a chained up bicycle in a park. He uses a hacksaw, a bolt cutter and even an electric saw. The cameras watch for an hour. A hundred people pass by. A few mildly question what he’s doing, but most don’t even bother. Out of that 100 people, only one couple calls authorities. ABC also tried the setup with an attractive blonde woman. Five white guys stopped – and helped her steal the bike.

It was when they did the experiment with a black kid that things got interesting. And you know where this is going. Within the first minutes, there’s a crowd of people around him. They challenge him.

They lecture him. They whip out cell phone cameras and take video of him for use in court. They call the police. And afterward, when they are asked if the color of the young man stealing the bike had any bearing on their actions, they all swear it did not.

As one man put it, “Not at all. He could’ve been any color, it wouldn’t have mattered to me.”

So when you ask yourself what I mean by “race,” I mean that. That is race.

And can we pause and just deal with that for a moment? Ask yourself what it means that, after an experiment that demonstrates with stark clarity the dimensions of racial bias, that man can assure us all race had nothing to do with his decision to harass the black kid and that he absolutely would have given the same treatment to the white one. We know from watching the video that he very likely would not.

The point is not that that man is lying. Far from it. The point is that he is telling the truth as he understands it. How can he be guilty of racial discrimination? He doesn’t burn crosses on people’s lawns. He doesn’t post Whites Only signs in his place of business. Black people are welcome at his house, as Archie Bunker once put it, through the front door as well as the back. So there is no way he looked at that black kid in the park and committed racial profiling. This is his truth. Race had nothing to do with it.

It is a statement of self-delusion that finds its echo all throughout the Trayvon Martin case. Race had nothing to do with my shooting him, said George Zimmerman. Race had nothing to do with our letting Zimmerman go, said the police department. Race had nothing to do with our acquittal said the jury.

And yes, I am well aware that Trayvon’s parents also said the same thing. Race had nothing to do with our son’s death.

Tyell Morton

Tyell Morton

Before I explain what the difference is, let me tell you a story. Three years ago, an 18-year-old black kid named Tyell Morton, sneaked into his high school in Rushville, Ind., wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He left a mysterious package in the girl’s restroom. The package turned out to be a blow-up doll. It was the last day of school and this was a senior prank.

For this prank, Tyell an A and B student with no criminal record and dreams of college, was arrested and jailed on a $30,000 bond and initially charged with terroristic mischief. Prosecutors eventually came to their senses and dropped the felony charges but before they did, Tyell was facing eight years behind bars.

When this happened, a woman a letter to the editor of the Rushville Republican newspaper. “I want and need someone to PLEASE tell me,” she said, “this case is not going to become a huge deal because of RACE!” She capitalized “race” and followed it with an exclamation point, adding, “I feel very strongly that skin color had nothing to do with these charges …”

Tyell’s father told me in an interview that he didn’t want it to be about race either. He explained that Rushville is a small, predominantly white town, that most of his son’s friends are white and that most of those who contributed to raise the $3000 needed to bail Tyell out were also white. So he did not, he told me repeatedly, want race to “cloud” matters. “My son’s life,” he said, “is more important than some racial issue that people can’t seem to get over. That’s what I want to focus on, man.”

But I pushed him on it. I asked him point blank if he thought his son would be in jeopardy if he not black – and poor. And this guy who didn’t want to “cloud” matters snorted bitterly and said, “”That question has been answered way before this happened to my son. Do I need to even answer that? Come on.”

Newspaper article

My point is that Tyell’s father, like Trayvon’s parents, understood intuitively that if you start making racial accusations, no matter how obvious and well-founded they are, some white people will retreat behind self-justifying statements of blamelessness, others behind statements of angry denial, and the justice you seek will just get that much further away. So I am not surprised Trayvon’s parents said what they did. But I would wager a month’s salary that if you could somehow induce that man or woman to speak their heart of hearts and ask if them if they believe their son would be dead if their son had been white, they would say something like what Tyell’s father said. “Do I need to even answer that? Come on.”

This, friends and colleagues, is the story we are not telling. Because this influence that color still has over our perceptions half a century after the civil rights movement – and our denial of that influence – has implications far beyond the killing of Trayvon Martin, tragic as that was. No, it bears directly upon the decisions we make, the policies we embrace, in the fields of criminal justice, education, the environment, health care, the economy, politics, foreign policy, terrorism, you name it. It bears upon how we all perceive the world. So where are our enterprise stories documenting these effects? Why are we as an industry – with a few noteworthy exceptions – silent on these issues?

As I said a moment ago, race is not an easy topic. If you are white, race can be difficult because you have to grapple with the sense of feeling guilty or that someone is trying to make you feel guilty for an ugly past. I remember watching at a documentary on the murder of Emmett Till with a young white kid who told me afterward that it made him want to pull his skin off. This is a child born three and a half decades after Emmett Till died and yet, watching those white people on screen in the middle 1950s saying all those vile, hateful, stupid things, made him, personally, feel bad. Feel indicted. We have to recognize that and be sensitive to that. We have to evolve some way of talking about race that allows white people of good intention to feel as if they can be part of the solution and not just a new iteration of the problem.

It is easier for black folk to discuss race, but even with us, there can be some hesitation. It you are black, race can be a difficult subject because like sediment at the bottom of the pond, it stirs up so many feelings of anger, shame and boiling frustration. It can be easier just to not deal with it, easier just to leave it alone. We have to find some way of pushing to the other side of anger, of using it not as a fuel for bitterness, but as a fuel for determined, focused action.

Make no mistake, those are hard things to do. And instead of helping the nation find ways to do them, our industry has instead entered, I think, into a kind of conspiracy of silence where race is concerned. In this, we are not unlike many of the readers we serve.

I had a reader tell me once that I must stop writing about race because the subject is “impolite.”

I get told all the time that if I didn’t talk about race – me, personally – race would not be a problem in this country.I am frequently instructed that I create racism – and become a racist myself – by writing about race.

I think what these people mean to say is that they wish I would not violate the conspiracy of silence. By mutual, unspoken consent, we have decided that we will speak of these things only when doing so becomes unavoidable, only when we are pushed to by drama, tragedy or sideshow, only when the circus comes to town. The problem is, that is precisely when emotions are apt to be most high and voices most shrill. That is precisely when people are most likely to retreat into their bunkers of fixed opinion and yell across at each other and no one ever hears a thing that is said. No understanding is ever broached, no reconciliation even remotely possible.

By acceding to this conspiracy of silence, we as journalists – and I would also indict the school system in this – have helped create a generation of socio-historical idiots where race is concerned. You may think that description is a little harsh. I would ask you to spend some quality time talking to some of my many earnest readers who insist with a straight face that conservatives fought for civil rights in the 1960s and died to stop slavery in the 1860s. You may just change your mind.

This socio-historical idiocy flourishes in a nation where what happened yesterday is no longer recalled and what happens today, still, right now, is considered taboo. It should tell you something that according to a 2010 study by Public Religion Research Institute, 44 percent of all Americans believe bigotry against whites is a significant problem even though, by every objective standard – education, health, wealth, life expectancy – it is not. It should tell you something when the re-election of the nation’s first African-American president is greeted by calls for secession and revolution. It should tell you something when the number of hate groups in this country spikes by nearly 70 percent since 2000 amid claims that white America is threatened by genocide.

It should tell you that the silence we have embraced is poisonous.

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So it is not enough to cover the Trayvon Martin trial. We should have already been writing about the forces that made that trial a sensation, meaning this abiding perception that black equals criminal. We should have been asking local police chiefs and district attorneys how it is that African Americans commit, say, 15 percent of drug crimes in a given jurisdiction, yet account for upwards of 70 percent of those doing time for drug crime.

It is not enough to cover the “beer summit” that ensued when a black professor was arrested on his own front porch. We should have been writing more about the disparities in educational achievement that make an African American man on a college campus such a rarity in the first place.

It is not enough to write about the sliming of Shirley Sherrod. We should have been writing about what seems to some of us an organized attempt by elements on the political to stir racial resentment, to give those resentments moral and intellectual cover, and to use them as a lever of political power.

It is not enough to write about the opening of the Martin Luther King monument on the Washington Mall. We should have been writing about the erosion of progress toward the Dream he famously articulated there.

In other words, we need to draw the through line, so that when President Obama is called “uppity” or people pretend there is some controversy over where he was born, there is no question where that is coming from. We need to provide context so that when a district attorney seeks to try six black children for attempted murder after a schoolyard fight, people are already equipped to understand the rage that boils in some of us who have been down this road too many times before.

This matters. Virtually every domestic issue that you cover – crime, poverty, the economy, the environment, education – is impacted by race. So helping our audiences understand what race means, what it is and how it still works, could not be more vital.

This is true all over the country. It is especially true – and especially critical – here in Florida. For the last few minutes, I have talked about race in the way we have traditionally talked about it in this country, as a bipolar phenomenon: blacks on one side, whites on the other. But as anyone who can read a demographic chart knows, the bipolar is fast becoming the tripolar as Latinos and other Hispanic Americans make ever greater inroads in terms of numbers, cultural influence and political power.

I am aware, yes, that Hispanic is not a race, but an ethnicity. I am also aware that both those words, when you break them all the way down, are pretty scientifically meaningless, except to the degree they quantify our tendency to want to slap labels on those who are “not like us.” So let us just agree to agree that the nation is changing, that in the future, “race” will be even more complicated than it has previously been and that in Florida, the future is now.

Almost one in four of the 19 million people who call this state home identify as Hispanic or Latino. In Texas and my home state of California, the ratio is even higher: nearly 40 percent. South Central Los Angeles, where I grew up, was once regarded as the largest African-American community west of the Mississippi River. That’s changed. I attended John C. Fremont High, which had maybe two Mexican kids when I graduated almost 40 years ago. We were the Pathfinders, and our mascot was a scout with a big Afro and an Afro pick sticking out of his back pocket. The school is now predominantly Mexican American. The mascots now are a man and woman with pale skin and dark features wearing coonskin caps, their fists raised as they burst through the page.

The times, as Bob Dylan once sagely noted, they are a’changin’.

The question is, is our industry changing to meet them – not just technologically, but culturally. Are we representing diverse cultures in our pages and on our websites? Are we speaking honestly about the changes, challenges and opportunities those cultures represent in terms of politics, education, criminal justice, health and labor. Do we understand that the conversation we have refused to have does not get easier from here on out because some of the participants hablan Espanol. To the contrary, it becomes more complex – and more critical.

I will tell you the truth: there are days when I come uncomfortably close to despairing of my country’s ability to ever come to terms with itself, heal itself, on the subject of race. My assistant Judi, who handles my email and is thus on the front lines of the socio-historical idiocy I mentioned, periodically blows her top at some of the ignorant things people say. She sent me an email once that said, “I don’t understand why you don’t just hate white people.”

Judi’s white. She’s about my age. And I suspect she feels what I feel: that sense of betrayal unique to those of us who came of age in the post civil rights era thinking that all this stuff was fixed, all this stuff was over, all this stuff was past, that it was finished for us by Martin Luther King and the generation of marchers who followed him toward the Promised Land. I went to college in the ‘70s, roomed with a white guy, discovered Simon and Garfunkel, watched All In The Family on television, thankful all that idiocy was now distant enough and safe enough to laugh at.

The ensuing 40 years – the bulk of my life – have been a bitter process of watching the backlash take form and discovering just how naïve and mistaken I was.

One of the things that gives me hope, that helps to keep despair at bay, is embodied in this room, in the profession that you and I are both lucky enough to pursue. As I said, much has changed over that 40 years. One thing has not. I still believe, cutbacks be damned, furloughs be damned, economic downturn be damned, that we do honorable and vital work and that if you seek the truth and then tell it without fear or favor, you commit an act of unalloyed good.

The civil rights movement would not have been won without Martin Luther King’s incandescent leadership. It would not have been won without that army of marchers and boycotters and nonviolent protesters. But it also would not have been won without the pens and typewriters and cameras of reporters who turned the nation’s eyes to the injustices flourishing in places like Little Rock, Selma, Montgomery, Nashville, Greensboro and St. Augustine. It is said that newspaper images of the unrest in Birmingham so embarrassed John F. Kennedy and undermined the nation’s ability to condemn Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on human rights issues that Kennedy’s brother Robert sent an envoy to Alabama to mediate the dispute.

This is what our words and pictures can do. In the civil rights years, they shattered stereotypes, they shredded preconceptions and they destroyed self-deluding fantasies. Sometimes, I don’t think we really appreciate just how dramatic a change that was. We are talking about wrongs that had endured for generations, yet they were rendered inert in just 13 years, in part because our professional forebears saw a story that appalled them and told the world about it.

That is the power we wield.

So what appalls us now? Government spying, govHateernment lying, rapacious banks and terror threats are likely somewhere on your list, and with good cause. But I would ask that you also spare a little bit of moral indignation for the fact that, not 50 miles from here, a black child, walking through a gated community wearing a hooded sweatshirt and khaki skinny jeans carrying nothing more dangerous than iced tea and candy can somehow be inflated into a thug and a threat. Or for the fact that you could stalk and kill that child and be acquitted of any wrongdoing in the same state where Marissa Alexander is doing 20 years for shooting a wall. Or for the fact that some of us can look at this and assure themselves, assure us all, that race has nothing to do with it.

I ask that you see this as a story and a priority and a moral imperative. I ask that we use our great power to batter down self-delusion and socio-historical idiocy. I ask that you reconsider the price we’ve paid for our conspiracy of silence – and that you do it before the next circus comes to town.

Write About Race Before the Circus Comes to | Leonard Pitts, Keynote Address (July 18, 2013)

Related: I am an Angry Black Man –By Jospeh Debro | SF Bayview




This speech was given by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts as the keynote address on July 18 to the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida Press Association, he challenges editors and publishers to report courageously on race and poverty.

 

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