Do Resolutions Really Work?

by Grace NdanuJanuary

a list of tasks with check marks
Source: Yahoo Images

At the end of every year until the beginning of a new year, I have always been listening to the same message which is said by everyone. Everybody talks about how they are going to do great things in the coming year and that they are going to do what they never did during the year that just ended. At the beginning of every year people write resolutions; that is, the list of what they would like to have accomplished at the end of the year. And now allow me to take this on a higher notch. Do people include humanity points in their list? Is there a point that says, “feed some street families, foster a kid for a few weeks, volunteer in an orphanage and also involve in a activism movement”? This gets me so motivated, and I run to my diary to put down my resolutions.

Now I don’t have to tell you the shock that I find every December when I get back to my diary to see whether that which I put down on paper at the beginning of the year has come to pass. It really pains me that each time I go back to revisit my resolutions, I am still on the same page as the year started. As I listen or read news in the newspaper, there are cases that involve people that need to be shown some love. This is what motivates us to write some resolutions at the beginning of every year. But what really matters is…did we get to know someone or make someone smile as we promised ourselves we would?

It always go back to procrastination and we all know it’s a thief of time…getting to actually commit to your resolutions is really hard. The excitement makes us think that we can actually do what we have written down in a jiffy. I have had some little meetings with myself several times, and I came to a conclusion that resolutions are like trying to change my life for the better and at the same time make someone forget their sorrows and at least smile for a while. But change is not easy, and we should actually try to define resolution as change. Taking a step to a better you will require a willing mind, a willing heart, commitment and sacrifices.

Do we really need to share out the resolutions that we come up with at the start of the year with our confidants? No, I don’t think so! I really don’t understand who else should have a look at my diary or have the information that is inside my diary apart from me who I own it. I strongly feel that I am the one to work on what I really want just like any other person who has visions and as a result every one wrote their resolutions and should work towards accomplishing their resolutions.

As the year goes by and February sets in, reality also sets in. I wrote what I wanted that year but is there is no a hint of progress. This really hits me so hard and start thinking maybe I should go back to the list and may be do some changes on what I had written, or I should at least wait a little bit longer to see what happens or maybe I should just terminate the list and just go by the flow with an excuse of, I am busy and I will do it whenever I get some time. Others have an excuse of not forcing things and just wait for that time to come and they precise it to be magical, for me I feel like it is luck of commitment and sometime I may call it selfishness.

As I said earlier, the news is everywhere. There are cases that makes us sad. It hurts me so much when I recall of a certain girl who was recently raped, killed and dumped by a known politician. When the story was aired in all forms of media, everyone was very angry because of the incidence, the politician was caught and taken to court. After a week everyone forgot what had just happened and they were back to their businesses. Up until now I still don’t get how it just went. Because the politician was set free. Where is everybody who thinks that they are advocates against Gender Based Violence? There are only 16 days that are set for activism. Why shouldn’t these days be everyday instead of just writing things that we will never take seriously?

Allow me to challenge those who are in charge of spearheading Human Rights in Kenya. I do appreciate the Human Rights authorities who have their five year strategic plan that is 2018-2022. They have passed their first test. However what are some of their accomplishments for the two years that have gone by? Have they been able to implement that which they had discussed or the plans are just good on paper and nothing is been done about it. For instance the Kenya National commission on Human Rights had promised to put measures that are going to prevent abuses, improve on their investigations and put those who infringe on other people’s rights behind bars. I really don’t know how to put this across and tell you that there are so many people out here who go scot free after they have done heinous acts. Men and women who are fond of raping young boys and girls are still not locked up. When you ask the reason behind this, you will be told that there was no enough evidence to prove the rape case and even when there is enough evidence to lock up them, the judges get bribed and the story is swept under the carpet.

a group of young children help push a man in a wheelchair up a dirt road
Source: Yahoo Images

Do you even believe in resolutions? Do you even write something at the beginning of every year? If you do does the year end when you are satisfied? If nothing came to pass is it the same list that you are going to use in the following year, or are you going to change your list to something that you think is easy for you to accomplish? Nothing comes easy, there must be a struggle in order to archive what you really fill is important and more of helping others.

What Will It Take to End Child Marriage in Your Country?

by Grace Ndanu

The silhouette of a young girl with her head hanging low in her lap
Source: Pixabay

Justice is coming! As I continue growing old I keep asking myself, why child marriage? Is it really necessary? And if not, what do I or we have to do about it? I understand that child marriage is a result of male dominance at large. I think it’s best if we bring men on board first. Working with men can be very effective in reducing child marriage if not ending it. It will help to change ideas and behaviors, especially dealing with patriarchal attitudes. Once men are on board, they can use their influence to pave the way for positive change.

Adults have groups where they get to share what they are going through. Children also need safe spaces in schools. This will help them build their confidence and trust amongst themselves and also with their teachers. I’m sure there are girls who wouldn’t have gone through early marriage if they had a chance to escape. But they didn’t. Simply they didn’t have anyone to tell regarding what their parents were planning for them. This is why they need that space, it’s the window to their success.

Corruption has deep roots in my country, Kenya. For example, I would like to know where funds meant for educating less fortunate girls go. Culture is not the only reason for early marriage, but also poverty. There are girls who sacrifice themselves to go get married in an effort to reduce a burden on their parents. It has come to my notice that the leaders or people responsible for the education funds tend to accuse these girls of bad behaviour, but they are trying their level best to do what is right. Can’t the funds holders use the funds to educate the girls instead of them using the funds for their own benefits?

Not all problems are solved through fighting. Why shouldn’t we mingle? As they explain why early marriage we have a chance to convince them how early marriage is harmful and the advantages of not doing it. At some point there will be some girls listening, them knowing the advantages of not being married off, they will always want to go for their success and thus they will always report whatever harmful plan is made for them.

I don’t know who is with me! I consider myself as the second doubting Thomas. If am not sure of what am told I will ask for a success story if not stories. The girls who escaped the scandal of early marriage should be advised to go back to their communities and villages. The parents will be so proud until they will shout for the whole community to hear and come and see. Other parents would want their daughters to come home successful and hence they may change their attitudes towards early marriage. On the other hand there will be role models for little girls and the whole society.

Juvenile Justice Reform Helps Kids Be Kids

by Pamela Zuber

A pair of young hands gripping a prison fence
Source: Pixabay

While people in many places in the United States and around the world are experiencing human rights violations, the news is not entirely bleak. There are also positive developments. One is in juvenile justice.

How has juvenile justice progressed?

On October 1, 2019, four U.S. states allowed people seventeen years old and under to be tried automatically as adults: Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Members of Michigan’s state House of Representatives and state Senate took steps to change that statistic. They passed legislation in October 2019 that would:

  • Define adults as people eighteen years old and older.
  • Place seventeen-year-olds in family court, not adult criminal court.
  • Assign alternatives such as counseling and monitoring instead of incarceration or help accused youth avoid traditional court procedures entirely.
  • Give prosecutors the option to try people under the age of seventeen as adults if they are accused of violent crimes such as murder or rape if they have court approval.
  • Prevent seventeen-year-olds from being incarcerated in the same facilities as adults.
  • Not apply to seventeen-year-olds who have been previously sentenced as adults.

Legislators previously had trouble reaching agreement on the Michigan bill because of a dispute over funding for juveniles in the state’s justice system. The state of Michigan and the state’s counties currently share such funding responsibilities, but under the 2019 bill, the state would fund the first few years of the new program. The funding arrangement could help ease financial burdens for counties struggling to fund programs relating to health and wellness, law enforcement, and other services.

Known as a raise the age bill, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer signed this bill, Senate Bill 84, into law on October 31, 2019. The provisions in the bill will take effect in 2021.

What are the advantages of charging people as juveniles?

A young man skating along a road on a skateboard
Source: Pixabay

Charging people who are seventeen years old or younger as juveniles instead of adults may produce many benefits. On a short-term basis, it may be safer if accused young people are housed with other young people instead of adults. Young people treated as adults may be incarcerated with people accused of or convicted of violent crimes. The safety of juveniles could be at stake.

Designating people as juveniles also may produce more long-term benefits. For one, it could save money. A 2011 report published by the Vera Institute of Justice stated that raising the age of adult prosecution from sixteen to eighteen could provide millions of dollars in benefits for youth, victims, and taxpayers in the state of North Carolina. Such changes could initially cost money because they would require changes to the youth justice system, but in the long run, they could save money by not engaging the adult justice system.

Proponents of prosecuting children as adults have said that this prosecution could scare youths straight. They claim it could prevent young people from committing serious crimes because they are frightened of the consequences. But studies have shown that such harsh penalties do not deter young people from committing serious crimes.

Judicial system changes may help reconcile what we’re learning about the biology of young people. “Researchers focused on brain development have found that 18- to 24-year-olds—also referred to as young adults — stand out as a distinct developmental group with heightened impulsive behavior, risk taking, and poor decision making,” wrote scholars at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center in 2015.

Teens’ impulsiveness, judgment problems, and desire to experiment may thus make them liable to try alcohol and drugs and engage in other dangerous practices. They could be using such substances to rebel against their parents and other caretakers. After they use drugs or alcohol, the substances may alter their still-developing brains, creating life-altering consequences. Similarly, teens who engage in illegal behavior may face legal consequences. If they’re tried as adults, they may spend years behind bars or face other repercussions that could haunt them for their entire lives.

Who else advocates for juvenile justice reform?

Michigan legislators aren’t the only people and organizations advocating for changes to the justice system for juveniles. Organizations such as the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) are working to stop the prosecution of children under the age of eighteen as adults and end youths’ incarceration in adult facilities. The CFYJ says that this advocacy is necessary. It claims that 95,000 U.S. children are housed in adult prisons and jails every year and that several states and the District of Columbia allow children as young as seven years old to be prosecuted as adults.

Efforts from the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) are also trying to change the juvenile justice system. Like the Campaign for Youth Justice, it wants to end the prosecution of children as adults. The JLC is also working to end harsh conditions and solitary confinement at juvenile correctional facilities. It seeks to stop sentencing youth to serve their entire lives in prison without parole and end economic practices such as fines and fees that keep poor children confined more than more affluent ones. In addition, it also wants prisons and jails to provide educational opportunities for youth that can help them build better lives that prevent them from committing additional crimes and re-entering the correctional system.

On the websites for both organizations, there are sections that allow people to donate to their causes. Both sites also offer updates to keep people informed. The Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) site also allows people to share their stories and give testimonials. It provides instructions on how people can contribute to the organization’s initiatives.

Prosecuting teenagers as youths allows people to face the consequences of their actions, but it doesn’t condemn them to serving lifetimes in prison for minor crimes that they committed when they were still growing physically and mentally. We all make mistakes, especially when we’re young. Sensible justice sentencing for juveniles acknowledges mistakes and gives people the time and opportunity to learn from them.

 

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor interested in many topics, such as human rights, addiction and recovery, history, business, and science.

 

Gender Studies – Not a “Girl Thing”

by Grace Ndanu

A girl in front of a laptop in a college classroom
“Student in class” by UGA CAES/Extension, Source: Creative Commons

I was admitted in the university to specialise in Gender Studies, others call it social studies. The propaganda now comes in when other people call it women studies. I knew it was a good course, but I never knew what it entailed. The first week on campus I went through orientation where I came to meet people from different courses and most of them didn’t know what inspired them to take the courses they were taking, and it was there that I remembered one of my high school teachers once saying that some people don’t end up becoming what they dreamed of becoming when they were small. An example being me, I wanted to be a doctor and now I am aspiring to be a Gender CEO.

I find it unique, all the programmes that are running inside the university have departments and faculties except the gender programme where the department and the faculty are all in one package that is the Institute. We call it The Institute of Gender And Development Studies. In the programme we have the units that help us be better persons where by it molds us to be of good character and to be of service to the people. Talking of functions that the institute holds, I can say it suits all individuals in the campus where by you will find majority if not all students attending the Gender awareness day, cultural week and relationship forums. This now brings to the question, “Why women’s studies if all are the beneficiaries?”

It turns out that the Institute is weakly or never represented. In terms of staff board meetings, the staff from the institute are the last ones to receive the memo and sometimes never receive it at all. In the graduation booklet other programs come first; for example, engineering, agriculture and education…then lastly Gender studies. When classes began we were 49 in total and all of a sudden we are now 44. Thirty four girls and ten boys. And a lecturer came in and said that five boys have done interfaculty; that is, they changed their course from Gender to where they thought was best for them. But why?

In the middle of the semester I came to meet with one of the boys who left the programme, we had a chat. He said that Gender studies is a girl thing. In his words, “Don’t expect me to study what my wife is supposed to be studying right now. I know you people are taught how to take care of the husband at home, I am the husband here, so which husband am I supposed to take care off?” He also assumed that the programme trains the students how to beat men. He asked me a question which left me in a deep thought and a desire to ask him for more of his time so that we can discuss this issue of beating up men. I wanted to make him understand that we women are not into a fight, we are trying to negotiate so that we can have equal opportunities to resources and benefits. I insisted that we need to have our own money and freedom that we have been denied for so long.

The males being few in my course, I decided to talk to one of them, so that I can know what inspired him to do the course and what is still inspiring him to stay grounded to the course. He continued and started by saying that he was sponsored by the government to do the course, which he knew nothing about. His parents were not comfortable with him taking the course, and so they agreed with the parents that he will do an interfaculty, which he didn’t. “When I attended the first gender class I felt I was supposed to be there because I realised what we are being taught is all about all of us, starting with who we are as individuals and how to interact with each other”. He continued and said that the course has moulded him to be a better person and he is not regretting his decision to stay in the course.

Speaking to a girl who does gender is another good thing that I think I did. We as girls we always talk of our rights, and that’s exactly what she started with. She continued and said how she feels that her being taking gender has made her know that no one can live like an Island and that we need each other for survival that is men and women, boys and girls. And she added a quote from the Bible, “All people are equal in the eyes of God.” This brought a little argument between us because its true that we are equal before his eyes but still we need equity to reach equality. A girl needs sanitary towel for her to have equal time with a boy in class, which I now call equality. And finally we came to an agreement.

I insist that gender or social studies should be recognised in all the learning institutions. Starting with my school with the help of Dean of students and the institute should increase the counselling posts around the school. Increasing of these posts will help students visit there any time without being wait for long so that they can be attended to. Apart from Gender Awareness Day the university should hold functions that will communicate to students that gender studies is not a girl thing at all.

On the other side the government should increase the number of university offering the Gender and Development as a programme. Adding on the same, it should increase the number of students during the enrolment in the university to pursue the course. Increasing the number of university offering the programme and also the students will increase the confidence of students and now there will be a fair debate because we will be many against many unlike right now it’s like fighting one against many and definitely the many will win. And I believe that apart from gender based violence reducing, we will come to a conclusion that Gender or social studies is not a girl thing, seconding the motion, ”Gender is not between the legs but between your ears. “

Providing Equal Justice for All

By Pamela Zuber

“We have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent.” – Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy

Inside of a jail, a dark hallway with green jail cells on either side
Source: Pixabay

Money can’t buy happiness, but does it buy justice? Or, more accurately, does it help people avoid justice? Does money provide unfair advantages?

Athlete and actor O. J. Simpson famously assembled a team of some of the most prominent lawyers in the United States to defend him after he was accused of killing his ex-wife and her friend. Dubbed a legal dream team, these defenders helped Simpson win acquittal on criminal charges in 1995, although he was convicted of civil charges in 1997.

Wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein could have been convicted of federal sex crimes involving teenagers in 2008 but pleaded guilty to lesser charges in a Florida state court. During his sentence, he was allowed to leave prison for up to twelve hours every day for six days a week. Epstein also had private security and his own psychologist while staying in a private wing of a Miami prison.

After serving thirteen months, Epstein traveled frequently to New York and the Virgin Islands while he was on probation. Epstein committed suicide in prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking. The trafficking trial continued after his death.

Did Simpson and Epstein’s money, power, and connections help them avoid justice? If so, what does that mean for the average person and can we do anything to change it?

Understanding poverty and imprisonment

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy … the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution

“If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you.”
– Description of Miranda warnings issued to suspects

According to the U.S. Constitution and the 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Miranda v. Arizona, people accused of crimes have the right to obtain an attorney for their defense. Wealthier people have the financial resources and social connections that allow them to hire experienced private attorneys. If people cannot afford such legal assistance, they may defend themselves or receive the help of court-appointed attorneys.

Although court-appointed attorneys are sorely needed, the system that employs them has experienced major problems. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “[p]oor people in most jurisdictions do not get adequate legal representation. Only 24 states have public defender systems, and even the best of those are hampered by lack of funding and crippling case loads.”

Even if they secure representation at trials, poor people often cannot afford attorneys to represent them at appeals and other legal system procedures. Well-heeled suspects, meanwhile, can often better afford experienced representation throughout the judicial process and other benefits of such representation.

“People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population,” noted the Prison Policy Initiative. “Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome, as a criminal record and time spent in prison destroys wealth, creates debt, and decimates job opportunities.” Even after poor people leave prison, their punishment continues. Poor people who are convicted of crimes often find it difficult to find jobs, housing, and other opportunities after they serve their sentences.

Much of this prosecution and imprisonment relates to drugs. “Over 1.6 million people are arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, placed under criminal justice supervision and/or deported each year on a drug law violation,” reported the Drug Policy Alliance.

While some people turn to selling drugs when they feel they have few other economic opportunities, that is not the case for many people arrested for drug violations. People may face severe penalties just for possessing drugs for their own personal use. If they’re poor, they’re less likely to have access to effective addiction treatment, so they have a greater chance of staying addicted. There is a greater likelihood that the police will catch them with drugs in their possession.

Once arrested, poor people face medical and psychological problems relating to their addiction. They face criminal and financial problems due to their arrest, incarceration, defense, and trial. Such problems often make poor people even poorer.

Making the legal system fairer

Picture of a judge's gavel
Source: Pixabay

Some areas are looking for ways to make justice fair for all, not just the more financially secure. Writing for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and Wisconsin Public Radio, Emily Hamer and Sheila Cohen stated that “[t]he Wisconsin Constitution states cash bail can be used only as a means of making sure the accused appears for the next court hearing — meaning judges are not supposed to consider public safety when making decisions about bail.”

Similarly, in 2018, former California governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 10, a measure that would have abolished cash bail in the state. The state’s bail bonds industry struck back. It collected enough signatures to make this measure a 2020 ballot referendum so voters could determine its validity. Between the 2018 bill signing and the 2020 referendum, some California courts and reformers worked to promote changes to California bail practices and courts.

Representation may be becoming fairer as well. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigated legal representation in the state of Michigan and found it wanting. In response, the state created the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission in 2013. The commission pays for staff members and training for cases and creates standards for court-appointed attorneys.

Michigan’s commission also includes a useful FAQ section on its website to help people understand and navigate the court-appointed attorney process. It describes how court-appointed attorneys must visit clients who have been jailed within three days, for example, and explains other rights of the accused.

Investigating laws and how they impact people

U.S. states are also investigating laws to determine if they’re fair to all of their residents. Many states have mandatory minimums, which are mandatory minimum sentences that people must serve if they’ve been convicted of certain crimes. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, during the 2016 fiscal year, African American and Hispanic people were more likely to be convicted of offenses that garner mandatory minimums.

The conviction rates of these groups don’t match their overall representation in the U.S. population. While Hispanic or Latino people accounted for 40.4 percent of the people convicted of mandatory minimum crimes in 2016, U.S. Census estimates from 2018 placed the Hispanic or Latino population of the United States at 18.3 percent. The U.S. census estimated the African American or black population as 13.4 percent in 2018, but people in this group accounted for 29.7 percent of mandatory minimum crime convictions.

Black and Latinx people traditionally have made less money than white people and continue to do so. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2017, the median average income for households who identified as white and not Hispanic was $68,145. For Hispanic households, the median income was $50,486, while the median income for black households was $40,258.

Lower incomes have traditionally meant that people were less likely to afford adequate legal assistance. They were forced to turn to overworked, underfunded legal defense programs for assistance, assistance that may have not had the time or financial resources to investigate and defend their cases. If their legal representation faced better financed opposition, accused people may have been more likely to lose their cases, serve lengthy prison sentences, and endure unbreakable cycles of poverty after their releases.

Changes such as bail reforms in Wisconsin and California and the creation of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission hope to end such unfair outcomes. They strive to make legal representation accessible to all. They aim to make justice truly just.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who has written about various topics, including human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Gender Based Violence

by Grace Ndanu

A photo of a woman crying. Her face is bruised.
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, Creative Commons

It is believed that Gender Based Violence existed from long time ago as a result of male dominance and power, meaning women were left inferior. Generally GBV stops girls from reaching their potential, where by there is a lot of working to transform attitudes towards girls and women that perpetuate violence against them. That is why women are trying to negotiate with the men that they can be equal, but men want to maintain their dominance, which causes an increase in GBV cases.

GBV occurs almost everywhere now, and the girls and women are the victims. Stating at home, children’s vulnerabilities to violence stem from the fact that they depend on their parents or caregivers for their development health and wellbeing. Girls and young women often experience violence at home, from physical punishment to sexual, emotional or psychological violence. Acceptance of violence as a private affair often prevents others from intervening and prohibits girls and young women from reporting in the name of keeping the family name clean.

In primary and high school the violence rate is low unlike in the college and universities. This is because there are strict rules and supervision, which is not the case in colleges and universities around the world. While in college a girl is considered to be an adult. Also, her parents are far away, so anyone she has the freedom to do whatever she wants, including engage in sexual relationships. In these relationships the boys often want to take charge of girl’s life. At this point most of the girls already know their rights and hence they will never accept to be dominated. Unfortunately, this makes them vulnerable to gender based violence because the boys will still fight to maintain the “man’s “position in a girl’s life.

In the work place the top positions are designed for men, including the managers, directors and supervisors, while women are secretaries and cleaners. Gender based violence is likely in situations where a qualified female is expected to perform sexual favors to management in order to get a promotion.

Gender based virulence is also a rising issue in online spaces with girls and young women reporting harassment and abuse. For many girls, there is a pressure to leave online platforms. I am opposed to this because these are the places where most girls and young women get to know their capabilities and strengths through interaction with different types of people. But girls need to be careful in these spaces.

Gender based violence occurs in all parts of the world, but the risk is higher where violence is normalized and where rigid concepts of gender exist. In many cultures, especially the developing countries, violence towards girls and young women is accepted as a social norm. Here comes a saying of an African woman who is strongly tied to culture “a husband who does not beat his wife does not love her”. And the woman herself will ask her husband to beat her. This must be challenged as a matter of urgency, the blame, shame and stigma faced by victims must be eliminated.

Violence should never be a private matter and everyone should be aware of this starting from the youngest to the oldest. So that it can be challenged. Ending GBV will involve action at all levels; strengthening legislation and criminalizing the violence, challenging social norms that condone violence and prosecuting the perpetrators.

Children should learn about gender equality at school, just as it is important to promote integrational dialogue on violence against children. Community dialogue can challenge dominance that brings about gender based violence.

Everybody has a responsibility to promote and strengthen values that support nonviolent, respectful, positive gender equitable relationships for all children and adolescents, including the most vulnerable and excluded.

Young girls and women are encouraged to speak up about the issues they face which embolden them to speak up for change. On the other side young men are encouraged to identity and challenge harmful and negative masculinities that perpetuate discrimination and violence.

Honoring Our Responsibilities to People and Other Animals

by Pamela Zuber

Dog's teeth through a knothole in a fence
Image: Pixabay

On August 19, 2019, nine-year-old Emma Hernandez died in Detroit, Michigan. She died from injuries she sustained after three dogs mauled her.

Hernandez’s death comes after her family and others issued multiple complaints and filed police reports about the dogs roaming free in the neighborhood and their owner’s inability to contain them. Neighbors tried to stop the mauling by attacking the pit bulls, but the girl suffered a fractured cervical spine and several other injuries. Writing in the Detroit News, Sarah Rahal noted that “[t]he attack was so horrific that counseling services were offered to emergency responders.”

While the death of any nine-year-old is a tragedy, Emma Hernandez’s death is especially tragic because it was so violent and so avoidable. We should not allow dangerous and potentially domestic animals to travel freely. Taking the effort to contain such animals with secure fencing and other restraints protects people’s rights to safety and security.

Not possessing such animals in the first place also prevents such tragedies. Training animals to be vicious or adopting particularly vicious animals can create disasters like Hernandez’s death. People may argue that vicious animals are security measures to prevent crime, but actually, they’re like the guns that people buy for personal security. Violent animals and guns may produce more violence than prevent it. “Access to a gun triples the risk of suicide death,” according to Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

What about the rights of pet owners?

(For the purposes of this article, we refer to pet owners as people who adopt animals.) Authorities have charged Pierre Cleveland, the dogs’ owner, with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and owning dangerous animals that led to Hernandez’s death. People previously filed police about roaming dogs from his house. Detroit Animal Care and Control, part of the city’s health department, visited his house in March, 2018 after receiving reports that two dogs from the house were loose. It is unclear whether the department found the animals dangerous or if they were the same dogs involved in the fatal 2019 mauling.

Clearly, improprieties involving dogs occurred in southwest Detroit in 2018 and 2019. Detroit’s home state of Michigan has clear definitions and determinations about dangerous animals, conditions that determine dangerous animal ownership, guidelines for euthanizing dangerous animals, and penalties for people who possess dangerous animals that cause harm.

Owning a dangerous pet is similar to owning a dangerous weapon. Both may inflict a great deal of harm on innocent people. Guns are inanimate objects. While dangerous animals do have brains, they do not have the reasoning abilities that people have. Dogs cannot build enclosures or make laws to corral themselves physically. It is therefore incumbent on people to control creatures and weapons. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):

In order for dogs to live harmoniously with people and with other companion animals, it is critical to hold guardians responsible for the proper supervision of their dogs and for any actions on their part that either create or encourage aggressive behavior.

Responsibly owning pets is a societal obligation. We have responsibilities to others and expect that others will behave in similar ways. While we are allowed to own pets (within limits), we have to do so responsibly to live with others safely and harmoniously.

What about the rights of others?

Emma Hernandez lived next door to vicious dogs. She probably faced their barking, snarling, and aggression frequently, if not daily, during her young life. They may have been the last things she ever saw. Can you imagine living and dying with such fear?

Living with anxiety, with the constant threat of danger, may be harmful to one’s mental health. It may drive some people to drink too much or use drugs to try to escape their fear and anxiety. It could cause other symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, stomach problems, uneasiness, and other unpleasant side effects. We don’t know what Emma Hernandez experienced and we can’t ask her.

Safety is a fundamental right. We have entire systems to provide different kinds of safety. We have police departments and legal systems to prevent crime or prosecute it if it occurs. We have health departments that work to prevent or minimizes illnesses or injuries. These entities failed Emma Hernandez and her family.

“Everyone has the right to live, to be free, and to feel safe” is Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. Did Emma feel free and safe? Or, did human negligence lead to an egregious attack on her human rights?

How do we prevent such tragedies?

Mean-looking dog
Image: Pixabay

What happened in August 2019 in Detroit was preventable. If workers from animal control visited the house to investigate the pit bulls involved in the attack, they should have taken steps to reign in the animals and actually practice the animal control that is part of the department’s name.

When authorities are called to homes with potentially violent animals, they should remove the animals until their owners make their homes safer by building or reinforcing fences, gates, or doors or taking other safety precautions. If owners cannot afford such modifications, maybe authorities could pay for the changes and garnish pet owners’ paychecks or other sources of income.

If people do not have the income to secure their animals or repay authorities for providing such safety measures, maybe they shouldn’t own animals at all. Pet ownership is a privilege, not a right.

We could compare adopting a pet to owning a car. Owning a car requires paying for fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other charges. People are required to invest money and be diligent to make sure that their cars run properly and don’t pose hazards to others. To receive driver’s licenses, they must learn how to operate them safely.

Similarly, maybe people need training about how to handle animals. After this training, they could receive licenses to adopt pets. If their pets cause harm, people could have their licenses revoked and face further penalties, such as not being able to adopt additional pets.

Maybe law enforcement agencies and other bodies should institute a two-strike rule as well. If authorities return animals to a home and the animals provoke additional formal complaints, the authorities should remove the animals from the owners. If this provision was in place, authorities could have removed the dogs who caused the 2019 fatal mauling.

Every day, we do things to try to protect our safety and the safety of others. We drive our cars at speed limits, we cannot cross the street at any time at any place, we can only smoke tobacco in designated areas. We are allowed to do things that are potentially dangerous, but within limits.

Owning a pet comes with similar parameters. We can own animals, but not dangerous ones. If we do something that jeopardizes our safety or the safety of others, we should face repercussions. While there are ongoing repercussions to the 2019 mauling, they are unfortunately too late to help Emma Hernandez. Maybe these measures and other proposals will help people in the future before similar tragedies strike.

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and an editor who writes about human rights, health and wellness, gender, and business.

Teenage Pregnancy in Developing Countries

by Grace Ndanu

5 December. 2013. El Fasher: Students of the Midwifery School in El Fasher, North Darfur, march to commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, organized by UNAMID Gender Unit. The event intends to raise awareness in communities about gender violence and its implications for communities, women and girls’ lives and livelihood. Photo by Hamid Abdulsalam, UNAMID

Early pregnancy is a common thing all over the world, but it occurs most often in poorer and marginalized communities. Many girls face considerable pressure to marry early and become mothers while they are still young. Teenage pregnancy increases when girls are denied the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. Therefore it becomes a risk factor for poor maternal and child health and socio-economic outcomes. Approximately 90% of births in girls aged 15-19 in developing countries occur within early marriage where there is often an imbalance of power, where the father decides everything that happens to his daughter, leaving the subordinated mother speechless on matters concerning her daughter. Other reasons behind the teenage pregnancies are lack of information about sexual and reproductive health rights, inadequate access to services tailored to young people, sexual violence, early and forced marriage which can be both a cause and a consequence, and lastly lack of education or dropping out of school.

Teenage pregnancy highly contributes to maternal and child mortality. Complications relating to pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death for girls in the age bracket of 15-19 globally. Pregnant girls and adolescents also face other health risks and complications due to their immature bodies. Babies born to younger mothers are also at greater risk for poor birth outcomes such as low birth weight.

For many teenage girls, pregnancy and childbirth are neither planned nor wanted, which also happens to girls who get pregnant as a result of incest. In countries where abortion is prohibited or highly restricted adolescents – sometimes with the help of their parents – typically resort to unsafe abortions, putting their health and lives at risk. This happens frequently in developing countries. The girls who don’t want to have an abortion may face negative social and economic effects, including stigma or rejection as well as threats of violence from the parents and at times the peers. Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 are also more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership. In the case where the pregnancy is kept to term and the chid is born born, some of the teenage mothers start thinking out of the box after the child is born. Some may want to go back to school and others may think that they are too old for school and instead they may want to work on short courses like catering, beading and beauty.

Globally each country has been trying to reduce teenage pregnancy rates among its members through empowerment. This is done through campaigns that involve a multitude of stakeholders, including the government, development partners, social influencers, religious leaders, media practitioners and civil society organizations. The empowerment is based on raising girls’ awareness of their sexual and reproductive health and rights protecting them from abuse and taking them to school. This also includes making sure they can access the health services which are mostly free of charge. The girls also get support on decisions they make about their future and their bodies. In addition there are organized seminars where they are taught about leadership and speaking out their minds, which helps them to bring back their confidence and self-esteem which was probably lost during the pregnancy. At times there are girls who get to have a fresh start of confidence and boldness that they didn’t have before, an indication of green pastures (which means they have moved on successfully).

Mary Frances Whitfield: Why?

Mary Frances Whitfield: Why? is a collaborative exhibition between the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The exhibition is co-curated by AEIVA Curator John Fields and Dr. Brandon Wolfe, Assistant VP of Campus and Community Engagement in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UAB. It is on display at AEIVA until November 23, 2019. The images included below are in the exhibition.

Depictions of lynchings are usually loud – they bring into focus the agony of the victims, their bodies beaten and burned, hanging from a tree, or the intense anger, absolute hatred, and pure evil of the perpetrators and spectators as they relish in their acts of terror, dehumanization and brutality. Mary Frances Whitfield invites us to consider another experience, one that often goes unacknowledged or unconsidered artistically and historically. What happens when the spectacle is over, when the crowd disperses, when the terrorists have gone home, having achieved their fill of racial violence for the day? Who comes to claim the victims, to hold their lifeless bodies one last time, to cut them down and lay them to rest?

Mary, 1994
watercolor and acrylic on canvas board
16 x 20 inches
photo: Adam Grimshaw
Collection of the artist, Courtesy Phyllis Stigliano Art Projects
©Mary F. Whitfield

Whitfield’s paintings are not loud. They depict a silent despair. She transforms the space of public spectacle, of loud chaos, into a private and still experience that focuses on the quiet mourning of the bereaved. For Whitfield, this mourning conditions the lives of black people in her ancestral history and now. Her depictions are dark and heavy, they are full of grief and despair, and this emotional weight is largely held in the bodies of the mourners who literally hold this anguish – and their faces – in their hands. The victims and the mourners are often dressed in bright pastel colors, an image that foregrounds their vibrancy against the backdrop of a thick and consuming darkness. It reminds us of the life they could have lived, a life that was cut short by hate. Wives wrap their arms around the lifeless bodies of their husbands, young boys reach for the dangling feet of their fathers, women touch their protruding bellies, desperately hoping, we might assume, that their unborn children will not meet the same fate as the victim. Bodies of men, women, children, and babies hang from trees, sometimes engulfed in flames, sometimes appearing to sway slowly in the breeze. The stillness of the victims and the stoicism of the mourners in Whitfield’s paintings reflect the normalcy and the familiarly of an ordinary experience, part of daily existence for African Americans in the 18th and early 19th century, a reality wrought with unbearable pain, constant mourning, and overwhelming fear. 

Sari-Mae’s Sorrow, 1996
watercolor on canvas board
16 x 20 inches
Collection of the artist, Courtesy Phyllis Stigliano Art Projects
©Mary F. Whitfield

The title of the exhibit invites us to ask “Why?”, and the question looms on several levels. Why lynching? Why Albert? Why Sari-Mae? Why Mama and Papa? Why me? Why us? Why then? And maybe most importantly: Why now?

When the slavebody became the blackbody, white people could not let go of the compulsion to maintain dominance over black bodies and black lives. The vilification and demonization of black people took hold in the discourse, and a consensus grew around the need to protect white people and white dominance, a need so desperate it justified brutal violence and severe oppression against the newly “freed” citizens. Whitfield’s paintings are borne out of stories her grandmother told her about life during this time, a time when more than 4,000 black human beings were lynched publicly and without consequence. The work is timeless, though, and as we leave the exhibit and go out into the world, we are forced to wonder why this is still happening. Lynchings today take a different form, but they continue to terrorize and demoralize black communities all over the United States and emphasize the devaluation of black bodies and black lives in our society.

Toni Morrison says that the purpose and the power of art is in its ability to create conversation, one that is “critical to the understanding of what it means to care deeply and to be human completely.” If we can ask ourselves “Why?”, if we can have this conversation, if we can engage in this discourse honestly and authentically, if we can accept the truth about the continuing legacy of the slave trade and mass enslavement and lynchings in all of its forms – past and present – and then reconcile ourselves to that truth, then maybe through that conversation, we will see a path forward, one that leads us toward healing, one that will someday allow us to live in the peace and freedom and beauty of Dr. King’s dream. It’s a hard question to answer, not in its complexity but in its power to change our understanding of ourselves, but it’s one that we must ask.

The Monument at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice: Remembering Victims of Racial Terror Lynchings in the 1950s

On Interstate-65, about halfway between Birmingham and Montgomery, a confederate flag waves boldly and proudly above the tree line. One might be inclined to think that this flag still stands as a remnant of a bygone era, but the Alabama division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans erected the flag in 2005, the “commander” of the organization declaring: “We put the flag up so people could see it…We are showing off our heritage.” In Alabama and the rest of the South, there remains a sense of pride in the Confederacy, a nostalgia for a time when black bodies were owned and traded as commodities by white people who denied them human lives and insisted on their subservience. The Confederate Memorial Park, funded by the Alabama Historical Society ($600,000 of taxpayer money annually), provides an opportunity for schoolchildren to learn about the history of the Civil War as a war fought over “states’ rights” and to honor those who lost their lives for such a “just” cause. These memorials – hundreds throughout the state – recognize and honor the state’s history (and the government endorsement) of white supremacy and its continuing legacy. 

In fact, when Bryan Stevenson moved to Montgomery in the late 1980s, he noticed that he could barely walk a few blocks without seeing some kind of monument or memorial to the Confederacy. What was conspicuously absent was any mention of the slave trade, or slavery, or enslaved peoples. In the 1850s, Montgomery was the most active space for the sale of human bodies, and while there was plenty of states and privately funded tributes to those who fought to protect the institution of slavery, the landscape did not hold space for those victimized by it. Mr. Stevenson insists that as a nation we still have not adequately acknowledged the truth of our past nor the legacy that the slave trade and mass enslavement of black people has on our communities today.

Source: Equal Justice Initiative

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice came out of a vision to change that landscape, to consecrate the space as a testament to the lives lost in the brutal effort to preserve white supremacy, and to change the conversation about how this continued effort impacts our current social, political and economic reality in the United States. The memorial enshrines the memory of over 4,000 individuals who were lynched between 1877 and 1950. Lynchings during this time period were often public spectacles, celebrations, a form of entertainment – spectators enjoyed deviled eggs and lemonade while black bodies were brutally tortured and thrown onto fire pits, law enforcement cheered along with the crowd and often participated in the brutality, and no one was ever held accountable for these acts of terror.

While the Memorial documents the most active era of racial terror lynchings, the EJI acknowledges that these instances of racially motivated violence did not stop after 1950. White supremacists continued to terrorize black communities by targeting early movement leaders and black activists who were successfully challenging white supremacy. On a national level, the response to these atrocities began to change — not, as we might hope, because the nation suddenly started caring about black lives, but because during World War II, U.S. officials became concerned that anti-American propaganda campaigns led by Japanese and German forces depicted the U.S. as a hotbed of “anti-Negro discrimination” and racial terror. White supremacists continued to kidnap, torture and murder black individuals as a way of perpetuating fear in black communities and maintaining control, but they began to make more concerted efforts to obscure these acts from national media attention.

On April 29, 2019, as part of the 30-year anniversary celebration of the Equal Justice Initiative and one year since the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, EJI consecrated a monument recognizing and honoring 24 victims of lynching in the 1950s. Their stories were told, their leadership in the struggle for social justice remembered, and their memories represented by relatives, friends, and members of their communities. 

This monument remembers 24 victims of lynching from 1950-1959

These are the names of 24 men and women who were lynched between 1950 and 1959:

Hillard Brooks, Junior, a 22-year old black man, was murdered on August 13, 1950, in Montgomery, Alabama. Accused by a white bus driver of “creating a disturbance” by refusing to honor the bus driver’s demand that he enter through the back of the bus, he was shot by a white police officer, leaving behind a wife and two children. No one was ever charged with Mr. Brooks’ murder. 

Reverend Joseph Mann, a 38-year old black pastor, was kidnapped and set on fire in Norfolk, Virginia on May 26, 1951, by two white men who (according to Mann on his deathbed) told him they were sick of black people moving into white neighborhoods. Reverend Mann had recently given a sermon denouncing racial segregation. No one was prosecuted for Reverend Mann’s murder. 

On April 9, 1950, a black man named Willie Vincent was abducted by three white men who beat him severely, fractured his skull, and left him for dead on the side of the highway in Oakland, Florida. It was widely suspected that this act of terror was carried out by members of the KKK, no one was ever convicted of Mr. Vincent’s murder. 

A year later, on March 28, 1951, four members of the KKK abducted 27-year old Melvin Womack from his home in Oakland, Florida. They beat him, shot him and left him for dead. No one was ever charged with Mr. Womack’s murder. 

Samuel Shepherd, one of the “Groveland Four” – a group of young black men wrongfully accused of raping a white woman – was murdered on November 6, 1951, in Umatilla, Florida. Ernest Thomas, one of the four, was lynched before the trial started in 1949. The other three were convicted in a racially biased trial, after which Thurgood Marshall was successful in winning a new trial for the men. After the judgment, Lake County Sherriff Willis McCall offered to transport two of the accused men – Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Irvin – back to the county jail. On the way, McCall ordered the two black men to get out of the van and change a tire. Their backs turned, he shot both of them without provocation, though he would later claim self-defense. Mr. Shepherd died from the gunshot wound, and McCall faced no charges and remained in office for several more terms. 

Harry and Harriette Moore, influential voting rights activists in the NAACP, registered over 3,000 black voters in their community of Mims, Florida. On Christmas night in 1951, a bomb underneath their home exploded, killing Mr. Moore immediately. Mrs. Moore died from her injuries a few days later. No one was ever prosecuted for the bombing. 

Russell Charley, a black man, was lynched on May 7, 1954, his body hidden in the woods. The NAACP demanded a full investigation by federal, state, and county authorities, but it didn’t happen, and no one was ever arrested or charged with Mr. Charley’s murder. 

On June 5, 1954, the badly burned remains of Mr. Isadore Banks, a land-owning WWI veteran, were found chained to a tree in the woods near Marion, Arkansas. Likely targeted because of his financial success and rumors of an interracial romance between Mr. Banks and a white woman, this act of terror served to remind the black community that their successes would be met with derision and violence. No one was ever charged with Mr. Banks’ murder. 

Reverend George W. Lee was the first black person to register to vote in Humphreys County, Mississippi since Reconstruction, and he was actively involved in voter registration with the NACCP. On May 7, 1955, Reverend Lee was shot and killed while driving home. The county sheriff claimed that Reverend Lee died in a car accident, insisting that the lead bullets found in his jaw were dental fillings. No one was ever prosecuted for his death. 

On August 13, 1955, 63-year-old African-American veteran of World War I named Lamar D. Smith was shot and killed on the courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi. His “crime” – encouraging local black men and women to register to vote. Several people witnessed Mr. Smith’s murder, and three white men were arrested, though the charges were later dismissed and no one was ever punished. 

On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was visiting Mississippi from Chicago when two white men kidnapped, shot, mutilated and threw him into the Tallahatchie River, alleging that he was whistled at a white woman. The white woman in question later said this never happened. All all-white jury acquitted the murderers after less than an hour of deliberation. The two men later confessed to the brutal murder.

14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in 1955. His mother’s insistence on having an open-casket funeral sparked national outrage and propelled the civil rights movement. Source: Creative Commons.

On October 23, 1955, black residents in Longview, Texas had recently received a grant to build a new school, marking progress toward better education for black students. In response to this progress toward school desegregation, two white men drove by a cafe in a black community where John Earl Reese, a 16-year-old black teenager was dancing with his friends. The men fired shots into the cafe, killing John and wounding several others. The two white men were arrested for the shooting and convicted, though they received reduced and suspended sentences. 

On November 5, 1955, a white store-owner in Heathsville, Virginia shot a 23-year-old black man named Howard Bromley because the white man claimed, he had ordered Mr. Bromley to leave the store and Mr. Bromley had refused, instead of trying to wrest the store-owner’s gun away from him. Despite the fact that witnesses denied this account, an all-white jury acquitted the store-owner after less than 30 minutes of deliberations and no one was ever punished for Mr. Bromley’s death.

On December 3, 1955, a friend of Emmett Till’s recently acquitted killers walked into the gas station where 33-year-old Clinton Melton, a World War II veteran and father of five, worked as an attendant. The man became angry with Mr. Melton for some unknown reason and even angrier because the owner of the gas station refused to fire him. Mr. Melton was shot and killed as he was preparing to drive home to his family that night. Despite the evidence against him, Mr. Melton’s murderer was acquitted in the same courtroom his friends had been acquitted a few months earlier. 

On Christmas Eve in 1955, the body of James Edward Evanston, a 52-year-old African-American educator, was found in Long Lake, a few miles outside of Drew, Mississippi. His car was found nearby, along with a suicide note in which his last name was spelled incorrectly. Despite ample evidence that Mr. Evanston’s drowning racially motivated, no official local or state investigation was ever conducted, and no one was charged or punished for Mr. Evanston’s likely murder. 

Dr. Thomas Brewer was a 72-year-old African American physician, voting rights activist and one of the organizers spearheading the school integration effort in Columbus, Georgia. On February 18, 1956, a white store-owner shot Dr. Brewer seven times, claiming self-defense. The grand jury of Columbus did not indict Dr. Brewer’s killer, and no one was ever held accountable for his murder. 

Willie Edwards Jr.’s truck was found near Montgomery, Alabama on January 23, 1957. Mr. Edwards, however, was missing. Months later, on April 23, a local fisherman found Mr. Edward’s body when it washed up on the banks of the Alabama River. Law enforcement determined that the body was in too poor condition to determine the cause of death, and no investigation was conducted. In 1993, a white woman reported that her recently-deceased husband had confessed to the crime on his death bed, describing how four white Klansmen abducted Mr. Edwards at gunpoint and forced him to jump from a bridge to his death. Despite this information, no one was ever prosecuted for the murder of Willie Edward. 

Willie Joe Sanford went missing in Hawkinsville, Georgia on February 2, 1957. His mutilated body was found wired to the undergrowth at the bottom of a creek on March 1. A local circuit judge determined that “only a frenzied mob could have accomplished it,” no one was ever prosecuted or convicted for Mr. Sanford’s murder. 

Charles Brown, a member of the U.S. Air Force, was visiting a white woman in her Benton, Mississippi home on June 18, 1957, when the women’s brother shot and killed him for being “too friendly” with his sister. Despite the fact that the white man had a prior conviction for manslaughter and confessed to the shooting, a grand jury did not return an indictment and no one was ever prosecuted for Airman Brown’s murder. 

According to his mother, Rogers Hamilton, a 19-year-old black man from Lowndesboro, Alabama, was kidnapped from his home by two white men on October 22, 1957. The men shot and killed Mr. Hamilton, allegedly for dating a black woman that they wanted for themselves. The local sheriff refused to call the murder a racially motivated lynching, and no one was ever punished for Mr. Hamilton’s death.

A 30-year-old black man named Richard Lillard was being held in a padded call in the Nashville City Workhouse when three white officers beat him to death. The officers claimed that Mr. Lillard had “gone berserk,” however, several witnesses testified that he had been begging for his life as he was being beaten. The three officers were tried for murder and acquitted by an all-white jury after less than an hour of deliberations. 

On April 25, 1959, Mack Charles Parker, a young black man in his early 20s, was brutally beaten, shot twice in the chest and bound in chains before being dumped into the Pearl River in Poplarville, Mississippi. He was accused of assaulting a white woman, and although it was common knowledge that she had fabricated the claim to hide an affair with another man, a white mob lynched Mr. Parker before an investigation or trial took place. No one was ever charged for the murder of Mr. Parker. 

On June 13, 1959, a black man named William Person was shot by a white man while he was running away because he didn’t want to work for the man. After shooting Mr. Person twice with a rifle, the man claimed he was just “horse playing,” and he was released without being charged. The man was later indicted and accepted a plea agreement for a reduced sentence if he paid Mr. Person’s widow less than $3,000. 

We remember these men and women, their loved ones, and those they impacted both in their lives and through their deaths. By acknowledging and honoring their memory, we refuse to let their deaths be in vain. At the consecration of the memorial, to the rising chorus of ‘We Shall Overcome,’ family representatives of the deceased laid white roses on each victim’s name. Bryan Stevenson reminded the crowd to let three words define the ongoing struggle for equality and justice: hope, perseverance, and love. Hope because, as he says, hopelessness is the enemy of justice. Perseverance because the work is not nearly done. It is a constant struggle, an uphill battle, an unrelenting burden. We all have a part to play, and we must never give up on the dream. And finally, love, because while it’s natural to let violence and brutality perpetuate hate, we must not let hate keep us from loving, keep us from acknowledging and accepting our common humanity. To quote James Baldwin: “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” Only when we tell the truth about our past can we understand our present and start to heal for the future. Only then can the nation find “peace from its sins” and the freedman finds “freedom in his promised land” (W.E.B. DuBois 1903). 

To learn more about the United States’ history of lynching, read the EJI’s report Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.