Capital Punishment and the Right to Life

A black and white picture of a prison cot with five belts used to strap down inmates in order to give them a lethal injection.
While it may seem like a common practice throughout the world, only about 28% of countries still maintain the death penalty in both law and practice. Source: Yahoo! Images

 

Stay tuned for my next article, where I will explore how the process of the death penalty, as well as the methods used to end the lives of inmates, may bring up additional human rights concerns. That article will be posted in the upcoming weeks. 

October 10th is the World Day Against the Death Penalty. 

It was my eighth birthday. I had gotten home from school and after eating my snack, I sat down on the couch. My birthday is in January and my mom hadn’t gotten around to packing up the expensive nativity scene from my grandmother that was set out on the sofa table behind my head. I got bored with my show, as eight-year-olds do, so I turned around and started playing with the porcelain figurines. To me, they were no more than stiff, less fun Barbies. Little did I know all it took was one little high-five between Joseph and the wise man with the frankincense before *CRACK* Joseph lost a hand. 

I still remember my mother’s face when I told her what happened. This nativity scene from her mother-in-law meant so much to her and she was feeling so many emotions. I knew that I deserved to be punished in some way for my mistake. I sat in time out for a while, I got a “stern talking-to” when my dad got home, and I didn’t see my favorite (real) Barbie for weeks.

My eight-year-old, future-philosophy-student self couldn’t help but question why all of this was happening to me. It was my birthday; my parents were supposed to be nice to me that day, but I still got in trouble. I knew that I should’ve been more careful with the figurine, but I also knew that what I did was an accident. I knew as soon as it broke that I had caused a problem, but I almost immediately learned from it: this material is weaker than Barbie material so I would need to use gentler hands when holding it. But I still couldn’t figure out why my parents were doing this. As I grow up, this concern still follows me. What motivates society to punish people who break the law? How could our system of punishment improve to allow people to learn from their mistakes and to still participate in society?

A drawing of a man in an orange jumpsuit with his head down standing behind metal bars. One of the bars makes the shape of a noose around his head.
Minorities, especially racial minorities, make up a disproportionate percentage of prisoners on death row. Source: Yahoo! Images

Theories of Punishment

Retribution 

The Retribution Theory of punishment holds that people who harm others deserve to be harmed and that the justice system should give them what they deserve. I like to call this the revenge theory or the “eye for an eye” theory. The arguments for this theory are, in my opinion, not very strong. Sure, it seems intuitive that when somebody wrongs us we want to wrong them back, but what good does that do? And should we really set up an entire justice system based on retribution when that only causes more harm to people, despite if they “deserve it?”

Deterrence

The Deterrence Theory of punishment holds that societies should punish moral failings in a way that when people hear about the punishment for a certain crime, it deters them from committing it. For example, people may not use drugs because they are afraid of what would happen if they got caught. If we want people to stop doing drugs, according to deterrence theory, we should inflict harsher punishments for those caught with drugs. The main critique of this theory is that it does not deter people from doing the thing, it only deters people from getting caught doing the thing, thus driving the whole crime farther and farther underground. 

Restoration

The Restoration, Humanitarian, or Utilitarian theory of punishment is based on the idea that after a harm occurs, we should avoid any further harm coming to anybody involved. This may entail rehabilitating people with addictions to live addiction free or mandating driving school and road safety courses for negligent drivers. This doesn’t just apply to low-level crimes though. This may mean a prison system similar to Norway’s, where even the most violent criminals are kept in a remote community where their rights and privileges are upheld. The average sentence is around 8 months, and after they’ve had time to reflect on their actions, they are allowed to return to society as usual. Click here to learn about what went into the design of one of Norway’s most famously humane prisons.  This theory is often criticized as being “soft on crime,” saying that if we don’t make going to prison incredibly unpleasant, criminals will not have any reason not to re-offend. 

A wooden electric chair against a dirty wall in the background.
The youngest person to be executed by electric chair in the 20th century was 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. His conviction was later vacated as an unfair trial. Source: Yahoo! Images

Pragmatically, when we are deciding which theory of punishment to ascribe to, we are balancing the weight of the government’s function that motivates law enforcement with the human rights of everybody involved in the crime. 

So what is the government function of capital punishment and does it outweigh the most fundamental human right, one’s right to one’s own life?

Government Function

It is widely agreed upon that the government’s most fundamental function is to protect the rights of people in its jurisdiction. This includes mediating conflicts in which a person impedes on another’s rights. In these terms, the crime of theft is when a perpetrator impedes on the victim’s right to own property. In this case, the government then has an obligation to interfere in some way to bring justice to the victim. Most of the time, this interference will constitute the government temporarily impeding on the rights of the perpetrator themselves. This may mean keeping them in jail until their trial, imposing a fine on them, or even sentencing them to prison time. 

Human Rights

The right to life is inarguably the most fundamental natural human right that exists. All humans have a fundamental right to live their bodies’ natural lifespan through to its end. It can even be argued that humans have the right to the best healthcare available to extend their lifespan as long as possible. Without the right to life, no other human rights of any kind can be realized. This is why the most widely recognized phrase about human rights lists life as the first. 

As the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and from that, they derive inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

To take someone’s life is to take away that person’s most fundamental, widely-recognized human right.

Balancing Both

Does the governmental function of societal safety ever justify taking away the perpetrator’s number one human right? Especially when, given that life in prison is an alternative option, societal safety is not even at risk by keeping these people alive. Many people will argue that keeping them in prison requires too many resources whereas the death penalty is a quick and easy way to save resources for the rest of society. Not only does this completely dehumanize people who have committed crimes, but it also switches the governmental interest from public safety to the much less compelling governmental interest of distributing resources. The interest in these resources is not compelling enough to justify the deprivation of someone’s life. Even if you think it is okay to impede on a perpetrator’s rights to prevent them from causing more harm to society, it is unclear that the deprivation of life would achieve this goal when life in prison is an alternative. 

The sun shines behind a wooden gallows with two nooses hanging down.
Three states still allow hanging as a possible execution method. Source: Yahoo! Images

According to the Retribution theory, people who took another life deserve to be killed solely on the “eye-for-an-eye” principle. But something doesn’t sit right when we try to defend this principle without dehumanizing people convicted of crimes. As a society, is it a good thing that we think a certain group of people deserves to die, even if their qualification into that group was voluntary?

According to the Deterrence theory, the death penalty may actually be an effective deterrence for prospective criminals. If they knew that committing this crime may literally mean the end of their lives, they may not commit the crime. However, it is unclear that the deterrence factor of life in prison, essentially ending people’s lives as they know it, is so much less effective than the deterrence factor of the death penalty that it justifies taking lives. 

According to the Restoration theory, capital punishment stands no chance. This theory is based on the hope of rehabilitation for criminals, even if that means they are only ever restored insofar as to live a meaningful life in prison. This theory is considered to be the most humane approach to punishment, and as far as research can tell, the one compatible with the lowest recidivism (re-offending) rates. 

A Short Book List of Contemporary Black Authors

*Cover Image Photo credits to Sharon Drummond*

Reading has always been one of my passions. It’s a unique entryway to view the world through another person’s eyes. Scientific research has shown that the more someone reads, the more empathetic and understanding that person is. It is these skills and values that reside at the core of human rights. To recognize the inherent dignity of every person, we must first be able to critically reflect on our own lives, positions, and privileges and grasp that our realities are not everyone’s. 

To bring about a more caring, empathetic world, we need to learn to look beyond ourselves. Below are some authors whose pioneering work does just that. 

N.K. Jemisin

Cover of the book The Fifth Season. Author N.K. Jemisin.
Figure 1: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of N.K. Jemisin’s books, The Fifth Season. Figure 2: Source: Yahoo Images, Photo credit to Laura Hanifin; An image of the author, N.K. Jemisin.

N.K. Jemisin is an author at the forefront of science fiction writing 一 in fact, she’s changing it at this moment. 

Having been compared to greats in the genre like Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. Le Guin, Jemisin is one of the rare authors whose work has won not only the Hugo Science Fiction Writing Award but also the Nebula Award. 

Only 25 books have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and Jemisin’s third novel in her Broken Earth trilogies is one. 

Moreover, she is the first author in history to receive three consecutive Hugo Awards for every book within her critically acclaimed Broken Earth trilogy. The series is set in a broken world, literally, with a plot full of betrayals, murder, and a mother’s unbroken determination to save her daughter.

If you’re someone who loves science fiction, you need to read Jemisin’s works 一 one series in particular.

Ibram X. Kendi

Author Ibram X. Kendi. Cover of the book Stamped from the Beginning.
Figure 3: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to American Association of University Professors; An image of the author, Ibram X. Kendi. Figure 4: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Ibram X. Kendi’s books, Stamped from the Beginning.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi is a name you should become familiar with if you’re interested in antiracist scholarship. As the author of 13 books for adults and children, he is one of the world’s leading historians and antiracist researchers. 

Dr. Kendi is an Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, teaching at prestigious institutions like Boston University and American University. He is also the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research in the United States, while also being a contributor to The Atlantic and CBS News. 

He authored the book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest person in history to receive the award. 

Alongside this book, he also published the internationally renowned How to Be an Antiracist. He has worked alongside other authors to make both critical works accessible to teenage and children audiences. As of 2021, he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Award. 

Learn more about Dr. Kendi’s transformative research and start your own education into antiracism by checking out his site.

Saeed Jones

Cover of the memoir How We Fight for Our Lives.
Figure 5: Source: Saeed Jones site; An image of the memoir by Saeed Jones, How We Fight for Our Lives.

Saeed Jones is an award-winning poet and non-fiction writer. His poetry has won the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award, as well as, a Lambda Literary Award. 

His memoir, How We Fight for Our Lives, won the 2019 Kirkus Prize for Non-fiction. It is a poignant true story of Jones’ coming-of-age in a rural Texas community as a gay, black man. 

Jones’s work is a sincere and heartbreaking presentation of the realities that Queer individuals reconcile with as they grow into their gender and sexual identities. Not to mention the added stigmas racial and ethnic minorities face. 

If you’ve been wanting to break into the poetry scene or buff up on your memoir and/or Queer writing, you can find more of Saeed Jones’ work here

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Author Nicole Dennis-Benn.
Figure 6: Source: Wikimedia Commons; An image of the author, Nicole Dennis-Benn.

The work of Nicole Dennis-Benn has been compared to the pioneering and lyrical works of Toni Morrison. Her debut novel, Here Comes the Sun, was named the New York Time Book of the Year in 2016. Moreover, it earned the Lambda Literary Award for its portrayal Queer individuals. 

Similarly, her second novel, Patsy, also received the Lambda Literary Award in 2020 and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. 

Nicole-Benn has taught at several writing programs at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU, and more. She is a recipient of the National Foundation for the Arts Grant and has published essays and shorter works in numerous esteemed publications 一 many of which have been nominated for or won awards as well. 

She is the founder of the Stuyvesant Writing Workshop and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her two sons and wife. 

Being born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, her two novels are set in her home country. If you are someone looking to expand their reading beyond the borders of the U.S., check out the writings of Nicole Dennis-Ben. 

Robert Jones, Jr.

Author Robert Jones Jr. sitting on some steps with his novel The Prophets.
Figure 7: Source: New York Times, Photo credit to Naima Green; An image of the author, Robert Jones Jr. alongside his debut novel, The Prophets.

Formerly known as “Son of Baldwin,” Jones’ debut novel, The Prophets, came into immediate acclaim. The novel focuses on the love story of two enslaved men during the 19th century and their struggle to retain this small facet of themselves as another enslaved man begins preaching to garner favor with their enslaver. 

His work, while fiction, contains lines of text that read like poetry and demand to be reread over and over as one processes both the cruelty and beauty of his prose. 

The novel won the 2022 Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. The Prophets has been translated into at least 12 different languages. 

Jones has published in the celebrated anthologies Four Hundred Souls and The 1619 Project. He is currently working on his next book. 

Angie Thomas

Author Angie Thomas. Cover of the book The Hate U Give.
Figure 8: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author, Angie Thomas. Figure 9: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Angie Thomas’ books, The Hate U Give.

For those who are fans of young adult literature, Angie Thomas has become an established name in the genre. Her work has hit the big screen, and though The Hate U Give does not explicitly mention organizations like Black Lives Matter, due to the timing of the movie’s release, it does feature BLM-esque organizations. It is important though that this work not be conflated with the actual people of BLM. 

Thomas was born and raised in Jacksonville, Mississippi, and attended Belhaven University where she received her BFA in creative writing. In fact, her New York Times bestselling novel, The Hate U Give, began as her senior project in college. 

She has since published five works with two being made into major motion films. If you enjoy young adult literature, check out some of Angie Thomas’ works here

Michelle Alexander

Author Michelle Alexander. Cover of the book The New Jim Crow.
Figure 10: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author, Michelle Alexander. Figure 11: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow.

Michelle Alexander is more than just a renowned author, she is also a civil rights lawyer, advocate, and legal scholar. 

Her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, helped transform the national dialogue surrounding the imprisonment of Black Americans. It was published in 2010 and has spent over 250 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. 

Her haunting and true words from her book pierced through veils of dismissal on the ever-worsening problem of racial policing in the United States: 

“We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

She has worked both in academia and the public and private sectors, engaging in civil rights litigation and even serving as the Director for the Racial Justice Project in Northern California. 

Her work and her writing have had profound impacts on our legal systems and continue to urge for reform. Check out her work alongside that of Isabel Wilkerson to learn about racial caste systems in the United States. 

Derrick Barnes

Image of the award-winning book I Am Every Good Thing.
Figure 12: Source: Derrick Barnes site; An image of one of Derrick Barnes’ awarding winning novels, I Am Every Good Thing.

Derrick Barnes is an award-winning children and young adult author. Several of his books have become critically acclaimed

His book Stand!-Raising My Fist For Justice won the 2023 YALSA Excellence in Young Adult Nonfiction Award and a Coretta Scott King Award Author Honor. His other work, Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, received a Newbery Honor, a Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, and the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers. In 2022, he became a National Book Award finalist for his graphic novel Victory

After he published I Am Every Good Thing, he was nominated once again for a Kirkus Review, making him the first author to ever win the prize for his 12th release. 

Before becoming a successful author, Barnes was the first Black creative copywriter hired by the greeting cards giant, Hallmark. 

If you’re looking for more novels to diversify your library or classroom, check out Derrick Barnes’ work here

Jonathan Rosa

Author and anthropologist Jonathan Rosa. Cover of the book Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race.
Figure 13: Source: Yahoo Images, image credits to Standford University; An image of the author, Jonathan Rosa. Figure 14: Source: Standford University; The cover of Jonathan Rosa’s book, Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race.

I want to mention Jonathan Rosa’s work, Looking like a Language, Sounding like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad, because of its profound impact on our understanding of how language influences our perception of other racial groups. 

Dr. Rosa is a Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics at Standford University whose work focuses on how colonial structures have influenced the construction of racial minorities, resulting not only in institutional inequities but also in linguistic stigmatization. 

It is an undeniable fact that we judge a person’s intellect and ability on their written and spoken skills. However, this is never an accurate portrayal of a person’s capability. Jonathan Rosa thoroughly researches this by conducting over 24 months of ethnographic work in a highly segregated Chicago high school. Dr. Rosa unveils how the experiences of young Latinxes are inextricably complicated by racial identity and an imposed view of “proper” speech. 

If you are someone who is interested in languages and how we come to understand the world and people through our abilities of speech, you should read this work and challenge ingrained assumptions of racialized speech you may not have even realized you had. 

Isabel Wilkerson

Author Isabel Wilkerson. Cover of the book The Warmth of Other Suns.
Figure 15: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author, Isabel Wilkerson. Figure 16: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Isabel Wilkerson’s books, The Warmth of Other Suns.

Isabel Wilkerson is an acclaimed author of non-fiction that weds poetic narrative with the harsh realities of marginalized communities. Her first work, The Warmth of Other Suns, focuses on the real stories of three people during the Great Migration. 

In order to complete her investigative work, she interviewed over 1,200 people and dedicated 15 years to detail the journey of the 6 million people who emigrated from the Jim Crow-oppressed South. 

She is the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for her piece on a fourth-grader from Chicago’s southside and two stories reporting on floods in 1993. 

She continues to work in journalism for the New York Times and has taught at several prestigious institutions. Her most recent work, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, once more displays her incredible talent for incisive research and profound scrutiny of the systems of oppression that plague the United States, Nazi Germany, India, and many more societies. 

If you are someone who enjoys historical narratives, Wilkerson’s works are masterful pieces of extensive research alongside bittersweet anecdotes of people living through systemic discrimination. 

Conclusion

If you liked this book list, check out this list of foundational Black authors here

To learn more about book bans and their threat to human rights, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.” 

 

The People v. The Police: The Ongoing Battle over South River Forest

Cover Image Photo credits to Chad Davis. 

 

 

** Some information in this blog was obtained from reputable news sources who reported on evidence obtained from public records requests. Narratives constructed from this have been presented as such and are still under investigation, please take this into consideration.**

This blog is a follow-up on the ongoing protests against the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, otherwise known as Cop City. 

To learn about what Cop City is, its historical background, and efforts to end this mega-development project from destroying Atlanta’s last major urban forest, read my article here. In the meantime, the Atlanta City Council approved the funding for the Atlanta Public Safety Center, i.e. “Cop City” in early June 2023. What is described below are the developments since my last post. 

Since March, the movement to stop Cop City and relationships with law enforcers have only become more contentious. Construction in the South River Forest has begun, while the efforts to stop it have only become more fervid.

Autopsy revelations and public record reports

Environmental activist ManuelTortuguita” Teran (they/them), was lethally shot 13 times on January 18th, 2023. The altercation between state troopers and protesters began simply over the forced removal of activists from the site soon to be developed into the nation’s largest police training facility. Instead of peaceful dialogues or dispersions, the incident ended in the tragic killing of Manuel Teran. 

Much speculation surrounds this event given the lack of body-cam footage as state troopers do not usually wear body cams. Given the presence of multiple other agencies, however, such as the DeKalb County police departments, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and possibly the FBI, the lack of footage is concerning in and of itself. 

In whatever case, Teran’s family has released the conclusions of an independent autopsy they had done. Based on the location of bullet wounds, the report hypothesized that Tortuguita was more than likely in a cross-legged seated position, with their hands raised in the air. Tortuguita suffered from multiple gunshot wounds, but most tellingly, they had several exit wounds through their palms. 

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) released a statement on Friday, March 10th stating that the initial autopsy was conducted by the DeKalb Medical Examiners Office and that the GBI would not be communicating more at present due to concerns over the ongoing investigation. The state has still not released its own autopsy report over two months after Tortuguita’s death. 

In spite of this, incident reports have become available (alongside the independent autopsy) and state that, in contradiction to widespread claims that police acted in “self-defense,” just the opposite is true. 

These new records were obtained by The Guardian through a public records request with the Georgia Department of Public Safety 一 previously unreleased in the wake of international outrage calling for answers and accountability. The written narratives are not to be totally trusted, memory is a fragile thing often more subject to our imagination than we would like to believe. With this in mind though, a tentative sequence of events can be gleaned from the multiple officers’ reports on the day of Teran’s killing. 

The following is the sequence of events gleaned from reports accessed by The Guardian. 

Before the police raid, officers and SWAT teams were briefed on the ‘domestic terrorists’ trespassing in the forest beforehand, with claims that demonstrators might possess rifles, pistols, explosive devices, or Molotov cocktails. It was stated that the Defend the Atlanta Forest group had national contacts and widespread solidarity. Additionally, officers were warned about the possibility of booby traps and tripwires. Lastly, officers were warned some protesters may throw fecal matter or urine, and since, quote, “it was known that some trespassers carried STDs” this may lead to infection for the city personnel. (It should be noted this is not how STD transmission works.)

Three search teams of officers were deployed into the forest. The second team, consisting of SWAT, were the ones who encountered the large encampment where Teran resided. They approached their tent from behind and noted movement inside, the tent flap was closed. This is where some accounts start to contradict slightly in their order of events, however, the main components remain the same. 

Officers ordered Manual Teran to exit their tent or they would be arrested for trespassing, to which they responded, “No, I want you to leave.” 

At this point, Teran either opened the flap slightly, surveyed, and then re-closed the entrance, or asked what they were being arrested for without opening their tent flap beforehand. In either case, Teran opened and closed their tent flap at one point to which one officer wrote that this was “resisting orders.” 

Then there was an order to fire a pepper ball gun into the tent and chaos ensued. 

After hearing cracking sounds inside, officers began firing into the tent. 

One officer called out they had been hit and medics rushed to provide immediate medical attention. The same was not given to Teran. 

After opening their tent with a ballistic shield and a diversionary device was deployed, officers found Teran with multiple gunshot wounds, “unquestionably deceased.” 

Coinciding these written accounts with body cam footage of officers in other parts of the forest, at 9:01 am four shots were heard followed by a flurry that lasted approximately 11 seconds. At 9:02 am officers heard on the radio that one was injured. 

Body cam footage caught the discussions of police a few minutes after the incident and caught one asking, “Did they shoot their own man?” 

An image of a cardboard sign that reads “Climate Justice Now!” with the letter “I” in climate as a thermometer and the letter “O” in now an image of the Earth.
Figure 1: Source: Yahoo Images; A protest sign that reads “Climate Justice Now!”

Tortuguita is the first environmental activist to be killed by the police in America. 

Protests of destruction over Cop City construction 

As construction began on the proposed Cop City site in the Weelaunee Forest, attempts to remove protesters have a renewed fervor. Two ‘clearing out’ raids to remove protesters from the forest have been conducted by police since construction began, the first of which resulted in the death of an activist. 

Nearly two months later, Cop City has come under the scrutiny of international attention, and feelings surrounding the issue have only intensified. In the first week of March, protesters planned to hold a “week of action” wherein a coalition of people from various social justice networks would come together over the growing concerns to stop Cop City. 

An image of people holding signs in the air that read “Black Voters Matter” as they come down a set of stairs.
Figure 2: Source: Yahoo Images, Photo credit to Black Voters Matter Twitter; LaTosha Brown (Front Left) and Cliff Albright (Front Right), founders of Black Voters Matter while in Mississippi on a Voting Rights Tour.

These included Atlanta-area residents, organizations such as the Community Movement Builders and Black Voters Matter, and a local rabbi. The week was to include a music festival, a Shabbat, and a “know your rights” workshop. 

However, during the music festival, certain protesters entered the construction site and set fire to construction equipment. The events escalated further to include throwing bricks at officers. In the end, 35 people were detained. 

This too has become massively contentious as 23 of the 35 detained were at the Weelaunee Forest Festival 一 located over a mile away. On March 5th, an hour after the events at the construction site, police arrived at the festival and began arresting people, especially those with out-of-state IDs. These individuals have been charged with domestic terrorism (a sentence that can carry up to 35 years) for ‘vandalism’ and ‘arson’ of the site over a mile from the concerts. 

On March 23rd, a judge denied bond to 8 out of 10 defendants. Only two were granted bond at $25,000 and with numerous other conditions. One was a law student who had been at a food truck in the area when arrested. They were almost forced to withdraw from school before finally being granted a bond and being ordered to wear an ankle monitor. Another person was denied bond because they live in New York as the sole caretaker of her aging uncle with dementia. She was denied bond because the judge deemed her a “flight risk.” 

These arrests of people attending the music festival have been called indiscriminate because of a lack of evidence from the police and little to no case from the prosecution. Micah Herskind commented

“During these bond hearings, it was clear that the prosecution has not yet put together any case. They are using these fallbacks. You know, one of the examples that they gave was that people were wearing black and that that was evident of playing on the team, of being on the side of the protest. And so, you know, the charges are all really shaky. There’s really no legitimate evidence that’s been put forward.”

Intake paperwork of arrested individuals also noted mud on people’s clothes as probable cause for being at the construction site despite the music festival being hosted in the South River/Weelaunee Forest.

Tensions have only been rising, and with it, the threat of violence, in whatever form be it legal or physical, has become apparent on both sides of this contentious issue. 

The creation of labels and narratives impacts on social justice movements 

Since protesters are being labeled as domestic terrorists, we need to understand the implications of this language, or better yet, where it originated from. 

In an email from April 2022, the Atlanta police and fire department described the movement to save the Weelaunee Forest as a group of “eco-terrorists” in correspondence with the FBI over unspecified investigations. 

This would not be the first instance of the FBI insinuating violent behaviors in those with environmental concerns. 

An image of the back of an unknown person with a jacket that reads “FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”
Figure 3: Source: Yahoo Images; Image of an FBI Terrorism Task Force jacket.

The Stop Cop City movement gained international attention after the killing of Tortuguita Teran, however, support had already crossed state borders in the U.S. as demonstrators spread their message on social media. 

On July 18th, 2022, a Twitter account named “Chicago Against Cop City” began posting information on the campaign to resist the construction over 700 miles away. Additionally, a post on the same day promoted a speaking event at a local bookstore on Chicago’s West side. This was one of several events that activists held over the year, and across the country, to educate people on the plan to construct Cop City and raise awareness surrounding the issue. 

According to research conducted by Grist, it took less than two weeks for the FBI to flag the account and begin tracking posts on the account, including other Chicago activist groups, and events. Grist also obtained FBI records through a Freedom of Information Act request which they have made publicly available. This first document focuses on the “potential criminal activity” of groups resisting the development of the Obama Presidential Library, Tiger Woods golf course, and Chicago Police Training Center that would destroy over 2,000 trees (page one). 

It goes on to claim that Chicago Against Cop City is a “spin-off” of the Defend the Atlanta Forest group (page 3), however, according to a spokesperson for Rising Tide Chicago they do not know who created the Chicago Against Cop City Twitter account and claim that it “doesn’t appear to be a formal group.” 

Mike German, a former FBI agent who now works as a fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice in the Liberty and National Security Program, reviewed the documents and stated that the FBI had made several misleading statements meant to create a narrative. While it is true that some violent and destructive events in Atlanta have occurred, no evidence was given in this dossier to support any direct connection with either organization in Atlanta or Chicago. Moreover, the Chicago Police Training Center did not require the clearing of forested land, and most controversy in the last couple of years on the issue focus on the cost of construction being $170 million. 

In the second document, on page 15 the Defend the Atlanta Forest group (DTAF) is called “a very violent group” and noted that Chicago has several projects of a similar nature (threatening environmental spaces against public wishes). This report then claimed that “DTAF members came to Chicago to provide training to like-minded individuals.”

While these documents have an emphasis on Chicago, the first document I mentioned also includes photos of similar accounts in Minnesota (page 12). 

According to Adam Federman, one unnamed activist who had traveled to Chicago in July 2022 had only given “informational slideshow presentations” that had no training and merely focused on raising awareness about the issue. 

A spray-painted image on a red wall with dark red, bolded “Free Speech” with smaller text below with an asterisk saying “conditions apply.”
Figure 4: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to Chris Christian; Image of graffiti saying “Free Speech *conditions apply.”

None of the “evidence” collected by the FBI has shown any encouragement of violent tactics. 

In the end, the dossier that was created by the FBI on August 16th, 2022 is important for several reasons. One, the FBI is clearly monitoring actions that are protected by the U.S. Constitution and as human rights, which include freedom of speech and assembly. These rights are clearly laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Preambles 18, 19, and 20. 

Moreover, the usage of the labels “Anarchist Violent Extremists (AVE) and Environmental Violent Extremists (EVE)” set the tone for how these groups and their concerns are approached by law enforcement (page 4). This has been made clear in the case of Tortuguita Teran when teams that entered the forest that morning were informed about the alleged “violent nature” of the DTAF activists. 

Changing dynamics of protests: Resisting assaults on social justice attempts

It is clear that the issue over the destruction of the South River forest is one that extends beyond Atlanta. Groups in Chicago have contested the destruction of Jackson Park on the South side and other green spaces. Also, concerns over police militarization are not just in Atlanta but extend hundreds of miles away in the United States. This very reason has prompted resonation with abolitionists and environmental activists alike. 

More and more police training facilities are being built across the country and some are estimated to cost around $120 million to $150 million in construction. Two have been proposed in both Pittsburgh and Chicago despite public outcry. 

However, in the face of this coalition building across specific issues and geography, new and more frightening narratives are being written to undermine the efforts of these groups. This is not to say that violence and destruction are answers but to emphatically denounce strategies that seek to end civil rights and social justice movements with arbitrary arrests, exaggerated charges, and monitoring of activist groups. 

The use of social media is a revolutionary tool for activists since it has the power to succinctly and quickly reach a broad audience 一 a crucial step in sustaining a thriving movement. This, alongside workshop events on rights and training on peaceful civil disobedience (this latter one not being mentioned as occurring in the Chicago or Atlanta groups), are tactics that are protected and signal a thriving political culture. This shows that a nation has strong democratic values as people seek to not only engage with their local and national governments but also do so with the equality of all people.

Instead of monitoring with suspicion and animosity, we should celebrate the diversity of people who have come together to raise their voices in support of their goals. There is hope here. What may look like tensions, anger, divisions, and even hate, also shows us the passion of so many people of different backgrounds and social causes being engaged. It shows us that there are those who will not accept a lack of representation, lack of community, or lack of safe environment. It shows us that, if only the channels of communication would open, there are people screaming, chanting, and singing for the opportunity to work for a future for us all. There are people who are fighting in the forest for more than just the space, but for a future. 

After a public meeting that stretched 14h and in which many people spoke out against the project, Atlanta City Council approved “Cop City” in a vote of 11-4 on June 6, 2023. The Council agreed to provide $31m in public funds for the center’s construction and approved a provision that requires the city to pay $1.2m a year over 30 years ($36m total) for using the facility. The rest of the $90m project is to be funded by private donations to the Atlanta Police Foundation, the non-profit responsible for planning and building the center. Atlanta organizers unveiled a plan to stop “Cop City” at the ballot box.

If you want to learn more about activism or the organizations mentioned in this article, check out the links below. Also, if this is an issue you feel connected to, please contact your local, state, or federal representative to express your concerns directly. Urge your representatives to reach out and begin talks with any activist groups because we all have a part and voice to play in securing our rights and ensuring the best, most equitable community. 

  • The Implications of Selective Activism on Human Rights by Danah Dib 
  • The City in the Forest Soon to be Cop City by Alex Yates
  • Remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as we Celebrate Human Rights Day by Chadra Pittman  
  • Parallels of Democratic Turmoil: Looking at Riots in the U.S. and Brazil by Alex Yates

Want to interact with NGOs? Here are some to consider!

 

the earth being held by hands
(source: yahoo images)

Naturally, many human rights violations and atrocities leave one wondering, “What can I do to ensure these violations do not happen again?” Unfortunately, however, many don’t know how to help to support human rights and a lot of information online is convoluted. This in turn causes charities and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which seek to promote humanitarian efforts, to often get overshadowed by bad news.

In this blog, I will share notable charities and initiatives that one could support in an effort to make a difference in the world. 

Human Rights Watch

logo of Human Rights Watch
(source: yahoo images)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an organization that investigates and reports on human rights violations and atrocities throughout the world. The advocacy of Human Rights Watch, as said by them, is directed towards “governments, armed groups and businesses, pushing them to change or enforce their laws, policies and practices.” 

Moreover, Human Rights Watch does not accept any sort of funding from the government or corporations, as they seek to remain unbiased and bipartisan. The organization is complied of over 400 lawyers and human rights experts, and they would be a great organization to help out with donations.

Human Rights Watch prides itself on its transparency in its affairs, and it was thus awarded the Guidestar Platinum Seal of Transparency, an award given by an organization that “gathers, organizes, and distributes information about U.S nonprofits in an effort to advance transparency, enable users to make better decisions, and encourage charitable giving.”

Moreover, if that was not enough to show you the commitment of Human Rights Watch, allow us to make note that in 1997, they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping create the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty — a piece  of legislation that brought about newfound protection to citizens from bombs which previously “killed and maimed indiscriminately.” 

Therefore, with all of the aforementioned facts in mind, donating to Human Rights Watch would be a sure way in bringing about change and ensuring that human rights violations get exposed, lessened, and stopped.

Amnesty International

logo of Amnesty International
(source: yahoo images)

Amnesty International is one of the most influential and famous nongovernmental organizations in the world. Amnesty International, simply put, could be defined by its mission statement: “[we are] a global movement of more than 10 million people who take injustice personally. We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.” Amnesty International, like Human Rights Watch, is primarily funded by its supporters – not governments or political institutions.

Moreover, Amnesty International is both unbiased and bipartisan – they simply just seek to ensure all people enjoy human rights. Amnesty International functions by lobbying governments to ensure they keep their promises and passions for human rights; investigate and expose all violations that occur in the world, despite of where or what might have happened; and seek to educate and mobilize all people who wish to learn more about human rights.

Amnesty International was founded more than 50 years ago when the owner, Peter Benenson, saw two Portuguese students jailed for raising a toast to freedom in 1961. Since then, Amnesty International has been one of the most prominent and respected NGOs on the scene, and they have accomplished a lot. 

In just 2022 alone, Amnesty International has helped free individuals who were imprisoned unjustly and ensured that human rights abusers got locked up. Moreover, Amnesty International was a driving force behind the decriminalization of Abortion in Colombia. Needless to say, Amnesty International’s impact, passion, and dedication to human rights is incredibly influential, and donating to their cause would definitely help bring about good changes. 

Human Rights First

Egypt's desert mountains
(source: yahoo images)

Human Rights First (HRF) was established in 1978, with the mission of “[ensuring] that the United States is a global leader on human rights.” Human Rights First is centered in the United States, but it conducts a multitude of work abroad to ensure that “human wrongs are righted.” 

Human Rights First has been involved in a lot of international political affairs which sought to eradicate injustice and, as they put it, human wrongs. For instance, in 1988, Human Rights First initiated its Lawyer-to-Lawyer network, which was an initiative that helped ensure all lawyers that have been imprisoned unjustly internationally are released. As of now, the program has worked with over 8000 lawyers in over 130 countries. 

In addition to helping create the International Criminal Court, Human Rights First also helped establish the Fair Labor Association in 1999. This Association brought together over 60 major companies, such as Nike and Adidas, to help set workplace standards for industries throughout the world. In doing so, Human Rights First helped ensure that those who work for major international companies are not going to face hardships or disparity in their workplace environment. 

Human Rights First, in addition to all that has been mentioned, has been a major actor in the anti-torture movement. In 2009, Human Rights First stood beside President Obama when he signed the executive order banning all torture in the United States. Then, in 2015, Human Rights First sought to make Obama’s order even more powerful and impactful. After the release of the Torture Report, Human Rights First was able to gain public support and then work with Senators McCain and Feinstein to craft what they consider to be the “strongest anti-torture law in U.S. history.”

Needless to say, Human Rights First is an incredibly dedicated, driven, and successful organization, which has had years of successful changes in the world of human rights. You definitely would not go wrong by donating or supporting them. 

Summary

Beautiful nature scenery
(source: yahoo images)

In summary, human rights is a very complicated topic that is often convoluted and hard to understand through the media. Due to this, many do not always know what is the best way to donate and help out, despite wanting to. In this blog, I have listed multiple different organizations that have a proven history of success and change, and I thus hope to have made the process of getting involved in human rights easier. 

If more people are involved in human rights, more change will happen, and more people internationally will have access to these same rights. It is my hope that, one day, human rights will be as accessible to everyone on this planet as oxygen is. This will only happen with support, and that is exactly what I hope to have urged you to do in this blog — support the NGOs which fight for human rights. 

A Non-Exhaustive Book List of Foundational Black Authors

**The content of the mentioned works below deals with racial, sexual, and gendered themes that may be difficult for some readers. Consider carefully before reading.**

Contested conversations and debates around literature, even books bans, are nothing new. Unfortunately, we find ourselves during a time when pushes for literary censuring are on the rise, with fervent calls to remove books with references to enslavement, sex, gender, or Queer people. In light of this, I wanted to present a list of only a few Black authors, some of which are women, Queer, or both, so that we can remember and learn from them, and never let anyone take their lessons from us.

W.E.B. DuBois

Cover of the book The Souls of Black Folk. Preeminent author W.E.B. DuBois.
Figure 1: Source: Simon & Schuster; The cover of one of W.E.B. DuBois’ books, The Souls of Black Folk.Figure 2: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the preeminent author, W.E.B. DuBois. Preeminent author W.E.B. DuBois.

A founding member of the NAACP, W.E.B. Dubois is one of the foremost Black scholars of his era. He was the first Black American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to challenge notions by abolitionist Frederick Douglas and contemporary intellectual Booker T. Washington in his numerous writings and actions. Instead of promoting the ideology that Black people should integrate into White society or compromise rights to make small gains, DuBois loudly proclaimed Black pride.

In his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Dubois coined the now-famous term “double consciousness.” He discussed the irreconcilable double existence Black people lived through in America as both American and Black. Since then, the term has become a theoretical framework for understanding the dynamics of unequal realities and structures.

He attended the founding convention for the United Nations in 1944 and was a leader in the Pan-Africanism movement, organizing a series of Pan-African Congress meetings throughout the world.

He passed away at the age of 95 on Aug. 27, 1963, after moving to Ghana and acquiring citizenship there.

James Baldwin

Renowned author James Baldwin in a study. Cover of the novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain.
Figure 3: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author of several award-winning novels, James Baldwin. Figure 4: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of James Baldwin’s first novel, Go Tell it on the Mountain.

Writing between 1953 and 2011, a mix of standalone novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction books, James Baldwin is considered a quintessential American writer. As the grandson of an enslaved person, Baldwin’s work reconciled with the experience of being a Black man in White America. Born in 1924 in Harlem, New York, he was the oldest of nine kids and spent most of his time in libraries.

He spent three years in his stepfather’s profession as a preacher before moving to Greenwich Village and pursuing writing. Even though most of his work was embroiled in experiences of anger and disillusionment, Baldwin always advocated love and brotherhood.

After passing from stomach cancer at the age of 63 in 1987, Baldwin became known as one of the most vocal and prominent voices for equality. He is considered an essential, and enriching, part of the American literary canon.

Alice Walker

Cover of the novel The Color Purple. Acclaimed author Alice Walker holding a microphone.
Figure 5: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Alice Walker’s novels, The Color Purple. Figure 6: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to Virginia DeBolt; An image of acclaimed author, Alice Walker.

Alice Walker was born in 1944 in Eaton, Georgia. Her parents were sharecroppers and after a childhood incident that left her blind in one eye, Walker’s mother considered her more suited for writing than chores. This talent landed her a scholarship to Spelman College, whereafter she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and earned a BA in Literature.

After graduating, she moved to Mississippi to join the Civil Rights Movement and married Melvyn Rosenman Leventhal; becoming the first interracial marriage in the state.

Walker is hailed for her rediscovery of author Zora Neale Hurston and her foundational role for Black women authors.

She published her first book of poetry in 1968, Once, and her first novel in 1970, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Her most acclaimed work came in 1982, The Color Purple, wherein she explores gender, sexuality, and race. She continues to publish to this day and is widely regarded for her insightful portrayal of Black American life and culture.

Toni Morrison

Renowned author Toni Morrison. Cover of the novel, Beloved.
Figure 7: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author of several award-winning novels, Toni Morrison. Figure 8: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of Toni Morrison’s first novel, Beloved.

Toni Morrison was born on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. Though living in a semi-integrated area, Morrison experienced the cruel reality of racism. At two years old, their landlord set their apartment on fire with them inside when her family could not afford rent.

She turned her attention to reading and eventually attend the historically black institution, Howard College. There she was exposed to colorism and witnessed firsthand how racial hierarchies extended to skin pigmentation within the Black community.

Working within academia throughout the North and South, Morrison eventually settled in an editing career. Though she worked for publishing companies, she did not publish her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), until she was 39 years old. However, after (and like) this first work, each of her subsequent novels earned critical acclaim and several awards. In 1987, she released her most-known work, Beloved, which is based on the true story of an enslaved woman. The novel was on the Bestseller list for 25 weeks and won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

In 1993, Toni Morrison became the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and has also been awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Critics Circle Award, and she was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

As an internationally renowned author, Morrison has left a litany of insightful works from novels to plays and children’s stories. She passed away in 2019.

Ralph Ellison

Cover of the novel Invisible Man. Acclaimed author Ralph Ellison in a study.
Figure 9: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of Ralph Ellison’s first novel, Invisible Man. Figure 10: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the esteemed author, Ralph Ellison.

Ralph Ellison was born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He was the grandson of enslaved people. He only ever published one book during his lifetime, Invisible Man (1952), yet this book gained him national acclaim. After his death on April 16, 1994, his second novel, Juneteenth, was published in 1999.

Originally, Ellison had had dreams of becoming a professional musician and had enrolled at the Tuskegee Institute to do just that. However, after traveling to New York City during his senior year to earn funds for his final year, he met Richard Wright (author of the polemic novel Native Son). This, coupled with the onset of the Great Depression, prompted Ellison to embark on his writing career.

He wrote for the New York Federal Writer’s Program, an offshoot of the Works Progress Administration. After the outbreak of WWII, Ellison joined the U.S. Merchant Marine as a cook and began planning for what would become his infamous novel, Invisible Man.

When it debuted, it was on the Bestseller’s List for 16 weeks and won the National Book Award. Forty years later, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Saul Bellow, stated, “This book holds its own among the best novels of the century.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Pioneering author Zora Neale Hurston. Cover of the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Figure 11: Source: Yahoo Images, Available from the United States Library of Congress; An image of the author of several award-winning novels, Zora Neale Hurston. Figure 12: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of Zora Neale Hurston’s acclaimed novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, U.S. She is a world-renowned author and one of the first students of the father of anthropology (Franz Boas).

She was the daughter of enslaved parents. At a young age, her family relocated to Eatonville, Florida where her father became the town’s first mayor, in what was the first all-Black incorporated town in the state.

Hurston earned her Associate’s from Howard College before she won a scholarship to Barnard College and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Anthropology. As a student in New York City, she met fellow writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen and joined what is remembered as the Harlem Renaissance 一 a black cultural movement of arts, music, and literature.

She began publishing short stories as early as 1920, though was largely ignored by white mainstream literary circles (though she gained a large Black readership). In 1935, she published her debut novel, Mules and Men, and between 1934 and 1939 wrote three more works. Her most acclaimed novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) which incorporated her research and literary talents to focus on the life of Janie Crawford, a Black woman whose journey of self-discovery and identity takes her to many places.

She is a pioneering figure of modern anthropology and traveled to Haiti and Jamaica to study African diasporas. Moreover, she chronicled many Black folktales and dialects which she subsequently incorporated into her own writings. While this drew criticism from some contemporary figures, her work celebrated Black language and culture unabashedly.

Zora Neale Hurston passed away on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida. Zora Neale Hurston was long an unsung literary figure but after her rediscovery by author Alice Walker, her works have once returned to print.

Regarded as one of the founders of Black writing, particularly for Black women authors, Alice Walker has said:

“Her work had a sense of Black people as complete, complex, undiminished human beings and that was crucial to me as a writer.”

bell hooks

Cover of the novel Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism. Acclaimed author bell books.
Figure 13: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of bell hook’s first novel, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism. Figure 14: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to Kevin Andre Elliot; An image of the acclaimed author, bell hooks.

bell hooks, a pseudonym of Gloria Jean Watkins, was born September 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

She grew up in a segregated community in the American South which eventually informed her writing. She published her first work, Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism (1981), while still an undergraduate at Standford University.

Her pseudonym was fashioned after her great-grandmother’s name in order to honor female legacies and she chose all lowercase letters because she wanted people to focus on the content of her books over her.

hooks was a progressive thinker and scholar whose work engaged with the intricate relationships of race, class, and gender as situated in systems of structural oppression and violence. She educated people on intersectionality well before it became a common word now (essentially pioneering the ideology itself).

She passed away on December 15, 2021, in Berea, Kentucky. You can find a selection of her works here.

Angela Davis

Acclaimed author Angela Davis. Cover of the book, Are Prisons Obsolete?
Figure 15: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the author of several provocative books, Angela Davis. Figure 16: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Angela Davis’ acclaimed books, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Angela Davis was born January 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama in a neighborhood known as “Dynamite Hill” for the numerous bombings committed by the domestic terrorist group, Ku Klux Klan. She is a philosopher, activist, and former Black Panther and political prisoner who was wrongly accused of participating in the killing of a prison guard after becoming involved in the Soledad Brothers campaign. After that, Davis went into hiding and was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List, making her the third woman to ever be placed on the list.

An international movement to “Free Angela” led to songs from artists like Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and the Rolling Stones. On June 4th, 1972, she was found not guilty of all charges.

Angela Davis continues her legacy to this day, giving speeches and continuing to write new works that discuss intersectionality, racial disparities and structural violence, and abolition, among a few topics. Her latest book was published in 2022 with her partner, Gina Dent, alongside Erica R. Meiners and Beth E. Richie titled: Abolition. Feminism. Now.

Find more of her works here.

Maya Angelou

Cover of the novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Celebrated author and poet Maya Angelou.
Figure 17: Source: Yahoo Images; The cover of one of Maya Angelou’s works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Figure 18: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the celebrated author and poet, Maya Angelou.

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928, in St. Louis, Missouri. She writes across several mediums as a memoirist, poet, author, playwright, and essayist. Her work explores themes such as economic conditions, race, and sexual oppression. She is also renowned for her unique and visionary autobiographical writing styles.

Angelou did not live with her parents full-time during her childhood as a result of divorce and other factors. When she returned from her grandmother’s care to live with her mother at the age of seven, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He was jailed, and upon his release, was killed. Believing that she had somehow had a part in the death of this man, Angelou became mute for the following 6 years of her life.

Angelou displayed her literary talents from a young age but did not become a professional writer until much later in life, around when she joined the Harlem Writer’s Guild in 1959. She was also a prominent activist in the Civil Rights Movement and served as the North Coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In 1969, she wrote one of her most famous works, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was an autobiography of her early life, exploring her experiences with sexual abuse. Many schools sought to ban this book as a result of these depictions, but numerous sexual abuse survivors have credited her work as telling their stories.

While she has earned numerous awards, including three Grammy Awards, for her writing she was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2000) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010).

Maya Angelou passed away on May 28, 2014, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a long and fruitful career. You can find a list of her complete works here.

James Cone

Acclaimed author and theologian, James Cone. Cover of the book, A Black Theology of Liberation.
Figure 19: Source: Wikimedia Images; Dr. James Cone at the 174th Convocation of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Figure 20: Source: Alex Yates; The cover of one of James Cone’s pioneering books, A Black Theology of Liberation.

James Cone is a highly influential figure who founded Black liberation theology, alongside, being an outspoken proponent of justice for the oppressed in society. He is known as one of the most widely regarded theologians in America, teaching at the Union Theological Seminary for 50 years and influencing generations of scholars. One such student is currently a senator for the state of Georgia, Rev. Raphael Warnock, who was elected in 2020 as the state’s first Black senator.

Born August 5, 1938, in Arkansas, he grew up during intense racial segregation during the 40s and 50s. Living under the threat of lynching revealed to Cone the immense spiritual and moral depth of Black people, especially as Cone’s own parents taught love over hate when confronted by racial injustice and threats. As a result of his personal experiences and figures such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Cone developed Black liberation theology to challenge the white hegemony of Christian teachings and understanding.

Black liberation theology is informed by six sources which can be summarized as the black experience (slavery, segregation, and lynchings), black culture and revelation, and tradition and scriptural interpretation. He is best known for his political and influential books, Black Theology and Black Power (1969), A Black Theology of Liberation (1970), and God of the Oppressed (1975).

He passed on April 28, 2018, at the age of 79. His latest memoir was written just prior to his passing and is titled: Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody.

Octavia Butler

Acclaimed author Octavia Butler.
Figure 21: Source: Yahoo Images; An image of the acclaimed author, Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler was born in 1947 in Pasadena, California. She is an author of mostly science fiction novels in future settings, often incorporating unique powers. Her numerous works are known for their synthesis of science fiction, mysticism, mythology, and Black American spiritualism.

Not only was Butler the first Black woman to receive wide acclaim in this genre of fiction, but she was also the first science fiction writer to win the MacArthur “Genius” Award. She has also won several other awards including the Hugo, Nebula, and Locust awards.

In 1975, she published her first novel Patternmaster, which was quickly followed by Mind of My Mind and Survivor: This series is about humanity’s evolution into three separate genetic groups.

Her best-known work, Kindred, was published in 1975 and continues to be taught in high schools, universities, and community reading programs to this day. (There was even a recent television adaption on Hulu.)

Much like other Black women authors on this list, Butler’s work extends beyond race and explores the dynamics of sex and gender, challenging traditional gender roles in works like Bloodchild and Wild Seed. Octavia Butler passed away on February 24, 2006, in Seattle, Washington, but not before securing her legacy in her numerous works.

Conclusion

To learn more about book bans, read the article by Nikhita Mudium: “Book Bans in the United States: History Says it All.”

If you liked this book list, check out the list of contemporary Black authors here.

The City in the Forest Soon to be Cop City

I grew up in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Not inside the perimeter as one might say, I spent my childhood in the forests for hours at a time. My brother and I never grew bored of the endless possibilities and freedom we felt among the oaks: they are some of my most treasured memories. So, whenever we drove into Atlanta proper, I would watch the trees blur by as we encroached further to the city’s heart, well past the notorious highway 285 that encircles it. I always had a tree in sight no matter the distance we ventured into the city, and it always reminded me that home could extend and coincide with a vibrant metropolis rising ever closer in my sight. This always soothed me and put me at peace. 

Not all is peaceful in the forest, however. 

When protesting is rebranded as domestic terrorism

Since the quiet release of plans to demolish South River Forest (also known as the Old Atlanta Prison Farm) in 2021, protesters have been camping in the forest for months. Local organizations have banded together in order to advocate for the forest and resist police attempts to forcibly remove protesters. These organizations include Defend the Atlanta Forest, Community Movement Builders, a Black-led nonprofit serving working-class and poor Black people, and the newly formed Stop Cop City group. 

These organizations have intersecting goals that culminate in mutual aid to stop the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center known as “Cop City.” Leaders from the Community Movement Builders described the project as a “war base” wherein “police will learn military-like maneuvers to kill Black people and control our bodies and movements.” 

One reason for the clear disdain for the project, aside from the historical implications discussed further below, is that the proposed site resides in unincorporated Dekalb county. Thus, those living in the neighborhood had no representatives on the council that approved the project in the first place. After public outrage at the lack of transparency and community engagement, the Atlanta council begrudgingly allowed public comments before the vote in September 2021. The council received 17 hours of recording on the proposal with 70% (or 12 hours) expressing opposition. The plan still passed 10-4. 

Short cement barricades with hearts painted along their length.
Figure 1: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to John Ramspott; Barricades constructed by Cop City protesters from debris and illegally dumped material.

Protesters have created makeshift barricades from mounds of illegally dumped material such as automobiles and tires in the forest. There is no water or electricity in the encampments so the protesters live very frugally to defend their beliefs. Access to water has continued to be an issue as police try to cut off supplies in an attempt to disperse the protesters and conduct regular raids and wreaking camps. 

Confrontations with the police have only become more frequent: and with more serious consequences. At first, some activists found themselves with trespassing charges, but protests escalated on January 18th when demonstrator Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, a 26-year-old queer environmental activist, was lethally shot by Georgia state police.

 Protesters walk down the street holding signs that say “Stop Cop City” and a large forefront banner “We Fight Like Hell For The Dead & Living.”
Figure 2: Source: Flickr, Chad Davis; Protesters in Minneapolis after the killing of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation released a statement that Tortuguita, they/them, did not “comply with verbal commands” and allegedly shot a Georgia State Patrol trooper who is in stable condition. As a result of these alleged sequence of events, Tortuguita was shot over a dozen times by multiple different firearms and there is no body cam footage of the tragedy. 

Now, the state is planning to convict 18 activists of domestic terrorism charges which holds a possible sentence of up to 35 years. 

Local authorities have continued to falsely claim that organizations involved in resisting police development plans are “domestic violent extremists.” During the bail hearing for those arrested on Jan. 18th, bail was denied to four activists while two were given the unprecedented amount of $355,000, along with conditions for ankle monitors and curfews. 

What once would have been considered a sit-in protest has now been twisted into “domestic terrorism.”

So what is Cop City? 

Cop City is the name that has been given to the project to construct the nation’s largest police training facility

Considered a private-public venture between the city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation (APF), the 85 acres slotted to be turned into a police compound would cost $90 million to construct. Renderings of the project include indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, an auditorium, classrooms, a space dedicated to explosion tests, and a mock miniature city to practice high-speed chases and burn-building training. 

The Public Safety Training Academy Advisory Council was formed under the previous mayor,  Keisha Lance Bottoms, on Jan. 4, 2021. According to investigative work conducted by the Mainline, a woman-led independent magazine based in Atlanta, the council was comprised entirely by “government, police, and fire officials, including Chief Operating Officer Jon Keen and APF CEO and President Dave Wilkinson.”

After meeting on Jan. 22, Feb. 12, March 4, and March 26 in 2021, the plan that would become Ordinance No. 21-O-0367  (Cop City) was introduced on June 7th the same year. It was passed shortly thereafter on September 8th, 2021. 

Two-thirds of the costs ($60 million) to construct Cop City are coming from corporate donors such as Chick-Fil-A and Delta. Otherwise, despite the desperate and apparent need for affordable housing, food, and other life-affirming infrastructures, the remaining third of the costs ($30 million) is to be paid by taxpayers

The land is currently under lease to the Atlanta Police Foundation for only $10 a year (see page 10) and construction started this February. 

Hidden racist history of the forest continued with the development of Cop City 

Before South River Forest became known as such, located in the bustling perimeter of Atlanta’s sprawling metropolitan, the land belonged to the Muscogee Creek nation. In the early 19th century, these people were forcibly removed from their land by ever-encroaching settlers on the East coast and South Florida. 

In 1821, Georgia held its fourth land lottery, dividing the Muscogee Creek home into 202.5 acres. Between an 11-year period (1827-38), 23,000 Muscogee were driven from their lands by white, enslaving men.

Soon after, the land became a part of a complex of plantations that exploited the labor of enslaved people. The proposed South River Forest zone contained at least 9 plantations. The names of these plantation owners will not be given here, however, to learn some of the known names of enslaved peoples residing in this area, please read this article

Eventually, this land was sold to the city of Atlanta which was then used as a city-run forced agricultural labor prison that ran uninterrupted from 1920 to nearly 1990, being officially shuttered in 1995. 

Originally, the land became the first “honor farm” in the state, allowing trustworthy prisoners and those with minor infractions to work off their time. This was only a mask for a new form of slavery, cruelty, and so much worse as the Prison Farm ran, without clear archived records, for decades. The last official record comes from a 1971 health inspection record. 

A set of bars within a decaying building structure covered in graffiti, formerly the now abandoned Atlanta Prison Farm.
Figure 3: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to John Ramspott; Within one of the abandoned prison farm structures.

There are no official reports on the number of people who died under the inhumane working conditions, but there is a widespread belief that some inmates who died were buried in unmarked graves though none have been found yet. A little of what we know is troubling at best and stomach-churning at worse. In 1941, a prison superintendent reported housing 9 Black prisoners in a 12 ft space, alongside numerous reports of sexual violence from guards, and inmate deaths, often under suspect circumstances. 

In one example, prisoners were allowed to handle Sulfotep, which was only contained in unlabeled squeeze bottles and is an extremely toxic chemical pesticide only supposed to be dispensed by licensed company personnel. We know this because of the death of Leroy Horton, who was serving only a 20-day sentence, and who had been sprayed with the substance by another inmate at his own request after contracting lice at the prison. He served only four days of his sentence and died three weeks later due to these gross malpractices in safety protocols and sanitary living conditions. 

Now, the land is once more under contract by state policing structures.

Benefits and necessity of urban forests

Atlanta has been called the “City in the Forest” for its vast canopy coverage and abundance of trees within the city. That is because Atlanta leads the nation and major metropolitan cities in canopy coverage at 47.9 percent. 

The canopy is not distributed evenly across the city, rather it decreases as one approaches downtown and increases as one approaches the outskirts, making the presence of South River Forest within the perimeter that much more extraordinary. Researchers also found that the lowest canopy coverage was along transportation corridors, but was over 90 percent along stream corridors and in nature preserves

More and more cities are tracking the number of trees they foster because of the multitude of benefits they offer. This ranges from combatting urban heat island effects, reducing heating and cooling costs overall, providing blue/green space which improves mental health, acting as stormwater management to control flooding, and sequestering carbon thus improving air quality, combatting carbon emissions and climate change.

Results from a Montgomery, Alabama analysis found that urban forests removed 3.2 million lbs of pollutants from the air annually which is valued at $7.9 million. Moreover, the urban forest sequestered 11,263 tons of carbon each year and stored a total of 1.45 million tons of carbon. 

In Atlanta, climate scientists have warned that destroying woods will make the city more susceptible to flooding and dangerously hot temperatures. Other concerns over the South River Forest area are worsened air quality due to construction, fires, and weapons training. In this mainly Black part of metro Atlanta, people have been historically neglected. According to the US Census, 75 percent of the neighborhoods near the forest are Black and suffer from high poverty rates and health challenges like diabetes and asthma

The Sierra Club Georgia Chapter issued a statement on behalf of Black and Latinx community members, who have long been victims of environmental injustice and pollution within the city, stating their vehement opposition to the destruction of the South River Forest. 

Intersections of social ecology and human rights

In recent years, there has been a burgeoning movement to connect ecological and social issues together: known as the theory of social ecology. Murray Bookchin, a pioneer in the environmental movement and social theorist, has stated that ecological problems stem from social issues which in turn are exacerbated by ecological destruction. This vicious cycle has become the driving force behind new movements to address climate change and foster more awareness of the interdependence of people and their environment. Without this widespread recognition, social-ecological theorists have argued that hierarchical societies that rely on violent institutions like prisons and police are more likely to treat their environment and people as entities to be dominated, conquered, and/or controlled. 

In the case of the South River Forest/Cop City contention, this theoretical framework can be easily illustrated, alongside numerous normative international human rights standards. 

A spray-painted message on South River walking trails that reads “Stop Destroying the Earth and Its People.”
Figure 4: Source: Flickr, Photo credit to John Ramspott; Spray-painted messages from protesters on walking trails within South River Forest.

Firstly, the plans to develop Cop City were done so surreptitiously; there were no public announcements on the proposal before voting, nor were community members and organizations/specialists asked to participate in the development of the plans. Secondly, the council that approved the plans was not elected by anyone from the community in which the Cop City construction will take place. These are prime disregards for political and public representation: foundational blocks for democratic governance, rule of law, and social inclusion. From the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR): 

“Participation rights are inseparably linked to other human rights such as the rights to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression and the rights to education and to information.”

Next, the economic and social human rights of the South River Forest community are also being threatened. Economically, once again without any representative input, ⅓ of the cost ($30 million) is to be paid by taxpayers. Socially, each human has the right “to social protection, to an adequate standard of living and to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental well-being.” These rights are being threatened by the gross environmental degradation of a low-income community that already suffers from health conditions such as asthma. Moreover, it has long been scientifically proven that blue-green space increases one’s mental health 一 an explicitly aforementioned social right. 

Lastly, we come to environmental rights. The task of succinctly explaining them can be a lot, I encourage readers to look on our site in the “Environmental Rights” category for even more insight. However, in this case, where the environment is the key concern of protest, one should return again to social-ecological theory. In human rights, the right to health found in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, cannot be fully achieved in an environment that contributes to worse air quality, mental health, and dangerously high temperatures. The right to security, found in Article 3 of the UDHR, cannot be achieved in an environment where the community is under threat of more flooding, subject to burns, bombs, and shooting daily, and lives in fear of violence. And this can go on and on. 

Ultimately, this issue is complex and multifaceted: and it deserves public and civilian representation and more time than 7 months of deliberation to destroy a forest hundreds of years old.

Offer your support and learn more below: 

Part Three: The Different Approaches to Disabilities and the Future of Disability Rights

An image of a woman with disability in a sunflower field with a banner that reads, "nothing about us without us!"

This blog is part three of the conversation around disability rights, especially as it applies to children within the American school system. If you have not read the first two blogs in this series, I suggest you do so. The first blog focused on the historical view of disability and the American school system’s approach to children with disabilities. The second part mainly focused on the struggles that children with disabilities face within the school system, and how these struggles have been exacerbated due to the recent pandemic. This final part will focus on some of the approaches that have been taken in the past to address people with disabilities, and how they differ from a human rights approach. We will also examine how we can help on various levels, whether we want to focus on our personal abilities or advocate for a larger movement.

The Rights of Children with Disabilities

What rights are protected?

An image depicting five children holding signs that read, "the right to be heard", "the right to a childhood," "the right to be educated," "the right to be healthy," and "the right to be treated fairly."
Source: Yahoo Images

Much of what we have established in modern society in terms of children’s rights comes from decades of struggles, from implementing child labor laws to fighting for the right to an education. Similarly, the fight to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was one sure way to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. These rights and more are protected under the United Nations, both in terms of people with disabilities, (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD), and with children’s rights (Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC). Yet, these developments have only occurred in recent years; the ADA and the CRC were passed in America and the UN respectively, in 1990, and the CRPD was not adopted internationally until 2006.

The ADA, passed in the United States, protected the rights of people with disabilities from being discriminated against in all aspects of society. This was the first major legislation that protected people with disabilities from being denied employment, discriminated against in places of business, or even denied housing. In addition to these protections, the ADA required industries to be inclusive of those with disabilities through (among other things) taking measures such as building ramps and elevators for easy access to upper-level floors and building housing units with people with disabilities in mind. While America had passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA (originally passed in 1975, and renamed in 1990) by this time, the initial form of this legislation allowed schools to place certain students with disabilities in special programs for no more than 45 days at a time. It was not until its improved form was passed in 2004 that provided the necessary financial and social infrastructure for its successful implementation.

The passage of the CRC, which applies to all individuals under the age of 18, focuses on non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development, the State’s responsibility to ensure that the child’s best interests are being pursued, including ensuring that the child has adequate parental guidance. Additionally, it focuses on the child’s right to free expression, free thought, freedom to preserve their identity, protection from being abused or neglected, adequate healthcare and education, and includes certain protections the State is required to offer the children, including protection from trafficking, child labor, and torture. Article 23 of this Convention specifically focuses on the rights of children with disabilities, adding that these children have the right to the care, education, and training they need to lead a life of fulfillment and dignity. It also stresses the responsibility of the State to ensure that children with disabilities can live a life of independence and protect them from being socially isolated. Even though the UN passed this Convention in 2004, America is the only nation that has yet to ratify this treaty. This is why certain realities continue to exist, such as what is happening in Illinois.

Finally, we have the CRPD, which entered into force in 2008, only 15 years ago. Influenced by the ADA, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was passed to ensure that people with disabilities were fully protected under the law, including from discrimination, with the ability to function as fully pontificating citizens of their societies, with equal opportunities and the right to accessibility in order for them to lead a life with the dignity and respect afforded to their able-bodied counterparts. This convention had massive support and draws from both a human rights focus and an international development focus. What makes this convention unique is the implementation and monitoring abilities embedded within the treaty itself, and it includes non-traditional actors from communities (usually those with disabilities) with specific roles in charge of monitoring the implementation of this treaty. Unfortunately, the United States, while Obama signed the treaty and passed it to the Senate for their approval in 2009, has yet to fully ratify the CRPD treaty as well.

Some Approaches to Disability Rights

Upon understanding the various nuances of this conversation, we can now explore the three different approaches to defining disability in society. These approaches examine the issues that people with disabilities face and provide models influenced by differing fields of expertise. Many within society view disability as a medical issue and their solutions to the struggles faced by people with disabilities are medically focused. Similarly, others believe that disability is an issue of how society is structured, and their proposals for solving these issues lie within the realms of reshaping society to be more accessible to people with disabilities. Still, another approach built upon the foundations of human rights, focuses on the individual first, and the disability as an extension of their individuality. We will explore these three approaches and their pros and cons.

Approach 1: Medical Model of Disability

An infographic depicting what the medical model of disability stands for. At the center is an individual with arrows pointing to them to place the full responsibility of being disabled on the individual itself.
Source: Yahoo Images

            As mentioned above, some people view disability as a medical issue, and this approach can be categorized as the medical model of disability. This means that they believe that the “problem” of disability belongs to the individual experiencing it and that disability comes from the direct impairment of the person. The focus of this approach is to look for medical “cures” for disability, which can only be provided by medical “experts” based on the specific diagnosis. While it may be true that individuals with disabilities require medical help from time to time, their entire existence does not revolve around this notion of viewing disability as an illness. The focus here is to “fix” the person with disabilities, so they can become “normal” again. This approach also makes use of the “special needs” rhetoric, which can result in the isolation and marginalization of people with disabilities.  Media plays a big part in portraying people with disabilities as weak or ashamed of their disability, which can invoke fear or pity for people with disabilities within the larger society.

Approach 2: Social Model of Disability

A cartoon image to represent the social model of disability. In the image, there are many circular characters attempting to enter a square entrance, and cannot fit in. The gatekeeper informs them to change in order to fit into the system, and they reply back that the system could be changed instead to accommodate them.
Source: Yahoo Images

            Another approach that has been proposed is what is known as the Social Model of Disability. In this approach, the “problem” of disability is seen as a result of the physical and social barriers within society that exclude people with disabilities from fully participating in their society. Disability is seen as a political and social issue, and the goal of this model is to be more inclusive and recognize the prevalence of disability within our societies. This means looking closely at the ableist social institutions and infrastructures present within society and attempting to address these manmade challenges posed by people with disabilities. This model recognizes the social stigma around disabilities and recognizes people with disabilities as differently abled rather than viewing them as incapable of living an independent lifestyle. This approach places individuals with disabilities on a spectrum rather than the two categories of disabled and able-bodied. The goal of this approach is to be socially inclusive of all individuals, regardless of their disabilities.

Approach 3: The Human Rights Model of Disability

An image depicting various individuals with the saying, "Nothing about us, without us, is for us" around them.
Source: Yahoo Images

Finally, there is the Human Rights Model of Disability, which builds upon the foundations laid out by the Social Model of Disability and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In this approach, the focus is on viewing the individual with a disability as a human first, recognizing that disability is a natural part of humanity that has existed as long as humans have been around. While it shares a lot of similarities with the social model, the human rights approach emphasizes not only the right of every individual to be treated equally before the law but also stresses that a person’s impairment should not be used as an excuse for denying them rights. This is essentially what the CRPD centers around, and the main goal of this approach is to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities and protect their right to fully participate in society, politically, civilly, socially, culturally, and economically.

How Can We Help?

A cartoon image with EQUAL on the top, and many characters lined up with shirts that have individual letters on them that spell out "RIGHTS" below it. Below them is the phrase, "human beings are born free and equal - Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1947" on the bottom of the image.
Source: Yahoo Images

On the Internation Level

While the United Nations has a convention that focuses on protecting children’s rights, it is highly debated whether these treaties are being enforced around the world. Child labor is still common in various places around the world, including right here in Alabama. While it can be argued that the US has not ratified the treaty and that is why the UN cannot do anything about this issue, there are other places that have ratified the treaty that still places children in dangerous working conditions and face no real repercussions from these decisions from the UN. In 2019, many tech companies were sued for their use of child labor in other countries to mine the precious minerals they require to produce their devices. Many textile companies within the fashion industry use child labor in nations that have ratified the children’s rights treaty. While the United Nations is trying its best to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable communities, it has not been able to enforce these treaties and regulations, and as a result, atrocities against those vulnerable communities, (including children), continue to occur. How can we as human beings, ensure that all children are protected from harm, not just those able-bodied, living in wealthier nations? This is something that needs to be addressed, and it requires the cooperation of many different nations willing to put their differences aside and work together to find a solution.

On the Domestic Level

As we explored in the human rights model of disability rights, it is the responsibility of society to provide equal access to all its citizens. This includes its citizens who have disabilities, and not doing so would discriminate against those who have disabilities and violate the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that both on a national and local level, our infrastructure needs to be updated with an inclusive mindset that makes the roads safer and more accessible to all the citizens using them. As a state, Alabama could not only fix the infrastructure, but also pass bills to ensure that people with disabilities receive the care they need, including employment opportunities, medical assistance, food assistance, and any financial help they may require. Furthermore, on a national level, the police (or another department focused on social work) can be better trained to recognize the various disabilities, both visible and invisible, so people with disabilities are not wrongfully imprisoned for “behavioral” issues. This training would help erode the school-to-prison pipeline that has replaced disciplinary standards in American schools and make way for a brighter future for children with disabilities. Finally, the United States can, at the bare minimum, ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed into existence in 1990 by member states of the United Nation. As we mentioned earlier, the United States is the only nation in the world that has yet to ratify this treaty.

On the Individual Level

We can all be more mindful of our actions and our ableist mindsets. Next time you walk down the street, pay attention to the roads and sidewalks. Are there any sidewalks for people with disabilities to use safely? Are there curb cuts, and are those curb cuts freely accessible or are they blocked? How accessible are public buildings such as restaurants, storefronts, or even the DMV? Are there enough parking spots allotted to people with disabilities, and are those spots easily accessible, or blocked off by other vehicles? Thinking outside of an ableist mind frame is the first step toward being more inclusive of people with disabilities. It might seem like a powerless and pointless step to take, but the more you start to notice the ableist structures within society, the more you will want to speak up about these issues the next time you have the opportunity. You will also be more mindful of your own ableist actions and how they may have unintended consequences. If you are a parent, you have the ability to question your school’s practices concerning children with disabilities and offer support to the children and their parents. As an individual, you can also contact your representatives to pass legislation that would empower people with disabilities to live independently. As a society, we need to get past the stigmatization of this group and normalize disability being an innate part of being human.

 

 

Exiled Islanders from Chagos Demand Reparations from US and UK

Source by Yahoo Images

Over 60 years ago, the United Kingdom (UK) government secretly planned with the United States (US) government to forcibly remove an entire Indigenous people, the Chagossians, from their homes in the Chagos Archipelago. The Chagos Islands are a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. The UK has a long-standing dispute with Mauritius over the islands’ sovereignty. The UK separated the Chagos Islands from Mauritius in the 1960s, establishing a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) on the islands. The original inhabitants of the islands, the Chagossians, were forcibly removed and relocated to other countries, including Mauritius and Seychelles. The eviction of the Chagossians has been a contentious issue, with many claiming that the UK’s actions were both illegal and unjust. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2019 that the UK’s separation of the Chagos Islands from Mauritius was illegal, and that the UK should cease administration of the islands. 

Map showing the location of the Chagos Archipelago. Source: Google Maps.

Forced Removal 

Diego Garcia, the largest of the inhabited Chagos islands, would be turned into a US military base, and the island’s inhabitants would be relocated. This is an ongoing colonial crime because according to article 9 of the Human Rights Act, No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.The UK government forcibly removed the indigenous people from their native, ancestral lands. This removal was carried out without their knowledge or consent, and they were given no say in the matter. This action infringed on their right to self-determination, a fundamental principle of international human rights law.

Source by Yahoo Images

Loss of Livelihood 

The reality was the indigenous people had been there for centuries developing their distinct culture, language, and customs. From 1965 to 1973, the UK and US forced the entire Chagossian population from all the inhabited Chagos islands to be displaced from their homeland. Both governments treated the people as if they had no human rights. The islanders were a fishing and coconut plantation community, and their forced removal from the islands cost them their livelihoods. When they were exiled, they were unable to take any of their possessions or belongings with them, and they were not compensated for their loss. This had a significant financial and social impact on their lives. 

Separation from Families

My mother cried and said to us, Now we will live a very different life’” quote from Louis Marcel Humbert, born in Chagos 1955. This was in response to leaving four brothers and a sister back on the island. Unable to bring their families with them, many families were broken and left in a similar situation. The strict restrictions imposed by the UK government on access to the islands made it impossible for families to even visit those they have left behind. The governments’ merciless persecution on the grounds of race and ethnicity have resulted in thousands of families being isolated from each other. This is a continuation of the colonization and exploitation of the inhabitators of Chagos. In 1814, the Chagos Islands were ceded to Great Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Napoleonic Wars. The islanders have been subject to forced removal for years.  

Source by Yahoo Images

Deny Right to Return 

Despite the International Court of Justice ruling that the UK’s separation of the Chagos Islands from Mauritius was illegal and that the UK should end its administration of the islands as soon as possible, the UK government has retained control of the islands and denied Chagossians the right to return. Full reparations are in order and that starts by granting passage to return back to Chagos. The US and the UK need to provide restitution by immediately lifting the ban on Chagossians permanently returning to the Chagos Islands. This is a human rights violation from over 650 years ago that has yet to be corrected. By acknowledging the islanders were removed unlawfully, both governments can work towards rectifying the situation.   

 

The Implications of Selective Activism on Human Rights

With the start of quarantine in 2020 and the rise of the social media app TikTok, many activist movements come to light and shed knowledge on the horrific injustices. One of the most prevalent examples is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020 and the period following it; it has become crucial for individuals to speak out against injustices. In a sense, it is part of “cancel culture” not to speak out, or if you speak out on the incorrect issues. As important as that is, it has been observed that many liberals and progressives only stand against injustices for specific issues. In a way, it involves choosing who is more worthy of having their rights protected. This may seem like an extreme notion or definition of selective activism, but it is essential.

The idea of selective activism was first introduced to me while reading “Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics” by Marc Lamont Hill and Mitchell Plitnick. Even though this book specifically regarded the issues of Palestine and Israel, it dealt with an extremely important point and message; when we label ourselves as activists, we must be activists in all important issues. This is not to say that selective activism is always done intentionally; sometimes, it is by mere mistake or lack of knowledge on various issues. Everyone is guilty of this. Sadly, there are so many human rights injustices in our world that it is impossible to dedicate all your time to fighting for them. But what one can do in these situations is to be cautious of all issues at their prevalent times.

Picture of a poster at a protest stating "we will not be silenced"
Source: Yahoo Images

What is Selective Activism?

Selective activism is closely linked to the idea of selective hearing, only hearing what you want to hear. Its advocating for specific things only. The best way I have found to explain selective activism is through this quote in the book: “progressives and liberals who oppose regressive policies on immigration, racial justice, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and other issues must extend these core principles to the oppression of others.” Some questions arise when speaking of selective activism; how do we choose? What makes one cause more worthy than another? The answer is simple. There are always causes that we feel especially connected to and that we constantly advocate for, but what is essential is that if one labels themselves as an activist, progressive, or humanitarian, then this needs to apply to all issues. If one is going to protest the killing of innocent individuals in America, then the same support must be shown to women in Iran. If one is going to advocate for Ukrainian refugees, then activism must be shown to MENA refugees and those whose countries are still under occupation. Ravyen Monroe, a writer for Affinity Magazine, explained it perfectly: “You can’t be an activist but stop advocating for certain groups when you get mad. You don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of respect and who gets degraded by terms that have oppressed them for centuries…That’s not how activism works.”

Showcasing activism; hand united
Source: Yahoo Images

Instances of Selective Activism

The most recent example of selective activism can be the world’s response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis compared to refugees from the MENA region (see blog on this topic here). Although what Ukrainians are going through is indescribable and is seen as an urgent humanitarian crisis, the problem is selective activism. The attention given to Ukrainian refugees was commendable. They were given the necessary aid and protection as needed. However, the same support was not extended to refugees from the MENA region. An Armenian writer explained this as a betrayal and stated, “it hurts to feel that certain people are prioritized in the eyes of the media, and thus, the world.” This type of selective activism is not limited to political activism and can also be seen in environmental activism. For instance, climate change activists. Many took the stance against using plastic and began investing in metal straws once it became a trend but continued to utilize plastic throughout their lives.

Impact of Selective Activism

Selective Activism has negative implications and effects on the world, like the forgotten issue of the Yemen crisis, Islamophobia in European countries, refugees, etc. The list is long and never-ending. Despite the many important human rights crises in the world, some face extreme critical conditions that tend to be forgotten. Many become activists when issues are trending, yet will forget about them once they are off the mainstream media. As illustrated, it is not possible for one to advocate for every cause or injustice. But, if one labels themselves an activist and sees many prevalent issues but ignores it, then that is participating in selective activism. An inclusive solution would be to continue the fight for human rights for all and to stay educated. If there are specific humanitarian causes important to one, make sure you are advocating for all the individuals affected. Below are books, movies, and resources that expand upon the notion of selective activism.

photo art of ways to advocate.
Source: Yahoo Images

Books:

“Except for Palestine: Limit on Progressive Politics” By Marc Lamont Hill & Mitchell Plitnick (This book opened my eyes to the idea of selective activism and its existence)

Movies:

Many movies educate one on the many humanitarian causes. My favorites are:

  • The Hate You Give
  • Farha
  • Swimmers

 

The Natural-Humanitarian Disaster of the Turkey-Syria Earthquake

Syria and Turkey have been impacted by one of the deadliest earthquakes that have been seen in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. The death toll has surpassed 20,000 and continues to rise considerably, not accounting for the thousands injured. Some of the areas this earthquake has hit are some of the most vulnerable areas in the world. The conditions in both countries are indescribable; with homes destroyed, hospitals at capacity, and limited supplies, the need for help has become critical. It was noted that due to the destruction of the hospitals, and the lack of staff and supplies, patients have had to receive medical attention on the hospital floors. At this point, any type of aid is scarce in both countries. It is vital that everyone supports in any possible way. At the end of this post, you will find numerous links on how to help, whether through donation, reading, reposting, etc. Anything you can do to help is urged. Pass these resources along to your friends, family, colleagues, etc. The most minor contribution makes the most significant difference.

Rescue workers search for survivors under the rubble following an earthquake in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Feb. 6, 2023. A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked areas of Turkey and Syria early that morning, toppling hundreds of buildings and killing more than 2,000 people. (OSV News photo/Sertac Kayar, Reuters)
Source: Yahoo Images

What is Happening?

An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 struck early Monday morning at 4:17 AM in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, 150 miles away from the Syrian border. This earthquake led to more than 300 aftershocks that rumbled, with one following the initial earthquake just 9 hours later at 1:25 PM and carrying a magnitude of 7.5. Earthquakes are measured using a magnitude scale ranging from 2.5 or less to 8.0 or greater. The Turkey-Syria earthquake reached a magnitude of 7.8 following a shock of 7.5. Meaning this was a significant earthquake that yields severe and destructive damage. This has been one of the worst earthquakes to hit the region since the early 1900s. Along with the destruction of this horrific disaster, the regions are currently facing a winter storm. The temperatures in both Turkey and Syria have dropped tremendously to below 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Rescuers have noted that the weather conditions are so bad that those trapped under the rubble have been found frozen to death.

Map showing the border regions in Turkey and Syria, locating the areas most affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake and its aftershock on February 6 - AFP / AFP
Source: Yahoo Images

Who is Sending Aid?

Two days have passed since the initial disaster, and the death toll continues to rise. Turkey currently has tens of thousands of rescue teams and aid personnel helping to search for survivors. More than 24 countries have sent aid, help, or rescue teams to Turkey to rescue as many people as possible. With the window closing for the survival of the many lives still stuck under the rubble, the rescue teams are still not losing hope and asking for aid and help. With all the help being given to Turkey, there is an absence found in Syria. Many political and logistical issues hinder aid from being given to Syrians. Since the Syrian Civil War, many countries, such as the EU and USA, have posed sanctions on Syria, and many border points are blocked. At this time, many are urging the sanctions to be removed as it hinders aid to Syria. In times of crisis, we can look to our governments for help, but that is not the case for the Syrian people, which is why it is so critical and necessary to support any in any way you can. Syria is still undergoing and recovering from a Civil War that has been happening for the last 10 years. Many Syrians have been displaced and have become refugees, most residing in Turkey, making the country the world’s biggest refugee host country, with over 3 million Syrian refugees living there. El-Mostafa Benlamlih, UN Resident and Humanitarian coordination for Syria stated: “Sadly, needs are rising rapidly in Syria, and not everyone who requires assistance is visible. Over 75% of all sub-districts in the country are classified as being under severe, extreme, or catastrophic conditions…We must act quickly to ensure more communities do not slide into an inescapable loop of deprivation and negative coping mechanisms.” The areas of Syria affected are some of the worst. Millions of individuals were already displaced in the northwest portion of the country house. With aid in Syria already being scarce, there are many worries and urgencies surrounding the need for humanitarian care.

Aid Personnel and Search and Rescue looking through rubble.
Source: Yahoo Images

Recommendations:

It is urgent that you can do anything you can to help. Whether that is donating $1, reposting a donation link, or just speaking about it. The current condition these people are living in is unimaginable, so it is vital to help in any possible way. A Syrian journalist has spoken about his experience and current grief. Mohammad Haj Bakri lost multiple family members due to this national disaster. His brother and his three children, his sister and her son, all died under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Although there is international support and awareness for those affected by the earthquakes, I urge you to support them still as much as possible. The aid given to these survivors will be for the current time and post-quake. Below are links to donation sites, articles on how to help, and additional links with information on the conditions.

“How to Help Victims of the Earthquake” New York Times Article by Ben Shpigel:

  • This article showcases which donation links to use; check out Charity Navigator and GuideStar to ensure that the non-profits you donate to are reliable.

“’It was like Judgment Day’: Syrians in Turkey Recount Earthquake Horror” The New Arab Article by Adnan Abdul Razzaq.

  • This article exemplifies the urgency of supporting the people of this horrific disaster. This piece explains the stories of those who went through the earthquake, had family members present or had their loved ones die.

The White Helmets:

  • A humanitarian aid organization that operates in the rebel-controlled areas of Syria, also known as Syria’s Civil Defense. They are the leading group for helping victims and displaced persons throughout the Syrian Civil war. You can find the link to donate here.

There are countless humanitarian groups accepting donations for those affected by the earthquake. For more resources, check out the links below:

Red Cross/Red Crescent Teams

Doctors Without Borders

USA Today

CNN