Ferguson: A dream for racial equality past, present and future

On 26th August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) addressed Washington D.C. and said the iconic words, ‘I have a dream’. He called for the country that was called the United States to become a united nation; a country that would allow both black Americans and white Americans to sit side by side and show mutual respect.

On the 9th August 2014, 51 years after MLK said the iconic words, that dream is sadly still shown to be a pipe dream. While African Americans in terms of legality have a voice, in local government that voice is still that of a second class citizen, under-represented and not heard enough of.

The recent events in Ferguson in the aftermath of the shooting of teenager Michael Brown has brought this to light. In a community that is 67% black, in local government that representation does not equate; the city council has a mere 17% of black representatives, with a white mayor, and the police force is even lower at only 6%. Over here, such inequality would contravene the human rights act article 14, which demands that all human rights be’ exercised without discrimination’. I find it difficult to believe that African Americans simply just don’t want to be involved in local government.

It is sad to see that in a progressive and forward thinking country that prides itself on the American dream, that the dream of MLK has still not been held up and that racial prejudice is still widely seen.

The appointment of Barack Obama indeed shows how far the country has come, however due to the recent breaches of the First Amendment (which includes the right to peaceful assembly; here implemented in the human rights act under articles 10 and 11), it is apparent that the dream that MLK called for in Washington DC is still one that needs to be fought for.

Therefore it is important that we at Glasgow University Amnesty Society still stand with Ferguson and fight for fair sentencing of Police Officer Darren Wilson in January, greater racial equality and continue to hope for the dream that MLK outlined half a century ago.

With the human rights acts, it is not a case of picking and choosing for certain individuals, if someone is human then these are the acts and they should not be breached.

Reporting on the Documentary: In Prison my Whole Life

Mumia Abu-Jamal was taken into police custody on 9th December, 1981 after being accused of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner with limited evidence. He has remained under police control ever since.

That is, at the time of writing (14th October 2014), 11,997.6 days (32 years, 10 months). Ten years more than my life time. He spent 11,008 days on death row waiting to die, until on 29th January 2012, after over a decade of public protest, his death sentence was repealed.

How you ask, can a government get away with keeping someone on death row in the 21st century without a fair trial? The answer, Abu-Jamal’s case like a number of others, relies upon a court decision with a jury that is fairly represented and a judge who is impartial.

Abu-Jamal had neither of these in his original court case.

The prosecutor in Abu-Jamal’s case, Joseph McGill, de-valued the role of the jury by saying that the case would be “appeal after appeal” and that he would not ever be executed.  This could have led to a less engaged jury. The jury was also not racially representative, with only three African Americans on the jury (25%), when the African American population at the time in Philadelphia was 44%.

At a period of severe racial hatred, racial representation was critical in a court of law. While he was not executed, he still spent 11,008 days waiting to die, something that can only be described as a slow tortured death.

Before the 'Mumia' law was passed that removed the possibility of taking photos of prisoners.

This photo was taken before the ‘Mumia’ law was passed in Pennsylvania which removed the possibility of taking photos or video footage of prisoners.

The lack of a fair trial also extends to the judge; Judge F.Sabo had a track record of sentencing people to death; he sentenced 33 people to execution in his career.  Overheard at the beginning of the trial saying “I’m going to help them fry the n*****”, he was openly corrupt and racist. This suggests that perhaps personal opinions influenced his court ruling, which resulted in the death of only two white people out of 33.

Another important point to add, is there is little concrete evidence to show that Abu-Jamal was guilty. From looking at photos taken by Pedro Polakoff at the scene, that came into public view in 2012, it is clear to see the murder weapon being held along-side Falkner’s police gun in another police officer’s un-gloved hand. This shows that no forensic investigation had taken place.

Later it appeared that  witness, Veronica Jones, a prostitute had been blackmailed by the police force to speak out against Abu-Jamal in return for a removal of her 10 year sentence which had meant that she would lose custody of her children. When she admitted her false testimony in 1996, Jones was called up on a five year old sentence for an unsigned cheque of $250 and arrested in the court room.

The corruption in the case surrounding the witnesses, also led only eye-witness who saw the whole event to remain silent. This was the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Billy Cook, who Mumia had come to help as he was being assaulted by the deceased police officer.

Further corruption in the case is shown through the changing of statements from police officers, initially reported as having said ‘nothing’, this was changed a month later to Abu-Jamal screaming out and saying: “I shot the motherf**ker and I hope he dies.” As he was suffering from a punctured lung that was filling up with blood, medical evidence suggested that this would have not been possible for him to speak, let alone scream.

While corruption in the case is three-fold and required a re-trial time and time again it was rejected, and was only taken up on June 10th 1991, after Abu-Jamal had spent nine years and six months on death row.

Abu-Jamal is in an inescapable situation as he is still imprisoned for life without parole. However, he still manages to provide a “voice for the voiceless”, and keeps in touch with his former job as a radio journalist and newspaper journalist. Reporting on Ferguson and comparing it to Gaza two days ago on prison radio, he still fights for justice, even when justice has kept him behind bars.

His fighting for justice, also turned him into an author of seven books, with multiple best sellers. He also has a book coming out next year which shows that this prisoner, while he has lost his freedom of movement has definitely not lost his freedom of speech.

Abu Jamal, similar to the likes of Martin Luther King, fought for what he believed in. However, because it did not go against those who could be ‘demonised’, the good old police force, he instead was tarred with the brush of a ‘terrorist’ and removed from public view and contained within ‘a room the size of your bathroom’.

The issue of racial prejudice, has come back into the news recently with the outburst in Ferguson, St. Louis after the death of teenager Michael Brown. Similar to the case of Abu-Jamal, the police officer involved has not been tried in a court of law.

The major problem that has arisen from this is that popular belief is that if the young teenager had been white, there would have been greater repercussions. Or if it had been the police officer, as in the case of Abu-Jamal, Michael Brown would have been charged.

It appears that the police force, can only be the good guys. Even in the wake of Ferguson which has shone another light on racial prejudice, it is almost impossible to challenge the police force, even if it appears that they are breaching human rights. The police in Ferguson were shown to be using tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters.

 

Rob Hallam

More Torch Troubles, And Why The Relay Is Fair Game For Protests

The Olympic torch saga continues, with the flame having a “secret parade” (a phrase which Libertyblog took exception to). Chinese officials recently declared that ‘no force‘ could stop the relay, and that any protests during the Tibet leg would face “severe punishment”.

The disruption and turmoil (well, protests and riots) surrounding the torch is causing the IOC much embarassment, though they say they will recover from it. The article also notes that Barack Obama has joined Hillary Clinton in calling for President Bush to boycott the games. The torches heads to Buenos Aires next.

I’m going to take a moment’s break from the news to deal with a question: Are the Olympic fair game for protest? I won’t do into too much detail as there have been others before me that have answered this eloquently. I did, however, happen to read a bit on Nearsighted Man’s blog that raised this particular question. There is one paragraph in particular:

I do hesitate to bring this up because my own personal knowledge of the Tibetan situation is limited, but when I see people trying to tackle the athlete carrying the torch and extinguish the flame I am left wondering how this helps the people of Tibet. How does preventing or boycotting the Olympics free Tibet? If anyone who happens to read this wants to offer insight, I’m all for it.

First, to answer the questions he asked.

It helps the people of Tibet by raising awareness. There are those that aren’t aware of how brutal China is being in Tibet against the protesters. Those people may see the protests and try and find out about them. Or perhaps they are aware there is something going on and are not sure what. When they see the protests they may be compelled to find out what is causing these people to feel so strongly that they have to riot. The question of how it frees Tibet is a bit leading – of course it doesn’t directly, but mindshare is a powerful thing. Ask any big brand or advertising agency. If the protesters cause people to find out more, or clarify what they know, or even debate (such as we’re having here) what is going on in Tibet, then they are doing a valid thing in getting people to realise what is going on. Heck, they might even get a few converts.

As for the games being an apolitical event – that is up for further debate! There is a long and varied history of protests of some form or another, which even the US participates in to this day.

And since we’re on opinions… I am of the opinion that by granting China the games, we are validating and acknowledging that they are worthy of hosting the biggest athletic competition. It is akin (but not exactly alike) to governments officially recognising other governments or countries. Of course, that may be a case of “we don’t like you but we have to deal with you”; whereas the Olympics is a prestigious and elite competition with history – should we really be sharing that honour with countries that have terrible human rights records? In the practical sense this point is moot, of course – China will host the Olympics. But we can certainly debate the validity of the decision.

To Nearsighted and others, does this offer you insight? Does it change any of your views? Do you agree, but for other reasons? Or do you agree with some of my points and disagree with others? Comments are – as always – welcome.

Update: It was in the linked BBC article (“Olympics to ‘rebound from crisis'”), but I thought I should make a couple of things explicit. Firstly, the US House of Representatives has recently passed a motion condemning China’s actions in Tibet. Secondly, the Dali Lama has stated that China has deserves to host the games, although people have a right to non-violent protest. The International Herald Tribune has more on this. He said that he supports (and always has supported) China having the Olympics, but they were using outdated methods to try and silence protesters in Tibet. he also said that nobody “has a right to tell them to shut up”.

He’s a sensible man. He’s supporting the games, but he’s still able to make a point about Tibet. What he says can be applied worldwide – the right to peaceful protest should be a basic human right.