Put the police on trial, not the corpses of their victims

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/08/20/shame-placing-corpses-trial-greater-need-police-accountability/

AUG 20, 2014, 11:50 AM
Put the police on trial, not the corpses of their victims
BY DAWUD WALID

The ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the homicide of Michael Brown by a police officer are a national shame, getting attention on the world stage. Peaceful protesters have had their 1st Amendment rights trampled in a heavy-handed manner in the name of “keeping the peace.”

Anarchists who live in other states have converged on the area to incite plundering of small neighborhood businesses. Journalists have had tear gas shot directly at them and even had firearms brandished by law enforcement. Now, the National Guard has been deployed into the neighborhood, invoking imagery of government crackdowns in places like Egypt.

As the Brown family and religious leaders continue to call for peaceful protests, and the vast majority of Ferguson residents have been peaceful, the scenes of clashes between the police and protesters are sideshow discussions.

The main issue at hand is whether Officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed Brown multiple times, is going to be charged with a criminal offense and what immediate steps are going to be taken by the federal government to hold police officers more accountable for their behavior?

There’s a terrible habit among police departments and media of putting black corpses on trial before charging their killers who are police officers, security guards and George Zimmerman wannabe-vigilante types. In the case of Brown, the police made public a video purporting to show Brown stealing some cheap cigars prior to his homicide. This video was followed by an admission that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged theft when he stopped Brown. The conversation then shifted to whether or not Brown had a criminal record, which he did not, and other inconsequential matters, such as the presence of marijuana in Brown’s body. The real issue became derailed, which is that eye witnesses saw Officer Wilson unloading bullets into an unarmed teenager, and an autopsy report which showed that Brown was shot in the top of his skull, reflecting that his head was lowered when he was fatally shot.

Placing Brown on trial in the court of public opinion while Officer Wilson sits home is exactly what happened with the killings of other unarmed young black people such as Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Mackenzie Cochran, who was killed by a security guard in Northland Mall in Southfield in late January. The Oakland County Prosecutor, by the way, has not issued any charges against the security guard that killed Cochran.

There should be federal legislation mandating that all law enforcement officers not only have dashcams on their vehicles but also have body cameras and microphones on their persons. As armed officers of the law are paid by tax dollars, they have a greater obligation to be transparent about their conduct. Body cameras could also serve the dual purpose of exonerating officers from false claims and shedding more light on controversial shooting incidents.

In the interim, we will continue to watch the disturbing events in Ferguson and follow the postings of citizen journalists through smartphone video. One thing is for sure: business as usual cannot continue regarding how law enforcement and prosecutor offices operate, especially in urban areas.

Unrest in Ferguson is about more than one police killing

 

 

blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/08/13/unrest-ferguson-much-one-police-killing/

AUG 13, 2014, 2:00 PM

Unrest in Ferguson is about more than one police killing

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri relating to the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, is about much more than just the homicide of one person.

Last Saturday, an unnamed white officer fatally shot Brown, a college bound teen. Eyewitness accounts state that Brown’s hands were up in the air when he was filled with police bullets. As Brown’s body lied in the middle of the street, uncovered, for four hours in the hot sun, neighbors looked on in shock which then turned to community outrage. Initial protests of the homicide of Brown were peaceful, then some persons took to rummaging businesses owned by people who do not reside in the neighborhood, causing significant property damage to those establishments.

Like Brown’s parents and the NAACP, I echo the point that destruction of personal property in response to the police shooting is absolutely wrong and that any form of vigilantism in regards to this situation is unacceptable. I do, however, know very well what motivates the angry and what has triggered some to lash out.

The death of Brown is seen by many Black Americans within the scope of structural oppression in which state violence against unarmed black men is the historical norm. In 2012, 313 unarmed black males were killed by law enforcement officers, security guards and self-appointed George Zimmerman-type vigilantes. That comes out to an extrajudicial killing of a black male in America every 28 hours.

When a group of people are faced with such violence from government entities — not including the police brutality that is non-lethal — it’s only natural that some people are going to react with rage in response to the violence of police officers who are in fact human rights’ violators.

Violence perpetrated by entities with power is very different from private citizens perpetrating violence on each other. Bringing up the issue of “black on black crime” would be a derailment of the issue at hand. Intraracial murder of private citizens is the norm for all groups; black people are far from unique in terms of primarily killing their own. “Black on black” crime operates the way “crime” operates in general, as as the primary murderers of whites in America are fellow whites. The real discussion at hand should be on how we can curtail the historical deployment of extrajudicial killings of black and brown men in America, not shifting the conversation to how black people kill other blacks too or how we should stop looters.

The public needs to also hold the Department of Justice (DOJ) accountable in this particular matter and others in general to ensure that these cases are correctly prosecuted on the federal level. The FBI has stated that they are investigating Brown’s homicide. I’m not holding my breath, however. Last year, the DOJ stated that it was going to investigate whether Zimmerman violated the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. After the media hoopla and community activists stop applying pressure, we haven’t heard a peep from the DOJ since regarding Zimmerman.

As I always say, no set of laws or policies can ever legislate away bias, prejudice or hate. Black men, since the days of slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow and today, have always been seen by those who enforce the law as intrinsically dangerous. At the end of the day, incidents such as Brown’s homicide are part of a larger narrative that we have yet to deal with. It’s a shameful legacy that dates back to the very founding of this republic.

Dearborn Heights City Clerk Facing Allegations of Misconduct Toward Arab American Voters Backpeddles Resignation

 

August 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Advocacy groups to monitor polls in Dearborn Heights

Dearborn Heights— Advocacy groups said Saturday they would provide poll monitors and a hotline to report complications during the primary election after allegations of voter suppression in Dearborn Heights.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and other coalition groups have set up a hotline, (866) OUR-VOTE, voters can call if there are any problems on Election Day on Tuesday. The move comes after advocates say they have lost faith in the state government to handle the claims of voter suppression.

“Sadly, and what seems to be the case today, the number one response historically to valid claims of voter suppression is the all-too-common story of voter fraud,” ADC Michigan director Fatina Abdrabboh said at a press conference outside the Dearborn Heights city hall. “The claims of voter fraud were levied just yesterday, and weeks after the claims were brought to the ADC office.”

City Clerk Walter Prusiewicz issued a statement Saturday in response to the allegations against him.

“I will not comment further on any of these attacks that have been made against me except to say that I have done nothing wrong and I welcome any oversight by the state of my actions and the upcoming election and any investigation into my conduct at city clerk,” his statement said. “I have nothing to hide and I firmly believe that any investigation will conclude that I did nothing more than properly discharge my duties as the Dearborn Heights city clerk.”

A letter from Sally Williams, director of the Election Liaison Division at the Michigan Bureau of Elections, addressing the concerns of the ADC and other groups was issued Friday. In the letter, Williams says it is “not possible for us to confirm whether violations have occurred.”

“While the clerk indicates that there have been delays in processing due to the large numbers of applications that have been delivered in multiple batches, he contends that ballots for all eligible voters who requested (absentee voter) ballots have been distributed,” the letter says.

Last week, the ADC’s Michigan office said Arab-American voters were prevented from obtaining absentee ballots. The claims sparked outrage from the community and calls to remove Prusiewicz. ADC Michigan also is seeking an investigation.

This week, Prusiewicz reported to the state attorney general, Michigan Bureau of Elections and the Wayne County prosecutor what he described as potential voter fraud and campaign irregularities involving about 250 absentee ballot applications dropped off at his office. In the letter, he said both batches were from men who appeared associated with the campaign of state Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, who is running for the 5th Senate District seat in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Prusiewicz also acknowledged that the applicants “appear to be of Arab American descent.”

It is illegal to solicit voters to fill out absentee ballot applications in the same manner voter registration drives are conducted, state officials said.

Based on the information presented by ADC Michigan and Prusiewicz, “it appears clear that hundreds of (absentee voter) ballot requests have been illegally handled, solicited from voters, and submitted to the clerk’s office by a small number of individuals,” Williams wrote in her letter Friday. “The investigation of these issues is ongoing and may result in criminal charges against those involved.”

Williams also said the bureau would have staff monitor part of the election in the city on Tuesday and takes any allegations of wrongdoing “very seriously.” Clear violations would be referred to the attorney general or other appropriate authorities, she wrote.

Joy Yearout, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, has said state officials were reviewing Prusiewicz’s complaint.

Knezek issued a statement denying his campaign’s involvement and said the clerk’s allegations were “an attempt to damage my credibility on the eve of a major election.” He added Friday that he welcomes an investigation and “I look forward to cooperating every step of the way.”

Meanwhile, civil rights and advocacy groups remain wary of alleged discrimination and are asking federal authorities to take action.

On Saturday, Abdrabboh was joined by Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nabih Ayad, chair of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, Bishop Walter Starghill, from the Western Wayne branch of the NAACP, and community members who say they have been denied the opportunity to vote.

“My husband and I submitted for our absentee ballots two weeks ago,” said Lola Elzein, “I got mine in two days — note my name is Lola — while my husband Wissam hasn’t still hasn’t received his.”

The two are going out of town tomorrow, which means her husband will not have an opportunity to vote in the election, she said.

Angela Moughni, a 13-year resident of Dearborn Heights, voted absentee five minutes before the press conference began Saturday. Prior to that, she had received a letter saying her signature on her petition for an absentee voter ballot did not match city records, so she was denied. Her mother, who also tried to get an absentee ballot, received a similar letter, except that hers said her address did not match the one the city has on file. The family has not moved from their house and her mother has voted in plenty of other elections in the past with the same address, said Moughani.

“You just start to have doubts about what is going on, said Moughni. “You just don’t expect this to happen today. It’s 2014, you’d think we be beyond this.”

 

Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection

 

 

JUL 24, 2014, 1:00 PM

Ted Wafer’s trial, and why race matters in jury selection

Jury selection concluded yesterday for the upcoming trial of Ted Wafer, who fatally shot unarmed teenager Renisha McBride last year  in Dearborn Heights.

We should not prognosticate on how the trial will end, but we do know that ethnic make-ups of juries in general can and does influence verdicts in our courtrooms. Regarding jury make-up, let’s compare this particular case to another high profile case pertaining to a non-black shooter with a black fatality.

The case of Wafer, who is white and fatally shot McBride, who was black and wearing a hoodie, can, on its face, compared to the case of George Zimmerman, who also killed an unarmed black teen, Trayvon Martin, who was also wearing a hoodie.

The jury of the Zimmerman trial comprised zero black jurors. In fact juror B37 stated after the trial that Zimmerman, who followed Martin before confronting and killing him, had the right to use lethal force because he had a reasonable reason to fear Martin.

Jurors, of course, do not make process information on strictly rational basis. Jurors are humans who bring their biases into jury boxes.

When there’s a general fear of black youth who dress a particular way, it stands to reason that non-black jurors would identity more with the self-defense argument, even when the shooter doesn’t flee but actually confronts their eventual target. There is also a common tendency of defense attorneys to disqualify potential black jurors when the perpetrators are white, out of concern that they will identify more with the prosecution’s arguments.

The jury for the Wafer trial, unlike Zimmerman’s, will have four black jurors, two males and two females. This is not to say that this jury will not be hung based upon disagreements, nor does it mean that all of the four black jurors are free from internalized oppression.

What it does mean, however, is that Wafer will be tried by a jury of his peers as well as the peers of the deceased, reflecting the diversity of the community, unlike Zimmerman’s jury, which had no one who looked like or apparently could identify with Martin.

We’ll see how the Wafer trial unfolds. One thing I can say for sure though: I feel better that a just verdict will be given in this case, given the diversity of the jury, more than I would if the jury was exclusively white.

Learning lessons from the anniversary of Bosnian genocide

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/07/16/learning-lessons-anniversary-bosnian-genocide/

JUL 16, 2014, 4:40 PM

Learning lessons from the anniversary of Bosnian genocide

Bosnian Americans, in recent days, have commemorated the 19th anniversary of the Bosnian genocide in which thousands were slaughtered and tens of thousands were expelled from their land by Serbian forces. Some of those Bosnian refugees were granted asylum in America and now reside in Metro Detroit.

I have a special connection to these naturalized Americans from Bosnia and their children, who were born here because I served in the U.S. military and was deployed in the region in 1995, shortly after the Srebrenica massacre. Almost a decade later, I served temporarily as the imam of the Bosnian American Islamic Center in Hamtramck in which I heard families recap stories of rape and killing that took place.

What I’ve learned from experiencing and hearing the stories of those subjected to wanton violence based upon ethnic and religious affiliations is that entities that stir up such divisions must be immediately confronted with alternative and unifying messages before bloodshed and refugee crisis come as a result of inaction.

Case in point is the recent ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic (CAR) when 800,000 Muslims were driven out by Christian militias in reaction to a coup d’etat led by rebel groups that were predominately, but not exclusively, compromising of Muslims.

The crisis, which brewed for awhile, perhaps could have been averted if dealt with proactively. Since the crisis, human rights groups have accused France and Chad of harboring persons who have committed killings and other human rights abuses relating to ethnic cleansing and retaliation associated to it.

America cannot be the police force of the world via exertions of military force, nor should we ever see ourselves as having this role. We do, however, have the moral obligation to make sure that our government and our allies do not support repressive regimes that sow seeds of division to remain in power.

Unfortunately, we do not have such influence over nations such as Russia that have also supported repressive regimes that have exploited ethnic differences as a means of shoring up power.

There will always be political and religious leaders that foment ethnic and sectarian strife. As we look at ethnic and religiously-based violence that stretches across the globe, from Nigeria to Myanmar, it’s clear that the citizens of the world have not learned the lessons from Bosnia and other genocides which came before.

Thankfully, such is not the case in today in America.

As America may be forced to intervene militarily in some cases as in Bosnia, we have the duty to be opposed to tyranny wherever we see it and promote peaceful solutions to counter those who promote division that may result in mass violence. Perhaps we need to have a Department of Peace as part of our government, outside of the State Department, for such work. It may be cheaper for us in the long term if we had such and probably would avert future situations like Bosnia from taking place.

NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/07/10/nsa-spying-prominent-american-muslims-trouble-us/

JUL 10, 2014, 10:30 AM

NSA spying on prominent American Muslims should trouble us all

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain just released a story based on the Snowden leaks that the National Security Agency (NSA), in conjunction with the FBI, has been spying on thousands of law-abiding Americans, including a former Senior Policy Advisor for Homeland Security under the Bush administration, a criminal defense attorney and a prominent civil rights leader.

This piece, differing from other stories about pervasive NSA surveillance, shows for the first time five American faces who were targeted, all five being American Muslims. One of them, Nihad Awad, is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which I am of course affiliated with.

I’d like to point out three issues regarding these new revelations that should disturb all Americans.

First, all five men appear to have been targeted for their political positions or activism in the Muslim community, not due to credible national security concerns, which is supposed to be the NSA’s scope.

Keep in mind that after years of intrusive surveillance, the government did not bring even a single criminal charge against any of those five. Hence, the Greenwald – Hussain story described them as being Americans who continue to maintain “highly public, outwardly exemplary lives.” If there were any doubts before, this can happened to any American, since it happened to them.

Second, the leaked documents also show that racism is clearly in play in how some senior intelligence analysts view the Muslim community. This is clear given NSA officials used an example to instruct agents on how to properly record Muslims under surveillance in their files under the title of “Mohammed Raghead.”

In response, a White House spokesperson said that the usage of the slur is “unacceptable and inconsistent with the country’s core values.”

Condemning the use of slurs and seeking to eliminate their usage in official government programs is fine and dandy. My major concern pertains to the pervasive spying of the American Muslim community and its leadership, which is informed upon in part due to bias, not just using slurs in official government databases.

Last, such surveillance has a basic chilling effect on citizens’ religious practice and political engagement.

As in the era of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover during the 1960s and early 1970s, activists’ intimate communications are being captured by government.

History shows that our intelligence services have used embarrassing moments in the leaders’ personal lives as a form of blackmail.

This tactic was used against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pertaining to his extra-marital relations. More recently, an informant in California named Craig Monteilh used pillow talk with Muslim women on behalf of the FBI.

People may fear not getting involved in religious organizations or in forms of political dissent out of fear that a personal indiscretion could be used against them by their own government. This did not happen in the case of the five Muslims in the highlight in the story, but easily could have given different circumstances.

The KGB-style surveillance informed by the political and religious persuasions of American citizens must end. I hope that these recent revelations with spark more discussions by the public and in Congressional hearings, which leads to true NSA and FBI surveillance reform.

Perhaps this all may be sorted out in federal court, given that these five men have what appears to be strong legal standing to bring forth a lawsuit.

Protecting undocumented children is an American value BY DAWUD W

http://blogs.detroitnews.com/politics/2014/07/09/protecting-undocumented-children-american-value/

JUL 9, 2014, 6:00 AM

Protecting undocumented children is an American value

The need for comprehensive national immigration reform has become glaringly more evident with recent events. It’s also apparent that the pesky problem of xenophobia, which cannot be legislated away, is alive and well among many of us.

Recent protests in Murrieta, California which blocked buses carrying undocumented immigrants to a Border Patrol station typifies how our country is divide on this very American issue of the status of immigrants.

Tired memes were exclaimed by protestors as to why these women and children should be immediately sent back to Central America. We’ve all heard the arguments: Immigrants will spread infectious diseases, increase crime and the old standby, they will make communities unstable.

The irony of the complaints of these protestors and the remarks of some Republican Congressmen is that it was actually a late President George W. Bush-era policy, supported by some Evangelical groups, that helped open the doors for the excess of undocumented children at our southern border. It was the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 that gave substantial legal protections to children entering America alone, who are not from Canada or Mexico.

Aside from the young girls who escaped capture by sex traffickers, many of the undocumented teens who come across the border are fleeing areas of extreme poverty and gang violence, in which refusal of gang initiation equals death.

Similarly, there are mothers who have been forced by unbearable circumstances to leave all worldly possessions and family members out of fear of their lives — not to leech off of tax-paying Americans, as many have falsely framed the situation. These are people who came here out of extenuating circumstances, not to break the law. Many Americans, who have won the geographic lottery by being born here would do the same if roles were reversed.

For centuries, America has absorbed women and children seeking asylum from dangerous areas. They’ve been accommodated and eventually contributed to the social fabric and economy of our society. Labeling these undocumented immigrants as criminals and blaming President Barack Obama for the influx of children seeking the shade of America are easy scapegoats, but in reality this cuts against the values America stands for. Perhaps it’s a mixture of where these immigrants are from, given the steady browning of America, and a black president who gets blamed for this Bush-era policy that compounds the xenophobia.

I wish that those who are keen on deporting at-risk children back into danger zones were as concerned for them as they are about the lives of the unborn in not being aborted. Unfortunately, that seems not to be the case.

In the meantime, those of us who care about the moral integrity of America have to continue to push back against this recent xenophobia that has been parlayed into more political ammunition against President Obama. This issue should not be about Democratic or Republican, or people of color or white folks, but about getting the proper aid and protection to these children in the short term and fixing our broken immigration system in the long term, outside of mass deportation.