Race, Justice and Elections in the US: Live Updates

Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 7, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. © 2020 AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Protesters participate in a Black Lives Matter rally on Mount Washington in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, June 7, 2020, to protest the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis.

In an election year marked by pandemic, massive unemployment, and widespread protest against entrenched racial inequality that has pervaded nearly every aspect of life in the United States, Human Rights Watch and partners provide insight and analysis to make sense of the human rights developments unfolding across the country.

Mourning the Death of Feminist Icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

US Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seen during a public appearance hosted by the Museum of the City of New York at the New York Academy of Medicine in New York, NY, December 15, 2018.  © 2018 Albin Lohr-Jones/Sipa via AP Images

By Amanda Klasing

My heart is broken. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is almost too much to process. Justice Ginsburg, the second woman appointed  to the US Supreme Court, was more than a feminist icon, she was a collective feminist grandmother to women, girls, non-binary people – to everyone who struggles to imagine themselves as having a powerful voice for change.

She trailblazed what it meant to be a lawyer who was a mom. A lawyer who fought for gender equality. A lawyer who was petite but unyielding. A lawyer who was a person first, with wit and compassion. With a heart so heavy, it’s impossible to articulate what she meant to women's rights, to a movement that is global, that is growing, that is being squeezed and threatened.

Justice Ginsburg founded the Women's Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. She held the unambiguous belief that: "Women's rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy." She brought that belief to the bench – not as a political agenda, but as a constitutional agenda for equality and justice.

Her push for gender equality and for recognizing women's rights as human rights was revolutionary when she began her career. It is heartbreaking that today gender equality has become politicized and framed as part of a radical agenda.

We should work to ensure that Justice Ginsburg’s replacement on the Supreme Court shares that same commitment to gender equality. It will require everyone who believes that women's rights are human rights to raise their voice, no matter how petite, and to continue the fight for equality of all people.

Amanda Klasing is interim co-director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. 

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors and Descendants Sue City for Reparations

Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and their descendants made waves yesterday when they announced a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and other government entities in Oklahoma, seeking redress for the destruction of the Greenwood community. The lawsuit, filed by the legal team Justice for Greenwood Advocates, cites recent research from Human Rights Watch and helps bring to light the Tulsa government’s direct involvement in one of the worst incidents of racial violence in US history.

For generations, the massacre was absent from Oklahoma history books and the facts of the attack were deliberately covered up. The announcement of the lawsuit  —  which builds on the efforts of Black Tulsans to increase awareness of their plight and achieve justice  —made international headlines, including coverage by the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Root.

Damario Solomon Simmons, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, said that the race massacre “deprived Black Tulsans of their sense of security, hard-won economic power and vibrant community” — and that the government’s role in the destruction has created a public nuisance that has not abated.

“The nuisance has led to the devaluation of property in Greenwood and has resulted in significant racial disparities in every quality of life metric  — life expectancy, health, unemployment, education level, and financial security,” he said. “The defendants in this case have continued the Massacre in slow motion for nearly a century.”

In May, Human Rights Watch released “The Case for Reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” which details the destruction that left hundreds of people, the vast majority of them Black, dead and more than 1,200 black-owned houses burned down in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, then known as “Black Wall Street.” Human Rights Watch also described some of the subsequent policies and structural racism that prevented Greenwood and the broader North Tulsa community from thriving.

"Our years of research in Tulsa reveal a city whose Black community is still reeling from the devastation of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and suffering under pervasive racial discrimination that continues to this day," Human Rights Watch’s Nicole Austin-Hillery said yesterday.

Read the Human Rights Watch report > > >

Hurricane Katrina in the US, 15 Years Later

Fifteen years ago, I sat in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hotel room, watching with a growing sense of dread as the first reports rolled in of the path of destruction cut through the southern US state by Hurricane Katrina’s fury.

I had only lived in New Orleans for a month; I had few friends, no vehicle, or plan to evacuate. Thankfully, my neighbors loaded me into their van to escape the storm. I returned to New Orleans four months later and spent the following three years pitching in on rebuilding the city and soaking up its culture and community of this unique city.

Yet on the eve of the 15th anniversary of Katrina, and as we assess Hurricane Laura’s path of destruction, human rights in Louisiana remain at risk, particularly for Black and brown people who are disproportionately imprisoned and impoverished.

If one ever needed proof of how cruel the US criminal legal system can be, they need only look to Katrina, where inmates were abandoned as toxic flood waters rose to their chests. Prisoners’ letters to Human Rights Watch describe their terror. Then, after inmates were finally evacuated from that traumatic experience, they faced fresh abuse at the prisons to which they were moved.

Louisiana counties currently have some of the highest jail incarceration rates in the country. Today, authorities’ duty to protect people in custody encompasses not just the threat of storms but also Covid-19. This includes protecting detained asylum seekers and others held in immigration detention. A huge portion of the country’s immigration detainees are held in rural Louisiana, where facilities have proliferated under the Trump administration.

Read more > > >

US Congress Should End Marijuana Prohibition

A bill that would end federal marijuana prohibition represents a real opportunity to address racial justice and equity in the US policing and criminal legal system.

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, and begin to repair the harm marijuana prohibition has caused to people of color by establishing social equity programs to reinvest in communities. It would also provide for resentencing and expungement for those with federal marijuana convictions.

The bill was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in November 2019, and it is now up to the US House of Representatives’ leadership to schedule the bill for a vote.

The bill has bipartisan support in the House and widespread support from civil and human rights organizations. This month, members of the Marijuana Justice Coalition and over 120 organizations wrote to the US House leadership urging a vote on the bill, stating that the national discussion around unjust law enforcement, as well as Covid-19, means marijuana reform “is more relevant and more pressing than ever before.”

The bill also has support among likely voters in the 2020 US elections, according to a recent national poll, where nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that police should stop arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use and supported passage of the MORE Act.

Read more > > > 

Calls for Justice Grow After Police Shoot Black Father in Kenosha, Wisconsin

Protests erupted on Monday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and other US cities, as people took to the streets for the second night in a row to demand justice in the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Kenosha police shot Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in the back multiple times as he attempted to enter his vehicle, as his young children watched from inside.

Blake’s father told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son is now paralyzed from the waist down, and that the police left the younger Blake with “eight holes” in his body. "It is going to take a miracle for Jacob Blake Jr. to ever walk again," the Blake family’s attorney said Tuesday in a press conference.

The shooting was captured in a cell phone video that has gone viral, sparking protests that spread from Kenosha to cities such as Madison, New York City, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis. The incident comes just a few months after video of the police killing of George Floyd went viral, and as the US continues to reckon with police violence and systemic racism.

“We now add Jacob Blake in Wisconsin to the long and painful list of Black men shot by police,” tweeted Nicole Austin-Hillery, head of the US Program at Human Rights Watch. She linked to a recent Human Rights Watch report offering 14 recommendations for fundamental police reform. “Police are not getting it but we do.”

Austin-Hillery listed 6 things to keep in mind when analyzing the police shooting in Wisconsin and how to prevent future ones, referring to recent Human Rights Watch findings that “less policing means less chances for brutal encounters.”

Read Nicole Austin-Hillery’s full commentary > > >

Read Human Rights Watch’s “Roadmap to Reimagining Public Safety” > > >

Burlington, Vermont Approves Reparations Resolution

City council members in Burlington, Vermont, voted unanimously to pass a reparations resolution last week, joining cities like Asheville, North Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island, in approving measures this year to address the enduring harms of slavery. Burlington, Vermont’s most populous city, will convene a reparations task force starting in October to study the role that Vermont played in chattel slavery and come up with recommendations for reparations. 

Although Vermont wasn’t a slave state, Burlington officials and community members contend that the state benefited from slavery. 

“As Black labor was extracted through the institution of slavery in the south, wealth flowed into the hands of the northern elite,” Rep. Brian Cina, a Vermont state legislator, told WCAX.

WCAX reports that the task force’s study will determine what reparations should look like, which differentiates it from Asheville’s reparations resolution, which calls for community investments rather than direct payments.

Tyeastia Green, Burlington’s director of racial equity, weighed in on the possibilities. 

Green says while there's no limit on what reparations could look like, she believes they will be substantial. "I don't think it's appropriate to put a value on what it cost Black people in this country to be enslaved, what it cost them to lose heritage, to lose culture, what it cost them now to not be allowed in white spaces, still, now in 2020," Green said.

Prior to the passage of the resolution, the City of Burlington and the University of Vermont Medical Center last month declared racism a public health emergency.

Read more about the case and fight for repations in the United States > > > 

The Democratic National Convention Is Underway

After being delayed by the Covid-19 crisis, the four-day Democratic National Convention began yesterday, marking the next stage in the US presidential race. Racial justice, the response to the pandemic, and voting topped the agenda.  

Former vice president Joe Biden is slated to accept the presidential nomination remotely from Delaware later this week. The Republicans  will hold their national convention digitally August 24-27.

The US is now 76 days away from the November General Election. Human Rights Watch’s voter guide equips voters with questions to help determine where candidates stand on some of the human rights issues at stake in the 2020 race.

US House of Representatives Called Back Into Session Over Postal Service Concerns

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has called on House members to return early from their August recess for an emergency session addressing the US Postal Service crisis. Amid widespread complaints about mail delivery delays and major changes to the agency made by the new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the Postal Service has warned most states and Washington, DC, that it might not be able to deliver some of their mail-in ballots in time to be counted for the November elections.

On Saturday the House is expected to vote on a bill that would block changes to mail delivery at the Postal Service and bolster it with $25 billion in funding.

DeJoy has agreed to testify before Congress on Monday.

Human Rights Watch Releases a Roadmap for Reimagining Public Safety in the US

Amid the national reckoning around systemic racism in law enforcement and Americans’ dramatic drop in confidence in the police, Human Rights Watch last week released a roadmap for reimagining public safety in the United States, including 14 recommendations for effective and meaningful police reform.

The 14 recommendations build on Human Rights Watch’s work showing that bold, structural changes to policing in the United States are needed and that most reform efforts propose only minor and ineffectual changes. John Raphling, senior researcher on the criminal legal system for the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, says that government police reform efforts should address three critical issues: reducing the role of police in addressing societal problems, redirecting funds to initiatives that support people and empower communities, and strengthening independent police oversight and accountability. 

Making this shift, Raphling says, is essential to limiting the police violence that has caused so much harm.

Read the full report here and check out Raphling’s twitter commentary on policing below.

Residents Call for Reparations in Amherst, Massachussetts

Residents of Amherst, Massachussets have launched a petition requesting that local officials adopt a resolution to end structural racism and take steps toward offering reparations, including establishing a devoted fund to the cause.

The Daily Hamphsire Gazette reports that the reparations effort was started by Matthew and Corrine Andrews and Michele Miller, who were inspired by the protests against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd.

In an op-ed published last month in the Amherst Indy, Matthew Andrews, who is white, explains why reparations is important for residents and local officials to pursue. 

We need reparations for slavery and the post-slavery legacy of institutional racial oppression that includes (but is not limited to) voter suppression, red-lining, the war on drugs, and mass incarceration. And while a national reparations bill would be a beautiful thing, we don’t need to wait for that. We can act now, in our own community, to recognize and honor the toll that white supremacy and the ethos of domination have taken right here in our own front yards and backyards. We can look at our own lives and ask what we can do to support reparations. We can join together to create models for reparations that could inspire larger scale movements. 

The petition states that its aim is "to create responsible and sustainable transformation in the Town of Amherst. We have creative ideas, like considering cannabis revenues as a possible path for funding, but we expect a meaningful percentage of the funds to come from grants and private gifts. What we're asking for is the town's sincere partnership in confronting the legacy and current manifestations of structural racism here in Amherst."

The petition builds on the growing momentum that the US reparations movement has seen on the local and national levels.  In July, reparations programs moved forward in Asheville, North Carolina, and Providence, Rhode Island, following the death of George Floyd. In the US Congress, the federal bill HR 40 has received a record number of cosponsors this year amid the launch of the "Why We Can't Wait" project

Learn more about the case and fight for reparations in the United States > > > 

As US Covid-19 Cases Surpass 5 Million, Alarming Disparities Persist

North Carolina's Buncombe County Passes Reparations Resolution

'We Can't Wait': More Than 100 Organizations Urge Congress to Pass HR 40

Probation and Parole Are Feeding Mass Incarceration, New Report Shows

Activists Respond to Trump’s ‘Surge’ of Federal Agents Into US Cities

How Trump’s Immigration Policies Foreshadowed the Violence Against Portland Protesters

Leaders Remember John Lewis, Towering Champion of Civil and Human Rights

Reparations Programs Advance in Asheville, North Carolina and Providence, Rhode Island

‘I Can’t Breathe’ Painfully Relevant 6 Years After Eric Garner’s Death

15-Year-Old Jailed Over Probation Violation—for Not Doing Her Coursework

Nearly 100 Years After Tulsa Race Massacre, Search for Mass Graves Underway

Amid Reckoning on Racial Justice, Momentum Grows for Congressional Bill HR 40

New York Times on the Record-Breaking Size of Black Lives Matter

Despite Alabama's Disturbing Cervical Cancer Death Rate, Students Go Without Comprehensive Sex Ed

Latest CDC Data Reveals More About Covid-19’s Racial Disparities

Congress Urged to End Program that Has Increased Militarized Policing

Many Black and Asian Americans Report Experiencing Discrimination Amid Covid-19

A Tulsa Homecoming: Witnessing the Legacy of the 1921 Race Massacre

Calls for ‘Reparations Now’ at Tulsa’s Juneteenth Rally

"None of the Survivors or Their Families Ever Received A Penny"

Policing, Poverty, and Racial Inequality in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Trump Executive Order on Policing Ignores Calls for Systemic Change

New York Protester Jailed for a Week Highlights Parole Abuses

Washington DC’s Police Reforms Fail to Address Structural Problems

Rights Groups Urge Authorities to Prevent and Account for Attacks Against Journalists

US Should Provide Reparations for 1921 ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’

US Should Rescind Guatemala Agreement that Compels Asylum-Seekers to Abandon Claims

Gerrymandering Explored in Film ‘Slay the Dragon', Experts to Address US Elections

Growing Concerns About Racial Bias in Social-Distancing Arrests

High-Stakes Trial over Voting Rights in Florida Nears Conclusion

Exacerbated Maternal Health Challenges Loom for African Americans Amid Covid-19

Trump Signs Executive Order Keeping Meatpacking Plants Open Amid Rise in Worker Deaths

‘Action to Protect Voting Rights Is Urgently Needed,’ Warns Nicole Austin-Hillery in CNN.com Op-Ed

What You Should Know About Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

US Meatpacking Workers Face Crisis, Slashed Safety Protections During Pandemic

Michigan Father, Son Die from Covid-19 After Family Reportedly Begged Hospitals for Help

As US Debates Reopening, Trump Announces Intention to Suspend Immigration

Amid Pandemic, Elected and Aspiring Leaders Should Look to Rev. Joseph Lowery

What Wisconsin’s Elections Say About the Voting Rights Battle Ahead

COVID-19 Is Upending Life and Elections in the US. What’s Next?

US 2020 Candidates Should Set Racial Justice as a Higher Priority

Amnesty International USA to Host Presidential Candidate Forum on Asylum and Immigration Issues

US Representatives Join Calls to End Harmful 'Remain in Mexico' Program