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.

US: 10 Steps for Safe, Credible Elections


Local, state, and federal officials in the United States should follow 10 fundamental principles to promote safe and credible elections on November 3.

  1. Ensure that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote by effectively communicating about voting procedures, making various voting options readily available and accessible, and adopting additional measures as needed.
  2. Ensure the right to vote without discrimination or discriminatory effects.
  3. Protect the right to health while voting and during election-related activities.
  4. Provide prompt review, appeal, and remedy for voting rights violations.
  5. Allow unfettered monitoring by impartial, non-partisan election observers.
  6. Keep the right to vote and the “will of the people” at the center of ballot counting.
  7. Prevent voter intimidation and violence by extremist and other groups before, during, and after the elections.
  8. Ensure access to accurate electoral information; act to prevent or mitigate rights abuses.
  9. Ensure the right of peaceful assembly.
  10. Minimize arrests and use of force in responding to protests.

For more see here



UN Warns Earth Could Become 'Uninhabitable Hell' Without Action from Leaders

The world has seen a "staggering rise" in the number of climate-related disasters over the past 20 years, and leaders from government and business haven't done enough to address it, the United Nations said this week. The UN warns that disasters could turn the planet into an "uninhabitable hell for millions of people" unless action is taken to curb the climate crisis. 

From the UN report:

In the short-term, disaster management agencies have succeeded in saving many lives through improved preparedness and the dedication of staff and volunteers. But the odds continue to be stacked against them in particular by industrial nations that are failing miserably on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to levels commensurate with the desired goal of keeping global warming at 1.5˚C as set out in the Paris Agreement.

At the same time, almost all nations failed to prepare appropriately to prevent the wave of death and illness unleashed across the globe by the COVID-19 pandemic despite many urgings to do so from a plethora of experts including WHO, UNDRR and others.

It is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people. It really is all about governance if we want to deliver this planet from the scourge of poverty, further loss of species and biodiversity, the explosion of urban risk and the worst consequences of global warming.

The climate crisis has emerged as a major issue in the 2020 US elections. Candidates for elected office should support policies that protect the human rights of people marginalized or otherwise most affected by climate change and toxic pollution. 

Read this list of climate crisis-related questions to pose to candidates who are seeking your vote. 

Marginalized Communities Will Pay Highest Price for Pulling Plug on US Census

Census Drive and voter registration booths at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, New York, September 22, 2020.  © 2020 2020 Lev Radin/Sipa via AP Images


The US Census Bureau will cease counting for the 2020 census at midnight, two weeks earlier than had previously been announced, a move that will likely leave many of the country’s most marginalized communities undercounted and could undermine rights for the decade to come.

The decision to stop counting comes after the Supreme Court approved the US Department of Commerce’s request to suspend a lower court order that extended counting through the end of October.

The goal of the census, conducted once every 10 years, is to produce an accurate count of all people residing in the country. This decision is the latest in a series of events – including the Covid-19 pandemic, funding slashes, and multiple administrative orders – that experts fear will result in the least accurate modern census count.


A Rundown on Early Voting in the United States

People wait in line to vote in Decatur, Ga., Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP) © AP

Over 16 million people have already voted in the 2020 US election via a combination of early in-person voting and mail-in absentee voting. But while some states have expanded voting rights – making it possible to vote early and in a myriad of ways – others have put barriers in place. Here is an update on early voting developments in a handful of states across the country:

  • Georgia: A federal court ruling on October 11 allowed the state to continue using voting machines known as ballot-making devices rather than limiting votes to hand-marked paper ballots. However, the first day of early in-person was chaotic, with reports of long lines at polling places across the state, including at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, home arena of the National Basketball Association’s Atlanta Hawks, which is being used as a voting center. Voting at the State Farm Arena was delayed for about an hour due to a technical glitch with the electronic pollbooks, which allow election officials to verify voters’ identities. Despite these challenges, voters turned out in record numbers, with 126,876 people casting ballots on Monday.
  • California: The California Secretary of State and Department of Justice ordered the California Republican Party on Monday to remove unofficial ballot boxes they had placed in at least three counties – Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange County. Some of the boxes were marked “official.” State officials warned that the use of unauthorized absentee ballot drop boxes violated state law.
  • Texas: A federal appeals court on October 13 issued a ruling that allowed Governor Greg Abbot to proceed with limiting the number of ballot drop-off sites to one per county, even in counties with millions of residents. Texans came out in big numbers on the first day of early voting on Tuesday, but many of them were met with long lines. In Fort Bend County, home to nearly 400,00 registered voters, a programming glitch rendered all voting machines at 30 voting sites unusable.
  • Florida: Although Floridians voted in 2018 to restore voting rights for people with felony convictions who had completed their sentences, a recent federal appeals court ruling in the state upheld a requirement that they pay all fines, court fees, and restitution before being able to vote legally, which has effectively gutted the landmark law. An estimated 31,000 -  45,000 people with felony convictions registered to vote since the law went into effect, but the majority of them are believed to owe fees. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition – which was behind the ballot initiative to restore the right to vote for people with felony convictions – has been attempting to help them pay their fines. They were recently bolstered by a nearly $16 million donation from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
  • Pennsylvania: On Saturday, a federal judge in Pennsylvania dismissed a lawsuit by Donald Trump’s campaign to limit the number of ballot drop boxes across the state and invalidate mail-in ballots if the voter’s signature did not match the one on file. The Trump campaign argued that these rules would prevent voter fraud, but the judge said that the campaign offered no hard evidence that voter fraud would occur.
  • Michigan: Election law in Michigan mandates that clerks wait until election day to begin counting mail-in ballots. However, on October 6, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill passed by the state legislature to give clerks 10 extra hours the day before the election to prepare the ballots for counting, which may speed up the tallying on election day. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called the new law a “small step in the right direction.” Other election reform bills aimed at providing relief to clerks have stalled in the state legislature.
  • New Jersey: A federal judge in New Jersey ruled against a Trump campaign motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from allowing officials to process mail-in ballots 10 days before the election and those received two days after the election, including those without a postmark.
  • Virginia: The Virginia online voter registration portal crashed after a fiber optic cable was cut on Tuesday morning, the final day to register to vote in Virginia. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he had filed a brief in federal court to extend the voter registration deadline to make up for time lost while the website was down. Gov. Ralph Northam said he would support an extension of the deadline.

Human Rights Issues Loom as US Senate Holds Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee

US Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett testifies during the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, October 13, 2020.  © 2020 Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images


Confirmation hearings are underway for US Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump's pick to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Tuesday marked the second day of hearings, with Barrett facing questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time. Topics discussed ranged from the Affordable Care Act to the landmark case Roe v. Wade, but Barrett declined to say how she would rule on the issues if confirmed.

Senators will continue posing questions to the nominee on Wednesday. The hearings come to a close on Thursday, when outside testimony against and in favor of Barrett will be heard.

The stakes of the decision before US elected officials are tremendous. Voting rights, the right to health, the right to reproductive freedom, and the interaction between religious freedom and other rights are only some of the domains in which Justice Ginsburg’s replacement could either help to protect or weaken basic rights. The decision could have particularly significant ramifications for people of color, women and girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Read more about some key rights at stake in the Supreme Court pick and what senators should keep top of mind when questioning and considering a nominee.

Jonathan Price’s Killing Underscores Need for US Structural Police Reform

The call that came into the Wolfe City Police Department just after 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 3, wasn’t particularly notable in the small Texas town of 1,500 about 70 miles northeast of Dallas. There was a “possible fight in progress” at the Kwik Chek convenience store. Officer Shaun Lucas was dispatched to the scene.

Exactly what the fight was about and who was involved remains unclear, but within minutes of Lucas’s arrival, 31-year-old Jonathan Price, a former high school football star and admired member of the community, was dead – another unarmed Black man shot and killed by police.

Read the full post here

What You Need to Know about Human Rights and the VP Debate: Three Takeaways

Vice President Mike Pence listens as Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the vice presidential debate in Salt Lake City, October 7, 2020.  © 2020 Justin Sullivan/Pool via AP

Millions tuned into the US Vice Presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday night. The discussion of human rights ranged from reproductive justice to the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

Here are three takeaways from the debate:

The US Government Response to Covid-19 Should Address Racial Disparities

Much of the debate centered around the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and what Joe Biden would do differently. What wasn’t discussed on Wednesday was the disproportionate impact that the pandemic is having on Black and Latinx people, who are three times more likely than their white counterparts to contract the novel coronavirus and nearly twice as likely to die from it.

US policies have directly contributed to racial disparities in health, housing, and criminal law. Candidates should support federal relief packages that focus on helping those hit hardest by Covid-19, such as people of color living in poverty, and do not leave out segments of the population, such as immigrants.

The US Needs a Plan to Reimagine Public Safety

While the candidates sparred about policing, the real focus should be on the structural changes needed to end the police violence and systemic racism that threaten Black and brown communities.

Both VP candidates want to increase funding for policing, but police contribute to widespread harm. What we constitute as real public safety needs to drastically shift. Limit the scope of police immediately & invest in communities. #VPDebate https://t.co/r0ZzelgkXS

— Dreisen Heath (@dreisenheath) October 8, 2020

Human Rights Watch recommends that reform efforts address three critical issues in order to be effective: 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. 

Reproductive Rights at Risk  

The candidates were queried on the implications of a potential Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Reproductive freedom is one of the rights at stake following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Supreme Court with a new justice could eliminate constitutional protections for women’s right to access abortion by upholding excessive regulation of abortion providers or by abandoning the Roe v. Wade line of precedent, instead leaving it to individual states to determine access to legal abortion. If that happens, many states might criminalize abortion. At least four states already have “trigger laws” on the books that automatically outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned, and dozens of others have laws that put access to abortion at high risk.

Candidates for elected office should back efforts to ensure women get the health care they need and oppose measures to limit treatment and access to contraception and abortion care.

Election officials need to ensure that every method of voting allowed in their state is easy to access and use for all voters, so that there can be a credible US general election on November 3, 2020. #VPDebate https://t.co/LAlSaxBzt6

— Neela Ghoshal (@NeelaGhoshal) October 8, 2020

Other key human rights issues at stake in the 2020 US elections—including LGBT rights, immigration, and foreign policy—received no or insufficient airtime. Read Human Rights Watch’s guide to the 2020 US elections to learn more about the questions you should ask of the candidates for local, state, and federal office who seek your vote in November.

The conduct of the election itself also implicates a fundamental human right: the right to vote.  In September, Human Rights Watch released a report on the measures that election officials should take to protect voting rights amid the pandemic—most importantly by ensuring all methods of voting allowable in each jurisdiction are genuinely accessible to all eligible voters. Read it here.

Human Rights on the Ballot in California

Early voting has begun in California, and over the next month, voters will have the opportunity to protect human rights in the most populous state in the United States. Basic rights are at stake in at least four measures on this year’s ballot. Human Rights Watch has studied each of these four ballot proposals and recommends the following votes:

Yes on Proposition 17, which would restore voting rights to people disenfranchised while serving a prison term as soon as they complete their sentence.

No on Proposition 20, which seeks to roll back California’s recent criminal legal system reforms.

No on Proposition 22, an initiative that would create a third, substandard regulatory category for app-based workers in California, falling between employees and independent contractors.

No on Proposition 25, which, if passed, would replace the unjust money bail system with an even more discriminatory system.

Read a Complete Summary Here >>

Protecting Voters from the Threat of White Supremacists During the US Election Period

Fifty-Eight organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and comprising hundreds of national groups, have signed onto a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to protect all people in the US from the threat of white supremacists during this year's election period. 

The letter identifies how recent comments by President Trump have emboldened these groups to commit more acts of violence to interfere with the election.

"As civil rights organizations working to protect the rights and lives of people who are targeted by white supremacists on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we know the terror that they inflict in communities across the country."

Read the full letter here >>

Report and Video Expose NYPD’s Planned Assault on Bronx Protesters

New York City officials are under fire following a Human Rights Watch investigation into the New York Police Department (NYPD)’s assault and mass arrest of more than 250 peaceful protesters in the South Bronx. In Human Rights Watch’s new 99-page report, researchers found that the June 4 operation – targeting demonstrators in a low-income, majority Black and Latinx community – was a violent, deliberately planned trap that could cost taxpayers several million dollars. After the attack, NYPD officials including Police Commissioner Dermot Shea spread misinformation about the protest to justify their abusive tactics, Human Rights Watch concluded.

Based on interviews with 81 protesters and observers and analysis of 155 videos recorded during the protest, the report provides the clearest evidence yet that the police action was intentional and violated international human rights law. It was accompanied by the release of a  12-minute video examining the relationship among the protest, New York City’s 8 p.m. curfew, and the police tactic of “kettling,” produced with the visual investigations firm SITU Research.

The report drew swift media attention, including headlines in CNN, TIME magazine, Gothamist, the New York Daily News, The Intercept, and The City, along with televised segments on CBS and popular New York stations NY1 and Pix11, which called the report a “bombshell investigation.”

The findings spurred outrage from New York City taxpayers and advocates of social justice. Some of them took to the radio during The Brian Lehrer show on WNYC on October 2, when Mayor Bill DeBlasio joined for the show’s regular “Ask the Mayor” segment. Listeners called in to ask the mayor for his response to the report. “If things were done wrong, anyone who did something wrong should be held accountable in the appropriate way,” DeBlasio said during the program.

Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch pointed out on Twitter that despite Mayor DeBlasio’s on-air statement that the NYPD was wrong to arrest legal observers at the protest, his administration has done nothing to hold officers accountable several months after the attack.

Human Rights Watch will continue pushing the mayor, the NYPD, and other city leaders to take action on our recommendations – including holding abusive officers accountable, making structural changes ot reduce the NYPD’s role in addressing societal problems, and redirecting money from policing toward  improving access to health, education, housing, and job opportunities that protesters in Mott Haven and across New York City have been fighting to get for years.

Real the full report > > >

California Increases Momentum Behind Reparations With Passage of Historic Bill

Mourning the Death of Feminist Icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors and Descendants Sue City for Reparations

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

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

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

Residents Call for Reparations in Amherst, Massachussetts

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