Judith Armatta

Judith Armatta is a lawyer, journalist and human rights activist

OF COURSE, “ME, TOO!”

Well, of course, “me too!” We live in a sexist culture where the males of the species are taught to consider the females sexually available to them. Advertisers sell women’s and girls’ bodies with cars and liquor. Movies show women jumping into bed with practical strangers. Little girls are marketed for their (supposed) sexual allure. Sexual harassment? Sexual assault? Rape? Not a surprising outcome.

What’s more, sexual access is one of the perks of power, privilege, and fame. As The Donald said: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Women and feminist men have been challenging this for decades. But why should those with the power, fame, and perks listen or change their behavior? After all, they’re the ones with the power, perks and privileges.

We need to clarify something. Not all touching is a sexual advance, sexual harassment, or sexual predation. When a man puts his hand on a woman’s bare back or even her (clothed) rear, he is not being a sexual predator. It does women, those who have been or will be sexually assaulted or harassed, a disservice to claim that they are. Just wait for the backlash.

Really? You can’t see any difference between Roy Moore and Al Franken, when Moore takes a 16-year-old into his home, locks the door, kisses and fondles her, takes off her clothes, then removes his, touches her breasts and genitals, and places her hand on his, and Franken makes a sexist, tasteless joke posing for a photo or puts his hand on a woman’s bottom while her husband takes a photo of them at their request?

I am glad that women have had the courage to come forward and that they’ve received public support for doing so. I am disturbed that it’s being used for political gain: Republicans v. Democrats. No one is a saint here. And powerful men of whatever political persuasion have been free to exercise their privilege over less powerful females because they hold the key to professional advancement or any job at all.

Some of this behavior is criminal. Some of it is not, as offensive as it may be. What galls me is that those men who have felt privileged to sexually assault with impunity will never have their names put on the sex offender registry, while prosecutors and judges send young people who have consensual sex to prison and make them register as sex offenders for life. In addition to difficulty finding housing or a job, they are denied basic constitutional rights of association and freedom to travel. Because they have never been convicted, Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, et al. will not have “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor” stamped in their passports (required as of October 31, 2017). Yet who is the predator here: Roy? Harvey? Or a 20-year-old young man who had consensual sex with a teenager? The young man will bear the mark of Cain for the rest of his life. Harvey, Roy, and their pals have already lived long lives with the opportunity for many achievements, and received rewards and accolades.

I think of 15-year-old Christian Adamek in Alabama who was threatened with expulsion from school and arrest for streaking (running nude) at a football game. Facing lifetime designation as a sex offender, he hung himself. Or what about William Elliot, who spent two years in prison for having a sexual relationship with his 15-year-old (three weeks shy of 16) girlfriend when he was 19. After his release, a man found his address on the sex offender registry, went to his residence, knocked on the door, and, when William opened it, shot him point blank in the face?

Something is wrong with this picture.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are real. They are widespread in U.S. society – and have been for ages. Finally, they are being taken seriously in public discourse. If we overreact in the heat of the moment (as the law has done in response to rare cases of child kidnapping, rape, and murder by establishing a separate and draconian legal system), it will cause much harm as well as undermine efforts for real social change. Rather than look at aberrant individuals, we need to look at how our culture promotes and sustains this violence. Unless we are to meet one injustice with another, we also need to distinguish between what is predatory behavior and what is stupidity.

Some quotes from women who have experienced sexual assault and harassment that appeared following notice of Franken’s intent to step down from the Senate:

“As a person who has also a been victim of sexual harassment, I feel I am in a position to say that that I do not feel that anything Al Franken has done is worthy of such a measure. In fact, I am getting tired of hearing 'Oh, he kissed me and I didn't want him to, oh, he touched my breast, oh, he touched my butt' without addressing REAL sexual harassment---the predatory behavior, the creepiness of it, the loss of one's job, the post-traumatic effects of having an entire workplace turn their back on the victim and rally around the predator. Frankly, it is insulting and demeaning to all women who have experienced true sexual harassment.”

“metoo. i was raped and molested repeatedly as a child, experienced unwanted groping as an adult: these are not even in the same ball park.”

“I’ve also been a victim of sexual assault — the violent stranger kind and the blackout drunk kind — as well as full on disgusting, scary groping by a professor plus all the other little indignities, and I do not want Franken to resign. I stand behind his right to a hearing. As a citizen in our constitutional democracy, I stand behind the right of ALL accused to a fair trial, even if it’s my opinion that they’re vile human beings, which Al is decidedly not.”

For more discussion, see comments at: (https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/12/7/1721710/-Al-Franken-I-am-announcing-that-in-the-coming-weeks-I-will-be-resigning?detail=emaildkbn):

REMEMBERING A MASSACRE: Ethnic Cleansing Then and Now

An excellent archival project by SENSE-Tribunal of the Kosova War and the war crimes prosecutions that followed * added to my anxiety over the current racism and xenophobia in the U.S., led and fostered by President Donald Trump.

In 1999, ten thousand (10,000) people, mostly Kosovar Albanians, were killed and 800,000 forced to flee across borders solely because of their ethnicity and Slobodan Milosevic’s desire for an ethnically pure Serb republic. More than hatred of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs had been taught to hate Albanians who lived in Kosovo, which they consider the heartland of Serb civilization. Milosevic used historical animosity to gain power. Only after fomenting war in Croatia and Bosnia and failing to achieve a Greater Serbia did he return to Kosova to maintain his shaky hold on power. Some people in Serbia objected, but not enough. Most were raised to see Kosovar Albanians as “other.” Segregation assured prejudices remained firmly in place. Though Serbs were tired of war, few objected to the discrimination and brutality against Kosovars leading up to another one.

I was living in the Balkans during the Kosova War, evacuated from Montenegro to Macedonia, where I headed a War Crimes Documentation Project among refugees that would provide evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, where I would spend three years monitoring Milosevic’s war crimes trial. I was in Serbia as brutality against Kosovar Albanians increased daily aided by xenophobic rhetoric. Watching the SENSE videos brought back the gut-wrenching fear for this population, some of whom were my friends. And the terrible anguish over the beatings, torture, murders, and destruction of their homes and livelihoods. I was reminded of Shyrete Berisha and her children, who Serbian forces herded into a pizzeria with 40 or 50 others after killing their men in front of them. For 20 or 30 minutes, police and paramilitaries shot automatic weapons into the café, then tossed in grenades to finish the killing. Shyrete Berisha testified at Milosevic’s trial about losing her entire family:

“I cannot remember any explosion but I turned to look at my children. I saw my son Redon was sitting there with blood all over him and he was still holding his bottle of milk. I saw Majlinda and half her head was missing. I saw Sebahate and half her head was missing as well. I only remember hearing Majlinda and Sebahate once say, “Oof.” I slowly touched my youngest son Redon with my feet but he was dead.”

Mrs. Berisha’s was only one of the stories I heard and which the SENSE project unearthed from the deep place in my psyche where they reside, enabling my day-to-day life of grocery shopping, writing, and enjoying coffee with friends. And now, I hear someone close to me repeat Trump’s and Jeff Sessions’ lies about the criminality of immigrants and the threat they present to “our” (read “white”) children. A waking nightmare. Will we ever wake up? Will we wake up in time to prevent a Kosovo in America? If the spread of xenophobia is any indication, it has already begun. *(http://sense-agency.com/icty/interactive-narrative-%E2%80%9Cicty-the-kosovo-case-presented-to-the-public.29.html?news_id=17229&cat_id=1)

ARMAGEDDON!

I’m freaked out. Fires are consuming my state. My air purifier is running bright red, toxic, don’t breathe. Ash covers my desk, the windowsills, clothing, plants, the floors, my lungs. A major highway is closed. Cities evacuated. Hikers rescued from our once green forests. The sky glows an eerie dirty gray and copper. The sun, a red orange ball, is about as spectacular as the eclipse. I breathe ash into my already compromised lungs. I need to wear a mask, but I’m suffocating from the heat. And the South is underwater as category 5 Hurricane Irma assaults the Caribbean and heads toward Florida, with Jose not far behind.

Armed white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other hate groups march in the streets with torches, unmasked, unafraid. A Korean demigod threatens conflagration and his American counterpart wreaks destruction on Obama’s world, my world. Encouraging hatred, division, and violence. Expelling young dreamers to alien lands. Gifting our water, air, and land to those who would profit from their pollution. Promoting violence by and militarization of police, who bully, beat up, terrorize, and kill. Aligning himself with dictators and strong men, disparaging allies. Contemptuous of the constitution and rule of law. Distorting reality for everyone as he lives in the land of lies. Taking from the poor and giving to the rich with smoke and mirrors showing down is up, distorting reality, murdering truth. Encouraging our demons who hate women, immigrants, Muslims, Black people, Latinos, those with disabilities. Granting permission to our dark side.

In his air-conditioned WHITE House, he does not choke on smoke, collapse from heat, wade through chest high water. He lives in a bubble drifting from golf course to golf course. Maralago is not yet underwater, though Hurricane Irma is on the horizon. I am reminded of a movie popular in my growing up years: On the Beach, where only two people remain alive after nuclear war. A gem of a planet and all its vibrant life destroyed. How close are we, I wonder?

Why I Don't Support Medicare for All

I’m not sure what is meant by “Medicare for All.” Is it a more popularly accepted name for Single Payer? Or is it really an expansion of Medicare. If it’s an expansion of Medicare, then let’s be clear. Medicare was partially privatized in 2003 by the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA). As a result, private insurance companies are heavily into the Medicare market.

The MMA created a prescription drug program (Part D) – and handed it to private insurers to offer policies and set premiums and reimbursements. If you don’t want to pay the entire cost of prescriptions out of pocket, you have to buy a Part D plan from a private insurer. Reimbursements and premiums vary from company to company.

In the same legislation, Congress opened the door wider for private insurance companies, allowing them to compete with each other and with “Original Medicare” (Parts A – hospitalization - and B – outpatient services, which are managed by the government for a set premium (currently about $104 a month) by offering “Medicare Advantage” plans. These, too, vary in coverage, deductibles, and premiums, so you will have to shop around, an unpleasant task that faces you each year as premiums and coverage change.

It is also possible to buy a Medicare Supplement Plan (aka Medigap), which, for an additional premium, will cover most copays and deductibles. Again, premiums and benefits vary, so one needs to set aside a couple weeks and forego making the grandchildren Halloween costumes and taking walks in the brilliantly colored fall to compare coverage and try to understand it all, i.e. “Should I stick with Original Medicare Parts A & B or choose a Medicare Advantage Plan?” “If the latter, which one among those offered in the private sector is best for me in coverage and cost?” “Do I need a prescription drug plan, as well, and, if so, which company offers the best deal?” “Does it cover my medications and, if so, how much will it pay?” Are we having fun yet?

Well, you’re not done because even if you have all the coverage discussed above, it won’t cover eye exams and glasses, hearing aids, or dental work. You either have to pay for more policies or pay out of pocket, if you can afford it. For those who haven’t faced the need for hearing aids, you will pay $3,000 to $6,000 -- or less if you’re a Costco member (it’s worth the $55 annual fee). It appears that eyes, ears, and teeth are not part of the human body. Who knew?

It has taken me five years to manage a basic understanding of partially privatized Medicare, law degree notwithstanding. And I am probably wrong.

Does the campaign Medicare for All (that requests my signature daily) mean the Medicare we have now? If it does, I’m not signing any petitions.

Caveat: this is not legal advice. It is cri de coeur and a caution.

An interesting article on the subject is Joshua Holland’s “Medicare-for-All Isn’t the Solution for Universal Health Care.” Holland is a contributor to The Nation, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and hosts “Politics and Reality Radio.” https://www.thenation.com/article/medicare-for-all-isnt-the-solution-for-universal-health-care/

MEETING ELIE WIESEL

In 1999, I found myself in Skopje, Macedonia, an evacuee from the Kosovo war. While there, I headed a war crimes documentation project, interviewing some of the 800,000 Kosovar refugees. In the midst of tragedy and suffering, I had the privilege of meeting the great humanitarian, Elie Wiesel, who left this earth a little over a year ago. Today, more than ever, we need these gentle, heroic souls, and I need to be reminded that they have walked this earth -- and left a lasting legacy. The following is what I wrote at the time, included in my memoir in progress.

The U.S. Embassy called to say President Clinton was sending Elie Wiesel here as a personal emissary to speak with refugees. They would like me to meet with him. Would I be available? I said I might be able to rearrange my dance card. I didn't hear anything more for a week, when the Embassy officer called from Stenkovac 1 camp and asked if I could come there to meet with Mr. Wiesel. I grabbed Sebi, one of my young Albanian-speaking staff and a refugee from Kosovo, and hopped in a taxi for the hot ride out to the camp.

Despite the fact that UNHCR had still not issued us badges to enter the camps, Sebi and I flashed the badge Aferdita (our office manager) had made for us using a stapler, a business card, and a safety pin. We entered with no trouble. An embassy staff person met us and walked us through the camp to the tent where Mr. Wiesel was meeting with refugees and staff of the International Rescue Commission, of which he was a board member.

This was my first visit to a camp. About what I'd expected, given oral reports and television footage. Hundreds of grey, white, and khaki tents of various sizes lined up in rows on a dirt field with no trees or foliage. Laundry hanging on tent lines. Women bending over, washing plastic cups in shallow basins of water, carrying babies, changing diapers, tending toddlers. Men lying inside tents with little to do. Children teasing strangers, saying "hi" in English, but no boisterous play, no running and shouting. International aid organizations and insignias everywhere. A group of Japanese Peace tourists. My impressions were gleaned from stolen side glances, as we walked and talked with our escort.

Eventually, we approached the small IRC tent, where a couple dozen people gathered around a slight, grey haired man. When he saw me, he stopped the discussion and came forward to greet me, hand extended, saying "Hello, Judith!" That was enough to impress me for the rest of the century -- and well into the next millennium! I introduced him to Sebi, he ushered me to a chair beside him, and the conversation resumed.

The speaker had apparently just finished telling of his ordeal at the hands of Serb forces in Kosovo. He was expressing his anger and bitterness. Mr. Wiesel listened intently, without interruption. Another man entered the conversation and told how his Serb neighbor had killed a member of his family. Mr. Wiesel asked respectfully, "Do you hate all Serbs?" "Yes," the man, a staff member of IRC, replied in perfect English, without hesitation. He said they were a bad race. He'd read about it in a book, so there must be a scientific basis for it. Mr. Wiesel did not argue with him, but turned to a young girl of about 16, who was going to Canada, and asked her if she fell in love with a boy, agreed to marry him, and then found out his parents were Serbs, what would she do. "I would not take him," she replied firmly. Later, with tears in her eyes, she told Mr. Wiesel how a Serbian man had tried to rape her. With her permission, he held and comforted her.

A man who was with Mr. Wiesel, perhaps another IRC board member, urged him to tell about his experience in Auschwitz. He gently but firmly declined. It was these people's pain he had come to witness. He would not belittle it by judging their hatred. Later, I asked him if he hated all Germans. Quite simply, he answered, "No, I never did." And he acknowledged, again without judgment, that some others who survived the Holocaust still shun everything German. Sebi told him that she had worked with Serbs, had Serbian friends, but she would not see them now. He understood. For the Albanians, the terror was immediate. In Kosovo, it continued.

Mr. Wiesel told me he still struggled to understand hatred and the evil of which humans are capable. He asked the refugee whose neighbor had killed his relative, "How could he do that? To someone he drank wine with, whose children he knew, who had worked beside him and laughed with him?" The man had no answer -- except that he was Serb.

At one point in the discussion, I said that the international community bears some responsibility for what Milosevic has wrought, in that they chose to negotiate with him to end the war in Bosnia. Mr. Wiesel disagreed. He said the Bosnian war had to end, but the fault of the international community was that they failed to intervene sooner.

Mr. Wiesel clearly had a heavy heart after listening to so many tragic stories. He shook his head and wondered how this could happen at the end of the 20th Century. And he offered his concern as well as his deep appreciation for the work we were trying to do. I tried to convey my gratitude for how he chose to live his life and all he'd given to the world. He answered humbly, "We have such a short time here. We must do what we can."

And then I boldly asked if I could get a photograph. He graciously complied, pulling Sebi and me close to him, then telling the photographer to take her time as he was enjoying himself! The cars arrived and he was bustled off to his next appointment, while Sebi and I walked slowly back through the camp. She was as moved as I -- and she had not known of him before this meeting, nor read any of his books. There is something about greatness of spirit that one recognizes in its presence. It is indefinable, yet a palpable presence. I almost think that alone could conquer all the evil in the world. Perhaps, if it wasn't for that, there would be no world left worth struggling for.

The Good vs. The Bad

I am on the board of two nonprofit organizations. One advocates for adults who survived childhood sexual abuse. The other consists of friends and families of people convicted of sex crimes. You might think that makes no sense. Isn’t one the enemy of the other? Isn’t one bad and one good? I don’t think so. All are human beings. Those convicted of sex offenses have been held accountable. Given the recidivism rate of 5%, they are less to be feared than the rest of society. Some who were convicted and made to register as sex offenders for life* were innocent or guilty of behavior that harmed no one – streaking, taking photos of their nude children, sexting while a minor, brushing dirt off a child’s clothed bottom, exploring bodies through childhood curiosity.

Aren’t those who were victimized scarred for life? Some. Not all. It is a disservice to survivors to tell them they can never recover from abuse they suffered as a child. Everyone is different. Many survivors are able to heal and put it behind them. Some even forgive their abusers. Why can’t we? Forgiveness allows us to rebuild community. It lifts something from our souls – the anger and hatred that act like cancers eating us from within.

Not all those who have committed sex offenses can be redeemed. Not all are alike. Some are pathological serial offenders and need to be separated from the community. These are not the majority. Yet in the last 30 or 40 years we have greatly expanded the types of behavior that are sex crimes, while branding all those convicted with the same indelible mark for life: “sex offender.” Punishment is never ending. It can include placement on a public registry; notification of neighbors, colleagues, and others; restrictions on where one can live; limitations on travel (passport identification as a sex offender) and association, as well as extralegal discrimination such as inability to get a job, find housing, or attend school.

Recently, a young star OSU baseball player, Luke Heimlich, was outed as a convicted sex offender. Luke molested a young relative five years ago. She was four when it began and he was 13. His actions were reprehensible, even considering his brain immaturity. Luke served two years’ probation and completed sex offender treatment. He has expressed remorse for the harm he caused and is trying to become a decent, contributing member of society. But what he did at 13 and 15 continues to follow him. After revelation of his past and a public outcry, he stepped down from the baseball team, which is on its way to the College World Series. Before The Oregonian informed the public about Luke’s past, he was considered a top draft pick by Major League Baseball. After, no team selected him. Some have suggested he be banned from athletics, while others that he be banned from attending university.

This is not a contest of sympathy. ‘If we have sympathy for Luke, we cannot care about the little girl (now 11).’ ‘If we are (justifiably) angry at what happened to her, we must hate Luke and ostracize him from our community.’ Are our hearts so small that they cannot encompass caring for both? Luke is not a monster. He is a young man who did something terribly wrong. He has been held accountable and received treatment. He is highly unlikely to commit another sex crime. We should spend as much energy preventing sexual abuse as we do righteously condemning those who are trying to make amends and contribute to the community. *In Oregon, those convicted of sex crimes may apply to be removed from the registry after specified periods of time following the end of supervision. ORS 181.820

"You Are Not Wanted Here"

Portland, Oregon is the whitest city of its size in the United States. I want to deny living there. It feels shameful even though I did not choose it because of its whiteness. I am third generation Oregonian. My friends and family are here. I love the giant firs, the rivers that bisect the city, the easy access to the ocean and mountains, Powell’s Books. I hate its lack of diversity and the racism that lies at its root: Oregon’s original sin.

When Oregon was on the verge of statehood, granted in 1859, it was divided between those who wanted to allow slavery and those who did not. The compromise was to prohibit slavery (and thus competition from people using free labor), but also to prohibit African Americans from residing in the state. While this was not enforced, it sent a powerful message: “If you are African American, you are not wanted here.”

“Delegates to Oregon's constitutional convention submitted an exclusion clause to voters on November 7, 1857, along with a proposal to legalize slavery. Voters disapproved of slavery by a wide margin, ensuring that Oregon would be a free state, and approved the exclusion clause by a wide margin. Incorporated into the Bill of Rights, the clause prohibited blacks from being in the state, owning property, and making contracts. Oregon thus became the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause in its constitution. [emphasis added] Gregory Nokes.

The constitutional exclusion remained until 1926. Other racist language in the constitution was not removed until 2002. Oregon originally ratified the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but within a few years rescinded its ratification and did not correct it until 1973. The state resisted ratifying the 15th Amendment (Voting Rights) until 1959.

The reverse side of racial exclusion is that white people were drawn to Oregon because of its whiteness. I don’t know, but I pray that my ancestors weren’t part of this diaspora. It’s quite possible they were. This is our shameful legacy. It is why white supremacists feel more at home here than African Americans. It is why black people make up only 2% of Oregon’s population and 9.3% of its prison population.

“In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Act, a piece of legislation designed to promote White settlement in the Oregon Territory by expropriating Native American land and giving it to Whites for free, causing a population boom of White settlers of 300 percent. The move to Oregon for many White settlers was motivated by a desire to create an all-White society free from the racial tensions brewing before the start of the American Civil War. The first steps taken to create this all-White society involved bloody battles against Native American peoples and their eventual compulsory removal from their land.” [citations omitted]

Oregon in the 1920’s had the highest population of Ku Klux Klan members in the U.S. They can be seen posing for photographs with Portland’s officials. Another photo shows the KKK with members of the Royal Riders of the Red Robe, a Klan auxiliary of foreign born Protestants. The Klan’s philosophy is evident in its motto: “’100 percent Americanism,’ an ideology that developed during World War I as a reaction to the perceived threat to national unity posed by the influx of non-Protestant, non-English-speaking immigrants.” Sound familiar?

In 1988, three men associated with White Aryan Resistance (WAR) beat Mulegeta Seraw, an Ethiopian student, to death on a Portland street. The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Tom Metzger, head of WAR, his son, and WAR for incitement of murder. An Oregon jury returned a $12.5 million verdict in favor of the estate of Mr. Seraw, despite Metzger’s defense that he was merely exercising his First Amendment Rights. The verdict bankrupted WAR.

In more recent years (with the election of a black president, followed by the hate-filled rhetoric of a bigoted president), we’ve seen the rise of white militias (such as the Oath Keepers, active in Oregon), white supremacist, and white separatist groups. The number of anti-Muslim organizations in the U.S. grew from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A report by the Council for American-Islamic Relations found that hate crimes targeting Muslims surged 584 percent from 2014 to 2016.

Once on the fringe, these hate groups now march in Portland streets and propagandize and proselytize on the internet. Prisons, too, are a breeding ground for white supremacist gangs, and Oregon, like the rest of the country, has grotesquely expanded the number of people we lock up. Jeremy Christian spent eight years in Oregon prisons. According to one person who knew him before he was sent up, it was there he connected with white hate groups and became radicalized. We gave up on prison as rehabilitative long ago.

On May 27, 2017, Jeremy Christian verbally assaulted two young women, one black, the other Muslim on a MAX train. Christian is a self-proclaimed white separatist. He reportedly yelled at the women “Get off the bus and get out of the country.” When three men intervened, he killed two (Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Ricky John Best) and seriously injured the third (Micah David-Cole Fletcher). The three men were white Portlanders, one was Jewish. Will this send a message to white supremacists seeking to move here? They are planning to rally in downtown Portland on June 4. While they are free to speak, we do not welcome those who promote hate.

We honor Taliesin, Rick, and Micah and embrace the two young women who were vilified. This kind of courage is also Oregon’s legacy. We can’t change Oregon’s history or increase Portland’s diversity overnight. But we can make it welcoming to all those who seek a community striving for inclusion and the enrichment it brings. As civil rights attorney Arjun Singh Sethi wrote in The Washington Post: “Attacks like Portland’s will keep happening unless we all fight racism, simply being sorry isn’t enough.”

Portland is also enriched by numerous groups promoting diversity and fighting against hate (links to a few are given below). One of them, the Asian and Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), provides suggestions for how we can grow a better community:

“We continue to affirm our support for those who have been terrorized and traumatized, and seek community-driven solutions to address the root causes of oppression. We uplift local efforts including; 1) ending racial profiling and establishing strong community centered police accountability; 2) ensuring all students have access to quality ethnic studies education; 3) creating safe cultural spaces for communities to gather, and; 4) educating to counter hate ideologies and indoctrinations especially amongst our youth.”

We can also support those who are working against racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia – with our time and/or money. And we can look to them for guidance and information to help us move forward. I will end with another thought from APANO:

"These times of fear and violence require us to reflect deeply on root causes, and is not an excuse to over-police our communities. May more Oregonians take action to interrupt hate and stand for love. In these terrible moments, we are reminded of our fragile humanity and the need to build institutions that function as systems of care and are focused on the inherent worth and dignity of all people.”

Links (not exhaustive by any means): Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes: https://oregoncahc.org/

Unite Oregon: www.uniteoregon.org

Change Lab, Race File: www.racefiles.com

APANO: www.apano.org

Coalition of Communities of Color: www.coalitioncommunitiescolor.org

Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO): https://irco.org

NAACP Portland Chapter: www.portlandnaacp1120.org

Urban League of Portland: https://ulpdx.org

Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA): https://nayapdx.org

Western States Center: www.westernstatescenter.org

Rural Organizing Project: www.rop.org

Partnership for Safety and Justice: www.safetyandjustice.org

Black Lives Matter Portland: https://blackpdx.com

Basic Rights Oregon: www.basicrights.org

Southern Poverty Law Center: www.splcenter.org

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): www.cair.org

Convicting the Innocent

Last week I attended the Oregon Innocence Project's annual fundraising event (given my limited income, I have no business contributing but I always do!). There was a full house -- lots of well-heeled lawyers. Stephen Wax, OIP legal director -- formerly federal public defender for 31 years, gave an update of their work. Here are some highlights.

In their three years of existence, they have received about 350 requests from prisoners to investigate their cases and have investigated 238 -- since the beginning of the OIP three years ago. The majority of the requests are from people convicted of sex offenses. Forty-six percent (46%) of these cases involved a child. The OIP has taken on four cases, two involve sex offenses, one is a murder with a death sentence, another is manslaughter. In two of the cases, the prosecutors have cooperated in securing DNA testing. In the capital murder case, the prosecutor refuses to cooperate, despite considerable evidence of innocence. (Steve didn't say who the prosecutors are.) Sixteen (16) people convicted in Oregon have been exonerated to date for a total of 65 lost years.

Two of the San Antonio Four (Anna and Cassandra) were special guests and talked about their ordeal and their eventual exoneration 20 years after being charged. The four Latina women had recently come out as gay. The seven and nine year old nieces of one were coerced by their father to make the allegations of gang rape. Homophobia contributed substantially to their prosecution and ultimate conviction. The women refused to plea bargain because they were innocent. Three were sentenced to 15 years, the girls' aunt received a 37 1/2 year sentence. While in prison, they refused sex offender treatment for the same reason, their innocence, and, as a result, spent time in solitary confinement. One woman had two small children, another was pregnant and had a 2-year-old, when they went to prison. The women served from 12 to 16 years in prison. Now, they are traveling throughout the U.S. to tell their story. They were exonerated in November 2016. Here's CNN's story: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/24/us/san-antonio-four-exonerated/

Not included, but what the women told us last night:

1. The nieces' father made up the charge because their aunt refused to date him.

2. The father later married another woman who had two sons. They had a child together. After they divorced, the father coerced their daughter to accuse one of the sons of sexual abuse. He was found guilty and sent to prison at 17 and is now a registered sex offender for life. The father has not yet met his karma.

While Texas will compensate these four women for the lost years, Oregon has no compensation law for those wrongfully convicted. Nationwide, the Innocence Project reports 2,028 exonerations, for a total of 17,693 years lost. Forty-seven percent (47%) of these exonerees were black, 12% here Hispanic. Thirty-nine (39) percent were convicted of murder, 15% of sexual assault, 11% of child sexual abuse.http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/Exonerations-in-the-United-States-Map.aspx

Oregon Innocence Project: www.oregoninnocence.org

OUR KNEEJERK RESPONSE TO AMERICA’S FOUNDATIONAL MYTH

My first reaction when Al-Qaeda crashed planes into the Twin Towers was, “Four more years.” By “decisively” bombing Syria, Donald Trump, the clown, has suddenly become America’s hero. Rapidly jumping on the bandwagon, pundits and pols and average Americans left questions about the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia in the dust, as well as the health care debacle. Who wants to bet the polls will show a surge in support for The Donald?

Trump was acting out America’s foundational myth when he ordered a missile attack on Syria. Americans, responding from psycho-social memory, swooned. Trump became the knight in shining armor who rescues the damsel in distress, the frontiersman who rescues the maiden kidnapped by Indians. Americans rush to applaud because it is the myth on which America was founded. We are the good guys who defend the weak (read “women and children”) against the bad guys.[1] With one violent blow. No messy rescuing refugees for us.

As much as I want to punish Assad for his chemical weapons attack, my question is “Has the bombing of one airport stopped him?” No one claims there were chemical weapons there. Which means he still has them and can use them again in four years, two years, next month, tomorrow. Did we wipe out some planes? Damage runways? That’s questionable, particularly considering that the U.S. gave Russia advance notice of the strikes. Any reason to believe they didn’t pass along that wee bit of information to their long-time partner, Assad? My second question is “What now?”

While the chemical weapons attack killed 80 people, the six-year long war has taken the lives of 470,000: 207,000 civilians, 24,000 children, 23,000 women, and displaced 11 million more. Over 90% of civilian deaths were caused by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance.[2] Nor was this the first chemical weapons attack since the one in 2013 that took the lives of 1,300. Assad has been using chlorine gas against civilians throughout the war and continues to do so.

The media and politicians rush to spin this as an Obama failure. He didn’t act out our foundational myth, though no one seems to recall that he intended to and pursued diplomacy only after Congress refused to give him authority for air strikes. Instead of doing nothing, he worked out a deal with Putin and Assad in which Assad would get rid of his chemical weapons. He sent a lot of them out of the country, but either held some back or made more. Trump didn’t destroy any, as far as a we know. We say Assad’s a bully and Obama was wrong to trust him. After the bombing, we’re still left with the bully. Unless we bomb Syria back into the Stone Age (as we did Iraq) and drive him from power (as we did Hussein and Qadafi), the situation on the ground in Syria remains pretty much the status quo. And if we do bomb Syria back to the Stone Age? We can see where that got us in Iraq. The rise of a ruthless, headless group of fanatics who revel in killing innocents – wherever.

 

[1] See Faludi, Susan, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Co. (2007), Chapter 8.

[2] http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/207_thousand_civilians_were_killed_by_hands_of_the_Syrian_alliance_Iranian_Russian_en.pdf

I AM AFRAID . . . I AM NOT AFRAID . . . I AM ENCOURAGED . . . .

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Iranian student who has been studying in the U.S., but cannot return from a visit home.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Sudanese doctor working in Cleveland who was forced to leave the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the MIT professor’s Iranian parents who hold green cards, but were prevented from returning to celebrate their grandchildren’s birthdays.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Syrian medical student’s two uncles, two aunts, and two teenage cousins who had immigrant visas but were turned back after arriving in Philadelphia.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the young Iranian scientist and his wife who were planning to take up residence in Boston where he had a fellowship to study cardiovascular medicine at Harvard before their visas were canceled.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Iraqi man who worked for a U.S. contractor in Iraq but was denied entry to visit his wife and son in the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the Kurdish family of five seeking refuge from Iraq who were returned there despite having valid visas.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the three Somali brothers who have been vetted and approved to enter the United States. They’ve been living in a Nairobi refugee camp for 25 years.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the 10-year-old refugee from Iraq where his father was an interpreter for the U.S. Army.

I AM NOT AFRAID of Hajira and her six daughters, all Somali refugees, who have been staying in a Nairobi refugee camp awaiting emigration to the U.S.

I AM NOT AFRAID of the 50 Syrian families fleeing death and the loss of their homes and livelihoods every hour.

I AM NOT AFRAID of refugees from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, seeking asylum from murderous gangs.

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON who devised the immigration ban that has disrupted so many lives, and, at least in one case, caused the death of a 75-year-old Iraqi woman with a green card, who was seeking medical care in the U.S.

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON because he is a white nationalist, who led a media empire into becoming what a former Breitbart editor called a “a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers.”

I AM AFRAID OF STEVE BANNON because he promotes the “alt-right,” a haven of white nationalists.

I AM AFRAID OF JEFF SESSIONS because he praised the 1924 Immigration Act that imposed a racist quota system favoring Northern Europeans and said that between 1924 and 1965 it had “created really the solid middle class of America, with assimilated immigrants, and it was good for America,” The Atlantic reported.

I AM AFRAID OF JEFF SESSIONS because he has been the key bridge between anti-immigrant groups and Congress since 1997. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has chosen white supremacists as his close advisors, directed a massive immigration halt, closing U.S. borders to 60,000 to 100,000 people who have been approved for entry, ordered a wall to be built on the U.S. border with Mexico, tweeted racist, misogynist, xenophobic rants, creating space in normal discourse for white supremacists.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he is commander in chief of the largest military in the world and has the ability to start a nuclear war.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has no respect for the U.S. constitution or international law.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he does not believe in an independent judiciary.

I AM AFRAID OF DONALD TRUMP because he has no respect for the rule of law.

I AM AFRAID . . . .

I AM ENCOURAGED by the federal judges who have stayed the order prohibiting refugees and asylum seekers and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

I AM ENCOURAGED by the State Department employees who have expressed their opposition to his unconstitutional order and those who immediately implemented Judge Robart’s stay of that order, allowing tens of thousands with legitimate visas to enter the U.S.

I AM ENCOURAGED by the thousands of fellow citizens, immigrants, and visitors who rushed to airports across the country to protest Trump's unconstitutional immigration order.

I AM ENCOURAGED by millions of fellow citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have taken to the streets and social networks to protest this fascist-leaning president.