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This teen a “terrorist”? Really?

From Breakthrough president and CEO Mallika Dutt:

Like a lot of teenagers you may know, Mansimran who’s featured in our new video, is a basketball-loving, Starbucks-drinking, robotics-studying all-American guy. It shouldn’t surprise you that he’s funny, grounded and charming. It should surprise you that sometimes, when strangers see his turban and the color of his skin, they lean out their car windows and call him a “terrorist.” It should surprise you, but it probably doesn’t. Because of course, Mansimran is not alone.

Where do young people get the idea that that kind of bullying is okay? Well, these days, it’s hard to miss. In the decade since September 11, South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities have become targets of race- and religion-based bullying — to say nothing of discrimination, racial profiling and unlawful detention and deportation and other human rights violations. And everywhere from policy to pop culture, mixed messages about who counts as a “real” American have created a climate of ignorance at best and fear at worst. Just last month, home-improvement mega-chain Lowe’s pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” after the Florida Family Association accused the show of subverting “American liberties and traditional values.” Ask Mansimran about his values — as a Sikh and an American — and this is what he’ll tell you: “If I call myself an American then I should be accepting to every culture there is. I should be welcoming to everybody, no matter what.”

Mansimran instinctively understands what so many others seem to miss. Dignity, equality and justice are American values. Our laws, leadership and culture should reflect that. And so should we. By bringing human rights values in to our smallest interactions and daily lives, we can help stop bullying. Mansimran takes it in stride, but it shouldn’t happen in the first place. We should take a page from Mansimran’s playbook by standing up against racial profiling and racially-motivated bullying, reaching out across differences, and treating everyone around us with respect. We are all on the same team, after all.

Sen. Cardin introduces bill to ban racial profiling (which would prohibit provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 from being enforced)

Guest Blogger: Tong Lee, Director of Membership Services for the Rights Working Group

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2011.  If passed, the bill would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin by any federal, state, local or Indian tribal law enforcement agency. This is a significant step forward in over a decade since the NAACP, ACLU, their allies, and affected community members have advocated endlessly for the bill’s introduction and passage.  With this introduction, it is now critical for the Senate to pass the bill.  Email your Senator and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

There are many positive provisions in the bill.  The bill would also institute mandatory training on profiling for law enforcement agents; require data collection and monitoring; create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected; implement substantive procedures for responding to profiling complaints and a private right of action for victims of profiling.

Far too often, communities of color know first-hand the experience of being racially profiled by law enforcement agencies. If the bill passes, it could have a significant impact on communities. The bill is intended to prohibit:

  • Stops and frisks by local law enforcement based on ethnicity;
  • Surveillance by law enforcement agencies of specific neighborhoods and communities, like the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in New York after the 9/11 attacks; and
  • States from enacting laws requiring residents to show proof of immigration status, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56, Georgia’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

With the bill’s introduction, we now need the Senate to pass it.  Contact your Senators and tell them to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act.  The following Senators have co-sponsored the bill: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

 

How ‘Un-American’ are Peter King’s Congressional hearings?

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponents of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings here:

Photo courtesy of www.upi.com

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I AM THIS LAND submissions show diversity, talent and sensitivity

From our b-listed blog-

As we approach the last day to submit on videos (midnight EST, today, Jan 21st!) for I AM THIS LAND, our contest on diversity, we are overwhelmed with the creativity and thought behind the submissions.

From a young girl challenging our tendency to categorize people, to an Indian-American man trying to come out to his parents, to a young Muslim girl defining what it is to be American, I AM THIS LAND has managed to highlight important issues in the debate on diversity in the United States.

This past November, Breakthrough launched the I AM THIS LAND contest.  We asked people to make a video on diversity using the phrase “I AM THIS LAND,” and enter to win a grand prize of $2,500 and more (including a day’s internship at SPIN magazine).

The resulting characters in these videos are rich: a young man literally hungry for diversity, a student trying on many different identities to prove the different kind of people there are in this land, a girl with multicultural backgrounds.

Through parodies, documentary, animation and feature film style videos; videos featuring original songs; videos with poetic narration and graphics, filmmakers across the country have responded to our call!  Through a truly ingenious use of their time, budget and skills, I AM THIS LAND’s filmmakers have explored the role national and religious identities, sexual orientation, language and more have in uplifting diversity.  We are also proud of the hundreds of viewers that have contributed to the project tenfold by leaving comments with their thoughts on the issues and how diversity only makes America stronger.

Watch the videos, vote and comment at http://iamthisland.org/watch-and-vote. We are thrilled to see the amount of interest these videos have generated online, and hope they continue to foster debate and discussion.

We are also very happy that stars like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), Lisa Brescia (Mamma Mia)  and writers such as Ishmael Beah and Maria Hinojosa and more have lent their support to us for I AM THIS LAND.

Stay tuned for more contest details at I AM THIS LAND.org! There’s still time to enter!

Save the date! Don’t miss this film screening tomorrow

After screening at a Congressional briefing in Washington D.C., a panel on ‘Global Perspectives in Digital Media’ at Union Docs in NYC, and making waves across the blogosphere, Restore Fairness’ latest documentary, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America, will be screening in New York City tomorrow, as part of a free evening of films and dialogue about race in America.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. Using powerful personal stories like Karwan’s, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

On Tuesday, December 7th, Face the Truth will be screening along with Americans on Hold: Profiling, Prejudice and National Security, produced by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Americans on Hold is a documentary that reveals the harmful effects of prejudicial and ineffective U.S. counter-terrorism and immigration policies. Through the personal stories of Anila Ali and Zuhair Mahd, and expert testimony, the film exposes discriminatory profiling at the heart of citizenship delays and border-crossing detentions and delays.

Sponsored by the Rights Working Group, Breakthrough, NAAP, and the CHRGJ at the NYU School of Law, the evening is part of the Rights Working Group Conversations on racial profiling, leading up to Human Rights Day on December 10th. The screenings will be followed by a discussion and Q & A with filmmakers and activists, Madhuri Mohindar from Breakthrough, Nadine Wahab from the Rights Working Group, and Sameer Ahmed, the Skadden Fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Mark your calendars!

When: Tuesday, December 7th, 6:30-9:30pm
Where: Furman Hall, New York University, 245 Sullivan Street (corner of Sullivan and W 3rd), New York City

It is important that we work together to honor the diversity that is the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Join the event on Facebook. We hope to see you tomorrow!

Powerful racial profiling documentary screened at Congressional Briefing

Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign showcased its powerful new documentary, ‘Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America’ at a briefing for Congressional staff on Racial and Religious Profiling in Washington, D.C. on Thursday September 30th. The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group that was released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Along with compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, many of whom were present at the briefing. Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr. Tracie Keesee (Denver Police Department) and Karwan Abdulkader (resident of Nashville subjected to racial profiling) are some of the speakers from the film who spoke in person to the packed room on September 30th.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded… not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

As Kurdish American Karwan Abdulkader broke down while relating his story, listeners learned that he was detained and interrogated by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. His is one among many stories featured in ‘Face the Truth,’ a moving video that illustrates the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Watch the video NOW and urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

Join the week of actions to face the truth about racial profiling

Racial and religious profiling is a problem that affects many communities across the country. While traditionally thought of as targeting the African American community, profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Not only is racial and religious profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it damages community security.

This past summer, communities across America hosted hearings to raise their voices against racial and religious profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement. The testimonies shared by people around the country illustrated the pervasiveness of the problem, and demonstrated how it impacts people from all walks of life. Out of the hearings came a resolve from communities to stop the ineffective and degrading practice of racial profiling.

In solidarity with Rights Working Group, we urge you to join the ‘Racial Profiling: Face the Truth’ campaign and participate in the ‘Face the Truth Week of Actions,’ taking place from September 26- October 2. Marking the one year anniversary of the launch of the campaign, the Rights Working Group will release a report highlighting testimonies from the hearings that told place over the summer. The report, entitled Faces of Racial Profiling: A Report from Communities Across America, will be released on Thursday, September 30th, at a Congressional briefing which will include a panel discussion involving advocates, police chiefs and community organizers from around the country.

Throughout the week, local partners around the country will be hosting events, echoing the campaign’s call for Federal legislation banning racial profiling. Join a local event near you and take a stand against racial profiling. If you cannot make it to one of these events, consider pulling together a few family members and friends for a conversation about the detrimental effects of racial profiling on your community, or start a letter writing campaign to your local newspaper editors and reporters about the problems with the merger of the criminal justice and immigration systems. You can find other great ideas to do individually or collectively here.

Do stay tuned for the release of “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America,” a short documentary about racial profiling that we at Restore Fairness have produced in collaboration with the Rights Working Group. Also launching during the ‘Face the Truth Week of Actions,’ our powerful short film features stories told by individuals affected by racial profiling as well as educational interviews with notable law enforcement and  civil society leaders. The video includes interviews with Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center). It also  contains the compelling personal stories of Karwan Abdul Kader, a U.S citizen driving in the “wrong part of town” who made to strip down, was interrogated and then let go without even a citation; Ronald Scott (Detroit Coalition Against Policy Brutality) who points out the numerous instances of innocent lives lost as law enforcement clashes with racial profiling; and Juana Villegas, a Latino immigrant detained for a traffic violation while 9 months pregnant. Watch for this at restorefairness.org

Photo courtesy of northbynorthwestern.com

Time to counter hate and intolerance

Even as hate filled rhetoric continues to pump the airwaves, there are a number of initiatives calling to counter the intolerance.

Today, on August 28th, forty-seven years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial. His message gave voice to the voiceless and his vision promoted a just, equal, diverse and compassionate country. This year, as Brave New Films reminds us, a very different message is going to be spread from the very ground on which King once stood, where TV host Glenn Beck and Ex Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin will hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

The racist tenor of Beck, Palin and the Tea Party movement is in direct contrast to the noble vision of Dr. King.

Take the pledge to

stand with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a just, diverse and equal society and not stand with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their attempt to destroy and distort King’s vision.

Meanwhile the continued elevated controversy over the so called “ground-zero mosque” is evidence that almost a decade since the 9/11 attacks we haven’t communicated, therefore, we haven’t grown. Unfortunately, many Americans still associate Muslims and Islam directly with terrorists. The Unity Productions Foundations has started www.groundzerodialogue.org, a new website where you can view several of their award-winning PBS films online in their entirety speaking directly to the issues.

Films include: Talking through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque United a Community, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. And with UPF’s “20,000 Dialogues,” project you can host your own dialogue and bring people of different faiths together to watch films on the issues and then afterward open it up for discussion, so that the voices and opinions of everyone can be heard. To expand the reach and the power of the films UPF is working with PBS stations around the country to rebroadcast these films.

A quote from the movie Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet addresses a commonly wrongly made connection,

The acts of terror violence that have occurred in the name of Islam are not only wrong, they are contradictory to Islam.

Initiatives like these use the power of film to address the common goal of peace and tolerance. The great thing about America is that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, however it is important that it comes from a place of understanding and knowledge, rather than ignorance and hate.

Human rights in the United States? Where do we stand?

The United States has submitted its first ever report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a wide ranging report on human rights all 192 members of the United Nations are required to produce. Calling it “a roadmap for our ongoing work within our democratic system to achieve lasting change”, the report stressed the importance of the U.S. political system in safeguarding rights.

According to the Associated Press, “High unemployment rates, hate crime, poverty, poor housing, lack of access to health care and discriminatory hiring practices are among the challenges the report identified as affecting blacks, Latinos, Muslims, South Asians, Native Americans and gays and lesbians in the United States.”

The report was compiled from viewpoints and concerns of hundreds of people representing a diversity of communities and viewpoints at gatherings across the country. One strong focus for concern related to immigration and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.

According to the report, many Muslim, Arab-American, and South Asian citizens shared their experiences of intolerance. The government expressed the many measures it is undertaking to combat discrimination, including through the Attorney General’s ongoing review of the Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies which will recommend any changes that may be warranted. Much more can be done including rehauling the guidance, passing the End Racial Profiling Act and stopping agreements between federal immigration and local police.

The latter point surfaced in the report through reference to Arizona’s new law SB1070 and the 287(g) program, made famous by the anti-immigrant raids and tactics of Sheriff Arpaio. The Department of Homeland Security relies upon programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) which tie up local and state police with immigration enforcement. The report spoke of constant vigilance for safeguards that will prevent racial profiling and civil rights violations. In reality, these programs have inevitably lead to many racial profiling violations, providing an incentive to state and local police to arrest persons who look or sound “foreign” so that their immigration status may be checked.

The report also reference President Obama’s firm commitment to fixing our broken immigration system, a task that seems to be endlessly tied to political manoeuvrings.

Other issues touched upon include problems faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, with nearly a quarter of Native Americans living in poverty, unemployment with unemployment rates for African Americans at 15.8%, for Hispanics at 12.4%, and for whites at 8.8%, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

The Associated Press reports,

The report’s findings were cautiously welcomed by human rights activists but will likely draw fire from conservatives who opposed joining the council.

It is good to see the administration engage in a review of human rights, but more emphasis needs to be laid on fixing immigration, racial profiling concerns, prison conditions, death penalty issues and more.

Start a conversation that says no to racial profiling

In a recent USA Today poll, 71% of people said that they were in favor of racial profiling at airports. It is time to face the truth; racial and ethnic profiling at airports does not work.  In fact it makes us less safe. And moving away from airports, racial profiling occurs all over the country, targeting a number of communities including the Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

We think it is time to Face the Truth about racial profiling and speak out against it. Participate in a conversation against racial profiling and join the Rights Working Group for the launch of their campaign that seeks to drive home the message that racial profiling does not work. In fact, it makes our communities feel humiliated and degraded, in addition to making us feel less safe rather than more secure.

Racial profiling is an illegal, ineffective and degrading practice that violates constitutional protections and human rights.  While many have struggled with the consequences of being profiled, including being incarcerated and deported, communities rarely have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the facts, stories and realities of these events.

In order to educate individuals and communities across the country about the faces of racial profiling, why it is ineffective and what can be done to put an end to it, join into the Night of a 1,000 Conversations from February 22nd-28th to spread awareness and inspire action.

Why is the simple act of conversation so important. Here is an example of a testimonial from a previous conversation,

“None of the participants who were not born in the U.S. would commit to doing anything remotely political – write letters, make phone calls, etc.  Their fear of deportation was too great.  They viewed the evening’s activity as a safe space and while they were comfortable enough to share their thoughts on political climate re: immigration/detention/deportation, anything beyond personal conversation was not realistic.”

To get started, host a conversation or find one near you and join in. Visit www.nightof1000conversations.org for a toolkit, conversation resources and more to kick you off!

Photo courtesy of Rights Working Group.