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Reflecting on our loss and reclaiming our rights- new report and video on racial profiling post 9/11

From the Rights Working Group-

Last week, the Rights Working Group released a new report, Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America at a press conference. The report offers a variety of perspectives on the expansion of racial profiling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance, detention and access to private information impacted people of Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent along with migrants and people thought to be migrants.  The report also discusses how the issue of racial profiling – a longtime problem in black, Native American and Latino communities – became more widespread and far-reaching after 9/11 and how the broad congressional support for passing the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) in the summer of 2001 diminished. The report makes recommendations to the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Congress – among them is passage of ERPA – that would seek to not only prohibit racial profiling but provide greater oversight of law enforcement with regard to civil rights protections. [Read Report Here]

As a complimentary multimedia piece to the report, Breakthrough and Rights Working Group released Checkpoint Nation?  Building Community Across Borders last week. Filmed in Arizona, the documentary is about racial profiling, multiracial solidarity, and immigration enforcement at the border.

Early one morning, Maria—then nine months pregnant—and her family were stopped by the police for no discernible reason. A special breakfast outing became a nightmare—and at one of the most intimate moments of her life, Maria found a team of immigration agents—not her husband—by her side.

Maria’s chilling story is the centerpiece of “Checkpoint Nation?” a documentary that depicts the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling — as mandated by laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona, which are now being imitated and implemented nationwide — along with the new and strengthening alliances of diverse groups committed to racial justice.

Set in the U.S./Mexico border area near Tucson, Arizona, a region that sees more and more migrant deaths every year, the video explores the idea that the way to move forward is to find connections and build coalitions among between diverse groups of allies — including Muslim-, South Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans; civil rights lawyers and media activists — that have identified with each other’s histories and united in the common goals of justice, equality, and respect for all.

Ten years after 9/11, there is an urgent need to pass federal legislation to ban all forms of racial profiling, and to end programs and policies that result in racial profiling.  If you haven’t already, sign the petition to tell President Obama that it is time to end racial profiling.  [Sign the Petition Here]

Here’s what you can do to join the chorus calling for an end to racial profiling:


Watch the new Restore Fairness documentary, “Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders”

Early one morning, Maria—then nine months pregnant—and her family were stopped by the police for no discernible reason. A special breakfast outing became a nightmare—and at one of the most intimate moments of her life, Maria found a team of immigration agents—not her husband—by her side.

Maria’s chilling story, which Breakthrough captured on a trip to the Mexico/Arizona border, is the centerpiece of “Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders,” a powerful new documentary that depicts the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling — as mandated by laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona, which are now being imitated and implemented nationwide — along with the new and strengthening alliances of diverse groups committed to racial justice.

Set in the U.S./Mexico border area near Tucson, Arizona, a region that sees more and more migrant deaths every year, the video explores the idea that the way to move forward is to find connections and build coalitions among between diverse groups of allies — including Muslim-, South Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans; civil rights lawyers and media activists — that have identified with each other’s histories and united in the common goals of justice, equality, and respect for all.

“Checkpoint Nation?” was produced to complement the release of  a new report and Week of Action around the 10th anniversary of September 11th spearheaded by Rights Working Group, a  national coalition of more than 300 civil liberties, national security, immigrant rights and human rights organizations committed to restoring due process and human rights protections that have been eroded in the name of national security. The report, “Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America,” will be released September 14th.

The groups that are featured in the video are ACLU of ArizonaAlliance for Educational JusticeBlack Alliance for Just ImmigrationDerechos HumanosDRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving)Funding ExchangeVAMOS Unidos

Denying fairness and justice to some puts all of our freedoms at risk. Ten years after September 11th, we must challenge ourselves to unite across our differences and reaffirm the real American values of pluralism, democracy, and dignity for all.

Watch the video and take action to stop racial profiling in your community.

What does a world without civil liberties look like?

There are many examples of the steady dissolution of human rights in this post-9/11, “War on Terrorism” age in the United States. Racial profiling and the practice of preventive prosecution have disillusioned many who have traditionally seen the U.S. as a place where civil liberties thrive and the justice system is fair. Racial and religious profiling have become major causes for concern, and that is just one aspect of the web of increasingly stringent laws and security practices that have proliferated life in America since 9/11. The tragedy of that ill-fated day has translated into a continued state of paranoia, where basic values are ignored in the face of a potential or assumed threat.

One such story is that of Syed Fahad Hashmi, a U.S. citizen who has been through the worst of the American detention system after being accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. This “material support” involved letting an acquaintance stay with him, an acquaintance who later delivered winter clothing to Al Qaeda.

Hashmi’s story was recently retold in a compelling piece by his former Brooklyn College (CUNY) professor Jeanne Theoharis for The Chronicle of Higher Education. According to the account, Hashmi was a devout Muslim and very politically active, regularly voicing his criticisms of American policies in the Muslim world. While pursuing his master’s in London, Hashmi hosted an acquaintance – Mohammed Junaid Babar – who had brought luggage that he later handed over to an Al Qaeda leader in South Waziristan, in Pakistan. Hashmi was arrested on June 6, 2006 and held in custody for 11 months until his extradition to the United States. Hashmi was then placed in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, at first with some facilities. However, five months later, he was put under Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a measure that severely restricts a prisoner’s contact with the outside world and removes all sense of privacy. Under SAMs, Hashmi’s detention was described as follows-

[Hashmi] was allowed no contact with anyone outside his lawyer and, in very limited fashion, his parents—no calls, letters, or talking through the walls, because his cell was electronically monitored. He had to shower and relieve himself within view of the camera. He was allowed to write only one letter a week to a single member of his family, using no more than three pieces of paper. One parent was allowed to visit every two weeks, but often would be turned away at the door for bureaucratic reasons. [Hashmi] was forbidden any contact—directly or through his lawyers—with the news media. He could read only portions of newspapers approved by his jailers—and not until 30 days after publication. Allowed only one hour out of his cell a day, he had no access to fresh air but was forced to exercise in a solitary cage.

The government cited Hashmi’s “proclivity for violence” as a justification for the measures, even though he did not have a criminal record, did not exhibit any signs of violence or have a demonstrated reach outside of the prison. Over the next three years, Hashmi’s lawyers appealed the SAMs over 30 times, being rejected each time for one implausible reason after another. On April 27, 2010, Hashmi agreed to a plea bargain, with the government, of one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorism. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison not just for luggage that someone else had brought into his apartment, but also because of his “anti-American jihadist ideology,” according to Judge Preska. Hashmi made his first public statement in four years, thanking everyone, both Muslims and non-Muslims, for their support. Hashmi was later transferred to the federal high-security prison in Florence, Colorado and in March this year moved into its Supermax ADX facility, the most draconian prison in the federal system. Meanwhile, his once acquaintance Babar, who was the one to physically deliver winter clothing to Al Qaeda, was sentenced to “time served” (four and a half years out of a possible 70) for his “exceptional” service and because he “began co-operating even before his arrest.

While Hashmi’s true intentions – i.e. whether he was aware of his acquaintance’s Al Qaeda connection or if he had ever considered that route himself – are unknown, the outcry against his detention is more about the authorities completely denying him his right to basic human rights and civil liberites. This becomes even more deplorable especially since he is a U.S. citizen imprisoned in his own country. Hashmi’s case echoes other stories of racial and religious profiling that received much media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11. One of the stories was of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went missing on 9/11. Widespread speculation labeled him as a terrorist and an accomplice to those who carried out the attacks. However, a few months later, his remains were found near the World Trade Center wreckage and it became clear that he had died while being part of the rescue efforts.

Institutionalized racial and religious profiling deeply impacts the community at large and influences the public perception of specific groups that have been targeted by government and national security. In the ten years since 9/11, Arab-Americans and South Asians have increasingly become the targets of hate crimes around the country. In a recent instance, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down in a suburb of Sacramento without any provocation. The police indicated that there was a high chance of hate motivation for the crime.

Representative Peter King (R-NY), who had recently triggered much uproar about his Congressional hearings targeting Islam in the United States, has now added ethnic profiling to his earlier agenda. In a public television appearance on April 5, King stated that “a person’s religious background or ethnicity can be a factor, one of the things to look at.” This blatant push for religious and racial profiling instead of behavioral profiling is a foreboding sign that the issue will not be going away anytime soon. Until there is a change in this position, unfortunate stories of extreme incarceration, wrongful accusations and hate crimes will continue.

Hashmi’s former professor, Theoharis, sums up her thoughts on America’s tenuous handling of the terrorism threat, stating-

…Seeing that humanity is at odds with the political zeitgeist, where endless searches and small bottles of shampoo and fear-mongering subway posters have become the currency of national security. Where a growing obsession with homegrown terrorism means that we are again willing to chisel away the Bill of Rights in the name of protecting America.

This disintegration of the Bill of Rights for the sake of “national security” points to a future where the state of paranoia may quite likely run every facet of our lives. Such a dystopic future, where basic American values and human rights have been compromised, is the subject of Breakthrough’s ground-breaking new Facebook game, America 2049. In this alternate reality game, the player is tasked with the capture of a presumed terrorist and pushed to ask the question- What if? How close have we already come to America 2049? How can we work together—in real life—to build a better future? The game addresses issues such as racial profiling, religious intolerance, and sexual discrimination by presenting a scenario where wrong choices made today will adversely affect our future. And if the widespread cases of racial profiling and complete removal of civil liberties continue, as with the case of Hashmi, the virtual world of the future in America 2049 might come upon us much sooner than we think.

Photo courtesy of racism.conocimientos.com.ve

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

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.