Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Legal Killing and Criminalization of Homosexuality

The world has been facing a human rights issue that has been getting progressively worse in the turn of the 21st Century. Homosexuals are persecuted in the majority of Africa, the Middle East, and other states around the world. Western ideals of what a human right are rejected under through religion and nationalism. Barbaric means are used to legally murder homosexuals for “cleansing” of the nation. While homosexuality and expression tolerance is being progressively protected amongst wealthy and secular democratic states, the rest of the world continues to persecute homosexuals by taking their basic human rights. A voice must be given to the suppressed and it starts with us individuals. Action must be taken to represent this hidden minority and bring justice to victims of hate.
Currently, homosexuality can be punishable by death in over 40 states around the world. There are at least 79 countries where homosexuality is illegal. In Africa, 38 out of the 53 nations discriminate against homosexuality is some way. In Africa’s most populous state, Uganda, homosexuality can range between a 14-year sentence for homosexual “acts” upwards to a lifetime sentence or even a death sentence for “aggravated homosexuality.” The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, signed the “Kill the Gays Bill” on February 24th, 2014 making homosexuality illegal. A few weeks after this legislation was signed, several instances of mobs entering homosexuals’ homes to viciously assault them in the name of cleansing occurred. The participants in these beatings were protected under Ugandan law. Thankfully though, the Constitutional Court of Uganda delayed the bill’s policy for death, but homosexuality itself is still illegal and punishable by the state. Also, while the bill was still in law, an undocumented amount of homosexuals were detained and tortured. Those involved in the torturing were given amnesty. These homophobic laws have existed since British colonial rule in hopes of preventing “unnatural sex.” Public opinion of Africa is overwhelming against homosexuality because of their strong desire to keep African culture as well as Christian ideals. The only nation in Africa that supports same-sex rights are South Africa and Namibia; underdeveloped states like Mali and the Congo do not have express laws against homosexuality, but all of these states have turned a blind eye to protecting the rights of homosexuals. “Curative/Corrective Rape” or the rape of lesbians by men and other hate driven crime such as vandalism, blackmail, and physical assault happens every day in these states with minimal action by police. Even though Uganda’s government does not directly murder their homosexual population, plenty of other nations still do. Any instance of a state killing its citizens is a direction violation to the right to life as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Yemen, married men have been sentenced to death by stoning since 1994. Married women face up to seven years in prison. The same stoning law exists in Saudi Arabia. Iran, Qatar, Somalia. Most of these states impose sharia law to sentence homosexual intercourse to death by either stoning or other methods. Flogging or imprisonment is legal for minor acts such as kissing, assembling in homosexual clubs/bars, or even for holding hands.
Changing the world starts with a change in our priorities. Protecting homosexuals from having their basic human rights stolen and their dignity ignored is critical to end the injustices committed in these countries. Rape, murder, disease, and hate continues to be embraced by governments rather than tolerance, peace, and healing. Religion must be taken out of government, especially when that religion advocates for the killing of a group of people. When those ideal trump the humanity of another human being, we as a society remain separated. Education is also important in stopping injustice. Ignorance of the unknown becomes fear, that fear becomes hate, and that hate fosters the growth of injustice. As stated above, one should not sit idly by waiting for their government to demand justice for the defenseless, that change must be demanded by each individual person who can help.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Death Penalty and Wrongful Executions

“Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” are three rights guaranteed to us by our government in the Declaration of Independence. A government which swears to uphold those rights; enshrining their importance by deeming them “inalienable.” The 14th Amendment of the Unites States Constitution likewise states, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Yet there appears to be a double standard, or rather an incongruence between the words which built our government and the actions they employ to achieve the perceived intent of those words. If “life” is a right that we are naturally entitled to, how can our government withhold the power to remove it?

Personally I believe that “life” is a right which can never be deprived. Yet, in a purely theoretical viewpoint you can argue that an eye for an eye could potentially qualify as Justice. While I might not agree with you, I concede there may be a legitimate foundation for such a claim to stand on. However, one of the flaws I find in the “eye for an eye” theory is that the margin for error is far too great. What if you’re wrong, and what if the “due process” isn’t as infallible as we are led to believe? An eye for an eye may not be an injustice to some, but losing an eye for doing nothing is. And because there is no way to ensure that you are always correct in your evaluation and investigation, such actions should never be taken.

I’m not merely alleging the government has wrongfully deprived someone of the right to life before; it is a data-driven fact. A study conducted by Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan and Barbara O’Brien of Michigan State was analyzed by Time magazine. According to Time, “Authors of the study say that their ‘conservative estimate of the proportion of erroneous convictions’ is 4.1 percent’... This could mean that approximately 120 of the roughly 3,000 inmates on death row in America might not be guilty… ”   A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences led to startling conclusions. Newsweek, who wrote an analysis of the study, deduced, “Since 1973, 144 people on death row have been exonerated. As a percentage of all death sentences, that's just 1.6 percent. But if the innocence rate is 4.1 percent, more than twice the rate of exoneration, the study suggests what most people assumed but dreaded: An untold number of innocent people have been executed.”

A quintessential example of an innocent man being executed occurred in 2004, when Cameron Todd Willingham was killed by lethal injection for allegedly murdering his three children by means of arson. He was convicted due to forensic experts who testified that he intentionally set fire to the house. As innocenceproject.org explains, “Thirteen years later, in the days leading up to Willingham’s execution, his attorneys sent the governor and the Board of Pardon and Parole a report from Gerald Hurst , a nationally recognized arson expert, saying that Willingham’s conviction was based on erroneous forensic analysis. Documents obtained by the Innocence Project show that state officials received that report but apparently did not act on it.”  Willingham was then executed. Several months after his death, the Chicago Tribune released an investigative report which found the evidence used against Willingham to be fallacious and unfounded.

The death penalty is the outcome of Due Process, which is symbolic of the system of achieving Justice in America. According to UMBC Professor Jeffrey Davis, “Justice should be conceptualized as a process whose purpose is to reconstitute the equilibrium of human dignity and not simply as an end result.” He goes on to assert that you “can’t just look at guilty or not guilty, because you ignore its contributions to transitional justice.” The death penalty takes a process that should be continuous and makes it finite, and in doing so forever robs the 4% of individuals, such as Willingham, who are innocent on death row of the opportunity to seek their own justice. The justice system is not perfect. That is a fact. We must acknowledge that reality by banning the death penalty. Justice can be achieved in other ways, and the death penalty – which many view as the ultimate form of retribution – is only a temporary means of appeasement. Justice is a flawed process, but a process everyone is entitled to nonetheless. Murdering someone who isn’t guilty of the crimes they have been convicted deprives them of their right to life and their right to benefit from the process of Justice, but murdering someone who truly is guilty of the crimes they have been convicted for, still deprives someone of their right to life and only temporarily satisfies those who are seeking Justice in its most holistic form.

I encourage you to join the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a group which consists of 90 million Americans who explicitly believe the death penalty is wrong. Take their pledge, and use the tools on their site to keep yourself, and others, informed on this injustice.


The Central Park Five
            On April 19, 1989, a woman, later to be revealed as Trisha Meili, was running on a pathway in Central Park. During her jog, she was struck over the head with a tree branch and subsequently dragged into the woods of Central Park. In the shrubbery of Central Park, her assailant raped her. Five boys were charged with the assault, rape, and sodomy of Trisha Meili. These five teenagers, however, did not commit the crime.
            On the evening of April 19, 1989, a group of over twenty-five teenagers entered Central Park. The group was violent; throwing rocks at cars, harassing people on bikes, and beating the homeless. Five boys of African American and Hispanic descent were part of this group; Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Kharey Wise, and Yusef Salaam. Their ages ranged from 14 to 16 during the time of the attack. When the police appeared at the scene, the boys ran. Initially, Richardson and Santana were the first of the five boys picked up and taken to the Central Park Precinct for unlawful assembly. Just as they were to be released, passersby found the woman in the park, and the detectives kept the boys at the station, under the guise of paperwork issues. McCray, Salaam and Wise were picked up the next day, though Wise was not initially a suspect in the case. The officers say the two of them hanging around together, so they brought him down to the precinct with Salaam. McCray was taken from his home later the next day.
            The issue in this case is clear; these children were arrested for a crime that they played no part in. However, what is more appalling is the role the detectives and prosecutors had in the indictment of the boys. The detectives began the interrogation of the boys with the belief that they had sexually assaulted and abused Meili. The boys initially began the interrogation insisting on telling the truth, that they had no knowledge of who this woman was. But the detectives were persistent and unyielding in their attempts to get the boys to support the narrative that they believed in. They screamed, yelled, spit on the boys, and told them things like “oh this is the prick right here. Yea he don’t wanna tell us what happened. You know you fu*king did it. You stuck your fu*king di*k in her.” They told the boys blatant lies, like Salaam’s prints were found on the woman’s pants. The interrogation of these boys lasted between 14 and 30 hours. The police officers purposefully tried to wear the suspects down with abusive and unfounded tactics. They knew that putting the boys in a state of despair would encourage them to say anything that would allow them to be released from the precinct. McCray’s father even told his son to tell the cops whatever they wanted to hear so they could go home.
            The police officers further placed pressure on the boys by playing the prisoners’ dilemma with the teenagers. In separate rooms, they told the individuals that the other males were placing the place on blame on them. It was only at this point that the boys let go of the truth, that they were innocent, and began making up stories that condemned the other boys. The cops coached the boys, asking them leading questions, such as “where was Kevin?” At that point, the boys simply played along because they wanted to go home. When an undeveloped juvenile is stressed and placed in an overwhelming situation, all his or he brains is calculating is how to go home.
            Furthermore, the prosecutors in this case, Elizabeth Lederer and Linda Fairstein, operated not only as prosecutors but also as investigators with the Manhattan North cops.  When it was first discovered that the boys did not commit the crime after the true perpetrator, Matias Reyes, confessed, 13 years after the conviction, the police department commissioned a panel to go over what happened during the case. The commission found that the prosecutors and detectives did nothing wrong, only furthering the problem of institutional protectionism. It was extremely important for Fairstein to be sheltered, as her entire career was built on this case. Lederer teaches at Columbia Law School, and the school removed all mention of the case from her biography, though it still allows her to teach there.
            The prosecutors in this case eventually discovered that there was no DNA evidence present to support that the boys were anywhere near Meili during the time of her rape. Even knowing this, the prosecutors decided to proceed with the case and based it entirely on the false and forced confessions of the teenagers.
            The injustices present in this case stem from the shortcomings in the criminal justice system. The abuse of authority, both by the detectives and prosecutors in this case, was not rectified even after Reyes admitted to committing the crime. There was no person or group that held these officers accountable to their misuse of power. We see this problem rampant in society even today, with cases such as Freddie Gray. Police brutality is an obstinate problem that has seen little to no change. Oversight is the only way to fix this abuse of power, and not just selective oversight. Everyone must be held to the same standards in order to ensure that each person is provided and protected by the rights that they intrinsically have by being a US citizen. 
            Perhaps the most important consideration as to why this injustice occurred is the answer to why these specific boys were prosecuted for the crime. Reality and justice were not the reason for the conviction, but rather their roles as proxies for other agendas. In the late 1980s, racism and classism was rampant in New York. The city was divided into those flourishing from the economic boom, and the criminal underclass. Crack was introduced to the city in large doses in 1984, and those blamed for the crimes in the City were actually the victims of these horrifying crimes, black and brown kids. The racism environment during the time made it easy for the prosecution to paint a picture for the jury; a group of black and Hispanic kids raped and maimed a white woman. The public was not concerned with finding the truth, but rather blaming the scapegoat.

            The most important way to combat these injustices is education. Educating the public, educating youth of the rights they have when speaking to the authorities. New York City public school teacher Jeena Lee-Walke was just recently fired for doing exactly that, for teaching her students about the injustices found in The Central Park Five case. On an individual level, students can rally behind Lee- Walke and sign a petition to disagree with her termination(http://action.18mr.org/jlw-doe/). Additionally, there is a petition circulating to fire Lederer from Columbia Law School(https://www.credomobilize.com/petitions/columbia-university-law-school-fire-elizabeth-lederer-as-lecturer-in-law). PBS also sponsors a discussion on the issues present in the case(http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/discussion/).

Works Cited
"The Central Park Five"- directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon, produced by Sundance Selects, WETA, Florentine Films, PBS, and The Central Park Five Film Project

Justice for Shaken Baby Syndrome Victims

Shaken Baby Syndrome(SBS) is an injury a baby cause by being shaken violently and repeatedly.  The shaken can cause swelling of the brain, internal bleeding detached retinas leading to blindness, mental problem, and death.  It’s a severe form of physical child abuse that result in an injury to the brain of an infant child which is Abusive Head Trauma(AHT).  All the victims suffer serious form long-term health and medical problem range from vision problems, development delay, physical disabilities, and hearing loss and one of every four child die.  In the United States, between $1500 to over $10,000 Shaken Baby Syndrome cases are reported each year.  The children who suffer from shaken baby syndrome range from ages 3 months to 4-year age.  The average hospital bills range to over $150,000 and the life time treatment cost over $180,00.  Most of the cost are not over by insurance and family have to pay out of pocket expenses. The perpetrators are normal the father or mother, other family members, friends, and caregivers that causes this violent crime against an innocent child.
            The reason why SBS is a justice issue because not all of the perpetrator are punished that same for the crime.   There is no retribution in most of these case, when all evident are presented the perpetrator are not punished or pay its debt to society.  The criminal case can take up to three to six years are long depend on the state justice system.  The perpetrator will only receive jail or prison time only is the child die and than it become a murder charge.  The injustice, when the child doesn’t die and the perpetration don’t face jail time and only receive suspended probation for two years depend on the they criminal records.  The time frame of the criminal proceeding takes such as long time, it makes it hard to file a civil suit because of the statute of limitations.  Most states statutes of limitation range from one to three years to file a civil suit and if the criminal case is not completed not civil law suit can be filed.
            The story of Baby Kimar, at 14 months became a victim of Shaken Baby Syndrome in the hand of her Child Care Provider.  The perpetrator was charge with a Class C felony in Fayetteville, NC.  The criminal proceeding taken three years to completed and because of the timing, the statute of limitations had run out.  The perpetrator only received two years suspended probation because of a guilty plea and could only be around her own children.  There was no trial and no explanation on why the perpetrator injury the child.  Another a mother whom daughter was also a victim of SBS and waited six years for the trial to complete.  Upon that six years the case was dismiss and perpetrator charges was drop.  The was no no justice for either mother and many other families that have to deal with the disappointment.
            The action that should be taken for justice is to have all child abuse cases should be treated the same.  The same sentence should be carry for both murder and attempted murder towards a child.  The time frame for any child abuse that have a long term health consequence should be reduce so that justice is served in those cases.  Make SBS a Crime that the charges will be time serve in jail/prison whether or not the child live or die.  The Federal and State Law need to be the same across the board with the charges for SBS.
            Congress has a Bill called the S.3003-Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Act of 2010, that set out the ways to stop SBS.  The CDC also have information for family and child care provider to inform the society about the danger SBS and what can happen to a child.  We need a awareness to allow people to know about the punishment that will happen if you commit a crime like this to child.