September 24, 2007

Human-rights abuses at home

Malcolm X (1964 interview)


By David A. Love
Published by Progressive Media Project and Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
October, 1998

IN THE NEXT few months I will travel throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland on behalf of Amnesty International. I will not be investigating human-rights violations there. I will be discussing the human-rights violations that are occurring right here in the United States.

At the 12 universities where I will be giving presentations, I will draw attention to police brutality, prison cruelty, and capital punishment in the United States. My part is but a small role in Amnesty's unprecedented focus on the United States. For the first time in its 37-year history, the London-based organization has launched a major campaign in a Western nation.

As a kickoff to the year-long effort, Amnesty recently released a report called "United States of America: Rights for All." The 153-page report highlights a "persistent and widespread pattern of human-rights violations." The overwhelming majority of the victims are racial and ethnic

Police brutality is a longstanding problem throughout the United States. Some police departments are guilty of a pattern of abuse and misconduct. During traffic stops, searches, arrests, and investigations, police officers shoot, beat, choke, and hog-tie unresisting suspects. Civilians make thousands of complaints every year, and cities pay millions of dollars to settle police-abuse lawsuits. Nevertheless, few offending officers face severe punishment for their

Women and children are subjected to abuse in American prisons. As of June, at least 3,500 juveniles convicted as adults were placed in the same facilities as hardened adult criminals, exposing the teens to a high risk of sexual and physical violence. Female prisoners have been beaten, raped, and prostituted by prison guards. Many pregnant inmates are reportedly
shackled, some while in labor.

Prison officials in the United States also use electro-shock devices on inmates. These devices are banned in Canada and most of Europe. According to Amnesty International Secretary General Pierre Sane, "law-enforcement officials in the U.S.A. -- from police to prison staff-- have a huge array of equipment at their disposal, which at times is contributing to human-rights violations."

The most disturbing of these devices is the remote-control stun belt. At the push of a button, it shocks prisoners with 50,000 volts for eight seconds. According to the manufacturer, the belt can cause people involuntarily to defecate or urinate. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the U.S.
Marshal's Service, and more than 100 counties and 16 states, including Florida, use the stun belt.

Chain gangs are in use in several states, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin. Although chains and leg irons are forbidden by international law, U.S. law does not prohibit their use.

With more than 3,300 inmates awaiting execution, the United States has the largest Death Row population in the world -- many of them sentenced without adequate legal representation. The death penalty is applied in a racially biased manner in the United States.

Amnesty reports that since 1977, 82 percent of people executed were convicted of murdering whites, although blacks and whites are victimized by violent crime in nearly the same numbers. Further, the execution of mentally retarded and juvenile offenders in the United States violates
international standards.

The United States claims to be the protector of human rights around the world. In light of the Amnesty report, we have a lot of work to do right here at home.

Copyright © 1998 by David A. Love

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