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July 15, 2016, Rights Reading

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July 15, 2016

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. 

1. “UUs at Dallas protest say it was peaceful until shooter began firing,” Elaine McArdle, UU World, July 12, 2016

“As protests against the recent shooting deaths of two black men by police continue this week around the country, three young Unitarian Universalists who were at a protest in Dallas, Texas, last Thursday, where five police officers were murdered by a gunman, want people to know the protest had been peaceful, and that support for police and for racial justice are not mutually exclusive.”

Cameron Young, a 26-year-old white man from the Westside UU Church in Fort Worth, Tearyne Glover, 29, a black woman at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, and Ben Nelson, a 29-year-old white man who is also a member of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, were among the 800 people who marched in Dallas on July 7 to protest the shootings deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando castile, near St. Paul, Minnesota.

“Everything before [the shooting] was completely peaceful,” said Glover. “The police were respectful; they were there to be our security.” Nelson, who is also a member of Veterans for Peace, agreed. “It is awful it would happen at this protest because there were good relations between the police and the protesters. Everything was as good as it could be until that moment.” Young, who attended with his girlfriend, remembers “The message [at the protest] was essentially to stop or deter police brutality, primarily against people of color, and to lift up the disenfranchised and hold police accountable. It was very, very peaceful.”

The stories of these three young people add a chilling personal perspective to this terrible story. “Suddenly there was a stampede,” Nelson said. “I didn’t hear any gunshots, I think because there were so many people screaming, but I did smell gunpowder.”

But McArdle’s report also offers insights into the larger lessons we can all draw from the events in Dallas. “The thing that really pisses me off is [the shooter] used us to trap and target the police,” Glover said. The situation “is really tragic because [the shooter], he didn’t even like Black Lives Matter. He didn’t like us; he didn’t like the police. So in my personal opinion, when we didn’t get sufficiently angry enough, he just started popping off cops.”

Even with all the news that has come since Dallas – from Nice, France, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana – these eyewitness reports and reflections from people committed to the struggle for human rights are a reminder of the very personal way world events can touch each of us, sometimes with no warning. It’s a time more than ever for solidarity, empathy, and refusing to accept a world where violence seems to rule. Together with our friends and colleagues at UUA, UUSC stands with the people of Dallas, Minnesota, Nice, and Baton Rouge in defending everyone’s right to safety and self-expression in a world that needs these values more than ever.

2. “An L.G.B.T. Watchdog at the United Nations” Opinion, New York Times, July 1, 2016

The N.Y. Times’ Editorial Board’s brief endorsement of the creation of a global watchdog for discrimination and violence against L.G.B.T. people seems like a shorter-than-deserved mention of a significant event in the advancement of human rights at the United Nations.

As Charles Radcliffe, chief of global issues at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “This is a big deal. Ten years ago, you hardly heard the words ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ at the U.N.”

The fact that the initiative was introduced by Latin American countries with support from Europe is also telling, given resistance to programs protecting L.G.B.T. rights from Latin America not long ago. Opposition from African and Muslim countries was disappointing, but overall, the existence of this board is a promising development, and its activities bear watching.

UUSC is hopeful that U.N. support for L.G.B.T. rights will enable its African partner organizations to increase their efforts to advance their pioneering work to advance these rights and bring a new more just and welcoming world for all people in that continent.

3. “James Beard Foundation Announces their Leadership Award Recipients,” Lani Furbank, FoodTank, July 15, 2016

Another short bit of good news is the announcement that UUSC partner organization the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) is one of this year’s James Beard Foundation Award winners. Presentations are scheduled for October 17 in New York City.

Furbank writes, “Greg Asbed and Lucas Benitez, co-founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, are being recognized ‘for their innovative work in forging a new human rights model in the food industry supply chain.’”

Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism, notes that this award is well-deserved given the many contributions CIW has made in the field of economic justice for food workers across the United States. We invite you to stay up-to-date regarding UUSC’s collaborations with CIW, and while you’re online, don’t forget to congratulate CIW for receiving this award.

On a more serious note, Meredith Hoffman provides another eyewitness report, this one documenting the attempts of families and children trying to escape from Honduras to the United States, and the efforts of Mexican authorities to intercept them en route, detaining them and sending them back to Honduras. She tells the story of Theresa Reyes, who arrived back in the city of San Pedro Sula by bus from Mexico after she and her nephew Anselmo tried to make it to Texas.

Reyes told Hoffman, ‘”I need protection for him, because his mother was killed here and his sister is already in the US with asylum,’ explaining that a man had killed Anselmo’s mother after she refused to let him ‘get close’ to her children.

‘”Before it was beautiful and tranquil here,’ said Reyes, whose husband is also in the US seeking asylum after being threatened by drug dealers. ‘A person never would have thought to need to leave, to immigrate.’”

Hoffman’s story is remarkably detailed, including reporting on how asylum-seekers board the 1 am bus from Honduras to Guatemala in order to avoid the attention of the authorities, and how Mexican and U.S. immigration authorities refuse to recognize people like Theresa and Anselmo as asylum-seekers, treating them instead as economic migrants so they can be summarily returned “home.”

She notes that most returnees are committed to making repeated efforts to get to the United States, including Theresa and Anselmo. They risk exploitation and danger at the hands of “coyotes” who charge them $3,000 each to start their journey to the United States – a fee that includes up to three attempts given how often they fail to make it to their destination. “Then if we cross the US border we pay him $3,000 more,” Reyes told Hoffman.

The searing details of kidnappings and the health risks of long walks across desserts followed by nights sleeping in the wilderness make this a must-read for people seeking to learn more about the human side of today’s Central American migration crisis, including details about the dangers at home that make these risks worthwhile for asylum-seekers, and the experiences of immigrants who have made it to the United States only to face discrimination and denial of due process.

Read more about UUSC’s migrant justice work and details about the continuing efforts of our partner organizations in the United States to advocate for the rights of asylum-seekers once they arrive at the end of their perilous journeys.

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