Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.


True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

Rights Reading

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. This week we wanted to highlight articles on the Black Lives Matter movement and celebrate that work as Black History Month comes to a close.

A Black Lives Matter sign being held at a rally

Black Imagination, A Vital Way Forward, Huffington Post, Shanelle Matthews, February 1, 2017

“Today marks the first day of the third annual Black Futures Month (BFM), a month-long celebration where Black people visualize the kind of world we need and want. A visionary spin on Black History Month, BFM is designated space to both meditate on our history, and equally as importantly, to imagine the building blocks of a society where we affirm our right to thrive.”

Black Lives Matter Finds ‘Renewed Focus’ 5 Years After Trayvon Martin, NPR, February 27, 2017

“What we’ve seen over the last five years is the popularization of protest and the willingness of both media but also Hollywood to talk about Black Lives Matter unapologetically.”

It’s been five years since the death of Trayvon Martin, a Black, unarmed, teenager who was shot by George Zimmerman during neighborhood watch. Zimmerman’s acquittal caused outrage and protests and was the impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In this interview NPR spoke with one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), Patrisse Khan-Cullors, and she shared her thoughts on the movement today and the current political climate. In the interview, Khan-Cullors acknowledges the BLM movement is decentralized, but believes it is necessary since there isn’t just one solution to ending racism and police brutality against people of color. This has been effective and will ultimately create a world in where Black lives really matter.

Despite Trump’s election as our president, Khan-Cullors does not feel defeat. She believes the election has actually shown that the movement has become powerful and that the movement now has a renewed focus and has shifted from being a reactive movement to a more proactive one, with long-term strategy and vision.

STUDY: Police Kill Unarmed Black Civilians at Higher Rates Than White, Colorlines, Yessenia Funes, February 9, 2017

A study, A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015, released last month, found that police officers are two times more likely to kill an unarmed Black person than a white one. The study looked at nearly 1,000 police killings in 2015 and tested variables such as mental illness and crime rates, but found implicit bias to be the main factor in these killings.

The study also found that other unarmed minorities were more likely to be killed by police than white people and that white civilians were more likely to attack police officers back. Authors made recommendations, such as police using body cameras and having additional training as a way to combat police violence, as well as a deeper study that looks into other forms of police violence, not just fatal incidences, to examine the issue further.

Google Just Dropped $11,000,000 to Make Sure #BlackLivesMatter, The Root, Michael Harriet, February 24, 2017

Google wants to use technology and data to look at bias in the criminal justice system and believes that better data can help with research and accountability, and has pledged $11.5 million to support the effort. The money will go to organizations “focused on ending mass incarceration, keeping youth of color out of the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming the criminal-justice system.”

This is not the first time Google has given generously to this cause. In 2015 and 2016, Google gave over $5 million to organizations in Northern California working to end systemic racism in prisons and schools.

Other articles celebrating Black History, Black Futures, and Black Lives Matter we recommend: