MCCRC joins “Close Guantanamo” call to action next week; see you at Takoma Metro

Close Guantanamo, Jan 2015 demonstration at Lafayette Park in Washington DC.

Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition is joining national groups including “World Can’t Wait,” Amnesty International, BORDC/DDF, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), and others in calling for action next week on January 11th, the 14th anniversary of the establishment of the Guantanamo internment camp — a stain on American history and respect for the rule of law.

You can join January 11th actions at…

From the “Call to Action” (NRCAT link):

…Now is the time for Obama to accomplish a central goal of his administration by closing Guantánamo. There is today a renewed climate of fear and hate reminiscent of the post-September 11 mindset that led to torture and indefinite detention in the first place.  Guantánamo is the bitter legacy of a politics of fear, which must be rejected.

This is the President’s last chance to keep his promise and close Guantánamo.  If he does not do so, there is a real chance that the current detainees will die there, and that more detainees will join them.

We cannot let that happen.  Close Guantánamo now.

The statement also makes the important points that President Obama should order all agencies to read the Senate Torture Report, and have the Department of Justice open investigations into the criminal conduct of many involved.

While there’s been a spate of good news recently — Shaker Amer‘s release on October 30, the announcement of the release of 17 more detainees on December 17th — that will still leave 90 detainees incarcerated without trial at the U.S. naval base in Cuba… many despite being okayed for release years ago.  On Saturday, the New York Times editorial board observed that failure to release many of these prisoners was nothing short of “insubordination” by the Pentagon.  To be sure, recent legislative and political maneuverings have been complex. But at the end of the day it can be as simple as this chilling absurdity, tucked away in a recent Rolling Stone article by Janet Reitman (“America’s Shame“):

During one recent set of 9/11 hearings, an attorney for one of the defendants said she couldn’t advise her client of his rights “because I frankly don’t know what they are.” The judge didn’t seem to be sure either.

A place where no one is sure rights even exist any more is not a place to get used to, it’s a place that’s far too dangerous to all of us.  Join us next Monday to tell the White House, Congress, America, and the world: either give Guantanamo prisoners a fair trial or, if that isn’t possible, let them go. And close Guantanamo now.

=====

Resource pages on Guantanamo:

 

 

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Happy New Year! 2015 in review

Happy New Year!  There’s still time for a quick look back at 2015, an active one for MCCRC.

Here’s an excerpt from the WordPress blog summary:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,900 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top posts for 2015 (views)

  1. (479) SB0566 and LEOBOR reform in Maryland — what is it, why is it needed?
  2. (335) Takoma Park City Council passes resolution welcoming Syrian refugees 6-0
  3. (188) Civilian Review Boards: activist and association views
  4. (173) Law Enforcement Officers “Bill of Rights” reform hearings: a report — and next steps
  5. (172) Police body cameras: eyes on us, not on them?
  6. (158) Coalition for Justice and Equality marches on Annapolis on Martin Luther King Day
  7. (141) Police reform town hall builds resolve for Annapolis March 12 action
  8. (138) Wheaton Mall “#BlackLivesMatter” die-in set for New Year’s Day (12/30/14)
  9. (116) ACLU MD Briefing Paper: at least 109 deaths in Maryland police encounters
  10. (113) Maryland body camera legislation — on its way to “worse than nothing”
  11. (106) Proposed Syrian refugee resolution for the city of Takoma Park

Obviously, #BlackLivesMatter and police reform issues predominated in 2015, followed by a late year focus on pushing back against the not-so-hidden Islamophobia revealed by our governor’s grandstanding on Syrian refugees.   We’re proud of the organizing, reporting, and writing done during the 2015 legislative session; particular shout-outs go to Elsa Lakew, organizer of several actions in the early part of the year, and Fran Pollner, a stalwart participant in town hall planning and a great reporter during the 2015 legislative session in Annapolis.

We plan to take up in 2016 where we left off in 2015: keeping after police reform in Maryland, and re-engaging with issues like indefinite detention, surveillance, and criminalization and marginalization of dissent.  We hope you’ll join us — our next meeting is this Tuesday in Silver Spring, see the “Upcoming events” sidebar for details.

 

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Freedom2Boycott: email your Annapolis delegation today!

screenshot-www freedom2boycott com 2015-11-28 01-18-12The “Freedom2Boycott” coalition is a “coalition of groups and individuals advocating for free speech rights in the State of Maryland in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) that promote social justice in Israel/Palestine.”  It was formed by Saqib Ali (Equality for Eid), Alison Glick (Jewish Voice for Peace/DC Metro), and many others after learning of plans to introduce an anti-BDS bill in Annapolis in the coming legislative session.

Now the group has developed an legislative emailing system — “Tell Your Legislator: Oppose Maryland’s Anti-BDS Bill!” — that uses your home address to help you contact your Annapolis delegation (three delegates and a senator) with a message saying you oppose that too.  An excerpt:

…Boycotts are a nonviolent tool that have been used by movements for human rights and social justice for generations. The Supreme Court has ruled that boycotts are political speech and are thus protected by the First Amendment.

Any legislation that seeks to suppress political speech or discriminates against a particular viewpoint violates the First Amendment. There is no First Amendment exception that allows the state to punish Palestinian human rights advocacy—anti-BDS legislation is unconstitutional.  […]

I’m writing to request that you oppose any anti-BDS legislation and especially to make sure that you do not to co-sponsor it. Instead, please support legislation that would explicitly guarantee that the state of Maryland will not sanction any boycott movement which seeks to increase human or civil rights.

Feel free to add your own words to the message as well.

MCCRC is proud to be associated with this vital effort to defend free speech and free association in Maryland.  It’s often the case that social justice movements are forced to defend even their right to speak out and organize — that happened during the abolition movement in the U.S., with the civil rights movement, and with the movement to end apartheid in South Africa, to name just a few.  Freedom of speech, of petition, and of association was ultimately upheld for each of those issues, but not without a struggle; we hope you’ll join that struggle again.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sign up with “Maryland Welcomes Refugees”

MCCRC and Peace Action Montgomery are collaborating to build a network of volunteers committed to welcoming refugees — Syrian or otherwise — to our county and our state. To join that effort, just add your name and contact information to the form below:

The form is also available as a standalone web page at http://bit.ly/md4refugees.

To learn more about the issue and progress in welcoming refugees to Maryland, have a look at this resource page developed by Peace Action Montgomery, or numerous refugee-themed posts at this site.; we recommend particularly…

As activity increases, we are likely to move this effort to a web site of its own. Meanwhile, to get in touch with “Maryland Welcomes Refugees” leadership, you can contact md4refugees@gmail.com; to follow related news, follow @md4refugees on Twitter.

Posted in Post | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Comfort Oludipe, MCPD Chief Manger in Germantown public meeting next Tuesday

Let us know you’re coming, and invite friends at the Facebook event page.

Comfort Oludipe  –“Mama Emmanuel”, the mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, slain in 2011 by Montgomery County police — will hold a press conference in Germantown next Tuesday, followed by a community conversation with Chief Thomas Manger of the MCPD and other police officials.

  • WHERE: Seneca Community Church, 13900 Berryville Road, Germantown MD
  • WHEN: Tuesday, December 15 -5:30 press conference, 6:30-8:30 community conversation
  • JOIN US and INVITE FRIENDS at a Facebook event page for the press conference.

Ms. Oludipe shared her story  at a town hall meeting in Takoma Park last February.  Her son was slain in downtown Silver Spring with a closed circuit TV capturing footage of the incident — only for that footage to be mysteriously lost when her attorney came looking for it. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo (HandsUpCoalition DC) has an extensive account of the case at Black Agenda Report.

At February’s town hall, Ms Oludipe said “I never thought it would happen to me… I raised our children that police officers are our friends.  […]  I strongly believe that the only thing that was wrong about that boy that day was the color of his skin.  […] Don’t get me wrong – there are good cops and there are bad cops. […] the bad elements out there are giving you good cops a bad name.”

Writing to me today, she added,

“My main objective is to get justice for my son, not interested in Revenge but Justice, the truth needs to be told and justice must prevail. God help me also wants to make sure no mother will have to bury their child just because they have black or brown skin. Please do all that you can to help me achieve these goals.”

Learn more, invite friends, and let us know you’re coming at the Facebook event page we’ve set up.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

One vigil, divisible, with liberty and justice for some

Vigil-goers carry candles to commemorate Colorado Springs and San Bernardino gun violence victims.  Click here for slideshow.

Last Friday night, a decent, heartfelt response to the horror and grief of the San Bernardino mass killings was transformed into a pep rally for a disquieting information gathering and intervention program — connecting clergy and law enforcement — called “the Montgomery County Model,” as well as that program’s main proponents: chief architect Dr. Hedieh Mirahmadi and the little-known Montgomery County government-clergy alliance she co-chairs, the “Faith Community Working Group” (FCWG).

The vigil, organized by the Council on American Islamic Relations and hosted by Silver Spring’s Muslim Community Center, was supposed to simply “remember victims of gun violence and to condemn the recent mass shootings in Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif.”

That’s certainly what most vigil-goers had in mind.  For my part, I also just wanted to stand by a community I have some friends in; the Washington Post article “After Paris and California attacks, U.S. Muslims feel intense backlash” described American Muslims worried to send their children to school, nearly being run down by car drivers, or finding bullet-riddled Korans on their doorsteps.  CAIR outreach organizer Zainab Chaudry had also invited clergymembers of many faiths to stand together with the Muslim community, and to their credit many answered the call in just that spirit.

But starting with keynote speaker Rev. Mansfield Kaseman — “Interfaith Community Liaison” of Montgomery County’s Office of Community Partnerships  —  and continued by some of the following speakers, it became clear that a second agenda was also being pursued: touting the FCWG, touting the “Montgomery County Model,” and touting Ms. Mirahmadi, president of “World Organization for Resource Development and Education” (WORDE) and its Montgomery Village-based International Cultural Center (ICC).

What exactly is the “Montgomery County Model“?  This WORDE description starts off as a typical recitation of nonprofit sector catchphrases, but soon veers off into startling territory:

Our Four Part Model
ENGAGE: The model builds community resilience by incorporating a wide range of stakeholders, including faith community leaders, public officials, law enforcement officers, educators, social service providers, and civic activists. Together, they create a network of trusted adults who can intervene in the lives of troubled individuals.
EDUCATE: A cornerstone of the program is specialized training and community workshops that generate awareness of the various public safety threats, including radicalization and recruitment to violent extremism.
CONNECT: Stakeholders are connected with public and private resources that can provide mental health counseling and other direct services for vulnerable members of the community.
INTERVENE: Interventions are facilitated by professionals who are trained to reduce potential risk factors of violent extremist behavior, using a culturally competent, trauma-informed framework. The interventions can be part of a prevention scheme or set up as a diversion program in lieu of incarceration.

A lengthier description by WORDE — originally downloaded from the Department of Homeland Security — notes that the program receives both county and Department of Justice funding. WORDE also acknowledges that the whole thing is about the Muslim community — they’re just trying to “reduce the stigma” by involving other faiths too:

The Montgomery County Model (MCM) is an initiative developed by WORDE, in partnership with the Montgomery County Police Department. […] The MCM is best described as an early-warning system targeted towards the intervention and prevention of violent extremism through four interrelated parts. First is engaging and convening a wide range of public and private stakeholders, which includes diverse faith community leaders, public officials, law enforcement officers, educators, social service providers, and county agencies. This inclusive approach is specifically designed to reduce the stigma on Muslim communities by including a broad spectrum of other partners.”

To be fair, there’s nothing (so far) to conclusively demonstrate a particular focus of the MCM program on the Montgomery County Muslim community.  In videotaped remarks (at the same Muslim Community Center in September 2013), Montgomery County Police Chief Manger strenuously denied that’s all the program is for. But to be just as fair, MCM was developed in response to the Boston Marathon attacks, and Dr. Mirahmadi’s bio suggests a career in counterterrorism within Muslim communities, whether at home or abroad.

Who spots potential bad guys? The same bunch: “this wider circle of trusted adults to recognize the warning signs of an at risk individual so they can refer him/her for an intervention before he/she turns to violence.” What happens then? “…public and private stakeholders, as well as the general public, can refer at-risk individuals for an intervention.” Yet another description states that we hope to create a reliable and effective relationship between government/law enforcement and the community experts [social workers, psychologists, mentors/teachers, and clergy] to intervene in cases where mentoring or counseling could deter an individual from the path of violence.”

FCWG clergy member speaks

So what’s the problem?  Surely it’s great to spot “vulnerable” souls in our midst and put them back on the straight and narrow path to success?

Without knowing more specifics, it’s hard to say — and the opacity of this “public-private partnership” program seems a problem in its own right.  But potentially, here are a few concerns:

  • Distrust of formerly trusted clergy: Congregant A might have reported concerns about congregant B to Imam X before the program; now she might not, for fear of getting B tangled up with the police or FBI.
  • Unwarranted consequences, lack of due process: Do people entering the intervention pipeline (WORDE’s “Crossroads” program) simultaneously enter law enforcement watch lists? Who decides? Do they find themselves unable to board a plane later on?
  • Chilling/sanctioning of protected speech: Imagine congregant C is upset about, say, Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, and says an angry word or two online — noted by Reverend Y, who passes on the information … which ultimately lands in the database of homeland security agency Z, never to be expunged. Thanks to the “Montgomery County Model,” C’s protected speech might be turned into a life-changing black mark because of Y’s misjudgment.

Continue reading

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Legislative hearing — or legislator hectoring? Del. Kramer vs. Freedom2Boycott

Open letter to Delegate Ben Kramer from Freedom2Boycott leadership team member Alison Glick; click for full text.

Freedom2Boycott in Maryland has released excellent, point by point answers, by chairperson Alison Glick, to Maryland Delegate Ben Kramer’s questioning of Peace Action Montgomery’s Whit Athey at the November 18th “legislative priority hearing” in Rockville.

As such, the statement serves as a kind of “Frequently Asked Questions” document about the “BDS” (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against the Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights abuses; everyone concerned about the Middle East and United States foreign policy should read it.

But the Freedom2Boycott document is also simply a model of civil, democratic discourse — in stark, unfortunate contrast to Delegate Kramer’s supercilious, hectoring performance (video) following the Freedom2Boycott speaker panel warning of possible legislation to penalize boycotts of Israel.

The entire episode showed just how distorted legislator-citizen relations can become when legislators believe they are entitled to stamp out speech or bully speakers they consider illegitimate.  After all, what is the purpose of a “legislative priority hearing” like the one the Montgomery County delegation convened on November 18th in the first place?  According to a letter sent by Delegate Kirill Reznick, such hearings are

“….used as an opportunity for us to hear the concerns and priorities of Montgomery County residents as we head into the 2016 session.

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)

Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19)

That is, when you hold a hearing, some, well, hearing is supposed to happen.  Not during Delegate Kramer’s eight minute harangue, though, which worked out to nearly 3 minutes per “question” asked — i.e., “questions” lasting about as long as most mere county residents got to speak —  and in which Delegate Kramer repeatedly cut off answers to page-long statements with imperious interjections like “it’s a simple question – yes or no?”  It was as if the County Council chamber in Rockville had suddenly turned into some kind of Twilight Zone episode of a House Un-American Activities Committee.

Summing up: at a hearing about Montgomery County priorities, a group of county citizens presented good reason to believe their priorities would be run over roughshod — and one of their own county’s delegates proved them right.

This, it seems, is how many BDS opponents would prefer the whole Israel boycott debate be disposed of: preferably made illegal and/or too costly to pursue — but until then filibustered, stigmatized, and hectored.  That, too, is one way free speech is invited to die: not with a bang, but with a bombastic scolding — followed, this Baltimore news report would have it, by legislation to finish the job (via state penalties against corporate BDS supporters).  It’s not going to work.  As Ms. Glick closes:

…we welcome public criticism and debate of our views, but instead we are met with attempts to legislate our viewpoints out of the public discussion. As Americans and Marylanders, we demand better from our government and repeat our request that this expected legislation be strongly opposed.

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I support REFUGEES IN MARYLAND because…

…they need fewer problems NOT MORE.
(Andrea)
Click image for slideshow.

Show your support! Download our template, write in your own reason, take a picture and send it to us at mococivilrights@gmail.com. We’ll add it to the slideshow and post favorites in future blog posts about this issue. Thanks!

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Thomas Nephew on refugee resolution: “maybe Gov.Hogan did something for us to be thankful for”

I support REFUGEES IN MARYLAND because it’s the decent thing to do.

Last week I spoke for a pro-refugee resolution similar to one adopted by the Chicago City Council less than two weeks ago. I fact-checked its assertions and found one after the other to be true:

  • 7 million displaced Syrians
  • 4 million of them refugees to other countries
  • …but only 10,000 envisioned for settlement in the United States

We’re here because Governor Hogan recently implied that even one Syrian refugee was one too many for him, unless an already byzantine, years-long vetting process were further complicated and lengthened.

Since last week’s meeting there has been an important development in Maryland around this issue: 39 civil rights organizations (including one I’m part of, Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition) issued a joint letter to Governor Hogan, noting that

…calls for restricting the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Maryland only serve to stoke fear and hate and to jeopardize our moral leadership. Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris. They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. Many if not most have lost loved ones to persecution, violence, and starvation, in addition to having had their country, their community, and everything they own brutally taken away from them.

The statement is a powerful one, with the combined weight of the ACLU of Maryland, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, CASA de Maryland, Council on American Islamic Relations, the SEIU, the League of Women Voters, Montgomery County Young Democrats, and Catholic, Episcopal and United Church of Christ organizations, to name a few.

It also serves as a rolodex of expertise for this City Council, and volunteers and people of good will in our community. I reached out to the ACLU and through them to International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Maryland. Its director of that organization responded – over Thanksgiving weekend! – with a detailed report IRC produced together with the City of Baltimore, “The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore” (.PDF).

The document makes clear that it’s possible to develop (in Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s words) a “sustainable plan to support and retain immigrants.” It outlines housing, workforce and small business development, safety and youth policy responses. While not all of the detailed plan is applicable to a small town like ours, the report serves as a resource and model for thinking through what our town needs to do to attract and better serve its present and future immigrant residents.

I’ve shared it with my Councilman, Peter Kovar; I look forward to working with whomever will join me and leaders like Lois Wessel or Liana Smith to perhaps build something like Baltimore’s “New Americans Task Force” — and more importantly, work with City Council for real action for refugees and all immigrants.

Maybe Governor Hogan, however inadvertently, did something for all of us to be thankful for: galvanizing a generous, unprejudiced response to those in need. It almost sounds like a Christmas story.

[as prepared]

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Takoma Park City Council passes resolution welcoming Syrian refugees 6-0

A Takoma Park City Council resolution “affirm[ing] its duty and willingness to welcome our Syrian neighbors” in the face of “one of the worst refugee crises since World War II” passed by 6-0 last night.*  The resolution text was changed slightly from the version available online before the meeting. The final “be it resolved” section reads as follows, with the additions indicated:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of Takoma Park, Maryland hereby affirms its duty [+and willingness] to welcome our Syrian neighbors because to shut the door on those in need is inconsistent with basic values of our community.

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Takoma Park will work with other levels of government and non-governmental agencies [+and residents of the city] to identify ways in which the community can provide support for refugee families relocating to the Takoma Park area and integrating into our community.

The vote was preceded by comments from the public and by councilmembers.

Thomas Nephew of MCCRC shared last week’s major development — an open letter co-signed by 39 civil rights, labor, and religious groups including ACLU of Maryland, the Council on American Islamic Relations and others** urging Governor Hogan to back away from his call to stop Syrian refugee settlements in Maryland. Describing the signatories as a “rolodex of expertise,” he also shared the report “The Role of Immigrants in Growing Baltimore” (.PDF), developed by that city and one of those signatories (International Rescue Committee).  Nephew closed: “Maybe Governor Hogan, however inadvertently, did something for all of us to be thankful for.”

Takoma Park’s Liana Smith supports refugees in Maryland because “we are human beings.”

Nancy Abbott Young recalled her father, former Takoma Park mayor — and Syrian American — Sam Abbott, and his fight to establish Takoma Park as a sanctuary city.  She also decried Governor Hogan’s “conflation of ‘terrorists’ with ‘refugees’ and in this case, with Syrian refugees in particular…”  She closed,

“…as Sam’s daughter, as a proud American of Syrian descent, as a Marylander, as someone born and bred in Takoma Park, I salute this Resolution and the spirit of humanity, inclusion, and fighting justice which informs it.”

Linda Rabben, Sue Wheaton, Rohini Pande, and Liana Smith also spoke for the resolution; watch this space for summaries of some of their remarks.

Councilmembers had a variety of final comments to make.  Councilmember Seamens spoke of “understandable negative reaction” to the idea of accepting Syrian refugees, but reminded people there were similar concerns about Cuban and other refugees at one time. “It’s important that we recognize those fears, but also remind people that we have a process, especially since the Refugee Act of 1980, that has been very successful.”

Councilmember Shultz wanted people to know that he was “utterly, thoroughly outraged by Governor Hogan’s words”; He also found “irony” in recent shootings such as in Colorado. “Those that are concerned about terror in the United States — it seems that it’s the Americans that are causing us all this sadness and tragedy.”  He said it would be “incumbent on the community to organize around this issue,” noting email exchanges with Thomas Nephew on the subject.

Councilmember Kovar noted the “interesting idea” in the Baltimore report of “engaging with immigrants within the city” on small business, housing and other policy, even if Takoma Park had less resources to do so than a city like Baltimore.

Mayor Stewart concluded council remarks: “Unfortunately it seems that weekly we’re reminded of the terrible consequences of extremism, and the heightening of fears by incendiary rhetoric.  … Tonight, this is our way of countering some of what’s happening and remind the world that compassion and empathy are far better ways to build inclusive, strong and healthy communities.”

The council then passed the resolution unanimously, to applause from its audience.  The Takoma Park City Council deserves our respect and admiration for grappling with this issue and rising to the occasion. It remains up to citizens to use this opening to organize a community response to the Syrian refugee crisis — and learn how to better integrate all immigrants to the city.

= = = =
Attachment: final version of Takoma Park Resolution 2015-66
Continue reading

Posted in Post | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments