Ebola Should Remind Us of Our Values and Priorities

Sierra Leone Ebola

After months of being ignored by much of the mainstream media and U.S. government, the ebola epidemic in West Africa has become headline news. The reason is that a traveler from Liberia—one of the West African countries most severely impacted by the outbreak of the disease—came to Dallas, TX infected with ebola.

The deaths of over 3000 men, women and children in West Africa and the potential for disease to affect upwards of one million more if not stopped, did not catch our attention, but a single case here has put many on edge.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have since announced new measures to respond the possibility of new ebola cases in the U.S., but some media outlets and commentators have sounded the alarm with the typical stereotyping, bias, and anti-scientific speculation. Some politicians have called for banning all travel from West Africa or extreme measures in airports and at the borders. Absurd talk linking ebola to the ISIS terrorist group and attempts to link ebola fears to immigrant scapegoating surfaced over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the CDC and the World Health Organization have been trying for weeks to reverse the unilateral grounding of flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Public health officials, including CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, say:

“When countries are isolated, it is harder to get medical supplies and personnel deployed to stop the spread of Ebola. And even when governments restrict travel and trade, people in affected countries still find a way to move and it is even harder to track them systematically”

Despite the attempt by some to cynically spread misinformation and promote myths about ebola, the majority of people in the U.S. understand that ebola is a danger – but not a reason to panic. Only 11 percent are “very worried” about being exposed to ebola. Most people, it seems, understand the difference between healthy concern and panic.

So what should be done? First, the U.S. has to be a better global partner. The United Nations asked for financial and human assistance  months ago and the U.S. and others were slow to respond. Now the price tag and the task has ballooned. President Obama has order more than 3,000 U.S. troops to go to Liberia for “command a control” and to build 17 ebola clinics. But reports are that the clinics may not be in place for 60-90 days. All the global and regional officials seem to agree that more help is needed, and much faster than it’s currently coming.

One of the biggest problems is the lack of trained medical professionals in the area. While there are certainly logistical and civil engineering needs, doctors, and nurses are key. The U.S. and Europe have not done much on this count so far. The Washington Post reports that the small island nation of Cuba has sent more doctor’s to the ebola-affected areas than any single country – with over 500 doctors either on the ground or on the way.

And there are key lessons from the ebola crisis. We know that medical infrastructure and scientific education are the key to stemming disease outbreaks, not isolation. It also follows that helping the poorest countries in the world develop their own resources helps us all in the long run. We also need to really rethink a government system that can easily mobilize for wars, but not for other pressing emergencies.

In the end, not only is addressing the ebola crisis in the countries most affected the humane thing to do, it is, according to medical experts, the only way to stop the spread of the disease and prevent a regional nightmare from becoming a global disaster.

Arrested for Standing on a Sidewalk

By Charles Meacham http://charlesmeacham.com/

It’s a familiar scene.

One parent takes their children into a restaurant to use the restroom while the other parent waits outside. It’s been done by many of us — as parents, aunties, uncles, siblings. When kids have to go, they have to go.

But on July 19 this year, this simple and innocent scenario ended with the arrest and brutalization of one of the parents.

Absurd and humiliating acts of police overreach have also become familiar in this country. There are countless incidents of false arrest, harassment and use of force against innocent victims by the police every day in the U.S. The cases that end in loss of life garner headlines (sometimes), but mostly we don’t hear of the seemingly minor and mundane cases, unless they happen to us or to our family and friends.

But this time, the police picked on the wrong person.

Chaumtoli Huq, a well-respected human rights lawyer who is on a leave of absence as general counsel for New York City’s office of Public Advocate, was arrested in the middle of Times Square (a place often filled with tens of thousands of people standing in public) for, it seems, simply standing in public.

Standing in public and being South Asian and Muslim that is.

Huq — who was born in Bangladesh — and her family, had attended a rally in support of Palestinian rights that day. Then they took the young kids to the restroom at Ruby Tuesday nearby. Even though she was standing “inches” from the restaurant windows, police told Huq to clear the sidewalk. Huq said, “I’m not in anybody’s way. Why do I have to move? What’s the problem?”

That’s when police grabbed Huq and slammed her against the wall. She called for help and stated out loud, “I am not resisting arrest.” Police twisted her arm behind her back and handcuffed her. The officers rifled through her purse without probable cause. The police arrested her and took her away before her family even returned from the restroom.

To make matters worse, when Huq’s husband went to the jail, he aroused suspicion from police because he had a different last name than his wife. “In America wives take the names of their husbands,” the officer said.

Well then. What year is this again?

According to DNAInfo, Huq “was held for more than nine hours in lockup before being arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, court records show.”

Huq and her family have subsequently filed a complaint with the New York Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. They are also suing the NYPD and the City of New York in Federal Court for violating her civil rights, charging the police used “unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force” and claiming the arrest was part of a pattern of harassment of people of color in the city.

Huq told New York Daily News “I was hesitant to bring a case. My job is to be behind the scenes, and help all New Yorkers,” she said. But she realized “that I can use what happened to me to raise awareness about overpolicing in communities of color. I want there to be a dialogue on policing and community relations,” she said.

Let’s hope that conversation is one good outcome of this terrible and avoidable incident.

At the Alliance for a Just Society we speak of the criminalization of everyday life. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that reality more than an innocent mom being arrested for standing still on the sidewalk.

By Charles Meacham http://charlesmeacham.com/
Photo by Charles Meacham
By Charles Meacham http://charlesmeacham.com/
Photo by Charles Meacham

PHOTOS: © Charles Meacham Used with permission.

Justice for Michael Brown! End Racial Profiling and Police Violence

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The images of protest and militarized police response in Ferguson, Missouri are shocking. But developments in that small suburban town are simply exposing the racial reality that millions of people of color face every day.

Everyday experiences with the courts, media, government authorities and police remind us, in ways large and small, that the lives of young brown and black kids have little value in society.

Police and vigilante killings of young black and brown people are commonplace in communities of color. The killings of Renisha McBride, Ramarley Graham, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and others in recent years have cast a national spotlight on an epidemic of senseless killings of unarmed people of color. All too often our children are dying at the hands of those entrusted with public safety. All too often the killers go free. The message is clear: black and brown people just don’t count.

It has been widely reported that in Ferguson—a town whose population is nearly two-thirds Black—there is only a single Black city councilperson, and three Black police officers in a force of 53. Ferguson reported 8 times as many black arrests as white arrests for the first part of 2014. Blacks represent 86% of all traffic stops and 92% of all searches. The data show a clear practice of racial profiling. The numbers might differ a little from place to place, but these statistics are a stark image of the racial divide that exists in small towns and large across our country today. Racial disparities in crime statistics are the norm from coast to coast.

Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and other people of color are routinely excluded from the halls of power and subjected to racialized police policies like profiling and stop-and-frisk.

Continue reading “Justice for Michael Brown! End Racial Profiling and Police Violence”