Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Orville Taylor: Our human-rights history is better than America's

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2015 | 7:00 AM
Still images of a police officer manhandling a black teenage girl nearby a community pool sparked a firestorm in McKinney, Texas, and across the entire United States. The cop later resigned.
Still images of a police officer manhandling a black teenage girl nearby a community pool sparked a firestorm in McKinney, Texas, and across the entire United States. The cop later resigned.
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Once more, the Americans have published stuff about us, showing us in a negative light. Now, I have great love for the E pluribus unum, but I have a major problem when sections of that society, oftentimes with collaboration from our locals, paint us with wrong colours.

I am the first to admit that this society of former enslaved Africans, governed by former plantation slaves, has a lot to learn and do. Yes, there is too much corruption, too much violent crime, and some of us need to find better things to do than peer into gay men's bedrooms.

Moreover, when I am guilty, I will quickly confess, but it hurts when my sibling tells my mother that I stole two 'police button' cookies when he was the one who opened the bag and gobbled down half-dozen.

Last year, do-gooder Jasmine Rand, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, in her great knowledge vacuum, opined that the Mario Deane case was "much bigger than INDECOM". This was from a woman whose country has no equivalent of INDECOM and whose mechanism for the investigation of extrajudicial killings by American police is woefully unsatisfactory.

Imagine, a police force that kills around 930 persons each year, but under-reports it as approximately 330, killing more than 13,000 Americans between 2001 and 2014. Yet, fewer than 100 police officers have been charged. This is in a country where their police experience a tenth of the lethal violence from criminal elements that Jamaican cops face annually.

 

much lower homicide rate than Jamaica

 

America has a much lower homicide rate than Jamaica. Its five-per-1,000,000 is one-fifth of the Jamaican, which averaged more than 50 per 100,000 persons. A country that has such little violence does not need to see so many heavily militarised police using deadly force.

Did you know that with a population of just over four per cent of the residents on this planet, America has more than 22 per cent of the world's prison population? Its America Civil Liberties Union reports the numbers as five and 25 per cent, respectively. One out of every 100 American residents is living in a prison.

One might find it strange that the very same USA, whose Department of State produced the 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, received a damning evaluation from the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. Amnesty International, the international human-rights watch organisation, highlights alarming gaps in America's institutional framework for the protection of human rights.

"All 50 states and Washington, DC, fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers;

Nine states and Washington, DC, currently have no laws on use of lethal force by law-enforcement officers; and

Thirteen states have laws that do not even comply with the lower standards set by US constitutional law on use of lethal force by law-enforcement officers."

It concludes that there should be "an independent, impartial and transparent investigation" with the prospect of criminally prosecuting the guilty. For good measure, six per cent of Jamaicans report bribing judges, compared to 15 per cent of Americans.

 

'rewritten' American history

 

It is more than a trifle annoying that someone seems to have rewritten American history and totally forgot that very little of it shows evidence of a national consensus in giving human and civil rights to its own citizens. Despite the 1776 Declaration of Independence, which stated, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," most of America's history has been the opposite.

Between 600,000 and 750,000 American soldiers, including some benighted black people, who fought in the confederate, pro-slavery army, died in the fierce battles over the decision of Abraham Lincoln to release African-Americans from slavery, which ended in 1865. Lincoln was murdered by his own, and after Andrew Johnson succeeded him, the country started a reign of terror, in which renegades and vigilantes, with full support of members of the Democratic Party and other official institutions reversed many of the gains by blacks made under Republican leadership. Indeed, the Republican Party was founded in 1854, ostensibly on an anti-slavery platform but switched in the 1950s.

It took another 100 years and the murder of its president, again by its own, for civil rights to be granted. Nonetheless, it was not a benevolent House of Representatives. It was the famous Brown v Board of Education that, in 1954, outlawed the official government policies of racial segregation, which still continued notwithstanding this, way into the 1960s and the activism of Martin Luther King. In spite of the 24th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished the 'poll tax' and removed discrimination in voting rights, it took the 1966 case of Harper v Virginia Board of Elections for it to be universally applied. That was 22 years after all Jamaicans gained universal adult suffrage.

As for gay rights, this was no stroke of the congressional pen. Only the 2003 case of Lawrence v Texas removed America's own sodomy/buggery laws. And it is a 2015 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergefell v Hodge that legalised gay marriages, not the Houses of Congress or President Obama himself. Today, some 53 per cent of gay Americans feel compelled to hide their sexuality at work because, in 29 of 50 states, private and confidential information sector employees can legally fire workers because of sexual orientation.

And by the way, America annually exports more than US$22 billion to the United Arab Emirates and imports US$47 billion from Saudi Arabia. There, cross-dressing can lead to severe physical punishment and homosexuality - a death sentence.

Back in the states, between 2011 and 2013, there was an average 2,000 incidents of violence against gays; around 20 of them resulted in deaths annually. Do the math! In Jamaica, between 2009 and 2014 a yearly average of one gay homicide was reported by J-FLAG. One out of an average 1,300 homicides in Jamaica is a gay person; 25 out of 14,000 murdered Americans in 2013 were gay. And one out of every three gay Americans who report violence are themselves harassed by the police.

America wins.