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The Trump administration ignores ‘the world’s answer’ to W.E.B. Du Bois’s appeal


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The Trump administration ignores ‘the world’s answer’ to W.E.B. Du Bois’s appeal

  • ‘They’re trying to kill us in here’

  • Brooklyn DA to consent to parole release in most cases

  • Oregon Senate passes comprehensive youth justice reform bill

  • Immigration and jail detention on the line in New Jersey elections

In the Spotlight

The Trump administration ignores ‘the world’s answer’ to W.E.B. Du Bois’s appeal

Last week, the Trump administration missed the deadline to name a nominee to the United Nations committee on racism. A State Department official told Politico that the administration prevented the renomination of the human rights lawyer originally nominated to the committee by the Obama administration. Trump’s administration may have just run out of time to find a replacement before the deadline, the official said, but the result—just one of many ways the administration has shunned the international community and human rights commitments—“cements the narrative that the Americans just don’t care about these kinds of things anymore.” [Nahal Toosi / Politico]

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)—an 18-member group to which the United States typically nominates one person—is the body of independent experts that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). ICERD was adopted in the UN General Assembly in 1965. It is the principal human rights treaty for the protection of individuals and groups from discrimination based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin, whether intentional or as the result of facially neutral policies. [NAACP]

In August 2017, CERD issued a rare “early warning.” Nesrine Malik wrote in The Guardian at the time: “There is a certain expectation, a certain image that comes to mind of the country that receives a rebuke from the United Nations on human rights. One in the south or the east, with a military dictatorship perhaps—a country that has a large oppressed religious or ethnic minority, or has a poor record of treating women as second-class citizens. Earlier this week, the U.S. joined those countries. … Inevitably, it was due to race.” [Nesrine Maik / The Guardian]

The warning was prompted by the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the site of a deadly “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally.  “Early warnings,” Malik wrote, “are usually issued by [CERD] … over fears of ethnic or religious conflict. In the past decade, the committee has only issued six warnings. Those admonishments went to Burundi, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kyrgyzstan and Nigeria.” [Nesrine Maik / The Guardian]

There is a long history of Americans calling the world’s attention to racism and state violence in the U.S. In 1947, the NAACP submitted its famous petition to the human rights division of the UN. The full title was “An Appeal to the World: A Statement of Denial of Human Rights to Minorities in the Case of Citizens of Negro Descent in the United States of America and an Appeal to the United Nations for Redress.” It was nearly 100 pages and was drafted under the editorial supervision of W.E.B.Du Bois, then director of special research for the NAACP. [NAACP]

In his introduction, Du Bois traced the history of violence and oppression against Black Americans. He wrote: “The color caste system … has repeatedly led the greatest modern attempt at democratic government to deny its political ideals, to falsify its philanthropic assertions and to make its religion to a great extent hypocritical.” [An Appeal to the World]

Du Bois’s appeal was followed four years later by the Civil Rights Congress’s “We Charge Genocide,” a petition focused on lynchings and police terror. The petition’s evidence concerned “the thousands of Negroes who over the years have been beaten to death on chain gangs and in the back rooms of sheriff’s offices, in the cells of county jails, in precinct police stations  and on city streets, who have been framed and murdered by sham legal forms and by a legal bureaucracy.” [We Charge Genocide]

The petitions received extensive media coverage despite the U.S.’s vigorous attempts to discourage attention. The unwanted international scrutiny—at a time when the United States was trying to promote itself as a defender of human rights abroad—helped serve as motivation to create civil rights protections domestically. [Jamil Dakwar / ACLU]

The most recent CERD review of the U.S. was in 2014. That report, issued during the Obama administration, covered a number of concerns, including racial profiling by law enforcement, voting rights, criminalization of homelessness, the treatment of immigrants, the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay, and, of course, the disproportionate arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of “members of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans.” [Concluding Observations of CERD]

In 2017, a coalition of groups urged the Trump administration to meet the deadline that November for its mandatory submission to CERD. They referenced Du Bois’s petition to the UN 70 years earlier. “The CERD periodic review process is the world’s answer to W.E.B. Du Bois’ Appeal and the U.S. still has a long way to go to address structural discrimination and the inequities Du Bois detailed in his historic appeal.”

The administration failed to meet the deadline and, a year and a half later, is yet to make its submission. Last month, 90 groups sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to invite the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Racism “to conduct an official fact-finding visit to examine the historic and present marks of racism and racial discrimination that have presented new and renewed, alarming trends of racism in the United States.” [Human Rights Watch]

Stories From The Appeal

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo by Mathieu Le Mauff/Getty images

‘They’re Trying to Kill Us in Here.’ At Virginia’s Hampton Roads Regional Jail, reform has been slow even after high-profile tragedies including the death of mentally disabled man incarcerated who allegedly stole $5 worth of snacks. [Aaron Morrison]

Stories From Around the Country

Brooklyn DA to consent to parole release in most cases: Tom Robbins writes for the Marshall Project, in collaboration with The City, about a new policy from Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. In a memo to the state corrections department commissioner, Gonzalez says his office will no longer reflexively oppose parole release for those who have completed their minimum sentence. Instead, for the approximately 90 percent who are convicted through plea agreements, the office will consent to parole release “absent extraordinary circumstances and subject to their conduct during incarceration.” For those who exercise their right to go to trial, the office will, Robbins writes, “consider supporting parole for individuals who were age 23 or younger and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.” Gonzalez also told Robbins that he plans to announce a policy regarding parole and probation terms sought by his office. Prosecutors will seek the minimum unless they receive approval from a supervisor to seek longer terms. [Tom Robbins / Marshall Project and The City]

Oregon Senate passes comprehensive youth justice reform bill: The Oregon state Senate passed a legislative package related to sentences for young people tried as adults. Senate Bill 1008’s reforms include an end to mandatory transfer to adult court on certain charges and the requirement of a hearing to decide transfer when sought by a prosecutor.  The bill ends juvenile life without parole. It provides for a second look at parole eligibility after 15 years, as well as a conditional release hearing after serving half of a mandatory minimum sentence. And a hearing would be held to determine transfer to adult prison at age 25 for people with only two more years remaining on their sentence. The bill received the 20 votes it needed for a two-thirds majority. It now requires passage in the House before going to the governor’s desk. [Connor Radnovich / Salem Statesman Journal]

Immigration and jail detention on the line in New Jersey elections: Sheriffs wield wide discretion on matters like how much to cooperate with ICE, and they are often responsible for ensuring decent detention conditions for people held at county jails. With 11 sheriff’s elections looming in New Jersey this year, the Appeal: Political Report delved into some of their stakes. For instance, legislative efforts to restrict solitary confinement statewide have not succeeded so far, empowering sheriffs to decide whether and how to use it. In addition, numerous sheriffs running for re-election have defended assisting ICE. One state advocate told the Political Report that all candidates should explain whether they “think there is a role for sheriffs and local law enforcement to support federal enforcement.” [Daniel Nichanian / The Appeal: Political Report]

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