Human Rights

May 30, 2010

On a sunny spring afternoon, next to an alley on West Washington Street in Indianapolis, a half-dozen people gather around a portable wooden monument with dozens of names written on it. Cars slowly drive by as the people anoint the ground with oil and recite the 23rd Psalm.

This is the site of a recent murder -- a young man gunned down by a shooter who wounded several others -- and thus the site of the latest prayer vigil held by the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis. The vigil concluded with coordinator Joe Zelenka leading a unison reading from the fifth chapter of Matthew -- "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ...."

There has been a lot of such praying this year. As of early this month, there had been 47 homicides in Indianapolis since Jan. 1, far ahead of last year's pace, with 85 percent of the killings committed with firearms.

May 16, 2010

“You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” -- Abbie Hoffman


It used to be the Red Scare; now it’s the Green Scare.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the FBI persecuted communists, Lauren Regan, an attorney and director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), said during a May 1 presentation in Bloomington. In the ‘60s, the FBI called the Black Panther Party the No. 1 “domestic terrorist threat” in the United States.

Today, the targets are environmental and animal rights groups, said Regan, who formed the CLDC in 2003 in response to the FBI’s Operation Backfire, which culminated in 2005 with arrests and indictments of Eugene, Ore., activists from the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and Earth Liberation Front (ELF).

To further its goals, the FBI has established it’s a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with 92 offices nationwide, Regan said during her talk, titled “Resistance, Dissent and Government Repression: How the State Responds to Radical Social Movements.” Bloomington has one such office, on west Seventh Street.

Neighbors win $11 million from CAFOs in Missouri

May 2, 2010

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is responsible for the massive pain and suffering that rural Indiana citizens have suffered while living near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), according to a former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

"Our current administration has kind of set the table for Indiana being a battlefront for this whole confrontation between this method of farming and the people who want to enjoy their community," said Indianapolis attorney Richard D. Hailey. "He made it a part of the overall economic development plan for the state of Indiana. ... There's almost been in invitation to turn Indiana into the capital of concentrated animal farming operations."

Hailey represents a dozen Indiana citizens in lawsuits against CAFO operators. And a few weeks after other members of his legal team won an $11 million jury verdict in Jackson County, Mo., Hailey said he believes the public can use the courts to do what the rest of state government has thus far refused to do.

April 25, 2010

When J.B. Handley told me about Jackson County, Ore., a few weeks ago, I wondered why no one had looked at autism rates there. The county of about 200,000 located just north of the California border has one of the largest populations of unvaccinated children in the nation. And, as Handley suggested, those kids' medical histories are natural subjects for studies on the cause-effect relation between autism and vaccines.

Well, as I contemplated whether I might find a way to follow up on this angle from 2,000 miles away, I learned that the PBS series FRONTLINE will air a documentary titled "The Vaccine War" this Tuesday, April 27, that will explore not only the conflict between the vaccine industry and parents who believe immunizations caused their children's autism, but also the situation in Jackson County.

In a news release on "The Vaccine War," FRONTLINE says it will lay bare the science of vaccine safety and examine the "increasingly bitter debate" between the "public health establishment" and a "formidable populist coalition of parents, celebrities, politicians and activists."

April 18, 2010

The public-speaking trick of looking directly over the heads of your audience reportedly gives the illusion of eye contact without the speaker having to actually engage with the folks in the room.

I was reminded of this technique while watching Governor Mitch Daniels' press conference the day after Congress passed health care reform into law. The governor was addressing Indiana media, but it was clear he was looking over the heads of Hoosiers to gaze longingly at the Republican donors and pundits who are sizing up 2012 presidential hopefuls.

There was a nationwide surplus of hysterical reactions to the health care legislation, but for sheer cynicism and callousness, our governor had few equals.

April 4, 2010

One afternoon, the young boy from Lafayette came home from fifth grade classes to discover that his father had been deported.

Before going back to school the next day, the boy dried his eyes and steeled himself to pretend nothing had happened. Otherwise, the suspicion would be directed toward him and his mother and brothers.

Born in Zacatecas, Mexico, the boy stayed in Lafayette and stayed in school. He is now 19 years old, a high school graduate dreaming of attending college. He is also justifiably afraid of having his name appear in a newspaper article.

February 7, 2010

It is the question that puzzles many of us when we hear about the tragic conclusion of a domestic violence relationship. Why doesn't the victim simply look at herself in the mirror, decide it is time for a change, and head out the door?

Perhaps, though, it is we who need to look in the mirror. Are our communities doing enough to make sure that door is not barred shut?

The Indiana Connections

January 17, 2010

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Anyone with a passing knowledge of Indiana’s political and business cultures would not be surprised to learn state leaders played feature roles in one of the first great scandals of the George W. Bush administration. Or that the episode involved perhaps the greatest environmental disaster of the postmodern age -- the intravenous exposure of an entire generation of children to a powerful neurotoxin.

After all, “leaders” like Dan Quayle, Evan Bayh and Mitch Daniels have led their state to the No. 49 ranking in Forbes magazine’s 2007 comparison of state-by-state environmental quality. Of Indiana and other bottom-dwellers like No. 50 West Virginia, the business magazine said, “All suffer from a mix of toxic waste, lots of pollution and consumption and no clear plans to do anything about it. Expect them to remain that way."

Indeed, former Eli Lilly and Company vice president, then-Bush budget director and now-Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels appears on Page 5 of David Kirby’s 2005 award-winning bestseller Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. So does then-Lilly CEO Sidney Taurel. In large measure, the Indiana players inspired the book, the former New York Times reporter said during a recent interview at his home in Brooklyn.

December 27, 2009

On a bench outside the First United Methodist Church, John Hammond, 52, sits clutching a black lighter and a slowly burning cigarette. Across the street, people mingle at the bus stop, their hands shoved into pockets, their faces downturned against the cutting November wind. An empty Styrofoam cup drifts down the sidewalk, colliding with the skittering leaves left over from fall.

The sound of buses makes the otherwise quiet street sound monstrous. Groans of engines and the screech of brakes echo against the stone face of the church. Women in business suits pass by, walking quickly and avoiding eye contact. Men in shaggy coats nod and say hello.

Hammond's bright blue eyes see it all from below the brim of his red and white baseball cap. "I worked all my life," he says. "My background is psychology and business management from IU, with 25 years' management experience. You wouldn't expect to find somebody like me down here. But it can happen to anybody."

November 1, 2009

Small Box, a new opera set in a death row visiting room, will have its world premiere in Bloomington next month. The opera will be performed for one night only on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

With music by Herman Whitfield III and a libretto by Bruce L. Pearson, the one-act, hour-long opera takes a serious look at the death penalty without arguing either for or against.

"The opera," Pearson said in a phone interview, "offers a fairly typical cross-section of those who find their way to death row." With Small Box he hopes to "make people think by presenting a realistic view of prison life." The raw material, Pearson said, "is from getting to know the guys on the row."

Syndicate content