Human Rights

January 11, 2009

Volunteers file in, as Karen McEwen slides her dark hair behind her ear and asks for help. She needs to get donated books out of her car.

She sorts the books, deciding if they are worth keeping or selling. She looks them up on the Internet, peering over the edge of her glasses while also fielding questions from volunteers.

"Karen, where can I find this type of book?" one of the volunteers asks. "Karen, they asked for this, but we don't have it," says another. "What should I send instead?"

December 28, 2008

Executions are legal in 59 countries; the United States is one of them. Executions are legal in 36 states, one of which is Indiana. It's pointless to debate the morality of the death penalty: arguments about personal belief and individual opinion are unresolvable through discussion. Instead, it makes sense to assess the merits of the death penalty in terms of public policy. Is capital punishment sound public policy?

The death penalty is expensive. According to Chris Hitz-Bradley, an Indianapolis attorney and president of the Indiana Information Center to Abolish Capital Punishment (IICACP), writing in the Indiana Abolitionist, "The cost of just the initial trial and appeal of a capital case [in Indiana] is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000. The state's economists" he goes on to say, "have estimated that 'the cost of this first phase of a capital case is 1/3 more than a case of life without parole.'"

November 16, 2008

Eighty-eight years ago, women won the fight and earned the right to vote in the United States. A few short weeks ago we recognized Women’s Equality Day with the knowledge that the United States is one of only eight countries that have yet to ratify the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

According to the CEDAW Web site, 185 countries -- more than 90 percent of the United Nations members -- are party to the Convention. “So what?” you say. We can still vote, attend university, play sports and work outside the home. Women are better off than ever right?

Well, maybe yes and maybe no. CEDAW is a universal definition of discrimination against women and negates any claim that no clear definition of sexual discrimination exists. By not recognizing this document, our nation joins the ranks of countries such as Iran that treat women with disdain, disrespect and, frequently, violence.

August 10, 2008

When Linda Ball noticed the police car following her on the evening of July 21, the mental image of standing naked in front of a stranger while being debugged was not one she could have envisioned. But then, the 54-year-old grandmother had no reason -- none whatsoever -- to imagine any of the events that would transpire over the next 15 hours.

It was about 10:30 on a Monday night when she saw the Bloomington Police Department squad car in her rearview mirror. She hadn't had a single drink, even though she had been listening to music at a local club. And she's certainly no criminal.

But some of her family members have had interactions with the law, and Ball is no fan of how the local criminal justice system operates. So her attitude as she crossed College Avenue heading west on 11th Street: "Hopefully, they'll just turn."

June 29, 2008

Reading George Will's June 22 op-ed in the Washington Post "More Prisoners: Less Crime" one would think that he must have moved to Second Life and given up reading the papers. He speaks of a "third ear" to listen for what is not said about criminal justice and then quotes Sen. Barack Obama for talking about the subject where Will claims silence.

He should consider reading the Wall Street Journal, which has had an extensive series on American prisons that presents a picture that contrasts radically with the views that he presents. Of course he should not ignore Mother Jones.

Paraphrasing Stalin, who spoke of a single death as a tragedy but the death of millions as a statistic, when a man commits a crime he bears responsibility, but when a nation imprisons over 2.3 million of its citizens the nation bears responsibility for those millions. These are people and not a statistic.

June 15, 2008

Serving in a homophobic military is an experience Mark Brostoff can relate to. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1982 to 2002, before and after Congress implemented "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military policy that allows homosexuals to serve but honorably discharges them if their orientation is discovered.

America made progress toward removing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on May 21 when three judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit that could bring an end to the 15-year-old policy.

The court said military officials must prove that having a gay person in the unit hurts morale and that discharge is the only way to improve morale, according to a May 22 Associated Press story.

Brostoff, the associate director of the Kelley Undergrad Career Services, said he wants the policy changed, but he has concerns.

"I do not want (to) risk moving backwards in the achievements the gay community has gained," he said.

March 9, 2008

Just as we were growing weary of reading some 30-plus years of bumper stickers, they seem to have all but disappeared from the vehicular landscape. Maybe you've noticed too that there are now very few cars, trucks and vans that have even one slogan plastered on the bumper or rear window offering some bit of wisdom, some perhaps not so wise.

While we found many amusing and others clever, there were those that were offensive, even insulting. But what did this fad really say about out culture?

As with any hot item that is latched onto by Americans and replicated ad nauseum, bumper-stick mania seemed to indicate that while we believe ourselves to be individualistic and strive to prove it with catchy phrases or expressions, what any fad clearly demonstrates is how we all become more alike than not.

February 10, 2008

In the grand scheme of things, 40 years is not much more than a blip on the historic radar. However, in terms of an individual life span, 40 years is quite a long time. The other day we were reflecting upon some of our personal experiences over the years and observed what has changed and what has seemed to remain the same.

Four decades ago we were a strikingly different pair. One of us was a university student, an ardent feminist, an antiwar protestor and civil rights activist. The other was a university student who left academics to become a marine in what was then a manifestation of idealistic patriotism with a desire to contribute to society.

While one was advocating on behalf of women, blacks and everyone being discriminated against, as well as marching and organizing against the Viet Nam war (and no, we did not jeer the non-volunteer returning soldiers), the other was carrying 80 pound packs on forced 20-mile marches at 4 a.m. in preparation for defense of country and nation, to death if necessary.

February 3, 2008

Elizabeth Hannibal's at-attention posture softens slightly as she puts into words why she chose her line of work. She sits in the dimly lit consultation room, which has seen countless women and children jarred by domestic violence. Their pain and possibilities splayed across the worn armchairs and children's toys have only Hannibal's calming voice to guide them.

Hannibal, the 24-year-old crisis intervention services coordinator at the Middle Way House, cannot imagine another occupation. Her multi-tasking role for the nonprofit domestic violence shelter is always evolving. From taking calls from rape victims to organizing volunteer orientation programs, more can always be done toward creating social change.

Hannibal doesn't see the job as overwhelming. For her it's the little things that matter most.

"The progress we see in the children we serve," she says, "the mom who gets a job, who moves into her first apartment for the first time in her entire life, those are the everyday things that make my work worthwhile."

January 20, 2008

Monroe County Jail Commander Bill Wilson has faced the same challenge every day for the past nine years -- jail overcrowding.

According to Wilson, this issue is not unique to Monroe County or to Indiana. "Probably a majority of jails across the country" are facing this challenging situation, he said.

Wilson's challenge affects his job, his staff, his inmates, his department's budget and all of the citizens of Monroe County.

"It is an entire system problem that is going on," he said.

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