Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

Business & Politics

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

an image of a road in a desert region

13th July 2020

As Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have all voted in favour of the proposed Programme for Government, it appears that a coalition government between these three parties will be leading the Dáil for the next five years. Despite many Irish voters, particularly young people under 35, hoping for a left-leaning coalition who would focus on housing and public services, it appears that the tenure of the 33rd Dáil may not stray very far from the status quo of the past decade.

There are some seemingly positive aspects of the Programme for Government, particularly in the area of environmentalism; the proposal of a ‘Green New Deal’ aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the withdrawal of planning for the Shannon LNG terminal, and an increase in spending on cycling infrastructure.

There is a commitment to move away from the Direct Provision system, with an expert group producing recommendations for a new not-for-profit system by the end of this year. On other social issues the document is vague in terms of specific timeframes and spending, such as with the progression toward a living wage and the creation of increased state housing.

One aspect of the new government’s plans for the next few years is a pressing issue which will be a very welcome development to many. The drafted programme stated that hate crime will be legislated for, ensuring that those who target victims because of their identity will be prosecuted on the basis of hate crime. The current legislation for hate speech, the Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989, is also set for an update.

Currently, Ireland has no effective legislation to combat hate crime. The Incitement to Hatred Act only addresses hate speech which is specifically intended to incite violence, a narrow scope which has proved incredibly difficult to implement and has been inefficient in combating hate speech. In October 2019, the Gardaí introduced their own working hate crime definition which extends to several different identities such as race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation; but fails to address hate crimes against some of the most vulnerable groups in Irish society such as asylum seekers and transgender people.

But even when this hate crime definition allows the Gardaí to charge individuals with hate crimes, because of a lack of substantial legislation, the ‘hate’ element of the crime is often filtered out before it comes to sentencing. As there is no official way of recording that a hate crime has taken place, there is no way of addressing this behaviour on a national level, and no way of investigating patterns or addressing the vulnerability of certain groups. When the Maryan Mosque in Galway was vandalised in July 2019, the Gardaí investigated it as a ‘burglary’, a charge which did not take into account the specific targeting of the Muslim community in the area.

 

“The Incitement to Hatred Act only addresses hate speech which is specifically intended to incite violence, a narrow scope which has proved incredibly difficult to implement and has been inefficient in combating hate speech.” 

 

According to the EU Court of Human Rights, states are under an obligation to ensure that the possible ‘hate’ elements of crimes are properly investigated, in order to protect vulnerable minorities within the population. Ireland has shown to be particularly inadequate in addressing hate crime, to the point that the UN was forced to urge the Irish government to introduce hate crime legislation as recently as December 2019.

In July 2018, a detailed report by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties found that Ireland has among the highest rates in the EU of hate crime against transgender people and people from African backgrounds. Presently, there is no proper government tracking of any workable data on hate crime, and the national action plan against racism expired in 2008. The Ireland of 1989, when the Incitement to Hatred Act was created, is very different from  the Ireland of 2020, and we are in desperate need of updated hate crime legislation.

In May 2019, the Irish Times reported that Ireland was among the top three countries in the EU with the worst records in terms of racial violence based on skin colour. Along with Austria and Finland, Ireland showed some of the highest rates of racially motivated harassment, at a staggering 51% compared to an average of 30% amongst the countries surveyed. The impact that our lack of hate crime legislation has on vulnerable communities is clear, as less than one-third of those who were racially discriminated against in Ireland made a complaint or reported the crimes to the Gardaí.

According to iReport, the Irish Network Against Racism’s system for reporting racist incidents, this is still an incredibly pertinent issue in 2020. The figures released by INAR from their iReport system in the first quarter of 2020, showed an almost doubling of average reporting rate compared with quarters in 2019. They stated an increase in 63% for crime and discrimination reports and a fourfold increase in relation to online content. Much of these reports from early in the year came from election literature and social media posts from far-right candidates in February’s general election.

Despite garnering a minor portion of the votes, candidates from organisations such as the National Party and the Irish Freedom Party, as well as Independents such as Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters, were able to use the nature of social media to easily circulate their harmful materials online. It is clear that rapid social changes in Ireland in recent years; equal marriage, the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, increased immigration, as well as increasingly visible far-right politicians across Europe and elsewhere, have allowed a fringe minority of the openly hateful to amplify their message. Although these far-right candidates were largely unsuccessful in this year’s general election, it was only two years ago that Peter Casey rose to second place in the Presidential election following his weaponising of anti-Traveller sentiment amongst his voter base.

In recent weeks, with the voices of the Black communities in Ireland and across the world being amplified, it is impossible to ignore the issues of inequality within our societies. With robust hate crime legislation, not only will we be able to give greater protection to those who are vulnerable because of their identity, but crucially we will have the data to judge honestly and openly how the issues of intolerance and hate manifest in Irish society, and learn to combat them. Jennifer Schweppe, Senior Law Lecturer at the University of Limerick, characterises hate crime as a ‘message crime’, a targeted incident intended to send a message to a particular group that they are unwelcome. Our hate crime legislation is a way of sending a message back; that all sexualities, races, abilities, genders are welcome in Ireland, and that hate is not.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Jim Nix

 

 

“Clearly, the well being of citizens on the ground are of low priority to the powers at play.”

Duterte’s Drug War in the Philippines

Business & Politics

Duterte’s Drug War in the Philippines

picture of women and child beside a hut

10th July 2020

 

There has been renewed pressure on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his government to end their ‘Drug War’ following a report from the Human Rights Council (HRC). The report flagged a number of human rights concerns stemming from Duterte’s strongman law and order policies. However, the figures suggest that the drug problem in the country is not what the Duterte administration would have the public believe. So is this a pragmatic manoeuvre for political gain or an earnest policy in the interest of the Filipino people?

 

Drug war

Duterte and his administration embarked on this ‘war’ in response to what he saw as the devolution of the Philippines into a ‘narco-state’. The HRC report flagged several human rights concerns related to the administration’s drug policy. Most notably, the death toll. Official figures show more than 8,000 people have been killed in the fight against illegal drugs, yet many estimates put the figure three times as high. One of the central strategies of this aggressive policy is unannounced house visitations by police. These visitations do not require search warrants, only an inclusion on a ‘drug watch list’, with no legal recourse to contest one’s inclusion on the list. Upon visitation, suspects are systematically coerced to make self-incriminating statements or risk the use of force. Often, these ‘visitations’ end with the suspect killed in their home.

 

Killing with Impunity?

Many are concerned with the lack of transparency and accountability with regards to the law enforcement agents waging this war. There has been only one murder conviction for a death at the hands of police in the execution of these policies. In many of the investigations into these police killings, the HRC report noted the planting of evidence to exonerate law enforcement. In several instances, the same gun was retrieved from multiple crime scenes, which were supposedly used to resist police arrest. The alleged presence of these guns represented validation of the use of deadly force by police. One handgun was recovered from five different scenes. If any victim’s relatives have the gall to challenge this wall of police opacity, they are subjected to intimidation, threats and harassment.

 

Further, the rhetoric coming from the Duterte administration indicates endorsement, rather than simply the turning of a blind eye. Duterte famously gave a ‘shoot to kill’ order to police officers in respect of suspects who refuse to surrender. In the administration’s ‘2017 year-end report’, 16,355 homicide cases, currently under criminal investigation, are listed as ‘accomplishments’ in the fight against illegal drugs. These killings are suspected of having been carried out by unidentified ‘vigilantes’. The classification of unlawful killings as ‘accomplishments’ has led many to suspect that such killings are in fact state-sponsored. What is almost certain though, is that the classification of these as accomplishments is an overt message to perpetrators that vigilantism and extra-judicial ‘street justice’ is condoned.

 

 “If any victim’s relatives have the gall to challenge this wall of police opacity, they are subjected to intimidation, threats and harassment.”

Despite obvious due process, civil and human rights concerns, the public perception of Duterte’s drug war is positive. In January, Duterte’s approval rating was 72%. Many people in the Philippines love his hard-line attitude in dealing with what they perceive to be a problem plaguing their country. There is even popular support for the extra-judicial killings by both police and vigilantes. A 2019 poll from Pulse Asia indicated majority support for the drug war, even with knowledge of extra-judicial killings. Many people in the Philippines see this as the only way, having lost faith in the judicial system. This mistrust of the justice system may well be justified too. The New York Times noted that it was littered with inefficiencies and corruption, with long waits to go to trial, leaving the Philippines with one of the most overcrowded incarceration systems in the world according to the World Prison Brief. 

 

History of Duterte

Duterte, the former mayor of Davao, rose to international prominence in 2016 upon being elected to the principal political office of the country. Although claiming to be a socialist, many have drawn comparisons between Duterte and the populist movement that swept the world around the time of his election. He certainly has the macho, violent rhetoric often associated with the movement. In his presidential campaign, he promised to kill tens of thousands of criminals and litter them in the Manila bay. He reveres Vladmir Putin as his ‘idol’ and has drawn support from Donald Trump for his war on drugs. He has also expressed a militaristic infatuation to bolster his ‘tough guy’ image further. Engaging in territorial disputes, ordering the occupation of several uninhabited islands in the south China Sea and attempting to procure military weapons from Russia and China have all served to solidify his reputation as a strongman political leader.

 

  His administration has taken a hard line against opposition and detractors, too. The practice of ‘red-tagging’ has been the cause of much concern among civil rights activists. The practice is directed against detractors or individuals critical of the government, including journalists and members of opposition parties. These critics are labelled ‘communist’ or ‘terrorist’ despite their political views, in order to discredit their often legitimate criticisms. Senator Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of Duterte, was arrested due to allegations that she was accepting bribes from prisoners. Many are suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her arrest given her criticism of Duterte.

 

The Davao Death Squad.

Duterte’s connection to extra-judicial killings dates back far beyond merely his four years of presidency. Duterte served as Mayor of Davao for three separate terms, for a total of 22 years spanning from 1988 until 2016 when he was elected president. Despite being extremely popular, questionable links arose between Duterte and the murderous vigilante group, the ‘Davao Death Squad’ or ‘DDS’. It has been estimated that this group was responsible for killing over 1,000 people in the city between 1998 and 2008. The modus operandi of the DDS; summary execution of those suspected of petty crimes and drug dealing, including street children. No trial and no due process.

 

  As early as 2005, reports linked Duterte and his family of political aristocracy to these killings. Supporters have even playfully named the DDS ‘Die-Hard Duterte Supporters’. An attempted 2009 HRC report into these links was blocked by the local government. However, the International Criminal Court is currently still investigating Duterte’s involvement with DDS,  despite Duterte having withdrawn the Philippines from the International Criminal Court (ICC), just one month after they opened the investigation.

 

Good Policy?

As mentioned, Duterte and his drug war are extremely popular in the Philippines, but that doesn’t make it good policy. Despite the obvious civil and human rights concerns, this punitive law and order model of drug policy may be serving to perpetuate the problem. High prison sentences for possession and use simply pumps more people into an already broken system of bribery and inefficiency. It has also legitimised the delegation of large portions of public funds for the ambiguous use of ‘intelligence and confidential activities’. The increase in the budget for these activities has increased fivefold in five years. All of this, for a problem that seems to have been fabricated by Duterte. He claims the Philippines was turning into a ‘narco-state’, but evidence from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that drug use in the country is lower than the global average

 

If overcrowding in the judicial systems is the problem, shouldn’t the focus and funds be rolled out to tackle the root causes of drugs and crime, such as poverty and education?

 

If the drug problem isn’t as bad as Duterte would wish the Filipino public to believe, what’s the driving force behind the policy? It seems to be his populist agenda. A central tenet of the populist movement has been the vilification and dehumanisation of a particular group or ethnicity, in order to unite the popular vote. Think, immigration in the US and EU, and the rise of Trump, Ukip, AfD, Le Penn, etc. The basic premise; create a pariah which is seen to be the enemy of prosperity – crackdown hard on pariah – win popular vote. 

      Perhaps unfortunately for Duterte, the Philippines doesn’t have high immigration. As for the communist and Islamist groups they do have, the populous appetite for demonising these groups may not be very high. The country has spent over 70 years since gaining independence fighting these groups, and they haven’t gone away. Not a great opponent to  tackle in a four year election cycle. So it seems Duterte may have thought drugs and drug criminals to be the only enemy he could create. The perfect fit, after he was seen to be the mayor who cracked down on them so heavily in Davao. His dehumanising tactics against this group are overt, too. During a visit to an army camp in the early days of his presidency, he baulked at the notion that these killings were crimes against humanity; ‘Crime against humanity? In the first place, I’d like to be frank with you. Are they humans?’. In fairness, it’s a hell of a lot easier to pass off extra-judicial killings when you’re dealing with sub human enemies of prosperity, rather than actual humans with complicated lives and backgrounds.

 

The HRC report noted that Duterte has made strides as regards social and economic rights and Duterte remains popular in the country. But at what cost? The extra-judicial killings are a gross encroachment on the most basic civil rights. Duterte has already leveraged this ‘war’ to create almost authoritarian levels of power, silencing the media and various other detractors. So the question is, what level of intrusion into civil liberties and basic tenets of democracy are the Philippines willing to accept for the highly politicised goal of drug-less streets?

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Andrey Andreyev

 

 

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

Business & Politics

India and China’s Escalating Border Dispute

an image of a road in a desert region

7th July 2020

 

Where did the dispute begin?

The dispute centres on areas of contested territory between China and India. The two countries contest where the border between them lies, which has led to long-standing tensions, including a brief war in 1962. After that war ended, the two countries agreed on a 2,100 mile long demarcation line, known as the Line of Actual Control. However, they did not go so far as negotiating an official border and still do not agree on exactly where the line lies. The Line of Actual Control separates Ladakh, which is part of Indian-administered Kashmir, from Aksai Chin, which India claims as its own territory but which China controls. 

 

What has been happening recently at the border?

Over the last few months, there has been an increasing number of clashes along the Line of Actual Control between Chinese and Indian troops. These have mainly been low-level fistfights, including one larger fight that broke out in May. These tensions have resulted in both countries sending more troops to the border. An escalation occurred on the 15th of June, resulting in death for the first time in 45 years. India lost 20 soldiers, while China has refused to comment on its casualties.

 

What has sparked the recent escalation?

In May, India reported that the Chinese army seemed to have grabbed forty to sixty kilometres of territory in India, including areas not previously disputed. While each side crossing the border is not uncommon, due to the disagreement of where the line is, this was a more severe incursion as it included things like digging trenches and moving heavy equipment. 

 

It is not entirely clear why China would do this, although there are several possible explanations. One reason could be that India has been building a road to an air force base in the area, which China may have seen as a threat, although both sides have built infrastructure in the past. Another possible reason is that China has also been increasingly aggressive in Asia recently, possibly due to other world leaders being distracted by the coronavirus crisis. This includes increased aggression in the South China Sea and a crackdown in Hong Kong. 

 

The increased aggression in Ladakh may be part of this general trend. Additionally, China may be unhappy with India furthering its alliance with the US, including a 3.5 billion dollar arms deal in February. Regarding the clash on the 15th of June, India claims that China launched a premeditated attack on its troops, while China claims that Indian troops crossed the border and provoked Chinese soldiers.

 

Why is this important?

Both India and China, the two most populated countries in the world, possess nuclear weapons. While the chance of these being used remain remote, any increase in tensions inevitably raises the possibility that the two countries could escalate into war. Even if they didn’t use nuclear weapons in a war, it could still be very destructive given the size of their respective armies (two of the biggest in the world) and populations.

 

Can this be resolved?

It may be a positive sign that while both countries have guns and tanks near the border, the recent outbreaks of violence have been confined to fistfights, stone-throwing and some use of clubs. While this has still resulted in multiple casualties, each side has restrained themselves from using firepower. Both countries are banned from using firepower due to a 1996 agreement, which has not yet been broken. However, attempts to deescalate further may be unsuccessful.

 

 Initially, on the 6th of June, both countries agreed to disengage but this did not prevent the fatal attacks on the 15th. On the 24th of June, military commanders agreed again to disengage their troops, and it remains to be seen whether this will reduce tensions. Satellite imagery has since emerged showing  China has built several structures near the clash site from the 15th of June, in an area India claims is on its side of the Line of Actual Control. This casts some doubt on the possibility of disengagement, as this may be seen as a provocation by India. Even if tensions deescalate, the prospects of agreeing on an official border and fully ending the conflict are likely to be low, as several rounds of talks since 1962 have failed to produce one.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Steven Lasry

 

 

Why Is The World Ignoring Yemen?

Why Is The World Ignoring Yemen?

OPINION

Why Is The World Ignoring Yemen?

picture of women and child beside a hut

Sinead Scales

4th July 2020

 

Described as the worst conflict in the world, Yemen has now entered its sixth year of civil war. As this war rages on, this famine-stricken country suffers from one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world. Two million children and one million women are currently suffering from malnutrition, with two-thirds of Yemenis are without access to clean water.  According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 80% of Yemen’s 28.5 million people are in need of assistance or protection.  

In the first three months of 2020 alone, 500 civilians were killed or injured due to the conflict. Most worrying is that nationally one in three civilian casualties are children, but, in some regions, children are as high as half of all casualties. Yemen’s civil war is one of the Middle East’s bloodiest conflicts, yet it continues to be overlooked. Press coverage has been minimal throughout the conflict, often overshadowed by the civil war in Syria and the fight against ISIS. However, Yemen has not escaped the grasp of terrorist insurgents. It is home to one of the most dangerous and active branches of Al Qaeda. Why is such a conflict, which displays the same characteristics as those featured heavily in the media, so often ignored?

In 2018, a poll commissioned by HumanAppeal revealed that 42% of the UK were unaware of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, yet 77% were aware of the war in Syria. The complicated nature of this war could account for either lack of interest or lack of understanding. The conflict is, at its core, a clash between Houthi rebels and the former Yemeni government; however, there are regional and international players in the conflict which have intensified the violence and complicated the battlefield. The Houthi rebels are backed by Iran, who provide them with arms, while the government is backed by the Saudi coalition who have launched intense and unrelenting airstrikes and a blockade which is forcing the country into famine. Yemen is just one of many proxy wars conducted by Saudi Arabia and Iran, as they scramble to become the dominant power of the Middle East. Proxy wars occur where one or multiple nations support and utilise a state or non-state actor to further their interests against an enemy nation-state. This indirect involvement prevents accountability and transparency, which explains why Saudi Arabia and Iran are capitalising on such opportunities. Media outlets, such as Vox, have dubbed these proxy wars ‘The Middle East’s Cold War’

As Yemen borders Saudi Arabia, the Saudi government was threatened by the Iranian backing of rebels on their doorstep. The involvement of Saudi Arabia in March 2015 marked a deadly turning point in the war. The force at which Saudi Arabia entered the conflict has drawn some criticism- namely the accusation of war crimes resulting from the allegations of indiscriminate bombings. One of these bombings occurred in 2018, where a United States supplied bomb hit a school bus, killing 40 Yemeni children. In October 2016, 155 people were killed, and 525 were injured in a bombing of a funeral. This attack was also carried out by a US supplied bomb. In response to the attack, Philipe Bolopion, the deputy director for Global Advocacy at Human Rights Watch stated: 

“The whole war has been marked by attacks on weddings, hospitals, civilian infrastructure, civilian locations, so it fits a pattern. Better late than never, but the world should have woken up a long time ago to this.”

 

“Clearly, the well being of citizens on the ground are of low priority to the powers at play.”

 

Saudi Arabia has also been accused of using famine as a weapon of war. Their blockade has directly contributed to widespread famine in the country. The blockade, combined with the regular bombing of hospitals, has crippled Yemen’s already struggling health system, resulting in the worst cholera outbreak in modern-day history. These tactics have highlighted a sinister dimension to this conflict. Clearly, the well being of citizens on the ground are of low priority to the powers at play. 

The United States and the United Kingdom have been providing Saudi Arabia with hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons sales, despite undeniable evidence of the weapons being used in the unlawful killing of civilians. Not only have the UK and the US supplied Saudi Arabia with aircraft and aircraft maintenance, but they are both involved in the training of Saudi forces in the use of these civilian killing machines. The US has provided additional support in the form of intelligence to Saudi Arabia, assisted in the refuelling of their war planes mid-flight, making airstrikes more frequent and deadly, and conducted a multitude of drone strikes themselves against terrorist targets in Yemen. Western powers who are perceived to be a beacon of morality and a voice of reason are cashing in on the conflict with no consideration for the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen.

The Obama administration established US involvement in Yemen. Over its tenure, the administration approved more than $100 Billion USD in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite Obama’s apparent disapproval for regional proxy wars. The value of these arms deals are set to dramatically increase under Trump. In 2017, an arms deal was signed with Saudi Arabia, securing an immediate 110 Billion USD worth of arms and totalling 350 Billion USD over ten years. In April 2019, Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have ended American military involvement in Yemen. Worries about legal blowback plagued the Obama administration, resulting in a half-hearted effort to reduce civilian casualties by supplying Saudi Arabia with a ‘no-strike lists’ and calling for peace talks. In contrast, Trump doesn’t seem to have any such worries and has escalated American involvement in Yemen by promoting looser battlefield rules and increasingly conducting raids on Yemeni territory. One such raid left multiple innocent children dead, with no legitimate target in sight. Trump’s only concern seems to be lining American pockets and boasting about his arms deals without any consideration for human rights or laws governing warfare.

As you learn of the atrocities occurring in Yemen, I hope you are filled with outrage. We turn a blind eye on Yemen as it does not directly affect us in Europe. Yemeni refugees tend to flee to nearby countries such as Oman and Somalia, as it is so difficult geographically for them to reach Europe. However, as the truth becomes clearer, the suffering caused by this conflict is undeniable. Yemen has become a violent playground for both regional and international powers. The level of coverage this conflict gets is incomparable to the widespread outrage and demonstration in response to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally, Saudi Arabia, Iran, The United Kingdom and The United States stand to benefit from the lack of understanding and media coverage. They continue to conduct themselves in a manner which completely disregards the Law of Armed Conflict, and the human rights of the 28.5 million Yemeni civilians gravely affected by the conflict.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by UNOCHA/ Giles Clarke

 

 

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Business & Politics

The Black Lives Matter Movement and Police Brutality

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

3rd July 2020

 

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was founded in 2013, as a response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin, which occurred in February 2012. The movement was founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who met through the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD); a not for profit organisation which ‘facilitates social transformation and improves the living conditions of Black people by (re)building the social justice infrastructure’. Although the founders met through this organisation, the movement began with a Facebook post by Garza titled ‘A Love Note to Black People’ in which she stated ‘Our Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter’, to which Cullors replied #BlackLivesMatter. With Tometi lending her support, a movement was born. The movement continues to embrace social media as a tool to mobilise and garner attention for their causes and has been dubbed ‘a new civil rights movement’ by prominent media outlets such as The Guardian and The New York Times. According to Pew Research, between July 2013 and May 2018, #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted nearly 30 million times, averaging 17,002 tweets a day.

 

The BLM movement is now a global organisation, with branches in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. According to the movement’s website, their goal is to ‘eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes’. The organisation remains decentralised, with ‘leaders’ encouraging organisation at a local level, rather than national leadership. Local BLM chapters commit to the movement’s 13 guiding principles but operate in the absence of a hierarchy or central structure.

 

The BLM movement is particularly known for coordinating demonstrations protesting the deaths of numerous members of the Black community as a result of their interactions with law enforcement. They have advocated for community control of law enforcement officials; through empowering communities to hire and fire officials and issue subpoenas and promoting the community’s role of deciding disciplinary consequences and controlling the funding of the police department. In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd on May 25 2020, due to the actions of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota; the movement gained international attention once again. They coordinated protests via social media, which spread to all 50 US states and six continents. The impact of this movement has been felt globally, reaching unlikely corners of the world including Syria, where a mural for George Floyd surrounded by rubble was unveiled in Idlib. Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium. The protests have spearheaded the ‘Defund the Police’ slogan in the US and in response, the Minneapolis City Council voted to disband their police department on June 7 2020 with the City Council president Lisa Bender stating ‘Our efforts at incremental reform have failed. Period’.

Police target the African American community at disproportionate rates. 13% of the US population are Black, yet, according to Vox’s analysis of the FBI’s 2012 Supplementary Homicide Report, they account for 31% of all people killed by police and 39% of unarmed suspects killed by police. When you examine the data relating to white people, the reverse happens. They make up 63% of the US population, yet account for 52% of all people killed by police and 46% of unarmed suspects killed by police.

 

“Importantly, these protests have sparked conversations around all forms of systemic racial inequality worldwide, from Direct Provision in Ireland to protesting the glorification of slave traders in the form of statues in the UK and Belgium.”

In the US, police are required to complete, on average, 672 hours of basic training. In contrast, a barber requires 1,200 hours of training to cut your hair. When you compare the training period in the US with other countries, the disparities are startling. In Germany, 2.5-4 years of basic training are required before joining the police force. Even more concerning is the content of this training in the US. In a 2006 report by the US Justice Department, it was found that police officers clock up 111 hours on firearm skills and self-defence but spend just 8 hours being trained in mediation and conflict management, 11 hours on cultural diversity and human relations, 8 hours on community policing strategies and a mere 4 hours on hate crimes. This demonstrates the priorities rooted in police recruits from the beginning of their career. Rosa Brooks, Georgetown Law Professor, stated ‘many police recruits enter the academy as idealists, but this kind of training turns them into cynics’.

 

A significant part of the problem is police unions. They have stood against reforms of police departments and advocated for increased pay and quality of working conditions. They have successfully created a ‘hero narrative’ which puts the police on a pedestal of unquestionable power. This narrative states that the ordinary citizen could not possibly understand the daily difficult work a police officer does, therefore, they are not in a position to question them. The unionisation of police departments has been shown to encourage police brutality. A study by the University of Chicago Law School found that the unionisation in Florida resulted in a 40% increase in violent incident complaints.

 

Another consideration is the robust employment contracts the police unions fight for. In light of George Floyd’s death, it was revealed that Derek Chauvin, the policeman who knelt on the victim’s neck, had 17 complaints against him. However, this is unlikely to be representative of the actual number of complaints. It is extremely difficult to investigate the number of complaints against individual police officers as union contracts allow for the erasure of these records, which prevent us from knowing the nature of the grievance and act as built in protections making it difficult to discipline officers as a result of a complaint. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the police chief fired all officers involved in the incident. However, this is not necessarily permanent, as union contracts prevent the firing of officers, even by the police chief. Therefore, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that all of the officers involved will be reinstated through an adjudication process. Union contracts are a major hurdle in ending police brutality, holding police accountable and getting justice for victims.

 

Traditionally unions tend to identify with the ideological left. However, police unions are outliers and tend to draw support from the ideological right. The Republican party, who have historically sought to weaken unions, have supported and strengthened police unions. This has led to the politicisation of police unions. Standing against police unions or suggesting police reform is considered political suicide in the US, as unions have incredible fundraising power. San Francisco District Attorney, Chesa Boudin, ran for the office in 2019 and had a campaign agenda that included decarceration, eliminating cash bail, establishing a unit to re-examine wrongful convictions, and promoting police reform. In response, a coalition of police unions across California raised $700,000 for his campaign opponents and spent $400,000 on TV ads against Boudin’s campaign. Their efforts were unsuccessful, and Boudin was elected as District Attorney, but given their power, it is unsurprising that politicians often cower in the face of police unions.

 

The BLM movement works for a world in which ‘Black lives are no longer systemically targeted for demise’. However, it is clear that the agenda of police unions is fostering a culture of impunity, permeating the police force and enabling police brutality, directly translating into an unacceptably dangerous environment for Black communities in America. Police union contracts put accountability beyond the realm of possibility and fortify the notion that law enforcement are truly above the law. The obstacles and exceptions created by police unions protecting police officers such as Derek Chauvin, are not obvious to all people celebrating his arrest for the murder of George Floyd. It remains to be seen if these latest Black Lives Matter protests will be able to take on the hypocrisies of the American justice system.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Clay Banks

 

 

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

BUSINESS AND POLITICS
Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality
Lydia Howard Chevalier
27th June 2020
 

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is important to honour the pioneering achievements of early LGBT+ activists in Ireland. During the late 1970s and early 80s, a dark period marred by poverty, unemployment and the criminalisation of same-sex activity in Ireland, members of the LBGT+ community carried out several acts of resistance and defiance which would forever alter the social and political fabric of our nation.

 

Ireland’s first Pride Week was held in 1979, the same year the Hirschfield Centre in Dublin was officially opened, providing a much-needed safe space for LGBT+ individuals. During the 1979 Pride Week celebrations, two significant events took place; a political forum on homosexuality was held at Hirschfield, with several top politicians in attendance and an open night, welcoming members of the public to engage with LGBT+ issues which helped to dispel fears and stereotypes while furthering public discourse on LGBT+ rights. These powerful initiatives represented a huge step forward in the fight for equality, particularly through engaging with the wider community and the political sphere. This ensured that an issue which was not typically a political priority at the time remained fresh in people’s minds.

 

The criminalisation of same-sex activity, an unpleasant lingering after-effect of colonialism, served to marginalise the LGBT+ community in several, all-encompassing ways; many gay and lesbian individuals were forced to hide their sexuality for fear of prosecution, but also to avoid becoming social outcasts. Being openly gay at that time meant social isolation, the possibility of losing one’s job and a generally poor quality of life in a country heavily influenced and controlled by the Catholic Church’s teachings. Even our constitution casts a distinctly Christian shadow on the laws of our republic. In 1977, David Norris, a lecturer at Trinity College and founder of the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform, began a legal challenge against the Irish State to decriminalise homosexuality. In 1980, his legal challenge was defeated, as was the appeal, with counter-arguments relying heavily on “natural law” and Christian tradition. However, this did not stop him, and he proceeded to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. He was rewarded for his perseverance when the Court ruled in his favour, paving the way for future changes to the discriminatory laws of the time. This was the case five years later when, during Pride Month in 1993, the Dáil passed legislation decriminalising homosexuality in Ireland.

 

“Despite the revolution in Irish laws and social attitudes in recent decades, as well as the provision for marriage equality in our constitution, it is vital that we do not become complacent”

With decriminalisation came a new wave of political and social engagement. The National Gay Federation saw the advantage of being media savvy and were decades ahead of their time with social media and campaigning. Their use of leafleting campaigns, public picnics and the publication of their own in-house magazine were pivotal to their success. Today, social media plays an equally important role; for the first time in an Irish poll, social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook were as influential in the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum campaign as traditional media, with high levels of engagement among young people. These platforms provide a useful means of motivating people of all ages to vote. The utilisation of social media proved effective when, during that same year, Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote – a truly monumental day in the history of Pride in Ireland.

 

Black Pride is a very relevant global movement in the current context of the Black Lives Matter protests. It started in the 1990s as a way to provide black LGBT+ people with an alternative to the mainly white mainstream LGBT+ movement. This is a sad example of the compounded discrimination and isolation described by Russian asylum seeker and activist, Evgeny Shtorn, in a June 2019 article for the Irish Examiner. He describes the intolerable conditions that LGBT+ asylum seekers are forced to navigate on a daily basis. Regardless of the goodwill of the management in some Direct Provision centres, this type of closed environment is unsuitable for such a vulnerable minority. Many live with the fear of being humiliated, raped or attacked, and they are forced to police their behaviour, an exhausting daily routine. Many feel unable to speak about their struggles due to the fear of deportation. The fact that Ireland now has a Taoiseach who identifies as both gay and mixed-race is proof of the kind of progress Ireland is capable of making – if we can have an LGBT+ leader, then we should be capable of ensuring other LGBT+ individuals are more equally represented in all areas of our society so that they can not only survive, but thrive.

 

Despite the revolution in Irish laws and social attitudes in recent decades, as well as the provision for marriage equality in our constitution, it is vital that we do not become complacent. We have come a long way on our journey, but it is dangerous to think that we have reached our destination. The LGBT+ community still face discrimination in this country and many others. It is still illegal to be gay in 80 countries. LGBT+ people still face prison, homelessness, unemployment and even the death penalty in many places around the world, and this discrimination needs to end now.

 

A recent survey of young people in the Irish education system, conducted by Belong To youth services and Columbia University, found that as many as ¾ of gay or transgender teenagers feel unsafe in school, with many receiving homophobic remarks from both students and teachers. They see school as an unwelcoming environment for them, and they are made to feel excluded. This provides us with an opportunity for change. An important step forward is to instil a sense of fairness, justice and equality in our children and adolescents. This can be achieved through high quality, inclusive and holistic education which encompasses the discussion and normalisation of LGBT+ issues, thus creating a new generation of LGBT+ rights defenders.

 

This year’s Pride Celebrations have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, according to the organisers, “Pride isn’t cancelled, we’re just bringing it home!”. Modern technology is enabling a wide range of virtual workshops, tutorials and book readings to go ahead this month, bringing the celebrations straight to people’s homes. Not even a pandemic will get in the way of determined activists!

 

 

Featured photo by Brand New Retro