Violence

Vigil for Peace in Yemen, a New Norm

by Kathy Kelly
March 27, 2020

 

For the past three years, several dozen New Yorkers have gathered each Saturday at Union Square, at 11:00 a.m. to vigil for peace in Yemen.

Now, however, due to the coronavirus, the vigil for peace is radically altered. Last week, in recognition of the city’s coming shelter in place program, participants were asked to hold individual vigils at their respective homes on the subsequent Saturday mornings. Normally, during the public vigils, one or more participants would provide updates on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the ongoing war, and U.S. complicity. As COVID-19 threatens to engulf war-torn Yemen, it is even more critical to raise awareness of how the war debilitates the country.

If the vigil for peace were to gather in Union Square this Saturday, activists most certainly would draw attention to how Turkish officials  indicted 20 Saudi nationals for the murder of the dissident writer, Jamal Khashoggi. Turkey’s investigation of the murder and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi indicts 18 people for committing the murder and names two officials for incitement to murder. One of them, General Ahmad Al-Asiri, a close associate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was deputy chief of intelligence when Mr. Khashoggi was murdered.

Numerous news reports over the past five years establish a pattern of Mr. Al-Asiri responding to inquiries about Saudi-led coalition military attacks against Yemen civilians with misleading statements, outright denials and attempted cover-ups.

For example, On August 30th, 2015, according to Human Rights Watch, a Saudi coalition led airstrike attacked the Al-Sham Water Bottling Factory in the outskirts of Abs, in northern Yemen. The strike destroyed the factory and killed 14 workers, including three boys, and wounded 11 more.

Later on August 30, after the airstrike, Gen. Al-Asiri told Reuters that the plant was not a bottling factory, but rather a place where Houthis made explosive devices. However, all of the individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed concurred:

…that plant was being used to bottle water and was not used for any military purposes… A group of international journalists traveled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and reported that they could not find evidence of any military targets in the area. They said that they carefully examined the site, and took photos and videos of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion. They could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes.

Meanwhile, Yemenis were desperately trying to contend with rising cases of cholera caused by shortages of clean water.

In October, 2015, when eyewitnesses declared a hospital in northern Yemen run by Doctors Without Borders was destroyed by Saudi-led coalition warplanes, Gen. Al-Asiri told Reuters coalition jets had been in action over Saada governorate but had not hit the hospital.

On August 15, 2016,  a Saudi-led bombing campaign again targeted a hospital in northern Yemen supported by Doctors Without Borders. 19 people were killed.

The Abs hospital was bombed two days after Saudi airstrikes attacked a school in northern Yemen, killing ten students and wounding dozens more.

Yet Saudi officials continued to insist they struck military targets only. Commenting on the August 13 school attack, Gen. Al-Asiri said the dead children were evidence the Houthis were recruiting children as guards and fighters.

“We would have hoped,” General Al-Asiri said, that Doctors Without Borders “would take measures to stop the recruitment of children to fight in wars instead of crying over them in the media.”

In one of the deadliest attacks of the war, on October 8, 2016, the Saudi-led military coalition’s fighter jets repeatedly bombed a hall filled with mourners during a funeral for an official in the capital city of Sana. At least 140 people were killed and 550 more were wounded.

General Al-Asiri, still a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, suggested there were other causes for the blast and later reported the coalition had not carried out any strikes near the hall. But outraged U.N. officials, backed up by videos on social media, insisted that airstrikes had massacred the mourners.

The United States has steadily sided with Saudi Arabia, including supplying it with weapons, training its armed forces and covering for it in the U.N. Security Council. But “Defense One,” a U.S. news agency intending to provide news and analysis for national security leaders and stakeholders, recently issued a stinging rebuke to the Kingdom’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. They denounced the “humanitarian abomination ushered by Riyadh’s war in Yemen,” and called his leadership “as destabilizing to the Middle East as its Iranian rival.” Defense One urged Washington to discontinue enabling “Riyadh’s most reckless behavior.”

Turkey’s indictment of 20 Saudi nationals for murder and their insistence that Mr. Al-Asiri bears responsibility may help move the court of public opinion to resist all support for the Kingdom’s ongoing war in Yemen.

Particularly now, with intense focus on U.S. health care, it’s timely to recognize that in the past five years U.S. supported Gulf Coalition airstrikes bombed Yemen’s health care facilities 83 times. As parents here care for children during school closures, they should be reminded that since December 13, 2018, eight Yemeni children have been killed or injured every single day. Most of the children killed were playing outdoors with their friends or were on their way to or from school. According to the Yemen Data Project, more than 18,400 civilians have been killed or injured by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies since the initial  bombing campaign in 2015.

U.S. national security leaders and stakeholders in war, as they shelter in place, have an extraordinary opportunity to set a new norm and link with the vigil for Peace in Yemen, virtually. And, some may even join Yale students on April 9, from sunrise to sunset, in their National Fast for Peace in Yemen. They invite us to pledge support for Doctors Without Borders and other relief groups in Yemen.

Photo credit: Bill Ofenloch: Activists practice “physical distancing” at a Saturday morning vigil for Peace in Yemen, Union Square, NYC

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

Podcast & Watch Guide on Protecting Your Kids from Fascism

Today at Solidarity House Cooperative we posted this special podcast featuring Lindsey Hanlon, Brad Kramer and me talking about how to talk to kids, especially teenage kids, and particularly white and mostly male teenage kids, about the alt-right. In the wake of the latest and worst fascist massacre in New Zealand, we felt like it was important to address the toxicity and danger of youth hate radicalization.

Lindsey, who blogs at Into the Void, also compiled the following list of video resources for parents, kids, and anti-fascist activists.

Contrapoints:

The Darkness (a great take on edgy humor and how it is done well versus how it is done poorly)

 

Decrypting the Alt-Right: How to Recognize a F@scist (what it says on the tin)

 

Incels (a deep dive into the Incel community that manages to be sympathetic but also call out what is really messed up about it)

 

Innuendo Studios:

The Alt-Right Playbook: Mainstreaming (the whole Alt-Right Playbook series is great, but this one is most relevant to what we talked about)

 

Lindsay Ellis:

Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis (an excellent look at the irony/boundary pushing discussion, specifically centered around the representation of Nazis)

hbomberguy:

PewDiePie is a Nazi (A lot of hbomberguy’s stuff is great, but again this is the most relevant to the discussion that we had. It’s both an old video and sadly relevant again)

 

Peter Coffin:

Somewhere to Belong: Jordan Peterson and + Alienation (again, many great videos, but this one is super relevant to what we talked about)

 

Angie Speaks:

Jordan Peterson, Jungian Archetypes, and Masculinity (again, awesome in many ways, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Kat Blaque:

Freedom of Speech + Social Media (again, many great videos, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Philosophy Tube:

Steve Bannon (a really good look at someone who is helping to normalize radicalism)

County attorney Trent faces conflicts of interest in choosing whether to prosecute Derek Colling

Albany County (WY) for Proper Policing Founding Member, Karlee Provenza, submitted this piece to five major newspapers in Wyoming, including the Laramie Boomerang and WyoFile. All of the pursued outlets declined to run the op-ed.

by Karlee Provenza
December 20, 2018

Albany County officials have found themselves in tough situations since Sheriff’s Corporal Derek Colling shot and killed unarmed Robbie Ramirez on November. 4th.

Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley faced controversy for hiring Colling in 2011, given Colling’s history of violence. Colling had previously killed two people in the line of duty, he was fired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for another on-duty assault, and he cost the City of Las Vegas $100,000 in a civil lawsuit.

Now that Colling has killed a Laramie resident, people in Albany County are wondering whether O’Malley should shoulder some of the responsibility for Ramirez’s death.

Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent is also in hot water. She has refused multiple requests to publicly release the body and dash camera footage of Ramirez’s killing, even after she showed it to journalists and allowed television stations to cherry pick bits for rebroadcast. This leaves Trent awkwardly trying to explain why it was okay to release the video to some members of the public, but not others.

Meanwhile, Trent faces a separate dilemma as the county’s prosecutor.

As County Attorney, Trent represents the people of Albany County. But she also represents the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. How, then, is she supposed to decide whether to prosecute an employee of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department (her client) on behalf the people of Albany County (also her client)?

The short answer is: she shouldn’t decide. Trent faces a clear ethical conflict of interest, and she should recuse herself from this case.

Laws regarding prosecutorial conflicts of interest are not very clear in cases that involve police defendants. Police rarely face criminal charges in court, so there is simply little legal precedent in this arena to guide us.

But what is absolutely clear is that police and prosecutors have close, symbiotic relationships. Prosecutors rely heavily on police. Police literally bring them work by arresting suspected criminals. When prosecutors decide to pursue charges, they rely on police investigation and testimony to secure convictions. Since the public tends to evaluate prosecutors on their ability to convict criminals, prosecutors’ jobs literally depend on police.

Police-prosecutor relationships are especially tight in rural places like Albany County (and most of Wyoming). The same officers work with the same prosecutors day in and day out, forming valuable personal as well as professional bonds and cultivating a sense of trust. When you spend years working daily alongside police to protect the community, it is exceedingly difficult to switch roles and go after someone your professional life depends on.

Trent may or may not have legal ground to remain the prosecuting attorney on Colling’s case—Wyoming law is ambiguous. But if she chooses to remain, there is absolutely no guarantee she can put aside biases that would impact her decision-making. This would threaten the fairness of any trial, leaving open the possibility that a conviction could be overturned. It would also risk making a mockery of our legal system. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cautioned: “… actual prejudice in such circumstances misses the point, for what is at stake is the public perception of the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

There would be several viable options for continuing to administer Colling’s case after Trent’s recusal. The case could be moved to another county, or another county’s attorney could be put in charge. Similarly, the Wyoming Attorney General’s office could take the case or appoint a special prosecutor.

Each option presents challenges. And these options may even decrease the likelihood that Colling faces charges—an outcome that would likely dismay many Albany County residents.

But people who are concerned about Robbie Ramirez’s death at the hands of police should also be concerned about a criminal justice system that allows conflicts of interest to go unchecked.

We cannot stand aside and allow for corruption because it is easy or convenient. Regardless of whether someone thinks Colling should face charges, it should be obvious that Trent’s situation is problematic.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, a prosecutor’s obligation “…is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”

A forum on police reform will take place from 6 – 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 4, at the Lincoln Community Center (365 W Grand Ave.) in Laramie. Snacks and child care will be available. More information is available on the ACOPP site.

Guns, Public Spaces, and the Arming of the Commons

by Matt Stannard
March 31, 2018

How should those concerned with economic justice orient ourselves to the discussion about school shootings and the availability of firearms? Many vocal revolutionary lefties have taken the position that “if the cops and white supremacists have guns, we need them too,” and although I don’t necessarily disagree with the principle of revolutionary self-defense (and support oppressed groups defending themselves by whatever means they think necessary), I think it’s important to reflect on the kind of world we are trying to build, as well as the way gun proliferation manifests itself in the capitalist political economy.

Public conversations about safety and security are not exactly self-conscious of their own kierarchic biases; think of how the silly “free range parenting” debate ignores the condition of communities of color, for whom there are often no “free ranges” where children are not in danger of being harassed or murdered by police. Likewise with the debate about whether to allow lethal weapons into public spaces. Liberals will ignore how gun laws hurt oppressed communities. Conservatives will ignore how the weapons industry and the myth of the armed white savior celebrate racist violence against those same communities. I also agree that all laws, including the regulation of firearms, fall harder and more capriciously on people of color—and are often constructed with that very aim. So I’m not looking to extend the hand of a deeply corrupt (even if occasionally redemptive) state onto those communities. At any rate, I’d prefer to debilitate or eliminate the private arms industry rather than punish individuals for possessing guns.

The reason my wrath is reserved for the arms industry is that they make a hell of a lot of cash while lobbying for the wholesale saturation of public and private spaces with guns. Gun lobbyists want guns to be an intrinsic facet of the very structures of everyday life. Besides being an overwhelmingly lethal vision of life, the arming of the Commons is contemporaneous with the privatization, the enclosure, of the Commons. Spaces ruled by the constant threat of lethal violence can be neither free nor cooperative. In the privatize-and-arm paradigm (for the forces behind privatization are absolutely allied with the agenda of the NRA and gun universalists), each affluent home is a well-armed fortress, less-affluent homes depend on the good graces of the wealthier classes (for whom they work anyway), businesses are all lethally armed, able not only to eliminate individual, pathologically disaffected worker-assailants, but also to intimidate workers from collective actions like strikes or slowdowns. In a world where no spaces are unarmed, and people cannot exist in mutual vulnerability, there are no truly public spaces.

Like privatized public spaces, armed public spaces substitute physical force for mutual deliberation, making hierarchies inevitable and participatory governance impossible. So it’s especially disturbing that advocacy of firearm security is focused on turning the “soft targets” of public schools (an especially vulnerable and valuable part of the Commons) into “hard targets.” The construction of the fearful student, the existentially insecure youth, is a fast track to the commodification of life. By defining the lack-of-firearm as a condition of insecurity, we invite the incursion of a warrior class into our already materially overdetermined class relations. All of this makes sense against a backdrop of creeping incipient fascism and neoliberal privatization economics. “Whether wielded by heavily armed police, mass shooters or right-wingers,” Sean Larson writes, “the sheer volume of guns in the U.S. serves to militarize underlying social conflicts.”

That political economy of weaponization is manifest across many current points of the gun debate. So when the White House and Department of Justice promise to aid in the training of armed teachers, they will undoubtedly award firearm training contracts to for-profit gun school cronies. A cluster of banks with proven records of racism and/or criminality–Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Fifth Third Bank–are providing financial support to arms corporation Remington, as it slogs through bankruptcy. Other banks have refused to do so, citing public perception and general decency. Conservative lawmakers, put off by insurance companies’ risk market-based reluctance to insure schools where teachers carry firearms, are considering forcing those companies to provide the insurance, an irony several layers deep. Here in Wyoming, gun manufacturing businesses prop up a piece of the state’s conventional economy, and business groups welcome the prospect of new gun manufacturers setting up shop in the Cowboy State.

All of this is part and parcel of an economy based on extraction and exploitation. Citing Pamela Haig and Richard Hofstadter, Sean Larson’s amazing article traces the gun market to the desperation of arms manufacturers when wars end. It begins immediately after the Civil War, when

major gun manufacturers were faced with a dilemma: how to create a civilian gun market when the major demand from the military had fallen off sharply . . . in the 1870s, Winchester advertised its Model 66 as useful for “Indian, Bear or Buffalo hunting.” These early links between gun sales and imperial expansion, however, were nothing compared to the cultural campaigns launched a few decades later . . . During the [First World] war, contracts for the U.S. and allied militaries drastically expanded gun production facilities. But planners were already anticipating the postwar problem of, as Haag puts it, “too many guns and too much capacity for too little demand.” Looking ahead to an era of mass production and diminishing practical need for guns, sales and marketing teams set out to construct and reinforce an ideal gun consumer . . . gun manufacturers took the opportunity to monetize racism and fears of radicalism by advertising “riot guns” to business owners looking to protect their shops from “disturbances, either racial or political,” and promoting their firearms as the only surefire way to protect the “industrial life of the nation.” Such overt efforts to militarize existing class conflicts were part and parcel of a broader plan that Winchester called “the biggest and most carefully planned national advertising campaign ever undertaken by any firm of gun makers in the world.”

And so has it continued and evolved.

It’s impossible for me not to see the entire conversation around the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, and the rash of similar shootings, through this lens of capitalism, privatization, enclosure, and militarization. Thinking about how the warrior culture is embedded in materially hierarchical societies, I think about how the gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was a member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program, as were some of his victims. That program’s Parkland-based marksmanship team was partially funded by the National Rifle Association, meaning that gun lobbyists essentially helped train the assailant and wish also to help train those who try and deter or kill future assailants. I can’t even view stories about the non-responsive, seemingly paralyzed sheriff’s deputies who didn’t even try to stop Nikolas Cruz, without wondering whether they were deadened to the danger of the lethality of Cruz’s weapon, or aware of that danger to the point of being terrified, even as LEOs. There are no good decisions in lethalized spaces, and a society wishing to incentivize good decisionmaking should not saturate such spaces with deadly weapons.

Illustration: The Gun Factory, by Joseph Pennell – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, Public Domain