Honda helps urge Justice probe of Ahmed’s arrest

Rep. Mike Honda joined the only two Muslims in Congress to lead 26 other House members Tuesday in urging the Justice Department to investigate the detention of Ahmed Mohamed, a Texas boy who brought a homemade clock to school.

Mohamed, 14, was arrested after he brought a homemade clock to school to show his teachers and was later accused of having a “hoax bomb.”

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose; Keith Ellison, D-Minn.; and Andre Carson, D-Ind., wrote to express concern that “Ahmed was denied his civil rights… and refused the right to speak to his father.” The representatives went on to call attention to “reports surrounding the incident that strongly suggest that Ahmed Mohamed was systematically profiled based on his faith and ethnicity.”

“As the President said, ‘Cool clock, Ahmed.’ It’s high time we end discriminatory practices in this country. Profiling and mistreatment of an individual based on presumed or actual faith or ethnicity has no place in the world, let alone in the United States of America,” Honda said in a news release, adding an implicit smackdown to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who said Sunday he “absolutely would not agree” with having a Muslim serve as president.

“From presidential candidates to teachers and police officers, we all must take a strong unified stand against this seemingly growing trend of fear mongering and bigotry being wrongly perpetuated in our society,” Honda said. “People shouldn’t fear mistreatment or persecution simply for being who they are. As a world leader, America should be setting the bar for tolerance and equality – principles that speak to the foundation of this great nation,”

Among other House members signing the letter were Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel.

Jenifer Wicks, national civil rights litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said her organization stands with Honda and other lawmakers in calling for a Justice Department civil-rights probe. “It is disturbing that Ahmed was suspended by the school and arrested by the police after officials ‘followed protocol’ and determined that he had merely brought a clock to school and that there was no actual threat,” she said.


AG Eric Holder tells Missouri cops to back off a bit

This just in from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who met earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:

Eric Holder“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown. While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.

“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.

“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.

“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.

“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.

“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”


Barbara Lee goes veggie; plans civil-rights events

Rep. Barbara Lee said today she’s going vegetarian for two weeks.

“This week, I’m excited to be participating Oakland Veg Week, a vegetarian pledge happening here in my district. I’m also pleased to join the national effort, Veg Week 2012, and continue with this pledge from April 23 to 29,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “I am glad that my constituents in Oakland are taking the lead in promoting healthy and sustainable lifestyle choices, and hope others across the country will join me in this pledge.”

So we presume she’ll have a salad or some such thing if she takes Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to lunch after joining him to address Emery High School students at 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Emery Theater on San Pablo Avenue in Emeryville. Lewis, a civil-rights icon, will be reminding the youths of the need for them to play an active role in shaping society and the importance of building a community focused on justice.

Lewis also will be the featured speaker at the final installment of the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series at 7 p.m. this Saturday, April 21, in Beebe Memorial Cathedral, 3900 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland. Seating for this event is limited, and tickets are available by calling the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center at 510-434-3988 or D. R. Roberts Event Management at 510-654-5335.


Civil rights icons kick off lecture series in Oakland

Two renowned civil rights activists who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will speak Thursday in Oakland, the debut of a lecture series intended to inspire new activist leadership.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, announced that Dorothy Cotton and the Rev. C.T. Vivian will be the inaugural speakers of the Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series, produced by Merritt College and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

Cotton served with King as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s education director; after King’s assassination, she worked with Coretta Scott King in organizing and constructing the King Center in Atlanta. Vivian served with King on the SCLC’s executive board and played a key role in the historic Freedom Rides into Mississippi as well as in organizing the 1963 March on Washington where King delivered the “I have a dream” speech. Vivian now heads a leadership institute in Atlanta addressing the academic gap based on race and economic standing in public education.

The lecture series aims to foster an exchange of ideas that will inspire new “servant leadership.” Organizers caution it’s not just meant as a history lesson, but as a message to inspire new organization and activism around today’s American struggles and the pain caused by the economic crisis – job losses, increased poverty, a rise in foreclosures and loss of buying power.

“A servant leader is someone who is first a servant, one who accepts the responsibility of being in the world, and so he or she contributes to the well-being of the people and the community,” Roy Wilson, the King Freedom Center’s director, said in a news release. “Extrinsic and material rewards are important, but without a focus on the essential human values inherent in the principles of service and community we help create chaos.”

Cotton and Vivian will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Oakland Marriott City Center hotel and convention center. Tickets are $10, or $5 for students and seniors, and are available by calling the King Freedom Center at 510-587-7896. Cotton and Vivian also will present a free lecture earlier Thursday for Merritt College students and faculty.

Th lecture series will continue in February with Bob Zellner, formerly of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Jack Hunter O’Dell, formerly with the SCLC Voter Education Project. And in April, there’ll be a lecture by Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who as the SNCC’s director worked with King to integrate youth and students into the civil rights movement.


John Yoo asks that torture lawsuit be dismissed

University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall Law School Professor John Yoo – widely recognized as an architect of Bush Administration policies on torture and detainee rights – has filed a brief asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss a lawsuit filed by a former prisoner.

American citizen Jose Padilla claims Yoo, an attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 through 2003, provided the legal framework for the harsh treatment he received while held as a military prisoner for several years.

Padilla was arrested in 2002; authorities said he’d been involved in a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” and held him as an “enemy combatant” in solitary confinement in a military brig in South Carolina, where he claims he was illegally mistreated. Though authorities eventually dropped the dirty-bomb claims and transferred him to civilian courts, Padilla was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy and providing material aid to terrorists; sentenced last year to 17 years and four months in federal prison, he’s now appealing that conviction while he also sues Yoo.

Yoo’s lawyers moved to dismiss the case, saying that Padilla’s claims would force the courts to create a new legal right against government lawyers for legal advice given to the president, and that doing so “would not only constitute an unprecedented intrusion into the President’s authority in the areas of war-making, national security and foreign policy, it could jeopardize the ability of the President and other Executive Branch officials to obtain candid legal advice on constitutional matters of utmost national importance and sensitivity.”

But U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White of San Francisco in June refused to dismiss the case, and Yoo has appealed that ruling; he filed his opening brief late yesterday.

In it, Miguel Estrada, Yoo’s attorney, claims White overstepped his authority by creating “an implied constitutional damages remedy against Yoo for legal advice he allegedly gave to the President on matters of national security and foreign policy,” and that Yoo is entitled to qualified immunity – a protection for public officials who perform their official duties reasonably – because he wasn’t personally responsible for Padilla’s detention and treatment.

“Moreover, Padilla does not allege the violation of any clearly established rights. The law governing enemy combatants was and remains murky. To the extent enemy combatants possess any of the rights Padilla invokes—and, in most cases, it is clear they do not—those rights were not clearly established when Yoo worked in OLC,” Estrada wrote.

“This case also threatens to disrupt the political branches’ constitutional role
in war-making and foreign policy,” he wrote later in the brief. “If Executive Branch lawyers are threatened with personal liability should their legal analysis turn out to be incorrect, they will be reluctant to provide candid guidance on politically controversial issues.”

Padilla and his mother and co-plaintiff, Estella Lebron, must file an answering brief by Dec. 9, and Yoo has the option to file a reply within two weeks after that. The 9th Circuit appeals court has not yet set any oral argument date for this case.

Yoo has been the target of repeated protests and classroom disruptions at the Cal campus; the next protest is scheduled for Nov. 30.


Defense Dept. yanks terrorism/protest equation

I blogged last week about the Defense Department equating protests to “low-level terrorism” in an online training exam; today, the DoD says it will remove the question from its training module.

American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California staff attorney Ann Brick, who’d coauthored a letter of complaint to the department last week, said this afternoon she still hasn’t received a direct reply, but a Pentagon spokesman was quoted in a Fox News article earlier today:

“They should have made it clearer there’s a clear difference between illegal violent demonstrations and peaceful, constitutionally protected protests,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Les Melnyk said on Thursday.

Asked when a protest becomes an “illegal, violent demonstration,” Melnyk said, “I’m not a lawyer. I couldn’t get into the specifics of when you cross the line.”

“If you’re doing physical damage to people or property, that could fall into that,” he said.


Of the Defense Department’s 3 million employees, 1,546 took the exam, Melnyk said. All will be sent e-mails “explaining the error and the distinction between lawful protests and unlawful violent protests,” he wrote in an e-mail.

“We’re pleased that they’re withdrawing it but it’s very troubling that the distinction between violent actions and peaceful protests got lost in the shuffle,” Brick told me this afternoon. “In addition to antiterrorism training, I think there is a need for some training on basic constitutional values.”

“It’s disturbing to think that the word ‘protest’ is automatically conjuring up an image of unlawful conduct. The one that should be conjured up is one of people exercising their constitutional rights – that should be the immediate image that pops to mind,” she said. “Even if it’s loud or angry, it’s still protected.”

The tenuous nature of the mass protests now unfolding in Iran should give Americans an even deeper appreciation of their right to dissent, Brick said.

The Fox News report notwithstanding, “we still need to have a conversation with the Department of Defense,” Brick said, to discuss how the question made it into the test in the first place, what’s being done to prevent such things in the future, and what kind of training might be undertaken.