Sometimes the worst disasters come with warning signs, but we realize them only in retrospect. Months before the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, workers protested oppressive and unsafe working conditions in New York garment factories, but their outcry was continually ignored by employers until the preventable tragedy erupted and extinguished scores of lives.
Fast forward a century to 2012. Roughly a year before Bangladesh was hit with its worst modern industrial disaster, the murder of a trade unionist portended the lethal dangers looming over the country’s booming garment industry. This month, labor advocates are commemorating the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed and injured thousands of garment workers and shook the global fashion industry. And they’re also mourning the second anniversary of the death of Aminul Islam, which should have been seen as an early sign of the human rights crisis roiling in Bangladesh’s factories.
Islam’s murder was emblematic of the oppression besieging Bangladesh’s labor movement, as well as the collusion between the state and the booming garment export industry. He was a prominent advocate for workers in the factories of the Savar and Ashulia areas of Dhaka and an organizer with the internationally renowned Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity (BCWS). On the eve of his death, he was helping to organize workers embroiled in a labor dispute with suppliers for global brands like American Eagle.
Islam knew he was courting trouble, as the BCWS’s intrepid grassroots organizing campaigns had made activists like him a prime target for harassment and intimidation by the police and security forces. In 2010, security officers detained and beat Islam, and he was eventually “charged with a number of spurious and unsubstantiated criminal offenses despite his verifiable alibis,” according to a chronology of the case published by International Labor Rights Forum.
The trouble finally caught up to him on April 4, 2012, when he vanished suddenly after going to meet a worker who is now suspected to have been an informant, according to an investigation by the international watchdog group FORUM ASIA. His body turned up the next day, “dumped by a roadside…almost 100 kilometers north of Baipal where he was last seen,” damaged beyond recognition. He had been beaten and tortured; a hole had been bored into his right knee. His corpse was later identified by his wife only after a photo appeared in the local paper.
The savagery and secrecy surrounding Islam’s murder were, to his family and colleagues, a clear sign that the authorities were behind his killing. And the silence surrounding the case two years on, despite international condemnation, is perhaps even more telling: his killers have never been brought to justice and the government has continually stonewalled activists’ demands for a transparent investigation.
Human rights and labor groups are demanding that Bangladesh reopen the investigation, and recently sent a letter to the Prime Minister calling on government authorities to “ensure that the perpetrators of the torture and murder are prosecuted…. Your government has a responsibility to exhaust all possible leads.”
Labor advocates, meanwhile, are exhausting all possible avenues for seeking justice.
Sara Ziff, a US-based labor activist with the Model Alliance, is producing a documentary about the case. In this clip, Kalpona Akter, who now leads the BCWS, recounts the trauma of Islam’s murder and his legacy in the ongoing labor struggles in Bangladesh.
Ziff tells The Nation, “It is naïve to think that this won’t continue if those responsible are not held accountable. There needs to be a credible, independent and transparent investigation into Aminul’s death.” With the documentary project, she adds, “I hope that those who knew and loved Aminul will find peace and that his death will not be in vain.”
The Rana Plaza disaster seems like a horrific vindication of labor issues that Islam militated against. Like the labor protests that preceded the Triangle fire, Islam’s death was a signal of deeper tragedies to come—whether they would take the form of an industrial disaster, or brutal oppression of activists. Both Islam’s case and Rana Plaza were consequences of the industry’s systemic violence and the lack of labor power in the factories. And the fight continues today on both fronts, for decent working conditions and for a labor movement that can protect workers from the ferocious greed that drives the fashion supply chain.
Labor activists continue to press for change in the industry in the wake of Rana Plaza, and recent incremental victories—new factory regulation programs and labor law reforms—show that Islam’s fight has not been in vain. Yet the silence that continues to surround his case reveals that Bangladesh’s factories remain not only unsafe places to work but also unsafe places for workers to speak up for their rights. But listen closely; there will always be those who refuse to stay quiet.
Read Next: Michelle Chen asks, “Can Western Corporations Be Held Accountable for Deaths in Factories Halfway Around the World?”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials removed immigrant hunger strikers from solitary confinement Thursday, according to attorneys representing three of the detainees.
The move comes shortly after the American Civil Liberties Union Washington and Columbia Legal Services (CLS) filed a lawsuit claiming ICE officials placed the detainess in isolation cells in retaliation against their protest activities. The lawsuit argued that punishing inmates for staging a hunger strike violates their free speech rights.
“We’re very pleased that ICE has stopped retaliating against detainees engaged in peaceful protest. Punishing hunger strikers by putting them in isolation cells was an unlawful attempt to chill free speech rights,” said ACLU Washington Legal Director Sarah Dunne.
ICE officials denied that they acted in retaliation, claiming that the detainees placed in solitary had intimidated other inmates into joining the strike. “While ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference, when these expressions infringe on the civil rights of others, ICE has an obligation to act,” the agency said in an email to the Associated Press.
More than twenty immigrant detainees were punished at Northwest Detainment Center in Tacoma for participating in the strike, said Melissa Lee, an attorney with CLS, who is representing three detainees.
Attorneys say prison officials called a March 27 meeting with hunger strikers, purportedly to discuss their protest demands. When about twenty detainees volunteered to attend, they were placed in handcuffs and moved to isolation cells, where they’ve been held for twenty-three hours a day since.
At least 750 detainees participated in the hunger strike, initiated March 7, to protest poor conditions at Northwest Detention Center, which is privately owned by GEO Group. Some detainees renewed the protest on March 24, demanding better food and an increased wage for prison jobs, currently set at one dollar a day.
“Basically this facility is run by the detainees. If we everybody stopped working, we could negotiate the pay raise because right now everyone’s working for a dollar,” said Hassall Moses, an Army veteran and detainee who is being held in solitary confinement, in a recorded interview. “We could talk about the quality of the food, the living conditions, and put into practice having detainees who come in with petty offenses be eligible to be released on their own personal recognizance or conditional parole or humanitarian parole to be with their families and to be working so they can afford their own attorneys.”
For more information on the hunger strike and conditions at Northwest Detention Center, see Rose Arrieta’s report for In These Times.
Read Next: How UK law ties immigrant domestic workers to their abusive employers.
Last November, the British tabloids were ablaze with headlines about a sensational case of “modern day slavery”: three women were reportedly rescued from forced “domestic servitude”—a captivity that had lasted three decades under the grip of a mysterious expatriate couple. The Brits were outraged that such an atrocity could have gone on seemingly unnoticed for so long in a busy metropolis.
The idea that “slavery” was still possible in twenty-first century England sparked a heated political debate, generating support for an “anti-slavery bill” that included long prison terms for perpetrators of trafficking and forced labor. But now that the media spotlight has faded from the salacious slavery house, softer forms of indentured servitude still flourish across London—and the law actually allows this bondage. These are immigrants imported legally, as household servants for foreign nationals, from the Global South. And their exploitation is less shocking to the conscience because it is so integral to the economic status quo.
An extensive investigation published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) reveals how the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in Britain has been aided and abetted by Parliament. Under United Kingdom visa law, affluent foreign nationals are allowed to bring “the help” with them, granting special work authorization to the servants they kept before moving to the UK. The scope of human rights laws and UK labor regulation seems to stop at the doorstep of the homes where these workers toil in isolation.
Of the roughly 15,000 migrant domestic workers entering the UK each year on special labor visas, an untold number are subjected to brutal, restrictive work regimens. The workers interviewed, mostly women from the Philippines, India, Morocco and Nigeria, are hired as servants and caretakers for children and the elderly, endure a range of abuses (working around the clock without adequate food), are denied their promised wages, and are even barred from going outside. “Andrea” told researchers:
They locked me up in the house in London, and when we went outside, sometimes they didn’t give me food. I didn’t have a sim card, I didn’t have money. My boss sent my salary to the Philippines.
The violations documented in HRW’s surveys and interviews include: “the confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days, and very low wages or non-payment of wages.” UK authorities should hardly be shocked by the fact that this is happening in an affluent Western democracy—the law allows for the direct importation of a type of traditional labor indenture known as the Kafala system from Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, a country that Western politicians have condemned for human rights abuses against migrant workers.
What’s extraordinary about their labor arrangement in the UK is that recent legal reforms have made them more, not less vulnerable to abuse. The government amended its visa regime in April 2012 to restrict migrants to a “tied visa system,” making it virtually impossible for a worker to change their sponsoring employer. By eviscerating the right to change one's workplace, the government effectively tethers domestic workers to the dominion of the householder, where the workplace is also the place one depends on for food and shelter, as well as their legal authorization as immigrants.
Although the abuse of domestic workers is not a new problem—and indeed, the systematic exploitation of housekeepers and caretakers is a major labor issue in many rich countries, including the United States—the UK's new employer-bound visa has dramatically heightened risks of mistreatment. They are subject to their boss's oppressive maltreatment and economic coercion, and yet the idea of breaking away from an abusive employer is unimaginable for many, as losing their visa means risking deportation and losing the overseas jobs that, despite the intense hardships, remain a critical way for these women to support their families in their home country.
UK law technically requires that foreign domestic workers have a formal contract outlining “written terms and conditions” of employment, and be generally informed of their labor rights. But the regulation of these labor arrangements is haphazard and relies on an honor system. “Once they are here, there are no checks, there's no mechanism to make sure how employers are treating them and if they're complying with those terms and conditions,” says HRW researcher Izza Leghtas. “So they could say [on the initial visa application] that they're giving them a good salary, that they're giving them time off, etc.—and not respect that at all once they're here.”
HRW found that workers often had little understanding of their labor rights and so were not even aware that they were, for example, entitled to a minimum wage. Many also did not know where to turn for help after suffering abuse. One Filipina worker reported that for several days after she ran away from her employer, she was sleeping in the park because she didn’t know anybody there: "I felt like a beggar.”
Pointing to the intersection of a dysfunctional domestic social policy and a twisted immigration policy, HRW notes that the government’s recent austerity measures have undermined resources for social services and legal aid for undocumented survivors. Meanwhile, UK politics percolate with sensationalized reporting and alarmist rhetoric about “combating human trafficking”—reflecting the notion that the everyday exploitation of migrants is somehow separate from the moral abomination of modern-day slavery. The public often fixates specifically, and disproportionately, on sex trafficking—which draws headlines as an especially scandalous form of enslavement—as opposed to more quotidian, less sensationalized systems of worker exploitation.
In fact, qualifying as an official trafficking victim is often the only means of immigration relief for abused domestic workers. They must petition through a bureaucratic process known as the National Referral Mechanism under the UK Human Trafficking Centre, an arm of the National Crime Agency. Advocates point out that many survivors are too traumatized, or simply unwilling to cooperate with criminal justice authorities, particularly without any guarantee that they will be granted residency in the end. (The UK has also failed to ratify the International Labour Organization's Domestic Workers Convention, a key accord establishing basic labor protections and standards for migrant domestic workers.)
So the UK's existing immigration and labor laws place the burden of proof on the survivor, showing the cruelty of its immigration policy toward workers whose only “crime” is being caught up in a system of labor that is criminal by design.
For a country that claims to be wielding the rule of law against “modern day slavery,” the UK seems keen on abandoning its most vulnerable workers to the rule of the master of the house.
Read Next: $2.13 an Hour? Michelle Chen Argues Against the Inhumane Tipped Minimum Wage
Once again the site BagNewsNotes has done a service for journalists and readers by raising concerns (following on recent work by others) about possibly staged or faked news photos widely-published by Reuters from Syria in recent weeks.
BagNewsNotes focuses on analysis and "literacy" of images in the media. As they explain, "No other site is as committed and singularly focused on the social, cultural and political 'reading' of the individual picture. Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, we feel it is vital for citizens to become better 'readers' and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin."
This email from the site's longtime publisher Michael Shaw provides key links and background (you'll see many of the photos in question) so I will excerpt here:
Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by the New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:
Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged?—with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.
The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy—details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.
In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.
That post closes with these questions:
When asked whether Khatib still worked for Reuters, the news agency refused to comment.
When asked whether the recent allegations had resulted in a change in Reuters’ news-gathering practices in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.
When asked whether Reuters would consider opening another investigation following the recent and specific allegations against its news operations in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.
And, more importantly, when asked why Reuters had been using Syrian activists as freelance photographers without informing its clients, the news agency again refused to comment.
We'll update as needed.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt: How Sensational News Stories Distract Us From Real Crises.
Ivan Lopez, the man military officials say opened fire yesterday at Fort Hood, Texas, killing three and wounding sixteen, reportedly suffered from depression and anxiety, and had trouble sleeping. Doctors prescribed him a number of drugs, and evaluated him for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, who spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, nothing on his record or in a psychiatric evaluation last month indicated he would harm himself or others.
If the shooting shocks and discomforts, the fact that more than half of all service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan say their mental or physical health is worse after their deployment should, too. Lopez’s act of mass violence distinguishes him from his fellow service members; still, he appears to have shared with many others the experience of coming home to a country unprepared to meet his needs. Of the 2.6 million men and women sent to Iraq and Afghanistan or to supporting operations overseas, more than half report that the government is failing to meet theirs. Nearly 60 percent say the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing only a fair or poor job. And one in two know another service member who, like Lopez, committed or attempted suicide.
Since at least 2008, more American soldiers have killed themselves at home than have died abroad. The VA has responded by expanding its mental health funding and adding thousands of people to its mental health staff. But less than a quarter of veterans are enrolled in the agency’s healthcare system, and more than a third of enrolled veterans who sought psychiatric appointments in 2013 faced at least a two-week wait.
“Frankly, we have got to do more,” Vermont Senator and Veterans Affairs committee chair Bernie Sanders said Thursday on MSNBC. “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of men and women. So if we’re serious about reaching out and helping those people, we’ve got to provide the resources to do that.”
Doing “more” doesn’t only mean boosting the VA budget. Veterans experience poverty, homelessness, unemployment and improper foreclosures more acutely than Americans overall, meaning that slashing the safety net, failing to extend unemployment insurance and other moves towards austerity create extra challenges for veterans grappling with the aftershocks of service and navigating re-entry to civilian life.
Congress had an opportunity in February to act on one of the largest legislative packages for veterans in decades, which Sanders sponsored. But Senate Republicans killed the measure, saying it was too expensive, never mind that the $21 billion price tag would have been paid for largely by the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan. For perspective, $21 billion represents about .6 percent of government spending in 2013.
Montana Senator John Walsh, a Democrat and combat Veteran, introduced legislation last week with a variety of measures directed at preventing veteran suicide. The bill would give service members leaving active duty fifteen years to receive care from the VA, significantly extending the current window that, at five years, is sometimes shorter than the onset of PTSD or other mental illnesses. The legislation also creates incentives for mental health care professionals to work within the VA system, streamlines electronic health records and prescription protocols, and requires the Defense Department and VA to review mental health care programs annually. When asked about the cost of his legislation, as Republicans surely will, Walsh told CNN, “That is the cost of war.”
Lopez’s mental health issues may have had nothing to do with his military service, and it would be a mistake to project his crimes onto other soldiers seeking treatment. The point remains that lawmakers spent trillions taking violence abroad. It’s hard to deny that some of it is coming home again, in the form of suicide and domestic abuse, and in the daily violence of homelessness and unemployment. It’s simple enough to tally what price Congress thought worthy for the armored vehicles and the aircraft carriers and the missiles used for our recent wars. What about the people?
Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on why we keep hearing about Benghazi
A solver recently wrote to express confusion over this clue from Puzzle #3316:
CHEER Coming back, get to loud ovation (5)
He understood, he said, that the clue was intended as a phonetic reversal: "reach" ("get to") read backwards ("coming back") to yield "cheer." But what was there in the clue to indicate that the reversal was phonetic?
A quick glance at the clue with fresh eyes was enough to reveal the source of his perplexity. Our solver was taking "loud ovation," quite plausibly, as the definition part of the clue; our intention was that "ovation" alone would suffice, leaving "loud" as the phonetic indicator. This was a misstep on our part. A more carefully crafted clue would have—and should have—eliminated that ambiguity.
But as it happens, this minor glitch did throw some light on an often-overlooked aspect of cryptic clues: Namely, the need for a certain amount of parsimony in the definitions. Even though a definition can be long-winded—and heaven knows we've written some wordy ones over the years—it should never risk spilling over into the wordplay part of the clue. It's bad form, in other words, to leave any doubt on the solver's part about where the definition ends and the wordplay begins (or vice versa).
Note that we're talking here about a clue that's already been solved, because up to that point, the constructor's goal is to keep the solver bamboozled. But although the location of the break can be hidden, it should never be ambiguous.
What that means in practice is that a definition generally shouldn't include words that aren't strictly necessary (and thus might plausibly be part of the wordplay) and moreover, that the wordplay shouldn't place words next to the definition that might plausibly be part of it. That was the weakness in our CHEER clue.
However, we retain the right to try to mislead solvers, as long as we do it on the up-and-up. This clue, for example, drew criticism from some unwary solvers:
SMETANA Inside, Brahms met an Austrian composer (7)
More than one person wrote to object that Smetana was Bohemian, not Austrian. But in this case, "composer" was the sum total of the definition, and "Austrian" part of the wordplay. So the clue, though tricky, was legitimate and unambiguous—because the wordplay requires the A from Austrian, and especially because the definition cannot include "Austrian" and still be correct.
This week's cluing challenge: can you to come up with a cryptic clue for PARSIMONY? Please share here. To comment (and see other readers' comments), please click on this post's title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver's blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle.
The OCD GOP yesterday held yet another hearing on the nonexistent crisis over the September 11, 2012, assault on the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Yes, another one. Writing in The Washington Post, Dana Milbank called it “hearing number 1,372,569, give or take,” and it certainly seems that way. Even though a massive official report made it clear that there was no political conspiracy to hide the truth about Benghazi, even though an exhaustive investigative report in The New York Times laid out the sequence of events in a very convincing manner, and even though President Obama did indeed describe the assault as a “terror” attack immediately after it occurred, the obsessive-compulsives in the Republican party can’t let go.
This really is a big deal to the far right, who argue that in a nefarious plot, President Obama and his team covered up the fact that it was Al Qaeda-linked terrorists who attacked the compound in Benghazi (it wasn’t), that the CIA and Susan Rice, then the US ambassador to the United Nations, engaged in some sort of political shenanigans to convince Americans that it was no big deal on the eve of the presidential election (they didn’t) and that the White House and the Pentagon blithely ignored calls for help from the US personnel under attack (they didn’t). Still, on every Fox News broadcast, on the right-wing blogs, at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference and elsewhere among the hard-core GOP faithful, “Benghazi” is a code word for Obama’s alleged fecklessness and perfidy.
At yesterday’s hearing, Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, bothered to testify at a hearing convened by Representative Mike Rogers, the GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who’s about the leave Congress to become (wait for it!) a talk show host. Not surprisingly, but with some restraint, Morell patiently explained that there was no conspiracy. Saying that the CIA compiled the “talking points” on the Benghazi attack, immediately after it occurred, based on the “best available information at the time,” Morell added:
I never allowed politics to influence what I said or did—never. None of our actions were the result of political influence in the intelligence process—none.... The White House did not make any substantive changes to the talking points, nor did they ask me to.
Did he have a conversation with anyone at the White House about the nature of the talking points?
His thoughts on the false information Susan Rice gave on TV the Sunday after the attacks?
“What she said about the attacks evolving spontaneously from a protest was exactly what the talking points said.”
How about the claims that somebody in the administration told the military not to assist on the night of the attack?
“I am aware of several requests by CIA for military support that night, and those requests were honored and delivered.”
Milbank adds that Representative Peter King (R-NY) “let loose a string of insults,” Representative Michelle Bachmann said that she believes (sans evidence) “that there was an intentional misleading of the public,” and that Representative Frank LoBiondo “shouted virtually his entire statement,” in which, hilariously, he said:
We get on talking points, and we get about who said this and whether the station chief said that. And the bottom line is that we’ve got people running around who killed Americans, who are sipping mai tais or whatever they’re sipping, and we can’t do anything about it.
Mai tais? Unless the Al Qaeda people he is worried about were drinking virgin mai tais, it’s unlikely that the strict Islamists who did assault the Benghazi compound had suddenly found a decree from some drunken imam that alcohol was no longer haram.
Politico, which appears to have taken the whole thing way too seriously, in its report quotes Rogers, King and others extensively, as if they were a bunch of Sherlock Holmeses who had finally gotten to the bottom of some mystery. But Morell quietly explained that he didn’t even know that Susan Rice would be appearing on Sunday morning talk shows, and that he didn’t know she’d be using the CIA-generated talking points, which anyway were subject to changes and updates as new information became available. As to whether the attack, which was first described as a protest over the Internet-circulated video about the Prophet Mohammad, and then as a pre-planned terrorist assault, was one or the other, Morell explained to the shouting committee members:
I believed what my analysts said, that there was a protest. I also believed it to be a terrorist attack. You see, we never, we never saw those two things as mutually exclusive, and so I believed both of those at the same time.
Before yesterday's hearing, Bill O’Reilly, the noted foreign policy expert, had this to say:
Now, the big picture: President Obama was running for re-election when the terrorists hit Benghazi and his campaign was touting his effective policies on terrorism. So there could have been a political motivation to keep terrorists out of the Benghazi debacle. If the Obama administration lied, that's an abuse of power. If the CIA cooperated in the lie, that's an abuse of power. As we all know from Watergate, abuses of power can lead to very bad things.
So Benghazi is a big story whether the left wants to admit it or not. To be fair we need to hear from Mr. Morell tomorrow under oath, and people should not be making blanket accusations against the President or anyone else. But this whole thing is very suspicious. If that CIA memo counters what Ambassador Rice said, all hell should break loose, even with apathetic media.
But it’s obvious that hell, even among the apathetic media, isn’t breaking loose.
Don’t worry: to be continued. And continued.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt on how sensational news stories distract us from real crises.
The NFL traffics in rank hypocrisy often without consequence. Profess concern about head injuries, while demanding an eighteen-game season? Decry racial slurs while profiting off of a team called the Redskins? Say you are role models while ignoring domestic violence? Profit from publicly funded stadiums while maintaining nonprofit status? This is Roger Goodell's shield and you can smell the rot from outer space.
Stepping into this moral vacuum we have Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman is more than a breath of fresh air. He's oxygen in a moral corpse.
After spending Super Bowl week compelling the media to recognize what they are actually saying when they call young black athletes "thugs," Sherman called out a different hypocrisy. Even better, he did it for a friend.
The NFL world roiled last week when Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver DeSean Jackson was abruptly released. News then leaked that a reason was that Jackson had "gang ties." It is unclear whether this was whispered by the Eagles to justify the cost-cutting move, but there was definitely a whiff of something that did not sit right. The cutting of Jackson and subsequent leaking of the "gang ties" accusation also happened after Eagles re-signed their N-bomb dropping wide receiver Riley Cooper.
In normal NFL times, acts of hypocrisy such as this go unchecked. But DeSean Jackson grew up in South Central Los Angeles with Richard Sherman. In Sherman's words, "we come from the same dirt" and he felt compelled to write a response to all the rumors.
Sherman's piece in Sports Illustrated about DeSean Jackson should be read in its entirety but here is the core of his argument. He writes:
I’m not going to tell you that DeSean Jackson isn’t in a gang, because I can’t say unequivocally that he isn’t.... I can only tell you that I believe him to be a good person, and if you think, say or write otherwise without knowing the man, you’re in the wrong. And if it’s true the Eagles terminated his contract in part because they grew afraid of his alleged 'gang ties,' then they did something worse.... But go ahead and judge DeSean for the company he keeps. While you’re at it, judge me, too, because I still live in Los Angeles, and my family does, too. We didn’t run from where we grew up.
He then commented directly on Riley Cooper writing:
"This offseason [the Eagles] re-signed a player who was caught on video screaming, 'I will fight every n— here.' He was representing the Philadelphia Eagles when he said it, because, of course, everything we do is reflective of the organization. But what did they do to Riley Cooper, who, if he’s not a racist, at least has 'ties' to racist activity? They fined him and sent him to counseling. No suspension necessary for Cooper and no punishment from the NFL, despite its new interest in policing our use of the N-word on the field. Riley instead got a few days off from training camp and a nice contract in the offseason, too."
Altogether it is a remarkable statement about the double standards of race and class that stain the league. It stands as a rebuke to the relentless, unending stigmas young black men endure based upon not only how they look but where they are from.
Sherman's article also speaks to an NFL that alternates between protecting or demonizing its own players, depending upon the financial imperatives of the moment. (The Washington football team, in need of a receiver, wasted no time in scooping Jackson up.)
As for Richard Sherman, he is something we have not seen in a long time: an athlete who is perilous to his own paymasters. What makes him dangerous is that he is both untouchable as an athlete and merciless as a critic.
I think I started thinking Richard Sherman was truly special when a reporter compared him to Muhammed Ali and he would not hear it.
He said, “It’s very humbling to be compared to Muhammad Ali because...he had to really stand his ground and almost go to jail because he wanted to stand up for what he believed in. So I think his situation was a lot more brave and a lot more serious than my situation is now, obviously, and he had to deal with a lot more scrutiny and just headache and criticism."
Richard Sherman is now officially risking more than just "headache and criticism." We have had more than a few athletes over the last thirty years who refused to "know their place." But we've had few who also knew their history. That's what makes Richard Sherman so dangerous to the NFL and that's also what makes him so valuable to the rest of us. By defending his dirt, Sherman shows how much the league acts in a manner that can only be described as dirty.
Read Next: Dan Snyder's anti-public relations and #CancelColbert.
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
As the United States marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the civil rights revolution he helped spur is in peril. The progress African Americans forged has stalled. Will the United States once more turn its back on civil rights?
It has happened before. The first Reconstruction began with the Civil War and ended with the passage of the civil rights amendments ending slavery and guaranteeing equal protection under the law. Newly freed slaves pushed to exercise their rights. They won local elections and served on juries. They helped create what were the first public school systems in the South.
The reaction was brutal. The Ku Klux Klan terrorized African Americans across the South. Democrats became the party of the Confederacy. Barely 15 years later, Reconstruction was abandoned. In the Compromise of 1877, Republicans got Democratic support for ratifying the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency in exchange for removing federal troops from the South, betraying the newly freed African Americans. As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “The slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun; and then moved back again towards slavery.”
Editor’s Note: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.
On his show last night, Stephen Colbert dedicated a whole segment to the death penalty, skewering the cloak of secrecy shrouding many states’ execution protocols.
“Americans support the death penalty, but don’t want to know how the sausage is made,” the Comedy Central host said.
Colbert focused on Tennessee, where death row inmates sued to uncover who is supplying the drugs that will be used to carry out their executions. Tennessee is one of several states, including Georgia, Missouri and South Dakota, with laws granting anonymity to lethal injection drug suppliers.
Watch the full segment: