Today, we delivered an open letter to the White House calling on President Obama to adopt a comprehensive plan—a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice —that outlines how the Administration intends to meet its human rights obligations to end racial inequality, inequity, and discrimination in the United States, once and for all.
We delivered the letter today, March 21st, in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. March 21st is observed annually in remembrance of the same day in 1960 when police opened fire and killed 69 people who were peacefully demonstrating against apartheid “pass laws” in Sharpeville, South Africa.
Pass laws were laws that segregated and restricted the movement of black and other non-white South Africans. They required primarily black South Africans to carry pass books with them when they were outside their homeland or designated areas or risk arrest. On that day in 1960, thousands of black South Africans gathered in peaceful protest at a police station without their passbooks offering themselves for arrest. While accounts of what happened next differ, in the end, police opened fire on the unarmed protesters without any prior warning to disperse. 69 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in the incident.
The Sharpeville incident happened over 50 years ago in South Africa, yet the story has disturbing resonance for the United States today. The impact of pass laws in South Africa is similar to the effect of current day policies that may not overtly target, but that have a negative impact on, people of color such as the New York Police Department’s Operation Clean Halls. Operation Clean Halls allows the police to come into certain buildings including public housing, to stop, search and question anyone who is deemed suspicious in the building. Police can arrest residents for entering the building through prohibited areas like the rooftop or basement, or for being unable to provide proof of residence or identification. And guests can be arrested if they drop by without an invitation or the person they are visiting is not around to confirm that they are a guest. Not surprisingly, the outcome is that hundreds of thousands of black and Latino New Yorkers are harassed, humiliated and sometimes arrested in their own homes. Racial profiling laws across the country also have a similar disproportionate negative impact on Blacks, Latinos, immigrants, indigenous peoples, and LGBT youth. Like the examples mentioned above, discriminatory laws and practices these days are often indirect and concealed with facially neutral language. They are therefore harder to prove.
Our current civil rights laws are not sufficient for dealing with these contemporary forms of discrimination that have a disproportionate negative impact on African Americans, Latinos, Indigenous Peoples, Asian Americans, and Arab Americans whether intended to or not. However, the United States government has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) which provides guidance and remedies for addressing direct and indirect forms of discrimination from a human rights perspective. We are calling on the Obama Administration to adopt a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice laying out concrete steps it intends to take to fully comply with ICERD and address racial discrimination once and for all.
We have released an educational resource to provide more information on the National Plan of Action for Racial Justice, as well as a suggested template for the National Plan of Action for Racial Justice.
We thank the 125 groups that signed the open letter submitted to President Obama today. We will be submitting a petition to the Administration in the coming weeks as well. We urge you to join us in calling on the Administration to pursue all appropriate and available avenues to achieve racial justice in the next four years.
What You Can Do Today!
To support our call for a National Plan of Action for Racial Justice, we have launched a new campaign, Once & 4 All. Here is what you can do to support the campaign and spread the work!
- Sign and Circulate the Petition: we need everyone across the country to call for the National Plan of Action!
- Check out and “like” the Once & 4 All Facebook page. And share the post with your Facebook friends.
- Post information about Once & 4 All and the National Plan of Action on your facebook and twitter accounts.
- Upload a pic of the palm of your hand on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #ONCE4ALL to show your solidarity with victims who have suffered any form of racial discrimination.
- Send your Once & 4 All statement to the White House to let the Obama Administration know that change needs to happen now. http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments
- And check out our website www.ushrnetwork.org
Ejim Dike, Executive Director
This is a joint effort by the US Human Rights Network and the Human Rights at Home Campaign