Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Deb Kory

I first wrote about psychologists and torture for Tikkun in 2007 when I was working toward my doctorate in clinical psychology and all hell was breaking loose around revelations that psychologists were involved in torture at Guantánamo Bay and other CIA black sites. I had just started writing my dissertation, which sought to explore the history and social forces that led to such insanity in the profession I was immersing so much time, money, and energy into making my vocation.

I frankly had hoped the whole issue would be resolved by now - the perpetrators would be in prison, the system would be reformed so that it could never happen again, psychologists would have organized and taken a powerful stand against this misuse of power in their name. Yet here we are, ten years after the first revelations of torture appeared in the media, my dissertation long since bound in obscurity in my school's library, and not only are the revelations still coming, there is only now the first hint of a real investigation into the specific role psychologists played in this process.

But as psychologist Steven Reisner states in his new piece in Slate, there would be no torture without psychologists. Also, just this morning there was a very informative and comprehensive segment on Democracy Now! featuring both Steven Reisner and Alfred McCoy, whose book A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror provided the original road map to many of the issues I covered in my dissertation. I was at the 2007 American Psychological Association (APA) Conference in San Francisco shown in this segment, where psychologists made a desperate plea to the APA to put an end to these practices, while military officers in full camo fatigues stood menacingly around the room and Col. Larry James (chief psychologist at Guantánamo) made the case that "if you remove psychologists from these facilities, people will die."

I'm obviously not going to be able to dive deeply into this issue for purposes of this blog, but I want to offer a few key points for you to keep in mind as the discourse around this recedes out of public consciousness and we all go back to business as usual.

1. This was not the case of a "few bad apples" defaming the good name of our profession. The CIA and the psychology profession have been tight since the beginning of the Cold War, when hysteria about communism led the CIA to begin hiring psychologists to perform research on "mind control." At the time it was believed that, Manchurian-Candidate style, the whole United States would be hypnotized into communism (it was even believed the Soviets had bought the world's supply of LSD and were planning to drop acid on the entire U.S. population) and it was important that the U.S. be able to preempt that terrible fate by developing mind-control mastery of our own. Huge Defense Department contracts started rolling out for researchers, who soon became known as "behavioral scientists." Seriously, google "CIA and LSD" - it will blow your mind.

2. The most notorious of all the research programs commissioned by the CIA was known as MKULTRA. The CIA sent scouts out to APA conferences to find the best and the brightest to study mass mind control and individual coercion. The twenty-five-year program included research on unwitting participants, prisoners of war in Vietnam, and an unknown number of deaths around the world. The Kubark Counter Intelligence Interrogation Manual, a distillation of all of this research, formed the basis of training programs adopted all through Latin America, and guided the CIA's training of the secret police in Iran and the Philippines. The most famous of these training programs, the School of the Americas, has alone trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers who have tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared," massacred, and made refugees of hundreds of thousands of people throughout Central and South America.

3. With professional psychology emerging out of war, 15 percent of psychology internship programs and 40 percent of post-doc programs funded by the Veteran's Administration, and over sixty years of Department of Defense funded research, the psychology profession has a long history of financial embeddedness within and indebtedness to the American military.

4. The American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association both condemned participation in any kind of "coercive interrogations" (not just enhanced interrogations) at Guantánamo and other black sites, which left psychologists in a power vacuum. Psychologists, some of us at least, get very excited about power, since we are, among the sciences, considered a "soft science." In giving the Bush administration an assurance that these enhanced interrogation techniques were based in "good science" (in actuality all experts agree that torture is excellent for producing false confessions), and that they were necessary to avoid further terrorist attacks, psychologists provided the legitimacy the administration needed to subvert both constitutional and international law around the detention of prisoners of war and their treatment therein.

5. Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the rich, idiot psychologists who "reverse-engineered" torture tactics to employ on "detainees" of the War on Terror are actually just the tip of the iceberg. There were other psychologists involved in torturing prisoners and, what's worse, the American Psychological Association actively covered it up with their much-maligned APA PENS Task Force (six of the ten task force members had close ties to the Department of Defense, and five of those six had direct experience with coercive interrogations at Guantánamo, Afghanistan, Iraq or other CIA black sites). There has been no serious investigation into the actions of these psychologists until the recent revelations in Pulitzer-prize winning reporter James Risen's new book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. Risen, who had access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff reports that the APA "worked assiduously to protect the psychologists ... involved in the torture program."

6. Just a reminder: Most of the people swooped up into custody and sent to CIA black sites were completely innocent. These roundups included farmers, cooks, taxi drivers - in short, anyone who had been "turned in" for the large bounty (as much as $5,000 per head) that the U.S. promised to Afghan informants. I'm linking here to an article reported on Fox News about revelations by Bush's Republican former chief of staff to Colin Powell so you know this is not Lefty propaganda. Their lives have been ruined. Here's a short video about one kid, Fahd Ghazy, seventeen when he was kidnapped, now thirty, who has been trapped at Guantanamo for thirteen years despite being "cleared" to return to Yemen in 2007. Notice the kindness and humanity of his family and the sweet life he used to have.

7. Not a single person involved in the torture program, from psychologists on up to folks in the Bush administration, has been prosecuted. Oh, except for the CIA whistleblower who revealed the existence of the torture program. He's in prison.

8. No safeguards have been put in place in the American Psychological Association's ethics code to keep this from happening again. They have made several good sounding statements, but no actual changes have been made. As Steven Reisner states, "In 2008, a group of APA members appealed to the entire membership in a referendum to prohibit psychologists from participating in any operation that violates the Geneva Conventions or the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The referendum passed overwhelmingly and in February 2009 was made APA official policy by the member-run council. Yet to date, APA leadership refuses to implement the referendum, claiming the APA cannot determine when U.S. national security policy violates international law; the APA holds to this position even in the face of judgments rendered by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, for example, as to the illegal status of indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay."

9. It's just us chickens, folks. No one else is going to make this right for us, and the same handful of vocal psychologists have been out on the frontlines for the last eight years, doing their best to sound the alarm. We therapists are all busy, I know, and we're doing our best to help individuals transcend and heal from the pain of their lives and find joy and meaning. But the very people who accredit our institutions of learning (you know how everyone goes to APA-accredited schools and gets APA-accredited internships?) supported an illegal and immoral program of torture because... power and money. That and an atmosphere of fear after September 11 that, generally speaking, is extremely hard to resist unless our guidelines, punishments, and incentives (to be instruments of healing) are clear as the bright blue sky.

10. Psychologists, psychotherapists, and anyone professing to have an interest in the psyche, which is the Greek word for soul, simply have no business being anywhere near torture, either in spirit or law. Given that things have only gotten worse politically and economically over the last decade, with violent extremism at an all-time high, there is nothing to keep this from happening again. Get educated. Get involved. Join me in starting a task force of the Network of Spiritual Progressives for psychologists and psychotherapists to work on social justice and healing the planet (email me at: [email protected] if you are interested)! Join Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Email me about your organization, or one that you know about that is doing awesome work out in the world - I want to know about it! Sign this petition calling for a special, independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute (if there is sufficient evidence) any former officials involved in torture. If you are not a psychologist, spread the word to psychologists you know and, everyone, be sure to teach this history. The dark side of the profession needs to be known, made conscious, and integrated into our training curricula that is otherwise filled with so much self-congratulatory "expertise."

I will argue in various ways in upcoming blogs that psychotherapy is fundamentally about love. It is through love that we connect and heal one another and is, in my humble opinion, what is being referred to when we talk about the "therapeutic alliance," or refer to the ineffable healing process in therapy that scientists just can't quantify, try as they might. But we therapists mustn't be content to keep our love confined to the therapeutic hour or the individuals with whom we work. Just because our work with clients is private and confidential doesn't mean that we must live private and confidential lives. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." As a group we tend to be conflict-averse and we're used to holding a great deal of space for complexity, can imagine the inner lives of perpetrators and victims alike, and have trained ourselves to reflect instead of react. In this way we have a great deal to offer the suffering world, but we must step out of the confines of our cozy offices and actually find one another first. Otherwise we are just passing each other in life's hallway for a quick pee break between sessions.

And for any of you brave souls who would like to know more about the dark side of the psychology profession and its role in torturing people the world over, feel free to request a copy of my dissertation. I'm hoping to turn it into a book and your interest will help motivate me!


Deb Kory, PsyD, is a psychologist in private practice in Berkeley, CA and works as content manager for She was formerly managing editor of Tikkun and has written for Tikkun, the Huffington Post, and Alternet. She currently writes a blog, Bad Therapy, at A longer version of this blog can be found at

Photo Credit: Deb Kory

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Ragland with Arthur Romano

We stood there on South Florissant in Ferguson almost two weeks ago. As a friend and I walked through the crowds gathered there, all waiting for the grand jury outcome, the feeling was beyond tense. We heard voices, some declaring there would be no indictment and others hoping that the right thing would be done and there would be a trial. Then a path opened through the crowd and Michael Brown's mother appeared a few feet away from me making her way past us, escorted by family members. They guided her to a podium set up in the street in front of what seemed like waves of people between her and the Ferguson police station. She briefly paused and glanced over to the police station as if to make sure they would hear her words and said, "...they don't care...they think it's a joke..." She stood there, hurt and visibly angry, tears streaming down her face.

That moment when we learned of the non-indictment, the reasons why we protest became solidified in my mind and heart in a way they had not before. The protests reflect a community disenchanted with the status quo of (in)justice in the U.S. with what seems like the frequent inability to see black and brown people as worthy of the dignity of which all humans are equally deserving.

The protest chants, many created by young people from Ferguson and beyond make visible deep knowledge that is often hidden to many who do not face the daily indignities that young African Americans endure. We often chant "Black Lives Matter" and "the Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell." We affirm what we know when we chant: that the dignity of our lives that grounds and sustains us is too often undermined and assaulted by a deep system of inequality. Yet, the fact that the words "Black Lives Matter" have to be said reflects a social, cultural, and political system that is either largely blind or in deep denial, yet complicit in a multi-generational process of structural racism that is violent toward People of Color.

The far-reaching impacts of this inequality were not necessarily recounted in detail that night when Michael Brown's mother spoke to us. The truth is there is too much to tell in a single night but the lives of many people bear an often hidden testimonial in this country that lies just beneath the surface. I believe there is something healing in openly expressing this righteous indignation in response to injustice in the presence of others, in making what is hidden seen with national and international support. I know this first hand since I grew up in Baden in North St. Louis, less than five miles from Ferguson. I was taught to be fearful of police because of experiences that shaped my life and the lives of my family and friends. I grew up knowing my uncle was badly beaten by police because he was wrongly accused of stealing a jar of jam. That was a sign of things to come as my entire life I navigated through Ferguson and areas like it with a foreboding sense that the absurd was possible because of my color, that whether I lived or died could be decided without any sense of justice or accountability.

Many African American youth of this generation are rightly angered by this situation and we need to listen to them if we are going to find a lasting solution to these problems. Political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal describes a kind of psychic energy expressed in music that often conveys a sense of little hope:

"the music arises from a generation that feels, with some justice, that they have been betrayed by those who have come before them. That they are, at best, tolerated in schools, feared on the streets and almost inevitably destined for the hell holes of prison."

While it is important to acknowledge the anger and paralyzing numbness that comes from this relentless institutional oppression, the fact that so many young people are expressing themselves and demanding that the system be changed shows how deeply people do care and opens up pathways for change.

A New Generation

The protests in response to murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and many others and the inability to indict the police that killed them, offers an opportunity to understand where we are in history. Youth, already aware of their conditions, are proclaiming their humanity and their commitment to changing the status quo through protest and in so doing are challenging us to think through each of our contributions as well. This truth-telling as heard in the protest chants excavates the shared knowledge of past movements for liberation, not in a nostalgic sense but with a fierce urgency to shed light on the devastating effects of structural racism today. The protests engage us in the conflict, removing the comfortable moral high ground that too often obscures our complicity. This is powerful work as this sustained direct action--faith in action--reveals and dramatizes the injustice that is too often portrayed as normal outside of the escalated conflict's context. As a result, it makes us all uncomfortable and pushes us to consider how we can make a higher-level commitment to racial and economic justice in our work and in our lives.

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

Let's head back to Ferguson on the night of the grand jury announcement. Within minutes of the news of the non-indictment, police donned in expensive new riot gear appeared and pushed forward trying to disperse the crowd. That night as we came to grips with the decision, we lacked a supportive space for mourning or reflection on the part of the authorities. Instead we were met with a fear of protestors and a hunger amongst the media for some broken windows and destruction of property to report. They missed the importance of creating spaces for people to grieve and be heard, and the need for deeper conversation about justice and accountability.

As the police closed in, the words of a chant that has inspired this movement from the beginning, clearly cut through the cold air that night, "the whole damn system is guilty as hell." I believe this chant voices the knowledge that spans generations: the experience of a militarized response to protests is not just a product of this moment, but of a inherited system that seeks to silence truth telling about inequality through the use of violent force. It is important that we do not miss this opportunity for sustained truth telling, to see that the protests are not simply blaming or trying to displace responsibility, but acknowledging work that needs to be done while the world is listening. What we see now is a shift from moments of resistance to a movement working to change systems that create this inequity. The broader picture of disproportionate imprisonment and inequitable education leading many to the criminalization, underemployment, and criminal mistreatment that Black people (and People of Color) in this country face is a stark reminder that we do not have the same moral values as white Americans. This statement does not invalidate the suffering many Whites living in poverty experience or that so many people in this country face oppression, but instead reinforces the need to demand structural change for the American system of procedural justice whenever it fails to address the dignity of all of its citizens.

What's next?

There is urgent need for a transparent, democratic, and peaceful process that invites the American community more widely to begin sharing their stories and listening to the experiences of others within a Truth-Telling Process. In a context in which the formal legal system so often fails the most vulnerable and where exploitation is woven into the social and economic structure of the nation, community-lead truth-telling processes provides a foundation for greater justice. Truth and reconciliation emphasize radical listening and acting with victims in finding solutions to these problems. Truth and Reconciliation processes do not have to be lead by outside experts and can take a variety of forms depending on the needs and capacity of each community.

While listening is an important component of these processes it is not by itself enough and these processes need to be grounded in a core commitment to identify forms of action that restore and rebuild whenever harm has been done. This process must address the recent murders of Michael Brown, John Crawford, Akai Gurley, Eric Garner, Vonderrick Myers, Kajieme Powell, Tamir Rice and the continuous onslaught of police shootings of black and brown people that have resulted in wide-spread disenchantment with the militarized police and official response to protests and their supporting institutions and communities. While there have been many attempts to separate each of the murders suggesting that they are isolated and not connected to race and class, there is a broader picture of disproportionate criminalization and educational and economic discrimination that corresponds with the police violence that we need sustained commitment to transforming.

This is why we are emphasizing that reconciliation requires justice, both in the narrow sense of accountability for officers and departments that are engaged in discriminatory practices and violence and in addressing the wider conditions that often rob people of dignity and opportunities to thrive. At this point in the movement many of us are asking how might we move toward a break from this cycle of direct and structural violence in a way that supports communities in taking the lead on this long-term work?

The Center for Educational Equity with the Peace and Justice Studies Association and many other local organizations are calling for a nation-wide process of Truth-telling. This process uses a truth and reconciliation framework to call on victims of police violence, their families and communities to document their perspective as evidence for structural change characterized by community initiated programs, and having local legislation adopt international human rights standards so local police become subject to standards that require them to recognize and respect the human dignity of the residents they serve.

In St. Louis the Center for Educational Equity with the Peace and Justice Studies Association are using a truth and reconciliation framework to begin a truth-telling process. The project involves the following:

1. Building interest for process through editorials, living room conversations, structured intragroup dialogue and video experiences on

2. Coalition building with local and national organizations

3. Begin Truth-Telling in early 2015 using international human right testimony/deposition where local victims share and others are invited to St. Louis to testify, as well as other communities simultaneously holding independent non-government truth-telling hearings

4. Giving voice to histories and experiences of police violence, examining their structural causes and developing legislation and community programs based on these knowledge garnered from these processes.

5. A reconciliation process that involves national conversations on racism and police violence once structural change is underway

This is an exciting moment of awakening and the protests are a sign of the impending necessity for our entire society to embrace a creative solution that involves the acknowledgement of our equal moral value and worth. We learned from the civil rights movement that racism and hate couldn't be legislated out of the hearts and minds of people. The education and human connection that truth-telling and reconciliation inspires has that possibility to deepen changes in attitudes and beliefs about the necessity for greater social and economic equality and to connect the personal and the political in communities across this country.


David Ragland, PhD is a North St. Louis Native and Visiting Professor of Education at Bucknell University. He is on the national board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association and is the United Nations Representative for the International Peace Research Association.

Arthur Romano, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the School of Conflict Resolution and Analysis at George Mason University. He is a scholar-practitioner whose research and applied interests include youth social justice leadership, global educational movements and educational responses to transforming violence and poverty.

Photo Credits: Wikipedia

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Michael Hulshof-Schmidt

This has been a good year for marriage rights for the LGBT community in the United States. Since the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor gutted the so-called Defense of Marriage Act - an unfortunate legacy of the Clinton administration - a tide of legal decisions has washed away state bans on marriage equality. At this moment, thirty-five states offer full access to marriage for same-sex couples, covering nearly two-thirds of the country's population. Five more states are poised on the brink, and the high court has refused to even take up appeals from the forces of bigotry.

Yet while marriage is an important right that carries many benefits, opening the nuptial doors hardly signals the eradication of homophobia or misogyny. In twenty-nine states, it is still legal to discriminate against the LGBT community in employment, housing, and education. In fact, fourteen of the states that offer marriage equality simultaneously refuse to provide these basic protections (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming). And all of the five that are likely to have marriage equality soon (Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas) allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is a horrible disconnect. In practice it means that a couple who celebrate a happy, significant occasion are in fact opening themselves up to more discrimination, perhaps even the loss of their homes or livelihoods. Again, we have a labyrinthine system for LGBT individuals to navigate with a level of risk that can result in loss of income, housing, healthcare, and consequently further targets in their communities.

Knowing which rights are protected and conveyed by one's home state and which are denied is confusing at best and potentially hazardous. Adding in the layer of rights and benefits provided by the federal government - and the risks associated with claiming them - makes it even harder. People of color, the poor, the disabled, and other targeted and marginalized communities are hit even harder. The intersections of oppression make this confusing, dangerous situation just one more set of barriers standing in the way of equity.

Homophobia and misogyny share deep roots in our culture, which targets and punishes any variance from so-called traditional gender roles and expression - demonstrating again how the varying forms of discrimination intersect. This overlap is also an opportunity, however, as many LGBT employees are using a 1989 sex discrimination case to fight for their rights. Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins held that it was unlawful to discriminate against a person based on how well they fit social norms of gender expression. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has agreed in several cases that firing a gay or lesbian employee for not being "appropriately" masculine or feminine violates this protection.

Using this case to fight against employment discrimination of gays and lesbians illustrates how interwoven the threads of discrimination are in our country. Sadly, it is another example of how hard it is to fight for equality and equity. People with limited access to legal resources and without the time and money to fight long battles while struggling to survive cannot take advantage of these nuanced arguments - especially when those battles are not always successful. Our nation desperately needs a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act that prohibits workplace and accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Even though the Senate has passed such a law, the Republican-held House has refused to take it up. With the shift in congressional power moving far to the right, it is unlikely that there will be any action toward equity in the near future. President Obama has used his legal authority to provide some protection, making discrimination in employment illegal for government contractors. That's a great step and demonstrates his commitment, but it also creates one more confusing set of piecemeal rules. Until the law of the land - ALL the land - provides equal rights and protections, the LGBT community is caught in a web of confusing contradictions, a tangle of rights and risks.


Michael Hulshof-Schmidt teaches at the Portland State University School of Social Work. He is also the Executive Director of EqualityWorks, NW, a company that provides workshops on racial equity and how to stand in solidarity with targeted populations. Follow this link to read more of his work.

Photo credit: Creative Commons / Center for American Progress

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

A grand jury in St. Louis county Missouri, on November 24, 2014, failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed black man, Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014.

Now a grand jury has decided not to indict Staten Island police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the July 17, 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling loose cigarettes in violation of New York law.

After my initial outrage and disgust after hearing both these decisions, I am left with so many unanswered questions that I don't know where to begin, but begin I will.

Darren Wilson Case

There is sufficient reason to doubt Darren Wilson's assertion that he was in fear for his life in the presence of Michael Brown, Jr., but for the sake of argument, if Wilson was, in fact, in fear for his life, tell us why he felt compelled to aim approximately twenty bullets at Michael Brown, Jr. hitting him six times with two to the head? Why didn't he aim to slow Brown down, to injure him rather than to kill?

Why did Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis Country prosecutor not recuse himself from the case due to a conflict of interest since his own father, a police officer, was killed by a black man?

Why was the grand jury composed of only three black people compared with nine white people? Yes, I understand that demographically, white people comprise approximately 70 percent of St. Louis country, and they represent Darren Wilson's peers, but what about a grand jury composed more equally of Michael Brown, Jr.'s peers? Did his rights to a "jury of his peers" terminate with his killing?

Why does Ferguson, Missouri have a police force that includes only three black officers and the overwhelming majority composed of white officers in a town of 70 percent black residents?

Why did McCulloch decide to announce the grand jury decision not to indict at 8:00 p.m. after dark? What was his intent? And why did the city of Ferguson concentrate police officers and the National Guard primarily downtown rather than also in the neighborhoods to protect black-owned business from vandalism and destruction?

When a young man is killed over box of smokes, where a smoke screen seems to cover the many still unanswered questions, when a grand jury acquitted an officers on charges in secret proceedings, how can healing begin when the heart is ripped from a community? And how can justice be served when so many questions linger?

Daniel Pantaleo Case

In our nation, as we see the decriminalization of marijuana in state after state, as the federal government has increasingly lowered the penalties for accumulating small amounts of pot, why does New York State maintain a law criminalizing the sale of loose cigarettes? Didn't Eric Garner and others who do so simply conform to a basic tenet of Capitalism by selling legal merchandise at a profit? Take for example the restaurant industry, which buys large quantities of food stuffs, and sells smaller amounts at a profit. Should we pass laws against the food industry as well?

Why did it take a gaggle of officers to confront Eric Garner for simply selling cigarettes? Don't Staten Island officers have more important work to perform? Was Garner's so-called "crime" so serious that the force needed to divert such a large segment of its human resources to confront Garner?

How many more times in addition to 11 would it have taken Eric Garner to utter that he couldn't breathe for Pantaleo to ease his grip on Garner's neck and chest?

With all the increased calls for police officers to wear body cams while on duty to record their interactions with the public, will juries actually consider what they see on video screens in court rooms? This grand jury had the change to witness the actually events in the Pantaleo case, which was clearly recorded by an eye witness, and still, it refused to indict?

Pantaleo argued in front of the grand jury that he "had not intended" to kill Eric Garner. When will we as a nation understand that the burden of proof in many court cases must rest on the impact of an action and not merely on the intent of the person committing the action?

Since prosecutors work closely with police departments, and they depend on police evidence for details in the vast majority of their cases, does it really make sense for prosecutors to lead efforts in investigating the very officers with whom they count on in their work? Is this system itself not a conflict of interest?

Tiered (Teared) System of Justice

"[African Americans are] born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world - a world which yields [them] no true self-consciousness, but only lets [them] see [themselves] through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, 1903.

For DuBois, this "veil" concept can be taken three ways. First, it suggests the literal darker skin of black people, a physical delineation of separation from whiteness.Secondly, the veil suggests white people's deficiency or inability in seeing African Americans as "true" U.S.-Americans.And lastly, the veil refers to black peoples' difficulty under a racist system to see themselves apart from how white U.S.-Americans define and characterize them.

The veil hanging over African Americans, though, operates like a one-way mirror. They can easily see outward onto white America, and in this way, they develop a "double consciousness." Though not in the truest sense "bicultural," they acquire a realization of "otherness." For emotional and often physical survival, they must learn how to operate in two societies, one black and one white. White people have no such veil wrapped around them, and the mirror makes it difficult for them to perceive the realities of African Americans.

This relative inability of white people to see through the veil was reflected in a Pew Research Study of 1000 people conducted between August 14-17, 2014. It found profound racial divisions between African American and white people on attitudes surrounding the police killing of Michael Brown Jr.

Among the study's finding, fully 80 percent of African Americans compared to 39 percent of white people stated that the fatal shooting "raises important issues about race." Conversely, 47 percent of white people versus 18 percent of African Americans believe that "race is getting more attention than it deserves." In addition, 65 percent of African American and only 33 percent of white people believe the police response went "too far" in the aftermath of the incident.

Blauner wrote earlier of a United States in which there exists "two languages of race," one spoken by black people (and by implication, other people of color), the other by white people. By "language," he refers to a system of meaning attached to social reality, in this instance a "racial language" reflecting a view of the world. This echoes the conclusions of the Kerner Commission report released in 1968 in its study of urban unrest. It stated, in part, that the United States was moving toward two separate societies: one white and one black (though the report left it uncertain where other communities of color fit into this equation).

Can we as a society cut through the vail and begin to know and understand those different from ourselves, to have the ability to walk in the shoes of another, to break down these "us" versus "them" notions that separate? First, we as white people must dismantle the denial systems that prevent many of us grasping our social privileges and the realities of "race" in U.S.-America.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren's Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press); and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense).

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people, for this opens a window projecting how that society operates generally.

Adultism, as defined by John Bell includes “behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes.” Within an adultist society, adults construct the rules, with little or no input from youth, which they force young people to follow.

Even the terminology our society employs to refer to youth betrays a hierarchical power dynamic. For example, we refer to young people as “kids,” a term originally applying to young goats. By referring to youth as farm animals provides adults cover in controlling and maintaining unlimited power over human beings. (We must treat and respect animals more than we do as well.) Even the term “child” implies an imbalance of power. When people refer to an individual of any age as “the child of,” we automatically place that individual in a diminutive form.

Of course, parents and other adults have the inherent responsibility of protecting young people from harming themselves and being harmed by others, and of teaching them how to live and function in society within our ever changing global community. In Freudian terms, we must develop a balance between the individual’s unrestrained instinctual drives and restraints (repression) on these drives in the service of maintaining society (civilization), and to sustain the life of the individual.

We as a society, nonetheless, must set a line demarcating protection from control, teaching from oppression, minimal and fundamental repression from what Herbert Marcuse terms “surplus repression” (that which goes over and beyond what is necessary for the protection of the individual and the smooth functioning of society, and enters into the realm of domination, control, and oppression).

Reading and watching The Hunger Games series of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins released in 2008 and recently made into a sequence of movies, I was quite fascinated by what I interpreted as a commentary on our oppressive (surplus-repressive) society. The author presents the story through the perspective of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, which takes place in Panem, the post-apocalyptic nation where the former countries of North America once existed. The Capitol (as it is named), a technologically advanced metropolis, exerts total political control over the entire nation. The Hunger Games denotes an annual event in which one young woman and one young man aged 12-18 from each of the twelve districts are selected by lottery to compete in a televised brutal and deadly battle. Of the 24 “contestants,” only one will survive, though in the initial installment of the series, two contestants contest this rule, and they begin to forge a crack in the wall of domination.

One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.

In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint. Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education.

In addition, those of any age who bully often do so, though sometimes unconsciously, to reinforce dominant group scripts established and forced onto minoritized individuals and groups to memorize when they enter the stage called “life.” When youth bully other youth, very often those who bully “pass down” the bullying they receive from others, often from adults. Youth killing other youth, as depicted in The Hunger Games, epitomizes the most extreme form of bullying.

Teräshjo and Salmivalli argue that those who bully fulfill the social “function” of establishing and reinforcing social norms. They found that students often justify bullying behaviors by blaming the targets of their attacks, and emphasizing that they somehow deserve the peer aggression or that they in some ways deviate from the established social norms. This I contend is a form of ruthless socialization.

Social rank theory, as used by Hawker and Boulton, proposes that aggressive individuals actually hold a higher rank, power, or status within a social group. Therefore, aggressive behavior, and bullying in particular, may provide those who engage in aggressive behaviors a sense of belonging. Hawker and Boulton contend that peer victimization serves a number of functions. First, it establishes and maintains a social hierarchy within a given group (an “in-group”), and second, it maintains distinctions between members of the in-group, from members of other groups (“out-groups”).

Adultism also operates as a continuum from subtle to extreme, from adults ignoring or neglecting young people, to statements like “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re too young to do that,” and “Just grow up,” to “You’re stupid,” and “You’re ugly,” to “When you are living in my house, you follow my rules,” to circumscribed or qualified love, to corporal punishment, and eviction by family from one’s home, to sexual and other violent assaultive acts, to murder. As a society, we deprive youth of their basic civil and human rights only somewhat less than we deprive these rights from convicted prison inmates.

What if, however, youth joined together to defeat adultist oppression – the surplus repression establishing and maintaining adult privilege and control over youth? More generally, what if all minoritized groups joined together to challenge dominant group privilege and oppression in all its forms?

In actually, youth and other groups of our vast society are, indeed, standing up, speaking out, and joining in coalition to contest the barriers built throughout time and space. This is true in The Hunger Games as it is outside of science fiction tropes.

As we commemorate the 25th anniversary of the downfall of the once virtually impenetrable Berlin Wall, we must join together to take down the “freedom” of people to deprive other people of their freedoms. In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.

We can begin by considering our real motives next time we attempt to restrict or punish a young person.

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

“Go f-ck yourself,” Jon Stewart said in a moment of perceptible anger.

This wasn’t the usual, lighthearted barb during a satirical segment, nor a playful expression of ire diluted by audience laughter. It was sincere and seemingly raw, uttered during an interview with Jon Dekel and directed toward those Jews who have called him anti-Semitic, self-hating, or a kapo for critiquing Israel on The Daily Show.

The verbal barb didn’t come out of left field during Dekel’s interview, conducted in advance of the release of Stewart’s movie, Rosewater. It came near the end of a series of focused questions posed to Stewart on the topic of attacks he’s withstood from the American Jewish community. Attacks he’s suffered for treating Israel honestly on his show, for having the temerity to highlight its misdeeds.

They are the same attacks I have felt repeatedly, both for my own critiques of Israel and for my reconciliation with a Palestinian family after an encounter with terrorism. They are the same attacks an increasing number of committed Jews are feeling – Jews invested in Israel who are willing to speak out about Israel’s misdeeds. Of course, anyone who critiques Israel these days is subject to such attacks, from Steven Salaita to Conflict Kitchen.

However, as a Jew, Stewart passionately focused on those attacks which have been made against him by fellow Jews. In doing so, he crafted a rebuttal so on-point that I felt as though he were speaking not just for me, but for the countless other Jews who have critiqued Israel and paid a price for doing so.

Responding to the idea that ‘pro-Israel’ Jewish institutions and hawkish Jews now gauge one’s Jewishness by a political metric – a willingness to fervently back Israel’s government – Stewart first offered a measured insight:

It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are … You can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

Stewart’s analysis is spot on. As I’ve written in the past, the conflation of Israel with all Jews, itself an anti-Semitic trope, has become a staple for ‘pro-Israel’ discourse. Israel is viewed as the ‘Jew’ amongst the nations by such people, which means that anyone who critiques or condemns Israel’s actions are, by definition, attacking the Jewish people. Within the Jewish community, that means anyone – even someone like myself, a Jewish educator and author – can not only be smeared as anti-Semitic, but castigated as a Jew worthy of being exiled from the community.

On this topic I get pretty emotional sometimes. Stewart eventually did as well when Dekel confronted him with the idea that he’s not only less Jewish because of his critiques of Israel, but an outright enemy of the Jewish people. Witness Stewart’s emotions crescendo as he opens up:

How are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that [other Jews] can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

I always want to say to people when they come at me like [I'm an enemy]: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

How dare they, indeed.

Such people who are otherwise often rational individuals, sometimes even deeply liberal or progressive, become deeply hateful and irrational when it comes to Israel. And it’s an irrationality borne out of fear. Fear developed by a history of trauma. Fear borne in the Holocaust’s wake. Fear for the existential survival of Israel – the metaphorical lifeline for some American and diaspora Jews who constantly wait for the rug to be pulled from underneath them.

On this point, Stewart had his most poignant thought:

I think [their irrationality] comes from abuse. The danger of oppression is not just being oppressed, it’s becoming an oppressor.

This is precisely why I challenge Israel’s occupation, its settlement expansions, and those Jewish organizations which stand idly and silently by as the country devolves into a one-state entity.

I refuse to stand silently by as the once-oppressed, my people, become oppressors.

David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Brittany M. Powell, originally published in The Bold Italic

In 2012, after struggling with a significant loss of income from my photography business following the 2008 economic decline, my debt skyrocketed, and I made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy. This inspired my interest in investigating how debt affects our identities and how we relate to the world. Debt is publicly enforced and highly stigmatized but is almost always privately experienced. It is in many ways an abstract form without material weight or structure, yet it has a heavy physicality and is a burden in a person's everyday life.

The Debt Project is a photographic and multimedia exploration into the role that debt plays in our personal identities and social structures. I began the projectby asking subjects to sit for a formal portrait in their homes, surrounded by their belongings, in a way that's reminiscent of the early Flemish portrait-painting tradition, and answer a series of questions on camera about their debt. I also asked them to handwrite the amount of debt they are in and tell the story behind it.

So far, I have shot thirty-two people in the Bay Area, New York City, Portland, and the Detroit metro areas.My goal is to photograph ninety-nine people across the US in order to bring people together to talk about and recontextualize an abstract, often shamed condition. It is my hope that by having a platform to discuss this issue, it will encourage the viewer and participants to question and reframe our perceptions of debt and how we contribute to its power and role in society today. Below is a compilation of the Bay Area participants and their stories.

I recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund completion costs of the project. Please feel free to donate if you like the project.Or if you are interested in participating in this project, please contact me at [email protected]

To see more of Brittany M. Powell's photos, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

Subscribe to Tikkun's special Winter 2015 issue on Jubilee and Debt Abolition here.

To read more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily’s free newsletter, sign up for Tikkun Magazine emails or visit us online. You can also like Tikkun on  Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Eli Zaretsky

This election is a call to progressives to strengthen their own identity, as separate from the identity of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The worst outcome of the debacle of the Obama presidency is that it will be used to discredit the Left. In fact, the only way the country can begin to move from the terrible course it is now on is if progressives develop an independent voice, free from both Obama and the Clintons. The beginning of a path toward an independent Left is to remind ourselves why we supported Obama in 2008 and to face the fact that his disappointing performance since then is his responsibility, not ours.

Few things are more telling about the vacuity of the American public sphere today than the liberal mantra that leftists and progressives were naïve to get their hopes up in 2008. On the contrary our realization that the country was moving in a very bad direction and needed a radical turn in a new direction led to the enthusiasm for Obama and the initial hopes for his presidency. We have to look into the hopes we felt at that moment and own them as part of our identity. Three aspects of 2008 are particularly important.

First, we were right to look to the presidency, though obviously we vastly overestimated Obama as a person. The American presidency is a unique institution, which has evolved precisely to meet the kinds of crises that 2008 represented. To see this, we have to see how conservative the American Constitution is. The Supreme Court was devised to protect property rights, especially after John Marshall's reign. The Court has always been a force for extreme conservatism, with the exception of the Warren Court, which was essentially the product of the New Deal. The second branch of government, Congress, has also always been as we see it today: a "club of millionaires," special interests, narrow thinkers, opportunists, businessmen, sharpies, confidence men, and lawyers. By contrast, from Jefferson on, the presidency evolved into a special kind of democratic institution, one that gave the country the opportunity to bet on an individual periodically - to say, in effect, lead us somewhere new. It was for this reason that Hannah Arendt could offer the US as a real alternative to the European revolutionary tradition; in a sense it contained the possibility of permanent revolution. Sometimes the institution lent itself to right wing populism, as with Andrew Jackson, but mostly the great presidents were forces for progress. Obama failed, but that does not mean that we were wrong to hope that a first-rate individual would fill the office. This brings me to my second point, the role of the Left in American history.

The American radical tradition is one of the glories of the world. In its diversity and breadth,it includes abolitionism, trade unionism, socialist feminism, gay radicals and, of course, the African-American freedom struggle. It is one reason that Leftists, facing the disasters of the twentieth century, can persist. The American Left will always be a minority, but a very special one, one that comes to the fore in moments of crisis and helps define the long-term meaning of structural reforms, like health care and financial reform. It was the current incarnation of the American Left - the antiwar Left of the Democratic Party - that gave the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, and it did so because Hillary Clinton continued to defend her support for the Iraq intervention. We did that not only (though partly) for the symbolic value of electing the first Black President, but also because Obama (or at least Axelrod) explained that the problems did not start with Bush; they started with Clinton and Reagan and that we need not just a new policy but a new mindset. Obama's failure to honor the words with which he defeated Hillary Clinton is the basic cause of his failed Presidency.

Finally, we were right to turn to the African-American freedom struggle in our search for a usable past and present. Since this is a country founded for centuries on slavery, a country for which the term genocide can be considered (the slave population having gone from eleven million to six million in the course of a colonial century), for such reasons African-Americans have played a unique role in American politics. While the African-American community has produced many conservative figures, Booker T. Washington most preeminently, every African-American politician that achieved national leadership, in the sense of having followers and supporters from both races, has been on the Left. I am thinking of people like Frederick Douglass, WEB Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. When Obama ran in 2008 he signaled that his candidacy should be looked at in this context by the very shrewd tactic of describing his background as that of "community organizer," instead of what he really was:a Harvard lawyer and second-level Chicago politician. Community organizer is a buzzword for the collective unconscious, one that took us back to the Sixties, and even the Thirties. Obama's failure to keep faith with this tradition does not mean that we were wrong to look to it.

These points need to be kept in our minds as we move forward into a new presidential election. To be sure, no one will make the same mistake about Hillary Clinton that we made about Obama. She is running far to the right, and anyone can see that. But the hopes that inspired us in 2008 should still guide us. We need to be far more tempered in our hopes for what the presidency can accomplish, but more importantly we have to see that the country needs a Left more than ever.

Eli Zaretsky is the author of Why America Needs a Left

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Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by David Harris-Gershon

The fatal police shooting of a 22-year-old minority last night, this time caught on video, has once again brought angry community members into the streets to protest in dramatic fashion. This time, however, it’s not the streets of St. Louis which are burning, but those in the Arab village of Kfar Kanna near Nazareth in Israel, where Jesus turned water into wine in the Gospels. Today the streets are running red with blood and rage.

On Friday night, Israeli police entered the village to arrest someone involved in a family dispute. After the arrest, an angry family member, Khayr al-Din al-Hamdan, emerged from a house and began hitting a police van with a small metal object, which residents claim was a bar and police claim was a knife. Soon after, al-Hamdan was dead, shot several times in the back by police.

Law enforcement claimed afterward that their lives were in danger, and that they fired warning shots before shooting the Arab youth. However, CCTV video footage shows none of these claims to be true. Instead, officers broke protocol by by emerging from the van, their lives not in danger, and immediately shooting al-Hamdan, who was backing away and fleeing when he was shot in the back several times. Officers then drug al-Hamdan’s body to the police van rather than calling for medical personnel to treat the victim at the scene.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets and clashed with police after video surfaced of the killing of a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli citizen in Kfar Kanna.

As a result of the shooting and the video footage which has emerged, approximately 100 Israeli-Arab residents of the Galilee region have taken to the streets, clashing with law enforcement outside a local police station and blocking roads. The killing, and resulting unrest, comes just days after Israel’s Public Security Minister endorsed extra-judicial killings by police of Arab murder suspects in the wake of a suspected terror attack in Jerusalem.

In the past three years, 45 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police or soldiers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, many of whom who were protesting Israel’s occupation. In that same period, 261 civilians (67 children) have been wounded by live fire, and over 8,000 (1,500 children) by other means, such as rubber bullets and tear gas.

It’s within this context, as well as near-daily clashes now found in Jerusalem and a growing rage found amongst Palestinians, that al-Hamden’s death is now being placed. Israeli police, recognizing the severity of the anger amongst Palestinians and its wrongful killing of al-Hamden, have opened up an immediate investigation.

Palestinians have little faith in the justice system, though, where just like in the United States, convictions for such shooting deaths are extremely rare, which is why the investigation is unlikely to ease tensions. Palestinian media are also characterizing the anger and rage within Palestinian society today as exceeding that of the 2002 intifada, anger which is intensifying due to incitements by Israeli politicians and ongoing oppression resulting from Israel’s occupation.

Unless an immediate shift occurs, such as a dramatic, diplomatic breakthrough leading to an end of the occupation or a shift in the way law enforcement treats minority residents in Israel, unrest is likely to grow in East Jerusalem, Kfar Kanna and Israel. Unfortunately, with inciting statements by public security officials embracing extra-judicial killings and Israeli politicians (including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) stating that Israel will never give up military control of the West Bank, the prospects of political leadership easing tensions is unlikely.

It is entirely possible that unrest and instability will spread dramatically throughout Israel and the West Bank, creating a crisis the White House will no longer be able to address with vanilla statements and inaction.

By then, it will be too late to quell what should have ended long ago.


David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.

Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

Crossposted from Tikkun Daily by Warren Blumenfeld

Two brothers, Pape, 13-year-old eight-grader, and Amidou, 11-year-old sixth-grader, reported being attacked and bashed by a mob of their classmates on the playground of their Bronx, New York Intermediate School 318. Pape and Amidou, who were born in the United States, lived in Senegal in West Africa for a time to learn French. They moved back to the U.S. one month age to rejoin their father, Ousmane Drame, a Senegalese American.

Throughout the violent attack, classmates taunted the brothers with chants of “You’re Ebola!” The boys were rushed to a local hospital with severe injuries. During a press conference at the Senegalese American Association in Harlem and flanked by community leaders, the boys’ father, a 62-year-old cab driver, reported that “They go to gym, and [taunters] say, ‘You don’t touch the ball, you have Ebola, if you touch it we will all get Ebola.’” The elder Drame claimed that the school did nothing to prevent or to intervene in the attack, and did not even write an incident report.

Though one case of Ebola was reported earlier in Senegal, this month the World Health Organization declared Senegal free of Ebola virus transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, a Senegalese mother announced that her 9-year-old daughter was bullied at her Harlem school, and when she came home, her daughter asked, “Mommy, do I have Ebola?”

The vast majority of people with Ebola are limited to the West African countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. A person may contract the virus from one who is infected only if that person displays symptoms (including heightened fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, rash, and red eyes – which indicate a number of other diseases as well) and comes into contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids. Ebola is not an airborne infectious disease, like the common cold or the flu, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact.

Kaci Hickok, a nurse who treated people with Ebola in West Africa, and who shows no signs of the illness, is threatening legal action against Maine state officials who have requested she undergo a 21-day quarantine confinement in her home. She and her legal team assert that her treatment raises “serious constitutional and civil liberties issues,” and makes no sense medically or scientifically. Kickok declared that she “will not sit around and be bullied by politicians.”

Though the New York school students and Kari Hickok do not carry the Ebola virus, a virus of fear and suspicion seems to have infected not only these schools, but, rather, reflect the spreading epidemic of fear rapidly transmitting across the nation.

For example, President Barack Obama pushed back against New York Governor Mario Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s mandatory quarantine of health care workers returning from Africa. “American in the end,” said Obama, “is not defined by fear.”

Obama might be correct in his assessment that the U.S. “in the end” “…is not defined by fear,” but on its way to that “end,” the process of nations coming to terms with disease is often circuitous and awash with dread, loathing, prejudice, scapegoating, blame, stereotyping, and discrimination. For example, Jews were once erroneously blamed for causing and spreading the plague, syphilis, and trachoma; Asians for infesting others with hookworm; Mexicans with infecting people with lice and Dengue fever.

Our path toward understanding Ebola mirrors, in numerous ways, our coming to know HIV/AIDS a mere generation or so ago.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) undertook the first comprehensive national survey in 1990 addressing the issue of prejudice against people with HIV/AIDS and their health care providers. According to the report, “Epidemic of Fear”: “This study shows how extraordinarily persistent discrimination remains in this country, even after science has provided there is no risk of casual transmission.”

In California alone, within thirty months of HIV coming to light in the U.S., legislators introduced three statewide ballot initiatives that, if passed, would have effectively imposed quarantine on people with HIV/AIDS.

Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS pandemic was detected and spread, had not formally raised the issue until April 1, 1987 in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia — a full seven years after the onset of HIV/AIDS in the United States. Before this, however, when it was seen as a disease of primarily gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, “serving” as Reagan’s Chief of Communications between 1985-1987, was quite outspoken, referring to AIDS as nature’s “awful retribution,” and saying it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response.

Writing in his syndicated column in 1986, Buchanan wrote: “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution (AIDS).”

In his response to HIV in 1987, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms proposed that “Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to quarantine people with AIDS,” and for over 20 years, he consistently opposed expanded federal support and funding to AIDS research. In 1987, Helms spearheaded an amendment in the US Senate, prohibiting federal funding for AIDS educational materials that “promote or encourage…homosexual sexual activity.”

Under Helms’s sponsorship, Congress passed an amendment in 1989 to restrict all National Endowment for the Arts funding of any art deemed “homoerotic” or “religiously offensive.” In 1990, he referred to gay and lesbian people as “weak, morally sick wretches,” and has accused them of “engaging in incredibly offensive and revolting conduct.” He warned against “homosexuals, lesbians, disgusting people marching in the streets, demanding all sorts of things, including the right to marry each other.”

In her book, Sex and Germs: The Politics of AIDS, Cindy Patton argues: “The belief in dirty individuals who leave germs in their wake creates a terror that anyone a little different harbors disease, and has the power to invade the human body. Honest concern about real illness blurs with the need to separate from people feared for racist, sexist, or homophobic reasons.”

Patton asserted that by deploying the label “disease,” society, through it leaders, justifies “genocide, ghettorization, and quarantine.”

Though no one can reasonably argue that infectious diseases pose no concern or risk of spreading, I argue, though, that as a nation, we much investigate the rational science of transmission and avoid acting on fear, baseless speculation, and apparent political expediency. What we need, instead, is a consistent and unified policy and messaging coming from leaders in medical science and in government.

Though we may pass laws designed to ensure people’s civil and human rights, conduct educational and diversity training sessions, and though times may have changed somewhat for the better, as the proverb attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

I hope in the case of Ebola, we can prove Karr wrong.

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