Last month Attorney Stan Willis traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to attend CERD (Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) convention which was held Feb. 17-23. The purpose of the trip was to monitor and examine U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Last Saturday, Willis reported his findings to a group at Jacob Carothers’ Inner Cities Studies program. It was moderated by WVON radio personality Cliff Kelley and facilitated by Black People Against Torture (BPAT).
BPAT and the National Conference of Black Lawyers have criticized the official U.S. report on police torture, released in April 2007. In Chicago, activists have been trying to call attention to the torture of 100 black men by Chicago police officers and CERD provides a vehicle to raise awareness about these concerns, specifically the cases involving former police commander Jon Burge, which Willis presented to committee while in Switzerland.
At last Saturday’s forum, Willis said, “[BAPT] is designed to get justice for torture victims. We’re not trying to start a civil rights organization, but we came together a year and a half ago specifically to get relief for torture victims and to prosecute those who tortured our brothers. … We had to have organization structure that is based in the African-American community because that is where most of the crimes are committed by police. … We targeted judges. We have a bill in the legislative body about reparations for torture victims. We are learning how to do the international part of it. That is why we hit the streets with a large march in September 2006. To deal with the police, you have to be organized.
“The group that invited me to join them in Switzerland is the United States Human Rights Network, based in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a group that pulled together over 250 Non-Governmental Organizations [NGOs] around the country. … When you have NGO status, you have a certain level of involvement with national organizations like the United States and United Nations. … We need to include the international struggle as part of our struggle. Having NGO status allows you to go to meetings, participate with other NGOs, submitting reports and framing and shaping the way these international bodies will address issues in your country and in other people’s countries. So it pushes us into working with other people around the world. And it forces us as a community to begin to think about ourselves in the context of the world struggle. That is very important. We are not fighting people who are local. The United States is an imperialist power; it has military bases in 130 countries outside of the United States.
“On the second day of the convention, we met with a special rapporteur [someone who is an expert in a certain area]. This rapporteur, from Senegal, is an expert in racial discrimination. He plans to come to the United States next year, so we urged him to come to Chicago. He might come here because of the Olympics. If he does, we need to talk to him about what is happening in Chicago, and he can take it back.
“On the third day we met with the CERD committee and they asked us questions, based on our report and presentations. They are very interested in Katrina and the racism that flowed with the water.
“The United States sent a delegation of 28 people-Justice Dept., State Dept., Civil Rights Div., EEOC, all of those governmental entities that should be dealing with the racial issues in this country. So the United States had to answer questions [before] the committee, and most of the questions came from us. [The U.S. delegation] did not expect to have so many U.S. citizens in the room.”
During the question period, Willis was asked how the U.S. delegation answered.
“[They] would say things like, we acknowledge that black people are in prison in big numbers, but we believe that they commit more crime and that is unfortunate. They don’t look at things historically and it’s hard to talk about problems of race without having a historical perspective.”
BAPT members gave an update of past and upcoming events. Member Duane Savage reported on the Marjorie Kovler Center, located at 1331 W. Albion Ave. on the North Side. BAPT has plans to established something similar in the black community. The Kovler Center treats survivors of torture from other countries and was founded in 1986. It serves as a model for providing mental health and social services, translation and legal referrals.