News and reports

Racists march in Jena

RACISTS ARE striking back against the movement to free the Jena 6--six Black teenagers in Jena, La., who prosecutors last year tried to railroad on trumped-up charges following a schoolyard fight that was preceded by a series of racist incidents.

On January 21--the holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr.--approximately 30 racists marched through the streets of Jena. The group picked the date for its so-called "Jena Justice Day" as a deliberate slap in the face to anti-racists. The group included members of the KKK as well as the neo-Nazi Nationalist Movement of Learned, Miss. Several of the racists came armed with guns. The march was allowed to proceed after the Nationalist Movement threatened to sue the city.

David Dupre and his son, David Dupre Jr., each carried a .357 Magnum handgun, a .22-caliber revolver and a sawed-off shotgun. Incredibly, acting LaSalle Parish Sheriff Scott Franklin initially allowed the men to continue to wear their holstered sidearms--until another police official finally told them they'd have to put away all of their weapons before they could march.

The racists got heavy protection from police and state troopers against the estimated 200 anti-racist protesters who gathered to challenge them.

As anti-racist protesters chanted them down, the group of racists was allowed to march to the LaSalle Parish courthouse--a symbol of the racism of Jena's justice system to many of the tens of thousands of anti-racists who traveled there to protest the treatment of the Jena 6 in September of last year.

When counter-protesters arrived at the courthouse to confront the bigots, shouting "No more nooses! We want justice!" police attempted to herd them away behind the courthouse, threatening to arrest them. Police later arrested one anti-racist protester, who they claim struck a state trooper after refusing to be moved.

As this demonstration makes clear, racism is alive and well in Jena. But so is the desire to fight back against it.

Rights for immigrant detainees

TAYLOR, Texas--Approximately 150 protesters gathered outside the T. Don Hutto "Residential Facility" in Taylor, Texas, December 16 to mark the one-year anniversary of the first protest at this infamous prison for innocent immigrant children and their families.

The plight of these children incarcerated while their parents await hearings on requests for asylum has brought national and international attention and outrage.

Protests to shut down this former maximum-security prison run by Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) slowed down last spring. The ACLU filed several consolidated lawsuits on behalf of some of the incarcerated children, and many activists believed that existing laws against imprisoning children would shut down this for-profit monstrosity for good.

Instead, the litigants settled for improved conditions, which one of the ACLU lawyers had once called "lipstick on a pig."

Hutto is run by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under a directive from Homeland Security. Williamson County administers the contract that funnels obscene profits to CCA--and the county gets a hearty chunk of cash for their efforts.

Last October, opponents of Hutto declared a victory when the Austin American-Statesman reported that Williamson County officials had voted to terminate their contract with the prison when it expired in 2009, citing liability issues. Instead, Williamson County got a new contract with a $250,000 legal defense fund, and CCA agreed to pay the county $5,000 a month to hire a jailhouse monitor.

On December 16, many of the protesters marched from downtown Taylor to the prison, joining others who came throughout the afternoon. A huge assortment of toys had been brought for the children, and chanters and speakers demanded the closing of what one sign called "Gitmo for kids." Protesters marched into the prison lobby, chanting--and afterward held a candlelight vigil.

When Andrea Restrepo, a 12-year-old Colombian girl, was released from Hutto after sharing a small cell with her mother and sister for almost a year, she said, "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. It was a nightmare."

The lipstick hasn't helped the pig. It grows ever more hideous.

To tell Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long to shut down Hutto, call 512-260-4280.

NYC protest for Palestinian rights

NEW YORK--"You're glitz, you're glam, you're stealing Palestinian land!"

Throughout the busiest shopping days of the holiday season, protesters danced, chanted and sang in front of the chic new Madison Avenue jewelry store Leviev New York to protest Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev's destruction of marginalized communities in Palestine, Angola and Brooklyn.

The protests, each drawing 40 to 50 protesters, were organized by Adalah-NY: The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East, which was formed to demand an immediate, unconditional and permanent end to U.S. and U.S.-sponsored Israeli aggression in the Middle East.

The NYPD's attempts to move protesters down the block, at the repeated request of Leviev management, were foiled by the protesters' steadfast determination to stay put directly in front of the target of their actions.

As Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY said, "Because Leviev has made it impossible for many Palestinians to live normal lives and to celebrate the holidays of Eid Al Adha and Christmas this month, we will spoil his holidays and continue our campaign against his human rights abuses."

Leviev, one of Israel's richest men, built his fortune trading in diamonds with apartheid-era South Africa. His company now buys diamonds from the repressive Angolan government and uses the profits to fund the construction of suburban developments for Israeli settlers on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Leviev and his former U.S. partner Shaya Boymlegreen have also angered New Yorkers with their abusive local development schemes. The two have employed underpaid, non-union workers in hazardous conditions and violated housing codes to construct luxury apartments that displace low-income and moderate-income residents in Brooklyn, provoking local branches of the Laborers International Union and ACORN to launch a campaign against them.

The campaign of creative actions will continue in 2008, and may target a planned Leviev store in Dubai.

Protesting CIGNA in Chicago

CHICAGO--A spirited rally for health care justice in honor of Martin Luther King's legacy was held January 15 in front of the corporate offices of insurance giant CIGNA. Despite frigid weather, more than 50 people came out to demonstrate.

The protest was also in remembrance of Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old who was initially denied a liver transplant by CIGNA. After protests, the company reversed its denial, but it was too late, and Nataline died.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, told the crowd that the private insurance industry was the problem in U.S. health care, and only a single-payer system could end the crisis. She cautioned that the "individual mandate" solution--supported by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and pushed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in state-level legislation--was a giveaway to the insurance companies.

State Rep. Mary Flowers talked about her single-payer bill for Illinois, known by the abbreviation HB 311. She said health care should be like firefighting services. The crowd cheered when she declared, "If your house is on fire, the fire department comes, no matter what."

Dr. Anne Scheetz of Physicians for a National Health Program told how she spends hours on paperwork and on the phone to get authorization to order tests or admit patients to the hospital.

Marilyn Plomann, the director of Physician Practices at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, said she has CIGNA insurance--and pays over $1,000 a month for a family plan. Her son needed a glucometer, but CIGNA wouldn't pay for it--and in order for her to get diabetic medication, Plomann's doctor had to get prior approval.

Nurse Batu Shakari talked about the cuts at Stroger and Provident Hospitals, which have drastically reduced staff and health care services. He said the only way to stop the cuts is for the people of Chicago to fight back.