Thursday, June 27, 2013

DOMA, the VRA, and the Supreme Court

Image Courtesy of Salon

Recently, the Supreme Court has passed down a number of extremely important rulings, two of which are quite close to me. Just yesterday they struck down DOMA as unconstitutional, thus allowing for same-sex couples to have the same federal benefits as heterosexuals and also ruled Prop 8 as unconstitutional, thus paving the way for same-sex marriage in California.[1] Yet, two days ago they also gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, specifically that part which reads that certain states must consult the federal government prior to changing their voting laws, as to not disenfranchise people.[2] While I am happy that DOMA and Prop 8 were shot down, I honestly don’t know how to feel about the entire situation when you couple the DOMA/Prop 8 rulings with the VRA ruling since I am affected by both as a gay black man
I don’t know how to feel as when I look at the entire situation in terms of the LGBT community, the main focus is on same-sex marriage, which, while needed, is arguably ignoring other important facets of life such as work-place discrimination of LGBT individuals, which is all the more problematic given another Supreme Court ruling which stated that harassment from someone on the job was completely fine as long as that person was not a supervisor. A supervisor defined as “someone whose authority primarily consists of the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline an employee,”[3] thus allowing for situations where an LGBT persons (or anyone for that matter) could have slurs hurled at them and if that person wasn’t someone who couldn’t directly fire them, there would be no accountability whatsoever.

The striking down of the key part of the VRA has already had immediately negative effects as Texas, North Carolina, and Mississippi are all starting to plan ways hurt people of color as well as other groups that usually vote Democrat, by enacting strict voter ID laws.[4] Yet, these voter ID laws would hurt transgender people the most as well as LGBT people of color more generally. Last election it was reported that thousands of transgender people would be disenfranchised due to voter ID laws.[5] However, this is where the problems of race and gender within the LGBT community become quite apparent.

When examining the LGBT community, one sees that there is a serious problem of racism and transphobia. One example is in LGBT media, where the main focus is on white middle class men as that media is “Traditionally founded and run by white, middle class men, these outlets often featured images that reflected these gay men or their tastes” and even when these outlets moved to include people of color, they “would generally look as though they'd been raised in a white, middle class, suburban neighborhood.”[6]

Yet, this ignoring of LGBT people of color is more than just in the LGBT media. Patrick S. Cheng wrote on Huffington Post in 2011

Recently, the queer Asian community in New York City was outraged by plans for a new gay party to be called "Mr. Wong's Dong Emporium." The event, conceived by Joey Izrael and the gay rapper Cazwell, was advertised using highly offensive language and stereotypes about Asian Americans, including a "Sum Hung Boys erotic dance troupe" and a "Happy Ending massage den." 
To add insult to injury, when members of the queer Asian community spoke up and objected to this party, many non-Asian gay men dismissed these concerns by saying that it was just campy fun and that we needed to "lighten up." 
Fortunately, the Gay Asian and Pacific Islander Men of New York (GAPIMNY) refused to be silent. GAPIMNY published an open letter to the party promoters explaining why this party was so offensive to the queer Asian community. 
To their credit, the promoters apologized and changed the name and theme of the party. Whether or not this becomes a teaching moment for the broader LGBT community remains to be seen, however.[7]

Consistently, whenever gay people are bought up, what is seen in the national media is middle and upper-class gay white men who conform to gender norms.

On a personal level, while I think that we are one step closer to same-sex marriage, I also become more and more worried with each step that occurs. Specifically, I am worried that the larger American society, once same-sex marriage has been legalized nationwide, will pat themselves on the backs and think that the problems in the LGBT community are over, while ignoring others within the community such as transgender, asexual, and bisexual people.

In regards to transphobia within parts of the LGBT community, it needs to be realized that transphobia on the part of lesbians and gays is “a response to power relations specifically defined by US historical conditions. This type of GL vs. T transphobic response is not seen in many other nations, and it is variable within regions of the US itself.”[8] Yet while this may be a reaction to historical US power relations, the political effects for members of the LGBT community are quite real, specifically with the separation of the GL portion, which came with ignoring other members of the community.
Over time, the “GL” portion of the platform became increasingly acceptable to the population at large, both through increased education and desensitization of the public and by disavowing the more unacceptable elements of the movement. At the same time, this political success fueled a separatist culture, which bisexuals and transgenders threatened to dilute and homogenize.[9]
Thus, the racial, sex and gender-based, as well as class-based oppressive systems that exist within the overall society are in many ways reflected within the LGBT community and we need to realize that it is time that the community sit down and have a long, truthful discussion about these systematic reflections.


1: Abby D. Phillip, “Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage Advocates in DOMA, Prop 8 Rulings,” ABC News, June 26, 2013 (

2: Erin McClam, Pete Williams, “Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Voting Rights Act,” NBC News, June 25, 2013 (

3: Ian Millhiser, The Scariest Pending Supreme Court Case That You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, Think Progress, (June 24, 2013)

4: Aviva Shen, Two Hours After The Supreme Court Gutted The Voting Rights Act, Texas AG Suppresses Minority Voters, Think Progress, (June 25, 2013)

5: Jody L. Herman, The Potential Impact of Voter Identification Laws on Transgender Voters, The Williams Institute, (April 2012)

6: Colby Scott, Skin Deep: Gay Racism Comes Out,, (February 16, 2012)

7: Patrick S. Cheng, “'Mr. Wong's Dong Emporium': Racism and the Gay Community,” Huffington Post, September 28, 2011 (

8: Jillian T. Weiss, Transphobia In the Gay Community, The Bilerco Project, (December 9, 2009)

9: Jillian T. Weiss, “GL vs. BT: The Archaeology of Biphobia and Transphobia Within the U.S. Gay and Lesbian Community,” Journal of Bisexuality 3:3 (2004), pg 40

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Dangers of DNA Databasing

Image Courtesy of Scientific American

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court passed down a ruling stating that it is legal to take DNA swabs from arrestees without a warrant on the grounds that “a DNA cheek swab [was similar] to other common jailhouse procedures like fingerprinting”[1]  and yesterday, it was reported that the New Jersey state senate passed a bill that “would require the collection of DNA samples from people convicted of some low-level crimes, including shoplifting and drug possession.”[2]  While many are praising the passing of such legislation, it ignores the inherent dangers of allowing the government to collect DNA.

While DNA databases may seem new, this is only because they are recently coming back into the news. They have been around for quite some time as since 1988 “every US state has established a database of criminal offenders’ DNA profiles” with the goal of “quickly and accurately [matching] known offenders with crime scene evidence.”[3]  Politicians are arguing that taking DNA samples of criminals will actually lower crime as the DNA works as a deterrent by increasing the likelihood that a criminal will be convicted if they are caught. However, this may not be the case as a working paper from the University of Virginia found last year that “The probability of reoffending and being convicted for any offense is 3.7 percentage points (23.4%) higher for those with a profile in the DNA database than those without.” (emphasis added) and that DNA profiling mainly affects younger criminals with multiple convictions as “85.6% more likely to be convicted of a crime within three years of release than their unprofiled counterparts.”[4]  Thus, on a practical level, we should be skeptical as to whether or not DNA databases will actually lower crime in the long-term.

A separate, but equally important issue in regards to these DNA databases is the assault on our privacy. Barry Steinhardt, then-Associate Director of the ACLU, stated back in 2000 that

"While DNA databases may be useful to identify criminals, I am skeptical that we will ward off the temptation to expand their use," said Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the ACLU. "In the last ten years alone we have gone from collecting DNA only from convicted sex offenders to now including people who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime.”[5]

Indeed, Steinhardt is quite correct in that law enforcement has a history of expanding the use of their tools. One example is tasers, which when first introduced, were seen as a way to apprehend criminals without resorting to lethal force, have now gone so far astray from that original purpose that they have been used on children.[6] Thus, it would not be a stretch to assume that over time, this DNA database could be used improperly such as in the case of Earl Whittley Davis, where his DNA was uploaded and he subsequently became a subject of a 2004 cold case murder.

Earl Whittley Davis was a shooting victim whose DNA profile was subsequently uploaded into CODIS even though he had done nothing wrong. This victim then became the subject of a cold case hit for a murder that occurred in 2004. Although the Maryland District Court found that crime control was a generalized interest that did not outweigh Davis’ privacy when placement of his DNA profile in CODIS was not in response to a warrant or to an applicable statute, the Court held that the DNA evidence was nonetheless admissible. 
The Court reasoned that placement of Davis’ profile in CODIS was not reckless, flagrant or systematic, that exclusion would result in only marginal deterrence, if any, and that any deterrent effect would be greatly outweighed by the cost of suppressing “powerfully inculpatory and reliable DNA evidence.” This case should lead people to fear that utilizing such practices to expand the DNA database would open a backdoor to population-wide data banking. By denying certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court is implicitly affirming the rulings of the Second and Eleventh Circuits. This will make it more challenging for those opposing DNA database statutes on Fourth Amendment grounds.[7] (emphasis added)

In the dissenting opinion of the Supreme Court case, Maryland v. King, many of the Justices echoed this worry of law enforcement using the DNA databases to attempt to solve old crimes with Justice Scalia stating that "Solving unsolved crimes is a noble objective, but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless law-enforcement searches. The Fourth Amendment must prevail.”[8]

DNA databasing is dangerous as it provides a future diary of sorts, which “has the potential to reveal to third parties a person’s predisposition to illnesses or behaviors without the person’s knowledge; and it is permanent information, deeply personal, with predictive powers” and thus “[calls] into question the very meaning and possibility of human liberty”[9]  as it can lead into the slippery slope of pre-crime, especially with regard to a person’s behaviors.

In addition to this, DNA databasing could negatively impact minorities and the poor and even allow people’s family members to be arrested, as Wired reported back in 2011:

Civil rights advocates have warned that demographically unbalanced forensic DNA data banks could “create a feedback loop.” Because samples are stored and compared against DNA collected at future crime scenes, police will be more likely to pursue crimes committed by members of overrepresented groups, while underrepresented groups can more easily evade detection. 
The potential for problems expands when states permit so-called familial DNA searches, in which police who can’t find a database match to crime scene DNA can search the database for partial matches, ostensibly from the suspect’s family and relatives, who can then be targeted. It’s even possible to imagine situations in which some races or groups become universally covered, while others remain only partially surveyed.[10]  (emphasis added)

Yet, what is most worrying is the expansion of DNA databasing from major criminal offenders such as murderers and rapists to now including “some low-level crimes, including shoplifting and drug possession.”[11]  This expansion of DNA databasing to include even victimless crimes is quite worrying as it shows that we are moving to a state of law where virtually any crime will allow the police to take and database one’s DNA.

With the passing of this ruling and the steady increasing implementation of DNA databasing on the state level, an ember in the light of freedom is quietly extinguished.


1: Jesse Holland, “Supreme Court Rules Police Can Take DNA Swabs From Arrestees,” Time Magazine, June 3, 2013 (

2: Ryan Hutchins, “Bill to require DNA collection for some low-level crimes passes N.J. Senate,” The Star Ledger, June 24, 2013 (

3: L. Doleac, Jennifer, “The Effects of DNA Databases On Crime,” University of Virginia, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, Working Paper 01, 2012.

4: Ibid

5: American Civil Liberties Union, DNA Databases Hold More Dangers Than Meet the Eye, ACLU Says,, March 23, 2000

6: Pam Spaulding, Police use Taser on unarmed, nude child with autism wandering on highway, Firedoglake, (June 21, 2013)

7: Candice Roman-Santos, “Concerns Associated with Expanding DNA Databases,” Hastings Science & Technology Law Journal 2:267 (2010), pg 20

8: Liz Goodwin, “In dissent, Scalia joins with court’s liberals to blast police DNA testing without warrant,” Yahoo! News, June 3, 2013 (

9: Christine Rosen, “Liberty, Privacy, and DNA Databases,” The New Atlantic, 1:1 Spring 2003, pg 39

10: Brandon Keim, “Forensic DNA Could Make Criminal Justice Less Fair,” Wired, October 7, 2011 (

11: The Star Ledger, June 24, 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chicago Schools Fight Back: An Interview with Angelique Roberts

This is the transcript of a recent interview I did with Angelique Roberts concerning the recent school closings in Chicago and how people have fought back against it. Ms. Roberts states that she is a "17 year old public high school student from the South Side of Chicago" and that she has "been vegan for 3 years" and does her "best to live in a way that extends compassion to all earthlings." She hopes that her activism "will inspire others to be the change they wish to see in the world." She is on Twitter at Zinc323.

Devon DB: Tell us about yourself and how you became involved in activism.

At the age of 12 I fell in love with (political) punk music. Bands like Subhumans, Anti-Flag, Rise Against,  and Propagandhi they  helped shape my world view and caused me to see myself less as a person who is aimlessly walking through the world but a person with a duty to change it. Through music I found out about veganism, anarchism, and a host of other issues. The syndicated podcast, Citizen Radio gave me the final push I needed to go out into the streets! The first movement I participated in was US uncut whi h led to my involvement in Occupy Chicago and now I'm the confounder of Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools (CSOSOS )

Devon DB: Why exactly are so many public schools being closed down and what are the criteria for closing those schools?

Angelique Roberts: The mayor and members of the unelected school board have wrongly labeled schools as being, "underutilized." This poorly defined  term is what has been used to justify over 40,000 students, 90% of whom are black to have to switch schools as a result of these closures.

Devon DB: How has the general public reacted to the closing of these schools and how has the activist community played a role?

Angelique Roberts: One of the most inspiring aspects of the fight for a more equitable education system is that it's not just a movement that consists of union members and run of the mill activist it also includes students, teachers, parents, and a deafening outcry from the larger community.

Devon DB: What are the racial aspects at play in regards to the school shut downs?

Angelique Roberts: The 50 schools that are set to be closed are in low income areas on the South and West Sides  of Chicago. 90% of those effected by the closings are African American. Chicago is one of the most segregated and violent cities in the country. The distance elementary kids will have to travel to get to school will increase and cause many of them to cross gang lines. A major fear of the community is that this will cause an increase in violence.

Devon DB: Have there been any successes in fighting against the school closings?

Angelique Roberts: Even though the closing of 50 schools is devastating I still consider this to be a win. The initial list that the mayor released had 120+ schools slated for closure. Without such a large push from the community it is very likely that the board would have closed many more schools. The fight for educational justice is far from over!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The War Comes To Syria

Image Courtesy of The Guardian

It has recently been announced that the Obama administration has decided to go ahead and arm the Syrian rebels on the grounds that they have “obtained proof the Syrian government used chemical weapons against fighters trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.”[1]  Interestingly enough, up until this time, it has been noted by the UN that there is no clear evidence that either side had used chemical weapons.[2]  While it may seem that the Obama administration is doing this to aid the rebellion, there may also be other factors at play.

It first needs to be noted that this announcement is only new in that the US government is actually admitting that they are arming the Syrian rebels. It has been known for quite some time that the US and its allies have been arming the Syrian rebels, mainly indirectly on the part of the US[3], but there has been direct aid on the part of America’s allies. In February of last year, International Business Times reported that “Syrian rebel forces are already being armed and supplied by Western powers” and that 

Syrian National Council member Bassma Kodmani said unidentified countries were already providing communications equipment, body armor and night-vision goggles to the Free Syrian Army, a move previously denied by Western governments.
According to the paper, Kodmani refused to reveal which countries were helping, but [s]he hinted that allies were also sending more lethal weapons such as rifles. 
Defensive and light equipment are what they are doing on the ground, she told the Telegraph. [4] (emphasis added) 

Thus, the West has been arming the rebels for quite some time. Yet, at this moment the mainstream media is mainly discussing the admission that the US will openly be arming the Syrian rebels and stating that it is due to the “proof” the Obama administration has that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons. 

While it is possible that the Assad regime did in fact use chemical weapons, we need to remain skeptical as the US has launched media wars before on governments that it opposed, such as the Gaddafi government, with the West stating that Gaddafi had bombed his own civilians and gave Viagra for his troops to rape women; when the conflict ended, it was found that Amnesty International “failed to find evidence for these human rights violations and in many cases has discredited or cast doubt on them. It also found indications that on several occasions the rebels in Benghazi appeared to have knowingly made false claims or manufactured evidence.”[5] (emphasis added) Thus, we should withhold judgment until the ‘proof’ is presented (if at all).

This sudden change in policy may have to do with much more than just the alleged use of chemical weapons. The change may have been “prompted by the realization that Syrian President Bashar Assad was on the cusp of gaining a permanent advantage over rebel groups and the fear of imminent sectarian bloodshed further spilling into neighboring Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.”[6] It is quite evident that Assad may be gaining the upper hand in the conflict as Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Agency in English), drastically changed its assessment of the Syrian conflict and they now believe that “the Syrian military of autocrat Bashar Assad is more stable than it has been in a long time and is capable of undertaking successful operations against rebel units at will.”[7]  The BND chief even stated that “Each new battle weakens the militias further.”[8] (emphasis added) The addition of Hezbollah is only enforcing this idea as it was reported just last week that the Syrian military and its allies in Hezbollah not only retook the key city of Qusair, but were still pushing northward.

Yet, there was also a question of perception of the US as what Obama’s aides were most concerned with “was the perception that world’s sole superpower was standing by while European allies shouldered the burden of trying to stop a dictator from murdering thousands of his own people.”[9] So it seems that partially the Obama administration was more concerned with PR rather than the Syrian people, whom they claim to care so much about.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem as if this will do any good for the Syrians as the rebels are extremely dependent upon radical Islamist groups[10] and both the rebels and the Assad government have been accused of committing war crimes.[11] The US arming the rebels will only lengthen the conflict and make it much deadlier and if the Assad regime does fall, it looks like the new one will be about the same.

The war has come to Syria and the people will continue to suffer.


1: Reuters, U.S. considers no-fly zone after Syria crosses nerve gas "red line", (June 14, 2013)

2: Al Jazeera, UN: No clear proof of Syria chemical arms use, (May 6, 2013)

3: Erich Schmitt, “C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition,” New York Times, June 21, 2012 (

4: Oliver Tree, “Western Allies Arming Rebels in Syria, Opposition Claims, as Red Cross Reach Besieged Homs,” International Business Times, February 24, 2012 ( 

5: Patrick Cockburn, “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as weapon of war,” The Independent, June 24, 2011 ( 

6: Reid J. Epstein and Glenn Thrush, “Syria chemical weapons: President Obama's forced hand,” Politico, June 13, 2013 ( 

7: Matthias Gebauer, “Syrian Rebels in Trouble: German Intelligence Sees Assad Regaining Hold,” Der Spiegel, May 22, 2013 ( 

8: Ibid

9: CBS, Assad's troops in Syria, backed by Hezbollah, push rebels further north, (June 7, 2013)

10: Politico, June 13, 2013

11: David Enders, “Al Qaida-linked group Syria rebels once denied now key to anti-Assad victories,” McClatchy DC, December 2, 2012 (

12: Zeina Karam, “Both Assad and rebels committing war crimes, atrocities a ‘daily reality’ in Syrian civil war: UN,” National Post, June 4, 2013 (


It has come to my attention that according to The Daily Mail, the chemical attack in Syria may have been a false flag planned by the United States.

US 'backed plan to launch chemical weapon attack on Syria and blame it on Assad's regime.'

Leaked emails have allegedly proved that the White House gave the green light to a chemical weapons attack in Syria that could be blamed on Assad's regime and in turn, spur international military action in the devastated country.A report released on Monday contains an email exchange between two senior officials at British-based contractor Britam Defence where a scheme 'approved by Washington' is outlined explaining that Qatar would fund rebel forces in Syria to use chemical weapons.
According to Infowars.comthe December 25 email was sent from Britam's Business Development Director David Goulding to company founder Philip Doughty. 
It reads: 'Phil... We’ve got a new offer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris propose an attractive deal and swear that the idea is approved by Washington.'We’ll have to deliver a CW to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell from Libya similar to those that Assad should have.'They want us to deploy our Ukrainian personnel that should speak Russian and make a video record.'Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous. Your opinion?'Kind regards, David.'Britam Defence had not yet returned a request for comment to MailOnline.

In addition to this, a video has also come to my attention via Syriangirl Partisan, a video on France's Parliamentary Channel, LCP, in which a former French foreign minister admits that the UK government was preparing for a war on Syria, two years before the 2011 protests.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Politics Of Time

The Politics of Time

As time shifts, so does the political landscape, subjects are bought up from the past while other events are just as fast as forgotten. However, the use of time is extremely important in politics, shaping our current thoughts of places, peoples, and countries. The ignorance of certain aspects of history are not being bought up in a variety of places, from the classroom to the news room. This only has the effect of creating a skewed narrative and allows ignorance and stereotypes to prevail.

A serious problem with the use of political time is the issue of freeze framing in which things are frozen in time, as if in suspended animation. Two examples that jump to mind are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. With regards to MLK, the mainstream media consistently revels in his I Have A Dream speech, with one of the most famous quotes being “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Yet, this image of MLK is completely incorrect as it completely ignores MLK after this speech and how he became increasingly more and more radical. By acting as if he was nothing but a dreamer, it dilutes his message, pushing it from reality to being based on flights of fancy and ignores the work that he and countless others engaged in. Malcolm X is quite the opposite as he is usually either ignored or demonized as a racist. This utterly fails to take into account that during the latter years of his life, Malcolm “spurned his past as a white-hating separatist and Nation of Islam spokesman to become an orthodox Muslim and an international figure” and pushed for the rights of all people, not just blacks.

Another use of political time is forgetfulness, when important instances are left out from history. This happens on a regular basis, not just on a national level, but also with books and other media as well. A major example in regards to the United States is the omission of the convict lease system that occurred after slavery. The narrative usually goes that after 1865, slavery ended with the passing of the 13th amendment, however, the fact of the matter is that the 13th amendment states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (emphasis added) Thus, it is clearly stated that slavery is completely legal if it is for convicted criminals, however this ‘small’ omission leaves people to believe that slavery is over when in fact the US still has slaves, its just that they now in the prison system rather than out in the fields.

A third and final use of political time is that of distorting the narratives of events, groups, or people, which can be done historically or with current events. An example that readily presents itself is the ongoing conflict in Syria, where the rebels are generally portrayed as mainly freedom fighters against the brutal Assad regime. This is quite far from reality as it has recently been revealed that most of the rebels are not seeking a democratic government. In addition to this, the rebels have committed war crimes, yet there are those in the US such as John McCain who still want to back the rebels. This distortion of current events creates a situation where we find ourselves believing in myths and hearing what we want to hear rather than facing the hard realities of the situation.

The manner in which events, people, and groups are portrayed in such a manner as to support the status quo and have an ideological basis which seeks to not get as close to the truth as we can. What amounts is not only revionist history that supports the current power structure, but also it allows for generations upon generations of people to be inculcated with what is at times factually incorrect information and thus the people are inculcated with myths and cannot fight to free themselves. Yet, on a deeper level it degrades the value of history as we can’t truly say that we have a history if it is based on myths and lies.

It’s time to stop distorting history and tell the truth.