First Meeting of 2016!

amnesty business meetingWe’re 12 days into the new year, and most people have probably broken their resolutions by now. However, if your resolution is still intact, and involves one of the following:

  • Being more active in the community
  • Learning more about human rights
  • Doing more for others
  • Serving non-profits and/or other organizations working on social issues

Then tomorrow is the time to start! The Amnesty International St. Louis group is having their first meeting of the year Wednesday, Jan. 13. If you want to uphold your resolution this year or simply get involved with human rights and a vibrant community group, then here’s your chance. Below are the details of tomorrow’s meeting:

  • Who: Amnesty Local Group #105 and anyone interested in human rights
  • What: Amnesty Business Meeting
  • When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Where: Hartford Coffee Company at 3974 Hartford St, 63116
  • Why: To start preparing for another year of activism and to learn more about human rights issues happening domestically and abroad

You Don’t Have to Be a Human Rights Expert to Attend!

If you don’t know a lot about human rights and haven’t been involved in anything like Amnesty International before, then that’s okay! We’re constantly learning ourselves, as the different issues change regularly and we learn more as Amnesty and other organizations continue to do human rights research.

So, don’t let that stop you! We’re happy to answer any questions you may have! If you’re also interested in working one or two specific human rights issues, then that’s great. In fact, if that’s you, then you should definitely attend this meeting as that’s part of what we’ll think and talk about. We haven’t made any decisions for what we’ll do or what issues we’ll work on in 2016, so please attend if you want to have a say in our human rights activism for the year.

Hope to see you tomorrow!

Save the Date: The 2014 Midwest Regional Conference

Amnesty International Midwest RegionalMark your calendars to bring human rights home! The 2014 Amnesty International Midwest Regional Conference is in St. Louis this year! The three-day conference is scheduled for October 24-26 as the Sheraton St. Louis City Center in downtown St. Louis, right across the street from the Civic Center Metrolink station on 14th Street.

Pencil in the Dates Today

The registration page for the conference isn’t available yet, but if you are sure that you want to attend the conference, then make sure to book your rooms at the hotel now! Hotel rates for the conference are $85 per night, but the rate only lasts until Sept. 20 and are subject to availability. Besides the discounted room rate, conference attendees will also receive free Internet access in the room and discounted parking at the rate of $10 per day.

If you’re perhaps interested in volunteering, then we will be announcing when the volunteer sign-up page is live on the Facebook event page as well.

If you want to know when the registration page goes live, which should be before the end of the month, then please pledge your commitment to attend on our Facebook event page. This page will feature any and all updates regarding the conference, including when the registration page goes live and when we finalize speakers and sessions for the conference.

What to Expect from This Year’s Conference

Speaking of the sessions and workshops, the final agenda for the conference is still being determined. However, we already know of a few topics that will be covered, whether through a panel discussion, a workshop, a main speaker, or through a community action that will take place over the weekend. Those topics include:

  • Gun Violence
  • The Death Penalty
  • Write for Rights and prisoners of conscience around the world
  • Identity and Discrimination with women and/or the LGBT community
  • Security and Human Rights, such as Guantanamo Bay, Torture, Drones or Surveillance (it’s possible more than one of these topics will be featured)
  • Immigrants’ Rights, Criminal Justice, Environmental Justice or Worker’s Rights (it’s possible more than one of these topics will be featured)

Our Chapter is Participating!

Not only is the Amnesty International St. Louis chapter attending the conference, but many members of our chapter are also on the Planning Committee for the conference. This means the success of the conference rests with the local chapter, and we are proud of that responsibility. Our goal is to make this conference the best Midwest Regional Conference yet, and the best regional conference this year of all the regions. We believe we can achieve this goal, but reaching our goal won’t be possible unless you attend!

Please mark your calendars today for the last weekend in tomorrow! Please help us bring human rights home!

What You Need to Know about Corporate Accountability

business and human rightsIf businesses and multinational corporations are considered people under the Citizen United ruling, then they ought to be considered people under a variety of other characteristics besides free speech. Businesses and multinational corporations should also be considered people when it comes to human rights, both in acknowledging them and in holding them accountable for human rights violations. If individuals are held to this standard, then they ought to be held by the same standard if they are going to be “people” under the law. Here’s what you need to know about corporate accountability and what governments need to do to ensure these organizations uphold human rights in their operations.

Of the World’s 100 Largest Economies, 42 are Global Corporations, Not Countries

As of 2010, a little less than half of the world’s largest economies are global corporations. That percentage increases to 58% when you look at the top 150 economies. Wal-Mart is the largest global corporation, with its 2010 revenues exceeding the GDPs of 171 countries (note that there are 195 internationally recognized independent states). The five largest energy companies in the world – ExxonMobil, BP, Sinopec, Royal Dutch Petroleum, and China National Petroleum Corporation – actually comprise 2.5% of the world’s global GDP. Those five companies combined have the same size GDP as Canada, which is the 10th largest country in the world.

Overall point: these multinational corporations are powerful, more powerful than much of the world’s independent nations.

Corporate Accountability is More than Getting Justice for Human Rights Abuses

The story of St. Louis and the Veolia water contract is a perfect example of holding corporations accountable for previous actions and preventing them from continuing their behavior. Safe drinking water is a basic human need as well as a basic human right, and shouldn’t be left to transnational companies to do what they want with it while profiting at the expense of the locals and the poor. St. Louisans made it clear that they didn’t like Veolia and that they weren’t going to accept handing over their water or what the company was doing in other parts of the country and the world.

One in four people in the world don’t have safe drinking water. Unchecked corporate power is one of the biggest human rights issues of our time, and although St. Louisans were successful in checking Veolia’s power, there’s still more to do be done with many other organizations and how they’re using their unchecked power to inflict harm.

Let’s Not Forget Their Influence in Politics

Everyone understands that Citizens United gave corporations immense power to influence public policy and to subvert the will of the people. Bank of America is bankrolling Big Coal, while Big Oil has a huge hand in trying to get the Keystone XL pipeline going. Monsanto spent millions in California to defeat a GMO labeling bill in the most recent election. There’s also the role the financial institutions played in preventing regulations of the financial industry, especially in the few years after the crisis. A big part of corporate accountability is holding these companies accountable to their stances and what they want as public policy as well as any human rights abuses and violations they may commit.

We need to challenge corporate election spending, as well as uncover what issues they are spending money on for lobbying and public policy. If corporations are going to spend millions upon millions of dollars to support or to defeat certain issues, then the public (and especially their customers) should know about these activities.

Related Links:

How to Track Relevant Human Rights Legislation

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Lobbying for Human Rights

How to Use Twitter to Promote Human Rights 

Upcoming Execution in MO, Vigils to Be Held to Spread Awareness

death penalty abolitionMissourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP) will hold vigils on Tuesday, November 19 to protest the execution of Joseph Franklin, scheduled for Wednesday, November 20.”While there’s no issue of innocence, Franklin retains as a human being a fundamental right to life,” according to MADP chair Rita Linhardt. He has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions. He left a number of victims in the course of several years of murders; MADP offers condolences to the families and friends of all those victims.

Also, MADP asserts, the growing secrecy behind executions is ominous: state law forbids making known the identity of the physician, the anesthesiologist who supervises the execution, although the American Society of Anesthesiologists has spoken out strongly discouraging anesthesiologists from taking part in executions. Also, the new drug protocol for the lethal injection calls for pentobarbitol acquired from a compounding pharmacy, a type of pharmacy under much less regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and thus cause for worry, but the state refuses to make public the identity of the pharmacy.

Vigils Scheduled Around the State

Springfield: Tuesday, Park Central Square, 11.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information call Donna, 417-459-2960. Cancelled if a stay is issued by 11/17.

St. Louis: Tuesday, St. Francis Xavier Church at the corner of Grand and Lindell, prayer service from 7:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. Vigil on church steps from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Then, we will travel to Bonne Terre to vigil outside the prison from 11 p.m. onwards. For information call Margaret, 314-322-5159.

St. Joseph: Tuesday, The Civic Center Park at the Statue of Liberty at 5 p.m.

Kansas City: Tuesday, JC Nichols Fountain in the Plaza, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. For information call Cathleen, 816-206-8692

Columbia: Tuesday, Boone County Courthouse in front of the columns, corner of Walnut and 8th, 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. For more information contact 573-449-4585.

Jefferson City: Tuesday, across from the Supreme Court Building at 207 West High Street, 11 p.m. to midnight. For more information contact 573-449-4585. (Cancelled: 10:30 prayer service at St. Peter’s due to renovation.)

Bonne Terre: Tuesday November 19 – Wed. No. 20, candlelight vigil outside the Bonne Terre Prison, 2727 Hwy K, 11:00 p.m. until the end of execution. Contact Margaret Phillips at 314-322-5159.

St. Louis Human Rights Event Updates

business meeting updatesIf you missed last night’s monthly business meeting, then you better pay attention! There are a lot of changes, events, and updates coming up over the next few months, so read this now to learn what’s going on. We don’t anyone complaining that they didn’t know, or that we didn’t announce it, or that they weren’t told. All the information is below for your perusal and benefit:

Dirty Wars Discussion Moved to November

If you haven’t started our Amnesty book-club book yet, then you have an extra month to read it and to prepare (which is desperately needed since our book choice is over 500 pages long). Our discussion meeting will no longer take place during our October business meeting. It will now be during our November business meeting because plans have changed for our October meeting.

Reggie Clemons Updates in October

Instead of the book discussion, our Missouri death penalty abolition coordinator, Meredith, will be presenting at our October meeting about what’s in store regarding the Reggie Clemons ruling. Even though it will be another six to 12 months before the Missouri Supreme Court addresses the Clemons case, by then, Amnesty International will have a plan of action and direction on the issue.

Midwest Regional Conference

Also at the October meeting, we will be finalizing plans for our trip to the Midwest Regional Conference in Cincinnati. This will be the last day to sign up to go, as we will be settling on a departure time and a mode of transportation. The conference is for an entire weekend, so this isn’t an easy decision, but don’t wait too long or else you will have to find your own way there if you want to attend. If you do want to attend, and you want to attend with the group, then you can let us know by sending us an email at amnestystl (at) gmail (dot) com.

Upcoming Dirty Wars Screening

Besides the conference and the death penalty abolition activities, one of our upcoming events is a screening of the documentary Dirty Wars, which is based on the current book club reading. As of now, we are planning to have this event in January, but we don’t have any further details. If you’re looking to take part in an event or to be involved with our chapter, then there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming months.

Judge Finds that Evidence was Suppessed in Reggie Clemons Case

Reggie ClemonsThe following is a statement from the Justice for Reggie Campaign.

Judge Michael Manners, the Special Master assigned by the Missouri Supreme Court to review the case of Reggie Clemons, issued his findings today to the state’s high court. Clemons is on death row for the murders of Robin and Julie Kerry in the infamous Chain of Rocks Bridge case. Over the last four years, Judge Manners had the arduous task of reviewing thousands of pages of court transcripts, videotapes and exhibits spanning three trials and the lives of seven young people. His findings are not rulings but non binding guidance to the Missouri Supreme Court who in term will make a ruling.

Of the two critical elements of Reggie’s habeas corpus, Judge Manners found that prosecutors had suppressed evidence in Reggie’s trial and his confession was forced. He further found that Reggie’s attorneys did not establish his “gateway claim of innocence.”

This is yet another phase in the journey for justice in Reggie’s case. Supporters have waged a 22-year struggle to bring the complicated case from out of the judicial shadows into the light.

Says Reggie’s mother, Vera Thomas, “This was such a derailment of due process from the very beginning so I thank the community for all their efforts that has brought us this far. I am grateful to the Missouri Supreme Court for giving us this opportunity to open up this case and for the special efforts of Judge Michael Manners in reviewing the case. I’m also appreciative of Reggie’s phenomenal legal team who has been on this case many years.”

The Missouri Supreme Court must now rule on Judge Manners’ findings. The Justice for Reggie Campaign hopes that the court will take into consideration the tainted nature of the investigation from the onset and bring the case to a just close.

“The wheels of justice are still turning, ”said Thomas, “but there are no winners in a death penalty case.”

Related Links:

Reggie Clemons Reflection

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case

Report on the Post-Evidentiary Hearing for Reggie Clemons

Reggie Clemons Decision Revealed

Reggie ClemonsJudge Michael Manners, the Special Master reviewing the case of Reggie Clemons, has submitted his findings to the Missouri Supreme Court. He finds that prosecutors suppressed evidence and writes that he believes the statement Reggie Clemons gave to police was coerced. He also writes that he does not believe that Clemons has established a “gateway claim of actual innocence.” It is a complex case and serious allegations of misconduct by prosecutors and police appear to have been affirmed.

It is now up to the Missouri Supreme Court to determine the course of justice and rule on Judge Manners’ findings. Given the deeply flawed nature of his trial, Amnesty International hopes that the state’s highest court will move to eliminate any possibility that Reggie Clemons might be executed.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

Related Links:

Reggie Clemons Reflection

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case

Report on the Post-Evidentiary Hearing for Reggie Clemons

No News is Good News

human rights newsAnd We Have a Meeting Tomorrow

Even though the deadline for the Special Master’s hearing was on June 1, we still haven’t anything new regarding the fate of Reggie Clemons. The Justice for Reggie Campaign is taking this as a good sign, that Judge Manners is taking the time to review all the evidence to make the best recommendation possible. Once we hear something, we will let everyone know and then proceed to take the necessary actions based on the recommendation Judge Manners makes.

In the Meantime…

Of course, this delay isn’t stopping us from working on human rights issues. This is why our monthly business meeting is still happening tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Hartford Coffee Company. If we do get a decision by tomorrow, then we will spend the meeting discussing our next course of action. If we don’t have a decision, then we will be working on our upcoming Half the Sky fundraiser (you need to read the book and watch the movie if you haven’t yet, as both of them are amazing). We’ve been so moved by what we’ve learned that we want to do a fundraiser, even though we haven’t decided upon a specific organization or event/fundraising method yet. However, we will make a decision tomorrow.

We will also be talking about the upcoming Pride Festival at Tower Grove Park at the end of month. We’re going to have a table there, so we are looking for volunteers.

Please come if you can! We’d love to hear your ideas! Hope to see you there! Below is a recap of the meeting details:

When: 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Where: Hartford Coffee Company on the corner of Roger and Hartford in Tower Grove

Who: Amnesty International St. Louis chapter, and those interested in human rights

What: Essentially, to make plans for the summer

Reggie Clemons Reflection

Reggie ClemonsYesterday, April 4, was the 44th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. It was also the 22nd anniversary of the Chain of Rocks Bridge tragedy. The Justice for Reggie Campaign has not planned any formal activities to commemorate that day. We ask that you remember the lives of the young people and their families who were impacted that day. Robin and Julie Kerry lost their lives and will never have the future they dreamed of and that their parents hoped for. As for the defendants in the case: Marlin Gray has been executed, Tony Richardson is destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars; Daniel Winfrey spent 15 years in prison; and Reginald Clemons continues to be relentless in his pursuit of justice.

Let us recommit ourselves to providing young people with all the opportunities to achieve greatness and to rehabilitate a broken criminal justice system that often fails both victims and defendants. Remember Dr. King’s words:

“the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

A civilized society has the responsibility of putting its hand on that arc and collectively bending it if we want to see experience a more just and peaceful world.

As for the results of the September court case and the Special Master’s decision, those are not expected to be announced until June 2013. Until then, we thank you for your support and your patience on this issue. Justice will prevail.

If you aren’t caught up with the Reggie Clemons case, then below are some related links to consider:

Why Amnesty International Supports the Reggie Clemons Case

Reggie ClemonsAmnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The organization considers the death penalty “the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights.” Even with its clear opposition to capital punishment, some have questioned why Amnesty International has chosen Reginald Clemons as its number one death penalty case to work on. The primary reason is that Clemons’ case has several legal and judicial improprieties associated with the case, some of which bear resemblance to the Troy Davis case (who was executed in September 2011).

No Physical Evidence

There was no physical evidence introduced against Clemons linking him to the crime, no undisputed confession on his part, and no eyewitness testimony from anyone who was neither a co-defendant nor a former suspect.

Troy Davis’ case also had no physical evidence. The murder weapon was never found, and no evidence was presented that proved Davis has a connection with the victim in any way.

Convicted Based on Witness Testimony

Not only was Clemons convicted on the basis of witness testimony, but all the witnesses who testified were either former suspects or co-defendants.

Troy Davis was also convicted based on witness testimony, and all but two of those witnesses ended up contradicting or recanting their testimony, citing police coercion.

Witness Had Been a Former Suspect

Thomas Cummins, who testified at Clemons’ trial, was formally arrested after his interrogation on 5 April 1991 and was held in custody to face charges of first-degree murder. However, he was released two or three days later, after Marlin Gray, Reginald Clemons, Antonio Richardson and Daniel Winfrey were arrested. Under further interrogation after his arrest, Cummins implicated himself in the deaths of his cousins, apparently stating that he had tried to have sex with Julie Kerry, which had led to an argument during which he had pushed her off the bridge. He then apparently told the police that he thought Robin Kerry had either jumped off the bridge to try to save her sister or that he himself had pushed her off.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony in the Troy Davis case is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

Alleged Police Coercion

Clemons alleges that he confessed under the pressure of police brutality to raping one of the victims. Witnesses attest to Clemons’ face being swollen after his interrogation and his arraigning judge sent him to the emergency room. He subsequently retracted his confession. Two other suspects independently alleged mistreatment by the police. Thomas Cummins, a cousin of the victims who testified against Clemons at trial, had at one point also confessed under police pressure. Cummins filed a police brutality lawsuit, resulting in a settlement from the city. Clemons’ lawyers tried to get his confession thrown out on the basis of the police brutality, but the judge presiding ruled that there was an absence of credible evidence “to show how he got those injuries”.

Inadequate Legal Representation

Clemons’ lawyer was later suspended from practicing law following numerous complaints. His co-counsel had a full-time job in another state when she represented Clemons. Another lawyer hired by Clemons’ mother to assist in the case said that as the trial loomed, it was clear the two trial lawyers had not done the necessary preparation. Upon Clemons’ arrest, his mother was told that her son did not need a lawyer and Clemons was denied access to a lawyer while being interrogated.

Is Clemons Innocent?

Innocence isn’t clear in this case, but Amnesty International does not declare Clemons innocent or guilty, even if some of our partner organizations may do so. However, it is because the Clemons case has many of the same legal improprieties that were prominent in Troy Davis’ case that Amnesty International is putting this case front and center for its death penalty efforts. We don’t need another Troy Davis, and whether or not someone is guilty or innocent shouldn’t make a difference in whether or not the death penalty is just or unjust. We shouldn’t execute someone who did not receive a fair trial, whether or not the person did it. We also shouldn’t let an execution force us to find the truth, or wait for one to learn the truth.

If interested in helping the St. Louis chapter support Reggie Clemons, then we will be marching in the Martin Luther King Jr. March this Monday. Dr. King was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and we should continue his legacy by continuing to advocate for Clemons. We will be meeting at 10 a.m. at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. Look for the Reggie Clemons campaign banner and please wear a green shirt or Justice for Reggie shirt, if you have one.