Free Dharun Ravi: Fairness vs. Justice

I was naive I suppose.  I really thought that the jury, upon hearing all the detail that the mass consuming public was not privy to, would acquit Dharun Ravi on all charges, regardless of the fact the prosecutor seemed to be cleverly boxing them in to a particular outcome, armed with ambiguous law.  At a minimum I thought the major charges, including the “hate crime,” would be hard to deliberate on, possibly resulting in a mistrial.   The comprehensive NewYorker article last month showed that the case, far from being what the media initially portrayed, was full of twists, conflicting behavior, and most importantly I believed, reasonable doubt.  A few years back I watched the absolutely brilliant 8-part documentary The Staircase (now apparently free online), about the murder trial of a bisexual man in North Carolina.  It forever changed my view of highly publicized trials in America.  They seldom have anything at all to do with justice.  Everyone involved is a victim.  More recently, we saw a miscarriage of justice in the case of the West Memphis three.  Ravi’s trial result should not have surprised me.

Ravi is an immature, upper middle class kid and a “casual homophobe” (more on  that term later) but he is not a perpetrator of a hate crime.  To consider him more than marginally complicit in the death of Tyler Clementi hurts two groups: victims of true hate crimes and the mental health community.

First off, I reject the mostly Right Wing assertion that we should banish the term “hate crime” from our legal system.  “Aren’t all crimes hate crimes” they argue?  Such arguments are specious an predicated on the belief that political correctedness is the only reason such a label exists.  Bullshit.  When a man has a chain put around his ankles and is dragged behind a car because he is black, that’s a hate crime.  When a Sikh man is shot for being a “Muslim terrorist“, that’s a hate crime.  When a gay man is tied to a fence and tortured, that’s a hate crime.  Being stupid while you are coming of age and meeting people with different backgrounds than you?  Not a hate crime.  Most crimes are committed because of anger, greed, jealousy, or mental illness.  A hate crime is different.  It is often very violent and there is rarely a personal gain.  The crime is committed as an act of domination or intimidation, often based on unjustified fear.  Nothing about Dharun Ravi’s behavior, as evinced by texts, emails, tweets, and witnesses shows even an inkling of such a motive.  One could argue he was more uncomfortable with Clementi’s socio-economic status than his sexuality!  He was also uncomfortable about an older man, a stranger, coming into his room and having sex.  Many of us may have reacted poorly in such an instance.  What opponents of the term “hate crime” get right however, is that the laws are sometimes so ambiguous that a clever prosecution can convince a jury that a wide variety of crimes meet the legal definition of a “hate crime” and that they have to convict based on the definition alone, regardless of common sense.  We have seen “terrorism” laws abused in this same way.  I would not be at all surprised if Ravi’s case someday reaches the Supreme Court for this very reason.

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Seeing Lal

prerna Lal.jpgThis weekend, Desi youth will be convening in Oakland, CA and Washington DC for the primary purpose of getting activated and politicized. DCDesi Summer will be holding it down for the East Coast, and I personally have been involved in getting Bay Area Solidarity Summer (BASS) off the ground here on the West Coast. Not only am I excited about the FUNraiser we have scheduled, I am particularly excited about the opening keynote speakers for the weekend – author of Desis in the House Sunaina Maira and dream activist Prerna Lal.

I met Prerna Lal last summer at Netroots Nation in Las Vegas. I quickly learned that she was a quite the firecracker. Desi via Fiji, Prerna is a founder of DreamActivist, a current law student, a writer, a SAALT Changemaker, queer, an activist and… is undocumented. Her journey as a struggling youth trying to navigate the broken immigration system is one she is very vocal about sharing, whether on blogs or on twitter. Her tenacity is one to be admired and bravery is one to be inspired by.

Just a few months ago, Prerna was served deportation papers – but being who she is, she’s not leaving without a fight. Here’s what she had to say.

Taz: What made you tweet this?

Prerna: It’s how I feel on most days. We are always asked to prove our worth to our countries. But I have yet to have America prove its worth to me.

T: What is your legal status?

P: Out of status, allegedly accruing unlawful presence that could lead to a 10 year bar from the United States if deported.

T: Where are you from? How did you end up in the US?

P: Fiji Islands. Father brought me here when I was 14, kicking and screaming.

T: Your grandmother is a citizen, your parents are greencard holders and your sister is a citizen. How is it possible that you are considered undocumented?

P: That’s simple. I aged out at 21. You see, when a visa petition is approved, a family has to wait many years to actually get a “priority date” in order to immigrate legally. I was 24 by the time my parents received their priority date. Regardless of the fact that my name was on the original visa petition filed for my family, I was automatically castigated and separated from my family. My parents were no longer considered my “immediate relatives.” I find it morally repugnant, but I’m sure there are many young adults who have experienced the same horror of family separation due to an arbitrary age out of our control. Continue reading

She Got the Look: Khan v. Abercrombie & Fitch

On Monday, the EEOC supported Hani Khan by filing a federal lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch for violating her civil rights by discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. As a hijab-wearing teenager, Khan applied for a job with a Hollister Co. shop (owned by parent company A& F) in the San Mateo, California, Hillsdale Mall. The manager told her about the store’s “look policy”–which Khan describes as clothes that convey a fun, beachy vibe–and said at work she’d have to wear a head scarf in the company colors of white, navy or gray. Continue reading

Behind the Orange Curtain is a Minority Majority

When you hear the words “Orange County,” I’m sure you have an image that comes to your head very much like the ones on television shows “The O.C.” or “The Real Wives of Orange County.” The image I have, after having organized there for the past two years, is very different. The O.C. is a largely diverse county, with a “minority majority” where only 45% of the population is White and 17% of the population of Asian descent, according to the recent 2009 Census report. The largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam resides in Garden Grove in Little Saigon, and Santa Ana is an epicenter of the Latino population. And of course, the Muslims. There is a large population of Muslims scattered across the county – in fact, according to a religious study from 2000, it is the 5th most popular religion in the county, representing 1.4 percent of the population of The O.C. I’m sure the statistics on this will be different if you look at 2011 result of the region on religion.

Why am I telling you about this other perspective of Orange County? To give you context as you watch this video, released by CAIR-LA on Wednesday.

The above video was filmed at a rally in February, outside of a fundraiser for the Islamic Circle of North America, a charity driven international Muslim organization.

The event – held at Yorba Linda Community Center, a facility that has been frequented by Muslim families and businesses over the years – first became a target of anti-Muslim bigots over two of the fundraiser’s speakers, who were to speak on the importance of charity in Islam. [cair-la]

What was most disturbing to me, albeit not surprising since I’ve had to build relationships with Electeds in this region, is the statements that came from the politicians that spoke at the rally. Councilwoman Deborah Pauly clearly implied that all the Muslims should be murdered. In light of what happened with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, due to the hate sentiments fueled in the community (as well as by Sarah Palin) and a lunatic eventually retaliating with a gun shot in to head… Well. Can Deborah Pauly really be that ignorant to not make a connection that her words could have the same effect? Or maybe she knows, and simply doesn’t care.

Villa Park Councilwoman, Deborah Pauly, while addressing the crowd at the rally, appeared to threaten Muslim event-goers. Congressman Ed Royce (R-40), in a troubling trend of disparaging Islam and its followers, added fuel to the fire by encouraging protesters to continue on with their hate-mongering. The attendance of Congressman Gary Miller (R-42) was a clear surprise, since he previously has engaged with all constituents, including Muslims, toward a better America. [cair-la]

But this situation isn’t simply a one-off of crazy tea-baggers in Orange County. There have been a string of Islamaphobic stories recently in Orange County – from the protesting of the construction of mosques to a hijabi woman fighting for her job at Disneyland because she wanted to wear her hijab to work. But the biggest story currently comes from UC Irvine, with the case of the Irvine 11.

The students — 8 currently at UC Irvine and 3 UC Riverside graduates — were charged with with two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and disturbance of the meeting by the Orange County District Attorney’s office on Friday, only a few days after a protest was staged outside of the DA’s office in support of the so-called ‘Irvine 11.’ Continue reading

$1.7 Million = One Wrongful Death

Usman Chaudhry.jpgSepia Mutiny has been following the case of Mohammad Usman Chaudhry, the autistic 21 year old man who was shot and killed by LAPD when he was found in Hollywood sitting in shrubbery. A horrendous case, it seems that unwarranted police violence and murders on civilians have only increased, at least in California, since then. But in the case of Usman, at least there was some justice (h/t DrrrtyPoonjabi).

Earlier this week, a federal jury found that an ex-LAPD officer was responsible for the wrongful death of an autistic man shot and killed in Hollywood in 2008. On Wednesday, the jury awarded the victim’s family $1.7 million.

Since the killing, Cruz has insisted that Chaudhry tried to attack him with a knife and that he fired his gun in self-defense. On Monday, however, after four days of testimony, the jury rejected Cruz’s account when it returned a unanimous verdict finding that the ex-officer had used excessive force and acted in “a reckless, oppressive or malicious manner” when he shot Chaudhry.[latimes]

Clearly $1.7 million is not equivalent to the cost of one life, but it does signal to the LAPD that they simply cannot afford to make mistakes. What I found most fascinating about the case was the evidence pointing out the knife was planted by the LAPD and that the police officer knew the name of his victim.

During the trial, lawyers for the Chaudhry family presented evidence aimed at putting doubt in the minds of the jurors over Cruz’s account. Testing on the knife that Cruz said Chaudhry had used, for example, found one person’s DNA profile on the handle and blade but showed that the DNA was not Chaudhry’s. Also, after Cruz said he had never met Chaudhry before the shooting, a man testified that he had been present on multiple occasions when Cruz confronted Chaudhry and called him by name.

After the verdict, the jury was asked to decide how much money, if any, to award Chaudhry’s parents. Attorneys representing Cruz and the city of Los Angeles had tried to limit the size of the award by arguing that Chaudhry had had a frayed relationship with his parents that lessened their suffering.[latimes]

Condolences to the Chaudhry family. You can read Usman’s brother’s Tumblr page following the case right here. Though nothing can bring their son back,there is some vindication in knowing that some form of justice was delivered, particularly in this time of heightened police violence. But in the end, $1.7 million is still not enough. Continue reading

The people behind a polarized debate

Cross-posted on

As an excited member of the American University class of 2014, I was ecstatic that the President of the United States had chosen MY future alma mater to discuss an issue that is both highly personal and politically polarizing: immigration.  Since I have a talent for stating the obvious, I will say that I simply would not be here without my parents’ fateful decision to leave their pyaare watan. I feel you, Mr. President – we’re both the children of immigrants. Indeed, the act of migration is an experience that bonds us.


Watching Dana Bash make googly eyes at the CNN cameras and tell the world how “angry” the Latino community is about the lack of comprehensive reform makes ME angry. Last time I checked, Latinos weren’t the only immigrants affected in this increasingly contentious debate . Why limit the discussion to just the impact on the Latino community? I’m from Houston where we have a substantial number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, Latino and non-Latino. The immigration debate hits close to home for me, not only as a Texan and a young second-generation American, but as someone who has seen her own friends and family members put through the ringer trying to find work, live an honest life, and stay out of trouble to achieve their version of the American Dream.
My parents, my sister, the Bhutanese Nepali refugees I met through my summer internship, the friendly Latinos who come up to my father at Fiesta and start speaking Spanish: all immigrants. They all represent sides of the immigration issue that I have experienced but that the American media has failed to show. Though each immigrant community has distinct challenges, they also have similar desires: independence, freedom, & security. I thought it was difficult for my family members, skilled & English speaking, to deal with the INS and wait to become citizens. I realized that they had it easy compared to many. What if you’re like one of the Bhutanese boys I met, 17 and translating between Nepali and English for your parents, relying on charities and social workers to help you fill out your green card application?
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Why does he hate our freedoms?

Today, at noon, Joe Lieberman will introduce legislation designed to strip American citizenship from anybody who chooses to affiliate with a foreign terrorist organization.

The bill is a reaction to the fact that Shahzad was read his Miranda rights, something that Lieberman claims will make it harder to fight terrorism even though (a) anybody arrested in America is read their rights (citizen or not) and (b) Shahzad has been singing like a canary.

Why will Lieberman’s political grandstanding effect you? After all, you’re not planning on becoming a terrorist. One reason is that the Lieberman’s remarks suggest that this bill will be incredibly broad:

under federal law, the “choice” to affiliate or associate with terrorism may be an innocent, unknowing financial sale or purchase, or it may simply entail making a charitable donation for humanitarian purposes to a group that the executive branch suspects of terrorism. [cite]

Remember that under current law, even human rights advocates working with non-violent political groups to help them resolve their conflicts non-violently can be charged with giving material support to terrorists if they also have an armed wing which is classified as a terrorist organization.

Another reason why you should be worried is that he is suggesting doing this by administrative means, even though you would have the right to contest such a finding in court:

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Pakistan’s New 18th Amendment: More Stable, Democratic Government

Though the news hasn’t gotten a huge amount of attention in the U.S., given our discussions of Pakistan’s political situation a couple of years ago, it seems worth noting that Pakistan’s Parliament just passed, and President Zardari signed, a series of reforms designed to make the Parliament stronger and more independent of the executive. The package of reforms is included in a new Amendment to Pakistan’s constitution. Along with the Parliamentary change, there is also an attempt to clarify the relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive branches of Pakistan’s government, so we don’t see a repeat of the power struggle between the Chief Justice of the Pakistan supreme court and former President Pervez Musharraf that began in 2007.

The most detailed summary of the reforms are at the Center for American Progress. I would recommend readers read the whole article, but here is a list of the changes that will affect the relationship between Parliament and the President:

Removing presidential powers to circumvent the normal legislative process and limiting the amount of time the president may consider bills passed by parliament before approving them (Article 75)

Transferring the power to submit matters directly to parliament for a yes or no vote to the prime minister (Article 48)

Removing the infamous Article 58-2(b) instituted by President Musharraf, which granted the power to unilaterally dismiss parliament under vague emergency provisions

Consulting with the outgoing prime minister and opposition leader on presidential appointments of caretaker governments to manage the transition to a new government when parliament is dismissed (Article 224) ()link)

And that’s just one part of the Amendment. The part of Amendment 18 that leaves open some future areas of contention is the reform of the judiciary appointment system, where it seems like some of the planned changes are still up in the air. According to the CAP author, the most contentious issue in the Amendment thus far has actually been the plan to rename the NWFP along ethnic lines, as Khyber-Pakhtunwa. Riots by members of the Hazara community in the region have left several people dead. It’s too bad that there is some dissatisfaction, but the change does certainly make sense to me — Northwest Frontier Province is an old, colonial name that only made sense under the British Raj.

I’m curious to know what readers who have connections to Pakistan think of the changes. Will they be good for Pakistan in the long run? And what about India-Pakistan relations? Overall, I think it’s a really impressive roll-back of executive power — the real end of the Musharraf era, if you will. President Zardari has exceeded my expectations. Continue reading

On Blogging & the First Amendment

I was interested to see a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution the other day regarding the “Hindu Temple of Georgia”:

The property of the Hindu Temple of Georgia was sold to the highest bidder Tuesday at a public foreclosure auction in Gwinnett County. It was unclear who bought the nine-acre property at 5900 Brook Hollow Parkway in Norcross following the temple’s default on a $2.3 million bank loan. A Gwinnett County court clerk said it typically takes about 30 days for a deed to be recorded after a foreclosure sale occurs. (link)

The person who ran the temple is the real story:

Lloyd Whitaker, a trustee appointed by a federal bankruptcy judge, said Anderson Lakes had intended to bid on the parcel. Court documents filed by the trustee this week say the temple’s leader and guru, Annamalai Annamalai, has been using the temple to “defeat justice, perpetuate fraud, and to evade contractual and tort responsibilities” since it was set up in 2006.

The trustee’s investigation has so far revealed that Annamalai, a citizen of India, applied for a work visa in 2007 under the pretext of working as an accountant for the temple for $40,000 a year. Yet Annamalai’s business records list his income at upward of $425,000 last year alone, court documents show. He has never filed federal or state tax returns, and the Internal Revenue Service has launched a criminal investigation into Annamalai’s financial dealings.

Financial documents obtained by the trustee also show that Annamalai has funneled money from the temple to other business entities that he controls, to accounts in the names of his wife and two children and to several of his priests. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in temple funds were used pay for the mortgage on Annamalai’s million-dollar mansion in Duluth, as well as his luxury vehicles and credit card bills, according to the court record. (link)

Why might all this be of interest, you may wonder.

Well, this past summer, Abhi and I received a “cease and desist” letter from attorneys representing the priest named in the AJC article asking us to delete a blog post I wrote in 2008 related to the Hindu Temple of Georgia. We also received a subpoena regarding the identity of a commenter on the comments thread following the post (someone who clearly had links to the Temple, not an ordinary commenter). Continue reading

Bhopal at 25: Thoughts?

Sandhya wrote a post last year related to Bhopal last year, so perhaps it isn’t necessary to go through the particulars of a case that most people know about. Still, it seems important to acknowledge that today is 25 years to the day since the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal broke down, resulting in the release of massive amounts of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas, which killed about 30,000 people and injured thousands more (more than 500,000 people claimed damages). For those unfamiliar with the story, here is a detailed chronology of events.

As many people are aware, the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was an American company. The plant was technically operated by its subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), which was 51% owned by UCC at the time of the disaster.

In one of the strangest, and most fateful, twists in the legal history of the Bhopal disaster, a U.S. District Court decided in May, 1986 that UCIL was an Indian company (“a separate entity, owned, managed and operated exclusively by Indian citizens in India”), and therefore any litigation regarding the Bhopal disaster should be done in India. The decision by the District Court was upheld on Appeal.

The transfer of legal authority — in effect, the U.S. justice system saying, “hey, this is not an American company, so it’s not our problem” — significantly weakened the damages that were likely to be rewarded. Indeed, the final damages, reached in an out of court settlement, was only $470 million. When all was said and done, that came out to $2,200 for each person killed, and about $500 for each person injured. Neither UCIL nor UCC ever had to acknowledge culpability, or take responsibility for cleaning up the still polluted site of the Union Carbide Plant. A Dow Chemicals executive later stated that the amount “is plenty good for an Indian.” Even with the conversion to Rupees, I can’t see how $500 is a significant help for a person who may be living with a debilitating injury, with children who are born, even years later, with serious congenital birth defects associated with (still) poisoned groundwater. It’s not “plenty good”; it’s laughable.

A commenter on Sandhya’s earlier thread mentioned the Sambhavna Clinic, which was built specifically to care for victims of the disaster. There is a “donate here” button; if you have a couple of bucks to spare, you might use it.

Finally, Suketu Mehta has a column up in the New York Times today. He does lament that Dow Chemicals hasn’t done anything to help clean up the site. But what he doesn’t mention is that the reason for that is that the U.S. justice system washed its hands of the mess in 1986, and the Indian Government, which is the only entity that today has any legal responsibility to do anything for anyone in Bhopal, meekly accepted it.

What are your thoughts today? Have you read anything insightful or enlightening with regards to the Bhopal disaster in recent days? Continue reading