This Human Rights Day we cannot separate any reflection on our collective values from the events in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island and beyond. Courageous and consistent protests have brought the devastating and too often lethal effects of mass criminalization, social control and unjust exercise of power into the spotlight. And today we must speak out about the brutal impacts of criminalization on human dignity, equality and rights.
Our country is systematically criminalizing Black people, continuing its tragic history of racial discrimination and oppression. A growing public conversation has cast a sharp light on state-sanctioned killings with impunity that are fueled by racist perceptions of criminality. Human rights demand that we begin but not end with a focus on police brutality. Criminalization has marginalized whole communities, stripping them of their rights to education, health care, decent jobs, voting and many basic freedoms. As acclaimed scholar, Michelle Alexander writes, “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Professor Alexander has also echoed the voice of many communities when she states that it will take nothing short of a nation-wide human rights movement to end this crisis.
Today, we celebrate everyone who is building and working towards that movement, whether they are on the streets protesting or organizing in communities across the country. That movement is truly for everyone, as human rights abuses target but don’t stop at the borders of communities of color. We must build public goods to ensure our economic and social rights, advance equity and justice, and build the power to make government accountable to the human rights of people in this country. However you are marking today’s Human Rights Day, we thank you for your contribution to human rights in the United States.