Hate Crimes Rise as Homophobia Spreads Across Africa

Ramona Vijeyarasa

Hate crimes against homosexuals are connected to the political, social and legal environment in which they live. And in Africa religious groups are talking about morals but simultaneously stirring hatred directly leading to violence against homosexuals.

Hate crimes against gays and
lesbians, including beatings, do not emerge from nowhere. They are intimately
connected to the political, social and legal environment in which homosexuals
live. It is completely incompatible for religious and political groups to talk
about morals and simultaneously stir hatred that directly leads to violence
against homosexuals. Criminalized in the law, homosexuals are further left with
no protection against, and no redress for, any violence perpetrated against
them by members of the public or police.

 

This virtual disregard
by some political and religious leaders of the risk of inciting further violence against gays and lesbians is no better illustrated than with the examples of Uganda,
Malawi and Kenya. I was shocked to hear that Malawi’s and Uganda’s chilling
response to homosexuality had spread to Kenya, with the arrest of five men at
an alleged gay wedding at the Kikambala beach resort near Mombasa last week. Kenyan
police arrested two of the men, having found them with wedding rings, on the
assumption they were trying to get married.  The other three men were actually reported to the police by
members of the public. Two of them had reportedly been beaten, but nothing has
been said by Kenyan authorities about making anyone accountable for those acts
of violence.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of
Africa
, following the arrests on February 12, more police have been deployed
to Mombasa while facilities suspected of “hosting homosexuals” will be closed
down. In a country with a shortage of medical doctors, medical professionals
have been relocated to the area to “help the police with quick identification
of the homosexuals through medical examinations” despite being a discredited
test and unquestionably a grave violation of human rights. According to the Penal Code of Kenya, men accused of actual or
attempted “homosexual behaviour” (carnal knowledge of any person or gross
indecency) can be penalised with between 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment.

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What started as a
homophobic and ill-informed decision in Uganda by an MP who proposed an anti-homosexuality bill in Parliament late last
year has effectively turned into an alarming multi-country anti-gay assault that
has and may continue to spread to other African nations. The proposed Ugandan bill,
which has been temporarily “tabled,” includes a provision that places an
obligation on the public to report a homosexual within 24 hours of knowing
someone’s sexual orientation. This is the very sort of provision which sends
the message that the public can turn their homophobic sentiments and take what
they see as the law into their own hands, leading to the type of beatings that
are currently alleged in Kenya.

Following Uganda’s
homophobic legislative proposal, we saw Malawi
follow their lead
, with the arrest on December 28 of two men accused of
conducting a traditional engagement ceremony two days before their arrest,
deemed by the authorities as evidence of behavior contrary to the Malawi Penal
Code. According to Amnesty International, these two men were also
allegedly beaten, this time by the police. With the two men remanded in custody
pending the outcome of the case, arrests continue in Malawi, and gays rights
groups are being forced further underground. If the cases of Malawi and Kenya
do not provide evidence of how anti-homosexual laws and sentiments, voiced by
government or police, incite hate crimes against gays, I am not sure what
further evidence we would need.

In the case of Uganda,
Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project based
in South Africa, like others, argues that there is a clear link between the
work of US evangelical Christian groups and the homophobic response: "It’s
very well calculated. It’s exploding at the moment but it’s been happening for
a year and a half. We have proof of American evangelical churches driving the
religious fundamentalism in Uganda." Meanwhile, in Kenya, homosexuality
has been labeled a “vice” by Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of
Imams and Preachers while Bishop Lawrence Chai, of the National Council of
Churches of Kenya has similarly spoken out against this so-called immorality.

To me, the most
disturbing aspect of the situation is the apparent support from a significant
proportion of the population on the ground, whether driven by religious groups,
police behavior or their own ignorance. Over 4000 protesters conducted a street
demonstration in Jinja in Uganda, about 40 miles east of the capital, Kampala, on
Monday February 15. The demonstration was organized by pastor, Martin
Ssempa
to show the world that “homosexuality has no place in Uganda”.

There has been,
unsurprisingly, strong and growing opposition to Uganda’s bill and the vilification
of homosexuals in other Africa countries, from around the globe. At this point
in time, the entire international community needs to unite against the
incitement of violence that we are witnessing. For this reason, among others,
it is also important not to label all religious groups as responsible,
particularly since some religious groups, including Christian leaders in the
US, have released a statement
condemning the Ugandan bill and resulting violence. What is undeniable, however,
is that any political or religious statement that is made condemning
homosexuality is equivalent to condoning violence and encouraging lawlessness.
Any individual or group making vilifying statements is as responsible for the
violence that results as if committed by their own hands.

News Law and Policy

Louisiana Cops Get Hate Crime Protections as Violence Against Police Plummets

Teddy Wilson

A New Orleans activist said that the "Blue Lives Matter" bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

Louisiana legislators this week passed a bill making assault of police officers a hate crime.

Supporters of the measure claim it’s needed because of a growing threat of targeted violence against law enforcement. Data shows that violence against law enforcement has declined to historically low levels, while the killing of civilians by police officers has dramatically risen. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is expected to sign the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill into law. The bill’s name is a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, a collection of grassroots activists around the country who have demanded justice for victims of police violence.

HB 953, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harris (R-Alexandria), would amend the state’s hate crime law to include acts of violence against “law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical services personnel.”

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Under the state’s hate crime law, someone can be charged with a hate crime for an act of violence against a person who was targeted because of their “race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry.”

The “Blue Lives Matter” measure would create the first protected class based on a profession, not an immutable identity. A person convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime could face a prison sentence of up to six months and a $500 fine, and anyone convicted of a felony hate crime could face an additional five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.

Harris that the bill is necessary to protect law enforcement, reported USA Today.

HB 953 was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled state legislature. The bill was passed by the house with a 92-0 vote. It cleared the state senate with a 33-3 vote.

State Sens. Wesley Bishop (D-New Orleans), Troy Carter (D-New Orleans), and Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana is not taking a position on the bill. Executive Director Marjorie Esman told Rewire that “at the end of the day,” the bill does not change the scope of current law as it applies to protected classes of people. 

Allison Goodman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s office in Metairie, Louisiana, told the Advocate that the proposal is “not something we could recommend,” and a departure from the traditional intent of hate crime laws.”

“It’s really focused on immutable characteristics,” Goodman said. “Proving the bias intent for a hate crime for law enforcement or first responders is very different than proving it for someone who is Jewish or gay or black.”

Terrel Kent, a former East Baton Rouge parish attorney, told NBC News that the proposal is unnecessary and redundant.  

“As a former prosecutor I know for a fact that battery of a police officer is already covered by other laws here in Louisiana,” Kent said. “To include essential peace officers, sheriffs, law enforcement officials or first responders is a slap in the face to protected classes.”

Harris said during an interview with CNN that the law was needed to protect law enforcement.

“In the news, you see a lot of people terrorizing and threatening police officers on social media just due to the fact that they are policemen. Now, this (new law) protects police and first responders under the hate-crime law,” Harris said.

Harris cited the death of Texas sheriff’s deputy Darren Goforth as one of the reasons he sponsored HB 953. Goforth, a ten-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, was ambushed, shot and killed while in uniform in August 2015.

“It looked like it was strictly done because someone didn’t like police officers, like a hate crime,” Harris said.

Shannon Miles was indicted for capital murder in November 2015, and prosecutors alleged he murdered Goforth for the sole reason that he was a police officer. Miles had reportedly been arrested multiple times and had a long history of mental illness.

As the legal proceedings unfolded, allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officials emerged. It was alleged that officials connected with the investigation had an improper sexual relationship with a witness to the shooting. This led to local activists to call for an apology from law enforcement for connecting the shooting to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Miles was found to be incompetent to stand trial, and will be reevaluated for trial after spending 120 days in a mental health facility.

Harris did not respond to Rewire’s request to comment on this story.

There were 42 police officers killed by firearms nationwide in 2015. The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has steadily decreased over the past three decades. Police deaths by gunfire decreased by 14 percent from 2014-2015 and police officer deaths were at a 50-year low in 2013. 

“The 42 firearms-related deaths of police officers in 2015 are 26 percent lower than the average of 57 per year for the decade spanning 2000-2009,” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).

Eighty-three officers have been killed in the line of duty in Louisiana since 2000, according the NLEOMF. There were eight policers killed in the state in 2015. No Louisiana police officers have been killed in 2016, according to NLEOMF data.

Statistics Raise Questions About “Blue Lives Matter” Law

The number of civilians killed by law enforcement in Louisiana far outnumber the number of police who have been killed in the line of duty.  

At least 1,146 people were killed in the United States by police officers in 2015, according to the Guardian database of police shootings. Police officers have shot and killed 28 people in Louisiana since the start of 2015. Of those 28 people, 14 were Black men, two of whom were unarmed.

Police in Louisiana have shot and killed eight people so far in 2016. 

Fatal Encounters, a project to create a comprehensive national database of people who are killed through interactions with police, has collected data on fatal police shootings in Louisiana.

There have been 438 civilians killed by police since 2000, according to data from Fatal Encounters. Of those killed by police, 143 were Black and 96 were white. There were 188 incidents in which a civilian whose race was unspecified was killed by police.

Harris represents House District 25, a rural district in central Louisiana that includes part of the town of Alexandria. There have been five people killed by law enforcement in Alexandria since 2000, with three of those five people killed since 2014. 

Bobby AndersonChristopher LeBlanc, and John Ashley were all killed by police officers in Alexandria.

Anthony Molette was also killed in February 2003 by police officers in Alexandria after allegedly shooting and killing police officers Jeremy Carruth and David Ezernack.

Aaron Rutledge, a combat medic and a recruiter for the Louisiana National Guard, was shot and killed in April 2015 by a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy after local law enforcement responded to a call that Rutledge had threatened someone with a firearm and then threatened himself, reported the Town Talk.

Lawmakers in the state legislature introduced a resolution in April to offer “condolences of the Senate of the Legislature of Louisiana to the family of Louisiana Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Aaron Rutledge upon his death in the service of his country.”

Harris was not among the lawmakers who sponsored the resolution.

“Hiding Behind Uniforms and Badges”

Louisiana has the worst racial disparities in the country, based on indicators related to household income, public school segregation, and health insurance, among others, according to a study by the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.

These same racial disparities are manifested in the state’s the criminal justice system, according to local activists who have spoken out against HB 953.

Angela Kinlaw, an activists in New Orleans, said in a statement that the state of Louisiana has ensured that the law is used to “manipulate and control citizens” while being exploited by a systemically unjust system.

“In the face of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, this “Blue Lives Matter” bill is an intentional slap in the face, designed to control, create fear, and through police discretion penalize citizens for situations that often police create or escalate,” Kinlaw said. “We have seen it time and time again.”

Significant racial disparities have been documented in death penalty sentences in Louisiana. Defendants accused of killing white victims are nearly twice as likely to be sentenced to death and nearly four times as likely to be executed than defendants accused of killing Black victims, according to a study published in the Loyola University of New Orleans Journal of Public Interest Law.

Nia Weeks, policy director of the New Orleans-based Women With a Vision, said in a statement that hate crime laws should protect “vulnerable members of our community” when they are the victims of racism, sexism, and homophobia.

“Structurally there is a power differentiation between police officers and those they encounter. When Black women are immersed in the criminal justice system, they enter a place that imparts racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology on them from the beginning,” Weeks said.

The New Orleans Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) released a statement opposing the bill. Savannah Shange of BYP100 New Orleans said that the bill allows law enforcement to hide “behind uniforms and badges” despite having a “long and egregious history” of committing acts of violence against communities of color.

“We have to stop this malicious trend before it starts—we cannot allow the gains of the civil rights movement to be squandered away by police officers scrambling to avoid criticism from their constituents,” Shange said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated data about police officer deaths over the past 50 years.

Commentary Religion

Progressives Must Not Dismiss the Oregon Militia Standoff as Irrelevant

Andrea Plaid

These anti-government groups, quite a few of whom have deep ideological ties with white supremacist organizations and individuals, should alarm the left. Their philosophies often have foundations of racism, colonialism, and restriction of reproductive rights—and their numbers are growing.

As the standoff in Oregon this month devolved into disparate messaging about the armed militia’s philosophy—and a shootout with state police that resulted in several arrests, including that of leader Ammon Bundy and his brother Ryan, and one death—the group became the butt of jokes for many on the left, even as the rest of the members vowed to continue illegally occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

However, progressives must not make the mistake of dismissing militias and the people who support them as irrelevant, particularly where their reproductive agendas are concerned. These anti-government groups, quite a few of whom have deep ideological ties with white supremacist organizations and individuals, should alarm the left. Their philosophies often have foundations of racism, colonialism, and restriction of reproductive rights—and their numbers are growing.

The standoff in Oregon, according to Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education of Human Rights (IREHR), follows the right-wing tradition of militias organizing against racial equity and for land grabs. The Bundy group has already demonstrated a colonialist attitude through its insistence that the land be returned to its “rightful owners”—not the Paiute tribe whose ancestral lands encompass the refuge, but white settlers—and its treatment of Native artifacts.

Zeskind explained at Slate:

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It’s not just a small uptick. IREHR has recorded a massive increase. We are paying closer attention to the growing militia phenomenon. There has been a decided white reactionary response to anti-racist activism by black folks and white folks and brown folks and people of all colors opposed to police violence. They have turned to the militias. … the militia phenomenon should be regarded as a mass movement. It’s not a million people. But it has a wide level of support, much wider than a couple of dozen cranks in Oregon. 

Zeskind continued:

[S]ince 2009, we have had a growing Tea Party movement. The Tea Party movement has done things like take over the anti-immigrant movement. … And some Tea Partiers are joining militias. … What has brought about a growth in the white nationalist movement is that they have figured out a new approach, in the age of Obama. Obama disoriented them because so many white people voted for Obama. And the Tea Party initially supplanted them in a certain way. The Tea Party is not all white nationalists. But the rise of anti-racist activities has given the racists a new focus.

This obsession with “reclaiming” the land has a long history, one that is also bound up in keeping the white race “pure,” especially when it comes to white women.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) started on the antebellum frontier as well as the postbellum South, both of which became contested lands between the newly freed Black people and white people who tried to claim (and dispute) the promised 40 acres, as well as push west of the Mississippi to homestead. In fact, as Matt Novak reported at Gizmodo, when Oregon entered the Union in 1859, its constitution stated it would be a “No Black People” state, which included forbidding them from owning land.

Deeply tied to the idea of securing the land for white people was—and still is—the notion of white women’s purity. The KKK has held this idea since the 1860s, believing that white women would benefit from at the time “the Southern racial state, without which they would be raped and brutalized by [Black] men.” To its members’ way of thinking, it was a white man’s duty—more specifically, a Klansman’s duty—to aggressively protect white women’s virtue.

As the Klan membership declined in the 1960s, the organization allied itself with racist anti-government militias such as Posse Comitatus, an anti-Semitic group that holds the notion that it doesn’t need to obey federal policies, and the first racist skinhead groups under the religious aegis of Christian Identity. Another far-right wing writer, Martin A. Larson claimed back in 1967 that Black people will become “tax burdens”; thus, white people are under no obligation to pay their taxes.

The Internet allowed the faster spread of the radical racists’ message, also helping to create an individualization of the rhetoric, meaning people didn’t need to belong to a formal affiliation to claim and act upon the philosophies. The most recent example is Dylann Roof, arrested for the slaying of nine Black churchgoers who welcomed him into their prayer meeting in 2015. According to a survivor of the shooting, Roof who reportedly stated, “You all rape women and you’re taking over the country.”

Even so, groups still linger—as in the case of Cliven Bundy, the father of Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who was also involved in a government standoff involving hundreds in 2014. The elder Bundy has spoken on how Black people would be better off in slavery (again) instead of public assistance (and then blamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the ensuing backlash).

The racism undergirding white nationalists’ philosophies about keeping land “safe” for women, in turn, frequently extends into their attitudes toward gender and reproduction. According to these groups, white women’s duty is a simple one: Give birth and rear more white “warriors” to protect and maintain the country, in addition to maintaining the “purity” of themselves and of the white race.

For radical racists, particularly those who adhere to fundamentalist Christian ideals, white women should further the cause by being mothers (giving birth to as many babies as possible to combat the declining white birth rates), homemakers, and homeschoolers while the men are the warriors. As one female white supremacist stated in an interview with ABC News:

Children, they are what drives us to better ourselves and our people. It takes a very strong and deeply committed woman to be a part of the cause. She has to be a mother, partner, and warrior all in one … She must understand that this is not a game nor is it for the faint of heart … It is about securing the existence of our race and a future for white children.

That “future for white children,” in other words, means advocating against abortion rights for some groups while encouraging them for others.

According to racial justice advocate Jessie Daniels, who has studied and written extensively on the subject:

For white supremacists, the decline in the number of white births is directly tied to their fear of a decline in white dominance in the U.S. In this worldview, fewer white births is due to two factors. First, they contend there are fewer white women … who are willing to become pregnant and give birth to white children. Second, they believe that white women are quick to have abortions (or easily persuaded to do so) and are nonchalant about them afterwards.

Journalist Laura Flanders reported back in 1995 that anti-choicers and white supremacists shared people like John Burt, a former Klansman who was the regional director of the Army of God and who was connected to the murder of abortion provider David Gunn in 1993, and tactics, including forming armed militias.

Sex itself also breaks down by an aggressively traditional gender order. A male white supremacist commented on an online forum:

White women expect [dominance] from us and have HIGH subconscious barriers to let only an alpha white male through … Sex is the outward communication of acceptance of the other’s genetic fitness and possible child bearing of his genes. This because white men were always aggressive in a good kind of way.

Or not, according to Kathleen Blee, who did research on women in radical racist groups. In an interview with the SPLC, she said “domestic violence is quite widespread in [these] groups” and, more concerning, the consequences are often more severe because victims can’t report the violence to anyone inside or outside of the groups.

Even as too few white feminists write that they do not want to be used as the impetus for racial violence, according to the uber-masculinist ethos that pervades those particular racist groups, such white women are, at best, confused about their role in the racial scheme—as in they shouldn’t make any common cause with people of color. At worst, they are seen as “race traitors,” who, according to the radical racists’ hyperviolent thinking, will be severely punished during and after the ever-imminent “race war,” out of which white people will emerge victorious.

The Bundy militia standoff is another grasp for a way of life built on the crumbling foundation of white supremacy. As encouraging as it is to read people of color and white people challenging how law enforcement—from federal to local—are treating these armed men, many on the white left still treat them as a joke, sending them dildos and referring to them in dismissive terms. This is to progressives’ detriment. These men are the latest synecdoche for a longstanding struggle for wanting “their” country back, where America is an all-white nation, white men are strong, and white women are pure and purely for procreation.

Because whether or not the white left believes in them, the radical racists believe in white people. The Bundy militias and Dylann Roof, to name a few, are the domestically terrorizing proof of that.

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