Child Inmates Crowded into Port-au-Prince’s Dangerous Post-Quake Prisons. Photo by Thony Belizaire.
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Reporting on education in one of the city’s lowest performing districts. Photo by Anthony Tucker.
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Columbia University. Women in Media: Conversations in Journalism 2015.  
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Ferguson, Missouri. August 2014.
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Ferguson, Missouri. August 17, 2014.
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62 murders and counting: St. Louis tallies its dead as gun violence keeps rising

May 25, 2015
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Tyrin Valentine had just pulled out of the drive-through lane at McDonald’s when he heard the shots. His first instinct was to get as far away as possible, followed immediately by a flash: “I just need to go check on my little brother.”

He turned around and drove back to the parking lot, where his brother Tyrell and a cousin had followed in a second car. “All the windows were shot up, and they had crashed into the trash can. He was in the car, like this,” Valentine said, collapsing on an imaginary steering wheel as he recalled the incident weeks later. “His foot was on the gas pedal. They both got shot in the head. My cousin was at the drive-through window, he was bleeding, asking for help.”

Valentine said police officers slammed him to the ground when they arrived on the scene. “I said ‘Why are you doing me like this? I am the victim,'” he recalled. “My little brother just got killed.”

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Unlikely bedfellows from Cory Booker to Newt Gingrich unite in DC to reform prisons

March 26, 2015
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Photo via Flickr.

A summit on mass incarceration is bringing together odd bedfellows from across the political spectrum on Thursday — for what organizers hope will be a “bipartisan breakthrough of massive proportions” that will make criminal justice reform a priority for policymakers at the federal level.

Organizers and speakers include as varied a bunch imaginable in Washington, ranging from Democratic Senator Cory Booker to former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as well as Koch Industries representatives and leading civil rights organizations. Attorney General Eric Holder, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, and David Simon, the creator of The Wire, are also among the guest list.

“This thing has turned into Woodstock for criminal justice,” Van Jones, a civil rights activist and the event’s main organizer, said in a call with reporters ahead of the event. “People are gonna look at photographs of this and swear it was photoshopped.”

[keep reading at VICE News]

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‘Everything here is a teaching moment’: college students head to Ferguson for alternative spring break

March 17, 2015
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photo 4It’s that time of the year again, when high school and college students across the country get ready to head south and hit the beach. But this year, a couple hundred of them have picked an unusual destination for their week away from classes, heading to suburban St. Louis for an “alternative” spring break.

Over the course of five weeks, students from every corner of the country are heading to Ferguson, Missouri, the town put on the map after the August 9 killing of Michael Brown by local police officer Darren Wilson — and the massive nationwide protests that followed it.

But while protests are ongoing, and the recent release of a scathing Department of Justice report accusing the Ferguson police department of racial bias has reignited them, organizers have made it clear that this spring break is about community service, not protest.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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So-called ‘suicide by cop’ cases highlight problematic police response to mental illness

March 14, 2015
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A protester raises his fist while kneeling in an intersection with fellow protestors demonstrating against the shooting death of Anthony Hill by a police officer, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Decatur, Ga. A police officer responding to reports of a suspicious person knocking on doors and crawling on the ground naked at an apartment complex Monday just outside Atlanta fatally shot Hill. Officer Robert Olsen shot Hill twice when the man began running toward him and didn't stop when ordered, DeKalb County Chief of Police Cedric Alexander told reporters Monday. No weapon was found, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is looking into the shooting. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When a Georgia police officer shot and killed Anthony Hill outside of Atlanta earlier this week, their interaction followed the script of countless others before it.

Someone called the police to report that Hill, a black Air Force vet with a history of bipolar disorder, was running around a residential complex — naked. Police later said that he was acting “deranged” and that he lunged at the officer who shot him. Hill was unarmed and evidently in the middle of a mental breakdown, but he ended up dead instead of in a mental healthcare facility.

This is an increasing occurrence, as mentally ill people regularly fail to receive the care they need and end up in often deadly encounters with law enforcement.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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God, guns, and the mass shooting in Tyrone, Missouri

March 10, 2015
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4W2A0951It’s been 12 days since 36-year-old Joseph Jesse Aldridge went on a shooting rampage in the tiny unincorporated community of Tyrone, Missouri, killing seven people with a .45-caliber handgun before turning it on himself — but people in this sparsely populated corner of the state would rather not talk about it.

The investigation is technically ongoing, but with Aldridge dead, there’s no one to prosecute. According to the Texas County coroner, the prosecuting attorney decided to forego autopsies on the victims because it’s clear that they died from multiple gunshot wounds. Aldridge drove from house to house on a Thursday night, gunning down two of his cousins, their wives, and three others in their homes. He was found in his truck miles away in a different county, near the ranch of a man who had been his friend but had cut off ties with him because of his involvement with drugs.

Only the remains of Aldridge’s mother, Alice, received an autopsy. The authorities found that she had died of metastatic lung cancer in the house she shared with her son.

She had been dead at least a day by the time police found her — leading some in town to wonder whether Aldridge’s homicidal outburst was set off by the discovery of his mother’s death. Some have whispered that it was caregiver burnout, or that he was angry with one his cousins for refusing him a job.

Others say that he was just crazy.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Three years since Trayvon Martin’s killing, stand your ground laws are alive and well in America

February 26, 2015
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Photo via Flickr.

On the night of February 26, 2012 — three years ago today — police responded to several 911 calls from The Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida. They arrived on the scene two minutes after George Zimmerman fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman told the officers he acted in self-defense, and police later said they had no reason to doubt him. Zimmerman was not arrested.

Under Florida’s broad self-defense statute — commonly known as the “Stand Your Ground law” — the killing was perfectly legal. Zimmerman was eventually arrested and charged with murder, but a jury acquitted him of all charges in July 2013.

The Florida jury received specific instructions from the court that, as long as Zimmerman wasn’t breaking the law prior to his encounter with Martin, he “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force.” At least one juror said after the verdict was announced that Stand Your Ground was a key factor in the verdict.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Chaos in Libya provides fertile ground for Islamic State propaganda

February 23, 2015
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In the past week, the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group has targeted a new front well outside of its core area of influence in Syria and Iraq, extending the reach of its violent ideology to Libya — where the country’s political instability has allowed radical militants an opening to exploit the unrest.

Last Sunday, the group released a gruesome video showing the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic workers in Libya, pledging that they would soon “conquer Rome.” On Friday, Islamic State loyalists claimed responsibility for three simultaneous bombings in the eastern Libyan town of Al Qubbah, which killed at least 40 people.

Over the weekend, unconfirmed reports claimed that militias affiliated with the group took possession of a cache of chemical weapons left behind by the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi — including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin — and another group allied with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for attacks at the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli and at the Labraq international airport in the east. No one was killed in the attacks.

Regional and world leaders who are already concentrating on battling the group to the east have been alarmed by developments in Libya, but the Islamic State has been steadily building a presence there as Libyans who have fought with the group in Syria and Iraq return to a deeply fragmented country.

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‘I didn’t join the Taliban because I was poor, I joined because I was angry’

February 17, 2015
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In this Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014 photo, an internally displaced Afghan youth wraps himself against the cold in a camp in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Afghans are pouring into makeshift camps in the capital where they face a harsh winter as the Taliban return to areas once cleared by foreign forces, who this week are marking the end of their combat mission. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

As the narrative has it, the millions of poor, unemployed youths living in camps and peripheries worldwide are a fertile recruiting ground for militant ideologues seeking manpower. But that narrative may need debunking — with new research suggesting that anger, more than hunger, is to blame.

The radicalization of marginalized youths, who have been enlisted globally — from Afghanistan and Colombia to the suburbs of Paris and Minneapolis — is at the forefront of the national security agenda for many countries.

On Wednesday, US officials will sit down in Washington to discuss once again how to counter the effective recruiting strategies of militant groups around the world — tackling challenges like winning the narrative war on social media and building partnerships with religious leaders — as part of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

But a report released today by global aid agency Mercy Corps suggests that governments and analysts still understand little about what exactly drives the world’s youth to join armed insurgencies and terrorist groups. It also indicates that more than poverty and unemployment, it’s the experience of injustice that triggers the decision for many, coupled with exposure to corruption, humiliation, and violence.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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As Yemen crumbled, a disappeared US detainee called home in fear for his life

January 29, 2015
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1271822_785263651541072_2676686534597792529_oOn January 20, as Houthi fighters battled the guards watching the compound of Yemen’s president and further expanded their grip on the capital, a US citizen who has been detained in Sana’a since 2010 and hasn’t been seen in almost a year called home to say that the Shia rebels had taken over the prison where he is held and that they planned to “kill everyone,” according to his wife who resides in the US.

“Yemen is in complete turmoil as of yesterday,” she wrote on a Facebook page advocating for his release. “He was able to make a call and asked for his country, America, to save his life by rescuing him from a sectarian battle between two groups [with] which he has no involvement.”

Sharif Mobley, a 31-year-old father of three from New Jersey, was snatched by Yemeni security officers 5 years ago and is suspected by the US of having ties to terrorist groups after he made contract with US-born Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in a US drone attack in Yemen in 2011. His wife, who lived with him at the time of his capture, said they had traveled to Yemen to study Arabic and the teachings of Islam.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Dancing in the rubble: breakdancers offer hope as Gaza struggles to rebuild

January 28, 2015
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Photo via CampBreakers.

It’s been nearly six months since the end of the latest war in Gaza, but the devastation left behind makes it seem as though the last bombs dropped only yesterday.

Psychologically, too, Gazans are still shell-shocked and traumatized by a conflict that killed some 2,192 people — mostly civilians, and many children — and destroyed more than 96,000 homes in less than two months. The fact that this was the third conflict in a span of six years made it all harder, not easier.

“People are not alive,” Ahmed Alghraiz, a resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the center of the strip, told VICE News. “The last war was so hard because they were bombing without knowing whom they were bombing or killing. And now, people are living just counting days, every day is the same, just the date changed.”

“If I weren’t a dancer I would die,” he added.

But Alghraiz is a dancer — one of the first to bring breakdancing to the streets of Gaza a decade ago. The Saudi-born 26-year-old actually studied to be a nurse — “but there are no jobs in Gaza,” he said, so he found another way to bring healing to his community.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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The strange case of Darren Wilson’s mysterious disappearing duty belt

January 28, 2015
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74870025On August 9, after he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson called his superiors to the scene.

Wilson then drove himself to the Ferguson Police Department where he washed his hands and inspected his gun. He sealed it, still bloodied, in a yellow envelope he handed over as evidence.

After he took off his uniform shirt, Wilson was brought to a local ER to treat his injuries; he left the shirt and duty belt at the police station. According to both a 200-page police report on the investigation and testimony given to the grand jury tasked with deciding whether or not to indict Wilson, an unnamed St. Louis County Police officer then took the belt into custody.

But for some reason, that belt did not remain in police custody. According to testimony, the belt somehow ended up in the trunk of Wilson’s personal car — the grand jury was never told how or why the belt was returned to Wilson — where it remained for more than a month until his lawyer submitted it to authorities as evidence in the ongoing investigation into Brown’s death.

[keep reading at VICE News]

 

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Palestinian leaders are taking their quest for statehood global — consequences be damned

January 19, 2015
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Photo via Flickr.

Some have dubbed it Palestine’s ‘Plan-B’ — after yet another failed round of bilateral negotiations with Israel, leaders are taking the issue of Palestinian statehood to the global stage.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has branded the move an effort at “internationalizing” the conflict by building up recognition one international body at a time.

Most recently, Palestine signed on to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court. The ICC immediately launched a preliminary probe into war crimes in Palestine.

“Gaining status at the ICC will serve as a preventive measure, for Israel to understand that it can’t continue without accountability and that it will have to take into consideration consequences of its actions,” Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told VICE News ahead of the announcement. “Because for the first time, [Israel] is going to be held accountable.”

 

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Rubble and rage in Jerusalem: Israeli bulldozers and the broken homes they leave behind

January 6, 2015
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3Q4A1181All that’s left of the Shaludi family home is rubble. On one of the few remaining walls, scraps of baby-blue wallpaper with Mickey and Minnie Mouse floating on hot-hair balloons mark where the boys used to sleep. The crumbling wall of the girls’ room bears the word love, scrawled in a child’s hand but from right to left, as if in Arabic.

The tiny apartment sits in the poor and densely populated Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem, a favela-like pile of homes near one of the most contested pieces of real estate on Earth: the Temple Mount. The Shaludi residence was blasted open here in November when Israeli authorities demolished it in retaliation for an attack perpetrated by the family’s eldest son, Abdel Rahman Shaludi. Last October, he rammed a car into a crowd of pedestrians in a different neighborhood of the city, killing a three-month-old girl and a young woman from Ecuador.

Punitive home demolitions were a token of Israeli policy against outbursts of Palestinian resistance for years, peaking during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s. But they all but stopped after 2005, when an Israeli military study found that the practice failed to serve as a meaningful deterrent to violence.

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St. Louis Bosnians have been dragged to the forefront of the city’s racial tensions

December 16, 2014
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2696059_1417367715.1242The brutal November murder of a Bosnian man in St. Louis has now brought the area’s large and quiet immigrant community to the forefront of the city’s deep racial tensions.

Zemir Begic, 32, was attacked and killed by a group of four hammer-wielding teens as he drove home from a bar early on November 30. Police said the senseless attack did not seem to be racially or ethnically motivated.

But because Begic was white, and his young assailants were black and Hispanic, some saw the murder as a “black-on-white” attack, fueled by racial tensions in St. Louis that have only been heightened in the aftermath of the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson this summer.

 

[keep reading at VICE News]

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One of the first victims of US torture is now missing in Afghanistan

December 13, 2014
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FILE - In this March 23, 2011 file photograph, an Afghan detainee is seen through iron mesh inside the Parwan detention facility near Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. military officials have signed a deal to transfer oversight of the main U.S. detention center in the country to the Afghan government within six months. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin, File)

On the same day a Senate committee released its report detailing a decade of abuse within the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, a man cited in the report as one of the first people subjected to the agency’s torture techniques was released from the detention center at Bagram Airfield, near Kabul, into Afghan custody.

Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian man identified by the CIA as a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden, was handed over to the Afghans on Tuesday, but his whereabouts and condition remain unknown, one of his lawyers told VICE News.

Al-Najar, 49, who is described in the CIA report as “clearly a broken man” and “on the verge of complete breakdown,” was never charged, was not a prisoner of war, and never had his day in court, his lawyer said — but the US government is scheduled to respond soon to ongoing litigation about his treatment in case that has now reached the Supreme Court.

“We found out that he’d been released the day after the Senate report was released and we were told he’d been released from Bagram to Afghan custody the day before,” Caitlin Steinke, an attorney with the International Justice Network, told VICE News. “We don’t think it was a coincidence.”

[keep reading at VICE News]

 

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Ferguson activists demand action, end to police militarization after meeting with Obama

December 3, 2014
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3Q4A1866A group of seven black and Latino activists and community organizers from Ferguson and across the country who met with President Obama and other top officials on Monday said they appreciated the administration’s time and commitment — but that they were hardly satisfied.

The meeting was held at the White House a week after the unrest in the St. Louis suburb that was triggered by the announcement that officer Darren Wilson would not be charged with Mike Brown’s death. But the president and representatives of the protesters agreed that the meeting was not just about Ferguson.

Obama called the meeting with the young activists “powerful.” On the same day he announced “concrete steps” to address the deepening distrust between communities of color and law enforcement, including the creation of a task force entrusted with drawing up recommendations for police best practices, a review of the controversial 1033 program that has enabled billions worth of military equipment to be transferred to law enforcement, and new community policing initiatives.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Synagogue attacks mark new level of escalation as Jerusalem inches closer to breaking point

November 19, 2014
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A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl a stone towards Israeli troops during clashes outside Israel's Ofer military prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah February 28, 2013. The death of a Palestinian prisoner in disputed circumstances in an Israeli jail on Saturday, together with a hunger strike by four other Palestinian inmates, have touched off violent protests over the past several weeks outside the prison and in West Bank towns. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3EEIL

The attack at a west Jerusalem synagogue that killed four rabbis and injured several others on Tuesday marked a new level of escalation to the growing tensions that have gripped the city over the last several months.

Within hours of the bloody assault, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ordered the demolition of the homes of the attackers — two Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem — and arrested a dozen of their relatives. The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades — the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — claims to have been behind the attack on the synagogue.

On Tuesday night, Israeli forces fired tear gas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered, and two Palestinians were severely injured — one shot and another stabbed — in separate retaliatory attacks near that city and in Jerusalem. At least 23 people were arrested as unrest spread across the city, police said.

At the heart of the latest wave of violence is what Palestinians have denounced as an attempt to displace them from the city — physically, through discriminatory housing policies and settlement expansion, and symbolically, through restrictions imposed on Muslims praying at the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on one of the world’s most contested pieces of real estate, the Temple Mount or al-Haram al-Sharif.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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A decade after Arafat’s death, Palestinians reflect on the leadership that followed him

November 11, 2014
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Palestinians hang posters depicting late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Nablus, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Palestinian authorities on Tuesday opened Yasser Arafat's grave and foreign experts took samples from his remains as part of a long-shot attempt — eight years after the iconic leader's mysterious death — to determine whether he was poisoned, as relatives and some political successors have claimed. Arabic on the posters are a quote from Arafat which reads, "more eloquent than words, and more comprehensive than a phrase." (AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh)

When Yasser Arafat died, 10 years ago today, he was the president of the Palestinian Authority, an institution that had already existed for five years longer than intended — and that still exists today.

While hardly the legacy with which he is most readily identified, the Palestinian Authority is perhaps the product of Arafat’s leadership that has the most ongoing impact on the lives of Palestinians today.

The PA, as it is commonly known, was originally intended as a five-year interim body to govern the Palestinian people while their final status was negotiated in accordance with the 1994 Oslo Accords, which Arafat signed. The accords, which marked Palestinian recognition of the Israeli state and were supposed to set the stage for Palestinian self-determination, launched a peace process both parties involved have since abandoned.

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The US faces a moment of truth on torture

November 1, 2014
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**FILE** This is an image obtained by The Associated Press which shows an unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attatched to him in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. Outgoing Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld will ask a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that would hold him personally responsible for allegations of torture in oversees military prisons. (AP Photo/File)

The Obama administration has the opportunity to make its stance on torture clear in the coming weeks. For the first time since the president took office, the White House is sending a delegation to testify before the Committee Against Torture in Geneva in November. In December, back at home, they’ll need to explain their controversial decision to withhold up to 2,100 photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqi and Afghan detainees in their custody.

If the current administration wants to distance itself from the abuses of the previous one — an intention the president has stated repeatedly from his first day in office — human rights advocates say this is the time to show it, not merely by condemning or prohibiting torture, but by unequivocally stating that it is illegal anywhere, and coming clean on violations the US has committed over the last decade.

In 2009, a day after taking office, Obama made clear his condemnation of the Bush administration’s practices and signed an executive order prohibiting torture as an interrogation tactic. As part of the same effort, he also ordered Guantanamo closed, which has yet to happen.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Michael Brown’s mom is taking her son’s case to the UN in Geneva

October 31, 2014
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Lesley McSpadden, center, mother of Michael Brown, marches in a protest in Ferguson, Mo. on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. On Aug. 9, 2014, a white police officer fatally shot Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old, in the St. Louis suburb. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Lesley McSpadden, the mother of the 18-year-old boy whose death at the hands of a Ferguson police officer in August sparked weeks of protests, is going to Geneva, Switzerland next month to speak about her son and other victims of police brutality in front of the United Nations.

Michael Brown’s killing is still under investigation by federal officials, while a local grand jury tasked with deciding whether to charge officer Darren Wilson for his death is supposed to make an announcement any day — with few in Ferguson believing that an indictment is likely.

But with little faith in the justice her son will receive, McSpadden, accompanied by one of the family’s lawyers and a handful of local activists and human rights advocates, is taking her son’s case — and that of other victims of racial profiling and police violence — straight to the UN Committee Against Torture, the body tasked with preventing torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and punishment around the world.

The trip — which was recently made public by organizers and promoted under the tagline “Ferguson to Geneva” — is meant to make a case, to as wide an audience as possible, that both Brown’s killing and the militarized police response to protesters demanding justice for him, are a matter of human rights.

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In St. Louis, the torch of the civil rights struggle is passed to a new guard

October 23, 2014
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Ferguson, August 2014“This is not a moment anymore, this is a movement.”

That’s what a leader with Hands Up United, one of a handful of groups that formed following the Ferguson protests, declared earlier this month to an audience of young men and women at a free hip hop concert. The performance was part of what organizers had billed as a three-day weekend of resistance “to say no more Mike Browns.”

The sentiment had been echoed elsewhere since the summer, gaining conviction with each retweet. But it might just as well have remained unspoken: between police firing tear gas on Ferguson residents gathering to mourn the slain teenager and the hundreds of arrests they made in the course of the next two months, it became clear that the situation was not just a moment anymore.

Nor was it all about Mike Brown, as Ferguson residents noted from day one. “This was a long way coming,” many told VICE News in the early days of the protests, referring to long-simmering grievances. But at the time, it didn’t quite look like a movement either.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Italy is about to shut down the sea rescue operation that saved more than 90,000 migrants this year

October 3, 2014
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1223221696_0f6464a7e0_bA year ago on Friday, when a boat carrying hundreds of mostly Eritrean migrants capsized just feet away from the Italian coast, killing at least 366 people, Italian authorities who came to the rescue of the few survivors swore “never again.”

But last year’s tragedy, which a group is now pushing to memorialize by making October 3 an international day of remembrance, was hardly the first such incident, and it was not the last one. Just three weeks ago, up to 500 migrants, including 100 children, died trying to reach Italy — reportedly after their smugglers deliberately sunk the boat, following a confrontation onboard.

Since January, more than 3,000 people have drowned in the Mediterranean, many near the coast of Lampedusa, a tiny Italian island just 185 miles north of Tripoli, and this, despite a rescue operation Italy set up following last October’s tragedy.

In less than a year, the rescue operation “Mare Nostrum” — Latin for “our sea” — has brought more than 91,000 people safely to shore.

“A year ago, on October 3, all those people died at 200 meters from Lampedusa, they had basically arrived,” Gabriele Del Grande, a migration activist and author of the blog “Fortress Europe,” told VICE News. “That shipwreck caused a public opinion scandal. Not because it was so big — it wasn’t the first or the biggest one — but because for the first time people saw the bodies.”

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Raqqa is being slaughtered silently, and these guys are risking their lives to document it

September 25, 2014
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Mideast Syria Islamic State

Earlier this week, a video aired on French television showed scenes of daily life in Raqqa, Syria, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State.

Filmed in secret and at a huge risk by a Syrian woman who hid a camera behind her niqab, the footage shows armed men patrolling the city, a woman carrying an AK-47 into a playground, and an internet café where foreign women who traveled to the caliphate phone their relatives back in France, saying they love it there.

The video, like VICE News’ The Islamic State before it, once again brought the attention of the world to Raqqa, a city where life under the Islamic State is as inscrutable to outsiders as it is terrifying — a reminder of the caliphate’s brutality as much as of its bureaucratic efficiency.

With open dissent all but stifled in the city — and punished with death, when it still happens — a group of young residents has taken the huge personal risk of documenting life under the Islamist fighters’ rule — sharing photos, videos, and stories from the city on the web. Even after one of them was caught and executed, the group carried on, speaking with journalists and sharing images from the city.

[keep reading at VICE News]

 

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Fast food workers fight for a raise, a union, and dignity at first national convention

July 30, 2014
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IMG_3468More than 1,300 workers from all over the US traveled to the outskirts of Chicago over the weekend for what organizers said was the first nationwide fast food workers convention. This gathering in Elmhurst, Illinois was held on the heels of a snowballing movement that has quickly grown from a spontaneous New York City walkout in November 2012 to one of the most significant American labor organizing efforts in recent years.

They came from California and Connecticut, from Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 50 cities across the country. Most arrived after long, grueling road journeys, some on yellow school buses, and many brought their children along.

Most of the workers were young, but others were in their 40s and 50s, “career” fast food workers, who have spent decades in the industry. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, but not only. Some were part-time students, a few had college degrees, and many held two or three different fast food jobs at the same time.

They came carrying banners from regional chapters and wearing shirts saying “Can’t survive on $7.25” and “We are worth more.” And they brought two demands: pay of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“Look around,” Mya Hill, an organizer from Detroit, told a roaring room packed with fired-up workers on Friday night, as the two-day event kicked off. “This is what a union looks like.”

 

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It’s Déjà Vu in Gaza All Over Again

July 19, 2014
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Mideast Israel Palestinians

If the harrowing images and stories coming out of Gaza in recent days feel like déjà vu, it’s because many people believe they have seen them before. Over the years, Palestinians have come to predict and expect escalations of violence in the overcrowded, besieged Gaza strip at eerily regular intervals.

Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, which lasted from December 2008 to January 2009, killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians. Pillar of Defense, in November 2012, stopped short of a ground invasion but still killed 174 Palestinians, according to UN figures. Protective Edge, which was launched on July 7 and entered what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) called “a new phase” Thursday night, has killed more than 325 Palestinians so far.

“In terms of brutality and force, this is already much more brutal than 2012, though… I don’t think it will be as bloody as Cast Lead,” Idan Landau, an Israeli scholar and commentator, told VICE News. He cited statistics by human rights watchdog B’tselem that compared the percentage of civilian casualties in the last three operations: 55 percent in 2008-2009, 52 percent in 2012, and 76 percent in the current operation — at least, up until the ground invasion.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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ISIS fighters and their friends are total social media pros

June 17, 2014
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The fast advance of ISIS fighters in Iraq might have taken some by surprise, but it did not come unannounced.

As they staged their offensive on the ground, quickly conquering one town after the next, members of the al Qaeda splinter group launched an equally efficient public relations war — trumpeting their arrival on Twitter like the most social media-savvy marketing company.

The phenomenon of fighters taking their message to social media is not new, and the war in Syria has been fought over the control of narratives as much as of territory. The offensive in Iraq is opening up a new battlefield both on and offline, however. And, so far, ISIS militants have proved that they are absolute pros at the Twitter wars.

[keep reading at VICE News]

 

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How so many football-loving Brazilians ended up hating the World Cup

June 13, 2014
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how-so-many-football-loving-brazilians-ended-up-hating-the-world-cup-1402671136As Neymar scored Brazil’s first goal in the World Cup’s opening game in São Pauloyesterday, not all eyes of the country — or the world — were on the field.

Many observers were following events outside the stadium, where police met demonstrators with rubber bullets, batons, and tear gas, injuring several in the process.

It was a familiar scene, as the image of officers in riot gear clashing with protesters in black masks has become as much of a symbol of this tournament as the green and yellow jerseys of Brazil’s national team.

“The Brazilian people have had enough. Everyone thought, ‘Oh, they just love football, as long as they see a football being kicked by a Brazilian there won’t be a problem,” Andrew Jennings, a British journalist who has written extensively about FIFA corruption, including in Brazil, told VICE News. “Well, they got that wrong. You have seen the demonstrations: ‘No World Cup here.’ That’s Brazilians saying it, Brazilians saying, ‘We love football, we just don’t want the World Cup here.’”

How one of the world’s most football-loving countries came to resent the tournament so much has been subject of much debate. Yet the “Fuck off FIFA” and “Whose cup?” graffiti sprayed on walls across the host cities reveal both national discontent with Brazil’s growing inequality and a more global rejection of the multibillion dollar machines that huge events like this have become.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Why was the FBI investigating Michael Hastings’ reporting on Bowe Bergdahl?

June 3, 2014
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Michael HastingsThree years into the disappearance of Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan, Michael Hastings — the journalist whose reporting cost General Stanley McChrystal his job — wrote a Rolling Stone story on the missing soldier, a piece which the magazine called “the definitive first account of Bowe Bergdahl.”

Hastings, who died in a car accident in Los Angeles in June 2013, had unparalleled access for that story.

He spoke to Bergdahl’s parents, who had by that time stopped talking to the press, following “subtle pressure” from the army, and he quoted from emails the young soldier had sent to them, documenting his growing disillusion with the war and the US military.

Hastings also spoke to several unnamed men in Bergdahl’s unit — soldiers who, we now know, had to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement forbidding them from discussing the soldier’s disappearance and search with anyone — let alone one of the top investigative journalists in the country.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Google is even more white and male than you thought, and so is everyone who’s writing about it

May 30, 2014
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493279545Blacks and Latinos make up more than 30 percent of the US population — but not at Google. At the tech giant’s Mountain View headquarters, and at company offices across the country, they total about 5 percent of the workforce.

And Google says it doesn’t like that.

In an unprecedented move, the corporation chose to go public with its underwhelming diversity stats, revealing that of its 26,600 US employees, only two percent are black and three percent Latino. And that of its 44,000 global employees, only 30 percent are women.

To put that in perspective, Googlers are only slightly more diverse than House Republicans.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Afghanistan’s opium economy is doing better than ever

May 21, 2014
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3455510738_048a43fff5_bDespite billions spent in eradication efforts, Afghanistan’s opium harvest is set to break all records this year, as one of the country’s primary agricultural activities and most profitable export trades blooms in the midst of an uncertain political and military transition.

Afghanistan produced tons of opium in 2013 — an estimated 6,062 tons in fact, — growing its output for the third consecutive year, and up 36 percent from the year before.

The hike followed a short-lived drop in production as international and Afghan officials attempted to eradicate cultivation of the delicate plant, which produces the main ingredient used in heroin.

As most foreign troops prepare to leave by year’s end, likely followed out the door by billions in development aid, Afghanistan’s blossoming illicit trade is a reflection of many of the uncertainties ahead — as the country deals with massive unemployment, a fragile security, and the fear of losing ground on progress made in the last few years.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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‘We don’t have any hope to go back’: Syrian refugees’ lives turn permanent in Zaatari camp

May 9, 2014
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heEF5Just two years ago, what is now Jordan’s fourth largest city was nothing more than an empty stretch of desert.

It was hastily built in less than two weeks by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to accommodate a monumental exodus of refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Within months, it had grown into the world’s second largest refugee camp — after Dadaab, in Kenya. Since it opened, over 3,000 babies have been born to mothers from the camp, making the number of children half of the camp’s population of more than 120,000.

Syrian refugees arrived in Zaatari, in northeastern Jordan, hoping for a short stay. But as the raging conflict next door entered its fourth year, many of them have traded their tents for trailer homes, and their hopes for a quick return for the realization that they are here for the foreseeable future.

“I think we’ll stay in the camp for a long time. We have maybe five or ten years before we can go back to Syria now,” Manal, who has lived in Zaatari for 16 months, told VICE News. “Even if Assad leaves Syria, I think they will fight each other, the Nusra [Front] and the army. They will fight each other for who will be the next president of Syria.”

Manal left her village near Deraa with her husband and four small children after the army raided their home. She told VICE News that she wants to go back — but that she is getting used to the idea that that won’t happen anytime soon.

 

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Hope and fear as Afghan women head to the polls

April 5, 2014
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Afghan women wait in line to receive their voter registration cards in Kabul, March 12, 2014. The Afghan presidential elections will be held on April 5. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

As Afghans begin to vote for their new president, the country’s women are looking to the election with a combination of excitement and anxiety, cautious optimism, and the awareness that the gains they made over the last decade are still fragile.

On the one hand, this election — widely heralded as Afghanistan’s first ever democratic transfer of power, if things go well — has seen unprecedented participation from women: both on the road and at campaign rallies, and on the ballots, running for provincial council seats, and even for the vice presidency.

The question of women’s rights has also featured prominently on candidates’ agendas and in campaign promises — though the real test of that will come in the months following election day, when political commitment to the cause will be tested, and when it will become clearer whether the Taliban will be able to regain ground in the country.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Cubans haven’t heard of USAID’s ‘Twitter’ and they have enough problems already

April 3, 2014
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10331567065_d30f2e1760_oThe US Agency for International Development (USAID) just got into more than a bit of trouble over its scheming to create ZunZuneo — a text message-based Twitter rip-off it hoped to eventually infiltrate with political content that might inspire a “Cuban Spring.”

The secret program was shut down long before lighting up any kind of cyber revolution, but the story — which the Associated Press broke on Thursday — was fascinating in a number of ways: the program funded by unknowing taxpayers was a digital-age throwback from the Cold War, it was possibly illegal, and it put the development agency right into CIA territory.

But the plan to awaken the revolutionary spirit of Cuba’s youth through their cell phones — as a majority of the population has limited or no access to the internet — was as interesting as it was naive.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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The US just can’t stop blowing billions in Afghanistan

April 2, 2014
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Images Of Construction And Manufacturing As U.S. 2014 Exit Plan Remains UncertainYou might have heard that the US spent some $102 billion trying to develop Afghanistan over the last decade — and that’s in addition to the estimated $6 trillion it spent going to war there in the first place.

You also might have heard that a lot of that money vanished into thin air, went to shady contractors, corrupt politicians, or, occasionally, the Taliban.

But if you thought that getting out of Afghanistan would save us some cash, you’re wrong. The troops might withdraw, if things go as planned, by the end of the year, but US dollars are going to have to keep flowing into the country for years to come to keep it afloat. If things go bad, the US might feel compelled to start the war all over again.

[keep reading at VICE News]

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Russian Government Repressing Journalists Ahead of Sochi

January 28, 2014
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src.adapt.960.high.1390913856924Obstruction by government authorities has led to fear and self-censorship among Russian journalists and severely limited coverage of the upcoming Sochi Olympics, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) charged in a report released on Tuesday.

The group, which monitors press freedom worldwide, detailed a repressive climate for journalism in Sochi, where the Winter Games kick off in less than two weeks and where arrests, tapped phones and threats have led to a virtual media silence in Russia on many controversial Olympic-related issues.

The report detailed one case in which a correspondent for a major Russian news agency — who was not named — recently filed three stories from Sochi. One dealt with the arrest of journalist Nikolai Yarst, a case that many saw as politically motivated. A second story detailed malfunctions at a hastily built compound for residents displaced by Olympic construction. A third was about the bad weather headed for the city, where torrential rains have already flooded newly constructed roads.

Yet none of the stories made it to the wires.

[keep reading on Al Jazeera America]

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Intimidated Journalists in Russia Hesitate to Criticize Sochi Games

January 23, 2014
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Last April, Russian journalist Mikhail Beketov, who had exposed corruption in the construction of a highway linking Moscow to St. Petersburg, died of injuries sustained in a brutal beating he had received years earlier.

Beketov’s case made international headlines, but it was hardly an isolated episode in Russia, where a growing climate of repression of investigative journalism has left many reporters with a difficult choice between self-censorship and doing their job at serious personal risk.

Journalists exposing corruption or implicating authorities in their critical reporting have been particularly targeted. With notable exceptions, this has led to a timid press, particularly surrounding controversial topics such as the country’s preparations for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where abuse has been widespread but relatively underreported.

[keep reading on Al Jazeera America]

 

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Russia Cracks Down on Green Activism Ahead of Sochi Olympics

January 21, 2014
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Last December, as the world celebrated Russia’s widely publicized release of dissident tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two members of the punk band Pussy Riot and 29 Greenpeace activists, a court in the southern region of Krasnodar — where the Sochi Winter Olympics open next month — sentenced environmentalist Evgeny Vitishko to three years in a penal colony.

A geologist and member of the Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, Vitishko is an outspoken critic of construction for Sochi, a massive development project that comes not only with the heftiest Olympic price tag to date — a staggering $51 billion — but also, according to some critics, the unflattering label of most damaging to the environment.

Vitishko, who denies all charges and remains free pending an appeal, was accused of violating a curfew imposed on him after he was sentenced to probation in 2012 on charges that human-rights advocates have called spurious and politically motivated. Another member of the group sentenced with him, zoologist Suren Gazaryan, fled to Estonia and was granted asylum.

[keep reading on Al Jazeera America]

 

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Olympics Inflame Political and Social Tensions in Russia

December 31, 2013
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MOSCOW — With a 60-mile-long security zone, extensive identity checks, drones and Cossacks patrolling the streets around Sochi, the Russian government is determined to deliver on its promise that the Winter Olympics, opening in the Black Sea city in February, will be “the safest games ever,” according to Dmitry Chernyshenko, president of the Sochi organizing committee.

But securing Sochi, which sits in the southern Krasnodar region, next to the most active insurgency in Europe, is possible only through a monumental deployment of force that has already impacted the North Caucasus, where conflict with ethnic and religious minorities has flared for years.

This week two bomb attacks in two days — on a bus and at a railway station — rocked the city of Volgograd, 420 miles northeast of Sochi, killing more than 30 people and injuring more than 100. While no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, authorities believe they are related and are a warning sign as the games approach.

[keep reading on Al Jazeera America]

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Mystery Surrounds Snowden’s Secret Moscow Life

November 21, 2013
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MOSCOW — After a dramatic arrival and a prolonged confinement at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the United States government on espionage charges, has quietly vanished into a life of seclusion.

Nobody seems to know exactly where one of the most wanted and famous men in the world lives, who protects him or how he spends his days — beyond learning Russian and reading Dostoyevsky. Such glimpses into his life have been offered to the public by his Russian lawyer and de facto spokesman, Anatoly Kucherena.

With the exception of rare, coordinated appearances and updates by Kucherena, Snowden has all but disappeared as the consequences of his revelations about the NSA’s massive spying program continue to unravel.

[keep reading on Al Jazeera America]

 

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The ICC Fends Off ‘Ferocious Attack’, Prosecutor Says

September 28, 2013
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Fatou-BensoudaThe International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor – Fatou Bensouda – was busy in New York this week, rallying support for the court on the sidelines of the 68th United Nations General Assembly annual debate.

The Gambia native, who succeeded Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, to head the  prosecutor’s office, talked exclusively to PassBlue about her work during a critical time for the court. Kenya recently voted on plans to withdraw its membership from the Rome Statute, the court’s governing treaty, and the African Union criticized the tribunal, based in The Hague, for its “misuse of indictments against African leaders,” even though, as Bensouda emphasized in the interview, most of the court’s investigations in the continent were based on requests from African countries.

[keep reading on PassBlue]

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In London, a pre-Olympic race to find a place to dock

July 2, 2012
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Moored by the Regents Canal towpath.

Chasing a freer lifestyle, Emma Ringqvist last year swapped her rented room for the Miss Behavin—a 58-foot vessel she bought online. The folk musician outfitted the boat with bookshelves, a drum kit and a cooking area complete with drawers for organic composting. “This is the first time I have my own kitchen,” she said.

But thanks to this summer’s Olympic Games, Ms. Ringqvist is moving house—her entire houseboat, in fact—again. On Tuesday, British Waterways, the agency that regulates most of London’s rivers and canals, will impose a 15-mile restricted zone for the summer, keeping out any boaters not paying for an Olympic mooring or summer permit.

With the off-limits area stretching through much of central London, houseboat residents—many of them alternative-lifestylers who camp on the water for cheap—are now racing to find a place to dock outside the exclusion zone. The exodus is creating a kind of aquatic gridlock.

[keep reading at The Wall Street Journal]

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Occupy Wall Street struggles to make ‘the 99%’ look like everybody

October 28, 2011
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Two weeks into Occupy Wall Street’s takeover of Zuccotti Park, a group of Bronx community organizers and friends rode the subway down to Lower Manhattan to check out a movement they supported in principle.

When they got there, they recalled, they found what they had suspected: a largely white and middle-class crowd that claimed to represent “the 99 percent” but bore little resemblance to most of the people in the group’s own community. That community, the South Bronx, is one of the poorest areas of the country and home almost exclusively to blacks and Hispanics.

“Nobody looked like us,” said Rodrigo Venegas, 31, co-founder of Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, a center for political activism and hip-hop run out of a warehouse in Mott Haven. “It was white, liberal, young people who for the first time in their life are feeling a small percentage of what black and brown communities have been feeling for hundreds of years.”

 

[keep reading at City Room]

 

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