Pentagon Supplies School Districts with Assault Rifles and Grenade Launchers

Originally published on September 22, 2014, at NationofChange.org

Due to public outcry, school districts nationwide are debating whether to keep their Pentagon-issued assault rifles, grenade launchers, and Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Donated free of charge as part of the Defense Department’s 1033 Program, surplus military equipment has been dispensed throughout law enforcement agencies and school districts for decades. Recent criticisms of excessive police militarization in Ferguson, Missouri, last month has left many school officials questioning the need for military-grade weapons on campus.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency, over $5 billion in military equipment has been handed out to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies and at least 26 school districts since 2007. California alone has received 8,533 surplus guns, 7,094 pieces of night-vision equipment, 2,370 bayonets and knives, 49 armored vehicles, 59 airplanes and helicopters, and 18 grenade launchers since 2006.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed last month revealed that 61 M16 rifles, 3 grenade launchers, and an MRAP have been transferred to the Los Angeles School Police Department. According to California’s Office of Emergency Services, the Baldwin Park School Police Department received three M16 rifles that they plan to return, while Kern High School District Police received 30 magazines for M4 assault rifle ammunition. Although the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to return the grenade launchers, they refuse to relinquish the assault rifles and mine-resistant vehicle.

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Defense Contractors and Foreign Governments Funding Pundits and Think Tanks

Originally published on September 21, 2014, at NationofChange.org

In a blatant conflict of interest, defense contractors and foreign governments are hiring pundits and think tanks to advocate for their agendas without media outlets disclosing their fiscal ties. Following a strategy developed by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, think tanks funded by military contractors and foreign governments use commentators to influence policy or to generate exorbitant profits. Failure to disclose these financial connections reveals a glaring lack of journalistic integrity on the part of major media corporations.

During last year’s debates to attack Syria, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley made the rounds appearing on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. In a Washington Post op-ed, Hadley openly advocated for war against Syria. Yet none of these news organizations disclosed the fact that Hadley has also served on the board of Raytheon since 2009.

Raytheon produces the Tomahawk cruise missiles utilized during military campaigns. Regardless of whether the U.S. decided to go to war with Syria, Raytheon’s profits and Hadley’s 11,477 shares traded at all-time highs during the debate. A director and member of the Executive Committee of the Atlantic Council, Hadley is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

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Drop False Charges Against Human Rights Activist

Originally published on September 21, 2014, at ForceChange.com

Target: Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain

Goal: Release a human rights worker falsely charged with assaulting a police officer

After returning to Bahrain to visit her ill father, a human rights activist was detained at the airport on the claims that she did not have Bahraini citizenship. After showing them her Bahraini ID card, the human rights worker was imprisoned for several days and charged with insulting the king and assaulting a police officer. The government of Bahrain must release this activist and drop the false charges against her.

Human rights worker Maryam Al-Khawaja returned to Bahrain to visit her imprisoned father, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Imprisoned for life for his participation in advocating for human rights, Abdulhadi began a hunger strike calling attention to the injustice and torture endured by him and his fellow prisoners. Instead of allowing Maryam to visit her ill father, Bahraini authorities arrested Maryam to silence her and her family.

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Release Human Rights Worker Arrested on False Charges

Originally published on September20, 2014, at ForceChange.com

Target: Enrique Pena Nieto, President of Mexico

Goal: Drop the politically motivated charges against a human rights activist leading protests against the construction of an aqueduct

While demonstrating against an aqueduct that will divert water away from an indigenous community, a human rights worker was arrested and falsely charged with abducting a different community’s leader. After leading a delegation to Washington, D.C. to request protection for the indigenous people, Mario Luna Romero returned to Mexico and was arrested days later on politically motivated charges. The Mexican government must drop these false charges and allow the human rights worker to defend the Yaqui community from losing access to its water.

As a spokesperson for the Yaqui tribe, Mario Luna Romero and his community have been working to prevent the construction of the Independence Aqueduct. The project will divert water from the Yaqui River and away from the tribe, despite the fact that it owns 50% of the waterway. After leading protests and requesting an environmental impact study, Romero took a delegation to Washington, D.C. to raise their case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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Demand Justice for Kidnapped and Murdered Human Rights Activist

Originally published on September 20, 2014, at ForceChange.com

Target: Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Goal: Investigate the abduction and murder of a human rights advocate

Eight days after being kidnapped by an armed group of men, the corpse of a human rights activist was found in a forest. While promoting a campaign against forced marriage and human rights abuses, the activist was abducted and murdered by the group committing many human rights violations. The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo must investigate the execution of this human rights advocate and bring to justice the men who abducted and killed him.

While working for Rapid Aid to Disaster Victims, Mutebwa Kaboko promoted human rights by providing help to disaster victims. As the organization led a campaign against the practice of forced marriage, Kaboko reported human rights abuses committed by local armed groups such as the Mai-Mai Yakutumba. Earlier this year, the human rights activist had been kidnapped and held prisoner in the forest for five days by the Mai-Mai Yakutumba.

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Success: Missing Human Rights Activists Released

Originally published on September 18, 2014, at ForceChange.com

Target: Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar

Goal: Applaud the release of human rights workers who were secretly abducted by the police

Researching human rights abuses against migrant workers living in Qatar, two British citizens disappeared while under heavy police surveillance. After being harassed and followed by law enforcement officials, the two human rights activists checked out of their hotel to return home and simply vanished. A previous ForceChange petition demanded the immediate release of these two human rights workers, and thankfully, the activists have been freed.

While working for the Norwegian human rights group, the Global Network for Rights and Development, Krishna Upadhyaya and Ghimire Gundev flew to Qatar to investigate the treatment of migrant workers constructing the facilities for FIFA’s 2022 World Cup. The night before their disappearance, Krishna Upadhyaya sent a message to a friend in Norway about the heavy police surveillance and harassment being conducted against them. On the day of their disappearance, many people reported seeing numerous plain-clothed policemen surveying their hotel.

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FBI Investigates Cop Leaving Teen in Critical Condition

Originally published on September 17, 2014, at NationofChange.org

The FBI is launching an investigation into a routine traffic stop that left a 17-year-old police officer’s son in critical condition. Although the Independence Police Officer claims his actions had been justified, witnesses report several inconsistencies with the cop’s version of events. The FBI and Missouri police are reviewing video footage to determine whether the officer involved should be charged with excessive force.

On the afternoon of September 14, Officer Tim Runnels pulled over 17-year-old Bryce Masters because his license plate matched a plate wanted for a traffic warrant. According to the police, Masters refused to cooperate with Officer Reynolds and resisted arrest.

“I believe he did crack the window but did not roll it down any further. He was just being completely uncooperative with the officer,” alleged Sgt. Darrell Schmidli. “The driver refused to exit the vehicle. A struggle ensued. A Taser was deployed by the officer. The driver was finally removed out of the car. A struggle ensued once he was moved out of the car.”

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