Most of the people around the table meet frequently in D.C., around conference tables, running around the capitol and haranguing congressional staffers or pitching reporters. But we had an unusual audience. Our guest had a direct line to the United Nations and he was eager to discuss our concerns.
Civil rights activists gathered yesterday at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office to meet with United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Mr. Doudou Diène. Mr. Diène is traveling throughout the U.S. to meet with civil, social, and economic rights groups to compile a report for the U.N. Human Rights Council.
The meeting was co-sponsored by Global Rights, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law and included Angela Arbulu, National Council of La Raza (NCLR), Damon Hewitt and Leslie Proll, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Margaret Huang from the Rights Working Group, Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, Wade Henderson (LCCR), John Britten, Lawyers Committee and Aubrey McCutcheon, Global Partners and representatives of the Anti-Defamation League among others. Dr. Bobby Austin, of the University of the District of Columbia moderated the discussion. Mr. Diène was accompanied by an interpreter who translated our remarks into French, but he addressed us in English.
We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the criminal justice system, the mortgage crisis and the school to prison pipeline as well as intra-ethnic tensions in the U.S. Wade Henderson cited the racially disparate impact of the mortgage crisis as a contemporary example of persistent racial discrimination. He made the point that African-American and Latino homeowners are disproportionately represented among those losing their homes to foreclosure regardless of economic status. Angela Arbulu talked about intra-ethnic tensions, and Margaret Huang discussed the experiences of people of color and the tendency to view race in the U.S. as exclusively a Black/White divide. Several speakers talked about structural racism and the school to prison pipeline. Leslie Proll from LDF urged Mr. Diène to question Justice Department officials about the Civil Rights Division’s failure to enforce existing civil rights laws.
We had the distinction of being the first civil society group to meet with Mr. Diène. Last November, Mr. Diène provided expert testimony on the rise of hate crimes and discrimination in Europe before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The commission is chaired by Congressman Alcee Hastings and co-chaired by Senator Ben Cardin, and has nine members from the House, nine members from the Senate and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
Mr. Diène will also meet with officials from federal agencies and groups who are working on housing and homelessness while in Washington, D.C.. The Special Rapporteur’s report may also help us as we work for legislative and administrative reforms to combat racial discrimination and xenophobia.