Tag Archives: brutality

Silent victims of violence: 4 million children orphaned in Congo

More than 4 million children have lost at least one parent in Congo over the past two decades, the silent victims of continuous cycles of violence.

And more than 26 million orphans live in West and Central Africa, where Congo is located — the second highest number in the world behind South Asia, according to the United Nations.

These children have grown up amid conflict fueled by ethnic strife and the fight over Congo’s valuable minerals. The violence and displacement are eroding the tradition of families caring for their own.

The breakdown in family means some orphans are forced to look after themselves and their younger siblings. Some are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

And many also face sexual exploitation, in a country where rape has become commonplace on the streets.

“They are the orphans with a story of violence since 1994 — it’s a generation of victims that continues,” says Francisca Ichimpaye, a senior monitor at the En Avant Les Enfants INUKA center.

And the children “lose their story in the violence.”

As Congo falls once again into violence in the face of a delayed election, here are profiles of some orphans in Goma.

ALPHA MELEKI, 6

Alpha Meleki was found in a pile of bodies after an attack by rebels on his village in Congo’s eastern Beni earlier this year. He had been shot and left for dead with his parents in the bush.

The bullet wounds and the vine-like surgery scar on the 6-year-old’s pudgy belly have only recently healed. He hobbles around, pulling his loose shorts up on his tiny body.

The emotional scars are still fresh. When held by someone new, Alpha sits limply. His large eyes glaze over, and sometimes glare with angry distrust. He saves his smiles for those he trusts, often seeking the hands of adults he knows.

He cannot stand to see others suffer. Whenever another child at the INUKA center needs medical attention, Alpha cries and screams.

In a quiet moment, he touches a short, wide scar on his head. He lets others touch it.

“They hit me with a machete,” he recalls.

The center says it could take years to find any family members, as attacks persist in the northeast.

JEANNETTE UMUTSI, 17

At 17, Jeannette Umutsi has become the caregiver for her little brother, whom she hopes to protect from the horrors she has seen.

At first she recounts her story stoically and with distance. She was born only a few years after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide spilled into Congo. Armed fighters stormed her home, hit her in the leg with a shovel and nearly killed her sister.

She and her family fled her hometown of Kirolarwe in 2008 to escape the violence. In the next village, she hid in a toilet enclosure with wooden plank floors for three days to save herself from another attack. Alone, she would sneak out to grab tomatoes that grew nearby.

For days, she heard gunshots and saw dead bodies, including that of her uncle. As she continues to talk of violence, she breaks down into tears and gasps.

“I have so many nightmares now. So many nightmares,” she says.

Her mother returned to save her. But she later died after giving birth to her brother Shukuru, now 5.

Her father used to be a fighter, she says. Once, he threatened to kill her with a machete. As she talks about him, she folds over herself, head in her skirt, and the fear is palpable in her eyes.

Finally she fled the family. She wrapped Shukuru up, put him on her back, and walked for days, struggling to breathe, on the way to Camp Mugunga in Goma. She is now an older sister to more than a dozen other children at the INUKA center, where she helps cook the fish and rice for lunch and rounds the kids up for naps.

MOISE, 7, AND AGATA MUNOKA, 5

Moise Munoka, 7, sits still, looks down and speaks in a near whisper when he recounts the loss of his mother.

She died in 2013 after health complications from rapes left her quite sick. Rape is a constant in Congo, where it has become a weapon of war. At the Children’s Voice Virunga Centre in Goma, where Moise and his sister Agata gather during the day, at least 30 children were born of rape.

Though Moise never knew his own father, he knows that he was probably a fighter who raped his mother. When asked if he wants to meet him one day, he scrunches his nose up and shakes his head in disgust, “No!”

He is happy to have left his war torn village of Massissi.

“It’s a bad place because there’s war, trouble, people don’t like each other, they like to kill,” he says. “There’s always dead people, and blood.”

He lights up as he explains that he and his sister are now being cared for by a widow, Arlette Kabuo Malimewa, 45. She has three children of her own and also cares for a third foster child.

Agata sleeps in the living room, which has several posters of Jesus Christ lining the walls. Moise has his own room, where his two book bags hang from nails on the wooden planks.

Malimewa sells bed covers in bright pinks and whites that hang over her black lava rock gate, and makes about $5 a week.

“I love them, but it is difficult,” she says. “I want to keep them until my death … because who would they go to?”

ANUARITA MAHORO, 12

Anuarita Mahoro, 12, has been ostracized because she was born with a right hand problem that leaves her too weak to do hard labor.

She lived with her father until he was asked to chop wood for armed men who then killed him in 2014. Her mother lived with “the men of the forests,” as she refers to the fighters. They eventually killed her mother, too, and left.

Anuarita fled to her grandparents in Kiwanja. When her grandfather died, she was forced to leave her grandmother to find work to eat. Starving and sick, she was eventually taken in by a center for orphans.

Here, her right hand tucked between her legs and leaning on her left elbow, she apologizes.

“I have suffered so much so I might sound confused,” she says.

She hopes to return to her village and reclaim her grandmother’s land, showing those in the community her worth.

“After the death of my parents, the community discussed who would take this child. And no one was prepared to take me on as a parent. So since no one wanted me, when I grow up they better not come and ask me for any help,” she said, grinning widely, and then covering her face and laughing.

She would like one day to set up a center for orphans. And if she ever got the conversation she wants with the men who killed her parents, she solemnly reveals the one thought that won’t leave her mind.

“I would ask why they killed my father and my mother and didn’t kill me?”

DAMIEN MATATA BIZI, 22

Damien Matata Bizi looks down, his shoulders heavy, when he hesitantly recounts his past as an orphan who became a child soldier.

Many of the thousands of other former child soldiers in Congo over years made a similar choice, or had none at all. Rwanda’s 1994 genocide pushed fighters into Congo, and multiple rebel groups now fight over the mineral-rich region.

Matata Bizi became a rebel after his father, also an armed fighter, died. He was only 10 years old.

“I was angry when I learned of my father’s death. So I wanted to avenge my father, so I entered into the rebellion to fight,” he said. “My mother could never pay for school, and we could never find money to pay for food so I thought this was best.”

Matata Bizi says he was treated well, but others weren’t.

“The life that vulnerable children have is hard,” he says. “They don’t have education, they don’t have clothes, so it may be better to be in an armed group with the ability to find food and clothes than to be at a loss.”

When asked about having to kill people, his eyes narrow and he impatiently takes a deep breath, visibly angry.

“There’s a difference between the militants and child soldiers,” he says. “The adults have the occasion to reflect on what they’ve done. But for a child, we can only execute an order we are given. We don’t think of things, we do what we are ordered to do. “

Matata Bizi was found, rehabilitated by the United Nations and integrated into the army in 2009. He signed papers that say he is no longer a child soldier. He carries the dirtied, crumbling pages around in his shirt pocket. They brand him now.

He came to Goma in 2013. He was trained as a mechanic at the Don Bosco center in Goma but has no work. He says it’s easier to make more money and move up in rebel groups than in the army.

“War I know isn’t good, and neither is violence. It’s not good or normal,” he says. “But the armed groups exist because the country is badly organized. There’s no work. There’s no occupation for the young.”

On the Web

Children’s Voice

 

Criticized book on George Washington and slaves pulled

Scholastic is pulling a new picture book about George Washington and his slaves amid objections it sentimentalizes a brutal part of American history.

“A Birthday Cake for George Washington” was released Jan. 5 and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules and his daughter, Delia. Its withdrawal was announced earlier this week.

“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the children’s publisher said in a statement released to the AP.

The book, which depicts Hercules and Delia preparing a cake for Washington, has received more than 100 one-star reviews on Amazon.com. As of Sunday evening, only 12 reviews were positive. The book also set off discussions on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere on social media.

While notes in “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton had pointed out the historical context of the 18th century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative.

“Oh, how George Washington loves his cake!” reads the publisher’s description of the story. “And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president’s cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar.”

The trade publication School Library Journal had called it “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, had labeled the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery.”

In a Scholastic blog post from last week, Ganeshram wrote that the story was based on historical research and meant to honor the slaves’ skill and resourcefulness.

“How could they smile? How could they be anything but unrelentingly miserable?” Ganeshram wrote. “How could they be proud to bake a cake for George Washington? The answers to those questions are complex because human nature is complex. Bizarrely and yes, disturbingly, there were some enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and ‘close’ relationships with those who enslaved them. But they were smart enough to use those ‘advantages’ to improve their lives.”

The announcement comes amid an ongoing debate about the lack of diversity in publishing, although the collaborators on “A Birthday Cake” come from a variety of backgrounds. Ganeshram is an award-winning journalist and author born to a Trinidadian father and Iranian mother and has a long history of food writing. Her previous works include the novel “Stir It Up” and the nonfiction “FutureChefs.”

Brantley-Newton, who has described herself as coming from a “blended background — African American, Asian, European and Jewish,” has illustrated the children’s series “Ruby and the Booker Boys” among other books. The editor was Andrea Davis Pinkney, also an author who in 2013 won a Coretta Scott King prize for African-American children’s literature.

The pulling of the Washington book also recalls a similar controversy from last year. “A Fine Dessert,” written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, was criticized for its cheerful depiction of a 19th century slave mother and daughter as they prepared a blackberry recipe. Jenkins apologized, saying that her book, which she “intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive.” (“A Fine Dessert,” released by the Random House imprint Schwartz & Wade, remains in print).

Copies of “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” were not easy to find even before Scholastic’s decision. The print edition on Amazon.com, ranked No. 13.202 earlier Sunday, was listed as shipping within “2 to 4 weeks.” Several Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan did not have the book in stock. Scholastic Corp. spokeswoman Kyle Good said she could not provide an immediate reason for delays in the book’s availability.

U.S. Dep’t of Justice to investigate the Chicago Police Department

The U.S. Justice Department is expected to launch a wide-ranging investigation this week into the patterns and practices of the Chicago Police Department. The Washington Post first reported the development earlier today.

The federal probe of the CPD will be similar to recent probes of police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri. And the Chicago probe, like those in the other cities, is being prompted by a case in which a white Chicago police officer shot an unarmed black teenager — 16 times in the latest case.

Bot the CPD and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have faced harsh criticism iover their handling of the October, 2014, death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. White officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder more than a year after the killing and just one day before the release of police dashboard camera video showing the officer firing 16 shots at the black teenager, according to The Associated Press.

Since then, Emanuel forced Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to resign and formed a task force to examine the department in an effort to calm the city and deal with the most serious crisis of his administration.

But pressure on the mayor has not abated. Calls for him to resign — something he’s said he won’t do — have grown louder. More than 200 protesters shouted that he step down during a march this afternoon in downtown Chicago. Protesters counted to 16 during the march, a number that has taken on a symbolic significance since the demonstrations began.

Emanuel initially said a federal civil rights investigation of Chicago police tactics would be “misguided” because the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago was already investigating. But Emanuel later backed down and said he’d welcome the Justice Department’s help in “restoring” trust in the department.

Hillary Clinton and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also have called for a federal investigation.

AP reported on Friday that Chicago released hundreds of pages that show police officers initially reported a very different version of the encounter with McDonald than the video shows. That further angered activists and protesters, who already believed the city covered up what really happened to McDonald.

The Justice Department in the last six years has opened more than 20 investigations of police departments. In March, the department released a scathing report of the Ferguson police force that found pervasive civil rights abuses, and in May, it reached a settlement with Cleveland police that called for sweeping improvements — including to that department’s use of force policies. It opened an investigation of Baltimore police in May after demonstrations there turned violent in response to the death of a black man in police custody.

Civil right leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said he hoped that the investigation would focus not only on the police department, but on Emanuel’s office and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office that he and others have criticized for taking so long to bring charges against Van Dyke.

Chicago has a sordid history of police brutality and abuse. In a lawsuit filed against the city in October, three men said they were subjected to “unconstitutionally coercive and torturous tactics” at the CPD’s notorious Homan Square facility on the city’s West Side. A series of articles about Homan Square published by The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, shocked the world.

The Guardian described the facility as a “secretive warehouse” that is “the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site.”

The savage culture of sadism at Cook County Jail has been described in numerous lawsuits and investigative reports.

Suit alleges police brutality against Black Lives Matter protesters

Eleven people who were clubbed, teargassed, slammed to the ground, shot with impact munitions or arrested by the police during a December 2014 demonstration sued the city of Berkeley and officials of the California city in federal court.

The plaintiffs include journalists who were covering the demonstration, as well as demonstrators. They are seeking to revamp how Berkeley polices demonstrations, as well as to be compensated for injuries.

The Dec. 6, 2014, protest was a March Against State Violence calling for justice for Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed black people killed by white police officers.

“The march was largely peaceful,” said civil rights attorney Jim Chanin. “But the Berkeley Police assumed the worst and almost immediately began hitting people in an indiscriminate manner. This was illegal, and unnecessarily exacerbated tension between police and protesters. It showed a complete lack of appreciation for the fact that the demonstrators were exercising their constitutional right to speak out on very serious issues: police racist killings and the failure of our criminal justice system to hold officers accountable.”

The lawsuit follows the revelation that Berkeley Police stop data shows a pattern of racial profiling against black and Latino people, with blacks and Latinos far more likely than whites to be stopped and searched.

The plaintiffs include San Francisco Chronicle photographer Sam Wolson, who was clubbed on the head as he knelt to take a photo. Wolson said, “I was really surprised and disappointed, by the whole situation. If you can’t have media safely holding all parties accountable then the whole system breaks down.”

Cindy Pincus, a minister, was also hit on the head as she bent down to help another woman who had fallen. “The response by police was so disproportionately violent to the peaceful gathering of protesters. We were indiscriminately beaten even as we tried to lawfully retreat.  I suffered once; this is what our brown and black citizens suffer every day.”

Cal student Nisa Dang was clubbed from behind while she was urging other demonstrators to be peaceful.

Later that night, the police forced her and others to march from Berkeley to the Oakland border.

“The officers hit and jabbed us with their batons and shot tear gas canisters at our backs to forcibly make us keep moving south. They didn’t stop their violent tactics until we got to Oakland. Those of us who had been forced into Oakland then had to walk all the way back to Berkeley to return to the safety of our homes.”

Curtis Johnson was visiting from Los Angeles and happened on the demonstration. “I had only been with the march for about ten minutes when I was shot in the knee with an impact munition,” he said. “There was no warning.” Mr. Johnson was shot by Hayward officers who were providing mutual aid to Berkeley.

“There have been demonstrations all over the Bay Area as part of the growing nationwide movement for Black Lives and the NLG had legal observers at most of them,” said Rachel Lederman, co-counsel for the plaintiffs and the president of the National Lawyers Guild’s San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. “It was Berkeley who responded in the most brutal and unconstitutional manner. To make matters worse, Berkeley made no effort to control the other agencies who responded to its call for mutual aid.”

With rescue near, Boko Haram stoned girls to death

Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom.

Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on May 3, their first day out of the war zone.

“We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived,” said 27-year-old Lami Musa as she cradled her 5-day-old baby girl.

She was among 275 girls, women and their young children, many bewildered and traumatized, who were getting medical care and being registered a day after making it to safety.

Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week. It is still unclear if any of them were among the so-called “Chibok girls,” whose mass abduction from their school a year ago sparked outrage worldwide and a campaign for their freedom under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Musa was in the first group of rescued women and girls to be transported by road over three days to the safety of the Malkohi refugee camp, a dust-blown deserted school set among baobab trees opposite a military barracks on the outskirts of Yola, the capital of northeastern Adamawa state.

Last week’s rescue saved her from a forced marriage to one of the killers of her husband, she said.

“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.

“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.

Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.

As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.

“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.

She and another survivor of the stoning, 20-year-old Salamatu Bulama, said several girls and women were killed, but they did not know how many.

The horrors did not end once the military arrived.

A group of women were hiding under some bushes, where they could not be seen by soldiers riding in an armored personnel carrier, who drove right over them.

“I think those killed there were about 10,” Bulama said.

Other women died from stray bullets, she said, identifying three by name.

There were not enough vehicles to transport all of the freed captives and some women had to walk, Musa said. Those on foot were told to walk in the tire tracks made by the convoy because Boko Haram militants had mined much of the forest. But some of the women must have strayed because a land mine exploded, killing three, she said.

Bulama shielded her face with her veil and cried when she thought about another death: Her only son, a 2-year-old toddler who died two months ago of an illness she said was aggravated by malnutrition.

“What will I tell my husband?” she sobbed after learning from other survivors who used borrowed cell phones to try to trace relatives that her husband was alive and in the northern town of Kaduna.

Musa, who had been in pain and withdrawn after her arrival the night before, greeted a reporter with smiles on Sunday – and the news that her breasts were finally giving milk and nourishment to her yet-to-be-named daughter.

Another survivor, Binta Ibrahim, was 16 years old and accompanying her sister-in-law to the dressmaker when Boko Haram insurgents rode into their village of Izghe, firing randomly at civilians. On that day in February 2014, the AP reported at least 109 people were killed and almost every hut destroyed as the militants lobbed firebombs onto their thatch roofs.

Ibrahim, her sister-in-law and two of Ibrahim’s sisters were among scores of young women abducted.

Her two sisters escaped in the pandemonium that surrounded an air raid, but Ibrahim, who was caring for three children she found abandoned after the insurgents moved into the neighboring village of Nbitha, did not go with them.

“I had these three kids to care for and I couldn’t abandon them a second time,” she explained.

She described trekking for two days from Nbitha to Boko Haram’s hideout in the Sambisa Forest with 2-year-old Matthew and 4-year-old Elija Yohanna strapped to her back and 4-year-old Maryam Samaila clinging to her waist.

“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.

The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.

“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.

Thousands expected at funeral for Freddie Gray

Thousands were expected April 27 at a funeral for a man who died after sustaining serious spinal injuries while in the custody of Baltimore police.

Funeral services were planned for 11 a.m. EDT Monday for Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died April 19 after an encounter days earlier with police left him with grave spinal injuries. Pastor Jamal Bryant, who was to deliver Gray’s eulogy, said he expected Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist Church to be filled for the service. A cemetery burial was to follow.

In Washington, the White House said the head of President Barack Obama’s initiative for young men of color would attend. Broderick Johnson, chairman of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force and a Baltimore native, is to be joined by two other administration officials, a White House statement said.

Mourners who didn’t even know Gray filed in a steady stream for hours into a funeral home for his wake Sunday afternoon. Some supporters stood outside the Vaughn Green East funeral home with signs that read, “We remember Freddie” and “Our Hearts Are With The Gray Family.”

Inside, mourners passed by Gray’s silk-draped, white coffin where he lay dressed in a white shirt, black pants, white sneakers and an all-white Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap. Above the lid to the coffin was a floral arrangement and inside the lid was a pillow with a screen-printed picture of Gray flanked by doves and the quote, “Peace, Y’all” at the bottom edge.

Melissa McDonald, 36, who said she was Gray’s cousin, wore a shirt with “Freddie Forever” printed on the back. She described her cousin as a nonviolent person.

“He didn’t deserve to die the way he did,” she said.

Gray’s wake followed demonstrations on Aprill 25 that turned violent. Roughly 1,200 protesters rallied outside City Hall that afternoon, officials said. A smaller group splintered off and looted a convenience store and smashed storefront windows. A protester tossed a flaming metal garbage can toward a line of police officers in riot gear as they tried to push back the crowd. Earlier, a group of protesters smashed the windows of at least three police cars.

Some 34 people were arrested, according to Baltimore Police Department, and six police officers sustained minor injuries.

During a news conference April 26, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for protesters to be peaceful.

“At the end of the day, we are one Baltimore. We need to support peaceful demonstration and continue to enforce in our communities that rioting, violence, and looting will not be tolerated in our city,” the mayor said. “Together we can be one Baltimore and seek answers as we seek justice and as we seek peace.”

Gray’s death has prompted near-daily demonstrations. Gray was arrested one week before he died when officers chased him through a West Baltimore neighborhood and dragged him into a police van.

Police said Gray was arrested after he made eye contact with officers and ran away. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into the van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, police have said.

Gray asked for medical help several times, beginning before he was placed in the van. After a 30-minute ride that included three stops, paramedics were called.

Authorities have not explained how or when Gray’s spine was injured.

Police acknowledged Friday that Gray should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested – before he was put inside a police transport van handcuffed and without a seat belt, a violation of the police department’s policy.

Combating our epidemic of violence

We pay large amounts of money to watch people kill one another on giant movie theater screens.

Video games allow for players to live a psychopathic life of crime.

America’s favorite sport, football, clearly rewards brutality. 

Our increasing tolerance of and lust for vicarious violence is frightening. The upward trajectory of vicarious violence is matched by the increasing amounts of dehumanizing media we’re exposed to: “Reality television” turns supposed real-life personal heartbreak and tragedy into entertainment. The Internet is casually rife with porn and horrific imagery.

It’s no surprise we’re seeing more and more mass shootings at schools and other public venues, more incidents of road rage and even more heinous crimes committed by children. When we’re inured to violence and we lose our appreciation for the value of every human life, society can become terribly cruel, even sadistic.

How can you shield yourself and your family from dehumanizing media?

•  Don’t give your children “junk food” media. You wouldn’t let your kids eat a candy bar with a Yoo-hoo for breakfast, pizza for lunch and a plate of cheese fries for dinner. Discourage junk media by encouraging stimulating discussions and edifying reading material at an early age. Children are full of curiosity and wonder. Don’t be afraid to engage with them on their questions about life, even if you don’t have all the answers.

•  Already addicted to vicarious violence? Exercise your empathy. Are you captivated by clownishly aggressive young women having meltdowns on TV? Rather than taking petty pleasure with a palpable dash of superiority in witnessing that footage, you might instead wonder why you are supporting the exploitation of broken, emotionally immature people. That young woman could be your daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, etc., who forever regrets her misguided choices while a young person. 

•  Read a book! Focusing on anything for an extended period of time is inherently pleasurable, and reading a book — but please not a murder mystery — provides engagement that is far more satisfying than vicarious violence. If it has been awhile since you’ve read a book, you’ll feel just as good as you do when you exercise and eat right. Reading is good for you. Fiction is shown to increase empathy among readers, and nonfiction books broaden your understanding of how the world works.

•  Engage with the people around you. One way vicarious violence works is by a disassociation with the person being abused. This disassociation is probably being amplified by seeing people as two-dimensional profiles online — more like vague entities than human beings. Take time to renew and strengthen relationships. Pay attention to your family members. Understand your neighbor may have had a rough day — heck, maybe the checkout girl at the store could use a smile and a kind word. Isn’t life more interesting when you’re engaged with what and who is around you?

L. Craig Williams is author of The Fourth Army. To learn more about his efforts to create a more peaceable and just world, go to www.lcraigwilliams.com.

Coast Guard reduces use of live animal training

The U.S. Coast Guard won’t use as many live animals for its combat medical training after an animal rights group showed a goat’s legs being removed with tree trimmers.

The agency said the video led to a review of its policies and the Coast Guard came to the decision that it could reduce by half the number of animals it uses.

The Coast Guard said it can do that by only requiring personnel deploying in support of the Defense Department to train with animals.

In 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals obtained a video of the live tissue training that showed the goats as well as other traumas. The goats were intentionally injured so the students could treat injuries like those they might see while in Iraq and in the Persian Gulf, according to the Coast Guard. The training was held in Virginia Beach for Coast Guardsmen preparing to deploy to Iraq.

PETA, in a letter to the Homeland Security Department, said “nothing about the training session depicted in the video even gives the illusion of a battlefield casualty situation.” 

A Coast Guard investigation released in May said the goats were subjected to traumas that simulated an improvised explosive device attack or enemy fire fight. Instructors inflicted injuries with a shotgun, pistol, ax and a scalpel.

The Coast Guard investigation found that its personnel did nothing wrong, but a contractor providing instruction was cited by the Agriculture Department for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The investigation said there were not enough instructors available to provide additional anesthesia to the goats at the same time. The goats were euthanized at the end of the training.

While the Coast Guard in its final report defended its practice of using the animals, it said “the controversial nature” of live tissue training necessitated that it closely scrutinize its policies.

“The Coast Guard will continue to refine, reduce, and, when appropriate, replace the use of live animals in medical training,” Carlos Diaz, a Washington-based Coast Guard spokesman, said in an email to The Associated Press. “We look forward to insights and input from other organizations as we continue to look for these opportunities.”

PETA welcomed the news, although it said there’s more that can still be done.

“The Coast Guard has taken a laudable first step by slashing in half the number of live animals who will be shot, stabbed, and mutilated in its training drills,” PETA Director of Laboratory Investigations Justin Goodman said in a written statement. “We continue to urge the Coast Guard to join the more than 80 percent of our NATO allies that have completely replaced their use of animals in medical training with superior simulation technology.”

On the Web

https://secure.peta.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=4087

California man convicted in gang rape of lesbian

A California man associated with a street gang was found guilty on Dec. 18 of the gang rape of a lesbian in 2008.

Humberto Salvador, 36, was convicted of 15 felonies associated with the attack on the woman.

The jury in the case out of Richmond, Calif., deliberated for about eight hours before finding Salvador guilty of kidnapping, carjacking, robbery, street terrorism and gang rape, in addition to hate crime penalties for targeting the victim because she is a lesbian.

The Contra Costa Times reported that law enforcement authorities said the brutality of the attack proved a turning point in the community, helping to galvanize people to fight gang violence.

The newspaper quoted Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus: “It really touched a lot of people, and I think as awful as that crime was, there was a positive that came out of it, and that’s a sense that a community can come together to non only provide tips but also to rally behind a victim in need of support.”

According to the report, Salvador and three associates were looting cars when they saw a woman walking toward her apartment. She was wearing a rainbow belt and her car was decorated with rainbow Pride stickers.

Salvador approached the woman, robbed her, hit her with a flashlight, forced her to strip and then sexually assaulted her. Authorities say two other men also raped the woman, who said at the trial that Salvador asked her during the assault, “You like men now, don’t you? Tell me you like men.”

A second man has pleaded guilty to a sexual assault charge, a third man pleaded guilty to carjacking and a fourth man awaits trial.

On the Web…

http://www.contracostatimes.com/contracostatimes/ci_24750642/richmond-gang-member-found-guilty-hate-crime-gang