Saturday, May 30, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS RIOT AND THE QUEST FOR AMERICAN RACIAL JUSTICE

By Lily Hikam*)

A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A city-wide riot has broken out in Minneapolis, Minnesota in response to yet another police killing of an unarmed African-American civilian. George Floyd, the victim, died on Tuesday, May 26th, after a former police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck, cutting off Mr. Floyd’s airflow. Chauvin and three other officers responded to a “forgery in progress” call made by the grocery store where Mr. Floyd purchased groceries. In short, Mr. Floyd lost his life because he was suspected of writing a fraudulent check to pay for his purchases. Even if this accusation is proven correct ultimately, the punishment outweighed the crime tremendously. And the reality that another unarmed, innocent civilian of African American descent lost his live in the hands of police officers, yet again, continues to highlight the systematic racism and classism in the American Criminal Justice System that are criticized by many: People are afforded a presumption of innocence only if they bear a certain skin color or have an appropriately sized wallet.

Since then civil unrest and riots have broken out throughout Minnesota in response to Mr. Floyd’s murder. Catalyzing this undercurrent of anger, despair and resentment in the community was the fact that after the murder which was caught on camera and have spread far and wide, the police officers involved were only fired from the police department, without any criminal charges against them. The Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, previously even declined to press any charges, saying that he didn’t see anything in the video that could be used as evidence to support a criminal charge. However, as of the writing of this piece, the former police officers involved have been charged with third-degree murder, in contrast to the heavier sentence of first-degree murder demanded by George Floyd’s family. Compounded with the fact that in America, police officers were almost always acquitted of any wrongdoing in officer-related deaths, it came to no surprise that the civil unrest and rioting broke out in response to what many perceive as a lack of accountability and justice in the murder of an innocent man.

The riots and protesting in Minnesota have spawned many more protests around the country, from Los Angeles, California, to Louisville, Kentucky. All demanding the same thing: justice for George Floyd and a complete and total overhaul of the criminal justice system that has for far too long oppressed and victimized communities of colors. All are reasonable demands to make and something that has been a long time coming in America.

Let me be clear that I am in no way glorifying or condemning these protests. What I am, however, is sympathetic.

Imagine you’re living in a country where your ancestors were once thought of as sub-human. That the success and the wealth of this country rested heavily in the enslavement and the subjugation of the peoples of your race. And that even after slavery was abolished, you are still subjected to dehumanizing treatment by people around you and systemic biases designed to disenfranchise you, to make you have as little of an influence as possible in society, to keep you down. Imagine living in an inner city where there are no jobs, where poverty is endemic, and there is no hope for a better life or future. Imagine living in a community where you are five times more likely to be incarcerated than the majority of the population and learning that you are kept there because you are more valuable behind bars than you are out in the world because they can exploit your cheap labor. Finally imagine living in a country where you and people who look like you are three times more likely to die from an encounter with the cops than any other race. Imagine committing no other crime than for being born black and dying because of it. If one were to take all of these realities into consideration, the only thing left to ponder is: how come these civil unrests didn’t happen sooner?

These riots and mass protesting could not have come at a more incendiary time. The Coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the American working class, with 40 million people losing their jobs, translating to a 30% unemployment rate, rivaling that of the Great Depression. One hundred thousand deaths due to Covid-19 have been reported recently, the highest in the world and surpassing the number of American service members killed in both the Vietnam War, America’s second longest war, and Iraq War put together.
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Furthermore, since in America healthcare is tied to employment, the skyrocketing number of unemployed people also means that there is an increasing number of people who are losing their health insurance during a pandemic. Losing your healthcare anytime of the year is bad and anxiety inducing but losing it during a pandemic is horrendous. What if you get infected by the coronavirus? What if your kids get infected by the coronavirus? How are you going to pay for treatment? Can you afford it without insurance? And in a country where medical debt is the most common cause of bankruptcy, these are all frightening realities that, at least, 40 million Americans are facing.

The current United States government’s response in handling this pandemic can be described as lackluster at best. There has been no paycheck protection program, no mortgage or rent freeze, and no universal basic income, as other developed nations have established and enforced to stymie the spread of the virus. Instead bailouts have been given to banks and large corporations, as evidenced by the surging numbers in the stock market, while leaving the working class with the short end of the stick once again. The economic despair and helplessness felt by at least 40 million Americans, who have lost their jobs, plus the two police-related and racially-motivated killings, that preceded George Floyd’s murder, provided the perfect catalyst for the rage and frustration felt by Americans in these trying times.

Initially, President Trump responded to George Floyd’s murder by promising an independent investigation led by the Department of Justice and the FBI. However as the riots continued he threatened to deploy the National Guard and said that “…Any difficulty and we [federal government] will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” This
statement, by many, was seen as an incitement of violence by the President of the United States on unarmed civilians.

On the other side of the aisle, the presumed Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, criticized Trump’s rhetoric, citing it as “thoroughly irresponsible” and said that if he were president, he would order a “full blown civil rights Justice Department probe”. However, forgive me for taking what Joe Biden says about criminal justice with more than a grain of salt, seeing as how he’s the chief architect and proponent of the 1994 Crime Bill that has been responsible for the mass incarceration of millions of Black and Latino people. Another person worth noting is Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota and recently announced as one of the potential candidates for Biden’s running mate in the general election. Senator Klobuchar was once upon a time Hennepin County Attorney before her tenure in the Senate. It was recently discovered that in 2006, as District Attorney, she refused to criminally charge Derek Chauvin, the same police officer who murdered George Floyd, and six other officers, for the death of a Native American man. So far, she has not rescinded her name for consideration for the VP position, but these are damning evidence and a window into her track record as a prosecutor: one that prioritizes career advancement over the pursuit of justice.

I can’t say what will happen with the pursuit of justice for George Floyd. I do want to be hopeful, and say “This is it! This will be the time that justice is served!”. But I have been burned too many times. Ever since police killings become widely reported, I only recall one case where the officer was successfully charged with a crime. Every other case has ended with an acquittal by the Grand Jury and the officer quietly resigned from their current post, only to be reassigned to another police department.

I do hope justice will be served for George Floyd and his family. It is the least this society can do to ease their unbearable pain. No one deserves to have this tragedy befall them. I hope this will be the last case I will ever have to hear about police killings, but I have a feeling that this won’t be the last, or even second to last. Until that day comes, we shall have to be vigilant, stand in solidarity with the Black community and speak up against injustice and oppression.

*) PhD candidate
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine, the University of California, Irvine, CA,
USA
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

THE HOLY RAMADAN IN THE TIME OF COVID-19: WHEN LONELINESS IS YOUR ONLY COMPANY


By Lily Hikam*)

If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” (Jean Paul Sartre)

The Holy month of Ramadan has come and gone. For my American readers who are unfamiliar, during Ramadan we, the Moslems, observe it by refraining from eating and drinking during the day and instead devote our attention to other tasks such as praying or doing services for others in the community. And as always, for the nth time, I’m observing Ramadan all by myself in the near empty University’s grad school dorm here in Irvine, California. Truth be told, I can hardly tell you how many Ramadans I have observed far from home since I left Indonesia to study here in the land of the free. Rather, I can count on one hand the number of times I manage to observe Ramadan at home in Jakarta.

You’d think I would be used to it, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. To this day there’s still nothing better than observing Ramadan with family and friends. And this year, we have the added “bonus” of observing Ramadan during a pandemic that necessitates isolation from one another.

As you can imagine, having the backdrop of a pandemic changes everything. But, when you’re already observing Ramadan alone, it doesn’t really change much. For one, the Tarhim call that waking me up for sahur (pre-dawn meal) or telling me that it’s time to have iftar (break the fast) still come from a smartphone app rather than a loudspeaker. Everything I do in association with preparing both iftar and sahur here, I do by myself. And, to make my solitude complete, this time around I don’t even have the company of a bakwan-stealing roommate (LOL just kidding, Chang), since she’s off social distancing in San Diego with her husband.

All in all. I still have sahur by myself, waking up in the early mornings to heat up the leftovers I cook the night before. And I still pray tarawih by myself at home. While before my reasons for praying tarawih by myself was due to my mosque being far away and “escaping“ from their 21 rakaat long tarawih, this year mosques, along with other religious services are closed to prevent large gatherings to prevent the transmission of the SARS-CoV2 (Covid-19) virus.

And this is the moment I realize that for a lot of people like me, international students living alone in another country where your religion and culture are not part of the mainstream culture of the country you’re currently living in, Ramadan has always been something you’ve done in isolation or loneliness to say the least. And while I’m not one for homesickness, as I’ve been living abroad by myself on and off for the last 15 years, fasting for upwards of 16 hours by yourself is a sure fire way to make you miss the company and the support of family and community who are observing the same ritual as you.

Yesterday, on May 24, we had the good fortune to welcome Eid once again into our midst. This is a time for celebration where we mark the end of a month long of fasting by traditionally feasting to our heart’s content. Or at least that was the way I would have celebrated Eid had I been at home with my family. Alas this year, as it was the case last year, I had to celebrate Eid far from home, all by my lonesome in Irvine since Eid fell in the middle of the school year and I wasn’t able to take time off from school/work, and also due to travel restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year, however, it could be said that everyone’s celebration was a little lackluster. Just take one peek at your social media timeline and you’ll see the obligatory posting of Zoom screenshots of families doing their halal bihalal ceremonies since they’re unable to gather physically. My family back in Indonesia, for example, had a good time celebrating with our neighbors. Since the local mosque was unable to organize the usual public Eid prayer, I was told that our small musholla at home became the site of Eid prayer with our neighbors (with proper social and physical distancing protocols observed, of course).

I was quite happy in that I managed to spend some time on Zoom calls with my parents and my extended families both paternal and maternal, and performing the tradition of asking for forgiveness. In that short period of time when we were on the video call, it felt a lot like I was there with them and I wasn’t missing too much because of the existing company. It also highlighted how we’re in the midst of making a new tradition of virtual silaturahmi in the middle of this pandemic. It was good to see their happy faces and to be reminded of that despite our self-imposed isolations, we’re all in this together.

And in a short while, I wasn’t feeling lonely. EID MUBARAK, everyone!

*) PhD candidate
Department of Biological Chemistry
School of Medicine, the University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
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Monday, May 25, 2020

KEBIJAKAN "REOPENING" & PILPRES 2020 DI AS


Upaya melakukan pembukaan kembali aktivitas publik, yg populer disebut "reopening", di tengah penularan wabah Covid-19 sedang menjadi tren di Amerika Serikat. Konon dihampir semua negara bagian kini telah atau sedang bersiap melaksanakan kebijakan publik tsb. Kebijkan publik ini masih kontroversial dan mendapat reaksi keberatan dari berbagai sektor, misalnya ottoritas kesehatan seperti CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) dan para pakar kesehatan masyarakat, yang mengusulkan agar persiapan lebih baik dan protokol yg ketat tetap diberlakukan.

Sayangnya usul dan himbauan untuk menunda reopening tsb seperti "jatuh di telinga yang tuli." Presiden Trump bahkan menyatakan bahwa dirinya akan mendorong agar tempat-tempat peribadatan, seperti gereja, masjid, dan sinagog, dibuka kembali untuk kegiatan konggregasi. Alasannya (yg mungkin akan kedengaran indah bagi sementara kalangan ummat beragama) adalah: "Bangsa ini memerlukan lebih banyak do'a."

Bukan rahasia umum lagi bahwa Trump, sejak awal maraknya Covid-19 di negeri tsb, memang dikenal dengan pandangannya yg cenderung tidak menganggap serius penularan virus berbahaya tsb. Namun fakta bicara lain. AS merupkan negara dengan jumlah korban C-19 tertinggi didunia dan, menurut laporan the New York Times, korban meninggal telah nyaris menyentuh angka 100 ribu orang!

Saya memandang bahwa sikap keukeuh Trump dalam hal C-19 ini ada kaitan dengan semakin dekat dengan Pilpres 2020. Sang petahana makin pede dengan popularitasnya dan akan mampu membuatnya terpilih kembali, karena pesaingnya adalah mantan Wapres Joe Biden yang tidak memiliki daya tarik bagi pemilih muda dari partai Demokrat!.

Tetapi bisa jadi hitung-2an politik Trump berbalik: Beliau bisa kalah bukan karena lawannya yg lebih kuat, tetapi karena kebijakannya dalam mengurus wabah C-19 dianggap tidak efektif oleh calon pemilih baik dari kalangan Republikan maupun/ dan apalagi Demokrat!. Termasuk dalam hal kebijakan "reopening" yg diduga akan semakin meningkatkan jumlah orang yang terpapar dan korban meninggal.

Akankah Joe Biden dan timsesnya memanfaatkan "celah" ini? Wallahua'lam.

Simak tautan ini:

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

SELAMAT 'IEDUL FITRI 1 SYAWAL 1441H (2020).




Gema takbir menyambut hari
Kemenangan dan Karunia Ilahi Robbi
Kegembiraan mengiring kemurnian azali
Di balik kesedihan berpisah dengan Ramadhan suci

"Ya Allah terimalah ibadah kami
Keikhlasan mengharap ridloMu abadi
Segenap cintaMu nan tak ternilai
Buat hambaMu yang dlaif dan tak berperi

Engkaulah Maha Pengampun
Yang Maha Mencintai Ampunan
Maka hambamu memohon ampun
Wahai Dzat yang Maha Mulia

Berilah kami kesempatan
Menyambut RamadhanMu di tahun-tahun mendatang
Dalam suasana yang damai dan nyaman
Di negeri kami yang indah, tenteram dan aman
Senantiasa dalam lindunganMu Tuhan."


Amiinn...


Pamulang, 1 Syawal 1441H.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

NARASI "TRENDY" & KEBIJAKAN PUBLIK

Bernarasi dg istilah-2 trendy seperti: "mudik vs pulkam, berdamai dengan Corona, ikuti new normal," dll sejatinya OK-OK saja, sejauh sebagai pertanda "gaul" dan "down to earth." Cuma jangan buru2 dijadikan narasi KEBIJAKAN publik yang resmi. Kalau tak hati-hati malah jadi sumber distorsi dalam komunikasi publik. Atau potensial "dimainkan" oleh pihak-pihak yang suka "cari perkara" untuk kepentingan-kepentingan tertentu.

Mendingan pakai saja istilah-istilah baku yang tidak membuka peluang distorsi. Meminimalisir salah paham dan paham yg salah itu baik. IMHO.

Simak tautan ini:

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