Today is International Human Rights Day. It marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) -- a document that comprises 30 Articles that outline our inalienable rights for global freedom, justice and peace.
The Michigan Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) has organized several actions in recent months in defense of human rights to call attention to communities that are being harmed or endangered, and to address injustice at all levels of society.
In the last week, we've discussed the current jailing of two MI PPC activists who engaged in non-violent, civil protest at the MI Department of Health and Human Services on May 21, 2018: Rev. William (Bill) Wylie-Kellermann (of Detroit) and Thomas (Tommy) Tackett (of Jackson). The cold and uncomfortable conditions of their excessively unjust 12-day Ingham County jail sentence for a misdemeanor charge, are part of human rights violations taking place in our state.
There are three UNDHR Articles that speak to these issues. At the core, we are fighting to protect our loved ones. Article 25 encompasses our basic human rights, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
It is for these needs that the MI PPC directed political protest literally at the doors of the MI Department of Health and Human Services. This is the state agency that should be assuring the well-being of Michiganders but instead they contributed to the lead water poisoning of Flint residents; and are actively separating Detroit children from families whose water has been shutoff when they are unable to pay. Around the state, MDHHS has done little to alleviate poverty and hardship.
Each year it’s becoming more difficult for everyday residents to get their concerns and voices heard by elected representatives. Sometimes we're resigned to political protest to call for change. Article 20 iterates our right to gather, “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
Yet, in Michigan peaceful political protest is often met with strong police state presence, heavy-handed officers and military-grade weaponry that threaten peaceful assembly. Often times our calls for change fall on deaf ears and some activists choose to put their bodies and freedom on the line. During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people to fill the jails in protest.
To quell protest, some elected officials and courts push for maximum sentencing or additional fines and court costs. Article 21 notes that a heavier penalty should not be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed. Nonetheless, human rights activists are oftentimes burdened with unaffordable court costs, fines, fees, travel expenses, job constraints and lost wages.
Tell Michigan officials that its residents demand compliance with international human rights standards. Join us for two events this week:
- Tue, Dec 11 at 6:30 pm - Candlelight Vigil at Ingham County Jail, 630 N. Cedar Rd, Mason, MI 48854.
Please take candles, dress for the cold weather, and show your support for Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann and Tommy Tackett! Parking is available outside the Ingham County Jail and in surrounding lots at the County complex.
An update on jail conditions and financial burdens:
Rev. Wylie-Kellermann's wife and children have been in continual contact with him, especially to monitor his health conditions. They report that, as expected, jail conditions are challenging -- it is cold and the blankets are short and tattered; the lights never go completely out; and getting him his daily medications was delayed and worrisome. Additionally, they are allowed only one visit per week which has turned out to be over a video screen, and each phone call is a minimum of $15, run by private phone companies. They've had to pay into a commissary account just so that he can purchase (at high cost) paper, pens and peanuts. Both men will also be given a bill for $50 a day once they are released.