Baraka at an October 2016 Jill Stein rally
October 25, 1953 |
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Alma mater||Clark Atlanta University|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
Ajamu S. Baraka (/ / ə-ZHAH-moo bə-RAH-kə; born October 25, 1953) is an American human rights activist and was the Green Party's nominee for Vice President of the United States in the 2016 election.
|This article is missing information about high school and university attended. (September 2016)|
Baraka has noted the importance of W. E. B. Du Bois in the formation of his black internationalist worldview, and he attended graduate school at Clark Atlanta University, where Du Bois had taught. Baraka also became involved in the Central America solidarity movement, organizing delegations to Nicaragua in support of the Nicaraguan Revolution. He then became an Amnesty International volunteer, eventually moving up to the board of the organization.
From 2004 to 2011, Baraka served as the founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network, a national network that grew to over 300 U.S.-based organizations and 1500 individual members. He is currently an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
In 2008, Baraka worked with the US Human Rights Network and over 400 organizations to develop a CERD Shadow Report, which concerned US compliance with the terms of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. They felt the US government's reports did not adequately address racial profiling, displacement from Hurricane Katrina, and land rights for the Western Shoshone, among other issues. A large delegation presented their findings.
In September 2016, a Morton County, North Dakota judge issued an arrest warrant against Baraka and Jill Stein, after the two were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and criminal mischief in connection with their protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Baraka had spray-painted the word "decolonization" on a bulldozer during the protest. In an interview shortly afterward, Baraka said that he and Stein were "in discussions with our legal team about how we're going to deal with this" and described his action as an act of resistance against "corporate America and the colonial state."
Writings by Baraka have appeared in Black Agenda Report, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, Pambazuka News, CounterPunch, and other media outlets. Christopher Hooks wrote in Politico Magazine that Baraka "has a long history of fringe statements and beliefs."
Baraka was critical of United States President Bill Clinton's decision in 2000 to place a moratorium of death sentences for the remainder of his term. Baraka stated, "This was a cynical attempt by the president to shift the responsibility for this execution onto the next president [...] Regardless of how they try to spin it, claims by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno that they are concerned about racial and geographic disparities ring hollow."
On May 4, 2001 an op-ed in The Daily Oklahoman authored by Baraka laid out his opposition to the death penalty and the sentencing of Timothy McVeigh to death for his part in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He wrote, "[Amnesty International] has dedicated 40 years to working with and on behalf of victims on a daily basis, we have the utmost respect and sympathy for the suffering of the families and loved ones of victims of violence—suffering that deserves compassion, respect and justice. [...] However, the killing of McVeigh, like all other executions, will be done for reasons of political expediency and retribution rather than reasons of justice. For while family members of victims are entitled to respect and compassion, courts should not be allowed to become forums for retaliation. This degrades not only our system of justice but also ourselves as human beings, as we then become little better than the killers we seek to condemn."
In 2005, Baraka argued that the victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita should be considered "internally displaced" and given assistance in accordance with internationally recognized rights for such people.
Baraka criticized the U.S. government for its reaction to the 2016 Louisiana floods, comparing its "unprepared" response to "the callous response of the Bush administration" after Hurricane Katrina. Noting that natural disasters and environmental hazards have a disproportionate impact on minority and low-income communities, Baraka wrote that "the flood victims in Louisiana deserve real justice that addresses the full spectrum of human rights," including better temporary housing and fair distribution of and access to humanitarian aid.
Baraka has opposed the War on Drugs, which he believes has caused local police departments to be "militarized" and "unleashed" on minority communities. In August 2016, Baraka said he was in favor of granting clemency to individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses, calling prison sentences for nonviolent drug convictions "a waste of taxpayers' money."
Baraka has criticized efforts to "Americanize" black radicals and to assimilate African Americans into the American middle class, writing: "Saner people would call that process genocide, but in the U.S. it is called racial progress." Referencing Black Panther activist Assata Shakur, Baraka argued that black radical activists could never obtain true freedom "while the American government and American capitalism remain intact."
In September 2016, Baraka called for an international commission to monitor police brutality in the United States, calling recent killings by police a form of "state-sponsored violence against civilians". Baraka wrote that the United States was "in the midst of a human rights crisis, and the Obama administration has been unable to make black lives matter to representatives of the state."
Baraka is in favor of abolishing prisons, believing that "we can build a society where prisons are not necessary and restorative justice can be a tool we use as we evolve as human beings." While recognizing that those who are "imminently harmful" to other people may need to be separated from society, Baraka disagrees with "the barbaric practice of confining people to cells as though they were animals for years at a time."
Baraka has termed trade deals a "Black issue" both domestically and internationally. He asserts that the TPP "is a weapon to maintain U.S. global hegemony by denying the fundamental economic, social and cultural rights of millions of people in order to benefit a parasitic white minority ruling class in the U.S." He has stated that poverty and disruption of black communities in many US cities and among peoples in Latin America are the result of NAFTA.
Baraka has been a vehement critic of Israel. In October 2014, Baraka traveled to the Palestinian territories as part of an 18-member "African Heritage delegation" organized by the Interfaith Peace-Builders group. The delegation issued six "findings and demands" and urged the Congressional Black Caucus to place pressure on Israel. The group specifically called the expansion of Israeli settlements "ethnic cleansing and 21st century colonialism"; called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel; accused Israel of apartheid; and praised the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement as "an essential tool in the struggle for Palestinian liberation."
After making the visit, Baraka wrote that "a negotiated, relatively 'peaceful' resolution of the conflict is impossible" because "the Israeli state has no interest in a negotiated settlement with Palestinians." He accused Israel of carrying out what he termed a "brutal occupation and illegal theft of Palestinian land," adding:
During my activist life I have traveled to many of the counties that Western colonial/capitalist leaders characterized as despotic totalitarian states – the old Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba before 1989 – but in none of those states did I witness the systematic mechanism of population control and scientific repression that I witness in “democratic” Israel. The security walls, towers, checkpoints, and armed settlers created an aura of insecurity and impending assault on one’s dignity at any time. I left that space wondering how anyone with a modicum of humanity and any sense of morality could reconcile living in that environment from the spoils of Palestinian dispossession and degradation and how any nation could support the Israeli political project.
Baraka also questioned news stories about the June 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, which Israel blamed on Hamas members and which led to Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip against Hamas. One month after the kidnappings, which he called a "false flag operation," Baraka indicated in an interview his belief that "the kids were supposed to be kidnapped but they weren't supposed to be murdered. That was an accident. But nevertheless it gave Israel the pretext that they were setting up for, and that was the opportunity to basically attack Hamas in order to destroy the unity government." Two suspects, both members of Hamas, were killed in a shootout with Israeli forces in September 2014, while a third Hamas member was convicted of the murders in January 2015.
In March 2015, Baraka condemned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments on the day of the 2015 Israeli elections. Netanyahu had warned supporters in a video posted to his Facebook page that his government was in danger because "Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls." Baraka called Netanyahu's words a "racist rant" that exposed "the brutal and immoral reality of the Israeli colonial project" and the "illusion" of a two-state solution.
Speaking in 2014 on U.S. involvement in Iraq, Baraka characterized U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East over the previous 20 years as "disastrous" and said that "what has occurred in Iraq was predictable."
In a 2014 interview, Baraka stated his belief that the U.S. had a part in creating the “boogeyman” of ISIS “to basically garner significant public support for an argument that says that this monster, these evil forces—that, by the way, we helped to create—we are the only ones that can go in and slay this monster.” Baraka has also asserted that the atrocities of the Syrian Civil War are being "fomented by a demented and dying U.S. empire, with the assistance of the royalist monarchies of the Middle East and the gangster states of NATO." In an interview, he has suggested that control of natural resources, such as the proposed Qatar-Turkey and Iran-Iraq-Syria natural gas pipelines, is one of the underlying reasons for U.S. and Turkish interests in the region:
These are not just geopolitical fights based on principle, but these fights are based on real material realities, real material advantages. So you look at the routes of these various pipelines that are being proposed and actually built to bring natural gas from Central Asia to the European markets. Turkey felt that it was in their interest to make sure that they can influence the best deal possible that will allow them to be positioned to take full advantage of these pipelines. That's one of the reasons many people argue that Syria had to go: that when there were proposals to run these natural gas pipelines from Iran through Iraq and through Syria, that it was a direct threat to some of the ambitions that Erdogan has for Turkey.
Baraka has rejected the U.S. position that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the 2014 Syrian presidential election are illegitimate. In an article, he wrote that the idea of Assad's illegitimacy had been "carefully cultivated by Western state propagandists and dutifully disseminated by their auxiliaries in the corporate media." He further argued that the election was proof that Syrians have "not surrendered their national sovereignty to the geostrategic interests of the U.S. and its colonial allies in Europe and Israel," and accused the U.S. of hypocrisy for supporting elections in Ukraine but not Syria. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized Syria's holding of an election during an ongoing civil war for undermining a political solution to the conflict, and the lack of independent election monitoring was widely reported.
Baraka characterized the 2014 Ukrainian revolution as a "U.S.-supported coup" that contained "racist neo-Nazi elements." After the 2014 Odessa clashes, which resulted in the deaths of 42 pro-Russian and six pro-Ukrainian protestors, Baraka wrote that he was "outraged by the murder of people defending their rights to self-determination at the hands of U.S.-supported thugs in Odessa." He has also suggested that the victory of Petro Poroshenko in the 2014 Ukrainian presidential election was illegitimate, questioning "what makes the election in Ukraine legitimate when half of the country boycotts the vote and the national army violently attacks its own citizens in Eastern Ukraine who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the coup-makers in Kiev".
Two days after the event, Baraka expressed his suspicions that the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine was a "false flag" operation, saying: "Someone wrote about three weeks ago that we should expect a major false flag operation in eastern Ukraine that's going to be then blamed on the Russians. And that's exactly what has happened. They're trying to say in the Western press that the Ukrainian government does not have access to that kind of weaponry, when it's clear that they do." He criticized Western media coverage of the event for "undermining anything coming from Russia Today. That's where you see the story being advanced that there is a possibility that this story is a little more complicated than people realize." Baraka also claimed that observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe were "sent in basically as spies who showed up on the scene to quote-unquote 'monitor'."
Baraka has criticized calls for Western military action against the jihadist rebel group Boko Haram, arguing that "a purely military response will only exacerbate an insurgency whose roots lie in the complex socio-historical conditions and internal contradictions of Northeast Nigeria." In May 2014, a month after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok, he expressed skepticism about the official version of events and the number of victims, saying that "even if there was a kidnapping, there's some people who are suggesting that the numbers are in fact inflated." Baraka also stated that while he was "outraged" by the kidnapping, he was also suspicious of U.S. humanitarian concerns in the region: "U.S. policymakers don’t give a damn about the schoolgirls in Nigeria because their real objective is to use the threat of Boko Haram in the northern part of the country to justify the real goal of occupying the oil fields in the south and to block the Chinese in Nigeria."
In a January 2015 essay, Baraka described the Republican march in Paris in reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shooting as a "white power march," and the Je suis Charlie movement in general as an "arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy". Baraka condemned what he perceived as the disproportionate interest in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the relative lack of interest in the Baga massacre in Nigeria by Boko Haram, which took place days before the Charlie Hebdo shooting and resulted in many more deaths. Baraka also criticized the "degrading ritual" of assimilation that Arabs and Muslims undergo in France, the "arrogant lack of respect for the ideas and culture of non-European peoples" that led to the French ban on face covering in public spaces, and the "racist" and "Islamophobic" character of Charlie Hebdo's recent publications.
Baraka's "Je suis Charlie" article was republished in January 2016 in an anthology about the November 2015 Paris attacks. The book, titled ANOTHER French False Flag? Bloody Tracks from Paris to San Bernadino, was edited by Kevin Barrett, a Holocaust denier and 9/11 conspiracy theorist. Baraka also has appeared at least twice on Barrett's radio show. Other contributors to the anthology (including controversial figures such as Gilad Atzmon and Alain Soral) posited "that the Charlie Hebdo attacks and many others were perpetrated by the CIA and Mossad" as "false flags." Yair Rosenberg of Tablet described the work as a "veritable who's who of bigots and conspiracy theorists."
In August 2016, Baraka said that he had been unaware both of Barrett's Holocaust beliefs and of the views of some of the book's other contributors. In a statement, Baraka said that he would be "happy to discuss the details" of his own writing, but that he rejected any "smear campaign" based on the authors and contents of the rest of the book. Jill Stein campaign press director Meleiza Figueroa also clarified that Baraka is not a Holocaust denier.
In an article titled "No 'Je Suis Charleston'?" Baraka contended that a collective response similar to "Je suis Charlie" was absent after the Charleston church shooting at the Emanuel AME Church, and criticized Obama for not calling suspect Dylann Roof a terrorist. As a longtime opponent of the death penalty, Baraka has also criticized the Department of Justice's decision to seek the death penalty for Roof, saying that it "should be seen as no more than another tactical move by the state as part of the last phase of the counterinsurgency launched against the black liberation movement. [...] By appealing to African Americans, the group in the country most consistently opposed to the death penalty, state propagandists saw this as a perfect opportunity to undermine opposition to capital punishment and facilitate the process of psychological incorporation."
Baraka referred to President Barack Obama as an "Uncle Tom president" because Obama condemned the 2014 riots and violence in Ferguson, Missouri that occurred after the death of Michael Brown. Defending his use of the term, Baraka later said that he was speaking to a "specialized audience" and was attempting to "shock people into a more critical look at this individual." Baraka has also argued that Obama has shown "obsequious deference to white power," and that Obama and Loretta Lynch are members of the "black petit-bourgeoisie who have become the living embodiments of the partial success of the state’s attempt to colonize the consciousness of Africans/black people."
Baraka was critical of the Obama administration's decision to not attend the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism in Geneva. In 2013, Baraka stated that inviting Obama to the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington "should be taken as an insult by everyone who has struggled and continues to struggle for human rights, peace and social justice." More recently, he has argued that "the Obama Administration collaborated with suppressing the 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which identified violent white supremacist groups as a threat to national security more lethal than the threat from Islamic 'fundamentalists'."
Baraka referred to the presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders as "media-driven pseudo-opposition" and "an ideological prop… of the logic and interests of the capitalist-imperialist settler state." In a September 2015 article, Baraka condemned Sanders' foreign policy and his support for continuing Obama's program of drone strikes in Yemen, claiming that "the world that a President Sanders promises" would be one with "continued war crimes from the sky with drone strikes and Saudi-led terror in support of the Western imperial project." Baraka argued that support for Sanders represents "a tacit commitment to Eurocentrism and the assumptions of normalized white supremacy" due to what he perceived as "indifference" to the lives lost during the drone campaign in Yemen.
In June 2016, Baraka criticized the family of Muhammad Ali for inviting Bill Clinton to deliver the boxer’s eulogy. Baraka described Clinton as a "rapist" and "petty opportunist politician."
In September 2015, Baraka criticized Cornel West for supporting Bernie Sanders, saying that West was "sheep-dogging for the Democrats" by "drawing voters into the corrupt Democratic party". West later endorsed Jill Stein after Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton.
In February 2016, Baraka criticized Beyoncé's performance of her song "Formation" at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, which featured backup dancers dressed as Black Panthers, claiming that it was a "commodified caricature of black opposition." Baraka derided the performance as "mindless entertainment" and "a depoliticized spectacle by gyrating, light-skinned booty-short-clad sisters." Baraka claimed that the "white male capitalist patriarchy" was responsible for selecting Beyoncé to perform and would not have allowed "anything subversive or even remotely oppositional to the interests of the capitalist oligarchy" on stage.
In 1998, Baraka was one of 300 human rights workers honored by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In 2001, Baraka was named "abolitionist of the year" by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for his efforts to end the death penalty in the United States.
On August 1, 2016, Green Party presumptive presidential nominee Jill Stein announced that Baraka would be her running mate. Stein and Baraka were formally nominated by delegates at the 2016 Green National Convention on August 6, 2016. In his acceptance speech, Baraka said that he joined the Green Party effort to "build a multinational movement here in this country based on the needs and the aspirations of working people".
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