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Continuing Legal Education

Continuing Legal Education (CLE)

MCLI’s CLE program outlines how to win cases in U.S. courts by using the U.N. Charter and ratified U.N. human rights treaties along with provisions in the U.S. Constitution. The materials for the CLE program are kept up-to-date by MCLI law school interns. Lawyers and legal workers who attend the CLE receive a comprehensive list of cases won in U.S. courts using the ratified treaties as well as an extensive appendix of legal texts. The appendix includes the entire text of ICCPR, CERD, and CAT as well as the Nuremberg Principles, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ten other texts.

The CLE also teaches lawyers how to file complaints with the appropriate Office of Inspector General which can result in a report to the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairs on the issue.  Today this may have as great an effect as filing a lawsuit on a difficult issue. The CLE workbook also contains sample OIG complaints.  CLE’s are held at the National Lawyers Guild Annual Conventions.


Toxic Triangle

The Toxic Triangle

Three areas in low income communities of color pose serious health risks to California residents: AMCO Chemical in Oakland, CA; Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, CA; and United Heckathorn Co. in Richmond, CA. The three sites have been declared “Superfund” sites by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA].  The EPA’s Superfund program was established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites, but does not guarantee that these sites will be fully cleaned up#. All three still pose a threat to the surrounding communities, violating CAT Articles 2, 4, and 16.#

The EPA began work cleaning up AMCO Chemical in 1997 but assessed that even after clean up, it could potentially pose a long-term risk. Investigations by the EPA confirmed the presence of vinyl chloride, a chemical that has short-term effects on the central nervous system such as dizziness and drowsiness, and long-term effects including liver damage and cancer, and the presence of benzene, a toxic air pollutant that has the potential to cause cancer with long-term exposure.##

At Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, the EPA revealed that the groundwater, sediment, soil, and surface water are contaminated with fuels, pesticides, heavy metals, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, and volatile organic compounds.

The EPA found pesticides in the Lauritzen Channel near United Heckathorn Co. in Richmond and determined that the levels are high enough to pose a threat to the wildlife and the people that consume that wildlife, particularly the fish that live in the channel.#

Activists named the three sites the “Toxic Triangle” and have held multiple hearings with the goal of seeking justice for their communities. These activists call themselves the Toxic Triangle Coalition and are working to raise awareness about the need to clean up these areas, but they have not been successful because of inaction on the part of the government.

In 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority and Low-Income Populations” to protect the health of people living in communities overburdened by pollution.# However, the “Toxic Triangle” Superfund sites have not been sufficiently cleaned up and, according to the EPA, still pose “potential threats.”

Oscar Grant

Report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture

  • According to extensive local, national, and international media coverage, and court transcripts on Jan. 1, 2009 in Oakland, California, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) officer Johannes Mehserle, responding to reports of a fight on a train returning from San Francisco, detained Oscar Grant and several other young African American male passengers on the platform at the Fruitvale Station. Officer Johannes Mehserle and another officer were restraining Oscar Grant, who was prostrate and unarmed, when Mehserle stood, drew his gun and fatally shot Grant once in the back# . Prior to being shot from behind, Grant had been punched, threatened with a Taser, had his face slammed into the pavement, and was subjected to being called racial epithets as the police subdued Grant and his friends.When the case was put on trial, a jury found former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and gun enhancement. However, the judge handed Mehserle the most lenient sentence possible of two years and dismissed the verdict of gun enhancement#. Even then, he was released after serving only 11 months, less than half his sentence time. There were no African Americans on the jury selected. The verdict and sentencing phases of his trial had ignited protests in Oakland and Los Angeles amongst community members who believed Mehserle should have received a harsher, longer sentence. Several hundred community members gathered at the BART station where Grant was shot, to decry Mehserle’s early release and demand the Department of Justice file civil rights charges.#Mehserle is the first police officer in the state of California ever to be charged with murder. Mehserle was also the only officer charged even though it was revealed during the trial, that officer Anthony Pirone, who was the first to arrive on the platform and confront Grant and his friends used excessive force, was extremely aggressive, used profanity, and was even heard using racist language against Grant and his group. Prione created an extremely hostile atmosphere.Following a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court on behalf of Grant’s family in 2009, Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson was awarded $1.3 million in settlement coupled with a $1.5 million payment last year to Grant’s young daughter, Tatiana Grant.Similar cases concerning police brutality among African Americans have occurred. Three days after the Oscar Grant ruling, two Oakland city cops gunned down another unarmed black man, Derrick Jones, a 37-year-old barber in East Oakland and father of a two-year-old girl. Claiming that Jones was fleeing the scene of a reported domestic disturbance, the cops said they shot him several times through the chest because he was allegedly reaching for his waistband. In 2008, the cops killed Jodie “Mack” Woodfox, shooting him in the back as he “fled.” The year before, 20-year-old Gary King Jr. was also shot in the back in broad daylight by an Oakland cop who claimed that King was reaching into his waistband as he held up his pants trying to flee the Oakland police.The actions of police Officer Johannes Mehserle violate the Convention Against Torture (CAT) Article 2, Paragraph 1, read in connection with Articles 1, and Article 16, Paragraph 1, as well as CAT Article 10 Paragraph 1 & 2, for having been subjected to police brutality inflicting Oscar Grant with physical and mental suffering amounting to torture, cruel, inhuman and/or degrading treatment or punishment.MCLI Board President Buford worked with Oscar Grant’s family, church and community organizations, and elected officials to bring justice and closure to Oscar’s family, friends and the community in the aftermath of his death at the hands of BART police. Buford was asked to serve on a committee created by the BART Board of Directors.  Over a 5-month period, Buford worked with BART police, union representatives, BART Board members and police conduct specialists to create a police/citizens’ process that was approved by the community and BART Board.  The process was implemented in January 2011 and President Buford consulted on the hiring of the new BART Chief of Police and BART Police Auditor. President Buford was voted on to the BART Citizen Review Board in March 2012.During the summer and fall of 2011, President Buford supervised MCLI Human Rights Interns in writing three “shadow reports” on the human rights violations in Oscar Grant’s case.  The reports will be filed with U.N. human rights bodies in 2012 for international review.  One intern said this of the experience of meeting Oscar Grant’s friends and family:

    There is a definite shift in perspectives when you go from words in newspaper articles and television reports to actual human interaction with the victims or their family. Fellow MCLI interns and I met with Cephus Johnson, Oscar’s uncle, and Sister Beatrice X, Director of the Oscar Grant Foundation, to discuss using international human rights laws as an instrument for justice. For me, it was an eye opener. It was an opportunity to educate and to learn. The realization of human rights requires that people understand their rights; as Sister X so aptly put it: ‘we know that rights are being violated, but no one could tell exactly what rights were being violated.’

    – Daven Raj, MCLI intern from Malaysia