Community groups from across the country submit an urgent appeal to the highest international authority on human rights defenders
Steve Richardson, an organizer with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) commonly known as General Dogon, faces criminal charges and potential incarceration in what appears to be retaliation for Richardson’s recognized and influential human rights work in the Skid Row community of Los Angeles. Just weeks ago, LA CAN and community partners from across the country submitted an urgent appeal on Richardson’s behalf to the highest international authority on human rights defenders. The appeal alleges that the City’s use of the criminal justice system to target Richardson has not only troubled him and others at LA CAN, but also sends “a clear message to other existing and potential human rights defenders.” The appeal urges the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, to investigate the City’s persecution of Richardson. Review a copy here:
The UN has created a reporting mechanism, through which watch dog organizations, community groups and individuals may submit appeals internationally. Sekaggya collects and reviews these appeals and determines whether and how to intervene and pressure government officials to cease the persecution of and protect human rights defenders.
LA CAN’s CommunityWatch teams, which document human rights violations, are well-known to City officials for releasing crucial video evidence of violations that have led to media coverage and civil rights lawsuits against the LAPD. Dogon is the lead organizer for the CommunityWatch project.
In May, Richardson was one of three LA CAN members unfairly arrested out of a group of over 300 in LA City Council Chambers protesting the Council’s inaction on a rent freeze proposal for rent-stabilized tenants. The charges against all three members were initially dropped, but re-filed against Richardson in August, one week after he gave testimony in Council Chambers about his LA City Commendation Award for completing a violence prevention program. He returned the Award to the Council since, he argued, it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on after the City’s violent acts against him and others in May.
Richardson’s case is not an anomaly, but one example of a pattern of retaliatory acts faced by those speaking out in defense of human rights in the United States. More than 45 human rights defenders working on housing rights, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, and transportation rights in LA are currently facing criminal charges.
However, unique from the others in LA, the retaliation against General Dogon is essentially an expression of the daily harassment and abuse by LAPD toward residents of Skid Row. Skid Row is home to about 15,000 extremely low-income residents of whom one third are homeless, and, since 2006, the City’s primary response to this housing crisis has been intensified policing through the so-called Safer Cities Initiative. Safer Cities has resulted in tens of thousands of arrests and citations, many of them similarly unjust as those against Dogon.