We need a Human Rights and Democracy Act for the U.S., and a PROTECT Act for American Protesters

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On Wednesday, Trump signed two bills meant to support the protest movement in Hong Kong. Would that domestic protest movements got a fraction of the love Capitol Hill and the White House are showering on those in Hong Kong.

Politicians love the ideals of the First Amendment when someone else is the target of protests. When they or their cronies are in the crosshairs? Not so much. They love human rights, unless they get in the way of the CIA.

Both bills sailed through Congress with only one nay vote. The Senate version of the PROTECT Act faced no opposition. S.2710, prohibits the export of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, foam rounds, bean bag rounds, pepper balls, water cannons, handcuffs, shackles, stun guns, and tasers to Hong Kong Police.

The Human Rights and Democracy Act (S.1838), sponored by Senator Rubio (R-FL) includes a requirement that the president submit to Congress a  “list of individuals responsible for committing acts that violate internationally recognized human rights in Hong Kong, including the extrajudicial rendition or torture of any person in Hong Kong. The bill bars such individuals from entering the United States and imposes sanctions on them.” The lone holdout against the bill was Rep. Massie (R-KY).

Note that no one in the United States has been held accountable for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and torture programs, and indeed, Gina Haspel is now the head of the CIA despite her record of participation in torture.

Protesters in the United States are regularly subjected to exactly the same weapons that Hong Kong police have used against protesters there. From the pepper spray assault on passive seated student protesters at UC Davis, to the use of rubber bullets and teargas in Ferguson, to water cannons and rubber bullets fired at Standing Rock Water Protectors, police in the U.S. have met peaceful protesters with violence. 

In fact, police in the U.S. have access to military grade gear which they have unabashedly used to confront unarmed protesters. In Pittsburgh, and New York, protesters were deafened by Long Range Acoustic Devices, and armoured military vehicles greeted protesters in Ferguson, Standing Rock, and other sites. The weapons are surplus military, usually provided through the 1033 program. Since its inception, “more than $6,800,000,000 worth of weapons and equipment have been transferred to police organizations in all 50 States and four territories through the program.

A good first step to showing U.S. protest movements the same respect shown to Hong Kong would be to pass the H.R.1714, Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which imposes transparency and limits on the program. For example, local police would no longer be allowed to receive free “bayonets, grenade launchers, grenades (including stun and flash-bang) and explosives” from the military.

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