Human Rights and Extreme Poverty Statement to the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities 17 August 1994 Geneva
The increasing disparity between the rich and the poor is a major de-stabilizing influence in the world. It produces or exacerbates regional and national conflicts, environmental degradation, crime and violence, and the use of illicit drugs. These consequences of extreme poverty increasingly force themselves on our attention. As the United Nations Secretary-General states in his Agenda for Development, “The effects of deprivation, disease and strife in one part of the globe are felt everywhere.” Increasingly we are becoming aware that as members of a single human family, we are all touched in some way by the suffering of every human being. Until that suffering is alleviated, no member of the family can be fully happy or at ease. The Special Rapporteur, Mr. Leandro Despouy, argues persuasively in his report (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1994/19) that “at this juncture the fight against poverty concerns all of humanity.”
Last Thursday, I rode AC Transit’s #1 line that runs from Berkeley to San Leandro and got off at the stop on 40th Street and Telegraph Avenue. As I got off the bus, a group of six young Black men greeted me and offered to help me off the bus. I politely refused, which was not say that I didn’t appreciate their efforts, but since I developed mobility problems over the years, I tend to eschew most helpful gestures in an effort to maintain a modicum of self-reliance. The young men were undeterred in their quest to assist anyone who came within a few yards of them, and helped two women who had come to the Subway sandwich store to pick up some orders for their place of business lift and carry two heavy boxes to their car. They also greeted everyone who walked past them with hearty smiles, asking them how they were doing and stay out of the heat. I watched them for a few minutes before approaching them and inviting them to attend the next devotional meeting to eliminate violence at the Oakland Baha’i Center. They seemed genuinely interested, responding with exclamations of “’Bout time!” “Yeah, Oakland needs lots of prayers!” I asked them if they knew anyone who had been, to which they responding with nods and reciting the names of every friend and family member who had been murdered. Needless to say, I was stunned that a group of young gentlemen, all of them appearing to be their early twenties would know so many whose lives had been violently ended. How is this possible? I asked myself. This is almost like Afghanistan or Turkey or any other country in the Middle East. But it isn’t the Middle East; it’s the U.S.!
After a few minutes, I took my leave so I could meet my daughter and grandson. “Don’t forget, devotions at the Baha’i Center on 35th and International!” They all promised to come; two of them hugged me warmly before I turned away to cross over to MacArthur Boulevard. When I reached the corner, I saw an Oakland Police Department cruiser with lights flashing make a U-turn against traffic so it could circle back to where the young men were standing. No, I thought. No, no, no! That cruiser was joined by two more OPD cars that also crossed and zigzagged against oncoming cars to reach the place where those friendly and helpful young men had been. I zoomed back to the corner, reciting “Is there Any Removers of Difficulties (a Baha’i prayer that is very useful in times of distress) as I searched the street for my young friends. They were gone. Within the space of perhaps 45 seconds, they had disappeared.
Some would say their flight was an indication of ill intent or wrongdoing. I can’t rule that out; I don’t know what they were doing prior to my arrival. From what I observed, they weren’t engaged in any illegal activity, in fact, they were being of service to others. However, I have no way of knowing if any of them have had prior charges filed against them and or outstanding warrants. As in any story, there are always more facts to be revealed. But the incident isn’t difficult to see the young men’s point of view; they know that a group of them congregating in public will likely draw the attention of the police, thereby increasing the possibility of a very negative encounter that could end up with an arrest or even death, as it has on many occasions.
The Baha’i International Community, as stated above, has said “The increasing disparity between the rich and the poor is a major de-stabilizing influence in the world. It produces or exacerbates regional and national conflicts, environmental degradation, crime and violence, and the use of illicit drugs” This is a factor in Oakland, as it is with many cities across the United States that facing alarmingly high rates of violence and with unacceptable increases in unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, and health issues. It is an extremely contentious issue among politicians, social scientists, academia, lobbyists and grassroot organizations. The intertwined relationship between poverty and violence, however, are steadily decreasing in dealt with in countries like Colombia, a country that has been synonymous with drug trafficking, with drug lords recruiting vulnerable, impoverished children to work as lookouts or “mules” (human transports for the drugs) to earn money for their families. How are these children able to avoid the allure of the illegal drug trade, which provides a steady income for them that would be either unavailable through money earned by adult caretakers or other employment opportunities has nothing short of miraculous. The Baha’i International Community, which includes Oakland Baha’is, firmly believes that a solution is to all of these issues is a spiritual one, and it available to mankind whether they are members of the Baha’i Faith or not. Since this is not an issue that can be explored on a superficial level, the Oakland Baha’i Examiner will be presenting a series of articles dedicated to the efforts of Baha’is and other community groups who are dedicated to eliminating violence in Oakland.
At what point in Oakland’s history did violence become such a widely acknowledged yet reviled constant in the daily life of its residents? This will be the focus of the next article that will uncover Oakland’s history from a very different perspective, beginning with ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to this city in 1912.
For more information:
Oakland Community of Baha’is The next devotional meeting to end violence in Oakland will be held at the Oakland Baha’I Center on Sunday, July 14 beginning at 9:30 am. The Center is located at: 1434 35th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601at International Blvd
Interfaith Prayers for the Healing from Violence
Facebook page for 100% Ceasefire
Oakland Community of Baha’is