'The Moment Black People Showed Up, We Responded With Violence' – FAIR

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Janine Jackson interviewed Haitian Bridge Alliance’s Guerline Jozef about Haitian refugee abuse for the September 30, 2022, episode  of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: Listeners will remember the pictures: US Border patrol agents on horseback, wielding reins like whips as they corralled and captured Haitian asylum seekers along the Rio Grande.
Border Patrol agent assaults a Haitian refugee near Del Rio, Texas (photo: Paul Ratje).
The appalling images might have served as a symbol of the ill-treatment of Haitians escaping violence and desperation. Instead, elite media made them a stand-in, so that when the report came that, despite appearances, the border patrol didn’t actually whip anyone, one felt that was supposed to sweep away all of the concerns together.
Well, there are serious problems with that report, but we should also ask why we saw controversy about photographs foregrounded over the story of Haitians’ horrific treatment at the hands of US border officials—treatment that a new Amnesty report, echoing others, describes as amounting to race-based torture. And why were media so quick to look away?
The question is as vital a year on as reporters talk about other asylum seekers as political pawns and victims, but continue their relative disinterest in Haitians, tacitly sanctioning the harms of US policy.
Joining us now to talk about this is Guerline Jozef. She is founder and executive director of Haitian Bridge Alliance. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Guerline Jozef.
Guerline Jozef: Good afternoon. Thank you so much for having me.
JJ: Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus, announcing the results of the agency’s internal investigation in July, said, “Not everyone’s going to like all the findings, but the investigation was comprehensive and fair.”
He said that because the investigation said that there was no evidence that agents on horseback hit anybody with their reins. So it’s as if he’s saying, “I know you wanted there to be real cruelty here, but there wasn’t, so ha.”
But beyond that deflecting message, that some people just want to believe in cruelty, the problems with the CPB’s report about what happened in Del Rio—those problems are deep, aren’t they?
GJ: Absolutely. First of all, what they did with the report is that they took the lives of over 15,000 Haitians and people of African descent and Black asylum seekers, and they put that into a 30-minute period where that picture was captured.
But the reality is, if that picture wasn’t captured, they would have told us this never happened at all. But we all saw the pictures, and we understood the reality under the bridge.
And if you zoom into the picture, you will see the CBP officer on horseback, his hand holding and pulling the Haitian man by his shirt, and this man was only carrying food to his wife and child.
So the report is telling us this didn’t happen, but all you have to do is zoom into the picture and you will see the intent, and you will see the fear. You will see the power that this officer had upon the person of this asylum seeker.
Now, the report will tell you that they looked into it, and they found that he did not whip the gentleman. But you can clearly see his motion to whip him, and you can see the fear even in the face of the horse that almost trampled this man who was carrying nothing but food.
In addition to that, the report failed to interview or speak to any of the people who were under the bridge, any of the witnesses, and any of those who were actually experiencing the abuse.
We made available to them Haitian migrants who were under the bridge. We made available to them advocates on behalf of the people we saw in that picture, and the reality that the world finally witnessed under the bridge.
None of them were interviewed, contacted or even reached out to.
So in addition to that, they still had 15,000 people in their custody. Yet they didn’t even care to speak to any one of them about the treatment they received, the abuse that was witnessed. Nothing.
JJ: The idea of producing a report about what happened at Del Rio without talking to any of the asylum seekers, I think a lot of folks would find absurd on its face.
The Customs office maintains that this Border Patrol agent was merely “twirling…reins as a distancing tactic” (photo: Paul Ratje).
And I would just note that, in addition to the fear and the obvious violence that one can see in the picture, my understanding is that folks who were there say that there was, in fact—if this is what we’re going to talk about—in fact there was actual use of reins as whips, that that is something that actually happened, which perhaps we would know about if the report had interviewed any actual asylum seekers.
GJ: Absolutely. If they cared enough to find the truth, if they cared enough to have a report that reflected the reality of the people who were subject to that abuse, they would’ve been able to identify what exactly happened, but they did not care enough to look or interview. They did not care to get the truth.
What they cared about is, how do we tell the American people, the American public, how do we tell the world that what you saw never happened?
JJ: Now, is the supposed rationale for turning away Haiti asylum seekers, is it continuing to be Title 42, this supposed public health policy, is that the reason that the administration is still giving for turning away Haitians?
GJ: Yes. So at this present moment, the border is completely closed, due to Title 42. There is no way for people to have access. Nobody can just go to a port of entry and present themselves to ask for access to asylum.
As we are speaking right now, the border is completely closed due to Title 42, which is a health code that was put in place by the previous administration, under President Trump, that was created by Stephen Miller as a way to completely take away any avenue for people seeking safety, people seeking protection, people seeking asylum to have access to due process at the US/Mexico border.
JJ: Listeners will have been hearing about Republican governors flying people around and about. In that story, asylum seekers’ treatment is portrayed as obviously political. But Del Rio was just sort of official policy, if regrettably handled, you know.
We’re not supposed to think about there being politics there, or those people being pawns or victims in the same way, somehow.
GJ: Actually, it is, because, first of all, a lot of the people received false information that if they had gone to Del Rio, they would be given access to protection.
So 15,000 people did not just show up overnight by themselves. Now, the source of that information, or the source of that misinformation, must be investigated. And that is another thing we also asked for the government to investigate, the source of the misinformation that then guided people to where they were under the bridge.
I see also, that could have been a political plot; we don’t know how that happened. However, we saw the moment the people who were there were Black, were answered with violence.
Now, is it political? I’ll say yes, because our system is rooted in anti-Black racism, is rooted in white supremacy.
So, therefore, the moment the Black people showed up, we responded with violence and we deported them, including pregnant women and infants as young as just a couple of days old.
JJ: And it’s just not possible to consider that treatment, that reception of Haitian asylum seekers, out of context with the reception that we’ve seen given to other people. I mean, it’s impossible not to see that context.
Guerline Jozef: “The same way we are able to welcome the Ukrainians in crisis with compassion, love, dignity, humanity, it should be provided to people no matter where they are from.”
GJ: Absolutely, Janine. The reality is, one example, clear example, is how we as a country were quick to put a system together to respond and receive people fleeing Ukraine, right, with compassion, in respect, in love and dignity.
And what we are saying is that same system that was put together overnight to be able to receive 26,000 Ukrainians in less than two months should not be the exception to the rule, should be the norm.
It should be that while Haiti is in the middle of what the United States government is calling the verge of a civil war, putting Haiti on a high risk, right, saying that it is very close to a war zone, we still deported 26,000 Haitians to Haiti in the middle of the crisis, at the same time received 26,000 Ukrainians.
So what we are saying is that the same way we are able to welcome the Ukrainians in crisis with compassion, love, dignity, humanity, it should be provided to people no matter where they are from, their ethnicity, their country of origin, definitely should not matter whether they are Black or white.
JJ: We’re going to end on that note. We’ve been speaking with Guerline Jozef, founder and executive director at Haitian Bridge Alliance. Guerline Jozef, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.
GJ: Thank you so much for having us.
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Janine Jackson is FAIR’s program director and producer/host of FAIR’s syndicated weekly radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR’s newsletter Extra!, and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the ’90s (Westview Press). She has appeared on ABC‘s Nightline and CNN Headline News, among other outlets, and has testified to the Senate Communications Subcommittee on budget reauthorization for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Her articles have appeared in various publications, including In These Times and the UAW’s Solidarity, and in books including Civil Rights Since 1787 (New York University Press) and Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism (New World Library). Jackson is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and has an M.A. in sociology from the New School for Social Research.
Rapper Mo
October 7, 2022 at 6:23 pm
Now tat what I be talking about sister Janine. Yous just keep bringing on my black plp honey. I love all these home boy and sister interviews baby, No more these rich white plp interviews. Need our homies from the hood to speak out honey. “I’ve done a lot of work to get where I’m at, but I have to keep working.” -Wiz Khalifa.
October 7, 2022 at 8:54 pm
Murica sure relishes the race baiting. ANY other sane country would curtail this type of ugly racial shenanigan (which is red meat for the GOP base and required for “their turnout”), but it’s not beneath the “exceptional shining city on the hill” that is Murica. SO BE IT. SInce Murican press loves baiting these stories and dragging on this ugly hate topic on and on and on and on, may they NEVER rise above this level. They can kiss all their progress and achievements goodbye in willing exchange for constant race baiting hatred consumption. They chose their beds….they did it willingly, and they keep choosing to play that play……so be it, from Murica’s media and politics to God’s ears permanently…..God: May they NEVER come out from beneath this! Amen.
Rebecca Turner
October 8, 2022 at 2:56 am
I think this is overplaying the racism involved here. Sure, some Ukrainians have been reluctantly allowed to settle in the USA, with many conditions attached. But to keep racialising the USA’s long-standing antipathy to allowing migration by any except wealthy people is to misrepresent the situation. The USA’s first restrictions on inward migration were against Chinese people, not black people.
This is a class war by the rich against the working class, not a race war, no matter that a small minority of America Firsters would prefer the second to break out. Most American people are not racists. The Democratic party likes to pretend that they are, for its own electoral advantage.
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