OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
A long-standing culture of impunity, entrenched racism and endemic violence including the excessive use of force against protesters and ill-treatment of migrants and refugees, has been exposed by Amnesty International research into policing in Greece. It follows an official investigation into links between police and Golden Dawn.
By December last year nearly 50 people, including the leader of Golden Dawn and two police officers and five MPs, were arrested and charged with offences ranging from murder and causing explosions, to blackmail. Ten police officers were found to have direct or indirect links with criminal activities attributed to Golden Dawn members.
Now Amnesty International's report, A law unto themselves: A culture of abuse and impunity in the Greek police, exposes the many and persistent human rights violations by law enforcement officials. It details the root and branch nature of the lack of accountability and the failure to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into complaints.
"Our investigation shows that the Golden Dawn debacle is only the tip of the iceberg. Entrenched racism, excessive use of force and deep-rooted impunity are a blight on the Greek police. Successive Greek governments have failed so far to acknowledge, let alone tackle, these human rights violations by police and on-going impunity," said Jezerca Tigani, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director at Amnesty International.
"There is an urgent need for a comprehensive structural reform of law enforcement including the creation of an independent police complaint mechanism to investigate allegations of unlawful police conduct. The Greek authorities must restore the public confidence in Greek law enforcement structures."
Amnesty International has been documenting the unlawful behaviour of police in Greece over many years. Its new research looks at the situation over the last two years and concludes that it remains bleak.
At the end of March 2014, police at Nigrita Prison in northern Greece reportedly beat to death an inmate in solitary confinement. The autopsy revealed that he was extensively beaten on the soles of his feet and his chest, and that he had burns on his hands.
In the past three years, there has been a dramatic escalation in hate attacks against refugees and migrants. Hate crimes have also been recorded against the Roma community and the LGBTI community. Law enforcement officials have reportedly failed to prevent such attacks and/or have failed to investigate the hate motive behind them.
"With their actions Greek police pander to xenophobic far-right groups who are intent on attacking anyone who does not conform to their idea of mainstream society," said Jezerca Tigani.
"Police have been used as an indiscriminate tool by the authorities. Instead of maintaining law and order, all too often they have been tasked with stifling dissent and persecuting members of vulnerable groups. Their actions have been left without independent scrutiny and their transgressions unpunished. This has to change."
On 17 September 2013, Pavlos Fyssas, a musician and anti-fascist activist, was stabbed to death in Keratsini, a suburb of the capital Athens, by a member of Golden Dawn. Eyewitnesses told the national media that eight police officers belonging to the DIAS motorized police unit were already present at the scene when Pavlos Fyssas and his friends were ambushed by members of the far-right, but they did not intervene when Pavlos was chased by some of them and subsequently stabbed by Giorgos Roupakias.
On the following day riot police dispersed demonstrators protesting against the murder of Pavlos Fyssas with batons and chemicals. Thirty one protesters sought medical treatment, many of them with head injuries. The protesters reported that they had been beaten with police batons, helmets and shields. They were pelted with stones by members of far-right groups while riot police stood by and failed to protect them. Gavril, a 32-year-old protester, lost his right eye and had undergone three operations by the end of October 2013.
The case of Pavlos Fyssas prompted a major police investigation into the activities of Golden Dawn and links with the police.
Brutal treatment of refugees and migrants
Police in Greece are tasked with controlling migration and detaining and deporting irregular migrants. Under the ongoing sweep operation "Xenios Zeus" between April 2012 and June 2013 more than 120,000 foreign nationals were stopped for identity checks. Of those, only nearly 7,000, or about five per cent, were found without identity papers.
K, a Syrian refugee, described his ill-treatment by police at the Corinth immigration detention centre in February 2013: "The same policeman began to kick me ... I tried to stand and the policeman hit me again ... then he asked two police officers to take me to a room where I could not be seen by other detainees ... [In the room] the policemen started kicking my chest ... then a policeman slapped me and started beating me with his fists on my face."
In January 2013, two Greek nationals stabbed to death S. Luqman, a Pakistani national living in Greece. However, police and prosecutors did not take into account the possible racist motive of the attack. The killing of S. Luqman showed many of the elements of an organized racially motivated attack by a "hit squad" linked with Golden Dawn. Their trial is currently on-going.
In September 2013, a Greek woman was recorded on camera kicking a Roma girl playing the accordion on a pedestrian street under the Acropolis in Athens. The police opened an investigation into the incident and the alleged hate motive only after the insistence of the non-governmental organization, Greek Helsinki Monitor.
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world - so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity. We have more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions and we coordinate this support to act for justice on a wide range of issues.
"The nation should be on high alert. We are all Floridians as DeSantis seeks to export this blueprint of authoritarianism to the rest of the country," warned one activist in anticipation of the governor's likely presidential run.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed a bundle of bills targeting transgender people that one activist condemned as "the most extreme slate of anti-trans laws in modern history."
Surrounded by children at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, DeSantis—a likely 2024 Republican presidential candidate—signed H.B. 1069, which expands the so-called "Don't Say Gay or Trans" law to prohibit educators from discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-12.
Also sometimes called the "Don't Say They" law, the legislation prohibits transgender students and staff from sharing updated preferred pronouns with each other.
\u201cDeSantis just signed the most extreme slate of anti-trans laws in modern history.\n\nA bathroom ban will result in many arrests in months to come.\n\nA care ban targets 80% of adult care.\n\nThey are getting little coverage.\n\nSubscribe to support my work.\n\nhttps://t.co/njmIfLHKcy\u201d— Erin Reed (@Erin Reed) 1684342317
DeSantis also signed S.B. 254, which bans gender-affirming care—which many trans people and doctors have called "lifesaving"—for minors, while prohibiting nurse practitioners from providing such healthcare to adults. Physicians who violate the law are subject to criminal charges.
Meanwhile, adults seeking gender-affirming care must obtain written permission from the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine—whose members are appointed by the governor and have been inimical to transgender healthcare.
The law also grants state courts the power to seize children "if the child has been subjected to or is threatened with being subjected to sex-reassignment prescriptions or procedures."
Dr. Marci Bowers, president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, said in a statement that S.B 254 "has created a chilling effect on the medical community by inserting politics into healthcare."
"Let me be clear, the medical community is united in endorsing gender-affirming care as safe, effective, and necessary care," she asserted. "Healthcare providers follow best practices based on science and research, and there's no place for misinformation or extreme ideology in our work."
"Florida politicians are acting in direct contradiction to decades of research that show the mental and physical health benefits of gender-affirming care," Bowers added. "Decisions about healthcare, including gender-affirming care, must remain between a healthcare provider and their patient, without political interference."
\u201cRon DeSantis just signed into law a GOP-backed ban on medical care for transgender youth.\n\nDeSantis and Florida Republicans went a step further, also requiring transgender ADULTS to obtain written consent from two oversight boards whose members are appointed by DeSantis.\u201d— Kyle Griffin (@Kyle Griffin) 1684345823
Another bill signed by DeSantis, S.B. 1438, bans minors from attending "adult live performances" like drag shows. The measure has led to the cancellation or scaling back of events including Treasure Coast Pridefest in Port St. Lucie.
"The most troubling bill, though," wrote activist Erin Reed, "is a ban on transgender people in bathrooms that comes with criminal charges and jail sentences."
The law, H.B. 1521, empowers cisgender people to order transgender people to leave publicly available restrooms—in places including airports, sports arenas, convention centers, beaches, parks, and public and even private healthcare and educational institutions—or face criminal trespass charges that could result in up to a year behind bars for those who refuse to comply. Transgender people in Florida are likely to be jailed in facilities that don't match their gender identity, exposing them to serious risk of sexual assault and other crimes.
\u201cEven if you are not travelling to Florida you may be affected. Tampa, Orlando, and Miami international airports are among the busiest in the country and they would be subject to the bathroom ban. If you stop for a layover in an airport, you could be affected by this.\u201d— Alejandra Caraballo (@Alejandra Caraballo) 1684342548
Reed said the law "will effectively give second-class citizen status to transgender people in Florida."
Other critics pointed to recent incidents in which trans people have been harassed while using restrooms.
\u201cTransphobia eventually becomes this: harassing random strangers in the bathroom and getting yourself heated bc you believe, from your visual observation, that it's possible to know someone's gender just by looking at them.\u201d— Gabrielle Alexa Noel \ud83d\udc98 (@Gabrielle Alexa Noel \ud83d\udc98) 1683741412
During Wednesday's signing ceremony, DeSantis proclaimed, "What we've said in Florida is we are going to remain a refuge of sanity and a citadel of normalcy."
However, LGBTQ+ advocates condemned the new laws.
"This is an all-out attack on freedom," said Joe Saunders, senior political director at Equality Florida, refuting DeSantis' claim that he governors "the freest state" in the nation.
"Free states don't strip parents of the right to make healthcare decisions for their children. Free states don't ban books, censor curriculum, or muzzle free speech," Saunders continued. "DeSantis doesn't see freedom as a value worth defending, he sees it as a campaign slogan in his bid for the White House. And he is setting freedom—and Florida's reputation—ablaze in his desperation to win the GOP nomination."
\u201cSo - in #Florida, asking someone to wear a flimsy mask to possibly reduce the severity of a pandemic was a gross assault on personal freedoms. Banning medical care due to uninformed bigotry is A-OK. Right. Got it. #bullshit https://t.co/uJh2HBMva8\u201d— Ed the Sock (@Ed the Sock) 1684352280
"The nation should be on high alert," Saunders added. "We are all Floridians as DeSantis seeks to export this blueprint of authoritarianism to the rest of the country."
"We must act to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth to not guarantee healthcare to all," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Economic justice and human rights advocates applauded Wednesday as progressives in the U.S. House and Senate reintroduced legislation to expand the Medicare system to all Americans, with the bill garnering more support in Congress than ever before.
More than half of the Democratic caucus in the House has signed on as co-sponsors of the Medicare for All Act of 2023, including 13 powerful ranking members of congressional committees.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was joined by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in leading more than 120 lawmakers in introducing the bill, with a number of supporters speaking about the worsening healthcare crisis at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
"We live in a country where millions of people ration lifesaving medication or skip necessary trips to the doctor because of cost," said Jayapal. "Sadly, the number of people struggling to afford care continues to skyrocket as millions of people lose their current health insurance as pandemic-era programs end. Breaking a bone or getting sick shouldn't be a reason that people in the richest country in the world go broke."
"There is a solution to this health crisis—a popular one that guarantees healthcare to every person as a human right and finally puts people over profits and care over corporations," the congresswoman added. "That solution is Medicare for All—everyone in, nobody out."
\u201cIntroducing the Medicare for All Act of 2023 https://t.co/n3aqsAOXho\u201d— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@Rep. Pramila Jayapal) 1684346363
About 15 million people in the U.S. are set to lose their health coverage this year as pandemic-era assistance ends, adding to the 85 million people who are currently either uninsured or underinsured—with coverage that includes high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, leaving them unable to afford the healthcare they need.
Sanders, who has advocated for a government-run health program for decades, noted in a press statement than 68,000 people per year in the U.S. die due to a lack of health coverage.
"The American people understand, as I do, that healthcare is a human right, not a privilege," said Sanders, who serves as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. "As we speak, there are millions of people who would like to go to a doctor but cannot afford to do so. That is an outrage... We must act to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth to not guarantee healthcare to all."
Under the Medicare for All Act, the existing Medicare program—which is generally open only to people age 65 and older—would be expanded to everyone in the United States and would allow them to obtain primary, vision, dental, reproductive, and mental healthcare; prescription drugs; substance abuse treatment; long-term healthcare services; and other medical care without any cost at the point of service.
While detractors—including lawmakers who take substantial donations from the for-profit health insurance industry—have frequently claimed that Medicare for All would be too expensive, a Congressional Budget Office analysis found in 2020 that the program would save between $300 billion and $650 billion annually.
"A study by RAND found that moving to a Medicare for All system would save a family with an income of less than $185,000 about $3,000 a year, on average," said Sanders' office in a statement.
The lawmakers introduced the legislation a day after Sanders and Jayapal hosted a town hall on Capitol Hill where they were joined by patients, doctors, and nurses whose experiences in the U.S. healthcare system illustrate the need for Medicare for All.
Dr. Natasha Driver, a first-year obstetrics and gynecology resident at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., said she recently cared for a woman whose service industry job did not provide her with health insurance.
"When I first met her after delivery, she refused treatments which were part of routine postpartum care for the simple reason that she couldn't afford them," said Driver. "This is a regrettable and all too common occurrence in the practice of medicine, especially for those of us who work with the underserved. Medicare for All would reduce the problem of uninsurance and allow me to adequately care for my patients."
\u201cLIVE: Join me and @RepJayapal as we hold a town hall at the U.S. Capitol on the need for Medicare for All. https://t.co/Zawjrh77KX\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1684280198
Robert Weissman, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, noted that while millions of Americans lack health coverage that would allow them to receive adequate care, health insurers, hospital chains, and pharmaceutical companies "are generating staggering profits," with insurance companies making more than $69 billion last year.
"It's time for Americans to stop being treated like suckers. It's time to make healthcare a right. It's time for Medicare for All," said Weissman. "A system of expanded and improved Medicare for All would reduce our spending on healthcare while providing universal access, better outcomes, and more equity."
"With Medicare for All, healthcare decisions would be made by patients and doctors—not for-profit insurance companies thinking about their bottom lines," he added. "There would never be another medical bankruptcy. Having decent coverage would not depend on where a person works or whether they are employed or married. Patients could take their prescriptions on schedule, without worrying about price."
Social Security Works (SSW) pointed out that the legislation is being introduced as Republicans threaten the Medicare and Social Security systems with their proposal to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for social spending cuts.
"Medicare for All's supporters envision a future where Medicare is improved to include dental, hearing, vision and long-term care, and then expanded to cover everyone in America," said Alex Lawson, executive director of SSW. "A future without delays or denials, without copays or deductibles. A future where everyone gets the care they need. Meanwhile, Republicans want to make our current profit-driven healthcare system even worse."
"The best way for Democrats to stop that from happening," Lawson said, "is to go on offense with full-fledged support for Medicare for All."
Instead of forcing aging employees to delay retirement, lawmakers should ensure that workers have "access to jobs that pay fair wages and provide solid benefits during their prime working years," argues a new report.
Right-wing lawmakers' preferred method for dealing with the United States' looming retirement crisis—telling older workers to keep toiling until they've saved enough to stop—is "not a viable solution," says a report published Wednesday.
"Millions of people are entering their retirement years with insufficient savings to cover basic expenses and medical bills," the new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes. "In response, some policymakers have proposed that older Americans could delay retirement to increase their savings."
But this ostensible fix "overlooks the large group of older Americans who work in difficult conditions—ranging from the physically demanding to the outright dangerous," EPI points out. "If older Americans endure difficult conditions that often force earlier exits from the workplace, proposals to delay retirement make little sense."
"Americans should... be fighting for more leisure."
Rather than forcing aging employees to postpone retirement, lawmakers should implement full-employment macroeconomic policies to ensure that workers have "access to jobs that pay fair wages and provide solid benefits during their prime working years," says the report, calling the latter approach "a more effective way to close the retirement savings gap."
To make sure "older workers can afford to retire when they need to," EPI also urges policymakers to bolster "support for workers with caregiving responsibilities, expand Social Security coverage and benefits," and improve "conditions for all workers through collective bargaining, stronger labor standards, and more effective health and safety protections."
Those who portray working longer as a legitimate solution for people who cannot afford to retire assume that "as workers age and gain more work experience, they are able to transition into jobs that are less physically demanding, less onerous, and less hazardous—making it possible to extend their working lives," the report notes. But as it goes on to show, "many workers in fact see little or no improvement in working conditions as they age."
Based on her analysis of data from the American Working Conditions Survey conducted by the RAND Corporation in 2015 and 2018, EPI researcher and report author Monique Morrissey found that:
Making matters worse, these tough jobs that roughly half of the nation's workers between the ages of 50 and 70 put up with don't pay enough to make retirement a possibility.
"Quantifying the large share of older workers with difficult jobs serves as a reality check for policymakers and researchers who view later retirement as an easy way for workers to close retirement income gaps," the report states.
"It misguided and unrealistic to expect older workers with onerous or hazardous jobs to keep working into advanced old age," the report continues. "A better way to close the retirement income gap is to support workers' ability to be fully employed during their prime working years and ensure that all jobs come with benefits that lead to a secure retirement."
On Wednesday afternoon, Morrissey was joined by U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Siavash Radpour, associate research director of the ReLab at the New School's Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, for a discussion moderated by Schwartz Center director and economic professor Teresa Ghilarducci.
Beyer brought up legislation he introduced last year that would establish an Older Workers Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor aimed at improving aging employees' working conditions through targeted research.
Radpour, meanwhile, stressed that the nation's lack of retirement security results in lower job quality for all employees, which in turn decreases workers' ability to fight for a better future.
Workers need more leverage to negotiate for higher pay and better conditions, Radpour emphasized. But due to inadequate retirement funding, many aging employees have no choice but to keep toiling away at low-paying, onerous jobs. The inability of many workers to retire comfortably currently empowers employers, but reversing the present situation would have an inverse effect.
Notably, the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which seeks to push U.S. labor law in a more worker-friendly direction and increase workers' collective bargaining power, has languished in Congress for the past several years.
\u201cIt is important to adequately fund retirement for workers to give them leverage and the ability to choose between work and retirement. This choice will empower them to negotiate with their employers so they can have better work AND better retirement \u2013 @sia_rdp.\u201d— Economic Policy Institute (@Economic Policy Institute) 1684346405
In February, progressive U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled the Social Security Expansion Act, which would increase benefits by at least $200 per month and prolong the program's solvency for decades by finally requiring wealthy Americans to pay their fair share. The bill, which is overwhelmingly popular among voters of all persuasions, stands in stark contrast to Republican lawmakers' proposals to slash Social Security benefits and postpone eligibility.
Morrissey, for her part, observed that the lack of affordable healthcare—a widespread problem thanks to the for-profit model that plagues the U.S.—also hurts the nation's entire workforce, especially older employees who may be passed over for jobs by employers looking to avoid higher insurance costs.
On Wednesday, Sanders, joined by U.S. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) in the House, introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2023, which would guarantee universal healthcare without copays, deductibles, or high out-of-pocket costs. Its sponsors argue the bill would not only save lives but also empower the U.S. working class as a whole.
When asked during the roundtable about French workers' fight to protect their world-class pension system, Morrissey thanked them and said that "Americans should also be fighting for more leisure."