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The fashion police

It all started just before Christmas when an armed police officer barred my spouse, a 40-year-old sociology professor, from leaving the Regal Elmwood Theater. If she wanted to continue walking the 10 yards to the exit door, the officer informed her, she would have to pull down her hood until she was outside. Or she could be arrested. Of course the pulling down the hood part goes against everything our mothers taught us about winter attire - that we put on our mittens and hoods before we go out into the cold. But the man giving the order had a gun and represented the power of the state.

While the Regai's apparent dress code might not seem like a big deal, it is. Random intrusions of authority imposing arbitrary laws upon us is the essence of a police state.

Of course the whole policy smacks of racism. The good ol’boys at Regal entertainment can't quite bar black youth from their theaters, so they do the next best things, and ban attire common to black youth - and enforce the policy exclusively at the only local Regal patronized by black youth.

But hoodophobia isn't just a Regal phenomenon. I was recently contacted by a black college student who was barred from Tops Supermarkets after an off-duty police officer ordered him to remove his hood.

As it turns out this weirdness isn't confined to Tops and Regal. Last Sunday, the Buffalo News' Lou Michel, a reporter not formerly known as a moron, wrote a story that ran under the headline, "Citizen's Learn Tips to Spot Terrorists". Above the headline was a photo of a group of Buffalo auxiliary police officers learning to spot terrorists. Michel, demonstrating no more critical thinking skills than an army ant, unquestionably echoes the anti-terrorism "expert" in explaining that "it's the little things that count in determining if someone is up to no good". He goes on to list three bullet points for spotting terrorists. They'll buy "bulk amounts of fertilizer", they'll take photos of "buildings and locations in the area" and they'll wear "oversized coats and hooded sweatshirts on warm days".

Whether this is a story about racism or one about just plain stupidity, one thing is certain: It is a story about an emerging police state where rules are arbitrarily formed and enforced just for the sake of exercising authority and control over a subdued population. There truly are fashion police in this brave new world.

T E X T 4

Racial discrimination,

Xenophobia and related intolerance

“Bigotry, hated, prejudice – these are the ugly symptoms of a sickness humanity and everywhere suffered. Racism can, will and be defeated” Kofi Annan United Nations Secretary-General.

The fight against racism has been at heart of the mission of the United Nations aver since its founding in shadow of the horrors of the Second Word War. Never again was the world to witness the persecution of people based on their race, the drafters of the United Nations Charter vowed. They enshrined in that historic document that everyone, regardless of color, sex, language or religion, was entitle to enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

What is left of that vision fifty years later? There has been progress in making the dream of equality a reality – as the drafters of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights envisaged. Their vision has become international law with the adoption of numerous international human right instrument, particularly a treaty to ban racial discrimination. Apartheid has been defeated. Also, science has definitively put to rest any biological or physiological justification for unequal treatment of individuals.

Yet, the dream remains only half fulfilled. As technology brings the peoples of the world closer together and political barriers tumble, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance continue to ravage our societies. In recent years, the world has coined a new term, “ethnic cleansing”, to describe the re-emergence of an age-old phenomenon. There is persistent, and in some cases increased, discrimination against minorities, indigenous people and migrants. Additionally, harsher immigration and asylum policies, and the spread to the Internet of ideas of racial superiority and incitement to racial hated, have exacerbated racial tensions. Even slavery, both in traditional as well as its traditional as well as in its more contemporary forms, continues to be practiced in certain parts of the world and remains a grave problem.

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