“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
According to Amnesty International, police have killed at least ten peaceful protestors and injured dozens more since the protests started.
The Nigerian people's protestation against SARS is nothing new. The #EndSARS hashtag first went viral in Nigeria in 2017. It was spurred by citizens' reports of harassment, abuse, extortion, torture, and kidnapping at the hands of SARS officers. While Nigerian leaders promised to reform SARS in 2018, protestors maintain there has been little meaningful change and are now doubtful of renewed promises.
What Is SARS doing?
Indeed, according to a harrowing report from Amnesty International, there have been at least 82 cases of severe police brutality since SARS was supposedly reformed two years ago. The report reads: "Detainees in SARS custody have been subjected to a variety of methods of torture including hanging, mock execution, beating, punching and kicking, burning with cigarettes, waterboarding, near-asphyxiation with plastic bags, forcing detainees to assume stressful bodily positions and sexual violence." It continues, Findings from our research indicate that few cases are investigated and hardly any officers are brought to justice on account of torture and other ill-treatment."
SARS was created in the 1990s as a special force meant to handle serious crimes in Nigeria including kidnapping, robbery, and murder. But since its inception, it's morphed into an abusive arm of the government used to intimidate and even torture supposed "criminals." Protestors claim that officers are essentially never brought to justice even when victims manage to bring complaints against them. As CNN states, the force has "become notorious for alleged abuses committed with apparent impunity." There are also myriad reports of SARS officers financially extorting the people they detain.
Global Citizen specifies, "At the time it was created, Nigeria had a big security problem that citizens argue now no longer exists. Over the years, the squad — and by extension the Nigerian police — have been repeatedly caught on video carrying out beatings and shooting at unarmed citizens, often without any consequences."
Celebrities Raise Awareness
The #EndSARS campaign and the related protests in Nigeria have come to international attention, in large part thanks to a growing roster of celebrities who have vocalized their support for the protestors. These celebrities include the always unpredictable Kanye West, who tweeted Monday: "I stand with my Nigerian brothers and sisters to end police brutality, the government must answer to the peoples cries #EndPoliceBrutalityinNigeria"
Other celebrities include Trey Songz who tweeted, "After doing a little research I would like to speak out against what's going on in Nigeria right now. Their pleas to #EndSarsNow IS VERY REAL. I have so much love for my Nigerian fans and it's so hurtful to hear whats happening."
Star Wars actor John Boyega also chimed in on Twitter to say, "The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend your attention to this pressing problem! #EndSARSImmediately #EndSarsProtests #EndSARS #EndSARSProtest"
The youth in Nigeria deserve good leadership and guidance. This situation is tied to many other issues. Please lend… https://t.co/dvtVDmL7L3— John Boyega (@John Boyega) 1602240083.0
Former football star Rio Ferdinand sent his love to protestors via Twitter.
Another day of traumatic scenes in Nigeria 😫 Sending My Love To Everyone Affected 💚 🇳🇬 #EndSARS— Rio Ferdinand (@Rio Ferdinand) 1602415751.0
They have now allegedly disbanded SARS but so much more needs to be done!! 🚨 SARS is more than a “unit” its a minds… https://t.co/HOvj5z60QL— Burna Boy (@Burna Boy) 1602424716.0
How the Nigerian Government Is Responding to #EndSARS Protests
In response to the heightening protests, inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar Adamu, announced on October 11th that SARS would be disbanded. The next day, the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, released a video in which he appeared to sympathize with protestors, he said that the disbanding of SARS was "only the first step" in more sweeping reform of the country's criminal justice system. He also assured the nation that, "We will also ensure that all those responsible for misconduct or wrongful acts are brought to justice."
The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reforms in order to ensure that… https://t.co/MmD7eH3JP2— Muhammadu Buhari (@Muhammadu Buhari) 1602506020.0
But Nigerians are rightfully suspicious of these promises, given that they were told very similar things two years ago only to experience increasingly violent, extortionist police tactics. Now, protestors are demanding more widespread reforms to end the extensive human rights violations allegedly carried out by all branches of Nigerian security forces as well as the rampant government corruption.
Given that protestors were shot with tear gas and allegedly fired on with live ammunition even after SARS was supposedly disbanded, it's clear that the government has many steps left to take before they can expect protestors to be satisfied.
How Can You Help?
1. Seek out accurate information
As with most things, there is an abundance of misinformation out there about the #EndSARS movement. Make sure you're reading reliable, fact-checked sources (we recommend unbiased resources like AP News and Reuters). Or even better, read first hand accounts of what's happening in Nigeria on this website created by activists to document accounts, videos, and photos of the abuse individuals have suffered at the hands of corrupt Nigerian law enforcement.
2. Spread the message
The majority of the organizing surrounding these protests is being done online, specifically through Twitter, so social media is a great tool to spread awareness and accurate information about the #EndSARS movement. As of Friday, October 16 there had been nearly 3.3 million tweets with 744,000 retweets of posts containing the #EndSARS hashtag.
Sharing this simple Tweet that outlines the protestors five demands is a great place to start.
This is our response to the IG. We are not relenting this time around. #EndPoliceBrutality #ReformThePolice… https://t.co/VUy8KOvUNQ— Bop Daddy (@Bop Daddy) 1602439160.0
3. Donate funds
The way you can likely be the most helpful to the young revolutionaries in Nigeria is through financial support. Never donate to a fund that you don't have substantial evidence is going directly to the protestors in question, and try to stick to funds that offer detailed reporting of how the funds are being used. For example, we recommend donating to the Feminist Coalition, which has raised more than 70 million Naira (about $180,000) for protestors in Nigeria.