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Passing of Giants of the Human Spirit: Ten Days When Death Came Calling, Part Five

May 20, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry

[Because of the importance and the timeliness (at least for one of the persons), I will write about the transitions of two other individuals before returning to Ms. Afeni Shakur.]

On Thursday, May 12, 2016, I received a call from Ms. Joyce Layne that her sister, Darlene, had passed. Darlene was a member of our church, The House of the Lord Church. She grew up with our children. She was a beautiful young lady in physiognomy and character. She was also intelligent. She will be funeralized on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at Gilmore’s Roy L. Funeral Home, Inc (19102 Linden Blvd, Saint Albans, NY 11412). The viewing is from 2pm-7pm; and, the funeral starts at 7pm.

On the same day, I received an email from my daughter, Sharon Daughtry, that Attorney Michael Ratner, the brother of Mr. Bruce Ratner, the President of Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC), had made his transition at the age of 72.

Michael had an extraordinary record of achievement on behalf of the world’s poor, exploited, and oppressed. For over 40 years, Michael defended and advocated for victims of human rights abuses across the world. He joined the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in 1971.

Attorney David Cole told the New York Times, “Under his leadership, the Center grew from a small, scrappy Civil Rights organization into one of the leading human rights organizations in the world. He sued some of the most powerful people on the world on behalf of some of the least powerful.”

Michael brought the first case against President George W. Bush for the indefinite detention of prisoners of Guantanamo. The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in 2008, struck down the law that denied Guantanamo prisoners their right of habeas corpus.

He started working on cases in Guantanamo in the 1990s. Again, he challenged the Bush administration’s use of the military bases to house Haitian refugees. Even before his work as an attorney, his activism dated back to the 1960s. He was a student at Columbia Law School during the Student Strike of 1968. He worked as a clerk for Federal Judge Constance Baker Motley, who was the first African American woman judge. She was a student of the legendary Thurgood Marshall.

In 2007, Michael was awarded the Puffin Prize for creative leadership. His first case was a lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners killed and injured in the Attica Prison Uprising.

I visited Attica a few days after Governor Nelson Rockefeller had sent troops. I could still smell the tear gas as I walked through the prison corridors and cells. Debris and garbage were strewn all over the yard. I talked with inmates who recounted the horror of prison life and the reason for the uprising.

Michael was the attorney of the world. He was in the Caribbean, Latin America, and South Africa. He challenged U.S. policies not only in Guantanamo but also in Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Puerto Rico, etc.

He bought the first challenge under the War Powers Resolution to the use of troops in El Salvador, as well as a lawsuit against U.S. officials on behalf of Nicaraguans who had been raped, murdered, and tortured by U.S.-backed contras. He led the challenge to the authority of President George W. Bush to go to war against Iraq without congressional consent.

I will always be grateful to Michael. Back in the early 1980s, he had been associated with Attorney William Kunstler, who succeeded in winning a character defamation case for me against a major television company. Riveted in my memory were my travels to Nicaragua in the early 1980s as part of a Peace Delegation to study the reports of human atrocities and meet with leaders of the Revolutionary Democratic Front and leaders from Nicaragua where U.S intervention had sought to put down the rebellion led by the Sandinista Revolution. We had been informed that the U.S.-backed contra were wreaking havoc on the people.

The National Black United Front Newspaper, in its May 1981 edition, reported on the massive march and rally at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. We had helped to organize over 100,000 people. Below are excerpts which describe the March and Rally.

“Leading a clamorous march of over 100,000 demonstrators who converged on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on May 3rd to protest current foreign and domestic policies of the Reagan administration, the National Black United Front joined in expressing concern over the controversial arms build-up in U.S. and U.S. intervention abroad.

“Rev. Herbert Daughtry, Chairman of NBUF denounced U.S.’s financial and military support of the Fascist Junta in El Salvador, a regime that has brutally murdered more than 22,000 people since 1979, including three nuns. 5,000 people alone were killed in the first three months of 1981. The NBUF Chairman expressed anger that millions of U.S. dollars are being spent on keeping the repressive regime in El Salavador in power instead of ‘aiding the obviously poor and needy of that country,’ and ‘keeping hospitals open for the poor and needy in the U.S.’

“He said such policy was indicative of the ‘madness’ that permeates the Reagan administration and warned that ‘he whom the Gods would destroy is first made mad….'”

About 12 years ago, when Bruce Ratner commenced development of what was called the Atlantic Yards Project, amid much controversy, and after vigorous research and study, I came to support the Project. I was severely criticized. One of the compelling reasons for my decisions was that I knew the Ratner Brothers from personal experience. They had always manifested concern for the disadvantaged, oppressed, poor, and have extended themselves in their various capacities to advocate and act on behalf of others. To add to the family’s humanitarianism and fight for justice and equality is the work of their sister, Ellen Ratner, in South Sudan.

I conclude with the words I wrote to Bruce upon learning of Michael’s passing: “I am sorry to hear about Michael. My family and my church send our condolences and our prayers to you and your family. As you know, I deeply admired Michael. We traveled together, and he participated with Attorney Bill Kuntsler, who was my lawyer in helping me win a character defamation lawsuit against a major television station. While Michael is gone, he is not forgotten. His memory and the work he did will live on. There is an African proverb that says, ‘As long as a person’s name is mentioned in a village, he or she never dies.’ We shall continue to say Michael’s name. In our material reality, he will never die. In the unseen world, he enjoys immortality. We thank God that our religious faiths teach that the essence – the spirit of who we are – lives on. Furthermore, it’s not a death, but a transition to a better world.”

… to be continued.