Monday, February 25, 2019
Reflecting on Black History Month in the US, the most common sentence I heard from whites was "I didn't know that!"
This is the month when we learn more of the rich history of men and women of color who have shaped our world and failed to receive recognition for their accomplishments nor compensation for their suffering. During February we have an abundance of lectures and films setting us straight on the past and present mistreatment of African Americans. Mainstream movies are bringing light to the history of mistreatment of African Americans in the US. "If Beale Street Could Talk" and "Black KkKlansman" are two of the movies that inform us of the modern history of the inhumane and degrading treatment people of color. "Twelve Years A Slave" revealed the abhorrent treatment of blacks by those who trafficked Africans and their descendants during the years when slavery was legal. "Green Book" addresses prior forms of discrimination - but from a white perspective- lulling some viewers into believing bias no longer exists. Only if that same audience would embrace the harsh historical lessons of the other movies as well. Spike Lee has pointed out that we very much need to accept the reality of current abuses of power.
All to raise the question: Who will re-write the history textbooks used in public education? Race has been a divisive issue in this country since the founding. Yet we ignore it's teaching with poor excuses and falsehoods. We say the race issue is in our past - why drag it up?- it makes us uncomfortable to discuss race ... and on and on. If teachers are not voluntarily having in-depth discussions on race - or are prohibited from doing so because of mandatory use of materials that limit its discussion, the question becomes, who is going to re-write the history books? And when are school administrators and parents going to demand that history courses include the underbelly of US history? Colonialism, human slave trafficking, the refusal to acknowledge not only the mistreatment of African Americans but the many ways in which we made sure their success was limited and that those successes remained hidden.
While waiting for textbook adoption and re-writing to transform readers understanding of racial disparity, perhaps the entire month of February should be devoted to teaching only black history, and without the excuses made on behalf of embarrassed or uncomfortable whites.
And then, let us move onto US genocide of indigenous people and the shaming of women and others.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
When photos of Virginia Governor Northam either in blackface or a KKK outfit, the nation was once again divided. Many called for his resignation while the governor has refused to do so. Unfortunately, the governor's dialogue has ended there, except for an admission of earlier in his life using a "small amount" of blackface because everyone knows how difficult it is to get black shoe polish off the face. (Actually, most of us don't.)
Once again, the nation is at an impasse. Are resigning or not the only options? Why hasn't Governor Northam talked with members of the African American community regarding their thoughts on his personal rehabilitation and political remediation? Were there restorative measures that could create change in both the Governor's perspective on race while benefiting the community? Given the widespread calls for his resignation, probably not - particularly given the Governor's failure to make a sincere apology that includes remedial steps both for himself and the African Americans that have been further harmed. His most recent reference to slaves as "indentured servants" evidences Northam's deep racism and his rigid commitment to those beliefs.
Think of the opportunities missed. In a moving opinion piece in the Washington Post, Reverend William Barber II envisions different outcomes. He suggests that the Governor and others who have committed racist acts could begin by asking “How are the people who have been harmed by my actions asking to change the policies and practices of our society?” While the expansion of voting rights, providing health care for all and committing to a living wage are national issues that the Governor could endorse and foster, Reverend Barber suggests specific local measures that would immediately improve African American lives. "In Virginia, it means stopping the environmental racism of the pipeline and natural gas compressor station Dominion Energy intends to build in Union Hill, a neighborhood founded by emancipated slaves and other free African Americans."
In an age when apologies are presumed to be accepted no matter how untimely or insincere, the Governor needs to find a path to actual reparations whether he continues as Governor or not. The Governor's failure to do so says more about his personal failures than anything else.
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Reducing Barriers to Reintegration: fair chance and expungement reforms in 2018 reviews recent legislative efforts to ease the lives of those US residents whose criminal records interfere with their participating in basic human rights. The report was issued by the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The Center "The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is a non-profit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction, the legal restrictions and social stigma that burden people with a criminal record long after their court-imposed sentence has been served."
Significant progress was made this year as activists succeeded in obtaining the support of legislators across the nation. Restoration of voting rights, as well as criminal record sealing reform where among the most significant changes of 2018. Florida was the most reported and significant state to restore voting rights after all incarceration, probation, parole periods have expired and all related fines have been paid. The law excludes those convicted of murder and sex offenses. The new law, which went into effect on January 8th, impacts approximately 1.6 million voters. Those votes are significant in a swing state. Disenfranchisement was promoted in the Jim Crow era and again during the 1960s. As back voters exercised their voting rights, legislators looked for new ways to block their voting. Combined with aggressive drug enforcement policies directed primarily against African Americans disenfranchisement proved to be an effective tool.
The Reducing Barriers report's executive summary includes the following:
In 2018, 30 states and the District of Columbia produced 56 separate laws aimed at reducing barriers faced by people with criminal records in the workplace, at the ballot box, and elsewhere. Many of these new laws enacted more than one type of reform. This prolific legislative “fair chance” track record, the high point of a six-year trend, reflects the lively on-going national conversation about how best to promote rehabilitation and reintegration of people with a criminal record.
As in past years, approaches to restoring rights varied widely from state to state, both with respect to the type of relief, as well as the specifics of who is eligible, how relief is delivered, and the effect of relief. Despite a growing consensus about the need for policy change to alleviate collateral consequences, little empirical research has been done to establish best practices, or what works best to promote reintegration.
The most promising legislative development recognizes the key role occupational licensing plays in the process of reintegration, and it was this area that showed the greatest uniformity of approach. Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted a similar comprehensive framework to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.
The most consequential single new law was a Florida ballot initiative to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction, which captured headlines across the country when it passed with nearly 65% of voters in favor. Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.
The largest number of new laws—27 statutes in 19 states—expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures. A significant number of states addressed record-clearing for non-conviction records (including diversions), for marijuana or other decriminalized offenses, for juveniles, and for human trafficking victims.
The reporters state: "The legal landscape at the end of 2018 suggests that states are experimenting with a more nuanced blending of philosophical approaches to dealing with the collateral consequences of arrest and conviction. These approaches include forgiving people’s past crimes (through pardon or judicial dispensation), forgetting them (through record-sealing or expungement), or forgoing creating a record in the first place (through diversionary dispositions). While sealing and expungement remain the most popular forms of remedy, there seems to be both popular and institutional resistance to limiting what the public may see respecting the record of serious offenses, and a growing preference for more transparent restoration mechanisms that limit what the public may do with such a record, along with standards to guide administrative decision-making."
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Much rejoicing is happening following the Senate passage of The First Step Act, which is likely to be passed by the House as well this week. The bill is being touted as a criminal justice reform act. Not only is there bi-partisan support for the bill, there is also support from diverse individuals and groups outside of Congress. The Koch Brothers and the ACLU. Wait - The Kochs and the ACLU? OK- the ACLU is predictable in that the organization is likely to support any bill that provides relief for a class of those incarcerated no matter how limited the group. But why would the Koch brothers support the bill? Simple answers: money for one. Also, the proposed relief will be applied primarily to whites. And passage of the bill will give the president favorable coverage of the new "policies" at a time when favorable headlines for the president are rare.
In a New Yorker article, counsel for Koch Brothers claimed that Koch Industries is much more sensitive to over-reaching prosecutors since the company was prosecuted in 2000 for hiding emissions of toxins at a Texas facility. That matter settled and there is a long time between 2000 and 2018 for a shift in their attitude on criminal justice "reform". A more likely draw for Koch support is the money to be made from the bill. Those same individuals who administer "private" prisons are looking for a slice of the pie for re-entry programs to be established under the bill. Private prisons are known for their poor quality food, the harsh policies toward prisoners and failure to administer necessary medicines, among other criticisms. These are not actors who entertain a human rights approach to "reform". In addition, some legislators attempted to include a term that would require prosecutors to prove intent for corporate crimes. To date those efforts have been resisted.
And who else benefits from the bill? Roughly 4,000 mostly white individuals. And they will be chosen by algorithm. The bill applies "reforms" to those inmates considered to be minimum security risks and those convicted of "non-violent" crimes. Roughly, only 20% of those who will benefit are of color. African Americans are far more likely to be considered higher security risks. African Americans are far more likely to be designated violent.
As noted in Intercept article, Natasha Leonard comments that The First Step Act functions as a compromise because it is not a challenge to the carceral state. Ms. Leonard notes that the only thing notable is its compromise. She notes that this compromise in effect was relinquishment of true change in how criminal justice is administered.
While the bill contains some positive terms, such as more judicial flexibility in sentencing, the bill is far from reformative. If only the commitment to more steps was from Congress. That is unlikely. Proponents are already touting the bill as "sweeping" when in fact the bill benefits only those who are low risk, typically white and a very small fraction of the total inmate population nationally. Congress' revisiting criminal justice "reform" anytime soon is unlikely.
Monday, July 23, 2018
This past May, the Vera Institute released a report on the treatment of black Americans in the criminal justice system. The report, written by primary author Prof. Elizabeth Hinton of Harvard University, is entitled An Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System. No one is surprised at the over representation of black Americans in our criminal systems.
The report "presents an overview of the ways in which America’s history of racism and oppression continues to manifest in the criminal justice system, and a summary of research demonstrating how the system perpetuates the disparate treatment of black people. The evidence presented here helps account for the hugely disproportionate impact of mass incarceration on millions of black people, their families, and their communities."
The report traces the history of laws targeting black Americans as well as systemic bias that results in the disproportionate arrest of black men, in particular. While only ten pages long, the report is packed with information that would serve as an excellent introduction to the effect of bias and deliberate discrimination. A brief bibliography is included.
Tuesday, May 29, 2018
Freedom of speech is the disguise behind which racism, misogyny and other forms of hate flourish. Without regard for professional and educational standards, businesses and universities refuse to intervene when speech is used to oppress. What may be permitted to say in public discourse has its limitations in workplace and educational institutions. But leadership in both arenas often refuse to confront hate speech and are supported in the workplace by employment cases that historically have tolerated high levels of hate before declaring an environment a hostile one. Flawed law does not justify racism and other hate in the workplace.
Now the NFL is flipping freedom of speech to block peaceful protest. Players who wish to engage in silent protest during the national anthem must do so off the field or risk being fined. While technically it is the teams that will be fined, owners are permitted to pass the penalties through to protesting players.
Freedom of speech gives every appearance of shapeshifting to accommodate the bullies. There is little in the way of institutional leadership protecting vulnerable populations locally or nationally. Those players who are forced to endure shocking levels of racism before a hostile work environment is declared, cannot themselves make peaceful, silent declarations against that racism without risking penalty. This hypocrisy goes beyond Jim Crow and emits the scent of slavery.
It would be self-defeating economically, but powerful demonstratively, if every black football player stayed in the locker rooms and refused to emerge until the rule is overturned. But that would once again place the burden of response on the victimized. It is the white players and fans who need to take a stand against racism and for freedom of speech.
Permitting through silence the manipulation of freedom of speech to accommodate the haters places our democracy in greater jeopardy and our silence makes us complicit.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
The Equality of Opportunity Project has issued results of a study that followed 20 million children and their parents to track wealth acquisition opportunities based upon race. The study showed a significant gap in income between similarly situated white and black men. A less significant gap was noted between white and black women. But black men have no advantage, and indeed are at a disadvantage, in reaching or maintaining economic stability in wealthier status levels when compared with white men with the same or similar situations. The data is disturbing.
"Black and American Indian children have substantially lower rates of upward mobility than the other racial groups. For example, black children born to parents in the bottom household income quintile have a 2.5% chance of rising to the top quintile of household income, compared with 10.6% for whites." This contrasts with Asian Americans and caucasians, who have a much higher income level.
Even black men who grow up in economically advantaged households have few assurances of retaining economic advantages. While white males are five times more likely to remain in the economically advantaged class in which they grew up, black and native men are as likely to drop to the bottom economic levels as they are to remain in the higher level in which they grew up.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
This past Friday I was privileged to participate in a conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation of Washington, D.C. The conversation brought together a nationwide group of those working with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. I was humbled to be in a room filled with the formerly incarcerated and those who support them. As a white woman, I was there to learn. And I dd. The discussions gave me a broader perspective on the historical background of mass incarceration, which has been effective through a combination of voter suppression strategies, "war on drugs" and other tactics to enhance black oppression and the suppression of everyone of color.
The conversation was honest and magnificent. Many in communities are doing amazing work to support the formerly incarcerated, including working to change laws and policies that aid unjust arrests and sentencing; developing housing, and creating communities that foster dignity. Future posts will focus on some of the organizations providing innovative and effective supports.
I wish I could better capture the conversation's tone, as well as the caring and brilliance of the day. But for now let me restate part of the discussion and something that is obvious. The most effective action that a white person can take is to inform and influence other whites. Tempering the resistance to creating racial equity is something that whites are particularly well poised to do. How to transform racist views is something whites must learn. The oppressed carry enough burdens. Building white empathy is insufficient because creating empathy alone does not result in change. White people have to figure this out and carry the burden of the conversation. It is not up to the oppressed to teach others how to change.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
The Public Welfare Foundation will hold a day-long forum: A Conversation on Race, Redemption and Restoration. The forum will be held on March 9, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
The invitation states "We will dive into candid conversations about: advancing racial justice, particularly within the youth and criminal justice field, the steep barriers to opportunities facing individuals who transition back to communities from the justice system; and necessary strategies to restore communities experiencing crime, violence, and lingering impacts of the criminal justice system. "
While the conference is by invitation only, it may possible to secure admission by contacting the Foundation directly to explore availability.
Thursday, January 25, 2018
A study done by the Vera Institute found that women in jails are one of the fastest growing segments of the prison population. And nearly 80% of women are mothers. Women are an afterthought in the discussion of mass incarceration. Little attention is given to the impact on families when a mother goes to jail. And little is done to help families stay connected when mothers are incarcerated. In a nationwide move, sheriffs and other jailers are replacing live child-mother visits with Skype visits. Nothing replaces touch between parents and children. Particularly young children are less likely to bond with a virtual parent. And the incarcerated women are expected to pay for the Skype visits, making even virtual contact out of reach for many.
There are a myriad of discriminatory problems faced by women and girls in prison. One other is the failure to provide menstrual products to them. Some states charge for the products, and those who do not often distribute an average of 2.5 pads per month.
The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls works to address the particular barriers that females face during and after incarceration. From disparities in sentencing, to assisting with re-entry and healing, the National Council provides tremendous community based resources for the recently incarcerated and those currently incarcerated. I recommend a visit to the Council's website for an introduction to the wide variety of work the Council does, as well as their sister organizations.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Those of us litigating intimate partner abuse cases have been privy to the tactic of false equivalencies as a means of protecting male privilege. One particularly vexing case I tried resulted in extensive findings of the husband's abuse of the wife. The judge found also that the wife had been inhospitable to her mother-in-law. The latter finding was justification for the judge to ignore the abuse in fashioning remedies. Consequently, the husband's abusive behavior remained unconsidered when the judge gave unfettered access to the children. This is not an isolated case. In both petitions for civil protection orders and family law decisions, courts fail to protect partners and children if the abused partner failed to behave in the perfect, mythical manner embedded in the judge's stereotypes. In these cases, false equivalency is used to protect white male privilege. The faulty premise can also be used as a sword.
The same discriminatory technique plays out in race cases, as well. A particularly shocking example happened this week in Virginia. A magistrate issued a warrant for DeAndre Harris, a black man who had been viciously beaten by white supremacists following a "Unite the Right" rally. Mr. Harris suffered spinal injuries and a head wound requiring ten stitches. Then a man who claims to be an attorney and a "Southern Nationalist" filed a police report and then a request for a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Harris alleges "unlawful wounding", a felony. In Virginia a magistrate may issue the warrant, even where, as in this case, a police investigation is complete. As in civil protection order hearings where abusers file retaliatory petitions for protection orders, the goal is to discredit the victim. An additional benefit is the victim's reluctance to appear in court given that the victim could have adverse consequences. Dropping the cross complaints is often the result, leaving the victim unprotected and reluctant to seek future help.
My sense is that this is the goal of the white supremacist. While three men have been arrested for beating Mr. Harris, cross charges will adversely impact any jury. Confusion and reluctance to convict will result.
This is the time for courageous prosecutors and police to step up and request dismissal of the charges for lack of evidence and because the allegations are retaliatory.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed a joint resolution condemning hate groups. In an amazing show of bi-partisan collaboration, the Senate expressed its sorrow for those who were injured or killed at Charlottesville. The resolution, submitted by three Republican and three Democratic senators, calls upon the President and his cabinet to use all available resources to fight hate groups, including White supremicists, Neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan. The resolution has its origins in the Charlottesville terror and acknowledges the loss of life, as well as other injuries inflicted to both police and civilians.
The President's failure to condemn the racist attacks in Charlottesville offended the Senators as much as did the events themselves.
The resolution may be read here.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
A federal court judge ruled last week that the descendants of former slaves of Cherokee Indians have the legal right to membership in the Cherokee Nation. At the time of the Civil War, some Cherokees kept slaves. When the Civil War ended, the Cherokee Nation signed a Treaty with the United States agreeing that "“never here-after shall either slavery or involuntary
servitude exist in their nation” and “all freedmen who have been liberated by voluntary act of their former owners or by law, as well as all free colored persons who were in the country at the
commencement of the rebellion, and are now residents therein, or who may return within six months, and their descendants, shall have all the rights of native Cherokees . . . .”
Trouble began when the Cherokee Nation changed its criteria for eligibility in 2006. The criteria was amended to recognize blood only. This precluded descendants of freed slaves from claiming membership in the tribe. This change disenfranchised approximately 2800 descendants of freed slaves. In rendering its decision, the court noted: Although it is a grievous axiom of American history that the Cherokee Nation’s narrative is steeped in sorrow as a result of United States governmental policies that marginalized Native American Indians and removed them from their lands, it is, perhaps, lesser known that both nations’ chronicles share the shameful taint of African slavery."
The federal court decision clarifies that the tribe must treat tribal members equally whether that membership comes by blood or freed slave descendency. The tribe has accepted the outcome. Cherokee Nation's Attorney General Tom Hembree said:
Thursday, August 24, 2017
In the land of “who’da thunk it,” I find myself voluntarily associating with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mitt Romney, and Charles Krauthammer. I hereby claim them as allies who are willing to stand against racism, anti-Semitism, and general moral vacuousness.
I recently gave a nod to tennis great Andy Murray as an ally in securing the recognition of women’s accomplishments in tennis---successes that should have been hard to ignore but had been overlooked nonetheless. The Murray shout-out was not much of a reach. However, it is important to find allies in the cause of equity anywhere we can, even if it is a stretch.
In this down-the-rabbit-hole time we live in, Schwarzenegger, Romney, and Krauthammer have all spoken out in different fora against Donald Trump’s post-Charlottesville truck with racists and bigots of all stripes. Although the President has been giving offense for a very long time, his recent assertions, first made after the Charlottesville rally and reiterated at his Phoenix campaign speech Tuesday night, have been both more egregious and led to wider condemnation.
Krauthammer made his views known on a Fox news panel on the same day that President Trump engaged with reporters at an infrastructure week event and made painfully plain his real views on the Charlottesville violence. No longer were the teleprompter-read words of his aides able to prevail. Trump’s comments were a “moral disgrace,” Krauthammer declared, not mincing words. Well said, Charles.
Schwarzenegger gets the prize with the longest and most personal appeal against the most recent and offensive presidential sentiments. In recorded remarks, he spoke directly to different audiences, including neo-nazis and President Trump. His comments to Trump showcased a bit of their rivalry over, inter alia, The Apprentice show ratings, as Schwarzenegger “helped” the President see how easy it is to script a speech that does not equivocate in its condemnation of hate. Schwarzenegger’s comments to neo-nazis were especially powerful, as he recounted growing up on post-war Austria. Go, Arnold, go.
Other conservatives have spoken out, too. Senators Marco Rubio, John McCain, and, recently, Senator Bob Corker--a Trump friend—come to mind. But it is fair to say that many more have remained all too silent; no danger of running out of Profiles in Courage awards this month.
But I get it, conservatives. Commenting on everything would be a fulltime job and, after all, you do want to advance your legislative agenda. But some things simply demand comment and condemnation. The President’s racially loaded remarks and—to my lights—his even worse indulging of the racists and anti-semites fall firmly in the category.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. Schwarzenegger, Romney, and Krauthammer fit into neither category for me, but I am glad they spoke out and did so forcefully. As white supremacists and neo-nazis feel emboldened in the current climate, more and more people across our wide and divided political spectrum must denounce their execrable views.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Two opinion pieces were published this week that underscore the foundation of racism upon which the Trump Administration policies are built. Both pieces follow the "leak" this week of a memo outlining the Department of Justice's plans to pursue dismantling of affirmative actions programs. Both pieces point out the absurdity of portraying US whites as victims. Prof. Carol Anderson , is the author of White Rage, the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. She reminds us in her NYT opinion, white men benefit from flexible undergraduate admissions programs. If objective scores and grades were the predominant selection method, white males would be a distinct minority on campus. Flexible admissions policies that consider gender as a bona fide admissions factor, benefit white males as much as anyone else. But it is race of which whites most complain.
In his New Yorker piece, Jelani Cobb focuses on the heart of racist thinking. Whites view their economic status comparatively. One African American succeeding financially is an affront to less affluent whites. The underlying assumption that whites deserve to be successful in every way before any person of color "succeeds", (however that is defined), is the source of white resentment. Whiteness as the ideal standard is what Trump and many followers look to preserve.
Mr. Trump may not be a seasoned politician. He may be unable to deliver on his major campaign promises. But he knows how to stoke his base. Through feeding anger and irrationality, Mr. Trump has begun his re-election campaign.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Every new president flounders a bit during the first two years. This is not dissimilar to what most of us experience in new positions. The more complex the duties, the longer the adjustment. Some argue that we should give breathing room to Mr. Trump as he assumes the presidency. There may not be time to do so as he pledges to move quickly on issues such as health care and immigration. We will need to judge his performance when we see how and whether he actually attempts to implement the agenda promoted during his campaign. With a Republican congress, whose leaders are now ready to please Trump, some actions could be swift.
What we do not have to wait to see is the unleashing of the post-election vitriol by some of the Trump supporters.
Schools are reporting a rise in racist incidents.
As reported here earlier, the damage has been done. Disturbing reports are surfacing and many involve young students. One woman reports an African American female student being told by her white high school peers that "blacks will be the first ones sent back." While the statement is absurd, the threat is not. A spike in racial incidents has been reported on college campuses.
Middle and high school age students report misogynistic remarks directed at Secretary Clinton on social media. One young female student reported boys "Trumping" (grabbing) girls.
President Clinton influenced a generation of young men to believe that anything short of intercourse is not sex. That position became the mantra of many teens. President-elect Trump has taken anti-female actions to a new level. Mr. Trump's admitted sexual assaults demonstrate to young boys that similar assaults on their female peers are acceptable, hijacking any hope of ending misogyny. The disservice to young men is layered. Living in hate is an uncomfortable and unproductive place to be. Young men are particularly vulnerable to influences promoting their power and prowess. Those young men, however, are now more likely to end up on a sex offender registry for engaging in the very same actions normalized by their president.
Men and women have taken to protesting in numbers unheard of in recent political history. There is a new population of human rights advocates willing to take to the streets. Our challenge is to support those who are willing to publicly voice their opposition and keep the human rights discussion in play.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established in 2002 by the Commission on Human Rights. Among the Group's 2008 charges were to study the problems of racial discrimination faced by people of African descent living in the diaspora and, to that end, gather all relevant information from Governments, non-governmental organizations and other relevant sources. The means of gathering relevant information include holding public meetings. The Group is instructed to propose measures to ensure full and effective access to the justice system by people of African descent.
The findngs document a US history of racial terrorism. Among the working group's findings are: "In particular, the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality in the United States remains a serious challenge, as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent," the report stated. "Contemporary police killings and the trauma that they create are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching."
Recognizing police killing of unarmed black men as having created a crisis, the Working Group reports that there is a sense of urgency to resolve this human rights crisis.
The Working Group made many suggestions that would go a long way in remedying institutional racism. Among the recommendations are:
Immediately abolish police in schools.
Police misconduct investigations to be conducted by independent investigators.
Misdemeanor laws that result in the over-charging and over-incarceration of people of color be abolished. One example given is South Carolina's law making a school disturbance a misdemeanor.
That younger prisoners be separated from adults and male prisoners from female ones.
The Group addressed reparations as one remedy. From apology and debt cancellation to educational and healthcare opportunities, the Group addressed steps that are critical to addressing the consequences of societal and institutional racism.
The problem with reparations is that in order to arrive at a place where Americans endorse them, the place where the culture is ready to recognize the harm must first be reached. We are a long way from there. Achieving recognition of the state's contributions to extreme suffering forced upon African Americans is not hopeless thanks to the new wave of activism, including Black Lives Matter. However, President Obama' election unleased racism across the country. Undermining the power of the first black president became the goal of those in the political and social systems. The fact that any new social legislation passed over the past eight years is nothing short of a miracle. The racism obvious in the current presidential election politics provides a vehicle for individuals to act on their persistent white supremacy beliefs. We will find out soon if political racism can be defeated in our upcoming elections.
But as the working group found, racial terrorism has created a crisis in America. Perhaps this crisis will collide with new wave activism and create a real opportunity for the country to admit the heinousness of the aftermath of slavery. One day it may be that a series of crisis or one horrendous crisis will result in a serious discussion on how to repair the damage we have done.
The findings are worth a read in their entirety. The Group brings to its report the clarity that often comes from outsiders looking in. The diagnoses of the problems is accurate and the suggested remedies thoughtful.
Sunday, September 25, 2016
Earlier this year, Michelle Alexander spoke at Union Theological Seminary as a Woman of Spirit. Now the newly resigned Ohio State law professor and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is surrendering her legal gown for a theological one as she returns to Union Theological as a visiting professor and student. Prof. Alexander has been drawn to the study of the divine for some time. In 2013, she spoke at Yale Divinity School addressing mass incarceration but incorporating values of forgiveness and redemption. At that talk Prof. Alexander referenced the "spirit whispering in my ear".
Finding law insufficient to the task of creating a culture where each and every human being is valued, Prof. Alexander said "Without a moral or spiritual awakening, we will forever remain trapped in political games fueled by fear, greed and the hunger for power."
"This is not simply a legal problem, or a political problem, or a policy problem. At its core, America's journey from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration raises profound moral and spiritual questions about who we are, individually and collectively, who we aim to become and what we are able to do now. "
Ms. Alexander joins the call of other spiritual leaders who recognize America's crisis as a spiritual one. All indications are that we can look forward to Ms. Alexander's transformation to a spiritual scholar to be as profound as her legal commentary. She shared her vision of a new world: "I would like to imagine that a wide range of people of faith and conscience who sing songs from different keys may be able to join in a common chorus that shakes the foundations of our unjust political, legal and economic systems, and ushers in a new America."
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Earlier this blog reported that several federal courts had struck down voting law provisions that attempted to restrict voting. Two of the states involved were North Carolina and Ohio. This week the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by North Carolina that would permit that state to enforce its provision that would require voters to have a government issued id in order to exercise voting rights.
Ohio Democrats filed an emergency appeal seeking the court's order that Ohio's "Golden Week" be reinstated. As summarized by SCOTUS Blog's Amy Howe:
"The state implemented Golden Week in the wake of the 2004 presidential elections, when many voters encountered long lines at the polls that resulted in waits of up to twelve hours to vote. Ohio Democrats say that Golden Week “made a major contribution in alleviating congested voting lines and encouraging turnout” – especially for African Americans, who may face more challenges, because of constraints on their time and resources, in voting on Election Day itself."
Golden week was instituted following the 2004 election when voters had to wait in lines often up to 12 hours to vote. The delays had a disparate impact on African Americans, who constitute a large percentage of the population of the bell-weather Hamilton County.
Last Friday, Justice Kagan asked the State of Ohio to respond to the Democrats' emergency appeal by this Thursday, September 8.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
July and August saw several states’ voting restrictions overturned. The voter ID laws, which would have required voters to produce photo identification prior to voting, were struck down. North Dakota’s law was the most recent, but other states, including Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas saw portions of their voting laws struck as discriminating against people of color. Earlier, Ohio passed legislation that eliminated “Golden Week” the voters’ rights to register and vote at the same location. Ohio has a history of attempts to limit voting by minorities and others who tend to favor the Democratic Party. In May, a federal court declared that the legislation violates the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th Amendment.
A different federal court (4th Circuit) declared a North Carolina Voter ID law unconstitutional on several grounds. Like Ohio, North Carolina had eliminated same day registration and voting. But NC also prohibited out of precinct voting, as well as early voting. Both of these restrictions were overturned as well. The court found that the provisions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court noted that the legislation addressed fictional problems.
In what was a surprise to many, the Supreme Court stopped implementation of a federal appeals court order that would have blocked the Virginia law requiring students to use the bathroom of the sex assigned at birth and not in accordance with their gender identity. The case is Gloucester County School Board v. GG. The surprise was Justice Breyer’s vote to grant the stay pending filing and decision on a petition for cert. He described this action as a “courtesy”. (And that means?) We can hope that the Justice promotes this issue being fully briefed in order to settle critical issues of gender identity, knowing that a split court will leave the lower court decision intact. Assuming the application for cert is granted, this case will test the limits of Justice Kennedy’s empathy toward the sexually diverse. Perhaps Justice Kennedy will extend his animus-dignity analysis to this minority that has far fewer champions than do gays and lesbians.