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Stories from the ground in Alabama – Standing Strong Against Discrimination

Guest blogger: Janet Murguia. President, National Council of La Raza. Crossposted from the Huffington Post. (Original blog was published on 12/22/11)

Last Saturday it was my privilege to speak to the thousands of participants at the “One Family, One Alabama: HB 56 Hurts All Alabamians” rally held on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. The rallygoers were a rich mosaic of Alabamians from all walks of life representing every community in the state, as well as national immigrant and labor leaders. The rally was held to support the embattled Latino community in Alabama in the wake of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and call for its repeal.

But just as importantly, what the speakers and attendees helped others to recognize that day was that HB 56 is not an immigration solution, but an all-out assault on the civil rights of every resident in the state of Alabama. That message was underscored by the presence of thousands of African Americans, including elected leaders, members of the clergy, and my good friend and colleague, NAACP President Ben Jealous.

I have been deeply moved by the support and commitment of the African-American community throughout our fight against HB 56. No community knows better than they do that HB 56 represents a serious leap backward to a dark time in Alabama’s past. Speaker after speaker made that point, not only with eloquence but also with knowledge born out of tragic experience.

Yet these speakers were also full of a hope that was born out of experience. State Senator Bill Beasley, a much respected legislator and a key leader in the opposition to HB 56, came up to me during the event and said that my remarks, “things can change, things will change,” resonated with him.

He told me not to give up hope by reminding me of Alabama’s own history. He noted that we were at that very moment standing on the same steps where the then immensely popular Governor George Wallace proclaimed in 1963, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” which catapulted him to national folk hero status among those who opposed civil rights. Alabama at that time did much to shake, if not shatter, the hope of many in the civil rights movement that there would ever be progress.

But Senator Beasley has also witnessed that things can and do change. Just two blocks from where we were standing is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where 30 years after his infamous speech, former Governor Wallace went to ask the African-American community for forgiveness. And just recently, Mark Kennedy, Wallace’s son-in-law and the head of the Alabama Democratic Party, helped redeem his family’s legacy by unequivocally stating “justice now, justice tomorrow, justice forever,” in his swearing-in speech.

If George Wallace and his family could change their minds on the issue of civil rights and discrimination, so can the legislature and the current governor of Alabama on HB 56. There is no turning back from justice. With this in mind and with the unity that was on full display on Saturday, there is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail.

Photo courtesy of America’s Voice

 

For a Pioneering Jurist, Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law Is Spark for a New Civil Rights Struggle

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU

U. W. Clemon marched in demonstrations alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., worked on desegregation in Alabama and became the state’s first African-American federal judge. He has seen great advancement of civil rights, but is very concerned about their present state.

“We are at a point in American history where powerful forces are determined to turn back the clock on the tremendous progress we made in civil rights over the last 100 years,” Clemon told me when I visited him recently in Birmingham. “And they’ve come very far in doing so.”

Clemon said that HB 56, Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, exemplifies a new civil rights crisis.

“The Alabama immigration law was designed to be the most severe, the harshest immigration law in the country,” he said. “The design, purpose of it was to drive out people who don’t look like us. In this instance it turned out to be Hispanics. Many of them, unfortunately, are American citizens, just as American as you and I.”

A recent New York Times editorial that quotes Clemon calls HB 56 “the nation’s most oppressive immigration law,” and the accompanying slide show rightly calls the response to the law “a new civil rights movement.”

Parts of the law have been in effect for less than two months, but reports have indicated the legislation has encouraged racial profilingdeterred children from going to schooland turned Alabama into a ‘show-me-your papers’ state. The ACLU and a coalition of civil rights groups have been challenging the law in the courts.

While the legal battle is ongoing, the harm on the ground has continued. Over the last few days, a mother of two told me she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night in fear of what could happen if she is separated from her children as a result of the law. An immigrant from Mexico told me he now only goes to the grocery once every couple of weeks because he is afraid he will be pulled over due to racial profiling. A high school senior who was brought here as a one-month-old baby said this country is the only home he has ever known, and is scared his family may be forced to leave.

Clemon, now in his late 60s, said the stories emerging now out of Alabama are disturbing. He now works at a law firm after serving nearly 30 years as a federal judge. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which turned out to be Alabama’s most controversial federal judgeship.

He told me how frustrating it is to see his state pass a law that tramples on civil rights that he and others fought to secure.

“In terms of the basic mean-spirited attitude, it’s pretty much the same now as it was then — first it was against blacks and now it’s against Hispanics,” he said, adding people should speak up against it. “It’s very disturbing and that’s why I can’t go quietly into the night.”

Photo courtesy of the ACLU

Reflecting on our loss and reclaiming our rights- new report and video on racial profiling post 9/11

From the Rights Working Group-

Last week, the Rights Working Group released a new report, Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America at a press conference. The report offers a variety of perspectives on the expansion of racial profiling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance, detention and access to private information impacted people of Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent along with migrants and people thought to be migrants.  The report also discusses how the issue of racial profiling – a longtime problem in black, Native American and Latino communities – became more widespread and far-reaching after 9/11 and how the broad congressional support for passing the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) in the summer of 2001 diminished. The report makes recommendations to the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Congress – among them is passage of ERPA – that would seek to not only prohibit racial profiling but provide greater oversight of law enforcement with regard to civil rights protections. [Read Report Here]

As a complimentary multimedia piece to the report, Breakthrough and Rights Working Group released Checkpoint Nation?  Building Community Across Borders last week. Filmed in Arizona, the documentary is about racial profiling, multiracial solidarity, and immigration enforcement at the border.

Early one morning, Maria—then nine months pregnant—and her family were stopped by the police for no discernible reason. A special breakfast outing became a nightmare—and at one of the most intimate moments of her life, Maria found a team of immigration agents—not her husband—by her side.

Maria’s chilling story is the centerpiece of “Checkpoint Nation?” a documentary that depicts the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling — as mandated by laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona, which are now being imitated and implemented nationwide — along with the new and strengthening alliances of diverse groups committed to racial justice.

Set in the U.S./Mexico border area near Tucson, Arizona, a region that sees more and more migrant deaths every year, the video explores the idea that the way to move forward is to find connections and build coalitions among between diverse groups of allies — including Muslim-, South Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans; civil rights lawyers and media activists — that have identified with each other’s histories and united in the common goals of justice, equality, and respect for all.

Ten years after 9/11, there is an urgent need to pass federal legislation to ban all forms of racial profiling, and to end programs and policies that result in racial profiling.  If you haven’t already, sign the petition to tell President Obama that it is time to end racial profiling.  [Sign the Petition Here]

Here’s what you can do to join the chorus calling for an end to racial profiling:


Save the date! Don’t miss this film screening tomorrow

After screening at a Congressional briefing in Washington D.C., a panel on ‘Global Perspectives in Digital Media’ at Union Docs in NYC, and making waves across the blogosphere, Restore Fairness’ latest documentary, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America, will be screening in New York City tomorrow, as part of a free evening of films and dialogue about race in America.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. Using powerful personal stories like Karwan’s, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

On Tuesday, December 7th, Face the Truth will be screening along with Americans on Hold: Profiling, Prejudice and National Security, produced by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Americans on Hold is a documentary that reveals the harmful effects of prejudicial and ineffective U.S. counter-terrorism and immigration policies. Through the personal stories of Anila Ali and Zuhair Mahd, and expert testimony, the film exposes discriminatory profiling at the heart of citizenship delays and border-crossing detentions and delays.

Sponsored by the Rights Working Group, Breakthrough, NAAP, and the CHRGJ at the NYU School of Law, the evening is part of the Rights Working Group Conversations on racial profiling, leading up to Human Rights Day on December 10th. The screenings will be followed by a discussion and Q & A with filmmakers and activists, Madhuri Mohindar from Breakthrough, Nadine Wahab from the Rights Working Group, and Sameer Ahmed, the Skadden Fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Mark your calendars!

When: Tuesday, December 7th, 6:30-9:30pm
Where: Furman Hall, New York University, 245 Sullivan Street (corner of Sullivan and W 3rd), New York City

It is important that we work together to honor the diversity that is the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Join the event on Facebook. We hope to see you tomorrow!

Powerful racial profiling documentary screened at Congressional Briefing

Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign showcased its powerful new documentary, ‘Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America’ at a briefing for Congressional staff on Racial and Religious Profiling in Washington, D.C. on Thursday September 30th. The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group that was released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Along with compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, many of whom were present at the briefing. Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr. Tracie Keesee (Denver Police Department) and Karwan Abdulkader (resident of Nashville subjected to racial profiling) are some of the speakers from the film who spoke in person to the packed room on September 30th.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded… not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

As Kurdish American Karwan Abdulkader broke down while relating his story, listeners learned that he was detained and interrogated by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. His is one among many stories featured in ‘Face the Truth,’ a moving video that illustrates the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Watch the video NOW and urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

Watch the new Restore Fairness documentary and “Face the Truth” about racial profiling

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. This is one among many stories featured in a powerful new documentary “Face The Truth: Racial Profiling Across America”, produced by Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign and the Rights Working Group, showcasing the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), and are featured in a Congressional briefing on Thursday, September 30th in Washington D.C. attended by advocates, police chiefs and community organizers.

Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders such as Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center), all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights. Watch the video and take action now.

POLL: Do you support the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)?

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Join the week of actions to face the truth about racial profiling

Racial and religious profiling is a problem that affects many communities across the country. While traditionally thought of as targeting the African American community, profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Not only is racial and religious profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it damages community security.

This past summer, communities across America hosted hearings to raise their voices against racial and religious profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement. The testimonies shared by people around the country illustrated the pervasiveness of the problem, and demonstrated how it impacts people from all walks of life. Out of the hearings came a resolve from communities to stop the ineffective and degrading practice of racial profiling.

In solidarity with Rights Working Group, we urge you to join the ‘Racial Profiling: Face the Truth’ campaign and participate in the ‘Face the Truth Week of Actions,’ taking place from September 26- October 2. Marking the one year anniversary of the launch of the campaign, the Rights Working Group will release a report highlighting testimonies from the hearings that told place over the summer. The report, entitled Faces of Racial Profiling: A Report from Communities Across America, will be released on Thursday, September 30th, at a Congressional briefing which will include a panel discussion involving advocates, police chiefs and community organizers from around the country.

Throughout the week, local partners around the country will be hosting events, echoing the campaign’s call for Federal legislation banning racial profiling. Join a local event near you and take a stand against racial profiling. If you cannot make it to one of these events, consider pulling together a few family members and friends for a conversation about the detrimental effects of racial profiling on your community, or start a letter writing campaign to your local newspaper editors and reporters about the problems with the merger of the criminal justice and immigration systems. You can find other great ideas to do individually or collectively here.

Do stay tuned for the release of “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America,” a short documentary about racial profiling that we at Restore Fairness have produced in collaboration with the Rights Working Group. Also launching during the ‘Face the Truth Week of Actions,’ our powerful short film features stories told by individuals affected by racial profiling as well as educational interviews with notable law enforcement and  civil society leaders. The video includes interviews with Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center). It also  contains the compelling personal stories of Karwan Abdul Kader, a U.S citizen driving in the “wrong part of town” who made to strip down, was interrogated and then let go without even a citation; Ronald Scott (Detroit Coalition Against Policy Brutality) who points out the numerous instances of innocent lives lost as law enforcement clashes with racial profiling; and Juana Villegas, a Latino immigrant detained for a traffic violation while 9 months pregnant. Watch for this at restorefairness.org

Photo courtesy of northbynorthwestern.com

Want to know what’s wrong with the War on Drugs?

It’s the first time that 1 in every 100 adult Americans is in prison, proof of an exploding prison system that our country can ill afford and a movement away from rehabilitation programs. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities within the prison system. More than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities which means that 1 in every 36 Hispanic adults and 1 in every 15 black adults are in prison. How did this all happen? A change in laws and policies over the past decade have convicted more offenders, including non violent offenders, and put them away for increasingly lengthy sentences. For many, it is a system that is not providing the same returns in public safety in relation to this growth, and a rapid movement to change unfair laws has seen growing progress.

The 1980′s saw the “War on Drugs” launched in a big way. It was also the time for many federal policies that disadvantaged communities of color. One example: sentences for crack cocaine offenses (the kind found in poor Black communities) that were treated a 100 times more severely than powder cocaine offenses (the kind that dominates White communities). According to the Drug Policy Alliance Network,

Reform advocates say no other single federal policy is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system than the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses are African American.

The differences in sentencing were based on a myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior, all of which has been disproved. What it’s actually led to is a costly system that focuses on low-level offenders and users instead of dealers and suppliers, imprisoning addicts that could benefit from rehabilitation programs. One analysis by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, estimates that an increased focus on community programs and an end to the sentencing disparity could lead to a savings of half-a-billion dollars in prison costs.

With mounting pressure on Congress to do away with legislation that has devastated communities, we are at an opportune moment to instill justice back into the system. While The House Judiciary Committee has already passed a bill that ends the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on a bill soon. Some Senators want to reduce the sentencing disparity instead of eliminating it but this watered-down compromise will do little to restore fairness. Let the Senators hear your voice.

Update: In an historic moment, legislation to reform the federal mandatory sentencing laws for crack cocaine offenses was adopted by unanimous consent last week in the U.S. Senate. Even though it is a compromise legislation that is a watered-down version of the original bill, it will result in about 3,000 defendants a year receiving an average sentence 27 months less than under the current penalty structure.

POLL: Do you support completely eliminating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine?

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Start a conversation that says no to racial profiling

In a recent USA Today poll, 71% of people said that they were in favor of racial profiling at airports. It is time to face the truth; racial and ethnic profiling at airports does not work.  In fact it makes us less safe. And moving away from airports, racial profiling occurs all over the country, targeting a number of communities including the Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

We think it is time to Face the Truth about racial profiling and speak out against it. Participate in a conversation against racial profiling and join the Rights Working Group for the launch of their campaign that seeks to drive home the message that racial profiling does not work. In fact, it makes our communities feel humiliated and degraded, in addition to making us feel less safe rather than more secure.

Racial profiling is an illegal, ineffective and degrading practice that violates constitutional protections and human rights.  While many have struggled with the consequences of being profiled, including being incarcerated and deported, communities rarely have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the facts, stories and realities of these events.

In order to educate individuals and communities across the country about the faces of racial profiling, why it is ineffective and what can be done to put an end to it, join into the Night of a 1,000 Conversations from February 22nd-28th to spread awareness and inspire action.

Why is the simple act of conversation so important. Here is an example of a testimonial from a previous conversation,

“None of the participants who were not born in the U.S. would commit to doing anything remotely political – write letters, make phone calls, etc.  Their fear of deportation was too great.  They viewed the evening’s activity as a safe space and while they were comfortable enough to share their thoughts on political climate re: immigration/detention/deportation, anything beyond personal conversation was not realistic.”

To get started, host a conversation or find one near you and join in. Visit www.nightof1000conversations.org for a toolkit, conversation resources and more to kick you off!

Photo courtesy of Rights Working Group.

Is the criminal justice system “The New Jim Crow”?

Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

Placed within the context of the euphoria around the election of President Obama as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Alexander‘s first book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” argues that while on the surface it seems like racial subordination is no longer entrenched in the law books, the truth is Jim Crow laws have simply been redesigned and appropriated by the criminal justice system.

Some shocking stats. One in every eight black men in their twenties are in prison or jail on any given day. There are more African Americans who are in jail, prison, probation or parole today, than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reacts against the dominant narrative of racial justice which says that while there is still a way to go, America has come a long way from it’s history of racial discrimination, and instead explains the way that the system works to exercise a contemporary form of racial control, a process that continues long after the individuals are officially released out of the system. From Chapter 5 of the book-

The first stage is the roundup [when] vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color… Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not. Once convicted… virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system. The final stage… often [has] a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. [Parolees] will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In Alexander’s opinion, far from living in a post-racial utopia, the last few decades have seen the United States move towards a “color-coded caste system” where minority groups are targeted, maligned and marginalized by the criminal justice system. She attributes this increase in the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past thirty years to draconian laws that have been constructed to wage “The War on Drugs”, a battle waged against low-income communities of color, even though research consistently counters the claim that any one racial community uses and sells illegal drugs more than any other.

It’s a moment to contemplate race and class in today’s America. To go beyond the illusion that all is well to a striking reminder that racial injustice is still deeply entrenched in the country. According to Alexander, nothing short of an informed and agitated movement will put an end to this perpetuation of racial inequality in the guise of enforcing justice.

Photo courtesy of newjimcrow.com

POLL: Does the criminal justice system unfairly target communities of color?

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