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Whose State of Emergency?

This post was original published at The Huffington Post.

On the evening of the announcement that a grand jury decided Darren Wilson, the Missouri police officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, would not face charges, two storms were capturing the attention of the American people. One was the strong winds that created havoc from the South to the North, and the second was the manifestation of pain through protest over the grand jury's decision.

Last week, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson. States of emergency are generally declared in response to natural disasters or civil upheaval. Last week the Ferguson activist group Hands Up United tweeted, in response to Gov. Nixon's announcement, "Our country is in a state of emergency. And not becuz of protestors."

As other advocates have pointed out, we were already in a state of emergency.

Since that fateful day in August when Brown was killed, we have heard analysis from commentators on television, radio, and social media, in barber and beauty shops, and on street corners, about what will happen in Ferguson after the immediate call for criminal justice. We saw a military-style police crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, another sterile review of our broken policing system, and new and veteran activists protesting, organizing, registering people to vote, and bearing witness to a grieving community's call yet again for change in cities across America where silence is not an option in the wake of the death of another unarmed African American male.

A "state of emergency," we are reminded, was declared when Katrina hit the vulnerable walls of New Orleans and flooded neighborhoods. But we were also in a "state of emergency" after the verdict was rendered in the shooting death of Jordan Davis. A "state of emergency" was evident in the November 4 midterm elections when I saw "democracy only for some" in the ten states where I traveled. Our broken immigration system created a "state of emergency" for families that have been separated, threatened with deportation, treated as collateral damage in political debates.

USA Today recently reported that on average there were 96 cases of a white police officer killing a black person each year between 2006 and 2012, based on justifiable homicides reported to the FBI by local police. Mother Jones notes that according to the Department of Justice's 2008 Police Public Contact Survey, "[o]f those who felt that police had used or threatened them with force that year, about 74 percent felt those actions were excessive. In another DOJ survey of police behavior during traffic and street stops in 2011, blacks and Hispanics were less likely than whites to believe that the reason for the stop was legitimate."

That is a state of emergency.

The 1,700 faith leaders in the alliance of progressive African American ministers I lead, frequently primary sources of support in tragedies like this, are too often ministering to mothers and fathers who find themselves suddenly without a child who was alive and well when the day began. These leaders have been fervently preaching, teaching, counseling, meeting with chiefs of police and other city officials, communities and families about the dual system of justice that is still prevalent in the 21st century. While some live in or near Ferguson and others traveled to Ferguson to show support, more just had to walk out their doors, down their streets, to their corners to see the results of delayed justice.

We were already in a state of emergency because of the gun violence in communities across the country. But today, when African American youth are so often shot and killed, such as the 12-year-old in Cleveland, Ohio this past weekend, by those who are charged to protect our communities, the climate that attempts to justify the daily reality of racial profiling and African Americans being nearly "four times as likely to experience the use of force" in police encounters, can no longer be tolerated. Yes, we stay in a state of emergency when African Americans receive longer sentences than Caucasians for the same crimes and when the troubling results of new polling show the racial divide on the shooting death of Michael Brown is as wide as the Mississippi River is long.

The decision announced on Monday evening is certainly not the final chapter, but sadly is another chapter in the experience of living non-white in America. Michael Brown Sr. says he wants his son's death to spark "incredible change, positive change," no matter the grand jury's decision. Continuing dialogue and movement on police violence and the relationship between law enforcement and the African American community must happen daily in living rooms, classrooms, places of worship, and work places around the country, for as feminist scholar bell hooks wrote, "[S]ilences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity." She is right. Today all Americans are being called to speak out against the ongoing violation of the most fundamental right there is - the recognition of being a part of "We the People."

Dr. King said in 1963, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." We are in a state of emergency, a time of challenge and controversy, but not because of the protestors. That state of emergency will continue until we stand, become uncomfortable, and demand a justice system that addresses the manifestation of pain in protest, the further chipping away of respect, and the real state of emergency our country faces.

PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Review of ACA Case Muzzles the DC Circuit

Since the Roberts Court took the ACA subsidies case, other courts likely won't have a chance to join the 4th Circuit in exposing how weak and political the case is.
PFAW Foundation

Report: In Key Races, Margin of Victory Came Close to ‘Margin of Disenfranchisement’

In 2012, People For the American Way Foundation published a memo highlighting many of the legislative and administrative tactics states were using to undermine voter participation in elections, all under trumped-up claims of “voter fraud.”

Now according to a new Brennan Center report, recently-enacted restrictive voter laws may have helped tip the scales in the 2014 midterm elections this past Tuesday. A number of states around the country have implemented restrictions to voting, including new voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and faulty voter purges. These changes have been found to have a negative impact on low-income voters, minority communities and young voters.

As quoted in a Mother Jones article yesterday, report author Wendy Weiser pointed out, "In several key races, the margin of victory came very close to the likely margin of disenfranchisement." One example from the article:

North Carolina Senate: Republican House state speaker Thom Tillis beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan by 48,000 votes.

In 2013, North Carolina enacted a law—which Tillis helped write—limiting early voting and same-day registration, which the Justice Department warned would likely depress minority turnout. During the last midterms in 2010, about 200,000 North Carolinians cast their ballots during early voting days that the state's new voting law eliminated.

To read more about the attack on voters and how you can help fight back, check out The Right To Vote section on our website.
 

PFAW Foundation

Getting Out the Youth Vote in the Midterms

With elections for tight races all across the country just a few days away, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program is pulling out all the stops to help young voters get to the polls and cast their vote this November 4.

As overreaching new voter ID laws threaten to stifle the voices of Americans in a number of states, getting out the vote has never been more critical. YP4 Fellows and alumni have been working hard to ensure that students, people of color, women and other underrepresented communities get their equal say in our democratic system. Our 25 YP4 Vote Organizers are spread across the country in 15 states, working to conduct community outreach, voter engagement, and volunteer recruitment to help mobilize their communities to vote.

Throughout this year, YP4 activists have also advocated for resolutions to enfranchise student voters and increased the number of young registered voters by over 2,000 through dozens of trainings and events.

YP4 has dedicated itself this election cycle to helping young leaders make informed and motivated voters out of those who are routinely overlooked by politicians. In a year in which some lawmakers have sought to discourage voter turnout, campaigns like YP4’s ARRIVE WITH 5 initiative, which encourages voters to bring five or more friends to the polls, help shape a government that actually represents the governed.

The midterm election is no time to stay at home. In a campaign season of extremely narrow races, each and every vote has an impact. We can only make our democracy work for everyone when all Americans are encouraged to engage in civic life and realize what a real difference their voices can make.

PFAW Foundation

John Roberts, Calling Strikes and Strikes

Allowing Texas to enforce a voter ID law found to be intentionally discriminatory suggests the "umpire" takes sides.
PFAW Foundation

Fifth Circuit's Voter ID Decision Shows the Attitude of Bush's Judges

What is the public interest in enforcing a voting law that was found to have been passed with the intent to discriminate?
PFAW Foundation

Did a Nevada Federal Judge Let Personal Beliefs Affect His Marriage Ruling?

Why did the federal district judge who'd upheld Nevada's marriage ban remove himself from the case when the 9th Circuit ordered him to implement its pro-equality decision?
PFAW Foundation

Texas Judge Could Teach the Roberts Court a Thing or Two

A Texas federal judge strikes down that state's restrictive voter ID law as intentionally discriminatory.
PFAW Foundation

Marriage Bans Overturned in Idaho and Nevada

Yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of equality, striking down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt delivered the ruling for the panel, which applied heightened scrutiny because the bans are applied on the basis of sexual orientation, and concluded that the state laws violate the equal protection rights of lesbians and gays who wish to marry. The court took note of the particular harm marriage bans impose on families:

“To allow same-sex couples to adopt children and then to label their families as second-class because the adoptive parents are of the same sex is cruel as well as unconstitutional. Classifying some families, and especially their children, as of lesser value should be repugnant to all those in this nation who profess to believe in ‘family values.’”  

The ruling follows the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeals of five states seeking to reverse similar cases in which a lower court ruled state marriage bans unconstitutional. This morning, however, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy temporarily blocked the appeals court ruling and asked for a response from the plaintiffs involved in Idaho’s marriage lawsuit by Thursday at 5 pm. 

PFAW Foundation

Another Nail in the Coffin for Baker v. Nelson

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear marriage equality appeals may have an important substantive effect on the law.
PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Action on Marriage Cases Is No Surprise

In last month's Supreme Court Term Preview, PFAW Foundation explained why most Justices might very well want to avoid taking the then-pending marriage cases.
PFAW Foundation

The Roberts Court vs. Ohio Voters

Bad news for early voting in Ohio, thanks to the Roberts Court.
PFAW Foundation

A State-by-State Round-Up of Voting Rights Today

More than a year ago, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to voting rights when they struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in their Shelby v. Holder decision. In the wake of this decision, nine states and many other counties that once had to have their voting law changes approved by the federal government before they took effect — what’s known as “preclearance”— no longer have to do so. With the midterm elections rapidly approaching, where does that leave voters in the preclearance states and in other states where legal battles over voting laws are raging?

Yesterday ProPublica published a great round-up of the current landscape of voting rights across the country. Some of the lowlights included:

• Seven preclearance states have announced new restrictions since the Supreme Court rolled back the Voting Rights Act.
• [In 2012], a federal court called Texas's photo ID law [the] “most stringent in the country.” Now, it’s in effect.
• Two months after the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina cut early voting and eliminated same-day registration.

ProPublica notes that while glaringly discriminatory barriers like literacy tests are behind us, these legal changes matter a great deal. As voting rights advocates have demonstrated, voter ID laws, limitations on early voting, and voter roll purges disproportionately harm communities of color and other marginalized groups. Rather, Americans agree that no one should be facing barriers to casting a ballot and participating in our democracy.

You can read the full article here.

 

PFAW Foundation

7th Circuit Says Arguments Against Marriage Equality "Cannot Be Taken Seriously"

Reagan judge Richard Posner concludes that the argument against marriage equality "is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously."
PFAW Foundation

Court Restores Voting Opportunities for Ohioans

Today, the judicial system worked exactly as intended, protecting Americans' right to vote.
PFAW Foundation