News Tag: Racial Justice

Reality vs. Rhetoric

May 20, 2015

The deaths of the fallen Hattiesburg police officers were unequivocally unnecessary loss of valuable and valued lives.  No young man should have his life taken as the result of a violent and vengeful act.  Last Sunday, the families and community of the fallen Hattiesburg police officers woke to a new day in our lives without these brave young men.  Also and unfortunately last Saturday, Mississippians woke to find that Governor Bryant had chosen to capitalize on this tragedy to spew divisive words instead of encouraging our community mourn and heal together. I was appalled to read his acrimonious words which clearly had been written and submitted for publication even before these brave men were laid to rest. 

Out of dignity and respect for the families, the community and our great state, I purposefully delayed submitting a response as a citizen of Mississippi and in my capacity as the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU of MS).  I am, however, compelled to respond to the Governor’s comments.  The governor sent a message intended to invoke fear in the hearts of the “good people” in order to set conditions to further erode the freedoms of Mississippians who in coded language are referred to as the “criminal class”.  I cannot sit quietly by and let his words go unchallenged. I write this letter to submit to this state and all of its people facts over fiction.

The Governor begins his statement with “It is becoming apparentthat a deadly conflict now exists”. While this reality is just starting to become apparent to the Governor, it has been a reality in the lives of young men of color for decades.  The facts are that blacks disproportionately are subjected to abuse during traffic stops.  Blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to experience the threat or use of force during interactions with the police.  In the first month of this year alone, nearly 100 young people of color were killed in police related encounters across this country according to killedbypolice.net which documents occurrences of people killed by nonmilitary law enforcement officers, whether in the line of duty or not, and regardless of reason or method.  This reality, while justbecoming apparent to the governor, has caused mothers and fathers when teaching their teenagers to drive to keep their hands at “ten and two” on the steering wheel when, not if, stopped by the police.  “Ten and two” not because that is what the driving manual states but because we hope that it will help our children survive a close encounter with the police.  Long before the phrase “hands up, don’t shoot” was coined, we have been forced to teach these additional lessons of survival when driving while black. 

The governor goes on to state this conflict exists between the criminal class and law enforcement and then immediately makes a reference to race.  Translated, his coded message equates the “criminal class” to people of color.  The governor’s race-based assumptions perpetuate negative racial stereotypes that are harmful to our diverse democracy, and materially impair our efforts to maintain a fair and just society. The facts, according to the FBI, in 2011, are that white people committed about 6.58 million crimes; blacks committed 2.7 million and that white individuals were arrested more often for violent crimes than any other race, accounting for 59.4 percent of those arrests. His message only further alienates communities of color from law enforcement, hinders community policing efforts, and causes further erosion credibility and trust among the people of Mississippi. 

He states “[t]his is an attack on law enforcement  . . . by the criminal class” (again his coded fear summoning messaging).  The fact is that there has been a long standing attack on young men of color.  “Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts – 21 times greater”, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.” 

“Simply put, if you don't violate the law, disobey a police officer during an intervention and don't resist arrest, your chances of being in conflict with an officer are non-existent.” This statement was among the most ludicrous statements made by the Governor.  He further asserts this is not a racial conflict and uses the word “allegedly” in reference to racial profiling as if this is a baseless notion or some whimsical myth.  The facts are racial profiling is a real and pervasive problem.  Even former President Bush and the U. S. Supreme Court acknowledged and condemned racial profiling as a reality.  Data collected across America documents the persistence of racial profiling throughout the country. “Hit rate” analysis of stops and searches innumerous jurisdictionsshow that people of color, including Blacks and Latinos, are stopped, frisked, and searched at rates far higher than whites, but areno more likely, and very oftenlesslikely, to have drugs or weapons on them. Racial profiling violates the U.S. Constitution by betraying the fundamental American promise of equal protection under the law and infringing on the Fourth Amendment guarantee that all people be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

“Organized destructive movements” these words penned by the governor are reminiscent of rhetoric of the “good people”, who commonly referred to themselves as the White Citizens Council during the 60s and 70s,  “a time of social unrest” according to the governor.  Historical fact refers to this period of as the Civil Rights Movement.  An organized movement, such as the Civil Rights movement, typically arises when intolerable conditions imposed by an oppressive government have caused a people to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired” in the words of the Civil Rights veteran and heroine, Fannie Lou Hammer.  The organized civil movement of peoples of color joined and supported by people of different races brought about positive change for all people of this country.  I wonder if Governor Bryant were governor in the 60s or 70s would he have referred actions by the Citizens' Councils, white segregationists and supremacists, who organized to oppose integration and the Supreme Court decision, or the Ole Miss riots as an “organized destructive movements”.  Or maybe he would have stood on the steps and said  about the Civil Rights Movement that such undertaking a will not come here because “our people are just simply better behaved and more respectful of authority” as he stated on May 1, 2015 in reference to rioting in Baltimore and other incidents of racial discord in America.  To many of us, his words were received as coded language “our [black] people” know their place”. 

The governor calls on the “good people” to once again stand for law and order.  It is this type of speechmaking which spurred Jim Crow laws.  I, therefore, call on all the people of Mississippi to stand for and embrace fairness that we esteem as Americans and to build trust not discord between police and our communities that is essential to keeping all of us safe.  I also implore all Mississippians to be aware and to be vigilant in defense of freedoms.  Be ever watchful in the next legislative session, be it special or regular.  The Governor’s message should be considered an early warning that knee jerk fear baited legislation will be introduced to further erode the rights, freedoms and liberties of Mississippians, especially those he has attempted to disguise as a “criminal class”. 

The ACLU of MS in no way condones criminal activities or the unlawful killing of any law enforcement.  Equally we oppose the abuse and unnecessary killing of ordinary citizens at the hands of law enforcement officers.  I reiterate my intent here is not to further divide but to delineate what is truth from rhetoric intended to expand the still existing rift the between the people of this state.  Only together will Mississippi be made better.

 

ACLU-MS Comment on Revised JPS Restraint and Seclusion Policy

March 06, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – On February 17, the Jackson Public School (JPS) Board of Trustees adopted a revised student restraint policy after advocacy groups publicly commented at a JPS Board meeting. After the meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi worked in partnership with Dr. Cedric Gray and members of the school board to craft a policy that outlines the use of restraint and seclusion techniques in school.

In December, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Parent Training Institute, and Families as Allies asserted that the policy failed to focus on creating a safe environment for students and faculty, lacked clarity in the definitions of the techniques that open the door for harm, and did not promote positive behavioral interventions, among other concerns.

The following is a statement from the ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Charles Irvin about the revised policy:

“The changes enacted by the Jackson Public School District ensure that students can be assured that school is a safe place and are free to learn. The revised policy has more emphasis on prevention, robust definitions, more specificity to the training component and inclusion of proper reporting guidelines.

We applaud their efforts in taking a generic policy and bringing added clarity for the benefit of students, parents and administrators.”

View the revised policy.

New Legislation Could Require Drug Testing for Public Benefit Recipients

January 28, 2015

Once again, the Mississippi Legislature has proposed a bill to require drug testing for public benefit recipients in the form of House Bill 383. The ACLU of Mississippi opposes HB 383 and any effort to mandate any type of drug testing of public benefit applicants and recipients as an intrusion upon an individual’s right to privacy and an unreasonable search by the government. In addition to constitutional issues, drug testing is a misguided policy, based on the false premise that poor people are more likely to be drug users than other members of our society.  By targeting recipients of public benefits, these proposals disproportionately impact communities of color.

Last year, the Mississippi Legislature passed HB49 requiring the drug screening and subsequent testing of TANF applicants. Implementation of this bill required recipients complete the SASSI instrument to assess their “probable” drug abuse. Recently, SASSI released a paper to make clear where the Institute stands with regard to states' use of the instrument for their TANF drug testing programs. As you'll see, the SASSI folks are unequivocal in their opposition to the use of the SASSI for these purposes. 

Drug testing an entire class of citizens simply because they are poor "would be dangerously at odds with the tenets of our democracy." It is for this reason we strongly oppose HB 383 and would call for the legislature to reconsider its stance.

HB 383 has been referred to the House Public Health and Human Services Committee. 

Honor MLK - Continue the March

January 19, 2015

"How Long? Not Long!" was the question and answer given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he stood on the steps of the Capitol building in March 1965 after leading the march from Selma to Montgomery. It was also a declaration that the struggle must continue. Despite obstacles and adversity, people came together and demanded better. They showed that it was not acceptable to establish laws that disenfranchised. They marched together to exemplify that together we can address discriminatory housing practices, inadequate public school funding and policies that keep poverty in place. As a result of their trek protesting injustices, they advanced equality.  

In Mississippi, we continue to see communities of color, the immigrant community, our LGBT citizens, and persons with disability marginalized.  Mississippi touts the 2nd highest prison population, ranks at the bottom when it comes to education, and continues to have the worst poverty ranking.  All of these issues are the result of deep seated, structural and institutional inequity in income, education, criminal justice, employment, and health. 

A battle was won 50 years ago but the war still wages. The tactics of enemies of equality may not be as overt but they remain the same.  Public schools and quality education remain a focus of attack.  Employment opportunities are barred by unnecessary policies. Injustices in application of criminal laws have targeted young men of color.    

The time for the arc to turn toward justice in Mississippi is now.  It is our sincere hope that all Mississippians join together to establish a better Mississippi.  Help us today.  Pivot Mississippi toward justice by calling on political leaders to dismantle barriers and increase equity.  In honor of Dr. King and other heroes who marched, bled, and died - vote. 

A Lesson From Ferguson: Driving While Black Leads to Jailed for Being Poor

January 09, 2015

By Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney, ACLU Racial Justice Program

The tragic killing of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August has brought much needed attention to the epidemic of racialized policing in America. In Ferguson and cities throughout the country, police stop, search, and arrest black people and other communities of color at rates grossly disproportionate to their population.

In late December, the Missouri Supreme Court took an important step to addressing the problem: curbing the use of municipal courts as debtors' prisons. An editorial in the St. Louis Post- Dispatch explains the vicious cycle linking racial profiling and debtors' prisons in St. Louis County:

It works like this: A black driver gets pulled over in Bel-Ridge, for example, for failure to signal. Maybe a headlight is out on the car, too, or the registration has expired. The driver gets a summons for two or three violations. Hundred dollar fines are stacked on top of each other.

Violators sit and wait on the one night a month the municipal court is in session, stewing as lawyers, most of whom are white, get preferential treatment. They get called up first by the judge to dispose of the cases of their paying clients.

Those who can't afford a lawyer often can't afford the fines, either. So when their turn finally comes, they tell the court they can't pay. They may be threatened with jail if they don't come up with the money. If they miss a payment or a court date, a warrant can be issued for their arrest.

In St. Louis County, as throughout the country, modern-day debtors prisons exist despite the fact that the United States formally abolished the incarceration of people who failed to pay off debts nearly two centuries ago. In the process, poor people –disproportionately people of color – and their families suffer from the collateral impacts of jailing on employment, and housing.

In September 2014, shortly after the killing of Brown, lawyers from Arch City Defenders and law professors at St. Louis University sought help in breaking this cycle. They wrote to the Missouri Supreme Court asking for a change to the court rules that guide judges in collecting fines and fees from defendants.

The Missouri Supreme Court showed that it understood what's going on. It revised a Missouri court rule to explicitly allow judges to permit defendants to pay through installment plans and to waive or reduce fines for those who cannot pay. The rule now also requires judges to schedule a "show cause" hearing before issuing arrest warrants for failure to appear, which gives defendants an opportunity to explain why they did not or cannot pay their fines.

And, crucially important, the rule now provides that when a defendant is held in contempt of court for failure to pay, the fine may be collected by the same means used to enforce court orders awarding money damages to a party.

This means that a Missouri court cannot use its contempt authority to jail a person who is simply too poor to pay a fine or fee. Instead, it must use the same procedures routinely employed to enforcement judgments, such as ordering a lien on real or personal property. Using these methods requires providing important procedural safeguards and respecting statutory exemptions from collection for home and personal property, both of which help to protect the poor.

In a country where the racial wealth gap remains stark, the link between driving while black and jailed for being poor has a devastating impact on people and communities of color. The Missouri Supreme Court showed that it understands the need to break the cycle.

Other courts should follow its lead.

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View this blog on ACLU National's website.

ACLU of Mississippi Responds to "No True Bill"

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – The following is a statement from American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi Executive Director, Jennifer Riley-Collins, about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The decision is part of a national pattern of police using excessive, and sometimes fatal, force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Understandably, many people in our community are angry and frustrated about the grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Wilson. Some will take to the streets as part of peaceful protests to express their grievances. The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy. As an organization dedicated to protecting people’s First Amendment rights, the ACLU of Mississippi is here to serve as a resource for protestors who need to know their rights.

People should continue to peacefully protest the frequency with which police officers, and the departments they work for, are not held accountable for their actions. While many law enforcement officers carry out their jobs admirably and with great respect for the communities they serve, we cannot ignore the systematic use of excessive force employed by some police officers.

There is an erosion of the protect and serve role expected from law enforcement allowed by the total lack of police transparency and accountability; militarization of departments so they appear and operate more like an occupying military force; and the failure of police departments to eliminate racial profiling.

The ACLU of Mississippi will not let up in its tireless pursuit of defending the rights of citizens to protest and preventing future tragedies like the one in Ferguson from happening again. Through our litigation and public policy advocacy, we will remain in the forefront of working for meaningful and long-lasting systemic reforms of police departments.” 

Learn about our work to ensure police accountability.

 

ACLU of Mississippi Receives $350,000 from W.K. Kellogg Foundation

November 24, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi Foundation (ACLU-MS) received a two-year $350,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support a school safety project. The project seeks to improve outcomes for Mississippi’s students with disabilities and students of color by restricting the use of restraints and seclusion on children in schools. 

“This generous grant will allow us to empower families and communities thereby increasing opportunities for Mississippi’s vulnerable children to have a fair chance at success in school and life,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

The project will engage of civic, community, corporate, and congregational leaders, promote public awareness, monitor use of restraint and seclusion in school districts and advocate for the implementation of positive behavior interventions and supports that are safe, effective, and evidence-based.

Mississippi is one of five states that lack a statute, regulation, or even nonbinding guidelines. The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness. Data also has revealed the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline with students with disabilities and students of color who also experience disabilities. “The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness,” stated Charles Irvin, Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU-MS has been a champion of children’s rights. ACLU-MS has produced a number of reports including Missing the Mark and Handcuffs on Success which have illuminated extreme and destructive approaches to school discipline which not only have directly harmed students and families, but also have caused teachers, law enforcement officials, and community members to have their lives and careers made more difficult by these ineffective and counter-productive school discipline policies and practices. As a result of these efforts, reforms have been implemented which have improved outcomes for children across the state.

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About the ACLU of Mississippi

The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization founded in 1969 that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Mississippians guaranteed under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.

Stand With Us Against Proposed Initiative 46

November 06, 2014

A group in Mississippi is proposing a ballot initiative that could discriminate against Mississippians with different religious beliefs as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

The proposed initiative calls for Christianity as the official religion of Mississippi, English as the official language, requires the Confederate Flag to fly over the State Capitol, and establishes a Confederate Heritage Month and Confederate Memorial Day.

In order for this initiative to make it on the ballot for the General Election in November 2016, the Magnolia Heritage State Heritage Campaign must collect over 100,000 signatures by October 2015 and we cannot let that happen.

We must draw a line in the sand and stand in defense of freedom for ALL Mississippians!

  • No one religion should be promoted by the government over another. The initiative’s promotion of Christianity undermines our rich traditions of peaceful pluralism and religious diversity.
  • Discrimination against language minorities and restrictions on communication in languages other than English implicate our most basic rights of equal protection, free speech, and due process. A declaration of English as the official language is inconsistent with the spirit of tolerance and diversity embodied in the federal Constitution, and in particular the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Ballot Initiative 46 wants to assert “heritage, culture and traditions” that are steeped in historical discrimination based on race. 

If we allow discrimination in one situation, it will be allowed in other situations where it may cause serious harm. We stand ready to defend freedom in Mississippi and will adamantly oppose Initiative 46!

We are ready to ensure that all individuals are protected from discrimination. Stand with us! 

Read more about Ballot Initiative 46 in the Clarion Ledger.

To stand with us: Become a member of the ACLU of Mississippi, sign up for action alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook

ACLU-MS to Law Enforcement: Protect Citizens' Right to Record Actions of Public Officials

September 29, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; jriley-collins@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Highlighting recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and following the model set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in an unprecedented legal statement on citizens’ rights to record police actions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi is contacting local law enforcement agencies throughout Mississippi, urging them to establish clear policies and training to ensure that officers conform to the Constitution they are sworn to protect. The ACLU of Mississippi hopes that by sharing information with Mississippi law enforcement officials about best practices the organization can assist police in heading off problems and protecting the rights of citizens as well as public safety.

“Taking photographs and videos of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is your constitutional right. That includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” said ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director, Charles Irvin. “Unfortunately, law enforcement officers often order people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and sometimes harass, detain or even arrest people who use their cameras or cell phone recording devices in public. We urge Mississippi’s law enforcement agencies to join with us and to conduct embrace policies in line with DOJ guidance which protect this right.”

Given the conflicts over recording that continue to arise despite the enormous attention this issue is receiving across the country, the ACLU of Mississippi urges that now is the time for Mississippi police departments to review and modify their internal policies and training programs to ensure protection of the rights of citizen journalists.

The Department of Justice specifically recommends that police policies do the following:

  • Affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity;
  • Describe the range of prohibited police responses to individuals observing or recording the police;
  • Clearly describe when an individual’s actions amount to interference with police duties;
  • Provide clear guidance on the necessity of supervisory review of any proposed action to be taken by officers against an individual who is recording police;
  • Describe the narrow circumstances under which it is permissible for officers to seize recordings and recording devices; and
  • Indicate that no higher burden be placed on individuals exercising their right to record police activity than that placed on members of the press.


Read the letter
to law enforcement agencies.

Learn more about the right to record.

Advocacy Groups Issue Joint Statement on Revisions to TANF Procedures

August 19, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org
Sid Scott, Mississippi Center for Justice, 769-230-2841, sscott@mscenterforjustice.org

JACKSON, Miss. — The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and the Mississippi Center for Justice issued the following joint statement in light of the Mississippi Department of Human Services release of revisions to the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) rules:

“We applaud DHS for adopting a provision that protects TANF payments for children. This action comes after a July 22 public hearing that we called for and that featured heartfelt testimony calling for the change to protect payments for children, among other things. While we are generally very pleased with the new regulations, we continue to express concern about the viability of the chosen screening instrument, and reassert that TANF recipients should not be required to pay for the treatment process.”

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