racial profiling

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

PFAW Foundation YEOs & YP4 Alum Unite with Missouri Protesters to Demand Accountability

Protesters throughout the nation have come out to march and peacefully protest the unjust criminal system that led to Michael Brown being gunned down in Missouri on August 9, including members of the People For the American Way Foundation family.

In Missouri, two members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have taken key roles speaking out for justice. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Alderman Antonio French were both part of the protests in Ferguson; Chappelle-Nadal was tear-gassed, and French was arrested. Other members of the YEO Network have also been organizing national petitions, marching, buying food and water for protestors, trying to dissuade looting, among other things.

Chappelle-Nadal, elected in 2010, represents part of St. Louis County in the Missouri Senate. She has been vocal in her criticism of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and his response to the crisis in her community.

“I never expected to represent a war zone,” she tweeted Thursday.

French, on the other hand, has been documenting the protests through “advocacy journalism.” Born and raised in O’Fallon, French has dedicated his time in public service to improving the quality of life in north St. Louis, often working in conjunction with police to create safer spaces.

During the protests last Wednesday, French was arrested and then released early Thursday, but the reason behind the arrest remained unclear. His arrest, along with his work documenting the protests, have made him a “national voice against the militarization of police.”

In Miami, another PFAW Foundation voice joined the protests. Young People For alum Phillip Agnew, founder of the Dream Defenders, organized a similar demonstration to protest how “police departments around the country will continue to use black and brown bodies for target practice.”

Many Americans are appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri this month. PFAW Foundation is proud of the work being done by members of our leadership networks to build a more equal America.

PFAW Foundation

Ferguson and the America We Need to Build

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

An unarmed teenager gunned down in the street. Peaceful protesters attacked in a military-style assault. Journalists tear-gassed and arrested to prevent them from covering the actions of government officials. This is not the America to which we aspire.

Many Americans are both angry and appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. These actions do not reflect a commitment to the Constitution or to the principles of equal justice under the law and freedom of the press. We applaud the Department of Justice for undertaking an investigation into the violence, and we are grateful that state officials have stepped in to institute a more sensible law enforcement presence. We encourage state and federal officials to continue monitoring the situation and to intervene as necessary to prevent further civil rights violations.

At the center of this controversy is a dead teenager and a grieving family. We recognize that the pain and outrage felt by so many people is grounded in the fact that this kind of killing of young men of color happens far too often. Part of the tragedy is that a killing like this is not surprising. If our commitment to equality and human dignity is to have real meaning, we cannot continue to tolerate conditions that require so many parents to teach their children how to live through a chance encounter with law enforcement.

In the long run, our elected officials must grapple with many complex policy questions, including racial disparities in the administration of justice. Today we support community leaders who are demanding accountability.

PFAW Foundation

Young People For Supports Florida Dream Defenders’ Courageous Sit-In

In what the Miami Herald is calling the “longest sit-in demonstration in recent memory,” a group of more than sixty young people called the Dream Defenders came to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office last Tuesday and have not left. 

Arriving at the Florida Capitol just a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the group is pushing for a special legislative session to take up a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act which would repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law and address racial profiling, the school-to prison pipeline, and more. Among the many young people in Gov. Scott’s office is Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, a 2005 graduate of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) leadership development program, as well as eight to ten other current or former YP4 Fellows. 

Agnew told the Miami Herald that the work is broader than their specific demands: 

“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”

PFAW Foundation has been helping support the courageous young people at the Capitol in any way we can, from providing administrative and financial support – including meals – to sending video cameras to help document their experiences.  Young People For Director Joy Lawson highlighted the sit-in in a Huffington Post op-ed and is leading a powerful photo campaign collecting statements of support for the Dream Defenders. 

Together, we are showing the Dream Defenders, and the country, that young people are standing with them in this fight.
 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Supports the U.S. Justice Department in Arizona v. United States

This morning, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. If implemented, the law, colloquially known as the ‘show me your papers bill,’ would lead to the unjust targeting of Arizonans through racial profiling and increased jail sentencing.

Because of SB 1070’s blatant assault on civil liberties, much of the nation was shocked by its passage. The United States challenged it in court, arguing that the state was unconstitutionally encroaching on the federal government’s responsibility for immigration law. Four sections of the bill were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of Phoenix on July 28, 2010. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Bolton’s ruling, and after Arizona appealed that decision, the case arrived at the Supreme Court, which has chosen to address yet another politically polarizing issue in this critical election year. Although the threat to the basic rights of people – both citizens and immigrants – is the subject of significant concern, the legal issue before the Supreme Court today addresses whether Arizona’s effort to make life so miserable for immigrants that they leave the state is preempted by federal law.

Below is an analysis of the legislation that People For the American Way published when participating in a statewide boycott of Arizona following the passage of the legislation nearly two years ago.

Question: How does the Arizona law, S.B. 1070, expand racial profiling? Isn't it focused only on migrant workers?

Answer: Under current law, state-local police are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws only in limited circumstances. Even so, law enforcement in Arizona and across the country already is challenged by substantial evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination. The new law would dramatically expand the problem. Specifically, the new law:

• Increases the scope of those enforcing immigration laws from a few police departments, or units within departments, to every single law enforcement officer in the entire state.

• Expands the population at risk of being stopped, arrested, and detained from a limited number – those targeted by bona fide immigration enforcement operations, or those already in police custody – to everyone who comes into contact with a law enforcement officer who has a "reasonable suspicion" someone may be undocumented.

• Virtually guarantees that Latinos and other minorities will be asked to provide proof of legal residency, and be subject to arrest and detention if they cannot do so, at far higher rates than non-minorities. Research on racial profiling shows that, not only do minority drivers experience more traffic stops than non-minority drivers, once stopped, minorities are subject to higher rates of searches, arrests, and formal charges than similarly-situated non-minority drivers.

• Provides powerful incentives for wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and other abuse by creating a private right of action against any agency that fails to uphold the new law's provisions, while at the same time indemnifying police officers from litigation brought by those who are wrongfully detained or racially profiled.

Demonstrations in support of the U.S. Justice Department took place this morning, and PFAW staff were able to attend in solidarity.

End Note: Another controversial aspect of SB 1070 is the role that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, played in adopting the bill as model legislation and pushing it in states across the country. For an analysis of the ALEC connection and SB 1070, please read our report on ALEC in Arizona released in November 2011, “ALEC IN ARIZONA: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona's Legislature” and the Center for Media and Democracy’s blog post on the issue.

PFAW

Letter Opposing House Homeland Security Committee Hearing on March 10

We write to strongly object to the House Homeland Security Committee’s plans to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims. Our concern is that these hearings will serve to further promote the demonization and scapegoating of millions of American Muslims, while providing little valuable insight into the prevention of domestic terrorism.

Questions and Answers About the Boycott of Arizona

Questions and answers about SB 1070, Arizona state legislation that will in practice lead to racial profiling as accepted police practice.

Civil Rights Groups Announce Boycott of Arizona

In the wake of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to sign SB 1070, state legislation that will in practice lead to racial profiling as accepted police practice, the undersigned organizations join a growing number of groups across the country in taking a stand against this radical law.

Arizona Republicans Use Rhetoric of Fear to Push Through Draconian Immigration Law

The Arizona Senate yesterday passed one of the harshest immigration enforcement laws in the country. The bill, written by right-wing state senator Russell Pearce, would allow police to arrest anyone who could not immediately prove they are in the country legally. Despite criticism from civil liberties and immigrants’ rights groups, the bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

Michael B. Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

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