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American Civil Liberties Union


Trump Turns to the ‘Southern Strategy’ Once Again to Attack NFL Players Taking a Knee During the National Anthem

Mon, 25 Sep 2017 16:15 -0400

NFL players, coaches, and owners yesterday responded to the president’s racial code words in an inspiring show of solidarity. If Donald Trump is not a white supremacist, his actions and words show a great deal of comfort with the values of white supremacy.He did not want Blacks living in his buildings or handling his money. His comparison of the Washington monument to confederate monuments built to honor people who killed American soldiers for the right to own other human beings shows an ignorance of and an unwillingness to deal with the truth about America’s past and current history of racism. His encouragement of police brutality and championing of unconstitutional stop and frisk policies are not race neutral.   His initial refusal to rebuke white supremacists in Charlottesville was followed by blaming “both sides” for the violence while noting the “very fine people” among those who either carried Confederate and Nazi flags or had no problem marching with folks who did. David Duke and other white supremacists praised him. They understood exactly what Trump was saying and doing. Saturday Trump told an overwhelmingly white crowd in Alabama that a Black athlete quietly demonstrating for racial justice during the national anthem is “a son of a bitch,” not a very fine person. He resorted to time tested racial code words: “…but people like yourselves turn on the television and you see those people taking the knee…” Translation: the ones protesting about racial injustice who were almost all Black.  This framing relies on the “Southern Strategy,” used for decades to make coded appeals to racial bigotry. Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater was taped explaining it this way in 1981: "Now, ya’ll don’t quote me now…you start out in 1954 by saying “nigger, nigger, nigger.  By 1968 you can’t say nigger, that hurts you, it backfires so you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff…if it is getting that abstract and that coded we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other, you follow me?  Because obviously sitting around saying “we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than nigger, nigger.  So any way you look at it race is coming on the back burner." Ronald Reagan’s first speech after his nomination for president was less than 10 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.  Reagan told the overwhelmingly white crowd that he was in favor of states’ rights, and everyone listening knew what he was saying.  Trump simply used the Southern strategy playbook in Alabama. He later tweeted: It is no more a privilege to play in the NFL than it is to do any other job. Making millions in the NFL does not require you to stand, sit, or kneel to anyone’s politics.   Yesterday, over 200 players knelt or sat for themselves. In Detroit and Nashville performers dropped to their knees after singing. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and Seattle Seahawks were among teams that stayed in the locker room during the national anthem. The protests weren’t confined to the NFL either. Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first athlete to kneel in Major League Baseball on Saturday night.  He said: “I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve. This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently.” Denver Broncos player Derek Wolfe said kneeling during the anthem was disrespectful and maybe the wrong platform.  He said America is the greatest country in the world and asked why protestors don’t leave if they don’t agree.   Perhaps the best answer to Wolfe’s question came in 1939 from Mary Bethune, daughter of slaves who founded the first[...]

People Power Is Taking the Voting Rights Fight to Kris Kobach

Mon, 25 Sep 2017 10:00 -0400

The ACLU's 50-state voting rights campaign will start in Kansas, where Kobach's voter suppression efforts have created chaos. Donald Trump is obsessed with proving that voter fraud is a huge problem in the United States, not only to justify his false claim that he won the popular vote but also, and more importantly, to legitimize an attack on voting rights. To do this, Trump has turned to Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and a longtime opponent of voting rights. He tapped Kobach to lead a voter fraud commission that has drawn scrutiny for trying to collect personal data about every voter in the country, promoting blatant falsehoods about supposed instances of voter fraud in the 2016 election, sanctioning voter suppression, and operating in secrecy in violation of federal law. Get Involved – Join a Let People Vote event near you While Kobach attempts to attack the right to vote, the ACLU is taking the fight  to him.  On Oct. 1,  People Power is launching the Let People Vote campaign in Lawrence, Kansas.  This is a movement that will work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to promote voting rights and increased election participation.  In advocating for the protection and expansion of voting rights, People Power activists will be combating Kobach’s destructive policies that brought chaos to his home state.  In Kansas, tens of thousands of citizens were prevented from registering to vote after Kobach pushed through new and onerous registration barriers.  The ACLU took Kobach to court over his disenfranchisement scheme and won.  Judge Jerome Holmes of the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, a George W. Bush appointee, warned that Kobach’s policies amounted to “the mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” Kobach also tried to create a two-tiered election system to prevent thousands of voters from casting ballots in state and local elections, but that was also stopped by the courts. When he went on a quest to find non-citizens who had voted, he was only able to convict one person for voting without citizenship:  a foreign national who at the time was in the process of naturalization and is now a citizen. Kobach’s  prized Crosscheck program, which ostensibly is meant to bar people from being registered to vote in more than one state, is so defective that a team of researchers at Microsoft, Harvard, and Stanford found that it “would eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” But none of this has stopped Kobach from continuing to push bogus election fraud myths and suppressive voting policies. While Kobach consistently misleads the public about voter fraud, his record of dishonesty has caused him legal trouble.  In one voting rights case brought by the ACLU, Kobach was fined for making what U.S. Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara called “patently misleading representations to the court” about documents he took to a meeting with Trump. It is no wonder that Kobach is attacking Let People Vote, telling the Topeka Capitol Journal that the “campaign should be entitled ‘Let People Vote Without Showing Photo ID.’ Kansans overwhelmingly approve of our election security measures.” Kobach’s work has never been about “election security.”  His aim is mass voter disenfranchisement and suppression. The Let People Vote campaign might be Kris Kobach’s nightmare, but it will be vital for ensuring that voters are allowed to exercise their constitutional rights. Want to expand access to the ballot and make our democracy more representative? Get involved. Host a watch event or attend a watch event on October 1 for the Let People Vote campaign. Not available on October 1? Sign up for updates here. [...]

Colin Kaepernick Stood Up for Justice by Kneeling During the National Anthem

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 11:30 -0400

For daring to take a knee during the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick is an outcast. It's important to ask, "Why"? This piece was originally published at  Colin Kaepernick has not been involved in “off-field” scandals, has committed no crime, and has donated almost $1 million to community organizations over the last year, yet the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback is considered an outcast for kneeling during the national anthem. Why? Some say it’s because football is no place for politics. Not true. Gameday at every American stadium includes people waving signs endorsing candidates and offering literature for this or against that. Singing the anthem while jets fly overhead is a political moment. On the field or in the stands, standing at attention with your hand over your heart is a political statement.Politics at football games is as American as apple pie.Some say kneeling for the anthem shows disrespect. Respect and love for America doesn’t require blindness to America’s failure to honor its promise of racial justice and equality. Does standing for the anthem mean these failures don’t matter? Does standing show pride that America waited 89 years after the Civil War to acknowledge that Blacks were “good enough” to go to school with whites? How proud are we that in 2017 America’s schools are just as segregated as in 1954? Kneeling for the national anthem is not lack of support for America’s successes any more than standing for the anthem is support for America’s racial justice failures. As Kaepernick’s 49ers teammate, Eric Reid, put it: “What Colin and Eli (Harold) and I did was peaceful protest fueled by faith in God to help make our country a better place. And I feel like I need to regain control of that narrative and not let people say what we’re doing is un-American. Because it’s not. It’s completely American.” Kaepernick silently knelt, making no attempt to disrupt the singing of the anthem. He did not try to prevent anyone from standing. This textbook nonviolent protest is totally American. Some say Kaepernick disrespected the military. Recognizing America’s failure to achieve racial justice and equality shows no disrespect for our military. Our military heroes fight for freedom, for the principles of racial equality and justice, not for a song or a flag. We honor them most not by singing a song but by respecting the values they fight to protect. In 1939, Mary Bethune said about Black soldiers, “We have fought for America with all of her imperfections. Not so much for what she is but for what we know she can be.” Kaepernick is asking us to realize our true potential. The anthem, after all, reflects America’s early connection to white supremacy. The third verse celebrates the murder of slaves: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave. And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” When the anthem celebrates the murder of your ancestors, maybe it is time to remind people of American values. In demonstration of complete ignorance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings and beliefs, Clemson University’s football coach Dabo Swinney claimed King would not have supported Kaepernick. Anyone with actual knowledge of what King stood for knows he would have rejoiced at a rich, Black athlete risking fame and fortune by nonviolently protesting for justice. If college athletes are being taught something different it is blasphemy, not truth. Kaepernick isn’t the first athlete to speak out, though he does it without the perils to those who came before him. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised fists and were kicked out of the Olympics. Muhammed Ali refused to step forward in his draft line; he lost his title. Jackie Robinson was in a WWII segregated military unit and refused to stand up when he was ordered to the back of the bus, taking a court-martial instead. Today [...]

The Trump Administration Is Looking to Make It Easier to Kill More People in More Places

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 17:15 -0400

President Trump may relax Obama-era limits on drone and special forces’ kill missions. More civilians will die. The Trump administration is reportedly poised to kill more people in more countries around the world, from Nigeria to the Philippines. According to The New York Times, the administration is considering loosening Obama administration policy on drone killings and other lethal operations in places where the United States is not at war. The changes will result in more unlawful and secret killings, alienate our allies, and make the world less safe. To understand what these changes would mean, it helps to remember what the Obama administration did. Soon after coming to office, President Obama began to expand and normalize what had been a Bush administration aberration: a policy of invoking war-based legal rationales to kill terrorism suspects in places where the U.S. was not at war, usually through CIA drone strikes. In the early years, Obama’s killing rules were largely secret, even as a range of Obama officials gave speeches claiming — but not explaining how — they were lawful, necessary, and wise. Those government claims were repeatedly undercut by the facts. U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike were placed on kill lists without any due process. The CIA turned into more of a paramilitary killing organization without the oversight or accountability we traditionally expect of the military. The number of lethal strikes — by the CIA and by secretive special forces — rose dramatically, eventually spreading to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and elsewhere.  Tragically, hundreds of civilians or more — a 16-year-old American boy, grandmothers, children, wedding guests, people at funerals — were killed. Family members and rights activists in impacted countries described the devastation caused by U.S. strikes. Virtually none of these killings, except for those of American citizens or Western hostages, have ever been officially acknowledged. This lethal American program, which started out as “limited,” contributed to increasing instability, war, and hostility towards America. Through leaks and Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by the ACLU, the broad contours of the Obama rules were revealed over time. They were eventually formalized in what’s called the Presidential Policy Guidance, or PPG, a document released in response to ACLU FOIA litigation in 2016. We’ve described the PPG elsewhere, but in brief, it is a made-up legal and bureaucratic infrastructure that justifies killings outside war zones — the PPG uses the invented and undefined term, “areas outside of active hostilities” — without any due process. Both the Constitution and international law prohibit the use of lethal force against civilians outside of armed conflict except in very narrow circumstances: as a last resort to prevent an imminent attack that is likely to cause death or serious physical injury. But by borrowing from a mish-mash of legal frameworks, the PPG entrenches a different, more permissive set of killing rules, with a gloss of policy safeguards aimed at limiting harm to civilians. In short, the Obama administration claimed extraordinary powers to kill people largely in secret, through a distortion of the domestic and international law that limits the use of lethal force and prohibits extrajudicial killing.  And now we come to the Trump administration. The new White House is apparently claiming the exact same legal authority the Obama administration claimed, but lifting policy constraints. According to The New York Times, Trump’s advisors propose to lift “bureaucratic hurdles” to killing decisions, expand CIA authority to kill in Afghanistan, and relax a key Obama-era requirement limiting lethal strikes to “high-level militants” who pose “a continuing and imminent threat to Americans.” If the rules are relaxed, the policy would permit lethal force against what the Times — apparently itself accepting[...]

What Are the Rights of an American Captured Fighting for ISIS?

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 17:00 -0400

The Constitution is clear. Any American fighting for ISIS should be transferred to federal court for prosecution. Media outlets are reporting that the U.S. military is currently detaining an American citizen captured allegedly fighting on behalf of ISIS in Syria. The Trump administration has not released the citizen’s name or location, nor has it indicated whether the suspect will face criminal charges in federal court or be subjected to continued military detention. But the right choice here is plain: It would be a grave error for the administration to resurrect the failed and illegal Bush-era policy of enemy combatant detentions. If, in fact, the U.S. citizen was fighting for ISIS, the surest way to safeguard both our Constitution and security is to transfer the suspect promptly to federal court to face criminal charges. Even without knowing all the facts, the basic legal requirements for the suspect’s treatment, rights in detention, and prosecution are clear. First, the United States may not subject any person in its custody to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Mistreating detainees is not only a war crime. It also undermines basic constitutional values and places U.S. troops in jeopardy by weakening respect for the law of war. This prohibition has long been enshrined in both the 1949 Geneva Conventions and U.S. law. President Obama reiterated this prohibition in a 2009 executive order by confining interrogation methods to those outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, and Congress codified it through the McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors implementation of the Geneva Conventions, must be given access to all prisoners held in armed conflict within two weeks of their capture to ensure their treatment comports with international law. Second, the detainee, as a U.S. citizen, is indisputably protected by the Constitution and entitled to the fundamental guarantees of habeas corpus and due process. In its landmark 2004 decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. citizens allegedly captured on a battlefield while fighting for enemy forces must, at a minimum, have a fair opportunity to challenge the allegations against them before an impartial decision maker. In 2008, the Supreme Court extended this basic guarantee to noncitizens held at Guantánamo. Third, prosecution in federal court, rather than military detention, is the only legitimate course of action as a matter of domestic law and policy. The United States does not have the legal authority under its own laws to hold alleged ISIS fighters in military detention. The government may assert that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force empowers it to detain the suspect, but the AUMF at most authorizes the military to capture and detain suspected terrorists who were part of or who substantially supported al-Qaida, the Taliban, or associated forces engaged in hostilities against U.S. or allied forces. This authorization, passed days after and in direct response to the 9/11 attacks, cannot be stretched to cover individuals fighting for ISIS, a group that did not exist at the time and that has publicly opposed al-Qaida. And indeed, the Supreme Court has to date only upheld the military’s power to detain individuals under the AUMF if captured while fighting on a battlefield in Afghanistan. The prosecution of terrorism suspects by federal courts isn’t just the legal way to go — it has proven vastly superior to any military solution. Federal courts have convicted more than 620 individuals on terrorism-related charges since 9/11. While federal terrorism prosecutions have unfairly restricted fair trial rights in individual cases, they are still part of a legitimate system with time-tested constitutional safeguards and procedures. By contrast, the military commissions at Guantánamo remain stymied by legal con[...]

Who Was Behind the Move to Halt Reporting Rules on Equal Pay?

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 16:45 -0400

The Trump administration's decision was reached behind closed doors, without public input or sound justification. In its aggressive campaign to roll back efforts advanced in recent years to close the gender wage gap, the Trump administration now is politicizing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that was created more than 50 years ago by Congress to enforce the nation’s laws against discrimination in employment.  On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the EEOC seeking records concerning the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) recent decision directing the civil rights agency to halt implementation of its new pay data collection initiative.  Set to go into effect in March 2018, the initiative updated the EEO-1, a form used by the government to collect information from certain employers about the gender, race, and ethnicity of their employees by job category.  The updated EEO-1 would have required these employers to also provide information about the wages they pay their employees.  Separately on Wednesday, the National Women’s Law Center and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights also filed several FOIA requests with OMB about the decision to stay the new EEO-1 data collection. The new pay data would have better equipped the EEOC and other federal law enforcement entities to assess wage disparities for protected groups, and identify companies that might be engaging in pay discrimination.  In addition, the process of collecting the data would require employers to examine their own pay practices -- which far too many are content to put out of sight and out of mind. The exercise of self-auditing in this way is a recognized best practice in eradicating pay discrepancies, one that some companies have undertaken voluntarily, with positive results.    Last month, OMB summarily announced that the pay data would not be collected after all. In a memo to the EEOC, OMB told the agency to start from scratch to develop a new mechanism for reviewing pay data, stating that it “is concerned that some aspects of the revised collection of information lack practical utility, are unnecessarily burdensome, and do not adequately address privacy and confidentiality issues.” But it provided no explanation of how or why it reached that conclusion. All we know is that prior to the OMB’s announcement, business groups, including the Equal Employment Advisory Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable, had requested that OMB stop the EEOC from implementing the pay data reporting requirements.  This decision, reached behind closed doors, without public input, and lacking any evidentiary support, stands in sharp contrast to the rigorous, multi-year deliberative process that led to the EEOC’s adoption of the new EEO-1.  The FOIA request is intended to pull back the veil and shine a spotlight on this administration’s decision-making process, including any undue influence exerted by business when it comes to workers’ civil rights.    OMB’s move is only the latest action under this administration to undermine workplace equality. In March, with President Trump’s blessing, Congress withdrew an executive order issued by President Obama that required businesses to disclose prior labor violations, including equal pay violations, to be eligible to receive federal contracts. And the president is "revisiting" a recent Labor Department rule raising the income threshold for overtime pay, a policy change that would have  particularly  benefited women in low-wage occupations. As the EEOC considers new pay data measures to propose to OMB, it’s critical that advocates for workers, especially women and women of color, hold accountable the current EEOC commissioners as well as the two new nominees, Janet Dhillon and Daniel Gade, whom Trump has nominated to serve on the EEOC.  Although neither nomin[...]

People Power Launches 50-State Voting Rights Campaign to Reenergize Our Democracy

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:30 -0400

Freedom Cities victories show how citizens can come together and bring change to their communities. While Donald Trump and Kris Kobach look for ways to disenfranchise Americans, People Power is launching the Let People Vote campaign to uphold, protect, and expand the right to vote. We have witnessed the impact of People Power activists in the ACLU’s ongoing Freedom Cities campaign, where volunteers have advocated that their communities adopt nine “model” rules to ensure that local police aren’t used to target and discriminate against immigrant communities. Just look at how a group of concerned citizens can make a difference in a city like Phoenix. Sign up now to host a launch event for Let People Vote In July, the city announced major changes to ensure that the police do not engage in profiling based on race or perceived immigration status. People Power activists — working alongside allies from the ACLU of Arizona and groups like Puente and the Center for Neighborhood Leadership, legal experts, local officials, and law enforcement officers — successfully campaigned for the department to adopt policies from the Freedom Cities campaign. Phoenix Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. praised the activists as everyday people looking to make a difference in their city: One of the most reasonable groups I’ve talked with since coming here. It was very pleasant. A former high school teacher, a magazine editor, 2 [attorneys], a massage therapist, and two Hispanic advocates who I’ve never seen before. Clearly wanting to work with us in a non adversarial way. Phoenix was far from alone, as concerned citizens from all walks of life across the country have joined the effort to defend immigrant rights, scoring important victories in cities like Denver and Ann Arbor as well as in states from California to New Jersey and from Illinois to New Mexico. Now, we are going on offense to fight for voting rights. For too long, Kobach and his allies in Congress and state legislatures have tried to make it more difficult to vote. In Kansas, he helped push through one of the most awful anti-voting laws in the country, leaving thousands of eligible voters disenfranchised. Now, we are taking the fight directly to him, kicking off our Let People Vote campaign in his home state of Kansas on October 1. In all 50 states and the District of Columbia, People Power activists will play a crucial role in campaigning for voting rights policies tailored to their state. These actions include restoring the right to vote for people with prior criminal convictions; creating independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions; enacting early voting periods; and implementing automatic voter registration, online voter registration, and Election Day registration. Activists will also be fighting back against voter suppression laws, like the unnecessary and discriminatory photo ID requirements, that have been pushed by Kobach and others. While Trump tries to quash voting rights, People Power is taking action to expand access to the ballot and make our democracy more representative. Join People Power today and host an event on October 1st, and with your help, we can protect this fundamental right.[...]

The Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case Is One Piece of a Much Larger Attack on LGBTQ Lives

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:00 -0400

It’s not about the cake. And it’s not about artistic expression. It’s about survival. This term the Supreme Court will hear a case, Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Charlie Craig & David Mullins, involving a Colorado bakery that refused to serve a same-sex couple who wanted to purchase a cake for their wedding reception. Colorado law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodations — places like bakeries, movie theatres, restaurants, hospitals, and other establishments open to the public — based on sexual orientation, among other protected classes. The Colorado courts, interpreting this straightforward law, held that the bakery’s refusal to serve the couple constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation and that there is no constitutional right to discriminate that supersedes this protection. Now before the United States Supreme Court and supported by anti-LGBTQ groups, and the United States Department of Justice, the bakery argues that it has a First Amendment right to discriminate based on the owner’s religious beliefs. The owner also claims that because his business — making cakes — involves some creativity, he should be allowed to determine who can receive his services. His argument can be deceptively appealing. Cakes can often have artistic or creative designs. So can sandwiches, legal briefs, bicycles, cars, flowers, medical care. Indeed, the work that we do often has great personal meaning to us and reflects our skill and passion. But it is wrong to think that (1) any business that involves a creative component should be exempt from nondiscrimination laws, or (2) that a business is somehow endorsing each and every customer it serves. As civil rights attorney Mary Bonauto wrote in a recent piece for SCOTUSBlog: Earning a living from the sweat of one’s brow coexists with human creativity, with the passion for cutting hair or cooking food, with designing and sewing clothing – with making something both functional and beautiful. Uplifting the dignity and creativity in all work, Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the “street sweeper” who could “sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.” To argue, as do Masterpiece Cakeshop and the Department of Justice in this case, that the exemption that would be created by a ruling for the business is narrow, is to ignore that reality. If we start to exempt from nondiscrimination laws businesses that reflect creativity and passion, such a move would undermine all nondiscrimination protections. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the organization defending the business at the Supreme Court, is taking great pains to frame this case as one about art and expression. It is using this tactic to gain support and obscure the fact that this case is part of a broader strategy to banish LGBTQ people from public life. This is not about cake. This is about demolishing the legal protections that exist against discrimination in places of public accommodation. Groups like ADF have already proposed and passed laws seeking to exempt from nondiscrimination protections any action that infringes upon an individual or businesses deeply held religious or moral belief that: “(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman; (b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and (c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.” I shudder at this final point since it means a moral or religious belief that trans people do not exist. And that is precisely what ADF and others have argued time and time again in litigation. In the past two years, they and others have advanced the arguments that it is “outlandish” [...]

I Went Through the Michigan Foster Care System. The State Needs to Make It Easier for Kids to Find Good Homes, Not Harder.

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 23:45 -0400

Michigan needs to ensure that children in the foster care system have access to any family that will give them a good home. I was in the foster care system for 12 years, including 5 years in Michigan, until I was adopted at the age of 17.  One of the reasons I was in the system so long was the shortage of families that are willing and able to care for the children who most desperately need families — those of us who are older, part of a sibling group, or have significant emotional or medical needs.  I was placed in several different foster families that were unhealthy or otherwise inappropriate for me. Not surprisingly, they didn’t work out.  I also spent time in two group homes.  I frequently changed schools, resulting in difficulty progressing in school and maintaining healthy peer relationships.  I was separated from my birth sister, who is younger and was adopted by another family that wasn’t interested in adopting me. As a teenager, I knew my chances of ever getting a family of my own were slim.  But I was one of the lucky ones. When I was 16, a couple in East Lansing saw my picture and history on an adoption website and felt a connection to me. They became my parents, and when I was 17, they adopted me. With their support, I’m proud to say that I graduated last Spring from Western Michigan University and am excited about my future.  I love my parents. Still, I wonder whether I might have been spared the years of instability and loss had there been more families out there to care for kids in the foster care system.  It was my experience in foster care and the difficulties faced by so many of us that led me to become an advocate for foster youth. I have been on foster youth advisory boards for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and volunteer as an advocate with FosterClub, an organization that provides support for foster youth across the country. Doing this work, I get to meet and know many current and former foster youth. Many of them, unlike me, have aged out of the foster care system without ever becoming part of a family.  These young people often have to face the challenges of getting through high school or getting into college, landing a job, and finding and paying for a place to live without the guidance of parents. Given my experience and the experience of my peers and current foster youth, I was horrified to learn that Michigan now permits state-contracted child placement agencies to turn away loving prospective foster and adoptive parents based solely on religious objections to certain kinds of families, specifically, same-sex parent families. It makes no sense to enact policies that make it even more difficult for kids to find the loving and nurturing homes they need. It’s cruel. Kids shouldn’t be deprived of families because some agencies have a religious test for who is qualified to be a parent. My mom and dad are wonderful people who took in an older teen, even after knowing everything I'd been through. It’s unconscionable that others like them who want to help kids are being turned away simply because they don’t meet an agency’s religious standards. There are so many bright, wonderful youth out there in Michigan who need families just like I did. I know many would love to have two moms or two dads to call their own. I love my family, and I want others to have the same joy of finding a family as I did. Michigan needs to ensure that children in the foster care system have access to any family that has the ability and willingness to love and care for a child in need.  I’m heartened to see the ACLU standing up to challenge Michigan’s discriminatory foster care system in court because allowing religious-based disqualifications of good families must end.[...]

St. Louis Police’s Chants of ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ Once Again Reveal the Warped Mindset Infecting Too Many Departments

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:30 -0400

The streets do not belong to the police. They belong to the community. The time for police reform is now. The antagonistic “us versus them” culture that plagues many police departments with regard to their interactions with communities of color was on full, disturbing display this week in St. Louis. In response to protests by community members over the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley in the killing of Anthony Lamar Smith, a group of St. Louis police officers provocatively chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” That’s right — in one of the nation’s most racially segregated cities, where zip codes separated by only a few miles can mean an 18-year difference in life expectancy — a police department entrusted to serve the community aggressively claimed ownership over public streets while mocking protestors expressing the community’s pain and frustration. They did so by co-opting a chant that emanated from the very communities of color long marginalized and victimized by this country’s criminal, economic, and political systems. And adding insult to injury, they did so less than a 10-minute drive from where Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson. Make no mistake, the police were sending a clear and chilling message to communities of color in St. Louis: We do not care about your pain and frustration. We do not care about the complicity of law enforcement in past and present harms to communities of color. We do not care about your outrage at a white police officer who said he was “going to kill this motherfucker,” before shooting Anthony Smith five times, and then allegedly planting a gun in Smith’s car. And this message is being delivered by not just any police department, but the deadliest police force in the United States. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department kills its residents at a higher rate than any police department among the nation’s 100 most populous cities. By shouting a claim of ownership over the city’s streets, St. Louis police again wasted an opportunity to build bridges with aggrieved communities and to see themselves as part or extensions of those communities. Instead they dug an even deeper trench between themselves and those gathered to express their collective frustration, anger, and sadness — people of color, peace activists, parishioners alike. More disheartening, perhaps, is that, in a certain sense, the police are right: In many cities, the streets are theirs. Police saturate Black and brown neighborhoods with aggressive patrols; carry high-powered weapons and equip themselves with wide-sweeping surveillance technologies; stop, search, and arrest Black people at wildly disproportionate rates; treat the Constitution not as a legal mandate but, at best, as a series of suggestions that can be ignored when inconvenient; and often act with impunity, unchecked by any meaningful external or even internal accountability. Make no mistake, the police were sending a clear and chilling message to communities of color in St. Louis: We do not care about your pain and frustration. Further, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice, rather than demanding progressive reform of harmful police practices, has exacerbated the national crisis over police-community relations by pulling back on federal oversight of police departments engaged in unconstitutional conduct, including repurposing the Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services program to facilitate more aggressive policing instead of prioritizing community relations. For his part, President Trump has deregulated the flow of military equipment to local police departments, only increasing the chances that police departments around the country will escalate tensions between themselves and the people, just as they did in Ferguson three years ago. We should be in a bette[...]