A+ R A-

News Wire

Supreme Court's Shelby Ruling Makes Selma a 'Footnote'

E-mail Print PDF

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As Washington lawmakers, local officials and activists prepare to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to observe the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala., some civil rights leaders want them to remember that voting rights are still under attack.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., the president and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, recently convened a meeting of voting rights advocates and community stakeholders in Washington, D.C. to review the past, present and future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).

When the United States Supreme Court invalidated the coverage formula (Section 4) of the law in Shelby County v. Holder in July 2013, the court’s ruling effectively neutered Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. States and jurisdictions with histories of voter discrimination would no longer be forced to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the Department of Justice or in federal court in Washington, D.C.

In the aftermath of the ruling, Texas and North Carolina passed a series of restrictive voting laws that experts said will make it harder for poor people and Blacks to vote.

“My biggest fear with the movie ‘Selma’ and the excitement around the celebrations this year is that we will go to Selma and think Shelby is the footnote,” said Jackson. “Shelby is the deal, Selma is the footnote.”

In his typical fashion, Jackson said that events of Selma 50 year ago is in the rear view mirror and Shelby is in front of us and it’s getting bigger everyday.

Barbara Arnwine, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan group focused on ending racial discrimination, said that in the wake of the Shelby County decision, it’s much harder to monitor what happens at the local level and that’s really where voting rights advocates miss Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Arnwine expressed concerns that not enough is known about what local officials are doing to protect the right to vote in cities and municipalities that are holding elections for critically important county commission seats, city councils and school boards.

“So much is happening at the local level. Everyone monitors what happens at the state level, but what we don’t know with clarity is what is happening at the local level,” said Arnwine. “The beauty of [Section 5] was that it stopped discrimination before it happened, because it required covered jurisdictions to report any changes, and we were able to track those changes.”

Lawyers and voting rights advocates have turned to Section 2 of the voting law to defend voters, which is more costly and time consuming than bringing claims under Section 5.

Aggrieved parties not only have to wait until after the voting law takes effect before filing a lawsuit, they also have to prove that law is discriminatory, a high bar for voting rights lawyers and almost impossible for citizens to reach on their own.

According to research conducted by the Lawyers’ Committee, 72 percent of all successful discrimination claims under Section 2 were in jurisdictions formerly covered by Section 5. Two-thirds of those claims were in jurisdictions in only four states: Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

Months before the Shelby County decision, Tanya Clay House, the public policy director for the Lawyers’ Committee, said that voting rights advocates planned for the possibility that the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts would strike down the landmark law.

“We have to let go of what we had in Section 5, because we’re not going to get that back,” said Clay House. “It’s unfortunate, but that is the reality we’re faced with right now.”

Clay House said that the Voting Rights Amendment Act (VRAA), a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), isn’t perfect, but it’s better than what citizens have now.

The proposed bill includes a new requirement that all states would have to give notice to any voting rights changes and a “rolling trigger” for Department of Justice oversight for states with five voting rights violations, and political subdivisions with three violations in 15 years.

The Sensenbrenner-Convers bill, which never made it out of the Judiciary Committee during the last legislative session, also would allow federal observers in states outside of formerly covered jurisdictions.

But the proposal also includes a special exception for the controversial photo identification requirements some states have adopted. Further, it includes a carve out for the controversial photo identification requirements some states have adopted.

“We recognize that it’s a compromise bill that does strengthen our position and moves us from having nothing. We have no coverage compared to what we had under Section 5,” said Clay House.

She said that the Lawyers’ Committee will also join other groups to work on issues outside of the proposed bill, including long lines during elections, that have some have dubbed “the time tax” and challenges of early voting.

The most underutilized power that people of color have in this country that we have is economic boycotts, said Arnwine.

“For a nation that hates to talk about race, for a nation consumed by active racial denial, it has been fascinating to watch our nation be rocked by young people protesting the death of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many others, it has been fascinating to see this movement take to the streets,” said Arnwine. “Our challenge is to take that same level of energy to the streets on voting rights.”

The the Voting Rights Amendment Act has received less bipartisan support in the current Congress and Republicans in the United States House of Representatives have adopted the opinion that the Voting Rights Act worked so well that protections under Section 5 were no longer needed.

Jackson said that he didn’t want politicians marching in Selma who should be marching in Shelby County, because that’s’ what they stand for.

“If you’re for Shelby, say you’re for Shelby,” said Jackson. “My fear is that those who are hyped up coming from Congress want their ‘I went to Selma’ [photo-op], who are against what we stand for. There should be some line of demarcation established in that situation.”

Alabama State Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans agreed.

“All the Repubs that will sing ‘Kumbayah’ we need to make sure that every voter in the state of Alabama is enfranchised not disenfranchised if they want to get on board with that I’m with them but I’m not for the show. I’m not for the pomp and circumstance. I’m for some real action.

“Selma is not trendy, Selma is not Hollywood, Selma is real and when everybody leaves there’s still going to be high unemployment rates in Selma along with the state of Alabama,” said Coleman-Evans, who was also an Alabama state surrogate for President Obama during his 2012 campaign. “We want people to recognize, especially the president of these United States of America, who I have supported wholeheartedly for all these years, that we need help and we want to make sure others don’t co-op an event that has been done the same way for the past 40 years.”

Racial Disparities in Early Childhood Hurts U.S.

E-mail Print PDF

By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –Increased investment in early childhood education and care can eradicate many of the racial success gaps that persist throughout society, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Early childhood encompasses birth through 3 years old, and children of color are already the majority in this as-yet-unnamed generation.

The report, titled, “Investing in Infants and Toddlers to Combat Inequality,” shows that despite being the majority, children of color are generally faring poorly on a number of social and educational metrics. One -in-three toddlers of color lives in poverty. By 5 years old, children from low-income homes have heard millions of words fewer than their more affluent peers (a vocabulary deficit known as the word gap).

According to an earlier CAP report, even among middle- and upper-class families, 25 percent of all kindergarteners are not school-ready – they may not know any letters, numbers, or colors, for example.

“While the United States as a whole has become an increasingly educated country over time, very significant educational disparities exist between whites and people of color,” the report states. “Since the majority of infants are children of color, improving the continuum of early childhood programs available to children under age 3 and their families provides an opportunity to stifle these disparities before they begin.”

Data suggests that without intervention to beef up early education programs, this generation may not be able to meet economic demands to maintain the United States as a world leader. Among 25 to 29 year olds in 2012, only 37 percent of Whites, 17 percent of Blacks, and 13 percent of Hispanics held at least a bachelor’s degree.

According to the report, if current educational attainment trends continue, 5 million jobs over the next decade will go unfilled or be outsourced for lack of skilled, educated American workers.

Further, if racial income gaps had been closed in 2011, national GDP would have increased by $1.2 trillion and an additional $192 billion in taxes would have been generated.

“If the heart doesn’t get us – the importance of helping [the babies]…the other thing that should get us are the economic implications,” said David Johns, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, speaking as part of a panel event connected to the report release. “So many of our communities would be saved if we would just find the time to make intentional investments in children and families, early.”

The foundation for today’s early childhood programs were the result of largely successful social and educational experiments primarily tested with Black children and families. Generally, families of color now lack access to affordable, high quality programs. Part of it is cost. The report asserts that the cost of childcare is higher than the median rent in all 50 states. It also asserts that most of the nation’s childcare options are poor or mediocre in quality, despite this high cost.

The federal government offers several provisions for the youngest among us, and their parents. Some are more effective than others. The Child Care Development Block Grant, for example, allows states to give low-income families childcare subsidies. But, the report points out, while the subsidies free up low-income parents to attend school, work, or technical training, the subsidies don’t match the cost of high-quality programs; so such programs usually do not accept these vouchers.

There’s also Early Head Start (EHS) and the very popular Head Start program. These programs, which have benefitted Black families in particular, provide a spread of pre- and post-natal health services, child development, and educational services to low-income infants and toddlers.

“Research on the effectiveness of EHS shows positive effects on development for infants and toddlers, including a wide range of cognitive and social-behavioral out- comes, and on child-rearing practices for mothers,” the report explains. “These beneficial effects were markedly large for African American children, including an increase in parental support for early language and literacy, daily reading, and teaching activities through age 5.”

But, Head Start is “severely underfunded,” serving less than 5 percent of the nation’s infants and toddlers.

During the CAP panel, the speakers explained that parents can bolster early childhood development by spending a lot of face time with their children: talking, reading, and making up stories. The simple activities can go along way toward academic success later in life.

“We spend a lot of time and a lot of resources attempting to catch up, and to close both opportunity and achievement gaps that would not exist if we were to start early – at the time that baby is in utero, and at the time in which the foundation upon which all future learning and development is taking place and is actually being formed,” Johns said.

“There’s so much more work to do to ensure that everyone understand the importance of [early childhood] and then that they’re able to properly invest in it.”

Report: Incarceration Shows Little to No Effect on Crime

E-mail Print PDF

By Freddie Allen NNPA
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In the last two decades mass incarceration, a system that has a disproportionate negative impact on the Black community, has had little to no effect on crime, according to a new report.

The United States accounts for about 5 percent of the world’s population and one-quarter of the world’s incarcerated population, “nine to ten times that of many European countries,” the report said and roughly 40 percent of the 2.3 million people that are locked up in jail or prison are Black.

Researchers at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for criminal justice reform, looked at 14 of the most common theories associated with the decline of crime, including incarceration, an aging population, decreased alcohol use, consumer confidence and even decreased lead in gasoline and found that the current levels of incarceration were ineffective in reducing crime.

Inimai Chettiar, the director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center, wrote that mass incarceration has been a vast, costly social experiment that has spanned four decades.

Chettiar said, “At current rates, one in three black males can expect to spend time behind bars. This archipelago of prisons and jails costs more than $80 billion annually – about equivalent to the budget of the federal Department of Education.”

The report said that from 1990-1999 an aging population, decreased alcohol consumption, decreased unemployment, growth in income, increased rates of incarceration and the number of police likely had an effect on crime.

“Since 2000, the effect on the crime rate of increasing incarceration, in other words, adding individuals to the prison population, has been essentially zero,” stated the report. “Increased incarceration accounted for approximately 6 percent of the reduction in property crime in the 1990s (this could vary statistically from 0 to 12 percent), and accounted for less than 1 percent of the decline in property crime this century.”

From 2000-2013 consumer confidence, decreased alcohol consumption, income growth, inflation and the introduction of CompStat (COMParative STATistics) contributed to falling crime rates.

The basic principles of CompStat include accurate, timely intelligence, effective tactics, rapid deployment, a targeted policing plan, and follow-up and assessment.

According to the report, CompStat-style programs accounted for about 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in city urban police departments where they were employed. The report also noted that CompStat policies were different than policing tactics like broken windows, hot spots, or stop-and-frisk.

Researchers said that CompStat contributed to the sharp decline New York City’s from 1994 to 2012, a 63 percent fall vs. 27.2 percent nationwide.

When researchers examined state-level data, they found that slow-moving criminal justice reform contributed to diminishing returns of incarceration.

For years, mandatory minimum sentencing, “10-20-life” and “three strikes” laws contributed to incredible growth in Florida’s jail and prison population.

“By 2010, Florida’s incarceration rate was 38 percent higher than the national average,” the report said. “Since 1980, the effectiveness of increased incarceration in Florida has been declining. In 1980, the state’s prison population was 20,735. In 2002, when the prison population exceeded 75,000, the effectiveness of increased incarceration reached a level that was effectively zero. By 2013, Florida’s prison population skyrocketed to 103,028.”

Even though state lawmakers in Florida passed legislation to abolish mandatory minimums for some low-level drug offenders, the report said that “without major reforms, the state continues to suffer from high rates of recidivism, probation violations, and juveniles graduating to the adult system.”

Past felony convictions often make it difficult or impossible in some cases for ex-offenders to access federal housing, food and education aid and employers use criminal records to screen potential candidates. Limited opportunities on the outside often increase their chances of returning to prison. One in 9 Black children have a parent who is incarcerated increasing the likelihood that they will grow up poor with limited access to high quality education and opportunities continuing the cycle of poverty.

In the foreword to the Brennan Center report, Joseph Stiglitz, the former chairman of the United States Council of Economic Advisers and a 2001 recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences wrote that the United States needed to work on decreasing the effects of socioeconomic inequality instead of investing in policies that destroy human potential today and handicap the country in the future.

Stiglitz stated: “When high levels of incarceration provide scant public safety benefit, it is pointless to continue using – wasting – resources in this way. Instead, the country should shift priorities away from policies proven to be ineffective and focus our energies on truly beneficial initiatives that both reduce crime and reduce mass incarceration.”

Blacks Bear Brunt of School Suspensions

E-mail Print PDF

By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) –According to a report released last week, 3.5 million K-12 public school students were suspended in the 2011-2012 school year – enough to fill every stadium seat in Super Bowl 1 through Super Bowl 45.

And Black children are bearing the brunt of these excessive suspensions.

The report, “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?,” states, “Demographically, the seven highest-suspending districts all had majority Black enrollment, although the range was from 26 percent to 99 percent Black. Only one [of the seven highest], Taylor, Florida, was majority White, at 67 percent.”

The research, conducted by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, offers a detailed analysis of public school suspension over the last few years, with the data broken down by elementary and high school, district and state, race and gender, and language and learning ability.

In the past two to five years, schools have made a concerted effort to avoid out-of-school suspensions for elementary schoolchildren, though it still happens. The reversal is not happening as fast at the high school level.

Black high school boys are suspended at the highest rate of all groups – 28.4 percent, compared to the 10 percent national average. Black high school girls follow at 17.9 percent (Native American and Latino boys come next, with 15 and 14 percent, respectively). Between 2002 and 2006, the suspension rate for Black girls increased at the highest rate of all groups.

For Black students with disabilities, the rates are even higher – 33.8 percent for Black high school boys, and 22.5 percent for girls – “shocking” enough to suggest that these students’ civil rights are being “unlawfully violated.”

Out-of-school suspensions also feed the racial and economic achievement gap, and have far-reaching effects on future outcomes.

“…higher suspension rates are closely correlated with higher dropout and delinquency rates, and they have tremendous economic costs for the suspended students, as well as for society as a whole,” the report explains.

“Therefore, the large racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions that we document in this report likely will have an adverse and disparate impact on the academic achievement and life outcomes of millions of historically disadvantaged children.”

The starkness of the data has lead schools, administrators, teachers, and parents to believe that Black children must be earning these suspension rates. But an examination of the data at the state and district level shows does not support this belief.

For starters, Black students are enrolled in almost equal numbers in both high-suspending and lower-suspending states. Since 2009, suspensions in the 35 school districts with the lowest suspension rates have continued to decline.

“In other words, readers would be wrong to assume that something about the behavior of Black elementary students requires greater use of suspension,” the report says. “To the contrary, these data, along with several studies that tracked behavior ratings of students as well as disciplinary outcomes suggest that Black students are punished more harshly and more often for subjective minor offenses. Instead, researchers conclude that school policies and practices more than differences in behaviors, predict higher suspension rates.”

In addition to a race and gender analysis of the suspension data, the researchers examined and ranked the data, district by district and state by state. Florida suspends its students more than any other state, both at the elementary and high school levels. Other K-12 high suspending states with high suspension rates in both elementary and high schools were Mississippi, Delaware, Alabama, and South Carolina.

Notably, Missouri is home to three of the highest-suspending school districts in the nation and has the highest Black-White discipline gap. Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager killed by a White policeman in Ferguson, Mo., was a graduate of Missouri’s Normandy School District, where students are suspended at a 48.4 percent rate.

The worst districts for Black students in particular are Oklahoma City in Oklahoma, Cahokia CUSD 187 in Illinois, and Greenville Public Schools in Mississippi – where Black kids are suspended at 64, 63, and 59 percent, respectively. In Oklahoma City, that number is 75 percent for Black boys; in Cahokia, it’s 58 percent for Black girls.

There were also districts that have done well in reducing out-of-school punishments, especially among Black children, including: Edgewood ISD in Texas, Richmond County in Georgia, and Lawton County, Oklahoma.

States with large Black populations that have improved over the last few years include Maryland, Pennsylvania, and California.

While excessive school suspension remains a significant barrier to equitable, effective public education for all children – so much so that the Justice Department issued civil rights-based discipline guidelines to schools last year – strides are being made.

The report states, “Although we anticipate that newer data will reveal substantial improvements in some states and districts, there is no question that much more reform is needed if we are to be successful in closing the school discipline gap.”

Blacks Still Underrepresented at all Levels of Politics

E-mail Print PDF

By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Although Blacks have made tremendous improvement in holding elected office since passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, they remain underrepresented at the federal, state and local levels, according to a report scheduled to be released Tuesday by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

“Based on the most recent data, African Americans are 12.5% of the citizen voting age population, but they make up a smaller share of the U.S. House (10%), state legislatures (8.5%), city councils (5.7%), and the U.S. Senate (2%),” the report said.

The 38-page report titled, “50 Years of The Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics,” was produced for the center by four prominent political scientists: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers and Ismail White.

Joint Center President Spencer Overton said in a message introducing the report, that there is a heated debate over: How much progress have we made since 1965? How much more work is there to do?

He said, “These are contested questions, subject to ideology and opinion. A study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, for example, shows that on average whites and African Americans differ on the amount of racial progress we have made, with whites now believing anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias. We have elected an African American president, but studies have shown that some government officials are less likely to respond to inquiries from citizens with seemingly black or Latino names. The questions are also at the core of many ongoing debates about voting rights in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, as well as in many states, counties, and municipalities.”

What is not contested is that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 changed the political landscape for African Americans, with the number of Black elected officials leaping from fewer than 1,000 in 1965 to now more than 10,000.

The change was particularly dramatic in the South, where 55 percent of African Americans live.

“Since the 1870s, white elected officials in many parts of the South had used violence, literacy tests, interpretation tests, poll taxes, and other devices to exclude African Americans,” the report recounted. “The Justice Department filed 71 voting rights lawsuits in the Deep South before 1965, but cases were typically complex, time-consuming, and expensive. When a court struck down one type of discriminatory device, local officials simply erected a different device that effectively excluded most African Americans.”

Selma, Ala. and surrounding Dallas County was typical. Deploying rigged tests about the U.S. Constitution and a requirement that voters be in “good character,” as defined by White registrars, a White minority was able to suppress the Black majority.

In 1965, more than half of Dallas County was Black. Of the county’s 15,000 voting-age Blacks, only 156 were registered to vote. By contrast, two-thirds of voting-age Whites were registered in the county. Throughout Alabama, only 19.4 percent of African Americans were registered. In neighboring Mississippi, just 6.4 percent of Blacks were registered.

As part of a massive voter registration campaign in 1965, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and local residents launched a Selma-to-Montgomery March to dramatize the lack of access to the ballot box.

On April 7, in what became known as “Bloody Sunday,” peaceful marchers in Selma were savagely beaten by Alabama State Troopers and local policemen as they attempted to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin the 54-mile journey to Montgomery, the state capital.

The merciless beating of children, the elderly and adults was beamed in homes throughout the nation and provided the momentum for President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Voting Rights Act into law four months later.

“Only in the wake of the Voting Rights Act did black voter registration in the South begin to approach that of whites. Five years after the passage of the Act, the racial gap in voter registration in the former Confederate states had closed to single digits. By the start of the 1970s, the black/white registration gap across the Southern states was little more than 8 percentage points,” the report stated.

“In Louisiana, the gap between black and white voter registration rates decreased by nearly 30 percentage points from 1960 to the end of 1970s, and it continued to decrease over the next three decades. By 2010, black registration rates in the state of Louisiana and many of the other former Confederate states had exceeded white registration rates for the first time since Reconstruction. The Voting Rights Act had delivered a Second Reconstruction.”

In fact, in four of the 12 presidential elections since 1965, Black Southerners turned out at the polls at a higher rate than their White counterparts. Nationally, Black turnout exceeded White turnout in the 2012 presidential election and possibly in 2008, according to the report.

Activists credit much of that progress to the Voting Rights Act requirement that jurisdictions that previously discriminated against Blacks had to pre-clear voting changes in advance with federal authorities.

However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby took away that tool and there is a measure pending in Congress that would reverse some of the damage. A House bill sponsored by “Bloody Sunday” veteran John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) would update the act.

“The proposed legislation would apply preclearance to jurisdictions with a record of voting rights violations within the previous 15 years, would make it easier for courts to block discriminatory rules before they are used in elections and harm voters, and would require disclosure of voting changes nationwide,” the report stated.

Efforts to expand the Black vote is also under attack in others quarters as well. The Joint Center report cited moves to purge voters, requiring proof of citizenship, requiring voter ID, felony disenfranchisement and restricting voting registration drives.

The report also addressed the elephant in the room – race.

“In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education …religion, sexuality, age, gender, and political ideology. The 38-point racial gap exceeds even the 33 point gap between Democratic and Republican voters,” the study said.

According to the report, African Americans “were the least advantaged group in America in terms of policy outcomes.”

Not all of the problems were external. The issue of low Black voter turnout, especially in local elections, is a major challenge that warrants further study, the report said.

It noted, “ …In 2014, when there was great unrest over a police officer’s killing of Michael Brown, African Americans made up 67% of residents of Ferguson, Missouri. In 2012, a solid 100% of Ferguson precincts went for President Obama, but during Ferguson’s municipal off-cycle elections voters selected Ferguson’s Republican mayor and six city council members, all of whom except one were white.”

The report shatters the notion that we’re living in a post-racial society.

“Despite discussions about the declining significance of race, over the past few decades, racial divides along partisan lines have actually grown. African Americans have increasingly favored Democrats, and recently Latinos and Asian Americans have become more loyal to the Democratic Party as well. The shift to the left has been particularly pronounced for Asian Americans,” it said.

“On the other side, whites have moved slowly and unevenly – but inexorably – to the Republican Party. Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party dominated the white vote. Today, nationwide, whites are more apt to favor the Republican Party.”

It concluded, “Division is a normal and healthy part of democracy, but when a core dividing line in a nation becomes so closely aligned with race and ethnicity, larger concerns about inequality, conflict, and discrimination emerge.”

Page 4 of 364

BVN National News Wire