HB2: Ignites A Civil War Over Bathrooms

LorettaLynchLS

Toilets, potties, johns privies and bathrooms, we have names from the delicate to the coarse to describe them.  But, who knew that “protecting” this space for the hygienic disposal of human waste and lip stick application for some of us, could be so important to require a special session of the North Carolina legislature?

On March 23rd, the North Carolina legislature came into a special session to pass one bill: HB 2 “An Act To Provide For Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities In Schools And Public Agencies….”.  Law makers state HB2 was enacted, ostensibly, to protect the public and according to many interviews, specifically to protect (vulnerable) women and children.

According to the Advocate, neighboring state, South Carolina Senator Lee Bright responded to HB2 by stating, “There’s a segment of the population that believes that you ought to be able to use whatever restroom you identify yourself as being.  So they think it’s okay for a man to use a woman’s bathroom if he thinks he’s a woman.  From a safety issue, we don’t need men going into women’s bathrooms.”  

However, spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have said there is no data to corroborate lawmaker’s fear of male predators using women’s bathroom to prey on unsuspecting women. The FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report counts 5,928 bias motivated crimes, 31 related to gender identity in which it was the victim who suffered because of his or her gender-identity.

Since the bill’s passage, activists, business leaders, celebrities and the general public have reacted to North Carolina’s law to require that people use the public bathroom or changing facility that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. In response to HB2, 180 CEOs and executives from major companies including Apple, Bank of American and Marriot International have joined celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Pearl Jam have cancelled shows and PayPal has cancelled a planned expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to the state. Also, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have cancelled scheduled shows in North Carolina, and Adam Silver, NBA commissioner announced that if the law is not repealed, the 2017 All-Star Game will not be held in Charlotte as planned.

Governor McCrory has reacted to the outcry by couching his support of the bill in terms of state’s rights and “overreaching” by the federal government.  Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina all argue that HB 2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. Apparently, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch agrees with them.

This week, Attorney General Lynch announced the administration’s decision to counter sue North Carolina and notified them the state may federal funding to state public safety agencies and to the University of North Carolina withheld during litigation. She explained the justice department acted because the law was simply discriminatory.

Attorney General Lynch said this action is “about more than bathrooms, it is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.  It is about the founding ideals that have, haltingly, but inexorably, moved in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.”

New Mobile Justice App: Because Freedom Can’t Protect Itself

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It is no secret that police brutality exists and is often targeted towards minority groups particularly African American and Latino citizens. Almost daily throughout the country, there are news reports depicting the inhumane nature of police interactions with people of color.  Also on social media, news feeds and twitter pages are filled with accounts about vicious attacks made by police on marginalized groups, and these attacks many times result in unnecessary death or trauma.

For people of color, police engagement instills a deep sense of fear and resentment towards those who are tasked with protecting and serving our communities. Historically, police departments have been used as legal enforcers for racial oppression. Most Caucasians see police officers simply working to maintain their safety while most people of color feel terrorized by them. Almost always, police are given a slap on the wrist for police brutality and excessive uses of force. Very rarely are they charged with their crimes, even when their actions result in unjustified homicide.

As I write, I remember two unwarranted deaths that had occurred while I lived in Pittsburgh.  Both victims were African American and unarmed- one was a teenager and the other was a mentally ill adult.  The teenager was shot and killed for walking home in his community, called the Hill District.  The other was tased to death in front of a gas station.

I also think about LaQuan McDonald, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and the countless number of victims that die yearly because of police brutality.  Let us give them a moment of silence to honor their memory and direct compassion towards their families.  During 2015 alone, police killed more than 100 unarmed African Americans, which means at least two unarmed African Americans are killed each week by police in the United States.

However, now there is hope to make an inhumane and unjust police system answer for brutality against minority groups. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri recently created a free mobile justice app that can be downloaded to any smart phone in order to hold the police system of Missouri accountable for its numerous attacks against marginalized groups.  Since the killing of Michael Brown, police brutality has exponentially grown in Missouri, which inspired the creation of this app to halt its prevalence.

This app, known as ACLU of Missouri Mobile Justice App 2, is free to anyone and offers many features that empower the community to act against police brutality.  The four main features of this app include:  1) Recording, 2) Witnessing, 3) Reporting, and 4) Educating about rights.  It allows app holders to record instances of brutal police encounters that are instantly emailed to ACLU of Missouri.  It also alerts other app users in the area of police brutality so that they can bear witness and offer testimony against police officers.

Additionally, it allows victims and witnesses of police brutality to accurately report inhumane and unlawful encounters with the police.  Lastly, this app educates its users about their rights as citizens, which includes the right to videotape police brutality despite what is said by police officers.  Thus, this app provides a mechanism to stop police brutality through visibility and accountability.

ACLU of Missouri cautions the usage of this app since police officers are armed and dangerous.  They suggest that users announce to police that they are reaching for their phone, while also reminding officers that recording is a civil liberty.  Ultimately if your life is in danger, app creators suggest that you put down the phone.  However, once the recording is initiated, it automatically alerts others and is sent to ACLU of Missouri’s email.

This app is a first and necessary step in ending police brutality against minority groups in the United States.  Other states can now model the creation their own mobile justice app in order to hold police accountable throughout the country.  More importantly, this app allows citizens across the United States to become educated about the cruel nature of police interactions in order to activate change within their communities.

This app empowers us citizens to prevent the unnecessary killing of unarmed minority citizens.  #BlackLivesMatter just as much as white lives.  Hispanic lives matter, Muslim lives, Asian lives, and Native American Lives too, but we cannot have justice until people of color lives matter just as much as white lives. Our police can no longer serve to protect solely its white members while targeting and killing minority groups.

Filming police brutality? Of course there’s an app for that

Posted by NowThis on Friday, May 1, 2015

 

Orange is the New Black (OITNB): The Real Crisis of Incarcerated Women

NYT-male-model

As Summer 2015 approaches, fans anxiously await the release of the third season of Netflix’s highly viewed comedy-drama series ‘Orange is the New Black’ (OITNB). The original series is based on Piper Kerman’s Memoir of her year spent within the confines of a women’s correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut.

Although OITNB has drawn more attention to the issues surrounding the life of women in prison, the majority of people fail to acknowledge the 646 percent increase of women in jail or prison in the United States over the last three decades.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “92% of all women in California prisons had been ‘battered and abused’ in their lifetimes” and “40 percent of criminal convictions leading to the incarceration of women were for drug crimes”.

Given the evidence of the insanely drastic influx of women in jail or prisons and the expenditure of billions of taxpayer dollars, it is not unreasonable to expect corrections to invest in mental health, rehabilitation, and reentry services back into the community after release.

One of the biggest challenges female inmates face is the induction of using the male prison model to incarcerated women.

“These are invisible women,” says Dr. Stephanie Covington, a psychologist and co-director of the Center For Gender and Justice, an advocacy group based in La Jolla, Calif. “Every piece of the experience of being in the criminal justice system differs between men and women.” – New York Times

In 2014, California voters passed Proposition 47 which many consider historic landmark legislation to reduce incarceration rates and rehabilitation for low-level drug offenses. California is leading the trend to address sky rocketing incarceration rates in communities of color primarily affected by the war on drugs.

Proposition 47 is at the forefront of a national trend to reduce harsh criminal penalties that led to an explosion in prison and jail populations beginning in the 1980s. It follows a revision to California’s three strikes law that limits the maximum penalty to those whose last offense is serious or violent.

Along with the shift of nonviolent inmates from state prison to county jails approved by the state Legislature in 2011, Proposition 47 is expected to further transform California’s criminal justice landscape.  Read Full Article

In 2013, a total of $9.1 billion dollars was set into the California budget for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The CDCR saw a 39.5 million dollar decrease as a result of the reduction of projected average daily population.

Some of the major accomplishments included significant funding increases for rehabilitation at 14.9 million and mental health services at 10.3 million for adult inmates. However, the Department of Juvenile Justice was decreased by 3.9 million dollars.

There is no shame in wanting to binge watch an entire season of OITNB in one night. However, if we want to put a halt to the reality of the rapidly growing rate of women being incarcerated as well as men, it is imperative that comprehensive treatment services and programs become a priority.

“Dumping” the Homeless In America

“Dumping” the homeless – the new craze in America?  The way we treat and view those who are homeless in this country is unsettling.  When I came across the story about those within the Detroit Police Department “dumping” the homeless in areas that were unfamiliar to them in order to “clean up” the image in a popular tourist area, I was angered as a social worker and a human being.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint against the Detroit Police Department this month.  The ACLU has been investigating these inhumane indignities since 2012, after receiving complaints from several individuals who had experienced such injustices.

The ACLU’s complaint describes the dumping “tactics.”   The officers would approach those who they perceived to be homeless, and in some instances, would coerced the person to get into a van.  Once in the van, the officer would drive to a remote area far away from the familiar surroundings the homeless individual was accustomed to.  The officers would leave the individual stranded, and in some cases, penniless.  (Several reported that the police specifically asked for whatever monies they had on them, and would confiscate it.)  Without a means to pay for transportation, some individuals would have no choice but to walk several miles back to their original location, sometimes having to travel at night and through unsafe neighborhoods.

Though this story is unbelievable in how those who are expected to uphold and enforce the law treat those who are most vulnerable in our society, it is sadly another example of how we view those who call our streets “home.”

When it comes to the homeless, we have the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) complex.  On one hand, we see countless organizations discuss the increase numbers of those without homes in our cities, states, and country.  We go out of our way during the holiday season to donate to these organizations so that they will have adequate food, clothing, and monetary resources to provide for those who have fallen on hard times and have no place to lay their heads.

On the other hand, we do not want these individuals in our backyards/neighborhoods.  We look at these individuals as being “lazy,” “unclean,” “dangerous/menaces” to society, and “unwilling” to better themselves.  Being homeless is their “fault” – they should not have made bad life choices (e.g., being addicted to drugs and alcohol, battling emotional/mental illnesses, and/or not trying hard enough to be productive members of society).  We protest against having homeless shelters and centers in our communities; an issue that has made headlines in my own home state concerning the location of a new homeless shelter.  We want the homeless to receive help… just not on Earth, apparently.

What do these disturbing mistreatment stories and ill  opinions surrounding the homeless reveal about our level of sensitivity and sense of community in helping those who are in need?  “Dumping the “homeless is absolutely not the answer to eradicating this growing life circumstance that has been exacerbated due to our economic state  in this country.  In 2012, the Housing and Urban Development Department reported that 633,782 individuals were homeless in the United States.  Those this figure is slightly less than what was reported the previous year (636,000).  Though there was a slight decline, the numbers show that this country has not effectively extirpated the issues that places individuals and families at risk of homelessness.

If we were to focus more on helping people and families appropriately cope with the issues that put them at great risk of becoming homeless instead of moving the “undesirables” from the “money-making” tourist areas so they will not “disturb” residents and tourists or “tarnish” the look of the city, we may be able to get the homeless numbers down to 0.

Allowing people to call our streets and parks “home” is shameful.  When one person or family becomes homeless, it affects us all.  We cannot sit around and allow people to exploit or dehumanize the homeless in any matter, whether they wear a uniform or not.  This injustice cannot, and most importantly, should not become the “norm” in America in how we address the issue of homelessness.

What steps will you take to ensure that the homeless are treated justly by law enforcement and other members in our communities?  Do you donate resources or volunteer your time to help those less fortunate?  If you presently do not, I hope that this article will prompt you to take some form of action, whether small or large, to find out what organizations are serving the homeless in your community, whether these organizations are upholding the mission and values for which they were founded, and learn more how you can become an advocate in addressing the abuses to human rights that may exist for this population.

We cannot stomp out the issue of homelessness by staying quiet or looking for others to step up – sometimes we have to be the change we want to see.  Writing this article is my way to bring forth awareness and hopefully activism to this problem – what will be your course of action?

If you walk down the street and see someone in a box, you have a choice. That person is either the other and you’re fearful of them, or that person is an extension of your family.
Susan Sarandon

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