Why U.S. Government Agencies Need Comprehensive Policies For Employees With Various Gender Identities

Sex and gender identities are becoming increasingly complex in America, creating new challenges for public administrative agencies. So far, the vast majority of U.S. federal agencies lack comprehensive transgender employee policies – which are currently in place for only nine of approximately 235 federal agencies (including sub-agencies).

Yet as the workforce evolves, federal employment policy must accommodate the needs of employees who do not fit traditional sex and gender categories – and particular attention needs to be paid to formulating policies specifying the responsibilities of employers when their employees undergo transitions meant to shift their anatomy or appearance to align with their gender identity.

What Should a Transgender Policy Include?

Employee policies specifically fashioned by agencies to deal with transgender issues should, at a minimum, cover matters that arise when employees undergo transition processes; restrooms and locker rooms; dress codes; and the use of proper names and pronouns. Many benefits come from transgender-specific employee policies. Such measures can educate supervisors and coworkers about what to expect when someone transitions in the workplace and, by providing protocols to follow, help supervisors and coworkers become more comfortable with and supportive of workplace transitions.

Transgender employees also benefit and gain a sense of security when specific policies are in place. Each federal agency should create its own internal set of transgender-relevant policies, to educate all employees and help transgender employees understand their rights and know where to go for assistance. More can be said about each of the major issues a good policy needs to address.

When Employees Go through Transitions

In the absence of a comprehensive transgender policy, most agencies are left unprepared when employees change their anatomy or appearance to align with their felt gender identity. An effective way to prepare for such processes is to spell out the agency’s workplace transition protocol. Without such an explicit plan, transgender employees who want to transition do not know where to go to begin the process or where they can find answers about what a transition might entail for an agency employee. Additionally, without a standard set of practices, agencies do not know what is required to change all applicable records. Confusion can leave transgender employees scrambling to deal with many different record changes. Submitting requests and medical records to many places can be unnecessarily cumbersome and intrusive.

Plans for Restrooms and Locker Rooms

One aspect of transgender employee policy that has garnered significant attention – and sometimes controversy – is the issue of who uses which restrooms and locker-rooms. A key example comes from North Carolina’s “House Bill 2” that banned individuals from using public restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex assigned at birth. The United States Department of Justice declared this law in violation of Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Openly transgender employees have, at times, been discouraged or outright or prohibited from using the restroom or locker room that correspond to their gender identities. Many federal employees use a locker room to change into their uniforms or when they enter the agency gym. Additionally, some jobs, like those in the Forest Service, necessitate the use of showers in the locker room. Existing open-shower floor plans in many facilities may not afford transgender individuals a sense of privacy and safety that everyone should have in their workplace. Inside particular workplaces, conflicts and awkward situations can often be headed off by spelling out clear guidelines for appropriate restroom and locker-room use by all employees, including transgender individuals.

Flexible Dress Codes

A comprehensive transgender policy could also resolve problems related to dress codes. Overall, transgender individuals should be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity; failure to do so could cause harm to their mental health. Obviously, this applies to employees who have gone through transitions. In addition, although dress code policies often assume that all individuals fall into a female-male binary; many individuals identify in non-binary ways.  Someone who identifies as gender neutral, for example, may not fit into sex-specific dress codes.

Because it is discriminatory for employers to force transgender people to conform to gender norms, an agency-specific transgender policy should articulate dress and grooming standards that allow employees to dress and groom in ways that are consistent with varied gender identities. The policy should state that no employee will be required to dress and groom in conformance with a particular sex or gender stereotype.

Respectful Use of Proper Names and Pronouns

Another concern to be addressed is the proper use of the name and pronoun corresponding to a transgender individual’s gender identity. After a person transitions, managers and coworkers often use the wrong name and pronoun. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2013 that the intentional and repeated misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and pronoun could harm the employee and thus substantiate a claim of sex-based discrimination and harassment. A further issue is that agencies often have no policy about pronoun use for individuals who request designations other than the traditional “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her.”

When coworkers refuse to use the correct pronoun for a transgender colleague it is disrespectful. The Office of Personnel Management should expand the definition of “transgender” to include gender non-binary employees and clearly communicate this definition to agencies. Transgender policies for each agency should include clear guidelines indicating that all employees – including transgender, non-binary, and other gender non-conforming employees – are entitled, both verbally and in writing, to be called by their preferred name and pronouns.

Read more in Nicole M. Elias, “Constructing and Implementing Transgender Policy for Public Administration” Administration and Society 49 no. 1, (2017): 20-47.

How Discrimination Hurts Health and Personal Wellbeing

Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States has used the force of nationwide laws to prohibit discriminatory treatment in the job and housing markets, in government and educational institutions, and at stores and facilities serving the general public. Many legally proscribed forms of exclusion and ill treatment are directed against people because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, age, and disability status. To this day, efforts continue to extend protections to additional groups, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Core American values of fairness and equality inspire nondiscrimination measures, but there is also an important health rationale. Research has repeatedly confirmed what common sense suggests: when people are subjected to discriminatory acts ranging from subtle put downs to outright harassment or exclusion from opportunities, their personal wellbeing suffers. Discrimination contributes to health inequalities – and fighting bias can reduce them.

The Harmful Effects of Discrimination

Discrimination typically refers to the unfair treatment of people on the basis of social identities defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. Many Americans report facing discrimination that constrains their livelihood – for example, when they are unfairly fired or denied a job or promotion, when they are denied a bank loan or medical treatment, or when they are discouraged by a teacher from pursuing further education. Banned by law, such blatant forms of discrimination also affect victims’ health by depriving them of jobs, medical treatments, and other benefits and opportunities that keep them out of poverty and open doors of opportunity.

In addition, discrimination harms health by causing personal distress. Being unfairly fired from a job, for example, hurts a person’s sense of fairness and wellbeing as well as his or her economic fortunes. Beyond harm from currently unlawful actions, the wellbeing of those who suffer bias is undermined by everyday ill treatment – for example, when they are called names or insulted, disparaged as not very smart, or treated as if they are threatening or dishonest despite doing nothing wrong. Like other strains and traumas, day-to-day experiences of discrimination can wear victims down, placing them at increased risk for mental and physical illness.

Why is that? Researchers have found that victims of discrimination often have heightened physiological responses, including elevated blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, ongoing struggles to cope with discrimination lead to lower self-esteem or a reduced sense of personal efficacy.

Victims may turn to unhealthy means of coping such as drug and alcohol abuse, and they may stop regularly taking medications or keeping medical appointments. Further, because discrimination is not experienced evenly across the population, researchers find that it contributes to the persistence of disparities in mental and physical health along societal fault lines of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even physical statuses such weight or appearance.

Double Discrimination Can Heighten the Health Burdens

What about the experiences and wellbeing of Americans who are members of more than one disadvantaged group? Since the 1980s, black feminist scholars have argued that research solely looking at blacks, or at women, fails to adequately capture life at the intersection of these two identities that put people at risk for discrimination. Neither the health nor experiences of bias are adequately captured when one such identity group is studied as if it were separate from others.

In my research, I have asked whether multiple disadvantaged youth and adults face extra discrimination and, as a result, greater risk for poor mental and physical health. The answer turns out to be yes. When characterized by more than one disadvantaged status, young people and adults (age 25 to74) are more likely to face multiple forms of discrimination than people not defined by any disadvantaged status or people with just one disadvantaged status.

Because doubly disadvantaged people have extra exposure to bias, they are also more likely to suffer from mental and physical health problems. They simply experience unfair treatment more frequently. For example, black women report racial slights in social situations where women predominate, and they also experience sexist discrimination in their own racial communities.

What Can be Done?

Banning discrimination by law is an important basic step. Anti-discrimination laws must be maintained for currently covered social categories and expanded to protect vulnerable people in statuses still not included – such as sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and weight. In addition, laws and legal practice should acknowledge the unique experiences of multiply disadvantaged individuals. Their discrimination cases are often not successful in court, perhaps because the complexity of multiple forms of discrimination is not well understood.

Laws are not enough, however, unless widely understood and actively carried through. People who work at organizations with an equal employment opportunity office and formal training about diversity are more likely to file discrimination claims when necessary. Knowledge and organizational resources empower people to seek remedies.

Diversity training for managers also helps to reduce the number of discrimination claims.

When legal violations are found, remedies are most effective when they move beyond compensation to individual victims to establish reformed organizational practices. Finally, it is crucial to recognize that the current legal model places the burden of proof on victims, even though it is often very difficult to prove intentional discrimination by an individual, institution, or employer.

Moreover, because Americans today tend to view discrimination as a thing of the past, victims often face social skepticism and self-doubt. The extra mental labor involved in replaying personal experiences and deciding what, if anything, to do can exacerbate stress and health problems. All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.

All Americans who care about the ongoing fight against social discrimination must work to raise awareness that serious problems persist and must be aggressively countered both in law and daily practice.

A Practical Guide on How to Confront Hate

Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights Photo Credit: UAB

In the wake of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Institute for Human Rights offers some practical tips on how to confront hate.

Know your human rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key document guiding human rights advocacy. It is based on the universality, inalienability, and indivisibility of human rights and is founded on the core values of equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

“Knowing one’s human rights is an important step that often gets forgotten,” Reuter said. “Learning the content and extent of basic human rights will give people the tools and language needed to address certain issues. Discrimination, suppression, racism, marginalization, and violence against individuals or groups are human rights violations that must be confronted.”

Reuter urges reporting human rights violations to the authorities such as the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice or other entities such as the American Civil Liberties Union. If an incident occurs in the workplace, inform your human resources representative or a diversity officer. At UAB, students, faculty, and staff can contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. You can learn more about international human rights by visiting the United Nations Human Rights website and by reading the UAB Institute for Human Rights blog, where faculty and students write about international human rights issues.

Speak up in the face of injustice

Once you know what human rights and human rights violations are, Reuter encourages everyone to pay attention and speak up in the face of injustice. Pay attention to what happens in your everyday life. Document, record and monitor what is going on around you, and if you see injustice, say something.

“The goal is to make everyday suppression of a specific group based on race, color, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability status just as unacceptable as the violence and hatred that has occurred in Charlottesville,” Reuter said. “It’s these normal, hidden human rights violations that are particularly dangerous to our society and that we have to confront together.”

Be aware of your own biases

One of the ways to overcome biases and stereotypes is to engage with those who are different. Research shows that interpersonal contact is one of the best ways to reduce prejudice. This theory is called contact hypothesis. The theory suggests that under appropriate conditions interpersonal contact is one of the most effective ways to reduce prejudice between majority and minority groups.

“It is incredibly important to be aware of your own biases,” Reuter said. “We all have them. Realize if you cross the street when a person of a different race walks toward you. Notice if you assume that someone is less competent because she is a woman, a person of color or Muslim. Think about systemic racism and structural violence in your own environment, and find ways to confront them. Actively learn about how our society has grown to marginalize some to the benefit of others. I encourage people to reach out and make new friends outside of their race, religion and gender.”

Join a movement or a cause that fits your passions and interests

Join a movement, and talk with others who feel the same. Look for a rally in your community. Organize a vigil. Participate in a discussion. Engage with others. Get together formally or informally. Look for opportunities to talk. The UAB Institute for Human Rights is a part of the StandAsOne Coalition. If you are a UAB student, you can join the Students for Human Rights club.

“Not all of us are born to be activists or community organizers,” Reuter said. “We cannot all become Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela or Leymah Gboweee; but we all can contribute by supporting the movement. Think about what you are good at and how your skills and talent can be used to move a cause forward.”

Call your representatives

One of the most effective ways to achieve policy change is to call local and state representatives. Reuter says calling is much more impactful than writing an email, Facebook message or letter. She advises anyone contacting their local representative to be polite to the staff, which is who you will most likely get on the line. Their staff members do not have influence on the decision-making process, but they will record your call and do not mind taking opposing views as long as the conversation is civil.

Educate others

This step does not have to be formal. You can educate others by leading by example, or by bringing a friend along to a conversation you are having. It can happen person to person, on social media or on any other platform you use to connect with others. Creating art, poems and performances are incredible ways to get your point across to people who might find that formal ways of education do not resonate with them.

“It is such a privilege to be an educator,” Reuter said. “It is one of my favorite parts of my job to talk to students about issues that affect the world and to encourage them to learn more about these topics. It’s something that everyone can do. Teach your children and young relatives about kindness, human rights, and peace building. Teach them also about systemic suppression, racism and the way our society has oppressed minorities. Talk to them about what bothers you and what you would like to achieve. You don’t have to be a professor or teacher to educate others.”

Donate

One of the fastest and easiest opportunities to make an impact is to donate to an organization that fights for human rights or civil rights.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to ensuring the preservation of individual rights and liberties, one of which is the UAB Institute for Human Rights. You can learn more about the Institute here.

Take care of yourself

Confronting issues such as hatred, violence, and suppression can take a mental and physical toll on anyone. Reuter says it is important to know what you can and cannot do, what you are willing to do, and what your priorities are.

“Focus on the local level. Start in your own community,” Reuter said. “That world is changed person by person, but don’t forget to take care of your needs. When you start to feel overwhelmed, shut down Facebook, Twitter, cable news and other forms of media. Enjoy time with your friends and family. Be kind to yourself, and realize that real progress takes patience.”

Black and Blue: Injustice Is Battering Us All

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It is starting to feel like a domestic war is brewing. People are taking sides, dividing up into camps. Facebook has become a platform for digital conflict. The tensions among Americans and worldwide, actually are palpable. I recently witnessed an exchange on social media about social justice and how it was a copout. Nuance is clearly a bridge too far for many engaged in a my side/your side battle and convincing the angry and scared that love is the answer is like convincing a starving person to not eat a poptart because of nutrition.

The frustration is causing violence which is being responded to with violence and preemptive violence. Cops are killing people and nowadays, this becomes quickly and broadly shared on social media. People have, thusly, become afraid of cops. Because people are afraid of cops, they respond to cops with fear, which makes them seem suspicious. Then, cops treat people like suspects. This is an understandable, if unfortunate cycle, but it is unacceptable and must be examined with honesty.

Unfortunately, efforts to bring attention to this cycle are being spun in various directions in order to rationalize this unacceptable behavior. What it ends up doing is creating hatred towards those who have been victimized. Additionally, people are trying to co-opt movements which is not helping the situation. For example, Black Lives Matter began as an attempt to show that black people were being killed by cops in high numbers with little consequence to their assailants, creating the perception that black lives don’t matter in the eyes of the law.

The movement was created to attract attention to this injustice so that it could be corrected. When the All Lives Matter was presented as a substitution for Black Lives Matter and subsequently so was Blue Lives Matter, it moved the conversation away from the overreaching injustice that has reached critical mass. People began creating memes and movements to support the new narratives. The problem with that is that it maintains the tone deaf reality that black people get killed with impunity.

People are deliberately changing the subject from the fact that we are moving towards a police state with militarized police. By doing this, we legitimize the institutional use of force, even unnecessary force to control people. Ironically, it is often those who ostensibly fear tyranny who feel comfortable legitimizing the advancement of an impending Martial Law.

The University of Cincinnati found that minorities are more likely to be pulled over. Some of the data indicates that racial profiling and economic factors put minorities at higher risk of becoming suspects. Additionally, once pulled over, they have a higher risk of search. Critics of these statistics say it wasn’t racially motivated searches, but concerns over drug trafficking, which pretty much proves the point. They are stereotypes that lead to increased risk of being a citizen.

A real issue with changing the narrative away from Black Lives Matter to all lives or Blue Lives Matter is that it not only washes over the tragedies that we have seen with unjustified homicides that go unadjudicated, but we give license for police oppression and tyranny. When the narratives of government overreach become accepted, through rationalizations like Blue Lives Matter, then they are propped up on a platform that accepts their overreaches. Unchecked authority and wanton aggression by law enforcement is what tyranny looks like and making excuses for brutality is a starting point.

So it’s really disheartening to see the escalated levels of justified violence against citizens. Especially because the dividing up into teams has been creating blind spots. In these blind spots we often ignore issues if those issues tend to be ‘other’ people’s issues. We must understand, though, that any of us could become a target and if we push to allow unchecked aggression without consequence, we will regret it when we are in the cross hairs. These blind spots are exactly why we must all demand equal treatment under the law even if we are privileged. When we rationalize exceptions we pave the way for abuse.

As this conversation unfolds I do hope it opens up the larger discussion of how economic inequality leads to injustice and social unrest. So far it appears that the discussion centers around a distrust for the police or blacks. Both sides have understandable positions when considering their roles.

But the police must understand that they are trained and responsible for keeping the peace in a community, not the opposite. And they must not simply operate as tools of the elite and therefore soldiers of the social divide. If they function in this manner, it is no wonder there is civil unrest. The citizens of the community are treated as subjugates instead of valuable members.

Ultimately, until we all adopt the mindset that violence is unacceptable, it will continue. But we must try and root out the underlying causes of the tensions, fear and hatred. Until everyone feels safe in their communities, it will be difficult to expect peace.

Honoring South African Youth Month through Social Work and Entrepreneurship

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June is a special month to salute civil and human liberties — from Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States, to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riot in Manhattan, a tipping point to the Gay Liberation in the United States. However, June 16, 1976, also commemorates the youth uprising which led to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

To Americans, commemorations can honor bravery and self-sacrifice, or they can remember those who have fallen victim to an unfortunate event or a series of heinous acts. But nevertheless, here in America — where Liberty stands clothed in democracy with one hand clenching independence and the other raising the importance of universal knowledge that brings light to all — tragedy no longer unites this deeply divided nation.

Of course, America is far from alone in its attempt to push a more unified front in the midst of tragedy, whether one we commemorate often or one we mourn just yesterday. South Africa — still a chronically racially divided nation — is a country where America’s struggles to end racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s helped inspire its anti-apartheid movement in the mid-1960s.

Much like the origin of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the joint forces between students and youth in South Africa echoed the same courage and extreme tenacity of African American students protesting their unequal status in the state’s segregated educational system. Unlike the strides South Africa has made to celebrate student advocacy and its contribution to the larger society, America has not yet begun to observe, or even embrace, the strength of young people in the 1960s who sought to return the power back to ordinary citizens. As a result, this may be one of our nation’s biggest oversight: the lack of history we share about social movements inspired and led by our youth.

Today, in South Africa, millions honor the memory of a national tragedy — the tragedy that began with thousands gathering at a peaceful student protest against the education system of South Africa during Apartheid rule but ended with hundreds of young people killed by the ruling government. This historic event, also known as the June 16th, 1976 Uprising, continues to pave the way for the youth of South Africa to carry on the spirit and legacy of those who withstood the painful and unjust political force of the Apartheid State and demanded more for themselves and their community. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the uprising.

Millennials and Entrepreneurship in South Africa

After many decades of struggles, the South African government ended apartheid, but today’s Millennials still face many socio-economic challenges in modern times that are often overlooked. In this now diverse nation, largely made up of young people who constitute 66% of the total population, many are unemployed despite being qualified.

As of March 2016, the unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 26.7 percent in the three months from 24.5 percent in the previous quarter.  Of those unemployed, youth unemployment is at its highest.  Of those unemployed, youth unemployment is at its highest. In response to these staggering statistics, South African’s National Youth Policy is geared toward addressing the needs of young people from 15-34 years of age with respect to “education, health and well-being, and economic participation and social cohesion” (United Nations Population Fund, 2013).

However, too many South Africans, the reality of owning a business as an alternative solution to unemployment is far too unlikely. According to the annual Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa Report (2014),  South Africa’s rate of entrepreneurial activity is undoubtedly low for a developing country. Less than 7.0 percent of the adult population in South Africa is engaged in some form of entrepreneurial activities, while less than 3 percent already own or manage an established business. This report also reveals that for every 10 adult males engaged in entrepreneurship there are eight females. However, the number of women in entrepreneurship has increased over the years primarily due to government support, but also because of the growing perception of opportunities to start a business.

The report also suggests that South Africa needs more Millennials – male and female alike – to consider starting businesses. But yet, there are very few governmental initiatives that are contributing towards entrepreneurial activities by its citizens. Historically, the most effective ones are supported by private companies or grassroots organizations that inspire to make a difference and increase the entrepreneurial propensity among all of South Africa, especially among their peers.

For example, Ndosi Strategies, an NYC-based consulting firm providing affordable development services, international platform, and economic investment for primarily African-led businesses, seeks to:

“Support Africa’s optimistic job creator towards success with the same passion and deliberation that propelled them into the arena of commerce, social enterprise, and industry – through providing accessible business in research, marketing and assisting in fostering their next U.S. or South African/African based partnership or collaboration”.

In fact, Ndosi Strategies in partnership with Brand South Africa will launch the first annual conference in NYC, on June 25th. South African youth entrepreneurs, both U.S. and S.A based, will come together and discuss their business ventures, the youth’s role in South Africa’s development, and the entrepreneurial movement as a vehicle for economic development and stability. The keynote speaker will include international branding & business expert, Mr. Thebe Ikalafeng, Founder of award-winning African brand and reputation advisory firm, Brand Leadership Group. Moderating the discussion will be Yolanda Sangweni, Deputy Editor of ESSENCE.com, and Founder of AFRIPOP.

Call to Action

Young people have always been viewed as the heart of socio-political change in South Africa. However, what is not well-documented is the contributions social workers made to help usher such change in South Africa through entrepreneurship, policy-making, practice, and community service. In events scheduled for later this month, we will be further exploring how social work and entrepreneurship can work collaboratively to improve outcomes for youth.

As a result, today I challenge my fellow budding social workers from all walks of life to learn more about Soweto, to uplift high school students or mentees in your local community by sharing this story with others, and to consider participating in one of two Twitter chat discussions focused the state of youth in South Africa and the role social workers play in developing the next generation in youth in South Africa as global change agents and social innovators.

Together let’s re-ignite the fire of Liberty here in the United States, but also in South Africa, so younger generations won’t forget those who pushed justice, freedom, and democracy forward.

Muhammad Ali: More than His Boxing Legacy

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Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, (later known as Muhammad Ali), was a professional boxer, American Olympian, heavyweight champion, and philanthropist who died at the age of 74 on June 3rd, 2016.  Although he is best known for his athleticism, the legacy he leaves behind goes beyond the title of being one of the greatest boxers of all time, some say he was also the greatest giver.

At the age of 18, Clay qualified for the Olympics in Rome, Italy, and went on to win the gold medal in light-heavyweight boxing.  His victory herald him as an American hero and he soon went into professional boxing. His lighting speed and fancy footwork enabled him to overcome opponents in the ring and in 1964, he became the youngest heavyweight champion in the world. During this time, he joined a Black Muslim group and formally changed his name to Muhammad Ali. His belief in Islam promoted his messages of peace, especially during a time of war overseas and racial inequality in the United States. He would later face scrutiny for his beliefs.

In 1967, Ali was drafted into the military to fight in the Vietnam War. However, Ali refused the induction due to his religious beliefs. As a result, he was arrested, fined, stripped away of his boxing license and title, and found guilty of draft evasion. He faced five years in prison, but never wavered in his decision or moral beliefs. Rather, he made statements on national television such as, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in 1971.  However, during the three years that Ali was not boxing, he went to speak at colleges and universities across the U.S about the racial injustices that African Americans faced every day. He undoubtedly contributed to the public opinion against the war and the gathering momentum of the Civil Rights Movement.

Ali returned back to the ring and regained his title in 1974. He defended his title for 10 fights and in 1981 he retired at the age of 39 with a career record of 56 wins, five losses, and 37 knockouts.

After retiring from boxing, Ali devoted his life to giving back to communities. He continued to promote religious tolerance, civil rights, cross-cultural understanding, and world peace.  In 1984, at the age of 42, Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. That did not stop him from his humanitarian efforts and continuing to make public appearances. He became involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona, and other organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics.

Ali also served those in need overseas, providing over 232 million meals to starving people throughout the world. This includes hand-delivering food and medical supplies to children in Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco, among other countries. As a result of his work throughout developing nations, Ali was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 1998.

However, his work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali also made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea, delivered over $1 million in medical aid to Cuba, traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War, and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison.

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Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky

In 2005, Ali and his wife Lonnie opened the Muhammad Ali Center in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Center is guided by Ali’s six core principles and serves as both a multicultural center and interactive museum to inspire children and adults to pursue greatness in their own lives, communities, and countries.  Along with the Muhammed Ali Center, Muhammad Ali himself has received some of the world’s most respected awards.

He has been honored by Amnesty International with their “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Named the “International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000,” a global organization dedicated to relieving debt in developing nations, and in 2005, he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.

Some of the other charities that Ali has supported include the Ali Care Program, Andrea Bocelli Foundation, Athletes for Hope, BeatBullying, Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis, Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, HELP USA, Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, Keep Memory Alive, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Parkinson Society Maritime Region, Project A.L.S., The HollyRod Foundation, The Miami Project, UNICEF, and Watering Seeds Organization.

Undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes in the world, Ali’s legacy goes beyond his career in the ring. He was outspoken during a time when segregation was apparent and religious acceptance was unpopular. Despite being diagnosed with a progressively worsening disease, he continued to remain active in public life and through charitable contributions.

Potential Positive Consequences of Appointing a New Supreme Court Justice

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On February 13, 2016, Chief Justice Antonin Scalia died leaving a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). His death will profoundly change the current dynamics of SCOTUS, as conservatives no longer have majority rule on Supreme Court rulings. Chief Scalia’s 29 years of service have been characterized by extreme conservatism, acerbic dissents, and an attempt to roll back previously achieved civil rights.

For example, Chief Scalia has consistently attempted to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), and the implications being that women will no longer be able to exert the right to make personal reproductive choices. Chief Scalia was also an avid opponent of LGBTQ civil rights and also advocated for maintaining the death penalty for juveniles. His interpretation of constitutional law was archaic at best and often included religious ideology, contrary to what is described in the first amendment of the constitution.

Additionally, the current SCOTUS has yet to rule on a number of nationally pertinent court cases that could profoundly alter the current status of immigration and civil rights for females and minority Americans. First there is the Supreme Court case, United States v. Texas, which would allow five million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States if the majority rules in favor of the United States.

Secondly the Supreme Court is set to rule on Fisher v. The University of Texas, a case that could overturn affirmative action if Fisher wins. Thirdly, there is Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt that can restrict women’s right to choose as established by Roe v. Wade if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Hellerstedt.

Lastly, there is Evenwel v. Abbot, a case that could privilege white voters through redistricting. The death of Chief Scalia has shifted the odds in favor of the people and their civil rights. If SCOTUS fails to obtain a majority rule then the lower appellate court ruling will be upheld and no federal precedent will be set on these important court cases. Based upon Chief Scalia’s previously shared opinions on these cases, we can assume that for the moment that civil rights rollbacks were prevented and societal progress is still possible.

However, racism and discrimination continues to undercut social progress in The United States.  I want to take us back to President Obama’s original campaign “Yes we can” and “Change is possible”.  Almost immediately, following the death of Chief Scalia, Republican senators reacted in outrage over the possibility that President Obama might determine who fills the vacant spot on SCOTUS, rather than expressing mourning over the loss of a Chief Justice.

https://twitter.com/conncarroll/status/698626902160838656

Conn Carrol, the communications representative for Senator Mike Lee stated on his Twitter page, “What is less than zero? The chances of Obama successfully appointing a Supreme Court Justice”. Old racial prejudices in Congress have continuously undermined President Obama’s ability to do his job as the President of the United States throughout his two terms. Yet again, we see a Senate determined to halt American progress due to their discriminatory attitudes. Yes we can change, but not if our President is prevented from enacting the responsibilities allotted to him by his post.

Now is a time for social workers and all American citizens to bond together in support of our President. I remember the day that President Obama won his first election so clearly. I was a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. The moment he was declared president, groups of us filled the streets surrounding the University of Pittsburgh in jubilation, “Change has finally come”.

“Yes we can” was sung resoundingly as we all felt elated over the possibility of social change. In order to ensure that change is possible and civil rights are not disbanded for American citizens, we must support our president. We must allow him to institute the progressive and positive change he so desires to accomplish as President.

We must vehemently stand behind our president and his decision-making. We must lobby, advocate, and place pressure on a republican Senate, make them bow down to the needs of American citizens. Yes we can change, by working together to ensure our President, President Obama, decides who fills the vacant seat in the Supreme Court. Yes we can change, but we the people must do so together.

We must prevent a prejudice Senate from determining the nature of civil rights for the minority and female citizens of America. Yes we can change, by allowing President Obama to accomplish what he originally set out to do, which was to make America better for its citizens.

Five African American Pioneers in Social Service

Dorothy Height with President Obama
Dorothy Height with President Obama

With Black History Month coming to a close, it is important to recognize the contributions of those who strove for societal progress in social services before us. As an MSW program dedicated to celebrating social justice and cultural diversity, SocialWork@Simmons is proud to honor five major pioneers in social work history.

These extremely prolific civil rights advocates shattered barriers and established themselves as true leaders within major US government social service institutions. Their contributions helped establish the necessary momentum for societal progress and have positively affected the lives of millions of people around the globe.

Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954)

Mary Church Terrell is a true pioneer for African American women. As the daughter of former slaves-turned-small-business-owners, she was one of the first Black women to earn a bachelor’s degree, the first black woman appointed to a school board, and the first African American admitted to the Washington DC Branch of the American Association of University Women.

She later went on to become a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and co-founded the National Association of Colored Women.

George Edmund Haynes (1880–1960)

George Edmond Haynes was a lifelong civil rights advocate and had a diverse educational background in social work. In fact, Haynes was the first African American to graduate from the New York School of Philanthropy (now the Columbia University School of Social Work).

Haynes went on to become co-founder and first executive director of the National Urban League. He went on to work as a special assistant to the secretary of labor (under the title of director of Negro economics), making him one of the two highest-ranking Black federal employees.

Thyra J. Edwards (1897–1953)

Thyra J. Edwards was a lifelong social worker with a multinational impact. Her career began as a social worker in Chicago and she went onto diversify her skills as a lecturer, women’s rights advocate, labor organizer, and journalist. After WWII, she became the executive director of the Congress of American Women. One of the major contributions of this organization was the establishment of the first childcare program in Rome to assist Jewish Holocaust survivors.

She advocated for people of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities, and worked internationally until her death in 1953.

Lester Blackwell Granger (1896–1976)

Lester Blackwell Granger launched his career as a high school teacher and a social worker. In 1952, he became the first Black man to serve as president of the National Conference of Social Work.

Lester Blackwell Granger spent most of his time as acting NCSW president advocating for civil rights measures. After WWII, he served as a special consultant to the Navy in support of efforts to desegregate the military, which earned him the Navy’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award and the Presidential Medal for Merit.

In 1958, he was one of four civil rights activist leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., to meet with President Eisenhower to discuss civil rights reform. Like George Edmund Haynes, Granger served as president of the National Urban League for a large part of his career.

Dorothy Height (1912–2010)

Dorothy Height was a women’s rights and civil rights advocate and is often referred to as “The godmother of the civil rights movement.” Height began her lifetime of advocacy by campaigning against lynching and as a social worker.

She went on to establish the YWCA’s Center for Racial Justice, founding the National Women’s Political Caucus, leading the National Council of Negro Women for 40 years, and co-organizing the famous 1963 March on Washington. Throughout her life, she campaigned internationally for women’s rights, traveling to Mexico, India, and many countries in Africa.

Height is the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, among many other awards and honorary degrees.

Source: Biography.org

These are just some of the many influential African-American social workers who spent their lives advocating for social justice and civil rights. Ultimately, many of their initiatives succeeded, but there is still much to improve upon, and social workers are capable of making the changes our society needs. In honor of Black History Month, reach out to let us know what influential social workers or Black leaders have had an impact on your vocation to be a social worker.

The Struggle For American Indian Voting Rights in South Dakota

Shannon County Vote
In places as isolated as Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, these satellite offices are essential to making voting a possibility for most residents
Last month, the Oglala Sioux Nation filed a voting rights lawsuit with the federal government for failing to put a pre-election satellite voting and registration site on the portion of Pine Ridge Reservation which sits in Jackson County, South Dakota. Despite having money apportioned by the Help America Vote Act to address just this sort of issue, Jackson County has yet to place a satellite office in Wanblee, the largest Indian reservation town in the county. While at the same time, the largely white residential off-reservation county seat of Kadoka, which actually has a smaller population than Wanblee, maintains a satellite voting office. Instead of being able to vote within a reasonable distance of their community, the people of Wanblee have to travel 54 miles round-trip to register and cast their ballots. 54 mile in the cold, inhospitable snow of a South Dakota November on poorly maintained roads that are made of dirt as often as they are asphalt.

These are the sorts of bigotry, harassment and human rights violations faced on a regular basis  by American Indians seeking equal access to the ballot box. The discrimination that they endure is remarkably similar to that of African-Americans and Latinos, but odds are that you hadn’t been thinking about the voting rights of American Indians. In fact, outside of the #ChangeTheName controversy surrounding Washington DC’s professional football team, I doubt that American Indians have crossed many of your minds recently. This may be in part because there are only 1.9 million American Indians in this country and you don’t have much direct interaction with them, but I think it is also because the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the fifties and sixties was almost exclusively an African-American movement.

What happens to an injustice unheard? On their own, many people—along with the local and state governments who represent them—will plug up their ears with cotton balls and blot out the sounds of injustice and oppression that surround them, while others still will hear the wails of injustice and track them down like bloodhounds so they can shove their hands over the mouths of the moaning. That’s why sometimes it becomes necessary for the Federal government to remove the cotton from the callous, cauliflowered ears of the oppressive and the bigoted and demand that they listen.

More so than any other civil right in America’s history, suffrage has required Federal intervention in order to be preserved and it is not a coincidence that the right to vote under the equal protection of the law is the focus of no less than four Constitutional amendments. The first two—the 14th and the 15th amendment—were forged in the fires of The Civil War and established during Reconstruction, a 12 year period where more than 2,000 African-American men held public office in the South. Of course, these political gains were only made possible by the physical presence of former Union soldiers in formerly Confederate towns and as soon as the Republican Party made their deal with the devil in 1877 and agreed to remove those troops in exchange for a Rutherford B. Hayes White House it was all over.

Almost overnight all trace of the black politician was swept away by poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs and black suffrage was suppressed for more than 75 years until the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement birthed the Voting Rights Act in an attempt to provide all Americans with equal voting rights and representation in government. Yet, even today, in what a startling number of young Americans consider a “post-racial” society, the percentage of African-American representation in Congress from southern states (11.25%)(1) is still considerably less than it was in 1870 (15%). And all of this was before the Supreme Court disassembled the Voting Rights Act and gave states that were once beholden to the federal government for preclearance of all voting laws free rein to disenfranchise people of color, the elderly and the poor.

There are many aspects of race-based voter discrimination that Chief Justice John Roberts and the other 4 men who voted to neuter the Voting Rights Act (VRA) last year wholly fail to comprehend or care about, but there are none more important than the fact that racism and oppression do not live in a vacuum and that past progress does not prevent against future regression. In his majority opinion for Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts reiterated time and time again the fact that, “things have changed dramatically” in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was created and consequently uses those changes as the principle reason why section 4 of the VRA should be struck down(2), as if the law’s efficacy was somehow grounds for rendering it toothless.

In his opinion, Roberts writes that, “the [15th] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future,” failing to comprehend that this “punishment” is constantly being reinvoked by states and counties who continue to brazenly discriminate against their minority citizens. All a given state or county has to do is follow the VRA’s instructions and not get caught trying to engage in voter discrimination for 10 years in a row and they’re “bailed out” of Section 5. In effect, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the equivalent of probation and parole for state and local governments who have committed the crime of denying people of the right to free and equitable elections. If you get released from prison on 2 years parole for selling narcotics and your P.O. Catches you slinging dope, you’re going to be headed back to prison. It’s the same principle with discriminatory states under the VRA.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with even a tenuous grasp on reality that the states who were saddled with preclearance requirements under Section 5—and quite a few that weren’t—have wasted no time in enacting as many restrictive and discriminatory voting laws as possible since the Shelby County v Holder ruling. During the first year post-preclearance, 7 of the 9 states that were singled out under Section 5 of the VRA pushed through laws that restricted voting rights. States are enacting unnecessary and prohibitive voter ID laws, eliminating same-day registrations, purging qualified citizens from voter rolls and, as was recently the case in my home state of Ohio, cutting back early voting days for no just reason whatsoever.

If there is a silver lining to the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s that it has lit a fire underneath many communities in America and it has directed the attention of the media and activists in ways that could result in enhanced voter turnout, higher political awareness andpossibly the passage of new legislation that makes the Voting Rights Act even more effective than it was before. However, the media coverage of the VRA and the efforts of the vast majority of voting rights litigators and scholars have focused almost exclusively on how the changes effect African-American and Latino voters.

This is certainly understandable considering the fact that they are the 2 largest racial minorities in America and that voter discrimination in both the past and present has impacted them in a greater and more visible way than any other section of American society, but it largely ignores the struggles of other minority groups who will suffer just as much from the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

250 years ago, before the prolonged presence of American settlers, the Great Sioux Nation—known to its members as the “Oceti Ŝakowiŋ” or Seven Council Fires—held dominion over most of the Northern Plains.To the east, in what is now modern-day Minnesota, northern Iowa and the easternmost edge of the Dakotas, lived the Santee or Eastern Dakota. Next to them, in the eastern half of the Dakotas were the Yankton or Yanktonai, which are sometimes confusingly referred to as the Western Dakota. And then, beside them, in western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska lived the Teton or Lakota people.

Within a hundred years time, the Great Sioux Nation had been effectively driven apart by white settlements and white soldiers. To make a long and bloody story short, the second half of the 19th Century was little more than an unbroken string of violated treaties wherein the United States took Sioux land that wasn’t theirs in exchange for the false promise of peace and security on the Sioux land that they planned to take in the future. In the span of roughly 100 years, the Great Sioux Nation had gone from a powerful group of allied tribes that could lay claim to much of the Great Plains to a collection of splintered and suppressed peoples who had been relegated to life on reservations on the parcels of their land that whites could find little use for.

Along with their land, the Sioux—and all of the tribes around them that were not wiped from the face of this earth by the inexorable hand of Manifest Destiny—lost their sovereignty and self-determination. In the days of the Seven Council Fires, the Sioux would hold intertribal councils during the summer months, with a spokesperson from each of the 7 tribes coming together to govern intertribal affairs. Each tribe was made up of several bands and the intertribal spokespeople were usually the chief of the most power band in their respective tribe. Once the reservation system had been imposed on them, the Sioux and all other American Indians(3) and (eventually) Alaskan Natives effectively became wards of the state and were treated as second class citizens in the eyes of the law.

Sioux reservation land from 1851 to today

Even after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made all American Indians US citizens and gave them the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments, most were still prohibited from voting. Many western states like Montana dealt with the threat of Indian suffrage by adding amendments to their state constitutions and forbidding American Indians on reservations from voting on the grounds that they were not considered taxpaying citizens.

Other states, like Wyoming and Arizona took pages out of the deep south’s playbook and instituted literacy tests as a means of halting American Indian suffrage. South Dakota didn’t even bother with masking it’s blatant bigotry and flouting of the Constitution by keeping a law on the books that prohibited all American Indians from voting until the 1940s, while the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that Indians could be barred from voting because they were, “neither acquainted with the processes of government, nor conversant with activities of the outside world generally.” And, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many American Indians faced open discrimination from state and local governments until an extension of the VRA was passed a decade later specifying coverage for “language minorities” like American Indians.

In 1975, two South Dakota counties—Shannon County and Todd County—were made subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Both counties had a long history of voting discrimination and institutionalized racism and both were the homes of Indian reservations, with Shannon County containing the Pine Ridge Reservation and Todd County holding the Rosebud Reservation. If you’ve heard of either Pine Ridge or Rosebud before, it probably wasn’t for the best of reasons. Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations are living breathing testaments to the horrors of colonialism and the perpetual poverty that is guaranteed to communities with little-to-no socioeconomic resources. On the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations at least 80 percent of the population is unemployed, as many as 4 out of every 5 adults suffer from alcoholism and/or addiction, infant mortality is 3 times the national rate, suicide rates for youth are 10 times the national average and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge is lower than every other part of the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti.

As is often the case with socioeconomically depressed regions, the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge and the Sicangu Sioux of Rosebud, have experienced some of the most reprehensible attempts to eliminate or weaken their suffrage in America’s recent history. In 1975, long after the equal voting had become the law of the land and black voter turnout was hovering around 50% in presidential elections, the state of South Dakota was still prohibiting residents of almost exclusively Indian “unorganized counties” like Shannon, Todd and Washabaugh(4) from voting in the elections of the counties to which they were attached andprohibited residents of those counties from holding office until as late as 1980.

Shortly after the Voting Rights Act had been amended to cover American Indians, then South Dakota Attorney General William Janklow wrote a formal opinion to South Dakota’s Secretary of State, in which he referred to the Voting Rights Act as a “facial absurdity” and wrote that, “I cannot in good faith recommend that [the Secretary of State’s] office and the State Board of Elections be unnecessarily subjected to the bureaucratic agony of obtaining immediate preclearance of all voting legislation and regulations.”

In other words, South Dakota’s Attorney General just recommended that the state government ignore the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and hoped it would be repealed by Congress or declared unconstitutional in the near future. It would seem that South Dakota state officials heard Attorney General Janklow loud and clear as they enacted over 600 laws concerning elections and voting in Shannon and Todd Counties that were covered by Section 5 of the VRA between 1976 and 2002 and sent less than 2 percent of them to Washington for preclearance. In the words of former ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald, “Many jurisdictions in the South also failed to comply with Section 5 in the years following their coverage. But in none was the failure as deliberate and prolonged as in South Dakota.”

Over the past 30 years, the strategies of predominantly white governments, counties and municipalities in America for negating the impact of minority voting blocs have shifted from outright voter suppression to a more indirect approach. One of the preferred modes of neutralizing the American Indian vote has been voter dilution, a process by which a state, county or local government redraws their districts so as to concentrate as much of the American Indian population into as few districts as possible to lessen number of elections they can seriously effect. After the 2000 census, the South Dakota legislature put forth a redistricting plan that turned District 27, an overwhelmingly Indian district that contains Pine Ridge Reservation, from one of the most underpopulated districts into one of it’s most overpopulated.

To do this,the legislature made a change in the boundary lines between District 27 and District 26, another mostly Indian district that includes Rosebud Reservation, packing District 27 with American Indians and leaving them without a large enough population in District 26 to ensure that Indian-preferred candidates had a chance at winning.

Another way the existing white power structure in South Dakota is trying to disenfranchise American Indians is through the simple act of making it as difficult and inconvenient for them to vote as possible. This tactic, which manifests itself in other states through the enactment of stringent voter ID laws, reduced early voting days and the repeal of same-day registration, is primarily borne out in South Dakota through the failure to provide American Indians with satellite voting and registration offices, using tribes’s socioeconomic shortcomings against them.

Indian reservations are typically located in remote areas and are often self-contained, so that many of the people living on the reservation rarely, if ever, go outside of its borders. Beyond that, many American Indians don’t have access to a car to reach far off polling places and, even if they did, might find they’re unable to scrounge up the gas money to make the trip.

For those who are skeptical, I urge you to take note of the events from the Civil Rights era that come to mind. When I think on it, the images I see are of sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and bloody marches in Selma, Alabama; I envision Dr. King speaking of his dreams in front of a packed National Mall and I think about the bodies of 3 civil rights workers being buried on a hot Mississippi night during Freedom Summer. At no point do I think about “No Indians or Dogs Allowed signs” in Wyoming during the 1960s or the Occupation of Wounded Knee, because these things aren’t part of our mainstream narrative of civil rights in America.

They aren’t part of our narrative, but they should be. Civil rights movements are not mutually exclusive and there is no cause too remote or removed from our personal experience to be fought. Many of us may not live near a reservation or interact with American Indians in our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves as responsible for their voting rights as we do any other race or ethnicity. First and foremost, voter discrimination is not a southern problem; nor is it an African-American problem, a Latino problem or an American Indian problem. It is an American problem and it’s about time we treated it as such.

Are Social Workers Helping Inmates Rot in Solitary Confinement?

As I wrote in a article several weeks ago, there are about 25,000 people held in solitary confinement in supermax prison units called SHUs—security housing units—and another 80,000 inmates housed in isolation cells in regular prisons and jails. Many of these individuals are mentally ill. Some are juveniles and/or pretrial detainees. No question they are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment regardless what different courts may decide.

solitaryThe purpose of solitary confinement—if it should be used at all—is to segregate the most dangerous criminals. But even dangerous criminals should not be isolated for extended periods and never indefinitely. Social workers and other mental health practitioners are assigned to these units to provide care for the inmates. Often they wind up feeding them medication and sleeping pills so they will not totally lose their minds. In a warped sense, they are helping them rot in their cells.

This ethical nightmare was brought to my attention recently by Moya Atkinson, a dynamic social worker who is very passionate about this issue. Nearing 80 years old, you would think she would leave this fight to younger advocates. She has organized a task force of social workers committed to significantly restricting the use of solitary confinement and eliminating its use for vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill, juveniles, pregnant women, people with disabilities and pretrial detainees.

After she read my article, we met to discuss the issue and I agreed to join the task force. While my focus was on the cruel and unusual punishment individuals incur because of extended, indefinite and indiscriminate use of solitary confinement, she was equally concerned about ethical dilemmas faced by social workers and other mental health professionals charged with providing care for individuals in solitary confinement.

Ethical dilemmas are familiar to social workers who often find themselves in environments and situations that challenge their code of ethics. But working in solitary confinement is a level of horror that few encounter. Social work in correctional facilities which falls under the umbrella of forensic social work is ripe with these challenges.

What should social workers do when they believe mentally ill inmates are being mistreated in jails or prisons? Who does she or he complain to? Often locked in an environment with violent individuals who are both inmates and guards, how do social workers look out for their personal safety concerns while seeking just treatment for inmates? These are tough questions with no easy answers that the task force will wrestle with.

Task force member Mary E. Buser, whose op-ed piece in the Washington Post about her work with mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement at New York City’s Rikers Island jail provided the impetus that spurred Moya into organizing the task force, wrote about “doling out antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mountains of sleeping pills,” in an effort to keep the psyches of people in solitary from unraveling.

Her job was to determine if those in solitary confinement might reach the point where they would kill themselves. How do you do that as a social worker or mental health practitioner? Her brief time as acting chief of mental health took her into the segregation unit on Rikers Island known as the Bing. It was an experience she will never forget. Yet, social workers must provide services to people in solitary confinement unless the practice is discontinued.

National social work organizations are involved in this effort. Task force member Mel Wilson, manager of the Department of Social Justice and Human Rights for the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has been active on this issue for years. He provided testimony during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights on the use of solitary confinement. Dr. Michel Coconis, chair of the Association for Community Organizing and Social Administration (ACOSA) and a long-time activist against the death penalty, also joined the task force which held its kickoff meeting Wednesday at Columbia University School of Social Work.

Confronting the misuse of solitary confinement will be a challenge as many in the “tough on crime” crowd see solitary confinement as necessary and useful. However, there is mounting opposition to the growing use of solitary confinement in our nation’s jails and prisons. Conservative columnist George Will has equated solitary confinement with torture.

The New York City Department of Corrections recently ended solitary confinement for 16 and 17 year olds. Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee has held two subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement. Two bills have been introduced in the House—H.R. 4618 sponsored by Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA2) would create a commission to study its use, and H.R. 4124 sponsored by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA29) would eliminate the use of solitary confinement in federal juvenile facilities.

Freedom Winter: The Failure of Truth to Keep Black Men Breathing

Like much of our nation’s civil rights history, the experiences of freedom summer of 1964 can be and have been used to illuminate all of the progress we have made and direct our gaze away from the stagnation that surrounds us today. Look, it seems to say as it shows us old poll tax cards and Klan uniforms. Look at how far we’ve come since then. By shining a light on the barbarities of our past, we are invited to juxtapose them with our present and marvel at how we ever could have harbored such hatred and oppression.

For White America, these sorts of retrospectives—along with Disneyfied films like The Help and Remember The Titans—have the often unintended consequence of helping us to absolve ourselves of our collective past sins and to treat the Civil Rights Era and all that came before it as a separate chapter in American history. White America compartmentalizes and cordons off the actions of our parents and grandparents, operating under the false assumption that we are less prejudiced and less hateful than they were. That we are somehow above all that.

Words from the children of The Freedom Summer in Mississippi

Because that’s what the job is for.
To keep a little freedom bubble
From rising to the surface
And spreading
Everywhere

Pop
Pop

So the job of a cop
Is to stop

Stop
Stop

Those words are 50 years old. They did not come from poets or civil rights workers, but from children. Children who were born and raised in the suffocating stillness of segregation once attendant to the farthest reaches of the Deep South. These were the children of a gross and unfathomable iniquity. They were the grandchildren of sharecroppers and great-great grandchildren of slaves who had toiled in these Delta fields under the hot Mississippi sun longer than memory could recall.

Their words survive today because they were the fruit of Mississippi’s Freedom Summer—written down on lunch bag colored paper with black and green marker at voluntarily attended Freedom Schools by wide-eyed activists who were only beginning to comprehend the ubiquitous and lethal terror that accompanied their students every moment. Right now those words are encased in glass at the Mississippi State Archives in Jackson as a testament to the bravery and humanity of those children, as well as that of their families and the volunteers who worked with them. But, in another sense, the Freedom Summer exhibit is there to illustrate the differences between then and now.

White America draws a million little lines in the sand between Medgar Evers and Mike Brown—between Alabama’s George Wallace and Missouri’s Jay Nixon—between Birmingham cops with fire hoses and Ferguson cops with armored SWAT vehicles—all in an effort to convince ourselves that there’s nothing to see here. So we can just forget about it all and get on with our lives that were never negatively effected by a society that valued our skin color above all others. Put all of those lines together and you have the explanation for why fewer than 3 in 10 white people thought the shooting of Trayvon Martin raised important questions about race or why 85% of whites thought the protesters in Ferguson went too far. In the words of one Ferguson resident, “I feel for everyone involved, [but] I think the protesters just need to go home.”

But the protesters can’t go home. The black men can’t go home because there’s no telling if they’re ever going to get there without some jackbooted thug of a police officer pulling him over for a seatbelt violation and shooting him for doing what he was told or choking him to death for selling cigarettes on the sidewalk. The loved ones of those black men can’t go home either for fear that one night they get there and their father-brother-son-husband-boyfriend-best friend never makes it back because they were murdered by a cop for the crime of walking around a Walmart with a cell phone in his hand and a toy gun on his shoulder in an open carry state.. And once the deed is done and the black man is dead, no one can go home because they know that justice will never be served unless they can somehow lead the eyes of the world to constantly peer over its shoulder.

The truth is not enough. It never has been and probably never will be. All of the members of the Green County grand jury saw the tape. They saw John Crawford pick up an already unpackaged BB gun. They saw him meandering up and down the aisles by the garden center with the toy gun casually slung over his shoulder and talking on the phone with his girlfriend as customer after customer after customer walked by him without apprehension.

They heard the absurd and erroneous set of circumstances being described by a convicted thief and fraudulently enlisted “ex-marine” to a 911 dispatcher and they saw that these claims bore no resemblance to what they saw on the tape and they watched as Beavercreek’s finest stormed into that Walmart and shot John Crawford twice without even the slightest attempt at deescalation or communication beyond violent shouting. Those grand jury members saw all of that evidence that pointed to the inescapable truth that Officer Sean Williams had killed an innocent man in cold blood and they still declined to indict him.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 2.00.07 AM 1

There is a rage that has begun boil over—it is the rage of people who have been reminded with alarming frequency that their lives mean nothing in the eyes of those who hold power. As I type this, the streets of Ferguson are burbling with a white hot anger that has been compressed and condensed over the past few weeks and which has burst forth once more as word is being spread that another body could be awaiting ceremonial pickup from an ambulance that isn’t bound for a hospital, but for a morgue. 50 years ago we had a Freedom Summer down in Mississippi and now, we must prepare for a Freedom Winter.

All of the idealism and hope of the Civil Rights Era has withered away under a half century teeter-totter of progresses and regresses and the torrent of unjustly slain black men’s bodies that has fallen upon us recently. What is left from those long ago days is little more than a 400 year old frustration that has been left to fester and ferment in our “post-racial” nation. A frost is coming America. Bundle up and pray it thaws fast.

A Monster At The Heart Of British Policing

I have postponed writing this piece for several months now. However as more stories emerge on an almost daily basis, it has become clear that there is something rotten at the core of British Policing. This will, unfortunately, come as no surprise to the Black and Minority Ethnic Communities living in England who have been victims of institutional racism, intimidation and victimization for many decades. However, the stench of police corruption has now reached the nose of the political class.

scotland yardIn February of this year, several police officers were dismissed for criminal conduct after attempting to smear the reputation of Conservative Politician Andrew Mitchell. Whilst this of course is no more important than the daily injustices of Stop and Search, perversely it does mean that we now have national recognition of the problem and finally stand a chance of tackling it.

The police are an essential aspect of any civilized society and a core component in the battle between liberty and security. It is a job that I do not envy but one that I admire. Whilst people continue to harm others, we need people who are willing to stand up and be the ‘good guys’. Unfortunately, the line between good guys and bad guys is being irreparably blurred in the UK.

Last month, the final report of an internal investigation in to the work of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad was presented to the public and the findings are highly alarming. It was revealed that from the mid 1980s to 2005, undercover police officers were secretly gathering intelligence on 18 families who were fighting to get justice from the police after their relatives had been murdered or had died in police custody. The report highlighted the fact that the information gathered by the police should only have been stored if it could have prevented crime or disorder and concluded that ultimately the information “should not have been retained and certainly not for the period it has been.”

What is particularly worrying about this and other cases is that it was not a one-off individual- a lone ranger- it was an organized group of people all willing to ignore and reject government guidelines, best-practice and human decency. This cannot be something that is simply swept under the carpet. It is terrifying to know that those we pay to protect us will put more energy in to protecting their own reputation. The notion of ‘police before public’ reeks of gang mentality.

As further stories emerge about police misconduct, I have been shocked to discover the true level and scale of police malpractice in Britain. I feel embarrassed that so little has been done to iron out the injustices that the BME community has struggled with for so long. Whilst it would be unfair to say that there are no honest and decent police officers, you only need to scratch the surface to realize that there is something significantly and dangerously wrong with the structure and ethos of the British Police Service.

In June of this year, a Court found that Firearms Officer Carol Howard had been subjected to discriminatory treatment by the Met Police due to the fact that she was black and female. The Court case revealed that the deletion of records of sex and race discrimination was common practice within the Met and was used as a means of ensuring that there are no findings of discrimination against them.

There are countless other examples that I could list. So many, in fact, that the Home Secretary Tereasa May was forced to do the previously unthinkable in May of this year. At this years Police Federation, she abandoned the usual deferential treatment given to the police force and rather read out a long list of recent police scandals. The Home Secretary made it explicitly clear that unless the police take heed of the recommendations of the Normington Report for police reform, the Government would have to impose reform upon them.

Courageously, Tereasa May directly addressed the Federation to say:

I want the police to be the best it can be. I want you – the representatives of the thousands of decent, dedicated, honest police officers – to show the public that you get it, that you want to take responsibility for the future of policing and you want to work with me to change policing for the better.

I hope that this speech was not mere rhetoric but genuinely marks the beginning of a determined effort to reform our police service. We cannot claim to live in a democracy if we do not prioritize accountability of those in positions of power.

There is a dark monster within the heart of the British police force and it is growing ever larger. We must act immediately. It is our duty to fight this monster. We owe it to the grieving families who have been spied on; we owe it to those women and men who join the police force to genuinely protect and serve their communities and we owe it to ourselves, because whilst this problem may not affect you directly today, if the monster is allowed to continue to grow, it won’t be a matter of if it will affect you but rather when it will affect you. And by then it will be impossible to defeat.

This is a serious problem and we can ignore it no longer. As Cornel West states: “The country is in deep trouble…We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice.” We need as many voices as possible to speak out in order to create change and we need to speak out now.

Do People with Disabilities Have the Right to Marry and Cohabit?

The right to marriage and cohabitation as persons with disabilities are not always granted or respected in society.  I learned about a case in New York where a newlywed couple filed a discrimination claim against a group home that refused to allow them to live together.  Paul Forziano and Hava Samuels are both in their 30s with intellectual disabilities.  They wed April 2013 and made the request to live together as a married couple to the group home.

Wedding Ring & Band 1The group home denied their request, stating that the arrangement would be “impossible” and “fraught with difficulties.”  The couple and their parents ardently believed that not allowing them to live together violated their rights, and they filed a lawsuit regarding their claim.  Last month, a federal judge struck down their lawsuit, on the grounds that the couple did not prove that they were discriminated against by the group home because of their disability statuses.  Forziano and Samuels plan to appeal their case.

The notion of people with disabilities wanting companionship, intimacy, and to be married has been considered “ridiculous” and “disgusting” throughout the history of society.  The driving force behind such erroneous, and dangerous, thoughts is that people with disabilities do not desire love, sex, or long-term committed relationships.  Nor are those across the disability spectrum able to “understand” the concept of marriage, or able to give consent as to who they decide to spend their lives with and/or share a residence with.

To stymie such rights to happiness based on incorrect stereotypes about those with disabilities is in fact discriminatory and dehumanizing; it IS a CIVIL rights violation.  The Forziano and Samuels case is not uncommon; people with disabilities, particularly those with intellectual disabilities, face incredible stumbling blocks to gain access to something that the rest of society takes for granted.  Let’s not forget about our disabled LBGTQA brethren who, depending on which state they live in, would not even be afforded the opportunity to marry.

To deny someone the right to marry or cohabit because they are disabled is archaic; when will the policies and institutions that exist to assist people with disabilities catch up with the times?  What would be your reaction if a judge or a facility made the decision to not recognize your union/marriage, based solely on the fact that you and/or your significant other had a disability?  Have you experienced such discrimination?  If so, what action(s) did you undertake – filed a lawsuit, moved to another group home/facility that recognized your union/marriage, etc.?  Incidents like this shows that society has a long ways to go in accepting and respecting the humanness of those with disabilities.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Cilento-Wedding-Planner.)

Recidivism: Reducing Non-Compliance or Victim Blaming?

Court-mandated outpatient treatment in New York State, known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), is a program designed to compel outpatient treatment and medication for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness who refuse to comply with treatment and become hospitalized or violent as a result.  However, this program fails to acknowledge the impact of mental health treatment shortages.

forcedmentalhealthThis error arises because the AOT program, and others like it around the country, falsely associates repeat hospitalization with treatment non-compliance. In many cases, treatment shortages, particularly housing shortages, are a major source of risk for repeat hospitalization. As such, thousands of individuals who struggle or are unable to secure limited mental health services are mischaracterized as dangerous, stripped of their rights to choose their treatment options, and are forced to submit to a court mandated treatment and medication regiment.

Since the creation of AOT in 1995, nearly 12,000 people in New York State have been subjected to court-mandated outpatient. As of 2012, approximately 3,330 people were currently compelled to the program. There are also major racial and geographic discrepancies in the implementation of the AOT program.

According to New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) (2005), African Americans and Latinos are subject to AOTs at five and two and a half times the rate of their Caucasian counterparts, respectively. Furthermore, people living in New York City were four times as likely to receive an AOT compared to those living in the surrounding state (NYLPI, 2005). These disparities indicate a major bias in the implementation of AOTs and suggest that other factors are influencing the application of this severely restrictive program.

Current Policy and Background

Assisted Outpatient Treatment was introduced in New York through the 1999 legislation known as “Kendra’s Law.” This law was named in memory of Kendra Webdale, a 32-year-old journalist who was killed when Andrew Goldstein, a man with a severe and persistent mental illness, pushed her front of a subway (Hartocollis, 2006).

Kendra’s Law provides the AOT mandate for people over the age of 18 suffering from a mental illness who are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision. AOTs can only be authorized by a judge and a hearing must prove either, A) lack of treatment compliance led to hospitalization at least two times in the last three years, or B) lack of treatment compliance led to threats or acts of serious violence to self or others in the last four years. In addition, the court must prove that the person’s mental illness makes them unlikely to participate in community-based treatment and that such treatment would be beneficial to prevent relapse and deterioration. (New York State Office of Mental Health, 2014)

600_subwayOnce approved, AOTs require case management services or an assertive community treatment (ACT) team. The person is required to follow a detailed treatment plan, which typically includes both services and medication.

If a person chooses not to comply with the treatment plan, they will be arrested and locked in a psychiatric hospital for 72-hours. After such time, the standard civil commitment process begins where it is determined whether they should remain hospitalized or be released into the community. (New York State Office of Mental Health, 2014)

Critique of Assisted Outpatient Treatment

Some advocates for the mentally ill consider the AOT program a positive step because it mandates providers to ensure care for the mentally ill and prevents people from falling through the cracks (Van Dorm, 2010). There have also been many documented benefits from the AOT program including a decrease in homeless, hospitalization, incidences of harmful behavior (New York State Office of Mental Health).

While the positive outcomes should not be overlooked, we must ask ourselves, at what cost are we accomplishing such feats? What are the unintended consequences of compulsory treatment and are there hidden victims behind the data?

A major critique of the AOT program is that it is likely applied to a wider rang of individuals than the intended population. Specifically, it is applied to individuals for whom services are scare. Recall that the first requirement for AOT is at least two hospitalizations within the last three years. While courts must prove these hospitalizations were caused by treatment non-compliance, it is often difficult to identify non-compliance when voluntary services are limited or substandard.

In a tragic and ironic example, Andrew Goldstein, Kendra Webdale’s assailant, was determined treatment non-compliant because he was not taking his medication when he pushed Ms. Webdale onto the subway tracks. However, this ruling was made despite the fact that Mr. Goldstein’s family and social worker had been fighting desperately for years to obtain medication assistance and supervised housing for him (Wineripe, 1999). Mr. Goldstein was countlessly denied treatment due to shortages and was on a waiting list for housing at the time of Kendra’s death. Mr. Goldstein had been hospitalized fourteen times in the two years preceding Ms. Webdale’s death and was given no priority access to community-based services upon his release.

The assumption underlying the resulting legislation was that Mr. Goldstein was too ill to comply with treatment and should thus be striped of his rights in order to maintain public safety. This is an unfair and victim-blaming perspective. Mr. Goldstein was failed by the system.  He was denied services and then punished for not accessing them. This is not to say that people with mental illnesses never refuse treatment. Rather, it is to say that inadequate mental health services are a much greater cause of hospital recidivism than treatment refusal. Instead of addressing this problem by improving services, Kendra’s Law and the AOT program has focused on stripping the mentally ill of their rights.

Mr. Goldstein’s experience is not unique, as many mental health services in New York are limited. According to the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI, 2009), New York State is in “Urgent Need” of acute care facilities, mental health housing, and crisis intervention teams. According to a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2013), only 38.5 percent of individuals with a mental illness in New York receive adequate treatment. The shortage of housing services for people with mental illnesses is particularly significance because, “Without appropriate housing in place, recidivism is especially high within this population” (NAMI, 2013). As of 2013, NAMI estimated that 21,000 additional housing units were required to adequately address the needs of the mentally ill.

Because of service shortages, two major distortions of the AOT program have occurred. First, hospital recidivism, rather than a history of violence, has become the dominant mechanism of AOT authorization. According to a comprehensive evaluation of the program commissioned by the state, 66 percent of all AOT cases were opened at hospital discharge to reduce recidivism (Swartz, et.al. 2009). They also found that the majority of AOTs were obtained before seeking an Enhanced Voluntary Service Agreement (EVS). Furthermore, only 15 percent of AOT participants were found to have any history of violence.

The second distortion of the AOT program due to treatment shortages is that court mandates have become the most reliable avenue for an individual in New York to obtain mental health services.  According to NYLPI (2005), because court mandates provide individuals with a “right to treatment” and priority access, AOTs are sometimes sought simply to get people treatment. This unfortunate and perverse distortion of the AOT program is of grave concern because it required the mentally ill to subject themselves to a subordinate legal status in order to be provided the care they need to live healthy, safe and productive lives.

Policy Recommendations

In order to improve the AOT system and ensure only those who are truly non-compliant are court-mandated treatment the following recommendations are provided. First, treatment shortages must be eliminated. This requires a significant increase in mental health financing and an increase in the number of supportive housing facilities, day program services, medication management, and intensive case management.

Second, individuals with a history of hospitalization should be provided priority access to community based services and a “right to treatment.” This includes creating Enhanced Voluntary Service Agreement (EVS) for all individuals who have been hospitalized at least two times in the last three years, rather an the current requirement that these individuals are prescribed AOTs. Third, AOT authorization for individuals with a history of hospitalization should be amended to include proof that non-compliance occurred in the presence of reasonably accessible services.

With these recommendations, the need for court-mandated outpatient treatment will be significantly diminished.  People with mental illness will have the resources that prevent hospitalization and those in critical conditions will have full-access to the services they need to get better.  Most importantly, mental health consumers will maintain their rights, dignity, and freedom to choose their providers, medications, and service-delivery methods. Treatment shortages should not be tolerated and neither should the further disenfranchisement of the mentally ill.

While there may be limited instances where court mandates are necessary, we should resist these mechanism whenever possible. Court-mandates are an oversimplified solution for a challenging program. Ultimately, the currently AOT system unfairly robs individuals of their liberties, dignity, and falsely blame the mentally ill for treatment shortages when the onus is on society.

References

Hartocollis, A. (October 11, 2006). Nearly 8 Years Later, Guilty Plea in Subway Killing. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

National Association of Mental Health. (2009). Grading the states 2009 report card: New York. Retrieved from:

National Association of Mental Health. (2013). Legislative agenda: the need for safe and affordable housing for people with mental illness. Retrieved from:

New York Lawyers for Public Interest. (2005). Implementation of Kendra’s Law is Severely Biased. Available at

New York State Office of Mental Health (NYOMH1): Summary of Kendra’s Law. Available at:

New York State Office of Mental Health (NYOMH2: Assisted Outpatient Treatment Reports: Outcomes. Available at:

Swartz, M.S., Swanson, J.W., Steadman, H.J., Robbins, P.C. & Monahan J. (2009). New York State assisted outpatient treatment program evaluation. Durham, NC: Duke University School of Medicine (June, 2009). DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.61.10.976

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Behavioral Health Barometer: New York, 2013. HHS Publication No. SMA-13-4796NY. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2013.

Van Dorn, R.A., Swanson, J.W., Swartz, M.S., Wilder, C.W., Moser, L.L., Gilbert, A.R., Cislo, A.M., & Robbins, C.P. (2010). Continuing involuntary outpatient treatment: medication and hospitalization outcomes in New York. Psychiatric Services, 61(10) 1-6.

Winerip, M. (Nov 1999). Report faults care of man who pushed women onto tracks. New York Times.

NC NAACP Responds to The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014

DURHAM – While the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP appreciates the fact that a bipartisan effort has been made to amend and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we have some serious concerns and objections to the proposal which has just been introduced in the U.S. Congress. On January 16, 2014, Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and other co-sponsors introduced legislation which is intended to replace Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013
NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013

This provision was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision had the effect of gutting the Section 5 pre-clearance mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Section 5 mandate had been successfully used by the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights organizations to prevent covered jurisdictions from enacting voting laws and regulations which had the effect of discriminating against racial minorities.

A preliminary examination of the proposed provisions of this legislation convinces us that it falls woefully short of what is needed to protect all people from race-based efforts to curtail the voting potential of people of color. We certainly see this proposal as a starting point, there is much work to be done before these provisions can be deemed to be equivalent to the protections which Section 5 provided over the years.

Any voting rights proposal which does not recognize and address the widespread voting suppression efforts which are presently occurring in North Carolina is defective. As presently written, the proposal would not mandate that North Carolina be designated as a jurisdiction which would be subject to pre-clearance. This is the State which leads the country in recognized and judicially determined voting rights violations since the introduction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This long history dates back to the landmark cases of Thornburg v. Gingles in 1986 and Shaw v. Hunt in 1992. In response to the passage of the most sweeping voter suppression legislation in the United States, North Carolina is presently being sued in State and federal courts for enacting laws designed to curtail the votes of racial minorities. Passage of this proposed legislation would have the effect of endorsing the race-based actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP is not willing to accept any legislation which does not mandate that North Carolina is designated as a covered jurisdiction.

Another major defect with this proposed legislation is the exemption that the law would provide for voter identification statutes. Voter ID is an abhorrent and offensive to voting rights as were poll taxes and the literacy tests which are now outlawed by the Voting Rights Acts. The exemption which the bill drafters seek to give to Voter ID legislation is no more than a pandering to right wing regressive political forces who are the present-day architects of voter suppression efforts around the country.

As written, this bill does not protect the rights of racial minorities against discrimination at the polls. As the nation’s oldest and largest Civil Rights organization with a massive membership base, we have the responsibility to insure that any legislation which is enacted must protect the best interests of our members, our community and the democratic principles espoused in our constitution. Our mission is to stand on the side of equal protection under the law and not to merely celebrate political compromise, especially where it has the intent or effect of undermining our hard-won political victories. In that light, this legislation looks like an effort to proclaim that this is the best that we can do with these Republicans in power rather than being drafted from the perspective of “how do we maximize political protections for racial minorities which are consistent with our constitution and the 1965 Voting rights act?”. Political protections in our democracy should be unfettered, the rights of every voter should be recognized and every vote must be properly counted.

Accordingly, we plan to meet with North Carolina’s elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate as well as our National NAACP leadership to amend and fix this proposed legislation. We have already contacted other State Branches of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations who oppose and/or support this proposal. It is our plan to fight as hard to amend and fix this proposal as we are presently fighting against the voter suppression efforts here in North Carolina.

One of the most important and fundamental rights of racial minorities is the right to vote. Since the NAACP was organized in 1909, voting rights has been at the top of our agenda and it remains in that position today. Voting rights is the life-blood of a vibrant and politically connected people and we will not stand by passively and allow political compromise to destroy the hard-gained victories for voting rights for racial minorities in this country. We look forward to an opportunity to engage in the debate about this proposed legislation as this idea moves through the legislative process. We will call upon the 1,200 NAACP units from around the country to monitor their districts for additional evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices in their locales which can serve as further examples of the concerns and objections which we presently have about this proposal.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes the more than 150 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.

For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919 394 8137
Atty. Jamie Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919 682 4700

For Media Assistance: Laurel Ashton, Field Secretary, 828 713 3864

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

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