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May 23, 2016 8

Defense Authorization Act Moves Forward With Discriminatory Provision

Congress standing

Last week, the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the National Defense Autho­riza­tion Act for 2017 (“NDAA”), inclu­sive of a broad, dis­crim­i­na­tory pro­vi­sion spon­sored by Rep. Steve Rus­sell (R-OK). This pro­vi­sion, offered in the name of “reli­gious free­dom,” would allow reli­giously affil­i­ated fed­eral con­trac­tors and grantees to dis­crim­i­nate against women, any reli­gious group, and LGBT peo­ple with tax­payer dollars.

Dur­ing House’s debate on the NDAA, Rep. Sean Mal­oney (D-NY) offered a nar­row­ing amend­ment which would have pro­tected the Obama Administration’s ban on LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion in fed­eral con­tract­ing. That amend­ment failed on chaotic 212–213 vote dur­ing which Repub­li­can lead­ers took the extra­or­di­nary step of allow­ing vot­ing to con­tinue after time had expired and pres­sured a hand­ful of their Mem­bers to change their votes.

The Anti-Defamation League was one of 84 civil rights and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions that sub­mit­ted a coali­tion let­ter to Con­gress in oppo­si­tion to the Rus­sell Amendment.

Reli­giously affil­i­ated groups his­tor­i­cally have played an impor­tant role in address­ing many of our nation’s most press­ing social needs, as a com­ple­ment to government-funded pro­grams.   How­ever, faith-based groups should not use tax­payer dol­lars to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of reli­gion.  And no one should be dis­qual­i­fied from a job under a fed­eral con­tract or grant because of his or her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, gen­der, gen­der iden­tity, or religion.

The Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has approved its ver­sion of the NDAA with­out the Rus­sell Amend­ment.  Mov­ing for­ward, ADL and our coali­tion part­ners will con­tinue to oppose the Rus­sell Amend­ment and advo­cate for its exclu­sion from the final ver­sion of the NDAA.

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April 22, 2016 0

A Passover Reflection on Vestiges of American Slavery

By Lau­ren Jones, Civil Rights National Counsel

As Jews gather around the Seder table to tell the story of the Exo­dus from Egypt, we are com­manded to tell the story as if we had per­son­ally fled slav­ery. We will read from the Hagad­dah, “This year we are slaves. Next year may we all be free.”

Photo credit Wikipedia Commons

Photo credit Wikipedia Commons

In grade school we learned in his­tory classes that the 13th Amend­ment abol­ished slav­ery in the United States in 1865. What fewer learn or remem­ber, how­ever, is that there is one crit­i­cal excep­tion: the 13th Amend­ment abol­ished slav­ery “except as a pun­ish­ment for crime.” For decades after the abo­li­tion of slav­ery, South­ern states engaged in “con­vict leasing”—the prac­tice of send­ing peo­ple con­victed of crimes to work on plan­ta­tions or for pri­vate cor­po­ra­tions like rail­way con­trac­tors. Per­haps unsur­pris­ingly, nine-tenths of peo­ple impris­oned were black.

In 1893, in The Rea­son Why, Fred­er­ick Dou­glass wrote this of African Amer­i­cans caught up in the abhor­rent system:

Pos­sess­ing nei­ther money to employ lawyers nor influ­en­tial friends, they are sen­tenced in large num­bers to long terms of impris­on­ment for petty crimes. The People’s Advo­cate, a Negro jour­nal, of Atlanta, Geor­gia, has the fol­low­ing obser­va­tion on the prison show­ing of that state for 1892. ‘It is an astound­ing fact that 90 per­cent of the state’s con­victs are col­ored; 194 white males and 2 white females; 1,710 col­ored males and 44 col­ored females. Is it pos­si­ble that Geor­gia is so color prej­u­diced that she won’t con­vict her white law-breakers? Yes, it is just so, but we hope for a bet­ter day.’

Thank­fully, the United States no longer engages in con­vict leas­ing. But the shame­ful his­tory of a sys­tem that incar­cer­ated an over­whelm­ingly African Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion and con­tin­ued to enslave them after the offi­cial abo­li­tion of slav­ery plagues us to this day. Almost 125 years after Fred­er­ick Dou­glass wrote those words, racial injus­tice still runs through­out our crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

Mass incar­cer­a­tion in the United States con­tin­ues to have a disproportionate—and devastating—impact on com­mu­ni­ties of color. Although approx­i­mately thirty per­cent of peo­ple in the United States are African Amer­i­can or Latino, almost sixty per­cent of pris­on­ers are. In 2006, one in 14 African Amer­i­can men was incar­cer­ated, com­pared with one in 106 white men. Today the United States incar­cer­ates a higher per­cent­age of black men than South Africa did dur­ing the height of apartheid. If cur­rent trends con­tinue, one in three African Amer­i­can male babies born today will spend some of his life behind bars.

Stud­ies show that crime rates do not account for the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Rather, laws that pun­ish par­tic­u­lar behav­iors more than oth­ers, as well as sys­temic racism that under­girds poli­cies and prac­tices, all con­tribute. For exam­ple, stud­ies con­firm that whites are just as likely to use drugs as African Americans—and are as likely or even more likely to deal drugs—but police are twice as likely to arrest African Amer­i­cans for drug crimes as whites. In some states, African Amer­i­can men are serv­ing time for drug-related charges at a rate that is twenty to fifty times higher than rates for white men.

Racial dis­par­i­ties per­vade each step in the crim­i­nal jus­tice system—from stops to arrests, pros­e­cu­tion to sen­tenc­ing. For exam­ple, pros­e­cu­tors are approx­i­mately twice as likely to file charges against African Amer­i­can defen­dants that include manda­tory min­i­mums, and African Amer­i­can men on aver­age serve ten per­cent longer sen­tences for the same crime as white men. In Geor­gia, where a “two strikes and you’re out” law imposed a life sen­tence for a sec­ond drug offense, for exam­ple, dis­trict attor­neys invoked the law one per­cent of the time in pros­e­cut­ing white defen­dants accused of a sec­ond drug offense, but 16 per­cent of the time in pros­e­cut­ing African Amer­i­can defen­dants accused of a sec­ond drug offense. The result was that 98.4 per­cent of peo­ple serv­ing life sen­tences under the two strikes law were African Amer­i­can. Race—including con­scious and uncon­scious biases—clearly con­tin­ues to play a deeply trou­bling role through­out the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

As we begin the Passover cel­e­bra­tions, and tell the story of the lib­er­a­tion from slav­ery in Egypt, may we also think about the ves­tiges of slav­ery here in the United States. May we com­mit our­selves to end­ing mass incar­cer­a­tion and work­ing towards more jus­tice in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. As Fred­er­ick Dou­glass hoped for a bet­ter day, may we com­mit our­selves to cre­at­ing one. And next year, may we all be free.

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April 14, 2016 0

Jackie Robinson Set the Stage

By Ken­neth Jacobson

April 15 is the 69th anniver­sary of the entry of Jackie Robin­son into the major leagues. To com­mem­o­rate that his­toric event and that his­toric fig­ure, PBS is run­ning a new two-part doc­u­men­tary  look­ing at how this grand­son of slaves rose from hum­ble ori­gins to inte­grate Major League Baseball.

In some ways, the story of Robin­son and the inte­gra­tion of base­ball is a lit­tle hard for us to under­stand in 2016. Soci­ety in gen­eral has come a long way: the civil rights rev­o­lu­tion, the elec­tion of an African-American pres­i­dent, and the lead­ing role that African-Americans play in our major Amer­i­can sports. And base­ball no longer occu­pies a unique place as the national pas­time that it held in the 1940s.

Jackie_Robinson,_Brooklyn_Dodgers,_1954

Still, in a year where major sto­ries include num­bers of cases of unarmed African-Americans killed by police, where the right to vote cre­ated by the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act is under attack, where the school to prison pipeline is in the news, the Jackie Robin­son story has much to teach us.

In 1947, base­ball was king in Amer­ica. The fact that base­ball had never allowed an African-American to par­tic­i­pate in the major leagues was a blot on America’s rep­u­ta­tion, but only one of many that char­ac­ter­ized the coun­try before the civil rights era.

Robin­son was truly the har­bin­ger of change in America.

His break­through on April 15, 1947, which was rec­og­nized as a huge step for­ward. It took place seven years before the land­mark seg­re­ga­tion case Brown vs. Board of Edu­ca­tion and 17 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It started a process, which took years to ripen and which still is not over, of right­ing the great wrong of Amer­i­can history.

The great les­son of the Robin­son expe­ri­ence is that while laws have the great­est impact in chang­ing soci­ety, cul­ture can set the stage and cre­ate a cli­mate for the accep­tance of new, more inclu­sive laws. We’ve seen that in our time with the legal­iza­tion of gay mar­riage, which was pre­ceded by a num­ber of years of greater cul­tural accep­tance of les­bian and gay peo­ple through tele­vi­sion and the internet.

Back then, the emer­gence of Robin­son, the first African-American major lea­guer,  who han­dled  hos­tile fel­low major lea­guers and crowds with such grace and strength, to be fol­lowed over the next few years of other suc­cess­ful black major lea­guers, helped to cre­ate a sense that African-Americans deserved to be treated like other Amer­i­cans in our demo­c­ra­tic soci­ety. It was not a rev­o­lu­tion – it took years for the law to change – but it set the stage for the revolution.

Cul­ture mat­ters. How we teach our chil­dren, how the media por­tray var­i­ous minori­ties, how our reli­gious, busi­ness and polit­i­cal lead­ers speak about “the other” have a cumu­la­tive affect that cul­mi­nates in a more equal society.

Nobody bet­ter rep­re­sents this idea than Jackie Robinson.

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