Category Archives: Civil Rights

Don’t Be Scared of White People

I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be scared of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies". 

A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.

Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.

The actual IHOP video can be viewed near the bottom of the this page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.

Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.

These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.

Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.

Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way to hold Mc Donalds, IHOP or others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations. 

Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action. 

Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.

In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”

Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.

During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority.  In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmland and 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.

In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of Apartheid to one of majority rule and Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.

American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States. 

The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching, picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.

Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future. 

About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.

The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.

By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made. 

Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.” 

The video of the arrest is below.

Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies. 

Jessie Simmons: How a schoolteacher became an unsung hero of the civil rights movement

 By Valerie Hill-Jackson, Texas A&M University

Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons was full of optimism when she and her family moved from an apartment in a troubled area of Detroit to a new development in Inkster, Michigan in 1955.

With three children in tow, Jessie and her husband settled into a home on Colgate Street in a neighborhood known as “Brick City” – an idyllic enclave of single, working-class families with a shared community garden.

The plan was simple. Like many African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration, Jessie’s husband, Obadiah Sr., would find a stable factory job just outside of Detroit. Then Jessie would put to use the bachelor’s degree she had earned in upper elementary education from Grambling State University in the township of Taylor – just a few blocks from their new home.

File 20190301 110110 1gxxe8e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons, shown top center about age 37, c. 1961. [Clockwise: daughter Angela, sons Obadiah Jerone, Jr. and Carl, and husband Obadiah Jerone, Sr.; daughters Carolyn and Quendelyn are not pictured] Simmons family archives, Author provided

But the plan went awry. Jessie first applied for a teaching position with the Taylor school district in April 1958, but was denied. The same thing happened in March 1959. And a third time in May 1959. The repeated denials may have set back Jessie’s plans, but they also set her up to fight an important battle for justice for black educators at a time when many were being pushed out of the teaching profession.

I interviewed Jessie’s family as part of my ongoing research into the history of black women teachers from the Reconstruction Era to the 21st century.

Fighting back

The battle began when Jessie filed a grievance with the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission, or MFEPC, on Sept. 1, 1959. Jessie’s grievance detailed her conversation with the superintendent Orville Jones in March 1958, in which he told her “there would be vacancies in 1959.”

In August 1958, the Taylor Township Board of Education – the body overseeing the school district where Jessie wanted to teach – took up the matter of employing Negro teachers at a board meeting. The reason the item was placed on the agenda? The Superintendent at the time, Orville Jones, “felt that any handicap” – he deemed race as a handicap – “be pointed out to the board.”

The chair of the school board, Mr. Randall, stated applications were “considered in the order of the dates they were received.” Since the Taylor school board was now on record regarding its hiring practices for teachers, Jessie used that statement in her grievance.

Jessie’s decision to file a grievance would be a costly one for her family. The couple had planned on two steady incomes. In 1959, now a mother of five children, Jessie took a job as a waitress and a cook in a cafe to make ends meet. Her job drew scorn from family members in Louisiana who knew she was severely underemployed. And though her children didn’t know it at the time, Jessie and her husband “gave up meals so the children could eat,” according to Jessie’s oldest son, Obidiah Jr.

In 1960 the MFEPC held a public hearing for the grievance filed by Jessie and Mary Ruth Ross – a second black teacher who was also denied employment by the Taylor board of education. According to the Detroit Courier, Jessie and Mary “were passed over for employment in favor of white applicants who lacked degrees.” Records uncovered by the MFEPC found that 42 non-degreed teachers hired between 1957 through 1960 were all white and “had a maximum of 60 hours of college credits.” Jessie and Mary, on the other hand, were both degreed teachers with some credits toward a graduate degree.

How the Brown decision hurt black teachers

While the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is often celebrated and considered a legal victory, many scholars believe it had a harmful effect on black teachers. In 1951, scholars writing in the Journal of Negro Education rightly warned that Brown “might conceivably” impact “Negro teachers”. Nationwide, school district leaders pushed back against Brown in two ways.

First, school leaders slow-walked the implementation of Brown – for many school districts as late as the mid-1980s. Second, black teachers across the country lost their once-secure teaching jobs by the tens of thousands after Brown when black schools closed and black children integrated into white schools. In the South, for example, the number of black teachers had soared to around 90,000 pre-Brown. But by 1965 nearly half had lost their jobs. A 1965 report from the National Education Association, a leading labor union for teachers, concluded school districts had “no place for Negroes” in the wake of Brown. School officials railed against Brown and refused to hire black teachers like Jessie, turning them into what sociologist Oliver Cox described as “martyrs to integration.”

My own research confirms that the forced exodus of black women from the teaching profession was ignited by Brown. Discrimination by school leaders fueled the demographic decline of black teachers and remains one of the leading factors for their under-representation in the profession today.

First ruling of its kind

At the eight-day public hearing, Jones admitted that “the hiring of Negro teachers would be something new and different and something we had not done before.” He stated he felt that the Negro teachers were “not up to par.” The hearing eventually revealed that applications for “Negroes” were kept in distinct folders – separated from the submissions of the white applicants.

After more than a year, the MFEPC issued a ruling in Jessie’s case. The decision got a brief mention from Jet Magazine on Dec. 1, 1960:

In the first ruling of its kind, the MFEPC ordered the Taylor Township School Board to hire Mrs. Mary Ruth Ross and Mrs. Jessie Simmons, two Negro teachers, and pay them back wages for the school years of 1959-60 and 1960-61. FEPC Commissioner Allan A. Zaun said the teachers were refused employment on the basis of race.

The attorney for the Taylor board of education, Harry F. Vellmure, threatened to challenge the ruling in court – all the way “to the Supreme Court if necessary,” according to the Detroit Courier. The board stuck to its position that Jessie and Mary were given full and fair consideration for teaching jobs and simply lost out to better qualified teachers.

As a result of noncompliance with the MFEPC’s order, Carl Levin, future U.S. senator and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Taylor school district on Jessie’s and Mary’s behalf. Even though the matter did not reach higher courts, Vellmure filed several appeals that effectively slowed down the commission’s order for seven years.

As the lawsuit dragged on, Jessie became an elementary school teacher with the Sumpter School District in 1961. By 1965, she left Sumpter for the Romulus Community School District. According to Jessie’s children, they would continue in the Taylor school district and were known as the kids “whose mother filed the lawsuit against the school district.”

In 1967, after seven years of fighting the Taylor school district in local court, Jessie and Mary prevailed. They were awarded two years back pay and teaching positions. Saddled by hurt feelings after a long fight with the Taylor school district, Jessie declined the offer and continued teaching in Romulus.

The Simmons moved into a larger, newly constructed home on Lehigh Avenue. Jessie gave birth to her sixth child, Kimberly, one month before moving in. Although the new home was only two blocks south of their old home on Colgate Avenue, Jessie’s four surviving children recall that their lifestyle improved and their childhood was now defined by two eras: “before lawsuit life and after lawsuit life.” And by 1968, Jessie earned a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.

Unsung civil rights hero

At her retirement in 1986, Jessie’s former students recalled that she was an effective teacher of 30 years who was known as a disciplinarian with a profound sense of commitment to the children of Romulus.

Jessie’s story is a reminder that the civil rights movement did not push society to a better version of itself with a singular, vast wave toward freedom. Rather, it was fashioned by little ripples of courage with one person, one schoolteacher, at a time.The Conversation


The Loss of Black Women Teachers.

Valerie Hill-Jackson, Clinical Professor of Educator Preparation and Director, Educator Preparation and School Partnerships, Texas A&M University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

“Get Out”: Black Families Harassed in Their Own Homes

Hate database shows that the terrorizing of people where they live is alive and well decades after the civil rights movement.

by Rahima Nasa and Rachel Glickhouse

In Delano, Minnesota, a black family’s home was broken into in March 2017 and a warning was spray-painted on the walls: “Get out.” The vandals left a note, too: “Next time it’s going to be fire.”

In Athens, Tennessee, the white mother of young biracial children alleged that she’d been harassed verbally by a neighbor for a year.

For close to two years, ProPublica has been compiling reports of hate crimes and bias incidents as part of their Documenting Hate project. The database now houses a vast compendium of ugliness in America. Killings, assaults, threats of terror — they are all there.

One of the more common entries involves people being harassed or threatened at their place of residence, often by neighbors, the people who live next door or down the hall or around the corner. Of course, this isn’t new. The integration of neighborhoods in the U.S. has been as fraught as the integration of the country’s schools.

Jeannine Bell, a lawyer and author of “Hate Thy Neighbor: Move-In Violence and the Persistence of Racial Segregation in American Housing,” said no corner of the country has any claim of immunity from the problem. She also noted that the total number of such incidents is not reliably captured in any formal data set, ours or those kept by federal and local authorities. That’s because, she said, many of these incidents go unreported.

“A lot of times, the people that are targeted don’t even know that this is a crime,” Bell said.

The Documenting Hate database has close to 6,000 entries — a mix of news reports, tips, personal stories of bigotry and records collected by law enforcement and some anti-discrimination groups. Among the most common things reported are anti-Muslim acts, which accounted for 359 entries, and swastikas showing up in public places, which were the subject of an additional 400 or so.

More than 300 entries were reports of harassment or menacing at people’s homes, targeting people of a variety of races and religions. The most frequent victims were African Americans. Indeed, African Americans are the most frequently victimized group nationally for hate crimes, according to data from the FBI.

That finding prompted us to send inquiries to the dozen or so police jurisdictions that had reported the highest number of anti-black hate crimes to the FBI’s hate-crime database from 2010 to 2016. Since we couldn’t get incident reports from every one of those jurisdictions, we also made requests to several police departments where we’d received data that included anti-black hate crimes.

In total, we were able to identify 639 incidents of anti-black violence or harassment from the police reports we received. More than a fifth of those reports, 138 in all, were incidents involving people being targeted by neighbors or in their homes.

In Columbus, Ohio, a man went to police because someone had been ringing his doorbell or banging on his garage 25 to 30 times a night, almost every night. When the man went outside, the suspect would call him racial slurs from the darkness. The man and his family are the only black residents of their cul-de-sac. No arrests were made and the case is currently listed as inactive.

In Toledo, at the north end of the state, a man was allegedly harassing three black neighbors in his neighborhood, using “unwarranted racist language,” according to the police report. One day, the suspect saw a car with black occupants throw trash on the street. Even though they had no relation to anyone on the block, the suspect came over and dumped trash on a black family’s lawn, the report said. “Since you all want to nigger up the neighborhood, I’ll burn you and your nigger family out,” he allegedly told the victim. Police went to the suspect’s home, but he didn’t answer the door. A call to the Toledo police to check on the case was not returned.

In Kansas City, Missouri, an African-American man went to police because his neighbor had harassed him for three years. The suspect allegedly stood in his driveway taking pictures of his home and waved a Confederate flag. The man who filed the complaint wound up moving, but he told police he was worried because he’d seen the man outside his new home.

In Oxford Township, Michigan, a couple — a white woman and a black man — went to police because they said they couldn’t leave the house without getting harassed by their neighbor, who called them racial slurs. When police gave the neighbor a citation for disorderly conduct, she ripped it up in front of the officer. She was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct and her case was turned over to the local prosecutor’s office.

And in Spokane, Washington, we got records on two cases of possible neo-Nazis harassing their black neighbors. In one case, the neighbors reported that a man with a swastika on his hand called them racial slurs. He allegedly threw a brick at a woman, calling her a slur. In another case, a black man said his white supremacist neighbor and another man assaulted him in his garage while using racial slurs and threatened him with a gun. “Nigger, you don’t deserve to be breathing white men’s air,” they allegedly said. Later, the white supremacist allegedly returned with two other men and yelled “heil the KKK” and “white power” at the man, shortly before shooting a gun at his home from a car. The victim told The Spokesman-Review that one of the suspects had called him racial slurs for months leading up to the shooting.

According to the Spokane Police Department, both cases resulted in arrests and the suspects were charged with first-degree assault and malicious harassment. In the shooting case, suspect Donald Prichard’s criminal history record totals to 16 felony convictions, which included beating and sexually assaulting a woman. He’s awaiting trial on Jan. 22. The second suspect in that case, Jason Cooper, has 12 felony convictions, including unlawful possession of a weapon and burglary, and he is awaiting trial on Feb. 25.

Many accounts, both in our database and that resulted from our queries to police departments, include frustration at what can seem like a lack of police interest or action. In the case of the family targeted in Delano, no one was ever arrested, and the family wound up moving away. The mother in Athens said police told her there was little they could do about verbal harassment, that it was a civil matter. The authorities in Athens didn’t return a request for comment.

That said, we did find examples where the authorities ultimately took serious steps.

In Grapevine, Texas, Dante Petty was harassed by his white neighbor, Glenn Halfin, for over a year after he moved in. The harassment became so persistent that he installed surveillance cameras outside his home and a police officer was stationed outside for over a month. The breaking point occurred when his neighbor left black baby dolls with nooses around their necks hung outside his apartment. Ultimately, Halfin was charged with a hate crime and convicted of violating the family’s housing rights. He was sentenced to year in state prison, the maximum punishment based on his guilty plea to the misdemeanor charge.

“No one should be afraid to go home at night,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox on the day of Halfin’s sentencing. Victims of such harassment at their residences, it turns out, have an option other than going to the local police. Harassing one’s neighbor also violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for landlords and neighbors to interfere with someone’s right to housing based on who they are. And there is an office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development meant to handle such cases.

Victims can file a complaint with HUD within a year of the alleged violation. Owners, managers and condominium associations may be liable for neighbor-on-neighbor harassment if they fail to intervene when they have a duty to do so. Criminal penalties can include fines and prison.

According to HUD statistics, there were 8,348 complaints of such violations in 2015, 8,350 in 2016 and 8,186 in 2017. Half or more of those cases dealt with alleged violations involving people with disabilities. The HUD statistics show that, historically, very few of the complaints of any kind wound up with federal prosecutions.

The number of prosecutions has gotten appreciably smaller in recent years. In 2015, the Department of Justice closed 84 cases brought to it by HUD regarding the Fair Housing Act. In 2016, there were only 12. In 2017, there were just five.

Calls for comment from HUD were not returned because of the federal government shutdown.

Meanwhile, as the second year of Documenting Hate came to a close, reports kept coming in.

In June 2018, Hubert Roberts, of Clio, Michigan, complained to police that his truck had been targeted by racists. A Nazi symbol was spray painted on the truck, along with slurs and boasts of white pride. The Genesee County Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the case, other than to say no arrests have been made. When asked about the current status of the case, the FBI told ProPublica, “Adhering to DOJ policy, the FBI neither confirms nor denies investigations.”

Roberts said that this wasn’t the first time he was targeted in the community because of his race, either. He noted other instances of being called racist comments, where he was told to “go back to Africa,” while doing work on his yard.

“This could have been an opportunity for some dialogue in this predominantly white community,” Roberts said. “I just feel really disappointed with our justice system.”


Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

 

 

Two Indiana Police Officers to be Charged After Video Shows Them Beating Handcuffed Man

“A little overboard,” is how the police chief had previously described the officers’ actions. The decision to charge them came only after ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network demanded to see the video.

Two Elkhart, Indiana, police officers who punched a handcuffed man in the face more than 10 times will face criminal charges — 11 months after the fact, and only after The South Bend Tribune requested video of the incident as part of an ongoing investigation with ProPublica.

The two officers, Cory Newland and Joshua Titus, will be charged with misdemeanor counts of battery, the police department announced Friday. Both have been placed on administrative leave pending the case’s outcome, department spokesman Sgt. Travis Snider said.

The department also released the video of the beating after 5 p.m. Friday — more than three weeks after The Tribune requested a copy.

Five months ago, the two officers were disciplined for this incident. But they received reprimands rather than suspensions or possible termination.

Speaking to the city’s civilian oversight commission in June, Police Chief Ed Windbigler said the officers used “a little more force than needed” with a suspect in custody, and “just went a little overboard when they took him to the ground.” But Windbigler offered no other details, saying nothing of the two officers punching the man in the face.

The video was recorded in the police station’s detention area after the Jan. 12 arrest of Mario Guerrero Ledesma, who was 28 at the time. The footage shows Ledesma, in handcuffs, sitting in a chair while Newland, Titus and two other officers stand nearby. At one point, Ledesma prepares to spit at Newland, and the officer warns him not to.

As Ledesma spits, Newland and Titus immediately tackle him, and the back of Ledesma’s head strikes the concrete floor. The two officers then jump on him and punch him in the face repeatedly while one calls him a “piece of shit.”

Two other officers walk up casually as the punches are being thrown. “Stop,” one can be heard saying, as the beating ends.

Ledesma pleaded guilty in July to charges of domestic battery and resisting law enforcement, and was sentenced to a year in jail, with 133 days suspended.

The Tribune and ProPublica have been investigating criminal justice in Elkhart County, looking at police accountability, among other issues.

A Tribune reporter requested the Ledesma video after noting a disparity between Windbigler’s public description to the Police Merit Commission — the city panel that exercises civilian oversight — and what the chief wrote in personnel records.

In a June 12 letter of reprimand to Newland, Windbigler wrote: “I completely understand defending yourself during an altercation. However, striking a handcuffed subject in the face is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot let our emotions direct our reactions or over-reactions to situations such as this.”

The personnel files provided by the police department did not include any response from Newland or Titus to the disciplinary allegations.

Windbigler ended his disciplinary letters to both officers on an upbeat note: “I consider this matter closed!”

At the June 25 meeting of the Police Merit Commission, chairman James Rieckhoff asked Windbigler if anyone had been injured in this incident.

“No,” Windbigler said.

Windbigler, explaining why he opted for only reprimands, told the commission that Titus “had no previous complaints.” He said of Newland: “Here, again, he had no other incidents in his file, so this is his first incident of any type of force.”

“Any questions on this one?” Rieckhoff asked the commission’s other members.

“Just a comment,” commissioner Thomas Barber said. “I like how you police your own.”

“Yes, sir,” Windbigler said.

On Friday, The Tribune requested an interview with the chief, but Snider, the police spokesman, said the department would have no further comment beyond its announcement of the pending charges.

Neither Newland nor Titus immediately returned messages left at their department phone lines. Efforts to reach them at other phone numbers were also unsuccessful.

History of Misconduct

For Newland, the reprimand was not his first disciplinary incident. It was his ninth, according to personnel records gathered by The Tribune and ProPublica.

After being hired in 2008, Newland was suspended six times and reprimanded twice in his first five years.

In 2009, Newland was “very rude and unprofessional,” using profanity toward a member of the public while responding to a call, personnel records say. The police chief at the time, Dale Pflibsen, suspended Newland for one day. “You have been employed for just over one year and this is not the first allegation of you verbally loosing (sic) control towards the public,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.

“I want to emphasize we will not tolerate this behavior from you towards anyone,” Pflibsen added. “If you plan on continuing your career at the Elkhart Police Department I suggest you seek counseling for anger management.”

The next year, in 2010, Newland was suspended one day for causing a car crash.

In 2011, Newland received a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer. After arresting a woman for public nudity — she and her boyfriend were having sex in their car, in Elkhart’s McNaughton park — Newland sent her a friend request on Facebook and seven text messages, asking to “hang out.”

“Needless to say you attempting to establish a relationship with this female, a defendant in a criminal case, is unprofessional,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland. “This type of conduct will not be tolerated by you or anyone else.”

One year later, in February 2012, Newland was suspended again, this time for one day. Newland, while off duty, flipped off another driver — who, it turned out, was a jail officer in St. Joseph County, according to a disciplinary letter. Newland also drove recklessly, “brake checking” the other driver, according to disciplinary records.

“Should there be another sustained allegation of this type of misconduct on or off duty I will seriously consider your termination from the Elkhart Police Department,” Pflibsen wrote to Newland.

Exactly one week later, still in February, Newland received a three-day suspension for not turning on his video-audio recording equipment “while on numerous calls and traffic stops,” a disciplinary notice says.

Newland’s last suspension — and his longest, for 35 days — came in the summer of 2013. Newland failed to investigate a woman’s complaint of domestic violence, then lied about it to his superiors, according to disciplinary records.

When asked directly by supervisors if the woman had said her husband hit her, Newland “indicated that she had not made any such statement, and only that there was some pushing involved,” a disciplinary letter said. But “within minutes of the end of the interview,” Newland “returned and informed his supervisors that the victim had, in fact, reported being hit by her husband.”

An audio recording captured the woman telling Newland she had been hit, and that her husband did so in front of her children, a disciplinary letter says.

Newland’s failure to be truthful did more than violate department policy, Pflibsen wrote to the civilian oversight board. If a police officer testifies as a witness, authorities must disclose if the officer “has been dishonest in his or her official capacity,” Pflibsen wrote, adding: “This incident has been referred to the Prosecutor’s Office and may have a significant detrimental impact on their ability to prosecute this case.”


​Republished with permission under license from ProPublica a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. 

 

 

On the Supreme Court, difficult nominations have led to historical injustices

 

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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sept. 27, 2018. AP/pool image, Michael Reynolds

By Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State University

Far from being unusual, the hurried and partisan Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh mirrors several notable examples of similarly politicized confirmations in U.S. history.

Those conflicts, which ultimately placed justices on the court, yielded some of the most damaging civil rights decisions in our nation’s history.

Unlike any other branch of government, Supreme Court justices do not have to face voters at the polls. They have no term limits. Yet the high court is the final arbiter of constitutional rights and protections.

Controversial appointees who were rammed through hearings, or political careerists nominated for strategic reasons and confirmed despite scant vetting, handed down decisions that expanded slavery and rolled back civil rights.

Bad processes do not by themselves yield bad decisions. There have also been thinly vetted justices who have protected and extended civil rights, but such cases are in a minority.

Of course, all Supreme Court nominations are political because they embody the strategic priorities of the president. And the required Senate confirmation of a nominee may well be a “vapid and hollow charade,” in Justice Elena Kagan’s words, since partisan support matters over merit.

But as history shows, judicious confirmation hearings are vital to vetting a lifetime appointment that can affect citizens’ right to vote, access to courts, or the limits of presidential power.

Portrait of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney by George P.A. Healy. The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

Bad process, bad decisions

Roger B. Taney was a partisan warrior who helped President Andrew Jackson kill the Bank of the United States by illegally draining its funds. Congress refused to confirm Taney as treasury secretary and censured Jackson.

So Jackson named Taney to the Supreme Court. The Senate refused to confirm him. The next year, after Jackson got a Democratic Senate, he renominated him, this time as chief justice. Taney was pushed hurriedly through confirmation.

The Taney Court was staunchly pro-slavery, rejecting states’ rights when Northerners asserted them to oppose slavery.

Taney’s most sweeping pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 held that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The decision ruled that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any U.S. territory. Dred Scott is widely considered to be one of the worst decisions ever made by the court.

A critical time

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was able to replace the Taney Court with corporation-friendly Republicans like Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, whom he nominated in 1862. Lincoln’s court strategy was to appoint Republicans who would endorse presidential powers in a war to save the Union.

Like Taney, Miller had owned slaves but freed them. And he was a party loyalist. As Miller’s biographer claims, he “sought results first and then found the arguments to justify them.”

Miller’s appointment came just as Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln could have asked Miller his views on the scope of black freedom, but he never did. He never even met Miller. And with no opposition in Congress, the Senate confirmed Miller in just hours.

Miller’s appointment may have been shrewd politics but it hollowed out the Civil War’s crowning achievement, the abolition of slavery and constitutional protections for African-American citizenship, including equal protection of the laws and the right to vote.

It was Miller’s majority ruling in the 5-4 Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 that had the effect of limiting civil rights protections for African-Americans under the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to African-Americans and forbade states to deny them equal protection of the laws. The ruling in effect gave states sole power over areas of citizenship not explicitly covered in the federal Constitution. That, in turn, ultimately led to the growth of racist Jim Crow laws in states.

Justice Joseph P. Bradley, appointed by Ulysses S. Grant. Supreme Court

President Ulysses Grant’s two nominees were also pushed through hastily and had an oversized impact on civil rights.

Those appointments – conservative pro-business Republican Joseph P. Bradley and political hack Morrison Waite – unwittingly undermined Grant’s own Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement.

In 1870 Grant appointed Bradley specifically to help business interests concerned about recent decisions that they believed harmed them. Bradley faced scant opposition from a majority-Republican Senate in bed with railroad and other corporate interests.

Four years later, Grant picked Waite, a crony of Grant’s Ohio friends, who had zero judicial experience. Called a “national nonentity” by a court historian, Waite’s appointment surprised everyone, including Waite. The Senate confirmed him without debate.

The unintended consequences of these two overtly political nominations became clear in U.S. v. Cruikshank, an 1876 court decision.

In April 1873, up to 150 African-Americans were murdered by whites in a conflict over two competing Louisiana governments. Among those whites was William Cruikshank.

Cruikshank and others who participated in the massacre were charged and convicted in federal court of civil rights violations under the Enforcement Act of 1870. That act made it a federal crime to violate civil rights and was passed with the intention of putting teeth in the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The case considered by the court was an appeal of those initial convictions.

Justice Waite ruled that the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, including the equal protections of the laws and right to due process, did not apply to the victims of the Colfax Massacre.

Justice Bradley concurred in the ruling, clearing Cruikshank. Indeed, Bradley declared that none of the Colfax Massacre defendants were alleged to have “committed the acts complained of with a design to deprive the injured persons of their rights on account of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Bradley and Waite’s responses constituted willful blindness to a naked act of racial terrorism. And these decisions gutted the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, leading to the swift and violent rise of Jim Crow.

More damage

Bradley went on to rule in 1883 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlawed racial discrimination in public facilities, was unconstitutional. He did this at a time when blacks were being denied the right to vote, barred from businesses and murdered with impunity. Bradley tutted that with his ruling a black citizen “ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.” And the law ended protection for African-Americans from segregation in schools, theaters and even cemeteries.

It would be 74 years before Congress passed another civil rights act.

Not all justices involved in partisan nominations, or who were poorly vetted, handed down dreadful rulings.

Louis D. Brandeis’ nomination in 1916 led to a bitter partisan brawl infused with anti-Semitism. One witness at his confirmation accused him of “infidelity,” and another characterized Brandeis as “duplicitous”.

Louis Brandeis won a bitter nomination fight to the Supreme Court. Boston Journal, June 2, 1916

Yet Brandeis became one of the nation’s most renowned Supreme Court justices, standing up for free speech in Whitney v. California in 1927 and dissenting in Olmstead v. United States the next year against warrantless wiretapping.

Harold H. Burton was a surprise nomination when Democrat Harry Truman nominated the Republican senator from Ohio in 1945. The Senate dispensed with hearings and confirmed Burton without debate. But Burton defied expectations, shaping the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ruling that desegregated schools and overturned the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.”

Back to the 19th century

More recently, contested nominations have revived the 19th-century practice of ramming through partisans whose decisions undermine civil rights.

The 1991 Clarence Thomas nomination evokes that legacy. With a thin resume, partisan credentials, and his nomination hastily pushed through by George H. W. Bush’s administration, Thomas won a lifetime appointment by a two-vote margin after an acrimonious hearing involving his alleged sexual harrassment.

Justice Thomas is arguably among the most conservative justices. He joined Chief Justice John Roberts in the landmark 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, like that of Morrison Waite, Joseph P. Bradley and Roger B. Taney, has been rushed. A partisan warrior, he has been hastily advanced, with the majority of his papers withheld and sexual assault allegations overtaking his hearings.

As American history has shown, this process comes with profound risks.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Citizenship through the eyes of those who have lost the right to vote

By Kimberly R. Kras, University of Massachusetts Lowell

A fundamental right of U.S. citizenship is having your voice heard by voting to elect representatives. However, at least 6 million U.S. citizens cannot vote in the United States because they have been convicted of a felony.

Losing the right to vote is among numerous other consequences of being convicted of a crime. This so-called “civil death” suggests that person is considered dead to society. The larger political consequence is a lack of representation in government of a large group of citizens who are largely poor and people of color.

I study the impact of being convicted on individuals and communities. States have a variety of rules and regulations when it comes to voting rights and felony convictions. In some states, when a person is convicted they are barred from voting until they successfully complete prison, probation or parole. But in 12 states, people convicted of felonies are barred from voting for life.

In response to growing concern that these laws disenfranchise large segments of America’s citizens, several states have recently made substantial, yet controversial, changes to voting rights of ex-felons. This may be a growing movement.

Voting rights and felony convictions

In 2016, Virginia’s Gov. Terry McAuliffe took executive action to restore voting rights to at least 173,000 ex-felons. In April, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to restore voting rights to felons on parole.

Florida may be next in line for change.

In July, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about whether laws excluding felons from the right to vote are constitutional. In November, the state will vote on a ballot measure to restore ex-felon’s voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence.

These decisions will impact a large segment of Florida’s voting-age population and continue to build a strong precedent for other states.

Florida has historically played an important role in American elections. Yet roughly 10 percent of Floridians can’t vote because they have been convicted of felonies. Research suggests that had these Americans been able to cast their vote for president in the 2000 election, Florida would have been a blue state. Studies show that ex-felons largely vote Democrat, and in this case would have made an impact in a presidential election.

However, critics point out that many felons do not vote even if their rights are restored.

That may be true, but research shows that for many ex-felons it’s because they don’t know they can. This means fewer people have input in electing representatives who generally support causes important to them such as rehabilitation for offenders and criminal justice reform.

Crime and the social contract

Some pundits and legal scholars argue that felons should not be eligible to vote because when people commit crime they violate the “social contract.” The social contract is the agreement among citizens to abide by rules and laws for the good of society. This reasoning says that those who break it, say by committing a crime, are no longer entitled to the benefits of the contract, such as political representation.

People who study criminal behavior often say the opposite is true. They argue that restoring voting rights may in fact reinstate the social contract and improve factors that led the individual to commit crime in the first place.

In research I conducted, and headed by professors Beth Huebner and Timothy Bynum, we spoke with people returning from prison about how their felony conviction impacted their life after release. One participant whose name is protected under a confidentiality agreement, stated: “Not being able to vote restricts our voice.”

Another participant stated how his inability to vote about things important to him, like justice reform, meant that other voters might reinforce laws and restrictions that affect him: “Those are usually the people who want to put harsher rules and penalties and categorize everybody the same. I feel that they allow more and more of those laws to be piled on us because we’re not allowed to speak our minds.”

Americans who have been convicted and stripped of their right to vote often feel that they can’t see themselves as citizens who are giving back to the community if they are denied participation in the political process.

Restoring voting rights signals to all citizens that those who have served their time for a past crime can participate in a key mechanism of civic engagement: voting. Participating in civic life is associated with reductions in recidivism, so an inclusive approach to democracy can only strengthen the political process. That’s because the interests of more Americans, especially those historically silenced, will be heard through their vote.

Ex-felons as citizens

Moreover, research has shown that denying voting rights impacts not just individuals, but also families and entire communities, especially those typically underrepresented in political arenas like people of color and those in poverty. For example, partners of ex-felons are less likely to vote.

In 2016, approximately 70 percent of individuals in prison were people of color, despite making up only 25 percent of the U.S. population. Researchers attribute some of this racial disparity to sentencing laws and policies resembling what’s been termed by Michelle Alexander as “The New Jim Crow.” 

Restricting ex-felons from voting really says that, if you have committed a crime in the U.S., you can never be a full citizen again, even after serving punishment. That message suggests that they are always second- or third-class citizens.

The ConversationBut studies have shown that when people are reintegrated meaningfully in our society, the chances that they return to prison are reduced and the public is safer. Without the right to vote, ex-felons have less of a benefit or an interest in contributing positively to our communities. Being fully engaged in your community and having a voice in what happens to you are vital connections to others in the community – connections that can act to reduce crime. Voting rights represent the epitome of what it means to be a U.S. citizen.


Republished with permission from The Conversation


The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement

Supreme Court struggles to define ‘searches’ as technology changes

Behzad Mirhashem, University of New Hampshire

What the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution means when it protects citizens against an unreasonable search by government agents isn’t entirely clear. It certainly includes police physically entering a person’s home, but for almost 100 years, the Supreme Court has tried to define what else might qualify, including keeping the law up-to-date with new technologies – as a recent case illustrates.

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Beyond a physical inspection, what constitutes a search? AP Photo/Jessica Hill

In that case, the FBI used cellphone records to show that a crime suspect’s mobile phone had been near the location of several robberies. The agency had gotten those records, without a warrant, from the company that provided the suspect with mobile service. The suspect argued that because the records were so invasive of his privacy – by revealing his physical locations over a period of time – obtaining them should be considered a search under the Constitution, and therefore require a warrant. The Supreme Court agreed.

To someone like me, who teaches law students about the relationship between the Constitution and police investigations, this case is another milestone in the back-and-forth between the police and the citizenry over technology and privacy.

An early wiretapping case

Justice Louis Brandeis. Harris and Ewing, Library of Congress

As technology has developed, police have found new ways of collecting incriminating information without trespassing onto the suspect’s property. A century ago, police were beginning to tap phone lines to listen in on suspects’ conversations. In 1928, the Supreme Court ruled that wiretaps didn’t need warrants, so long as police didn’t enter the target’s own property to install the wires. The Supreme Court said the Fourth Amendment was concerned only with protecting material things, such as a person’s home or papers.

The decision came with a notable dissent from Justice Louis Brandeis, who argued that police listening in on phone conversations was indeed a search, because the Constitution’s authors meant to protect more than just tangible property:

They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone – the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”

Expectation of privacy and the risk of sharing information

In 1967, the Supreme Court decided that Brandeis was right after all. Limiting the Fourth Amendment to material searches left too much of modern life completely outside the protections of the Constitution. Explaining that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places, the justices ruled that police tapping into a private phone conversation – in that case by attaching a listening device to the outside of a public telephone booth – was a search.

In its decision, the Supreme Court created a new way of thinking about what is a search: As long as an individual is seeking to preserve something as private, and his expectation of privacy is one that society as a whole recognizes as reasonable, then official intrusion is a search. For example, when a person steps into a phone booth and closes the door, he is seeking to have a private conversation, and reasonably expects that the call will remain private from those outside the phone booth. Therefore, tapping into that call is a search.

But in the 1970s and 1980s, the Supreme Court narrowed the protection, for instance declaring that police didn’t need a warrant to find out what number the person called. The logic went that the caller voluntarily shared the recipient’s number with the phone company, and therefore willingly took the risk that it might be shared with police.

Privacy protections reemerge

In the past two decades, though, the Supreme Court has expanded Fourth Amendment protections against police searches. In 2001, the Supreme Court concluded that police needed to get a warrant before using a thermal imager to spot a marijuana growing operation inside a house. In 2012, the justices ruled officers needed a warrant before placing a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car. Add to these the most recent decision, that obtaining a person’s historical cell tower location data also requires a warrant.

The justices – like society as a whole – are increasingly recognizing that new technologies, especially digital ones, pose growing privacy challenges. For example, the Supreme Court said a few years ago that, while police could still search a person after their arrest without a warrant, they needed one to search the data on the arrested person’s cellphone.

In its most recent decision, the Supreme Court noted that cell service providers save cell tower data for five years. That kind of information can reveal a huge amount about a person’s private life, especially when coupled with additional information that may be publicly available.

Smartphones have become an integral part of modern life over the past decade – and using one inherently involves sharing location data with the cell company. The justices have realized that regular people aren’t willing to accept the risk that participating in modern society means police could discover their movements over the previous five years without even getting a warrant.

A potential new rationale

The justices are also increasingly focused on the Fourth Amendment’s language and history. The Fourth Amendment says nothing about privacy as such, but establishes the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch. U.S. Supreme Court

In the cell tower case, the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, dissented from the privacy reasoning of the majority’s decision, saying courts should stick more closely to the original text of the Fourth Amendment. But he then went on to say that the Supreme Court could interpret “papers and effects” to include digital information.The ConversationIt remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will extend Fourth Amendment protections to emails stored on Gmail or Microsoft servers, or to password-protected websites people use to share photos with family and friends. As digital technology evolves and integrates into people’s lives in new ways, the Supreme Court will continue to wrestle with how to interpret the static text of the Fourth Amendment, adopted in 1791, in the 21st century.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Behzad Mirhashem, Associate Professor of Law and Director of Criminal Practice Clinic, University of New Hampshire

Janus decision extends First Amendment ‘right of silence’

Robert A. Sedler, Wayne State University

Forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could require nonmembers of a public employee union to pay an “agency fee,” otherwise known as costs of collective bargaining, for their representation by the union.

The union could not use any part of the agency fee to advance ideological purposes unrelated to the union’s primary function of collective bargaining.

At that time, the court took the view that this requirement did not violate the First Amendment’s “right of silence” of nonunion members who didn’t want to pay the fee. The “right of silence” is the guarantee that people cannot be forced to be associated with an idea they do not believe.

On Tuesday, June 26, in Janus v. American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, the court overruled that decision.

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Plaintiff Mark Janus, right, leaves the the Supreme Court Wednesday. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The court held that when it came to public employee unions, all collective bargaining involved ideological and public policy considerations. For government workers, the court said, issues like salaries, pensions and benefits are inherently political. And some employees may not agree with the union’s position on those matters.

For example, if a teacher’s union sought higher wages and benefits for its members, this might result in higher taxes for residents of the school district. And if that position was shared by certain union members, the union would be, effectively, putting words they didn’t believe in in their mouth. So the court said that compelling objecting employees to pay an agency fee violated their First Amendment right of silence.

Labor unions fought bitterly against Janus. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Although the court is reluctant to overrule prior decisions, the court majority, consisting of the four conservative justices plus Justice Kennedy, found that requiring objecting public employees to pay an agency fee was inconsistent with standard First Amendment principles.

Associate Justice Elena Kagan blasted the decision in her dissent, writing that “The First Amendment was meant for better things. It was meant not to undermine but to protect democratic governance — including over the role of public-sector unions.”

The majority also decided that agency fees were not justified by the union’s claim that they were necessary to avoid “free riders,” who would get the benefit of the union’s collective bargaining services without paying for them.

Indeed, said the court, the alleged “free riders” would be employees who were compelled to take a ride that they did not want. And above all, public employee unions did not need agency fees in order to effectively perform their role of representing the members of the bargaining unit.

The court noted that today public-sector union membership has surpassed union membership in the private sector. They said that public-sector unions effectively represent both federal employees without any agency fees and public employees in “right to work” states, where agency fees are prohibited.

The result in Janus extends strong protection to the First Amendment right of silence. It continues a trend over the last decade by which the court, sometimes divided and sometimes not, has expanded First Amendment rights, often at the behest of ideological conservatives.

The ConversationIn the United States, we give more constitutional protection to First Amendment rights than is provided by other democratic nations and international human rights norms. Janus is another example of this protection.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation

Robert A. Sedler, Distinguished Professor of Law, Wayne State University

The long history of separating families in the US and how the trauma lingers

There are two ways to enter the United States, legally or illegally. Entering the country illegally is a crime. If I commit an illegal act, no matter how well intentioned my actions are, I will be subject to arrest. If I am arrested with small children, I would have no reasonable expectation of not being separated from my my children.

Yes, many laws are unfair. Black people in the U.S. have been subject to walking and driving while black, and other while black actions have been criminalized including most recently, barbecuing and StarBucking while black. It is almost universally recognized that when you are arrested, even if you're arrested unfairly, your children will be separated from you while under arrest.

The worst example of forced child separation occurs within our criminal justice system. Just as the forced removal of Indian children became illegal in the late '70s, the United States began an accelerated process of mass incarceration that quintupled the number of U.S. prisoners. 

Many people spend weeks, months and even years locked up while they await trial, half a million of the 2.3 million people behind bars are simply there because they are too poor to pay bail  (even though we know that money bail only marginally impacts court attendance). Many of these mostly nonviolent people end up losing their jobs, homes or custody of their children before they’ve even had a chance to plead their case in court. 


By Jessica Pryce, Florida State University

During the last few weeks, hundreds of families have been separated, following the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal immigrants. Even though the separations have reportedly stopped, it is not clear when the families will be unified. There are also reports of children being possibly put in foster homes and at least one teenager missing, after walking out of a shelter.

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Immigrant children play inside the Catholic Charities RGV in Texas. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

This is not the first time that children have been separated. Exclusion and separation has impacted African-Americans during slavery, Native Americans during the Trail of Tears, and Japanese-Americans during internment, to name a few.

As a scholar who is actively engaged in child protection research and who examines the unnecessary removals of children from their parents, I am all too aware that the repercussions of such policies often take a lifetime to undo.

History of separating families

During the years of slavery, there was daily buying and selling of children from their enslaved parents. No legal restraints existed on slave owners, who chose to dispose of their property as they saw fit.

Another period of state-sanctioned separations was in the 1800s, after President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act. Native Americans, mostly youth, were forcibly taken out of their homes and communities and asked to walk for miles to a specially designated “Indian territory.” Thousands died on that journey. It has since been named the “Trail of Tears.”

The government, nonetheless went ahead with its policies and mandated that Native American children be educated apart from their families in boarding schools. This was a method of creating a distance between children and their Native American parents so that they would slowly let go of their native values – what scholars today describe as forced assimilation.

This practice went on until the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 when Native American parents were given the legal right to refuse boarding school education.

The internment of Japanese-Americans was also a time of enactment of exclusionary policies by the American government. President Roosevelt ordered that Japanese, many of them United States citizens, be forcibly removed and held in camps. Children, even infants, were placed in these camps with their parents, and sometimes without.

As is being done today, these separations were staunchly defended and rationalized, without much consideration of the negative and long-lasting trauma.

The long-term impact

Recent research on the impact of family separation during slavery focuses on the trauma that has been passed down over the years.

Scholar Joy DeGruy, in her seminal book “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” describes the impact of that history on black families today.

It is “common sense,” adds DeGruy, who has spent many years researching the multigenerational trauma, that hundreds of people who endured slavery would continue to pass on behaviors, such as anger, violence and shame, down to contemporary generations.

Scholars have also researched the impact of American Indian boarding schools. Their findings included reports of abuse in boarding school and how that manifested in their later years. As children, they were found to have high levels of depression. Research has also linked the adverse childhood experience of boarding school with difficulty in managing stress as adults.

Within the foster care system, scholars have long researched the harm in multiple placements, meaning moving children from one foster care placement to another. Children who experience such unstable placement experience, after being separated from their families, suffer from profound distress and a loss of belonging.

The trauma of separation leaves deep physical and psychological impact that carries into adulthood. This essentially means the healthy development of a child is disrupted in many ways.

Separation of families in 2018

The consequences of adverse childhood experiences can be minimized if a child is in a loving and nurturing environment where they feel safe and are able to acquire appropriate ways to cope.

The ConversationThese past comparisons bring us to what is occurring today. President Trump’s executive order has stopped any additional separations, but it does not undo the damage that has already been set in motion.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation

Jessica Pryce, Executive Director, The Florida Institute for Child Welfare, Florida State University

Why black women’s experiences of #MeToo are different

By Yolonda Wilson

In April, a 25-year-old black woman named Chikesia Clemons was violently arrested by police at a Waffle House restaurant in Alabama.

A video of the arrest that went viral shows police pulling Clemons from her chair and throwing her to the floor. In the process, her breasts are exposed and her dress rides up in the back. When she attempts to cover her breasts, the two officers on top of her threaten to break her arm for “resisting.”

Clemons’ experience is not unique. In the U.S., black women are not afforded the same regard for bodily privacy as white women.

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Actress Nicolle Rochelle, who appeared on several episodes of ‘The Cosby Show.’ AP Photo/Corey Perrine, File

Another example: In an investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, the Department of Justice found that the Baltimore Police Department frequently engaged in unjustified strip searches of African-Americans. In one instance, Baltimore police conducted a strip search of a black woman, including an anal cavity search, on a sidewalk in broad daylight and in full public view. The woman’s pleas to not be forced to disrobe in public were ignored. Her offense? A broken headlight.

While the #MeToo movement has been successful in bringing down several high-profile assailants, critics continue to argue that it has been monopolized by middle- and upper-class white women, particularly white Hollywood actresses. This, despite the fact that a black woman, Tarana Burke, created the Me Too campaign more than a decade ago. These criticisms reflect the fact that black women have experienced sexual violence differently than white women.

As a philosopher of race and gender who has written about sexual harassment, I offer historical context on the ways that black women experience sexual abuse, often by the authority of the state, as a way to think about black women’s contemporary experiences as the kinds of experiences that #MeToo should address.

History of black women’s bodies on display

As early as the 17th century, European men wrote travel narratives about their trips to West Africa to capture, enslave and trade African people. Their writings offer a window into how they perceived African women and what they thought primarily European male readers would find titillating.

In particular, their descriptions of West African women’s style of dance played a role in shaping European perceptions of black women’s sexual immorality and availability.

These travel accounts were the popular media of their day and offered some of the first reports of continental Africa to average Europeans. For example, Frenchman Jean Barbot wrote of African men and women “knocking bellies together very indecently” while “uttering some dirty mysterious words.” Meanwhile, naval officer Abraham Duqesne characterized African women as desiring the “caresses of white men.”

Because African women differed from European women both in attire and bodily movement, European travel writers regarded African women as sexually available and immoral. European settlers carried these attitudes to the United States where enslaved black women were subjected to violent sexual abuse and forced nudity as routine social practice, in ways that would have been unthinkable toward white women.

Sexual violence and the father of gynecology

A statue of J. Marion Sims. ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology’ stands on the Capitol grounds in Montgomery, Ala., Jan. 25, 2006. AP Photo/Rob Carr

By the 19th century, treating black and white women differently was firmly entrenched in society. Nowhere was this more evident than in the practice of J. Marion Sims, the physician widely regarded by gynecologists as the “father of modern gynecology.” The convention of the period was for physicians to conduct gynecological examinations of white women with averted gazes while the patients remained as clothed as possible.

However, Sims also conducted medical experiments on enslaved black women that ultimately resulted in a technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, an opening that can develop between the vaginal wall and the bladder or large intestine, sometimes as a result of childbirth. The enslaved black women were stripped completely naked and examined on all fours, as Sims and other physicians took turns using a specially created speculum that enabled full viewing of the vagina. Private citizens were also allowed to watch these experiments and they, too, were invited to witness the full exposure of enslaved women’s vaginas.

Sims conducted his experiments without anesthesia, despite the fact that ether was known and in use by the time he performed later surgeries. Black women were denied anesthesia on the grounds that black people did not feel pain in the same ways that white people felt pain, a perception that still exists today. For example, one study found that when people viewed images of blacks receiving painful stimuli, like needle pricks, they responded with less empathy than when they viewed similar images of white people in pain.

Sexual violence in a court of law

In New York in 1925, another historical example shows how black women’s exposed bodies have been treated with indifference. Kip Rhinelander, a member of New York’s high society, was set to wed Alice Beatrice Jones, a working-class biracial woman. Their union drew national attention.

Although New York did not legally prohibit interracial marriage as other states did at that time, society strongly disapproved of interracial marriage.

Once their marriage was made public, Kip filed for divorce on the grounds of fraud. The salient question in the divorce hearing was whether Kip knew that Alice was black at the time of their marriage.

In order to answer that question, Alice’s attorney suggested that Alice bare her breasts in front of the all-white male jury, judge and attorneys in order to prove her racial identity. By viewing the shading of her areolas and legs, he said, the jurors could assess whether Kip – who had admitted to premarital sex with her – should have known her racial identity.

The judge directed Alice to follow through. Neither Alice Rhinelander’s tears nor her connection to a prominent white family could save her from the indignity of forced nudity in front of strangers. Ultimately, the jury decided that Alice was, in fact, “of colored blood” and that she did not conceal or misrepresent her racial identity.

The past is present

The hostility to black women’s bodily privacy and dignity in these examples isn’t accidental. Rather, it is part of the history of how black women have been cast in U.S. society.

In the Sims and Rhinelander examples, the legal status of enslavement and weight of the court validated the coercive display of black women’s bodies. The Department of Justice found that the Baltimore police used the weight of their badges to force compliance with public strip searches. Likewise, in the Waffle House example, although Clemons’ initial exposure may not have been intentional, the police responded to her cries and her attempts to cover herself by using their authority to threaten her with further harm.

This is a unique form of sexual violence experienced by black women. The convergence of race and gender in black women’s lives has created the social conditions in which black women are coerced and often expected, under threat of punishment by the government, to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts.

The ConversationRace and gender converge in black women’s lives and have created the social conditions under which black women are coerced and expected to suffer the exposure of intimate body parts, or else face punishment. If movements like #MeToo are serious about combating sexual violence, then they have to also understand these practices as sexual violence.


Re-published with permission under license from The Conversation

Yolonda Wilson, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Howard University