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July 23, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Voting Rights

Most legislative sessions are over nowadays, so we’re taking a look at voting rights news. Here are this week’s highlights!

Federal

  • For the People Act
    • Why we’re watching: While other states’ voter rolls are burning, the federal government keeps twiddling its thumbs on the issue. Both Sen. Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Sinema of Arizona have publicly voiced opposition to abolishing the filibuster, a move that would permit Democrats to vastly expand voting rights and preempt state-level restrictions.

Georgia

  • SB202
    • Why we’re watching: It’s been a while since we’ve discussed SB202, which garnered widespread outcry as oppressing Black and Brown communities in Georgia. We bring the bill up because U.S. Senators are in Atlanta this week to hold hearings on the matter as part of a federal push for voting rights.

Illinois

  • SB825
    • Why we’re watching: This omnibus bill was signed into law by Gov. Pritzker over a month ago, but it’s still a testament to the power of good legislation. The new law creates permanent voter lists and improves access to mail-in ballots – safe to say we love it.

Texas

  • SB1
    • Why we’re watching: In case you’ve been living under a rock, Texas state Democrats have been holed up in Washington this week in a walk-out to protest the proposal of oppressive voting laws. The bill would restrict absentee voting, ban drive-through polls, and erase millions of registered voters from state data.
  • HB3
    • Why we’re watching: While HB3 shares many of the same ugly provisions as its bicameral companion, there is one silver lining. This proposal, with Democratic language, would force judges to inform detainees whether a conviction would affect their voting rights.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Mandatory minimums for thee, but not for me.

In 1951, Congress approved the Boggs Act, which established mandatory minimums for the use and/or sale of illegal drugs. Under that law, the possession of marijuana constituted a sentence of up to 10 years and a hefty fine. Before 1951, judges were given the benefit of the doubt and wielded discretionary powers, tailoring punishments on a case-by-case basis.

Two decades after the Boggs Act, Congress realized its mistake and repealed mandatory sentences for marijuana possession. Stop us if this next part sounds familiar.

Then the War on Drugs happened.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 shifted resources and priorities away from rehabilitative programs towards punitive measures. It also established new mandatory minimum sentences for most drugs, including marijuana. Like so many other facets of the War on Drugs, these laws disproportionately harmed marginalized communities, kicking off a generational cycle of poverty and overincarceration.

Included in the law was a provision that mandated five years without parole as punishment for the possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine. Meanwhile, the law mandated the same penalty for 500 grams of powder cocaine. Our legal system enforced this 100:1 ratio for over 30 years, dealing an irreparable amount of damage to neighborhoods across the country.

A majority of crack users are Black, but a majority of powder cocaine users are white. Mandatory minimum laws are racist.

Such discrimination turned up in practice, not just principle. From 1991 to 2001, Black people’s crack-related sentences were, on average, almost double those of their white counterparts. While the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act slashed the crack cocaine-to-powder ratio to 18:1, there’s still work to be done. Black citizens are arrested at higher rates than white citizens, despite using drugs in roughly the same proportions.

Government wields great power over judges in this regard. Officials can stack the deck and force the hand of the “independent” judiciary. But here’s a question that not enough people are asking: If mandatory minimums are okay in enforcing drugs, why are they not okay in enforcing proper police conduct?

Qualified immunity is in some ways the polar opposite of mandatory minimums. The latter requires judges to rule a certain way, no matter the extenuating circumstances. The former is a judicial concept that shields government officials, most often law enforcement officers, from being held liable for violating a citizen’s freedoms.

It’s a concept that’s been invoked an innumerable number of times since its invention in 1967. Not only has it been used to shield police from litigation after brutalizing minorities, but it’s also been used to keep cops employed. The biggest correlation to whether a cop is punished is whether that cop was ruled against in a lawsuit. Qualified immunity protects the employment of cops that misbehave, incentivizing them to repeat the cycle all over again.

It takes moving heaven and earth to convict a police officer of violating one’s rights, like in the Derek Chauvin trial. Remember that this is all we would know about George Floyd’s death without the widespread video that sparked protests in 2020. This was the exception that proves the rule that cops hardly ever stand trial for their brutality.

Activists shouldn’t need to bring the full force of public opinion to the courtroom. Virality shouldn’t be a necessary condition to achieve justice. Qualified immunity is standing in the way of closure for so many across the country while mandatory minimums continue to wreak havoc on our communities.

It’s time we reconcile justice with our legal system. It’s time we erase mandatory minimums from our books and abolish qualified immunity from the judge’s bench.

July 16, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Implementation Troubles

Now that most state legislative sessions are over, government officials are having some implementation troubles with their new laws. Here are some of those issues!

Arizona

  • HB2898
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona’s leaders have once again joined the throng of moronic resistance to “critical race theory,” or the teaching that America’s institutions perpetuate racism and poverty. Schools that teach these ideas face $5,000 fines, the first of such penalties signed into law.
  • HB2906
    • Why we’re watching: If banning critical race theory wasn’t bad enough, Gov. Ducey signed HB2906 into law, which prohibits local government from requiring employees’ participation in training that suggests people have implicit or explicit biases based on race.

Missouri

  • SB26 and SB53
    • Why we’re watching: These pieces of legislation are one step forward for Missouri and two steps backward. While they’ll track problematic officers that bounce from one town to another for work, they also penalize cities that reduce police budgets and lift residency requirements for officers.
  • SB60
    • Why we’re watching: Missouri has finally joined dozens of other states to ban chokeholds in the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year. The legislation, signed Wednesday, also increases penalties against officers that behave improperly toward those in their custody.

Nevada

  • SB22
    • Why we’re watching: This year, Nevada lawmakers passed a law capping how much the state can deduct from inmates’ bank accounts – 25% for funds from family and 50% through job earnings. However, the state is experiencing some implementation troubles. One inmate saw a money transfer from his wife deducted 60% by the stat, or more than double the legal limit.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Racism, Reparations, and Justice…Oh My!

From the time we’re old enough to read, we’re taught the evils of slavery in the United States. Teachers walk us through the history of the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, and later on, the campaigns of the civil rights movement to end segregation. We’re taught that slavery was bad, but that it ended centuries ago. However, our curriculums didn’t include information about the effects of slavery on marginalized communities today.

That’s where reparations come in.

As a concept, we have a short history of providing reparations to former slaves. In 1865, General Tecumseh Sherman of the Union instituted Special Field Orders No. 15, which included allotments of land and a mule to freed families. Slaves heard the news and were excited to own and work their own land until Pres. Andrew Johnson reversed the order. The Reconstruction Era featured a number of similar programs, most of which were cut short by unsympathetic officials.

Just this year, Evanston, Illinois became the first city to offer reparations to Black residents. Rather than cutting checks for each of the town’s 13,474 Black citizens, the local government settled on providing grants of up to $25,000 for down payments and home repairs. Elected officials, who approved the program by an 8-1 margin, cited homeownership disparities as justification for the program.

These efforts will help negate redlining’s effects on minority homeowners and end the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Evanston’s achievement, which comes over 150 years following the ratification of the 13th Amendment, might be a good omen for reparative justice. The fact that it took so long may be a bad sign, too.

For years, talking heads have debated the feasibility and efficacy of reparations programs. Leaders on both sides of the aisle agree that from a practical standpoint, compensating all of our country’s slave descendants might be impossible. After all, there’s no infrastructure for that, nor are there adequate records. Some have outright rejected the notion, arguing that Black people “should get over” slavery.

It’s funny that those are the same people who want Confederate statues to stand forever, isn’t it?

Feasibility aside, can’t we agree that our country must atone for the past at some point? Slavery is our greatest shame (and there’s quite a bit of competition). Even though slavery was nominally ended over 150 years ago, and segregation outlawed nearly 60 years ago, marginalized communities still haven’t had the chance to catch up to their white counterparts. The systems that existed back then exist now too and profit just as much.

Ethnic neighborhoods still see higher rates of poverty and foreclosure than white areas. On average, Black men earn less than other groups while Black women die from pregnancy-related causes over three times as often as white women. These disparities didn’t just happen. Slavery is the root cause of these trends.

The grandchildren of slaves still walk the earth. Our country has not had enough time to heal from that terrible wound, thanks to rigid institutions and permeating racism. That’s why reparations are necessary.

Reparations can be the nudge that the electorate hasn’t yet provided. If Congress won’t make rezoning a priority, local housing programs can combat homeownership gaps. If the White House refuses to prioritize rehabilitative over punitive sentencing to reduce recidivism, municipal equity efforts can downsize our prison population.

Reparative justice is more than money, practically and in principle. It can take many forms, as highlighted above. But it’s also a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ moment. Reparations are a formal, real, tangible way we can atone for the sins of slavery in the United States.

July 9, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: School Reform

July is the time of year when new state laws officially hit the books – including those involving school reform. Check out our highlights!

Colorado

  • HB1251
    • Why we’re watching: It’s been 2 years since Elijah McClain was racially profiled, forcibly given a lethal dose of ketamine, and murdered. Earlier this week, Gov. Polis signed HB1251 into law, which banned the use of the powerful substance in law enforcement.
  • HB1315
    • Why we’re watching: Court fees are almost exclusively levied against lower-income individuals and their families. In Colorado, the average sum of these charges per case is $300 – until now. Under this new law, juvenile offenders will be exempt from such fees.

Minnesota

  • HF0002
    • Why we’re watching: While public schools offer free-and-reduced lunch for students belonging to impoverished families, administrations often “lunch shame” these kids. According to this new law, schools can no longer pull back meal service, ban students from activities, or affix highly visible pins because they’ve fallen behind on meal payments.
  • 2021 Increase Teachers of Color Act
    • Why we’re watching: This piece of school reform will massively boost the number of teachers of color in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Not only do minority teachers help close the achievement gap between Black and Brown students and their white counterparts, but also encourage kids to stay in school, according to recent findings.

Missouri

  • SB26
    • Why we’re watching: This legislation is currently awaiting Gov. Parson’s signature. While some states and municipalities are enacting sweeping police reforms, Missouri has decided to swim against the tide. If signed, the bill would prohibit defunding police departments, reduce officer accountability, and punish lawful protest through severe sentencing.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

July 2, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Farmworkers’ Rights

As state legislations slow down, there’s been some focus on farmworkers’ rights recently! Check out these highlights and more!

Arizona

  • SB1064
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona is often mentioned in these Roundups for the wrong reason, but not this week. The aforementioned bill, recently approved by the House, would help some inmates earn earlier releases based on substance abuse and other anti-recidivism programs.

Colorado

  • SB87
    • Why we’re watching: In Colorado, Gov. Polis signed SB87 into law, boosting farmworkers’ rights through overtime, organizing, and minimum wage provisions. Additionally, workers will have easier access to state and local benefits, which significantly helps Colorado’s immigrant population.
  • SB116
    • Why we’re watching: If a Colorado school is using Native American imagery or names as mascots, they’ll face a $25,000 per month fine. This reform comes as the entire country grapples with racist representation of Indigenous peoples and minorities in public spaces.

Federal

  • American Rescue Plan
    • Why we’re watching: The Biden administration wants to allocate over $10 billion of the American Rescue Plan to help minority farmers through debt relief, grants, education, and land acquisition. Such support would combat decades-long inequities in the industry, but the plan has been held up by lawsuits and a federal injunction.
  • HR3005
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a measure to remove a bust of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney from the Capitol. Taney wrote the Dred Scott decision that reaffirmed slaves’ status as property, not people. His statue will be replaced by one of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

There’s nothing quite like summer in the sanctuary city.

Undocumented immigrants pay millions in income taxes every year, despite not enjoying the benefits of such efforts. Despite these contributions, this group, over 11 million strong, lives in constant fear of deportation and detention. Federal authorities are known for their cruelty in dealing with undocumented individuals, but their jurisdiction isn’t all-encompassing. Ever heard of a sanctuary city?

If you haven’t yet, you’re about to become a fan.

A sanctuary city is a municipality which has institutionalized a refusal to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In other words, local authorities are under no obligation to work with ICE, whose sole purpose is to illegally charge and detain undocumented individuals.

When an undocumented person comes into contact with police, benignly or otherwise, their names are checked against a federal database. Typically, ICE would swoop in and take custody of the individual with the intent to criminally charge and deport them. If local law enforcement holds undocumented individuals with the purpose of passing them off to ICE, they’re in violation of federal law.

In a sanctuary city, on the other hand, authorities will release the individual after they’ve paid bail, served time, or been cleared of any wrongdoing. Officers in these locations are explicitly banned from holding them until ICE arrives.

Aside from offering peace of mind to millions of undocumented immigrants, sanctuary cities serve important purposes. Free from worrying about the issue, local police can focus on preventing serious crime and protecting their communities. They don’t often follow through on that latter point, but it’s certainly something off their plate. Sanctuary cities also help build trust between police and the immigrant community.

This isn’t just wishful thinking. Hard data reveals the effect of sanctuary laws.

Such cities experience 15% less crime than their counterparts. This finding backs up the notion that overpolicing invents crime instead of preventing it. The magnifying glass under which marginalized communities are held is what leads to higher rates of criminalization and incarceration. Thanks to a reshuffling of priorities, sanctuary cities are free from such discrimination.

Figures in law enforcement support sanctuary provisions, often bringing them at odds with the federal government. They cite lower rates of poverty and higher median incomes as justification for their support.

Despite these pronounced quality-of-life benefits, sanctuary cities commonly fall under attack from politicians in Washington. A number of court cases have challenged their legality and every single one has failed. The judicial system has made it clear that sanctuary cities are permissible, reinforcing their value to society at large.

To find a sanctuary city near you, check out this map, which is frequently updated.

June 25, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Voting Rights

Voting rights have been a hot topic in legislatures everywhere, even though they shouldn’t be. Check out these related highlights!

Connecticut

  • SB1202
    • Why we’re watching: After their attempts to do so during regular session failed, Connecticut lawmakers are trying to restore voting rights for people on parole. In addition to this criminal justice-minded reform, their proposal would automatically enroll new voters and give hourly workers time off to cast their ballots.

Maryland

  • HB222
    • Why we’re watching: The biggest group of disenfranchised voters is formerly incarcerated individuals. This bill would require the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide voter registration information to all former convicts and inform eligible voters of their rights while incarcerated.
  • SB683
    • Why we’re watching: Purging mail-in voter rolls is a common assault on minority voting rights. To prevent such a move in Maryland, this proposal would create a standing opt-in absentee ballot list. Voters would receive mail-in ballots automatically, boosting turnout when it matters most!
  • SB596/HB206
    • Why we’re watching: One of the biggest barriers to voting is time. Hourly workers, a group that’s mostly minorities, often can’t just take off for 30 minutes or so to cast their ballots. If this bill is signed, the polls would open an hour earlier during general elections to help fix that inequity.

Pennsylvania

  • HB1300
    • Why we’re watching: Pennsylvania state legislators have joined dozens of others that have overhauled voting rights – mainly by limiting them. This 150-page omnibus bill would enact voter ID laws, require stringent signature verification, and limit drop box placement.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

What Stonewall teaches us about organizing.

On June 28th, 52 years ago, police officers barged into the Stonewall Inn, known for being the only gay bar in New York that allowed dancing.

Back then, homophobic laws banned the activity and even sought to close every gay bar in the city. The politicians sponsoring such legislation gave law enforcement permission to openly harass LGBT+ individuals, a habit that led to police storming the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

After arresting a few patrons in the bar, one officer assaulted a lesbian woman, which incited the crowd to throw stones and objects from the bar. Police were forced to call for backup to contain the growing crowd.

Their reinforcements didn’t do the trick.

The unrest continued for days. On the fifth night after the initial riot, thousands turned up outside of the Stonewall Inn to protest. They held hands, which was illegal at the time, while flipping over nearby cars and clashing with police officers. By the end of the riots, law enforcement arrested 21 protesters, which garnered widespread publicity.

Organizers used this attention to spark a renewed LGBT+ rights movement. The Gay Activists Alliance among other groups organized demonstrations like the Christopher Street Liberation Day march to commemorate the riots. After decades of organizing, that event became the New York City Pride March, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world. Now, people across the country observe Pride Month. What originally began as single day festivals and parades towards the end of the month has evolved into a 30-day celebration of sexual identity and gender orientation.

Woman Holding Flag

Whether the general public is aware of the holiday’s origins, taking part in Pride Month is an endorsement of the power of protest and organizing. The annual observance wouldn’t exist if concerned citizens didn’t transform momentum into impact.

This is what we mean when we say something is a “movement, not a moment.” By banding together, identifying areas of potential reform, and aggressively spreading the word, we can convert energy, anger, fear, and sorrow into action and results. Protests aren’t pointless, even if they feel like it sometimes. Community is a powerful thing and should never be taken lightly.

Without the action of the post-Stonewall organizers, anti-LGBT+ bills may have reigned in New York City for decades. Protesting is as important to our society as voting for this reason. The ballot box becomes less accessible to minorities every day while the votes made there are implicit endorsements of the powers that be.

Protests, on the other hand, challenge existing power structures by seeking nontraditional change. Protest demands sweeping reforms rather than incremental shifts. Such change is possible through organizing, something that marginalized communities have taken to heart.

The next time someone tells you that the public won’t listen to protesters because of the inconvenience they bring to “normal” life, remind them of the Stonewall Riots. An entire movement began with like-minded individuals coming together for a higher purpose and our country is all the better for it.

June 18, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Racial Equity Is Key

Racial equity has been a major influencer of statewide policy decisions across the country. Here are some prime examples!

Colorado

  • SB87
    • Why we’re watching: Not every workplace is equal. Agricultural workers have been organizing for years to secure better pay and safer conditions. Under this proposal, agricultural workers would finally receive a minimum wage, be given sufficient rest time, and overtime regulations.
  • HB1251
    • Why we’re watching: The Aurora Police Department’s murder of Elijah McClain permanently impacted an entire community. Officers injected him with exorbitant amounts of ketamine despite his non-confrontational behavior. Now, in his memory, Colorado may soon ban the use of that drug in law enforcement contexts.

Connecticut

  • SB888
    • Why we’re watching: We’ve said a lot about this bill as it’s progressed through the legislative process. The legislation is finally sitting on Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk awaiting his signature, but he refuses to sign it. That’s because it’s a half-measure relative to racial equity. When we have a chance at real reform, we should wholly seize it, not foul it off.

Federal

  • Digital Equity Act of 2021
    • Why we’re watching: The pandemic laid bare our digital inequality. Marginalized communities often lack sufficient internet speeds to attend virtual classrooms. This proposal, sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray from WA, would create a grant program to foster technological racial equity.
  • 475
    • Why we’re watching: Juneteenth, or Jubilee Day, is an important holiday in American history. It’s the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Texas and has long deserved an official holiday designation. It may soon receive that title, but we cannot let this symbolic victory replace genuine reform and action.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

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