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October 22, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Police Accountability

Every day, police and private citizens alike murder Black and Brown individuals and escape accountability. This is where such cases stand.

Colorado

  • Elijah McClain
    • Why we’re watching: Aurora has settled in principle with Elijah McClain’s family, which has been seeking reforms ever since his death. In 2019, police officers harassed McClain for no legitimate reason, injecting him with a lethal dose of ketamine. City officials did not disclose the details of the settlement, but McClain’s family now has some closure amid their ongoing organizing efforts.

Georgia

  • Ahmaud Arbery
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the men responsible for chasing down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery in cold, racist blood are standing trial. A video of the incident is poised to take center stage, with many observers noting its likeness to slave patrol propaganda. The fight for accountability here is just beginning, and we hope it doesn’t take too long.

Illinois

  • Laquan McDonald
    • Why we’re watching: Chicago police murdered Laquan McDonald in 2014, leading to a barrage of resignations, failed reelection bids, and oversight complaints in the Windy City. Rahm Emanuel was mayor at the time and largely escaped the resulting blowback from activists and the Black community. On the seventh anniversary of McDonald’s death, the Senate held a confirmation hearing for Emanuel, who’s seeking the ambassadorship to Japan.
  • Marcellis Stinette
    • Why we’re watching: How long does accountability take? In the police murder of Marcellis Stinette, it’s taken over a year. Despite the combined efforts of the State of Illinois and the FBI, Stinette’s family has not found any closure. That same family is now mounting a pressure campaign to force investigators to do the right thing – promptly.

Pennsylvania

  • Fanta Bility
    • Why we’re watching: Police gunfire was responsible for the death of 8-year-old Fanta Billy over the summer in Philadelphia. Despite plenty of eyewitnesses, no charges have been filed against the three officers responsible for firing into a crowd. Bility’s family and community are now demonstrating regularly to demand accountability.

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!

Life is a highway…in more ways than one.

Infrastructure has been a constant theme of the Biden administration. That isn’t surprising, considering the state of our roads and bridges, not to mention recovering from the pandemic. In most of the big-ticket proposals, Congress has shown a willingness to combat the decadeslong effect that highway construction has had on communities of color.

And there’s good reason for such provisions. Over the years, our highways have been molded by both personal and institutional racism. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 is responsible for the construction of our interstate system. While most of that planning involves highways between major cities, plenty of it created paths through metropolitan areas and neighborhoods. Therein lies the problem.

Keeping costs low was key in building our interstates – that meant finding the cheapest real estate in town. More often than not, that’s where Black communities built themselves up. Redlining all but guaranteed that Black and Brown citizens would be pooled together in underdeveloped areas. Developers, fueled by private, corporate, mostly white investment, bought up all the land they could in majority-minority neighborhoods. Local governments even aided their quest by granting extra-wide rights of way.

The effect was devastating. Highways destroyed historically Black neighborhoods across the country. A highway decimated Durham’s Hayti neighborhood, dubbed the “Black Wall Street of the South.” Interstates similarly sliced up sections of New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, and Richmond, laying waste to Black businesses and communities in their wake. While tragic, these are key examples of institutional racism’s vicious and inescapable cycle. Throughout our history, however, Black neighborhoods have fallen victim to acute, personal racism.

Kevin Kruse, a Princeton professor, claims that highway construction in Atlanta was abjectly fueled by the desire of local officials to segregate their city in the late 1950s. Then-Mayor Bill Hartsfield notably called for a “boundary between the white and Negro communities on the west side of town,” and highway construction fit the bill. Across the country in Minnesota, builders presented the state with two plans to build I-94. The first proposed route was along an abandoned railroad and the second was through the Rondo neighborhood, inhabited by Black residents in their exodus from tenement housing in downtown St. Paul.

Minnesota chose the path through the Black neighborhood, displacing 750 families and 120 businesses.

Our history is dotted with dozens of examples of this sort of racism, whether abject or institutional. From the work of Robert Moses in New York to the construction of I-70 in Indianapolis, lawmakers have clearly used highways to disrupt Black economies, culture, and excellence. Now, the federal government seeks to rectify these past injustices through monumental legislation – efforts held up by moderate Democrats.

To block antiracist legislation is to be complicit in racism. Party identification, grassroots credentials, and political relationships all fall to the wayside when it comes time to support an agenda. The segment of Congress we’re talking about has, in the last year, blocked voting rights legislation, major police reform, and the abolition of the filibuster. These are all changes sold to social justice groups throughout the 2020 campaign cycle. It’s high time our leaders follow through.

We must hold legislators accountable for their promises. Bottom-up pressure is the best way to ensure that we accomplish genuine reform and hold policymakers to their campaign promises. Part of that is educating our elected officials about the finer points in our history, like the racism of highway construction. By letting them know the experiences of Black communities like Hayti and Rondo, we can ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to our neighborhoods today.

October 15, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Reconciliation Bill

This week, we’re switching it up! Are you confused about all the coverage of the reconciliation bill in Washington? Our Legislative Roundup focuses on the different elements of the Build Back Better Act as they relate to social justice. Keep reading – we promise we kept it simple!

Education

  • College tuition aid
    • Why we’re watching: The bill promises two years of free community college for all students, regardless of income at the time of application. Many progressives see this as a step towards a more expansive free-college-for-all proposal that would help lower-income families break the cycle of poverty. Additionally, the bill boosts Pell Grant funding.

Families

  • Child tax credit
    • Why we’re watching: As part of an earlier pandemic relief package, Democrats created the child tax credit, which lifted hundreds of thousands of families and their children out of poverty. Now, Democrats want to expand the program into 2025 while increasing the payments.
  • Child care
    • Why we’re watching: Child care is among new families’ highest expenses. Along the lines of the child tax credit, the reconciliation bill allocates $450 billion toward lowering the cost of child care and providing two years of pre-K for young children.

Workers’ Rights

  • Paid leave
    • Why we’re watching: Our country is the most developed in the world that doesn’t mandate paid leave. Under the reconciliation bill, workers would have access to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, during which they would earn two-thirds or 80% of their normal pay, depending on their tax bracket.

Climate Change

  • Clean electricity performance program
    • Why we’re watching: This program incentivizes the biggest polluters to shape up. If passed, the law would mandate utility companies to increase their renewable supplies by 4% each year or risk regulatory fines.
  • Electric vehicle charging
    • Why we’re watching: Electric vehicles are the answer to solving Black and Brown neighborhoods’ high exposure to air pollutants. Measures of the Build Back Better Act would accordingly allocate funds towards EV charging infrastructure.

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!

October 8, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Judicial Rulings

Our judicial system is rigged against communities of color, but we’re making progress. Don’t believe us on either count? Look at these recent court rulings from around the country.

California

  • Ruling on Private Prisons
    • Why we’re watching: The Biden administration is facing staunch criticism for its strict immigration laws, mostly by way of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. California, in a separate effort to ban private prisons, also rolled in a prohibition on private immigrant detention centers, a provision recently reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel.

Connecticut

  • Racial Disparities of Judicial Rulings
    • Why we’re watching: In Connecticut, Black and Brown defendants with no prior criminal history were convicted at higher rates than their white counterparts. This first-of-its-kind data revealed the discrimination faced by minorities when they first enter the judicial system as well as the continued impact of mandatory minimum laws.

Georgia

  • Ruling in Ahmaud Arbery’s Mental Health History
    • Why we’re watching: Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled that Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health records were inadmissible in the trial of his murderers. The judge ruled that Arbery’s medical privacy trumps the defendant’s right to a robust trial and that there is no evidence Arbery was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of his death.

Maryland

  • Ruling on Vehicular Assault
    • Why we’re watching: Last year, Jared Lafer drove into a group of Black Lives Matters protesters, leaving one man with two broken legs. The entire assault was captured on video, but a grand jury recently refused to indict Lafer, who reportedly created memes following the event, mocking the protesters. 

Texas

  • George Floyd Posthumous Pardon
    • Why we’re watching: Many labeled George Floyd, brutally murdered last year in Minneapolis, as a drug user and criminal thanks to a 2004 arrest on the word of Houston officer Gerald Goines. Now, Goines is the focal point of a massive policing scandal and stands accused of fabricating evidence. The Texas parole board has accordingly recommended a posthumous pardon for Floyd, clearing his name of the 2004 charge.

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!

 

NFL, or the “Never Fair League.”

Autumn is in full swing throughout the country. This means people are visiting apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and attending NFL games to mark the onset of a new season. Last month, the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off the NFL season with a bang and ever since, our Sunday televisions have been filled with spectacular touchdowns and laughable taunting penalties.

One thing we haven’t seen too often at football games is kneeling.

Just five years ago, Colin Kaepernick’s routine protests were the subject of thousands of hours of criticism from football fans, who saw his refusal to stand for the national anthem as disrespectful to the country and even worse, to veterans. We won’t harp for too long on these criticisms, because there’s no way we can say anything that hasn’t already been said. It’s worth mentioning, however, that when an organization like the NFL outright rejects the real purpose of protests, it’s pretty revealing of that group’s values.

Last year, amid nationwide protests against police brutality and race inequality, the NFL finally backtracked from its original stance of encouraging all players to stand for the anthem. The league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, finally admitted the errors of his ways in June of 2020. He highlighted the NFL’s concern for the systemic oppression of Black people and apologized for discouraging peaceful protest.

This apology did not mention Colin Kaepernick.

It’s high time that we admit the NFL, from the league office to its 32 teams, blackballed Kaepernick. That’s why the league’s aforementioned apology couldn’t reference the former 49ers quarterback. To do so would’ve been a clear indication that Kaepernick was welcomed back in the league. His absence from the NFL’s statement is just as revealing, however.

If football isn’t your thing, then it’s fine to skim this section.

Kaepernick’s statistics didn’t warrant getting permanently benched when he was pulled by the 49ers staff. In 2016, he racked up 2,709 total yards and 18 touchdowns. Additionally, his career interception rate was only 1.8%, the second lowest in NFL history. Despite these marks, the 49ers replaced Kaepernick with Matt Barkley, who threw 10 interceptions in 2016 despite playing in five fewer games. Kaepernick finished that season as a backup, never to play another NFL snap.

When you compare his statistics to other second-string quarterbacks from around the league, the mistreatment jumps off the page. Kaepernick outpaced seven qualified starters in Total Quarterback Rating, one of the most well-regarded measures of a quarterback’s level of play. He performed better in this statistic than Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, and even Carson Wentz – all starters for their respective teams. All of the available metrics paint the same picture. Colin Kaepernick deserved a job as a backup quarterback in the National Football League.

Unfortunately, the NFL shied away from ever offering him that role. There was a glimmer of hope in 2019, when the league organized a one-man combine for Kaepernick. League officials drummed up a media frenzy and gave the Kaepernick camp only two weeks to agree to the tryout. The NFL also required the former Niner to sign a waiver stating that he would never sue the NFL if he went unsigned. After all of that, the event imploded. Rather than performing at professional facilities, Kaepernick ended up at a high school throwing to former college talents. The entire effort was a charade, designed to give ammunition to Kaepernick doubters and avail the NFL of any blame.

And that’s likely where Kaepernick’s time in the NFL sphere ends. Maybe one day, the NFL will truly embrace the principles it claims to hold dear. Systemic racism is real and plagues every facet of our lives.

Thankfully, football players haven’t stopped the protesting. Just last year, Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill declared his intent to skip his senior season unless his home state adopted a new flag. When Hill launched his protest, Mississippi had used a Confederate flag-inspired insignia for 126 years. But on November 3, 2020, voters approved a new design without such a hateful symbol.

Fighting for social justice in football is alive and well. It’s different than it once looked and doesn’t have the same players leading the charge. Maybe the NFL is on its way to really embracing these viewpoints and helping create positive change. It may also be true that swallowing the pill of explicitly apologizing to Kaepernick is a bridge too far. Either way, the world will never forget how he furthered the police reform movement.

October 1, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: California Focus

It’s cooling down in most of the country, so don’t blame us for dreaming of California! Here’s some notable news from the Golden State!

California

  • AB48
    • Why we’re watching: Gov. Newsom signed AB48 this week, which restricts police usage of rubber bullets and chemical agents, both of which caused controversy during the protests of 2020. Now, law enforcement can only resort to those archaic tactics after they’ve exhausted other de-escalation techniques and must report the use of any projectile weapon causing bodily harm to civilians.
  • All-White-Male Boardrooms Ban
    • Why we’re watching: California outlawed the all-white-male corporate boardroom all the way back in 2018. However, this summer was the state’s mandated due date for companies to diversify their leadership. The plan seems to have worked, given that women now occupy 50% more board seats in the state than when the law was passed.
  • Marijuana Conviction Dismissals
    • Why we’re watching: Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced this week that his office would dismiss 60,000 marijuana-related convictions, one of the largest such efforts in history. Reversing the disproportionate impacts of the war on drugs against people of color has always been a priority of Gascón’s, so we aren’t surprised to see this reparative criminal justice focus.
  • SB2
    • Why we’re watching: To prevent police officers that have behaved improperly from jumping station-to-station, Gov. Newsom signed a bill making it easier to strip cops of their badges. The new law creates a step-by-step framework for authorities to analyze officer misconduct before a community advisory board makes a final ruling.
  • SB65
    • Why we’re watching: In California, Black women are six times more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than their white counterparts. To help inform future decisions on the issue, SB65 seeks to collect better data, mandate expert recommendations, and expand access to midwives. The bill is currently on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk and we hope he signs it.

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!

Happy National Drive Electric Week!

Transportation has long been a major culprit of air pollution. In 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that cars, buses, and trucks constituted 29% of our country’s total greenhouse gas emissions – that’s more than agriculture, industry, and electricity. Our country was built around automobiles that accelerate climate change while putting off noxious fumes and dangerous chemicals. Thankfully, the rise of electric vehicles is more evident every day. But we mustn’t let that blind us to the reality of severe air pollution.

For example, automobile exhaust contains airborne particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or PM2.5, that while invisible to the eye, have disproportionate consequences for Black and Brown citizens.

A Union of Concerned Scientists study from 2019 concluded that communities of color are disproportionately and dangerously exposed to air pollution throughout the United States. On average, Black and Brown citizens breathe 66% more car-based air pollution than their white counterparts. Meanwhile, white residents constitute 85% of people living in areas with low PM2.5 counts. All told, over 16 million people of color live in areas with PM2.5 counts higher than the average of the state in which they live.

Essentially, our communities of color are constantly inhaling polluted air that other groups don’t have to worry about. Over time, the effects of such permeance can really mount a toll. Breathing PM2.5 particles can lead to adverse health effects like respiratory and cardiac illnesses, which can become chronic if not treated properly. This is made all the worse considering our widespread racial disparities in healthcare.

These gaps in healthcare in turn hurt economic productivity. Minorities are more likely to occupy low-income jobs that don’t offer sick days or insurance coverage. Constant exposure to PM2.5 is not only significant to one’s health, but also their ability to earn a living wage and provide for a family. This is not just a health issue, rather, it’s a socioeconomic issue.

If you’ve read our blogs for a while, you can probably guess why this is.

For decades, our institutions redlined communities of color by purposefully denying them home loans, essentially segregating neighborhoods by race. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) spearheaded this effort, beginning in 1934, while also subsidizing builders that were mass-producing subdivisions for white families. The FHA even required that none of the cheap, new homes would be sold to Black families, a state-sponsored disparity that shows up on maps even today. Local lawmakers used these clear racial boundaries to refuse investment in majority-minority areas, which is why we see things like heat inequality and a lack of investment in public transportation.

Redlining is the original sin for so many of the disproportionate impacts that minorities face in this country, including exposure to car-based air pollution.

In response, we must pursue common-sense, equitable solutions. Many have accordingly called for the construction of a nationwide charging network for electric vehicles. This level of infrastructure development would not only create a framework for the widespread use of renewable energy but could also generate jobs for under-resourced communities. Installing electric vehicle chargers in metropolitan areas is similarly an innovative way to spur private investment in historically neglected areas. Suddenly, new businesses and high-paying jobs could become the norm.

But like all lofty public policy projects, equity is key. Without someone keeping an eye out for communities of color, there’s no guarantee that such a project would set up shop in our neighborhoods, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. If money follows money, then it’s entirely possible that such an electric charging network would ignore majority-minority areas, despite the well-documented and disparate health impacts of air pollution. New infrastructure is well and good, but without committing to equity, it’s ultimately more of the same.

The wellbeing of communities of color is simply more sensitive to the effects of climate change. Redlining, underinvestment, and discrimination all ensured so. It’s time we move forward from these historic injustices, not with empty-handed rhetoric and stump speeches, but rather with justice in mind and billions of dollars in hand.

September 24, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Disproportionate Policing

Traditional policing is disproportionate, antiquated, and often does more harm than good. Here’s some recent news on the issue!

California

  • Los Angeles Protest Ordinance
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the Los Angeles City Council gave final approval to an ordinance creating a 300-foot buffer between private residences and protests. Their action is supposedly in response to protests on both sides of the aisle, but a just application of the new law remains to be seen. 

Federal

  • People’s Response Act
    • Why we’re watching: We’re big fans of Rep. Cori Bush. This bill, now supported by Ben & Jerry’s calls for a health-centered approach to policing. In addition to divesting from traditional models of law enforcement, Rep. Bush has called for investing in community-minded policing as a means of combatting the effects of systemic and institutional racism.

Maryland

  • HB1312
    • Why we’re watching: During Maryland’s 2021 legislative session, Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins spearheaded HB1312, which required landlords to provide a “just cause” when evicting a tenant. Unfortunately, the bill was gutted in committee and did not pass. This week, however, gubernatorial candidates praised the bill, hopefully signaling some new momentum to pass housing reform.

Missouri

  • Statement on Downtown Public Safety
    • Why we’re watching: St. Louis mayor Tishuara O. Jones once promised to reject the policing status quo. Recently, however, she announced a plan to increase downtown police patrols. A number of social justice groups have pointed out the walk-back and that these reforms won’t do much besides reinforce the disproportionate, negative impact that police have on the lives on Black and Brown citizens.

Pennsylvania

  • Prison Gerrymandering
    • Why we’re watching: Last month, a Pennsylvania commission voted to count their state’s 40,000 prisoners as residents of their home addresses rather than of the prison’s physical location. Now, the state is rolling back that decision in a huge blow to a promising solution to prison gerrymandering, which gives disproportionate political power to wealthier areas with prison construction.

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!

Syllabus week is over, now it’s HBCU week.

Happy Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week, y’all! This is a time for us to focus on the importance of HBCUs and highlight just how underfunded they are.

But first, some history: HBCUs are higher education institutions that were established prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and aimed to serve the Black community. At the time, most universities were totally segregated and even those that had Black students imposed strict racial quotas.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act integrated all schools, including colleges and universities. Many Black students at schools like Shaw University and Lincoln University transferred to larger institutions where they were greeted coldly by the student body. A year later, the Higher Education Act of 1965 created federal grant programs for HBCUs based on student population and graduation rate. The bill even accounted for job placement in fields in which Black workers were historically underrepresented.

Then, in 1980, President Carter signed an executive order that provided funding to strengthen HBCUs and nine years later, President Bush created a presidential advisory board to represent HBCU interests. In 2015, Representatives Alma S. Adams and Bradley Byrne created the Bipartisan Congressional HBCU Caucus to advocate for these institutions on the federal level. The caucus quickly grew to include 94 elected officials as of September 2019.

That’s the feel-good history of HBCUs anyways.

Don’t get us wrong; There’s a lot of reasons to feel good about HBCUs. These 101 colleges across the country boast some impressive alumni, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr., Vice President Kamala Harris, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Other successes range from academic excellence to athletic prowess.

Just imagine what HBCUs could do if they were properly funded.

Public HBCUs depend on government funding. Federal, state, and local subsidies make up 54% of their funding compared to 38% for non-HBCU institutions. Even private HBCUs are about 8% more tuition-dependent than private non-HBCUs. HBCUs don’t have the same donor base and public support as larger, more recognizable institutions. And yet, HBCUs are the victims of the biggest declines in federal funding since 2003.

The Biden Administration has recently invested in HBCU at a historic rate (thanks, VP Harris). But, there’s still work to be done.

One thing we can do is lobby those in power to give HBCUs low-interest loans for new projects. Data shows that HBCUs have paid vastly more interest than non-HBCUs in construction and campus improvement projects. Canceling college debt for alumni that pledge to donate to HBCUs could be a useful tactic to generate a groundswell of support, too. Investing in HBCUs will pay dividends later.

The importance of HBCUs cannot be overstated, either. Not only do they produce almost a fifth of all Black graduates every year, but they help typically underserved groups. Nearly 60% of HBCU students are first-generation college students, far surpassing other state and private universities. HBCUs also enroll more students reliant on financial support too. Such institutions are central to the professional goals and dreams of so many and we should fund them accordingly.

This HBCU week, let’s recognize how far these schools have come. Let’s also admit that there’s a long way to go until HBCUs are the palaces of higher education that they deserve to be.

September 17, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Colorado Focus

A couple weeks ago, a Colorado grand jury indicted three Aurora police officers and two paramedics for their role in Elijah McClain’s death in 2019. Here are some of the new laws that have been passed as a direct result of his death.

Colorado

  • HB1251
    • Why we’re watching: Elijah McClain died as a result of a lethal dose of ketamine. Now, before using the powerful sedative, first responders are required to weigh someone to determine a proper dose. Another provision of the law is that police officers can’t pressure paramedics to administer the drug in cases that they hadn’t intended to use it.
  • SB217
    • Why we’re watching: After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a number of municipalities banned law enforcement’s use of chokeholds to subdue a detainee – the same way McClain was rendered unconscious. This legislation banned chokeholds and mandates officers to face an imminent threat prior to using deadly force. Additionally, officers in Colorado can now be held personally liable for up to $25,000 worth of damages by the legal system.
  • HB1250
    • Why we’re watching: Prior to this bill’s passage, law enforcement agencies only needed to investigate use-of-force deaths involving the discharge of a firearm. McClain was murdered without a single shot being fired, which slowed the legal process. Now, police officers must investigate all deaths that result from their use of force.

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!

 

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