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Finally, a SCOTUS that looks like our country.

Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Maybe you heard about it? We truly hope so, given it’s the first time the president nominated a Black woman to that role – let alone the first time the Senate has confirmed as such. Right now, the Supreme Court, or SCOTUS, is more diverse than it ever has been, a process that has taken decades.

When you consider the history that Ketanji Brown Jackson was able to overcome, her confirmation becomes even more impressive.

In its 233-year history, there have only been four justices of color. Those are Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, and of course, Ketanji Brown Jackson. No minority justices have ever served as chief justice, either. Only six were born outside of the United States, and most of them were from northern or western European countries. Several ethnic groups have never been nominated for the Supreme Court, either. These include Asian, Native American, or Pacific Islander candidates, although a few have been considered over the years.

Before last week, SCOTUS has only hosted five women, those being Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett. It took nearly 200 years for a president to first nominate a female justice. As is true with nonwhite justices, no woman has ever served as chief justice.

These same unfortunate barriers hold true across several demographics. No Supreme Court justice has identified as anything other than heterosexual. As of today, the worst law school that a justice hails from is Notre Dame, which ranks 25th in the country according to U.S. News and World Report. Most of our 115 justices have come from upper-middle to elite social standing. In fact, in 2008, seven of the nine sitting justices were millionaires.

The court’s well-documented history reflects the very obstacles that Black and Brown citizens face every single day, ranging from higher education to intergenerational wealth. It’s only recently that other groups have begun to see themselves in the faces of our ultimate judicial thinkers.

Of course, the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson doesn’t erase over two centuries of prejudice and exclusion. It is, however, a sign of progress that the bench is slowly beginning to reflect our country’s greatest strength: plurality.

It’s only when our thought leaders and elected officials reflect their constituents that we’ll truly move forward together. To be a truly representative form of government, every voice needs a seat at the table. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the land, implicitly shifting public policy day in and day out. Even if Congress was perfectly representative of the electorate, we wouldn’t be finished without considering the Supreme Court.

We’ll leave you with an examination of the 2020 census and how the court would look if it was truly representative of the country it governs.

In that scenario, SCOTUS would boast 1.2 Black justices and 1.7 Hispanic justices. It would host 4.6 female justices and 1.2 foreign-born justices. The average personal wealth of a justice would be roughly $5.3 million less than it is now and only 1.5 justices would be over the age of 65. To put it briefly, the Supreme Court will never accurately reflect our country’s makeup. But at least it’s starting to.

April 15 NF Legislative Roundup: Police Brutality

This week, we’re looking at some stories and legislation from around the country involving police brutality – an all too common occurrence.

Illinois

  • Qualified Immunity
    • Why we’re watching: Have you ever wondered how officers get away with their brutality, often scot-free? Look no further than qualified immunity, a Supreme Court doctrine that says public employees can’t be charged for incidents on the line of duty. Following protests in the summer of 2020, more and more communities are looking to end the practice.

Michigan

  • Murder of Patrick Lyoya
    • Why we’re watching: Last week, a Grand Rapids police officer murdered Patrick Lyoya execution-style following a traffic stop. Footage of the incident led Lyoya’s family and activists across the country to call for a full investigation and the release of the officer’s name that committed such a heinous crime. Lyoya was a Congolese immigrant and only 26 years old.

Maryland

  • Police Reform Bill
    • Why we’re watching: On the last day of session, the Maryland General Assembly got around to revising its police reform legislation that it approved last year. Among other things, the legislation creates a trial board of state police agencies and prohibits collective bargaining with regard to officer discipline – all measures to cut down on police brutality.

New York

  • Buffalo Police
    • Why we’re watching: You may remember a disturbing video from 2020 in which Buffalo police officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski shoved a 75-year-old man to the ground during a protest. That man was later hospitalized for his injuries. This week, an arbitrator ruled that neither officer committed a crime although the brutality of their actions was clear to the millions that saw the damning video footage.
  • Subway Shooter
    • Why we’re watching: The New York Police Department has an annual budget of over $10 billion. Despite being one of the most expensive armies in the world, its officers couldn’t stop Frank James from wreaking havoc on a subway earlier this week. Officers near the shooting were reportedly clearing out homeless citizens from train stations.

What do you think of the news 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!

Medicine, Mistrust, and Organ Donation

Every year, our country supports around 6,000 living organ donations. Of those donors, one-third are not biologically related to the recipient. It’s a good thing so many sign up to donate their organs, given that every nine minutes another name is added to the national waiting list. Even worse, 17 people die every day due to the lack of available organs for transplant. Generally, organ disease is a serious public health issue that has garnered over 850,000 organ transplants since 1988.

In this, like almost everything else, we see racial disparities.

For starters, minority patients are overall less likely to receive life-saving kidney transplants. A 2018 Journal of the American Medical Association study found from 1995 to 2014, live donor kidney donation increased by 4.4% for white patients and 0.5% for Asian patients but declined 0.5% and 0.9% for Black and Hispanic patients, respectively. In reacting to this increasingly disparate environment, researchers and doctors expressed shame and disappointment. After all, two decades of public and medical policy tried to alleviate some of these inequalities.

Those policies have obviously failed. Now, doctors and medical experts are forced to grapple with these failures and find real solutions.

Many cite communities of color’s relative unwillingness to donate their organs as rationale for the inequity on the other end of the process. After all, according to a 2006 study by the National Institutes of Health, Black citizens are 25.8% less likely to sign a donor card and 15.7% less likely to donate their organs compared to their white counterparts. Perhaps, however, this is the result of a medical system with little to no credibility in the Black community.

There’s history here. The medical community repeatedly violates the trust of minorities. In the early 1700s, doctors experimented on unwilling slaves. Even today, hospitals in majority-minority communities offer a substandard level of care while those in other areas excel. More famous than any of these incidents, however, was the Tuskegee experiment.

The Tuskegee experiment was a 1932 U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) study that sought to treat syphilis, a deadly sexually transmitted disease. The PHS used 600 Black men in Alabama for their study, which consisted of giving participants active syphilis without offering any treatment. The study continued for decades as doctors observed the symptoms of syphilis without intending to treat them. Of course, the PHS was dishonest about the details of the experiment, telling the 600 Black men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a common name for several illnesses at the time.

Tuskegee-syphilis-study doctor-injecting-subject.jpg

We only know about the Tuskegee experiment because a PHS employee leaked the story to a reporter who worked for the Associated Press. In 1972, Americans read about the severe injustice. By the time this story was published, 28 participants died from syphilis and over 100 more died from related health conditions. Additionally, 40 spouses were diagnosed with syphilis and inadvertently passed the disease to 19 of their children.

Maybe there’s a direct connection between the medical distrust, fostered by events like the Tuskegee Experiment, and the lack of organ transplant access in communities of color. Or maybe it’s the result of generally poor care in majority-minority areas. Wherever the truth lies, it’s impossible to ignore these several inequities. The medical community continues to violate the trust of minorities, both intentionally and incidentally. To make up that lost ground, we first need to admit the inherent discrimination in public health. Then, we can look for root causes and figure out policy that will not only build back lost trust, but save lives.

April 8 NF Legislative Roundup: Cannabis Reform

There has been an avalanche of news lately in the world of cannabis reform. Here are some of the highlights!

Arizona

  • Social Equity Cannabis Licenses
    • Why we’re watching: Today, Arizona will announce the winners of 26 social equity cannabis licenses, all of which will promote minority ownership in the marijuana retail industry. In other words, this initiative will put Black and Brown citizens, who are most affected by social inequities surrounding cannabis, on the forefront of the growing industry.

Federal

  • Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act
    • Why we’re watching: Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed landmark legislation that would legalize cannabis nationwide and eliminate all penalties for those who manufacture, distribute, or possess it. The bill, which also creates standards for expunging criminal records and taxing the product, was approved by a 220-204 vote and now heads to the Senate, where it faces a less certain future.

Maryland

  • Marijuana Legalization
    • Why we’re watching: The Maryland House and Senate have approved legislation to legalize marijuana – first adding a ballot question to the November elections. Both policies have been contentious in Maryland, as criminal justice activists have leveled criticism at the legislation for not doing enough to support the Black and Brown community.

New York

  • Seeding Initiative Opportunity
    • Why we’re watching: To lessen the impact of the war on drugs in New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced that residents with past marijuana-related offenses would be first in line for retail dispensary licenses. While a good idea, other states have failed to uphold similar promises, creating uncertainty among some groups in the state.

What do you think of the news 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 Fair Housing Month!

It’s finally April! Flowers will start blooming soon, ushering in a new season and leaving winter in the rearview mirror. But amid that change, we cannot forget that it’s National Fair Housing Month, a time to remark on our progress in housing equality and discuss solutions to the problems we still face today.

Of course, access to housing is among the largest public policy issues in the country. In cities like Denver and Los Angeles, we see thousands of residents left exposed to the elements, and in many cases, unable to secure government assistance or acknowledgement. On top of that, there are wide disparities in homeownership, especially along racial and ethnic lines. And even further, we could highlight narrower issues like hostile architecture, designed to make unhoused life less comfortable.

Another area of concern is the gap in home appreciation value for Black and Brown homeowners.

This discussion begins in the same place as so many others we have: redlining. In the early 1900s, banks systematically denied home loans to Black families looking to move into predominantly white neighborhoods. As a result, Black families often ended up concentrated in one area of the city. This let local officials ignore said area, underinvesting in public works and economic development projects there. Another result of redlining was the general inability of Black residents to sell their homes at a fair rate, hampering efforts to create intergenerational wealth.

Those clusters of Black families still exist today, which you’ve likely noticed in larger cities. These majority-minority neighborhoods are earmarked by fewer trees, higher temperatures, and insufficient job opportunities. But invisible to your eyes is the disparity in home value appreciation.

In fact, since the housing market crash of 2008, white borrowers have seen their home values increase across all income levels. This group’s homes have become 1%, 3%, and 5% more valuable for low, medium, and high-earning families, respectively. On the other hand, home values for Black families have all decreased in the same time span. For low-income borrowers, values have fallen 8%. And for the highest Black earners, values have fallen 2%. The disparity, then, is as pronounced as it is difficult to see.

Additionally, Black families seeking home loans often plan to move into mostly Black areas. This concentration of homeownership by race only furthers the inequities and underinvestment we see as the result of redlining. Clearly, the problem has not totally resolved itself.

Fortunately, there are solutions to these complex issues. Namely, we can build an infrastructure to enforce fair housing laws beyond what the federal government has done. The Trump administration rolled back several fair housing protections. For example, his Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) repealed the 2015 Affirmative Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. This departmental guideline gave HUD funding recipients a tool to analyze local fair housing obstacles and identify patterns of segregation. As of 2018, HUD can no longer gather this insight from its partners. Reinstating that rule would help the federal government aggregate data and craft informed public policy.

Additionally, Congress should approve statutory enforcement of fair housing laws. The burden of enforcing such laws shouldn’t fall to the victim of discrimination, but rather be an equal, accessible right for all. This can help end the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty spurred by unfair housing laws.

The month is just beginning. Let’s spend it in talks about the importance of fair housing and how we can take an idea and make it a reality.

April 1 NF Legislative Roundup: Past Due Policies

Today, we’re looking at some past due policies from around the country, from reparations to hate crimes. Check it out!

Arizona

  • State Election Bills
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona has made headlines the last several months for slowly infringing on the voting rights of minorities. Legislators there are continuing down this shameful path and looking to pass several more discriminatory and misguided bills. This package of legislation includes publishing voter addresses following elections, requiring citizenship checks to vote, and ending early voting.

California

  • Statewide Reparations Program
    • Why we’re watching: In a first-of-its-kind move, a California task force is proceeding with a plan to offer reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people. The panel responsible for this decision is also overseeing the implementation of other, related policies that involve reparations, which can help the Black community overcome the systemic racism they deal with every day – a past due notion if you ask us.

Colorado

  • Denver Co-Responder Program
    • Why we’re watching: Six years ago, Denver began using clinicians to respond too mental-health related crises. Now, a recent study found that the program has been immensely effective, answering 10,000 calls since its inception. Denver residents are arguing that the program should be expanded to continue protecting vulnerable citizens from police brutality.

Federal

  • Emmitt Till Anti-Lynching Act
    • Why we’re watching: Lynching has always been a hate crime – now our laws reflect that. This week, President Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which finally designates the racist crime in the proper way. Legislators have made over 200 attempts to enact this bill over several decades, making it the very definition of a past due policy.

New York

  • EV Charging Infrastructure Investment
    • Why we’re watching: Communities across the country are grappling with the notion that vehicular air pollution disproportionately affects Black and Brown citizens. By investing in electric vehicles, those same communities are demonstrating their willingness to undergo reform in the name of equity. We applaud New York for this idea!

What do you think of the news 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!

Looking Ahead to the Midterms

Later this year, we’ll all flock to our voting locations and cast our ballots for the midterms. Every seat in the House of Representatives and 34 Senate seats are up for grabs, alongside entire state legislatures and municipal governments. Over the coming months, candidates will embark on familiar journeys and shake the hands of loyal supporters. Some may even pull off stunning upsets that shake up projections of Congress’ make-up until 2024.

Until that midterms election day comes, here are five key issues we hope remain constant, inescapable themes for candidates. In some cases, communities of color will rely on such attention.

First and foremost, we hope candidates of every stripe are forced to address voting rights on the federal level. Right now, multiple expansive, democracy-improving proposals are stalled in the Senate, which has thus far refused to erase the filibuster from its procedures. It’s truly baffling that parliamentary procedure can trump our God-given right to participate in government, but there is some hope. Late last year, the Biden administration signaled a more all-out push to expand voting rights, including absentee ballots, early registration, and even considering Washington DC statehood.

Immigration is the second issue we hope is seriously discussed later this year. Already, the Biden administration has abandoned its promise to shut down private immigration detention facilities and walked away from settlement talks with the families separated by the Trump administration. Those aren’t encouraging signs about the state of immigration reform, which always winds its way back into our national discourse during election years. We believe everyone seeking a better life deserves a fair shot and that our federal institutions stand in the way. It’s time we reexamine the role of ICE and end expedited removal policies.

The pandemic was a mask-off moment for our country in more ways than one. Perhaps most prominently, it revealed the striking inequities of our housing situation. Since the introduction of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, we’ve regressed in terms of homeownership among Black and Brown residents. Like several other policy areas where we see racial disparities, this is clearly linked to our history of redlining and financial discrimination. Now, with evictions rising as pandemic protections end, it’s important to keep the conversation going about how housing is a fundamental right for all, not a luxury.

Another is the misinformation surrounding critical race theory. It seems every state has somehow hit back against the misunderstood legal framework, which simply states that our institutions are rife with inequity and have been for a long time. In response to conservative fearmongering on the issue, states are banning books and outlawing classroom lessons that teach about our country’s historic injustices. We hope candidates can expose this grift for what it is: misinformation borne from a refusal to seriously consider the racial inequities Black and Brown folks see every day.

Lastly, we hope candidates speak on the importance of electric vehicles. It’s no secret Black and Brown citizens are more likely than their white counterparts to breathe in air pollution from cars. Electric vehicles is the most market-friendly and sensible way to address this disparity. However, a systemic change often requires foundational reform. In this case, Congress must create an infrastructure to charge electric vehicles. An inability of consumers to do so is the leading cause of buyer hesitancy. Supercharging our communities with infrastructure to charge electric vehicles will spike their market presence and address a longstanding inequity.

Of course, we hope the midterms are chock-full with other issues, like paid leave, cash bail, and public education. But if we had to pick five issues out of the thousands our country ought to address, these are our choices. What do you think the midterms will be about? Let us know on Twitter, where you can find us @neighborforward!

March 25 NF Legislative Roundup: Court Cases and Our Rights

This week, we’re turning our eye to some of our nation’s court cases and how the judiciary creates or denies change. Check it out!

California

  • Google Racial Discrimination Allegations
    • Why we’re watching: Google, one of the country’s largest companies and certainly the most ubiquitous, was recently implicated in a racial discrimination lawsuit. The attorney leading the charge, Ben Crump, has filed a class action suit, or joined otherwise several individual court cases together to make the point that racial discrimination is bigoted, wrong, and won’t stand anymore.

Federal

  • College Athlete Discrimination
    • Why we’re watching: The National College Players Association announced that it submitted a complaint to the Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education, alleging several schools discriminate against compensating mostly Black athletes. The data backs up their claim and we hope the courts see as much.
  • Georgia Public Defender
    • Why we’re watching: Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff just introduced the Access to Justice Act of 2022, which would require all 94 federal court districts to have a public defender’s office or other nonprofit located in that district. This is one of those proposals that is so sensible, it’s hard to believe that the law isn’t already on the books, but here we are.
  • Nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
    • Why we’re watching: President Biden upheld a campaign promise when he nominated Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court – the first Black woman to hold that honor. This week, senators grilled her, revealing the often-private discrimination that Black women face, on her old court cases, decisions, and personal life. The display was a shameful one for all but Jackson, who replied with poise, dignity, and intelligence.

Wisconsin

  • Statewide Congressional Map
    • Why we’re watching: The fix is in throughout our country. More plainly, state legislatures have rigged the deck against Black and Brown voters through restrictive laws and unfair maps. Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled against Republicans undergoing this process after Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, drew maps for the state. We hope this signals a larger judicial willingness to order the reconsideration of gerrymandered maps.

What do you think of the news 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!

Indigenous Access to Clean Water

Yesterday was World Water Day, which according to the United Nations, is meant to “celebrate water and raise awareness of the 2 billion people currently living without access to safe water.” Ever since 1993, non-governmental organizations and diplomats alike have treated the day as a call to action to provide the basic, fundamental right to clean water for their constituents.

During days such as these, we too often imagine poorer countries struggling to provide clean water. It’s time we turn our attention toward our own country’s issues in this regard.

As of this year, it’s estimated that around one in 10 Native Americans, of which 6.79 million live in the United States, don’t enjoy access to safe tap water or basic sanitation. Most of the water-poor tribes reside in the Colorado River Basin. Throughout California, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, tribes living on the land stolen from them can’t cleanly bathe or hydrate themselves. This is an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. Lacking access to proper sanitation increases the likelihood of infection.

Despite this renewed importance, we’ve taken few steps toward correcting the issue, which began long ago. Tribes across the Colorado River Basin agree that our country has violated its promise to provide Native Americans with livable land. Several treaties from centuries past, which tribes were tricked and coerced into signing, listed this as a condition. Unsurprisingly, we’ve mostly ignored these historical agreements.

The deck is stacked against those tribes seeking to make a difference. Not enough people know Native Americans on reservations don’t own the land on which they reside. Instead, the federal government holds it in trust. So, tribal leadership can’t use property taxes as a revenue generator to improve their clean water infrastructure.

As a result of these broken promises, Indigenous households are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to lack indoor pipes for running water. For example, the Navajo Nation is 67 times more likely to live without running water. Most of them rely on hauled water, which is vastly more expensive than piped water. Partially because of these water issues, Indigenous Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19.

Systemic issues, as esoteric and vast as they might seem, always have real-life, devastating impacts.

The solution demands an equally fundamental reform: Giving land back to Indigenous groups. The federal government ceding control of reservations would permit tribes to generate revenue, use their land as private sector capital, and install other revenue-generating measures. Absent massive and consistent federal support, this can break down the systemic barriers between tribes and the private marketplace. All these potential funds can be used to fix and install pipes, which will ensure better health and sanitation, in turn improving the community overall.

Sometimes, the right fix is the simplest one. In concept, it’s an elegant, obvious solution to a longstanding issue. In execution, there’s sure to be legal and political obstacles. But the severity of this inequity and its historical elements demand a massive reformative effort.

March 18 NF Legislative Roundup: Housing Crisis

This week, we focus on some solutions to the housing crisis and a couple other topics of interest – check it out!

California

  • SB 9
    • Why we’re watching: On Jan. 1, a California law took effect that allowed homeowners to build four residential units on a single-family lot – an answer to California’s serious affordable housing crisis. Pasadena, one of many cities that opposed SB 9, passed an ordinance allowing officials to exempt eligible areas by declaring them “landmark districts,” something that Attorney General Rob Bonta says violates the spirit of the law.

Colorado

  • Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth
    • Why we’re watching: We’ve reached an affordable housing crisis, wherein young people of color don’t often have the resources to buy their own homes. In Denver, the Dearfield Fund is fixing that by offering down payments and mortgage assistance to Black individuals who feel they’ve experienced discriminatory housing practices.

Georgia

  • HB 1354
    • Why we’re watching: Our criminal justice system is full of contradictions. At times, it convicts and imprisons the wrong people. Now, erroneously barred Georgia residents will have access to state-mandated compensation between $50,000 and $100,000 per year, disbursed by a panel consisting of wrongful conviction experts.
  • SB 171
    • Why we’re watching: Georgia, in its extensive campaign to alienate Black and Brown voters, residents, and activists, passed a bill that would make some protest activities illegal. While its proponents claim the legislation will make communities safer, it’s a clear response to the protests of 2020 and will instead violate the constitutional rights of people of color.

New York

  • Binghamton Housing Project
    • Why we’re watching: Affordable housing is important on both state and local levels. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York just announced a $8.4 million, 23-unit development in Binghamton. Future tenants will all fall below the 60% mark of the area’s median income, with some preference toward veterans with physical disabilities.

What do you think of the news 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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