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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!

Juneteenth is Independence Day.

Following the American Civil War, states were slow to officially end the practice of slavery. In fact, over 8 months passed between the surrender of the Confederacy and the full ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation. States like Texas, too remote for a perpetual Union presence, resisted the end of slavery and served as a sort of safe haven for slavers. This general refusal necessitated federal intervention – which kicked off the tradition of Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and formally announced the abolition of slavery:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

From that day forward, June 19th has been celebrated as the end of slavery. The next year, freedmen organized the first Jubilee Day and celebrated by distributing voting instructions and pooling money together to buy land. For decades, Texas and the national Black community recognized Juneteenth, until the Great Depression and Jim Crow-era oppression forced an end to the annual celebration.

 

In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, Juneteenth sawa resurgence in popularity. In the late 1970s, Texas declared the day a “holiday of significance . . . particularly to the blacks of Texas,” becoming the first state to do so. Since then, 46 other states have joined the Lone Star State and the holiday has garnered increasing mainstream attention.

But that’s as far as we’ve gone with respect to Juneteenth…until now. Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota have all refused to annually recognize the holiday – as has the federal government until today.

Juneteenth will now be a full-scale federal holiday on par with Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and all of the others. U.S. companies use the federal government’s recommendations for holidays with paid time off 97% of the time, per the Society for Human Resource Management. Corporate America will likely follow suit.

There is implicit value in recognizing June 19th annually. Slavery is one of our country’s original sins and one we still haven’t fully reconciled. Establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday will spur this process, which requires total awareness and honesty. It’s one of the most important holidays in the Black community and thus deserves this designation.

Juneteenth is an entire community’s Independence Day. It deserves its admittedly late federal holiday title and should be widely celebrated.

Neighborhood FORWARD Statement on the Ocean Park, MD Police Department Incident

Over the weekend, the Ocean City, MD Police Department tased teenagers in an effort to enforce a local vaping ordinance. 

 

Black and Brown law enforcement officials and experts have made it clear to us that this has always been a potential outcome of prohibitions against flavored tobacco and vaping products. Rather than invest in educational resources to dissuade young people from smoking or vaping​​​, our leaders have opted for an outdated ban, right out of the War on Drugs playbook, that has disproportionately punished Black and Brown communities​​​​​​​​​. 

 

Neighborhood FORWARD and our affiliates are calling for a thorough investigation into the incident and a total reconsideration of such laws and proposals across the country.

JUNE 11, 2021 NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: OUR RACIST PAST

Legislators in Oregon and Connecticut have been tangling with our racist past through legislation. Here are the highlights and lowlights!

Connecticut

  • HB6476
    • Why we’re watching: For the first time in 30 years, Connecticut will undergo a study to analyze discrimination against women- and minority-owned businesses in state contracts. The legislation’s sponsors noted the moment of reckoning following George Floyd’s death as a springboard for this initiative.
  • Amendment 501 to SB1073
    • Why we’re watching: Although the measure was defeated, its very existence is troubling. Public schools are confronting our racist past every day in history classrooms, informing students about events like the Tulsa Race Massacre. Many lawmakers would rather bury our past and paint a less confrontational and false history.

 Oregon

  • SB398
    • Why we’re watching: Nooses are a signal of white supremacy and a relic of our racist past. There’s no legitimate reason to publicly display a noose, and Oregon agrees. From now on, the presentation of a noose will be a hate crime, as long as Gov. Kate Brown does the right thing and signs the near-unanimously approved bill.
  • HB2935
    • Why we’re watching: This bill, also known as the CROWN Act, bans race-based hair discrimination. While Oregon has banned most discrimination from workplaces already, this addition permits Black workers to express themselves without worrying about their employment status.
  • HCR11
    • Why we’re watching: Since 1927, Oregon’s state song, “Oregon, My Oregon,” contained racist language emphasizing the virtue of fair-skinned, free men. Although the song is rarely sung, it’s an unfortunate example of the state’s racist past – one that took almost 100 years to rectify.

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!

Low wages and high recidivism? Prison labor doesn’t add up.

This month is National Wildfire Awareness Month, and for good reason. As the weather heats up across the country, park rangers will start watching for faraway pillars of smoke, indicating a potentially devastating forest fire. Climate change shows no signs of slowing down, nor do wildfires. They will continue to wreak havoc on our country’s most natural, beautiful places. Thankfully, we’ve created a number of groups and task forces to combat these blazes. A lot of them, however, use prison labor.

Last year, over 600 fires raged across California. Thousands of incarcerated men and women fought the blazes under terrible conditions and insufficient pay. Such labor is an abuse of our incarceration system and indicates a larger, more serious problem.

Our country incarcerates more people than any other. If we were to round up all of American’s prisoners, the population would rank among our largest cities. As of 2019, the total prison population was around 2.19 million prisoners. Our decades-long war on drugs has created the most overly eager criminal justice system in the world, hell-bent on locking up people of color at disproportionate rates.

Obviously, our institutions can’t let such a vast group of people sit there without performing a service.

So many of these prisoners perform labor for subpar wages. Their responsibilities range from transcribing textbooks to manufacturing military equipment. An admittedly non-comprehensive list of companies that use prison labor can be found here. The range of industries in which prison labor is prominent is fairly surprising.

In federal prisons, these workers can earn between 12 cents and 40 cents per hour for their work.

Besides being drastically lower than the federal minimum wage, this pay often comes with stipulations. A significant chunk of that money automatically goes towards criminal justice system fees. Saving this already measly salary is almost impossible. That, along with underfunded and neglected post-release support systems, foster recidivism. So not only do private interests exploit racist criminal justice tendencies, but prison labor is a self-sustaining institution. The low wages help sustain the labor pool.

The exploitation of prisoners for cheap, sometimes dangerous labor must end. Even those fighting wildfires only earn $2.90 a day for their work. States like California have dangled expungement as an incentive to sign up for firefighting programs. Until recent, the same states have banned ex-offenders from serving as firefighters upon release.

Prison labor is a system full of contradictions and harmful institutions. Not only is exploiting our deeply flawed criminal justice system immoral, but the labor itself is as well. Prisoners deserve real wages that can help them once they serve their time. Aside from abolishing prison labor in general, mandating a higher base pay will reduce repeat offenders and help rehabilitate prisoners.

Instead of taking advantage of mostly people of color, let’s create a system that works for incarcerated people, not abuses them. If we make time in prison valuable, then it will pay dividends down the line within our criminal justice system.

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