Posts tagged with "splc"

Thanksgiving Reflection and Gratitude

Thanksgiving is a day to reflect and show gratitude for how far we’ve come in the search for liberation. The SPLC honors the civil rights leaders and martyrs who fought diligently to advance the rights of all people. While their legacies have shaped our history, we are still fighting for justice on their behalf and for the many who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom.

Below are some of the martyrs who were targeted for death because of their civil rights work; random victims of vigilantes determined to halt the movement; or people who, in the sacrifice of their own lives, brought new awareness to the struggle. Also featured are two prominent civil rights leaders who dedicated their entire lives to the liberation of all people.

 

 

September 25, 1961 · Liberty, Mississippi
Herbert Lee, who worked with civil rights leader Bob Moses to help register Black voters, was killed by a state legislator who claimed self-defense and was never arrested. Louis Allen, a Black man who witnessed the murder, was later also killed.

September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama
Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were getting ready for church services when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing all four school-age girls and wounding others. The church had been a center for civil rights meetings and marches.

June 21, 1964 · Philadelphia, Mississippi
James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, young civil rights workers, were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

January 10, 1966 · Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, a wealthy businessman, offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The night after a radio station broadcast Dahmer’s offer, his home was firebombed. Dahmer died later from severe burns.

John Lewis
Civil rights icon and one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, John Lewis nearly died when law enforcement attacked him and other protestors while attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge during his long quest to secure freedom and civil rights for Black people. Also known as “Bloody Sunday,” the brutal attacks were photographed and published in newspapers, sending shockwaves throughout the country. Lewis was a man of action who always stood for justice in the face of violence. He served 17 terms in Congress and passed away from cancer at 80 in 2020.

Ella Josephine Baker
Serving in leadership roles for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Baker organized communities across the country. She spent most of the 1940s knocking door to door, encouraging Black people to get involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Her sharp organizing skills, dedication and strategic thinking led her to implement campaigns with local organizations for causes such as anti-lynching, job training, equal pay for Black teachers and voter registration drives. She died at 92 in 2005.

The legacy of these figures helped shape the fate of the country. These martyrs and civil rights leaders serve as a reminder of the immense sacrifices made in light of the liberation of all people which we are still fighting for today. Today and every day, we honor them with action.

In solidarity,

The Southern Poverty Law Center

SPLC Sues Louisiana City on Behalf of NAACP, Challenging Unfair Voting Map

Every 10 years, political bodies across the U.S. go through the process of reconciling population changes detected in the latest census with district maps that govern how voters elect public officials. Sometimes populations grow in some districts and shrink in others as people take on new jobs, start new families or follow trends in migration. The reapportionment of districts is supposed to ensure that voters maintain equal power at the ballot box, regardless of where they live.

In Abbeville, Louisiana, voting rights advocates have spent years trying to get the City Council to redraw its districts to comply with the legal requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment. But that has not happened. Instead, after the 2020 census, the city kept a map based on the 2010 census – when the Black population was just over 40% – that has just one Black-majority district out of four districts, even though Black people now make up nearly 43% of the city’s residents. During the same period, the white population fell from 53% to 49%.

In Abbeville, as elsewhere, the makeup of voting maps can have a very tangible impact on the lives of voters. Local officials determine everything from whether a street is paved to how far someone has to travel to visit a park or playground – and how well maintained those public works might be. “There’s a complete difference or two different worlds in the city of Abbeville,” said Linda Cockrell, president of the Vermilion Parish NAACP chapter in Abbeville. “I was told that in the higher-up neighborhoods, city workers are in these neighborhoods at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning washing down the roads, removing trash, and everything else.”

Frustrated by the city’s action, the NAACP chapter, represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has filed suit in federal court to force the city to adopt a more balanced voting map. The lawsuit cites the principle of “one person, one vote” that is laid out in the 14th Amendment and requires districts within a political subdivision to be roughly equal in population.

“Abbeville City Council’s decision to not reapportion following the 2020 U.S. census denies equal representation,” said SPLC Staff Attorney Ahmed Soussi, who filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on Oct. 17.“This is an abuse of power that undermines the voting rights of the residents of District B, including Vermilion NAACP members. We are suing to end this illegal and harmful practice.”

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

The suit follows years of discussions, hearings and outreach over two city administrations. Reapportionment generally begins once the U.S. Census Bureau releases its block-level maps, which can be a year to 18 months after the national count is finished. Because of the COVID pandemic and the political disarray surrounding the presidential election, the 2020 effort faced some challenges.

After the city of Abbeville began its reapportionment process, it received a report from its demographic firm, Sellers and Associates, that laid out maps showing a population drop of more than 1,000 residents, from 12,257 in 2010 to 11,186 in 2020. Council members and then-Mayor Mark Piazza claimed the numbers were wrong because the census takers did not do a “good job.” Instead of moving forward with the reapportionment process with a public comment period and adoption of new maps, the council stalled efforts until a year later. Last December, the council decided to use the existing map from 2010. Despite having no data to back up the claim, a representative of the Sellers demographic firm claimed that the 2020 census was not accurate.

Neither the council members nor the consultants said how many people the city may have lost or from which districts. The 2020 census data showed a deviation of 19% among some districts. Throughout the years-long debate, members of the NAACP chapter had presented maps with districts that had little or no deviation in population. Additionally, the SPLC presented a map with a far less egregious 6% deviation.

And although current Mayor Roslyn White said the city was “potentially going to make a change,” that did not occur. It is also not the first time the city has been forced to reapportion due to deviations in the size of its council districts. In 2010, the council map showed a 50% deviation, making the city apply for preclearance of its 2010 map under the requirements of the Voting Rights Act in place at the time.

RACIAL GERRYMANDERING

When most people think of voting district maps, the idea of gerrymandering – the process of drawing oddly shaped districts to create voting blocs that favor a particular candidate or party – is the first thing to come to mind. But there are other concerns addressed in federal voting law. In this case, the lawsuit specifically cites the “one person, one vote” provision of the 14th Amendment. Under that clause, people in voting districts should have the same or at least similar voting power. To accomplish that, districts should have roughly the same population. Generally, anything over 10% is considered per se, or “in itself,” unlawful.

Because the City Council simply adopted its old map, a district with fewer people in Abbeville can still elect one council member and have the same representative voice as a person voting in a district with a larger population. For example, under the current map, the median district size should be 2,797 residents. District B gained 10%, rising to 3,086 people, according to the 2020 census. District C, however, lost 9% of its population, dropping to 2,544. So theoretically the vote of a person in District C now carries more weight than one of a voter in District B.

The city has four council districts and one citywide at-large district, for a total of five council seats. Of those, District A and District C each saw losses between the 2010 and 2020 census while districts B and D saw increases. Both A and C are majority-white districts while District D is predominantly Black. In District B, the majority of voters (53.7%) are people of color, but the white population is within a few percentage points.

Overall, 38.5% of Abbeville’s voting-age residents are Black, as are nearly 43% of the residents overall. But those Black residents are mostly packed into one of four single-member council districts, District D, which has a 78.2% minority population. That leaves the others with majority-white or near-parity populations. The council also has a fifth member who is elected on an at-large basis.

FORCING THE ISSUE

SPLC lawyers have reached out to the city of Abbeville with offers to settle the claims without resorting to litigation. Those offers were roundly rejected. “The council maintains the opinion that the current districts are substantially equal, and there was not substantial change requiring redistricting,” City Attorney Bart Broussard said in his response to the latest offer to settle the claim without litigation.

But his response does not address the fact that there is a discrepancy in the size of the districts that violates voting laws. It also does not address the challenges that Black voters already face, like access to polling places and efforts to limit the number of days early voting is allowed. Cockrell said apathy among Black voters is part of the problem when it comes to overcoming racial gerrymandering. “There’s a lot of Black people that’s going around telling other Black folks, ‘What you want to vote for? You’re voting for nothing. You’re not gonna get nothing,’” she said.

One positive note was the election of Councilman at Large Carlton Campbell, which, along with District D Councilwoman Terry Broussard, gave the Black community two voices on the council. But having a voting minority elect a candidate of their choice for an at-large seat is not always a given. “I would like to see two Black districts,” Cockrell said. “I would like to see the city look at every citizen the same regardless of their financial status. We have a lot of work that needs to be done.”

By Dwayne Fatherree, Investigative Journalist

From Immigration Status, Green Card To Passport; The Real Costs Of Becoming An American Citizen

BY JEANETTE LENOIR

 

The American dream, to many, is increasingly symbolizing the old Irish folktale about the Leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And unluckily, refugees and new immigrants under the administration of President Donald J. Trump are losing their way trying to find that elusive pot of gold in the maze of America’s immigration and refugee resettlement system. Gauging the national discourse, no wishes will be granted if it was solely up to the Republicans now in charge of the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives.

The chaotic role-out of the first executive order barring immigration from majority Muslim countries sent shock waves across the country and the world, signaling a clear attempt to set the tone of a new era of American politics and her role in the free world. The ripple effects of the first so called “Muslim ban” is still stirring up fears, and forcing agency-wide adjustments, as well as, increasing costs for refugee and new immigrant service providers. Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees is not immune to the shifts underfoot. The agency’s sole mission is to resettle refugees and help usher in new immigrants to America with the promise of a better life and a chance to achieve the American dream.

MVRCR, Executive Director, Shelly Callahan says, “The number of refugees that we receive in a year is down. We were hoping that there would be some recovery but it looks like our numbers are just going to be down. Typically we resettle about 400, or a little over 400 [refugees] a year. We’re now around 130, or 140 and I’m not sure if it’s going to go up much from there.” Callahan says it’s because of the way the two executive orders have been handed down, “The chaos and just the constantly shifting grounds for refugee resettlement agencies has been really, really damaging,” she said. Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and filed its own federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the ban last week. The suit brought by SPLC on behalf of a Yemeni couple essentially charges that Trump’s order is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Following the roll out of the first executive order Callahan says there was some confusion about who could and couldn’t travel. “There was a short window of time where certain refugees could travel, but what happened, the overseas processing centers where refugees typically go before they travel to their resettlement country, the chaos had refugees leaving the overseas processing centers thinking that they couldn’t leave to the U.S. and then it turned out that some of them could.” She says flights were booked and rebooked many times with people still missing them. And, workers traveling to airports to pick up refugees that didn’t make their flights were costly. Toting up to the confusion is the real agony witnessed when families get separated due to the lack of clear communications and understanding of the new immigration and resettlement policy.  “When these travel bans happen, there’s real concern that these families aren’t going to be able to reunite,” she said. The lawsuit filed by SPLC is to assist the Yemeni couple reunite with their two children that are currently unable to travel to the U.S. due to the executive orders.

Callahan says the agency operates with, “not a lot of fat” to begin with and the increase in costs for refugee resettlement is hitting them hard. Add to that depiction, the decrease in refugee resettlement numbers impacts the work being done to help displaced people around the world that in turn help to improve economically depressed regions like Utica, NY. If Republicans and President Trump’s position and rhetoric on immigration continue to advance on its current path, the impact of losing refugee and new immigrant resettlement programs will undoubtedly be felt by the communities that benefit from their contributions. Refugee resettlement programs bring people and dollars to communities that open their doors to them. For starters, MVRCR gets $950 to resettle each refugee, and an additional $1,150 to be spent on their behalf. The money goes to finding and setting up their housing. “So, for each case, a combination of that $950 that goes to the agency and the $1,150, for a single case, we’re getting them housing, getting their lights turned on, furnishing it all for $1,150, which can be challenging, but for families of 3, 4, 5, 6…that’s a little bit easier and they may actually get money back when we close their case because we wouldn’t have spent down all those dollars,” Callahan explains.

Each refugee also equates to other federal and state dollars for the county through other avenues like grant funding for different programs to help advance the resettlement process. From learning how to drive and understand American driving rules, to language, job training and placement. Nevertheless, Callahan says the U.S. resettlement programs encourage self sufficiency. She said, “So, it’s a hand-up. The refugees come here owing their airfare back to the federal government 6-months post arrival. They’re expected to start paying that down. I think it’s a misconception to think that refugees come here and are given all sorts of resources. They’re definitely given some but it really is a program that expects them to work very hard to be successful.”

Callahan also touts the healthy relationship that’s been cultivated with local and out of area businesses that credit the employment program, and the work undertaken by MVRCR with the rebirth of a dying city. “I think this city would be a ghost town without refugee resettlement,” Callahan said. Refugees and new immigrants bring value to the region that surpasses those aforementioned returns, as their impact can be felt and seen economically, culturally, and socially. Not to mention Utica’s evolving culinary scene. “We have definitely, as a community, benefited enormously from the 36-year history of welcoming these folks in to our community. Our community is absolutely richer for it. I can’t think of anything over those decades that have had a bigger impact, economically and socially, than the population added,” she said.

Long established locals still remember and commiserate about a time when large numbers of employers were leaving the area, properties sitting abandoned for years, until the first major wave of resettlement efforts that started with the Bosnian’s in the 1990s, ushered in a new energy. “There was a time when the population was in danger of dropping below 50-thousand, which would have had some really horrific impacts in terms of federal dollars that the city was able to access for any of its recovery work, but if you just think about the numbers; 16-thousand refugees, just through this center alone, and that doesn’t count secondary migrants, which are refugees that come from other places in the U.S., but if you think about the population number and what its impact for the positive, having these folks resettle in Utica has been, in terms of the economic impact, cannot be overstated,” she said.

But the winds of change are shifting and refugees and other new immigrants fear the worst. Azira Tabucic, Manager, Immigration & Citizenship at MVRCR says the number of people looking to change their immigration status to avoid being deported has increased significantly. “The numbers are really, really large this time. Not only for green card seekers but for many folks that never thought about the importance of being citizens are applying for citizenship. My schedule is booked till May,” she said.

Tabucic explained that the actual cost of becoming a citizen ranges from zero to $5,000, or more, depending on the circumstances of the person being resettled. Refugees and Asylum seekers go through a different process than new immigrants. And economic status, along with a host of other  measures determine how much an individual or a family has to pay for legal status in the U.S. Additionally, the cost to go through the immigration process with assistance from a federally designated agency like MVRCR, separate from other application and medical testing fees, increased in December of 2016. And, from start to finish the process can take about 6-years if individuals follow the rules and timeline set forth by U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS). Adding to an already difficult and lengthy process, Tabucic says the increased cost can be waved or decreased depending on the person’s economic or immigration status. More information, including worksheets, forms, applications, a list of changes and new costs can be found on the USCIS website. Click Here for a direct link to the USCIS fee schedule used by MVRCR.

The U.S. immigration process is a complicated one, with many shifts and turns depending on criteria, status and a host of other measures, making the work of MVRCR crucial for folks looking or forced to call the U.S. home. Callahan says locally there have been people picked-up by immigration officials, including some refugees that had some criminal aspects to their background, and sent to deportation centers. She says there is this undercurrent of fear and confusion about what is going to happen next and who it’s going to impact.  “What this means for us is…one of the things we do through the Office of New Americans and our Immigration and Citizenship office is have our attorney’s here, pro bono, twice a month to work with people who might have some complications with regards to their resident status,” she said.

Another way the agency is preparing refugees and new immigrants for an uncertain future as they make their way through the U.S. immigration process is via education on immigrant’s rights and emergency planning. She said, “This is pretty heart-breaking…we help people go over what to do if you are scooped up in a raid and essentially disappear from your family and community. We’re having parents work on Power of Attorney with their children; we’re having them get all sorts of things in place so that if they get scooped up in one of these situations they know what to do.” Callahan says when someone gets picked up by immigration officials they don’t get a phone call or due process one may expect, by informing other agencies or even their family members about a detainees’ whereabouts. “You just get picked up and you essentially disappear,” she says.

Although Utica is not considered a sanctuary city, the local police department is in step with other police departments across the country, like in Boston, NYC and Los Angeles. According to Callahan, Utica Police have made it clear that they are not going to act as agents of immigration. “Our Utica Police Department have been great. They’ve come here; they’ve talked to staff and clients and assured us that that isn’t their role. They’re not looking to get people in trouble with immigration,” she says. She adds it would be a detrimental position to take considering the work that’s been done to foster and build relationships with the refugee population and other immigrant groups. In spite of the anti-refugee and anti-immigration sentiments across the country, Callahan says she remains hopeful in an uncertain world enforcing boundaries, while adhering to humanitarian standards and coping with displaced people yearning for salvation, “I think that most people believe what is written on the Statue of Liberty. This country has always prided itself on its moral leadership, and I think that’s still who we are.”