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Beyond Stop and Frisk: Communities Organize for Deeper Reforms

12:12 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

On August 22, the New York City Council voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of the Community Safety Act, which is composed of two bills seeking to create more levels of accountability within the New York Police Department (NYPD) and prevent discriminatory practices, such as stop-and-frisk activity, from occurring.

The Community Safety Act was passed one week after Judge Shira A. Scheindlin declared, in Floyd v. The City of New York, that the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment. While we should be pleased a court ruled against the department’s stop-and-frisk policy—which is said to have violated the constitutional rights of many thousands of people, almost all of them Black and Latinowith the vast majority of them not found to have violated any crime—the ruling did not go far enough to ensure people in New York are protected from being unduly harassed and violated.

But the Community Safety Act actually gives some teeth to Judge Scheindlin’s decision, and speaks to the need for community organizing to drive policy and ensure its enforcement.

In her decision, Judge Scheindlin ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs represented in the stop-and-frisk case, arguing:

[F]irst, plaintiffs showed that senior officials in the City and at the NYPD were deliberately indifferent to officers conducting unconstitutional stops and frisks; and second, plaintiffs showed that practices resulting in unconstitutional stops and frisks were sufficiently widespread that they had the force of law.

In order to be able to use the stop-and-frisk tactic in ways that are lawful, Judge Scheindlin ordered the city to bring on a federal monitor to oversee reforms, change the way stops are documented, and institute a year-long pilot program through which officers must wear cameras to record their interactions.

While many in the press declared the judge’s decision an end to stop and frisk, her decision stopped short of a full-on repeal. As long as the NYPD doesn’t use race as a blanket reason for stops, the tactic can move forward.

Judge Scheindlin’s decision means that “if you have objectionable facts that add up to reasonable suspicion, the cop has the right to stop you and ask,” said Andrea Ritchie, co-director of Streetwise and Safe and a core member of the Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) coalition. “The judge ruled that that’s fine. But the way the NYPD does it, being Black equals reasonable suspicion.”

The plaintiffs in Floyd v. New York were able to successfully demonstrate that the NYPD would not stop whites even if they were in exactly the same circumstances for which Blacks and Latinos were being frisked. “[Police officers] often just check off things like furtive movement, or the neighborhood you’re in as the reason,” said Ritchie.

So not only does the judge’s decision not really end the practice of stop and frisk, and does not call for a reduction in the number of stops, it only speaks specifically to racial profiling. However, we know that other kinds of profiling—based on gender, sexual orientation, economic status, and other characteristics—are often used by police.

Understanding the need for comprehensive police reform and greater accountability is what drove the formation of CPR, which includes dozens of community-based organizations and national advocacy groups. The coalition came together two years ago and began to push for the Community Safety Act.

As Bloomberg is appealing the Floyd decision, the Community Safety Act goes above and beyond the limitations of that ruling. It will create an enforceable ban against intentional racial discriminations and any law enforcement action that has disparate impact, as well as profiling on the basis of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, disability, and housing status. The act also supports the creation of an independent inspector general and gives a way for individuals to get some level of accountability if they are victims of these discriminatory patterns.

Many LGBTQ and HIV advocates have also been advocating for a state bill that would bar police from using the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution, a practice that still disproportionately targets Blacks and Latinos. I personally have had to advocate on behalf of people—mostly transgender women and queer youth of color—who were arrested for prostitution while actually performing HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention outreach work, for which they were employed.

Monifah Bandele, a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and CPR, also feels that the NYPD needs more enforceable restrictions beyond the stop-and-frisk ruling. “Law will not change the culture of how the NYPD functions, so we will be involved in all the ways the police functions that the Floyd [decision] does not cover,” she said.

As Bandele notes, the issues within the NYPD go far beyond what happens on the streets. In July, a woman named Kyam Livingston died in Brooklyn central booking, after, according to other arrestees, she pleaded for medical attention for hours. These kinds of abuses aren’t new. MXGM and many other organizations in the coalition have been involved in organizing against abuses by the NYPD, dating back to the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999.

“New York City set the standard for policing nationally and internationally—helping train police officers,” said Bandele. “So what happens in New York has national and global implications.”

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50 Years After the March on Washington, Still Fighting for Jobs and Freedom

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kenyon Farrow for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

March on Washington

Where are jobs or freedom 50 years later?

On Saturday, August 24, tens of thousands of people will descend on the nation’s capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the actual anniversary of which is August 28.

There have been some grumblings that the anniversary events will not duly encompass contemporary racial justice issues, and need to do more than re-live the famous images of the past. I am often frustrated with the way racial justice issues for Black people can only be characterized as racist if they somehow reference past symbols of racial violence: legal “lynchings,” the “new Jim Crow,” and Paula Deen’s antebellum-themed summer soiree. The threats to cutting food stamps, the rollback on abortion access (which disproportionately affects poor women), the battles for low-wage workers and teachers, and the various fights over racial profiling in New York City, New Orleans, and Sanford, Florida, are all contemporary issues facing Black people in the United States, and each need their own mass mobilizations here and now.

But what’s past is prologue. Many of the gains made as a result of the Civil Rights Movement are being rolled back, and some of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions are great examples of this, demonstrating just how much a constant presence the nation’s racist past remains.

In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court ruled section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 unconstitutional. Arguing in its decision that “things have changed in the South,” the Court nullified the formula initially created by the act to determine what jurisdictions needed federal “preclearance” before amending “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting.”

Critical race legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw told Washington, D.C.’s Afro-American newspaper that the decision was akin to “building a dam to keep the lowlands from flooding and for 40 years the lowlands don’t flood and then deciding that you don’t need the dam anymore.”

But the Court didn’t stop at gutting voting rights. The Supreme Court also ruled in two cases making it more difficult for employees to sue on the grounds of racial discrimination. In Vance v. Ball State University, the Court ruling narrowed the definition of “supervisor” held by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Essentially, the Court decided that supervisors can only be held liable in a discrimination case if they have power over the hiring, firing, changing of work responsibilities, promoting, or demoting of an employee.

In a second case, University of Texas Southern Medical Center v. Vassar, the Court decided employees must prove that they’ve been denied a promotion or raise only because of discrimination—which gives employers more room to claim a host of other reasons why someone didn’t get a promotion or raise. Read the rest of this entry →

What’s the Matter With Bans on Race- and Sex-Selective Abortion? Everything

11:37 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Imani Gandy for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Infant

Sex- and race-selective laws serve an anti-abortion agenda, but don't protect actual minorities.

A particularly pernicious narrative about abortion rights is one that accuses pro-choice groups and abortion clinics of attempting to target “pre-born” minorities (and girls) for abortion, and dismissing as callously indifferent to the lives of “pre-born” minorities those who oppose efforts to ban so-called sex- and race-based abortion.

The narrative, based upon an out-of-context quote by Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is as commonplace as it is false.  To hear anti-choice groups tell it, Margaret Sanger was a racist woman whose goal was to exterminate black babies and bring eugenics to the United States. This is, of course, nonsense.

According to the aggressively uninformed anti-choice crowd, Margaret Sanger proclaimed, “[W]e want to exterminate the Negro population.”  The full context of the quote, however, belies the meaning anti-choicers ascribe to it.

As David Edwards of Raw Story pointed out last year, in a 1939 letter to pro-birth control advocate Clarence J. Gamble, Sanger argued that black leaders should be involved in the effort to deliver birth control to the black community: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs.” Facts be damned, however, anti-choice groups wail about abortion being black genocide, or black babies being an endangered species. This “black genocide” narrative drives the debate over “race-selective” abortion laws that have been introduced during recent legislative sessions around the country and at the federal level. (Only two such laws passed: one in Kansas as part of an omnibus bill in 2012 (SB 313), and one in Arizona in 2011 (HB 2443). Currently, Indiana is considering a race-selective abortion ban (HB 1430.)

Narratives based on social biases and stereotypes drive the debate regarding sex-selection, as does a fundamental failure to grasp that “son preference” in certain cultures is based upon gender stereotypes and inequity, and that abortion bans do not address these issues. (Currently, gender-selective abortion bans are being considered at the federal level (SB 138 (PRENDA 2013) and in six states:  Indiana (HB 1430 and SB 0183); New York (AO2533 and SO2286); Virginia (HB 1316); Missouri (HB 386); North Dakota (HB 1305); and Texas (HB 309). Notably PRENDA 2012 (which failed to pass last year) dropped the “race-selection” provision before putting it up for a vote, however the remainder of this article will use the term PRENDA to refer to both race- and sex-selective abortion bans.)

Generally, these bills would threaten doctors with up to five years in prison for performing such a procedure, and would permit fathers married to the woman who obtains an abortion to sue a doctor he believes performed an abortion based upon the sex or race of a fetus. These laws also require doctors and nurses to report women whom they suspect are seeking an abortion on the basis of gender bias.

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Islamophobia Trumps “Pro-Life” Ideology

2:43 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Just three days into 2013, Annika Rydh, a Swedish government official from the town of Almhult, issued a shrill call to both her colleagues and neighbors. Worried about the perceived growth of the Muslim population in her homeland and beyond, she urged the European Union “to act by having some kind of restriction, like the one-child policy in China.” If Muslims don’t like the proposed rule, she continued, they can go back where they came from.

Rydh’s appeal comes on the heels of a decade-long campaign to curtail Muslim immigration into western countries and reduce the number of babies born to Muslim families. International in scope, the anti-Islam movement relies on scare tactics that, more often than not, imply that the Judeo-Christian traditions are in danger of being trampled by Sharia law.   

Joseph D’Agostino of the virulently anti-abortion Population Research Institute makes the case: “Because Christians and Jews are refusing to have children, refusing to get married, and having such low birth rates, the Muslims are going to inherit the earth.”

His boss, PRI founder Steven W. Mosher, goes even farther: “Many security experts have long believed that excessive population growth in Muslim countries is a national security threat to the west.”

And not to be outdone, Daniel Pipes’ Mideast Forum rails that “indigenous Europeans are dying out. Sustaining a population requires each woman on average to bear 2.1 children; in the European Union the overall rate is one-third short, at 1.5 a woman and falling… To keep its working population even, the EU needs 1.6 million immigrants a year. Into the void are coming Islam and Muslims. As Christianity falters, Islam is robust, assertive, and ambitious.” Pipes then goes on to posit reasons for the diminishing birthrate amongst people of traditional European backgrounds, blaming “the education of women, abortion on demand, and adults too self-absorbed to have children” for the alleged Muslim takeover.

“Islamization will happen,” Pipes writes, “for Europeans find it too strenuous to have children, stop illegal immigration, or even diversify their sources of immigrants. Instead, they prefer to settle unhappily into civilized senility.”

Lest you think Pipes can be summarily dismissed as little more than a ranting crackpot — or as someone who has himself succumbed to “civilized senility” — beware. Pipes is now a Taube Distinguished Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, has taught at the University of Chicago and Harvard, and has served as an advisor to former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former President George W. Bush. What’s more, Pipes surrounds himself with fellow travelers including noted racist Pamela Geller and bloggers at sites including muslimpopulation.com, exposingliberallies.blogspot.com, FrontPageMagazine.com, and shariaunveiled.com.

And don’t forget the burgeoning population of anti-choice bedfellows. Surprising as it seems, a host of  anti-choicers have demonstrated a clear tilt toward population control when it comes to Muslims. Indeed, it seems apparent that, for them, racism and Islamophobia trump unbridled procreation for Mohammed’s adherents.

“The Muslims have said they will destroy us from within,” Flip Benham of Operation Save America reports. “Today’s 1.5 billion Muslims make up 22 percent of the world’s population. ..Muslims will exceed 50 percent of the world’s population by the end of the century.”

Similarly, Donald Spitz’ Army of God advocates violence against abortion providers as well as against “satanic Muslims” and anti-choice candidates Randall Terry of Operation Rescue and Gary Boisclair of the Society for Truth and Justice coupled ending legal abortion with limiting Muslim immigration in their unsuccessful 2012 bids for elected office.

Ibrahim Hooper, Press Secretary of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, attributes the increasing hysteria over the purported rise of Islam to an age-old trend to demonize anything or anyone perceived as different. “Whenever a minority is targeted by bigots, they start by saying that ‘they’ are going to take over the world. It’s always the same language, and the bigots simply insert the offending group — at different times it has been Muslims, Jews, and Hispanics. In each case the opposition assigns the disliked group far more power than they actually have. The scary thing is that the folks that promulgate this irrational fear and hatred operate in a bubble of unreality that can’t be penetrated with truth, logic, or facts.”

Ah, yes, facts. According to Doug Saunders, author of The Myth of the Muslim Tide, [Vintage, 2012] “the family size of Muslim immigrant groups are converging fast with those of average westerners — faster, it seems, than either Catholic or Jewish immigrants did in their time. Muslims in France and Germany are now having only 2.2 children per family, barely above the national average. And while Pakistanis in Britain have 3.5 children each, their British-born daughters have only 2.5.”

As for the United States, Saunders writes that there are presently 2.6 million Muslims living in the 50 states, and while this number is expected to increase to 6.2 million by 2030, the overall Muslim population will still comprise just 1.7 percent of the total. In other words, 17 years from today, Muslims will account for the same proportion of the American body politic as Jews and Episcopalians.   

Read the rest of this entry →

How Governments and Individuals — Meaning Each of Us — Deny the Persistence of Racism and Abuse

11:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

When you work on human rights issues, you notice a certain pattern in government denial of abuse. First line of defense: it didn’t happen. Or if it happened, they did it to themselves. Or if they didn’t, we certainly had nothing to do with it. Or if we did, we didn’t mean to. It doesn’t matter if the issue is torture, forced evictions, or garden-variety employment discrimination. The response from those in charge is often, if not always, the same.

Though this pattern is annoying, to say the least, I have lately become acutely aware of a much more depressing trend: the denial of abuse among those of us who should know better. Of course, we don’t call it denial. We call it “realism.” But the mechanism is the same.

1. “It didn’t happen.”

For decades, commentators and a large proportion of the US public have posited that racism no longer exists. Despite the fact that skin color and ethnicity matters with regard to just about any social indicator you care to look at — health, education, employment, housing, law enforcement — most white people believe the system we live in is racially just.

The writer Touré has described this situation as a “fog of racism:” a situation so subtle, it is blurred. “With this form of racism,” he says, “there is no smoking gun. There is no one calling you a nigger to your face. There’s no sign saying you can’t enter this building. … But … it’s there.”  

This is not much different from the many people who are genuinely puzzled at the need for continued attention to women’s issues in the United States now that “the genders are equal.” I hear this argument almost daily, despite ample evidence to the contrary, including the continued pay gap and the vicious attack on reproductive rights for women and not men.   

2. “They did it to themselves.”

Blaming the victim is par for the course in rape cases, a context in which it (rightfully) is denounced by women’s groups as sexist, discriminatory, and just plain wrong. But it is also common for individuals who identify sexual or racial discrimination to be called silly, overly sensitive, or even vindictive. 

When I firmly told off a male colleague at a former employer for caressing my waist, a female colleague immediately and loudly concluded that I “must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed.” 

And I can’t count the times I have been told that “black people are racist too,” as a manner to excuse racial discrimination. In sociology and social psychology, this phenomenon is called internalized oppression, that is the manner in which an oppressed group comes to use against itself the methods of the oppressor. More commonly, it is expressed as a desire to maintain the dignity of the group: we may suffer, but we don’t complain or sulk. 

3. “We had nothing to do with it.”

Most people don’t like to think of themselves or the people they know as bigots. This is natural and reasonable. It is hard to remain sane if you believe your actions are consistently insensitive or morally wrong. This, however, is not the same as noticing and addressing injustice — especially injustice that we, ourselves, are benefitting from. 

For example, I cannot in good conscience say that I have nothing to do with racism (or sexism, or hetero-centrism, or…) when I know that I benefit daily from a system that overwhelmingly recognizes my humanity and rights because of my Northern passport, fair skin, perceived heterosexuality, motherhood, and Judeo-Christian background (I could go on). Unlike my Peruvian ex-husband, I don’t have to think about what I wear when I travel in order to avoid additional hassles at airport security. And unlike those of my female friends who are non-gender-conforming and childless, I don’t have to defend my worth as a woman.  

4. “We didn’t mean to.”

When all other justifications have failed, the usual fall-back for governments who violate human rights is lack of intent: we may indeed have tortured a couple of prisoners, but it was unknowingly done and therefore, it is implied, of limited importance. 

This excuse is hardly ever used as a denial strategy for continued and entrenched racial, sexual, and other discrimination in the United States. And not because we recognize our responsibility in the stereotypes we perpetuate. But rather because we don’t. In fact, as shown above, we routinely deny the very existence of discrimination.

I am not advocating a collective guilt complex, or, worse, some sort of warped paternalistic pity-fest in which those of privileged background pound our chests in earnest distress and bemoan the supposedly pathetic lives of those considered beneath us. I am, however, advocating a reckoning that allows us to confront those stereotypes that result in the abuse of human rights. Even, and especially, when this means that some of us must give up our special privileges.

And here’s why: I know I am benefiting from many of the stereotypes that prevail in the country I have chosen to live in. I also know I am complicit in the resulting discrimination to the extent that I don’t challenge it.

House VAWA Bill is Racist, Elitist, Homophobic, and Anti-Victim

11:01 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sharon Stapel for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

See all our coverage of the 2012 VAWA Reauthorization here.

There’s a big secret about the bill to address the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, introduced by Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL), that’s no longer so secret: it’s racist, elitist, homophobic and anti-victim. The bill, which purports to support “true victims” of domestic and sexual violence while excluding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) survivors, forcing immigrants to tell their abusive partners where they are and gutting protections for Native women. So, using my secret decoder ring, I have to assume that “true victims” equals heterosexual, non-transgender, non-immigrant, non Tribal, non-people of color victims. Or, to remove the negatives, “true victims” equals straight, white women. 

The Adams bill (H.R. 4970) is in sharp contrast to the recently passed Senate bill (S. 1925) which had 68 bipartisan votes last Thursday. Senate Bill 1925 covers all victims of violence, including LGBT survivors; maintains confidentiality protections for immigrants; and provides protection for Native women in Tribal courts. That bill, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reached across the aisle and focused on what survivors of domestic and sexual violence need to stay safe instead of partisan politics. We are in an extraordinary political climate when fights over the passage of VAWA in Congress is news: prior to this year, VAWA had sailed through both the Senate and House with bipartisan support that addressed the real needs of victims of violence. That we can no longer assume that our legislators would support protections for victims of violence is shocking. That we have to decode their messaging to figure out which victims they will support is offensive.

In case it needs to be stated explicitly, all victims and survivors of violence need support.  Those in the margins, such as LGBT, immigrant and Native survivors, need more support than most because of the specific obstacles they face in seeking safety. VAWA has fundamentally shifted the way this country responds to domestic and sexual violence. In its evolution, at each reauthorization, VAWA has been refined to protect those most vulnerable. Never has VAWA distinguished between “worthy” and “unworthy” victims for good reason: Choosing between victims is not only offensive, it’s lethal. 

So here’s my question for every representative in the House: can you support a bill that would not just roll back protections for all survivors of violence in this country but that would specifically and explicitly say to some victims:  we will not protect you.  We do not care about you. You are not worth it.

Can you do it?  If you can, then we know who you are and what you stand for.  You can feel free to openly promote a racist, elitist, homophobic and anti-victim agenda. Because House members who support a bill like the Adams VAWA bill will no longer need to speak in code – we can hear you loud and clear.

Sensationalizing Drug Use in Pregnant Women: How the Media Perpetuates Racist and Ineffective Policies

9:15 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Marianne Møllman for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Well before anyone could be certain of how Whitney Houston died, several news outlets rushed to describe her as a “crack cocaine user.” And in all likelihood many will think of the popular singer as succumbing to illegal drugs, even if alcohol eventually is found to be more closely related to her demise.

This is not all that different from how the media deals with infant and child health.

Regardless of the actual causes behind low birth weight, infant mortality, and early childhood health issues, media reports are sure to blame the “crack baby syndrome” or, more recently, women’s abuse of prescription pain killers.

This kneejerk reaction is unhelpful for a number of reasons.

First of all, a pregnant woman’s use of illicit drugs is neither the only nor the most damaging pregnancy phenomenon from the point of view of infant health.

Take, for example, legal drugs, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Peer reviewed research shows that over-consumption of alcohol can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (linked with permanent mental retardation), whereas cocaine seems to act only as one contributing factor in some pregnancies to increase non-permanent risk factors such as low birth weight. Approximately twice as many pregnant women drink alcohol frequently as use illicit drugs frequently during their pregnancies.

Epidemiological research published in the mid 1990s shows that the use of tobacco products in the United States at the time was responsible, each year, for tens of thousands of tobacco-induced miscarriages, infants born with low birth weight, infants who require admission to neonatal intensive care units, as well as an estimated 1900 to 4800 infant deaths. Though smoking has gone down over the past decades, around 17 percent of adult women in the United States still smoke, and generally continue to smoke during their pregnancies.

Even drugs administered to women who are in fertility treatment have been associated with low birth weight and premature birth.

Or let’s set aside drugs altogether. Malnutrition in pregnant women is one of the main causes of low birth weight and infant mortality worldwide. In this sense, it is worth noting that food insecurity and hunger has grown steadily in the United States since the start of the latest financial crisis in 2008. (Food insecurity exists whenever the availability of nutritionally-adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire foods is limited or uncertain). According to the latest figures, about 17.2 million households in the United States suffered food insecurity in 2010, the highest number ever registered. Yet the government’s food stamp program is increasingly under attack by pundits and politicians.

Secondly, even a superficial read of arrest and prosecution figures for drug use during pregnancy reveal such a severe race and class bias that the very legitimacy of the approach must be questioned.

Since 1985, 80 percent of the more than 200 pregnant women or new mothers in over 20 states who have been arrested and charged with crimes related to substance use during pregnancy were black or Latina. In 2000, research in Pinellas County in Florida found that while white women and women of color used illegal drugs at comparable rates, black women were 10 times more likely than white women to be reported for child abuse related to substance use during pregnancy. That same year, data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that while black women had a higher overall rate of illicit drug use than white women, most women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy were white. Even so, 41 of the 42 women arrested in South Carolina under a mandatory drug testing program were black. (The program was suspended in the mid-1990s because of allegations of racial discrimination).

Meanwhile, research published in 2006 shows that newborns with white mothers are much more at risk of alcohol and tobacco exposure than newborns with black or Latina mothers.

Moreover, in many cases women with private health insurance are not mandatorily tested for illicit drug use during pregnancy. In this sense, poverty itself is what singles a pregnant woman out for persecution. It is no coincidence that the main focus for drug prosecutions for pregnant women in the United States is crack cocaine, a drug almost exclusively used by the resource-poor. As Whitney Houston herself famously said in an interview in 2002: “I make too much money to ever smoke crack.”

The point here is not that pregnant women should use cocaine, or that the government—and society as a whole—does not have a legitimate interest in ensuring infant and child health.

The point is that the prosecution of drug use in pregnant women does nothing to fulfill a legitimate policy goal and in fact seems to be racially motivated—at least in the implementation—rather than spurred by a concern for children.

In fact, if the objective is to improve infant and child health, efforts to overcome poor nutrition, alcohol addiction, lack of adequate health care, physical abuse, and/or homelessness would make for much better investments. Sadly, such policies don’t make for as sensational news.

Race, Class, and Rights in Mississippi: How A Reproductive Justice Campaign Can Save the Pill and Save the Vote

9:40 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Photobucket

Written by Loretta Ross for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

The 2011 Mississippi ballot Initiative 26 on Personhood and Initiative 27 on Voter ID exclusions may be one of the most important opportunities on the ground for the Pro-Choice and Reproductive Justice Movements to work together. In Mississippi, we are witnessing the intersection of race and gender politics in a campaign in which African American voters are probably the most critical constituents when they go to the polls on November 8. It’s a case study on Roe v. Wade intersecting with the Voting Rights Act and the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.

For the Reproductive Justice movement, this is an example of theory meeting practice in which we have an opportunity to link our human rights struggles in a statewide campaign. The best spokespeople are readily talking about both ballot initiatives consistently by bringing together women, families, race, and poverty. By co-joining race (Voter ID-27) with gender (Personhood-26), we have an excellent opportunity to experience an example of intersectionality in practice in an electoral campaign in which black women may be the very voters we need to move the needle against our opponents’ long-term manipulation of the African American electorate.

We have to strengthen the common ground between the Reproductive Justice and Pro-Choice movements based on linking human rights issues together. Reproductive Justice is our best opportunity to join middle-class women with poor women so that we can win for all women. Read the rest of this entry →

Fetuses as Slaves? I Don’t Think So

5:32 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Pamela Merritt for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Recently, The Denver Daily News ran a story with the headline Are Fetuses Like Slaves?  The article covered Personhood Colorado’s announcement of their ballot initiative campaign strategy, which includes comparing fetuses to slaves. Colorado’s “personhood” ballot measure proposes an amendment to the state constitution that would apply the term ‘person’ as used in those provisions of the Colorado Constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice and due process of law, to every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being.  Personhood Colorado held a news conference to reveal their campaign strategy where they played their radio ad featuring the voice of an actor playing a slave speaking in support of the proposed “personhood” amendment.

In the radio spot, the fictional slave George Stevens says,

 “I’m George Stevens and I’m a person. I was held as property as a child. Even before my birth I was called a slave in an America you wouldn’t recognize. But folks like you helped me escape North to freedom and in 1864, I joined the infantry to fight for my country. I fought so all slaves would be recognized as persons, not property. And we won.

But today in Colorado, there are still people called property – children – just like I was. And that America you thought you wouldn’t recognize is all around you and these children are being killed.  This November, vote "yes" on Amendment 62. Amendment 62 declares unborn children persons, not property. And that’s the America I fought for. So visit PersonhoodColorado.com and in November, vote "yes" on 62. It’s the right thing to do.”

This move by Personhood Colorado continues the anti-choice tactic du jour of co-opting Black American history in an attempt to make a case against women’s reproductive rights.  From a “documentary” that declares that the most dangerous place for a Black baby is in a Black woman’s womb to the recent anti-choice “Freedom Rides” that traced the route of the famed Civil Rights Freedom Rides of the early 1960’s, those opposed to reproductive justice are attempting to re-writing Black history to serve their cause.

It would be easy to dismiss this call for fetal emancipation.  The radio ad itself is laughable and it fails to explain Amendment 62 to an electorate that already rejected fetal “personhood” in 2008.  However, this tactic of co-opting Black American history to attack reproductive rights cannot go unanswered even when the execution is flawed. 

When organizations opposed to reproductive rights promote a “documentary” that makes the charge that the most dangerous place for a Black baby is in a Black woman’s womb, they are attacking Black women’s capacity to parent and make health care decisions.  Under the guise of protecting life, these groups are making a full frontal attack that promotes the dangerous lie that Black women are unfit, uncaring and selfish. 

When anti-choice groups mount “Freedom Rides” to promote their anti-choice message, they are attempting to rewrite one of the most important moments in Civil Rights history.  In the early 1960’s, activists risked their lives to test whether interstate buses were desegregated as required by law.  Those activists traveled on Freedom Rides because rights without access are rights in name only, a point that these anti-choice groups conveniently ignore as they travel the same route trying to gather support for the denial of access to reproductive health care.

Now there is an attempt to define a fetus as a slave, which begs the question – who is the master?  Who would Amendment 62 emancipate fetal slaves from?  That’s right – women.  In the world of fetal “personhood” women are slave masters and our reproductive rights hold the fetus in bondage.  That is the latest false claim currently floating out in the atmosphere, sent forth through the voice of a fictional slave in a radio ad.  The reality is that Amendment 62 will not bring about fetal emancipation – this so-called “personhood” initiative would grant the government complete control over women’s bodies. 

Amendment 62 isn’t the second coming of The Emancipation Proclamation.  Rather, this amendment would make government the master and women slaves.  That’s what my ancestors and so many other Americans fought against.

Sotomayor, Race and Gender: An Abortion Debate by Proxy

7:41 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Pamela Merrit for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

When Supreme Court Justice David Souter announced that he intended to step down from the bench at the end of this year’s Supreme Court term, there was a brief pause, a collective gathering in of air, followed by a frenzy of speculation that did not end until President Obama announced his selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as nominee. During the days of guesswork and anticipation that preceded Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor, political odds-makers seemed to favor the selection of a woman, with most pundits leaning toward a woman of color, to replace Justice Souter. Everyone was on pins and needles, and who could blame us? During the 2008 elections, the that the next President would most likely have the opportunity to nominate more than one Supreme Court justice and shape the political climate of the court for decades to come was one of the key areas of concern.

Pro-choice groups hoped for a nominee with a judicial record supporting a woman’s right to choose. Anti-choice groups busily combed through the records of likely nominees looking for ammunition to Read the rest of this entry →