In Human Rights News: January 25 – 31, 2014
In this week’s human rights news we find issues related to immigration, police brutality, prisoners’ rights, prison reform, right to education, workers’ rights, and politics.
IMMIGRATION RAIDS IN NEW ORLEANS. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) has quietly launched a program that targets undocumented immigrants with violent criminal records for deportation. However, the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative, or CARI, has led to stop-and-frisk style raids in New Orleans, victimizing immigrants with and without criminal records. The raids have produced "a terrifying effect," said Jacinta Gonzales, an organizer with the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice, which released a report in December exposing CARI. The report called CARI a "stop and frisk" program for the immigrant community that is actively breaking families apart. An article posted this week on Al Jazeera tells the story of Erlin San Martin, who was approached by two plainclothes immigration agents last September when he was leaving his house to pick up his 2-year-old son. ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox told journalists that San Martin was targeted because he had been deported once before in 2006, but he had no history of violent crime. The agents handcuffed him, put him in the back of an ICE vehicle, and scanned his fingerprints with a mobile biometrics unit. "My feet were shackled, and I was handcuffed from 5 in the afternoon to 10 at night," said San Martin. During those hours, he said, the agents stopped for food, met with other ICE officers, and then drove around New Orleans arresting people until the vehicle was filled. "I heard one of the agents say to another, 'This is like going hunting,'" said San Martin. "And the other responded, 'Yeah, I like this s---.'" Read more at Al Jazeera and click here for the Workers' Center report.
STOP-AND-FRISK REFORMS. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that the city has reached an agreement with civil rights lawyers to reform stop-and-frisk policies. In August, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the NYC Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional, but Michael Bloomberg (mayor at the time) appealed the ruling. De Blasio, who promised reforms to stop-and-frisk during his campaign, has essentially reversed the course set by Bloomberg, writes the New York Times. “We’re here today to turn the page on one of the most divisive programs in our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference. “We believe in ending the overuse of stop-and-frisk that has unfairly targeted young African-American and Latino men.” At the height of the program, in the beginning of 2012, NYC police stopped mostly black and Latino men on more than 200,000 occasions. The vast majority of those stopped and searched were found innocent of any wrongdoing. “I can’t wait to get started,” said Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against stop-and-frisk. However, he cautioned that there is still plenty of work ahead. “Nobody standing here today is pretending this is mission accomplished. The problem hasn’t been solved,” he said. “We will have a collaborative reform process. We’ll have a court monitor to ensure these reforms move forward.” Read more here at the New York Times and here at the Huffington Post. Click here for a press release from the CCR.
PENNSYLVANIA TEEN ASSAULTED BY POLICE. A case of alleged police brutality that left a teenage boy with a ruptured testicle is now under investigation by Internal Affairs. Earlier this month, 16-year-old Darrin Manning, a straight-A African-American student with no history of discipline problems, was part of a high school basketball team walking to a game. Manning said that one of his teammates may have made a rude comment to Officer Thomas Purcell of the Philadelphia Police Department, who was patrolling the area. Purcell started walking toward the group and the teens ran away. Manning told Philly.com that he started running as well but stopped. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. Manning was then stopped and arrested for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment, reported My Fox Philly. Manning said he was sexually assaulted and brutalized by a female officer, unnamed, who patted him down. The officer was evidently so rough that she ruptured Manning’s testicle, which he underwent emergency surgery for the next day. His mother, Ikea Coney, said the injury may leave him unable to have children. “I blame myself,” Coney said. “I taught my son to respect cops, not to fear them. Maybe if he was afraid, he would have run like the other boys and he would have been okay.” Manning’s family is trying to get the criminal charges dropped from his record before they take further action regarding the alleged brutality. Read more at the Huffington Post.
VERDICT REACHED IN POLICE SHOOTING CASE. A county grand jury indicted Randall Kerrick, a white police officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, with voluntary manslaughter this week for shooting and killing Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed 24-year-old African-American man. In September, Ferrell crashed his car late at night and sought help at a nearby house, according to police reports. He knocked on the door of a white woman who called the police, telling the operator that a black man was trying to break in. Kerrick was one of the officers responding to the call; he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, striking him 10 times. The fatal shooting raised racial tensions in Charlotte, writes David Zucchino of the L.A. Times, and the city’s chapter of the NAACP questioned whether race played a role. The court ruling was made late last Monday, after a previous grand jury suggested a lesser charge for Kerrick the week before. Instead, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that prosecutors would seek the same voluntary manslaughter charge from a second county grand jury. The guilty verdict marks the first time in 30 years that a Charlotte police officer has been indicted in an on-duty shooting. The charge of voluntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence not to exceed 11 years. Read more at the L.A. Times.
SEXUAL ASSAULT IN PRISONS. Al Jazeera reported this week on a new report released by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) on sexual assaults in prisons for the years 2009-2011. Prison and jail administrators reported 8,763 cases of alleged sexual abuse in 2011, representing an 11 percent jump from the 7,855 reported in 2009. The report identified sexual victimization as any nonconsensual sexual acts, abusive touching, threats, and verbal sexual harassment. The BJS collected its data by surveying federal and state prisons, private prisons, local jails, military prisons, and jails in Indian Country. The problem of prison rape has received more attention since 2003 when Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which requires prisons and jails to record all incidents of rape, to be published yearly by the government. This year's report covering 2011 said that roughly 49 percent of the reported incidents that year involved prison staff members committing what the BJS called "sexual misconduct" or otherwise sexually harassing inmates. Female prisoners appeared to suffer disproportionate numbers of sexual assault. While women made up seven percent of state and federal prison inmates from 2009 to 2011, 33 percent of staff-on-inmate and 22 percent of inmate-on-inmate cases involved women prisoners. Allan Beck, a BJS statistician who co-authored the report, told Reuters that a May 2013 study conducted by the same agency arrived at much larger numbers, totaling some 80,000 inmate allegations of sexual abuse or assault during 2011 and 2012. "Of course, we find much higher rates of sexual victimization through inmates' self-reports than what comes through in the official records," he told Reuters. Read more at Al Jazeera and click here for the 2009-2011 report.
PRISON REFORM. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee met on Thursday to merge three bipartisan prison reform bills. Carla Murphy of ColorLines writes, Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats have surprisingly developed a common goal of scaling back mass incarceration. Though they may be motivated by different principles, the politically diverse group of legislators appears to be driven by the fact that the United States houses by far the largest incarcerated population in the world. Murphy goes on to outline some of the recent developments in prison reform, focusing on the 2014 omnibus spending bill. Part of the bill calls for the creation of the Charles Colson Task Force, an independent panel of experts charged with issuing recommendations on federal prison reform. For example, the Colson Task Force will determine fairer sentences for nonviolent offenders, says Molly Gill, government affairs counsel at Washington, DC-based Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Nonviolent offenders comprise over 90 percent of the federal prison population, mostly for drug- and immigration-related offenses. Nonviolent offenders are also addressed in the prison reform bills discussed on Thursday. The Smarter Sentencing Act, for instance, takes on retroactive sentence reduction, which was not addressed in the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010. “More than 9,000 people are still imprisoned simply because of a date,” Gill says of the FSA, which decreased crack-cocaine sentencing disparities for future but not past offenders. “Getting fair punishment shouldn’t depend on a date that you went to court.” Read more at ColorLines.
UNIVERSAL PRE-K IN NEW YORK. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Albany last Monday to present his plan for universal city-wide pre-kindergarten. According to city figures, fewer than 27 percent of preschool-age children are enrolled in full-day pre-k programs. Studies of two landmark programs, the Perry Preschool Project in Michigan and the Abecedarian Project in North Carolina, suggest that early childhood education can address the disparities in academic performance between poor and wealthy children. Supporters of the plan have also pointed to the success of an early education model in New Jersey in which students attend preschool for two years and class sizes are limited to 15. De Blasio proposes to raise taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year to fund a universal pre-kindergarten program, which has generated considerable pushback. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, for example, wants to finance it through the state budget without raising taxes. In an op-ed piece in the Guardian, former inner-city school teacher Aaron Cantu posits the governor’s strategy, besides creating budgeting obstacles, “undermines the symbolism of the initiative: that the fortunes of the rich should be used to invest in the future of the poorest and most vulnerable." Education is a fundamental human right. Government at all levels should move to secure access to a quality education for all children in the U.S. Read more here at the New York Times and here at NY1 News.
WAGE INCREASE FOR FEDERAL CONTRACT WORKERS. In the State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced that he will issue an executive order to increase the minimum wage for future federal contract workers to at least $10.10 an hour. The announcement has drawn praise from labor union supporters, but according to In These Times, the White House has not been specific on the details of the executive order. Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a pro-labor think tank, said that the executive order will raise wages for “hundreds of thousands” of workers over time, but was unable to be more specific on the order’s direct impact. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) openly scorned the idea of the executive order, saying he suspects “it affects absolutely no one.” Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director at the Change to Win labor federation, said that Boehner is wrong, though the issue is legally complicated. “There really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ executive order,” he told Working in These Times. Rather, improving incomes for all low-wage federal contract workers could take multiple executive orders and will demand a sustained effort by the White House. “All that being said, not since Franklin Roosevelt has a president moved out on wages in this way. . . Not since Roosevelt has a president realized that he can use his contracting clout to help workers,” said Geevarghese. “The reality is that the Walmarts and the McDonalds of the world are not going to do the right thing on their own, but the president can lead by example.” Read more at In These Times.
IRS CONSIDERS TIGHTER RESTRICTIONS ON NONPROFITS. The International Revenue Service (IRS) wants to strengthen the rules on donations to social welfare groups, according to an interview this week with NPR. These not-for-profit groups, known as 501(c)(4) groups under the tax code, are heavily financed by anonymous donors, giving them considerable political power. "What the IRS wants to do is make it harder for social welfare groups to get into campaign politics," said NPR correspondent Peter Overby. The IRS has opened itself up for public comment and has received over 10,000 comments so far. Most of the comments that are viewable online are against the tighter restrictions. The NPR interview includes the perspectives of representatives of three 501(c)(4) groups that oppose more restrictions: the Jacksonville Alliance of Christian Voters, the American Motorcyclist Association, and NumbersUSA, a nonprofit group in favor of more restrictive immigration policies. NPR also interviewed Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, who says the issue is too large for one agency to manage. His reasoning is that right-wing groups and, to a lesser extent, left-wing groups receive seven and eight figure contributions in part because the donors are allowed to remain anonymous. If the IRS restricts nonprofit donation anonymity, the big money will most likely find another vehicle to finance campaigns. Hasen says a better strategy would be to focus on the activity of big spending. Listen to the interview or read the transcript at NPR.