In Human Rights News: Michael Dunn Trial Conviction, Moral Monday Marches, Minimum Wage Debate, and More

In Human Rights News: February 8 - 14, 2014

In this week's human rights news we find issues related to gun violence and racial discrimination, political protests, workers' rights, the criminalization of homelessness, environmental justice, and healthcare.

CONVICTION IN MICHAEL DUNN TRIAL. After four days of deliberation, a jury convicted Michael Dunn on three counts of attempted murder but remained deadlocked on the first-degree murder charge for killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis after an argument over loud music. After Dunn fired 10 rounds at the SUV of unarmed teenagers, he drove to a hotel with his fiancé and ordered pizza. He did not call the police. While Dunn will face time in jail for his actions, many advocates have expressed displeasure that he seems to have evaded the first-degree murder charge for now. "The verdict won't sit well with the black community in Jacksonville," said Ken Jefferson, of the Jacksonville organization Operation Save Our Sons. "There is a feeling of being able to shoot black people and get away with it." Dunn said during the trial that he believed the unarmed teens listening to rap music constituted a "clear and present danger." Carol Anderson, an associate professor of African-American Studies and History at Emory University put it this way: "Dunn saw black and Dunn saw 'threat.'" Read more here at CNN, here at Salon, and here at Al Jazeera. Color of Change, an organization that aims to strengthen Black America's political voice, has an action calling on elected officials across the country to end so-called Stand Your Ground laws and other such laws that enable tragedies such as the shooting of Jordan Davis. Click here to add your voice.

MORAL MONDAY MARCHES. Tens of thousands of people participated in a march February 8th in Raleigh to protest four years of "immoral and unconstitutional policies" by state Republicans in North Carolina. Activists have been assembling at weekly protests called "Moral Mondays" since last year to stand up against the drastic initiatives put in place since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers. The initiatives include raising taxes on the bottom 80 percent, repealing a tax credit for 900,000 working families, employing voter suppression tactics, blocking Medicaid coverage, cutting funding to Pre-K programs, cutting federal unemployment benefits, and giving themselves, the legislators, the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits. ColorLines described the marchers as multi-racial and multigenerational, representing every big issue facing Americans today. "We are black, white, Latino, Native American," said Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II who led the Raleigh march. "We are Democrat, Republican, Independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith, but who believe in a moral universe." Read more at Think Progress and at ColorLines. A smaller Moral Monday march took place February 10th at the Georgia State Capitol, and Atlanta Progressive News reported that 24 activists were arrested.

SHAPING THE MINIMUM WAGE DEBATE. Eric Lipton of the New York Times posted an article this week about the Employment Policies Institute, an influential economic research firm that has repeatedly published reports warning of the dangers of increasing the minimum wage. The Institute is classified as a nonprofit, but it is run by a public relations firm that also represents the restaurant industry as "part of a tightly coordinated effort" to prevent minimum wage increase. Lipton writes, the Employment Policies Institute's campaign shows how groups, both conservative and liberal, are operating in opaque ways to shape popular political debates through organizations with benign-sounding names that can hide the intentions of their wealthy patrons. The major reports released by the Institute, which insist that raising the minimum wage could increase poverty and unemployment, are prepared by outside academics (the institute itself has no employees). For example, Joseph J. Sabia, an associate professor of economics at San Diego State University has collected at least $180,000 in grant money over the last eight years to prepare seven reports. "Once you have the study, you can point to it to prove your case - even if you paid to get it written," said a lobbyist who asked to remain anonymous because his clients depend on him to use this technique. Read the full article at the New York Times.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE. President Obama signed an Executive Order on Wednesday that will raise the minimum wage for future federal contract workers from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, keeping his promise from last month's State of the Union address. The White House estimates that hundreds of thousands of workers will be affected by the Executive Order, which goes into effect on January 1, 2015. "Nobody who works full times should have to live in poverty," Obama said during a signing ceremony in Washington, DC. At the ceremony, he called again for Congress to increase the federal minimum wage for all workers and for state and local governments and private businesses to act as well. In These Times reported that labor groups and union supporters were pleased with the final version of the executive order. "It's more expansive than a lot of people were expecting, so, yes, we are very pleased," said Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos. Some pro-labor advocates had been concerned that the order would used narrow language in order to exclude food concessions workers at national parks and other establishments. Traub said she was glad to see these workers included, as well as tipped workers and workers with disabilities, whom the Secretary of Labor initially said would be left out. Read more at In These Times.

CRIMINALIZING HOMELESSNESS. The city of Columbia, South Carolina, which passed a measure last August that attempts to exile homeless people from downtown, is taking even more steps to criminalize homelessness. Starting Saturday, the city began strictly enforcing a dated and obscure ordinance that requires groups with 25 or more people to acquire a permit and pay a steep fine in order to gather in a public park. One charity that will be impacted by this, Food Not Bombs, has been feeding the homeless in Finlay Park in downtown Columbia each Sunday for the last 12 years. With the new crackdown, Food Not Bombs will be fined at least $120 every week for the right to serve food to the homeless. Scott Keyes of Think Progress posits that the ordinance is part of the city's plan to drive the homeless population out of the downtown area. Since the Columbia City Council approved its exile measure in August, the city has been trying to round up its homeless to take to a shelter on the outskirts of town. If charities are allowed to feed the homeless in downtown parks, it follows that homeless people will continue to live nearby. Read more at Think Progress.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MONTH. February 11th marked the 20th anniversary of President Clinton signing Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." To honor the milestone, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declared the month of February "Environmental Justice Month" for all EPA employees and personnel. The EPA plans to hold a series of activities throughout 2014 to celebrate the successes of numerous collaborative efforts across the country, and they will publish their 2014 Progress Report this month. The Executive Order charges federal agencies with incorporating environmental justice into their missions by identifying and dealing with disproportionately high and adverse health or environmental impacts of their programs, policies, and activities on minority and low-income populations. It also provides minority and low-income communities access to publicly-available information and ways to get involved with matters connected to health or the environment. President Obama made a Presidential Proclamation in which he promised a renewed "commitment to environmental justice for all." Read more at the EPA and click here for the Presidential Proclamation.

THE GLOBAL WAR ON CLIMATE CHANGE. Michael T. Klare, a Five Colleges professor of Peace and World Security Studies, posted an article on TomDispatch this week warning that big oil is winning the carbon wars. Over the past few years, extremely popular new extractive techniques (e.g., hydraulic fracturing to exploit shale deposits, steam-assisted gravity drainage for tar sands) have led to a significant rise in fossil fuel production, particularly in North America. This discredits the once popular notion of "peak oil," the idea that worldwide oil production will reach a maximum level and begin an irreversible decline in the near future. As the new extraction methods have made oil and gas unexpectedly affordable and abundant, major energy consumers plan to depend on them more and on renewable energy sources less. If the ratio of non-renewable to renewable energy sources continues to become more and more unbalanced, Klare writes, there can only be one reasonable outcome: "vastly increased carbon emissions leading to rising temperatures and the sort of catastrophic climate change scenarios that now seem almost impossible to imagine." Read the full article at TomDispatch.

ARKANSAS MAY KICK TENS OF THOUSANDS OFF OF HEALTH INSURANCE. Last Monday, the Arkansas legislature held a session to focus specifically on fiscal issues. The endeavor to take health insurance away from 83,000 people in the state was at the top of the agenda. Last year, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe (D) made a compromise between Republican lawmakers and the Obama administration to use the federal money designated for states expanding Medicaid to buy private insurance for low-income people in the state. That deal, termed the "private option," has set an important precedent for other states where there has been considerable political opposition to expanding Medicaid. But just as the idea has started to catch on in states like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Utah, shifts in Arkansas' Republican-controlled legislature are threatening to kill the private option. Citing pressure from new conservative candidates in the upcoming May primary, several Republicans who supported the compromise last year are considering changing their votes. "If we lose one or two votes, it's critical," Gov. Beebe told Kaiser Health News, explaining that Arkansas needs votes from 75 percent of both houses to reauthorize financing for the measure. If the measure fails, potentially 83,000 people who have signed up will be kicked off of their insurance plans as soon as July 1st. Read more at Think Progress and at the New York Times.

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in human rights news, Michael Dunn, Jordan Davis, Employment Policies Institute, Moral Monday, environmental justice