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Civil rights organizations counter Justice Department’s attack on affirmative action

As millions of students return to school, the nation’s Justice Department (DOJ) is beginning an investigation that could potentially sue universities over affirmative action admissions policies. As first reported by the New York Times, Justice’s Civil Rights Division will carry out this effort to determine whether white applicants were discriminated against.

For Black people and other ethnic and racial minorities, this investigation seems like window-dressing to deny millions of students a quality education in the name of injustice. Such actions also signal a more subtle message is to roll back to the progress achieved in broadly affording students of all races and ethnicities the benefits that higher education derives. Among education and civil rights advocates a strong belief holds that everyone benefits when obstacles to educational opportunity are overcome.

“The American Dream offers each new generation the opportunity to build on the successes of previous ones,” wrote Nikitra Bailey, an executive vice president with the Center for Responsible Lending, in a related op-ed. “However, if you are African-American, the nation’s history of enslavement and legal bigotry consistently requires each generation to start anew.”

Bailey is correct.

Despite the vigilance of civil rights heroes over multiple generations, the heralded 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, or a series of 1960s laws that were enacted to guarantee full and first-class citizenship to every Black American, even more work remains to be done before everyone is afforded the promises of America.

It’s been several years since the anti-affirmation action crusade took its venomous campaign to states across the country. Beginning in California in 1996 and continuing through 2010, Ward Connerly, a former University of California Regent, led a series of statewide campaigns to constitutionally ban affirmative action in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington State. Regardless of the state, the goal was always the same: make it illegal for public colleges and universities to include consideration of race or ethnicity in college admissions.

Only in Colorado was the effort turned back by voters. In all of the other locales, the measure passed with broad support, often despite many business and corporate leaders joining with civil rights advocates in opposition.

For example, prior to the November 2006 Proposal 2 ballot vote in Michigan, Paul Hillegonds, a white Republican and former Speaker of the State House, helped to lead a statewide coalition of more than 200 organizations pledged to defeat the measure.

“If it passes, we are announcing to the world that women and minorities will not be given an equal opportunity to succeed in business in our state,” said Hillegonds. “This is the wrong message to send at a time when we are trying to attract new businesses and develop a talented, multicultural workforce ready to meet the demands of the 21st Century economy.”

State approved bans on affirmative action in higher education also led to fewer Black students in the University of California system as well as at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Today the real difference between then and now is that the U.S. Justice Department is resuming a fight for the preservation of white privilege that is armed with resources and personnel that taxpayers of all colors provide.

“President Trump’s Justice Department has hardly been worthy of its name,” said Sherrilynn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It has retreated from meaningful police reform, argued on behalf of state laws that suppress minority voting rights, directed prosecutors to seek harsh sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, and extended the federal government’s power to seize the property of innocent Americans.”

“Each of these steps disproportionately and systematically burdens people of color, denying them their constitutional rights and widening the racial divides that this country has struggled for so long to close,” continued Ifill.

The United States Supreme Court recently affirmed the use of affirmative action in admissions decisions in Fisher v. University of Texas. In that ruling, the importance of diversity as a compelling state interest was affirmed as settled law. The decision was also a victory for equal opportunity and recognized again that it is critical for schools to create diverse and inclusive student bodies.

As the cost of higher education tends to increase every year, students of color are the ones most likely to go into debt in search of a degree that will deliver a middle class standard of living. Even four years after graduation, Black college graduates earning a bachelor’s degree owe almost double the debt of their white classmates, according to CRL research.

“The U.S. Justice Department must enforce inclusive educational policies as they open the doors of opportunity for all,” said Bailey.

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Justice Department to Halt Police Reform

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of previous police reform agreements to ensure they align with the new administration’s principles, according to a memo published Monday.

“It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions wrote. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”

Reform agreements had been reached during the Obama administration with cities including Baltimore and Chicago. Investigations into these cities found practices of systemic racism that were not limited to “individual bad actors.”

A Justice Department report released last summer found that Blacks in Baltimore were subjected to traffic stops, arrests and excessive force more frequently than their white counterparts.

“This pattern or practice is driven by systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision and accountability structures that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the federal law,” the report stated.

Further, the department “uses overly aggressive tactics that unnecessarily escalate encounters, increase tensions, and lead to unnecessary force, and fails to de-escalate encounters when it would be reasonable to do so.”

“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report added.

But also on Monday, Justice Department officials asked a Maryland judge to delay for 90 days a hearing regarding the consent decree that is scheduled for Thursday.

“The Department must ensure that such contemplated consent decrees advance the safety and protection of the public, promote officer safety and morale, protect and respect the civil rights of all members of the public, respect local control of law enforcement, are rooted in timely and reliable statistics on crime and criminals, and do not impede recruitment and training of officers,” officials said in their filing.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh released a statement against Sessions’ memo on Monday.

“We strongly oppose any delay in moving forward,” Pugh said, adding “Any interruption in moving forward may have the effect of eroding the trust that we are working hard to establish.”

The Baltimore report found that the department “fails to provide officers with sufficient policy guidance and training.” And while the report does include and cite a significant amount of data, the Justice Department believes that the reality may even be worse than the report suggests because the BPD also “fails to collect and analyze data regarding officers’ activities.”

For instance, according to the report, an analysis of 300,000 pedestrian stops (the number is probably even greater, the report notes, due to underreporting) over a five-year period found an embedded practice of racism.

“BPD made roughly 44 percent of its stops in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the City’s population,” the report states.

And Black residents were more likely to be searched during pedestrian and traffic stops (they were also more likely to be stopped in the first place) — yet they were less likely to have contraband: “BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops.”

In a statement the NAACP Legal Defense Fund criticized the Department’s request to delay action in Baltimore, calling the legal filing “a blatant attempt” for the DOJ “to abandon its obligations” of fair, “nondiscriminatory and constitutional” policing.

“Long-serving DOJ attorneys, including some who have served under multiple administrations, conducted a fair and thorough investigation and found countless civil rights violations in Baltimore,” said President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill.

In a joint statement on Monday Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson reiterated their own city’s commitment to its police reforms, which “are built on the principles of partnership and trust between our residents and our officers.”

“Through these ongoing reforms we will ensure our officers have the training and support they need to do a tough job well, we will strengthen the relationship with our residents, and we will make our city a stronger, safer place,” the men said.

Like Baltimore, in Chicago the Justice Department found “a pattern or practice of unreasonable force” as a result of “deficiencies in CPD’s training, supervision, accountability, and other systems.” The investigation raised “serious concerns about the prevalence of racially discriminatory conduct by some CPD officers and the degree to which that conduct is tolerated and in some respects caused by deficiencies in CPD’s systems of training, supervision and accountability.”

The investigation also found problems with Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), the board that investigates officer misconduct, including police shootings. The IPRA was heavily criticized because it was primarily made up of former law enforcement agents.

According to the Justice Department report, Chicago police used force against Blacks ten times more often than against whites. Despite Blacks, whites and Latinos all making up roughly one-third of the city’s population (Blacks, 32.9 percent; whites, 31.7 percent; and Latinos, 28.9 percent), “between January 2011 and April 18, 2016, black individuals were subject to approximately 76% (19,374) of the uses of force, as compared to whites, who represented only 8% (2,007) of the force incidents.” Further, “black individuals were the subject of 80% of all CPD firearm uses and 81% of all Taser contact-stun uses during that time period. CPD’s data on force incidents involving youth also showed stark disparities: 83% (3,335) of the incidents involved black children and 14% (552) involved Latino children.”

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Holder targets Texas voting procedures

Fulfilling a pledge to aggressively protect the voting rights of people of color, Attorney General Eric H. Holder said that the Justice Department will sue the state of Texas to compel it to pre-clear any planned changes in its voting procedures before they can go into effect. A sharply divided Supreme Court recently gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the part of the law that describes the formula to be used to determine which states or political subdivisions are subjected to preclearance requirements. Holder called the court’s 5-4 vote “a deeply disappointing – and flawed – decision.” Speaking at the National Urban League’s convention in Philadelphia, Holder said, “Today I am announcing that the Justice Department will ask a federal court in Texas to subject the state to a preclearance regime similar to the one required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act… “Based on the evidence of intentional racial discrimination that was presented last year in the redistricting case, Texas v. Holder – as well as the history of pervasive votingrelated discrimination against racial minorities that the Supreme Court itself has recognized – we believe that the state of Texas should be required to go through a preclearance process whenever it changes its voting laws and practices.” In its Shelby County v. Holder ruling last month, the Supreme Court struck down the requirement that nine states, most of them in the Deep South, and portions of others had to obtain permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing election procedures. Within two hours after the ruling, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that he would restore a controversial Voter ID requirement that was frozen by the Justice Department. Abbott, who is running for governor next year to succeed Rick Perry, also announced that the state will implement a controversial redistricting plan that dilutes Black and Latino political clout. Texas appears to be an ideal target for the Justice Department because a federal court in Washington ruled last year that the state had intentionally discriminated against Latinos when it redrew its congressional districts. The court threw out the map saying both parties had “provided more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.” After Texas, the next likely showdown will be between the Justice Department and the state of North Carolina. The state legislature there had passed legislation that, if enacted, would cut early voting by a week, eliminate same-day registration, require strict voter ID and end a popular program that pre-registers high school students before their 18th birthday. “Although mandated by the Constitution, voting rights are not always guaranteed – in practice – without robust enforcement,” Holder said. “That’s why, despite the court’s decision, I believe we must regard this setback not as a defeat, but as a historic opportunity for Congress to restore, and even to strengthen, modern voting protections.” - See more at: http:// www.defendernetwork.com/ holder-targets-texas-voting-procedures/# sthash.8oROZPWT.dpuf

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