To Be Equal: Deep South States Take a Long-Overdue Step Out of the Jim Crow Past
“Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”
?Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
The Urban League Movement congratulates two states in the Deep South that took a step out of the dark Jim Crow past by passing major criminal justice reforms on Election Day.
In Louisiana, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution that will require unanimous jury verdicts to convict on felony charges. Until now, Louisiana was one of only two states, along with Oregon, that allowed non-unanimous jury verdicts for felonies, and only Louisiana allowed them for murder.
And more than a million previously incarcerated Floridians have had their voting rights restored. Florida was one of 13 states that bar those convicted of felonies from voting even after their sentences have been served.
Both laws had their roots in the post-Reconstruction-era crackdown on civil rights for Black Americans, more than 150 years in the past. They have rightly been consigned to the ash heap of history.
Drafters of the 1898 Louisiana state constitution aimed to “perpetuate the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana,” scrubbing from the rolls nearly all 130,000 Black registered voters. By law, they couldn’t simply ban Black people from voting or serving on juries, so they devised a system that would invalidate the votes of the few African Americans who might make it on to a jury – the votes of only nine of 12 jurors would be counted.
In its 1972 Apodaca v. Oregon ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court validated non-unanimous verdicts in state courts — but not federal ones. At a Constitutional convention the next year Louisiana lawmakers changed the number of jurors required for a verdict from nine to 10.
The law’s racist intent carried into the present day. Roughly a third of Louisianans are Black, but two-thirds of state prisoners and three-fourths of inmates serving life without parole are Black.
An analysis of convictions by The Advocate newspaper found that 40% of all convictions in Louisiana came over the objections of one or two holdouts. When the defendant was Black, the proportion went up to 43%, versus 33% for white defendants. In three-quarters cases analyzed, the defendant was Black.
Those convicted of felonies have been banned from voting in Florida since the ratification of a new state constitution in 1872. According to Florida lore, lawmaker WJ Purman reportedly boasted he had prevented the state from being “n***erized”. At the time, so-called “black codes” —laws that restricted Black people's right to own property, conduct business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces – criminalized a staggering proportion of the African American population.
Within a few years of the end of Reconstruction, an estimated 95% of convicts in the south were Black. A century and a half later felony, disenfranchisement has left more than one in five Black Floridians unable to vote.
Voters in Louisiana and Florida recognized not only the racism, but anti-American spirit inherent in non-unanimous jury verdicts and felony disenfranchisement, and were eager to bring their states’ laws into line with most of the rest of the country. We call on other states with similar laws remaining on the books to follow their example.
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ChildWatch: Succeeding Against the Odds
After two years of divisive, hateful rhetoric from the highest levels of government, the profoundly inhumane treatment of immigrant families, and the placing of corporate profits ahead of the basic needs of children—the poorest age group in America—the results of Tuesday’s election instilled in many that most precious resource: hope. Change began sweeping across our country this week, bringing a new, diverse set of faces into the halls of Congress, governors’ mansions and statehouses. With them comes a new opportunity to improve the odds for children. We look to the two years ahead with more hope and determination that incumbent and new leaders alike will commit to common sense, fiscally responsible and compassionate policies to help end child poverty and inequality in America. Every child deserves health care and food, schools that are equitably funded, and protection from relentless gun violence. Every child needs a level playing field and an end to the Cradle-to-Prison Pipeline® crisis.
But it is not our political leaders that give me the most hope—it is our courageous and resilient young people. I was reminded of that yesterday as the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) honored five Washington, D.C. metro-area high school students at our annual Beat the Odds® celebration. The Beat the Odds program identifies and rewards young people who have overcome tremendous adversity, demonstrated academic excellence and are giving back to their communities. By providing them college scholarships, leadership skills and more, the program supports these astounding youths—who too many people would write off—to become the next generation of effective servant leaders. Because of CDF’s Beat the Odds program hundreds of young people who have persevered and overcome profound family challenges, homelessness, parental incarceration, drug and alcohol addiction, neglect and abuse, or gun violence have been able to attend college and become outstanding adults. They are doctors and lawyers, teachers and Peace Corps volunteers, and responsible parents. They are living proof that no one should ever give up on a child.
The five students who received honors and scholarships at this week’s Beat the Odds celebration are no different. Dajanae Dennis was delighted when her one and only sister was born in 2016. Within two months, however, her sister began having seizures and was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome—a rare, genetic, lifelong form of epilepsy. Since then, Dajanae has had to step in to care for her sister while her mom works long hours trying to make ends meet. Balancing academics with extracurricular commitments while acting as a primary support for her mother, her sister and four brothers has been challenging, but Dajanae continues to strive for greatness. Last year she was accepted into the Upward Bound, Pre-College Program at the University of Maryland and now hopes to be the first one in her immediate family to graduate from high school and attend college.
Dieudonne Kazzembe was just a small child when his mother, father, and grandfather were killed during the Second Congo War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In its aftermath Dieudonne and his surviving family members relocated to Uganda when he was five. Dieudonne showed great initiative trying to learn English and emerged as a leader amongst his peers. In 2014, Dieudonne found out he would live out his dream of moving to the United States—a flight that ignited his desire to become a commercial airline pilot. He now lives with his foster parents and continues to help his peers while passionately pursuing his interest in STEM.
Sarah O’Shay lives at home with three autistic brothers helping out when needed. Since age three Sarah has had a stutter which made her a target of bullying at school. Despite these challenges, in 10th grade, Sarah was one of the first students from her middle school to gain acceptance to the highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She had to travel upwards of three hours every day to and from school and didn’t know anyone there when she arrived, but she adjusted due to her determination to excel. She currently has a GPA of 4.3 and is highly committed to the Minds Matter club at her school, which seeks to raise awareness and reduce stigmas about mental health. Sarah plans to continue serving as a mental health advocate and aspires to study computer science in college.
As a young child living in Peru, Danitza Karen Verano Roman experienced many hardships including being separated from her mother who had moved to the United States. In 2015, Danitza was reunited with her mother after many years of being apart. Danitza struggled to reestablish a relationship with her mother while adapting to a new culture in a new country but embraced her challenges in order to overcome them. Within two years of arriving in the United States she picked up enough English to be removed from English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) class and now mentors ESOL students. She also is enrolled in honors classes and a frequent community volunteer. Danitza dreams of helping others and aspires to become a lawyer.
Betty Pei-Lin Xiong and her mother came to the United States from China seeking a better life after Betty’s father abandoned them. In 2016, Betty was hit by a car. While in the emergency room she wondered why she didn’t feel any pain or remember the accident. After discharge Betty spent countless hours trying to understand what had happened to her which ultimately ignited a passion for neuroscience and biological sciences. Although she missed a lot of school and dealt with headaches and other injuries, she was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA and stay on the honor roll. Betty aspires to study medical sciences in college and dreams of becoming a neuroscientist.
These amazing young people have beaten formidable odds stacked against them, challenging our notions of what is possible and inspiring us all to persevere despite setbacks. But the truth is, our children should not have to struggle so hard to beat the odds. You and I and our political leaders must improve and even the odds for children, especially children of color and those living in poverty. Across our country children are crying out for us to protect them from hunger and homelessness, abuse and neglect, and gun violence and bigotry. It’s time to hear and help them. If the challenge seems too great or our political system seems too broken, just remember the example set by these and other brave young people across our nation and commit to fight for their future and countless others like them.
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Prince Georgians: “Get Covered Now”
November kicks off open enrollment period for health insurance under Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Largo, MD (Nov 8, 2018)—November kicks off the open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III, urges all uninsured and underinsured residents who are 18 to 64 sign-up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act. The open enrollment period ends on December 15, 2018. To apply, visitwww.pgchealthconnect.org or call 301-927-4500.
“Prince George’s County continues to make great strides in enrolling residents in health insurance,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker, III. “From the time the Affordable Care Act began, we have reduced the number of uninsured residents from 15% to 9%. It is vitally important for every single person who is eligible to get covered and stay covered. Now is the time.”
Prince George’s County Health Connect, a program of the Department of Social Services, is recognized as one of the strongest in Maryland. Since 2013, the comprehensive program has partnered with government agencies, non-profit healthcare and community-based organizations, academic institutions, hospitals, clinics, and faith-based institutions resulting in the following:
• Increases in the number of insured Prince George’s County residents. More than 240,000 have enrolled in Medicaid and the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP), an increase of 33% since the Affordable Care Act implementation began. An additional 22,400 residents are enrolled into Qualified Health Plans (QHPs), the private coverage that provides subsidies for most families.
• Increases in Health Connect enrollment assistance requests. More than 100,000 Prince George’s County residents have been provided in-person Health Connect enrollment assistance.
• Increases in insurance coverage resulting in a decrease in the number of people who delay needed health care due to cost.
• Increases in insurance coverage provides greater financial stability to families; and realizes significant savings in uncompensated hospital care.
•Increases in growth and enrollment reduced long-standing inequities regarding access to affordable health coverage: African-American, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian-American residents had the largest gains in coverage.
While the federal government has eliminated the 2019 tax penalty for being without health coverage, it is important that residents get and maintain their coverage to reach their optimum level of health. All residents of Prince George’s County are encouraged to find out if they are eligible to achieve savings on their coverage. In person assistance is available in several locations across the County. To learn more visit www.pgchealthconnect.org or call 301-927-4500.
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