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Back the Badge

 

‘Back the Badge’ May Back Civilians into a Corner

April 6, 2017 – Last month, Mississippi’s Republican governor signed a controversial new bill manufactured to empower state law enforcement, potentially setting the stage for new, harsher sentences for people that police accuse of crimes of violence against law enforcement.

House Bill 645—which is now law—declares that “every person convicted of a crime of violence … upon a peace officer, emergency medical technician or first responder while such person is acting in his or her official capacity … shall, upon conviction … be punished by a term of imprisonment of up to three times that authorized by law for the violation, or a fine of up to three times that authorized by law for the violation, or both.”

The bill was largely supported by white legislators who claim the law exists solely to discourage violence against emergency workers or law enforcement. Attorneys who frequently defend suspects caught up in police bureaucracy, however, see it a differently.

“(The law) gives far too much latitude for (police) to interpret frustration or freedom of speech in a way that could violate the constitutional rights of individuals, just because they disagree with law enforcement,” said attorney Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “I want to see people protected in every walk of life, including law enforcement officers, but people forget that law enforcement officers are people, too. They have good and bad days, just like us.”

Lumumba, who is running for mayor of the city of Jackson, said police are human, and are therefore just as capable of misrepresenting incident accounts as any suspect, and could exaggerate police/civilian encounters to look like a crime of violence. Without proper vetting from an attentive defense team, many angry or vindictive officers’ overblown descriptions could easily reach a jury and sway it. This likelihood increases in a justice system, like Mississippi’s, that pits a woefully-inadequate public defense system against a well-funded prosecution team.

More than 10 years ago, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) issued a report revealing how legislators’ refusal to contribute to the defense of the poor “created a system that consistently ranks among the most poorly funded in the nation.” According to the 2003 LDF report, Assembly Line Justice, inadequate indigent defense funding “[leads] to a poorly organized, patchwork system.”  Since 2003, only a handful of Mississippi counties now have an office staffed by one or more full-time public defenders. Instead, most counties contract part-time defenders who have their own day jobs running private practices, or they appoint private attorneys to represent defendants on a case-by-case basis. Many of these private attorneys admit that they do not have the resources to compete with a full-time prosecution team.

Several black and Democratic lawmakers opposing the legislation during debate a few months ago referenced multiple accounts of police racial profiling black citizens.

Rep. Chris Bell giving accounts of racial profiling. Photo credit: Jackson Free Press

Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, hinted at bill advocates’ disingenuous police support when white lawmakers repeatedly failed to approve his amendment to the bill giving law enforcement officers a 10 percent raise. White lawmakers were also unwilling to add additional charges against police found guilty of covering up any crime against a person or persons and shot down Greenville Rep. John Hines’ amendment to do just that.

The white House majority passed the bill and voted down black lawmakers’ every attempt to amend it, including Jackson Reps. Earle Banks and Adrienne Wooten, and Belzoni Rep. Rufus Straughter—all of whom are Democrats.

The shift to further empower and embolden police officers in Mississippi follows the mood of Republican President Donald Trump, who may view the massive nationwide protests of his many discriminatory decisions as a threat to his presidency. Trump described massive marches against him in November as “Very unfair,” on Twitter, and then dismissed protestors as “professional protesters, incited by the media,” and allegedly funded by shadow groups—none of whom he has managed to unmask, despite considerable White House access to information and resources.

Trump’s White House also adopted a hardline policy against suspects targeted by police by endorsing opposition to “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere;” an atmosphere that the president has also never managed to prove exists. With his new “Standing Up for Our Law Enforcement Community” declaration, Trump proclaimed that the government’s job “is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter.” Some critics have taken that as an outright threat to protestors.

To learn more about Mississippi criminal justice bills, click here.

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Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors. For more information about the Mississippi NAACP or news stories, call 601-353-8452 or log on to www.naacpms.org. Like us on Facebook by searching Mississippi NAACP and follow us on Twitter @MSNAACP.

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Trump Policy Stands to Help Poison Poor Children of Color

April 6, 2017 – A recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency will likely expose more African-Americans in rural farming areas to a dangerous, brain-damaging toxin known as chlorpyrifos.

“Children, in general, are more susceptible to pesticide poisoning for physiological reasons, and this particular pesticide has an established neurotoxic effect,” said Devika Ghai, international campaign coordinator at environmental justice nonprofit Pesticide Action Network. “We actually have been warning about the toxicity of this chemical for about 20 years. It has already been banned for household use for years now. If it is banned in (urban) areas but not in rural, farming areas then that is a signaling of whose lives are more important.”

Ghai said her organization filed a lawsuit with the EPA, asking the agency to re-examine chlorpyrifo’s use in farming communities, and that EPA scientists had actually conceded the threat that the chemical posed to youth. As recently as last November, the EPA revealed the pesticide can cause lowered intelligence and attention deficits, as well as motor and memory problems in children. The report claims that one- and two-year-old children risk exposure from food that is 14,000 percent above a “safe” level.

However, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt chose to align with the profit-minded, agribusinesses machine and against children by refusing to ban the insecticide. Pruitt signed his order late last month, allowing farmers and giant agribusinesses to continue using chlorpyrifos, also known as Lorsban insecticide, on food crops, over the cries of dissent from EPA scientists.

Numerous studies outside the EPA also connect the poison to neurodevelopmental problems, including ADHD and learning difficulties. Former MSU students blew past the “IF” question on chlorpyrifos toxicity as far back as 1997 and delved into the “HOW” of why it is so toxic. (Authors concluded that juvenile rats detox at lower levels than adults, making them particularly susceptible.)

Studies on chlorpyrifos insecticide—and the whole organophosphorus family of pesticides to which it belongs—offer a near unanimous flood of warnings against living near farmland using the insecticide. One in-depth examination of the environmental causes of autism and developmental delay determined that the application of agricultural pesticides, in general, greatly increases the risk of autism in unborn children. The study also found that women who lived less than a mile from fields where chlorpyrifos insecticides were used while in their second trimesters of pregnancy tripled their chances of giving birth to an autistic child.

This is particularly bad news for the majority-African-American occupants of the highly-cultivated territory of the Mississippi Delta. A 2010 report by health-awareness non-profit, Beyond Pesticides, reveals that low-income populations and people of color experience disproportionately-high health problems, morbidity, and mortality due to toxic exposure. In fact, African Americans are four to six times more likely than whites to die from health complications, such as asthma, according to the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. Knowing this, the organization argues that a disproportionate impact will most likely be felt in the African-American community every time U.S. policies allow regulators to permit the use of pesticides with known hazardous effects.

Children living in poverty are the hardest hit from pesticide exposure due to the numerous hallmarks of living without money or resources. These hallmarks include poor nutrition, weakened respiratory and immune systems, inadequate health care, and lack of information on pesticide hazards and non-toxic alternatives to pesticides, as well as a higher chance of living near contaminated air and water from chemical manufacturing plants and waste. The fact that the children of the Mississippi Delta are some of the most impoverished youth in the nation fits snugly into the nation’s longstanding trend of poisoning minorities first.

The Pruitt decision comes as little surprise, considering the EPA head’s career as a devoted industry lapdog. While serving as the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt often sided with giant oil and gas companies that caused rampant earthquakes in his own state. Oil companies, seeking to dispose of dangerous fracking fluid used to recover deep oil and gas deposits, injected the caustic fracking runoff into old oil wells. Their relentless flooding of Oklahoma oil wells lubricated a dangerous Oklahoma fault line and reactivated it, triggering incessant and destructive quakes throughout the state.

Pruitt never tried to sue the offending oil companies at any point during his career as attorney general of that beleaguered state. In fact, the release of Pruitt’s emails earlier this year reinforced his obscenely-close ties with the same oil, gas, and utility companies that he was charged with policing. Prior to his appointment as head of the EPA, critics raged that Pruitt had sued his own EPA a total of 14 times in his unending effort to challenge sensible environmental regulation. He even went so far as to reprint anti-environmental, corporate opinions under his own AG letterhead and forward them to the EPA, as if they were his own.

The EPA head also made clear his low regard for almost-universally accepted climate-change science, claiming recently he does not believe carbon dioxide is primarily to blame for global warming. His decision could impact millions of poor and minority populations living along the planet’s coastlines as sea levels continue to rise with the melting of polar ice.

Pruitt’s careless environmental policy reflects the attitude of the president who appointed him, however. Just recently, President Donald Trump similarly ignored decades of scientific research supporting human-induced climate change by rolling back reams of carbon-reducing federal policy.

 

To learn more about how environmental justice affects your community click here

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Cold as ICE: A Massive Push for Deportation

March 5, 2017 – United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are loose and swarming the nation, conducting raids and deportations under the marching orders of President Donald Trump.

Daniela Vargas speaks to reporters in Jackson, Miss., on March 1, 2017. A short time after the news conference, immigration enforcement agents detained the young “Dreamer.” (Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

In Mississippi, ICE officials partnering with law officers from other state agencies arrested 55 people late last month while executing federal criminal search warrants at eight different restaurants in Flowood, Meridian, and Pearl. Spokespeople for ICE claimed they were hunting criminal aliens and gang members, although the agency appears to happily target non-criminals who are the friends and family of suspects, according to Bill Chandler, head of the Mississippi Immigrants’ Rights Alliance (MIRA), in Jackson.

Last month Chandler said he got a call that ICE was conducting a raid on the home of Argentinian immigrants Daniel Vargas and his son Alan Vargas. Agents grabbed the two outside their home and arrested them as they were getting ready for work. When officials discovered that Vargas’ 22-year-old daughter Daniela Vargas was inside the house they demanded entrance, but Daniela Vargas was smart enough to refuse.

“We believe they were after Alan, but when they go into a house and find other people they typically shake them down too,” said Chandler. “That’s what they did with her father, who had no arrests and no convictions.”

The young woman called relatives to rescue her before ICE agents returned with a warrant, but relatives noticed the agents skulking around her property, waiting to pounce. After getting a warrant, agents tore through the door and hand-cuffed the daughter that day, but Daniela Vargas’ DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status temporarily protected her from immediate arrest and deportation.

Agents temporarily released Vargas, who had been attending classes at USM before dropping out to save up for tuition. Agents allegedly told her that they were “not going to take you now, but we’re going to come back for you later.”

ICE agents did indeed grab Vargas later, March 1, after she attended a news conference advocating on behalf of other DACA youth caught up the nation’s new war on immigrants. Vargas’ attorney, Abby Peterson, said Vargas’ DACA status expired three months ago, and that she was unable to save up for the $495 application fee. Authorities detained her at an ICE holding facility in Louisiana, but released her a few days later after widespread public outcry.

Agents’ increasingly aggressive tactics are also interfering with the nation’s judicial system. The chief justice of California’s Supreme Court recently demanded that agents stop “stalking” local courthouses, trying to snatch immigrants who were testifying in court cases. MIRA claims ICE agents have been eager to conduct mass deportations against brown immigrants for years, but that the Obama administration had “yanked the leash” and kept agents civilized. The new, more blatantly racist president, however, appears to support mass deportations.

President Trump recently ordered federal officials to hunt, detain, and deport undocumented residents, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes. The president seeks to strip some immigrants of privacy protections and draft local law enforcement as additional soldiers. He also intends to build new detention facilities and discourage asylum. Trump lauded recent nationwide immigration raids as a “military operation.”

“We’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out, we’re getting really bad dudes out of this country — and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump told reporters.

Those bad dudes apparently include people like Daniel Vargas, who has no known criminal record, as well as more than 50 restaurant workers cooking food and cleaning tables in Jackson metro restaurants.

White Mississippi leaders are only too happy to praise the effort. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant joined 26 other states in a 2015 lawsuit against former President Barack Obama’s order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from immediate deportation.

The crackdown on immigrants could put an additional crack in the nation’s economy, if the mass deportations impact businesses dependent upon low-wage immigrant labor, such as restaurants, and the food processing and agricultural sectors. Immigrant labor comprises a disproportionate percentage of manual work in poultry plants in neighboring Scott County, as well as a significant portion of manual labor on local food farms. Significant raids on poultry plants or the farming industry could trigger an explosion in food prices.

A year without immigrants could do more than leave food rotting on the vine, however. Inflation-adjusted economic growth for the past decade has been a flat 2 percent, and independent economic projections for the next decade are just as soggy, with the Federal Reserve, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and others expecting annual growth of only 1.8 to 1.9 percent. This is due, in part, to the nation’s aging population. Immigrants coming to the nation are comparatively younger than the native population, however, and will reliably generate a taxable paycheck over the next two decades, at least. This marks a stark contrast to the aging, white population that is either close to retirement or already retired and generating little revenue—the same population that, according to polls, is more likely to oppose a pathway to citizenship.

 

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March on Mississippi

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Canton, MS – March on Mississippi March 4,2017

 

March 8, 2017 – Under the industrial din of conveyor belts and humming machinery a lone figure will collapse. He will fall to the floor never to get up again. He will lay there unattended by medical personnel and, after a long, empty time, he will die. He will die there on the floor of the plant, his fellow workers and friends looking on from their stations with impotent fury. He will die there, but the assembly lines will not take notice and they will not stop.

This is not a tale of fiction. It is what happened on September 22, 2015 to Derrick Whiting, a Canton Nissan factory worker. It happened to him and it will happen again if Nissan does not change how it treats its workers. It will keep happening if Nissan’s workers are not given a voice.

On Saturday, March 4th these workers raised their voices and, buoyed by a choir of community, religious, and national leaders, these Mississippians marched to make their voices heard.

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MS NAACP President Derrick Johnson, UAW Nissan Campaign Lead Organizer Sanchioni Butler marching to support Canton Nissan workers.

United States Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Bennie Thompson, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, Actor Danny Glover, NAACP National President Cornell Brooks, One Voice, the MS State Conference NAACP, the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFFAN), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the General Missionary Baptist Convention, ACLU of MS, the MS Low-Income Child Care Initiative (MLICCI), the United Auto Workers (UAW), and many many more joined Nissan workers, local officials, civic organizations, church groups, and a wealth of other engaged community members marched in Canton to protest the campaign of intimidation Nissan has waged against their workers in retaliation to their desire to form a union to protect their lives and interests.

This is despite the fact the facility in Canton is one of two Nissan plants in the United States that does not have a union. In fact, all other Nissan plants across the globe are unionized. Our state laws discourage the formation of unions which proved to be one of the main reasons Nissan chose to build their facility in Mississippi.

As a right-to-work state, Mississippi is apathetic to workers and downright hostile to unions. The result is a state that creates a safe haven for businesses that thrive on the exploitation of its work force.

The Nissan plant in Canton is a fine example of this brand of corporate callousness.

There are those that say that Worker’s Rights are not the same as Civil Rights. However, many would find that position untenable when they discover that the workers at Nissan have been suffering under the corporate yoke of predatory car leasing, volatile and inconsistent work schedules, and eternal temporary employment status despite promises to the contrary. The effect of which has left its workforce in a perpetual state of economic insecurity and employment vulnerability. This is in addition to the physically hazardous environment endured by the workers. The facility at Nissan has been cited and fined for numerous and repeated OSHA violations since its opening. In that time, workers have been injured and workers have died. All because of Nissan’s established disregard for its workers’ basic human right, their Civil Right, to work in the safest environment possible and to be able to speak freely against substandard treatment without fear of retribution. Acknowledging this, the French Parliament spoke out, as a shareholder, against Nissan’s treatment of its workers on its 2016 visit to Mississippi.

And when workers began talking of their desire to form a union to protect their rights and their interests, Nissan actively moved to opposed them, routinely engaging in acts of intimidation and retaliation against its workers including a closed circuit broadcast of an anti-march commercial shown to all workers to discourage their participation.

It did not have the desired effect.

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NAACP President Cornell William Brooks stands with Canton Nissan workers.

Some will point out that Nissan brings millions of dollars to the State, but that doesn’t make what it does to its employees right. It only makes it profitable.
As a last ditch effort, on the day of the March, Nissan sought to disrupt their workers’ attempt to organize by closing the plant in the hopes that, desperate for a day off after excessively long schedules, workers would stay home and not stand against them.

As it turned out, Nissan was wrong.

Saturday’s March on Mississippi happened because our families, our neighbors, and our friends, the workers at Canton Nissan are being mistreated and abused by a plant that puts profits before people.

They deserve better. Mississippi deserves to BE better.

The alternative is a state that offers nearly unlimited power for employers, and little to no protection for employees, tax exemptions for businesses, and lack of job security for workers. The alternative is a state where an employer can fire an employee at any time for any reason (excluding the few federally protected classes), but an employee isn’t guaranteed equal wages for his or her equal work. The alternative is a state boasting lower wages overall and a greater gender-wage disparity than the national numbers as right-to-work states, like Mississippi, earn on average 3.1% lower wages than their non-right-to-work counterparts.

The alternative is a state were women still only earn 77% the income of males for the same work and African American women earn even less at an average 55% that of white males.

All Mississippians deserve to work in a state were both their labor and their rights as people are valued.

Today the fight is with Nissan, but the mistreatment of any one of us is a mistreatment of all of us. And the fact of the matter is WE DESERVE BETTER.

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NAACP Calls for Moratorium on Charter Schools

August 17, 2016 – The NAACP unveiled strong new resolutions at its national convention in Cincinnati.  One of its loudest was a demand for a nationwide halt on new charter schools.

The NAACP has been opposed to charter schools for two years, but this year organization delegates voted for an outright moratorium on privately managed charter schools, after acknowledging what they consider to be numerous civil violations by charter schools’ privately appointed boards.

“Charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system,” claims the NAACP’s 2016 resolution, which was voted on and approved in July.

Delegates agreed that charter schools have the ability to pick and choose their students through “disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary discipline,” which tosses out underprivileged students who don’t perform as well as affluent youth do on some tests and helps give charter schools an unfair performance edge over public schools in test scores.  Delegates also agreed that, unlike public schools – which MUST accept even problem students – charter schools can boost enrollment of high-performing students with more stringent entrance requirements.

Critics often use the tiered charter school system in New Orleans as an example.  The University of Minnesota Law School Institute on Race and Poverty issued a 2010 report revealing that in 2009, 87 percent of all white students in New Orleans attended the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) or Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) charter schools, while only 18 percent of African Americans and Latinos attended those same schools.  Instead, 75 percent of African-American and Latino students attended the Recovery School District (RSD) schools that same year.  Nearly all RSD schools qualified as high-poverty schools, while the OPSB and BESE sectors contained the lowest shares of high-poverty schools.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, LatinoJustice, and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College argue that the most effective tool of separation that charter schools use is standardized testing.  Louisiana education consultant and researcher Raynard Sanders told the MSNAACP in 2013 that he shared that view.

“Standardized tests as a means of measuring student success don’t work well because it is such a narrow measurement process.  It’s just a snapshot, really,” said Sanders.  “By using that instrument of measurement, you hurt students who don’t do well on it, not because they don’t have the ability, but because they have limited resources in their lives, mostly related to poverty.  They don’t do so well on standardized tests.”

Sanders said that he was also familiar with charter schools’ punitive and exclusionary discipline.

“Once the kids are in the school, you may have to commit to 100 hours a year of volunteer time, or pay extra fees, or any number of conditions,” said Sanders.  “Let’s say you’ve got a parent working two jobs and you can’t meet those conditions.  You end up with a very select group of kids, rather than the kids who are most challenged.  The schools are doing the choosing, not the parents.”

Mississippi, which has a decades-long problem with school segregation, now has laws making it easier to open charter schools in the state.  Lawmakers passed the Charter Schools Act of 2013, which diverts public money to charter schools through two funding streams: ad valorem tax funds from local school districts and per-pupil funds from the Mississippi Department of Education.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a July 11 suit seeking to close the existing charter schools and stop any more from opening.  The suit, representing seven Jackson Public Schools parents, argues that charter schools violate the state constitution by forcing cash-strapped school districts to share meager property tax collections with charter schools that they neither supervise nor control.

“Traditional public schools,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “will have fewer teachers, books, and educational resources.  These schools will no longer be able to provide Mississippi schoolchildren the education that they are constitutionally entitled to receive.”

The suit explains that the funding provisions of the Charter Schools Act of 2013 cost JPS school­children “more than $1.85 million in state per-pupil funding and ad valorem tax revenue in the 2015-2016 school year alone.”  That JPS money could have otherwise funded 42 teacher salaries, 18 new school buses, guidance counselors for 6,870 students, or vocational education programming for 6,672 students.

Currently, two charter schools, Reimagine Prep and Midtown Public Charter School, are operating in Mississippi.  Both schools are located within the boundaries of the Jackson Public School District.  A third school is slated to open inside the JPS district either this year or next year.  The Southern Poverty Law Center argues that JPS could lose up to $4 million during the 2016-2017 school year because of these three charter schools.

The Mississippi NAACP is in accord with the National NAACP’s July statement supporting the suit.

“The landscape of public education has room for new ideas,” state NAACP President Derrick Johnson said.  “However, innovation must not come at the expense of our state’s traditional public school system.  We must endeavor to improve our public education system, not destroy it.”

 

Source: MS NAACP State Conference