America’s current civil rights climate the most dangerous in decades, activists, lawmakers say

By Jane Kennedy

 

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U. S. Rep. John Conyers surrounded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. PHOTO: Courtesy/House.gov
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In a wide-ranging discussion on Capitol Hill among lawmakers, activists, policy experts and former Obama administration officials about the state of civil rights in the Trump administration, the consensus was unanimous that the current climate for civil rights is the most dangerous that has been experienced in decades.
The April 6 event was hosted by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary.
“Although the Trump presidential campaign promised changes that would benefit minorities in the areas of crime, equal justice, and economic equality, his political allies and surrogates have sent a different message that has served to heighten national divisions and anxiety,” said Conyers, the longest-serving member in the House, known as “the dean” of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The forum took place only a few days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would review all of the consent decrees that the Obama administration entered into with law enforcement agencies that had demonstrated and documented histories of abuses and misconduct.
“The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement agencies perform in keeping American communities safe,” the DOJ memo stated. In February, Sessions, who admittedly was unfamiliar with the details of the reports that led to decrees with police departments in Ferguson and Chicago, for example, nonetheless described them as “pretty anecdotal.”
Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a former assistant secretary for civil rights at the Education Department under President Obama, described the first 76 days of the Trump administration’s civil rights record as “harrowing,” which she said was being “charitable.”
Recalling the immense challenge of getting a consent decree to reform the Los Angeles Police Department in 2000, despite years of abuses that included beating a homeless woman, lying to judges, planting drugs on innocent people to secure convictions, racially based stops and assaulting citizens, she said that Sessions’ decision was a signal of the “low value” the new administration places on civil rights.
“It was only through federal involvement that conditions [in LA] materially improved and that provided the impetus for real change for communities that were desperately in need of it,” Lhamon said. “The one ray of hope remaining now is that the federal courts have to approve the end of consent decrees that have already been implemented.”
This week, U.S. District Judge James Bredar denied the Justice Department’s request to delay the implementation of a consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department.
“The administration consistently uses its signaling to demonstrate disregard for civil rights. When it announces that it will reconsider the value of police consent decrees, withdraws support for transgender students, slashes the [budgets of agencies] that protect civil rights, the administration unilaterally sends a chilling message that it not only is not striving to secure civil rights for all but is in fact striving to not be a federal partner in that effort.”
Roy Austin, former director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, Justice, and Opportunity, delivered an equally pessimistic assessment. “In my humble opinion, the greatest current threat to civil rights in this great nation is this current administration. In record time [it] has already shown not simply a willingness to not defend civil rights, but it has shown an intent to violate civil rights, and at a minimum make it easier for others to violate civil rights. No marginalized, struggling, excluded, discriminated against, or protected individual or group is safe from what [it] has already done or appears to be planning to do,” Austin declared. “Everything that people have fought for, and that some have died for in recent decades, is at risk. Hopefully the will of the people, of representatives like you, and the courts will continue to ensure that the current administration cannot accomplish all that they desire.”
According to Austin, the Trump administration “could not move fast enough” to remove guidance that literally helps to save the lives of transgender individuals. In addition, he had harsh words for the White House’s “Muslim ban,” which in his view not only endorses religious discrimination but also diminishes public safety.
“When the federal government announces it will side with bigots and those with irrational fears, we all lose some of our humanity,” Austin said.
He also criticized the “orchestrated photo-op” that President Trump had with the leaders of the nation’s black college and university presidents in February. While the White House may have celebrated it as a successful meeting, Austin cautioned, the students who depend on and thrive at these historic institutions, must not be fooled by the administration’s false promises.
“Many of us in the Obama administration used to say that we wanted a nation where the color of your skin, the God you pray to, your ZIP code, or who you love did not determine your chances of success. It saddens me to see an administration that is trying to make these characteristics even more important and determinative,” Austin lamented.
Following eight years of near radio silence when it came to criticism of the White House to avoid publically finding fault with its first African-American occupant, the Congressional Black Caucus has been quite vocal in calling out actions by the current administration that members consider unjust. After its meeting last month with President Trump, the group announced plans to also meet with key members of his administration to find common ground and at least attempt to smooth out differences.
But given Session’s previous civil rights history during his time as a lawmaker and the record he is currently building at DOJ, the hope for common ground appears bleak. Said Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, “We may be seeing the most dangerous Department of Justice that we have seen in decades.”

Activists, Black Leaders anticipate what’s next as Federal Courts block Trump’s Travel Ban

 

By Barrington M. Salmon

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Barely two weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump signed a travel ban targeting Muslims in seven countries effectively blocking citizens, visitors, students, professionals, refugees and even those who worked with the US military in Iraq from entering the United States.

On Feb. 8, that ban was blocked by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is a ruling that the Trump Administration could appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court or the executive order could be re-written as an attempt to meet legal and constitutional muster.

Before the court ruling, the order denied entry to anyone from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 90 days. Trump’s action drew widespread condemnation and fierce opposition from civil rights and immigrant groups, national security experts and analysts and others deeply angered by the discriminatory nature of the ban and their concerns about the ethical and constitutional implications of the executive order. At the same time, Americans spooked by Trump’s constant assertions of an impending terror attack by praised the executive order and are pushing for stricter controls.

Black leaders, including National Urban League President Marc Morial, say the ban opposes American values.

“With the easy stroke of a pen, and a messy rollout, President Trump summarily stopped an entire class of people from entering the country, throwing airports into chaos and confusion, sparking spontaneous protests, delaying or halting family reunions and disrupting the lives of lawful immigrants both within and outside our nation’s borders,” wrote Morial in a statement.

While the executive order fulfilled an oft-repeated campaign promise, administration officials and pundit acknowledged that the hurried nature of the rollout of the order and the decision by the president not to consult with affected agencies or members of Congress created unforeseen problems. This included confusion among those responsible for enforcing the order and chaos at airports as Customs and Immigrations officials detained men, women and children, put others on airplanes back to their points of origin and revoked travelers’ visas.

The ruling of the three-member panel of judges from the US Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, brought a semblance of calm and order by refusing to lift the emergency stay that a Seattle judge had earlier imposed.

During oral arguments, the federal judges were unconvinced of the administration’s argument, citing among other issues, “the government’s shifting interpretations of the Executive Order and assertions of the president’s broad authority superseding that of the judiciary,” the three-judge panel wrote in the 29-page ruling. “The government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terror attack in the United States. (And) rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.”

The panel’s ruling continued, “National defense cannot be deemed an end in itself, justifying any exercise of legislative power designed to promote such a goal. It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties … which make the defense of the Nation worthwhile.”

Other critics of the travel moratorium – some of whom described it as “Un-American, counterproductive and possibly illegal – hailed the victory. Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Washington, DC-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, while praising the ruling, warned opponents of the measure not to get complacent.

“We applaud this ruling as a reaffirmation of the strength and independence of our system of justice,” he said in a statement. “The decision adds to a long list of federal judges – both Republican and Democratic appointees – who found reason to block this discriminatory order. While this decision is critical, it is not the end of the legal process. Other courts across the country will be passing judgement on the order, and the US Supreme Court will likely weigh in at some point.”

Hillary Clinton, who Trump bested to become president, posted a Twitter message saying simply, “3-0”.

Prior to the ruling, Trump railed against judges in general and decried the politics he said suffuses the judicial system. He also blamed any judges who might rule against him as being responsible if there’s a terror attack against the United States.

“SEE YOU IN COURT. THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE,” he tweeted immediately after the verdict.

And to reporters at the White House Trump said: “It’s a political decision. We’re going to see them in court. It’s a very, very serious situation, so we look forward, as I just said, to seeing them in court. It’s a decision we’ll win, in my opinion, very easily.”

Justice Department officials said in a statement that they were reviewing the decision and contemplating options. The case could be headed to the US Supreme Court which is short one justice. With the 4-4 liberal-conservative split on the High Court, it’s quite possible that the 9th Circuit ruling would reaffirm the lower court ruling. Perhaps this reality led administration officials to say that they would eschew going to the Supreme Court and pursue redress in federal courts.

This legal saga portends what could be the first of any number of legal challenges to Trump’s controversial policies and pushback against his view that the executive has primacy over the judiciary despite constitutional checks and balances.

The swift and furious public response to the travel ban caught authorities and activists observers by surprise.

“The spontaneous support has been amazing. We called for a rally in Boston and 20,000 people came out. Normally, it’s like pulling teeth,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Washington, DC-based Council for Islamic-American Relations. “I’m not surprised at all that this has happened. He’s been telegraphing his intention to impose a complete ban since last year. We’d been expecting, anticipating some type of ban. This has had a tremendous impact on travelers, visiting grandmothers, students, and people coming and going home. It’s been a nightmare.”