Newswire: Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, others launch campaign to remove racist symbols in Georgia

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Southern Poverty Law Center

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – The Southern Poverty Law Center, a premiere monitor of race hate across America, has joined other advocacy organizations and elected officials in demanding change to a Georgia state law that prohibits local communities from removing Confederate monuments.
This is the first phase of a broader statewide effort that seeks to empower local communities to determine whether they want to keep Confederate symbols in their public spaces, and – if not – to remove them.
It joins a national movement in which dozens of Confederate statues and symbols have been torn down in various states. However the issue is still being debated across the nation as thousands of the symbols remain.
“Although individuals and institutions across the country have made remarkable efforts to stop glorifying the men who fought to divide this nation and maintain slavery, backwards legislation has blocked significant progress in Georgia,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. “In order to enact real change, the local community must have the ability to speak freely about the racist legacy of these symbols, and how they are still being used as emblems of white supremacy. These symbols should be understood and placed into their historical context in museums. They should not be displayed without the proper frame of reference in public spaces.”
Four days before the Georgia General Assembly session is set to begin, the SPLC, Georgia and Atlanta NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, Moore’s Ford Movement, and Concerned Black Clergy are leading the fight to remove Confederate symbols and monuments by seeking to activate a united South around racial reconciliation.
The organizations will establish statewide chapters, and are organizing a rally on Saturday, Feb. 2, to strengthen the call for change.
State Sen. Nikema Williams and state Rep. Renitta Shannon supported the campaign, urging the Legislature to grant local governments the power to decide whether to keep or remove monuments in their public spaces.
Currently, there are 1,747 Confederate symbols and 722 monuments in the United States, according to Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, a special report of the SPLC that catalogs examples of monuments, statues, flags, city, county and school names; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.
After Virginia and Texas, Georgia has the most Confederate symbols in the country, with at least one in 58 percent of the state’s counties.
Importantly, there is precedent for wanting to remove these symbols in Georgia. In late 2017, the Decatur City Commission voted unanimously to move a 30-foot-tall obelisk from its city square to another location. However, the city commission was unable to move forward because state law prohibits such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered in any fashion.”
Similarly, a 2017 petition to remove a Confederate flag from public display in downtown Kennesaw gained thousands of signatures. That city passed a resolution asking state leaders to “allow local municipalities the ability to determine, in their sole discretion and within the jurisdictional limits,” the ability to determine the fate of the Confederate symbol.
Georgia’s House of Representatives and Senate drafted legislation in response, seeking to allow local governments to take action involving monuments in their communities. If passed, the legislation would simply move power back to local control and would grant local governments the ability to make and execute decisions about the placement of Confederate symbols. Organizations that made presentations at today’s press conference will support the bill after it is reintroduced in the 2019 legislative session.

Governor Kay Ivey signs jury override bill

In one of her first official acts as Governor, Kay Ivey, on Tuesday, April 11, signed into law a bill that says juries, not judges, have the final say on whether to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases.
Ivey signed the bill, which had been passed by the Alabama House of Representatives on April 4, by a vote of 78-19. The same bill had previously passed the Alabama Senate by a vote of 30- 1.
Alabama was the only state left in the nation had these judicial override provisions.
Senator Hank Sanders of Selma had sponsored the bill in the Senate for several years along with a bill requiring a moratorium of the death penalty until Alabama studies and reviews the equity of the death penalty.
Sanders said, “Senator Dick Brewbaker, a Republican from Montgomery asked me if he could sponsor the jury override bill in this session and I agreed because my interest was to end this practice.”
According to the Equal Justice Initiative. Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence. Sanders said that a quarter of the persons presently on death row are there because the judge overrode the jury’s decision on their case.
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, sponsored a bill to end judicial override in the House. On the House floor, England substituted Brewbaker’s bill for his, and it won final passage. This bill was pending the Governor’s signature when Robert Bentley resigned and Kay Ivey moved up from Lieutenant Governor to the Governor’s position.
“Having judicial override almost undermines the constitutional right to trial by a jury of your peers,” England said.  England’s bill, as introduced, would also have required the consent of all 12 jurors to give a death sentence. Current law requires at least 10 jurors. Brewbaker’s bill left the threshold to impose the death penalty at 10 jurors.
Ebony Howard, associate legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, issued a statement applauding the bill’s passage.
“Alabama should do everything it can to ensure that an innocent person is never executed,” Howard said. “The bipartisan effort to pass a bill that would keep a judge from overriding a jury’s vote in capital cases is a step in the right direction. As of today, Alabama is one step closer to joining every other state in our nation in prohibiting judicial override in the sentencing phase of death penalty cases.”
Alabama Arise, a statewide advocacy group on social justice issues and ending poverty in Alabama, also supported passage of the bill as one of its legislative priorities for this session.

Black Lives Matter is not a hate group

July By B19, 20BJ. Richard Cohen is president
of the Southern Poverty Law Center

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HUNTS POINT, BRONX, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES – 2016/07/17: On the second anniversary of the death of Eric Garner by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, the Black Lives Matter community organized the Stop The Violence Rally, March and Healing Circle in the South Bronx to remember Eric Garner and other victims of police brutality with a peaceful demonstration around the neighborhood culminating the march at the 41th Precinct where participants held a moment of silence followed by chanting “I CAN’T BREATHE” 11 times as Eric Garner did before his tragic death by an illegal choke-hold. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

 

Each year, the Southern Poverty Law Center, of which I am the president, compiles and publishes a census of domestic hate groups. Our list, which is cited extensively by journalists, academics and government officials alike, provides an important barometer—not the only one, of course—to help us understand the state of hate and extremism in America.

In recent weeks, we’ve received a number of requests to name Black Lives Matter a hate group, particularly in the wake of the murders of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Numerous conservative commentators have joined the chorus. There is even a Change.org petition calling for the hate group label.
In our view, these critics fundamentally misunderstand the nature of hate groups and the BLM movement.
Generally speaking, hate groups are, by our definition, those that vilify entire groups of people based on immutable characteristics such as race or ethnicity. Federal law takes a similar approach.
While it’s no surprise, given our country’s history, that most domestic hate groups hold white supremacist views, there are a number of black organizations on our hate group list as well.
A prime example is the New Black Panther Party (NBPP), whose leaders are known for anti-Semitic and anti-white tirades. Its late chairman, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, famously remarked: “There are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes.” Bobby Seale, a founding member of the original Black Panther Party, has called the NBPP a “black racist hate group.”
We have heard nothing remotely comparable to the NBPP’s bigotry from the founders and most prominent leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement and nothing at all to suggest that the bulk of the demonstrators hold supremacist or black separatist views. Thousands of white people across America—indeed, people of all races—have marched in solidarity with African Americans during BLM marches, as is clear from the group’s website. The movement’s leaders also have condemned violence.
There’s no doubt that some protesters who claim the mantle of Black Lives Matter have said offensive things, like the chant “pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” that was heard at one rally. But before we condemn the entire movement for the words of a few, we should ask ourselves whether we would also condemn the entire Republican Party for the racist words of its presumptive nominee—or for the racist rhetoric of many other politicians in the party over the course of years.
Many of its harshest critics claim that Black Lives Matter’s very name is anti-white, hence the oft-repeated rejoinder “all lives matter.” This notion misses the point entirely. Black lives matter because they have been marginalized throughout our country’s history and because white lives have always mattered more in our society. As BLM puts it, the movement stands for “the simple proposition that ‘black lives also matter.’”
The backlash to BLM, in some ways, reflects a broad sense of unease among white people who worry about the cultural changes in the country and feel they are falling behind in a country that is rapidly growing more diverse in a globalizing world. We consistently see this phenomenon in surveys showing that large numbers of white people believe racial discrimination against them is as pervasive, or more so, than it is against African Americans.
It’s the same dynamic that researchers at Harvard Business School described in a recent study: White people tend to see racism as a zero-sum game, meaning that gains for African Americans come at their expense. Black people see it differently. From their point of view, the rights pie can get bigger for everyone.
Black Lives Matter is not a hate group. But the perception that it is racist illustrates the problem. Our society as a whole still does not accept that racial injustice remains pervasive. And, unfortunately, the fact that white people tend to see race as a zero-sum game may actually impede progress