Category Archives: legal issues

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Teaching Trayvon

By Guest Contributor Shadee Malaklou, cross-posted from JFCBlog

[Editor's Note: Graphic images at the end of this post, under the cut]

The Trayvon Martin syllabus: These reading and viewing assignments are designed to prompt politically vigilant conversations about historical and institutional constructs of black male criminality in the United States.

Specifically, they unpack Trayvon Martin’s gratuitous murder in February 2012 and the response his tragic death elicited from media and legal institutions–especially relevant in the wake of Michael Brown’s August 2014 lynching in Ferguson, Missouri. Written texts consist of insightful and timely essays published on blogs like Colorlines, The Feminist Wire and Black Girl Dangerous.

These essays teach tertiary students how to extrapolate anti-black racism from non-black experiences of ethnic difference without overwhelming them with jargon-heavy texts written for a well-versed academic audience.
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Courageous Liaisons: The Racialicious Review of Belle

By Arturo R. García

Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) begins to question her place, to the chagrin of Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson).

It’s only fitting that director Amma Assante’s Belle, a movie that culminates in a court, makes its own case crisply, and clearly. There’s a sense of some romanticizing, mind, but even that is based on hard evidence: the real Dido Elizabeth Belle did have a happy life.

So, admirably, Assante and writer Misan Sagay don’t try to inject pathos where it’s not necessary. Nor do they overplay their somewhat stacked cast, instead keeping Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the center, which she ably holds up. Because her story — at least, this story — positions her at the intersection of her own nascent questioning of her place in the world and her mentor’s role in shaping its future.
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The Uneasy Transition from Juvenile Hall to Life on the Outside

By Guest Contributor Alton Pitre, cross posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Exhilaration jolted through my body when I stepped back onto the grounds of Central Juvenile Hall for the first time since my release. I finally knew what it felt like to come back as a free man and not as a detained juvenile. I cherished how different it felt. Now, I was wearing my own clothes and not the dull gray uniform of the hall. My arms dangled freely as I walked without anyone telling me to walk in a line with my hands behind my back. I even had a chance to chat with some of the juvenile hall’s probation officers, who were surprised to see me. The last time they had I was sitting in my cell.

My first day of freedom after 18 long months of captivity was Oct. 8, 2010. That was when reality quickly settled in. I was sitting at a table with my father and a few friends at a Denny’s restaurant, eating some bacon. My chest was poked out and my shoulders were buffed up. Noticing this, one of my friends jokingly said “Al, you out. You can relax and quit acting hard now.” I found that really funny because I was not trying to look tough. After being in jail for so long I had picked up the habit of trying to look like a thug while sitting at the dinner table. I was institutionalized. I did not even remember the proper way to use a knife and fork to cut my pancakes.
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Cutting The Ties That Blind

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Image via The Guardian.

By Guest Contributor Thomas L. Mariadason

The iconography of blind justice is ubiquitous. Expressionless Greco-Roman goddesses stridently clutching scales adorn courtrooms all across our country. At this point, the imagery is hardly eye-catching, but its familiarity helps numb our doubts about the nature of judicial objectivity. Sightlessness, after all, is the supreme analogue of impartiality.

One small catch: the metaphor of blindness—an ableist trope that frequently undermines itself —also suggests the inability to perceive the realities before us.

In a heavyweight dissent to the flyweight opinion in Schuette v. BAMN, Justice Sonia Sotomayor knocked the shut-eyed obliviousness out of her Supreme Court benchmates, exhorting them “to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

I’m with Kweli on this one: “Right about now I’m feeling very grateful we have a Puerto Rican from the Bronx on the Supreme Court.”
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Quoted: Selections from Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Argument For Affirmative Action

Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, ‘No, where are you really from?’, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: ‘I do not belong here.’

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society. But without checks, democratically approved legislation can oppress minority groups. For that reason, our Constitu­tion places limits on what a majority of the people may do. This case implicates one such limit: the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Under our Constitution, majority rule is not without limit. Our system of government is predicated on an equilibrium between the notion that a majority of citizens may determine governmental policy through legislation enacted by their elected representatives, and the overriding principle that there are nonetheless some things the Constitution forbids even a majority of citizens to do. The political-process doctrine, grounded in the Fourteenth Amendment, is a central check on majority rule.

The Fourteenth Amendment instructs that all who act for the government may not “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” We often think of equal protection as a guarantee that the government will apply the law in an equal fashion — that it will not intentionally discriminate against minority groups. But equal protection of the laws means more than that; it also secures the right of all citizens to participate meaningfully and equally in the process through which laws are created.

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.

– From her dissenting opinion in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Decisions can be read in full here.

Doug Glanville [Facebook]

Will ESPN Tell Doug Glanville’s Story?

By Arturo R. García

Doug Glanville during his playing days with the Philadelphia Phillies. Image via Section215.com

An ESPN analyst is involved in what could be one of the most interesting stories of the year — depending, in part, on whether the network decides to cover it.

Doug Glanville is among the many former pro baseball players who contributes to the network’s Major League Baseball coverage. But he’s also penned columns for The New York Times and Time, on top of writing his own biography. But it’s his work this week for The Atlantic that has garnered attention.

Instead of covering his life on the baseball field, though, his column this week discussed his experience with a more commonplace aspect of life in America: racial profiling. Outside his own home.
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jail cell [JJIE]

For a Kid of Color, Unavoidable Contact With the Cops

By Guest Contributor Alton Pitre, cross-posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Photo of the author.

I never chose to be raised by my grandmother in a South Central Los Angeles neighborhood filled with injustice, gang violence and police cruelty. This was my home and the kids on the block were my friends, many of whom eventually joined gangs. Being a native of this environment, I have seen many crazy things and have always felt like I was in the midst of a world war. I have countless friends who are either dead, in jail or doing nothing with their lives. Eventually, I became a victim of this society.

My first encounter with the police happened during my sophomore year in high school. I was leaving a childhood friend’s apartment with another friend when suddenly two Community Reform Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) Officers trespassed and entered. Unfortunately, the friend leaving with me was already on their file as a gang member. Due to my personal photos on Myspace they knew who I was before meeting me face-to-face. I was arrested immediately. As far as I could tell, my crime was being with a friend in the vicinity of where we both grew up.

We were taken to Southwest Police Station and charged with a status offense, in this case trespassing. The police were able to do this because of a gang injunction law placed in my community of L.A. known as the Jungles. Gang injunctions are court-issued restraining orders against a gang that restricts one documented gang member from being with another within a defined geographic area. This allowed the police to summarily arrest any documented gang members who were together in a gang area. We were visiting, not trespassing. After that day gang unit cops harassed me wherever I went.
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After Decades of Spending, Minority Youth Still Overrepresented in Justice System

By Guest Contributor Lisa Chiu, cross-posted from Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Image by Michael Coghlan via Flickr Creative Commons.

For more than 25 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has given hundreds of millions in grants to states to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, yet youth of color still appear in disproportionate numbers in many areas of the system.

According to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention analyzed by JJIE, black youth between the ages of 10 and 17 made up 17 percent of all children in that age group in 2010, but comprised 31 percent of all juvenile arrests, 40 percent of detentions, 34 percent of adjudications (guilty determinations), and 45 percent of cases transferred to adult criminal court.

The percentage of black arrests and adjudications has actually increased in the last 20 years. In 1990, black youth were 15 percent of the entire youth population, but they made up 27 percent of juvenile arrests, 33 percent of adjudications and 40 percent of detentions. The only area that saw improvement by 2010 was in transfers to adult court, where black youth comprised 49 percent of transfers in 1990.

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