The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Celebrates its First Year

AndrewThomasLeeIf the question is can we, all of us, play a role in promoting peace, understanding and justice in America and around the world- in Baltimore, Atlanta, Nigeria and Nepal then the answer is yes and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights offers lessons and spaces for dialogue and debate about what we can all do to make this a better world. Tonight, the Center will celebrate the contributions of five human rights advocates – each having taken a stand and made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. The include:

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, an Argentine human rights activist and leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She is one of the human rights icons whose portrait, painted by Atlanta fine artist Ross Rossin, is featured in The Center’s Defenders exhibit. Senora Carlotto dedicated her life to reuniting more than 100 missing children with their families. After a 34-year search, she found her own grandson in 2014.

Vernon Jordan, the NCCHR Chairman Emeritus, a well-known business executive and civil rights activist.

Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, is a human rights activist, writer and currently the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Ada Lee and Pete Correll are well-known Atlanta philanthropists. Pete is chairman of the Grady Hospital Corporation and Atlanta Equity and is chairman emeritus of Georgia Pacific Corporation. Ada Lee Correll , a dedicated community volunteer, has led efforts supporting youth development, youth in the arts and access to health care.

The Center is part history and part current events embracing the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement in the American South to the current ticker tape reports on human rights violations and challenges facing millions of people worldwide. In his guest column in the Atlanta Business Chronicle below Doug Shipman captures the significance of the moment.

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Only in June will we know if gay marriage is crossing the Alabama state line into Georgia!

A divide court takes same-sex marriage head on

By Gary S. Cox

While the national media eyes were focused on this past Tuesday’s oral arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges, Monday’s actions by the U.S. Supreme Court slipped under the radar of most of the

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mainstream media. In an early morning announcement, the High Court released a statement declining to issue a stay requested by the Alabama Attorney General to block same-sex marriages until the much anticipated late June 2015 ruling. The vote was 7 to 2 NOT to issue the stay. This action, in effect, legalized same-sex marriages in our neighboring state, bringing same-sex marriage to Georgia’s borders. The court could have easily issued the stay. Some court pundits indicate the Alabama case portends the ultimate June ruling – otherwise, “Why allow same-sex marriages in Alabama to move forward only to have them called in legal limbo at a later date?”

As for Tuesday’s oral arguments, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg proved herself to be the liberal Titan she is. She gutted the “traditional marriage” argument by stating, “Marriage was a relationship of a dominant male to a subordinate female … the court ended that concept in 1982 when Louisiana’s ‘Head and Master Rule’ was struck down …” Ginsberg did the same thing with the rationale that marriage was to promote strong relations and for procreation; she set about systematically attacking any arguments against same-sex marriage. Justice Ginsberg was equally combative in the second hour of arguments over whether or not a state has the right to refuse to recognize a marriage lawfully made in another state. She called it “unprecedented” for another state not to recognize a marriage legally made in another state.

Justice Kennedy, who is considered the “decider” (the swing vote), seemed, on occasion to argue both for “traditional marriage” questioning whether the court should be redefining marriage and for same-sex marriage noting that gay people are capable of being loving parents through adoption and procreation is not the sole purpose of marriage.  It was noted by many court watchers that Kennedy didn’t “tip his hand” until the question of whether one state has the right to refuse to recognize the marriage lawfully made in another state. Kennedy remained silent … this is a moot point if the court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, thus Kennedy’s silence.

The most surprising question from the bench came from Chief Justice John Roberts. At the opening of the session, Roberts asked, “I’m not sure it is necessary to get into sexual orientation to resolve this case. I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?” His point of it being a sex discrimination case was not argued by either side, leaving open the possibility of the Chief Justice being a possible 5th vote not based on citizens having a constitutional right to marry but solely on gender bias.

 

Loretta Lynch and the Political Power of African American Women

Sometimes the improbable happens.Lynch

In the case of the Presidential nomination and U.S. Senate confirmation of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch it shouldn’t have been improbable given her impressive educational preparation and her extensive legal experience.

The Senate finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch after five months. The 56-43 vote makes her the first African-American female attorney general in the United States.

Lynch comes from a long line of super accomplished women who have served honorably and with distinction in top federal government positions and even more who should have based on their credentials. It just so happens that Lynch is the first African American woman to serve in this position and only the second woman. Somehow women like Janet Reno and Loretta Lynch were passed over for decades.

When Attorney General Lynch’s appointment seemed to languish in the U.S. Senate, women and some men all over the country started asking questions. Some went into action starting with the sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. that was joined by other Greek organizations.

Atlantic magazine’s Theodore Johnson wrote in his recent article, The Political Power of the Black Sorority, “….unlike most other sororities, membership in a black sorority is not simply a college phase, but a lifelong commitment. Alumnae comprise 75 percent of the active membership of these groups. Black sororities do not confine their concerns to college campuses. And their fight for Lynch’s confirmation only represents the surface of over a century’s worth of work.”

Black sororities and fraternities have been active advocates for over a century and with Lynch’s confirmation in limbo they activated their vast network to push for her confirmation. There was no loyal to letters instead it was collective political activism joining together to do the right thing.

Last week all the “action” finally paid off and America can proudly celebrate the crushing of yet another glass box that separates qualified candidates from public service. Unfortunately Georgia Senators voted against Lynch’s confirmation putting them on the wrong side of American history. African Americans represent a large voter constituency in Georgia and 70% of eligible African American women voted in 2012, which represents approximately 10.4 million voters. Their numbers are not likely to be ignored. When African American women put their issue-based advocacy into action they can influence elections in political races, especially when the numbers are small.

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Wake Up the Future is Coming

IMG_9086Walking along the lake trail in Austin,Texas the quiet was disturbed by two large splashes. A quick glance didn’t satisfy my curiosity, so I continued walking to make the predetermined exercise schedule. After all the doctor insists my aging body will benefit more from regular brisk walks rather than my tendency to stroll and daydream.

One half mile into the walk was no time to explore this strange splash. There were no dogs around nor was I expecting a large reptile to be the culprit though the thought crossed my mind. This is Austin not the Florida Everglades.

So much for me managing my fears. Some 20 minutes later I heard the splashes again but no signs of life. No dog paddling to shore or turtles jumping from their resting rocks or floating logs. It dawned on me maybe I should determine if there was a problem.

It was early morning and there was enough time in my schedule for me to detour. But instead I decided someone else was better qualified to explore the high grass, better able to help if help was needed. I did what we can’t afford to do when we are faced with unusual signs of unusual events, troubling facts or menacing downward trends.

When it comes to metro Atlanta trends in job retention and creation, business investment, seniors and children’s unmet needs and population swings, the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Doug Hooker says we aren’t as great as we could be and the competition is busy working to take our position as the premier city of the South East region. “Atlanta is at a historical inflection point as a regional community,” said Hooker, executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “We need to re-examine, revisit and recreate the institutions and economic mechanisms to continue to grow in a healthy, thriving way as we did in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.  If (we don’t), we’ll still be a major city in the Southeast, but we certainly won’t be the premier city in the Southeast.”

As the native daughter of Philadelphia – a city that has struggled for over 70 years to reclaim its position as a premier American city – I know firsthand how hard it is for a city to regain the top position when it’s lost.

Wake up the future is coming.

Hard Lessons to Create a Better Future

By Courtney EnglishEnglish
Educational reformer John Dewey once said: “Schools are the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

There are few institutions as important in our society as our public schools. There remains an essential compact between a community and its public schools that helped make America what it is today. And this mutual pledge demands that our schools teach every child, whether they are poor or rich, black or white, to the best of their ability. It demands that our teachers possess tools needed to be successful, and entails a guarantee to parents that their kids’ interests always come first.
That trust was broken in Atlanta when it was discovered that widespread cheating on annual state exams occurred, robbing students of promised education and learning.
That scandal and subsequent trial have been a sad, painful and tragic chapter for Atlanta Public Schools and our community. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
As the trial ends, close observers of APS must know that efforts to restore the integrity of the system began three years ago and accelerated more recently with the election of a new board and appointment of a dynamic superintendent, Dr. Meria J. Carstarphen, in 2014. We are working hand-in-hand, focusing on high student outcomes to implement reforms and to ensure that a scandal like this never happens again.
We’ve set a strategic course for a new direction of improved instructional quality and systemwide efficiencies with a goal to regain the trust of our community, parents and students through hard work, integrity, transparency and leadership.
We are making progress.
A senior cabinet chief accountability office has been created, and we have built systems and procedures to ensure data integrity. It’s working to continually review recommendations to improve data monitoring and controls.
An ethics program was launched in 2011 that includes ethics advocates at each school and a mandate for all employees as a condition of employment. It also:
› Installed automatic triggers for test scores that rise or decline sharply;
› Created an anonymous hotline to report unethical behavior;
› Instituted automatic investigations of schools with unusual gains in test scores;
› Created stronger safeguards related to the handling and storage of test materials;
› Suspended incentive or bonus programs;
› Replaced 60 percent of the district’s principals.
As a result of these reforms, APS was recently recognized by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for significantly improving auditing and test security procedures.
For students who needed additional academic assistance, our district launched a comprehensive remediation program. In fact, structured remediation is now mandatory so that we can meet the specific needs of all struggling students, not just those caught up in the scandal.
Dr. Carstarphen, the board and I have made a vow that together we will create a new culture at APS, one of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career. This will be a culture where students love to learn, educators inspire, families engage and the community trusts the system.
Courtney English is chairman of the Atlanta Board of Education

 

 

Will Georgia issue a “license to discriminate?”

Governor Nathan Deal says he will sign religious liberty legislation

GACareBy Gary S. Cox

Back in July 2014, in Blogging While Blue I “prophesied” that Senator Josh McKoon was going to once again introduce his “license to discriminate” legislation also known as Preservation of Religious Freedom Act based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield published an editorial from an interview with the good Senator in light of the High Court ruling. Unfortunately, in this case we are dismayed our predications of last summer have come to fruition.

This week, Senate Bill 129 took a “hard right turn” in the Georgia House of Representatives, when the House Judiciary Committee rejected amendments that would have clearly prohibited discrimination against minorities and LGBT Georgians. Now, the “wing nuts” of the Republican Party have shown their cards. Speaker Ralston stated in a recent speech to the Atlanta Press Club that he wanted to understand the “motivation” behind the legislation, “Before we move forward, we have to understand what the impact of this legislation will be on the rule of law in this state. We need to know if this legislation opens the door to unintended consequences of any type, that some may try to exploit.” He went further by stating, “Closing the door to anyone is closing the door to all …”

Well, Mr. Speaker, here it is in black and white, the purpose and motivation behind the religious freedom legislation is to grant some the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. Anyone who has been following the struggle of the LGBT community’s freedom to marry court battles knows, when the Supreme Court decided not to interview in Appeals Court rulings in Alabama, Idaho and other states, the inevitability of same-sex marriage was upon us as a society. The High Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place in states where their state constitutional bans were struck down. Among political savvy court watchers, the money is on the High Court overturning all state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage – and that includes Georgia. Some Georgia conservatives want the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Some conservatives want the right to refuse service to LGBT couples from wedding cakes to providing medical care to the children of same-sex couples. Simply put, the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to say, “It is against my faith,” and discrimination in Georgia will once again become lawful as an “act of faith.”

Moreover, the unintended consequences that Speaker Ralston fears may be a national boycott against the state of Georgia. Hateful legislation has consequences – take a look at the backlash taking place in Indiana! Within hours of Governor Mike Pence (R) signing the legislation, the NCAA is talking about moving their basketball tournaments. Apple Computers, MailChimp, the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco are all talking about boycotting the state of Indiana. Here in Georgia MailChimp spoke out against Georgia’s RFRA. We could be subject to losing basketball tournaments and even the 2019 Super Bowl. Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal would be wise to look at Indiana before allowing our version of this hateful legislation to become law – it is the Speaker’s worst fears – the law of unintended consequences.

This week’s AIDS data is more alarming than the headlines

Beverly L. IsomSisterLove

The headlines this week about the HIV stats in Atlanta were alarming because the data is alarming. “Atlanta is ranked No. 5* among U.S. cities when it comes to the rate of new diagnoses of HIV”; “Atlanta is No. 1 US city with new HIV cases” and “Half of Atlanta’s newly diagnosed HIV patients have AIDS.”

As a Board Member of SisterLove in Atlanta, I am proud of the work that the organization has been doing for decades and the advocacy and leadership of its president Dazon Dixon Diallo but I am also troubled that there still so much more work that has to be done.

A recent study highlights the issue at Grady Health System where they started routine HIV testing in 2013 and has seen an average of two or three patients with HIV every day. Grady Hospital started free HIV testing in its emergency room for every patient no matter why they were there. Unfortunately based on the study, by the time some patients saw the doctor, nearly 3 of 10 already have the virus.

There are a myriad of reasons that people don’t get tested early enough. There is stigma, fear, poverty and misinformation about how the disease is contracted. And a key reason is that not every health care facility offers the convenience of free HIV testing on site. However, community-based organizations like SisterLove have been advocating and offering free testing in a caring and non -judgmental environment for years. Community-based organizations have been leading the charge on educating and empowering communities at risk but the news this week was frustrating even for some of them.

Dazon Dixon Diallo said, “It’s not acceptable to have a zero line item for HIV prevention … It’s unacceptable to not have expanded Medicaid to include HIV testing. It’s not acceptable to have any health department in the state of Georgia that’s currently not trained, equipped and implementing rapid testing … You want me to go on? It’s just a lot,” she said.

SisterLove offers FREE HIV TESTING, Monday through Thursday at 1237 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., SW Atlanta, Georgia 30310-0558 in Atlanta’s West End neighborhood. While there is still work that needs to be done, maybe the latest news will help our education efforts and decrease the number of new HIV cases. Get tested at SisterLove on Mon. Tues. & Thurs 11- 5 pm By Appointment- Please Call (404) 254-4734…OR TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WALK IN WEDNESDAYS between 11:00 am -6:00 pm, without an appointment.

SisterLove, Inc. has been at the forefront of community-based advocacy for women of color living with HIV/AIDS, for women of color at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, and for all individuals in marginalized communities who are severely and disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, especially in the Deep South and Global South.

Spring Madness in Charlottesville

mj78432March Madness is the common reference to the NCAA basketball post season. But the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia is another kind of spring madness. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents arrested third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson after being denied entry into a bar near the campus. Johnson was beaten by agents and later required 10 stitches from the attack, which was caught on a cell phone from a witness. In the interest of full disclosure I am the parent of a UVA alum.

Police violence seems to be more common than any of us really understood or realized. The case in Charlottesville strikes too close to home for every college student of color. Is it possible that an officer of the law can bludgeon a student because “because a determination was made” to arrest him apparently without reason. What words or actions would justify this kind of treatment? It shouldn’t matter that Johnson is majoring in Italian and media studies and holds several leadership positions in campus organizations and has no criminal record.

Did the ABC officers miss or flunk the part of their training that included mediation, negotiation, and deescalating tense situations? These are ABC officers near a college campus, where there is likely to be alcohol, so what kind of alcohol arrest warrants this level of violence? I can’t accept the notion that police and security do a better job of keeping the peace by resorting to violence. Somehow everyone including law enforcement agencies have to come to grips with the unbridled use of violence. As a young college student I listened to the radicals in the civil rights movement as much as I listened to the nonviolent principled leaders. I grew to believe the use of violence would cause even more violence. We have little hope of a civil society if chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement commanders don’t get their troops properly trained and motivated to keep the peace without uusing or threatening violence. It is time for the leadership of law enforcement to take responsibility for enforcing the law without causing reckless harm to those they pledge to protect and to do so without targeting for violence and abuse African American and Latino men. The balance between enforcing the law, using common sense and protecting the public may be difficult in some circumstance but it is possible. The officers and the public they pledge to protect must be safe. It is not too much for the public to expect for law enforcement leaders in every city, town or village to take responsibility for eliminating police violence and police abuse of power.

Policing for profit … citizens as “cash cows

Injustice prevails when citizens are treated as a financial resource

usa-ferguson-brown-shooting-protest

By: Gary S. Cox

Any American who keeps up with the daily news has now heard about the alarming U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department and local municipal court system. The DOJ findings noted both are riddled with systemic racism in practice and attitude. The report gave multiple examples to back up these assertions. The statistics were astounding; in a city of 21,000 residents, where the population is 67% African American, black residents comprised 93% of those arrested in the report period covering 2012 – 2014. There is simply no other way to put it other than the black community in Ferguson is viewed by city officials as a financial resource rather than as tax paying residents in need of protection. As a white male American, my jaw dropped in disbelief! I immediately understood the shooting of Michael Brown was but the match that lit the powder keg of pent up frustration with an abusive criminal justice system in Ferguson.

In a direct quote from the DOJ report, “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue than by public safety needs.” The black community in Ferguson is treated as a cash cow to replenish the City’s coffers. Police officers are used as tax collectors. These two facts set up an immediate inherent conflict.  When we treat citizens as financial resources, common sense tells you civil rights and treating citizens with courtesy and respect fall by the wayside.

It is not enough to say the quick “take away” of the DOJ report is the Ferguson Police Department and Municipal courts are racist. Such an assessment would oversimplify what is a complex situation. We as nation have to ask questions about police “culture” and practices that allow the police and the courts to be more concerned about city budgetary needs over public safety.  In part, it is a leadership issue.Ferguson serves as an example of where money is the primary motivator of policing activity public trust in the criminal justice system as a whole is completely eroded.

The debate is already underway in the media and on social media as to whether or not the DOJ report is indicative of systemic racism in Ferguson or it is a city that systematically abuses it policing powers.  Academics criticize the report saying the report’s use of a disparate impact analysis is flawed. The comparison should not be of: percent of black residents to the number of police incidents but rather the number of crimes committed by blacks vs. the percent of overall population. However, when city officials view a subset of residents “… less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue” any methodology fails to capture root cause of the tension and unrest in Ferguson.  Regardless of either argument, what the DOJ report speaks loudly to without directly saying it, is when we move from community policing to policing for profit, we have a city structure that is predatory by its very nature. Policing for profit treats citizens as “prey” to vigorously enforce municipal ordinances to enhance the largess of the City’s coffers. Policing anywhere in the United States should not be a revenue enhancement activity.

Now, as concerned Americans we should question whether or not the DOJ findings are limited to Ferguson? Police departments and city officials all across America should ask, “Are we too Ferguson?” The DOJ report is an argument for a national self-examination of our policing practices. The need to return to community policing where residents of a neighborhood know the officer on duty at any given time of the day or night should be the first order of business!

Read the DOJ Report for yourself here.

House Bill 244 Will Help Protect Georgia’s Children

If you are in Georgia and care about children, your own or others there is work to do now as advocates to House Bill 244. As nearly everyone agrees children are God’s gift. HB244 will protect more Georgia children.

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Thank you for calling and emailing your representatives about HB 244. Your voices were heard, and the bill was presented to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on Monday, March 2nd. We are disappointed to share with you that the adult entertainment fee was removed from the bill.

Please meet us tomorrow, March 5th at 9am on the main steps of the Capitol as we urge the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee to vote on HB 244 at the next committee hearing. We will provide you with talking points to share with the committee members. We need you to stand with us!

HB 244 contains several important pieces, including:
Extends the statute of limitations for the victims of domestic minor sex trafficking to file civil actions against their traffickers to age 25
Establishes a Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission
Expands forfeiture and seizure laws related to sex trafficking and related offenses–allowing any proceeds from trafficking, and the vehicles operated by a person who is guilty of trafficking, to be subject to forfeiture to the state
Amends the State Sexual Offender Registry to now include convicted offenders of trafficking a person for sexual servitude
Requires the development of a statewide plan for the coordinated delivery of services to sexually exploited and trafficked children

Why do we need HB 244?

Last week, complaints about a woman pimping out her stepdaughter led to a sting in Johns Creek that led to 15 arrests. One of the men arrested is accused of agreeing to pay for sex but he allegedly wanted it to be with a minor, according to a police report. Incidents like these illustrate the importance of amending the State Sexual Offender Registry to include convicted traffickers.

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