Dr. Kareem Crayton Hired as Interim Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice

DURHAM, N.C. – The Board of Directors for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) has hired Kareem Crayton, J.D., Ph.D. to serve as the interim executive director as the organization conducts a search for a full-time director.  Anita Earls, the organization’s current executive director and founder, is stepping down from her position at the end of the year to run for a seat on the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

 

Dr. Crayton’s employment with the civil rights organization will start on January 1, 2018.

 

“We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Kareem Crayton be a part of this transition,” said Farad Ali, Chair of SCSJ’s Board of Directors.  “In the 10 years since our founding, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has become one of the premier civil rights organizations in our country.  We are committed to moving forward, and Dr. Crayton is the right person to help us do just that.”

 

Dr. Crayton is an internationally respected scholar, expert, and consultant whose work centers on the intersection of law, politics, and race. He is the only academic in the United States in law and political science whose primary work explores the relationship between race and politics in representative institutions. A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Crayton is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and holds a Ph.D. in Political Science as well as a law degree from Stanford University.  Aside from managing a consulting firm, Dr. Crayton has most recently served on the faculty of Vanderbilt University Law School.

 

“The  Southern Coalition for Social Justice is vital to defending the civil rights of marginalized communities in the South,” said Dr. Kareem Crayton.  “Having worked with this organization over the years as a partner, I know the key role SCSJ plays in making our governing institutions more accountable and responsive.  I am therefore excited to lead the board, staff, and our community partners through this phase and to make sure we continue this important work well into the future.”

 

Anita Earls, SCSJ’s current director, praised the board’s decision. “Kareem brings great insight to our organization. His deep knowledge of issues related to race, politics, and the South will be an incredible asset to the coalition,” said Earls.  “I am comforted to know that Dr. Crayton will be taking charge of the organization I founded and love.”

 

“There is no way that SCSJ would have accomplished everything we have without the leadership of Anita Earls.  We are thankful for and will certainly miss her leadership,” said Farad Ali.   “Our work moves forward, though.  We will continue to challenge unconstitutional racial and partisan gerrymandering that disenfranchises people and communities of color.  We will persist in our advocacy for reforming the criminal justice system, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and creating fairer and safer schools for our youth.

 

N.C. Attorneys Challenge Court Fines and Fees as Unconstitutional

Advocacy groups encourage similar challenges across North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina’s practice of charging criminal defendants with an array of court fines and fees unjustly burdens low-income people and violates the state constitution, according to a motion filed today in Wake County Superior Court. The motion challenging the constitutionality of court costs is the product of a working collaboration between several nonprofit organizations including the ACLU of North Carolina and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

The state’s criminal justice system charges defendants with mandatory fines and fees for costs related to court, jail, community service, and more. These fees start at $180 but can reach into the tens of thousands and are used to fund various state agencies, even though the state constitution requires that most should fund the public school system.

Attorney Scott Holmes filed the motion in the case of Carol Anderson and Dale Herman, demonstrators arrested at the N.C. Legislative Building protesting House Bill 2. The motion challenges the constitutionality of court costs on the grounds that some are being used to fund the court system, not the local school system as required by the constitution. Article IX, Section 7 of the state constitution states:

“…all penalties and forfeitures and of all fines collected in the several counties for any breach of the penal laws of the State, shall belong to and remain in the several counties, and shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for maintaining free public schools.”

The coalition has made the motion available as a template for other attorneys to use to challenge the constitutionality of court costs throughout the state.

The motion filed today is available for viewing and download at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFees

Attorneys interested in filing similar motions can find a template document at http://bit.ly/FinesAndFeesTemplate.

After the motion was filed in Wake County Superior Court, statements were issued by the following coalition partners:

Cristina Becker, Criminal Justice Debt Fellow at the ACLU of North Carolina:

“For far too long the legislature has gotten away with circumventing the state constitution to fund an array of state agencies on the backs of the poor. North Carolina’s excessive court costs have created modern-day debtors’ prisons that keep people in jail simply for being poor and have a devastating impact on communities across the state. We are offering this motion as a template for other attorneys throughout the state and encourage them to use it to challenge the unconstitutionality of court fines and fees in every jurisdiction.”

David Hall, criminal justice attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

“We must do everything we can to end the unconstitutional practice of funding our court system on the backs of the poor and indigent people of the state.  The burdens of court fines and fees disproportionately affect people of color, and it’s time to end this practice.”

Scott Holmes, attorney for Anderson and Herman:

“This is an important step in reversing the flow of resources in the school to prison pipeline.  Our Constitution requires that the fees collected in criminal cases shall fund the education of our children in public schools, not fund our courts.”

Lee County NAACP Meets with School Superintendent

FORT MYERS, FL. – Representatives from the Lee County NAACP and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) met with Lee County School Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins on December 6 to discuss racial equity concerns.  

The NAACP filed a complaint against the school system with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in September pointing out that students of color make up the fast-growing majority of the school district and are:

  • more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled,
  • more likely to be referred to law enforcement for misbehavior in school,
  • more likely to be removed from the classroom and placed in alternative education programs,
  • more likely to be designated as having a disability,
  • more likely to be retained or drop out,
  • less likely to be enrolled in gifted programs, and
  • less likely to graduate.

At the meeting, community members from the NAACP and SCSJ offered a set of recommendations that Dr. Adkins can implement to address the racially discriminatory outcomes present in the school system.

SCSJ’s Ricky Watson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, spoke with WINK News after the meeting to explain the complaint and why the Lee County School system must take action:

The full complaint filed by the Lee County NAACP with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights can be found at http://bit.ly/CivilRightsComplaint.

 

New Report: NC Juvenile Justice System Faces Major Challenges

Durham, N.C. — A report released today from the Youth Justice Project finds that the juvenile justice system is falling short for over 12,000 impacted children. Despite major policy advances like Raise the Age in 2017, North Carolina has a long way to go to ensure that all young people, especially youth of color, are treated fairly and equitably in our juvenile justice system.

The report highlights five major barriers facing North Carolina’s juvenile system and their solutions. These barriers include:

  • developmentally inappropriate limits on juvenile court jurisdiction,
  • demographic and geographic disparities,
  • inadequate representation in juvenile court,
  • lifelong collateral consequences stemming from juvenile court involvement, and
  • punitive school policies and practices that push students into the court system.

“While we are excited that North Carolina will soon end the practice of prosecuting all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, we must continue to push for evidence-based policies that will help all kids,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “For example, young people – particularly youth of color – are all too often referred to our court system for behaviors that historically have been left out of the courts and could be more effectively addressed through other means.”

North Carolina could dramatically improve its juvenile justice system by increasing the minimum age of juvenile court jurisdiction from six to ten years old. Furthermore, school systems can reduce school suspensions, court referrals, and the associated identity disparities through the implementation of restorative justice practices and racial equity trainings. Additionally, increases in funding and specialization of attorneys representing children would ensure young people have adequate representation across the state when they are court-involved.

“We can dramatically improve the juvenile justice system here in North Carolina through a series of common sense policy changes that give our kids the opportunities they need while keeping our communities safe. We strongly encourage policymakers to review and implement these recommendations in order to ensure our young people are receiving the care they need,” said Ricky Watson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project.

Link to the Full Report: http://youthjusticenc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/FINAL-Putting-Justice-in-Juvenile-System-10.5.17.pdf

Link to the Fact Sheet: http://youthjusticenc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Handout-Juvenile-System-Report-Updates-10.26.17.pdf

SCSJ Launches Fair Chance Business Certification

Durham, N.C. — This week, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice launched the Fair Chance Business Certification. Similar to Living Wage certifications, this program celebrates businesses who are open to hiring people with criminal records. The major criteria for certification is “banning the box” — an approach of shifting questions about criminal records to later in the hiring process. This approach allows businesses to consider people for their qualifications first and not solely their history.

“The Fair Chance Business Certification is part of a major cultural shift that encourages businesses to view people for more than the sum of their worst mistakes. We envision a world where people are hired because they are simply the best person for the job,” said Kristen Powers, Advocacy Coordinator at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “There are plenty of lists out there already with companies that hire people with records. The goal of this certification, rather, is to create a community of businesses that are standing up for their employees and encouraging other businesses to do the same.”

All businesses are eligible for Fair Chance Business Certification. They can go to the Fair Chance Business webpage to fill out a demographic survey and submit a copy of their job applications to demonstrate that they have successfully removed initial questions about criminal records.

Upon certification, businesses will become part of a larger Fair Chance Business Community which will eventually include educational newsletters, lunch and learns, talking points, free promotional material, as well as connections to mentorships and best practices for advancing equitable hiring practices.

The inaugural group of certified business includes Ben & Jerry’s Chapel Hill, Principal Janitorial Services, and Bull City Olive Oil.

“We applied for certification because we wanted to show our commitment to the community. Many of these folks have already paid their debt to society. We should not shut them out of the workforce forever because of a past mistake. We are proud of our employees from all walks of life here. Their commitment to our mission is unmatched,” said Antonio Broom of Ben & Jerry’s Chapel Hill.

For more information on the certification, visit http://www.southerncoalition.org/program-areas/criminal-justice/fair-chance-business-certification/

SCSJ supports call to remove Confederate monuments, memorials, and flags at the courthouses in North Carolina

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has signed onto a resolution drafted by the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System that calls for the immediate removal of all Confederate monuments, memorials, flags, and other symbols and markers of racism and white supremacy, from all public spaces inside or outside of courthouses in the state.

The resolution recognizes that “visible and systemic markers of racism and white supremacy, including those commemorating the Confederacy, were erected outside courthouses and centers of government power specifically to reclaim those public spaces for the unjust causes the markers and symbols represent.”

While there is currently a state law prohibiting the removal of divisive symbols of racism and injustice, the resolution calls upon the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal the 2015 statute.

You can read the full resolution here:

 

NCCRED Resolution by Dustin on Scribd

North Carolina is Poised to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction

RALEIGH, NC — The state budget released yesterday by leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly contains policy language and funding provisions that will raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction in the state. Currently, North Carolina is the only state in the country to automatically charge all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, regardless of the offense.

“If this budget becomes law, most North Carolina children will no longer be treated as adults by the criminal justice system,” said Peggy Nicholson, co-director of the Youth Justice Project, an initiative of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “Instead of saddling our kids with the consequences of a lifelong criminal record, we will provide more effective and rehabilitative services to those who desperately need it. Raising the age protects our kids from the harms of the adult criminal system, as well as our communities by reducing recidivism rates.”

Two-thirds of children in the criminal justice system have at least one disability. The juvenile justice system is a far more productive setting for these children than the adult criminal justice system because it offers needed services and support that can help youth with disabilities stay on track in the future. The adolescent brain is still developing and responds well to interventions. With support, young people can learn to make responsible choices and are likely to grow out of negative or delinquent behavior.

“It is astounding that it took us this long to stop prosecuting children as adults, but this is a big moment and we applaud those who worked hard to make it happen,” said Ricky Watson Jr., co-director of the Youth Justice Project. “Many advocates, family members, and legislators dedicated themselves to this issue for many years.  Now, we need to keep moving forward and think about how we continue to ensure that the children of North Carolina get the opportunities they deserve.”

Clean Slate

Clean Slate Clinic registration is open!

Pre-registration is currently open for our next Clean Slate clinic! Pre-registration is required if you want to meet with an attorney at this event. To pre-register, call 919-323-3380 ext. 152 before June 20, 2017. You must attend the clinic to receive free legal services. 

When: June 24, 2017, 9 am to 3 pm (doors open at 8:30 am)

Where: Fruit of Labor Cultural Center (4200 Lake Ridge Dr., Raleigh)

Learn more: cleanslatenc.org 

The Clean Slate Project works to address the collateral consequences of having a criminal record in North Carolina. We provide direct legal services, advocacy, and policy work, with the goal of supporting organizing efforts to ensure that people impacted by the criminal justice system are leading the movement for reform.

Clean Slate

Southern Coalition for Social Justice files brief in police shooting case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has filed a Brief of Amici Curiae on behalf of the NAACP and Policy Council on Law Enforcement and the Mentally Ill (PCLEMI) in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Scheduled to be argued in March, the case involves important questions about the facts and circumstances courts should consider when evaluating the reasonableness of a police officer’s use of deadly force. The brief can be read at southerncoalition.org/mendez.

Angel Mendez and his wife Jennifer were laying on a futon in their home in June 2010 when two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies, searching for another person who had earlier been sighted nearby, made an unannounced, warrantless entry through the front door.  The deputies’ sudden entry prompted Angel Mendez to sit up.  Mendez’s movement caused a broken BB gun to shift and inadvertently face the front door, causing the deputies to perceive a threat and open fire.  The deputies fired 15 shots at Angel and Jennifer, who was 7 months pregnant.  The couple suffered severe, permanent injuries, and Angel’s leg had to be amputated.  By the deputies’ own admission, the Mendezes committed no wrongdoing.  There was nothing they could have done to avoid being shot, and they had no connection to the individual the deputies had been searching for.

The Mendezes filed suit and secured a judgment that held the deputies liable for excessive force both under a theory of officer provocation and traditional tort law principles.  The defendants and various law enforcement and municipal organizations have now asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn that judgment, arguing that that the presence of the BB gun made it reasonable for the deputies to perceive a threat warranting the use of deadly force.  They have asked the Court to hold that the deputies’ unlawful entry into the home is irrelevant for purposes of evaluating the reasonableness, and thus lawfulness, of their actions.  The United States has also filed a brief urging the Court to reverse the lower court decision.

SCSJ’s brief with the NAACP and PCLEMI urges the Court to do just the opposite and emphasizes the important role civil liability plays in deterring police misconduct.  The brief argues that when officers cause people to be subjected to deadly force in circumstances that are objectively unreasonable and of the officers’ own making, the Fourth Amendment holds them accountable.  This is particularly true in cases involving unannounced, warrantless entries into the home, which create a foreseeable danger of confrontation with a startled homeowner.  Courts rarely award anything more than nominal damages for an unlawful search.   The brief argues that if officers know they will not be held liable for the foreseeable consequences of unlawful searches, they are more likely to occur.

The brief also argues that the approach proposed by law enforcement organizations poses unique dangers to people of color, who have historically been subjected to disproportionate use of deadly force.  The brief highlights social science research about the danger of implicit bias, which poses its greatest threat when officers are faced with making split-second judgments about the use of deadly force in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.  A variety of studies are cited indicating that people of color are more likely to be perceived as deadly threats in such situations.  SCSJ and its partners argue the Court should account for the emerging literature on implicit bias when crafting rules affecting the lawful use of force.

The brief also argues that people suffering from mental illness will be acutely vulnerable to the impact of any decision that extends the principle of immunity for the proximate consequences of unannounced, forcible entries into a home. People with mental illness are more likely to have difficulty comprehending an unannounced entry, and many are likely to react in ways that will prompt officers to feel the need to employ deadly force.  The brief argues that it is important to the safety of people with mental illness that the constitutional framework for excessive force claims not retreat from a totality of the circumstances approach. If a court is focused solely on the moment force is used, with no regard for the preceding circumstances, then force used against such individuals will almost never be deemed unreasonable.

A decision in the case is expected this summer.

Ferguson

Statement on Police Violence

Statement from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice on Police Violence

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice is appalled and outraged by the killing of Keith Lamont Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Unfortunately, the killing of Mr. Scott is not an isolated incident. The killing of African-Americans by police has been, and continues to be, all too common. Such killings continuously demonstrate that racism and systemic inequity are deeply rooted in our society. So far in 2016, there have been 217 documented killings of African-Americans by police officers in the United States[1], which is grossly disproportionate to police killings of any other race[2].

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees everyone equal protection under the law. It is not a suggestion. It is a right – one that is currently denied to many individuals and communities of color. When black and brown people are killed by police in circumstances where white people are not, it clearly demonstrates discrimination. We must do better. We must find ways to better achieve justice, fairness, and equality. We must hold police officers and departments accountable for acts of violence and discrimination.

We want justice and a society that gives people of color justice. SCSJ continues to stand in solidarity with all communities affected by such killings and remains dedicated to confronting and addressing injustice, inequality, and oppression. We recognize that lasting solutions will come from affected communities themselves, who live with the problems on a daily basis and have the most informed understanding of what works and what does not work.

We pledge to continue gathering and analyzing data that identifies discriminatory police practices and advocating for legal doctrines that protect the rights of people who have been the subject of such practices. We will continue providing legal services to communities that disproportionately encounter and interact with law enforcement. We will continue to support community leaders who strive to confront the systemic problems that have allowed these tragedies to persist. We will continue to demand justice.

 

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[1]http://mappingpoliceviolence.org/

[2] – Lowery, Wesley. “Study Finds Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black Men at Disproportionate Rates.” The Washington Post 7 Apr. 2016. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/study-finds-police-fatally-shoot-unarmed-black-men-at-disproportionate-rates/2016/04/06/e494563e-fa74-11e5-80e4-c381214de1a3_story.html