Community Organizer Baqir Mujahid Honored at Second Chance Gala

New Bern, N.C. — Community Organizer Baqir Mujahid was recently recognized for his reentry and employment work at Wash Away Unemployment’s RESTORE: Second Chance Gala on Saturday, October 7. The late SCSJ Community Organizer, Umar Muhammad, was also posthumously recognized for all that he did for people directly impacted by racial and social injustice.

Corey Purdie, founder of Wash Away Unemployment and organizer of the gala, said Mr. Mujahid has been always focused on the communities most at need, noting: “Baquir was chosen because of his diligence and his authenticity of the work involving individuals directly impacted by the criminal justice system. In preparation to assist SCSJ for Greenville expungement Clinic I had an opportunity to meet Baquir for lunch but he asked me to meet him at a certain location; when I arrived, I observed Baquir in regular clothes with an

Baqir Mujahid, far right, accepts his recognition alongside the late Umar Muhammad’s jacket. Both were recognized for their organizing work.

SCSJ t-shirt on in the middle of some would called “The Hood” speaking to brothers and sisters on behalf of the expungement clinic and talking to them on that level to help them move forward and clean up their criminal history and tapping into other resources. This, of course, was not the first time that I met Baquir, but this is first time observed him demonstrating what it’s truly about to be an advocate for Criminal Justice Reform.”

Purdie almost mentioned the impact of the late Umar Muhammad, a community organizer for SCSJ who was awarded posthumously: “Umar was what I would call a legend and one who has set an example for many of us to follow, from moving in the community to moving in the Legislative Office to moving from state to state, fighting for the rights of directly impacting individuals returning from the criminal justice system.”

The Restore: A Second Chance Gala honored several other community leaders who had provided a second chance to others, especially those impacted by the criminal justice system and who they themselves have used their own second chance to do good for their community.

Congratulations to Mr. Baqir Mujahid and all the incredible work you do for the community.

 

Community Groups Add to Civil Rights Complaint Against Lee County School System

FORT MYERS, F.L. – The Lee County NAACP submitted an amended civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education last week, pointing out that students of color are drastically overrepresented in the school-to-prison pipeline as a result of the school district’s current disciplinary policies and are afforded fewer opportunities to succeed academically than their white peers.

The amended complaint includes examples of individual students and families affected by the systemic issues raised in the original complaint filed in September 2017. The violations in the complaint signal the school system’s failure to comply with the Civil Rights Act, a requirement for all schools that receive federal funding.

“The majority of students in Lee County schools are students of color,” noted James Muwakkil, President of the Lee County NAACP.  “And sadly, students of color here are more likely than their white peers to be removed from the classroom, suspended, expelled, referred to law enforcement, and drop out. Our school system is failing our children and we must do something about it now.”

The current Lee County school district policies result in students of color having:

  • Higher retention and dropout rates: Black students, who make up 15% of the school district population, represent 22% of students who are held back a year in school and 18.9% of students who drop out in a single year. Hispanic students make up 35% of the student population but 40% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts. By contrast, white students, who make up 45% of the school district population, represent just 34% of students who are held back and 40% of single-year dropouts.
  • Lower graduation rates: Black students graduate at a 63% rate, compared to a 71% rate for Hispanic students and an 80% rate for white students.
  • Lower gifted enrollment: Black students represent just 6% of students who are enrolled in gifted programs. Hispanic students represent 20%. White students represent 67%.
  • Increased racial achievement gap: The achievement gap between black and white students in Lee County is 30 percentage points or more in all subject areas.  For Hispanic students, it’s at least 17 percentage points in all subject areas.  The district lags behind the state average in all categories.

The complaint also makes suggestions for how the school system can address the civil rights violations.  The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to require Lee County School District to:

  • Adopt more equitable policies based on those that have succeeded in other school districts that serve primarily students of color, including a revised code of student conduct and student discipline bill of rights providing adequate due process.
  • Improve training about race for its staff and administrators.
  • Set clearer expectations for student behavior.
  • Expand the number of representatives of color on the School Board and its advisory committees.
  • Study the reasons for the current academic and disciplinary disparities to inform additional needed policy reforms.

All of the suggested changes are policies or practices that have been implemented by other Florida school systems to address similar problems.  

“There are solutions for the discrimination that students of color face in this school system.  We have seen the school systems in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, and Broward Counties make changes to make students safer and more successful in their schools.  We can do the same thing right here in Lee County.  Students should have every chance to succeed.  And I am not going to sit by and let the schools be the place that holds them back or pushes them off course,” said Dr. Shirley Chapman, chairwoman of the Lee County NAACP Education Committee.

The original report and new supplement 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

Reflecting on our 10th Anniversary Celebration

From Left to Right: Vanita Gupta, Anita Earls, Bree Newsome

Durham, NC – On Friday, October 6, 2017, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice celebrated our 10th anniversary at the Cotton Room in Durham, NC.

The evening was a tremendous success and an important milestone for SCSJ.  More than 200 people attended the event, and we enjoyed inspiring speeches and performances by Vanita GuptaErin Dale ByrdBree NewsomeCarly P. JonesUndreya Hudson, and Defacto Thezpian.  Hundreds of people came together to recognize our work — including our high-profile voting rights litigation, our work to combat civil and human rights violations, and our efforts to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and remedy the impacts of mass incarceration. Their support was uplifting and motivating for everyone at SCSJ. 

Community organizer Muffin shares the impact of Clean Slate on her life

We want to thank all of those who made this event possible and those who have and continue to financially support our work so that we may spend the next decade fighting for justice in the South.

If you want to see more pictures of the celebration, you can do so by clicking here.

If you’d like to contribute to our work, click here.

 

Photo credit: WRAL

Special Master Ordered in North Carolina Racial Gerrymandering Case

GREENSBORO, N.C. – A federal three-judge panel has appointed a “special master” to “assist the Court in evaluating” the districts that Plaintiffs explained either failed to cure the racial gerrymandering the court unanimously found in 2016 or violate the state constitution.  The Special Master will also help in “developing an appropriate plan remedying any problem with” districts in the plan adopted by the North Carolina General Assembly in August 2017 that the court may find inappropriate as a remedy. The remedial redistricting process took place after the same three-judge panel found 28 districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders in 2016.

The order announces the court’s intention to appoint Professor Nathaniel Persily, a professor at the Stanford School of Law, as the special master to review the redistricting proposal.  The full court order can be read at http://bit.ly/SpecialMaster.

Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case, issued the following statement after receiving the court’s order:

“It has been shown time and again that the state legislature refuses to draw fair districts that comply with the law. Our clients are hopeful that this process will result in fair districts for all North Carolinians.”

 

More information about this case:

Covington v. North Carolina was filed in May 2015.

In August 2016, the federal three-judge panel found that 28 districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders but noted that it was too close to the 2016 general election for the problem to be fixed that year.

In November 2017, the three-judge panel ordered new districts to be drawn by March 2017 and for a special election to be held in the Fall of 2017.

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed the lower court’s order for a special election in January 2017 while it decided whether or not to consider the case.

On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agrees with the lower court’s finding that 28 state legislative districts were racial gerrymanders and sent the matter back down to the three-judge panel in North Carolina’s Middle District Federal Court to determine an appropriate remedy.

In late July 2017, the three-judge panel ordered the legislature to correct the racial gerrymandering through a legislative process. After a new redistricting proposal was adopted by the N.C. General Assembly, plaintiffs objected to several districts that failed to remedy the racial gerrymandering or drew new district lines in areas that shouldn’t have redrawn.

The special master appointed by the court will now review those districts and consider appropriate remedies.

 

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/

Gerrymandering 101

By Rock the Vote’s Kosoko Jackson & The Southern Coalition for Social Justice

This article originally appeared on Medium on October 2, 2017

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments on whether state legislatures can purposefully divide up legislative districts so that they benefit one political party or disadvantage others. This practice — called “partisan gerrymandering” — is all too common across our country and can block communities from fairly electing leaders who represent their values and the issues important to them.

SO WHAT IS GERRYMANDERING ANYWAY?

Every decade after the national census, states draw new electoral districts, which are areas with equal populations that determine who gets to vote for each seat in the state legislature and in Congress. Ideally, districts should allow the voters who live in them to elect a range of legislators who represent the diverse political views of people across the state. Redrawing political lines is a powerful tool that can determine who wins an election, controls the legislature, and ultimately which laws on issues ranging from the minimum wage to climate change to criminal justice reform pass.

“Gerrymandering” occurs when state legislatures purposefully draw district boundaries so that they give an advantage to a particular group or party — or put an opposing party or group at a disadvantage. This is primarily accomplished using two different methods: cracking and packing.

Cracking is the spreading of similar voters — voters of the same party, race, economic background, etc. — across multiple districts to weaken their voting power in each one. This denies the particular group fair representation in multiple districts. Packing is the concentration of similar voters together in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts. This gives the group representation in a single district while denying them representation across other districts.

The effects of gerrymandering are widespread:

  • Political monopolies: Not only is gerrymandering used to protect politicians already in power by making their districts less competitive, but once redistricting happens, it can take up to 10 years before lines can be drawn again. This leads to monopolies of power.
  • Underrepresentation: Poor communities and communities of color are most frequently the targets of cracking and packing, and as a result, their political power is diluted.
  • Heavy Partisan Manipulation: Gerrymandering has much to do with why politics are so partisan today. When districts are gerrymandered to be less competitive between multiple view-points, representatives do not have to compromise on hard line stances in order to win seats. This partisanship goes on to effect everything, from funding, to school districts, to you name it. Change and progress comes from a healthy push-and-pull that isn’t present in gerrymandered districts.

Additionally, not all gerrymandering is the same. There are two key types of gerrymandering that the Supreme Court has considered the constitutionality of: partisan and racial.

WHAT IS PARTISAN GERRYMANDERING?

Partisan gerrymandering, which the Supreme Court is considering in Gill v. Whitfordis used to discriminate against a political party. This prevents opposition parties from gaining enough voters to represent a viable alternative point of view, and leads to the formation of political monopolies.

Partisan gerrymandering isn’t new — in fact it’s been around for a very long time — but that doesn’t make it right, or constitutional. In most states, the party in power can draw the lines to serve their own interests, not those of our communities. Even if a district’s shape does not look as bizarre as the first gerrymander, its population can still be engineered to elect a specific kind of politician.

For example: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are purple states in terms of party affiliation and all voted for former President Obama in 2008 and 2012, then President Trump in 2016. You would probably expect them to send about 50 percent Democrats and 50 percent Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives. Instead, 34 of their total 48 House representatives (71 percent) are Republican, largely because of partisan gerrymandering.This type of manipulation of the redistricting process undermines the very spirit of our democracy and fair elections. Still, gerrymandering remains a staple of partisan politics at their worst, and shameless legislators continue to use it despite the harm it does to fair representation for our communities.

WHAT IS RACIAL GERRYMANDERING?

Racial gerrymandering is the intentional, not accidental, segregation of voters based on race. States have traditionally used “cracking” to weaken the political power of communities of color. They do this by breaking up communities of color into multiple districts, ensuring that there are not enough voters of color in any one district to elect their candidate of choice. As communities of color grow, states have used “packing” to concentrate them into just a few districts, thereby weakening their political power elsewhere. With few opportunities to elect their candidates of choice, the concerns and issues that racial groups and communities of color have lack adequate representation in local, state, and federal government.

A key enforcement provision of The Voting Rights Act prohibited states from “cracking” communities of color, and courts have time and time again struck racial gerrymandering down as unconstitutional. But, with the Voting Rights Act’s enforcement provision no longer in place, states are free to draw district lines without first making sure that those districts are not discriminatory. Racial gerrymandering is once again becoming a common tool to disenfranchise and suppress people of color.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

This is worth repeating — gerrymandering is NEVER an accident. The weakening of racial or political groups’ voting strength is done on purpose to create a monopoly of power. Advocates are battling in courts across the country to fix this problem and reign in the rampant use of gerrymandering to block vulnerable communities from building power to impact elections. But, even if you aren’t a lawyer, there are things you can do.

And as always, keep speaking truth to power.

RWatsonJr

YJP Co-Director Graduates from National Juvenile Justice Fellowship

Durham, NC — Youth Justice Project Co-Director Ricky Watson Jr. recently graduated from the prestigious National Juvenile Justice Network’s Youth Leadership Institute. Watson is one of ten fellows chosen from all over the country for his commitment to youth justice in North Carolina.

“Together, they learn about juvenile justice system structures and reform needs, effective advocacy and organizing techniques, and are paired with mentors in the field. In the course of the year, they form peer learning and support groups, and complete an advocacy project in which they apply their skills in practical ways on behalf of youth in trouble with the law,” stated a description on the Network’s website.

Watson’s advocacy project included the effort to Raise the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in North Carolina, an ultimately successful endeavor to end the practice of charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in North Carolina. He was involved in leading legislative efforts and educational events across the state.

“My view of myself as a leader has changed. The work is really about kids that look like us and I feel like there is a little more strength and appreciation for the fact that I’m not doing the work alone,” said Watson of the fellowship.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice congratulates Ricky on this great accomplishment.

To learn more about the fellowship, click here.

Objection Filed Against Unconstitutional Districts in New Legislative Redistricting Plan

GREENSBORO, N.C. – Plaintiffs in Covington v. North Carolina filed pleadings with North Carolina’s Middle District Court today, objecting to certain House and Senate districts recently adopted by the state legislature because they do not remedy all of the constitutional violations previously found by the court.  The objection also notes that the legislature unnecessarily redrew some legislative districts that were not found to be racial gerrymanders and did not touch any district that was found to be unconstitutional.  Altering those districts amounts to mid-decade redistricting, which is prohibited by Article II, Sections 3(4) and 5(4) of the North Carolina Constitution (See http://bit.ly/NCarolinaConstitution,p. 6).

“What we filed today is no different from what we told the General Assembly before they passed these new districts.  They failed to cure the illegal use of race in several areas of the state.  It is now the Court’s responsibility to fix the problem,” said Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Further, the legislature violated the North Carolina Constitution by redrawing districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties that should not have been touched.”

 

Racial gerrymanders were not cured in four districts

There are two Senate Districts and two House Districts in the newly drawn plan that do not remedy the racial gerrymanders previously found by the court: Senate Districts 21 and 28, and House Districts 21 and 57.  Not all districts with high black voting age populations are being challenged by the plaintiffs, though.  The objection points out:

Plaintiffs are not objecting to all of the redrawn districts that are close to or greater than 50% black in voting age population. … Plaintiffs’ objection to these four districts is not based solely on the racial composition of the districts but rather includes circumstantial evidence including the shapes of the districts and the populations contained within them.  While the implications of this data may be contested, the facts themselves, the compactness scores, the district lines and the census data, are not contested.  (Covington Objection, p. 20 – 21)

 

Five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg counties were unnecessarily redrawn

Aside from its failure to fully cure the racial gerrymanders, the General Assembly also exceeded the authority given to it by the court’s order by redrawing districts that should not have been touched. This violation of the state constitutional prohibition on mid-decade redistricting was found in Wake and Mecklenburg counties.  The objection points out that House Districts 36, 37, 40, and 41 in Wake County and House District 105 in Mecklenburg County should not have been redrawn during the redistricting process. (Covington Objection, p. 35-37)

As part of the legislative redistricting process, the Covington plaintiffs submitted a redistricting proposal that cured the racial gerrymandering violations and did not run afoul of the state constitution by redrawing districts that should have been left untouched. The General Assembly rejected those maps.

Given the unconstitutionality of the redistricting plan adopted by the General Assembly, the objection asks the court to order the state to conduct the 2018 state legislative elections using the recently enacted:

2017 Senate Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the 1) Guilford, 2) Mecklenburg and 3) Cumberland county groupings; and their 2017 House Districts with the Plaintiffs’ proposed districts in the following county groupings:  1) Guilford, 2) Wake, 3) Mecklenburg, 4) Rowan, Cabarrus, Stanly, and 5) Lee, Harnett, Johnston, Wayne, Greene, Sampson and Bladen. In the alternative, Plaintiffs request that the Court sustain their objections and order a special master to redraw the districts in these limited county groupings.  (Covington Objection, p. 43)

“We are asking the court to step up and do what the legislature has continually failed to do – give North Carolinians fair districts that do not discriminate or violate the state constitution,” Earls concluded.

All of the documents related to this filing can be found at http://www.southerncoalition.org/covingtonobjection/

###

Background about this case:On June 5, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court summarily affirmed a lower court’s decision in Covington v. North Carolina that 28 of North Carolina’s state legislative districts are racial gerrymanders.  The decision was issued “per curiam,” meaning by a unanimous decision of the Court. The ruling came two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court found two of the state’s congressional districts were also racial gerrymanders.

On July 31, 2017, North Carolina’s Middle District Court ordered the North Carolina General Assembly to redraw legislative maps by September 1, 2017 in order to remedy the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.  The legislature adopted new maps on August 30, 2017.

Plaintiffs were required to file any objections to the newly draw district plans by September 15, 2017.

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