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Alberta Currie

Alberta Currie

Meet Alberta Currie, the lead plaintiff in SCSJ’s litigation challenging North Carolina’s strict Voter ID requirement.

Voting is a matter of pride for Alberta Currie. Since the age of 21 in 1956, she consistently has voted in every election. It was her grandmother who instilled in her the importance of never missing a voting day. But due to a voter ID provision in the state’s new Monster Voter Suppression Law, she may not be able to cast a ballot on Election Day in the coming years.

Currie, a 78-year-old native of Robeson County who now lives in Hope Mills, does not have a photo ID and cannot obtain one in North Carolina without a birth certificate. She doesn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home to a midwife during the Jim Crow days of the segregated South.

On August 13, 2013, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court – with Currie as the lead plaintiff – challenging the new voter ID requirement of the law. The suit was filed on behalf of the N.C. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and several individual voters, including Alberta Currie.

After the case was combined with another case, North Carolina NAACP v. McCrory, arguments were made in federal court.  On July 29, 2016, the Fourth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals found that the law was not only unconstitutional but targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.” As a result of that ruling, the 2016 general election in North Carolina proceeded with two weeks of early voting, same-day voter registration, and no requirement for photo ID.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice supports the rights of all voters – particularly those like  Alberta Currie and an estimated 318,000 other North Carolinians – who may completely lose the ability to vote due to changes in voting laws. SCSJ is currently engaged in voting rights litigation in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Litigating the current onslaught of repressive voting laws requires a team of experts, extensive travel, filing fees, and numerous other expenses in addition to regular operating costs. Your donation continues the fight for the voting rights of people like Alberta Currie. Please consider making a recurring donation to help sustain our voting rights litigation year-roundClick here to support SCSJ’s work!

Post by SCSJ Deputy Director Shoshannah Sayers

What’s your passion?

In the coming weeks, SCSJ will introduce you to our Spring semester interns. Their internships are sponsored by a generous gift from the Troan Family Foundation. With diverse backgrounds and academic interests, we know that you’ll enjoy getting to know them. This first post is by Oprah Keyes, a Macro Social Work (MSW) student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Oprah

What’s Your Passion?

When you started telling people that you were planning on pursuing a career in social work, what kind of responses did you get? While hopefully a lot of people were excited for you, and the countless people that would one day benefit from your skill set, I am sure that many of you were also met with skepticism and doubt. Stereotypes of what it means to be a social worker, concerns about going to graduate school for a career that isn’t known for making a lot of money and facing additional student loan debt. What did you tell them? Why did you pick Social Work despite those comments? Why do you do what you do?

In the midst of a rough semester of courses, field hours, homework, extracurricular activities, and whatever else might be going on in your personal life, it is easy for those negative comments in the back of your mind to creep back up. In times like that, this is the question that I have to keep asking myself: Why am I here? Why do I do what I do?

BECAUSE youth of color deserve to know that higher education truly is for anyone…

BECAUSE actions speak louder than words…

BECAUSE the clients and systems I work with, deserve the best that I can give them…

BECAUSE if I don’t help improve the criminal justice system and the lives of justice-involved individuals, who will…

Having these conversations with myself, and with others, especially with like-minded individuals is what keeps me motivated. So, for those of you that find yourself in a similar situation: Why do you do what you do?

….

Keep doing what you’re doing. You can do it, it’s too important not to. Follow your passion.

Oprah 2

About Oprah Keyes

I am a Final Year MSW Student in the Macro (Community, Management and Policy Practice) Concentration. My social work areas of interests include Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and policy reform. I am originally from a small town in the Netherlands, but moved to Chapel Hill 5 years ago to pursue by Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. I’ve been around here ever since and North Carolina, as well as UNC Chapel Hill, hold a special place in my heart. When I am not at school, at field, at work, or volunteering, I am probably working out, at the grocery store or sleeping, but I also like to hang out with friends and listen to music.

Time to Act to end racial profiling in Durham

In the continuing community dialogue over allegations of racial profiling and police misconduct in Durham, last night’s meeting featured presentations by SCSJ’s Ian Manceand Daryl Atkinson.

Mance opened his presentation by providing an overview of DPD traffic stop data and the results of a multivariate analysis which showed race to be a statistically significant predictor of bad outcomes for black motorists pulled over for traffic infractions within city limits.  With respect to just about any metric one might choose to examine, the pattern was clear: at almost every juncture, Durham police treat black motorists more punitively and with greater suspicion than white motorists. The statistical evidence, drawn from reports the DPD submits monthly to the SBI pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 114-10.01, paints a picture of an institutionally racist pattern of policing. Among the many findings highlighted in the presentation was the fact that, despite accounting for just 17.4% of the city population, black men constitute nearly two-thirds (65.2%) of all persons searched during traffic stops.

Next, Mance invited three community members to the podium to share their experiences with police harassment. Audience members and Commissioners listened intently as the men provided multiple accounts of police misconduct towards black motorists. The months long series of FADE Coalition presentations to the HRC has been marked by a powerful blend of data regarding racial disparities in Durham PD vehicle searches and marijuana arrests, coupled with gut-wrenching stories of individuals who have come forward to share how these practices have impacted them personally.  This meeting was no exception.

Mance told the story of Mr. Keith Ragland, a native of Durham with a physical disability, who, while waiting in his car for his wife in front of a local restaurant, endured a harrowing incident with the police that culminated in six HEAT team members surrounding and searching him and his vehicle after he lawfully refused to give them permission to do so. One of five FADE recommendations would require the Durham Police Department to get written consent before searching a vehicle.

Mr. Reginald Woods, also African American, recounted an encounter with a Durham Police officer who ordered him to stay in his car as he was about to enter a convenience store, refused to tell him why, and then proceeded to physically assault and tase him as he attempted to get an explanation for his detention. The officer ultimately told him he was being questioned because he had just come from a known drug area. Mr. Woods was leaving the neighborhood near Duke hospital where he was visiting his grandmother.

Both men filed complaints with the Police Department which were sustained.  However, due to department policy, no information was ever released to the individuals or the public about how these officers were disciplined — if they were in fact disciplined at all.  This lack of transparency has sown mistrust in the community, particularly since some of the officers in question were subsequently observed engaging in the same kind of abusive behaviors. Further FADE recommendations to strengthen Civilian Oversight of the Police Department and mandate the review of officer stop data could help solve this problem.

The next and final FADE presentation to the HRC will be led by the Durham NAACP and will be held on Tuesday, January 28th at 6pm at City Hall. Spread the word and see you there!

Streaming Audio of Wednesday’s hearing is available below:

See media coverage of last night’s meeting:

ABC 11 coverage

Durham Herald Sun coverage

Post by SCSJ Macro Social Work Intern Meredith McMonigle

Possibilities vs. Obstacles—Ending Racial Profiling in Durham

The sixth and latest meeting examining racial profiling and police misconduct in Durham took place on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. SCSJ’s partner, SpiritHouse, led the meeting between the Durham FADE coalition and the Durham Human Relations Commisssion, which drew an incredibly large and diverse audience: over one hundred people attended and reflected a real cross section of the Durham community—elected officials, concerned mothers, news media, members of the faith community, service providers, young people and others. Conspicuously absent were any representatives of the Durham Police Department.

Chief Lopez, in a recent interview in the Independent said “I have yet to hear from someone about how angry they are about the things they’re reading in the papers.” Had he come to the meeting last night, he might feel otherwise.

The meeting began with a group of mothers sharing stories about disturbing experiences with law enforcement, painting a picture of a Durham where black children become suspects simply by their mere presence in the community. One mother described the catch 22 of telling children to turn off the TV and get outside only to have them harassed by the police as they walk down the street to a restaurant. Another mother recounted her experience living abroad and the bizarre realization that she and her family felt more safe and welcome in Romania than in Durham. According to these women, black mothers in our neighborhoods are more afraid of law enforcement than any other threat their kids may face.

A screening of the documentary film, The House I Live In, followed and set a larger, national context for the War on Drugs and how it is waged in communities across the United States. Next SCSJ’s Daryl Atkinson presented data on the racial disparities in marijuana arrests in Durham. At that point, you could almost hear the connecting of dots among audience members between the film and the reality on the ground in Durham, providing the spark that lit up the final Q&A portion of the meeting. There were many questions and concerns regarding how to operationalize one of FADE’s five recommendations—making marijuana a lowest level law enforcement priority. But City Council member Cora Cole-McFadden put a stop to all the doubters—asking Commissioners to think about the possibilities instead of the obstacles. Bring us ideas and options and bring them to us soon, the council member added.

SCSJ is set to lead the next HRC hearing on Wednesday, January 22nd at 6pm at City Hall. We hope to see you there! At that hearing, SCSJ attorney Ian A. Mance will present newly-available statistical evidence of racial profiling in the context of traffic stops.  He will respond to criticisms DPD leveled against the FADE Coalition in the department’s presentation to the HRC in December, and will also present individual accounts of profiling from directly-impacted members of the Durham community.  Following his presentation, our partners in the FADE Coalition will join him in presenting a series of policy proposals to end racial profiling and selective drug enforcement by Durham PD.

Post by Meredith McMonigle, SCSJ Macro Social Work Intern

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Read media coverage here:

http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/video?id=9393878

http://www.heraldsun.com/news/x402898320/Blacks-bear-brunt-of-marijuana-enforcement-group-says

 

 

 

 

Click here to support SCSJ’s work!

NC Redistricting Battle Moves to State Supreme Court

On Monday, January 6, 2014 the Southern Coalition for Social Justice will present oral arguments before the North Carolina Supreme Court, urging the court to find that the 2011 redistricting maps are unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

During the summer 2013 trial, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice represented several statewide nonpartisan groups seeking to overturn racially-packed voting districts in North Carolina in the consolidated cases Dickson v. Rucho and NAACP v. NC. On July 8, 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, a three-judge panel in North Carolina state court unanimously rejected all challenges to the 2011 redistricting plans for Congress, State House and State Senate. You can read the full lower Court Decision here.

SCSJ has argued that redistricting maps were racial gerrymanders, unfairly dividing the state into “black districts” and “white districts,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution.  In doing so, the ability of minority voters to participate equally in the political process was intentionally limited.

SCSJ also argued that the plans violated the North Carolina constitution’s demand for geographically compact districts.  The enacted plans contain districts that are grossly non-compact and split far more precincts than prior or alternative plans.

Post-election analysis conducted by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and presented at trial showed that the 2011 redistricting plan placed one in four North Carolina voters into “split precincts,” leading to widespread confusion about who would be on the voter’s ballot on Election Day and resulting in the actual disenfranchisement of thousands of voters. These districts also placed a difficult burden on elections officials, who often struggled to assign voters living in split precincts to the correct districts. Across the state, thousands of voters assigned to the wrong district received the wrong ballot on Election Day. Those living in minority communities were disproportionately affected by this error.

At the Supreme Court level, our arguments are augmented by three amicus briefs, two by prominent legal scholars and one by an enterprising law student. The amicus briefs, as well as our response brief and request for a temporary restraining order to keep the discriminatory districts from being used in 2014 elections, are available below.

Amicus Brief 1

Amicus Brief 2

Amicus Brief 3

Plaintiff-Appellants’ Reply Brief

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order

 

Facts and figures on incarceration in America

Facts and Figures on Incarceration in America (via Moyers & Company)

Over the last four decades, America’s prison population has increased dramatically. This tremendous growth disproportionately affects minorities, and has been exacerbated by the war on drugs. Mass incarceration has become a form of legalized discrimination…

Read more

FADE Coalition Responds to DPD Report

On Tuesday night, the Durham Human Relations Commission held its fourth in a series of special hearings to investigate allegations of racial profiling and selective enforcement by the Durham Police Department.  For the second month in a row, Durham Police Chief Lopez and his Deputy Chiefs had the floor for the entire evening. They used their time to present the commission with an array of information, detailing arrest stats, suspect descriptions, and departmental hiring practices—much of it entirely irrelevant to the issues that prompted the Mayor to call for the hearings to begin with.HRC hearing #4What was more notable is what the police again did not address—namely, the shocking racial disparities in traffic and drug enforcement statistics that have been highlighted in recent months by the FADE Coalition, a community group of which SCSJ has been a part.  On October 17, 2013, FADE Coalition issued a letter to the commission that drew attention to these highly racialized outcomes and made a series of policy recommendations aimed at reducing racial disparities in traffic and drug enforcement.  The department responded to FADE’s 8-page letter with a rambling 82-page report that failed to substantively address most of the issues raised by the coalition and largely sought to undermine the credibility of the data collection statute itself.  FADE, in turn, sought but was denied an opportunity to respond publicly to the department’s report at the fourth special hearing on profiling.

As a result of Chairman Ricky Hart’s decision to close the meeting to public comment, FADE Coalition issued a rebuttal of its ownto the department in the hours preceding Tuesday’s hearing.  The public letter, which was distributed to the Mayor, City Manager, City Council, HRC, and the media, also took the commission to task for failing to give adequate time to community members whose concerns had prompted the Mayor to call for the hearings in the first place.  To his credit, Mr. Hart appeared to take these concerns to heart.   At the conclusion of the department’s presentation, the Chairman called representatives of FADE, SCSJ, and the Durham NAACP to the podium and informed them that each group would be given two hours to present their perspective at the fifth, sixth, and seventh hearings, to be held on successive Tuesdays starting in January.

SCSJ will make good use of its time and will continue its work with our community partners to shine a light on the department’s unacceptable enforcement strategies, which unfairly burden communities of color and have resulted in the unwarranted search and seizure of thousands of innocent black motorists on Durham streets.  Stay tuned.