by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
Essay of the Week It took 70 years to overturn Korematsu. We can’t wait that long to right today’s wrongs.
The following essay was written by Karen Korematsu, the founder and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute.
Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations to Japanese Americans incarcerated during the hysteria of World War II. My father, Fred Korematsu, was one of the nearly 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent who was displaced and incarcerated in prison camps. He fought against the unjust and unconstitutional imprisonment, for redress and reparations after losing his case, and to prevent future injustices from reoccurring.
The 1944 Supreme Court ruling in my father’s case, Korematsu v. United States was wrong the day it was decided. Since then, it’s been a long, arduous journey to overturning Korematsu earlier this year.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the redress and reparations movement had taken root. Community members told their stories of displacement, incarceration, and rejected the government’s false narrative of “military necessity.” In 1983, secret WWII intelligence reports and Justice Department memos stating Japanese Americans had committed no wrong and posed no threat to our national security were discovered. These reports were suppressed, altered, destroyed, and never presented before the Court.
With the new evidence, Federal District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel granted the writ of coram nobis in the case of my father and overturned his WWII-era criminal convictions related to the incarceration. In her ruling, Judge Patel wrote “In times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”
The deep-seated racial animus that justified incarceration was finally exposed and rejected. The voices of Japanese Americans was seared in the public consciousness and could not be ignored. Congress listened. Even the President of the United States listened.
All this time, however, since 1944, my father’s Supreme Court case was still good law. Americans could be incarcerated simply because of who they were, and this was constitutional. Last month, Justice Roberts in Court’s majority decision in Muslim Travel Ban case Trump v. Hawaii declared “Korematsu was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history, and -- to be clear -- has no place in law under the Constitution.”
I was shocked when I heard that my father’s case was overturned. As I read the actual decision, the Court repudiated Korematsu, but at the same time it justified the Muslim Travel Ban. The Court exchanged one bad decision for another. My shock turned to outrage.
We can’t wait decades again for these wrongs to be fixed again. We fought so hard when we passed the the Civil Liberties Act. We can do it again because we remember the lessons of history. Justice is in our DNA.
Together, we can fortify our civil and human rights. We can safeguard our democracy. We can protect our families from separation. We can be the beacon of hope for the world again. We will always, as my father said, “Stand up for what’s right.”
Essay published by California ChangeLawyers on Medium >
Speaking of… Men of color paid the price for the war on drug. It’s time for reparations.
The following editorial was written by Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, the founder and CEO of Lantigua Williams & Co., a podcast network whose productions include Latina to Latina, Shot Caller and 70 Million, an open-source show debuting today to chronicle jail reform at the local level.
I was raised in the South Bronx in the late 1980s and ’90s. I came of age and into my consciousness while a generation of men of color were herded into the criminal justice system under the rigid, unyielding habitual offender laws — three-strikes laws — for nonviolent drug-related offenses.
As shown in decades of analyses, the legacy of that policy that swept neighborhoods and entire cities clean of young men has been families broken apart, household incomes systematically gutted and swaths of urban spaces left vulnerable and bereft.
To me and other kids in neighborhoods like mine, the national dragnet on black and brown men and boys manifested itself daily: An older brother no longer there to walk one of our classmates to school because he was at Rikers awaiting trial. A neighbor child stuck alone in her apartment while her mom worked the night shift because her father had “gone upstate,” the common euphemism for someone sent to a state prison near the border with Canada. For us in the Bronx, it might as well have been Siberia.
In my Bronx neighborhood, after fathers went upstate, mothers often had to work two jobs to keep families afloat, even in rent-controlled apartments. Or they had to do the unthinkable and apply for Section 8 and welfare to help care for an infant.
And all of this for what?
Warehousing these men did not end drug trafficking. Jailing them did not make neighborhoods safer. Disappearing them did not keep rich white suburban kids from overdosing, a problem that has grown demonstrably worse with the opioid crisis.
The only way for states and the federal government to atone and begin to undo the damage is to commute their sentences, reverse their convictions, and pay these men reparations.
That means material reparations, not just symbolic amends. An official apology would be a good start. More tangible actions include erasing their records, as well as the creation of a dedicated services department similar to the Veterans Administration that can offer job placement help, mental health options, housing assistance, educational pathways and reintegration support for those who were excessively charged and over-incarcerated.
Mine is not a radical stance. It is one built over years of reporting on this lost generation of black and brown men who paid such a high price for supplying what the recreational drug market demanded: cocaine and weed. Today there’s a booming economy enriching white weedpreneurs ready to invest as states decriminalize marijuana. The injustice of this is transcendent, but that is not something we can ever change. So let’s push for states and the government to take bold and necessary action in helping these men become full citizens again.
Story by the Marshall Project >
More of This Trans activist block streets to protest ICE
On Monday morning in Albuquerque, the streets were loud with honking car horns and chants of “shut it down!” as activists blocked an intersection outside of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse, as part of a protest against the ICE detention of transgender immigrants.
The protest, led by transgender advocacy groups, was organized in part to highlight the death of 33-year-old Honduran migrant Roxsana Hernandez, who died in ICE custody this May while in detention at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico. Hernandez passed away from complications associated with HIV, after crossing over 2,000 miles into the U.S. as part of a controversial refugee caravan repeatedly slammed by President Trump; advocates questioned why she wasn’t receiving life-saving medical treatment while in detention.
Monday’s march to the courthouse followed a panel discussion featuring speakers from the Transgender Law Center, the Black LGBTQ+ Migrant Project, Albuquerque Queer Resistance Collective, Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico, and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.
“I’m taking action this morning because there are transgender women in detention who fled violence from their countries only to face more horrific and deadly abuse in the U.S.,” says Cecilia Chung of the Transgender Law Center (TLC). Chung, a former member of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, directs the TLC’s Positively Trans project, which engages in research, policy advocacy, and legal advocacy for HIV-positive transgender people. She was among the activists blocking the Albuquerque street on Monday.
“For trans women living with HIV, being detained without our life-saving medications is akin to a death sentence,” Chung says. “Today, I remember Roxsana Hernandez as I call on our allies in HIV/AIDS advocacy to join the fight for transgender migrants. Our lives depend on it.”
In late July, the ACLU was able to secure the release of 14 transgender women from Cibola. And protests from LGBTQ+ and immigrant rights advocates resulted in the May 2017 closure of what used to be a trans pod at the Santa Ana City Jail in California.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there were roughly 300 self-identified trans immigrants held in ICE custody in 2017, data given to the advocacy group by the Department of Homeland Security.
Beyond the release of transgender detainees, Monday’s protest also lobbied for the release of all asylum seekers from LGBTQ+ backgrounds.
Jordan T. Garcia of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement says that LGBTQ+ immigrants of color are often left behind by the larger protest movement currently targeting ICE and the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Garcia was also at the protest in New Mexico Monday.
“The movement for immigrant justice is powerful. It’s time for that movement to throw its weight behind Black LGBT immigrants and engage in solidarity by uplifting their stories and their leadership,” says Garcia. “Immigrant detention is inhumane, and we must abolish ICE, prisons, and all systems that cage Black and brown people.”
Story by Them >
Less of This The thousands of children go to immigration court alone
A few times a month, San Francisco's immigration court becomes a day-care center of sorts. Toys, stuffed animals, and coloring books decorate the waiting room. Children as young as four years old have come here not to play, but to stand in front of an immigration judge and defend themselves against deportation.
When I visited the court one afternoon this past March, about 20 kids had formed a single-file line as they waited to go through security. Wide-eyed boys in t-shirts and jeans cracked their knuckles. Many had never been to a courtroom before.
“It looks almost like you're going into a pediatrician's office,” said Katie Annand, the managing attorney with Kids in Need of Defense (kind), an organization that helps immigrant children find attorneys. “There are children lining the benches of the courtroom. Many of them ... have no one to represent them.”
Immigration courts are classified as civil courts, which means that unaccompanied children aren’t guaranteed a right to a government-appointed attorney the way they would be in a criminal court. Instead, if they want legal help, they have to find—and, usually, pay for—an attorney themselves.
Having an attorney makes a huge difference: As of 2014, more than 80 percent of children who showed up to court unrepresented were deported, according to Syracuse University’s trac Immigration database. For children who appeared in court with legal representation, only 12 percent were deported.
“We’ve seen children from the Central Valley who have been to court four or five times without an attorney,” Annand said. “They’ve had to pay $200 each time to get a ride up here for court, so they are coming up to court just to say ‘I don’t have an attorney.’”
In an October 2017 letter to Congress, President Trump sought to restrict the special legal protections for children, which he called “loopholes.” “Loopholes in current law prevent ‘Unaccompanied Alien Children’ (UACs) that arrive in the country illegally from being removed,” the letter read. “Rather than being deported, they are instead sheltered by the Department of Health and Human Services at taxpayer expense.”
Immigration advocates argue that tighter measures may target children who are fleeing abuse or abandonment. “The so-called loopholes … are in fact forms of protection that ensure we do not return unaccompanied children to grave danger,” said Megan McKenna, the director of communications at kind.
Up until two years ago, there were no free legal-service providers for unaccompanied children based in the Fresno area. Kids In Need of Defense opened a Fresno branch two years ago to provide pro bono legal services for immigrant children in that area. kind is currently the only free legal-service provider specifically for unaccompanied minors in the city of Fresno.
Back inside the courtroom in San Francisco, judges and lawyers are trying to do as much as they can to help the children who show up unrepresented. Sometimes Marks, the San Francisco judge, takes off her judicial robe to make them feel comfortable. For kids who come to court alone and are scared, she compares the process to school: There will be some teaching, some questions, and some homework. “I try to put it in the context of something that would be more familiar and hopefully less frightening,” she said. “If we want individuals coming to the United States to believe that American democracy is the best, that the American legal system is one that should be emulated ... we have to walk the walk,” Marks said.
“We know that we will see kids going through this process on their own. Especially for children whose parents have been removed from the country,” said Annand. The need for attorneys already was high, she said. Now, “there's even more of a need.”
Story by the Atlantic >
Even Less of This Fresno’s criminal justice system is broken
A jacket with a police badge sewn onto its shoulder hangs in the the office of Fresno City Councilman Oliver Baines III. He had served on the city’s police force for about a decade before he was elected to public office.
“I got pulled over last night,” he said. He recounted the previous night’s incident, which occurred as he drove to his home in southwest Fresno. The officer who stopped him told him he was speeding, but Baines knew he wasn’t and said so. The officer told him that it seemed like he was speeding, before adding that Baines’s license plate was similar to the plate of a recently stolen vehicle. After looking over his driver’s license, the officer let Baines go.
“So, just like that. No real reason whatsoever,” Baines said.
“The justice system is not set up to treat people equally. That's true across the country.”
In Fresno’s justice system, from its police department, to its schools, to its jail, unequal treatment is the norm. The analysis of Fresno police traffic stop data reveals that officers search black drivers at a rate two-and-a-half times that of white drivers and arrest black drivers twice as often. Of the 4,800 cars that Fresno police searched in 2016, a quarter belonged to black drivers, yet black drivers make up just 8 percent of the city’s driving age population.
Police Chief Jerry Dyer acknowledged his officers may have biases, but said the real reason for the disproportionate numbers is gang violence in southwest Fresno.
In a recent report, the ACLU found that, between 2011 and 2016, 22 percent of the people Fresno police officers shot or shot at were black—nearly triple the black share of the population.
At the end of our conversation, Dyer pointed to a printout he brought with him, a list of the department’s “most wanted” people. “We can’t plug in a bunch of white guys,” he said. “You know who’s shooting black people? Black people. It’s black-on-black crime.”
But so-called “black-on-black crime” as an explanation for heightened policing of black communities has been widely debunked. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Justice found that, overwhelmingly, violent crimes are committed by people who are the same race as their victims. “Black-on-black” crime rates, the study found, are comparable to “white-on-white” crime rates.
Four years before that report, two of the department’s highest ranking officers, deputy chiefs Robert Nevarez and Sharon Shaffer, filed a lawsuit against Dyer and the city, alleging “continual and repeated” harassment and discrimination. The deputies accused Dyer of making derogatory and racist comments, such as singing the “antebellum slave song ‘Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin bread’” when referring to African Americans, saying “You know brothers can’t resist watermelons,” and referring to a Japanese coworker as his “little Geisha Girl.”
Dyer’s influence extends to the city’s schools, where black students are punished at a much higher rate than their peers. An analysis of student resource officers’ arrests and citations during the 2015-16 school year shows that even though black students made up just 10 percent of the schools’ population that year, they accounted for nearly 30 percent of resource officers’ arrests and citations.
Fresno Unified suspended and expelled more black students last year than any other large school district — even Los Angeles Unified, which has more than 8 times the number of black students enrolled in its schools.
“I don't have an answer as to why the numbers don't match up with the population,” said Steve Wright, a Fresno County assistant district attorney.
Though county officials don’t seem to have the answers, many criminal justice reform advocates believe money bail contributes to the disproportionate number of black Fresno residents sitting in its jail. “It is very hard for people who are justice system-involved to get out and move on with their lives and be productive citizens,” said Lisa Foster, a retired California Superior Court judge. “The impact on the community is enormous. It exacerbates poverty. It is keeping places like Fresno poor.”
It’s a system that politicians, community leaders, law enforcement officials, and residents might all describe differently. Depending on their race, depending on their income, depending on their neighborhood. Depending on which Fresno they live in.
Story by the Atlantic >
#ChangeLawyers A new generation of lawyers turns to activism
To train a new generation of lawyers to fight for the rights of immigrants after the 2016 elections, Claire Thomas started an asylum clinic at the New York City law school where she taught.
In Seattle, Michelle Mentzer retired five years early as an administrative law judge so she could volunteer as an attorney with the ACLU.
And in Texas, Anna Castro traded her full-time job for contract work so she could prepare to attend law school to better serve her community.
The country is seeing a wave of legal activism as attorneys and attorneys-to-be have risen to defend civil liberties from the policies of the Trump administration and an increasingly conservative judiciary.
“Sometimes the law is taken for granted, like the air we breathe, and it’s not until we are gasping for breath that we can appreciate it,” said Kellye Testy, president of the Law School Admissions Council. Testy had served for 13 years as law school dean at Seattle University and the University of Washington in Seattle. “It is the lawyers who are there defending liberty and there when nothing else is going to help.”
And a new generation of social justice lawyers has apparently been inspired.
It’s why Castro made the decision last year to step away from her full-time job to pursue a career in law. She had been working as communications director with Mi Familia Vota, a civic engagement organization, leading up to and after the 2016 election. As Trump’s policies have unfolded, she said, she wanted to explore other ways to effect the changes she knew would be needed in this country.
For her, this is also personal. Castro’s uncle, who like her parents came to the U.S. from El Salvador, was detained and died after being deported last year. “I believe that we need more movement lawyers who understand the power of organizing and how clunky the law can be as a tool without popular education, in order to change the course the country is in now,” she said.
Lawyers were the backbone of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, defying herculean obstacles to register voters; defending and seeking justice for those falsely accused, and standing alongside crusaders and activists as they protested in the struggle for social justice.
Lawyers partnered with labor to help improve conditions for American workers, and female lawyers led the progress on gender equality, including some who were denied admission to law school based on gender.
Legal activism gained momentum in January 2017 when armies of lawyers showed up at airports after Trump’s Muslim travel ban stranded thousands of people around the world.
An adjunct professor at New York Law School, Claire Thomas is training the next generation to practice immigration law—but in a holistic way, she said. She recalled the day after the election when teary-eyed students, many of them immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ, spoke about the fear of seeing their rights and that of their families weakened under Trump.
Right away, Thomas began hatching a plan for a clinic to train these students to become immigration lawyers. “My goal was that law students wouldn’t have any type of lifesaver complex, but would appreciate that clients’ lives are complex; and that while we are going to do everything we can for them as lawyers, we are also going to work with social workers and others who can help get them on a path to permanency and stability here in the United States.”
Her inaugural class was full.
Story by Yes Magazine >
Podcast of the Week The faces of mass incarceration
Often, when people talk about the criminal justice system, they talk in big numbers— the millions of people serving time, the billions of dollars mass incarceration costs each year, the hundreds of thousands in jail at any given moment. But talking in big numbers sometimes obscures the fact that we’re discussing real people on this show—human beings, not statistics. On this episode, we discuss who these people really are and how this system affects not only their lives but the lives of their friends and family, particularly their partners and children. In particular, we explore look at how mass incarceration hurts women with loved ones involved in the system.
Our guest this episode is Gina Clayton, the Executive Director of Essie Justice Group, who joins us to discuss the phenomenal
Free Event Equity Summit at Zynga
Featuring Contra Costa DA Diana Becton!
Equity Summit 2018 is an intimate discussion that brings together current and former DAs, criminal justice reformers, and community activists to discuss ways to promote racial equity in the criminal justice system.
Tuesday, September 11. RSVP here >
Free Event Law School Admission Conference hosted by For People of Color
This free event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Panels consisting of law students and lawyers will share their pathways to law school and the legal profession and answer questions.
Sunday, September 22. RSVP here >
Free Event Funders' Learning Lab for Detained & Removal Defense
What happens after ICE picks up an immigrant? How will the case differ if she is released or remains in detention throughout her removal process? Join this two-part learning lab to gain a better understanding of the immigrant’s journey through apprehension, processing, and detention during the removal process. Hosted by GCIR & Google.
Wednesday, September 12. RSVP here >
Fellowship Opportunity Butler Koshland Fellowships seeking an immigrant rights fellow
The Fellow will do important work to protect the rights of immigrant students, especially those eligible for the DACA program, while also learning about what it takes to lead a nonprofit organization.
Learn more and Apply >
Event Scholarships for Justice presented by California ChangeLawyers
Featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund founding member Nina Shaw.
October 4 at 5:00 PM. RSVP here >
Join our Board! Open positions on California ChangeLawyer’s board of directors
Ideal candidates will be attorneys, judges, or members of the public with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to building a better justice system for all Californians.
Learn more and Apply >