Equality and Liberty

  • August 21, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Atiba R. Ellis, West Virginia University College of Law, (@atibaellis)

    In a previous post, I discussed the triumph of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage sounded the death knell of legalized white supremacy and promised an era of equal opportunity.  With the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent civil unrest and siege policing in Ferguson, Mo., we must recognize another reoccurrence reminiscent of fifty years ago -- protest and in response to enduring racial subjugation. 

    The Ferguson situation is about the unjustified death of a Black youth (and the fact that this happens all too often in America). This happened in the context of the reality of structural inequality in America that civil rights policy has failed to address. As I argued in that earlier post, formal equality does not go far enough to remedy the enduring legacies of white supremacy, legacies that keep repeating themselves in police violence, political underrepresentation, and minority economic stagnation. It fosters a de facto second-class society for people of color without the economic wherewithal to navigate the system. 

    This structural reality exists and replicates notwithstanding the good intentions of the law or of people who rely on formal equality as remedy. Daria Roithmayr, Ian Haney Lopez, and Michelle Alexander have provided lucid scholarly explanations of different facets of 21st century racism.  The situation in Ferguson illustrates this reality in a number of ways.

    First, the shooting of Michael Brown offers a view on the reality of the enduring abuse that people of color suffer at the hands of the police. The problems of racial profiling, the use of excessive force by police departments, and the violence suffered by Black men and boys in particular has been well documented.  To take just one source: the ACLU has written numerous accounts about racial profiling in the United States. What their work makes clear is that the police disproportionately target minorities, and particularly minority youth because of their race.  And as a recent post on their blog has made clear, such profiling, and the tragic deaths that accompany it, are all too common in the United States.  And for those minority youth that survive these encounters, they are disproportionately incarcerated. The Sentencing Project has documented not only the 500 percent increase in incarceration rates in U.S. prisons generally over the last century, but the fact that a Black male under 35 has a 1 in 10 chance of being incarcerated.

    Second, as others have noted, Ferguson is two-thirds Black and one-third white, yet its mayor and five of the six members of its city council are white. And the overwhelming majority of its police force is white. And, as The New York Times has reported, this segregated power structure is the product of a long history of racial tension. The patterns of overzealous policing and unrepresentative governance make clear that the authorities in Ferguson are out of touch with the interests of the majority of people in Ferguson. This suggests a failure of competitive politics and a resistance of the government in Ferguson to hear the interests of its people. (Even when activists in Ferguson have sought to register people to vote – presumably to encourage people to use the democratic process rather than self-help violence – this too becomes highly contested.)

  • August 21, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    ACS Board of Directors member Linda Greenhouse writes in The New York Times on the debate over whether Halbig should have a rehearing  en banc.

    In Politico, Lee Rowland discusses, in light of the situation in Ferguson, the importance of the First Amendment in fighting against injustice.

    ACS Bay Area Lawyer Chapter Board of Advisors member John Burris speaks on PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton about the legal issues surrounding the Michael Brown investigation.

    NPR’s Audie Cornish and Nina Totenberg report on the Supreme Court’s decision to put a hold on same-sex marriage licenses in Virginia.

    Garrett Epps writes in The Atlantic that Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Windsor may have paved the way for same-sex marriage victories and tarnished his status as a conservative hero.  

  • August 20, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    At the Text & History Blog, Brianne Gorod argues that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit should rehear the Halbig case en banc.

    Connor Fridersdorf writes in The Atlantic that when criminal investigations begin in Ferguson, authorities must carefully consider how to treat the actions of law enforcement officers.

    Vox’s Amanda Taub questions whether a grand jury hearing on the shooting of Michael Brown is a delaying tactic.

    Julia Preston of The New York Times reports on immigrant rights movement leaders seeking to delay the deportations of millions.

    In The Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel argues that a fairer system for choosing House members is necessary in light of frequent gerrymandering.

    Lauren C. Williams of Think Progress asserts that placing body cameras on police will not significantly improve the problem of police abuse.  

  • August 19, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic provides historical perspective on the relationship between African Americans and the police.

    The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund reports that thirteen civil rights groups have issued a call for action and reforms in response to Ferguson.

    Max Fischer writes for Vox on police treatment of journalists in Ferguson, where the ACLU has already sued the city to stop harassing reporters and won.

    The Economist compares the likelihood of being shot by police in the United States to that in other countries, “adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans.”

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times advocates for President Obama to more forcefully use his clemency power.  

  • August 15, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) argues in The Guardian that the United States needs to get weapons of war out of middle America.

    Amanda Taub of Vox explains why America’s police force resembles “invading armies” and why the trend is dangerous.

    The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak reports on how the events of Ferguson, Mo. resonate with black residents of Washington, D.C.

    Blair L.M. Kelley of The Root discusses the similarities between Dred Scott and the shooting of Michael Brown.

    In Salon, Chauncey Devega explains how white supremacy in the United States led to the death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.