Racial justice

  • February 12, 2016
    Guest Post

    by J. Mijin Cha, independent policy researcher and analyst; fellow, Cornell University Worker Institute; adjunct professor, Fordham University School of Law

    As the crisis in Flint, Mich., further unfolds, the depths to which officials ignored warning signs and allowed the city’s residents to drink poisoned water are astonishing. Recently released emails show local and state officials knew what was happening much sooner than they let on and were more concerned with shifting blame than fixing the problem. As a result, months went by without residents knowing they were exposed to lead, a toxin that has no safe level of exposure and causes severe developmental and physical disabilities.

    The majority of Flint residents are African American, and nearly 42 percent live in poverty. In contrast, just 14 percent of all residents in Michigan are African American, and the state’s poverty rate is less than half that of Flint. For decades, Flint residents have been exposed to a disproportionate amount of environmental pollution, so much so that residents have filed complaints with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the amount of pollution they are forced to bear violates their civil rights. The demographics of Flint combined with the city’s disproportionate environmental burden make it a classic case of environmental racism.

    Environmental racism is the disproportionate placing of hazardous waste and polluting industries near communities of color. In addition to several previous studies that found race was the number one factor in the siting of commercial hazardous waste facilities, new research found that communities of color and low-income communities are deliberately targeted for hazardous waste siting. Led by researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Montana, this study is the first national-level environmental justice study to conduct longitudinal analyses using distance-based methods. The results of the study confirm that race and class determine the siting of hazardous waste sites.

    The residents of Flint are all too familiar with the role that race and class play in locating polluting industries. There are at least 227 environmentally noxious facilities throughout the community. Residents have been fighting against these facilities with little success for decades. In 1994, advocates in Flint filed a Title VI administrative complaint with the EPA against a nearby power plant in Genesee. The EPA, like every federal agency, must abide by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and ensure that recipients of federal aid do not discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin.

  • February 12, 2016

    by Nanya Springer 

    The IRS awarded Karl Rove’s “social welfare” group, Crossroads GPS, tax-exempt status Tuesday, reports Justin Miller at The American Prospect. Groups like Rove’s exploit “the lack of enforcement from the IRS and the Federal Election Commission to give cover to high-dollar donors who want to remain anonymous,” he says.

    Also in The American Prospect, Eliza Newlin Carney investigates the pitfalls of giving political parties the same freedom to raise unrestricted, high-dollar contributions that super PACs and other outside groups currently enjoy.

    In The Atlantic, J. Weston Phippen reports that Officer Peter Liang has been found guilty of manslaughter and official misconduct by a New York jury for the shooting death of Akai Gurley.

    Sara Sternberg Greene at The Marshall Project discusses her forthcoming study that examines why low-income individuals–and low-income African Americans in particular‒mistrust the civil justice system, and the consequences of that mistrust.

    Laura McKenna examines Ill. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal for a state takeover of Chicago’s struggling public school system in The Atlantic.

  • February 12, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Natalia Nazarewicz, Class of 2018, Yale Law School

    “If Flint were rich and mostly white, would Michigan’s state government have responded more quickly and aggressively to complaints about its lead-polluted water?” (New York Times)

    “Was the city neglected because it is mostly black and about 40 percent poor?” (CNN)

    On February 4, the Yale Law School chapter of ACS, in partnership with the Black Law Students Association and the Yale Environmental Law Association, hosted a dinner discussion, “The Flint Water Crisis and Environmental Racism,” to examine the events in Flint, Mich., from a critical race theory perspective. Forty students from the law school, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and School of Public Health took part in the conversation.

    Visiting Professor Khiara M. Bridges moderating a discussion on the Flint water crisis and environmental racism

    Visiting Professor Khiara M. Bridges launched a lively, hour-long discussion by putting the Flint water crisis in context: Activists and academics have been aware of a relationship between race, income and risk of exposure to pollutants since the 1970s, and even the Reagan administration knew that environmental hazard sites were predominantly located in nonwhite neighborhoods. Although the link between environmental hazards and race persists even when controlling for poverty, politicians have been loath to acknowledge race as a factor.

    The crisis in Flint happening now is neither new nor unique, Bridges noted. The residents of Chester, Pa., a small city with a low-income African American population, have been in litigation since the 1990s to stop the proliferation of waste treatment plants and other industrial hazards that process toxins from the surrounding, more affluent and white communities. And on the global scale, corporations seeking to avoid U.S. environmental regulations regularly send waste to other countries—largely poor and nonwhite—causing significant health effects and environmental degradation. Looking at such environmental injustice through a critical race theory lens is helpful, Bridges said, as it helps explain how we arrived at a certain point and helps inform our responses to it.

    A number of students highlighted the link between lead exposure in utero or during childhood and subsequent learning disabilities and behavioral problems, concerned that African American children, who already face stereotypes in school as “difficult,” could be hampered for decades through their exposure to Flint’s water. “We need to acknowledge the behavioral and mental effects of lead on the children of Flint as a population-wide structural problem,” Bridges noted, “without individualizing the ‘bad behavior’ onto specific children.”

    Lead poisoning is long-lasting and irreversible, and the effects could be felt in Flint for decades. “This goes beyond the school-to-prison pipeline,” remarked Shannon Prince, JD ’17. “This is like a placenta-to-prison pipeline.”

  • February 1, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Juan Perea, professor of law, Loyola University Chicago School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSBlog's Symposium Recognizing Black History Month.

    Most contemporary historians conclude that the American Constitution is a proslavery document. When I speak with historians about teaching constitutional law, often they are shocked that law professors typically do not teach the Constitution as proslavery. I think the general failure to teach the Constitution as a proslavery document does a major disservice both to students and to society.

    So what do I mean when I label the Constitution “proslavery?” I mean that the Constitution protected slavery and promoted slave ownership. The Constitution’s text contains several proslavery clauses. The Apportionment Clause, Article I, Section 2, added three-fifths of “all other Persons” ‒ slaves ‒ to the number of free inhabitants of a state for purposes of representation. This clause, by boosting the number of representatives in Congress for the slave states, guaranteed political protection for slavery. The same three-fifths ratio boosted the representation of slave states in the Electoral College during presidential elections. The slave import limitation, Article I, Section 9, prohibited Congress from regulating the international slave trade until 1808, 21 years after ratification of the Constitution. Not only was Congress forbidden from regulating the transoceanic slave trade, but Article V of the Constitution explicitly forbids amending the slave import limitation, one of only two such forbidden matters in the whole document. Lastly, the Fugitive Slave Clause, Article IV, Section 2, guaranteed nationally, for the first time, the right of slave owners to pursue and reclaim their slaves anywhere throughout the land.

    The Constitution thus protected slavery by increasing political representation for slave owners and slave states; by limiting, stringently though temporarily, congressional power to regulate the international slave trade; and by protecting the rights of slave owners to recapture their escaped slaves. The Constitution also promoted slave ownership by promising increased political representation while keeping unregulated the flow of slaves through the international slave trade for 21 years. Pretty significant protections, don’t you think?

    At this point one might ask, didn’t Reconstruction abolish slavery and require equal protection of the laws? Yes, the Reconstruction amendments did accomplish these things. However, the formal abolition of slavery only changed the rules of play, not the game of white domination itself. Slave codes became black codes, which became Jim Crow laws, which became race-neutral laws with outsized, unfair disparate impacts on people of color. Formal equal protection has yielded, in the main, only ostensibly race-neutral laws with heavily disparate racial impacts.

  • November 16, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Noah Zatz, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    *This post is part of ACSblog’s Symposium on Labor and Economic Inequality.

    Three vibrant movements of our time are Black Lives Matter, theDREAMers, and Fight for $15. For many progressives, only the last may seem directed at our topic of work and inequality. That intuition is wrong. Legalized state violence – incarceration, deportation, even killing – can and does depress labor standards and enable workplace exploitation (and vice versa).

    We too often separate struggles against racialized state violence from those challenging economic inequality. The former seem to be about the public exercises of government power, while the latter seem to be about private exercises of corporate power. This is both an analytical error and a missed political opportunity.

    Think of criminal justice, immigration, and labor as three points of a triangle. Activists and academics increasingly link mass incarceration and mass deportation, especially as immigration enforcement is criminalized. Likewise, the government’s threat to detain and deport has been linked to employer power. Guest workers face deportation if they exercise the most basic labor right, the right to quit, and undocumented workers labor under employer threats to call in immigration enforcement. Employers use this power to disrupt organizing, degrade working conditions, and depress wages.

    An incarceration-labor connection parallels this immigration-labor connection. This connection mirrors the thoroughly racialized ways that immigration policy produces workplace disadvantage. That historical pattern continues today as Latina/os and others treated as presumptively “foreign” face profiling by employers and government authorities. Similarly, racism has long structured criminal justice in the U.S. From defining what is a crime to the notorious cocaine sentencing disparities, from the frequency of police stops to searches to uses of force, the criminal justice system casts an especially dark shadow over communities of color, and not by coincidence.