In the November election, Alabama became the last state in the union to formally lift its ban on interracial marriage, a law that has been unenforceable since 1967. There are an estimated 1,600 interracial couples on Alabama, and the state is 26 percent black. Amendment 2, as the proposal to lift the ban was known, passed by a 60-40 percent vote, indicating that many Alabama residents, perhaps a majority of whites, favor keeping the ban. The only organized opposition to removing the ban came from the Southern Party of Alabama, a new political party founded in 1999 to establish the South as an independent nation, separate from the United States. Alabama was close behind South Carolina, who removed anti-miscegenation language from their state constitution in 1998.
Race of Education
In May of 2000 the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights law groups filed a law suit against the state of California for violating its constitutional obligation to provide the bare essentials necessary for educating students of color in the public school system. The class-action law suit charges the state with such offenses as lack of or outdated text books, vermin infested schools, unaccredited teachers, no nurses or guidance counselors, lack of heating and cooling systems in the schools, and massive overcrowding, among others. The law suit targets 18 school districts across the state, alleging that these offenses occur overwhelmingly in districts where the majority of students are of color, limited or non-English speaking, and poor.
In an unprecedented move, this December the state decided to sue the 18 school districts named in the ACLU’s case. Civil rights attorneys see the state’s suit as a case of passing the buck. The ACLU argues that a judge has already ruled that the districts are agents of the state, and it is the state that has the ultimate responsibility to educate students. In February 2001, the ACLU will ask the judge to expand the scope of its suit to cover the state’s 1,100 school districts and their 5.8 million students.
Driving While Black or Brown
After several years of data collection and hundreds of people of color being stopped, harassed or shot by the police, the state of New Jersey finally admitted they systematically practiced racial profiling. Current estimates indicate that as many as 180 pending cases will be reviewed by the state Attorney General to determine if racial profiling was integral to the initial search or arrest.
Although the current focus is on New Jersey, many state officials say the federal government wrote the book on racial profiling as part of its phony “war on drugs.” The recent release of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) training materials indicates that the federal agency taught local law enforcement to look for specific racial and ethnic groups as the most common example of drug traffickers. A recent DEA report says to look out for, “Colombians, Dominicans, Chinese, West Africans/Nigerians, Pakistanis, Hispanics and Indians, Puerto Ricans, and African-Americans.”
North Carolina became the first state to pass Driving While Black legislation in 1999. In addition to the race and ethnicity of persons stopped for traffic violations, the legislation also calls for tracking the age and gender of the person, whether or not a search took place, and if the officer engaged in the use of force. Attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to pass similar legislation elsewhere across the country have met with resistance both from law enforcement and state officials. As it stands, it might not be a crime to drive while black, but neither is pulling someone over for it.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs Gutted
November elections in Hawaii resulted in the state’s Democratic Party taking firm control of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) for the first time, further eroding Native Hawaiians’ political power.
Trustees of OHA, a state office responsible for numerous Native Hawaiian programs, were formerly elected solely by Native Hawaiians. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the Natives-only election and required that all residents of the state be allowed to vote. The decision, Rice v. Cayetano, was first implemented last November.
All nine trustee positions were up for grabs. Only one non-Hawaiian won, Charles Ota, a prominent Japanese American real estate developer from Maui. More important, the state Democratic Party machine threw major resources into the campaign and almost all of its favored candidates emerged victorious.
The Democrats, led by Gov. Ben Cayetano, have been trying to force Native Hawaiians to give up their right to the so-called ceded land which was illegally taken from Hawaiians and is now administered by the state. Act 304 requires the state to pay OHA 20 percent of the revenues from the ceded lands, to be used to benefit Native Hawaiians. Since 1959, the state and its agencies have refused to abide by this Act. Recently, the governor tried three times to get the pre-Rice OHA trustees to give up the ceded lands in exchange for $200 million in past-due rent, but the trustees refused.
The result of Rice and of this election is further political disempowerment of Native Hawaiians and the endangerment of the ceded lands.