NC Redistricting Decision Another Setback for Voting Rights

NC Redistricting Decision Another Setback for Voting Rights

This week, a three-judge panel in North Carolina voted to preserve the 2011 GOP-drawn redistricting plans that civil rights and voter groups say are racially gerrymandered.

“It is the ultimate holding of this trial court that the redistricting plans enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 must be upheld and that the Enacted Plans do not impair the constitutional rights of the citizens of North Carolina as those rights are defined by law,” reads the judges’ ruling.

What does this mean for voters of color and citizens of North Carolina?

Well, challenging the redistricting plans was already a tough deal to begin with. Republicans drew the post-2010 Census lines to their advantage, giving themselves a 9-4 congressional district edge, up from the 7-6 split with Democrats before. They also placed roughly 27 percent of African-American voters in newly split state House precincts, compared to just 16.6 percent of white voters. There was similar disproportional segregation of black voters in the new congressional and state Senate districts. But Attorney General Eric Holder’s Department of Justice precleared the plans, more than once, when counties were still subjected to the Voting Rights Act.

The Act, dealt a blow last month when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the formula determining which jurisdictions are subject to preclearance, did provide for “minority-majority” districts to ensure that voters of color were able to elect candidates of their choice. As numerical minorities in the state, people of color could never elect their own candidate for a statewide office like governor on their votes alone. But with the VRA “minority-majority” protections, they could still influence statewide policy through ensured proportional representation in the legislature and Congress.

Voters in North Carolina had been forming cross-racial coalitions, the results of which were seen last November in the 51 percent of votes that went to Democratic Party congressional candidates despite the gerrymandering (a judge ruled that the GOP map could be used for last year’s elections).

To read the rest, visit the Institute for Southern Studies Facing South site where I’ll be guest blogging for the month of July. 

The World’s First Mayan Telenovela Debuted in Mexico This Month

The World's First Mayan Telenovela Debuted in Mexico This Month

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but there’s Mayan telenovela on Mexican TV these days. From New America Media:

Baktún, the world’s first Maya language telenovela, is a great achievement for indigenous communities, according to filmmaker Bruno Cárcamo. 

Finally, Mayans have the right to be entertained by the same kind of poorly-written, overacted, predictable melodramas the rest of us have absolutely adored for years.

Directed and produced by documentary filmmaker Cárcamo, the 30-episode drama was filmed in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo and will soon be made available for your enjoyment on YouTube. The series premiered at the Museo de Antropología last month. Cárcamo told Mexican news outlet Sin Embargo that it would air on Mexican television this month, and also possibly in Peru and Bolivia in the future.

Notably, the show’s characters speak Maya. “If you lose a language, you’re not only losing those words,” filmmaker Bruno Cárcamo told Sin Embargo, via Univision.” “You are losing an entire peoples, and this could happen with the Mayan people of the Yucatán.”

TAGS: Telenovela

A Long Overdue Celebration of Asian Food, From the Fung Brothers

A Long Overdue Celebration of Asian Food, From the Fung Brothers

Here’s a tribute to Asian food from the Fung Brothers, an Asian-American rap and comedy duo.

Jennifer Hudson’s Portrayal of Winnie Mandela Hits Theaters This Fall

Jennifer Hudson's Portrayal of Winnie Mandela Hits Theaters This Fall

Nelson Mandela remains hospitalized and is reportedly on life support in South Africa. The 94-year-old’s health has been described in the press as “perilous” and millions of people around the world are praying for both Mandela and his family. But as the South African freedom fighter’s health deteriorates, we’re now paying more attention to the various theatrical projects in the works that attempt to pay tribute to his legacy, one that undoubtedly includes that of his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela.

A new American biopic starring Jennifer Hudson is in the works. According to a press release, the film, now titled “Winnie Mandela”, will be released on September 6 and is based on Anné Mariè du Preez Bezdrob’s biography Winnie Mandela: A Life.

Now 76 years old, Winnie Mandela has remained active in South African politics since the decades she spent fighting against her country’s Apartheid regime. The film has already sparked a good amount of controversy for casting Hudson in the lead role and has reportedly had little input from Winnie Mandela. 

Making the film even more suspect, it will be presented by megapastor TD Jakes.

Zimmerman Defense to Introduce Controversial Animation at Closing

 Zimmerman Defense to Introduce Controversial Animation at Closing

Zimmerman defense attorney Mark O’Mara surprised viewers yesterday when he casually mentioned that the defense would be wrapping up its case as early as today. Jurors were sent home, and most of the people in the courtroom—including Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy martin—left as well.

In an almost empty courtroom a while later, the defense began to argue to enter into evidence an animation based on testimony of John Good during Zimmerman’s trial for the second-degree murder of Martin. Good had previously testified to seeing part of a confrontation between Zimmerman and Martin that resulted in Martin’s death.

Daniel Schumaker, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, holds a BA degree not in forensic science, but in graphic design, created the animation. It illustrates 17-year-old Martin, in a black hoodie, watching and then straddling George Zimmerman. 

The image above, taken from the animation, shows Martin punching Zimmerman with his left hand—despite being right-handed; Good made clear during testimony that he saw no punches being thrown, and no witness stated that Martin used his left hand during the confrontation. Further, the animation does not match the lighting of the night in question. In other words, the animation is based more on disputed assumptions than on evidence. 

The prosecution argued against admitting the animation during the evidentiary hearing. Judge Debra Nelson, who drew attention to the possibility that Schumaker violated sequestration by consulting with O’Mara after first testifying, took the arguments into consideration and reviewed related case law overnight, after a marathon 13-hour day in court yesterday. Judge Nelson decided this morning that the animation will be blocked from entering into evidence—but that it can be used as a demonstrative exhibit in the case. 

Zimmerman’s defense team is expected to play the animation for the jury during its closing statements, which could be delivered later this week. 

Ryan Coogler, Oscar Grant, and the Basic Humanity of Black Men

Ryan Coogler, Oscar Grant, and the Basic Humanity of Black Men

Biggie probably said it best: “You’re nobody until somebody kills you.” And in the rare case where death plucks you from everyday anonymity to national news story, a lot is gained and probably even more is lost. I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past week while I’ve been in Oakland. Ads for Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”, a fictional portrayal of Oscar Grant’s death at the hand’s of a BART police officer back in 2009, are all over the city as the film gets ready to hit theaters this week. Meanwhile, in Florida, George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin has been on cable news nonstop.

On the one hand, it means something that the deaths of black men and boys are getting attention. On the other, there’s something about that attention that minimizes them, that transforms their lives from individual cases to national causes. 

Ryan Coogler recently spoke with Sergio from Shadow and Act. What stood out to me was Coogler’s commitment to humanizing Grant in the film. He’s neither a hero nor villain, which is an experience to which I think most of us can relate. But it’s a point worth stressing given the tremendous amount of attention surrounding his case, both in Oakland and across the country. Grant will be remembered as the smiling 22-year-old clad in a black beanie and hoodie. In this film, Coogler does what any meaningful artist sets out to do: show a relatable human who’s flawed, yes, but certainly doesn’t deserve to die.

Check out an excerpt of Coogler’s interview after the jump.

30K Calif. Prisoners on Hunger Strike

30K Calif. Prisoners on Hunger Strike

Some 30,000 inmates held in California state prisons refused meals on Monday as part of the start of what could be the largest prison protest in state history, the Los Angeles Times reported. It is the third hunger strike and work stoppage prisoners have waged in recent years as they protest the treatment of those held in indefinite isolation.

The planned protest, announced back in January, is a response to inaction on the part of the California Department of Corrections to follow up on promised reforms, advocates say. At the heart of the protest is the state prison system’s treatment of inmates who are labeled prison gang members, and then locked up in solitary confinement. They are kept there for over 22 hours a day in small cell where they’re forbidden physical contact and social interaction. 

The United Nations has found that just 15 days in solitary confinement violates human rights standards and can do irreperable psychological harm to a person, according to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Yet hundreds of California inmates have been in indefinite isolation for more than a decade, according to Amnesty International

At its height in 2011, between 6,000 and 11,600 inmates participated in a hunger strike, the Los Angeles Times reported. The disparity is in part because the state records nine consecutive declined meals as a hunger strike and participation fluctuated. That 2011 strike resulted in policy changes and promises to revise policies. But two years on, “rather than improving, conditions have actually significantly deteriorated,” said Amnesty International’s Angela Wright.

Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Sounds like ‘Champagne Sprayed Around An Empty Locker Room’

Jay-Z's Magna Carta Sounds like 'Champagne Sprayed Around An Empty Locker Room'

Privacy concerns aside for a minute, the reviews of Jay-Z’s new album “Magna Carta…Holy Grail” are in. And they’re not good. From Chris Richards at the Washington Post:

Throughout “Magna Carta,” the 43-year-old pretends he’s a threat to a system he’s so eagerly become a part of, as if his life as a champion capitalist is some perpetually escalating act of subversion. Hooray? Rooting for this man in 2013 is like rooting for Pfizer. Or PepsiCo. Or PRISM.

Plus, all of this Samsung hullabaloo has only distracted listeners from the fact that, musically and lyrically, “Magna Carta” is one of Jay-Z’s blandest offerings. Over 16 joylessly professional tracks, our hero laces up his sneakers for his bazillion-thousandth victory lap around the hip-hop universe. There’s no mood, no verve, no vision to this music. It’s the sound of champagne being sprayed around an empty locker room.


During an impromptu Twitter chat with fans, Jay-Z even admitted that MCHG wasn’t his best effort. When one fan asked if the new album was his best work, the rapper responded, “Hard to beat RD (Reasonable Doubt),BP1 (The Blueprint),TBA (The Black Album). it can fight for 4th #factsonly.”

M.I.A. Asks Fans for Help With Controversial Documentary

M.I.A’s controversial unreleased documentary is being blacklisted, according to the artist. So she’s taken to Twitter and Tumblr to ask for the help of fans.  “This is what happened to a kid whose dad went off and became a terrorist,” she says in a clip of the film, which explores her life, career, and her relationship with her father. Watch a clip below. 

Google Play’s ‘Angry Trayvon’ Game Ignites Fury on Twitter

Google Play's 'Angry Trayvon' Game Ignites Fury on Twitter

For some reason, there’s a game called “Angry Trayvon” available for download on Google Play. It was developed by Trade Digital, Inc., a New York City-based company, and somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people have already gotten the game, according to Google. 

Developers even gave the game its own Facebook page.

Here’s how the game works, according to its developers:

Trayvon is angry and nobody can stop him from completing his world tour of revenge on the bad guys who terrorize cities everyday. 

Use a variety of weapons to demolish Trayvon’s attackers in various cities around the world.
As you complete a level, you will notice more bad guys coming at Trayvon at a faster pace and a deadlier attack.

A petition has sprung up on asking that Google remove the game. As its author writes, “The death of this young man is NOT A GAME. This developer is using the Google Marketplace to exploit the death of an unarmed teen for profit while simultaneously promoting violence.”

News of the game sent Twitter into a frenzy on Monday night as people expressed their outrage. See the discussion after the jump.

NAACP LDF President Gives Blueprint for Voting Rights in Post-Shelby Nation

NAACP LDF President Gives Blueprint for Voting Rights in Post-Shelby Nation

While attending the Essence Festival in New Orleans over the weekend, I was fortunate to meet Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), who was there to tape a segment on voting rights for the Melissa Harris Perry Show. NAACP LDF was the primary counsel in the Shelby v. Holder case concerning the Voting Rights Act and its attorney Debo Adegbile argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court’s ruling ended the coverage formula for Section Five, which was the main active ingredient for the Voting Rights Act, and now Congress is expected to create a new coverage formula, if that’s possible. In our talk, Ifill discusses what the new way forward will be for LDF, civil rights organizations and voters in general now that the Voting Rights Act has been compromised.  

Colorlines: What is the NAACP LDF’s new strategy for protecting voting rights in a post-Shelby world?

Sherrilyn Ifill: We have a three point plan. First we need to get the information as we prepare our litigation response. The Voting Rights Act was not itself overturned. We need to hear about discriminatory voting changes that are happening and we need the people to be our eyes and ears. We need them to write us and tell us about what they see happening in their communities. We’ve set up an email account where they can tell us about whatever they see happening so we can add that to our litigation.

Secondly, you have to be in touch with your Congressperson and telling them that [creating a new Section Five coverage formula] is a priority and it’s something they must do. You have to push them on this no matter where you live. It doesn’t matter if you lived in [Section Five] covered jurisdcitions or not. And thirdly you have to show up August 28 for the March on Washington because mass mobilization is what’s going to move Congress. We have to move on the legislation side and on the litigation side to keep the pressure on. You can see the response that happened right after the Supreme Court decision, when you heard all these state officials saying what they were going to do. They are moving forward we have to move forward also.

Colorlines: In the meanwhile, what other federal voting laws are you using to protect voters?

Ifill: A jurisdiction can be bailed in after a finding of discrimination under Section Two for intentional discrimination. We just won a big case against Louisiana for their failure to comply with the Motor Voter law, where they are supposed to be registering voters at social service agencies. 

Colorlines: Interesting you bring up Louisiana. I’ve been reading stories saying that Louisiana won’t be affected by the Shelby decision because it already had a voter ID law. 

Ifill: Between 1982 and 2003 the Justice Department had to object to over half of the voting changes submitted by Louisiana parishes. This was the information that was before Congress when they reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Lousiana had not had a redistricting plan approved for preclearance until the one after this recent 2010 census. Lousiana was a repeat offender on redistricting. 33 school board election changes were denied by the Justice Department between 1982 and 2003. People have to understand that this is about school boards, police juries, water districts, town councils and local jurisdictions, and that’s actually where most of the mischief happens.

Colorlines: How does the Shelby decision impact the coming 2014 midterm elections?

Ifill: The timing is pretty important because just as we are preparing for another election year we hear all of these jurisdictions talking about implementaiton of voter ID laws. What we were able to do before the 2012 elections was get into court using Section Five — the best example of this being South Carolina, which adopted a voter ID law. We brought a Section Five action against the law and in the course of the litigation they kept changing the law, making it less and less onerous, making the ID more available and providing more opportunities to voters to offer rationale for why they couldn’t get ID. Ultimatley the court that approved the voter ID law that South Carolina developed but said they couldn’tt impose it on the 2012 elections. So here we are a year later, and we don’t have Section Five available to us. In that case Section Five exposed what was wrong with the South Carolina voter ID law. Remember, it’s not like all voter ID laws are bad or wrong. In fact, the Department of Justice precleared most of the voter ID laws submitted to them. It’s the laws that are onerous, the laws that don’t provide opportunities for people who are poor, who live in rural areas, for voters who don’t have government-issued ID, and don’t have the means to get it because they don’t have documents like birth certificates — it’s those laws that are problematic. Thats what Section Five helped us smoke out.

Colorlines: Last week, LDF participated in a chorus of organizations representing a broad array of issues — environment, lgbtq, labor and immigration — pledging to fight for voting rights. How will the coalition hold together and remain accountable to that pledge?

Ifill:  I think its hard for peoople to see how much these groups really do support each other and work together. What we need, though, is a much more vocal and apparent engagement with the issues. It’s not just knowing that we’re all part of a coalition or just names on a list. We need lgbt activists, we need environmental activists, we need the workers rights folks all to have the language, the words of voting rights in their mouths. This, right now, is the biggest threat to equality and democratic participation in this country. Anybody who cares about those two things, in whatever their area of specialty, should be engaged in that language and should be using that language. So, as we build up to August 28, this is not a black people’s march. This is a march for people who care about equality and justice and we recognize that this is a marquee issue — not the only issue — but a marquee issue within the portfolio of issues that speak to issues of equality, justice and democratic participaiton. We all have to be comfortable with the language and feel like its our issue, that it’s owned by everybody. Obviously there are people who have the expertise who are going to take the lead, but that’s what has to happen to really penetrate into every arena of the civil rights justice movement, and to make everyone understand this issue is a priority.

Tracy Martin: ‘I Was Listening to my Son’s Last Cries for Help’

Tracy Martin: 'I Was Listening to my Son's Last Cries for Help'

There’s been a lot of speculation about whether Trayvon Martin’s father, Tracy, initially denied that his son’s voice was the one screaming for help in the 9-11 call that concluded with George Zimmerman shooting and killing the 17-year-old. Today, he put that idea to rest when he took the stand in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial.

First of all, some context: Tracy Martin first heard the audio after his son, who he testified was his “best friend in life,” in a detective’s cubicle—which is arguably traumatic in and of itself. When the detective asked whether it was his son’s voice screaming for help, Martin testified that he answered, “I can’t tell.”

After hearing the tape several times, however, he recognized his son’s voice. “I was listening to my son’s last cries for help,” testified Martin. “I was listening to his life being taken.”

Martin said that it remains difficult to come to grips with the reality that his son is gone, and added that he wanted to know why Zimmerman got “out of his car and chase [his] son.”

The prosecution rested their case last week; Zimmerman’s defense team started calling witnesses today, including Tracy Martin.

This is What Force Feeding a Guantanamo Bay Prisoner Looks Like

This is What Force Feeding a Guantanamo Bay Prisoner Looks Like

Today is the first day of Ramadan. For the next 30 days, many Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset, in accordance to their faith. But since February, more than 100 Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been refusing food. That’s because they’re on hunger strike, as a form of protest due to the conditions they’ve endured for more than a decade—having never faced trial by the US government that’s placed them there.

45 of the hunger strikers are being force fed against their will, although US government lawyers have remarkably claimed they will honor Ramadan and only force feed the prisoners after sundown. On this first day of Ramadan, Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) released a video that painfully illustrates the standard operating procedure US agents use for force-feeding a Guantanamo Bay prisoner.

Warning: It’s very hard to watch—although that’s very much part of the point.

TAGS: Mos Def

New Mexico Activists: Trans Men Have Babies, Too

New Mexico Activists: Trans Men Have Babies, Too

Media Literacy Project, an Albuquerque-based group, created a smart counter-ad to a popular Chicago campaign that played on some transphobic misrepresentations.

The original ad features what are presumed to be cisgender teenage boys who are very, very pregnant. The caption reads: “Unexpected? Most teen pregnancies are.” Media Literacy Project countered by pointing out that, yes, some men can have babies.

See the ads after the jump.

TAGS: teen

Flaco Navaja Talks About ‘East WillyB’ and a Brooklyn for Locals Only

Flaco Navaja Talks About 'East WillyB' and a Brooklyn for Locals Only

If you haven’t already seen it, “East WillyB” is a hilarious and insightful Web series about Latino life in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s an important interruption in the narrative that we usually hear about North Brooklyn as home to the borough’s stereotypical hipsters. In essence, the series is paying homage to a still vibrant Latino community that doesn’t get a ton of attention. Here’s a quick blurb:

Shot on location in Bushwick, Brooklyn, “East WillyB” takes place along the historic Bushwick and Knickerbocker Aves. It is a story about the many faces that make up the Latino community of Brooklyn, and the ways in which their lives interconnect to create the extended family so integral to its character. Come meet the telenovela addicts, tamale slingers, salsa fiends, piragua purveyors, bomba players, plastic couch owners, & bodega CEOs that make the community of Bushwick unique.

Flaco Navajo stars in the series as Willie Jr. and not too long ago he talked about what drew him to the series. Check out some of his answers after the jump.

Here’s Your First Look at ‘The Queen Latifah Show’

Here's Your First Look at 'The Queen Latifah Show'

The Queen’s getting ready to debut her own talk show this fall. The show’s scheduled to premiere on September 16, 2013. Take a look.

(H/T Vice Magazine)

Because Even a Horrific Plane Crash Can Lead to Racist Asian Jokes

Because Even a Horrific Plane Crash Can Lead to Racist Asian Jokes

Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash-landed over the weekend at San Francisco International Airport. So far, two 16-year-old Chinese students on their way to summer camp have been confirmed dead, while more than 180 other passengers suffered injuries. Investigators are still trying to sort out what caused the crash, but all that mattered for the Internet’s racists was the fact that the plane originated in China. Cue a bunch of awful jokes mocking Asians.

(H/T Angry Asian Man)

A Teenage Girl Created a Beat for Jay-Z’s New Album

Canadian teen Ebony Oshunrinde, aka Wondagirl, is dope. Jezebel explains why:

Her story is insanely inspiring and impressive: after watching a video of Jay-Z and Timbaland working in the studio together at age 9, she began to download music software and teach herself how to use it by watching YouTube tutorials. “I wanted to do the exact same thing that [Jay-Z] did,” she recently told the Star. When she was 14, she made it to the quarter-finals of Toronto’s Battle of the Beatmakers. (FOURTEEN. I didn’t even know how to make a grilled cheese when I was 14.) She won the title the following year, because she is incredible, and went on to sign an exclusive management deal with Black Box.

The result? Wondagirl is credited as a producer on “Crown”, a track on Jay-Z’s new Magna Carta Holy Grail. Listen to the track after the jump.

Forget ‘The Lone Ranger,’ Here’s a Real Native Film

Forget 'The Lone Ranger,' Here's a Real Native Film

Did you watch “The Lone Ranger,” only to regret it? Do you already know you don’t wanna waste your money or your time on it? Then check out “Universal VIP.” It was written, produced, directed by Natives, and features a phenomenal all-Native cast (hello, Tatanka Means!)—all based on a short story by Gyasi Ross. 

TAGS: Films Native

Connecticut Bars Felony Arrests for School Zip Code Fraud

Connecticut Bars Felony Arrests for School Zip Code Fraud

Connecticut won’t be prosecuting parents for “stealing” their children’s public education anymore. Last week Gov. Daniel Malloy signed into law HB 6677, which prohibits felony arrests for parents who enroll their children in schools outside their zip code. 

The law addresses recent high-profile cases of counties arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating parents—most typically poor mothers of color—for falsifying information to enroll their children in better school districts. It is a common practice, not just in Connecticut, but arrests and criminal prosecutions for such maneuvers have typically fallen squarely on poor women of color. 

HB 6677 (PDF) explicitly says that falsifying information to obtain a “service” like public education for schoolchildren or those enrolled in public school districts will not count as larceny. Residency violations will now be dealt with by school districts themselves as a civil matter.

Before HB 6677 became law, Connecticut convicted Tanya McDowell, a black woman, of first-degree larceny for enrolling her son in the school district of Norwalk. She was eventually sentenced to twelve years in prison for, along with other charges, “stealing” an estimated $15,000 in public education, Connecticut’s WFSB reported. McDowell is not alone. Before her, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sent to jail for ten days for using her father’s address to enroll her daughters in a neighboring school district in Akron, Ohio.

But larger issues remain. Every child in the country may have access to public education, but a high quality public education is a privilege instead of a right. And it’s too often out of reach for the poor and families of color. A high quality education has become a private good, something a family must be in the correct tax bracket, or zip code, to deserve. 

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