Defense Contractor Sponsors Sesame Street Incarceration Series

Defense Contractor Sponsors Sesame Street Incarceration Series

Earlier this week we brought you news of Sesame Street’s important new toolkit to help kids deal with a parent’s incarceration. It’s an important endeavor, though one with some suspect bankrollers. The Atlantic Wire pointed out on Thursday that British contractor, BAE Systems, is one of the feature’s main sponsors, and they make their money in part from for-profit prison labor. The support for Sesame Street comes from BAE System’s large philantrophic arm, which you can read more about here.

So far, the series itself has sparked strong reactions both for and against the project. More from The Atlantic Wire:

The package has so far elicited pretty polarized reactions. CBS News, which unveiled the effort, praise the attempt to confront the very real issue of children with loved ones in jail: “Sesame Street, in its simple, familiar way, is trying to break [incarceration] down, using imaginary characters to explore — and explain — what was once unimaginable, but now more and more common.” (Indeed, the U.S. incarceration rate is the world’s highest.) The libertarian magazine Reason, however, saw things a bit differently: “Congratulations, America, on making it almost normal to have a parent in prison or jail.”

You can see more about Sesame Street’s “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” over on its website.

The Sergio Romo Pro-Migrant Ice Cream Is Happening

The Sergio Romo Pro-Migrant Ice Cream Is Happening

Back in December Bay Area-based ice cream company Three Twins released a mockup of an ice cream flavor they wanted San Francisco Giants pitcher Sergio Romo to front. And now it’s happening. The deal, announced last week, means that folks will be able to taste their Sergio Romo Mexican Chocolate ice cream soon. 

But that’s not all. The ice cream comes with the tagline “It only tastes illegal,” which is itself a nod to Romo’s first foray into political activism, when he stepped out at the Giants’ World Series parade wearing a bold t-shirt with the words “I Just Look Illegal” stretched across his chest. Immigrant rights supporters gleefully celebrated the athlete’s bold political statement, and it was after that turn that Three Twins reportedly approached Romo.

Back in December the company said that they wanted to partner with Romo for the ice cream flavor in part to, “raise money for immigration reform.” “[Romo’s t-shirt] got a lot of people talking and thinking about immigration policy in the United States,” Three Twins founder Neal Gottlieb told Haighteration. “Mexicans and Mexican Americans play such an important role in Major League Baseball and Three Twins Ice Cream that it seemed like a natural fit. While some claim to be offended by the logo and artwork, we think that it is topical, quirky and fun.”

But Romo’s doing more than inking ice cream deals. Romo, who was born and raised in a small Southern California town just north of the U.S.-Mexico border, recently recorded a video in support of immigration reform

Father’s Day Cards for Every Kind of Dad in Your Life

Father's Day Cards for Every Kind of Dad in Your Life

Families with two fathers? Families with just one father? And families with none? Immigrant families; families connected by love and commitment, if not blood; families with a father behind bars—those are all still real and legitimate families. And those fathers and families all deserve the love, support and access that mothers do. 

This Father’s Day, Strong Families, a project of the Oakland-based reproductive justice organization Forward Together, has got all of those kinds of families and fathers covered. After producing a similar series of inclusive Mother’s Day e-cards since 2011, 2013 marks the first year Forward Together is releasing a series for dads. 

Each e-card in the series is a real work of art, and entirely customizable. Send one here.

Watch Sesame Street Teach Kids About Incarceration

Watch Sesame Street Teach Kids About Incarceration

It’s never easy to talk about an incarcerated loved one in public, and it’s an especially difficult task for children. In 2007 the Sentencing Project estimated that 1.7 million kids in America have at least one parent behind bars, more than 70 percent of whom are children of color. But the task of explaining a complex adult topic to a child may have gotten a little bit less cumbersome now that Sesame Street is involved.

The long-running children’s series has released a new toolkit called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” that includes videos, worksheets, and tips for both children and caregivers. The series is aimed at kids ages 2-7 years old, but the tips could be helpful for older kids and even adults, too.

From Sesame Street’s website:

The incarceration of a loved one can be very overwhelming for both children and caregivers. It can bring about big changes and transitions. In simple everyday ways, you can comfort your child and guide her through these tough moments. With your love and support she can get through anything that comes her way. Here are some tools to help you with the changes your child is going through.

Along with videos, the series also includes a list of helpful tips to help children through the complicated emotions that go along with talking about a loved one’s incarceration:

1. Build security. In the morning, let your child know some of the things that will happen throughout the day. For example, “Grandma will pick you up from school. Then you’ll go to the park, and later we’ll all have dinner together.”

2. Share your heart. Give your child a paper heart to keep in her pocket. You might say, “This is to remind you that I love you and will always be there for you.”

3. Express emotions. Take time each day to check in with your child and ask, “How are you feeling?” Remember to let your child know that it’s okay to have big feelings no matter what they are.

4. Answer honestly. When explaining where an incarcerated parent is, you can say, “Daddy is in a place called prison (or jail) for a while. Grown-ups sometimes go to prison when they break a rule called a law.”

5. Stay connected. Phone calls are a great way to reach out. Help your child to think of something she’d like to tell her incarcerated parent, and give her a photo of her parent to hold during the call.

6. Prepare together. Before you visit your incarcerated loved one, let your child know some of the things she can expect to happen. For instance, “We won’t be able to sit in the same room with Mommy, but we can see her through a window and read a story together.”

7. Take care of yourself. Caring for yourself helps you care for your child. At least once a day, do something that you enjoy or find relaxing.

See Sesame Street’s full toolkit for the children of incarcerated parents on their website.

Nike Launches New LGBT Line for Gay Pride

Nike Launches New LGBT Line for Gay Pride

We knew this was coming. One June 8 Jason Collins, the first openly gay major men’s professional athlete, tweeted a photo of himself standing with his old college roommate before marching in Boston’s Gay Pride Parade. Collins was wearing a black Nike t-shirt with #BeTrue emblazoned on the front in rainbow-colored lettering. 

Now we know that it’s official: Nike is launching a new line specifically targeting its gay athletes and customers. The new Nike #BeTrue collection includes t-shirts, shoes, flip flops, and iPhone cases

Esquire tweeted photos of the collection on Tuesday:

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Huffington Post’s Gay Voices doesn’t think that this is Nike’s one-off attempt to captialize on the noteriety of openly gay athletes. 

Sports leaders, the media and advocacy groups are currently touching down in Portland, Ore. for the second annual Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon.

The event, founded by Outsports’ Cyd Zeigler, the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project Director Helen Carroll and LGBT sports pioneer Pat Griffin, takes place June 12-15 and will include college and professional athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, political figures, LGBT advocates, journalists and more.

The country’s highest profile openly gay athletes have signed endorsement deals with the company. Along with Jason Collins, the WNBA’s Brittney Griner has an endorsement deal with Nike that also allows her to also wear the company’s menswear.

Los Otros DREAMers: A Book Of Young People’s Deportation and Return To Mexico

Los Otros DREAMers: A Book Of Young People's Deportation and Return To Mexico

Armed with the power of their stories, young undocumented immigrants, so-called DREAMers, have made themselves the faces of immigration reform. Their stories, about coming to the US as children and growing up to find an uncertain future, play in Washington as an urgent call to grant undocumented immigrants a path to stay in the US. 

Yet as is often the case of shared narratives, some people don’t fit. A new project out of Mexico City aims to tell the stories of “Los Otros Dreamers,” young immigrants who grew up in the US without papers but were either deported or decided that they’d take their chances in Mexico. 

The project, a book in progress, is the work of Mexico City-based, American academic Jill Anderson and Mexican photographer Nin Solis. They are travelling around Mexico to meet young people who in recent years have come back to Mexico and are now trying to build lives for themselves. “This is a new collectivity of young people,” Anderson, a PhD in American Studies, told me. “This is the generation of the children of the mass migration from Mexico and they’re now back.”

Anderson and Solis launched a kickstarter campaign to support the project, which they plan to self-produce and then shop around to publishers. They’re looking for donations to help move the project to completion.

Solis’s images are coupled with deported and returning young people’s own words. The book offers readers in the US and Mexico a clear view of a community that’s mostly invisible in both countries. “I heard people speaking English and I assumed they were gringos, but they are from here and from there,” Solis told me, of young deportees she met near her house. “I hope this project raises their visibility.”

Some of the young people in the book, which is called “Los Otros Dreamers,” hope that this visibility will help change U.S. and Mexican policies.  On the US side, it’s about the passage of immigration reform.  In Mexico, it’s about broader government recognition of the needs of young people who return.  Some need help finding work or a home.  Others, those who hope to go to college in Mexico, often find that Mexican institutions don’t respect US school transcripts. Years of school in the US, can mean nothing in Mexico.

Hector Bolivar is one of the people in their book. He’s lived in Guadalajara, Mexico for two years, since he left his life, his friends, and a musical instrument business that he started in Los Angeles. He told Anderson and Solis:

The entire idea of an undocumented student was taboo and  no one, including myself, knew what to do with me. […] On my 29th birthday I had a moment of reflection. I was living in the US alone by this time, my family having moved back to Mexico a few months before, and I came upon a discovery. I was tired. I looked at my past and my future in the U.S., I looked back at my accomplishments and my failures, realizing that it was as good as it was going to get for me under my current legal status. In late June I bought my plane ticket dated August 7th, 2011. I began saying my goodbyes to everyone I knew, not knowing if I would see any of them again.

Through the book project, Bolivar has now met with others like him. And he says that he’s intent on breaking the taboo around those who return.  He plans to open a store front music shop in Guadalajara.

Justice Filled the 48 Hours Surrounding Medgar Evers’ Assassination

Justice Filled the 48 Hours Surrounding Medgar Evers' Assassination

June 11, 1963:

  • Alabama Gov. George Wallace infamously stands in front of the doors of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium refusing to admit two African-American students, James Hood and Vivian Malone, who were there to register and integrate the college as ordered by a federal district court. 
  • At 3:40 p.m. that afternoon, Gov. Wallace steps aside as Hood and Malone are escorted into the school by federalized Alabama National Guards and U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Malone later says, “I didn’t feel I should sneak in, I didn’t feel I should go around the back door. If [Wallace] were standing the door, I had every right in the world to face him and to go to school.”
  • Across the globe, Thich Quang Duc, a  Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, publicly self-immolates by setting himself on fire on a busy road in Saigon. His act was a protest of Buddhist persecution by the South Vietnamese government. The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the suicide by Malcolm Browne brought world attention to the injustice when it ran in the Associated Press.
  • Later after Gov. Wallace’s stand-down and stand-aside, President John F. Kennedy addresses the nation on civil rights. Asks Kennedy, “We preach freedom around the world, but are we to say to the world, and …to each other that this is the land of the free except for the Negroes?” The speech cribs heavily from Martin Luther King Jr., notably the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which took moderate white Americans to task for not standing up more aggressively for civil rights. 
  • That night, civil rights activist Bernard Lafayette, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is attacked in Selma, Alabama by a white man who Lafayette was just helping  with his car.  The attacker pistol whips Lafayette repeatedly leaving an open gash on his forehead. He is hospitalized.

June 12, 1963:

  • Just after midnight, NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers is assassinated in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi by Klan member Byron De La Beckwith. Evers’ wife and children were at home awaiting his arrival when it happened. Bernard Lafayette’s wife Colia worked closely with Evers and was in Jackson when he was murdered, nursing her own wounds from King’s Birmingham clash with police in April that year. 
  • Later that morning, Bernard Lafayette checks out of the hospital against doctors wishes after learning what happened to Evers. But Lafayette didn’t go home to change his bloody clothes. Instead, as Gary May wrote in his book “Bending Toward Justice,” Lafayette “immediately went into the downtown streets, a walking advertisement that showed the city’s racists that they could not run him out of town.” Selma civil rights lawyer J. L. Chestnut found Lafayette walking with his “eyes all swollen, face bruised, blood all over his shirt. Chestnut tried to get him to go home, but Lafayette told him “No way,” and word his blood-stained shirt for the rest of the month. 

11-Year-old Sebastian de la Cruz Is the Best San Antonio Spurs Fan Ever

The San Antonio Spurs handed an epic beat down to the Miami Heat last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.  But that hasn’t been the only talk around South Texas. Instead, critics lashed out at the Spurs organization for inviting an Sebastian De La Cruz, an 11-year-old Mexican-American, to sing the national anthem before the game. 

He can sing, right? Right. But some NBA fans were outraged that the Spurs would have a Latino boy sing the national anthem.

Latino Rebels captured some of the backlash on Twitter:

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TAGS: NBA finals

Feds Reveal Widespread Housing Bias But Refuse to Stop It

Feds Reveal Widespread Housing Bias But Refuse to Stop It

A new report commissioned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed yesterday that prospective renters or home buyers of color are significantly less likely to be shown units compared to white home seekers.  The results of the study, conducted by the Urban Institute with a $9 million grant from HUD, are fairly unsurprising—discrimination is present everywhere and housing is no exception.

But as ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones reports, HUD has no plans to do anything to stop the practices revealed in the new study. Hannah-Jones writes:

[T]he more startling thing may be what HUD intends to do with its findings. …[T]he federal agency has no plans to use these tests to actually enforce the law and punish the offenders.

Once a decade for the last 40 years, HUD has produced a massive survey to reveal the pervasive discrimination that, year after year, exists in America’s housing marketplace. But as ProPublica reported late last year, HUD as a policy refuses to invest the same kinds of time, resources and techniques in prosecuting those guilty of the very discrimination its expensive studies uncover. Instead, HUD outsources testing used to find and punish discriminatory landlords to dozens of small, poorly funded fair housing groups scattered across the country.

And Congress has shown little appetite for forcing HUD to do more meaningful enforcement. A bill that would create a national testing enforcement program at HUD is expected to soon die in committee for the third time.

The Urban Institute conducted 8,000 tests in 28 cities by sending testers of color and white testers with otherwise equal qualifications to realtors to inquire about apartments and homes. The report found that black, Asian and Latinos borrowers are less likely to be shown houses or apartments. That means folks of color have fewer options for where to live, are forced to spend more time and money looking for a home, and end up stuck in neighborhoods some may hope to leave.

As the author of the Urban Institute report said in a video that accompanies the report, “discrimination in housing contributes to the persistence of broader inequalities in housing, in home ownership, in neighborhoods, access to education, wealth building. So where we live really matters.”

ProPublica’s previous investigation revealed that HUD has consistently refused to act affirmatively to stop these practices despite clear legal, decades-old prohibitions against racial discrimination in housing.

Parents of Biracial Cheerios Girl Say They Were ‘Excited’ About Negative Comments

Parents of Biracial Cheerios Girl Say They Were 'Excited' About Negative Comments

Six-year-old Grace Colbert, star of the Cheerios commercial, and her parents, visited MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts to share their take on the racist backlash the ad received soon after it premiered.

“Being part of a biracial family, it’s just the reality,” Christopher Colbert, the father of the six-year-old Grace, told MSNBC on Tuesday. “We’re also part of the face of America.”

Colbert added that he was “excited” about the reactions to the commercial, both good and bad.

“Being a biracial family is just a reality. We’re also a part of the face of America, and so America just needs to see that this is just a way of life and that this is just the way life is today,” Colbert said during the interview. “I wasn’t upset or anything I was pretty much really excited to have this type of reaction so we could see where we still stand in America.”

The six-year-old actress’ mother, Janet Colbert, said that her daughter thought all the attention the commercial was getting must have been because of her great smile.

According to Census data, among opposite-sex married couples, one in 10 (5.4 million couples) are interracial, a 28% jump since 2000. In 2010, 18% of heterosexual unmarried couples were of different races (1.2 million couples) and 21% of same-sex couples (133,477 couples) were mixed.

The number of mixed-race babies has also climbed over the past decade. More than 7 percent of the 3.5 million children born in the year before the 2010 Census were of two or more races, up from barely 5 percent a decade earlier.

Yasiel Puig Breaks Dodgers Merchandise Sales Record

Yasiel Puig Breaks Dodgers Merchandise Sales Record

Los Angeles Dodgers rookie outfielder Yasiel Puig became the National League Player of the Week shortly after his first game in Major League Baseball. And that’s not the only record he’s breaking. 

L.A. Times has the details:

The Dodgers sold more Puig-related merchandise from Thursday to Sunday than they had ever sold of any player over a four-day period — more than even Manny Ramirez, Fernando Valenzuela or Hideo Nomo, according to a team spokesperson.

The team sold approximately 3,000 units of Puig-related merchandise in that four-day window, including 1,600 t-shirts ($28), 400 “Viva Puig” t-shirts ($28) and 600 jerseys ($225 for the authentic version, $110 for the replica ones).

In his first week in the Major Leagues, Puig led baseball with 27 total bases and was tied for the Major League lead with four home runs. His .964 slugging percentage was second-best in the Majors and was the top mark among National Leaguers. The 22-year-old native of Cienfuegos, Cuba also ranked among league leaders with a .464 (13-for-28) batting average (2nd), 10 RBI (3rd), 13 hits (3rd), and a .483 on-base percentage (7th).  

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed the Cuban defector to a seven-year, $42 million contract last summer.


Are States Delaying Voter ID Enactment to Duck Federal Racial Review?

Are States Delaying Voter ID Enactment to Duck Federal Racial Review?

In March, Virginia passed a strict photo voter ID law that won’t go into effect until 2014. It’s the second voter ID law they’ve passed in as many years — the first one enacted last year only after a review by the federal government made sure that it would not disenfranchise voters of color, even by mistake. The U.S. Department of Justice reviewed and cleared it just in time for the November elections last year. The much stricter version of Virginia’s voter ID law passed this year may not enjoy the same federal scrutiny given its 2014 start date. Reason being, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Section 5 is invalid — and a ruling is expected within weeks — then the voter ID law would go into effect regardless of its impact on people. Over 870,000 Virginians, mostly people of color, may lack the appropriate ID to vote, according to a letter sent from the ACLU to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell asking him to veto the new voter ID law. 

So, it has to be asked: Is Virginia holding the new law to escape racial discrimination review? It’s tough to think of Virginia in that context given its governor just went through the trouble of lifting voting bans on citizens formerly incarcerated for nonviolent felon charges. But if those who’ve left prison are unable to get government ID or a driver’s license — not uncommon for many formerly incarcerated, as pointed out by the Legal Action Center, due to missing vital documents like birth certificates — then they may suffer disenfranchisement under the new law next year anyway.

Virginia isn’t the only state holding back on passed election legislation. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice, “If Section 5 Falls: New Voting Implications,” shows that many states have voter ID and other election laws on ice, and could quickly thaw them out for implementation immediately upon a SCOTUS ruling killing Section 5. It is not a foregone conclusion that SCOTUS will do this, but Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have all indicated that they want to strike it

The Brennan report points to the Section 5-covered Alabama, which provides two examples similar to Virginia:

  • In 2011, Alabama passed a law that requires residents to submit proof of their citizenship to register. The state submitted this law for review last year, but then withdrew it a month ago, after the Justice Department requested more information.
  • The state also passed a voter ID law in 2011 that, like Virginia’s, isn’t slated to go into effect until 2014, and has not been submitted for federal review.

Laughlin McDonald, a veteran voting rights attorney and leader of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told Brennan he believed Alabama’s withdrawal of the proof-of-citizenship law might be “motivated by a desire to avoid an objection in the short-term,” and the hope that the Supreme Court would ultimately remove the Section 5 review as a barrier.

“There are experts in the field and on the ground who are very concerned that certain [election law] changes that are anticipated are being stalled in moving forward for section five preclearance and the concern is that it is being done with the hopes of section five not being a barrier in the future,” said Myrna Perez, deputy director for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program and co-author of the report, in a call with Colorlines this morning.  

There are other consequences, unintended or maybe intended, if Section 5 is deleted from the Voting Rights Act, according to the report.

There are election laws recently blocked under Section Five that could be revived if it’s struck and with no heavy lifting. “Of particular concern are those election changes that could be resuscitated with little delay and little public notice.” Changes to polling place locations and for assistance for voters with limited English could be changed without a vote or new legislation. But there is some legislation that has been blocked that have remained on the books, even while not enforced. They could be dialed up immediately in some places.

And then there’s the election legislation waiting in the wings in states like North Carolina, another Section 5 state that is looking to impose a strict voter ID requirement, cut early voting and disenfranchise those convicted of felonies. The bills have not become law yet, but it’s possible that the Republicans who voted for them are awaiting the SCOTUS decision so perhaps they won’t have to submit them for review. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s attorney general Roy Cooper has filed an amicus brief asking that SCOTUS keep Section Five in tact.

Thousands have come out in North Carolina’s state capital to protest these laws and others that would cause low-income and middle-class families there to suffer. Many of them have been jailed. These are the Section 5 headwinds the Supreme Court Justices will fly 

Death Row Inmates Sue Louisiana Facility for Cruel and Unusual Heat Conditions

Death Row Inmates Sue Louisiana Facility for Cruel and Unusual Heat Conditions

The heat in Louisiana has been unbearable the past few summers. So imagine what it’s been like for inmates of the “prison capital of the world” where sun heat turns prison facilities into something like ovens. 

Three inmates at the Angola Louisiana State Penitentiary in Louisiana are suing the state’s department of public safety and corrections for failing to provide relief for those suffering on death row in cells that trap heat indexed as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit. Inmates spend 23 hours a day in these cells with little ventilation. An investigation by the Advocacy Center into death row prison conditions found that it gets so hot that prisoners sometimes sleep on the floor where it’s somewhat cooler, suffering fire ant bites in the process. The inmates’ requests for relief have been rejected by the prison officials. 

The Promise of Justice Initiative is suing on behalf of Elzie Ball, who is 60 years old and is a diabetic, Nathaniel Code, who is 57 years old and has hepatitis, and James Magee, 35 with depression. Because of their conditions they are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Heat is the number one weather-related killer according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, killing more people yearly on average than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

“The conditions on death row at Angola are horrifying, and a fundamental violation of Constitutional protections,” said Mercedes Montagnes, Promise of Justice Initiative lawyer and lead attorney on the lawsuit. “There is no question that the lack of climate control puts these men in a dangerous situation. Because they are confined to these block cells, their ability to take any step to maintain their health is severely limited.”

While visiting areas of the prison are air-conditioned, the cells get little more than fans that blow hot air around. The metal bars and cinder block walls of the cells meanwhile become too hot to touch. The lawsuit is asking that the temperature be controlled so that the heat index doesn’t exceed 88 degrees and that ice water be distributed to the inmates on a regular basis. 

Climate change may exacerbate these conditions if proper mitigation isn’t achieved. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, cities in North America that regularly experience heatwaves — and virtually all of Louisiana would qualify — “are expected to be further challenged by an increased number, intensity and duration of heat waves during the course of the century, with potential for adverse health impacts.”

The IPCC’s special report “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” states that “It is virtually certain that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur in the 21st century at the global scale. … a 1-in-20 year hottest day is likely to become a 1-in-2 year event by the end of the 21st century in most regions, except in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, where it islikely to become a 1-in-5 year event.”

Meanwhile, 2012 was the United States’ warmest year on record, by “a wide margin.” Not providing air conditioning certainly feels cruel during these unusually hot seasons.

EEOC Lawsuit: BMW and Dollar General’s Background Checks Discriminate Against Black Workers

EEOC Lawsuit: BMW and Dollar General's Background Checks Discriminate Against Black Workers

Today the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits against two companies, BMW and Dollar General, for allegedly discriminating against workers and job applicants who’d had interactions with the criminal justice system. The EEOC lawsuits charge that both companies’ practices had a disparate impact on black workers. 

Dollar General, the nation’s largest small-box discount retailer, makes job offers contingent on applicants’ first clearing a criminal background check. One worker filed a complaint with the EEOC after she was fired because of a felony which showed up erroneously in a convictions report on her. Even when she cleared her name with the company they would not give her back her job, EEOC says.

And a BMW manufacturing facility in South Carolina kept an exclusionary policy which barred employees and employees of subcontractors from entering a facility if they had certain criminal convictions, EEOC says. They held onto the policy when it came time to transition workers from a phased-out contractor, even though those workers had already cleared the contractor’s background checks. Workers, even longtime employees, who didn’t clear the new checks lost their jobs and could not get them back, according to the EEOC.

Poll: People Have Never Liked Affirmative Action Less Than They Do Now

Poll: People Have Never Liked Affirmative Action Less Than They Do Now

At one time, a majority of people in the U.S.—a full 61 percent—supported affirmative action. That day is long gone. Today, support for affirmative action is at record lows, with just 45 percent of people in the U.S. saying that such programs are necessary today, according to a new poll conducted by NBC

Since 1991 when those lofty highs were recorded, support for affirmative action has been on a steady decline. One reason is that affirmative action is a divisive tactic which inspires endless, exhausting debate. The other is that many people think there’s less need for racial remediation programs like affirmative action these days, what with our black president and all. 

But people of different races have differing opinions; 56 percent of whites oppose affirmative action but support among people of color is quite strong. Eighty percent of black respondents support affirmative action, along with 60 percent of Latinos.

The poll comes amidst tense anticipation ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Fisher v. Texas, the latest challenge to race-conscious admissions policies in higher education. 

Immigration Debate Begins While Advocates Demand Obama Halt Deportations

Immigration Debate Begins While Advocates Demand Obama Halt Deportations

As the full Senate prepares to begin debate today on the sweeping immigration reform bill, President Obama gave a speech from the White House urging Congress to pass the legislation. Focusing on the economic benefits of reform and trumpeting his administration’s significant expansion of deportation and border enforcement, Obama said that Congress has no excuse not to pass the bill.

“If you’re actually serious and sincere about fixing a broken system, this is the vehicle to do it,” Obama said. “There is no good reason to engage in procedural games.”

But immigration advocates say that the President must take a leading part in the move toward immigration justice by slowing deportations, which have separated hundreds of thousands of families and left communities riddled with holes.

A group of Congresspeople and immigrants with the support of nearly 500 organizations will deliver a letter to the President tomorrow morning calling on his administration to stop removing immigrants at the current rate of over 400,000 each year. “The best way to open a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is for you to immediately suspend deportations,” the letter reads, “at a bare minimum, for those who would eventually be eligible for the Senate bill’s legalization program. ”

In his speech, the President said his deportation policies, which have removed historic numbers of people each year, have worked. “Today deportation of criminals is at its highest level ever,” he said.

Advocates are not having it: “There continues to be a wide distance between the President’s rhetoric and his record,” said Pablo Alvarado, the director of the national Day Laborer Network, said in a statement. “To close the gap, the President must cease the 1,100 daily deportations he currently oversees.”

In his speech, Obama also responded to Republican calls for more border security saying, as he often has, that the border is now more secure than ever. “We made border security a top priority,” the President said, adding that his administration doubled the number of agents on the border. 

The Senate immigration bill, which supporters say can pass with more than 60 votes, is expected to face significant challenges from Republicans who will introduce amendments to harden border enforcement provisions and make the path to citizenship more difficult, especially for low-income immigrants.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, who helped draft the legislation in the spring as a member of a bipartisan Gang of Eight Senators, has said recently that the current bill will become law as written. Rubio, along with Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma are threatening to introduce an amendment to give Congress power to draft and certify a border enforcement plan that the administration would then need to implement.  Currently, the bill requires that the Department of Homeland Security implement new border enforcement measures before those on a path to citizenship can move ahead. The congressionally drafted plan could result in even more build up of armed agents and technology on the US-Mexico border. Advocates say the region can’t sustain more militarization. But other members of the Gang of Eight Senate group, including New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer, have said they are open to considering the proposal.  

Another amendment, from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., would expand border enforcement to require that border patrol apprehend at least 90 percent of attempted crossers before any undocumented immigrant can gain a green card.  The amendment could derail the path to citizenship entirely since the 90 percent goal is by most accounts unattainable.  Senate Majority Leady Harry Reid called the amendment a “poison pill.” Another amendment from Sen. Paul Rand, R-KY., would require that Congress to stage a vote each year on the progress of border security.

Other Republicans will propose amendments to make it more difficult for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship by increasing costs.  Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, plans to introduce an amendment that will require unauthorized immigrants to pay all unpaid back taxes from the entire period since arriving in the US. The bill already requires significant tax payments by applicants to the provisional path to citizenship. Though many undocumented immigrants now pay taxes, those who have not always paid income and other taxes may find the requirement impossible to meet, especially for those who’ve been in the country for decades.

While the Senate is expected to pass legislation in the next month, the fate of immigration reform in the House is less clear. House Speaker John Boehner said on “Good Morning America” today that he’s confident the House will pass a bill. “I think, no question, by the end of the year we could have a bill. No question,” he said.  But for immigration advocates who say immigration enforcement has already reached an extreme, the bill’s likely rightward drift to gain Republican support in the House raises concerns about what the law will ultimately mean for non-citizens.

Seven Surprising Facts About Asian-American and Middle Eastern Boys

Seven Surprising Facts About Asian-American and Middle Eastern Boys

new report released Monday by Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy takes a rare look at an often overlooked subgroup of young people: Asian American, Pacific Islander and AMEMSA boys and young men. AMEMSA stands for Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian—it’s a handy acronym worth remembering in a post-Sept. 11 U.S. context, where members of these communities often have overlapping experiences, but more typically, are seen as indistinguishable from each other.

So what ought we know about the boys and young men of these communities? Some of the facts may surprise you—and to the extent that they do, serve to highlight the grave misunderstandings the wider public has of Asian-American and AMEMSA communities broadly. Misunderstandings abound in part because of a stubborn model minority myth that suggests that all Asian Americans are wealthy, high-achieving and well-educated. The reality is far from that blanket picture. The U.S. Census Bureau’s own “Asian” category now encompasses 23 different Asian subgroups, all of whom have vastly different migration histories and cultural backgrounds. Some Asians came to the U.S. as refugees of war in the 1970s, some as laborers in the 19th century, some as newly recruited engineers to the tech industry. With all that difference and with no unifying linguistic or cultural binder, Asians are a truly difficult community to categorize. 

So what about those facts?

Judge: George Zimmerman May Not Be Called a “Vigilante” During Juror Questioning

Judge: George Zimmerman May Not Be Called a

Today, 16 months after Trayvon Martin was murdered, his killer George Zimmerman finally went on trial. And the first thing his lawyers did was try to delay the trial even further. Florida Circuit Judge Debra Nelson put the kibosh on that right away, the Detroit Free Press reported, but did rule that the prosecution is barred from using the words “profiled,” “vigilante,” “wannabe cop,” and “self-appointed neighborhood watch captain” during questioning of potential jurors. Those words were deemed “inflammatory,” the paper reported.

And then jury selection process began. Some 100 potential jurors showed up today after 500 summons were sent out. For more on what to expect during this trial, read Eric Mann’s account here.

The Detroit Free Press streamed the proceedings live today. Juror questioning will begin again tomorrow.

Big Freedia’s ‘Queen of Bounce’ Reality TV Show to Launch This Fall

Big Freedia's 'Queen of Bounce' Reality TV Show to Launch This Fall

The world will be able to take a closer look at New Orleans-based emcee Big Freedia. The reigning bounce music diva’s new reality show, “Queen of Bounce,” will premiere this fall on Wednesday, September 18 on Fuse TV. The show will follow Freedia and other bounce artists, including Katey Red, Sissy Nobby, and Mr. Ghetto.

More from the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” is one of three new music-focused programs on Fuse debuting this year. On July 24, the network premieres “G-Thing,” a show that follows Italian-American rapper G-Fella and his family as they try to launch an independent record label, and “Insane Clown Posse Theater.” The latter is a program featuring the infamous clown-faced rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope: the show includes the pair’s commentary on new music videos and pop culture phenomena as well as comedy sketches and interviews with special guests. “Insane Clown Posse Theater” previously was available as an online series; this summer, it graduates to the TV screen.

Earlier this year Pitchfork released an intriguing 27-minute documentary on Big Freedia. Check it out if you haven’t already. Seems like it’s just a taste of what’s to come this September. 


Fight Begins to Save Country’s Oldest Black Bookstore

Fight Begins to Save Country's Oldest Black Bookstore

The foreclosure crisis has devastated black families and businesses across the country, including the country’s oldest black bookstore. Marcus Bookstore, a landmark San Francisco black -owned business that opened in 1960 and survived the razing of the city’s historic African-American Fillmore district, is on the brink of closure. And now a fierce battle has started to save it.

Chris Roberts at the San Francisco Examiner has the story in detail:

“We’re not asking for a handout,” said Gregory Johnson, who with his wife, Karen run the bookstore. “It would be one thing if we didn’t have the money,” Karen Johnson added, as they sat in the bookstore’s incense-scented ground-floor space, indoor plants adding to the cool refuge from an unseasonably hot afternoon. “But we do. We have the money and The City behind us.”

The trouble at Marcus Books began in 2006. Like so many other people during the real estate boom, the family took out a loan in order to pay expenses, Karen Johnson said during an interview at the bookstore Friday.

And like so many others, the loan — $950,000, with fixed monthly payments but a high 10 percent interest rate — turned out to be “predatory,” she said. Monthly payments on the building ballooned to about $10,000, according to Dr. Mary Ann Jones, executive director of Westside Community Services.

The family has contacted the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris, which is investigating the loan’s legitimacy, according to attorney Julian Davis. But in the meantime, a last-minute effort by the Johnsons to buy the property from creditors missed a deadline.

Family members have started a petition on to asking the building’s new owners to “save the legacy of Marcus Books and keep the country’s oldest black-owned Bookstore in San Francisco.” See the petition on

Jasmine Johnson, granddaughter of the store’s founders, wrote a powerful piece on the challenges facing black-owned bookstores for last year when Harlem’s Hue-Man closed its doors:

The challenges black bookstores face are no romance. Advancing technology and digitization are increasingly central to the book-buying market; a desire for immediate ownership (even though it is technically only licensing) and quick-click purchasing has made brick-and-mortar stores synonymous with the slow, aging, and nostalgic. “For me, closing was a complete no-brainer,” Allen says. “The rent was going to go up, but even if I could have negotiated the same rent, I wouldn’t have done it. The market is costly, the space is inadequate, the vision is backward. This is 10-years-back; we need a 20-years-forward vision.”


Hue-Man is the stuff that community is made of—a space where we interact with others through the mutual valuation of literacy. The generosity found there characterizes many independent black businesses. They give as far as their means can stretch. Kindness often makes more acute the gaps in inventory. Regardless, we get to know us better by being there.

Read the entire piece.

TAGS: books
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