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NOW IN RACIAL JUSTICE

Justice Department Will Investigate Cleveland Police

The Justice Department announced today that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation into use of force by the Cleveland Division of Police (CPD). The investigation will focus on allegations that CPD officers use excessive force, including unreasonable deadly force, and on the adequacy of CPD’s training, supervision, and accountability mechanisms that are essential to effective, constitutional policing.

The Justice Department’s investigation will determine whether CPD officers engage in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Constitution and federal law. This investigation will include a comprehensive review of CPD’s policies, procedures, training, accountability systems, and community engagement. As part of this investigation, the Justice Department will reach out to community members and groups for help in identifying potential problems within the police department.

Department officials have met with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, CPD Chief Michael McGrath, and Director of Public Safety Martin Flask and will continue to work closely with both the city and CPD as the investigation progresses.

“Police officers across the country are called upon to protect and safeguard members of their communities and are afforded the authority they need to do so, including the authority to use deadly force,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “It is absolutely imperative that officers use that authority responsibly and within the boundaries of the law. We are eager to work together with the city of Cleveland and its police department to help ensure that its officers are best serving the individuals they are sworn to protect.”

To learn more about the investigation, click here. Click here to read Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez’s remarks at the

Today Marks the 5 Millionth ‘Stop-And-Frisk’ by NYPD Under Bloomberg, Says NYCLU

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The NYPD is set to record its 5 millionth stop-and-frisk encounter under Mayor Bloomberg today, according to an analysis by the New York Civil Liberties Union based on an extrapolation of Police Department data.

“This disturbing milestone is a slap in the face to New Yorkers who cherish the right to walk down the street without being interrogated or even thrown up against the wall by the police,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a statement. “The NYPD’s routine abuse of stop-and-frisks is a tremendous waste of police resources, it sows mistrust between officers and the communities they serve, and it routinely violates fundamental rights. A walk to the subway, corner deli or school should not carry the assumption that you will be confronted by police, but that’s the disturbing reality for young men of color in New York City.”

Last year, the NYPD conducted 533,042 stop-and-frisks stops, with 473,300 of the stops, or 89 percent, resulting in no arrest or ticket. And 87 percent of people stopped were black of Latino, according to the NYCLU analysis.

Las Cafeteras Bring Activism and (Good!) Music to SXSW [VIDEO]

Las Cafeteras Bring Activism and (Good!) Music to SXSW [VIDEO] Play

The seven members of Las Cafeteras met in 2005 as students at free Son Jarocho classes at the Eastside Cafe in Los Angeles. The group says they use the folk music from Southern Veracruz, Mexico, as a tool to build autonomy, community and solidarity.

“The most beautiful thing about Las Cafeteras is that we we were organizers way before we were musicians,” band member Hector Flores told Colorlines.com on Tuesday. “Really what we’re trying to do, in the legacy of those that came before us, we are trying to spread the songs of peace, love and resistance.”

“We’re honored to share this music and message everywhere we go and now that we’re at South by Southwest, here we go,” he goes on to say.

Las Cafeteras will play at an official SXSW showcase on Friday night.

DATE: Friday, March 15
TIME: 11 to 11:40 p.m.
PLACE: Copa, 217 Congress Ave.

Check out Las Cafeteras “going for the gold” in the “Olympics against oppression” in our exclusive video. For even more information on the band and their movement music, visit their website http://lascafeteras.com.

Chicago Bulls Star Derrick Rose to Pay For Funeral of Slain 6 Month Old

Chicago Bulls Star Derrick Rose to Pay For Funeral of Slain 6 Month Old

Just when it seemed like the news out of Chicago couldn’t get any more heartbreaking, 6 month old Jonylah Watkins was shot and killed earlier this week. The child was shot multiple times in a car as her father changed her diaper. The girl’s father, Jonathan Watkins, was seriously injured in the shooting. The Chicago Bulls’s superstar point guard Derrick Rose has offered to pay for the baby’s funeral services.

According to NBC Chicago:

The Englewood [Chicago] native - who recently became a father last October when his son, Derrick Rose Jr. was born - has always felt a close connection to the plight of kids in Chicago, as evidenced by his speaking out during the recent Chicago Public School strike, and him shedding tears over the many obstacles that kids face during the launch of his new adidas sneaker, the Rose 3.0 in September.

The funeral is scheduled to be held next week.

TAGS: Chicago guns

NYPD Violence Looms in Third Day of Protests for Kimani Gray [PHOTOS]

NYPD Violence Looms in Third Day of Protests for Kimani Gray [PHOTOS]

Demonstrators gathered for a third straight day last night in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, to remember the life of 16-year-old Kimani Gray, who was shot and killed by New York Police Department officers earlier this week. The candlelight vigil was marked by concerns about violence, as demonstrators clashed with police officers once again. Reports vary on the number and nature of arrests, from a dozen to as many as 50. According to Gothamist:

An NYPD spokesman tells us they’re “still ascertaining and tabulating” the number of people arrested last night, explaining that some were issued summons while others were “sent through the system” (meaning at least one night in the Tombs). We saw at least 13 arrests, and the total number could easily be double that if not more. (The Post hears 50.) Many of those arrests resulted in a teenager on the pavement with three or four cops crowding over them. One particularly tense stand-off between a female demonstrator and a male police officer began with the cop telling her to get on the sidewalk, and her responding, “Or what, you’ll shoot me?” The officer, whose helmet had the number 7987 on it, said, “No, but I’ll slap you.”

According to those who have been touched by police violence in Brooklyn, the anger among protestors is understandable.

“I’m not going to tell people don’t be angry because we’re all angry,” said Franclot Graham, whose teenage son, Ramarley Graham, was shot and killed after police chased him into his Bronx home last year. A New York police officer has been charged with manslaughter in the death. “It’s OK to vent but you have to respect the family’s wishes and be peaceful,” he said.

Gray’s parents have said that they will not speak publicly as long as the violence continues because it will cloud their message. Their son was shot multiple times over the weekend. Witnesses have said that Gray was unarmed, while police contend that the teenager pointed a gun at then and prompted the gunfire.

Violence reportedly broke out at Wednesday night’s candlelight vigil after police detained Gray’s sister.

See more photos from last night’s protest and standoff with cops after the jump.

[This post has been updated since publication]

Study: Harris County, Texas Juries Twice As Likely to Demand Death Penalty for Black Defendants Than White

The U.S. criminal justice system is a reflection of the values and mores of the society it serves. Which is to say, racism is built into its bones. A new study, released today as part of an appeal filed in the case of death row inmate Duane Buck, offers but the latest evidence of that reality. In Harris County, Texas, juries and district attorneys mete out punishment that differs greatly depending on the race of the defendant. The study buttresses Buck’s argument that the death sentence he received in 1997 unconstitutional, and that his own case represents not just a one-time lapse of justice, but a systemic problem.

University of Maryland criminologist Ray Paternoster found in an analysis (PDF) of 504 Harris County cases similar to Buck’s between 1992 and 1999, Harris County prosecutors were more than three times as likely to seek the death penalty when the defendant was black than in cases when the defendant was white. Juries, too, treated white and black defendants differently. In cases similar to Buck’s, juries demanded the death penalty 20 percent of the time for white defendants, but 40 percent of the time when defendants were black. Buck is black.

“We are all at risk when our justice system allows prosecutors and juries to exercise lethal discretion based on race,” Sherrilyn Ifill, Director-Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement.

North Carolina’s Voter ID Bill Has Finally Arrived

North Carolina's Voter ID Bill Has Finally Arrived

The voter ID bill we reported was heading for North Carolina has finally arrived. State Republicans, who hold a super-majority in the state’s general assembly, announced last week they would move on the legislation they campaigned on to win that majority: Mandating photo ID for voters to cast ballots. Rep. David Lewis, who serves on the Republican National Committee, said they were going to “slow-walk” the legislation to make sure citizens adequately voice their concerns.

That stroll begins today with a public forum on voter ID legislation that starts this afternoon and is expected to go until late in the evening. Civil rights advocates argue that upwards of 500,000 of active North Carolinian voters — a third of whom are African Americans, and two-thirds of whom are women — lack a photo ID.

Rev. William J. Barber, who leads the state NAACP, has been working with a widespread grassroots coalition to organize voters in opposition to the pending law. Today, he said:

“We find ourselves at another Edmund Pettus Bridge today in North Carolina,” said Rev. Barber. “This time, on our long march to a more democratic, more diverse, more humane society, those of us who picked up the baton from Viola Liuzzo, Jimmie Lee Jackson, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and the hundreds who died to win the vote and the Voting Rights Act, are facing new barricades trying to block the way to a more perfect union through poll taxes disguised as voter ID, race-based gerrymandering, plans to roll back early voting, same-say registration and Sunday voting and attacks on the Voting Rights Act. This is what hypocrisy looks like. The multi-racial, re-emerging Southern Freedom Movement in North Carolina is what democracy looks like.”

The civil rights coalition says they’ll be pushing for legislation that expands ballot access, making voting an official constitutionally protected right, and making it more difficult for legislation that restricts ballot access to pass.

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Activists Launch Campaign Against NYC’s Teen Pregnancy Ads

Activists Launch Campaign Against NYC's Teen Pregnancy Ads

Remember those really problematic teen pregnancy billboards that we talked about last week? The ones that are seemingly trying to shame teens out of getting pregnant? Well, reproductive rights activists in the city have launched a campaign to show that they won’t be bullied.

The New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice launched its “No Stigma! No Shame” campaign this week to get the city to address systemic issues relating to teen pregnancy. In a letter written to community members, the coalition’s lead organizer Jasmine Burnett wrote the following:

We fail as a society when we shame young people instead of teaching them what they need to know to make the best decisions about their lives. For those of us who do direct service, education and advocacy around issues of poverty, access to comprehensive sex education, contraception, family planning and addressing health disparities that have historically impacted communities of color, we are acutely aware of the budget cuts to programs and services that could address and reverse these conditions within our communities. The New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice is holding HRA accountable for reinforcing negative stereotypes about the decision-making ability of young people instead of investing in programs and policies that encourage young people to thrive.

Campaign organizers will hold a meeting on Monday, March 18 at 26 Bleeker Ave at 6pm.

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You’ll Love This Inspiring Video From New Orleans School Kids

You'll Love This Inspiring Video From New Orleans School Kids

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s school system was, like everything else in the city, turned upside down. That’s led to the creation of Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, a youth-based non-profit that believes students should have a say in how their schools are run. This video shows how students in the program imagined what “wellness” meant to their communities. It’s a fun, engaging, and inspiring look at youth leadership. Enjoy!

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Actress Michelle Williams Compares Native Americans to Munchkins

Actress Michelle Williams Compares Native Americans to Munchkins

Actress Michelle Williams was recently cast in “Oz the Great and Powerful.” Should be a career boost, right? Right. Unless you go on the record comparing munchkins in a movie to Native Americans’ fight for life and land in the United States.

“Quadlings, Tinkers and Munchkins didn’t mean much to me; it wasn’t my language,” Williams said of the groups of misfits her character benevolently rules over in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week. “But when I thought of them as Native Americans trying to inhabit their land or about women getting the right to vote, it made a lot more sense.”

Colorlines.com fam and The Nation blogger Aura Bogado wrote an open letter to Williams to address the matter. Bogado writes:

Native Americans are not Munchkins, Ms. Williams—and neither were the suffragettes who fought for your right to vote. To even suggest a comparison between imaginary Munchkins in a film and Natives in real life fighting for untold stakes is perilous because it sustains the entirely racist notion that Natives are cute creatures that require safekeeping. Unlike the costume you wore and later discarded, Natives cannot shake off five centuries of injustice after a photo shoot. There is no photo shoot. The struggle for Native land, sovereignty, healthcare, education and even running water remain real yet silent. That silence is only deepened when you make ludicrous statements that liken Natives to Munchkins.

Read more at The Nation.

Obama’s Labor Department Nod is Very, Very Good News

Obama's Labor Department Nod is Very, Very Good News

Word is out that Obama might be nominating Justice Department civil rights head attorney Thomas Perez to replace outgoing Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis. Who is Perez? Remember those voter ID battles last year that the Justice Department went hard in the paint for, in Texas, South Carolina, and Florida? That was Perez. Remember how Justice went from defending the Defense of Marriage Act to defending, or at least no longer fighting against marriage equality? That was Perez. Remember how Justice started bringing the pain to banks that engaged in discriminatory housing and payday lending? Yup, that was all Perez.

Perez in fact restored the Justice Department’s civil rights legacy of protecting people of color after the Bush administration effectively defanged them for almost a decade. Perez served as Montgomery County, Md.’s first elected Latino council representative from 2002 to 2006 and later served as labor secretary under Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. He’s advocated strongly for immigrant workers, and for all these reasons, his pick for U.S. Labor will be loved by progressives and hated by conservatives, as Adam Serwer noted this morning at Mother Jones.

Writes Serwer:

Immigration reform advocates have high hopes for Perez, the child of exiles from the Dominican Republic. Gustavo Torres, head of the immigrant advocacy organization CASA de Maryland, told Mother Jones last year that while serving on the group’s board, Perez played a key role in turning the organization into an influential force. “We were a very small organization; we were dreaming of how we could make a difference,” Torres said. Perez “helped us develop a strategic plan to expand the organization around the state.” Perez, Torres says, “truly believes in integrating the immigrant community, and believes in comprehensive immigration reform.”

If he’s officially selected, he will have no easy passageway through the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darryl Issa of California are expected to hammer him fiercely on a fair housing discrimination lawsuit Perez allegedly helped make go away in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sen. Grassley also believes that Perez’s civil rights division has been overreaching in it’s federal law challenges.

Meanwhile, an official nod from Obama would signal that his administration is not shying away from supporting organized labor and immigrant workers rights.

Mississippi Won’t Ever Let Anyone Tell You How Much Soda to Drink

Mississippi Won't Ever Let Anyone Tell You How Much Soda to Drink

New Yorkers have narrowly escaped Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban larger soda sizes. On Monday, a judge in Manhattan struck down a rule capping soda sizes in an effort that Bloomberg framed as one that couple curb stubbornly high obesity rates in communities of color. New Yorkers, after all, can and should be allowed to do whatever they want (according to the ads that ran agains the move). The same is apparently also true in Mississippi, where lawmakers there have passed a law to never let any high minded, health conscious politician tell you how much soda you’re allowed to drink.

From NPR’s Morning Edition:

A bill now on the governor’s desk would bar counties and towns from enacting rules that require calorie counts to be posted, that cap portion sizes, or that keep toys out of kids’ meals. “The Anti-Bloomberg Bill” garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in a state where one in three adults is obese, the highest rate in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers’ lobby.

The soda ban was an imperfect and unpopular way to address a very real problem: skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes in poor black and Latino communities. Health in any major city is often a racializied issue, and this was certainly a racialized solution; no one mentioned banning grande caramel frappaccinos at Starbucks. Legislative back-and-forths like this would almost be funny if there weren’t real lives at stake.

NYPD Kills Teen Who Witness Says Was Just Adjusting Belt

NYPD Kills Teen Who Witness Says Was Just Adjusting Belt

Two plainclothes New York City Police officers shot and killed a teenage boy late Saturday night in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Police officers say Kimani Gray, 16, adjusted his waistband in a “suspicious manner” before they fired 11 rounds.

Local news sources however are offering conflicting reports.

An eyewitness told Pix11 that Gray was “running for his life” when he was shot dead and never brandished a weapon.

“‘He was running for his life, telling the cops, ‘Stop,’” witness Camille Johnson told Pix11 in the video report seen at the top of this story. “They really are, seriously, walking around, shooting little kids,” Johnson went on to say.

The New York Times interviewed Gray’s sister who reported Kimani did not own a gun: 

Mr. Gray’s sister, Mahnefah Gray, 19, said that a witness to the shooting told her that her brother had been fixing his belt when he was shot. She, among others who knew Mr. Gray, said they had never known him to have a gun. Even if he had one on Saturday night, he would not have pointed it at police officers, Ms. Gray said.

However, Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department tells the Times a much different story.

“After the anti-crime sergeant and police officer told the suspect to show his hands, which was heard by witnesses, Gray produced a revolver and pointed it at the officers, who fired a total of 11 rounds, striking Gray several times,” Mr. Browne said.

A woman who identified herself as Gray’s cousin corroborated with the police department’s story and told NY1 that the teenager was carrying the handgun for a friend. She also thought that Gray was trying to alert police that he had a weapon, rather than use it.

Gray’s sister Manefah challenged those statements. 

“Fixing his belt, fixing his belt was technically what he had. He had to really pull it because he had a skinny waist. So probably he was grabbing his belt to squeeze it,” said Mahnefah Gray. “They thought he was grabbing back to get a gun. He’s 16 years old. What is he pointing a gun at over six police, knowing that they would kill him? He has common sense.”

Yes, Racism is a Public Health Risk

Yes, Racism is a Public Health Risk

There’s been lots of talk nationally about Stop-and-Frisk, the New York Police Department’s controversial policing tactic. On Monday, the issue is set to finally go to court, where critics will argue that it infringes on people’s constitutional rights. Over at the Atlantic, doctoral student Jason Silverstein lays out a compelling case that racism — or, in this case, the racial profiling that critics of Stop-and-Frisk say are central to the way it’s implemented — doesn’t just make people feel bad, but that’s actually bad for people’s bodies.

A new study by Kathryn Freeman Anderson in Sociological Inquiry adds evidence to the hypothesis that racism harms health. To study the connection, Anderson analyzed the massive 2004 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which includes data for other 30,000 people. Conceptually, she proposes a simple pathway with two clear steps. First, because of the prevalence of racial discrimination, being a racial minority leads to greater stress. Not surprisingly, Anderson found that 18.2 percent of black participants experienced emotional stress and 9.8 percent experienced physical stress. Comparatively, only 3.5 and 1.6 percent of whites experienced emotional and physical stress, respectively. 
Second, this stress leads to poorer mental and physical health. But this is not only because stress breaks the body down. It is also because stress pushes people to cope in unhealthy ways. When we feel stressed, we may want a drink and, if we want a drink, we may also want a cigarette. But discrimination is not just any form of stress. It is a type of stress that disproportionately affects minorities. 
Here we see how racism works in a cycle to damage health. People at a social disadvantage are more likely to experience stress from racism. And they are less likely to have the resources to extinguish this stress, because they are at a social disadvantage.

It’s a really intriguing read, an important one. See the whole thing at The Atlantic.

SXSW: Who’s Making Money From Their YouTube? Not Black People

SXSW: Who's Making Money From Their YouTube? Not Black People

YouTube’s slogan is “broadcast yourself” and it’s been celebrated as the new media platform that will revolutionize how marginalized groups are presented in the media. But the network is not much different than old media—90 of the top 100 YouTube video creators are white and mostly male.

In 2009 YouTube launched what they call the Partner Program that allows some of the popular content owners to make money from the videos they uploaded to the video sharing site. YouTube will not say how much people are paid for their content but according to earning reports there are thousands of video content creators on YouTube who are making more than $100,000 a year.

Only two of YouTube’s top 100 personalities are black (DeStorm, Kingsley), according to Chase Hoffberger at DailyDot.com who organized a panel at South by SouthWest called “YouTube and Racism.”

In the Colorlines.com video above YouTube stars Franchesca Ramsey and Andre Meadows along with scholar Jenny Ungbha Korn discuss YouTube Racism and how black video content creators have to work much harder to be seen.

Zerlina Maxwell Offers 5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape

Zerlina Maxwell Offers 5 Ways We Can Teach Men Not to Rape

Just in case you missed it, Zerlina Maxwell went on FOX News this weekend and brilliantly put rape culture on blast. While appearing as a guest on Hannity, the prolific writer and social media commentator said that when it comes to preventing rape, we must look beyond the reactionary impulse to just give women more guns. Instead, we need to teach men not to rape.

“I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape.”

Maxwell’s comments got lots of attention and caused a ripple effect on weekend social media. Implicit in them was that the problem isn’t just individual behaviors, but a culture of patriarchy. This morning, she followed them up with a piece at EBONY.com on five ways we can teach men not to rape. “Rape culture is a pervasive part of our society because of social conditioning,” Maxwell wrote. “Yet we struggle to find ways to avoid patterns of victim blaming and many of us would rather advise women on the precautions they should take to avoid being raped as opposed to starting at the root of the problem: teaching men and boys not to be rapists in the first place.”

Here’s a snippet of the five points that Maxwell makes. To read the entire list, march on over to EBONY.

1. Teach young men about legal consent: Legal consent is number one for a reason. Without it, sexual contact with someone is rape whether you intended to rape or not. A woman who is drunk, unconscious, sleeping cannot give legal consent. And it’s not about a woman simply saying “no,” it’s really about making certain she’s saying yes.

2. Teach young men to see women’s humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure: There is a reason why women are shamed into silence and teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio are caught on camera laughing about gang raping an unconscious girl at a party. The dehumanization of women spans all areas of American life.

3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity: The question that’s being asked about what women can do to prevent violence against them is the wrong question. It’s not what can a woman say or do that can prevent being attacked. We need to turn that paradigm.

4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim: The vast majority of women do not report their rapes to the police and many more only tell one or two people in confidence.

5. Teach young men about bystander intervention: Both Men Stopping Violence and Men Can Stop Rape have bystander intervention workshops for men of all ages. “It’s about community accountability,” says Pandit, “We require men to talk to other men in their lives and tell them about these programs. It is important that we have community networks that hold men accountable.”

TAGS: Rape

Celebrate The International Woman in Your Life With the ‘Meet My Immigrant Mom’ Tumblr

On this International Women’s Day, the Domestic Workers Alliance, a national group organizing for the rights of domestic workers, has rolled out the sweetest of tributes to immigrant mothers, those truly international women. It’s a tumblr called “Meet My Immigrant Mom,” and it is as simple as that. Each post includes a snapshot of a woman with a short introduction to her written by her child.

Christine, writes of her mother Anne, “What I respect the most about her is her deep sense of self-dignity and self-worth. Even if her English isn’t 100% perfect, she always stands up for herself and demands to be treated with respect. The funny thing is, when she first immigrated from South Korea, she was quiet and shy, but its hard to believe now! Sometimes we have to remind her to use her “indoor voice”!”

Julie from New Hampshire, pictured in front of a blooming garden with her mom, says she loves her mom’s fighting spirit:

She has hurdled some hard obstacles in her life, including breast cancer and has always persevered. My mother grew up in poverty, living with nuns in an orphanage at one point (because her mother couldn’t take care of her) in Mexico City and then she moved to Tijuana. My mother moved to the United States when she was in her mid 20’s. She was the first member of her family to immigrate. She put herself through community college and with little English behind her, she found a job working for a radio station.

In a very un-Internet-like move, the stories are entirely free of irony or sarcasm. The stories betray no hints of hurt or disappointment, it’s just love. They are affectionate public tributes to ordinary women who are heroes to their children for loving and living bravely. And, they’re looking for more. Send them your story here.

Colorado’s In-State Tuition ASSET Bill One Signature Away From Law

It only took ten years, but Colorado has finally done it. In a 40-21 vote Friday the Colorado House approved the ASSET bill, the state’s tuition equity bill, which would allow undocumented students who graduated from high school in Colorado to pay the same in-state tuition that their peers pay for college, the Yuma Pioneer reported.

The law addresses a fundamental inequity in higher education for undocumented immigrants. Because undocumented students are technically not considered residents of their home states, even if they grew up their their entire lives, they must pay out-of-state tuition when they’re ready to go for college. That tuition can be two and three times the in-state price, and because undocumented students are barred from accessing federal aid and loans, the price of college becomes prohibitively expensive. Colorado, like more than a dozen states before it, decided that such a move was shutting off young people’s futures and doing no good for the state itself.

The bill is now headed to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk, who has said that he would sign it into law.

McDonald’s Guest Workers Strike and Demand Meeting With Company CEO

McDonald's Guest Workers Strike and Demand Meeting With Company CEO

A group of student guest workers from Asia and Latin America walked out of the Pennsylvania McDonalds where they’re employed on Wednesday, saying that they’ve been paid less than the minimum wage and are housed in subpar and overcrowded apartments. The workers are all students who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas, which the State Department bills as a cultural and educational exchange program.

“I told my parents about where I’m living, and they were like, ‘what”…it really worried my parents,” said Sabrina Tan, a Malaysian finance student, in a video released yesterday by the National Guestworker Alliance, which is organizing the students.

The Alliance filed complaints with the State Department and Department of Labor.

“Each student paid at least $3,000 to participate in the U.S. State Department’s J-1 student guestworker program- a program designed to offer foreign college students a summer cultural exchange in the United States,” the complaint to the DOL read. “Instead, McDonald’s franchisee Andy Cheung/ Cheung Enterprises LLC and Geovisions used the J-1 program to source cheap, exploitable workers from Latin American and Asia and then treated them as a sub-minimum wage surplus workforce at the fast food chain franchises.”

According to a statement from Alliance, the students plan to deliver a written request for meeting to McDonald’s CEO today at 3pm.

Yesterday McDonalds said it would investigate the claims.

“We take the well-being of the employees working in McDonald’s restaurants seriously,” McDonald’s said in a statement to PennLive. “We are working closely with the franchisee to investigate the claims surrounding (Cheung’s) program.”

The strike comes as members of Congress are debating the future of guest worker programs as part of the broad immigration reform legislation. Human rights groups say that guest worker programs like the J-1 visa are rife with exploitation and abuse because workers’ immigration status is often tied to their employer.

Last Month’s Good Job Numbers Still Spell Trouble for Blacks and Latinos

Last Month's Good Job Numbers Still Spell Trouble for Blacks and Latinos

Welcome news came on the unemployment front this morning. The Department of Labor reported that the unemployment rate in the U.S. fell to the lowest level in four years, dropping to 7.7 percent. With job creation at 236,000 jobs last month, America is approaching employment growth levels that could make a real dent in unemployment. Several more months at close to 250,000 and the economy may well be on it’s way.

But don’t break out the fireworks yet. Disturbingly, black and Latino unemployment remains frighteningly high. This fact pushes me to point out two giant yellow caution signs flashing before the February jobs report.

The first is that we’ve been at “good news” points before. Remember “green shoots” and “recovery summer” and the other economic cheerleading platitudes which never materialized? The bottom line is that one month’s bump doesn’t equal a trend.

Just last year, the economy seemed poised to take off. In the 3rd quarter of last year economic growth for example shot up to 3.1 percent into clear recovery territory. But the next quarter it fell back to earth, barely eking out any growth at all. Why’s that? The answer lays in Washington.

Political gridlock in Washington prevents the economy from getting any traction. The House GOP’s commitment to preserve a special place for the wealthy through tax cuts financed by budget cuts is creating enormous uncertainty. The schizophrenia in Washington is showing up in herky-jerky economic data.

Moreover the policies that DC ends up agreeing to also halts any forward momentum we might have.

As part of the fiscal cliff deal last month, the White House and Congress agreed to allow payroll taxes—which hit middle and low wage earners the most—to rise by $125 billion. This increase is forecast to shave growth in 2013.

And the downdraft of uncertainty and off-beat policies doesn’t end there.

With almost a million job cuts looming as a result of sequestration—alongside impending budget battles on keeping the government running for the rest of the year and raising the nation’s debt ceiling—who know’s what the true employment outlook for the rest of the year might be?

The other cautionary sign flashing is that black and Latino unemployment remain at economic-depression levels. One of out of seven blacks and one of out 10 Latinos is out of work. If this trend holds, it’s a worrying sign.

Blacks and Latinos falling behind as the rest of the economy falls forward is not where we need to be. With black and Latino wealth in the tank, the lack of jobs is a double blow. It could mean that the divide between black and brown communities and the rest of America becomes that much greater.

As I have long advocated, that’s why we need race-specific policies. Why? Because black and brown unemployment has race-specific dimensions that need targeted remedies.

Until Washington gets its act together and gets back on the side of average Americans, our jobless numbers—like all other economic indicators—are likely to be up and down.

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