Revisiting the 1970s Murder of a Native American Activist

Revisiting the 1970s Murder of a Native American Activist

On my must-read list this weekend is a NYT Magazine piece about the murder of radical Native American activist Anna Mae Aquash. The body of 30-year-old Aquash, a mother of two and a leader of the Black Panther-modeled American Indian Movement (AIM) was found in early 1976 along the edge of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She had been shot at close range. Only over the last decade however have authorities determined that, “her killing was in fact an inside job, orchestrated by AIM members who believed she was working as an F.B.I. informer.” How do you reconcile that?

And btw, here’s one telling description of Aquash, a Mikmaq from Canada, as taken from a letter she once wrote to her sister:

“These white people think this country belongs to them. The whole country changed with only a handful of raggedy-ass pilgrims that came over here in the 1500s. And it can take a handful of raggedy-ass Indians to do the same, and I intend to be one of those raggedy-ass Indians.” On her first night in South Dakota, [AIM leader, Dennis] Banks told her that newcomers were needed on kitchen duty. “Mr. Banks,” she replied, “I didn’t come here to wash dishes. I came here to fight.”

In Minneapolis, Columbus Day Becomes Indigenous People’s Day

In Minneapolis, Columbus Day Becomes Indigenous People's Day

Today the 13-member Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to recognize another holiday on the same day as Columbus Day: Indigenous People’s Day.

“This has been a long time coming and people are going to feel really good about how we’re moving forward and advancing a racial equity agenda that really elevates the voice and contributions of American Indian people,” said the resolution’s author, council member Alondra Cano, CBS reported.

The name change came after “many” years of advocacy by Native American activists, the StarTribune reported. Hundreds came out to the city council for this morning’s vote.

The new name will replace Columbus Day on all city communications and will go into effect this year, but won’t officially do away with the name Columbus Day. Rather, Minneapolis will also recognize Indigenous People’s Day on the same date, the StarTribune reported.

Head to the StarTribune website for some great photos of today’s vote.

Report: At Least 14 Heat-Related Deaths in Texas Prisons Since 2007

Report: At Least 14 Heat-Related Deaths in Texas Prisons Since 2007

Overheating in Texas prisons is a deadly issue, according to a new report (PDF) from the University of Texas School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic reported by the Texas Tribune. Since 2007 at least 14 inmates in Texas state facilities have died as a result of overheating. The report’s authors call the conditions a violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

Just how hot does it get? According to temperature logs kept by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, heat indices in some facilities surpassed 100 degrees by 8:30 in the morning, with temperatures spiking above 110 degrees for a heat index of 149 degrees. Investigations into heat-related deaths at state facilities found that temperatures were into the 90’s, even past midnight. These heat levels put people at “extreme danger” of heat disorders, according to the National Weather Service

And yet, Texas has repeatedly failed to provide proper air conditioning and ventilation to inmates, even though federal appellate courts have found that submitting inmates to extreme heat is a violation of inmates’ constitutional rights. 

And it’s not just affecting inmates. In 2012, 92 correctional officers suffered from heat-related injuries, the Texas Tribune reported. And while TDCJ facilities lack air conditioning for the general inmates population, “At the same time, the TDCJ has spent money on air conditioning for its warden offices and for its armories,” write report authors. Adding air conditioning to state prisons is “extremely expensive,” TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark told the Texas Tribune.

Texas isn’t alone. Last year death row inmates at Louisana’s notorious Angola Prison filed a lawsuit charging the state corrections department with failing to provide relief for inmates on death row, where temperatures reach a whopping 195 degrees. 

Muslim Americans Suing to Remove Names From No Fly List

Muslim Americans Suing to Remove Names From No Fly List

Naveed Shinwari is one of four Muslims who this week filed a lawsuit against the government claiming they were placed on the “no-fly” list after refusing to become FBI informants and spy on their communities. At least 700,000 people are now part of the Terrorist Screening Database, or, the terrorist watch list, which, according to a New York Times analysis, lacks oversight. The government doesn’t confirm or deny whether someone is on the list, divulge criteria for “no-fly” exclusion and it isn’t clear, experts say, whether the government even periodically reviews the list.

Shinwari, who found out in March 2012 that he was on the no-fly list while flying to Orlando for a job interview, seeks removal from the list as well as a legal mechanism to challenge placement on it.

(h/t Democracy Now)

Net Neutrality, Barack Obama High School and Northwestern’s Union Vote

Net Neutrality, Barack Obama High School and Northwestern's Union Vote

Here’s what I’m reading about this morning: 

TAGS: Morning Rush

When Police Kill, Should They Judge Themselves?

When Police Kill, Should They Judge Themselves?

In a few days, Wisconsin will become the first state in the nation to require outside investigation when people die in police custody. The new law is the result of years of activism on the part of family members and a Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel investigation into five years of in-custody deaths in Milwaukee. Despite circumstances of detainees’ deaths, officers were typically quickly cleared of wrongdoing.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) is reportedly “optimistic” that her state will inspire others to adopt similar measures.

“I’m proud that Wisconsin is the first state in the nation to have this outside investigatory process. It’s kind of unbelievable.”

(h/t Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Regulating E-cigarettes, Avril Lavigne’s Racist Music Video, New Migraine Drugs

Regulating E-cigarettes, Avril Lavigne's Racist Music Video, New Migraine Drugs

Here’s what I’m reading up on this morning: 

  • An entire Wyoming town is evacuated following a natural gas plant explosion. 
  • President Obama travels to Japan and is mildly amused by a robot: 

TAGS: Morning Rush

HBE’s ‘City Living’ Video is Here and it’s Beautiful

HBE's 'City Living' Video is Here and it's Beautiful

If you’re looking for an incredible new music video to get you through the middle of the week, check out “City Living.” The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble’s new video, shot in the U.S. and Southeast Asia, looks just as gorgeous as it sounds.  

(h/t Okayplayer)

Justice Sotomayor’s Beautiful Schuette Dissent: ‘Race Matters’

Justice Sotomayor's Beautiful Schuette Dissent: 'Race Matters'

The Supreme Court may have hammered yet another nail into affirmative action’s coffin with its 6-2 ruling on Tuesday, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor didn’t go quietly. In a fiery and incisive 58-page dissent that was longer than the combined rulings and responses of all her other colleagues, Sotomayor took her colleagues to task over their eagerness to part ways with 30-year-old legal precedents; their willful ignorance about the realities of race and racism; and their refusal to acknowledge that race continues to be a central force shaping the lives and opportunities of people in the U.S.

Sotomayor, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, contextualizes Schuette within a century-long history by including a brief history of the myriad ways states and localities have denied people of color the right to vote, to go to school, and to and access to the political process over the years. She starts at the Fifteenth Amendment, which was ratified after the Civil War, and counts all the ways the Supreme Court has intervened in this ugly history to protect people of color’s access the political process. Her history lesson serves as a kind of shaming of the current Court, which in Schuette departed from established precedent and, she argues, its duties.

There are plenty of gems in her dissent, including a direct rebuke to Chief Justice John Roberts, who famously wrote in a 2006 opinion: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” On Tuesday, Sotomayor responded: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”

But perhaps my favorite passage from the opinion is when Justice Sotomayor steps away from the legal theory to explain in plain English exactly how race is lived for so many people of color in the U.S.

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.” 

Read Sotomayor’s dissent in full (PDF).

Sherpa Walkout, #MyNYPD, Lupita Nyong’o is the Most Beautiful

Sherpa Walkout, #MyNYPD, Lupita Nyong'o is the Most Beautiful

Here’s what I’m catching up on this morning: 

  • A judge will consider whether to allow Chelsea Manning to change her name to Chelsea Manning.
TAGS: Morning Rush

Letter to W.E.B. DuBois Sheds Light on Dalit Leader’s Global Vision

Letter to W.E.B. DuBois Sheds Light on Dalit Leader's Global Vision

In the “who knew?” category comes this 1946 exchange between B.R. Ambedkar, the preeminent leader of India’s Dalits, and W.E.B. DuBois, the noted African-American sociologist and activist. From the South Asian American Digital Archive:

An interesting record appears in the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, the prominent African American intellectual and activist, whose archive is housed at the University of Massachusetts. In the 1940s, Ambedkar contacted Du Bois to inquire about the National Negro Congress petition to the U.N., which attempted to secure minority rights through the U.N. council. In a letter dated July 31, 1946, Du Bois responded by telling Ambedkar he was familiar with his name, and that he had “every sympathy with the Untouchables of India.”

To read the letters, visit the South Asian American Digital Archive.

Supremes’ ‘Schuette’ Ruling is Another Nail in the Affirmative Action Coffin

Supremes' 'Schuette' Ruling is Another Nail in the Affirmative Action Coffin

Welcome to the waning days of affirmative action. The Supreme Court took yet another swipe at race-conscious college admissions policies in its 6-2 ruling in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action Tuesday. While in the immediate the ruling won’t change much, the ruling is a critical setback in the effort to defend what’s left of affirmative action.

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action wasn’t about the constitutionality of affirmative action itself—the Supreme Court skirted that issue when it had its big chance last term. Instead, the Supreme Court sought to answer whether states may ban affirmative action via voter-backed ballot initiatives. The majority found that they may. As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it.” The ‘who’ in question are Michigan’s voters, who in 2006 passed Proposal 2, a ballot initiative which outlawed the consideration of race in admissions policies.Since 2006, Michigan’s public universities and colleges have adjusted to these constraints, but not without serious consequences.  Prior to Proposal 2, black undergrad enrollment at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was roughly 7 percent. It’s since dipped to 4.6 percent, reported. According to the 2012 Census, blacks are 14.3 percent of Michigan’s population. “We remain committed to the goal of a diverse, academically excellent, student body and will continue to seek to achieve that goal in ways that comply with the law,” University of Michigan spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told the Detroit Free Press, emphasizing that the university’s admissions policies are already in line with Proposal 2. 

Affirmative action backers argued that Proposal 2 unfairly shifts the political process by singling out race and those who would support greater racial diversity on college campuses—namely students of color—and makes it harder for them and only them to lobby for changes to Michigan universities’ admissions policies. Today, in order to reinstate race-conscious admissions policies in Michigan’s public universities, affirmative action supporters would have to mount a ballot initiative campaign to overturn Proposal 2, an extremely costly endeavor. And yet, all others who want to lobby for changes to Michigan universities’ admissions policies—say in favor of legacy admissions or athletes or donors—need only lobby the state’s Board of Regents. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor emphasized in her impassioned dissent, “The effect of [Proposal 2] is that a white graduate of a public Michigan university who wishes to pass his historical privilege on to his children may freely lobby the board of that university in favor of an expanded legacy admissions policy, whereas a black Michigander who was denied the opportunity to attend that very university cannot lobby the board in favor of a policy that might give his children a chance that he never had and that they might never have absent that policy.” Tuesday’s ruling gives the green light to other states interested in passing affirmative action bans of their own, though, said anti-affirmative action crusader Ward Connerly, none are in the pipeline at the moment. “These initiatives are very complicated, very expensive and very laborious,” Connerly told Reuters. Perhaps just as important, the ruling also protects the seven other state affirmative action bans already in place, and makes them ironclad against future repeal attempts. 

It’s perhaps best to consider the ruling as a tactical move from the Roberts Court as it continues its deliberate, systematic dismantling of affirmative action. The case rested on disagreement over what the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause protects against. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that under the Fourteenth Amendment, “the majority may not reconfigure the existing political process in a manner than creates a two-tiered system of political change,” Justice Sotomayor explained in her dissent. On Tuesday the majority dispensed with that 30-year precedent, and ruled that Proposal 2 doesn’t impose an unfair burden on people of color because Michigan voters didn’t intend to target people of color when they passed Proposal 2. It’s an extremely narrow interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause and what could constitute discrimination, and a willfully ignorant approach to the realities of race in the country today. Shanta Driver, a civil rights attorney who argued the case before the Supreme Court, did not mince words, calling the Schuette ruling, “a racist decision.” “It is this Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson,” she said in a statement, referring to the Supreme Court ruling which found segregation, if “separate but equal,” constitutional. “The decision of the Court today makes clear that this Court intends to do nothing to defend the right to equality in politics, opportunity, rights, hopes and aspirations of its Latina/o, black, Native American and other minority citizens.”At the very moment that America is becoming a majority minority nation this Court is declaring its intention to uphold white privilege and to create a new JimCrow legal system,” Driver said.

Supreme Court Upholds Voter-Backed Affirmative Action Bans

Supreme Court Upholds Voter-Backed Affirmative Action Bans

In a 6-2 vote the Supreme Court upheld a ban on affirmative action passed by Michigan voters.  

“There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. 

The case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, did not actually concern the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies. Rather, the Supreme Court was tasked with settling the question of whether affirmative action bans passed by state ballot initiative are still unconstitutional. 

In her dissent Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, disagreed vehemently with the majority. “The Constitution does not protect racial minorities from political defeat. But neither does it give the majority free rein to erect selective barriers against racial minorities.”

The ruling comes as little surprise in an political and legal landscape increasingly hostile to race-conscious admissions policies, and will pave the way for more attacks on affirmative action. Read the Supreme Court opinion in full (PDF), and Colorlines’ Schuette primer for more. 

Biden Warns Russia, Brian Williams’s ‘Gin and Juice,’ and #GlobalSelfie

Biden Warns Russia, Brian Williams's 'Gin and Juice,' and #GlobalSelfie

Here’s what I’m reading up on this Earth Day morning: 

  • Biden warns Russia that “there will be consequences” if it doesn’t stop separatists in Ukraine.

  • NASA is asking people all over the world to upload a #GlobalSelfie (a worldwide pitch with an English language hashtag?). 
TAGS: Morning Rush

Why’s This Tex. Man Running Errands in Jailhouse Orange?

Why's This Tex. Man Running Errands in Jailhouse Orange?

A Texas attorney made national headlines this weekend for wearing full prison orange for 40 days and nights (except Sundays). Kent McKeever pulled on the jumpsuit to highlight the legal discrimination faced by men and women after leaving prison. He tells The New York Times:

“I didn’t know what people’s reactions would be. But I knew that I personally needed to experience what it feels like to be rejected and have stigma attached to you. As a white professional male, I’ve never had that experience before.”

McKeever, a legal aid lawyer and part-time youth minister, blogged about how his faith and fatherhood set him on this 40-day journey. Learn more at 40 Days in Orange.

What do you think of McKeever’s actions?

(h/t New York Times/Waco Tribune)

Concussion Studies: From NFL Players to Jailed Youth

Concussion Studies: From NFL Players to Jailed Youth

Half of 16- to -18-year boys and girls entering New York City jails, according to a new study, say they’ve had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated. The prior injury(ies) resulted in either loss of consciousness, amnesia or both, reports the AP, and most were caused by assaults. Concussion studies among retired NFL players gained note some years ago but a growing body of research now focuses on the prevalence of prior traumatic brain injury among youth offenders. The rate of TBI in the unincarcerated youth population is 15 to 30 percent.

Researchers postulate that prior TBI—just one or multiple, it’s unclear—explains violent behavior, poor impulse control and decision-making, and high rates of recidivism. Reports don’t indicate whether the New York City sample of 300 boys and 84 girls separated violent from non-violent offenders. Most 16-to-18-year-olds in New York City jails (75 percent) are in for violent crimes, including robbery, homicide, weapons possession and assault. 

Results come from a medical questionnaire distributed to incoming offenders.

(h/t AP)

Boston Marathon Begins, Biden in Ukraine, UAW Withdraws VW Union Vote Appeal

Boston Marathon Begins, Biden in Ukraine, UAW Withdraws VW Union Vote Appeal

Here’s what I’m following on this morning: 

  • Boston Marathon, live.
TAGS: Morning Rush

Lack of Diversity is Only a Symptom

Lack of Diversity is Only a Symptom

Daniel José Older is an author who’s navigated the publishing industry; as such, he knows what it’s like to push up against an institutionally racist trade. In a powerful essay over at Buzzfeed, Older describes the contradiction—and the pain—of loving the craft of writing, yet having to deal with a publishing industry that not only assumes that people of color don’t read, but that people of color also lack what it takes to be masterful writers.  

In the essay, titled “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” Older also problematizes the drive for diversity:

We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.

Take a few minutes to read his essay in full

After Twitter Debate, Univ. of Michigan Details New Plan to Increase Black Enrollment

After Twitter Debate, Univ. of Michigan Details New Plan to Increase Black Enrollment

On Wednesday the University of Michigan, together with the school’s Black Student Union, announced a new initiative to increase black student enrollment at the school by making the university a more welcoming place for black students. The plan is the result of a months-long conversation between administrators and students after the BSU set off a Twitter storm late last year when the student group kicked off the hashtag #BBUM (for Being Black at University of Michigan), asking black students at the school to speak up about their experiences with racial hostility on campus. 

The Detroit News reported the details of the plan:

As a way of increasing diversity on campus, U-M will partner with black students at university-sponsored events that encourage African-Americans who have been admitted to the U-M to enroll.

U-M also will launch a pilot transportation project for black students living in more affordable housing outside Ann Arbor; earmark $300,000 to improve security at the Trotter Multicultural Center; and create a website for emergency funds available to students.

Other initiatives include creating a multicultural center on central campus, since the current facility used by BSU and other minority groups is off campus. A new program will be provided to all resident halls this fall to enhance understanding of race and ethnicity.

Additionally, university officials have begun digitizing documents at the Bentley Historical Library about U-M’s Black Action Movement — a series of protests at the university about black student recruitment, enrollment and experience that began in the 1970s.

“The students raised issues that absolutely needed to be dealt with and provided valuable insight on ways to effect change,” University of Michigan Provost Martha Pollack said, the Detroit News reported. “We are grateful to each student for his or her willingness to engage in this important dialogue. Through their personal commitment to the work, the administration has deepened its understanding of the students’ experiences.”

Let this be a comfort to those weary of “hashtag activism” of late. Conversations that start on Twitter can open up space for productive offline conversations—and concrete positive changes. Check out 

Video: Immigration Policy Harms U.S. Citizens, Too

Video: Immigration Policy Harms U.S. Citizens, Too

Nineteen people were arrested outside of Boston’s Suffolk Detention Center Thursday after they chained themselves in protest of the Obama administration’s immigration policy. Nearly 200 more marched outside the center, in growing protests as part of the #Not1More campaign. 

Among the 19 people arrested was 17-year-old Andres del Castillo. In a powerful statement captured on video, del Castillo explains what’s at stake for mixed-status families.

Those arrested were released late Thursday evening. 

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