Tag Archives: constitutional right

Memo to media covering protests in Ferguson, Missouri

ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization, is urging both local and national media to be particularly mindful of their coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country in the wake of the grand jury’s impending decision regarding Officer Darren Wilson.

Recognition of the dangers posed by a hostile media climate for Black people is crucial at this very important juncture in our nation’s history. In the wake of yet another young life lost to police violence, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to express their outrage and demand better of law enforcement, as well as our justice system. This is a constitutional right. Our media should aid in the protection of those rights, rather than contribute to a racist drumbeat against them.

It is also important to recognize how our media impacts the perceptions of its audience. Research shows there are dire consequences when stereotypical images of Black people rule the day; less attention from doctors, harsher sentences from judges, and abusive treatment by police, just to name a few. Rather than feeding into the hostile media climate that contributed to the deaths of Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, and so many others, we should use this opportunity to forge a fair and humanizing media landscape for Black people.

We ask that any journalists reporting on the important events in Ferguson and across the country take the following into consideration:

Cultural bias in our media and society persistently excuses the name calling of people of color, resulting in very real, sometimes deadly consequences. We must be vigilant in rooting out the use of coded, racialized language in news coverage. To be clear, the protesters in Ferguson are exercising their constitutional rights. More importantly, they are human beings, not the “thugs,” “rioters,” “criminals,” or “animals” our media has routinely described them as. Yet, when a predominantly white mob erupted into a full scale riot during a pumpkin festival in New Hampshire last month, the media called them “rowdy, mischievous revelers.” The double standard would be laughable if weren’t so incredibly dangerous.

Name calling on the part of our news media spins a narrative of dehumanization and degradation that threatens the lives of communities of color, one not unlike that which led to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner tragedies in the first place. The demonization of Black folks and their allies contributes to a hostile, dangerous media landscape that actually threatens lives.

The state violence on display in Ferguson against protesters is inexcusable, and should concern us all. The over-militarized police there waved and pointed guns at protesters and drove through neighborhoods in tanks, unnecessarily heightening an already-tense situation. But too often, journalists and news organizations turn Black communities into enemy combatants in their own neighborhoods by focusing almost exclusively on alleged acts of violence perpetrated by a small minority of protesters, crafting a deceptive narrative that vilifies Black people and their allies, and threatens their lives.

Here’s the truth: for years, Department of Defense programs have supplied local law enforcement in places like Ferguson with the same weaponry used by US Armed Forces in war zones. Rather than devoting their energies to building a healthy relationship with the communities they serve, precincts across the country are loading up on armored tanks and tear gas. It’s an incredibly dangerous, unhealthy state of affairs that deserves a prominent place in any substantive conversation about the unrest in Ferguson.

Black people are not to blame for police brutality, nor do they deserve it. Yet, media outlets, and talking heads like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, point to so-called “black-on-black crime” as an excuse for the consequence-less murder of Black people by law enforcement. As Michael Eric Dyson eloquently explained to Mayor Giuliani on Meet the Press last Sunday, the issue at hand is that America has a serious problem with letting white people get away with the murder of Black people, especially agents of the state like Officer Darren Wilson. To somehow point the finger at Black people and blame them for their own oppression and injustice is not a valid critique. Rather, as Dyson asserted, it only exemplifies “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.”

The VAST majority of Ferguson protesters are peaceful. Yet somehow, the stories coming out of many major media outlets paints a picture of total lawlessness, undermining the real work being done on the ground to bring attention to the very legitimate concerns of hundreds of thousands of people. The implication is that these efforts are largely violent, senseless, and deserve to be dealt with harshly. This could not be further from the truth. These stereotypical portrayals of Black people shape perceptions that, when acted upon, can mean real life harm for Black people.

Ferguson protesters have taken to the streets to assert that Black lives matter; that Black folks cannot be killed with impunity. The suggestion that these motivations lack legitimacy are unacceptable and contribute to a hostile media climate for Black people.

The opinions of protesters, activists, and Michael Brown’s parents matter, too. The situation in Ferguson has ignited an intense, national conversation around a host of very important topics. It is imperative that our news media present fair, even-handed coverage. The marginalization or complete shutting out of the voices and opinions of those sympathetic to the concerns of protestors or victims of police violence is all too common, and totally unacceptable.

Structural racism tells the FULL story. Yet, oftentimes our media conversation begins and ends with individual acts of racism, outright dismissals of racism, or the notion that racism now exists in our cultural rearview, and is no longer relevant to today’s world. According to a recent report from Race Forward, the majority of today’s news media is not systemically aware, ignoring or omitting engagement with the policies and practices that lead to the racial disparities at the heart of situations like the one in Ferguson. It is critical that we inject the realities of structural racism into the national conversation, and hold media outlets that refuse to do so accountable.

Editor’s note: With more than 850,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation’s largest online civil rights organization.



U.S. appeals court blocks Mississippi’s abortion law

Mississippi’s governor and attorney general will have to decide whether to challenge a federal appeals court ruling that is keeping the state’s only abortion clinic in business.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 on July 29 to block a 2012 Mississippi law that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

When Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, he said he hoped it would end abortion in the state. In defending the law, state attorneys said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states. But the appellate judges ruled that every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.

Bryant, in a statement, said the court’s ruling disappointed him.

Ten states, including Wisconsin, have adopted similar laws, forcing a growing number of clinics to close. Many hospitals ignore or reject abortion doctors’ applications, and they won’t grant privileges to out-of-state physicians. The traveling doctors who staff Mississippi’s last open clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, encountered both obstacles.

The ruling from the conservative 5th Circuit was narrowly crafted to address the situation in Mississippi, but it could have implications for the other states with similar laws and dwindling access to abortion, such as Wisconsin and Alabama, whose officials have said women could cross state lines if clinics close, said the center’s litigation director, Julie Rikelman.

Attorneys for Mississippi argued that if the state’s last clinic closed, women could still get abortions in other states. But the judges said the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a constitutional right to abortion for all citizens — and that Mississippi may not shift its obligations to other states.

“Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion,” wrote judges E. Grady Jolly of Mississippi and Stephen A. Higginson of Louisiana. The law signed by Bryant “effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders,” they said.

Supporters of admitting-privileges laws say they protect women’s health by ensuring that a physician who performs an abortion in a clinic would also be able to treat the patient in a hospital in case of complications.

Opponents say the requirement is unnecessary, since complications are extremely rare and patients in distress are automatically treated in emergency rooms. Critics also contend that the law gives religious-affiliated hospitals veto power over who can work in an abortion clinic and, by extension, whether a clinic can stay open.

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state,” said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup.

A different panel of the 5th Circuit, which handles cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, upheld a 2013 Texas law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. In that March ruling, the judges said traveling fewer than 150 miles to obtain an abortion is “not an undue burden.”

Even now, women from Iuka, Mississippi, in the state’s northeast corner, need to drive 280 miles to reach Jackson.

The clinic remains open, using out-of-state physicians who travel to Mississippi to do abortions several times a month. For years, the clinic has had an agreement with a local physician who will meet a patient at a Jackson hospital in case of complications. Clinic owner Diane Derzis has said such complications are rare.

Iowa law enforcement debates granting gun permits to blind people

Iowa law enforcement officials are debating the wisdom of granting gun permits to blind people.

The Des Moines Register reports Iowa law doesn’t allow sheriffs to deny a permit to carry a gun in public based on physical ability.

Some sheriffs have been granting gun permits to people with visual impairments while others have been denying them. Blind people and other Iowans can obtain the permits for carrying a weapon in public because of changes to state law that took effect in 2011.

Jane Hudson with Disability Rights Iowa said keeping legally blind people from obtaining weapon permits would violate the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act.

Some other states, including Nebraska, require anyone applying for a gun permit to provide proof of their visual ability by supplying a driver’s license or doctor’s statement.

Hudson said she thinks someone could successfully challenge Nebraska’s vision restriction because federal law requires states to analyze a situation individually before denying a service.

“The fact that you can’t drive a car doesn’t mean you can’t go to a shooting range and see a target,” Hudson said.

Polk County, Iowa, officials said they have issued weapons permits to people who can’t drive legally because of vision problems at least three times. Sheriffs in Jasper, Kossuth and Delaware counties say they’ve also granted permits to Iowans with severe visual impairments.

“It seems a little strange, but the way the law reads, we can’t deny them (a permit) just based on that one thing,” said Sgt. Jana Abens, a spokeswoman for the Polk County sheriff’s office, referring to a visual disability.

It’s not clear how many people with visual impairments have permits to carry weapons in Iowa because no one collects that information.

Delaware County Sheriff John LeClere questioned whether visually impaired people should be able to obtain these weapons permits.

“At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something,” LeClere said.

Even Patrick Clancy, superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, said guns may be a rare exception to his philosophy.

“Although people who are blind can participate fully in nearly all life’s experiences, there are some things, like the operation of a weapon, that may very well be an exception,” Clancy said.

But in Cedar County, Iowa, blind people would find a welcoming audience if they applied for a weapons permit. Sheriff Warren Wethington has a legally blind daughter, who is 19 and plans to apply for a permit when she’s eligible at 21.

“If sheriffs spent more time trying to keep guns out of criminals’ hands and not people with disabilities, their time would be more productive,” Wethington said.