Fighting Back Against Sexual Violence on Indian Reservations

Apr 6, 2012Katherine ReillyMarielle DeJong

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, recognizing that we can't take an out of sight, out of mind approach to the rights and safety of

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, recognizing that we can't take an out of sight, out of mind approach to the rights and safety of Native American women.

Since its colonial beginnings, the United States has been an active participant in a long history of injustice against Native Americans. Such incidents are often considered to be in the past -- issues of colonial conflict and displacement that no longer exist. Today, Native American rights have fallen off the government's radar and have become less of a concern among policymakers. Americans have limited knowledge of the cultural traditions, governmental policies, and law enforcement guidelines that exist on tribal reservations. Such ignorance not only ignores but perpetuates the continued examples of injustice that are very much present today.

Statistics offer proof of the exceptionally high rates of violent crime on many Native American reservations and that women in particular are frequent victims of such crime. Native American women suffer 2.5 times more violent crime than the national average. One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Four out of five of the perpetrators are non-Native.

These numbers show a disturbing trend that reveals a clear problem in safety and law enforcement on tribal lands. Criminal investigation and prosecution on tribal lands are lacking, a problem that can be attributed in part to cultural and structural barriers that prevent effective communication between tribal, state, and federal government. Because of limitations on investigation and sentence length, tribes often depend on federal authorities, causing gaps in jurisdiction and miscommunication because both governments represent constituencies with different interests and values. Complicated jurisdiction, institutional problems, and limited resources all contribute to an inefficient law enforcement system, which perpetuates the prevalence of sexual violence on Indian reservations. Alcoholism and poverty only exacerbate these problems, which can no longer be ignored. It is of utmost importance that the criminal justice system be improved to more effectively deter and prosecute perpetrators. It is equally important that preventative policies be adopted to reduce the amount of sexual violence.

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The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) mandates the coordination of Indian Health Services, the Department of Justice, tribal organizations, and Urban Indian Organizations to set a standard protocol for dealing with sexual assault. It standardizes the treatment of rape and assault victims and the training of tribal police in effective questioning of victims and collection of evidence. The Stand Against Violence and Empower Native Women Act (SAVE Native Women Act) was introduced to Congress on October 31, 2011 and is now cosponsored by 14 U.S. senators. The act aims to further decrease violent crimes against Native American women by strengthening the authority of tribes to hold perpetrators responsible. Currently, tribes do not have jurisdiction if the crime involves a non-Native perpetrator or victim or if the crime does not occur in Indian country. The act is currently being reviewed by the United States Committee on Indian Affairs. Both of these acts are crucial to improving conditions on reservations.

Congress should enact the SAVE Native Women Act, and the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) should advocate for the reallocation of funds toward programs that prevent and address violent crimes against Native American women. Additionally, officers should be educated in Native American history and culture by law enforcement experts, Native American historians, and community leaders.

The current Basic Police Officer Training Program at the Indian Police Academy is a course designed for U.S. BIA and tribal law enforcement officers. While the training includes Indian country law and "BIA specialized training," the trainees are not specifically taught about Native American cultural traditions or history. A law enforcement training program that encourages both efficient communication and cultural understanding will lead to a justice system that more effectively investigates crimes and prosecutes criminals.

Native American women especially will benefit from a policy that brings justice to those oppressed by race and gender. Additionally, both federal and tribal law enforcement agencies have a stake in the outcome, as it would affect their training procedures and lead to more collaborative communication. Legislators involved in state commissions on Indian affairs or in the Congressional Native American Caucus would likely be supportive of this proposal. This is also an issue of human rights, which impacts all Americans.

Native American people are an integral part of the American population. As such, the United States has a responsibility to protect the livelihood of American Indians while still respecting their independence and self-determination. The United States must adopt and implement policies that facilitate the creation and continuation of safe environments for Native American Women. Not doing so would jeopardize the American ideal of security and equality for all. The Tribal Law and Order Act and the SAVE Native Women Act are both steps in the right direction. State, tribal, and federal governments should all take steps to ensure that Native Women are protected under the law and should work to both reduce and prevent sexual violence on reservations. Finally, the American public should continue to be aware and educated about the lifeways of the people around them. During a time when women's health issues are being constantly debated by presidential candidates, Americans must be aware of the criminal injustices and health dangers that threaten Native American women every day.

Marielle DeJong is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying American Indian studies. Katherine Reilly is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying journalism and political science. Both are members of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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How We Can End DOMA's Unfair Tax Burden on Same-Sex Couples

Apr 5, 2012

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, a proposal to adjust wages for same-sex couples to reduce inequity in the tax code and undermine

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, a proposal to adjust wages for same-sex couples to reduce inequity in the tax code and undermine DOMA.

While media reports characterize the United States as increasingly hospitable to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people, lived experience clearly speaks to the discrimination, isolation, and dehumanization faced by queer folks. Unfortunately, LGBTQ people in the United States face discrimination on a regular basis, often in the workplace, in public spaces, or in relation to their own government. As the LGBTQ movement builds upon successes, it is important that it continues to ground itself in the personal experiences of queer people. A recurring trend in their stories is widespread discrimination under federal law, in many cases due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

LGBTQ activists have understood the discriminatory nature of DOMA since President Clinton signed it into law in 1996. It contains a passage that defined marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, [where] the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife," and an addendum that says individual states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages accepted in other states. As a result, DOMA has been a prominent target of state-led efforts to permit same-sex marriages in individual states, whether legislatively or judicially.

Yet LGBTQ activists have thus far ignored a major impact of DOMA on same-sex couples: Internal Revenue Service (IRS) policy whereby health care benefits transferred by employees to domestic partners (within those organizations that recognize domestic partnerships) are taxed as income. While the abolition of this practice may seem like a trivial point in the grand scheme of the LGBTQ movement, it holds promise as a way to gradually undermine DOMA as well as improve the lives of the conservative estimate of 901,997 U.S. same-sex couples by saving them, on average, $1,609 a year in comparison to identical heterosexual couples.

The most common way progressive organizations are combating this unjust tax is by "grossing up" the wages of employees in same-sex partnerships. This involves increasing employees' pre-tax salaries in order to account for the value of the tax on shared benefits as well as a possible shift in income bracket triggered by that practice.

Surprisingly, the bulk of action already taken to combat these inequitable practices has occurred within the corporate sphere. Tech start-ups and investment houses in particular, including Google, Facebook, Apple, Barclays, and Goldman Sachs, all gross up domestic partners' wages. Meanwhile, Bowdoin College, Syracuse University, Yale University, and Columbia University (as well as its affiliate Barnard College) are the only institutions of higher education to have adopted similar policies. In a promising move, the municipality of Cambridge, Massachusetts also now grosses up.

Join the conversation about the Roosevelt Institute’s new initiative, Rediscovering Government, led by Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick.

Unfortunately, action by local, state, and federal government to mirror corporate practices lags far behind their private sector counterparts. There is a glimmer of hope, though, in a bill introduced by Senator Charles Schumer named The Tax Parity for Health Plan Beneficiaries Act of 2011 or Senate Bill 1171. However, despite being introduced July 1, 2011, the Congressional Research Service reports no action on the bill save for being referred to committee.

As states like Maryland, Washington, and New York continue to legalize same-sex marriage, we must remember that same-sex couples under federal law remain subject to the unfortunate impacts of the DOMA. Moreover, those organizations, universities, and corporations that provide domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples do not unilaterally "solve" the problem of unfair treatment experienced by LGBTQ people at the hands of their government.

By removing the unfair tax burden currently enforced by the IRS, LGBTQ activists can make using health care, filing tax returns, and pursuing employment that much easier for same-sex couples. Moreover, they can strategically undermine the strength of the DOMA. By highlighting the ways in which it financially isolates certain types of partnerships, queer advocates may be able to appeal to a wider political base and subsequently build power among fiscal voters.

Essentially, progressives across the United States ought to see the growing nongovernmental movement toward grossing up as a way to clarify their values in the national discourse. They can amplify the experiences of marginalized same-sex couples through listening tours and personal storytelling events. Using Senator Schumer's bill as a template, organizations that recognize domestic partnerships can join a coalition of at least 80 businesses committed to tax equity in order to place pressure on elected officials. Once this issue attracts more supporters -- particularly among employee LGBTQ affinity groups -- a critical mass will be able to force changes in Congress, change that (hopefully) will lead to the eventual repeal of DOMA.

Providing equitable tax structures for the transfer of health care benefits between domestic partners moves the cause forward, signals pragmatic solidarity between the queer and allied communities, and demonstrates the collective power of the progressive community. Additionally, it demonstrates that a wide body of people supports equity within the federal tax code over antiquated policy.

While the rhetoric around marriage equality has no doubt inspired wide swaths of the American public to support the struggle of LGBTQ folks, it's important that we express the meta-level concern that marriage is only one of the rights denied to queer people. Contextualizing same-sex marriage within a larger struggle for national nondiscrimination policies, visitation rights, care for homeless queer youth, anti-bullying work, as well as tax equity reflects the very real daily struggles of identifying (or being perceived as) LGBTQ in the United States.

Erik Lampmann is a Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member and a sophomore at the University of Richmond studying philosophy, politics, economics, and law.

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Using Community to Grow Low-income Communities Out of Food Deserts

Apr 4, 2012Emily Apple

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, a proposal to put food stamps to work supporting community gardens and giving low-income famil

money-justice-scalesAs part of the 10 Ideas: Social Innovation to End Discrimination series, a proposal to put food stamps to work supporting community gardens and giving low-income families access to fresh produce.

March 20th marked the third anniversary of the planting of the White House vegetable garden, the first functioning garden since Eleanor Roosevelt's Victory Garden. The garden is an essential part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative that aims to help raise a generation of healthy, active kids. But while it provides an excellent jumping off point for discussing the importance of nutrition, it does not get to the root cause of the lack of nutrition across the country. Not everyone can have an organic garden in his backyard or, on an even more basic level, a supermarket that sells quality fruits and vegetables. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 23 million Americans live in "food deserts": areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly ones composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities. Before we begin to talk about the problem of nutrition in our country, we must first improve access to food for millions of Americans. And Michelle Obama is on the right path -- community gardens can be a powerful tool for improving access to produce for people across the country.

The problem of access and affordability is especially relevant in New York City. A study conducted in 2008 by the mayor's food policy task force concluded that more than 3 million New Yorkers lack adequate fresh food retailers in their neighborhood. Furthermore, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, there are an estimated 1.4 million New Yorkers that are unable to afford a full supply of food, forcing many to choose more cost efficient, unhealthy options. What all of these numbers amount to is that there are far too many New Yorkers without the ability to access or afford nutritious foods.

Recognizing these problems, Daniel Bowman Simon, who helped spearhead the White House vegetable garden, has now has moved on to helping low-income individuals and families access healthy foods through his organization SNAP Gardens. As of March 2012, over 46 million Americans were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. Simon encourages SNAP beneficiaries to "grow" their benefits by utilizing a 1973 amendment to the Food Stamp Act that allows food stamp recipients to use their benefits to buy seeds.

Join the conversation about the Roosevelt Institute’s new initiative, Rediscovering Government, led by Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick.

Simon's SNAP Gardens model is a great way to incorporate food stamps into the conversation on food accessibility. In New York City alone there are more than 1.8 million SNAP beneficiaries. However, many New Yorkers do not have the time to plant and care for their own food. Community gardens provide the space and infrastructure for growing food. All that is needed is someone to grow it. Most community gardens already have volunteers and staff, so it would just take a transition out of growing plants and into agriculture to grow food. There are over 500 community gardens across all five boroughs. Converting at least some to agricultural gardens would greatly expand access to fresh, locally grown produce for thousands of New Yorkers.

To accommodate SNAP beneficiaries, each community garden should be given a credit card machine with the capability to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. EBT machines are given to eligible retailers free of charge by the state. This would essentially convert the SNAP Garden model from using benefits to buy the seeds to using them to buy the actual produce from gardens.

There is ample precedent for SNAP benefits being used for purchasing fruits and vegetables at non-supermarket locations. GrowNYC, a New York City nonprofit, runs 43 greenmarkets that accept EBT cards. In 2010, EBT sales exceeded $500,000 across the city, with some farmers reporting that EBT sales comprised as much as 25 to 50 percent of their business. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also has a farmers' market Health Bucks program that provides a $2 voucher for fruits and vegetables for every $2 spent at farmers' markets, increasing the amount of money an individual receiving SNAP benefits can spend on nutritious foods.

Based on the success of GrowNYC's and the city's own EBT initiatives, it is very difficult to make the argument that those on food stamps simply do not want nutritious food. It is not a problem of demand. It is a problem of access and affordability to nutritious foods, including fresh produce. Instead of strategies focused on changing demand, the priority should be expanding access and finding ways to make nutritious foods more affordable.

There is no one answer to expanding access and making produce affordable, but community gardens can be a vital part of the solution, and it is one that is often overlooked. By using the existing community garden infrastructure we can grow a better future for all Americans.

Emily Apple is a sophomore at CUNY-Hunter College and the Northeast Policy Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Millennials Are on the Frontlines of Social Innovation to End Discrimination

Apr 3, 2012May Mgbolu

money-justice-scalesYoung people have long been involved in social justice movements, and today's Millennials continue that legacy by tackling today's issues.

money-justice-scalesYoung people have long been involved in social justice movements, and today's Millennials continue that legacy by tackling today's issues.

The quest for equal justice has sparked movements and empowered youth across the nation for decades. Reports of racism, discrimination, sexual harassment, disenfranchisement, and LGBTQ hate crimes continue to appear in our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods. Today, Millennials continue to engage in equal justice policy and are committed to tackling the structural barriers and institutional inequities that prevent the full realization of equal opportunity and rights in the United States.

Youth have long been on the frontlines in of the social justice movement, actively participating in redefining civil liberties, inspiring progressive politics, and mobilizing young people across the country in an effort to end social injustices. The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network continues that legacy through our 10 Ideas for Equal Justice publication.

For Millennials to shape the future we will inherit, we must effectively voice our needs and priorities and assert ourselves in all conversations involving equal justice. While some policymakers express concern about the future of equality in America, few have effectively addressed the harsh conditions that shape people's lives. Millennials must continue to focus on the policies that exclude some and marginalize others. For example, the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965 once outlawed discriminatory practices and made great strides in America, but today these laws exclude millions of marginalized Americans through criminal history checks or other determinants.

The failure of our current policies to address the importance of equality highlights the need for Millennials' vision and impact. While equal justice is both one of America's firmly embedded principles and widely disputed topics at all political levels, Millennials remain on the frontline, challenging congressional debates and policies on immigration, LGBTQ rights, criminal justice, and various topics that represent a threat to the advancement of equality in America.

Join the conversation about the Roosevelt Institute’s new initiative, Rediscovering Government, led by Senior Fellow Jeff Madrick.

Readers and politicians will hear from Millennials motivated to solve the problems of yesterday and promote the progress of all people in the future. This year's 10 Ideas of Equal Justice represent some of the most innovative ideas being put forward to end discrimination and advance equal justice across the nation. These proposals represent the urgency of restoring progressive values and principles that once aimed to confront unfair practices and standards in America, while focusing on future obstacles and trends.

Marielle DeJong and Katherine Reilly, students from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are challenging the communication between tribal and federal law enforcement and their practices in investigations in order to address the unprecedented rates of violent crimes and sexual assaults on Native American women. They outline policies necessary to effectively combat the assault on Native America women and restore justice on tribal lands for all victims.

Emily Apple, a student at Hunter College, proposes a plan to bridge the poverty gap for vulnerable communities in New York City by making healthy food accessible to all. She insists that all New York residents should have an agricultural community garden within a one-mile radius of their homes where they can purchase low-cost fresh fruits and vegetables. She writes that all communities have the right to healthy, affordable food, and aims to eliminate disparities and inequities by encouraging large community garden programs to participate and the usage of EBT cards.

Erik Lampmann, a student at the University of Richmond, exposes the tax inequities between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples. Lampmann is interested in encouraging employers to change their LBGTQ priorities to include the absorption of an added tax on transfer of health benefits among domestic partners while advocating for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage act (DOMA). Thus far, 80 businesses have committed to "tax equity" to place pressure on officials to legislate for the repeal of DOMA.

Although these are a just few of the many Millennial voices featured in the publication of 10 Ideas of Equal Justice, Millennial across the country continue to be deeply involved in developing social innovation to end discrimination. Students are addressing structural and institutionalized inequities, social norms, and unjust practices in our society in order to create equal opportunities and uphold basic human rights for all.

May Mgbolu is the Senior Fellow for Equal Justice at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and a senior at the University of Arizona.

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