Reduce Police Brutality Through Community-Building

Mar 2, 2015Andrew Lindsay

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

Efforts that connect police to the community in which they serve help to reduce encounters that lead to extrajudicial killings by police.

In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he heard a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

In a 911 report, a caller related that someone, possibly a child was pointing “a pistol” at random people in a Recreation Center. The caller clarified that the gun was “probably fake.” According to the responding officers, they approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, ordering him to hold up his hands. Tamir reached to his waistband and grasped a bb gun. In a matter of seconds, one of the officers fired two shots, fatally hitting Rice once in the torso. Footage was released of the officers tackling the bereaved 14-year-old sister of Rice after they shot her 12-year-old brother. Rice’s mother said that a friend had given him the toy gun to play with minutes before the police arrived.

In these descriptions we see fewer teenagers and more vicious animals. Many extrajudicial killings of Black people share similar dehumanizing stories. Policy makers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution.

In vulnerable communities, high rates of gang violence and high rates of police bias come hand in hand. Between 1991 and 2013, there were on average approximately 400 police killings reported to the FBI from local police. Out of all these incidents reported annually, an average of 96 per year involved a white police officer killing a black person. In contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain in 2013. In Canada, cases of ‘justifiable homicide’ hover around a dozen annually. These figures reveal a disturbing propensity for US police officers to use deadly force and a high potential for racial bias in shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.

Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati are organize to reduce the homicide victimization and gang violence among young people in these areas, with the help of local law enforcement and community partners. However, these programs also have unseen potential to increase police-community relationships and humanize black lives in the eyes of law enforcement. Community members not only patrol with police but also are considered equal partners.

Project Longevity is a community-oriented policing strategy to reduce gang violence in three of Connecticut’s major cities: New Haven, Bridgeport, and Hartford. It is modeled after successful efforts implemented by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and Operation Ceasefire: Boston Gun Project. Connecticut has seen dramatic declines in police and civilian violence after the initial implementation of this program.

Project Longevity directs federal and state spending to the most vulnerable communities in these cities with the purpose of steering at-risk youth and repeat offenders away from violence. A broad array of social services (housing, educational opportunities, addiction and mental/health care) are offered to those who want to end the cycle of community violence and gang activity – with the option of “receiv[ing] the full attention of the law” the next time any crime occurs.

Longevity combines social services, law enforcement, and community involvement to target crime and positively influence dynamics between residents and the police. Key to this strategy is a quarterly “call-in,” an intervention that combines local, state, and federal level law enforcement; community members; service providers; parents; and members of the clergy.

According to Tiana Hercules, “They speak to these young men and in some cases young women at the call-in and explain to them the consequences of further gun violence in the city of Hartford. Essentially, the message is put the guns down or the next body that drops in the city or person to get shot is going to receive the full focus of law attention. And not only yourself, but also those who you run with.” Violent crime in Connecticut’s three big cities after Project Longevity has decreased nearly 15 percent and crime in the state has decreased 10 percent, twice the national average. Longevity is credited with half of this overall cut in statewide violent crime.

The problem of police brutality in the United States is one of police accountability, but not in the conventional understanding of the term. The typical hypothesis is that once law enforcement is vigorously policed they will be held to a higher standard, decreasing the likelihood of police excess. This is the motivation behind the Obama administration’s $75 million push for mounted body cameras nationwide. Perhaps if Darren Wilson were monitored, he would not have so easily killed Mike Brown, or so the story goes. However, history teaches us that this conventional way of policing the police may be misplaced. In the trial of LAPD officers who beat Rodney King in 1991, videotape evidence was argued away because it did not present the full picture. This year, apparently indisputable video was refuted in the recent police killings of Eric Garner and John Crawford.

Instead of external accountability, police officers need to develop a greater sense personal accountability to the vulnerable in communities where they serve. This need for personal accountability stems from a racial and spatial separation that keeps communities and police isolated. This gap reinforces the biases that keep youth like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice dehumanized by the very people tasked with their protection. Programs that put law enforcement and communities in greater contact should be encouraged.  There is no better policing mechanism than one’s conscience. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. More importantly, these programs humanize members of vulnerable communities to law enforcement. Darren Wilson was wrong. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

Andrew Lindsay, a 2015 Truman Scholarship Finalist in Massachusetts, is a junior at Amherst College, where he is an active member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and studies Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought.

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Make the Stop Overdose Stat Act a Priority for 2015

Feb 26, 2015Emily Cerciello

It’s time for Congress to take an evidence-based and public health focused approach to the epidemic of opioid overdoses.

It’s time for Congress to take an evidence-based and public health focused approach to the epidemic of opioid overdoses.

Opioid overdose is an epidemic in the United States. Drug overdose death rates have more than tripled since 1990, with the vast majority of these deaths attributable to an increase in the prescription and sale of opioid medications. The death rate from heroin overdose doubled between 2010 and 2012, and young people are now more likely to die from drug overdose than from motor vehicle crashes.

These statistics may be surprising, but their causes are familiar – commonly abused prescription opioid medications include names such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, or codeine, as well as the illicit drug heroin, which creates similar pain-relieving effects. Prescription drugs are often considered a “gateway” to heroin use as heroin addiction often begins as a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers.

In March 2014, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) introduced the Stop Overdose Stat (SOS) Act to create a federal plan for preventing fatal drug overdoses and prioritizing community- and state-based efforts for the development of best practices. The SOS Act would provide federal support for overdose prevention programs, which can include training bystanders, law enforcement, and first responders in recognizing signs of overdose, seeking medical assistance, or administering naloxone. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that reverses the effects of heroin or opioid prescription overdose. As of December 2014, twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have removed legal barriers to provider prescription and layperson administration of naloxone. Additionally, 20 states and the District of Columbia have established Good Samaritan protection, which grants immunity from arrest for calling 911 to seek medical assistance in the event of overdose.

The SOS Act, cosponsored by 39 legislators, approaches opioid prevention and treatment through a public health and health equity lens. While no socioeconomic or demographic group is immune to the abuse of prescription drugs or heroin (the most dramatic increases have occurred among white, middle-aged women in rural areas), urban areas with large African American populations are still where the majority of overdoses are happening. The SOS Act would create a grant program administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gives priority to community organizations working to prevent overdose in high-risk populations.

The SOS Act would also create a mechanism for detailed reporting of overdose data for the development of best practices for preventing overdose deaths. It would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a national plan to be submitted to Congress within 180 days of enactment that incudes a public health campaign, recommendations for expanding overdose prevention programming, and recommendations for legislative action.

The bill was closed out of the 113th Congress, but should be reconsidered in the current session as the issue builds momentum in both Democratic- and Republican-led states. The re-introduction of the SOS Act is an opportunity for Congress to take immediate action in responding to a significant public health issue with a bipartisan solution. States are implementing evidence-based laws to address the worsening overdose epidemic. It is time for the federal government to follow suit.

Emily Cerciello is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Health Care, and a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Guns on Campus: Not an Agenda for Women's Safety

Feb 25, 2015Andrea Flynn

Allowing guns on campus won't reduce sexual assault on campus - instead, it will increase the risk of homicide.

Allowing guns on campus won't reduce sexual assault on campus - instead, it will increase the risk of homicide.

Two years ago, Republican leaders released a post-mortem analysis of the 2012 election in an effort to better understand how they lost the single woman’s vote by 36 percent. The 100-page report recommended that GOP lawmakers do a better job listening to female voters, remind them of the party’s “historical role in advancing the women’s rights movement,” and fight against the “so-called War on Women.” Look no further than recent GOP-led efforts to expand gun rights on college campuses under the guise of preventing campus sexual assault as evidence that conservative lawmakers have failed to take their own advice.

Today, lawmakers in at least 14 states are pushing forward measures that would loosen gun regulations on college campuses. In the last few days a number of them have seized upon the growing public outcry over campus sexual assault to argue that carrying a gun would prevent women from being raped. (So far they’ve been silent on how we might prevent young men – who, of course, would also be allowed to carry a gun – from attempting to rape women in the first place.)

Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore of Nevada recently told The New York Times: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.” (Really? Hot little girls?) And as the Times highlighted, Florida Representative Dennis Baxley jumped on the “stop campus rape” bandwagon recently when he successfully lobbied for a bill that would allow students to carry loaded, concealed weapons. “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible,” he said.

Let’s be clear. People aren’t raped because they aren’t carrying firearms. They are raped because someone rapes them. What a sinister new twist on victim blaming. As if anything positive could come from adding loaded weapons to the already toxic mix of drugs, alcohol, masculine group think, and the rape culture endemic in college sports and Greek life on campuses around the country.

These lawmakers have appropriated the battle cry of students who are demanding more accountability from academic institutions to prevent and respond to campus sexual assault. It’s a vain attempt to advance their own conservative agenda of liberalizing gun laws. This is an NRA agenda, not a women’s rights agenda. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, each of the lawmakers who have supported such legislation has received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). They have enjoyed endorsements from the NRA during election years and some – including Fiore and Baxley – received campaign contributions from the organization.

These lawmakers are pointing to the demands of a handful of women who have survived sexual assault and are advocating for liberalized campus gun laws. The experiences of these students are real and deserve to be heard and considered as we debate how to make campuses safer. We must also recognize that these students are outliers. Surveys have shown that nearly 80 percent of college students say they would not feel safe if guns were allowed on campus, and according to the Times, 86 percent of women said they were opposed to having weapons on campus. And for good reason.

Research shows that guns do not make women safer. In fact, just the opposite is true. Over the past 25 years, guns have accounted for more intimate partner homicides than all other weapons combined. In states that that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. And women in the United States are 11 times more likely than women from other high-income countries to be murdered with a gun. Guns on college campuses would only make these statistics worse.

If the GOP wants to show they care about women – or at the very least care about their votes – this is just one of the realities they need to acknowledge. And they need to listen to the experiences of all women who have experienced sexual assault – like those who have created the powerful Know Your IX campaign – not just those who will help advance their NRA-sponsored agenda. 

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

 

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After Four Decades with Roe, U.S. Women Still Need Abortion Access, and So Much More

Jan 23, 2015Andrea FlynnShulie Eisen

As economic inequality takes center stage in politics, it's important to remember that reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are just as essential for secure lives.

As economic inequality takes center stage in politics, it's important to remember that reproductive justice and bodily autonomy are just as essential for secure lives.

Yesterday’s 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision prompted a week of stark contradictions. Thousands of anti-choice protesters descended on Washington yesterday while the House of Representatives passed HR7, a bill limiting insurance coverage for abortions (after a broader abortion ban was – for the time – abandoned). Yesterday, Congressional Democrats re-introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill meant to protect abortion access from the medically unnecessary restrictions that have already made the landmark decision meaningless in many parts of the country. And in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Obama professed his support for abortion rights, along with equal pay, paid sick and family leave, a minimum wage hike, and expanded health coverage. It’s all been a reminder of what has been won and just how much there is left to fight for – from abortion rights to economic security.

Over the past four years we’ve seen an unprecedented number of attacks on reproductive health – more than 200 between 2011 and 2013 – leaving many states with a scant number of abortion providers. Scores of women are now required to travel long distances, at great cost, to access not just abortion, but a wide range of comprehensive health services.

While reproductive health has certainly been the obsession of choice of conservative lawmakers in recent years, it hasn’t been the only issue in their crosshairs. In many ways, the increasing hostility to abortion and family planning is reflective of a broader war against the poor that is sure to persist under the new Congress. It turns out the same lawmakers who have championed abortion restrictions in the name of protecting women’s health have done very little to actually help women and families. Indeed, a recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health shows that states with the most abortion restrictions also have some of the worst indicators for women’s health and wellbeing. So lawmakers are restricting access to health services at the same time they are dismantling the social safety net on which so many women and families rely. The overall impact has been devastating.

In states across the country, women are struggling under the burden of intersecting health and economic injustices. Let’s look, for example, at Kansas, where conservative Governor Brownback slashed business regulations, cut taxes for the wealthy, nearly eliminated income taxes, and privatized Medicaid delivery, all with the goal of making the state a conservative utopia. In the meantime, Kansas women continue to struggle with high rates of poverty, a lack of health insurance, un- and underemployment, and a persistent wage gap. Kansas is one of the sixteen states that refuse to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving nearly 80,000 adults (half of whom are women) uninsured. It is the only state in the country that actually experienced an increase in its uninsured rate last year.

To make matters worse for women in Kansas, lawmakers eliminated abortion access from 98 percent of the state’s counties – in which 74 percent of the state’s women live – and passed House Bill 2253, a 47-page law comprised of countless and senseless abortion restrictions. It included a 24-hour waiting period; medically inaccurate pre-abortion counseling; prohibiting abortion providers from working or volunteering in public schools; banning University of Kansas Medical School faculty members from teaching students and residents how to perform abortions; and eliminating public health insurance coverage of all abortion services. And the list goes on. Sadly these laws are not unique to Kansas and they have significantly diluted the initial promise Roe held four decades ago.

The economic injustices described above, and those being felt by low-income families throughout the country, are starting to get the attention they deserve, and the policy solutions to address them are gaining traction (see the recent support for raising the minimum wage and instituting paid sick and family leave). But while economists and policymakers are increasingly focused on the pernicious impacts of inequality and economic insecurity, they rarely acknowledge how these issues intersect with reproductive health and rights.

Let us use the anniversary of Roe to remember there can be no economic justice without reproductive justice. We can’t win on one front while losing on the other. Reproductive health – a cornerstone of which is family planning and abortion – is not a frill. It is a core component of comprehensive health care, which is a basic pillar of every individual’s personal, social, and economic wellbeing.

What good is better and more equal pay if we can’t plan the timing and size of our families? What good is paid sick and family leave if there are no quality, affordable, and accessible providers to give us the care we need when we need it? We need all of it. Now. That’s just demanding a basic – very basic – floor of wellbeing. And that shouldn’t be too much to ask. Roe has served as part of that foundation for the last 42 years. But conservatives have successfully chipped away at it and will continue to do so until there’s nothing left to stand on. Perhaps we can seize upon the new energy around closing the inequality gap to remind our leaders that without bodily autonomy, we will never be secure.  

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.

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Daily Digest - January 14: Advice From Mario Cuomo for Today's Democrats

Jan 14, 2015Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mario Cuomo, the Speech and the Challenge to Democrats Today (In These Times)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Mario Cuomo, the Speech and the Challenge to Democrats Today (In These Times)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch and Dan Cantor point to Mario Cuomo's vision of mutuality laid out at the 1984 Democratic National Convention as an example today's Democrats should follow.

5 Books: Reading Race and Economics (The Nation)

Joelle Gamble, National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, recommends books on the intersection of race and economics to accompany an article on the economic dimension of #BlackLivesMatter.

Plunge In Wall Street Money Bolsters Populist Shift Among Democrats (HuffPo)

Paul Blumenthal says Wall Street's dramatic shift of campaign resources away from the Democrats isn't the cause of recent populist moves, but less campaign donations creates less industry pressure on the party.

  • Roosevelt Take: Blumenthal links to Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Thomas Ferguson's work on where different industries make their political donations; read his most recent paper on that topic here.

Calls for 'A Living Wage' (Times Union)

Matthew Hamilton reports on a Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy forum, "New York's Cities: Confronting Income Inequality," which featured Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations (TAP)

Sejal Parikh cites the recent closing of hundreds of Wet Seal clothing stores and subsequent brief worker outburst online as proof that with the right organization, these stories wouldn't fizzle out.

How Medicaid for Children Recoups Much of Its Cost in the Long Run (NYT)

Margot Sanger-Katz looks at a new study that shows a correlation between Medicaid eligibility and future earnings. Higher earnings means higher taxes, repaying the investment in childhood health.

Elizabeth Warren Is Taking Control of the Democratic Agenda (TNR)

David Dayen writes that Antonio Weiss's withdrawal from his Treasury nomination is proof that Senator Warren has quickly learned how to exert her power over all aspects of the Senate's work.

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 66: How Do We Make the Promise a Reality?

Dec 10, 2014Ariel SmilowitzMonika Johnson

Full implementation of the UDHR isn't a pipe dream, but it will require us to look beyond governments and international institutions.

Sixty-six years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, who is responsible for upholding our most basic rights as humans? And are rights truly universal, or are they relative?

Full implementation of the UDHR isn't a pipe dream, but it will require us to look beyond governments and international institutions.

Sixty-six years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, who is responsible for upholding our most basic rights as humans? And are rights truly universal, or are they relative?

These questions are indelibly inked into the fabric of our economy, society, and political system. Following World War II and the creation of the United Nations, the UDHR represented “the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled.” Championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, the widely accepted manifesto built upon the work of her husband, who famously declared that worldwide democracy should be founded upon four essential freedoms.

This primordial soup of rights-based ideology and dialogue resulted in the birth of the United Nations, and subsequently a handful of substantial treaties, frameworks, and guiding principles for our quest to define and maintain human rights globally.  

However, after decades of debate, we have yet to answer the ultimate question: who is responsible for ensuring this productive discourse is transformed into tangible action? Earlier this year, political scientist Stephen Hopgood proclaimed that we have reached “the end of human rights.” Hopgood argued that despite successful recognition of all human beings’ moral equivalence (no minor feat), little has been done to meld regional differences in interpretation and practice. In other words, our attempts to answer the critical question of implementation -- whether through international declarations like the UDHR, conventions like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or the creation of the UN Human Rights Council -- have fallen short.

As we reflect on the anniversary of the UDHR, perhaps it is time for us to reconsider and expand our approach toward human rights. Leaders of the classical human rights movement envisioned a world in which governments agreed on and multilaterally implemented a set of principles. Since that time, we have witnessed immense globalization, putting civil and political rights at odds with economic and social ones while introducing a set of new players, including multinational enterprise.

Consequently, these conventions, declarations, and institutions are not fully equipped to enforce human rights at every level of society. It is necessary for us to be inclusive of all influencers, including the private sector, non-state actors, and other organizations and groups, in order to truly realize a society in which every person can fulfill his or her full potential -- the dream of FDR’s progressivism and Eleanor’s Declaration of Human Rights.

Beyond Institutions: Global Enterprise and Human Rights

If governments and international institutions are unable to police human rights at every level, non-state actors must accept responsibility for integrating dignity into their practices. While vast ground remains to be covered, many companies are taking the lead on assessing their spheres of influence and ensuring their profits do not come at the expense of the choices and livelihoods of others.

One such company is Carlson, a corporation in the hotel and travel industries that works to stop human trafficking crimes. According to the International Labor Organization, 14.2 million people are victims of forced labor exploitation in economic activities worldwide. Despite 90 percent of countries enacting legislation criminalizing human trafficking under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, it persists as tragic but preventable collateral damage of everyday economic and social activity.

Upon realizing that traffickers regularly use the hospitality industry to transport victims, Carlson used the valuable information provided by UNODC to be part of a solution. Now, they train their employees to recognize and report trafficking and have partnered with the State Department to educate travelers on the sexual exploitation of children.

For Ford Motor Company, being a more responsible business wasn’t as simple. Forced labor was buried deep in its supply chain, far from Detroit in Brazil’s charcoal mines, which provide an ingredient in steel production. When slave labor was exposed there in 2006, Ford was purchasing pig iron made from refined charcoal and using it in Cleveland to manufacture cars sold nationwide. The company took action to halt the use of pig iron and ensure its supply chain procured materials responsibly. Today, it collaborates with the State Department, the ILO, and the Brazilian National Pact to eradicate forced labor and improve transparency in manufacturing.

Like Ford’s model, supply chain innovation offers an opportunity for rising leaders to use the economic influence of private business to impact human rights. Both of these companies leveraged their own success to help solve a global problem. They confronted their spheres of influence and were willing to work with partners to develop solutions.

Similarly, Unilever, the maker of products including Dove soap and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, partnered with Oxfam in 2013 on a supply chain analysis of its operations in Vietnam. The partners sought to better understand the implications of the UN Framework for Business and Human Rights and Global Compact Principles on global companies, and to improve conditions for thousands of workers along their manufacturing chain. Oxfam discovered that while Unilever was committed to high labor standards, policies ran only skin deep; Vietnamese managers were not equipped to implement them and lacked internal reporting mechanisms for violations.

Oxfam dissected Unilever’s business practices and concluded that while Unilever still had a long way to go, its positive corporate culture and long-term relationships with suppliers make it well positioned to confront the root causes of labor problems and authentically attempt to solve them.

Unilever, Ford, and Carlson did not sacrifice profits or shareholder obligations. Instead, they participated in a global conversation on human rights -- one aggregated by the UN Global Compact -- and underscored the importance of effective, cross-sector collaboration to reform their own practices.

A New Legacy for Our Generation

Each of these entities demonstrates the many spheres of influence at play in the pursuit of full human rights and dignity for all. What if every company took the same initiative to understand the social repercussions of its actions?

We need to rethink human rights by recognizing the power of our own choices upon others. Everyone is responsible for upholding human rights, whether as a part of your day job or as a member of a community. Seemingly benign actions -- how much you pay your employees or which charities you support -- are manifestations of your own unique interpretation of what dignity and rights mean.  

The UN, NGOs, and other global institutions have provided a priceless platform for dialogue on human rights. Without the consensus-building mechanisms they provide, there would be no Universal Declaration of Human Rights, no “naming and shaming” of human rights abusers, and no coordinated effort to stop the world’s cruelest atrocities.

And yet, as we continue our efforts to avert the "end of human rights," what will our own generation's legacy of implementation be? As this generation rises to power in public and private leadership roles, those at decision-making tables across the spectrum will have an opportunity to think critically about their own actions. The foundation and forums, from the UDHR to the UN Global Compact, certainly exist. Now, it’s up to us to ensure a future in which human rights are celebrated not only at the institutional level, but at a more personal, human level as well.

Ariel Smilowitz is a senior at Cornell University majoring in Government and the Northeast Regional Policy Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

Monika Johnson is a member of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network's Alumni Advisory Committee.

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There Will Be Another Michael Brown: Millennial Perspectives on Ferguson [Updated]

Nov 26, 2014

(Last updated Dec. 5, 2014)

In the wake of the announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not stand trial for the shooting death of Michael Brown, members of our Networks shared their views on what's unfolding in Missouri and what it means for us as a nation.

Marissa Charlemagne, Campus Network member and junior at Goucher College:

(Last updated Dec. 5, 2014)

In the wake of the announcement that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson would not stand trial for the shooting death of Michael Brown, members of our Networks shared their views on what's unfolding in Missouri and what it means for us as a nation.

Marissa Charlemagne, Campus Network member and junior at Goucher College:

I was in a Roosevelt meeting when I heard the news of the non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson. As I looked around the room at all the faces, at all the colors of those faces -- black, white, and brown -- there was not a sense of surprise, nor shock, nor sorrow. The room was silent and full of blank expressions. Then one white girl said, “the system does work; it just works for those who it's made for.”

On social media, I saw that people were talking about the riots, about the looting, about the police, and about Michael Brown’s family, but hardly anyone was talking about Michael Brown. We hear the words "institutionalized racism" and "systematic oppression" so much that they lose meaning. Based on our history, there will be another Michael Brown, and there will be another Darren Wilson, but will there be another movement for change? I pray not just for black people but all people; I pray that this world gets it together to see real justice and real peace for all the Michael Browns, and for all the people who are tired of living the struggle. Because I too sing America.

Riley Jones IV, Campus Network member and sophomore at Columbia University:

For many people of this generation, the Ferguson situation highlighted for the first time the supposedly dormant tensions of race and class. For others who come from communities where murder is not an uncommon occurence, myself included, it is simply one further injustice in a system of inherited economic and political oppression. In either case, this should serve not as an excuse to despair, but rather as an impetus to abide by the call that President Theodore Roosevelt -- cousin of our organization's namesake -- lived by: "Get Action." As students and alumni of the world’s best universities, we must do our part to ensure that every citizen has the right and access to opportunity that we have been fortunate enough to receive. Only through displaying our humanity in the gravest of situations, at the climax of our anger and the inexorable depths of our sadness, can we truly overcome the societal infirmities that led to the murder of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri.

Alan Smith, Roosevelt Institute Associate Director of Networked Initiatives:

In a statement Monday night, President Obama said, "There are ways for you to channel your concerns constructively, and there are ways for you to channel your concerns destructively."

With all due respect, Mr. President, there aren't any ways for the people of Ferguson to channel their concerns constructively. After months of peaceful protesting, after being tear gassed and intimidated, after the media has made them out to be hooligans and thugs, after countless pleas for justice (or at least redress), after trying to do everything in their power to stand against a system that is blatant in not valuing them, this community was just told, in no uncertain terms, that all that constructive action and those attempts at dialogue fell on deaf ears.

Please, don't ask them to wait more. Don't ask them to "be constructive." That ball is not in their court. They are mourning, they are scared, and they are hurt. And we've made it very clear to these protesters that nothing they do or say makes even one iota of difference in how this discussion unfolds.

Katie Kirchner, Campus Network member and senior at American University:

In the wake of the Ferguson decision, we have clearly seen how our country's systems serve as tools of oppression. We have also seen how afraid the country is of voices rising from that oppression and using channels outside the system to cry for justice. Newspeople condemn those resisting rather than the police officer who used deadly force on an unarmed child. But the power of those resisting has been beautiful, powerful, and inspiring. I will fight as hard as I can, for as long as it takes, in solidarity with those who refuse to allow this oppression to continue. I will fight for my students, middle school kids from Southeast DC, who have already been victimized by racism and racial profiling. I will fight for my adopted niece and nephew who, I pray, will never have to justify their presence with their family or in their neighborhood. And I will fight because I believe that every single human life has an equal value. No justice, no peace.

Casey McQuillan, Campus Network member and junior at Ahmherst College:

When I watched the announcement that the grand jury had decided not to indict the officer responsible for shooting and killing Michael Brown, I felt outraged. Yet, as a white American, my privilege was to be outraged by the court’s decision while others had to be terrified of it.

As is the case with any discussion of race and discrimination, part of me felt that since I am white, it is not my battle to fight. However, it is exactly this intuition and comfortable inaction that must be changed. Failing to fight for what I believe in is equivalent to taking action against what I believe in.

As the family of Michael Brown urged, let’s ensure that the dialogue on discrimination sparked by the events in Ferguson results in substantive change. Let’s work to translate our words into actions. Let’s make a difference.

Jessica Morris, Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice and senior at Mount Holyoke College:

The police shooting of Michael Brown and resulting suppression of protesters in Ferguson reflects a testament to racial inequality and a failure in responsible policy. A major response to the unjust death of Michael Brown is to mandate body cams for every police officer in the country. While this policy explicitly responds to the criminal injustice system, I don't think it's a perfect solution; there is too much potential for abuse of the technology. We need just as much accountability with our police officers as in our court system. As Roosevelters, we recognize that progressive change happens best when policy is effective and transformative. Now is our time to respond. 

Andrew Lindsay, Campus Network member and junior at Amherst College:

In Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony, he describes Michael Brown, an unarmed teen, as a “demon.” After he fired the first shot, Wilson says he noted a “grunting, like aggravated sound” coming from the teenager. Each shot after appeared to make Brown more powerful. The “gentle giant” that Brown’s friends knew was gone, according to Wilson. He explains, “You could tell he was looking through you. There was nothing he was seeing.” After firing 12 rounds, Wilson eventually shot Brown in the head, killing him.

In these descriptions we see less of a teenage boy and more of a vicious animal. Many extrajudicial killings of black people share similar dehumanizing testimony. Policymakers and community members need to shift this pervasive negative narrative. Micro-place community policing is one solution. Programs such as Project Longevity in Connecticut, Operation Ceasefire in Boston, and lesser-known initiatives in Chicago and Cincinnati have all reduced crime and increased police-community relations. Community members not only patrol with police but are considered equal partners. Working closely with residents provides information that can prevent dangerous encounters with police, simply by police intimately knowing community members and their families. There are no demons, just police officers isolated from communities.

Molly Williams, Campus Network member and senior at UNC Chapel Hill:

“Atticus”…said Jem bleakly. “How could they do it, how could they?”

“I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it…seems that only children weep.” – To Kill a Mockingbird

It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year. It was difficult to enjoy a holiday made possible by white people claiming indigenous bodies and land that did not belong to them. How far we’ve come. White people continue to murder and incarcerate people of color, now in the name of the law. Police officers, primarily white men, who agreed to protect and defend instead continually murder people of color and face no punishment. Racism masked by language like self-defense and “the only option.” 

Yet while it was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year, it was still possible. It was not possible for Michael Brown, for Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Tyisha Miller, Aiyana Jones, Ezell Ford, Pearlie Golden, Orlando Barlow, Jordan Davis, Erica Collins, and countless other people of color murdered at the hands of white men, primarily police officers. I cannot speak for them, but I imagine it was impossible for their families as well, seated around tables with an empty chair.

“It was difficult to enjoy Thanksgiving this year” – a clever rephrasing of white guilt and another product of a racist system.

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Leadership Wanted: Pushing for More College Attainment? Start in Public Housing.

Nov 6, 2014Kevin Stump

Public housing creates an opportunity to bring together resources to increase college attainment and success for some of New York City's neediest students.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York,” Mayor de Blasio stated during his Inauguration Speech on January 1, 2014.

Public housing creates an opportunity to bring together resources to increase college attainment and success for some of New York City's neediest students.

“We are called to put an end to economic and social inequalities that threaten to unravel the city we love. And so today, we commit to a new progressive direction in New York,” Mayor de Blasio stated during his Inauguration Speech on January 1, 2014.

As I discussed in “The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio,” part of the “new progressive direction” Mayor de Blasio envisions must include a radical transformation of how we prioritize and invest in college access pipeline opportunities to combat economic and social inequalities.

The City should bring together all of the housing-related agencies to develop a strategy that will initiate an aggressive plan to further integrate and leverage community partners and key stakeholders to close the college readiness gap among students living in NYC public housing. The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), whose mission is to “increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers by providing safe, affordable housing and facilitating access to social and community services,” is an ideal place to start.

There are well over 600,000 New Yorkers served by conventional public housing with an average family income of under $25,000 and nearly 250,000 families on a waiting list. As alarming as this reality is, it very clearly identifies hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who would greatly benefit from a strategic shockwave of investments – both political and financial – to radically open up the opportunities pipeline, focusing on increasing college attainment.

Public housing developments are almost always located in communities that are low-income and high poverty, with a disproportionate concentration of minorities. They were intentionally built in these communities as a response of America’s Great Migration from 1915 to the 1970s, in which blacks migrated from the segregated south to the northern cities. Consequently, these cities never fully integrated and still remain economically and geographically segregated today. About 75 percent of public students who live in NYCHA housing are eligible for a free school lunch (an indicator to identify poverty) and more than 75 percent of these students are Black or Hispanic.

It’s no secret. A kid living in public housing performs worse than a kid who doesn’t. By a lot. Only 38 percent of NYCHA students passed their reading exams and just 41 percent passed their math exams. Among non-NYCHA students, nearly 50 percent of students passed their reading exams while nearly 52 percent of students passed their math exams. What’s more is that only about 55 percent of NYCHA students graduate from high school versus 61 percent of their non-NYCHA peers. This might help to explain why only 3 percent of CUNY freshman come from public housing and why those freshmen require more remedial course work than their non-public housing counterparts.

It is important to note that there is some work being done already. NYCHA offers a few scholarships for public housing students to pursue higher learning. NYCHA also partners with groups like the Educational Alliance. Unfortunately, these efforts are not only underfunded but often focus only on admissions related topics rather than actually preparing for and succeeding at college.

In addition to leveraging NYCHA and other housing-related agencies to reach New Yorkers in public housing, New York City has about forty other agencies serving more than eight million residents and employing about 300,000 public employees.

The city needs to use the public housing infrastructure to develop comprehensive college access centers that utilize and leverage existing projects, organizations, and networks such as the College Access Consortium of New York, GraduateNYC!, Bloomberg Philanthropies new initiative, the Partnership for Afterschool Education, and many others. This includes more than just test prep and admissions advising. A comprehensive college access center would provide full academic, financial, and social support preparing students and their family communities from 9th grade, supporting them while they earn their college degree, and coaching them through the beginning of their career. Integrated into NYCHA space, these centers would build a partnership made up of only the most proven and effective models that currently exist allowing us to see where innovation may be required for this much needed policy experiment to increase college attainment and fight inequality.

Similar to Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine,” which argues that leaders use crisis to push through policies, Mayor de Blasio should use the crisis of great economic disparity to fundamentally reimagine how New York City is tackling economic inequality through college access pipeline opportunities by using all of government and its tools, starting with public housing.

Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.

Photo via Flickr.

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Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance

Oct 30, 2014Andrea Flynn

As the election approaches, a number of close-call races could have disparate impact on women. This piece is the overview in our Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance series. The state-by-state analyses, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, can be found here.

As the election approaches, a number of close-call races could have disparate impact on women. This piece is the overview in our Election 2014: Women's Rights in the Balance series. The state-by-state analyses, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, can be found here.

Pundits have long anticipated that women voters would be the deciding factor in many of the midterm races across the United States. This seems only fitting, given that the outcome of many of this year’s races will shape policies and programs that have a disproportionate impact on women's health, economic security, and overall wellbeing. From birth control to fair pay to food stamps, there is a lot at stake, both at the national and state level.

With the elections less than a week away, control of the Senate is a tossup (and, according to a number of polls, that’s being generous to the Democrats). What if the Republicans gain a majority? For starters, it would certainly make it more difficult to advance proactive legislation on health access, reproductive and sexual health and rights, gun violence, safety net funding, and financial regulations, among other issues.

Even with the current Democratic majority, getting legislation passed has been a herculean effort. Remember a year ago when the federal government shut down for two weeks because of the GOP’s disdain for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and specifically its requirement that insurance companies pay for birth control? If lawmakers can’t do the job of keeping open the very government that employs them, it’s hardly surprising they can’t find a legislative fix to the Hobby Lobby ruling. The “Not My Bosses Business Act” – introduced by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) in the wake of this summer’s Supreme Court decision – would have restored the ACA requirement that employer-based health plans cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception. But Republicans filibustered the vote, Democrats fell four votes shy of breaking the filibuster, and the bill met a swift end. Nothing about the fate of this bill – or many others like it – was surprising given the complete intransigence that has come to characterize Washington.

A more conservative Senate will mean even more attempts to reduce non-defense discretionary spending while concerns about ISIS, Russia, and other national security issues drive up the Pentagon budget. It will mean greater efforts to shrink the social safety net, to keep financial regulations at bay, to restrict reproductive health access, and to dismantle the ACA, President Obama’s crowning political achievement. As Politico pointed out recently, it’s nearly impossible for Republicans to completely repeal the ACA. But they would certainly try to overturn the law’s most vulnerable components or use appropriations and reconciliation battles to eviscerate it. And Republicans would use their strengthened political muscle to push for other measures that have been sidelined under Democratic control. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has promised to push for a 20-week abortion ban if Republicans gain control of the Senate, and there would surely be more where that came from.

Of course, President Obama would veto any legislation that undermines his own policy priorities, but it remains to be seen how much political capital he would need to spend – and what he would be asked to give up – in order to stay the course. Funding for Planned Parenthood in exchange for the employer mandate? Federal protections for contraceptive access in order to pay for essential safety programs like food stamps? Reducing funding for Medicaid expansion in order to authorize a funding extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program?

Meanwhile, because of the gridlock in federal politics, states have become an increasingly important battleground for both parties to test and advance their priorities, particularly those that relate to critical – and often controversial – social issues. Each party has seen wins thanks to the shifting focus to the states. Look no further than the historic gains in LGBT rights on the one hand, and the significant restrictions in abortion access on the other, that have swept the country in recent years. This election will determine the path states will take in a number of other important areas: Medicaid expansion, abortion and family planning access, safety net programs, fair and equal pay, and paid sick and family leave.

To more deeply explore what the midterm elections will mean for women and families, the Roosevelt Institute is releasing a series of articles that examine where the candidates in a number of “close-call” states stand on the issues. Many of these articles were researched by and co-written with students from these states involved with Roosevelt’s Campus Network, the nation’s largest student policy think tank. Our hope is that these pieces will help voters and advocates assess the pressing health and socioeconomic challenges women face in states across the country, and to illustrate where each candidate stands on policies that will have a disproportionate impact on women and their families. 

Read the state-by-state analyses in this series, to be published over the course of Thursday, October 30 and Friday, October 31, here.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.

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We Need Pretrial Detention Reform in Massachusetts

Oct 29, 2014Jessica Morris

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

Alternatives to bail won't just reduce overcrowding in jails: they will create a more just justice system.

There is a bill pending in the Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means to build a bail jail in Middlesex County. Led by Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), H.1434 proposes for a new facility for women charged of a crime and awaiting trial. This jail is not for convicted prisoners, but for women who are charged with violent and nonviolent crimes and cannot afford bail.

Three states away in New Jersey, residents are preparing to vote on Ballot Question Number 1, a bail reform legislation, in this November’s election. Signed by Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), this policy states that dangerous suspects can be held in jail without bail, while non-dangerous suspects can be released through alternatives to bail. Both of these states attempt to tackle the overcrowding issue in jails, but New Jersey’s legislation will alleviate this issue through a long-term and humanizing solution. New Jersey has shown that bail reform is a bipartisan issue that can only be solved through intentional policy.

Massachusetts can learn from New Jersey’s responsible approach. There has been a growth of pre-trial detention in the state. From 2005 to 2014, pre-trial detainees in Massachusetts Department of Correction custody increased by 23 percent. This growth of pre-trial detention significantly impacts women. 34 percent of total female inmates in Massachusetts's jurisdiction this year are awaiting trial, but only 3 percent of total male inmates. Most women awaiting trial in Massachusetts are not able to make bail (80 percent cannot make bail of $2,000 or less and a third cannot make $500 or less). Many need services – not to be in jails. Two-thirds of the women in Massachusetts state prison have a diagnosed mental illness and half of them use psychotropic drugs. Prisons, such as the bail jail proposed in Middlesex County, can exacerbate mental illness when the women truly only need proper substance abuse and mental health treatments.

A study by the Pretrial Justice Institute shows that judges are inclined to assign harsher punishments to pretrial detainees than to those who are able to make bail. Thus, a person’s credibility is determined by money, no matter the verdict. Those who can afford to pay their bail do not undergo the ramifications of being in jail. They are able to continue supporting their families or continue their education. If they cannot afford bail, however, they have to go through the obstacles of pausing their lives and are more likely to commit recidivism; pretrial detainees are six times more likely to return to jail because of the challenges they face once released.

States such as Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, Virginia, and possibly soon New Jersey have reformed their pretrial systems. Massachusetts needs to join them. Facilities across the state of Massachusetts are overcrowded by up to 155 percent, and this could be alleviated by using electronic monitoring as an alternative to incarceration. New Jersey’s proposed legislation does this by having bail depend on risk and not whether someone can afford to pay to get out of jail. A judge will only present bail as a last resort if electronic monitoring might not assure the defendant's appearance at their trial or if he or she is believed to pose a threat to public safety.

Massachusetts has the political will to take the same path as New Jersey and reform its system. Through legislation similar to New Jersey’s bail reform, pretrial detainees charged with nonviolent crimes should be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program instead of entering a facility. There is a high financial cost for the state and social cost for defendants of having people await trials in jails. An electronic monitoring program is cheaper on both fronts. Defendants would have the ability to return to their lives fully and freely until they are tried. The idea of innocent until proven guilty is currently obsolete in Massachusetts because of the bail system, but it can be restored through reform that ensures liberty prior to trials.

Jessica Morris is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Senior Fellow for Equal Justice. She studies politics and gender studies at Mount Holyoke College.

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