Bush Didn't Misspeak: The GOP Wants to Dismantle Reproductive Health Programs

Aug 5, 2015Andrea Flynn

Last night Jeb Bush made a slip of the tongue that let us know just where he stands on reproductive health. “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said at an event in Nashville. In a way, he’s right: We actually need much more than half a billion dollars to fully meet the need for publicly funded reproductive health services.

Last night Jeb Bush made a slip of the tongue that let us know just where he stands on reproductive health. “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said at an event in Nashville. In a way, he’s right: We actually need much more than half a billion dollars to fully meet the need for publicly funded reproductive health services. Bush has since backtracked on his comment, which came on the heels of Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but we should not be fooled. His remarks and the recent furor that led to said defunding attempt are a clear illustration of the resentment GOP lawmakers and candidates have for our nation’s reproductive health programs, and reflect their resolve to diminish them.

It’s important to consider Bush’s remarks and the attacks on Planned Parenthood in the political context of the past four years. As Elizabeth Warren indicated in her impassioned speech before the Senate this week, over the past five years Republican state lawmakers have passed nearly 300 new restrictions on reproductive health access. In the first quarter of 2015, lawmakers in 43 states introduced a total of 332 provisions to restrict abortion access, which is increasingly out of reach for women throughout the country. Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has dramatically improved women’s health coverage and access. In the fall of 2013, the party orchestrated a costly government shutdown motivated by their opposition to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. And in June, House Republicans proposed eliminating funding for Title X, the federal family planning program.

When conservatives talk about “women’s health” funding, they aren’t talking about funding for abortion. Federal law already prohibits public dollars from being spent on abortion or abortion-related care. They’re talking about funding for family planning and other reproductive health services (pregnancy counseling, cancer screenings, STD treatment, etc.), which mainly comes through Medicaid and Title X, two programs that are consistently in conservative crosshairs.

There are no two ways about it: Funding for public reproductive health programs is far below where it should be. Today funding for Title X is 70 percent lower than it was in 1980 (accounting for inflation). If funding for this program had kept up with inflation over the last 35 years, the current funding level would be $941.5 million. In 2015, Congress appropriated $286.5 million for Title X (down from $317 million in 2010).

Congress approved these funding decreases (and Republican senators have proposed even further cuts while their House colleagues have proposed complete elimination of Title X) despite a growing need for services. The Guttmacher Institute reports that between 2000 and 2010, the number of women who needed publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies grew by 17 percent and by 2013 had grown by an additional 5 percent (an additional 918,000 women). Guttmacher attributes this to an increase in the proportion of adult women who are poor or low-income; the current U.S. public family planning program is only able to serve approximately 42 percent of those in need. Turns out “half a billion” isn’t quite enough.

"Title X-funded health centers provide essential preventive care to millions of women and men across the country and are often the only source of health care they receive all year," said Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. "The network of publicly funded family planning providers has long been underfunded despite a growing need for these vital services."

Title X-funded clinics—of which some, but not all, are Planned Parenthood providers—are the backbone of the nation’s reproductive health care system, ensuring that low-income individuals, young people, immigrants, and women of color are able to access affordable, quality reproductive health services. Every year, nearly 5 million individuals rely on these providers for birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, pregnancy testing, and a range of other preventive services. In 2012, Title X clinics helped women avert 1.1 million unintended pregnancies that would have otherwise resulted in 527,000 unplanned births and 363,000 abortions. In addition to the extraordinary health benefits, Title X is smart economics. It’s estimated that every dollar invested in family planning yields a taxpayer savings of $7.09, and that Title X-funded clinics save more than $5 billion annually in pubic spending.  

Conservative lawmakers have spent much more time in recent years finding ways to restrict access basic health care than they have solving the actual problems that plague women and families like pay inequity, low wages, weak worker protections, and a lack of work–family benefits. If recent events are any indication, they’re not going to veer from that course now. Jeb Bush’s recent remarks, the hoopla over Planned Parenthood, and the relentless assault on reproductive health and rights is a clear reminder of where issues central to women and families fall on the priority list of conservative lawmakers: dead last.

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

Share This

Planned Parenthood Vote Highlights the GOP's Broken Moral Compass

Aug 4, 2015Andrea Flynn

Senate Republicans failed yesterday to advance a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but their crusade against the organization and others like it is far from over.

Senate Republicans failed yesterday to advance a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but their crusade against the organization and others like it is far from over. Speaking in support of the legislation she sponsored, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said the Planned Parenthood videos have “shaken the moral compass of our country." But given that members of the “pro-life” party are willing to shut down the government over reproductive health access even as they ignore and exacerbate the actual crises that threaten our families and communities, we must question the alignment of the compass they’re following.

The video saga has now been proven to be complete nonsense. Two state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood is not, as the video’s editors portrayed, harvesting fetal tissue for profit, and their donation of such tissue and their compensation for related costs is, it turns out, perfectly legal. In fact, some of the senators leading this crusade (including Mitch McConnell) signed the very piece of 1993 legislation that legalized tissue donation. There are a number of issues shaking the moral compass of this country, but Planned Parenthood is not one of them.

Child poverty should shake our moral compass. Today, 22 percent of all children live in poverty, including 40 percent of Black children, and almost half live in low-income families. The U.S. child poverty rate is higher than all but one other OECD country. Poor children are more likely to drop out and perform poorly in school, to have developmental delays, and to experience behavioral, physical, and socioemotional problems. Yet conservatives still love to hate on the safety net programs that help keep these kids and their families afloat. In recent years, they have threated to cut funding for SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (the supplemental nutrition program that serves nearly 10 million low-income women and children) and have opposed legislation that would make it more affordable for low-income kids to go to college.

Maternal mortality should shake our moral compass. Today, more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years, and the U.S. is one of only seven countries to see its maternal mortality rate increase over the last decade. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, and in some communities experience a maternal mortality rate equal to that in some Sub-Saharan African countries. But instead of expanding access to quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care, conservatives are busy closing clinics that predominantly serve women of color, low-income women, and young women. They remain steadfast in their refusal to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would extend coverage and care to millions more low-income women. And they are still intent on repealing the ACA in its entirety, despite the fact that it has brought coverage to more than 16 million individuals.

Structural racism should shake our moral compass. The conservatives accusing Planned Parenthood of devaluing human life have been pretty quiet on the systemic violence and discrimination against communities of color. Where’s the outrage over Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and the countless others who have died at the hands of law enforcement? Where’s the outrage from the supposed “pro-family” party over the school-to-prison pipeline that has torn apart families and communities across the country? Where’s the outrage over our imbalanced and unjust criminal justice system? Where is the space for these lives under the conservative pro-life umbrella?

Pay inequity should shake our moral compass. The gender pay gap in the United States is alive and well, with women still making 78 percent of the earnings of white men (Black and Latina women make 64 and 56 percent, respectively). This gap results in a significant loss of income for women and their families over the life cycle and contributes to the high rates of poverty among women and single mothers as well as children. If equal pay were realized, it would mean a raise for nearly 60 percent of U.S. women and two-thirds of single mothers. The increase in earnings would expand access to health care, food and housing security, and educational opportunities, and would have countless long-term benefits for children. But GOP senators have voted four times since 2012 to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for employees to identify and address pay inequities. They are also consistently opposed to raising the minimum wage, a move that would benefit more than one-fifth of all children in the United States.

Income inequality—today greater than at any point since the Great Depression—should shake our moral compass. Thanks to our broken economic rules, the incomes of the top 1 percent increased by as much as 200 percent over the past 30 years while the net worth of the poorest Americans has decreased and stagnant wages and increased debt have pushed more middle-class families into poverty. After the 2008 recession, millions of Americans lost their homes, their jobs and their health care, and they are still struggling to regain their footing. The vast majority of Americans now believe a middle-class lifestyle is well beyond their reach. Yet conservatives continue to support the very policies that got us here in the first place: tax cuts for the wealthy; the erosion of unions and labor protections; and corporate structures that encourage a short-term focus on stock prices instead of long-term investments in growth and innovation.

The inability of individuals to access basic health services should shake our moral compass. Conservatives insist their efforts would not actually impact health access, because Planned Parenthood’s funding would simply be reallocated to other providers. But there are not actually enough providers to fill the void that would be left by Planned Parenthood. As Senator Patty Murray said, “you can’t pour a bucket of water into a cup.” Even with Planned Parenthood and the gains of the ACA, conservative laws have left women across this country reeling. We need more Planned Parenthoods and more of their sister clinics, not fewer.

Conservatives insist they care about the health of women and their families, but their actions indicate otherwise. They have proposed the elimination of Title X, the nation’s only program dedicated to providing family planning care and services. They are threatening—for the third time in four years—to shut down the federal government over reproductive health funding. They continue to support legislation that is closing clinics across the country, cutting access not only to abortion but also to basic preventive health services. The list goes on. This party is more interested in advancing its antiquated, harmful agenda than it is in the health of women—and men, young people, immigrants, trans folks, and low-income families—who rely on Planned Parenthood and other such providers. Their moral compass needs a good shaking up. 

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

Share This

Hillary Clinton's Economic Agenda is Good for Women, But Should Be Even Bolder

Jul 16, 2015Andrea Flynn

Hillary Clinton gave her first major economic policy address earlier this week and outlined her goals for lifting wages for the middle class, expanding social services, and addressing growing economic inequality. She said that an important ingredient to strong economic growth is women’s workforce participation, and promised to knock down many of the barriers that hold women—and our economy—back.

Hillary Clinton gave her first major economic policy address earlier this week and outlined her goals for lifting wages for the middle class, expanding social services, and addressing growing economic inequality. She said that an important ingredient to strong economic growth is women’s workforce participation, and promised to knock down many of the barriers that hold women—and our economy—back. But she failed to mention one issue that is critical to the economic wellbeing of women and their families: access to reproductive health care. 

It was encouraging to hear Clinton acknowledge the important role that women play in the U.S. economy. After all, women’s entrance into the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s is credited with driving a fifth of GDP growth. But over the past 15 years, their participation in the labor market has declined from 60 to 57 percent, not a major decline but certainly a trend in the wrong direction. The U.S. now ranks 19th out of 24 advanced countries on this measure. America’s dismal status can be blamed in large part on the lack of generous and sensible work and family polices we see in other OECD countries. These include paid sick leave, paid family leave, and affordable child care. Another factor is the stubborn wage gap that disadvantages women—and particularly women of color—throughout their working lives and beyond. Clinton indicated that addressing these inequities is a primary focus of her economic agenda. Doing so would significantly improve the lives millions of women and their families. 

But we must do all that and more. Without access to comprehensive, quality, and affordable health care, including the full spectrum of reproductive health care—maternal health care, family planning, and abortion care—women and their families will not be able to take full advantage of the economic opportunities available to them.

I’m not worried that Hillary isn’t going to be a strong supporter of reproductive rights. In her Roosevelt Island campaign launch, she called out Republicans who “shame and blame women, rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions.” Her campaign sharply criticized House Republicans for passing a 20-week abortion ban earlier this year, saying, "Politicians should not interfere with personal medical decisions, which should be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider." Historically, she has been an advocate for reproductive rights in both domestic and international policy.

But it would be powerful if she could also articulate reproductive health as a critical component of economic security, as we at the Roosevelt Institute did in our recent blueprint for reversing economic inequality. Voters understand reproductive health as an economic issue. New polling from Virginia shows that 64 percent of voters there believe that a woman’s financial stability is dependent on her ability to control whether and when she has children, and 68 percent believe laws that make it harder to access abortion can have a negative impact on woman’s financial security. Polling conducted in New York and Pennsylvania showed similar results.

This isn’t just a matter of opinion; the evidence illustrates that reproductive health access has economic benefits for families. Studies have shown links between family planning access and greater educational and professional opportunities for women, as well as increased earnings over women’s lifetimes. Women report that using birth control has allowed them to better take care of themselves and their families, to stay in school, to support themselves financially, and to get or keep a job and pursue a career. And when women don’t have access to reproductive health care, they are economically disadvantaged. Take the results of the recent Turnaway Study, which has shown that women who seek but are denied an abortion are three times as likely as those who access the procedure to end up below the federal poverty line two years later.

In light of these findings, a progressive economic agenda will be incomplete if it does not include access to comprehensive reproductive health care. Lack of access to those services has significant health and economic costs. Women of color, immigrant women, and poor women all experience higher rates of chronic disease, unintended pregnancy, and lower life expectancy than women with higher incomes. U.S. women of color are 3–4 times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes, and infants born to those women are 2.4 times more likely than those born to white women to die in their first year of life. In some regions of the United States, the maternal mortality rate among Black women is comparable to that in some Sub-Saharan African countries. These disparities impact women’s quality of life. They inhibit these women’s ability to care for themselves and their families, to play an active role in their communities, and to participate in the workforce and achieve economic security. There is no more important time than now to advocate for a broader progressive agenda. Attacks on reproductive health access are at an all-time high and access to basic health services is being rolled back at a rapid rate.

The right and ability to make decisions about our bodies is a fundamental building block of our social and economic wellbeing. We can’t expect people to separate the physical, social, and economic demands and stresses they experience. Are women supposed to worry about their need for an abortion without worrying about the job they might lose if they take a day off to get one? Do they stress over needing to put food on the table for their kids without also worrying about how they will pay for birth control, student loans, and rent? No. For the vast majority of people in this country, life is messy and complicated and overwhelming, and everyday families have no choice but to juggle each of these issues simultaneously.

Progressives know that. Now is the time for them to put forth an economic agenda that will address all aspects of our economic wellbeing—not just those that have historically been politically palatable. 

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

Share This

Millennials Are Not Post-Racial: An Ivy League Education

Jun 24, 2015Riley Jones

“I don’t see race” is the oft-heard refrain of many Millennial men and women. Surveys have shown that people of this generation believe themselves to be more tolerant of racial differences than older Americans. These are young people who see the progress America has made in addressing racial disparities as irreversible.

“I don’t see race” is the oft-heard refrain of many Millennial men and women. Surveys have shown that people of this generation believe themselves to be more tolerant of racial differences than older Americans. These are young people who see the progress America has made in addressing racial disparities as irreversible. This sense of finality stems from a belief—proliferated in the 1980s and 1990s—that federal, state, and local governments have made a concerted effort , through measures including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and affirmative action, to eliminate racial injustice in our society. To some, the election of a Black president in 2008 further symbolized a national transcendence of past prejudices. Because of these assumptions, many Millennials have failed to critically analyze the condition of African-Americans, who continue to face discrimination and inequality. This failure, in turn, has led to a dearth of substantive policy solutions to change the structural foundations of a system that has underserved too many for much too long.

As a low-income Black student at Columbia University from the South Side of Chicago, I am well assured that the breadth and depth of my experiences are not immediately relevant when compared to the experiences of my peers from more affluent places. Discussing Greece based off a literary interpretation is daunting when a majority of the class has seen the islands firsthand. However, I am certain that I belong here just as much as the next person. The influx in recent years of low-income students, most of whom happen to be racial minorities, in elite and selective college environments has provided for a mixture of class and race that has never been experienced on so massive a scale. From 2000 to 2011, the National Center for Education Statistics has measured a 12 and 14 percent increase in college enrollment for Black and Hispanic students, respectively. The wealth of difference between these groups has catalyzed the belief, in Millennial circles, that this is a post-racial generation.

There is a tendency, in the logic of post-racial America, to equate interpersonal racism (i.e. “I don’t like you because you’re Black”) with the racial barriers that structures and institutions have created (i.e. white students graduate from elite and selective colleges at significantly higher rates than Black students). Thus the students of the Millennial generation, and the schools that facilitate their interactions, are treading in uncharted waters when it comes to dealing with subtler racial disparities, and the results have been mediocre at best. The racism of our forefathers took the form of bricks and billy clubs, while today’s prejudices move more like an “invisible hand,” guiding young people—mostly Black and Latino—from urban ghettos to prisons and from impoverished schools to massive student loan debt.

Only by interrogating the structural foundations of American political and economic institutions does one begin to understand the fault in post-racial logic. For example, Columbia explicitly accepts qualified students on the basis of their economic indigence through certain programs. The retention rate, much less the graduation rate, does not even begin to rival that of wealthier students, who also tend to be whiter What is lost is that these students need different kinds of support than the university is used to giving. To say that race plays a role is to draw the ire of administrators who earnestly believe that the system is absolved of doubt because they are not personally racist. This is the work of structural racism: a demonstrated inequality cannot be labeled racial unless there is tangible proof of intent to discriminate based on race.

White Millennials, unlike their forebears, are not typically characterized by active interpersonal racial animosity; they are characterized by their silence in the face of the oppressive structural conditions that society engenders. It is not that people say that they accept me despite the color of my skin; it is that they openly express fear about walking in Harlem in the middle of the day even though the people they fear look like me. It is their acquiescence to and wholesale endorsement of a school that has made gentrification a commodity ready to be sold. The only way to truly root out this inequity is to call racism what it is.

Once the underpinnings of an actively unjust structure are called into question, progress can be made. Perhaps more accurately, policy can be made. The Civil Rights Movement used policy to effectively ban segregation in the United States. Ferguson and Baltimore have shown that the tradition of advocating for justice at the grassroots level has not waned; the challenge moving forward will be creating solutions that ensure unjustified police homicides will be prevented and not go unpunished. The outdated policy measures of the past will not suffice to rid the United States of its racial ills; we must show Millennials—the leaders of today and tomorrow—that racism still exists so they can press on ever more firmly toward its extinction.

Riley Jones is a Roosevelt Institute Campus Network member and a rising junior at Columbia University.

Share This

To Make Our Communities Safer, We Must Rethink Policing

Jun 17, 2015Pete Haviland-Eduah

The concept of policing and the question of how systems of community safety can be improved across the country have been at the forefront of American consciousness lately. People around the world, from activists and their allies to social media and folks sitting around their dinner table have started a discussion of how communities of color have been both systemically criminalized by policing practices such as “stop and frisk,” “broken windows,” and “jump-outs” and portrayed as enemy combatants by militarized police forces in Ferguson and Baltimore.

The concept of policing and the question of how systems of community safety can be improved across the country have been at the forefront of American consciousness lately. People around the world, from activists and their allies to social media and folks sitting around their dinner table have started a discussion of how communities of color have been both systemically criminalized by policing practices such as “stop and frisk,” “broken windows,” and “jump-outs” and portrayed as enemy combatants by militarized police forces in Ferguson and Baltimore. Reaction nationwide has sparked protests against mass criminalization of Black communities, which have demanded the attention of the federal government.

Recently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Consent Decree on the Cleveland Police Department, aimed at creating an environment in which police can execute their duties of protection and service in a manner that works for all residents. Further, President Obama announced an executive order (EO) that would limit certain types of military equipment to local police departments. But we must ask the question: Is this enough? The DOJ’s Consent Decree and President Obama’s EO 13688 are steps in the right direction, but if they are to have a sustainable impact, they need to be accompanied by more preventative work in partnership with local communities.

The Cleveland area has a troubled history with police violence that serves to illustrate our nationwide problem. Recently, Cleveland Police Officer Michael Brelo was found not responsible for a 2012 shooting in which the Cleveland police fired 137 bullets at an unarmed Black couple, killing them, Fifteen of those bullets came from Officer Brelo, who was standing on the hood of the couple’s car while shooting the passengers inside. It seems like a grisly scene from Training Day.

Between this 2012 shooting and the subsequent verdict that let Officer Brelo walk, a 12-year-old boy was killed by a police officer for playing with a toy gun, a 22-year-old man was gunned down in a Wal-Mart by a police officer for holding a BB gun, and a 37-year-old mentally ill woman was killed when she was body slammed by police officers outside of her family’s home.

The culture of aggressive policing in Cleveland and the surrounding region have been demonstrated time and again, taking the lives of Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, and Tanesha Anderson, but we have just now reached a point where it is acceptable to acknowledge that there may be a problem.

But is acknowledging the problem and implementing retroactive provisions to potentially correct it enough?


What we need are preventative measures to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. We need to explore more comprehensive screening options to ensure that police who earn their badges are willing and able to uphold their credo of protection and service.

Officer Brelo has shown violent tendencies in the days after his acquittal, and if he was capable of physically assaulting his own brother, its not difficult to believe that he would be capable of using excessive force against community members who are strangers to him. One must ask, why was someone like this trusted in a position to interact with the public with a deadly weapon? Why was he put in a position where he could choose between someone living or someone dying?

Even more recently, we saw police officer Eric Casebolt in McKinney, Texas barrel roll his way into the national spotlight, slamming the head of a teenage girl into the ground and pulling his gun out on other teens for the crime of being at a pool party. Officer Casebolt had a history of questionable tactics and racial discrimination but wasn’t removed from his duties until the world was watching and he thought it best to resign (got fired). The reality of the situation is that those like Officer Casebolt do not deserve to earn a badge in the first place and we need to do better to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Similar to what is happening in Texas and Ohio, as we look closer at EO 13688, we find that although the mandate is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. As Natasha Lennard correctly points out in her Fusion article, this is about optics, and “mitigating the optics of warrior cops does not eliminate the fury undergirding revolt.” Like the Consent Decree in Cleveland, the Executive Order seems to be too reactionary.

Under EO 13688, certain types of equipment, like grenade launchers and tanks, are banned, but authority is still ultimately given to local mayors and city councils to determine what type of equipment law enforcement agencies can request and access. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like much of an issue, but would it make a difference in a place such as Ferguson? It is tough to see pictures of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles out on the town with Darren Wilson or those involved in sending racist e-mails and believe that he might deny the local police chief access to equipment that could be used to further demonize Black and Brown people in the community. Even with EO 13688 in place, former Police Chief Tom Jackson could have had mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs) on the ground and used tear gas on protesters; he just would have needed to ask his buddy, the mayor, first.

Reactions won’t solve our problems, but proactive steps might give us a chance. We need to get to a place where an officer won’t fear a 12-year-old boy with a fake gun. Extra training won’t prevent six police officers from believing on some level that it was okay to give Freddie Gray a “rough ride.” Banning tear gas won’t stop city officials from hitting send on an email that calls the President of the United States an ape. Stopping a tank rolling down the street won’t stop drunken Baltimore baseball fans, the Mayor, or the President from calling protestors “thugs” or “animals.” Restricting camouflage uniforms won’t stop officers from finding it necessary to unload 137 rounds into a vehicle while one of them hops onto the hood of the car and fires 15 rounds into the windshield. Reexamination of the concept of policing and inherent racial biases is what needs to happen now.

We aren’t addressing the issue of the warrior-cop mentality that is literally killing people on the street. This is costing taxpayer dollars in lawsuits against police departments and cities; the city of Cleveland, for example, settled for $3 million for the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and between 2011 and 2014 the city of Baltimore paid out nearly $6 million in police misconduct settlements. However, far more importantly, this is costing lives in communities across America.

Aura Rosser, Freddie Gray, Aiyana Jones, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and a long list of too many others would still be alive today if we looked at policies that prevented warrior-police from earning their uniforms and serving not as agents of public good but the armed guard of systemic racism and implicit bias. It would go light years in the effort to reestablish (or establish, in many cases) communities’ trust in a system that in theory is supposed to keep them safe but in practice is a system that has participated in widespread destruction of Black and Brown communities.

We need to shift away from thinking about police as a force to thinking about policing as a service. We need to do more to break down the walls of the “us versus them” mentality and to improve relationships between community members and law enforcement. Imagine a world in which police officers are required to live in the communities they serve. They would understand the unique challenges of their neighbors and would be a part of the community. Trust could be built, and we could move closer to a system that works for everyone. Imagine what policing would look like if candidates at the police academy spent less time training to use weapons and more time training in non-lethal techniques We might see our officers travelling overseas helping to end conflict instead of the other way around. Imagine what communities could look like if police officers here in the United States had to adhere to the rules of engagement in the Geneva Convention. The positive possibilities are endless.

Nowhere in the executive order or consent decree is there mention of police hiring practices, residency restrictions, or anything else that can work toward ending a culture of police who have viewed themselves as separate from the community they are hired to “protect and serve.” This creates an atmosphere in which we feel and see things in an “other” framework when we need to be shifting the discussion to “us” and “we.” The consequences are lethal, and we have seen how destructive it can be. The divide creates a fracture that allows the stigmatization and criminalization of communities of color.   

It is as if the government sees from afar but cannot fully empathize with the struggle that people are experiencing every day.

It took mass demonstrations and the lives of too many to get to the point where we have the full (public) attention of the highest levels of government, and that has brought us to a unique time and place in American history and culture. The bridge between governments and the people they are put in place to serve has been in need of repair and reconstruction for too long, and in this moment, the Movement must continue. Eliminating the optics of militarization is a good thing but it doesn’t end the thinking behind those optics. Additional proper training for officers can never hurt, but that won’t necessarily weed out a trigger-happy officer who joins the force to have his ego stroked.

In this moment we need to commit to longer-term, more comprehensive policy solutions and practices, because our time will come to define the times in which our children and grandchildren live. If we fail to realize that not all Americans have access to full citizenship, then the moral and social fabric of our nation will be torn asunder forever. The federal government has demonstrated that we have its attention; together, we must now make these reforms come to fruition. 

Pete Haviland-Eduah is the national policy and communications director for the Million Hoodies Movement. Follow Pete on Twitter at @TheNotoriousPHE. 

Share This

Protecting the One in Five: A Call to Action on Campus Sexual Assault

Jun 8, 2015Courtney Liss

Media coverage of Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art is drawing attention to a very serious and widespread issue: today, one out of every five women on a college campus has been sexually assaulted. President Obama himself spoke about it just last year.

Media coverage of Emma Sulkowicz’s performance art is drawing attention to a very serious and widespread issue: today, one out of every five women on a college campus has been sexually assaulted. President Obama himself spoke about it just last year. Worse, it is estimated that only 12 percent of sexual assaults are reported, meaning that far more college women have been forced to endure sexual assault while pursuing higher education than the official statistics suggest. Women do not and cannot have safe and equal access to education while facing this kind of threat—an injustice compounded by the fact that many schools discourage victims from coming forward, fail to disclose the scope of the problem on their campuses, and leave students to discuss their assaults with untrained employees.

By giving colleges and universities complete freedom in dealing with sexual assault cases, we allow them to make decisions in their own interests at the cost of the safety of their students. Often, this means discouraging victims from coming forward in order to lower the official count of sexual assaults on their campus (which have to be reported annually due to the Jeanne Clery Act). We need federal action to ensure that colleges and universities treat victims properly, report accurate statistics to the federal government and guarantee that on a local, campus level, women are able to pursue a quality education without fear of sexual assault.

After hearing from women on my campus, I realized that the issue of sexual assault goes beyond its frequency. Instead, a combination of factors—negative administrative responses to reporting, retaliation against victims from social groups, and the incessant questioning of victims (What were they wearing? Were they drunk?)—have coalesced into a far broader problem. In our current system, women are often left wondering whether it is worth the effort to go through their school’s disciplinary process at all. I knew I needed to do something about this—both on my campus and nationally. The one in five women on your campus need you, too.

How can you address sexual assault on your campus? The first priority has to be making survivors feel safe. On my campus at Tulane University, I painted the windows of our student center with survivor-friendly messaging: “You are not alone,” “We believe you,” and “This is not your fault.” Not only does this help demonstrate appropriate responses to sexual assault incidents, it also expresses support to survivors on campus. By painting the windows of your campus, you can display your #clearsupport for sexual assault victims.

But painting on windows alone will not create the lasting change we need to end campus sexual assault. We need federal and state-sponsored policy legislation. Along with other advocates on my campus, I tabled directly outside the painted windows to get student signatures on letters supporting the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, a U.S. Senate bill that would establish confidential advisors at universities, ensure training of on-campus security officials, force colleges to report sexual assaults by raising Title IX and Clery Act reporting fines, and have colleges utilize “one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings.” I encourage you to look up the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, or a piece of local or state legislation that addresses this issue, and work to gather support on your campus as well.

One in five is an unacceptably high number of women who have already been sexually assaulted. To protect college women from becoming a victim, we as college students need to speak up and out and demand that colleges make the changes we need now.

Courtney Liss is a member of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network and a rising senior at Tulane University.

Share This

Will the 2016 Election Include a Real Debate About Racial Justice in America?

May 1, 2015Andrea Flynn

Hillary Clinton's bold speech was a good start, but events in Baltimore show we're still a long way from addressing inequities.

Earlier this week Hillary Clinton used the first major policy address of her campaign to speak passionately about the systemic inequities and injustices that afflict communities of color in the United States, and presented herself as a markedly more progressive, empathetic, and authentic candidate than we’ve seen in the past.

Hillary Clinton's bold speech was a good start, but events in Baltimore show we're still a long way from addressing inequities.

Earlier this week Hillary Clinton used the first major policy address of her campaign to speak passionately about the systemic inequities and injustices that afflict communities of color in the United States, and presented herself as a markedly more progressive, empathetic, and authentic candidate than we’ve seen in the past.

Clinton’s remarks at Columbia University come against the backdrop of protests and unrest in the streets of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, whose spine was nearly severed while in police custody. As Andrew Rosenthal wrote in The New York Times yesterday, our nation’s leaders should be at the forefront of a national conversation on “race, policing, and the crisis that exists in so many of our cities.” In many ways, Clinton’s remarks show she knows what the contours of that conversation should be, and that she has what it takes to elevate it to the forefront of our national consciousness.

“From Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable,” she began, as she listed a handful of the men whose lives have been cut short as a result of police violence. Walter Scott of Charleston. Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old from Cleveland. Eric Garner of Staten Island. And now Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

“We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” she said, adding that there is something “profoundly wrong” when Black men are more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and handed longer prison sentences than their white peers; when 1-in-3 young Black men in Baltimore are unemployed and approximately 1.5 million Black men are missing from their families and communities as a result of incarceration and premature death.

Clinton could have kept her remarks limited to the broken criminal justice system, but she ventured further, acknowledging that the fractures in that system are just one cause—and also a symptom—of deep social and economic injustices that must be corrected if communities of color are to live safe, healthy, and economically secure lives. 

We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don't talk about what's needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children…

You don't have to look too far from this magnificent hall to find children still living in poverty or trapped in failing schools. Families who work hard but can't afford the rising prices in their neighborhood. Mothers and fathers who fear for their sons' safety when they go off to school—or just to go buy a pack of Skittles. These challenges are all woven together. And they all must be tackled together.

She enumerated the real marks of a nation’s prosperity: how many children can escape poverty and stay out of prison; how many can go to college without being saddled with debt; how many new immigrants can start small businesses; and how many parents can get and keep jobs that allow them to “balance the demands of work and family.” These indicators, she said, are a far better measurement of our prosperity “than the size of the bonuses handed out in downtown office buildings.”

In many ways, it is a sad commentary on the state of our nation’s politics that Clinton’s speech feels significant. But given our political discourse on race (or lack thereof), and the gender, race, and social and economic inequities that continue to rage on unchecked, it did indeed feel significant.

Of course, Hillary didn’t have far to climb to pass the low, low bar that has been set by Republicans. This week we saw members of the GOP blame the protests and uprising in Baltimore on everything from President Obama inflaming racial tensions (thank you, Ted Cruz) to the legalization of same-sex marriage (that gem of wisdom from Representative Bill Flores of Texas). GOP presidential hopeful Rand Paul blamed the “breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society” and remarked on how glad he was that his train didn’t stop in Baltimore because it’s depressing, sad, and scary. And Jeb Bush proposed that there be a rapid investigation into the death of Freddie Gray “so that people know the system works for them” (even though—as Rosenthal pointed out—it clearly doesn’t).  

Clinton’s remarks were of an entirely different caliber than we’re hearing from the GOP (not that rising above that nonsense alone should win one points). But she still has a steep road ahead to convince justifiably cynical voters that she will run her campaign—and the nation, should she become our next president—with the same commitment to racial and economic justice that she espoused yesterday. The 2008 campaign left a bitter taste in the mouths of many progressives, especially those in communities of color. And, as Bill Clinton himself said yesterday, it was the tough-on-crime policies of his own administration that led to the over-policing and mass incarceration that his wife criticized.

It remains to be seen if yesterday’s speech will mark a real evolution in her long political career, and not, as some suspect, a calculated political pivot to appease the voters she will need to win this campaign. All things considered, it was a bold start to what will be a long campaign. This is the Hillary many have been waiting for. This moment requires a leader who will boldly challenge the inequities and injustice in our society—whether at the voting booth, on the job, in our neighborhoods, or within our criminal justice system—and lay out a clear path forward. That's the challenge and opportunity for Hillary; we don't yet know if she will accept it.

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

Share This

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.

Share This

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.

Share This

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.


Share This