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Compiled by MCJ Staff
Funeral services were held Friday, May 17, for Malcolm Lateef Shabazz, the grandson of human rights leader Malcolm X. He was 28 years old.
According to reports by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Shabazz died of blunt-force injuries he suffered during a May 9 fight at the Palace Bar in the tourist area in Mexico City known as Plaza Garibaldi.
According to the BBC report, the owner of the bar demanded payment from Shabazz for an inflated bar tab including music and “female companionship.”
When Shabazz refused to pay, he was allegedly beaten and thrown from the second-floor establishment. He reportedly died May 10 in a Mexico City hospital.
Mexico City prosecutors say they have arrested two men in connection with the death of Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of political activist Malcolm X.
An official of the city’s prosecutor’s office, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, says the two suspects are employees of the bar where Shabazz was assaulted.
Much like his grandfather, Shabazz spent his youth in and out of trouble. At 12, he set a fire in his grandmother’s apartment, a blaze that resulted in the death of Malcolm X’s widow. After four years in juvenile detention, Shabazz was later sent back to prison on attempted robbery and assault charges.
In recent years, the first male heir of Malcolm X seemed to seek redemption, saying he was writing a memoir and traveling around the world speaking out against youth violence.
Before his trip to Mexico, he reached out to a group of Mexican construction workers in the U.S. and then visited in Mexico with a leader who had been deported.
Malcolm X, who inspired books and the 1992 Hollywood movie named after him, was shot to death as he delivered a speech in a Harlem ballroom in 1965. Shabazz’s mother was only 4 at the time.
The Shabazz family said in a statement they were saddened to hear of the death of Malcolm X’s grandson.
“To all who knew him, he offered kindness, encouragement and hope for a better tomorrow,” said the statement. “We will miss him.”
Labor activist Miguel Suarez, who was traveling with Shabazz, told The Associated Press that his friend was beaten up at a bar near Plaza Garibaldi, a downtown square that is home to Mexico City’s mariachis.
Plaza Garibaldi is popular with tourists, but the pair were at a bar across the street from the plaza in an area of rough dive bars tourists are warned against going to.
Suarez said he and Shabazz were lured to the bar on Wednesday night by a young woman who made conversation with the American in English. The Palace bar is on one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues.
“We were dancing with the girls and drinking,” said Suarez. Then the owner of the bar wanted them to pay a $1,200 bar tab, alleging that they should pay for music, drinks and the girls’ companionship.
“We pretty much got hassled,” he said. “A short dude came with a gun.” Suarez said he was taken by the man to a separate room. Shabazz stayed in the hall. Suarez said he heard a violent commotion in the hall and escaped from the room and the bar altogether as he saw half-naked girls running away, picking up their skirts from the dance floor.
Minutes later, Suarez came back in a cab to look for Shabazz and found him on the ground outside the bar severely injured.
“He was in shock. His face was messed up,” said Suarez. “He was alive.”
“I grabbed him, and I called the cops,” said Suarez, who was recently deported from the United States.
He said he took Shabazz to a hospital but his friend died hours later of blunt-force injuries.
Suarez said Shabazz had traveled to Mexico to support him and his movement advocating for more rights for construction workers. He crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana with Suarez’s mother and then the pair took a bus all the way to Mexico City.
“We were planning to go to Teotihuacan, to see the Aztec pyramids,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell did not offer details on whether they are working with Mexican investigators.
“We’ve been in contact with family members and have been providing appropriate… assistance,” Ventrell said. “At their request, we have no further comment at this time.”
Ruth Clark, Shabazz’s godmother, said that her heart was heavy, but that she believes he is now “among angels.”
“Malcolm is part of a welcoming kingdom, sharing his bright smile, intelligence, and wisdom.”
Shabazz was born on Oct. 8, 1984 to Qubilah Shabazz, one of six daughters of Malcolm X and his wife Betty Shabazz.
In June 1997, Malcolm Shabazz set the fire at his grandmother Betty Shabazz’s home. She died from severe burns, and he served four years in juvenile detention.
He later expressed regret for his actions, telling The New York Times in 2003 that he would sit on his jail cot and ask for a sign of forgiveness from his dead grandmother.
“I just wanted her to know I was sorry and I wanted to know she accepted my apology, that I didn’t mean it,” he said. “But I would get no response, and I really wanted that response.”
Despite the encouragement and support by his family’s numerous supporters in New York, he struggled. He joined the Bloods street gang and after moving to the small city of Middletown, near New York’s Catskills region, he had additional legal scrapes.
Shabazz also served time on a 2002 attempted robbery conviction, and was released in 2005. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to criminal mischief for smashing the window of a Yonkers doughnut shop.
More recently, Shabazz had taken on public speaking engagements and traveled, describing himself as a human rights activist. On his Facebook profile, he said he was attending John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Yet his entanglements with law enforcement continued.
In one of the last posts on his blog, in March, Shabazz had complained that FBI agents had recently questioned him about his international travels.
He also accused officers with the Middletown police department of harassing him since the fall, and said an arrest in the city over the winter prevented him from traveling to Iran in February to participate in a film festival.
Shabazz also wrote about traveling to Damascus, Syria to study and to Libya as part of a delegation of Americans who met with Muammar Gaddafi, prior to his ouster and death.
Police officials in Middletown didn’t return phone messages Friday. An FBI spokesman in New York had no immediate comment.
He proudly embraced the legacy of his grandfather, one of the most influential Black people in history who had a more radical, angry approach than Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent movement in the 1950s and into the 1960s.
On his Twitter page, Shabazz posted a picture of himself mimicking the famous photograph of his grandfather, peering out at a window with a rifle in one hand.
“Grandson, name-sake and first male heir of the greatest revolutionary leader of the 20th century,” he wrote.
Contributors to this article: The Grio.com and Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper from Washington and David Caruso from New York City.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday at 12:06 p.m.
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Morehouse! (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Please be seated.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you!
THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Laughter.) That is why I am here.
I have to say that it is one of the great honors of my life to be able to address this gathering here today. I want to thank Dr. Wilson for his outstanding leadership, and the Board of Trustees. We have Congressman Cedric Richmond and Sanford Bishop — both proud alumni of this school, as well as Congressman Hank Johnson. And one of my dear friends and a great inspiration to us all — the great John Lewis is here. (Applause.) We have your outstanding Mayor, Mr. Kasim Reed, in the house. (Applause.)
To all the members of the Morehouse family. And most of all, congratulations to this distinguished group of Morehouse Men — the Class of 2013. (Applause.)
I have to say that it’s a little hard to follow — not Dr. Wilson, but a skinny guy with a funny name. (Laughter.) Betsegaw Tadele — he’s going to be doing something.
I also have to say that you all are going to get wet. (Laughter.) And I’d be out there with you if I could. (Laughter.) But Secret Service gets nervous. (Laughter.) So I’m going to have to stay here, dry. (Laughter.) But know that I’m there with you in spirit. (Laughter.)
Some of you are graduating summa cum laude. (Applause.) Some of you are graduating magna cum laude. (Applause.) I know some of you are just graduating, “thank you, Lordy.” (Laughter and applause.) That’s appropriate because it’s a Sunday. (Laughter.)
I see some moms and grandmas here, aunts, in their Sunday best — although they are upset about their hair getting messed up. (Laughter.) Michelle would not be sitting in the rain. (Laughter.) She has taught me about hair. (Laughter.)
I want to congratulate all of you — the parents, the grandparents, the brothers and sisters, the family and friends who supported these young men in so many ways. This is your day, as well. Just think about it — your sons, your brothers, your nephews — they spent the last four years far from home and close to Spelman, and yet they are still here today. (Applause.) So you’ve done something right. Graduates, give a big round of applause to your family for everything that they’ve done for you. (Applause.)
I know that some of you had to wait in long lines to get into today’s ceremony. And I would apologize, but it did not have anything to do with security. Those graduates just wanted you to know what it’s like to register for classes here. (Laughter and applause.) And this time of year brings a different kind of stress — every senior stopping by Gloster Hall over the past week making sure your name was actually on the list of students who met all the graduation requirements. (Applause.) If it wasn’t on the list, you had to figure out why. Was it that library book you lent to that trifling roommate who didn’t return it? (Laughter.) Was it Dr. Johnson’s policy class? (Applause.) Did you get enough Crown Forum credits? (Applause.)
On that last point, I’m going to exercise my power as President to declare this speech sufficient Crown Forum credits for any otherwise eligible student to graduate. That is my graduation gift to you. (Applause.) You have a special dispensation.
Now, graduates, I am humbled to stand here with all of you as an honorary Morehouse Man. (Applause.) I finally made it. (Laughter.) And as I do, I’m mindful of an old saying: “You can always tell a Morehouse Man — (applause) — but you can’t tell him much.” (Applause.) And that makes my task a little more difficult, I suppose. But I think it also reflects the sense of pride that’s always been part of this school’s tradition.
Benjamin Mays, who served as the president of Morehouse for almost 30 years, understood that tradition better than anybody. He said — and I quote — “It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates… but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private life — men who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.”
It was that mission — not just to educate men, but to cultivate good men, strong men, upright men — that brought community leaders together just two years after the end of the Civil War. They assembled a list of 37 men, free blacks and freed slaves, who would make up the first prospective class of what later became Morehouse College. Most of those first students had a desire to become teachers and preachers — to better themselves so they could help others do the same.
A century and a half later, times have changed. But the “Morehouse Mystique” still endures. Some of you probably came here from communities where everybody looked like you. Others may have come here in search of a community. And I suspect that some of you probably felt a little bit of culture shock the first time you came together as a class in King’s Chapel. All of a sudden, you weren’t the only high school sports captain, you weren’t the only student council president. You were suddenly in a group of high achievers, and that meant you were expected to do something more.
That’s the unique sense of purpose that this place has always infused — the conviction that this is a training ground not only for individual success, but for leadership that can change the world.
Dr. King was just 15 years old when he enrolled here at Morehouse. He was an unknown, undersized, unassuming young freshman who lived at home with his parents. And I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t the coolest kid on campus — for the suits he wore, his classmates called him “Tweed.” But his education at Morehouse helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America. It was here that he was introduced to the writings of Gandhi and Thoreau, and the theory of civil disobedience. It was here that professors encouraged him to look past the world as it was and fight for the world as it should be. And it was here, at Morehouse, as Dr. King later wrote, where “I realized that nobody…was afraid.”
Not even of some bad weather. I added on that part. (Laughter.) I know it’s wet out there. But Dr. Wilson told me you all had a choice and decided to do it out here anyway. (Applause.) That’s a Morehouse Man talking.
Now, think about it. For black men in the ‘40s and the ‘50s, the threat of violence, the constant humiliations, large and small, the uncertainty that you could support a family, the gnawing doubts born of the Jim Crow culture that told you every day that somehow you were inferior, the temptation to shrink from the world, to accept your place, to avoid risks, to be afraid — that temptation was necessarily strong.
And yet, here, under the tutelage of men like Dr. Mays, young Martin learned to be unafraid. And he, in turn, taught others to be unafraid. And over time, he taught a nation to be unafraid. And over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear and their cynicism and their despair, barriers have come tumbling down, and new doors of opportunity have swung open, and laws and hearts and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as President of these United States of America. (Applause.)
So the history we share should give you hope. The future we share should give you hope. You’re graduating into an improving job market. You’re living in a time when advances in technology and communication put the world at your fingertips. Your generation is uniquely poised for success unlike any generation of African Americans that came before it.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t have work — because if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that too few of our brothers have the opportunities that you’ve had here at Morehouse. In troubled neighborhoods all across this country — many of them heavily African American — too few of our citizens have role models to guide them. Communities just a couple miles from my house in Chicago, communities just a couple miles from here — they’re places where jobs are still too scarce and wages are still too low; where schools are underfunded and violence is pervasive; where too many of our men spend their youth not behind a desk in a classroom, but hanging out on the streets or brooding behind a jail cell.
My job, as President, is to advocate for policies that generate more opportunity for everybody — policies that strengthen the middle class and give more people the chance to climb their way into the middle class. Policies that create more good jobs and reduce poverty, and educate more children, and give more families the security of health care, and protect more of our children from the horrors of gun violence. That’s my job. Those are matters of public policy, and it is important for all of us — black, white and brown — to advocate for an America where everybody has got a fair shot in life. Not just some. Not just a few. (Applause.)
But along with collective responsibilities, we have individual responsibilities. There are some things, as black men, we can only do for ourselves. There are some things, as Morehouse Men, that you are obliged to do for those still left behind. As Morehouse Men, you now wield something even more powerful than the diploma you’re about to collect — and that’s the power of your example.
So what I ask of you today is the same thing I ask of every graduating class I address: Use that power for something larger than yourself. Live up to President Mays’s challenge. Be “sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society.” And be “willing to accept responsibility for correcting [those] ills.”
I know that some of you came to Morehouse from communities where life was about keeping your head down and looking out for yourself. Maybe you feel like you escaped, and now you can take your degree and get that fancy job and the nice house and the nice car — and never look back. And don’t get me wrong — with all those student loans you’ve had to take out, I know you’ve got to earn some money. With doors open to you that your parents and grandparents could not even imagine, no one expects you to take a vow of poverty. But I will say it betrays a poverty of ambition if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do. (Applause.)
So, yes, go get that law degree. But if you do, ask yourself if the only option is to defend the rich and the powerful, or if you can also find some time to defend the powerless. Sure, go get your MBA, or start that business. We need black businesses out there. But ask yourselves what broader purpose your business might serve, in putting people to work, or transforming a neighborhood. The most successful CEOs I know didn’t start out intent just on making money — rather, they had a vision of how their product or service would change things, and the money followed. (Applause.)
Some of you may be headed to medical school to become doctors. But make sure you heal folks in underserved communities who really need it, too. For generations, certain groups in this country — especially African Americans — have been desperate in need of access to quality, affordable health care. And as a society, we’re finally beginning to change that. Those of you who are under the age of 26 already have the option to stay on your parent’s health care plan. But all of you are heading into an economy where many young people expect not only to have multiple jobs, but multiple careers.
So starting October 1st, because of the Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — (applause) — you’ll be able to shop for a quality, affordable plan that’s yours and travels with you — a plan that will insure not only your health, but your dreams if you are sick or get in an accident. But we’re going to need some doctors to make sure it works, too. We’ve got to make sure everybody has good health in this country. It’s not just good for you, it’s good for this country. So you’re going to have to spread the word to your fellow young people.
Which brings me to a second point: Just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves. We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses. (Applause.)
I understand there’s a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: “Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.” Well, we’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil — many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did — all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned. (Applause.)
Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too. (Applause.)
You now hail from a lineage and legacy of immeasurably strong men — men who bore tremendous burdens and still laid the stones for the path on which we now walk. You wear the mantle of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and Ralph Bunche and Langston Hughes, and George Washington Carver and Ralph Abernathy and Thurgood Marshall, and, yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These men were many things to many people. And they knew full well the role that racism played in their lives. But when it came to their own accomplishments and sense of purpose, they had no time for excuses.
Every one of you have a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. I think President Mays put it even better: He said, “Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead, and no man yet to be born can do it any better.” (Applause.)
And I promise you, what was needed in Dr. Mays’s time, that spirit of excellence, and hard work, and dedication, and no excuses is needed now more than ever. If you think you can just get over in this economy just because you have a Morehouse degree, you’re in for a rude awakening. But if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same — nobody can stop you. (Applause.)
And when I talk about pursuing excellence and setting an example, I’m not just talking about in your professional life. One of today’s graduates, Frederick Anderson — where’s Frederick? Frederick, right here. (Applause.) I know it’s raining, but I’m going to tell about Frederick. Frederick started his college career in Ohio, only to find out that his high school sweetheart back in Georgia was pregnant. So he came back and enrolled in Morehouse to be closer to her. Pretty soon, helping raise a newborn and working night shifts became too much, so he started taking business classes at a technical college instead — doing everything from delivering newspapers to buffing hospital floors to support his family.
And then he enrolled at Morehouse a second time. But even with a job, he couldn’t keep up with the cost of tuition. So after getting his degree from that technical school, this father of three decided to come back to Morehouse for a third time. (Applause.) As Frederick says, “God has a plan for my life, and He’s not done with me yet.”
And today, Frederick is a family man, and a working man, and a Morehouse Man. (Applause.) And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do: Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. (Applause.) Be the best husband to your wife, or you’re your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children. Because nothing is more important.
I was raised by a heroic single mom, wonderful grandparents — made incredible sacrifices for me. And I know there are moms and grandparents here today who did the same thing for all of you. But I sure wish I had had a father who was not only present, but involved. Didn’t know my dad. And so my whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me. I want to break that cycle where a father is not at home — (applause) — where a father is not helping to raise that son or daughter. I want to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.
It’s hard work that demands your constant attention and frequent sacrifice. And I promise you, Michelle will tell you I’m not perfect. She’s got a long list of my imperfections. (Laughter.) Even now, I’m still practicing, I’m still learning, still getting corrected in terms of how to be a fine husband and a good father. But I will tell you this: Everything else is unfulfilled if we fail at family, if we fail at that responsibility. (Applause.)
I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave, I will not be thinking the Nobel Prize I received. I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters. I’ll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I’ll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved. And I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.
So be a good role model, set a good example for that young brother coming up. If you know somebody who’s not on point, go back and bring that brother along — those who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had the same opportunities we have — they need to hear from you. You’ve got to be engaged on the barbershops, on the basketball court, at church, spend time and energy and presence to give people opportunities and a chance. Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams. Don’t put them down.
We’ve got to teach them just like what we have to learn, what it means to be a man — to serve your city like Maynard Jackson; to shape the culture like Spike Lee; to be like Chester Davenport, one of the first people to integrate the University of Georgia Law School. When he got there, nobody would sit next to him in class. But Chester didn’t mind. Later on, he said, “It was the thing for me to do. Someone needed to be the first.” And today, Chester is here celebrating his 50th reunion. Where is Chester Davenport? He’s here. (Applause.)
So if you’ve had role models, fathers, brothers like that — thank them today. And if you haven’t, commit yourself to being that man to somebody else.
And finally, as you do these things, do them not just for yourself, but don’t even do them just for the African American community. I want you to set your sights higher. At the turn of the last century, W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the “talented tenth” — a class of highly educated, socially conscious leaders in the black community. But it’s not just the African American community that needs you. The country needs you. The world needs you.
As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back. Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.
So your experiences give you special insight that today’s leaders need. If you tap into that experience, it should endow you with empathy — the understanding of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, to know what it’s like when you’re not born on 3rd base, thinking you hit a triple. It should give you the ability to connect. It should give you a sense of compassion and what it means to overcome barriers.
And I will tell you, Class of 2013, whatever success I have achieved, whatever positions of leadership I have held have depended less on Ivy League degrees or SAT scores or GPAs, and have instead been due to that sense of connection and empathy — the special obligation I felt, as a black man like you, to help those who need it most, people who didn’t have the opportunities that I had — because there but for the grace of God, go I — I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison. I might have been unemployed. I might not have been able to support a family. And that motivates me. (Applause.)
So it’s up to you to widen your circle of concern — to care about justice for everybody, white, black and brown. Everybody. Not just in your own community, but also across this country and around the world. To make sure everyone has a voice, and everybody gets a seat at the table; that everybody, no matter what you look like or where you come from, what your last name is — it doesn’t matter, everybody gets a chance to walk through those doors of opportunity if they are willing to work hard enough.
When Leland Shelton was four years old — where’s Leland? (Applause.) Stand up, Leland. When Leland Shelton was four years old, social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents. By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled in Morehouse. And today he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School. (Applause.) But he’s not stopping there. As a member of the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council, he plans to use his law degree to make sure kids like him don’t fall through the cracks. And it won’t matter whether they’re black kids or brown kids or white kids or Native American kids, because he’ll understand what they’re going through. And he’ll be fighting for them. He’ll be in their corner. That’s leadership. That’s a Morehouse Man right there. (Applause.)
That’s what we’ve come to expect from you, Morehouse — a legacy of leaders — not just in our black community, but for the entire American community. To recognize the burdens you carry with you, but to resist the temptation to use them as excuses. To transform the way we think about manhood, and set higher standards for ourselves and for others. To be successful, but also to understand that each of us has responsibilities not just to ourselves, but to one another and to future generations. Men who refuse to be afraid. Men who refuse to be afraid.
Members of the Class of 2013, you are heirs to a great legacy. You have within you that same courage and that same strength, the same resolve as the men who came before you. That’s what being a Morehouse Man is all about. That’s what being an American is all about.
Success may not come quickly or easily. But if you strive to do what’s right, if you work harder and dream bigger, if you set an example in your own lives and do your part to help meet the challenges of our time, then I’m confident that, together, we will continue the never-ending task of perfecting our union.
Congratulations, Class of 2013. God bless you. God bless Morehouse. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
Ended at 12:39 p.m.
by Lily Bolourian in Politics, Race
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee last week released a deeply concerning study about incarceration in the state. Among the most jarring of findings was that nearly one of every eight black men of working age is currently in prison in Wisconsin. The state also leads all other states in the number of incarcerated indigenous men at 7.6%, with South Dakota following with 7.3%.
The number of Wisconsinites in prison has nearly tripled since 1990 primarily due to “increased government funding for drug enforcement (rather than treatment) and prison construction, three-strike rules, mandatory minimum sentence laws, truth-in-sentencing replacing judicial discretion in setting punishments, concentrated policing in minority communities, and state incarceration for minor probation and supervision violations,” according to the study. The demographic most significantly affected by these changes is African-American men, whose incarceration rates have skyrocketed to nearly twice the national average. Conversely, the national average for incarcerated white men is nearly identical to the state average in Wisconsin. Indeed, according to the study, in Milwaukee County alone, over half of black men in their 30s have spent some time in prison.
Wisconsin holds a steady lead in the percentage of incarcerated black men in the state, beating Oklahoma, the next state, by approximately three percentage points.This gap, NPR notes, is “bigger than the total distance between the second- and 10th-place states.”
The study notes that there is no “quick fix” to solving this alarming trend, but there are several things that can be done to help recently released inmates assimilate to life outside of prison and help gain employment, such as expanded workplace training and reintroduction programs.
The Obama administration recently announced plans to pivot the “War on Drugs” in a way that would take focus away from criminalization and towards treatment. This move can almost guarantee that the prison population will dramatically decline nationwide, particularly among people of color. In outlining this new chapter in drug policy, Director of the White House Office on National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske wrote, “While law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting our communities from drug-related crime and violence, we simply cannot incarcerate our way out of the drug problem. Put simply, an enforcement-centric “war on drugs” approach to drug policy is counterproductive, inefficient, and costly.”
by Jonathan Lykes
As we move further away from the 1960’s civil rights movements I think it is important for individuals in the black community to speak for themselves. It makes more sense to allow people to finally have the agency and empowerment to have their own voice represent their life and experiences.
“A poll, commissioned by BET Founder Robert L. Johnson asked: “Who speaks for you?” The response: 40 percent of African Americans surveyed said, “No one,” 24 percent said, the National Action Network President and MSNBC host Al Sharpton, 11 percent said Jesse Jackson, 8 percent said NAACP President Ben Jealous and 2 percent said Marc Morial of the National Urban League.”
I believe that the 40 percent of black people surveyed could mean two things.
First off, it could mean that no progress has been made. It means that nearly half a century after the civil rights movement the black community has been incarcerated, stigmatized, and dispersed to the point that we have no central understanding of what a black agenda would look like and who would even lead it. It could mean that the “New Jim Crow” truly is here and creating a generation of disappearance in the black community.
The outer perimeter near Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street is secured by police after two explosive devices detonated at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15 in Boston, Massachusetts. Two people are confirmed dead and at least 23 injured after two explosions went off near the finish line to the marathon. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)
by Jimmy Golen, courtesy of Associated Press via TheGriot.com
Boston (AP) — FBI agents searched a suburban Boston apartment overnight and appealed to the public for amateur video and photos that might yield clues to who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing, while a doctor treating the wounded said one of the victims was maimed by what looked like ball bearings or BBs.
Two bombs blew up seconds apart Monday at the finish line of one of the world’s most storied races, tearing off limbs and leaving the streets spattered with blood and strewn with broken glass.
Three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, and more than 176 were wounded, including 17 who were critically injured. Physicians amputated 10 individuals’ severely wounded limbs.
Boston police said the bombs exploded at 2:50 p.m. near the marathon finish line in Copley Square. A third bomb exploded around 4:12 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, a location fifteen minutes away from the marathon site.
The bombings forced police and other first responders to close the subway system, evacuate three hotels in the vicinity of the marathon and cancel for a time flights arriving at and departing from Boston’s Logan Field.
Federal investigators said no one had claimed responsibility for the bombings on one of the city’s biggest civic holidays, Patriots Day. But the blasts raised the specter of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The bombings also thrust President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick into the forefront during this national tragedy, which is being characterized as a terrorist attack.
President Obama was careful not to use the words “terror” or “terrorism” as he spoke at the White House on Monday, but an administration official said the bombings were being treated as an act of terrorism.
“We will find out who did this. We’ll find out why they did this,” the president said. “Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.”
Gov. Patrick said in a statement, “This is a horrific day in Boston. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been injured. I have been in touch with the president, Mayor Menino and our policy and safety leaders. Our focus is on making sure that the area around Copley Square is safe and secured. I am asking every one to stay away from Copley Square and let the first responders do their jobs.”
By Tuesday morning, websites controlled by the Boston police, Boston Marathon and Gov. Patrick’s office, were no longer providing information about the bombings.
Across the U.S., from Washington to Los Angeles, police tightened security, monitoring landmarks, government buildings, transit hubs and sporting events.
The FBI took charge of the investigation, converging on a home in the suburb of Revere on Monday night and appealing for any video, audio and photos taken by marathon spectators. Authorities gave no details on the search.
Investigators were seen leaving a building there early Tuesday carrying brown paper bags, plastic trash bags and a duffel bag.
Investigators refused to give any specifics on the bombs and say, for example, where they might have been hidden or whether they were packed with shrapnel for maximum carnage, as is often the case in terror bombings overseas.
But Dr. Stephen Epstein of the emergency medicine department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center said he saw an X-ray of one victim’s leg that had “what appears to be small, uniform, round objects throughout it — similar in the appearance to BBs.” He said it remained to be determined what exactly the objects were.
A European security official said Tuesday initial evidence indicates that the attacks were not the work of suicide bombers.
“So far, investigators believe it was not the work of suicide bombers, but it is still too early to rule it out completely,” said the official, who spoke from the United States on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the U.S. investigation.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has threatened attacks in the United States because of its support for the Pakistani government, on Tuesday denied any role in the bombings.
The fiery explosions took place about 10 seconds and about 100 yards apart, knocking spectators and at least one runner off their feet, shattering windows and sending columns of smoke rising over the street. Victims lost limbs and suffered broken bones, shrapnel wounds and ruptured eardrums. Roupen Bastajian, a state trooper from Smithfield, R.I., had just finished the race when he heard the explosions.
“I started running toward the blast. And there were people all over the floor,” he said. “We started grabbing tourniquets and started tying legs. A lot of people amputated. … At least 25 to 30 people have at least one leg missing, or an ankle missing, or two legs missing.”
At Massachusetts General Hospital, Alasdair Conn, chief of emergency services, said: “This is something I’ve never seen in my 25 years here … this amount of carnage in the civilian population. This is what we expect from war.”
As many as two unexploded bombs were found near the end of the 26.2-mile course as part of what appeared to be a well-coordinated attack, but they were safely disarmed, according to a senior U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation.
An 8-year-old boy was among the dead, according to a person who talked to a friend of the family and spoke on condition of anonymity. The person said the boy’s mother and sister were also injured as they waited for his father to finish the race.
Hospitals reported at least 144 people injured, at least 17 of them critically. At least eight children were being treated at hospitals.
Tim Davey of Richmond, Va., was with his wife, Lisa, and children near a medical tent that had been set up to care for fatigued runners when the injured began arriving. “They just started bringing people in with no limbs,” he said.
“Most everybody was conscious,” Lisa Davey said. “They were very dazed.”
The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious races and about 23,000 runners participated. Most of them had crossed the finish line by the time the bombs exploded, but thousands more were still completing the course.
The attack may have been timed for maximum bloodshed: The four-hour mark is typically a crowded time near the finish line because of the slow-but-steady recreational runners completing the race and because of all the friends and relatives clustered around to cheer them on.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said authorities had received “no specific intelligence that anything was going to happen” at the race.
“We still don’t know who did this or why,” Obama said at the White House, adding, “Make no mistake: We will get to the bottom of this.”
With scant official information to guide them, members of Congress said there was little or no doubt it was an act of terrorism.
“We just don’t know whether it’s foreign or domestic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
A few miles away from the finish line and around the same time, a fire broke out at the John F. Kennedy Library. The police commissioner said that it may have been caused by an incendiary device but that it was not clear whether it was related to the bombings.
The race winds up near Copley Square, not far from the landmark Prudential Center and the Boston Public Library. It is held on Patriots Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution, at Concord and Lexington in 1775.
The first explosion occurred on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the finish line, and some people initially thought it was a celebratory cannon blast. When the second bomb went off, spectators’ cheers turned to screams.
Runners in the medical tent for treatment of dehydration or other race-related ills were pushed out to make room for victims of the bombing.
A woman who was a few feet from the second bomb, Brighid Wall, 35, of Duxbury, said that when it exploded, runners and spectators froze, unsure of what to do. Her husband threw their children to the ground, lay on top of them and another man lay on top of them and said, “Don’t get up, don’t get up.”
After a minute or so without another explosion, Wall said, she and her family headed to a Starbucks and out the back door through an alley. Around them, the windows of the bars and restaurants were blown out.
She said she saw six to eight people bleeding profusely, including one man who was kneeling, dazed, with blood trickling down his head. Another person was on the ground covered in blood and not moving.
“My ears are zinging. Their ears are zinging,” Wall said. “It was so forceful. It knocked us to the ground.”
Various Associated Press reporters contributed to this story. Information about President Obama’s and Gov. Patrick’s responses to the Boston attacks came from Frederick Lowe of The Northstar News.com.
President Barack Obama delivers a speech on gun control at the University of Hartford on April 8, 2013 in West Hartford, Connecticut. Nearly four months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Connecticut has passed some of the toughest gun control measures in the nation. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
by Perry Bacon Jr., theGrio
Two weeks ago, President Obama was getting criticism from all sides, with liberals arguing he was squandering an opportunity to pass major gun control legislation and centrists and conservatives casting him as not providing enough leadership on deficit reduction.
Nevermind all that. Obama is now not only moving forward on three of his biggest policy priorities for a second term, but has managed to recruit an impressive and surprising set of allies.
On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.), perhaps the most important figure in the Republican Party because of his ethnicity and potential presidential candidacy, was appearing on seven political talk shows to tout immigration reform, giving a huge bi-partisan lift to Obama’s plans on that issue.
At the same time, the families of the victims of the Newtown shooting, along with senators Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), two members with “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association, were aligning with the president for increased background checks for gun purchases. And a bi-partisan group of senators is working with Obama on his deficit reduction ideas.
Republicans can still present roadblocks
None of this is guaranteed to become law. Republicans, particularly in the House, remain wary of creating a pathway to citizenship for people not legally in the United States, raising taxes on the wealthy or adding any additional restrictions on gun ownership or purchasing, the underlying ideas of Obama’s proposals.
And some of his new allies, particularly Rubio, Toomey and Manchin, are not eager to be described as friends of Obama. They have all emphasized they are working with individual senators, not the White House, in writing legislation.
But that’s part of the wisdom of what the president has done. Both he and the first lady delivered passionate speeches on the urgency of gun control over the last week. At the same time though, Obama and his team have allowed the senators to drive the legislative process on the issue. And they are trying to elevate the voices of the victims of the shooting , who may have more influence than Obama in swaying anti-gun control senators.
On Saturday, the president let Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Ben was among those killed in Newtown, deliver his weekly radio address, the first time a person other than Obama or Biden has done so.
Cautious about progress
These tactics are a significant shift. In 2011 and last year, the president held numerous meetings with House Speaker John Boehner on a deficit reduction agreement. The perception that Boehner was working closely with Obama made conservatives very suspicious and weakened the speaker’s ability to sell the potential deal to other members of the House, who strongly oppose anything that Obama supports. On immigration and gun control, Manchin, Toomey and Rubio, all of whom have bases of support that are strongly anti-Obama, have not held long meetings with the president and can credibly claim he is not forcing their hand on these issues.
White House officials are still cautious about the progress of the last two weeks. They argue that while Republicans want to enact immigration reform in part to appeal to Hispanic voters, those incentives don’t exist on gun control or deficit reduction. And the president has come under fire from liberals, including rising star Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), for his proposal to cut Social Security benefits as a part of a broader package to reduce the long-term federal budget deficit.
But what’s happening is that Obama, whose first term suffered from an unexpected event (a deep, long recession) that he had little influence on, is now benefiting from a set of factors largely outside of his control. A bloc of Republican senators, including the president’s rival in 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz), seem eager to illustrate Washington can work and pass comprehensive legislation. Rubio and other Republicans have concluded blocking immigration legislation is akin to conceding the 2016 election. The Newtown families and ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords are using their outsized influence to keep the national media tuned to gun control legislation.
The results could be groundbreaking. At least for Democrats, Obama’s legacy is already secure, as the first black president and the man who delivered universal health care. But comprehensive immigration reform, gun control legislation and deficit reduction, passed with significant numbers of Republican votes, would also show Obama was able to lead members of both parties during his tenure.
by Lisa Balde, NBC Chicago
President Barack Obama on Tuesday endorsed Robin Kelly in the race to replace Jackson, who resigned from the seat last year amid a federal investigation and later pleaded guilty to misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds.
“I share Robin’s passionate advocacy to end gun violence with common sense solutions because like her, I believe families impacted by gun violence – especially in my home city of Chicago – deserve a vote,” Obama said in a statement. “I urge you to elect Robin Kelly as your representative in the United State Congress.”
All in all, Kelly is a pretty safe endorsement. She easily won the Democratic primary, beating top rivals Debbie Halvorson and Ald. Anthony Beale with 51.9 percent of the vote thanks to a little help from ads funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s SuperPAC.
In a Democrat-heavy area, there are few doubts she will go on to beat her Republican opponent, and her agenda is abundantly clear. During her victory speech in February, Kelly didn’t shy from her stance on guns, saying she would stand with Obama to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Rocketing school suspensions may feed the school-to-prison pipeline – and even violate civil rights.
by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, Staff writer, The Christian Science Monitor
Two students set off fire alarms in the same school district. One of them, an African-American kindergartner, is suspended for five days; the other, a white ninth-grader, is suspended for one day.
•An African-American high-schooler is suspended for a day for using a cellphone and an iPod in class. In the same school, a white student with a similar disciplinary history gets detention for using headphones.
•Two middle-schoolers push each other; the white student receives a three-day, in-school suspension, while the native American student is arrested and suspended, out of school, for 10 days.
Civil rights groups have been saying for years that school discipline is not meted out fairly, citing examples like these reported last year from around the country by the US Department of Education.
High rates of suspensions and expulsions for certain groups – particularly African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with disabilities – are evident in data gatherednationally by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
Data from 72,000 American public schools in the 2009-10 school year, for example, show that while African-Americans make up 18 percent of the students in this large sample, they account for 46 percent of students suspended more than once, 39 percent of students expelled, and 36 percent of students arrested on campus.
White students, by contrast, represent 29 percent of multiple suspensions and 33 percent of expulsions – but 51 percent of the students.
School leaders have to maintain a safe environment for learning, and about 4 in 10 teachers and administrators surveyed recently by Education Week said out-of-school suspensions and expulsions are an effective way to do that. Some expulsions have even been mandated by law, particularly when a student brings a gun to school.
Yet increasingly, “we’re seeing suspensions for things that used to be considered typical adolescent behavior and were dealt with in less harsh ways within the school system,” says Jim Eichner, managing director of programs for the Advancement Project, a national civil rights group in Washington.
While opinions differ about whether student behavior has become more disruptive or dangerous, the number of suspensions has grown dramatically in recent decades.
In 1976, nearly 1.8 million students were suspended – 4 percent of all public-school students; by 2006, the number of students suspended had nearly doubled to 3.3 million, about 7 percent of all students, according to Department of Education data.
In addition to the suspensions, 102,000 students were expelled – removed from school for the remainder of the year or longer – in 2006.
Nearly two decades of a “zero tolerance” mentality has contributed dramatically to a spike in exclusionary discipline that involves racial disparities, youth and civil rights advocates say. It has led to what they call a “school-to-prison pipeline,” and the implications of this unfair, even draconian, disciplinary system are enormous, they say.
National goals to prepare more students for college and careers can’t be met if so many studentscontinue to miss out on school, a growing number of educators and lawmakers add – and society will pay down the road for more jobless and incarcerated young people.
A microcosm of that problem was captured in a groundbreaking 2011 Texas study that tracked more than 1 million students for six years. “Breaking Schools’ Rules,” by the Council of State Governments Justice Center in New York, found that nearly 6 in 10 students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once between Grades 7 and 12. But the removals were mandated by law in only 3 percent of those cases. And 31 percent of students suspended or expelled more than once for discretionary reasons repeated a grade – twice the rate of similar students not suspended or expelled. Of the 15 percent of students suspended or expelled 11 or more times, only 4 in 10 graduated within one to three years of their expected graduation date.
When a lot of kids get suspended – more than 70 percent in some schools – “we’ve cheapened the deterrent,” Mr. Eichner says. And kids “don’t internalize that they did something wrong” when they feel discipline is unfair – either because it’s for minor offenses or it seems racially biased.
Precious Brazel, for one, doesn’t think her suspension was fair, and she offers an example of how suspensions may not resolve problems between students and authority figures.
The African-American 10th-grader at Castlemont High School in Oakland, Calif., acknowledges it was against the rules to have her kick scooter on campus. But she says the principal saw her with it and told her it was OK as long as she didn’t ride it. Soon after, she got into an argument with a security guard over the scooter.
When the guard tried to take it away, “it hit her in the knee and she got upset,” Precious says. The security guard also accused Precious of “cussing her out” – and Precious admits cursing, but not at the guard.
After administrators heard both sides, they sent Precious home for two days. She says it didn’t cause her to think she needed to change her behavior in the future, but rather, “it made me disrespect [the security guard] more, because she was rude to me.”
Discipline a civil rights violation?
In the past four years, OCR has received more than 1,250 complaints of civil rights violations involving school discipline. It has also launched 20 compliance reviews – broad scale investigations of school systems – to probe significant racial disparities in discipline rates.
Three of those reviews have resulted in voluntary plans to reduce suspensions overall and disproportionately high discipline rates for certain groups – most notably a landmark effort in California’s Oakland Unified School District. (See the Monitor’s profile of that program.)
Skeptics of OCR’s focus on racial data say it could have unintended consequences.
In the view of Hans Bader, senior attorney at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., suspensions largely “reflect actual infraction rates.” So the implication that rates for certain groups should be reduced until they are closer to those of other groups sounds like racial quotas, he says.
OCR’s investigation into racial disparities isn’t a problem in and of itself, says Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, but “you have to think about how educators and administrators are going to respond to what they see as signals out of the federal government…. If [they] perceive the policy to be, ‘Oh, you just can’t suspend kids, particularly African-American kids,’ that’s not the response you would want.”
That could end up creating more disruption for students of color, who report higher rates of feeling unsafe in school than their white counterparts, Professor Arum says. But if school districts rethink discipline more holistically, replacing zero tolerance with more discretion for educators, that would be a good outcome, he says.
The goal is not to force districts to make discipline rates proportional by race, Department of Education officials say, but the numbers can spark a closer look to see if a system is equitable.
“Our encouragement that schools focus more thoughtfully on the use of exclusionary discipline practices is not intended to undermine appropriate use of discipline as a tool to make schools safe and conducive to learning,” says Seth Galanter, acting assistant secretary of Education for civil rights.
The Education Department offers grants and technical assistance to help teachers and administrators manage behavior more effectively and consider alternative steps before a student is suspended. One approach it advocates is Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a schoolwide system to acknowledge good behavior and discourage problem behavior. For students with the biggest behavior challenges, it sets up individual support plans.
Zero tolerance feeds school-to-prison pipeline
Many people might assume the racial breakdown of discipline simply reflects higher rates of misbehavior by some groups of students, perhaps explained by factors such as poverty.
Research has shown that’s not an adequate explanation. “There’s quite a bit of literature that supports the finding that it’s not just about kids behaving badly,” says Russell Skiba, a professor atIndiana University in Bloomington and an expert on school violence and discipline.
His recent study of discipline data in one Midwestern state found that even after controlling for types of student behavior and poverty, African-Americans still had 1.5 times higher rates of suspension or expulsion than whites did.
Characteristics of the schools themselves made a big difference. For instance, students in schools with a high proportion of black students (not just urban, but suburban schools as well) were nearly six times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions than students in schools with low black populations, the study found.
Also, in schools where the principal supported alternatives to suspensions, the racial disparity in discipline could be predicted to be much less than in schools where the principal had a traditional reliance on suspensions.
Discipline is not always a matter of choice. Many observers trace today’s high rate of suspensions and expulsions back to the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, and the zero-tolerance policies in its wake. The law mandated at least a one-year expulsion for students who possessed a firearm in school, but many states and districts went on to impose tough penalties for other weapons, violence, drugs, alcohol, and even minor behaviors deemed disruptive.
Many schools also increased their relationship with police in response to incidents such as the 1999 Columbine massacre.
In a separate action, the Department of Justice and the Meridian Public School District entered a consent decree March 22 that, if approved by a federal court, would amend a longstanding desegregation decree. It would limit exclusionary discipline, prohibit law enforcement from being involved if behaviors can be handled appropriately in school, boost training and due process procedures, and require monitoring of discipline data to identify and address racial disparities.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights considered testimony about the school-to-prison pipeline – and how some communities are trying to reverse it – at a hearing in December.
Newtown shooting results in push for cops
The claims of a school-to-prison pipeline are unfair, countered Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, in written testimony. In the past two decades, he noted, school crime as well as juvenile arrests have declined at the same time that schools have expanded the use of resource officers – typically armed police who are trained to work with students.
The hearing was an encouraging moment for advocates who want less police involvement in school discipline. But the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., happened two days later. The resulting calls for more cops in schools “is a very strong countervailing force to our reform efforts,” says Eichner.
Yet civil rights groups have seen pockets of progress.
Last year, Colorado passed the Smart School Discipline Bill, which eliminates mandatory suspensions and expulsions for anything except carrying a firearm. A new law in Massachusettssays students can no longer be permanently excluded from school, and gives them the right to alternative education if they are suspended for more than 10 days, something that not all districts had provided. It also requires schools to work with students to try to improve their behavior before excluding them from school.
Several other states have passed or are considering similar laws.
Cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia have also revised discipline policies. InDenver, the Advancement Project says new policies matching minor offenses with less severe discipline led to a 38 percent drop in out-of-school suspensions and a 52 percent drop in referrals to law enforcement between 2003 and 2009, and the graduation rate rose 30 percent.
by Mark Sherman, Hoff Post, BlackVoices, Power and Politics
Washington — The Supreme Court’s decision to hear a new case from Michigan on the politically charged issue of affirmative action offers an intriguing hint that the justices will not use a separate challenge already pending from Texas for a broad ruling bringing an end to the consideration of race in college admissions.
To be sure, the two cases involve different legal issues. The University of Texas dispute, with arguments already completed and a ruling possible soon, centers on the use of race to fill some slots in the school’s freshman classes. The Michigan case asks whether a voter-approved ban on affirmative action in college admissions can itself violate the Constitution.
But the broadest possible outcome in the current Texas case – overruling the court’s 2003 decision that allows race as a factor in college admissions – would mean an end to affirmative action in higher education and render the new Michigan lawsuit irrelevant.
If the justices are planning to overrule that earlier decision, “then I would think they would hold this case,” the new one, and order lower courts to review it based on the Texas decision, said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine. He is representing students and faculty members in the Michigan case.
At the October argument in Fisher v. University of Texas, the court’s conservative justices sounded as if they were ready to impose new limits on the use of race in college admissions. More than five months have passed without a decision, which is not unusual in the court’s most contentious cases.
The appeal in the Michigan case comes from state Attorney General Bill Schuette, following a ruling from the sharply divided 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. The appeals court, by an 8-7 vote, found fault with the 2006 constitutional amendment to outlaw “preferential treatment” on the basis of race and other factors in college admissions. The provision also applies to affirmative action in public employment and government contracting, but those issues are not being challenged.
The appeals court said the constitutional amendment is illegal under Supreme Court rulings from the late 1960s and early 1980s that prohibit placing special burdens on minority groups that want to bring about changes in laws and policies. The court said that forcing opponents of the ban to mount their own long, expensive campaign through the ballot box to protect affirmative action amounts to different, and unequal, treatment.
That burden “undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change,” the appeals court said. By way of example, the court said that children of university alumni remain free to lobby lawmakers and university officials to adopt policies to take family ties into account in admissions.
Schuette said the notion that a measure that forbids discrimination on the basis of race can be unconstitutional is legal nonsense.