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Sherrilyn Ifill Calls for Renewed Focus on Housing Segregation

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Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, speaks to students at the University of Maryland School of Law. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, speaks to students at the University of Maryland School of Law. (Photo by Roberto Alejandro)

 

by Roberto Alejandro
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Preventing future Fergusons will require dismantling the patterns of segregation established by decades of federal housing policies, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF), told a gathering of law and social work students at the University of Maryland on Monday. Speaking at a series held by the University of Maryland School of Law titled ‘Beyond Ferguson,’ Ifill cautioned that rather than move beyond what happened in Missouri last August, we must thoroughly engage the implications of Michael Brown’s death.

“All too often, in this country, we are so hesitant, so nervous, so afraid of engaging in difficult conversations, especially about issues of race and justice, that we are always looking to get beyond it as quickly as possible,” said Ifill. “And as a result, we have left on the table . . . a bevy of problems that continue to bedevil us over and over again.”

The past, Ifill says, explains our present, and the problem of police killings is partly a problem of police culture, but mostly a function of America’s history of segregated housing that continues to shape cities and communities across the country.

On police culture, Ifill says that while it will be slow to change, one effective way to help spur movement in the right direction is to tie the almost $1 billion in annual federal grants to police agencies to training requirements in areas such as implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and how to handle encounters with the mentally ill.

“Several levels of training [are] needed,” said Ifill. “Whatever is happening now is not doing it, and it needs to be better.”

Additionally, the federal government should be requiring greater data collection by police agencies on matters like departmental diversity, the number of civil rights complaints against a department and the nature of any resolutions, incentives for officers to keep their weapons holstered vs. unholstered, and the supervisory and internal investigatory mechanisms in place to ensure accountability.

Arguing that data collection requirements are also a reflection of our values as a society, Ifill pointed to gaps in our knowledge of policing. “I can go online, right now, and tell you how many officers were feloniously killed last year, and the year before, and the year before that,” said Ifill, “but I could not tell you how many unarmed citizens were killed last year and the year before that, so we need data.”

These measures would help address the problem of police killings in part, but the bigger issue is the persistence of segregation in American society. The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education highlighted social-scientific findings on the effects of segregation on Black children, but left out that this same body of research also found that segregation gives White children a false sense of their own abilities and what they can achieve, as well as an overdeveloped respect for authority even where such respect is misplaced.

“I really believe we’re living with the results of that,” said Ifill. “And I think we can no longer turn away from that reality.”

Ifill said past federal policies created a segregated America that has persisted long after those policies were taken off the books. One example she cited was federal mortgage insurance which began in 1934 and whose beneficiaries were 98 percent White because most mortgages during that era required racially restrictive covenants – binding agreements that a homeowner would not sell their home to non-Whites.

“The truth is you cannot have massive amounts of money and decades of investment and policy to create a segregated society, and just stop doing it and think you’re going to get an integrated society,” said Ifill. “We have never, on the other side, created the policies or the investments that would undo what created this landscape that we all have inherited.”

Pursuing such policies and investments that would reverse the legacy of segregated housing, says Ifill, is a renewed focus for the NAACP LDF in the civil rights arena.

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Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee Applauds 2nd Round of Workforce Funding from COVID Community Care Act Legislation

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

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Barbara Lee

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13) applauded the announcement that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be awarding $121 million to 127 award recipients of the Local Community-Based Workforce to Increase COVID-19 Vaccine Access Program.

Announced on July 27, these awards are funded with resources from provisions within the American Rescue Plan Act that Lee led through her COVID Community Care Act.  This reflects the second of two funding opportunities announced in May 2021 for community-based efforts to hire and mobilize community outreach workers, community health workers, social support specialists, and others to increase vaccine access for the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities through high-touch, on-the-ground outreach to educate and assist individuals in getting the information they need about vaccinations.

The first round of funding, which was administered in June, included an $11 million award to the Public Health Institute in Oakland and a $9.5 million award to the Association of Asian/Pacific Community Health Organizations in Berkeley. Three Oakland based organizations, the Public Health Institute, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases, and Safe Passages, are recipients of this round of funding, bringing the total funding brought to organizations in CA-13 to nearly $23 million.

“We are facing another inflection point in this pandemic. We must make meaningful investments in getting everyone vaccinated—especially communities of color and medically underserved communities,” said Lee.  “I worked hard in Congress to invest in trusted messengers at the community level to build confidence in vaccines and COVID-19 prevention efforts. This is a much-needed continuation of that work, and we’ll see over a million dollars of investment on the ground in our own East Bay community.

“Our Tri-Caucus – the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Native American member Congresswoman Sharice Davids, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, Education and Labor Committee Chair Bobby Scott and Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro deserve credit for their hard work and support in getting this across the finish line in the American Rescue Plan.  We can see that the work of House Democrats is making a real-life impact on the ground for communities.  This is an important step, but we must continue our work to dismantle systemic racism in our public health system and ensure that vaccines are equitably and adequately distributed.”

The purpose of this program is to establish, expand, and sustain a public health workforce to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.  This includes mobilizing community outreach workers, which includes community health workers, patient navigators, and social support specialists to educate and assist individuals in accessing and receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.  

This includes activities such as conducting face-to-face outreach and reaching out directly to community members to educate them about the vaccine, assisting individuals in making a vaccine appointment, providing resources to find convenient vaccine locations, assisting individuals with transportation or other needs to get to a vaccination site.

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Community

Congratulations to Michelle Mack

Nominated for Teacher of the Year

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Photo courtesy Michelle Mack

Congratulations to Michelle Mack, currently a pre-K lead teacher in Atlanta, Ga., who was nominated for Teacher of the Year. A 2008 graduate of St. Elizabeth’s High School who earned a degree in child psychology from San Francisco State University in 2012, Mack received her master’s from Clark University in 2015.

Mack was recognized by the Easter Seals of North Georgia (ESNG) for “serving five consistent years teaching children and helping families with the same company” and awarded the ESNG-Guice Center Award for Individual Excellence.

 

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Commentary

Whitewashing History and Suppressing Voters Go Hand in Hand 

There’s been a lot of news about the Democratic legislators in Texas who fled the state to prevent Republicans from pushing through sweeping new voter suppression laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to have them arrested to force them to attend a special session of the state Legislature.

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There’s been a lot of news about the Democratic legislators in Texas who fled the state to prevent Republicans from pushing through sweeping new voter suppression laws. Gov. Greg Abbott has threatened to have them arrested to force them to attend a special session of the state Legislature.

Now it turns out that voter suppression is not the only “special” project Abbott has in mind. He and his fellow Republicans are pushing a far-reaching “memory law” that would limit teaching about racism and civil rights.

Abbott already signed a bill last month restricting how racism can be taught in Texas schools. But he and other Republicans in the state don’t think it went far enough. The Republican-dominated state-Senate has voted to strip a requirement that white supremacy be taught as morally wrong. Also on the chopping block: requirements that students learn about civil rights activists Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

It’s not just Texas. Just as Republicans are pushing a wave of voter registration laws around the country, they are also pushing laws to restrict teaching about racism in our history, culture, and institutions. CNN’s Julian Zelizer recently noted that such laws downplay injustices in our history and lead to teaching “propaganda rather than history.”

Here’s a good example:  Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the new legislation is meant to keep students from being “indoctrinated” by the “ridiculous leftist narrative that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.” If Patrick really believes it is a “ridiculous” idea that racism was embedded in our Constitution from the start, he has already put on his own ideological blinders. And he wants to force them onto teachers and students.

Some of these state memory laws specifically ban teaching that causes “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.” As educators have noted, that’s a recipe for erasing and whitewashing history.

“Teachers in high schools cannot exclude the possibility that the history of slavery, lynchings and voter suppression will make some non-Black students uncomfortable,” history professor Timothy Snyder wrote in the New York Times Magazine. Those laws give power to white students and parents to censor honest teaching of history. “It is not exactly unusual for white people in America to express the view that they are being treated unfairly; now such an opinion could bring history classes to a halt.”

Snyder also explained how new state “memory laws” are connected to voter suppression. “In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult,” he wrote. “The memory management enables the voter suppression.”

“The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful,” he explained. “This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.”

As I wrote in The Nation, far-right attempts to suppress honest teaching about racism is meant to “convince a segment of white voters that they should fear and fight our emerging multiracial and multiethnic democratic society” and to “help far-right politicians take and hold power, no matter the cost to our democracy.”

That’s also what voter suppression bills are designed to do. We cannot tolerate either of these assaults on democracy.

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