Congressional Hearings Examine Policing Strategies and Body Camera Use

As mobile cameras come into wider use by law enforcement across the country, Congress is considering the potential of body-worn cameras as a tool for accountability and transparency.

On May 19, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on body-worn cameras to discuss how they can be best used to protect both law enforcement and the communities they serve. While body-worn cameras hold great promise for building relationships of trust and transparency between police and the public, their use also raises unique privacy concerns.

The hearing featured two panels of witnesses who testified on the feasibility and effectiveness of body-worn cameras. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, testified during the hearing’s second panel, and said “thoughtful policies, developed in public with the input of civil rights advocates and the local community, are essential to ensuring that police-operated cameras enhance, rather than threaten, civil rights.”

On May 15, The Leadership Conference joined 33 other civil rights, privacy, and media rights organizations in releasing shared civil rights principles for the use of body-worn cameras. Henderson included these principles in his testimony, and urged governments and police departments to consider the principles as they develop their own policies.

On the same day as the Senate’s hearing, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on policing strategies for the 21st century. The hearing’s witnesses testified on strategies to both protect – and build trust between – police officers and the public. During his opening remarks, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R. Va., said that the situations in Ferguson and New York made it “clear that we must find a better way for our police and citizens to interact both in everyday situations, and when more difficult circumstances arise.”

You can watch Chairman Goodlatte’s opening remarks and the first part of the House hearing here:

Part two is here.

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Bringing an Equity Perspective to Infrastructure Week

The Transportation Equity Caucus is excited to announce its involvement in the third annual Infrastructure Week, which will bring together thousands of stakeholders to discuss the critical importance of investing in and modernizing America’s infrastructure systems. Infrastructure Week, taking place this May 11-15, provides a bipartisan and national platform to elevate issues related transportation access and investment. The Transportation Equity Caucus, co-chaired by PolicyLink and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, has signed on as a partner to help raise awareness of strategies for advancing transportation investments that benefit low-income people, communities of color, and people with disabilities.

During Infrastructure Week, many events will be taking place in D.C. and around the country. Several of the events allow for participation via online streaming; see the Infrastructure Week website to sign up. Advocates are encouraged to participate in these events and share an equity perspective. Also, participate in Infrastructure Week on social media using the hashtags #TransportationEquity and #RebuildRenew.

infrastructureweek

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Why Cities and States Across the Country are Adopting ‘Ban the Box’ Policies

On April 29, the Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent employers from asking about a person’s criminal history on job applications. Backed by labor leaders and civil rights organizations, the bill aims to give people with past criminal convictions a better chance at finding and securing a job.

Outside of Oregon, 15 other states have adopted similar ‘ban the box’ and fair-chance hiring laws, which delay conviction inquiries until later in the hiring process. ‘Ban the box’ laws don’t prohibit background checks, they just postpone them so job applicants are evaluated on their qualifications first, not solely on past mistakes.

For the nearly 70 million Americans with an arrest or conviction record, these reforms provide hope and opportunity to qualified job seekers who struggle against significant odds to find work and give back to their communities. By helping increase access to employment opportunities and economic support, fair chance reforms also help reduce recidivism.

Aggressive policing and the war on drugs have caused the number of people with a criminal record to balloon—nearly one in three adults has an arrest or conviction history that will show up on a routine background check. Such policies have disproportionately harmed African Americans, who are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than Whites, and have effectively locked millions of skilled workers out of the job market.

Major companies in the private sector have also embraced fair-chance hiring. Recognizing that people with an arrest or conviction history can be talented, productive workers, companies like Target, Walmart, Koch Industries, and Bed Bath & Beyond have already banned the box on their job applications.

In March, more than 200 organizations urged President Obama to issue an executive order to ensure that federal agencies and federal contractors are doing their part to eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for people with criminal records. In its May 2014 report to the president, the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force strongly endorsed fair chance hiring reforms because they “give applicants a fair chance and allow employers the opportunity to judge individual job candidates on their merits as they reenter the workforce.” By adopting a federal fair chance hiring initiative, the federal government can be a model employer and help lead the way toward fairness in the hiring process for all Americans

The time is now!

Fair-Chance-Chart
Image credit: National Employment Law Center

 

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Economic Justice Initiative Launches to Put #FamiliesFirst

Last week, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights joined the Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Jobs With Justice, and Working Families Organization to launch the Putting Families First: Good Jobs for All campaign, a new economic justice initiative with five core principles:

  • Building a clean energy economy
  • Valuing families
  • Guaranteeing good wages and benefits
  • Unlocking opportunity in the poorest communities
  • Taxing concentrated wealth

A new report – released at the launch event and written by Dorian T. Warren, professor at Columbia University and fellow at the Roosevelt Institute – serves as the foundation for the campaign and describes what working families in America are up against – and offers a bold agenda to challenge persistent and pervasive inequality, poverty, wage stagnation, and dwindling opportunities.

familiesfirstlaunch_Wade_Warren
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, introduces Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass. | Photo: CCC Action

In addition to hearing from the leaders of the five organizations cosponsoring the campaign, the launch event also featured two panel discussions and remarks from members of Congress, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D. Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D. Ohio, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D. Minn.

Watch a playlist of videos from the event, beginning with Brown’s remarks below, and continue watching here. To join the campaign, pledge your support here for putting families first by ensuring good jobs for all.

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Why Equal Pay Day Must Be Taken Seriously

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Everyone’s heard this statistic: for every dollar a man earns, his female counterpart only makes 78 cents. Created in 1996 to draw attention to the wage gap, Equal Pay Day – which is today – always falls on a Tuesday to represent how far into the week women must work to earn what their male counterparts made the week before. If that doesn’t cause you to pause, think about this: April marks how far into the year that women must work to earn what men made the previous year.

Women face the wage gap in all 50 states and in almost every occupation. For example, education administration is a female-dominated field where male administrators continue to earn more than their female counterparts. According to a White House fact sheet on the gender wage gap, the wage gap cannot be explained even when controlling for education, experience, hours, or industry.

Seventy-six percent of women work in the top 10 low-wage occupations. More than half of all women work sales, service, or clerical jobs. Low-income women of color are significantly more likely to be employed in service, low-income, and physically demanding jobs. African-American women make up roughly 5.9 percent of the workforce, but comprise 29 percent of nurses and home health workers, and immigrant women comprise nearly 45 percent of the maid and house-cleaning workforce.

The wage gap not only hurts women and low-income communities of color, but also families. African-American women make 64 cents and Latina women only earn 54 cents for every dollar White males earn. Women of color are more likely to be the sole provider of household income and live below the poverty line compared to their White female counterparts. A recent report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reveals that eliminating the wage gap would lower the poverty rate for single, working mothers from 28.7 percent to 15 percent. Gender discrimination exacerbates the wage gap and intensifies poverty among women and families.

So what’s being done to combat it? The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits unequal pay for “substantially equal” work, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion or national origin. Yet, as with most laws, there are loopholes. Lawmakers in Congress reintroduced the Paycheck Fairness Act on March 25. This bill would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for sharing their wage information with others, fully compensate victims of sex-based discrimination, eliminate a large loophole favoring employers, and improve data collection on wage information. In an era of partisanship, it’s time for Congress to make a bipartisan stand for equal pay.

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Bus Rider Shelia Williams Brings Community Perspective to Memphis Transit Board

By Courtney Hutchison, Senior Communications Associate, Policy Link

Shelia Williams, a 38-year-old single mother of five, was putting herself through college in Memphis, Tennessee, when the city cut the only bus route that she could take to get to school.

“I almost failed my classes — it was a huge obstacle for me to complete my degree without a way to get to school,” Williams said. “Here I am attempting to get this degree so I can better support my family, and public transit in our city can’t even provide me what I need to make that life transformation.”

For the 7.5 million households in metropolitan areas without a car, public transportation is an essential bridge to opportunity. It determines where they can find work, where they can go to school, whether they can access vital things like doctors’ appointments and grocery stores. This integral link between public transit and the ability to thrive is not always an obvious one, however, especially for those who have never had to rely on these systems.

This is why having transit-dependent community members in decision-making positions for transportation is so transformative.

For Shelia Williams, who had been a founding member of the Memphis Bus Riders Union, becoming a member of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Board of Commissioners was a game-changer for the way her city looked at public transportation issues. After being identified by the Mayor’s Office as board candidate in 2014, in June she joined this nine-person group, which votes on MATA’s budget, routes, schedules, fares, and vendor contracts. She is the only transit-dependent member on the board.

“When you have someone who is transit-dependent and is really passionate about public transit [coming] to the table with other decisionmakers, that’s when you start to see a shift,” Williams said. By sharing her story and those of others in the community who have struggled with access to public transportation, Williams says she’s seen an important change in the way that the city addresses and prioritizes public transit.

According to data from the Brookings Institution, Memphis has over 40,000 households without access to a car, 70 percent of which are low-income households. Though 80 percent of the metro area is technically “covered” by public transit, the average carless household can reach only 26 percent of jobs in the area via a public transit commute under 90 minutes.

“The Mayor has an initiative to lower poverty in the city, but that can’t happen when people can’t get to work because the bus doesn’t travel in their area,” Williams said, citing the example of President’s Island, an area home to 200 jobs that nearly had its bus route cut last year.

Williams said that when she explained in real-life examples how important public transportation is for connecting low-income communities in Memphis to jobs and opportunity, the board had an “aha” moment. Since then, the board has created subcommittees to work specifically on the public transportation issues the community has brought to the board, and issues of those who are transit-dependent in Memphis have risen “to the top of the heap.”

“On a broad level, we need a cultural shift — there’s this sense that public transit is just for low-income working-class people, and we don’t value those citizens enough to repair or improve the transit system,” Williams said.

“That has to change — public transit should be for everyone, and we should build a public transit system we can be proud of,” she added.

As the board works to make this vision a reality, Williams says she is “humbled to be a voice for those who have not had a voice…to be effective for those who have been overlooked in the past.”

Shelia Williams

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Leaders Find Common Ground at Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform

By Stephanie Moore, a Spring 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

It isn’t every day that you see Koch Industries sponsoring an event with the ACLU, and Van Jones co-hosting with Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan. On March 26, the #Cut50 Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform convened with more than 90 speakers to address criminal justice reform in an atmosphere of national partisanship and political gridlock. Panelists discussed over-criminalization, mandatory minimum sentencing, juvenile justice, felony disenfranchisement, recidivism reduction, and community re-entry.

Here are a few startling facts from the summit:

  • 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record
  • 2 out of 3 people who served time will return to prison within 3 years – for juveniles, the rate is 1 in 2 within 3 years
  • African Americans are jailed four times more than Whites
  • 1 in 13 African Americans is a disenfranchised voter because of a current or prior felony, and in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, 1 in 5 African-American men is unable to vote

Gov. Nathan Deal, R. Ga, spoke of his state’s accomplishments in the past three years, including reforms concerning adult non-violent offenders, juvenile justice, and re-entry programs. He argued that the bottom line in criminal justice reform was to make a decision between “locking up those you’re afraid of and those you’re simply mad at.”

So what can we expect to see proposed in this Congress? The Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 aims to modernize federal drug sentencing polices by granting more discretion to federal judges in non-violent drug offense cases, along with amending the Controlled Substances Act to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for certain substances. Also, many legislators at the bipartisan summit expressed intentions to focus on a two-pronged approach to reduce mass incarceration and recidivism: address juvenile justice reform and alternatives to incarcerating non-violent drug offenders and those with mental illnesses, and allocate more resources toward re-entry programs

What does all of this mean? In an interview, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference Education Fund and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said “The American criminal justice system is bloated, ineffective, and badly in need of reform.” When addressing bipartisan action, Henderson asserted, “This is a special moment to address the crisis.”

Watch the entire summit here:

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