July 29, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 136

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Nicki Minaj, Sandra Bland, Misogynoir; No Child Left Behind, Illegal Immigration, Prison Reform. People: Bill, Kelley, De Ana, and Guest Maria. Produced: July 26th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Why it’s ok to talk about both Nicki Minaj and Sandra Bland in the same week (and how the two stories relate to each other).
– What Pres. Obama is doing on prison reform. Can Congress find a compromise on No Child Left Behind? Texas isn’t handling illegal immigration very well.

Episode 136 (52 min):
AFD 136

Related Links

AFD: De Ana: Policing Black Women’s Emotions and Opinions
AFD: Maria: What Happened to Sandra Bland?
AFD: Bill: Utah’s Homicide by Police Epidemic
AFD: Kelley: President Obama stands up for second chances
AFD: Kelley: 8 years late, Congress ready to revisit No Child Left Behind
AFD: Kelley: 3 Dem Senators say NCLB reforms don’t go far enough
AFD: Kelley: Texas abandons the 14th Amendment
AFD: Kelley: Mass graves of immigrants in Texas elicit little response

Subscribe

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iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

Mass graves of immigrants in Texas elicit little response

Since 2009, remains of over 400 immigrants have been found in Brooks County, Texas — a fact that came to light in an investigative documentary, The Real Death Valley, by the Weather Channel, Telemundo, and the Investigative Fund.  You can read the report here.

Many of the bodies were buried with haste and carelessness, in conditions that can only be described as mass graves. With hundreds more to go, 118 bodies have been exhumed by researchers at Baylor University, who hope to identify the remains and return them to their families. Reporter John Carlos Frey, author of The Real Death Valley writes:

The analysis shows that 51 of the 118 sets of human remains were not buried in coffins. Fourteen of the remains were placed in red biohazard bags; four in what appeared to be grocery store trash bags. Five were covered only in plastic wrap and packing tape. One set of remains was buried in a milk crate, while another was simply wrapped in clothing.

 
The story has now moved from one of a horrifying discovery to one of a horrifying and negligent response.

Last year, on June 25, 2014 the Texas Rangers Division of the Department of Public Safety launched a preliminary investigation on the grave sites, promising that charges would be filed if any wrongdoing was found. Just two days later, on June 27, 2014, Lt. Corey Lain, the primary investigator, announced in a four-and-a-half-page report that there was no evidence that any laws were violated. Lain concluded:

“It is my opinion that sufficient information and evidence does not exist to support the initiation of a formal criminal investigation.”

 
Frey, who recently published a follow-up report titled Graves of Shame, concludes that, in fact, there were many law violations. The most egregious violations may not be those regarding the burial of human remains – although regulations regarding the depth of burial and type of burial container do appear to have been violated – but the violations which prevent the identification of the remains and their reunification with their family.  You can read the complete report here.

For example, despite a county law that a DNA sample must be taken from all unidentified remains and sent to the lab at the University of North Texas (UNT), it appears that DNA samples were rarely even collected and never sent to UNT.

Additionally, in Texas, the clerk’s office are required by law to retain all death records for a minimum of 10 years. However, despite the fact that the sheriff’s office was able to turn over 361 crime scene reports regarding the discovery of human remains, they were able to produce records for only 121 remains regarding the retrieval and burial of the remains; two-thirds of the bodies were unaccounted for, making it nearly impossible for their loved ones to ever know the fate of these immigrants.

In the 13 months since the Texas Rangers reached their conclusion, only one law has been passed by Texan legislators regarding the remains of immigrants. The law states that after one year the death certificate of unidentified remains becomes public. That is hardly comforting to the hundreds of unknowing families of those buried unceremoniously in Brooks County, Texas.

Dr. Lori Baker, a forensic anthropologist from Baylor University working to identify the remains of those in mass graves sums up the story in a hauntingly true statement:

“Nobody cares about dead immigrants. They’re invisible when they’re alive, and they’re even more invisible when they’re dead.”

 

What Happened to Sandra Bland?

Sandra Bland’s life ended when she met a wall of misogynistic racism centuries in the making. Guest post by Maria Jackson.

Sandra Bland was making her way through Texas, having just accepted a position at her Alma Mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over, supposedly for changing lanes without signaling. Detecting that she was less than pleased, Trooper Encinia asked Bland what was “wrong”. After Bland responded in a very clear manner, Encinia described Bland as “combative and uncooperative”.

As if Bland should have greeted his traffic stop with smiles and handshakes. As if being irritable and not prostrate is a crime. When she declined to extinguish her cigarette and leave her vehicle, Encinia threatened to pull her out of the car and “light [her] up” with his taser.
After making a phone call and eventually being able to post bail, Bland was found dead in her cell.

What happened to Sandra Bland is something that has been happening for a long time, continues to happen, and will happen again.

However, this is more than a matter of the long history of suspicious deaths and sketchy police stops. There’s another context that makes it easy to get away with doing those things — especially to Black women in America.

It takes bricks to build a wall. Dozens and dozens of hardened clay pieces fitting together precisely. These bricks don’t mean much independently, but when affixed to another the walls they build can protect, defend, or deter. These walls can stand — impenetrable — for multiple generations, through hundreds of years, in near permanence.

Sandra Bland was, in part, the victim of a culture that, brick by brick, had assembled stereotypes of Black women as angry, aggressive, threatening — something to be contained forcibly. It is that wall, part of the foundation underlying Anti-Blackness, that continues to dominate our daily lives — and daily deaths.

Each week, in the news, even in “pop culture,” you can see the bricks being laid and the wall growing ever higher, even in a supposedly post-racial society.

When actress Amandla Stenberg was accused of “attacking” Kylie Jenner and being an “angry black woman”, that was a recent brick. Another brick was set in place when Nicki Minaj correctly called out the racist preferences of MTV and the VMAs but various media outlets instead depicted her as an angry, ungrateful, attacking bully (see AFD essay➚).

There are so many bricks being produced to support American racism and misogynoir against Black women, that there are even some left over to hurl. Like all stonings, those bricks are meant to silence. Ever since Sandra Bland’s murder, the same old bricks have been thrown at her corpse, attempting to bruise and sully her name to make her humanity unrecognizable.

Yesterday, Bland’s death was ruled ‘suicide by hanging’. The announcement of these findings were coupled with toxicology reports of marijuana found in her blood. However, without results that speak to how long ago Bland smoked or ingested the drug, Warren Diepraam, the first assistant district attorney of Waller County, felt free to hypothesize (rather implausibly) that it was “possible that it could have been smoked in the jail.”

Brick, flung.

Like me, Bland was searching for meaning. Like me, Bland had reportedly suffered from joblessness. Like me, Bland was was sick and tired institutional and systemic racism. Like me, Bland was a Black American Millennial. She was connected to a community of like minds who support #BlackLivesMatter. Bland made videos expressing her frustration with racism and gave voice to the movement.

The bricks that build the walls that divide us, crush us. Bland and I used the same hashtags and technology to talk about the sorrow and rage felt at the deaths of black men and women at the hands of those (supposedly) sworn to serve and protect. No one wakes up expecting to become a hashtag at the end of the day, but now we #SayHerName too: Sandra Bland.

Guest essayist Maria Jackson is a thirty-something, 4th generation Georgia Peach who writes for Shakefire.com and can be heard trading opinions and laughter on the Nerdgasm Noire podcast, with Arsenal For Democracy columnist De Ana and others. Co-owner and full time fatshionista for luvfattax.com.

Texas abandons the 14th Amendment

United States Constitution, Amendment 14, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 
Since 1868, the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution has guaranteed citizenship to all children born within its borders. The recent influx of illegal immigration, largely from Central American countries, has led to a large increase in children born to undocumented immigrants.

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This seems to have inspired some in Texas to take matters into their own hands, even if it meant abridging the 14th Amendment rights of some natural-born citizens. Officials of the counties of Cameron and Hidalgo have been refusing to issue birth certificates to children born to men and women who lack documentation proving that they are in the United States legally.

Previously, to prove their own identity, parents could use a foreign passport when applying for their child’s birth certificates. However, county officials are now insisting that parents applying for birth certificates using foreign passports must also have a current U.S. visa, leaving many children without a birth certificate.

What difference does it make? Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer representing women whose children have been denied birth certificates in a civil rights lawsuit, points out “It causes all kinds of problems.” Without a birth certificate, parents are unable to prove that a child is their own, leaving them unable to enroll their child in school or even make medical decisions for their child.

Texas “going rogue” is clearly not a new phenomenon. The Lone Star State takes pride in their Wild West roots and their independent thinking. However, Texas has taken to flying in the face of federal mandates and even the United States Constitution. Most recently, two of Texas’ county clerks have refused to abide by the US Supreme Court’s decision and are still refusing to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The failure of Texas to issue birth certificates to natural-born United States citizens because of their parentage paints an ugly picture of both the State’s contentious relationship with the federal government and their open hostility to immigrants. It is also simply unconstitutional and illegal.

July 15, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 134

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

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Topics: Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and Obamacare, order on Texas abortion clinics law; Puerto Rico and Greece debt crises. People: Bill, Kelley, and Nate. Produced: July 13th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– U.S. Supreme Court: What are the implications of major rulings and orders on marriage equality, Obamacare, and reproductive freedom?
– Debt Crises: What’s next for Puerto Rico and Greece?

Episode 134 (47 min):
AFD 134

Related Links

AFD by Kelley: “The Supreme Court Order You May Have Missed”
AFD by Bill: “Marriage Equality Day”
AFD by Bill: “A Sinking Feeling in Puerto Rico”
AFD Posts about Greece

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

The Supreme Court order you may have missed

The Supreme Court’s rulings two weeks ago on the Affordable Care Act and marriage equality have had a profound and immediate effect on Americans. But so has the Court’s less-discussed order to delay the implementation of a Texas law that would have effectively shut down all but ten Texas abortion clinics, leaving nearly one million women at least 150 miles away from their closest abortion clinic.

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

Map of 60-mile radius access limits around remaining Texas abortion clinics, under the suspended law, versus female population density. (Credit: @MetricMaps / Wikimedia)

The Texas law in question initially grabbed the nation’s attention thanks to a pair of pink sneakers and State Senator Wendy Davis, whose passionate filibuster lasted long enough to avoid the passage of the bill…for the day. Despite Senator Davis’s efforts, the bill passed in July 2013, as part of a second special session, by a margin of 19-11.

The first part of the bill took effect 90 days after it’s passage; it prohibited abortions after 20 weeks and required all doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  The Supreme Court’s order delays implementation of the second part of the bill, which requires all abortion clinics to meet the standards of an “ambulatory surgical center” – a set of stringent regulations on staffing, equipment, and the building itself.

Fund Texas Choice notes that 14 of Texas 36 abortion clinics closed due to the provision requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and only 10 clinics currently meet the standard of an ambulatory surgical center.

Some Texas lawmakers insist that these changes are designed to protect women’s health, while opponents have deemed it a thinly veiled effort to restrict a woman’s right to choose in the Lone Star State.

Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure.  A recent study in Obstetrics and Gynecology notes that women are 14 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than from abortion.  In fact, in 2010, only 1 in 625 women who received in abortion at Planned Parenthood required an emergency room visit or blood transfusion.  Still, Texas is one of 24 states that the Guttmacher Institute reports has regulations that go beyond what is medically necessary for patient safety.

The Supreme Court order is only temporary, however, and will expire if the Court decides not to hear the case during their 2015 season.

It is still unclear if the Court will hear this case, but if they do, a woman’s right to choose is sure to be in the crosshairs of the 2016 presidential election, and rightfully so: the problem is a lot bigger than Texas, as the other 23 states with similarly restrictive laws proves.

Despite the fact that half of Americans identified as pro-choice in a May 2015 Gallup Poll, states across the country continue to enact abortion restrictions in record numbers.  During the years of 2011-2014, states passed 231 restrictions on abortions, limiting access to safe abortions from sea to shining sea.  To put that in perspective, 189 restrictions had been passed in the ten years previous.

The increasingly stringent regulations on abortion access make it clear that women need a champion to protect the rights afforded to them by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.  That champion may come from the Supreme Court, or we may need to change the tide of state politicians.

This Texas law and the drastic effect it has on the number of abortion clinics in the state calls into focus the severity of medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion and the reality that they effectively limit access to safe abortions for many American women.

Texas bill would nullify Federal court orders on marriage

I’m not sure why anyone would think this could work after the U.S. proved state employees could not unilaterally refuse to implement Federal court orders by deploying the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division paratroopers to Arkansas to enforce school desegregation, but one very petulant Texas legislator aims to block state implementation of same-sex marriage if the Federal courts (including the Supreme Court) order licenses to be issued and/or recognized from other states. KVUE Austin:

Dubbed the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,” House Bill 623 says state and local government employees “may not recognize, grant, or enforce a same-sex marriage license.” If they do, “the employee may not continue to receive a salary, pension, or other employee benefit at the expense of the taxpayers of this State.”

The bill’s author, State Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), says the Texas Legislature doesn’t work for the federal courts — which have no business striking down laws passed by Texas voters.

“Because we’ve seen activist federal courts, it’s important that we as Texans take steps to make certain that we’re able to protect traditional marriage and traditional values,” Bell told KVUE Friday. “One of the ways that we can do that is through the power of the purse.”

The result could be a potential quandary for government workers: Follow a court order or keep earning salary. Asked whether the bill would put government employees in a position of having to choose between being subjected to a federal lawsuit or losing their pension, Bell suggested employees would continue earning as long as they’re following state laws.

“I don’t see it as losing their pension except during the period of time which they are outside the [state] laws,” said Bell.

 
The full text of the bill also threatens the same consequences to any state employee or official who tries to violate or interfere with this new provision, meaning that all state officials — including the governor and attorney general — might face consequences (from whom is less clear) for giving an order allowing clerks to ignore this section as de facto unconstitutional and proceed with following Federal court orders to issue or recognize same-sex marriages.

I hope this bill doesn’t have a chance of passing, but if it does, it will put a lot of people in a very precarious position, financially or legally. It is also blatantly unconstitutional.

“I don’t see it as a threat at all,” countered Bell, who maintains his target is activist courts — and he has his colleagues’ support. “I think it is the ability of the state legislature to try to make certain that we affirm the sovereign right and sovereign nature of the state.”

 
It’s just another attempt to institute backdoor secession from Federal authority.

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