Briefing Highlights Need to Address Discriminatory Profiling in America

By Jordyn Bussey, a 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The troubling reality of discriminatory profiling in the U.S. is gaining more attention following several tragic events, including the fatal shooting on August 9 of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old African American by a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

First introduced in 2001, the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) was most recently introduced last year by Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., and Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich. ERPA would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, ethnicity, religion and national origin by law enforcement agencies, as well as provide resources for training and gathering data on such activity. It is currently stalled in both chambers of Congress.

On September 15, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), NAACP, and South Asian Americans Leading Together teamed up with Cardin to host a briefing on profiling on Capitol Hill. Hilary Shelton, director to the NAACP’s Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, moderated the briefing. Speakers included Rep. Bobby Scott, D. Va., the ranking member of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, and Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference. Panelists included Benjamin Crump of Parks and Crump Attorneys at Law, who represents Brown’s family, Chief John I. Dixon III of the Petersburg, Va. police department, Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, and Anthony Rothert, legal director at the ACLU of Missouri.

The panel explored ways to end profiling practices, including passing ERPA and calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to revise critical Department of Justice profiling guidance that hasn’t been updated since it was released in 2003.

“We have to stop following tragedy with embarrassment,” said Dr. Goff, referring to the lack of action and future planning by the government after profiling tragedies such as Brown’s shooting. He said the public looks to the government for a plan, wanting to see action being taken, and instead is met with confusion and inaction. In fact, the U.S. government doesn’t collect data that would help it gain an understanding of profiling; the first data compiled of police stops and use of excessive force was done this past year by Goff’s Center for Policing Equity.

Crump, who also represents the family of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed African-American teenager shot to death in 2012 in Sanford, Fla., by a man who was later acquitted in the killing, said, “It is bad when these killers profile our children. It is worse when this system profiles our children.”

In closing, Zirkin reinforced the necessity of moving ERPA forward and updating the guidance, which she said should “eliminate the current national security and border integrity loopholes and ban profiling based on religion and national origin. When both of these things happen we will be just one step closer to addressing larger issues of discrimination plaguing communities of color.”

Watch the entire briefing below:

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Why Workers Receiving Tips Shouldn’t Be Paid Less

By Jordyn Bussey, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released an analysis last week revealing that states with the same minimum wage for all workers – regardless of whether the workers receive tips – have lower poverty rates for workers who receive tips (“tipped workers”) and a narrower wage gap for women.

NWLC’s analysis is a good reminder that – for almost a quarter century – the minimum wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 an hour, though many states have set their own standards. In the eight states that have eliminated a lower minimum wage for tipped workers, women working full time, year round are paid 80 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts on average – a wage gap of 20 cents, which is 17 percent smaller than the 24-cent gap in the states maintaining the federal tipped minimum wage. The gap narrowed even further for African-American and Hispanic women.

These numbers are hard to ignore, and higher wages benefit more than just the individuals doing the work. As NWLC’s analysis says, raising the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is “a crucial step toward fair pay for women and economic security for their families.”

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What One Online Retailer and the FCC Chairman Both Want Changed in Washington

By Jennifer Tran, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 9, online retailer Etsy took a positive step toward fairness and decency by announcing that it would no longer permit items with the name or logo of Washington’s professional football team to be sold on their website. The announcement was in line with other moves by the company to prohibit sellers from selling threatening and demeaning products, like items that promote rape and domestic violence.

In announcing the policy change, spokeswoman Bonnie Broeren wrote on Etsy’s blog that this decision was to ensure that their marketplace was “safe, welcoming, and respectful for everyone, including artists, women, and minorities.” She also emphasized that they would no longer sell products with the name because “the fact remains that Native Americans themselves find the term unacceptable.”

The day after the Etsy announcement, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, also expressed his concern with the team name. Speaking to reporters at a wireless conference, he said that he found the term “offensive and derogatory.” He urged people to continue expressing their discontent with the name with the hopes that “if enough people express themselves, [owner] Dan Snyder can see which way things are going.”

Although Etsy is among the first retail companies to explicitly come out against the name, it joins a number of prominent organizations that have already taken a stance. Media outlets such as Slate Magazine and the Washington Post’s editorial board have banned the team name from their publications.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also expressed this sentiment when it voted unanimously at its national board meeting in December 2013 for a resolution urging the team’s owner to change the name. Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, articulated the importance of the ban, noting that “having an offensive slur for the Washington team name teaches young people to celebrate the denigration of people for being who they are.”

With any luck, these moves will inspire other companies, individuals, and organizations to take a stand on the issue. While many have criticized this movement as an instance of overblown political correctness, it is, at its core, a fight for the respect of a community.

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In Wake of Ferguson, Sen. Cardin Calls for Measures to Prevent Profiling

Sen. Ben Cardin, D. Md., on September 10 spoke on the Senate floor about the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the need for Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), a bill that was endorsed by President George W. Bush but – despite being re-introduced year after year – has not been brought up for a vote.

Cardin also urged Attorney General Eric Holder to issue new profiling guidelines that have not been updated since their release in June 2003.

“This legislation provides training and monitoring for law enforcement agencies at all levels of government,” Cardin said of ERPA. “By enacting this legislation, we can begin to reduce the racial disparities that plague our nation’s criminal justice system. We need to better educate more of our law enforcement officials in the differences between specific suspect descriptions and sweeping generalizations or profiling that wastes valuable resources. Racial profiling is un-American. It has no place within the values of our country. It turns communities against the partnerships needed to keep our neighborhoods safe.”

Cardin’s speech echoes a call made by more than 100 organizations last month for federal action to prevent discriminatory profiling.

Watch his full floor statement below.

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Service Employees Join Forces to Strike for Minimum Wage Increase

By Kaidia Pickels, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 4, fast food workers from across the country were joined by home care workers in an unprecedented series of strikes in 150 cities. The protesters, led by the Fast Food Forward movement, were demanding the right to unionize as well as an increase in the minimum wage for service employees to $15 per hour.

The movement began in November 2012 with a similar strike in New York City. Since then, Fast Food Forward has organized several major demonstrations nationwide and created a large online presence using the hashtag #StrikeFastFood. This is the first time the movement has gained support from other workers in the service industry.

According to organizers, approximately 500 protesters were arrested. Among them was Rep. Gwen Moore, D. Wis., who wrote “Proud to support #MilwaukeeWorkers risking arrest in pursuit of a better future for their families!” on her official Twitter following her arrest.

In late July, more than 1,200 fast-food workers from around the country gathered in Addison, Ill. to plan the recent strikes. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), delivered the keynote speech in which she said that her organization – a union with two million diverse members – stands by the fast food workers’ fight.

“When we stick together we can raise wages, raise our communities, and raise America so we have an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice,” Henry said in a statement issued by SEIU on Labor Day.

Because of the disproportionately high poverty rates of people of color, women, and the LGBT and disability communities, raising the minimum wage for all service employees is crucial. As previous civil rights struggles have proven, communities can make amazing things happen when they support each other in solidarity to demand change – in this case, a fair wage. With service workers from different sectors joining the Fast Food Forward movement for the first time, could these protests mark the beginning of large-scale collaboration in the fight for an increased minimum wage?

In response to a failed Senate vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act in April, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, said in a statement that “[r]aising the wage is a popular idea with bipartisan support that would help to lift working families out of poverty and expand the economy for everyone.” To learn what you can do to take action for America’s lowest paid workers, visit The Leadership Conference’s minimum wage action center.

A vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act is expected in the Senate as soon as later this week.

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New Film Documents Community’s Response to Sikh Temple Shooting

Waking in Oak Creek, a new film produced by Not In Our Town in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, documents the community and law enforcement response to a Sikh temple shooting two years ago in Oak Creek, Wisc.

The film is a story of the community’s healing after a White supremacist killed six worshipers and injured four others at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin – an act of hate that forces the town to address hidden intolerances.

“Sikh, Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American communities have an additional element to contend with: greater scrutiny and suspicion after the 9/11 attacks,” wrote Deepa Iyer for NBC News on the anniversary of the shooting earlier this month. “I have heard from many community members who tell me they are routinely targeted, whether being secondarily screened at an airport, harassed for wearing a hijab or turban, or surveilled by authorities in their places of worship, student or community gatherings.”

It is this continued surveillance nationwide that requires we share the story of Oak Creek and have meaningful conversations about how to affect change in our communities – especially in light of other recent tragedies that have resulted from profiling. Not In Our Town and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services have partnered to provide free DVDs of Waking in Oak Creek to help facilitate community screenings and discussions, in addition to lesson guides for educators – all which are downloadable here.

Be sure to share these resources – and watch the film’s trailer below:

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John Oliver Takes on Predatory Payday Lending

Calling them the Lays potato chips of finance – because they’re not good for you, but you can’t have just one – John Oliver in a recent segment described payday lending as “one of America’s most resilient industries” – a $9 billion industry that’s been around for just over 20 years.

Payday lending companies present themselves as a way for people to get back on their feet, but the loans are often accompanied by frightening levels of interest and fees that consumers probably aren’t aware of. That’s why so many people become trapped in an impossible pattern of repayment.

According to a CFPB report released last year, payday loans’ circular repayment structure and lack of underwriting creates for many consumers a cycle of indebtedness. “To the extent these products are marketed as a short-term obligation,” the report says, “some consumers may misunderstand the costs and risks, particularly those associated with repeated borrowing.”

Established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the CFPB began overseeing payday lenders in January 2012, and as of November 2013 accepts complaints from borrowers who encounter issues with payday loans.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights passed a resolution at its national board meeting in December 2013 urging states, Congress, and federal agencies to increase regulatory oversight and enforcement of payday lenders.

See Oliver’s entire segment on the industry below:

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