U.S. Justice Department alleges violations of students’ rights in Meridian, Miss., schools

U.S. Justice Department alleges violations of students’ rights in Meridian, Miss., schools

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Officials in east Mississippi operate a “school-to-prison pipeline” that incarcerates students for disciplinary infractions as minor as dress code violations with a policy that affects mostly black and disabled children, the U.S. Justice Department said Friday. The Justice Department said police in the city of Meridian routinely arrest public school students without determining whether there’s probable cause when the school wants to press charges for a violation. Federal authorities say the students are then denied due process in youth court and on probation. The Justice Department did not outline specific allegations of wrongdoing against the school district in a letter to state and local authorities. Instead, it appears from the letter that the problems begin once a student is arrested.

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Once arrested, the youth court puts the students on probation, sometimes without proper legal representation, according to the letter. If the students are on probation, future school violations could be considered a probation violation that requires them “to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center,” the department said.

That means if a student is on probation and then gets suspended for a minor infraction like “dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect,” the student could have to serve that suspension in the detention center.

“The students most severely affected by these practices are black children and children with disabilities in Meridian,” the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department made the allegations in a letter to Mississippi’s governor, attorney general and various officials in Meridian and Lauderdale County.

“These entities, working in conjunction, help to operate a school-to-prison pipeline that routinely and repeatedly incarcerates children for school disciplinary infractions,” the letter said.

The department said if the matter isn’t corrected soon it will sue the Lauderdale County Youth Court, the Meridian Police Department and the Mississippi Division of Youth Services, a division of the state Department of Human Services. The Division of Youth Services is involved the probation system.

“The systematic disregard for children’s basic constitutional rights by agencies with a duty to protect and serve these children betrays the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings in a collaborative fashion, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if necessary.”

The police department referred questions to a city spokesman, who didn’t immediately return a call. The governor’s office, the youth court and DHS didn’t immediately comment on the letter. The school district superintendent didn’t immediately respond to a message.

The letter said the findings are the result of an eight-month investigation. The letter also said that Lauderdale County Youth Court Judges Frank Coleman and Veldore “Vel” Young pledged to cooperate in the investigation, but “consistently denied DOJ access to information about the policies and practices” of the court and directed the city of Meridian to deny the department access to files concerning children.

Holbrook Mohr of The Associated Press wrote this report.

Racial profiling at Logan Airport undermines security and freedom

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Posted by Carol Rose on Boston.com’s On Liberty blog

Reports that the so-called “behavioral detection program” at Logan Airport leads to racial profiling is front-page news in today’s Sunday New York Times. You have to admire the courage of the TSA screeners who raised the alarm that pressure from TSA management to meet quotas leads to targeting of passengers based on their race, ethnicity, and religion– even when they clearly pose no terrorist threat.

Programs based on behavioral assessment have never been shown to keep us safe or to stop terrorists. In fact, a recent investigation by the General Accounting Office suggests that the program was adopted despite having no scientific basis. That, when combined with pressure on TSA screeners to meet artificial quotas for reporting “suspicious” behaviors, clearly results in pressure on TSA screeners to profile people based on the way they look — rather than how they act.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. They and additional officers who spoke with the ACLU are all terrified of retaliation for raising their voices against this practice.

Even interim CEO and Executive Director of Massport David S. Mackey admits that racial profiling doesn’t keep us safe, saying, “There is no place for racial profiling in any security program. It is illegal, and it is not effective.”

To make matters worse, this isn’t the first indication that “behavioral detection” leads to racial profiling. Similar abuse of the program has been reported in New Jersey and Hawaii. Ironically, the TSA responded by sending in Logan TSA screeners to “train” TSA screeners in those states. If Logan airport is the model for the rest of the nation, we’re in trouble.

The TSA has promised to “investigate” the reports of abuse and racial profiling at Logan Airport. But TSA managers at Logan and in Washington are the ones to be investigated since they have been pushing the employees to pull large numbers of people for more screening, leading to the racial profiling. They are the ones who have access to the data that will demonstrate that the system is broken, but say they don’t have any data. As a result, they are likely to put on a show of investigating the allegations, making real change unlikely.

Meanwhile, the GAO has done its own investigation of the program in the past and, as a result of its findings, has urged Congress to freeze the budget for behavioral detection programs until and unless there is actual scientific evidence that it works. Congressman Bennie Thompson has taken the lead in calling for closer scrutiny of the program and the allegations of racial profiling at the nation’s airports.

Meanwhile, the TSA employees at Logan have long complained of favoritism and the rewarding of employees who engage in racial profiling. Low morale is a persistent problem. When employees are terrified of retaliation, they are reluctant to come forward to tell managers directly of what would improve the workplace. If airline safety were really the goal, we should all be concerned when these employees are too afraid to criticize openly bad management practices.

All Americans want to fly safely. We should praise the behavior detection officers who have been appalled by the racial profiling some of their co-workers have engaged in, with the approval of management, and have bravely raised their voices against it.

Wasting scarce public safety resources on unproven security programs that violate the rights of innocent people and divert attention away from true threats doesn’t keep anyone safe — and certainly doesn’t keep America free.

Racial Profiling Rife at Logan Airport Officials Say

Racial Profiling Rife at Logan Airport Officials Say

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By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC LICHTBLAU – New York Times

BOSTON — More than 30 federal officers in an airport program intended to spot telltale mannerisms of potential terrorists say the operation has become a magnet for racial profiling, targeting not only Middle Easterners but also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

In interviews and internal complaints, officers from the Transportation Security Administration’s “behavior detection” program at Logan International Airport in Boston asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for “suspicious” behavior.

“They just pull aside anyone who they don’t like the way they look — if they are black and have expensive clothes or jewelry, or if they are Hispanic,” said one white officer, who along with four others spoke with The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.

The T.S.A. said on Friday that it had opened an investigation into the claims.

While the Obama administration has attacked the use of racial and ethnic profiling in Arizona and elsewhere, the claims by the Boston officers now put the agency and the administration in the awkward position of defending themselves against charges of profiling in a program billed as a model for airports nationwide.

At a meeting last month with T.S.A. officials, officers at Logan provided written complaints about profiling from 32 officers, some of whom wrote anonymously. Officers said managers’ demands for high numbers of stops, searches and criminal referrals had led co-workers to target minorities in the belief that those stops were more likely to yield drugs, outstanding arrest warrants or immigration problems.

The practice has become so prevalent, some officers said, that Massachusetts State Police officials have asked why minority members appear to make up an overwhelming number of the cases that the airport refers to them.

“The behavior detection program is no longer a behavior-based program, but it is a racial profiling program,” one officer wrote in an anonymous complaint obtained by The Times.

A T.S.A. spokesman said agency inspectors recently learned of the racial profiling claims in Boston. “If any of these claims prove accurate, we will take immediate and decisive action to ensure there are consequences to such activity,” the statement said.

The agency emphasized that the behavior detection program “in no way encourages or tolerates profiling” and bans singling out passengers based on nationality, race, ethnicity or religion.

It is unusual for transportation agency employees to come forward with this kind of claim against co-workers, and the large number of employees bringing complaints in Boston could prove particularly damaging for an agency already buffeted with criticism over pat-downs, X-ray scans and other security measures.

Reports of profiling emerged last year at the behavior programs at the Newark and Hawaii airports, but in much smaller numbers than those described in Boston.

The complaints from the Logan officers carry nationwide implications because Boston is the testing ground for an expanded use of behavioral detection methods at airports around the country.

While 161 airports already use behavioral officers to identify possible terrorist activity — a controversial tactic — the agency is considering expanding the use of what it says are more advanced tactics nationwide, with Boston’s program as a model.

The program in place in Boston uses specially trained behavioral “assessors” not only to scan the lines of passengers for unusual activity, but also to speak individually with each passenger and gauge their reactions while asking about their trip or for other information.

The assessors look for inconsistencies in the answers and other signs of unusual behavior, like avoiding eye contact, sweating or fidgeting, officials said. A passenger considered to be acting suspiciously can be pulled from the line and subjected to more intensive questioning.

That is what happened last month at Logan airport to Kenneth Boatner, 68, a psychologist and educational consultant in Boston who was traveling to Atlanta for a business trip.

In a formal complaint he filed with the agency afterward, he said he was pulled out of line and detained for 29 minutes as agents thumbed through his checkbook and examined his clients’ clinical notes, his cellphone and other belongings.

The officers gave no explanation, but Dr. Boatner, who is black, said he suspected the reason he was stopped was his race and appearance. He was wearing sweat pants, a white T-shirt and high-top sneakers.

He said he felt humiliated. “I had never been subjected to anything like that,” he said in an interview.

Officers in Boston acknowledged that they had no firm data on how frequently minority members were stopped. But based on their own observations, several officers estimated that they accounted for as many as 80 percent of passengers searched during certain shifts.

The officers identified nearly two dozen co-workers who they said consistently focused on stopping minority members in response to pressure from managers to meet certain threshold numbers for referrals to the State Police, federal immigration officials or other agencies.

The stops were seen as a way of padding the program’s numbers and demonstrating to Washington policy makers that the behavior program was producing results, several officers said.

Instead, the officers said, profiling undermined the usefulness of the program. Focusing on minority members, said a second officer who was interviewed by The Times, “takes officers away from the real threat, and we could miss a terrorist we are looking for.”

Some Boston officers went to the American Civil Liberties Union with their complaints of profiling, and Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer in the group’s Boston office, interviewed eight officers.

“Selecting people based on race or ethnicity was a way of finding easy marks,” she said. “It was a notch in your belt.”

The transportation agency said it did not collect information on the race or ethnicity of travelers and could not provide such a breakdown of passengers stopped through the behavior program.

But the agency defended the program’s overall value. Behavior detection “is clearly an effective means of identifying people engaged in activity that may threaten the security of the passengers and the airports and has become a very effective intelligence tool, enabling law enforcement to bust larger operations and track any trends in nefarious activity,” the agency said in its statement.

“In addition, the deterrent value of the program can’t be overstated,” it said. Monitoring passengers’ behavior “adds another layer of security to the airport environment and presents the terrorists with yet one more challenge they need to overcome” in their efforts to defeat airport security measures, the agency said.

But government analysts and some researchers say the idea of spotting possible terrorists from their behavior in a security line relies on dubious science.

A critical assessment of the program in 2010 by the Government Accountability Office noted that aviation officials began the behavior program in 2003, in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, without first determining if it had a scientific basis.

Nine years later, this question remains largely unanswered, even as the agency moves to expand the program, the accountability office said in a follow-up report last year. It said that until the agency is able to better study and document the validity of the science, Congress might consider freezing tens of millions of dollars budgeted for the program’s growth.

Based on past research, the accountability office said the link between a person’s behavior and mental state is strongest in reading “simple emotions” like happiness and sadness.

But the link is weak in determining from behavior whether someone is lying, the report said, and “nonexistent” for determining “when individuals hold terrorist intent and beliefs.”

Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who has pushed for more aggressive counterterrorism measures, said he was troubled by the reports of profiling in Boston.

“If it is going on, it is wrong and can’t be defended,” Mr. King said.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan airport, is eager to review the findings of the T.S.A. investigation, said David S. Mackey, executive director of the agency.

“There is no place for racial profiling in any security program,” Mr. Mackey said. “It is illegal, and it is not effective.”

 
 
 
 

Discrimination Training

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  • What is racial discrimination?
  • Have you experienced or fear discrimination?
  • What should you do when you experience discrimination?
  • How do you file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD)?
  • What is “public accommodation” and when has the law been violated?
  • Have you had difficulty finding an attorney to represent you?
  • Are you an attorney seeking to get more involved with racial discrimination cases?

These are just a few of the questions and issues that will be addressed during this 3 hour training. Presentations will be provided by:

  • Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, along with
  • The Attorney General’s Office – Civil Rights Division
  • The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston and
  • The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

The Training is FREE – Space is limited, so RSVP is required

Where

The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc
Corps Community Center
650 Dudley Street, Dorchester MA 02125

When

Wednesday, June 8 2011

RSVP

rsvp@bostonnaacp.org

Boston NAACP Focused on Redistricting

Boston NAACP Focused on Redistricting

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 Boston NAACP Focused on Redistricting

In the wake of the recent release of the U.S. Decennial Census data, Massachusetts is constitutionally mandated to alter the Senate, House, Governor’s Council and Congressional district boundaries in response to shifts population and an obligation to provide equal representation to citizens.  Senator Rosenberg, Senate Chair of the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting, describes the year-long legislative process as “making the perfect stew” with competing interests and various factors to be incorporated into the final redrawing of districts.  “It requires applying the ingredients in the proper balance,” said Senator Rosenberg.

Staying with the Senator’s analogy, the stew will be lacking one major ingredient, as the state will lose a Congressional seat, due to the recent Census data.  “Although Massachusetts gained in population over the past decade, approximately 3.1 percent, it will go from 10 members in the U.S. House of Representatives to 9,” said Sean Daughtry, Chair of the Boston Branch NAACP’s Political Action Committee.  A congressional district must comprise 727,514 residents.

After sifting through the Census data, legislators will also consider “communities of interest”, “tradition”, “historical cohesiveness”, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, preserving the state’s existing congressional influence, among other factors.  

Historically, the complexity and subjectivity of the process has made it susceptible to abuse and the disenfranchisement of entire communities.  Therefore, MassVote, Oiste, The Massachusetts Black Empowerment Coalition and a host of other groups have created coalitions to ensure the transparency and fairness of the entire process, as well as to secure and/or increase political influence.  “The Boston Branch is currently participating in these coalitions, as long as we share a common purpose,” said Daughtry.  “However, we are also working independently with the support of the National Association and other NAACP branches in Massachusetts to ensure the lines are redrawn in a way that makes sense for our communities.”  

The Boston NAACP has formed a partnership with the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. to work on this issue of redistricting.  On March 30, 2011, Delta Sigma Theta President Tanisha Sullivan, Esq., Delta Political Action Chair Natalie Carithers and Boston Branch President Michael Curry met with Chairman Rosenberg to discuss the redistricting process and open up the lines of communication.  “We will be focused on the preservation and possible creation of minority influence districts,” said Carithers.  “But the clock is ticking and we are asking legislative leaders for a seat at the table.  As has been said, if communities of color are not at the table, we’ll be on the table.”

Words to Know:

Cracking – A term used when the electoral strength of a particular group is divided by a redistricting plan

Packing – The consolidation of a group of voters, such as a racial or political group, in a small number of districts, thus tending to result in the election of the group’s candidate of choice in any election in that district and the dilution of the group’s voting strength in neighboring districts.

Community of Interest – Geographical areas, such as neighborhoods of a city or regions of a state, where the residents have common political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision, such as a city or county.

Gerrymandering – The process of drawing districts or a set of districts with unusual boundaries in such a way to favor one or more interest groups over others.  Gerrymandering can be Partisan or Racial.

Homogenous District – A voting district with at least 90 percent minority or white population.

Majority-Minority Districts – A Term used by the courts for seats where an ethnic minority constitutes a majority of the population.

Racially Polarized Voting (aka “racial bloc voting”) – The term used to describe circumstances in which the voting preferences of a racial or ethnic group consistently vary from those of other racial or ethnic groups, particularly when the different voting preferences are based on the race of the candidate.

Knowledge is power!  To become more acquainted with the terminology, go to http://www.mahouse.gov/District/Terms.

The Boston Branch’s ACT-SO Program  Set to Return

The Boston Branch’s ACT-SO Program Set to Return

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 The Boston Branch’s ACT-SO Program  Set to Return

On Saturday, April 2, 1:00 p.m. at the Mattapan Library (Conference Room), located at 1350 Blue Hill Avenue, the Boston Branch will hold its first ACT-SO Reorganization Meeting.  

The Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics is a major youth initiative of the NAACP, founded in 1978, that provides a forum through which African-American youth can demonstrate academic, artistic and scientific prowess and expertise, thereby gaining recognition often reserved for entertainers and athletes.  The year-long achievement program is designed to recruit, stimulate and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among Black high school students.  The program includes 26 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business and the performing and visual arts.  At the National and Local levels, first, second and third place recipients receive gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively.

Boston once had one of the strongest programs in the country and produced National winners in the various categories.  Unfortunately, long-time ACT-SO Chairman and champion, Norman Conklin, passed away and the program ended.  The Boston Branch is excited to announce the appointments of Shaumba Dibinga and Sheyreese Vincent as Co-Chairs of the ACT-SO Committee.  “Shaumba and Shey bring the experience and passion for children that this program requires,” said Michael Curry, Boston Branch President.  “We plan to work on reorganizing the ACT-SO program over the next several months, then run the program over the 2011-2012 school year.”

The reorganization team, led by Dana Richardson, Chair of the Community Coordination, has already helped to secure the support of the Boston Public Schools, Boston Center for Youth and Families, the Roxbury YMCA and host of potential mentors and coaches, who will volunteer their time and resources.  “We now need business/corporate support for ACT-SO, since training these young people to hone their skills and compete will require adequate funds,” said Dana, aka “Supreme”.  “We would ideally like to take these high school students (grades 9 through 12) to this year’s National Convention in July to experience the national ACT-SO competition, but that’s going to require approximately $10,000 to take a team.”  Supreme invites all prospective students, interested parties, former ACT-SO participants and potential funders to attend Saturday’s meeting.

For more information on the National ACT-SO Competition, go to:  http://www.naacp.org/programs/entry/act-so