Civil rights in a time of pandemic

Civil rights in a time of pandemic

The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on communities of color has prompted a surge in activism among civil rights and civic engagement organizations. But the normal avenues of protest  – rallies, marches and knocking on doors – are impossible with social distancing. That has led organizers such as the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice to look for other ways to communicate their message and ensure that people of color are prioritized in the recovery effort. The New York Times’ Audra D. S. Burch explains: 

“This is absolutely talking about civil rights,” said Ashley Shelton, the executive director of Power Coalition For Equity and Justice in Louisiana. Power Coalition organized dozens of organizations already working in the state on housing, criminal justice and workers’ rights issues to begin developing a road map to recovery. “This crisis also gives us an opportunity to rebuild our systems from the ground up,” Ms. Shelton said, “in ways that serve everyone equally.”

Seizing stimulus checks
Millions of Americans could have their  $1,200 stimulus checks garnished because they have overdraft fees, delinquent loans or other debt obligations. The Treasury Department is trying to determine whether it has legal authority to prevent banks and private debt collectors from seizing this money, but many feel that this move is too little too late as many checks have already been seized. The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Renae Mele report:

“Congress authorized these payments because people have lost their jobs and are desperate for money for food. The money needs to go to food, not the debt collectors or back bank fees,” (Lauren) Saunders (of the National Consumer Law Center) said. “I hope Treasury reverses itself immediately, because every day that goes by that people can’t access their money they are wondering how they are going to eat.”

In Louisiana, more than 30 organizations have signed a letter urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to immediately halt the garnishment of federal CARES Act payments


SCOTUS bans non-unanimous juries
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that non-unanimous juries – like the ones that were legal in Louisiana until a 2018 ballot measure took effect – are unconstitutional. The ruling could prompt new trials for as many as 100 inmates in Louisiana who were convicted by divided juries but have not exhausted their appeals. What’s unclear is how a coronavirus weakened judicial system will be able to provide a timely resolution to these cases. | The Advocate’s John Simerman explains: 

“We absolutely support the Ramos decision, and were supportive of it from the very beginning. At the same time, this is going to push a good amount of work back on our office,” said Derwyn Bunton, chief public defender in Orleans Parish. “And it couldn’t come at a worse time, in the middle of a pandemic as we set up for cuts, reductions and furloughs.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said that non-unanimous jury laws were rooted in racism and that the burden of states to prosecute isn’t a good factor to uphold the law. 

Justice Gorsuch said that burden, whatever its magnitude, was not a good enough reason to keep the Louisiana and Oregon laws in place. “The dissent would have us discard a Sixth Amendment right in perpetuity rather than ask two states to retry a slice of their prior criminal cases,” he wrote. “Whether that slice turns out to be large or small, it cannot outweigh the interest we all share in the preservation of our constitutionally promised liberties.”

Rural black women are giving birth at home

Many pregnant black women in the South are forgoing hospital visits and are seeking out midwives to deliver their babies at home. While some of these women fear contracting the coronavirus, this new reality has revealed barriers to care and historical racism that has plagued the health care of black women for generations. April Simpson of the Pew Charitable Trust explains: 

The coronavirus pandemic exposes a fragile health care system that already marginalized and traumatized pregnant black women, said Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative. “The intersectionality of being a black woman and that the rural South chose not to provide insurance coverage is a deadly combination for many,” Crear-Perry said. 


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Number of the Day
72% – Percentage of Americans who say that returning to normal pre-coronavirus life right now is a moderate/large risk. This included big majorities in both political parties. (Source: Axios