For People of Color in Jacksonville FL, Walking Can Be a Crime

For People of Color in Jacksonville FL, Walking Can Be a Crime

Hi RLD Family, 

See my first piece for the ACLU Blog!

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Walking is a lot of things. It’s great exercise. It’s a cost-free mode of transportation. But for Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, evidence suggests that it’s leading to discriminatory encounters with police.

Black pedestrians in Jacksonville are ticketed a stunning three times as often for pedestrian violations, like jaywalking, as white pedestrians, according to ProPublica and The Florida Times-Union. In a recently published exposé, the outlets examined 2,200 tickets issued in Jacksonville between 2012 and 2016. They found that although representing only 29 percent of the city’s population, Black people received a whopping 55 percent of all pedestrian tickets. Disproportionate enforcement also occurred for lesser known offenses. For instance, 68 percent of people who received tickets for “failing to cross the road at a right angle or the shortest route” were Black.

In Jacksonville, crossing the street on a yellow light or walking on the street where there is no sidewalk can result in getting a ticket with a $65 price tag. If you are poor or working but struggling to make ends meet, this is an especially hard pill to swallow. Failure to pay may impact your credit score or possibly result in suspension of your driver’s license.

The disparate citation rates in Jacksonville raise serious concerns about racial profiling. The ProPublica/Times-Union story even includes pictures of police officers doing the exact same thing that Black pedestrians have been ticketed for.

The issue of disparate enforcement in the state of Florida is far from new.

The ACLU analyzed the rate of stops and tickets for seatbelt violations for 2014. Statewide, Black motorists were stopped and ticketed almost twice as much as white motorists based on data from 147 different law enforcement agencies. In some places, data showed Black motorists were as much as a staggering four times as likely to be ticketed.

In Tampa, Black children as young as 3 years old were targeted for stops while riding a bicycle and ticketed for things like “bike riding with no hands.” From 2003 to 2015, more than 10,000 bike tickets were issued — 79 percent of them to Black residents. Black people, however, compose only 26 percent of the Tampa population. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services issued a scathing report indicating that the tickets burdened Black cyclists in Tampa and did nothing to reduce crime or improve safety.

Does law enforcement have a compelling reason why they continue to overpolice communities of color? No, they do not.

The reason given by Jacksonville law enforcement for their pedestrian ticket enforcement practices is that it reduces pedestrian fatalities. But city officials in Jacksonville have not backed up that reasoning with evidence showing, for example, that the rate of pedestrian fatalities was actually lowered over time as a result of whatever practices are leading to such high rates of ticketing Black people for pedestrian offenses. Law enforcement has likewise not presented data showing that such interactions have reduced crime by, for example, leading to the apprehension of crime suspects or seizure of weapons and contraband.

Overpolicing of communities of color leads to one thing: the overpolicing of communities of color. That’s unacceptable and illegal. It’s time for Florida law enforcement agencies to make changes to the way citizens of color are treated. Only by embracing reform can police in Florida protect and serve everyone equally.

 

Legal Divas of Color: Mildred Loving

Legal Divas of Color: Mildred Loving

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Mildred and Richard Loving in 1967 courtesy of Francis Miller/The Life Picture Collection/Getty

Usually, my Legal Divas of Color series features female attorneys that have been trailblazers in our world. But after seeing the Oscar nominated movie Loving  [finally], I was moved to switch gears in my final Legal Diva of Color for Black History Month 2017.

Mildred Loving was a woman of color who married the love of her life.

Small problem: he was white, and it was the 50’s in America. This was at a time in history when there were laws for bidding interracial marriage (called miscegenation laws). The couple lived in Virginia, but went to Washington DC where interracial marriage was legal to get married. After being arrested (snatched out of their beds in the middle of the night while she was far along in her pregnancy with their first child), a long legal battle ensued. The Lovings pled guilty to violating the “Racial Integrity Act“, with the condition that they do not live in the state of Virginia for 25 years.  The Lovings were close to their extended family; the forced separation began to take a toll. After urging from a family member, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He was not able to help her, but he referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The legal battle continued, winding its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Finally, they received relief with the ability to live as man and wife in 1967.

The tragic ending of the story is that Richard Loving passed away seven years after they won their battle — killed by a drunk driver. Mildred never remarried, and lived in the house that he built for her until the day she passed away. When interviewed before she passed away in 2008, she said “I miss Richard. He took care of me”.

That was one of many times I was brought to tears during the course of the movie. It was very much a love story as well as a legal battle. The Lovings overcame so much just to be together but they did not get their “forever” story in this life.

When I heard that quote, I think back to this weekend where I was struggling with a really bad cold. As I was laying down mouth breathing, my husband calls to me from the next room “did you use Vicks vapor rub?” I couldn’t give much of an answer because I felt so terrible. He came in, rubbed the afflicted areas, gave me a kiss, and left the room to continue what he was doing. I think of those small tender moments in the context of love, and what Mildred was missing for those years after her Richard passed away.

The other emotional part of the movie for me was the involvement of the ACLU in fighting for this couple and all couples to follow be able to marry who they love. The Loving case is part of the basis used to obtain the rights for gays to marry in America. This case has so many ripples; if the ACLU did not take on the battle, it would be a very different story. My husband and I, as well of hundreds of thousands of other couples since then, would not be able to legally be with who they love.

I am so proud to be a part of this organization. When asked during my interview why I wanted to come to the ACLU, I said quite simply “Loving vs. Virginia. If it was not for the ACLU, I would not be married to the love of my life.”

As an interesting footnote, most states struck down their miscegenation laws immediately after the Loving ruling. Alabama, however, was the last to do so in 2000. 40% of the population voted to keep this law, even though it was unconstitutional.

Although she is an unlikely heroine, Mildred Loving is one nonetheless. Mildred Loving, thank you for being a Legal Diva of color, paving the way for people to marry who they love  regardless of race or gender.

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Iconic Life Magazine photo of the couple, taken by Grey Villet 

See the original news report below:

I’m Angry & Ready: Now What?

I’m Angry & Ready: Now What?

As some of you may know, I ended my career as a prosecutor this week to become Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. I’m really excited, and this change could not have come at a better time. 

As a result of the current administration’s executive action against immigrants from specific Muslim majority countries,  many folks are angry and wish to help. 

But how?

Here are some ideas:

There is a need for legal observers to help immigrants stranded at airports nationwide. If you are an attorney located in Florida, please contact ACLU Florida Legal Director Nancy Abudu at nabudu@aclufl.org. Outside of Florida, please contact your local ACLU affiliate. See the national list here

Here is a practical list for everyone: 

  • Become a member of the ACLU. 
  • Recruit 3 new members to join the ACLU. 
  •  Sign up to get National and our ACLU of Florida Action Alerts, and respond to our requests for action in support of important ACLU issues such as reproductive rights, immigrant’s rights, criminal justice reform.
  • Follow us on Facebook and Twitter; share our Facebook and Twitter posts with your social media network.
  • Learn the names – and add the contact information – for your representatives in Congress and the Florida Legislature
  • Commit to writing a handwritten note to an elected official on a critical ACLU issue in 2017. You may want to write about Congress not taking aggressive action to override the President’s executive order. 
  • Talk to your family members and friends about the work of the ACLU. 
  • Get involved in an ACLU of Florida local chapter (see link for contact information for a chapter near you.) Help the local chapter with active work in the community that is in alignment with ACLU’s top issue priorities.
  • Staff a table at a local farmer’s market, art fair or similar event with ACLU materials and information on how to become an ACLU member.
  • If you are affiliated with a local ACLU Chapter, volunteer to help organize a public education forum on a priority ACLU issue, i.e. Immigration and sanctuary cities
  • Make a tax-deductible contribution to support the work of the ACLU: 
  •  Go to the ACLU online store, where you can buy ACLU clothing, stickers, pocket constitutions, and much more.

Want to protest? Before you go, know your rights. The ACLU Florida did a great Facebook Live chat; you can also read more information on your rights here. Be warned; some state legislatures are trying to introduce bills stating it is legal to “accidentally” run over a protestor in your way. If you are in an affected state, be sure to stay vigilant, and inform your representative that if s/he votes for this, you will pink slip them at the next election. And do it!!

You can always reach out to me with questions. Always remember that there is strength in numbers. Be careful, be strong, #resist. 

M.