Arizona Anti-Immigration Law
This past summer, Arizona passed a highly controversial law, <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/politics/slideshow-action-against-the-arizona-immigration-law.php
”>SB 1070, which requires immigrants to carry their registration documents at all times and requires police to question those they suspect are in the United States illegally. Critics have decried the bill, one of the most restrictive immigration laws in the nation, as an open invitation for racial profiling and targeting of minorities, regardless of their citizenship status. The law has come under broad attack by civil rights organizations and raised concerns about copycat legislation in other states.
Ground Zero Mosque
As it turns out, there are no plans for a <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/politics/is-race-bias-behind-the-nyc-mosque-fight.php
”>mosque near Ground Zero – though the country has been engulfed in debate over this issue since the summer of 2010. Rather, the Cordoba Initiative is a cultural center that is tucked away on a street located about two and a half blocks from the 16 block construction site at ground zero. Once complete, the center will include a library, day-care facility, restaurant, cooking school and prayer space that will be open to all. Some commentators argue that the debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” exaggerates the present-day threat posed by Islamic extremism. For others, it’s a debate that runs contrary to the principles of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution.
Ongoing Foreclosure Crisis
Since the collapse of the housing market in December 2007, millions of Americans have <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/money/22-arrested-in-la-foreclosure-protest-at-chase.php
”>lost their homes to foreclosure. The impact has been especially stark among African Americans who were disproportionately subjected to subprime loans. The numbers of foreclosures did not slow in 2010 with more than 2.5 millions Americans at risk of losing their homes this fall alone. Some analysts have suggested that we are only ¼ of the way through the foreclosure crisis and many vulnerable homeowners are bracing for the worse.
2010 Census Count
This past spring, the U.S. Census Bureau set out to conduct its decennial census count of the American population. <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/politics/2010-census-to-show-slowing-us-growth.php
”>Census data impacts the distribution of more than $400 billion in annual federal funds to states and also affects the apportionment of seats in Congress. Census data released earlier this week revealed significant population growth in the South and Western regions of the U.S. – growth largely attributed to Latino population growth. As a result, Texas gains four new House seats and Florida gains two seats in Congress. Georgia, South Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Washington also gain a seat. The full release of Census data next year will trigger a new round of redistricting at the local, state and federal levels throughout the country and require public engagement in the process to ensure compliance with the anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act, among other things.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
In December, President Obama signed into law a <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/politics/why-the-repeal-of-dont-ask-dont-tell-is-a-teachable-moment.php
”>repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — a policy from the Clinton era that banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military. During his signing of the bill, President Obama observed: “There will never be a full accounting of the heroism demonstrated by gay Americans in service to this country…. But at every turn, every crossroads in our past, we know gay Americans fought just as hard, gave just as much to protect this nation and the ideals for which it stands.”
Shirley Sherrod, a former Agriculture Department official, quickly became a household name this year after she was fired from her USDA position following the release of selectively edited online video clips which falsely depicted her as a racist unwilling to help white farmers. But in the full video clip, Sherrod made a larger point about quickly recognizing her own prejudice, getting beyond it and helping that white farmer save his land. Two days later, Sherrod received an apology and an offer for a new position. Ultimately, Sherrod declined the offer and she now travels the country speaking out about the need to continue fighting discrimination and about ongoing struggles faced by black farmers.
Health Care Reform
In one of the landmark achievements of his first 2 years in office, President Barack Obama helped usher robust health care reform legislation through Congress. The bill, now under attack in the courts, helps make health care more affordable, eliminates pre-existing condition discrimination and expands coverage to all Americans. The law also ensures that children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage and prevents insurance companies from eliminating coverage to people when they get sick.
Access to Education
Addressing continuing inequities in public education remains one of the greatest civil rights challenges today. More than 1.2 million students drop-out of high school each year without graduating – 40 percent of them minority. And over 3.4 million students are suspended each year, often for conduct that should clearly be handled inside of a classroom. And black students are 3.5 times as likely to face suspension than their white peers.
This year, Michelle Rhee, a former D.C. schools chancellor who became known for mass firings and demotions, and Geoffrey Canada, Founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone featured in the acclaimed documentary “Waiting for Superman,” were among some of the aggressive school reformers who gripped the headlines. And civil rights groups made their voices heard by urging President Obama to adopt a broader vision of education reform that addresses systemic inequalities instead of relying mostly on schools closures and charters.
Justice Delayed: Black Farmers Finally Get Relief
Earlier this month, President Obama signed a $1.15 billion measure to fund a <a href=”http://www.thegrio.com/politics/senate-approves-46b-for-black-farmers-indians.php
”>settlement stemming from a 1997 suit against the U.S. Agriculture Department, Pigford v. Glickman, resolving long-stranding claims of discrimination and racial bias against black farmers.
Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparities
Since 1986, defendants caught with 5 grams of crack cocaine have received criminal sentences similar to those defendants caught with more than 500 grams of powder cocaine. The resulting 100:1 sentencing ratio has been an issue that criminal justice advocates have wrestled with over the last 24 years given the resulting racial disparities — most of those sentenced for crack possession are black. But recent research shows that the long-held view that crack cocaine was more addictive than powder cocaine is false. This year, Congress responded by passing the Fair Sentencing Act — a new law that reduced the ratio to 18:1.
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The work of civil rights lawyers and advocates has not slowed in the wake of the 2008 presidential election. Indeed, 2010 proved to be a year marked by intense struggles and debates about rights, liberties and freedoms. Contrary to the claims of some commentators, discrimination, intolerance and bias continue to stand as threats to American democracy. Here, we survey some (though certainly not all) of the most significant civil rights moments and challenges of 2010.