4/15/15 Strike

For the last two years fast food and other low-wage hourly workers have been staging work stoppages, sit-ins, and walk outs at their places of employment. Their demand is simple: fifteen dollars per hour worked and the right to join a union. Clearly, these workers already have the right to join or form a union in their respective workplaces, but their real demand is that the corporations, owners, and managers stop trying to actively sway or sabotage their efforts to gain a modicum of control over their labor. What this amounts to is a retroactive minimum wage increase, much needed, but thoroughly insufficient, to act as a temporary patch to get them through to their main goal of unionism, a way to ensure that future wage increases are fair and bargained for.

Most unindoctrinated in unionist theology would ask: “Why would they care about such terrible jobs?” They would be asking a very fair question. It’s clear that the market is inundated with college grads, the tops of classes from various schools, and other folks of similar ilk. We have seen a drastic shortage of industrial production jobs, which used to be platforms for elevating those outside the throes of academia into middle class, or at least working class, positions. This de-industrialization of the working class has led many, especially those most vulnerable to poor wage and working condition negotiation abilities into the service industry, the service industry of the non-creative class variety.

The message from these workers is clear, from my interaction with them, “If we had literally any other choice, we would not work these dehumanizing jobs.” The Fight For Fifteen is a movement of people demanding the dignity of labor from a society that has eschewed the social class that at one point they would have been a part of. These people are not lazy, as a former fast food worker myself I can assure you that this work is of the strenuous physical variety, but instead lacked the advantageous life situation of many that have had access to decent housing, education, and intellectual social circles. These people are mothers and fathers, people laid-off from industrial jobs, and those earning extra money from an economy suffering seemingly endless fluctuation with few signs of recovery. These are people who merely wish to have a similar footing as management in negotiating the sale of their labor.

The business unions recognize this, sweeping through the Northeast, at first, and making their way south in August of 2013. The business unions also recognize that this may be their last and best chance at providing this kind of worker protection and advancement in the Southeast. They recognize and advocate their role in bettering working conditions and wages for all workers, and are passionate about “living or dying” in the South.

In conclusion, supporting these striking workers, as vulnerable and unprivileged as they may be even compared to other industrial workers, is supporting all working people who wish to have a better chance at not only surviving an awful economy, but having a more robust capitalist monetary infrastructure. Because of this, it is in our collective best interest to support these workers as they step off the job tomorrow on April 15, 2015.

Chris Stella


Walter Scott: The Perfect Case

The 11th officer-involved shooting in South Carolina this year…and it’s the perfect case.

Walter Scott was 50 years old.  He was a veteran of the Coast Guard, the father of four children, and had just recently proposed to his long-time girlfriend.  On Saturday, April 4th, Walter was pulled over by 33 year old Patrolman Michael Slager for a malfunctioning tail light.  We don’t know what happened directly after the stop, but Walter exited his car and ran from Patrolman Slager.  Slater fired his taser, but it didn’t stop Scott.  Slater then shot Scott eight times in the back and watched Walter fall to the ground.  Slater handcuffed the broken and bloody Walter Scott, placed his office-issued taser next to Mr. Scott, and never offered any CPR or first aid.  Slater called in the shooting, saying that Scott had fought with him and stole his taser.  His one-use taser.  The taser that when you fire it, it can’t be used again until you charge it in your patrol car.  A video was released, and I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, and the video shows Patrolman Slager dropping his taser next to the body of Walter Scott.  Scott did not have the taser in his hand when he ran.  And even if he did, the taser was no longer a weapon since it had already been discharged.

This is the perfect case.  Walter Scott, a veteran and father, was shot in the back by a cop because he ran from a traffic stop.  He posed no threat to officer Slager.  He didn’t have a weapon.  He hadn’t committed a felony.  When the video of the incident was published, the Mayor of North Charleston and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) acted quickly.  Patrolman Slager’s incident report didn’t match the video at all and red flags popped up all over this case. The Mayor Keith Summey was quoted as saying “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong,” during a news conference and on Tuesday, April 7th, Patrolman Slager was booked and brought into custody.

This is a case to keep an eye on.  SLED has acted quickly and Patrolman Slager has been charged with murder. If North Charleston is unable to get an indictment in this case, it will be truly shocking.  The evidence is practically all favorable to prosecution of Slager.  There is definitely probable cause to bring this case to trial.

Now what happens at trial may be a different story.  Will South Carolina appoint a special prosecutor?  Does the video get admitted into evidence?  Will the videographer identify himself? All these questions remain, but until we get an indictment we just have to sit tight and wait.

In the meantime, Patrolman Slager has been fired and North Charleston has ordered 150 more body cameras for officers so that now every officer will have one.  Two families have been affected by this incident and a community must begin healing while we wait for the judicial process to take its course.

Anne Evangelista, L ’16

VP of Elon Law National Lawyer’s Guild

Day of Action Statement: Ernest Lewis L’15

From Ferguson to New York to the Future: There’s More I Must Say

About Eric Garner
This is a postscript, that is now an introduction of a recent blog post that I hoped I did not have to write. I am feeling stupid for thinking that the justice system (which many people are now saying is not broken) would look at the evidence and reach an indictment. The messages I discuss below are just as loud and clear in the lack of indictment of Officer Panteleo. There is an additional message that I want to address: There appears to be not a single case where police officers will be indicted until something changes. This is a giant problem. There is no time for respectability politics. This is the time to demand more and better. There is too much pain for the status “Crow” to remain in place.Do not give me the bad data (promulgated by Bill O’Reilly) about more whites harmed (shot) by police than blacks of a rate of almost three-to-one. This data is flawed for several reasons. First, there are more whites than blacks. Second, the data fails to address the significant skewing of bad stops with the police involving blacks. Third, this data again serves to prop up an irresponsible globalization of “me too”. Yes, all lives matter (in the abstract) of course, but that is wasteful in diluting the impact. Historically, black lives only mattered for entertainment, for workload, for sexual exploits, and in exchange our humanity was marginalized. This has not ended…it only continues in police control, in mass incarceration, in our deaths with impunity. In order for #AllLivesMatter to be true, #BlackLivesMatter must be true.Read the original entry below:Hello all,

First off, I am angry and heartbroken. I am frustrated by what I know about the justice system. I disturbed by the message that is ultimately sent by the continual lack of indictment (in reference to Michael Brown and John Crawford, but this trend extends back to the Oscar Grant shooting and the massacre of Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell’s murder at the hands of the police and countless more).

I almost had a breakdown before my Bar Exam Foundations Exam, I am immensely grateful for being taught the importance of prayer. For without prayer, I would have fallen completely apart and would have failed my exam.

This entry is a continuation of a number of things I have been writing: (Blog about Racial JusticeBlog about Trayvon and the ChurchHi, I am Black Man in America and two papers dealing with colorblind racism). This blog will address a number of threads and will look to the future of race relations and police action.

The Michael Brown Affair
There is much that I want to say about the specifics of this case, but I want to focus on three messages.

First messageBlack men will rarely be presented as a victim, without a twinge of criminality and the white assailant will be presented as a “good guy” (sidebar: black women that have died at the hands of the police are rarely presented at all). This message came with the press conference in which the chief of the Ferguson police pointed to a possible robbery of a convenience store while celebrating the “meritorious” service of Darren Wilson. The need for a balanced narrative is vital and the lack of one only served to stoke flames of anger. Yes, there could be an argument that the initial message was that Michael Brown was presented as a young man with a bright future (the reality was he future was bright…even with the minor robbery–that could have been resolved with minimal damage). But, Michael Brown was just one of many, people victimized by the police (or others) that have had their characters assassinated by a horrible and tired criminal myth. The ultimate pain of this message is that it is continually used to justify the killing of young black men and women.

Second message: Michael Brown was not a human being, he was a black man aka a subhuman mongrel. This message is demonstrated clearly by the lack of EMS response, no police shooting report was filed, and Michael Brown’s body was left out in the street for four and half hours, and the language that Darren Wilson used in his grand jury testimony. But, I want to make this clear that this is also an old and tired mythos. There is anecdotal evidence about police policies that involved allowing bodies to just stay at scenes to essentially wait out any crowds or witnesses to then investigate “without distraction.” This screams two things: that the deceased is not a person worthy of prompt and proper investigation and that the police has much to hide. Many of the complaints leveled against the Ferguson police department is rooted in a lack of transparency which leads to a perception that the police protects racist policies and officers.

Third messageThe police even when they do “wrong” are protected from impunity. This message is really at the heart of the protests that continue to rage across the country. From a personal standpoint, I am conflicted by the violence of the protest, but I do not judge them. The conflict comes from the fact that I learned community activism from the legacies of Dr. King and Paulo Freire and others. This type of activism is generally non-violent, but as it was pointed out that people can only be disappointed but so much. Racial and classist oppression is increasingly evident now in the age of rapid communication. The police’s tactical decision to approach Ferguson as a warzone raised the stakes of the protests. The power differential was never more prevalent when there are armored personnel carriers, bearcats with snipers on them, full metal jacket military style tactics. This was a tonedeaf response to people that are legitimately hurting.

But, at the end of this all, there was no indictment (which does not mean exoneration or acquittal–means that for whatever reason [bad jury instructions, lack of evidence, lack of authority] the grand jury did not bring charges). I lay this trend at the feet of bad policy (albeit well-intentioned). The standard for qualified immunity remains too high, in that police officers must be proven to act with gross negligence (recklessness or exceedingly bad faith) to be charged with a crime. The rationale being that police work is difficult and complicated work and thus the court should give deference to officers based on the decisions made in the heat of the moment. This makes sense on the surface: provides judicial efficiency, recognizes the complexities of police work; and offers apparently necessary protections for officers. But, this standard sets the bar so high to get bad actors into court I would argue that nothing will substantively change until this standard is modified. The last section of this entry will be my suggestions. This is why I am angry. If the evidence was so compelling that Darren Wilson was right or better said justified, then go to trial get an exoneration, be transparent. But, no indictment or sense of justice (or commendations instead) is the norm throughout the country in these situations. Thus, this message is perpetuated repeatedly (Michael Brown, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Eric Gardner, Jonathan Farell, Amadou Diallo, just to name a few). Police are protected, our young men are targets from the start.

This Is A Spiritual Blog, right?
I want to close with some clear parting shots. There has been a lot of bad theology surrounding race from the start and I want to address two instances. First, the misapplication of Proverbs 10:1, “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son, heartache to his mother. (HCSB)”  Using this scripture to talk about Michael Brown is both insensitive and irresponsible. Insensitive, because it does nothing more than to pour salt into the open wounds. Applied in this way it bleeds pharasaism. Irresponsible, because this scripture is not about a moment but a lifestyle. Wisdom in the book for Proverbs is presented as a lifestyle. Walking with wisdom, pursuing wisdom, loving wisdom also foolishness is depicted on the scale of a life. We do not know Michael Brown nor his family enough to have any right to past judgment on how he was raised. His life matters and the continued living of his family and community matters more than to be pseudo-religious or falsely insightful. Stop. JUST PLEASE STOP.

Secondly, a viral post has circulated that was from Benjamin Watson, a tight-end for the New Orleans Saints (Original PostGood Response). I am not going to recite either of the posts. The point I want to make is that the realm behind what we see is far more complicated. There is an element of sinfulness that rests in the heart of injustice. Men and women because of the fall of Adam are pointed against each other. Racism has existed since the fall and is the product of sin. But, the fact that there are spiritual matters at play does not mean that we do not have a role to play to make the world better. Actually, that is the reason we have the responsibility to respond not just in anger but in wisdom. We need to stand in faith with each other to bridge the gaps that are expansive.

What Now?
President Obama has called for federal standards regarding body worn cameras for cops and has asked for 236 million dollars for implementation. This is a quality first step, in municipalities that have started using them there have been a precipitous drop in complaints against police officers. Ferguson has to rebuild and make some hard changes in the structure of their police departments. Transparency and modifying qualified immunity standards need to be a priority. This is a pie in the sky that I am shooting for, but it needs to happen in order for communities across the country to heal. Practically, community policing, not for community policing sake, but policing to the fact that every person regardless of the situation they are encountered.

I am hurting because the pain is palatable. I am still very much afraid of the police and will continue to train young black men how to react and interact with the police, even though I know that they could still end up dead even when they do everything right. But there is hope here and I will leave with a quote from a past entry regarding hope:

I digress, but there is a theme throughout the movie [The Dark Knight Rises] where the villain, Bane talks about the absurdity of hope.  While he puts Gotham under martial law, turning over the rule of the metropolis to the “people”, holding them hostage with the core of a nuclear fusion reactor, he promotes hope.  To him, hope inspires people to scramble for their own survival and devolve.  This perspective is honed in a pit, a jail in the middle of a middle eastern desert.  Where regularly inmates are given the chance to climb out of the pit only to fail and lose hope of survival.  To make it worse there is the story of the one that made it to the top, which produces hope.  Hope that it can be done, the one in million/billion can make it.

This is where Bruce Wayne found himself, this is where many of us find ourselves.  We are in pits dug deep into the ground of our lives, the valley within the valley.  We see others reach the top and climb out of their pits and it feels like we are trapped in the pits of despair that seem to be bottomless.  But, I can tell you that the Bible is clear about the pits of life.  The pits of life are false creations of an enemy that cannot get at what he really wants.  Look at the story of Job, the discussion that Satan has with God about Job who was described as the most righteous man in the world.  Job was so righteous and desired a right relationship with God that he offered sacrifices every day in the case of failings by his children.  This is what gets Satan’s attention so he approaches God with an challenge against Job’s righteousness, He was only righteous because everything was hunky dory or peachy keen.  God gave Satan the right to take away his children and his wealth and then when that failed the right to harm Job’s body. I am going to stick a pin here. When I say that pits are false creations, I am not saying that the feelings that you encounter in the pit are not real.  the circumstances, the pain, the agony, the shame, despair is very real and should not be minimized.  But, I know of something that is more real and more powerful and that is hope.  (The Full Post)



Day of Action Statistics: Part 4

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2015/03/18/half-of-fergusons-young-african-american-men-are-missing/

  • Almost two percent of African Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 are in the active military, and about 85% are men, so military service can explain a two percent shortfall in the civilian black male population.  Vital Statistics data indicate that about 96% of African American men will survive to the age of 30 compared to 98% of women.  Shorter life expectancies can explain why an additional two percent of young African American men are missing.  After adjustments for gender differences in mortality rates and military service, 14% of African American men age 25 to 34 are missing from our largest cities, and 47% are missing from Ferguson.
  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics about 9.4% of African American men age 25 to 34 are incarcerated, compared to 0.6% of African American women.  However, an incredibly high incarceration rate would be necessary to account for all of Ferguson’s missing young black men.  Ferguson’s challenge is likely the result of a combination of problems including incarceration, criminal behavior, homelessness and substance abuse.
  • It will be difficult for Ferguson to prosper economically as long as half of young black men are absent from the community.  According to Census data 60% of households with children in Ferguson are headed by women and 48% of these female-headed households are below the poverty line.

Day of Action Statement: Whitten Stone L’17

Quiet as it’s kept….” Toni Morrison starts her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970 and repeats this phrase later in her novels, Jazz and Paradise. And here we are, forty-five years later. And still we are keeping it quiet; still we are allowing for instituionalized racism in our country. The reason that black lives matter is because black lives matter. As we learn from women like Toni Morrison, there is a healing power and strength in words – and specifically, a healing power and strength in speaking out against injustice. For the sake of all of our lives, we need to work together. Police brutality against black men has been on the forefront in the last few years – but we all know that this is not a new phenomenon. As law students, we need to be willing to use our voices, our knowledge, and our ideas to unite with groups that are promoting the universal truth, that every single life matters.

Day of Action Statement: Anonymous L’16

Police brutality is the clearest example of sanctioned violence upon the civilian populous.   Police brutality is as much a single event, the officer and civilian victim, as it is social issue, a society’s rationalization and sanction of unwarranted violence against civilians. Police brutality batters the victim many times over.  The first violent act may the smack of a baton or a barrage of bullets that leaves the civilian dead.  The second violent act upon the civilian is a coordinated attack against the survivor or victim’s character. In police department press releases that read like an affirmative defense and the media coverage that justifies the brutality, the bigger issue with police brutality takes hold.

The brutal actions of the police and the social justification becomes a cyclical pattern, one reinforces the other.  One’s own reaction to police brutality says more about oneself than it does about the officer who willingly used unwarranted violence.  One’s own reaction to defend or damn the victim says more about one’s own views or political goals.  To claim race is not a factor is to ignore reality.  However, police violence is directed at all civilians because an adversarial pattern between police and citizen is well established and documented.  Institutions and organizations protect their own and that is understandable, but when the inexcusable acts of brutality are disingenuously justified by fear-mongering, notions of safety, and at times outright contempt; what feelings and thoughts are left but rage, sadness, and a cynical view of the police’s role in a society?

Police violence against civilians cannot be properly handled by the legal system because a higher burden of proof is practiced when a civilian attempts to prove an officer committed a crime.  The social hegemonic view with respect to the police is one of deference and it too is unable to properly assess the wrong that is being perpetrated upon the civilian population.  Police brutality is like domestic violence or rape because she was either asking for it or some other explanation is always right under the surface ready to pounce and delegitimize the survivor’s account of what happened.  The death of Kelly Thomas, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Gil Barber, Tamir Rice, and the subsequent reactions by police departments and the media are but some examples of police brutality.

Day of Action Statement: ShaKeta Berrie L’16

In my opinion, one of the greatest atrocities is when a person in the position to protect defiles that sacred trust. In some of our classes here at Elon Law we talk about history and tradition. The law is steeped in rationale of “because that’s how it has been.” Yet even with our justice system openly standing on the foundation of our past, with some topics-with some issues- society wants us to “let it go.” According to PBS.org, slavery began on this continent in the 1620’s and lasted until December 6, 1865. In 1712 Willie Lynch told slave masters how to control their slaves is to keep the mind weak and the body strong. In that same speech he spoke of the fear the white man should have of the “natural” negro who has not been properly broken. Jim Crow in the south lasted from 1877-1954 (Britannica.com). These laws systematically continued the segregation of our nation by race and based in fear. Why the history lesson? Because 240 years of involuntary servitude and 77 years of second class citizenship has not been eradicated from the minds of the people of this nation. How can any of us be arrogant enough to say that we are so progressive that in 61 short years we erased the damage of over 350?! All of that is to say that I believe we have made strides to racial equality. I know that every police officer is not racist in the full definition of the word. However, it pains me that the possibility of his or her latent discrimination of the person of African decent is put out by some people as non-negotiable. “Stop Pulling the race card.” “You make it more about race than it is.” Until I can understand why my beautiful brown-faced brothers and sister are abundantly more likely to by the victims of police brutality, I have no choice but to look at the ties that bind.   #BlackLivesMatter Shaketa Berrie Submitted to Elon Law National Lawyers Guild March 2015