Since the beginning of 2017, there have been eight terrorist attacks in the United States. The death toll from these events has ascended over 100, with hundreds of more individuals seriously injured from these atrocities. Although each of these incidents were horrific and barbaric acts of violence, the American public is unfortunately becoming desensitized, as these tragedies are sadly becoming commonplace. As a 22-year-old woman, I have had the sobering experience of living through the “worst terrorist attack in modern history”, multiple times.
Although one would expect these tragic events to function as a catalyst for our country’s leader to bring the American people together, President Donald Trump has used these incidents as an impetus for anti-Muslim rhetoric. Through differential coverage of these attacks, he has aimed to exemplify to the public exactly who fits the stereotype of a “terrorist” characterizing Muslim perpetrators as such, while referring to white attackers as merely “mentally ill”.
As we all know, on November 5th, 2017 Devin Patrick Kelly, a 26-year-old white male opened fire on a congregation in Sutherland Springs, Texas killing 27 innocent people. Numerous warning signs could have alerted the police to Kelly’s potential for mass violence from Facebook posts of assault rifles, to previous convictions for rape and domestic violence, as well as the brutal abuse of a child. Still, Kelly was unsurprisingly able to slip through the gaping cracks created by our severely lax gun control laws, obtaining an AR-15 assault rifle which he used to unload 15 rounds of ammunition into the Sutherland Springs church.
However, in reaction to this tragedy, President Trump claimed that the root of the problem lies not in gun control laws, but rather that the shooting was the product of a “mental health problem”. Conversely, On October 31st 2017, when Sayfullo Saipov, a Muslim Uzbek national drove a bus down a bike lane in Manhattan, NY killing eight, President Trump immediately took to Twitter calling this man an “animal” who should “get the death penalty”. Trump also cited this incident in his promise to terminate the visa lottery program through which Saipov was able to immigrate to the U.S., advocating for intensive vetting of all immigrants. Compared to Kelly, Saipov had virtually no prior criminal history. If Kelly had been vetted with even a fraction of the vigor with which Trump advocates for Muslim immigrants, one could argue the Sutherland Springs attack may never have occurred at all.
Rather than encouraging the American people to stay united in the aftermath of these tragedies, President Trump has been using these incidents to further scapegoat the Muslim community as the face of terrorism in America, while white terrorists are given a pass on the grounds of diminished mental health. We as a nation must come together to understand that this differential coverage is not rooted in any fragment of fact or reality, but rather functions as a strategic method for dividing Americans, in aims of receiving support for anti-Muslim legislation. If the perpetrators of these numerous acts of violence have taught us anything, it is that the face of terrorism has no race, color, or national origin.
Over the last weekend, our rookie President made his poorly-informed opinion known about the First Amendment rights of NFL, NBA, and MLB players who choose to kneel during the National Anthem at the beginning of professional sports games. Originally an individual effort, former 49er’s Quarterback Colin Kaepernick caused a lot of controversy when he first kneeled to protest “wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States” back in 2016. Since Kaepernick’s interview in August of 2016, America hasn’t exactly made any progress in addressing racial tension, and other professional athletes, some whole teams, have decided to use their platform to draw attention to the issue as well. Unfortunately, this protest serves as an excellent microcosm from which we can explore common themes that perpetuate racism in the United States.
First and foremost, the main message of this protest is distorted and obscured in such a way that centers the feelings of white people. The first way in which it’s distorted is through disqualification. One of the favorite critiques of this protest is that professional athletes make too much money to be complaining about oppression. While it’s understandable that people would be frustrated that those who are far wealthier than them could consider themselves oppressed, it fails to recognize the common fallacy that lies in conflating issues of race and class. Contrary to the narrative of meritocracy, simply being in possession of wealth does not make a person immune from discrimination based on race – especially if it occurred in the past. While it might shelter or prevent someone from facing the negative economic impacts of racial discrimination immediately, it doesn’t nullify or make experiences of racism unreal.
The second way this protest is distorted is through the message itself. Despite protesters being quite clear with their intentions, talking heads like Tomi Lahren, Tucker Carlson, and even Sarah Huckabee Sanders have been complicit in constructing a nationwide strawman that supposes athletes are protesting the flag, American armed forces, and as hyperbolic as it sounds, America in general. As a consequence, hard-working folks have convinced themselves that they are responding in kind by destroying jerseys, coats, and tickets they have already paid for as a symbol of their discontent for the NFL and the players protesting. Without engaging with the issues of systemic discrimination, people have dismissed the argument by insisting those who do not stand for the Pledge or the flag are simply disrespectful of America and the people who serve(d) in our military.
The third and final way this protest is distorted is through obfuscation. People critical of the protests also present a false dichotomy in which players kneeling during the Pledge aren’t doing anything to solve the problems they are protesting. Media attention via depriving America of its favorite pastimes aside, professional athletes are some of the most effective philanthropists in our society. In particular, Colin Kaepernick set up a foundation “to fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism” by donating $1,000,000 to organizations that engage inner-city youth, help homeless people, or advocate for people-based public policy.
If we dive deeper into this controversy, we will find this isn’t the first time it’s happened either. Professional athletes who have used their platform for social activism – particularly racial equity – have been met with hostility. Why? To spectators and fans, athletes are representations of their hometown, an extension of themselves. Especially when it contradicts their narrative, it is completely unacceptable to some people that their political and individual agency encroach upon their duty to entertain and represent their locale. Intentional or not, in tandem with the apathy towards their cause, the suggestion that Black athletes should just ‘stop complaining and do their job’ echoes the sentiments of slave-owners and chain-gang operators of years past.
When we zoom out to look at professional sports at large, the uncritical eye might suggest we’ve reached a level of equity unseen in other industries because Black people are overwhelmingly represented in America’s favorite professional sports. However, this perspective diverges from the way we discern how diverse an industry is. Race theorist and basketball enthusiast Ibram Kendi suggests: “We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sports writers, like the executives.” If those groups “are lily-white, then [a sport] is simply not diverse.”
As the NFL continues its season, and Donald Trump begins to double-down on anti-Constitutional rhetoric, it will be interesting to see how the market responds to looming boycotts and continued controversy. Stay tuned!
Nearly a decade ago, before his notorious interruption of Taylor Swift’s VMA acceptance speech, Kanye West lit news media on fire when he made the proclamation, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” in relation to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Mike Myers’ reaction and the gratuitous memes that followed aside, Kanye was making the point in less than diplomatic words that climate change and natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, or the most recent Hurricane Harvey in Texas, disproportionately affect poor people and communities of color. Before, during and after a storm, racial and economic disparities make experiencing climate change and natural disasters more difficult for people on the marginalized end of the spectrum.
In the days and hours approaching a storm, people do what they can to prepare. Preparation takes many forms – stockpiling necessities, protecting properties and assets, and in dangerous enough situations, evacuating. The CDC suggests you make a disaster-preparedness kit before a disaster strikes, but for people who live on subsistence wages, securing three days’ worth of food or additional prescriptions can be completely unaffordable. This is particularly true when, despite its illegality, merchants choose to inflate the prices of necessary goods in an exponential fashion. For poor neighborhoods that already experience a relative lack of consumer choice, this can be doubly debilitating.
Food and water are not the only necessities susceptible to price gouging. Those who wish to protect their homes are often stuck paying more for things like plywood or generators. Unlike grocery cabinets or medicine in America, you can take out affordable insurance policies for the damage you can’t protect against, so problem solved, right? Sort of. Payouts for claims can be reduced significantly if homeowners don’t shutter their windows and doors. Most homeowner’s insurance policies cover hurricane damage, but not flood damage, and It’s suggested that 80% of people, despite living in a flood-prone area, do not carry a flooding policy.
For millennials laughing at the suggestion of owning property: A 2014 survey suggests that a majority of young adult renters do not carry a renter’s insurance policy – meaning, even if their landlord carries flood insurance, a tenant who loses all of their possessions to a flood on the ground floor would be liable to replace everything. Additionally, auto insurance companies will not cover hurricane damage without a comprehensive insurance policy. Many insurance companies go into a sales freeze for customers in the path of an announced hurricane meaning the only way to save your car might be to escape with it.
Evacuating can become a luxury in a disaster situation. While the physical infrastructure of our roads make it difficult for everyone to leave, trying to get out of town on public transportation can spell trouble for people who depend on it for affordability or accessibility. In the wake of Katrina, public transportation systems and railroads shut down before people could leave the city. Those who wound up in the Superdome fiasco were likely there from a lack of alternative options. Unfortunately, due in part to a lack of preparation and the erratic nature of natural disasters, Houston did not have an evacuation plan. “The people most likely to be found dead are the elderly, the infirm and the people who were isolated from others — along with folks who didn't have the means or wherewithal to flee”.
At the end of the storm there is a lot to deal with, but recovery from the storm favored those with money in hand. People living on subsistence wages haven’t been working for however long they’ve been displaced, ineffective emergency management allowed for people to receive paltry settlements for their damaged or destroyed property, and entire neighborhood support systems have been dissolved and spread across the United States. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, rental units saw an average increase on prices by 40%, and people weren’t able to come back to the same public housing they left. Public housing as it existed before Katrina was razed and replaced with fewer units and the value of private property skyrocketed. For some, coming back to New Orleans was nearly impossible. Eight years after the storm had passed, the percentage of Black People representing New Orleans’ constituency decreased from 66% to 59%
What does that mean for Houston? It’s not looking good. “In Houston 30 percent of residents live below the poverty line. And like New Orleans and indeed most other urban centers in the US, poverty in Houston is overwhelmingly and disproportionately racialized”. There are already reports of tenants being evicted from their rental housing. While I’m sure Kanye won’t be doing any soliciting for donations this time around, we don’t really need him to tell us what Donald Trump thinks of racial minorities. Along with an outright dismissal of environmental and disaster mitigation specialists, there was no director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency until the early part of June – three weeks into hurricane season.
If you are interested in assisting with aid efforts, donate to agencies that speak to your values and assure they are using your donation to provide services and not pay for overhead. Check out the Charity Navigator for further information.
Like many other law schools around the country, UC Berkeley School of Law (Boalt) reconvened on Monday, August 21, and I was among the 304 new 1L students, 64% of which are women and 42% of which are people of color (part of the reason I chose to attend Boalt). Though I’m exhausted, I feel inspired and humbled by my classmates and professors, and I am filled with excitement for the next two years and nine months.
As a 1L, I am assigned to a “module” of about 30 other students with whom I share all my classes. Although the classes 1Ls take each semester vary from module to module, every student will take Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Property, and Contracts throughout their first year. Additionally, all 1Ls take Legal Research & Writing in the fall and Oral Advocacy in the Spring. My “mod” convenes for Torts, and we take Property and Civil Procedure with two other modules to comprise one “super-mod.” Additionally, our Legal Research & Writing classes comprise students from all three mods in our super-mod.
The workload, as expected, has been immense. We have already completed several writing assignments and dozens of case briefs. For Civil Procedure, my class was assigned an entire book to read this week, in addition to our typical amount of weekly reading. That being said, it has been incredibly interesting, valuable, and fulfilling to apply what I’m learning inside the classroom to the work I had the opportunity to be involved with at the Civil Rights Justice Center. While many of my classmates have lamented that their experiences as legal assistants did not prepare them for law school, I have applied the knowledge I gained at the CRJC to my classwork every single day. Moreover, my professors have done a remarkable job of applying course themes to current events and legal activism. As someone whose interest in becoming an attorney stems from my belief in the law as a tool of social justice, I have loved it.
One way that I believe Boalt is special is the collegial sense of community at the law school. This week, our new Dean hosted four dinners at his home—one for each super-mod and one for faculty. At our super-mod dinner, I spoke with professors and classmates about the ways past Boalt students have bolstered each other, and the ways we can do so in the coming months and years. This collaborative, kindhearted culture is what is deeply needed in the legal profession, and I am so glad to be attending a school that values compassion as much as it values hard work. As I take my next steps towards advancing my career in social justice and civil rights, I know I am doing so at a school and amongst peers that want to see me succeed.
7:20 – After snoozing my alarm once or twice, I get up and get ready. I’m exhausted, but I know I have to be on the road before 8:00 AM.
7:55 – I grab a granola bar and leave the house in time to beat commute traffic, which somehow gets ten times worse by 8:00. During my drive, I listen to podcasts and mentally recite the issues and rules of cases I had to brief for today. My professors occasionally cold call—not to embarrass us, but to make sure the class discussion isn’t dominated by a few confident voices.
8:15 – I arrive at the off-campus parking structure, four blocks from the law school. My dad used to park in this same structure when he was earning his Bachelor’s Degree here!
8:35 – After buying a very large coffee and putting my books in my locker, I make it to my first class (Property) just early enough to complain with my seat neighbors about the amount of reading we were assigned. In class, we discuss the “dibs doctrine” and the varying degrees of property rights. One of our assigned cases for today was Popov v. Hayashi, and my classmate suggests that the Court could have deferred to standard MLB rules to determine whether the plaintiff had achieved full control over the ball in question. Seriously, my peers are so cool and smart.
9:50 – I fill up my water bottle during passing period and walk to our next class, Civil Procedure. Two classmates and I quickly discuss the plan for completing our group project over the weekend. Because I have experience writing Complaints from my time at the CRJC, I offer to get the ball rolling for us.
11:05 – I amble downstairs to our final class of the day (Torts) and grab my book from my locker, which always takes a few tries to open (thanks for nothing, high school). This is a much smaller class than the other two, so I prepare to participate plenty without fear of embarrassing myself. Today, we have an exercise in representing the two parties in a case we had read for today. One of my classmates and I spar over our hypothetical clients, but resolve later to make up over beers the next day.
12:25 – I dawdle outside the classroom with my peers, making plans to attend office hours, study together later, or meet up for Bar Review (a schoolwide weekly bar crawl).
12:45 – There aren’t ever any classes scheduled during the next hour because so many affinity groups, clubs, and journals host lunch meetings. On most days, I’m attending one of these meetings to score some free Thai food and learn something new, but today, I attend a Lexis training (no Thai food, but there is pizza!). All 1L students are required to complete a Lexis or Westlaw training by the end of this week. It’s boring, but I’m inspired to earn my daily search points and get free stuff.
1:45 – The bulk of my day is done and now I can focus my attention on reading and case briefing. I usually love to work in our gorgeous law library, but if I’m feeling restless I’ll sit in the lounge adjacent to the law school’s café, so I can get up and chat with people as needed.
6:00 – Hopefully by this point I’ve finished enough work to leave a casebook or two in my locker. I’ll most likely have to take at least one home anyway, though.
6:20 – I arrive home and recap my day with my boyfriend, which mostly involves telling him what kind of free lunch I got today and whether any of my friends were cold-called.
7:30 – We eat dinner and watch TV while I work on some reading that requires less focus (sorry, Legal Research & Writing).
10:00 – By this time all of our shows are over and I’m back to my desk, concentrating on case briefing for a little while.
12:30 – Ideally, I’ll be showered and in bed by this point! Because I try to get so much of my reading finished on campus, I can usually get nearly seven hours of sleep. This also allows me to keep a full day open on the weekends, although that could change when I eventually join a student-led pro-bono project later this semester!
In the wake of Charlottesville, and the ensuing protests afterwards, your social media feed has probably been full of debates about whether Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and the Alt-Right who applied for a permit in Charlottesville had a right to demonstrate, regardless of the message they were trying to send or the body armor they donned while doing so. If you’ve exhausted yourself fighting with second cousins and high school classmates, take consolation that you are just one of many minds that have grappled with this question.
Free Speech is one of the five protected rights enshrined in our First Amendment, and is indeed one of the things that can make America a great place to live. However free speech is not a uniquely American idea. The Ancient Greeks are attributed with the original creation of free speech – it is the foundation of democracy and gives us intellectual and social space to push the questions surrounding our existential meaning. Clever as they were, they also had problems with its boundaries. Socrates, a philosopher famous for a quote taken during his testimony, “an unexamined life is not worth living”, was sentenced to death for making fun of the king.
Freedom of speech has also been enshrined in International Law. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights lay out the importance of individuals being able to express, share, and receive information and opinions freely. Many other countries have free speech worked into their domestic law. Many of these laws tend to guarantee the same right to free expression that we get in America. Some go so far as to outlaw things like Holocaust Denial or speech aimed at limiting other people’s rights.
In America, we have relatively permissive freedom of speech rules shaped by the Supreme Court, including the protection of hate speech. Terminiello v. Chicago (1949) and Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) both spoke to the way in which America really values the language of the Constitution. The court faced discriminatory language and language critical of the government, respectively, with the precedent that there is no room for policing the language of others so long as it doesn’t present a clear and imminent danger to others.
Speaking specifically to swastikas, the SCOTUS ruled “A community need not wait to be subverted by street riots and storm troopers; but, also, it cannot, by its policemen or commissioners, suppress a speaker, in prior restraint, on the basis of news reports, hysteria, or inference that what he did yesterday, he will do today” in the National Socialist Party v. The Village of Skokie (1977).
They additionally reason that allowing the government to make decisions about what is or isn’t offensive is tricky, as people could be subject to mob rule, i.e. people in a city or a neighborhood could just as easily revert to bigoted ideas about who should be allowed to express themselves in the community. Ironically, because of the precedent it would set to outlaw a specific opinion or perspective, it is in defense of marginalized people that hate speech continues to be protected.
Defending hate speech under the cloak for free speech is not to say that free speech is speech free from consequences. As a result of the Charlottesville rally, a large number of people who were identified as members of ‘the Alt-Right’ have lost their jobs, been publicly disowned by their family, and ousted from their communities. To the unlikely few upset by this, breathe easy knowing that a reporter lost her job in 2011 by participating in a Washington D.C. ‘Occupy’ protest.
An interesting concept when trying to dissect the debate is the Paradox of Tolerance. Philosopher Karl Popper suggests that maintaining a tolerant society is not contingent upon extending that tolerance to people who perpetuate intolerance. In fact it is necessary for the survival of a tolerant society that we “not […] tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
From this author’s perspective: unfortunately, Karl Popper isn’t in congress.
Long story short: Yes, in the United States, hate speech is protected speech unless it puts a person’s life in imminent danger. While there is clearly an argument to be made that the historical context of Nazi propaganda presents a message of danger, the images or speech itself is not tantamount to the genocide they advocate. Whether hate speech deserves to be protected is still a contentious issue, regardless of partisan affiliation, and great minds alike have advocated for either position.
Check out the video from PBS below for more insight!
Americans are infatuated with retributive justice. Our cultural attitudes towards crime and punishment are reflected by a media saturated with images of violence, the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and our metaphorical vice-grip on using state-sanctioned executions as a form of punishment. What many people do not know is the ways in which our prison system continues to arrest people who have served their time in custody.
Incarcerated people and their families are frequently pressed for cash both during and after incarceration. Contrary to our stereotypes surrounding people who have been or are incarcerated, 41 states in the US allow for people to be charged for room and board while they are incarcerated. Additionally, 43 states and the District of Columbia allow defendants to be charged for a public defender – something every person is Constitutionally guaranteed; 44 states can bill for probation services and every state but Hawaii and D.C. charge for mandatory location monitoring after a defendant’s release.
In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled in Bearden v. Georgia courts were not allowed to revoke a person’s probation simply because they lacked the resources to pay for fines or restitution. The crux of this decision’s dysfunction is rooted in the court having to decide if a “petitioner has [made] bona fide efforts to seek employment or borrow money to pay”. There are numerous accounts of people who spent time in jail for things like catching fish out of season, stealing a $2 can of beer, or entering an abandoned building. If you’ve read our post “Privatization and How it Compromises Civil Liberties”, it will come of little surprise to you that over 1,000 courts in the US delegate their work to for-profit probation companies, who are able to send people with unpaid accounts to jail for things as simple as moving violations or a lack of insurance – only perpetuating the cyclical nature of our criminal justice system.
As if having to pay for being incarcerated wasn’t enough, people have distinct and widespread difficulty finding employment after their release. An estimated 60% to 75% of people who exit incarceration are still unemployed a year after their release date. Those who do find work will find their wages are, on average, 20% smaller than what they were used to before incarceration. Why is this the case? Incarceration records become relevant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in two contexts:
In other words, it is technically illegal to discriminate against people for having a criminal history. It’s also perfectly legal for potential employers to ask about convictions on an application. When HR recruiters are looking for ways to cull a stack of applications for one job, criminal convictions are an easy way to eliminate potential employees. All employers are required to do when assessing an applicant is “take into account the nature of the job sought, the type of conviction, and how long it has been since the conviction. In addition, the employer should consider any relevant information submitted by the applicant, such as evidence of rehabilitation or past work experience”.
It does not take much imagination to think about the ways that exiting prison or jail with few employment prospects and hundreds or thousands of dollars of debt would inhibit a person from being successful – regardless of the level of rehabilitation that happened during their incarceration. That being said, some localities have decided to address the disparities faced by people exiting their incarceration with a couple of best practices:
Throughout my career as an attorney, I have spoken at many high schools across the country. I have noticed that the most frequently asked questions are all related to the types of classes students should take if they want to become lawyers. Invariably, a student will ask me what I majored in at Fordham University, and I reluctantly explain that I studied Political Science because my counselor told me that it was the chosen major of most aspiring law students.
In my job search following graduation, I quickly realized that majoring in Political Science (though it was an interesting and enjoyable experience) did not translate to ready job offers. From a practical standpoint, I had entered the job market with no marketable skills. This is why I tell aspiring law students to choose a major that is a balanced combination of interesting, practical, and marketable.
Keep in mind that law school admission isn't guaranteed nor is the desire to actually practice law once you graduate. Maximize your college experience and prepare yourself for both life and law school. Attain skills that enable you to find work in a field you enjoy so that you have viable options should your path toward becoming a lawyer take an unexpected turn.
As for which classes to take—if I had the opportunity to go back to college and do it all over again—I’d major in business and take classes in drama, computer science, communications, debate, office management, marketing, and software development. All of these classes would have benefited me in the practice of law.
Today, I run my own civil rights practice, but my ability to do so was gained on the job by trial and error and by asking the advice of others. In retrospect, it would have been much more helpful to have prepared for this throughout college by taking a greater variety of classes.
What is the WLAD (Washington State Law Against Discrimination) definition of disability?
A disability can be sensory, mental or physical impairment that:
How does the ADA define disability?
The ADA defines a person with a disability as:
How is substantially limited defined?
A disability substantially limits a major life activity: