Civil Liberties

Overcoming the Pitfalls in the Oscar Grant Case

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
New America Media

When prosecutors prosecute police officers for the murder of unarmed civilians no matter how cut and dry the evidence against the accused officer, they know that there are colossal pitfalls to getting a conviction. The pitfalls are certainly there in the prosecution of former BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer Johannes Mehserle, who is charged in the videotaped New Year's Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant, a young African American, on a station platform.

Like some cop-on-innocent-victim killings, the case seems to be about as close to a no-lose case for prosecutors. There are compelling videos that show an unarmed and handcuffed Grant face down on the BART platform. Grant does not appear to be resisting the officers. And numerous witnesses confirmed that Grant posed no threat to the officers. BART officials offered the weak explanation that Mehserle might have mistakenly thought that he was reaching for his Taser gun.

The Generation Gap on Immigration

Robert Cruickshank

Sometime in 1987 or 1988, my dad and I drove to Santa Ana for some reason I can no longer recall. While there, we saw the growing Latino community, made up largely of immigrants from Mexico. My dad pointed to a billboard in Spanish and said to me, "when I was a kid this whole area was white and everyone spoke English." My reaction was a shrug - so what if that's how it was in the '60s, this is how it is in the '80s. I didn't care.

It's one of many, many vignettes I recall from my youth in Orange County in the 1980s and 1990s that indicate white unease at the growing Latino presence in their communities - an unease that is still very much there (just a few years ago I was visiting my parents and stood in on a conversation with neighbors worried about their property values because a Latino family moved in down the street). But that unease, so often expressed as anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-immigrant politics, is a very generational thing.

Catholics Expel 8-Year Old Boy for Having Gay Parents

By Dan Aiello

An 8-year old Catholic boy became the latest casualty in his church's war against same-sex marriage when the third-grader was kicked out of his Massachusetts elementary school after school administrators learned his parents are lesbians.

Administrators of St. Paul Elementary, a private Roman Diocese Catholic school in Hingham, Massachusetts, withdrew the student's admission this week after they learned the boy's parents are lesbians.

"We weren’t hiding," stated one of the mothers of the boy, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her son from further harm. She confirmed both parents listed their names on their son’s admission forms. "I’m accustomed to discrimination, I suppose, at my age and my experience as a gay woman, but I didn’t expect it against my child."

Right-Wing Lesbian Bashing at All-Time High

By Tommi Avicolli-Mecca

Every right-wing Christian nutcase with a keyboard and a DSL connection is filling up the internet with their lesbian-phobic remarks about Elena Kagan, President Obama’s nomination for a replacement for retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. No one knows if Kagan is queer (the White House has denied it in a tone that implies that there’s something wrong with being lesbian), but some right-wingers are assuming she is. Perhaps because she is unmarried.

Most of the conservative chattering can be dismissed as plain old bigotry, but some of it is hysterically funny as well. Reading it brings me back to the bad old days of the 50s and 60s before the Stonewall Riots propelled untold numbers of queers out of our closets to permanently ruffle the feathers of the stiff upper lip set like anti-feminist and anti-gay rights activist Phyllis Schlafly.

How to Win the Arizona Boycott

By Randy Shaw

In the past two weeks, the call for an economic boycott of Arizona has spread far beyond the political arena. In addition to labor and immigrant rights groups, it quickly won support from such unusual suspects as pop singers Shakira and Ricky Martin, the NBA’s “Los Phoenix Suns,” and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Polls show African-Americans are even more hostile than Latinos to the racist Arizona law, and conventions from multiple groups are already being switched out of state.

But boycotts typically start with a flurry of activity. Most then dissipate without building the boycott infrastructure necessary to achieve their original goal. For the Arizona boycott to succeed, activists must follow the lessons of the UFW grape and lettuce boycotts of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the South Africa divestment campaign of the 1970s and 1980’s, and the UNITE HERE “Hotel Rising Boycott” of 2006. And the timing is perfect for a “Boycott Summer,” which would boost immigrant rights activism both in Arizona and nationally.

Federal Court to Hear DOMA Challenge

By Paul Hogarth

As Californians await the outcome of the Prop 8 trial, a federal court in Boston will hear a lawsuit tomorrow that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) Brought by lawyers at GLAD (Gay&Lesbian Advocates&Defenders), the equal protection claim represents same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts – but are denied federal benefits, such as Social Security survivor benefits.

Even as states find that gays have a fundamental right to marry, we still do not have real marriage equality if DOMA is on the books – giving this case a more historic significance. And while the Justice Department has toned down its rhetoric defending the law (they no longer equate gay marriage with incest and pedophilia), the Obama Administration still defends Part 3 of DOMA – which says that federal benefits cannot be extended to same-sex couples. Using circular logic, their legal brief argues that a constitutional “right to marry” does not include a “right to marriage benefits” – proving that LGBT activists still have a long way to go.

Will the NRA Stand up for its Members of Color in Arizona When Gun Confiscations Occur?

By Irwin Nowick

Before I explain why guns are an issue in the new Arizona immigration law, I wanted to make a few personal and political points before I get into a legal discussion of the Arizona Immigration Law.  As was the case with the insurance comments of last week, the views expressed here are my own – though I have no doubt that the late Dr. Cavala would agree with the political observations.  What exactly that law encompasses changed on Friday because in what may rival one of the “gut and amend” specials that often occur of necessity in this State, the Arizona Law in SB 1070 was rewritten in Arizona HB 2162 which Governor Jan Brewer signed on Friday.

Activists Face Tough Choices on Immigrant Rights

By Randy Shaw

In April 2006, immigrant rights supporters took to the streets in an unprecedented public demand for legislation that would protect 8-12 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The marches were followed by two national elections in which anti-immigrant Republican Congress members were defeated for re-election by increased Latino voter turnout, and heavily Democratic Latino voting brought Barack Obama four states that George W. Bush carried in 2004.

Yet comprehensive immigration reform remains an even more uphill battle than in 2006. Activists have set nationwide marches for May 1, and are aggressively pressing President Obama for action. But Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law shows that opponents are also on the move, and that winning Senate passage in 2010 or beyond will likely require political compromises that many activists will reject.

President Directs HHS to Enforce Basic Protections in Hospital Stays for LGBT Families

By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

By signing friday a memorandum directing Health and Human Services to ensure the advanced medical directives of a patient are respected and followed, President Obama demonstrated his support for the visitation and healthcare decision-making rights of gay and lesbian Americans who sought the administration's intervention following one Florida couple's tragic experience last year that galvanized the community behind the issue.

Partners Lisa Pond and Janice Langbehn, despite having an advanced healthcare directive in place, found Pond's wishes ignored by the staff of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami following Pond's last admission.  Langebahn, along with the couple’s children, were refused admission to Pond's room and kept from her bedside as she lay dying. 

Prop 8 Supporters Target New Enemy: Impartial Judges of California Courts

By Dan Aiello
California Progress Report

In what has been described as an attempt by right wing religious conservatives to "pack the courts" with judges who will oppose Separation of Church and State and "uphold traditional moral beliefs," an organization created by former Prop 8 activists is working to shift the San Diego Superior Court further to the right with a slate judicial conservative candidates to challenge four moderate incumbents of San Diego County's Superior Court in the June primary.

The candidates of the organization, Better Courts Now, were vetted on issues of Separation of Church and State, abortion, same-sex marriage and "traditional moral values," according to the group's web site and BCN leaders.  In what has become the all-too-familiar alliance between religious fundamentalists and pro-business interests, Better Courts Now candidates also pledged their opposition to "end frivolous lawsuits against California businesses."