While the Governor of Missouri is sending in the National Guard to Ferguson, it is worth considering where the real violence is coming from.
One. Hours before the 12pm Sunday night curfew went into effect, peaceful nonviolent protestors were legally marching in Ferguson. Then without warning the police turned on the marchers. Purvi Shah, a human rights lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, was marching with hundreds of others and reported just after 10pm: “Just got tear gassed. Eyes burning. No warnings. People running with someone in wheelchair. This is lawlessness. Police fired on peaceful protestors.”
Two. The police tear gas canisters hit an eight year old child walking with his mother according to Yahoo.
Three. Two reporters were arrested at about 10pm Sunday night.
Four. Reporters in the peaceful march also got a taste of tear gas.
Five. Police threatened to shoot another journalist in the face because the police thought his camera light was on. Christopher Hayes with MSNBC was told to “get back! Or next time you’re going to be the one maced.”
Six. There is a serious case to be made that the police got jittery and overreacted thus causing the very violence they decry. The police initially said they had to take action because there were gunshots, but reporters indicate that there were fireworks which were confused as gunshots. The police later retracted the earlier report of gunshots. The police also reported people were throwing Molotov cocktails at police but no one ever saw any and many reports show only protestors throwing back the tear gas canisters which were fired at them by police.
Seven. The reasons for the protests we see in Ferguson is as American as apple pie. Almost 50 years ago, the 1968 Kerner Report on protests, rebellions and riots declared: “police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection—one for Negroes and one for whites.”
Eight. Sending in the National Guard will never solve this. The USA cannot police our way to the end of the Ferguson problems. The same 1968 Kerner identified 6 deeply held grievances of the communities where conflict broke out: police practices, unemployment and underemployment, inadequate housing, inadequate education, poor recreation facilities and programs, ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms. These demand justice, not the National Guard.
Nine. The problems shown to the nation by the Ferguson community contain their own solutions. “When all else fails to organize people, conditions will.” Marcus Garvey
Ten. Police violence and National Guard guns and might will never beat the people. As Purvi Shah, after being tear gassed, tweeted: “To the police: you just organized a bunch of freedom fighters. Thanks.”
(A version of this article with footnotes is available).
Here are the top ten examples of corporate welfare and welfare for the rich. There are actually thousands of tax breaks and subsidies for the rich and corporations provided by federal, state and local governments but these ten will give a taste.
One. State and Local Subsidies to Corporations. An excellent New York Times study by Louise Story calculated that state and local government provide at least $80 billion in subsidies to corporations. Over 48 big corporations received over $100 million each. GM was the biggest at a total of $1.7 billion extracted from 16 different states but Shell, Ford and Chrysler all received over a billion dollars each. Amazon, Microsoft, Prudential, Boeing and casino companies in Colorado and New Jersey received well over $200 million each.
Two. Direct Federal Subsidies to Corporations. The Cato Institute estimates that federal subsidies to corporations costs taxpayers almost $100 billion every year.
Three. Federal Tax Breaks for Corporations. The tax code gives corporations special tax breaks which reduced what is supposed to be a 35 percent tax rate to an actual tax rate of 13 percent, saving these corporations an additional $200 billion annually, according to the US Government Accountability Office.
Four. Federal Tax Breaks for Wealthy Hedge Fund Managers. Special tax breaks for hedge fund managers allow them to pay only 15% rate while the people they earned the money for usually pay 35% rate. This is the break where the multimillionaire manager pays less of a percentage in taxes than her secretary. The National Priorities Project estimates this costs taxpayers $83 billion annually and 68% of those who receive this special tax break earn more than $462,500 per year (the top one percent of earners).
Five. Subsidy to Fast Food Industry. Research by the University of Illinois and UC Berkeley documents that taxpayers pay about $243 billion each year in indirect subsidies to the fast food industry because they pay wages so low that taxpayers must put up $243 billion to pay for public benefits for their workers.
Six. Mortgage Deduction. The home mortgage deduction, which costs taxpayers $70 billion per year, is a huge subsidy to the real estate, banking and construction industries. The Center of Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that 77 percent of the benefit goes to homeowners with incomes over $100,000 per year.
Seven. The billions above do not even count the government bailout of Wall Street which all parties have done their utmost to tell the public they did not need, they paid back, or it was a great investment. The Atlantic Monthly estimates that $7.6 trillion was made available by the Federal Reserve to banks, financial firms and investors. The Cato Institute estimates (using government figures) the final costs at $32 to $68 billion, not including the takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which alone cost more than $180 billion.
Eight. Each major piece of legislation contains new welfare for the rich and corporations. The Boston Globe analyzed the emergency tax legislation passed by Congress in early 2013 and found it contained 43 business and energy tax breaks worth $67 billion.
Nine. Huge corporations which engage in criminal or other wrongful activities protect their leaders from being prosecuted by paying huge fees or fines to the government. You and I would be prosecuted. These corporations protect their bosses by paying off the government. For example, Reuters reported that JPMorgan Chase, which made a preliminary $13 billion mortgage settlement with the US government, is allowed to write off a majority of the deal as tax deductible, saving the corporation $4 billion.
Ten. There are thousands of smaller special breaks for corporations and businesses out there. There is a special subsidy for corporate jets which cost taxpayers $3 billion a year. The tax deduction for second homes costs $8 billion a year. Fifty billionaires received taxpayer funded farm subsidies in the past twenty years.
If you want to look at the welfare for the rich and corporations start with the federal Internal Revenue Code. That is the King James Bible of welfare for the rich and corporations. Special breaks in tax code is the reason there are thousands of lobbyists in the halls of Congress, hundreds of lobbyists around each state legislature and tens of thousands of tax lawyers all over the country.
Obama CareThis is a powerpoint explaining Obamacare and how it connects with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and the uninsured.
While Colorado and Washington have de-criminalized recreational use of marijuana and twenty states allow use for medical purposes, a Louisiana man was sentenced to twenty years in prison in New Orleans criminal court for possessing 15 grams, .529 of an ounce, of marijuana.
Corey Ladd, 27, had prior drug convictions and was sentenced September 4, 2013 as a “multiple offender to 20 years hard labor at the Department of Corrections.”
Marijuana use still remains a ticket to jail in most of the country and prohibition is enforced in a highly racially discriminatory manner. A recent report of the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” documents millions of arrests for marijuana and shows the “staggeringly disproportionate impact on African Americans.”
Nationwide, the latest numbers from the FBI report that over 762,000 arrests per year are for marijuana, almost exactly half of all drug arrests.
Even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white people.
For example, Louisiana arrests about 13,000 people per year for marijuana, 60% of them African Americans. Over 84 percent were for possession only. While Louisiana’s population is 32 percent black, 60 percent of arrests for marijuana are African American making it the 9th most discriminatory state nationwide. In Tangipahoa Parish, blacks are 11.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites and in St. Landry Parish the rate of black arrests for marijuana is 10.7 times as likely as whites, landing both parishes in the worst 15 in the country.
In Louisiana, a person can get up to six months in jail for first marijuana conviction, up to five years in prison for the second conviction and up to twenty years in prison for the third. In fact, the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned a sentence of five years as too lenient for a fourth possession of marijuana and ordered the person sentenced to at least 13 years.
Jack Cole of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) argues that “the “war on drugs” has been, is, and forever will be, a total and abject failure. This is not a war on drugs, this is a war on people, our own people, our children, our parents, ourselves.” LEAP, which is made up of thousands of current and former members of the law enforcement and criminal justice communities, has been advocating for the de-criminalization of drugs and replacing it with regulation and control since 2002.
Arrests and jail sentences continue even though public opinion has moved against it. National polling by the Pew Research Center show a majority of people support legalizing the use of marijuana. Even in Louisiana, a recent poll by Public Policy Polling found more than half support legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Karen O’Keefe, who lived in New Orleans for years and now works as Director of State Policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, said “A sentence of 20 years in prison for possessing a substance that is safer that alcohol is out of step with Louisiana voters, national trends, and basic fairness and justice. Limited prison space and prosecutors’ time should be spent on violent and serious crime, not on prosecuting and incarcerating people who use a substance that nearly half of all adults have used.”
Defense lawyers are appealing the twenty year sentence for Mr. Ladd, but the hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests continue each year. This insanity must be stopped.
June 14, 2013
This is what a Movement Lawyer Looks Like
In the 1960s, the term movement lawyer emerged to identify the lawyer that provided legal support to the social movements of the time from civil rights to women rights. Movement lawyers fell along a wide ideological spectrum from Thurgood Marshall as the lawyer for NAACP to William Kunstler. There were less publicly known lawyers such as Leo Branton Jr. who represented Angela Davis. Since then, lawyers who see their work as providing support to social movements have not always used the term to identify themselves. Instead, descriptions like public interest or social justice lawyer are more often heard. This is in large part due to the changing political context of the 1980’s and 1990s, which saw a more conservative political climate combined with a professionalization of the field. In Retrenchment and Resurgence? Mapping the Changing Context of Movement Lawyering in the United States, Michael McCann and Jeffrey Dudas discuss this political shift as going from a “favorable context for rights-based, legally oriented social movement activity” to an “increasingly unsupportive, hostile context by century’s end.” This changed political landscape may inform the new identifications of lawyers. In 2013, as I use movement lawyering to identify my work, it almost feels anachronistic. However, I think now more than ever it is important for to revive it for next generation of lawyers.
Post 60’s, lawyers committed to using law for social change began working around certain issues or causes. Lawyers became siloes in their specific causes – employment, housing, or human rights to name a few. Organizations presented themselves as non-profit organizations or public interest law firms. In my own legal career, I found myself defined as a public interest lawyer to social justice lawyer which are not negative designations and are useful identifications but do not fully capture the necessity of lawyers to work in support of grassroots, broad based movements for social change. Although social movements in the late 90s to early 2000s were diffuse, I understood my work to be informed and in support of a larger movement for socio-economic change both in the United States and globally. The way I entered the work was through my interest in labor rights, but my practice has required me to pick other areas of specialties as needed by the clients, communities, or community based organizations I represented.
It is rare these days for young lawyers to identify themselves as movement lawyers. That is because it is hard to identify what movements they are aligning with. Instead, new graduates committed to public interest focus their attention on securing good public interest jobs. The increased professionalization of public interest and social justice lawyering as a career has some benefits in that it increases the training and opportunities for those interested in this work, but it has a negative impact in that new graduates do not see their work as being part of a broader vision for social change. As a result, I observed many young lawyers feel disillusioned, or “burnt out”
With the founding of Center for Constitutional Rights’ Social Justice Institute, and in their recent second annual conference Movement Lawyering in the 21st Century, there is a possibility to revive, reframe movement lawyering within the current socio-political context. There is a strong need for this type of training to bring together new and experienced lawyers across issue areas to see where there are common areas for support and to share lessons learned. There are also some positive lessons from movement lawyers of an earlier generation that us newer lawyers can learn such as the limitation of a litigation-based strategy. There are ways in which a new generation of movement lawyers can imagine a broader vision for social change. I do think that young lawyers today who are committed to movement lawyering face unique challenges to their work, because they are required to engage their advocacy on multi-levels litigation, policy, education and media, all in conjunction with grassroots organizations with differing ideological views. They are often called upon to draw from a wide range of skills, often not taught in law schools.
Within this context, as a law professor, I think what skills or knowledge is necessary for us in law schools to provide to students. Some traditional skills that law schools teach are helpful such as client centered lawyering. Others such as collaboration, mediation or negotiating different client interests and views are not.
There are ways law schools could do more but I don’t expect that to happen on an institutional level because it is not in the business of law schools to train movement lawyers, except for a handful of law schools whose explicit mission is to gear students towards using their legal education for social change. Still, I think there is alot that can be done at the micro faculty-student level that can be enormously helpful. Students at places where their law school do not see public interest as their explicit mission should organize with other law students and consider ‘teach-ins” and other self-education initiatives to prepare them for social justice work. I am confident that lawyers and educators would welcome and support such student led education initiatives. Even where they may not be any possibilities for institution wide changes, supportive faculty and students can implement simple curricular changes. Here, it is important to note that students can play a pivotal role in demanding classes and training to allow them to be effective public interest or movement lawyers. Afterall, they are paying a hefty price for their education? While not an exhaustive list, below are some areas that legal educators who are committed to developing movement lawyers should incorporate into their curriculum.
Uncertainty of Law – Given that we devote so much time and money to the study of law, it is natural for lawyers to want to hold up law as some fixed, tangible good and continue to reify it to make our delivery of legal services valuable. Our legal system does that by giving judge made decisions precedential effect to create a body of common or positive law that occupies its own fixed space, which we refer to the rule of law. From this body of law, rights are assigned, delineated. But, when we learn that there is an uncertainty to this law, and it is not as homogenous, or neatly packaged as first year doctrinal course or bar exam prep classes would like students to believe, we may feel we lose that tangible good, and therefore, we may not be much of service. However, it is important to teach law to reveal its uncertainties and unpredictability. Making explicit the internal tensions, contradictions within the doctrine are helpful to demystify the law, and to allow students to see openings for advocacy. Simply by asking for example what are the policy imperatives for certain rulings to enforce private contracts – who benefits, what interests are served – and by engaging students in a discussion on this will get them to a robust conversation on law and economics.
Critical Conscientious Subjects – Much of the literature on public interest lawyering asks the lawyer to subsume herself to the movement. Understandably, a lawyers’ privileged position in society, and being the conduit to the legal system for communities often excluded requires lawyers be conscious of their position in the system. Yet, they know the legal system, and should use that knowledge towards movement building efforts in ways that their clients seek. Also, much of the literature assumes that the lawyer lives outside or does not align herself with the community being served. For working class identified or students of color, it does not make sense to create this division between lawyer and community, because they are from the communities that they serve, and need different ways to renegotiate their standing in the community as a lawyer. By teaching students to be critical and conscientious subjects is far more helpful than prescribing some generic relationship to social movements.
Social Movement History and Legal Theory – All students should take a class or conduct their own teach-in on social movement history and/or legal history. To this day, my class on Critical Legal Theory helps me to understand my work. Having this historical and theoretical knowledge allows the student to better understand how laws have operated historically, and what ideologies were employed to maintain certain narratives that denied rights to people and communities. Students will be better equipped to understand their role within movements if they understand the framework within which they are operating.
Power of Story telling and Skill of Engaged Listening – In the first year of law school, students struggle to learn a large amount of doctrine so they can know the law. They read facts only to dutifully convert them like raw materials to legal theories. In this process, they often ignore the details of the client’s story. Key feature of injustice is to render our client voiceless without an opportunity to say – I was wronged. By engaged listening, law students can very simply remedy this. We underestimate the power of listening and its healing and transformative potential. Also client stories are powerful ways to highlight injustices in our system.
There are many more classes and skills that legal educators can focus on, and the challenge for movement lawyers is that the work we do is so diffuse and specialized that is hard to predict the precise set of skills needed. But, at least students equipped with critical thinking and engaged listening skills and a strong footing in movement and legal theory is a good start.