New York City Can Finally Move Ahead With Stop-And-Frisk Settlement

NEW YORK — Lawmakers and advocates rejoiced Friday after a federal appeals court refused to allowNew York City police unions to intervene in the city’s sweeping stop-and-frisk settlement. The decision removed the last major obstacle for Mayor Bill de Blasio in reforming the police department’s use of the tactic, and in fulfilling a campaign promise that helped him win the mayor’s race a year ago.

“Today’s ruling rejects the police unions’ baseless attempts to obstruct stop-and-frisk reforms,” said Priscilla Gonzalez of the group Communities United for Police Reform. “The decision puts us on the road forward to engage in a citywide process to identify concrete changes that will protect the constitutional and civil rights of all New Yorkers.”

Last year, U.S. District Judge Schira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional and amounted to an “indirect policy of racial profiling.” She ordered remedies and a federal monitor to oversee the department.

Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg appealed. But de Blasio dropped the appeal months later, after coming into office. The new mayor used Scheindlin’s ruling as a blueprint for a sweeping settlement that includes an independent monitor, a pilot program for police body cameras, and a process to repair police-community relations.

Two police unions — the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association — had sought to join the lawsuit, and block the settlement.

But on Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled unanimously that allowing the unions to join the lawsuit would effectively nullify New York City voters’ election of de Blasio, who had promised to drop Bloomberg’s appeal.

“Granting the unions’ motions in the wake of the November 2013 mayoral election would essentially condone a collateral attack on the democratic process and could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democratically‐elected representatives of the people,” the appeals court says in its decision.

“Now, after the unions’ unnecessary obstructionism, all New Yorkers can work together to end racially discriminatory policing and bring meaningful reform and accountability to the NYPD,” Baher Azmy, Center for Constitutional Rights legal director, said in a statement. The center was a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Jonathan Moore, an attorney who represented one of the plaintiffs, said the decision shows the police unions “have no real interest in this case.”

“We look forward to working with the city and a variety of invited stakeholders -– including the unions –- to craft substantive remedies to decades of unconstitutional policing,” Moore said.

Pat Lynch, spokesperson for the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement that the union would “continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate the rights of NYC police officers.”

The number of police stops ballooned during Bloomberg’s 12 years as mayor. In 2011, the NYPD stopped New Yorkers nearly 700,000 times. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped were black or Latino, and the vast majority had done nothing wrong.

City council members who had been outspoken critics of stop-and-frisk said they were gratified by the ruling.

“I’m very pleased New York will now be able to move forward to heal frayed bonds of trust between police and communities and work together to keep the city safe while respecting the civil rights of all residents,” said Council Member Brad Lander. He and Council Member Jumaane Williams helped pass the Community Safety Act, aimed at reining in the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk.

Williams told HuffPost Friday that stop-and-frisk opponents “have won on every part of the spectrum — legally on several occasions, in the ballot box, and by legislation.”

“So my hope is that [the police unions] finally become productive partners and move forward,” Williams said. “We want them to come to the table and they keep putting on boxing gloves.”

The case will now be sent to U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres to implement the settlement.

Women’s Rights Group Demands Investigation Into Rape Allegations At Detention Center

A women’s rights group is demanding that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights investigate allegations of sexual abuse at a Texas immigrant detention center that houses families.

In a press statement issued Friday, UltraViolet pointed to multiple allegations of abuse contained in an open letter published by the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund earlier this month against Karnes County Residential Center.

“The Department of Homeland of Security has a rape problem, with a huge number of allegations of sexual assault being reported out of Karnes,” Karin Roland, organizing director at UltraViolet, told The Huffington Post. “They need to investigate this immediately.”

The Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund wrote an open letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier this month alleging that at least three employees harassed or abused “numerous” women at the detention center since August.

The letter alleges detention center guards removed female detainees from their cells in the middle of the night to engage in sexual acts with them, groped them in front of their children, and requested sex in exchange for money or assistance with their immigration cases.

After the women reported the allegations of abuse, the MALDEF letter says, authorities at the detention center failed to address the problem.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman declined to discuss ongoing investigations earlier this month when the letter was first published, but said the center had implemented protections against sexual abuse consistent with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

“ICE remains committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner,” ICE said in a statement. “ICE has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault and our facilities are maintained in accordance with applicable laws and policies. Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken.”

UltraViolet is circulating a petition demanding that DHS investigate the sexual abuse allegations. The petition had fielded more than 41,000 signatures as of Friday, the group said.

The Obama administration is expanding the family immigrant detention this year due to an sharp rise in the number of Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the MALDEF letter alleged three women had experienced abuse at the detention center. In fact, the letter alleges three employees had harassed or abused “numerous” women.

Dia de los Muertos: Honoring Our Loved Ones by Voting to End the War on Drugs

Like many Latinos throughout the Americas, I will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos this year by building an altar in honor of those whom I hold most dear in my life that have left this world but not left me. And spending the past year working on drug policy reform at the Drug Policy Alliance has left me with a need to also mourn for all those who have fallen victim to the failed policies of the war on drugs.

From Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO to the missing 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, the number of people whose lives have been ruthlessly taken from us as a result of the drug war has continued to grow at an unconscionable rate. In recent years, over 70,000 have been killed by drug war related violence, 250,000 have been deported just for drug possession, and in the last year alone, over 40,000 children have been reported to have migrated north in search of safe refuge only to find a different kind of violence in detention centers.

But we have an answer that can mitigate the bloodshed — repeal marijuana prohibition and take a step closer to ending the failed war on drugs.

On Tuesday, November 4, U.S. voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard and vote for elected representatives who will ultimately determine whether to continue the failed war on drugs or move towards ending it, and in places like Alaska, Washington D.C. and Oregon, voters will directly hold the fate of marijuana prohibition in their hands.

But voting to repeal prohibition isn’t just about marijuana. It’s about ending the criminalization of our communities, stopping the killings, and ensuring that our tax dollars are spent on our children’s education — not their incarceration.

Below are three reasons why Latinos should vote for elected officials who support ending prohibition, and why we should vote to end prohibition in Oregon, Washington D.C., and Alaska.

Marijuana prohibition discriminates against African-Americans and Latinos

People of color are disproportionately targeted for citation and arrests for marijuana. Nationwide, Blacks are nearly four times more likely to be arrested or cited for marijuana use than whites even though their usage rates are equivalent. It is very difficult to capture numbers when it comes to the Latino population because in many cases, Latinos are falsely categorized as white.

However, recent data from New York (one of only two states that have Latino arrest data available) indicates that Latinos are arrested at nearly four times the rate of whites for marijuana, it’s nearly five times the rate for Blacks. Getting arrested for a minor drug offense can lead to a criminal record — which will make it difficult for people to get a job, rent an apartment, go to college, and even apply for a credit card.

Police are wasting time and energy on marijuana arrests

Every forty two seconds, someone gets arrested or cited for marijuana. Police are wasting time and energy putting people in jail for nonviolent possession/use of marijuana. This time could be better spent on what we really need in our communities: patrolling for and preventing assaults and theft, pursuing violent criminals, and working on unresolved cases.

Prohibition is feeding the cartels and a waste of tax payer’s money

The tax dollars wasted on arresting, incarcerating and deporting people for simple marijuana possession means that much less is being used for more productive initiatives that will truly make our communities safer and our economies stronger.

Repealing prohibition would deal a huge blow to the underground drug market and help stop the violence that has been devastating Latin America for the past decade and sending unaccompanied children north in search of refuge.

All voters, including Latino voters, have the opportunity to take a huge steps towards ending the failed war and drugs. Voting is our most powerful weapon against mass incarceration, deportations, and ruthless cartels.

So, while I will be building an altar in honor of all those whose lives were taken from them by drug war violence on November 1, I will be voting for justice on November 4. I hope you do so too.

Jeronimo Saldaña is the legislative and organizing coordinator for the movement building team at the Drug Policy Alliance.

‘Ladyparts Justice’ Parody Shows Just How Scary Personhood Legislation Really Is

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern satire from reality when it comes to women’s issues. As three states could decide that life legally begins at conception, a new parody conveys the rather frightening possibilities of the personhood amendments with a bit of humor.

Created by Ladyparts Justice the “Personhood Cops” sketch follows a police officer as she arrests a couple after they have unprotected sex. The personhood legislation will be on ballots in North Dakota, Colorado and Tennessee and states that life begins at conception, essentially criminalizing abortion and possibly leading to a ban on birth control.

Shot in the gritty, ride along style of “Cops,” “Personhood Cops” follows police officers enforcing the new law. “Now that the law is life begins at conception, from the second that sperm touches that egg, it’s got the same constitutional rights as you and me,” one explains.

In the clip, the cop arrests the couple on three counts: 1. Endangering the life of a child (drinking after sex); 2. Exposing oneself to a minor (being naked in bed); and 3. Murder (having an IUD). While the video is an exaggerated satire, it’s not too far from what could happen if this legislation is passed.

So, yes, your vote matters. Get out and vote on Nov. 4.

H/T WifeyTV

Will you be voting on November 4th? We want to know! Join the conversation on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #WhyImVoting.

Why a New Credit Card Study Isn’t Really About Credit Cards

My new study out this week from Demos and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) looks at credit card debt in the Latino community. But it isn’t ultimately about credit cards at all.

Instead, it’s a look at how our unemployment insurance system has failed to protect out-of-work Americans, how vast sectors of our economy fail to offer employees health coverage, and how wages have failed to keep up with the cost of living. It’s an account of how Latinos, who are disproportionately uninsured, disproportionately employed in low-wage jobs, and historically face difficulty in accessing mainstream credit opportunities, are among those bearing the brunt of these trends. And it’s a look at how discriminatory treatment and fraud continue to plague Latinos in the United States, even when dealing with large and mainstream financial services companies. Finally, amidst the multiple economic failures described above, the study is a hopeful glimpse at how common-sense regulation can work successfully to help households save money and pay down debt. And okay, maybe it’s also about credit cards.

First, consider unemployment.

The study finds that unemployment is a leading contributor to credit card debt among Latino households. Among low- and middle-income Latino households carrying credit card debt, 1 in 3 report that a layoff or other loss of a job contributed to their current credit card debt and one 1 in 5 report job loss was the single greatest contributor to their debt. This isn’t the all-too-typical credit card story about the need for more financial literacy or personal responsibility in spending — instead it speaks to the 2.4 million Latinos who were unemployed, and the additional 2.5 million more who were underemployed in 2012 when the survey data was collected. The National Employment Law Project finds that due to a combination of language barriers, lack of familiarity with the program, and other factors, Latinos are less likely than Americans of other backgrounds both to apply for unemployment benefits and to receive benefits when they do apply. Even when unemployed workers do apply and qualify for benefits, payments may be too low to enable households to make ends meet, and benefits may run out before workers are able to find another job.

The result? For low- and middle-income Latinos — and many other indebted Americans–credit cards become a privatized “plastic safety net” to pay for groceries and other necessities when the public safety net is insufficient. But unlike unemployment insurance or food stamps, credit card borrowing comes with high interest charges — at rates that turn out to be significantly higher for Latino and African American borrowers than for whites.

Credit cards are also used to make up for inadequate wages when workers are on the job. In 2012, the median Latino man earned just 67 cents for every dollar paid to a non-Hispanic white man, while the median Latina earned just 59 cents. It’s troubling — but not surprising — to learn that among low- and middle-income Latino households with credit card debt, 43 percent report using their credit cards to pay for basic living expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, groceries or utilities in the past year because they didn’t have enough money in their checking or savings accounts. The Department of Labor notes that 6.8 million Latino workers would benefit if Congress raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, including not just workers earning minimum wage but those paid just above the minimum who would also see their paychecks rise.

For more on how credit card use in the Latino community reflects disparities in health insurance coverage, the growing racial and ethnic wealth gap, and unequal access to credit, see the report itself. And if you’re wondering about the impact of credit card debt on other communities, such as African Americans and senior citizens, see the earlier reports in our series.

But if you’ve been waiting for the good news on Latinos and credit cards, here it is: credit card reform legislation passed in 2009 has succeeded in adding new protections for borrowers and making credit cards a safer, fairer financial product. Latino credit cardholders have especially benefitted, reporting that they are now paying down debt more quickly and saving money by avoiding unfair fees. As a result of new disclosures and reduced fees in the mandated by the CARD Act, 38 percent of low- and middle-income Latino households with credit card debt report that they are paying more toward their credit card balances in a typical month, 41 percent say they are charged late fees less often, and 36 percent report they are charged over-the-limit fees less frequently — benefits greater than those reported by credit card borrowers as a whole.

While financial services reform alone fails to address the deeper issues of why Latino households find themselves turning to credit cards to make up for larger shortcomings in job quality and the public safety net, it does offer a small indicator of how smart public policy can make a concrete and positive difference on people’s lives. If we intelligently regulate credit card fees, borrowers will save more and pay less of them. If we improve the public safety net and improve job quality, households may not have to turn to credit cards and other forms of debt to make ends meet in the first place. 

Detention Center Forced Immigrants To Work For $1 Per Day Or Face Solitary Confinement, Lawsuit Says

A group of former immigrant detainees is suing the owner of a Colorado detention center, alleging that it forced them to work for $1 per day and coerced them using the threat of solitary confinement if they refused to comply.

The civil lawsuit filed last week demands that the GEO Group, the corporation that owns the 1,500-bed Aurora Detention Facility, pay back the immigrants’ lost wages as well as damages. Altogether, the claims total more than $5 million.

“This is an uncomplicated case of unpaid minimum wages,” the complaint says.

Authorities at the detention center required detainees to clean all areas of the center, including the medical facility, bathrooms and showers, according to the complaint. Others helped prepare meals, performed clerical work or served as barbers, among other jobs, the complaint says.

For their services, GEO Group paid the detainees $1 per day, the lawsuit says. In some instances, the plaintiffs say they received no payment at all. Those that refused to work sometimes faced threats, the complaint says, including solitary confinement.

The lawsuit says the GEO Group justified the arrangement as a volunteer program in which the $1 daily salary amounted to a stipend rather than a wage. The lawsuit contends that the scheme violates federal and state minimum wage laws.

GEO Group denied the allegations in a statement emailed to The Huffington Post, saying its volunteer program complied with federal law.

“The volunteer work program at immigration facilities as well as the wage rates and standards associated with the program are set by the Federal government,” the statement says. “Our facilities adhere to these standards as well as strict contractual requirements and all standards set by ICE, and the agency employs several full-time, on-site contract monitors who have a physical presence at each of GEO’s facilities.”

The GEO Group, which is the country’s second-largest for-profit prison company, reported $1.52 billion in revenue last year, according to the complaint. The Aurora facility houses immigrant detainees on behalf of U.S. immigration authorities.

The lawsuit comes as President Barack Obama’s administration plans an expansion of family detention due to an influx Central American families crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

UPDATE: This post was updated on Friday at 4:45 p.m. to add a comment from GEO Group.

Mexico Supreme Court Rejects Energy Referendum

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a bid to hold a national referendum on a major energy overhaul that opened the sector to widespread private investment for the first time in 76 years.

In identical 9-1 rulings, the court found that referendum petitions filed by two leftist parties were unconstitutional because matters involving state revenue cannot be subjected to popular vote. Energy reform’s passage in August has been President Enrique Pena Nieto’s biggest political victory since taking office in 2012.

It allows national and foreign private companies to invest in petroleum and electricity projects, something that was long considered taboo after oil was nationalized in 1938 by then-President Lazaro Cardenas.

Mexico’s political left strenuously opposed the overhaul and had sought a referendum asking citizens if they approve of the constitutional changes it entailed. By law, the Supreme Court must determine whether such a vote would be constitutional.

Sen. Dolores Padierna of the opposition Democratic Revolution Party criticized the ruling, saying the issue at stake is not government income but rather “our natural resources … (and) their use for the nation’s benefit.”

Proponents of the changes say private investment and expertise is needed to reverse a steady decline in oil and gas production by state petroleum monopoly Pemex in recent years.

Analysts say energy investment has the potential to reach $15 billion a year under the new rules.