Roundup: The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Edition

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Racial equality and social justice are part of what fuel reproductive justice. Reverend King, Jr. was a strong and vocal proponent for reproductive justice and understood how critical this was in the fight for freedom and justice.

I start off this morning’s round-up post with an acknowledgement, of course, of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and all he has meant to women, men and children for so many years. I was born the year he died and not a year goes by when I don’t feel that my life is so completely interconnected with his – that those who were born in 1968, like myself, are somehow called to internalize and bring forth his message and his dream as messengers. We all are, of course, messengers and there is hope today as we prepare to welcome President Elect Obama as the leader of the United States that MLK, Jr.’s message of hope and unity can be brought forth not just as a civil rights movement but through the halls of government and into public policy as well.

Racial equality and social justice are part of what fuel reproductive justice as well. MLK, Jr. was a strong and vocal proponent for reproductive justice, including family planning, access to preventive health care and contraception – especially for those in the African American community at the time. He understood how critical these health tools – access to services that allow for women and men to plan for their families and care for their reproductive health – were (and are) in the fight for freedom and justice. 

All of the links below are not solely to stories that feature Rev. King, Jr. but I start with one that has particularly moved me. There is no doubt in my mind that Reverend King would be piqued and moved to comment on the emerging "common ground movement" that developed during the election in 2008 to support Barack Obama’s candidacy and unify despite differences on key social issues. But in this Religion Dispatches article, RD Pulpit: On The Betrayal of King’s Legacy and Culture Wars, Reverend Osagyefu Uhuru Sekou argues eloquently that the only way democracy has ever expanded is through the sound defeat of conservative evangelical positions:

On this day occasioned by the birth of a great American prophet, I am saddened by the cowardice of religious leaders and their betrayal of the best of the democratic tradition. Third Way’s putative call for reconciliation, “Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda for the End of the Culture Wars,” is nothing less than the continued blessing of the religious right’s cultural politics. The substitution of gay marriage, reproductive justice, amnesty, and an end to the ambiguous “war on terror” with workplace rights for gays, abortion reduction, immigrant reform and an end to torture, is yet another articulation of the religious right’s victory in public discourse and policy.

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Religion Dispatches has a series of articles and blog posts up today that examine King’s legacy in the context of the current social conditions. 

In other reproductive rights news and in keeping with the social justice theme of today (and every day on Rewire), an examination of the (finally!) progressive policies on the President’s plate in the Washington Post highlights family planning and reproductive health thoroughly:

But advocacy groups of varying stripes have already begun pressing the administration to end an era in which faith-based groups blocked funding for abortions in the developing world and helped place conservative values — including abstinence-only sex education — at the heart of U.S. health efforts.

There are bills to pass, executive orders to overturn and documents to ratify galore! By March, the article notes, Congress is expected to present President Obama with a bill to "restore tens of millions of dollars for family planning programs to the U.N. Population Fund." These are the funds that have been allocated for the last eight years by Congress only to be withheld by President Bush – which has had a significantly harmful impact of millions of women’s and families’ lives who have gone without family planning and preventive health services now for years because of Bush’s committment to the hard core religious right and reliance on ideology over facts. 

Want a jolt of reality with your morning coffee? Read the AP article on Salon.com: "Future of abstinence-only funding is in limbo" this morning (or later morning, depending on where you are!). David Crary explores the future of federal abstinence-only funding in our new science and evidence-based federal government, accounting for the fact that there are some states (*cough* Georgia) which will cling to the unfortunate reliance upon abstinence-only programs despite their proven failure. Crary writes:

With the exit of the Bush administration, critics of abstinence-only sex education will be making an aggressive push to cut off federal funding for what they consider an ineffective, sometimes harmful program.

How quickly and completely they reach their goal is uncertain, however, as conservative supporters of abstinence education lobby Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to preserve at least some of the funding, which now totals $176 million a year.

And even if federal funding is halted, some states — such as Georgia — are determined to keep abstinence programs going on their own, ensuring that this front in the culture wars will remain active…

Obama is considered an advocate of comprehensive sex education, which — unlike abstinence-only curriculum — includes advice to young people about using contraceptives if they do engage in sexual activity.

And as a slap in the face to Dr. King’s dream of equity and social justice, a story from my part of the world. Washington state Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire has decided the best way to face the economic hardships facing our state are by cutting social service programs for our most vulnerable. To that end, news is that key family planning programs are being eliminated that serve low-income women and the majority of nurses who staff those programs are being laid off. From an article in the tricityherald.com:

Faced with a projected $5.7 billion state revenue shortfall, DSHS’ Health Care and Recovery Services Administration was told to cut $200 million from its budget in the first six months of 2009. The more than $1 million family planning nurse program was one of the services that hit the chopping block.

In fact, the article states that "55 family planning nurses who staff the 57 Community Service Offices statewide" will "no longer will be there to provide Medicaid-eligible people with birth control pills or emergency contraception." State officials say services will still be available at Planned Parenthood and primary care doctors’ offices. That could not be farther from the truth, however. Planned Parenthood and primary care doctor’s offices cannot afford to take Medicaid patients because of low reimbursement from the government. Planned Parenthood does have sliding scale fees but while they serve lower income clients, there is no way they have the capacity to serve the hundreds and hundreds of Medicaid-eligible women who rely on community clinics each year for family planning. And primary care doctors’ offices? Why would a woman who can afford a primary care doctor’s office be at a community clinic in the first place – isn’t that the point of a community clinic? 

And to wrap-up the round-up this morning, I leave you with Adam Howard’s moving post on Alternet this morning, Reclaiming King: Beyond ‘I Have A Dream’. Howard’s father was also a Baptist minister and he reminds us that the Rev. King idolized by Sens. Obama and Clinton during the campaign was a little different than the King of later years:

The King they all hope to be identified with is the beatific, gloriously positive King of 1963, but I am fairly certain that none of them would be as comfortable linking themselves to the irascible, fiercely anti-war and increasingly radical King of 1968.

Dr. King’s legacy lives uniquely in each of our minds and we all choose to be messengers of his vision in our own ways. But it is important not to forget that most crucial of all was Dr. King’s commitment to justice and equality for the most vulnerable among us, first and foremost. As Howard writes, "King was a fighter, and he would not relent in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles." And so it is with any commitment to justice and equality for all – the fight is long and far from over but with love and respect and a deep responsibility to each other we find the strength to continue on.

News Human Rights

Remaining Charges Dropped Against Officers in Freddie Gray Case

Michelle D. Anderson

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray will not go to trial as originally planned.

Chief Deputy State Attorney Michael Schatzow of the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office said during a court hearing Wednesday that his office would not prosecute Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White or attempt to retry Officer William Porter, whose case ended in a mistrial in December.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had charged Miller, White, and Porter, along with Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lt. Brian Rice, in Gray’s May 2015 death in police custody.

The officers faced an array of charges, ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder and reckless endangerment to second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter.

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All of the officers pleaded not guilty.

Judge Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Nero, Goodson, and Rice during bench trials that ended in May, June, and July, respectively. Miller’s trial was set to begin Wednesday; White, October 13, and Porter, September 6.

Gray, who was Black, died of a neck injury a week after being taken into police custody in April 2015. The 25-year-old’s death led to widespread protest and civil disobedience against racial injustice and a number of reforms in Baltimore and across Maryland.

Mosby, in filing charges against the officers, attempted to hold law enforcement accountable for failing to secure Gray in a seat belt after transporting him in a police van following his arrest, among other alleged negligent acts. Prosecutors charged that Gray was illegally detained before police officers found a knife in his pocket.

Mosby stood by her decision to bring charges against the six officers during a brief press conference held near the Gilmor Homes public housing project, where Gray was taken into police custody.

“We stand by the medical examiners determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby said.

She touted her team’s success during the trials, including an appellate court victory that led some officers to testify against one another and asserted that a summary judgment was among many reasons she had “legitimate reasons” to pursue criminal charges.

Mosby praised the reforms that had come over the past year, including a new “use of force” policy Baltimore police instituted this year. The new policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability. It marks the first rewrite of the policy since 2003.

“For those that believe I am anti-police, that’s simply not the case. I am anti-police brutality,” Mosby said.

The conference was the first time Mosby had spoken in months, since a gag order imposed by Williams had kept prosecution and defense alike from commenting on the police trials.

The decision to drop charges stemmed from “an apparent acknowledgement” that convictions were unlikely for the remaining officers, the Baltimore Sun reported.

This was because the prosecution would face major challenges during Miller’s trial since they wouldn’t be able to use anything he said on the witness stand during Nero’s trial in an attempt to convict him. Miller had spoken during Nero’s trial in an immunized testimony and with protections against self incrimination, the Sun reported.

Williams said in previous trials that prosecutors failed to show sufficient evidence to support their stance that the officers acted recklessly and caused Gray’s death. He said prosecutors wanted him to rely on “presumptions or assumptions” and rejected the notion that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride” in the police vehicle, according to numerous news reports.

The decision to drop charges drew criticism from many activists and citizens alike, but drew praise from the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 union, which had repeatedly urged the prosecution to drop charges.

Baltimore Bloc, a local grassroots group, said in a statement this spring that Mosby should be removed from office for failing to secure convictions against officers and continued to criticize her on Twitter after the announcement that charges would be dropped.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.