West Virginians For Life Skirts Lobbying Laws, But Courts Publicity

Megan Carpentier

Lobbyists for West Virginians for Life have failed to register in the state as required by a law intended to foster transparency. Is it ok to violate "man's laws" in the interest of "God's work?"

West Virginians For Life, the main anti-abortion group in West Virginia, has spent much of the political season advocating for passage of an ultrasound law in West Virginia. The legislation, which would require women be offered an ultrasound before an abortion, has the support of Democratic Governor Joe Manchin, Democratic Jeff Kessler (Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman) and Roman Prezioso (Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman) and 11 delgates in the House, including some Democrats. What it doesn’t have is a single registered lobbyist from West Virginians for Life working on it, since they claim they don’t need to register.

Karen Cross, the President of West Virginians for Life and the Political Director of the National Right to Life Committee–who also used to be the executive director of West Virginians for Life–told the Charleston Gazette that she need not register because her elected position is not remunerated, calling it her “volunteer work.” She then insisted that none of the people who lobby for West Virginians for Life are registered because none of them are paid.

Cross is technically right that one of the lobbying registration standards is that lobbyists must be paid, but it’s hardly the only standard. According to the West Virginia Ethics Commission, lobbyists have to register in the state if they are compensated for lobbying or if they spend money on legislators.

If Cross or her co-workers attended any functions with legislators to
which all the legislators involved weren’t invited, and spent any money to get there or at the event (like buying a round), they would be required to register; even if they weren’t paid to lobby but spent more than $150 on expenses to lobby, they would have to register; and if they spent more than 20 days and spent some money on lobbying, they would have to register. In addition, and unlike federal laws, if organizations spend more than $200 a month, or $500 in three months, to conduct a grassroots campaign — including on mailings, bulk emails(which, if run through a service, can cost money), advertising, a website or any other public relations efforts to influence legislation– they are required to register as lobbyists in the state. It is not a far leap to suggest that West Virginians for Life, including Karen Cross, are operating an undisclosed lobbying effort and grassroots campaign in violation of state ethics law.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Tax records show that West Virginians for Life is incorporated under federal law as a 501(c)4, a non-profit organization type developed specifically to get around lobbying and political activity restrictions on 501(c)3s. The only paid staff member is Melissa Adkins, identified in tax documents as the Executive Director — but identified on West Virginians for Life’s website as their “Legislative Coordinator.” Her role sounds exactly like a lobbyist:

WVFL Legislative Coordinator, Melissa Adkins, works with legislators to pass pro-life legislation and to defeat pro-choice legislation. WVFL coordinates a Pro-life Rally and Day at the Legislature in February at the state capitol. WVFL coordinates grassroots lobbying efforts through dissemination of legislative alerts, compilation and distribution of legislative voting records, maintenance of phone trees, and the posting of information on WVFL’s web page. Currently, WVFL is working with pro-life legislators to offer Informed Consent, Parental Notification, and Pro-Life License Plate bills.

For her work in 2009, Ms. Adkins received $20, 535 and worked 40 hours per week. Brian Louk is currently listed as the Executive Director on West Virginians for Life’s website, as well as treasurer of their Political Action Committee.

In addition Ms. Adkins’ lobbying-like role, West Virginians for Life’s website is more dedicated to promoting their legislative agenda than their educational efforts: their front page leads with information about the ultrasound bill, and much of the real estate is dedicated to information about abortion in the federal health care reform legislation and calls for their members to get involved in that fight as well. Their “Facts and Statistics” center — the only locally-hosted part of the site that isn’t about the organization, its legislative priorities and grassroots organizing efforts or how to donate — is rife with factual distortions like a purported link between abortion and breast cancer, claims that fetuses feel pain more intensely than children and scare-tactics about “Post Abortion Syndrome.”

Karen Cross’ job with the D.C.-based National Right to Life Committee doesn’t seem to take up all of her time, even if it is the source of her salary. The NRLC’s tax records show that Cross’ position as political director takes up an average of 1 hour of her time every week, for which she received the princely salary of $80,000, in addition to unspecified “other compensation from the organization and related organizations” to the tune of $30,570. In other words, her role as the Political Director of the NRLC, of which West Virginians for Life is an affiliate, provided her with $110,570 in 2009, and required her to work an hour a week. It likely left her a great deal of time to “volunteer” in West Virginia.

Her Facebook page also promotes her interest in and work on the West Virginia ultrasound bill — in addition to pictures of Cross posing with Delegate Mike Ross, Senators Mike Oliverio and the ultrasound legislation sponsor Kessler and Governor Manchin (a more ironic photograph features a cake with edible babies on it). Her “President’s Statement” on West Virginians for Life’s site is dedicated almost exclusively to national health care reform and links to her employer, the NRLC, and their “Stop the Abortion Agenda” project, but doesn’t disclose that she is the compensated political director of that organization (and a former registered lobbyist for it).

But even if Cross’s assertion that she isn’t getting paid to lobby in West Virginia was correct, and even if the organization wasn’t spending $200 a month on grassroots organizing despite its apparent dedication to little other than organizing around political issues, there would still be the issue of out-of-pocket expenses Cross spent on lobbyist. Even if one were to assume that the only expenses Cross incurred in her volunteer lobbying were travel expenses, she still would surpass West Virginia’s $150 threshold for registering.

West Virginians for Life, as well as Cross’s residence, are both located in Morgantown, West Virginia: 157 miles from the capital in Charleston. One round-trip drive to Charleston — for, say, the rally West Virginians for Life organized in February — reimbursed or deducted at the IRS mileage rate for 2010 of 50 cents per mile–would add up to more than $150, thus putting even Cross’s “volunteer” lobbying work over the threshold for registration in the state regardless of her income stream, duties for her official employer, or the amount her organization spends on grassroots organizing.

It’s clear that Cross and the other members and employees of WVFL aren’t simply operating in some grey area that doesn’t require them to lobby: West Virginia’s lobbying registration requirements are pretty clear when lobbyists need to register. The law is designed to bring transparency to an otherwise shadowy practice and, unlike in Washington, it doesn’t take much time or effort to reach the threshold after which one is required to register. Although WVFL bills themselves as an educational non-profit, their work and site shows that much of their efforts revolve around educating and influencing legislators, also known as lobbying. As the political director for the National Right to Life Committee, it is Cross’s well-remunerated job to know these things, albeit a job on which her employer tells the IRS she doesn’t spend much time. So why is Cross so loathe to make her lobbying work more transparent — and why is the national umbrella group paying her so much to “volunteer” for one of their state organizations? It seems like it’s just a case of simple hubris: if she’s doing God’s work, man’s laws can seem awfully petty.

Culture & Conversation Media

TRAP Laws and the Abortion ‘Crisis’: A Conversation With Award-Winning Filmmaker Dawn Porter

Tina Vasquez

Recently, Porter spoke with Rewire about the inaccurate framing of abortion as a “moral” issue and the conditions that have created the current crisis facing providers and patients alike. Her film will air nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens Monday.

Dawn Porter’s documentary TRAPPED focuses on the targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws designed to close clinics. But, as Porter told Rewire in a phone interview, TRAPPED is also about “normal people,” the providers and clinic staff who have been demonized due to their insistence that women should have access to abortion and their willingness to offer that basic health-care service.

Between 2010 and 2015, state legislators adopted some 288 laws regulating abortion care, subjecting providers and patients to restrictions not imposed on their counterparts in other medical specialties.

In Alabama, where most of the film takes place, abortion providers are fighting to keep their clinics open in the face of countlessand often arbitrary—regulations, including a requirement that the grass outside the facilities be a certain length and one mandating abortions be performed in far more “institutional” and expensive facilities than are medically necessary.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling this month on a Texas case regarding the constitutionality of some TRAP laws: Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The lawsuit challenges two provisions in HB 2: the admitting privileges requirement applied to Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, Texas, and Reproductive Services in El Paso, Texas, as well as the requirement that every abortion clinic in the state meet the same building requirements as ambulatory surgical centers. It is within this context that Porter’s film will air nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens Monday.

Recently, the award-winning filmmaker spoke with Rewire about the Supreme Court case, the inaccurate framing of abortion as a “moral” issue, and the conditions that have created the current crisis facing providers and patients alike.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

Rewire: What has changed for the clinicians featured in TRAPPED since the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January?

Dawn Porter: Now, in Alabama, the legislature has passed a law banning clinics within 2,000 feet of a school. There’s a lot of frustration because the clinicians abide by the laws, and then more are put in place that makes it almost impossible to operate.

Everyone has been really focused on Dalton Johnson’s clinic [the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives] because the clinic he moved to was across the street from a school, but the law has also affected Gloria [Gray, the director of the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama]and that’s not something a lot of us initially realized. She’s afraid this will shut her down for good. I would say this has been a very hard blow for her. I think Dalton was perhaps more prepared for it. He will fight the law.

The good news is that it’s not like either of these clinics will close tomorrow; this gets decided when they go back for relicensing at the end of the year. Right now, they’re in the middle of legal proceedings.

Of course, we’re all also awaiting the Supreme Court decision on Whole Woman’s Health. There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety right now, for these clinic owners in particular, but for all clinic owners [nationwide] really.

Rewire: Let’s talk about that. Later this month, the Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on that caseEven if the Supreme Court rules that these laws are unconstitutional, do you think the case will change the environment around reproductive rights?

DP: It really depends on how the Court writes the decision. There may be no case in which it’s more important for the Court to have a comprehensive decision. It’s a multiheaded hydra. There’s always something that can close a clinic, so it’s crucially important that this Court rules that nothing can hinder a woman’s right to choose. It’s important that this Court makes it clear that all sham laws are unconstitutional.

Rewire: We know abortion providers have been killed and clinics have been bombed. When filming, did you have safety concerns for those involved?

DP: Definitely. The people who resort to violence in their anti-choice activities areI guess the most charitable way to describe itunpredictable. I think the difficult thing is you can’t anticipate what an irrational person will do. We took the safety of everyone very seriously. With Dr. Willie Parker [one of two doctors in the entire state of Mississippi providing abortions], for example, we wouldn’t publicize if he’d be present at a screening of the film. We never discussed who would appear at a screening. It’s always in the back of your mind that there are people who feel so strongly about this they would resort to violence. Dr. Parker said he’s aware of the risks, but he can’t let them control his life.

We filmed over the course of a few years, and honestly it took me a while to even ask about safety. In one of our last interviews, I asked Dr. Parker about safety and it was a very emotional interview for both of us. Later during editing, there was the shooting at the Colorado clinic and I called him in a panic and asked if he wanted me to take our interview out of the film. He said no, adding, “I can’t let irrational terrorists control my life.” I think everybody who does this work understands what’s at risk.

Rewire: It seems Texas has become ground zero for the fight for abortion access and because of that, the struggles in states like Alabama can get lost in the shuffle. Why did you choose to focus on Alabama?

DP: I met Dr. Parker when he was working in Mississippi. The first meeting I did with him was in December 2012 and he told me that Alabama had three clinics and that no one was talking about it. He introduced me to the clinic owners and it was clear that through them, the entire story of abortion access—or the denial of itcould be told. The clinic owners were all working together; they were all trying to figure out what to do legally so they could continue operating. I thought Alabama was unexplored, but also the clinic owners were so amazing.

To tell you the truth, I tried to avoid Texas for a long time. If you follow these issues around reproductive rights closely, and I do, you can sort of feel like, “Uh, everyone knows about Texas.” But, actually, a lot of people don’t know about Texas. I had this view that everyone knew what was going on, but I realized I was very insulated in this world. I started with Texas relatively late, but decided to explore it because we were following the lawyers with the Center for Reproductive Rights and they were saying one of their cases would likely go to the Supreme Court, and Whole Woman’s Health was most likely. They, of course, were right.

When you’re making a film, you’re emerged in a world and you have to take a step back and think about what people really know, not what you think they know or assume they know.

Rewire: In TRAPPED, you spliced in footage of protests from the 1970s, which made me think about how far we’ve come since Roe v. Wade. Sometimes it feels like we’ve come very far, other times it feels like nothing has changed. Why do you think abortion is such a contentious topic?

DP: I don’t think it’s actually that contentious, to tell you the truth. I think there is a very vocal minority who are extreme. If you poll them, most Americans are pro-choice and believe in the right to abortion in at least some circumstances. Most people are not “100 percent, no abortion” all the time. People who are, are very vocal. I think this is really a matter of having people who aren’t anti-choice be vocal about their beliefs.

Abortion is not the number one social issue. It was pretty quiet for years, but we’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party and conservative Republicans heavily influencing policy. The conservative agenda has been elevated and given a larger platform.

We need to change public thinking about this. Part of that conversation is destigmatizing abortion and not couching it in a shameful way or qualifying it. Abortion is very common; many, many women have them. Three in ten U.S. women have had an abortion before the age of 45. I think that part of the work that needs to be done is around stigma and asking why are we stigmatizing this. What is the agenda around this?

Evangelicals have done a great job of making it seem like this is an issue of morality, and it’s just not. To me, honestly, it doesn’t matter if you’re pro-choice or anti-choice. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. I can respect different opinions, but I can’t respect someone who tries to subvert the political process. People with power and influence who tamper with the political process to impose their beliefs on other people—I really can’t respect that.

Rewire: There are a lot of entry points for conversations about abortion access. What brought you to focus on TRAP laws?

DP: People often discuss abortion in terms of morality, but that’s not what we should be talking about. The reason why these laws have been so effective is because they successfully harm the least powerful of the group they’re targeting. Who’s getting picked on, who’s suffering the most? Women of color, people who are low-income, people who don’t have health insurance. There’s something so unjust about how these laws are disproportionately affecting these populations, and that really bothered me. I’m certainly interested in abortion as a topic, but I’m also interested in politics and power and how those things take shape to hurt the most vulnerable.

Rewire: In TRAPPED, we get to see a very personal side of all the clinicians and providers. One clinician discusses having to be away from her six children all of the time because she’s always at the clinic. We get to see Dr. Willie Parker at church with his family. And it was amazing to learn that the remaining providers in Alabama are friends who regularly eat dinner together. Was it intentional to humanize providers in a way we don’t usually get to see?

DP: Absolutely. The anti-choice side has successfully painted the picture of an abortion provider as this really shady, sinister person. I spent three years embedded in these clinics, and that couldn’t be further from what I saw. These are passionate, brave people, but they’re also very normal people. They’re not superheroes or super villains. They’re just normal people. It’s not that they don’t think about what they’re doing; they’re just very resilient and courageous in a way that makes me very proud. I wanted people to see that.

Rewire: Honestly before watching TRAPPED, I never thought about the personal toll that pressure takes on providers. Dalton Johnson used his retirement funds in order to continue providing abortion care. In several scenes, we see an emotional Gloria Gray struggling with whether or not to keep fighting these laws. Do you think people generally understand what it’s costing providers—financially and emotionally—to continue operating?

DP: I don’t think a lot of us think about that. People like Dalton are saying, “I would rather cash out my retirement than give in to you people.” We should not be asking people to make that kind of sacrifice. That should not be happening.

We also don’t spend enough time thinking about or talking about all of the things that have happened to create the conditions we’re now dealing with. It’s like a perfect storm. Medical schools are not training abortion providers, and the abortion providers that are around are getting older and retiring. Of course laws keep getting passed that make it more and more difficult to run a clinic. In this kind of environment, can you really blame people for not wanting to be providers? Especially when there’s the added pressure of having to take not just your own safety into account, but the safety of your family.

Anti-choice people target the children of abortion providers. They target them at home. This is a hard job if you want to have a life. I mean that literally too—if you literally want to have your life.

This is why so few go into this field. As the number of providers in some states continues to get eliminated, the burden left on those standing is exponentially greater.

The reason why we have a crisis around abortion care is not just laws, but because we have so few physicians. There are all of these factors that have come together, and we didn’t even get to cover all of it in the documentary, including the fact that Medicaid doesn’t cover abortion [under federal law. Seventeen states, however, use state funds to cover abortion care for Medicaid recipients.] A lot of this is the result of conservative lobbying. People have to be aware of all the pressures providers are under and understand that we didn’t get to this point of crisis accidentally.

Rewire: It can feel hopeless, at least to me. What gives you hope when it comes to this unrelenting battle for reproductive rights in this country?

DP: I don’t feel hopeless at all. I feel like it’s really important to be aware and vigilant and connect these dots. I wanted to help people understand the complications and the challenges providers are up against.

These providers have done their part, and now it’s time for the rest of us to do ours. People can vote. Vote for people who prioritize providing education and medical care, rather than people who spend all of their time legislating an abortion clinic. Alabama is in a huge fiscal crisis. The education system is a mess. The Medicaid system is a mess, and the whole Alabama state legislature worked on a bill that would affect a couple of abortion clinics. Voters need to decide if that’s OK. I think this is all very hard, but it’s not at all hopeless.

Analysis Politics

‘Incomplete’ and ‘Disingenuous’: Responses to Clinton’s Proposal for Dismantling School-to-Prison Pipeline

Kanya D’Almeida

Some juvenile justice experts and educators feel Hillary Clinton's Breaking Every Barrier Agenda—which promises, among other things, to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline—falls short.

Last Wednesday, midway through a private fundraiser in South Carolina for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a 23-year-old Black Lives Matter activist quietly made her way to the front of the crowd and unfurled a banner that read: “We have to bring them to heel.”

In the exchange that followed, captured on video, Ashley Williams asked Clinton to apologize to the Black community for a speech she made in 1996 celebrating a sweeping new crime bill, during which she referred to “gangs of kids” as “super predators: no conscience, no empathy.”

“We can talk about why they ended up that way,” Clinton continued in the speech, “but first we have to bring them to heel.”

The video made national headlines, and is amplifying a conversation among voters about Clinton’s role in the expansion of racial profiling and mass incarceration in the United States, and her ability—if elected—to deal with the school-to-prison pipeline. (The school-to-prison pipeline is shorthand for the disproportionate rate at which students of color are policed, punished, and funneled out of their classrooms into contact with the criminal justice system.)

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:

VOTE NOW

The conversation gained steam in February when Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, penned a piece in the Nation titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” In her essay, Alexander explored the ways in which then-President Bill Clinton championed a federal “three strikes” law to impose life sentences without parole for offenders convicted of certain crimes, and signed a $30 billion crime bill that created scores of new federal capital crimes and significantly expanded the police forcepolicies for which Alexander claims Hillary Clinton actively advocated.

While Clinton’s 1996 speech, referenced by Williams in South Carolina, did not explicitly refer to these “super predators” as young people of color, her statement is widely perceived as a highly racialized one, given the disproportionate impact of the Clinton administration’s policies on Black and brown youth.

Clinton acknowledged on Thursday in a statement to the Washington Post, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”

Her statement came more than a week after unveiling her $125 billion Breaking Every Barrier Agenda that promises, among other things, to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Her proposal includes an allocation of $2 billion to school districts to incentivize reform of harsh disciplinary practices, which have been followed by soaring suspension and arrest rates: School suspensions shot up from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000, “and have been most dramatic for children of color,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Clinton’s proposal also calls attention to an “ineffective culture of zero-tolerance,” and highlights the over-reliance on “school resource officers”police personnel deployed in schools who numbered 9,000 as of 2008as being emblematic of “overly punitive atmospheres that often disproportionately criminalize and stigmatize students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBT.”

The agenda also hits out at legislation that allows some states to punish even minor disciplinary infractions—including talking in class or playing on a cellphone—with jail time, such as South Carolina’s Disturbing Schools Law, which resulted in over 1,100 students being referred to the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice for “disturbing their schools” in 2013-2014. 

Citing data from the Department of Education, Clinton’s website notes that these laws disproportionately affect students of color, with Black students comprising 27 percent of all referrals to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subject to school-related arrests in 2014—despite representing just 16 percent of public school enrollment.

“I think this proposal is Clinton’s attempt to be responsive to the demands of movement advocates and activists across the country who’ve been pressing both candidates on the Democratic side to respond to racial inequality, mass incarceration, and police violence,” Priscilla Ocen, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told Rewire.

“I don’t think it’s accidental that the plan was announced just a few days before [the Democratic primary in] South Carolina—it gives her something to talk to African-American voters about, and it is certainly pragmatic election campaigning,” Ocen said in a phone interview last Thursday. This pragmatic campaigning paid off last Saturday with Clinton’s resounding success in South Carolina, where she secured 86 percent of Black votes, compared to just 14 percent for Bernie Sanders.

Still, some juvenile justice experts and educators feel Clinton’s agenda falls short, landing somewhere along the spectrum from “incomplete” to “disingenuous.”

“I can’t help but feel that if this was genuinely something at the top of Clinton’s agenda, she would have done something about it when she was First Lady … Instead she simply followed the same ‘tough on crime’ line as so many other politicians,” Cynthia Pong, a former public defender with the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, and now a consultant for nonprofit social justice organizations at Embrace Change Consulting, told Rewire in a phone interview.

“Throughout the decade of the ’90s and beyond, [Hillary Clinton] and her husband played a huge role in upholding and expanding systematic mass incarceration of people of color in this country. In 1994 she was using some of the most disgusting racist rhetoric about young men of color I have ever heard. After all that, for her now to be saying she is committed to dismantling mass incarceration is disingenuous and even a little suspicious,” said Pong, who has defended clients at various stages of entanglement in the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Her money trail also suggests this is more of a political move,” Pong added. “Up until four months ago she was accepting campaign money from private prison companies, and received $133,000 from lobbying firms linked to GEO and CCA—the largest private prison companies in the country.”

GEO runs over a dozen juvenile facilities through Abraxas Youth and Family Services, which operates under the company’s GEO Care division, while CCA got its start in the early 1980s by acquiring and managing youth detention centers in Tennessee.

“Accepting money from entities that profit from locking people up, while saying you’re going to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, sends a completely inconsistent message,” Pong said.

Mishi Faruqee, national field director of the Youth First Initiative, shares a similar sentiment.

“I think it’s very important that the Clinton campaign completely repudiate all donations from lobbyists for the private prison industry, just as the [Bernie] Sanders campaign has done,” Faruqee told Rewire.

“Sanders has really been a leader in speaking about the moral imperative of removing the profit motive from our justice system. Right now private prison companies are profiting from the incarceration of young people and we’ve seen the impact of this in places like Pennsylvania with incidents like the kids-for-cash scandal,” she said.

Faruqee also said she wants to see and hear more about how candidates intend to address the sprawling juvenile justice system, which incarcerates an estimated 54,000 young people on any given day, according to Youth First. As Rewire has previously reported, youth of color are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, with Black kids experiencing a youth incarceration rate of 605 per 100,000 population, five times higher than the youth incarceration rate of their white peers, which is just 127 per 100,000. In 2013, Black children comprised 21,550 of an estimated 54,148 kids locked up in juvenile detention.

Last Thursday, nine national juvenile justice organizations distributed a letter to all presidential candidates, outlining their shared vision for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system. At publication time, none of the campaigns had responded to the letter, but Faruqee said she hopes Clinton’s agenda will begin to reflect some of the recommendations contained in the joint platform such as closing youth prisons, and reallocating funds towards community-based, family-centered alternatives to incarceration.

Others say the problem runs deeper than Clinton’s agenda suggests.

Clinton’s proposal promises to expend $200 million annually to dispatch “school climate support teams” into districts and schools with high suspension and arrest rates, with the purpose of tackling implicit bias—the subconscious ways in which perceptions based on race, gender, religion, or any number of characteristics feed negative stereotypes—and training educators in de-escalation tactics. But some educators say this proposal fails to closely look at implicit bias and the trauma it creates in classrooms across the country.

“In my experience working in historically and systemically disenfranchised communities of color, in which 99 percent of students are at or below the poverty line, what I see most frequently is a lot of trauma,” said Brittney Elyse Sampson-Thompson, a longtime educator who is currently serving middle school students at a charter school in Philadelphia.

“In schools where there is a large police presence or leaders who are quick to call the police on their students I’ve seen crazy things. When fifth-grade girls are led out of school in handcuffs my first thought is about the incredible ripple effect that will have, not only in the life of that young lady and her family, but also for every other child in the building who witnessed it,” she told Rewire.

“For the child herself it means that the idea of being arrested, of being in a cop car, of waiting in a precinct for her parents to arrive is no longer foreign—it becomes a true experience that she has lived. Add to that the fact that it happened while the child was in school—where she should be safe, not only physically but also emotionally and mentally safe to take risks and to explore and to be a child—and the situation becomes frankly tragic,” Sampson-Thompson added. “We serve in communities that have experienced generations of trauma and if we aren’t actively working against it, we add to it.”

Those whose work has focused closely on the intersections of race and gender in the school-to-prison pipeline also feel the proposal has some glaring gaps.

“Clinton ought to have an intersectional framework for understanding the gender dynamics of racial inequality that make girls vulnerable to both public and private expressions of violence,” said Ocen, co-author of a report on the disproportionate impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black girls, which found that they are six times as likely to be suspended as their white counterparts.

“She needs to be attentive to the gendered pathways that lead Black girls to being disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities, and to be attentive to the fact that not only are girls and women among the fastest growing populations in prison, but also that the vast majority of them had been victims of physical or sexual abuse prior to being incarcerated,” Ocen said.

“Clinton will continue to have an incomplete understanding of racial justice and an incomplete racial justice platform until she attends to the specific vulnerabilities of girls and women of color,” Ocen added. “Both candidates ought to be listening to the people who are most affected by these policies, listening to their stories, their calls for transformation and their suggestions for what actually works.”

credo_rewire_vote_3

Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!

VOTE!

Thank you for supporting our work!