Commentary Abortion

Nevada State Assemblywoman Lucy Flores: Thank You for Speaking Out for Young Latinas

Jessica González-Rojas

Your story, of your family struggling to make ends meet, and of the lack of education about sexual and reproductive health, is all too common for young Latinas all over this country—though it’s not always a story that is spoken of out loud.

Dear Assemblywoman Lucy Flores,

Earlier this year, when you spoke out in defense of comprehensive sex education, I applauded you for standing up for young people. When you told your story, about making the decision to end a pregnancy as a young woman, I was in awe of your courage. Your story, of your family struggling to make ends meet, and of the lack of education about sexual and reproductive health, is all too common for young Latinas all over this country—though it’s not always a story that is spoken of out loud.

Many young Latinas have little to no sexual and reproductive health education, and instead are bombarded by misinformation and myth, and then silenced by stigma and shame.

As a result, Latinas are more likely than their white counterparts to experience unintended pregnancy, and more likely to need access to safe, accessible, and affordable abortion services. Your experience speaks to the personal, critical decision that 1 in 3 women, including Latinas, will make in her lifetime: the decision to end a pregnancy. In telling the stories of your sisters, you also spoke to the need for support and resources for all women who experience pregnancy—whether or not they continue a pregnancy or become a parent.

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You also talked about the need for better access to birth control—because we know that many young Latinas do not have the tools to prevent unintended pregnancy, which include information, health coverage, and culturally and linguistically appropriate health services.

I want to thank you for sharing these important personal experiences and reflections. My heart went out to you as well, when some chose to attack and threaten you for simply speaking your truth, without apology or regret. I am so grateful for your continued support for women’s health and rights.

There is a reason you became quickly known on social media as “Fierce Flores.”

On behalf of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and the women we work with in Nevada and across the country, I have a message for you:

Yo Te Apoyo. I support you.

I support you in making the decision you needed to make for yourself, your pregnancy, and your future.

I support you in your tireless leadership and dedicated service to improve the lives of women and girls in Nevada.

I support you in your courageous choice to speak to the truth of your experience, and to stand up to those who would deny us the basic human right to live with dignity and health.

And I support you in being a Latina leader and role model for millions of young women and men across the country who may be struggling to find their voices.

You have clearly found yours, and it is bien poderosa.

As a mother, I have felt the incredible responsibility and gravity of being pregnant, and of making the decision to become a parent. That experience only strengthened my resolve to defend the right of every other woman to do the same, on her own terms.

I also want you to know that contrary to the stereotype, the Latino community supports you. In fact, this past November, polling confirmed what we’ve known for years: A majority of Latino voters support a woman’s ability to make personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering. Our own research has shown that 8-in-10 Latinos would support a loved one who needed an abortion.

It’s time for us Latinos to “come out of the closet” as supporters of women’s reproductive health. In Washington, and across the country, extremist politicians are pushing for legislation that would eliminate abortion access in many states, and make these critical services less accessible, and less affordable. Now is the time to show our values and vision for the future.

Earlier this year, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health launched a new effort called “Yo Te Apoyo. I Support You.” to lift the voices of the Latino community and our allies in support of our sisters, our daughters, our primas, our tias, and any woman who is making a difficult decision about pregnancy and abortion.

Our communities honor the values of family, respect, and cariño; we take care of each other. That’s what Yo Te Apoyo is all about—respecting and supporting a woman’s ability to make her own decisions.

And so I say again to you, Assemblywoman Flores, and to anyone facing a difficult decision about pregnancy, I support you. Yo te apoyo.

Today, tomorrow, and until we have achieved salud, dignidad, y justicia for all.

Sincerely,

Jessica

Analysis Human Rights

Activists Seek Justice as Verdict Looms for Officer Involved in Freddie Gray’s Death

Michelle D. Anderson

Freddie Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Last year, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers' trials have been completed without convictions.

The bench trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore Police Department officer involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, began on Thursday, July 7. Rice faces involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment; the state dropped a misconduct charge after acknowledging Rice was not directly involved in Gray’s arrest. The closing arguments in his trial are scheduled for this Thursday; the judge is expected to share his verdict Monday.

The Rice trial started just as the public began grappling with the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—and the subsequent murder of five police officers at a Dallas protest.

Castile and Sterling, both Black men, died during encounters with police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, triggering nationwide protests against police brutality and implicit racial bias that have continued into this week.

And just like the days following Gray’s death, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were flooded with images, videos, and hashtags demanding justice.

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Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Activists and some Maryland legislators accused police of giving Gray an intentional “rough ride,” when inmates or persons in custody are transported in police vans without a seat belt and subjected to frantic driving, ultimately causing them injury. Last year, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers’ trials have been completed without convictions—and as activists on the ground in Baltimore wait for more verdicts, they are pushing for reforms and justice beyond the courtroom.

The first police trial, which involved charges against Officer William Porter of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office, ended in a mistrial in December 2015 after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Glenn Williams acquitted Officer Edward M. Nero of all charges in May. Mosby had charged Nero with misconduct, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment for putting Gray into the police van without a seat belt.

But many viewed the trial of Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who drove the van, as the most critical of the six. Last month, Judge Williams announced that Goodson, too, had been acquitted of all charges—including second-degree depraved-heart murder, the most serious of those brought against the officers.

Kwame Rose, a Baltimore activist, told Rewire he was not surprised.

“The judicial system of America shows that police are never held accountable when it comes to the death of Black people,” said Rose, who was arrested in September and December during peaceful protests related to Gray’s death.

During Goodson’s trial, Williams said there were several “equally plausible scenarios,” that could have transpired during Gray’s arrest. He also rejected the state’s argument that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride,”according to a New York Times account.

Ray Kelly, community relations director for the No Boundaries Coalition of West Baltimore grassroots group and a community interviewer for the West Baltimore Community Commission on Police Misconduct, said he was disappointed by the Goodson verdict. However, he noted that he was heartened by Mosby’s decision to bring criminal charges against the officers in the first place. “It’s a small change, but it is a change nonetheless,” Kelly said in a recent interview with Rewire.

In addition to the charges, Gray’s death eventually sparked a major “pattern or practice” investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Local activists, including the No Boundaries Coalition, which issued in March a 32-page report that detailed police misconduct in Baltimore and helped to trigger the DOJ, expected the findings of the DOJ investigation in late June.

However, the document has yet to be released, said Kelly, who is a native of the same West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was detained.

Kelly is expecting a consent decree—similar to the ones in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio—and a continued partnership with federal officials in the near future.

For Kelly, the trials—and the lack of convictions—have proved what leaders in groups like the No Boundaries Coalition have been saying in their advocacy. One of those messages, Kelly said, is that the community should continue to focus less on the judicial process for theoretically punishing officers who have committed wrongdoing and more on initiating policy changes that combat over-policing.

Baltimore Bloc, a grassroots group, seemed to echo Kelly’s sentiment in a statement last month. Two days after the Goodson verdict, Baltimore Bloc activists said it was a reminder that the judicial system was not broken and was simply doing exactly what it is designed to do.

“To understand our lack of faith in the justice system, you must first recognize certain truths: the justice system works for police who both live in and out of the city; it works against Black people who come from disinvested, redlined Black communities; and it systematically ruins the lives of people like Keith Davis Jr., Tyrone West and Freddie Gray,” Baltimore Bloc leadership said, referencing two other Baltimore residents shot by police.

The American Civil Liberties Union, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Illinois v. Wardlow, said in a May blog post that police had legal case for stopping and arresting Gray, but also said the action constituted racially biased policing and diminished rights for Black and Latino citizens.

“The result is standards of police conduct that are different in some places than other places. It is a powerful example of institutionalized and structural racism in which ostensibly race-neutral policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups,” ACLU leaders said.

Right before issuing its statement in May, ACLU released a briefing paper that said at least 21 individuals had been killed in police encounters across Maryland in 2015. Of those fatal encounters, which included Gray, 81 percent were Black and about half were unarmed.

The ACLU said it was impossible for the agency to determine whether any officers were disciplined for misconduct in most cases because the police refused to release crucial information to the public.

The ACLU began compiling information about police custody deaths after learning that Maryland officials were not tracking those cases. In 2015, state politicians passed a law mandating law enforcement agencies to report such data. The first set of statistics on police custody deaths is expected in October, according to the ACLU. It is unclear whether those will include reports of officer discipline.

In line with those efforts, activists across Maryland are working to bring forth more systemic changes that will eliminate over-policing and the lack of accountability that exist among police agencies.

Elizabeth Alex, the regional director for CASA Baltimore, a grassroots group that advocates on behalf of local, low-income immigrant communities, told Rewire many activists are spending less energy on reforming the judicial process to achieve police accountability.

“I think people are looking at alternative ways to hold officers and others accountable other than the court system,” Alex said.

Like the No Boundaries Coalition, CASA Baltimore is part of the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs (CJSJ), a collective of more than 30 local community, policy, labor, faith, and civil rights groups that convened after Gray’s death. CJSJ members include groups like the local ACLU affiliate, Baltimore United for Change, and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

CJSJ leaders said the Goodson verdict underlined the critical need for “deep behavioral change” in the Baltimore Police Department’s culture. For the past year, the group has pushed heavily for citizen representation on police trial boards that review police brutality cases. Those boards make decisions about disciplining officers. For example, the city’s police commissioner might decide to discipline or fire an officer; that officer could go to the trial board to appeal the decision.

This spring, recent Baltimore City mayoral candidate and Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), helped pass an omnibus police accountability law, HB 1016. Part of that bill includes a change to Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR) giving local jurisdictions permission to allow voting citizens on police trial boards. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the changes into law in May.

That change can only happen in Baltimore, however, if the Baltimore Fraternal Order of the Police union agrees to revise its contract with the city, according to WBAL TV. The agreement, which expired on June 30, currently does not allow citizen inclusion.

In light of the current stalled negotiations, Baltimore Bloc on July 5 demanded Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young instead introduce an amendment to the city charter to allow civilian participation on trial boards. If Young introduced the amendment before an August deadline, the question would make it onto the November ballot.

Kelly, in an interview with Rewire, cited some CJSJ members’ recent meeting with Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis as a win for Baltimore citizens. During that meeting, held on June 29, Davis outlined some of his plans for implementing change on the police force and said he supported local citizens participating on police trial boards, Kelly said.

This year, the Baltimore Police Department has also implemented a new use-of-force policy. The policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability and is the first rewrite of the policy since 2003, according to the Sun.

The ACLU has welcomed the policy as a step in the right direction, but said the new rules need significant improvements, according to the Sun.

For example, the policy requires reporting to the department when an officer flashes or points a weapon at a suspect without shooting; the data will be reviewed by the police commissioner and other city officials. However, it doesn’t require the same from officers who use deadly force.

Notably, the policy requires officers to call a medic if a person in custody requests medical assistance or shows signs that they need professional help. Gray had requested a medic, but officers were skeptical and didn’t call for help until he became unresponsive, according to various news reports.

Rose, who recently received legal assistance from the ACLU to fight criminal charges related to his arrests last year, said citizens should continue to demand accountability and “true transparency” from law enforcement.

In the meantime, with four trials—including Rice’s case—remaining and no convictions, many are looking to see if Mosby will change her prosecution strategy in the upcoming weeks. Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore prosecutor, has suggested Mosby showed poor judgment for charging the six officers without “adequate evidence,” according to the Sun.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City’s police union has urged Mosby to drop the remaining charges against officers.

The trial of Officer Garrett E. Miller is slated to begin July 27; Officer William Porter, Sept. 6, and Sgt. Alicia D. White, Oct. 13. All officers charged pleaded not guilty.

Baltimore Bloc, citing its dissatisfaction with her performance thus far, demanded Mosby’s removal from office last month.

Kelly, who counts Baltimore Bloc among his allies, has a different outlook. Calling’s Mosby’s swift decision to charge the six officers last year  “groundbreaking,” the Baltimore activist said the ongoing police trials are justified and help give attention to police misconduct.

“She should follow through on the charges ….We need that exposure,” Kelly said. “It keeps the debate open and sparks the conversation.”

News Violence

Issa Rae Scholarship Fund for Alton Sterling’s Children More Than Doubles $200,000 Goal

Nicole Knight Shine

Actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae's fundraiser for the family of a Black Louisiana man killed by police this week has attracted thousands of donors.

A scholarship fund that actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae started for the five children of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge police, has raised more than $400,000 within its first day online—doubling its original $200,000 goal. 

Rae, the award-winning creator of the online hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, started the GoFundMe page Wednesday amid widespread outrage over Baton Rouge police repeatedly shooting Sterling as he was being held on the ground. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the killing, which was captured on at least two cell phone cameras.

At a widely publicized press conference following Sterling’s death, his teenage son sobbed, calling out, “Daddy!”

“If you feel helpless,” Rae wrote on the GoFundMe page, “but want to play a small part in easing the burden of #AltonSterling’s family, consider donating to this scholarship fund for his 15-year-old son (and his other kids).”

Police have killed 136 Black people in 2016, according to the Guardian, which tracks police shootings. Its records indicate that Sterling was the seventh Black person killed by police in Louisiana this year.

Rae later tweeted that supporters had donated $200,000 within the first nine hours of the fundraiser.

Rae said all funds would go to Sterling’s family. By Thursday afternoon, almost 14,500 individuals had contributed to the online fundraiser.

The day after Sterling’s death, Minnesota police shot another Black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, during a traffic stop, an incident captured on Castile’s girlfriend’s cell phone and that is now under investigation. Reports indicate the officer shot Castile at least four times as he was pulling out his wallet to show his identification.