Faith Leaders Demand Justice for Trayvon Martin

March 21, 2012, 5:42 pm | Posted by

The Florida Council of Churches released a statement today expressing deep condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin and calling upon local law enforcement to investigate the case swiftly and fairly.

Martin was tragically shot and killed while visiting his father last month by a vigilante neighborhood watch leader who has been neither arrested nor charged despite evidence that severely undermines his claims of self-defense.

The statement reads:

On behalf of our churches, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. The promise of his young life in no way deserved to be ended by a gunshot within sight of his father’s front door on February 26, 2012. We pray for the family’s peace of mind in knowing of the love of God which surpasses death and for justice to be pursued in this tragic mishap so that it does not happen to another family anywhere in Florida.

Trayvon’s death was unwarranted. Florida should be a place where a person of any color can walk in a neighborhood without fear of violence or being presumed a suspicious threat. Florida should be a place where the use of deadly force is rare and uncommon. Florida should also be a place where the misuse of deadly force is not tolerated.

We call upon law enforcement in Sanford to pursue justice in this matter with deliberate effectiveness. The investigation into Trayvon Martin’s death should proceed swiftly without racial bias so that the matter is not continually tried in the media. The Martin family and the community at large need protection from vigilantism and assurance that Florida’s streets are open to all people without respect to the color of their skin. We call upon Sanford authorities to take actions that demonstrate both racial fairness and concern for the safety of the community.

The statement is signed by prominent Florida leaders in the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian (USA), AMEZ, and UCC churches among others.

The Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, an organization representing progressive African-American congregations, is also weighing in on this issue, providing a fact sheet about the case and directing their members to a petition by Trayvon’s parents.

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Back to the Future: Leaders Again March in Selma for Civil Rights

March 6, 2012, 2:25 pm | Posted by

In a nod to the historic march of over forty years ago, civil rights activists, prominent religious leaders and working Americans are marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the state’s harsh voter-suppression laws that disenfranchise low-income and minority voters.

Hundreds of people are following in the footsteps of past leaders, some of whom have returned to build on their legacy:

“This is about repeating a part of Alabama’s past that does not bear repeating,” Murguia said of the state’s immigration law. “Voter suppression laws and anti-immigration laws are their way of turning back the clock, but we are not going to allow that to happen.”

Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat but Alabama native who was badly beaten during the attack on marchers in 1965, rallied marchers Sunday, telling them that the struggles for human rights in 1965 and in 2012 are the same.

“Forty-seven years ago I spilled a little blood on that bridge but that was nothing compared to those who died so that we could live in a better America,” Lewis told a large crowd in front of Brown Chapel AME Church, the same church marchers used to stage the 1965 march. “We march today for what we did 47 years ago — for what is fair, what is right and for what is just.”

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Mayor Bloomberg’s Untenable Defense of NYPD Spying

March 5, 2012, 2:54 pm | Posted by

Michael BloombergNew York mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to defend the New York Police Department’s practice of broadly surveilling Muslim communities and individuals against whom no allegations or threats have been raised, despite the fact that the practice violates NYPD’s own guidelines and New York City law.  Bloomberg recently said:

“What we’ve been doing in New Jersey is what anybody in this country or in the world can do… You can go to open meetings, and you can go on open websites and look and see what’s there, and that’s really all we’ve been doing.”

Moreover, despite NYPD’s acknowledgement that it is spying on Muslim organizations without evidence, Bloomberg continues to deny that religious profiling is occurring. These mixed messages put Bloomberg in something of political no-man’s land; neither on the side of robust civil liberties but also appearing to shy away from Islamophobic activists who celebrate efforts to target Muslims based solely on their religious views.

Some of those activists, including Zudhi Jasser (the narrator of the Islamophobic film NYPD was forced to admit it had inappropriately used in the training of thousands of officers), gathered in a rally outside NYPD headquarters today. Congressman Peter King also attended and made his perspective clear in justifying the NYPD tactics:

“The threat right now is Islamist terrorism - and that’s going to be coming from the Muslim community, it’s just a fact,”

This statement is, of course, the opposite of a fact, but Rep. King has never really shown a strong interest in the truth on these issues. Mayor Bloomberg, however, has stood up for the rights of American Muslims before, and should drop his evasive rhetoric and do so again.

Bloomberg should denounce the efforts of King and Jasser to provide cover for the NYPD’s profiling program, fire Police Commissioner Kelly and put in place evidence-based ways of anticipating and preventing terrorist attacks instead of unfairly targeting a whole group of people.

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NYPD’s Targeting of Muslims Extends to College Campuses and Beyond NYC

February 22, 2012, 1:41 pm | Posted by

Another week, another outrageous story about the NYPD targeting Muslim Americans based solely on their religious identity. The latest revelation comes from an Associated Press story detailing NYPD efforts to monitor Muslim student groups far beyond New York City, and without basis in credible intelligence:

Police trawled daily through student websites run by Muslim student groups at Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers and 13 other colleges in the Northeast. They talked with local authorities about professors in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students’ names and noted in police intelligence files how many times they prayed.

This follows earlier reports that the NYPD has conducted massive surveillance on the city’s Muslim community and regularly shown an Islamophobic video as part of its training regimen for new police recruits.

As Rep. Keith Ellison wrote last week, these tactics fray relations between the Muslim community and the police, making the city and its residents less safe — not to mention the civil rights questions and privacy issues raised by the NYPD’s profiling and intrusiveness.

Given everything that has come to light, perhaps the most disturbing questions are why hasn’t Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly been held responsible for these abuses and why does Mayor Michael Bloomberg continue to defend these ethically questionable activities?

Photo Credit: Luke Roberts/Flickr

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Faith Leaders Advocate Against Private Prison Profiteering

February 1, 2012, 4:06 pm | Posted by

With states utilizing an increasing number of private prison contracts to purportedly ease budget shortfalls, the prison privatization debate has fallen squarely on Florida’s shoulders this week. Despite last year’s failed privatization efforts, the Florida legislature is once again considering awarding contracts to for-profit corporations that would put  29 facilities and up to 16,000 inmates in the hands of private corporations.

As the Florida Senate debates the proposed legislation, faith, labor and human rights groups have succeeded in delaying the fast-tracked legislation. From the Florida Independent:

Since the bills were introduced, corrections officers, labor groups and public policy experts have expressed opposition to the state’s plans. They warned legislators that prison privatization would threaten public safety and put corrections employees out of work. Many who testified warned that private prison companies use inferior training and policies for their employees, and cut corners to save money.

Despite claims by private prison supporters that privatization plans save money, the benefits often fail to materialize for the state. Chris Kirkham at The Huffington Post explains:

Proponents have advanced the move as a cost-saving measure, a business-minded response to the state’s budget shortfall. But a series of studies and the experiences of several other states that have experimented with privatizing prison systems raise significant doubts about the cost savings that are supposed to accrue: Private prisons have tended to take control of the lowest-cost inmates, those lacking health problems and posing less risk of violence, while leaving states to contend with the harder cases.

While private prison corporations continue to benefit from America’s high incarceration rates and state budget shortfalls, people of faith are taking steps to ensure their congregation’s investments do not fund this growing, immoral industry.

Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church describes his denomination’s motivation for divesting their money out of private prisons this year:

While United Methodists have been caring for those imprisoned and fighting to lessen the number of people incarcerated, our church has been profiting from corporations making billions of dollars from the incarceration of people of color. It was a sickening realization. Profiting from stock in CCA and GEO Group is a betrayal of all that we stand for and believe in as United Methodists and followers of Jesus.

As Florida activists and the United Methodist Church has demonstrated, faith-based organizations combining forces with labor and human rights advocates is a key way for state groups to effectively insert a vital moral voice into this ongoing, contentious debate.

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