New ACLU Report Details Pervasive Racial Discrimination in America

December 10, 2007

DETROIT – In honor of International Human Rights Day, the national American Civil Liberties Union released a report today about the pervasive institutionalized, systemic and structural racism in America and finds that discrimination in Michigan permeates all areas of education, employment, immigration and access to justice.

The 215 page report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice, is a response to the U.S. report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) released earlier this year. The U.S. report, which the ACLU called a “whitewash,” swept under the rug the dramatic effects of widespread racial and ethnic discrimination across the country. 

“The America we believe in is one where people are treated fairly regardless of their race and ethnicity. But unfortunately, the U.S. government is not living up to our ideals,” said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “We will continue to press this administration to pursue wide-ranging and rigorous measures to enforce this treaty and to end racial discrimination.”

The U.S. government submitted its report in April to the CERD committee, an independent group of internationally recognized human rights experts that oversees compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty signed and ratified by the U.S. in 1994. All levels of the U.S. government are required to comply with the treaty’s provisions, which require countries to review national, state and local policies and to amend or repeal laws and regulations that create or perpetuate racial discrimination.

“Unfortunately, the state of Michigan is featured frequently in this report on a range of issues that are serious problems for African-Americans, Latinos, Arab Americans, and immigrants in this state,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.

In its “shadow report” to the U.N., compiled jointly by the ACLU’s Human Rights and Racial Justice Programs, the ACLU documents the U.S. government’s failure to fully comply with CERD in numerous substantive areas affecting racial and ethnic minorities, including:

  • Michigan’s failing indigent defense system. While states have statewide standards for appointed attorneys, Michigan has none. In fact, Michigan is at the bottom of the list in terms of the quality of its indigent defense services. In February 2007, the ACLU of Michigan and others filed a lawsuit against the State of Michigan for failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide appropriate indigent defense services.
  • The government’s attack on affirmative action in Michigan and other setbacks in the promotion of racial and ethnic equality. In 2006, an amendment to the Michigan Constitution eliminated affirmative action and outreach programs involving state and local governments. The amendment is being challenged by the ACLU of Michigan in federal court in Detroit.
  • The epidemic of minorities being subjected to racial profiling; a practice most often associated with African-Americans and Latinos, yet since 9/11, has increasingly been directed at Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians in Southeast Michigan. The report features the lawsuit Rahman v. Chertoff filed on behalf of nine Arab American or Muslim citizens, including a Michigan family who was stopped, questioned, harassed and body searched on seven occasions when they tried to reenter the U.S. from various trips abroad.
  • The continuing use of excessive force in the Detroit Police Department even after the U.S. Justice Department issued a federal consent decree in 2003. The report highlights the alleged attack on a group of children of color who protested conditions at MacKenzie High School and the practice of two white police officers routinely detaining and conducting public cavity searches of young black men in Southwest Detroit. The ACLU of Michigan has filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of the victims of this practice.
  • The practice of inappropriate school discipline, which pushes at-risk students out of schools. Under the banner of “zero-tolerance,” schools today mandate excessively harsh discipline for minor misconduct, regardless of the circumstances. In Michigan, “zero tolerance” contemplates not only drug and alcohol-related conduct, but also “disobedience,” which frequently serves as the basis for the disciplining of black students. In Michigan, black youth account for approximately 20% of the student population as a whole but 39% of expelled students
  • Michigan’s imposition of life without parole on children convicted of crimes. Michigan has at least 307 individuals are serving life without parole for crimes committed as juveniles. Michigan has the third-highest rate in the nation of sentencing child offenders to life without parole. In 2006, the ACLU of Michigan filed a petition urging the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to rule that sentencing children to mandatory life without the possibility of parole violates the Declaration of the Rights of Man and universal human rights principles.

Since its ratification, U.S. reporting on compliance has been inadequate, and this most recent report is no exception- it is a combination of two overdue reports spanning the years 2000-2006. The government’s report is riddled with misrepresentations and inaccuracies and fails to honestly assess the ways in which racial and ethnic discrimination and inequality persist.

The ACLU report also criticizes major shortcomings in the U.S. government’s report including: a minor mention of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and only in the housing discrimination context) and a total omission of the “school to prison pipeline” phenomenon. The report also suffers from a complete lack of information on the dramatic increase in hate crimes and the escalating problem of police brutality.

In addition, the report highlights the government’s failure to protect immigrants and non-citizens, and particularly low-wage workers, from racially discriminatory policies and acts like governmental crackdowns and workplace raids.

Despite the treaty’s clear requirement to provide state-level information, the U.S. government’s report comprehensively reports on only four states (Oregon, South Carolina, New Mexico and Illinois) and fails to provide adequate information on some of the most racially diverse states such as California, Texas, New York and Florida, or on the Gulf Coast states devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

December 10th is celebrated worldwide as International Human Rights Day. Today the ACLU and many of its affiliates across the country will hold events as part of the ACLU’s National Day of Action Against Racial Discrimination.

A copy of the ACLU’s report on the U.S. government’s report to CERD can be found online at: http://www.aclu.org/cerd

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