Indivisible: Conejo’s Issue Action Team on Racism and Voting Rights is committed to fighting racism and racial discrimination both within and outside the Trump administration, and to promoting civil rights – including the right to vote and the Black Lives Matter movement. The team’s initial areas of focus include:
1. Monitoring potential incursions into voting rights for African-Americans and other targeted communities as Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, transforms the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
2. Encouraging the continuation of work in Congress toward criminal justice reform, including sentencing reform and an end to mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders.
3. Fighting for police reform, including more community policing and diversity/sensitivity training for current and new officers. Also, opposing the nationwide implementation of racial profiling, stop-and-frisk policies, and other discriminatory measures in policing.
4. Engaging in public education efforts centering on ingrained racism, white privilege, barriers to education and hiring for African-Americans, and other issues.
The Trump years promise to pose new (and renewed) challenges in the area of civil rights for African-Americans. Trump’s own history of housing discrimination and damaging rhetoric, as well as the records of many of his administration’s appointees, are deeply concerning. Meanwhile, the after-effects of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder must be monitored closely now that voting rights are being enforced by Republican president (who has complained about voter fraud frequently and without factual basis) and Congress. Recent gains in public support for criminal justice reform – including support for such reform among Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress – are now in jeopardy. And the Trump administration’s focus on violent crime and “law and order” – despite statistics showing that such crimes are happening at the lowest rate in nearly a half-century – poses particular new risks for African-Americans, who have long been subjected to discriminatory practices and violence in their dealings with police.
Among the key issues for African-Americans under the new administration:
Voting rights: The decision in Shelby County v. Holder severely curtailed the federal government’s ability to block state and local laws on the grounds that they violated voting rights. Attorney General Sessions was an outspoken opponent of the Voting Rights Act section struck down by the Court’s decision, and has generally dismissed the possibility that racial discrimination is still a threat to voting rights. His critics are concerned that his DOJ will be uninterested in challenging state and local practices — from gerrymandering to voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting — that have the effect, and sometimes the explicit intent, of reducing minority voting rates.
Civil rights enforcement: Critics of President Trump have seen what happens when a president doesn’t believe in the mission of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. George W. Bush’s DOJ showed less interest than its predecessors in investigating discrimination against nonwhites, while showing what some considered undue concern in protecting the rights of white and Christian Americans — aided by a politicized hiring process and an office environment so intolerable that several longtime employees left.
Mass incarceration and federal sentencing reform: In recent years, members of the Senate from both parties have led a push to reduce federal sentences (primarily for drug crimes, which account for about half of federal prisoners). Sessions has pointedly not been among them: He has opposed sentence reductions, and has written commentaries blaming prison releases for a rise in crime.
Policing: For decades, the Department of Justice has taken the lead in oversight of local police — both through basic training and grant programs, and through investigations and lawsuits against police departments accused of showing a “pattern and practice” of depriving residents of their civil rights. Over the past few years, as the relationship between policing and racial discrimination (especially when it comes to use of lethal force) has become one of the key issues in American life, the Obama administration became the most important (if often reluctant) institutional ally of the Black Lives Matter movement.