Claudette Colvin seeks expungement for her resistance to segregation laws. Photo credit: Julie Jacobson, Associated Press.
Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This week, civil rights hero Claudette Colvin seeks expungement for resisting segregation laws, immigration authorities announced they would “limit” arrests at protected areas, two officers were indicted for murder for shooting Jamarion Robinson 76 times, two people were executed and experienced severe suffering during the process, passports will now reflect more gender identities, and more.
Claudette Colvin, a civil rights hero, asked this week for a Montgomery judge to terminate her probation for defying segregationist laws over 60 years ago. Nine months prior to hero Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus, Ms. Colvin did the same at age 15. When a white passenger and the bus driver told Ms. Calvin to move to the back of the bus, she said “I paid my fare and it’s my constitutional right.” Describing this moment, Ms. Colvin says “history had me glued to the seat.” She was dragged off of the bus, handcuffed, and placed in an adult jail. Ms. Colvin was later the star witness in Browder v. Gayle, 352 U.S. 903 (1956), wherein the Supreme Court held that Montgomery city ordinances requiring segregation on buses was unconstitutional. She is now asking for the probation she received to end, and for the records to be expunged.
The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that immigration authorities will “limit” arrests at protected areas, including schools, hospitals, daycares, playgrounds, faith buildings, and recreational centers. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas stated that agents should consider the impact of their actions, and that they should not deny “individuals access to needed medical care, children access to their schools, the displaced access to food and shelter, people of faith access to their places of worship, and more.” Mr. Mayorkas also released a memo repealing the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy which forced migrants to stay in Mexico while their requests for safe haven were adjudicated, stating that this policy imposed “substantial and unjustifiable human costs.” Legal battles continue about this policy.
This week, advocates, faith leaders, and celebrities in Illinois urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 2333, which would allow for people experiencing incarceration to be considered for parole after serving 20 years. Illinois abolished discretionary parole in 1978; Parole Illinois, alongside Chance the Rapper, Common, and even conservative faith leaders joined the chorus of constituents calling for lawmakers to recognize not only capacity for change but also concerns about innocence, trauma, behavioral health, and discrimination in Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences. Despite the growing support for SB 2333, legislators have not called the bill for consideration.
The US joined a growing list of countries in making gender identifications more inclusive on passports this week. People who do not identify as “M” or “F” will now be able to select the gender marker “X” on their passports, a change that emerged after Dana Zzyym and Lambda Legal filed suit alleging that passports did not accurately reflect gender identities because female and male were the only options. The State Department affirmed their “commitment to promoting freedom, dignity, and equality of all people – including LGBTQI+ persons” in a statement about the change this week.
Two officers were indicted on Tuesday, October 26th for the murder of Jamarion Robinson, a Black man who was shot 76 times. Describing the incident, Mr. Robinson’s mother stated “over 90 rounds were fired at my son, flash-bang grenades were thrown at him, landed on him burning him. Somebody walked up the stairs, stood over him, and shot down into his body two more times. After that he was handcuffed and dragged down a flight of stairs.” The Georgia grand jury indicted the law enforcement officers with felony murder, aggravated assault, burglary, making false statements, and violation of oath by a public officer.
This week, Willie B. Smith III, a Black man, was executed in Alabama despite evidence of intellectual disability. The Supreme Court declined to stay the execution even though the Court acknowledged “Alabama does not dispute that Willie Smith has significantly below-average intellectual functioning,” and also rejected the claim that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) necessitated that Mr. Smith receive assistance in understanding forms he was required to compete regarding selecting a method of execution. Mr. Smith “jerked upward” as the lethal injection drugs (which have been the subject of litigation) hit his system, and his breathing was labored before he died.
In another instance of traumatic executions after a Supreme Court intervention, Oklahoma executed John Grant, a Black man, this week and he “convulsed two dozen times and vomited” before dying. After these “full body convulsions” and vomiting, “vomit covered his face until a prison official wiped it off.” Despite pending litigation by Mr. Grant about the inhumane nature of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocols, the Supreme Court overturned the stay of execution in place for both John Grant and Julius Jones. Mr. Jones, who is also a Black man, has raised compelling evidence of innocence–his clemency hearing will be today, November 1st, where the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board will make a recommendation to the Governor about whether Mr. Jones lives or dies.
The Biden administration announced a new strategy to address the rise in drug overdose deaths, with an emphasis on harm reduction. The new approach includes clean needle exchange programs and fentanyl test strips, but does not take a position on safe consumption sites. Although the harm reduction changes were widely praised by experts and advocacy groups for the alignment of these policies with research, the Biden administration drew criticism from civil rights groups for a proposal to increase prison sentences for possessing certain synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. About 70% of people charged with fentanyl-related offenses are people of color, and advocates wrote in a letter to the administration warning that the proposal could exacerbate racial disparities in the criminal legal system.
During the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse this week, who shot and killed two people and injured another who were protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake last year, a judge has ruled that the people shot cannot be called “victims,” but can be called “arsonists,” “looters,” or “rioters.” The judge described “victim” and “alleged victim” as loaded words—prosecutor Thomas Binger labeled this decision “a double standard” given the terms permitted in substitution.