50th Anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. This landmark protest led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act (1965) and the Civil Rights Act (1964). When the Supreme Court finally ruled on the latter in 1971, the disgraceful Jim Crow Era of our country’s history finally ended.

This huge victory unfortunately led to a seemingly unending era of de facto discrimination in schools, businesses, and residential segregation. Conservatives fought back against measures to correct the above by claiming to espouse individual rights. When Detroit passed a law banning discrimination in the sale of houses, opponents responded by successfully pushing a charter amendment affirming the right of homeowners to sell their property to whomever they wanted to sell it to. When busing was instituted to desegregate segregated schools, conservatives began extolling the of parents to send their kids to the schools closest to where they live. When Affirmative Action was introduced as remedy for the evasion of  enforcement of civil rights law, the right fought back bitterly against what they called “quotas.” When activists sued to enforce voting rights, conservatives extolled “states’ rights.”

For 42 years, then, African-Americans, and other minorities, have been caught in a limbo between legal inequality and true equality. Upon seeing the pictures and footage of those principled and courageous marchers standing up for what they believed in five decades ago I feel a mixture ins triumph and inspiration at what they accomplished and profound disappointment that this country remains so far short of the goal.

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City Commission Approves Purchase of Land for New Fire Station.

The Gainesville City Comission approved the purchase of land on S. Main for a new fire station. The land is a few blocks south of the current fire station.

The problem is that this land includes the parking lot of the Civic Media Center (which is located next to the current fire station) and the buildings in which several organizations in the growing arts district are housed. It is incumbent on the city to make sure these enterprises are not left without a home.

Alachua County Commission to vote Aug. 13 on adding sexual orientation and sexual identity to anti-discrimination ordinance

A decades old wrong is about to be righted in Alachua County, Florida this month. Nineteen years ago, in 1994, the Alachua County Commission voted to add sexual orientation to the county anti-discrimination ordinance. Opponents of gay rights responded with a county ballot referendum repealing the above mentioned measure and forbidding commissioners from taking such action in the future.

Supporters of gay rights formed an organization called No On 1 and fought the anti-gay initiative, but they lost. They then filed suit. The judge in the case chose to wait for a decision pending in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Romer v. Evans, in which the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a state anti-gay measure similar to the one in Alachua County.

The SCOTUS decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, while reversing the Colorado Court’s striking down of the portion of the anti-gay law repealing gay rights legislation, upheld the portion of the state court’s decision striking  down the section forbidding the state government from enacting gay rights laws in the future. The judge in the Alachua County case responded by treated the Alachua County initiative similarly: uphold the repeal of gay rights protection but invalidated the prohibition against passing any such measure in the future.

Although the future was left open, for the time being gay rights advocates unfortunately had to settle for inclusion of sexual orientation in the City of Gainesville’s anti-discrimination ordinance and inclusion of gender identity later. People were thus protected from discrimination on those bases in  Gainesville but not in the rest of the county. For nineteen years lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered had no recourse at the county level.

That was how things stood until June 25, when the County Commission voted 4-1 to vote, on Aug. 13, on once again including sexual orientation, and this time gender identity as well, in the county anti-discrimination ordinance where they belong, the dissenting vote coming from the lone Tea Partier on the commission. Romer v. Evans has finally led to the opportunity to rectify the wrong that was done in 1994.

The time for this action has come. Actually, it came long ago but was thwarted by a vocal, well-funded minority. It is indeed past time for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered to get their due, to be granted equal protection under the law. Alachua County and Gainesville should be ahead of the curve on progressive change. Hopefully the county commission will put Alachua County there on LGBT rights.

Dream Defenders gain hearing on ” Stand Your Ground Law”

A valiant group of activists who are members of Dream Defenders are staging a sit-in at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. They are demanding a special session to repeal the infamous “Stand Your Ground Law”, which appears to have been incorporated into the judge’s instructions to the jury in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin (check out the livestream at ustream.tv/recorded/36789195). The demonstrators met with rogue Governor Rick Scott, but he refused to hold a special session. The Speaker of the Florida House, however, announced a hearing on SYG.

This hearing is a victory for the Dream Defenders and everyone upset by Zimmerman’s acquittal, but it is a very small one; it falls far short of a special session and no legislation was promised. What has been conceded is thus a tiny opening in what will likely be a prolonged struggle.

This struggle is for justice for Trayvon Martin, for sane law that does not allow someone like Zimmerman to get away with stalking an innocent teenager by claiming self defense in the confrontation provoked by that stalking, for a society in which African-Americans and members of other minority groups would not have to live in fear of losing their lives at the hands of those charged with protecting them.

Changing or repealing SYG is but the beginning of the struggle. We must change the attitude that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, the state of mind which causes whites to selectively fear nonwhites but deny race as a factor. We must break through such fear and denial. We must also prevent the steamrolling of nonwhites by whites on the issues involved, as usually happens. Minority concerns are as important as those of whites and merit equal consideration.