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Statue of Liberty shown cuffed and arrested by immigration officials in new mural

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A mural of the Statue of Liberty, handcuffed and slammed on the hood of a police cruiser, is drawing attention in downtown Las Vegas, a day after a top Trump administration official in charge of immigration suggested the statue’s famous inscription be amended to include a test of means.

Under the pseudonym Recycled Propaganda, artist and British immigrant Izaac Zevalking painted the image on a wall late last month, before citizenship and immigration services director Ken Cuccinelli – jokingly – suggested amending Emma Lazarus’s sonnet inscribed on the statue to read: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

Zevalking told Las Vegas station KTNV: “My purpose of doing what I did with the Statue of Liberty is to try and draw analogies with America’s past and how it was founded and how it was largely built by immigrants, to really make an analogy out of that so that people can apply that to contemporary society and contemporary issues a little bit more.”

Since Cuccinelli made his suggestion to NPR, administration officials have sought to play down its significance.

The White House adviser Stephen Miller said he wouldn’t “get off into a whole thing about history here”. But he added: “The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later and is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

Still, the exchange underscores the change last week in administration policy toward immigrants applying for permanent residency status or green card. Under the new rules, immigration services will be able to reject applicants who have spent more than a year on food stamps, Medicaid or other public benefits.

Asked which immigrants will now be welcome to the US, Cuccinelli said: “All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their boot straps – as in the American tradition.”

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Court puts hold on Rodney Reed’s scheduled execution

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The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Friday afternoon stopped the scheduled execution of death row inmate and convicted murderer Rodney Reed.

The nonprofit Innocence Project, which has been representing Reed in his effort to stay alive, tweeted the court granted a stay of execution that was “indefinite.” The ruling was posted to the court’s website.

“We are extremely relieved and thankful that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has issued a stay of execution for our client Rodney Reed,” said his attorney, Bryce Benjet, of the Innocence Project. “This opportunity will allow for proper consideration of the powerful and mounting new evidence of Mr. Reed’s innocence.”

Texas civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt tweeted that he spoke with Reed’s family after the court ruling and they are “overjoyed but know this fight isn’t over.”

The court’s move came after the state parole board voted unanimously Friday to recommend Gov. Greg Abbott delay the execution by 120 days He was scheduled to be put to death next Wednesday.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, however, also asked that Abbott not commute Reed’s sentence to a lesser penalty. It’s unclear what the governor may decide, and his office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Image: Rodney Reed at a Bastrop County District Court hearing in 2017.
Rodney Reed at a Bastrop County District Court hearing in 2017.Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

The call to halt Reed’s execution by lethal injection has been building in recent weeks, gaining support from a bipartisan group of about 45 state lawmakers, outspoken celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Oprah Winfrey, and an online petition.

Reed, now 51, was found guilty by an all-white jury in the 1996 murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old grocery store worker in central Texas. His lawyers have pointed to new witnesses who have come forward and forensic evidence that has been reevaluated to insist he at least deserves a new trial. That includes at least 11 people who have recently cast doubt on Reed’s conviction and, in some cases, implicated Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.

The parole board’s recommendation comes as Reed’s legal team has multiple appeals and motions filed and pending along various legal tracks. His lawyers have asked Abbott, a Republican, to stop the execution. Abbott has not commented publicly on the issue.

The Supreme Court might also take up the case, reinvigorating Reed’s supporters, some of whom camped out overnight Thursday to hold vigils outside of the high court awaiting a decision.

“When the whole world watches, it’s going to be hard for someone to make a mistake,” Reed’s brother, Rodrick Reed, said during a rally Thursday night near the Supreme Court. “That gives us a lot of hope and a lot of confidence that the right thing will eventually come out of this.”

Last year, the high court had refused to review an earlier Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that rejected further DNA testing in the case — paving the way for Reed’s execution.

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3 students hurt in shooting at California high school, suspect at large: Sheriff

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Students are evacuated from Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., near Los Angeles after reports of a shooting, Nov. 14, 2019.

A shooting was reported Thursday morning at a high school in Santa Clarita near Los Angeles, where multiple people are believed to be injured, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Deputies have swarmed the scene at Saugus High School, about 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. The suspect remains at large.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said there are three victims, including at least one gunshot victim. All three are believed to be students, said the sheriff.

“The three victims have been transported and they are receiving treatment right now,” he told ABC Los Angeles station KABC.

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Comcast Is Challenging a 153-Year-Old Law That Protects Against Racial Discrimination. We Can’t Let That Happen

Crowds celebrating outside the House of Representatives after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed. The Supreme Court will decide how the law applies to Byron Allen’s lawsuit against Comcast.
MPI—GETTY IMAGES

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Crowds celebrating outside the House of Representatives after the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed. The Supreme Court will decide how the law applies to Byron Allen's lawsuit against Comcast. MPI—GETTY IMAGES

By Derrick Johnson

Byron Allen on Comcast

Byron Allen feels a way, and quite frankly — we can't blame him. Keep up with our updates on his Supreme Court case: Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African-American Owned Media. #Protect1866https://thegrio.com/2019/11/13/byron-allen-supreme-court-comcast/

Posted by TheGrio on Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing one of the most important civil rights cases to come before it this term. Comcast, which is number 32 on the Fortune 500, is poised to take an unprecedented step. Because of a dispute with a black businessman, the company has urged the Supreme Court to roll back the crucial protections of one of the nation’s oldest civil rights laws.

So far this matter has been framed as a simple dispute between two media giants. Yet so much more is at stake. The outcome of this lawsuit could prove perilous for African Americans and other communities of color. Put simply, a win for Comcast could reshape modern laws around racial discrimination. As the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization, we are prepared to stand strongly against Comcast to make sure this does not happen.

The dispute began when Byron Allen first sued Comcast for $20 billion back in 2015 for refusing to air channels from his company, Entertainment Studios Networks. The NAACP and other civil rights organizations were initially named as defendants in the case, but were dismissed because they had no role in Comcast’s decision not to air the channels. After churning through the legal system for years, the case is finally being heard by the Supreme Court.

Allen alleges that Comcast’s decision was tainted by racism, since the television company agreed to carry white-owned channels with similar audience sizes at the time it rejected Allen, who says his channel is 100% African American-owned. Comcast calls the lawsuit “meritless,” pointing to what it calls an “outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming from African American-owned channels.”

The Supreme Court’s decision will hinge on its interpretation of a bedrock civil rights statute, the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Immediately following the Civil War and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866, a wide-ranging ban on race discrimination. Section 1981 is one of the statute’s most critical provisions, ensuring that “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right … to make and enforce contracts … as is enjoyed by white citizens.” The goal of this section was to free the contracting process from the burdens of discrimination and ensure that newly freed slaves were guaranteed the same opportunity to contract as whites.

For more than a century, Section 1981 has been used as an important tool to combat race discrimination, particularly for employment discrimination claimants. Throughout the NAACP’s history, standard-bearers of justice like Thurgood Marshall have harnessed the power of Section 1981 to fight various forms of discrimination. Yet now, in a situation that has become all too familiar during the Trump era, an upcoming Supreme Court decision has the potential to reject these lessons of history by rolling back the clock on basic civil rights—rendering Section 1981 a toothless tiger.

Comcast, supported by the Trump administration, is proposing a radical change to the legal interpretation of Section 1981. The company is arguing that the litigant in the underlying case, Byron Allen, must prove not only that his race was a significant motivating factor in Comcast’s decision not to contract with him, but that it was the only factor. By this logic, Section 1981 allows some amount of racial discrimination in contracting. Moreover, if Comcast’s argument holds, Allen would need to be able to parse all of Comcast’s considerations in its decision-making process—a nearly impossible task. 

This narrower discrimination standard has been applied by the Supreme Court to other civil rights statutes, but never has the court used it for a claim under Section 1981.  Given the language and purposes of Section 1981, and the fact that it was passed in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, it stands on a different footing than more recent civil rights statutes to which the narrower causation standard has been applied.

In 2018, in a unanimous three-judge ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court rejected the position taken by Comcast in cases involving alleged racial discrimination. If the Supreme Court follows Comcast in the Allen case and applies a more stringent standard to discrimination claims under Section 1981, victims of discrimination will find it more difficult to have their day in court. Further, victims of economic discrimination could see their cases dismissed on the ground that the plaintiff cannot prove—at the very outset of the case—how race intersected with legally permissible factors when the defendant was making its decision. Just as that would have been too great a burden to place on newly freed slaves when Section 1981 became law in 1866, it remains too great a burden to place on people alleging racial discrimination at the hands of corporate actors.

The NAACP and a host of other social justice organizations believe that under Section 1981, it is up to the defendant to explain its consideration of race in a business decision—and to prove they would have made the same decision even if race had not been a factor.Take Yes For An AnswerAd by Regions BankSee More

Over the course of modern American history, our federal courts have been the “great levelers” for African Americans. From voting, to education, to economic opportunity and health care, our federal courts have consistently defended the constitutional rights of communities of color. Gutting Section 1981 would be one of the most significant rollbacks of civil rights protections of this century, led by a major media corporation that—ironically—seeks dollars and support from communities of color.

For decades, Comcast has depended on contracts from minority communities. The company claims to have a “strong civil rights and diversity record.”Yet a company cannot champion diversity and inclusion while challenging one of the very laws that helped birth modern civil rights.

Although the NAACP takes no position on whether Comcast unlawfully discriminated against Allen, we have decided to take the lead on this broader civil rights issue.

This matter is truly bigger than one lawsuit; it’s about whether victims of racial discrimination will continue to have pathways for legal redress in the courts, or whether the law will foreclose any real opportunity to prove their claims. By seeking to restrict the reach of Section 1981, Comcast is arguing for the latter. We must fight it every step of the way. 

Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP.

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