Grassroots Leadership In The News

Feb 18, 2020
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KUT

Low-Level Drug Possession Arrests Are Hurting Travis County, Report Finds

Low-level drug possession arrests are ineffective and harmful to people who need community-based help, rather than jail time, a new report concludes.

The report, released Tuesday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and the UT Law Civil Rights Clinic, analyzed Travis County data that found people of color are disproportionately arrested for these kinds of crimes.

Though black people made up less than 9% of Travis County's population between 2017-2018, for example, they accounted for almost 30% of possession arrests made during that time. Read more about Low-Level Drug Possession Arrests Are Hurting Travis County, Report Finds

Feb 14, 2020
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Austin Chronicle

Headlines

Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests: The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, Grassroots Leadership, and UT Law Civil Rights Clinic have released preliminary key findings of a new report highlighting racial disparities in low-level drug possession arrests in Travis County. Analyzing less-than-a-gram drug possession arrests in a one-year period, findings revealed Black residents represented 29.4% of the arrests studied while only comprising less than 9% of the county's population. In arrests involving Latinx individuals, 57% originated from motor vehicle stops. For Black motorists, that number was 44%. The report will be published in full later this month. Read more about Headlines

Feb 14, 2020
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Austin Chronicle

Will New Policy Reduce the Burden of Cash Bail?

As we reported Feb. 7, last week the seven judges of the Travis County misdemeanor criminal courts issued a "Standing Order" to officially expand the use of "personal recognizance bonds" for people arrested in the county. In principle, the order ("effective immediately") would authorize those accused of most nonviolent offenses to be released on personal bonds (i.e., without cash bail). Personal bonds are essentially a written promise to return for court appointments or face sanctions for noncompliance. ("Travis Judges Loosen Misdemeanor Bond Requirements," Feb. 7).

On Tuesday, the county's Justice Plan­ning staff, District Attorney Margaret Moore, County Attorney David Escamilla, and others briefed the Commissioners Court on the background and details of the new policy – still a work in progress, in development over several years and relying on jail population research by county staff. Currently, an arrested person appears before a city magistrate following a case and risk assessment by the county Pretrial Services staff. In Travis County, most people accused of misdemeanors (about 71%) are already released on personal bonds. It's not immediately clear how many more may be eligible under the new policy, but the order sets formal standards for use by magistrates. Read more about Will New Policy Reduce the Burden of Cash Bail?

Feb 14, 2020
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Austin Chronicle

Opinion: The War on Drugs Got It Wrong

When I was arrested for my first drug offense, I was 19 years old. The War on Drugs told elected officials that Black people like me were the villains of the story and needed to be locked away in the name of public safety. Along with millions across the country, I was deemed disposable. For the next 20 years, I couldn't find a job or find a place to live in, and I panicked every time I was pulled over for fear that once again that disposable label would be placed on my forehead.

Today I celebrate my life as a partner, parent, son, brother, colleague, and friend in successful recovery from substance use disorder and mental illness. I do not owe my recovery to the criminal justice system; locking me in a cage harmed me and drove me further away from wellness. My recovery was made possible thanks to an amazing support network of friends and family dedicated to my best interests. As a formerly incarcerated Black man with behavioral health diagnoses, my success is a statistical anomaly – but it doesn't have to be. When we stop investing in systems of policing and punishment, we make space to create alternatives that promote wellness and healing for everyone.

Earlier this month, Grassroots Leadership, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, and the UT Law Civil Rights Clinic released a preliminary key findings report. The report finds that – in a city that systematically pushes Black people out of Austin and dwindled the population to just over 9% – Black people constitute over a third of all drug arrests. Half of the arrests resulted from minor traffic stops like driving with an expired registration or failure to signal. Half of possession of controlled substance cases directly related to medical or mental health crises, resulting in jail time of up to two years, delaying or denying the immediate need to respond to medical and mental health needs. Read more about Opinion: The War on Drugs Got It Wrong

Feb 10, 2020
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KVUE

Travis County District Attorney candidates talk about the war on drugs

AUSTIN, Texas — Grassroots LeadershipTexas Criminal Justice Coalition and Texas Harm Reduction Alliance held a forum Sunday to educate the community on candidates running for Travis County District Attorney and present questions to them. 

The forum specifically addressed the role prosecutors play in promoting public health approaches to drug use, harm reduction and pre-arrest diversion programs. 

District Attorney Margaret Moore, Workers Defense co-director Jose Garza and attorney Erin Martinson were all in attendance.

Recently, these groups along with the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law analyzed low-level drug arrests in 2017 and 2018. Their data showed even though African Americans make up 8.9% of the county's population, they account for 29.4% of drug possession arrests. During the forum, they asked the candidates how they would change that.  Read more about Travis County District Attorney candidates talk about the war on drugs

Feb 9, 2020
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KXAN

Travis County District Attorney candidates face questions on drugs, race, and the criminal justice system

AUSTIN (KXAN) — All three candidate vying to serve as Travis County’s District Attorney came face-to-face at a forum on Sunday afternoon. They are competing in what could be one of the most contentious local races in the March 3 primary election.

The three candidates are: current Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who was elected in 2016, Workers Defense Project co-director Jose Garza, and defense attorney/victim service advocate Erin Martinson. They were questioned before an audience at a packed church on the role prosecutors play in promoting public health approaches to drug use, harm reduction, and pre-arrest diversion programs. 

The forum was hosted by Grassroots Leadership, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Texas Harm Reduction Alliance. These groups published findings last week that showed black people living in Travis County represent 29.4% of drug possession arrests, while making up just 8.9% of the population. Read more about Travis County District Attorney candidates face questions on drugs, race, and the criminal justice system

Feb 8, 2020
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University of Richmond Law Review

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor (Unless They Are From “One of Three Mexican Countries”): Unaccompanied Children and the Humanitarian Crisis at the U.S. Southern Border

There is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis at the southern border of the United States.[1] At the height of the Trump Administration’s Family Separation policy in Summer 2018, thousands of children were separated from their parents.[2] Photos of children in cages,[3] children sleeping on the floor wrapped in mylar blankets,[4] and children screaming,[5] went viral. This issue was in the news again in June 2019 when several Democratic Presidential candidates visited a detention center for unaccompanied children in Florida.[6] This issue reflects the inadequacies within the United States immigration system. Specifically, it reflects a failure to respond to the increased number of children and families seeking admission into the United States, primarily at the southern border.[7]

This Comment argues that the United States’s response to the humanitarian crisis at its border is wholly inadequate. It argues that the government chose to advance two policies, Zero Tolerance and Family Separation, that exacerbated the humanitarian crisis at the border. These policies facilitated practices that violated domestic and international law. Most importantly, this Comment argues that the United States government traumatized one of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world: children. Read more about Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor (Unless They Are From “One of Three Mexican Countries”): Unaccompanied Children and the Humanitarian Crisis at the U.S. Southern Border

Feb 7, 2020
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Austin-American Statesman

With Abbott feud past, Hernandez eyes new goals in 2nd term

After serving a first term that began with a high-profile immigration dispute with Texas governor, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez says she is seeking reelection to continue other initiatives that are important to her.

“I love being the sheriff because of this community,” she said. “I have the opportunity to work with so many good people on so many important issues, like mental health and community trust. It’s been such an honor and a pleasure, and I want to do it for four more years.”

Since her election as sheriff in 2016, Hernandez has implemented programs to address mental health issues within the sheriff’s office and in Travis County. She partners with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to train jail employees, and her office provides crisis courses for friends and family of people with mental illnesses. Read more about With Abbott feud past, Hernandez eyes new goals in 2nd term

Feb 5, 2020
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Community Impact Newspaper

New reports spotlight racial disparities in motor vehicle stops, marijuana possession arrests in Austin, Travis County

People of color in Austin are policed at disproportionately higher rates than their percentage of the local population, and racial disparities in motor vehicle stops and arrests are widening, according to two new reports.

The findings

The first, published by the city of Austin on Jan. 30, analyzed Austin Police Department racial profiling data collected between 2015 and 2018.

One finding is that black residents—who make up 8% of the Austin population—accounted for 15% of motor vehicle stops and 25% of arrests in 2018.

APD classifies motor vehicle stops based on whether the race of the driver was known to the officer prior to the stop. Read more about New reports spotlight racial disparities in motor vehicle stops, marijuana possession arrests in Austin, Travis County

Feb 5, 2020
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Austin Monitor

Community reacts to APD racial profiling study at Public Safety Commission

Last week, a report from the city’s Office of Police Oversight, Office of Innovation, and Equity Office showed that black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be stopped in their vehicles by Austin police than white and Asian drivers. Following the release of the report, the Public Safety Commission heard from the community and the Austin Police Department at its Feb. 3 meeting.

“I’m tired of hearing fluff, I want to hear answers,” said newly elected Chair Meghan Hollis. “It’s time for all of us to call out systemic racism and implicit bias.”

The report found that based on APD motor vehicle stop data for 2018, black people constituted 15 percent of those pulled over by police and 25 percent of those who were arrested. In Austin, the black population makes up roughly 8 percent of the total population. Hispanics accounted for 33 percent of vehicle stops and 44 percent of people pulled over and arrested by police although they represent 31 percent of the population. Whites, according to the data, had a negative chance of being pulled over. While Caucasians make up 54 percent of Austin’s population, they accounted for only 47 percent of traffic stops and 30 percent of those arrested as a result of being pulled over. Read more about Community reacts to APD racial profiling study at Public Safety Commission

Feb 4, 2020
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KVUE

New report shows racial disparity in Travis County drug arrests

new report is highlighting racial disparities in drug arrests in Travis County.

Four groups – the Texas Criminal Justice CoalitionTexas Harm Reduction AllianceCivil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law and Grassroots Leadership – analyzed low-level drug arrests in 2017 and 2018. Their data showed even though African Americans make up 8.9% of the county's population, they account for 29.4% of drug possession arrests.

The report also found more than half of those arrests stemmed from traffic stops. Read more here.

Last week, the City released a separate report that showed Austin police are pulling over and arresting people of color at disproportionally higher rates than white drivers. City leaders told KVUE that data confirmed a problem the City has been trying to fix. Read more about New report shows racial disparity in Travis County drug arrests

Feb 4, 2020
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KXAN

Criminal justice groups call for ending low-level drug possession arrests

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Four organizations that reviewed 2,900 drug possession arrests from June 2017 to May 2018 announced they found “troubling police practices that harm communities, exacerbate racial disparities in arrests and jail detention and fail to address underlying needs of people who use drugs.”

Before releasing the full report later this month, Grassroots Leadership, The Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law revealed some key findings Tuesday from their research. Read more about Criminal justice groups call for ending low-level drug possession arrests

Jan 24, 2020
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Patch

Low-Level Marijuana Possession Decriminalized In Austin

AUSTIN, TX — Austin city officials effectively decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana during a council meeting on Thursday.

Council members passed a resolution that all but ends arrests and fines related to low-level marijuana possession. The council action comes after Texas legalized hemp — a strain of the Cannabis sativa plant species grown specifically for industrial uses — that complicated prosecution of marijuana possession given that both plants are nearly identical.

The legalization of hemp — a prolific, fast-growing plant from which paper, rope, garments and more can be made — required municipalities statewide to spend money on new resources to conduct laboratory tests to distinguish marijuana from the legalized hemp. Rather than absorb such considerable expense, Austin joined a growing list of cities that have instead decriminalized low level amounts of marijuana possession given the inability to test whether seized amounts are hemp or pot. Read more about Low-Level Marijuana Possession Decriminalized In Austin

Jan 13, 2020
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Latin Post

10 Organizations Every Latino Should Know About

1. Hispanic Heritage Foundation

This is an award-winning nonprofit foundation that identifies, inspires, prepares, and positions Latino leaders in different fields. The Hispanic Heritage Foundation helped thousands of students and young professionals become connected through mentoring. 

2. NALEO

NALEO educational fund was founded in 1981 and its mission is to increase the effectiveness of Latino policymakers, mobilize the Latino community by increasing their participation in civic life, and promote policies that advance the Latino community in political engagement. Moreover, NALEO educational fund is the leading non-profit and non-partisan organization that facilitates the transition of Latinos from citizenship to public service.

3. Grassroots Leadership

They help the community in hopes of prison profiteering, mass incarceration and deportation, and criminalization, especially for the underrepresented groups, become things of the past. The group has organized groups in certain communities to help fight back against deportation and detention.

4. Voto Latino

The group is a pioneering civic media organization that seeks to transform America by acknowledging Latinos' innate leadership that can help grow the country's economy. They empower the community by focusing on civic engagement, issue advocacy, and leadership development. They also provide programs that engage Latinos as agents of change. Read more about 10 Organizations Every Latino Should Know About

Jan 10, 2020
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Telemundo Austin

Abbott: Texas no participará en programa federal de asentamiento de refugiados

El Gobernador Greg Abbott anunció el viernes que Texas no participará en el programa federal de asentamiento de refugiados en el 2020.

Abbott envió la notificación oficial al Departamento de Estado. Hasta ahora, Texas ha sido el único estado de la unión en tomar la drástica medida.

Una orden ejecutiva del presidente Donald Trump dio a las jurisdicciones locales hasta el 21 de enero para decidir si aceptarían refugiados este año. .Texas era hasta ahora el estado que recibía al mayor número de refugiados.

“Lo que está haciendo es que está poniendo más trabas a estas personas. El problema para entrar legalmente aquí a los Estados Unidos como refugiado ya era demasiado complicado. No necesitan más obstáculos”, dijo Claudia Muñoz, activista de Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Abbott: Texas no participará en programa federal de asentamiento de refugiados

Jan 7, 2020
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El Pregonero

Acentuada disparidad racial en tasas de detenciones

El sistema penal del texano condado de Harris, el tercero más grande del país y donde se asienta Houston, presenta una acentuada disparidad racial en las tasas de encarcelamiento y detenciones, según un reporte dado a conocer este martes.

 El informe, llamado en inglés Care not Cages (Cuidados y no celdas) y presentado por las organizaciones civiles Grassroots Laaderhip y Texas Advocates for Justice, resalta la disparidad entre el porcentaje de afroamericano en el condado de Harris, que era del 19,7 por ciento en 2017, con el de arrestos (45,4 % del total) a esa misma población. Read more about Acentuada disparidad racial en tasas de detenciones

Jan 6, 2020
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Telemundo Austin

Preocupa descenso de solicitudes de visas U de Policía de Austin

La noche del lunes, la Comisión de Asuntos del Inmigrante realizó su primera reunión del año, abordando la preocupación que ha causado un reciente informe sobre las solicitudes de visas U que ha recibido la Policía de Austin en los últimos años.

Durante la junta, la oficial Christine Chomout explicó el proceso que sigue el departamento al recibir solicitudes.

“Si ha estado involucrado como víctima de un delito, debe obtener una prueba de la policía que diga que ha cooperado y que continuará cooperando en la investigación y el enjuiciamiento del delito del que ha sido víctima”, dijo Chomout. Read more about Preocupa descenso de solicitudes de visas U de Policía de Austin

Jan 6, 2020
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El Expresso

Gran disparidad racial en las detenciones en el tercer mayor condado de EEUU

Houston (TX), 6 ene (EFE News).- El sistema penal del texano condado de Harris, el tercero más grande del país y donde se asienta Houston, presenta una acentuada disparidad racial en las tasas de encarcelamiento y detenciones, según un reporte dado a conocer este lunes.

El informe, llamado en inglés Care not Cages (Cuidados y no celdas) y presentado por las organizaciones civiles Grassroots Laaderhip y Texas Advocates for Justice, resalta la disparidad entre el porcentaje de afroamericano en el condado de Harris, que era del 19,7 % en 2017, con el de arrestos (45,4 % del total) a esa misma población.

"A pesar de contar con una población diversa, existen marcadas inequidades en el número de arrestos y a quiénes se detiene en la ciudad de Houston y el condado de Harris. El resultado indica que hay una cuota importante de racismo por parte de las autoridades policiacas que preocupa", sostuvo María Reza, con Grassroots Leadership, en declaraciones a Efe. Read more about Gran disparidad racial en las detenciones en el tercer mayor condado de EEUU

Jan 6, 2020
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Latinx Today

Gran disparidad racial en las detenciones en el tercer mayor condado de EEUU

El informe, llamado en inglés Care not Cages (Cuidados y no celdas) y presentado por las organizaciones civiles Grassroots Laaderhip y Texas Advocates for Justice, resalta la disparidad entre el porcentaje de afroamericano en el condado de Harris, que era del 19,7 % en 2017, con el de arrestos (45,4 % del total) a esa misma población.

"A pesar de contar con una población diversa, existen marcadas inequidades en el número de arrestos y a quiénes se detiene en la ciudad de Houston y el condado de Harris. El resultado indica que hay una cuota importante de racismo por parte de las autoridades policiacas que preocupa", sostuvo María Reza, con Grassroots Leadership, en declaraciones a Efe.

El reporte, que analiza datos del sistema penal del condado de Harris de marzo de 2015 hasta marzo de 2018, señala además que ese sector de la población supera la mitad (51%) de los casos en donde los detenidos deben pasar más de una noche en una celda del condado en espera de una resolución judicial. Read more about Gran disparidad racial en las detenciones en el tercer mayor condado de EEUU

Dec 23, 2019
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Daily Kos

The long arm of ICE: Will sanctuary for immigrants be the next target?

Earlier this month, Edith Espinal was sitting in her room at Columbus, Ohio’s Mennonite Church when the letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrived.

“Please be advised that your failure to depart the United States in compliance with your final order of removal may result in civil and criminal penalties, including monetary fines and imprisonment,” it read. The letter also instructed Espinal to appear at a December 17 appointment at her local ICE field office.

Espinal is in sanctuary, an increasingly common practice in which immigrants take shelter in a house of worship to avoid deportation. Though there is no law governing sanctuary, ICE has typically refrained from entering the grounds of sanctuary-providing churches to arrest those whom the congregations have given protection. Read more about The long arm of ICE: Will sanctuary for immigrants be the next target?

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