National Urban League Policy on Civil Rights

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Policy Statement: Civil Rights

The National Urban League remains vigilant in the enforcement of our civil rights laws by working in collaboration with other civil rights organizations, particularly in the areas of voting rights and criminal justice reform.

While we believe that our core policy priorities in education, jobs, housing, and health are civil rights issues for the 21st century, we also believe that the gains of the “traditional” civil rights era are under unprecedented attack. We are determined to fight to preserve and build upon our voting rights and our right to privacy, protect affirmative action, and reform systems of entrenched injustice including over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and the killing of children and adults of color. The National Urban League and Urban League affiliates administer prisoner reentry programs, child welfare and family reunification services and participate as amici in various filings in the Courts. As such, our policy priorities include:

  1. Voting Rights

Fixing the Voting Rights Act – The National Urban League believes that if we don’t protect our right to vote – we stand to lose it. We will continue to work in coalition with the civil rights community and bipartisan members of Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) that was devastated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Voting Rights Act bills have always been non- bipartisan. After four reauthorizations and a continuing bipartisan consensus in the current Congress, there is no reason to believe that we cannot fix and modernize the VRA.

Restoring Voting Rights for Returning Citizens – The National Urban League has joined a coalition of civil rights, social and criminal justice, as well as other legal and advocacy organizations in supporting the Democracy Restoration Act of 2015 (H.R.1459/S.772), introduced by Representative John Conyers, Jr.(D-MI) and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD). This bill seeks to restore voting rights in federal elections to people who are out of prison and living in the community.

Securing Full Democracy for the District of Columbia – More than 600,000 citizens living in our nation’s capital pay the highest per capita federal income taxes in the country, serve on juries and fight and die in wars, yet they are denied full democratic rights. The National Urban League has long supported the cause of equality for the District’s citizens, including full representation, democracy and equality through statehood.

  1. Criminal Justice Reform                      

  • Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform – As one of the co-conveners of the “African-American Leaders Convening,” the National Urban League finds that racial discrimination permeates every aspect of the criminal justice system, from racial profiling to arrest to trial and to sentencing. We urge a major overhaul of this system. To this end, we support the proposed criminal justice reform policy recommendations included in the “21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom.”
  • End Racial Profiling Act of 2013 – The legislation aims at addressing the entry level stage to the criminal justice system through provisions that aim to put an end to racial profiling by law enforcement officials and to ensure that individuals are not prejudicially stopped, investigated, arrested, or detained based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion.
  • Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (H.R.920/S.502) –  Several studies have determined that mandatory minimum drug sentences are a primary cause of federal prison growth and must be reformed if we are to create a prison system that is fair, cost-effective, rehabilitative, and protects the public. This bipartisan bill would reduce certain mandatory minimum sentences; increase opportunities for use of judicial discretion in sentencing; and allow retroactive application of the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act’s reductions to crack cocaine sentences, with judicial review.
  • Comprehensive Gun Control – The National Urban League supports:
    • A ban on military style assault weapons and ammunition
    • Closure of the gun show loophole
    • Universal background checks
    • Stronger enforcement of existing gun laws
    • A focus on violence prevention that includes investments in programs that create safe spaces for kids during out of school time
    • Investment in improving mental illness services and treatment
    • Rejecting the placement of armed guards in our schools. On this issue, the
    • National Urban League is adamantly opposed to arming teachers and armed guards as we strongly believe that guns do not belong in schools – period. Of particular concern to us is their interaction with children of color, whose discipline issues are often dealt with as criminal matters – effectively fast-tracking them into the juvenile justice system.
  • Immediate Repeal of “Stand Your Ground” laws – These unfair laws serve only to perpetuate an unequal system of justice with lethal consequences that disproportionately impacts communities of color, especially African–American males. We call on those states that have “Stand Your Ground” laws on their books to immediately repeal them.
  • Reforming the Juvenile Justice System through Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) – We support focusing on creating systematic reform and holding it more accountable in addressing the disproportionate number of youths of color in the system that receive harsher treatment and tougher sentences.
  • We Urge the Reauthorization of the Second Chance Act – Enacted in 2008, the Second Chance Act provides resources and support to local corrections agencies, nonprofits, education institutions and families to help offenders reintegrate into their communities, using best practices based on the best evidence.

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