News You May Have Missed: June 6, 2021

“grassy narrows” by howlmontreal is licensed under CC BY 2.0


1. Legislation would address sexual assault in the military

Every year the U.S. military releases a report on sexual assaults in the armed services; every two years, that report is accompanied by an anonymous survey of service members asking whether they have experienced sexual assault in the armed services, reporting by the Associated Press explains. In 2018, the last year for which both a report and survey data are available, over 20,000 service members reported being sexually assaulted (a 37% increase over the 2016 survey), but only one-third of them filed a formal report. Men who have been assaulted are even less likely to report than women, according to the Military Times. A likely explanation for this discrepancy between the number of assaults and the number reported is armed services members’ lack of faith in the efficacy of current procedures for investigating and adjudicating allegations of sexual assault. Currently, such allegations fall under the purview of military commanders, a practice that would change if a proposed bill becomes law, according to NPR

 For years, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and other members of Congress have fought to have sexual assault allegations adjudicated by independent judge advocates, rather than commanding officers. Senator Gillibrand and others are concerned that in order to maintain unit cohesion, commanding officers often are reluctant to pursue charges, reduce charges, or overrule recommendations for courts martial in response to allegations of sexual assault, reporting in The Hill makes clear. In response, Congress has regularly considered legislation that would change the process by which allegations of sexual assault in the military are investigated and prosecuted, but this legislation has never passed.

 At last, however, GIllibrand’s proposed legislation has new support in the Senate, NPR notes, in part because of Iowa Republican senator Joni Ernst, who is a combat veteran. An advisory panel appointed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin shortly after he was confirmed has recommended an approach similar to that advocated for by Gillibrand and others. The Hill now reports that Austin is days away from making a decision on whether to follow these recommendations. At the same time, legislation recently introduced in Congress could mandate that changes such as those recommended by the panel be initiated. In addition to sexual assault, crimes such as murder, manslaughter, child endangerment, child pornography and negligent homicide would be addressed by military prosecutors, not commanding officers. 

S.1520, the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act, has 64 cosponsors: 20 Republicans, 2 Independents, and 42 Democrats. H.R.3224, To Improve the Responses of the Department of Defense to Sex-Related Offenses, is supported by 185 cosponsors, all of the Democrats. Text is not yet available for this legislation, but it is likely to be similar to that of last year’s I Am Vanessa Guillén Act (S.4600 in the Senate; H.R.8270 in the House), which was introduced, but never made it out of committee in either house of Congress. This legislation had three main provisions:

◉ A listing of sexual harassment as a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (currently rape and sexual assault are listed, but not sexual harassment);

◉ A requirement that the Secretary of Defense establish a process that allows service members to confidentially lodge complaints of sex-related offenses;

◉ A reassignment of such cases away from the chain of command to an Office of the Special Prosecutor in each service branch (if a branch does not have such an office, one would be established). S-HP

In the Canadian military, there were 581 incidents of sexual assault and 221 of sexual harrasment over the five year period in which there were supposed to be concerted efforts to address the problem, according to the CBC. Activists trying to address the problem note that sexual assault is drastically under-reported, since those assaulted have to report first to their commanding officer–who may have been their assailant–and since perpetrators can easily “plead down” to get only administrative sanctions. RLS/S-HP

To have a voice on this issue, you can urge not only the Secretary of Defense, the Armed Services Committees of both houses of Congress, and your Congressmembers to act now to create an independent system to address sex-related offenses in the military. Addresses are here. In addition, you can ask your Senators to vote for S.1520 when it comes to them.

2. American democracy at risk

“Is America heading to a place where it can no longer call itself a democracy?” This is the unnerving question that opened a recent piece in the Guardian. The writer references what has become, unfortunately, the “usual” round of concerns: legislation limiting voting, moves making it easier to replace the results of an election with an outcome chosen by a few officials, continuing false claims of election fraud, Senate Republican’s refusal to allow a bipartisan investigation of the events of January 6, and ill-informed, ill-run recounts of balloting in the 2020 presidential election. One hundred political theorists signed a letter arguing that “Collectively, these initiatives are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections. Hence, our entire democracy is now at risk.”

The effects that changes to voting laws will have are clear in a piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the disparate impact of legislation in Georgia. Their findings include the following:

◉ Over 272,000 registered voters in the state don’t have a driver’s license or other ID or, if they have ID, they do not have it on file with election officials, which means they will either have to provide such ID in advance of the state’s next election or find themselves disenfranchised.

◉ Those who registered to vote before 2016, when Georgia began automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices, may be erroneously listed as not having ID, and this may continue to be the case with voters who register via mail, rather than through driver licensing

◉More than 55% of those without ID meeting the new requirements are Black, although just 30% of all voters in the state are Black.

◉The majority of the voters at risk of becoming disenfranchised live in urban areas, where Democratic voters predominate.

Recent changes to voting laws vary by state, but will have similar impacts for voters within those states.

Here is what’s desperately needed: A federal guarantee of voting-rights, more accessible and expanded voting opportunities, reasonable ID requirements, nonpartisan districting, limits on campaign contributions, and much stronger protection against international interference in elections. As we explained last week, the For the People Act would enact all of these—at least for federal elections, which would make it more difficult for states to justify limiting voting opportunities and fairness in smaller electoral contests. Unfortunately, with a 50-50 Senate and a 60-vote requirement for overturning a filibuster, the chances of the For the People Act becoming law are slim–especially since Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) wrote in an op/ed on Sunday that he would not support it. And Manchin, along with Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) is unwilling to consider eliminating the filibuster–meaning that, as the New York Times puts it, “the scale of the catastrophe bearing down on us and the blithe refusal of Manchin and Sinema to help is enough to leave one frozen with despair.” S-HP

You can urge the Senate Majority Leader to continue to bring voting rights legislation before Senate, forcing Republicans, and certain Democrats, to publicly cast votes opposing basic electoral protections. You might also remind Manchin and Sinema that a “democracy’ without full voting rights is not a democracy and insist that allowing the Republican party to disenfranchise low income, urban, and Black voters, and other voters of color, is not the kind of bipartisanship they should be supporting. Addresses are here.

3. Policing: Failure to protect

“Bias in criminal justice takes another form besides excessive force: failure to protect,” as Jane Manning, the Director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, observes in a Washington Post op-ed. As the Justice Department begins its investigations of police departments accused of racially motivated violence—as with Minneapolis and Louisville, for example—Manning also calls for the investigation of “how departments respond to sexual assault and other gender-based crimes, whose survivors encounter rampant misogyny, homophobia and neglect from law enforcement agencies throughout the country.” Manning cites investigative reporting revealing that both Minneapolis and Louisville have poor records of working with victims of sexual assault: botched investigations, failure to retain evidence and to interview witnesses, and demeaning treatment of victims. Over-policing is a problem; so is selective under-policing. S-HP

To address this issue, urge the Attorney General to be sure that investigations of police violence also examine the handling of sexual assault cases to identify disparate treatment based on gender and or ethnicity. Merrick Garland, Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Ave.NW, Washington DC 20530-0001, (202) 514-2000.

4. Refugee assistance organizations to vet refugee admissions

A group of six refugee organizations have been selected to choose the refugees to be admitted to the US. While they have not been publicly named, sources say they are the International Rescue Committee, along with the London-based Save the Children; two U.S.-based organizations, HIAS and Kids in Need of Defense; and two Mexico-based organizations, Asylum Access and the Institute for Women in Migration, according to NBC News. Operating out of Nogales, Arizona, the IRC is prioritizing those who have been in “Mexico a long time, are in need of acute medical attention or who have disabilities, are members of the LGBTQ community or are non-Spanish speakers.” This effort, which is scheduled to continue only until the end of July, is intended to be a transition from the deeply problematic use of Title 42, under which asylum seekers are summarily deported under the guise of COVID precautions. The number of refugees who can be admitted to the US this fiscal year (which ends in October) was finally raised to 62,500 in May, after the Biden administration received fierce criticism for trying to hold it to 15,000, the Guardian explained. 

 We now have a way to avoid the kinds of draconian cuts to refugee admissions used by the Trump administration and temporarily continued under President Biden. The Lady Liberty Act, H.R.977, would require the U.S. to admit a minimum of 125,000 refugees each fiscal year. This legislation is currently with the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. It currently has 58 cosponsors. RLS/S-HP

To increase the number of refugees admitted, urge swift, positive action on H.R.977 by the House Judiciary Committee and its Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee. Addresses are here.


5. Finally, legislation takes on environmental racism

Since the 1970s, researchers and residents have known that communities of color are more likely to have toxic waste dumps situated near them, so that they bear the health consequences of PCBs and other industrial wastes leaching into their water and air. Indigenous communities have been devastated by nuclear and mining waste deposited on their lands. Fracking sites, toxins in water, and air pollution are more likely to affect. communities of color. And, as that radical rag National Geographic reports, communities of color that are also low-income are especially hard-hit. All of this results in more premature babies, lower birth weight babies, higher rates of lung cancer, and more heart disease–exacerbated by lack of access to nutritious food and good medical care. These health vulnerabilities contributed to the higher rates of COVID in communities of colour, as the journal Nature reported last year. Indigenous and Latinx people were 2.4 and 2.3 times as likely to die from COVID as white people, while Black people were nearly twice as likely to die from the disease, the CDC noted last week.

At last, this situation will begin to be addressed legislatively. The Environmental Justice for All Act is a ground-breaking and sweeping piece of legislation intended to address the historical inequity in negative health and environmental effects in communities of color and low-income communities. This legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress: in the Senate by Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), where it is listed as S.872, and in the House by Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), where it is listed as H.R.2021

The Environmental Justice for All Act would:

◉Prohibit disparate health and environmental impacts of federal laws and programs on the basis of race, color, national origin—and protect communities of color, low-income communities, and tribal or indigenous communities;

◉Give those affected by disparate health and environmental impacts to seek legal remedies;

◉Add environmental justice impact reports for major projects;

◉Expand the current requirements for ingredient listing and warning labeling on a range of products;

◉Establish grants for identifying alternatives to chemicals currently in use in consumer, cleaning, toy, and baby products;

◉Fund programs to increase parks and recreational opportunities in urban areas;

◉Create a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council responsible for creating environmental justice strategies and guidelines.

The Natural Resources Committee has a veritable library of resources on the bill and on environmental justice issues at their site. And Science Direct has a bibliography of solid information.

S.872 currently has 12 cosponsors—all Democrats— and is with the Environment and Public Works Committee. H.R.2021 currently has 55 cosponsors—again, all Democrats—and is with five committees: Energy and Commerce; Natural Resources; Transportation and Infrastructure; Agriculture; and Education and Labor. RLS/SHP

To bring about real change for communities of color, urge quick, positive action on S.872 by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and on H.R.2021 by the appropriate House Committees. Addresses are here. Also at this link you can see whether your Senators and Representative are co-sponsors of these bills, and thank or nudge as appropriate.

6. Meanwhile, in Canada…

The impact of environmental injustice is also finally being addressed by the Canadian government, as the Toronto Star reported yesterday. Bill C-230 in the House of Commons would launch a national strategy to address environmental racism, including the documentation of environmental hazards in communities of colour and the enforcement of environmental laws. Many Indigenous communities do not have clean drinking water due to toxic waste such as mercury in the Grassy Narrows First Nations community, a contaminant which has led to three generations of people with neurological difficulties, the CBC reports. This is a pattern all over Canada, according to “Clean Water, Broken Promises, an investigative report from Concordia University that was published this year; the research team also publishes a series of blogs and scientific articles about specific instances. RLS


Among the causes of forced migration is gender-based migration. A webinar from the Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on June 8 will detail these issues.

trans hotline with both Canadian and US numbers–and with operators who speak Spanish–provides services by and for trans people. You don’t need to be in crisis to call, and if you are a friend or a family member of a trans person, you can also call to find out how to support them. If you would like to know more about the organization, see their staff bios here.

Moms Rising has actions you can take to preserve paid leave, unemployment, and access to child care..

The Americans of Conscience checklist has new actions every other week that will enable you to make your voice heard quickly and clearly. In addition, they have a good news section that will help you keep going.

Among the organizations that supports kids and their families at the border is RAICES, which provides legal support. The need for their services has never been greater. You can support them here.

Al Otro Lado provides legal and humanitarian services to people in both the US and Tijuana. You can find out more about their work here.

The Minority Humanitarian Foundation supports asylum-seekers who have been released by ICE with no means of transportation or ways to contact sponsors. You can donate frequent-flyer miles to make their efforts possible.

The group Angry Tias and Abuelas provides legal advice and services to asylum-seekers at the border. You can follow their work on Facebook and see the list of volunteer opportunities they have posted.