civil rights

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A person who wanted to transition from a male to female identity has lost a lawsuit against her former employer.

RG & GR Harris Funeral Home fired Aimee Stephens for planning to dress as a female at work.

The owner said he believes gender is an immutable, God-given gift.

Attorneys for Stephens say the ruling will make it nearly impossible to enforce any civil rights law, if an employer can say the law is against its religious beliefs.

Attorneys for the funeral home say the ruling is a victory for religious liberty, and a check on government intrusion.

Emily Dievendorf, president of the Lansing Association for Human Rights, joined Stateside today and said this ruling could lead to “pretty far-reaching implications” for both transgender people and others in the workplace.

 A mural by Louis Delsarte at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site.
Flickr user yooperann/Flickr / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

This week, violence and race have hit us in a way many of us have never seen.

Violence and race, though, are not new. The Detroit Journalism Cooperative has been looking at the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Some of the core issues then are some of the issues we're still struggling with today.

You've got to understand the history to really understand what's happened this week.

Dorothy Aldridge and Sylvia Morgan in front of an exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum​ in Memphis​ showcasing Detroit activist Viola Liuzzo, who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan while driving black voting rights activists between Selma and Montgom
Eric L. Hood

How do you get students to really appreciate history?

One powerful way is to get those students out of the classroom and take them to historic sites, bringing that history off the page and making it real.

That's the idea behind the Freedom Tour. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

After 13 years, the Detroit police department is now officially free of U.S. Justice Department oversight.

The department had been under two federal consent decrees since 2003.

Those decrees stemmed from a host of unconstitutional policing practices, ranging from excessive use of force, to illegally detaining witnesses.

Federal judge Avern Cohn signed off on a full return to local control this week, after an 18-month transition period.

Police Chief James Craig says 13 years of federal oversight helped create a “constitutional” police department.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

America struggles with race and those struggles are intensifying. As the white majority has been shrinking, racial tensions have been rising. You can see it in anti-immigration movements. It’s in the feeling among some white people that they’re being oppressed.

Meanwhile, a new generation of black protest organizations has been taking to the streets as black Americans feel a greater threat from white-dominated politics and police.

Race relations have changed since the civil rights movements of the 1960s and they seem to be changing again.

LBJ Presidential Library

News media around the world are talking about Detroit’s resurgence.

Politicians in the city and the state, such as Gov. Rick Snyder, hype its revitalization.

“New investments have helped fuel a rapid dramatic transformation of Detroit and today it’s America’s comeback city,” he said in a video.

But that’s only part of the story of Detroit.

In the city’s neighborhoods, many people are still struggling.

However, there was a plan released in the 1960s to help end racial discrimination in Detroit and the nation.

Civil rights hearings planned on Flint water crisis

Jan 27, 2016
Flint water treatment plant
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission will investigate whether the Flint drinking water crisis has violated the civil rights of Flint residents. 

The bipartisan commission unanimously passed a resolution yesterday to hold at least three public hearings, the first of which is expected to take place within 30 days.

"The Commission decided that under the state constitution, as well as the Elliott-Larsen Act, to conduct hearings to try to learn more if discrimination may have occurred," said commission co-chair Arthur Horwitz. 

thetoad / Flickr

The woman who wrote and championed Michigan’s groundbreaking Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act has died.

Daisy Elliott was a state representative from Detroit for nearly two decades.

Fellow lawmakers remembered her as a quiet, gracious woman who fiercely opposed discrimination of any kind.

Her years-long campaign for state-level civil rights protections finally paid off in 1977, when the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act became law with bipartisan support. It declared:

Debate delays new social studies standards

Dec 11, 2015
Scott Durham's class at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek explores inequality and empowerment
Gabrielle Emanuel / Michigan Radio

There's a civil rights debate brewing in Michigan. It's about whether schools have too much civil rights education or too little.

This controversy has prompted the State Board of Education to delay voting on new social studies standards.

Back in 2014, The Southern Poverty Law Center gave each state a grade based on how good it is at civil rights education.

South Carolina, Louisiana and Georgia all got As.

Michigan did not.

“So, Michigan got an F,” admits Gregg Dionne of Michigan’s Department of Education.

It’s the upstarts versus the Establishment. Again.

And, this time, we don’t mean the Tea Party versus the Republicans. Rather, we’re talking about the gay rights movement in Michigan.

Retired Ford executive and former Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour says adopting LGBT protections in law will help the state attract and retain talent.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

A state House committee adjourned today without voting on legislation that would add LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law, and it appears the effort has stalled as the Legislature grows close to wrapping up for the year.

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier / Flickr

A coalition of business and civil rights leaders is expanding an effort to lobby Michigan's Legislature to make it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people.

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition consists of representatives from over two dozen local and national companies, including Google, Dow Chemical Company, and Zingerman's, as well as various local associations and chambers of commerce.

By now everyone knows, or at least thinks they know, something about Michael Brown. He was, of course, the unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson 10 days ago.

His death has reopened our eternal and eternally painful dialogue about equal rights and race. But what makes me sad is that a true civil rights movement giant died in Detroit two days ago, and almost nobody even noticed.

Fifty years ago this summer, a young black woman lawyer from Detroit named Claudia House Morcom arrived in Mississippi on a mission that really meant risking her life.

She was there to fight the system of institutionalized vicious racism that prevented black Americans from voting, and reduced them to subhuman status in virtually every way.

A mentally handicapped Dearborn man plans to sue the city for alleged police brutality.

28-year-old Ali Beydoun was stopped by police while riding his bike home from his job as a dishwasher in December.

A dashcam video shows that an officer approaches him, and asks a few questions.

But when the officer tries to pat him down for weapons, Beydoun resists. He’s then wrestled to the ground and kicked by officers.

Beydoun’s lawyers say that same video shows officers used excessive force.

Attorney Amir Makled says it also should have been obvious to officers that his client is mentally disabled.

Makled says the situation was complicated by the fact that Beydoun only speaks limited English. His family emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon six years ago.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In the spring of 1973, Ray Robinson left his wife and three young children in Bogue Chitto, Alabama to support the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

He never came home.

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

Casino Connection / Flickr

In 1963, Michigan voters approved a new state constitution which set up the first Civil Rights Commission in U.S. history.

The Commission works to ensure each citizen receives equal protection without discrimination

Today, fifty years after the creation of the Commission, Matt Wesaw runs the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. A former state trooper, Wesaw is the first Native American to lead the Civil Rights Department.

Wesaw met with us in the studio to discuss the future of civil rights in Michigan.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights was created as part of the state constitution drafted in 1963. It’s charged with enforcing civil rights laws and preventing discrimination.

Leslee Fritz is the department’s interim director. She told a group in Grand Rapids Tuesday night the state has come a long way to ensure civil rights in the last five decades.

wikimedia commons

Civil rights activists say they’re not done trying to get justice for Trayvon Martin.

They have actions planned in Detroit and around the country to push for federal intervention in the Florida teen’s case.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, a black, unarmed teenager, in 2012.

Zimmerman’s acquittal this past weekend has sparked national outrage—and questions about persistent racial inequities in the justice system.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s state constitutional amendment barring racial preferences in university admissions and other public institutions might be the next major case dealing with affirmative action laws in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today not to decide a Texas affirmative action case where a white student challenged the University of Texas’s admission policy that includes race as one of its deciding factors. 

Wikimedia Commons

Michigan State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) could be opening the door to extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. That would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas such as employment and housing.

The state's civil rights act protects a variety of groups from discrimination. It includes protections for categories like race and age, but sexual orientation has yet to be included.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Cobo Hall Detroit, June 22, 1963.
50th Anniversary Freedom Walk Facebook Page

Just as his father did fifty years ago, Martin Luther King III will address an expected march of thousands in Detroit.

This year Detroit celebrates the 50th anniversary of the day Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before 25,000 people at Cobo Hall in Detroit and declared, "I have a dream this afternoon." This was just two months before the historic March on Washington.

If you were looking for a quintessential solidly middle-class Michigan suburb, Royal Oak, Michigan might be it. Its 57,000 people are mainly white and solidly middle-class.

The downtown became somewhat of a magnet for the young, and trendy a decade or so ago, and hip twenty-somethings still mingle there with motorcycle bikers and teenage skateboarders on warm summer evenings. But by and large, Royal Oak is average middle-sized suburban homes, built around the baby boom era.

via wikipedia

The Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network are the latest activists to jump behind the fight to Michigan’s emergency manager law.

Sharpton was in Detroit as opponents filed a federal lawsuit today.

Critics maintain that Michigan’s emergency manager law violates both state and federal law by stripping local voting rights in cities and school districts with emergency managers.

And they also argue it’s a racial issue, with black voters disproportionately affected.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Department of Education is now investigating the state of Michigan over alleged civil rights violations.

The department’s civil rights office was already investigating two civil rights cases against the Detroit Public Schools.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

An Arab American civil rights group says it’s hearing from a surge of people in southeast Michigan whose bank accounts were closed down without explanation.

The Arab American Civil Rights League says it’s received about a dozen complaints in the past month.

In each case, the bank notified the client that their account would be shut down. But they refused to provide an explanation.

A new draft report finds allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy. The state’s Civil Rights Commission is reviewing the report and might take action.

In Michigan it’s legal to discriminate against people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Housing and job discrimination are a couple of the examples that are allowed by law.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Some students, parents, and education advocates from Detroit and Highland Park will testify at a federal hearing in Washington this week.

They are part of a nationwide group speaking out against changes in Detroit and other poor school districts.

The group alleges that some of the measures, particularly closing neighborhood schools, have “sabotaged and destabilized” education for many children.

Helen Moore is with the Detroit-based group Keep the Vote-No Takeover.

She said the group wasn’t getting far fighting these measures at the local level.

Royal Oak City Commissioners unanimously approved a measure to start drafting a human rights ordinance Monday.

Such an ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics not covered under state or federal law. A number of Michigan cities have similar laws on the books.

Royal Oak voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed human rights ordinance in 2001.

But City Commissioner Jim Rasor is convinced public opinion on gay rights has shifted drastically since then.

isabellacounty.org

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit against Isabella County.

It says the county jail violates the constitutional rights of inmates with cells that are too crowded, and too few opportunities to exercise.

The federal lawsuit also says the jail discriminates against female inmates because they can’t participate in work assignments that could reduce their sentences.   

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta filed the lawsuit.

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