Coalition seeks an end to discriminatory policies

Coalition seeks an end to discriminatory policies

By Louis Casiano

Updated 07:36 p.m., Sunday, April 1, 2012

The deaths of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Al Awadi sparked national outrage and have since fueled continued conversation on civil rights in Houston and across the nation.

Dozens of concerned citizens met Saturday at an all-day Civil Rights Coalition conference at the Houston Community College West Loop campus to discuss civil rights, immigration and the criminal justice system in a post 9/11 world.

Participants discussed the deaths of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old who was shot and killed in Florida last month by a community-watch leader, and Al Awadi, who died last week in California after being found severely beaten next to a note that read “go back to your country.”


“We do have a lot of people in this community, a significant minority, who are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic, anti-everything,” said Mustafaa Carroll, executive director for the Houston chapter for the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Representatives for CAIR touched on the rise of islamophobia after 9/11 and privacy issues, such as the monitoring of particular people and organizations.

Carroll said that while Islamophobia in the U.S. is not widespread, the rhetoric of some public officials creates an environment where it can flourish.

“You have elected officials making ugly comments,” he said. It’s one thing for citizens to make it, but once you become an elected official you don’t represent one segment of a community, you represent the entire community.”

Speakers from the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Texas Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, among other groups, elaborated on the business of detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants and the separation of families.

“This whole detention issue has spawned off a business to it,” said Baldomero Garza III, LULAC national vice president for the Southwest. “Now you’ve put a profit really above what you’re supposed to be doing, and anytime you have that it becomes a problem.”

A major issue that resonated with many attendees was the death penalty. Long-time Houston activist David Atwood, a former president of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, reiterated that the death penalty is not protected by the Constitution and doesn’t deter crime.

“The death penalty is unconstitutional,” he said. “We do not need to put somebody to death to protect society.”

Ticketing kids

Other topics included the profit motive behind mass incarceration and the public school system’s role in creating a “school-to-prison pipeline” by taking a zero tolerance policy stance on behavior that only a few years ago would have been deemed childish.

According to Gislaine Williams of the ACLU of Texas, talking back to a teacher or acting like the class clown could potentially be punished with a class-C misdemeanor.

“These kids are being ticketed for really discretionary things,” she said.

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