Confronting discrimination can be overwhelming without help

News Analysis

Life is tough enough facing everyday issues without discrimination making things harder. Black Twitter has managed to help mete out social media justice against the Permit Patty’s and Barbecue Becky’s of the world – causing them to lose jobs, businesses and reputations.

But, what happens when you’re unfairly excluded from, say, housing or employment or otherwise wronged, mistreated by law enforcement, for instance – what help is there? Where do you go and, importantly, what result can reasonably be expected? How reliable is the system of social justice?

Housing discrimination is historic, necessitating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) to implement the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Whether HUD Secretary Ben Carson is friend or foe of the disenfranchised is subject to speculation. In May, civil rights advocates sued him for suspending the Fair Housing Act Enforcement Rule, which he derided as “experimenting with failed socialism.”

Next City, in its January article “HUD May Be Trying to Quietly Kill Obama-Era Fair Housing Rule,” stated that the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule failed to further equitability. Indeed, it did the opposite, sustaining segregation tactics.

Nationally, HUD received 28,181 complaints of housing discrimination in 2016. An overview cites denying African Americans mobile home rentals, discriminatory concentration of affordable housing, refusing the mentally disabled, blacklisting on social media sites like Airbnb, and predatory lending to refinance mortgages. Not often publicized is the plight of tenants suffering sexual harassment to avoid eviction.

There are, of course, countless times victims do not report being discriminated against for racial, ethnic, religious or other reasons. Whether they feel it’s fruitless or actually aren’t aware they can complain, the agency is powerless to act without a complaint. If you need help, the only way to get it is to ask.

HUD Midwest Regional Public Affairs Officer Gina Rodriguez deferred comment on both Carson’s perceptible attack on fair housing and FHEO’s adherence to its espoused mission under his watch.

“It’s not something that has gone away,” he said. “They are taking time to ensure that we have [sufficient] input from all the impacted stakeholders’ representatives. They’re taking time to gain more insight regarding implementation impact.”

He did explain, however, that there are some measures in progress. “Just this past January, we issued $38.5 million to fight housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Initiative Program. Secretary Carson continues working tirelessly to assure fair housing discrimination cases continue to be addressed.”

But Rodriguez acknowledged, “There is a long way to go.” She declined to comment on how long or how HUD planned to get there.

The American Civil Liberties Union–Minnesota aggressively litigates to defend civil rights, but it is not a law practice in its own right and does not provide legal advice. Its principle focus is violations that impact large numbers of citizens.

The recent Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) shooting of Thurman Blevins follows the deaths of Jamar Clark (2015) and Philando Castile (2016), causing concern for citizens of color who feel they’re at risk to be next. It prompted ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon to release a statement via press release on July 30.

“It is imperative,” asserted Gordon, “that when deadly-force incidents occur, video from dash camera footage be released quickly, regardless of whether an investigation is ongoing. We cannot rely on the whim of the MPD to release the footage. To build transparency and trust, such a practice should be department policy and required by law. We do not live in a police state — police officers should not be permitted to shoot first and ask questions later.

“We have time and time again called for police accountability following incidents of police violence,” continued Gordon. “But, the police continue to kill people in our community. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have promised change. Now is the time the deliver on that promise.”

As a rule, the criteria for ACLU accepting a case is whether it raises civil liberties or civil rights issues such as due process, equal protection, discrimination, freedom of religion, and the right to privacy. It is not a remedy for individuals.

Accordingly, if you are mistreated while in police custody, there isn’t much to be done about it except to contact the Civilian Review Authority, which doesn’t enjoy a favorable reputation in Minneapolis. (St. Paul last year removed law enforcement from its Police Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission.)

Complicating the matter is the U.S. Constitution’s 6th Amendment guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial. It, however, does not prohibit police departments from jailing you for up to three days – whether you’re accused of committing a crime or not. When asked how effective the ACLU has been regarding racial profiling, a practice that does impact large numbers of people, the MSR was not given hard data.

“That’s a hard question to answer,” acknowledged Teresa Nelson, ACLU legal director. “We’ve done quite a bit of advocacy in Minneapolis with regard to disparity in arrests.”

Regarding what some perceive as open season on Black people, she reflected on the fact that MPD Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt were exonerated. “When I look at court decisions [in the instance of] officer-involved killings, the courts are extremely deferential to the police.”

There are, as well, covert acts of discrimination that simply can’t be contested in court. If you’ve been fired from your job because of your race, you can turn to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but, unless you’ve got a drawer’s worth of documentation, your employer can simply claim your performance unsatisfactory.

A Black woman out eating with her White husband stated that she was treated shabbily by first the wait staff person and then by the manager. Without having been called a name or otherwise openly insulted, the couple can’t complain to the Department of Human Rights or even to the Better Business Bureau. While the disrespect may have been evident to them, there is no proof they were singled out for the color of their skin.

In summary: Confronting discrimination is, to say the least, difficult.