The history of America has been forged by protest, conflict and compromise. The Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed all men equal, did not extend to non-whites or to women. Over time, political activists sought to redress historical inequalities and secure equal rights for all citizens. Social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries produced important gains in racial, gender and marriage equality. While President Barack Obama’s election marked the end of centuries of racial inequality in America, discrimination remains.
As of July 2017, the U.S. population of 326 million people was comprised of 62 percent Anglos, 18 percent Hispanics, 13 percent African-Americans, six percent Asians and 13 percent foreign-born. As our country continues to evolve, we must remain conscious of the social, economic and judicial challenges many people face.
Four particular groups are working to address concerns and objectives: Black Lives Matter, DACA—the Dreamers, the #MeToo Movement and most recently, the #NeverAgain Movement.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter began in response to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin. The movement grew with each contested police killing of African-Americans, which swelled to some 266 deaths in 2016. U.S. census data show that Africans-Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than Anglos. According to the Black Lives Matter website (blacklivesmatter.com), the movement is a “response to state-sanctioned violence and anti-Black racism and the denying of basic human rights and dignity.”
Unlike the Civil Rights era, which grew national leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Lives Matter is a largely decentralized movement. During the 2016 NFL football season, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick drew both praise and derision for taking a knee during the National Anthem in silent protest against the systematic disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Kaepernick’s courage (and apparently career-ending move) inspired fellow NFL players to follow suit, much to the ire of President Donald Trump and some NFL team owners. This controversy has not abated.
According to a recent PEW Research Center poll, three in four Americans have some knowledge of the Black Lives Matter movement. However, this knowledge changes based on various segments of the U.S. population, with awareness particularly high among younger African-Americans.
According to federal data analyzed by the Pew Research center, African-Americans are at least twice as likely as Anglos to be poor or to be unemployed. Households headed by African-Americans earn, on average, little more than half of what the average Anglo households earns. And, in terms of median net worth, Anglo households are about 13 times as wealthy as African-American households.
While education is widely viewed as the key to upward mobility for all races, Pew Research Center analyses find that the benefits of schooling often flow in unequal measure to Anglos. When looking at household gross earnings between African-Americans and Anglos with a bachelor’s degree, for example, African-Americans earn significantly less than whites: $82,300 for black householders versus $106,600 for whites.
Then, there is the U.S. justice system. According to the Sentencing Project, African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than Anglo males. Furthermore, African-American youths account for 16 percent of all children in America, yet comprise 28 percent of juvenile arrests.
It is incorrect to think Black Lives Matter concerns only police violence. This movement challenges us to understand how education and income disparities, disproportionate incarceration rates and uneven social mobility are interconnected parts of a broken system that must be fixed.
The acronym DACA means “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” DACA is synonymous with the Dreamers, immigrants who were brought to the United States as children with no current legal status. The majority of these children are from Latin America, with 79.4 percent of DACA enrollees coming from Mexico.
There are approximately 1.8 million children and young adults that can qualify for DACA status. To date, approximately 800,000 of these have formally applied to the program. According to the U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS) there are some 124,000 DACA recipients in Texas, with 36,700 residing in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area.
On June 15, 2012, the Obama administration announced it would offer “deferred action” protection to these immigrants who met specific requirements. These requirements include:
- The individual must be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
- Came to the United States before reaching one’s 16th birthday
- Have continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007 to the present time, were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action with United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012
- Currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
- Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.
On September 2017, President Trump formally announced he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program if Congress didn’t act before the March 5, 2018 deadline. However, the Supreme Court recently rejected the president’s request to go forward with the deportation of children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and also undermined, for now, Trump’s threat to deport the young adults.
It is worth repeating that in order to qualify for DACA status, a person must either be enrolled in school, already have a high school diploma or have a GED. This means almost all of those covered by DACA are high-school educated with no criminal record.
According to a January 2018 report from Capitol Hill Publishing, some 70 percent of Americans favor extending legal status to Dreamers that will allow them to stay in the United States. Those who oppose DACA argue that ending the program “protects taxpayers.” However, there is no evidence, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), that first-generation immigrants who enter the United States as children (including all DACA recipients) pay, on average, more in taxes over their lifetimes than they receive in benefits, regardless of their education level. DACA recipients end up contributing more than average, as they are not eligible for any federal means-tested welfare: cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid or health-care tax credits. Additionally, according to a September 2017 USA Today report, DACA recipients have higher levels of education and are more economically productive than undocumented immigrants broadly. Economists express concern that mass deportations will negatively impact the U.S. economy.
The facts may not change people’s opinions regarding this issue. Yet, our immigrant history is a common thread binding our nation together. We are wise to remember this history, lest it be our judge.
The #MeToo movement is the brainchild of activist Tarana Burke, who first coined the term in 2006. Burke, a sexual assault survivor, wanted to shed light on the heretofore largely silent phenomenon of workplace sexual harassment and provide a public platform for women and girls of color victimized by sexual assault. In 2017, the #MeToo movement gained a national spotlight when actress Ashley Judd publicly accused movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Judd’s accusation opened a floodgate of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein, including rape, leading to a class-action lawsuit and a disgraced exit from Hollywood.
A number of high-profile men have since followed Weinstein’s fall in rapid succession, including actor Kevin Spacey, TV hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer, U.S. Senator Al Franken and U.S. Congressman John Conyers. Most recently, Rob Porter, the White House Staff Secretary for President Trump, resigned when two ex-wives produced evidence of domestic violence. In the months following the Weinstein scandals, thousands of women (and men) have used social media outlets to tell personal stories of sexual harassment and victimization, both at home and abroad.
So, how widespread is the problem of sexual harassment? According to a poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 48 percent of currently employed women in the U.S. reported having experienced an unwelcome sexual advance or verbal or physical harassment at work. Before the #MeToo movement, such behavior was either tolerated or ignored in too many workplace environments. Today, the #MeToo movement is progressing from a platform for social awareness to a platform for social change.
However, #MeToo is getting some pushback. Some legal experts are questioning due process for those accused of sexual harassment. The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, states, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
Where will the movement take us? It is too early to tell if #MeToo will affect long-term social change or lose force in the face of legal challenges.
Second Amendment versus #NeverAgain
Gun ownership is an American tradition dating to the founding of our Republic. The Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights states, “A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” When the Second Amendment was adopted, no standing army existed to protect citizens from foreign invasions nor government oppression.
Fast forward to 2018: Americans own more guns per capita than residents of any other country—some 88 guns per 100 people. Additionally, there were 345 public mass shootings (defined as four or more people killed or injured) in 2017, more than in any other country in the world (Langford, University of Alabama, 2018).
The latest mass shooting occurred on February 14, 2018, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed by a mentally ill former student. This sixth school shooting in the United States in 2018 adds to a growing roster of school gun violence that includes all too familiar names—Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech, among others.
The debate over gun ownership and gun violence is a fiercely contentious one. On the one hand, The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s largest and most power lobbying organization for gun rights, has focused its political efforts and considerable financial resources on the second half of the Second Amendment, which provides for the individual right of gun ownership rather than the collective right for each community.
On the other hand, the #NeverAgain Movement was organized by student survivors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) massacre in Parkland, Fla. In the words of MSDHS student, Emma Gonzalez, “They say that no laws would have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that occur: we call B.S. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call B.S.” Since the formation of the #NeverAgain Movement, a number of companies have cut ties with the NRA, including a number of car rental companies, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and MetLife.
In response to the Parkland mass shooting, President Trump has proposed comprehensive background checks with an emphasis on mental health screening, an increase in the minimum age requirement from 18 to 21 years to buy assault weapons, the end the sale of bump stocks, as well as arming school teachers. In terms of arming school teachers, a 2017 Pew Research Center poll showed more than half of U.S. adults (55 percent) opposed allowing teachers and officials to carry guns in K-12 schools.
Black Lives Matter, DACA-The Dreamers, the #MeToo and #NeverAgain movements follow in the footsteps of time-honored social protest for equality. Each of these movements challenges us, as citizens of a vibrant democracy and multicultural society, to engage in reasoned conversation regarding our collective values and challenges.