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Calling for a New Era of Civil Rights Enforcement

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One great hope I have in 2009 is that the Civil Rights laws, for which so many people fought and died for, will again be taken seriously and enforced, and that there will be accountability for those who violate those laws. This to me, this is one of the unspoken, or softly spoken legacies of the Bush Administration. My own personal experience has made me realize this fact.

Clearly, we have placed the burden of the world on the shoulders our new President, but unfortunately, he has inherited a legacy of downfall, which includes the field of Civil Rights enforcement. Hopefully his policies and appointments will, to coin a phrase, "trickle down" to areas such as the enforcement of Civil Rights and anti-discrimination claims, because in this area, the record of the outgoing administration is dismal. And there is plenty of evidence to support this claim. As early as 2004 the TracReport, a non-partisan tracking source of federal data, which describes itself as: "Your source for comprehensive, independent and nonpartisan information about federal enforcement, staffing and spending," found that ¨Key data from the Justice Department and the federal courts show that the government's enforcement of civil rights cases -- an extremely rare event under all recent presidents -- sharply declined during the Bush years

The decline in the enforcement of civil rights mirrors my own recent experience with discrimination in the federal government. Specifically; experiencing discrimination and then having efforts to redress claims ignored, including, petitions to high officials unresponded to, courts refusing to grant jurisdiction despite evidence of discrimination, and even a Congress that seemed reluctant or scared to require accountability for violation of civil rights laws. From my perspective and as evidenced by the studies in this area federal agencies were given carte blanche to discriminate. Ironically, a Conservative administration, whose platform emphasis is on enforcement of the law, required little to no enforcement of the law in the area civil rights, particularly by the Department of Justice whose duty it is to enforce such laws. The same TracReport states: ¨Looked at over a longer period, the annual number of what the Justice Department calls "referrals for prosecutions" -- those instances when the investigative agencies recommend that charges be filed against a particular individual -- were down by almost half, 3,733 in FY 1994, 1,903 in FY 2003." And there is plenty more evidence, that under the exiting administration, Civil Rights enforcement was not a priority. A 2004 article from Nationworld, for instance, indicated, "This confirms what everyone in the civil rights community has known for the past four years, which is that President Bush's Justice Department does not have a commitment to full enforcement of the nation's civil rights laws," said Christopher Anders, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union."

And there was no change in these policies during the next 4 years of the administration. For example, in June 2008, Policy Archive also investigated this issue and found the enforcement of civil rights to be in "disrepair."

Studies in this area indicate that the political appointments of President Bush, especially in the Department of Justice, were a key factor in the lack of enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. A 2006 article from Boston.com noted, " Many experienced civil rights lawyers have been assigned to spend much of their time defending deportation orders rather than pursuing discrimination claims". The hopeful trickle down effect then comes from the fact that the articles make clear, that by contrast to the past administration, the new President has the power to make appointments that can assure equal opportunity and accountability for violations of anti-discrimination laws, especially in the Department of Justice.

But why does this matter now that we have elected an African American President? While like every African American, I am proud of the strides we have made in civil rights and equal opportunity, I don´t believe we have reached Utopia in civil rights with one election. It seems crucial to me that the new President take the issue of Civil Rights and anti-discrimination enforcement seriously because not to, means the pride the country had in the election of Barack Obama, and the representative tears of the Civil Rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson on election night were for naught.

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