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What happened to Sandra Bland ?

“You just slammed my head to the ground. Do you not even care about that?”

These were some of the last words of 28-year-old Sandra Bland. On Friday, Texas State troopers pulled Sandra over as she was driving to her new job for allegedly not using the turn signals during a lane change.1 What happened next was all too familiar and terrifying.

An eye-witness says police ripped Sandra out of the car, violently slammed her on the ground, and arrested her as she screamed for help. Just 72 two hours later, she was dead.2 Police are claiming Sandra took her own life, but her family and friends don’t believe it. Local District Attorney Elton Mathis has already said he has no reason to expect foul play and handed over the investigation to the same police agency that arrested Sandra.

Police cannot police themselves. Urge Attorney General Lynch to thoroughly investigate Sandra’s death and hold all those responsible fully accountable.

Justice for Sandy

DA Mathis said there was no reason for concern, despite the fact that an allegedly routine traffic stopped turned into a violent arrest is itself a cause for concern.3 Sandra’s family says that Sandra would never kill herself and that police seem to be covering up her death.4 We must demand that local officials release all video, information and photographs relating to Sandra’s unjust arrest, imprisonment and death.

The local police department and prosecutor’s office have a long history of racism and corruption. Last year, DA Mathis threatened a local Reverend who spoke out about racist prosecutions, saying he would release his “hounds” on the Reverend.5 Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith was fired from the police department in Hempstead, Texas for documented cases of racism.5

According to her loved ones, Sandra Bland was a loving, compassionate woman, with a bright future ahead.6 Today would have been the first day at her new job working student outreach at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Loved ones described her as bright, spirited, and having a thirst for life. She was also a vocal advocate against police brutality and often spoke about ending racism and police violence. Our hearts and minds are with her friends and family as they move through this unimaginably hard time.

But in a world where Black people are stereotyped as “violent” and police exist to enforce the boundaries of a deeply divided and racist society, who Sandy was or the life she was creating, did not matter. What mattered was that she was Black, and therefore, in the eyes of the law, didn’t deserve respect, didn’t deserve her civil rights, her freedom or her life. To be Black in America, is to be safe nowhere. Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to be targeted by police and incarcerated than white women.7

The Department of Justice and Attorney General Lynch have the power and responsibility to address the systemic police violence targeting Black communities. The reality is, racism, corruption and a deep-seated culture of secrecy prevents local and state police from holding themselves accountable. Without independent oversight, police will continue to kill and prosecutors will continue to do nothing. We should not have to demand justice, every time a Black person is murdered, but we will continue to do so until the justice system respects Black lives.

Urge US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to secure justice for Sandy and help end discriminatory police violence targeting Black people in Texas.

Thanks and peace,

— Rashad, Arisha, Shani, Lyla and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
July 16th, 2015


1. “Sandra Bland Drove to Texas to Start a New Job, so How Did She End Up Dead in Jail?”, 07-16-15

2. “Family says woman found dead in jail cell would not kill herself; Texas Rangers investigating”, 07-16-15

3. See reference 2.

4. See reference 2.

5. “Pastor says Waller DA threatened him”, 06-03-14

6. “The Texas Sheriff Where Sandra Bland Died Was Previously Suspended for Racism”, 07-16-15

7. “Incarcerated Women”, The Sentencing Project 08-2015

Better Than Billionaires


Automatic Voter Registration Allows More Americans’ Voices To Be Heard

“Who’s your billionaire?” Now more than ever, any serious presidential candidate needs to have an answer for this question. Over the weekend, we found out who the answer for Senator Marco Rubio is: Norman Braman, a billionaire auto dealer from Miami.

Braman isn’t just supporting Rubio’s White House bid to the expected tune of $10 million; he has been a key figure in Rubio’s professional and personal life for many years. Here is the New York Times report:

As Mr. Rubio has ascended in the ranks of Republican politics, Mr. Braman has emerged as a remarkable and unique patron. He has bankrolled Mr. Rubio’s campaigns. He has financed Mr. Rubio’s legislative agenda. And, at the same time, he has subsidized Mr. Rubio’s personal finances, as the rising politician and his wife grappled with heavy debt and big swings in their income.

To state the obvious: The increasing influence of big money in politics from donors like Norman Braman, the Koch Brothers, and others, drowns out the voices of everyday Americans in the political process. There are a number of ways to combat this threat to democracy; one big target for reformers is to overturn the judicial decisions like Citizens United that have opened the floodgates to unlimited spending on elections. That is a critical fight.

Here is another important way to make it easier for all citizens to have their voices heard: make voting more accessible. One of the most progressive methods for doing that is called Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a system by which states would integrate information from existing government databases — such as departments of motor vehicles, the Postal Service, revenue agencies, and others — to compile and update the voting rolls with information that they already collect. Oregon just became the first state in the country to implement this type of system, and it expects to add 300,000 people to voter rolls as a result.

Now, a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy outlines some of the transformative impacts AVR would have across the country. If Automatic Voter Registration were adopted in all states, it would potentially result in 55 million new voters added to the rolls.

AVR would result in the registration of currently underrepresented communities as well, including approximately:

  • 17 million new Black and Latino registrants
  • 31 million registrants under age 45
  • 29 million registrants with an annual income of $50,000 or less

While most voting rights news focuses on the concerted efforts by conservatives to suppress the vote, especially among disadvantaged communities, automatic voter registration is gaining momentum. California, which just advanced its own AVR bill late last month, could be the next state to take this important step.

BOTTOM LINE: With our campaign finance laws continuing to loosen, millionaires and billionaires will only increase the amount of influence they exert in our political process. But there are important steps being taken to counter them: policies like automatic voter registration would register millions of voters, raise voter turnout, and make our democracy healthier and more representative of its citizens.

Stop two massive mines from destroying essential wildlife habitat

Two massive mines could soon destroy irreplaceable habitat for grizzly bears and bull trout!

Grizzly bear in Montana (Kane513 / Shutterstock)

Help us fight back in court with an emergency gift today!

Katherine O’Brien, Earthjustice

A License To Kill


As Florida Governor, Jeb Bush Pioneered The Nation’s First “Stand Your Ground” Law

This Friday, Jeb Bush is scheduled to address the National Urban League, one of the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organizations. He is going to be on the hot seat – and deservedly so. As Governor of Florida, Jeb worked hand in hand with the NRA to pioneer the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law, brought to national attention when George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. The results, detailed in a new CAP Action report, have been devastating. Here are a few of the findings outlined in the report:

1. Since the passage of the law, Florida’s gun homicide rate jumped above the national average – and has stayed there. In the 6 years prior to the law‘s passage, the rate of gun homicides in Florida was 3.7 per 100,000 residents, below the national average rate of 4 murders per 100,000 residents. After Stand Your Ground was passed in the state, the average gun homicide rate jumped to more than 4.5 murders per 100,000 residents in Florida while going down nationwide. In the two years following the enactment of the Stand Your Ground law, the number of gun-related homicides in Florida increased by more than 200 cases.

2. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law appears to have a disparate impact on black communities. A study by the Tampa Bay Times of nearly 200 Stand Your Ground cases in Florida found that defendants seeking to avoid criminal liability for a homicide by mounting a Stand Your Ground defense were significantly more likely to be successful if they killed a black victim than a white victim. In fact, from 2005 to 2012, defendants who raised a Stand Your Ground defense in Florida were 24 percent more likely to avoid criminal liability for a homicide if they killed a black victim.

3. The impacts of Stand Your Ground have translated to an additional 600 homicides per year across the country. Within one year of Gov. Bush’s signing, 21 other states had introduced the legislation and 13 had enacted expanded self-defense laws. A 2012 study by researchers at Texas A&M University found that Stand Your Ground laws led to more homicides: States that enacted such laws saw an 8 percent increase in homicides, which translated to an additional 600 homicides per year across all states with these laws. National Urban League’s own 2013 study found that in states that enacted Stand Your Ground laws between 2005 and 2007, the rate of justifiable homicides increased by 53 percent.

A new op-ed drawn from CAP Action’s report and written by Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP, highlights how Florida’s Stand Your Ground law poses an even larger threat in Florida because the states gun laws are so weak. In fact Florida’s gun laws remain so lax that George Zimmerman, who in addition to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, was arrested for assaulting a police officer, the subject of a domestic violence restraining order, arrested 3 times for domestic violence, and threatened to kill a man during a road rage incident, is still permitted carry a gun in Florida.

BOTTOM LINE: America has Jeb Bush to thank for Stand Your Ground. And as research continues to suggest, America has this NRA-backed law to thank for hundreds more gun homicides every year and a disproportionate impact on communities of color.


Morning Digest: As bad polls roll in for Mark Kirk, a top GOP fundraiser wants him to quit the race

  • IL-Sen: PPP’s first Illinois poll of the cycle finds GOP Sen. Mark Kirk in a dire position. He currently trails his top Democratic challenger, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, by a 42-38 margin and sporting a plug-ugly 25-42 job approval rating. That’s down from a 28-32 score back in February (that survey did not include any general election numbers), leading Tom Jensen to conclude that Kirk’s astonishing and seemingly endless series of verbal debacles has harmed him with voters. It’d be nice to believe that, though generally speaking, few normal people are paying attention to this kind of thing so far out (15 months!) from Election Day. Still, these numbers do suck for the incumbent, and here’s another reason: Kirk still only takes 38 percent of the vote against Duckworth’s little-known primary opponent, Andrea Zopp, who manages just 29 percent. (Duckworth leads Zopp 59-10 for the Democratic nomination.) And here’s the crazy thing: Kirk’s performance against Duckworth is actually better than in the only other poll we’ve seen this year, an Ogden & Fry survey last month that had him trailing 44-27! But like we asked last time, is this poll too good to be true? Maybe, but it’s hard to see how it is. On the presidential side, Hillary Clinton leads by anywhere from 48-39 (over Jeb Bush) to 51-33 (against Donald Trump). If anything, that might seem soft, but bear in mind that Barack Obama’s election results in the Land of Lincoln were inflated thanks to his favorite son status. John Kerry carried Illinois by “only” 10 points, and a Feb. 2008 poll pitting Clinton against John McCain (the only legitimate one of the entire race, as it happens) found her ahead 48-37. And it’s not just PPP who thinks Kirk is in trouble. Ron Gudwitz, a top Republican fundraiser in Illinois, just publicly called on Kirk to step aside, saying his big mouth has been damaging the party and could cause “collateral damage” to other GOP candidates. Gudwitz, who was finance chair for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s successful campaign last year, later tried to “retract” the remarks because he didn’t “want to take the heat” he immediately started getting—after all, Republicans don’t really have a better option than Kirk. But no incumbent facing a difficult re-election wants this kinds of headache—or this kind of polling result.


  • FL-Sen: Just a day after the right-wing Sunshine State News reported that GOP Rep. Ted Yoho was considering a Senate bid, the congressman himself clarified matters on C-SPAN. Actually, no, wait, he didn’t. He just said a bunch of conflicting things:

    Yoho: “I have no intention to run for the Senate.” […] Yoho: “It is ruled out.” […] Host: “The story says, ‘looking at entering the race but is far from making a final decision.’ ” Yoho: “Real far.” Host: “Okay, so it’s done—you’re not gonna do it.” Yoho: “It’s done.”

    “Ruled out” and “it’s done” sound like definite “nos,” but “no intention” and “real far” from making a decision are definitely not “nos.” Whatever, people change their minds all the time. If Yoho wants to be crystal clear about his plans, he can issue a clarification. If he doesn’t, then we will still continue to view him as a possible Senate candidate. And given how unsettled the Republican field is, that only makes sense. A new survey from St. Pete Polls confirms what we’ve seen elsewhere, finding Rep. David Jolly as the only contender in double digits in the five-man field (with just 10 percent); over 60 percent of GOP voters are undecided. If Yoho does indeed wind up with a new district that removes his rural base and would make it difficult for him to win renomination, as Matthew Isbell has theorized, then the Senate race might look a lot more appealing.


  • IN-Gov: Businessman Jim Schellinger, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor back in 2008, hadn’t entirely ruled out another try this cycle. But the guy he’d have had to run against, GOP Gov. Mike Pence, just appointed him to run the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, so a gubernatorial bid is definitely out of the question now. However, the Democrats already have a solid option in former state House Speaker Jim Gregg, who lost to Pence by just 3 points in 2012 and actually managed to outraise the incumbent in the first six months of the year.


  • CA-24: It’s not too surprising to see Roll Call report that establishment Democrats would like to see Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider drop out of the race to succeed Rep. Lois Capps: Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal has crushed her on the fundraising and endorsement fronts, even earning the support of Capps herself, and no one wants to see a disaster in the top-two primary that involves two Republicans advancing to the fall general election. And, says Emily Cahn, operatives also think Carbajal would be better at holding this seat down in midterm years, when things can get hairy. But as soon as stories like these become public, that means that private efforts have already failed. And Schneider’s pushing back in at least a semi-convincing way by releasing a poll from Lake Research that has her ahead of Carbajal. In her survey, Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadijan leads with 24 percent, while Schneider grabs 16, Carbajal 11, Republican businessman Justin Fareed 10, and Bill Ostrander, another Democrat, takes just 1. Now, a 5-point lead isn’t all that impressive, especially when both you and your competition are both in the teens. But the point here is that Schneider has no intention of folding. Let’s see if she still feels that way, though, six months from now.
  • FL-02: While most folks seem to want to wait until redistricting takes its course before announcing their plans, not everyone is so patient. Physician Neal Dunn, who seems to be both well-connected and to have rubbed local Republicans the wrong way with his past support of Democrats, had previously expressed interest in running in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District. Now he’s gone and filed with the FEC, though he hasn’t yet made any kind of formal announcement. One other Republican is already in the race, former state Department of Elder Affairs general counsel Mary Thomas, but there are undoubtedly others who are privately considering.
  • IA-01: As we expected, the Democratic primary in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District has already turned negative. EMILY’s List, which is backing Cedar Rapids City Councilwoman Monica Vernon, kicked things off shortly before former state House Speaker Pat Murphy launched his campaign a week ago, saying Murphy wanted to “restrict women’s access to health care.” Murphy disputed the accusations, which centered on his record over a decade ago, when he described himself as “pro-life” and earned a 100 percent rating he earned from the Iowa Right to Life Committee. However, when he ran for Congress last year, he received endorsements from both Planned Parenthood and NARAL. EMILY ratcheted up the firefight on Wednesday, sending out an “annotated” version of a fact-sheet Murphy had previously issued about his stance on reproductive freedom. Next to Murphy’s own bullet points like “Murphy votes to prevent insurers from denying contraceptive coverage,” EMILY’s penciled in things like “listed as an ‘All Star Pro-Life Democrat.'” Murphy’s response was so predictable that, in fact, we predicted it. His campaign released a bunch of documentation testifying to his Democratic bona fides over the last 25 years: political donations he’s made, candidates he’s voted for, and even a copy of his original voter registration form from 1977 with the box checked for “Democrat.” While that might not sound like scintillating stuff, Murphy’s trying to contrast himself to Vernon, who switched parties back in 2009 when she was reportedly considering a mayoral bid (she never ran). While it’s dismaying as a partisan to see two Democrats blast each other to pieces when there’s a Republican who needs unseating (Rep. Rod Blum), it will at least be interesting to see which attack has more resonance: “You used to be a Republican” versus “You said you were pro-life.” In neither case, though, are the charges particularly recent. Vernon, as noted, changed sides six year ago, while the newest quote EMILY unearthed to ding Murphy dates back to 2007. So it’s certainly possible voters won’t really care at all.
  • IN-09: Several Republicans are already seeking Rep. Todd Young’s House seat (he’s running for Senate), up to and including state Attorney General Greg Zoeller. But one more name is ready to make a go for this safely red district: The Hotline says that Jim Pfaff, a former chief of staff to Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, has been telling local GOP leaders that he’s going to run.
  • NJ-03: New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District is sort of a microcosm for Democrats and the House: They really need to win it, but it’s really hard to win. The seat went for Barack Obama by a 52-47 margin, and the president actually did slightly better there in 2012 than he did four years earlier (a real rarity), but voters there have shown serious resistance to electing Democrats further down the ballot. Indeed, when a very similar version of this seat became open in 2008, Democrat John Adler only prevailed with 52 percent of the vote, despite his exceptional fundraising and a big blue wave at his back. (Unsurprisingly, he lost re-election two years later.) But Democrats keep trying, because they have to: Adler’s widow (he died tragically not long after his defeat), Shelley Adler, lost by 9 points in 2012; another well-regard candidate, Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard, lost by 10 last year when the seat was open again. Still, the fight must go on, and according to PolitickerNJ, congressional Democrats are talking to Assemblyman Troy Singleton about a possible bid against freshman GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur. We don’t need to repeat ourselves about how difficult a race this would be, especially since MacArthur is rich and willing to self-fund, but you’ve got to take your chances somewhere.
  • NJ-05: According to Bloomberg Politics, GOP Rep. Scott Garrett is actually paying a price for his retrograde views on gays: Major Wall Street donors, including Goldman Sachs, have reportedly stopped giving to the congressman, and the so-called “Big Four” accounting firms cancelled a fundraiser that had been planned on his behalf. As chair of a Financial Services subcommittee that oversees capital markets, Garrett had grown accustomed to heavy-duty corporate support over the years. Indeed, says Bloomberg, Garrett’s position is known as the “ATM” because it “almost guarantees endless streams of cash from the financial firms that have business before the panel.” (Yay for democracy!) But he made headlines (the bad kind) a few weeks ago when he insisted that he hadn’t paid his dues to the NRCC because the committee supports gay candidates. In 2015, that ain’t a good look, even for the GOP. And not only has this hurt Garrett, it’s also helped his Democratic opponent, Microsoft executive Josh Gottheimer. Steve Elmendorf, a top Democratic lobbyist, decided to host a high-dollar fundraiser in DC this week for Gottheimer, who’s already shown he can rake in the bucks. If Garret’s bigotry-fueled parsimony turns out, at long last, to lead to his undoing in this light red seat, it won’t be a moment too soon.
  • NV-03: Democrats are pretty desperate for a candidate in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, an evenly split seat that’s open now thanks to GOP Rep. Joe Heck’s Senate bid. But so far, they’ve come up empty, and that sad state of affairs doesn’t seem like it’s about to change. Columnist Steve Sebelius mentions that Democrats are supposedly considering Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen as an option, but then he makes a convincing and dispiriting case that Hafen’s penchant for nepotism—six of his relatives work for City Hall, including his son—makes him unsuitable. And other Henderson political figures who could also run, he says, have similar issues. Back to square zero?
  • PA-02: It’s the end of the line for Rep. Chaka Fattah. On Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted the Philadelphia Democrat and several top associates on a broad array of corruption charges. Fattah had long been under investigation and now he faces 29 counts of wrongdoing that include a racketeering conspiracy (better known as RICO), bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and more. The Department of Justice alleges, among other things, that Fattah fraudulently tried to conceal campaign debts and even tried to steer public money to pay off private debts to one of his creditors:

    Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in connection with his failed 2007 campaign to serve as mayor of Philadelphia, Fattah and certain associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company. After he lost the election, Fattah allegedly returned $400,000 to the donor that the campaign had not used, and arranged for Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA), a non-profit entity that he founded and controlled, to repay the remaining $600,000 using charitable and federal grant funds that passed through two other companies, including one run by Brand. To conceal the contribution and repayment scheme, the defendants and others allegedly created sham contracts and made false entries in accounting records, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements. In addition, the indictment alleges that after his defeat in the mayoral election, Fattah sought to extinguish approximately $130,000 in campaign debt owed to a political consultant by agreeing to arrange for the award of federal grant funds to the consultant. According to the allegations in the indictment, Fattah directed the consultant to apply for a $15 million grant, which he did not ultimately receive, on behalf of a then non-existent non-profit entity. In exchange for Fattah’s efforts to arrange the award of the funds to the non-profit, the consultant allegedly agreed to forgive the debt owed by the campaign.

    Fattah vowed to appear on the 2016 ballot just hours after his indictment was announced, but it’s impossible to see an easy way out for the congressman, who has held office for over 20 years. Fattah did manage to win re-election last fall to Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District, one of the most heavily Democratic in the nation, without any serious opposition, even though the government’s investigation into his dealings had already been made public and several confederates had already been charged. But other ambitious Democrats who’ve been hovering around this seat will now be able to press forward. Recently, the nonpartisan website CrowdPAC, which allows ordinary citizens to pledge money toward potential candidates for office as a way to encourage them to run, floated the names of 18 possible replacements for Fattah. When a local reporter followed up with many of them, all but one refused to rule out a bid, so you know that interest is intense. It’s unfortunate that Philadelphia Democrats have to endure this spectacle, but in the end, the city will have a chance to elect some better representation.

Other Races:

  • Nashville Mayor: Until recently, polls had almost universally shown real estate tycoon and former Tennessee Democratic Party Treasurer Bill Freeman easily taking first place in the Aug. 6 non-partisan primary, with a tight race for the second runoff spot. However, a recent survey from the unaffiliated Tennessee Laborers PAC showed a tight three-way race for the two runoff spots between Freeman, former Metro Nashville School Board Chairman David Fox (the only Republican in the contest) and Councilor Megan Barry (a favorite of the city’s progressive block). Fox is out with a new survey arguing the same thing, though we don’t know the name of the pollster. His poll has Freeman taking 20 percent and Fox and Berry tied with 18, with Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry all the way back at 12. It’s unclear what, if anything, has endangered Freeman’s chances. Ad spending has increased as the primary has approached, so some of Freeman’s opponents may just have made up some ground as they became better known. However, it’s worth noting that we haven’t seen a single independent poll of this contest. With the exception of the Tennessee Laborers PAC survey, all the polls have come from campaigns, so we don’t exactly have a clear picture of the primary.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, and Daniel Donner.