U.S. Supreme Court wraps eventful, historic term

The latest term of the U.S. Supreme Court sliced through a host of complicated cases, but what emerged for progressive advocates affirmed and reinvigorated their efforts to ensure justice and equality under the law.

Without doubt, 2015 will go down in history for decisions that stand to have generational impact. Arguably, the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will mark a watershed moment, as did the implementation of Social Security and Medicaid decades before.

But with rulings preserving the goals of the nation’s fair housing laws and establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, the Supreme Court also offered clear marching orders for agencies such as PCHR.

“With last week’s prudent U.S .Supreme Court rulings, all Americans inclusively gained access to the fundamental rights of fair housing, healthcare, and same sex marriage,” said PCHR Chairman Thomas H. Earle. “It was a powerful set of outcomes for people who often had been left powerless in our society.”

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

From the court’s marble steps on First Street NE in Washington, D.C. to town squares across the country, reactions to the rulings were as euphoric as they were spontaneous – and colorful. Obamacare proponents could be seen waving brightly colored placards while marriage equality supporters waved rainbow flags.

The lawn of the National Constitution Center filled with supporters along with an array of notable speakers, including Mayor Michael A. Nutter, ACLU of PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Human Rights Campaign’s Christopher Labonte and the Rev. Jeff Haskins of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, among others.

Obergefell v. Hodges – and the three related cases bundled with it – proclaimed that the protection of marriage’s rights and privileges among wedded same-sex couples could not be denied in any state. A marriage in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania must be recognized in Alabama or Texas.

The ruling on marriage equality both elicited joy and set the stage for the next civil rights battle for LGBTQ advocates and their allies. While Philadelphia has nondiscrimination policies, in communities across the Commonwealth, someone legally could be fired or evicted on the basis of LGBTQ bias. Until Pennsylvania adopts a nondiscrimination law, that specter will hang like a gloom cloud over even the sunniest wedding and honeymoon memories.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

That was a point emphasized at rallies that arose in the wake of the decision.

“Today we celebrate – and recommit to the hard work in front of us,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “That’s to fight discrimination, to insure trans equity, and to insure safe schools for LGBT students.”

And while not as heavily publicized as the other cases, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project stands to have an equally sizable impact.

At issue was the interpretation and application of the Fair Housing Act, specifically its call making it illegal to refuse to rent, sell or otherwise block the rental or sale of a property to someone based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The concern in this case, and others like it elsewhere was “disparate impact” – that a law or policy has a discriminatory effect, even if unintended.

In Texas, there were claims that state and local governments were violating the spirit of the Fair Housing Act by perpetuating segregation, and using federal housing dollars to do it. Under the ruling, subsidized housing cannot solely be placed in isolated, impoverished areas when the goals are to integrate areas and open access to better jobs and schools to the underserved.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling helped chip away at the negative legacy of redlining and other discriminatory policies of the past that continue to shackle too many.  In an age of urban revitalization and tensions spawned by gentrification, the Supreme Court cast an important perspective on both public accommodation and fair housing for communities nationwide.

“As the largest poor city in America, this decision impacts us greatly regarding the effects of development on communities of color in Philadelphia,” PCHR’s Landau said.

“Philadelphia is continuing to go through vast changes and development, this decision reinforces the notion that we must slow down and look at the impact development will have on our communities.”

Another term down, and other high-profile cases wait in the wings. In the meantime, there is plenty to absorb and put into action. As always, PCHR stands ready to help ensure justice and equality reign supreme.

PCHR reacts to SCOTUS marriage equality ruling

PHILADELPHIA, June 26 — Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations Executive Director Rue Landau issued the following statement on today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, which enshrines a significant civil right:
“We are thrilled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision for marriage equality.  This decision is the first step in ending the unequal patchwork of laws protecting the LGBT community that had been created across the country.  Now, all marriages will be recognized as equal, regardless of who you love or where you live in America.  
 
“While we celebrate this decision today, we must get back to work tomorrow to continue the fight for essential nondiscrimination laws in our own state, as well as the rest of the country.  
 
“It’s been 50 years since the first national protest for gay rights occurred in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and Philadelphia’s lawmakers were among the first to get the message.  We have had laws protecting people based on sexual orientation and gender identity for decades, and it has made us a safer, healthier and stronger community. Now is the time for Pennsylvania and all other states to follow suit.”

Image courtesy of VisitPhilly

Image courtesy of VisitPhilly

Summer survival: How neighbors can keep cool without throwing shade

With the misery mugginess can inspire, it’s no surprise that small misunderstandings can blow up into full-scale brawls on the block during the summer. At the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, we work to cultivate and maintain peaceful, respectful relations among neighbors. When hurtful words or actions threaten to rip apart the fabric of community, we try to help knit it back together.

philly_shot_fairmount(c)But there are steps that you can take on the front end that could help diffuse situations before they get too hot.  Here are some tips to consider as we enter the water ice-slurping season.  Like that perfect Philly treat, they can help everyone keep their cool.

  1. Mind Max
    High temperatures can be harmful to pets, especially dogs who may normally roam yards. But whether the windows are open or closed with the AC running, increased indoor barking can be disturbing as it travels through the walls. Likewise, your pup’s poop and pee tend to be even smellier in the heat. Stay on top of these matters to stay on the good side of fellow residents.
  1. Tackle that trash
    It could be sticky Popsicle wrappers or remnants of those steamed crabs. If it’s left to sit outside, uncovered, it won’t take long before bugs and other critters come to explore its contents. And let’s not forget the stench, because humid air makes smells hang even heavier. Don’t put your neighbors through that. Dispose of your waste properly – on the correct day of the week.
  2. Corral the kids
    We know – they have energy for days, and you want them outside so they don’t get on your nerves. But don’t let them get on someone else’s. Set play boundaries for them. Connect with your neighbors and try to create fair rules, like how to pursue those stray balls that go rolling into yards. Cut a deal with your kids on how loudly they can play and for how long. The sudden influx of squeals and arguing over who is “It” in a game of tag can puncture what had been a fairly quiet landscape just weeks before. That can be jarring, especially for retirees or people who work from home. Have a conversation on what consideration looks like and have them stick with it.
  3. Whack the weeds
    Nothing draws four-, six- and eight-legged undesirables like overgrown grasses, unkempt shrubs or other greenery run amok. Keeping your green space trimmed and under control will go a long way in maintaining harmony, from preventing contamination of your neighbor’s prized begonias to curbing pollen attacks, Just make sure your clippers and mowers stay on your side of the property line, and active only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., as per city code.
  4. Contain the cookout
    Many of us love those charcoal-infused flavors. But fewer of us love an invasion of smoke inside our homes from grills that are too high or close. Ditto diminished parking when someone decides to spread out their set up – grill, chairs, bar and all – in the street, and without notice. Give your neighbors a heads up by ringing their bell or dropping them a note to let them know of your plans. As a bonus move, ask them to bring a plate and join the festivities.
  5. Monitor the music
    J. Cole might be your stroll, but your neighbor may prefer J. Bach – or simple silence. Blasting your tunes may be tolerated during the day, but when the sun goes down, it’s a fine time to think about your neighbors. If the police are called to intervene, you could be cited for a ticket. Those can range up to $700 for repeat offenders. Don’t take the chance. Lower the volume.
  6. Share the spaces
    Parking in Philadelphia often comes at a premium, given its small streets, shared driveway configurations and the like. After working hard all day or slogging through streets on errands, most of us don’t want to return home to double-parked cars, cans, cones or other blockages to pulling in and getting in the house. No one owns spaces, but no one should hog them, either.
  7. Choose calm over chaos
    Scratched car. Trampled garden. Stolen lawn chair. Any of these are enough to set someone off. But before flying off the handle, get facts. After discovering the offender, see if you can speak with that person, or, in the case of a child, the parents. Listen first. Explain your concerns in a quiet manner. Try and negotiate with the other side. Work together and find a mutually agreeable repayment.  If the person is unresponsive or unreasonable, seek a third-party to intervene, such as a block captain – or us.

There is no magic bullet to squashing neighborhood beefs. But taking these steps can help address unresolved problems that simmer in the background and boil over when heat-induced frustrations rise.

Underneath most disputes is a lack of familiarity with or trust in one another. Use incidents to start or renew a relationship with your neighbor. Take the time to not only speak from your point of view, but to also listen to another’s.  Share ideas on how to prevent similar problems in the future and work toward common ground.

When all else fails, call the professionals here at (215) 686-4670. We can help mediate neighborhood disputes as well as train you how to better do the same.

After all, most of us would rather spend our summer relaxing – not fussing and fighting.

PCHR reacts to S.C. massacre

PHILADELPHIA — PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau reacted to last night’s massacre at a Charleston, S.C., where nine men and women were murdered inside Mother Emanuel AME Church:

“Any act of violence is despicable, but the degree to which this suspect in Charleston, S.C. inflicted violence, pain, and apparently, hatred, on innocent men and women inside their church praying is horrifying. It should horrify every American who believes in peace and freedom.

“The African Methodist Episcopal movement, founded in Philadelphia, has a long history of pursuing and advocating for those goals, both here and abroad. This man attempted to shred our human bonds. Good people across this nation will ensure he is not successful in those efforts, starting with the authorities who worked tirelessly and swiftly to apprehend him.

“Today, we stand with those grieving the victims. And we support and invite the public to join efforts for healing, including the interfaith service at 7 p.m. tonight at Mother Bethel AME Church, led by the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler.”

Securing Our Future: Young people speak on leading change in community-police relations

On Wednesday, some 200 young people and those who advocate for them converged at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to discuss the real and perceived problems they see in community-police relations. The initiative — Securing Our Future: Re-imagining Philadelphia’s Community-Police Relations — came together through the work of PCHR, the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia and the Mayor’s Office on Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs.

In a half-day of moderated discussions and brainstorming, the participants — largely aged 16 to 24 — gathered in groups and exchanged experiences and ideas for improvement. Their thoughts were captured and compiled for a report to be presented to members of the Nutter Administration and the Philadelphia Police Department.

As conversation on reforming police policies in wake of local and national controversies continue, these young people are aiming to make their feelings and voices known. An elected set of ambassadors will continue the dialogue at a formal City Hall presentation and group discussion with representatives of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Updates can be found with the hashtag #SecureOurFuture. All photos courtesy of Bill Z. Foster Photography.

Hooping for hope

PHILADELPHIA — Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo. Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Eric Garner in New York City. Victor Ortega in San Diego. Dillon Taylor in Salt Lake City. Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Brandon Tate-Brown in Philadelphia. Now, most recently, Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Incidents of officer-involved shootings — particularly those resulting in the deaths of men of color — have drawn headlines and further frayed relations with many of the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. In some cases, retaliatory violence has erupted, leaving everyone from students to lawmakers on edge. That has been true in Philadelphia as well, where Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey requested a federal review a spate of officer-involved shootings, to help separate fact from fiction and push for more transparency.

bball_kbethel_coyne

Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel leans into a conversation with young people at the Wright Rec Center in West Philadelphia.

Bridging the chasms caused by these realities has even greater importance — which is why PCHR has been front and center in crafting new partnerships to help create new narratives and outcomes. Veteran PCHR community relations representative Patricia Coyne took an active role in the diverse coalition that’s charting a new way for Philadelphia.

And the coalition chose a familiar entry point for the stakeholders involved — a neighborhood basketball game.

Some 150 people poured into Mantua’s James Wright Recreation Center on May 4 to inaugurate this Police-Community Youth Basketball Conversation series. An assembled team of players from the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department and Drexel University’s police department played with an assembly of neighborhood players for good-natured fun. But instead of just a late afternoon of hooping and snacking, the assortment of young men, police, community members and volunteers also came together for facilitated discussions about what is happening in the streets and how that plays out in their lives — among their peers, family and each other. They swapped stories of growing up, of understanding the roles of police in community and responded frank questions from one another.

Tierra Thompson and Ezekiel Mathur, PCHR community relations team members, along with Commissioner Saadiq Jabbar Garner, also were on hand.

The talks, like checking out each other’s sweet moves, began the process of transformation, from wary strangers to interested partners. The goal: to help diffuse simmering antagonism by showing people on each side their common humanity.

bball_organizers_coyne

(l.-r.) Event organizers Patricia Coyne, John Leatherberry, chair, 16th Police District Advisory Council, 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead, and Deputy Commissioner Kevin J. Bethel.

“There are police-community/youth, top down, institutionally-controlled stuff happening these days, but this is not that,” Coyne said. “This is a bottom-up, grassroots effort that engages communities on their terms, on their turf.”

The lead engineers that constructed the framework for these interactions included Weekend of PeaceNewCORE, the Philadelphia Youth Commission, the Philadelphia Youth Network, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission. They combined NewCORE’s conversation model and adapted elements of the Weekend of Peace’s successful efforts.

For a dozen years, the Weekend of Peace — free July games and entertainment spearheaded by Malik and Calvin Johnson and organized by community volunteers — has promoted a violence-free zone for children and families, presented via participating recreation centers across the city. Last year, that included 22 rec centers, and this year that number is expected to rise. Coyne said these newly debuted civic conversations both will provide a bridge for greater participation in the Weekend of Peace and bolster relations among parties that are too often unfamiliar with each other.

Lt. Kenora Scott looks over the action as Rev. George Clark, a referee, chats with 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead. In addition to offering those services, Clark also seeks to train young people to be referees.

Lt. Kenora Scott looks over the action as Rev. George Clark, a referee, chats with 16th District Capt. Altovise Love-Craighead. In addition to offering those services, Clark also seeks to train young people to be referees.

The series, in essence, is a continuation of the theme of instituting harmony that’s integral to PCHR’s mission.

“This is the vehicle to get the people most directly affected to not only interact in a positive way, but to also reveal points of view and experiences they otherwise might be reluctant to do in any other type of forum,” PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman.

These conversation will help provide a way for residents who don’t always have a seat at the table to help shape ideas, recommendations and local actions expected from two seminal reports focusing on improved policing in Philadelphia, that of the U.S. Department of Justice on officer-involved shootings and findings from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Claiming a stake in the eventual outcomes in Philadelphia is essential for the city to fully move forward, Freeman said.

“The commission is the linchpin in that, to help protect people’s rights and be proactive to do all that we can to mitigate situations like ones we’ve seen across the country,” he added.

There is no quick fix for improving the relationship between law enforcement and the neighborhoods usually most in need of its service, the ones most often beset by poverty and crime. But there certainly are many hands on deck to work toward solutions.

Officer Lamar Wilkerson exchanges ideas with a youthful player at the Wright Rec Center.

Officer Lamar Wilkerson exchanges ideas with a youthful player at the Wright Rec Center.

The U.S. Justice Department now is investigating how to swiftly implement reform efforts nationwide that may save lives as well as bring back balance to a relationship that has been stressed by the burden of history, bias, poverty and crime. Commissioner Ramsey has pledged to implement recommendations offered in the report by the national task force, which he co-chaired.

Rebuilding trust takes time. It’s a process underway, starting one hoop at a time, in places such as Wright Rec, in cities such as Philadelphia, with guidance from entities such as PCHR.

“Our communities are full of tremendous resources that can be overlooked, and too often are,” Coyne said. “There are big iniatives that come up from upon high, but sometimes those are unsustainable at the community-level. That’s the point of this. What can we do at the community level to engage with the police in a mutually positive, productive, and lasting manner and strengthen our community partnerships?  We’re addressing just this.”

PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman proves he still has a few moves.

PCHR Commissioner Marshall E. Freeman proves he still has a few moves.

One tangible takeaway for which this coalition is aiming to insert more youthful voices in existing avenues where law enforcement and community interactions, such as the city’s police district advisory councils (PDACs) and the youth aid panels powered by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. By expanding and using these exchange opportunities, there’s a better chance to create more consistent and effective communications where it matters most, and increasing understanding and reducing mistrust in the process.

Additional planning for the series is under way. Interested in getting involved or learning more? Click here to get started.

Click here to watch a related report on CBS3.

2015 PCHR Awards: Philadelphia at its best

The opulent Arts Ballroom served as a perfect backdrop to celebrate the tireless efforts and ceaseless commitment of people and organizations in Philadelphia working on behalf of their neighbors and residents.

This was the 2015 PCHR Awards, and it was a night to remember.

Some 20 recipients from all walks of life and across the city and region received a well-earned spotlight. Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Managing Director Richard Negrin and PCHR commissioners presented the night’s awards to deserving recipients.

“Every year that we do this awards event, I take the opportunity to reflect on our current work and to make connections to the past.  For us, we don’t have to look far to make those connections,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “In its early days, our commission was led by two giants in the civil rights movement – Clarence Farmer, Sr. and Sadie T.M. Alexander – who shepherded us through tumultuous times in Philadelphia’s history and who helped to shape a more equitable city.

“While the country as a whole has made tremendous progress since those early days . . . there is still much work to be done.  Thankfully, the people in this room today – from the PCHR staff and Commissioners to our wonderful awardees and supporters – are the people who will move us forward,” Landau added.

All photos shot for Adria Diane Hughes Photography. For more photos, click here.

In his comments, Mayor Nutter did not spare praise for the many who work to improve and advance justice and equality in Philadelphia. He aptly summarized not just the beauty of this one night, but also the ongoing importance of PCHR, the first municipal civil rights agencies of its sort in the country.