The Setting Up of a Civil Rights Unit in Alabama

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryThe situation has gone so far out of hand that the federal government, at the insistence of the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., has set up a civil rights unit in Birmingham, Alabama. What does this mean? The civil rights unit cannot openly interfere with the state’s laws. It cannot interfere with Alabama’s state immigration law, although most of that state’s law has been put on hold by a federal court. The basic function of the civil rights unit is to monitor the state’s actions against those immigrants affected by the state immigration law and any discrimination they may encounter. This monitoring of any discrimination that may occur against immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities include; housing discrimination, police brutality claims, compliance with the Voter Rights Act of 1964, and any violations of federal laws against minorities and those with disabilities.

There can be no doubt that such a unit is necessary. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been several hundred cases the Center knows of where individuals have suffered discrimination due to the state immigration law and the extreme prejudice against them. Personally, I do not believe this is enough for what is going on in this state. And we have to remember its less than honorary history. Fifty years ago, the Alabama state government was one of the last bastions of legal discrimination against African Americans. It upheld the Jim Crow laws that justified legal segregation between non-Hispanic whites and African Americans for well over a century. It took the concerted effort of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to help desegregate Alabama. Even into the late 1960’s, Alabama leaders still blocked integration of the public schools, communities and the workplace.

On this 50th anniversary of the fight to end segregation, the Alabama state government seems in too many ways to be reliving history. The laws they have passed have discriminated mostly against Latinos, and is causing serious conflicts and disruptions in the state. This is why the establishment of a civil rights unit by the federal government in Alabama is so symbolic. It is saying that even 50 years later, the issue of civil rights and discrimination is still a problem in the state.

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