Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

Chasing the Dream

Posted on August 28th, 2013 by

Lincoln MemorialBy Grant Beck, ERC Communications and Outreach Associate

It’s a cloudless, sweltering day in August. Washington, D.C., is buzzing. The concrete of the Lincoln Memorial glows in the blistering sunshine. The Reflecting Pool is transformed from the image of a solitary monolith into a diverse sea of faces. More than one hundred thousand people from all walks of life have gathered at the feet of The Great Emancipator. Some wear buttons and pins. Many carry signs. All have a message. The mass is frustrated. Frustrated at a distinct lack of equality in this “land of opportunity.” Frustrated at a lack of jobs in their neighborhoods and cities. Frustrated at violence within, and against, their communities. Frustrated at the seemingly endless economic gap that separates them from the wealthiest Americans. They have come here to find a voice. A unified voice that speaks to the issues they face every day. A voice that assures them that they too have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Except, the year is not 1963. The year is 2013, fifty years after Dr. King boldly told the country of his dream for America. A dream that, it seems for now, remains just that. A dream.

On August 24, the National Action Network (NAN) led a rally and march from the Lincoln Memorial in honor of the famous March on Washington that took place in the nation’s capital 50 years ago. NAN collaborated with a highly diverse selection of organizations and advocacy groups for the daylong event, which included high-profile speakers, performers and civil rights icons, and concluded in a mass exodus from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

More than 100,000 people traveled to the nation’s capital to commemorate the anniversary. From families with small children, to individuals who attended the original march in 1963, people came with hand-made signs, folding chairs, blankets and banners to celebrate one of the seminal events of the 20th century. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Fair Employment, Fair Housing, Government Services, Immigrant Rights, LBGT Rights
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ERC Congratulates Washington Lawyers’ Committee on Successful Awards Luncheon

Posted on June 12th, 2013 by

Yesterday, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC) hosted the 45th annual Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon in downtown Washington, D.C. , honoring law firms, lawyers and other individuals for their notable work in civil rights.

The luncheon’s namesake, Wiley A. Branton, was a civil rights attorney best known for his work to end segregation in Arkansas. He then led a distinguished career in government service, and actively promoted voting rights for African Americans. Later in his career, Branton served as the Dean of Howard Law School.

At the luncheon, Bruce Hubbard, a career employee of the U.S. Postal Service, was awarded the 2013 Alfred McKenzie Award.  Granted annually in recognition of dedication and courage in producing significant civil rights victories, the Alfred McKenzie Award was awarded to Hubbard for his work on behalf of the Deaf and hard of hearing.  Following the 2001 anthrax crisis, Hubbard represented himself and a class of fellow Deaf and hard of hearing workers challenging the U.S. Postal Service for failing to provide legally mandated sign language interpreters.   In a lawsuit against the post office, Hubbard led the plaintiff class and was very involved in the negotiations.  Represented by the WLC and Convington & Burling LLP, a settlement was reached providing for significant improvements in how the Postal Service communicated with its Deaf and hard of hearing employees, and Hubbard maintains an active presence in the prolonged proceedings.

Following a brief lunch, there was a video presentation that highlighted the work of the law firm Dickstein Shapiro LLP, which often partners with WLC. Under the guidance of named partner Sidney Dickstein, the firm was recognized for its work with D.C. Public Schools, including the WLC’s D.C. Public School Partnership Program. Through this program, Dickstein Shapiro holds biweekly meetings with students to discuss current affairs, provides mentors to students, and provides coaches for the D.C.-wide High School Mock Trial tournament. For this incredible work, both Sidney Dickstein and Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, were awarded the 2013 Vincent Reed Award, which honors individuals who devote their time to providing equal education opportunities for all students. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights
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DHCD Releases the District of Columbia Analysis of Impediments

Posted on January 14th, 2013 by

IA press conference

Steve Paikin, Director of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity for HUD’s Washington, D.C. field office, speaks at the DHCD press conference.

In December, the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) announced the release of the “District of Columbia Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 2006-2011.”

Published every five years by districts and municipalities that receive federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for fair housing activities and programs, this report analyzes “the essential goals of the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) and the Fair Housing Act to achieve racial, ethnic, and economic diversity in housing…”

The DHCD report examines the state of housing and housing discrimination issues in the District of Columbia over a five-year period. Following exhaustive investigations and research, DHCD recognized 13 impediments to fair housing in Washington, D.C., spanning both the private and public sector. The report also details recommendations to remedy these impediments. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Fair Housing, Government Services
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Misguided: Housing Discrimination Against Individuals Using Guide Dogs

Posted on November 12th, 2012 by

Blind rental reportThis week, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) released a report detailing the treatment of blind or visually impaired renters seeking a reasonable accommodation for a service animal in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area rental housing market. “Misguided: Housing Discrimination Against Individuals Using Guide Dogsfound that housing providers failed to individuals who used service animals equal housing opportunity thirty-one percent of the time, despite federal, state and local protections requiring such accommodations.   

Guide dogs and other assistive animals serve an important function and are not pets.  Nonetheless, many rental properties employ a “no pets” policy or have strict guidelines, including the type of animal allowed and size of the animal. Recognizing the adverse effect these policies may have, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as state and local laws, provide protections to people with disabilities in housing-related transactions, including the right to obtain a reasonable accommodation for the use of a service animal.

Despite these protections, the ERC and its affiliates continue to receive reports of discrimination.   To test these claims, the ERC conducted 100 tests of rental properties throughout the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area [for further information on testing and methodology, read the full report here]. In 31 percent of the tests, a blind individual who called a rental property to inquire about housing was unable to ensure that a guide dog would be permitted without any additional fee or cost. The treatment ranged from increased fees, to a lack of knowledge on property policies involving service animals, to outright refusals to accommodate a guide dog.

Service and other assistive provide essential services to many in the disability community. From a blind individual who uses a guide dog to walk down the street, to a person diagnosed with epilepsy who works with a dog trained to detect seizures, assistive animals are invaluable resources and companions. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Disability Rights, Fair Housing
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Tragedy brings forth an opportunity to strengthen our community

Posted on August 13th, 2012 by

child signing banner

Attendees of the August 8 vigil sign a poster remembering the Sikh temple shooting victims.

By Melat Menwyelet, Immigrant Rights Program Coordinator

Having remained nearly invisible or confused with its more well-known Asian counterpart Islam, the world’s 5th largest religion finally came into focus in the U.S. on August 5, 2012, through the tragic events in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran who is described by the media as having ties with hate groups, entered a Gurdgwara, a Sikh temple, and opened fire, killing six people and himself. This tragic event took place at the most ironic of times as it was the part of the Sunday service where community members from all backgrounds – Sikhs and non-Sikhs – come together and break bread as a sign of equality.

The Sikh religion is monotheistic (believing in one God) and emphasizes ethics, morality and values.  They are warriors for social justice, advocating for tolerance for all people, and have been described as one of the most peaceful people in the world.  Although a minority in the U.S., Sikhs make up an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 of the country’s population. Sikh men are easily identified by their beautifully colored turbans, which have also led them to be easily targeted by hate groups. This has especially been the case in the U.S. since 9-11, as they are often mistaken for Muslims. Although they understand this misplaced hate, true to their beliefs, many Sikh Americans stand up against the injustice that the Muslim American and Arab American communities have faced as a result of constant harassment over the last several years. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy
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Opening doors from discrimination

Posted on June 22nd, 2012 by

The ability to obtain adequate and safe housing of one’s choice affects all aspects of an individual’s daily life. Yet housing discrimination continues to be a pervasive problem nationwide, particularly for people who rely on Housing Choice Voucher holders.

This month, the ERC reached an agreement with Level One, Inc., a national apartment leasing call center, resolving concerns that Housing Choice Voucher holders were provided with inaccurate information about the availability of apartments owned and managed by Level One’s clients. As a result of the agreement, Level One will ensure that all of its agents answering rental calls for properties located in the District of Columbia, and in Howard and Montgomery Counties in Maryland, advise potential renters that vouchers are accepted for the payment of rent. Level One has also agreed to strengthen its existing fair housing policies and to provide additional fair housing training to employees. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Fair Housing
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Passing the Buck on Fair Employment

Posted on April 13th, 2012 by

Earlier this month, 72 members of Congress urged President Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating in the workplace based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. While not addressing the request directly, President Obama released a statement this week suggesting that he wants Congress to pass legislation first.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was considered by Congress last year, but did not pass. The Congressmembers’ letter to the President noted that an executive order would help lay the groundwork for ENDA. Particularly in this election year, no one expect ENDA to have a real chance of passing before 2013.

The result is a Catch-22: Congress needs the momentum and leadership of the Administration to get ENDA – a bill the President supports – passed. The President seems to not want to act until Congress passes the law. As both branches wait for the other to take action, thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are denied basic fair employment protections. (more…)

Categorized as LBGT Rights
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ERC Continues to Fight Discrimination Against Housing Choice Voucher Holders in the District of Columbia

Posted on January 11th, 2012 by

For nearly eight years, the ERC has been at the forefront of identifying and addressing discrimination against Housing Choice Voucher holders in the District of Columbia.  Since beginning this initiative, the ERC has published two reports and reached more than two dozen agreements with landlords and property managers, ultimately opening more than 15,000 apartment units to voucher holders.  Last year, the ERC released a report revealing that, while the rate of discrimination based on this source of income had decreased over time, nearly half of those attempting to use Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) in D.C. still encountered discrimination.

Today, in a continued effort in this campaign, ERC filed a lawsuit in the D.C. Superior Court against Inder Raj Pahwa and Rita Pahwa, alleging that they violated the D.C. Human Rights Act by engaging in discrimination on the basis of source of income.  In tests conducted by the ERC, Inder Raj Pahwa—an engineer with the D.C. Water & Sewer Authority and a Commissioner on the D.C. Taxicab Commission who owns and manages rental units at 717-719 Irving St. NE, Washington, D.C. and 722-724 Hamlin St. NE, Washington, D.C.—told testers that he would not accept vouchers at any of his properties, and that he “did not believe in vouchers.”  Although typically discrimination occurs in more subtle ways, an outright refusal to rent to voucher holders is a clear violation of the law. (more…)

Categorized as Fair Housing
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A Letter to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA) from the ERC’s Disability Rights Program Manager

Posted on January 9th, 2012 by

By Kat Taylor, Disability Rights Program Manager

Dear WMATA,

I’ve been following closely the closure of several of metro station entrances/exits that are being renovated as part ofMetro Station Platform WMATA’s Metro Forward Project.  You report that this project will improve service for Metro Customers by working on escalator maintenance, station enhancement, bus rehabilitation, rail car maintenance and rail improvements. Although I have only lived in the D.C. area for a few years, even before starting this ambitious project, I have seen WMATA struggle to keep the metro rail system functioning properly and I fully understand that you are trying to improve your public image.  Us daily commuters are far too familiar with delays, nonfunctioning escalators, broken elevators, and most recently, cracked tracks.  While I support any and all improvements you are trying to make, in the nation’s capital, we expect better.

My concern is the immediate consequences of some of the closures you are proposing.  In a growing and diverse city, we need a system that is inclusive and can truly be used by everyone.  In the capital of one of the wealthiest, most enlightened countries in the world, it is unacceptable for a public transportation system to habitually discriminate against one of the largest minority groups in the country – people with disabilities.  (more…)

Categorized as Disability Rights
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Does Prolonged Detention Create Secure Communities?: D.C.’s Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act

Posted on January 6th, 2012 by

By Valentine Khaminwa, ERC Compliance Coordinator

Renowned for its multicultural tapestry, Washington, D.C., hosts many immigrant communities, including people from El Salvador, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, China, West Africa and Vietnam. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between April 2010 and July 2011, Washington D.C.’s population grew at a faster rate than any state. Much of this growth is likely within the city’s immigrant population, which was over 12% of the District’s population in 2010. With this increase in foreign-born residents in the District and around the country, issues of diversity, immigration and documentation continue to dominate the political dialogue.

Today, the D.C. City Council introduced the Immigration Detainer Compliance Amendment Act of 2011 to protect the city’s immigrant population from the harsh, sweeping effect of the Secure Communities Program (S-Comm). As previously discussed on For Civil Minds here and here, S-Comm is designed to have federal, state and local agencies work together to identify and remove serious criminals who are not in the United States legally, but it’s implementation has been far more sweeping. In 2011, most people detained or deported through S-Comm did not have a criminal record, or were low-level offenders. (more…)

Categorized as Immigrant Rights
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