Racism and Criminal Justice

In the winter of 1999/2000, INTERRUPT directed a successful media campaign to free from jail two Latino youth, David Moreno and Justin Pacheco, who had been wrongly convicted of murder. The campaign produced global news coverage, contributing to a major human rights victory.

In addition, the Moreno-Pacheco media campaign underscored several principles INTERRUPT has established for successfully talking about race to the news media. These principles are detailed in the Winter 2001 edition of ColorLines magazine .

Moreno, Pacheco, and Jeremiah Alvarez-English were three Latino youth who fought a group of six white youth, one of whom repeatedly stabbed Alvarez-English in the back, killing him. The local prosecutor freed the white killer after he confessed to the slaying and instead charged Moreno and Pacheco with murder, claiming that they committed a "provocative act" by aiding their friend in the fight and therefore were responsible for his murder.

Moreno and Pacheco stood trial twice. The first trial was ignored by the news media outside of Solano County California, and Moreno and Pacheco were found guilty. At the invitation of the Moreno and Pacheco families and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, INTERRUPT launched a media campaign after the families and activists secured a second trial.

This media campaign generated global news coverage including: 60 Minutes II, ABC World News Tonight, BBC News, the London Independent, CBS Evening News, Associated Press, and the Los Angeles Times. These news stories offered in-depth analyses of racism in the criminal justice system, the absurdity of anti-gang laws, and the danger of granting prosecutors wide discretionary powers.

After spending two years in jail, Moreno and Pacheco were found not guilty on all charges including murder and assault. As Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center describes "It was clear that the attention of the news media helped to focus the jurors' minds."

"Wayward Police Officers Must Face Punishment"

INTERRUPT worked with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights to change the media coverage of a police killing in San Francisco and obtain an important civil rights victory. San Francisco police officers had repeatedly kicked an unarmed African-American man in the head, sprayed him in the face with three cans of pepper spray, gagged and hog-tied him, and finally left him to die unattended in the back of a police van. The initial news coverage of the incident was so heavily biased that the San Francisco Chronicle even went so far as to report on a new phenomena, "Sudden Custody Death Syndrome," in which victims of police beatings inexplicably die. INTERRUPT helped launched a media campaign to shift the news coverage to focus instead on the 37 prior complaints of police brutality and several "wrongful death" lawsuits involving the officers in the beating. This work culminated in the appointment of new members to the police commission that had earlier cleared the officers of wrong doing, the firing of the lead police officer in the beating/killing, the discipline of the other officers, and sparked a movement for police reform in San Francisco.

Leading with Race in Idaho

INTERRUPT worked with the Idaho Citizens Action Network (ICAN) to document and publicize racist practices that shut Latino families out of Idaho's children's health insurance program (CHIP). This project is a clear example of how "leading" with race can actually make organizing work more powerful. The project prompted the state to reform its intake practices and go the extra step to widely publicize the availability of this program to all children in low and moderate income families. Previously, eligible children of all races were severely under enrolled in this program and children of color were particularly under enrolled. INTERRUPT trained the members and staff of ICAN in publicity skills and messaging skills for effectively talking about race at a national conference. INTERRUPT also conducted an intensive three-day site visit/training and carried out extensive technical assistance from our phone-in help desk.

"Zealots Target the Sierra Club"

INTERRUPT designed the media strategy in the victorious campaign to defeat the recent Sierra Club anti-immigrant initiative. The media campaign changed news headlines from "Sierra Club Divided Over Vote on Immigration" to "Zealots Target the Sierra Club", and secured news coverage in numerous outlets from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle. The media work exposed how opportunistic lobbyists and self described white supremacists were blaming immigrants for the environmental damage wrought by corporations and government action.

Challenging Racism in Abstinence-Only Sex Education

In the Spring of 1997, INTERRUPT worked with the Applied Research Center to publicize their report Sex, Lies and Politics, a study of abstinence-only sex education curricula. The study documented a pattern of lies, omissions and racist stereotypes in these texts developed by the radical right. Designed to scare students into abstinence, information on contraception and condoms was either missing or entirely wrong. INTERRUPT generated major national coverage including the front page of the New York Times. Numerous editorials (again the New York Times) cited the study, denounced the biased texts, and called for comprehensive sex education.

Before the coverage support for funding of abstinence-only sex education was snowballing, with almost every state set to match $250 million in federal funds for abstinence only texts. Afterwards, most states opted to use the money for sex education programs that did not use the offending texts.

Calling Out the Criminalization of Students of Color

INTERRUPT worked with People United for a Better Oakland (PUEBLO) to publicize the results of an in-depth study which documented dismaying levels of student suspensions in Oakland public schools and which identified the disproportionate number of suspensions handed out to students of color for offenses labeled as "defiance of authority" (e.g. rolling one's eyes at a teacher). In response the School District immediately reformed its suspension policy and is currently taking steps to ensure enforcement. INTERRUPT trained the members and staff of PUEBLO in publicity skills and messaging skills for effectively talking about race at a national conference. INTERRUPT also conducted two site visits/training and carried out extensive technical assistance from our help desk.

Zero Tolerance and Racial Discrimination in Schools

INTERRUPT publicized a new study by the Applied Research Institute on racial disparities in public schooling in the United States. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, and others all wrote stories on the depth of racial disparity in public schools, especially in the application of so-called "zero-tolerance" policies.

The Racist Side to Vouchers

INTERRUPT helped the Applied Research Institute to publicize and promote its report Vouchers: a Trap Not a Choice, which examined the racist impact of vouchers. Numerous outlets carried the news of the reports finding including the USA Today. In addition, INTERRUPT prepared a full-page New York Times ad that discussed the reports finding.




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