Registration is now open for MJR&L’s 2018 Symposium: A More Human Dwelling Place: Reimagining the Racialized Architecture of America

symposium photo

Presented by the Michigan Journal of Race & Law, “A More Human Dwelling Place: Reimagining the Racialized Architecture of America” is a symposium happening on February 16 and 17 at the University of Michigan Law School.

Over two days, we will examine five archetypal spaces in America: homes and neighborhoods, schools, courthouses, prisons, and borders. The symposium endeavors to consider the ways in which these spaces have become increasingly racialized, diagnose how that racialization impedes their basic functioning, and reimagine these spaces at their best, and our world as a more human dwelling place. James Baldwin gave us this name, embedded in his imperative “to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

The symposium will bring together individuals working to better these spaces, hailing from many disciplines, including law, history, sociology, journalism, literature, architecture, urban planning, and visual art. Together, we hope to conceptualize forgotten or not yet dreamed of alternatives. Through discussions of projects already realized and ideas not yet concrete, we will collectively inch toward the world we wish to inhabit.

The symposium is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

For more information about the Symposium, please see the Symposium website.

To register to attend the Symposium, click here.

Posted in Announcements, MJR&L Events

The Color of Terrorism

By Rasheed Stewart
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Concertgoers in Las Vegas, NV flee the scene of the deadliest mass shooting in American history (2017).

On October 1, 2017, a 64-year-old white American male opened fire on thousands of concertgoers in Las Vegas, Nevada.[1]  Over 58 innocent people were murdered and 546 more were injured, instantly making it the deadliest shooting in modern American history.[2]  Under Nevada law, terrorism is defined as, “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”[3]  Seemingly, this senseless act of tragic violence consisted of the exact elements Nevada lawmakers intended to criminalize when they created the statute.  Undoubtedly, the facts of the Vegas mass shooting should constitute terrorism under the definition of the Nevada statute; however, national media outlets have been quick to opine their own reasoning for why the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. modern history should not be considered ‘terrorism.’[4]

The myriad of reasons they suggest include the contrariness of the Vegas shooting with Oxford’s definition of ‘terrorism,’ of which requires a political aim.[5]  Other explanations focus on the FBI’s definition requiring a political objective.[6] Superficially, the media continues to disseminate implicitly biased conclusions to the general population. In turn, these conclusions excuse significantly violent acts caused by white American males, not Islamic State fighters, and condone them as mass shootings, not terrorism. Why? Doubtless, the answer will not appear in the definition of terrorism; nonetheless, there is an unwritten, implicit understanding that the color of ‘terrorism’ is, and always will be, non-white.

To further this conclusion, one must look at other examples of similar incidents, and analyze if this claim holds true. On November 5, 2017, a 26-year-old white American male armed with an assault rifle, shot and killed 26 community members, including a child as young as 18 months while they worshipped inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.[7]  No motive had been revealed as the investigation proceeded; however, President Trump, like the various U.S. media outlets that effectively continue to control the narrative, tweeted his reasoning for why this occurred by stating the incident was a, “mental health problem of the highest degree,” and not a “guns situation.” [8]  Even after a man intentionally walked into a house of worship, and committed the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history,[9] there was not a single utterance of the word ‘terrorism’ or even an act of ‘terror’ that could be found.  Of course, President Trump has conceivably memorized the FBI definition for terrorism and refrained from calling the murderer a terrorist because there was no ‘political aim’ present, right? Wrong.

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How Should the United Nations Intervene in Libya’s African Migrant Crisis?

By Shanene Frederick
Associate Editor, Volume 23


In recent months, increasing media attention has been devoted to the plight of African migrants leaving their home countries in the hopes of reaching Europe.[1] These migrants often give money saved up for the journey to smugglers in Libya, who put them in boats that sail across the Mediterranean, without regard for the migrants’ lives or well-being.[2] Often times, these migrants die during the trips and their bodies wash ashore.[3] As Libya has begun to tighten up security along its coast, reports of smugglers selling African migrants off into slavery have surfaced.[4] What action should be taken in order to help these people of color from death and/or exploitation?

One intuitive solution would be the involvement of the United Nations (UN), which is arguably the world’s most influential, powerful, and well-known international organization. The United Nations’ primary goals include maintaining international peace and security and achieving international cooperation in solving international problems.[5] The UN has a wide range of tools in its arsenal that may be used to meet those goals. For example, the UN Security Council has the power vested by the UN Charter to trigger a wide range of obligations binding on the countries of the world.[6] Take the various economic sanctions imposed on North Korea[7] for its testing of nuclear weapons for example, or the sanctions imposed on individuals suspected of supporting terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11.[8] The UN has even engaged in quasi-colonialism, acting as the administrator of territories like East Timor[9] and Kosovo.[10]

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Restoring Democracy in Michigan

By David Bergh
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Protestors gather in Detroit in 2013 to speak out against Michigan’s use of Emergency Managers.

In the wake of the economic destruction wrought by the Great Recession of 2008, many Michigan municipalities fell into dire financial straits.[1] Faced with cities that were sliding into insolvency, the Michigan Legislature passed so-called “emergency manager laws,” in the hope that, by putting the municipality’s finances in the hands of an outside expert, disaster could be averted.[2] Michigan’s existing emergency manager statute was deemed too weak, so the Legislature passed Public Act 4, which was signed by Governor Snyder and went into effect in March 2011.[3] Public Act 4 allowed the State to appoint emergency managers for cities or school districts, and gave them broad power over all financial decisions.[4] This power was then augmented by the passage of Public Act 436, which went into effect in March 2013.[5] Public Act 436, which was given the Orwellian title “Local Financial Stability and Choice Act,” empowered emergency managers to control virtually all aspects of local governance, essentially ending democracy at the local level.[6]

Since the first new Emergency Manager Law took effect in 2012, eight cities and three school districts have been brought under state control.[7] The cities brought under state control, which include Detroit, Pontiac, Flint, and Hamtramck, share the common theme of being majority minority.[8] The impact of the Emergency Manager Law on minority communities was so severe, that in 2013 more than half of Michigan’s African American population lived in cities under the control of unelected bureaucrats.[9]

Racism has a long history in Michigan – from the KKK nearly getting their candidate elected mayor of Detroit, to the now forgotten 1943 Race Riot during which white mobs, enraged by the presence of black people on Belle Isle, roamed the streets of Detroit unhindered by the police, resulting in the deaths of 24 African Americans.[10] This history is not consigned to the past – cross burnings have occurred in the Detroit area as recently as 2005.[11] Given this history of white supremacy in Michigan, the apparent indifference towards the political rights of black citizens is more than troubling.[12] It is also worth noting that narratives of “financial mismanagement” are false. While local officials deserve some blame for the situation in their cities, the State has been aggressively cutting back on revenue shared with municipalities since 2002.[13] Combined with the impact of the Great Recession, this meant that less affluent communities were simultaneously squeezed by falling tax revenue and declining contributions from the State.[14]

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The Children’s Health Insurance Program at Twenty: Essential yet Expired

By Elliott Gluck
Associate Editor, Volume 23

chip-landing-page-infographic.jpgThe Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been a triumph of effective bipartisan policy for the last two decades.[1] Unfortunately, the program which has helped to lower the uninsured rate for America’s kids, from 14 percent in 1997 to just 4.5 as recently as 2015, was allowed to expire this Fall.[2] While CHIP is an essential program for a diverse array of families, it has been especially impactful in communities of color. In tandem with Medicaid, CHIP covers nearly 40 percent of kids in the United States, and of those children benefitting from the program, nearly 60 percent are African American or Hispanic.[3] If Congress fails to act, states will soon run out of funding and millions of children could be at risk of losing coverage.[4] This would exacerbate racial disparities in access to healthcare and the negative outcomes that follow from a lack of coverage for kids.

Implemented during the Clinton administration, CHIP provides coverage for children in families whose incomes are above the Medicaid thresholds but would otherwise struggle to afford insurance.[5] “While CHIP income eligibility levels vary by state, about 90 percent of children covered are in families earning 200 percent of poverty or less ($40,840 for a family of three). CHIP covers children up to age 19. States have the option to cover pregnant women, and 19 do so.”[6] From the perspective of pediatricians, CHIP both saves and improves the lives of the children and families it covers. Dorothy Novick, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, notes,

Every day I see patients in my practice who stand to lose their health care if Congress does not act to extend CHIP funding. Consider my patient who grew up in foster care, put herself through college and now earns a living as a freelanceclothing designer. She is now a mother herself, and I treat her children. Her 1-year-old son has asthma and her 3-year-old daughter has a peanut allergy. They are able to follow up with me every three months and keep a ready supply of lifesaving medications because they qualify for CHIP. Or consider the dad with a hearing impairment whose wife passed away two years ago. He supports his teenage daughters by working as a line cook during the day and a parking attendant at night. He sends the girls to a parochial school. He lost their Medicaid when he was given extra hours at his restaurant last year. But I still see them because they qualify for CHIP.[7]

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Dear Abdul El-Sayed: A Letter to Michigan’s Gubernatorial Candidate

By Hira Baig
Associate Editor, Volume 23

Dear Abdul El-Sayed,

Life has been challenging for Muslims post 9/11 and has only gotten harder since the 2016 election. Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise, and my neighborhood mosque now requires police security through the month of Ramadan and every Friday for our jummah prayers. My community is living with a heightened sense of fear since Donald Trump was elected and we are trying to figure out how to combat our country’s violent political landscape. Community conversations often conclude with realizations that we need to use our vote to change these circumstances. We are often left wondering, however, who should we vote for? I write this letter to you and all young Americans running for office because we want to support you; but we need some assurances first. Before I begin, I’d like to thank you. Our country needs you. We need more diverse legislatures on the local, state, and national levels and we appreciate your efforts. I just ask one thing: listen.

Listen to the people in this country that need you, and don’t get swept up by power and greed that pervade politics. You don’t need to be bound to people with money and influence. Nearly all of our elected officials have already succumbed to these pressures. We need people like you in public office because it is only after we challenge the very foundation of our political structure will we be able to change public policy for the better.

I’d like to share the words of Haney Lopez as you build your platform. Lopez tells us that the middle class is being used to propagate policy decisions that have ultimately hurt most Americans.[1] He writes that politicians use dog-whistles, or coded racial language, to gain white voters, motivating middle-class Americans to elect conservative politicians despite their own interests.[2]

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UPCOMING EVENT 11/30: The Racial Implications of Partisan Gerrymandering

The Michigan Journal of Race and Law Presents:

The Racial Implications of Partisan Gerrymandering


Thursday, November 30th, 12:00-1:00pm, SH 0225
Lunch will be provided!

Cosponsored by:
Racial Justice Coalition
MLaw Chapter of the ACLU
American Constitution Society
Latino Law Students Association

Professor Katz will discuss Gill v. Whitford and how the decision could impact racial inequality.  She will also provide an overview of the case, specifically addressing how the case fits into the larger context of voting and electoral law. 

Posted in MJR&L Events

Little Justice for Native American Women Victimized by Non-Native Attackers

By Ben Cornelius
Associate Editor, Volume 23


Edith Chavez (center) with her daughter and mother days after she was abducted in North Dakota.

In April of 2015, Edith Chavez, a Native American woman, was beaten and knocked unconscious at a North Dakota gas station by an unknown assailant.[1] She was then abducted, drugged, and driven northwest, likely to be sold into prostitution. Prostitution and human trafficking is thriving alongside the oil boom in the state.[2] Thankfully, Edith managed to escape her attacker and a good Samaritan took her to the police station in Williston, North Dakota to make a report.[3] Instead of taking a statement and launching an investigation, however, the police arrested Edith for an unpaid traffic ticket.[4] It was only after the intervention of a female officer at the jail Edith was transferred to that Edith was released and taken to a hospital.[5]

Unfortunately, stories like Edith’s are not unique. According to former U.S. Associate Attorney General, Thomas Perrelli, on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at over 10 times the national average.[6] According to U.S. Justice Department records, one in three Native American women are raped during their lifetimes, two-and-a-half times the likelihood for an average non-Native American woman.[7] In 86 percent of these cases, the assailant is non-Indian.[8] The oil boom in the Dakotas has flooded the region with transient workers, many of whom prey on those vulnerable to rape and murder.[9] In addition to rape and murder, human trafficking has also skyrocketed.[10] Since the arrival of Europeans Native Americans have been prime targets for human traffickers, and in other cities that lie near reservations such as Minneapolis, native woman are grossly overrepresented in prostitution.[11] A 2007 review of probation records from North Minneapolis found that 24% of the women charged with prostitution in the area were Native American, yet Native Americans only comprised 2.2% of the population.[12]

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With a Side of Higher Mortality: Prison Food in the United States

By Cleo Hernandez
Associate Editor, Volume 23

November begins a holiday season in the United States that is stuffed full of increased attention on food. The average American does seem to gain just under one pound of body weight during the holiday season.[1] However, some individuals avoid this holiday gluttony through no choice of their own.[2] Prisoners in the United States on a day-to-day basis have an extremely different interaction with the “food” they are provided. Research about the nature of prison food in the United States is sparse, but there seems to be a general consensus that an inmate does not receive adequate food.[3]

The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution imposes duties on prison officials to provide prisoners with adequate food.[4] In reality many prisoners encounter food that is primarily a product of state legislative choices about funding, and thus prison meal systems will vary widely from state to state and from prison to prison.[5]


This means that in some states prisoners are simply not fed enough. In Gordon County, Georgia prisoners only get two meals per day, served at least 10 hours apart.[6] In Butte-Silver Bow County, Montana, prisoner meals averaged between 1,700 and 2,000 calories per day.[7] Furthermore, the nutritional value of the meals seems to be low, with items like margarine, brownies, and cake tacked on to meager meals in order to reach calorie minimums.[8] Certainly, prisoners are not getting the diet rich in a diverse array of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables recommended by United States Department of Agriculture.[9]

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Can They Do That? (Part 1): Shut Down Line 5

By John Spangler
Associate Editor, Volume 23

In the era of the perpetual election cycle, it is no surprise that candidates are already declaring for 2018 races in Michigan.  Michigan’s 4-year, off-presidential elections include the state senate, the governor, and the focus of this series, the attorney general.  Thus begins our feature, “Can They Do That?,” where we explore the statutory authority of the attorney general’s office as it relates to campaign promises in our diverse state.


Dana Nessel announces her bid for Michigan Attorney General in August 2017

Though the attorney general is nominated by their party and not by primary vote, it still helps a candidate to declare early and build a public profile.  The first candidate to declare, and the first we will discuss, is Democrat Dana Nessel.  Ms. Nessel is an attorney in private practice and former prosecutor whose most notable case was DeBoer v. Snyder[1], later Obergefell v. Hodges[2], the gay-marriage challenge that made it to the Supreme Court and won.  At her August 15, 2017 event declaring her candidacy, Ms. Nessel’s speech covered a number of ideas to put in force should she be elected.  One of those proposals was “On my first day, I will file to shut down Enbridge Line 5.”[3]

So, can she do that?  Line 5 is a pipeline that runs under the Straits of Mackinac, the narrowest point between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsula.  Built in 1953,[4] it has worried environmental activists for years and recently attracted a great deal of attention for issues like missing support struts,[5] unprotected pipe surfaces,[6] and the revelation that it was built for weaker currents than exist in the Straits.[7]   An oil spill from Line 5 could spread over a vast area.[8]  Enbridge also had the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history from a different pipeline in the Kalamazoo River in 2010,[9] raising further concerns about Enbridge’s safety record. Continue reading

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UPCOMING EVENT 11/14: The Path to Equitable Revitalization in Detroit

The Michigan Journal of
Race & Law
The Path to Equitable Revitalization in Detroit: 
A Discussion with 
Professor Alicia Alvarez
Please join us for a discussion with Professor Alicia Alvarez, director of the Community and Economic Development Clinic, about the emergence of new ventures in Detroit and how those ventures may be limited in the benefits they provide to some Detroiters, or may impose burdens on some Detroiters. We will also talk about possible solutions to ensure that all Detroit residents benefit from the economic revitalization of the downtown area.
When: Tuesday, November 14th, at noon
Where: South Hall 1050
Non-pizza lunch will be provided. Please RSVP to Claire Nagel ( Space is limited and spots will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.
Posted in MJR&L Events