21 Jul Advocacy Impact Report – July 2021
“If you can say you can’t breathe, you’re breathing.” With those words, Petal, MS, Mayor Hal Marx drew condemnation from across the nation following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, by police officer Derek Chauvin.
Community members and local advocacy groups, including Black Lives Matter supporters, launched a series of protests and called for the immediate resignation of the mayor. Protester Dennis Harris (pictured with his partner) was unjustly convicted of violating the city’s trespassing and disturbing the peace ordinances. Mississippi Center for Justice appealed his conviction. A Forrest County judge took the case under advisement and in May 2021 issued a 9-page order finding Mr. Harris not guilty of all charges – almost one year to the day from Mr. Floyd’s murder.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, conservative legislators around the country began introducing unconstitutional bills that directly attacked the First Amendment by erecting barriers to the freedom of assembly. MCJ has been a leading advocate that has monitored the anti-protest legislative efforts to criminalize peaceful protests and perpetuate a Jim Crow legislative agenda.
Our work is not getting any easier. This year, we have received increased demand for the services we provide, and there is no sign that things will be slowing down. We expect significant and protracted erosion to Mississippi’s already fragile racial and socioeconomic support systems.
Thankfully, Mississippi Center for Justice is uniquely prepared to meet the challenges ahead. We provide vital services across a wide array of issues that marginalized Mississippians struggle against daily. We are good at what we do – just ask clients like Mr. Harris.
Here is a sample of our important legal and advocacy work over the last three months:
- The United States Supreme Court announced it would take up a case concerning a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The challenge to the 15-week ban was brought by MCJ and others on behalf of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
- MCJ continues to host the state’s only COVID-related eviction hotline that has assisted over 400 individuals and families by providing information about protecting their rights and accessing resources for rental assistance.
- MCJ is hosting a criminal justice initiative to ensure that juvenile offenders who were sentenced to life without parole will receive resentencing hearings in which their constitutional rights are protected.
- In response to a request from MCJ, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed to review Mississippi’s felon disfranchisement provision from its Jim Crow-era 1890 Constitution.
- MCJ and its pro bono partner Akin Gump have so far had over 100 Dreamers from across the state enroll in our DACA clinic, with 40 applicants identified as qualified. These individuals are working with pro bono attorneys to complete their applications. MCJ also developed a smartphone app to permit online applications for DACA status.
- MCJ established the New Roots Credit Partnership to act as a bridge between unbanked Mississippians and the economic mainstream by offering training in basic financial literacy while providing fair and responsible credit options that meet family needs. As the program grows, NRCP could disrupt the spread of predatory lending services throughout Mississippi.
- MCJ is co-counsel in the case brought by Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson and ten of his House colleagues against Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, the Oath Keepers, and the Proud Boys, for their role in the January 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol.
MCJ works to create a more equitable and just Mississippi – a better Mississippi – through our dedicated legal campaigns centered around health and public benefits, fair housing, consumer protection, immigration, disaster recovery, and impact litigation. We work across a broad array of issues because addressing the root causes of poverty and inequity are inherently intersectional. We confront a wide range of challenges facing racially and economically marginalized Mississippians head-on, and we have an exceptional track record of making real and positive change.
Advancing equity and justice to sustain positive change in Mississippi is only possible with the continued financial support from generous people who share our belief that economic and racial justice in Mississippi is possible. With your help, MCJ will continue its work to make “justice for all” a reality for everyone within Mississippi’s borders.