Kevin Keenan, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, General Counsel began his presentation with the statement that race is a difficult issue to discuss and resolve.
The advances that have been made to date on behalf of people of color as well as many of the organizations and institutions that work for those advances are, to a large part, the result of heroic efforts by individuals. Mr. Keenan cited Thurgood Marshall as one such heroic figure. Mr., later Justice, Marshall was responsible for the founding of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was one of the initial and most successful lawyers who defended black Americans charged with crimes.
Mr. Keenan stated that an eco-system exists and has existed for a long time that puts African-Americans in a disadvantaged position. This is an eco-system based on the feeling of white entitlement, biased policies and procedures and false notions about individual characteristics associated with African-Americans. He provided an array of statistics showing the disparities in the treatment of African-Americans and whites in the areas of education, arrests and convictions, access to transportation and the availability of good housing. He pointed out the vast economic difference between African-Americans and whites when it came to household wealth. He pointed out the bias that exists by citing an example of the different grade given a legal research paper that was alternatively attributed to white or African-American authorship in spite of being the same paper. He also mentioned that a white candidate is usually given a greater chance of success than an African-American candidate in spite of equal or lower qualifications on the part of a white candidate.
According to Mr. Keenan, the Legal Defense Fund takes on these issues and fights to correct them, but he stated that the LDF cannot do this alone. It needs more heroes like those of old to help correct these injustices. This, he said, is a fight we all must take up.
Q & A
Q. What is your view of charter schools?
A. The LDF has no official positon on charter schools. Schools must be judged based on the outcome for their students. Charter schools are probably part of the solution, but we need clear standards for schools that are applied across the board.
Q. What led to the separation of the LDF from the NAACP?
A. Two things. One was the need for an entity that could provide a tax deduction for contributions. The second and probably the most important was to have an entity for the lawyers that could avoid all the legal hurdles that were directed toward the NAACP. Later the NAACP sued the LDF for its use of NAACP as part of its name, but the NAACP lost the suit.
Q. How do you integrate peaceful white neighborhoods with more violent black neighborhoods?
A. It is not easy and part of the problem is the assumption that the black neighborhoods are inherently more violent that the white ones. They aren’t. They are just more disadvantaged.
Q. What does the LDF do?
A. We are a law firm that gets involved when we think legal action will be of assistance. This can take the form of a law suit, dealing with policy, or lobbying.
Q. Are small towns more of a problem in dealing with mixed race couples than larger urban areas?
A. Reactions to mixed race couples vary. Frequently, neighborhoods in larger urban cities can be very much against mixed race couples.
Q. Would the LDF and the ACLU be more effective if they merged?
A. The two groups frequently work together, but there is a great difference in size and funding with the ACLU being the much larger and wealthier group, but we think there are also advantages of having one group focused solely on civil rights.
Q. Does the LDF consult or do legal work?
A. About 50-60% of our work is litigation, 30% is lobbying and the rest is focused on communication.
Q. Does the LDF get involved with 911 call issues?
A. We do not get involved with those issues as we don’t have enough resources.
Q. Can you address the single parent problem?
A. This is an enormous problem, but the amount of divorce and number of unwed mothers is down from what it used to be.
Q. Why are black Americans largely absent from local communities around here?
A. There are many reasons, but there are steps that can be taken to change this. Solutions are possible.
Q. How do you get better teachers in Bridgeport given the present funding process?
A. We may need to go to some other funding method than property taxes to solve this issue.
Q. Why do we keep referring to race and race issues when there is only one race for the human species? Doesn’t that set up an us and them situation?
A. Right now such references are just the custom. There is no doubt that it is divisive and can have harmful consequences.