The Southern Poverty Law Center: Seeking Justice in 2017 and Beyond
For nearly five decades, the Southern Poverty Law Center has been fighting hate and seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
In the early 1970s, the fledgling nonprofit in Montgomery, Alabama, used newly passed civil rights laws to dismantle remnants of Jim Crow in the Deep South. In the ensuing years, the SPLC shut down some of the nation’s most violent white supremacist groups by winning crushing, multimillion-dollar jury verdicts on behalf of their victims. It has reformed juvenile justice practices; shattered barriers to equality for women, children, the LGBT community, and the disabled; protected immigrant workers and the poor from exploitation; and more.
Today, the work of the SPLC is more vital than ever. The 2016 presidential election exposed deep racial fissures across the nation and energized a radical movement that rejects our country’s most fundamental ideals. As a result, the SPLC is taking action on several fronts.
In 2016, the country saw a resurgence of white nationalism as extremist beliefs and rhetoric infiltrated the mainstream. The SPLC’s annual census of hate groups and extremist organizations found the number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in a row, from 892 in 2015 to 917 a year later.
The most dramatic growth was the near-tripling of anti-Muslim hate groups – from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. The growth has been accompanied by a rash of hate crimes targeting Muslims. The SPLC has taken the following steps, among others, to combat this rising tide of extremism:
- Distributing new hate crime training videos to more than 40,000 law enforcement officers across the country to help them fight violent hate crime.
- Equipping university students with free resources to help them peacefully and effectively counter growing extremism on campuses propelled by the speeches and appearances of alt-right personalities.
- Holding Silicon Valley companies accountable to their own rules forbidding hate groups from exploiting their services to raise money and spread demonizing propaganda that radicalizes young people and encourages violence.
The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project documented serious issues within the nation’s classrooms following a presidential campaign that inflamed racial and ethnic tensions. Its post-election survey of 10,000 educators found a distinct uptick in verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes, and Confederate flags. Ninety percent of the respondents said that their school’s climate had been negatively affected – and most believed the impact would be lasting.
Teachers are also trying to cope with terrified children facing the possible deportation of parents and the shattering of their families under a new immigration enforcement regime. In light of these findings, the SPLC has taken several steps, including the following:
- Distributing free resources designed to help teachers and school administrators counter harmful stereotypes and stop the bullying and harassment of children whose races, ethnicities, and religions were targeted by hateful rhetoric during the election.
- Providing educators with practical advice and strategies to help them deal with the crisis and chaos experienced by schoolchildren living in immigrant families.
- Launching a new initiative to help impressionable children see through “fake news” and extremist propaganda.
The SPLC is addressing numerous issues in the courts and the halls of government – people of color victimized by institutional racism in the criminal justice system; low-income people left behind as the government shreds the social safety net; schoolchildren needlessly pushed out of school and into jail cells; LGBT people facing discrimination; and many more. In 2017, the SPLC is taking additional steps to seek justice for those who may be harmed by a new administration that appears set on rolling back protections for the most vulnerable.
- Launching a new project to enlist, train, and coordinate hundreds of pro bono lawyers to protect the due process rights of immigrants caught in the nation’s immigration dragnet.
- Exposing the abuse of prisoners stemming from mass incarceration policies and the exploitative, for-profit prison industry.
- Using legislation and litigation to reform the criminal justice system and eliminate excessive court fees, modern-day debtors’ prisons, and other practices that unfairly punish or exploit the poor.
These are a just a few of the ways the SPLC continues to promote and protect our nation’s most cherished ideals and stand up for those who have no other champions. Whether this mission takes the SPLC into the courts, the classroom or elsewhere, it remains devoted to creating a better future by fighting hate, teaching tolerance, and seeking justice.
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