Slavery was included in the original U.S. Constitution. It took more than 75 years after the Constitution was adopted and a bloody civil war before civil rights amendments were added to the Bill of Rights. It would take another hundred years before laws were passed outlawing racial discrimination in employment, housing, public education, accommodations and voting. Despite enormous progress, the promise of fair and equal treatment for people of color remains elusive.
Too many of our schools are as segregated and profoundly unequal as they were when the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in its Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. Students of color are disproportionately disciplined in school and disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system. The war on crime and drugs has excessively targeted people of color for arrest, prosecution and long, mandatory prison sentences. Voting districts created to provide fair representation have been undermined by lawmakers and by the courts. Felony disenfranchisement laws and other concerted efforts to prevent people of color from voting have robbed hundreds of thousands of minorities of their right to vote. Segregation and discrimination in housing opportunities still exist, and a backlash against affirmative action in employment and education is slamming the door of opportunity in the faces of many who are most deserving. Anti-immigrant laws have stripped away basic civil rights for many of the nation’s ethnic minorities.
The ACLU of Oregon’s racial justice work cuts across many areas, including criminal justice, education, free speech, immigrants’ rights, national security, police practices and religious freedom. More than ten years ago, the ACLU was instrumental in having the Oregon State Police review its stop data and address its practice of stopping and searching people of color more often, and less successfully, than whites.
In recent years, the ACLU of Oregon has partnered with several racial justice organizations in an effort to broaden its outreach to communities of color and to help ensure that the civil liberties of all peoples are upheld and protected.