Growing Up Black in America

Melissa Harris-Perry What does it mean to be a young black male in the United States?

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Arizona Lawmaker Wants Women to Watch an Abortion Before Having One


Arizona is on a roll. First, state lawmakers offered up a proposal which would’ve limited women’s access to contraception, now one state lawmaker is proposing that women seeking an abortion be forced to watch an abortion being performed prior to getting the procedure. State Rep. Terri Proud sent the following reply to one of her constituents in an email asking ...

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Are Cookies Smarter Than Condoms?

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As we suffer through what has officially been dubbed the most partisan era in the history of American politics (next to the Civil War, perhaps?), it seems there is little left that Americans can agree on. Even contraception, which used to be the fallback issue of consensus among those sick at yelling at each other over abortion, has tied if not surpassed that issue in partisan squabbling. So is there anything left that people of different political stripes can actually find common ground on? Maybe just one: cookies. Republican or Democrat, Independent or Libertarian, anyone of any political persuasion who considers him or herself a cookie aficionado holds a special affection for this time of year. Some may call it the dawn of spring, but those of us with a sweet tooth call it Girl Scout cookie time. Throughout the halls of Congress, you will find Republicans and Democrats alike sneaking a Thin Mint or two, or diving into a box of Samoas (my personal favorites). But what you may not know is just how many of those members of Congress used to sell cookies themselves. When it comes to cultivating female leaders, not a single college, university, sorority, or religious organization can come close to the alumnae of the Girl Scouts. The organization, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this month, counts 70 percent of female members of Congress , all female astronauts, and every single female Secretary of State to date as former Girl Scouts. In an interview , Congresswoman Donna Edwards said, "Every skill that I use in the United States Congress right now I know that I learned that through my experience in Girl Scouts." Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison echoed that sentiment: "The Girl Scouts taught me the importance of honesty, fairness and respect for others. I gained confidence and learned skills I value even today," she said in a statement . When asked if she thinks she would have ever become one of the few women to head a television network had she not spent years as a Girl Scout, BET Chairwoman Debra Lee said simply , "No. Girl Scouts were very important in my life." But bipartisan support hasn't stopped some from trying to politicize the century-old organization that many of us consider as all-American as apple pie, or perhaps cookies. Local elected official Bob Morris recently accused Girl Scouts of being a " radicalized organization" that "sexualizes" girls and functions as a tool of Planned Parenthood. Though he later apologized for some of his rhetoric, if he has strong feelings about ensuring that fewer young girls find themselves in need of the services of organizations like Planned Parenthood at an early age, might I suggest that Rep. Morris buy some Girl Scout cookies? Lots of them. The reason? Because Girl Scouts probably plays an even greater role in teen sex and pregnancy prevention than your run-of-the-mill high school sex ed course. I've long been frustrated with how tone-deaf both sides of the sex-ed debate sound. On one side you have conservatives with their heads in the sand, proclaiming that "abstinence" is an effective educational program for preventing teen pregnancy. ( It's not .) On the other side you have progressives proclaiming that comprehensive sex ed is the most effective method for preventing teen pregnancy. (Well, it's certainly better than abstinence-only , but that's not saying much.) What both sides of the argument rarely acknowledge is that either approach fails on its own, with their effectiveness being determined in large part by the support network young people already have in place. That includes parents, teachers, and peers. According to the findings of multiple studies (which you can view here ), the greatest predictors of which teens will engage in risky sexual behavior remain family life and the peers they associate with. Another predictor? Goals. If a teen has a goal -- to become a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or perhaps a member of Congress -- he or she is statistically more likely to make "safer" choices. In other words, it's not enough to say, "Don't have sex, because you could get pregnant," or, "Use a condom, because it greatly decreases your chances of getting pregnant." The connection has to be made between, "Use a condom because it greatly decreases your chances of getting pregnant, and if you want to go law school, that's a lot harder to do if you have a child before you're ready." While I want to be very clear for the sake of Rep. Morris and his cohorts that this is not the messaging of Girl Scouts, it's worth noting that the mission of the organization is to instill pride, purpose, leadership skills, and goals in girls so that they grow up to become proud, purposeful women -- women more likely to make healthy choices so that they achieve their long-term goals, whether those goals take them to the Halls of Congress or all the way to space, or even just to cyberspace (shout out to my fellow former Brownie troopers!). So if you really care about the health of girls and seeing girls make healthy choices, buy some Girl Scout cookies. You never know. You may just end up purchasing a box from your future member of Congress or your future president. Click here to see a list of famous Girl Scouts, and to see my interviews with members of Congress about how the Girl Scouts shaped their lives and careers. Please feel free to share your own memories of how Girl Scouts shaped your life in the comments section. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for , where this piece originally appeared.

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Trayvon Martin — Victim of Bias & Gun-toting Vigilantism

I wait for an era when young Black men will no longer have to live in fear. Decades after the abolishment of slavery, we were haunted by the reality of being hunted down, beaten and lynched by both everyday citizens and law enforcement. Young boys like Emmett Till were openly and viciously murdered because of the sentiments of bigoted individuals who believed they had the right to carry out their own brand of injustice. Today, Black (and Latino) youth are routinely targeted, profiled and 'mistakenly' shot by those sworn to serve and protect us (i.e. Sean Bell). And now, in what can only be described as the most blatant form of vigilante murder, a 17-year-old named Trayvon Martin loses his life at the hands of self-proclaimed 'crime stopper.' But the only crime here is that this killer has ended poor Trayvon's life under the guise of his own preconceptions and has not been charged, nor arrested. We will head to Florida to ensure that all that changes immediately. On Thursday, March 22 at 7 p.m., National Action Network (NAN) and I will convene an urgent rally at the First Shiloh Baptist Church in Sanford, FL. to demand justice for Trayvon Martin. We will be joined by community leaders and concerned citizens from all ethnicities, backgrounds and walks of life that cannot even begin to comprehend this nightmarish situation. A young teenager walking home, armed only with candy and a drink, should never lose his/her life because someone in a gated community feels 'threatened.' George Zimmerman, the accused adult shooter, is roaming the earth freely while Trayvon's mother, father and family members must bury their precious child. It is an atrocious miscarriage of justice, and we demand that authorities in Florida arrest Zimmerman immediately and charge him for the crime of murder. Anyone with sound reasoning cannot disagree. In 2005, the state of Florida enacted one of the toughest 'stand your ground' self-defense laws which allowed civilians to use deadly force against 'intruders' or anyone they believed was a 'threat' to their life. Supported -- and in many ways lobbied -- by the National Rifle Association, these laws don't require a person to retreat from the situation, thereby allowing them to even pursue someone who 'threatens' them. The legislation not only protects individuals from prosecution, but goes so far as barring them from civil suits in many cases as well. As the model for dozens of other states that now carry similar laws, the Florida self-defense rule creates an environment where anyone at any moment can claim they were fearful of someone as a justification for cold-blooded murder. And that's exactly what we see here in the tragic case of Trayvon Martin. In the recently released 911 tapes of that fateful day, Zimmerman was clearly told to stand down by authorities, but he didn't comply. Many eyewitnesses said they heard screams of help, but no one came to Trayvon's assistance in time to save his life. Zimmerman claimed he had spotted a 'suspicious' individual, and as several news outlets have reported, he pursued Trayvon, not the other way around. In a society that still views young men of color as threatening, dangerous and suspicious without cause, these self-defense laws in Florida and elsewhere give free rein for anyone to openly kill those that they may not like or those that make them feel uncomfortable because of their own inherent prejudices. And the race/ethnicity of Zimmerman or any citizen in this type of scenario doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, it is the race of the victim -- Trayvon -- that does matter. It is his race and his demographic that is consistently depicted as the threat, and negatively portrayed in popular culture. A few years ago, a man in Oklahoma City shot and killed a 16-year-old who allegedly tried to rob the drugstore where he worked. This pharmacist attempted to plea self-defense, but because he shot the teenager in the head, chased someone else out and returned to shoot the kid five more times as he lay on the floor, he was sentenced to first-degree murder. Young Trayvon's only crime was buying a pack of skittles and walking through the wrong neighborhood. He had his entire life ahead of him and we demand justice without delay. Zimmerman must be held accountable. Join us in Sanford on Thursday as we call for a repeal to Florida's outrageous self-defense laws. It's about Trayvon's life, not supposed self-defense. I'm still waiting for the day that young Black men (and women) can walk freely in any neighborhood without fearing for their lives.

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Former Bush Aid Says Atheist Billboard Telling Slaves to Obey Their Masters Was “Mean Spirited”


by Yvette Carnell Pastor and former Bush aid Joe Watkins discussed a controversial, and recently torn down, billboard which depicted a black man in shackles and read, “Slaves, Obey Your Masters.” Watkins called the billboard “hurtful” and “mean-spirited” for depicting the image of a shackled slave beside the quote from Colossians 3:22. I, however, suspect that the folks who were ...

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Are Female Voters to Blame for the Failure of Female Candidates?

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During her remarks at this year's Newsweek/Daily Beast Women in the World Summit , former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reiterated one of her favorite maxims: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." According to a new study, it looks like the ladies' room in hell will be quite crowded. Just in time for International Women's Day, which was March 8, London-based company Business Environment released a study of 1,000 women, and let's just say the results didn't exactly scream, "Girl power!" The study found that 25 percent of female managers expressed reluctance to hire a woman who has children or is of a child-bearing age, while 72 percent admitted to judging female coworkers for what they deemed inappropriate dress, compared with just 60 percent of men. The findings seem to confirm earlier data, including a 2010 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute, that found that when women are accused of workplace bullying, the targets are almost always other women, in numbers that outpace the number of men accused of bullying other men. So why should we care if a few women engage in a bit of Mean Girls behavior around the office water cooler? Because the long-term ramifications for all women are much greater than just a few hurt feelings. The bullying directed by some women in the workplace appears to rear its ugly head in the voting booth. Though women have comprised both the majority of the population ( 51 percent ) and the majority of the electorate ( 56 percent ) in recent years, women have struggled to translate these numbers into any representative majority in elected offices. According to the 2012 Project at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, the U.S. currently ranks 71st worldwide in terms of female elected officials -- just behind someplace called Turkmenistan. While there have been some high-profile successes here and there, Governors Nikki Haley and Susana Martinez being recent examples, last election cycle the number of female members of Congress dipped for the first time in more than three decades. This step backward in the House, combined with our country's inability to elect women -- of either party -- to the highest or even second-highest office in the land (something nations like Pakistan have done) begs the uncomfortable question: if women are the majority of American voters, then does the blame for the dearth of women leaders lie with women voters? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Gov. Sarah Palin, and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann may have little in common, politically speaking, but one common bond they all share is running, and failing, at the highest level and on the biggest stage in politics -- and being a lightning rod for female voters while doing so. Though some female voters were their biggest supporters, many others were their toughest critics, with few occupying the middle ground. According to the Associated Press , these two extremes are not limited to these three women, who many consider polarizing: An AP analysis of data from the 2006 American National Election Study Pilot Test found that when it came to selecting a candidate for president, gender matters more for women than for men. But it's a two-way street; women are more likely to vote for a candidate because she is female, and also more likely to dismiss a candidate because of her gender, according to the analysis. While it would be easy to dismiss the opposition of these women among women as being partisan-based, it's not that simple. It was noted during the panel discussion on female leadership at the Women in the World Summit (a panel that featured Gloria Steinem and Jill Abramson of The New York Times , among others) that while Hillary Clinton enjoyed support from women over 50 during the 2008 election, she trailed behind two male opponents for the support of younger women (Barack Obama and John Edwards, respectively). Polls showed that Sarah Palin's favorability rates were always higher among men even before her personal baggage and struggle to answer questions about her reading habits came to light. At some rallies headlined by Palin during the height of the 2008 presidential campaign, the gender ratio in the crowd reportedly skewed 70-percent male to 30-percent female. "If you look at Sarah Palin, men supported Sarah Palin more than women did," said Anne Kornblut, who covered the 2008 election for The Washington Post . She added, "Women also look at women's appearances and judge them just the way men do, and sometimes more harshly... I think women are critics across the board in ways you may even consider sexist if you didn't know who was saying it." Tiffany Dufu, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit organization committed to increasing female leadership at the highest levels, including the White House, was more circumspect. "Yes, female voters are tougher on female candidates. Male voters are tougher on them, too. Any individual who does not fit the leadership status quo has to meet a higher bar." Congresswoman Jackie Speier recalls being surprised by the reaction of female voters to her candidacy for Congress: "When I first ran for Congress in 1979, I was 28 years old, and I kept hearing, 'I'm not going to vote for her just because she's a woman,' and it wasn't men saying it but women." Kornblut, who also authored the book Notes from the Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win , adds, "Women look at women running for office and say, 'I couldn't do that. I'm a mom with two small kids, and I couldn't be governor. How could she do that?' Or they say, 'Why is she so ambitious? Why does she want to do that when she has a family at home?'" Rep. Speier echoes this sentiment: "For whatever reason, there's a competition that some women see when other women succeed. We've got to change that dynamic. Men see an opportunity of both rising. Women see a threat that somehow if one woman succeeds, another falls." So how do we begin changing that dynamic? "I think we change it in part with our young girls in soccer and baseball and playing a team sport, so they recognize the power of working together," Rep. Speier said. "When I was a youngster, that wasn't available, but it is for this generation. I'm hoping it will have an impact on how they view each other as they move forward." (Click here to see my interviews with Rep. Speier, Angelina Jolie, and other speakers at the Women in the World Summit.) In the new book INSPIRATION: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World , CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King weighed in on the competitiveness that so often seems to rear its head among professional women. "It saddens me when women think there's not enough to go around, because there's more than enough," she said. "It's a big old pie out there. I believe that when you're good at what you do, it only makes me better." If only more women agreed. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a contributing editor for , where this post originally appeared.

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The Economic Impact of Birth Control

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by Yvette Carnell Much of the attention given to the asinine birth control debate has centered around Catholicism vs. Women’s Health, and when that’s not at the center of the firestorm, it’s the Republican fiction – pushed by Limbaugh – that somehow the taxpayer is footing the bill for the pill. The bigger issue though, the one largely absent from ...

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Help Meryl Streep (and Other Iron Ladies) Teach Rush Limbaugh a Lesson


By now the five remaining people on the planet who didn't know that Rush Limbaugh embodies the very worst in politics, pop culture and possibly all mammals ever, have joined the rest of us in this knowledge. But for those of you that have been under a rock in recent days, allow me to fill you in on this latest dispatch from Rush Limbaugh's race to the bottom. Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke , a woman he doesn't know, has never met and knows next to nothing about, a slut. I take that back. He knows something about her now, namely that she's smarter and more courageous than he is. Fluke provoked Limbaugh's ire when the Georgetown University law student dared to testify in support of contraception coverage before a Democratic hearing after previously being denied the right to testify in a male (and conservative) dominated congressional hearing on the matter. Fluke's testimony highlighting the fact that many women rely on contraception to address medical issues unrelated to preventing pregnancy, apparently struck Limbaugh as humorous. (Hey -- who doesn't find ovarian cysts hysterical?) He then continued to riff on Fluke, speculating on her sexual habits in a manner I will allow you to read about for yourself because just thinking about the comments and frankly, their source, gives me the creeps. On Saturday Limbaugh "sincerely apologized" to Fluke clearly seeing the error of his ways due to some serious self-reflection on his part. At least we're supposed to pretend it's due to his self-reflection, and not due to the fact that his advertisers are ditching him faster than he ditches wives. (At last count he's on number four and considering she's not much older than Ms. Fluke, part of me wonders if perhaps this was all some grotesque attempt at flirting on his part that simply went awry. After all, who wouldn't want to be the fifth Mrs. Limbaugh? Raise your hands high, ladies!) As un-amusing as this whole situation has been, I can't help being amused by the timing of it all. March happens to be Women's History Month. Talk about starting it off with a bang. While we all know that for at least the next month we can look forward to hearing occasional references to our country's greatest women sprinkled in speeches, news items and, of course, school reports, what you may not know is that despite years of trying we still don't have a national museum to honor the contributions of women. Before any eye rolling or shouts of "pay down the deficit!" begin, did I mention that the planned National Women's History Museum won't cost taxpayers a single dollar? It will, however, require congressional approval for the land on which it will eventually be constructed; approval that despite years of negotiations (and efforts of the saner members of Congress on both sides of the aisle) has remained elusive. If you need further proof of just how gridlocked and embarrassing Congress has become in recent years, consider this. We have a National Postal Museum, which was opened in the nineties, but recent efforts at making a National Women's History Museum a reality have repeatedly stalled. That means that the postal service, which may be the only body in America with a lower approval rating than Congress, was deemed worthy of its own museum honoring its contributions to this country, but after years of near-groveling women still haven't been deemed worthy of one. Did I already mention the part about how the museum won't cost taxpayers a dime? So what's the hold up? In a nutshell, for the museum to be constructed on land in close proximity to the National Mall, congressional approval is required. As National Spokesperson Meryl Streep (who could also be called the museum's most devoted evangelist) recently explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times , "It's a political football... It's a thing that everybody in Congress agrees with but then they attach it to something that no one agrees with." To her point, on more than one occasion the necessary bill has made it out of the House only to miss garnering a vote in the Senate before the end of the legislative session. But in at least one instance it was intentionally stalled. The reason: political posturing over the politics of women's health. Sound familiar? In 2010, Senators Tom Coburn and Jim Demint, among the chamber's most conservative members, placed a "hold" on the bill. Initially the two senators expressed budgetary concerns. You know, despite the fact that the museum will not use taxpayer dollars. Perhaps someone pointed that out to them because they later argued the museum would unnecessarily duplicate others. But according to USA Today , the real reason allegedly behind their concern? An organization that opposes abortion wrote a letter to both men expressing concern that the museum would not sufficiently honor women who have opposed abortion rights. (Apparently every single political issue on the planet somehow comes back to we ladies and our reproductive organs.) For the record, the museum is a nonpartisan effort with supporters representing both major political parties. The National Women's History Museum Act of 2011 was introduced last fall where it was approved in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee but months later we're still waiting. Waiting for our male-dominated Congress to get its act together enough to agree that honoring the contributions of women -- especially when it won't cost taxpayers a cent -- is one issue that should transcend partisanship. Meryl Streep, who recently clinched her third Academy Award for playing a history-making woman, Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, believes so strongly in the museum that she donated a million dollars to help make it become a reality. You may not have a million dollars to spare (few of us do) but you can help too. Here's how: 1) Write to your member of Congress and tell him or her that you support the National Women's History Museum, specifically you support the federal government approving the land necessary to make it become a reality. (Click here to see how to contact your elected officials and to see a sample letter.) 2) Support the National Women's History Museum online. The only way the museum can succeed without federal support is through private contributions. Click here for more details about how to get involved. In fact, why not make a donation in Rush Limbaugh's name? It seems only fitting that he help build the museum where thanks to him, Sandra Fluke's portrait is likely to hang someday. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor of where this post originally appeared.

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Back to the Future: All Roads Lead to Selma, Alabama


Last night, we watched Willard Mitt Romney give another lackluster speech following his victory in Arizona and extremely slim win in Michigan. Once again devoid of passion, it was as if he was reading someone else's words without any clear vision of what his platform would be in office. At the same time, you had Rick 'I don't believe in higher education' Santorum give his own speech as if he didn't lose yesterday. And whether it was Romney or Santorum speaking, it's important to note that neither mentioned the other by name last night, indicating therefore that they're in it for the long haul. The truth is, it really doesn't matter who becomes the eventual GOP nominee because all of the contenders and the Republican Party as a whole have proved that they would indeed like to take the country back -- back to a time when systematic maneuvers suppressed the votes of people of color and the marginalized. While they try to regress us back, we must do something today for the sake of our collective future. From March 4-9th, my organization, National Action Network, will partner with congressional leaders, activists and everyday citizens as we once again make the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. We will begin at the Edmund Pettus Bridge this Sunday, march at least 10 miles per day, stay in tents along Route 80, convene rallies and teach-ins along the way, and finally gather in front of the Alabama State Capitol on Friday, March 9th. After the state of Alabama passed the most draconian anti-immigration legislation, and at least 31 states now have voter ID laws on the books, we must take immediate action if we hope to preserve any notion of progress. The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. Beaten with billy clubs and attacked with tear gas, it was the third march which lasted five days that made it to Montgomery after soldiers from the Army, members of the Alabama National Guard (under federal command), FBI agents and federal marshals eventually protected the demonstrators. It was because of these marches, and the national and international attention they garnered that Congress rushed to enact legislation that would protect voting for all Americans. It was called the Voting Rights Act, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law later that year on August 6, 1965. It's amazing that almost 50 years after this historic legislation was enacted that we now find ourselves under attack yet again. After countless sacrifices -- including many people of all races that literally gave their lives for equality -- we are watching the very gains we achieved being slowly and covertly stripped away. It's important to remember that our Selma to Montgomery March next week isn't about the past, however -- it's about the future. Your future, my future, our children's future and the future of this very nation. Without any validation, individual states are passing these strict voter ID laws that are clearly designed to disenfranchise the poor, people of color, the elderly and young folks. Instead of allowing utility bills and other items that were used for years as appropriate forms of ID for voting, supporters of these new laws would like nothing more than to discourage people from participating. Rather than making the process easier and open to all, they are working diligently on finding new ways to suppress the vote. The state of Alabama is where the civil rights movement found its heart. Today, when voter ID laws have crept into dozens of states, and one of the toughest and most reprehensible anti-immigration bills passed in Alabama, we will gather once again in the deep South and march. Congressman John Lewis, who helped lead the march in '65 will join us, as will leaders from across the country. To learn how to participate in the Selma to Montgomery March, please visit . Whether you march along this historic route with us, or help organize buses, or participate in any fashion, make sure you do something. We have fought far too long and sacrificed far too much to allow anyone to repeal justice. Say no to voter suppression and anti-immigration laws. Let's remind the world once again what's at stake here. It's time to go back to the future: all roads lead to Selma on Sunday.

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Do You Live in a Rapist-Friendly State? (Yes, There Is Such a Thing.)


Hitting the lottery once in a lifetime will never happen to most of us, but Brian Brockington just hit the criminal justice system jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times. DNA evidence has linked him to three sexual assaults, but lucky old Brian will soon be released from prison without ever serving a single day for any of the assaults in question. So is Brian Brockington just one of the "luckiest" men alive? Perhaps. But he had some help. Continuing the lotto metaphor, you could say the powers that be screwed up and now all of us have to pay up, starting with the women DNA evidence links him to assaulting. Or in casino terms one might say the slot machines are severely broken and those in charge of the house haven't made repairing them a priority. As a result we'll likely see a lot more Brian Brockingtons winning the criminal lotto in coming years. Allow me to explain. As reported in the New York Daily News : Brockington, 35, was arrested on rape charges in 2007 and his cousin Rodney Howard, 36, was arrested two years later after their DNA matched evidence from a 1993 gun-point attack on a 29-year-old woman. But because of a police backlog, the DNA evidence from the crime wasn't processed for nearly a decade -- and prosecutors filed charges a day after the crime's 10-year statute of limitations expired, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx DA. The DA's office realized their error only after the cousins were arrested -- and prosecutors were forced to drop the rape charges. Brockington was subsequently linked to two other sexual assaults. The scary thing about the Brockington case (you know, besides the fact that an alleged serial rapist will likely soon be walking among us) is that the current system virtually insures that Brockington will not be the last alleged rapist set free by what some are calling a "technicality" but increasingly looks like willful legal negligence. Not simply on the part of police and prosecutors, but on the part of legislators. In interviews with representatives from organizations dedicated to aiding survivors of sexual assault and improving the criminal justice system's prosecution of sex crimes, I learned that as the current system stands the release of the Brian Brockingtons of the world is virtually inevitable, caused by a nearly perfect storm of the following: • Only five states in America have no statute of limitations for any felony, meaning any felony crime can be prosecuted at any point at which prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence, even if the alleged crime took place decades earlier. • Only 27 states have explicit DNA exceptions on the books rendering statute of limitations non-enforceable or significantly widening the time frame for such limitations should DNA evidence link a suspect to a crime. • The Justice Department estimates there are at least 100,000 rape kits from unsolved sex crime cases waiting to be tested at labs around America. • The actual amount of evidence waiting testing nationwide is much higher than 100,000, because before DNA collection became the norm there was no universal standard for storage of such evidence. This means there is an untold amount of evidence stored in unknown places and unaccounted for, some of it misplaced and misfiled for decades. You do the math. This means that in a plurality of states, regardless of whether or not DNA evidence successfully links a perpetrator to past crimes, there is very little our criminal justice system can do to insure that perpetrator will serve any time. The reason? Because of a woefully antiquated and inept system that at the very least has been slow to adapt to the 21st century, and at the very worst has consciously chosen to treat sex crimes as low on the list of legislative and prosecutorial priorities. Despite advancements in DNA technology a number of states still adhere to arcane statute of limitations provisions, meaning regardless of what evidence is unearthed that crime may not be prosecuted. "The rationale behind statute of limitations is that memories fade. DNA doesn't fade. It's good forever," said Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN , the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. "As long as you have the evidence, you should be able to use it anytime you finally identify the suspect." But even those states that have attempted to address the statute of limitations problem have left loopholes in them so big a truck could drive through or more accurately, a criminal can escape through. For instance, while the New York state legislature bowed to pressure in 2006 and finally amended state law to eradicate statute of limitations for class B felonies, covering those deemed the most serious sex crimes such as first degree rape, a host of sex crimes are not covered. "We wouldn't be able to prosecute a case like Penn State here in New York," Joe Farrell, a spokesperson for New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said, referring to child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University. That means even if DNA evidence was discovered, such as a piece of one of the victim's clothing linking Sandusky to a crime, there would be nothing anyone could do to prosecute in the state of New York. "Ideally we would like to see the removal of all statute of limitations for such crimes to allow for delayed reporting." But the legal challenges presented by statute of limitations provisions represent one broken cog in a piece of machinery full of defects. In many jurisdictions the processing of DNA evidence is so backlogged that as the statute of limitations clock ticks, with the ability to prosecute certain cases drawing to a close, the DNA evidence that could be used to prosecute said cases sits unanalyzed. There have even been instances in which a perpetrator was in custody for another crime, but because a rape kit had not been processed in a timely manner he was released before he was eventually linked to an unsolved sexual assault. Some states, New York among them, have been shamed into doing the right thing and clearing the backlog. (Though the rape charges against Brian Brockington were just dropped days ago, the case represents a holdover from the years before the statute of limitations law was changed and the backlog was cleared in New York, illustrating the dangers other states face by not properly addressing those two issues immediately.) But plenty of other states have thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested, with the cities Detroit and Houston being among the worst offenders. (Click here to see an in-depth report on this issue from CBS News in 2009.) According to one expert interviewed, Houston represents a troubling, yet perfect example of just how badly broken the system is. It was originally believed there were a couple of thousand untested kits in the city, until thousands more were discovered in facilities other than labs. If every major city is like Houston -- and it is believed that many are -- then we have absolutely no way of knowing just how bad the backlog really is. We just know that it is bad. As this expert pointed out, "Part of the problem is that law enforcement is hesitant to invest resources in testing kits related to non-stranger assaults. Of course the problem is there are perpetrators who may assault someone they know as well as victimize strangers, but law enforcement may never make that connection because those kits are not being tested." (She asked that her name not be used since she is not the designated spokesperson for the organization she works with.) So what, if anything, can we all do to prevent future Brian Brockingtons from winning the criminal lotto? For starters: 1) Contact your member of Congress and urge them to support H.R. 1523, "The S.A.F.E.R. Act." S.A.F.E.R. stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry. Co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Ted Poe, The S.A.F.E.R. Act would create a national database of rape kits maintained by the Justice Department and would require local jurisdictions to inventory all kits in their possession. It would also allow law enforcement to track which kits are attached to cases in which the statute of limitations window is drawing to a close. 2) If you live in a state that still has statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes (and chances are you probably do) contact your state legislators and request that they amend the law. (To see which states have the worst statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes, or as I call them "predator friendly states," please click here .) If you would like to learn about other ways in which you can help, such as signing a petition in support of The S.A.F.E.R. Act, or to access contact information for your elected officials, or review the statute of limitations law in your state please click here Let's all do our part to make sure that fewer Brian Brockingtons are set free. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for where this post originally appeared.

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