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A dangerous nomination

Amy Coney Barrett’s ill-advised, dangerous nomination ceremony was a COVID-19 superspreader event, and her reckless, maskless participation in these events deserves much attention. What also demands attention is Barrett’s deeply problematic, long-standing affiliation with a vehemently anti-LGBTQ right-wing legal organization, the Alliance Defending Freedom. 

If you are not familiar with ADF, please take a moment on the internet — it does not take long — to learn all about its anti-LGBTQ activities. Read the appalling and ugly rhetoric of its highly paid founder, Alan Sears. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified ADF as a hate group and documented how its activities have endangered thousands of vulnerable people worldwide. ADF’s lawyers advocate for the criminalization of homosexuality. Shockingly, they have supported the state-enforced sterilization of transgender individuals. In the U.S., ADF has been involved in numerous discriminatory cases at the Supreme Court and frequently sponsors legislation known as “turn away gays” laws.  

ADF lawyers advocate for the persecution of LGBTQ people. For five years, starting in 2011, Amy Coney Barrett helped train such lawyers, as a faculty member in ADF’s Blackstone Fellowship/Ministry. Its stated mission is to “spread the Gospel by transforming the legal system.” Barret’s name was on its website, and she was paid thousands of dollars over years to teach lawyers who travel the world advocating for cruel, discriminatory laws. 

In a previous confirmation hearing, she tried to downplay her involvement with ADF. But she did not do this once, by mistake. She was on faculty five times, when the harm of ADF’s activities was well-established. 

In 2013, ADF sent a lexicon to faculty members, like Barrett, for use when speaking. Instructions included: Do not use the term “transgender,” use “sexually confused.” Use “sexual indoctrination education” instead of “health education.” Tellingly, the lexicon specifically tells faculty to replace mention of “bigotry” and “anti-tolerance” with “defending religious principles.”

This last point is very important. ADF has been highly successful at framing any criticism of its hateful, bigoted activities as attacks on religion. But this is not about religion. This is certainly not about the Gospel. This is hateful ideas disguised as religion. 

As someone raised Catholic, I know that Jesus was an accepting, compassionate figure, and there is nothing inherently intolerant about his teaching. But there is something inherently intolerant about ADF and Amy Coney Barrett. In 2020 America and beyond, the dignity and worth of all people must be respected. People should be free to live their truth and be who they are, free from fear and discrimination. 

ADF’s stated mission is to change the U.S. legal system, and Barret is its instrument. But we cannot go backward. I stand with the Human Rights Campaign in strong opposition to her nomination to the Supreme Court. Please join me and call your senators to demand Barrett answer for her anti-LGBTQ affiliations. Her judgment cannot be trusted. Her repeated support of ADF must be condemned and must disqualify her from joining our country’s most important legal institution.

Eileen Birmingham

Montclair

Police reform gains momentum

In Thomas Russo’s letter printed in the Sept. 3 issue of Montclair Local Mr. Russo paints a dark picture of the current social protests happening around the country. In a hyperbolic, fear-mongering screed he shows no interest in understanding the reasons for protests or the desire of the majority of people in this country to be able to reform policing and the criminal justice system.

As protesters gathered around the country to demand justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a related rallying cry has taken hold: Defund the police. Those who support this movement exist on a spectrum. Some want a gradual shift in budgets from policing to other public services, others advocate a complete abolition of police departments as we know them and a restructuring of public safety. 

Considering the disparities between policing budgets and budgets for other city agencies, the idea of defunding the police seems much less radical than it sounds. Currently the U.S. spends $115 billion on policing. Most of these funds come from municipal budgets.

In Chicago the police budget is $1.7 billion — more than twice the budget of the fire department, department of transportation, department of public health and public library combined.

Nationally, 1.7 million children  attend a  school with police but no counselors, 3 million are in schools with police but no nurses.

And it’s not like the police don’t resent society’s over-reliance on them. “We’re just asking us to do too much,” said former Dallas Police Chief David Brown. “Every societal failure, we put it off for the cops to solve. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”

A major problem in police reform is the power of police unions. In addition to regular union activities like helping members win better salaries and benefits, police unions work hard to protect police job security by pushing for safeguards against investigation, discipline and dismissal. 

Police collective-bargaining agreements protect even the most violent officers from oversight groups like civilian review boards and police internal-affairs departments, making it nearly impossible to punish officers for serious wrongdoing. 

That said, since the death George Floyd 42 of the country’s 50 largest cities have adopted new rules aimed at curbing abuses of the police, according to Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Since May, 15 cities have banned chokeholds, a dozen passed “duty to intervene statutes” and others have banned “no-knock warrants” or changed policies regarding use of force.

It seems clear the movement to reform the police and reevaluate how the criminal justice system functions is gaining momentum throughout the country. The vast diversity of the protesters in the streets — young, old, Black, white, middle class and less advantaged is proof there is widespread support for change. It is an idea whose time has come.

Arthur Portnoy

Montclair

Seniors face homelessness risks 

During summer 2019, the Montclair Senior Housing Action Group came into being when a group of older residents met to discuss their growing concern about increasingly limited senior housing resources. The group focused on the most at-risk members of our community, seniors, many with a fixed income, who wish to “age in place”; now, in the COVID crisis, there is concern for people of all ages who face eviction and being priced out of their hometown.

MSHAG undertook to develop a curriculum of self-education to evaluate the pros and cons of a wide range of housing options. These included accessory dwelling units (ADUs), “the missing middle” density and infill concepts, and shared housing in a region where zoning regulations restrict this. We worked with a courageous potential developer for the Shultz house, which might have become a senior development, but were stymied by restrictive zoning. 

Recently we presented some of these options to an Aging in Montclair Saturday Social and were not surprised to hear that many AIM members were experiencing increasing concern about the cost of their living situations and knew of friends who have been forced to move out of Montclair. 

We have actively participated in the debates at the Township Council that resulted in a positive change in the rent-control law as applied to seniors. We successfully encouraged seniors to attend hearings to demand appropriate protection, given that almost two-thirds of renters in Montclair are over age 55. We also undertook a walking survey of the township this past summer and identified over 50 properties across all four wards that either look like they had ADUs already or had two-story garages that could be converted. We would like to see the local Accessory Dwelling Unit law be changed so that homeowners have a creative solution to develop their property to reflect the need for more affordable housing options. Our research indicates that this should increase property values without putting undue strain on town infrastructure.

A recent New York Times article cited research that over the next 10 years, the number of elderly people experiencing homelessness will nearly triple — “and that was before a pandemic arrived to stretch what remains of the social safety net to the breaking point.” The township’s new financial constraints were recently cited as a reason why the long-promised senior center could no longer be pursued. Shouldn’t the town loosen its restrictions to make it easier for homeowners to develop their properties as a way to offer more variety of affordable housing options? 

DONNA WARD

And members of the Montclair Senior Housing Action Group