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Civil Rights

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Chris Smith: Are Voters Ready for Civil Rights Redux?

Senator Barack Obama gave a brave, powerful, important speech yesterday in Philadelphia, but he was forced to deliver it by the greatest crisis of his candidacy: the furor created by the incendiary remarks of his former Chicago pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

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Al Sharpton to Go to Chicago, Take on Jesse Jackson?

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Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have had a difficult relationship over the years — at times a bitterly difficult one — and it's about to get even more complex. This week, Sharpton will go into direct competition with Jackson, his theoretical mentor and occasional father figure, by opening a branch of his civil-rights advocacy group, National Action Network, in Jackson's hometown of Chicago, where the elder activist's own civil-rights advocacy group, the Rainbow/PUSH coalition, is headquartered. "There is a demand in that market, and we're answering that demand," Sharpton told New York, innocently. "Every generation does its own thing. Growth of the movement is a good thing." A Chicago press conference to announce the new National Action Network chapter is planned for Wednesday, and neither Jackson nor anyone from Rainbow/PUSH is on the list of scheduled speakers. But someone interesting is: the Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr., Barack Obama's pastor. (He's the guy who once titled a speech "Audacity to Hope," giving Obama book ideas.) While it's unclear if Wright is sidestepping his fellow Chicago clergyman to ally with Sharpton, his daughter, Jeri Wright, definitely is. She'll be running Sharpton's new outpost. She gave Jackson a heads-up earlier this week, she said, and he wasn't upset: "He said, 'Whatever I can do to help, just let me know.'" —Geoffrey Gray Related: Rev Vs. Rev [NYM]

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Clothing Bargains for Transgender People, Too!

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In another small victory for the city's ever-brawnier transgender-rights movement, Loehmann's, that venerable mecca of fashion markdowns, has agreed to let its customers choose fitting rooms and restrooms based on the gender they identify as rather than the one they may look like to the rest of us. The decision came after Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint with the city's human-rights commission because the Seventh Avenue store last year denied Jane Galla, "a transgender woman and regular Loehmann's shopper," as the press release describes her, access to the women's dressing room. Galla took today's news with aplomb. "Like all New Yorkers, I appreciate a good bargain," she said in the release, "but the price is too high if I have to endure discrimination when I go shopping." Agreed. But, well, what if it's a really good bargain? —Tim Murphy

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Breaking: Jailing People for Speaking Out May Be Illegal

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A Manhattan federal jury has confirmed something you probably knew all along: It seems throwing political protesters in the slammer, instead of writing them a ticket, kinda sorta interferes with the First Amendment. The NYPD's lock-'em-up policy, born amid the paranoia of 2001, was short-lived (it's already off the books) and resulted in about 30 arrests, which now may mean 30 settlements for NYPD to cough up. The biggest mistake the boys in blue apparently made was committing the policy to the books in the first place: Nothing leaves a paper trail like, well, paper. The demonstrators' side alleged that the practice had existed for years as an unwritten rule — ever since the 1999 Amadou Diallo shooting and the spate of rallies it occasioned. Lacking concrete proof, the jury didn't buy it; if it had, the city would be looking at about 350 more settlements. Darned First Amendment. Jury Rules Against NYPD's Rally Lockups [NYDN]

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