• Will ‘Stop and Swab’ Replace Stop and Frisk?’ DNA Profiling and Race

    Today is national DNA Day. It marks the day on which James Watson and Francis Crick along with Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin published their papers elucidating the structure of human DNA. 10 years ago today also marks the day that scientists working on the Human Genome Project announced that their efforts were nearly complete. That same day the U.S. Congress issued a proclamation declaring April 25th National DNA Day.  Having studied and worked in the field of genetics for two decades, this day has always passed with a sense of geeky pride for me. Pride in the work that I was a part of and pride in the fact that for one day many in the nation would share in the wonderment and potential of the human genome and experience what I felt almost every day. Nothing has changed for me in the excitement I feel or in my belief that research into our DNA will bring about great capacity to alleviate suffering, shatter long-held misconceptions about race and class, and help people live to their fullest potential. However, this year I cannot help but feel the technology I have always held in such high regard has been hijacked.

    You see, a person’s DNA reveals a lot about them. This is mostly information concerning discontinuous traits like your blood type or clearly-defined diseases like hemophilia or sickle-cell anemia. Your DNA can also provide information on your likelihood of developing other diseases such as cancers or diabetes. Medical genetics may soon give precise odds that a person will develop any given disease, provide information about continuous traits such as height, and will likely provide us with all the information necessary to plan out our health care needs, dietary requirements, and exercise regimes for our entire lives. Of course, our DNA will not reveal quite everything about us.  It will not reveal as socio-economic status or race. Sure, DNA may provide someone with an intellectual advantage to boost earning potential or specify how and to what extent differing pigments are carried, but this is actually quite a subtle and continuous trait. There is also research which now demonstrates genetic markers for propensity towards anger or having a predisposition to violence. Scientists carefully warn that this information should not be used to make assumptions about any person since many of us carry these genes or markers; they simply aren’t expressed for some reason. Your DNA may also be able to do one other thing, convince a court or jury of your guilt or innocence.

    It is this last item that is of particular concern to me on this National DNA Day.  Many in law enforcement have been working for more than a decade to expand laws authorizing the collection of samples from individuals taken into custody so that their DNA may be added to a national database and checked against DNA obtained at other crime scenes. After efforts to pass such a law in Nevada was unsuccessful two years ago, the legislature has again taken the issue up for consideration with Senate Bill 243, which passed the Senate last week by a unanimous vote.

    This seems a particularly strange use of government resources, since the use of genetic information as a criminal dragnet goes against everything that one is taught as a scientist. You should never set out to prove yourself right, but always strive to prove yourself wrong. I have always found it strange that we as a society are willing to spend so much on law enforcement and the penal system and so little on education, research, and health care. As citizens, we should be demanding that our government focus its attention and use this technology to cure diseases and understand some of the factors which cause people to become prone to acts of violence. Instead, our government is allowing the FBI, not scientists, to push states to enact punishment-based laws while eroding civil rights and liberties in the process. The United States now has a national DNA indexing system known as CODIS [Combined DNA Index System]. It is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and provides, among other things, support for the expansion of model legislation for arrestee DNA collection.

    Understandably, those in law enforcement want to be able to solve and prevent as many crimes as possible. And while most would agree that law enforcement should have the best tools available, I think people would rank the preservation of individual rights and liberties as an even higher priority. While many people question the use of the technology at all, others simply question the practice of collecting specimens from individuals prior to conviction and would be willing to overlook other issues if this additional precaution were taken. I myself have a number of concerns with the use of DNA profiling, ranging from the technological to the legal.  While some of my concerns could be lessened with changes to the bill, such as post-conviction sample collection and better regulations of the chain of custody and DNA lab, my concerns with racial equity and Constitutional rights cannot. There also seems to be unwillingness on the part of legislators sponsoring these types of bills to make any significant changes. The lack of compromise on the matter is puzzling. It was not until reading the Department of Justice report on the effectiveness of DNA profiling along with realizing that the FBI was pushing this model legislation did the unwillingness for change make sense.

    Several reports over the last decade are revealing in what they conclude; they are also revealing in what they omit. In all the reports, the top contributing factors leading to a DNA profile match are the quantity and quality of the sample taken from the crime scene for which a match is sought. Several other factors appear on these lists, including techniques, training, and chain of custody. The one thing you will not find in these reports is the efficacy of the sample size database. Don’t bother trying to find such numbers either; the government has refused to release them. Studies in countries that utilizing or have used similar databases show that the size of the database makes little difference to finding a profile match. These studies demonstrate that an extremely high number of DNA profiles would be required in order to be of much use and that law enforcement is better served investigating the crime rather than spending time and resources waiting on some miracle technology to do it for them. In other words, the only way to make the system work is to drastically increase the number of people required to submit a sample for profiling. This explains the unwillingness to drop pre-conviction sampling and also explains why there has even been a push for expansion in other states, which now include such violations as walking a dog in California with the wrong length of leash.

    As of the end of 2012, just over half of the states have enacted arrestee DNA collection laws. Nearly all of these laws are pre-conviction, and I for one do not find it to be a coincidence that 20 of those 28 states are at or below the Missouri Compromise Line. Oklahoma, Georgia, and Nevada are the exceptions. I mention this, because it brings me to my last and most important deal-breaker for these laws.

    If you are reading this blog, then it should also come as no surprise to you that black men are six times more likely to be stopped by police, more than three times as likely to be taken into custody as a result and twice as likely to have some sort of altercation resulting in additional, serious charges. Once introduced or reintroduced to the criminal justice system, people of color are far more likely to be convicted of crimes for which they are charged and more likely to receive a prison sentence. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the U.S. prison population is comprised of people of color and 1 in 10 black males in their thirties will be in jail on any given day. These disparities that exist in our criminal justice system will also be extended to the DNA profile databases, subjecting people of color to disproportionately high rates of what will amount to a form of electronic surveillance without probable cause and without warrant for the rest of their lives. I would hope that after decades of Jim Crow, segregation, the War on Drugs, the school to prison pipeline, and stop and frisk, we wouldn’t want to add additional measures to further exacerbate the this epidemic.

    Perhaps some in society are willing to accept a forfeiture of rights for those convicted of crimes. After all, it isn’t their rights they are willing to forfeit. But are people really willing to forfeit the rights to privacy, due process, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure for everyone?  There should be no debate regarding the violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, allowing defendants to access their own sample for the purposes of exoneration, and the disproportionate effects of racial profiling and the institutional racism of the criminal justice system. We should turn our eyes instead to the system that still struggles to confront and address the institutionalized racism that clouds much of today’s justice.

  • Inocente

    PLAN organizer Christopher Preciado partnered with The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada to host a screening of the Academy Award winning documentary ‘Inocente’ and to discuss what its like to be an undocumented youth in Nevada, and what its like when that identity intersects with your queer identity.


    A question every organizer involved in the immigration reform battle has had to ask themselves is: “How are we going to get non-immigrants to care about immigrant related issues?”.

    The Center, serving the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, opened up their beautiful new building for a group of youth to screen the documentary ‘Inocente’. This Academy Award winning documentary provides a fresh perspective on the struggles faced by many undocumented youth living in the United States; a perspective that doesn’t focus on the usual political battles, but focuses purely on the life of an undocumented 15 year old named Inocente, who is trying her best to survive as she faces homelessness and deportation. Creating art is what she loves to do, and it keeps her sane in a world that has not been kind to her or her family. Inocente’s art manages to be quirky, beautiful, and emotional all at the same time. It is showcased throughout the film, which you can watch online by clicking here.

    UCNV Inocente Screening-5

    Youth at The Center listening intently as our panel of undocumented youth talk about their lives in Nevada.

    I am the lead organizer for PLAN’s Uniting Communities Nevada program. Uniting Communities is a project of the Western States Center that supports organizations like PLAN working in the racial justice and immigrant rights movements to proactively engage and include their members and constituencies who are LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people of color. LGBTQ people of color have been leaders in movements for justice, from Bayard Rustin to Sylvia Rivera. Accepting, embracing and engaging LGBTQ people of color make racial justice groups stronger and represent their entire communities.

    Many of the youth who use the services of The Center are homeless, many are youth of color, some are undocumented, and of course most identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer, or a term that may be new to some “Undocuqueer”; an undocumented queer person. Undocuqueers often feel like they have to come out twice, once as LGBT or Q and then again as undocumented.

    After the Inocente screening we wanted to have a discussion about the film, but always move the conversation towards all the intersecting identities people of color and LGBTQs may or

    may not have and how that affects us in our daily lives. Our discussion was lead by Blanca, a 23 year old DREAMer from Sonora, Mexico; Rafael, a 24 year old DREAMer from Jalisco, Mexico; and Betzabe a 20 year old DREAMer from Guanajuato, Mexico. DREAMer refers to someone who is eligible for the DREAM Act; a bill that would allow undocumented youth not born in the United States, but brought here as young children, an opportunity to become citizens. All three of our panelists have lived in Southern Nevada for most of their lives.

    Betzabe talked about being an undocqueer, and how she had to come out twice; as undocumented and as a lesbian. She also talked about the racism and sexism she’s had to endure from people unaware of how she identifies, because her appearance, blonde hair and blue yes, she says she’s not your “typical looking Mexican.” Her story resonated with the entire room, the connection of having to “come out” as undocumented is something the entire room has, or for some, still is stru

    ggling with.

    Both Blanca and Rafael are well known DREAM activist who have been fighting not only for passage of the DREAM Act, but also for federal immigration reform so that their parents can remain in the United States. They both work for Hermandad Mexicana, a local non-profit organization that provides immigration services. They help DREAMers like themselves apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program President Obama announced last June that allows DREAMers to obtain a work permit and protects the

    m from deportation for up to two years.

    When asked why she feels American when she has no rights, and why she couldn’t just go back to her birth country, Blanca answered, “America is the only country I know. When I was growing up I pledged allegiance to the flag and have lived my life just like any other American kid. To say that you can just deport me and send me back to my country…that’s just not realistic.”

    Rafael who, like Betzabe identifies as Undocuqueer, provided great detailed background information on where we are currently in the federal immigration battle, as well as explaining in detail what DACA is, and what all members of the community can do to fight for comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together and is a benefit to all immigrations and undocumented Nevadans.


    Blanca, Rafael and Betzabe

    The youth at The Center peppered the panel with questions. Many began to realize the many parallels between life of undocumented and LGBTQ youth. Eventually someone asked me for the number to their member of Congress. I was not expecting the room to want to become actively involved in the immigration reform battle so soon, but I gladly provided the information and am looking forward to many who attended the screening working with PLAN and our Keeping Families Together campaign for federal immigration reform.

    What was probably most touching out of the whole event was when one of the youth rose his hand and said he stopped saying the pledge of allegiance because there was never something in this country for him to be proud of – until he heard Blanca, Rafael, and Betzabe speak. They made him proud to be an American and he will now start saying the pledge of allegiance again. Outcomes like these keep me motivated to advancing the work that Uniting Communities Nevada provides. In order to accomplish something meaningful we must all work together and join forces – fighting the good fight.

  • Be part of Nevada’s Big Give and donate to PLAN!

    NV Big Give 2013


    Nevada’s Big Give is a flurry of fundraising activity in a 24 hour period to benefit Nevada’s non-profits.

    PLAN currently is among the top 25 of donations received! You can help us stay on top by donating $10 right now by clicking HERE. It takes less than a minute to donate and your generous contribution will go a long way toward supporting PLAN’s social justice organizing to make Nevada a more fair and just place for all Nevadans to live!

    Check out PLAN member groups who are also part of Nevada’s Big Give:

    Committee to Aid Abused Women

    Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada

    Food Bank of Northern Nevada

    Nevada Conservation League

    Planned Parenthood

    ProgressNow Nevada


  • PLAN’s work highlighted in US Senate

    PLAN organizer Christopher Preciado highlights PLAN’s LGBT work to Senate Democrats in Washington, DC

    Chris and Harry

    Christopher Preciado and US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Washington, DC

    At the invitation of US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I participated in a roundtable discussion with national LGBT leaders from organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, HRC, ACLU and Freedom to Marry to talk about the work the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada has done for the LGBTQ community in Nevada before the Senate Democrats Steering and Outreach Committee.

    Chair of the committee, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, got the discussion started on how we can all work together with Congress to advance LGBT inclusive policy across the country. It was clear that while all states are working hard to reach full equality for all citizens, there is still much work to be done.

    I was able to highlight work I do as organizing lead for Uniting Communities Nevada (UCNV). Uniting Communities is a project of the Western States Center that supports organizations like PLAN working in the racial justice and immigrant rights movements to proactively engage and include their members and constituencies who are LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) people of color. LGBTQ people of color have been leaders in movements for justice, from Bayard Rustin to Sylvia Rivera. Accepting, embracing and engaging LGBTQ people of color make racial justice groups stronger and represent their entire communities.

    UCNV had its first ever lobby day on Valentine’s Day. More than 20 members from all over the state traveled to Carson City and lobbied legislators on issues like marriage equality, driver authorization cards, comprehensive sex education, and mining tax reform. PLAN knows from past experience that the best way to pass legislation is by building diverse coalitions and lifting up all voices. That was the message that resonated with everyone at our roundtable.

    The steering committee happened to fall on the same day as a historic immigration reform rally, aptly named A10 to coincide with the rally’s date of April 10th. Everyone at the committee roundtable said it is important for their organization to see that comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship becomes law this year. It was among the top priorities of almost every group represented, including PLAN.

  • Time to Take Action: Homeowner Bill of Rights

    Your help is needed to pass one of PLAN’s legislative priorities: the Nevada Homeowners Bill of Rights, Senate Bill 321.

    At the bottom of this blog is a description of the full benefits. Briefly, it takes the “bad acts” listed in the Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s master settlement against the five major banks and outlaws them in Nevada by both large and small lenders. It then gives remedies to those hurt by bad actors and stops the ways that lenders may evade compliance with the law.


    The purpose of this bill is to increase predictability for all parties involved in the foreclosure process and provide strong but fair accountability measures by extending protections to all residential mortgages written in Nevada.  This should also speed up the processing of foreclosure for those borrowers without options to avoid foreclosure.

    SB321 will help curb unfair foreclosure practices, so that more Nevadans who qualify for loan modifications can avoid foreclosure and keep their homes. Reducing foreclosures will help stabilize the state’s housing market and help limit the terrible impacts this crisis has had on families, communities and our economy.

    The Homeowner Bill of Rights will be heard Wednesday April 10th in the Senate Judiciary committee at 8:00am.



    1. Go to the legislative website at https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/77th2013/A/ Check that you are FOR SB321 and fill out the constituent information. We hope to propel it toward the top of the bills with the most support in the next few days
    2. E-mail members of the Senate Judiciary committee and ask them to support Nevada’s homeowners. Committee members e-mail addresses are supplied below. It is best to personalize your note as much as possible.


    Sen.Tick Segerblom (Chair) tsegerblom@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Ruben Kihuen (Vice – Chair) Ruben.Kihuen@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Mark Hutchison Mark.Hutchison@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Justin Jones (Bill Sponsor) Justin.Jones@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Scott Hammond  Scott.Hammond@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Aaron Ford  Aaron.Ford@sen.state.nv.us

    Sen. Greg Brower Greg.Brower@sen.state.nv.us

    Nevada Homeowner Bill of Rights

    The purpose of the Nevada Homeowner Bill of Rights is to increase predictability for all parties involved in the foreclosure process and provide strong but fair accountability measures by extending protections to all residential mortgages written in Nevada.  This should also speed up the processing of foreclosure for those borrowers without options to avoid foreclosure.


    1. Borrowers must be sent a pre-foreclosure notice that includes a summary of all loss mitigation options offered, account summary, facts supporting the right to foreclose, and a notice that the borrower may request a copy of the loan note and the identity of the investor holding the loan.

    2. Mortgage ServicesNeither a Notice of Default nor a Judicial Foreclosure shall be initiated unless and until the mortgage servicer shows, through documented proof, that it holds the beneficial interest and has the legal standing to foreclose on the property.

      1. shall not forward a file to the foreclosure department or begin foreclosure without first contacting the homeowner via phone and mail to evaluate the homeowner for other loan mitigations first.
      2. shall have specific loss mitigation procedures for customer outreach, timelines for responses, and a consistent location for documentation exchange.
      3. shall have a single point of contact for borrowers seeking information about their loans and throughout the modification period.  The single point of contact shall provide clear, accurate information to the homeowner and coordinate all documents requests and exchanges.
      4. shall give borrowers who submit the completed loan modification application a “yes or no” decision, with an explanation, before the servicer commences the foreclosure process.  Denials of loss mitigation relief must be automatically reviewed, with a right to appeal for borrowers.
      5. shall not forward a file to the foreclosure department while the homeowner is being considered for a loan modification or other loss mitigation alternatives. (dual tracking)
      6. shall not charge fees for the loan modification application process or other loss mitigation processes.
      7. shall not charge late fees or penalties during a trial plan for loss mitigation options.
    3. A Notice of DefaultA Notice of Trustee Sale shall be required within 9 months of a Notice of Default.  A new Notice of Trustee’s Sale shall be required if the Trustee’s Sale is not completed within 90 days.

      1. shall list the monetary amount of arrears plus fees necessary to cure the default.
      2. shall be required if a payment is accepted by the bank after the recording of a Notice of Default.
    4. Borrowers may seek injunctive relief to stop material violations of the law.

    5. A defendant in a Judicial Foreclosure Action has the option of electing to participate in the Nevada Foreclosure Mediation Program.

    6. Any breach of these provisions is also considered a deceptive trade practice under NRS 598 and the remedies and damages available under NRS 598 are available to the borrower.