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This truth and patriotism post is a discussion that took place on a forum I participated in. The fact that it took place on Independence Day was purely coincidental, but the unintended relevance of the holiday is the reason I decided to share it with you. This person’s comment I responded to was talking about his dislike of President Obama and what fueled that dislike. The screenshot is his comment and my response to him is below the screenshot.
I’m not challenging your assertion that President Obama’s race had nothing to do with your disagreements with him on policy. I don’t know you and I can’t see what’s in your head, so I’ll take your word on that. But I do have to challenge your assertion that our country was built on “self-pride, self-support, and self-respect”. That is definitely not true. This country was built on the blood of slaves and kept afloat with the generational subjugation and oppression of the offspring slavery produced. Jim Crow laws and legislation that purposely disenfranchised African-Americans created a system of government where African-Americans were free on paper but oppressed by law. To pretend those facts don’t exist does a disservice to history which dooms us to repeat those atrocities and blinds us to the inequalities that still exist.
I have no problem with displays of patriotism and those who take pride in the greatness of America. But I believe owning up to America’s shortcomings can be a form of patriotism where we can all marvel at and take pride in how far we’ve come. That’s exactly what the founding fathers meant when they wrote about forming a more perfect union in our Constitution. To do that we must acknowledge the past and never ever stop working to make things better for the next generation.
Happy Independence Day Everyone!
North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory and the state’s republican led legislature had a very different way to address the police shootings of unarmed African-American men happening in our state and around the country. The most recent shooting took place in Charlotte just a few days ago. There are conflicting accounts of what happened but here are the basics. Keith Lamont Scott was sitting in his car waiting for his son to get out of school. A Charlotte police officer arrived on the scene to serve a warrant to another man who had no connection to Keith Scott at all. At some point Keith exits his car and a few seconds later the officer shot and killed Keith as his family and neighbors looked on in horror. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered but our governor Pat McCrory and the republican led legislature passed a bill last month that will further inflame the already tense relationship between African Americans and police. And the really sad part about the bill is there was no need for it at all. McCrory is up for reelection and his race became a lot tighter than he expected. To help turn out the republican base he crafted a number of bills just to get his supporters to turn out and vote for him in November.
A month ago they announced, passed, and signed into law a bill that prohibits the release of police body cam and dash cam video to the public. In order to see any of the video from police dash or body cams it has to first be approved by the governor or adjudicated by a judge. The bill was written to give the governor total discretion over this and there’s no way for a citizen or a journalist to demand a viewing or release of this footage. So Governor McCrory is perfectly fine with police brutality against African-Americans and police killing unarmed African-Americans, he just wants to keep it private. That’s his answer to this problem. That bill is a huge middle finger to the entire African American community and the governor along with his fellow republicans in the state legislature couldn’t care less.
To me it seems as if these guys pine for the days of Jim Crow and have passed a lot of legislation that gives credence to this theory. They want African Americans to suffer in silence while our rights are being trampled over daily. This new law also allows white people to ignore these horrible situations of police brutality, unjust murder, and misconduct perpetrated against African Americans. All they see is the angry protest and violence that follows. Without proper context and video evidence of the incident they may look at the community’s reaction and see it as unreasonable. Of course that was the intention McCrory and NC republican legislators had in mind when they drafted the bill. We’re supposed to ignore the violence and dehumanization when it’s coming from police, but everyone gets to pay attention to the protest that follows not even acknowledging that it was a response to an unjust shooting and one more life of an African American needlessly taken. Governor McCrory has shown us his character (or lack thereof) throughout his term as governor. He has shown the African American community what he really thinks of us through the bills he signs, the actions he takes, and the constituents he chooses to listen to. He let the extreme right-wing of the state’s legislature turn him into a callous unsympathetic alt-right cliche. I’m not sure why they even bother wasting money on body cams in my state when the public can’t even view the footage. The body cams weren’t going to end these wrongful deaths but they were supposed to bring a sense of accountability so the community could start to build trust with law enforcement.
So I ask myself What is our governor doing with these videos? Maybe McCrory and his fellow republican lawmakers collect these videos to show them when they have movie night at the governor’s mansion… eating popcorn and laughing at African Americans getting stopped by police for no reason, getting stripped searched on the side of a highway as cars slow down to witness the indignity, watching a man get chocked to death by police on a sidewalk while pleading for his life telling them over and over that he can not breath. Watching an 8 year old African American child playing alone in a park get shot by police before he could even see what was coming. Watching an unarmed African American teenager walking away from police then getting shot in the back. Then that same officer walks over to the teen’s lifeless body and decides to unload the rest of his clip into the already dead teen as the young man’s body heaved and convulsed after each shot hit him. Or maybe they are watching the one of the 13 year old African American girl who got thrown to the ground and manhandled like a rag doll before the officer puts his knee and his full weight into her back while pushing her face into the dirt while she screamed and begged for her mother, all for the crime of attending a pool party in an all white neighborhood thrown by a classmate. I bet Governor McCrory and those far right extremist he tries so hard to impress would get a huge laugh at all of that kind of stuff. Putting those new body cameras to good use.
In a shocking turn-of-events Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday that six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, due to a severed spinal cord, will be charged criminally. Attorney Mosby stood on the steps of the War Memorial Building in Baltimore before a crowd of reporters and local citizens and delivered a well thought confident and resolute statement explaining some of the details she gathered from her independent investigation. During that investigation she found evidence that lead her to believe the initial arrest of Freddie Gray was not warranted. The officers who arrested him lied in their statements and said he had an illegal switchblade but Mosby said Freddie had a legal pocket knife. Marilyn Mosby is new to the office of State Attorney only being there for 3 months now, which I believed played a part in her decision to charge and prosecute. She has no obligations or improper relationships with the police department, and she hasn’t been there long enough to owe anyone any favors yet.
Warrants were issued for the arrest of all six officers, and here are the names and charges:
Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45, who was the driver of a police van that carried Gray through the streets of Baltimore, was charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault, two vehicular manslaughter charges and misconduct in office.
Officer William Porter, 25, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Lt. Brian Rice, 41, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Sgt. Alicia White, 30, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Officer Edward Nero, 29, was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Officer Garrett Miller, 26, was charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment.
If convicted of all charges, Goodson would face up to 63 years in prison. Rice would face up to 30 years and Porter, Nero, Miller and White would face up to 20 years.
It’s important to remember that this is just the beginning. It feels very vindicating to make it this far because we’ve seen prosecutor after prosecutor look the other way and decline to charge officers with anything when the life of an unarmed black man is taken. It’s ok to enjoy the relief we feel by crossing this first hurtle, but we have a long way to go before we can see true just justice. So don’t let this lure you into complacency or dampen the urgency and determination that has fueled protest and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’ve worked so hard to get the attention of our leaders and the world and as long as we keep the pressure on we’ll continue to make progress towards our ultimate goal of a total reconstruction of our entire criminal justice system and the removal of all institutionalized racism within the system.
Are you asking what the hell is #pointergate? Well here’s the answer. A local news channel in Minneapolis (KSTP) aired one of the most egregiously racist news stories I’ve seen from a mainstream news network in a long time. Two young African American community organizing volunteers were out registering people to vote. Both volunteers were working for a very well respected organization named “Neighborhoods Organizing For Change”. While out doing this work they run into the city’s mayor Betsy Hodges who was up for reelection. They spoke with the mayor and then asked to take a picture with her. The video below is a KSTP news report of what occurred during the community volunteers encounter with the mayor. It’s hard to believe that this is a real news story and not a parody of a news story. Warning: This should make your blood boil and stomach turn no matter what race or political affiliation you have.
*There’s a second video at the end of this blog with the volunteers talking about their work in the community and why it’s important to them.
Completely INSANE! It’s stories like this that makes me, as an African-American male, extremely cynical about where this country is heading. It seems like everything no matter how small or insignificant gets interpreted as criminal behavior when you’re an African-American man. This story reveals one of the main reasons African Americans are distrustful of law enforcement and local news. If a black man isn’t smiling in a photo, they’ll describe his expression as menacing. If a black man is pointing or giving the peace sign in a photo, they’ll say he’s throwing gang signs. If a black man wears jogging pants and a hooded sweatshirt while going for a run in his neighborhood, he’s a thug casing houses to rob. If a black man complies with an officers orders too fast or eagerly, he’s obviously reaching for a gun. If a black man questions an officer about why he’s being harassed or targeted, he’s arrested or shot for non compliance or labeled combative. A cell phone in the hands of a black man are constantly mistaken as a weapon by law enforcement. Young black males exhibiting normal teenage rebellion of authority will get himself arrested and labeled a felon for the rest of his life, while the same exact behavior by white teenage males are considered youthful indiscretions that rarely lead to an arrest or a lifelong label stripping him of his rights as a citizen and limiting his chances of becoming a successful productive member of society.
Events such as this exposes the inequality that has fractured this country into two very different Americas. There’s one America where you’re assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Where you’re given the benefit of the doubt when contradictions arise. Where you’re treated with respect by law enforcement. Where a mistake or a temporary lack of judgement does not define who you are. Where poverty isn’t seen as a character flaw. And then there’s another America where a lifetime of honesty still leads people to question your word. Where 2nd chances are rarely given. Where anyone who needs help or assistance from their government is looked at as undeserving or lazy, while others who benifit from government assistance are looked at as honest citizens who are being hurt due to a bad economy. Where unarmed men and young adults can be murdered without cause while their killer is never held accountable, and in some cases, treated as heroes in conservative media. Where pointing out or discussing racism of any kind gets you labeled racist. Where an ethnic sounding name is enough to negatively effect your job search possibilities and get your resume tossed in the trash before even considering your qualifications. Where police openly target you and overly scrutinize your behavior strictly based on your race and you’re powerless to stop it. An America where your life and self-worth isn’t valued or respected by the people who are in power. An America where a petty theft or any criminal act no matter how small can retroactively justify the taking of your life with the approval of many conservatives and conservative media alike.
After the civil rights movement America seemed to be bridging the divide between those two very different Americas. Then Ronald Reagan became president and ever since then there’s been a concerted effort to destroy the progress that our county worked so hard to achieve. President Clinton entering office slowed the decline but did little to address or acknowledge the growing divide. Then came Fox News and the rest is history. The election of Barack Obama seemed to bring out the absolute worst in conservative media. They convinced a large portion of the country that it’s ok to hold racist views and it’s ok to believe racial stereotypes. The popularity of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh
are huge indicators that this divide will continue to grow and lead the country into some very rough times ahead. I hate to end any blog without showing a glimmer of hope, or giving my readers something positive to hold on to, but sadly I don’t see any hope with this issue. If it were just a problem of awareness, writing blogs like this would make me feel like I’m doing my part to help solve things… but it’s not about awareness. Media highlighting stories like this are everywhere. Especially on social media sites. So the information and verifiable truth is out there. The real problem is people who aren’t willing to change because they benifit from the inequality. That’s a character issue that can only be solved in the hearts of each and every American citizen. Until then “pointergate”, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Levar Jones, Eric Garner, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Oscar Grant, etc will continue to occur.
*UPDATE: A Socially Urban reader sent me this suggestion. If you’re outraged about this pointergate racial news story call the station and let them know. Tell them you want reporter Jay Kolls and the producers who put this on air to issue an apology and some kind of reprimand for Jay Kolls’ blatent lack of journalistic integrity. Here’s the phone number to KSTP – 612-588-6397.
The civil rights activist, the radio/tv personality, the revered reverend, the best selling author, the voice of black America, the founder and president of The National Action Network Reverend Al Sharpton has been a lightening rod of controversy for decades now. But ever since Barack Obama became president Reverend Al’s close relationship with him has raised his national profile in ways that even he did not expect. The positives are quite obvious such as increased visibility which gives him a platform to bring attention to specific areas or incidents of injustice, an hour-long cable news program on MSNBC (Politics Nation), a lucrative book deal for The Rejected Stone which chronicles his personal evolution from a controversial street activist to a national civil rights icon, increased visibility for his nonprofit civil rights organization the National Action Network, and a seat at the table when new civil rights legislation gets crafted. His proximity to power is envied by many, but there is a downside to being as outspoken and unapologetically supportive of President Obama. That downside is Fox News and the cabal of conservative media who are dedicated to destroy the president, his legacy, and anyone who supports him.
Every liberal commentator and political activist in this country should expect harsh and sometimes unfair critiques from their conservative counterparts. It comes with the territory. I’ve heard people say a vigorous debate is a sign of a healthy democracy, which is true. But there’s a caveat that says if you’re going to enter the world of politics you better have a tough skin, a strong sense of who you are, and a clear set of guiding principles that underpins everything you say and do. If you’re lacking in any of those, it will show sooner or later and the power and influence you thought you had will all disappear. The Reverend Al Sharpton has been in the public eye fighting for civil rights for almost 5 decades and continues to prove himself effective when injustice victimize’s the voiceless. There aren’t many leaders who have a 5 decade long history that sees their power and influence grow exponentially without being the real deal. Character, integrity, and passion aren’t things you can fake sustainably. That’s why all the hate and vitriol being thrown at him constantly over the years have never stuck and that’s why many African-Americans respect and revere him as a leader. Conservatives tried to block Barack Obama’s first bid for President and failed. They tried to stop President Obama’s reelection and failed. Now they are trying to attack Sharpton and marginalize the power of his organization, and they are failing at that as well. Their most recent attack came from Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly after the murder of an unarmed African-American teen named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri. The African-American community of that town expressed their anger and outrage through nonviolent protest. There was a very small number of people who used the protest as a cover to loot and vandalize local businesses. Bill O’Reilly and other Fox News hosts accused Reverend Sharpton of inciting violence and inflaming tension between the African-American community and the police.
Bill said Sharpton inserted himself into the protest to get media attention and no one asked Sharpton to get involved or for any help. Of course none of that was true and anyone who knows how to use google could debunk everything O’Reilly said with an internet connection and two minutes. For example, here are two video clips. The first video is Al Sharpton’s first speech given as soon as he arrived in Ferguson at the behest of Micheal Brown’s family. The second video is Bill O’Reilly lying on air saying Sharpton incited violence.
There’s not one word in Sharpton’s entire statement that anyone could misunderstand as inflammatory or a call for violence. Sharpton clearly called for peace and pleaded with the community to keep the protest nonviolent. Fox News and Bill O’Reilly never aired this clip and made a conscience decision to lie on air to their viewers. Fox does this all the time but O’Reilly lies over and over about issues that involve race. Here’s another video where O’Reilly lied saying that African-American democrat organizers of an MLK day event excluded white republicans from speaking. The day after he lied and ranted about this he had to apologize on air because the press called him out on it.
Bill O’Reilly has a very skewed racist view of black America and constantly confuses Hip Hop culture and entertainment with African-American culture. Al Sharpton invited O’Reilly to have dinner in Harlem at one of Harlem’s most popular eating establishments Sylvia’s. After the dinner O’Reilly told his radio audience about it the next day. He told them that he was surprised how clean and nice it was even though it was owned and run by African-Americans. He said no one was yelling profanity, everyone was nice and respectful, and the African-American’s eating there were well dressed and well-behaved. He was amazed by this. When talking about Bill O’Reilly I always go back to this story about Sylvia’s because it explains how he views African Americans. So when he calls our first African-American president and our first African-American attorney general thugs, and calls well-respected African-American civil rights leaders “race agitators” or “race hustlers”, we all know what kind of mind that comes from.
One of Al Sharpton’s most popular critiques from conservatives asks why doesn’t Sharpton talk about black on black crime. Why isn’t he organizing and marching in Detroit and Chicago where inner city crime is rampant? You’ll hear that one on Fox a lot too. I have to laugh every time I hear a conservative say that because it shows they have no idea what they are talking about. Al Sharpton and his nonprofit have organized rallies and marches in both of those cities. He held a widely televised town hall in Detroit and even temporarily moved into an inner city apartment in Chicago to see first hand what the impoverished residents were dealing with. Despite how easily accessible this information is, somehow it remains hidden from Fox and other conservatives.
Another popular critique from conservatives is Reverend Sharpton only wants to help black people, so that makes him racist. To debunk this first we need to understand what a civil rights activist is. A civil rights activist or a civil rights organization uses political levers to secure equal opportunity for members of a less powerful minority group. The key word there is “equal”. So if you’re working towards making things equal for every race, you are trying to give minorities the same rights and treatment as those in the majority or those who have more power. African-Americans are a minority group who have been and continue to be discriminated against because of race. So a civil rights organization or activist takes on issues where African-Americans aren’t being treated as equals (to whites). That does not mean you only want to help black people because you don’t like white people. That is just ridiculous. When we finally have racial equality then we will not have a need for civil rights activist anymore.
One more popular critique I’d like to discuss is why doesn’t Al Sharpton and his organization help out when a black person kills a white person. First we need to correct a common misperception. Al Sharpton and his organization do not get involved with every case where there’s a black victim and a white perpetrator. To get involved they look for instances where the crime that was committed has racial elements that lead to the crime or racial elements that have the potential to hinder a fair and equal outcome. I’ll use the Trayvon Martin case as an example. Al Sharpton did not get involved just because Trayvon was a black kid. He got involved because the district attorney in Sanford had no plans to charge George Zimmerman with anything. Check the facts and you’ll see that the D.A. hadn’t filed charges a full month after Trayvon’s death. Then the family called Reverend Sharpton for help. He organized protest and used his high-profile to get the media to pay attention to the incident. The pressure from media and other civil rights organizations finally forced the DA to file charges against George Zimmerman. So Sharpton and NAN weren’t asking for a conviction, all they were asking for was a fair trial. If the district attorney in Sanford would have presented the case to a grand jury (just like they are supposed to) there wouldn’t have been a need for Sharpton to get involved.
I wrote this blog because I thought Reverend Sharpton didn’t deserve all the hateful comments and coverage from conservative media. He is flawed just like any other human and has made mistakes in the past, but the people who are throwing slurs and criticizing him for being passionate about civil rights hasn’t done anything close to the kind of work he’s dedicated his life to. This man is cut from the same cloth as MLK or Kennedy. Don’t believe the racist caricature the conservative media has tried to make him out to be. Do some research about the real man and see what he’s about before passing judgement. We have so few national civil rights leaders left. We should be thankful that he is still able to fight on our behalf, even when his character gets called into question and the hate gets thrown. I’m not sure I’d be able to withstand that kind of scrutiny. So please do some research on him and his nonprofit group National Action Network and see for yourself. Don’t let people who have an agenda tell you who he is (me included).
The murder of unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri has captured the attention of an entire nation. Officials with the Ferguson police department have released very few details as of yet, almost a full week later. The hoarding of investigation details in cases like this are unprecedented and against Missouri state “sunshine” laws. We do not have the initial police report. We do not have a statement from the shooting officer. We do not have his full history and background as an officer. We do not have the results of the autopsy which was concluded days ago. We do not know how many shots were fired. We do not know how many witnesses were interviewed. We do not know if the shooting officer was interviewed or interrogated following the shooting. In normal cases where a shooting leads to the death of the victim all of these facts are released to the public usually within 48 hours. Sometimes it takes longer for them to release the autopsy results but never 7 days after the death. When a police officer shoots an unarmed teen, and that same officer’s colleagues are tasked with investigating that shooting, there’s a clear conflict of interest. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for them to investigate fairly, but everyone is going to be skeptical of their findings. The people need to feel like they are being treated fairly. That is why any investigation should be as clear and transparent as possible to show that community that they can be trusted. But when you withhold evidence, findings, and reports without an explanation as to why, that can inflame tensions and breed further distrust. Everything the Ferguson police department has done so far clearly shows that they are not going to be fair with their investigation, and their goal is not about justice or presenting the truth. Their only goal is to protect the officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager.
Whether or not Michael Brown’s family will see justice for the murder of their son remains to be seen. All of the evidence and details are not out yet. From everything I’ve heard so far it seems as though the officer was not in fear for his life, and he had no reason to take the life of Michael Brown. But that is my opinion, and not fact. It’s important to not rush to judgement in a case like this. So instead of blogging about whether the shooting was justified or not, I want to start a different conversation about perceptions vs reality and how perceptions get warped and manipulated over time and how perceptions can morph into reality both physically and even more interesting, mentally.
Right after news of this shooting started to become national, people were politicizing it. People felt like you had to take sides. We have such a juvenile simplistic way we go about looking at the world and everything in it. Everything has to be good or evil, hero’s or villains. The news media does this as well. I’m not sure if they are reflecting the public’s habit of doing this, or if they are the cause of this. I’m sure that’s a question that can’t be answered in just one blog post. But I do want to talk about our habit of doing this as individuals. Immediately following the shooting most news outlets presented the facts that were apparent. 1 – Unarmed black teenager gets shot multiple times by white police officer in broad daylight. 2 – Unarmed teen had both his hands up as the officer continued to shoot him until his body fell to the ground. 3 – Black citizens of Ferguson felt unfairly and disproportionately policed by local officers. 4 – Unarmed teen Michael Brown just graduated high school and had plans to start his first day of college the day after his death. 5 – Due to a long history of abuse at the hands of police, black people have an inherent distrust of them.
Those were the set of facts being presented at that time. We are programmed to find the hero and the villain in this situation (consciously or unconsciously). A majority of Americans would say Michael is the hero/victim so the cop must be the villain. Then there are those who are sympathetic to the (sometime) dangerous job of a police officer. They have this picture of what a young black male is. They see all of us as threatening, uneducated criminals. So after they hear the initial report they cast the officer as the hero and the unarmed teenager as the villain. As more details and information slowly leak out over the days following the shooting, people have already decided who’s the hero and who’s the villain. So every news story that reinforces their belief of who’s the hero and villain they believe it. Every news story that contradicts their hero villain pick gets ignored or rejected. This simplistic way of casting hero’s and villains have nothing to do with education. Right after the Zimmerman trial concluded I had a friend send me a link with a small note attached. He read my blog about the trial entitled “No Justice For Trayvon”. He wanted me to click the link and read some things about Trayvon Martin that I did not know. I clicked the link and ended up at a “News Of The World” page. They are a ridiculous internet tabloid who ran stories like President Obama gay, Michelle Obama is really a transgender man, and another story about lizard people infiltrating our government (just to name a few). So I read the Trayvon Martin piece they wrote. In it they said Trayvon was arrested 6 times, Trayvon raped a classmate of his, Trayvon was a drug dealer, Trayvon had guns, etc etc. Everything that defines the “thug” stereotype was in that bullshit article. Needless to say, none of it was true, and the source has serious credibility issues. But what shocked me more was the fact that my friend/acquaintance believed it all. He’s a very intelligent doctor but he still got duped by that website. YES, A DOCTOR. He got duped because he looked at Trayvon and saw a criminal. Trayvon fit the profile he had in his mind of someone capable of everything they claimed in that bs article. The story from that website reinforced who he already casted (in his mind) as the villain… Treyvon.
This hero villain casting started the moment you first heard about the Michael Brown shooting. Then a few days into the investigation Ferguson’s police chief decides to release a video tape that allegedly shows Michael Brown stealing some cigars from a convenience store. Some didn’t want to believe it was Michael, and others thought it verified what they already believed about young black males. If a police officer shot him, he must have done something wrong. For the people who cast him as the hero, it dulls the sense of injustice they first felt for Michael at the beginning. They won’t come out and say that outright, but you’ll notice a change in the level of their activism. They’ll stop talking about Michael’s shooting as much and pivot to a more generalized issue like police brutality, the militarization of police, or the relationship between the black community and the police. All of these are legitimate social ill’s that we need to be talking about and working to change, but what about Michael? Him being killed unarmed with his hands up in the air? The officer unloading his weapon shooting Michael Brown multiple times until he was dead and on the ground? The officers leaving his body in the middle of the street for four full hours as the blood drained from each bullet wound while the people of the neighborhood looked on in horror? What about all of that? How does a video tape of Michael stealing some cigars change your feelings about his life being taken needlessly? Michael was 18. Just beginning to enter adulthood. That video doesn’t define who he was, and it doesn’t define the man he would have grown up to be.
We are all human and every human being on this planet has made stupid mistakes at some point in their life. Especially as teenagers. I know 4 white girls who I went to school with got caught shoplifting in walmart. All 4 came from good families and did it just as a dare. They got caught but no charges were ever filed. They got to go home to their parents and I’m sure it scared them enough not to try it again. One of those girls is a dentist now. I’m sure that incident in Walmart has nothing to do with their character as adults. In that same Wal Mart two male black teenagers I knew through friends got caught shoplifting a few months after my classmates got caught. But this time it was a totally different story. They got arrested and lead away in handcuffs. They both spent the night in jail because their parents couldn’t get bail money. Both guys took a deal that included no jail time but records of their arrest will show up every time someone does a background check on them. That one stupid decision to steal something at 17 years old will haunt them for the rest of their lives. It will be harder for them to find employment, harder to lease an apartment, harder to buy a house or borrow money, and even take away their right to vote before they were old enough to vote. Michael Brown’s alleged crime does not define who he is, does not define who he was, and does not predict what kind of person he would have grown up to be. His youthful indiscretion and temporary lack of judgement does not make him a villain and it most certainly does not mean it’s ok for police to kill him for it.
*Michael Brown’s family is going through some pretty rough times right now. If you’re not able to join the protest or attend a rally, here’s another way to show your support. Donate some money to the Michael Brown Memorial Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/justiceformikebrown
Watching republican led legislatures all over the country advocate and pass harsh new voting restrictions clearly designed to disenfranchise and marginalize the African American vote has brought up personal feelings of dismay and frustration. But the subsequent abject silence on this issue from most notable African American elites has left me feeling puzzled and frustrated even more. Out of that frustration came three questions I’d like to explore and attempt to answer:
1. What happened to the solidarity and sense of duty to each other that made the success of the civil rights movement possible?
2. Why aren’t today’s African Americans with wealth, celebrity, and power as visible and outspoken as African American’s with similar standings were in the 1960’s?
3. What is the biggest issue in 21st century America that directly threatens the gains won by civil rights activist in the 1960’s?
Before we can begin to answer any of those questions we have to define what contemporary Americans consider activism to be. In the 1960’s social activism meant marches, protest, attending lectures and speeches, making personal sacrifices for the greater good, rallies, lobbing friends, neighbors, and family members who may not understand your position or why that particular issue is important, and holding elected officials accountable to the people who elected them.
Taking part in the political process now means being involved in politically biased or partisan media, and/or shouting down friends on social media (like facebook or twitter), and signing online petitions. That is one of the biggest changes in how we participate as citizens in politics. I have even heard some people say they only watch television shows or movies with black people in the cast… as if that does anything to help minority communities. If that is the extent of your activism then you are most definitely wasting your time.
The biggest change in civil rights and how African Americans take part in it and the lack of visibility or urgency in it can not be blamed on laziness, apathy, or resting on the gains already won in the 1960’s. Of course all of that does play a part but it’s a very small part. A lot of it has to do with the social separation between African American’s with wealth or celebrity from everyday working class, middle class, and poor African Americans. Another huge factor has to do with the changes in traditional African American churches. First let me explain the part about African American churches, and I’ll come back to the social separation idea afterward.
African American churches were at the center of the civil rights movement. It’s where MLK and others met to plan rallies, share information, inspire activism, and it was also a place where African Americans felt safe. That has all disappeared from today’s African American churches. Today’s mega church’s seem more concerned with money, power, and a place to network. Once the church was removed from the movement there was nothing there to take its place. A lot of people don’t know this but one of the main reasons African American churches are a lot less politically active has to do with money. In 2001 President George Bush created a new government organization called “The White House Office Of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives”. He created this office to give government grants to churches and religious organizations. Churches were already tax exempt but the 1st amendment to the US Constitution says “government shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, more commonly known as “separation of church and state”. So because of this constitutional amendment churches were excluded from getting government grants. President Bush and some really smart lawyers came up with a way to give grant money to churches. All the churches had to do is incorporate themselves as a non profit organization and change their church name if it was something overtly religious that could identify what type of religion the church practices. For example, if the church name is “Jesus Is Love Tabernacle” they would have to remove “Jesus” and change it to something like “Love and Worship Tabernacle”. The same pastors and religious folk that were so appalled at prayer being removed from schools jumped at the chance to change their church name to get government grants… how hypocritical is that? But I digress… After they do the name change that church is now eligible for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of government grants (keep in mind that grants do not have to be paid back aka free money). To stay in compliance and keep their government grants they have a lot more rules to follow. That church can not be involved with politics or back any political candidate. So no church rallies for civil rights, and no telling your congregation which candidate will help the community the most. But with all that money you can build a huge mega church, buy nice buses with the pastor’s face on the side, employ a full time staff and compensate them nicely (most of the time it’s the pastors family), and the pastor’s salary can reach baller levels. I don’t want to make it all sound bad because some of these churches are doing good things with the money. They provide services for the community like free daycare, feeding the homeless, family and marriage counseling, pay medical bills and buy prescriptions for those who are sick and in need etc. But all of this new grant money has crippled the traditional black church’s involvement in civil rights. If not at church, where is the base for civil rights activists? This is a major problem that has not been addressed.
This is the other issue that needs to be dealt with. African American celebrities and those with wealth or political power aren’t subjected to the same treatment as poor and middle class African Americans. During the civil rights movement all African Americans were subjected to Jim Crow and separate but equal. Black performers and entertainers could not stay in the hotels they performed in. Couldn’t eat at the restaurants that their fellow white entertainers ate in. This created a solidarity among all African Americans. Performers like Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., Muhammad Ali, etc championed the fight for civil rights because they had a personal steak in it in addition to doing it just because it was the right thing to do. They were all willing to put their carers on the line to help all Blacks. Today it’s hard to find true civil rights activist among Black entertainers and Blacks with wealth such as Jay Z, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Sean Combs (P. Diddy), Bob Johnson, Bishop TD Jakes and even President Obama. The wealth and power these people have gained totally insulates them from the discrimination, pains, and issues felt by middle class, poor, and impoverished African Americans. Jay Z doesn’t get stopped and frisked every time he leaves his lavish penthouse apartment in New York. Oprah doesn’t have to worry about her polling location being removed just because she lives in a district that’s predominately African American. P Diddy doesn’t have to worry about his voting rights being revoked because of a petty drug charge he plead guilty to when he was 15 years old. Tyler Perry doesn’t have to worry about predatory lenders that target his neighborhood because it’s inhabited by poor African Americans who can not get traditional loans from traditional banks or credit unions. Bishop TD Jakes isn’t effected by republicans harsh and brutal cuts to social programs like medicaid, wic, social security, disability, food stamps, head-start, planned parenthood, etc. Bob Johnson doesn’t have to worry about his children not being able to attend college because government grants have dried up.
All of the people I named have huge visibility and enormous resources which they could use to effect change and improve the lives of all minorities while making our finical, educational, and criminal justice systems treat all citizens equally. Instead of doing this they have chosen to enrich themselves with more power and more wealth. I hate to point specific people out because there are thousands just like them who I haven’t named. I would also like to acknowledge that these people have donated to charities and are good well-meaning people for the most part. But they have a greater responsibility to the people that made their wealth and power possible. What if Harry Belafonte or Muhammad Ali hadn’t fought for civil rights? The lush charmed lives of Oprah and Jay Z wouldn’t be possible. So in turn they should do the same for those who are currently being victimized by racial intolerance and inequality. What good is making it to the “top” if you don’t reach back and pull your brother up with you? For rappers like Jay Z and Lil Wayne it’s not enough to just rap about the harsh conditions of the inner city and make people aware of the inequality in our justice system. Hip Hop has done an amazing job of that over the years (which was no small feat). But if you continue to rap about inner city problems, gain enormous wealth from it and not involve yourself in creating a movement to change it, then you’ve turned one of the most sui generis and innovative art forms ever created into egregious exploitation.
I know my critique of the African American elite is a bit harsh, but I can’t assign 100% of the blame on them. We as a whole have allowed them to behave that way. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating success or acknowledging those with special abilities. But when all you do is congratulate and celebrate without demanding something in return you are giving them permission to obtain more wealth and power at your expense. Tyler Perry, TD Jakes, and Jay Z owe a huge part of their success to the poor and working class African Americans who support them. There are people who live far below the poverty line who will scrape up a few dollars to see Tyler Perry’s latest movie, or attend one of TD Jakes conferences, or buy Jay Z’s newest album. That fact alone should be enough to move them and make them want to be more vocal. Building a bigger super mega church doesn’t help our community. Buying a basketball team doesn’t help our community. Buying a private island doesn’t help our community, and now we have this new phenomenon where anyone who questions the elite are shunned and labeled “haters”. Somehow our entertainers and those of us who support them have lost our way. We’ve lost the will to fight. We’ve accepted the status quo and have become complacent or (in my case) cynical. Yes I’ll admit I have become a bit cynical. When the problems are so huge and the solution seems so very apparent it drives me crazy to see those with unlimited resources doing nothing.
How can we remind these people of their responsibility? How can we show the elite they still have a steak in civil rights? Obviously empathy and “doing the right thing” aren’t viable motivations anymore. Maybe we should play to their vanity and start praising any and all (no matter how small) charitable work they do, or anytime they call for criminal justice reform in an interview, or anytime they campaign for candidates who are pro civil rights, and ignore the trivial vapidness and superficial self importance of inconsequential celebrity gossip.
Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, President Kennedy, and all of the other great civil rights activists from the 1960’s would be astonished at the lack of diligence that has taken hold since their great gains at the height of the movement. Most notably the Supreme Court decision to strike down parts of the voting rights act earlier this year which led to a number of harsh new voting restrictions put in place by republican governors to disenfranchise the minority vote. I believe Martin Luther King would also be shocked and disappointed at the lack of support from the black community for marriage equality and gay rights. I say this with a great deal of confidence because one of MLK’s most trusted advisers was an out gay African American man named Bayard Rustin (who I just referenced at the beginning of this paragraph). A few of MLK’s other advisers tried to talk him into firing Bayard because of his sexuality and MLK would not do it. Without Bayard the historic march on Washington may not have happened. He was the top organizer for the event. I feel I have to acknowledge that the black community is moving in the right direction on this issue. The NAACP publicly announced support for gay marriage last year sometime right after President Obama announced his support. So there is progress and hope on this issue…. but hope enough to assuage my cynicism?… the jury is still out on that one.
2013 CIVIL RIGHTS ISSUES TO ADDRESS:
END STOP AND FRISK!
END RACIAL PROFILING!
RESTORE THE ORIGINAL VOTING RIGHTS ACT!
GET RID OF ALL “STAND YOUR GROUND” LAWS!
REFORM THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM!
ALLOW ALL CITIZENS TO VOTE, EVEN THOSE WITH A FELONY!
END THE COSTLY INEFFECTIVE WAR ON DRUGS!
CLOSE ALL PRIVATE PRISONS
ENACT A MORATORIUM ON BUILDING NEW PRISONS
LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE IN ALL 50 STATES!
MAKE THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT SUCCESSFUL!
Read “The New Jim Crow” by: Michelle Alexander (if you can’t find or afford a copy please let me know and I will purchase one and send it to you. It’s a must read for anyone who cares about civil rights and how mass incarceration became the solution for dealing with African American men.)
The first lady Michelle Obama traveled to visit South African President Nelson Mandela in 2011. Today we all learned of his death and even though everyone around the world were aware of his advanced age and failing health, it still shocks and saddens us all. In honor of this extraordinary man’s relationship with this country and the Obama’s I want to post what the first lady wrote following her first visit to meet him.
Today, we arrived in South Africa, and I couldn’t be more excited, because two years ago, I visited this country for the first time with my mother and daughters, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
On that visit, I met with young women leaders from across the continent who were serving their countries and their communities – educating young people, providing job training for women, working to combat poverty and violence and disease – often in the face of impossible odds. I also had the chance to spend time with young people from here in South Africa: I danced with children at a daycare center, visited the University of Cape Town with local high school students, and took part in a children’s soccer clinic at one of the stadiums used in the 2010 World Cup.
I also had the chance to meet President Nelson Mandela at his home in Johannesburg, an experience that I will never forget. Mandela – or “Madiba” as he’s referred to in South Africa – is truly a giant in world history. As a young man, he led a movement against Apartheid – the South African government’s policies that discriminated against people of color, forcing them to live in separate neighborhoods and attend separate schools and prohibiting them from even voting in national elections. For his defiance, Mandela was jailed for 27 years, and his struggle became a source of inspiration for people all around the world.
First Lady Michelle Obama meets with former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa at his home in Houghton, South Africa, June 21, 2011. Mrs. Obama viewed items from President Mandela’s archives earlier during a tour of the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton)
After he was finally released from prison in 1990, Mandela worked to dismantle the Apartheid state and replace it with a full democracy – and in 1994, four years after he was released from prison, he became the South Africa’s first black President. Today, Mandela is 94 years old. As I mentioned in my first post, he’s currently in the hospital, and he is very much in my thoughts and prayers right now. He has been such a source of hope for so many people for so long, and when I reflect on Mandela’s life and legacy, I think about his courage and determination – enduring nearly three decades in jail without ever giving up on his dream of a more just and equal South Africa. It’s amazing to think about everything he’s seen during his lifetime: the horrors of Apartheid, the quiet desolation of a jail cell, but also the realization of a vibrant South African democracy. I’m so glad that he lived to see the fruits of his struggle and sacrifice – and I’m so glad that he never gave up on his dream of a better country and a better world for future generations. As President Mandela once said, “Our children are the rock on which our future will be built.”
That’s exactly how I feel as well. And that’s why, during my time in South Africa, I’m going to once again reach out to as many young people as I can – and I’m going to try to connect these young people with young people back home in America as well. Because I know that if young people like you all can share your stories and learn from each other’s experiences, then we’ll all be able to keep moving forward, and together, we’ll be able to build upon Nelson Mandela’s legacy for years to come.
*FULL TRIBUTE COMING SOON*
The verdict for the George Zimmerman trial is in and a jury of his peers has found him not guilty of murder 2 as well as not guilty of manslaughter. Although I am saddened and deeply disappointed in this verdict, if you look at how the law is written and the instructions given to this jury I do not think they had any other choice. I know there’s a lot of people who will find fault with the jury, some will find fault with the presentation of the prosecution’s case, some will find fault with the strategy used by the defense and there are legitimate arguments for all of those points, but the real injustice of this case and verdict has nothing to do with any of those. The real injustice of the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman case occurred when racial profiling intersected with legal self defense… here’s what I mean: All that is needed to convert a cold blooded murder into a justifiable homicide when evoking self defense is a reasonable fear that your life is in eminent danger. Whether that fear was real or imagined does not matter and whether you initiated the confrontation does not matter. Legally all that matters is your fear. There’s no refuting the fact that Trayvon was racially profiled by George Zimmerman. It’s disgusting, it’s horrible it’s morally wrong but believe it or not racial profiling is 100% legal. Racial profiling is openly used by law enforcement every single day. In this country racial stereotypes and assumptions are ingrained and reinforced in the psyche and subconscious of most Americans and rarely even challenged because they are presented as fact. Here are a few examples. If you ask most people (both African American and white) who they think benefits more from government assistance and food stamps, almost all of them would say African Americans benefit the most. But that is not true at all. According to the 2010 US Census 33% of whites were receiving government assistance via food stamps while 22% of African Americans received them (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0572.pdf). Another example of this racial perception vs reality shows up when people are asked about drug abuse. Again, the public perception would have you believe that African American’s are more likely to be drug users than whites. And again, this is not true. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/NSDUH-M9-Youth-Apps-2012.pdf), researchers found that 9% of white young adults struggled with drug abuse while only 5% of African American young adults had substance abuse problems . I’m not pointing this data out to say white people are bad and African Americans are good or maybe not as bad. In fact I’m sure I could find studies and research that will show African American’s in a much harsher light in other areas when compared to whites. But when we use racial profiling and let racial stereotypes stand unchallenged, we create a situation where African American youth are arrested for drug crimes at a rate ten times higher than that of whites despite proven research that says they abuse drugs much less. We get right-wing media and politicians telling their base that African Americans are dependent on food stamps which implies African Americans are the only recipients despite facts that says otherwise. We get people like George Zimmerman shooting and killing an unarmed teenager without having to serve a single day in prison. I can’t say whether or not Mr Zimmerman is a racist because I do not know this man. It’s very possible that he was unaware of his racial profiling of Trayvon. Something in his subconscious labeled Trayvon as a criminal the moment he laid eyes on him and in that very moment George Zimmerman decided he was going to catch a criminal and be the hero of the neighborhood.
I’ve heard a lot of different opinions from friends and family since this case became a national story. I’ve argued in forums, I’ve read countless news stories, and I’ve watch pundit after pundit comment and editorialize. Anyone who says this case isn’t about race is extremely naive or horribly uninformed. Race was evident in almost every discussion I took part in. Almost all African Americans were saying Zimmerman was guilty, but most whites did not share that opinion. This puzzled me for a while because some of my white friends also thought Zimmerman should be found not guilty. Maybe if I didn’t know them I could chalk their opinion up to racism and dismiss it, but these were people who I knew were not racist at all. Not even close to being racist. So there had to be some other explanation as to why the opinions about George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence usually divided straight down racial lines. This became very clear during the last day of the trial when I watched the defense give their closing. At the end of his speech to the jury, defense attorney Mark O’Mara held up a picture of Trayvon Martin. It was a picture of Trayvon shirtless with a baseball cap. Mr O’Mara held up that picture and said to an almost all white jury this is who George Zimmerman encountered that night. At that very moment I knew what the verdict would be. I knew what Mr O’Mara hoped to do with that picture. He wanted the jury to put themselves in George Zimmerman’s shoes that night. And that’s exactly what the jury did. I bet every single woman on that jury would be scared to death if they encountered an African American male in the dark of night alone. The scary big black criminal rapist is the image they have been taught to fear their whole lives. That fear is in the subconscious of every white woman in this country whether they know it or not. As an African American man I have witnessed countless examples of this irrational fear. I’m 5’6” 125lbs always impeccably dressed and I’ve had white women that would not get on the elevator in my doctors office when they see me in it. I’ve seen white women rush back to their unattended handbags in their shopping carts when they see me coming down the aisle at the grocery store. I’ve heard car doors lock as I pass them in a parking lot. A majority of these women are most likely not racist at all. They have been conditioned to fear black men. When African American’s see the pictures of Trayvon they see their brother, or their cousin, or their son, but when most white people look at pictures of Trayvon they see a thug, a criminal, a drug user, or a drug dealer which is further evidence of their conditioning.
The thing that scares me and should scare a lot of other young African American males is now this acquittal of George Zimmerman says to America that your irrational fear of African American men is enough to justify cold blooded murder no matter the circumstances. The precedent has been set. Take racial profiling, add irrational fear, plus self defense and you got a legal way to kill as many black men as you want. What a fucked up reality in which we live.
This has been a huge week for our prestigious Supreme Court. They delivered monumental rulings that will dramatically change this great country. The rulings that garnered the most attention were the Voting Rights Act ruling, the Defense of Marriage Act ruling, and California’s Prop 8 ruling. Preceding all three of those by a few days there was another Supreme Court ruling that didn’t get much attention at all. I believe it’s just as significant and monumental as the three I named, but I’ll put that one aside for the moment and comment on the three attention grabbers first. Afterward I’ll explain what the lesser known ruling is and how it will impact the direction of our country.
I’ll start with the good news first. At approximately 9am the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that struck down DOMA (the defense of marriage act) which lifted the federal ban on gay marriage. With a 5-4 vote Justice’s Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kennedy all voted in favor of lifting the ban and Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion which states “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.” Of course the dissenting Justice’s were Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. All four are ultra conservatives so their opposition to gay marriage is no secret. Now that DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the highest court in the land, legal gay marriage in all 50 states is all but certain. Immediately following the DOMA decision the court ruled on California’s Prop 8. Prop 8 was a ballot measure in California that wanted to define marriage as 1 man and 1 woman. Before this ballot measure gay marriage was legal in California. After Prop 8 reversed legal gay marriage in California, a federal court in San Francisco struck it down on the grounds that it unfairly discriminated against gays and lesbians who wished to marry. California’s governor and state attorney refused to take the case to the Supreme Court because they were supporters of gay marriage, so an outside anti-gay organization decided to argue the validity of Prop 8 in the place of the state attorney to the Supreme Court (which has never been done before). In another 5 to 4 vote the Supreme Court decided that a private organization did not have legal standing to appeal after the ballot measure was struck down by a federal judge… thus killing Prop 8 and legalizing gay marriage in the state of California once again. Both of these historic rulings fills me with optimism and reaffirms my belief that this country really is the land of the free.
This week the Supreme Court also ruled on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5 to 4 decision their ruling on this matter shakes the very foundation of my aforementioned reaffirmed optimism. This decision guts the very heart of the Voting Rights Act freeing nine mostly southern states to change their election laws without advance federal approval. Republican governors wasted no time rushing to file numerous new voting restrictions in every state where they have legislative control. Most of these new voter laws were blocked due to federal law during the last election. Congress has the power to redraw the map of states where voting laws need more scrutiny, but any action is unlikely as long as republicans hold a majority in the house. The GOP’s reaction to this new ruling is further evidence that they are aware that a large majority of American’s do not agree with their ideology and they know keeping minorities away from the polls is the only way they can win any future election. I believe their constant overreaching will hurt them in the midterm elections next year. The more they fight minorities and gays, the more determined and involved we become.
Now here’s the ruling you probably haven’t heard about. The gay marriage and the voting rights rulings made headlines all across the country and lead every newscast for days. They were huge stories so of course they deserved huge attention. But there was another Supreme Court ruling this past week that should have gotten just as much attention as the other three rulings did. Unfortunately the “powers that be” minimize the news coverage when it involves corporations flexing their power to stay above the law. American Express (huge credit card conglomerate) appeared before the Supreme Court to bar a class-action claim against them. A group of small restaurant owners joined together to sue American Express claiming that the company engaged in monopolistic business practices to force the merchants to accept their new credit card (with higher merchant fees) after they signed an agreement to accept their debit cards. This put the merchants in difficult position because they could not afford the higher fees, but losing the ability to accept AmEx debit cards would hurt their business as well. So the small group of restaurant owners banded together to sue American Express. American Express did not want a court jury trial and they challenged the merchants right to join together for a class-action suit. Instead they wanted arbitration (controlled by an arbiter of American Express’s choice) with each merchant independently. That’s how this legal issue ended up in front of the Supreme Court. To me, this seems like such an easy ruling. No corporation should be able to dictate the terms of which they are being sued for. But 5 out of 8 Justices did not share this opinion. They decided that the merchants could not band together, but not only that the Justices also ruled that American Express can force a merchant into an arbitration controlled by them. WTF? When did corporations get more rights than an American citizen? This ruling says corporations can deflect any lawsuit brought against them from this point on. Where’s the accountability? In a strongly worded dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said the decision means “the monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse.” The ruling was the third in three years to shut down class-action efforts brought on behalf of employees, consumers and now small-business owners. Lawyers on both sides of the issue said the court’s conservative wing was determined to shield companies from these broad lawsuits. The court has taken another big step down the road of permitting companies to use arbitration agreements to entirely insulate themselves from class-action liability. Even more proof that right wing conservatives do not give a damn about the people they are supposed to represent, and despite their rhetoric claiming to champion small businesses, their actions paint an entirely different picture.