Category Archives: Blacks

Power vs. Equality: Malcolm X Sought Not to Change America But to Change Black People

Today, May 19, marks what would’ve been Malcolm X’s 92ndbirthday. It also marks an appropriate time in the history of Black America to think about the ideological paradigm shift Malcolm ushered in during the 1960s that still holds some sway over a significant portion of those who are left-leaning organizers and social justice advocates. Enough sway that, even if not practiced by said leaders, it must be acknowledged as a touchstone of Black political thought.

Through his organizing, speeches and posthumously published autobiography, Malcolm almost single-handedly re-popularized the ideas of self-sufficiency, self-determination and Black nationalism. Malcolm X did not invent the concepts he espoused, those were learned from his parents as followers of Marcus Garvey, from his study in prison and, later, as the architect of the Nation of Islam’s growth under Elijah Muhammad.

Malcolm practiced the the art of creating power, not policy change. Creating institutions and organizations, cultural practices, agreements and governance in all areas of life. Financial, political, military, economic and social power was always Malcolm’s goal, even after he was forced out of the Nation. Malcolm, until his untimely death, attempted to create real community and society, ideas best suited to create the bonds of fraternity and the best path away from subjugation or exploitation from other groups, the very concepts that allowed the United States to exist and break away from its British brethren.

The exploration of such models of self-determination has always been attempted in limited ways by Black people in America, both during and post-enslavement. The ideas of maroon societies, creating Black cities, Black Wall Street and such are an outgrowth not only of fighting racial oppression but also of building Black-controlled spaces for development of Black people. The outcomes of these experiments were closely scrutinized by the dominant race and as Malcolm experienced himself, the experiments with creating power were terminated or marginalized via various methods when white people or the government institutions that protect the interest of some of those white people deemed those experiments dangerous or not in the best interest of the larger American project.

It is through this exercise of fighting all attempts of Black advancement that the dominant society, through its liberal wing and institutions, settled on accepting an ideological model that inspired hope among Black people while offering pride among liberal whites that they were better than their conservative counterparts: The equality model.

Except for the Garvey period in the early 1920s and an eight-year ascendancy of the Black Power movement from 1965 to about 1973, the dominant post-reconstruction theory of Black freedom in the United States has been based on an equality model. That model has certain pre-conditions that must be accepted by the minority group. The primary one is that the United States is innately moral and good and that any history of enslavement, genocide or militarism both here and abroad are aberrations and are not to be held up as the true character of the country. Once this “fact” is accepted, the minority group must then seek to reconcile its own existence in American society by accepting the inherent goodness of the majority population and the future hope that this goodness will pave the way for structural changes, allowing said minority to find its assimilated place within the culture and norms of the dominant group. The minority group must demonstrate through perseverance and persuasion that it deserves more rights and more access. The majority group, once assured of its own physical and financial safety from the minority group, may then allow more rights to the minority group on a trial basis. Those who qualify for the most additional societal rights are the leaders, who agree to practice the equality model to “open” this society up at a pace agreed upon.

The equality model survives as the dominant theory of change within the United States because of several factors: The use of propaganda, the threat of violence, the use of violence and, most importantly today, the sharing of some resources and access to institutional players and positions.

Propaganda is used effectively by the government and its leaders, the corporate media, civil society institutions, and arts and educational institutions to portray the United States as either infallible or just and righteous in its cause, whatever that cause may be. There is the acceptance of mistakes, but those are considered aberrations, including genocide and enslavement. The threat of violence as a system of control is constant. It is apparent in the number of people imprisoned, the institutions that surveil and the militarized nature of local law enforcement. The use of violence by the citizenry through ritualistic killings (lynching, church and home burnings, “stand your ground” killings and mass shootings) and the state criminal-justice apparatus (over-policing, extrajudicial police killings, discriminatory use of the death penalty) keep people scared of the possible consequences of government action.

Lastly, giving Black intellectuals and thought leaders access to funding, media and elite institutions persuades those leaders that, when confronted with the bright line of U.S. racism, it is in their best interest to step away from the natural conclusion that white supremacy is systemic and equality is, therefore, unachievable. Instead, these leaders suggest everything is fixable through protest and policy change. The resources given by liberal white institutions may be well intended, but they are given usually with the reassurance that the equality model will be the primary lens used to suggest change, despite any “radical” language needed to rile up the base.

The outcomes of this equality model continue to suggest that this equality, so long sought for, is no closer to being achieved than it ever was. From the continued disproportionate wealth gap to living conditions across racial lines, from educational gaps to the percentage of owners/leaders of almost every major U.S. institution, the idea that racial equality is an attainable goal is obliterated by almost any study you can find. Yet, those who struggle onward using the equality model keep plugging away. Is it that they can’t read the statistics? Are they blind to the election of a president who supports white supremacy attitudes and policies? Do they believe this is the only workable model? Or is it that, for those leaders, the access to positions and resources is too hard to resist? Some suggest that the soon-to-come demographic shifts that will reduce the population size of the white majority will give us more equality. However, the country of South Africa and every majority-Black city in the U.S. should serve as a stark reminder that mere population majorities don’t result in an equal sharing or redistribution of wealth, ownership or control.

Following the equality model may be good for thought leaders and nonprofit institutional leaders, but can it give substantial amounts of freedom from the fear of white backlash? As Malcolm X stated, “I just don’t believe that when people are being unjustly oppressed that they should let someone else set rules for them by which they can come out from under that oppression.”

By Kamau Franklin/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Fatal Stabbing of Black Student at University of Maryland Investigated as Possible Hate Crime

The FBI is helping to evaluate whether the fatal stabbing by a white student of a black student visiting the University of Maryland will be prosecuted as a hate crime, university police said Sunday.

Richard Wilbur Collins III was with two friends on the university’s campus in College Park when he was approached by a man and stabbed in the chest with a knife Saturday morning, University of Maryland Police Chief David Mitchell told reporters.

Image result for richard wilbur collins
Image: twitter

The 23-year-old had been commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Army two days before his death and had been set to graduate from Bowie State University (BSU) on Tuesday in a ceremony at Maryland, Mitchell said.

The University of Maryland student suspected of Collins’s killing was a member of a Facebook group named Alt Reich, Mitchell said.

More from KTLA

Posted by Libergirl

Is There Still a Place for HBCUs In Trump’s New America?

By most conservative estimates, the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities are on life support. A combination of gaps in federal and state funding, alumni contributions and student enrollment has many of the institutions in this essential portion of the Black education portfolio desperately seeking options, with several close to shutting their doors.

While the recent chain of “misstatements” by the Trump administration represents the perceived lack of faith the Black community has with Republican promises to protect Black education, it actually represents a lack of sensitivity and understanding of how precarious a situation Black higher education faces today.

“We are deeply concerned about the proposals highlighted for the U.S. Department of Education, which include flat funding for the core Title III Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) program and deep cuts to federal student aid programs,” wrote Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund in a letter to the OMB.

“The proposed $3.9 billion cut to Pell Grant funds would undercut needed reforms to boost the purchasing power of Pell Grants for financially needy students, including the 70 percent of HBCU students who receive Pell Grants to earn college degrees. The proposed elimination of Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which supplement Pell awards to the poorest students to pay college tuition, would negatively impact more than 55,000 HBCU students who rely on this assistance to go to and through college. Reductions to Federal Work Study could impact more than 26,000 HBCU students who receive work-study jobs that not only help pay for college expenses but also enhance their employment prospects.“

While “HBCU” may be a relatively new designation, the distinction refers to the Southern states’ refusal to integrate higher education. The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 allowed for federal one-to-one funding with the states for the purpose of starting and operating land-grant colleges. This funding, however, can only be made available to states that offer access to the land-grant colleges to African-Americans. The institutions that would become the HBCUs were attempts by the Southern states to qualify for Morrill Act funding while not having to integrate any of their schools

While African-American enrollment in HBCUs has dropped to nine percent of Blacks enrolled in college and while the HBCUs represent only three percent of the national higher education portfolio, the 100 HBCUs graduated 15 percent of all the bachelor degrees African-Americans received in 2013-2014. According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, 80 percent of all Black judges, 50 percent of all Black lawyers and non-HBCU professors, 40 percent of all Black engineers and 40 percent of all Black members of Congress are HBCU graduates.

HBCUs continue to be the leading source of Black higher education — especially, for low-income Blacks — in large part because they can offer a specialized focus in a largely nondiscriminative environment. However, with Black enrollment in HBCUs dropping and with the closure of Saint Paul’s College and Lewis College of Business in 2013 and the potential closing of Wilberforce, South Carolina State University and Cheney, one must ask if the HBCUs have “run their course”? If not, is there a way to save them?

The Question of Federal Funding

The chain of Trump administration fumbles regarding HBCUs — starting with the president’s assertion that funding HBCUs may be unconstitutional because it is race-based funding and continuing through the recent booing and heckling of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos during a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman — represents an unease and sense of perceived insensitivity from Washington. While Trump has said he will do more for HBCUs than any other president, for example, a deep dive into the statements he already made suggest otherwise.

With Trump’s Feb. 28 executive order transferring oversight of HBCUs from the U.S. Department of Education to the White House, the Trump administration took symbolic and factual ownership of the federal government’s role with HBCUs. While Trump’s “America First” budget proposal seeking to maintain last year’s initial budgeting of $492 million to HBCUs suggests a commitment to honor that promise, the devil is being found in the details. According to New America Foundation estimates, the Trump proposal would actually slash funding to HBCUs by 15 percent once 2016’s additional discretionary funding is factored in.

Worse, the White House’s call for cuts to the Department of Education’s budget means a $1.3-billion reduction to the Pell Grant Program’s $10.6-billion surplus for 2017, with another $3.9 billion in cuts proposed for 2018. While it is unreasonable to think that such cuts can be introduced into this year’s budget at this point of the process, the notion of the recommendation is causing confusion between the administration’s thoughts and actions concerning HBCUs.

With 70 percent of all HBCU students requiring federal student grants and work study programs and with the Trump administration additionally planning to eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Trump’s walked-back comment on the unconstitutionality of HBCU funding seems now to be a moment of truth in a storm of political spin.

“My Administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender … in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment,” Trump wrote in his signing statement for H.R. 244 on May 5. Experts feel that Trump may not have understood the legal underpinnings of HBCU federal funding or the notion that the HBCU designation does not refer to the member schools’ demographics, but the mission and year of founding, when authoring the statement.

“With the advent of integration, Black students gained a plethora of new and exciting educational opportunities. High-achieving Black students are intensely recruited by well-endowed institutions in a position to provide full scholarships,” said Felicia Davis, a former United Negro College Fund official and director of the Building Green Initiative at Clark Atlanta University.

“Cash-strapped HBCUs serve a disproportionate share of lower- and moderate-income students. These institutions are dependent upon tuition from students that are dependent upon financial aid and student loans. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that many HBCUs strive to serve students that lack a quality high school education. For some time, HBCUs were still able to recruit and sustain based upon their exceptional legacy. Millennial students seemed far removed from the era of segregation and even the civil rights movement was receding into history.”

A Part of the Puzzle

Blaming the Trump administration for all of HBCUs’ financial problems is both unfair and shortsighted. A bigger part of the problem existed long before the 2016 general election.

Per a 2013 report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, HBCUs in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia have reportedly not received the proper state allocations they are entitled to by law.

The Morrill Act of 1890 creates one-to-one financial support for the land-grant colleges with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the hosting state. While the USDA met its end of the HBCU funding agreement, the states only matched $188 million to the USDA’s $244 million between 2010 and 2012. The Morrill Acts provide no punishment for states that fail to meet their funding obligations. The schools themselves are obligated to match up to 50 percent of the USDA’s funds in the absence of state funding to maintain continual federal funding.

This is creating a situation where HBCUs are increasingly becoming trigger-shy in seeking grants that require matching state funds. This is a second strike for schools that do not have a strong tradition of research and development, a key component of government and charitable grant securement.

This is also creating the illusion that the Southern states are engaging in picking winners for educational funding between HBCUs and other land-grant colleges, which tend to be larger, predominately White universities.

The problem with slashes to state and federal funding is compounded by the continuing nationwide trend of millennials foregoing college to go directly into the job market. Total post-secondary enrollment in the United States has dropped 1.4 percent from fall 2015 to fall 2016, extending the declining streak to five years. While most of this figure can be attributed to students over the age of 24 opting out of continued education and a major rejection of “for-profit” colleges, enrollment from recent high school graduates also is declining.

As non-research schools, HBCUs rely principally on government funding, student tuition and alumni contributions to pay the bills. With alumni investment with HBCUs falling below levels found at PWIs, many HBCU endowments have been depleted to the point that school-based financial aid and capital projects have been ignored.

 

Finding Solutions

The road to closing the attainment and wealth gaps between African-Americans and whites is education. If HBCUs are important toward the employment viability of the African-American community, then preserving them should be a priority.

Unfortunately, HBCUs carry psychological baggage that may be causing pause in the current conservative administration. “Many of those who argue that public Black colleges should not operate at the public’s expense do so because they consider these institutions to be ‘racially identifiable’,” the policy brief “Comprehensive Funding Approaches for Historically Black Colleges and Universities” by Marybeth Gasman reads.

“Missing from this argument is that white institutions also are racially identifiable. Too often, diversity or integration is defined as ‘start with white people and add people of color.’ It is also possible, as HBCUs have shown, to begin with a base of Black students and add whites, Asians and Latinos. HBCU allies and those within the HBCU community need to make sure that others understand that HBCUs are not ‘vestiges of segregation.’”

HBCUs are finding themselves in the crosshairs of the hyper-partisanship that has consumed the nation. The booing of Devos and the revoked invitation of U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) from being the commencement speaker at Texas Southern University is creating a situation that the people being insulted by these gestures are the very same people controlling the schools’ fate.

This represents a certain level of fatalism that HBCUs have engaged in. Failure to make themselves more attractive to students, to reach out to alumni, and to restructure more toward research and STEM preparedness have led many to think that HBCUs are suffering from a self-inflicted wound that the government happens to be rubbing salt in.

“I believe the enrollment lag can primarily be attributed to four things: ‘degree quality,’ a lack of recruitment efforts, feeder school partnerships and financial aid,” Nijinsky Dix, assistant director for Trio programs at Notre Dame, said to Atlanta Black Voices. “The conversation regarding the quality of one’s degree has always existed.”

“Due to the perceptions of HBCUs as [they compare] to predominately white institutions, degrees earned from Black institutions are deemed as subpar due to a lack of or inadequate resources, faculty and wavering admission standards. For instance, if one were to review the U.S. World News report for best colleges, an HBCU does not appear until No. 124 – Howard University.”

Dix points out that a lack of high school recruitment, inadequate financial assistance and the nonexistence of strategical partnerships — which were instrumental to her enrollment in a HBCU — are working to turn away Black students from HBCUs.

The health of HBCUs lies in breaking down misperceptions. Not only must HBCUs work to help allay white fears that HBCU funding somehow disadvantages non-Black students, but they also must convince the Black community that they are not just a part of the past but a key to the future.

How this could be accomplished is yet to be determined.

“Virtually all endowments are race-based – just as it is at Harvard, as well as Howard,” Felicia Davis added. “One is historically and predominately white, while the other is Black. The difference in magnitude of their endowments can be attributed to the fact that one group labored without compensation, placing it at an economic disadvantage. Education remains a vital key to closing persistent gaps and ensuring America’s greatness for generations.

“The future of HBCUs rests largely with the Black community. Judging by the student demand for diversity, cultural validation and creative authenticity, institutions known for advancing justice and human rights have the potential to attract students from diverse backgrounds as long as the commitment to academic excellence and productive student outcomes is honored.”

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump Creates a ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission, Taps a White Supremacist to Lead It

President Trump has signed an executive order to create a commission to address voter fraud. This is a nonexistent issue tied to Trump’s fallacious, unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and cost him the popular vote. The measure is part of a larger effort at voter suppression, to deny Black people and others the franchise and to deprive them of their voting rights — a cause of concern among civil rights and civil liberties groups. One of the leaders of this newly created body is a driving force behind voter suppression and anti-immigration laws across the nation and a figure with white supremacist sentiments and ties to white nationalist groups.

On May 11, Trump established a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which is charged with identifying the following:

(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;

(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and

(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

The election integrity commission will have a staff to carry out its mission and will engage with federal, state and local officials and election law experts. Vice President Mike Pence is the chair of the commission, while Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the vice chair. The selection of Kobach raises red flags and speaks to the insidious motives of the commission.

Kobach, who was once considered a contender to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to Politico, has gained a reputation for his controversial anti-immigration stance and for supporting draconian voter suppression laws that federal courts have struck down for discriminating against nonwhite voters. According to civil rights advocacy groups, Kobach is a racial extremist with white supremacist ties. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Yale-trained lawyer who also has degrees from Harvard and Oxford is a “central figure” in the nativist movement and the author of Arizona’s “papers please” law, SB 1070, which amounted to a racial profiling law for Latinos. The U.S. Supreme Court found most of the measure unconstitutional in 2012. Kobach also played a key role in enacting similar legislation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Since 2004, Kobach has served as counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR, according to SPLC, has “historical ties to white supremacists and eugenicists” and has received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded by Nazi sympathizers. Kobach was a supporter of birtherism during his run for Kansas secretary of state, and called for President Obama to release his “long-form” birth certificate to answer questions about his birthplace. SPLC reported that in 2014, Kobach also led an effort to purge voter rolls known as Interstate Crosscheck. The program compiled a master list of the names of one-seventh of all Black voters in 27 states, people who officials alleged were suspected of voting twice in the same election, as Al Jazeera America reported. In 2015, Kobach also gave himself the power to prosecute voter fraud, making Kansas the only state allowing its secretary of state with such authority. Kobach has urged states to require not only photo identification as a requirement to vote, but proof of citizenship, including a birth certificate or passport. This draconian measure had its impact in Kansas in 2015, where 37,000 people who attempted to register to vote were placed on a “suspense list” barring them from voting unless they provided documentation, as The Washington Post reported.  That year, Kobach was a featured speaker at The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist writers’ workshop created by FAIR.

Kobach’s ties to the organization led to his defeat in a 2004 race for Congress.  In a statement opposing Kobach and calling him unfit to serve and his appointment “nothing less than an outrage,” SPLC said Kobach “is a longtime lawyer for far-right extremist groups with ties to white nationalists” and “a leader in the movement to suppress the votes of minorities.” The statement added that voter suppression is the real threat to democracy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump claimed the election was rigged, and that if he lost, his defeat would be attributed to rampant, nonexistent voter fraud and so-called illegal immigrants voting. After he won the Electoral College in November, he then said the margin of his deficit in the popular vote was due to voter fraud. Without providing a shred of proof of his allegation, Trump tweeted on November 27 that “in addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” As FiveThirtyEight reported, Trump misused research from an Old Dominion University study to falsely claim that 14 percent of noncitizens were registered to vote.

I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….

even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!

Last week, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Vice President’s office demanding evidence to back up Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election. Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the commission is a “boondoggle” and part of Trump’s plan to “spread his own fake news about election integrity” as The Hill reported.

“The president … has alleged that ‘millions of votes’ were ‘illegally’ cast ‘for the other side.’ No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the president’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the president’s allegations are the basis of an executive order … to establish a ‘Commission on Election Integrity,’” the FOIA request from the ACLU read. “This FOIA demands that the government release the factual basis and evidence supporting the president’s allegations.”

In its FOIA request, the ACLU noted that Trump has suggested he will enact new voting restrictions based on a Department of Justice investigation. The civil liberties group stated that for 150 years since the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to today, “politicians have consistently perpetuated unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud to justify discriminatory restrictions on the right to vote.” The request added that if federal and state governments plan to rely on the Department of Justice investigation to justify voting discrimination, “then the health of our democracy urgently demands that the public know the bases for such potential discrimination immediately.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has noted that the issue has been studied and widespread voter fraud does not exist in the U.S. “But there is no evidence that millions, thousands or even hundreds of instances of in-person voter fraud occur in the United States,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in February. “One of the most reliable studies found only 31 instances of fraud in more than 1 billion votes cast over nearly 15 years. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”

Trump’s executive order comes as the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will not reinstate North Carolina’s draconian voter ID law, which was regarded as one of the most restrictive in the nation and designed to discriminate against African-Americans.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black People and Obama’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency was a curse on black America’s political heritage.
— Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report

It is no secret that the folks over at Black Agenda Report have never cottoned much to ex-President Obama.  It was, after all, BAR’s executive editor Glen Ford who, long before Obama’s 2008 election, and in reference to the great bulk of black elected officials throughout this nation-state, including most especially, the Congressional Black Caucus, coined the term “black misleadership class.”  Once Obama actually took the oath of office in ’08, Ford promptly placed him at the head of that class. And, throughout the ensuing eight straight years, BAR’s senior columnist Margaret Kimberley has wielded an especially sharp pen against this country’s “First Black President” (a sobriquet Ford, Kimberley and Company derisively employ as a way of reminding us exactly who and what Obama  is not).  BAR’s postmortems of Obama’s late presidency have been equally rough – and directly on point.

“Obama Gets Paid”

In her May 2nd column entitled “Obama Gets Paid,” Kimberley, as she routinely does, excoriates Obama apologists as they feverishly defend his recent acceptance of a $400,000 check for speaking to those Wall Street hedge fund managers and investment bankers – the selfsame ones who helped crash the US (and damn near world) economy in ’08.  Again, for eight solid years, Obama, President Obama, steadfastly refused to prosecute nary a one of them.  The principal defense deployed by Obama die-hards is, basically, that “everybody does it,” especially everybody, that is, who’s ever been president.  They point to the 1990 tour of Japan by then former President Ronald  Reagan.  St. Reagan (one of Obama’s two most favorite presidents) collected a cool $2 million for delivering a few stock speeches in the land of the rising sun over eight days.

Or, Obamaphiles remind us of ex-prez Bill Clinton’s apparently innate ability to still garner whopping speaker’s fees and honoraria from any venue anywhere even to this day –  if and only if, of course, the price is right.  According to CNN, since 2001, that proclivity has yielded both Bill and wife, ex-Secretary of State Hillary, a jaw-dropping $153 million and counting.

Yes, it is now common practice among certain ex-presidents:  Bush (I & II), even Nixon, eagerly embraced what St. Reagan referred to as the “mashed potato” circuit.  Yet, somehow Obama’s most ardent supporters conveniently skip over or ignore altogether former President Jimmy Carter.  That may be because Carter has consistently refused to partake of either the mashed potatoes and/or rubber chickens. Instead, to this day, despite brain cancer and his 90-plus years of life, ex-prez Carter devotes his entire presidency to a wide array of ways and means of delivering real goods and real services to real people.

Of Presidential Libraries and Largess

Obama was in town the other day, fully refreshed from his three-month Hawaiian vacation, a $65 million book deal, and, as noted, his $400,000 oration.  Obama was here to hobnob with Chicago’s One Percent and to finalize plans for his presidential library, to be set in a 200,000 square foot space age building just south of his old employer’s (University of Chicago) campus.

Obama also actually stopped in at the University itself where he mingled with a few star-struck students.  And then he and Michelle dropped an unsolicited $2 million on Chicago’s summer jobs program.  Why so generous?  The purpose of this money, so sayeth Obama, is to “train the next generation of leadership…the Michelle Obamas of today and the Barack Obamas of today.”

That money is certainly needed and much appreciated, especially given the fact that Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first presidential chief of staff, seems to miraculously find funds for any and everything except Chicago’s South and West Sides – where the bulk of Chicago’s one million black citizens just happen to reside.

President of All the People

The obvious question, which has many black Chicagoans (and black people nationwide) scratching their heads, is this:  Where was all of this heartfelt concern, and more importantly, money and resources, for black folk when Obama for eight whole years reigned as this nation-state’s “First Black President”?

He and his blinkered supporters still argue that:

  • The Big Bad Racists Republicans would not let Obama do anything to specifically help black people.
  • That he is “president of all the people of America, not just black people. (But aren’t we Americans, too?)
  • That, as St. Reagan taught us, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Thus, programs and policies which specifically and purposely benefit Hispanics, gays, white women, the “working class” and the poor naturally, automatically “trickle down” to black people.
  • That targeting black people would alienate those oh so sensitive and always aggrieved “white middle class” folk who see the world as a zero-sum proposition: If blacks win (at anything), they lose (everything).

Black resistance, black revolt and black struggle against white supremacy and white racism began when those very first Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Dutch slave ships appeared off Africa’s West Coast as far back as 1444.  That freedom struggle continued unabated right up until 2008 when black people basically decided that having a putatively “black” man in the White House was more important than the freedom struggle itself. Prior to Obama’s ascendancy, the standard that all presidents and presidential candidates had to meet as far as black people were concerned was this: What will he do for us as a people? At least, that is the standard I was taught as a child by my parents, who, until John Kennedy came along in 1960, voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates at all levels of government based on this simple question.

After 2008, at family gatherings I was often persona non gratis because I dared to continue to ask this question.  One of my elderly aunts actually stood  up at the Thanksgiving table in 2014, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, “Blasphemy!” For her and millions like her, Obama’s blackness was enough.  He didn’t really have to do anything for black people because just seeing him and his black family in the White House wiped away the 400-year-old still festering wounds that had been, and continue to be, inflicted upon black people as a whole. That is all Obama did for black people – get elected.

And now?  Now that Obama is safely out of office and in no position to help anybody except (as detailed above) on a very occasional, very personal and very individual level, well….that is what his recent foray into Chicago means. Margaret Kimberley is absolutely right: Because of Obama, black people are in the worst shape they have been in since Dr. King was so brutally murdered forty-nine years ago.

Because of Obama, we must now contend with a straight up and open white supremacist/white racist in the once again lily white White House.

But on a more optimistic note, we will survive Donald Trump.  It’s what we do best.

By Herbert Dyer, Jr./DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective. Sessions wants them back.

As a federal prosecutor and judge, we saw that these policies do not work.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer.

Mandatory federal drug sentencing is unforgiving. A person with one prior drug felony who is charged with possession of 10 grams of LSD, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or 280 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute faces 20 years to life. With two priors — no matter how long ago they occurred — the penalty is life without parole.  As one federal judge has written, these are sentences that “no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate.”

They waste human potential. They harm the 5 million children who have or have had a parent in prison — including one in nine black children.  And they wreak economic devastation on poor communities. Studies have found, for example, that formerly incarcerated employees make 10 to 40 percent less money than similar workers with no history of incarceration and that the probability of a family being in poverty increases by almost 40 percent when a father is imprisoned.

Still, in 2003 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed line prosecutors to charge mandatory minimums whenever possible. His policy helped grow the federal prison population from 172,000 to nearly 220,000 over the next 10 years.  This was part of a wider national trend that grew the country’s incarcerated population to 2.2 million, almost 60 percent of them black and Latino.

In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized that this system of mass incarceration was at odds with the Justice Department’s values. He told attorneys to reserve the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. That meant charging cases in a way that would not trigger mandatory minimums for a specific group of defendants: nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or cartels, no involvement in trafficking to minors, and no significant criminal history.

Holder’s policy was part of an emerging criminal justice reform movement. Since 2009, more than half the states have passed legislation to relax mandatory minimums and restore judicial discretion — including deep-red GeorgiaLouisianaMississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. A new crop of prosecutors is openly questioning the use of long prison terms for minor drug crimes. And a bill to ease federal sentencing has bipartisan support in Congress.

Sessions is bent on reversing this progress.

It would be one thing if Holder’s reform efforts had failed — but they did not. The federal prison population fell for the first time after 40 years of exponential growth.  It is down 14 percent over the past 3½ years. While we need a wider conversation about how we sentence all offenders, including violent offenders, state and federal, this was a start. The 2013 policy sent a message about the need to be smart, not just tough, on crime, and the role of prosecutors in that effort.

Sessions’s assault on the past few years of progress might also make sense if mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses were necessary to combat crime — but they are not. A 2014 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that defendants released early (based on sentencing changes not related to mandatory minimums) were not more likely to reoffend than prisoners who served their whole sentences. That is, for drug charges, shorter sentences don’t compromise public safety. Indeed, research shows it is the certainty of punishment — not the severity — that deters crime.

Sessions’s fixation on mandatory minimums might also be more palatable if they were cost-effective — but they are not. Federal prison costs have ballooned to $7 billion, more than a quarter of DOJ’s budget, driven by a population that is nearly half drug offenders.  And yet as detailed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council last year, most experts believe that expending public resources to incarcerate these offenders is profoundly inefficient.

Sessions’s defenders will say his policy only requires prosecutors to charge the defendant’s true conduct and apply the statutes Congress enacted. But floor statements from legislators show that Congress intended these mandatory minimums to be used against “kingpins” and “middle-level dealers,” not the minor offenders to whom they have been applied.

One of us served as a federal prosecutor under Holder and had mandatory minimum charges at his disposal. The message from the top down was that prosecutors were to pursue justice. Winning did not mean getting the longest sentence possible. It meant getting the right sentence, one that fit the crime and that respected the interests of victims, defendants, and the public.

The other of us served as a federal judge for 17 years, including during the heyday of the Ashcroft regime. She believes that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.

Under Sessions, prosecutors will be required almost always to charge mandatory minimums, however unjust. They will bind judges’ hands even when the facts cry out for more measured punishment. The result will be great suffering. And there is no good reason for it.

By Nancy Gertner and Chiraag Bains/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

NC NAACP leader William Barber stepping down to help national effort on poverty

The Rev. William J. Barber II will step down as head of the state chapter of the NAACP in June, after more than a decade of leadership that has given the civil rights organization a prominent voice in state politics and its leader a higher profile on the national stage.

Barber will help organize a new Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., and 25 states even as he continues to serve as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro. He also will remain on the national NAACP board.

In a phone interview Thursday, Barber, 53, stressed that he still will be based in North Carolina and paying attention to what happens in his home state. But he said he’ll be turning his attention to a national effort that will focus on many of the same issues he has been highlighting here for much of the past decade.

“I’m not leaving the state,” Barber said. “I’m accepting a call, a very spiritual call.”

Barber’s legacy includes the “Moral Monday” movement, a series of protests at the General Assembly and elsewhere on behalf of the poor and the disenfranchised. He says those experiences will help him as he continues to work with other states, including Tennessee and Georgia, which already have created similar models.

When Barber rose to leadership in the state NAACP almost 12 years ago, his goal was to give new energy and a new battle cry to an organization that he worried had been become too lethargic.

“We have to move from banquet to battle,” Barber said in 2006 during an interview at his Goldsboro church. “We have to broaden the membership.”

Since then, Barber, a preacher with a booming voice, has been a presence in many of North Carolina’s high-profile moments. He urged people to be patient as questions swirled around the Duke lacrosse case and let the wheels of justice turn toward the truth. But he did not back down from an opportunity to highlight issues of racism, classism and sexual violence threaded through the narrative of the case.

In Wake County, he led opposition to an attempt by the school board in 2010 to dismantle the diversity policy for the state’s largest school system.

In 2013, the first year Republicans held control of both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly and the governor’s office, Barber organized regular protests in Raleigh that led to more than a thousand arrests.

Though his leadership on such efforts had led to many followers and supporters, Barber also has critics. Some say he works more to divide people than unite divergent voices with a common goal. They say he acts too much like a politician and too little like a preacher.

Claude Pope, former chairman of the N.C. GOP, said Thursday that he had not seen Barber in a while, but remembered having a pleasant one-on-one conversation with him. They talked about Barber’s father, an educator who brought his family to Eastern North Carolina during the civil rights movement.

Pope said he did not think it was surprising that people on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Barber found him grating, though.

“If he’s talking about concepts that you don’t agree with, that’s not that unusual,” Pope said. And he questioned Barber’s effectiveness.

“If he’s moving on the national scene, my gut is that he’s attracted enough attention to himself to make people think he’s effective,” Pope said. “He has a message they want to hear. But if you go by election results, I’m not sure how effective he’s been.”

Irving Joyner, a Durham lawyer and N.C. Central University law professor, disagrees with Pope and counts the successes of Democrats Roy Cooper as governor, Josh Stein as state attorney general and Mike Morgan, an African-American judge elected to the state Supreme Court, as evidence to the contrary.

Joyner, who has known Barber since he was a youngster traveling through North Carolina with his father and as a student at N.C. Central University, says the state NAACP was transformed over the past decade.

“There’s no way that Barber can be replaced in terms of his charisma, his energy, his contacts,” Joyner said. The state organization has four vice presidents and one of them will likely step into the role until October, when the next NAACP elections will take place.

Joyner said Barber took over the state NAACP in 2005 at the right time for his goal of creating an organization that tried to pull together lots of groups to work toward a common goal. Barber early on was championing voting rights and the need to expand opportunities for more people to cast ballots. By 2008, when Barack Obama was seeking his first term as president, Joyner said, measures were in place so more North Carolinians could cast ballots.

Five years later, Barber was vocal about the legislative efforts to require voter ID at the polls and to roll back some of the statewide measures that had made it easier to vote. Barber was there to lead voters challenging the law in lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Robin Hayes, chairman of the state GOP, said Barber’s messages are important to the state.

“The issues he has brought to the table are extremely important and ones we need to be keenly and constantly aware of,” Hayes said. “That said, I think style makes a difference. I think it would have helped him and his causes had he been more of a negotiator than an agitator.”

The Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, has marched alongside Barber and taken the stage with him at numerous rallies, admiring his ability to extend a message that resonates.

“This place we’re in as a state and a nation is just so confusing to people,” Petty said. “There’s this thing that Rev. Barber has the ability to do that is just unmatched by any other civics leader or religious leader that I’ve seen in my lifetime – and that is to make sense of what’s going on. Really once in a lifetime you find people who can do that as effectively as he does it. It’s pretty rare. It’s a gift.”

Barber addressed the Democratic National Convention in July, telling listeners in his characteristic fire-and-brimstone preaching style that the country’s democracy was at stake in the November elections.

Barber, who often repeats that a movement cannot be measured by one election, says he has no interest in being a politician.

“I’m a pastor at heart,” Barber said Thursday. “But I believe we need to have pastors in the public square.”

Barber cites the Bible on issues such as helping the poor as a guide for his work and his next steps.

“This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable,” Barber said in a statement released Thursday. “While I am stepping down as president, I will continue working to advance the moral movement here at home as well as support the leadership in our conference to move North Carolina forward together.”

Barber said he will speak more about the Poor People’s Campaign at a press conference Monday.

“I’ve been in deep conversations of prayer with other leaders around the country,” Barber said. “We look at the national narrative we have when we go through these national elections – and we’re not talking about just one election or one party – but there have been no real discussions about the poor.”

Those conversations, Barber said, should include voting rights, health care proposals, systemic racism and more.

“We have a moral defect when we talk about spending more money on a bloated military than we do on public education,” he said.

BY ANNE BLYTHE/New&Observer
Posted by The NON-Conformist