Black Caucus Sells Out Its Constituents Again – to the Cops

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This bill will be received as yet another attack on these communities and threatens to exacerbate what is already a discriminatory system of mass incarceration in this country.”

The bigger the Congressional Black Caucus gets, the more it betrays its constituents. Last Wednesday, three out of every four members of the Black Caucus in the U.S. House voted to make assaults on police officers a federal hate crime. The Protect and Serve Act of 2018 is totally superfluous, since cops are already the most protected “class” in the nation. Nearly a million sworn officers inhabit a legal dominion of their own, where immunity from prosecution for even the most heinous crimes is the norm. As People for the American Way point out : “All fifty states have laws that enhance penalties for people who commit offenses against law enforcement officers, including for homicide and assault,” and federal laws already “impose a life sentence or death penalty on persons convicted of first-degree murder of federal employees or officers, killing state and local law enforcement officers or other employees assisting with federal investigations, and killing officers of the U.S. courts.” However, like the Israel lobby, the cop lobby demands abject, groveling obeisance from the people’s representatives — lest there be any doubt as to who rules in either of the world’s white settler states.

Nearly a million sworn officers inhabit a legal dominion of their own, where immunity from prosecution for even the most heinous crimes is the norm.”

The Protect and Serve Act, which sailed through the U.S. House on a vote of 382 to 35 , is a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that serves no other purpose than to give a giant middle finger to the Black Lives Matter movement. When the cops demanded to know, Which side are you on? three-quarters of the Congressional Black Caucus kissed the feet of the Blue Beast: “Your side, Boss!”

The Ugly

Twenty-nine CBC members paid homage to the world’s largest police state.

Alma Adams (NC); Joyce Beatty (OH); Sanford Bishop (GA); Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE); G.K. Butterfield (NC); Andre Carson (IN); Emanuel Cleaver (MO); James Clyburn (SC); Elijah Cummings (MD); Danny Davis (IL); Val Butler Demings (FL); Keith Ellison (MN); Dwight Evans (PA); Marcia Fudge (OH); Al Green (TX); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Hakeem Jeffries (NY); Hank Johnson (GA); Robin Kelly (IL); Brenda Lawrence (FL); Al Lawson (FL); John Lewis (GA); Donald McEachin (VA); Gregory Meeks (NY); Bobby Rush (IL); David Scott (GA); Terri Sewell (AL); Bennie Thompson (MS); Marc Veasey (TX)

The Worthless

Three Black Caucus members did not bother to vote, which was the same as casting a “Yea” for the Act.

Anthony Brown (MD); Cedric Richmond (LA); Frederica Wilson (FL)

The Few That Did Not “Comply”

Below are the 11 members that stood up the police lobby, voting “Nay.”

Karen Bass (CA); Yvette Clarke (NY); Wm. Lacy Clay (MO); Alcee Hastings (FL); Johnson, E. B.(TX); Barbara Lee (CA); Gwen Moore (WI); Donald Payne (NJ); Bobby Scott (VA); Maxine Waters (CA); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)

A Slap in the Face

Donald Trump and three-quarters* of the Black Caucus are on the same side, despite all the Democratic rhetoric seeking to distinguish between the two parties. When it comes to the Mass Black Incarceration State, Black Democrats are First Responders, ever ready to buttress the power, prestige and immunities of the cops and jailers.

As People for the American Way, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights put it : “Rather than focusing on policies that address issues of police excessive force, biased policing, and other police practices that have failed these communities, the Protect and Serve Act’s aim is to further criminalize. This bill will be received as yet another attack on these communities and threatens to exacerbate what is already a discriminatory system of mass incarceration in this country.”

Worse than Misleaders, the CBC is the Enemy

The advent of the Black Lives Matter movement has wrought virtually no change at all in the political behavior of the Congressional Black Caucus; collectively, they are just as treacherous as in the pre-Ferguson days. Back in June of 2014, two months before Mike Brown’s murder sparked a national movement, four-fifths of the Black Caucus voted down an amendment to halt the Pentagon’s infamous 1033 program that has funneled billions of dollars in military weapons and gear to local police departments. Twenty-seven members voted to continue the militarization of local police forces, five abstained from voting, which amounted to an endorsement of the status quo, and only eight members – one out of five — supported the Grayson Amendment. We at BAR called the Black Caucus super-majority “The Treasonous 32.” Below is the breakdown of the vote from that day of shame:

The Ugly

Karen Bass (CA); Joyce Beatty (OH); Sanford Bishop (GA); Corrine Brown (FL); G.K. Butterfield (NC); Andre Carson (IN); Yvette Clarke (NY); Wm Lacy Clay (MO); Emanuel Cleaver (MO); James Clyburn (SC); Elijah Cummings (MD); Danny Davis (IL); Chaka Fattah (PA); Al Green (TX); Alcee Hastings (FL); Steven Horsford (NV); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Hakeem Jeffries (NY); E. B. Johnson (TX); Robin Kelly (IL); Gregory Meeks (NY); Gwen Moore (WI); Donald Payne (NJ); David Scott (GA); Terri Sewell (AL); Marc Veasey (TX); Frederica Wilson (FL)

The Worthless

The abstainers of 2014, as four years later, effectively endorsed the status quo: militarization of the police.

Marcia Fudge (OH); Charles Rangel (NY); Cedric Richmond (LA); Bobby Rush (IL); Bennie Thompson (MS)

The Few for Demilitarization

John Conyers (MI); Donna Edwards (MD); Keith Ellison (MN); Hank Johnson (GA); Barbara Lee (CA); John Lewis (GA); Bobby Scott (VA); Maxine Waters (CA)

Are Black People Represented in the Congress?

When 80 percent of Black Democrats in the U.S. House vote for continued militarization of local police forces, and then four years later 75 percent of these same Black Democrats give “protected class” status to cops, then we must conclude that the intervening period of “Black Lives Matter” agitation had no effect on Black Democratic Party politics — and further, that the Caucus is wholly and brazenly unaccountable to its constituents.

As Malcolm X said: “You’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok.”

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

* Of the Congressional Black Caucus’ 48 members , two are U.S. Senators (Cory Booker and Kamala Harris), and two are delegates from Washington DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who cannot vote on the House floor. BAR does not count Mia Love, the Black Republican CBC member from Utah, in its tabulations on Black Caucus behavior. (She voted “Yea” on the Protect and Serve Act.) That leaves 43 Black Democrats with full voting privileges in the U.S. House.

By Glenn Ford/BAR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Plainclothes Police Officers are Terrorizing, Robbing and Killing Black People

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Plainclothes or undercover police officers are engaged in an inordinate amount of killings, suggesting there is a fundamental problem with the practice of placing law enforcement out of uniform.
In the New York Police Department, plainclothes officers are involved in fatal shootings far in excess of their numbers on the force, as The Intercept reported. An analysis of 174 fatal shootings by NYPD on-duty officers since 2000 found that plainclothes or undercover officers, who are approximately 6 percent of the force, were involved in nearly one third — 31 percent — or 54 of those killings.
According to a 2016 report from the NYPD, plainclothes cops accounted for nearly half of officers involved in “adversarial conflicts” in which police are in confrontation with a suspect and intentionally discharge a weapon. Specialty units such as anti-crime units, which proactively pursue people on the street, claim one-third of these gun discharges. These elite units of plainclothes officers, unlike their uniformed counterparts, do not respond to 911 calls but instead pursue violent criminal activity while or before it takes place. Typically, undercover officers patrol without body cameras, use unmarked vehicles, and operate without accountability. Further, unlike beat NYPD cops who may form relations with the community, plainclothes police are known to instigate, harass and engage in aggressive and dangerous behavior.

Plainclothes officers have long been associated with death in the Black community, failing to protect and placing Black lives in harm’s way. In the 1960s, the NYPD used Black undercover officers to infiltrate Black radical organizations through the department’s clandestine operations, the Bureau of Special Services, or BOSS. The NYPD was monitoring Malcolm X up until his assassination. Undercover agent Gene Roberts was a member of Malcolm X’s OAAU and the minister’s chief of security. Known as “Brother Gene,” he unsuccessfully administered CPR to the fallen leader at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. This man who betrayed Malcolm went on to infiltrate the Black Panthers. FBI agents worked undercover in the Nation of Islam, including John Ali, the NOI national secretary. Another undercover NYPD agent, Ray Wood, who infiltrated the Bronx chapter of CORE, was reportedly seen running out of the Audubon at the time of the assassination.

Over the past few decades, plainclothes officers have been involved in the slayings of a number of Black men. For example, in 1999, members of the infamous NYPD street crimes unit killed Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets because they reportedly thought he was a suspect and mistook his wallet for a gun. Although the NYPD disbanded the unit, the brutality against Black people continued unabated.

Another casualty of undercover police was Sean Bell, who was shot to death in 2006 at his bachelor party, hours before his wedding. Undercover officers opened fire on Bell’s car with 50 shots, killing Bell, 23 and injuring two others. In 2013, Kimani Gray, 16, was fatally shot by members of an anti-crime unit in Crown Heights. The officer who choked Eric Garner to death in 2014 on Staten Island on suspicion of selling untaxed “loosie” cigarettes was working in plainclothes as well.
The Baltimore Police Department abolished plainclothes policing because of a “cutting corners mindset” among crime fighting units, as the Baltimore Sun reported, and as a result of federal indictments against seven officers who were engaging in robbery and extortion of Baltimore residents, filing false police reports and fraudulently collecting overtime pay. Members of the Gun Trace Task Force acted as both cops and robbers, stealing large amounts of money from Black men with no recourse. Such units charged with fighting and reducing crime have violated the rights of the public.
Undercover police are also a common fixture of antifascist protests, infiltrating crowds and student activist groups that oppose the presence of white supremacist hate groups on college campuses. As white extremist groups continue their demonstrations, police arrest anti-racist protesters, sometimes at home or their place of work, in an effort to intimidate left-wing and racial justice activists. This as campus, state and local police face accusations they protect and collaborate with white supremacists. For example, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was scheduled for a speaking engagement at Michigan State University in March, 200 officers from eight different departments were present that day, including nine undercover officers, of whom two were campus police.

As plainclothes officers violate the civil rights of Black people, sometimes they are taken to court and made to answer for their crimes. In 2014, a federal jury awarded art student Jordan Miles, 22, $119,000 for a 2010 false arrest and beating from three white Pittsburgh police officers. Because of his race and dreadlocks, the police, who reportedly assumed Miles was a drug dealer, rolled up in an unmarked car, without identifying themselves, asking for drugs, money and a gun. Jacqueline Little, a Philadelphia resident and IRS employee, sued the city and three plainclothes officers who pulled her over, claimed she had drugs in her possession, and falsely arrested her. She admitted herself to a hospital after sustaining injuries from the tight handcuffs while in police custody. Meanwhile, Glen Grays, a New York postal worker, was nearly struck while making a delivery by an unmarked NYPD police vehicle, then arrested in his uniform. The officers involved had a history of various civil rights complaints filed against them.
It is clear that plainclothes police are a problem, particularly where Black people are concerned.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

A Letter to Jay-Z: Don’t Keep This Promise

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Jay-Z speaks at a Grammy Awards gala (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Dear Jay-Z,

We need to talk. I want to understand how funding your new app, “Promise,” is going to dismantle what you’ve called the “exploitative bail industry.” The Black Youth Project, among others, has rightly criticized the profiteering possibility of Promise. I’m down with liberty and justice for all. And I know you are too. So let me unpack for you how, even with the best intentions, your app is going to put more people behind bars.

Promise — a new app that “extend[s] the capabilities of community supervision” through intake/assessment, virtual support, and supervision/oversight — fundamentally misunderstands the problem. Promise collects a fee from government agencies to develop individual “Care Plans” and monitor a person’s compliance with the plan. Via smartphone, a person under supervision can check in to locations, receive calendar reminders for appointments and court dates, as well as be monitored via GPS. All information collected digitally is then provided to the responsible government agency.

The individualized “Care Plan” referrals for “job training, housing, and counseling” sound great, if these programs actually existed in sufficient numbers. The problem is not that people can’t find these programs — it is that these programs hardly exist and those that do exist are often oversubscribed. We would love to see more investment in the people and programs dealing with the leading causes of incarceration, such as substance use, mental illness, homelessness, unresolved trauma, and unemployment. How will your new project support and expand these critical programs?

Image from the Promise website

Second, your developers don’t seem to understand how the criminal justice system works on the ground. I get that you want to reduce recidivism by helping people keep appointments, and track the many confusing fees demanded by pretrial supervision. However, many of the different court data systems are entirely offline, or incompatible with other systems. Here in New Orleans (where we have the highest rate of jail incarceration in the nation), we still process people on paper because the court’s computer system can’t “talk” to the jail’s computer system. The Promise app can’t possibly be as comprehensive as it claims, and could in fact sow more confusion.

Third, the app conflates people who are being held pretrial, and have not been convicted, with people who have been convicted and are living in the community on probation or parole, by offering the same tools for both populations. The danger here is that the government may start requiring of pretrial participants what is currently demanded of those who have been convicted — such as monitoring or program participation — because those tools are available through the app for all participants, whether they are convicted or not. Additional conditions expose people on pretrial release to further sanctions if they fail and in some cases, the conditions can be just as punitive as being detained in jail pre-trial. For people on probation or parole, the app doesn’t appear to distinguish between technical violations, such as missing an appointment because the buses stopped running during a flash-flood, and new criminal activity. The app simply records compliance or non-compliance without local knowledge or insight. Your app may perpetuate or even strengthen “the cycle of incarceration and supervision” for individuals at both the pretrial and probation or parole level.

If it isn’t clear already, I don’t think Promise is designed to help us. Tellingly, the Promise website refers to the government as the “client” and the person under supervision as the “participant.” It is designed to help the government control us by providing “real-time location tracking and immediate notification of violations” to government agencies. Why would you help the government find new ways to reliably and cheaply track a person’s day-to-day movements? (See e.g. Facebook and Palantir data collection/mining systems). Promise is part of a technological approach to old practices of mass incarceration that have never worked in favor of Black, Brown, and poor white people.

The government has never needed investors to create systems of control. Electronic monitoring has been used to expand the prison-industrial complex into our own homes. These “monitored releases” are not an alternative to incarceration, they are incarceration by an alternative means. Electronic monitoring is typically used to put literal shackles on people who should be released on parole or bail. Digital technology has brought us the databases used to discriminate against over 100 million Americans with criminal records, regarding housing, employment, education, volunteering, and voting. Digital controls are the incarceration of the future.

The solution to poor people’s inability to pay bail is not more monitoring, but less bail. We could curb excessive bail, and eliminate it entirely for lesser crimes and misdemeanors. Release on your own recognizance, without money security, should be the starting point for bail decisions. Creating a byzantine system of monitoring and special requirements before someone is convicted actually leads to higher incarceration because even unintentional acts are deemed “violations.” We would welcome your investment in our reform campaigns in Louisiana, the most incarcerated state in the nation.

We need so much more, though, than the end of the cash bail system. We need infrastructure. We need schools, hospitals, and jobs. We need reliable transportation and access to social services. We need police who are educated, trained, and rewarded for treating us with dignity and respect. We need humane jail and prison conditions. We need sheriffs, judges, and prosecutors who learn about rehabilitation and re-entry from the people who have succeeded and are leaders in the community. We don’t need an app that reinforces the current systems of incarceration or props up a system that profits off of people.

I would love to persuade you to put your money and your time elsewhere. You can’t claim the mantle of “anti-incarceration” by offering to help the government enforce arbitrary rules against us. Supervision is just another word for control. If you want to reduce the number of people in prisons or jails, we need to change the rules. I’ve got ideas for you. We can do this work together.

Sincerely,

Andrea Armstrong

Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans

p.s. Your investment notwithstanding, you will always have my deep appreciation for “99 Problems,” which I use to teach my students the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment.

By Andrea Armstrong/InJusticeToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Racist Origin of the Second Amendment and the Rise of Black Gun Ownership

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Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Earlier several members had entered the Assembly chambers and had their guns taken away.Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway, who informs them they will be allowed to keep their weapons as long as they cause no trouble and do not disturb the peace. Earlier several members had entered the Assembly chambers and had their guns taken away.

Siwatu-Salama Ra, 26, will likely spend the next two years in a Michigan prison. In early February, a Wayne County jury found the six-months pregnant Black mother of a toddler guilty of felonious assault and felony firearm possession. She was sentenced last week.

Outside her mother’s Detroit home last summer, she pulled a gun on a neighbor, who Ra says used her vehicle to hit her car with Ra’s 2-year-old daughter inside, and then tried to “run over” her and her mother. The firearm was not discharged, in fact, Ra alleged the gun was not even loaded. Her attorneys argued that her actions were in self-defense. An appeal is underway.

Ra is a Concealed Pistol License holder. Her case — which centers on self-defense with a firearm in a Stand Your Ground state — is happening during a national debate over gun laws and the Second Amendment, which states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The debate over an individual’s right to bear arms was reignited since last month’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz took 17 lives, has been framed as yet another partisan conflict that has divided the country. Those on the right support the Second Amendment, and those on the left are calling for either its repeal, or tighter gun control. But the reality is more nuanced: some on the right support gun law reform, and some on the left support the Second Amendment.

In particular, many people of color say they have good reason to be protective of their right to bear arms.

In Dallas, Texas, Yafeuh Balogun describes himself as being “on the left side of things” even though in 2008 he co-founded Guerrilla Mainframe, a political organization that supports the Second Amendment and the basic right to defend yourself. Guerrilla Mainframe is also a community organization that provides programs for food, clothing and shelter, health and wellness, and self-defense, which includes firearms safety and training. It is part of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a coalition of several organizations with a common goal of educating and arming African American communities to “defend themselves against police brutality and fratricide.”

“I think a lot of people, especially African Americans, are really starting to wake up to the idea of self-defense, especially when we have a megalomanic like Donald Trump in office.”

Balogun seems to be correct. Gun sales, and gun club memberships among African Americans have gone up since the election of Trump, whose campaign was backed by the National Rifle Association. However, gun sales in the overall population have gone down since the election.

After the Parkland shooting, corporations such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kroger, and Walmart raised the minimum age for firearm sales from 18 to 21. The Florida Legislature also raised the state age for gun purchases to 21. But reform advocates don’t think that goes far enough. They’re calling for a ban of assault rifles, such as the AR-15, which has been a weapon of choice for mass shooters. Some are even calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Balogun doesn’t think banning assault weapons will stop the violence — mass shootings, or otherwise. “It is the culture, the political climate, [racism, capitalism, imperialism, sexism/genderism, and anti-immigrant policies] in America that creates the violence. America has always been a very violent place from its inception. So, banning assault weapons does not cure it.”

And he may be right, according to historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Dunbar-Ortiz writes in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming of the Second Amendment, “While gun-rights proponents are hard-pressed to offer a legitimate reason for civilians to own assault weapons, they are used in a very small proportion of gun crimes. Most crimes involve ordinary handguns.”

The type of gun, Dunbar-Ortiz asserts, is not the problem. The problem is that people want to interpret the Second Amendment as being about more than individual rights.

Total gun deaths in the United States average around 37,000 a year, she writes, “with two-thirds of those deaths being suicide, leaving 12,000 homicides, a thousand of those at the hands of police.” Mass shootings, although horrible enough, account for only 2 percent of gun killings annually.

In an interview, Dunbar-Ortiz explained that the right to have a gun comes from the Bill of Rights. “And the Bill of Rights is about individual rights,” which at the time it was written meant the rights of White men who needed guns to dominate slaves and Native Americans.

There’s a misconception that the Second Amendment is about state’s rights and arming a military. It’s not, she says. The establishment of a standing army is in the Constitution. The establishment of formal militias, which became the modern-day National Guard, is in the body of the Constitution — it’s constitutional law, she adds. Collective rights are already in the Constitution.

“So the Bill of Rights is the right for each individual to practice whatever religion they want, freedom of speech, and so forth. And to arm themselves.” There was a period in time, she said, when it was against the law for the new settlers not to carry a weapon.

“But it doesn’t work for freedom movements,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It was created for domination of people of color — for slave patrols, and militias to kill Indians. So, it still has that element”: Now it is used to criminalize people of color, she said.

Throughout history, gun control laws have been used against people of color as a tool to invite brutal state responses. Consider the Black Panthers who armed themselves, the Native Americans who fought in the Battle of Wounded Knee, Black Lives Matter protesters, the Standing Rock uprising.

We’ve witnessed it more recently for individuals like Philando Castile, who was killed by a fearful police officer in 2016 for legally having a firearm during a traffic stop.

In 2012, a Black Florida woman, Marissa Alexander, was sentenced to 20 years for firing a gun at her estranged husband who she said was attacking her. She had a permit for the gun. Since her release last year after serving five years, she has sided with Florida Republicans and become an advocate for gun ownership and stand-your-ground defenses.

In fact, many Black people are against tighter gun laws because those laws, even more so than drug laws, continue to be used disproportionately to put them into the criminal system.

According to the 2009 report Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System, Black people are arrested for weapons crimes at a rate 4.4 times higher than White people. FBI data for 2016 shows weapons violations at the city, state, and federal level were used to arrest Black people 42 percent of the time, and White people 56 percent. Black people make up 13 percent of the population.

Chanel Tillman of the Black Gun Owners Association in Jacksonville, Florida, said she could only imagine the horrors for people of color if gun laws were reformed.

“If they can remove firearms like that from the masses, that basically…takes them away from us,” Tillman said. “And honestly, I think that’s the biggest part of it [for us]. You can guarantee that there will be some kind of loophole that will affect Black and Brown people more than anybody else.”

Our motto is “Stay armed. Live free.” If you take our guns from us, she said, we are no longer free. “Then they are free to do whatever they want to us, and we have no way to protect ourselves.”

Tillman co-founded the Jacksonville chapter last September, and it now has 32 members.

She said she’s aware the origin of the Second Amendment was to arm White people against people of color and also understands Dunbar-Ortiz’s position that we’re not really “free” if we have to carry guns to protect us.

But, she said, “why worry, if you know you have the ability to protect yourself? You don’t have to worry about it. You just have to be proactive and ready when the time comes.”

And this is the message the national Black Gun Owners Association shares with its membership of 10,000 legal gun owners. Its one-year anniversary is in April.

“Safety and protection of family, that’s the biggest thing. And making sure we’re aware of our rights.” Firearm safety and tactical training are part of what members receive, too, she said, and someone to look out for them.

The association is not a political organization, she said, but exists for their community “to get an understanding of firearm safety and obtain proper training with people who look like them and share the same concerns as them for our people.”

Gun ownership among Black people is about the same things as for White People, she says. “Protection of self, family and property. Gun ownership has always been taught as a pseudoscience for Blacks because of slavery and Jim Crow. We aren’t here to hurt anyone, but protecting our own will come first.”

“We just want people like us to know there are gun advocate groups that are here for them,” she said. “The NRA comes out when things happen to White people, but when things happen to Black people you don’t hear from the NRA,” she said. “So, we’re hoping to bridge that gap. Somebody to stand for us when there’s a gun crime against one of us.”

Meanwhile, Detroit attorney Desiree Ferguson, who is advising on the appeal for Siwatu-Salama Ra’s Second Amendment defense, expects an uphill battle.

Appeals take a long time, and there’s a good probability that Ra could have served the two years by the time there’s a resolution. The hope, Ferguson said, lies with the governor’s office and a possible pardon or commutation. She is also hoping to get Ra released on bond pending the appeal “so that she can be with her family when she gives birth. And not have to be immediately severed from her newborn baby.”

What is certain is that gun control and Second Amendment debates do not clearly line up as left-right issues, and many people of color are faced with uneasy support for a civil right that began as a way to oppress them.

Author Dunbar-Ortiz says, if more people on the left understood the history of the Second Amendment and how it’s been used against people of color, she doubts they would support it.

“They don’t need the Second Amendment to justify self-defense. That’s an international human right. That’s a basic human right.”

By Zenobia Jeffries, YES! Magazine

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black History Month From Death Row

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Editor’s note: Kevin Cooper was convicted of a 1983 quadruple murder and sentenced to death in a trial in which evidence that might have exonerated him was withheld from the defense. His case was scrutinized in a June 19 New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. Visit savekevincooper.org for more information.

Death Row, San Quentin Prison—From Dec. 17, 2003, to Feb. 9, 2004, the prison guards and administration at this modern-day plantation changed me, rearranged me, oppressed me, regressed me, repressed me, depressed me and undressed me in order to murder me.

They had me bend over so that they could illuminate my bowels with their flashlight in order to look for some type of contraband that they knew I did not have. They watched me, clocked me, kept tabs on me, wrote notes about me and what I did and did not do. They questioned me, upset me, saddened me, distressed me, laughed at me, talked about me and searched my arms for good veins into which to insert their razor-sharp needles.

They heckled me, pointed at me, stared at me, hated me, isolated me and lied to me by telling me everything was going to be all right because I would not feel any pain. They threatened to beat me up and beat me down if I gave them any trouble.

They did these things and others to humiliate me, dehumanize me, scare me and psychologically torture me in order to show me that they were the boss, they were God, my master, that they were in control of not only the situation at hand but my body and life as well.

“They” were the volunteer prison guard executioners who were assigned to torture, then murder me at 12:01 a.m. on Feb. 10, 2004, the execution date. They traumatized me, terrorized me, belittled me and offered me a last meal—Tombstone pizza. They examined me, standing naked in an ice-cold room, on an ice-cold floor, where they inspected every inch of my black body in the 21st century, the exact same way that my ancestors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries had their black bodies inspected while they stood naked on the auction block.

All of this was happening to me during Black History Month in 2004. But this should not be a surprise to anyone. In truth, lynchings and executions, illegal and legal, are a very real part of the history of black people in America.

The physical torture I was going to experience had I been strapped to that death gurney is the main reason why there have not been any executions allowed in California since 2006. But to better understand the type of torture that happens to condemned inmates who are to be put to death by lethal injection, back then as well as now, I will use the words of United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as she wrote in a June 29, 2015, dissent in the case of Glossip v. Gross: “Lethal injection is the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake, or being burned alive.”

Anyone who reads this can’t actually believe that the people in this state of California can guarantee or even care about a painless or humane execution, which is an oxymoron, because there is no such thing as a humane execution. If you think that the people who want executions resumed in this state will not lie about this most important issue, including the type of drugs and the pain that they will cause to the people whose bodies they are injected into, then I must use the words of the late Malcolm X to try to get you see the truth. Malcolm X once stated concerning the oppressors who run this country and who have you believing everything they say: “Oh, I say, and I say it again, ya been had! Ya been took! Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”

In my words: Ya been bullshitted!

I am known in this prison/plantation as C-65304, and I write this “Black History Month Truth” about what happened to me, an innocent man, so that you will see how it is when it comes to who lives and who dies in this country’s system of “justice.”

On Monday, Feb. 9, 2004, shortly after 6:15 p.m., the Rev. Jessie Jackson said a prayer for me and my visitors inside the visiting room here at San Quentin Prison. Then he and my personal pastor and friends were told to leave, which they did. I was then escorted to the rear of the visiting area and taken to a hallway that contained holding cells. I was placed in a holding cell, where my handcuffs were removed and I was told to get undressed, which I did. I was strip-searched and given a brand-new set of prison-issue clothing and told to put it on.

I was handcuffed after I got dressed and removed from that cell. I was handed over to another squad of officers. There were about 12 members of the death squad who volunteered to be the execution team. I had known for quite a long time that a black man was the spokesman to the media for this institution whenever it came to executions and other events. However, I must admit that I was a bit shocked to see two black men volunteering to murder me. Maybe it was because of all the history books that I have read about my ancestors and our fight for freedom within this country. In this reading and learning, I found that the vast majority of murders, including lynching and execution of blacks in America, have happened at the hands of whites.

I also learned in my reading that there were certain Africans who sold other Africans to slave catchers in Africa, and those slaves were sent throughout the world, including to America. I learned that certain slaves on certain plantations whipped their fellow slaves, injured their fellow slaves, and, if instructed, murdered their fellow slaves whenever the white man told them to do so. Some free black people owned other blacks as slaves, too. (There are many reasons for this historical fact, including protecting their family members.)

Even with all this knowledge, I wasn’t prepared to see two black men as executioners when this state of California went about its task of trying to murder me. Most, not all, but most of the black prison guards who worked on death row told me and other black males who are on death row that they were against the death penalty. They expressed that our history in this country, and their knowledge of it, made them against this type of punishment. (I guess this is why certain white district attorneys try so very hard to keep certain black people off death penalty juries.)

These two big, burly black men who were members of the execution squad had no rank. They were just plain old prison guards who were very, very large. In appearance, they looked like professional football players who made their living tackling people. For the purpose of being on the execution squad, they were the muscle.

In my mind I was screaming at them, asking, “What the fuck are you doing helping them to murder me? Don’t you know our history? Don’t you know what you’re doing?” I was asking them in my mind how could they be part of any execution team, especially the one that was about to murder me. I said all of that and more in my mind, heart and spirit, but not a word came out of my mouth.

I was surrounded by about six officers and escorted to the death chamber waiting room. When I was in the visiting room, the prison officials told me that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had granted me a stay of execution; but until hearing from the United States Supreme Court about whether or not my stay would remain in place, this prison was going to proceed as if there was no stay.

When I arrived outside the death chamber waiting-room door, it was opened, and I was told to go inside, which I did. I was then told to place my back against the wall, while being surrounded by a new squad of officers. These were the officers of the execution squad. There was about eight of them. The leader of the squad got real close to me and asked, “Is there going to be any trouble when we take the handcuffs off of you?” I looked him in his eyes and told him no and he removed the handcuffs.

I was again told to take off all my clothes, which I did, and I was strip-searched again. This time, they used a flashlight to light up both my mouth and my butt as they searched me. This room that I was now in was very, very cold. The temperature had to be in the lower 50s. I stood barefoot on that cold floor surrounded by those officers while my body was completely searched. Then I was given yet another new set of clothing, the clothes in which I was to be executed.

I was then placed in another cell, half the size of a regular cell. It had only a toilet, a mattress and a pillow in it. I stood there in the cold, waiting for my pastor to come pray with me, all the while not knowing what the Supreme Court was going to do.

About a half-hour later, my pastor arrived, and she was placed in a cell next to mine. It was to my right-hand side but on an angle. It was hard to see her through the cell bars, but I managed. I was asked once again if I wanted a last meal. I said no. I was asked if I wanted water. I said no. The warden came in and asked if I had a final statement. I said no. My arms were once again checked so they could make sure they could find my veins, and officers were passing by with alcohol pads and swabs and other assorted items for their execution and my murder.

My pastor did a great job in keeping me focused. Somewhere in the middle of one of her Scriptures, the phone rang. It was my attorney, Jeannie Sternberg, calling to let me know she was with me in spirit and as soon as she heard something from the Supreme Court she would call and let me know.

I entered the death chamber waiting room around 6:35 p.m. About 8:15, the phone rang again. It was once again my attorney. She told me she’d heard from the court and that the justices refused to hear the state’s petition appealing my stay. They upheld my stay!

Even before I told my pastor the news, I told those officers that I meant them no disrespect in what I was about to say to them, but they weren’t going to do their job that night. I then told my pastor, and she and I prayed. I came within three hours and 45 minutes of being murdered by the state of California.

I never again saw those two black execution guards. After news of the stay, everyone went his own way. I went back to a cell on death row, and they went wherever people like them go. While many of us who are black would like to think and believe that all the oppression, pain, death and inhumanity we endure comes only from white people, or white men, I want to remind everyone that there are “the black ones, too” who do to us what we are standing up against, fighting and dying for, to stop.

It took me a while to recover from the man-made ritual of death that I had to experience. I will never be the same. I am only getting stronger and more determined to do my part in shutting down the government’s pride and joy—its capital punishment system.

The torture and inhumanity that accompany this crime are not only inflicted against our black bodies but against everyone’s humanity, too. Yet this horrible and inhumane crime against all of humanity may once again be used in this great state of California after the passage of Proposition 66 in 2016. If this does indeed happen, then I may have to go through this prison administration’s sick-ass ritual of death once again. And who knows, it may be during Black History Month in 2019.

To one degree or another, we black people have always been disrespected during Black History Month, as well as each and every other month of the year. My plight at the hands of the state should not be a surprise to anyone. I have written this to communicate the horror of the death penalty for everyone on death row, the legitimacy of the charges against them notwithstanding.

In my case, there is a particular resonance with black history, as it is certainly not the first time—and sadly will not be the last—that an innocent black man was convicted of a crime he did not commit. The fact is, I am innocent of the murders of four people for which I was convicted and in which the sole survivor, a child, said several times that it was “three white men” who killed his mother, father, sister and friend.

Three white men were seen by witnesses driving the family’s white station wagon away from their home and were seen soon afterward in a local bar, splattered with blood. One of the white suspects, a convicted killer, left his bloody coveralls at his girlfriend’s house the night of the killings, and the sheriff’s department threw them away six months later without testing them.

When the surviving boy saw my picture on television, he announced in front of a sheriff’s deputy and his grandmother: “He is not the guy who did it.” Three white guys did it, and one black guy—me—was tried and convicted.

When my execution was halted in 2004 so my attorneys could present new evidence that would prove my innocence, the prosecution fought it, and the judge in my habeas corpus hearing denied virtually every piece of evidence that was exculpatory. A test to prove that my blood was planted on a shirt was denied. There is so much more misconduct. Much of it is cited by jurors who convicted me and now say if they had known the truth, they would not have found me guilty.

You have to ask yourself: Why deny me—and the victims and their survivors—the simple DNA tests that could prove my innocence and also identify the real killers? The prosecution wants my death to stifle the truth of my innocence. But why doesn’t Gov. Jerry Brown grant me the DNA tests needed to find the killers? The families deserve this as much as I do!

Please think of me, and others like me, during this Black History Month, and do me a favor: If you hear that I was executed by the state of California, please remember these words of 9th Circuit Appeals Court Judge William Fletcher, one of 11 appellate judges who want me to have a chance to prove my innocence.

“He’s on death row,” Fletcher said, “because the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department framed him.”

By Kevin Cooper/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Power, Race and Money: Why Jeff Sessions Loves Pot Prohibition

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The announcement by US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions that he’ll pursue federal pot prosecutions has two age-old motivations: power and money.

Financially, of course, the Republican party is vested in America’s vast private prison system. Every new arrestee means money in the pockets of the investors who own and operate them. Keeping those cells and beds occupied is the essence of the industry”and of Pot Prohibition.

The Drug War is a giant cash cow, not only for the prison owners, but for the cops, guards, lawyers, judges, bailiffs and all the other operatives whose livelihood depends on destroying those of the nation’s tens of millions cannabis customers.

Medical legalization in about half the country, and full legalization in California, Colorado and other states, represents a serious threat to this multi-billion-dollar incarceration scam. Sessions has risen to its defense.

Then there’s the power.

As long as so many millions of people smoke the stuff, marijuana’s illegality give police the ability to bust whoever they want, whenever they want. It is the core enabler of a police state.

In fact, Pot Prohibition is a major foundation of the Republican Regime stretching from the White House and Congress to state government, the courts and beyond.

The key is disenfranchisement.

Since the Drug War’s initiation by Harry J. Anslinger in the 1930s, the principle focus has been on people of color. Anslinger promoted the term “marijuana” to deal with cannabis because it has an Hispanic twinge and aroused paranoid bigotry among the white population.

While promoting films like “Reefer Madness” to make pot appear like some sinister force, Anslinger’s minions made cannabis into a racist menace.

But it was Richard Nixon who took the assault to its ultimate depth. Nixon hated blacks and hippies. He also had a serious interest in slashing into their communities, and depriving them of the vote.

In 1972 his own Blue Ribbon Schaefer Commission recommended against Prohibition. Chaired by Pennsylvania’s liberal Governor Richard Schaefer, it said the health impacts did not warrant a national campaign.

Nixon ignored all that. Amidst a terrible war and racial upheavals, he proclaimed Drugs to be America’s most serious problem.

His own staff knew better. As aide John Ehrlichmann put it:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.

“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

The Drug War gave Nixon the key to his “Southern Strategy.” Through a wide range of racist rhetoric and policy, he successfully campaigned to move southern white racists from the Democrats to the Republicans. But many southern states had substantial black constituencies. He needed to make sure they could not vote.

Slapping them in jail for pot was a powerful way to do that. Because pot is essentially everywhere, it also lets police arrest pretty much any black person they want at any time. According to Michelle Alexander’s THE NEW JIM CROW, tens of millions of blacks and Hispanics have since been busted. And independent survey by Prof. Bob Fitrakis has estimated the number of Drug War arrests since 1970 in the range of 41,000,000. At a cost of more than a trillion dollars, the US could instead have sent virtually everyone it busted for pot to a four-year university instead.

Instead, the assault has injected deep into the black and Hispanic communities a cultural toxin based in the prison culture. While busting peace, environmental and social justice activists for cannabis, politicians like Trump and Sessions damage the black and Hispanic communities while turning elections and driving the country to the right.

Sessions occasionally make absurd moral and public health claims for keeping cannabis illegal. But the damage it has done to individual lives and the broader community is incalculable.

Pot Prohibition has worked wonders for a fascist establishment keeps power only by using it as a way to crush its opposition, steal elections and fatten its pockets.

Anyone that says otherwise is blowing toxic smoke.

Posted by The NON-Conformist

How Gerrymandering Has Made the Black Vote a Form of Token Representation

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In the aftermath of the dramatic 2017 Virginia legislative elections, many are left trying to make sense of what happened. There were five delegate races that came within the one percent cutoff to qualify for a recount, with two having vote margins of less than 100 votes. This in a state where the Republicans have controlled the House of Delegates (Virginia’s Hosue of Representatives) since 2001.

The most troubling concern about the election, however, was that despite the Democratic win in the statewide delegate race, 53.1 percent to 43.76 percent, Democrats are still unlikely to take control of the House of Delegates, thanks to a highly gerrymandered electoral map. Increasingly, the strategy by Republicans to counter the national demographic trend toward a less white, less conservative America is creating scenarios where the political result is different from the expressed view of the voter.

“The big picture implication, and in fact the result, is that Republicans have significantly more power in government than you’d expect based on how many votes they get,” Sean Diller, owner of the election consultancy Diesel Campaigns, told Atlanta Black Star. “For example even though 46 percent of Georgians voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the state is represented in Congress by 10 Republicans and only 4 Democrats.”

Facing both active and passive voting disenfranchisement schemes, the population most susceptible to this loss of the vote through gerrymandering is African-Americans. While the 46 representatives, two territorial delegates, and three senators of the 115th Congress represents the largest Black congressional caucus ever, most of the representatives came from highly gerrymandered “safe districts,” which only gives a symbolic representation to Black people in their states. States in the South with large Black populations have carved out these districts to meet the federal requirements, but they also preserve an over-represented majority white and right-wing control.

The Trap at the Ballot Box

President Barack Obama has been busy since leaving office. Alongside former Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama has begun to challenge the Republican stranglehold on the U.S. House of Representatives. Obama’s target is a little-known Republican strategy called REDMAP, or the Redistricting Majority Project.

In 2008, Democrats held nearly 60 percent of all the states’ legislative seats. After the Republican victories in midterm elections, they launched a coordinated effort to keep those seats secure. Since the states draw the congressional district maps and electoral maps typically are changed following the census. The outcome of the new maps helped Republicans gain and hold almost 70 percent of the statehouses’ seats, despite the ongoing decline of the base Republican constituency, the national white population.

Facing both active and passive voting disenfranchisement schemes, the population most susceptible to this loss of the vote through gerrymandering is African-Americans. While the 46 representatives, two territorial delegates, and three senators of the 115th Congress represents the largest Black congressional caucus ever, most of the representatives came from highly gerrymandered “safe districts,” which only gives a symbolic representation to Black people in their states. States in the South with large Black populations have carved out these districts to meet the federal requirements, but they also preserve an over-represented majority white and right-wing control.

The Trap at the Ballot Box

President Barack Obama has been busy since leaving office. Alongside former Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama has begun to challenge the Republican stranglehold on the U.S. House of Representatives. Obama’s target is a little-known Republican strategy called REDMAP, or the Redistricting Majority Project.

In 2008, Democrats held nearly 60 percent of all the states’ legislative seats. After the Republican victories in midterm elections, they launched a coordinated effort to keep those seats secure. Since the states draw the congressional district maps and electoral maps typically are changed following the census. The outcome of the new maps helped Republicans gain and hold almost 70 percent of the statehouses’ seats, despite the ongoing decline of the base Republican constituency, the national white population.

This had a noticeable effect on the cities. New Black immigrants to the North faced steep institutional and governmental racism and were largely quarantined in “redlined” neighborhoods in the less-desirable parts of the cities. White city dwellers who did not want to live next to these new Black residents fled to the newly-formed and largely-segregated suburbs in a migration of their own that is now known as “white flight.” The resulting Black-majority “redlined” districts, such as New York’s 12th and 18th districts – became the historical seats of Black representation in this nation.

The decline of the nation’s industrial base, however, made staying in the North unpalatable for many African-Americans. This triggered a Third Great Migration or an out-migration (1970-present), where many Black people are returning to the South to find employment and better living conditions. At the same time, the new generation of white suburbanites are moving back to the cities they once abandoned.

This is creating a set of unique phenomena. First, with African-Americans leaving northern cities, what was once a solid voting bloc is now dispersing. Second, the return of African-Americans to the South is adding stress to a political situation that radically changed since the end of the Second Great Migration. Since then, the South has flipped from solidly Democrat to solidly Republican as whites switched party affiliations during the civil rights movement because many felt Democrats were becoming the party most open to securing Black rights. The out-migration back to the South by Blacks is part of a changing demographic outlook in the south.

Finally, the declining birth rates of whites compared to other ethnicities is creating a situation where white majority rule is being negated at the local level. The U.S. Census Bureau projects non-Hispanic whites will become less than 50 percent of the U.S. population by 2044. This realization has led many to feel that, on a level playing field, Republicans will increasingly be beaten back to being a regional party.

This has led to a host of different methodologies to “cheat the vote.” From mandatory voting ID to reducing the number of voting stations, the Republicans have unleashed the largest suite of voting discrimination measures against Black voters since Jim Crow. The most effective of these is racial gerrymandering. Using REDMAP and the Voting Rights Act’s requirement of safeguarding minority-majority districts, has created super-saturated Black “safe districts” that effectively dilute the Black vote in neighboring districts, often at the convenience of the politicians representing those districts. Using oddly-shaped districts REDMAP has allowed the Black voice to become tokenized at the discretion of the Republicans. This is reflected in the fact that almost all of the South’s Democratic representatives are Black.

The Continuing Fight

While the Democrats have identified the challenge at hand, the Republicans have already taken steps to ensure their electoral advantage for another decade. The Trump Administration, for starters, has announced that Thomas Brunell, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, will head the Decennial Census effort as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

A noted Republican scholar, Brunell wrote the 2008 book “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America.” In the book, Brunell challenged the notion of competitive districts and argued for aggressive gerrymandering that would produce a majority of “politically homogeneous” districts.

The Trump administration is also entertaining challenges to Obama-era rule changes to how the Census collects race and ethnicity information – which effectively redefined Latinx and helped to shrink the official white population. This, combined with the Republican State Leadership Committee’s announcement that they are seeking $125 million for REDMAP 2020. This makes what Obama and Holder are trying to do that much more of a long shot. While the unpopularity of Trump will help, gerrymandering will continue to keep his constituency over-represented in the governing process.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

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