Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Black History Month From Death Row

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 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

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

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


How states can fix the Electoral College and prevent future Trumps

If just two states had adopted runoffs to ensure that the winners reached 50%, as the Founders intended, we might have a different president.

Donald Trump amassed 101 Electoral College votes in states where he failed to win 50% of the popular vote. In each of these states, more voters voted for other candidates than for Trump, yet he received all the Electoral College votes. This windfall amounted to one-third of his total (304). Without it, he would have fallen 67 short of the 270 required to prevail.

Despite everything said about the 2016 election, insufficient attention has been paid to this basic fact. It means that while Trump technically achieved an Electoral College victory, he did so without genuinely receiving the support of the electorates in the states responsible for his Electoral College win. That is the opposite of what the architects of the Electoral College had in mind.

This point is different from the one about Hillary Clinton winning almost 3 million more votes nationally than Trump. That much-mentioned truth is irrelevant to how the Electoral College is supposed to work. It would matter if there were any realistic chance of replacing the Electoral College with something different, but there isn’t. And meanwhile, it blinds us to the problem that in 2016, the Electoral College did not function properly even according to its own logic. As long as we are stuck with the Electoral College, we should make it operate as intended.

This requires fixing the state laws that implement the Electoral College system. The good news is that each state already has the constitutional power to repair its own laws, without the need for three-quarters of the states agreeing to a constitutional amendment or some sort of multi-state compact that would not take effect until enough states sign on. If just a couple of states had adopted the necessary fix before last year, Clinton might be president now. To understand why, let’s review what went wrong, why it’s inconsistent with the Electoral College’s original intent, and how states already are empowered to remedy the defect.

Trump was able to win these states without a majority because there were more than two candidates on the ballot. Without Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in the mix, Clinton might have received more votes than Trump in some of these six states. If she had done so in just Florida and either Pennsylvania, Michigan, or North Carolina, that would have been enough for her to win the White House.

The Electoral College and majority winners

The Electoral College’s architects understood that an election with multiple candidates might produce a winner with under 50% of the votes, an outcome they wanted to avoid.  That’s why they insisted that to win a candidate must receive a majority, and not merely a plurality, of Electoral College votes. And if no candidate does, then a candidate must get the support of a majority, and not merely a plurality, of state delegations in the House of Representatives.

The Founding Fathers thought each state would take care to assure that a candidate could not receive its Electoral College votes without support from a majority of its voters. States initially complied with this expectation. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for example, if no candidate won a majority of the popular vote, the legislature would appoint the state’s electors. New Hampshire then switched to a runoff, in which voters cast a second round of ballots if no candidate received a majority in the first round.

Later, states moved to letting presidential candidates get all of a state’s Electoral College votes with only a plurality of popular votes. This was a mistake and inconsistent with the original vision.

Restoring majority rule

States can return to the original plan by adopting the same kind of runoff that New Hampshire had or, instead, a modern form of runoff that avoids the need for a second round of ballots. Known as instant-runoff voting, it enables voters to rank their preferences among multiple candidates. Had this been used last year, a voter could have ranked Stein first, Clinton second, and Johnson third (for example). These rankings make it possible to eliminate candidates with less support than others and then identify which remaining candidate is preferred by a majority of voters.

If just two states had adopted a runoff, it could have made the difference in which candidate became commander in chief. The highest reform priority between now and 2020 should be to convince battleground states — like Florida and Michigan, where voters can adopt reforms by initiative and thus bypass recalcitrant legislatures — to adopt whichever type of runoff they prefer.

The imperative is to prevent another president who wins the White House without really winning the support of the electorates in the states that determine the outcome. The Founding Fathers would see that as a subversion of the Electoral College system. So should we.

By Edward B. Foley/USAToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The FBI Is Once Again Profiling Black Activists Because of Their Beliefs and Their Race Being upset that police kill black people could get you labeled a “black identity extremist.”

Janine Jackson: Demonstrations continue in St. Louis, Missouri, over the acquittal of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley of first degree murder charges in the 2011 killing of Anthony Lamar Smith. Very likely some protesters would tell you they are distraught and angry, not just about this case, but about the undeniable fact that US law enforcement rarely pay any penalty for murdering black people, whatever the circumstance. According to an FBI intelligence assessment recently leaked to Foreign Policy, that may make those people “black identity extremists.”

The report, written up by Foreign Policy’s Jana Winter and Sharon Weinberger, was dated August 3, nine days before the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The report assesses that

it is very likely black identity extremist (BIE) perceptions of police brutality against African-Americans spurred an increase in premeditated retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement, and will very likely serve as justification for such violence.

If that sounds to you like a set-up — a pretense by which anyone protesting police brutality is ipso facto guilty of extremism that calls for action by the “counterrorism division” of the country’s most powerful law enforcement — well, you aren’t alone with those concerns.

Nusrat Choudhury is senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. They’re pursuing the issue. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Nusrat Choudhury.

Nusrat Choudhury: Thank you so much for having me.

What can we say about how the FBI seems to be defining “black identity extremists,” and the vagueness of that term, that we’re all sort of laugh/crying about, could that be the point of it, in some way?

Well, the report is disturbing on so many levels, not the least of which is that it’s a red flag that the Bureau is once again profiling black activists because of their beliefs and their race. And we know that there’s a long history in this country of the FBI using the fear of threats, real or perceived, as a cover for profiling black people, and in particular black civil rights leaders and activists. This report doesn’t make sense, and it raises that red flag that this is happening, yet again, to today’s modern-day black civil rights movement leaders.

I’m going to ask you a little about that history, but what, on the face of it, is what they’re calling evidence for the existence of — I mean, the assessment says, we’re talking about criminal activity; that’s different from protected activity, but what is their evidence for the existence of a “black identity extremist” movement, and then the definition of that as a violent movement?

Right. So the definition is so confusing that it’s really hard to discern, but it seems to be circular. The FBI talks about six separate violent incidents in this internal report, and then appears to assume, it literally “makes a key assumption,” that those incidents were ideologically motivated. And then it even contradicts itself to acknowledge that those six incidents appear to have been influenced by more than one ideological perspective. Yet it concludes that there is some kind of unitary “black identity extremist” threat, I would say a so-called threat.

And what this does is raise lots of questions from the public, from black people, black activists, and certainly the ACLU, and that’s why the public needs to know: What does this term even mean, what’s the basis for it, and what’s the FBI doing after creating this designation? That’s why we have joined with the Center for Media Justice in filing a Freedom of Information Act request, seeking all documents that use this term, as well as other terms that have historically been used as a guise for surveilling black people and black activists.

We know that the general public responds differently when you label something “terrorism,” when you label something “extremism,” and that that impact is meaningful. You know, this sounds like kind of Alice in Wonderland: “If I stab you and you object, you are an anti-stabbing extremist.” But we know from history that a tool doesn’t have to be precise to be used: You don’t have to sharpen a knife if you’re going to use it as a club. So what are the concerns about the way this new designation — even if everybody kind of scoffs at it — how do we think it might potentially be used?

The FBI, when it releases a report like this internally, that kind of labeling of a so-called threat can be the basis for additional surveillance, investigations and law enforcement activity. So creating this new label, even on the basis of these flawed assumptions, these conclusions that don’t make sense on the face of the report, could lead to further surveillance and investigative activity, not just by the FBI, but even by other federal, state and local law enforcement who share information with the FBI.

So for good reason, black people and especially black activists are really concerned. They want to know what this is being used to do, and they have really good reasons to fear that it’s going to be used to promote further law enforcement scrutiny of their First Amendment–protected activities, and even potentially result in racial profiling.

You mentioned the relevant history here. Can you tell us some of that history, which doesn’t go — it starts in the past, but it continues up to the present. What is some of the FBI’s history in this regard, that raise questions for folks?

The federal government and the FBI in particular kept files on civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activists in the 1960s and ’70s. We know that even more recently, since 9/11, that the federal government, including the FBI, kept information on American Muslim civil rights leaders and academics. As recently as 2005 and 2006, state law enforcement were exposed for infiltrating and monitoring peaceful political protests.

So there’s this history of targeting people because of their race, as well as because of their beliefs, and often at that intersection are black activists, more recently also American Muslim leaders and activists. This is a history we know so well, and the exposure of this report needs to be a catalyst to get more information, and really just to demand that this stop.

And I know folks will be thinking COINTELPRO, which is, of course, a program against black activists in the ’50s and ’60s and even into the ’70s, most famously known for targeting Martin Luther King, but also taking aim at other civil rights organizations.

Absolutely. And that history is a long, sordid one; it has been exposed. It involved extensive surveillance of people who were deemed “black extremists” or “black nationalists” in that covert FBI COINTELPRO program. But creating a new label and just extending that type of surveillance to the modern day, we know what the harms are, and that’s not what the federal government should be doing.

We also know that people within federal, state and local law enforcement have been raising concerns about far-right violence, and about violence by white nationalists and white supremacists, those types of threats. So at a moment when there are many people in the intelligence community stating that those threats are on the rise, why is the FBI creating a new designation for a so-called threat of “black identity extremists,” without sound methodology or conclusions that the threat even exists?

I certainly see the problem that a lot of folks are pointing out, saying that they’re lumping together various groups. And I also, though, appreciate the comments of Hari Ziyad on Afropunk. They talked about our desire to find a meaning in the violent/nonviolent distinction, and they said — one of the cases that the assessment cites is Micah Johnson, who killed police officers. And Ziyad says:

Because there aren’t too many Micah Johnsons, we reason, “extremists” like him can continue being unethically bombed by robots as long as we don’t get bombed too. But black people always get bombed, literally and figuratively, in an anti-black world, and no amount of distance between us and black “extremists” will change that.

In other words, the supposed safety that we’re offered, if we are not like those extreme black people, doesn’t exist. And it seems to me an important point, because I think, again, those who are not immediately impacted may buy the idea that they aren’t going after black people, they aren’t going after black activists, only violent people, and that seems an important distinction to kind of play with, or to at least interrogate.

I think that’s right, and the public wants safety; people want law enforcement to focus on true threats, and true threats of violence, right? But what the FBI is doing is talking about “extremism,” and what is that? People are allowed to have beliefs, and there’s a lot of evidence out there that just having a radical or extreme idea does not show that people will actually engage in violent conduct. But using that label with broad brush strokes, and linking it to black identity, is exactly the kind of overbroad categorization that can lead to racial profiling, and targeting people because of their beliefs.

Finally, you note that the ACLU, along with the Center for Media Justice, have filed a FOIA request, a kind of what-the-heck-is-going-on-here request. What are you hoping to learn, and what’s our way forward?

This FOIA is a tool really for the public. And the Center for Media Justice, which consists of black activists and folks who are really at the forefront of doing that protest work, they are partners with us in this effort. We’re hoping to get documents that will shed light on exactly how this term is being used, how often it’s being used, what other types of investigations or surveillance have been conducted as a result of the creation of this kind of designation.

And in the past, similar FOIA efforts have shown that the FBI has mapped racial and ethnic communities, and given more insight into exactly what the FBI is doing with the dramatic and vast tools at its disposal. So we’re hoping to get that information. If we don’t, we will push for that information, using the tools that the Freedom of Information Act provides.

We’ve been speaking with Nusrat Choudhury from the ACLU Racial Justice Program. You can follow their work online at Nusrat Choudhury, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

By Janine Jackson / FAIR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Majority Of White Americans Say They Believe Whites Face Discrimination

A majority of whites say discrimination against them exists in America today, according to a poll released Tuesday from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“If you apply for a job, they seem to give the blacks the first crack at it,” said 68-year-old Tim Hershman of Akron, Ohio, “and, basically, you know, if you want any help from the government, if you’re white, you don’t get it. If you’re black, you get it.”

More than half of whites — 55 percent — surveyed say that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Hershman’s view is similar to what was heard on the campaign trail at Trump rally after Trump rally. Donald Trump catered to white grievance during the 2016 presidential campaign and has done so as president as well.

Notable, however, is that while a majority of whites in the poll say discrimination against them exists, a much smaller percentage say that they have actually experienced it. Also important to note is that 84 percent of whites believe discrimination exists against racial and ethnic minorities in America today.

People from every racial or ethnic group surveyed said they believe theirs faces discrimination — from African-Americans and Latinos to Native Americans and Asian-Americans, as well as whites.

The NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health survey sampled 3,453 adults in the U.S. from Jan. 26 to April 9. Of those, 902 were white.

The responses from whites can be broken down into three categories. Those who:

1. Believe there is anti-white discrimination and say they have personally experienced it,

2. Say there is indeed anti-white discrimination but say they have never felt it themselves, and

3. Say there is no discrimination of whites in America

White and discriminated against?

Ask Hershman whether there is discrimination against whites, and he answered even before this reporter could finish the question — with an emphatic “Absolutely.”

“It’s been going on for decades, and it’s been getting worse for whites,” Hershman contended, despite data showing whites continue to be better off financially and educationally than minority groups.

Even though Hershman believes he has been a victim of anti-white discrimination, he wasn’t able to provide a specific example. He describes losing out on a promotion — and a younger African-American being selected as one of the finalists for the job. But the position eventually went to a white applicant, who was also younger than Hershman.

Discrimination exists, but never felt it

Representing Category 2 is 50-year-old heavy equipment operator Tim Musick, who lives in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. He says anti-white discrimination is real, but he doesn’t think he has ever really felt it personally.

“I think that you pretty much, because you’re white, you’re automatically thrown into that group as being a bigot and a racist and that somehow you perceive yourself as being more superior to everybody else, which is ridiculous,” Musick said, speaking during his lunch break at a construction site.

“I’m just a man that happens to have been born white,” Musick continued.

He also makes it clear, however, that he is not comparing what happens to whites to the African-American experience.

“I don’t know what it feels like to be a black man walking around in the streets, but I do know what it feels like to be pegged, because of how you look, and what people perceive just on sight,” said Musick, who has the stocky build of a retired NFL lineman and a shaved head under his hard hat.

Whites who don’t believe they are discriminated against

Now for the third category — those who scoff at the notion that whites face racial discrimination.

That describes retired community college English teacher Betty Holton, of Elkton, Md.

“I don’t see how we can be discriminated against when, when we have all the power,” Holton said, chuckling in disbelief into her cellphone.

“Look at Congress. Look at the Senate. Look at government on every level. Look at the leadership in corporations. Look. Look anywhere.”

Holton asserts: “The notion that whites are discriminated against just seems incredible to me.”

Perception based on income

Income also seemed to affect individual responses to the question of discrimination.

Lower- and moderate-income white Americans were more likely to say that whites are discriminated against — and to say they have felt it, either when applying for a job, raise or promotion or in the college-admissions process.

“We’ve long seen a partisan divide with Democrats more likely to say racial discrimination is that reason blacks can’t get ahead, but that partisan divide is even bigger than it has been in the past,” said Jocelyn Kiley, an associate director at Pew Research Center. “That’s a point where we do see that partisan divides over issues of race have really increased in recent years.”

What this could mean for electoral politics

David Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Akron, said the finding that a majority of whites say whites are victims of discrimination fits right into one of the big narratives of the last presidential campaign.

“I think this does reinforce a lot of the resentment you saw in the 2016 election, especially among white, working-class voters lacking a college degree,” said Cohen, who lives in northeastern Ohio, a traditionally Democratic stronghold full of white, working-class union members.

Trump ran far better there, though, than Republicans typically do, as he easily won the battleground state of Ohio, 52 percent to 44 percent.

But Cohen also adds that for all of the talk of Trump’s message speaking directly to whites in the working class — white voters overall supported him in about the same numbers as they did for Mitt Romney four years earlier — 58 percent for Trump, 59 percent for Romney.

And though it’s possible that Trump’s message to disaffected whites did make a difference in the decisive battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Cohen said the question remains: Did Trump create or significantly boost white resentment overall — or did he simply tap into a trend with deep roots and history?

“I’m not sure that he necessarily created this angst among white voters,” Cohen said, “but he certainly knew how to take advantage of it.”

And it’s something Trump — as president — has only continued to tap into.

By Don Gonyea/NPR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Proportional Representation Could Open Door to More Black Political Power

With the debate over gerrymandering making its way through the Supreme Court, and voter suppression very much a reality, the issue of fair representation for Black people remains in need of solutions. This as the Voting Rights Act has been defanged of its enforcement mechanisms, and the rights of Black voters remain compromised. These circumstances provide fertile ground for the concept of proportional representation.

What is proportional representation? Consider the current system of legislative representation in America, in which one person represents one district in a single-member winner-take-all electoral district based on geography. Known as a First Past The Post (FPTP) system, it is notorious for excluding racial minorities.  As Vox reported, although proportional representation may take various forms, there are a few popular proposals. For example, a party list system allocates seats based on the number of votes each party receives. This system has a track record of increasing inclusion of ethnic and racial minorities in South Africa, Indonesia and Namibia.

By contrast, in an alternative vote system each state is a single district with various members, rather than various districts each represented by one member. Voters rank the candidates for office, with a formula determining which of the candidates capture the fixed number of seats. Under mixed-member proportional (MMP) systems such as those in Germany and New Zealand, voters cast two votes: one for the party of their choice, and the second for the representative of their choice. When New Zealand adopted its system in 1996, the Maori members of Parliament doubled from 6 percent to 12 percent, and increased to 22 percent in 2014. Pacific Islander MPs increased from 3 percent of Parliament in 1996 to 6 percent in 2014, and Asian MPs grew from 1 percent to 4 percent.

Another system used in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Malta, local elections in Scotland and in the Australian Senate is the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which allows people to vote for a team of legislators rather by ranking them in order of preference. The voter places a number “1” next to their favorite candidate, a “2” next to their second-favorite candidate, and so on. STV eliminates the concerns over vote splitting or tactical voting, and increases the chances of electing independent candidates for office, as voters choose among candidates rather than parties.

Advocates of proportional representation note that it is a solution to gerrymandering, which is the drawing of legislative district boundaries for the benefit of one political party and to entrench its power. Both major political parties engage in the practice, but the Republicans have used it to their advantage over Democrats in recent years, including in 2016 races for the U.S. House and state house and assembly seats. Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans control a majority of state houses and Congress. Although one forecast has the Democrats receiving 54 percent of the votes in the 2018 House election, they would win a mere 49 percent of the seats.

Nonwhite and women lawmakers are each less than 20 percent of Congress, while the Republican caucus in both the House and Senate is nearly exclusively white, and mostly white men, for that matter. The impact of gerrymandering — which allows politicians to select their voters rather than the other way around — dilutes nonwhite votes.

The effect of gerrymandering is evident in the South, where the sizable population of Black people is not reflected in the congressional delegations and state houses, in which the power of white conservative men is amplified, and Black voters have little to no political power. For example, non-Hispanic whites are 53 percent of the population of Georgia, while Blacks are 32 percent, Latinos are 9 percent, and Asians are 4 percent. Yet, of the 14 House districts in Georgia, white Republicans occupy 10 of these seats (71 percent), and Black Democrats hold the remaining four. Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators are white Republicans, and the state legislature is 72 percent white, 25 percent Black and 1 percent Latino.

In North Carolina, where whites are 63 percent of the state population, Blacks are 22 percent and Latinos 9 percent, only two of the state’s 13 members of Congress are Black, while 11 are white men, and 10 are white Republican men. Both U.S. senators are white Republicans. Whites are 79 percent of the state legislature, Blacks are 20 percent and Latinos 1 percent.

The population of Mississippi is 57 percent white and 38 percent Black, but its entire delegation of two senators and four members of Congress are white Republicans, except for one Black Democrat in the House. The state legislature is 71 percent white and 28 percent Black.

Alabama is two-thirds white and 27 percent Black, according to the Census, but six of its seven House members are white Republicans — the seventh is a Black woman and a Democrat — and its senators are white Republican men. Alabama’s state legislators are three-quarters white and 24 percent Black.

Under a system of proportional representation, Black voters would have more fair and equal representation in city councils, and state legislatures, Congress, and with an amendment to the Constitution, the Senate. James Madison advocated for proportional representation in the Senate, which small states opposed.

With a party list system, Black people in Alabama and North Carolina could each gain an additional seat in Congress, and increase their presence in their respective state assemblies. Proportional representation would transform politics in Georgia, a state which may very well be on its way to becoming a purple and eventually a blue state — and a majority-nonwhite state — due to demographic changes. Under a party list system, for example, Black Democratic voters, in coalition with Latinos, Asians and progressive whites, could increase their representation in Congress by at least two members, possibly even taking over half of the Georgia’s congressional delegation. Georgia could also gain its first Black U.S. senator if elections for the upper house were governed by proportional representation. Similarly, Blacks and other nonwhite Georgians could capture nearly half of the state legislature.

Mississippi is the blackest state in the U.S. in terms of its percentage of African-Americans, and also the most conservative state, where race and party affiliation are highly correlated. If the state adopted a party list system, the Black electorate could gain one additional member of Congress — possibly its first Black senator since Reconstruction — and would increase its number of combined seats in both houses of the state legislature from approximately 49 to 66, out of 174 total seats.

Harvard law professor Lani Guinier has long been a champion of the concept, which is found in most the world’s democracies and ensures the minority has at least some representation. Guinier has also maintained that proportional representation would encourage participation, genuine debate and inclusion — as opposed to tokenism —which race-conscious districts, she argues, do not achieve. Guinier was lambasted for her ideas, which Republicans and moderate Democrats dismissed in 1993 as a quota system when Bill Clinton torpedoed her nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

While Guinier was characterized as a radical for her voting rights positions, the inadequacies of the current political system — which only magnifies white supremacist power — suggest the nation must consider a bold alternative. Although proportional representation is not a panacea for the myriad problems in U.S. government, its electoral system or its politics, it would prove responsive to the needs of the underrepresented, those such as Black voters who have been denied access to power and whose interests have not been served.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist