- Created on 26 March 2013
Every year for the past decade, under the agency's "stop-and-frisk" program, New York City police officers have stopped 500,000 to nearly 700,000 citizens on the city's streets. Nearly 90 percent of those stopped are Black and Hispanic men, women and children.
The department's own data show that at most only 12 to 14 percent of these stops result in an actual arrest – and only about half of those arrested are ultimately convicted of some transgression.
Is that the definition, as the city administration and police department claim, of an effective crime-fighting program?
Or is the program a cynical cover for police "make-work:" harassing innocent civilians in order to churn statistics of an operation that has virtually no effect on reducing crime – and burnish the department's reputation and that of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as effective crime-fighters?
Those are the questions behind the central constitutional issue at the heart of a class-action lawsuit challenging New York's controversial stop-and-frisk program now being heard in a federal district court in Manhattan.
The suit, brought by the New York City-based Center for Constitutional Rights, reaches the court after years of complaints from the city's Black and Hispanic communities, and civil rights and civil liberties advocates against both the Bloomberg stop-and-frisk program and earlier, similar police department programs.
That long record has produced legislation from the New York City Council that would establish an office of inspector general for the police department, which would have subpoena power to investigate police actions. The legislation, bitterly opposed by Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, is inextricably enmeshed in this year's mayoral campaign. Bloomberg cannot run again; and does not want Christine Quinn, the Council's Speaker, to be his successor. She is a chief sponsor of the legislation, and also said there's enough support for it on the Council to override Bloomberg's promised veto..
The street-stops case is also being heard in the wake of a January federal court decision on a similar police department program in which landlords of thousands of private buildings in The Bronx gave the department permission to patrol their buildings and arrest trespassers. The judge in that case found that the police searches of individuals routinely violated citizens' 4th Amendment rights and said it needed to be modified if it is to continue.
That judge was Shira A. Scheindlin, who is also hearing the current, broader case involving police street stops.
The Supreme Court has long upheld the right of police officers to stop and question civilians on the street; but they must have reasonable cause – not just a hunch – to search individual's belongings or person.
Bloomberg and Kelly have repeatedly declared the stop-and-frisk program integral to the police department's success in reducing crime.
But critics assert that the city has never presented any statistics or other data establishing a direct connection between the program and the fact that the city's crime rate has declined during the past decade. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the New York Times last month that "A gun — the ostensible reason behind the stop-and-frisk regime — was found in 0.1 percent of stops," she added. "That is an unbelievably poor yield rate for such an intrusive, wasteful and humiliating police action."
The street-stops trial opened last week with the wrenching testimony of three Black men who told of being stopped and frisked, and in one instance, momentarily handcuffed. "To be treated like that, by someone who works for New York City, I felt degraded and helpless," said Nicholas K. Peart, 24, who is the legal guardian of his two young brothers and 20-year-old disabled sister. In December 2011, Peart, a college student, wrote a widely-discussed op-ed article in the New York Times about the five times police have stopped and frisked him in the last decade.
Witnesses for the plaintiffs also included two police officers who testified that patrol officers in their precincts were told they must meet a departmental monthly quota of 20 summonses and at least one arrest, or else they would be punished. Such a police practice is illegal, and the two officers' claims were vigorously denied by the city's lawyers in court and the police department's chief spokesman. But both officers supplied tape-recordings they secretly made of precinct-station conversations that seem to support their claims.
As this column is being written, the commanding officer of one of the patrolmen will soon be called to testify about his criticism of the cop for not stopping and frisking the "right people" – which he later defined as "male Blacks 14 to 20, 21."
His tape-recorded words, defending a program with an atrocious record of identifying the "right people" of any age to stop for questioning, should underscore that all citizens deserve police officers who are committed to being protectors, not predators.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.
- Created on 26 March 2013
How many African Americans know that the President of the United States (POTUS) recently met with their leaders? How many among the African-American population know what the meeting agenda entailed, who was there, and what was accomplished at, or subsequent to it, regarding our plight and problems?
Late Black History Month 2013, the POTUS had Blacks to a meeting at the White House in the Roosevelt Room. The president discussed his “plan to strengthen the economy … and continue to build ladders of opportunity for those striving to get there.” In perhaps the cruelest of ironies, the president praised the participants for their “steadfast leadership on issues critical to improving the economy.”
The presidential meeting produced no programs to lift Blacks, nor their economies. According to White House, President Obama “reiterated his commitment to supporting policies that will directly impact those hardest hit by the economic crisis by making sure that America is a magnet for jobs, etc. …” Instead of informing the “emperor” that his clothing was “threadbare and worn,” people at the meeting gave a chorus of approval to the president’s agenda for Blacks and their communities.
Those in attendance included the Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network; NAACP President Ben Jealous; Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women along with Ralph Everett, president, Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies.
Everett and the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies’ role in Black life in America is worthy of attention. The Joint Center has had a leading role as a Washington think tank for almost half a century. Without admitting that the Obama presidency is no more than symbolic for Black Americans and that nearly every quality of life indicator shows that Blacks lost ground during the Obama years, Everett cast his lot with the rest of the sheep on their way to the slaughter and said: “The meeting was a positive, constructive exchange of views. The president fully understands the concerns of the African-American community and has set forth a sensible plan to continue America’s economic recovery. We look forward to working with him to strengthen the economy for the middle class and continue to build more ladders of opportunity for those trying to get there.”
Who is going to tell the “emperor” he has no clothes? The only notable item to come out of the meeting was the staged photo-ops. Nothing of substance regarding an agenda for African Americans was discussed. In his post-meeting statement, Sharpton commented, “I and other leaders had a very significant discussion with the president about concerns in the African-American community and the civil rights community in general.”
Blacks can’t see Obama’s failings and are in discord over whether they should demand a more explicit commitment or refrain from doing so because it would weaken his appeal to others. The reverend insists that calling on Obama to be an “exponent of Black views” is “just stupid.” But, the financial ills afflicting the Black communities are more real than Sharpton & Company admit. The Black-White wealth disparity is more than 20 to 1, Black homeownership rates are declining, Blacks’ unemployment rates are nearly double those for Whites, and Blacks’ incomes are down. These discrepancies reflect a mixture of realism and low expectations.
Has “a second-class” mentality taken hold of this generation of Black Americans? Blacks are doing worse than everyone else, yet the man they elected to turn things around for them hasn’t. However, this has not fundamentally changed their view of American politics; almost every other Democratic president has failed them in similar ways.
Instead of devotion to White House deceptions, organizations such as the Joint Center can point Blacks in the right direction through program policy and leadership development practices. The Obama administration has little interest in supporting Blacks in the same ways it has gay and Latino groups. A Black agenda that addresses the serious problems that plague African Americans needs to be presented to Obama, rather than “picture taking moments” with POTUS.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via the BaileyGroup.org
- Created on 24 March 2013
I read the controversial "Being White in Philly" article from Philadelphia Magazine this week. It's stirred up a lot of hostile reaction from some Black folks, but I'm pretty sure most of them didn't actually read it or didn't need to read it because their vociferous and indignant rage was really just an excuse to score some cheap political points by picking on the white guy who dared to point out the fact that some Black folks steal and some White folks are racist.
I thought about writing a column this week called "Being Black in Georgia" in which I would detail my adventures the past two weeks – being pulled over by the police on my drive home in Atlanta because the make believe brake lights above my license plate weren't working (my car doesn't have brake lights above the license plate and neither does yours) and being literally dragged out of a McDonald's in Savannah because a security guard didn't like my attitude. That's not to even speak of my inexplicable inability to hail a cab while in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
And I have a degree. With Latin honors. From a private school.
Thing is, my experience isn't abnormal or even particularly noteworthy. Just about every Black person in this country can detail a time when we were mistreated or disrespected because of the color of our skin, many within the past two months.
The problem I had with "Being White in Philly" was not that it was racist, but that it seemed to ignore the fundamental blessing of White privilege. There's been a prevailing sentiment of late that White privilege in America somehow went away because we've got a half-Black president that 55 percent of the country likes.
As Chris Rock so perfectly pointed out in his HBO Special "Bigger and Blacker":
"There's a White, one-legged busboy in here right now that won't change places with my black a**. And I'm rich! He's going, 'No, man, l don't wanna switch. l wanna ride this White thing out. See where it takes me.'''
Though, a more perfect illustration of White privilege than a theoretical one-legged busboy is an actress we've all come to know and love for her drunk driving, cocaine abuse, club fights and occasional acting: Lindsay Lohan.
Since 2007, Lohan has been arrested four times, had seven probation violations and a total of 12 run-ins with the law. Not only has she been accused, arrested and pled guilty to possession of narcotics and driving under the influence, she has also been arrested for burglary and accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from photo shoots and boutiques on multiple occasions.
For those indiscretions, she has served a grand total of 16 days and a few hours in jail, despite being sentenced to more than 240 days. Here's a link to the complete list of her legal issues, if you're interested. She was back in court again this week.
You could write her "good luck" off as part of the cult of celebrity here in the US, but the actress, in truth, is the personification of the perpetual chasm that exists between Black folks and White folks when it comes to our legal system, sentencing and jail time, particularly for crimes that are drug related.
The numbers clearly show that Black defendants and White defendants are far from equal in an American court of law. In Illinois, for example, The Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission found that 19 percent of black defendants charged in 2005 were sentenced to prison after being charged with a low-level drug possession felony.
Only 4 percent of white defendants went to prison under the same charges, the group reported in a study released in September 2012.
Nationally, African-Americans make up 15 percent of drug users, but 74 percent of drug offenders sentenced to prison, according to the ACLU (59 percent according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, 45 percent according to Politifact).
Non-Hispanic White people make up 63 percent of the US population; Blacks make up a little over 12 percent but about 39 percent of those in the US Correctional System. Bureau of Justice statistics show that the rate for incarceration for women is nearly three times as high for Black women as it is for White women and people of color make up two-thirds of all people in prison for drug offenses.
Conversely, of the almost 4 million adults on probation as of the end of 2011, 54 percent were White and 31 percent were Black.
The same disparity presents itself when it comes to celebrities and arrests for driving under the influence. From 2006-2010 there were 21 celebrities arrested for DUI. Fourteen were White, four were Black, two were Latino and one was Asian. Only six of the 14 White celebs arrested were sentenced to jail time for their crime and, of those, only two served the full length of their sentences.
All four of the Black celebrities were sentenced to jail time. Two served the full length of their sentences.
So what if Lindsay Lohan were Black?
What if she had achieved the same level of on-screen success as she has – since 2008 she's appeared in five films, two were made for television, one went straight to DVD, one was the directorial debut of "Slap Chop" pitch man Vince Offer and the other is a soon-to-be released independent movie for which she was reportedly paid $100 a day - and had not been blessed with what comedian Paul Mooney calls "the complexion for the protection?" Would she still be a working actress? Would she even be able to get a job? Would she have served less than three weeks in jail?
"It is clear to me that my life has become completely unmanageable because I am addicted to alcohol and drugs," Lohan wrote in a statement released to MTV News in 2007.
This week, for her latest violation, which included crashing her car into a dump truck, lying to police and likely being under the influence of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle and being on probation, Lohan once again received an extension to her probation – an additional two years and a required 18 months of psychotherapy.
"This is it," Los Angeles Superior Judge James Dabney told Lohan during her hearing. "You violate your probation, and we're not going to have discussions of putting you back on probation."
But the thing is, we probably will.
- Created on 25 March 2013
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is bestowed by the president of the United States and is – along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal bestowed by an act of the U.S. Congress – the highest civilian awards in America. The awards recognize individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of U.S. world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Black Americans should take a stand in 2013. Stand up for the chronicling of “Black Life in America” and petition President Barack Obama to award a 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Simeon Saunders Booker, Jr. for “meritorious contributions” he has made to the country. The 94-year-old African-American magazine and newspaper reporter has been giving Blacks news through the lens of their own eyes for more than 65 years.
Because of their enthusiastic support of his presidency, Blacks should get President Obama to publicly acknowledge individuals and works geared toward “serving and educating” their communities. Blacks need to praise their press and tell the president and Congress what Booker, and the medium he represents, means to them. The well-known and highly respected writer and author was born August 27, 1918 in Baltimore, Md. He is steeped in race and Black culture.
Booker became interested in journalism through a family friend, Carl Murphy, the owner and operator of Baltimore’s Afro American Newspapers. In 1942, after receiving his bachelor’s degree in English from Richmond’s Virginia Union University, Booker accepted a position as a reporter with the Afro American newspapers. By 1945, he worked for the Black Cleveland Call and Post newspaper, where he won Newspaper Guild and Wendell L. Willkie awards. Then, Booker received a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism at Harvard University where he developed his reportorial talents. In 1951, Booker became the Washington Post’s first full-time Black reporter.
Not to be confused with contemporary journalists who “just happen to be Black,” Booker has a long history of engagement in civil rights. His book, “Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement,” is legend. Booker has played a unique and important role in Black American history. In the 1950s, he covered many of the major events that affected the lives of Black Americans; including moments, such as the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School and the administrations of 10 U.S. presidents.
Our man is worthy of this nation’s top honors recognition. Booker is overwhelmingly supported by his peers. During Black Press Week 2007, Booker was honored with the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s NewsMaker of the Year Award. In January 2013, Booker was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists’ Hall of Fame. He has also been honored by the National, and Capital, Press clubs.
Much of Booker’s acclaim comes from his dates and datelines with Jet. In 1954, Booker was hired by John H. Johnson’s publishing company to report on current events in its weekly news digest, Jet. Booker became the publication’s Washington bureau chief in 1955. A pocket-sized weekly magazine, Jet was founded in November 1951 and was considered the bible of things of interest to African Americans. He made his mark in 1955 with coverage of Emmett Till’s murder and trial. In 1961, Booker rode with the Congress on Racial Equality’s Freedom Riders through the Deep South. Booker wrote Jet’s Ticker Tape column, which gave credit to Blacks who were achieving important things in America. Booker ruled the Johnson Publishing Company’s roost in the nation’s capital, at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue, which was often filled with that time’s Black members of the media.
Let’s stand up and be counted showing appreciation for his body of work, by writing the president and/or Congress imploring them to give a medal to Booker. Nominations for the Congressional Gold Medal can be made by writing to your member of Congress. Nominations for the Presidential Medal of Freedom can be made by writing the president at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20500
William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.
- Created on 22 March 2013
“It will not be sufficient for Morehouse College, for any college, for that matter, to produce clever graduates, men fluent in speech and able to argue their way through; but rather honest men, men who can be trusted in public and private—who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting the ills.”
– Benjamin E. Mays
President, Morehouse College
Benjamin E. Mays, Morehouse College’s president from 1940-1967, said this about the kind of men and leaders he expected Morehouse to produce. As a student at neighboring Spelman College, I heard and saw President Mays often and had the privilege of singing in Morehouse’s Sunday morning chapel choir and hearing this great man’s wisdom. Of the six college presidents in the Atlanta University academic complex, Mays was the one students looked up to most. He inspired and taught us by example and stood by us when we challenged Atlanta’s Jim Crow laws in the sit-in movement to open up public accommodations to all citizens.
President Mays taught us that “not failure, but low aim is sin” and warned that “the tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” As students we hungrily internalized his unerring belief that we were God’s instruments for helping transform the world, and like many others who heard him frequently, I often repeated his words. One of the many Morehouse students President Mays helped shape was Martin Luther King, Jr. whom he lovingly eulogized on that campus after his 1968 assassination.
Who are our Benjamin Mayses today – our moral compasses in crucial sectors of American life? What a contrast the Mays example is to that of a college president in the headlines recently, James Wagner of Emory University. He was criticized for praising the 1787 compromise declaring that every slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of state representation in Congress as an example of “noble achievement” that allowed Northern and Southern White congressmen to “continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union.”
We have struggled for over two centuries to overcome the crippling birth defects and glaring hypocrisies between the eloquent words that “all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights” in our Declaration of Independence belied by slavery, Native American genocide, and exclusion of women and non-propertied White men in our founders’ deeds. That tragic hypocrisy resulted in a bloody Civil War that took more than 530,000 American lives and a post-Reconstruction era with Jim Crow laws, decades of struggle, and many lost lives, countless marches, lawsuits, and legislative efforts to achieve major civil rights legislation. And we must still be vigilant and fight to protect the hard earned social and racial progress over the last half century from being undermined by voter suppression, the cradle to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and pervasive economic and educational inequalities. What kind of message did President Wagner’s words send to Emory’s Black students, who were quickly joined by some White students, faculty members, and others in denouncing his endorsement of the decision that codified less-than-fully-human status as “5/5ths outrageous”?
And what message did it send to students and citizens of every color when Mary Jane Saunders, the president of Florida Atlantic University, sold the naming rights to its stadium for $6 million to the private prison company GEO Group? At a protest rally on campus, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union cited GEO Group’s “well-publicized record of abuse and neglect,” and quoted from an order of U.S. Judge Carlton Reeves describing one of their correctional facilities for minors and older teenage prisoners in Mississippi as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions” and “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”
I do not believe this is the ideal of universities producing leaders “who are sensitive to the wrongs, the sufferings, and the injustices of society and who are willing to accept responsibility for correcting the ills” that President Mays sought and taught. Who are the successor leaders today to Mays? Where are today’s moral leaders in other critical sectors who challenge and set the example for the rest of us? Where are today’s Abraham Joshua Heschels or Reinhold Niebuhrs or Eleanor Roosevelts or Dorothy Days? Where are Senators like Phil Hart and Wayne Morse who helped set a tone of political discourse too missing today in our legislative bodies? Where will the next leaders we can look up to as courageous and sacrificial champions of justice like Dr. King, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman, Mickey Schwerner, and James Chaney come from?
At the same time that we have a crisis in visible servant leadership examples, we have a crisis in core values. Are we content to be a society where virtually anything is available for profit or for sale, including the sale over the counter at Wal-Mart and other stores of deadly assault weapons capable of gruesome and senseless mass destruction like that which ravaged 20 small Newtown, Conn. children and their teachers? Are we content to have deadly assault weapons treated as normal consumer products like toasters or vacuum cleaners? How have we come to normalize violence and unbridled commercialization unmoored from common and moral sense and public safety?
Is this the best we have to pass on to our children and grandchildren and the next generation of leaders the nation and world need today and tomorrow? Do corporate profits from dangerous products or harmful practices trump children’s security and safety in our nation? Is compromise that allows gross or some significant human injustice the best we can expect from American democracy? Isn’t it time to engage in a fuller discussion about the breakdown of core values in America and the values we do agree on and need and want to instill in the next generation? What does it mean to be an American? What does it mean to be a human being? Robert Kennedy said this to students at the University of Kansas in 1968 about the need to rethink how we measure success in America:
“Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that—counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.”
Senator Kennedy continued: “Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”
I hope and pray we will not raise a new generation of children with high intellectual quotients and low caring and compassion quotients; with sharp competitive edges but dull cooperative instincts; with highly developed computer skills but poorly developed consciences; with a gigantic commitment to the big “I” but little sense of responsibility to the bigger “we”; with mounds of disconnected information without a moral context to determine its worth; with more and more knowledge and less and less imagination and appreciation for the magic of life that cannot be quantified or computerized; and with more and more worldliness and less and less wonder and awe for the sacred and everyday miracles of life. I hope as parents, educators, and faith, community, public and private sector leaders that we will raise children who care and work for justice and freedom for all.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.