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Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015 State of the Union: "...Imagine if we did something different..."

By Charles Brooks



Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Typically the president uses the State of the Union to outline their political agenda for the year as well as their vision for the nation.  The president makes his address not just to both chambers of Congress but also to the players of national government who are in attendance – members of the President’s cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Supreme Court justices.  The State of the Union provides an annual opportunity to identify those critical political issues as the national priorities. Yet despite heavy losses suffered by the Democrats in the 2014 mid-terms, President Obama appeared before the nation apparently bolstered by recent reports of higher approval ratings.  Just a few days ago President Obama delivered his sixth State of the  Union address where he outlined the accomplishments and achievements of his administration, “…Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.”



Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Appearing assertive at times, President Obama challenged House and Senate Republicans on policy items such as tax hikes on the wealthy and raising the minimum wage while issuing threats of presidential veto. The president focused on the economy and what he termed as “middle-class economics”.  The President explained: “…That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success. So what does middle-class economics require in our time?  President Obama continues, “First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.”

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The president actually had a pretty short wish list that includes proposals to provide millions of workers a week of paid sick leave, lower community college tuition to zero, and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure while producing jobs.  “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto,” asserted President Obama.

Internationally, the president discussed trade agreements, identified climate change as the “greatest challenge”, mentioned the efforts to fight an Ebola pandemic, renewed his six year old promise to close Guantanamo Bay - again, and repeated his proposed changes to an antiquated 50 year old ineffective policy towards Cuba. But this year’s state of the union address was different – there was a different feel.  The president admitted as much when he said this year there will be no checklist – his submission of the budget will suffice. There were no catchy slogans this year where last year, 2014 was to be known as the Year of Action symbolized by presidential veto and executive orders.  
 
The truth is that while the president is showing higher approval ratings – the critical question will be whether the higher ratings are enough to enable President Obama steer the political narrative that will inevitably drive the national debate. Consider for a moment on the heels of devastating losses in the 2014 elections, the president has now entered the lame duck years of his presidency, and he will now be facing Republican majorities in both chambers on Congress – the House and the Senate. Meanwhile the Republican Party's agenda has set their sights on repealing the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare), anti-abortion bills, and of course, tax cuts. The president will be hard pressed to move his agenda forward in this hostile political climate where Republicans are empowered on the national and state level.  "...Imagine if we did something different…,” the president asks.  
 
But the significance of the president’s state of the union address is not so much about what was discussed but what was not discussed – or discussed enough. Issues such as income inequality, K-12 education, criminal justice reform and policing quickly comes to mind. Disturbing was the president’s stance on advocating for political prisoners abroad while refusing to acknowledge America’s political prisoners.  Although, the president has proposed transformative changes for community colleges he remains muted on K-12 education.  The president’s plan to address increasing income inequality appears to be based on his proposal to raise taxes on the high income earners and place fees on the richest financial institutions and then redistribute the money to pay for free community college tuition, and tax credits targeted for the middle class – “middle-class economics” says the president. President Obama never mentioned the poor or poverty – not even once during the nearly 60 minute speech. But what about the millions who have not reached middle class status? Or the dim prospects of these bills passing through a Republican controlled Congress? Certainly the political drama will be played out before the national stage over the next two years for all to witness – will the president’s pragmatism get bipartisan support? What will be the president’s legacy?
 
But what about criminal justice reform in the aftermath of the visceral public response to violent policing? President Obama indeed mentioned the need for criminal justice reform but in light of the world wide protests raising the public consciousness about policing – the president failed to cast his spotlight by not providing details as to what criminal justice reform would look like. He even refused to relent to the obvious symbolism to having the parents of Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, and the wife of Eric Garner in attendance as his guests: “…We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift,” President Obama went on to say, “Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.” The president’s lack of detail regarding his idea for criminal justice reform is particularly disappointing considering  the Justice Department's recent refusal to federally charge police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

 

 

 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Ferguson/Garner protests: The uprisings will continue until...

By Charles Brooks
  
Photo credit: digitaldefection via www.flickr.com
For over a month now, the world has witnessed a special moment unfolding in America where literally thousands upon thousands took to the streets in a stunning display of mass resistance in response to, not one but two recent controversial grand jury rulings. The world took notice of the rebellious uprisings emerging in city after city – from Ferguson, Missouri to Brooklyn, New York to Oakland, California – making their presence felt uptown as well as downtown, in the ‘hood’, and on college campuses. Protestors infiltrated and disrupted holiday shopping, Thanksgiving parades, Christmas events – brought the nation’s major highways and the railroads to a stop – gnarling traffic for miles.  
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue via www.flickr.com
Two separate high profile grand jury proceedings in St. Louis and New York City ruled against indicting police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo – in essence validating their use of deadly force against Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively. The vastly unpopular rulings triggered an incredible wave of mass resistance protesting against not just the police brutality issue but also against the abysmal lack of accountability for killing unarmed African American men. The grand jury’s decision not only exonerated the use of deadly force with no criminal charges but the decision also reinforced the notion that such deadly force is indeed the standard operating procedure, particularly when unarmed African Americans are involved. But there’s more - the grand jury’s decision essentially enables the uninterrupted freedom of both officers and allows them to return to their jobs, to walk the beat above ground while the bodies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner lay buried below ground. 
 

Simply put, the ruling triggered painful reminders from a wretched racist past.  Take for example, the ruling serving as a reminder of the second-class citizenship that typically characterized Black America in the days before integration – you know, like when lynching was routine.  Another reminder of how unjust and unequal the criminal justice system is towards the black communities that make up Black America.  Another reminder of the Black America’s relationship with the police and how different that relationship is with other communities that make up the nation. Another reminder of the role the police had during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements – as the first line of defense -  the brutal enforcers of Jim Crow and legal segregation. Another reminder of their role with COINTELPRO. And yet another reminder of the tragic failure of the state to recognize black humanity.  
  
Photo credit: Rose colored Photo via www.flickr.com
Consider for a moment what activist Rosa Clemente recently noted when she underlined significance of the ruling: “…The grand jury’s refusal to indict Darren Wilson means that the physical evidence, testimony of witnesses, police report on the incident, and Wilson’s own inconsistent and implausible account will never be subject to cross-examination, scrutiny, and comparison before a jury.”  Simply put, Ms. Clemente nailed it in pointing out the implications when police are left unindicted – no trial, no public scrutiny, no transparency and certainly no accountability. That’s why so many are just infuriated with the grand jury refusals to indict, and in fact, held very little hope for indictments of police officers Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.  Deep down…we already knew…
 
Photo credit: sierraromero via www.flickr.com
Take the Michael Brown case for instance where there were issues from the start. There were several events that instilled doubt within the local Ferguson community and larger extended community who demanded justice. Aside from not having a video of the shooting, Mr. Brown’s character came under heavy scrutiny, while the Prosecuting Attorney, Mr. McCullough refused to recuse himself from the case despite the strong conflict of interests.  Doubts around the Brown grand jury grew stronger as leaks spilled out, at one point, almost daily.  For days, all eyes were squarely riveted on Ferguson as we constantly heard that a decision “was coming any day now.” We braced ourselves for the worst… During this time the Governor announced his plan to deploy the National Guard, and declared a state of emergency…before an emergency.  Businesses fortified themselves as if preparing for a hurricane to blow through town. Schools closed down. Gun sales hit the roof. And then the announcement was made hours after the day turned into night - at the nighttime hour of nine o clock - Darren Wilson will not be indicted.  The Ferguson community erupted at the news and the rebellious uprising was in full swing quickly spreading across the country like California wildfire.  To make matters worse, we gradually learned about disturbing issues with the grand jury – first, the inconsistent presentation of evidence, and most recently, the apparent issues with lying witnesses. 
 
Then less than two weeks after the Brown grand jury decision, the Garner grand jury decided not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Despite the cellphone video showing an illegal chokehold used on Mr. Garner by Mr. Pantaleo as well as Chief Examiners Report that ruled Mr. Garner’s death a homicide!   Just like the Brown case, there were issues with the Garner case from the start – community demands for a special prosecutor, concerns regarding a jury pool being picked from a biased pro-police Staten Island community and the Staten Island District Attorney seemingly delaying the grand jury process considering they didn’t start hearing evidence until nearly October – almost three months after Mr. Garner was killed. And nearly ten days after the Brown grand jury ruling, the Garner grand jury was announced and the public response was both swift and fierce with a flurry of daily protests around the country. 

And then two New York City police officers were gunned down on a Saturday afternoon – and you can sense the gradual shift in the narrative as the pro-police forces began to assert themselves. The police killing was immediately linked to the protests, and echoed loudly with inflammatory commentary by police union chief Pat Lynch, former governor George Pataki and former mayor Rudy Guiliani.  Ironically though, calls were made to halt the protests against the police violence while making no mention of stopping the pro-police protest rallies or their divisive rhetoric.  Nonetheless a debate quickly emerged – should the protests continue in light of the two dead NYPD officers?  But the real question is not whether the protests should continue or not but rather - What is going to be done about the mental ill and gun control? But you can see that question has been ignored.

Meanwhile, the protest demonstrations continued unabated – and for a few good reasons. Let’s see, the issue of police brutality and violence has become a national crisis.  An issue that has been ongoing for many years with no apparent repercussions or consequences for police use of excessive deadly force. The police officers routinely get the benefit of the doubt regardless of the questionable circumstances that ultimately feeds doubt.  And then, aside from the Brown and Garner grand jury rulings, police officers were also not indicted in grand jury cases for Ezell Ford, John Crawford, Jonathan Baker, and Keyarika Diggles.  Yes – the protests have continued…and for good reason.

  

See The Blackboard's posts about the death of Eric Garner, Part I and Part II, and the death Michael Brown.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

2014 Elections: The Democratic Party's problem with white Democrats

By Charles Brooks
While the 2014 elections showed Democrats their difficulties in defeating Republicans, the elections also revealed the problem the Democratic Party has in appealing to their white constituents. The Democrats now find themselves in a very precarious position as they find a way to put together a message that resonates with the white as well as the black voter. Let’s consider for a moment the 2014 exit poll, particularly the questions about race relations. For example, 40% said race relations in the country had stayed about the same in the last few years. 38% said they had gotten worse while 20% said they’ve gotten better. Certainly no surprise here but let’s consider remarks made by the Congressional Black Caucus Chairperson, Marcia Fudge (D-OH) when she stated that Democrats lost the white Southerners due in part to racism. “Democrats lost Senate control because we failed to mobilize young voters across racial and regional spectrums. We failed to persuade Southern voters to hold true to core Democratic values. We lost because the Hispanic community was insufficiently motivated. We lost because of ideological differences within the Democratic Party and with our Administration. We lost because our party has, to some extent, lost white Southerners due in part to the race of our President. We lost because the Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon allowed a select few to subvert the political process with secret, unlimited money.  We lost because of gerrymandering in our state redistricting processes. We lost because of our continuing problem with a clear and compelling message that would encourage voters to stay with us.  Let the talking heads do what they do best: talk. But let’s be very clear in our analyses of the 2014 midterm elections. African Americans showed up. So don’t blame us! A review of the 2014 exit poll data verifies Rep. Fudge’s statement as the data indicates that while voter turnout for Hispanics and Blacks increased, the voter turnout for Whites went down…boom! The overall turnout was quite low. 


2014 Elections: Did Democrats run against Republicans or President Obama?

By Charles Brooks
The nation’s political landscape is remarkably more Republican now with their decisive victories a couple of weeks ago during the 2014 elections. Just in case you forgot – not only did Democrats lose on the national level but they suffered losses on the state level as well. For example, Democrats lost their only majority in the US Congress – in the Senate and they lost seats in the House of Representatives. Now bear in mind Democrats lost seats in state legislatures all across the country and a few key governorships in Democratic Party territory – like in Illinois, Massachusetts, and the biggest surprise in Maryland.  This is what the National Conference of State Legislature had to say: “It appears that Republicans will have a net gain of between 300 and 350 seats and control over 4,100 of the nation’s 7,383 legislative seats. That is their highest number of legislators since 1920. Republicans gained seats in every region of the country and in all but about a dozen legislative chambers that were up this year. It appears that Republicans will have a net gain of between 300 and 350 seats and control over 4,100 of the nation’s 7,383 legislative seats. That is their highest number of legislators since 1920. Republicans gained seats in every region of the country and in all but about a dozen legislative chambers that were up this year.”  So what does that mean – what does the current political landscape look like – Republicans now control 23 out of 50 state governments, that means both chambers of the state legislature and the  Governor are all Republican.  They are Republican majorities in 30 state legislatures as well as in 68 legislative chambers (one of the two houses that typically makes up state government).  Lastly, there are 31 Republican governors sitting in state capitols across the country.  Clearly the 2014 elections has empowered the Republicans as the lines of battle are redrawn...at least until the 2016 elections. You can already sense the tension quickly building as President Obama spoke of his intention to take executive action to address immigration reform while Republicans counter by  suing the president over the Affordable Care Act. The first of many battles to come over the next two years...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 Elections: Can Black America rescue the Democrats?


 By Charles Brooks

 

The many months of political posturing and rhetoric will finally come to an end on Election night when we learn who’s hand will be raised in victory in this year’s battle between the Democrats and Republicans.  Reading the recent news accounts, polls and analyses about this year’s mid-term elections, is almost like reading a political obituary for the Democratic Party – the forecast just doesn’t look good for Democrats. Simply put, Democrats are faced with daunting odds to win elections and will probably suffer more than just a few defeats. To make matters worse, this year’s election cycle is taking place during an off presidential election year when people typically don’t vote.  Meanwhile the 2014 mid-term elections are framed for public consumption as one where there’s a lot at stake – how many times have you heard that during this year’s election cycle?  Typically during these election cycles you will find news stories about the significance of the black vote as well as contrasting stories about the black vote being taken for granted by the Democratic Party.  But what appears to be different with the 2014 elections is the degree of just how important, how significant the black vote[1] will be for the Democratic Party[2]. 
 
The issue, however, is that while President Obama is not running in this year’s election – his legacy certainly is in the running. Consider for a moment just two items and how they would impact the President’s legacy - the Republican’s incessant chatter about impeachment along with the repeal of President Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  With 36 Senate seats up for election: 21 belonging to Democrats versus 15 for Republicans, Black America’s vote is under heavy pursuit to help the Democrats retain their majority in the Senate. The Democratic Party is looking for Black America to shield and protect the President’s legacy from GOP obstructionism. The chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) recently told the New York Times: “Anybody who looks at the data realizes that if the black vote, and the brown vote, doesn’t turn out, we can’t win. It’s just that simple,” Ms. Fudge went on to say: “If we don’t turn out, we cannot hold the Senate.” African-Americans could help swing elections in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and possibly Arkansas, a New York Times analysis of voter data shows, but only if they turn out at higher-than-forecast rates. 
 
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies released a report entitled, “Black Turnout & The 2014 Midterms” where they concluded: “The analysis of voter turnout data corroborates the suspicion that this will be a challenging year for Democrats.  Assuming black turnout consistent with recent midterm elections and current polling data, Democrats will find it hard to put together winning coalitions, even with overwhelming African American support. Democratic candidates with the best prospects of winning include those running in states with relatively strong third party candidates who can serve as spoilers and states with small black populations where Democrats (or, in the case of Kansas, Independents) are performing strongly among white voters.”  Wow! So basically the Joint Center report is saying that while the Black vote is being heavily pursued, the black vote still needs the presence of third party candidates to make a difference in the elections.
 
Yet this pursuit of the black vote presents a bit of a dilemma for Black America; on one hand there’s the sentiment that the Democratic Party routinely takes the black vote for granted while on the other hand, the failure to vote Democratic will compel Republicans to advance a conservative agenda that is in direct contrast to Black America’s political interests.  But there’s another motivating factor to consider here… the relentless campaign[3] waged by Republicans, who took a legislative approach to shrinking the pool of voters.  The stench of 19th century Jim Crow slowly rises from the graveyard of American racism as Republicans justify their actions with claims of addressing voter fraud.  In essence, they’ve proposed and passed legislation to address a nonexistent issue – incredible don’t you think? These voter suppression measures include requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote and proof of citizenship to register, cutting back on early voting, eliminating Election Day registration, new restrictions on voter registration drives as well as additional barriers to voting for people with criminal convictions.
 
Subsequently, there’s a political battle setting the Get Out The Vote activities versus stringent voter suppression[4] measures.  Now these measures have been passed – for the most part - by several state legislatures since the election of the nation’s first African American president. So now, you can get a better sense of the significance of the 2014 election when you begin to understand how these voter suppression measures may possibly affect one’s ability to cast a vote. Bear in mind that the Brennan Center for Justice reported that of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, seven passed laws making it harder to vote. In addition, of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth in the 2010 Census, nine have new restrictions in place. And of the 15 states that used to be monitored closely under the Voting Rights Act because of a history of racial discrimination in elections, nine passed new restrictions. These reasons alone will almost certainly compel the public’s attention…and their scrutiny on November 4th.
 
If nothing else, a review of the exit polls for the 2014 mid-terms can begin to answer at least two critical questions: First, how will Black America respond to the SOS call sent out by Democrats – particularly after revelations of Democrats refusing to stand up in support of President Obama? And the second question - how much did the various voter suppression measures impact black voter turnout and what role, if any, did this have on the many elections held across the nation?


[1] http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/National_News_2/article_101869.shtml
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/us/in-black-vote-democrats-see-lifeline-for-midterms.html?_r=0
[3] http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voter-suppression-how-bad-pretty-bad
[4] https://www.aclu.org/maps/battle-protect-ballot-voter-suppression-measures-passed-2013

Monday, August 25, 2014

Where will the next Ferguson uprising take place?

By Charles Brooks

Michael Brown has finally been laid to rest after he was gunned down two weeks ago by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th.  You can only imagine what Mr. Brown’s parents, family, friends and those who knew him – have gone through in the last two weeks since that fateful day on August 9th.  Just like that - after their son's fate encounter with the police - Mr. Brown's parents now have to deal with the grief and numbing sadness that comes with having to bury an 18 year old young man.

Who would have thought or even have the foresight that the Michael Brown murder – the death of yet another unarmed black youth by the hands of a police officer – would have triggered such a rebellious uprising in Ferguson? Who would have believed Mr. Brown’s death would peel back the scab of American hypocrisy for all to witness the bubbling infectious sore of American apartheid, racism, and social inequality?  Ferguson has clearly become a flashpoint - a hotspot where racial frustrations and deep seated tensions were unleashed in the face of aggressive and provocative policing.  Within hours after Mr. Brown’s murder, the response to the rebellious uprising quickly escalated into a domestic military operation – complete with the deployment of the National Guard.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Eric Garner: Resisting arrest or Resisting harassment (Part II)


The tragic death of Mr. Eric Garner that came as a result of the choke hold – an illegal police maneuver banned since 1994 – continues to provoke nationwide outrage, particularly in black communities.  Consider for a moment, the reasons igniting this outrage – the excessive use of force leading to yet another death of an unarmed black man, and the political support for police in the face of a blatant lack of accountability to these seemingly routine acts of police misconduct and murder.  But there’s deeper factor to consider here – the historical roots that branches out to the limbs of indifference afforded to black life.

Mr. Garner’s death continues to spark outrage because of the many people who can relate and connect through personal experience – the thousands who have been stopped and harassed by the police - and lived to talk about it. The thousands of stories about controlling that feeling that just grips you when you see the bright flash of the red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. Or the harassment that comes with being repeatedly stopped and frisked.  Or the feeling of being fully aware that even the slightest encounter with the police can turn bad…and sometimes fatal.  This connection was played out when the video was being played over and over again to the collective nods of approval. People are outraged because they connected with Mr. Garner when he crossed his arms in front of him and told the police officers that it stops today…we all knew what he meant by ‘it’. Mr. Garner said to the officers: "...Every time you see me you want to wrestle with me.  I'm tired of it...it stops today...I'm minding my own business officer. Please leave me alone...I told you for the last time, please leave me alone."

This is why Mr. Garner’s death continues to resonate with the public consciousness - because of their connection to a shared experience.  The outrage grew in the aftermath of Mr. Garner’s death when more videos displaying similar criminal acts by NYPD were released as well as chokehold statistics – 1022 chokehold incidents between 2009-1013.