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Monday, December 30, 2013

End of year review 2013 - Part I

Although 2013 is behind us now – let’s take a look at some of the more critical issues and developments that occurred during the year. The Blackboard has put together a three-part year end review that briefly outlines these critical issues where the first part takes a look at some of the striking developments within the criminal justice system where many ask the simple question – is it justice or just us?

Trayvon Martin
There was probably no news more stunning than the summer time verdict that let an armed neighborhood watch volunteer for a gated community walk out of court a year after shooting and killing, Trayvon Martin an unarmed African American teenager. Known forever as the Zimmerman verdict – where six jurors decided that George Zimmerman was not guilty of second degree murder and manslaughter charges. Where were you on that Saturday night when the not guilty verdict was read? In the days that followed, hundreds of people took to the streets venting their frustration over the unpopular verdict - and asked the question over and over, “What about justice for Trayvon Martin?” The unpopular Zimmerman verdict resonated so deeply with Blacks because the verdict represented yet another example of racial inequality relegated to those branded as second-class citizens. For many years, the criminal justice system was not color-blind and has been a source of hostile relations; the constitutionality of slavery in prisons, lynching, Scottsboro Boys, Emmitt Till, COINTELPRO, Rodney King beating, disproportionate rates of incarceration, stark disparities in arrests and sentencing, War on drugs, acts police brutality and misconduct legitimized, jury selection process, racial profiling, and stand your ground laws are a few examples. Blacks were particularly incensed because of the collective sentiment feeling that the long history of injustice has repeated itself – again. For a brief moment, there was yet another national conversation about race relations sandwiched in between stand your ground laws and racial profiling that slowly dissolved into muted silence. If nothing else, the Zimmerman verdict brought the stand your ground laws around the country into immediate focus with a spotlight cast on the cases of Marissa Alexander and Jordan Davis.

Voting Rights
But less than a month before the Zimmerman not-guilty verdict, there was an equally stunning decision by the Supreme Court as they struck down a key provision in the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). As a safeguard against racially discriminatory practices intended to impede voting, the VRA contained a provision requiring nine states to seek “preapproval” or preclearance before any changes to voting laws and procedures are enforced. The Court ruled that preclearance was no longer needed for these nine states; Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, who are now free to make any changes to their voting laws and procedures. The concern is that although, bills are proposed to the public as measures to restore confidence and integrity in the electoral process by eliminating voter fraud, opponents view them as measures designed to make the voting process harder and more difficult – commonly known as voter suppression laws. Texas and North Carolina have already passed voter suppression laws and each face lawsuits from the Justice Department.

Even before the Supreme Court ruling, in anticipation of the 2012 presidential election, several states proposed voter suppression laws. In the months leading up to the 2012 Presidential election, there were a number of bills proposed and signed into law that, in one form or another applies newly stringent requirements in order for one to exercise their right to vote. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states by the 2012 election, more than five million eligible voters were impacted with “significantly harder” requirements to cast a vote. In addition, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 185 electoral votes in 2012 – which accounts for more than two thirds of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Stop & Frisk
New York City’s controversial policing practice, stop and frisk, was ruled unconstitutional by federal court and upheld by a federal appeals panel when challenged by NYC attorneys. While the data is quite troubling, what is more disturbing – yet not surprising is the steadfast and relentless stream of comments from the out-going Mayor Bloomberg and outgoing NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The Bloomberg/Kelly narrative defended their use of stop and frisk by using scare tactics and exaggerated language – the return of more guns and street crime – clearly designed to instill fear and anxiety in New Yorkers. The larger question here though is whether Bloomberg/Kelly attempted to gain support for their narrative by injecting racial politics to instill racialized fear. See the Blackboard's post on this issue here.

IRP - 6
This is a case that has managed to escape the bright glare of media attention – despite all the ingredients needed for a story to go viral. For example, this case shows signs of trumped up charges, wrongful convictions, lack of fair play, government interference, and highly questionable incidents such as missing court transcript pages – and not just a few pages – no less than two hundred missing court transcript pages. When you read the information, the question may ultimately come up – where is the media coverage on this issue? While this is a complicated case – once you read through the information – it’s actually not that complicated – injustice never is. It really begs the question that more people should be asking - How come this issue has not gained traction amongst black elected officials – on the local, state and national level, or from civil rights leaders and activists with the backing and support from their civil rights organizations, or from talk-show hosts, investigative journalists, pundits and the like?

So by now you may be asking yourself - exactly what is this case about. Well, the IRP 6 stands for the Investigative Resource Planning Solutions Corporation (known as IRP) and the six men (five who are African American) who have been imprisoned since 2009 – on mail and wire fraud charges. The six imprisoned men are actually executives at IRP – a software development company that started in February 2003. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, they saw an opportunity as the debate raged on about the inability of government agencies to communicate and share information with one another. While the intelligence community worked to revamp their structure and operations – these IRP executives worked to develop software that would eliminate this communication obstacle among government agencies involved with intelligence. Prospective clients included the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Impressive right? IRP was working to customize the software to meet the technology needs for their prospective clients but was faced with difficulties in meeting their staffing bills. IRP had to hire additional temporary staff of information technology (IT)professionals to meet the customized needs – with the expectation they would be landing the big contract but they needed more time to make the sale. But IRP fell behind on bills and these bills became delinquent while they accumulated debt. Sounds like a debt collection case doesn’t it? Instead, they were accused, in federal court, of essentially running a scam with the intention of stealing millions of dollars. Their business offices were also subjected to a SWAT styled raid by at least 20 or so federal agents.

For more information on this case see this for a comprehensive background on the case; see this overview of the case with important details available here and two excellently written stories available here and here. Also see these links for the story on the IRP6 as well as an interview and article written by Mr. David Banks, one of the IRP6

These links will be posted on The Blackboard's resource page as well.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What about Joe?...will Hillary’s history repeat itself?


By Charles Brooks

Since Hillary Clinton stepped down as Secretary of State in February 2013, a groundswell of support has emerged encouraging her to run for the presidency in 2016. Although she remains noncommittal to the idea of running for president, nevertheless there’s the foregone conclusion that she will be the Democratic Party nominee. Now, if you recall, there was a similar sentiment when she launched her 2008 campaign – when she was afforded front runner status – until the bubble burst in the Iowa caucuses when then-candidate Barack Obama shocked the world by defeating Hillary Clinton. Obama went on to win several key primaries during a contentious campaign while Hillary played catch up and failed to gain traction. Only time will tell if history will repeat itself, but in the meantime there are two years before the 2016 campaign really starts to heat up.



In recent months, several news articles were written advancing the notion of Ms. Clinton running and even winning the nomination in 2016.  Now bear in mind that Ms. Clinton has already garnered a number of early endorsements from Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillbrand, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. In addition, several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have voiced their support for Hillary such as James Clyburn (D-SC) John Lewis, (D-GA), and Donna Edwards (D-MD).

But the question here though is - what is the basis of their support for Hillary – aside from her popularity? What is in her body of work that indicates she will be responsive to their interests as president? It is probably better to take a step back and pause for a second or two before we declare Hilary the winner…before the first vote is cast. For an electorate that has demonstrated vulnerability to political symbolism and gestures, there’s the strong potential of getting caught up in all of the hype, pomp and circumstance that already surrounds her much anticipated candidacy. This is significant, particularly before any tough questions are asked - such as what does Hillary stand for and is it relevant or aligned with our interests. Wouldn’t you agree that the tough questions need to be asked because posing the tough questions ignores the popularity and instead, highlights the politics? A curious observer of these events must critically think for themselves and not choose popularity over policy. A critical thinking observer must also be wary of a media that fails to ask the important questions because of their partnership with the idea of a Hillary run for the presidency.

For example, the New York Times recently published an article about Clinton’s attempt to mend fences hwith their most supportive yet maligned constituency – the African American voter. Incredibly though, the article was written without so much of a thread of scrutiny or coherent analysis. Although the article cited several popular political commentators, there were no political analysts or even a professor of political science interviewed for the piece. Hmmm...strike one. The article indicated the wounds opened during the 2008 campaign were healed as a result of the "Clinton personal touch". Additionally, no insight was provided regarding the source of those opened wounds other than the “fairy tale” quote made by former president Bill Clinton. No mention of Hillary’s quote about Dr. Martin Luther King’s role in the passage of key civil rights legislation. Ahem…strike two. And lastly, the article appeared to indicate that African Americans has forgiven the Clintons, especially due to the role the Clinton personal touch played in all of this…whiff – strike three! On the other hand, a Washington Post article argues that there is no need for Hillary to rebuild her relationship with Black America, “...Hillary Clinton’s reputation among black voters is on solid ground.”

The voter must critically think for themselves and disregard Clinton's popularity over policy; become more interested in policy proposals and ideas while ignoring celebrity and elitist endorsements. For example, while we know of Hillary’s advocacy for women issues - what do we know of her positions on the economy, unemployment, education, or affirmative action? What about her views on Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East? Where does she stand on the use of drones – both domestically and internationally, as well as the NSA's surveillance on American citizens? Taking into consideration the fallout between Blacks and Clinton during the 2008 campaign – what will be Black America’s political reaction if Hillary disagrees and then criticizes President Obama policies?

And just one last point…why is there such a bright spotlight cast on the much anticipated candidacy of Hillary Clinton while Joe Biden, the Vice-President for five years, is barely noticeable behind the faint glow of a flickering candle. What about Joe? What about Joe?



Friday, December 6, 2013

Mandela joins the ancestors

As you know by now, Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95 years old. I want to share links about Madiba that I tweeted out last night. The Internet is full with tributes to the first black president of South Africa. I will only add that Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner - that context should never be forgotten - he was imprisoned for nearly thirty years for his political beliefs that was in sharp contrast to the South African white supremacy that manifested itself through apartheid. He will be remembered for being a man of peace, a man who did not hold on to anger or bitterness after spending twenty-seven years imprisoned for his role in bringing about a South Africa free from the shackles of apartheid through armed stuggle. As we bear witness to the many tributes and shared memories of Nelson Mandela - we must not forget his militancy, that he was a freedom fighter...and that he was a political prisoner. We can honor his legacy by raising awareness to the plight of political prisoners held by America - and supporting their release. This post will be continually updated with new content via links on Nelson Mandela.

AMANDLA AMANDLA AMANDLA



                                       UPDATED WITH NEW CONTENT

This is a link to a memorial page for Mandela at a South Africa paper - Mail & Guardian

To see all that is happening at Nelson Mandela's memorial service: as it happened

An article about Mandela entitled Freedom Fighter Madiba: Let's Not Forget The Mandela Who Prepared To Defeat Apartheid With Arms

                                                               ***


South African President Jacob Zuma announces Mandela's death

Statement from Thabo Mbeki on Mandela's death

Ohio University Professor Zakes Mda wrote an OP-ED in the New York Times titled: The Contradictions of Mandela

Letter addressed to the Minister of Justice from Robben Island Prison

South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) coverage of Nelson Mandela
The Guardian coverage of Nelson Mandela

Watch the FRONTLINE documentary: The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela online.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Blackboard update

The Blackboard has been updated with new content; a post titled Obama’s team of admirers as well as updates to the Resource page. The Resource page has been updated to include two reports detailing the scope of Stop and Frisk as it is used in New York City. The ACLU Report: Beyond "Deliberate Indifference": An NYPD for All New Yorkers (Nov.2013) and the New York Attorney General Office Report on Stop and Frisk (Nov.2013) is now included in the Resource page.

The Resource page has also been updated with resources for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Voting Rights, Race and the current financial crisis affecting Detroit. This page will be continually updated with links to new resources. There are two pages currently being worked on that will include links to critical thinkers such as Malcolm X, John Henrik Clarke, Arturo Schomburg, Vincent Harding, Walter Rodney and several others. In addition, there will be a page tentatively labeled Bookshelf where there will be a listing of books and their summaries that will help advance our understanding of politics, history as well as the current developments as they emerge.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Obama's Team of Admirers

With just days left for the 113th Congress to finish their business before the year is out, this Congress appears to be the least productive in history. Between January 1, 2013 and December 2 - paltry total of 55 laws passed. Recently though, Senate Democrats voted to eliminate the filibuster on executive and judicial nominations (except Supreme Court nominees). Now, a simple majority of 51 votes is needed rather than the 60 previously required to override the filibuster. This power move by Senate Democrats snatches away a key tool used by the Senate Republicans to obstruct the process by denying nominees a committee vote. The new rule will enable the nominees to move forward since they will be shielded from raucous partisan politics in the Senate. Nominees for key positions such as Jeh Johnson (Secretary of Department of Homeland Security), Janet Yellen (Chairman of Federal Reserve), Mel Watt (Federal Housing Finance Agency) along with the D.C Circuit Court nominees, Patricia Ann Millett, Cornelia T.L. Pillard and Robert L. Wilkins can move forward.

Jeh Johnson, the nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has passed out of committee and is headed for a full Senate confirmation vote. Last week, Roland Martin of NewsOne, “moderated” a brief yet rather contentious debate on Mr. Johnson’s qualifications. The debate erupted between panelists, Dr. Wilmer Leon and Angela Rye, when Ms. Rye took issue with Dr. Leon raising doubts regarding Mr. Johnson’s qualifications. During the spirited back and forth, Dr. Leon analysis focused on policy and on Mr. Johnson’s political views while Ms. Rye’s argument centered on DHS needs. She also appeared to lament over the double standard afforded to African American nominees. “You have to be twice as good to outpace everyone else,” asserted Ms. Rye. Dr. Leon pointed out Mr. Johnson’s position on the U.S. drone policy and countered, “I don’t question his credentials as an attorney, I question his competence from an ideological perspective. I just don’t see a lot of his positions consistent with the Constitution in this country.”