Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What really happened to Sandra Bland?

By Charles Brooks



We paid attention and took notice of the disturbing trend.  We read the stories and saw the videos of not only blatant police harassment but of vicious police violence visited not on black men – but on Black and Brown women.  All across the country we saw it over and over - Black women pushed, punched, kicked, and at times suffering this violence while being handcuffed by the police. In those cases that did managed to reach national attention, we saw that these Black women were college professors, house wives, bathing suit clad teenagers and yes – even pregnant Black women felt the brunt of this police violence. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Throwaways: who are they?

 
 
Curiously, let’s start with the name of the film – The Throwaways.  What immediately comes to mind when you think of term throwaways - what comes to mind first? Items, things that you no longer want or need. An item that is no longer working or has passed its usefulness to you.  Items or things that do not meet your needs or demands any more. Spoiled food, batteries, shoes, clothes…the list can go on and on for sure. This film, The Throwaways is not about things but about people – people who are routinely dismissed, neglected, and yes – thrown away. Think about that for minute or two - the high school dropout, unemployed, the homeless, the drug addict, and yes, your convicted ex-felon are your typical throwaways.  There’s this notion that they are less than human with little or no value.  Simply put, they’re not look upon in the same way as those whose humanity is recognized. Featured in the film is Michelle Alexander, author of widely acclaimed, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the age of Age of Colorblindness explains it this way in the film:”… That’s ultimately what The Throwaways is all about, right… groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away…”

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What really happened to Freddy Gray?


An encounter on April 12th – a fatal encounter - between Freddie Gray and Baltimore City Police officers left Gray comatose with devastating spinal injuries.  Initial reports indicate that 80 percent of his spinal cord was severed leaving Gray with essentially a broken spinal vertebrae, and a crushed voice box.  Gray died from those injuries a week later on April 19th.  In the two months since Gray died from horrific spinal injuries occurring while in police custody, questions remain unanswered; what exactly happened to Freddy Gray and how did he die?  

A narrative quickly began to develop that Gray was somehow responsible for his own death. The original reports of Gray's death that determined that Gray died of a head wound from a bolt sticking out within the van. Then there were reports about another prisoner in the police van with Gray who disputed initial reports that he said Gray was “banging against the wall” and “intentionally trying to hurt himself”.  The public were fed a story line that framed Gray’s injuries occurring during what’s called a “nickel ride” – reminiscent of the cheap and rocky rides at the local amusement park. The prisoner is handcuffed but not secured with a seatbelt – so they will bounce around inside the van as the police van drives through traffic, making turns and sudden stops.

There was a “leaked” autopsy report that Gray suffered from what the report described as a “high energy” injury while making a comparison to injuries suffered from shallow-water diving accidents. The report states: The type of fracture/dislocation documented in imaging studies on admission is a high energy injury most often caused by abrupt deceleration of a rotated head on a hyperflexed neck, such as seen in shallow water diving incidents.”  

The autopsy report also revealed toxicology results where cannaboids and opiates were found while pointing out Gray’s apparent aggressive behavior as “yelling, banging and causing the van to rock”.  See this excerpt from the autopsy report: “…After the inner and outer doors were closed, it is reported that Mr. Gray could be heard yelling and banging, causing the van to rock.  No injuries that would suggest the use of a neck hold, Taser deployment or physical restraint, other than wrist and ankle cuffs, were identified…” 

As daily protests began to take hold, Baltimore quickly became the latest flashpoint in the national resistance to police violence as uprisings quickly followed suit across the country.  Protesters were routinely dismissed and characterized as “outside agitators” and a “lynch mob”.  The scent of a police coverup began to carry a heavy stench as community tensions escalate while critical questions were left unanswered. 

The winds of resistance blew stronger and stronger in Baltimore where within hours of laying Gray to rest, a rebellious confrontation with the police emerged. The world witnessed an open rebellion on the streets of America as images splashed across the television screen of Baltimore students hurling rocks, stones and metal pipes at a battalion of Baltimore police officers clad in military and riot gear.  These young people took matters into their own hands apparently disgusted by their own daily experience of police harassment and violence – they decided to fight back the only way they knew how. The images were so foreign to the typical American – they were more reminiscent of the battles in the Middle East of young Palestinians pummeling the Israeli military. While the rebellious actions in Baltimore were immediately and widely condemned as "thugs" by the president and yes, the mayor. 

In the two months since the Baltimore Rebellion in Baltimore, there are reported plans to build a $30 million youth jail, divert nearly $12 million allocated for Baltimore City schools towards pensions, thousands are fighting turnoff notices for delinquent water bills, while FEMA rejected Baltimore’s request for disaster aid to cover the millions lost in property damage.

The pressing question should be where will the next uprising take place and how will the people respond to the next case of police violence.  Over the last year or so, more and more people are realizing this is a real human rights issue that has become a national crisis. You have seen the many nationwide protests and acts of civil disobedience, and fierce uprisings attracting international support over this issue of police violence.  For years now, black and brown communities all across the nation recognized the police as an intruding force who have clearly abused their power thus shattering this notion of public trust.  But the recent rash of escalating police violence not only shows the apparent lack of accountability afforded to police officers but really provides some insight to the extent of the political support police departments across the country have. 



Eric Garner, was he resisting arrest or resisting harassment, Part I

Eric Garner, was he resisting arrest or resisting harassment, Part II

 
 


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pres. Obama's Task Force: The Battle for the Public Trust begins...

By Charles Brooks

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
The interim report recently released by President Obama’s task force on policing will shed some light on their view of the public trust - a view that is not shared by those who seek more than just a laundry list of recommendations to address police violence.  The report was released just days before the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a report of their investigation into the Ferguson Police Department – a flashpoint of racial frustrations and deep seated tensions unleashed in the face of aggressive and excessive policing.  A rather scathing report that detailed the apparent racist activities engaged not just by the Ferguson police officers but the Ferguson municipal government. However, the explosiveness of DOJ’s Ferguson report on the Ferguson Police Department should not be allowed to overshadow the president’s task force interim report because as the president himself said: “This time will be different,” President Obama said, regarding the effectiveness of the task force compared to prior ones, “because the President of the United States is deeply vested in making it different.”


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Attorney General Confirmation Hearings: "...I will be Loretta Lynch."

By Charles Brooks


 
Confirmation hearings were recently held for President’s Obama’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Ms. Loretta Lynch to replace Eric Holder, who resigned four months ago.  Ms. Lynch currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.  If confirmed, Ms. Lynch would be the first African American woman to lead the Department of Justice – certainly a plus for the President’s legacy. Since the start of the Obama administration, both the President and Attorney General – both African Americans – have been the source of some very intense opposition and hostility from Republicans. When Holder announced his resignation, he was immediately described as “the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history” by Republican Congressman Dan Issa, who serves as Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  This is what Mr. Issa had to say: “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history and, in a vote supported by 17 Democratic House Members, has the dubious historic distinction of being the first Attorney General held in criminal contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Chairman Issa. “Time and again, Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official.  By needlessly injecting politics into law enforcement, Attorney General Holder’s legacy has eroded more confidence in our legal system than any Attorney General before him. Republicans have attacked Mr. Holder on critical national issues such as voting rights, terrorism, and immigration while pointing to controversial issues such as the Fast and Furious and IRS scandals.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

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

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.