Originally Published in The Final Call
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON-CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: DEC 25, 2019 – 1:10:15 PM
As 2019 draws to a close, Black people across the country are engaged in the timeless ritual of looking back over the prior 12 months to access their gains and losses personally and across and between social, political and economic spheres.
A shroud of concern and anxiety has hung over Africans in America since 2016 which ushered in an overtly hostile administration and policies that have forced Black people to be defensive generally. Yet for more than a few African Americans, events affecting Black people in 2019 and the still unknown prospects for the upcoming presidential election in 2020 are enough to galvanize them even in the face of sometime numbing assaults on their person and communities.
At the end of the day, observers and analysts said Black people are seeking to attain the same things Whites and other American have: financial and economic stability, access to quality healthcare, a good education, safe neighborhoods and good jobs.
But Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said she believes that Blacks have seen “a slight continuation of the trajectory downwards.”
“Unemployment is still double that of the White population and wages connected to jobs are stagnant or falling,” she said. “This goes to the heart of quality of life issues. Are we really financially secure in the face of the ramping up of gentrification and the difficulties of finding and securing affordable housing?”
Black women making moves amid setbacks
Dr. Jones-DeWeever, a political analyst, commentator, best-selling author and speaker, said in the midst of great hardship are events and circumstances that buoy the spirit.
“A beautiful South African woman was named Miss Universe. It’s the first time a woman wearing an Afro has been crowned,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “This is a moment where we as a world community can acknowledge the beauty of Black women.”
South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe making her the first Black woman to win the celebrated beauty pageant since Leila Lopes in 2011.
This has also been a record-breaking year for Black women vying in beauty pageants. It is the first time that the winners of Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Teen USA are all Black women.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever said the joy of celebrating the power and beauty of Black women is leavened by the recent decision of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to suspend her campaign for president and essentially drop out of the 2020 race.
Sen. Harris’s decision was met with surprise, anger and frustration by a wide cross-section of Black women on social media platforms and other places where African American women gather and confer, whether in person or virtually.
“I was shocked. It seemed too early. I was disappointed to see her drop out. She had a historic run,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever said. “She was only the third Black woman to run for president. What was troubling was the particular level of vitriol directed at her. You can decide to not support a candidate without being so vile and disrespectful. It came from Black men and Black women too. I think we still have a lot to learn.”
Michele L. Watley, a communications strategist, political consultant and civic and community engagement specialist, agreed with Dr. Jones-DeWeever’s assessment.
“I was surprised she stepped out so early,” said Ms. Watley, a Kansas City, Missouri, resident. “You can ignore the campaign’s struggles but campaigns with less management experience, lesser expertise and resources are still in the race. Now the debate will lack diversity. The (Democratic) Party has had that problem and has not sufficiently dealt with it.”
Yet, both Ms. Watley and Dr. Jones-DeWeever point out, the impact and power of Black women in recent election cycles isn’t a fluke and cannot be ignored.
“Black women are the hot thing,” said Ms. Watley, who served as the African American outreach director for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and is president and founder of The Griot Group. “They are getting people elected and changing the political land-scape and the political climate. We have led on movement issues, are the highest educated group in the country, yet we have no Black women CEOs. We check the boxes, do the work but are not able to achieve certain political goals. We have not been able to get Black women through the primaries,” she added.
“Sen. Harris was highly qualified as California’s attorney general and has been an effective senator no matter what you think about her prosecutorial record. I think Sen. Harris was treated differently. She was held to higher standards and a higher threshold that she could never have met.”
Cauious optimism, but a sobering reality
Dr. Monique Gamble described 2019 as an “up and down” year, nerve-wracking and a source of diminished optimism. The country’s turn to the right, it’s embrace of White nationalism and extremism, the conscious of certain Whites to police Black behavior and the unrelenting threats against Black people from all sides have caused deepening concern about the future of Africans in America, she said.
Dr. Gamble said she worries about the threat of the toxic racial environment on Black people. Of equal concern, said Dr. Gamble, visiting assistant professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia, is the manner in which President Donald Trump has attacked and eroded what many thought were America’s enduring institutions, including Congress, the courts, the media and the intelligence community.
“I have seen him flout norms and there’s no accountability. Without question, what we’ve seen during this presidency will, without question, will cause lasting damage,” she said. “I was an institutionalist who believed that what the Founding Fathers produced was unique and a progressive idea for those times. But this administration has blasted holes into institutions we were taught were impregnable.
“It feels like institutions as powerful as America has, is being operated by people who are trash. Ultimately, these institutions are only as good as the people who adhere to them. It’s not just Donald Trump, it’s the enablers in the Senate and House. I am concerned that every level of our institutions has been broken.”
Dr. Gamble, an Alabama native, said the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives where the Democratic majority just returned two articles of impeachment against President Trump, reflect that depth of the problem.
“We’re seeing something in our lifetimes few of us ever expected to see. There was a clear obstruction of justice and a clear violation of what the president is supposed to do but the Senate will not do what’s required.”
She said she agrees that what’s playing out is a war for America’s soul, “but it’s deeper than most people think.” Dr. Gamble said she doesn’t trust the electorate to do the right thing in 2020, has lost faith in America’s institutions and doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the “answer.”
“I’m fearful about the upcoming election because I’m not fully convinced someone won’t manipulate the electoral system again,” she said. “I don’t know what 2020 holds. Any number of terrible things is possible, such as Trump refusing to leave office and triggering a constitutional crisis. Folks are threatening violence and the House and Senate do nothing.
“I’m always hopeful and optimistic but I have become a ‘show and prove’ person.”
According to the Pew Research Center, since the 2016 presidential election, Blacks and people of color have been making history across the U.S. by winning mayoral races and school board seats in places where their families were once ignored or prevented from voting.
In November, for example, voters in Bowie, Maryland, elected Tim Adams, the city’s first Black mayor. In Chicago, attorney Lori Lightfoot became the first Black and gay woman to become mayor. In Alabama, Montgomery residents elected Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed as the first Black mayor in the city’s 200-year history in November. And about 90 miles away in the city of Talladega, Alabama, Timothy Ragland began serving as the city’s first Black mayor.
In the judicial sphere, political appointments by President Trump of federal judges was a major issue this year that has flown under the radar. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the unabashed support of Senate Republicans, President Trump has appointed 157 judges to the federal bench in less than three years. He has overseen the confirmation of more judges than any of his recent predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. Almost 30 percent of all U.S. Circuit Court judges are Trump appointees.
With the judges serving lifetime appointments, the effects of their conservative, far-right decisions will be seen and felt long after President Trump leaves office. The damage to civil rights, gender, employment and labor union activity, LGBTQIA and other issues will be significant and consequential, critics say.
“What’s happening in the courts scares the hell out of me. I worry about the world my sons will have to navigate,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever said soberly.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told USA Today in 2018: “It is most unfortunate. It turns the clock back on years of work and effort that went into promoting judicial diversity.”
She has been warning the public about the danger posed to African Americans, people of color, the poor and the most vulnerable by President Trump’s judicial appointments. The president, Sen. McConnell and the Republican leadership have concentrated on ramming through nominations to federal, district and circuit courts with many called unqualified, others who are openly hostile racially, or have expressed or written in support of gender bias, while others refuse to accept settled law.
“This is a huge issue,” Ms. Clarke explained during a 2018 panel discussion on the effects of the Trump administration on the country. “There are 140 vacancies in federal courts. The judiciary has always mattered to Black people because it is a place of last resort. Ninety-nine percent of cases are heard in federal and district courts. Ninety-one percent of those Trump is putting forward are White and male and they are the fringe. He’s turning back the clock to the Jim Crow era.”
Despite the monumental shifts and the burgeoning power of Black women, African Americans face some daunting challenges just to cast a vote. Since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states that were once required to get permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to enact voting laws have been free to implement limits to voting that activists say has had negative impacts on every major and smaller election since.
The high court ruling against the federal government in the Holder v Shelby case in 2013, was followed closely by several primarily southern states, enacting a series of draconian laws that have made it increasingly more difficult for Blacks, Latinos, students and the elderly to cast their ballots.
The Republican legislators supporting these bills claim that the measures are an effort to block voter fraud. Their critics contend that the laws are a way to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
Voter suppression and voter manipulation is alive and well, said Ria Thompson-Washington, which is why she has been focused on organizing, educating and mobilizing Blacks, members of the Latino community, African Diaspora communities and others working for about 18 months. She is the senior national coordinator for the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. and the Election Protection organizer for six states: Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia.
What she’s seeing at the grassroots level in the places she visits and works gives her a great deal of encouragement going into 2020.
“This was a monumental year for voting rights and people engaging in the voting process,” Ms. Thompson-Washington said. “There’s been an increase in civic engagement with Black and White people. This has been a year of growth. People are aware that 2020 is looming. I think 2020 will have record numbers,” she added.
“I’ve been involved in organizing and voting programs. In Louisiana, for example, more Black people voted on Nov. 16 than all year. In Mississippi, 20 percent more young people voted. I have seen so many more Black elders engaged in this work. They’re having inter-generational conversations and I’m there. I’m older than the younger and younger than the older.”
Ms. Thompson-Washington said she generally engages with communities where residents allow her to come in and assist them. She said she works with state and national groups that form civic engagement groups to prepare participants to vote in local, state and national elections.
“I’m here to see what they need,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure the landscape is different. I empower communities and let them know that there are lawyers at the other end of the hotline phones. I train protestors to exercise their constitutional right and I train lawyers to engage as monitors.”
Ms.Thompson-Washington, whose mother was from the Dominican Republic and whose father was a sharecropper from South Carolina, said she is staying honest to her heritage and roots but fighting for electoral and related changes.
“Impeachment boils down to the election being stolen,” she said. “If we can’t correct what happened at the highest levels, nothing will change. We have to hold people at the top accountable. People cannot disengage from this process.”
At the end of the day, what she does and tries to foster is voting and leadership. “We tend to see ourselves as too small, but we have everything we need to make change,” Ms. Thompson-Washington explained.
Democrats, Black folks and the latest presidential debate
This article was originally published in The Final Call
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: DEC 2, 2019 – 12:21:49 PM
Black women have proven over time to be the most dependable and consistent bloc of voters for the Democratic party, powering candidates to victories in Alabama, Virginia, New Jersey and other states and cities in 2017, the 2018 midterms and 2019.
Yet, that loyalty has not often been reciprocated, as Black women have been ignored by the Democratic establishment; been sidelined; have had to fight for their voice to be heard; demanded a place at the table; and pushed and prodded reluctant party brass to focus on their myriad issues, needs and concerns.
The Nov. 20 Democratic debate in Atlanta, Georgia, illustrated for a number of Black women interviewed by The Final Call, the tensions and unease that have frayed the alliance.
“Senators (Kamala) Harris and (Cory) Booker elevated issues of concern to Black people,” said Dr. Melanie Campbell, who spoke to a reporter while waiting at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for a flight home after watching the debate. “Cory and Kamala carried it the strongest. This is the challenge. The candidates haven’t spoken much about race, racism, voting and not a lot about criminal justice or policing reforms to any degree.” Dr. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network, said what she feels is missing is a debate with members of the Black press as moderators.
“The debate forum should focus on criminal justice and social reform issues, voting rights, domestic issues, economic justice, the attacks on Black people and things affecting people in their everyday life,” she explained.
But that hasn’t happened, said activist and organizer Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, because Democrats treat Blacks as pawns and fodder. “There are no real policies and practices showing that Democrats want to deal seriously with African Americans. They blame Black people when they lose and they will not talk about material conditions that people are dealing with,” said Ms. Sankara-Jabar, a resident of Silver Spring, Md., and co-founder of Racial Justice Now! “Every day working class people are hurting. We are not well. The Democratic Party has not done enough to remedy this or the courts dismantling Civil Rights and Affirmative Action,” she argued.
The Executive Branch has failed us, the Legislative Branch has failed us and we’re about to get our ass kicked by the courts which Trump has been packing. That’s why we have to build our own party.” For Black people, voting and voting for the Democrats is harm reduction, said Ms. Sankara-Jabar.
“It’s a strategy, but it will never get us where we need to be,” she said. “People are suffering, dying, not having their basic needs met. It’s worse now than in the ‘90s economy. When White folks catch a cold, we catch pneumonia. We need to stop bleeding then deal with the underlying trauma.”
Kristal L. High Taylor, a Millennial activist, lawyer, policy advocate and entrepreneur, said there is a tension between Black people and the Democratic Party, an interesting dichotomy, she said, where party officials have never addressed “a full and complete reckoning of the issues.”
“More broadly I would say that the system works if the goal is to keep in power the vested interests who have always controlled the country—wealthy White men,” the Raleigh, North Carolina resident said. “The party mechanism has to change, and a new definition of the party process has to be made clear.”
That means replacing the current system of “retail politics” with one that accommodates people who are diverse, committed, have fresh ideas and a solid work ethic, she said. It is also critically important to reform the campaign finance structure so that people other than the very wealthy or those tied to wealthy donors have a chance to run for office and win.
“Given the demographic shifts and the people who vote for them, you’d think Democrats would focus on this but that’s the ‘challenge,’” Mrs. Taylor said. “There’s a tension between engagement and where you’re seeking strategic counsel. How are Democratic leaders leveraging this bloc?”
Again” rally at Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, Oct. 2, 2018. Democrats are waiting for a clear-cut challenger to emerge from the field of candidates.
They’re not, Ms. Taylor said, because the Democratic establishment continues to cling to the misguided belief that attracting the White working class and Reagan Democrats back to the party is a winning strategy.
“People of color show up but instead of acknowledging this group, Democrats have moved in the opposite direction,” said Ms. Taylor. “In some ways it’s weird but it’s predicated on fear. The idea exists that the only way White people can survive and thrive is by oppressing others. Some level of that has always been engrained in America.”
Tamieka Atkins told The Final Call she didn’t watch the debate because she customarily catches up a day or two later. But she said she’s read all the think pieces and analysis in the debate’s aftermath.
“It’s more an exercise in futility and posturing,” she said of the debates. “There’s some good talk but not good plans. Healthcare is very important to African Americans and a big part of their quality of life but no one’s talking about it in a way to help those listening. Folks are looking for easy comparisons but they’re not getting it.”
The Atlanta resident said she’s completely non-partisan but added, “the Democratic Party doesn’t take us seriously.” Ms. Atkins is executive director of ProGeorgia, Georgia’s state-based non-partisan voter engagement advocacy organization. She was the founding director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Atlanta Chapter.
She is one of a cadre of organizations and individuals in the South who well before 2017 ratcheted up the ground game—crisscrossing the state, knocking on doors in neighborhoods and communities where some Democratic politicians and operatives never thought to go, talking to residents, listening and encouraging them to register and then making sure they made it to the polls.
“We registered 24,000 people in 2019 and 8,000 in 2017,” said Ms. Atkins, a member of the State Voices National Network of Tables. “When I knock on doors as a part of these grassroots programs, people aren’t demoralized. People are definitely engaged. They have a deeper curiosity and make the decision to stay involved. Folks are asking a lot more questions about voting machines, polling stations and other things.”
Ms. Atkins is working on voter mobilization and organizing in Georgia, which is widely acknowledged as the epicenter of voter suppression and voter manipulation by the Republican Party, aided and abetted by Gov. Brian Kemp. As Secretary of State, Mr. Kemp orchestrated voter purges and blatantly used other forms of voter manipulation and intimidation. For example, his office struck more than 1.5 million voters from the rolls between 2012 and 2016.
He was able to do that because Republican legislators, since 2013, doubled down on the opportunity to roll back voting rights for Blacks after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act. This removed Department of Justice oversight of Georgia and its 159 counties and eliminated the need for preclearance from the federal government of any changes to the voting apparatus and/ or procedures. Mr. Kemp and state election officials cut back early voting, closed 214 polling stations— the majority in Black districts—and blocked 53,000 voters from casting a ballot in 2018 because of the “exact match” program.
Ms. Atkins said she and members of the Domestic Workers Alliance have been on the frontlines of the fight to secure affordable health care for Georgia residents who qualify. She said Georgians have two options, private healthcare insurance and Medicaid waivers that are offered to one-third of the residents who quality. Georgia is one of 14 states where state officials refuse to expand Medicaid.
“They took the power to expand Medicaid from the governor and gave it to the Legislature and now two-thirds of the legislature would have to vote for expansion for it to be implemented,” she said. “Who gives away power? We were pissed because we (the Domestic Workers Alliance) had been working on this for three years.”
Dr. Monique Gamble said she appreciated Sens. Harris and Booker picking up the slack and articulating the issues of concerns that resonate with Black people. She singled out Julian Castro for also centering his campaign on race and racial issues, saying what few of his colleagues have uttered or articulated.
Mr. Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration and former mayor of San Antonio, Texas did not qualify for the recent debate. “The Democratic Party is supposed to be the big tent but there are unique challenges,” said Dr. Gamble, visiting assistant professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia. “We need challenges, but this is a blessing and a curse. Being a big tent is a good thing but if you have tough issues you’re wrestling with, that makes it more difficult,” she said.
“There’s nobility in embracing a diverse group of people and it is respectable, but it also could inspire cowardice. Diverse groups have diverse issues and it takes courage to face and deal with them.”
Students registering to vote, Sept. 25, 2018. Observers say Black voter registration is key to the 2020 Presidential election.
Dr. Gamble also faulted the Democratic Party for reaching backwards for Reagan Democrats and wished aloud that more Democrats would take former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ political tack and adjust to the current political climate where Republicans are doing whatever they need to stay in power, while Democrats call for politeness, civility and unity.
“Hundreds of thousands of people who could use the attention are ignored,” said the Alabama native. “They have a preoccupation with the White working class which is illustrative of where the Democrats’ policies and interests are and what they’re focused on. Black and Brown people are most consistent— no one wants part-time love.”
Dr. Gamble said the centrist-progressive split is real and used her father as an example. He’s a centrist who voted for Reagan and George Bush. He’s a military veteran who is uncomfortable with the progressive agenda.
“I’m not where he is but I’m not as far left as Sen. Elizabeth Warren,” she said. “My healthcare position is Medicare for All while centrists prefer Obamacare. The overhaul of American institutions is scary for some people. For older Millennials and Gen Xers, life is harder. The problems we are inheriting are deep and big. Incremental bites is not enough.”
The interviewees agreed that Mr. Trump has ushered in an era of open racial hostility and aggression, has emboldened White nationalists and other hardline White people, embarked on dismantling the administrative state as he promised during his campaign and has opened a Pandora’s box of racial animus, hatred and White privilege that will continue to haunt this country long after he’s done.
Dr. Campbell said the Democratic Party must focus on diversity and inclusion, invest in the organizations and leadership and continue to hire Black staffers who are self-assured in their Blackness and their expertise. Ms. Taylor and Ms. Atkins spoke of the need to learn the lessons from the past and put a laser focus on local and municipal elections.
Ms. Atkins said she and her colleagues are paying close attention to voting, the 2020 census, the legalization of marijuana and the reduction in the incarceration rate.
“We’ve learned how quickly things can change after eight years,” Ms. Atkins said. “We’re living it. It should be a lesson to us. There are structures that allow White supremacy to flourish at the federal level. We have to challenge local positions of leadership where White men are over-represented.
“White political operatives came to us, but they have their own agenda. We’re just doing our own thing. We started the Women of Color Initiative and have been touring and having listening sessions. At the end of the day, we’ll develop our own agenda, develop our shared collective vision,” she said.
Dr. Gamble said she has concerns about the threat of the toxic racial environment on Black people. She doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the answer and is fearful about the upcoming election because she’s not fully convinced someone won’t manipulate the electoral system again.
“Nothing has stopped since 2016,” she said. “We could have a viable candidate and someone could throw a bomb like (former FBI Director) James Comey did just before the 2016 election.” Mrs. Sankara- Jabar said she supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 and supports him now even though some parts of his platform and agenda does not completely align with hers. She fears that the Democratic Party might do in 2020 what it did 2016 and sabotage Sen. Sanders so he doesn’t get the party nomination.
“It’s complete bulls*** to say he’s too far left. This is really about neoliberalism,” she said. “People don’t want a … neoliberal. If Democrats chose this, they will continue to lose.”
Meanwhile, she said Africans in America need to build their own party.
“We need to strategically work together. I believe in theory and practice that we have to build Black independence and self-determination but still interact with our allies,” she said. “We don’t have a choice. I’m a supporter of reparations because we’ve never been made whole. We have to have a ‘two-ends’ strategy of building in the midst of White extremist terror as African Americans did during Reconstruction.
“Ultimately, my politics is about liberation. And we can learn from the past because we have the blueprint from which to learn.”
This Article was originally published in The Final Call BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: NOV 14, 2019 – 10:18:58 AM
A crowd some of Rodney Reed’s family members estimated was about 1,000 people, recently gathered at the Governor’s Mansion in Austin, Texas demanding that Gov. Greg Abbott act to halt the execution of Mr. Reed in a controversial murder case.
In the past several months, there has been a groundswell of support for Mr. Reed, 51, who has been on death row for 20 years. In 1996, he was charged with and convicted of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites by an all-White jury.
Rodney Reed and his family have always maintained his innocence and his brother and family spokesman Roderick Reed said the family wants a stay of execution and a new trial.
Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution Nov. 20.
“All we want is a fair trial. That’s all we’re asking for,” Mr. Reed told The Final Call. “We want to be able to present witnesses and new evidence and clear his name … I believed he would have gotten off when he was on trial because we knew the truth. He and the rest of us as a family have always stood in that truth.”
Roderick Reed said he knew his brother and Ms. Stites had been in a relationship and had met Ms. Stites but because of the racial climate and the potential for backlash and retaliation, the couple had kept their relationship secret. Ms. Stites, at the time, was engaged to a police officer, Jimmy Fennell, who many believed was her killer.
The uncovering of new evidence, recent affidavits from witnesses that point to Mr. Fennell’s involvement in Ms. Stites’ death and enduring questions about details of the victim’s death necessitates a new trial, Mr. Reed’s supporters say.
Roderick Reed and his wife Wana Akpan recounted the isolation the family endured. The family approached local churches and civil rights organizations for help but was rebuffed, he said.
“The family had been turned down repeatedly by local clergy. The Nation of Islam was the only one present,” said Student Min. Robert L. Muhammad, who has been supporting the Reed family for about 17 years. “The family has been disappointed and dismayed but recently, we have seen a great outpouring of support recently that is very encouraging.”
Ms. Akpan concurred.
“We were shunned by their people, shunned by Black press,” she recalled. “When the family first went out to Black churches, one pastor said, ‘I wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole.’ ”
Both spoke of the Reed brothers—Robert, Ronald, Richard, Roderick, Ryan—being denied jobs because of their last names, and some older family members staying away from the family home for fear of being shot, ostracized or punished for their family ties.
Bastrop, Texas is 33 miles from Austin, the state capital and 85 miles from San Antonio. In 2017, the town had 8,802 residents. Min. Muhammad, Mr. Reed and Ms. Akpan described a small Southern town steeped in racism, with the typical American racial hierarchy of Whites on top, Latinos in the middle and Blacks languishing at the bottom.
“Bastrop is racist but it’s lot different and deeper now,” Ms. Akpan said. “You don’t realize how deep it is because it’s almost second nature. It’s so deeply engrained in people. But it’s not like how it used to be. We have Confederate monuments on the courthouse lawn. Things may be getting better but there is always a sense of looming White supremacy and the racial hierarchy.”
Min. Muhammad, who heads Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, agreed.
“Bastrop has a history of racism that existed there from the early 1900s to the ’70s and ’80s,” said Minister Muhammad, who was born and raised in nearby Austin, which is a considerably more liberal city.
Mr. Reed said he knew his brother was dating Ms. Stites although that wasn’t common knowledge. His brother, his sister-in-law said, got caught up in the narrative of a Black guy was in relationship with White woman in a Southern town.
Staff at The Innocence Project, which is handling Mr. Reed’s case, and the Reed family have raised a number of troubling questions and highlighted a series of discrepancies which they say all add up to Mr. Reed being an innocent man railroaded by the criminal justice system. It includes discrepancies about the time of Ms. Stites’ death as well as, the fact that the murder weapon, a belt, has never been tested for DNA evidence; and the state’s three forensic experts’ admission on the record to errors in their testimony, which led to Rodney Reed’s conviction and death sentence. They have submitted affidavits that the original time of death is inaccurate, charging the timeline for Mr. Reed killing Stites implausible.
Further, renown forensic pathologists including Dr. Michael Baden, Dr. Werner Spitz, Dr. LeRoy Riddick, M.D., and Dr. Cyril Wecht, have all concluded that Rodney Reed’s guilt is medically and scientifically impossible; Mr. Reed and Ms. Stites were having a consensual sexual relationship although at the time of the trial, no one came forward to corroborate their relationship. Today, new witnesses including Stites’s cousin and a co-worker, Alicia Slater, have corroborated Rodney Reed’s claim that they knew that Reed and Stites were romantically involved for months after the murder, and Jimmy Fennell was the prime suspect in the case. Mr. Fennell’s best friend at the time of the crime, Bastrop Sheriff’s Officer Curtis Davis, has now revealed that Mr. Fennell gave an inconsistent account of where he was on the night of the murder.
Two witnesses have come forward in recent weeks and submitted signed affidavits that add to the mounting evidence against Mr. Fennell. These affidavits include testimony from an insurance salesperson who stated that Mr. Fennell threatened to kill Ms. Stites while applying for life insurance. The second witness was a deputy in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the murder, who alleges Mr. Fennell made an alarming and incriminating statement at Ms. Stites’s funeral regarding her body. Then there is an alleged a confession by Mr. Fennell that came to light Oct. 29. Mr. Fennell served 10 years and was released from prison in 2018 after being convicted of assaulting a woman who was in his custody as a police officer. Arthur Snow, a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood and prison mate of Mr. Fennell, disclosed a conversation in which Mr. Fennell allegedly confessed to murdering Stacey Stites stating, “I had to kill my nigg**-loving fiancée.”
The prosecution’s only forensic evidence linking Rodney Reed to the crime was semen taken from Ms. Stites’s body, which was attributed to the consensual relationship between them. The prosecution used this to connect him to the murder and refute a consensual romantic relationship, but some testimony has been recanted and discredits the state’s case, The Innocence Project said.
“We identify as death penalty abolitionists,” Ms. Akpan said. “Gov. (Greg) Abbott has been silent. He’s aware of Rodney’s case but has not made any statement, said nothing about it. He may be waiting for the (state) Supreme Court to act.”
Ms. Akpan said there are many holes in this case and substantial doubt.
“We want the state to give Rodney’s life back, show that he’s innocent,” she said. “The family wants them to stop the execution ASAP. Abbott can issue a stay and he has the power to direct this towards a new case.”
Rodney’s case has caught the attention of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Kim Kardashian—who Ms. Akpan said has called, kept in touch and who is working behind the scenes along with rapper Meek Mill. Prison abolitionists, anti-death penalty advocates, ministers, priests and pastors have joined to lift their voices calling for Gov. Abbott to issue a stay of execution and order a new trial. Journalist and social justice activist Shaun King started a petition that had garnered more than 2 million signatures.
Then on Oct. 10-11, Dr. Phil McGraw explored the case on his television show to consider Mr. Reed’s claims of innocence.
“I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’s guilty or not guilty,” said Dr. Phil, who had an in-person interview with Mr. Reed, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre. “I think the question is, has he had a fair trial with a full airing of all of the evidence. And I think the answer to that question, in my opinion, is not just ‘no’ but ‘hell no.’ ”
The Innocence Project and Rodney Reed are seeking DNA testing of evidence that they say will exonerate him.
Ms. Akpan described the conditions under which her brother-in-law has lived for the past two decades.
“He’s incredibly strong. God has allowed me to see and witness true strength,” she said. “I went to visit him. He was upbeat. He is in a 6-foot square foot cell 23 hours a day, 7 days a week. He’s a big man in small space. He has pretty severe sensory deprivation. He’s not allowed to hug his mother, family or friends since all this time. But despite all that he’s pretty positive.”
She said Mr. Reed has no access to a computer, cell phone, or technology. He has supporters who reach out to him and that happens through his partner Judy Ann, who shares every day comments from his supporters and updates.
“He has family visits two hours a week. There’s a lot to get out because he’s trying to get everything out,” she said. “It can be a little tense sometimes. Rodney remains very strong and is being cautiously optimistic.”
Roderick Reed said his brother’s incarceration has been “a game-changer, life changing.”
“Dealing with this for this amount of time is a life changer. It has changed our lives. We’ll never be the same,” he said. “But every day knowing the truth and that Rodney’s innocent and this experience has brought me to a whole other place in my mind.”
Now, Roderick Reed said, he’s focused, looking forward to the day when his brother comes home.
“I’m very optimistic. He will be exonerated. We will have time to heal,” he concluded.
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: NOV 6, 2019 – 10:18:39 AM
This article was originally published in The Final Call
WASHINGTON—Entertainment mogul Byron Allen said the genesis of a $20 billion lawsuit he filed against Comcast Corp. came from a conversation and a question posed to him by Obama administration officials.
Disgusted with the racism—veiled and otherwise—and tired of the institutional barriers put in place to economically stifle Blacks in the business sphere, he said he decided to file a lawsuit against cable giant Comcast and Charter Communications.
Mr. Allen has offered scathing criticism of Comcast’s position and tactics. Their behavior has been racist and deeply disrespectful despite his being able to amass eight cable networks, 43 syndicated TV series, The Weather Channel, a movie studio and a movie distribution company, according to Mr. Allen.
That was in 2015. After a bruising four-year battle in the lower courts in which the Ninth Circuit court ruled twice in his favor, on Nov. 13 the case is slated to be heard in front of the justices in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The Obama administration came to me and said some media companies wanted to get bigger, buy bigger assets,” Mr. Allen recently told the crew at The Breakfast Club, a hip hop-oriented radio and internet broadcast. “(They) said Comcast wanted to buy this and Charter wanted to buy that blah, blah, blah. They asked if they were good corporate citizens. I asked if they wanted the Hollywood answer or the real answer. They said they wanted the real answer so I told them, ‘Not no, but hell no,’ they’re not good citizens.”
“They said how do you figure? The industry spends $70 billion in licensing cable networks. Seventy billion dollars and African American-owned media get zero. And that’s not fair. They said we hear that a lot. They asked what I’m willing to do. They said people were afraid to speak up because of repercussions and I said I’ll speak up and do it in a way that it wouldn’t be a problem again. So I filed a lawsuit.”
Mr. Allen, who owns media assets he says total $1 billion, filed a federal lawsuit against Comcast and filed a $10 million lawsuit against Charter. The suit, filed in California, contends that Comcast racially discriminated against him when it refused to carry his cable-TV channels on its systems. He is also challenging the fact that Comcast spends $25 billion a year on licensing channels but less than $3 million of that pot is spent on “100 percent African American-owned media.”
While Mr. Allen hopes to win his case, there is growing speculation that a win could change the way discrimination is handled.
The lawsuit is causing increasing concern among civil rights organizations who worry that if Comcast wins, the Trump administration may take the opportunity to weaken or gut a key provision of discrimination protections in labor and contracts for Blacks, while erasing a 153-year-old post-Civil War civil rights bill that ensured “that all people in the United States—(specifically Blacks)—h(ad) the same rights to make and enforce contracts enjoyed by white citizens.”
Kelly Charles-Collins, a Tampa-based lawyer, said the case has enormous implications.
“With the way that our courts are set up, they’re not the biggest supporters of civil rights, although there are laws intended to protect,” said Atty. Charles-Collins, an American employment law attorney, award-winning TEDx speaker and CEO of HR Legally Speaking, a human resources consulting firm. “The NAACP now understands the importance of this case. It’s not just about his getting his stations on Comcast.”
“This is a really huge issue that people don’t see the nuance in. The bigger issue is being able to contract. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King talked about economic inclusion. This is what this case is about: the ability for us to be included in the economic success of this country.”
Mrs. Charles-Collins said what’s at issue is that Mr. Allen is arguing that race was a factor and insists he can prove it. “With ‘but for,’ the difference is whether race is a factor versus whether it was the factor … but how do you prove that? Very rarely do you have direct evidence of racism. Someone can argue that their decisions are or were race-neutral and under current law is very nearly impossible to prove.
“And now the Department of Justice is involved and looking for ways to erode sections of the Section 1981,” she explained.
The Trump administration through the Justice Dept. signed on as a friend of the court, siding with Comcast. Critics say the feds apparently plan to focus on Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights law in an effort to erode the law. The Trump administration position is in keeping with the government’s hostility to Black people, employee protections and its business-friendly pronouncements and policies, say critics.
Cori Harvey, a Florida-based attorney who specializes in business law, economics and entrepreneurship, said the case could be consequential.
“This could represent a significant lowering of the barrier to justice,” she explained.
“It’s a fundamental question of who has access to legal recourse. The defendant has information needed such as if anything happened in emails, correspondence, etc. The plaintiff is in the dark. There’s power in darkness in shielding the defendant.”
Mr. Allen will “be able to get access to emails … this forces them to deliver into the public sphere information previously hidden,” said the attorney.
“The Ninth Circuit gave Mr. Allen a shot. It forces Comcast to open secret chambers. That doesn’t happen too often. This leaves Comcast exposed and vulnerable.”
Mr. Allen’s lawyer, Louis R. “Skip” Miller, managing partner of Los Angeles law firm Miller Barondess LLP, said he hadn’t expected the case to reach to the Supreme Court.
“We won in the 9th Circuit District Court and I thought it was the end of it because the U.S. Supreme Court takes just a few cases,” said Mr. Miller, one of Los Angeles’ top litigators. “So I wasn’t really expecting this case to be considered but this case is really important.”
Mr. Miller, who has been practicing law for 45 years, said that right after the Civil War, Section 1981 prohibited racial discrimination in contracts to allow freed slaves to move towards economic self-sufficiency.
“It was upheld over the years and construed broadly,” he said. “In our case we say race has to be a motivating factor not one factor. They could say they don’t have the bandwidth and not wanting to add channels. Non-racial, racial, it doesn’t make sense. Racial discrimination is bad. It’s pretty clear that you can’t discriminate.”
When asked, he said he wouldn’t be arguing the case before the Supreme Court. The person Mr. Allen has hired for that task, he said, is Erwin Chemerinsky, who became the 13th dean of Berkeley School of Law in 2017.
“He’s an expert trial lawyer,” said Mr. Miller of Mr. Chemerinsky, who is the founding dean of the University of California Irvine’s Donald Bren School of Law and served from 2008 to 2017. He has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court.
Mr. Allen has offered scathing criticism of Comcast’s position and tactics. Their behavior has been racist and deeply disrespectful despite his being able to amass eight cable networks, 43 syndicated TV series, The Weather Channel, a movie studio and a movie distribution company, according to Mr. Allen.
He has also inked deals with Dish Network, DirecTV, Verizon FiOS and AT&T/U-Verse.
He accused Comcast of repeatedly lowballing him in negotiations and disrespecting him because of his race. Examples? He said an employee told him a Comcast executive said they didn’t intend to create another Bob Johnson, referring to the billionaire founder of Black Entertainment Television. Another allegedly told his governmental affairs person that Comcast doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.
“They treat us like we’re like a bunch of monkeys looking for a banana. They told me drop the case and we might meet with you, might work for you. That’s racist,” he said on The Breakfast Club. “First of all, we won twice and I didn’t bring it to the Supreme Court. They should do it the same way as they do with all White people … I asked them to sit with me and they said no.”
“Have respect sit down with me, work it out and it goes away. Don’t jeopardize 100 million minorities for this,” he said.
A host of civil rights organizations agree with the case’s importance. The NAACP, the National Urban League, Color of Change, and the National Action Network are among those who have filed briefs in support of Mr. Allen’s lawsuit. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a separate brief that included 10 other organizations, including the ACLU, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Women’s Law Center. Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal and Ron Widen signed friendly briefs but only eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus did the same.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said on Twitter, “Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 is literally one of the nation’s oldest civil rights statutes. We are proud to stand with @NAACP @NAACP _ LDF & @civilrightsorg in calling on the #SCOTUS to reject Comcast’s attempt to cut the heart of this historic law. @LawyersComm.”
The Lawyers’ Committee brief represents 22 organizations, including the Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Organization for Women Foundation.
She described the case elsewhere as “the most important civil rights case to be heard by the Supreme Court in term. A negative ruling stands to all but shut the courthouse door on a vast number of victims of discrimination all across the country.”
The NAACP, Color of Change and other civil rights groups have called for a boycott of Comcast because the media giant seeks to change a seminal civil rights law.
In a fundraising letter, Color of Change said, “Comcast and its executives are seeking to roll back landmark civil rights protections for Black people, while also seeking to profit from our pain and the history of struggle … we cannot allow a corporation to set a dangerous precedent with our rights, while also profiting from the painful past that led to the passing of the very civil rights act it is challenging.”
Comcast officials have dismissed Mr. Allen’s claims set forth in his lawsuit.
Comcast said race had nothing to do with rejecting Mr. Allen’s channels, noting that they had low ratings. In response to an earlier NAACP statement, Comcast spokesperson Sena Fitzmaurice said in an email to a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter: “This case arises from a frivolous discrimination claim that cannot detract from Comcast’s strong civil rights and diversity record or our outstanding record of supporting and fostering diverse programming from African American-owned channels.”
“We have been forced to appeal this decision to defend against a meritless $20 billion claim, but have kept our argument narrowly focused. We are not seeking to roll back the civil rights laws—all we are asking is that the court apply Section 1981 in our case the same way it has been interpreted for decades across the country.”
“Given the makeup of the Supreme Court and what the DOJ (Justice Dept.) presents, there may be an opportunity to set forth certain standards in the law,” said Los Angeles attorney Dawn Collins, co-founder of CollinsKim LLP and a specialist in employment law.
“But it may be a opportunity to establish higher standards and burden of proof. The standard from 1866 could change and make it harder to get a trial. That’s the scary part,” she said. “This could have a lasting impact on legal standard and making it more difficult for the plaintiff, making it a lot harder to open the door, get through the door.”
Mr. Allen said he didn’t ask for his case to be considered by the Supreme Court, but asserts he will not withdraw his lawsuit and remains confident that he will prevail.
“Unfortunately, Comcast has chosen to use the U.S. Supreme Court to maximize its own profits. If Comcast thinks that we are wrong, it should go to trial and make its case. It should not challenge and put at risk all minorities’ ability to prove discrimination under the Civil Rights Act that has been in place for 153 years,” Allen said in a guest column in Deadline in August this year. “Meanwhile, I hope that people of conscience will let the U.S. Supreme Court, Donald Trump’s DOJ, and Comcast know, enough is enough.”
“Four hundred years after the start of slavery in America, every day, America kills African Americans in the classroom by making sure we don’t get a proper education; in the boardroom by making sure we don’t have true economic inclusion; and in the courtroom with Jim Crow laws and massive incarceration, long before you watch us bleed to death in the streets. I hope that America takes this historic opportunity to make sure that we have equal rights for all and don’t allow Comcast—headed by CEO Brian Roberts—to manipulate civil rights laws in partnership with the Donald Trump administration, which will hurt millions of Americans, for Comcast’s own financial gain.”
https://sptnkne.ws/ArWN This Investigative Piece was originally published in Sputnik News WASHINGTON (Sputnik), Barrington M. Salmon – Imagine standing on the rim of a crater almost two miles wide and anywhere from 850 to 1,500 feet deep that is not a naturally occurring phenomenon, but man-made. … Continue reading Arizona Apache Tribe Steps Up Fight With Copper Mine Over Sacred Land
This article was originally published in The Final Call
By Barrington Salmon Contributing Writer
WASHINGTON—Three years into his presidency, Donald Trump has taken a hatchet to the country’s institutions and upended more than two centuries of accepted presidential norms.
Historians, presidential experts, academics, scholars and swathes of the public are alarmed and dismayed by what the 45th president’s doing, and everyone is weighing in on the fallout, implications and consequences to the country. Some argue that America is fighting for its soul and there are those who are wrestling with questions and concerns about if and how America will survive.
Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III, paused before trying to answer the question posed about the extent of damage Mr. Trump has inflicted on America’s body politic.
“Ahh, that’s a very hard question to answer because we’re still in the midst of the damage. It’s a more historic question that historians will have to answer,” the political scientist, author and talk show host told The Final Call. “Steve Bannon told us during the campaign that the goal was deconstruction of the administrative state. That’s what they’ve done.”
“All this is to enable the ruling class to get an even stronger hold on the ‘treasury’ so that they can extract every cent possible from this country. Privatization is the neoliberal agenda to put into private hands the military, the educational system, everything the government is designed to provide. The degree to which they’ll be able to do that, time will tell.”
Dr. Leon said this administration “wants to deregulate everything.”
“They want to drill where they want, to deregulate everything, deforest everything, rape and pillage,” he said. “In talking about the administrative state, Trump is a transactional guy. Systems, structures and processes are encumbrances to you reaching your objective. You don’t need the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education or the Energy Department to get in the way.”
Dr. Leon, a nationally syndicated columnist and the host of SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s, “Inside The Issues with Wilmer Leon,” said the damage won’t be as deep as some think because a good deal of what Mr. Trump has done has been through executive orders which aren’t as binding as a court decision, a constitutional change or legislation passed.
He characterized himself as an eternal optimist who believes the United States will survive and come back stronger.
From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Mr. Trump has pursued a strategy of racial grievance and racial animus and promoting White nationalist extremists, Neo-Nazis and Klan members, while launching targeted attacks against Muslims, immigrants, Latinos other non-Whites, and, of course, Blacks.
On a broader scale, he assembled a cabinet of millionaires and billionaires as well as lobbyists and other industry types who all oppose the mandates of the federal agencies they’re supposed to be running.
South Florida resident and radio personality Steven “Sir Rockwell” Warner is on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Dr. Leon, and try as he might, feels none of the Dr. Leon’s optimism.
“I think Trump has done irreversible damage,” said Mr. Warner, owner and host of the flagship Internet radio show “Wake Up and Live,” a daily syndicated program of music and commentary that is carried on at least 41 online stations around the world and has just under 200,000 listeners. “His motto is racism and greed. I think he has really opened doors for racist policies and procedures to be put in place. He says to White people it’s your American right to be racist, to put America first. He has given people license to hate Black people, legitimized discrimination, and police think they have the right to kill you.”
The Jamaican native who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., said he’s watched with dismay as the Trump administration has closed the door on legal immigration using race-based criteria to severely limit the number of immigrants coming to this country. Meanwhile, Mr. Warner added, Mr. Trump is “killing small business owners.”
“ … Because he’s giving big businesses the opportunity to maximize profits and cut overhead,” he explained. “Twenty-five years ago, every corner in South Florida had a Caribbean store but places like Walmart are running Caribbean people out of business. There’s nothing but Haitians and Jamaicans at Walmart. And then they’re automating.”
“As an immigrant, I know we’re going to feel it the most. It’s sad because there’s a generation now in the position to pull up their grandparents, moms and dads (from the countries of their birth) but immigration restrictions will blunt that.”
Michele L. Watley and Jamila Bey were more philosophical, thinking in terms of the positive benefits that will likely accrue from the destruction or dismantling of this country’s system, and as Ms. Watley theorized that as this system is disrupted, what are opportunities waiting to be reaped?
“I do believe that every destruction carries with it seeds of renewal,” said Ms. Bey, a D.C. metropolitan area-based journalist and commentator. “What he has absolutely done is reawakened a type of understanding of the civic responsibility—what should be the role of government service. Then there’s the question of what are the guarantees of political protection which are being dismissed and denied.”
“Remaking society is the absolute upside and offers some great opportunities for the future. I’m very optimistic that great change will come and give power to we who have lacked it. People are looking at this and saying if he unmade this, we can remake it. Non-profits and community activists are absolutely seeing a bump in volunteering and activism. The thought of the Constitution as a living document will be taken to heart.”
Ms. Watley, founder and owner of The Griot Group LLC, a strategic communications and political advocacy consulting practice, said sometimes disruption can be a good thing. Mr. Trump, she said, has changed the communications paradigm.
“He has changed the communications space. He speaks directly to the people, has no press secretary and tweets with typos and all,” said Ms. Watley, founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to amplifying the voices and power of Black women through education and advocacy. “He’s cut out the middle man which I think is a good thing. It’s good because it’s coming straight out of the horse’s mouth. It’s transparency of the highest form.”
There are other things, however, that Mr. Trump has done which is of immense concern to her as a Black woman, which is why Ms. Watley’s so involved with organizations like Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet.
The Kansas City, Mo., native served as the national African-American outreach political director for Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016 and worked in other local political campaigns. The brazen racist comments and tactics of the president, the fuel he’s added to racial debates in this country and the struggle women and Black women have in attaining parity in salaries, job opportunities and dealing with gender and race is why she said she’s so committed to organizing and mobilizing Blacks, particularly women, she said.
Whether Mr. Trump wins in 2020 or not, Blacks have their work cut out for them.
“Trump has continued to campaign for the 3½ years he’s been in office. He has very strong support and enthusiastic followers,” she said. “We’re going to have to go above and beyond to match their enthusiasm. I think he’s going to win but I hope I’m wrong. There is hope for continued change. If he loses, him not winning sets the stage for complacency when people are poised for change. What are we going to do if he loses? The problems and challenges this country poses for Black people won’t go away if he’s gone.”
Ms. Watley said the 2018 midterms is a template of what’s possible. Organizing and mobilizing in the Black community made the difference, particularly in House races. In the aftermath, it’s clear that those seeking to become engaged politically don’t have to have an over-abundance of experience and/or knowledge in order to be informed enough to serve.
“This will not be the last time we see this. If we can fight off what we’re facing, it will make us stronger,” predicted Ms. Watley. “And his base of support won’t tuck their tails and go away quietly. They have the resources and power to make things really rough for us. Trump supporters will burn down the country if necessary ….”
Mr. Trump, Jamila Bey said, represents the worst qualities of this country, citing his administration’s decision to cage immigrant children trying to enter the U.S. and stirring up racial animus as just two instances of a litany of other abuses, but she also said she likes to remind people that nothing lasts forever.
“Some would say he’s Karma, chickens coming home to roost. The reckoning surely is coming. The country will survive and Trump the same. America will survive, but Whiteness as a standard of perfection might not,” she added.
“He feels like he can do what he wants,” Ms. Bey said of Mr. Trump. “The executive branch is a bunch of lying, thieving criminals. (Attorney General) Barr is going to jail; Rudy Giuliani might, too. They all lawyering up because they’ve transgressed.”
Yet despite the abuse of power, the appearance of using his position for personal gain and the other offenses, Ms. Bey said she doesn’t expect Americans to rise up the way we see in Hong Kong, Chile, Puerto Rico, Paris and other parts of Europe.
Dwight Kirk, a veteran labor activist, agreed with Mr. Warner that Mr. Trump has done significant damage to America’s institutions and norms. But he said he doesn’t buy into the idea that getting back to normal will be good for Blacks.
“That is not a status quo we want to go back to,” he said. “The status quo was unfair and unjust to begin with. Some things will go back to default but Trumpism has put on the table that things going forward will be different. Forces unearthed by Trump will not go back to normal.”
“I believe he has legitimized it for some in the country to embrace the notion that institutional norms aren’t necessary,” Mr. Kirk continued. “There are norms that people have to individually respect but we see him continually pushing the boundaries of executive power.”
People involved in what he called “the political game,” saw Mr. Trump as a maverick but expected him to adjust, he said. They also expected him to surround himself with experienced, knowledgeable people. He’s done neither. And he’s acting as if he’s running a company. Norms for him are malleable and he’s enjoyed trampling on norms and institutions, constantly testing the boundaries. He hasn’t played by the rules. No one in his administration has, said Mr. Kirk, a strategist, publicist and photojournalist.
Mr. Trump championed himself as a supporter of ordinary people but that has turned out to be a lie, he said. The president is an enemy of organized labor and has stocked the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Department of Labor with people opposed to unions and collective bargaining.
“But what he’s done is catalyze a resistance that existed anyway. We’ve seen a surge of strikes and solidarity with working people and unions,” Mr. Kirk said. “They are occurring and they’re succeeding. Sixty-six percent of people say they support unions. Collective action is supported by the public, not because they support Trump, there’s a sense that there’s a fundamental imbalance of power. Trump and his attacks have been devastating because he’s unleashed his executive power but people’s resistance movements have gained force.”
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON CONTRIBUTING WRITER @BSALMONDC | LAST UPDATED: SEP 11, 2019 – 9:27:46 AM
Perhaps it was inevitable that the National Football League would not be immune to the raw, angry clashes around race that have exploded into super bursts of toxic energy around the country particularly since wannabe cop George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
P Francisco 49ers Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the National Anthem prior to their game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte North Carolina, Sept. 18, 2016. Photo: MGN Online
Sports, we’re told, is the great equalizer. On the field, they intone, race doesn’t matter, only athletic prowess, hard work and the devotion to winning. But this truism is as false as a $3 dollar bill, as illustrated by the NFL’s reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s fateful decision to kneel before a preseason game in August 2016. His gesture demonstrated his opposition to the second class treatment of Black people, racial injustice and condemnation of a society which condones police brutality and the extra-judicial murders of Black men, women and children.
Since then, the former San Francisco quarterback has been banished by owners of the NFL’s 32 teams, ostracized by some fellow players and shunned because of a principled stance against the laundry list of racial- and racist-inspired challenges that confront Blacks in America. He has also won the admiration of many, inspired a movement, was offered a Nike deal, continued his activism and forced the league to settle and pay him as part of a labor dispute. He still doesn’t have a job in the NFL.
Despite NFL team owners antagonizing, threatening and bullying players who knelt in solidarity, spoke out or displayed other forms of civil disobedience—and President Donald Trump jumping in to disparage and insult the Black players and changing the narrative of the real reasons for the protests—the issue hasn’t gone away.
Color of Change is just one of a number of social justice organizations that have supported Mr. Kaepernick since he began his protest. Executive Director Rashad Robinson said Mr. Kaepernick has played a vital role in pushing forward the struggle for racial equality, fairness and justice.
“Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter activists have opened up the movement and engaged to change written and unwritten rules,” he told The Final Call in a recent interview. “We’ve been really engaged. We’ve done work to push corporations to respond and support Kaepernick and Eric Reid. We’ve gotten members of Color of Change to give visible support. We’ve fought back in the media on behalf of Kaepernick and other players and offered other support with op-eds.”
“We feel that we have to leverage these movements for system change. That’s our goal.”
There have been noticeable impacts on the NFL because of the player protest movement. The subsequent public boycott of the NFL by those supporting Mr. Kaepernick—who last played for the San Francisco 49ers—has hurt revenue, reduced viewership and tarnished the brand.
Fans who support Mr. Kaepernick have refused to watch games, attendance has fallen and big money entertainers refused to be a part of the NFL’s signature Super Bowl 2019 halftime show as the league refused to allow Mr. Kaepernick—who despite his age is still considered an elite quarterback—to vie for and take his place on a team.
At its start in the first year, more than 200 football players joined Mr. Kaepernick in kneeling or engaging in other forms of silent protest. But over time, the numbers have dwindled, with players like Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid and now-Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills being the most outspoken supporters of Mr. Kaepernick and articulators of the protestors’ positions.
Mr. Robinson and other social justice warriors understand and acknowledge how formidable an adversary the NFL is. It’s a $75 billion behemoth promoting the most popular sport in America and the 32 owners wield considerable power. But as several interviewees noted, the players don’t realize the strength they have because the NFL would not and could not function without their participation.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (15) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sept. 9, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Photo: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
“This was a golden opportunity missed,” said Gary Johnson, founder and publisher of Black Men in America, a premier online magazine. “One Sunday, just one Sunday, if all or most of the players sat down, it would change everything … it would ripple around the whole country.”
Mr. Johnson’s son Chris agreed.
“The players don’t understand the power they have. They are the billion-dollar product. Until those seats are empty, the owners won’t get it,” said the younger Mr. Johnson, a political commentator and musician.
For three years, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell searched in vain for ways to silence the protestors and turn the page on the social justice demonstrations. He now believes he’s found the perfect tool.
The billionaire entertainer and mogul recently joined Mr. Goodell a few weeks ago to announce a collaboration that names Roc Nation as the league’s official live music entertainment strategists. As part of the deal, Roc Nation will spearhead and advise the NFL on artist selection for music performances, including the extremely popular Super Bowl halftime show. In addition, Roc Nation is supposed to also work on the league’s social justice platform called Inspire Change. The initiative, launched earlier this year, aims to address the criminal justice reform, police and community relations, education and economic advancement.
But the partnership has triggered fierce pushback and invited deepening public skepticism that the collaboration is nothing more than a camouflage and a not-too-subtle way to let the NFL off the hook.
“It’s a little bit of a smokescreen,” sports lawyer and businessman Michael Huyghue told The Final Call. “Top athletes were refusing to perform. The real damage was not the issues surrounding the protests, the real issue was drawing top performers. Bringing Jay-Z in is a way to make performers feel more comfortable, and by the way, ‘we’ll deal with social issues too.’ ”
In actuality, Mr. Huyghue explained, the NFL has no platform on how it will specifically deal with the social justice issues raised by Mr. Kaepernick, and Jay-Z doesn’t have any real civil rights or social justice background to offer the type of depth and expertise needed to foster real and significant change.
Longtime human rights Attorney Nicole C. Lee described the NFL-Jay Z issue as “simple and complicated,” adding that the NFL has shown no sincerity or desire to address the issues Mr. Kaepernick has raised. The larger issue, she contends, is the attempted muzzling of Black athletes and a denial of their constitutional right to free speech.
“The protest was about the treatment of African Americans by police. The support of Kaepernick is this issue but it’s also about how talented athletes and entertainers are treated as if they’re owned,” said Ms. Lee, co-founder of the Black Movement Law Project, principal of the Lee Bayard Group and former president of TransAfrica. “They’re not allowed to express their individual agency. The NFL is bypassing putting Kaepernick on a team and going to Jay-Z. Goodell bypassed the issue and went to Jay-Z. He basically said, ‘See, I got my African American, people like him.’ ”
“I think it’s actually simple and complicated,” continued Ms. Lee, a diversity, equity and inclusion expert, leadership coach, nationally recognized speaker. “People are still upset with Jay-Z’s move because Kaepernick still has not found a team. The fact that Kaepernick isn’t on a team indicates that the NFL is digging its heels and punishing speech. Black folks are penalized when they speak out. The NFL can have Jay-Z but having him will not change the situation or circumstances. People will continue to be pissed off. This is not going away.”
William “Billy” Hunter, former executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), said he hasn’t followed everything that’s been going on in the NFL-Kaepernick imbriglio, but offered his perspective. Despite Jay-Z agreeing to work with the NFL, the issues that led to the player protest are still very present and unresolved, he said.
And the length and intensity of any protests or pushback “depends on the reaction you get from the Black community and players. If they decide that Kap hasn’t gotten justice, this will continue,” the former union head said of the public boycott. “The NFL was beginning to feel impact and Jay-Z gives them assurance that everything is alright.”
Mr. Hunter, a longtime attorney who played for the Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins, said it isn’t helpful that football players have split into different factions.
“The Players Coalition kinda hurts what Kap and others are trying to do because they took money,” he said of the $89 million the coalition of current players accepted from the owners for social justice programs. “The problem is that with the movement, the question is how many people would go with management. When I was with the NBAPA, (Commissioner David) Stern told me that he always had spies. The players are often insecure. They are the ones who might benefit the most but they don’t make as much as basketball players and don’t have guaranteed contracts. They won’t play for more than three or four years unless you have a breakout career.”
In all America’s other sports, the master-slave attitude persists, Mr. Hunter said.
“We had some knockdown dragouts because of this attitude. They expect that,” he said of the owners. “There are a lot of the vestiges of old days. David Stern was a lot more progressive, but the assumption is that if you have money people are supposed to bend or genuflect.”
Trade unionist, columnist and activist Bill Fletcher, Jr. said the Kaepernick protest overlaps as a social justice issue as well as a test of whether these athletes have a right to protest.
“It’s about the right to be protected in protesting which is an athlete’s right,” he said. “This is a stand against hypocrisy.”
Mr. Fletcher said he has had discussions with key people in the NFL Players’ Association and two issues surfaced: Mr. Kaepernick began his initial protest without informing them and that association leadership would only intervene if he gave the nod; and that NFLPA members were not unified on Mr. Kaepernick’s stand because of the split between conservative and left-wing members.
“I would have told Kaepernick to follow the Curt Flood model because he got player support as he fought for free agency,” said Mr. Fletcher, former president of the TransAfrica Forum and author of “They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths About Unions.” “I would also recommend that he build a strategy committee who was prepared to back him. Instead, he encountered periods of isolation. This needed to be a campaign. He was left standing by himself when he was expecting people to support him.
“Kaepernick taking this step by himself was noble and courageous but not strategic.”
Both Mr. Fletcher and Marc Bayard, a leading expert on racial equity and organizing strategies, cited the need for the NFL and individual owners to develop comprehensive education programs for the players on matters of race in America.
“In the past 2-3 years, I’ve had conversations with the staff at the NFLPA and the political realm has gone from typical bread-and-butter issues of better wages, concussion and safety to free agency,” said Mr. Bayard, an associate fellow and the director of the Institute for Policy Studies’ Black Worker Initiative and the founding executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “They are well-versed in dealing with traditional issues but in an era of overt political issues, we all have room to grow. It’s incumbent of the league to have education and training on hot button issues to understand the nature of issues such as the policy around police brutality. I also believe that the symbolism and importance of players educating the public on social issues is critical.”
Rally in support of Colin Kaepernick at Soldier Field in Chicago Sept. 10, 2017.
Harold Bell, long considered the Godfather of Sports Talk radio and television in Washington, D.C., said Mr. Kaepernick’s work is in the longtime tradition of athletes who’ve spoken out. Yet despite the millions of dollars football players make, they are sometimes little more than what sportswriter, author and former New York Times columnist William Rhoden called “billion dollar slaves.”
“This is about how the One Percent controls us; it’s all about divide and conquer,” said Mr. Bell, who created “Inside Sports” in 1972 and who was talking about racism in the NFL, drug use among athletes and other sensitives issues on his radio and television shows decades ago. “When people say sports and politics don’t mix, I say they gotta be crazy. This war has been going on for a long, long time. Jack Johnson, Jesse Owens and Paul Robeson are all strong Black men who stood up but got knocked down.”
Mr. Bell echoed other interviewees who acknowledged that the NFL player protest movement sits at the nexus of sports, race and activism. It’s not a new phenomenon, with athletes in the past like Muhammad Ali refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military to fight in Vietnam, and others like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith and John Carlos protesting racism and other racially connected social ills in the 1960s.
But in this case, the players’ opposition to police brutality, institutional racism and oppression had been co-opted by President Donald Trump and others and twisted into criticism of cops, the military, respect for law and order, the appropriateness of protest and patriotism.
“NFL owners have been very embarrassed by this. They would like to do something but they’re afraid of Trump,” Mr. Fletcher said. “You have to look at this at the level of politics. If you don’t organize, it’s very likely that you’ll fail.”
No matter the NFL does, those interviewed said, none believed the collaboration will have any real and lasting effect on the protests that continue unabated as Blacks and others push back against anti-Black racism, police brutality, extra-judicial killings and the increase in nativism, White extremism and hate crimes. What is acknowledged but often ignored too is the fact that the NFL has a White male dominated, conservative, reactionary ownership structure, no Black majority owners and a league where about 70 percent of the players are Black.
“I wonder how long is that going to work; how long is it going to last?” Ms. Lee asked of the Jay-Z and NFL deal. “It may not matter in the short or medium term. Jay-Z has shown he’s fine with capitalism, with being the only Black in the room. The reality is we’re pushing society to be more just. I’m not going to look into the intent of other folks, but I don’t think Jay-Z’s talking about radical change and radical change is needed to change the circumstances of Black people.”