Category: Uncategorized

Race, Class and Privilege and the NFL’s Unresolved Issues

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.

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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.

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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.

Enter Jay-Z.

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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The Final Call

National News

Millions Of Employed Americans Struggle To Make Ends Meet

By Barrington M. Salmon – Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 30, 2018 – 10:18:17 AM

 

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By Barrington M. Salmon – Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 30, 2018 – 10:18:17 AM 
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Americans who fall outside of the categories of rich or wealthy are entangled, trapped in a vicious cycle of debt, lack and poverty. Despite working hard, and ‘doing the right thing,’ economic and financial security continues to elude millions of Americans who are nominally considered middle class. 

The United Way released recent data offering a troubling snapshot of where the United States stands since the 2008 recession ended. The data compiled over a 10-year period and called the ALICE (Asset Limit, Income Constrained, Employed) Project, shows that almost 51 million Americans make less than what’s needed to survive in the modern economy. Stephanie Hoopes, the project’s senior researcher, said that number includes 16.1 million households living in poverty, as well as the 34.7 million families that fall under the ALICE classification.

That translates to what she said is a staggering 43 percent of American households that can’t afford basics such as food, child care, health care, transportation, and a cell phone.

“There are many different ALICE stories. Some people are in different situations because of health problems, natural disasters and a number of other issues,” Ms. Hoopes told The Final Call. “Usually people who are in this field totally understand the magnitude of this problem.

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The cause is a mismatch between basics of the household budget and what people are making. Housing, childcare, food, transportation and health care are rising faster than inflation overall and faster than wages. Increasing wages would help to offset fluctuating wages, unpredictable hours and work hours incompatible with childcare.

“ALICEs are crucial to maintaining our workforce and infrastructure. The change in politics has made our work more important but we don’t make any policy recommendations. This is factual, unbiased, just cold, hard facts.”

Dr. Elise Gould, a senior researcher at the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said research conducted by EPI experts, scholars and researchers corroborates the United Way findings.

“There are a lot of people working who are still in poverty,” said Dr. Gould, whose areas of expertise include wages, poverty, jobs, healthcare and economic mobility. “We put data out a day ago (titled “50 Years after the Poor People’s Campaign, Poverty Persists Because of a Stingy Safety Net and a Dysfunctional Labor Market”) which shows that a number of Americans living in poverty who may be in school or retired, but two-thirds are otherwise employable. Of those, 63 percent are working and 45.5 percent of them work fulltime,” said Dr. Gould.

“People need more jobs, jobs that have more hours and the pay needs to be higher. What people are earning is simply insufficient. We also need a better safety net for caregivers and students. It seems like people are working really hard and low-income workers are more educated than ever before but the data make it clear that millions of people who are active participants in the labor market are unable to make ends meet, either due to insufficient hours or low wages.”

When asked, Dr. Gould said there’s no evidence that the economy is at full employment, as some economists have argued.

“If the economy was at full employment, you would see higher wages,” she said. “A lot of people not being counted are coming back into the workforce,” she said. “And the Black unemployment rate and the youth unemployment rate is still high. In the late ‘90s and 2000s, we saw wage growth for high school and college students and Black and White workers. We’re not seeing that now.”

While middle class Americans in general are affected by the crush of insufficient wages and rising prices, economists, social scientists and other experts say Black Americans, by virtue of racism, discrimination and structural inequities are more deeply affected financially than their White and Latino counterparts.

Young professional businesswoman and communications consultant Brandi R. Richard said she knows well the reality of being in the place where she makes too much to get assistance from the government but not enough to bridge the gap between what she makes and being able to comfortably take care of herself and her family.

“In my mind, I’m a single parent still struggling to make it. It’s terrible. The most challenging part for me was ensuring that I could cover the basics and have emergency funds too,” said Ms. Richard, the principal at BR Communications. “There were times when I was begging police officers not to give me a ticket. There are people where one bad decision wipes you out. If it had not been for my family who supported me and cared for my daughter, I don’t what I would do,” she shared.

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“It’s more expensive to live, buy food, even put kids through school. You have to make sacrifices. Most people are required to have multiple jobs because rent and housing expenses outpace salaries. People are suffering from depression which compounds the problem. But people are still trying to move ahead. I don’t think the policy makers are having these issues because their friends don’t have those problems or challenges.”

Middle class Americans have been caught in an economic vice spurred by decades of stagnant wages, minimum wages for fast food and service jobs; unemployment; the spiraling cost of food, medicine, and rent; gentrification; foreclosures; and the paucity of affordable housing.

Beverly Hunt, a Washington, D.C.-area resident for more than 20 years, said significant health care challenges threaten to bump her from her middle class perch. The communications and public relations veteran said she has been living an increasingly precarious existence since discovering that she has breast cancer four years ago.

“I was very blessed when I was diagnosed with cancer because I had a good job and good insurance with an 80-20 split, meaning 20 percent of the costs are borne by me,” said Ms. Hunt, a Howard University graduate who has been in her career field for 30 years. “I was paying $200 a month for four whole years to one doctor.”

“This has affected everything with me … it’s scary. Even though I have a great insurance, I still had to pay cash. Acupuncture is no longer covered and I haven’t even begun to figure how to pay for radiation. I’m thinking I may wait for the full seven years when my credit is clear and start from there,” she added.

“It’s certainly taken a toll on my standard of living. I know so many friends with no insurance and the consequences for them have been so much worse. What they’re dealing with has knocked people out of the middle class. One serious illness, being unemployed for several months a year, or us Baby Boomers not being hired—all this affects one’s ability to stay in the middle class. What I see among my peers is that they are jammed up, deciding whether they are going to eat or pay bills.”

It is clear ordinary Americans cannot rely on the Republican-dominated Congress to enact policies to ease their financial and economic woes. President Donald Trump recently signed into law a tax bill voted on by Republicans in Congress that is slated to transfer $5.7 trillion over the next decade from the middle class to the wealthiest one percent. Republican lawmakers promised that regular workers would see pay raises and better wages but only 15 percent of employees around the country have seen any improvement in their wages and salaries, while corporations are enjoying substantial tax breaks and have largely used the windfall for stock buybacks.

The depth of disparities between America’s rich and poor is stark. It is estimated that the top one percent of this nation’s wealthy controls 40 percent of America’s wealth, income and resources.

A 2016 report published by EPI shows that CEOs in Fortune 500 and other top companies make more in two days than an average employee does in a year. Chief executives at 350 companies made $15.6 million on average in 2016—271 times what the typical worker earns. And even though CEO compensation has fallen slightly in the past few years, it has increased by more than 930 percent since 1978. The report notes that CEO pay has grown faster than the stock market or the wages of the top 0.1 percent.

The Institute for Policy Studies quotes Doug Smith, a former partner at the McKinsey Management Consulting Firm, who in an article about the yawning pay gap between CEOs and employees, argues that the economic costs of huge pay gaps go far beyond the problems of low employee morale and high turnover.

“Instead of building a real economy beneficial to all,” he said, “these unethical pay practices spread outsourcing, offshoring, tax avoidance, downsizing, and the substitution of good-paying permanent jobs with temporary, precarious employment.”

Mega-corporations like Amazon illustrate the perverse nature of the current economic system: Owner Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world with a net worth of $132 billion but his company and others like Walmart and McDonalds, pay their employees so little that they’re often forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and other public assistance to make ends meet.

Florida A&M University Associate Professor of Law Dr. Cori Harvey said although she’s an optimist, she fears that the steady hollowing out of the middle could lead to its collapse. She said conditions will improve— but only after they get worse.

“The working class, middle class and the poor are collapsing in,” she said. “At the top, these are all the same people who hang out together, eat steak dinners, go to the same schools and marry each other. Most of them would drop dead where they stand if their daughter brought a policeman or fireman home,” noted Dr. Harvey.

“They’ve created distractions and left those at the bottom fighting against each other and divided. The enemy is not horizontal, the enemy is not working class Black people,” said Dr. Harvey, a graduate of Spelman, Columbia and Rutgers universities and a former Philadelphia public defender.

“The poor and working class should align on income not on race. These groups need to come together. Republican working-class Whites vote outside of their class interests. When police officers vote Republican, I scratch my head.”

Dr. Harvey said one aspect that’s often overlooked is what exactly constitutes the middle class.

“I think first we need to be very honest about the problem,” she explained. “One thing is that there are poor and working-class people who think of themselves as middle class, maybe we need to be clear about who and what constitutes the middle class.”

Among scholars and economists, there is no clear consensus on who is a member of the middle class. In a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, when polled, fully a third of respondents whose households brought home incomes below $30,000, identified themselves as middle class. Yet 51 percent of people making more than $100,000 also said they are the middle class.

Outside of that though, Dr. Harvey said that significant numbers of Americans, especially Black Americans, are hurting.

“I think that when people are ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul,’ which a lot of us are familiar with, we make bad short-term decisions that are catastrophic in the long run— such as cutting out insurance payments which can be ruinous,” she explained. “Specifically, with Black families, the erosion of the middle class cuts deeper because they have fewer layers of protection and support networks and less equity to pull out of their homes.”

It is incumbent on Black Americans to change their habits and behaviors; to start watching news programs and read about how to make money; to make good choices and prioritize their spending; and to get involved politically and to vote wisely, Dr. Harvey added.

 

Coalition pressuring Twitter to shut down white supremacist accounts

21st August 2019

By Barrington M. Salmon
Contributing Writer

(TriceEdneyWire.com) — A coalition of racial justice and civil rights organizations, based in Charlottesville, Va., has launched a campaign to force Twitter to respond to widespread concerns that Twitter allows white supremacists to flourish on its platform.

For more info go to ChangetheTerms.com

The Change the Terms Coalition was deliberate in timing the launch on the eve of the second anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville that led to the murder of activist Heather Heyer on August 12, 2017. The 32-year-old paralegal civil rights activist, was struck and killed by 22-year-old James Fields, a Neo-Nazi white supremacist who drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Fields is serving a life sentence plus 419 years for the murder.

The announcement also comes on the heels of two mass shootings that killed at least 31 people in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio August 3rd and 4th respectively. The massacres have exacerbated the group’s concerns about racially motivated attacks fueled by inflammatory online hate. They say President Donald Trump is fueling the violence and called for an uprising against it.

“Donald Trump has legitimized violence and it’s time for people to stand up,” said Jessica J. González, co-founder of Change the Terms and vice president of Strategy and Senior Counsel at Free Press.

The coalition, which held a press conference by phone August 7, is demanding that Twitter ban white supremacists and adopt model corporate policies.

“White supremacists fundraise, recruit and normalize the murder of marginalized people,” said González. “We’ve been working with Big Tech to accept our demands. But Twitter is slow to change. It’s the only platform that has failed to commit to banning white supremacists. David Duke, a former grand wizard of the KKK, is one there as is Richard Spencer and key organizers.”

Richard Spencer is a widely known neo-Nazi and president of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist Think Tank. Spencer was the leader of the torch-lit march in Charlottesville the evening before the death of Heather Heyer.

The Change the Terms Coalition includes more than 55 human-rights, civil-rights and digital-rights groups. They include Free Press, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for American Progress, Color of Change, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, MediaJustice, Muslim Advocates and the National Hispanic Media Coalition. It has called on Twitter and other online companies to develop more comprehensive policies to disrupt hate and racism on their platforms and has also urged these platforms to adopt the model corporate policies that Change the Terms has developed.

“When Twitter gives well-known White supremacists a platform, even after they have been deemed too extreme by Facebook and YouTube, their company becomes complicit in normalizing racism and the hateful acts inspired by it,” said González, vice president of strategy and senior counsel at Free Press and co-founder of Change the Terms. “Twitter must tell White supremacists they cannot rely on the platform to espouse harmful rhetoric, intimidate, and plan more attacks.”

Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director of Color of Change, agreed.

“From Charlottesville two years ago to El Paso this week, we’ve seen the tragic outcomes of White nationalism spreading on Twitter, made even more dangerous every time Trump is allowed to tweet his bigoted rhetoric,” she said. “White nationalists use Twitter every day to harass Black people and users from marginalized communities, to build power and organizational strength, and to amplify violent ideologies in this country. It’s time for Jack Dorsey and Twitter’s leadership to get over their fear of conservative backlash and fully stamp out discrimination on the platform. Our civil rights should not be negotiable.”

Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, president of the diversity consultant firm, Incite Unlimited, cites statistics which illustrate the danger White extremism poses:

• According to the most recent FBI data, the number of hate crimes in America has increased three years in a row, jumping about 17 percent in one year alone.

• The number of white supremacist groups in America has soared 30 percent in the last four years.

• white supremacists account for nearly three out of four murderous terrorist acts in the U.S.

• Counties that hosted a Trump rally during his run for president in 2016 have subsequently experienced a 226 percent jump in hate crimes.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the correlation between the political rise of Trump (his campaign run in the primaries, the general election and his time in office), his specific policy negligence around white terrorism, the white supremacist language he infuses in his rhetoric on a daily basis, and the rise in white nationalist violence that has ensued,” Jones-DeWeever said. “When we refuse to speak this truth, we fuel white terrorism. We not only allow it to exist, we also allow it to thrive.”

González, who moderated the August 7 conference call, said Twitter is a space that allows key White nationalist influencers to operate. Reportedly, there are at least 100,000 verified accounts of racists and White extremists who are sophisticated and organized.

“There are 173,000 tweets, 4,000 per white supremacist account and Twitter has not removed them,” González said. “Twitter talks a good game while vile, racist extremists continue to spew hate. Latinos have been targeted because of Donald Trump. People are scared to go to school, grocery store, other places because of the color of our skins.”

González said Latino communities including where she lives have been profoundly affected by the shooting in El Paso on August 3. Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old White man drove more than six hours from Dallas to El Paso “to kill Mexicans.”

González said fear has increased exponentially among her friends, family and neighbors and in Latino communities since the killer, who admitted that he is an anti-immigrant white nationalist and Trump supporter, opened fire in a Walmart, killing 22 people and wounded dozens of others.

The coalition notes that a range of Unite the Right organizers and associated White-nationalist influencers continue to benefit from their presence on Twitter. This includes key rally organizers like Richard Spencer, Evan McLaren and Tony Hovater; so-called alt-right podcasters and YouTubers who broadcast live from the rally like Faith Goldy and Mike Peinovich; and figureheads of hate like former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, who attended and broadcast from the deadly rally, and continue to enjoy unfettered use of their Twitter accounts.

Twitter, for its part, released a statement last week saying that it is researching whether white supremacists should be banned or allowed to continue operating on its platform. Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of trust and safety, legal and public policy said in published reports that the research aims to understand the effectiveness of both removing such individuals, as well as allowing them to remain online to be debated by others.

Gadde said in an interview with Motherboard that Twitter is working with academics to see if it can be confirmed that “counter-speech and conversation are a force for good” and “can act as a basis for de-radicalization,” which is Twitter’s current position. She also added that Twitter has seen evidence on other platforms that radical viewpoints can change through an exchange of ideas.

“We’re working with them specifically on white nationalism and white supremacy and radicalization online and understanding the drivers of those things,” Gadde said in the Motherboard interview. “What role can a platform like Twitter play in either making that worse or making that better?”

A Twitter spokesman wrote The Daily Dot saying: “We’ve made great strides in creating stronger policies against hateful conduct, violent extremist groups and violent threats on Twitter. We will always have more to do, and collaboration with outside researchers is critical to helping us effectively address issues like radicalization in all its forms.”

But the coalition contends Twitter’s response is nowhere near close enough.

“Twitter has some responsibility for that. Black and brown communities here and globally are under attack,” said Don Gathers, co-founder of the Charlottesville chapter of Black Lives Matter. “The person who shall not be named has enabled others. It all spews from the same ideology. He has to stand up and speak forcefully. If he’s not willing to do so, we must. As a social platform, Twitter has not taken responsibility. What they’re allowing is not all speech is free, much of it is hate. Intimidation and bullying can’t be allowed. They cannot be allowed to use the cloak and cover of anonymity. We’re calling on Twitter to denounce that … We just have to say enough.”

Gathers, former Chair of Charlottesville’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces, said Charlottesville is still reeling from march and rally’s fallout.

“The deadly Unite the Right rally was planned on social media, and our community is still feeling the profound impact of that violence today,” he said. “We’re still reeling from [that] fateful day and fateful actions. Whole communities are still living in fear. It’s time these companies used their terms of service to keep white supremacists off Twitter and reduce the hate that leads to tragedy.”

This article originally published in the August 19, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Using lies and an ugly machine to attack Muslim lawmakers

WASHINGTON—First they came for Ilhan Omar. Then they came after Rashida Tlaib.

“They” are arch-conservative Republicans, certain Jewish-American lawmakers, White extremists, nativists, political opportunists and a wave of other critics who were consumed for a week with condemning Democratic freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib for comments she never made.

The right wing Republicans adopted a mob mentality and took to the airways, social media and traditional media to attack Rep. Tlaib—one of two Muslims elected to Congress last November—for what they say are anti-Semitic comments she made during an interview released on May 11.

Critics, including Republican House leaders Liz Cheney, Steve Scalise and Kevin McCarthy as well as President Donald Trump, released statements condemning Rep. Tlaib’s comments as anti-Semitic.

They weren’t.

During the interview on Skullduggery, a podcast on Yahoo, Rep. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, discussed the creation of Israel, details of her one-state solution and the effects of Palestinians being forced off their land. Her comments about the calming feeling she has because Jews found sanctuary in Palestine during the Holocaust with Palestinian help was mischaracterized by Ms. Cheney and the rest as her having a calming feeling when thinking about the Holocaust.

Her actual comments were: “There’s, you know, there’s a kind of a calming feeling, I always tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors, Palestinians, who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence, in many ways, had been wiped out,” she said. “All of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post the Holocaust, post the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time.”

During the interview, the Michigan lawmaker described the Holocaust as a tragedy.

Rep. Cheney was the first to respond and those who followed, including the president spoke of Rep. Tlaib’s “tremendous hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”

Rep. Cheney tweeted: “Surely now @SpeakerPelosi & @LeaderHoyer will finally take action against vile anti-Semitism in their ranks. This must cross the line, even for them. Rashida Tlaib says thinking of the Holocaust provides her a ‘calming feeling.’ ”

In response to relentless attacks from Rep. Cheney in the days following the interview, Rep. Omar addressed her colleague directly: “Give it up, we all know you never met a Muslim you didn’t want to vilify! Your deep seeded hate and Islamophobia might be a tool to rally your base, but won’t get rid [of] your colleagues. You just have to deal.”

House Majority Leader Hoyer and other Democrats also rushed in to defend Rep. Tlaib, rebuking Rep. Cheney, the president and Republicans for intentionally taking Rep. Tlaib’s comments out of context and demanding that they pull back and apologize.

“If you read Rep. @RashidaTlaib’s comments, it is clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking them out of context. They must stop, and they owe her an apology,” said Rep. Hoyer.

Rep. Tlaib didn’t hesitate to hit back at the attacks as well, blasting those who lied about her comments, while reiterating that she stands by her words.

“Policing my words, twisting & turning them to ignite vile attacks on me will not work. All of you who are trying to silence me will fail miserably,” she tweeted on May 12. “I will never allow you to take my words out of context to push your racist and hateful agenda. The truth will always win.”

Support has poured in from a wide cross-section of supporters like activists Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour; Rep. Ayanna Pressley; Sen. Bernie Sanders; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and lecturer, best-selling author, commentator and religious scholar Reza Azlan.

Yet Rep. Tlaib isn’t the only freshman member of Congress experiencing the avalanche of smears, and misrepresentations from Republicans as well as death and other threats from supporters of President Trump.

 

Rep, Tlaib’s colleague and sister-in-the-struggle Rep. Ilhan Omar has also been the target of equally vile and vicious comments from Republican critics. They have labeled her anti-Semitic. She and her family have received death threats because she had the temerity to question the clout and level of influence the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has on American politics and policy toward Israel and the Middle East. She has criticized America’s unquestioned support of an Israeli government that has occupied the West Bank for 52 years; annexed Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements, enforced a land, sea and air blockade with Egypt against Gaza since 2007 when Hamas took control of the Gaza strip; and killed and imprisoned Palestinian men, women and children resisting the occupation and Israel’s overwhelming military force.

Both lawmakers have spoken often about their concerns about humanitarian crisis affecting Palestinians, while criticizing the U.S. and Netanyahu governments. But as has become customary, critics say, any valid criticism of Israel and Israel policy is painted as anti-Semitic for political and other reasons.

The attacks against have been so fierce, critics say, because they have broken with Democratic policy positions. For example, they support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a Palestinian-inspired effort to, among other things, force Israel to end the occupation in the Palestinian territories. They have each challenged the political status quo of the U.S., particularly in regards to foreign policy. And they have leveled criticism against the rising tide of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias.

Much of the backlash and animus, many observers say, arises from the fact that the pair is Muslim, non-Caucasian and female. Plus they are seeking to upend the status quo in Congress to the consternation of establishment Democrats and Republicans.

So concerned was Dr. Angela Davis, Dr. Barbara Ransby and other activists, that they organized a Rally in Defense of Ilhan Omar on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on May 1.

One-hundred women were invited, including Nina Turner, a former Ohio senator and co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 election campaign; Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza;  Women’s Movement co-founder Linda Sarsour; and the Rev. Traci Blackmon.

The rally was moderated by Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris, an organizer with the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice. Reps. Tlaib and Pressley came to the rally, as did Rep. Omar, whose appearance sparked sustained applause and cheers from the predominantly female crowd.

Rev. Blackmon gave a fiery and memorable speech denouncing President Trump, White extremists and others who are intent on silencing the voices of Rep. Omar and all Black women.

“I am here in the nation’s capital because of this nation’s shameful history of … systematically dismissing, devaluing and denigrating Black women who have been the most consistent block of voters in this country but who are ridiculed and ignored on both sides of the aisle,” said Rev. Blackmon, executive minister of Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. “… We are not the other. This nation was built on our backs, suckled on our breasts, and was enriched by the blood and sweat of our ancestors whose labor was stolen for the coffers of the few.”

Like Reps. Tlaib and Omar, Rev. Blackmon, said Black women refuse to back down in the face of racist aggression and vowed that they would protect Rep. Omar and those leaders resisting the rise of racism, sexism, hate crimes, anti-Muslim bias and Islamophobia.

In New Jersey a week earlier, Fredrikca Bey(check make sure spelling is correct) organized a similar rally in Newark. More than 200 participants heard speakers at the April 23 event, “We The People, Support Congresswoman Ilhan Omar,” whose speakers and supporters were a cross-section of religion, politics and civil society. They included Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sen. Cory Booker, mayors, assemblymen and women, Christians and Muslims. 

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In Newark Muslims and Black women offered strong support to Muslim lawmakers in Congress who have been attacked by the GOP the president and right wing groups and commentators.

Ms. Bey was unavailable to talk to the Final Call but Abdul Hafeez Muhammad, East Coast regional student minister of The Nation of Islam and lead minister of Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, said it was necessary to stand in defense of Rep. Omar.

“It’s very important because as Min. Louis Farrakhan said at Saviours’ Day, she has a sweet  heart. Rep. Omar was sent there by the people, but God is the overseer. She was sent there to shake up Congress,” he told The Final Call. “Neither her nor AOC (Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) are there to be part of old boys and old girls network. What she said about AIPAC is true. They control Congress and even the president. Min. Farrakhan said, why apologize for speaking the truth? Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.”

Iman W. Deen Shareef agreed.

“The vitriolic rhetoric from Congress and Trump and death threats to her and family is why we had the rally,” said Imam Shareef, convener of the Council of Imams of New Jersey, Masjid Waarith ud  Deen in Irvington, N.J. “It is a misrepresentation of what she has said and as a result Sister Frederica Bey called various members of the Muslim community to come together to stand as one and voice our support.”

“I have never seen this kind of racism as well as misogyny. There are people who are supposed to represent the values of the United States but in fact, they are the very same people perpetuating this ignorance. If citizens of the United States don’t wake up, some of the people they’ve placed in office and authority who are not qualified to be there, and represent the antithesis of what America projects itself to be, will destroy the soul of this country. The danger is that if people do not adjust to the threat, the disease will spread and it will become a cancer.”

Black Pregnant Mothers Dying As Maternal Mortality Crisis Persists

By Liberation Journalist Barrington Salmon

Originally published in the Final Call

Jamila Bey remembers the pregnancy that gifted her a beloved son. The entire time leading up to his birth was magical, she said.

At the time, the D.C.-based journalist and commentator said, she thought her experience was the norm for Black women. She had a very easy pregnancy, she told The Final Call.

“I had a super, wonderful, happy pregnancy. I was 31, older than most, weighed 200 pounds and was playing with the D.C. Divas, a semi-professional women’s football team. I was eating 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day. I was an exceptional athlete in excellent health. Frankly, I looked amazing at this weight.

“I worked out for six months during the pregnancy and didn’t show until the eighth month,” she said.

Ms. Bey said while doing research in 2011 as part of an Association of Healthcare Journalists Ethnic Media Fellowship, she was shocked to learn just how pervasive and deadly childbirth is for Black women.

The deadly landscape of maternal mortality

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are three to four times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy than White women, regardless of their social status, economic standing or education. Also, infants born to Black mothers are dying at twice the rate of infants born to non-Hispanic White mothers. National Public Radio’s Nina Martin and Renee Montaigne put the crisis in stark terms in a story titled, “Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why.”

Put another way, a Black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a White woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.

Every year, Dr. Paige Long-Sharps said, between 600 and 700 Black women die of these causes. The CDC puts that figure at 700-900 deaths annually. Many of these deaths are preventable, Dr. Long-Sharps and others say, but a host of factors—including disparities in healthcare; the inherent racism and racial bias in the healthcare system; stressors from Black women’s lived experiences which exacerbate pregnancies; and prospective mothers who lack the education and information to properly plan and prepare for a child—have a direct bearing on successful pregnancies.

In a New York Times magazine article, contributor Linda Villarosa cites reasons echoed by Dr. Long-Sharps as to why Black women are falling ill and dying before, during and after childbirth.

“High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are two of the leading causes of maternal death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, have been on the rise over the past two decades, increasing 72 percent from 1993 to 2014,” the article said. “A Department of Health and Human Services report last year found that pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (seizures that develop after pre-eclampsia) are 60 percent more common in African American women and also more severe.”

“Absolutely, it’s a crisis,” Dr. Long-Sharps said during a recent interview. “We live in an industrialized country but we’re behind Libya and the Third World in terms of caring for pregnant women. The numbers are real. Facts don’t lie. There are tons of studies that all lead to the same conclusions. We have a healthcare system where mortality and morbidity are so high.

“Women in Mississippi have worse outcomes than women in Palestine, Kenya and Egypt. There was a major report released in 2013 which showed that 60 percent of women of color are receiving inadequate healthcare. That’s crazy.”

Dr. Long-Sharps, a specialist in obstetrics & gynecology in Bronx, N.Y., has been practicing for 21 years and has garnered more than a quarter century of experience in the field. Citing a great need, the former medical director of Montefiore Medical Center for more than 10 years said she’s moving more into teaching and education than practicing medicine.

What has become crystal clear over the years–based on research, surveys, studies and other criteria–is that a crucial factor driving the maternal mortality crisis is racism and the inherent racial bias built into this country’s healthcare system.

“I live in Westchester County which is supposed to be affluent,” said Dr. Long-Sharps. “It doesn’t matter about one’s social and economic background, status or education. It comes down to racism. This is the crux of why we have such disparities. This is a multifaceted problem. I work in a majority-dominated environment and I see inherent racism every day but I’m not even sure if they see it.”

Dr. Long-Sharps said racism is manifested in residents and doctors when they ignore Black female patients during visits; don’t see the need to inform them of prospective procedures; disregard their concerns or desires for certain types of treatment; and don’t listen when these women try to explain how they feel or reasons for being in the hospital or doctor’s office.

“You’re starting from a place of inequality,” she said. “There are inherent stressors such as poverty, jobs, and family. Women are dealing with diabetes, hypertension. I believe, though, that as Black women the onus is on us. I also believe that there definitely is a revolution coming with doulas.”

Studies indicate that the racial gap amounts to the deaths of 4,000 babies each year, notes Ms. Villarosa, who heads the journalism program at City College of New York. What’s most unsettling, she and Dr. Long-Sharps say, is findings that education and income offer little protection. In fact, a Black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a White woman with less than an eighth-grade education.

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren concurred in her Essence magazine opinion article.

“This trend persists even after adjusting for income and education. One major reason? Racism,” she wrote. “In a detailed report, Pro- Publica found that the vast majority of maternal deaths are preventable, but decades of racism and discrimination mean that, too often, doctors and nurses don’t hear Black women’s health issues the same way they hear them from other women.”

These are structural problems that require structural solutions, and medical institutions as well as the people who staff them must be held accountable, Sen. Warren asserted.

A trio of affiliated with the Center for American Progress researched and wrote a report, released in early May 2019, that provides a comprehensive policy framework to eliminate racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.

“Structural racism in health care and social service delivery means that African American women often receive poorer quality care than White women,” said Jamila Taylor, Cristina Novoa, Katie Hamm, and Shilpa Phadke. “It means the denial of care when African American women seek help when enduring pain or that health care and social service providers fail to treat them with dignity and respect. These stressors and the cumulative experience of racism and sexism, especially during sensitive developmental periods, trigger a chain of biological processes, known as weathering, that undermine African American women’s physical and mental health.”

The long-term psychological toll of racism, the authors said, puts African American women at higher risk for a range of medical conditions that threaten their lives and their infants’ lives, including embolisms (blood vessel obstructions), and mental health conditions.

“Although racism drives racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality, it bears mentioning that significant underinvestment in family support and health care programs contribute to the alarming trends in maternal and infant health,” the authors continue. “In the past decades, many programs that support families in need—such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and nutrition assistance—have experienced a steady erosion of funding, if not outright budget cuts. The fact that these cuts have a harmful impact on families of color, who are overrepresented in these programs due to barriers to economic opportunity in this country, can be attributed to structural racism.”

Yet despite pervasive racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths, the authors say, public attention has only recently focused on this issue as a public health crisis.

“… And the full extent of the crisis is not yet known due to incomplete data. Compared with data on infant mortality, data on maternal mortality are less reliable and complete. While the disparities in maternal mortality across race are clear within individual states, a reliable national estimate has not been possible because data have been inconsistent and incomplete across states.”

A renewed push to confront the problem

The Black maternal healthcare and the crisis that is engulfing Black women has gotten the attention of some Democratic contenders running for the White House in 2020. California Sen. Kamala Harris recently reintroduced her Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (Maternal CARE) Act. The 2019 Maternal CARE Act creates a $25 million grant program to fight racial bias in maternal health care through training programs and medical schools and directs $125 million to identify high-risk pregnancies and provide mothers with the culturally competent care and any resources they need.

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Black maternal health is a critical health issue that has garnered attention from some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

“Black mothers are dying at alarming rates from pregnancy-related causes in part because of racial bias in our health care system. Everyone should be outraged this is happening in America,” Sen. Harris told Elle magazine. “We cannot ignore the Black maternal health crisis that is happening in this country. Every day we wait and don’t address this issue is another day we allow more mothers to be at risk. This legislation is a critical step toward protecting mothers and understanding that a healthy mom means a healthier baby, community, and society.”

Sen. Harris has been joined by fellow Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Warren who have also been very vocal on the issue. In her Essence article, Sen. Warren highlighted the work being done by Sens. Harris and Cory Booker, as well as Rep. Alma Adams and her freshman colleague, Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse with whom she announced the formation of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. The caucus will help in developing policies to mitigate and eliminate what the lawmakers describe as “the shockingly high Black maternal death rate.”

A wide swath of organizations and individuals nationally have been involved or have joined the fight to reverse this trend. Sen. Warren said “as they have so often in the past, Black women and activists are leading the way. Widowers, mothers, and groups like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, MomsRising, and the March of Dimes are demanding concrete actions to reverse these deadly outcomes,” she said. “The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health is developing tools to save lives and stamp out racial disparities. Legislators in Texas and California are collecting data and rolling out new best practices. Cities are testing whether covering doula services can help.”

Doulas: An ancient solution to a modern problem

Dzifa Richards Jones, a pediatric physician’s assistant and a practicing doula for 15 years, agrees doulas are a key to getting a handle on maternal mortality.

“My clients have doulas so I don’t see the challenges, the non-successful cases and the stories of maternal mortality but I see it all around me,” said Ms. Richards Jones, a certified holistic birth and post-partum doula who has operated A Womban’s Place in the Atlanta area for six years. “There is definitely a lack of education, medical support and tough financial situations (that some women are dealing with). Also, people are less connected to their families. The more I see, it’s not a medical thing. It’s a mindset, relaxing. I think about the old midwives and that ancient wisdom. What I do is teach women to listen to themselves,” she said.

In Ms. Villarosa’s New York Time magazine article, Dána-Ain Davis, director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the City University of New York, said, “One of the most important roles that doulas play is as an advocate in the medical system for their clients. At the point a woman is most vulnerable, she has another set of ears and another voice to help get through some of the potentially traumatic decisions that have to be made.”

Doulas “are a critical piece of the puzzle in the crisis of premature birth, infant and maternal mortality in Black women,”’ concluded Ms. Davis, a doula and author of a forthcoming book on pregnancy, race and premature birth.

In addition to the weathering the toxic effects of racism and discrimination that adversely affect African American women, particularly during pregnancy, Ms. Richards Jones said Black women are very different from their White counterparts. They eat differently, live differently work hard and, more often than not, have two or three jobs.

“It’s a challenge to find peace during birth. The uterus can’t retract, and the placenta won’t be healthy,” Ms. Richards Jones said. “In some cases, the women are in single-parent households and not living healthy lifestyles.”

Among the responsibilities she has shouldered is to teach her clients tools, techniques and tips on how to change the way they eat, think and approach the pregnancy. A crucial part of the process is helping women feel empowered to deal with their doctors.

“We’re nervous seeing the physician, intimidated by the medical world, don’t feel entitled,” she said. “Caucasian clients feel very comfortable saying what they will and will not accept. But often, doctors make Black women agree to things they don’t want.

Ms. Bey echoed sentiments shared by interviewees about ways structurally, within families and medically, to ensure successful pregnancies. And there is the unspoken reality that dismantling structural racism and racial bias would go a long way to improving outcomes, she added.

“There are lots of factors that need to be addressed and changed,” she said. “Black women are under-supported, under-resourced and under-medically cared for, to coin a new word. Black mothers need more help and support than we get but we’re doing well regardless, despite the false narratives out there that Black women don’t take care of their children.”

Modern Prisons, Modern Slavery – The prison human rights movement strikes back

By Barrington M. Salmon – Contributing Writer- | Aug 28, 2018

National News

Modern Prisons, Modern Slavery – The prison human rights movement strikes back

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Supporters of Florida’s prison strike in January. Photo: @IWW_IWOCTwitter

Men and women behind bars in the U.S.—at great risk to their personal safety—began a national prison strike to protest inhumane living conditions, brutal and abusive prison guards and what they contend is modern-day slavery.

 

Representatives of the striking prisoners said inmates in institutions across 17 states are taking part in the strike action by refusing to work anywhere in prison buildings, kitchens, laundries and on prison grounds. Palestinian inmates have expressed solidarity and about 300 prisoners in Nova Scotia, Canada, joined the strike.  The 19 days of peaceful protest was organized largely by prisoners themselves, said a spokesman for Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS).

“Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue,” read a Jailhouse Lawyers Speak statement released before the strike. “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. Prisons in America are a warzone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us, it’s as if we are already dead, so what do we have to lose?”

The strike which started Aug. 21 is organized by an abolitionist coalition that includes Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), the Fire Inside Collective, Millions for Prisoners and the Free Alabama Movement. Jailhouse Lawyers Speak activists began preparing the action in April after prison officials in South Carolina put rival gangs in the same dormitory which ignited an outbreak of violence leaving seven inmates dead. (See Final Call Vol. 37 No. 40).

“We want to note that although there aren’t widespread reports of actions coming out of prisons, people need to understand that the tactics being used in this strike are not always visible,” said Jared Ware, during an August 22 press conference call.  “Prisoners are boycotting commissaries, they are engaging in hunger strikes which can take days for the state to acknowledge, and they will be engaging in sit-ins and work strikes which are not always reported to the outside. As we saw in 2016, departments of corrections are not reliable sources of information for these actions and will deny them and seek to repress those who are engaged in them.

“We have spoken with family members who have suggested that cell phone lines may be being jammed at multiple prisons in South Carolina, and New Mexico had a statewide lockdown yesterday. The departments of corrections in this country are working overtime to try and prevent strike action and to try and prevent word from getting out about actions that are taking place.”

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Prison guards oversee prisoners working in one of the gardens at C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy, La., Aug. 8, 2010. More than 30 acres are farmed at Phelps growing vegetables for the 942 inmates. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

Mr. Ware, a freelance journalist who asked to be part of a team that coordinated with the press, said inmates organized nationally and carefully crafted the demands, strategically whittling them down from 35 to 10. The decision to strike, he said, was prompted by the deadly circumstances at South Carolina’s Lee Correctional Center, an understanding of how the state brings about the conditions of violence like that, and the types of changes that are necessary to prevent a repetition of that sort of violence.

 

“This is a human rights campaign and each of these demands should be understood through a human rights lens,” inmate representatives said.

The demands include:

  • An immediate improvement of conditions and the implementation of policies that recognize the humanity of men and women;
  • A greater investment in mental health services for prisoners;
  • Rescinding the Truth In Sentencing Act and Sentencing Reform Act to increase the possibility of inmates receiving rehabilitation and parole. No human should be sentenced to death by incarceration or no sentence should be imposed without possibility of parole;
  • An immediate end to prison slavery, with inmates paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory;
  • Rescinding the Prison Litigation Reform Act to give the incarcerated a proper channel to address grievances and rights violations,
  • An end to “racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and Brown humans.” In addition, “Black humans no longer (being) denied parole because the victim was White, a particular concern in Southern states.”

Although the United States represents one-fifth of the world’s population, 2.3 million people are incarcerated in America, the highest in the world. Estimates are that about 60 percent of that population is Black or Latino. Those numbers could ratchet up with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the behest of President Donald Trump, relaunching the failed “War on Drugs” and giving state attorneys and law enforcement the green light to crack down on criminal suspects even for non-violent crimes.

Prison reform advocates and critics of the criminal justice system note that the Prison-Industrial Complex is a multi-billion dollar enterprise which relies heavily on prison labor to work and produce goods and services for major businesses and corporations including Whole Foods, Starbucks, McDonalds, WalMart, Victoria’s Secret and AT&T.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a more than $2 billion enterprise, but many inmates literally work for pennies and others labor for free, said Dr. Kim Wilson.

“Exploitation of prison labor is at the heart of this strike,” said Dr. Wilson, a California resident and prison abolitionist. “Some people are making zero. I don’t want people to get the idea that it’s an at-will job. It isn’t a system where people have a choice to work. And nearer to the release date, you are expected and required to work.”

“At the largest wildfire in Mendocino County, thousands of inmates are fighting the fires. The reason is to save property.  Prison officials try to sell the idea of this being rehabilitative but that’s not true.”

Dr. Wilson cited examples nationally of the work inmates are forced to do. In  Angola Prison in Louisiana—often characterized as perhaps the most brutal prisons in the United States— inmates train and breed thoroughbreds and others pick cotton on the farm. Inmates in other institutions work on pepper and strawberry farms, she said.

“You also have prisoners building furniture for schools and universities, sewing Little League team uniforms and making military equipment, like helmets,” said Dr. Wilson, who has two sons serving life sentences at Vaughn Correctional Facility in Delaware. “This is not a small operation.”

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Abdullah Muhammad, the Nation of Islam’s National Prison Reform Student Minister, said he hopes the strikes don’t end as tragically as it did at Attica in 1971 when prison guards killed a number of inmates. He added that he doubts how successful the strike will be because of the traditional recalcitrance of prison officials.

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This Sept. 10, 1971 file photo shows inmates of Attica State Prison as they raise their hands in clenched fist salutes to voice their demands during a negotiating session with New York’s prison Commissioner Russell Oswald. The whistleblower who spurred a major state investigation of alleged crimes and cover-ups at Attica prison is still on the case four decades later. Ex-prosecutor Malcolm Bell, now 82 and retired to the Green Mountains of Vermont, filed court papers in support of opening long-sealed investigation volumes. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

“I don’t think they’ll get all they’re asking for, and what they’re asking for will take money,” he said of the strikers. “These people don’t have it in them to raise the money and change the environment. They may get a program—in time.

 

“You can’t change the system. You always have what appears to be a change and what appears to be relief. For a moment. They wouldn’t be slave masters and oppressors if they did otherwise.”

Student Min. Muhammad said he’s struck by the symbolism surrounding the protests. Aug. 21 is the 47th anniversary of the murder of author, activist and Black Panther leader George Jackson, and Sept. 9 also marks the 47th anniversary of the bloody Attica prison uprising in upstate New York which is when the current strike is set to end.

He said he vigorously supports the idea posited by one of the strike organizers, Brother Rasaan, to “redistribute the pain.”

“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a program that we (Nation of Islam) executed where from October to Jan 1, no money was spent in White businesses. A lot of people lost jobs, businesses suffered. That should be the program they implement,” said Student Min. Muhammad. The civil rights leader before his assassination suggested that Black people should “redistribute the pain” to White America through economic withdrawal in the demand for justice, a call reintroduced by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan in 2015 leading up to the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March.

At the end of the day, though, Student Min. Muhammad explained, Blacks have no choice but to strike out and form their own nation.  “We need our own land and territory,” he asserted.

Courtney Stewart is a prison reform advocate who was released from prison in 1985 and chairs the National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens in Washington, D.C. In his opinion, the prisoners who decided to strike had no choice.

“The thing is that these people, the corporations who make up the Prison Industrial Complex, have been getting away with murder for a long time,” Mr. Stewart told a Final Call reporter. “They’ve been able to sustain the Prison Industrial Complex and they have ruined generations and generations of the Black community. It’s been so devastating, and we still haven’t recovered.

“Using the school-to-prison pipeline and the ‘War on Drugs,’ these people are criminalizing and have imprisoned Black men, women and children. It’s profit over people and power and money in this capitalist, White-privileged society we live in. They don’t see any value in the Black family or Black people. They always throw pennies when it comes to fixing the African American community. We have to address this with force and radicalism. There has to be a radical revolution in how to address this.”

Mr. Stewart is not alone in the belief that the Prison Industrial Complex has to be dismantled and Dr. Wilson agrees.

“I’m a prison abolitionist. I see prisons as part and parcel of the problem,” said Dr. Wilson, co-host of a podcast called “Beyond Prisons” with Jared Ware. “I don’t know how they (prison guards) sleep at night. But those individual people are part of a larger system. I’m more concerned with the system as a whole.

“We want an end to the physical places we call prisons and conditions that make it possible in our society. But we can’t do that without addressing the underlying issues of racism, anti-blackness, capitalism, gender violence, ableism and other issues deeply implicated in the broader prison system. We must take seriously the things the prisoners are saying.”

Dr. Heather Ann Thompson has written extensively on the history of policing, mass incarceration and the current criminal justice system. She warned that the unrest, pushback and uprisings against the harsh conditions in America’s prisons will continue.

“I think that we have as a country been involved for so long in the ‘War on Drugs’ and the ‘War on Crime,’ that we have forgotten that it’s not normal,” said Dr. Thompson, a professor of history at the University of Michigan and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy.”

“But we have a whole generation of children for whom it’s normal to be pulled over, be arrested and shuttled into the system. We have been in a catastrophic prison crisis for decades now. And conditions have gotten even worse. South Carolina was a wake-up call for people,” she said.

“What cannot be understated or ignored is the fact that this is created and driven by racism. Seven point five million Americans are in the system. Most would not be here if they were the children of White lawyers, doctors and politicians. People turn a deaf ear to reform because White folks often don’t see Black children as children and think that Black people can absorb more trauma than they can.”

Dr. Thompson said she’s a White woman who grew up in Detroit and therefore, “My perspective is different. The situation is perfectly tenable as long as other people are being affected but when it becomes untenable is where White kids get caught up in the system. I give lectures and talks all over and the thing is that once they (Whites) really know what’s going on, they are appalled. They don’t know.

“Authorities cannot lock up 2.5 million people and have the trauma we have and it go on indefinitely. The incarcerated will continue to protest and people will continue to seek release,” she explained.

A strike organizer echoed Dr. Thompson’s warning. The inmate spoke with freelance journalist Brian Sonenstein, publishing editor at ShadowProof and a columnist at Prison Protest, in a story published in ShadowProof.

“No matter how many of these people they employ, it’s not going to take away from the issues and the problems of the violence that’s occurring inside the prisons,” said the inmate, a member of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak (JLS),  which is a network of incarcerated self-educated legal advocates.

“What we’re dealing with consistently is prisoncrats refusing to accept responsibility, accountability,” said the inmate, who, fearing retaliation spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Because [they] created these conditions, these are the results. Instead, what they try to do is deny any responsibility, any liability, and say, we’re going to keep the same conditions while trying to force people to be subjected to those conditions. And how do we do that? We hire more employees.

“It never works. It’s not going to work. You can’t snuff out a human’s life without killing them,” the inmate said. “There’s gonna be some type of resistance.”

If They See Us

Opinion by Barrington Salmon

If They See Us

By Barrington M. Salmon

Image result for exonerated five

‘The presumption of innocence is vaporized by the hot glare of racism.’

When it comes to the issue of race, America is in a constant state of cognitive dissonance. The dominant majority, through miseducation, a lack of exposure or willful ignorance always seems to be surprised and thrown for a loop when stories like the Exonerated Five grab headlines.

For a moment or two, as they hear or see cases of Black women, men and children railroaded by a system that pretends to be fair and equal, they are aghast, unsettled, unsure of what to do or say.

Yet for generations, Africans in America – children and adults – have been sacrificed on the altar of greed, domination, cruelty and casual racism.

People of African descent in this country have lived with the reality that the color of their skin has marked them in indisputable ways, such as being guided to the school-to-prison pipeline, the troubling disparity in the arrest and sentencing of Black and white people for the same crimes/offenses; the naked racism and the structural racism in the so-called criminal justice system that ensures that the majority of America’s 2.3 million incarcerated individuals are Black and brown.

Yet we are living in a time when a harsh light is being shined on much that’s been hidden or obscured. Acclaimed director Ava DuVernay is owed a debt of gratitude for her commitment to exposing the truth about what this country is and has done to Black people. On the heels of 13TH, an award winning documentary which explores the history of racial inequality in the prison system, she produced the heart-rending miniseries that aired on Netflix last month to much acclaim and which detailed what has been called by some “one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in history.”

I applaud her because she has been a drum major for social justice using her platform of film to force this country to confront the Original Sin of slavery and the many “children” this odious institution has spawned.

We must never forget that the five males whose youth was snatched away were CHILDREN: Antron McCray was 15; Kevin Richardson, 14; Yusef Salaam, 15; Raymond Santana, Jr. 14; and Kharey (Corey) Wise was the oldest at 16.

Image result for the central park 5 going to court

The detectives rounded up and held the boys and interrogated them for between 14 to 30 hours – without a lawyer or their parents present – telling them that if they confessed, they could go home; played them off against each other; and beat and brutalized some of the young men.

A New York Times story explained what the now grown men have talked about very openly: “Locking up those boys for a gang rape that had not happened but that most of society believed in was the same as planting a bomb in their lives that never stopped exploding. That story is told without blinking in “When They See Us,” and will enlighten even people who have followed these events.”

The five were convicted and jailed despite there being forced confessions, no physical or forensic evidence connecting them to the crime, no DNA evidence, no evidence placing the boys at the scene, but there was evidence that placed the real rapist, Mattias Reyes at the scene that investigators ignored while they pursued convictions for the five.

The conversations among and between Black mothers and fathers, with their children, with friends and relatives that has come after the Netflix miniseries were searing, heart-breaking, agonizing, excruciating. Many of us couldn’t watch the whole thing because those boys were us, they were our children.

I Googled several magazines and got a variety of perspectives that captured the maelstrom in which the boys were thrown. Ken Burns: “I think that the “Five” became the Central Park Five because they were the most vulnerable to the system. None of them had ever been in trouble with the law and their families had never been in trouble with the law, so … when seasoned detectives brought them in for questioning, they were exposed to the techniques that these detectives use so effectively.”

And in an interview with NPR, DuVernay said about the prosecution: “The city never apologized; they settled. No one on the side of the prosecution ever apologized. They’ve stuck by the fact that even though the real man came out and said: I did it, I did it alone. Even though all of that physical evidence was from him, was matched to the victim, and it was in fact him, and only him, these people still refuse to acknowledge that they—not made a mistake—lied. Lied.”

Prosecutors like Linda Fairstein and the New York City Police Department have completed an internal review of its management of the Central Park Jogger case. NYPD brass found no wrongdoing on the part of its officers, and despite overwhelming new evidence and vacated convictions, they maintained that the young men were likely guilty.

None of those involved, the city, prosecutors, detectives and other cops, have ever expressed remorse or accepted responsibility or apologized for destroying the young men’s childhoods. In fact, former DA Linda Fairstein has doubled down, saying the Five were somehow involved and did something wrong.

As we confront, understand and unpack this story, we should know that what happened is not an aberration. Putting Black and brown people behind bars is big business. Although the United States represents one-fifth of the world’s population, 2.3 million people are incarcerated in America, the highest in the world. Estimates are that about 60 percent of that population is Black or Latino. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the behest of President Donald Trump, relaunched the failed “War on Drugs” and gave states attorneys and law enforcement the green light to crack down on criminal suspects even for non-violent crimes.

Prison labor is the new slavery. The Prison-Industrial Complex is a brutal, oppressive system which relies heavily on prison labor to work and produce goods and services for major businesses and corporations including iconic brands like Whole Foods, Starbucks, Compaq, McDonalds, WalMart, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, Target and AT&T. Some incarcerated individuals work for free, others for as little as $00.04 an hour and others make $00.23 an hour making military equipment like nighttime goggles, bullet proof vests, tents, shirts and bags, as well and a range of products for other corporation. As the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights notes, there are no unions, safety regulations, pension, social security, sick leave or overtime in these sweat shops.

The sprawling Prison-Industrial Complex is a more than $2 billion enterprise and 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations who brings their operations inside prison walls.

“The thing is that these people, the corporations who make up the Prison-Industrial Complex, have been getting away with murder for a long time,” Courtney  Stewart told this reporter an interview last year. “They’ve been able to sustain the Prison Industrial Complex and they have ruined generations and generations of the Black community. It’s been so devastating, and we still haven’t recovered.

“Using the school-to-prison pipeline and the ‘War on Drugs,’ these people are criminalizing and have imprisoned Black men, women and children,” said Stewart, chairman of The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens in DC and founder and CEO of Mentoring Works2. Inc. “It’s profit over people and power and money in this capitalist, White-privileged society we live in. They don’t see any value in the Black family or Black people. They always throw pennies when it comes to fixing the African American community. We have to address this with force and radicalism. There has to be a radical revolution in how to address this.”

Courtney is right.

The question is, what are we prepared to do?

(Photos courtesy of BET and ABC News)